David Byrne’s earworm takes a distant yet close perspective, describing a bullet’s fatal encounter with a human body. Did he know about Kaplan’s similar short, rapid, book-length poem? Byrne’s song sets its sights on an adult man, Kaplan’s poem on a child. The life of the child is hinted by describing what a warm maternal relationship is like, and by mentioning injuries from falling off a bunk bed and being hit by a baseball. We hear about the man’s life because of what the bullet cuts through: “Skin that women had touched,” “Many fine meals he tasted there,” “his heart with thoughts of you.” The general description is very effective. There are striking metaphors — positive associations — for the bullet itself, also. In Poem, it is a triumphant runner (such as Usain Bolt, who bears the name of a crossbow’s projectile) dragging gore from the body as if it were a trophy or banner. In “Bullet,” it is “Like an old grey dog / On a fox’s trail.” Perhaps America’s reliable old dog cannot be taught new tricks.
Taper is a DIY literary magazine that hosts very short computational literary works — in the first issue, sonic, visual, animated, and generated poetry that is no more than 1KB, excluding comments and the standard header that all pages share. In the second issue, this constraint will be relaxed to 2KB.
The first issue has nine poems by six authors, which were selected by an editorial collective of four. Here is how this work looked when showcased today at our exhibit in the Trope Tank:
This issue is tiny in size and contains only a small number of projects, but we think they are of very high quality and interestingly diverse. This first issue of Taper also lays the groundwork for fairly easy production of future issues.
The next issue will have two new editorial collective members, but not me, as I focus on my role as publisher of this magazine though my very small press, Bad Quarto.
I’m writing now from the middle of a four-city book tour which I’m on with Rafael Pérez y Pérez and Allison Parrish – we are the first three author/programmers to develop books (The Truelist, Mexica, and Articulations) in this Counterpath series, Using Electricity.
I’m taking the time now to post a link to video of a short reading that Allison and I did at the MLA Convention, from exactly a month ago. If you can’t join us at an upcoming reading (MIT Press Bookstore, 2018-02-06 6pm or Babycastles in NYC, 2018-02-07 7pm) and have 10 minutes, the video provides an introduction to two of the three projects.
Rafael wasn’t able to join us then; we are very glad he’s here from Mexico City with us this week, and has read with us in Philadelphia and Providence so far!
The exhibit Author Function, featuring computer-generated literary art in print, is now up in MIT’s Rotch Library (77 Mass Ave, Building 7, 2nd Floor) and in my lab/studio, The Trope Tank (Room 14N-233, in building 14, the same building that houses the Hayden Library). Please contact me by email if you are interested in seeing the materials in the Trope Tank, as this part of the exhibit is accessible by appointment only.
There are three events associated with the exhibit happening in Cambridge, Mass:
February 7, 6pm-7pm, a reading and signing at the MIT Press bookstore. Nick Montfort, Rafael Pérez y Pérez, and Allison Parrish.
March 5, 4:30pm-6pm, a reception at the main part of the exhibit in the Rotch Library.
March 5, 7pm-8pm, a reading and signing at the Harvard Book Store. John Cayley, Liza Daly, Nick Montfort, and Allison Parrish.
