Trope Tank Writer in Residence

Wednesday 3 August 2016, 5:29 pm   //////  

The Trope Tank is accepting applications for a writer in residence during academic year 2016-2017.

The Trope Tank, 3 August 2016

Our mission is developing new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language. More can be discovered about the Trope Tank here:

http://nickm.com/trope_tank/

The main projects of the Trope Tank for 2016-2017 are Renderings and Heftings, as I’ve described for a forthcoming article in Convolutions 4:

The Renderings project is an effort to locate computational literature in languages other than English — poetry and other text generators, combinatorial poems, interactive fiction, and interactive visual poetry, for example — and translate this work to English. Along the way, it is necessary to port some of this work to the Web, or emulate it, or re-implement it, both in the source language and in English. This provides the original language community better access to a functioning version of the original work, some of which originates in computer magazines from several decades ago, some of which is from even earlier. The translations give the English-language community some perspective on the global creative work that has been undertaken with language and computation, helping to remedy the typical view of this area, which is almost always strongly English-centered.

Heftings, on the other hand, is not about translation into English; the project is able to include translation between any pair of languages (along with the translation of work that is originally multilingual). Nor does it focus on digital and computational work. Instead, Heftings is about “impossible translation” of all sorts — for instance, of minimal, highly constrained, densely allusive, and concrete/visual poems. The idea is that even if the translation of such works is impossible, attempts at translation, made while working collaboratively and in conversation with others, can lead to insights. The Heftings project seeks to encourage translation attempts, many such attempts per source text, and to facilitate discussion of these. There is no concept that one of these attempts will be determined to be the best and will be settled upon as the right answer to the question of translation.

The Trope Tank’s work goes beyond these main projects. It includes developing creative projects, individually and collaboratively; teaching about computing, videogaming, and the material history of the text in formal and informal ways; and research into related areas. Those in the Trope Tank have also curated and produced exhibits and brought some of the lab’s resources to the public at other venues. The lab hosts monthly meetings of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction and occasional workshops.

There are no fees or costs associated with the residency; there is also no stipend or other financial support provided as part of the appointment. A writer in residence has 24-hour access to and use of the Trope Tank, including space to work, power and network connection, and use of materials and equipment. As a member of the MIT community, a writer in residence can access the campus and check out books from the MIT Libraries. We encourage our writer in residence to attend research and creative discussions and join us in project work and other collaborations, but this is not expressed with a particular requirement to be in the Trope Tank some amount of time per week.

To apply, email me, Nick Montfort, at moc.mkcin@mkcin with short answers (in no case to exceed 250 words each) to the following questions:

  • What work have you done that relates to computation, language and literature, and the mission of the lab? Include URLs when appropriate; there is no need to include the URLs when counting words.

  • How would you make use of your time in the Trope Tank? You do not have to offer a detailed outline of a particular project, but explain in some way how it would be useful to you to have access to the materials, equipment, and people here.

  • What is your relationship, if any, to literary translation, and do you see yourself contributing to Renderings, Heftings, or both? If so, how?

  • What connections could you potentially make between communities of practice and other groups you know, either in the Boston area or beyond, and the existing Trope Tank community within MIT?

Include a CV/resume in PDF format as an attachment.

Applications will be considered beginning on August 15; applicants are encouraged to apply by noon on that day.

We value diverse backgrounds, experiences, and thinking, and encourage applications by members of groups that are underrepresented at MIT.

Language Hacking at SXSW Interactive

We had a great panel at SXSW Interactive on March 11, exploring several radical ways in which langauge and computing are intersecting. It was “Hacking Language: Bots, IF and Esolangs.” I moderated; the main speakers were Allison Parrish a.k.a. @aparrish; Daniel Temkin DBA @rottytooth; and Emily Short, alias @emshort.

I kicked things off by showing some simple combinatorial text generators, including the modifiable “Stochastic Texts” from my Memory Slam reimplementation and my super-simple startup name generator, Upstart. No slides from me, just links and a bit of quick modification to show how easily one can work with literary langauge and a Web generator.

