Install & Use
The Deletionist

About The Deletionist

Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul, and Nick Montfort

The Deletionist is a concise system for automatically producing an erasure poem from any Web page. It systematically removes text to uncover poems, discovering a network of poems called “the Worl” within the World Wide Web.

In the “Working Note” for Nets, Jen Bervin explains her impulse to play with Shakespeare’s sonnets “to make the space of the poems open, porous, possible.” Her 2004 collection presents bolded words from sixty sonnets, creating a new “net” of meaning, a visually and lyrically emergent poetic constellation. The technique of erasure, in which words are removed from a source text to reveal poems latent within it, came to prominence with the work of Ronald Johnson and Tom Phillips in the 1960s. It has come back into fashion in recent book-length poems, including Srikanth Reddy's Voyager, Janet Holmes's The MS of My Kin, Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes, Mary Ruefle's A Little White Shadow, and (just released as this project is being completed) Sonne from Ort by Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf. The Deletionist asks what will happen if the text being erased is itself already a Net.

The Deletionist takes the form of a JavaScript bookmarklet that automatically creates erasures from any Web pages the reader visits. A similar method has been used in Ji Lee's Wordless Web, which removes all text from Web pages, as well as applets that turn webpages into Katamari Damacy environments or Space Invaders levels to make a game of destroying language. Between such extremes and the everyday Web, The Deletionist finds a space of texts that amplify, subvert, and uncover new sounds and meanings in their sources. Neither an artificial intelligence nor a poetry generating system, The Deletionist has a repertoire for uncovering patterns and revealing the poetics at play within the cloud: from Project Gutenberg ebooks, to Facebook, to Bomb Magazine and Arts and Letters Daily, The Deletionist will willingly apply itself to any text set before it.

The project is collaboration between Amaranth Borsuk (author of the chapbook Tonal Saw, which was created by erasure from the tract National Sunday Law), Jesper Juul (developer of the conceptual game 4:32 and other computational provocations), and Nick Montfort (author of the ppg256 series and other small-scale poetry generators).

How to Use The Deletionist

  1. Make sure your have your bookmark bar (or bookmark toolbar), at the top of your browser, open. The method of doing this differs for different browsers, but it is typically done from the "View" menu.
  2. Drag The Deletionist icon from the middle of this window onto the bookmark bar. (After doing this, you will have The Deletionist ready to run at any time.)
  3. Visit any Web page that interests you. NB: The Deletionist will provide the most striking results if there is some text on the page.
  4. Click The Deletionist bookmark on the bookmark bar to create an erasure poem out of the page.
  5. Repeat (3) and (4) as often as you like.
  6. If you find a particularly good page of the Worl, share it with friends or with us by sharing the URL, for instance, by tweeting the link to @thedeletionist with the hashtag #deletion.

How The Deletionist Works

The system reads and removes standard Web page text, but does not remove a few special classes of text, including text within image, within a canvas, within an iFrame, and on buttons.

The system is deterministic — there is no random element. The Deletionist chooses a method of erasure based on the properties of the Web page. So, for static pages, you can share a particular result with others by simply sharing the URL, and their loading the page, as with your reloading it, will produce the same result. However, if the page changes, the system may change its method of erasure.

The Deletionist works to make every page into a single poem. If the words that result are spread too thinly over a very long page (such as one that contains the text of an entire novel), try applying The Deletionist to a smaller excerpt of this text, such as a chapter.

Some pages can load extra content after the main page has loaded — Facebook and Twitter, for instance. Anything that has been loaded after The Deletionist has done its work will not be erased into a poem unless you click on The Deletionist again.

Some pages use this type of dynamic text loading, or other special means of displaying text, for everything. Many of Google's pages, including Google search results and Google News, are of this sort, and The Deletionist will not work on them.

Install & Use
The Deletionist

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The Deletionist ©2013 Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul and Nick Montfort.