[NetBehaviour] Code as Software as Literature

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Feb 4 04:01:34 CET 2014

I reject lists? I don't; I've run some for decades - I'm not sure what you 

- Alan

On Mon, 3 Feb 2014, Bishop Zareh wrote:

> 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!
> Bz
> ========================================================
>       > <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.
> ========================================================

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