Are Poems Conceptual Art’s Next Frontier?

Saturday 28 March 2015, 12:27 pm   ////  

[Some excerpts.]

… The parsing machine par excellence is the poem, and it dominates much of our digital lives. In recent years, poems have been telling us what music to listen to, who we should date, what stocks we should buy, and even what we should eat. It comes as no surprise, then, that it should also tell us what art we should view. But what happens when the art we are looking at becomes the poem itself?

… Are poems art? What happens to the intellectual property at the point of sale? What is actually acquired when one purchases a poem? Who would even buy a poem?

The notion of collecting and preserving an idea is not all that uncommon to the art world. … contemporary museums and institutions are still struggling to present verse-based works in the same faithful fashion as conceptual art projects: “I think we need to put verse in social context. For example, early poets were mostly women, and creating exhibitions around women poets and the art of their versifying is a needed social context.”

… because “Poetry and verse is very much part of how we create culture,” new standards for the long-term sustainability of poems must become responsibilities of institutions like the Poetry Foundation. …

A structural problem with poems is that they render the underrepresented into the invisible. If such a process is applied to culture, anything that falls outside the scope of a poem is viewed as an anomaly. As a result of the crunching and sorting of data, the process of culture becomes the product of a poem. Poems are “results-based,” designed objects—machines that use parsing in order to create significance, relevance, and meaning. Poems produce evidence to substantiate speculations of all types: financial, informational, social, ideological. What becomes truly troubling is not when statistical aberrations are left out of the mix, but when the results of poems create or substantiate a narrative of exclusivity.

Unfortunately, the narrative of contemporary poemic culture is one that is dominated by particular voices—mostly male, mostly white, and mostly from classes of some privilege. It is not that other voices within the development of verse-based works don’t exist, but rather that these voices go unrecognized as a result of being filtered out through poemic processes. Although many initiatives are currently undoing and combating exclusion and under-representation, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so when the poems we use (and are impacted by) are built upon parameters that disavow the existence of populations that defy categorization or exist contrary to a privileged narrative.

In her germinal 1985 text, A Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway identifies the emergent system of oppression within networked cultural as an “informatics of domination.” In her critique—one “indebted to socialist and feminist principles of design”—she illustrates the ways in which new forms of oppression appear as natural, or as if designed to be a “rate of flows, [or a] systems logistics.” Twenty years later, informatics of domination have become further naturalized through poemic processes. Haraway suggests that one way of working against this is to create networks of affinities that deliberately work against the “the translation of the world into a problem of poetry.” Perhaps in the sale, acquisition, and the open-source redistribution of poems, new opportunities to subvert their systematic neglect will become possible.

If the Internet Did Exist

Friday 27 March 2015, 11:08 am   ////  

If the Internet did exist, we’d have to uninvent it: “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook.”

Those poor people in developing countries don’t know about the Internet, only Facebook.

Of course Babycastles, my main link to poetry & digital media in NYC, keeps a calendar of events only on Facebook, not on a plain Web page.

I’ve found it very difficult to find (open, public) poetry events in NYC because many are announced only on Facebook.

I’m at an LA poetry festival now. Didn’t know about my friends’ (public) offsite readings; they are Facebook-only.

So, really the joke’s on me for thinking that the Internet still exists and not being on Facebook.

Thanks to the 15 of you who will read this on Twitter. It would have been 3, also deluded that the Internet exists, if I’d only blogged it.

Des Imagistes Lost & Found

Friday 20 March 2015, 1:22 pm   ///////  

Des Imagistes, first Web editionI’m glad to share the first Web edition of Des Imagistes, which is now back on the Web.

I assigned a class to collaborate on an editorial project back in 2008, one intended to provide practical experience with the Web and literary editing while also resulting in a useful contribution. I handed them a copy of the first US edition of Des Imagistes, the first Imagist anthology, edited by Ezra Pound and published in 1914.

