Skip to content

Article of interest

September 17, 2011

Gnoetry discussed (briefly) as part of larger post-human literary theoretics here.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. eRoGK7 permalink*
    September 22, 2011 11:34 am

    I’ll need to read through all of this sometime. Just skimming through it, I see some really good explanations of post-humanism in there, a theory that I have been interested in for years but have not read into in much depth. It definitely applies to what we do here at Gnoetry Daily.

    On a related note, I’ve just reread the little pamphlet called Notes on Conceptualisms, by Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman. It’s exploration of conceptual writing as a form of allegorical writing discusses various poetry of the past decade that uses a lot of the formal strategies which Gnoetry kind of does by default: remixing, sampling, intertextuality. I kind of think of Gnoetry as a kind of hypercollage tool, or maybe post-cut-up (doesn’t that sound amazingly pretentious! I love it!), in which the process of collage and cut-up has become so totally mediated for the user that the actual experience of writing with Gnoetry takes this technique as a given to the point that it is largely invisible and ignored because other more immediate choices are being made. The conceptual basis for any gnoetry project is foregrounded (choice of source texts, how the choice of container form affects the possible outputs, strategies for regenerating and/or revising the output within or outside of the program interface, etc.) while the cut-up and collage is so effectively done for the user that it exists only as an assumed fact in the background of the composition process.

    Maybe I should put all of that in the Gnoetry chapbook, huh?

  2. September 25, 2011 3:51 am

    eRoGK7, your observation re Gnoetry seems on the money. One minor note: when you say “The conceptual basis for any gnoetry project is foregrounded” I don’t think that’s quite right… Gnoetry takes the conceptual idea (poetry generation by interactively selecting chained n-grams constrained by a language model built on a given text(s)) as a starting point, from which the users select parameters (text sources, authoring strategies, etc.)

    Maybe I should put all of that in the Gnoetry chapbook, huh?

    I’m thinking: article. Want to know why? Consider the article that Elshtain linked to above. It says:

    Generative textuality is a subcategory of electronic textuality. It boils down to the programs or codes used, as Hayles puts it, “either to generate texts according to a randomized scheme or to scramble and rearrange pre-existing texts” (“Electronic Literature”).

    Looks like Infinite Monkeys and JanusNode don’t count when they generate text according to an authored scheme, huh?

    Gnoetry is, by now, a familiar example: out-of-copyright texts are fed into a program that analyzes how words appear relative to each other in these texts.

    Hey, you’ve reached the level of “familiar example!” Congratulations! Too bad they think you just do “out-of-copyright texts” (man, that’s an ugly way of putting it! what if you’re a Professor of Classics? Are you really just a Professor of Out of Copyright Texts?)

    The program then yields randomly selected language in accordance with the rules it has observed within a predetermined frame of, say, a sonnet, a haiku, or blank verse (one can indicate the relative percentage of the source texts one wants to use). Gnoetry thus works like a computational and a scrambling machine, offering poetry that is part machine-made and part wo/man-made, hence in part impersonal. Because of this machinic intervention and the use of found material, it is not possible to read these poems as poems in the Romanticist humanist tradition — that is, as vehicles of expression, building on the assumption of an inner voice speaking in self-reflection.

    Wait… why not?

    No longer starting from a subjectcentric perspective, Gnoetry no longer revolves around expression models of mediation, but rather around mimicry: the reiteration and incorporation of used modes and models.

    I’m not buying it. Clearly if you only spend a couple seconds working on a Gnoetry-generated poem it’s going to look a lot like a computer generated it, but a lot of eRoGK7 or Elshtain’s poems work as “vehicles of expression.”

    Evidently, Gnoetry and other scrambling and mimicking digital textualities (such as Jim Andrews’s Stir Fry Texts, David Link’s Poetry Machine 1.0 — or spamoetry) derive at least in part from twentieth-century collage and assemblage techniques in paper-based literature and the arts (see Glazier and Wardrip-Fruin). Feeding on the “new” media (newspaper, phonograph, cinema), during the early twentieth century avant-garde collage typically cut up found material to disfigure, interrupt, and thus critically incorporate mass mediations.

    When they say “derive in part”, do they mean “are inspired by” or “I can find similarities between”? I guess I agree with the latter, not the former.

