KR BlogReading

Technophilia or Technopornography: the PDA in the Performance Space

Earlier this week, I caught a discussion thread that began with Daniel Nester’s post on We Who Are About to Die execrating the reading of texts from iPhones (and, one assumes, other PDAs) during performance.

Here’s a taste:

It’s been a while since seeing this occur in person, where a good friend read a new poem and I did a double-take as a white glow shined up to his face, but I just came across not one, not two, but three photos of poets reading a poem from his or her iPhone. I know I am one of the olds, but this has got to fucking stop.

You can’t get to a printer before your gig? Don’t read the poem then.

iPhones! For me, it takes me out of the moment or performance or whatever, watching someone flick their thumbs on a glowing obelisk mid-stanza; more than that, it becomes about The Novelty of Someone Reading Their Poem from Their iPhone.

I’ll admit, I’m a guilty party. (Maybe one of Daniel’s photos is of me.) I’ve only done this two or three times, but I have done this, and I’ve worried about the effect Daniel describes—the intrusion of the LED glow, the necessary movements unlike the manipulation of a book or manuscript. But I’ve gone for it anyway, thinking the particular piece—yes, I lost my copy of this poem, mislaid it after the third of a five-reading jaunt, or just plain forgot it and, yes, was unable to get to a working printer, or thought only a few minutes before that this piece would work—thinking that this particular piece would justify itself in the plan of the performance.

And, I’ll say, I don’t go to reading to watch the poet read. I go to listen. I rarely look at the performer, in part because there are so many potential distractions—the writer checks his/her watch/cellphone, runs his/her fingers through his/her hair, fiddles with a piece of clothing—I key in on the voice. So, if an iPhone were to come out, I wouldn’t notice.

Far more distracting to me is another exigency. Maybe this is a sign, too, of a lack of preparation, but I think it’s often accident or nerves that helps an author lose a part of a manuscript and shuffle through an attaché or a stack of papers or rifle through a book, at times wondering aloud what he or she will read next.

I saw Robert Creeley, discovering three pages into a ten-page poem that the fourth page was missing, dig through his bag for what seemed like ten minutes. Though he’d later cut his losses and return to the reading for another half-hour, the reading was over for me. The spell was broken.

So, I understand Nester’s frustration here, and I think his rule—if you don’t have it, don’t read it—is one that would prevent a lot of hemming. Nester’s method, as far as I can tell—I saw him read earlier this Fall, and he’s a great performer/deliverer of his own work—is to carry a large notebook that contains a good deal of material, giving him a lot of options for reading texts.

This seems like a good idea to me—and whenever I see someone with his or her own personal collection I know I should do this, but I never manage it. I always forget something.

I admire Ruth Ellen Kocher’s use of an iPad, onto which she’s loaded all her work. She’s got everything bookmarked. She can switch from one poem to another quickly, and it seems like she’s got a good deal of flexibility in her program, so she can improvise the order and respond to the mood of the evening.

Nester’s not saying anything about this, not yet, but it seems to me that, however new or strange or technopornographic the use of these devices in the arena of the literary reading me be, we’re going to see this more and more often, because, in addition to reading codex books, we’re reading more and more on iPads and iPhones, so maybe, at some point at some time, the author won’t be showing off the PDA but will be, instead, bringing his or her reading practice into the performance.