Poetic Machines 08
"agedesen, arbestra, arnyflus, belemoon, cleebout, cractili, devolool, ersenose, examardin, flooprampa, griequos, holiblias, isported, istuacing, motecest, orsagosy, ossefilin, oupedias, preehing, puspatin, quildot, qualacil, terroper, ungsness, uringlus, xersenes, yetlopin"
Some Words in Between the Words of the Dictionary
(all found by JABBER)
Neil Hennessy has created a poetic engine called JABBER—a kinetic, digital program that dramatizes an atomic theory of writing through a kind of Brownian allegory. JABBER displays, on screen, a small cloud–chamber of floating, agitated letters that drift at random, like dust through a void, each mote careening off another or combining with another, depending upon the statistical probability of these compounds occurring in English. When two particles collide (like O and X, for example), the program calculates a ratio that represents the likelihood of the resultant digram (OX) appearing in the language, whereupon the program compares this statistic to a randomly selected value in order to decide whether or not the letters combine or repulse. When colliding letters connect, they form a syllabic molecule that can continue to interact with other wandering letters, each molecule coalescing or scattering, depending upon the frequency distribution of these morphemic agglomerates (so that, for example, the digram OX might combine with the letter Y to form the trigram OXY). If a compound acquires more than seven letters without forming both a likely prefix and a likely suffix (the tetragram HYDR combining, for example, with the tetragram OXYL), the compound explodes into its component particles, each of which returns to its own unique, atomic swerve.
JABBER can in theory deduce any customary word in the dictionary, plus any imaginary word that might likely appear someday in between these official listings. Hennessy remarks that, much like a neologistic portmanteau (such as "brillig" or "slithy" in the poem "Jabberwocky" by Carroll), common vocables in English, when combined in such a random manner, still evoke the phonic ambience of English. When we read the poem "Jabberwocky," Carroll guides us through a lingual thicket of Anglo-Saxon nonsense (a quatrain full of "toves" and "borogoves") in order to recount an allegorical disputation, in which the vorpal blade of logic seems to kill off the "jabberwocky" of nonsense, replacing it with a castrated rehearsal of such mumbo jumbo. The poem may test the potential of an improbable divergence from the most likely series of letters, coalescing noncewords, like "uffish" and "frumious," "tulgey" and "frabjous," out of the random shards of an atomized language; nevertheless, this wacky jabbering is doomed to die. The poem curtails the aleatory delirium that such nonsense both implies and induces. The deranged fable in the end serves only to parody the intellectual grotesquerie of a student unable to attend to the logic of rationalism.
Hennessy suggests that such molecular gibberish arises in "a looking-glass world whose language is English spoken through a fun-house telephone"—and his program demonstrates that we have become so acclimatized to the probabilistic configuration of letters in our own native tongue that, when we encounter a cryptonym, we might nevertheless experience a sense of implausible recognition, a weird genre of déja vu, that might lead us to decipher the meaning of the word, if only by means of some, otherwise whimsical, etymology. Carroll may expose Alice to a world where, for a moment, she becomes alienated from the pedestrian vocabulary of English in order to experience an, as yet unthought, if not improbable, disposition of letters; nevertheless, such cryptonyms constitute only a lingual anomaly in an, otherwise intelligible, disquisition. Hennessy, however, proposes to write a far more radical version of this fantastic adventure, in which sensible language itself becomes anomalous within a milieu of random speech, thereby fulfilling the implicit, but resisted, possibilities of such a gibbering narrative. He remarks: "Carroll may have killed the Jabberwocky, but […] I am resurrecting the Jabberwocky to let it run amok."
Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...