Friday, 4 July 2008

random scripture?

On the Guardian books blog, Andrew Gallix ponders Spam Lit and its literary forebears. The 3AM buzzwords blog has reposted the article entitling it Scriptures from the future, a phrase used by spam poet, Ben Myers. Gallix's article is a fascinating piece, not least because of the rich hyperlinks he has left for the reader to follow. Follow them is what I did. As I did, one word, "random" and its essence, "meaninglessness" kept on popping up. Here's a selection:

Disassociated press: "an algorithm for generating text based on another text. It is intended for transforming any text into potentially humorous garbage. [...] The algorithm starts by printing any N consecutive words (or letters) in the text. Then at every step it searches for any random occurrence in the original text..."

Word salad: "Word salad is a mixture of seemingly meaningful words that together signify nothing." Spammers for instance add "large amounts of random text somewhere in their message" in the hopes of getting through filters.

Markov chain: "An example of a Markov chain is a simple random walk where the state space is a set of vertices of a graph and the transition steps involve moving to any of the neighbors of the current vertex with equal probability (regardless of the history of the walk)."

Spoetry: "Here, perhaps, is the new poetry of the 21st century, a reinvention of language that pushes the cut-up technique of William Burroughs or the randomly generated 'liquid writing' of Jeff Noon's Cobralingus."

Automatic writing/drawing: "In automatic drawing, the hand is allowed to move 'randomly' across the paper. In applying chance and accident to mark-making, drawing is to a large extent freed of rational control."

Cut-up technique: "The cut-up technique, also known as fishbowling, is an aleatory literary technique or genre in which a text is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text."

Aleatory literary technique: "Aleatory means "pertaining to luck", and derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. Aleatoric, indeterminate, or chance art is that which exploits the principle of randomness."

Such randomness has strong connotations to the evolutionary theory of random mutations. Nevertheless, in all the above literary cases, the random element is subsequently exposed to an intense process of editing, i.e., the process of creating something out of "nothing", which brings in the God element. But then again, all the random elements above themselves are instigated by writer/programmer/spammer in question. The random rather is a result of a purposeful, creative energy desiring to see what can be achieved.

The flow thus goes: creator:random state:editor. In some cases creator and editor will be the same person, in others different people. Sometimes it is the creator that sets off the random state, other times the editor. That new things are created via the random state however, is the mystery. The mystery itself is hidden within the text, asking to be sought out, but always hiding in the random state.

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