Nick Montfort: Translating Computational Writing


-Hi, everybody. Hi. -Hi. -Hi. So thank you all for being here. As you all know, this is a
talk for Five College Digital Humanities. And this is part of our
ongoing lecture series we’ll be doing
throughout this semester, and also next, called
Reality Would Have to Begin. And we’re really,
in this series, thinking about the
convergence and also explosion of different kinds of immersive
and virtual technologies, and what it means for what
constitutes to human– and not to reify
the human, but what constitutes human
experience in those terms. And also thinking about
just different kinds of artists, different
kinds of critics, different kinds
of performers, who are really taking up these
questions in interesting ways. So we’ll be doing this all year,
and hopefully you will join us. Today we have Nick
Montfort with us. Montfort’s in the
Comparative Media Studies and Writing program at MIT–
an associate professor. I think he’s particularly
interesting for us because this is
someone who’s working as a critical writer, a
prose writer, also as a poet, also as a programmer– so
someone who really embodies the various kinds
of enterprises we’re very interested in at Five
College Digital Humanities. As you all know,
we’re very interested not only in thinking about the
different technologies that produce different
kinds of texts– that produce different
kinds of inquiries– but also critiquing those types
of technologies themselves, right? This kind of dual movement. I think Montfort is particularly
well-situated for that. It’s also worth
noting that Montfort’s been involved in developing
several new fields of study– like, who gets to say that? Platform Studies, Critical
Code Studies, Software Studies, and also Electronic Literature. And I can’t name all the
projects he’s created or collaborated on,
but I do think– I mean, the stuff you have
created, Nick has been great, but I do particularly think
his sort of commitment to also working
as a collaborator with different kinds of people
is particularly worth noting, particularly in terms of the
ethos of Five College Digital Humanities. We’re all capable of doing
[? all ?] [? of ?] these amazing things, but it’s really
striking when you find someone who’s really put energy into
learning to do those things with other people. So one can do even more. One text I’m particularly
interested in that Montfort’s produced, just
in terms of my own interests, is his book Twisty Little
Passages, one of the first, probably the first, book of
study of interactive fiction, which I think is a
genre that’s incredibly important, across different
forms– video games, literature, poetry,
and so on– but often doesn’t get very much
critical attention. So it’s very exciting, I think,
to have Professor Montfort here today. So you’re not here to hear me. You’re here to hear him. So please join me in
welcoming Nick Montfort. [APPLAUSE] -Thanks for having me. Thanks very much. The fields I’ve been
involved in developing might be more like
backyards than fields. If you haven’t heard
of some of these, hopefully I’ll
share a little that will illuminate what
we’ve been working on– my collaborators and I,
and other people in these areas. How many people know about
electronic literature or digital poetry or
computational poetry? OK. So maybe about half. How many people–
is there anyone here who does literary translation? Just me? OK. Well, look at that. Literary translation
is more obscure. So I’m gonna first
talk about what I mean by computational
literature, electronic literature,
this category of work. Talk about translation from
English to other languages as a context for this Rendering
project, which I’ll discuss. Talk about translating from
other languages into English. I’ll introduce some
of the people who work on this Renderings
project with me. And the trope tank, which
is my lab at MIT, where we have a variety of
physical resources, and we support the collaboration
of people in the space and now beyond. And then I’ll talk
about the core issue of these translations that
are in the Renderings project, explaining about
one of them in depth and what exactly is involved
in translating these. This is really a
pretty practical talk, in which I’m trying
to explain why I’m trying to do this particular
activity of translating computational literature,
and what has been involved in it for us so far. I’m not offering new
theories of translation. I’m not trying to investigate
every possible complexity of this work, but
really see how can we get started in undertaking
it, and why would we want to bother. And then I’ll
conclude by talking about what we’re doing
so far a little bit in phase two of the project. All right, so computational
literature– one way to discuss is by showing you an example. This is by Dan Waber
and [? Justin ?] Pimble. It’s a piece called I, You, We. It’s presented as
an installation. You see it here. It’s, right now, running on
its own, but if I wanted to I can take the mouse. I can click and drag
and move this around. And I can read it
aloud if I like. You supervise. I ensure you. We neuter, chill, exact. You outshine,
prognosticate burst. I giggle. Encroach torpedo. We interpret you. So one of the reasons
I show this work– I like it very much,
but I think it’s one of the things that
almost instantaneously you’re able to see that
electronic literature is not what is known as an ebook. We’re not talking about
a new publishing strategy for taking existing texts
that have been disseminated in printed format
and making them more easily available on
tablets and mobile phones and computers. We’re talking about, actually,
an author-centered project, where people are doing new
types of design and programming work to create different
types of literary effects and to engage with language
and literature and computation in new sorts of ways. Not to say that ebooks
aren’t often handy to read, but this isn’t the project. And this is an example that,
I think, makes it clear. You wouldn’t see this
in your ebook reader. All right. So that’s the very
basics of what electronic literature might be. The pieces that we’re
going to look at don’t all look like that. Some of them might, we’ll see. And I want to
talk, first of all, about some experiences I had
previous to the Renderings project with the translation
of electronic literature. So I create literature
of this sort. I have a practice as
a literary artist, and I make work that involves
computation and language. And I’m gonna show you
this piece, The Two, which looks like this. It’s a piece that
just runs on its own. Unlike I, You, We,
there’s nothing really to do with the mouse as
far as clicking and moving it around. And we can see what
the piece says. The student knocks on
the teacher’s door. She begs him. Each one learns something. The student knocks on
the teacher’s door. She smacks her. They wait in silence. The police officer nears
the alleged perpetrator. He confesses to her. Rude gesture meets rude gesture. The babysitter
approaches the child. He smacks her. They break into laughter. Now, the babysitter
approaches the child. He smacks her. Now, what happened? What was being
narrated in that text? Who smacked who? -[INAUDIBLE]. -People might have some idea. We might
stereotypically imagine, due to ideas of gender, that
the babysitter’s female. We might also think
that the babysitter, being more
responsible, might not go around slapping children,
although, historically, it might be just as possible–
or cross-culturally. And so we might think– we might
try to make a determination. We could also say that we think
that the subject and object of the first sentence–
that, syntactically, that’s going to be carried over. And there’s Centering Theory
by Aravind Joshi and others that would suggest this. So there might be linguistic and
cultural stereotypical reasons dealing with gender and
dealing with power relations that we would assign what
happened in this case. In each of these stanzas
that are generated here– you can tell it’s a very simple
combinatorial process that’s putting this together. There’s nothing highly
sophisticated going on, computationally. But these stanzas,
which are also stories– I call them
stanzories– are there to sort of tickle the social
and cultural imagination of the reader and to
request to the reader, if you take this seriously,
try to put them into place. Now, as if this is
interesting to read, which I may not have
demonstrated to you, I also think that it’s
actually more interesting even to translate because,
for instance, if we switch to French– and
this is a translation by Serge Bouchardon. We see right away that it’s
very hard to name two roles or professions in the first line
without specifying the gender of those two characters. Very difficult to do. How can we do it? Well, we have to pick
[? unique ?] [? words– ?] particular names of professions
that apply for both men and women, like economist
and entrepreneur. But not only that,
we have to have ones that begin with
vowels so that we can’t tell whether the
article is le or la. So here’s a very
interesting transformation that’s made to maintain the
spirit of the original text. And the fact that the individual
professions in the situations change to some extent–
eh, that’s all right. That’s not really what
the core issue that needed to be translated was. Of course, it’s more
difficult in Spanish. You can’t get away with
that because, even if you have el agente, the
agent, you’d have to say el agente or la agente. So there’s no eliding
of the article there. There’s different
sorts of concerns in Japanese, one of which
is that it’s considered almost rude or impolite to use
pronouns in this directive way. And then there’s Polish and
also a Russian translation. So as I worked with
people, this is, I guess, one of my most
