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T. Hibbard

The Endless Crossing:

Michael Rothenberg and the ejournal Big Bridge

This piece is 1520 words or about 3 printed pages long.
It is reprinted from poetic inhalation, now defunct.

Science seems in a transformational stage in which its discoveries decrease its understanding rather than increase it. One of the quark scientists commented that he had ‘no confidence’ quarks would prove the final building block of matter. Michael Rothenberg describes his online electronic journal Big Bridge as ‘organic’. This is a good description, but, in the same way, especially in relation to global electronic interconnecting on voluminous scale, what does organic mean? Aristotle viewed much of the world as similar to plants ‘growing’. Modern cosmologists are returning to this imagery, with the possibility of the universe having a ‘living’ nature, perhaps like Data the Star Trek android miraculously shedding tears over a romantic tale. Science tends no longer to think of matter-phenomena as inanimate cause-and-effect machine.

Michael Rothenberg

Michael Rothenberg

Perhaps Rothenberg means that his ejournal has begun to select its own material or that it wakes him up in the middle of the night with a headache. This is far-fetched. But it gets across the idea that not only is the concept of organic undefined and unexplored, but the concept — and other concepts too — as it applies to the worldwide web is undefined and unexplored. The cosmos is far-fetched. Is the internet an ibex or an office building, a leaf or a beverage? Is a homepage the root or the flower? Do emails move in a strange wave or with an aimless pulse? Online journals in terms of form, capability, mixing of content in a way that might generate new types of content are only in the first stage of their unfolding.

This is true of all ejournals. But it might be more true of Big Bridge. Compare Big Bridge, for example, to its double-star Jack. Jack is a wonderfully integrated pastel of experimental text and artwork, mentioned here for no reason other than to give a plug to its stirring beauty. (Also the reason that it was co-founded by Rothenberg along with Mary Sands.)

Big Bridge is something different in its manner of presentation, in some ways not as satisfying as Jack but in other ways, in its unintegrated appearance that seems to puff in and out of envy-green focus, at times somewhat darkly, more successfully giving a sense of an immensity that might be encompassed. If Jack is a glowing Sombrero Galaxy, Big Bridge is an florescent supernova of primordial debris, zillions of light years across, a specter of invisible forces and events. The term ‘layout’ for instance might no longer apply. Ejournals are more like a directing of movement or a turning of magnification toward micro- and macroscopic kingdoms, a harvesting of effects. ‘Fiction/Nonfiction’, ‘Biographical Sketches’, even “Links’ seem somewhat highschool.

Not that Big Bridge doesn’t have these. The current issue, apparently the issue for 2004 (I’m guessing there is no set duration per issue), is the first of Volume 3. Its screens show a masthead-like navigation bar at the top, listing divisions such as ‘Home’, ‘Art’, ‘Feature Chapbook’, ‘Contributor List’ and new with this issue “Features’. Under ‘Editors’, besides overall editor Rothenberg, Terri Carrion is assistant editor; Jonathan Penton, Paul Hardacre, Hall Bohner and Wanda Phipps are contributing editors. Nancy Victoria Davis and Terri Carrion are art directors. And Jonathan Penton is webmaster. Also introduced in the current issue is a web browser (‘Archive’) that connects with the first eight issues of Big Bridge and past contributors. In this way, says Rothenberg, Big Bridge becomes ‘one continuous issue’.

Cosmologists are interested in the biological metaphor of the universe to explain evidence of early stages that indicate development toward an end, final shape or fulfillment. Big Bridge seems unfinished because it is unfinished. Its form is evolving. Its editors are learning. It brings together distant activities without thematic connection. In discovering its shape and purpose, it sees things from far away. For instance, the name Big Bridge in my mind relates to the German Expressionist artist group ‘Die Bruke’ (The Bridge) from the early 1900s that included Heckel and Kandinsky. But Big Bridge doesn’t show much interest in its expressionistic roots.

Another example of dilation of worth might be Philip Whalen’s Goofbook available through the ‘Big Bridge Store’ for $15 including postage. Written in 1961 as a tribute to Jack Kerouac, it is a thirty-four-page paperback edited by Rothenberg and — unless I have gotten the wrong impression — offered in publication here for the first time.

