2019 October: Defining the Field and Forging Connections in the Literature

Professor John Frow of Sydney University is somebody I may wish to establish contact with, as his book, Character and Person (2014), is very related to my project. We have even come across some of the same examples (Kundera) as instances of character/person crossover. He may even be appropriate as a supervisor, although I should finish reading his book first! This book directly addresses the ways in which fictional characters may inform what it is to be a person, and the fictionality and constructedness of the person.

Seeming Human, Artificial Intelligence and Victorian Realist Character (2018) by Megan Ward seems also very relevant, in that she draws a link between the 20th century AI agenda and the occupation of Victorian Realists as attempts at making persons.

These two books seem most closely related to my research, from a narratological perspective. It will be an ongoing task to see whether a community for my ‘field’ already exists, beyond any specific discipline.

04/10/19 Idea: Editing older texts in preparation for publication

Today I attempted to organise some of my older writing, imagining that I could take snippets out of unpublished texts written over the years and paste them into my working thesis. Because I’m largely interested in things I was interested in years ago, some of that material feels relevant, if not up to date with my current views and choice of language. So the idea was to mine some of the older writing in order to equip me with a starting point for the thesis.

The task soon proved pretty overwhelming. I found there were actually pretty large chunks of older writing I would deem valuable enough to hold onto – not the snippets I had imagined. At the same time, these chunks didn’t seem fit for my thesis – they were too long to serve as ‘starting points’, and in fact too short/unresolved to serve as chapters. In addition to this is the fact that I am no longer sure of their relevance to the thesis. This surprised me. I thought that things I’d written previously would be extremely relevant, but actually it looks like the thesis and its focus on the performance of scripts – the invoking of a code – is representative of a changing course in my interests.

I feel a bit sorry for the old writing, because even some of the stuff written during the BA is quite good, and enlightened even me with some passages I’d forgotten I’d written. I wonder if I can afford to rework these old chapters from past dissertations into articles, before really too much time elapses since the point of writing them, that they become irrelevant or inappropriate for publishing. The reason I wonder whether I can afford this, is the aforementioned concern that they are not ‘relevant’. My immediate reaction to that concern though, is that I don’t really want to be so concerned about such things, particularly so early on in the PhD. A little openness would be nice, as would be the springboard to my confidence that would be a few publications.

What I notice in both my BA dissertation and the BA degree show – is that in both I was trying to unify all my practice and thought at the time, something that is often advised not to do. Looking back on what I wrote, it seems to me that, although some of the writing is really quite lovely and I agree with what’s being said, that the overall dissertation encompasses perhaps a series of propositions for articles, rather than an extensive exploration of one theme. I must also say that some of the passages are extremely, possibly overly, arduous; precisely the kind of overflowing-heartness that may be expected of a 22 year old.

So I’ve just had the (not actually very original) idea that, instead of tackling the thesis as a whole head on, I should focus on writing individual articles. I’d start this by subtly reworking some of those large chunks of useable material in older work, allowing the editing process to take me into further research, with a view to getting them published in relevant journals. I’ve already done this once, which is reassuring: A Story about a Drawing in JAWS journal was actually a chapter from the BA dissertation. I lazily sent that same chapter without an edit to JAWS, and they wrote back with an acceptance on the condition of revision. I found that I much preferred the piece after revisiting it and adding more context. As it happens, I’ve read a further few parts of the same dissertation that invite the possibility of the same kind of treatment.

Cont — 13/10/19

Continuing the thoughts above, I have now sat down and ‘extracted’ three possible papers from the BA dissertation, which would involve a heavy edit of the extracted text, in terms of reformulating how I say things – especially with a view to simplifying the language as much as possible for the benefit of the reader. In addition to this, the themes invite more research, context and more generous definitions of terms. And simply more thinking about the implications of those themes and what has already been said about them.

Re the ‘relevance to my PhD’ thing – here are the themes I came up with from the BA dissertation:

1) The Blind Methodology: Comparing algorithms implicit in the creative process to biological evolution as a creative algorithm, subsuming both under the category of ‘blind scripts’ as a means of foregrounding the various ways in which scripting can underlie autonomous systems such as creativity or agency. Well, this actually could be relevant, because it touches upon the reading/writing phenomenon in my proposal.

2) Drawing Difference between Self and Other: This is more of an essay, I suppose, about drawing as an encounter between self and other; how the act of drawing generates this distance. There is a nice passage describing the encounter, which might suit a more informal forum. This one somehow feels less relevant to the PhD research, but worth writing.