In addition to a shelf of computer-generated books that is available for perusal, by appointment, in the Trope Tank, the following items of printed matter are displayed in the exhibit:
- 2×6, Nick Montfort, Serge Bouchardon, Andrew Campana, Natalia Fedorova, Carlos León, Aleksandra Małecka, and Piotr Marecki
- A Slow Year: Game Poems, Ian Bogost
- Action Score Generator, Nathan Walker
- American Psycho, Mimi Cabell and Jason Huff
- Anarchy, John Cage
- Articulations, Allison Parrish
- Autopia, Nick Montfort
- Brute Force Manifesto: The Catalog of All Truth, Version 1.1, Series AAA-1, Vol 01, Brian James
- Clear Skies All Week, Alison Knowles
- Firmy, Piotr Puldzian Płucienniczak
- for the sleepers in that quiet earth., Sofian Audry
- From the Library of Babel: Axaxaxas Mlo – The Combed Thunderclap LXUM,LKWC – MCV – The Plaster Cramp, Christian Bök
- Generation[s], J.R. Carpenter
- Google Volume 1, King Zog
- How It Is In Common Tongues, Daniel C. Howe and John Cayley
- Incandescent Beautifuls, Erica T. Carter [Jim Carpenter]
- Irritant, Darby Larson
- Love Letters, Letterpress Broadside, Output by a reimplementation of a program by Christopher Strachey
- Mexica: 20 Years – 20 Stories / 20 años – 20 historias, Rafael Pérez y Pérez
- My Buttons Are Blue: And Other Love Poems From the Digital Heart of an Electronic Computer, A Color Computer
- My Molly [Departed], Talan Memmott
- no people, Katie Rose Pipkin
- Phaedrus Pron, Paul Chan
- Puniverse, Volumes 32 and 38 of 57, Stephen Reid McLaughlin
- Re-Writing Freud, Simon Morris
- Seraphs, Liza Daly
- The Appearances of the Letters of the Hollywood Sign in Increasing Amounts of Smog and at a Distance, Poster, David Gissen
- The Poiceman’s Beard is Half Constructed: Computer prose and poetry by Racter
- The Truelist, Nick Montfort
- Tristano, Nanni Balestrini
- Written Images, Eds. Matrin Fuchs and Peter Bichsel
Here are some photos documenting the exhibit:
A week ago, on October 2, we put Sentaniz Nimerik online. This is an electronic literature work, an example of digital storytelling and digital poetry, that is by Sixto & BIC and was facilitated by Michel DeGraff & Nick Montfort. It is in Haitian Creole — Kreyòl, as the language is called in the language itself. This language has a community of about 12 million speakers worldwide and is the language shared by everyone in Haiti. It is not the same as Haitian French or mutually intelligible with Haitian French (or any other kind of French).
You can read more about Maurice Sixto, a famous Haitian storyteller who died in 1984, on Wikipedia, in English — of course there is an entry in Haitian Creole as well. His story “Sentaniz,” well-known in Haiti, is the storytelling basis for our digital work.
BIC is a singer, songwriter, and poet who is also known as B.I.C. (Brain. Intelligence. Creativity.) He came to MIT to work on this project with us and to do a concert, which was very well-attended. His songs and poems are mostly in Haitian Creole; some in French; not in English — although BIC is fluent in English and has worked as an English teacher.
Professor Michel DeGraff is a linguist and is my colleague at MIT. Among other things, he heads the MIT-Haiti Initiative and works to advance STEM education in the Boston area in schools where education is in Haitian Creole.
To make concrete a few of the formal and conceptual differences: The final result has two generated versions presented one after the other. The underlying “story” is not only an story that originated in Haitian Creole, but has been elaborated into its digital version with frame statements and questions that do not correspond to anything in “Through the Park.” The visual design is simple, but also a bit different from the simple earlier version.
We spent a while in discussion beforehand, and did some work to polish the project after the three of us met, but BIC was only at MIT for one full day. It took us about an hour to actually do the core creative and development work on Sentaniz Nimerik. The project was thanks to many people and offices at MIT, with the main support for BIC’s trip coming from CAMIT, the Council for the Arts at MIT.
I recorded a video of Michel DeGraff explaining the piece (in Haitian Creole) and have posted that on YouTube with a CC license. He explains how to “view souce” and that the piece can be studied and modified. The piece itself, although very short, is released under an explicit all-permissive license to make it clear that it is available to everyone for any purpose. I hope people in Haiti and speakers of Haitian Creole elsewhere will enjoy it and develop many new ideas, stories, and poems.
