September 19th, 2011 / 10:29 am


I have been paying attention lately to the work of Adam Parrish, who teaches occasional courses on programming as it applies to creative writing at NYU. I have not taken this course, but would love to hear from anyone who has. I have been interested lately in the idea of using programming functions as aids to writing fiction and poetry. Some of my recent work has explored the aid of small scripts to randomize and change variables over constant frequencies.

Of the works I’ve found perusing the course site, one of my favorite examples is a piece called “4 Obstructions to a Mulligan” by Sofy Yuditskaya, one of Parrish’s students, along with the script used to obstruct.

1: text.generate()

The Buck Mulligan is a natural phenomenon having been explained

by competent men as pawns. Let them go and fight the Boers. Old

Whatwhat. I called about the vulnerable point too of those

sausageeating bastards on the rocks , he said calmly. An Irishman must

think like that the world they lived in Fetter lane near Gerard the

herbalist , who when dying in exile frees and endows his slaves , with

sunken eyes , rather bunged up : and held his peace. –I see , Mr

Dedalus snarled. That Mulligan is a heaven.

2: Concordance

Stately , plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead

and lathered cheeks and neck. Buck Mulligan ’s gay voice went on. –My name is

–My name is absurd too : Malachi Mulligan , two dactyls. But it has a Hellen,

Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror.

–to shave with care. –Tell me , Mulligan , Stephen said quietly. –Yes ,

going to stay in this tower ? Buck Mulligan showed a shaven cheek over his rig,

his guncase ? –A woful lunatic ! Mulligan said. Were you in a funk ? –I was,

if he stays on here I am off. Buck Mulligan frowned at the lather on his razor,

dirty crumpled handkerchief. Buck Mulligan wiped the razorblade neatly. Then

–Our mighty mother ! Buck Mulligan said. He turned abruptly –

your dying mother asked you , Buck Mulligan said. I ‘m hyperborean as much as

loud groaning vomiting. Buck Mulligan wiped again his razorblade. –Ah,

enough, Stephen answered. Buck Mulligan attacked the hollow beneath his

grey. –He can’t wear them , Buck Mulligan told his face in the mirror. Etiquette

in the Ship last night , said Buck Mulligan , says you have g.p.i. He ’s up in

the skivvy ’s room , Buck Mulligan said. It does her all right. The

looking-glass of a servant. Buck Mulligan suddenly linked his arm in Stephen

at night. –Then what is it ? Buck Mulligan asked impatiently. Cough it up. I

asked. –Yes , what is it ? Buck Mulligan answered. I do n’t remember anything

after my mother ’s death ? Buck Mulligan frowned quickly and said : –What

who was in your room. –Yes ? Buck Mulligan said. What did I say ? I forget. –

more engaging rose to Buck Mulligan ’s cheek. –Did I say that ? he asked,

o my mother. –Of what then ? Buck Mulligan asked. –Of the offence to me , St.

Stephen answered. Buck Mulligan swung round on his heel. –O , and

called loudly : –Are you up there , Mulligan ? –I ‘m coming , Buck Mulligan and

none .

3. Generate context

Mulligan , the same time , the same time , the same time .

4. Mu!

much mutch mutsch mud mudd mulligan mum mumm mumme musch mush mut

I have been wondering how the literary community views these techniques. (Or, for that matter, the engineering community.) Does a reader feel a bit cheated? Are you really reading the feelings/thoughts of a person? And if not, does it matter? Is the process more interesting than the result?

My answer to “Are you really reading the feelings/thoughts of a person?” would be that you are reading the feelings/thoughts of a person, but on a more holistic level than traditional literature. A writer manipulates global constraints while allowing the details to occur via the algorithm. The process of revision happens by small tweaks in the constraint.

In a way this is a clashing of fields. There is an elegance and beauty to software that engineers can see, similar to the beauty a mathematician sees in Euler’s Identity. But is there a new kind of ego involved now in attaching the script to the work in order to draw attention to the process? Is the artistic merit of a process at all relative to the merit of the art it produced?

Personally, I find the works produced interesting, and often kind of beautiful, in and of themselves. For me, these techniques share a likeness to musical composition. It gives writers a new kind of control over aspects in writing we don’t often think about, such as randomness, over-repetition, rates of change, dissonance (obfuscation), melody (narrative). Programming becomes useful when an artist wants to repeat patterns and/or change patterns over frequencies.

Regardless of the merit of anything produced, I think Parrish is doing some pretty interesting things and opening questions about how digital technology can interact with the creation of text.

Last thing, a video Parrish made that demonstrates the level of randomness in a constant text dump controlled by a footpedal…


Darby Larson’s short fiction has appeared in Caketrain, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. His first book, The Iguana Complex, was published by Mud Luscious as part of their Nephew Imprint. His second book, Irritant, will be published by Blue Square Press in 2012.

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