Today’s spam filters can be taught to block
messages containing specific words most likely to appear in the subject line or
body. As a response, the spammers sometimes combine, distort or switch the content
of message body and its subject line. This produces a virtual infinite range of
unique messages that, every now and then, can carry an (involuntary) literary
For instance, let’s assume a spammer has
several text sources as pools for the message’s body and subject line creation.
In our automated era, all he needs to do is to create a script that picks a
phrase from a pool, another phrase from another pool, and so on. You can see
the result below:
Although you might think this is our times’
invention, it actually dates at the beginning of the past century and belongs
to an artistic group called Dada. The avant-garde movement that
emerged in Zurich
right at the outbreak of World War I, openly professed the text cut-up and word
collage technique. Tristan Tzara, one of the Dada founders, included in one
manifesto specific instructions on how “To Make A Dadaist Poem“, which,
you guessed, details exactly the practice the spammers employ today in a more
But unlike their genuine literary
precursors (that you can read in an online facsimile edition
of Dada Review), the contemporary “dada-spammers” are nothing than just
some unintentional epigones whose main contribution to the humanity is to trick
the spam filters. Of course, in addition to their (unmerited, in my opinion)
credits for “writing” poetry or, if you prefer, “spoetry” (the term Eva Wiseman
uses to designate these texts in her article “An
introduction to spoetry“).
As the filters’ detection methods recognize
common words, “dada-spammers” deviated towards rare, obsolete and sometimes
metaphorical vocabulary, more difficult to be classified as pertaining to spam.
With no intertextual effect in mind, “dada-spammers” no longer turned their
attention towards the newspaper that Tzara mentioned in his manifesto, but to
passages from classic authors such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens or
Hemingway they automatically extracted from Web sites offering literary content,
such as Project GutenbergTM, as revealed here.
In spite of the possible indirect “cultural
benefit” – that some recipients could lay their hands (and eyes) on volumes
they haven’t got the chance to read by now – the obvious detriments are spam
and occasionally… bad literature.
To conclude, I can only suggest that you
follow as a golden rule the passage I bolded in the three Tzara’s verses I quoted
“Little cousin, boarding school girl, dressed
in black, white collar,
I love you because you are simple and you
And you are kind, you cry, you tear up letters that have no meaning“.
Scriptum 1: For those of you that enjoyed the idea
of mixing content from text pools, maybe you would also like to try and play /
read some of Raymond Queneau’s works, available online. The founder of the early