I just gave a talk at the local demoparty, @party. While I haven’t written out notes and it wasn’t recorded, here are the slides. The talk was “Book Productions: The Latest in Computer-Generated Literary Art,” and included some discussion of how computer-generated literary books related to demoscene productions.
My minimal book Sliders has been published by my press, Bad Quarto. The book contains 32 poems, some of which are only one word long. In a break from tradition, they are not computer-generated.
Currently Sliders is only available for sale at the MIT Press Bookstore, 301 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, Mass.
SALON 256 is a forum for presentation and discussion of very small creative computer programs. Such programs have featured in digital art and poetry, electronic literature, computer music, and the demoscene.
YOU are invited to present a tiny program of yours:
Monday May 1 . 5pm-7pm . MIT’s 14E-304
Presenters already confirmed:
- Mike “Dr.Claw” Piantedosi
- Angela Chang
- Sofian Audry
- Nick Montfort
- Chris Kerich
- Willy Wu
- Henry Lieberman
- Doug Orleans
Programs in an interpreted language are fine, as long as the code is 256 bytes or less; compiled programs with an executable file of 256b or less are fine, too.
Building 14 also holds the Hayden Library and is not Building E14.
If you’d like to present, leave a comment or sign up at the event.
A Purple Blurb / The Trope Tank production.
My New Year’s poem for 2017 is Colors, a 1KB Web page, online at http://nickm.com/poems/colors.html and here it is, too:
<!DOCTYPE html> <html style="overflow:hidden"> <head><meta charset=utf-8> <!-- Copyright (c) 2016 Nick Montfort <email@example.com> 2016-12-31, 1KB
Copying and distribution of this file, with or without modification, are permitted in any medium without royalty provided the copyright notice and this notice are preserved. This file is offered as-is, without any warranty.
As the code says, you can add an argument in the URL to start with a particular color, such as medium gray:
Click to stop on a particular color that you especially like. Click again to continue moving through the colors. If you let it run, you’ll see all 16581375 colors in just over 23 hours.
Happy new year.
Digital Lengua – Babycastles, 137 West 14th St, Manhattan –
5:30pm Sunday November 20
This reading of computer-generated literature in English and Spanish
serves as the global book launch for two titles:
Nick Montfort, Serge Bouchardon, Andrew Campana, Natalia Fedorova,
Carlos León, Aleksandra Ma?ecka, Piotr Marecki
Les Figues, Los Angeles: Global Poetics Series
Troll Thread, New York
Montfort will read from these two books, reading English and Spanish
texts from 2×6. Paperback copies will be available for purchase. The
short programs that generated these books are printed in the books and also
available as free software online.
Läufer will read from his projects Bigrammatology and WriterTools™, in
both cases, in Spanish and English.
Montfort and Läufer will read from work done as part of the Renderings
project and as part of another project, Heftings.
The Renderings project, organized by Montfort and based at his
lab, The Trope Tank, involves locating computational literature (such as
poetry generating computer programs) from around the globe and translating
these works into English. Läufer and Montfort will read from two
Spanish-language poetry generators, from Argentina and Spain, and from
translations of them.
The Heftings project, also organized by Montfort through The
Trope Tank, involves making attempts, often many, at translating conceptual,
constrained, concrete & visual, and other types of literary art that are
generally considered to be impossible to translate. Montfort and Läufer will
read from some short works that are originally in Spanish or English and
works that have Spanish or English translations.
Nick Montfort develops computational art and poetry, often
collaboratively. His poetry books are #!, Riddle & Bind, and
Autopia; he co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story and 2×6. His
more than fifty digital projects, at http://nickm.com, include the
collaborations The Deletionist, Sea and Spar Between, and the
Renderings project. His collaborative and individual books from the MIT
Press are: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam,
10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, and most recently Exploratory
Programming for the Arts and Humanities. He lives in New York and
Boston, offers naming services as Nomnym, and is a professor at MIT.
Milton Läufer is an Argentinian writer, journalist and teacher.
