Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary

In 2014, many years since I have seen any Shakespeare, I took the opportunity to see as many as I could.

Lear in Yolngu

The translation of culture was amazing. The story was told in Shakespeare’s English, pidgin, and Yolngu, and the story was of an elder who splits the mineral rights i of his land between his two daughters (sending the sensible one away with nothing)

On flight to europe,

The 300 (I know, not Shakespeare, but the Greek stories are the backdrop). It was quite a silly film, with way to much exposition, and I don’t think I learnt anything about Greek history or battle tactics.

Kurosawa’s RAN, a Japanese Lear – just as many minutes of expensive battle scene as the 300,but the film was an hour longer so there was much more time for story. It was much more complicated, and the wives and daughters and concubines had much bigger parts to play.

An English Coriolanus, set in a modern Rome which looks a bit more like Tripoli. From ancient Greek swords to medieval Japanese spears and muskets to modern tanks and machine guns, I watched three legends worth of fighting and killing, and being that they were all tragedies, just about everybody died in the end.

“if ever again I meet him beard to beard, he’s mine or I am his ”

The plane landed before I had time to see Anonymous : The Story of How Shakespeare May or May Not Have Been Francis Bacon, but I might get another chance.

In Copenhagen

there was the expected amount of Hamlet’s castle tourist business, but, well, the project wasn’t just about being a tourist.

In Ostrava

there was an actual Shakespeare festival – apparently there always is. The festival included a pro production of Hamlet, two hours long, almost certainly in Czech. I tried to go, but arrived right on time and was surprised to find that the theatre was full. We listened from outside the door for a while, but I didn’t wait for a dozen people to get bored and leave so we could get in.  I don’t speak Czech.
(photo of medieval guys in Ostrava here)

It hardly counts, but i found a DVD called Letters To Juliet. it was a romantic story about lost love hinging on Juliet’s house in Verona. it hardly counts.

Woolf Dostoyevsky

Do you want another reason why i love Virginia Woolf?
here she is writing about Russian Novels & Dostoevsky in particular

“It is all the same to him whether you are noble or simple, a tramp or
a great lady. Whoever you are, you are the vessel of this perplexed
liquid, this cloudy, yeasty, precious stuff, the soul. The soul is not
restrained by barriers. It overflows, it floods, it mingles with the
souls of others. The simple story of a bank clerk who could not pay
for a bottle of wine spreads, before we know what is happening, into
the lives of his father-in-law and the five mistresses whom his father
in law treated abominably, and the postman’s life, and the
charwoman’s, and the Princesses’ who lodged in the same block of
flats; for nothing is outside Dostoevsky’s province; and when he is
tired, he does not stop, he goes on. He cannot restrain himself. Out
it tumbles upon us, hot, scalding, mixed, marvellous, terrible,
oppressive – the human soul.”

getting a computer to write a novel

The two novels (if we can agree to call them that) that accompany this introduction are co-winners of the inaugural Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative, awarded by the Society for Analytical Engines to the best computer-written novels of seventy-thousand words or more, as judged by a Committee of writers, literary critics, computer scientists, and ordinary humans not unlike yourself. The Bonehead Computer Museum and Bees, or the Floating Point Error, A Dissertation, (“Bonehead” and “Bees,” for short) represent the state of machine-written narratives in the year 1998.

One of the more startling developments in the entire process is that both winning entries were written not in LISP, the programming language generally preferred for artificial intelligence (AI) programs, but in APL (the letters stand for “a programming language”); not only that, they were written in a dialect of APL that runs only on Data General NOVA computers, a model last manufactured in 1982, and currently in use only in the on-board flight computers in Grumman-built AWACs, the military aircraft used for airborne battle command. The actual computer on which the two novels were “written” was obtained at auction of a government surplus, end-of-useful-life AWAC parts, and it is interesting to note, (given the subject of Bonehead) that this machine was in use over the Kasimiyah ammunition dump during the Gulf War.

