Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) is a persona that performs a parodic homage of German filmmaker Werner Herzog on Twitter. This humorous account does an admirable job of capturing Herzog’s voice in (necessarily) brief, aphoristic tweets that express his existentialist perspective and wry humor.
Barbosa’s theoretical-practical trilogy closes with Máquinas Pensantes: Aforismos Gerados por Computador [Thinking Machines: Computer-Generated Aphorisms] (1988), as it can be understood as the third volume of A Literatura Cibernética. Here, the author presents a long series of literary aphorisms, in which the generation of texts is said to be “computer-assisted” (Computer-Assisted Literature) in BASIC language. The “A” series (Re-text program) deals with combinatorial “re-textualizações” [re-textualizations] (1988: 59) of a fragment (“matrix-text”) by Nietzsche and the “B” series (Acaso program), which had been partially published in the Jornal de Notícias (1984), draws upon the conceptual model created by Melo e Castro’s poem “Tudo Pode Ser Dito Num Poema” [Everything Can Be Said in a Poem], included in Álea e Vazio [Chance and Void] (1971). Melo e Castro himself would write an early review on the aphorisms, in the Colóquio Letras (1986) literary magazine, revealing Barbosa’s outputs as undeniable literary productions. Finally, the “C” series (Afor-A and Afor-B programs) comprises reformulations of traditional Portuguese aphorisms, which result in new interpretations, sometimes ironic, sometimes surreal.
One of the most important features of these three volumes is the highlight given to computer code – showing the importance of programming for Pedro Barbosa – inasmuch as in the end section of each volume the author publishes all the source codes, which today becomes a rich and open archaeological finding, insofar it documents the coding practice and it enables further critical and creative analysis.
In A Literatura Cibernética 2: Um Sintetizador de Narrativas [Cybernetic Literature 2: A Narrative Synthesizer] (1980), Pedro Barbosa advocates the same analytical perspective of literary machines, which he had begun in the first volume. Influenced by Max Bense and Abraham Moles, the author develops the idea of “artificial text,” which would be later challenged by E. M. de Melo e Castro (1987), in the sense that Castro’s transmedia stance considers that all texts, produced over time with the aid of various technological tools, are always artificial.
Pedro Barbosa’s pioneering work introduced computer-generated literature (CGL) in Portugal in 1975. Having worked with Abraham A. Moles at the University of Strasbourg, Barbosa published three theoretical-practical volumes of his programming experiences with the FORTRAN and BASIC languages. These volumes deal with combinatorics and randomness, developing algorithms able to ally computing and literary production, bearing in mind a perspective of computational text theory.
According to the author, A Literatura Cibernética 1: Autopoemas Gerados por Computador [Cybernetic Literature 1: Computer-Generated Autopoems] is an “esboço de uma teoria, toda uma prática, dois métodos e dois programas, que irão facultar a qualquer leitor, interessado e imaginoso, a confecção de poemas automáticos à razão de 5200 versos por hora: no espaço intraorgânico de qualquer computador!” [outline of a theory, an entire practice, two methods and two programs, which will provide any interested and imaginative reader with the possibility of making automatic poems at the rate of 5200 verses per hour: in the intraorganic space of any computer!] (1977: 8) These “auto-texts,” or “computer-generated autopoems,” hitherto open up a new field of literary theory in the Portuguese context – the direct junction of literature and computation, of writer and programmer. Barbosa’s autopoems were programmed in FORTRAN, ALGOL and NEAT during 1975-76 (Permuta program, Iserve subprogram, and Texal program, Aletor subprogram), using an Elliot/NCR 4130 (a machine introduced in the 1960s in the UK), in collaboration with Azevedo Machado, engineer at the Laboratório de Cálculo Automático [Laboratory of Automatic Calculus] (LACA), at the Faculty of Sciences from the University of Porto.
In A Literatura Cibernética 1, Barbosa compiled a selection of textual outcomes generated with his programs: the permutational poems and the random poems. On the one hand, the permutational poems include “Poema de Computador” [Computer Poem], “25 de Novembro” [November 25], “Verão” [Summer], “Silêncios” [Silences], “Cansaço das Palavras” [The Weariness of Words] and the subtitled poems “trovas electrónicas” [electronic ballads], “Porto” and “Aveiro” (8! = 40,320 permutations, 576 verses, running time: 6’ 54’’), exchanging the morphemes “na” (in), “da” (of), “sem” (without), “uma” (a/the) and the lexemes “água” (water), “ria” (estuary/river), “tristeza” (sadness) and “alegria” (happiness). Aveiro, a city famous for its water channels, is portrayed with the opposites “sadness/happiness” and “water/river,” to the extent that the noun “ria,” when a verb, means “laughed,” giving rise to its opposite, “mágoa” (sorrow), through the rhymed interplay with “água” (water). On the other hand, the random poems appropriate, remix and rewrite poems by other poets. Here, one finds the “Transformação” [Transformation] series, with “Camões e As Voltas que o Computador (lhe) Dá” [Camões and the Turns the Computer Gives (It)], which rewrites a Renaissance text (“classic”) with several random transformations of Luís de Camões’s Os Lusíadas [The Lusiads] (1572), and “É Preciso Dizer…” [One Needs to Say…], an appropriation and re-creation of Mário Cesariny’s surrealist poem (“contemporary”) “Exercício Espiritual” [Spiritual Exercise] (1956), in which Barbosa extends the ironic and surrealist practice of the initial lexicon of nouns.