widely translated work, and it’s coming out in book form
from Los Angeles poetry press Les Figues next year. So in working with
translators, I saw that it’s a lot of fun to
bring this work across language and deal with the
issues that are entwined with both the computation,
the combination, and also the language. So in looking at
this, I thought, well, I’d like to actually
do this type of work also and translate
things into English. So one thing I’ll just
mention at this point is this is actually
not chronological, but in 2003, before
I did the piece that I showed you,
The Two, I did translate a Spanish interactive
fiction piece into English. This is Olvido Mortal. And it looks like this. And this is a system
that does actually construct a simulated world
and a fictional world, in which the interactor
responds by typing commands. So here I’m typing examine
the woman, look at myself, talk to the woman. And the text that’s
occurring is not simply what would have happened
anyway, but what’s happening as a specific
response to the commands that I’m indicating
to the character. This is actually a rather
difficult thing to translate. The code, unusually
enough, is in Spanish because it’s done in InformATE,
the Spanish version of Inform. And there’s a lot of
ontology of this world that needs to be dealt with in
doing this translation. So even though it doesn’t
have any multimedia elements, it has rather difficult
things to deal with. I was prompted to
work on Olvido Mortal actually because a somewhat
poor translation of it was done by native
Spanish speakers who knew English perfectly
well enough to communicate, but really weren’t able to do
a good literary translation. In fact, weren’t even able
to do a translation that made a playable game, because
you can see that, knowing how it is that the
interface to this world is presented to you–
what objects there are, what directions you can go in. This is all very important
in interactive fiction. You can’t just optionally
sort of like miss out on a little bit of the text. You have to know it
in order to progress. And this game, which is the
first translation, which was called Shattered
Memory, was also kicked out of the annual
interactive fiction competition because there’s a
rule that said you had to have only original work. And of course,
this work had never been presented to the English
language community before, and I don’t think that
literary translation should be subject to exclusion based
on this, but it was kicked out. So I thought, well, here
the Spanish language– and, in this case, a
nationally Spanish community– is really getting shut out. And it’s very tough to
bring this work across to translate it
and make it useful and let people see
what’s going on, so I participated
in this translation. So that’s some of the context
for the Renderings project that, personally, I had these
encounters with translation. And I came to see that there’s
some interesting work going on in other communities, other
cultures, other countries, but it’s not very visible, of
course, in the United States when it is literary work
that’s engaged with language, and when it’s not
available in English. So let me tell you
some of the people who are involved in this Renderings
project, which is a project to translate works
from other languages into English,
specifically to showcase the way that global
creativity with computers has already been transpiring
and the works that have already been made. So we have, initially,
a group of seven of us. And in the first phase
of the project we all actually were
physically in the Trope Tank for at least some of the
time that we undertook this. The people varied from post-doc
from Poland, a PhD student in Japanese Studies from
Harvard, a librarian at MIT, a literary translator
from Poland, a master student at MIT,
and an undergraduate who happened to know
one of my colleagues and taken a class in Hong
Kong and was visiting Boston and came by to be part of
this Renderings project and work with us. She also ended up
translating from German. This is who we have
currently on this list. People in a heavier weight
type are new on the list. And not everyone really fits in
the language category exactly, but I put them in as
best as possible to show that there’s a large
amount of translation work happening in Polish. New to the project is
the entire Russian team. And we have some
continuing efforts– we don’t have people working
from German right now, but we have some continuing
efforts in Spanish and French. Why so many people in
Poland, do you think? Any ideas? So in the United States
we have 3% of literature on the market is
literature in translation. In Poland, it’s more than 10
times that because, of course, they’re not a colonial
global language. It’s just the language that
people speak in this country. And because of
this, there’s a lot of well-developed ideas
about literary translation and interest in this
type of project. These are the people who we
translated in the first phase. And again, I don’t
expect everyone to scribble down notes
about all of them, but I’ll mention the
variety of people that we had that ranged from
people like Marcel Benabau and Paul Braffort, members
of the OuLiPo, a very distinctive literary
and mathematical group, founded in 1960 in France. And so these are some
of the famous people, although, Johannes
Auer from Germany is also quite well-known. And then we also have people
like Amilcar Romero, who is a Argentine
programmer and writer of technical books,
contributor to computer magazines in the 1980s. And our attitude
with the project was, if you want the
famous OuLiPoans here, then you need to take
the Argentine geek also. We want to put this together
to show the diversity of work that’s been going on. All right. I also want to tell you a
little about the Trope Tank to give you an idea of that type
of laboratory physical context for the project. A Trope Tank is a space that
is my office and lab at MIT, and we have old computers there. We have old computers
and video game systems, and they’re set up not
in the mode of a museum or an archive or, for
that matter, a library, but as a laboratory, where
people are able to come in. Whether they’re artists,
researchers, students, people are able to come
in and work and explore using these systems. This is an Apple IIc
running Karateka, which is one of
the games that we looked at recently– actually
Erik Stayton wrote about with me. We have visitors, such
as Joe Decuir, who is the chipset designer for
the Atari VCS, the Atari, the computers, and the Amiga. He was the apprentice designer
on all of these with Jay Miner. And so he came by to the lab. We have classes who
come through, work at different stations, and
we discuss the experience, specifically the
material experience of working with these systems. This is not a project
that in any way is in opposition to emulation
or using documentation to try to understand
how computers have worked in the past. But it’s giving
people an experience which is still available–
these machines are not hard to come by– of what it
is like to actually sit and use these computers, to
turn one on and be able to write a basic program
instantly, within a minute. And we look at literary work
like Robert Pinsky’s Mindwheel, among other types of
projects or other sorts of computational creativity. We take computers on the road. I didn’t bring one here,
but we take them out and do presentations. This is actually
not a presentation. I just set this up at the UCLA
on-campus, hotel-like place because there was a TV
I could plug it into, so I decided I’d noodle
around a little bit. But I took this out and we did,
actually, a workshop at UCLA with this machine. We have a technical
report series because we’re interested in
seemingly obsolete things like old computers,
but also like formats like the Technical
Report, which are very important in the 20th century. And we print these
ourselves, and very much have a DIY style lab. We don’t have
communications officers that we employ to go out
and print things for us that are full color and costly. We do the work more
like zine artists there. And there’s actually
a great zine by Sherri Wasserman that
documents the Trope Tank control that’s
called Shift Restore. So here is one of the
things we did in the lab. I should mention, also, that we
use free software in the lab, just as I run Linux. And we produce free
software, so the outcomes are free for other
people to remix, to modify, to study, to use,
to distribute, to share. In the Renderings
project specifically, we met, initially,
with several people who have expertise in
literary translation. John Cayley also is an
electronic literature author. Well, Robert Pinsky is,
as well, although that hasn’t been his focus since 1984
when he developed Mindwheel. And we had conversations
about different approaches and techniques that
we might apply. So here’s the project itself. I want to show you
the variety of work. There’s 13 publications. But to start off with,
this is the publication and online journal of
Fordham University, Cura. This is from last December. And so this is the
first fixed-form of publication of the project. This is one piece. This is two pages
from an Amiga magazine in Poland, obviously
not legible, if you were hoping
to be able to read the Polish off the
screen, written by Marek Pampuch in 1993. And it contains the
text of a program. And I’ll tell you a
little bit about what process we used to translate
this program, what translation meant in this particular case. The program is called
Speeches, and this text here is how to win a Nobel Prize. This is what that means. Let me take a look at Speeches. So we see this when
we click on Speeches. This is, of course,
the translation, but we can reload this text. There is also a link
at the end to do this. We can reload this, and we get a