Allison Parrish, top bot maker, spoke about how the most interesting Twitter bots, rather than beign spammy and harmful or full of delightful utility, are enacing a critique of the banal corporate system that Twitter has carefully been shaped into by its makers (and compliant users). Allison showed her and other’s work; The theoretical basis for her discussion was Iain Borden’s “Another Pavement, Another Beach: Skateboarding and the Performative Critique of Architecture.” Read over Allison’s slides (with notes) to see the argument as she makes it:

Twitter Bots and the Performative Critique of Procedural Writing

Daniel Temkin introduced the group to esoteric programming languages, including several that he created and a few classics. He brought copies of a chapbook for people in the audience, too. We got a view of this programming-language creation activity generally – why people devise these projects, what they tell us about computing, and what they tell us about language – and learned some about Temkin’s own practice as an esolang developer. Take a look at Daniel’s slides and notes for the devious details:

Esolangs: A Guide to "Useless" Programming Languages

Finally, interactive fiction author Emily Short reviewed some of the classic problems of interactive fiction and how consideration has moved from the level of naïve physics to models of the social worlds – again, with reference to her own IF development and that of others. One example she presented early on was the challenge of responding to the IF command “look at my feet.” Although my first interactive fiction, Winchester’s Nightmare (1999) was not very remarkable generally, I’m pleased to note that it does at least offer a reasonable reply to this command:

Winchester's Nightmare excerpt

That was done by creating numerous objects of class “BodyPart” (or some similar name) which just generate error messages. Not sure if it was a tremendous breakthrough. But I think there is something to the idea of gently encouraging the interactor to o play within particular boundaries.

Emily’s slides (offering many other insights) may be posted in a bit – she is still traveling. I’ll link them here, if so.

Update! Emily’s slides are now online — please take a look.

I had a trio of questions for each pair of presenters, and we had time for questions from the audience, too. The three main presenters each had really great, compact presentations that gave a critical survey of these insurgent areas, and we managed to see a bit of how they speak to each other, too. This session, and getting to talk with these three during and outside of it, certainly made SXSW Interactive worth the trip for me.

There’s an audio recording of the event that’s available, too.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

Interview: “Eksperymentalna literatura Nicka Montforta”

Thursday 9 October 2014, 6:39 pm   //////  

Here’s an interview of mine, in Polish and posted on the site interia.pl. World Clock is among the topics.

Yes, Post Position will be switching over to all-Polish programming soon. But in the meantime we’ll have a few more posts in English.

Code Poetry Slam in NYC Seeks Entries

Monday 22 September 2014, 7:10 pm   ///////  

ITP (the Interactive Telecommunications Program) at NYU is having a Code Poetry Slam on November 14. And they are seeking entries now! Send them along no later than November 7.

Shakepeare, coding away

This Thursday! In Stereo!

Monday 15 September 2014, 11:52 pm   ///////  

I will be reading from and discussing three recent books this Thursday at 7pm the Harvard Book Store here in sunny Cambridge, Massachusetts. These are:

#!
Counterpath Press, Denver
a book of programs & poems (pronounced “shebang”)

World Clock
Bad Quarto, Cambridge
a computer-generated novel

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10
MIT Press, Cambridge
a collaboration with nine others that I organized, now out in paperback

These all express how programming can be used for poetic purposes, and how new aesthetic possibilities can arise with the help of computing. Also, some portions of these (which I’ll read from) are quite pleasing to read aloud and to hear.

I would love it if you are able to join me on Thursday.

Patently Absurd

Monday 15 September 2014, 11:50 pm   /////  

Sam Lavigne has an excellent text-generating, or at least -transforming, system that produces patent applications based on source texts. See, for instance, the one generated using Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist.” A full explanation of the code is provided on the page.

My Boston-Area Events This Fall

Friday 12 September 2014, 3:19 pm   //////////  

Yes, the first event is today, the date of this post…

September 12, Friday, 6pm-8pm

Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
“Collision21: More Human” exhibit opens – it’s up through October 26.
“From the Tables of My Memorie” by Montfort, an interactive video installation, is included.


September 18, Thursday, 7pm-8pm

Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA
Montfort reads from #!, World Clock, and the new paperback 10 PRINT
http://www.harvard.com/event/nick_montfort/


September 24, Wednesday, 7:30pm

Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
Montfort joins a panel of artists in “Collision21: More Human” for this Art Technology New England discussion.
http://atne.org/events/sept-24th-collision21-more-human/


October 22, Wednesday, 6:30pm-7:30pm

The Atrium of MIT’s Building E15 (“Old Media Lab”/Wiesner Building)
Montfort reads from #! at the List Visual Arts Center
http://counterpathpress.org/nick-montfort


