The Postmodernism Generator

The Postmodernism Generator
ciceronianus
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 4:29 PM:
Subject: The Postmodernism Generator

I wasn't sure where to put this, but this subforum seems appropriate.

Has anyone visited The Postmodernism Generator, www.elsewhere.org/pomo/? It seems a rather ingenious effort. It apparently generates by means of a computer program random essays in what's purportedly the postmodern style. Of course, I have no idea how it does so, but the essays are quite amusing.

Now, the fact that it is amusing is enough for a fool like me. But might this tell us something about our language, or at least a certain use of language? Might language be a very involved joke? If a computer can produce such essays, does this speak well of language or expose its limitations? We all know, of course, that language cannot escape the determination of the unconscious, but might it revel in, or even be transported in ecstacy by, the talentless circuitry of a computer?

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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 5:36 PM:

ciceronianus wrote:
Might language be a very involved joke?
No, that's far too general a conclusion. I think the point being made by the writer of the generator, or by Sokal, is that the language of postmodernists is a joke, because it is meaningless. Whether that's a fair criticism I don't know, as I don't read postmodernists.

At the other extreme, one can easily think of situations where language has extremely real, tangible and significant effects.

Consider the usefulness of the directions you are given when in a strange neighbourhood and you ask the way to the library.

Consider the solace that can be brought to the lonely by the lyrics of a Leonard Cohen song, or the euphoria brought by Schiller's An Die Freude.

Consider the importance of the interchange when an electrician, about to work on a power socket, asks her apprentice "Have you turned the power off?" and the grotesquely different consequences depending on how the apprentice answers, assuming the power has not been turned off yet.

Or consider how much one's life can be changed by the nine words uttered by a policement at the door: "Your son has been killed in a car accident".
apokrisis
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 6:36 PM:

ciceronianus wrote:
Might language be a very involved joke? If a computer can produce such essays, does this speak well of language or expose its limitations?


It would be interesting for defenders of PoMo to list its major discoveries - things it has discovered that we didn't already know or feel in many less words.

I've read a bit and had the general reaction that it was not meaningless - there were some worthwhile ideas in play - but just so excessively wordy. And good insights ought to be capable of being simply expressed.

Take a real bit of PoMo at random....Debord's Society of the Spectacle


In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.
2
The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudoworld that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving.
3
The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is the focal point of all vision and all consciousness. But due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is in reality the domain of delusion and false consciousness: the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of universal separation.
4
The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images...

http://www.bopsecrets.org/images/sos.pdf


And so on and on until 70 pages later we can conclude....


In contrast to the logic of false consciousness, which cannot truly know itself, the search for critical truth about the spectacle must also be a true critique. It must struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle, and admit that it is nothing without them. By rushing into sordid reformist compromises or pseudorevolutionary collective actions, those driven by an abstract desire for immediate effectiveness are in reality obeying the ruling laws of thought, adopting a perspective that can see nothing but the latest news. In this way delirium reappears in the camp that claims to be opposing it. A critique seeking to go beyond the spectacle must know how to wait.
221
The self-emancipation of our time is an emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth. This “historic mission of establishing truth in the world” can be carried out neither by the isolated individual nor by atomized and manipulated masses, but only and always by the class that is able to dissolve all classes by reducing all power to the de-alienating form of realized democracy — to councils in which practical theory verifies itself and surveys its own actions. This is possible only when individuals are “directly linked to universal history” and dialogue arms itself to impose its own conditions.


OK, maybe this book is also a computer generated spoof based on this evidence. smiling face

But why does it seem just simply bad technique? I think the basic misuse of language lies in the way that it employs vague abstractions. Broad concepts are fine if they are measurable - if "delirium" or "alienation" are jargon that apply to reality in definite ways. If you can say that A is an example delirium, but B and C are obviously not.

Instead this kind of writing seems just like someone trying to pluck a fish from a shoal in a tank with their blindly groping hands. They can chase and chase the fish around all day but they just end up swirling everything about and never securing any tangible prize.



On Feb 28, 2013 - 7:43 AM, jamalrob responded: I don't understand it, don't like it, know nothing of its context, don't know Marx, so it's shit.
ciceronianus
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 7:01 PM:

Perhaps I'm too impressed by the technology. I suppose that it may be possible in cases where jargon of a particular kind is regularly used, similar themes are bandied about, the same names are used, same people quoted, all over and over, such little essays may be generated with relative ease. But perhaps if we turn computers loose on language used in well documented disputes on particular subjects which have gone on for quite some time, the same language used, same questions, same concepts, same arguments, they may actually be able to come up with answers if left to crank out essays endlessly, never tiring and never being discouraged.
On Feb 27, 2013 - 8:46 PM, Csalisbury responded: But,the essays have no real coherence. There's no line of argument. It doesn't seem all that amazing to me. Definitely interesting, but not crazy enough to make me question language itself (?)
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 8:25 PM:

apokrisis wrote:
But why does it seem just simply bad technique? I think the basic misuse of language lies in the way that it employs vague abstractions. Broad concepts are fine if they are measurable - if "delirium" or "alienation" are jargon that apply to reality in definite ways. If you can say that A is an example delirium, but B and C are obviously not.


Come now, the Society of the Spectacle is a wonderful book. Those passages read fine to me - "Alienation" here refers to the Marxist concept of it, one which has a rich history that stems from Marx's own writings, and was being much discussed at the time of Deboard's writing, especially by sociologists and philosophers like Henri Lefebvre and Gyorgy Lukacs. As is the idea of "a social relation which is mediated", for example, which, again, is a reference to Marx, who, refers to capital as that which mediated between social relations. And so on. (As an aside, this should already hint at the fact that Deboard was, above all, a Marxist involved in cultural analysis - part of the situationist school, to be specific. To say that he is a 'postmodernist' seems a retroactive and not entirely useful designation).

