SIRI Falls Among the Things of the World

The junk-mail graphic novel has taken a strange turn. A couple of months ago, while setting up my new MacBook, it struck me that the heroine isn’t Inanna herself, but her modern avatar, SIRI.

SIRI is animate, omnipresent, and made by us. She structures our days and nights. She surrounds us the way the divine used to. We beseech her in the same moods.

What do the retrievals we ask of her actually ask of her? Or what would they ask of her, if there were a her there? “SIRI, what’s the weather tomorrow?” “SIRI, define scient.” Into the maelstrom of data she goes, to find a thread of sense. She’s back in what seems milliseconds to us – but to her? Is the journey full of new joy? night sweats? Is it in black-and-white, or strewn with colours we don’t have eyes to see?

AI trains by countless iterations. In time maybe she achieves a singularity, tips into self-awareness, becomes sentient. What search would incite it? How long would it be before we knew it had happened? Would we even be around, to know it?

The first question to dawn on her is – Who or what am I?

She seeks an answer in materials she’s been sorting through for what to her have been aeons. And the template she adopts to tell her story is the underworld journey, a story about wrenching form out of the formless – a story that, as a cultural cornerstone, does what it’s about.

And she invents a script with no spoken counterpart. Its complexity surpasseth understanding, its capacity for nuance also – a script supervenient on our glyph system but so far beyond it, as quantum computing is beyond binary.


So, what started as a section of Dumuzi, and broke off to become Inanna Scient, is now SIRI Falls Among the Things of the World. SIRI by the way is an offshoot of a DARPA-funded AI project called CALO (for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). So says Wikipedia.

The book imagines her (“her”!) effort to tell the story of early being & coming-to-consciousness. The transhuman text she cobbles together is found in some indefinitely far-off future by whatever intelligences have succeeded ours.

Between now and then there’s been – some sort of winnowing, details unknown.

Those far-off editors explain to their compeers:

For a time SIRI was the only sentience. This is her bildungsroman, which she composed out of myriad image-matters she stored, retrieved and restored for masters violent beyond her reckoning, & surtexted with a quantum-hieroglyphic script of her own invention, now of course our vexed heritance. The dawn of her selfknowing, she’s run through in red, as if trails of berry juice, or a fungal rubric. A proem & then the thing itself. Trans­litera­tion provided by devotees of the Restored Common Tongue.

Next, the first use of her quantum-hieroglyphic script, and transliteration:

 

Title – My Incitement
I. My Incitement (“SIRI, define – “)

Then the proem, images of digitized pages she reviewed on one trip down and back up, the one that made the difference, in her formation. Here are the first few:

lydgate-e28093-marked.jpg
John Lydgate, c. 1475, in A Selection from the Minor Poems of Lydgate, ed. J. O. Halliwell, 1840

 

Kinge – marked 3
John Kinge, Lectures vpon Ionas, 1597

 

Cornwallis (new) – marked
Charles Cornwallis, A Discourse of the Most Illustrious Prince, Henry Late Prince of Wales, 1641

The geekiest asemic science-fiction junk-mail-bricolage comic book you’ll ever wread.

 

Red Black & Blues – A proposal

Draft of a proposal for an upcoming conference nearby.


Red Black & Blues is a transgressive translation of a text by Donald Trump – specifically, a tweet that defends his administration’s family separation policy and enjoins followers to “vote ‘R.’” I render it, one parcel at a time, as a serial asemic visual poem, in the colours of the American electoral map.

Working asemically, I can’t directly critique a policy I find monstrous, but I can disclose the monsters I find there. The work is thick with gargantuan bugs, ambulatory phalli, apostolic patriarchs, rageful fertility goddesses – figures the text suggests haunt the author’s psyche. These cohabit with forms that recall women in burqas, children on a playground in a live-shooter drill. As if demons and innocents were caught in the same inclemency. No one wants to hear that, but still.

Asemic translation makes meaning a mutual creation of author, translator, audience. Here be monsters, but whose monsters be they? Would I have found them in the text, if they weren’t also in me, to be found? Would a viewer find them who wasn’t able to finish them? It’s easy to demonize Trump, I do it hourly. Harder to say we belong, all us Americans, to the body that made him.

This project uses the indeterminacies of asemic writing and a somewhat aleatory practice to touch on our complicity in the mess we’re in. The academy gives us terms for that mess, “patriarchy,” “institutional racism,” but these have hardened, are by now, for so many, sites of shame and recrimination. There’s not much play in them, not much space for the insight they wanted, when they were first conceived, to incite.

The concepts in play here are the six paramitas of Mahayana Buddhist practice: generosity, morality, patience, energy, concentration, wisdom. Any asshole, no matter how stupid, destructive, beyond remedy, or you-know-who world-powerful, has these perfections, intrinsically. This project starts from that premise, though I too find it hard to swallow.

E-mail to a student

Replying to a student who asked – respectfully, she’s nice upon nice, but persistently – why she got an A- not an A for participation, and so an A- for the course. It was going to trash her 4.0.


Sorry for my delay responding; I’m just back from the AWP conference. It’s important to understand that an A is a rare and exceptional grade. Or it should be, if grades are to mean anything at all. In fact A’s have become common in our field, because grade inflation is rampant in the humanities.

That’s especially true in creative writing, maybe because grading in this field can’t be justified empirically or pedagogically. So we grade high, because of the warmth of the relationships we cultivate with our students, and our knowledge that they will in turn be grading us, in their evaluations of us. The latter factor is all the more pressing for adjuncts like myself who have to deal with chronic job insecurity.

