Sep 192011

Fugitive Texts, the publishing division of Sample Reality, is pleased to announce Hacking the Accident, an algorithmically altered version of Hacking the Academy. The original Hacking the Academy, forthcoming in print by the digitalculturebooks imprint of the University of Michigan Press, is a scholarly book crowdsourced in one week and edited by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Machine generated yet scholar legible, Hacking the Accident replaces every person, place, or thing in Hacking the Academy with the person, place, or thing—mostly things—that comes seven nouns later in the dictionary.

Known as N+7, this mode of procedural writing was popularized by the Oulipo group, an attempt to divest creative expression of two hobgoblins that haunt the modern age: the myth of the muse-touched creative genius, and the equally debilitating reductivism of the Freudian unconscious. N+7 circumvents these fictions, these stories, these—what “stories” under N+7 become—straightjackets. N+7 celebrates the random, valorizing the lack of what artists, writers, and intellectuals often seek in their work: control. It is a yielding, a submission—not to the muses, not to genius, not to dreams and desires, but to the world beyond us. It is pure engagement with the outside world.

The results of N+7 would seem absolutely nonsensical, if not for the disruptive juxtapositions, startling evocations, and unexpected revelations that ruthless application of the algorithm draws out from the original work. Consider the opening substitution of Hacking the Academy, sustained throughout the entire book: every instance of academy is literally an accident.

Every fact is a fad and print is a prison.

Other, strange transpositions occur. Every fact is a fad and print is a prison. Instructors are insurgents and introductions are invasions. Questions become quicksand. Universities, uprisings. Scholarly associations wither away to scholarly asthmatics. Disciplines are fractured into discontinuities. Writing, the thing that absorbs our lives in the humanities, writing, the thing that we produce and consume endlessly and desperately, writing, the thing upon which our lives of letters is founded, writing, it is mere yacking.

One might think these revisions to Hacking the Academy were surreal, drifting up from the unacknowledged urges and struggles of the digital humanities, except they are the result of a brute force algorithm. In this computational sense, Hacking the Accident is not subliminal scholarship so much as it the true spirit of humanities computing, a genuine blend of humans and machines.

Hacking the Accident was made possible through the Creative Commons BY-NC license under which the original work is published by the University of Michigan Press and Library. The BY-NC license allows any anyone to share and remix Hacking the Academy as long as it is not used for commercial purposes and the original authors are fully credited. And they are. Every essay in the table of contents of Hacking the Accident includes a link to the original essay, which under the regime of N+7 is known as the oscillation.

A Note on Process (Words)

Before the digital revolution, N+7 required a dictionary in codex form. And patience. But formulaic word substitution is exactly the kind of rote process that computers were made for. In true digital humanities fashion, a technological solution was sought for transforming Hacking the Academy into Hacking the Accident. A digital tool. Because such a tool already exists, it would be tempting, also in true digital humanities fashion, to build a new one. However, Fugitive Texts has disregarded the prevailing mode of work in the digital humanities and availed itself of Spoonbill’s N+7 machine.

The N+7 algorithm is heartless, grammatically stunted, and just a bit confused about homonyms. Words that function as both nouns and other parts of speech are particularly subject to the vagaries of substitution. Therefore some words that are not used as nouns have been harmed in the making of Hacking the Accident. Fugitive Texts profoundly regrets the introduction of these false nouns and kindly reminds readers that they are machine-generated and not editorial statements on the recklessness of using homonyms in scholarly discourse. Another problem arises with nouns in Hacking the Academy that are not recognized by the N+7 Machine as such. These words are undeniably nouns yet they are not part of the database of nouns out of which the N+7 Machine operates. These nouns have slipped through into Hacking the Accident, and Fugitive Texts can only hope that these derelict nouns get their comeuppance in a future hack of the book.

A Note on Process (Images)

The occasional images in Hacking the Academy have been replaced in Hacking the Accident by dragging the original image to Google Image Search and using the seventh image found in the search results. The provisions of Fair Use support such blatant misappropriation of out of context images. All cease and desist orders should nevertheless be directed to the provider of the image search algorithm that retrieved these images, Google, Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043.

A Note on Intellectual Property

Just as Hacking the Academy was released under a Creative Commons BY-NC license, so too is Hacking the Accident. This work may be freely shared and remixed as long as the original authors (and the creator of this remix, Mark Sample) are credited, and it is for non-commercial purposes.