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Gnoetry on HTML Giant

February 8, 2010

Earlier this week, the ubiquitous HTML Giant ran a selection from my Zapatagraphy series. Check them out here. Comments have been sparse, but someone (who’s comment was removed – thus barring further investigation?) responded with a “…I think I’m going to throw up.” This was posted beneath a description of how Gnoetry works, so perhaps it was an intestinal response to the idea of using a computer to compose poetry, or perhaps the idea of writing poems about Zapata, no matter what the process, just feels too Rage Against the Machine. I think his name was Matt Schneider. Someone track him down so we can ask him. I’m curious.

Other than that, the only questions to be raised have had to do with process. Does knowing that a computer program helped create a work of art challenge the viewer on the level of “what it means to be human” (as one commenter put it)? Perhaps, but is that a bad thing? And if it does, why do we not feel the same way looking at visual art, say a photograph that has been manipulated in Photoshop, or a music video that was edited on a Mac, or even with something as common as a collage?

Most of this has been addressed elsewhere on Gnoetry Daily, both in discussions on authorship and on the Romantic ideals that refuse to kick the bucket within the poetry ecosphere – so I won’t go into it here. The lingering questions I have are about the necessity of knowing the process that was used to create a text: Do you need to know? Does it matter? Is something lost or gained with that knowledge?

I suppose this is the whole debate about concept vs. content, or else it harkens back to an emotional resonance one feels towards the Author of a text (wherein the “magic” of the poem is tied to the fact that so-and-so pulled these words from a place of reflection and tranquility, that it comes from a lived experience). As if in response to this question, HTML contributor Ryan Call posted a quote by Yves Tanguy that reads, in part: “I believe there is little to gain by exchanging opinions with other artists concerning either the ideology of art or technical methods.” I believe the exact opposite. If art is a part of a “shared social struggle” then our engagement with the ideology and technical methods of other artists would seem to be of the utmost importance. What do you think?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. erogk7 permalink
    February 10, 2010 9:20 pm

    “The lingering questions I have are about the necessity of knowing the process that was used to create a text: Do you need to know? Does it matter? Is something lost or gained with that knowledge?”

    I think that it matters according to the intention and concept of the created text. I had thought to respond that “in the end, what matters is what the reader experiences within and through his/her experience with the text,” as though the text alone contained everything of value that a reader can get from a text. It is very possible, though, that the process is instrumental to an understanding of the text’s larger statement. Openly stated processes (depending on what they are) can place the work in a context needed for a complete reading of the text. This is probably more true for those works whose intention is to make a conceptual statement about something like a database, an institution, a medium, or even a process itself.

    I’m starting to dither. I would say, though, that a lot of the poetry I’m writing with Gnoetry relies in part on an acknowledgement of the process that created it, especially when the source texts involved and their authors are imporant to reading the new texts (Conrad in a light heart, its black thoughts, Lessig and Whitman in Free Grass). Poems like 6x6x6 and your Zapatagraphy series do not have this issue, so I do not think that explaining Gnoetry will add anything to their reading. The sources are used only as “lexicons” or pools of available language in the latter case, as the created texts are not making any intertextual comment upon their sources nor relying upon them for a reference point.

  2. February 14, 2010 5:08 am

    “The lingering questions I have are about the necessity of knowing the process that was used to create a text: Do you need to know? Does it matter? Is something lost or gained with that knowledge?”

    Answer: it depends. If the poetry is awesome, nobody generally cares what tools you used to make it. If it’s mediocre, and you say, “…but I used an innovative computational tool to write it,” it may be a little more interesting. Personally I’m hoping to skid by on “innovative computational tool” until those tools are good enough to carry me to “awesome.”

    Also, one of the commenters there (“mjm”) said: “The sad byproduct of this event is the poem becomes secondary to the more interesting process and questions of the process behind it, whereas before the poem was a central figure.”

    but I think that is not sad at all! I love the process, just as much as another poet may love the paper, the pen, the words, the sounds, the forms, and the rest. If all we liked was the finished product, we’d be readers not writers.

  3. Eric Elshtain permalink
    February 14, 2010 6:13 pm

    “To reveal or not to reveal” is the crux of a debate about the use of literary constraints and rules and procedures. Some say that content cannot be separated from constraint, while others say that constraint and content *should* be separated, and that the constraint determines the content (just like the writer does…) What’s interesting to me is the reader who read the poems, like them, responded to them, and then felt “cheated” when he discovered that a computer was involved in the poetic process. One response may be to say that writerly intention still exists and is still an integral aspect of the process of composing a poem using a computer–esp. with a program like Gnoetry or m-chain. The reader felt he was taken advantage of (Vanessa Place argues that there is a “false advantage not to reval form” and that one shouldn’t take all the credit for work composed with a compositional tool or form) presumably because the poem gets drained of some understanding of what is means for a poem to be meaningful. However, sense there is itself meaning behind the use of a tool like Gnoetry–I’d argue that meaning is redoubled. Especially as part of a social argument about the role of poetry and a poetic argument about the rols of the social. Writing with Gnoetry is more honest than writing with the Ego, it seems to me, as it on its face acknowledges that poetry is a social/collaborative endeavor. There are some people who want very particular things from their poetry–complete sentences, maybe; easily grasped meanings; they want their poetry to be code (not in the computer sense, in the glyph/phonetic sense) insomuch as there’s a one-to-one correspondence between word and meaning. Other people allow for more grey. Others want a complete break-down of sense/syntax. The thing is, Gnoetry can do all of the above, depending on how the end-user uses. I agree that it depends on the result amd intent as to how much should be revealed about any given Gnoem (form/texts/amount of regeneration); but that’s the beauty of Gnoetry. It’s just like any poetry in that way…

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