In Wardrip-Fruin’s “Digital Media Archeology,” he chooses to discuss the beginnings of the generator system that seems to be most comparable to Mad Libs. By comparing the different strategies used by two men in love who wished to hide their, at the time, forbidden romance, Wardrip-Fruin helps to display a key example of the motivations behind developing such a complex system and the resulting generators seen throughout our modern culture.
Wardrip-Fruin begins his piece by discussing the history of the modern generator system, as well as providing a few key examples of this process. “Turing and Strachey were both gay, and at least Turing openly so, at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England,” leading to the necessary development of a hidden means of communication as well as an interesting form of love letter (Wardrip-Fruin 307).
After a lengthy summary of Turing and Strachey’s history, Wardrip-Fruin then chooses to discuss the actual process of the generator. The baseline for the vocabulary was “largely based on Roget’s Thesaurus,” which was then inserted into a pre-generated script following a set pattern with spaces for verbs, nouns, pronouns etc (Wardrip-Fruin 309).
Finally, the bulk of the piece comes in Wardrip-Fruin’s final point where he discusses the implications of such a generator system for creating literature, and if a generated script can even be comparable to prose or sonnets. According to some critics, the love letter generator was merely “a blunt parody of normative expressions of desire” (315), while some chose to view the Mad-Lib-esque system as “the first experiment in digital literature” (302). The questions he leaves us on is our understanding of what we can actually consider literature, and if a machine is able to produce it.
I don’t entirely understand the joy that Strachey and Turing were getting from their secret love-letters. They don’t appear all that clearly disguised or anything, and it’s not like they were creating them themselves, merely the system that was made for that specific purpose. While that in itself is a feat, it still doesn’t explain how no one caught on to such a poorly disguised ruse.
I also don’t entirely understand why any piece of writing is less literature than another. I have to agree with Wardrip-Fruin’s sentiment that this was an experiment in digital literature, but the critic’s ideas that this was some sort of mockery of the human language is in-of itself confusing to me.
Question to Leave On
What examples of this type of experiment in digital literature do we see in society today, especially with the spread of the Internet? What parts of these experiments would you even consider literature?