My favorite “digital” way of analyzing texts is to turn them into gently salted nonsense. Darius Kazemi’s “Hottest Startups” bot, which fuses the language of startups and marxist theory has probably taught me more about the relationship between those things than another collaborative monograph on the state of collectivity ever could. Nothing detourns a text like a bot’s combination of automaticity and serendipity.

One way of building bots like these is to store the texts they draw from as what are called Markov chains. The general gist is that a text is stored as words and probabilities. In a given text, a word–say, “the”–has a certain probability of being followed by another word–say, “avant-garde”–and a different probability of being followed by a different word. Stored this way, one can ask the Markov chain to generate text that seems superficially similar to the original text by chaining words randomly (but weighted by probability) through the chain. The idea is that Markov chains conveniently store a dessicated kernel of a given text, but given a single seed word it is unlikely we will get the exact same text back, but rather a markedly similar (and lightly nonsensical) text.

Some example sentences from a forthcoming bot, seeded with Greenberg’s “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”:

Culture down to their own primitive folk art as is the culture of the few are shared by the general. even then, however, the resentment.

Their audiences. it becomes difficult to assume anything. all the verities involved by religion, authority, tradition, style, are thrown.

There is no longer look toward socialism for a new culture — as inevitably as one will appear, once we do have socialism. today we to

Already (and my implementation is currently so, so brutal) there are some key (early) Greenberg terms here–socialism, folk, authority, and so on. Even ultimately Friedian terms like “thrown” show up, but detourned away from Fried’s ontological thrownness.

Anyway, hopefully this will appear in forthcoming twitter bots about art history. Someday soon, be on the lookout for askHeiny, a Heinrich Wölfflin-flavored nonsense bot. Stay tuned!

Source: askHeiny!

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