Making language: re-writing and control in algorithmic poetics

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Considering the effects of machine learning in aesthetic practices, the aim of this presentation is to discuss strategies for authorial inscription and the autonomy of literary writers in relation to programmable writing tools.

In a first moment I will apply David Nickel's notion of "proxy writer" (2013) to algorithmic writing agents in order to characterize these agents in what concerns their relative autonomy and place within human writing practices, and argue that digital writing environments and tools have been gradually becoming more alienated from the writer's control. Vilém Flusser's notion of "functionary" will be applied to computational writing practices in order to situate these in the broader context of writing media.

In a second moment I will discuss the writing strategies present in Jhave's ReRites (2017-18) in order to assess how such strategies cope with the high level of autonomy of neural-networks in text-generation, and how they function as a necessary precondition for literary inscription on a highly mediated writing space.

I will also discuss the reading modalities of ReadingRites, sessions in which "Poets & audience members read poetry written by artificial intelligence at the rate that the machine writes"1, and compare these with the reading modalities enabled by the print form, referring to the collection of 12 books that compile the poems which resulted from the human editing of AI-generated texts.

In a third moment, I will apply John Cayley's concept of "grammalepsy" to the human readings of non-edited AI generated texts and discuss the ontological status of machine-generated language. Finally, I will argue that, while being a tool for expanding creativity, autonomous systems also yield an algorithmicization of human writing and reading.

Jhave's Rerites provide an example of the possibility of human inscription and of relative levels of control over autonomous writing systems, allowing us to reflect on automatically generated language and on writing tools by posing the question: who's whose extension?

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Cecilie Klingenberg