CCSWG14 Week 2 Highlights

by Viola Lasmana

Critical Code Studies Working Group 14
Week 2 Highlights

After a generative first week discussing “Exploratory Programming,” the Critical Code Studies Working Group wraps up another exciting week of discussion on “Feminist Programming” led by Arielle Schlesinger with Jacqueline Wernimont and Ben Wiedermann as discussants.

As of March 13, 2014, the CCSWG has increased to a total of 97 participants, and Schlesinger’s “Feminist Programming” thread has garnered 48 comments. There is now a total of 11 Code Critique threads, with the latest one, “‘After Jasper Johns’ and ‘Flag,’” added by Nick Montfort.

So far, we also have 5 Workbench Projects (listed below) that are meant to be collaborative code readings using the ACLS Workbench platform. Participants are encouraged to join one of the Code Critiques marked Workbench, start their own, or label an existing Code Critique thread Workbench as an invitation to others. More than just a simple Code Critique discussion thread, these explorations would lead to media-rich examinations of code objects, including text, video, images, and other forms of media. The work on these critiques will only begin during the WG, and their finished versions will be potential candidates for publication in a special issue of the innovative, peer-reviewed journal Vectors.

“Siri’s grandmother: Weizenbaum’s ELIZA” by Mark Marino
“Haints Seraphs Griot” by Mark Marino
“Null Programs” by Nick Montfort
“In Pursuit of Natural Language: FLOW-MATIC” by Mark Marino
“This is Not Super Mario Bros.: Cory Arcangel’s Mario Clouds” by Patrick LeMieux


In her prompt, Schlesinger asks, “What is feminist code? What is feminist coding?” Schlesinger presents two code snippets as examples of feminist code: Mez Breeze’s Mezangelle, and an excerpt from micha cárdenas’ unpublished manuscript (part of cárdenas’ femme Disturbance library). Schlesinger’s initial question, “What is a feminist programming language?” was first taken up in a lively discussion on HASTAC, and the Working Group became a logical next site to explore this topic, given the ways that the group explores the nuances and meanings of code.

The “Feminist Programming” thread has generated a very rich and thoughtful dialogue — I wondered, given the context of feminism and its pluralities, if I should have created a rhizome-like diagram to capture this week’s highlights (inspired by Pierre Lévy’s suggestion of a feminist programming language “able to program meaningful fractal *rhizomes* (not just tree-like graphs)”!

Here are some of the major ideas and themes that came up in the discussion of feminist code:

Executability
Mark Marino asks, “What does it mean for feminist code to live outside the realm of computational execution and is that prerequisite?” and if feminist code necessitates existing “outside of, beyond, or in a space between that system and another system.”
Ben Wiedermann offers techniques for writing executable code: “1. Use an existing programming language, e.g., to write code that furthers feminist goals; 2. Subvert an existing language; and/or, 3. Forget existing languages, design and implement a new language.”
Nick Montfort compares code-like text to asemic writing

I am absolutely captured by this statement that micha cárdenas wrote in addressing the value of the speculative in codework: “the kind of power I am interested in conjuring through these code poems is not the same as a hegemonic power, as it is a power from below… As such, I am more committed to the visionary and speculative possibilities of these code snippets than their literal executable possibilities.”

Absence
Jacqueline Wernimont points out the lack (the absence) in programming archives, and states that “there is something generative in allowing the absent-presence of feminist executable code to operate as an irritant, an occasion to continue to question the structures that have not permitted such a thing to exist.”

Feminism/Feminist
Usage of the terms feminism/feminist is also taken up as a point of discussion, and micha cárdenas reminds us that we have to be mindful of using these terms with caution, as “the word feminist without qualification can easily be equated to white, cis-gender, first world feminism.” cárdenas goes on to ask the important questions of “what is gained and lost by the formulation of this code as feminist, as opposed to say, decolonial, in the sense of rejecting western systems of epistemology.”
cárdenas cites Black Girls Code and the code written by trans people at the trans*h4ck hackathons as examples of “code feminism.”
Mark Marino points out that cárdenas’ blackFemmeFunction in her code snippet “presents a method at the intersection of race and gender. What is the place of intersectionality in feminist code?”

