codEmotion // codicEmozione


body voice poetry and code-culture

Code & Future

The code is a tool for submitting future to language, and subjecting it to the algorithm. In the beginning someone is writes the code, and others are supposed to submit themselves to the effects of the code written by someone. Power is more and more inscribed in code.

Interfaces are supposed to simplify the complexity of code, but code in itself is more often about simplifying technical procedures of social life, particularly of economic production and exchange. So code is speaking us, but we are not always working through the effects of written code. More and more we are escaping (or trying to escape) the automatisms implied in the written code.

Prescriptions, prophecies, injunctions are ways of inscribing the future in language, and—most importantly—are ways of producing the future by means of language. Like prescriptions, prophecies, and injunctions, code also has the power to inscribe the future, by formatting linguistic relations and the pragmatic development of algorithmic signs. Code is modelling the future, as the future is inscribed in code. In fact the implementation of code is performing our environment and our behavior. Code is prescribing what we will do to the machine and what the machine will do to us. Financial code, for instance, is triggering a series of linguistic automatisms that are able to model and perform social activity, consumption patterns and lifestyles. Algorithms are numeric combinations that inscribe in themselves operational functions, formatting and performing the real developments of the human world.

But the pragmatic effects of the code are not deterministic, as far as the code is the product of code writing, and code writing is affected by social, political, cultural, and emotional processes. Hacking, free software, WikiLeaks . . . are the names of lines of escape from the determinism of code.

The financial crisis that is haunting Western politics and daily life is linked to the pragmatics of code.

Language and money are shaping our future in many ways. Like prophecy. Prophecy is a form of prediction that is able to act on the development of the future thanks to the effect of persuasion, emotionality, and pervasion of the audience. Thanks to the social effects of psychological reactions to language, prophecy can act in a self-fulfilling way. The financial economy is marked by self-fulfilling prophecies. When rating agencies downgrade the value of an enterprise, or national economy, what they make is a prediction about the future performances of the enterprise, or economy. But this prediction is heavily influencing the actors of the economic game, so much so that the downgrading results in an actual loss of reliability and an actual loss of economic value. So the prophecy comes true. How can we escape the effects of prophecy? How can we escape the effects of code?

Code implies syntactic exactness of linguistic signs: connection. Compatibility and consistency and syntactic exactness are the conditions of operational functionality of code. Proprietary code is language in debt. Only exacting the necessary syntactic consistency, language can perform its connective purpose. The excess is the remise en question of the infinity of language, the breakdown of consistency, the reopening of the horizon of possibility. Excess is playing the game of conjunction (round bodies looking for meaning out of any syntactic exactness), not the pre-formatted game of segmental connection.

Poetry is the reopening of the in-definite, the ironic act of exceeding the established meaning of words. In every sphere of human action, grammar is the establishment of limits defining a space of communication. The economy is the universal grammar traversing the different level of human activity nowadays. Also language is defined and limited by its economic exchangeability: the reduction of language to information, and the incorporation of techno-linguistic automatisms in the process of social enunciation. Nevertheless, whereas social communication is a limited process, language is boundless: its potentiality is not limited to the limits of the signified. Poetry is the excess of language, the signifier disentangled from the limits of the signified. Irony, the ethical form of the exceeding power of language, is the infinite game that words are playing to create and to skip and to shuffle meaning. Social movements, at the end of the day, can be viewed as ironic acts of language, as semiotic insolvency, as the disentanglement of language, behavior, and action from the limits of symbolic debt.

This excerpt is from the Berardi’s Introduction to the book Speaking Code: Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression by Geoff Cox and Alex McLean, published by The MIT Press.

What is the space and the horizon of poetry in the age of digitalisation?

Poetry is playing with the uncreative effect of uncreative use of technology.

Uncreative writing is about mimicking and ironizing the effects of de-singularization and of uniformation implied in the digital language.

Recombinant poetry

A similar tendency is at work in the history of ‘900 poetry.

OULIPO (Ouvroir de Literature POtentielle) is a movement funded by Raymond Queneau in 1960. This movement inspired the work of Italo Calvino, Georges Perec and other writers. The OULIPO poetics proposes a literature based on the recombination of language fragments abstracted from their context.

The OULIPO literature was based not arbitrary rules precisely applied in the process of poetic composition.

Composition is conceived as recombination, and deprived of marks of singularity. Creativity is intended to cancel creativity from the sphere of creation. A poetical reflexion on the process of automation.
Some rules of OULIPO:

  • “S+7”, sometimes called “N+7”: Replace every noun in a text with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary. For example, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago…” becomes “Call me islander. Some yeggs ago…”. Results will vary depending upon the dictionary used. This technique can also be performed on other lexical classes, such as verbs.
  • Snowball: A poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer.
  • Lipogram: Writing that excludes one or more letters. The previous sentence is a lipogram in B, F, H, J, K, Q, V, Y, and Z (it does not contain any of those letters).
  • Prisoner’s constraint, also called Macao constraint: A type of lipogram that omits letters with ascenders and descenders (b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, and y).
  • Palindromes: Sonnets and other poems constructed using palindromic techniques.
  • Univocalism: A poem using only one vowel, although the vowel may be used in any of its aural forms. For example, “born” and “cot” could both be used in a univocalism, but “sue” and “beau” could not.”

