RE: [-empyre-] Poetry and Programming
> An exercise I use to do, some years ago, with students new to computing was
> called "we are going to build a computer in this class". Of course the
> thought of building a complete computer in three hours bewildered and
> terrified the students. I then explained that this would be a computer with
> no monitor, keyboard, mouse or on/off switch. That all we needed was some
> chairs (to sit on in a circle) and some rules and data for the rules to
> operate upon and to modify said rules. The point was to show how computing
> and computers are not necessarily mechanistic or electronic in form but
> rather linguistic and communicative. Of course what we made was a Turing
> machine, but they didn't need to know that. Once they had successfully
> "built" (performed) this computer they were then allowed to start using
> "real" computers and learn how to program as a poetic as well as technical
Very cool. It would be great to see a video of that, Simon.
A friend of mine, Mike Fellows, is a strong populizer of the mathematics of Computer Science
(he's at New Castle in Australia at the mo). He's a Mathematician in theoretical Computer
Science. When he was here in Victoria Canada, I was part of a troupe that he led in which we'd
organize evenings of math activities for grade school kids and their parents in the gymnasiums
of different schools, like one a month. We mainly used big tarps to draw diagrams on, and then
the kids would get a piece of paper that explained the 'game' or 'puzzle' or 'activity' and
would go to one of the tarps. The activity on one tarp compared the speed of a distributed
computing algorithm to sort a list of numbers with a non distributed (ie, single processor)
These evenings were inspirational for some of the kids and at least as many of the parents. To
find relevant mathematics made exciting, fun, approachable, and very concrete and concerned with
processes involving humans, not just numbers and symbols, relieved some 'math anxiety' for some,
since they could understand it quite vividly.
For some, mathematics and computer science is associated with intellectual torture. Literally.
It is central to the 'person vs machine' grind that tells them their IQ, creates a world in
which guarding Iraqi oil is more important than guarding the Iraq museum, a world in which math
and computer science function to make a not necessarily 'kinder gentler machine gun hand' and
certainly bigger better machine guns. And a society of drone consumers proud of their machine
guns and technological achievement more generally.
Mathematics and Computer Science *is* implicated in that, like physics was centrally prominent
in this engine of abuse and 'controlled' mayhem in the still-present nuclear age, which will
never go away but may be dismantled, deconstructed. But the current terrible logic sees their
continued production and sale in bits and parts rather than their deconstruction.
When I started studying computer science, i was about 30. it intimidated me and i was an
insignificant number among the legions of Math/Computer Science students. it was important to
keep reminding myself that computers are language machines.
The role of programming in digital art would seem to involve not making a kinder gentler machine
gun hand, a more artsy-literate machine gun hand, but to deconstruct that machine gun hand and
that machine gun via the language machine. Art is disarming.
> > 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,
> > mathematics.
> This coming together of technological disciplines and art is very much the
> product of the linguistic and symbolic nature of the dominant technology of
> our time and the profound ways in which this relates to poetics and thus
> creative processes in any of the arts. The well known convergent nature of
> computing, a function of its symbolic and linguistic nature, is also a
> factor here.
> > 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,
> > for many.
> This conflict is commonly typified as person vs machine...however, it is
> really a cultural conflict between people...people who have different
> outlooks upon the world. However, as is often the case, when you look
> closely at the assumed differences (between science and art, in this case)
> they are not what they first appeared and usually not as profound as we
In Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong suggests that some well-known theories of personal or
cultural development explain changes that are "more cogently" described as "shifts from orality
to various stages of literacy":
"...shifts hitherto labelled as shifts from magic to science, or from the so-called 'prelogical'
to the more and more 'rational' state of consciousness, or from Levi-Strauss's 'savage' mind to
domesticated thought, can be more economically and cogently explained as shifts from orality to
various stages of literacy."
Walter Ong from Orality and Literacy; see http://vispo.com/writings/essays/mcluhana.htm
What IQ tests test for, according to this view, is not innate intelligence but literacy of
certain types. Contemporary IQ tests stress knowledge of the formal properties of language—-that
is the 'math' aspect to IQ tests, which are not presented in the formal language of mathematics
but in a language of symbols wherein order and placement, pattern, and other formal aspects
'independent of content' are present and knowledge of them is tested for.
> > 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.
> The computer scientist Terry Winograd described the computer as not a
> machine for writing but as writing in and of itself. That is, computing is
> writing, computers are instances of writing.
And so writers/poets are, in this sense, well-suited to work on the transformation of writing to
this more comprehensive writing.
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