    F.T. Marinetti’s wordsin-freedom, Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau (though this is more like a mini-Wagnerian Gesamtkunst), and Surrealist newspaper poems as promoted by André Breton are a case in point (see Adamowicz).
    As Tristan Tzara directed in his “Dada Manifesto of Feeble Love and Bitter Love,” to make a Dadaist poem, “take a newspaper,” cut out the words of an article you would like to make a poem of, shake them gently in a bag, and then reassemble them in the order in which you removed them from the bag — and “the poem will resemble you” (92). Randomness instead of intentionality, bricolage instead of authority, ready-mades instead of inventions, simultaneity instead of linearity: these indicate the counter-directions of collage art and literature in the modernist age. Later, in the late 1950s and 1960s, Brion Grysin and William Burroughs of course intensified these directions with the cut-up and fold-in methods. Cut-ups are passages of text cut by oneself and/or others and regrouped in random order. Fold-ins, by contrast, amount to folded passages of texts, cut in half and subsequently re-arranged. As is well known, in Nova Express and The Ticket that Exploded Burroughs aimed to use words to derail conventional modes of perception, thinking, and writing. If in linear print and mass communication, words were just another mode of mind-lock, in cut-ups or fold-ins they realized their viral, wrecking potential. In this way, collage-as-cut-up became a political tool used both to reveal the strategies and interpellations of mass media and to unsettle them in dislocated word groups (on Burroughs, see Harris and Schneiderman and Walsh).

    Yeah, thank you avant-garde for taming the mass media… heckuva job! (although I gotta admit, I never saw a Happy Meal promo for the Naked Lunch film…)

    As a generative method, collage re-rendered texts as word constellations that were mechanic rather than organic. Yet today such constellations are no longer as disruptive as Burroughs imagined them to be. Since the 1960s collage as remix or sampling has increasingly become a norm in popular music and visual art in the form of DJ and VJ culture, digital culture, and (as we will see) textual culture. [Footnote: Telling, in this respect, are the numerous cut-up machines on the net inspired by the Gryson and Burroughs methods; c.f.:, last visited October 2010.]

    I’m not sure what it’s “telling” us, since on the net you’ll find pretty much anything.

    Indeed, cutting and pasting — though not precisely in random order — are now routinely used icons on our computers, while sampling in music, digital editing in film and video, and mainstream hypertextual structures on the net have rendered collage ubiquitous rather than antithetical.

    See guys, this is why I think you ought to publish more theoretical articles. The article quoted above doesn’t mean ill, it’s just that the author isn’t really familiar with what they’re talking about. If you guys tell the story, at least you’ll know what you’re talking about.

  3. Eric Elshtain permalink
    September 26, 2011 9:27 am

    I agree in a qualified way with the idea that using a program like Gnoetry makes poetry that is at least of a different order than (not a higher order than…) the heavily mediated notion of composing poetry we get from the Romantics (who have won the battle of how we understand where poetry comes from in many ways). Gnoetry’s bell doesn’t toll for the death of the author, just the author as it is typically understood regarding the origin of the language from whence a poem comes. The I/ego-based author whose subconscious lyre-like rumblings end up on the page–rumblings mediated by the culturally accepted ideas of poetry but more importantly by a certain understanding of the Individual as Originator–is at the very least by-passed by a program like Gnoetry. This notion of the Individual author is vanquished, so to speak, not by negation but by multiplication. The ego-based poet becomes one in a crowd–a crowd of voices gleaned from source texts. And since voice and style reside in syntax, I think the mimesis thesis stands. These programs mimic style, even if we can get the outputs to mimic some sense of inner emotional state of our own, or of some imagined collective. What *exactly* is being expressed is up to debate. I lean towards a reader-based understanding: the reader is the ultimate mediator/composer. I wrote a lengthy article that appeared in a journal called P-Queue a while back. I should post it here…

  4. September 26, 2011 10:09 am

    Well, on the other hand, we’re doing what poets have been doing since poetry began, cribbing each other’s lines, and being inspired by other poet’s style. Our tendency then becomes to create an ethical aesthetic out of such notions. I can’t imagine, Eric, that you would consider your own poetry “ego based,” but then again, neither would William Blake.

    “The ego-based poet becomes one in a crowd–a crowd of voices gleaned from source texts.”

    The ego-based child is one in a community of people whose influence will determine his own voice. This is natural part of experience. To focus on it as an aesthetic is much like concentrating on breathing. The impulse behind it is to try and control something that is natural.

    All I see in Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author is: historical inaccuracy, rhetorical nonsense, and pretentious anti-individualism. It makes sense to talk about opening up a text for reading beyond the individual author’s life/intention, it does not make sense to invent a history of Medieval egotists and spout off on anti-individualism.

