Chapter 1: Origination

In the first chapter of Prehistoric Digital Poetry, Funkhouser addresses text generation, in which poetry is generated by algorithmically arranging words or sentences according to the coding of computer programs. The key idea in this chapter is “permutation,” which is the transformation or reordering of one “base” text, or a set of base texts selected by the poet/programmer or even by the reader/viewer. In 1959 Theo Lutz created what Funkhouser claims is the first “prehistoric” digital poem by using a set of titles and subjects from Franz Kafka’s “The Castle.” Lutz programmed a random number generator to select the subjects and titles and connect them with articles and conjunctions. The affect of such a poem seems to be to create a new perspective on the Kafka work, assuming that the reader is familiar with the references. While it is not a new sort of poem at all (one thinks of myriad pre-digital practices such as cut-ups), the introduction of the digital increases the possibility for a truly “random” arrangement. Funkhouser later references John Cage, who claimed text generating programs assisted him in "disconnecting from the ego" and advanced his study of nonintention in art, where the artist is no longer required to make decisions about compositions. Before using a computer program, Cage had to do a lot of his “randomizing” manually, so the use of digital technology in Cage’s works simultaneously obscures and calls attention to the materiality of the poetry.