Warez Copy!

I’m lucky to have a print copy of Amaranth Borsuk’s _Tonal Saw,_ a long poem created by erasure from the pamphlet _National Sunday Law._

But that print chapbook, which was printed in a small edition of only 100 copies, is now sold out.

So, I was pleased to find (for everyone else’s benefit) that _Tonal Saw_ is available as a PDF from the press that published that print chapbook, The Song Cave. Here is is!

You can find other quality PDFs on The Song Cave’s site.

It’s a Good Word. Maine.

Just back from several travels, I’ve found that there’s a video record online of me, Patsy Baudoin, and John Bell presenting 10 PRINT at the University of Maine way back in April of this year. In our presentation, we answer questions and discuss the origin of the 10 PRINT project and the nature of our collaboration. And I do some livecoding. Pretty often, actually.

Please note that 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is available as a beautiful MIT Press book, designed by our co-author Casey Reas, ans also as a free PDF.

Here’s the video of our University of Maine presentation on the “10 PRINT” program and book.

Fox Harrell’s Talk and New Book

Fox Harrell’s talk on evaluation at the Media Systems workshop, in August 2012, was great, and I remember many things from it vividly. Fox really helped us see some of the absurdities of trying to apply the evaluation techniques from one domain (such as engineering) to another (such as the arts) — but also the potential of cross-cutting work for new insights. See “Matching Methods: Guiding and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Projects” on YouTube.

This is one of many Media Systems talks that have been uploaded so far.

Fox, who is my colleague at MIT, has also just had MIT Press publish his book, Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression. I have been following the book from early stages. Reading it has been provoking and informative. It presents a new, powerful concept of digital media that deeply engages with our concepts of identity and our cultural imagination. I highly recommend it.

Gamebooks and IF Conference at Villanova

Gamebook guru Demian Katz is putting on a conference on interactive fiction, print and online, in Villanova’s Popular Culture Series. The conference does have an academic focus, but also seeks to introduce new sorts of academics to IF.

Info is up now at the vupop site, where you can read about the conference or submit a proposal. Or, if there’s enough light available, examine yourself/take inventory!

Aha – and the deadline for submitting something is November 1!

Ouliperrata and Palindromes

The End of Oulipo? : An Attempt to Exhaust a Movement by Lauren Elkin & Scott Esposito (2013) claims that “Georges Perec … wrote a palindrome of over 5,000 words …” (p. 15, also mentioned on p. 25). However, this is wrong, unless these authors have access to an extraordinarily surprising never-before published palindrome of Perec’s. His long palindrome does not have this many words.

In 1980, Hachette published Perec’s La Clôture et autres poèmes, which contains “Le Grand Palindrome,” written in 1969. “Le Grand Palindrome” is also online; it is posted on another page without its title but with a declaration that the palindrome is 1247 words long.

Wikipedia states that this text has 1247 words and 5566 letters, and the French entry on Perec agrees. (The number of letters was probably the source of the confusion about 5,000 words in Elkin & Esposito’s book.) Since the palindrome is online, we can do some original research to determine the word and letter count – someone must have, because the cited source does not say how many words and letters there are; the source is simply the text itself. The Web is littered with different numbers that are supposed to be the length, in words, of Perec’s palindrome. David Bellos, who quoted and translated the beginning and ending of Perec’s long palindrome in his extraordinary biography, Georges Perec: A Life in Words, described the palindrome as consisting of two halves, each of five hundred words (pp. 428-429).

Standard word-count programs come up with a larger number of words than either Bellos or Wikipedia have: The Gnu utility wc counts 1367, for example. In part, that’s because some of the punctuation is set off with spaces. But it may also have to do with a reasonable way of counting words in French being different than wc’s method.

So, leaving aside the question of words for the moment — but noting that the answer seems to be in the 1000-1400 range, and couldn’t be 5000 – let’s take a look at the number of letters. I placed the palindrome’s text (all of it, including the strange title that is a reversal of Perec’s name and the place and date of writing) in a file called perec.txt and did the following to count the letters:

% fold --width=1 perec.txt | grep -c '[[:alpha:]]'

The result is 5219. Yes, I checked to make sure that accented letters are being counted on my system. I’m not sure where the extra 5566-5219=347 letters are supposed to be. There are only eight digits, so the ‘1969’ at the end (and ‘9691’ at the beginning) couldn’t account for the larger number. And I counted 736 punctuation marks, so the puzzle isn’t solved by considering punctuation marks to be letters, since that (in addition to being incorrect) would make the palindrome too long. Unless my text is corrupt, I suppose that some of the punctuation marks were counted as letters before.

