Monday, 30 December 2013

On Automatically Generating Character Names

One amusing thing that my automated freeware text-generation program JanusNode can do is generate character names, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinarily bizarre. I didn't take advantage of this in my novel The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even but since then I have used JanusNode-generated names in other (as yet unsubmitted) fiction. Here are a few random examples (that you may feel free to use as you wish....):
  • A woman named Gilda "Stunning Chemical" Lumpthoud.
  • A Buddhist named Kristie Humpella Unschooled, Sr.
  • A man named Sung Mouserood.
  • A woman named Saundra Inane Sigmund Freud-Hank.
  • A man named Arthur Pittman-Pup Warm "The Idiotic Dog" Larker.
  • A checkout clerk named Amparo Puntalina Pope.
  • A woman named Norma Burpcoyde.
  • A personal woman named Poetic Goof.
  • A man named Archie MacPeculiar "Rank Acidic-Sole" Murki.
  • A man named Brant Von Moody.
  • A woman named Mari "Grubby Dauber" Cockroachcell.
  • A woman named Kasey Shoe "The Sugar-Free Honey" Von Chowderhead.
  • A ruler named Jodie Goyie Shamauskas.
  • A personnel officer named Luther Zebrajeh.
  • A man named Carmen Freak.
  • A man named Lewis Sikhella Mariana Roofellesity.
  • A concessionaire named Ivory Ingram-Ashley.
  • A woman named Reverend Lucille Turnson Noif, MA.
  • A woman named Fern Insipid Watkins.
  • A installer named Daub-daub Bellie Otternest.
  • A despot named Tenssho Tigerchi
  • A man named Woodrow Spotorda.
  • A cryptographer named Lend Assiassibosk.
  • A woman named Reverend Sparrow Taylor "The Cat-Damned" Pitiful, BSc.
  • A man named Reverend Donald Harter.
  • A man named Miles Rat Bush.
  • A woman named Retesi Oifoifholy.
  • A man named Lustful Greer.
  • A woman named Fey-fey Wayward Elki.
  • A woman named Elva Apollo McHolmes.
  • A domestic named Soto "Fanciful-Eyebrow" Workman.
  • A man named Faoge Guminheot O'Zipperhead.
  • A jolly woman named Esperanza Fencdo.
  • A woman named Greasy Gashson Miller-Blair.
  • An anxious man named Sensual Tiltalina Turding Otter.
[Image is a JanusNodeLOL, as invented by Calum Rodger. I maintain a full collection here.]

Saturday, 28 December 2013

On Living Well

"CT: [...] I think that Duchamp is a kind of Montaigne-like figure.
PC: What do you mean?
CT: He wasn't telling you how to live so much as he was just trying to find out for himself. His friend Henri-Pierre Roché once said Duchamp's greatest work was his use of time."
     Calvin Tomkins (2013) 
     Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews. p. 19
     [PC = Paul Chan. CT = Calvin Tomkins]

Thursday, 12 December 2013

On Naming Nothingness

I like the idea of giving names to absences. My current favourite is 'airplane mode on', which turns almost everything off. I like that we have to ask for 'room' at StarBucks if we want less coffee in our cup, as if the absence of coffee were a commodity that StarBucks prided itself on being able to deliver. Wittgenstein remarked on how odd it would be (and yet how consistent with normal usage) if we went into a room to see if Mr. Nobody was there.

When we turn off the lights we should say we are turning on the darkness. When we end a relationship, we should say we are enabling solitude. When we die, let it be said that we have just switched on our nothingness.

[I plagiarized this blog post from my own FaceBook post, December 12, 2013]

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

On the Most Dangerous, Least Useful Thing

In my day job as a research psychologist, I study how human beings process language. I use many methods, one of which is to model semantics using a  co-occurrence model of semantics. These computational models bootstrap word meaning by quantifying patterns of co-occurrence in a very large text corpus, using some fancy math that would be boring to explain here. The basic idea is this: the model can figure out that cats are more similar to dogs than they are to tractors because the word 'cat' occurs more often near the same words as the word 'dog' than near the same words as the word 'tractor'. Quantify that notion, and you have the model.

