A few weeks ago I published/launched @BotCarrion, a Twitter bot that reimagines Ulises Carrión’s The New Art of Making Books from 1975. @BotCarrion is the product of the Advanced E-Lit Criticism and Authoring course at DHSI 2015. Aside from Sandy Baldwin and Dene Grigar, I have much to thank Aaron Reed for the tutorial he led on the really awesome tools with which I built the bot: Tracery a tool for writing generative grammars developed by Kate Compton, and Cheap Bots Done Quick by George Buckenham. (This tool combo is also the basis of fascinating bots like @unicode_garden and @infinitedesertsamong many others).
[If you know nothing about Ulises Carrión. These are two good overviews in English: Mónica de la Torre’s Ulises Carrión’s The Poet’s Tongue and Donna Conwell’s Personal Worlds or Cultural Strategies].
I have been working with Carrión’s ideas for a few years now. I’ve been especially interested in his work dealing with post-literatures—or as I usually explain this to my students: literature that “ceases” to be literature (in a conventional sense of text) due to the expressive (iconic or symbolic) material conditions that embody it, but is still literature. His ideas on the book ring very closely (in my head at least) with contemporary conversations on literature and software, literature as data, literature as media, and meaning making beyond language (visual, sound). Unsurprisingly, his work was largely deemed antiliterary and only been rediscovered recently when Tumbona Ediciones put out a fantasticthree volume collection of his writings in Spanish. Worth noting is that some of them had never been translated from their original in English, which Carrión adopted as a writing language in the mid-seventies.
I had been toying with the idea of building an Ulises Carrión bot for a while. I especially wanted to draw on his “Structure” and “Model” poems to do it, but the results of my experiments were always too “bot-y.” They didn’t sound like Carrión at all and I couldn’t incorporate the aspects of his diction that I wanted to highlight: the half-manifesto-half-prophecy-maybe-it’s-a-joke tone a lot of his works feature. Still, I insisted and continued to experiment with this because I think Carrión’s work is extremely relevant in conversations dealing with electronic literature and other digital arts, media studies, DH, etc. However, Carrión is still largely unknown in these fields, at least in the English speaking academia—and thus I’m hoping @BotCarrion can make a bit of outreach work for the artist and theorist that inspired him. This is why, even when The New Art was first published in Spanish, I chose to take the English language version published almost simultaneously as the bot’s basis.
In the month since its publication @BotCarrion has been producing really interesting combinations of tweets that both seem to align well with Carrión’s moving-target views in The New Art and others that completely turn them upside down. In that sense, I’m pleased to say that the bot hints at a relocation of Carrión’s creative concern of negating and countering himself.
A few examples:
In the new art, plagiarism is not always an intention where nothing happens.
— Bot Carrión (@BotCarrion) June 18, 2015
In the new art, a text may be always an intention , which is irrelevant to the book.
— Bot Carrión (@BotCarrion) June 20, 2015
In the new art, poetry is a bag of words , knowing the alphabet is enough.
— Bot Carrión (@BotCarrion) July 12, 2015
Other than good luck, the reason why this seems to be working so well at times is the combination of elements I input into the Tracery generative grammar: 1) cherry-picked verbatim quotes from the essay (like “the accidental container of a text”); 2) the elements he defines in the essay like reading, text, book, poetry, writer, etc.; 3) the “operators” that serve as a +/- hinge: is, is not, may be, may not be; and 4) the initial refrains “In the new art” and “In the old art.”
The random combination of this means that sometimes there are tweets with two or three negative statements, which again play well with Carrión’s own creative contradictions. I especially like the effect of the refrains and how much they add to the tone of the tweets—in the same way they do in The New Art. Similarly, the length and punch (even if its nonsensical) of the tweets is not unlike that of Carrión’s dicta. Similarly, playing with the +/- hinge, the variations of to be, are the basis of the contradiction of Carrión’s ideas, and thus the assertion of them as well. All that said, @BotCarrion produces a lot of really bad tweets. But as always with Twitter bots, I can only hope the good ones make up of the rest.