Of Being Numerous: A Chat


This site began as an experiment. In early 2010, I started going on the website chatroulette.com, where users are paired up for videochats with random strangers. The site allows you to stay and chat with your partner or “next” them—click on a button which takes you to someone new.

In March, I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York and an exhibit by the Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic. Abramovic was sitting, silently, across a small wooden table, with whoever would sit with her, for as long as they would sit.

On returning home, I set out to create my own chatroulette ritual. I began going on the site and sitting across from my randomly generated partners, silently, for as long as they would stick around. Most users on the site simply pressed “next.” But once a partner did respond, I would sit with them for as long as they would stay. Once they moved on, that day’s ritual was complete.

Since April was also “National Poetry Month”—and I am a poet ;)—I decided to try transcribing these interactions—once a day, for the whole month—and begin generating text daily according to three additional procedures: randomly generated lines from news articles on the US military’s use of drones (which seemed to speak to a related intimacy and distance); most recent comments from youtube comment chains (using the “videos being watched right now” function); and randomly generated lines from George Oppen’s 1968 poem Of Being Numerous. You can find a more in-depth account of my procedures on the sidebar to the right (“A Note On Procedure”).

Text from these three sources, plus the interactions on chatroulette, make up the “dated” entries (4.1.10, 4.2.10, etc.) of this text. The untitled entries in between were a way to reckon with what resulted.

So, with all these things in mind (and body), here is the piece—which I’d like to call, rather than a poem, or a multimedia essay, or a haibun—a chat.