Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. The most recent edition, BAX 2015, was released in January of this year by Wesleyan University Press, and includes work from writers Nick Montfort and Joseph Mosconi that involves technicolor palates and Python programming. They (virtually) sat down with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea to discuss critical intimacy, display technologies, online corporate prisons, and the Burger King font.
Michael Martin Shea: Let’s start with a basic question–can each of you talk a little bit about where your pieces in BAX come from and what their compositional process was like? Or, perhaps more interestingly, where or how do these pieces fit in with your larger writing projects?
Nick Montfort: I often write computer programs that generate texts. Actually, I have three books, and two others coming this year, and another coming in 2017, that consist of computer programs and their output. That first page is often the program I wrote, which happens to be in Python in this case, and the pages that follow are the output of the program. This practice goes back almost to the beginning of general-purpose digital computers; it was being done in the 50s and 60s. I’m very interested in exploring language and computation, and writing text-generating programs can be a very good way to do that.
Joseph Mosconi: The most straightforward answer is that Demon Miso/Fashion In Child is a list poem. However, there is some crucial context missing from the poems excerpted in BAX. At the end of my book I write: “These are all the names of things I’ve eaten” and “The text is set in 46-point Insaniburger font. Insaniburger is based on the old Burger King logo that can still be seen on some signs in smaller cities.” So the compositional method was as simple as taking note of the names of dishes I ordered off of menus from various restaurants in America, Europe, and Asia. It is autobiographical and documentary in the most basic sense. The more complex answer is that some of the language is entirely made up, and the cover of the book (a manipulated photo of unidentifiable food waste), combined with the types of dishes I chose to eat, the choice of typography, and the fact that the book is printed in full color, situates the book in a global consumer context. It’s not just about food or eating. It’s also, at least in part, about language as commodity fetishism and the production of waste—the way that food distribution, and the way we talk about food, betrays a technique of control. It tracks a desire to normalize language, which is related to the struggle to communicate. As Andrew Maxwell, my accomplice at the Poetic Research Bureau, puts it: “Poetry is a commitment to food access.” Or as the inhabitants of Sweethaven would sing: “Everything is food food food.”