Nathan Mifsud

Taphos

A generative novel that undergoes decomposition

Putrefecation (page 67)

I created a program that generates sentences based on (1) articles on 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 their power in their new configuration, though, and cannot stall the inevitable. Chapter by chapter, the text decays in stages that mimic human decomposition. Even critics who argue about the place of the novel in today’s culture would agree that the “novel” written by this program is kaput.

When I say the text “decays”—well, it requires some imagination 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)

I drew the word taphos (meaning “burial”) 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 The Disintegration Loops, mushroom burial suits, and the Coca-Cola eggshell-melting experiment I did as a kid.

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