Are these texts literature ?

Monday January 24th, 2005.

Are these texts literature ?

Let me first show you something: I’m sorry but the documents I want to show you give just a weak idea of their working but, here, I can’t do it better... The first document is a short video of an art installation which was presented this year in Monterrey (Mexico) from the 8 of February to the end of April. It is a 300 square meters of a virtual immersion created by three artists : the French Miguel Chevalier as the producer, the Italian Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi as the composer and myself as a writer, more exactly as the creator of the writing software.

1. MeTapolis: 1 mn 34 --> 3 mn 30 (1.30) 2. MeTapolis: 7 mn 24 --> 8 mn 20 (1)

In that installation as you can see, they are three cylinders interface, one for the music, one for the pictures and the other one for the text. The spectator, but I prefer to call him the player, is inside a virtual city made of different materials and he can act on them by moving his hand inside the ray of light. On one screen of that installation, some texts are projected: these text can be written in Spanish, French, English or a mix of these three languages. The player can also choose to change their size, their direction into space, to have them short or long, to have them displayed for the inside of the installation or for the outside, and so on... When he wants he can decide that another text has to be written and then the software will create for him a totally new text. But I will show you that more precisely later...

Palindrome is another work where I intervene as the text creator. Palindrome is a dance company which uses interfaces to act in real time on their own environment. Here, by dancing, they choose the text on which they want to dance and modify the pronunciation of that text.

3. Palindrome: 1 mn

Labylogue is the last example, and here the poorest because I have only some static pictures. Presented to the public at the end of the year 2000, that installation works simultaneously on three towns: Bruxelles, Lyon and Dakar. Labylogue is in fact a very rich installation of virtual reality in which you can move with a joystick, try to meet the people of the other towns and discuss with them. It is a labyrinth but, as you may see, a labyrinth built with texts. When you are moving inside of that labyrinth, you have also a microphone and you can speak to other people searching you. When you speak, the computer try to understand what you are saying and write for you a new text (in white) on the walls of the labyrinth. After a while, that text becomes something like a memory of the exchanges and remain on the walls in light blue. These labyrinth of text is so the memory of the interactions between the dialogs of its visitors and its own intervention in these dialogs. It is something like a memorial of texts.

4. Labylogue: 1 mn

All the texts you can have seen or heard here are texts created by a computer for such or such event. As soon as they have been written they will disappear they are always changing texts and, as you have certainly understood, it is always possible, by very different means, to act on them. So, this seems to be a very strange kind of literature because most of you believe that there is a very close link between literature and eternity: normally, as you may think, a text is something fixed that will never change, something independent from contexts or media. A text is a text and each of its reader must be able to read the same and to read the same each time he wants to read it: many searchers in many universities spent many hours to find the good reading of such or such text. Thinking so is to believe that there is a very close link between the unchanging medium that is the book and literature. But literature is quite unrelated to the book. Do you remember what, in De Bello Gallico (VI, 13) Julius Caesar said from the Celtic people and from their relations to texts ? He said that they never want to write their texts, that they have to memorized all of them because a written text is dead and, eternally, fixes what it says. So they preferred to memorize them and, as in the Jewish tradition of the reading of the Torah or as in different other cultural traditions, to maintain them alive by the living alterations of a living brain. So the success of the book, and moreover of the book industry, let us believe that there is no other way for the texts: but we now that such an affirmation is false. In the past a major part of literature was an oral one and even, as it is today, in a big part of the world. But the text, and by way of consequence, literature is depending from the medium which allows it to be known. Some literary groups, like the French OULIPO for instance, have shown that many writers have tried to disconnect literature from books and, sometimes, have succeed to do it, but the book was the principal medium for literature because it gives access to texts anywhere, in a very simple manner, to most of the people. What has changed now is the coming of the computer. And, as a new medium, the computer allows to do very different things than the book; in fact there is no reason that a text on a computer will adopt the same rules than in a book. With a computer, a text is nowhere and in the same time everywhere and, because the memory of a computer is a dynamic one, it can be at the same time the same and never the same. Last year, for instance from April the 11 th to July the 19 th I wrote something I called a “mail-roman”, a “mail-novel”, the French title of which is “Rien n’est sans dire”, something like “Nothing exists without speaking of it” (you will be soon able to download the entirety of that novel from The idea was to use the same approach than in the novel by letters of the eighteenth. But as soon as I thought about that, it was very clear to me that, using a computer to send mails - and not letters by a post way - the form of that novel will be very different. Internet is a many to many medium, that means that if I send a mail to many, many can immediately react to my mail. So I have to take into account the reactions of my readers to my novel and to use them into the novel itself. Also, by using a computer, I can send each day a new page of that novel to all the people who wanted to receive it. And, moreover, I was not obliged to send the same page to all the people registered. These novel implies a thinking about what is the same and what is different; how people reading different texts can in fact read the same novel and discuss about it; how can people intervene into the writing of a novel without depriving a writer of his power; and so on... The result was a very combinatorial novel that you can read in billions of different ways (exactly ten followed by twenty nine zeros) and into which I, sometimes, used also a software of generation of texts. Let me now show you some other things.