new generated speech each time. I also want to point out
that a Polish version that is an implementation
of the original program is online, as well. We’ll talk more about what
other differences there are besides what you see between
the Polish and English version. So we can see what
does this read like. I’ll read a little bit of it. Comrade, ladies and gentleman–
comrade, ladies and gentlemen, work along with law
and order compels our predecessors to either
bury their heads in the sand or support the existing
administrative and economic conditions. We should also remember that
reflecting on Lennon’s timeless thoughts, Soviet
comrades, obliges us to consider the direction
of a progressive upbringing. When we reject the deviation
of the previous government, our consolidation in the fight
against the so-called right wing appears to
enable the advancement of the existing administrative
and economic conditions. So I think you get
the idea that there is a certain repetitive
nature to the structure, but also the particular strings
that are involved in this work. They’re actually made up of
40 texts that are recombined. And let me mention a little
about what we actually did to do this translation. Maybe I should
say something else before– before I
do this, maybe I should explain why
to take something out of a 1993 Polish
computer magazine and go through a process of
bringing it into English, where people can run this
program on their computers today on the web. Now, in this particular
case, I think we have some actually
quite brilliant literary contributions, but
I don’t particularly claim this as one of the great
works of Western literature. I’m not saying that this is
extraordinary in that sense. I will say, however, that
it’s quite compelling– it’s quite interesting–
symptomatically, to give us an idea of what
people in 1993 in Poland are doing with their
Amigas, something I bet you always wondered about. How is it that people in
this other part of the world recently released
from Soviet influence are taking the tools
that people like actually Joe Decuir, who I
showed you– the chip designer for the Amiga–
have produced various places and are using
computation, bringing it into contact with their
own culture and language and literature. So I think this
answers this question, and, in fact, the
article itself makes it clear that part of the point
of this speech generator– it’s not making
fun of communists. I mean, it’s not only
making fun of communists. It’s making fun of the
current politicians who are the same
people in many cases, and who are speaking
in the same way. And this repetition, and
this formulaic nature, these combinations that
seem to do the same things, are all part of that
rhetoric, as well. So it’s something
that’s linguistic, but also computational. So here’s what we did to
actually translate it. And this is a nine-step process. The first step is
locating the work. Now, this is actually
not something– if you’re translating like Jorge
Luis Borges, or Italo Calvino, or Georges Perec, then you might
find some things in our archive once in a while. But oftentimes the
work that’s of interest is already out there. It’s known in the particular
country and culture, and you could have a
native informant who tells you about it, or you could
go to the country yourself. You could look around. You could look
through the bookstore. You could find out what’s good. You can’t do that in the
same way with work like this. This work is buried in
an old computer magazine that, in some cases– I can
tell you with the Amilcar Romero piece– it’s not in the
National Library of Argentina. It’s not available
scanned online. It’s not. These are very dark aspects
of computer creativity. So actually locating the work,
finding it in the first place, is critical. I did it by bringing over a
Polish post-doc for a year, who was also the head of a leading
avant garde press in Krakow. So when you get the right people
and you get these contacts, you’re able to find
things like this. Second, type in the
Polish BASIC program. That’s how it got into
the computer back in 1993, and that’s how it gets in today. Look at the text. Type it in. Confirm that you
have things right. And now you have
the BASIC program. Actually, when you’re
typing in a BASIC program, there’s a– this is
an Amiga magazine, so it’s specific to the Amiga. But typing in a BASIC
program from the magazine led to three different types
of errors that you could have. One of these is
wrong BASIC dialect, like you typed in a
program for the Atari 400, but you have a Commodore
64, and there’s a few things that don’t match. You need to fix it. Another thing is
you made a mistake, like as you typed it in, you
just messed up and part of it doesn’t work. And then the third
type of error is you’ve got the wrong
thing in the text itself. They typeset it incorrectly,
like there was a mistake in the program to begin with. So that’s what happens
with typing things in, and although a
mechanical process, it’s one that relates to the
history of computing, as well. So then the translation
of these 40 text segments needed to be done, which Piotr
did in collaboration with me. And adaptation to
English grammar. Sometimes, these steps are
not quite cleanly as divided, but let’s assume that these are
two separate steps– that we also have to look at the
grammatical difference. Now, as you have work that
operates on different levels, you have different challenges
that come with grammar. So for instance, if
you want to take– this is a fairly high-level,
large, phrase-and-chunk sort of system, in which we can
sort of translate the pieces and it’s fixed things
up a little bit after the fact to
account for the grammar. Think back to I, You,
We, and that system, OK? How many people
know Spanish here? French? Some? OK. How would you translate I,
You, We to Spanish or French? Those words would have
to inflect differently to apply to these cases, right? It seems like it
would be sort of easy. It’s just a bunch of words. You just find a new word, right? But actually, no, it
doesn’t work the same way. At least, you couldn’t
have a reading of the sort that I did if you did
just a naive translation to these other languages. So there are some ways in which
that can be more difficult. The other thing we did
in– a point in this is not to create an immaculate,
historical object that represents exactly what the
Amiga was doing back in 1993 when this program was running. Our point is to give
access to people to this literary and
computational construction. So in order to do
that, we decided, well, let’s just
port this program to JavaScript so
it runs on the web. If we just made the Amiga
BASIC program available, maybe five people
would look at it. Now, all people
need to do is click in order to see it operate. So this JavaScript port
was part of the process. And it captures the BASIC
operation of the program fairly well. It’s not identical to what
was there originally in BASIC, but it does it. Now we have both Polish and
English JavaScript programs. Well, part of the project
also is allowing people to modify the code if
they see fit to study it, to look at the code
level, so we went in and made sure that, in
Polish, the variable names are the original Polish
variable names that were in the BASIC program. And in English, we translated
the variable names to English so that people who
wanted to investigate it could see those variables
in their own language. Now, the JavaScript keywords,
which are based on English, are still going
to be in English. We can’t change everything. We can’t fix the world. But let’s try to do what
we can to make things more accessible to people
programming and modifying programs throughout the world. After that, we
published this in Cura, which is what I showed you. And then, after that– we’ve
never actually translated– up to this point, we’ve
never translated the original article. We just took the code out
and translated this program. But we decided we should
really have this article. I mean, the article is really
the original publication. It’s not just some
prefatory matter. It’s not just some
throat-clearing. This is the way
this first appeared, and it tells us some
things about the context. So we did a translation. And the next step will be
that we’ll have publication in the Electronic Literature
Collection, Volume 3, which will include the translated
article, as well. So I want to mention that,
of all of these steps, these four are steps
that definitely would not be undertaken in a traditional
literary translation venture. I mean, in some cases we’d
have to locate their work, but we have to do different
things with the work that we’re looking at. We wouldn’t have to type
in programs, port programs, and look at the code level
to make modifications there, because there would
be no code level. So this is how our
venture differs, at least if we pretend
that we could simply layer these things on top. In fact, there’s
often the involvement of several of these things with
the functioning of the program. Language is often
critical to considering how to construct a translation,
and a port of a work. I’ll just show you a
few of the other pieces. Let me find the right window. So a few of these other
pieces– this is one. So this is actually
one of the few that really is not a
computational work, but it’s distributed online. It’s related to an
online manifesto. So this is a piece that– let’s
take a look at the original, which is in French. Walter Van Der
[? Maentzche ?] just placed these
computer-printed little signs in various public spaces,
where they are rather amusing. So this part of the project
involved, with Patsy Baudoin, my translating these and then
going around and placing them in Cambridge, Massachusetts
in various places. There’s a solar
missile receiving base right there that I found. So this is not a
computational work, but it’s also
