Stop Making Sense

• • • How Automatic Writing Can Free Your Mind and Change the World

This may not be the liberation experienced by the writers of the 30-day novel, but it is a kindred feeling. To discover that you make more sense when you don’t try so hard to make sense, or when you try not to make sense at all, is a particularly keen joy, at least for a writer. It may be the pleasure of ceasing to bang your head against a wall; if you don’t spend a great deal of time writing slowly and painfully, then quick and effortless writing won’t be much of a release. (It may also be that your slow, painful, and ostensibly fruitless effort is rewarded when you finally let go—Breton, Soupault, and Éluard had certainly worked at writing before they experimented with automatism, and this may explain why their texts are interesting, while the great majority of automatically produced writing is deadly dull.)

For those who seek keener, or stranger thrills, the computer offers writing so fast that the 30-day novel seems painstaking by comparison. Consider the following sentence from Mark Pilgrim’s Kant Generator Pro, a free application for the Macintosh: “What we have alone been able to show is that, in particular, metaphysics depends on our a priori concepts, but our judgments exclude the possibility of the Transcendental Deduction.” The program is capable of producing an almost infinite number of equally Kantian sentences; or by changing software modules, it can generate Husserl, thank-you notes, and even excuses, in seconds, to the accompaniment of cheerful electronic music. With a little effort, you can program the Generator to reproduce any style, including, especially, perhaps, your own. I’m pleased to say that there is now a LaFarge Generator, which draws on this and other articles I’ve written for the Voice to produce new material. For example:

Most Americans complained that a universal alphabet had been developed by the mediums of the mid 19th century. Further observation suggested that Börne, a scientist by temperament, meant that the practical phrenologists studied the new electric lamps on the Champs-Élysées. J. Edgar Coover, an Oakland, California-based writer, hypothesized that the history of public education in America was his letter; fortunately, however, the humans had been built by mediums and others.

illustration by Charlene Potts

This is immortality of a sort: endless if somewhat unvaried reproducibility. With a few modifications, the Generator could produce a novel in half an hour—but the delight of the Generator is not in its speed; it’s in seeing my words disjoined and reconfigured, making no sense but at the same time some sense after all.

Paul LaFarge is the author of the novels The Artist of the Missing (winner of the 1999 California Book Award) and Haussmann, or the Distinction (forthcoming in September from FSG).

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