small group discussion on computer generated poetry

  1. What’s at stake in Tristan Tzara’s poem “How to write a Dadaist poem“? What is he advocating for?
  2. Now take a look at the first computer generated poem by Erin Mouré that’s in this pdf – how is the Tzara poem different from this?
    1. To what extent does a work have to be created with a particular intention in order to be called art? Is randomly generated poetry “poetry” proper?
    2. Does the means by which the poem has been created (scraps of paper versus a computer program) make any difference? Does it change the meaning or significance of the work?
    3. Are you able to glean meaning from the Mouré poems?
    4. Is there a way to see these poems as just as meaningful as poems that have been carefully crafted, with the author having a clear intention for each word?

Lori’s class notes on kinetic and hypertext digital poetry


  • with this unit it might be a good time for you to go back and review our class notes on Kittler who explicitly made a point of saying that in the era of digital computing, computers themselves read and write, sometimes with numbers and sometimes with words, and they do it far more and far more quickly than humans do
  • so a series of questions I asked you to mull over :
    • are humans the only ones who can create literature or who write?
    • what happens to our notions of literature if we extend it to computers or algorithms?
    • and then if computers/algorithms write and create, what about other organic processes that come from wind, weather, water etc.? are markings on the sand left by waves writing?
      • EXAMPLE: ASEMIC WRITING / Asemic writingis a wordless open semantic form o fwriting. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”, or “without the smallest unit of meaning”. With the non-specificity of asemic writingthere comes a vacuum of meaning, which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret.
    • what happens to “meaning”? if we also agree with Kittler and Donna Haraway that we are now in the era of the posthuman [define] and that humans are not separate from machines or from animals or from the environment and so they’re not perfectly in control of meaning any more than they are the external world, then how do we look for meaning in digital literature – work whose meaning and intentionality is perfectly spread out between human and machine, human and algorithm, human and network?
    • what happens to meaning in works of digital literature where there is hardly any authorial intent left and instead most of the creation of meaning falls on YOUR shoulders?
    • what happens to meaning when computers can be used to generate poems or novels or short stories?
  • on that note, some of the key issues in the field of digital literature
  • digital literature definition: born-digital and makes the most of the digital medium
  • in some ways, it’s a meaningless category because it’s so broad
  • but in other ways, it does describe a specific community of writers who usually have a background in experimental writing
  • characteristics of experimental writiing:
    • materiality
    • lacks closure
    • nonlinear
    • embraces random or rejection of intentionality
    • embraces other aspects of writing – visual, aural, tactile
    • self conscious about writer/writing
    • anything else?
  • what digital literature writers are doing is trying to figure out what is a literature unique to the digital?
  • if most of our ideas about what consistutes reading and writing come out of print, how do we redefine reading and writing in the digital?
  • digital or electronic literature got its start partly with computer generated writing that people started to experiment in the 60s on mainframe computers and then again in the late 70s and 80s once you could get your hands on a personal computer for a reasonable amount of money
  • the other key root for digital literature is hypertext (give conventional definition)
    • ex Twelve Blue
    • ex The Jew’s Daughter
  • also, kineticism
    • show First Screening
    • show kinetic typography
    • show YHCHI

lecture on First Screening:

  • wanted to make sure I took some time to talk with you about bpNichol’s First Screening – partly because it was one of the first PUBLISHED digital poems
  • it’s also the earliest out of the three I assigned for homework
  • literary movements this piece comes out of as well as movements that Rob Wittig mentions in his write-up on IN.S.OMNIA:
    • concrete poetry/visual poetry (explain and show)
    • OULIPO (explain and show)
      • The Oulipo were a group founded in 1960 by French writers and mathematicians their methods for generating poems are also frequently cited as progenitors of digital poetry, conceptual writing, Flarf;
      • originally paper-based and often using the mathematics of Boole and Fibonacci to create poems
      • For example, the rigid set of rules at the heart of fellow-Oulipian Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes (a matrix of ten sonnets which generate 100 trillion poems) along with its unreadability make it, in Calvino’s terms, a “true work of art” and an odd variation on post nineteenth-century anti-romantic poetics.
    • other example: George Perec’s The Void
  • the Apple II was the first home computer that, by the early 1980s, appealed to writers looking to experiment with this new medium of expression – writers who were keen to experiment with the computer’s graphical, algorithmic, and interactive capabilities
  • It also makes sense that writers would choose the Apple II over any one of the other available home computers of the time.
  • by 1981 the Apple II had in fact become the best-selling personal computer
  • And just two years later, in 1983, Apple released arguably its best-selling computer – the IIe which, crucially for writers, not only allowed upper and lower case letters but it also allowed an 80 column display (in contrast to the first generation Apple II which was upper-case only with a 40 column display).
  • Canadian experimental writer bpNichol not only promptly purchased the machine but he also began work on one of the first published works of digital literature, First Screening – a series of twelve kinetic poems written in the Apple BASIC programming language.
  • Because the poems in First Screening move soundlessly across a black computer screen, the work positions itself halfway between film and sound/concrete poetry and self-consciously (mis-)uses the filmic medium to create poetry.
  • Looking at the BASIC code gives us a clear sense of the exact dimensions of the permutational nature of the kinetic poems as Nichol carefully moves each letter up and down the vertical axis through the VTAB command and across the screen with HTAB. For example, below is the first four lines of code for the poem “SAT DOWN TO WRITE YOU THIS LETTER”:


