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Syllabus for "The Computational Scrawl"

The Computational Scrawl

Allison Parrish for SFPC Code Societies January 2019.


This two-part workshop examines the physical gesture and material artifacts of the act of writing, as seen through the lens of computation and digital media. Taking contemporary and historical practices in asemic poetry, experimental typography and automatic writing as inspiration, participants will use the Python programming language to prototype speculative writing technologies that challenge conventional reading practices and notions of sense-making.


The goal of the workshop is twofold: First, to introduce asemic and automatic writing practices as historical and contemporary practices and invite students to expand on these practices with computation; second, using asemic and automatic writing as a lens, encourage discussion around the rhetoric and materiality of language in digital and computational contexts.


You'll need to bring a laptop with you. Please install Anaconda (Python 3.7+, 64-bit) on your computer before the first session.


Session 1

Assignment: Write Python code that performs automatic writing. Contrast the feeling that the output of your program evokes with the feeling evoked by your own free-writing (or other automatic writing). Contrast the process of writing a computer program to produce written language with using a conventional writing interface (keyboard, phone, pen and paper) to do the same.

Session 2

Assignment: Write Python code that produces asemic writing. Use this as an opportunity to design an experiment to answer the question: what is the boundary between "writing" and "non-writing"? Computation can be understood as introducing a "layer of indirection" between the physical gesture of writing and the visible output. How does this affect the way that you read/interpret the output of your code?



Boice, Robert, and Patricia E. Meyers. “Two Parallel Traditions: Automatic Writing and Free Writing.” Written Communication, vol. 3, no. 4, Oct. 1986, pp. 471–90. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/0741088386003004004.

Aima, Rahel. “Definition Not Found.” Real Life, Sept. 2016, (before session 2)


Callich, Ty Casey. “Mean Less: My Experience With Asemic Writing.” Ty Casey Callich, 12 Oct. 2016,

Bury, Louis. “Mirtha Dermisache’s Writing Is a Rorschach Test.” Hyperallergic, 24 June 2018.

Romano, Aja. “How Ouija Boards Work. (Hint: It’s Not Ghosts.).” Vox, 29 Oct. 2016,

Newton, Casey. “When Her Best Friend Died, She Used Artificial Intelligence to Keep Talking to Him.” TheVerge.Com, 6 Oct. 2016,

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