Wednesday Workshop
26 April 2017

I want to begin by confessing that I don’t know what they are. Algorithm: it sounds like a word pulled out of a lexicographer’s top hat or a question from a Grade 9 Spelling Bee.

“May I have the definition?”

“Certainly: it’s ‘a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end especially by a computer’ …” (Merriam-Webster).

Before we go any further, please watch this brief, very explicit (self-explaining, sorry) video.

So, if I understand the video correctly, an algorithm, applied to literature, is a program that (a) analyses the structure of texts and (b) establishes whether or not a specific text follows the necessary steps or procedures for that text to become (b.1) a best seller or (b.2) an acceptable potential book in which an investor (aka publisher) could or should invest his / her money.

Where does this leave us as writers? We have spoken before about the Guardians at the Gates and the Judges who determine our fate when we enter literary competitions (see below)

Suddenly, these Guardians are no longer fallible flesh and blood but infallible wires, nuts, and bolts joined by electronic circuits.

So, we have a story. Right? Right length. Right theme. We think it is good. We submit it to an editorial house. What happens next? Well, it depends. A major house won’t touch it unless put forward by an agent. No agent? It molders to a prolonged, slow, very slow death on someone’s desk. Electronic submission? Wait a minute. Some secretary may read the first five pages and find them good. Then, your submission may be sent to Death by Algorithm.

How is that algorithm prepared? Thousands of best-sellers and classics are fed into the computer program, analyzed, sorted into lines and curves, highs and lows … then your manuscript is fed in. If its computerized profile matches their computerized profile (the algorithm) then BINGO … you may have a foothold on the first rung of the lowest ladder that leads to winning the literary lottery!

Or not.

What can we, as writers, do about this? Absolutely nothing. We must believe in ourselves. We must believe in our writing. We must keep on writing. We must publish where and when we can … and, above all, along with Albert Camus and Sisyphus and his rock, il faut imaginer l’écrivain heureux / we must pretend that, as writers, we are happy.

And that, ladies and gentlemen and others, is a pretty sorry state of affairs and a pretty lousy (but very interesting) piece of translation.

15 thoughts on “Algorithms

    • Interesting comment: I agree with you. I guess some people do actually write as if it were their day job. Can we compare this with, say, writing as a heartfelt effort from within … ? I am not sure what I am saying here … write for money or write for love, perhaps? Success in the former is measurable with relative objectivity; success in the latter is very personal and there may be no objective reality involved.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I warned you it was a rotten translation! Actually, I like the translation very much. ‘One must imagine that writers are happy’ is more accurate, from Le Mythe de Sisyphe: ‘Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.” ‘We must think / imagine / believe that Sisyphus is happy.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • All that pretending is as wearing as pushing the rock up the mountain over and over again. I think writers are probably as equally happy as unhappy! Happy to create, unhappy to languish in obscurity.

        Liked by 2 people

      • These are good points. As for ‘languishing in obscurity,’ I think it is better to do that than to experience the gold fish bowl of celebrity. It takes a certain type of personality to stand up there and “flaunt” equally imaginary stuff. I am not sure that all that high-power glamour is really worth it. Mind you, I’d like a little bit more cash on occasion!

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a very fair statement. Unfortunately, the showman’s circuit is to present endless readings and sell a book or two each time. That is a long weary road. The local bookstore. Some local readings. Be accepted and welcomed in your own small town … that’s my idea of celebrity …

        Liked by 1 person

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