October 9, 2007

Our Manifesto Machine (and More)

by Nick Montfort · , 7:29 pm

A topic that came up at the UC Irvine symposium – and, actually, before the symposium – is whether Grand Text Auto is a movement along the lines of surrealism, Dada, and the Oulipo. Scott knows all about these movements and things and probably has the definitive word here, but as all of us were discussing, we’re of the opinion that we’re not such a movement. A movement typically promulates manifestos which declare the movement’s intentions and set forth some sort of agenda. That’s not Grand Text Auto at all. As Mary said during the symposium, we’re a manifesto in reverse. We’re united only by our blog, which is at best a system for writing manifestos along with many other other things. It certainly isn’t a manifesto itself.

A manifesto lays out what should be done. On Grand Text Auto, we typically do it first and carry on about it later. Andrew and Michael fashion Façade. Noah streches Screen out. Scott and I implement Implementation. Mary manufactures a [giantJoystick]. We are given to thinking out loud as we’re working on our various arts, but it’s usually after we’ve practiced what we’re about to preach that we finally say – discuss.

We don’t form a unified front here. When Michael declares that new media creators must be programmers!, Scott writes an essay in response questioning this. And then Michael, at the symposium, says that maybe his hard-line view on programming is part of the reason that only one interactive drama has been developed, and maybe someone (that is, Michael) needs to write some tools that non-programmers can use. And maybe I still more or less agree with Michael’s original position and want to teach those other potential interactive dramatists to program instead of developing blunted tools – just so all of us don’t converge to a harmonious happy mean.

All that said, I must admit that we Grand Text Auto bloggers are united by more than our machine for manifestos. We all share a common interest in the creative use of the computer, and we are willing to read each other’s posts, and we will at least entertain each other’s ideas and write to each other in public when we have something to say. That counts for a lot in my book. And, I think, it counts for a lot on our blog.

5 Responses to “Our Manifesto Machine (and More)”

  1. noah Says:

    I think there’s another way that the blog can be seen to do something like the work of a reverse-manifesto. It says, through the posts and comments that are found here, “All of this belongs together.”

    We could have put our energy, four years ago, into a manifesto for a new, broader view of the field: combining computer games and installation art, combining the history of human-computer interaction with the history of process-oriented literature. Instead, we started the blog — and the result is that our community of readers and commenters helped us create the continually in-process view of the field that Grand Text Auto embodies.

  2. ErikC Says:

    I wasn’t at the UC Irvine symposium so probably missed the fine detail but just wanted to point out that a movement often
    -includes people who don’t always agree with each other and
    -consists of individuals who say they don’t belong to a movement!

  3. andrew Says:

    I mostly agree with your post, Nick. I’d like to add that my attraction for coming together as a group blog, both initially and after the fact, certainly includes more than our common interests and the creative works we build. Though I identify myself primarily as a practitioner, and creative works interest me above all else, I also feel an affinity among us for some of the explicit positions we’ve taken, the “stakes in the ground” we’ve planted, often before Grand Text Auto began. These positions may not combine to form a retroactive manifesto per se, but for me they have a more explicit presence, on the blog and in my mind, than your post suggests they might.

    A few examples of positions taken (those not in the form of artworks built) that attracted me to commune on-line with each of you include Nick’s 2001 essay “Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star“; Scott’s co-founding of the Electronic Literature Organization in 1999; Noah’s co-editing of First Person, which began around 2001; my 2001 Convergence paper “why artists must program“; Michael’s 2001 paper on Expressive AI; Mary’s 2002 re:load collection.

    As to the machine for manifestos, the group blog itself, yes; recall in the early months of the blog in 2003, some of us explicitly laid down a few position statements and tried to get focused discussions going, such as the artist programmers discussion; my I Can’t Get No Satisfaction post (that I referred to in the symposium last week); Michael’s meaning machines post, Noah’s “this is not a game” post, and so on. We’ve done less of this as time has gone on, but I often find it useful to link back to those “foundational” posts, that are always present in my mind.

    Perhaps I’ll build some sort of index to some of the more key posts we’ve made over years.

  4. Scott Says:

    Erik C has a point. A lot of movements claim not to be. Nevertheless, I think we’re more of a blog community than anything else. I tried to say during our talk at Irvine that I think of GTA as a “persistent presence” in my scholarly and creative life, a sort of marker that I’m referring to, five other people who I know I can consult with. I don’t necessarily have the same goals or orientations as those five other people, but their presence motivates me, and I remain interested in what they are doing and what they think about computers and culture.

  5. michael Says:

    I agree that we are not promulgating a movement in any traditional sense (like not having a single manifesto that we all subscribe to), but, like Andrew, I do think we have more unity than a group of friends who happen to blog together. We’re all practitioner/theorists. I don’t agree that practice always comes first, but we all make things that are often theoretically informed, and we all theorize about what we make. There are themes that unite various, overlapping, subsets of the group, with the union of the themes covering everyone. I’m thinking of themes like computational expression, writing and textuality, games and culture, generative content, code and culture, new media history, fringe media.

    I wouldn’t want to have to spend too much time trying to unify this overlapping set of themes into a statement on “The Grand Text Auto way of life”. I think it’s been much more productive for us each to carry on with and write about the projects that interest us, and enjoy the fruitful group discussion that emerges out of whatever secret affinity it is we all share.

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