You can read in Daniel Levin Becker’s 2012 book Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature that Perec “wrote a palindrome of more than 1,200 words, the world’s longest until a computer program eclipsed it” (p. 181). The approximate word count seems right, but what about the rest of the statement?

On January 1, 2002, the first edition of Nick Montfort & William Gillespie’s 2002: A Palindrome Story was published. This text, published in a much nicer edition later in the year and made available in several formats online, is a 2002-word palindrome that we wrote together. We had actually hoped that the suite of software we developed, Deep Speed, would generate text for us and serve as a third co-author, but unfortunately its main use ended up being to check our work. In the end, 2002 was about as much generated by computer as “Le Grand Palindrome” was generated by typewriter.

(Perhaps Becker was referring to the data-driven palindrome found by Google’s Peter Norvig? That was composed and published on February 20, 2002, weeks after 2002 was first published in celebration of the new year. Also, while I consider it a brilliant hack, and while I certainly think that computer programs can produce literary output, I’m not sure how to understand or learn from this program and this text as a literary project. In terms of pure length, it’s a long palindrome, yes, but so is this; in fact, that one is longer than any that Norvig has produced.)

Now, to reassure Oulipo fans, 2002 and “Le Grand Palindrome” are written in different languages, so it would be awkward at best to claim that we directly outdid Perec. Also, it took two of us to write our English palindrome and only one of Perec to write his palindrome in French, so Perec still holds the record per-person per-palindrome. And finally, as my parenthetical remark and link above is supposed to show, it’s just silly to compare palindromes’ length alone; it’s important to read them and see how compelling they are. Writing a palindrome of more and more words involves conducting a more lengthy and profound exploration of language. Perhaps that type of exploration means falling off a cliff – as some thought Perec did; as some surely thought that William & I did in writing the exceedingly difficult text 2002. But it’s an exploration, and for us, as for Perec, it resulted in a radical and unusual literary work.

2002 received praise from members of the Oulipo and a positive review in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. It certainly wasn’t the usual one-line palindrome fare that many are used to. Although it’s challenging, I hope that more intrepid readers will eventually engage with text. I’m disappointed that a major magazine article on palindromes and the Wikipedia page on the topic don’t mention it. I’m disappointed that scholars and literary critics (who have devoted time to other works of mine and of William’s) haven’t delved into 2002. And it doesn’t give me much hope when the well-known long palindrome of a tremendously famous and influential French writer, however well-known it is, is still widely unread. We can’t even figure out how many words and letters it has.

Books O’ Poems

I’ve read a few books of poetry recently that I found particularly interesting, so why not mention them here?

Man Years by Sandra Doller. Beautifully damaged utteraces that are highly unusual, resonant with known ways of speaking, and allusive. E.g., in the poem “Eggphrasis,” which begins “eggs / eggs / baby”.

The Container Store by Joe Hall and Chad Hardy. Urban space is explored, and its commercial division and compartmentalization. The typography is compelling, with black blocks often occluding the text like the blind eyes of office buildings.

Meditations 1-52 by Matthew Klane. Also quite engaged politically, also quite well-done typographically, but in another interesting mode. Includes a list of things Vannevar Bush did not invent.

Neural has the Nerve for 10 PRINT

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 has been reviewed in Neural, an excellent long-running magazine, print and online that covers creative computing from digital art and music through hacktivism. The reviews in Neural (which is published in Italy, in Italian and English) are short and to the point; I’m pleased to see that they neuronally grasped the concept of 10 PRINT and appreciated the work that my collaborators and I did on it.

&NOW AWARDS 2

Although the &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing may appear at first to be an HTML character entity reference, it’s actually a new book. Arranged back-to-back like Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee in The Killer, it offers copious amounts (400 pages) of recent provocative writing in various genres. It’s published by Lake Forest College Press.

I’m delighted to have my work in the good company of that by many excellent writers, including J.R. Carpenter, Craig Dworkin, and Michael Leong. My contribution to the volume is just a page each of output from the Latin and Cyrillic versions of “Letterformed Terrain,” from Concrete Perl.

