American Psycho on Twitter

In the beginning there was Rick Moody. And then Twitter gave us @horse_ebooks, and Jennifer Egan, and the recent Twitter Fiction Festival. Now the latest arrival in the world of Twitter Fiction is @SugarSerials.

On the 47th minute of every hour, a piece of literary code is automatically tweeting one sentence from American Psycho. The software is intelligent enough to recognize where sentences begin and end; in other words, it’s not arbitrarily hacking the book to 140 character pieces, but elegantly dissecting it into its discrete parts. With that kind of intelligence, it’s possible that there’s potential for a purpose greater than Bret Easton Ellis. Scratch that, nothing is greater than Bret Easton Ellis.

Here’s more from Jordan Holberg (aka @eviljordan), the man behind the formula. (Disclaimer: the following interview contains some obscure tech language.)

Electric Literature: Why’d you start with American Psycho?

Jordan Holberg: This is my favorite book. I’d like to say I liked it before it was trendy, but I didn’t read it until about ten years after it had been published and by then I’d already seen the movie. The book is, clearly, much better, but the movie is a pretty amazing piece of art to itself and endlessly entertaining. I love how Ellis’ sentence structure and pace reinforce the tone of whatever scene happens to be playing at that moment. He can make you feel frantic or bored or completely apathetic just from parsing his sentences. That’s pretty awesome.

EL: In addition to the Twitter feed, Sugar Serials also has a homepage. How does the website play into this?

JH: At the moment, it’s just aggregating all the individual sentences and tweets back in to long-form. Mostly, it’s a monitor for me to make sure things are flowing smoothly since no one is really at the wheel of this thing. The plan is to flesh it out with statistics, a schedule of upcoming stuff perhaps, and maybe even a tool to let others create their own Twitter-digestible maps from full-text sources. It could also be used for pictures of cats. I do love that. I haven’t really decided yet.

EL: Why tweet on the 47th minute?

JH: Back in the 90s there were these things called Freenets. They were essentially local dial-up BBSs with connections out to the Internet at large. I’m talking, WINSOCK and XModem and 48kbps. The local Freenet assigned all its users IDs, unless you paid for a vanity ID. My good friend ended up with 00147. I’m not entirely sure how it started, but I found that when I glanced at the clock on the wall, more often than not, it seemed to say 10:47. At some point, I started associating 10:47 with my friend and his old Freenet ID. It’s not like my friend is dead or anything… he lives in Alaska, but I have fond memories of the halcyon days of the Internet and him, when nerds were nerds and the word “hacker” was still reserved for people that actual comprised computer systems, not applied to people that use JQuery to move a picture of a miniature horse around the screen. Of course, now that I’m conscious of seeing 10:47, I see it all the time. Minute 47 also happens to be a good time to run a cron job since there’s probably not a lot of other stuff happening at such an irregular minute. I mean, it’s either going to be 47 or 42 and that’s just too obvious.

EL: And why are you doing this?

JH: No real reason behind it other than I wanted to. I just wanted someone to read American Psycho to me and was bored.

According to Jordan’s calculations, the serializaiton will fend off your boredom for the next 250 days. Or at least until the publisher and their lawyers find out.

 — Benjamin Samuel is the co-editor of Electric Literature. You can find him (along with Bret Easton Ellis and Sugar Serials) on Twitter.

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