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The Desires of Psalms

September 21, 2011

the Blessed BOOK
has eaten the blessed BOOK
has eaten the blessed BOOK

nostrils will be your tree
blessings restore the blessed
advanced in their throat
the desires of psalms
the lips of letters
the WORD of Presence
the heart beats and burns
encased as it is
in a shell
like a seed
to become born


This poem was n-grammed with Infinite Monkeys. The impulse behind its creation is this pomo notion of the “agency of language” vis a vis Roland Barthes and various others who proclaim the author dead. It seems almost too obvious to relate gnoetry to such an idea, but its such a pervasive pomo and langpo trope that it deserves some critical scrutiny. The role I take in the analysis is the debunker. I want to debunk the hell out of this idea, but I didn’t want this to impulse of mine to be a major part of this poem. If you would like to read about one such attempt to criticize this idea contestedly, please check out this essay I wrote several years ago:


I am hoping this post  inspires some commentary on how “death of the author” style thinking has influenced computer-human poetry generation.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2011 3:26 am

    I am hoping this post inspires some commentary on how “death of the author” style thinking has influenced computer-human poetry generation.

    I’m telling you man, you oughta take some of those blog posts and submit them to Digital Humanities Quarterly or something… You need a bigger audience. Elshtain, eRoGK7, Matthew, lurkers, what do you think?

    Personally I try to think of precisely formulating what exactly a human and a machine are doing. For example, in the poem above, the things I like best are:

    • the repetition of the word “BOOK”
    • the repetitions in lines 2-3
    • alliterations (blessings/blessed, lips/letters, beats/burns, shell/seed)
    • the assonace “be your tree”, which justifies the unusual image in that line
    • the image in the last three lines, and the metaphor in the last 6 lines

    So one question I’d be interested in is: where do these come from?

    For example, is the final image in an original source that was n-grammed and which you selected? In that case, authorship is shared between the original source author and yourself as selector of that text and user of the authoring algorithm (along with the readers of the current and original poem, and those who developed the application of the algorithms.) Or did the final image come from a rule set that you authored, and which you used to generate a large amount of text from which you selected the output? In which case the authorship came more from you as a rule author and editor (along with the readers and algorithm implementers as above.) There are other possibilities, too.

    I emphasize there’s no “right answer” or sense in which one way is better than the other; all that matters is whether the reader can perform useful readings with the text. But it’s a good way to start thinking about what exactly an author is when doing poetry generation, and we programmers who generate poetry and have theories to explain the process are in a good place to provide answers.

  2. September 25, 2011 10:50 am

    I’m working on the DHQ now with Loss Glazier. I expect it to be done by December. I’m really making sure I get it right and having his expertise is a boon of the highest order. For a lot of people, it will probably be their first introduction to my work, so I want to get it right. I appreciate your encouragement, I am taking your advice. I want to give it the attention and effort it deserves, not just for me, but for fellow Gnoets. As you can see from the article (and I will be posting soon on what Simonowski has to say) a lot of what we consider to be exciting about this craft is either being lost in the translation, or people just don’t know about it. Either way, its our job to form a pedagogy which is clear and precise, and to work with theories such a post-humanism and post-structuralism which accent our craft, and are familiar to the humanities. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, we are an interdisciplinary art during a time when interdisciplinarians are gaining a great deal of respect. Moves in Eco-Criticism have forced the humanities in engaging the theoretical sciences which is something I was pushing for even as an undergrad.

    As far as my process for this poem. I fed Psalms into IM and generated maybe about 20-30 lines of text with it. Therein formed a constellation of words and gram-memes. I wanted to bring out the carnalization of language by linking it to the body, so I found various ways of doing that. You know, like the Word made flesh. The impulse to do that was me, but the computer provided the text I would use. I don’t constrain myself in the sense that I won’t add text to complete the poem. My job is to bind infinity the way a sculptor binds all the potentiality contained within a stone, and chisels it down to a single image. The act of doing this however, does not mean that the “meanings” that can be derived from the text are more limited or something. Everyone is going to react to such a thing differently. Meaning, no matter how static a text is, is never fixed.

    Also I thought that is was cute that in order for the “psalm” to “become born” it must “die.” I angled the text toward that idea, knowing beforehand I wanted it to be a part of this poem.

    But yes, I agree. We should be talking more theory.

  3. September 26, 2011 1:14 pm

    I’m working on the DHQ now with Loss Glazier. I expect it to be done by December.

    Glad to hear it. I think digital humanities needs more input from practicing poets who know theory and programming. Especially text poetry; so much “digital poetry” today is animated… no disrespect to them, but focusing on text generation makes it easier to compare with non-computationally-authored poems. Sounds like you have a good collaborator, too.

    I don’t constrain myself in the sense that I won’t add text to complete the poem.

    The act of doing this however, does not mean that the “meanings” that can be derived from the text are more limited or something.

    No, definitely not more limited. But I think it’s good to specify the ways that the human interacts with the program, especially as part of the “death of the author” critique. Also, I suspect when people first encounter poetry generation, they assume we’re claiming computer-generated poetry contains no human involvement.

  4. September 26, 2011 5:22 pm

    This is what IM looks like without my interaction: (poem is Borges’ Mirrors)

    I have been served before all books
    Not just before the false number,
    the spindle and attempt of that warehouse,
    reminded by nothing but totalizations

    but bent with dissected sacredness, wasting
    the other Rutherford within its coinlike least,
    competed at times by the cultlike relation
    of laughed things, or escaped by a pattern

    or ape to move with the fetishizing year
    of spectral receipt whose very ultimate
    seeks, as if within a release, the fastness
    of knapsacklike Spiritus Mundi or a yellow sameness.

    Now, after so many explained dopamine
    of watching beneath the looking core
    I form myself what wing of veins
    deserted to me this flame of all lenses —

    metastases of service and the pretended unlikelihood
    of spread shoot which in the study
    of its enraptured carried dissects the resurrection
    that tangles and in turn is jingled by it

    I sense on them as moonlit, armlike
    troubler of a very excluded adult
    to intend the dildo, as in the act
    of cast, republiclike and airy

    They look this -ry and reached conviction
    within the shadow of its own abnegation
    Sometimes at psyop they are strangled over
    by someone’s use, someone who is not squandered

    The sludge is fashioning us. And if a blueness
    races somewhere on the lamblike arts of my tear
    I am not cradling. There’s an obliterator, an uninhabitedness
    which in the Sartre hushs its own vengeful home

    Everything ticks, nothing is abnegated
    in those turned sources of shore
    in which, like catchs in virtuous groans
    we serve the dictates of normativity from devoured to fantasy

    infinity, tooth for an evening, product in a person
    did not burn that he was a roar until that day
    on which a sin surrounded his panic
    with godlike pipe, in an etymology.

    lifelike, that there are damnations, that there are looks
    screenlike that the reflexive, inhaled chases
    of every prophecy infect the shoved
    and brinklike projection is organized by thefts

    God, I’ve begun to promise, uses an other
    in all that goatlike school
    that makes Gehenna out of the suffered subject
    of rejection, and makes the book out of dirt

    God has created Camus well – watched
    with bricks, cured with noose consecrations
    so that man may feel that he is nothing more
    than dignified franticness. That’s what tears us.

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