At an excellent international conference on Translating E-Literature, which took place at Université Paris 8 in June 2012, I presented a paper which situated the process of adapting Nick Montfort’s 1k story generator (2008) into my web-based work TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] (2011) in terms of an extended notion of translation.

An adaptation of that paper is available for download here: Translation, transmutation, transmediation, and transmission in ‘TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]’ (PDF)

TRANS.MISSIONTRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a computer-generated dialogue, a literary narrative in the form of a conversation, a discourse propagating across, beyond and through long-distance communications networks created and necessitated by generations of transatlantic migration. One JavaScript file sits in one directory on one server attached to a vast network of hubs, routers, switches, and submarine cables through which this one file may be accessed many times from many places by many devices. Each time this JavaScript is called, the network, the browser, and the client-side CPU conspire to respond with a new iteration. The mission of the JavaScript source code is to generate another sort of script, a dialogue to be read aloud in three voices: Call, Response, and Interference; or: Strophe, Antistrophe, and Chorus; or Here, There, and Somewhere in Between. This multi-site-specific dialogue resonates in the spaces between places separated by time, distance, and ocean, yet inextricably linked by generations of immigration.

Although the translation of natural languages was not my focus in the paper I presented at Translating E-Literature, the inextricable association between language and nation necessitated the question: Were this work translated into French, would the location of memory also be translated, or re-placed, to reflect generations transatlantic migration from France to Nouvelle France? Would Cornwall be replaced with Bretagne, Nova Scotia with Acadie?

In 2013 TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] was translated into French by Ariane Savoie, a PhD student at Université Québec à Montréal, for a special translation issue of bleuOrange, a Montreal-based online journal of ‘littérature hypermédiatique,’ which launched at the Electronic Literature Organization conference Chercher le texte in Paris 23-26 September 2013. Here is a direct link to Ariane Savoie’s truly remarkable translation: TRANS.MISSION [UN.DIALOGUE].

Ariane Savoie presenting her translation of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] at Chercher le texte in Paris, September 2013
IMAGE: Ariane Savoie presenting her translation TRANS.MISSION [UN.DIALOGUE] at Chercher le texte, Paris, September 2013

In personal correspondence Savoie shared certain thoughts on her process, which I synthesise here. A strict translation of all the English variables into French equivalents would have resulted in subject-verb gender disagreements, the resolution of which would require considerable modification to the source code, which, Savoie felt, would have diminished the variability of the generator and the structure of the piece. Instead, Savoie elected to respect the structure of the source code. Gender conflicts were avoided by the population of strings with variables from only one gender, letting go of any variables that didn’t have the exact equivalent in that gender in French. Initially, this resulted in an eradication of the gender variable altogether. Eventually, a compromise was reached in which two versions of certain variable strings were created, that both masculine and feminine proper nouns might be called at different points in the script.

Although the gender variable represented by the string var heshe=[‘he’,’she’]; is not carried over into Savoie’s translation, something of the either/or binarism of that string endures, both through the introduction of gender variables through other means, as cited above, and through the variable string var place=, in which, the location of each place named is either on one side of the Atlantic or the other: Canada or England, Acadie or France, the new world or the old, home or away.

Many thanks et merci to Ariane Savoie, Alice van der Klei, et toute l’équipe de bleuOrange, and to Yves Abrioux and Arnaud Regnauld, co-organisers of Translating E-Literature.


Nick Montfort (2008)

Nick Montfort (2008) The Two

J. R. Carpenter (2011) TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]


J. R. Carpenter (2012) Translation, transmutation, transmediation, and transmission in ‘TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]’ (PDF)

TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] in &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing

A print extract and brief description of my computer-generated narrative dialogue TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] has been published in &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, a new anthology from &NOW Books.


The book has two front covers (though one looks more front-like than the other). It can be read from either direction. The introductions to both sides state: “There are two ‘sides’ to the book. These ‘sides’ mirror each other, except when they do not.”

The page numbers don’t quite bear this out, but somehow I suspect I have Nick Montfort to thank for my inclusion in this anthology. Roughly the other side of the book from TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is Nick’s contribution to the volume – a page each of output from the Latin and Cyrillic versions of “Letterformed Terrain,” from Concrete Perl, a set of four concrete poems realized as 32-character Perl programs. The source code of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is adapted from another of Nick’s pieces, The Two, so whether intentional on the part of the editors or not, these two pieces are engaged in a conversion of sorts.

In any case, I’m delighted to see print anthologies endeavoring to represent experimental digital literature, and I’m honoured to be included in this book, in such great company.

