Poetry, Code and Literature.

In today’s literary criticism arises the concept that no general method for the solution of questions can be established which does not explicitly recognize, not only the special numerical bases of the science, but also those universal laws of thought which are the basis of all reasoning, and which, whatever they may be as to their essence, are at least mathematical as to their form.

 The most common mathematical approach of literature is of a statistical nature and is used to quantify the different aspects of a work of literature. That way some linear models could be distilled to reproduce certain literary phenomena. Binongo & Smith wrote on this subject “The availability of computing devices and the proliferation of electronic texts (the so-called ‘e-texts’) in centers for literary and linguistic computing in major universities have encouraged non-traditional applications of statistics. With the drudgery of computation and text encoding diminished, research in the field of computational stylistics is accelerating. In it is shown how projections onto the Cartesian plane of 25-dimensional vectors related to the frequency of occurrence of 25 prepositions can distinguish between Oscar Wilde’s plays and essays. Such an application illustrates that it is possible to find unusual and intriguing examples of how statistics can impinge on unexpected territory”.[1]

The second approach to literature is the structuralism approach that was defined by Simon as “the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture”[2]. Structuralisms believe that everything that is written has to be governed by specific rules, or a “grammar of literature”, that one learns in educational institutions and that has to be unmasked[3].

Both approaches fail to provide a clear conception of the interdependence of the parts of the literary system where all parts are connected and react to each other. It seems, therefore, as if, for a complete and rigorous solution of the problems relative to some parts of the literary system, it were indispensable to take the entire system into consideration.

There is a growing degree of mathematization in literary criticism. Take the rejected master thesis of Kurt Vonnegut about the six basic plots in literature wherein he stated that “stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper”. It connects with my own research about literary criticism that I’ve called “Synthetic Literary Criticism”. This method is intended to indicate a concrete, positive description of moving equilibria, oscillations, and secular change, by a method which presents all of the interrelated literary quantities in a synthesis of simultaneous, real equations.

A noteworthy newcomer is code poetry; literature that mixes notions of classical poetry and computer code. Unlike digital poetry, which prominently uses physical computers, code poems may or may not run through executable binaries. “Black Perl” is a code poem written using the Perl programming language. It was posted anonymously to Usenet on April 1, 1990, and is popular among Perl programmers as a piece of Perl poetry. Written in Perl 3, the poem is able to be executed as a program.

BEFOREHAND: close door, each window & exit; wait until time.
    open spellbook, study, read (scan, select, tell us);
write it, print the hex while each watches,
    reverse its length, write again;
    kill spiders, pop them, chop, split, kill them.
        unlink arms, shift, wait & listen (listening, wait),
sort the flock (then, warn the "goats" & kill the "sheep");
    kill them, dump qualms, shift moralities,
    values aside, each one;
        die sheep! die to reverse the system
        you accept (reject, respect);
next step,
    kill the next sacrifice, each sacrifice,
    wait, redo ritual until "all the spirits are pleased";
    do it ("as they say").
do it(*everyone***must***participate***in***forbidden**s*e*x*).
return last victim; package body;
    exit crypt (time, times & "half a time") & close it,
    select (quickly) & warn your next victim;
AFTERWORDS: tell nobody.
    wait, wait until time;
    wait until next year, next decade;
        sleep, sleep, die yourself,
        die at last

Code can speak literature, logic, mathematics. It contains different layers of abstraction and it links them to the physical world of processors and memory chips. All these resources can contribute in expanding the boundaries of contemporary poetry by using code as a new language. Code to speak about life or death, love or hate.

It has its own rules (syntax) and meaning (semantics). Like literature writers or poets, coders also have their own style that include – strategies for optimizing the code being read by a computer, and facilitating its understanding through visual organization and comments for other coders.

Where do you think the study of this new approach to literature will lead us?

 

[1] A bridge between statistics and literature: The graphs of Oscar Wilde’s literary genres, Jose Nilo G. Binongo & M. W. A. Smith, pp. 781-787

[2] Barry, P. (2002), ‘Structuralism’, Beginning theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory, Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp. 39–60.

[3] Selden, Raman / Widdowson, Peter / Brooker, Peter: A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory Fifth Edition. Harlow: 2005. p. 76.

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