[NetBehaviour] Code as Software as Literature

Bishop Zareh xchicago at gmail.com
Tue Feb 4 03:01:59 CET 2014

Hey yall,
I am not online as often as you, so apologies in advance for not being more timely.

Cucumber (http://cukes.info) is definitely my favorite code to read. Jasmine (https://github.com/pivotal/jasmine) can sometimes be a 'close second', despite the overbearing assertions and 'be' verbs. It all depends on the author. 

Behavour-driven-development may be just another blip on the natural-language-code timeline, but then again, it may not.

I echo the many thanks going around for references, dialogue and perceptiveness by all involved. There are two threads that I would like to tease out a bit, as I felt they got sidelined along the way.

[1] Late modernist literature as it relates to code wurk. Rob's defense of an instinctual off-hand comment. Some wit from me.
[2] Jimmy Wales daughter. Alan's rejection of Lists in general. Wiki-literature and collaborative writing.

Let me know your ideas!


> > <I loathe "Infinite Jest" > do you? it always rather a shock when
> > *someone* one respects & admires hates *something* one loves.
> I do. I know I'm in a miniscule minority here. I have read the whole
> book, read reviews and discussions of it, and read about its genesis and
> production but this is a largely visceral reaction that I'm not
> particularly proud of. It wasn't germane to the discussion so I really
> shouldn't have mentioned it. I'm sorry.

[1] Late modernist literature as it relates to code wurk. Rob's defense and dismissal of an instinctual and off-hand comment. Some wit from me.

Of course we all must respect the brilliance set down in word by giants of contemporary literature like David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon. Many followed in their tradition, and I have spent much of my waking life marveling over their foldings of language. 

Yet, after reading more Marx, Foucault, Lacan, I came to believe that this genre called "post-modern literature" missed some very fundamental mark. Their hearts were in the right place, but when the future story of past thought is told, I felt these authors would be found in the narrative of our era's growing, extreme, and almost baroque excesses. That in-fact Wallace was an example of well-crafted late-Modernism, and not what comes next.

That said, I think it is exactly this breakdown-in-transition IN Literature, or at least in popular academic literary analysis, that prevents Alan and Rob's critique to spread/permeate into places like Yale. 

I'll give one example of why I think this. Save for very few practices an author rarely concedes crafting the social affect of their literature, nor do most academics publicly study the social function of literature as part-in-parcel with linguistic accomplishments. Not that the two fields don't sometimes overlap, but the idea of Einstein's Proofs being an example of code that is worthy of literary analysis, falls so completely flat to someone that has never considered the physical universe as a prosthetic of language. 

Most bookworms gots distracted by the bindings; forgots that the words have the powers, because the words have the peoples. Maybe Lot 49 was crying because it forgot its point, or its peoples? I always felt like Pynchon was leading me on a wild goose chase toward red herrings, but then there would be these plateaus of sense-making, all too inconceivably arranged.


> Or another ugly way of putting it, I hate lists, however defined (again) - on a personal level because someone or some group is always excluded, and since I'm more often than not in that group, I see them, themselves, as hegemonic in function, although not in intention.

[2] Jimmy Wales daughter. Alan's rejection of Lists in general. Wiki-literature and collaborative writing.

I played legos with Jimmy Wales' daughter one time. I showed up to some random Hackathon in an attic of an old office building and there was a five-year-old playing in the corner. So I helped babysit, since there seemed to be a lack. Only to find out that the father, inventor of Wikipedia, had been mobbed and absconded in the green room, prior to his presentation to twenty or less completely unprepared "bar-camp" participant+volunteer+organizers. Childcare was not the only thing they had failed to provide, but the event is not the important part.

Along the way, Jimmy uttered this amazingly concise statement on network technology; he said that wiki was the only technology that brought people together in agreement. Forums and mailing lists like this, have statistically demonstrable problems with sustainable agreement. Usually the loudest and most extreme voices push out the meager marginal voices, approaching both hegemony and harmony, and eventually banality as a room full of bullies agreeing with e'chotha'.

Don't get me wrong; I love this list and I think Alan does too. None the less, Lists in general, have issues. My critique is that if, if the source code of both a forum and a wiki were fun to read, it would be the wiki that best responds to literary analysis. I believe there must be some 'functional' requirement that cannot be explained computationally, mathematically or linguistically. In this way, a wiki is more functional than a forum or mailing list, and thus its source more literary.

Now, the word "function" has 15 different meanings in these contexts, so let me be specific. I am using "function" as a User Experience designer would, to mean the eventual social affect of the work. I am not talking about "functional mathematics" and I definitely am attempting to discredit "code quality". If we consider software as literature, one could write the most efficient program ever, but if it does not change someone's life or show them something special, then it has failed as literature. Imo, code as literature has even more qualifications: achievement in linguistics, readability, computational artistry, mathematical relevance and functional evocativeness.

But even this 'functional' becomes its own little rabbit hole (read: problematic). Wikis are a collaborative writing engine, so to measure the social ramifications of this technology, we would have to compare all of the literature that the technology begot. Additionally, the source code, Media Wiki, has it's own lineage of forks, each of them enabling reams of derivative, affected works, ripe for analysis. Mathematically, some Media Wiki forks do super advanced shiznit with "distributed" updates and their "eventual synchrony" though this comes more from cloud computing than wiki technology. The Media Wiki source code is pretty well commented, but of course it could be more poetic if somebody had half-a-mind to write it that way.

Even then, Authorship takes a nose dive into oblivion (read: existentialism) say when you consider wiki-fan-fiction to be a derivative work relevant to the reading of the source. Collaborative Writing then bares it's ugly head, and the whole situation starts to feel like families of fungi popping up, disparate yet globally connected through a vast underground (read: imperceptible) root system (read: diaspora).

Then what do we have? A big ball full of yarn? notin' but electrons and economics I guess.


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20140203/dc8eff90/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list