[NetBehaviour] Code Is Not Literature

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Fri Jan 31 01:28:09 CET 2014

On 27/01/14 09:02 PM, Alan Sondheim wrote:
> First, thanks for the exchange!

Yes likewise, I'm learning and rethinking a lot.

> I have the feeling that A&L _believed_ in _art_ as a category and I
> think that the term/domain is increasingly problematic. Aesthetic
> feeling doesn't necessarily imply 'art' and art, I think, has moved from
> a discursive formation, in many ways, to a system of competitive
> corporate structures. Even so, there's no longer an 'art world' - if
> there ever was - but 'art worlds' - the family of usages again. So to
> reify art as a category seems either a bit senseless, or bound to
> particular notions of art history.

A&L mentioned the old non-definition of art as "middle sized dry goods",
so they didn't believe the category to be unproblematic. I think they
were/art good Marxists who were/are critiquing the site of class
struggle that they found themselves working in as it was constructed in
their historical era. I find their later interest in genre interesting,
as I think genre survives even if nothing or everything is art.

"The Art World" of auction houses and blue chip galleries insists that
it is now hegemonic. I think that class is the determinant here, the art
that the rich invest in storing and preserving is the art that will be
seen and will last.

I like reifying art as a category *within a given historical context* in
order to play with the results. I do like all sorts of things that
neither the artworld or the general public would recognize as art. So
maybe I'm just arguing from personal preference. :-)

> See above - art/non-art aren't in opposition - only if you insist on a
> formal (wester) (urban) (etc.) art-history of a particular sort. One of
> the great things happening now is that, other than the blue-chip gallery
> enclave, everything is much more open, and we might actually get to the
> point where aesthetic feeling doesn't need to be quite so institutional-
> ized.

I like meme generators as an example of this, a second-time-as-farce of
the idea of everyone as an artist.

It's possible to structure objects to more strongly encourage aesthetic
reactions [within a particular sociohistorical environment] and to
instrumentalize this. I don't want to mention peak shift and I enjoy
neuroaesthetics rather than finding it useful, but I think it is
possible to intentionally produce instrumental aesthetic fetishes or
sex-toy-equivalents. I'd happily testify in court that if there were
such a thing as artworks, these might number among them.

I'm wary of the structurelessness or gentlmanly-gaze-iness of an art
that is purely a product of its audience's regard. But then again I'm
wary of the overdetermination of an art that is purely the product of
artistic intent. I've just reviewed Nathan Stern's "Interactive Art As
Embodiment" which I think has some nice ways around either extreme.

(I'm not trying to straw-man here, this is an attempt at a possibly
inept shorthand rather than intentionally malicious misrepresentation.)

> It fascinates me that the idea of aesthetic sense has been applied - or
> discovered - across organisms, at least fauna; it's been noted that some
> insects respond strongly to symmetric mates, and you find aesthetics
> playing a large role among birds and mammals for example. We humans just
> have a hard time looking -

Without wishing to be naive I observed that my kids had very strong
aesthetic reactions to dissonance in music or art.

A bower bird making protest art would be something to see. Something for
the bio-artists to work on. ;-)

> I'd argue for a different way of thinking; art history, including A at L
> etc. always seemed over-determined. One thing comes to mind - Bourieu's
> book Distinction, which deals well with plurality in this regard. -

Yes that's a very good point. I think modesty is always called for, or
possibly liberalism. History is a *noisy* environment.

>> I do like the idea of code given on request. I've only ever written
>> occasional code once, and I erased it after using its output.
> - This is maybe an important point; I'm not a programmer but a poor
> kludger. On the other hand I've found coders incredibly generous and
> love the idea of collaboration, which at least among institutions I know
> such as Eyebeam or here in Providence, AS220, is becoming more and more
> prevalent.

When I have my Free Software zealot hat on I tend to argue that the idea
of code "gift economies" or "commons" misleadingly prioritize
epiphenomena of freedom over their cause. But that freedom does enable
people to collaborate equitably. I guess coding together is like having
a pen pal. I did talk about the social dimension of out-of-office coding


>> I enjoy rewriting systems in different languages. It's a kind of
>> platonism, I guess. :-)
> At my poor level, I've enjoyed varieties of the "Hello World" type in
> different languages - but then I'm also interested in natural languages
> the same way.

In human languages I'm a shameful monoglot...

I love the beer site for seeing how a simple task is approached in
different languages:


Here's a version for LambdaMOO:


>> Our networked computer systems synch their time over the network to
>> timeservers that synch to atomic clocks, and the concept of time then
>> gets a bit strange.
> But as 'much universal as possible' - and think how amazing that is!

It is pretty mind-blowing yes.

The global positioning system is based on clock timing, which means that
interfering with that system of time and space measurement could be used
amongst other things as an attack or exploit on high frequency trading


>> I keep trying to find the source for an old John Carmack quote in which
>> he describes having the epiphany that "time is just another event" in a
>> computer game.
> Of course it took time to say that - Writing, the thief of time...


- Rob.

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