The amorphous, unwieldy quality of Big Bridge gives the sense of outside forces. Big Bridge seeks to explore the identity of the medium rather than impose an identity on it. It experiments, bringing volatile, unrelated ingredients together impulsively, unknowingly. Boom! What can we learn from this? What unlucky encounters lurk behind this ‘Editor’s Note’:

We think walls are good for keeping out the cold and rain. And for displaying some art. They’re useless in the creation and propagation of art. We don’t care if Language poetry appears next to sonnets, or haiku next to spoken word and workshop poetry beside agit-smut. Our tastes are catholic — even though we’re Jews and pagans and Buddhists and libertines and run-of-the-mill Christians. We don’t care how art is shaped — round like moon, flat like roadkill, angular like love, twisted like political promises. We hear many voices (even when we’re taking our meds) and are guided by whimsy and passion and urgency. We want more.

Of course, the idea of ‘one continuous issue’ is to some degree the main attraction of ejournals. With hypertext, limitless billows of virtual space and links reaching to links, ejournals can connect to an infinity of material. Big Bridge does this. Casually following an interesting ‘Mystic Fire’ link, I wound up at a commercial-quality Buddhist site that had a category of ‘Beat Poets’ where I could download clips of Allen Ginsberg reading from Fried Shoes, Cooked Diamonds, though I couldn’t get the clip to work. It would be exhausting and perhaps misleading to list the ‘contents’ of the current issue. On the homepage, artworks connect to ‘feature’ articles. One of these is a tribute to Phil Ochs with photo by Robert Corwin. Clicking on the photo connects to a page with ten further links, including some reprinted liner notes by Ed Sanders referencing an Ochs Carnegie Hall concert and plus a brief clip of Ochs music (which I could get to work).

I also enjoyed the Buzz Gallery 1964–65 feature of reminiscences by many participants of Buzz art gallery started in San Francisco as part of the ‘San Francisco Renaissance’ (which in Big Bridge seems somewhat interchangeable with the Beat movement). The detailed notes talk about the painters, political events of that time affecting the styles and subject matter of paintings, informal comings and goings and some memorable poetry readings held there by LeRoi Jones and Richard Brautigan.

Another attractive feature is a section of erotica titled ‘Appetite for Joy’. Clicking on this goes to a page with nineteen further links by an impressive and long assortment of authors — much too much material to take in in one visit. Add to these the extensive ‘Poetry’ section, the ‘Reviews and Non Fiction’ section and the ‘Art’ section. Each topic in itself is worthy of review. In some cases, the sub-topics and individual works are substantive enough to merit considered response. One gets the sense of galactic overcrowdedness. I think some animated graphics would have added to the sense of activity in empty space.

Big Bridge doesn’t place its contents in a context. Or it is more accurate to say that it places its content in the context of a somewhat first-hand Beat eclecticism, with its buoyant unpredictable full-steam-ahead appetite for the bizarre and overlooked. Beat influences and connections are good. Philip Whalen is extensively eulogized in the eighth issue. Also the feature chap for that issue is Michael McClure’s Something of India. In ‘Features’ for the current issue is an article on ninety-year-old ‘mystic wiseguy’, surviving friend of Charles Olson and current poet laureate of Gloucester, MA, Vincent Ferrini. Works by Allen Ginsberg are offered in the ‘Big Bridge Press’ section. This Beat influence too would be part of the imperfect-ness of Big Bridge. A finish merely palatable is not permitted. Desolation angels generally have dirty if not bloody faces.

What is the future of Big Bridge and ejournals? I don’t think anyone yet knows. A feeling out of capabilities, a becoming comfortable within a vast new milieu, asking a long list of losing questions of the inconceivable; an intrepid Buck Rogers entry into the wormholes of googles of narcissistic tautologies. Perhaps it will turn out that ‘unfinished’ is not an intermediate phase of the universe but a permanent quality of its nature. Big Bridge will blast off as a lovable errant presence headed for respectable middle-class media-rooms from a dimension that happily devours things like automobiles, magnet-decorated refrigerators and kitchen tables, collapsing the solidity of them down to sizes smaller than atomic nuclei. Big Bridge will become an uptown A-train express for mind-travelers through pneumatic quasi-human-constructed informational tubes toward an ecstatic Nietzschean hyper-paradise cavorting not only beyond good and evil but beyond beginning and end.

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