something that– one of the things we like
to do in the project is not be extremely strict about
what we’re going to translate or not, but try to also look
at the productive things around the edges. And that was a piece
that was so delightful, and it was conveyed on the
web that, even if it’s not, strictly speaking, something
where computation is critical, it’s still so much fun. Andrew Campana, a Canadian
Japanese Studies student who’s fluent in Japanese, and
also is a performance poet, did this piece, which is quite
a hit, actually, in Tokyo. And it’s based on the
Tokyo train system. So this is the English version. It’s also a bilingual piece
that’s in English and Japanese. And what’s being
generated here are these almost magical realist
platform announcements and train announcements. And this is actually read by
one of the leading online poets in Japan on her blog. It was quite a hit. And then Andrew also
translated Shinonome Nodoka’s contemporary Japanese
poetry generator. “Year after next, the sizzling,
bright year after next is, the year after next
showers, year after next. The [? socks ?] drinks, the
year after next is sizzling. Breakfast, I wonder if
the breakfast [? ends ?], if the reality is
a breakfast then. Record. Noontime. Mom. The white, cheap
breakfast is park. The park that is, runs. The park that lines
up disembarks. The park runs. I wonder if the park closes.” So one of the
things about these– I’m just going to
show you– those are quite delightful pieces. I’m going to show you Michal
Rudolf’s Polish poetry generator once it loads. “The oak of shadow will
forget about nothingness of gold of mystery will
return always further. An uncertain smell
drowns in a lake. A final tiger forgives a
triumphant candle is painful. First now the vulture of
eternity sings since ages.” So you can’t really
sustain the idea that poetry generators
are all the same after you look at these things. And you might say that
they reflect certain things about the way that
repetition works in Polish and in Japanese
poetry, the way it works in Spanish poetry. So I have the sample automatic
poem of Felix Ramirez. “A swallow– you are this. Like the anxious wine of
the dissatisfied jail, the spirit is a nervous
apathy that lives quiet with serene attachments. Lord, wisps that live,
live among the lying. Why, sighs that whisper. Whisper among the troubled. We are a fleeting
thought, veiled that laps like the emporium of desires.” One of the simplest
things to say in this very brief
presentation is that you can see that
these both use repetition, but the Japanese and
Spanish poetry generators work in totally different ways
with regard to repetition. In Japanese, in every
line, or almost every line, there is the repetition of
a particular word or phrase. And in Felix Ramirez
Spanish generator, it’s repetition across the line. “Whisper, whisper
among the troubled. Live, live among the dying.” So you’re seeing
these mechanisms that are computational
mechanisms for how to generate lines of poetry
that reflect, certainly, idiosyncratic things
about their creators, but also probably resonate
culturally in particular ways. I’ll show you the
Amilcar Romero piece. In this piece, we
decided that we wanted to present it
by actually having an emulator in the
browser that would run and would show very much
what the Commodore 64 screen that this might
run on would look like. Takes a little while
longer to load. And it also doesn’t work very
well on the side of the screen. There should be the rest
of the border there. And so this is Poem 21,
with reference to Neruda, by Amilcar Romero. And one of the
reasons we did this is– since it took a while
to load, I won’t go into it, but if we look at
the Spanish version, it doesn’t have any
accents on the letters. You can still read
it, of course, but if we had typeset
this in JavaScript– if we ported it to JavaScript
the way that we did the Marek Pampuch Speeches, it
would sort of look silly. I mean, we’d either have to
somehow add the accents back or leave them off
to look absurd. But when we present it in
the Commodore 64 interface, you can see, oh, that’s
the typographical system that you have. That’s all that’s provided. Those accents aren’t there. So of course it makes sense
to present it this way. And it’s also showing
the incapacity of US-produced computer system
to capture the way that people use language and
accented characters throughout the world. So it’s making that
point, as well, which we don’t want to conceal. We don’t want to gloss over. And this is a fascinating
piece because “no one’s cruel presence, as a
languid house discovers, however uncertain serfs stir
up such that anyone excites. Another will appear to find me,
as that rose denounces dryly. So this mania for not
abandoning that one who the harpies neglect zealously.” This is a fascinating
piece because it’s actually based on something by William
Barton in an earlier Commodore 64 magazine in the US. And so this is someone who
found this and, in Argentina, adapted this and wrote an
interesting Spanish variation that’s referential to Neruda. And now I’ve translated it. So we’ll look at it with look
at these all by Marcel Benabau. Constrained
combinatorial poem here. This is in JavaScript already,
so this made our life easy with regard to porting things. But there are some issues
in just the constraint of the original
combinatorial poem. The piece, Triolets, by Paul
Braffort is quite similar, and it was also available. So in both of
these, the lines are the units that are
used to recombine, unlike in the Amilcar
Romero poem, where individual phrases
are put together and then the lines are wrapped. I’ll show you Toete das Gesicht
I guess, is what it’s called. The original title of the piece
is Kill the Poem in English, but it’s a German poem. So here you have this text
that, successively, words are removed from it. “Tango is serious. Tango is serious. Is tango serious? Tango is serious.” Yeah. I hate it when that happens. Now we have to go back. Shan Shui is a piece
that Sally Chen did, which is bilingual
English and Chinese. We don’t have other examples of
work to translate from Chinese, although there’s tremendous
creative computing work that’s going on in China. And even with contacts there,
knowing people in Hong Kong, knowing sinologists who work
in electronic literature, very difficult to
find the type of work that we’re going to be able
to effectively translate and is available. And this is a piece
done in Processing. I’m going to show
you W E B h a l l e l u j a h and
Seika no Kosho, and those are the last of them. So W E B h a l l e l u j
a h– blood/arch by ni_ka is– this is actually a
very cleaned up version. Andrew decided that
his translation he wanted to present– when
you go to the original page, actually your
computer, first of all, slows down, and
possibly crashes, as tremendous numbers of flowers
and other cutesy graphics shoot out all over the browser. This is actually a genre
of poetry in Japan, monitor poetry, which is
not well-known in the US. So here’s a piece
that you can see what– this is in the
original, of course, in a variety of
different languages. And there’s some of it. -[INAUDIBLE] [? homeland. ?] -Yeah. So this is one of
the pieces that were– there was nothing in
English to represent this genre of work in Japanese, really. Not that this looks unlike
the internet in certain ways, but there was nothing specific. And then here’s Seika no
Kosho, which is fascinating. So I can actually read this for
you in Japanese, if you like. Seika no kosho. Seika no kosho. Seika no kosho. So actually Japanese
is one of the most, if probably the most,
homophonous languages. So the most things sound alike. This has to do with taking
the Chinese writing system, but not being a tonal language. So it turns out if you write
down the kanji, as you can see, the kanji are different, but
the pronunciation of them is the same. So if you ask someone,
what does seika no kosho mean in Japanese? Well, it means, like, 10,000
different things possibly. This is what it means. You have to figure out
what the writing system is. So this is a bilingual
piece, there, engaging with that aspect. This is Shan Shui, which
is not all going to fit, but here you can mouse over
these Chinese characters, or groups of characters. So that’s another bilingual
English-Chinese piece based to the Chinese language,
just as, of course, Seika no Kosho is
a bilingual piece. It’s written originally
in English and Japanese, but obviously it originates in
Japanese in terms of its work. So I think I’ve shown
everything except– no, I think I’ve shown all of these pieces. And I’d like to know– let me
continue briefly to tell you what’s up with the next
phase of this project and then we can discuss more
about these particular pieces or aspects of the
process of translation or whatever else you like. So Renderings, today, is
obviously become distributed. We have people working in Saint
Petersburg, in Krakow, in Paris to contribute to the project,
to be on the reading list, to be on the mailing
list– the Renderings list, a person in Puerto Rico. So we have moved into
a new phase where the Trope Tank isn’t the
exclusive physical home of the project. And we’re looking to reach new
language communities, new types of literature, so we don’t have
interactive fiction represented in here. And there’s other types of
computational and digital work that we’d like to
discover and incorporate. We’d like to reach new
language communities. There’s people making work
in a variety of languages. I got to talk to
someone recently who works with Thai
literary translation, and that’s a place that has
a technological engagement of work going on,
but it’s, of course, not known to us here in the US. So we’re continuing work. We have new pieces
translated– a Russian piece, [? Kroshan’s ?] [? Second ?]
