Friday, 20 May 2011

Kill the darling part 4, Dijkstra's last words

One more - this time it's time to say goodbyes to a reference to Edsger Dijkstra's classic text mentioned in the context of Kittler's media theory. I am not sure if this passage would have worked anyway, but the idea was to elaborate Kittler's media ontology and some of its post-structuralist underpinnings with the help of programming languages. In addition to language speaking in us, it's technical media languages etc. that speak (in) us. I would still like to do something with his text, but perhaps in another context - and for those wanting to find out a bit more, check out Wendy Chun's new book on Programmed Visions where she tackles software histories, including structured programming.

In this classic of software history and structured programming, Edsger W. Dijkstra’s (1968: 147. Cf. Chun 2004) “Go To Statements” considered harmful he writes:

[…] although the programmer’s activity ends when he has constructed a correct program, the process taking place under control of his program is the true subject matter of his activity, for it is this process that has to accomplish the desired effect; it is this process that in its dynamic behavior has to satisfy the desired specifications. Yet, once the program has been made, the ‘making’ of the corresponding process is delegated to the machine.”

If read through the media theoretical lenses of Kittler and materialist media theory, such an idea is not only part of the emergence of structured programming in the 1960s, but a good crystallization of the bootstrapped autonomy of process of language – also software.

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