My feelings in the use of my name are as tepid as my feelings for the guts of the work itself. I don’t mind that someone’s project has attributed some algorithmically produced poem to my pen. Not a bit – in fact, it raised my eyebrows and led to some questions as I looked over the ‘featured’ poets’ names. And for many, this is where the project begins and ends. What I tried to articulate on the listserv was a vague interest in the concept of gravitas assumed through an authorial name and the historical contexts which accompany those names. In theory.
The writing itself is, I’d guess, arbitrary and from what I’ve read incidental to the production of the work and whatever reasons lie behind it. This sets it apart from a conceptual work such as Kenneth Goldsmith, much of whose work one would not be expected (KG himself says this) to read through in any conventional sense, such are the weighty tomes produced through the procedure – and this is the basis of many criticisms of his work. However, love him or hate him, Goldsmith’s work relies on the context of carefully chosen source materials, the types of texts they are, where, when and how they were produced and mainly consumed, in order to parse the conceptual makeup, and this sets these works apart from pure arbitrary reordering. His are conceptual projects, mainly freely available as well as buyable, and ignorable if one is so inclined.
I feel there is no such luxury with this piece, whose presence automatically implicates the work of other poets from a huge variety of backgrounds. The presence of this as online product is significant – it has, in a relatively short space of time, been picked up by the Google bots, whose indiscriminate acceptance of linguistic stuff has cemented these poets’ ‘works’ firmly into your searchnodes. [this and the following paragraph edited based on comment about flarf]
With neither a source agenda nor a real sense of conceptual motivation behind this work I find little appealing in it’s content save for a passing thought in the vein of authorial contexts as above. I may not care about the use of my name, but then, my name is little affected by its inclusion. I think the work is mainly harmless, but I also understand there are certain complexities with certain authors (especially the dead ones) and those investigating poets online – which has in recent years become a far more viable and useful way to mine information and access materials. Aside from this less than useful potential obstruction (which is admittedly pretty minor – people should be checking their online sources, yaknow) this work is, well, irrelevant. Perhaps this is foregrounded in the fact that most discussion has been about rabid angry and not so angry reactions from authors regarding the uses of their names. There is not really much else to discuss. The fairly lame reactions of the editor seem to attempt defense, yet the work was screaming for reaction from the get-go, and once you bring in real, actual names in the way this publication has done, you have no choice but to accept the input – the constructive or destructive criticism – of those authors, whether or not you agree with them.
I find myself wanting to defend algorithmically produced works to the death, but sometimes they’re a lost cause. Works by John Cayley investigate language in relation to algorithms which explore visual qualities, perspectival calculations, layers, etc.1 . J B Wock and the News Reader and Regime Change texts of Noah Wardrip-Fruin filter blog and news language respectively and rework it in ways which look forwards and backwards – backwards onto their sources texts, forwards into their construction of contextually and linguistically interesting montage texts. Etc etc. These are essential directions for algorithm texts, and show how the use of arbitrary systems ad mappings of algorithms onto language in certain, thoughtful situations can in fact charge them and foreground them in thoroughly unique ways. When the language is ignored both semantically and conceptually, you’re not left with much but about 3000 grumpy poets sending you emails and leaving angry comments.
Which is essentially what the 4000 poems represent. Not much, except a fairly reasonable thorn in the side for some poets.