·       More, the twelfth poem does not appear on-screen as it is instead nestled in the last eight lines of the code – a poem that is also one of the first works of code-work, or literary writing that is also code but not necessarily executable code. ·       The reader would only discover this piece if they were prompted to understand the underlying workings of the poem (rather than simply taking in its on-screen effects) ·       it’s also one of the works to prompt the creation of a whole new field of study called “critical code studies”·       also notice that on line 116 of the code is the REM (or remark which is a way of leaving explanatory comments in the code) stating, “FOR FURTHER RE-MARKS LIST 3900,4000.”·       Ideally this statement ought to prompt the curious reader to then type “LIST 3900,4000” to view the the further “RE-MARKS”:

3900  REM  ARK
3905  REM  BOAT
3910  REM  AIN
3925  REM  ARK
3930  REM  BOW
3935  REM  ARC
4000  END

·       Nichol begins his permutational concrete poem by breaking apart ‘REMARK’ to form ‘REM’ and ‘ARK,’ which is followed by ‘REM BOAT’ (to make sure we understand this ‘ark’ is not only biblical –  rather than the French-derived bow, sometimes spelled ‘arc’ – but also that it is a reference to Noah’s ark and not the Ark of the Covenant). ·       Continuing his permutational punning, ‘REMARK’ is then turned into “REM AIN,” the remains of which produces forty appearances of the word ‘RAIN.’ ·       After leaving the ‘ARK,’ a ‘BOW’ appears as an ‘ARC’ across the sky which is, this time, a symbol of the promise God made with Noah to never again flood the earth.


  • moving on to hypertext, would like you to now have the piece by Judy Malloy in your mind; this should help you think outside of and beyond what might look like a naieve or clumsy aesthetic just because it’s old
  • important once again for you to understand how makers of hypertext and writers of hypertext were actually part of the same community in the 1980s, influencing each other and coming up with quite different visions of what hypertext could be other than what we have today
  • while we all generally tend to think of “hypertext” as simply referring to text online that is linked (or hypertext IS the link), we need to be aware of the historical roots of the term
  • “hypertext” has not always simply meant “link” and therefore, by extension, hypertext doesn’t always need to be this narrowly defined and executed in the future
  • hypertext began as a term for a form of hypermedia (human-authored media that “branch or perform on request”) that operate textually.
  • “text” here, in its original usage in work by Theodor Nelson, actually included written AND pictorial elements, material that operates cinematically (ie hyperfilm)


Douglas Engelbart:

  • So, on that note, I’d like to talk a bit more specifically about two precursors – starting with Douglas Engelbart and moving on to Nelson
  • In 1968 Englebart gave his famous demo (called the Mother of all demos) before a few thousand people that included computer scientists, IBM engineers, people from other companies involved in computers, and funding officers from various government agencies.
  • Over the few previous years, his team at The Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect had essentially developed modern office environment as it exists today
  • Their computer system included word processing with outlining features, documents connected through hypertext, online collaboration (two people at remote locations working on the same document in real-time), online user manuals, online project planning system, and other elements of what is now called “computer-supported collaborative work.”
  • The team also developed the key elements of modern user interface that were later refined at PARC: a mouse and multiple windows.
  • Show clip of demo
  • Show pictures

