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Sondheim over Writing en Wryting

Alan Sondheim (zie ) stuurde vanochtend volgende educatieve tekst rond die nogal verhelderend kan zijn i.v.m. de praktijk van wat voor hem en enkele anderen, waaronder ik ook mijzelf reken, onder ‘codework’ verstaan wordt.

Of ten minste: hoe de hedendaagse schrijfpraktijk zich verhoudt tot een codeerpraktijk, hoe die daar eigenlijk zelfs niet langer los van kan gezien worden. 

Ik geef de tekst hier al zoals ie is, later misschien als ik wat tijd heb een vertaling.

online text for Creative Writing and New Media Course at de Montfort

Writing and Wryting

I write daily and when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing or writing
in another medium; the world is a world of inscriptions. At one point I
believed there were signs, that the world was inhabited by signifiers which
might or might not have referents; now, after looking repeatedly at tantra and
the casting-off of whatever was found and impeded, I think signifiers might be
nothing except residues of a kind of frisson, the world rubbing up against
itself. Whatever codes there are, and however these codes are manipulated –

they’re not the only story, or rather, they _are_ the story but that’s nothing
– what’s going on in the world isn’t story at all. We tend to make scripts of
things around us – that’s how we get along. For example, there’s the restaurant
script (and this example of course isn’t mine) – I enter a restaurant I’ve
never been in before, but I know exactly what to do; there’s a restaurant
script and subscripts; we don’t make it up immediately – that would be far too
costly – but rely on constructing, memory, reconstructing, and so forth, and
there we are, eating together. And it’s eating together, because scripts, like
the world, are consensual and build community.

Somebody said something like aye, there’s the rub of it – and that’s it,
precisely; the world rubs one, _worlding_ is a form of rubbing – which makes
virtual worlds such as Second Life all the more perplexed, where rubbing and
any physics has to be _intended_ by someone, a programmer, or nothing would
happen at all. Still, in second life, one might have bodies or rather one might
_inscribe_ bodies with writing, and this body writing I call _wryting_ and it
occurs in the real world as well. For example,

where avatars conform and display to one another, and all these behaviors are
automated from written files called bvh files, which give an indica- tion of
how virtual worlds are in fact a kind of writing. Here is part of a bvh which
produced what you’ve seen in throbbed:

OFFSET 0.000000 0.000000 0.000000
CHANNELS 6 Xposition Yposition Zposition Xrotation Zrotation Yrotation
OFFSET 15.061017 17.082508 -14.925126
CHANNELS 3 Xrotation Zrotation Yrotation
JOINT LeftKnee
OFFSET 160.534210 236.940994 175.551743
CHANNELS 3 Xrotation Zrotation Yrotation
JOINT LeftAnkle

This gives the initial positions of the body; later, there are tens of
thousands of numbers that give the node movements from these positions.
Do note that this is an ascii, a text file, and not a binary, not an
executable; the file is executed by a program that uses it as data. In this
sense, the virtual world is always inscribed, digital, just as the real
physical world is not written, but _is,_ and is analog, and tends to wear out.
Nothing wears out in the digital world, and while avatars – what I call
emanents – need electricity to run, they don’t need food. Still, given that, I
think that for a conscious mind, a mind used to dreaming, to projections and
introjections, there are no real differences between the virtual and the real,
and there’s dreaming, proverbs, tales, stories, poetry, poetics,
hallucinations, hypnagogic imagery, meditations, and the like to show that.

And even though the real physical world isn’t written, it’s full of writing and
our bodies themselves are always already written, inscribed – full of tattoos,
scars, burns, abrasions, wrinkles, salves, perfumes, calluses, and so forth. I
think it’s from these things, particularly from scars, wounds, abrasions,
scrapes, etc., that language descends – that language is first and foremost a
reading of the history of the body, that the body, the physical body, carries
its own primordial memory upon it. That’s important, since it’s this memory,
these scarrings, that bind us to the earth, to the world, the analogic. The
digital is constructed from that with a bit of a help from the corporate, from
political economy – the digital rides and infuses poitical economy in fact. So
there are digital standards for sampling, for encoding and decoding and
checksums and so forth, and these guarantee that a parsing of the world in one
part of it can be a parsing of the world in another. Think of the digital as an
extrusion, and think, even, of writing as _always_ digital or at least always
discrete, one symbol differentiated from another, from the other, as all of
them together generate meaning within organism and conscious- ness, generate

An aside here to the effect that _culture is all the way down,_ that any
organism has culture, has learning, has the symbolic, has the digital (in the
sense that catastrophe theory prescribes and describes certain sudden shifts in
behavior or states which might as well be digital, that is _on and off
switches_ operating within potential wells, that is a level above noise which
allows them to function. Recent experiences in fact demon- strate amoebic
memory, even within this one-celled animal without neurons or nervous system.
It’s important to think throug this, to see the world as not only processings
but also culturings – if you do that, a very different kind of world emerges.