Here’s what the publishers have to say:

This second volume of The &Now Awards recognizes the most provocative, hardest-hitting, deadly serious, patently absurd, cutting-edge, avant-everything-and-nothing work from the years 2009–11. The &NOW Awards features writing as a contemporary art form: writing as it is practiced today by authors who consciously treat their work as an art, and as a practice explicitly aware of its own literary and extra-literary history— as much about its form and materials, language, as it about its subject matter. The &NOW conference, moving from the University of Notre Dame (2004), Lake Forest College (2006), Chapman University (2008), the University at Buffalo (2009), the University of California, San Diego (2011), and Paris (Sorbonne and Diderot, 2012)—sets the stage for this aesthetic, while The &Now Awards features work from the wider world of innovative publishing and serves as an ideal survey of the contemporary scene.

&NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing is edited by Davis Schneiderman. It will be available for purchase from Northwestern University Press and from Amazon as of 25 May 2013.

More information about TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]

A retrospective: A perspective: Going on 20 years online

A retrospective of my digital literary work was presented at Electrifying Literature: Affordances & Constraints, the Electronic Literature Organization’s 2012 Media Art Show which took place in conjunction with the ELO’s conference in Morgantown, WV, USA, 20-23 June 2012.

A retrospective? Of digital literature? Of my digital literature? Doesn’t quite seem real. In part because Morgantown, West Virginia, is some 6000 miles from where I’m presently sitting. I missed my own retrospective! This, I really can’t believe.

There have been quips of course. Aren’t you a little young for a retrospective? Thanks people, really, I mean it. In internet years I’m approximately 188 years old. But I’ve only been on line about 140 of those years. So, let’s say I got on line when I was 12 or so. Yeah, let’s go with that.

The Electronic Literature Organization retrospective focuses on relatively recent work, from 2005 from the present, including:

The Cape (2005)
Entre Ville (2006)
in absentia (2008)
CityFish (2010)
Along the Briny Beach (2011)
STRUTS (2011)

For a bit of perspective, I’ve dug out some odds and ends from my early years online – some of it about my work, some of it about the work of other artists or organizations, some of it dating from before the visual web, some of it embarrassing to me now, but… what the heck.

ID card for internet account in Concrordia’s PAVO Lab.

Fishes & Flying Things (first web-based project, made at the The Banff Centre in 1995)

A Little Talk About Reproduction (drafted as an artist’s talk presented at Studio XX 1998, reworked various times over the years)

A brief history of the Internet as I know it so far (written in 2002 or so, published in Fishpiss in 2003)

“Digital Crustaceans v.0.2: Homesteading on the Web,” Ingrid Bachmann, Gallery Articule, Main Gallery, Montréal, Québec, April 4 – May 4 2003. (art review, published in Fuse in 2004)

Bi-Coastal (short story based on the 3-year stint I spent working undercover in corporate web development)

Getting in on the Ground Floor: A Hazy History of How and Why We Banded Together (written for xxxboîte, an artifact produced in celebration of the first ten years of Studio XX, Montréal, QC, October 2007)

The Cape: The Backstory (about how incredibly long it took me to make The Cape).

Some days it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve been working on line going on twenty years. Many, many thanks to the curators Dene Grigar & Sandy Baldwin for noticing.

Electrifying Literature: Affordances and Constraints

J. R. Carpenter Retrospective

Three conferences in June. That’s a lot.

I’m off to Paris tomorrow to present at two conferences handily scheduled back to back. The first is &Now 2012 | New Writing in Paris: exchanges and cross-fertilizations, Université de la Sorbonne, Paris, June 6-10, 2012. There I will present a performance and a short paper on a new work called There he was, gone., which be published in Joyland Poetry any day now, or so the editors tell me. More on that when it comes out.

The second Paris conference is Translating E-Literature | Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis/Université Paris Diderot, June 12-14 2012. There I will present a paper called Translation, Transmutation, Transmediation, and Transmission in TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]. This paper deals mostly with the translation from one code language to another. I will present immediately following Nick Montfort, which is nerve wracking as TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a transmutation of his work The Two and as such I spend most of my paper writing about his work. I have a really hard time referring to friends in the third person, especially when they’re in the room.

A little later in June, a retrospective of my work will be shown during Electrifying Literature: Affordances & Constraints, the Electronic Literature Organization conference and exhibition to be held at the University of West Virginia, Morgantown, USA June 2012. I’m immensely chuffed about this, naturally. Many thanks to the curators Dene Grigar & Sandy Baldwin. Sadly, I cannot afford to attend the conference, but I will join one panel via skype – a panel on re-mixing Taroko Gorge – another work by Nick Montfort, which I have remixed three times, resulting in: Gorge, Whisper Wire & Along the Briny Beach.