  • Englebart devotes the first segment of the demo to word processing, but as soon as he briefly demonstrates text entry, cut, paste, insert, naming and saving files, he then goes on to show in more detail the features of his system which no writing medium had before: “view control.”
  • As Englebart points out, the new writing medium could switch at user’s wish between many different views of the same information.
  • in other words a text file could be sorted in different ways.
    • It could be organized as a hierarchy with a number of levels, like in outline processors or outlining mode of contemporary word processors such as Microsoft Word.
    • For example, a list of items can be organized by categories and individual categories can be collapsed and expanded.
  • Next Englebart presents “a chain of views”
  • He switches between these views using “links” which may look like hyperlinks the way they exist on the Web today – but they actually have a different function.
  • Englebart is using links as a method for switching between different views of a single document organized hierarchically.
  • He brings a line of words displayed in the upper part of the screen; when he clicks on these words, more detailed information is displayed in the lower part of the screen.
  • This information can in its turn contain links to other views that show even more detail.
  • Rather than using links to drift through the textual universe associatively and “horizontally,” here we move “vertically” between more general and more detailed information.
  • Appropriately, in Englebart’s paradigm, we are not “navigating” – we are “switching views.”
  • We can create many different views of the same information and switch between these views in different ways.

Theodor Nelson:

  • Let us look at another example – Ted Nelson’s concept of hypertext that he articulated in the early 1960s (independently but parallel to Engelbart).
  • In his 1965 article “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate,” Nelson discusses the limitations of books and other paper-based systems for organizing information and then introduces his new concept:

However, with the computer-driven display and mass memory, it has become possible to create a new, readable medium, for education and enjoyment, that will let the reader find his level, suit his taste, and find the parts that take on special meaning for him, as instruction and enjoyment. Let me introduce the word “hypertext” to mean a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not be conveniently be presented or represented on paper.

  • he wanted to create something distinctively new.
  • While people often like to point out the historical precedents for hypertext, they mistakenly equate Nelson’s proposal with a very limited form in which hypertext is experienced by most people today – i.e., World Wide Web.
  • the Web implemented only one of many types of structures proposed by Nelson already in 1965 – “chunk style” hypertext – static links that allow the user to jump from page to page.”
  • most people today think hypertext is a body of text connected through one-directional links.
  • However, the term “link” does not even appear in Nelson’s original definition of hypertext.
  • Instead, Nelson talks about new complex interconnectivity without specifying any particular mechanism
  • “What kind of structure are possible in hypertext?” asks Nelson in a research note from 1967. He answers his own question in a short but very suggestive answer: “Any.”
  • In 2007 Nelson re-stated this idea in the following way: “’Hypertext’– a word I coined long ago — is not technology but potentially the fullest generalization of documents and literature.”
  • If hypertex” does not simply means “links,” it also does not only mean “text.”
  • Although in its later popular use the word “hypertext” came to refer to linked text, Nelson included “pictures” in his definition of hypertext.
  • And in a following paragraph, he introduces the terms hyperfilm and hypermedia:

Films, sound recordings, and video recordings are also linear strings, basically for mechanical reasons. But these, too, can now be arranged as non-linear systems – for instance, lattices – for educational purposes, or for display with different emphasis…The hyperfilm – a browsable or vari-sequenced movie – is only one of the possible hypermedia that require our attention.”

  • Decades before hypertext and hypermedia became the common ways for interacting with information, Nelson understood well what these ideas meant for our well-established cultural practices and concepts.
  • The announcement for his January 5, 1965 lecture at Vassar College talks about this in terms that are even more relevant today than they were then: “The philosophical consequences of all this are very grave. Our concepts of ‘reading’, ‘writing’, and ‘book’ fall apart, and we are challenged to design ‘hyperfiles’ and write ‘hypertext’ that may have more teaching power than anything that could ever be printed on paper.”
  • These statements align Nelson’s thinking and work with artists and theorists who similarly wanted to destabilize the conventions of cultural communication.
  • play Nelson clip

small group discussion questions on “Twelve Blue”

  1. How does the text attempt to be “of” the web rather than of print or of the book?
  2. How is the text exploring the unique affordances of the hypertext link?
  3. How does the text attempt to depart from print-based assumptions about what constitutes a text, an author, a reader?
  4. What is the text about? Can you provide a reading of it? If you cannot interpret it in the same way you would a print-based text, how do you interpret this text?
  5. If the text is trying to explore what a truly born-digital literary work could be, what is an appropriate interpretative response that is also born-digital?

