DIGITAL INDEX: CONTROL POETICS IN DIE MASCHINE MARC KOHLBRY Mankind is beginning to understand how to dismantle and reassemble the most complex and unpredictable of all its machines: language. —Italo Calvino (1997, 10) Unfathomable mind, now beacon, now sea. —Samuel Beckett (2009, 110) Is poetry computable? Can a computer poetize? These questions, in addition to being contemporary to debates in the digital (or computational) humanities, were once central to a context in which computers were hardly ubiquitous—that of the postwar French avant-garde. In the years following World War II, and in parallel with developments in cybernetics, computer science, and other ﬁ elds interested in so-called information technologies, a handful of French writers were using their artistic practice to explore the borderlands between the human mind and machines. Among these was cele- brated novelist Georges Perec, whose 1968 radio play Die Maschine explicitly poses the question of poetry’s computability. Written between 1967 and 1968 and ﬁ rst broadcast on November 13, 1968, the machine’s preamble claims a singular goal: that of discovering the “inner mechanism,” or essence, of poetry. In its efforts to do so, Perec’s Maschine executes a series of “proto- cols,” each taking a different approach to dismantling
symploke – University of Nebraska Press
Published: Nov 24, 2020
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