Gallery of Books for Programmers of Computer-Generated Texts

You may or may not know that behind the scenes of this blog, as well as reading, there’s a lot of writing going on, in a sense. I’ve previously posted on generating text to edit into books. There aren’t any books that I know of that are about or directly relevant to this writing method. However,  in this gallery I want to show some books that I’ve found stimulating. Most have little or nothing to do with programming. All are annotated at the bottom. Click to view.

Incidentally, observant readers of this blog may have suspected that a post or two may have been generated and edited. My software tool doesn’t work well with small source texts, but sometimes I like to conduct trials for new code mods. I shall neither confirm or deny anything!

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Thistle Books (and Alba Musick) in Glasgow: Gallery

Until December last year, I’d always assumed from online reviews that Thistle Books was too small to take seriously. It seemed unlikely that there could be much to a bookshop that shared its premises with a music bookshop. For a long time I also managed to walk past it without realising. I recently overcame these errors to find an intelligently stocked gem. Thistle is one of those shops that comes up with things you’ll rarely see on the secondhand market. It also comes up with things you’ve long considered exploring. Although there are lighter reads, Thistle’s USP is affordable gravitas. Here’s a glimpse inside:

I have secondhand bookshop days out in Glasgow. My first stop is always Kelvinbridge. There’s a range of bars and cafés where you can browse your purchases. The easiest route to Thistle is to go to Kelvinbridge Subway, cross the bridge, head for Otago Street, and it’s 2 minutes walk down there. Crucial point: look for the signed alleyway on your left. See my old post about secondhand bookshops in the area for more gen. After Thistle, I go to the nearby and equally excellent Caledonia Books – gallery forthcoming. Here’s a map:

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André Breton and the First Principles of Surrealism by Franklin Rosemont


A rare find, so if you come across one while in a secondhand bookshop, take a look. I’ve kept my eye open for Surrealist texts for years and finally got lucky at Bookcase, Carlisle. A strange thing: a browse for this book on Abe reveals loads of them have identical sunning on the cover to my copy. Marvellous and uncanny?!

This is a companion volume to a well-known collection of Surrealist texts called What is Surrealism? The latter was edited by Rosemont, so it’s easy to assume that the former is a dry and academic set-by-step guide. What you’ll find instead is a passionate insider’s account.

Rosemont was a friend of Breton’s and a founder of Surrealism in America. And he was every bit as abrasive as his French hero. In this volume he attacked what he perceived as various groups of critics, artists and academics who were making careers out of a movement they failed to understand. He charged rival movements with misrepresentation, particularly Existentialism.

However, Rosemont’s partisanship is equally evident in his lack of criticism. He didn’t tackle the near absence of women in the group’s self-promotion. Nor did he question the sexual objectification of women in Surrealist art and literature despite writing his book in the midst of a prominent and rising feminism in his home country. Then there is his survey of Surrealist groups outside of Europe that reads like a package tour in which you’re barely off the bus before you’re back on it again.

But for all the shortcomings, Rosemont gives a clear, structured, and concise history. The book emphasises how the movement was a revolutionary one steeped in Marxism without being Marxist, shot-through with Freudianism without being a form of psychoanalysis, and inter-twined with the French Communist Party without subscribing to it. The popular idea of Surrealism is that it was a load of weird paintings, especially those by Dali. The word Surreal is usually used to denote something slightly odd. Rosemont shows how superficial these myths are.

He explains the theoretical underpinnings and developments. He sets the founders, adherents, dissidents, and part-timers in their chronological and geographical context. Curiously, despite Breton’s avowed and supposed inflexibility, there is a strong sense that his allowance of Dali, Picasso and Duchamp to come and go as peripheral members was often a concession to raise the profile of the group.

Above all, dialectic recurs throughout. Hegel’s spirit haunts the book as Rosemont tackles dualisms such as art and everyday life, each time pointing towards their boundaries collapsing. Indeed, the transformation of life through art is an ideal that’s been lost in the public imagination, not only of Surrealism, but as a whole. Art has arguably become the very bourgeois spectacle that Breton abhorred. The outlook given in the book suggests that Breton would horror at today’s professionalisation of creativity that uses Surrealism to keep its audience in its place with ‘education programmes’.