[? Life ?] from [? Twine, ?] which is a piece that
was done this year. So a Russian work
completed this year that we have a draft
translation of now, and will be released
before too long. [? Joint ?] [? from ?] [? the ?]
[? Balustrade, ?] a Polish piece– digital poem– that also
is originally from this year and is translated into English. And then, on the
other extreme, we’re looking at a poetry
generator written around 1975 by Boris Katz in Moscow
in machine language, not in assembly language,
machine language– just numbers. And with no code surviving but
a paper that he’s published describes the operation
of the system. And this is a poetry generator
that is meant to generate poems in the style of [? Ossett ?]
[? Mendelstohn ?], in the style of
[? Stones, ?] particularly– that collection of poems. So that will be a
more extensive project than we’ve done so far because
we’ll be re-implementing this from a description. We don’t have any code
to start with for a port. And whether or not it’s
possible to adapt that and to do something
that, meaningfully, can be called a
translation, we don’t know. Another work we’re
looking at, also a little bit
boundary-transgressing for a literary translation
project, is this one. This is by Australian
performance poet Jas Duke, a well-known 20th
century Australian poet. He died a few decades ago. But he wrote this poem, which
is in FORTRAN II, it appears. And [? Benjamin ?] [? Layard ?]
came to the Trope Tank and asked me about this, and
we started to work on this. We sort of liked to
know what it does, because, except
for the fact that, for instance, there’s a
function called Forever, and that’s not
included in the scope, so we don’t know what it is. But this is actually valid code. It does follow the rules,
syntactically, of Fortran II. So we’re interested
in figuring out what this means as a contribution. Now it’s in English,
but we decided not to let that stop us. It’s from a non-US,
non-European, traditionally stereotypically marginalized and
peripheral part of the world, and we want to be
able to understand what’s going on
there and how it can inform the history of computing
and literary computing. All right. That’s the URL for
Renderings, but it might be easier to search for it. Or if you go to my
site, nickm.com, there’s a link on
the left-hand side. If you want to get
involved– and you don’t have to be a literary
translator to be involved. You could tell us about
work that you know about in another language
community, and that itself is a tremendous contribution. So if you want to be
involved, send me an email. And as far as my formal
remarks then, I’ll end there, and we can talk about any of
the aspects of this project that interest you. -Thank you. [APPLAUSE] -So we’ll open it up
now for questions. Jeffrey has a microphone
if you have questions. [? That’s for ?] the
recording, please. We have a lot to
absorb, so [INAUDIBLE]. -It’s really heavy
on the bottom. Sorry. -It’s very strange. -It’s very substantial. -Thanks for the talk. It was incredibly interesting. I have like a million
thoughts, so I wish you were around
for the whole weekend so we could go over them. But one of the things
that I was wondering about when you kept
showing these examples is how you, or all of you,
have thought about authorship because, of course, the idea
of the author has sort of had, since the 1980s, a sort of
sustained critical attention and all that. But authorship, conventionally,
is thought of as modeled on the singularity of genius,
or singularity of creativity, but as I understood it,
the authorship of this is more of the labor of creating
the automation machine rather than the final product. And so it’s more
the broad question, how do you all theorize
authorship, especially in light of the conventional ideas and
the very different location of those names? Like where do those names
locate in the work such that you call them the
author– put them as the name under the piece? -OK. So in terms of how we theorize
authorship, generally, is– maybe I give an
impression with, for instance, the photos in my discussion,
the Trope Tank, and the way this project has come together. I take a much more
bottom-up approach, and one that’s rooted in the practice
of literary translation and literary art. So we didn’t decide–
at no point did we say, let’s go translate three
Japanese pieces and two Polish pieces or
something like this. I mean, we looked at
what was available to us, and what was
interesting, and what was a good match for our
own talents and resources and abilities. But the question of where
to put people’s names– now, this has a practical
bite that I can get into. So in Cura, originally, the
editor with whom I worked wanted to put the names of
the people in the Renderings project there as authors. He said, no, we’re
translators, and we want to make sure
that the people who– I take different positions on
this, depending upon what’s happening. So the people who I collaborate
with on the [? II, ?] for instance, are being
listed as authors in the book. But when it comes to our doing
this work for a group that’s specifically marginalized and
outside the view of the United States, people don’t consider
that this work is going on. They think everything’s
in the English language. That’s all we can see. So I want to bring the people
who are named originally as authors into this magazine. So they’re the ones in
the table of contents. We’re credited as
translators, but they’re the ones who are named there. Now, in the case
of the [? II, ?] the people doing this
work– I said, well, anybody anyone who wants
to can take work of mine, make modified versions. You’re supposed to leave
the copyright notice there, which has my name in
it, but otherwise you can do whatever you like. And I said, yeah, these
translations are– and I didn’t pay
these translators. They weren’t hired. This is a project
where I consider this is a collaboration. These are new works
being made, and I want other people working
on this project– it’s called 2×6– that are
translations of the [? II. ?] I want them to be credited
as co-authors on the book. So that’s my contradictory
response to that, but I think that it suits a
situation that, oftentimes– I felt that the translation
enterprise from Renderings– the fact that we’re
bringing, for the first time, a massive project, 13
works in six languages, and we’re presenting
this– that was going to be enough publicity
for us, as translators. We want to get the names
of those people as authors foremost. -Just like as [INAUDIBLE]
[? is the ?] way the project is being described is
[? the origins of ?] the project. It seems [? that ?],
as much as anything, to be equivalent to like
buying a car and the designers, but also the people who
cast the die and all of that were authors. It’s sort of a
non-alienated labor. -Oh, yeah. -Because you’re
creating the machine– -In this case that’s true. I mean, the thing
is that, right now, we sort of associate
with a lot of– I mean, not when you
look at this, but when you look at a lot of
digital media work, you think, oh, this is
like Grand Theft Auto, like there’s a team of 100
people who worked on this. It’s an industrial
project and so forth. But the work that
we’re looking at is done by, in this
case, one person. And there isn’t that
alienation, I think. I mean, some of it,
almost certainly like the Marek Pampuch
and Amilcar Romero pieces were work-for-hire. They did it for the
magazine publication. I think that that is
true, but quantified over smaller– the same person
was the one doing the design and casting the die and fitting
on the tire and everything else. -Hi. My name is Iris,
and my question is about the idea of translation. Even in written
works, translation, or lost in
translation, is always the issue with translating– -It’s not, I don’t think. Because translation,
actually– there’s nothing there to begin with. So whatever you carry across in
a translation is something new. The original is still there. So I wouldn’t say
anything is lost. Now, if what you say is the
text that arrives– the text, metaphorically– that
is the translation. Is it the same as the text? Is it the same, semantically
in terms of sound? In terms of any aspect that
you can think of– figuration? No, It’s not the same. The new text doesn’t
have everything in it that the old text does. -OK, because I guess my question
was going to be about concepts in the different languages
that cannot necessarily be translated in English. Just thinking about different
languages like Spanish and French and
romance languages, there’s definitely
concepts there that can be encompassed
in one word, while English has to have
multiple words to explain it– -And vice versa, definitely. —and vice versa. And so I’m just wondering
what type of difficulties or complications
can happen when you digitize these type of
translations to this work? -Well, nothing’s digitized in
this, because we’re starting with digital works already. All of these works
begin as digital. So for instance,
if I take a movie and I subtitle it from another
culture, I’m not filmizing it. It’s a film, and I made
a type of translation. Or if I dubbed it
with new voices. So I just want to make
clear that we’re not doing digitizing. I mean, obviously, we digitize
the pages from the magazine, but in terms of the core
translation effort here, what we’re doing is taking a
digital work to begin with and presenting a new
digital work in English, which we call a translation, in
which we’re trying to relate. For instance, if we
looked at– I mean, I mentioned some of
