While infinity is an intimidating concept to many, truly infinite literature is actually abundant, can be conceptually simple, and often is formally easy to understand. Nick Montfort will describe properties of infinite (or, to phrase it differently, “boundless”) verbal art, ranging from oral verses through postmodern print literary examples and into digital media. Montfort will focus on verse — poetry which, when composed, is “turned” into lines in some typical or unconventional way. Some of the works discussed are most often considered prose fictions, but, as they are infinite, they exhibit at least one verse-like turn.
Montfort will begin with simple loops of language. Even this formally “simple” type of infinite verse, easily understood in terms of how its infinity is accomplished, includes a wide variety of verbal art, e.g., the folk chant “Pete and Repeat” (included by Bruce Nauman in the video installation Clown Torture), “Frame-Tale” by John Barthes, and Finnegans Wake. The next type of infinite verse considered will be endlessly repeating generated lines, stanzas, or other structures of language, of which there are many digital examples. These include creative text generators from the 1950s and 1960s that could produce an arbitrary number of lines; there are also more recent examples from Montfort’s own work, as seen in the set Concrete Perl (2011),the series ppg256 (2007–2012), and the poetry generator Taroko Gorge (2009). Also, infinite verse can be produced through transformations of infinite sequences. Examples of this type are much more sparse, but Montfort’s 2013 Round provides one. Finally, there is verse which is fractal (endlessly self-similar). This sort also has not been widely explored, but an example is found in Marko Niemi’s c. 2006 “Midwinter Night’s Dream.”
Montfort will conclude his survey with some practical, simple explanations of how anyone — whether they have previous programming experience or not — can easily begin to productively experiment with the composition of different types of infinite verse, using no more than an networked notebook computer, a Web browser, and a text editor.
Nick Montfort studies creative computing of all sorts and develops computational art and poetry. In the past several years he has published several computer-generated books of poetry, beginning with #! (Counterpath, 2014). His digital projects include Taroko Gorge and the collaborations The Deletionist and Sea and Spar Between. His MIT Press books, collaborative and individual, are: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities, and The Future. He is professor of digital media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lives in New York.
About The INSIDE/OUT Lecture Series
The INSIDE/OUT series offers historical, theoretical and critical discussions about subjects and themes from numerous creative fields, including art, architecture, design, fashion, film, music and performing arts. Organised by Professors Simon Morris and Rob Shail from the Leeds School of Arts, the series offers a platform for internationally recognised practitioners to come and talk about their ideas and work. Events are open to all.