So how exactly is Python programming useful in creative writing? Parrish’s course doesn’t deal with artificial intelligence, or attempts at creating narratives or creating interactive hypertext or anything like that. It covers, for lack of a better term, procedural poetry. Typically, a student takes a starting set of text, writes a Python program to modify that text and then interprets the results.
Parrish cited non-electronic procedural poetry experiments as inspirations for the course. For example, he talked about Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes, a book in which the text has been cut into strips that can be re-arranged to create nearly endless configurations:
Parrish also mentioned Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets and David Melnick’s PCOET. Parrish didn’t mention them in his talk, but the course website also mentions Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ work with the cut-up technique.
Here’s a bizarre bioart project. It actually sounds like something out of one of his novels:
1: Take a glob of William S. Burroughs’ preserved shit
2: Isolate the DNA with a kit
3: Make, many, many copies of the DNA we extract
4: Soak the DNA in gold dust
5: Load the DNA dust into a genegun (a modified air pistol)
6: Fire the DNA dust into a mix of fresh sperm, blood and shit
7: Call the genetically modified mix of blood, shit, and sperm a living bioart, a new media paint, a living cut-up literary device and/or a mutant sculpture.
With Numan’s first album, Tubeway Army (‘78), it was already clear that Numan’s songwriting was concerned with the relationship between man and machine and what we would now call the post-human condition. It includes lyrics like “Me I’ve just died / but some machine keeps on humming / I’m just an extra piece of dead meat to keep running,” from the track “Life Machine.” Anyone listening to a lot of Gary Numan will notice that the word “me” figures heavily in his lyrics. The song “My Love is a Liquid” from the same album features the lines “can’t meet you face-to-face / There are no corners to hide in my room / No doors, no windows, no fire place.” In our times, this is a blatant comment on the way the internet mediates social relations.
Numan’s following album, Replicas (‘79), couldn’t be more drenched with prophetic visions of the internet and Facebook. The opening lines of “Me! I Disconnect from You” – in itself a charged title – are metaphors for botched Facebook relationships: “The alarm rang for days / you could tell from the conversations / I was waiting by the screen / I couldn’t recognize my photograph / Me, I disconnect from you” – the line about the screen doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the late ’70s, unless Numan was specifically talking about an imagined form of communication. It practically goes without saying that “disconnecting” from someone entails ending a Facebook relationship or, even worse, de-friending someone. It doesn’t even require analysis to see why the following track, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is rich with Facebook meaning. The track “You Are in My Vision” anticipates critiques of television by theorists like Marshall Mcluhan, Jean Baudrillard, and though not a theorist, naturally Cronenberg in Scanners and Videodrome, with its lines “Fade to screens of violence / Like a TV screen but silent / Where the victims are all paid by the hour.”
Someone in the comments points out that some of this isn’t as enigmatic as it seems:
most of his lyrical elements, especially in Replicas, were references to a dystopian science fiction novel he was writing but never finished. the ‘friends’ he talks are identical robots that could be hired and used for any purpose, and “the life machine” is about a comotose individual being sustained by a machine. it’s all quite directly inspired by numan’s favorite writers, and as such one could more perhaps more aptly say that william s. burroughs or phillip k. dick “predicted the future”. still interesting though. numan’s contributions to modern music and popular culture are woefully under-appreciated.
Science Fiction has no influence on the music, especially lyrically, and especially now. To be honest I only ever wrote a handful of songs that were remotely connected to Science Fiction and they were all nearly 20 years ago. The ‘Replicas’ album, or bits of it, one or two things on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and one or two things on ‘Telekon’. I would say about 15 songs, maybe 20, out of a total of well over 300 to date have anything to do with Sci Fi. I think because I became successful with electronic music, a newish thing 20 years ago, and a song called ‘Are Friends Electric’ (it was that song that launched me in the UK anyway) I was given a Sci Fi label that stuck long after I’d moved on to other things.
