Markovian Parallax Generate: On digital writing and poetics

Hypertext / Code Poetry

Posted in Hypertext / Web Art by Eric Goddard-Scovel on March 29, 2008

73-sondheim.gifI’ve been looking into Hypertext and its various applications for poetry again lately.  I’ve been spurred on by some of the essays I’ve read in Contemporary Poetics, a book of essays on the subjects edited by Louis Armand and published last November from Northwestern University Press.  There were two essays dealing with “codework” or code poetry which confused/excited me, one of them by Alan Sondheim.  Sondheim’s essay, “codework,” was featured in the September/October 2001 issue (Volume 22, Issue 6) of American Book Review, which was focused on the topic of Codework (I’m going to have to get this).  I found an excerpt at an old version of their website.

I’m searching for more good links to hypertext theory and publications.  My finds are cataloged in a section of links on the right side of this blog.  I just found a nice (though old now) archive at BeeHive, an online hypertext journal in existence from 1998-2002, it seems.  Vol. 3 Issue 4 from December of 2000 has some works I’d really like to know more about, particularly “Recombinant / Code Poetry” by RE_WORKINPR and “Technocrime and Others” by Kenji Siratori.  I get the same feeling of excitement at new possibilities for writing when looking at these poems as I did when I first started to read my spam folders aesthetically three years ago.

I want to know more about what kind of work is being done in this area.  If any of you readers could help, that would be great: comment or e-mail me.  I’m going to keep looking in these little spots of free time that I have.


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  1. vortext said, on May 27, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Alan Sondheim

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    Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist. Ogden: The world is everything that is the case. Pears/McGuinness: The world is all that is the case. Die Welt ist die Gesamtheit der Tatsachen, nicht der Dinge. Pears/McGuinness: The world is the totality of facts, not of things. Ogden: The world is the totality of facts, not of things … Die Tatsachen im logischen Raum sind die Welt. Die Welt zerfallt in Tatsachen. Ogden: The facts in logical space are the world. The world divides into facts … Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen. Ogden: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. Pears/McGuinness: What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. (From beginning and end of Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ogden translation 1922, Pears/McGuinness translation 1961.)

    TLP describes a Dostoyevskian crystalline world divisible into facts. The German is clear; the motto to the book, by Kurnberger states, in translation: … and whatever a man knows, whatever is not mere rumbling, and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words.

    TLP portends ideality. The world is logical, mathematical, capable of clear division. Logical space is the space, I would assume, of the natural numbers, if not the integers; as Russell says in his introduction, TLP presents, inscribes, a finite mathematics—there’s no room for the continuum, and proof of the continuum hypothesis was far in the future.

    The translations are different, almost never radically so, but different nonetheless. There is a residue in German such that both English versions converge, but often never meet. The sememes are equivalent, but only to a degree; translations are almost never one-to-one.

    In this logical space of facts, programming, and protocols, there is always a wavering, always room, always doubt, critique, and I would say desire as well. Never mind that this wor(l)d breaks down, evidenced a few decades later by Gödel, Tarski, Skolem, etc.: Coherency, living within the safety-net of mathesis, matrix, maternality, remains a dream of humanity. DNA coding, cryptography, hacking the world—all appear to guarantee that everything is possible.

    Computer languages are logical; computers are presumed so, but aren’t; protocols are logical as well; logical spaces may be compared to drive-space; garbage-in, garbage-out; and so forth. Hacking depends on a closed world with closed loopholes; the loopholes themselves are coherent, logical, there.

    Codework, code writing, rides within and throughout the logical world, as a disturbance, a sign of things to come, both extension and breakdown.

    Where does the content lie? Is it in the translation of code into messiness or residue? Is it in the interpretation of residue? Or perhaps, and herewith a criticism, is it in the wonderment, confusion, and novelty of the residue itself?

    Is codework a minor art, minor literature? What is the point of repeatedly shaking the scaffolding—if not the emergence, in the future, of an other or another approach, or an other, being or organism, for which codework now both provides augury and its weakness as portal/welcoming? For what is come among us already no longer speaks the world of logical facts, just as computers are no longer large-scale calculators, but something else as well, something unnamed, fearful—that fearfulness already documented by, say, Cruikshank in the 19th century.

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    Codework references the alterity of a substrate which supports, generates, and behaves as a catalyst in relation to its production. To this extent, codework is self-referential, but no text is completely self-referential (sr); things waver. So for example “ten letters” and “two words” and “english” may be considered sr—but only to the extent that the phrases are presumed to apply to themselves. Extended: “This sentence has thirty-one letters.”—”This sentence has five words.”—”This is an english sentence.”

    What is the residue? What are the sentences “about”? On the surface, letters, words, language. This is an additional or diacritical relation- ship to sr; if one, for example, didn’t know English, none of these would make sense.

    All sr possesses a residue—an attribute tag. In codework, which has a component of sr, the tag may be plural, muddied—the world is never presumed complete, total. Codework is not an instance in this regard of mathematical platonism or Gödelian-platonism; if anything it relies on the breakdown of the ideal, pointing out the meaning-component of computation, program, protocol, even the strictest formalisms.

    Early on Whitehead pointed out that 2+2 = 4, but only in a certain formal sense; in fact, the equation implies an operation or unifying process; within the 4, the components are combined, their history lost. Strictly, “2+2” and “4” are equivalent; within the symbolic, they differ—for that matter, in terms of thermodynamics as well. This domain is expanded by codework, which endlessly interferes.

    The danger of codework is in its delimitation; it tends to repeat; the works tend towards considerable length; automatic generation can flow forever. Sometimes it appears as maw-machine emissions—text in, modified text/partial code out. Sometimes it extends language into new uncharted territories. Sometimes it references the labour and/or processing of language. Sometimes it privileges the written over the spoken, or portends the spoken within a convolution of stuttering and close-to-impossible phonemic combinations. Sometimes it appears as a warning against the all- too-easy assimilation of linguistic competency.

    Sometimes it breaks free, relates to the subjectivity behind its production, the subjectivity inherent in every presentation of symbol-symbolic.

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  2. Ted Warnell said, on June 7, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    as poetry editor, i brought the Siratori & Re_WORKINPR (Brian Lennon et al) works to BeeHive

    the term “code poetry” in the title of the Lennon work is the first documented publication of this term correctly denoting a particular genre of poetry/poetic

    the term is first used on the Webartery poetics list by Lennon in year 2000 — the term “codework” came later and denotes something else

    see Webartery ( messages #3554, #4122, #4125, #4138, #7353, #8146 for authenticated references


  3. escovel said, on June 26, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you, Vortext, for the article. It has spurred me to hit the programming books harder and get down to some codework of my own. Also, The last paragraph reminded me of my own unease concerning digital poetics being too limited in its uses right now. I think real creativity on the part of authors to imagine new interactions with text via computation is necessary, and thus a rethinking of what writing and (in my case) poetry are.

    And thank you Ted Warnell, especially for the link to the Webartery poetics list. Fantastic!

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