Experiments with Syntax

"A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance" written by Stephane Mallarme in 1897, broke conventional rules of syntax and structure during the French Symbolist movement.
“A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance” written by Stephane Mallarme in 1897, broke conventional rules of syntax and structure during the French Symbolist movement.

Early Digital Literature altered traditional language syntax as computer programs remediated words and sentences into unique work.  A computer programmer’s algorithm attempts to mimic grammar and sentence syntax, but often it was not perfect. If a sentence does not follow traditional grammar and syntax rules how can it be literature?  Early experiments in digital literature struggled with this question.

Stephane Mallarme was one of the first to experiment with altering traditional sentence syntax in literature.  In 1897, he wrote “A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance.” The poem was categorized as part of the French Symbolist movement, a literary and artistic movement of French poets at the end of the 19th century.  It was seen as a revolt against traditional, rigid poem structures of the time.  “Throw of the Dice” is a short poem that does not follow any syntax or spacing structure.  Abstract sentences start and begin at different places all over the page and lines are scattered throughout the piece although the poem still maintains its sense of flow. This artistic movement sought to add value to the poem by carefully selecting words and patterns that evoke a response within the reader.  It was up to the reader to draw connections and find value within the piece.

Mallarme’s work laid the foundation for literature that alters traditional syntax.  Many of the first Computer poems were similar to “Throw of the Dice” and did not follow syntax rules.  However, Mallarme had introduced the artistic potential of this type of literature.  It can be said that the reader’s connections are what make the piece valuable literature.  Computer poems may not have traditional structure or follow syntax rules, but they can still bring meaning to the reader similar to conventional forms of literature.

Image Source: Mallarme

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