Here is my final infographic on home-schooling. I hope you enjoy it!
1. The making of Tomahawk Girl
I began work on my generative poem by considering the restraints of the title: a “t” word followed by a “g” word. To maintain the integrity of the original poem structure, I sought to craft a title with a three-syllable “t” word and a single-syllable “g” word. I wrote down a couple of each under two columns and matched the ones I thought would work together best. “Tomahawk” was more evocative and interesting than “telephone” or “tapestry,” and, when coupled with “girl,” I knew I’d inadvertently created a superheroine.
I don’t normally compose poetry, but I enjoyed this level of experimentation. Accounting for the changes in the syntax of my words required me to think about what story I wanted to tell and how. Tomahawk Girl is the heroine, and the Hatchet Guys are the villains … or are they? When I entered those words into the code to appear at the beginning or the end of the lines, the idea seemed ambiguous. I originally envisioned a battle between the two in a good vs. evil sense, but the code proved the story could be so much more.
The random text generation proved for some truly satisfying lines. “Shed the red” and “embrace the dark cold veins” sound like they came right out of a comic book superhero story. Tomahawks clashing with shields, blades spilling sinew and spikes cutting bone — all good stuff. The poem retained the gory, epic nature I had originally intended, but by leaving myself to the mercy of the code, the words acquired a whole new dimension of meaning. Being willing to relinquish some of the authorship to the code allowed for the poem to turn out the way it did; I never would have created something I could be so happy with if I had tried to micromanage the text.
2. On Ergodic literature
Though seemingly disparate forms of literature, print poems and ergodic poems share common central elements. Both forms of literature ask the reader to construct meaning from words, interpreting the author’s message or crafting a message of his or her own. Though print text is static, its meaning can change over time for a reader. Just like how a text’s meaning can change for a reader over the course of his or her life, ergodic literature’s meaning can change at a much faster rate, thanks to text generation programs. Both can also place restrictions on the author in terms of form. For example, sonnet writers must work within the space of 14 lines allotted to them, and haiku writers must meet a strict syllable length. Ergodic poetry, too, can demand the writer frame his or her work inside a set of rules. The defining difference between traditional and ergodic literature, according to Espen J. Aarseth, is that ergodic literature requires a higher degree of participation from the reader than traditional text does.
With generative poems like Tomahawk Girl, the story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, throwing new meanings and perspectives at the reader with each new line. One might be inclined to think that the sentences formed by the code are jumbled, empty phrases slapped together, without the attention to detail seen in poetry composed by a human mind. One must adopt an attitude of giving “nontrivial effort” to consuming the information in the text, as Aarseth puts it, which we as readers tend to struggle with. We have been framing electronic literature and ergodic literature in the same context of print literature, quick to point to the former as “wrong” because it breaks tradition. We need to communicate with ergodic literature on its own terms, as John Slatin writes, because it a new medium, a separate beast from print media. Elit demands that we think associatively, a more natural way of thinking, Slatin writes, rather than sequentially, which print books have conditioned us to do. So, criticizing Tomahawk Girl for changing the story from one reading to the next because “that’s not what literature is supposed to do” does not carry any weight. The heroine or the villain may emerge victorious, based on which words the code generates, but the differing storylines lend to the crux of the plot I want to deliver: Who, really, is the villain?
There are two threads that are repeated in our readings of digital composition: the belief that producers must offer over some control over the creation of meaning of a text to their audience, and we should be arranging ideas/information differently-focusing on associative rather than linear connections.
So, how do these ideas fit in with poetry and electronic literature? Word choice is one way. As I mentioned in my other reflection, given the generative poem’s code structures-think poetry formatting rules like iambic pentameter or haiku and you’ve got it-writers aren’t really sure when and where any given word will appear. They can estimate where in the poem a word will appear by looking at where they add it into the code, but beyond that, it’s random. What does this mean? That word choice cannot be as “random” as it appears. The thought that electronic literature is simply a lot of randomly generated text is a fairly disparaging idea that is bandied about too much. The words in generative poems are not randomly selected, rather like traditional print poems they are governed by form.
Further dispelling the myth of random selection-as in all poetry, the words that appear in a generative poem are selected because they are deemed effective and connected to the topic by the writer. So it goes with generative poems. However, this must be taken a step further. Words in generative poetry must be especially effective, since as stated above we remain unsure when and where they will appear. That means the poet must carefully select words that will impact and further the idea/topic of the poem. The poet cannot have any weak words, each must be able to be associated to the poem. Takei, George provides a fine example. Lines about warp factors, rapiers, internment camps, action figures, and homosexuality seem odd, to say the least. Until you as a reader begin to think in an associative way, looking for connections. Then we can see that the lines are telling us about Mr. Takei’s life-from a childhood in an internment camp during WW2, to popularity as Star Trek’s rapier-wielding Mr. Sulu to becoming a leading figure in the gay community.
