Ulysses, Wilde, and a Theory of Literary Compression

“He looked at the cattle, blurred in silver heat. Silvered powdered olive trees. Quiet long days: pruning ripening. Olives are packed in jars, eh? I have a few left from Andrews…

A cloud began to cover the sun wholly slowly wholly. Grey. Far. No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea… Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain.”

Ulysses, 4.200-221

An introduction to this text can be found here.

The mobilization of Ulysses and Earnest is purposefully audacious and inevitably missteps. The overarching tone, and parts of the analysis, I would characterize as understandably wrong.


A Few Types of Literary Compression

“And I said to Mabel, I said, ‘computational aesthetics, super-short. Jürgen Schmidhuber’s Theory Jürgen Schmidhuber, an AI theorist and theoretical computer scientist, has proposed a computational account of aesthetic judgments. In his view, a stimulus is judged to be beautiful or attractive by a subject T to the extent that the stimulus is compressible for T. Schmidhuber’s notion of compressibility is taken from algorithmic information theory, but concerns actual rather than ideal compression: it refers to the actual # of bits in T’s mental representation of the stimulus, bounded and fallible as T may be. Beholden to the limitations of T’s computational resources, two kinds of stimuli should be the most compressible: stimuli with evident internal structure (e.g. fractals or a chessboard), and stimuli with noticeable similarities to stimuli already stored in T’s history (e.g. English words or a the sight of a friend’s face). Experimental psychology supports both a preference for stimuli with internal patterns and a preference for stimuli with a similarity to past stimuli.”

— Peli Grietzer, Amerikkkkka


A D Jameson & the Avant-Garde


  1. I’ve been writing exclusively in long-form the past twelve months and become exhausted. Simultaneously, my writing has become more self-conscious, self-reflexive, and unwieldy, constant over-qualifications and anxious tangentials interrupting its focus. The list format used here, inspired partly by HTMLGiant’s trademark bullet-point style, is both a way to relieve this long-form burnout and to approach meaningful topics without bulking out this piece in all the wrong places.
  2. Part of this issue, I think, stems from a fairly universal anxiety over being misunderstood by a hypothetical reader: hyper-clarity, in an attempt to quell this anxiety, can paradoxically lead to bloated writing. It’s a phenomenon the critic A D Jameson demonstrates with his concept of “dictionary expansions” as text-generating. Beckett’s “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new” transforms into “A self-luminous heavenly body shed or cast light, possessing no possible or remaining course or choice, on something of recent origin, production, purchase, etc.; having but lately come or been brought into being…” Hyper-clarity might even be the wrong term, because the latter iteration (“A self-luminous heavenly body…”) is significantly less clear than Beckett’s original. Qualification, hedging, and the addition of nuance can, in moderation, prove invaluable, but when overdone lead quickly to this “bogging down” effect, an inappropriately dense style that’s unenjoyable to read.

Art As Engineering

A Conversation with Gabriel Duquette and Haley Thurston

Gabriel Duquette is a co-founder of Liposuction (tagline “aesthetics without all the fat”). He started the site with Haley Thurston, who studied art at Yale before contributing to Carcinistion and Ribbonfarm (her more casual art writing can be found at The Sublemon). Both are interested primarily in “retro-engineering” and applying “epistemic hygiene” to matters of taste and aesthetics. They write loosely within the community — and from the intellectual framework — of postrationalism (alongside critics like Sarah Perry and Venkatesh Rao).