Appropriation, Iteration, and Recontextualization

Fordham University, Spring 2016. Mondays and Thursdays, 2:30pm-3:45pm.

Instructor: Allison Parrish, Digital Creative Writer in Residence. E-mail Allison.

Office hours: Mondays, 4pm-6pm, 511W Dealy Hall.

Turn in homework here.

Here’s a list of student blogs from last year.


The Twitter account @IAM_SHAKESPEARE tweets the complete works of Shakespeare, one line at a time. That’s all it does, and it has nearly fifty thousand followers. This bot is only one of many works of conceptual writing that use this technique: appropriating a source text, iterating through it, and planting chunks in a new context, thereby giving the original text new meaning. In this course, students study and critique well-known works in this genre (from Tristan Tzara to Caroline Bergvall), and then, following these examples, produce works of their own. In particular, the course emphasizes bringing these techniques to web scale, focusing on digital texts, tools and contexts. While this is not a programming course, we discuss procedural techniques and use potentially unfamiliar tools to accomplish our tasks.

Ethos, methodology and structure

This is a creative writing workshop. But for our purposes, “writing” in this class is not “composition” in a typical sense, but instead the curation of text: taking it apart, rearranging it, and finding new places for text to live. We’re concerning ourselves especially with the affordances of digital text: text that exists on computers and on the network.

We’ll engage in four kinds of activities in this class:

  • Meditations. Assigned work takes the form of “meditations,” or short prompts intended to spur the student to action. Responses to these prompts should address or make use of the topics under discussion in the reading and tutorial sessions.
  • Workshop. In workshop sessions, each student will read, perform, or otherwise present their meditation responses to their fellow students, who will in turn give feedback.
  • Tutorials. Some class sessions will be devoted to instructor-driven tutorials, intended to introduce students to a body of work or a particular technique.
  • Reading and reading discussion. This class has assigned reading. We’ll read some theory, some history, and some actual written works that make use of the techniques under discussion in the class.
  • Class zine. We’ll be collaboratively editing a class zine, to be produced at the end of the semester. The zine will be a physical artifact of the work that students have produced in the course.

In general, there will be a meditation and a reading assignment each week. We’ll do workshop and reading discussion on Mondays, and tutorials on Thursdays. (That’s the goal at least, but this pattern may change as needed!)


This course has two required texts:

These books should be available in the university bookstore, or you can purchase it from Amazon or your favorite independent bookseller.

Reading material that isn’t in the book above will be made available as links to documents on the web. You’ll find these links in the Schedule below.

Assignments and projects

You are welcome and encouraged to collaborate on assignments and projects in this class.


Students will be assigned nine “meditations” (described above). The schedule below dictates the parameters and due date of each meditation. (Descriptions and due dates may change as the course progresses. I’ll let you know in class and by e-mail when any change takes place.)

Final project

The final project is free-form: you’re expected to take the technical and conceptual content of the course and apply it to make a work of your own design. This should be a thoroughly conceptualized and polished piece—something you’d like to put in your clips or portfolio, or show off to your friends and family. (Links to the final projects will be collected in an online portfolio.)

Class zine

Students will additionally submit up to four pages of work to be included in a class “zine,” a physical document of class work to be produced at the end of the semester. The idea of the zine is to collect work from that class that makes more “sense” as a physical artifact instead of existing online. The piece(s) chosen for the zine can be a version of work produced for a meditation or for the final project, or new work created specifically for the zine (using, of course, the tools and concepts discussed in class).


You are expected to maintain a blog for this class. You’ll use this blog for posting documentation of your meditation responses and final project. If you use an existing blog, please make sure that entries relating to this class are specifically marked as such (by, e.g., tags, categories, etc.). If you’ve never set up a blog before, we’ll go over how to do it in-class. Once you have everything set up, send me a link.

The documentation for each response or project should include the following:

  1. A description of what your response to the prompt is, in terms of what you wanted to accomplish, and how you set out to accomplish it;
  2. The work itself (usually textual) that responds to the prompt;
  3. An evaluation of the work, discussing how effective you think your work was in addressing the prompt, and what you might improve on in the future.

For the kind of work that we’re doing in this class, documentation of this kind is very important. The work doesn’t necessarily always speak for itself, and what’s interesting about the work might be the procedure that made it—not just what the work looks like on the surface.

These pieces of documentation must be completed by the due date for their respective meditation responses or project. Late work will not be accepted.

Turning in

To turn in an assignment, please fill out this form. Make sure to use the same spelling of your name from one assignment to the next!

