Writing the World: Toward a Systems Approach to E-Writing

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Code – The Language of Our Time, new media poetics, and p0es1s. The Aesthetics of Digital Poetry, are three widely regarded collections dealing with e-writing and its code from a humanist perspective. As an indication of how emergent this field of study is, in the several essays and papers that treat computer program code in these works, almost no actual code is presented for analysis or as concrete examples of the abstractions that their authors discuss.

This is altogether understandable. There was no aesthetic arc hovering over and guiding the transition from legacy print writing to e-writing. In fact there was virtually no transition. Ewriting was suddenly there (here). And its foundation, program code, was an immediate fact that few students of literature had been trained to understand. Before they could, a framework had to be built within which this new literature, whose tools of craft are so obscure and esoteric, could be reasoned about and judged. Program code problematizes literary study at its very essence—at the act of creation.

But now the absence of analysis of code itself (of the relationship of the character of a computer program to the quality of the surface art it enables, of the quality of the code driving a given ewriting text, or commentary on the craft of coding) threatens to impede continued progress. Ewriting is coming of age and has a growing audience and a critical mass of practicing artists, enough of both to sustain and demand such analysis. It’s time to address these issues as a way of contributing to the value of future works.

If there is such a thing as quality in a work of e-literature, it is a direct function of its software— indeed, every instance of e-writing is a software product. High quality e-literature implies high quality software. And if there is such a thing as quality in a piece of software, its measure must be intrinsic to its code. And the code of a computer program, as much as it represents an executable dynamic text, is also a record of its programmer’s philosophy of program construction, a metric of her understanding of the problem with which she has been tasked, and the very visible evidence of her mastery of the languages, computer and natural, she has used to translate the problem into text. The question then becomes Are there ways to make all of these things better?

(Source: Author's introduction)

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Scott Rettberg