Journal #2 – ENGL 335

jan 21/18 • [generative literature and digital poetics]

This week, I was particularly interested by computer-generated poetry. These are the questions that guide my scattered thoughts: What makes it poetry? And is it doing something with electronic/digital tools that can’t be recreated by hand?

When I took a look at House of Trust, the first thing it reminded me of was Times Haiku. The blog, a side project from The New York Times uses a script to pull appropriate sentences from NYT articles (based on syllable count) and arrange them in haiku format. There is a difference in how these poems are presented; because Times Haiku appears as a blog, the poems are curated by humans, and the reader is a step removed from the code generating each haiku. I wonder if Strickland would think of a project like this as electronic poetry – it may rely on code for its generation but not necessarily its display.

But of course, this set me thinking about ways you could recreate these computer-generated works in a physical way. For instance, House of Trust follows a structure:

In the House of Trust

I see the sign: _______

I find _______

Still I worry about _______

_______

If you wrote a bunch of variables on clips of paper (a pile for what’s written on the sign, a pile for what you find, etc.) and pulled them randomly, you could create poems this way. It wouldn’t be nearly as elegant, but it would be possible. In contrast to a work like Dakota, where the word choice and pacing are deliberate and constant, someone reading House of Trust can click “more” to continue generating new text. Or rather, generating new connections between previous written pieces of text.

Marinetti’s talk of the “wireless imagination” was about the responsibility of the poet to create new images and analogies “without the connecting syntactical wires” (1913). What opportunities does e-poetry offer for creating new images when even the poet doesn’t know words and lines will appear together?

References:

Stephanie Strickland, Born Digital (2009), Sea and Spar Between (2010), and House of Trust (2014)

Young-Hae Change Heavy Industries, “Dakota” (2002)

Time Haiku (Tumblr)

Justin Ellis, “Not an April Fool’s joke: The New York Times has built a haiku bot” (2013)

F.T. Marinetti, “Words in Freedom” (1913, PDF)

Journal #1 – ENGL 335

week two • [adventures in animated text]

This week, I want to take a closer look at “Dakota” (2002) and try to connect some of my first impressions of the literature with the introductory theory.

Hayles’ suggests electronic literature is a “hopeful monster” made up from other forms of media. The countdown which opens “Dakota” is reminiscent of the countdown that might appear on the head leader of a film reel. And like seeing a film in a theatre, the viewer is unable to pause, fast forward, or rewind. “Dakota” demands our attention.

Marinetti suggests that words-in-freedom employ mathematical or musical signs to control the speed of style—“Dakota” does this in a more direct way, controlling the speed by controlling how quickly rapidly the work clicks through each “screen” and how many words appear each time. This pace is reinforced by the music, which plays in time with the text (or is the text in time with the music?). Partway through the work, the pace outstripped my ability to process the words as they appeared, and I struggled to decipher their meaning.

This work, along with Brian Kim Stefans’ work, is decidedly non-interactive. Because we cannot control the pace of the work, or pause, I wonder how this affects our idea of close versus hyper reading. Where it is easy to re-read a sentence in a book, or to flip between pages to compare, how possible is it to closely examine “Dakota” if the text moves too quickly for you follow? It is impossible to tell how long “Dakota” is before viewing it, unlike knowing the page count of a book or running time of a film, and you cannot skim through it.

Is “Dakota” a poem? A short story? A short film? It’s art, I think. It’s electronic literature. And to try to further categorize it might be missing the point.

References:

Young-Hae Change Heavy Industries, “Dakota” (2002)

Video version of “Dakota” (if you would like to be able to pause or slow down the text)

Interview with Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

F.T. Marinetti, “Words in Freedom” (1913, PDF)

Brian Kim Stefans, “The Dreamlife of Letters” (2000) and “Suicide in an Airplane 1919” (2011)