Attendance and lateness policy

You are expected to attend every class session. Absences due to non-emergency situations will only be cleared if you let me know a week (or more) in advance, and even then only for compelling personal or professional reasons (e.g., attending an important conference, going to a wedding). If you’re unable to attend class due to contagious or incapacitating illness, please let me know (by e-mail) before class begins.

Each unexcused absence will deduct 3% from your final grade. If you have five or more unexcused absences, you risk failing the course.

Be on time to class. If you’re more than fifteen minutes late, or if you leave early (without my clearance), it will count as an unexcused absence.


You will need to have access to a computer running a desktop operating system (like Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux) in order to do the work for this course. I expect most students will bring laptops to class and follow along with the tutorials as I give them. Every effort will be made to supply written or screencast copies of the tutorials after they’re presented, for those who are unable to (or prefer not to) bring a laptop to class.

In-class behavior

Laptops must be closed during class discussions, and while your fellow students are presenting work. You’re otherwise welcome to use laptops in class, but only to follow along with the in-class tutorials and to take notes.

Creative writing events

As part of their participation grade for this course, students are asked to attend the following three creative writing-related events:

  • Poets Out Loud. Wednedsay, February 10, 7pm–8pm. 113 W. 60th Street, New York, NY (12th Floor Lounge)
  • Poets Out Loud. Thursday, April 7, 7pm–8pm. 113 W. 60th Street, New York, NY (12th Floor Lounge)
  • Creative Writing Prizes Reading. Wednesday, April 27, 7:00pm–8:30pm. 113 W. 60th Street, New York, NY (12th Floor Lounge)

Grading policy

The class has three graded components, set forth below. Extra credit assignments may be offered during the semester, at the instructor’s discretion.

Component Percentage
Attendance and participation 34%
Meditations 9 x 4% (36%)
Zine contribution 10%
Final project 20%

Here’s the breakdown of how grades correspond with percentages.

Grade Percentage
A 94 to 100
A- 90 to 93
B+ 87 to 89
B 83 to 86
B- 80 to 82
C+ 77 to 79
C 73 to 76
C- 70 to 72
D+ 67 to 69
D 63 to 66
D- 60 to 62
F Below 60


Week 1: Jan 21

  • Class overview
  • Blog setup tutorial

Reading assigned (to be discussed Jan 25)


Meditation #1 (“Creative Reading”) assigned, due Jan 25. Create three pieces using techniques from Padgett, Gysin and/or Tzara (or similar techniques of your own invention). Use text-on-paper as the source material for this exercise—print out web pages if you have to! Document your process on your blog.

Week 2: Jan 25 and 28.

  • Meditation #1 workshop
  • Reading discussion
  • Lecture: Introduction to the web
  • Tutorial: Chrome developer tools


Reading assigned, to be discussed Feb 1. The Bush and Ragget readings are intended to introduce you to some of the history and theory of how the web works. The “Character codes” and Menkmen readings are about the nature of digital text and the concept of “glitch,” which we’ll discuss next week.

Meditation #2 (“Writing on/over the web”) assigned, due Feb 1. Use Developer Tools to creatively modify a web page on the internet. Tell a story. Satirize. Be intentionally banal. Take a screenshot and upload it to your blog, along with an explanation of what you did and why you did it.

Week 3: Feb 1 and 4.

  • Meditation #2 workshop
  • Reading discussion
  • Tutorial: text editors, plain text, and text techniques


  • Plain text. This includes links to various glitch/databending tutorials.

Reading assigned, to be discussed Feb 8. An introduction to transcription.

Meditation #3 (“Plain text”) assigned, due Feb 8. Conduct two experiments, as follows. (1) Take a text out of its original context, using a plain text editor to remove its formatting. Use the tools at (or other similar text-based tools) to transform the original text creatively. Keep a record of your procedure (so that someone else could repeat it, if they wanted to). (2) Take a file such as a JPEG or MP3 and “glitch” it using a plain text editor. Describe what you did to glitch the file, and then post a record of your results.

Week 4: Feb 8 and 11

  • Workshop meditation #3
  • Reading discussion
  • Tutorial: Transcription


Artworks discussed in class:

Meditation #4 (“Transcription”) assigned, due Feb 16. Conduct two experiments, as follows. (1) Create a transcription of the talk contained in a video or audio file of your choice. The video or audio should ideally contain non-scripted, conversational speech (i.e., there should be more than one speaker, and don’t transcribe a scripted television show or movie). Include a link to or copy of your source in your meditation documentation. (2) Create a plain-text “transcription” of some non-digital, textual phenomenon in the real world. This might include street signs, subway advertisements, a menu, a magazine, the nutritional facts on a box of cereal, etc. For both (1) and (2), outline your methodology and consider: what does your transcription say about you?

