Code Words Day 2, with Stephanie Strickland and Ian Hatcher

Blog post by Liza St. James

Students arrived early on Monday, many to assemble booklets using the SFPC printer and papercutter, others to experiment with the Commodore 64, play with code works in progress, and hang out until class time. When it was time to get started Nick passed around some blank sheets of paper and had everyone write down at least one question — technical, philosophical, or otherwise — that we hoped to “answer” this week. He took all our questions and posted them on the whiteboard, encouraging us to add more as they came up, so that our questions could serve as a kind of shared archive.

Next we jumped into our first student discussion session, wherein five students volunteered to share new work in progress created during Code Words. Szenia Zadvornykh went first and shared a poem that sparked a discussion of Descartes and the homunculus among other things. Of the work Szenia wrote “For my first code poem I wanted to create a simple script that would generate a meaningful output within a limited number of iterations. I started with the classic statement ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Having a program print this statement is somewhat ironic, assuming the ‘I’ refers to the program itself. Does the program think? With this in mind, I started populating and curating a list of verbs that relate to computing in general, or this program in particular. The program always prints the original statement first. Each iteration, the first verb carries over to the next line, and a new verb is selected. It always ends with ‘think,’ looping back to the start.”

Eitan Wilf presented what he called a “diseased poem” based on Theo Lutz’s Stochastic Texts next, of which he wrote, “Having little background in programming, I took Lutz’s code and tried to think of two normally incongruous semantic fields that the code could bring together to create a potentially jarring and interesting effect, this against the backdrop of our discussion in class re how to tap into the complexity that readers bring with them to computer-generated poetry.”

Augusto Corvalan presented “Manual (for the Library)” for which, “The base text was cherry-picked from a translation of Borges’ Library of Babel. The code derives all possible permutations of each sentence and then (using numbers present in the story) blanks out every nth word in an attempt to mimic the structure of Borges’ library — full of permutations but ultimately devoid of meaning in the noise.”

Next Kavi Duvvoori presented a poem taken from his booklet of which he wrote, “I have been thinking recently about the way text flickers back and forth between being data and social language, between processing and reading, in much digital literature, and wanted to use the opportunity to play with this alternation. So I generated a grid of text from repetitions of the phrases ‘OHELLOHHI’ and ‘ILIEHIDE’ (selected in part because their letters can combine into unusually many short words) and then produced six mathematical transformations, one for each page of the booklet, on this grid of text: inverting, cycling letters, and even simulating Conway’s Game of Life — another exploration of complexity arising from simple rules. Visual patterns and phrases then emerge from the grid of letters. In general I like to work within specific constraints, and this idea of generating a booklet from a tiny program felt very generative, an opportunity to explore ideas substantially in just one day.”

Students presenting work. Photos by Vinicius Marquet

Then Stephanie Strickland read with Ian Hatcher from her work, including from Vniverse, from “Duels — Duets,” a collaboration with Nick Montfort, Sea and Spar Between, from Slipping Glimpse, from The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, True North, and from a new book, Ringing the Changes, a code-generated project for print based on the ancient art of bell-ringing. The two also showed and read from their own collaborative project House of Trust, based on the early code poem “House of Dust” we’d discussed on Sunday.

Ian Hatcher and Stephanie Strickland. Photo by Vinicius Marquet

Next we took a break. During the break people traded booklets, ate, went outside and discussed Westbeth among other things. It was a nice, cool night, and we realized we could open the windows in the classroom instead of keeping the fan on.

When we returned to class, Stephanie and Ian offered us seven “oblique prompts.” Each prompt involved corresponding examples of different kinds of existing poems and ways we might choose to use them as points of departure for our own. We went through these examples together, from considering a mountain called simultaneously Ghost Mountain and Devil’s Mountain, which served as the setting for Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Donna Haraway’s ideas of kinship to Buckminster Fuller’s explanation of vector equilibrium to Maria Damon’s visual texts, Regina Pinto’s Viewing Axolotls, Joseph Cornell’s Casseopia box, and the Annapolis Capitol Gazette’s blank opinion page on June 29, 2018. As part of these examples, Ian read to us from his poem Drone Pilot in an incredibly fast computerized voice. In total, this discussion of examples led us to questions around the difference between “space” and “place,” what it means for an artwork to create space versus take up space, and how digital poets negotiate the temporal nature of the medium.

The prompts for Tuesday were:

Develop an image-concept as you understand it. Abstract, but full of feeling. Perhaps in light of the goal of a haiku, revealing a world-detail for what it is. As always, it is often good to find collaborator/s to work with, if you wish.
Make something more-than-human, other-than-human,inhuman. Create a new name for someone, or something, trapped inside a name invented for them by a politics of exclusion.
Computation has many ways to be more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman. How could it relate to human-as-humus or soil, informational crumbs? How might one develop a project in the spirit of making new kindred or kin? Would you want to collaborate?
Develop one of these three: dancing letters, generated text, a short narrative hypertextual circuit; OR, if you wish, do so in a way that emphasizes or enforces slowness, or a weird way to wait.
Develop a piece as a comprehensive anticipatory design scientist, designing for collapse, where collapse is just a period in which things are changing faster than usual.
Make a place or space of intense visuality — perhaps thinking in particular of the generating frame or generative node.
Develop a piece to ponder, evoke, or explore migration, of any kind.
Create a work that evokes what “speechless” means to you, or to you and your collaborator/s. It does not have to be about grief. What keeps you from speech of any kind — code or text?