[Humanist] 23.111 programming: fears and blocks

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jun 27 10:24:47 CEST 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 111.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Elijah Meeks <elijahmeeks at gmail.com>                      (47)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.107 programming: the fear of it

  [2]   From:    Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at gmail.com>           (30)
        Subject: Programming and writer's block

  [3]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (29)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.107 programming: the fear of it

        Date: Thu, 25 Jun 2009 22:59:12 -0700
        From: Elijah Meeks <elijahmeeks at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.107 programming: the fear of it
        In-Reply-To: <20090626051439.AC5D223270 at woodward.joyent.us>

I'm not quite sure what kind of software you guys are describing.
There's a great deal of code out there that produces highly ambiguous,
non-goal oriented results with or without user input and not as a
result of flawed programming or design.  It almost sounds as if the
only software you've all had exposure to is linear business
applications.  It's a bit disingenuous to compare poetry to Microsoft
Excel, you should be comparing poetry to something equally abstract
and equally disentangled from stuffy business models, like NetHack.
Otherwise, one might as well take a strange, quirky, random
number-obsessed piece of software like NetHack and compare it to a
John Deere manual and claim that software is obviously creative,
metaphoric, weird and ground-breaking and that text is stuffy, linear
and uninspired.

It's the technical limitations that hamstrung software creators for so
long that instilled this sense of "elegance" in programming to mean
"efficiency".  That and the large teams of software engineers taking
part in collaborative efforts to produce code meant that the actual
design and implementation of software grew ever more techne-oriented,
but with the raw processing power of a modern computer and the
ludicrously convenient new languages that continue to pop up (Which
aren't nearly as "efficient" as programming in assembly, but who cares
when you're running the software on your 2ghz laptop?) I think that
the old barriers to entry for programming are fading away.  I've
written scads of strange, rambling pieces of software that serve no
useful purpose and only exist as an attempt for me to approximate,
whether to myself or others, some bit of poietic understanding.  I've
also processed raw data to produce numerical arguments in spatial and
graphical form, and the two activities are as dissimilar as writing a
novel and writing a technical paper.

As for HyperCard, I fondly remember using it many years ago, and I'd
recommend anyone that loved Hypercard look to vector graphics packages
such as Inkscape to soon provide you with your animated toolkit.  It's
not there, yet, but given some time, it will be.  Until then, you can
make do with Flash, but ActionScript still requires some formal
understanding of programming conventions.  As I'm fond of pointing
out, whenever you create animations in PowerPoint, you are coding, so
we're all becoming coders slowly, it's just a matter of the literacy
and the toolset meeting somewhere in between.  Still, despite the
primitive nature of modern programming languages, it would be a shame
to point to the product of them all and lump them together.  For a
time, no one wrote stories in cuneiform, but that didn't mean that
writing was only suitable to accounting and only interesting to

Elijah Meeks
PhD Candidate
University of California, Merced
emeeks at ucmerced.edu

        Date: Fri, 26 Jun 2009 09:18:40 +0200
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at gmail.com>
        Subject: Programming and writer's block
        In-Reply-To: <20090626051439.AC5D223270 at woodward.joyent.us>

Now that we have a thread that crosses the boundaries between
Humanities/poetry and programming anyway, this might fit in for fun:

| How To Get Out of Developer's Block?                               |
|   from the how-do-you-feel-about-get-out-of-developer's-block dept.|
|   posted by timothy on Thursday June 25, @19:08 (Programming)      |
|   http://ask.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/06/25/2247216          |

Midnight Thunder writes "I have spent the past six months working on a
software project, and while I can come up with ideas, I just can't seem
to sit down in front of the computer to code. I sit there and I just
can't concentrate. I don't know whether this is akin to writer's block,
but it feels like it. Have any other Slashdotters run into this and if so
how did you get out of it? It is bothering me since the project has
ground to a halt and I really want to get started again. I am the sole
developer on the project, if that makes a difference."

Discuss this story at:


Interestingly the not-that-funny-but-funny meant comments in the discussion
show a complete cluelessness to genuine writer's block.

-- Joris

Mr. Joris J. van Zundert (MA)
Huygens Institute IT R&D Team
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

Contact information at http://snipurl.com/jvz_hi_en

A disclaimer is applicable to this e-mail, cf. http://snipurl.com/discl_en

        Date: Fri, 26 Jun 2009 09:10:25 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.107 programming: the fear of it
        In-Reply-To: <20090626051439.AC5D223270 at woodward.joyent.us>

Martin --

Among those who study literature professionally, generally those poems
which resist a single, readily grasped, clearly accessible meaning are
the least interesting.  Simplistic poetry that gets awards and
attention usually does so because it's saying the right thing about
the right topic -- it's politically correct somehow.  A great deal of
bad poetry gets published for this reason.  Otherwise, poems generally
need to be of a certain level of difficulty to merit study and

One reason for preference for difficulty is that a poem is usually not
written simply to convey a single, clear idea -- if you want to do
that, write prose -- but to convey a complex of ideas which
interrelate values, mood, emotion, concepts, a phenomenology, and an
environment in a very compact form which unites both the sound and
rhythm of the words used with their meaning.

Jim R

> I'd just like to pick up one of Mark Wolff's comments:
>> An interesting poem resists
>> easy interpretation
> Poems that "resist" interpretation are not the better for it, surely? I
> usually think of poetry that is "hard" as flawed in that particular
> respect, although it may be rich in other aspects and reward the work
> put into reading it. The best poetry is surely both accessible and rich.
> Cheers,
> Martin

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