Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression
168 pp., 7 x 9 in, 21 b&w illus.
- Published: November 9, 2012
The aesthetic and political implications of working with code as procedure, expression, and action.
Speaking Code begins by invoking the “Hello World” convention used by programmers when learning a new language, helping to establish the interplay of text and code that runs through the book. Interweaving the voice of critical writing from the humanities with the tradition of computing and software development, in Speaking Code Geoff Cox formulates an argument that aims to undermine the distinctions between criticism and practice and to emphasize the aesthetic and political implications of software studies.
Not reducible to its functional aspects, program code mirrors the instability inherent in the relationship of speech to language; it is only interpretable in the context of its distribution and network of operations. Code is understood as both script and performance, Cox argues, and is in this sense like spoken language—always ready for action.
Speaking Code examines the expressive and performative aspects of programming; alternatives to mainstream development, from performances of the live-coding scene to the organizational forms of peer production; the democratic promise of social media and their actual role in suppressing political expression; and the market's emptying out of possibilities for free expression in the public realm. Cox defends language against its invasion by economics, arguing that speech continues to underscore the human condition, however paradoxical this may seem in an era of pervasive computing.
Speaking Code beautifully folds speech and language, politics, art, and labor into an inspiring analysis. 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.
Jussi Parikka, author of Digital Contagions, Insect Media, and What Is Media Archaeology?; Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art, UK
Speaking Code incisively analyzes the forms, expression and action of computer code. 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.
Adrian Mackenzie, Sociology, Lancaster University, UK