Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Stunning, Sleazy, or Stupid? Meet The Deletionist

Anyone interested in the poetics of erasure should explore The Deletionist, a browser app promising to transform any mere document into a Humument. Go to the Deletionist page and drag the icon onto your browser's bookmark bar. That installs the code. Thereafter clicking on the Deletionist bookmark will create an erasure poem of whatever webpage you're viewing. Above is an example from a recent Ann Coulter column.  

The Deletionist is the creation of Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul, and Nick Montfort. As they explain,

"The system is deterministic — there is no random element. The Deletionist chooses a method of erasure based on the properties of the Web page. So, for static pages, you can share a particular result with others by simply sharing the URL, and their loading the page, as with your reloading it, will produce the same result. However, if the page changes, the system may change its method of erasure."

As far as I can gather, the algorithm searches for certain kinds of lexical and syntactic rhymes in the page's text. In the example at top, it uses alliteration. At the bottom of this post is an output riffing on indecision: um, er, yea, no

This is interesting because, as usual, there's nothing wishy-washy in Coulter's prose. The Deletionist must be sensitive to the bigrams "um" and "er." The instances in the dark gray bar come from anncoulter.com's menu bar choices of "Forum" and "Twitter." Below that, "No" and "er" are from the article's date, November 27. 

The Decisionist transformed another recent Coulter column into a poem focusing on numbers, and another to a riff on "to be or not to be." There is thus some considerable range to its output.

As someone who has been playing Tom Phillips' game for a while, I can say that this parallels the way a human creates an erasure poem. The challenge is to look past the author's meaning and see constellations of fragments. I count it as a rare victory when I find a word like hispanic—Coulter uses it repeatedly—that I can truncate amusingly to panic.

Like everything else, The Deletionist is best considered a beta release. I think it points to a future in which stochastic, post-Fluxus poetry/collage/cut-up will increasingly be algorithm-aided.

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