Happy 2007!: Writing Rich Texts

Happy New Year to everyone from WRT. :)

I’m just rereading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and came across a passage that I feel describes the joy that this strange device the computer can give a writer. So, I thought I’d share it with you. It is the transcript of a file created by Belbo on his new word processor (computer) that he calls Abulafia, or Abu for short:


O what a beautiful morning a tthe end of November, in the beginning was the word, sing to me, goddess, the son of Peleus, Achilles, now is the winter of ouor discontent. Period, new paragraph. Testing testing parakalo, parakalo, with the right program you can even make anagrams, if you’ve written a novel with a conferderate hero named Rhett butler and a fickle girl named Scarlett and then change your mind, all you have to do is punch a key and Abu will global replace the Rhett Bulters to Prince Andreis, the Scarletts to Natashas, Atlanta to Moscow and lo! you’ve written war and peace.

Abu, do another thing now: Belbo orders Abu to chane all words, make each “a” become “akka” and each “o” become “ulla,” for a paragraph to look almost Finnish.

Akkabu, dulla akkanullather thing nullaw: Belbulla ullarders Akkabu talla chakkange akkall wullards, makkake eakkach “akka” becullame “akkakkakk” akkand eakkach “ulla” becullame “ullakka,” fullar akka pakkarakkarakkaph tulla lullaullak akkalmullast Finnish.

O joy, O new vertigo of difference, O my platonic reader-writer racked by a most platonic insomnia, O wake of finnegan, O animal charming and benign. He doesn’t help you think but he helps you because you have to think for him. A totally spiritual machine. If you write with a goose quill you scratch the sweaty pages and keep stopping to dip for ink. Your thoughts go too fast for your aching wrist. If you type, the letters cluster together, and again you must go at the poky pace of the mechanism, not the speek of your synapses. But with him (it? her?) your fingers dream, your mind brushes the keyboard, you are borne on golden pinions, at last you confront the light of critical reason with the happiness of a first encounter.

an loo what I doo now, I tak this pac of speling monnstrosties an I orderr the macchin to coppy them an file them in temrary memry an then brring them bak from tha limbo onto the scren, folowing itsel.

There, I was typing blindly, now I have taken that pack of spelling monstrosities and ordered the machine to copy the mess, and on the copy I made all the corrections, so it comes out perfect on the page. From shit, thus, I extract pure Shinola. Repenting, I could have deleted the first draft. I left it to show how the “is” and the “ought,” accident and necessity, can co-exist on this screent. If I wanted, I could remove the offending passage from the screen but not from the memory, thereby creating an archive of my repressions while denying omnivorous Freudians and virtuosi of variant texts the pleasure of conjecture, the exercise of their occupation, their academic glory.

This is better than real memory, because real memory, at the cost of much effort, learns to remember but not to forget. Diotallevi goes Sephardically mad over those palaces with grand staircases, the statue of a warrior doing something unspeakable to a defenseless woman, the corridors with hundreds of rooms, each with the depiction of a portent, and the sudden aparitions, disturbing incidents, walking mummies. To each memorable image you attach a thought, a label, a category, a piece of the cosmic furniture, syllogisms, an enormous sorites, chains of apothegms, strings of hypallages, rosters of zeugmas, dances of hysteron proteron, apophantic logoi, hierarchic stoichea, processions of equinoexes and parallaxes, herbaria, genealogies of gymnosophists–and so on, to infinity. O raimundo, O Camillo, you had only to cast your mind back to your visions and immediately you could reconstruct the great chain of being, in love and joy, because all that was disjointed in the universe was joined in a single volume in your mind, and Proust would have made you smile. But when Diotallevi and I tried to construct an ars oblivionalis that day, we couldn’t come up with rules for forgetting. It’s impossible. It’s one thing to go in search of a lost time, chasing labile clues, like Hop-o’-My-Thumb in the woods, and quite another deliverately to misplace time refound. Hop-o’-My-Thumb always comes home, like an obsession. There is no discipline of forgetting: we are at the mercy of random natural processes, like stroke and amnesia, and such self-interventions as drugs, alcohol, or suicide.

Abu, however, can perform on himself precise local suicides, temporary amnesias, painless aphasias.

Where were you last night, L

There, indiscreet reader: you will never know it, but that half-line hanging in space was actually the beginning of a long sentence that I wrote but then wished I hadn’t, wished I hadn’t even thought let alone written it, wished that it had never happened. So I pressed a key, and a milky film spread over the fatal and inopportune lines, and I pressed DELETE and, whoosh, all gone.

But that’s not all. The problem with suicide is that sometimes you jump out the window and then change your mind between the eighth floor and the seventh. “Oh, if only I could go back!” Sorry, you can’t, too bad. Splat. Abu, on the other hand, is merciful, he grants you the right to change your mind: you can recover your deleted text by pressing RETRIEVE. Waht a relief! Once I know that I can remember whenever I like, I forget.

Never again will I go from one bar to another, disintegrating alien spacecraft with tracer bullets, until the invader monster disintegrates me. This is far from beautiful: here you disintegrate thoguhts instead of aliens. Teh screen is a galaxy of thousands and thousands of asteroids, all in a row, white or green, and you have created them yourself. Fiat Lux, Big Band, seven days, seven minutes, seven seconds, and a universe i sborn before your eyes, a universe in constant flux, where sharp lines in space and time do not exist. No numerus Clausius here, no constraining law of thermodymaics. The letters bubble indolently to the surface, the emerge from nothingness and obediently return to nothingess, dissolving like ectoplasm. It’s an underwater symphony of soft linkings and unlinkings, a gelatinous dance of self-devouring moons, liek the big fish in the Yellow Submarine. At a touch of your fingertip the irreparable slides backward toward a hungry word and disappears into its maw with a slurrp, then darkness. If you don’t stop, the word swallows itself as well, fattening on its own absence like a Cheshire-cat black hole.

And if you happen to write what modesty forbids, it all goes onto a floppy disk, and you can give the disk a pasword, and no one will be able to read you. Excellent for secret agents. You write the message, save it, then put the disk in your pocket and walk off. Not even torquemada could find out what you’ve written: It’s between you and it (It?). And if they torture you, you pretend to confess; you start entering the password, then press a secret key, and the message disappears forever. Oh, I’m so sorry, you say, my hand slipped, an accident, and now it’s gone. What was it? I don’t remember. It wasn’t important. I have no Message to reveal. But later on–who knows?–I might.

One of the parts of this passage I found interesting is the idea of a ‘Find & Replace’ Fiction. What if you wrote a story, made it available to download as a Word doc, with the instruction to find and replace certain words. And this revealed another message or meaning. I’d love to know of anyone who has done that, or if someone creates one in response to this!

Anyway, welcome 2007!

Eco, Umberto (1990) Foucault’s Pendulum, Picador, London, pages 24-27

2 Responses to “Happy 2007!: Writing Rich Texts”

  1. 1 D

    I once read that this was a way for people to write erotic fiction and post it on the internet. Members of the club would ‘find and replace’ all of the obscene words with harmless (but unusual) replacement words, and provide a key so that readers could reverse the process and enjoy uninterrupted reading.

  2. 2 Kredit

    I have this informativ site bookmarked. Thanks from Kredit

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