It’s hard not to feel sad about how a literary and art movement became co-opted into the bourgeois entertainment industry. On the other hand, that co-optation can at least be evidenced as something that changed as a result. For it’s also tempting to see Surrealism as little more than a bourgeois entertainment beneath a veneer of revolutionary rhetoric and theory. Neither Breton nor Rosemont explained how poetry readings in salons and expensive consumer items in galleries improve anyone’s living conditions.

But then, magical thinking is often a central feature in art and literature. Surrealism was exemplary in this with its obsessions over occultation. And that is Rosemont’s achievement. He successfully championed Surrealism’s marriage of convenience between magical and whole-system thinking that is almost entirely absent in today’s market-driven and social-agenda arts that cage everything in their path with knowing scare-quotes.

Posted in Art, Literary Criticism, Non-Fiction, Reviews, Rosemont, Franklin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hoax by Fay, Chester and Linklater


£3 from Olivers in Whitley Bay. Sweet scent of vanilla from the lignin decomposition. Book found by proprietor after asking for books about forgeries.

Hoax is the story of Clifford Irving’s infamous attempt to fabricate and pass off a Howard Hughes autobiography as the real thing. The authors were Sunday Times journalists, and in similar fashion to Philby, has that 1970s newspaper sensational quality. This added to the period feel. Howard Hughes was a huge public figure, hence he was a lucrative target for a publishing scam.

Irving had already primed himself. He’d written a biography of the colourful art forger, Elmyr de Hory. He later wove into his pitch to McGraw Hill that he’d sent a copy of Fake! to Hughes, who apparently loved it and enquired as to whether there was a Hughes biography planned by anyone. The hook was in.

The forgery itself was eased by Hughes’s reclusiveness and eccentricity. Irving enlisted Richard Suskind as his researcher. He also enlisted artist friends to help forge written letters. And as with the Hitler Diaries, there was an audience and publisher whose hunger for the product was strong enough to overcome doubts.

Most of the material was cribbed from existing archives and an unpublished manuscript fleeced from James Phelan. As the book progressed, Irving was pressed for proof that his interviewee was genuine. This is the point at which I would have to get into plot spoilers.

I’m less interested in giving a review of this specific book than some thoughts on the kind of book it is. It’s a kind of morality tale about public interest. So, as with Philby, there’s plenty of censure of Irving’s character. In fact, the more he’s portrayed as a failed author, the more his escapades make apparent how simplistic such an account is. And then there’s the salivation over getting the kind of potential riches that the book’s subject, Hughes, had as the inheritor of an oil industry portfolio and as a Hollywood director.

It’s all rather yesterday’s news. Yet when compared with the minutiae of the lives of the over-abundance of public figures today, the tale is on a grand scale. How strange that a recluse unwillingly attracted monumental attention that the social mediati would kill for.

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When Optimism is Truly False: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay


Endless beautiful prose and laughter at folly for only £5 from Oxfam in Southside, Edinburgh. 

Charles Dickens wrote only one of the 85 leaders published about railway mania. He viewed free markets as the best way to achieve expansion. When the new Royal Exchange building in London was opened, Charles Mackay wrote extensive coverage of those same railways: ads, meeting reports, and reprints from other publications. While the overwhelming majority was swept away by investment mania, Mackay recalled the South Sea mania and Mississippi madness from the last century.

While Mackay and his allies tried blocking legislation, open access to the rails was there in the law, and he saw in this a free market solution and difficulty. He claimed that though private companies were expected to build and operate railways, after any crisis, they would probably turn over everything to the government. In most cases, it appears the British public at the time of the railway mania in the 1840s was at an almost complete loss at any criticism of investment.

The mania is covered by Mackay along with other great investment delusions. The public cannot recover its senses due to a blindness, what Mackay identified as a fatal defect of the crowd. He noticed how free traders had been getting more and more enthusiastic and active: most people involved in ventures seemed to be blinded by them. The pressure of capital causes disruption of financial markets. Then share prices start to decline. No cause for decline was ever assumed. Nor did it have to be investigated. There were no calls for Parliamentary committees or other bodies to look into the issue, not even to debate it. The low railway share prices continued throughout the 1850s, corresponding to poor financial performance. When the crisis finally arrived, it was a crisis that was relatively minor compared to the four previous and famous great investment manias charted by Mackay!