these mismatches. For instance, in
Spanish you’re not going to be able to
actually name, generically, two characters or roles
in the first line, for the most part
that you can then reveal their gender
in the second line. So this is a much more
oblique sort of translation. The attempt to do
that, though, is telling about these
differences between language. And one of the things about
these issues with French and Spanish like, oh, it’s
so hard in French and Spanish to leave the gender of people
blank– to not specify things. But that doesn’t mean
English is so great. We don’t have any
gender stereotypes. We still have
stereotypical ideas, but this helps to clarify
what’s different in language. Another issue would be
looking at– I mean, there’s certain things that
sort of don’t translate in a straightforward way. It doesn’t mean a
translation can’t be done, or that a related
version can’t be done. This is just a piece
that, as you can see, it provides– if any of you
are thinking about starting a company, help yourself. And so this is obviously
fairly specific to English in certain ways, one would say. Now, on the other hand,
it can be done in Russian. This actually isn’t
the best version. The best version– I mean,
the closest version– is one that uses like Russian
state monopolies instead of startups. Now, that is sort
of like– there would be something interesting
to [? call ?] a translation of this. But you can only do this
because English– obviously, we’re using the ability
to compound words, and Russian has compounding. Polish does not. You can’t make compound words. I don’t think Spanish and
French do, either, actually. You can’t really– so
you have to say, well, how are you going to do it? It doesn’t mean you
can’t translate it. It just means that that
aspect– that you started with a compound word, and the
sort of conceit of the project was based on there
being a compound word. Well, you can do
that in Russian, but you can’t do that in
several other languages that might interest you. You could still say two things. You can juxtapose two things. And maybe that would be what
you do for a translation, if one wanted to. I mean, obviously, the startups
are specific to the US. They’re not– yeah. But, yeah. Those are a few of the things. I mean, there’s all sorts
of issues, some of them very similar to the ones that
literary translators face in just translating poetry. And others that have
additional– because of the combinatorial
and computational nature of the project and its
engagement with platforms, there are other wrinkles
in dimensions, as well. -Since I have the mic I’m
going to just commandeer the mic for a second. I was really interested
when you were talking about porting
the program from BASIC to JavaScript– the ways in
which dealing with variables was then tricky because the
commands inherent in JavaScript are based on the
English language. And I was wondering if you
could speak a little bit more from a computing
historical standpoint. I see so much of your work
with the Renderings project as kind of like an
ethical imperative to think more deeply
about the ways in which non-Anglocentric code
exists and is being written and could be shared. And I’m wondering if you
could speak from a computer historical standpoint more
about the ways in which, as more popular
programming languages are based more and more on
English, or as English becomes a part, how that is
affecting the development of non-English
computational literature. -Well, I wouldn’t say that
it’s happening more and more. I would say that that’s– -It just has
happened [INAUDIBLE]. -That’s what has happened. I mean, there are very few
cases of anything different. This is the Polish code. So right first of all,
when you have this– here’s the Polish version. Well, it’s going to
say script type equals text JavaScript there because
it’s not going to work. You need to have these
definitely English-based words as part of the code. But anyone who’s going to be
modifying a JavaScript program and hoping to work with code
and develop as a programmer is going to have to
learn that anyway. Also, Polish special
characters are not supported so what we can
do is– well, actually what we can do is we can find
words that don’t use them that are approximations. That’s one thing. Or leave them off. So yeah, there’s very few cases. One is Ramsey Nasser’s Alb,
which began as an art project, and it’s an Arabic-based
programming language. InformATE, which I mentioned–
the Spanish mapping of Inform– is another example. But there are very few
examples at the language level, and then also at the
character set level, where ASCII, the American Standard
Code for Information Interchange, was the prevalent
dominant means of encoding characters. When Boris Katz, in 1975,
did his poetry generator, he had to develop a
character encoding scheme. He had to choose how to
represent the Cyrillic alphabet in the computer in 1975. So there were standardized ways
to represent the Latin alphabet already at that time. We now have Unicode
that computers support. And Unicode is an
amazing project. There’s an attempt to bring
every contemporary glyph, every glyph in every
contemporary writing system, to be represented
in the computer. Not that it is
completely succeeds, but it’s actually one of the
more amazing sort of utopian projects in the world. The idea that we would
have a full representation of everyone’s system of
writing at the character level, at the glyph level, is a
pretty impressive project. -Totally. -And the other thing
is that there’s issues with global exchange
of art and information in code that come up with differences in
coding schemes and differences in the fragmentation
if there were to be the development of
different language-based programming. I don’t know what to do
to solve the problem, but there is an issue like
being able to represent the way people write. By the way, how many
people use WordPress? So WordPress doesn’t support
Polish special characters. You can’t put them in your blog. Actually, you can put them
in, but if you edit the page they get ripped out. Still, these systems–
here we are, 2015. We’ve had Unicode for a while
and still these issues come up. Again, in my
bottom-up way, I want to start maybe by addressing
these issues of being able to represent
different types of writing. And as far as
programming keywords? Yeah, it’s an issue. -Thanks a lot for the talk. It’s so much new
information to me. And although something
happened in 1975, this is still so futuristic. I’m sitting here, and the
thing I thought about most, apart from trying to wrap
my head around everything, is the new directions
in creative writing, and the next
generation of writers. And so my question to
you is really vague, and you can do with
it whatever you want. I’m just curious about how this
translates in your classroom. What are some of the
classes you teach, and what are your
students doing? Just basically that [? there. ?] -Yeah. This semester I’m teaching
Experimental Writing, and people are doing work
in Spanish and English. And some people in
the class– I mean, we looked at concrete poetry
that’s in other languages originally and considered these
aspects of work that engages across languages with writing. And I think people
are keen to do that. They’re glad to be
given permission to relate things in that way. In terms of global and
translation sorts of issues, well, I was just
noticing I’m still on the mailing list at
University of Pennsylvania, where I did my PhD. The Kelly Writers
House is there. They have an amazing
writing community. And they have a campus
literary translation magazine. And Brown also has a campus
literary translation magazine. I don’t know how many places do,
but we don’t have this at MIT. We don’t have this
type of support through the form of
publication or interest in this type of work. So I try to encourage
the students who are interested in
these issues, allow for different types of writing
that may work across languages, and also for people to
do work that may not be in any language,
but it’s something that draws on their own
linguistic background. There’s an amazing work by
my student Alvin Mwijuka, who did a series of Java
poetry generators that drew on– he spoke four
languages at home in Uganda growing up, so he had all
of these really amazing ways of bringing together elements
of his own linguistic background and upbringing using short
computer programs, really. So you know, trying to
encourage that type of work and exploration, I think, is
the direction that I would take. -Some people– the
thing is, also, these are the sorts of
issues that one can deal with very easily, or more easily,
if people are working in experimental types
of modes and they’re doing various types of concrete
poetry, bilingual writing, computer-generated work
that combines elements. People also might want to
write about their personal experiences, and they might
have subject matter-oriented concerns that they address
in their writing in that way. So I think that there’s ways
that you can investigate language through language,
and through more avant garde and experimental
practices, but that’s not what everyone’s interested in. So there’s different
possibilities. -Since Carol brought
it up, I will ask. So I was looking at
some of your work, and looking at some of the
stuff you’re interested in. Can you say a bit
about work– I think I have this right– work you’ve
been doing for teaching people how to think about programming. -Oh, sure, sure, sure. -I’m thinking [? how it’s ?]
