@godtributes by @deathmtn

Open "@godtributes" by @deathmtn
Open “@godtributes” by @deathmtn

Poetry is traditionally conceived as a refined, patterned and stylised language produced by skilled writers and orators. Not so for twentieth-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. His highly influential and counter-intuitive philosophy, encapsulated in the dictum “language speaks man”, suggests that poets do not make poetry, but poetry poets. It is not a question of self-expression, but of “listening” for language’s “call”. According to Heidegger, this “call” takes us beyond the “mortal” towards the “heavenly”, “the Unknown One”, “god”. I wonder, then, what he would make of @godtributes, a charming little Twitter bot that “listens” to your tweet and “calls” it out back to you, transformed into an (ir)reverent tribute to an incidental, aleatoric deity.

This is @godtributes’ first tweet, from June 2014. Since then, it has produced tens of thousands of tweets, presenting holy offerings every three hours at random from the Wordnik database. The syntax remains constant, but there are occasional alterations of the preposition (‘BULL-PUPS UNTO THE BULL-PUP GOD’) and, more interestingly, of the object of exaltation itself (‘ROCKSLIDES FOR THE ROCKSLIDE QUEEN! DUMB-WAITERS FOR THE DUMB-WAITER GODDESS’). It’s curious to note the equivalence of regent and deity in this latter tweet. Our preference – should we have one – is no more for an earthly or a heavenly monarchy than it is for rockslides or dumb-waiters, and this is the beautiful thing about @godtributes. The all-caps idiom, the Orcish, MS Paint-style avatar (a very cool touch courtesy of artist @metroidbaby) and the inherently random bot medium itself contribute to a gleeful and glorious flattening of its supposedly reverential intentions. The Heideggerian call bursts forth as a barbaric yawp at the digital frontier.

But @godtributes really comes into its own once you follow it, as it responds sporadically to your tweets by jamming your nouns into its own venerational syntax. For my part, its immediate echoes (delivered via smartphone notification) mock my desire for favourites and retweets (a very mortal appetite) and make me chuckle and take comfort in my own insignificance. Weirdly – and whether by accident or design, I don’t know – this is also one of the major functions of metaphysical speculation, perhaps even religious belief.

If, as poet Kenneth Goldsmith suggests, the internet is the greatest poem ever written (a claim, in its own way, at least as extravagant as Heidegger’s), then it follows that all language online is poetic and, moreover, that it is poetic because it is online and not because someone (a human, let alone a ‘poet’) has written it. Following this line of thinking, Heidegger’s phrase should be adapted for the contemporary era: the internet writes us. @godtributes is funny, beautiful and strange, because it writes us, as Heidegger puts it, “in the nearness of god.”