In my youth I would amuse myself on family car trips by reading signs backwards and making anagrams of words and phrases which were new, usually less meaningful, words and phrases. Were my parents of a more fundamentalist bent, they might have suspected I was speaking in tongues and today I would be a sideshow freak on some local-access graveyard-shift religious revival television show, rather than the non-religious sideshow freak whose prose you are reading right now.

Douglas Hofstadter, in his essay The Architecture of Jumbo (appearing in Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, BasicBooks, 1995), discusses an attempt to model this activity on a computer:

Why work so hard to model such a frivolous and atypical cognitive activity? I tried to answer this question in the article itself, but let me just add here that I think that such mental juggling is a very important, pervasive kind of mental activity that has nothing intrinsic to do with anagrams. Perhaps the slow letter-juggling that goes on in the heads of people who have almost never tried anagrams is not of much universality and therefore of little importance or interest, but I think that when the activity reaches expert level, where it is highly automatized and very rapid, it has something in common with the deep processes of reorganization and reinterpretation that takes place in truly creative thought. Not to suggest that all good anagrammists are latent Einsteins, of course, but just that the activity itself, when done fluently, has a special and important quality.

My only contribution to the field of anagrams which may perhaps be called "literary" is Ishmael's Doom.

Anagram Generators

I have mixed feelings about the proliferation and use of anagram generators. While the composition of Ishmael's Doom was indeed computer-assisted, the program in question, "Nmg Sr'aaa" merely provided on-the-fly validity checking that the piece of text I was composing was at least a sub-anagram of the source text. This tool was an invaluable aid in the construction of anagrams of large bodies of text, a task at which the automatic anagram generators would be useless.

Automatic anagram generators fulfill a useful niche, but they are just a tool, and a limited one at that. If you're a crossword-puzzle enthusiast, you probably share a similar disdain for automatically generated crossword puzzles.