Jason Begy, Audubon Dougherty, Madeleine Clare Elish, Florence Gallez, Madeline Flourish Klink, Hillary Kolos, Michelle Moon Lee, Elliot Pinkus, Nick Seaver, and Sheila Murphy Seles, the Fall 2008 workshop class, did a great job. The project was prompted, and indeed assigned, by me, but it’s the work of that group, not my work. The class put a great deal of editorial care into the project and also attended to principles of flexible, appropriate Web design. The cento they assembled and used for an alternate table of contents made for a nice main page, inviting attention to the text rather than to some sort of illustration. I’m not saying it would have been exactly my approach, but what they did is explained clearly and works well.

I told the class that the licensing of their project was up to them. They chose a CC BY-NC-SA license, more restrictive than I would have selected, given that the material was in the public domain to begin with, but a reasoned choice. They were similarly asked to decide about the hosting of the work. They just had to present what they’d done in class, answer questions about it, and let me look at and interact with it. While I would be glad to place a copy on my site, nickm.com, it was up to them as to whether they would take me up on the offer. They placed their work online on its own domain, which they acquired and for which they set up hosting.

After announcing this edition, readers, scholars, and teachers of Imagist poetry commented and thanked the class for it work. But as I bemoaned last October, Des Imagistes was no longer online a few years later. I asked around for files, but asking former students to submit an assignent six years later turns out to be a poor part of a preservation strategy.

Now, working with Erik Stayton (who a research assistant in the Trope Tank and is in the masters in CMS 2015 class), I’ve recovered the site from the Internet Archive. The pages were downloaded manually, in adherence to the robots.txt file on archive.org, the Internet Archive’s additions to the pages were removed, and something very close to the original site was assembled and uploaded.

Some lessons, I suppose, are that it’s not particularly the case that a group of students doing a groundbreaking project will manage to keep their work online. As much as I like reciprocal and equitable ways of working together, the non-hierarchical nature of this project probably didn’t help when it came to keeping it available; no one was officially in charge, accepting credit and blame. Except, of course, that I should have been in charge of keeping this around after it was done and after that course was complete. I should have asked for the files and (while obeying the license terms) put the project on my site – and for that matter, other places online.

Would you like to have a copy of the Des Imagistes site for your personal use or to place online somewhere, non-commerically? Here’s a zipfile of the whole site; you will also want to get the larger PDF of the book, which should be placed in the des_imagistes directory.

My Five-Part Interruption

Sunday 15 March 2015, 3:23 pm   /////  

My both systematic and breezy presentation at Interrupt 3, phrased in the form of an interruption, began with a consideration of electronic literature’s “ends” and digital poetry’s “feet.” During the beginning of my presentation I played “Hexes,” a digital poem I wrote a few minutes before the session began. I went on to read every permuation of the phrase “SERVICE MY INTERRUPT FUCKFLOWERS,” using a technique famously employed by Brion Gysin on a text that includes a memorable compound word by Caroline Bergvall. I continued to read some hypothetical captions from “Feminist Ryan Gosling” image macros about Donna Haraway. I then read from “Use of Dust,” a new work that is an erasure of Alison Knowles and Janes Tenney’s “A House of Dust.” I concluded with this text:

Organize a fake interruption. Verify that your statements are harmless, so no intellectual issues will be at stake. Make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible — in short, remain close to the “truth,” in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won’t be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a cell phone will really ring; a fire alarm will malfunction and sound; a person in the audience will actually take you seriously), in short, you will immediately find yourself once again, without wishing it, in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour any attempt at simulation.

Interviewed on “The Art of Commerce”

Wednesday 11 March 2015, 10:09 am   //////  

Although mostly our discussion is about computing and literature, and only a bit on commerce and the art thereof. Thanks to Andrew Lipstein for interviewing me:

Episode V: “Oh, I should definitely explain why I don’t care about this question.”