Associative thinking also encourages the handing over of the control and creation of meaning. We as writers must recognize that meaning is ultimately decided by the reader, what they put into a piece, what they attach to words. Generative poetry naturally extends this. Go back to Takei, George. It does not start with the same line it did when you first went there. This is a conscious decision made by the producer of the poem/poem’s code. It is designed to remove the idea that there is only ONE spot to start reading, and only ONE spot to end, which means that you can be reading a poem the wrong way. Random line generation, as well appearance and disappearance of lines, removes the idea that there is only one way to read the poem. This hopefully focuses the reader on absorbing the words, rather than focusing on the style-since they generate fairly rapidly, the reader must pay them all of the attention. The style also forces the poet into favoring short phrases and individual words, so they can never be quite sure how a line will end up looking. for readers, this means the poet cannot lead the reader to a conclusion, as is the case in print.
It is strange that generative poetry not be considered as serious a literary style as print genre. Such poems certainly fit the definition of poetry. Even if readers (wrongly) approach generative poetry with opinions based off of traditional literature, it cannot be denied that generative poetry is as evocative as its print counterpart, and that the two share more stylistic heritages than might be suspected. If creators and consumers can begin to approach generative poetry and elit on their own terms, than there is no reason that the body of literature cannot make room for these genres.
I really enjoyed this kind of approach to writing. After finding my topic, ( the poem is based off a weird dream I had, which stood out more because I don’t dream) After getting the title/topic-Tlaloc, an Aztec deity, and all sorts of apocalyptic imagery, I had began my word choices. Before this, though, I looked at the html set-up of Tacoma Grunge. I noticed beyond organizing words by nouns, adjective, etc, the poet also selects words that will build environment.
This is something I tried to copy, and it’s something I think is a key difference in writing generative poetry. I can estimate, using the code, where and in what circumstances my words will appear, but cannot really say what lines will appear. So what I tried to do, what I thought I saw Chuck Ryback, author of Tacoma Grunge doing, was to construct a wordbank that all related to the topic at some level.
I did some research about Tlaloc, trying to find ideas or things associated with him that I could use in my poem. Since my dream had a very doom-y perspective, I tried to build this mood in my verb and adjective choices, deliberately choosing harsh sounding words and words that have a negative connotation. Unhappy stuff, lots of death.
In all honesty, I think I went a little too far afield. I think my poem could be a little more focused on Tlaloc and aspects of him-more water related stuff, more Aztecian mythology in general, Tlaloc celebrations. I bring in other mythologies-Christian, Nordic, North American Native American, Islamic, as well as various New Age mysticism and fringe cults and what have you. While I think they were interesting, I think I could have limited my focus-I feel the poem is less about Tlaloc than it could have been, and with a little more research I can come up with a lot more great Aztec/Tlaloc specific stuff.
Making verb selections was interesting. I would pick a word, and then that word would make me think of three others. This was helpful in fleshing out the poem, and making sure that lines/phrases/words didn’t repeat themselves too much, which made everything look new, but it also made me question if I was writing, or simply playing word association. I was trying to associate words with the topic, and I feel the paranoiac atmosphere I was going for gave me some leeway, but I am still not completely satisfied. I’m also split between this being unhappy with the way the words kind of took off in a million directions, away from Tlaloc-centric stuff, or unhappy because I was projecting a different kind of expectations to the writing.
In the first attempt, I was much more interested in getting the words up there than anything else. For the final poem, I tried to be a little more cognizant of my placement. To this end, I made an alteration to the html code, constructing a variable of just god-names. I also changed some code to fix the s (the letter just seemed to crop up, which lead to odd spelling). These are small changes but I think they improved how my poem looks and reads.
I’m totally enamored with the project. I really like seeing how lines are constructed just from a database I set up and kept tweeting lines because I was really pleased with some. There were lines I would have never thought of writing, and it just keeps going. Poetry to me is all about creating lines that convey extraordinary meaning, and I think that generative poetry is an extremely effective way of doing that, since you are more carefully adding words since you have less control where they appear.
Here, anyway, is Tlaloc Grins
You’re currently reading words that are floating around on cyberspace. You’re not viewed as a reader, but as Aerseth writes, you are on your own adventure, taking risks. So, while we’re taking risks and exploring, Nelson mentions that most of us don’t actually understand the computer. At first I thought that this meant we don’t understand how computers work, or even, how to operate computers and I expected to read something like a computer manual. Don’t get me wrong, Computer Lib / Dream Machine is certainly a manual of some type, but not the traditional manual.
Everything we’ve been reading and learning about recently has been quite the opposite of the traditional things we’re used to. I even though about writing this blog post in a different way, against the grain, but I had no idea where to even start; we must take baby steps. As Nelson argues, we learn most things by beginning with “vague impressions” (p. 303). The first step in understanding the computer is to learn that it is a media that provokes emotions and helps us write, think, and show (Nelson, p. 306).
Now, the key word is help. It’s not the writer itself, nor it solely just the delivery method. For example, in Taroka Gorge (and the others too), a real human being came up with the basic structure: the main idea and the words. The computer put together the form and structure: how the words appeared to the audience. In the poems we read, there’s a feedback loop that keeps using the same words and creating different outcomes. I’m going to attempt to do so myself, but I have a hunch it’s much easier when a computer does it.
