Mediamatic Magazine Vol.7#1 Paul Groot 1 Jan 1992

Famous Artists School, Famous Writer Tool

or: the hankering after a configurated system for the Apple and other rhetorical reflections

In Mediamatic 6#1, Paul Groot reported on his first experiences with a word processor and his struggle with the McHugh. As a sequel to these first impressions, he will review here MicroSoft's Word5 for Mackintosh, discuss the Windows' cd-rom version of Iconclas Browser (Is each writer his own rhetorician?) and reveal the background to some of the poems from config.sys., his own book of poetry which is soon to be published.


The Word5 user processes texts. It is as if he writes a text whose realization primarily depends on the terms laid down by the programmer. The Word5 user does not write a text, but rather loses himself in the keyboard references and the menus. He is primarily the reader of a programme. It is irresistible to descend into the deeper spheres of keyboard and menus. The design and the editing of his own texts force him to submit to the stand-by syntax and commodity semantics included in the accessories, to resign himself to an overall grip on the material. Because how can he resist the electronic temptations of the keystroke which will land him in a major dictionary in a way he had always only thought possible in Alice in Wonderland?

The word processor replaced the East German typewriter, still only kept in play with needle and thread, which had mainly exerted its ideological ascendancy in the unnecessary amount of energy it took to operate the keys. Word5 brought the weight of levity. And Word5 on Apple's PowerBook has proved to be, above all, a precision mechanic of the mind. Only a concert pianist or a chess player can really master the subtle switches in the extensive supply of individual choices. An electronic sound box, a stringently fixed and consistently reacting electronic brain with a user-friendly mouse, a parasitical manipulator to make the pressing commands easy to swallow. Word5 provisionally crowns the word processor as a manipulator, an assailant, a representative of bad taste. The ideology of the free word wrapped up in the rational design of word processing, testing the methods of literary writing with the help of rhetorical commands and instructions. Famous Artists School became Famous Writer Tools.


In every Word5 user, there is a hidden opponent who thinks of himself as the devil's advocate. He looks up to the user of the ms dos WordPerfect, the natural counterpart of the Word5 in Apple PowerBook. WordPerfect in ms dos has always ignored the aesthetic challenges, the submission of word to image has never happened there. WordPerfect, as an ms dos sign-controlled method, does perhaps in the end deserve preference over Word5. Word's gui (Graphical User Interface) design is in fact the natural enemy of the ideal word processor, in that it navigates according to mouse commands instead of typed codes. WordPerfect allows the algorithmic sequences - products of logic and mathematical beauty - to be recalled textually, as if it was a musical score which you can play by heart after a bit of practice, something like an impromptu by Chopin or one of Sati's bagatelles. (The ideal dream image: zoom in from 1:1 to 1:16, a ramification which can be extended to the power of 16 in all directions.) What WordPerfect does not give in reality, it holds in potentiality. Those who only write in asci files, and have never mixed the .bmp, cgm, .drw, .pcx, .pic, tiff, .wmf or other graphic formats, have a totally different idea of word processing than that of a Word5 user. Reading techniques such as Cortazars, in Hopscotch, in which the chapters are read in an order other than the printed one, an order determined by the reader himself, are a thorn in his flesh. However, the structure of Word5 also shows commitment to the characteristic textual principle. But because of the mouse-controlled operation, the user is fettered and intimidated by the compiled intelligence crowded into the programme.


How many years will it take before Word5 is cherished as a treasure of industrial archeology? As an artistic - even spiritual - cultural product which is as impossible to 'improve' as a wind symphony by Stravinsky? Will Word5 become the most characteristic word processor, in the same way as the art of novel writing, as a nineteenth-century invention, or the sonnet, as a renaissance technique, produced their classic examples during those decisive periods? Or is Word5 just part of the range of graphic techniques succeeding each other in time? Once it becomes possible to make a connection between our thinking and what we now still call a computer, will the word processor become just one of a long range of obsolete techniques or, after all, a genre in itself? It is almost a curse! The ideology of Word5 is that of the cd (common denominator). With the mouse as the instrument of the illiterates, the pen that of the overly-pragmatic and the keyboard, with the help of a precise and manifest organization of hand-composing and tablature, strictly for the poets among us, whereby the enhanced aesthetics of the outline should take you directly to the sphere of the rhetoric. This path branches off via the commands and drifts into the finely nuanced roots with immediate access to spelling checks, freehand and all the other paraphernalia, thus adding a new chapter to the classic rules.

