[NetBehaviour] Code Is Not Literature

Pall Thayer pallthay at gmail.com
Fri Jan 24 03:19:57 CET 2014

And, as a reply to Seibel's comments, do we not "decode" literature? I've
always felt a deep divide between people who have a background in
programming/engineering/tech stuff who have moved into creative realms
("Art") and those who have a background in the arts but have moved towards
programming/engineering ("tech"). It feels to me that the tech-background
people have a harder time seeing programming as "art". To them, the product
might be art, but not the process. They tend to be the ones to raise the
question, "is the paint brush the art?" It all depends on how you approach
it. The "paint brush" can, in fact, be the art.

On Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 8:11 PM, Pall Thayer <pallthay at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi Alan, I think you make an excellent point here. "Who is looking at the
> code and for what purposes?" The only thing that differentiates programming
> code from other written text is its perceived purpose and people's reasons
> for reading the text. If, in reading, you look for prose, you will find it.
> If you don't, you won't. Likewise, if you look at an image, seeking art,
> you will find it. If you're looking for something else, you won't find the
> art.
> On Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 7:06 PM, Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> wrote:
>> Well, there are a number of issues here. In the first place, they're
>> looking at code for particular reasons, to understand it in particular
>> ways; code as literature or as part-objects within literature (codework) is
>> not meant to be decoded the same way. Think of counting the number of "t"s
>> for example in a poem - that's also a way of decoding it, but is of course
>> different than literary reading. I think there's a hermeneutics involved
>> here, as well as the Wittgensteinian idea of "family of usages" - so who is
>> looking at the code/codework, for what purpose, and so forth? It's
>> problematic; since code is primarily originating with programmers, they're
>> interested in its functionality, taking it apart, but that's not it's only
>> function, certainly not within the aegis of literature. An interesting
>> aside to this of course is reading a mathematical text, which I think _can_
>> be a work of literature fairly directly - for example Einstein's theory of
>> relativity. One's reading speeds and slows, and the formulas require
>> decoding as well, but of a different sort, I think; I also feel that, say,
>> cosmological formulas are denser and more layered, more difficult to
>> unravel perhaps, than most programming code - but I may well be mistaken
>> here (and should take this whole sentence back!).
>> - Alan
>> On Thu, 23 Jan 2014, marc garrett wrote:
>>  Code Is Not Literature - or is it?
>>> I was browsing Slashdot as one does and found a link to an article
>>> called ?Code Is Not Literature?.
>>> As I was reading this I was thinking of Mez and Alan Sondheim, and
>>> thought to myself - surely, if someone turns it into literature, then it is
>>> literature?
>>> Anyway, have a read and see what you think?
>>> "Hacker and author Peter Seibel has done a lot of work to adopt one of
>>> the most widely-accepted practices toward becoming a better programmer:
>>> reading high quality code. He's set up code-reading groups and interviewed
>>> other programmers to see what code they read. But he's come to learn that
>>> the overwhelming majority of programmers don't practice what they preach.
>>> Why? He says, 'We don't read code, we decode it. We examine it. A piece of
>>> code is not literature; it is a specimen.' He relates an anecdote from
>>> Donald Knuth about figuring out a Fortran compiler, and indeed, it reads
>>> more like a 'scientific investigation' than the process we refer to as
>>> 'reading.' Seibel is now changing his code-reading group to account for
>>> this: 'So instead of trying to pick out a piece of code and reading it and
>>> then discussing it like a bunch of Comp Lit. grad students, I think a
>>> better model is for one of us to play the role of a 19th century naturalist
>>> returning from a trip to some exotic island to present to the local
>>> scientific society a discussion of the crazy beetles they found.'"
>>> http://developers.slashdot.org/story/14/01/21/1847217/
>>> code-is-not-literature
>>> Here?s Seibel?s original text on his blog
>>> http://www.gigamonkeys.com/code-reading/
>>> wishing you well.
>>> marc
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> NetBehaviour mailing list
>>> NetBehaviour at netbehaviour.org
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>> ==
>> email archive http://sondheim.rupamsunyata.org/
>> web http://www.alansondheim.org / cell 347-383-8552
>> music: http://www.espdisk.com/alansondheim/
>> current text http://www.alansondheim.org/si.txt
>> ==
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> --
> *****************************
> Pall Thayer
> artist
> http://pallthayer.dyndns.org
> *****************************

Pall Thayer
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