Butterflies, Busy Weekends, and Chicken Salad: Genetic Criticism and the Output of @Pentametron

Critical Writing
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Textual analysis places great emphasis on determining the development and direction of authorial intention to illuminate a text’s layers of meaning. How, though, is one to determine the development of authorial intention in a text that appears to remove the traditional human author? This paper explores issues of authorship presented to genetic criticism (critique génétique) by algorithmically-produced texts – that is, texts produced through programmed logic in a computer rather than through direct human agency – such as those of the Twitter bot Pentametron (twitter.com/pentametron). This paper considers the perceived importance of authorship and human agency in the creation of a text. Algorithmic texts challenge contemporary notions of textual creation and development, in turn posing challenges to genetic criticism that are similar to those posed by cut-up texts in other media. This paper argues that Pentametron’s rather nonsensical algorithmic output stresses the reader’s responsibility for meaning-making, and suggests that such algorithmic texts are not so much final texts to be subjected to genetic critique themselves, but are more aptly considered to be forms of avant-texte. These avant-textes serve as inspiration for human-computer symbioses, for re-creations wherein readers make sense out of the seemingly senseless.

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Twitter 2006
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