Error, Failure and Nabotov

August 26th, 2013 Comments Off on Error, Failure and Nabotov

I’ve recently created my first Twitterbot, Vladimir Nabotov, by appropriating the code from Zach Whalen’s brilliant Pelafina Lièvre. The bot itself is fairly derivative and works on the principle of Markov chains, but the source material is esoteric enough to deserve further comment.

The bot draws its source material from bootleg versions of Nabokov’s works available online with all the errors, typographical quirks and other peculiarities. Using Nabokov as source material is also problematized by Nabokov’s frequent code-switching between English, Russian and French.

Automatically generating tweets can often lead to failure, as the source might not be an interesting section of the text or the bot might post something offensive. Nabotov embraces this failure with the “dirty” source material. This can lead to some familiar motifs being recast in new forms:

Equally, there can be some interesting results with non-English languages, such as this snippet of Zembla:

These results would be desirable in a usual twitterbot, but the missteps reveal problems with the texts readers are most likely to encounter if they are unwilling to purchase a copy of a carefully produced book. This can take the form of weird glyphs, errant punctuation (Nabokov loves his parentheses!) and conjoined words:

Failure is often banded around as an important aspect of the digital humanities, and twitterbots certainly allow us to understand the potential failure (and harm) of generative writing, but equally, this failure can be channeled to examine other types of failure too.

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