“Peaceful Protesters” but no “Peaceful Police”

About four million Google hits for “peaceful protesters,” only about 55,000 for “peaceful police.” Anyone who has been reading the news will have seen the phrase “peaceful protesters” again and again—and probably will not have seen this other phrase. Does that mean peaceful protesters outnumber peaceful police 80 to 1? Or at least that we think and speak as if this is the case?

Linguistics does not support this conclusion. In her 1949 book The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir gave us the basis for understanding how maleness is the norm in society and language. The phenomenon here is that of markedness, having a default form and a marked form. “Actor” can be a generic term for anyone who acts, but “actress” is used only for the special, marked case—women. As Edwin L. Battistella discusses in The Logic of Markedness, there are exceptions: “male nurse” is the marked case for this profession, because of “the social fact that nurses are most commonly female.”

“Peaceful protesters” is the marked case. It’s understood implicitly that “protesters” are not generally peaceful.

So when the news media speaks or writes about “peaceful protesters,” they are using the marked case. It’s understood implicitly that “protesters” are not generally peaceful. The exceptional ones are the peaceful ones, like the small percentage of male nurses. This is quite evidently false, but doesn’t prevent journalists from using the phrase again and again.

Amirite? Let’s check to see approximately how many Google search results there are for “violent protesters.” In my filter bubble, and admitting that these searches cover all English-language discussion of all protesters globally and historically, it’s 445,000 results, a tiny sliver compared to the “peaceful” ones.

I admit that there are other reasons people would use an adjective such as “peaceful.” It can be used for emphasis rather than to indicate the marked case. But if that’s what’s going on, that’s a huge amount of emphasis. And, I would expect such emphasis to often be accompanied by some sort of marker, an adverb such as “just” or “only” or something along those lines, which I seldom see in recent news.

Now, if you don’t buy my argument about markedness and that think “peaceful” and “violent” just represent how many protesters we think are peaceful and how many we think are violent, this still makes no sense at all. Watch the videos. Watch the livestreams. If you can, go out on the streets. One in ten protesters are not violent in any objective sense.

If you do agree that “peaceful protesters” is being used as the marked case, as if these protesters were in a slim minority, that is an extraordinary and bizarre confusion, truly unhinged from reality.

Why not just call the great mass of so-called peaceful protesters “protesters,” explaining—if for some reason it needs to be explained—that we are lawfully exercising our rights to speak and assemble?

Post Hoc, An Online Art Show

Please enjoy Post Hoc, a show I’ve put together with generous contributions from a baker’s dozen artists and eight writers. There was no pre-established theme for Post Hoc, which was prompted by our inability to get to IRL galleries and museums. Artists were simply asked for digital images, any digital image they considered an artwork. (Several works in the show do have other manifestations.) The work in the show is all from 2020. I solicited 1000–1200 character responses to each piece.

Agnieszka Kurant   response by Mary Flanagan

Christian Bök   response by Paul Stephens

Daniel Temkin   response by Craig Dworkin

Derek Beaulieu   response by Amaranth Borsuk

Forsyth Harmon   response by Simon Morris & Valérie Steunou

Lauren Lee McCarthy   response by Daniel Temkin

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault   response by Fox Harrell

Olia Lialina   response by Mary Flanagan

Manfred Mohr   response by Craig Dworkin

Mark Klink   response by Daniel Temkin

Renée Green   response by Paul Stephens

Sly Watts   response by Fox Harrell

Susan Bee   response by Amaranth Borsuk

You can scroll through the entire Post Hoc show as a single page. However, you’ll only see the images at their original size, and be able to read the responses, if you go to each post individually.

WordHack Book Table

This May 21, 2020 at 7pm Eastern Time is another great WordHack!

A regular event at Babycastles here in New York City, this WordHack will be fully assumed into cyberspace, hosted as usual by Todd Anderson but this time with two featured readings (and open mic/open mouse) viewable on Twitch. Yes, this is the link to the Thursday May 21, 2020 WordHack!

There are pages for this event up on Facebook and withfriends.

I’m especially enthusiastic about this one because the two featured readers will be sharing their new, compelling, and extraordinary books of computer-generated poetry. This page is a virtual “book table” linking to where you can buy these books (published by two nonprofit presses) from their nonprofit distributor.

Travesty Generator coverLillian-Yvonne Bertram will present Travesty Generator, just published by Noemi Press. The publisher’s page for Travesty Generator has more information about how, as Cathy Park Hong describes, “Bertram uses open-source coding to generate haunting inquiring elegies to Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and Emmett Till” and how the book represents “taking the baton from Harryette Mullen and the Oulipians and dashing with it to late 21st century black futurity.”

Data Poetry coverJörg Piringer will present Data Poetry, just published in his own English translation/recreation by Counterpath. The publisher’s page for Data Poetry offers more on how, as Allison Parrish describes it, Jörg’s book is a “wunderkammer of computational poetics” that “not only showcases his thrilling technical virtuosity, but also demonstrates a canny sensitivity to the material of language: how it looks, sounds, behaves and makes us feel.”

Don’t Venmo me! Buy Travesty Generator from Small Press Distribution ($18) and buy Data Poetry from Small Press Distribution ($25).

SPD is well equipped to send books to individuals, in addition to supplying them to bookstores. Purchasing a book helps SPD, the only nonprofit book distributor in the US. It also gives a larger share to the nonprofit publishers (Noemi Press and Counterpath) than if you were to get these books from, for instance, a megacorporation.

Because IRL independent bookstores are closed during the pandemic, SPD, although still operating, is suffering. You can also support SPD directly by donating.

I also suggest buying other books directly from SPD. Here are several that are likely to interest WordHack participants, blatantly including several of my own. The * indicates an author who has been a featured presenter at WordHack/Babycastles; the books next to those asterisks happen to all be computer-generated, too:

Thanks for those who want to dig into these books as avid readers, and thanks to everyone able to support nonprofit arts organizations such as Babycastles, Small Press Distribution, Noemi Press, and Counterpath.

Sonnet Corona

Sonnet Corona, detail from a particular generated poem in the browser

“Sonnet Corona” is a computer-generated sonnet, or if you look at it differently, a sonnet cycle or very extensive crown of sonnets. Click here to read some of the generated sonnets.

The sonnets generated are in monometer. That is, each line is of a single foot, and in this case, is of strictly two syllables.

They are linked not by the last line of one becoming the first line of the next, but by being generated from the same underlying code: A very short web page with a simple, embedded JavaScript program.

Because there are three options for each line, there are 314 = 4,782,969 possible sonnets.

I have released this (as always) as free software, so that anyone may share, study, modify, or make use of it in any way they wish. To be as clear as possible, you should feel free to right-click or Command-click on this link to “Sonnet Corona,” choose “Save link as…,” and then edit the file that you download in a text editor, using this file as a starting point for your own project.

This extra-small project has as its most direct antecedent the much more extensive and elaborate Cent mille milliards de poèmes by Raymond Queneau.

My thanks go to Stephanie Strickland, Christian Bök, and Amaranth Borsuk for discussing a draft of this project with me, thoroughly and on short notice.