Mediamatic Magazine Vol.7#1 Arjen Mulder, Dirk Van Weelden 1 Jan 1992

Introduction to Static Literature

Modern information society exists by the grace of durably preserved, easily movable data; correspondingly, accuracy of notation and precise coordinates of storage are of the greatest importance. Doubt as to where information must be stored or the use of unusual turns of phrase causes disturbance. Smooth data processing requires vigilance, indeed, a constant crusade against Static is a sacred duty.


Inleiding in de Ruisletterkunde -

In the universe of digital data, written errors, misplaced and meaningless messages are automatically spotted and assigned a place in separate zones. Common sense has been automated: a digital static filter stands ready to help the anti-static knights with spelling-checkers, grammar checks and priority alarms (that work by key words). The authors, sysops, editors, and programmers know what they must do: rehabilitate or liquidate the data causing the disturbance.

To this end, the functionaries of the Data Church need a finely-meshed net of explicit criteria that separate information from static. To the unbelieving eye of the Static Literary Man, this doctrine is a cookery book containing the most delightful recipes.

Static, i.e. undesirable and un-processable data and misplaced information, is the raw material of Static Literature. To grow from unfit format or document into a new discipline, Static Literature had to abandon the Data Church and occupy a territory of its own. A worldwide electronic network kept going by thousands of authors is the workplace where ground-breaking work is done: writing Static, and, while writing, penetrating to the deepest core of Static.

Sluice Rules

Like Dante's hell, Static Literature has a topology of concentric circles. At first contact, participants and their first contributions are received in a foyer. This stage is hardly typified by its public nature and collectivity. The authors still cannot read each others' texts. This is one of the privileges that must be won. A number of sluices must be navigated, each giving access to a space closer to the Centre.

Static Literature makes no distinction between existing and new work. There is no reason to contribute new or original material to the system instead of fragments or quotes from existing texts. But neither is one obligated to the latter. Difference is determined by trial and error; the work of certain authors like Dickens or Wittgenstein can be enormously successful for a time in the world of Static Literature. The illusion that new information is important disappears at the network's gates.

Static Literature does all it can to keep the amount of information in the world from increasing. An increase of information would only play right into the hands of its enemy, the Data Church. After all, Static Literature does not serve Meaning, but creates metamorphoses of information into static. How?

With a system of sluices. A sluice is nothing but a cryptic selection device in the system. Static Literature disposes of many hundreds of thousands of selection criteria, activated by turns or in combination by an automatic lottery. Thus, at a given moment, only texts containing both 'with respect to' and 'Brasilian beauty' may be allowed through the sluice into the next space. But an average of more than four loan-words from French in 5k or the mention of more than three non-primary colours may also open the gates to a new space. Or one must be on one's guard against negative selection: the use of the word 'blood' or of the words 'love', 'Ireland', and 'candlelight' in the same text may halt one's progress through a sluice.

Static authors are not aware of the criteria, let alone the rules that apply at the time of writing. The more varied their vocabulary, the more extreme the changes in style and subject, the greater become their chances or getting through the sluices. Unfortunately, the chance of violating one of the many secret rules and being set back several stages, even to the very beginning also increases. The author acquires privileges by penetrating into deeper zones.

In the first phase, he becomes able to read the work of a few others, then of tens of others, etc. until he acquires the right to propose 'sluice rules', even though he will never know if they have been adopted by the system or when they become active. This is how the Static author learns to read static. Others have achieved the same thing as he with their texts, or else they would not have made it through the sluices and into that space.

While more and more authors drop out or are stopped, the successful author acquires more insight into the attempts of others. What paths do others take in their attempts to reach the Heart of Static? Do they abandon syntax? Make spelling mistakes on purpose? Chop up pages of Hungarian newspapers? Or do they write their memories in ready-made cut-out prose? Are there unsuspected correspondences to be found between the history of the Second World War according to Ludovic Kennedy and a cut-up from the Farmer's Weekly from 1968?

Closer the its Centre, the Static system requires authors to cite from each others' work and address their work to each other. What is an answer/ provocation/ question/ to whom? It is here that Static Literature generates the Communicative Static Zone.

In the darkness generated by an interminable series of arbitrarily active sluice rules, the authors feel their way in the hope of reaching the Centre, the Inner Core of Static, where they will gain an overview of all of the texts submitted to the system and perhaps even authority to help run it. No one knows whether that is only an idle hope, it is entirely possible that the core of static is also only a passage leading to the situation of the author when he began: alone with his own text, writing to pass the first sluice-gate, but in ignorance of the requirements the text must meet.


Static is to information what ornament is to architecture. Nothing less than its real wealth. Static literature springs from an adventurous realisation, namely, that the stock of meanings in the information society led by the Data Church is limited, but that the amount of static is without end.

Static Literature dreams of texts consisting only of static (ornament) and devoid of meaning. Perhaps they do contain meaning, but it is of no relevance here. In this way, the Data Church's meaning builders provide the framework by the grace of which Static Literature exists.

Of course, a number of the participants in the Network of Static Literature are recalcitrant adolescents, but most of them are hard-working computer users who sincerely believe in the automatic evolution of nonsense. They see Static Literature as a tool to conquer the areas of virtual meaning, areas declared deserts by traditional data processing and the established language and textual sciences.

Their dream is a desert in bloom, where the foliage of seeming data flourishes beyond the menace of meaning. The Network is nothing less than a literary primal soup from which new worlds and new life forms can emerge. High-spirited, searching young inhabitants of the data universe impulsively embrace static; static and disturbance have long been great creative forces, but are still enemies of the system in the eyes of the Data Church and its Inquisition.

In all honesty, it must be said that protracted connection with the Network of Static Literature can cause nightmares as well as dreams. These can be summarized as the 'Futility Syndrome'; the depressed Static Knight is tormented by the dark brown suspicion that all data were static to begin with, that all literature is Static Literature, that his efforts are as futile and superfluous as those of the Data Church. Static Literature attempts to avoid this pessimistic view, just as it uses all of its combined powers to avoid the human quest for meaning and comprehension.

In the underworld of the information society flow rivers of static, wild data with no meaning or address, producing nothing, where Static authors surf in darkness. Their movements form a new vocabulary, one that does not serve the Data Church's project (Artificial Intelligence), but, rather, expresses the revelation of Artificial Stupidity.

translation JIM BOEKBINDER