related– you see what I mean? There’s a way in which I think
one barrier– because this is a mixed audience. One barrier is like, well, I
can’t talk about this because I don’t understand the
basics of programming, but how am I going to
learn that ’cause I can’t learn a new thing? How do I learn what’s r–
you see what I’m saying. -Yeah. -So if you could talk
a little about this, I think that could
be great, please. -Yes. In March, I have
a book coming out from the MIT Press called
Exploratory Programming for the Arts and
Humanities, and it’s a book to teach programming. It can be used in a classroom. But when I started
talking about this and when I was
starting to work on it, I talked with numbers of people,
including older people who said, oh, I want to use this. I want to learn
programming from this book. So I said, OK. Well, I’m going to make
it not too tightly fit to the classroom. I’ll make it where people can
also approach this and use it individually. The idea of the book is to
teach computer programming, as I say, but not in
an instrumental mode, not to specification, not in
a way that is implementing an existing formula. Instead, teaching
computer programming as a method of inquiry
and of creativity. So both doing generative,
creative work, a lot of it in the literary
arts, but a little toying around in animation
and sound and stuff. And also looking at how
it is that computation can be used for analysis
and for understanding through a variety
of media– image analysis, textual
analysis, making arguments about different texts, based on
being able to compute on them, and writing short
programs that are– I’m really into short programs
that do very meaningful things. So this is greatly about that. So part of the idea
is to bring together– it’s not exclusively a [? DH ?]
book in the sense of being just about the [? Manovich/Moretti ?]
cultural analytic side, although I certainly hope that
will prepare people to do that type of work. -Absolutely. -But it’s also about how
to create with a computer, and how to develop literary and
other types of generative work. And I think, from
my perspective, these are two sides of the same
coin, so it doesn’t make sense. And in fact, some
people will learn the concepts that pertain
to it better from one direction or the other. So providing both of those
is significant to me. Are there other questions
about this particular project? -Can you give me
an example of what an exercise would look like,
[? or an idea ?] [INAUDIBLE]? -Sure. Sure. So I give you– one of the major
sort of starter programs here. -Sorry to take over, but
I think this is so great. -Let’s see here. What are we going to do? So I use this system,
IPython Notebook, which, once you
get it installed, it just runs in the browser. And you open it up, and
you have the ability– I’m going to make
this a little smaller. You have the ability to
write some Python code. And so Python
code, for instance, is just like– I
mean, you know how to write Python code because
you can write like 2 plus 2, and it’s 4. And so if you write a
little arithmetic expression of some sort like that,
that’s actually a piece of a valid program right there. And then let’s say you
want to write this one. Let’s see here. We’ll do that, actually. I’m going to do the
abbreviated version of that. So I defined this function, and
this is just three lines here. And using this, we
can say double– so we have these things–
just like I could type in like 2 plus 2, I
could type in 4 for instance and I get 4. I can type in a value like this. Let’s type a list, like 1, 2, 3. I surrounded the list in braces. So there’s my list, 1, 2, 3, and
it’s a data type, just like 4. It’s just a sequence of events. And I can say, well– it’s not
scary to look at, assignment of a value to a variable here. So we assigned x to 1, 2, 3. And now, if I look at x
by typing x and pressing Shift-Enter, I see that value. Now, I could say
double x– oops. What happened here? I made a mistake. Let me show you something. I made a mistake and
this is a good thing. So here’s an error. There’s a big mess
because I made a mistake. I could feel bad about
that, but, interestingly, if you look at the [? area ?],
even without knowing anything about programming, it’s pointing
right here to this print 2 times i, and it
says NameError: global name ‘i’ is not defined. So however cryptic
that might be to you, it’s pointing to exactly
one part of the program that I typed in– one part of
the function that I typed in. So I go back here
and then, oh, yeah. I didn’t actually
mean to type i. I meant to type element. And now I can go back here
and see what double does. Double goes through
this list one at a time, and it produces 2
times each element. So all that I’m showing
you now– how about this. Let’s write another
function called triple. How do we– someone who doesn’t
know anything about programming could tell me, maybe,
what I should change. I want to just
change this to make it be triple instead of double. -Write triple instead of double. -Write triple instead of double. OK. And then what is
triple supposed to do? -Change the 2 to a 3. -Change the 2 to a 3? OK. All right. So you just wrote a function. So this is– I mean,
if you want to start with this industrial
scale of creating like a large
object-oriented program and doing the thing that–
there’s a reason that people studying computer
science would look at these larger-scale programs. If you really want to
learn about the science of computation, if you
want to use a computer to inquire about things
that you care about, then you don’t have to do that. You can build up
from stuff like this. And you can see how things work. And in fact, the
initial exercise is not to even bother with
Python here, and installing this, but you just do something
that’s pretty much already on your computer. So these are some
classic– Memory Slam is some classic text
generators that I implemented. And one of them here
is by Theo Lutz, 1959. This is actually a translation. This is translated from German. Some evidence that
there’s things going on other places
in the world in 1959. And this is drawing
on Kafka’s The Castle, and it’s presenting these. I think it’s really nice to
take Kafka’s language, Kafka’s nouns, and the Kafkaesque
process of this recombination and logical utterance. How about if I just save
this on the desktop? All right. And now I’ll just go
to the desktop here. I’ll get there eventually. There it is. And now it’s on my desktop. Now I can still open
it up and look at it. And now I’m looking at it. I could disconnect
from the network. It would still be there. It’s on my desktop. So let me open it
with a text editor. Web pages are just text
files, so I open them with a text editor. There it is. There’s even a
legal notice saying you can mess with
this however you like. And now we don’t have to know
anything, really, about this to see– oh, look. This is a list of words. Count, stranger, look,
church, castle, picture, I. How about we– I’m
a good American, so I want to make
this related not to a German novel about the
alienation and obsession, but an American novel about
alienation and obsession. So I’ll make it say whale, deck,
harpoon, sky, sea, boat, ship, water, leg, OK. This is fine. All right. So now I’ll save this and look
at it in the browser again, and now we have this. “A whale is strong. Not every harpoon is dark. No leg is far. A leg is far. Not every leg is quiet. Every leg is new. Every boat is good. No water is strong. A whale is near, and not
every water is deep.” I think it’s actually– -It’s getting better. -I think it’s
actually different. I mean, whether it’s better or
worse, it’s actually different. It’s something else. We made a change that actually
had an effect in the way that we receive this as readers. And you can get started messing
with code by doing this. And let’s say– oh,
let’s say I did something like what would I do? Oh, oops, I made a mistake. Like I just did that instead. I just deleted like
a half a line there and half a line there. I save this. I start it. And I hosed it, it looks like. It doesn’t work. So now I go home. No, actually I
could just undo it. I just press Control-Z,
save it again, and then I can go
back and make a cha– it’s not a big deal
if you– it’s not like learning to drive. You can kill someone. It’s a computer. It’s like just, ahh, it’s there. You can mess around
and see what happens. No one is hurt. So this is the type
of thing that I try to encourage with this new
book, with workshops that I do, and with projects that I create,
including like this Memory Slam projects, and my creative work,
which is available for people to modify and
study if they like. And they’re short programs. They’re self-contained. So this is, in some
ways, a continent with the types of things
that I talked about, and the work that
I do creatively– and the translation
work, as well. -That answered a question I
had because I was thinking, how do you start to
categorize poetry so that you can mix it up? So I saw subjects
and predicates there. But I wondered are there
other ways of doing it? -Yes, yes. I mean, one of the ways
is– Claude Shannon, in a 1948 mathematical
theory of communication, discussed how to take
conditional probabilities into account by using
a Markov process. This is very widespread in
Twitter bots and online work and so forth, that
you just say– the way you can do it if you
have a book, which I do right here, you can start
and say, for instance, like let’s take the
first word, Nina. And now I’ll just look
ahead in this book. I’ll keep scanning ahead until
I find the word Nina again. Nina, and then the
next word is and. Now I continue until
I find the word and. Cheery. Nina and cheery. So that’s a simulation
of this Markov process. It’s a manually-enacted
one, in which I can go through and
find text that– now, I know that the word cheery comes
after and somewhere in the book because I just found
it right there. I know that and comes after
Nina somewhere because it was right there before. And so the more
sophisticated version of that is to determine things
about how probable it is that a certain word
comes after another word. So that whole line
of statistical work is an interesting
one, and that’s another sort of direction. You can also do that
at the letter level rather than the word level. So you can construct
language that way, and you can have other ways of
constructing individual lexemes out of letters or bigrams
or sequences of letters. So for instance, here’s
an example of generation of English-like words. This is not done by the
method that I just told you, but it is a way, in
this case with bigrams, with something below
the level of a word, these are put together. And this is a program that– so
this is the program right here. And it’s only 256
characters long, and it doesn’t refer
to any dictionary file or anything on the web. It’s self-contained. So the whole program
is right there. And that would be an alternate
type of generation method. And then, at a higher level,
you could do something like let’s see here. So this is an example where
I basically split sentences, not always in a way that the
same syntax is on the left and the same syntax
is on the right, but I’ve split sentences
into two and recombined them. This is Modern Perverbs. Yeah. So this is– -[INAUDIBLE]. -Yeah. So the perverb is an
idea from Harry Matthews of like creating a sort of
corrupted, transformed proverb. They could be putting
two things together, or they could just be degrading
the language in some other way. But these are modern
perverbs because they’re sort of like modern sayings. Can anyone recover any of
the sayings from this one? -One does not simply
walk into Mordor. -One does not simply
walk into Mordor. –[INAUDIBLE] intensely human.
