| Of Programmatology

   | Overview

   | Why?

   | Transliteration

   | Hyper-/Cyber-/Poetext


   | Introduction

   | RL Installation

   | Codexspace

   | Publications

   | Writer

   | Precedents


IN #








Book Unbound


Leaving City


Golden Lion


Moods &




IN 1.2



   | generated texts:
   : First Lesson
   : Actual Possession
     of the World
   : Leaves
     from Book Unbound



   : list of previous talks
   : installations &
   : performances
   : relating to IN



I N D R A ' S : N E T
: o r :


OF PROGRAMMATOLOGY | Snap | Up | Next | Top


Is a short article produced for the London-based magazine of 'critical/information/services,' Mute, no. 11, pp. 72-75.
The link from the title of this section is to my own html version.

The Mute web site is:

TRANSLITERATION | Snap | Up | Next | Top


A lecture for stage 3 students of the
Performance Writing Degree
Dartington College of Arts
in a series of talks on
'Writing Identities and Interfaces -
place, belonging and translation'

This html version includes a number of new cybertextual and textmorph pieces for the Web.

HCP | Snap | Up | Next | Top


A hypertext essay produced after a presentation at 'Assembling Alternatives: An International Poetry Conference/Festival' at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA, 29 Aug - 2 Sept 1996, and will also appear in the printed Proceedings of the conference forthcoming from the Wesleyan UP.

PLEASE NOTE: This essay uses Netscape 'Frames'.

WHY? | Snap | Up | Next | Top

"Why did they make things like this?"

A hypertext essay with framed floating links, pro-authored for the
electroPoetics issue of 'ebr' - the Electronic Book Review.

Also in this issue (apart from many good articles by other researchers and practitioners: '"
The King is Dead: Long Live the King": a review of Hypertext '97'

PLEASE NOTE: This essay uses Netscape 'Frames'.

AN EARLY (1995) OVERVIEW | Snap | Up | Next | Top

MaMoPo : by : PoLiOu

Machine Modulated Poetry by Potential Literary Outlaws [NB]

John Cayley

This piece was written for the 'Writing and Computers Newsletter', details from the editor, Mike Sharples at :

Hypertext, as literature, is still in its infancy. The majority of 'serious' [NB] literary hypertexts which have thus far been produced are fiction, and are composed chiefly in the ever-more familiar link-node structures which proliferate on the World Wide Web. [NB] In this form, pieces of prose (rarely poetry) of variable length, now generally referred to as 'lexia', are stored in 'spaces' which usually correspond to text windows on the screen, as well as to the 'nodes' of the link-node model. The author uses her chosen software to add 'links' from one node to another. Text spaces may be linked to one or more other lexia. Words, phrases or sentences (any smaller linguistic structures) within each lexia are also commonly linked. The details of what is possible depend on the software used, and systems vary a great deal. Some are very flexible and sophisticated. We are beginning to see, for instance, 'multi-head multi-tail' linking. [NB] The end result is an emergent medium, more familiar in the world of technical writing and expert systems, but with great literary potential; a medium which gives both author and reader new freedoms, resources and responsibilities.

Poetry and technology is not a customary rhyme. As compared with fiction writers, there are even fewer practising poets making use of the new potential offered by hypertext and related systems for the composition and publication of poetic literature. Poets have been relatively slow to familiarize themselves with the new technology other than through the now near-universal use of the word processor. For most poets 'computer-plus-software' is not a new medium but just a more convenient and flexible simulacrum, which refers to the traditional tools of pen and paper.

But apart from a (romantic or levelling) suspicion of new technology, there may be other reasons for the poets' relative disengagement. Some of the new literary hypertexts use a language (within their lexia) which could be characterized as 'poetic', however the medium does not in itself encourage or enforce that more profound involvement with the nuts and bolts of language which is the poet's stock in trade. A poem may be composed within a 'space' in a larger hypertext without any effect on the processes of its composition or its reading. In this case, the hypertextual system has not directly engaged or influenced its poetics, and the lexia/poem might just as well have been found on the leaf or leaves of a paper codex.

On the other hand, the parts of a poem could be dispersed across a number of spaces in a link-node structure. Here, the system has a real role to play. Authors' decisions as to how to link and where to place the parts, and readers' decisions about what to read and when, have the potential to generate new varieties of poetic experience. If the software used has the facility to automate or animate certain readings of the structure, then the poet is able to compose, for example, multiple real-time (silent) readings in a form possessing resources which are radically different from those of the book. At this point the temptation to introduce ornamentation from other media - pictures, audio, video - becomes all but irresistible. Most writers, especially new writers, will succumb.

