Generations of Meaning

Critical Writing
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2016
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This paper is a comparative reading of two works of generative literature: Scott Rettberg's Frequency Poetry Generator and J.R. Carpenter's Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR from a structuralist perspective.
Viktor Shklovsky described the effect of literature in his 1988 article "Art as Technique", in which he describes the difference between practical and poetic language. The essence of poetic text, according to Shklovsky, is its process of "defamiliarization": The reader will see his/her familiar world in a different light due to poetic rather that practical descriptions. In generative poetry, however, the defamiliarizing effect does not stop there. Not only does one see the world differently, but the way one sees poetry itself is defamiliarized. This defamiliarizing effect does not mean that there are no rules. The formal elements of the text guide the reader, as Culler describes in his article "Literary Competence".
The aim of my paper is dual. First of all, I use Shklovky's author- and text-focused approach combined with Culler's reader-focused approach to gain insight into how generative texts build upon the readers' 'literary competence', their familiarity with 'conventional' literature, in order to understand the defamiliarizing effect of generative literature. Second, I argue that my specific analysis of generative poetry in turn gives insight in what readers expect from a text, thus helping to define the often implicit literary competence readers possess.
The output of Frequency Poetry Generator shows poems that are explicitly recognizable as poetry, thus guiding the readers' interpretation. Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR on the other hand, situates the full text as a chronicle, implying the passing of time, and the individual texts as "excerpts", implying there might be more to the story that is not included in these excerpts, making the text into a serial narrative.
I analyze both code as well as output of these works in my analysis, utilizing Marino's framework of Critical Code Studies. The analysis of code is an integral part of the understanding of the work as it positions how the work is portrayed building on different conventional genres as well as the knowledge that one is reading a generative work of literature. Even if the reader chooses not to look at the source code, it is the potential of all possible texts that defines how the text is read as a work within the genre of generative literature. The code shows this structure, all sentences together make the potential of all different texts explicit.
A significant characteristic of generative literature is the fact that it will be a different text each reading. As I cannot analyze every single output, I invite readers of my paper, which is originally written in Scalar, to submit a reader experience of the output based on the structuralist method that I outline. This way, I offer a new type of criticism, which uses the affordances of the born digital paper to crowd source reading experiences that can be combined to specify the theory of "literary competence" further.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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Title Developers Year initiated
Python 1991
Ruby 1995
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Hannah Ackermans