[? I could ?] watch this all day. -Yeah. But here, it’s not
like first half of sentence following same
syntax, second half of sentence following same syntax. And some of them are a little
bit more awkward, which I like. This is why I did it. Because I was trying to see what
can I do that’s not completely formulaic, syntactically? The one that I– it’s, yeah. There it is. That’s the one that I–
it’s 5 o’clock in my pants. When I saw that I
realized, OK, this is good. Yeah. Yeah? -Do you have a question? -I did, which was going back
to the question of authorship. Do you ever get pushback
from the original poet whose work is being remixed? -Oh, no. No. Well, first of all, I’m not
remixing other people’s work. -Assuming– assuming that
that is happening through some of, not necessarily your work,
but I know you mentioned Kafka and these are proverbs,
so obviously there’s not an element of authorship
to worry about there. But for others out there– -Yeah, I mean, Kafka never sent
us a cease and desist letter, but even though he
worked as a clerk. Yeah. So I mean, in the
translation project we’re not remixing in
the sense of trying to take off in different
creative directions. We’re actually trying to present
the original work in English, even though that is impossible. The idea is to do a
translation of that sort. And no, people have not
been bothered by that. -What’s been the feedback
for things like this, where there [? isn’t ?]
not translation, but just remixing [? half of ?]
the original poetry with the original poets [INAUDIBLE]. -I haven’t done any work that– -[INAUDIBLE]. -Yeah. That uses– I’m trying to think
if– let me see if it’s true. Hold on a second. Actually, that’s not true. Alison Knowles did
not call me up. But this is a piece that’s
an erasure from– whoa, why is that in lower case? That’s an erasure
from people’s work. James Tenney is no longer with
us, but Alison Knowles is. And so it’s a little
bit difficult– I can’t see a Fluxus artist
coming to assail me about– –[INAUDIBLE] situation of
someone taking Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber’s lyrics
and turning them into poetry and that, [INAUDIBLE] what
their response would be. -Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine with me. I mean– Oh, actually,
probably the most– oh, yeah. I have some– I mean, this
isn’t– do you want to see some copyright violation? I can do that. So this piece isn’t published,
but this is a piece that is– oh, it’s not gonna do it because
it’s– this is a piece that simply presents all the lines
from Samuel Beckett’s Rockaby, continually in random order,
according to their distribution in the original play. So some of the lines occur. It’s Beckett, so as you know,
there’s some repetition. So this is a piece–
but, however, if you go to the source
here, the text the play is not in here. It’s just all the lines of the
play in alphabetical order, so you actually can’t
recover the play from it. Now, this is an interesting
case because the Beckett estate is quite concerned about
the plays, particularly. I did have the opportunity–
so one of my friends and colleagues– two of
my friends and colleagues, actually,
collaborating together, did a piece called How It
Is in Common Tongues, which is the entire text of Samuel
Beckett’s How It Is, a prose piece, but all of it is quoted
from places online that do not refer to Beckett, and the
citation of every phrase in the entire book. -So it’s citing uncited works? -What’s that? -It’s citing uncited
lines, basically. -Yeah. I mean, these are sort of
things that are in the commons. I mean, Google indexed them. They’re there. We can view them with
our web browsers. So I told the president
of the Beckett Society about this book, and my
friends didn’t get sued. I don’t know whether
they were hoping to or what was the
outcome, but yeah. Yeah. That, I guess, is
as much of an answer as I can give– not
a living artist, but the lawyer’s still alive. -Let’s take one more question. -I just have a quick
one before I was going to hand it to Jeffrey anyway. But since these are
time-based media, I’m wondering if
you frequently use– -Some of them, but not all. -But a lot of them,
as programs, right? I’m wondering if you frequently
use kind of complex delays to simulate the computers that
they might have been running on earlier, having a very
different relationship to time, or if that’s something that
doesn’t necessarily come into the translation as often? I know that in
some of the images you were mentioning how
meticulous the research is with as frequently as
possible the actual computers that you have this
[? sense ?] data about it. So I’m just wondering about
how that works into the time element of some of the works. -So except for the
fact that, say, like in Amilcar Romero, Poem 21,
the text appears on the screen, and it’s visible as it’s
drawn on the screen. I don’t think there is
any time-based work, save– and then the two pieces
by Andrew Campana, which he created for the
web originally, which he– so I don’t
think that that timing is a tremendous issue. And I think in rare
cases is it– I mean, if there’s earlier visual
work, a concrete poem that appears in a certain way
over time, that certainly would be relevant. It’s not hard to do. I mean, you just have
a millisecond– I mean, we can make the–
we can make this– -I guess I was mostly
thinking about the piece where you mentioned
it was trimmed down a little bit
because it purposely would crash computers. And so thinking about earlier
devices in which the way it crashes is not actually
incremental or specific, but something that’s generative
in its own, weird right, or if that’s something
you’ve encountered at all. -Yeah. By the way, how do
we slow this down? Can someone give me a
hand and tell me where– this is the stochastic
text program with– -At the interval. -At the interval,
what do we change? SetInterval [? litany ?] 2,000. -Make it 3,000 then. -3,000. -I was thinking 4,312. -Sure. -OK. 4,312. So again, this is now, I venture
to say, going at a slower pace, probably about 4.3
seconds between lines. So it’s not a problem
to deal with that. I mean, there are
pe– I think this isn’t sort of in the mainstream
of a concern for a translator of computational work. There are various
types of effects like this that are significant–
various aspects that are close to platforms. I mean, for instance,
there’s only one work in which the accents are
missing on the original letters, and we decided to
pursue emulation in part because of that. So these things
do come up, but I don’t think there’s
a general rule for dealing with them because
they’re not extremely frequent. -Thank you. -So let us end there. That was really amazing. Thank you. -Thank you. -You bet. Thanks for having me. Thank you.

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