October 10, 2005

Affine Transformations

by Nick Montfort · , 1:41 pm

Belatedly, I’ve written up a few thoughts about the provocative Kelly Writers House sessions I went to at the Elective Affinities conference. These were on September 27, almost two weeks ago, and I did not take any notes, but I won’t try to represent the particular statements and arguments of all the speakers – just my reveries. I hope that audio of all these talks will be online, soon; I’ll link it in when I find out about it.

The three sessions during the day that I attended took place a bit apart from the main conference. They were all part of the V-V-V on-line: Verbal-Visual-Vocal Poetries in Hyperspace series, chaired by Charles Bernstein.

Johanna Drucker (University of Virginia)
Graphic Affect: Looks, Is, and Does

One of Johanna’s many interesting points: the planned first edition of Un Coup des dés was to be typeset in Didot, a classic typeface for French literature, while the 1914 edition that was finally published did not keep this important aspect. And no one (except Johanna) seems to care about this, although there has been obsessive discussion of this poem and tremendous scholarly efforts to determine the precise positioning of words that should be used. (Johanna also gave a talk in the last session about artists’ books online.)

Steve Clay (Granary Books)
Resistance to the Web: The Art of the Book in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Steve gave a lively and well-illustrated talk which still basically had “books are good, don’t let computers crowd them out” as its main theme. (Incidentally, books are good, and Steve’s Granary Books publishes some wacky and wonderful stuff by Johanna, Kenny, Charles and others – just to mention one item, the delightful Cyberspace by Kenward Elmslie and Trevor Winkfield.) More interesting to me than the computers-eat-books tune is how books have been used as a powerful and liberating metaphor in computing. The Dynabook! The PowerBook! Computers become powerful, dynamic, and personal when they become like books. Perhaps this occurs to me because I’m working on an interactive fiction piece that deals with this matter and is entitled Book and Volume.

Kari Kraus (University of Rochester)
Vectors on a Grecian Urn

Turns out that beauty evaluates to true. Okay, just kidding. Near the end of her talk, in a twist on the usual ekphrasis, Kari showed a memorable styrofoam plate which she had colored with four markers, and a text that had been produced by a speech-to-text system which was “listening” to the squeaking of the markers as she produced this work of visual art.

Al Filreis (University of Pennsylvania)
“It is 3:17 AM”: Digital Poetics and the End of the Classroom as We Know It

I associate 4:20 with with digital poetics, but what’s an hour or so? Al suggested ways that the typical order of the literature classroom, founded on having texts at its core, is upset by audio recordings, multiple versions of audio recordings, and the different contexts that they highlight. We got to hear some Ginsberg recordings, too – two quite different readings of “America” that showed aspects of the poem that one couldn’t easily see in “the text,” in “the classroom.”

Sue Salinger (Naropa Archive Project)
Taste My Mouth in Your Ear: Taking the Kerouac Collection Online, Year One

Sue spoke about a voluminous project at the unusual Naropa University, one which seeks to provide online access to 3500 audio recordings. The Naropa University Archive Project is hosted at the Internet Archive, which greatly simplified hosting issues but required that the project fit into the Internet Archive’s format.

Kenny Goldsmith
If It Doesn’t Exist on the Internet, It Doesn’t Exist

Kenny’s frequent claim (which I bet made his bound-paper-sheaves publisher, who was in the room, a bit tense) was finally fleshed out in this talk, which doesn’t yet exist, but will before too long. Update: now exists. However, numerous things still do not exist.

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland)
Introducing nora: Poetry, Pattern Recognition, and Provocation

Matt’s talk was a sequel to his MLA presentation about Nora, showing some interesting results from running a classifier on the erotic (and non-erotic) writing of Emily Dickinson. The technique is one sort of humanistic text mining; it allows researchers to find words that were not explicitly identified as markers of erotic texts, but which are highly correlated with such texts.

Charles Bernstein (University of Pennsylvania)
PENNsound: Prospect and Retrospect

Charles showed PennSound and wrapped up the series of panels. By the way, a new library-catalog-like search interface is coming up soon on the PennSound site. Watch for it!