Writing Shiva

Over the past two weeks I have been publishing a twitternovel called 'Shiva' (@SciFiBaker), in 14 parts, 10 tweets per 'set'. I wrote it partly because of my interest in the literature of constraint, such as that prouced bhy the OuLiPo group (Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino and others) who devised arbitrary constraints (Perec's A Void lacks the letter 'e') or mathematical processes as compositional tools: the constraint itself was intended to be generative, to produce an imaginative response.

This was the way I approached writing the text. I had been writing an article about science and literature using the idea of 'bifurcations' found in dynamic systems in physics, an idea drawn from the work of Ilya Prigogine. I originally used this back in my MA dissertation in the early 1990s, in writing about William Gibson's 'Sprawl' trilogy of cyberpunk novels, but returned to it after I found references to Prigogine in the work of Manuel de Landa, who sutures together Prigogine's ideas about far-from-equilibrium systems with Deleuze and Guattari's concepts about bodies and flows.

Deleuze and Guattari are taken up by Mark Amerika in his remixthebook, a rather ecstatic paean in praise of the potentialities of new media for remixing as a cultural practice. I found the writing of remixthebook exhilarating, as it becomes a kind of Whitmanesque prose-poem, full of repetitions and hallucinatory recombinations, and seemed to offer an original path for critical writing that parallelled by own experiments in 'Iterative Architecture'. However, I still remain unconvinced by the political/ resistance potential offered by remix practices.

The question that struck me as I was writing the article, part of which considered 'literature machines', was: what if HAL narrated 2001: A Space Odyssey? In his essay 'Cybernetics and Ghosts', Italo Calvino tries to think what an Artificial Intelligence would produce as a writer, and suggested that it would eventually begin to challenge traditional literary forms and produce new ones of its own. This informed what I tried to do with 'Shiva'.

In writing it, the 140 character limit for Twitter proved to be a generative constraint: in trying to narrate from the point-of-view of an intelligent machine (one who acts in loco parentis), the text resolved itself as a series of Imagist 'poems', the connections between them not always narratively driven but through association, memory, thought/ emotion. Form and content became interconnected; the disjunctive, spare writing it produced was generated by the need to strip away all redundancy, to use each word carefully. It made me think differently about writing, and about how poetic effects (and forms) could be used even in critical writing. For me, it was a very interesting critical/ creative experiment, and I hope to do more with it (a 'graphic novel drawing upon Tom Phillips's A Humument, perhaps).

'Shiva' is available here as an archived 'book'.


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