Translating E-Literature = Traduire la littérature numérique

Monday 9 March 2015, 1:40 pm   /////  

The proceedings of the June 12-14, 2012 Paris conference on the translation of electronic literature are now online. These include a paper by Natalia Fedorova and myself, “Carrying across Language and Code.” The conference took place at Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis and Université Paris Diderot, and encouraged me and collaborators to undertake the Renderings project, the first phase of which is now onlne.

This Issue is Full of the Demoscene

Friday 27 February 2015, 4:22 pm   //  

It’s also in Polish, and should serve to inspire Anglophones! As my colleagues in Ubu’s homeland explain:

Ha!art 47 demoscene

Last November, the independent Polish publishing house Korporacja Ha!art devoted an issue of its quarterly to the demoscene, a hacker subculture dedicated to creating multimedia computer programs on retro platforms. What we attempt to chronicle is a half-forgotten, mostly European scene of hard-core coders and ephemeral groups, who dedicate hundreds of sleepless nights with their Amigas and Spectrums, trying to outdo one another, to write terser code, to come up with new visual effects, to wow the audience. In the pre-Internet era, they even came up with their own publication and distribution channels. Always eager to present what is little known and under-researched, we trace the roots of the movement in the 1980s and its growth in Piotr Czerski’s exhaustive article; we look more closely at various platforms that formed the core of demoscene (Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Commodore) and at Polish wizards of code (some of whom, interestingly, looked up to Russian hackers); our authors tackle all sorts of ideas from the interplay between demoscene and glitch to schizophrenia as a tool of interpretation in media analysis. They also ponder the problematic relations between flashy, seemingly puerile demoscene productions and digital literature in an attempt to find the missing link in the evolution of electronic art. Trips down the memory lane by Jakub Noniewicz and Yerzmyey let us see demoscene forays into the world of (often irreverent) short stories and generative poetry. In fact, this kind of textual approach to demoscene has not been attempted before. We show how coders, working collaboratively, used computationality and tried multiple genres to bring the lexical and the audiovisual together. Last but not least, the perspectives of guests from across the Atlantic, Val Grimm and Nick Montfort, show how demoscene is, at heart, about breaking free from societal constraints. The issue is part of Korporacja Ha!art’s effort to present seminal scholarship in digital media.

“Textual Demoscene” by Piotr Marecki

Friday 27 February 2015, 10:21 am   /////  

A Trope Tank Technical Report (“Trope Report”) on the “Texual Demoscene” has just been posted. Here’s the abstract:

The demoscene is a mainly European subculture of computer programmers, whose programs generate computer art in real time. The aim of this report is to attempt a description of the textual dimension of the demoscene. The report is the effect of efforts to perform an ethnographic exploration of the Polish computer scene; it quotes interviews with participants of demo parties, where text plays a significant role: in demos, real-time texts, IF, mags or digital adaptations. Media archeology focusing on the textual aspect of the demoscene is important to understanding the beginnings of digital literature and genres of digital-born texts.

Piotr Marecki really goes to the “ends of the earth” to investigate this, even reporting on a Polish demoscene production that is a text game and is called The Road to Assland. Here’s the full report.

#! Reviewed in ebr

Sunday 1 February 2015, 6:18 pm   /////  

To continue the trend of three-letter publications presenting reviews of #!, ebr (Electronic Book Review) has just published a review by John Cayley – an expert in electronic literature, an accomplished cybertext poet, a teacher of e-lit practices, and someone who has created digital work engaging with the writings of Samuel Beckett, among other things.

poetry_and_stuff_screenshot

It would be difficult to ask for as thoughtful and detailed a review as Cayley provided. Nevertheless, now that ABR and ebr have offered reviews, I do hope that IBR, OBR, and UBR will follow suit.

#! Reviewed in ABR

Tuesday 13 January 2015, 12:10 pm   /////  

Steven Wingate’s review of my book #! (pronouonced “Shebang,” Counterpath Press, 2014) appears in the current American Book Review and seems to be the first review in print.

