Sutra of the Computer Body: Questions for Karina Bush
Editor’s Note: The interview that follows is based upon video poem below. It is required viewing if you wish to make sense of the exchange.
Marco V Morelli
Karina, I have some questions about “Sutra of the Computer Body” and your other poetry.
Are you there?
Hi! I’m here and looking forward to chatting with you.
Marco V Morelli
I’m glad you’re here! That relates to my first question:
Where are we when we’re in the computer body?
“Sutra of the Computer Body” seems to take place in a virtual environment, yet reenacts an encounter between real bodies. I presume you are real. The film is intimately charged and portrays a painful tale of disconnection, yet savors the touch of co-creation in the absence of physical contact.
There is an erotic transfer of the imagination, a fertilization of potentials—or impregnation, perhaps—yet a sense of barrenness and loss. Interiority is intensified by distance. The void giveth and it taketh away.
There is a lot going on in this body. There are weird sounds, suggestive shapes, pervasive darkness. The light is fractal and moody.
In this body, I feel a ghostly hunger for mutual embodiment, a longing for shared beauty and merging of souls amongst entangled beings desiring and denying themselves sentient communion; cyborg brains strung out on conscious energy transmitted via light-speed networks and liquid crystal displays; a precarious, ephemeral, and ultimately aborted encounter between self and other, leaving a revenant ache of nothingness—the fading static of a dream.
Words emerge from a black screen:
I flesh out my questions: As a poet working in the complex medium of film—integrating light, sound, and language—where do you feel are the limits of your body? How does the act of sharing your work via the internet (a literal “brain lace”) affect the form of your art?
I believe your work comes from a liminal zone, and I’m curious about what that space is like for you. What do you think is going on here?
Such interesting questions. Your analysis of the poem is poetry itself! You are spot-on from my perspective, that’s what I was feeling. The space I work from feels liminal. My urges with poetry are to document the most abstract parts of my emotions, things I don’t fully understand. To lock down an emotional form. There is no way to replicate these forms accurately, the challenge is to shape them as honestly as possible.
My personal decision-making process is primarily intuitive, I’m probably more connected to my intuition than my body. I like how the internet is conducive to intuitive processing and has opened up another dimension to life—it’s a great time to be alive. I see technology as a tool to shape art that feels closer to its source. Some very exciting pieces of work will come from developments in digital art and augmented and virtual reality platforms. It’s an opportunity to move past some of our limitations; the internet has unlocked a lot of potential. It feels like an abyss as much as it feels full of data—there’s something wild about that, something very natural, and deeply fascinating.
I’m a vivid dreamer. I don’t sleep much but when I do I experience high-intensity dreams and a lot of lucid dreaming. I think being that kind of dreamer means I don’t fully connect with my body, I’m often outside it. I have always had a strong sense of the self existing outside of the body as well as inside. The internet is an extension of the nervous system, and will eventually physically become so. I’ve been practicing Kundalini yoga for about ten years, the ancients knew a lot about the capacity of our nervous systems—we’ve got so much electricity running through us, we’re not all that different from a piece of technology—and I don’t experience much of a boundary between my body and some elements of my digital existence, my body is responsive to the flow. The connection I had that inspired “Sutra of the Computer Body” felt as real as the immediate world around me. But in terms of sharing my work online, I don’t feel connected to it much after it is published. I share so I can move on to the next thing, I need to be constantly creating and progressing or I get unwell, I wither.
To answer your first question, “Where are we when we’re in the computer body?“—I think we are experiencing ourselves in a new way, I think we are indulging our insatiable curiosity as a species and our curiosity for something beyond the physical. The ancients did it with ritual, the hippies did it with LSD, this is our version.
Marco V Morelli
Wow, thank you, Karina; I find it strange how new and old the internet feels to me. When did light begin? When will it ever stop transforming into different shapes we experience? Yet the internet is also a dark place—an abyss of the mind and senses. Moreover, it appears to be overtaken by centralized forces of darkness, such as we witness in the phenomenon of Fake News. The magic festers beneath lies and appearances.
