“We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
—Marshall McLuhan, ‘The Medium is the Massage’
‘Sexy Beautiful Women /s/’ starts with an event in the melancholic suburbia Allen also explores in ‘Cute/Male /cm/’, or her poem ‘Sunday’:
When Nicola’s mother remarried that Brutish farmer she
started growing a leafy bedroom drawer of unmarked
VHS’s and on a sun-trapped estate afternoon we sat
transfixed with shop sweets and gluey underarms as circus
lesbians wrapped themselves around snakes and medieval
woman ate raw hides of meat and then later Erica Lopez’s
cam (squirting tease party Erica) accidentally came up and
it was a glittering, stuttering throwback to some damp
afternoons of slow awakening anyway there’s moar if you
want it pages and pages of Erica’s so many Erica’s you may
forget that they’re sort of real somewhere in the world in
In the sixth line, the poem makes a violent temporal leap. With the first two words of “then later Erica Lopez’s/cam […]accidentally came up”, the speaker breaks suddenly from the frame of the “sun-trapped estate afternoon.” The narrative looks back at multiple “afternoons” from an unspecified “later,” as its perspective is fractured. Rather than looking back at the single afternoon that the porn video suddenly evoked, the speaker is aware that “Erica Lopez’s/cam” instead recalls multiple “damp/afternoons”, that its eroticism can only be interpreted by a viewer with reference to the previous experiences that instructed them to view it as such. The porn video in itself contains the past, requires the past for its meaning; it is a “glittering, stuttering throwback.” There are “moar if you/want it[…]so many Erica’s.” The past is continually caught in orbit by the gravity of desire in the present.
Homer: “Fire! What do I do? What do I do? Oh, the song! The song!
When a fire starts to burn,
there’s a lesson you must learn:
something something then you’ll see,
you’ll avoid catastrophe.
—The Simpsons, ‘Homer the Heretic’
4chan’s creator, Christopher Poole, designed it to require minimal server space; there are no user accounts and no archive, and so as new message threads are added by anonymous users, old ones are deleted. In a study in 2010, the median lifetime of a thread on the board /b/ was less than 4 minutes. The median time on the first page was 4 seconds. In the constant flow of text and images, of 400,000 posts a day appearing and disappearing, if you want to see the same thing again you keep posting or you post it again: to remember, 4chan must repeat. Aptly, ‘copypasta’ (or its horror variant ‘creepypasta’), perhaps the only literary genre to emerge from 4chan, takes its name from the technical process of reproduction. It resembles an oral literary culture, as transmission, variation and repetition becomes a communal memory, as membership of and fleeting prestige in the community depends on fluency in the language of these repeated cultural units, passing through innumerable, unknowable authors in countless variants, recirculating in constant struggle against ephemerality. And it is this churn of authorless, communal repetition that has launched a thousand memes (and the activist movement Anonymous) onto an unsuspecting world in the decade since 4chan’s launch.
The curatorial authorship emphasised in post-internet poetry, the devaluation of originality, reflects the experience of an artist in a culture that forgets nothing: the panic attack of influence. (It also reflects the implicit political thesis of neoliberalism in the 21st century: that real progress is over, that systemic change is impossible, that history has ended.) But whilst uncreative writing, thinking within the old structures of copyright, posits that originality is impossible because of too much memory, 4chan declares it irrelevant because of too little. Within the anonymous online cultural structures within which an emerging generation of artists grew up, terms like originality or imitation, terms dependent on print economies, no longer make any sense. But with the corporate structures dependent on real world identities for advertising, with the governmental agencies recording our online activity for real world policing and control, this generation is now reflecting on the meaning of these anonymous communities, and the modes they created, whilst mourning for their loss.