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My question is inspired by this reading challenge proposal about The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, which collects short stories, etc. that were generated (written?) by a computer program.

Does this fit in with any commonly-accepted definitions of literature?

  • Digital Humanities. There are more than a few algorithmic literary bots out there. Typically they generate their poems and narratives based on a deconstruction of a genre, e.g., sonnets, mysteries, horror, etc., into a set of rules. A simple google search for, e.g., algorithmic sonnets will turn up representative examples of this. In my view the key tension in the decomposition hinges on whether the process of is human vs algorithmically curated. – DJohnson Jun 5 '18 at 13:23
  • Hmm, how do you define "commonly-accepted definition of literature"? – Christophe Strobbe Jun 12 '18 at 9:36
  • @ChristopheStrobbe I meant in particular some definition that has at least some kind of prominence (e.g. backed by a well-known person, accepted by a lot of people, or advocated by a well-respected academic) as opposed to just "what Joe claims literature means on his blog." – EJoshuaS Jun 12 '18 at 12:44
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"any commonly-accepted definitions of literature?" I think so. I believe that a commonly accepted definition of literature is something like a grouping of writings. If your definition of Literature includes something to do with art, then you first have to define art. And dependent on whether or not nonhuman things can make then defines if computer-generated poetry is art and then Literature.

So yes computer-generated poetry fits in a broad definition of Literature.

And I think any definition of literature that includes computer-generated works is still useful.

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It fits well with reader-response theory. In "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One" (collected in Is There a Text in This Class?), Stanley Fish recounts how he wrote a list of motifs on the blackboard for his Medieval Literature class, and asked his subsequent Literary Theory class to interpret this "poem," which they did successfully.

What this means is that, according to Fish, "literature" is in the eye of the beholder, so this would apply well to computer-generated literature.

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