Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

“Processing Our Databanks”: an aesthetic metaphor for the Computer Age

Posted in Poetics by Eric Goddard-Scovel on July 1, 2007

While browsing through my Blogroll to ensure the highest standard of quality for the links on this blog, I fell into the library that is UBUWEB. Naturally I gravitated towards the poetics section where I discovered this paper, After Language Poetry: 10 Statememnts[sic]. Within the first few paragraphs of Christian Bök’s statement, I had found this nugget:

Wershler-Henry has at times remarked that, because Langpo seems to have exhausted itself without generating any innovative successors, what Langpo needs is “a good swift kick in the ass” – a new mandate that might jumpstart our creativity, exploiting the lessons of Langpo on behalf of some other, as yet unimagined, practice. Langpo has pushed poetry as far as poetry on the page can go; now poetry must find new avenues of thought beyond poetry itself, seeking inspiration, for example, in the work of architects and musicians, scientists and engineers. Recent, poetic trends suggest that, in order to avoid sounding completely outdated, many poets may have to learn a new catechism, acquiring competence in domains far beyond the purview of literary expertise. Poets may have to become advanced typesetters and computer programmers – technicians, polyglot in a variety of machinic dialects: HTML and Quark, PERL and Flash. Poets may have to learn the exotic jargon of scientific discourses just to make use of a socially relevant lexicon, and now that cybernetics has effectively discredited the romantic paradigm of inspiration, poets may have to take refuge in a new set of aesthetic metaphors for the unconscious, adapting themselves to the mechanical procedures of automatic writing, aleatoric writing, and mannerist writing – poetry that no longer expresses our attitudes so much as it processes our databanks.

For the past few years, I have wanted to do several things outside of poetry that, thus far, have been repeatedly pushed aside.

  1. Learn how to improvise on my trumpet.
  2. Reach the state of most sublime Enlightenment.
  3. Actually learn how to speak and write Spanish.
  4. Learn how to program in Python.
  5. Become competent as a Web Designer.

It seems that, according to Mr. Bök, I have the right idea, and I should work harder at making some of these become realities. I often wonder (as I had wondered before I entered one) if an MFA program is just what I need to become a competent writer. So far, it has proven to be a large step in the right direction for me. Still, I would like to be able to put together other programs like the mchain script that do any number of linguistic operations.

I have dreamed of a program that could improvise alongside live musicians, that could work off of the music they are playing in a creative and innovative way: something with a real musical intelligence. I don’t know how long it will be before an artificial intelligence can do that, or how long it will be before one writes a poem or a novel that is truly its own (whatever that may mean–and what standards would we judge its quality by, too?) Hell, that may have already happened years ago. But if I could in any way assist in the development of such a thing, I think I would be contributing to something that would enrich our understanding of intelligence, creativity, and probably meaning itself. And as our own sense of consciousness grows metaphorically closer to concepts of machine intelligence (referring to thought and reflection as “processing” and the storage capacity of the mind as “databanks”), maybe we will be that much closer to appreciating the literary works of a computer.

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