Reading assigned, to be discussed Feb 16.

Week 5: Feb 16 and 18 (Tuesday/Thursday)

  • Workshop meditation #4
  • Reading discussion
  • Tutorial and presentation: Rule-based art and rules that make art

Works cited:

Text Generators

Meditation #5 (“Rules and generation”), due Feb 22. Use two of the text generators above to create a work of generative text. Your documentation should consist of the text you generated and (if applicable) the original source text. (If you use GenGen, include a link to the generator that you created in your documentation as well. If you use Tracery, link to your grammar or include it in your blog post.) Questions to consider: did the output of your generator surprise you? What did you learn about your source text (if anything)? Do you feel responsible for the output of the generator, pr does it seem to have a mind of its own?

Reading assigned, to be discussed Feb 22.

Week 6: Feb 22 and 25

  • Workshop meditation #5
  • Reading discussion
  • Tutorial: Writing on-site

Meditation #6 (“Writing on site”), due Feb 29. Create an intervention in a public space. Your intervention must be, in some way, language-based: written, spoken, recorded, etc.. Examples of the forms your intervention might take: stickers; inscriptions; audio walks; spoken word; instructions (like a travel guide, or a map). Ground rules for your intervention: Do not break the law in any way. Do not deface or destroy anything that does not belong to you. Clean up any messes you’ve made. (Think of this as a “dry run” or prototype for a future intervention you might make where you can justify suspending these rules.) Questions to consider: How did you choose which space to intervene in? What is it about this space that required (in your view) the particular intervention that you designed? What reaction do you think your intervention is likely to receive from passers-by (if it is, indeed, intended for the public)?

Works discussed in class:

Reading assigned, to be discussed Feb 29.

Week 7: Feb 29 and March 3

  • Reading discussion
  • Workshop meditation #5
  • Tutorial: Writing on-site, part 2.

Works cited in class:

Meditation #7 (“Writing on site, part 2”) assigned, due March 7. Create an intervention in an online public space. Ideas for what form this might take: Take on the persona of someone else (or something else); re-enact an event (or enact something new); interrupt something; catalog something; satirize something. The intervention must take place over a sustained amount of time (at least a few hours) and should consist of multiple “posts” (if the concept of a “post” is relevant to your intervention). Ground rules: Do not break the law in any way. Do not deface or destroy anything that does not belong to you. Clean up any messes you’ve made. Do not harass people, or trick them, or troll them. Questions to consider: How did you choose which “space” to intervene in? What is it about this space that required (in your view) the particular intervention that you designed? What reaction do you think your intervention is likely to receive from (online) passers-by (if it is, indeed, intended for the public)? Document your intervention thoroughly.

Reading assigned, to be discussed March 14.

Week 8: Mar 7

Note: I am out of town on March 10, so there will be no class that day.

  • Workshop meditation #7

Week 9: March 14

  • Reading discussion
  • Tutorial: Databases, search engines and concordances. Notes here.

Tools discussed in class:

Further reading:

Meditation #8 (due March 31): Find or construct a corpus (or series of corpora) and use a corpus analysis tool (such as concordance, search, or predictive text) to compose a text creatively. Repeat using a different corpus or a different technique. In your documentation, consider your choice of source text and the aesthetic qualities evoked by the output of your process.

Reading assigned, to be discussed April 4.

Week 10

No class; Spring and Easter breaks.

Week 11: Mar 31.

  • Workshop meditation #8

Week 12: April 4 and 7

  • Reading discussion
  • Tutorial/presentation: The bot
  • Meditation #9 (“Bot”) assigned, due Apr 11.

Notes: Twitter bots

Meditation #9 (“Bot”) assigned, due Apr 11. Using the information from the in-class tutorial, and the conceptual/technical concepts discussed in class so far, create one or more Twitter bots.

Week 13: Apr 11 and 14

  • Workshop meditation #9.
  • Twine tutorial (screencast scheduled for April 14th).

Extra credit meditation, due April 21st: Produce a game with Twine.

Extra Twine links and notes:

Also, consult these:

Twine games and reading:

Week 14: Apr 21

(Note: there will be no class on April 18th.)

  • Workshop Twine pieces; in-class workshopping of final projects; zine editing

Week 15: Apr 25 and 28

  • Final project pitches; In-class workshopping and zine editing
  • In-class workshop

Week 16: May 2

  • Final project presentations