User:Andre Castro/Essay Draft with Eleanor's notes

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Hey Andre, here's your draft with my comments in bold. -Eleanor


In this essay I would like to investigate the performativity of code. Firs of all I will try to clarify what does it mean to say that code is performative. In order to do so I will refer to performative speech-acts and attempt to gain an understanding of the differences between these and code performance upon reality. Further on I will attempt to define the conditions which allow code to become performative. The writings of Katherine Hayles, Florian Cramer and Jon McKenzie will constitute the main references for this short investigation. To conclude the essay I will look upon Douglas Roushkoff's vision of the near-by future, where code will become an instrument of power that we must understood and employ, or else we will be perform on us, if it does not already do it. [RE-WRITE]

nice intro, v clear

Code as Language

Can the code from which software is build be considered as a language? <--- Good question, but I didn't expect this from the abstract! Can you make the performativity of language more clear here? Didn't get the language/performativity link til I read the following paragraph

Florian Cramer in his essay Language states that "computer control languages are a formal (and as such rather primitive) subset of common human languages"(p.168). Cramer bases his position on a series of shared characteristics of both sets of languages, being the most relevant the fact that common human languages being as cultural constructions, and therefore as artificial, as computer programming languages constructed by humans. Furthermore, constituting high-level computer programming languages an intermediate layer, which stands in between computers and humans, it has to be comprehensible to both, therefore it can never be too far away from written language, otherwise it would just be incomprehensible to humans. In order to make the terminology less prone to confusions from here onwards I will refer to computer control languages as code and common languages as English as written and spoken language.

Code performativity

According to Katherine Hayles, in her book My Mother Was a Computer, code exceeds both written and spoken language. "[C]ode that runs on a machine is performative in a much stronger sense than that attributed to language"[+++] (p.50 2005). Good link from previous section By performative Hayles refers to the capacity of language possesses to act upon the world, to produce what in linguistics is referred to performative speech-acts. Common examples of speech-acts are a judge convicting a person guilty of a crime, or a priest pronouncing a couple husband and wife. Although both cases illustrate situations in which speech-acts result in a radical changes in their actors' lives, that change is actualized only through a system of agreements, which our society obeys to, otherwise speech-acts would be rendered irrelevant, simply words. Computer code, on-the-other-hand, apart from altering the behavior of the machine in which it runs, has a direct impact upon the world. As 1ST-NAME Galloway puts it: "The imperative voice ... attempts to affect through persuasion but has little real material effect. So code is the first language that actually does what it says" (Galloway YEAR pp: 165-166). Florian Cramer does not go that further in his perspective on code. For Cramer computer code does not have real and material effects on its own, being its range of action circumscribed to the machine. However, by being placed in a position of such importance that its behavior is no longer contested, can you give evidence that it is "no longer contested"? code is given the means to drastically act upon the world: "Computer languages become performative only through the social impact of the processes they trigger, specially when their outputs aren't critically checked ... as in the 1987 New York Stock Exchange crash that involved a chain traction of 'sell' recommendations by day trading software" (2008 pp. 170-171). Code simply bypasses authoritative mediation, it does not need to be validated by a church, a court or a government, it simply performs upon the world with a very direct effect.

Why why why? (do we consent permission for code to perform?)

Why do we allow code to act upon reality without questioning it? Why was the software output that led to the 1987 Stock Exchange crash not considered susceptible to errors in very complicated scenarios? Why do we think of the GPS as flawless technology and allow it to navigate us blindly, often leading to surprises when the destination is reached? Or why do most of us do not question Google-search mechanism in determining what information arrives to us at each search? nice grounding in concrete examples

A possible understanding for the reasons which allow code to occupy such a prominent position in our contemporary world might emerge by looking at Florian Cramer's description of digitization process and Jon McKenzie's perspective on knowledge in the post-modern world. Cramer's refers to the computer as "a symbolic machine that computes syntactical language and processes alphanumeric symbols; it treats all data - including images and sounds - as textual, that is, chunks of coded symbols" (p.171, 2008). In other word, reality, in order to be stored on a computer's hard-disk needs to be encoded into discreet syntactical and measurable units constituted by 0s and 1s, information that surpasses the encoding limitations is considered noise and therefore dumped.*mp3 example* Jon McKenzie sees a similar encoding process taking place in reference to knowledge. In post-modernity knowledge has become measurable in terms of operational efficiency, which "demands that all knowledge must be translatable by and accountable in the "1"s and "0"s of digital matrices" (McKenzi, p.14 RE-READ). Being this the context in which are in is not surprising that we have given the computer code green light to perform upon our world. Code has become the referee that determines what information and knowledge is, or in other words what is relevant to encoded and what is accessory or not. If code constitutes such a powerful authority, why would we contest its outputs, they will most certainly be correct and devised for our own good? good use of texts to back up your argument McKenzie also makes reference to another point that must be take into account: CODE IS STORED IN DIGITAL FORM, IT CAN BE QUICKLY DISTRIBUTED AND SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD - THE PERFORMANCE OF CODE BECOMES GLOBAL. THIS MUST BE VERY IMPORTANT IF IT IS IN ALL CAPS, BUT CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY?