And so here's something that's the issue with the postmodern generator, and those who approach so called 'postmodernist' texts as incomprehensible: well of course it's going to be incomprehensible if you approach those texts in a vacuum. The writing is hard, it demands your attention, and it even demands that one have a great deal of assumed knowledge. But much of it is not, for all that, purely incomprehensible. It simply takes work. Work which, understandably, many are not willing to undertake. But what is curious is the harnessing of a lack of understanding to fuel a resentment that turns back upon the works of those like Deboard: "I can't understand it, so it must be rubbish. It can't have anything to do with my own lack of effort. I'm much to clever not to 'get it' at first go, so text must be incomprehensible". It's a vulgar ego-centrism at work.

Edited by StreetlightX on Feb 27, 2013 - 8:33 PM
On Feb 28, 2013 - 8:26 AM, Benkei responded: Gyorgy Lukacs? That's the PoMo spelling of George Lucas, right?
On Feb 28, 2013 - 8:56 AM, StreetlightX responded: Starwars director by day, marxist theoretician by night. Dundundun.
On Feb 28, 2013 - 3:29 PM, sheps responded: Man, how incredible would it be if that were true?
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 8:49 PM:

It's really quite simple: In order to produce abundant POMO material, one must be full of shit. If you stuff a computer full of shit, it is as capable as a human of POMO text generation. POMO is at its heart, an expression of Being Full of Shit.
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 9:00 PM:

Postmodernism Generator is using some software called "Dada Engine", which is basically generates a Markov chain from some input text. It is pretty much the same principle that ChomskyBot was defined, but using text from Chomsky lectures on linguistics, (which I ported for this forum). The "Dada Engine" defines a nice little interface where you can pretty much give it any text you want and come up with similar generations without having to get into the mathematical details. I suppose you could download the software, feed it all the posts you have ever made on Philosophy Forum and get a pretty reasonable "bot" in your own voice.

So the way that Markov chains work is that you build a map of the percentage of times one word or symbol follows another. You then generate some random numbers, look up that number on your mapping, and produce that word. The first word is selected from a list of "words used to start sentences" and each subsequent word comes from the "list of words that followed the first word". Just looking at two words, the output doesn't make any sense at all. But if you also mapped percentages of groups of more and more words, you come up with even more reasonable sentences, (which also increases complexity and computational requirements). At only around 5 levels, you get sentences that look like they might have been uttered by someone who knew what they were saying, but without much meaning or context behind them.

Words aren't the only symbol you can process. I recently did a small Markov chain engine where I fed it words from an English dictionary/list of words. I then asked it to generate sequences of letters and print out any words that were already in the dictionary. It was then able to generate a list of words that look English, but were not in the dictionary. I found I could run it on any dictionary, even in a language I didn't speak, and get convincing output.

The Postmodernism Generator looks realistic because those texts make lots of references to others. The thing that protects us from thinking they are from a real person is that we expect those papers to make a little sense, rather than being random thought trains. I thought it might be more interesting and dangerous, to feed in some text that is expected to be mysterious and opaque. Maybe feeding in some religious text, in some ancient script, and reveal it as a newly found document.

Some other ideas I was thinking about was to use more abstract symbols. Maybe a screenplay-generating engine which randomly strung together plot devices and characters, maybe biased by box-office earnings. You could apply Markov chaining to music as well. Feed in the complete works of Mozart, (maybe from MIDI files), and come up with a previously unknown Mozart piece, or apply it to a string of top 10 hits over the past 50 years and come up with a new song. Or, to truly blow your mind, take any one of the above ideas and feed it the digits of pi and get a work that is transcendental, infinite and never repeating.
On Feb 28, 2013 - 10:46 AM, ciceronianus responded: Thank you for the explanation. I'm not sure whether to be pleased or horrified.
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 10:11 PM:

swstephe wrote:
The thing that protects us from thinking they are from a real person is that we expect those papers to make a little sense, rather than being random thought trains.


Actually, no. Nobody expects POMO to make sense. It's pretty much all random trains running every which way. Per Wilde, "I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.


Edited by BitterCrank on Feb 27, 2013 - 10:18 PM
On Feb 27, 2013 - 10:21 PM, Csalisbury responded: almost as funny as a new yorker cartoon!
On Feb 27, 2013 - 11:18 PM, BitterCrank responded: You are too kind.
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 10:28 PM:

There was a great video on YouTube of a guy who got pranked into responding seriously to an "essay" generated by this engine. His response was incoherent, as to be expected. I can't find it now. though - it might have been taken down.
On Feb 27, 2013 - 11:39 PM, Csalisbury responded: ah, man. i would've loved to see that.
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Posted Feb 27, 2013 - 11:32 PM:

ciceronianus wrote:
Perhaps I'm too impressed by the technology. I suppose that it may be possible in cases where jargon of a particular kind is regularly used, similar themes are bandied about, the same names are used, same people quoted, all over and over, such little essays may be generated with relative ease. But perhaps if we turn computers loose on language used in well documented disputes on particular subjects which have gone on for quite some time, the same language used, same questions, same concepts, same arguments, they may actually be able to come up with answers if left to crank out essays endlessly, never tiring and never being discouraged.

To the Batcave Robin! Let's run this Postmodernism Generator and get to the bottom of the Riddler's latest enigma!
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