Thursday, October 14, 2021


Every time you cross a city street you feel like you’re disappearing. Or rather, you feel that way just as you're reaching the other side. There’s a reason for it. It’s because every time you cross a street you’re hit by a car and killed. In at least one universe, you’re killed. But in at least one other universe the car misses you, and so you go on—feeling you’ve half disappeared.

The feeling wears off. Usually within seconds. The new universe is already growing on you, which is what universes do. Until you come to another road, with its cars and buses, another hit and miss.

But forget about cars. That’s just a teaser. The feeling you’ve half disappeared, which really occurs nearly every waking moment--isn’t it evidence that you’re always disappearing, every moment, but that something of you hangs on by hook or crook in every possible universe?

But forget about universes. That too is just teaser. The stuff of B-movies. In fact this whole piece so far is a B-movie. The real hook and crook are elsewhere.

“I am the bread of life,” He said.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

GPT-3: Who should be in charge?

Finally a computer game worth playing. Problem is, it’s still off-limits to the public. It’s called GPT-3, and Meghan O’Gieblyn writes it up in N+1.

GPT-3 is a language system model that has ingested most of the English-language Internet and through deep learning draws on the collected data to generate plausible human texts. In other words, it’s AI that can write strikingly humanish texts in any chosen genre. The results are (sorry, but the adjective is inevitable) surreal.

So far GPT-3 can mimic human writing at the level of sentence and paragraph. With prompts, it can mimic styles. This means, for instance, that GPT-3, fed an English translation of Proust, could rewrite it as a cowboy western. Which is maybe the first thing I’d get it to do.

It would be endless fun creating projects for this Beast. And probably soon I’d think of ways to get in trouble. 

O’Gieblyn’s article touches on a lot, though for me the psychoanalytical models weigh a bit too heavily in her big picture. Still, it’s hard to blame her. The psyche according to Freud and Co. really does offer an obvious referent for posing many of the questions this Beast’s presence provokes.

When the name Borges appeared in her piece, “The Library of Babel”, I thought “Yes, too bad he’s no longer with us.” He’d be the one to put in charge of managing GPT-3 prompts and R&D and publications going forward. And he’d resist the predictable psychoanalytic mire. 

In any case (and I know people are already thinking along these lines) the next task should be to get the Beast to recognize and then be able to mimic narrative categories: hero, plot, suspense, climax, etc. One might start with, say, the morphology of the folk tale as laid out by Propp and followers, and build from there. GPT-4, then -5.

It’s evident that just as deep fakes pose potential problems at the level of imagery, this kind of linguistic AI poses problems at the level of text. I’m thinking here more of the social and political realm than of issues like copyright. It is, after all, a Beast that is beginning to awake in these technologies. We have no reason, besides, to trust the Silicon Valley titans now forging them. 

Which is why, finally, they should just put poets and writers in charge. 

Read O’Gieblyn’s piece.

Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Taiwan Love-Hate

The novelty of being here is starting to wear off. I know that’s an absurd statement on the face of it, given that I’ve been here more than two decades. “Novelty”? That I could use the word in regards to Taiwan--I suppose it reveals something of my character: compared to most people, my enthusiasms move and develop in geologic time.

Still, slow as I am to change, my love for Taipei is wearing thin. The roads always blocked by blockheads double-parking; the constant racket; the hardware stores and pharmacies with aisles so tight you can’t turn around without knocking things from the shelf; the crowded sidewalks, now with women pushing their dogs around in oversized baby strollers--and finally, this cursed tonal language that still, after decades of my singing along, leads to misunderstandings.

The Taiwanese are wonderful, yes, impressive in every way; you can’t beat the Taiwanese. But the space they’re crammed into, that’s another thing.

I did move house a few months ago, out of one of the city’s most double-parked districts. The new place I moved into was “christened” almost immediately. Within a week or so of getting settled I was shaken awake one morning by an earthquake. Then a major typhoon hit, which caused the ceiling in one room to leak.

But these things don’t really bother me. What bothers me is the piling up of annoyances in public space. The feeling of being constantly harried by inevitable nuisances that are no one’s fault, given the population density.

Whenever I arrive in Taiwan after being abroad I’m always greeted by the unique scent of the air. I’ve noticed it every time, starting from my first visit. The air of Taiwan smells of a faint mixture of car exhaust and rotting fruit. Sounds awful, but there’s something attractive in it, something that always cheers me as I leave the airport. For decades this scent has carried a certain promise, and that promise has largely been fulfilled.

If I left Taiwan I know I’d miss it, probably within a month after leaving. Were I to move back to the US, at this stage, I’d be in a somewhat foreign country, a land now made up of two distinct tribes, with rank idiots everywhere, especially in the leftward tribe. I’d join with the mostly sane tribe (with its small corners of idiots too) and try to do my part to save our tottering Republic.

Taiwan's subtropical climate, which I’ve not really mentioned, only exacerbates every annoyance I’ve cited above. It is a climate suited for mold and fungus more than for humans.

Friday, October 1, 2021

This Genre

It’s true that back in the day a guy could get arrested for writing this genre. Go ahead: check FBI records if you don’t believe me. That was before my time, granted, but I’ve heard about it. They’d wait for you on the corner.

“That looks like some funny enjambment you got there.” And: “We’re taking you in.”

Still, if you ask me, I’ve been rereading some of the old timers, and some of these guys were arrested without cause. Far too prolix. It was short essays they wrote, not prose poems. It was cryptic narratives at best.

If you ask me.

Thing is, one needs to wreck the china shop with the smallest possible bull--a bull the size of a shoe, but still recognizable as bull.

You step in the door, you set the bull down, and already shelves begin to fall.

That’s what this crime is about, David Lehman. Your anthology is way too fat. Most of these guys, they'd never get into Sing Sing.


Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.