Taphos

A generative novel that undergoes decomposition

Putrefecation (page 67)

I created a program that generates text using Markov models of (1) articles on the “death of the novel”, and (2) the Book of the Dead, including preservation spells. However, the spells merely prolong the inevitable, as the text soon decays in stages that resemble human decomposition. The novel as a literary form may or may not be dead, but the 50,000-word “novel” written by Taphos certainly is.

Initially, the program removes or inserts letters and words to symbolise cellular oxygen deprivation, chemical changes and bacterial proliferation. Later, words bloat and combining characters suggest colonisation by flies and beetles. The skin ruptures and tissue breakdown accelerates when words themselves disintegrate (which I achieved by manually mangling Vollkorn’s letterforms) and disappear. Eventually, naught but punctuation remains.

Diagenesis (page 183)

I drew taphos (meaning “burial”) from taphonomy — the study of how organisms decay. Headings were inspired by or appropriated from the Pyramid Texts. This idea more generally came about while considering mushroom burial suits, the Coca-Cola eggshell experiment I did as a kid, and William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops.

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