What, on the other hand, makes working in Word5 so alluring is the absence of a distinction between analyst and producer, between writer and operator, between critic and archivist. You are at the same time typist and archivist, creative writer and rhetorician. The conflict between form and fellow, between litterateur and programmer, is solved in an atmosphere where formal tradition vanishes into pathetic argument. The Word5 rhetorician is the Narcissus among his peers. Indexes, footnotes, glossaries; he always has his exegeses near at hand. The 'brilliance' of his texts now lies primarily in their design. Who would not turn green with envy at the computer's tablature? If only you could calculate and write as well as that! The envy you feel for Word5 is focused on the absolute superiority it presumes, the needs it suggests. Word5 fetters you, charms you, and lures you into believing that your texts do indeed need all that rhetorical and scientific paraphernalia it has to offer. But how much does this require in poetic powers of expression?

The Word5 user is trapped, he knows he is caught in a hierarchical system, from the spelling check to Dewey's decimal book systematics. Those who have tasted the Word know that they are no longer just entering a text, but are also committing themselves to producing a document with an isbn number. The notation condemns them to be the producer of a range of digitals. Letters and words immediately have a textual correlation, before even assuming their literary or associative meaning. There is no word, either as such or broken down into letters, that does not assume a descriptive meaning. The writer probes deeply into tree diagrams. He categorizes what he has written, sets up a notation system, indexes his vocabulary with prefixes and suffixes, and arranges the levels on which he moves, however arbitrarily. A text, a chapter, an article, manifests itself as a file, which in turn is unthinkable without the background of a spreadsheet, to be consulted for support at essential moments.

Thus, MicroSoft has ideologically determined the user's text productions. The choice of a letter, the punctuation, spacing, font, varies with the mood of the moment. A direct confrontation on the screen makes it impossible to write a text which is not a file, which is not permeated with the smell of the place in the hierarchy of the project manager, who does not worry about the number of bits it takes. And all this despite your awareness that, for all the scaremongering, in this seemingly orderless anarchy it rarely happens that something disappears from your hard disc.


Still, Word5 cannot and should not be rejected as a mechanical protuberance just like that. Because, more than being only rhetorical in character, this programme eventually proves itself capable of self-perception, with activities reminiscent of a narcissistic reflection. Writing means generating electronic documents, a question of hyper-textualizing, iconizing, outlining, indexing, algorithmic structuring, Boolean operating, calculating machinations. Instructions which immediately show the mathematical and mechanical metaphor. Hypertext inverted. Blame it on Word5.

And indeed, what adventures lie ahead of the Word5 user if he unexpectedly finds himself in the complementary Iconclas Browser?.. He will read about an Iconographic classification, with a systematic arrangement of themes, motifs and symbols from art history and will become immersed in the collections, coded in great detail. While he was used to plodding his way systematically through card-index systems, he now has, available on desk top, the iconographic unveiling of all images and themes from the Western visual arts. No longer does he classify extensive verbal descriptions of the individual representations; he lets himself be referred systematically to alphanumeric codes and hierarchically arranged descriptions. Nine main themes split up the image motifs into an infinite number of levels and sub-categories. There are 23,000 image motifs to be found. He reads that it is intended to disclose less extensive, but coherent collections. The user sinks into these and disappears into a labyrinthine universe. He has finally escaped from the power of the gui, a sort of children's drawing book with an infantile user-friendliness, meant for word processing 'word processors' who have unconditionally resigned themselves to the limitations of their own handwriting. Now he has penetrated a verbally systematic framework. The windows conquered, he explores art history at a textual level. He navigates the nine-fold tree diagram, a journey which he begins, for example in

2 nature
continues in
20 'natura' figure or scene
branches off to
26 meteorological phenomena,
and finally, via the detours
26c winds
26c3 storm
26c35 whirlwind, cyclone, hurricane, typhoon, tornado
ends up in
26c352 cyclone at sea.

Each writer is not only his own designer, but also his own rhetorician. How insensitive could he be, not to be astonished, time and again, to see his texts set in the most beautiful fonts, returning from his self-produced
26c3523 the eye of the cyclone?

