The Generated Word: Metonymic, Generic and Operationalist

Abstract (in English): 

The formal patterns of the codex book remain evident in literary forms no longer bound by the material efficiencies of the paper platform. For some works, like Judd Nelson's "The Jew's Daughter" or Jason Nelson's "Evidence of Everything Exploding," the printed page becomes a platform for the mutability of the screen, while others like Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse's _Between Page and Screen_ or Steve Tomosula's _VAS: An Opera in Flatland_ explore the tension between the printed and the projected word.
Still other electronic works embrace the physical material of a bound, published book as their final form,, and in this paper, I propose a framework for considering the differences among computer-generated books relative to their characteristics and apparent purposes. By articulating three broad genres, I attempt to draw in more diverse networks of influence that bear on the present moment.
Works that are metonymic are sculptural in their appeal to bookishness (after Jessica Pressman's) through the fact of their material existence. These works include Luigi Amato and Roberto Arista's _Volume_, which includes as its contents its literal self-description (in terms of weight, width, height, indexicality) and Jean Keller's 2012 _The Black Book_, which maximizes the value of a self-printed book by printing each page in solid black. The role of computation in the creation of these works is at least implied, and their status as metonyms for the concrete visibility of books draws in other works with different origins.

Computer-generated books may follow or invent many different literary genres, although poetry is a more forgiving milieu than prose. The books that I propose to call "generic" are those whose function is contingent upon a specific work or style. The methods programmers use may be stochastic, deterministic, or statistical, but they each begin with a specific work or works and rely for their significance on readers recognize the work being satirized. This includes the many methods following the tradition of Hugh Kenner and Joseph O'Rourke's "Travesty Generator."

Finally, works that I consider "operationalist" follow Neil Harris's identification of P.T. Barnum's method of showmanship as demonstrating an "operational aesthetic." For these books, the audience is to some extent left with some doubt as to the origin of the book, and this may include books where readers have some reason to doubt whether it was really generated by a computer program and books that have attempted to "pass" as human-authored. In either case, the operations of authorship are among the principle signifying characteristics of these works.

The typology I have proposed and will develop in this paper is broad, and many computer-generated books may have features consistent with two or more of the types I have specified here. But given the wide range and long history of books co-authored by computational processes, this attempt at a framework for describing their purposes and audiences helps connect these works of electronic literature to adjacent fields such as conceptual writing, literary hoaxes, and artist's books.

The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Milosz Waskiewicz