Digital Code and Literary Text

by Florian Cramer

Digital code as text. Can notions of text that were developed without electronic texts in mind be applied to digital code, and how does literature come into play here?

My talk is based on the general (yet disputable) assumption that the theoretical debate of literature in digital networks has shifted, just as the poetic practices it is shaped after, from perceiving computer technology solely as an extension of conventional textuality (as manifest in such notions as 'hypertext', 'hyperfiction', 'hyper-/ multimedia') towards paying attention to the very codedness of digital systems themselves. Several phenomena may serve as empirical evidence:

- The early focus of conceptualist Net.art on the aesthetics and politics of code;
- in turn, the impact of Net.art aesthetics on experimental literature / poetry in the Internet;
- the close affinity of Net.art with political activism in the Internet;
- which itself increasingly affiliates itself with an older, technical 'hacker' culture (of Chaos Computer Club, 2600, etc.);
- the strong interest for (a) Free/Open Source Software and (b) network protocol standardization in all these camps;
- the fact that hacker aesthetics, Net.art aesthetics, code aesthetics and network protocol aesthetics have a tremendous impact on contemporary writing in the Internet. (See the work of mez, Alan Sondheim, Talan Memmott, Ted Warnell and others.)

I wll discuss how "Codeworks" (Alan Sondheim) fit notions of text that were crafted without digital code (and most importantly: machine-executable digital code) in mind and vice versa. Is it a coincidence for example that, reflecting the low-level codes of the Internet aesthetically, codeworks ended up resembling concrete poetry? And, apart from aesthetic resemblances, how do computer programs relate to literature? Is that what is currently being discussed as "Software Art" a literary genre?

Since many of these positions remain debatable, I would like to put up questions in my presentation rather than give answers.

full paper

(given at conference p0es1s - poetics of digital text )