I am not a replicant

The book is a medium. It is valid to put anything into a book. You can put anything into a book and call it literature, or poetry, or fiction. Idiomatic speech, email spam, bad grammar, confused tense, jargon, aleatoric writing, nonsense, machine errors – all these have been allowed entry. The old rules have been broken down to one: the only criteria a poem needs to fulfil to be a poem is that it is called a poem, either by a poet or by society.

Now that the barriers have been exposed as holograms, the text world can seem disconcertingly limitless, even pointless. It is not impossible to create a computer programme that can write a poem. No doubt it will reside in the uncanny valley, but it is conceivable that there will be a point where we can’t tell the difference between a certain type of poem or fiction written by a human and one written by a computer. If in the future robots will be writing poetry to each other, what kind of literature will the human race be writing and reading?

Firstly, we must look at the possibility that robotic texts may be created for and read by us. This isn’t very exciting, though. What would be the point in reading a story written by a robot? It would be a mundane trade-off if after the death of the author he was replaced by a robot impostor. This possibility – the robot author – shows up the impossibility of the death of the author. Without the author there is no point in reading a piece of fiction or a poem. Without the author literature is no longer a form of communication, but unnecessary bureaucracy.

So do we close the doors and change the locks on literature? Ban the found text, the aleatory, the flarf, the idioms? Do we make literature a closed community? Rather than attempting the impossible and regressive task of trying to purify literature perhaps we ought to recognise the function of the author and the reader. In doing that I believe we will come to realise that it is the human social relations that are facilitated by activities like poetry and storytelling that make those activities worthwhile and that human social relations are less obscured when not mediated by technology. Of course, the book is a technology and it’s not just the internet or computers that I’m referring to here, but the digitisation of culture means we will inevitably value the non-digital – the post-bit atom – more and more.

Should we leave the production of internet content to bots and small talk? In the past, the internet was a new, exciting world, one that was full of possibilities. That world still exists, but perhaps the new, exciting world is the one away from our screens, the embodied world, the world that robots would only struggle to replicate.

I am not a replicant, but the only way I can prove that to you is if we meet face to face, in a less mediated reality.

Having so long prophesied The Death of the Theatre, the prophets have woken to find themselves writhing in the coils of a problem rather closer to home: The Death of the Newspaper. What a reversal of fortune! If the free market is indeed the moral courtroom that its admirers claim, then what a judgment is being visited on Fleet Street. What a pack of failures the editors must be! No artistic director of a theatre could survive such a plummeting loss of income and popularity without being sacked by their board. Surely it must be, according to those iron laws of the market which newspapers have done so much to propagate, that consumers are today buying fewer newspapers because those newspapers are poor products. The people writing for them must be no good at writing.

Punk

Everything is punk at some point, it seems. Looked at from a certain angle anything could be described as punk. Punk rock, cyberpunk, steampunk, salvagepunk. It’s endless. There’s probably progpunk somewhere. Military industrial complex punk…

So it’s a marketing word. But one that still has a sliver of meaning, an aftertaste that’s very… something. When used as a suffix it’s purely ornamental, but when used on its own it has vague connotations of being rough and ready, DIY, who-gives-a-fuck.

And there are punk videogames now, of course. Of course there are. No More Heroes director Suda51 describes his games as punk and refers to his videogame production company as a band. His videogames are unconventional, but they aren’t sloppy or abrasive. They aren’t telling the audience to fuck off.

Indie game designer Cactus, on the other hand, is telling his audience to fuck off. Sort of. He’s not spitting in their faces, but he is demanding that they work things out for themselves, challenging them to cope with confusing game mechanics and harsh graphics. He titled his GDC presentation ‘Abusing Your Players Just For Fun’ and used the word punk to describe what he and like-minded game designers do.

I’m not going to critique his games as most of them are unfinished and the best ones (like Minubeat) aren’t punk, but instead simple and straightforward. I do have problems with this word “punk”, however. Punk has had a long history and has been picked up by many different people for many different reasons. I understand why indie designers use it, as they are usually solo artists in opposition to the sprawling teams of the big, multimillion dollar devolopers, and it speaks to their individualism. But for me, it’s such a hollow husk of a word. Something that might have once seemed revolutionary makes me think of neoliberalism and marketing jargon. In short, it’s a 20th century word. A 20th century word used at a time when indie videogames would do best to cast aside the remnants of the 20th century and make something brutally new. I suppose that is a rather punk rock thing to do, but just take away the “punk” and the “rock” and I’ll be happy.