Something Prof. Raley said on Tuesday about the two kinds of code opacity made me rethink a work I’ve written on a bit: Code Movie 1, at the Electronic Literature Collection vol 1. This isn’t my link for next week; I’ll post that later.
I read this movie as making two statements. One: we perceive different file formats differently (a reading suggested by the author). Two: because the only access to a computer’s insides is through itself, is it possible ever to get a real picture of what happens inside from moment to moment? I’m curious if anyone agrees — particularly with my plot summary of the work, which follows:
An image is placed on a scanner. The “bars” of letters that sweep across it are the hardware inside a scanner that digitize it, represented digitally. The image becomes a set of information (represented by hex). It goes through more processes of storage, transformation, and maybe even editing, until it appears on the screen as a solid block at the end, where it is sent to the monitor to be displayed. The final fade-to-white represents that as we see an image (the white screen), or some information displayed digitally, the actual representation of it in code disappears.
My second reading is, I think, the most obvious one. What we see is only a collection of images of numbers that represent hex codes that represent voltage differences, and many different encodings of voltage differences at that — in RAM, on a hard drive, in the scanner cable, and on the screen. We can’t see into the depth of the system, only its representations of itself to us through its own executions.
The first is to me less obvious and bothers me a little more — the formats in which we store data do affect how we perceive the content. If you decompile the movie, you will find that each number is not just an image of a number, but an actual number stored as a character (the difference is between a JPEG of a six and the numeral 6 — you could extract the numbers from Code Movie and reconstruct the images algorithmically without too much trouble).
I find this second reading more chilling because it’s the author’s reading: Biegelman says in her artist’s statement: “Can we think in a poetics of transcodification between media and file formats?” I find this extremely antihumanist: though far be it from me to say that we can’t interpret this in other ways, what does poetics become when an author’s stated intent is to make a comment about how computers display data?