Informationism is the term first used by Richard Price in 1991 in the magazine Interference to describe common trends in the work of a group of Scottish poets. Their work was later collected in the anthology Contraflow on the Super Highway (1994). They were Robert Crawford, W. N. Herbert, David Kinloch, Peter McCarey, Alan Riach and Price himself.
These pages collect the introduction Price wrote for Contraflow, "Approaching the Informationists" (an expansion of the original article in Interference) and a retrospective account by him, briefly relating the term and its ideas to common factors in the group and to Price's fields of study and occupation, summarising different usages of the word, and emphasising Informationism as a field of ambiguity and even ideological conflict.
The site also lists other commentators' responses to Scottish Informationism and
has a small selection of Price's Informationist poems: more are collected in Perfume & Petrol Fumes,
Lucky Day and in forthcoming work.
Approaching the Informationists (1994)
Looking Back at Informationism (2007)
Responses to Informationism
Big Bang Research
An Informationist's Kitchen
Responses to Informationism
Ian Brown (general ed.), The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature. Vol. 3: Modern Transformations, Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
Brief discussion of the Informationists in Roderick Watson's "Living with the Double Tongue: Modern Poetry in Scots", pp.151-162, and Eleanor Bell's "Old Country, New Dreams: Scottish Poetry since the 1970s", pp.185-197
Transwiki definition of Informationism, 2006
Art of Fiction Bournemouth Runner, "The Informationists", Blog 13th May, 2006. Blogger finally receives his Contraflow
Gerard Carruthers, "Scottish literature: Second Renaissance" in The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp.668-684.
General chapter on modern Scottish literature. "Informationists... can be seen responding to the Postmodern information overload and out of this condition framing poems that are both sceptical and lyrical as they attest to the difficulty in defining the relationship of the individual to any solid cultural centre, perhaps especially a national one."
Robert Crawford, "Spirit Machines: The Human and the Computational" in Robert Crawford (ed.), Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science, Oxford University Press, 2006,pp.52-68.
Informationism, a childhood with computers, a Scottish philosophical tradition, the spectral in the virtual.
W. N. Herbert, "Testament and Confessions of an Informationist" in Robert Crawford (ed.), Contemporary Poetry and Contemporary Science, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp.72-87.
Informationism's roots in MacDiarmid, Yeats, Edwin Morgan, Scottish philosophy, uncertainty and tv.
Peter Manson, Adjunct, Edinburgh Review, 2005. Various Informationists stray in to Manson's diary/ procedural poem / paean to cactuses. Manson expresses the anxiety, or delight, that he is not sure quite how many Informationists he has just offended.
Robert Potts, "Margin of Horror", in The Guardian 18th June 2005. Review of Richard Price's Lucky Day in context of Informationism.
David Morley, "Say it Bucket, Say it", in The Guardian 4th June 2005. Review of Iain Bamforth's A Place in the World in context of Informationism.
Richard Price, "La Grille: Contemporary Scottish Poetry and France" in Gerard Carruthers, David Goldie, and Alastair Renfrew (eds.), Beyond Scotland: New Contexts for Twentieth-Century Scottish Literature, Rodopi, 2004, pp.185-208.
Discussion of the work of Iain Bamforth, David Kinloch, Peter McCarey and Donny O'Rourke
Norman Jope, "New times, new tools". Review of Mengham, Pioro and Szymor (eds.), Altered States: the new Polish Poetry Arc Publications, in Stride, July 2003.
Concludes that new Polish poetry is comparable in British terms with Scottish Informationists and contemporary poetry from northern England.
Robert Crawford, "Contemporary Poetry and Academia: The Instance of Informationism", in Andrew Michael Roberts and Jonathan Allison (eds.), Poetry and Contemporary Culture: the Question of Value, Edinburgh University Press, 2002, pp.85-100.
Informationism as an "academically-developed self-consciousness."
Richard Price, Hypertext Poetry Workshop Reflections ca.1997
Andrew Duncan Author of The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry assesses the Informationists, [1995?]
George Gunn, "Wake Up!", in Northwords, [1994?]
Review of Dream State: The New Scottish Poets:"The main grouping in Dream State call themselves the 'Scottish Informationists'. But their poetry does not inform, it obscures. Because information is power. With power you can control. & with control you can edit. & with editing goes publishing. With publishing goes status & so it goes on. Missing from all this is real lyric talent & that wild ability to create." [...] "Let us call a spade a spade: the means of production of contemporary Scottish poetry has fallen into the hands of a few ambitious academics whose terms of reference will kill off poetry in Scotland, if we let them. They are just another kind of English Department imperialism. A lot of nothing is said in these 231 pages. So much for the Informationists."
Daniel O'Rourke, Dream State: the New Scottish Poets, Polygon, 1994.
All the Informationists are represented in O'Rourke's anthology of contemporary Scottish poetry.