questions to guide your peer review

  1. Does the paper have a title, thesis and blueprint along the lines of what we’ve discussed in class?
  2. Does this paper have a compelling and debatable (amongst reasonable people) thesis/blueprint?
  3. Is it clearly and logically organized from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph?
  4. Are all claims well supported with outside evidence, quotes etc.?
  5. Does it avoid making general claims about all humans, people, society, time, space, place, technology, children, adults, etc.?
  6. Does the paper cite appropriate, scholarly sources?
  7. Is the paper clearly and artfully written?

terminology from “Data Activism as the New Frontier of Media Activism”

  • this is the last reading on the politics of digital media and social media
  • as I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks, the point of this unit is both to give you tools and language to analyze contemporary digital media platforms that you might use on an everyday basis but also not to JUST critique and turn you into cynics
  • my hope was that we’d also find some positive examples; the reading Twitter and Tear Gas accomplished this and this reading I think somewhat also accomplishes it, although it’s vague on specific examples of data activism – this will be our job during today’s class, to fill out some of these details
  • but first, let’s make sure we understand the key terms and concepts from the essay
  • big data = the ways in which people are able to leverage or exploit massive amounts of data contained in mostly governmental databases and includes text, video, audio, links and tagging
  • datafication = “the ability to render into data many aspects of the world that have never been quantified before”; as we’ve been learning all semester, when individuals or experiences or lives or cultures are reduced to processes of datafication is when we start having major problems
  • digital footprint = all of the logs and metadata you leave behind as you engage with content online
  • open data = both a practice and a policy of making data collection and access to data open and transparent
  • data activism = the interrogation of the politics and practices of big data, digital footprints, datafication, etc; this interrogation can include “examining, manipulating, leveraging, and exploiting data,” along with resisting and meddling in the creation and use of data; data activism is also referred to as “counterhegemonic tactics” meant to empower and inform users and citizens
  • reactive data activism = when activists seek to resist corporate and government snooping or data collection
  • proactive data activism = when people appropriate and use big data for advocacy and social change

Sophia’s presentation notes on Antisocial Media

Chapter 5 from Siva Vaidynathan’s Antisocial Medias

June 6, 2010 – police murdered Khalid Said

  • 28
  • middle class in import-export business
  • Alexandria, Egypt

Witnesses posted YouTube video testimonies saying Khalid did NOT die of asphyxiation

Photos of Khalid’s beaten face spread across Arabic and English Facebook and YouTube – photos also sent over mobile texts

Al Jezeer – Arabic news channel – found pictures – so did other news channels

Demonstrations against the police cover-up began in Alexandria/Cairo in summer 2010

Facebook Page started: “We Are All Khalid Said” – produced in Arabic and English

– Gave people the mindset that they were not alone when fighting against government brutality

Government tried to control the story from growing too large – but the spread of the photos on Facebook made this impossible – Facebook had just began offering its service in Arabic

Beforehand – Egypt had been a locked-down media system – severed the connections between people – Newspapers never reported events that shed ill light on the state, Television was under large control, police shut down opposition organizations – people felt they were alone fighting against the government

Every time groups had stood up or protested in Egypt before – they government had crushed them – as they were easy targets

The massive uprisings in Cairo/Alexandria and other cities forced President Hosni Mubarak out of power after 30 years – came as a surprise to many – where had this come from? What had changed?

Why had so many around Egypt come together to fight this one protest, when others beforehand in 2006 and 2008, not worked?

  • Facebook
  • Introduction of Arabic Facebook made it easier to find people who would fight together – Ghonim
  • 25 January Revolution

Protests have happened for years, when happening, many use communication tools, such as facebook, at their disposal

  • mixed results success-wise
  • sometimes protests are only the starting- point of an ongoing political and cultural uprising – silly to think social media carries such weight
  • no way of testing the affects social media has had on previous successful protests
  • “Facebook does not make protests possible, more likely, or larger. But Facebook does make it easy to alert many people who have declared a shared interest in information and plans”

Facebook lowers transaction costs for early organization

  • has ability to fool people into thinking “I am not alone”
  • large protest movements are only possible in these states when people are convinced that others will join them
  • Facebook does NOT take the place of “hard work of deep political deliberation and organization”

Egypt revolution proves that though facebook connected everyone initially – it did not last

  • Egypt under authoritarian dictatorship again – run by military
  • Looks like the real reason Mubarak stepped down was because military did not step in initially
  • New leaders relied too heavily on facebook, and thus, The Muslim Brotherhood took control – they had been growing powerful, secretly, for years
  • Very violent government on women and Christians – Protests against this were larger than in 2011, and the military still stopped them
  • “We Are All Khalid” – still active – spreading anti-government propaganda and information

