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About automatic writing and autocomplete: the poetics of technology

April 24, 2019 @ 8:00 pm - 10:30 pm

Writing and reading are no longer the exclusive right of the paper. For most authors, their practice is intimately intertwined with software and a networked infrastructure. What does it mean to consciously include this technological context in the literary creation process? How does the use of code – active or passive – change the notion of literature? What happens to the status of the author? And the role of the reader?

On Thursday 25 April, Passa Porta organises an evening of debates on these topics, starting with a lecture by Allison Parrish, and continuing with a debate by Zaineb Hamdi and Cecilia Verheyden. The event was sponsored by DHu.F.

Lecture: Allison Parrish

‘Lose Control:’ from Automatic Writing to Autocomplete

“Automatic writing” refers to a process in which the human body is made to produce writing, without apparent effort or conscious awareness. Psychologists study automatic writing to better understand how mind affects muscle; creative writers use it to circumvent writer’s block; surrealists practice it to recover a repressed primal consciousness; spiritualists use it to communicate with the dead. At first glance, the practices of automatic writing and computer-generated writing—the former focused on physical bodies and the unconscious, the latter on abstraction and algorithms—appear to be polar opposites. In this talk, I argue that computer-generated writing is, in fact, a clear continuation of automatic writing’s tradition. Starting with a discussion of the experimental composition practice of Gertrude Stein—herself the author of several scientific studies on automatic writing—I show that the creative practice of computer-generated writing approximates the dissociative experience of traditional automatic writing, working to avoid (as in Stein’s stated goal) “the things everybody is certain of seeing, but which they do not actually see.” Further, I argue that computer-generated writing, as a variety of automatic writing, produces artifacts that draw critical attention to the materiality of writing technologies and their surrounding physical and social context.

About Allison:

Allison Parrish is a computer programmer, poet, educator and game designer whose teaching and practice address the unusual phenomena that blossom when language and computers meet, with a focus on artificial intelligence and computational creativity. She is an Assistant Arts Professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, where she earned her master’s degree in 2008. Named “Best Maker of Poetry Bots” by the Village Voice in 2016, Allison’s computer-generated poetry has recently been published in Ninth Letter and Vetch. She is the author of “@Everyword: The Book” (Instar, 2015), which collects the output of her popular long-term automated writing project that tweeted every word in the English language. The word game “Rewordable,” designed by Allison in collaboration with Adam Simon and Tim Szetela, was published by Penguin Random House in August 2017 after a successful round of Kickstarter funding. Her first full-length book of computer-generated poetry, “Articulations,” was published by Counterpath in 2018.

Debate: Zaineb Hamdi and Cecilia Verheyden

Instagram Poetry and Online Direction

Young writers today also use software and networked technology without actively programming. Poets Rene Oskam and Zaineb Hamdi, for example, publish their poetry on instagram and have a virtual reading audience. For wtFOCK, the director Cecilia Verheyden created a story world that only exists online. In the second part of the programme we will discuss the forms that virtual texts can take and the specific work processes of an instagram poet and online director.

A video recording of the evening’s debate can be found here.


April 24, 2019
8:00 pm - 10:30 pm
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Passa Porta
Antoine Dansaertstraat 46
Brussels, Brussels 1000 Belgium
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