Culture Magazine

August 2, July in Review: Poetry, GPT-3 and a Couple Other Things

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
It’s been an exciting, and exhausting two weeks. I’ve been wanting to ramble on for a week now, but kept putting it off because my series on GPT-3 kept calling. It’s still calling me, but I’m at a strange place and so have stepped back from it.
A strange place [of corpus and the mind]

I don’t quite know what I intended when I started this series of GPT-3 posts. Oh, now I recall. I’d made a long comment about GPT-3 at Marginal Revolution on July 19, 2020. I wanted to elaborate on that. I suppose I had three or four or five posts in mind, certainly less than ten.
Nor will it be over ten. But the first three posts have proved complex enough that I decided to break them into two groups so that I can issue a working paper when the first series is done. That series is strictly about GPT-3 and related issue and will be entitled: GPT-3: Waterloo or Rubicon? Here be Dragons. The second series will be about the future of AI and has this working title: GPT-3: And beyond, the future.
I reached a turning point in the series sometime between July 27, when I uploaded the second post, and July 29, when I uploaded the third. In that interval...ah, I found it. And it was July 24 (my sister’s birthday). I’d linked my first post in the series to Facebook. John Lawler made a comment in which he pointed me to a post by Julian Michael, To Dissect an Octopus: Making Sense of the Form/Meaning Debate. That gave me a clue about what’s going on in engines like GPT-3, and that clue turned my head around. It also made this series of posts somewhat more complicated and demanding than it had been when I set out to write it.
I now have a fundamentally new understanding about what’s going on in these statistical models of bodies of texts. At least I think I do. I’ve now reached the point where I’m wondering if I’ve actually done that, whatever that is. It seems so obvious to me that surely everyone must know it already. And maybe they do, but they don’t recognize it yet. It’s about point of view. From one point of view it’s a duck, from another point of view it’s a rabbit. But the lines and their relations are the same in both cases. August 2, July in review: poetry, GPT-3 and a couple other things If been chasing this idea for three years or so. This blog post is a good marker:
Borges Redux: Computing Babel – Is that what’s going on with these abstract spaces of high dimensionality? [#DH], New Savanna, blog post, October 2017,
I’ve gathered a number of those posts into this working paper:
Toward a Theory of the Corpus, Working Paper, December 31, 2018, 46 pp.,
African-American sonnets and literary criticism
It started with the interview I conducted with Hollis Robbins about her new book, out: Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition. We emailed back and forth for two weeks or so and then I edited it into the form of an interview. The last thing we did was to set an African American poet, Marcus Christian, in competition with GPT-3, thus updating the contest between John Henry and the steam drill. The interview was published in 3 Quarks Daily on July 20.
That’s what got me thinking about GPT-3, which I already knew about. By staging a competition – I got GPT-3 to attempt to write a sonnet – I got a little skin in this game and that, I suspect, got me thinking about these language engines in a different way, from a different point of view. It was no longer that strange and interesting technology over there. It was now right here, beneath my nose.
I dealt with it.
As a bonus, I made some progress in conceptualizing the relationship between what I have been calling naturalist literary criticism and the standard criticism that has been practiced since the 1950s or so, On the nature of academic literary criticism as an intellectual discipline: text, form, and meaning [where we are now]. I’ve been chewing on that one for a long time. A long time. The critic has a choice: they can seek meaning in the text (the standard approach) or they can seek to analyze and describe a text’s form (which relatively few choose to do). You can’t do both, not in the same discourse. Oh, I know critics say they’re dealing with form, but they’re not really...And I don’t want to go into that here. Read the post.
Other things: Stagnation, identity, freedom and dignity in music
All this work on sonnets and GPT-3, however, has taken my attention away from a series of posts I’d been working on about Peter Thiel and economic stagnation. Looks like late June was the last I’d posted on that, and the post was a short one presenting a conversation between Thiel and David Graeber.
The conversation with Robbins brought up the issue of cultural identity, another topic I’ve been chewing on for a long time. I’m due for another post on that. Perhaps next week, or the week after. We’ll see.
Finally, I need to do a post about music. When people are absorbed in making music, they cease being old or young, rich or poor, male or female, and so forth. The become, simply, musicians.

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