06 January 2008

Computer Literacy?

I read on Southern Review of Books that a Russian publisher is releasing a novel that was written by a computer. Evidently, a group of philologists and software folks collaborated to write a program known as PC Writer 2008.

The result? To quote the Southern Review: “The basic story line of what the publisher claims is the first computer-generated novel, conditionally titled ‘[True love]*.wrt’, is the love story of Anna Karenina’s main characters. The action takes place on an unknown island in times similar to the present. The book is written in Haruki Murakami’s manner, while the style is based on the vocabulary, language and literary tools of 13 Russian and foreign authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

This reminds me of an idea I had back in college, circa 1980. My friends and I were playing a lot of Scrabble back then, and one of my buddies was a computer programmer. We also fancied ourselves poets, or at least hung out at poetry readings. My idea was this: to take all the words created in our Scrabble games – and only these words – and then write a computer program that would generate poetry from that limited allotment of vocabulary. We would program the computer to “write” so many lines with pre-determined (and varying) noun/verb/adjective patterns, and to incorporate meters. I fancied the result would be a sort of Found Poetry, with maybe a bit of Dada flavor. These would be our Scrabble poems.

Okay, so it isn’t a great Russian novel. Heck, I never even wrote the program (or rather, worked with my programmer friend so that he could write the program). But it was a fun idea, and here we are, almost 30 years later, with a variation on the computer-writer theme.

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