Currently he is doing a PhD at New York University focused on digital
literature in Latin America. He is the 2016-2017 writer-in-residence of
The Trope Tank, MIT. In 2015 he published Lagunas, a partially
algorithmic-generated novel, which —as most of his work— is available online
at http://www.miltonlaufer.com.ar. He has participated in art exhibitions in
Latin America, the US and Europe. He lives in Brooklyn.
Digital Lengua – Babycastles, 137 West 14th St, Manhattan – 5:30pm Domingo, Noviembre 20
Esta lectura de literatura generada por computadora en español e inglés
oficiará, a la vez, de lanzamiento para los siguientes dos títulos:
Nick Montfort, Serge Bouchardon, Andrew Campana, Natalia Fedorova,
Carlos León, Aleksandra Ma?ecka, Piotr Marecki
Les Figues, Los Angeles: Global Poetics Series
Troll Thread, New York
Montfort leerá de ambos libros, en español e inglés para el caso de
2×6. Habrá copias impresas disponibles para su compra. Los breves
programas que generan el código se encuentran en dichos libros y también en
línea como software libre (y gratuito).
Läufer leerá de sus proyectos Bigrammatology y WriterTools™, en español e inglés en ambos casos.
Los autores leerán también de los trabajos realizados en el marco de los
proyecto Renderings y Heftings.
El proyecto Renderings, organizado por Montfort con base en su
laboratorio, The Trope Tank, involucra la búsqueda de literatura
computacional (tal como poesía generada por programas de computadora) a lo
largo del globo y la traducción de estos proyectos al inglés. Läufer y
Montfort leerán de dos generadores de poesía en español, uno de Argentina y
otro de España, así como sus traducciones.
El proyecto Heftings, también organizado por Montfort a través de
The Trope Tank, consiste en la producción de intentos, a menudo
muchos, de traducir obras literarias conceptuales, formalistas, concretas o
visuales tales que son generalmente consideradas imposibles de traducir.
Montfort y Läufer leerán algunos trabajos breves originalmente en español o
inglés y trabajos que poseen traducciones españolas o inglesas.
Nick Montfort desarrolla arte y poesía computacional,
frecuentemente en colaboración. Entre sus libros se destacan #!,
Riddle & Bind y Autopia; y, en colaboración, 2002: A
Palindrome Story y 2×6. Entre sus más de cincuenta proyectos
digitales, en http://nickm.com, se encuentran las colaboraciones The
Deletionist, Sea and Spar Between y Renderings, un
proyecto centrado en la traducción. Sus libros de MIT Press son The New
Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam,
10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 y, recientemente, Exploratory
Programming for the Arts and Humanities. Vive en New York y Boston,
ofrece servicios de nombres como Nomnym, y es un profesor en MIT.
Milton Läufer es un escritor, periodista y docente argentino.
Actualmente se encuentra realizando un PhD en la New York University acerca
de literatura digital in América Latina. Es el escritor en residencia de
The Trope Tank para el período 2016-2017, en MIT. En 2015 publicó la
novela generada parcialmente por algoritmos Lagunas, la cual —como el
resto de su obra el literatura digital— es accesible desde su sitio,
http://www.miltonlaufer.com.ar. Ha participado de exposiciones en América
Latina, Estados Unidos y Europa. Vive en Brooklyn.
The Trope Tank is accepting applications for a writer in residence during academic year 2016-2017.
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:
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.
On Saturday, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (and, happy birthday, too, Will), I delivered to Twitter, via post-haste dispatch, the following four Commodore 64 BASIC programs, versions of the famous “Hello world” program:
400 ? chr$(147)"hello world":for a=1 to 500:next:? chr$(19)"brave":new:rem #c64
400 ? chr$(144)chr$(79)chr$(84)"hello world":rem #c64
400 ? "hello world"chr$(4^3+(2*b or not 2*b)):rem #c64
400 for a=0to255:? chr$(147)spc(a)"(QRQ) hello world":next:? chr$(147):rem #c64
Type ’em in to a for-real Commodore 64 or to this Web-based emulator here. No special characters are involved, so entering these programs should be easy; lowercase letters will appear capitalized and the few capital ones will appear as graphical symbols.
