Issues of authorship, creativity, and revision in algorithmic cut-up literature

Submission Type

Paper

Start Date/Time (EDT)

21-7-2024 2:15 PM

End Date/Time (EDT)

21-7-2024 3:15 PM

Location

Algorithms & Imaginaries

Abstract

Stemming from avant-garde experiments of the 1920s – such as Tristan Tzara’s method “Pour faire un poème dadaïste” [To Make a Dadaist Poem], in Dada Manifeste sur l’Amour Faible et l’Amour Amer [Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love] (Tzara, 1921), or André Breton’s surrealist experiments with collaboratively fold-ins, known as “cadavres exquis” [exquisite corpses] – the cut-up method, popularised by beat writer William Burroughs, challenges neoclassical notions of authorship and originality. For cut-up theorists, “all writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overhead” (Burroughs & Gysin, 1978: [91]) that results in “an intersecting network of many texts spliced, crossed and merged” (Lydenberg, 1987: 46). This collaborative sense of authorship has been especially appealing to the digital sensibility of recent decades and the so-called emergence of “the posthuman” (Hassen, 1977).

Since the 1960s, there have been many computer experiments to automatically re-combine existing sources and generate random or probabilistic texts without the subjective input of human composition (Funkhouser, 2012: 245). Some authors have also been using automated cut-up machines “to cure writer’s block and inspire creativity” (Cramer, 2001-2024), either by engaging directly with algorithms or crafting manipulated outputs through manual revision.

This paper engages with how such man-machine interactions pose complex issues of authorship, creativity, and revision, which cannot be dissociated from recent discussions about “exploitative practices” of AI developers “in building chatbots that ‘mimic and regurgitate’” some writers’ “language, style and ideas” (O’Brien, 2023).

References

Tzara, Tristan. 1921. “Dada manifeste sur l’amour faible et l’amour amer”. La Vie des Lettres, 4, pp. 434-443. (Quoted from: Tzara, Tristan. 1963. Lampisteries Précédées des Sept Manifestes Dada. Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, pp. 53-76).

Burroughs, William S.; Gysin, Brion. 1978. The Third Mind. New York: The Viking Press.

Lydenberg, Robin. 1987. Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs’ Fiction. University of Illinois Press.

Hassen, Ihab. 1977. “Prometheus as Performer: Toward a Posthumanist Culture?”. The Georgia Review, 31-4, pp. 830-850. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41397536

Funkhouser, Christopher. 2012. “First-Generation Poetry Generators. Establishing Foundations in Form”. In Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts, ed. Hannah Higgins and Douglas Kahn. University of California Press, pp. 243-265. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv114c7b3.21

Cramer, Florian. 2001-2024. https://www.languageisavirus.com

O’Brien, Matt. 2023. “Sarah Silverman and novelists sue ChatGPT-maker OpenAI for ingesting their books”. https://apnews.com/article/sarah-silverman-suing-chatgpt-openai-ai-8927025139a8151e26053249d1aeec20

Bio

Elsa Pereira is a contracted researcher at CLUL, School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, where she has been teaching in the Textual Criticism Programme. She graduated from the University of Porto (Lic., M.A., and Ph.D. in Romance Literatures and Cultures) and has worked as a Post-doc fellow of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. Her research interests lie in Portuguese literature, with a focus on textual studies and scholarly editing. CV: https://www.cienciavitae.pt/portal/en/3F16-87B6-5794

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Jul 21st, 2:15 PM Jul 21st, 3:15 PM

Issues of authorship, creativity, and revision in algorithmic cut-up literature

Algorithms & Imaginaries

Stemming from avant-garde experiments of the 1920s – such as Tristan Tzara’s method “Pour faire un poème dadaïste” [To Make a Dadaist Poem], in Dada Manifeste sur l’Amour Faible et l’Amour Amer [Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love] (Tzara, 1921), or André Breton’s surrealist experiments with collaboratively fold-ins, known as “cadavres exquis” [exquisite corpses] – the cut-up method, popularised by beat writer William Burroughs, challenges neoclassical notions of authorship and originality. For cut-up theorists, “all writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overhead” (Burroughs & Gysin, 1978: [91]) that results in “an intersecting network of many texts spliced, crossed and merged” (Lydenberg, 1987: 46). This collaborative sense of authorship has been especially appealing to the digital sensibility of recent decades and the so-called emergence of “the posthuman” (Hassen, 1977).

Since the 1960s, there have been many computer experiments to automatically re-combine existing sources and generate random or probabilistic texts without the subjective input of human composition (Funkhouser, 2012: 245). Some authors have also been using automated cut-up machines “to cure writer’s block and inspire creativity” (Cramer, 2001-2024), either by engaging directly with algorithms or crafting manipulated outputs through manual revision.

This paper engages with how such man-machine interactions pose complex issues of authorship, creativity, and revision, which cannot be dissociated from recent discussions about “exploitative practices” of AI developers “in building chatbots that ‘mimic and regurgitate’” some writers’ “language, style and ideas” (O’Brien, 2023).

References

Tzara, Tristan. 1921. “Dada manifeste sur l’amour faible et l’amour amer”. La Vie des Lettres, 4, pp. 434-443. (Quoted from: Tzara, Tristan. 1963. Lampisteries Précédées des Sept Manifestes Dada. Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, pp. 53-76).

Burroughs, William S.; Gysin, Brion. 1978. The Third Mind. New York: The Viking Press.

Lydenberg, Robin. 1987. Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs’ Fiction. University of Illinois Press.

Hassen, Ihab. 1977. “Prometheus as Performer: Toward a Posthumanist Culture?”. The Georgia Review, 31-4, pp. 830-850. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41397536

Funkhouser, Christopher. 2012. “First-Generation Poetry Generators. Establishing Foundations in Form”. In Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts, ed. Hannah Higgins and Douglas Kahn. University of California Press, pp. 243-265. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv114c7b3.21

Cramer, Florian. 2001-2024. https://www.languageisavirus.com

O’Brien, Matt. 2023. “Sarah Silverman and novelists sue ChatGPT-maker OpenAI for ingesting their books”. https://apnews.com/article/sarah-silverman-suing-chatgpt-openai-ai-8927025139a8151e26053249d1aeec20