How to Think (with) Thinkertoys: Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1 by Adalaide Morris

his long-term goal was to sabotage the linear-thinking that not only generates these notions of testing but makes the world safe for slogans, sound-bytes, and by-the-book spiritualities. Administered from the top-down and engineered to shape both knowledge and the students who absorb it into manageable “subjects,” school systems, he writes, “all run on the same principles: iron all subjects flat then proceed, in groups, at a forced march across the flattened plane” (308).

.. If in Nelson’s terminology each of these texts is a “thinkertoy” – “a computer display system that helps you envision complex alternatives” (330)

.. In calling the microcomputer a “thinkertoy,” Nelson claims it for tinkerers who want to go beyond the linear rigidities – the mental rods, logical connectors, conceptual end caps, pulleys, and spools – in place since Euclid, Newton, and Descartes. The difference that gave Nelson hope for the education system was the clarity, power, speed, fluidity, and on-the-fly versatility of digital culture’s conceptual toolkit.

.. Most of the collection’s poems not only dash but actively smash the conventions of the mainstream lyric. Properly speaking, only a few contain anything that resembles lines or stanzas: the basic unit of these pieces is, in fact, often either a letter

.. the reader of a digital poem may experience herself in one of a number of uneasy subject positions: adrift in a quasi-paranoid place in which everything signifies but nothing clearly declares its meaning

.. If there’s no speaker, no biographically or psychologically recognizable poet, no fixed or predictable rhyme or meter, and a scarcity of stabilizing aphorisms and culminating images, what makes these multimedia constructions “poems”?

.. Nelson’s manifesto rides on the faith that sustained most sixties liberation movements: the idea that once we rid the world of restraints, we can reclaim our birthright – the amplitude of our freedom and sexuality, racial justice and equality, equitable distribution of economic assets, and, not least, “our intelligence, curiosity, enthusiasm, and intellectual initiative and self-confidence.”

.. computers have not so much liberated us as reconfigured notions of control and freedom, protocol, power, and subjectivity for a decentralized, post-industrial, networked information society.15

.. The gaze of the teacher, like the gaze of a patriarch, sergeant, shop steward, physician, psychiatrist, or prison guard, does not, in Foucault’s account, “repress” some essential pre-given nature – an amplitude we are “born with” – so much as produce the norms and possibilities within and against which we improvise a life.

.. The waning of books and teachers’ dirty looks is happening, however, not, as Nelson predicted, through “computer lib” but rather through what might appear to be its flipside: digital technology’s increasing capacities for “continuous control and instant communication”