Paging Babel

Wednesday 26 August 2015, 2:20 am   ////////  

About 12 hours ago I was reading “The New Art of Making Books” by Ulises Carrión, a text I’d read before but which I hadn’t fully considered and engaged with. As I thought about Carrión’s writing, I felt compelled to put together a short piece on the Web. That took the form of a Web page containing a rapidly-moving concrete poem. The work I devised is called “Una página de Babel.”

Screen capture of Babel

Many will surely note that it is based on Jorge Luis Borges’s “Una biblioteca de Babel” (The Library of Babel). And, I hope people are aware of some the other interesting digital projects based on this story. I have seen one from years ago on CD-ROM; one that is very nice, and available on the Web, is Jeremiah Johnson’s BABEL. There’s also the exquisite Library of Babel by Jonathan Basile.

My piece does not try to closely and literally implement the library that Borges described, although it does have a page that is formally like the ones in Borges’s library: 80 characters wide, 40 lines long. Given this austere rectangular regularity, I assumed a typewriter-like monospace font.

The devotion of “Una página” to what the text describes stops there; instead of using the 23-letter alphabet that Borges sketches to populate this 80×40 grid, I use the unigram probabilities of letters in the story itself, in the Spanish text of “La biblioteca de Babel.” So, for instance, the lowercase letter a occurs a bit less than 8.4% of the time, and this is the probability with which it is produced on the page. The same holds for spaces, for the letter ñ, and for all other glyphs; they appear on the page at random, with the same probability that they do in Borges’s story. Because each letter is picked independently at random, the result does not bear much relationship to Spanish or any other human languages, in which the occurrence of a glyph usually has something to do with the glyph before it (and before that, and so on).

“Una página” is also non-interactive. One can zoom, screenshot, copy and paste, and so on, but the program itself does not accept user input.

I sketched the program in Python before developing it in JavaScript, and when I was done with the HTML page that includes the JavaScript program, I thought I’d make a Python version, too. But when I did, I was disappointed; the Python program isn’t a page, and doesn’t produce a page, and so doesn’t seem to me to fit the concept, which has to be that of a page. Thus, I’m not going to release the Python program. The JavaScript version is the right one, in this case.

Remarker #1 Is Out

Wednesday 29 July 2015, 5:58 pm   /////  

Remarker #1

This month I published a zine in the form of a bookmark. It’s available by asking me for a copy, asking a contributor for a copy, or going to my local radical bookstore, Bluestockings, at 172 Allen Street, New York, NY. If you wish to find Remarker there you must, alas, look under the register among the freebies (and advertisements), not among the “grown up” zines. The upside is that Remarker is free.

The Great Vowel Shift

Monday 20 July 2015, 9:45 pm   /////  

My first PuzzleScript game is a concrete poem that, after a few levels, taunts you, the player, with a metapuzzle.

great_vowel_1

great_vowel_2

It’s “The Great Vowel Shift.”

You Have Been Offered ‘More Tongue’

Thursday 16 July 2015, 6:10 pm   /////  

I just put a new poetry generator up. This one was released in inchoate form at @party, the Boston area demoparty. I’ve finished it, now, writing an HTML page of 2kb that employs JavaScript to generate nonsense poems that I, at least, find rather amusing.

More Tongue (paused)

‘More Tongue’ is available in an expanded version (functioning the same but with uncompressed code and more meaningful variable and function names) which I suggest for just about everyone, since I encourage everyone to study and modify the code, for fun, for art, and so on. If you want to see the 2k version working, that’s there too.

I could have compacted this below 2kb, although I rather doubt I’d have gotten it to 1kb without some major shift in the way the program works. I can see a few inefficiencies in how I put the program together, and while I did turn to some compression resources I didn’t use the famed Minify. I was happy, though, with what the 2kb page does.

I’ll be reading from this in about an hour at Babycastles’s WordHack event, here in Manhattan, during the open mic. Hope to see some of you there.

@Party 2015 Productions

Sunday 21 June 2015, 6:38 pm   ////////  

I had five productions (one of them a collaboration) this time around at @Party, the Boston-area demoparty.

