[NetBehaviour] Code as Software as Literature

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Fri Feb 7 02:17:58 CET 2014

On 03/02/14 07:23 PM, Bishop Zareh wrote:
> My characterization of Rob's quote is a bit off too.
> Maybe something more like: Rob backs away from a slippery slope. See [1] below. 

Like a mouse scrabbling atop Canary Wharf...

> [...]
>>> [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.

I've not read Pynchon, I keep meaning to. I won't read DFW further,
although better people than me keep telling me his shorter stuff is
good. I'm often an obvious contrarian and there's no virtue in that. But
even a running clock is wrong for most of the day. ;-)

>>> 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.

Baroque excess is part of the critique and sometimes the self-image of
[p|P]ost-?[m|M]odernism since the Marxisant-consumerist rather than
neoclassical version won out in the arts.

It's funny looking back on 80s/90s mass media and cyberculture and
seeing how empty of information and communication technology that era
actually was despite its self image. Imagine looking back on our own age
of growing, extreme and almost baroque excess in twenty or thirty years
time either from a post-peak-oil wasteland or a singularitarian MTV
style guide post-reality. I know it's a false dichotomy but are we gods
or cargo cultists?

>>> That in-fact Wallace
>>> was an example of well-crafted late-Modernism, and not what comes next.

I'm sure that the author would disapprove but I've just been reading
"Distant Reading" rather than writing a program to do so for me and
Moretti's description of Chinese classical novels makes Gravity's
Rainbow sound a bit sparse. Compared to (say) "The Condition of Muzak"
(1970s) or "Pere Ubu" (1890s), Infinite Jest is pretty straightforward
formally and narratively. At least it's not about baseball.

"Postmodernism" was first mentioned in the 19th Century, and Modernism
(and capitalism) keeps getting later. I'd love a new label. But not
"post-internet". Which currently seems to be neoclassical (or at least a
racial memory of Geocities).

>>> 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've not been to Yale. I took a shortcut across part of Harvard once.
That was kinda retro.

>>> 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.

Social History of Art is a thing, and Moretti's interest in abstract
diagrams of culture is driven by the belief that artistic forms are
"abstracts of social relationships". But I'm not sure how causal any
relationships between art and society are, "Raft of The Medusa" aside.
"The Clockwork Muse" (thanks to Curt Cloniger for mentioning that book
elsewhere) presents high art as divorced from society, driven by the
aesthetic equivalent of Krondatiev Waves.




>>> 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.

If we straw man a continuum from absolute artistic intent to absolute
death of the author as determining what is or isn't art then we're
simply moving determining capabilities (...power...) from one person or
one mode of activity to another, from (producer(s|tion) to
consumer(s|ption)) or back. In either case it's socially and
aesthetically interesting to ask why and where and when and who of the
current state and history of this distribution.

Some human produced structures are formally more or less suited to
projecting narrative or compositional form onto. Being naive, this is
clearly present in the language of financial news reports or sports
journalism. But then there's that damn urinal.

I'm not sure how funny or tragic Einstein's proofs are. But finding a
sense of direction and structure in them as an elegant expression of
ideas isn't a form of solipsism. Shakespeare was just rewriting other
people's historical accounts...

>>> 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.

As Call of Cthulhu teaches us, if we're going to summon something we'd
better know how to bind it...

Harry Potter aside there is a popular disconnect from literature. Books
written to be literature-qua-literature and (worse) to slot into
academic reading lists aren't going to fix this. And for all my "hey
lets manufacture objects for people to art at!", renewing the form(s) is
going to need some cargo from elsewhere. Code's as good a place as any.
And has some connection to society. Maybe.

- Rob.

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