[NetBehaviour] Code Is Not Literature

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Sun Jan 26 23:04:51 CET 2014

On 26/01/14 09:03 AM, Alan Sondheim wrote:
> for me it relates to IRC and warez slang, 1337, antiorp/integener/n.n.-
> speak, a whole array of 'hackerese' languages that also need decoding,
> that also don't run in the traditional sense (as opposed to perl poetry
> for example) -

It does but I think it takes this further.

Reading Mezangelle is like running code to debug it - watching call
stack frames being pushed and popped and data being created and operated
on. You have to keep track of nested contexts and back references. Each
new word fragment or piece of punctuation can operate on and transform
the previously read elements. Even when you've parsed Mezangelle it's
unstable and active, whether it reduces to a singular meaning or is more
ambiguous. This is different from 1337-style encoding.

Regarding Seibel's comments on code as literature, James makes a good
point about paintbrushes. We don't read shopping lists or meeting notes
as literature, yet they are written. Code does not tend to be written as
literature. It's possible to read code for pleasure and to find its
formatting and data structures, its *form*, aesthetically satisfying.
Code is mathematics, so this is similar to enjoying a mathematical proof.

I've enjoyed reading code. The DUIM source code was beautiful. I've
enjoyed seeing code execute. I still remember the first time I saw
Photoshop boot. But this shows that code and software can be evaluated
separately. I think that they should go together, like Emacs or
LambdaMOO or the Symbolics OS.

I think that a piece of software that is a) structured like Emacs to be
self-editing or at least self-revealing of its code and is b)
constructed to use this facility essayistically or discursively or
narratively is what would be required for code to be literature. Char
Davies' "Osmose" is a weak example (whatever its other strengths) of this.

But I may be proposing a gentrification of code.art. Or discussing the
equivalent of why nails and staples aren't considered more important in
the social history of painting. ;-)

- Rob.

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