My own first explorations of machine modulated poetry were in the field of animated or kinetic presentations of previously composed work, or of work designed to have multiple reading paths, [NB] although even at this stage (late 1970s), my basic unit was the word, not the lexia or textual space of link-node hypertext. Many poets will be attracted to the possibility of presenting their work kinetically. Scoring a previously composed text (setting the pauses between and speed of display for words, phrases and lines) according to how the poet inwardly 'hears' the composition (without having to trust to the vagaries of punctuation or avant-garde lineation) has obvious appeal. One of the better-known practitioners in this field in the US is Robert Kendall, who is also running an Internet correspondence course on 'Hypertext Poetry' for the New School (NY). [NB]

However, scoring previously composed material for presentation on the screen is a rather limited or constrained use of the programmable machine. To myself and others, the possibilities for active reading along multiple or indeterminate pathways holds greater attractions, opening up to literature a potential for real-time process art. It is not as if such piratical literary experiments have not been attempted before. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin produced their 'cut-up' works in post-war Paris; Jackson Mac Low in the United States has created a substantial and important body of process-based work, as have certain other artists of the Fluxus group, particularly Emmett Williams; the 'OuLiPo' (Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, founded in 1961 by Raymond Queneau; best-known members - to English readers - Georges Perec and Harry Mathews) continues to experiment with 'constrictive' and generative form; the well-known critic, Hugh Kenner and Joseph O'Rourke produced an interesting program called 'Travesty' (Byte , Nov. 1984) which modulated any piece of language fed into in it by reproducing patterns of letters or words which the program found in a text at different user-definable levels or 'orders'; and more recently, C. O. Hartman, also a poet and critic, programmed varieties of Jackson Mac Low's 'diastic' procedures which, in concert with Travesty, have been used to produce his Sentences (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1995). [NB] More generally, innovative and radical contemporary poetics, especially those associated with and promoted by the (US-centred, so-called) 'Language' cohort, have encouraged an explicit interest, not only in the rhetorical, but also the hard, grammatical elements of new poetries.

It is in this context that my own work has developed, often in ignorance of parallel or previous experiments elsewhere. My work - a project I have given the general title 'Indra's Net or Hologography' - is distinct from more familiar hypertext in a number of respects. The underlying texts (which I call my 'given' texts) are engaged with the contemporary poetries I have just cited. I see my writing (in so far as it is composed prior to any generative process and in so far as it aims to produce a generated text of a certain kind) as a part of this particular contemporary poetic practice. My 'nodes' are not the usual 'size' of lexia. They are most frequently word sized. My 'links' are self-generating, rule-based and determined by relatively simple linguistic structures. This means both that the generated pieces disrupt and interrogate language itself in a way that hypertext usually does not, and also that the 'link-node' model loses uses its usefulness as a description for this type of work. Indra's Net pieces employ generative algorithms and semi-aleatory processes and the composition of the algorithm is seen as an integral if normally invisible part of the composition of the piece. One of the unique facilities offered by the computer in this context is the ability to set up a feed-back loop. 'Experimental' texts can be generated and the results reviewed quickly and painlessly enough to allow the processes to be modified and improved. Once distributed, the pieces 'run' and generate text for a reader. The reader can interact but does not choose pathways between words directly in the way that she might choose a pathway through the spaces of hypertext fiction. However in my most recent distributed piece, readers can alter the work itself (irreversibly), collecting generated lines or phrases for themselves and adding them to the hidden given text so that eventually their selections come to dominate the generative process. The reader's copy may then reach a state of chaotic stability, strangely attracted to one particular modulated reading of its original seed text. [NB] Work in progress is towards a series of '(Plastic) Literary Objects' which will be both generative and responsive, triggered by as many as possible of the program- and user-generated events which are accessible using a standard computer system. This latest object will be a far cry from the average web page.

One of the principles guiding my work is a belief in the distinctive qualities and special value of a literary experience characterized by silent reading. In the new culture of cyberspace this experience must strive for self-preservation in the face of a multimedia assault which seems sometimes to claim that literature is next to nothing without its loud and colourful ornamentation, or that literature is doomed to become an ornament for its post-literal content. It is true that literature will only thrive on 'the matrix' if it can develop in ways which fully exploit the capabilities of a new cybernetic infrastructure. Literary hypertext generally, and the more radical machine modulated poetries have an important role to play in these futures.

[TEXT] Even this brief introductory text owes much to my continuing correspondence with Jim Rosenberg. Please see especially his 'Intergrams' as published by Eastgate Systems in their 'Eastgate Quarterly' series. Rosenberg is also a poet and his work challenges more conventional notions of hypertext by creating fields and planes of word clusters associated in a non-linear spatial prosody.
Currently my own home page is at:, and my home page for machine modulated work is:

[TEXT] An epithet adopted by Eastgate Systems, Inc., 134 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02172, USA, 'publishers of serious hypertext',

[TEXT] As a jump station for this topic on the World Wide Web, see:

[TEXT] Pursue multi-head multi-tail linking at:

[TEXT] See:

[TEXT] Details from him by email at: Or see:

[TEXT] Mac Low's diastics, pure and simple, can be studied in his The Virginia Woolf Poems (Providence: Burning Deck, 1985). Hartman's contribution was later brought to bear in Mac Low's Mertzgedicte (Station Hill, n.d. ?1994).

[TEXT] Book Unbound , London: Wellsweep & Engaged, 1995. See: For a complete catalogue of the nine existing pieces from Indra's Net, see: Samples of texts generated by Indra's Net pieces can also be found through this catalogue page.

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