So where does codework or digital writing come into play here? One might begin
back with culturing – that the world is replete with poetics, that it makes
real, concrete, sense to speak or think of the poetics of the real – that this
isn’t just metaphoric. And then one might proceed fur- ther and realize, within
the analogic the digital resides – that the analog harbors splits and leaps, as
the collapse of the wave equation or annihilation of virtual particles shows.
And within the digital, there’s the analog as well – the potential well upon
which the digital rides, literally, let there be no mistake about it.

So one might ride the digital as well, perceive the digital as an extru- sion
from the analogic, or a residue, or a system of signs which for the most part
are produced by humans, according to human conventions and protocols, for
example, the tcp/ip structure or protocol suite of the Internet – and if not
this protocol suite, another or an other. Then one writes here, in this medium,
in this temporarily electronic medium (for there might be other sorts of
transmission in the future, who knows? or other sorts now for that matter,
literally for that matter). And within the digital, in which bits bite bits,
every pixel, every character, every moment of the digital is independently
accessible, and every moment is deeply ruptured, disconnected, from every
other. This is why the digital is inherently untruthful; there’s no truth
within it, since manipulation is complete and replete within every file, every
domain, every protocol, every instantiation in fact. There are no lies, either,
and if there are narratologies, these reside in sememes embedded or encoded
within the digital, interpreted by organism, often human. In creating in such
an environment, one plays god, or at least deity (in the tantric sense); one
constructs out of nothing, and if I write the phrase, as On Kawara might, “I am
still alive,” these letters are, at a very fundamental and concrete level,
completely independent; I could just as well write “lkurj llisihg” or anything
else, literally, again, for that matter, and for the sorts and sortings of that

Well, I can write anything, I can say anything. And some of what I write just
lies there, and some is performative, in the sense that, if I type

k3% date
Sat Jan 19 01:13:23 EST 2008

at the k3% prompt, the date is returned – the word is not just a word, but an
action, a process, an operation inherent in the reading and writing of it
within an operating system. Now if I type

k7% lkjsfug
ksh: lkjsfug: not found

as you can see, it’s still performing, but the operating system is looking for
a meaning or decoding and can’t find any or rather finds a kind of
null-decoding which is based on absence. So that electronic writing, with- in a
terminal window is always a performance; it’s never static. And it’s not only a
performance, but also a communalit, since there are others who may well be
present, even though invisible, uncounted, and unaccountable:

cbpp ftp12907 Jan 18 10:42 (
cbpp ftp7371 Jan 18 10:16 (
jpl15 ttyp0 Jan 18 11:20 (
harold ttyp1 Jan 19 01:16 (
dagger ttyp2 Jan 16 01:31 (
bitty ttyp3 Jan 16 20:32 (
bord ttyp5 Jan 14 11:10 (

for example are running around on the same machine I am, and I’m aware of them,
even though I don’t know who they are. I can find out what some of them are

bord ttyp5 75-129-128-49.dhcp.fdul.wi Mon11AM 5:20 irc
gburnore ttyp6 Fri10PM 29 rtin
bord ttyp7 75-129-128-49.dhcp.fdul.wi Mon11AM 12:25 /usr/local/bin/ksh
bord ttyp8 75-129-128-49.dhcp.fdul.wi Mon11AM 5:20 irc
jkurck ttyp9 adsl-75-10-97-59.dsl.frs2c Fri02AM 12:25 -tcsh

for example, but I’m not informed as to the semantics involved, only the
protocols, the surface syntactics.

So one might see codework as a mix of all of this, a kind of dirty or abject
combination, a kind of rupturing, of surface and depth, one producing another
or an other, a kind of drawing-out of the fecundity of the world and its
structure, its poetics. This combination or drawing-out reflects the real
unclarity of what I call the true world, which is the real and virtual world
interpenetrated, intermingled, diffused, effused, as they are for us, no matter
where we think we are, in first life or Second Life or what I call third sex,
which is online sex, as if there were a first or second, which there aren’t.

