Phantom Agents is an episodic fiction that programmatically weaves sequential narration with random selections of text and image. Li and Pym are partner agents inside a broken augmented reality game. They solve complex plot problems in a plot that is proliferating beyond all reason. They collect data at virtual parties and forget all about their first bodies. They observe and are observed observing. Agency, identity, point of view and reality are slippery as both the fictional characters and the reader/user navigate cine-poetic juxtapositions, make meaningful narrative connections and progress, episode by episode, towards an understanding of the network that includes them.
“Recombinant poetics”, a term coined by artist/scholar Bill Seaman, refers to a techo-poetic practice in which the display and juxtaposition of semantic elements are generated by computer algorithms, rather than through an author’s predetermined composition. Although inspired by traditions of combinatorial literature and the use of constraints to generate narrative or poetic forms, recombinant works of art produce variable “fields of meaning” (Seaman/Ascott) for the user/reader/viewer. Recombinant authors program discrete semantic elements, media stored in arrays or databases, to display through random, semi-random or variable processes, often in conjunction with user-interaction. Examples of recombinant poetics in works of digital poetry and art are abundant. Digital narratives that foreground recombinant processes are less common, because they tend to dismantle or dissolve themselves as sequential narrative in favor of more non-linear, emergent meanings. However, narrative authors since Laurence Sterne have tried to harness life’s variability and randomness inside their fictions by embedding non-narrative representations of contingent experience within a narrative framework. Through digression, semantic shock, dream logic, parataxis, meta-narrative, stream of consciousness, authors disrupt narrative logic in order to produce affect in the reader/viewer, which in turn contributes to the realization of a fictional world.
Phantom Agents is a playground of familiar identification processes inside a near-future culture that is dominated by database logic. The work is narrative and poetic, deterministic and variable, book-like and cinematic in an effort to explore a networked version of what John Ashbery calls “the experience of experience.” In this work, I create a recombinant fiction that uses computational procedures (random selections of image and text) to produce the affect of variability and randomness alongside or as counterpoint to narrative sequencing.
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