It is as if code has becomes the possessed with magic powers that allow it to act upon the world. in blink of an eye tantalising... tell me more!

  • McKenzie - digitalization and reproduction - can lead to more global effects
  • CRAMER: code=Magical words
  • (the wider the knowledge, the wilder the imagination

Code and the individual

So far I have only looked into a global scenario of code's performativity, however code also shapes our own subjectivity, who we are as individual. nice signposting An interesting example is mentioned by Katherine Hayles in relation to virtual reality environments; These are only allow certain stylized user's gestures to be encoded and manifested in the virtual environment, one has to move according to this limitations. The repetition of this set of gestures does not remain in the virtual, they begin to alter the user's own body(Hayles 1999, p.47). Can this example however be considered a change in subjectivity, on who we are? Perhaps, but not on very fundamental level. what examples do you have in mind?Matters seem to become complicated when our communication, perception and experience or reality becomes mediated by code, then we are most certainly being changed by code. An example of this would be one's presence at a public event such as concert; as anyone who has attended to a concert in the past 4 years must have noticed, for many of those at the audience, they presence at the event is only validated if one brings home a piece of material evidence of his/her presence at the event, registered on the mobile photo of digital camera; one's own ear, eyes and memory are no longer valid ways of registering and reproducing reality. Once again information must be encoded other digitally in order to become 'real'. Similar degree of mediations goes the ways which we relate with eachother, which have been in very drastic change as a result of the influence of social media such as facebook or dating websites, among many other examples. Code is definitely shaping who we are and how we engage with our surroundings, but it is extremely hard task to assess these changes. Since we are right in middle of these changes, we are one who are feeling them, it becomes very hard to pin-point what are the mechanisms in place and how are they shaping us. Perhaps is the main reason why we accept these changes without much questioning. How can we question what we still do not understand?


Looking at the point that I discussed so far, seems relevant to note that while code can act upon the world unmediated, our own experience of reality is heavily mediated by code. Besides, reality must be translatable into binary-code in order in order to be registered digitally, otherwise it will just be thrown out as unnecessary information, facing the possibility of being considerate to have never existed. Given these facts is not surprising that code has become so influential and our world and a tool a for power.

Douglass Rushkoff in his book Program or Be Programmed envisions a near-future when computing is even more engrained in our society, which according to him will only offer us two choices: either write code or allow code to write our-yourselves. According to Rushkoff computers gave us the possibility to write and make public what we write, never-the-less "the underlying capability of the computer era is actually programming"(p.13) and that possibility is not being explored by most of us. Such delegation will results in only a few of us being able to shape the inner-workings of our world, or in Rushkoff's words: "Only by understanding the biases of the media through which we engage with the world can we differentiate between what we intend, and what the machines we are using intend of us - whether they or their programmers even know it"(p.21). I can only agree with such statement. In my perspective only by writing and understanding code will we be able to become familiar with the mechanisms which are currently in place and shaping our world and then be able to have a critical and informed attitude upon them. your opinion is interesting, tell us more about why you think this and what your exact views on the role of programming are in society!

The one who arrived before, with monetary and power agendas have understood how code could work in their favor. It is perhaps time that all of us regular folk start looking into and shaping code for our own needs and desires.

[Still work to do here]

good structure and clear argument. maybe find more evidence to back up claims you make about how "we" experience digital world? the way you've used other texts is convincing. coffee!


Cramer, Florian (2008). Language. In: Fuller, M. Software Studies: a lexicon. London: The MIT Press. 168-174.

Cramer, Florian (2005). Words Made Flesh: Code, Culture, Imagination. Piet Zwart Institute

Galloway ++++

Hayle, Katherine (2005). My mother was a computer: digital subjects and literary texts. London: The University of Chicago

Hayles, Katherine (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. London:The University of Chicago

McKenzie, Jon (2001). Perform or else: from disciple to performance. New York: Routledge. Rushkoff, Douglas, (2010). Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. New York: OR Books. +++