An Epic poem by David Ashford
////// 230 pages
Size: 15.6x 23.4 CM
In the year 1600, on New Year’s Eve, Queen Elizabeth I begot a Monster. No mere human-being but a personality, a person in law though lacking a soul, the East India Company was an Artificial Intelligence, a cyborg consisting of living and inorganic components, incorporated like the Golem, or Homunculi of the Alchemists, by a magical spell, or performative speech act, the creative Word of the Law.
Endowed with the powers of Mercury and Mars, driven by a mercantile imperative but possessed of the authority of a State, this cybernetic organism would live for another 274 years, assimilating ever greater human and material resources - in an exponential growth - until its rule extended over millions of square miles, and over hundreds of millions of people, from the Straits of Hormuz in the West to the Island of Singapore in the East.
Equipped with processing power that permitted it to capture, catalogue and analyse data relating to cultures over centuries, this persona ficta would forge a novel, terrifying form of empire, based primarily not upon military prowess, but on the preeminence of information technologies deployed on an hitherto unprecedented scale, laying the foundations for the global economy, and the World Wide Web.
Drawing on the physical remains of this intelligence, preserved in the topmost room of the British Library, David Ashford reconstructs the history of the personal-development of this Monster, in an ironic twist on William Wordsworth’s conception of epic as charting the growth of a mind, in a long poem that will have startling implications for our understanding of the European epic tradition, the relationship of capitalism to empire, the role of museums, universities and libraries in collating and organising cultural information, the significance of the digital computer-sciences, the Internet and Big Data, and the procedures of contemporary innovative poetry in the Anglo-American Modernist tradition.
The book consists of twelve episodes and explores the intersection of mythology, economics and history interrogated in documentary-montages developed by poets such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Muriel Rukeyser, Charles Olsen, Ernesto Cardenal, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and M. NourbeSe Philip.
A world opens up – and the mind, designing, always looking for an angle, presumes a moral will be pointed, a stone placed, a quotation ended so that all is suitably contained ... but the world so opened up, feeling slightly alternate as well as historical, then envelops me, to a strange delight in unpuzzling language and story, but also in leaving it puzzled. The whole experience is so fluid and full of delights. There’s wonderful humour throughout – which draws on the sense of disjuncture / conjuncture between our present and the present of the text, between our language and that of the poem, and also our greed as a reader for juicy, behind-the-scenes detail of scandals, riches, grand political scheming and daily life.
The overall effect for me is one of the dazzle of language – a sense of pulses of narrative, pushing forward and receding, being succeeded by further waves – into an endlessly curving topography – relentless in their accretion of influence, costs and charges and tariffs – compounding in interest. Rather guiltily, I am happy to conspire in the (bourgeois?) pleasures of accumulation of language and incident ... enjoying this massive world a little as one would an MMORP ... and as the Com- pany’s dealings become in later sections more and more powerful, one is compelled to interrogate ones reading practice.
– Jonathan Catherall, Editor of Tentacular Magazine
David Ashford is a poet, critic and publisher. He is the author of five poetry collections, Xaragmata (Veer 2013), Orcs (Veer 2015), Sedition Machines (Veer 2017), John Company (Pamenar 2021), and Collected Lyrics (Crater 2021), and three books of cultural criticism, London Underground: a cultural geography (LUP 2013), Autarchies: a cultural history of Modernist Egoism (Bloomsbury 2017), and a forthcoming monograph on Promethean Horror to be published by Rowman and Littlefield. As the editor of Contraband Books, David has published some of the most exciting innovative poetry now being produced in the UK. His published authors include Rod Mengham, Harry Gilonis, Terry Phillips, Khaled Hakim, Sascha Akhtar, Rhys Trimble, Nicolas Spicer, Nat Raha, Andrew Spragg, Verity Spott, and a great many more… David is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where he teaches Creative Writing, Modernism, Postmodernism, and the History of Literature post-1550.
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