[NetBehaviour] Code Is Not Literature

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Jan 27 03:05:44 CET 2014

On Sun, 26 Jan 2014, Rob Myers wrote:

> I agree that traditional poetry obviously has structure and flow, and
> can transform meaning over the course of being read with great subtlety
> or degree. I do think that the nature of the re-reading and re-thinking
> that Mezangelle requires and affords via its syntax is more compact than
> plain language poetry. And that this compactness of notation is a
> quality of some kinds of code.
depends on the poet - Donne is fairly compact, as is Dickinson, while 
Whitman may not be. for that matter, at least for me Lacan and Derrida are 
compact, Schoepenaur is not, the math I'm currently reading is highly 
compact, etc. etc. somewhere information theory/entropy comes into play 

> 1337 is inherently ironic but it's also very much a shared joke and
> shibboleth for cliques. It involves much play but is more instrumental.
agreed -

>> Here I do disagree with you; reading-as is something that at least I,
>> and I assume many others do (just as such lists were read by Braudel as-
>> history). Example - I'm currently reading Walsh's Mercantile Aritmetic,
>> published in Newbury, Mass, in 1800 - which is just what the title says,
>> but which reads like a fantastic epic, especially the sections dealing
>> with monetary exchange (I might quote later, because the writing is
>> amazing).
> Reading-as is closer to Siebel's concern. I greatly enjoy the lists in
> (for example) the Cornelius Quartet, "The Sale Of The Late King's Goods"
> or "JPod". And there may be a program listing out there waiting to be
> discovered as literature. But I'm doubtful of this for reasons of what I
> guess are "family resemblance".
> We could go Situationist and simply nominate a particular listing as a
> novel, but this would I think be different from what we are discussing here.
Not that different; again I think it's an issue of "families of usages" 
re: Wittgenstein, reception theory, and so forth. For a while, Ukiyo-e was 
used as wrapping paper in Japan; manuscripts are found in the spines of 
19th-century and earlier books. Audiences - for Mez, my work, leet, Joyce, 
etc. etc. are complex and variable; Pound needs decoding (deliberately 
so), as does Chaucer (vagaries of changing language). Skaldic kennings are 
perhaps the densest linguistic form, and so forth.

>> I also am not sure that "Code is mathematics" just because it's exact;
>> certainly at the level of machine language, it follows strict protocols.
> "Software is math" is a core argument in the non-patentability of software:
> "When people say that software is math, they mean that in the most
> direct, literal sense." -
> http://www.forbes.com/sites/timothylee/2011/08/11/software-is-just-math-really/
> Code can be very complex as well, I've never read the whole of the Linux
> kernel for example. I don't know the proof for the 4-colour theorem but
> I enjoy the proofs of set theory and find that mathematics, art and code
> have a shared concern with some kind of *form*, and some kind of
> *aesthetic* governing it, whatever their other differences.
I thinking there are numerous aesthetics re: proof theory, nothing unified 
there, especially since the digital computer and crowd-sourcine have been 
brought (literally) into the equation/s. Things like surreal numbers and 
infinitesimals I'd think would cloud any ideality at least, in more 
fundamental ways than Brouwer's intuitionism (which seemed sloppy to me).

I'll check the Forbes reference, thanks -

>> I really do think there's any sort of "requirement" involved, maybe
>> part-requirements like part-objects, or something along the line of
>> "tendencies"; I'm extremely dubious of requirements in relation to art
>> in general - even the idea that art/literature, etc. _should_ be
>> something as opposed to something else. Aesthetics and reading
>> behaviors, reception theory and the like, is far more complex than this.
> Again I don't think it's easy to go further than family resemblance in
> the ontology of art.
>>> 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. ;-)
>> Well they are important, and there are books that emphasize things like
>> the chemistry of paints etc. - I relate this again to Braudel and the
>> annales school of historiography.
> I've just read "Color, Facture, Art And Design" (highly recommended)
> which is largely a history of grounds and pigments and how they relate
> to the social content of painting. This kind of technical-conceptual
> integration, is what I am arguing for in this discussion.
Again, it depends on audience; the integration may or may not be 
necessary; certainly, for example, among Chinese classical painters, there 
were wide variations in their and others' writings in relation to the work 
- there's no one way at all.

> I chose staples and nails because their relative volume in the material
> and significant construction of painting supports is generally low and
> contingent. My point was that we have to consider the possibility that
> code, and I say this as someone almost ridiculously invested in the idea
> that art can be made with or of code, may not be strongly relevant in
> the critique art made with it.

Again it depends on audience; when I was writing early on about codework 
and even now, it seemed natural that code was a medium just as for example 
re: Venet, the classical mathematical/scientific lecture could be a medium 
or with Cadere, the staff could be a medium. I'm more interested in the 
openness of these approach, perhaps the aha! or wow! factor, or the now 
old idea of making the familiar strange, or re-making, than I am in 
definitions from within fields; if a programmer feels that 
code/programming is never art, "unless," or "with the requirements that" 
etc. - that's fine with me; it doesn't affect my practice, nor does my 
practice affect her or him. Fwiw, my own codework (a term I coined fwiw) 
uses code I either wrote myself, or in collaboration with others, or given 
to me on request; I find great beauty in the last (which connects to 
Chinese aesthetics even technically) that's little different than I found 
in other media. I remember Bob Bieliecki (who early on designed for Laurie 
Anderson) talking about the excitement felt using assembly language in 
trying to find the shortest expression for factorials. I imagine there's 
some of the same feelings among hackers - just the beauty of the exploit, 
or performative language, producing something miraculous, which we now 
take for granted - for example

k1% date
Sun Jan 26 21:04:19 EST 2014

- look at that! Just typing "date" connects us to the universe in a way 
absolutely inconceivable before digital media and code came along. (I know 
the roots are far messier than this; this is just my own sense of wonder.)

- Alan

> - Rob.
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