Nick Montfort’s World Clock and its Polish translation Zegar światowy – a case study

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

The poster is a visual presentation of the experiment that was the translation from English into Polish of the Nick Montfort computer generated novel World Clock (2013) and its subsequent publication and distribution in print in Poland (Zegar światowy, 2014). The poster is composed of two distinct parts. The first part is devoted to the in-depth description of the problem of translating a generator, focusing on the challenges connected with the language transfer of programmed narrative work, as well as chosen issues connected with the publication process. The second part covers what occurred after the publication of the book and presents the conclusions of the analysis of the reception of the work.Zegar światowy was the first computer generated novel published as a book in Poland, thus it gained interest of some media and critics, who usually do not discuss experimental works. It may be hypothesized that the interest was partially due to the fact that the generator was partially inspired by a text by the Polish writer Stanisław Lem, which makes it an example of what Strehovec describes as derivative writing.

In the first part, using the expressive processing tools proposed by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, the authors describe the translation process, beginning with the input data, the code of the process and ending with the generated output. The program, written in English, consists of 165 lines of code and randomly generates 1440 short stories, which are coordinated with the Python pytz time zones application, pairing the generated stories with cities in different timezones. Because of numerous differences between the grammar of English and Polish, the Polish version of the program consists of as many 229 lines. The translator chose to make changes in the code in order to generate from the input stories with a similar structure, but accommodating for the specifics of the Polish language. Writing the code required addressing a number of problems, like including grammatical gender or translating the names of characters and locations. Some other changes were dictated by the use of timezone definition base in Python, for which there is no Polish version. In this part of the poster the authors will also address the question why publication in the medium of a traditional print book was one of the key elements of the project, referring to literature on the materiality of literature.

The second part of the project is an analysis of the marketing and reception of the book in Poland. Montfort's project is inspired by a made-up book review by Stanisław Lem, in which the writer imagines the book One Human Minute, consisting of an enumeration what all the people around the world do in one minute. The Polish translation was marketed as a computer generated novel based on Lem's idea. Thanks to the decision to distribute this conceptual work just like conventional literature, through a traditional publishing house, the work received critical reception unprecedented for works from the field of electronic literature in Poland. Instead of being discussed by digital media scholars, Zegar światowy received 15 reviews in mainstream columns and on blogs and websites devoted to conventional literature. This experiment provided the opportunity to analyze how experimental electronic literature is perceived by actors from the field of conventional literature. The author analyzes the discourse of their reactions, the focal points of which include the “non-human” aspect of the work, its experimental character and values associated with it, as well as different approaches to the reference to the celebrated Polish science fiction writer. 

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Record posted by: 
Piotr Marecki