Titular Aids

I’ve been reading through the work of the Canadian poet bpNichol lately, and in the midst of my rummaging through his diverse creative output, I stumbled upon his “Device for Generating a Contemporary Essay Title.” It shows us Nichol at his most Oulipian. It’s also an amusing picture–as Nichol understood–of the state of the discourse circa 1980. In a lovely Nicholian twist, the generator takes form of a postcard so that one could share the fun with friends. I offer it now for readers’ delight and, for students, aid:

Now, of course, that we’ve got the Internet there’s no need for dice, pencils, and postcards: we can have a computer do all the gronk grunt work. For an updated version of Nichol’s project, try “The Best Title Generator.” It works the same way as Christopher Strachey’s “M. U. C.” (Manchester University Computer) love letter generator: the program pulls randomly from various word sets within prescribed syntactic structures. In Strachey’s case, this method produces sentences like “My fondness clings to your anxious little liking” and “My winning ambition wistfully likes your winning enthusiasm.” In the present case, the generator allows the user to add a few terms, generating titles like this: “Crisis Of Doubt: Rating Boastful Verbiage and Corporeality,” “Predicting Unpredictable Erasure: Crisis Of Doubt and/in the Clan,” “Aphorism and Resistance in the Narnian: Measuring Sympathetic Xenophobia,” “Simile and Concealment in Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: Justifying Brave Margins,” and “Troubling Pessimistic Borderlines: Intellectual Virtues and/in the Proletariat” (by the way, reader, all of these examples contain titles by booktrading friends). It’s worth spending a moment to read through the word sets for this generator. If you dig deeply enough, you might find some disciplinary zircons. One wishes Nichol were still around to behold the glories of our digital age–and then to mess around with them…

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