On 25 March 2017 at 9:17 in the morning Ross Goodwin sat down behind the wheel of his pen to begin driving his novel. This essay reads 1 the Road, a 20,000-word token of narrative fiction produced by digital sensors affixed to an automobile driven from New York to New Orleans (the route taken by Jack Kerouac), whose outputs are filtered through an artificial intelligence technology called a neural net to produce the text. "It was nine-seventeen in the morning, and the house was heavy," it begins. Later, it produces this utterance: "It was a strange thing." This strange thing, which is to say this strange text, is, I argue, a boutique literary exemplar of the most widely read (and written) category of texts in the world today, as algorithms perform not speech acts but speculative or "spec" acts--what Felix Guattari forecast three decades ago as "machines speaking to machines." What happens when we listen in, as Goodwin's novel permits us to do? I propose ways of reading these spec acts through new formalist alternatives to historicism, old and new.


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pp. 361-386
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