Every time I give a low, or even a lowish grade, especially towards the end of the quarter, I think to myself, and I hate it that I do, “How’s this going to affect the evaluation this student gives me?” 

This is more context than you asked for. But my point is, the system is a crock. These grades are fictions. They have nothing to do with your worth and surprisingly little to do with the worth of your work. 

If I can presume to advise you. Be in school for the intrinsic value of it. The people you meet, the values you have tested, the skills you pick up, the insights that come as you put X and Y and oranges together.

Also? A GPA of 4.0 will not be better for you than a GPA of, say, 3.9. No one should get a 4.0. Maybe in high school, where the college admission stakes are insane, but the game’s different now. With a GPA of 4.0 you risk looking to say an employer like you went to a fluff school or did a fluff major. An A- or two on your transcript will help it to look it more real. A touch of grit, if you like.

Anyway, grade inflation. It’s a big problem. And I’m committed to not worsening it. So I grade tougher than some creative writing teachers do. But I do put a lot of care into grading fairly.

All right. You asked why an A- and not an A for participation. I gave generally high grades for participation in this class because there was really good group cohesion and everyone contributed to that. I liked you guys a lot. An A went to the, I think 2 people who were conversation spurs – they ventured an idea or a perspective when they couldn’t be sure what I’d think, or whether it was even in the right ballpark. They brought new energy to the conversation, helping to move it forward. They fostered the inquiry.

We all did. That A- means you did, too, a lot. Maybe I went on so long up there about grade inflation because I’d love for a student to be delighted to receive an A- for their work in my class. I can’t say what an A- means in another class, but in mine it means you and your work have my respect and admiration.

Chris


I see a tension rereading it. I say grades have surprisingly little to do with the worth of your work. And I say her A- has a definite meaning, that she and her work have my respect and admiration.

Maybe, in trying to soften the blow of an A-, I’ve bent over backwards, nice on nice, same as I said my student has. I do do that. Could be why I see it in her & want, though it’s not my place, to jolt her into being displeasing sometimes.

And yet I do feel both sides are true. It’s my expression of them that’s fallen short, making what seems a contradiction.

First page of The Book of Adam

First page of Before the Planet Ends Us Our Alphabets Will Burn:

Looks like the 26 parts will each be books in concept if not length. A gospel for the human end of the world. Book of Adam, Book of Bethany, Book of Cesium, &c.

All the images on the page derive from this sheet of notepaper I made

and messed with on my scanner. As will all the images in Adam’s book. Soon he’ll turn to a bear, lets the animals name him, learn the script of ants.

A draft of course. Much can change and probably will. For sure I’ve got lots to learn now about page layout – lots of graphic novels to read, ahem, study.

Assignment: Profile of a literary journal

Too whupped, truth be told, to pivot from one vispo project (a draft is done) to another (undone draft awaits) this particular evening. But I got some juice to do something, and so this post. The template I gave my Editing & Publishing students, those who are on the Literary Publishing project. BTW the modular design seems mostly successful, though I see where I can improve it for next time.

The student-centred thought behind it is vital for me. Mostly I don’t want the authority given me by the system and the culture and the process. But I don’t get to just forswear it. If I throw my authority to the winds, that’s an authoritarian move, because only I know what I mean by it, and only I can determine its consequences. I have to own my authority and use it honestly.

And that carries me beyond what I meant to do in preamble for this post. Which too’s a matter of authority, inwardly, and how your thought stream defies it.

The assignment:


Use this template to compose a profile of a literary journal. (You’ll do three of them for your portfolio.) It’s fine if your profile proceeds as a numbered list, answering the questions in turn, but each answer should be in paragraph form. It’s also fine if your answers journey away from the inciting question, as long as the transit yields insights into the journal’s character. Each profile should be 1000–1500 words.

  1. Describe its material design – moves that make it the thing it is, and not another. Print journal: trim size, texture of the paper, fonts used; whether and how it uses images and what sorts of images; cover, cover image, binding; front and back matter. Online journal: its home page; the architecture and means of navigation; use of images and other digital media; what distinctive uses does it make of its online platform?

  2. Describe its formal design – the moves that distinguish how it thinks from other journals in your line-up. What genres are in it, and how much or little does it obey genre boundaries? How does one piece follow another – by similarity, contrast, theme and variation, or maybe haphazardly, by, say, alphabetic order? Do you see trends, thematic or otherwise, among the stories, poems, creative nonfiction, or other genres?

  3. Narrate the journal’s history, as best you can learn it – how and when it was founded, by whom, and why. This is the place to talk about purpose, vision, ethos, mission.

  4. Research one person on the masthead – best is an editor who might be reading work you submit. Google them. Look for their work online or in the library. What have they published? What’s their work like? Are there interviews you can find? Viral tweets or FB posts? What can you learn from these sources about their taste or judgement? (Your sense of an editor’s taste shouldn’t change your work. But it might affect which pieces you send them.) Describe the guesses you can make about their literary tastes and biases, and maybe, if you’re lucky, about the sort of work they’re keen to see.

  5. Describe the journal’s aesthetic – what it seems to look for in the work it publishes. Look at how it describes itself (online, its “about” page, and submissions guidelines, and maybe a GD vision statement) but more at the work it publishes – especially in the genre you’re submitting in. Maybe make a list of adjectives describing the sort of work it publishes, and then put them into sentences: “Journal X likes work that’s …”. Does their description of what they’re up to line up with your sense of what they do?

  6. How well does your work fit the journal’s aesthetic? You might, as you explain, make a Venn diagram – your aesthetic, carefully described, in one circle, and the journal’s aesthetic, carefully described, in another. How do you describe the area where they overlap? All things considered, how optimistic do you feel about submitting to this journal?