Manual Speaking Code: Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression (Software Studies)

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Yet in order to understand computation as a phenomenon, this may be precisely what is needed. Speaking Code represents a timely critical intervention within this new understanding of computational thinking. It is about code, but not any particular code. It is trans-lingual, studying the special nature of these languages as a whole, rather than being distracted by their diversity.

The impressive variety of code examples contributed to the book by Alex McLean adopts the same trans-lingual perspective. Technically-inclined readers will be pleased by the extent to which McLean illustrates artistic and political interventions made not only in the scripting languages of the internet — perl, python and unix shell scripts, but also a generous sample of esoteric languages — including some of his own invention.

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Perhaps more significantly, in performances of live coding it is expected that the code itself will be made visible to the audience. This is not simply narrating an algorithm, but rather eavesdropping on the world of communication between programmer and compiler.


As an originator and international leader in live coding practice, Alex McLean is again an ideal collaborator. This informed perspective is, of course, to be expected in the field of software studies — and the Software Studies series at MIT Press has been a welcome champion of these intellectual ambitions. The key concern in Speaking Code , as identified by Cox, is that a statement in a programming language is a performative utterance — both a political and aesthetic accomplishment.

The key issue is therefore the performative status of the machine as opposed to the human reader, or the question of that part of the code that determines the behaviour of the Von Neumann machine the structure relating memory locations of data and order of operations on it , as opposed to that part that is intended for human readers the identifier-labels that are chosen to describe groups of data or sequences of operations, and the comments that are ignored by the machine altogether.

These labels and comments are described as secondary notation , a convention also followed in the Cognitive Dimensions of Notations, 6 although Cox notes that this previously uncontroversial term might be read as pejorative, in its implicit reference to a primary, and thus more privileged, notation of the machine. As a result, I would hope that its presence in the MIT Press catalogue might find an audience among software engineers, or perhaps even programming language designers, for whom it would provide an articulate if somewhat dense introduction to critical readings that might inform their work.

The ideological commitments of the book are relatively straightforward, if perhaps unfamiliar to the engineering reader. The Imaginary App Paul D. Review quote " Speaking Code beautifully folds speech and language, politics, art, and labor into an inspiring analysis.

Speaking Code: Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression

In addition to their clarity in style, Geoff Cox and Alex McLean are not afraid to get their hands dirty with references to the ugly sides of software and unsanitized code, which are too often hidden under the polished covers of contemporary design of digital culture.

In contrast to much loose and diffuse discussion of software, Speaking Code directly engages with code as utterance. Its careful exploration of code-making and code use opens onto much wider issues of power, agency and value. Theoretically nuanced and technically informed, in the precision with which it treats its materials this book really made me sit up and take notice of code. Franco Berardi, aka "Bifo," founder of the famous "Radio Alice" in Bologna and an important figure of the Italian Autonomia Movement, is a writer, media theorist, and media activist.

Speaking Code: Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression by Franco "Bifo" Berardi

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