Sometimes I find myself up with the glowing screen, late at night—a sleepless poet with ghostly songs echoing through my skull…
I’m in a zone of timeless velocity before the photon-wave strikes a solid surface, the energy vortex of an atom. Anything seems possible then.
The urge to document “the most abstract parts” of your emotions is so interesting because one tends to think of emotions as non-abstract, or non-conceptual; yet your abstractions are infused with life and feeling. Aesthetic ideas entail a fruitful interplay between perception, feeling, imagination, intuition, and direct experience. You seem to be drawn to an intensity of expression in multiple dimensions.
The subtle emotions transmitted through your poems are concretized, augmented, and even elicited by the technologies available for their communication. I do believe (sometimes a scary thought) that our nervous systems are hopelessly entangled. We suffer the electrical storms of our psychic peers as phantom limbs on other sides of the planet—I see creative potentials abundant and profligate amidst a generalized wasteland.
I imagine that your experience with lucid dreaming and yoga gives you a different perspective on the social dimensions of being in virtual/real relationships with other virtual/real bodies, and might lead you to relate to the medium differently based on your urgent need to create.
I see technology as a tool to shape art that feels closer to its source.
And you share so that you can move on and continue creating, in blossom, connected to source, feeling alive…
Does it matter what happens after you share your work? When you make art that feels true to you—that adequately documents the most abstract and salient parts of your emotions—what do you hope happens when others interact with it? How do you want your work to be received?
It’s always nice when work is well-received, it’s great motivation to keep moving. I can only hope for people to feel something or think about something. I’m constantly thrilled by works of art. My favorite stuff digs right into me. I like the extremes; beautiful, transcendent, shimmering stuff, and the ugly, seething painful stuff, stuff that makes me anxious. It’d be great if my work made something rise in people, anything, nice or disturbing, just a rise of some sort. Or if it entertains. I’m not stopping. Hopefully, by the end, my contribution will include many pieces capable of that.
I never feel I get it right and that is what drives me. Every time I complete something I’m immediately ready to start something else and have another go at it. The act of creating is as important as the product, all the lessons and energy are in the process. Except for the work that flows out instantly, I’ve no idea where that comes from, it’s different every time, and can’t be replicated. About 10% of my work comes that way, and they’re often my favorite pieces, poems that are fully formed in under a minute, it’s almost shamanic, like a channel opens up. I think of it as my reward for putting the time into experimenting and working through ideas.
What I describe as abstract are often sub-sections within a larger emotion, where an identifiable feeling is clouded but powerful and shapes itself visually, and I have to perform a kind of psychoanalysis on myself through poetry to work it out. So yeah, it is feeling ideas, exploring. There are endless ways to feel an emotion. Take love or pain, they are constantly evolving, dynamic, chaotic experiences.
Marco V Morelli
I have definitely been affected by your work. Inadvertently, I’ve interacted with it (and by extension, with you) as a kind of yoga. “Sutra of the Computer Body” feels to me like a theta-state meditation. (I am referring to the brainwave frequency between 4-7 Hz associated with dreaming, emotion, and the imaginal body.) The audio and visuals seem to act on the brain to induce this effect. There is something alchemical going on too— encrypted thoughts transmitted, which unlock certain emotional doors.
The poem itself tells a kind of love story that’s haunted by technical glitches and defense mechanisms. Ultimately, there is an interruption, leaving only an echo of erotic communion: “no flesh, just words” come through the screen. Overwhelmed by feeling, an intensity of digital touch and immersive sensation causes recoil. This is beautiful in its own way, and for me belongs to the allure of the poem. It is, however, in a certain sense, cautionary. A lace becomes a web of loss. Impermanence rules.
What do you sense are the limits of our light-powered technologies for art and transcendence? What do you think are the dangers to the arts of communication? When do you feel the risks are worth it?
I find it wonderful you have connected with the poem like this, you really see it as I do. Again, you got it spot-on, I used binaural beats for “Sutra of the Computer Body”, including theta waves. I wanted the reader/listener to enter a meditative state during the video, I wanted it to be an experience as well as a poem.