How to Buy Some of My Most Obscure Books

2002: A Palindrome Story

By Nick Montfort and William Gillespie. Illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Designed by Ingrid Ankerson. (24 pp., acknowledged by the Oulipo as the longest literary palindrome.) Spineless Books, 2002. $16.

The First M Numbers.

By Nick Montfort. Edition of 80. 4 pp. No Press, Calgary, Canada, 2013. $2.50.

In New York, Saint Mark’s Bookshop has copies of these two books for sale; in Cambridge, MA, they are available from the MIT Press Bookstore. 2002 is also available from the publisher, Spineless Books, and other online and local bookstores. I believe that No Press is out of copies of The First M Numbers.

Implementation: A Novel

By Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. (270 pp., a 4-color book documenting the 2004 project Implementation.) 2012. $77.95.

This book is only available for purchase directly from the printer, Blurb.

An Auto-Interview about All the Way for the Win

Poet Michael Leong “tagged” me, not by spray-painting me or by assigning me a folksonomical string, but by sending me the following template of interview questions. This process is part of the project “The Next Big Thing,” in which people answer robotic, monomaniacal questions about recent or forthcoming books. I was supposed to post this on Wednesday, apparently, so it’s a good thing that I can set the date arbitrarily on my blog posts.

What is the working title of the book?
All the Way for the Win.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Decades of intense poetic engagement with the English language.

What genre does your book fall under?
In terms of literary tradition, it’s an example of the sort of constrained writing that was pioneered by the Oulipo; in terms of the retail channel, it will end up in the poetry section if anywhere.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Mos Def, Zhu Zhu, Rex Lee, Won Bin, and (although I don’t think he’s a member of the SAG) Tan Lin.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A book written using only three-letter words.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I haven’t written anything close to a complete draft. I’ve only been working on the project seriously for about four years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the Way for the Win is 0% inspiration.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The English langauge bursts with words brought to us by commerce and colonialism, is scarred by decades of wars and invasions, and both traces and propels our thinking as a culture. It is an urgent and important project to find principled, unusual subsets of this language and to make new works out of these, revealing qualities of our language through poetic practice. Readers of this book may also considerably improve their Scrabble play.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
No.

10 PRINT Marches on

The news service of my school at MIT, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, has an article about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10.

Also, there has been some furious and pretty amazing program creation and compaction going on in DOS/x86 land. It all seems to have started when demoscener Trixter (a.k.a. Jim Leonard) decided to port 10 PRINT to x86 assembly. His first, straightforward version was 42 bytes long, but he was quickly able to chop it down by replacing the random number generator with a single instruction: 25 bytes. Getting ready of some of the nice and tidy but strictly unnecessary startup and shutdown code brought the program down to 15 bytes. Then, thanks to the clever use of an opcode that I’d never heard of before which is meant for string comparison and is called SCAS, he was able to trim the code to 13 bytes — the shortest he thought it could ever be.

Of course, someone (Peter Ferrie) found a way to get rid of another byte, so the program sat at 12 bytes long.

herm1t came along to provide an optimization that assumed DOS was loaded, reducing the program to 11 bytes.

And, most recently, Peter Ferrie returned to lop off another byte, showing that the program (on Intel CPUs, at least) need only be 10 bytes long.

Trixter provides the full story (so far!) on his blog, Oldskooler Ramblings.

My joke about this is that the shortest possible 10-PRINT-like program will be a single jmp instruction to a run of 8 or 9 bytes that happen to already be in memory. However, this is probably only a joke: the number of possible 8-byte combinations of bits are 256^8 = 18446744073709551616, so it really isn’t very likely, even for an extremely short program of this sort, that it will just happen to be lying around somewhere in memory initially.

Speaking of the demoscene, I mentioned in my last post that viznut has checked out the book. He’s also written a very nice VIC-20 version of the program that uses two of the tiles from the Black Path Game instead of the original diagonal lines:

0 FORI=7168TO7183:READA:POKEI,A:NEXT:POKE36869,255
1 PRINTCHR$(64.5+RND(.));:GOTO1
2 DATA16,16,32,192,3,4,8,8,8,8,4,3,192,32,16,16

The result:

VIC-20 Black Path Game version of 10 PRINT

Finally, we had a great time exhibiting the 10 PRINT program and the 10 PRINT book at the 2013 MLA’s electronic literature exhibit and presenting the program and modifications of it at the MLA offsite electronic literature reading. Thanks to Dene Grigar and Kathi Inman Berens for curating the exhibit and the reading. And, thanks to Patsy Baudoin, Mark C. Marino, and Mark Sample for joining me for that presentation and for offering commentary (play-by-play and color) as I coded on the Commodore 64.