The earlier manias involved real capital investment that was cherished by the ruling elite, and yet did not provide enough control over the operations of the new infrastructure so that it became neglected in a way that was ultimately unaccountable. Some financial affairs, such as the Tulip Mania or the South Sea Bubble, and involved astronomical valuations, demanding much more money from shareholders than the real values. The fundamental problem of industries is that their new projects need to be profitable. Yet despite repeated recommendations, there was not even a hint of concern that new projects were in danger of being almost uniformly ruinous, or that new burdens would be imposed by their financial operations. On the one hand, investors were willing to support, in a limited way, governments setting conditions. On the other hand, there was substantial growth in coverage of investments in the news – the ultimate pressure to form a crowd.

Mackay was one of the most ardent cheerleaders for the future. Yet he also provided space and occasionally even positive words for anyone opposing the manias of their day. Anyone feeling a reason for keeping quiet could rightly feel from his words that a departure from unrestrained enthusiasm for private enterprise could be a genuine desire. Financial issues that are not easy to understand could be cause for more than just a technical concern. Mackay was one of the first to connect these issues to public interest in the name of the public good. He was, after all, one of the best informed people in Britain. The history and status of Extraordinary Popular Delusions is in its continued global relevance.

Posted in Authors, Culture, History, Mackay, Charles, Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Italo Calvino and the Style of a Literary Automaton

What would be the style of a literary automaton? I believe that its true vocation would be for classicism. The test of a poetic-electronic machine would be its ability to produce traditional works, poems with closed metrical forms, novels that follow all the rules. In this sense the use so far made of machines by the literary avant-garde is still too human. Especially in Italy, the machine used in these experiments is an instrument of chance, of the destructuralization of form, of protest against every habitual logical connection. I would therefore say that it is still an entirely lyrical instrument, serving a typical human need: the production of disorder. The true literature machine will be one that itself feels the need to produce disorder, as a reaction against its preceding production of order, a machine that will produce avant-garde work to free its circuits when they are choked by too long a production of classicism. In fact, given that developments in cybernetics lean toward machines capable of learning, of changing their own programs, of developing their own sensibilities and their own needs, nothing prevents us from foreseeing a literature machine that at a certain point feels unsatisfied with its own traditionalism and starts to propose new ways of writing, mining its own codes completely upside down. To gratify critics who look for similarities between things literary and things historical, sociological, or economic, the machine could correlate its own changes of style to the variations in certain statistical indices of production, or income, or military expenditure, or the distribution of decision-making powers. That indeed will be the literature that corresponds perfectly to a theoretical hypothesis: it will, at last, be the literature.

Italo Calvino – The Literature Machine


An earlier version of the cover.

I’m currently looking for some quotes to preface my upcoming semi-automated Donald Trump book. I notice how Calvino stresses formal aspects of literature here. And yet he imbues his envisaged literature machines with feelings and needs. There is a leap in this from mechanism to experience.

There is, he reminds us, an historical difficulty in giving accounts of who or what the ‘I’ is in authorship. There is also an obvious rule-boundedness to human activities. The author he projects between these poles is aware of his death as an author because he is conscious of his machine-likeness.

I like the hybridity to that. And the not professing to know what that altered consciousness will be, where it will reside; nor is there the sense that the eternal symbiosis between humans and tools will change, even if it changes in ways hard to fathom.

The observant visitor may have noticed that that the Trump book was originally going to be set in an imaginary Calvino world!

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Multiple Narratives In and About Virginia Woolf

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‘Pack of Woolfs’ – Digital Composite

Sometimes it is better to let an author speak for themselves, which is why I have included some long quotes from Virginia Woolf’s novels. Having only recently re-read both Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse the choices for January are limited. ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ I read this many years ago, and always remembered it fondly, so it has been real. However, The Waves has the ramblings of the narrator. Not one of my favorite points of Woolf’s novels. Ramblings aside, it is also the narrator’s inclination for prose that is most similar to Between the Acts, though for me, it had none of its beauty. Though Woolf’s writing is, as always, reason enough to read the book, I found the slight tendencies towards the meaning and purpose of life, of work, of war, of relationships, all very well and good, but as well, now having read more from Woolf, I can agree with many others that Between the Acts is one of her more accessible texts. The structure of reality is not only the world of men and women: the opportunity has come for the dead poet to emerge from Woolf’s novels most fully formed.

