comment 0

Gnoetry, Ego, Mac Low, and Process

Here’s an engaging response from Eric on my characterizations of Gnoetry and  my response.  I’m pretty eager to dig into some Mac Low when I have time and to deepen my understanding of what these guys are up to.

Hi Joe,

Just a comment on my use of Gnoetry: I think it would be inaccurate to say the function of Gnoetry “at the heart” is to “remove the ego” from the writing process. Jackson Mac Low, who for years worked with generative methods to achieve such a goal, gave up on this concept sometime in the 80’s or 90’s, realizing that it was an impossibility. Selection of the “best” outputs is the principle strategy of the Gnoetry user, and as such it is firmly founded in ego considerations. I think it does help the author/user to write outside of his/her own “voice,” personality or habitual idea of self, but it relies wholly upon the sense of the author/user as a being who enjoys, and who has the power to select what it most enjoys and reject what it does not. This is a more basic and less deceptive mode of the ego, but still ego nonetheless.

As a Buddhist, I’ve thought a lot about this subject, and I mostly agree with Mac Low’s opinion, which you can find in his (few) speech’s and essays (see the front matter in A Thing of Beauty). I think it is best to be honest about what we do as poets and not just try to keep deceiving ourselves (and others) by propping up our troublesome senses of self. The operation of the ego through generative processes (or machine prosthesis) can work outside of the self and more in the realm of pleasure, as Mac Low outlines in “Poetry and Pleasure.” Poetry, as a conceptual act of wit, intelligence and imagination, cannot be fully transcendent, though it may facilitate some beneficial transformations. That’s my current opinion.

Although perhaps, we’re using two different definitions of ego. Are you talking psychoanalysis or Eastern philosophy, because I’m mostly stuck on the latter.


Hey Eric! Great to hear from you. And to warrant some rigorous attention.

It’s funny–Chad also mentioned that he wished I had made some finer distinctions in my post, but, to be honest, as a non-practicer and more of a general observer–I didn’t feel like I should with any real authority. So I’m happy you could step in a make some clarifications in regard to where you’re coming from in your practice and Gnoetry in general. I’m particularly drawn to the idea that your goal is to work more in the realm of pleasure, and can understand how you can see representing Gnoetry as an escape from ego as too close to traditional ideas of transcendence. And I think I my appreciation of this pleasure principal is reflected in my likening of reading Gnoetry to listening to music or a good band do its thing. In fact, it looks like the post-this-post on the Subject Lute contextualizes this idea. From a non user perspective, encountering Gnoetry with this in mind has given me greater access to its intrinsic pleasure.

My broad generalizations on what it is in regard to ego were the product of comments like: “I’ve typically argued that Gnoetry, by separating the human end user from the usual psychosocial sources of poetic production, complicates if not eradicates the “individual” from the aesthetic act.” But as I review what has been written about Gnoetry and your previous comments it seems that as Gnoetry accrues definitions (those provided throughout the blog and the initial manifesto) brief thumbnails such as mine are insufficient. Hopefully what I’ve done is pointed people in the direction of your work as opposed to misrepresenting it. Either way, part of the excitement of watching you guys do this is to see you theorize it in the act of making it.

Filed under: Errata

About the Author

Posted by

Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s