Browser demo: “More Tongue.” This was, well, not really a standard demo, even for a browser demo, that generates nonsense poems with compact code. Like everything at demoparties, it’s been released, but I’m going to work on a post-party version, so I’m leaving the party version out of this list.

Wild: “Shortcat.”

Shortcat is a very simple encoding scheme to make bytes (thus computer programs) into pleasing Unicode tweets, IMs, etc. #demoscene

Encoder: cat x.prg | perl -pe 'binmode STDOUT,":utf8";tr/\x00-\xff/\x{2500}-\x{25ff}/;' > x.txt #demoscene

Decoder: cat x.txt | perl -pe 's/[\x00-\x7f]//g;s/\xe2(.)(.)[^\xe2]*/chr((ord($1)-148)*64+ord($2)-128)/eg;' > x.prg #demoscene

To decode, copy the Shortcat string to a new text file, save it, decode. ASCII (incl. spaces & newlines) will be ignored #demoscene

When decoding, don’t include other Unicode besides the Shortcat string in your selection #demoscene

Add a hashtag (e.g., #c64) and/or other info (e.g., SYS4096) to help people run the program. That’s it. Nanointros everywhere! #demoscene

Check this Tweet for an example.

Executable music: “Dial Up” by devourant & nom de nom.

((((t*2^12018^t>>16)&42)*(t^12)&t>>5)>>3|t*9&(t&4^42)>>5)-1

Play it in an HTML5 player.

Intro: “Chronon,” a 32-byte Commodore 64 program.

PRG file. Source.

PET Code

Demo: “PET Code,” a 128-byte Commodore 64 program that is a demake of Jörg Piringer’s “Unicode.”

PRG file, demo version (runs once & ends). PRG file, looping version. Source.

Thanks to Metoikos, Dr. Claw, Luis, and other organizers and volunteers for putting this year’s party on – and to Boston Cyberarts and the sponsors of the event.

Shebang Bash at Babycastles, July 2

Thursday 11 June 2015, 3:04 pm   ///////  

Shebang Bash is a two-part event at Babycastles (137 West 14th Street, Floor 2, New York City) on Thursday, July 2.

It'll be sort of like this reading in Saint Petersburg, but with projectors.

It’ll be sort of like this reading in Saint Petersburg, but with projectors and a workshop beforehand.

The workshop (beginning at 6pm) provides an opportunity for anyone to begin developing computational poetry by modifying existing programs. Those without programming experience are particularly encouraged to attend. Workshop participants will develop, share, and discuss their work. Participants must register in advance and bring their own notebook computer running Linux, Mac OS, or Windows. (A tablet or phone will not suffice; computers are not available at the gallery.) Those who wish to can show and/or read from their work during the second part of Shebang Bash, although presenting during the reading isn’t a requirement.

The reading (beginning at 8pm) will feature work from Nick Montfort’s #! (Counterpath, 2014), modified versions of Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge,” and poems developed just previously at the workshop. Montfort will read from several pieces in #!, will screen concrete poems from the book, will discuss the project of this book and his computational poetry practice, and will answer questions.

#! (pronounced “shebang”) is a book of programs and poems, consisting of short programs in Python, Perl, and Ruby followed by examples of their output. While the book is published by a small press that specializes in poetry, part of its heritage can be traced to BASIC programming books and magazines from the 1970s and 1980s. Copies will be available for sale at Shebang Bash.

Tickets to the reading will also be available at the door on the day of the event. For workshop tickets or to get reading tickets in advance, see the Eventbrite page.

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.

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.

#! 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.

“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

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.

Megawatt, the Paperback, Can Be Bought

Tuesday 9 December 2014, 9:53 pm   //////  

… from the Harvard Book Store.

And if it’s digital data you’re craving, it’s also available for free as a PDF and as an EPUB. And the code that generated these books is free software.

#! Reviewed in Galatea Resurrects 23

Tuesday 9 December 2014, 9:44 pm   ///  

Two pieces on my book #! have just come out in Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement), number 23.

John Bloomberg-Rissman’s review.

Eileen Tabios’s engagement.

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