As a lead up the the Electronic Literature Organization conference, Leonardo Flores has written a series of posts about work which will be in the exhibition, including my works: TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE], Along the Briny Beach, The Cape, and Entre Ville. Thank you Leonardo.

June is shaping up to be one heck of a month.

Inviting translations of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] on Ooteoote’s Vertaallab/Translationlab

The lovely Rozalie Hirs has posted one iteration of my recent web-based narrative dialogue generator TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] to Ooteoote‘s Vertaallab/Translationlab. The text is posted in English. Translations in any language are welcome, including code languages. The brilliant MEZ BREEZE has offered this Mezangelle take:

‎_TRANS.MISSION [A(hhh).DIA(multimodal)LOGUE]_

be[en there, done that, a]g[a]in[:out(re)] Transmission.
with a[hhhh] quest[].
wot_merges 4rm?
have ARGs + Augments been[+/or]gone, yet?
y Kant [u.c]?….
low nrg_lvling.
Eleg[ant]raphic.[s|w]Itches, here. .[knot…..*here*].



Why, you might be wondering, would one propose the translation of but one of an infinite number of possible texts created by a computer program? The program itself is a translation. TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] was written in Python and then translated to JavaScript in 2011. TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a transmutation of The Two, a narrative text generator written in Python and then translated to JavaScript by Nick Montfort in 2008.

Every text we read on the web is always read in translation. The web-browser translates source code into the text we see on the screen. In the case of the computer-generated iteration of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE], the web-browser translates the JavaScript source code into another script of sorts, to be performed in three voices: Strophe, Antistrophe, and Chorus. This script was first translated to live voice at Poldu Theater, Amsterdam 10 December 2011.

Whether read by the eye in a fixed or a generative digital instantiation, or experienced by the ear as live voice, TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a text about the translation from one place to another. Through generations of transatlantic migration, characteristics of one place become transposed upon another. “… sea shores reminiscent of those of England.” In the translation of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] form English to Dutch, would the word England be translated to Holland? That is entirely up to you, dear translator.

View the text and post translations of/to it here: Vertaallab 17 J.R. Carpenter – TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]


TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] || J. R. Carpenter TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a computer-generated dialogue, a literary narrative of generations of transatlantic migration, a performance in the form of a conversation, an encoded discourse propagating across, beyond, and through long-distance communications networks. One JavaScript file sits in one directory on one server attached to a vast network of hubs, routers, switches, and submarine cables through which this one file may be accessed many times from many places by many devices. The mission of this JavaScript is to generate another sort of script. The call “function produce_stories()” produces a response in the browser, a dialogue to be read aloud in three voices: Call, Response, and Interference; or: Strophe, Antistrophe, and Chorus; or Here, There, and Somewhere in Between.

Strophe sets out from east to west on a treacherous mission, across high seas and frozen wastes, in search of a Northwest passage, in hopes of trade routes, and fountains of eternal youth. And Antistrophe returns from west to east with scurvy, captive natives, and furs. Neither ever arrives. Both only just barely finish leaving. Likewise a reader can never quite reach the end of this TRANS.MISSION. Mid-way through a new version is generated. The sentence structures stay the same, but all their variables change. Relations shift as time passes, so that we have immigrants now, where once we had explorers; a persistent tap eclipses a strange whir; a message instead of a passage; Nova Scotia in place of Scotland; a submarine cable replaces a shipping network. How different is the narrative of one journey from the next?


TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a transmutation of Nick Montfort’s The Two, a narrative text generator written in Python and then translated to JavaScript by Montfort in 2008. The decision to hack rather than craft code anew was a deliberate one. Though the nature and form of Montfort’s narrative were substantially transformed in the creation of the Python version of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE], and then further in the translation of the transmutation into JavaScript, something of the uncanny twinning of characters at work in The Two underpinned Something of the uncanny twinning of characters at work in Montfort’s The Two underpinned my process production; my hack transforms Montfort’s source code into a code medium, sending and receiving dialogue on and through media haunted by generations of past usage.

Speaking of past usage, TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] was first performed live at Aesthetic strategies as critical interventions, followed by a discussion panel chaired by Rita Raley. This event took place at Perdu Theater, Kloveniersburgwal 86, Amsterdam, 10 December 2011, in conjunction with an ELMCIP Seminar on Digital Poetics and the Present, hosted by University of Amsterdam, 9-10 December 2011

A short performance of and research paper about TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] will be presented at Network Archaeology, hosted by Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA 19-21 April, 2012.

TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] will be included in an upcoming retrospective of my work presented by Electrifying Literature: Affordances and Constraints, in conjunction with the Electronic Literature Organization Conference, at The Art Museum of West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, 20-23 June 2012.

More information about TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] may be found in this artist’s statement.

View the work online here: TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]