Tuesday 4 April, 2023

Modern Irish history

Well, one shelf of it anyway.

Quote of the Day

”At times, when remonstrated with for not being ‘nice’, he would retort, ‘You don’t know how much nastier I would be if I hadn’t become a Catholic’.”

  • Tom Driberg on Evelyn Waugh.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Joni Mitchell and James Taylor | The Circle Game


Long Read of the Day

ChatGPT and Virginia Woolf

Results of a frivolous experiment by yours truly.

Me: Write a diary entry by Virginia Woolf for Friday 19 March, 1926


Dear Diary,

Today has been a rather hectic day for me. I woke up early, as usual, and spent some time in my study working on my novel. I have been struggling with it lately, but today I managed to make some progress. I feel that I am getting closer to the heart of the story, and it excites me.

After breakfast, I went for a walk in the garden. The air was crisp and the sun was shining, and I felt invigorated by the fresh air. I spent some time admiring the flowers and the trees, and I thought about the beauty of nature. It’s amazing how nature can inspire us and lift our spirits.

In the afternoon, I had some visitors. My sister Vanessa came over, along with her husband Clive Bell and their children. We had a lovely time chatting and catching up on news. They are such a delightful family, and I always enjoy their company.

Later in the day, I received a letter from my friend Lytton Strachey. He is always so witty and amusing in his letters, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of his remarks. I am looking forward to seeing him soon.

As the day draws to a close, I am feeling a sense of contentment. It has been a busy day, but a productive and enjoyable one. I am grateful for the simple pleasures of life, like a walk in the garden or a good letter from a friend. It is these things that make life worth living.

Until tomorrow, Virginia Woolf.


OK, let’s try again…

Me: Write a diary entry in the style of Virginia Woolf for Friday 19 March, 1926

Chat GPT:

Dear Diary,

What a day it has been! I woke up early, as I usually do, but today the world outside my window seemed to be filled with a different light. The sun shone brighter and the birds sang louder, as if they too knew that something special was happening today.

I spent the morning writing in my study, trying to capture the essence of the character that has been haunting me for weeks. It is a struggle, as always, to find the words that will do justice to the complexity of human experience. But still, I persist.

After a light lunch, I went for a walk in the garden. The daffodils are in full bloom now, their bright yellow petals reaching towards the sky. I found myself lost in their beauty, my mind drifting away from my work and towards the simple pleasures of life.

In the afternoon, my sister Vanessa came to visit with her husband Clive and their children. It was wonderful to see them again, to hear the laughter of children and the chatter of adults. They bring a sense of joy to my life that I cannot find anywhere else.

As the day drew to a close, I found myself lost in thought. The world is changing so quickly, and sometimes it feels as though we are all rushing towards an unknown future. But in moments like this, surrounded by the beauty of nature and the love of family, I am reminded that there is still so much to be grateful for.

Until tomorrow, Virginia Woolf.


Now, as it happens, Woolf didn’t write anything in her diary for March 19 — hence the idea behind the prompt.

For comparison, here’s a snatch of her entry for the following day:

You get the message. ChatGPT is, no doubt, good at some things. But crassly inadequate at others. I had assumed that its training data would have included the diaries. Obviously it hadn’t. So it made up a diary entry that might have been written by an earnest teenager. Examples: “my sister Vanessa came to visit with her husband Clive and their children”. And it was, of course, “wonderful to see them again”. Vanessa is almost always “Nessa” in the actual diaries, and Woolf would never have felt the need to explain Clive’s marital status. So the whole thing reads like those family newsletters one gets at Christmas.

All of which brought to mind something that Nathan Heller wrote in his New Yorker essay, “The End of the English Major”:

“There has been much hand-wringing about ChatGPT and its ability to replicate some composition tasks. But ChatGPT can no more conceive “Mrs. Dalloway” than it can guide and people-manage an organization. Instead, A.I. can gather and order information, design experiments and processes, produce descriptive writing and mediocre craftwork, and compose basic code, and those are the careers likeliest to go into slow eclipse.”

Never mind Mrs Galloway; it can’t even imagine its author’s diary.

Books, etc.

Ulysses … I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like an eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.”

  • George Orwell, in a letter to Brenda Salkeld, September 1934.

My commonplace booklet

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