What surfaces from the resulting versions of the poems, in addition to the achieved syntactic accuracy and the meticulous encoding work, is a luminous mark of criticism, irony and parody, both to the current state of the official literary canon, and, above all, to the climate of oppression and fear (“medo”) inflicted by the long dictatorship, which was still being felt. Conversely, questioning the perpetuation of a political, social and cultural lie (“mentira”) was the likely path to be renewed by the recent establishment of the Portuguese democracy – history (“história”) as continuity and revolution (“revolução”) in the confrontation between human and machine.
“Endless Reader” is a children’s mobile application created by Originator, which has developed other recognized apps such as “Endless Numbers” and “Endless Alphabet.” This application is the follow-up to “Endless Alphabet,” integrating sight words with an interactive digital environment with the purpose of allowing children to hear words broken down to their simplest phonetic segments.
This lesson plan– the first in the E-Lit for ESL series— takes advantage of J.R. Carpenter’s polyphonic approach to the city to introduce the characteristics of e-literature, to provide some reading strategies and to encourage the use of digital tools in writing. The text “Saint Urban Street Heat” and its multiple vignettes that can be explored become a resource for reviewing the use of adjectives and presenting hyphenated adjectives to students.
This resource has been designed for teenagers and adults with at least an intermediate proficiency level. Its activities include:
the use of pre-reading strategies,
the reading of “Saint Urban Street Heat” in print and then within “Entre Ville,”
the reflection of the author’s experiences in her work,
the introduction to hyphenated adjectives, and
the elaboration of a collage using PowerPoint and digital materials provided by the students.
On Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:45 pm Jeremy Hight announced that he had begun a new series that would be “published” on his timeline and allowed to “float away down its river.” To think of the Facebook timeline as a river is a substantial change in the metaphor Facebook has implemented as an organizing principle for the mass of status updates, photos, and other material people share on this social network. A timeline can be explored with considerably less metaphorical effort than navigating upstream. There are no ancient philosophical pronouncements about never being able to step into the same timeline twice. To think of Facebook as a river is to highlight its endless flow and the irretrievable nature of a moment– correctly so– but that isn’t the only metaphor Hight is activating here. He refers to these posts as “publication,” a word that comes charged with centuries of print history and the circulation of the written word in ways that suggests a modicum of permanence, the slice of immortality beyond the ephemeral moment that Shakespeare wrote about.
The problem is that Facebook posts aren’t ephemeral. They are digital objects stored and backed up in Facebook servers with timestamps and a unique URL, which like Twitter posts, can be embedded into WordPress blogs (as of September 2013). So there is a way to circumvent Hight’s intention of having this narrative exist only on Facebook, and here it is, embedded into this post:
Okay then, let this be a reminder that just because while the entry is published, it isn’t public. Upon closer inspection, I (who have the privilege to be his Facebook friend), noticed that the entries for this narrative are shared only with his friends, so even if you “follow” his entries, he needs to become “friends” with you to grant access to this narrative. Perhaps this is an oversight, since he does post public entries in his timeline (I tested this by following him with a different account). Or perhaps, like Emily Dickinson, who shared her poems with her friends and acquaintances by copying them by hand and mailing them in letters, Hight wishes to share this work with a select audience of people he knows and trusts enough to establish bilateral communication with in Facebook.
The preservationist in me wants to capture these entries and it would be easy to do so, by screen capturing the posts or by cutting and pasting their text into a new document, but as discussed in my series on William Gibson’s vanishing poem Agrippa, I would only be capturing an aspect of the work by creating different computational objects. Besides, it begs the question: do I have the right to copy his work? Would this act be a violence against Hight’s intentions? I don’t wish to betray our friendship. I could provide links to the entries so fellow Facebook friends can access them, but it would be better to direct people to February 16, 2014 on his Timeline, which would provide a fuller context. Perhaps when it’s over, I’ll ask Hight to download his Facebook Archive and share the data with me, or archive it somehow.
Or perhaps I should enjoy it as it happens, share the experience with fellow friends, and appreciate it more for its “lability.”
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned what the story is about. That will be the focus of the next entry in this series.
On Tuesday, February 4, 2013, Facebook released a generated video titled “A Look Back” to commemorate their 10th anniversary.
A Look Back is an experience that compiles your highlights since joining Facebook. Depending on how long you’ve been on Facebook and how much you’ve shared, you’ll see a movie, a collection of photos or a thank you card (link).
For those who have share plenty, this work assembles images and status updates from your Facebook feed and arranges them to be displayed on a video template that organizes them into several topics, to be described below. One could see this generated movie is a kind of Hallmark ecard from Facebook to you, designed to please you with pretty music and images you’re most likely to enjoy. And at that level, the work is a likeable bauble, as enjoyable and forgettable as a well chosen greeting card or something you’ve “liked” on Facebook. But part of its interest is in how effectively Facebook is able to use its metadata to mine its user’s database and generate a a surprisingly effective customized experience that could be considered an unexpected e-poem.