Nathan Mifsud

Taphos

A generative novel that undergoes decomposition

Putrefecation (page 67)

I created a program that generates sentences based on (1) articles that discuss the “death of the novel”, and (2) the Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian funerary text that includes spells for preserving bodies.

The spells lose power in their new configuration, though. They cannot stall the inevitable. Chapter by chapter, the text decays in stages that mimic human decomposition. By the end, even critics who argue about the place of the novel in today’s culture would agree the “novel” written by this program is kaput.

When I say the text “decays”, well, some imagination is required on your part! At first, certain letters and words are added or removed to symbolise oxygen deprivation of cells, chemical changes and bacterial proliferation. As the novel continues, words bloat and become colonised by “flies” and “beetles” (combining characters). Finally, skin ruptures and accelerated tissue breakdown are represented by words themselves disintegrating and vanishing. By the end, naught but punctuation remains.

Diagenesis (page 183)

The word taphos (Greek for “burial”) comes from taphonomy, the study of how organisms decay. Chapter titles were inspired by or taken from the Pyramid Texts. More generally, this idea emerged while thinking about mushroom burial suits, William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, and the Coca-Cola eggshell-melting experiment I did as a kid.

You can read the novel here, and view the underlying code here.