Exquisite Corpus & Infinite Entries

October 20, 2006

I was recently re-reading my Masters dissertation, a rather inept analysis of the abstract classification problem: how to computationally document and classify not only the content of, say, images but also their emotional appeal and resonance. The problem was, unbeknownst to me, being solved or at least massively advanced by ad hoc systems such as tagging and folksonomies even as I wrote it. However, much of the paper was also concerned with the encoding of stories: how narrative, and the conditions that are required to make such a thing not only logically consistent but interesting, can be recorded on a computer; how it is encoded in the human mind; and the potential equivalences and interfaces between the two.

Obliquely inspired by these musings, I’d like to propose booktwo.org’s first Projects. One is a variation of the Surrealist’s Exquisite Corpse parlour game, also known as Consequences, where the first player draws the head of a body and folds the paper over to conceal their work, the next the torso, and so on. The other, more general, I like to think of as akin to British experimental novelist B. S. Johnson‘s novel The Unfortunates – a collection of bound chapters presented to the reader in a box, to be read in any order they preferred.

Both of these simple exercises provide possible models for the networked, or wiki, book – collaborative works that use the wisdom of crowds to create texts which surpass the knowledge of any individual contributor. Examples we have cited before include McKenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H30RY and MIT’s We>Me, the former a massively-moderated work of analysis, the latter an edited, mass-authorship textbook. What I’d like to see created is the networked novel.

Plan One: Exquisite Corpus will present to the user the last few lines of an existing text, and an entry box. Only when they have added to the story as they see fit will they be able to view the text in its (temporary) entirety. Is this even possible? Can a coherent narrative develop from disparate strands? We shall see.

Plan Two: Infinite Entries will take the form of a Wiki, but unlike traditional information-bearing wikis this site will carry stories. On entrance, the visitor will be sent to one random entry containing a story, quote, or fragment, from which multiple linked paths extend. The possibilities are endless.

Comments? Thoughts? Suggestions? Please chip in. We’ll let you know as soon as the Projects are available for use…


  1. When I was a kid I would spend hours on my bedroom floor surrounded by hundreds of bits of paper, ‘writing’ books (that ended up being scraps of stapled paper) in the vein of the Fighting Fantasy gaming series. Do you remember? There were dice at the bottom of each page and you’d flick through to ‘roll’ them, plus you made decisions and turned to the appropriate page. “You enter the room. On the table are two pills and a glass of water. You hear the sounds of Zorgon the Crucifier in the room behind you; you must act quickly! What do you do? To take the red pill, turn to page 73. To take the blue pill, turn to page 145.” Often the next entry would be something like “You took the blue pill. It is a brain enhancer and will add 20% extra capacity to your brain. Sadly your cranium is too small to accommodate the additional brain mass and you die a terrifying, painful death, the end.”

    Anyway, all this blah is to indicate that I have a deep-rooted fascination with the principles behind the Wiki idea. I think the Exquisite Corpus idea is probably a more straightforward project to kick off with. Both would be worth pursuing, to my mind.

    Comment by Emma — October 22, 2006 @ 4:30 pm

  2. Long before Gamer Theory I was part of an experimental writing practice we called Speed Factory, which produced a book by that name, published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

    Comment by McKenzie Wark — November 14, 2006 @ 9:12 am

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