Reading Response #9


In his piece, “Digital Media Archaeology,” Noah Wardrip-Fruin discusses that “Digital media are not simply representations but machines for generating representations.” (303) Wardrip-Fruin does this first by talking about Strachey’s checker-playing program and love letter generator. He focuses much of his article discussing the love letter generator in such a way that raises the question about what is considered literature. I think Wardrip-Fruin wants his readers to see his idea that digital media is not true literature because it lack creativity, personality, and lacks author interaction.


Wardrip-Fruin first begins his discussion about Strachey’s and Turing’s love-letter generator in order to explain that it was, “perhaps created the first digital art of any kind.” (303)This is important to his argument because he is talking about the history. The love-letter generator began the history of digital media. The system worked through a thesaurus-based entry and the output was often random, and rigid. The machine itself, Wardrip-Fruin describes as, “undertaken for enjoyment and to see what would be learned.” (306) suggesting that the love-letter generator was meant to be the start of a revolutionary movement of input and output machine-generated literature and/or media.


Next, Wardrip-Fruin continues his discussion surrounding the love-letter generator by explaining the importance of input and output as it pertains to the generator as a whole. “It is likely that this unpredictability is part of what amused Strachey and Turing, but we will only partially understand it, or any other aspect of the system, if output texts are all we consider.” (306) He explains that most people will only consider the output result of the generator instead of considering the input or the process before the generation itself. To me, this is an interesting way to look at the generator because, to me, it is suggesting that he is asking the readers to consider something more than just they physical words themselves. This is not the first time we have discussed something like this in class, looking at more than just the content itself, but it is the first time that we have really looked at the input of digital media. It seems to me that Wardrip-Fruin is suggesting that the input value of the generator affects the output value and, in fact, is more revealing than the output itself. It is as if Wardrip-Fruin is telling us that literature, digital media, digital literature, needs to be viewed from the inside to the outside. How the words process through the generator is important to whether or not the output can be considered literature. “The views of the generator that include its data and processes, as well as its output, are views that consider the work as a system. This chapter takes such a view as its starting point for interpretation—finding richness in the work unavailable to interpretations that focus only on the surface.” (307) He goes onto to say that these kind of texts are “inhuman” and that they can only be understood for value by consideration of the processes.


Lastly, Wardrip-Fruin discusses the combinational process of the generator in comparison to the modern mad-lib books. “As a linguistic process designed to fail spectacularly and humorously, through randomness, the love letter generator is certainly not alone. Perhaps the best known examples are the Mad Libs books, first published later the same decade by Roger Price and Leonard Stern. Like the love letter generator, Mad Libs are defined by process that fills in adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and verbs within given sentence structures.” (315) Warpdrip-Fruin suggests that the random placement of words into empty spaces by a computer generator is much like a mad-lib practice where the person giving the words is completely unaware of the context of the words themselves. To me, this suggests that Wardrip-Fruin is asking us to consider, again, literature. Can computer generated works be considered literature? Does a mab-lib qualify as literature because it is generated by a human? Is that so much different than a computer? These are interesting things to consider when reading this piece.


Not much confused me about this piece, although I thought some things were out of place. For example the list of adverbs, nouns, adjectives, etc. I did not really see a purpose for those to be there. Why were they there if the piece was not about explaining what each of those are? I was also confused by figures 14.1 and 14.2. I just do not see how including those are necessary to understanding his argument and I am unsure how they relate to his argument overall.


Some questions I would like the class to consider are some of the questions I have included above. What is literature? Can computer generated, random selection pieces be considered literature? Why? Why not?