The love story is very fractured in the poem, there’s a lot of fear involved with feelings built through screens and a lot of room for disappointment. Is it real? Is what I’m experiencing magnified and romanticized by the distance? It’s difficult to assess what exactly these feelings are. On one hand, there’s purity of connection, and on the other, it could be fantasy. Plus, there is hunger for more, which can’t be satisfied and grows to consuming proportions. One hour physically together would solve the whole puzzle, but that can’t happen. It’s like being trapped in a loop, it builds then disappears – you become the “prisoner of erasure”. It’s somewhat masochistic. As you so beautifully said in your previous question, “We suffer the electrical storms of our psychic peers, phantom limbs on other sides of the planet”, when it all crashes down it certainly feels like that.
I’ve found a techno relationship cuts right into the core, the soul, brings out an almost more real version of yourself, makes you see yourself differently, your own potential to be better. It can achieve a level of emotional perfection. That’s also the problem, the perfection exists in the ether, and I have questioned how healthy it is to invest energy into it. But it’s not like these connections happen often, it’s more a once-in-a-lifetime thing and likely worth the risk of pain.
Artistically, I think it’s essential to embrace everything technology offers, I wouldn’t feel involved if I was a hardcore print purist and technophobe. I am a big supporter of the printed word, always will be, but my personal preference is working with both. Ideally, the world would have a healthy balance between technology and organics, but that won’t happen, excess is too seductive.
Sadly, technology has deformed poetry. Up until the invention of social media, poetry was untouched by consumerism, now it’s a pop-machine. Instagram is a cesspit, rife with plagiarism, and teeming with Hallmark quotes and public diary entries parading as poetry. All you have to do is use a typewriter font over a stock image of a beach or some shit and anything is a poem. I’ve seen “poems” with spelling errors, total messes, clock up tens of thousands of likes, and these “poets” are selling a lot of books. That this piss is being called poetry is my problem with it. It is as much poetry as nails running down a chalkboard is music. I know many poets who are so deserving of the success some of these Instapoets have gained, but their work requires the reader to think and have an attention span longer than eight seconds.
Marco V Morelli
I have enjoyed reading your poems as well as watching them. When I read a poem, I like to read it aloud, perform it, see what it feels like in my body. I find it fascinating to virtually be in other bodies, see through other eyes, feel through other feelers.
Obviously, it is not the same as actually being another person, but I think language lets us experience what it’s like to be someone else. I love poetry especially because it’s so primal—it requires no prosthetic instrument or technology, but only a receptivity to language and voice.
To me, language is really the primary virtual reality machine, which allows us to imagine other worlds and express what it’s like to be in our own. Language is the occult power; yet sound and images and communication technologies (print, audio-visual, and web) open up whole new aesthetic possibilities. We are media freaks and hybrid beings, analog shadows dancing with digital light. I don’t believe “poetry” is limited to words.
Indeed, what’s unsaid in the poem is often where the action is—a good poet gives you only enough language to hang yourself with. A good filmmaker works the same way, and can make poetry out of images and sounds alone, no words at all. I appreciate that you’re able to blend mediums with experimental bravura. I do hope we can energize some more vibrant creative bonds and build better social platforms that give attention to aesthetics in the near future.
You dedicate your most recent book, Brain Lace, to your mentors. Who among poets, filmmakers, and other people in your life have been important to your development as an artist? What have you learned from them? What do you feel they gave, and you received?
Such an interesting way you read poetry, I like that you move with it, make it physical. I am still when I read but I do have a body response.
I too love the primal nature of poetry, the simplicity of it. As a writer, I love the challenge of putting something huge and overwhelming into something so tiny, it’s like an alchemic process. Your virtual reality machine insight is great, I agree with that, poetry is like coding in a way, it locks down something that can be opened back up and experienced new. And that has happened throughout time, from long before the invention of the printing press, with oral tradition and folk music.
My two publishers have had the biggest impact on my development. I can’t compliment them enough for their continued support, patience, and belief in my work. I was green as grass when I first started publishing, and my work was embarrassingly immature, I’m very grateful they saw potential in me. To meet people who understand me and help me to execute my vision, that’s invaluable, and an unexpected bonus to publishing. I need those creative conversations, I need to be able to throw an idea or piece out and get an insightful opinion back.
