PIC

WORDS MADE FLESH

Code, Culture, Imagination

Florian Cramer


Media Design Research
Piet Zwart Institute
institute for postgraduate studies and research
Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam

A b s t r a c t:Executable code existed centuries before the invention of the computer in magic, Kabbalah, musical composition and experimental poetry. These practices are often neglected as a historical pretext of contemporary software culture and electronic arts. Above all, they link computations to a vast speculative imagination that encompasses art, language, technology, philosophy and religion. These speculations in turn inscribe themselves into the technology. Since even the most simple formalism requires symbols with which it can be expressed, and symbols have cultural connotations, any code is loaded with meaning. This booklet writes a small cultural history of imaginative computation, reconstructing both the obsessive persistence and contradictory mutations of the phantasm that symbols turn physical, and words are made flesh.

Media Design Research
Piet Zwart Institute
institute for postgraduate studies and research
Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam
http://www.pzwart.wdka.hro.nl

The author wishes to thank Piet Zwart Institute Media Design Research for the fellowship on which this book was written.

Editor: Matthew Fuller, additional corrections: T. Peal

Typeset by Florian Cramer with LaTeX using the amsbook document class and the Bitstream Charter typeface.

Front illustration: Permutation table for the pronounciation of God’s name, from Abraham Abulafia’s Or Ha Seichel (The Light of the Intellect), 13th century

2005 Florian Cramer, Piet Zwart Institute

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of any of the following licenses:

  1. the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or any later version. To view of copy of this license, visit http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html or send a letter to the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place—Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307, USA.
  2. the GNU Free Documentation License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 1.2 of the license or any later version. To view of copy of this license, visit http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html or send a letter to the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place—Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307, USA.
  3. the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; either version 2.0 of license or any later version. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Your fair use and other rights are not affected by the above.


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   Contents

Chapter 1.   Introduction: In Dark Territory

Chapter 2.   Computations of Totality

Exe.cut[up]able statements
Magic and religion
Pythagorean harmony as a cosmological code
Kabbalah
Ramon Llull and Lullism
Rhetoric and poetics
Combinatory poetry and the occult
Computation as a figure of thought

Chapter 3.   Computation as Fragmentation

Gulliver’s Travels
The Library of Babel
Romanticist combinatorics
Concrete poetry
Max Bense and “information aesthetics”
Situationism, Surrealism and psychogeography
Markov chains
Tristan Tzara and cut-ups
John Cage’s indeterminism
Italo Calvino and machine-generated literature
Software as industrialization of art
Authorship and subjectivity
Pataphysics and Oulipo
Abraham M. Moles’ computational aesthetics
Source code poetry
Jodi
1337 speech
Codework

Chapter 4.   Automatisms and Their Constraints

Artificial Intelligence
Athanasius Kircher’s box
John Searle’s Chinese Room
Georges Perec’s Maschine
Enzensberger’s and Schmatz’s / Czernin’s poetic machines
Software dystopia: Jodi
Software dystopia: Netochka Nezvanova
From dystopia to new subjectivity

Chapter 5.   What Is Software?

A cultural definition
Software as practice
Software versus hardware
Conclusion

   References

   Index