Individual Work
O motor textual: livro infinito [the textual engine: infinite book]

This entry was written in collaboration with the PO.EX. Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature.

It was during his work with the Laboratory of Automatic Calculation (LACA) in 1976, at the University of Porto, that Pedro Barbosa began using computers as creative tools. Barbosa has been considered, in Portugal, a precursor of computer-generated literature. O motor textual: livro infinito [the textual engine: infinite book] (2001) is a significant example of the research carried out by Barbosa since the seventies. In this work, he uses the program Sintext [SynText] (Automatic Textual Synthesizer) which, according to Pedro Barbosa, allows the creation of any text, complex or not (Barbosa, 2001).

The creation of SynText began in 1993. Originally released on floppy disk, SynText could function in a batch mode using a set of data files as input, or in an interactive mode allowing the reader to insert words in order to generate a new text (Barbosa, 1996b). A web version of SynText was developed by CETIC - the Centre for Computer-produced Texts and Cyberliterature Studies, founded by Pedro Barbosa in 1999, at the University Fernando Pessoa. As claimed by Barbosa, a web version of SynText (“SynText-W”), which replaced the programming language C++ with Java language, allowed the wreader (Barbosa, 1996a: 11) to easily access SynText and generate a new composition from any matrix text (Barbosa, 1999) or from a lexical base (Barbosa, 2003: 20).

SynText, or a “recursive scrambler of textual elements” (Barbosa, 1996b: 49), is based on the intersection between two main axes of language: the paradigmatic and syntagmatic axes, as suggested by Roland Barthes (and before him, by Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson) in Elements de sémiologie (1965). The paradigmatic axis refers to lexical elements (or, according to Barbosa, “Variants”) which can be replaced at any time along the syntagmatic axis. This axis represents the “parenthesized sequence” or a set of “Constants” (Barbosa, 2001) which assure the continuity (idem.) or the unfolding of the text. The works created through SynText are titled “generative texts” and are part of what Barbosa considers to be an algorithmic literature (idem.), Cyberliterature, Computer-generated Literature (LGC) or Infoliterature (Barbosa, 2003). His works share common features with the littérature potentielle practiced by the OULIPO group, namely the exploration of randomness, the use of constrained writing techniques, and the creation of combinatorial processes which lead to unexpected results. The text, or the “virtual text” produced by SynText, is defined by Barbosa as the “motor of a plurality of textual realizations on the verge of being signically materialized” (Barbosa, 1996a: 14). The computer, in turn, becomes a “telescope of complexity” (Barbosa, 1996a:10) responsible for expanding the text and the range of meanings.

O motor textual: livro infinito was released on CD-ROM. This work is comprised of a manual of instructions and three pre-installed texts which function as portals or points of departure for the countless variations generated by SynText: “Teoria do Homem Sentado” [theory of the sitting man]; “Balada de Portugal” [Ballad of Portugal] and “Didáctica” [Didacticism]. In one of the variations generated during the reading of “Theory of the sitting man”, first published in 1996, Barbosa (or the “textual engine”) might address the reader in front of the screen: “Dear hated friend: You are a weird being permanently sat at the computer. The newspapers are spread all over the floor, the window blinds are shut to the world, clouds of neutrons gather around his head. The armchair makes his rear numb. The finished portrait of the postmodern man that watches the great celebration of nothingness: always enveloped by the dust of words and images” (Barbosa, 2001). In Barbosa's works, the computer is used as a semiotic machine (Barbosa, 2003: 5) which simulates language's combinatorial mechanics. The three texts included in this work form a textual series which can, in principle, be played in an infinite loop.


BARBOSA, Pedro (1996a). “Ângulos e virtualidades do Texto Virtual”, in Teoria do Homem Sentado. Porto: Edições Afrontamento. Also available at: An English version of this text can be found in PO.EX: Essays from Portugal on Cyberliterature and Intermedia by Pedro Barbosa, Ana Hatherly, and E. M. de Melo e Castro (2014). Eds. Torres, Rui and Sandy Baldwin. Center for Literary Computing: West Virginia University Press, 117-142. Also available at:
BARBOSA, Pedro (1996b). Manual do Sintext, in
BARBOSA, Pedro (1999). “Sintext: versão de demonstração elaborada em Java”, in
BARBOSA, Pedro (2001). O Motor Textual. Livro Infinito, in
BARBOSA, Pedro (2003). "O Computador como Máquina Semiótica", in