Let’s get meta!
Known as N+7, this mode of procedural writing was popularized by the Oulipo group, an attempt to divest creative expression of two hobgoblins that haunt the modern age: the myth of the muse-touched creative genius, and the equally debilitating reductivism of the Freudian unconscious. N+7 circumvents these fictions, these stories, these—what “stories” under N+7 become—straightjackets. N+7 celebrates the random, valorizing the lack of what artists, writers, and intellectuals often seek in their work: control. It is a yielding, a submission—not to the muses, not to genius, not to dreams and desires, but to the world beyond us. It is pure engagement with the outside world.
The results of N+7 would seem absolutely nonsensical, if not for the disruptive juxtapositions, startling evocations, and unexpected revelations that ruthless application of the algorithm draws out from the original work. Consider the opening substitution of Hacking the Academy, sustained throughout the entire book: every instance of academy is literally an accident.
I’m no literary scholar. But what I am interested in are the ways deeper patterns can sometimes be seen through machine lenses (and in particular, topic modeling), and I think that the Oulipo group might’ve been on to something (just ahead of their time). So, I scraped every paragraph from the last 10 posts of Play the Past, via its RSS feed (which took me back to November 29 2011). I searched for 15 topics, and then mapped the interconnections between paragraphs by topics:
So: it’s time to choose your own adventure. If you click on http://j.mp/AADmUS you can follow the tangled web of ideas and text. What happens when you playfully read Play the Past?