Media Theory for the 21st Century

January 17, 2008

message from Jim Andrews on code poetry

Filed under: General — nkhayles @ 12:23 am

i’ve been thinking a bit about ‘code poetry’
recently; a piece of mine is
going to be in an issue of
including some ‘code poetry’.

i think it’s good that the term is still wide
open. it can apply to the sort
of work mark marino talks about in
or to
other types. no one group can really colonize and
hold the territory to
themselves, because “code” operates at too many
levels and has too many
different relevant meanings in today’s world.
those who don’t know
programming have lots of scope since “code” isn’t
necessarily executable
programming language or even plain old
programming language. “code” doesn’t
have to have anything to do with computers at
all, for that matter.

perhaps there are some things, though, that most
if not all code poetries
are dealing with. the article by søren pold on
christophe bruno’s work at
quite articulate about the big picture:

“…while books are not becoming insignificant or
superfluous anytime soon,
we still have a new dominant medium for the
organization of knowledge,
culture, and society. Digital literature
consequently has a role to play as
a form of media-art that makes us aware of what
is happening to text as a
material and concept, to reading and writing, and
to the material basis of
text in the ongoing process of digitization,
networking, and mediation, and
how these material and formal changes correspond
to social and cultural
changes. The concept of text is currently
undergoing dramatic changes, and
most text is now produced and read at the
networked interface. Text in
contemporary society has become increasingly
kinetic, electrified, spatial,
and more or less cybernetically controlled by,
for instance,
commercialization in our postmodern urban
environment and on the web.”

the term “code poetry” is a good one partly
because it is open. it isn’t a
‘school of poetry’ made up of a central group.
it’s poetry that has some
sort of intense engagement with code.

and it opens poetry to types of language and,
well, codes, that haven’t been
so prominently associated with poetry before.

also, it avoids limiting its focus to
computation. it refers as prominently
to matters of language and culture as to

and that’s a healthy inclusive broadness.

much as i would like to see a more intense
engagement within the art and
poetry worlds with issues concerning the role of
programming in art (not
simply programming as a technician’s job), it’s
important to keep the juice
flowing from many areas through poetry, and the
term ‘code poetry’ does that
quite nicely.

the first time i heard the term discussed was by
ted warnell on the
webartery list back around 1999 or 2000.

another advantage of the term “code” will emerge
in the coming years as we
come to understand more about the way the brain
codes and processes
information, i suspect. however it is done,
probably it isn’t done in what
we think of as ‘language’. there is no conscious
creator of those codings,
no designer, no consciousness below consciousness
in a ‘language’ of memory,
most likely, but something that is probably
better described as ‘code’. and
the same probably goes for information and
information processing such as
dna: it isn’t so well described as ‘language’ as

we are in an intense engagement with ‘code’,
these days, and it deeply
affects language. and we wonder what and if there
is a definitive difference
between code and language or whether they bleed
into one another as we
ourselves are also part cyber.

so the notion of ‘code poetry’ is aware of the
current and future growing
interface between code and language and this is
also the interface between
humanity and machine.


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