an oulipian simulation of a classic anatomy of sad brains
Long ago, in Oxford, Burton, a scholar of that town, built a vast book out of all that was known about sad and downcast spirits: taking in all that was said of this malady by any art, from astrology to physic to divinity. It's a book about sad folk but it has always brought joy to bookish sorts, such as Dr Johnson, Tristam Shandy's author, and that fabulist of labyrinths from a land of gauchos, who put a quotation from it on his story of a total library.
Paraphrasing, it says: by this art you may study variations of all 23 glyphs...
Such a monstrously big book, with half a million words, is good grist for an RNN, a computational graph that adapts its output to match a corpus. Burton's work, full of Latin maxims and rhyming bits - for in his day, it was not alarming or odd for a profound work of scholarship to contain such artistry - is now in a sort of simulation, which I put into my autoroman in 2019.
It is striking that this graph knows how to output disjoint paragraphs in both Latin and Anglic, although it's not so good at rhyming, and I am no Latinist, so cannot say anything as to its quality on that front.
In turning Burton's work into a toy by an outlandish application of combinatorics, I found all sorts of odd moods arising. A fond passion, still, for his book, and a wry satisfaction at my own bookish, solitary, slightly mad and fixating passion for playing with computational toys that output words. And a surprising mood of kinship with this scholar of Christ Church, on a distant island and afar across history, who drily mocks at his own monastic isolation, in an introduction to a book of such capacity that it might swallow all of our world and its tumults and alarms, anaconda-fashion.
It's now a bot on oulipo.social, a Mastodon locality which forbids a common glyph, and which has a population of bots which find compliant parts of famous works. My bot, in sampling its RNN, distorts its probability-matrix to avoid that glyph. And, occasionally, additional glyphs, just for fun.
May Burton's ghost know that by thus prolonging his book into a parodic infinity, I only wish to honour his spirit.
@gravidum_cor has a non-compliant sibling - visit its link for info about its computational machinations.
Any thoughts? I'm on oulipo.social as @prawnwarp.
—Mick Lynch 2020