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.