Congratulations to Professor Tyler Carter, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the Language and Culture Center at Duke Kunshan University!
No Blame, as Dr. Carter describes, is “an amorphous digital book of poetry and art, with text by [himself] and coding/artwork by Eric Goddard-Scovel. It consists of 64 pages, with 48 poems (i.e., 16 static original poems and 32 poems shuffled by algorithms partially derived from the casting of I Ching hexagrams) and 16 works of generative art.”
Generate your version of the book here: https://www.noblamebook.com/ and read more about Dr. Carter’s book below:
Could you describe what I Ching refers to and how it inspired No Blame? What is the significance of the title?
The I Ching or 易经 is a very old Chinese divination text, also known as the “Book of Changes.” During the 20th Century, it became known to English speaking audiences through the Wilhem/Baynes translation that was prefaced with an introduction by Carl Jung. By mid-Century it was used as a tool by some Western avant-garde writers and composers. Folks like John Cage, Jackson Mac Low and others used the I Ching as a kind of random number generator, though the numbers it generated were not so much random as they were, as Jung puts it, ‘meaningful coincidences.’
No Blame follows in the tradition of these writers, drawing from the I Ching to assist arranging the poems. The idea is that the I Ching can give a kind of order to the poems and poem sequences that our human minds could/would not make. In a way No Blame is an application of a pre-modern algorithm to the task of writing poetry. We’ve written a more detailed explainer of the code and algorithms, detailing the specific role of the I Ching, which can be found in ‘The Algorithms’ section of the No Blame site.
The name “No Blame” is a phrase that frequently appears in the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching. The original Chinese is 无咎. As far as its significance, we’d prefer to leave that for readers to interpret.
How did the collaboration between you and Eric Goddard-Scovel come about and how did you decide on the specifics of the algorithm for the dynamic parts?
Eric and I were neighbors in Lafayette, Indiana, where Purdue University is and where I (Tyler) went to for PhD school. Eric is a poet who works on digital poetry in addition to digital art projects. We had already been collaborating/goofing around on music so doing another project was a natural progression. Eric did the coding and design of the digital artwork and I supplied the text and concept. Essentially, I told Eric about what I wanted to try and his abilities + our work made the idea a reality, seven years later.
Our process for developing the algorithm was a good deal of trial and error, a number of drafts, some consultation with a statistician and coders, discussions with digital poetry folks, and making use of coding forums like GitHub and Stack Overflow. For folks really interested in the code itself, Eric has posted it on his GitHub page.
Could you share the inspiration for your book and who you are hoping will read it?
When it comes to poetry, much less experimental poetry, I don’t think there is much of an expectation that a broad audience will read it! But of course we hope that folks who enjoy poetry and/or experimental art projects and/or digital art will be interested in No Blame.
The inspiration from the book goes back about 20 years to when I (Tyler) was in MFA school and had first started to play around with writing procedural poems, resulting in the first 16-line poem forms and algorithms that No Blame was based on. A detailed account of those poems and where they came from can be found in ‘No Blame’s Origins’ section on the No Blame site. The short version of the story is that I wanted to use a different organizing method to play around with the same lines of poetry and further my experiments with the poetics of sequence. The bigger idea is that where we encounter a thing has a dramatic impact on how we regard the thing; that the meaning language carries is imbued, in part, by its context. So, a related question that we hope this project points to is who (or what) is creating the contexts of our encounters (such as news aggregators or social media)? And further, in direct relation to the I Ching, how might the meanings we ascribe to a thing, such as language, change over time?
What is something you learned in the process of writing this book?
That’s a good question. Eric reports to have learned a lot about coding generative graphics and sorting algorithms, as well as about the symbolism of the I Ching’s hexagrams, which are the basis for the generative artworks that appear in the book. For me, I learned a lot about algorithms and also how to collaborate over the long term. I think both Eric and I learned a lot about the I Ching during this project, though I’m not sure that knowledge manifested in No Blame in ways that would be obvious to a reader outside of the work Eric did on the generative art.
Are you hoping to write more “amorphous digital books” in the future or do you see yourself returning to more traditional formats?
Eric and I have no plans to do another “amorphous digital book.” This project came out of a specific time and place. Our goal was not to invent a genre but to answer the question as to if we could use the I Ching to arrange and sequence poetry in a way that was indistinguishable from how a human might arrange and sequence poetry. Now that No Blame is finished, each time it’s generated we are given an answer to that question, some answers more satisfying than others. That said, Eric and I have discussed continuing to work on the No Blame project, possibly assigning elements of music and noise, in addition to text and images, such that generating a new book could also generate a spoken/musical version of these poems. Eric has also mentioned using some elements of the code here on future digital art and digital poetry projects, while also working on writing projects in the more traditional way.
Tyler Carter is an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the Language and Culture Center at Duke Kunshan University. Currently he works with both the graduate and undergraduate programs at DKU, teaching courses in rhetoric, academic writing and oral communication. His research interests focus on comparative rhetoric, composition pedagogy, and L2 writing. He received his PhD from Purdue University in 2017, where he studied Rhetoric & Composition and Second Language Studies. He also earned an MFA in poetry from Brown University in 2005. Previously he has taught academic and argumentative writing, ESL, and poetry at Purdue, Academy of Art University, and Brown University. Links to his academic work can be found here.