This trio of bots by Mark Sample present riffs on three of the most famous poems of the early Twentieth Century: William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say,” and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” The bots generate new versions of the poems by randomly altering most of the open word classes while keeping the basic syntax, meter and lineation intact, tweeting a new mutation once every two hours (though at the time of writing @DependsUponBot has been inactive since December 2014, for reasons unknown —editor’s note: it has now resumed operations). To my mind, the pleasure of these bots’ tweets lies in the discrepancy between the familiarity of the syntactical structure and the limit-case absurdity of the randomly generated content. For example, the sublime juxtaposition Pound presents the reader –
Slightly modifying the “cut-up” technique of Dadaist and Modernist writers in her digital work, “Blue Hyacinth,” Pauline Masurel encourages her readers not to destroy the original four poems, but rather jumble them together, stir them up, and weave them in a way that shares in the creative process of generating an individualized text. By presenting “Blue Hyacinth” as a stir-fry work (using Jim Andrews’ “Stir Fry Texts” framework) that allows readers to reflect on the original poems, Masurel is changing the author-reader relationship. Masurel ensures that readers become extensions of herself by encouraging readers to manipulate her writings and fashion a text that becomes less a traditional example of poetry and more a collaborative piece shared between individual reader and writer. With “Blue Hyacinth,” Masurel crafts a space where traditional print culture roles fade and are replaced by their mutable digital counterparts. Never once just a reader or an author, those that encounter “Blue Hyacinth” are able to exercise a semblance of autonomy that is novel to texts within the digital medium.
At face value this bot seeks solutions to what many call “the crisis of the Humanities” by offering “tips on how to stop the crisis in the humanities. Real solutions!” Its operation is conceptually straightforward: it completes a sentence template that begins with “To save the humanities, we need to” and then completes the sentence, I imagine with the results of a search in Twitter for tweets that contain “we need to” or “we must.” This creates grammatically correct sentences that offer solutions that vary in their fit or appropriateness. For example:
These two bots are based on the concept of snowclones, which are a linguistic phenomenon best described by Erin O’Connor in her wonderful blog and resource “The Snowclones Database.”
A snowclone is a particular kind of cliche, popularly originated by Geoff Pullum. The name comes from Dr. Pullum’s much-maligned “If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z”. An easier example might be “X is the new Y.” The short definition of this neologism might be n. fill-in-the-blank headline.
Fill in the blank mnemonic phrases? This is ripe for a bot treatment.
The three bots reviewed in this entry all carry out essentially the same technique– they create a tweet based on the juxtaposition of material from two different sources– yet produce output that feels quite different. The reasons for this are partly thematic, partly due to the data source, and partly because of the way the join the juxtaposed elements.
An important early bot that uses this technique is Ranjit Bhatnagar’s @Pentametron, which retweets iambic pentameter tweets joined by end rhyme and creating surprisingly cohesive and occasionally humorous couplets. Juxtaposition is also a poetic technique that became prominent with Modernism and is a central strategy in Ezra Pound’s poetry and poetics. This entry will analyze “Two Headlines” by Darius Kazemi, “Dreams, juxtaposed” by Allison Parrish, and “And Now Imagine” by Ivy Baumgarten.
This bot takes Tweet-sized snippets of text from movie reviews aggregated in Rotten Tomatoes, identifies nouns in the subject position, and replaces those with the names of right-wing pundits who appear regularly on the Fox News Channel, attaching the ironically intended hashtag #PraiseFOX. The bot was created essentially as joke for the politically charged comedy show The Colbert Report, as a reaction to the news that right-wing media had staff dedicated to refuting anything threatening to their ideological point of view, as explained by Stephen Colbert in the clip below.
These two bots generate responses to questions that have such subjective answers that no number of responses can really satisfy anyone, but do so in thought-provoking and amusing fashion.
“Is it art?” explores the challenge to the art world posed by the readymade Dada sculpture “Fountain,” attributed to Marcel Duchamp. His gesture of sending a standard urinal to be displayed in galleries as an art object, with a title and signed “R. Mutt” was very controversial and provoked questions about the nature of art. This bot is on an endless rant on the artistic or not artistic nature of different things, making statement such as:
Am I the only one who thinks transactions are not art?
— Is it art? (@IsItArtBot) June 12, 2014
This bot is “@thricedotted’s twittercat,” a virtual pet that interacts with them and its followers by doing the things cats do. Sometimes it meows or purrs, sometimes it describes actions, such as “*leaves dissected animals on the front step*” and
*gets into trouble* =^.^=
— glitch[FETA] ~(=^‥^) (@storyofglitch) June 12, 2014
These tweets occur on a seemingly random timer, but you can always get a reaction by interacting with it. For example, if you follow it on Twitter, it will follow you. If you address it, it responds.
This bot is “brute-forcing an episode from [Thomas Pynchon’s novel] Gravity’s Rainbow” by tweeting the words “you never did the Kenosha kid” with different punctuation every two hours. The bot description links to a Language Log entry that explains the episode– basically about a man who, under the effects of sodium amytal, goes on “an obsessive meditation on alternative possible analyses of the six-word sequence ‘you never did the kenosha kid.'” Inspired by the algorithm described here, Darius Kazemi created a bot that seeks all the possible combinations of that word sequence with punctuation (and appropriate capitalization). The result is a tour-de-brute-force of different syntactic structures and meanings that can emerge from this simple string of words. Try reading the following tweets out loud.
This bot tirelessly carries out a task too large for it to complete within a human lifetime: it explores an idea posed by Jorge Luis Borges in his story “The Library of Babel” of an infinite library full of books that contain a different combination of 23 letters and punctuation marks. “Each book contains four hundred ten pages; each page, forty lines; each line, approximately eighty black letters” (Schneider quotes Borges in the bot’s description). With this bot, Schneider illustrates the concept of this library via Twitter’s own constraints by tweeting 140 characters randomly chosen from 23 alphabetic characters, punctuation marks, and spaces. The result is pure language noise. . . or is it?