“I have torn off the whole of May and June,” said Susan, “and he will not come. It is for that that I love him. Bernard is a storyteller.” Susan was keen to put in the course of her paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but she do not look for her in the life of May and June. She said “Twenty whole days of July: I have torn them off and screwed them up so that they wrinkle and shrivel. For hours, being here and there exactly at the right moment will make me crack. If I am out of the train and stand on the platform at six twenty-five then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions will seem real.”

Her characters were so of London, of course, a particular love of Woolf’s, and she writes that it maybe frustrated her as a writer. Despite her best efforts, its cast was also her audience. The wind of London carried the words of her actors, but away, and before they reached her audience, so that only random words and phrases would reach their destination. Thus London was a move both towards and away from the impressionistic, stream of consciousness style of her most famous works such as To the Lighthouse. Her audience would ponder over the meaning.

The structure of Mrs Dalloway was such that in the world of the novel, the feeling of meaning is almost like the creative act of writing itself. It was published in May 1925, and was an example in which she explores the various members of a family: who will marry, die, those who have always been poor, and not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. So money, according to her own unique way, in simple terms, makes the book tell the story of a life.

In Waves, we follow her characters only through the eyes of each other. Between the sections of soliloquy which chart each stage of these characters’ lives, childhood, school, young adulthood, middle-age, are brief interludes. These interludes, which might describe, say, a coastal scene, will have each one depicting a different time of day, from sunrise to sunset. I found these interludes to be strangely poignant. They add to the feeling of connectedness between human beings and the natural world, the ebb and flow of life:

“The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over one another as they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled like the backs of great horses.”

With each of the characters, their thoughts and experiences become rather meaningless, as there is no opportunity to become invested in them. The Waves and Orlando must have been incredibly difficult novels to write about the inner life of women. Writing was often like a body she wore that stopped at the present moment. It was now. Ourselves. So that was her little game!

Perhaps we need to give a history on her unhappiness, and that, Feminists do kill joy in a certain sense: they disturb in a very subtle way the character and relationship, not only with other people, but the world in general. The outlook was and is one of empathy that the writer shows for her own gender as well as the male, and the subtle sarcasm and the loss one feels strongly, that empathy for she who is misunderstood by the doctor. The history of mens opposition to women’s property, as she points out, was about the generous endowments to colleges for the further education of males.

Waves is certainly not as conventional as The Voyage Out or Night and Day. Its prose is dissimilar to Between the Acts, which had a compelling story and characters as well as beautiful writing. While The Years certainly has its moments, there is a lack of room, just as in A Room of One’s Own. Woolf cites myriad interruptions that women in fiction experience; her talk about female authors is a talk about women who are like the thud of a great beast stamping. Woolf’s prose is glorious, there is a rhythm and flow which I read with self-doubt.

It is a doubt mirrored by her as an outsider who seeks acceptance. Her writing is one of the plight of women in Britain and the writer is one who shows in her own gender as well as the male, the subtle sarcasm in people and their way of life. The prose, of course, is just wonderful; vibrant and very much, far more than I expected. The beginning and the end are my favourite sections!

But the style and treatment of her material may have been, and very much seems to be, a world away from the dry marshalling of beginnings and endings. She cites as a reason for the unimpressiveness of their relation to each other our relation to reality; it is with the sky, and the trees, or whatever it may be able to write down in stories. The use of point of view in narrative makes her one of the greatest writers the English language has ever produced.

The above article is a multiple narrative entirely composed from words in the following blog posts. Much respect to the respective bloggers for their unwitting role and, most importantly, their enthusiasm for an author whose work has exerted an important influence on explorations of textual plasticity in writing.

Virginia Woolf & Self-publishing at Jennifer Menninger

Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own at Lady Fancifull

Review: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf at Drink Coffee and Read books

All in a summer’s day… (#woolfalong) at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings



This Unseizable Force at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Book Review — The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf at Evilcyclist’s Blog



The Waves – Virginia Woolf (1931) at heavenali



Posted in Authors, Culture, Literary Criticism, Literature, Woolf, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments