The Coding and Execution of the Author

Critical Writing
Journal volume and issue: 
Cybertext Yearbook 2002-2003
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

One seldom-discussed cybertextual typology is offered by Espen Aarseth in chapter 6 of Cybertext, "The Cyborg Author: Problems of Automated Poetics." As someone who writes using computers—and who writes entire works whose course is influenced by this use of computers—this neglected topic in cybertextual studies seems to demand my attention not only as theorist and a critic but as an author. Am I crediting my computer properly when I attribute the authorship of works that my computer helped to create? Should I give myself and my computer a "cyborg name" (like a "DJ name") for just this purpose? When I write or use a new program, or replace my computer with a faster one, am I a new cyborg and thus a different author? Should my computer have a say in the publishing and promotion of works that we authored together? And should other important and inspirational mechanisms—my CD player, for instance, and my bookshelves—get cut in on the action as well?

The phrase "cyborg author" may not have a long history, but it was used as early as 1994, in a paper by David Wall. He conceptualized the World Wide Web as a cyborg author. Wall discussed the Web more as a publishing system (or "author of community") than as an author in the sense that the term is usually used. While the concept of the cyborg author seems difficult to discuss in any formal sense, there are clearly reasons to be interested in the authorship of texts by humans and computers working together. The two difficulties that immediately present themselves regarding the cyborg author concept are the nature of the cyborg (and, more broadly, the new sorts of relationships humans and computers might have with one other as works are authored) and the nature of authorship. I will look at these briefly and also give a short account of my own experience writing 2002: A Palindrome Story in 2002 Words with William Gillespie and with the assistance of a suite of computer programs. Then, I will turn to more critically consider a recent set of poems, Static Void: Fifty-Nine Sonnets, and a Fragment, which was created by two human authors using an open source computer program they devised. I will close by trying to offer, not a new typology for human-computer co-authorship, but a model for this co-authorial process, one which is more sensitive to the actual practice of electronic literary composition and is particularly informed by the work of poets using procedures. The idea of a computer co-author, and the formal nature of the computer, certainly calls for a formal idea of co-authorship. While such a description of a co-authorial process cannot capture all the nuances of the process, it can help to point out features of this process that are of particular interest and can help us understand the role of the different participants more fully.

(Source: Author's introduction)

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Scott Rettberg