After the computer was obtained, there still were some interesting problems in setting up the run-time environment for the storywriters. On the hardware side, constructing the NOVA’s information environment required some ingenuity, since NOVAs were largely obsolete before the Internet existed, and therefor there was no easy mating protocol to hook the CPU to the network card. On the software side, the Committee faced the crucial challenge of verifying that the programs behaved as advertised; that is, that they were not hoaxes, the software equivalent of the dwarf-in-the box chess-playing “machines” of the late 1800’s. Making this verification was no mean feat. APL is a language known for its concision, ability to manipulate symbols, and “power;” it is even more famous for being inscrutable even to those adept in programming it. APL was designed to use all the characters on the original “symbol” type-ball of the IBM selectric typewriter, and in appearance it more nearly resembles Egyptian hieroglyphics than any other language. (APL is called a “write-only language,” since nobody knows how to read it.) To make matters worse, the source to the APL compiler was encumbered when Fairchild Semiconductor won its notorious antitrust suit against Data General, therefor the only way to verify that the submitted programs actually “wrote” the novels that they claimed to was by disassembly of the MP/AOS pseudo-op pop code that the compiler produces as an intermediate step? laborious process akin to putting together paper documents that have gone through a shredder. If it were not for the stunning clarity of the MP/AOS assembly language programming manual, this present volume would not exist, and the Hofstadter prize would await its first claimant.

Complete APL sources to the programs that wrote Bonehead Computer Museum and Bees are included on the CD-ROM packaged with this book.

[i forget where i got this.  but it’s quoted on computer-programming-forums with a fantastic discussion including somebody who is the Author of the Chronicles of the Magic Jigsaw Puzzle ]

Umberto Eco on writing

by Umberto Eco

I would scan into my computer around a hundred novels, as many scientific texts, the Bible, the Koran, a few telephone books (great for nouns).  Say around a hundred, a hundred and twenty thousand pages.  Then I’d use a simple random program to mix them all up, and make a few changes – such as taking out all the A’s.  That way I’d have a novel which was also a lipogram.  Next step would be to print it all out and read it through carefully a couple of times, underlining the important passages.  Then I’d load it all into a truck and take it to the nearest incinerator.  While it was burning I’d sit under a tree with a pencil and a piece of paper and let my thoughts wander until I’d come up with a couple of lines, for example,
“the moon rides high in the sky –
the forest rustles”
At first, of course, it wouldn’t be a novel so much as a haiku.  But that doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to make a start.

[i think i got this from a book of Eco’s essays, but i can’t find it and the internet doesn’t seem to know about it]

what Stephen King taught me about fiction

<– back to the creative sleep

What Stephen King taught me about fiction and the imagination

He says that writers of fiction are God’s Liars. Their primary duty is to tell us the truth about ourselves, by telling us lies about people who never existed. That seems a perfect description to me. and i like the way it contradicts the idea that all stories (all art) are out there waiting to be discovered. the lies which tell us the truth about ourselves are waiting for us to unearth them. One of the many forms of the Imagination is a gorilla. a mad gorilla, rampaging, dangerous, and totally out of control. We have a cage for it, to keep it from destroying our sanity with its primitive behaviour. Children’s cages are much more flimsy than ours, and while some adults have built safes with time delay locks which never open, others have their minds in such a mess that the gorilla comes and goes at will. Maybe, he says, the reason writers of fantasy often have such young faces is that they they have never taken the trouble to strengthen the cage. They are like the lazy pigs who built their house of straw – but instead of learning their lesson when it gets knocked down, the writer of fantasy simply rebuilds with straw again. In a crazy kind of way, he or she likes it when the wolf comes and blows it down, just as they like it when the gorilla escapes from its cage. When people read (or watch) horror stories, they agree to let the gorilla out of the cage for a while. Within the covers of a book, or the walls of the cinema, it’s safe to let him jump around and smash things, because when it’s over you can close the cage and go outside and get on with your rational, reasonable life. If it’s been a long time though, or you keep your imagination heavily sedated, the gorilla might have developed an institutional mentality, and it might have to be prodded out with a stick. Because you have to let him get a bit of exercise from time to time, or he will get sick or die. And that is a significant loss – even if you’re scared of him, he’s still a part of you. [it occurs to me that you could rewrite this in Jungian terms. i leave that as an exercise for the writer] He also told me that Coleridge was the author of the idea of ‘suspension of disbelief’. Coleridge describes it very well (poetically, even), but stephen king adds the idea that the muscles you use to keep your disbelief off the ground atrophy as you grow up. The younger you are the more disbelief you can suspend. Which means that as you ‘mature’, the things you disbelieve in have to be more and more believable, and the disbelieving has to be done in a carefully controlled environment. I haven’t really done him justice, but it’s all in On Writing.

–> James K Baxter said a very similar thing
–> on to contemplative consumption

Andrew Lorien June 01