Let me know what you think … and if you see the relationship to four of Shakespeare’s plays.
I had a launch event Saturday afternoon for my new book, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities. Not a typical reading or book party, but a workshop for people completely new to programming but interested in pursuing it. It was at the excellent gallery and venue, Babycastles, on West 14th Street in Manhattan.
I don’t actually have the list of attendees – I’d like to sent everyone a note, but it will have to wait! – but two people I knew beforehand participated and ten others joined in, with some people from Babycastles also participating and helping out. (Special thanks to Lauren Gardner for hosting!) I was very glad that the group was diverse in terms of gender, race, background, interests … also, pleased that this time around we had more people who were genuinely new to programming. I’ve done similar workshops before, prior to the publication of Exploratory Programming, and often there are folks who have had some programming classes and done some programming projects before. I’m glad to help such people as they re-start work with code, but I tried to make sure this time that there was no crypto-prerequisite suggested; the session really was for those wanting to program but lacking background.
Of course we dealt with programming as culturally situated and meaningful within art, poetry, writing, and inquiry. We used the historical Memory Slam examples that I prepared a few years ago for another event in Lower Manhattan.
Many people introducing a new book will have book parties, with or without readings, that draw a much larger crowd that this event did. But, as Brian Eno said about the Velvet Underground’s first album, not many people bought it but all the people who did started a band. I hope everyone who participated in this modest event at Babycastles goes on to start a band, by developing a programming practice engaged with the arts and humanities.
Update: I should have mentioned – we’ll have a similar workshop on May 15 at the School for Poetic Computation!
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:
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:
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:
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.
I hope you enjoy this one, and don’t dismiss it as lighght verse.
Gur anzr bs gur nhgube vf gur svefg gb tb
sbyybjrq borqvragyl ol gur gvgyr, gur cybg,
gur urnegoernxvat pbapyhfvba, gur ragver abiry
juvpu fhqqrayl orpbzrf bar lbh unir arire ernq,
arire rira urneq bs,
nf vs, bar ol bar, gur zrzbevrf lbh hfrq gb uneobe
qrpvqrq gb ergver gb gur fbhgurea urzvfcurer bs gur oenva,
gb n yvggyr svfuvat ivyyntr jurer gurer ner ab cubarf.
Ybat ntb lbh xvffrq gur anzrf bs gur avar Zhfrf tbbqolr
naq jngpurq gur dhnqengvp rdhngvba cnpx vgf ont,
naq rira abj nf lbh zrzbevmr gur beqre bs gur cynargf,
fbzrguvat ryfr vf fyvccvat njnl, n fgngr sybjre creuncf,
gur nqqerff bs na hapyr, gur pncvgny bs Cnenthnl.
Jungrire vg vf lbh ner fgehttyvat gb erzrzore,
vg vf abg cbvfrq ba gur gvc bs lbhe gbathr,
abg rira yhexvat va fbzr bofpher pbeare bs lbhe fcyrra.
Vg unf sybngrq njnl qbja n qnex zlgubybtvpny evire
jubfr anzr ortvaf jvgu na Y nf sne nf lbh pna erpnyy,
jryy ba lbhe bja jnl gb boyvivba jurer lbh jvyy wbva gubfr
jub unir rira sbetbggra ubj gb fjvz naq ubj gb evqr n ovplpyr.
Ab jbaqre lbh evfr va gur zvqqyr bs gur avtug
gb ybbx hc gur qngr bs n snzbhf onggyr va n obbx ba jne.
Ab jbaqre gur zbba va gur jvaqbj frrzf gb unir qevsgrq
bhg bs n ybir cbrz gung lbh hfrq gb xabj ol urneg.
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.”
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 language, 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.