1. American landscape 2. Parisian landscape 3. MeTapolis espagnol 4. Lettres d’amour de Barbe Bleue (6) 5. Posternaires

All the you have read here are texts written by a software. I’m the author of that software, I’m also the author of the models of that texts. That means that I don’t really write them but that I made their writing possible, so I think that I’m also the authors of all of these texts. But I can’t read all the possible texts; neither I can’t imagine all the possible texts, and you can’t too because each time you ask for another one, you will have another one and the text you were reading just some seconds before will, for ever, disappear. Are these texts literature ? If you answer “no”, then you have also to refute the possibility of oral literature and that makes a lot of eliminations. If you say “yes” you have to take into account that the literature is not close to the book and that, depending from the media which support it, it can take many very different forms. For example, a screen is not a sheet of paper : a sheet of paper may support pictures but a screen is always a picture. In 1999, I conceived a novel for Internet, the title of which is “Trajectoires” (trajectories) - you can read it at the address This novel is, at the same time an interactive and a generative one. That means that you can choose the order in which you want to read the pages and that each page, even if you think to return to the same, is always different because the software write another one. Nevertheless it is a novel, even a detective novel, with a plot, with murders and guilty peoples and the reader can understand who is the guilty person and why they are murders. The order of your readings is at least as important than the page itself and maybe you can understand better the plot by thinking about the possibilities of paths inside of that novel and by taking into account a lot of variations of the text itself.

1. Trajectoires

So is that literature ? I don’t identify any reason to answer “no”, but it is another kind of literature, an always moving literature, at the same time a simulacrum of writing and a conceptual approach of literature. There are so many different ways of saying something, so different ways of speaking of love or of the moonshine, or of the sea, why do you want that literature would be related only to one way of saying things ? My purpose is not to write one or another one text, but to create something like a model of the writing process in order to have an infinity of texts. I don’t want to aim at the eternity of the text - a never changing, fix and referential text - but at the infinity of it: a text which can never stop, never disappear because it is as living as a brain who never stops thinking. An inexhaustible text showing the potential infinity of the creation facing the infinite potentiality of the real world : a literature of our always changing and chaotic time. Because, what is the use of literature if not to assert, in its own language, beyond the constraints of the world and the collective conventions, the vital necessity of the individual liberty : literature makes sense, more exactly it shows to everybody that each of us as the power, in front of the standard meaning, to produce a meaning which is his own and that, nevertheless, may be passed on, in an infinite hermeneutic, one meaning which incite everybody to create sense, to have his own, the right text at the right moment... But a text that nevertheless can be shared by all of their readers. And that’s not a paradox : it is as if people were discussing on a landscape they have all seen but not at the same time and not with the same light or wind or heat. And that purpose, a writer can only achieve, by using the dominant techniques of his time, because techniques are the only means available for men to question and master the world where they lives. If not the meaning they create is an obsolete one, what they produce then is not a new inventive meaning of their world but an old one, a yet tattered one. As all creator, each writer, following his own way, has to intervene at the precise place of the changes which agitate his world. Today our world is completely changed by the computer, all aspects of our lives are changing because of the use of computers : to remain alive, literature has also to find another way of changing the world of the texts. Maybe by throwing away the book and trying to invent another kind of text an ever changing text displayed on all kind of screens each time with its own evidences and characteristics because more the text melts into communication more its words are corrupted, become barren, empty signs; more the texts obeys to conventions, are saying things which want to be said, are obvious and transparent, don’t astound their readers, more they are inadequate. What happens under the appearance of common texts, under the false evidence of the irreplaceable words is only a shared triviality, never something of the absolute uniqueness of each subjective experience.