[-empyre-] What is robot poetics? How/why should we teach it?
sondheim at panix.com
Thu May 4 22:00:48 AEST 2017
Hi, some thoughts on the topic - and thanks, SUSAN! -
Like many others on empyre, I've been following this discussion with
interest. I want to point out that digital poetics in any form is part of
a field, and at least for me, both canon and genre obstruct our view and
thinking. So here are a number of counter-examples; these are legion.
Newsgroups: News groups were incredibly creative, both passively and
actively in their audiences and participants. In 1996 for example, there
was a group alt.adjective.noun.verb.verb.verb; in order to post, one had
to present one's writing in this format. The FAQ is at
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/verb-verb-verb/ . The FAQ begins:
alt.responsible.<robert at astro.su.se>.email.request.send
There were groups such as alt.society.neutopia that led to FAQs in the
form of "Neutopian FAQ-like Substance" - see
which is part of a complex pseudo-religious mythology written across list
posts and groupings.
There were newsgroups you couldn't post in, unless you literally could
hack your way into them; in other words, you had to engage the groups on
the level of protocol in order to access.
All of this work has been documented (there were hundreds of thousands of
groups by the way); the group mores, activities, codes, codework, etc.
were amazingly creative; things ranged from bots to texts to messing with
the software itself to poetries and poetics; there were also cross-
IRC - Internet Relay Chat - was an excellent platform based on UDP (which
created netsplits that could be used for poetics as well); again the
creativity was amazing. But the creativity here rolled across your screen
at highspeed; it wasn't archived, but was always on the fly. You could do
(and I did) intrusions into various channels and record them of course; in
a sense you creative a kind of running interference within the social body
of the channel (or you open up your own channel) that could lead to
amazing imminent results. Zen-like, most of what occurred lived only on
the edge of memory. IRC still works. Much of what went on was sexual, but
there was also a great deal of 'hackerese' at work as if Mez were speaking
at high speed.
Speaking of which, there was Integer/Antiorp/Netochka Nezvanova - see
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netochka_Nezvanova_(author) for more
information; she/they should be at the top of anyone's list here. Florian
Cramer created a perl program I've (and others) have used based on her
leet - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet ; we should all know about this
(Sandy Baldwin has written on it).
There were and still are, mostly unused, MOOs, MUDs, talkers, and other
live forms of programmable environments; I (and others) haven written into
these, creating spaces for conversation/building/botting, etc. You can
find a lot of information on Wikipedia. These relate to scripting in
virtual worlds - and scripting itself becomes a kind of ro/botics; Second
Life objects can perform, spew texts, etc.; Garrett Lynch had a program
which allows live conversation to be mapped onto objects.
EMACs, the linux text editor, has one of the earliest implementations of
the Eliza bot program; it's not all that difficult to go into the lisp
code and modify Eliza to do just about anything - literatures emerge and
others can create within the framework.
It's also easy to go into interactive fiction such as Adventure itself -
see https://nickm.com/twisty/ for Nick Montfort's book - and modify the
fiction in any number of ways. The programming has some interesting
philosophical implications (check out the dungeons for example).
Again, I want to stress, that all of this has been used by, creative by,
described by, etc. by, people who for the most part are _non-canonic,_
_genre-bending,_ etc. etc. So when we go back over and over again to the
canon, we do a disservice to the fact that we're dealing with field
phenomena, not stars and particular work. We need in other words something
like a literary field theory, not the usual classical physics with its
emphasis on well-defined particulate mechanisms.
To continue - there's also griefing in virtual worlds; my favorite in
Second Life is a 'magic pencil' that, as its moved through space, leaves
behind a trail of objects (all of which is programmable of course,
including the objects); make a big enough 'structure,' and you're going to
bring the sim to a halt as the number of generated prims goes sky-high.
The result is astonishing.
There are somatic aspects to all of this as well; you might design a bot
for example to imitate Emily Dickinson on one or another level - but she
was a mind and body writing, and that connects her poetry in an imminent
way to the poetics of chant, speech, song, phenomenology of meaning,
flesh, tissue, neuron, habitus, etc. I'd argue it's that which gives it
meaning - which brings up Wikileaks etc. - because hacking is, in a way,
an inversion of the body - a poetics of penetration from the outside (I
don't necessarily mean this in any sense as a sexual metaphor btw) - an
inverted bot retrieving its dictionary and semantics to the surface. I
argue this should be included in any course on robopoetics, digital
poetics, etc. (As should the rules, written and unwritten, for Facebook
and other social media - rules which shape, censor, expand dialog and so
Along with this, I'd bring issues of email lists themselves, with their
trolls, fabrications, splits, coalescences, etc.; the best accounting I've
seen in Jon Marshall's Living on Cybermind,
, which is an ethnographic description of an email list started (still
running) in 1994 by Michael Current and myself; he died shortly after the
list was launched, and the book covers that, as well as trolling by a
number of people/groups. Again, there are somatic issues at work here.
Finally, from my viewpoint, there's a general field of codework - which
can I think be traced back to 19th-century telegraph operators, and their
codings/decodings, subversions during spare-time at the keys. A lot has
been written about this of course.
A lot has been written about all of this; the amount of information is
overwhelming - just take, for example LambdaMOO,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LambdaMOO - which would need a course by
itself just to cover the basics and history.
The problem is that all of the above goes way back (I've known people who
were hacking online around 1972 for example); the practices are fields of
practice, the audiences are dispersed, and, for me, the very use of genre
and canon as a viable pedagogical approach is problematic. There has to be
another way to deal with all of this, without going through the usual star
system. It's interesting that Furtherfield/Netbehaviour - in their
approach to blockchain work for example - seems, to me, broad in this
And I do want to emphasize I'm not writing about the 'good old days' but
about a revolution of writing/speaking/somatic approaches itself. First,
thinking about fields creates a whole different kind of approach (reminds
me of Dwarf Fortress for example); and second, pretty much all of the
above continues today in one or another form; these formats haven't gone
(I do realize I'm just touching the surface here; that most empyreans
already know this, etc.; I'm just trying to think, for myself at least,
across object-lessons into waves and shape-riding, where the shapes
themselves are riders.)
Thanks for your patience, Alan
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