Radical Books of 2012 (7/7)

Book from the Ground

Keyhole Factory
William Gillespie

Soft Skull Press · 368 pages

William, congratulations to you – and Soft Skull Press – on the new, big publication of Keyhole Factory, which some might think is your first novel. Actually, your intensity of writing would humiliate Roberto Bolaño. You have at least eight books (some pseudonymous, some collaborative) available via your press Spineless Books, which publishes other people’s work as well. You share a quality with George Perec in that you are a graphophile, and you share another quality with him in that you are an incredible writer, imaginative on all levels, as you demonstrate in Keyhole Factory. It’s great that Jeff Clark designed the cover. I think I see why he used the picture of the monkeys. They’re voyeuristic subjects; we’re watching them as if through a keyhole. That one in the middle looks back, making us nervous. If they were people they’d be eating lunch or making love or watching TV or something, and we’d fixate on that. But they’re monkeys, so we just notice that one of them is watching us. You think?

Radical Books of 2012 (6/7)

Book from the Ground

· → → ·
Book from the Ground
Xu Bing

120 pages

The dot of unconsciousness opens – and then winks out again. The book, one point in a project that Xu Bing has undertaken since 2003, is written entirely as a series of symbols, narrating a daily odyssey (or perhaps a Ulysses) that is read left-to-right and from top to bottom but almost entirely without the use of words or letters – they only appear as part of logos and the like. Symbols derived from Neurath’s Isotype system, which led to today’s airport signs, are used alongside emoticons and computer icons to describe the workplace experiences, fraternal beverage consumption, dating, and insomniac video game play of a rather harried, forgetful, busy, and not particularly productive generic man who lives in a city located on [globe icon]. By borrwing a bit from comic conventions within this typographical framework, not only actions but also thoughts and the topics of discussions are depcited (to me, at least) legibly.

Radical Books of 2012 (5/7)

Cutting Time with a Knife

Cutting Time with a Knife
Michael Leong

Black Square Editions · 124 pages

When randomness is employed in poetics and succeeds, it is because of how it plays within regularity of different sorts. This book sutures the two very well. Concrete elemental sqaures sit at the top of each page, containing irregularly arranged phrases of regular syntax (“The [buttock] of the poet is the [geodesic dome] of [Rhodium].”) The text and sometimes symbols underneath read like a Google Books snippet view. Leong constructed this book “by etherizing T.S. Eliot’s classic essay,” “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” upon the periodic table. The cyborg text, animated with galvanic force, is made from cut-ups of this essay and the Wikipedia articles for the 118 elements. The periodic table has offered a rich lattice for poetic production, digital and otherwise; here, the unique twist was provided by the amalgamation of this tabular framework with an (ostensibly random) avant-garde writing technique, a classic essay on how individuality relates to commonality and a collaboratively-authored encyclopedia.

Radical Books of 2012 (4/7)

I'll Drown My Book

I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women
Edited by Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody, and Vanessa Place

Les Figues · 455 pages

Community Reviews (showing 1-30 of 96) filter | sort: default (?) | rating details

Nov 19, 2012 Mark Noack rated it ***** review of another edition
a fantastic book. as an overview/introduction to current post-modern writing, the most interesting anthology i have read to date. while some of these writers might not have made the “cut” for the Goldsmith/Dworkin anthology, possibly due in part to their work being too “baroque” (in Vanessa Place’s terms); this is my preference. while i find conceptual/experimental writing interesting, much of what has been done suffers the danger of becoming automatic/generated/stenography. while the dadaist ar…more
like · see review

Oct 17, 2012 Sigrun Hodne marked it as to-read
A perfect gift from dear a friend! Looking forward to diving into it!
like · see review

Oct 26, 2012 Erin Lyndal added it
This wasn’t my cup of tea, so I didn’t finish. Bummer because I was really psyched about it.
like · see review

Dec 08, 2012 Janey Smith added it
My review of I’ll Drown My Book