Peter McCarey, "Another Informationist Manifesto" 1994
Richard Price, Approaching the Informationists 1994
Looking back at Informationism
Study and experience of modes of information in the media, in literature and in professional, academic and technical specialisms informed my choice of the name, "Informationism": I trained as a journalist in the 1980s at Napier College Edinburgh before completing a degree in English with Librarianship in the technology-centred Strathclyde University. In the early 90s I became a curator (later Head of) Modern British Collections at the British Library, where millions of texts latently cooperate and compete. Earlier I had been an Information Officer (that Info word again) for one of the largest building projects in Europe - the Library's new home at St Pancras.
Apart from W. N. Herbert, all the Informationists had formative experiences of the city of Glasgow and all took their bearings, to differing degrees, from the internationalist poet Edwin Morgan based there (I first met him when he was a "Visiting Professor" at Strathclyde - a title which says a lot about the distance between the largely middleclass Glasgow University where he taught and the largely working class one I was studying at; both are located in the same city). The poems of modernist Hugh MacDiarmid were also influential on the group, both the synthetic use of Scots vocabulary and the encyclopedic late poetry. I see my own Informationism as being particularly informed by the scrutiny of survey, historiographical and political discourse that takes place in the nineteenth century novels of John Galt, and by the lyric and political poetry of Tom Leonard.
Several of the Informationists were published very early on in their poetry lives by Vennel Press, a press under the co-direction of myself and the poet Leona Medlin. Some of the Informationists were undergraduates at Oxford, some postgraduates; all have doctorates and arguably their poetry exploits and problematises research practice. The key magazines of the Informationists were Gairfish, Verse, and Southfields; I was a co-editor of each.
Cliquewise, the Informationists did not think of the term as exclusive (they saw it as descriptive of a trend) and, though there is a cluster of particularities that made the group's connection to each other happen, generally the Informationists have drawn attention to other poets working on similar lines; there are of course others who are experimental in quite different ways. Within a Scottish context, poets such as Iain Bamforth, Rob Mackenzie (of off Ardglas), Peter Manson, Drew Milne, Donny O'Rourke and Fiona Wilson all appear to me to have extended the possibilities of poetry and whether or not an Informationist Inspector can make sure their compliance box is ticked seems beside the point. In any case there is clearly an intrinsic vulnerability within Informationism (as a set of discourses itself) to its own procedures, and to the culture taxonomy enterprise in which Informationists have to varying degrees been engaged. It is notable that several Informationists are now in positions of considerable cultural authority and for them statements subsequent to the 1994 heyday (including this one) tend to have an element of negotiating between the radicalism of Informationism and the position of power Informationist X now hopes to attain or actually finds themself in.
As a term Informationism was used in other contexts before I coined it for this specific group. It has, for example, been used without irony within organisations to denote a loose grouping of librarians, information technology managers, marketing managers and market researchers, a usage that dates to at least the early 1990s. A French equivalent appears to have been used in the context of Situationism much earlier even than this, in an anonymous piece, "All the King's Men" in Internationale Situationniste (8: Jan. 1963): informationism was a term of contempt. There is still a viable critique in this article, against the same targets attacked by the Scottish Informationists but arguably also as a warning to them: the Situationist distaste for those who practice Informationism expresses a suspicion of the news and media (in other words, the Scottish Informationists would agree with the Situationists here, but who wouldn't) but also of power's misuse of technology, especially power's utilitarian view of language as functional, and therefore mechanisable, mass-communication. Without putting words into their mouths, Scottish Informationists are also likely to see the poverty of power's reductionist information model but they recognise, affirm, and, in some cases, use the liberational possibilities of new technologies.
If the etymology wasn't complicated enough, there are at least two more usages of the term, both probably emerging from the mid-1990s on. The first is a religious objection (in detail rather like the Situationist one) in which Informationism is characterised as an uncomprehending greed for information, conflated with a naive trust in the digitally-published word. Such a thirst is seen as selfish, rootless, family-undermining and godless, elements this religious view strongly correlates with new information technologies. Finally, there is a usage much closer to the one the poetry and prose of the Scottish Informationists appears to elicit: Informationism as the deployment of information discourses against those discourses themselves, as a destabilising counter to, for example, government and commercial propaganda. This is implicit and explicit in the work of these poets, as is their paradoxical assertion of non-established information against established sources (paradoxical unless the assertion allows for a suspension of judgement and an understanding of the dynamic and fluid in information relationships; otherwise it is one establishment replacing another). Though there may be no causal link at all - and the Scottish Informationists stop short of espousing information as a weapon - it is these broader meanings of Informationism that appear now to have wider currency, in Web-mediated culture at least.
Lifelong learners of the complexities of modernism and postmodernism it will come as no surprise to the Informationist-poets that the term they momentarily put their name to in the early 1990s now runs parallel with and in contradiction to other identically-named concepts.
More Literary Criticism
Alphabet of Poets
Essays, Articles, and Reviews
Informationism (to top of this page)
Letter to Sao Paulo
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