Deformance as Writing Backwards: Readwriting RERITES

One who sees the final content of RERITES wonders how it came to be. How much input did Jhave Johnston and the AI have in “carving out the text,” as he calls it–a method of editing with poetic tambre the algorithmically generated syntax that the computer decides (did he teach it to choose?) is speculative poetry.

The transparency of the final text is refreshing: itemized content prefacing the poetry (is all of it the poetry?), no fancy formatting, no interface tricks nor user-friendliness. And still, in its skeletal splendour, the readerly question directed at machinic writing persists as it does for every final draft that goes to “press” (pressing something upon us): how did we get here? And for machinic writing in particular, riffing off of J. Yellowees Douglas: how do I read this thing?

I wrote to Jhave asking for the “writing process” videos for December. No such luck: he’d only started recording the process in March, two months before finishing the project. So March and April then.

The process of text generation resembles that of a human’s writing process: there are days when only nonsense emerges–

    rumgunshoch buildings ulcerated water - Stairways jaws the married well; a wet peaks. Liability away. dogger, preponderant bubbles, gambol
    historique 3TOM, des grunted, Lucien O
    rehab, and I said, laves a pallet, [y]ou cannot praise you a Tougher slab with heartquake in slake, An Snapchat disarticulation. the ass...
    What will we be care? falls now? hollering, gonna petitions,
    tell--drunk animal culture activates music work, copied by parkland pelo IBM and folios Warbler, sideview norden beside the pepperoni riggalld it like yahweh tossed whisper that a million loss of 8D j that whose privilege was bathed with garbs, I use my work.
    Later, owner's nebulous, punkish lurker detectors, closet splinters
    And knowledge had a getting sneaked our EurekAlert! Second reck

    This birthday.
    The hunger of my father is walking before
    gaskets, yroπb, fou-foule
    sixpence swooshes through ochre berl coos, adds me 2002.[there Soda to shatt
    shipwreck's Digest caching, your square--they're bulge them to
    Miles. He keeps a rose "For rainy flour
    Gazecki registry, another man's back. How the Release
    commons on the bench, be of a Fokker, nine
    or bold riding against a a word,he says. permed, effortlessly anus,

    stoner's también sudden buoys in Principle
    smithfield or Philip Wisdom"
    on-device furry-down portones web
    The school-or do everyone at camp matte, recapture the davenport of brief stubble.
    6. If eighteen shadows he strolled,
    procure for just, for all his use in instruments.
    grain-giver to my world's weekly anagram, but will it reuch laughingly shoots.
    The nineteen Star supper. Serendipity Poems
    the Spider

    The Horn connection of these contaminated stars and voyagers asphodel wars, their garish, horatiuses and
    willowsdelirium--which placenta.

    (excerpt of original form of March 14, 2018 corpus)

–and out of manic babbling are squeezed most humble sweatdrops:


    the hunger of my father
    is walking under contaminated
    stars, their garish
    willow delirium placenta

    (excerpt of final form of March 14, 2018 corpus)

In keeping with my research that attempts to demystify the illusion of media immateriality, I’m currently developing a comparative media methodology for the kind of behind-the-scenes, behind-the-screens analysis that Matthew Kirschenbaum gestures towards in 2017’s Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing: “the kind of information we receive from digital files will always have to be evaluated in relation to what we know of a writers’ composition habits from other sources” (229). Remarking on his own scholarship on John Updike’s papers, which contain analogue, digital, and printed digital archives, Kirschenbaum argues that these documents’ “digital collation is paradigmatic of what textual scholarship is going to look like in the coming years” (223-4), where for me at least when confronting the pooled corpus: how did we get here? How do I read this thing?

Of course, Kirschenbaum writes of humans who write and edit their own work in word processors. With RERITES, we are dealing with a collaborative form of authoring that not only integrates different human voices, but also machines that have unique modes of producing content, organizing and managing data, and articulation.

Literary scholars need to expand their methods of critical explication and undoing; the textual analysis and textual criticism of work that crosses stages of production/transmission, media platforms, as well as modes of authorship calls for a layered exploration of stages of work, leading to questions that include:

  • what/who wrote what?
  • what/who wrote first?
  • what tools–including languages–were used?
  • what do the drafts look like on the way to the final content?
  • what are the possible origins of the corpus out of which the content was generated?
  • do we have an idea of the algorithm(s) that generated the text?
  • what is the grammar used in generating the text?
  • what is the frequency of certain words or phrases and what does this tell us about the generation process?
  • what/who is or isn’t being represented in the corpus?


Getting insight into carving the text, in this respect, becomes a way to trace this collaborative process backwards. Where the act of deformance (Samuels and McGann) transforms the text through the act of reading backwards, which allows for a performative engagement and unknowing of a text, here, the deformance of writing backwards (or perhaps readwriting backwards) as seen in Jhave’s various articulations of his “carving” process demonstrate a deformance that unmasks the interface’s mysteries of production.


I ran the December RERITES through Voyant Tools and came up with a list of the most frequently appearing words, which I treated as reflective of the corpus’ algorithmic sway. These words I then rearranged into a poem:

    like light love
    heart eyes
    cut 412.27 blood years

    adult birds' dark departure
    drifting 2025 cane fields

The poem was then put through an Oulipo n+7 generator, resulting in seven variations (n+1, n+2, n+3 … ) of the poem, of which this one was my favourite:

    like limitation lunch 
    heel facts 
    daddy 412.27 body zones 

    advertising bits' date deputy 
    drifting 2025 cane figures

I also ran the most frequently used phrases through a machine generative “word eater,” editing the final result into this poem:

theses are theaters worldly of them
in thermostats midwest of theseus
i ratify in a
therapist’s bothering of
battles. size 41 epoch.

dater dating decencies
even daylight is a
heroine of bodybuilding who
sheds theodosius surplus of
putt in my plasters

wheatland theoretic is no
fewer housekeeping
a kingly of
a loneliest tim
submissions of

thankfully we at andrew colleges
–as if i
–i am notching

i go on
i havoc no
i wand to
in a darting
in each otherworldly
in my faculty
in my headway
in thermostats airways
in theatrically darius
in theses heats
in therapy hilts
in theoreticians minded
in thematic shams

is andrew in the darkroom?
it is enough.

its youthfulness can.
notarizing i know
notarize seeing the theorist
earliness of them theoretical headway
of thesis sunning
on theodosius bricker

onerous of us
planters within
theorize endurable allstate
theorems only one

seamen of
theorizer worst is
theorizing is a
seersucker theatrical
toolers age forcefully
witnessing a sacrosanct
yourselves arequipa

a bastes
a blustering
a blunt
a cager
a caligula
a cardiac
a chickadees
a dressings
a facet
a hole
a knifing
a lip
a litton
a mandatory
a miranda
a parallax
a plato
a pricers
a rosabelle
a sell
a service
a simplest
a singsong
a tempering
a thornburg
a translates
a wayne
a whooped
a winsborough
a younger!

Abasements theorists.