Feminist Authoring Systems
A few existing examples: Judy Malloy’s its name was Penelope. See “The Edge of Difference” for an analysis of Malloy’s work in conjunction with Trinh T. Minh-ha’s; SnapdragonAR by Caitlin Fisher used to write Andromeda.

I am reminded of this radically wonderful quote from Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other: “Shake syntax, smash the myths, and if you lose, unearth some new linguistic paths” — especially in relation to the question of executable code. In the code snippets from the works of cárdenas and Mez Breeze, there is a shaking of the syntax, a smashing of master languages and narratives, and, on various levels, the exploding into alternative expressive paths.

Languages
Ben Wiedermann alludes to the idea of the subversion of language in programming: “programmers can create their own built-in words… a mini-language that lives inside the ‘host’ language” — these are called “internal languages” that allow the programmer to perform exploratory programming.
“How does the idea of creating a new programming language tie into Adrienne Rich’s Dream of a Common Language and Haraway’s response that there can be no common language in the cyborg manifesto?” (cárdenas)
“Is there something in languages such as FLOW-MATIC, COBOL, and Inform 7 possess that might situate them as feminist?” (Mark Marino) — this discussion is also part of the ongoing FLOW-MATIC Code Critique thread.

The Importance of Code Feminism, or the “Otherness” Code
Mez Breeze turns our attention to the “value of thinking about a type of validity to that of the idiosyncratic dwelling alongside traditional knowledge exchanges,” and “how this ‘otherness’ code could [and perhaps does, in actuality,] operate: to highlight that nothing is created in a neutral zone or vacuum, that ‘brogramming’… originates and embeds itself in social mores and accepted patterns that allow for it 2 b viewed as the primary, top-lvl, preferred,*optimal* viewpoint.”
Jeremy Douglass reminds us that “coders are cultural actors” and that “code languages, platforms, and objects all rarify ways of thinking about the world.”
Evan Buswell asserts that feminist programming “calls out computer science as being fundamentally, conceptually tied to certain patriarchal white supremacist projects.”
Annette Vee points out that “women are in the history of computing, and… it [is] useful to be reminded of this fact, especially since they have been so often marginalized.”
“Code, or software, is a major component of the assemblages that limit our daily possibilities for gendered expression or gender liberation and enforce gender transgression through invisibility and incompatibility.” (cárdenas)

Feminist Codework Art
Sonya Rapoport — layerings of images, words, and feminist theory on code print-outs
Mez Breeze’s “codewurked images” from the Wollongong Gallery Digital Writing/New Media Residency in 2001 — “digitally reworked scanned “analogue” drawings with code + email snippets which were then printed, reworked manually, scanned, code-overlaid again, printed etc.”

The provocative and important comments for “Feminist Programming” continue to pour in alongside Week 3’s fascinating conversation building up in the “PostColonial CritCode: Coding in Global Englishes” thread. These are exciting times in the Critical Code Studies Working Group!

CCSWG is sponsored by the Humanities and Critical Code Studies (HaCCS) Lab at the University of Southern California. Twitter: @haccs
Organized by Mark Marino and Jeremy Douglass. Coordinated by Viola Lasmana.

Works Cited

Breeze, Mez. mo(ve.men)tion. Accessed 12 Mar 2014, http://www.hotkey.net.au/~netwurker/

cárdenas, micha. micha cárdenas: movement as a technology of change. Accessed 12 Mar 2014, http://michacardenas.org/

Malloy, Judy. “Notes on the Creation of its name was Penelope.” The WELL. Accessed 13 Mar 2014, http://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/statement.html

Odin, Jaishree K. “The Edge of Difference: Negotiations Between the Hypertextual and the Postcolonial.” Modern Fiction Studies 43.3 (1997) 598-630. Accessed 13 Mar 2014, http://www.yorku.ca/caitlin/4930/postcolonial/odin.htm

Schlesinger, Arielle. “Feminism and Programmming Languages.” HASTAC. Accessed 10 Mar 2014, http://www.hastac.org/blogs/ari-schlesinger/2013/11/26/feminism-and-programming-languages

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