[NetBehaviour] Code Is Not Literature

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Fri Jan 31 07:24:51 CET 2014

On Thu, 30 Jan 2014, Rob Myers wrote:

> On 27/01/14 09:02 PM, Alan Sondheim wrote:
>> 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.
I had a lot of problems with A&L, especially what I felt was the 
exclusionary density of their prose; there was definitely something 
elitist about their theory and writing. If anything, at least for me, they 
were hegemonic themselves.

> "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 agree with you but there's the other pull of art fairs worldwide which 
are on the increase, as well as again all sorts of categories, people 
investing in Native American art for example; even within the hegemonic, 
there are pulls. In any case, this qua artworld is certainly something I 
don't have to worry about personally! 
> 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. :-)
I think just about everything is recognized as art by someone - biofilms, 
telephone pole insulators, and so forth. I also want to deconstruct 
"historical context" - I was around for example in the 60s anti-war 
movement, but my context vis-a-vis that "movement" was wildly different 
from anyone else's and vice-versa; I can't imagine the singularity or even 
a recognizable description of "context" here. I've read histories of that 
period, personal reminiscences, and they're wildly different, fractured.

> I like meme generators as an example of this, a second-time-as-farce of
> the idea of everyone as an artist.
Yes, but not farce for a lot of people -

> 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 not sure I'm following you re: neuroaesthetics and peak shift. I 
certainly agree with you here, thinking of Hans Bellmer for example who 
occupy an intermediary position.
> 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 haven't read that; I've seen his contribution to empyre and had some 
difficulties about his notion of embodiment there.

>> 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.
Of course dissonance is also a cultural field - the Chinese qinqin has 7 
frets, equally (logarithmically) spaced to the octave, not 12 - and the 
dissonance is different and resolves differently. There are also the 
musics of Indonesia, gamelan, etc. At this point, when I improvise, 
everything sounds "kind of equal" to me, and the movement's really not 
towards resolution, but towards timbre or structural moment, something 
like that.

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

Thank god they don't! I worry strongly about the effect of bio-art on the 
natural world, what organisms etc. might be being released. I want to 
learn from bower-birds, not rip them off!
>> 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. -

(I meant Bourdieu, apologies.)
> 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
> here:
> http://robmyers.org/2010/02/05/livecoding_as_realistic_artistic_practice/

(Will look at this.) I think of it as a gift economy, but not even an 
economy, as a gift. Collaboration has been wonderful; when I teach, I try 
to teach accordingly.

>>> 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:
> http://www.99-bottles-of-beer.net/
> Here's a version for LambdaMOO:
> http://www.99-bottles-of-beer.net/language-moo-403.html
Will look these up of course!

> http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-02/22/gps-spoofing
(Apologies for editing here -)

Thanks, Alan

> - Rob.

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