an event to welcome the Electronic Literature Organization to MIT
and to introduce the ELO to the MIT community
an open house / open mic / open mouse
featuring 5-7 minute presentations and readings
by a host of electronic literature authors (perhaps including you)

[LOCATION] The 6th floor of Fumihiko Maki’s new Media Lab building
in the large multipurpose room (E14-674)

[DATE & TIME] Monday September 19
5:30pm Kickoff, signup for open mic/open mouse begins
6:30pm Open mic/open mouse readings & presentations

an event in the Purple Blurb series
sponsored by Angus N. MacDonald Fund
and the Council for the Arts at MIT

Snacks provided [] Free and open to the public [] Free, open, and AKIMBO

App of Leaves

Congrats to Andrew Plotkin (a.k.a. Zarf), interactive fiction author and active member of our local People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, on the release of his first iPad app: My Secret Hideout. It’s not IF per se, but an interactive narrative toy – or, as Zarf says, “It’s an interactive toy… or rather poem… or artwork… It’s an interactive textual art generator set in a treehouse!” It has no score, possibly because life doesn’t work that way.

Check out Zarf’s page on My Secret Hideout for further details. Or, visit the App Store to nab it.

Videos about MIT’s Montfort and Harrell

At MIT TechTV, there’s a new 5-minute video about me and my work, featuring Ad Verbum, Curveship, Taroko Gorge, the ppg256 series and (as examples of really cool things that have been done with computers and that are worth our attention) some productions by others from the demoscene.

Also see the excellent video covering the work of my colleague Fox Harrell and his Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab. Harrell describes his projects, reads from one of them, and discusses his concept of “phantasmal media.” That term provides the title for a book he’s completing for the MIT Press.

Winter in Brazil, Southern Edition

Like my collaborator Noah Wardrip-Fruin, I have come to Brazil for the winter. But not to a nice warm part of Brazil — I’m in Passo Fundo, in the far South, at the 14th Jornada Nacional de Literatura. Here, it has been cold outside, but there has been great excitement about writing and literary art.

Nick Montfort speaking in Passo Fundo

I have been correctly identified as a space man as I’ve shown and discussed interactive fiction, poetry generation, and other forms of electronic literature.

I gave a longer talk this morning about these topics, which was translated into Brazilian Portuguese as I spoke. Tomorrow, I will speak on a panel in the main tent to about 5000 people about certain types of “convergence” in writing and literature. The type I will address is a convergence between authors – collaboration.

MIT Seeks Asst Prof in Science Writing

MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, is seeking a tenure-track assistant professor in science writing to start in the Fall of 2012. The Program offers undergraduate courses in science writing and a one-year Master’s degree program in Science Writing. Candidates for the new tenure-track position should have significant publications, productions, or research; and/or advanced degrees combined with demonstrated accomplishment in the public communication of science. The field of specialization may be in science writing for the public, science writing/production in audio, video and or new/digital media, long-form science writing, and/or journalism about science, technology/engineering, environment, health and medicine. Teaching experience is valuable, but not required. Applicants should apply via AcademicJobsOnline, by November 1, 2011. The selection committee will begin reviewing applications in November and schedule interviews in December 2011. MIT is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.

Electrifying Literature: The ELO 2012 Conference at WVU

Call for Proposals…

ELO 2012

Electrifying Literature
Affordances and Constraints

June 20-23, 2012
Morgantown, WV

Conference Planning Committee

– Sandy Baldwin, West Virginia University (Chair)
– Philippe Bootz, University of Paris 8
– Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver
– Margie Luesebrink, Irvine Valley College
– Mark Marino, University of Southern California
– Stuart Moulthrop, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
– Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago

We invite titles and proposals of no more than 500 words, including a brief description of the content and format of the presentation, and contact information for the presenter(s). Send proposals to elit2012 [at] gmail.com, using plain text format in the email, or attached as Word or PDF. All proposals will receive peer-to-peer review by the ELO and will be considered on their own terms. Non-traditional and traditional formats will be subject to the same peer-to-peer review process.

Submission deadline for proposals: November 30, 2011

Notification of acceptance: December 30, 2011

Electronic Literature: Where is It?*

The 2012 Electronic Literature Organization Conference will be held June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, WV, the site of West Virginia University. In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Media Arts Show open to the public at the Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown and running from June 18-30, 2012. An accompanying online exhibit will bring works from the ELO Conference to a wider audience.

Even if nobody could define print literature, everyone knew where to look for it – in libraries and bookshops, at readings, in class, or on the Masterpiece channel. We have not yet created, however, a consensus about where to find electronic literature, or (for that matter) the location of the literary in an emerging digital aesthetic.

