13 June 2005

Derrida and Code

Stunlaw is taking a reading of Derrida and trying to think about what dissemination (or differance) might mean in regards to undertaking an analysis of a free software or open source project. For example, code is interpreted through machines, it is a mechanical series of processes applied to a given number of inputs to generate an output. Now clearly the context of use of the software will be interpretatively flexible (i.e. a particular algorithm may have different meanings/usage in different contexts) however the algorithm manifested within code has a certain obduracy across a particular community.

For example, 'consensus and running code' is used to describe the IETF decision making processes. But to what extent does the code itself as an obdurate pattern of processes have any form of solidity and concreteness. The compiler is extremely unflexible when it comes to the contruction of a binary version of the code, and the processing that is undertaken should have a one-to-one relationship to the source (bugs allowing). Does this mean that the text of a source file has a lack of interpretative flexibility within the limited community of developers in a particular programming language. And if so, does that raise interesting questions vis a vis cultural incommensurability of concepts and ideas. Can code somehow bridge that gap between languages by its very limited concreteness and need to be tied into a particular system usage.

Does this mean that when it comes to the inter-cultural transmission of data-based processes there is a metaspace of conceptual and interpretative understanding that lies in parallel to everyday life languages. And can these shared spaces that are opened up within computer technologies (albiet restricted, complex and instrumentally oriented towards particular techne) offer an aesthetic dimension? For these collections of source code have a certain rationality and application that allows a certain degree of consensus about their execution (if only agreed between say a compiler and the programmer or a community of developers).

There does seem to be a certain hermeneutic closure at work in code. Maybe this is due to a certain reliance on propositional logic, or its being as (in effect) the abstract representation of mechanical and repetitive operations within a digital machine. But nonetheless, its abilility to encode (perhaps overcode) appearance (whether literary, artistic, musical or otherwise) is an interesting bifurcation of knowledge between a container and the content. A modernist project of separation.

Can we therefore write poetry in code? Or perhaps, is code a form of poetics? It seems an interestingly Heideggerian project of the aesthetic and the real joined at a profound level. Code as the glue between appearance and reality, virtuality and the real; code as the access to reality; or code as reality. In the age of digital reproduction, code is an essential tool in the construction of our shared space of understanding and being. Can the code underlying this construction affect us through its' form (perhaps an object-oriented approach carries an ontology and epistomology that is unconsciously realised in us as subjects of code).

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