French e-poetry: A short/long story

Critical Writing
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If I believe professor Alain Vuillemin I was twelve years old when France began to pay attention to computer based poetry. In 1959, in France, Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais created the "Séminaire de Littérature Expérimental " (Experimental Seminar of Literature), which became shortly after his creation in 1960, the well known "OULIPO". Oulipo was interested in the secret possibilities of these "new machines for information treatment". (In between, Theo Lutz had in Stuttgart produced the very first electronic poetry, "stochastichte text" in Augenblick). But nothing concrete rolled out the huge machine.
We must wait until1964 to see the first electronic poems written in French in Montreal by the French Canadian engineer Jean Baudot "La machine à écrire mise en marche et programmée par Jean A. Baudot". More than ten years later, the first exhibition of automatic produced poems took place in 1975 during the "Europalia " event in Brussels. In July 1981 the professors Paul Braffort and Jacques Roubaud created the literary group ALAMO: "Atelier de Littérature assistée par la Mathématique et les Ordinateurs" (Literature Workshop aided by Mathematics and Computers). The definition contained in the name says enough about the artistic ambitions. The use of electronics cannot reach further than helping to find unknown and unthinkable combinations of words. According to Philippe Bootz (e-mail 28 02 02), the first automatic generator of poetry was "Poèmes d'Amour" by Jean-Pierre Balpe, in 1980 and Bootz' first programmed combinatory poems, on mini-computer (not micro), are from 1979 (Bootz dixit). In 1985, during the exhibition "Immatériaux" in the Georges Pompidou's Centre, the audience was invited to create and print computer generated poems. The funny is that the numerous printed productions have been archived, but not the generators themselves. All those poetical experimentations are in a way not yet fully electronic. Written text on paper remains the most important aspect of creation. The input is computerized, but not the output.

The ALAMO group went on by creating text generating programs for DOS, such as the language APL that made possible to easily manipulate text objects as vectors or fonts. We met some members of the ALAMO group during the first Conference for e-literatures in Paris in 1994. I have been surprised by their agressivity against the emerging computer based poetry. For them, nothing new could be done out of the paper publication. There was obviously a break between the authors who saw the computer as a tool and the ones who are considering the machine as an autonomous medium.

(Source: Abstract in Dichtung Digital)

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Jill Walker Rettberg