Though we do have, in digital media, works that identify themselves as “locative,” we don’t really know where to look for e-lit, how it should be tagged and distributed, and whether or how it should be taught. Is born digital writing likely to reside, for example, in conventional literature programs? in Rhetoric? Comp? Creative Writing? Can new media literature be remediated? How should its conditions of creation be described? Do those descriptions become our primary texts when the works themselves become unavailable through technological obsolescence?

To forward our thinking about the institutional and technological location of current literary writing, The Electronic Literature Organization and West Virginia University’s Center for Literary Computing invite submissions to the ELO 2012 Conference to be held from June 20-23, 2012, in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Bearing in mind the changing locations of new media literature and literary cultures, the conference organizers welcome unconventional presentations, whether in print or digital media. The point is not to reject the conventional conference ‘paper’ or bullet point presentation but to encourage thoughtful exploration and justification of any format employed. All elements of literary description and presentation are up for reconsideration. The modest mechanisms of course descriptions, syllabus construction, genre identification, and the composition of author bios, could well offer maps toward the location of the literary in digital media. So can an annotated bibliography of works falling under a given genre or within a certain technological context. We welcome surveys of the use of tags and keywords, and how these can be recognized (or not) by readers, libraries, or other necessary nodes in an emerging literary network Also of interest is the current proliferation of directories of electronic literature in multiple media, languages, and geographical locations.

The cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100. The cost covers receptions, meals, and other conference events. All participants must be members of the Electronic Literature Organization. All events are within walking distance of the conference hotels. Morgantown is a classic college town, located in the scenic hills of north central West Virginia, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Local hotel and travel information will be available on the conference website starting October 1, 2011.

Check http://el.eliterature.org and http://conference.eliterature.org for updates. For more information, email elit2012 [at] gmail.com.

*Note: this title derives from an essay by ELO Board Member Dene Grigar in electronic book review, where selected conference presentations will be published within a few months of the conference.

ELO on the Move to MIT

ELO logo

The Electronic Literature Organization is moving its headquarters to MIT this summer. The organization is an international nonprofit with many partner institutions, but the main office is a particularly important site for the ELO – hence, I want to thank the ELO’s former hosts MITH (at the University of Maryland) and UCLA, which have generously sustained the organization for most of its existence since its founding in 1999. As the current president, I’m very glad that MIT will be the ELO’s host. I’ll be working with others to form a lasting relationship. As we continue to serve our international membership and pursue our mission, we’re going to have many fun events and collaborations based at MIT.

MIT seal

Here’s today’s press release, from MIT, about the ELO’s move.

Who Grabbed My Gorge

In January 2009, I wrote a very short (one page) Python poetry generator that creates a limitless nature poem each time it is run. I wrote this generator, “Taroko Gorge,” mostly at Taroko Gorge National Park in Taiwan, finishing it on the plane afterwards. I later ported it to JavaScript so that it could be easily run in a Web browser.

It seems the gorge goes ever ever on. The code from “Taroko Gorge” and the form it defines have been appropriated a few times. Here are five poetry generators that use the code from that project and replace my text with different, and often much more extensive, language:

“Tokyo Garage” by Scott Rettberg, 2009. [Output from “Tokyo Garage” read aloud by a pedantic machinima clown.]

“Gorge” by J. R. Carpenter, 2010. [Announcement of “Gorge.”] [Output appears in J. R. Carpenter’s GENERATION[S], Traumawien: 2010.]

“Along the Briny Beach” by J. R. Carpenter, 2011. [Announcement of “Along the Briny Beach.”]

“Toy Garbage” by Talan Memmott, 2011.

“Yoko Engorged” by Eric Snodgrass. 2011. [Announcement of “Yoko Engorged.”]

Conferencing on Code and Games

First, as of this writing: I’m at the GAMBIT Summer Summit here at MIT, which runs today and is being streamed live. Do check it out if video game research interests you.

A few days ago, I was at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Bordeaux. On July 1 I presented the first conference paper on Curveship since the system has been released as free software. The paper is “Curveship’s Automatic Narrative Style,” which sums up or at least mentions many of the research results while documenting the practicalities of the system and using the current terminology of the release version.

four FDG attendees

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Malcolm Ryan, Michael Young (next year’s FDG local organizer) and Michael Mateas in between sessions at FDG 2011.