For the curious, via Song Meanings, here’s a bit from William S. Burroughs’s story “Astronaut’s Return” that is clearly referenced in “Down in the Park”:
Ugly snarl behind the white lies and excuses. [...]
DEATH DEATH DEATH
So many you can’t remember
The boy who used to whistle?
Car accident or was it the war?
The boy’s room is quite empty now. Do you begin to see there is no face there in the tarnished mirror?
Fantagraphics Books is proud to announce the acquisition of the only graphic novel written by — and possibly the last unseen work of his to be published — the innovative Beat writer and Naked Lunch author, William S. Burroughs. This lost masterpiece, Ah Pook Is Here, created in collaboration with artist Malcolm McNeill in the 1970s, will be published in the summer of 2011 as a spectacularly packaged two-volume, hinged set, along with Observed While Falling, McNeill’s memoir documenting his collaboration with one of America’s most iconic authors.
Ah Pook Is Here first appeared in 1970 under the title The Unspeakable Mr. Hart as a monthly comic strip written by Burroughs and drawn by the British cartoonist and painter Malcolm McNeil in the English magazine Cyclops. When the publication folded, Burroughs and McNeill decided to develop the project into a full-length, Word/Image novel (the term “graphic novel” had not yet been coined). Burroughs was 56 at the time, McNeill 23. [...]
John Stanley Hart is the “Ugly American” or “Instrument of Control” – a billionaire newspaper tycoon obsessed with discovering the means for achieving immortality. Based on the formulae contained in rediscovered Mayan books he attempts to create a Media Control Machine using the images of Fear and Death. By increasing Control, however, he devalues time and invokes an implacable enemy: Ah Pook, the Mayan Death God. Young mutant heroes using the same Mayan formulae travel through time bringing biologic plagues from the remote past to destroy Hart and his Judeo/Christian temporal reality.
SF: Given his influence on Magickal theory and practice (The Cut-Up, Third Mind, Dream Machine and his writing) who would you say was William’s largest influence? Crowley, Spare, none of the above?
JG: Pardon me but I don’t see many direct influences by William’s thought upon Magickal theory — the other way around, heavens, yes.
But Burroughs considered Crowley a bit of a figure of fun, referring to him as “The Greeeaaaaaat BEEEEAST!” in that behind-closed-doors, queeny comic delivery he used sometimes: his voice rising straight up in pitch, into an hysterical falsetto. You can hear it in lots of tapes, I’m pretty sure.
William knew quite a bit about Crowley’s life and work, and he certainly dug deep into the Necronomicon (anonymous but often attributed to Crowley) when it became available in a snazzy, black-morocco, tooled-leather hardback binding. He appreciated much about Aleister Crowley. Influenced by him? I don’t really see it. And to be truthful, I knew more about Austin Osman Spare than William did, in the beginning.
A new collection Brion Gysin’s work is appearing in the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.
But Laura Hoptman, the museum’s senior curator and the organizer of the show, said the departure in Gysin’s case made perfect sense because his work remains largely unknown to the American public and his influence — the kind that eluded him during his lifetime — now seems to be everywhere in the contemporary art world.
“I knew about him, and then six or seven years ago it felt like I started hearing his name from everyone,” Ms. Hoptman said. “I kept trying to figure out all the ways they had arrived at Gysin.”
Yony Leyser is a twenty-five-year-old filmmaker living in Chicago, Illinois, USA. He has directed several short films. After being kicked out of film school, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and began his passionate first feature film, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, about one of the most interesting icons of
the 20th century.
He also works as a curator, video artist and photographer, documenting people who are outside the mainstream of society. His photograph series have included Ida, a utopian transgender commune in Tennessee; Christiana, an anarchist village in Copenhagen; Kopi, Berlin’s largest squat, and naked bike rides in the US. His work has been shown work in galleries and theaters in Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, Paris,
Vienna and Los Angeles. Yony Leyser brings a more personal perspective to Burroughs’ legacy, examining the private versus the public personae of Burroughs and the effect this may have had on his most intimate self.