All writers know they engage in artifice—selecting, arranging, omitting—but in his book, Jay Kirk embraces artifice by interrogating literature’s most reflexive habit: the generation of meaning as commodity. Random Event Generator documents an experiment where Kirk outsourced the job of making his own meaning to a machine built by a parapsychology engineer at Princeton. As automatic “pattern recognition machines,” humans often fail to recognize that pattern does not necessarily equate meaning. After a decade of writing longform features where the job was to undertake curious personal experiences, and/or report on another’s curious personal experience, in order to recreate it all with some degree of verisimilitude and provide a final say (such as his interpretation of those experiences), Kirk came to question the authority of his “reflections,” and, to a degree, the value of experience in general. In his book, by outsourcing and suspending any final meaning-making, Kirk hopes to let the text remain open so that new kinds of meaning, or at least means of experiencing, might ultimately emerge.
Jay Kirk is the author of Avoid the Day: A New Nonfiction in Two Movements (Harper Perennial, 2020), and Kingdom Under Glass, named one of the Washington Post’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2010. His widely anthologized award-winning nonfiction has been published in Harper’s Magazine, GQ, and New York Times Magazine. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania.