Writing To Be Found In Common Tongues

Description (in English): 

Recently, my work has been concerned with using quasi-algorithmic techniques to generate texts from the natural language processing affordances of so-called network services, such as internet search. For example, I search for short sequences of words and then, from the ‘results’ returned, I collect—as a human reader—some ‘preferred’ longer sequence that contains the sequence originally searched. I then select another short sequence of words from this result and continue, iteratively, to produce ‘writing to be found,’ composed and stitched together into extended pieces of text, substantial passages of words, that I have chosen and ‘composed,’ although they are, in every instance or event of inscription, written by someone or something other than myself. In related engagements, for the seed sequences that supply my searches, I may gather them from a text that was written by another human, from a well-known text, from one that has been ‘authored.’ I may try to find these same short sequences of words, independently and coincidentally ‘authored’ by other humans or other writing processes on the indexed network. I may compose a new, longer text that contains the words of the ‘authored’ supply text within ‘my’ longer sequences that are, however, written by (many) others, as found for me, as retrieved (for me) by the tireless, if electrically-powered, searching and indexing robots of all our internet service providers.

The writing that is composed in this way has, I claim, significant and affective interest, but arguably no human ‘voice.’ In the proposed performance I give literal voice to these generated texts in various ways. I turn them into writing by giving them voice, such that, after the performance, they may, at last, be dissociated from a human person who made them present.

This performance emerges from and relates closely to a long-term collaboration with Daniel C. Howe, The Readers Project (http://thereadersproject.org) and, in particular, a multi-faceted installation, Common Tongues (http://thereadersproject.org/index.php? p=installation/rts2012/commontongues.html), that will continue to generate a variety of aesthetic outcomes. Visual aspects of the performance will be developed in collaboration with Clement Valla, as a development of Hapax Phaenomena (http://clementvalla.com/ work/hapax-phaenomena/).

This performance relates to the conference themes in that it explores a future for writing, and a historically situated engagement with problems of authorship, especially the ‘moral rights’ of traditional copyright, that is: problems concerning of the association of writing with particular human authors, and problems concerning the integrity of such written compositions.

(Source: Author's abstract for HASTAC 2013

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Scott Rettberg