Commenting Creative Code

Abstract (in English): 

We consider how authors have added comments to electronic literature and how the facility for commenting code has been, and could be, used in unconventional yet productive ways by those working in the literary arts. Our central example is a gloss that we wrote, using JavaScript comments, to discuss the code for our poetry generator, “Sea and Spar Between”: between/ As this generator is offered for anyone to use in future projects, it was originally written with some JavaScript comments to facilitate reuse. These were extensively expanded in an edition of the poem we call “cut to fit the toolspun course,” now under consideration for a special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly on “The Literary.” The issues we encountered in writing this extensive, poetic gloss using comments will be central to our discussion.

In our presentation, we will contextualize our gloss within the history of creative programming and consider how others have written different sorts of comments. We consider, for instance, how comments are used in hobbyist BASIC programming of the 1970s and early 1980s, how comments are generally absent from obfuscated programs, how comments have been used in HyperCard and other languages that have particularly supported creative programming, and how comments have been creatively used in markup as well as programming languages.

The uses of comments in creative programming include straightforward ones that are intended to help people, including the original programmer, understand the technical aspects of a program during and after development.
Comments can be avoided, or used to confuse code with comments, in order to obfuscate a program further and to make it more enjoyable to figure out. They can also be used to hide messages, to make in-jokes, or to provide a new layer of discussion for those who look beneath the interface.

Programming languages that were originally created for scientific, research, and industrial purposes have been turned to literary purposes by programmers working poetically and aesthetically. Similarly, the ability to place comments within programs – a feature not originally intended for poetic glossing or critical discussion has been used in new ways by creative programmers. Electronic literature authors and others have shown some surprising capabilities of the comment, revealing new possibilities for our relationship with code and computing.

(Source: Author's abstract, 2012 ELO Conference site)

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Eric Dean Rasmussen