No other personal relationships have had an impact on me in a technical sense, and I didn’t study english or art, I am a law graduate. I narrowed it down to painting or law and went for law. Looking back, I’m surprised at myself for making that choice, but studying art might have formalized it too much for me, sucked out the wonder of exploring. I enjoy teaching myself, I hated the education system and I was a difficult and bored student.
Most of my learning comes from absorbing art. I enjoy music most and I think the music video is the ultimate artform; everything exists within it, poetry, sound/emotionscapes, and visual representation, it’s the whole package. I’d like to create a poetry video someday that comes close to that immersive experience.
Mastery combined with risk-taking makes the most compelling work. I admire the visual work of Gaspar Noé and Alejandro Jodorowsky, how they manifest mysteries. To me, Björk is the most important artist alive, I can’t think of anyone else so innovative and to have channeled such enormous amounts of energy into their art. I also love black comedy, Julia Davis and Chris Morris in particular, they’re twisted masters of language. And Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, it’s poetry as much as a play, technically so interesting, I can still see the structures of her words years after reading it, she wove something through that play, like a gut or spiritual cord. They’re just some of my favorites, I could go on forever.
Marco V Morelli
I think poetry has a wonderful way of adapting itself to any medium. I can see how the music video is the perfect encapsulation of the ancient function of the tribal shaman, wandering bard, or tragic theater—reenacting epic, lyric, and extraordinary (horrific, traumatic, revelatory) scenes from the liminal zones of the cultural psyche. Brevity and emotional potency seem to be the key factors here, which makes for their memorability. (I grew up watching MTV in the 80s and 90s and also was a fan of Björk among other pioneering audiovisual-poetic artists, formative excessive media-consumption whereof I speak.)
You’ve given me some interesting new directions to explore; thank you.
And that is encouraging to hear about the positive relationship with your publishers. One so often hears stories about conflict between editors and writers—or between commercial interests (which a publisher or platform represents) and the artistic integrity of creatives. It appears that there are still some small (‘underground’) literary communities and networks where such supportive relationships as you’ve described are still possible. It is cool that you have been given the time (expressing faith in your potential) for your soul to grow, along with the feedback you’ve needed (expressing reality) to develop as an artist.
Here is my last question—it’s kind of a deep-digging one (because I dig you) and might be overly subtle, but here goes: What has been your most elusive, yet necessary creative challenge?
I just love your comparison of the music video with the tribal shaman or wandering bard! It’s perfect.
Your question is great. God, I’ve so many possible answers for this.
The most elusive thing involved is always the next piece. It is trying to exist and I have to make it exist or allow it to exist and the entry point to its existence changes every time.
In terms of necessary, accepting that death is as vital to creation as creation itself is the most important to me. I love this D.H. Lawrence line from Women in Love—“Dissolution rolls on, just as production does.” I have written thousands of poems but only published around 150 so far. It was only during the process of making my first book that I learned to dump work like crazy. Fine-tuning that judgment is an ongoing process. My own quality standard evolves with every book so something that I would have passed as publishable a year ago I now scrap. Past work restricts future work, I am obsessed with not repeating things, but limitations also result in new pathways opening.
Dissolution did seem like failure to me for a long time. But I now understand the role of failure in growth, its importance. There is a lot of rejection in writing. External and internal. Internal is the worst. My own response to failure is a battle, I work every day so it is constant. Blocks, bad writing, slow movement on things, repetition, large investments of time to end up with a pile of shit. I have had to train myself to accept mistakes, my nature takes them very badly. And I’m far from perfect at dealing with it, just a bit better at seeing lessons instead of apocalypse. It’s important to remind myself to not take it so seriously, the craftmanship side I should always take seriously but the rest not so much.
Thank you, Marco, for giving me so much to think about. It has been a real pleasure to explore these places with you.
Marco V Morelli
Thank you, Karina. I learned a lot! I hope others get something out of this too, and we can collaborate again in the future.