[NetBehaviour] Code Is Not Literature

Pall Thayer pallthay at gmail.com
Mon Jan 27 03:45:06 CET 2014

package absurd;
sub new {
    $this = new absurd();

On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 9:11 PM, Pall Thayer <pallthay at gmail.com> wrote:

> A lot of this makes no sense to me. It sounds like people are taking
> things at face value without considering the multitude of scenarios.
> Paintbrushes, staples or nails are as likely to become significant elements
> of a work of art as a urinal(!), depending on the artist's intent. Trying
> to comment on any of these in a single sentence or even paragraph is
> absurd. As is the attempt to analyze whether or not code is literature or
> not. The fact that it's code does not make it literature. The fact that
> words are contained within a book does not make it literature. It depends
> on the intent. We could produce a book that contains an alphabetical
> listing of all known brand names in the world and release it under
> different contexts. One could be issued as a reference manual, the other
> could be released as a poem. These would be viewed very differently.
> Likewise, we could take a photo of a bicycle and publish the same photo in
> several different ways. One could warn of the dangers of cycling. Another
> could promote the benefits of cycling. A third could be devoted to the
> aesthetics of the bicycle itself.
> Some code is intended to be read. And that doesn't necessarily draw from
> its performance. It may be that a reading of the code provides one message
> while the running of it provides another. Perhaps experiencing both will
> better inform the work. I don't know. It doesn't really matter.
> My primary message is that wondering whether code is literature or not is
> absurd. It may or may not be. But to attempt to present any argument that
> may indicate that you feel it might not be, is absurd.
> On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 8:05 PM, Rob Myers <rob at robmyers.org> wrote:
>> On 26/01/14 03:14 PM, Alan Sondheim wrote:
>> > On Sun, 26 Jan 2014, Rob Myers wrote:
>> >> 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.
>> >>
>> > True, but it's not that different from the waves that occurs in more
>> > traditional poetry. You're not debugging Mezangelle and you're not
>> > running it; you're interpreting it and one person's interpretation is
>> > different from anothers (which is also true btw of antiorp and poetry).
>> > Also you're assuming a stability in 1337 which might not be there.
>> 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.
>> Some programming languages are interpreted and it's obviously possible
>> for two runs of a program to give different output. In this sense there
>> are different interpretations of the same text when interpreted by
>> computer, as there are when interpreted by a human being. I'm certainly
>> not arguing that Mezangelle is Meme RNA, but I think these comparisons
>> are useful.
>> I can't speak to antiorp. :-( I shall investigate, thank you.
>> 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.
>> >> 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.
>> >
>> > 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.
>> > 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/
>> > Mathematical proofs and proof theory are complicated - look atthe
>> > 4-color theorem - and I find code-reading very different. But then I'm
>> > neither an astute mathematician or programmer.
>> 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 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.
>> >>
>> > 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.
>> 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.
>> - Rob.
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> --
> *****************************
> Pall Thayer
> artist
> http://pallthayer.dyndns.org
> *****************************

Pall Thayer
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