November 15, Saturday, 9am-3pm

MIT (specific location TBA)
Urban Poetry Lateral Studio, a master class by Montfort for MIT’s SA+P
http://sap.mit.edu/event/urban-poetry-lateral-studio


December 4, Thursday, 5pm-7pm

MIT’s 66-110
“Making Computing Strange,” a forum with:
  Lev Manovich (Software Takes Command, The Language of New Media)
  Fox Harrell (Phantasmal Media)
  moderated by Nick Montfort
The forum will examine the ways in which computational models can be used in cultural contexts for everything from analyzing media to imagining new ways to represent ourselves.
http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/forums/makingcomputing.html

Texto Digital Seeks Papers (in Many Languages)

A correspondent in Brazil sends news of a new call for papers in the journal Texto Digital. The recent issues have been almost entirely in Portuguese, but the journal is reaching out and seeking submissions in several languages. I think you can tell from the title (even if your Portuguese is a bit rusty) that this publication focuses on some very Post Position (and Grand Texto Auto) sorts of topics. Here’s the call:


Texto Digital is a peer-reviewed electronic academic journal, published twice annually in June and December by the Center for Research in Informatics, Literature and Linguistics – NuPILL (http://www.nupill.org/), linked to the Postgraduate Program in Literature, the Department of Vernacular Language and Literatures and the Center of Communication and Expression at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil.

Texto Digital publishes original articles in Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Catalan which discuss several theoretical implications related to the texts created/inserted in electronic and digital media.

Interdisciplinary by nature and range, as implied in its title with the words “text” and “digital”, the journal embraces the fields of Literature, Linguistics, Education, Arts, Computing and others, in their relation to the digital medium, yet without privileging any specific critical approach or methodology.

In addition to the Articles Section, Texto Digital presents specific sections destined on publishing digital works of art, as well as interviews with recognized researchers and / or digital artists.

Once submitted, all articles that meet the general scope of the journal and its guidelines will be considered for peer-review publication, even in case of issues that may favor some particular subject-matter.

CALL FOR PAPERS – TEXTO DIGITAL

Texto Digital, the electronic journal published by the Center for Research in Informatics, Literature and Linguistics (NuPILL) at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil, informs that submissions for articles are open until October 15th, 2014.

We accept papers that analyse the relationships of digital media with one or more of the following subjects: Literature, teaching processes (reading and writing in particular, but not restricted to), language studies and arts in general. Accepted papers will be published in our our December issue (n.2/2014).

Submissions for our journal are open on a continuous flow basis since September 1st, 2014, for academic papers that fit its scope. Our publication standards and guidelines are available at:. https://periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/textodigital/about/submissions#authorGuidelines. Only papers in accordance with such criteria will be accepted.

The Call is Out for Electronic Literature Collection 3

Tuesday 5 August 2014, 4:03 pm   /////  

The call for submission for the Electronic Literature Collection volume 3 has been posted. If you do digital work that has one or more literary aspects (even if it’s more often called art or a game), in any language, please check it out. The collective is an excellent group and the direction for this collection is an exciting one.

Half of My Two Cents on E-Lit

Friday 1 August 2014, 3:52 pm   ////  

Long ago (well, at the end of 2012) I was asked by .Cent magazine, a free-to-read, nicely designed online multimedia publication out of London, for a few comments about my work and my approach to electronic literature. Amazingly, having recently unearthed my responses, I find that they are still relevant! You can read my answers and the rest of the issue in its full splendor, but, very belatedly, I’ll offer my response here as well:

I see electronic literature as a something beyond a genre or a literary movement: It’s an argument that literary art and literary experience have a place in our digital environment alongside the many other ways that networked computing is used. Those of us working in electronic literature are demonstrating that we can have poetic, imaginative, narrative, conceptual, and other sorts of work and experiences online, in addition to commercial, communication, and gaming experiences. We don’t have to share an aesthetic or hold similar political ideas in order to make this argument together, because we’re arguing for something fundamental to future work: The chance to develop literature (of any sort) using the capabilities of the computer and the network.

