[-empyre-] Poetry and Programming
> ps Char Davies made a virtual world (osmose I think) where one could sink
> through a landscape of trees, streams etc, to a field of text beneath
> everything, the text being the code that generated the environment of the
> artwork. Kind of nicely self referential, amusing and profound.
POETRY AND PROGRAMMING
Whatever else poetry is, it involves an intense engagement with language. The fronts on which
that intensity operate change over time as the media in which poetry is composed and
disseminated change, and as language comes into intense relation with previously only
peripherally-related fields and issues. T.S. Eliot observed many moons ago that art doesn't
"progress," in the sense that, for instance, mathematics progresses, but the materials change.
Language changes; but also our understanding and application of language change.
The study of the formal properties of language, over the last sixty years, has been crucial to
gaining a theoretical framework in which the possibilities and limitations of computation can be
framed and considered. Concomitantly, the resulting possibilities in computing have given rise
to a 'communications revolution' that continues to change how people communicate with one
another and change our image of ourselves and humanity.
At the root of the 'communications revolution' is our knowledge not of silicon and transistors,
fibre optics, etc, but the formal properties of language that allow us to construct programmable
languages and machines that can interpret and compile texts into instructions that these
machines can carry out. I remember hearing about an MIT project in which a computer was
constructed out of mechano or tinker toys, the point being that computers are made out of the
theories of language and computation, and logic, not silicon.
Language has come into new relation with Mathematics and even Engineering over the last sixty
years. One of the consequences of this, in art, is that the 'person vs machine' front is 'in the
language' in different ways than it has been previously. We internalize the phenomenology of
what a computer is and how to work one, ie, somewhat consciously, somewhat unconsciously, and
the more we shape with it, the closer we come to the intersection of programming and, relatedly,
There's the conflict between personal intent and programmed options (programmed intent):
sometimes they don't line up. But also there's the conflict between technical language and
artistic culture. And that is more to the 'person vs machine' conflict. In the case of
programming, the troubles have a way of coming back to the conflict with the language of math,
Programming must be viewed as a creative undertaking in the transformation not simply of art but
of humanity and the world (like it will/is anyway), not an activity reserved for
engineer/accountants and regulatory or strictly commercial application . Artists must inform the
vision of where computing is going and offer works that shape the future. They are and will,
but the cultures of art and Mathematics/Computer Science are still far from the sort of
communication that creates numerous practicioners . The alternative is a world shaped without
art, without joy, in the image of a machine, not humanity and our spiritual and generous,
exuberant nature. It is more than a battle against the forces of dullness, but mayhem is
dullness and numbing even on the news.
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