Essays in Romanticism

There Is No William Blake: @autoblake’s Algorithmic Condition

Essays in Romanticism (2016), 23, (1), 69–87.

Abstract

This article examines a Twitterbot I created in the summer of 2013 to automatically tweet lines of poetry that mimic the style of William Blake. What does it mean for a tweet to be Blakean? The question recalls Alan Turing’s famous test of artificial intelligence: how do we know when a machine exhibits intelligence? I explore Turing’s question with specific reference to the temporal structure of algorithmic loops and branches found in Blake’s poetry, the Markov-chain structure used to statistically generate natural language, and the auto-generated lines of poetry produced by my Twitter program. My article takes inspiration from Friedrich Kittler’s article “There is No Software,” in which he questions what writing means when automatic processes are increasingly mediating communication online. For me, Blake’s poetic syntax enables an analogous exploration in the field of Romantic literary studies: namely how we can understand the meaning of poetry and literature when it is computationally mediated and generated, a situation I call the “algorithmic condition.”

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Author details

Whitson, Roger