[Humanist] 26.136 aesthetic computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 9 22:28:10 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 136.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 9 Jul 2012 13:29:25 +0100
        From: Daniel Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.131 aesthetic computing
        In-Reply-To: <20120706200802.EE3CF284DED at woodward.joyent.us>


> Of course those who know some programming will appreciate that much code 
> already is non-linear, at least in languages in which the control flow 
> of the program does not correspond to the order of instructions given. 
> (And even some in which it largely does, at least insofar as they 
> support function definitions, subroutines etc.)
Absolutely. It depends on precisely what is meant by 'non-linear', but it seems to me that any substantial modern program will be far less linear than a novel, or even than most hypertext narrative (and of course, it should be noted that html is code and that hypertext was an invention of programmers, albeit one that a small subset of fiction writers have made some use of). I hope that 'aesthetic computing' is not going to consist in humanists trying to teach programmers to suck eggs!

> Early in the thread Jim R suggested we would have to learn to talk in 
> code before we could generalize about an aesthetics of code. But we talk 
> in code all the time, as you know if you've ever listened to a doctor or 
> lawyer or musician or long-distance trucker at work.
> A code doesn't 
> just have an aesthetic: it is an aesthetic.
> Regards,
> Wendell

Yes, and this illustrates a couple of points that I've been trying to get at. The first and I think more important one is that nobody should think that 'aesthetic computing' can consist in artists or humanists bringing aesthetics into the field of computing: it is already there, albeit in a form that few  humanists are able to recognise. The second is the reason why so many people are unable to recognise the aesthetics involved, ie. that one actually needs to learn programming first. Otherwise, we might as well be discussing the aesthetics of French fiction without learning French, or discussing the aesthetics of writing without learning to read. A trucker's discourse is baffling to those to whom it is a foreign language, and so it is with code.

Your analogy raises a couple more issues that haven't been much discussed here. The first is that while English-speaking truckers (and programmers!) have their own jargon, it's still English, and not some other natural language (for example, French) - and (more profoundly) it's still natural language, and not some other kind of symbolic system (for example, formal logic or a programming language - or even, and perhaps especially, a visual programming language). What I mean to emphasise is that when we talk of the aesthetics of code, we're talking about the aesthetics of something radically different from the language we're communicating in right now. The second issue is that the language used by truckers is part of a trucker's experience of trucking, as well as being one of the most distinctive means by which that experience is encoded and mediated. If I wanted to have an opinion on the aesthetics of all that, it seems to me that I would need to spend some time driving a truck.

Best wishes


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