At FDG, there was a very intriguing interest in focalization, seen in Jichen Zhu’s presentation of the paper by Jichen Zhu, Santiago Ontañón and Brad Lewter, “Representing Game Characters’ Inner Worlds through Narrative Perspectives” and in the poster “Toward a Computational Model of Focalization” by Byung-Chull Bae, Yun-Gyung Cheong, and R. Michael Young. (Zhu’s work continues aspects of her dissertation project, of which I was a supervisor, so I was particularly interested to see how her work has been progressing.) Curveship has the ability to change focalization and to narrate (textually) from the perspective of different characters, based on their knowledge and perceptions; this is one of several ways in which it can vary the narrating. I’ll be interested to see how others continue to explore this aspect of narrative.

Before FDG was Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, where I was very pleased, on June 22, to join a panel assembled by Rita Raley. I briefly discussed data-driven poetic practices of different sorts (N+7, diastic writing, and many other forms) and presented ppg256 and Concrete Perl, which are not data-driven. I argued that as humanists we should be “digging into code” as well as data, understanding process in the new ways that we can. It was great to join Sandy Baldwin, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and John Cayley on this panel, to discuss code and poetry with them, and to hear their presentations.

Concrete Perl

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Concrete Perl

a set of four concrete poems realized as 32-character
Perl programs

by Nick Montfort

All the Names of God
Alphabet Expanding
ASCII Hegemony
Letterformed Terrain

You can download the linked Perl files and/or simply copy and paste the following four lines, which correspond to the four titles above:

perl -e '{print"a"x++$...$"x$.,$,=_;redo}'
perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.01),a..z;redo}'
perl -e '{print" ".chr for 32..126;redo}'
perl -e '{print$",$_=(a..z)[rand$=];redo}'

For purposes of determining the platform precisely and counting characters, the rules of Perl Golf are
used. These rules, for instance, do not count the (optional) newline at the end of a one-line program. The Concrete Perl programs work on all standard versions of Perl 5.8.0 and have been verified as 32 characters long using a count program.

These programs are also written to work and to be visually pleasing on terminal windows (or terminals) of any geometry.

To present them all at once, you can tile four windows and run one program in each window. For instance, running Linux with Compiz as the window manager and the Grid plugin installed and active, create four windows and assign them to the four corners of the screen using Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 7, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 9, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 1, and Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 3. In this
mode if the resolution of the display is not particularly high, you may wish to decrease the font size a notch in each window.

Concrete Perl was released onto the demoscene and discussed by me for the first time in my talk “Beyond Data-Driven Poetry: ppg256 and Concrete Perl,” on the panel “Literary Practice and the Digital Humanities, Redux: Data as/and Poetry,” Digital Humanities 2011, Stanford, June 22, 2011.

I have printed the four programs/poems on a dot matrix printer on business cards and am handing them out and, in some cases, adding them to the “Interactive Poetry Wall” at Stanford University’s “Coho” coffeehouse.

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XO and GUI Found in Curveship’s Alphabet Soup

I went by to OLPC (One Laptop Per Child, the nonprofit that has created and deployed worldwide the green laptop for kids) yesterday for some discussion of narrative interfaces. I explained the basics of Curveship and what was interesting about it from my perspective, mentioning that one could hook the narrating engine up to something other than an interactive fiction world. I also found out that others had some of their own, very interesting, ideas.

Chris Ball, for instance, showed a proof-of-concept where he hooked up the simulated world of Curveship’s Cloak of Darkness, the classic simulated example world, to a graphical display and a graphical system for inputting commands:

Screen from the Curveship GUI Cloak of Darkness

Source is available on github. While it doesn’t generalize to every Curveship game, what it presents on the screen here is done without any additional game data: Chris’s system determine that the south room is dark and obscures it, determines where the exits are, places objects in rooms, and generates rooms of random size since there is no way to determine how big or small a room is. The only thing the systems knows about the underlying simulated world is what’s in fiction/cloak.py, the file I put together to demonstrate Cloak of Darkness in the usual textual interface.

On the one hand, it more or less discards all of the work that fascinates me the most, the text generation and narrative variation part of the system (*). But on the other, it’s the most radical narrative variation yet – replacing the textual interface with a graphical one. A pretty neat twist on the system, and one which is very interesting from a research standpoint if one’s interested in comparing image and text in narratives.

I hope work on this will continue and that we’ll find other mutually beneficial ways to connect Curveship with the OLPC project.

(*) It doesn’t really discard these or truly “replace” the text channel. You also get to read the textual description of rooms and the textual representation of actions in windows as you play the game. But it makes the main interface a GUI rather than a textual exchange.