Facebook aids in process – making others believe they are not alone in the fight – however might make people believe that they are supported more than they actually are

  • Facebook filters everything – “reinforcing confirmation bias”
  • Facebook only pushes for short-term, dramatic events – myopic power
  • Dissipates easily
  • Not good for long-term results- does not do hard work of getting names on petitions, running meetings, fielding candidates, discipling messages, and delivering VOTES
  • Initial passion does not produce results

Facebook Algorithms:

  • really good for motivation – brings up favorable content that produces strong emotional reactions
  • useless for deliberation
  • Facebook destabilizes politics more than enlightens, or enhances deliberative politics – smart, thoughtful, changes and processes
  • Easily hijacked by evil forces that would destabilize weak states
  • Authoritarian: use FB to spread propaganda, monitor citizens, coordinate threats, etc.

Facebook not NEEDED for results:

  • June 4, 1989 – People’s Republic of China
  • Communist leader killed, therefore protests began, people slaughtered at protest
  • Overthrew govt. by VOTING that election – thus sparking democratic revolutions worldwide
  • East German dictator resigned, South Africa gave up apartheid, Soviert Union invited reform and free speech, and much more
  • Common ground found across world – thus sparking action – freeflow of information simply aided these causes – but did not start them
    • Fax machines in Europe and Soviet Union
    • Communicative technologies “structured the nature and affected the speed of many of these uprisings” – don’t give them too much credit
    • Underground organizations had been growing for years in many of these places – Soviet Union had run out of money form war w/ Afghanistan – made it weak for change

Ignorant to believe that the flow of communication caused the rapid change – rather than coincided w/ it

  • “Media can amplify or accelerate a movement as long as that movement already exists” – form, substance, momentum
  • Makes coordination low cost and fast – but people must be like minded and ready for action
  • Hilary Clinton – made mistake of thinking social media was the cause, and not the means – undermined many censorship laws
  • Hard to know if everyone wants the same things – or even good things – when just looking at a post or tweet
  • Easy to believe that certain platforms represent “freedom/democracy” – thus believing everyone on that platforms wants those things as well
  • Some people may want information, power, to start their own oppressive govt. – words don’t match actions always

Techno-Narcissism: The thought that because people are using the same platforms that we use everyday in order to accomplish something bigger makes us feel better about ourselves

  • Twitter Revolution: Iran used twitter in order to communicate what was happening in the government
  • People focused more on the fact that twitter was being used than what was actually going on in Iran
  • Gave people viewpoint that countries that suddenly make a splash using the technologies that we created – we cheer them on because we feel that WE caused the change rather than the years of hardwork put in

Facebook causes hyperbole: communicates emotional reaction of things going on – making it more shared

Facebook: BAD for conversation and deliberation, GOOD for declaration


  • dealing w/ rumors that confirm people’s biases
  • getting through the eco chambers or filter bubbles
  • recognizing humans are behind the screens, tweets, and posts
  • dealing with the speed that might hinder the deep understanding people can have
  • social media focuses on declaration rather than deliberation or conversation


digital activism small group work

Look up/at RiseUp or related projects (group 1) , Lorea or related projects (group 2), Tor or related projects (group 3) and Facebook Resistance or related projects (group 4) and explain what these projects are about and how exactly they are examples of reactive digital activism.

Look up/at Occupy Data (group 5) and Tactical Tech Collective (group 6) and explain what these projects are about and how exactly they are examples of proactive digital activism.

Tufekci and Vaidynathan small group work

  1. What is a “networked public sphere” and what are networked “counterpublics”?
  2. How are both shaped, for better AND for worse, by social media networks?
  3. How is the 2018 U.S. election playing out on social media networks and how is the election intersecting with the public sphere online?
  4. Review what “slacktivism” is in the reading by Tufekci and discuss the extent to which slacktivism is and is not relevant to describe online electioneering/online engagement with the election. In other words, while Tufekci provides a compelling story of what’s possible with online activism, what might she be neglecting in the American context?
  5. How does Siva Vaidynathan’s account of Khalid Said in Antisocial Media differ from the account Tufekci provides on pages 22-24 and how does it differ from the notion of slacktivism?
  6. What is “techno narcissism” according to Vaidynathan and how is it both ethnocentric and imperialistic?