And how intelligent do you have to be, not to succumb to this challenge of calligraphic allure? Who can still believe that Wittgenstein could have written the Tractatus Philosophicus, or Spinoza the Ethica without the help of Word5?

This Hypertext communication with an outside world turns out to be suitable for communication with your own brain as well. A connective structure of outlines, indexes, word counts, displays a layout whereby writing turns into word processing, intuition into organization. The writer as the spectator at the production of his own texts.


And so the computer languages penetrate the poetic Space. config.sys. book reflects the beauty of the computer languages in formulations based on algorithms and mathematical formulas. In the same way as Homer, in his Iliad and Odyssey, sings the praises of the Heroes of Troy, as contemporary poets recognize the modern consumer society or reflect the influence of logical positivism, so config.sys. book sings the praises of the Computer Languages.

The poem processor processes a language which now, for the first time, becomes aware of the concept of poetry. The Homeric simile (mentioned for the last time in Harry Mulish's The Assault: It is as if he wanted to say that the entire existence is a simile of another story, and that it is a question of finding out what that other story is about.) is suddenly revived and, as a result of its rhetorical process, returns victoriously in config.sys. book. The outline forces you into the widths and the depths, shows you levels which take you even deeper (wider, higher) than the classical similes. For example, if the improvisatorily used combination of find and change, followed by a system error, upsets the carefully structured outline, if the original algorithm turns out to be lost, if a collection of ingenious macros disappears, if a strange layout emerges, then the poetic plot protrudes. config.sys. system is a poetry analyst, too. Select Leopold's Cheops and see what happens.

The poetry in config.sys. book is at an experimental stage of development. Images which come into a communication of machine languages are subsequently forced to function within a mental space focused on meditation and self-reflection, and then adjust to a narcissistic self-reflection. Although in flat contradiction to the communicative function of the artificial languages, these formulas can be loaded and burdened with a consciousness of our own past and future. The empty space of the aesthetic vacuum crowded with, albeit empty, but still significant meanings. config.sys. book deals with the structure as the content, a structure as a content in disguise, a content which disappears under the tyranny of the form. Isolated from the software programme, the logical construction of this newly developed rhetoric is able to transform every evocative suggestion into a structural abstraction. config.sys. book is a poetic mechanism filled with abstract meanings, which has no concrete content. Like a mirror-image blackbox, it processes primarily self-produced signals which circulate in networks and self-made collections. However, in parallel with logic and mathematics, it is capable of communicating with other poetic networks. By means of paradoxes, a-logical reasoning and absurd conclusions, it generates a binding structure of its own.

translation olivier/wylie


I. Envy

[input N

X: = 0;

for Y from 1 to N do

X: = X+Y

end; output X.]


II. Coitus

[X = pos(0) (span('A') @N span(notany('AB'))

pos(*(2 * N)) rpos(*N) span('B') rpos(0))

L TEXT = input :f(END)


output = 'THE ENTRY IS OK' :(L)

BAD output = 'THE ENTRY IS BAD' :(L)



III. Self-generated

[- FIB N

* A"11

* AE 2 x N>r A"A, + G2 -A -]


IV. Tortoise

PRESS(*,o, *,X)


V. Finite Forms

[ZP = 90° -f; ZG = 90° -h; PG = 90° - ¶

-PZG = 180° - a; ZPG - t ]


VI. Oblivion is for ever

[type colour = (blue, red, purple, brown, yellow);

type colour chart = set of colours;

type day = 1..365 ]


VII. Now that I open the window

function signLoc charposition -- gives square upon

character position

global gridOriginH,gridOriginV,gridSize,


put item 1 of charposition into charposH

put item 2 of charposition into charposV

put gridOriginH + (charposH) * gridSize into TopLeftH

put gridOriginV + (charposV) * gridSize into TopLeftV

put gridOriginH + (charposH+1) * gridSize into BottomRightH

put gridOriginV + (charposV+1) * gridSize into BottomRightV

put topLeftH & "," & TopLeftV &"," & BottomRight H &","& BottomRightV into SignSquare

put (TopLeftH + (gridSize / 2)) &"," &(TopLeftV + & (gridSize / 2)) into signCenter

return signSquare

end signLoc