Code, Culture, Imagination

… that algorithmic code and computations can’t be separated from an often utopian cultural imagination that reaches from magic spells to contemporary computer operating systems. 1 “300,000 pages of code. Or 60 minutes of triple-X rubber-and-leather interactive bondage porno. [. . . ] And until you plug it in, you’ll just never know.” This dialogue line sums up utopian and dystopian imagination reaching from omnipotence to obscenity projected onto computer codes. In the end, the decoding of the codes is not a formal, but a subjective operation. Boiling down to either “beauty” or “debasement,” two classical modes of aesthetics since 18th century philosophy, these codes are ultimately about human perception and imagination.

The science fiction of the film scene relies on a gap between the computer code and a meaning made up by the human viewer. This meaning can’t be perceived until the initial code has been transformed several times, from the zeros and ones on the CD-ROM to, for example, pixels on a video screen and eventually a “triple-X rubber-and-leather interactive bondage porno” image in the mind of the spectator. The wider the gap between code and perception, the wilder the imagination. The more abstract a code, the more speculative the meaning that may be read into that code. Long before Steven Seagal, codes stirred up cultural imagination just because they were open to any reading.

These lines are quoted from the introduction of a small book on the poetics and cultural history of algorithmic code called “Words Made Flesh – Code, Culture, Imagination”. It has been published as a research project for Piet Zwart Institute Rotterdam by recent fellow Florian Cramer and is available online under the following URLs:

as 140 pages/3 MB PDF file with name/keyword index

and as HTML version

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