From the Tables of My Memorie

Nick Montfort

Memorie Memorie

“From the Tables of My Memorie” uses as its source text part of the 1603 Quarto 1, or Bad Quarto, of Hamlet, and specifically is based on the lines to be spoken by Hamlet. Each text displayed consists of the random erasure of 966 of these 1032 lines (which includes blank lines, to indicate the break between speeches). The remaining 66 lines, which are kept in their original order, are shown.

The Bad Quarto is itself an example of forgetting. Scholars agree that it is a reconstruction of the play from memory by actors, principally the actor who played the minor part of Marcellus. The two columns of text are drawn only from Hamlet’s lines and are further reduced at random, using a simple method first used in Montfort’s Python and Web piece “Through the Park.” In that work, a small number of sentences were written with the process of removal in mind, and the removal of texts was done on a sentence-by-sentence basis. In “From the Tables of My Memorie,” Shakespeare’s text is used without any alteration (except the alteration done in 1603) and is deleted a line at a time.

In this installation, erasures of Hamlet’s lines from the Bad Quarto cycle endlessly. The only way to hold a text fixed and read it is to hold the button down, which requiries one’s presence and a good bit of effort. The would-be reader cannot simply look on, but must physically, materially commit by pressing and holding.

Nick Montfort develops literary generators and other computational art and poetry. He has participated in dozens of literary and academic collaborations. He is associate professor digital media at MIT and faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 he co-edited. Montfort’s books of poems include #! and Riddle & Bind; he also co-wrote 2002. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with nine other authors that Montfort organized. His most recent exhibition (with collaborator Páll Thayer) was Programs at an Exhibition, a software art show in March 2014 with ten works running on ten computers at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery.