Exploring (Semantic) Space With (Literal) Robots – In the boundless churning sea of language’s combinatorial possibilities, we cling fast to what “makes sense.” Outside the comfortable lifeboat of “sense” we see nothing but “nonsense”—letters, words, and sentences in hazardous configurations that we don’t recognize and can’t decipher. But what’s out there, really? We build physical robots to explore physical spaces considered inhospitable to the human body, so why not build “literal” robots to explore semantic spaces considered inhospitable to the human mind? (I mean the word “literal” here in its most, ahem, literal sense: having to do letters, words, and language.)
In this talk I cover what I’ve learned in my practice as a procedural poet, designing software systems that create, well, nonsense. I like to think of these computer programs as automated probes that send back telemetry from the frontiers of “sense,” exposing us to previously unforeseen possibilities for how words can behave, and allowing us to establish way stations in regions of language previously thought uninhabitable.