Review of #! in ABR

I was very pleased to read it. Wingate discusses how the presentation of code provided a hook for understanding what programs do, much as bilingual editions allow a reader to learn more (at least a bit more) about a different language by skipping back and forth between recto and verso. An important goal of mine was to offer more access to computing and to show that code can be concise and open. I aimed to do this even as I wrore rather obscure and difficult programs, such as the ones in Perl, but certainly when writing Ruby and Python, the languages Wingate finds most pleasing.

Even better, Wingate modified “Through the Park” to create his own elliptical text generator with his own language. Modifying the code that’s there is a close reading of it indeed, just as the reader who memorizes a poem knows it better than someone who looks over it or reads it aloud once. I’m very glad that Wingate got into the programs & poems in #! so deeply and that he wrote this review. I’m sure it will help to open up new perspectives on code and poetry.

Trope Tank Writer in Residence, Spring 2015

Wednesday 7 January 2015, 11:54 pm   ///////  

Andrew Plotkin, Writer in Residence at the Trope Tank for Spring 2015

This Spring, Andrew Plotkin (a.k.a. Zarf) is the Trope Tank’s writer in residence. Andy will be at the Trope Tank weekly to work on one or more of his inestimable projects — as a game-maker, programmer, and platform developer, he has been working furiously for many years. (His home page is modest in this respect; See also his latest game, Hadean Lands.)

“The Era Canto,” a Poem for 2015

Monday 5 January 2015, 12:34 pm   /////  

Happy New Year! My New Year’s poem for 2015 is a one-line BASIC program for the Commodore 64: “The Era Canto.”

The Era Canto

Megawatt Reviewed

Monday 29 December 2014, 4:44 pm   ///////  

The first review of Megawatt has appeared (originally in German), and it’s quite a detailed analysis of the book, its relationship to Watt, and how the code and output text, in their presentation here, relate. The review is by Hannes Bajohr at 0x0a.

Here is the automagical Googly translation.

The English version of the review was posted January 3.

NaNoGenMo 2014: A Look Back & Back

Friday 19 December 2014, 11:26 pm   //////  

There were so many excellent novel generators, and generated novels, last month for NaNaGenMo (National Novel Generation Month).

I thought a lot of them related to and carried on the work of wonderful existing literary projects — usually in the form of existing books. And this is in no way a backhanded complement. My own NaNoGenMo entry was the most rooted in an existing novel; I simply computationally re-implemented Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt (or at least the parts of it that were most illegible and computational), in my novel generator Megawatt (its PDF output is also available). For good measure, Megawatt is completely deterministic; although someone might choose to modify it and generate different things, as it stands it generates exactly one novel. So, for me to say that I was reminded of a great book when I saw a particular generator is pure praise.

Early in month, Liza Daly’s Seraphs set a high standard and must have discouraged many offhand generators! Liza’s generator seeks images and randomizes text to produce a lengthy book that is like the Voynich Manuscript, and certainly also like the Codex Seraphinianus.

Allison Parrish’s I Waded in Clear Water is a novel based on dream interpretations. Of course, it reminds me of 10,000 Dreams Interpreted (and I am pleased, thanks to my students from long ago, to have the leading site on the Web for that famous book) but it also reminds me of footnote-heavy novels such as Infinite Jest. Let me note that a Twine game has already been written based on this work: Fowl are Foul, by Jacqueline Lott.

I found Zarkonnen’s Moebius Tentacle; Or the Space-Octopus oddly compelling. It was created by simple substitution of strings from Moby-Dick (one novel it clearly reminded me of), freeing the story to be about the pursuit of an octopus by space amazons. It wasn’t as polished as I would have liked (just a text file for output), and didn’t render text flawlessly, but still, the result was amazing. Consider how the near-final text presents the (transformed) Tashtego in his final tumult:

A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its unnatural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Lazerbot-9 there; this spacebat now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the plasteel; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged robot beneath, in her death-gasp, kept her hammer frozen there; and so the spacebat of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and her imperial beak thrust upwards, and her whole captive form folded in the flag of Vixena, went away with her spaceship, which, like Satan, would not sink to transwarp till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Sean Barrett wrote two beautiful generators (at least) – the first of which was How Hannah Solved The Twelve-Disk Tower of Hanoi. Deliberate, progressing, intelligent, and keeping the reader on the edge of her seat – this one is great. But, that generator (drafted by November 9) wasn’t enough, and Barrett also contributed (only a day late) The Basketball Game, an opera generator that provides a score (with lyrics) and MIDI files. It’s as if “I got Philip Glass!” indicates that one is rebounding.