Recently I spent some time trying to construct a computational model of human judgments of a word's dangerousness and usefulness. My friend Lee Wurm has shown that people's behavior is measurably affected by a word's dangerousness and usefulness, suggesting that these dimensions are unconsciously assessed by people when they process words. He and I used my co-occurrence model to try to see if we could model these dimensions, with some success (the paper we wrote has been submitted for peer review).

One of the interesting side-effects of having a formal model of these dimensions is that we can compute quantitative estimates of dangerousness and usefulness for every word in the English language. Once we have done that, we can ask: What is the most dangerous, least useful thing there is?

The answer was kind of brilliant. According to our computer model, the quantifiably-proven most dangerous, least useful thing is [See if you can guess and then select the box to see.] anger!

[Image taken by me in about 1984 at the Acropolis in Greece.]

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

On Peeing on Duchamp's Art

In my earlier post on the varieties of the ReadyMade, I failed to mention an interesting example of a Reciprocal ReadyReMade, which I define as a replaced mass produced object designated as art that is then used a piece of non-art. In 1917 Duchamp selected a toilet and designated it as art, thus creating a ReadyMade. That original Fountain was lost so Duchamp later selected other toilets to stand in for the lost one, thus creating what I call ReadyReMades. Several people (Kendell Geers, Brian EnoBjörn Kjelltoft, Pierre Pinoncelli, and Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, according to Wikipedia) have had the idea of urinating into Duchamp's ReadyReMade urinals. (Pinoncelli also attacked one of them with a hammer.) Peeing on one of Duchamp's urinals is the equivalent of Duchamp's idea (never carried out) of using a Rembrandt as an ironing board. By peeing into his ReadyReMade, these people turn Duchamp's ReadyReMade back into a urinal, this creating a Reciprocal ReadyReMade, perhaps one of the few members of that obscure class of objects.

[Image: Daniel Spoerri's (1964) Utiliser un Rembrandt comme planche à repasser (Marcel Duchamp)]

Saturday, 7 December 2013

On the MadeUnReady

Duchamp is famous for inventing the concept of the ReadyMade: an ordinary industrial object (a coat hanger, a wine bottle rack, a shovel, a bicycle wheel, a urinal) that is re-conceptualized as art simply because the artist chooses to designate it so. In his notes to The Large Glass (another name for The Bride  Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even), Duchamp also discussed the Reciprocal Readymade: "Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board". Many of Duchamp's original ReadyMades were lost, with the result that many that do still exist are 'reproductions' by the artist: stand-in ordinary objects, pressed into service to stand in for the original ordinary object. We might (though Duchamp did not) call them the ReadyReMades.

There are other possible classes that Duchamp didn't discuss.  One class I call the MadeUnready, defined as an object that previously functioned as art but has since been damaged so that it no longer does. The most famous example is perhaps Robert Rauschenburg's Erased De Kooning, subject of an earlier blog post. The Reciprocal MadeUnready is a previously-destroyed piece of art that has been fixed so that it functions as art again. The Large Glass itself is a perfect example, having been shattered in 1926 and then painstakingly put back together by Duchamp into its current state. If de Kooning had drawn another drawing on the paper that had been erased by Rauschenburg, that would be another example. Following the structure above, we can go on to define the ReMadeUnready, which would be a damaged piece of art that has been fixed to function as art and then damaged again so that it no longer functions as art. Although the category may seem strained, I think a lot of children's art falls exactly into this category. A child makes something that gets damaged and is then carefully restored by a parent. Ten years later no one cares about the childish piece anymore and it is discarded as a ReMadeUnready

[Image: Photograph by German photographer Martin Klimas, via Slipcast- The Ceramics Blog]

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

On Being Obsessed and Chocolate

I was amused and pleased to see my novel listed on (Hong Kong) among 'Chocolate Obsession Books'. This is totally correct, as the book concerns two obsessive men who go on a road trip to buy a very expensive chocolate grinder, very much like the one pictured above (or this one).

[Image: Marcel Duchamp's Chocolate Grinder (No.1) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.]