Roscoe retaliates to grab my banana whole heartedly.
My banana retaliates.
My whole banana.
My heartedly banana grabs Roscoe.
I think you get the point. Something that took me a few minutes to do would take a computer seconds to do. So in essence, it can be argued that computers essentially think for us, but not without the correct input.
But how do we learn what the correct input is? Well, as Nelson shows from the article, “No more teachers’ dirty looks”, it’s beginning next to impossible to teach. Schools are focusing so much on standardized this and standardized that, that creativity is thrown out the window. Surely this is displayed in any type of creative situation, but especially in computers. How can the youth of the future learn how to be creative when computer classes are tailored to very specific tasks and are very standardized? Furthermore, it can be said that the education system is behind in change. Literature teachers are teaching poems from a long history ago, yet they seem to glide over the current period of poems: e-lit at its finest.
Last week, we struggled, or at least I struggled, to understand the electronic literature we were required to read. We learned that it was difficult for us to tailor our traditional style of reading because it was all that we had known. If schools spend time teaching electronic literature, alongside traditional literature, students would become accustomed and be better able to code switch from one to the other. As Nelson argues, “students should develop through practice, abilities to think, argue, and disagree intelligently (p. 310). But instead of this, students spend countless hours learning about topics that bore them to tears. One that I can recall, from both high school and community college, is the basic computer class that teaches you how to use Microsoft programs. Why is that a real class? And even more, it strictly taught and tailored the projects we would do. The whole class had to create an excel spread sheet from the same baseball statistics. How boring and inconclusive. And even more, these classes started the rave for PowerPoint, and we all know how Tufte feels about PowerPoint (which I think goes for all of us as well). I think it’s time the school systems caught up to the technology that is vastly developing.
The question about all of this, which Nelson asked as well ,is how will we use these creations? (p. 117). This is something that could truly be in our hands, yet it might also slip away if not treated carefully. School systems, and society, need to recognize these new ways of writing and creative thinking as a real possibility, and they need to begin to educate on them. The time for transformation is now.
“The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.”
These words, written by Vannevar Bush in “As We May Think,“ echo a similar sentiment I have when I see my parents searching for a phone number through a phone book. It’s 2013, and there’s no reason to flip through an archaic volume of phone numbers. We have computers now.
Only Bush wasn’t writing in 2013. He was writing in 1945, before anyone had any conception of electronic databases. But, still, he recognized the need for one. So, he proposes a device he calls “memex,” which looks similar to a modern-day computer. It has monitors, a keyboard and tape that files images and information. The ability to store the sheer volume of information available wasn’t the crux of the memex. Bush imagined a machine that could be used for “associative indexing” — connecting multiple separate texts together to create a more efficient way of retrieving information.
But what do computers have to do with information architecture? Perhaps, in 2013, we take the idea of instantly locating our desired queries for granted. But in the mid-20th century, the world had to scour through pages of books to find what they were looking for. The only sequence of information available was the one that the book allowed. With a memex, a user could create their own sequence of information, thus conceptualizing information in new ways.
The only problem was, the technology just wasn’t available at the time. Think of all the problems we face today with technology and all the solutions we’ve conceived but yet to master. Take, for example, cell phone battery life. How can we prevent cell phone batteries from draining when we’re on the go? Can we make a screen that converts sunlight to energy? Can we create wireless chargers? Or can we make a perpetual battery? The inventors of the first electronic computers faced similar hurdles.
But, as time progressed, we get innovations like the hyperlink, folders and the World Wide Web. In Douglas Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect,” he describes how human thinking is limited in the way it is presented to us in books. The human thought process is “sequential but not serial,” meaning it is like a map linking ideas together, but not necessarily in a linear fashion. Thoughts are related, but perhaps not in a hierarchy. He advocates for computers like the memex, in which we can reorient ideas around a space so we can “trim, extend, insert and rearrange so freely and rapidly.”
All of these ideas continue to build on one another. Theodor H. Nelson’s 1965 “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate,” he draws up early images of word processors in saving multiple variations of the same text on a computer, which he dubs “dynamic outlining.” He also introduces the word hypertext, and he uses it in the same way we use it today: typed words that lead to another work when engaged by the user, be it another article or a definition or annotation. He hoped to use it to “integrate, for human understanding, bodies of material so diversely connected that they could not be untangled by the unaided mind.”
Flash forward to the 21st century, and computers become more affordable, Internet use more widespread. With so many people adopting computers and becoming computer literate, communities begin to develop their own forms of searching, labeling and collecting information. Adam Mathes calls these new terms “folksonomies.” He uses tags on Flickr and Delicious as his primary examples. He states that tags are more about “categorization” than “classification,” suggesting users make connections between tags based on broad generalities and less on distinctions. Though he notes an advantage to using tags in this manner provides users with a low barrier to entry in sharing information space, he observes a quirk in tag culture. The blanketing tags make browsing through concepts and ideas simple enough, but finding specific data proves much more difficult. Where are we heading in the future? How much accuracy in sorting through information do we sacrifice for expediency? Which is more important?