3) Accommodating Others: The Role of Author as Medium. I am interested here in this conception of the authorial role as an alternative to ‘one who expresses their essence’. This convergence of ideas about the author as a medium, and as one whose own identity disappears. I am not sure whether this is relevant to the PhD, but this vacuity of identity seems to me to be what occurs also in the act of reading, which is an activity that attenuates almost every aspect of human living. With relation to the PhD it may be relevant to explore the sense that the self recedes and is assumed by an other.

There was far too much going on in the BA dissertation, and I will now check whether the MA dissertation is more unified or whether that too needs to be broken down into isolated themes.

05/10/19: Seminar Thoughts

In my introductory presentation at Goldsmiths, I put a special emphasis on my interest in the reading/writing phenomenon present in the formative mechanisms that instantiate autonomous beings, such as my usual examples: persons, living organisms, AI and in some cases, perhaps, characters.

In preparing the research seminar, I’ve been invited to think about these questions:

How might my interests converge with my co-presenters’?

We are all interested in writing-as-practice, and maybe in personal or subjective experience. E and R share an interest in digital experience, where E and I maybe share an interest in the construction of personhood and representations of self. Maybe also scripting, is a common theme. That’s my vague attempt at finding something that unifies us based on my so-far limited impressions of their work, but hopefully that will change as we get to know each other. I wonder if we could collectively ask a question that would benefit all of us.

I have these questions:

  1. In what ways does human agency differ from or manifest as a fictional character’s agency, particularly in the space of authorship, where both of these states of being, are active?
  2. Does fictionality pervade the construction of a person, and if so, does fiction factor into an objective account of personhood? (John Frow?)
  3. If quite complex behaviours and phenomena, such as creativity, can be instantiated algorithmically, and if the prospect of strong AI is preoccupied with ‘writing a person’, can the field learn anything from the writing of fiction? (Megan Ward?)
  4. Writing as scripting and Reading as running that script. Proposing that a script is propositional rather than deterministic, and then asking: What does it mean to run a script or read a text? And: Is a human being a text that is continually read?
  5. How do persons form through writing, scripting or inscription?
  6. Becoming through writing
  7. Authorship and the state of authoring

Where am I at in my research?

Because my practice is split in two between practice and theory, I feel I’m possibly at different stages depending on which of these I’m thinking about. I feel I am at an earlier stage in the process in my theory, because it’s the first time I’m taking those long-brewing ideas this seriously. I am still trying to define my question and what I want to find out, as well as find an appropriate language for the things I am talking about. I am trying to find out who this research speaks to as well, who else might be interested in its consequences. I am trying to define the field somewhat.

In a sense, I feel some of my art may be more eloquent than my theory. Maybe I would feel compelled to select something of my work which raises the concerns in my research, and present it as a talking point.

What do I need from this seminar?

I would like some public response to my questions as to their relevance to others interested in the philosophy of subjectivity and personhood.

Artworks that may be relevant:

Live performance of Pseudo

What format should it take?

Presentations – Pseudo – Respondent Roundtable – Group Discussion & Live Text Documentation

08/10/19 Seminar and Reading Frow

I spent the day on a close reading of Character and Person, trying to identify the most pertinent questions for my project, on the discussion of character/person ontology.

Yesterday we came some way to defining the theme of our seminar, and I am starting to think that in some ways I might keep my contribution simple: a performance of Pseudo, a brief presentation on a strand of the topic, potentially a (common/shared) respondent and a discussion. In a way I think I just want to use to forum to help my colleagues get to know my practice-based approach, and get their feedback on the Necker-cube effect in Pseudo, as well as how that phenomenon translates into a research question. Perhaps the assembly can help me identify the field I am addressing, a bit better, as well as get a tripartite sense of this subject of character and our divergent methodologies.

Plan Achievements/Notes
Week 1
Blind Watchmaker & Notes
Organise Readings ☑ To some degree. Frow seems like an important lead for future readings.
Texts recommended by M ☑ New recommendations since last visit > Wittgenstein. Still can’t find The Voice Imitator.
Edit latest audio track I reviewed the rest of the track, did not edit. Need to get new Adobe. 
Think about seminar possibilities
Review existing writing > github ☑ Realised I need to work in articles, rather than tackle the whole thesis
Week 2
Start Authorship ☑ TS Eliot Tradition and the Individual Talent; Plato’s Ion extracts; S. Freud Creative Writers and Daydreaming; P.B. Shelley A Defence of Poetry extract
Start Character and Person ☑ 2/8 chapters
Get iPhone footage on HD @ uni
Edit train footage
Start revising a work of writing ☑ Provisional title: ‘Accommodating Others: The Role of Author as Medium’
Developing format of seminar ☑ Invited respondents & completed publicity
Week 3
Art Research Tech * Have not done
Wolfram Language & Notebook (test) Have not done
Occasional Pseudo rehearsal
Complete CHASE 1st draft

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