My own focus is on projects that engage collaboration and computation to bring us into a new, disoriented, and potentially productive relationship to the computer and the world. A recent project that is both highly collaborative and highly computational is Sea and Spar Between, a poetry generator Stephanie Strickland and I developed. In it, we bring together words from the vocabulary of Melville and Dickinson, present a sea of textual data that is far beyond the human ability to read but which can be understood in some ways, and suggest a collaborative, computational, and literary-historical perspective on the natural world. In my “solo career” I have written very short programs such as those in the ppg256 series and those in the set Concrete Perl, to investigate, poetically, how computation and a particular programming language hook into the English language. Some of my other collaborative e-lit projects are Implementation with Scott Rettberg and Three Rails Live with Scott and Roderick Coover, both of these dealing with urban and global experiences buy cutting up narrative forms in new ways.

New Report on Nanowatt & World Clock

Thursday 31 July 2014, 9:45 pm   //////  

The latest technical report (or “Trope Report”) to issue from the Trope Tank is TROPE-14-01, “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock by Nick Montfort:

My Winchester’s Nightmare: A Novel Machine (1999) was developed to bring the interactor’s input and the system’s output together into a texture like that of novelistic prose. Almost fifteen years later, after an electronic literature practice mainly related to poetry, I have developed two new “novel machines.” Rather than being works of interactive fiction, one (Nanowatt, 2013) is a collaborative demoscene production (specifically, a single-loading VIC-20 demo) and the other (World Clock, 2013) is a novel generator with accompanying printed book. These two productions offer an opportunity to discuss how my own and other highly computational electronic literature relates to the novel. Nanowatt and World Clock are non-interactive but use computation to manipulate language at low levels. I discuss these aspects and other recent electronic literature that engages the novel, considering to what extent novel-like computational literature in general is becoming less interactive and more fine-grained in its involvement with language.

This was the topic of my talk at the recent ELO conference. Share and enjoy!

The Times Has a Moment with IF

Sunday 6 July 2014, 11:12 pm   //////  

The New York Times has an article (online today, in print tomorrow) entitled “Text Games in a New Era of Stories,” about ye olde interactive fiction and new-fangled manifestations of it, including Ms. Porpentine’s Howling Dogs and Ms. Short’s Blood & Laurels.

(Okay, it must be admitted that even The New York Times didn’t refer to the author of Howling Dogs as “Ms. Porpentine.”)

Techsty #9, with Sea and Spar Between in Polish

techstyExciting news for Polish-readers (and, I think, others): The new issue of Techsty, number 9, is out. You might think that a “Techsty” is just a place where infopigs like me live, but it’s actually a long-running site (since 2001) on digital literature, with an esteemed journal that has been published since 2003.

The current issue includes translations of articles by Robert Coover and Brain McHale, an article by Seweryna Wysłouch, and a special section on an audacious project. This is the translation of Sea and Spar Between, by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland, which is a fairly extensive special-purpose poetry generator that is fair entwined with the English language (as well the specific authors from whom it draws: Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville). Not only did the two translators tackle the difficult and in fact unprecedented task of translating the underlying system to Polish, so that the program generates stanzas in that language; they also translated our comments from the “cut to fit the toolspun course” edition of the work. I hope this will invite remixing and code re-use in Polish as well as helping to improve the understanding of our project and our collaboration. Monika Górska-Olesińska also has an article on Stephanie Strickland’s work, with a photo of Stephanie reading just a few days ago at the ELO conference.

Piotr Marecki also translated my short generator Lede for the issue. (Amusingly enough, the translated title is the more conventional and seemingly more properly-spelled English word “Lead.”) It has some aspects of cultural translation – absurd figures from Polish culture are substituted for some of the ones I included from my American perspective.

The only mistake I see in the Sea and Spar Between items is that it’s hard (for me, at least, not being a reader of the language) to determine who did the translation of both the poem generator and the comments: Monika Górska-Olesińska and Mariusz Pisarski, who are attributed atop the commented code but not, for instance, here on the Polish “How to Read” page. In digital literature, there generally is no system for buying rights and recruiting and paying translators for their work – just as there is no system for doing this for authors. So the least we can do is to properly credit those who work to develop new programs and cybertexts, whether they are based on earlier ones in other languages or not.

The final article I’ll note is an interview, I think one that’s very kind to me and my lab, The Trope Tank, by Piotr Marecki, who was a postdoc here this past year. Here’s what the Googly Intelligence translates this interview as.

There’s a great deal more in the issue, and I suggest those interested in digital literature, even if not literate in Polish, take at least a quick look using your favorite “translation goggles.” There are some good English-language journals on electronic literature, but I think English-speakers could learn a good deal from this effort, which publishes critical writing (including some in translation) and creative work and also undertakes extensive translation projects.

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