    At any rate, I pride myself on being innovative, and keep the ego in check by appreciating the talent and craft of others. To me, none of this ego stuff is worth considering.

  5. September 26, 2011 10:10 am

    Also, mimesis can be used to describe *anything* so it’s relevancy to our poetics is questionable. Anyway, I don’t mean to be confrontational, just espousing some theory.

    • Eric Elshtain permalink
      September 26, 2011 3:53 pm

      I agree; programs like Gnoetry (as I have argued over and over again at Gnoetry demonstartion and at conferences where I am *always* faced with the questions “Doesn’t Gnoetry diminish individual creation? Doesn’t Gnoetry eradicate creativity? Doesn’t Gnoetry lack any inspiration?” These questioners–some of whom would be be considered avant-garde–when pressed, feel that the Ego is very important to the creation of poetry. One can either dismiss this, or face it head on…) mimic the way poets write poetry, and have written poetry. Many, many poets hold the idea of “style” dear, forgetting that “style” is not an individual creation, but a consensus-driven aesthetic. In any case, sure, we may not think we’re engaging the ego, but many, many, many poets do and feel that the ego is important.

      I have not read deeply into Barthes, though I have evoked him in early thoughts on Gnoetry, mostly the idea of a “writing degree zero” in an effort to find the reader as the final arbiter of the meaning of any given computer-generated poem. Here I also think the notion of mimesis (as applied to literature from Aristotle to Coleridge and on into Erich Auerbach) is important, given that poetry has often been deemed an “imitative art.” The question is: imitating what or whom? Esp. when a machine is involved in the imitation.

      • September 26, 2011 5:16 pm

        “Doesn’t Gnoetry diminish individual creation? Doesn’t Gnoetry eradicate creativity? Doesn’t Gnoetry lack any inspiration?”

        That’s horrendous. Two things to consider though, is you are probably the first poet-programmer combination to produce a text-generator for the sake of literature and not linguistics. Much of what I’m reading about now in Simanowski ( is geared toward the early efforts to do this and he talks about The Great Wall of China, and Facade and stops there. Gnoetry or text generation is really an after thought to this debate on authorship or readership and the death of both or either.

        If I am to critique the Barthes text on a conceptual level (and forgive its convenient construction of history) then I think it’s impoverishing that in order to free the reader, we must kill the author, as if the two are engaged in a zero sum contest for all the meaning. For me, the entire topic is demoralizing. I like to think I’m communing with dead authors, especially since I use only out of print books… ;)

        Mimesis is relevant but very default, and not particularly interesting. Anyway, I like Edde’s plan to talk a little more theory.

  6. Eric Elshtain permalink
    September 26, 2011 8:34 pm

    We’ll have to disagree about how interesting the concept mimesis is in this discussion, alas (given, but not exclusive to the fact, that one of the most important and interesting books about literature is titled Mimesis). I also have to re-iterate the qualified sense of the author I am discussing, just to make sure I am being clear. Gnoetry and computer-generated poetry programs, in my mind, in essence “kill” (your word, not mine) a *particular conception of authorship* and/or certain assumptions about authorship and how meaning can be created. I am not sure I am describing an either/or game towards the creation meaning, author or reader. It’s both/and, but with an electronic “author” that is of the sort that can not create the typically I-driven lyric (which can include certain “avant-garde” poetries that, despite disavowing the ego, are, in fact, beholden onto it) to which the author’s intent and ego are important. These I-driven lyrics account for almost all of the poetry people typically read.

  7. September 27, 2011 9:13 am

    As far as being interested in mimesis, I can be turned with a good argument. I agree that when I do write I-driven lyrics, I’m usually fearful of the author-based interpretation. That people are going to think that the poem is “about me.” Even when I write poems that are inspired by my own experiences, the poems are not “about me.” They’re about the experience, the feeling, etc… But being able to vocalize via the “I” is important (to my work), even if that “I” is just a character. The ego is an important part of poetry, probably (because desire is mandatory, I think), but the ability to suspend one’s own ego to write from multiple perspectives is more important. Qualities like empathy free the imagination from the ego-driven desires. Anyway, the “ego” is such a complex and variable concept that often how people define the ego determines their relationship to it. I did not mean to imply that you are engaging in a zero sum game against your readers, nor even that Barthes was doing that. But by the time you get to Lyn Hejenian, people begin talking about a “closure” which cannot and does not exist. Derrida’s “Death of the King” mixed in authorship with “authority” and created a tangle (IMHO) that we have yet to unwind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: