Live writing about live coding – Cox et al.

This morning I had one of those ‘update’ emails I normally delete but this one pointed to a fascinating paper by Alan Blackwell, Geoff Cox and Sang Won Lee entitled “Live writing the live coding book“. I really like Geoff’s book, with Alex McLean, on Speaking Code and this paper and the book it refers to on “live coding” are an interesting extension of that work. Here’s a couple of interesting snippets… I recommend reading the whole paper:

In drawing attention to the writing of a book still in progress and yet to be completed, we are in danger of disappearing into an endless loop of reflexivity. Yet this is not meant to be solipsistic, but rather a way of working through some of the technological constraints that allow for us to think and write at a particular moment in time, share our ideas in public and thus to contribute to the development of our ideas. The time aspect of this is particularly complex in that we write about the writing as we write, in parallel to the way that live coders edit code as it runs. In this way examining live coding and live writing together confuse strict definitions between them but also between past, present and future states, between the act of writing and its execution, allowing us to rethink some of our pre-existing notions of notation, liveness, temporality, systems and knowledge (that are the provisional focus for later chapters of the book). These concepts become ongoing conversations, inasmuch as all books are provisional and open to multiple interpretations and further modification.

There is far more to be said here, and too much for this paper. The “patterns of experience” identified by Blackwell (2015) offer many descriptions that are equally evocative of the writing performance. When we open up the process of writing to an audience, whether on a projected screen, a whiteboard, a collaborative editor or simply a laptop shared on a table, serious consideration of the written word as a dynamic occupant of its new electronic home must surely follow.

Figure 2. A collage of book fragments, linearising a wiki.
Figure 2. A collage of book fragments, linearising a wiki.

The method of this paper has been to think about the future of writing, by doing writing. We have reported on the writing of a book, and of course we have written this paper. In doing so, we have taken some care to avoid the obvious navel-gazing that might result from reflecting on a paper whose intention is to reflect on itself. Nevertheless, this fact must be acknowledged, both as an obvious implication of our thinking, and in order to make best use of the empirical resources that come most readily to hand. The live coding book is a work in progress. This paper, on the other hand, is nearly complete and live. What does it tell us about live writing as live coding, and where is the future of live coding as live writing directed?

Some obvious connections with Katherine Hayles’ work (indeed, the authors reference: Writing Machines and My Mother was a Computer) and also an interesting counterpoint to some of the dominant versions of the discourse on ‘algorithms’ that elide authorship and practices of writing code… Indeed, Alex McLean’s work on live coding and in particular ‘algorave‘ are a valuable way of thinking about how to think otherwise the apparently smooth push towards a particular version of automation…

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