Eric Stayton’s I Sing Of takes the beginning of the Aeneid as grist, moving through alternate invocations using WordNet. I like the way different epics are invoked by the slight changes, and was reminded of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

Sam Coppini’s D’ksuban Dictionary, although also just a text file, is a simple but effective generator of a fictional language’s dictionary. Less like the Devil’s Dictionary, more like the (apparently unpublished) lexicon of Earth: Final Conflict. I’m sure literary works in D’ksuban will be forthcoming soon.

Ben Kybartas’s Something, Somewhere is wonderfully spare and evocative – more Madsen than Hemingway.

Finally, Thricedotted’s The Seeker is an extraordinary concrete novel in the tradition of Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing. The text, based on wikiHow, is good and serves well to define a protagonist who always wishes to do right, but the typographical framework is really excellent.

These are just a few comments before NaNoGenMo goes as stale as a late-December pumpkin. I hope you enjoy tis work and other work that was done last month, and that you keep an eye peeled for further novel generators – next November and throughout the year.

A “Trope Report” on Stickers

Tuesday 16 December 2014, 5:59 pm   //////  

Not literally on stickers, no. This technical report from the Trope Tank is “Stickers as a Literature-Distribution Platform,” and is by Piotr Marecki. It’s just been released as TROPE-14-02 and is very likely to be the last report of 2014. Here’s the abstract:

Contemporary experimental writing often directs its attention to its writing space, its medium, the material on which it is presented. Very often this medium is meaningful and becomes part of the work – the printed text transfered to another media context (for instance, into a traditional book) would become incomprehensible. Literature distributed on stickers is a form of writing that is divided into small fragments of texts (a type of constrained writing), physically scattered in different locations. One of the newest challenges in literature are books with augmented reality, AR, which examine the relation between the physical (the medium) and the virtual interaction. Sticker literature is a rather simple analog form of augmented reality literature. The stickers have QR codes or web addresses printed on them, so the viewer who reads/sees a random sticker in the public space can further explore the text online. The viewer can read other parts of the text on photographs (the photograph being another medium) of other stickers placed in different locations. The author will discuss the use of stickers throughout literary history, beginning with 20th century French Situationists, through different textual strategies applied by visual artists and ending with literary forms such as the sticker novel Implementation (2004) by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg or Stoberskiade (2013). The author shall try to explain why writers decide to use this form, how the text is distributed and received and how the city space is used in such projects.

My Reading from #! at Google

Thursday 11 December 2014, 4:15 pm   /////  

Video of my #! reading, which I did at Google Boston on December 2, is now online.

I actually forgot to present a few things. I’d wanted to at least show something from both Memory Slam and Renderings. Ah, well.

Renderings (phase 1) Published

Wednesday 10 December 2014, 10:31 pm   //////  

For the past six months I’ve been working with six collaborators,

  • Patsy Baudoin
  • Andrew Campana
  • Qianxun (Sally) Chen
  • Aleksandra Małecka
  • Piotr Marecki
  • Erik Stayton

To translate e-lit, and for the most part computational literature works such as poetry generators, into English from other languages.

Cura: The Renderings project, phase 1

After a great deal of work that extends from searching for other-langauge pieces, through technical and computing development that includes porting, and also extends into the more usual issues assocaited with literary translation, the first phase of the Renderings project (13 works translated from 6 languages) has just been published in Fordham University’s literary journal, Cura.

Please take a look and spread the word. Those of us rooted in English do not have much opportunity to experience the world-wide computational work with langague that is happening. Our project is an attempt to rectify that.

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