Beyond this, I’m not sure what codework is, even though I’ve invented or
discovered the term. Here is a program Florian Cramer wrote for me, called (it’s in perl):


while (<STDIN>) {
@words = split /[\s]+/, $_;
@spaces = split /[\S]+/, $_;
for ($x=0; $x <= $#words; $x++) {
if ($word_count{$words[$x]} == 1) {print $words[$x],$spaces[$x+1]}

This is based on the Thousand Character Essay, written in Chinese around
fifteen hundred years ago – an essay in which each character is different from
every other; each character, in a sense, is primordial, individuated – an
extreme nominalism. Although I don’t know Chinese, I worked with a friend
laboriously translating it. Anyway, I wanted to duplicate this in English – use
a program in which each instance of a word appears only once, that is, at its
first (and only) appearance. Within this, the fol- lowing are still
distinguished: “word” “Word” “Word,” “word-” and so forth since these have
different ascii renderings. Here is part of this very essay rendered with the

my writing

I write daily and when I’m not writing, thinking about or in another
medium; the world is a of inscriptions. At one point believed there were
signs, that was inhabited by signifiers which might have referents; now,
after looking repeatedly at tantra casting-off whatever found impeded,
think be nothing except residues kind frisson, rubbing up against itself.
Whatever codes are, however these are manipulated – they’re only story, rather, they
_are_ story but that’s what’s going on isn’t all. We tend to make scripts
things around us how we get along. For example, there’s restaurant script
(and this example course mine) enter I’ve never been before, know exactly
what do; subscripts; don’t it immediately would far too costly rely
constructing, memory, reconstructing, so forth, eating together. And it’s
together, because scripts, like world, consensual build community.

== Now this is at the beginning of the text, and clear, but see what happens
towards the end:

$word_count{$words[$x]}++;($word_count{$words[$x]} == 1) {print
$words[$x],$spaces[$x+1]} }Thousand Character Essay, Chinese fifteen
hundred years ago essay each character other; primordial, individuated
extreme nominalism. Although Chinese, worked friend laboriously
translating Anyway, wanted duplicate English use instance appears once,
only) appearance. Within fol- lowing distinguished: “word” “Word” “Word,”
“word-” forth ascii renderings. rendered program:

== Here, towards the end, the condensation is extreme. One might think of this
in terms of the biblical book of Genesis – and one of the first things I did
was to render Genesis with the program, which resulted, again, in a kind of
_Vac,_ word-creation, creation-word of a primordial sort. I think of this as
codework, since, reading it, it becomes clear quickly – what is happening, what
the structure is – even if the code itself isn’t present except as a
disturbance upon another text, an other.
This becomes clearer, perhaps, when the program is applied to itself:

while (<STDIN>) {
@words = split /[\s]+/,
$_;@spaces /[\S]+/,
for ($x=0; $x <= $#words; $x++)
$word_count{$words[$x]}++;if ($word_count{$words[$x]} == 1) {print

== Now I don’t think of this as a ‘better’ example of codework than the first
example, even though code is evident here; it’s just another sub- ject for the
performative maw.

A point about interactivity: Every writing, wryting, upon reading or sensing,
scenting, is always already interactive; the inscriptive is never _linear,_ no
matter the appearance of lines. Memory, remembrance, is at work, scanning moves
backwards and forwards, moves in chunks, and even syntax tends to jump about,
leap. There is of course an active interactiv- ity, in which the reader/scenter
is required to _do_ something concrete, within a repertoire or potential series
of actions; hypertext is perhaps the simplest example. I’ve not been so
interested in that, and my lack of interest has to do with worlds and the false
appearance of choice; I’d rather have the running of inscription and meaning go
on about without interruption, as the world goes on about one, even though one
seems to have choice within it. This stems to some extent from my interest in
film; I’ve never been carried so far in a hypertextual situation as I am when
embedded in the cinematic other which is also the self, selving. The world is
complex and I attempt to deal with that complexity and its perturba- tions,
attempt to deal with the surface codes of the world. This isn’t a manifesto on
my part, and in fact, I’ve produced interactive work as well, particularly in
simple Visual Basic, but I’d rather the interactivity occur elsewhere, within

Here are some links. First, to the most recent series of texts: – here you’ll find all sorts of things, from
a report on an airline’s first attempts at wireless en route to the derivation
of ‘bug’ (as in software or computer bug), to the kinds of code early telegraph
operators used, to… a google scraping piece on ‘bush fucks’ to… an
elimination piece featuring my Facebook superwall. These texts are ’thicker’
than many others, and they’re stressed – we were mov- ing temporarily to West
Virginia, and our companion cat of 18 years had to be put down, which was one
of the most traumatic events of my life. At this point, pm.txt is somewhat
diaristic, although most of it isn’t.

These are part of the Internet Text, which I’ve been writing since 1994, a
continuous meditation on the above and other subjects. If you look at the
earlier texts, for example: – you’ll find a clearer form of expo-
sition than much of the later work. Since this is from 1994, the Net is very
different, mostly what I call ‘darknet,’ referncing lower ascii and terminal
windows as standard, instead of the current multi-mediacy. Almost from the
beginning, I wrote through avatars, other characters, who really weren’t other
at all (see my file-in-progress, – for an account of the research I’m doing
in this direction).

This is about it at the moment; as you can see, there are gaps, errors (which
I’m interested in), disturbances, in the account. On another, an other, hand,
we can proceed from here, I’m sure.

And thanks for this opportunity –

Alan, 01/19/08

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