Programming’s Turn: Computation and Poetics
Published: 05 May 2017 by MDPI in Humanities
MDPI, Volume 6; 10.3390/h6020027
Abstract: Digital media and culture scholars routinely distinguish code from any common cultural understanding of media in order to underscore its wholly unique function as an epistemological tool. Where media emphasizes a hermeneutical relationship to knowledge as a mode of interpretation based on its graphic or symbolic representation, the idea of code in many ways invokes a far more complex and dynamic sense of how we determine meaning using symbols or signs in language in terms of producing actual programmable events. In the digital universe, computation, in terms of pre-coded rules, patterns and procedures, continues to showcase all objects and events, along with various corresponding behaviours or viabilities. This paper looks first at a range of contemporary philosophers, like Don Ihde, Katherine Hayles, David Berry and Bruno Latour, in order to build a theoretical foundation for understanding some of the changes in epistemology brought by digital technology and computational reason. Philosophies of computation, I argue, inevitably strive to outline a post-human culture and way of thinking about the world. Although the theoretical weaving of coding with human life follows in part from many earlier modern philosophical discussions on the role language plays in our thinking and sense of selfhood, we can see in computation a very specific reconceptualization of reasoning itself, producing, in turn, a host of new intellectual conflicts concerning human agency and our cognitive faculties. The paper then moves to explore two cultural examples of these conflicts, looking first at the practice of “live coding,” a unique, performative event where programmers demonstrate coding before a live audience. Whether on a physical stage in front of an actual audience or simply on screen as a live telecast, such performances combine with coding the distinct habits of gesture and voice in an improvised narrative. One single such show by live coder Sean Colombo is presented here in an exemplary reading of this relatively new media genre. A second, equally significant exploration of similar social and cultural conflicts associated with computation’s expansion into everyday living can be seen in the work of the digital literary artist, Ian Hatcher. Ian Hatcher’s consistently disturbing video enhanced performances evoke both the structure and overall ambience of a live coding event where he enacts the role of the coder/performer in a process of perpetual conflict with the text appearing on screen. While for many, the live coder can be heralded as a kind of exemplary humanist figure in computation, as these performances show, the more material, writerly aspects of coding must inevitably succumb to the cultural logic of the code’s literal execution to produce a distinctly post-humanist approach to writing and art.
Keywords: Live Coding, phenomenology, Computational Reason, Digital Literature, Poetics, Programming