Raymond Roussel wrote his novels (Impressions d’Afrique, Nouvelles Impression d’Afrique) according a purely recursive principle. (see Foucault: Raymond Roussel (Paris: Gallimard, 1963).

Nanni Balestrini has been the most comprehensive experimenter in this field. The entire work of this poet and novelist is based on the recombination of articles, recordings, and similar textual fragments grabbed from the flux of social enunciation. His poetical act consists in giving back life to dead words. In order to do that he is introducing rhythm, dance, lightness, or heaviness in the texture of language. He is giving a body to bodiless words, he springs up emotion desire and rage from the words that social use has reduced to mere functionality. This is why Balestrini is great. His poetics is one of recombination, but simultaneously it is acting as reactivation.

Since the ‘60s Balestrini speaks of poetry for computers, but his well known novel, Vogliamo tutto (1971) is based on the transcription and the recombination of a flux of enunciation: the recorded interview with a rebel FIAT worker who recounts the social struggles of those years in Italy.

Velemir Chlebnikov took part in the 1917 Russian Revolution and one day he threw into the flames of a barricade all his poems, contained in a pillowcase. Chlebnikov invented a poetical language that he called ZAUM. ZAUM was intended to bring linguistic enunciation to the zero degree of pure signification. He wanted to awaken the original process of signification, the process that gives meaning to the emotions, and inserts emotion into meaning.

Code and Voice

In his book Speaking Code Geoff Cox deconstructs the process of coding and retraces the aesthetic and pragmatic intentions of software.

In the year 2000 in the web was circulated a virus called I LOVE YOU LETTER. ILOVEYOU, sometimes referred to as Love Letter, was a computer worm that attacked tens of millions of Windows personal computers on and after 5 May 2000[. The latter file extension was most often hidden by default on Windows computers of the time, leading unwitting users to think it was a normal text file. The worm did damage on the local machine, overwriting image files, and sent a copy of itself to all addresses.

Gaetano La Rosa and the art-group Epidemic transcribed the source code of the virus, and they asked me to read it as a public performance. I read the software, sign by sign, trying to extract emotion from the dead signs of the code.

The person who wrote the virus software was certainly naughtily humorous. The idea of sending around a message promising love and eventually blocking the machine may be read in many ways. Interestingly ironical.

The performance conceived by Epidemic can be read as a metaphor of the an action that in the following years has become the platform of the movement Occupy give back life to words, gestures and places which has been de-vitalised by the financial abstraction. Give a body to the general intellect that is fragmented and fractalized in daily life and daily activity of precarious cognitive workers.

Here you can see the video of the LOVE LETTER performance:


The code is the de-singularization of the process of enunciation.

The voice is the coming back of the singularity (errors, imprecisions, vagueness, randomness) and the singularisation of meaning.

Code is a machine whose function is to produce an inscribed signified.

Vocal enunciation on the contrary is based on a random relation between signifier and signified. One never knows what is coming out from the vocal interpretation of the text.

The voice is the singularisation of meaning, and poetry is the voice in the process of signification.

Voice is the mobilization of physical vibrations in a singular way. And poetry is the inscription of the singularity of voice in the texture of signification.

The poetical text can be seen as the score that the performer reads in order to revive the voice that lies inscribed in it.


Qual è lo spazio e l’orizzonte della poesia nell’epoca della digitalizzazione dei linguaggi?  La tendenza di uncreative writing propone una poesia che fa il verso agli effetti di spersonalizzazione impliciti nel linguaggio digitale.

Non è nuovo, poiché una tendenza di questo genere esiste nella storia della poesia del Novecento. L’OULIPO (Ouvroir de Literature POtentielle) fondata da Raymond Queneau nel 1960 ispirò il lavoro di Italo Calvino Georges Perec e altri. La poetica oulipista proponeva una letteratura fondata sulla ricombinazione di frammenti linguistici astratti dal loro contesto. La letteratura degli oulipisti fissava regole totalmente arbitrarie e le applicava rigorosamente allo svolgimento della composizione. La composizione è allora intesa come ricombinazione, e privata di ogni segno di singolarità. La creatività è rivolta a cancellare la creatività dalla sfera della creazione. Una riflessione poetica sul processo di automazione.

Raymond Roussel (di lui parla Foucault in Ecrits literaires) scrisse i suoi romanzi (Impressions d’Afrique, Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique) sulla base di un principio puramente ricorsivo.

Nanni Balestrini è probabilmente il più grande sperimentatore in questo campo. Basti pensare al fatto che si può parlare di lui come del primo poeta nella storia che non ha mai scritto una sola parola. Il suo lavoro infatti non consiste nello scrivere parole che sono già disponibili nel flusso di enunciazione sociale (articoli di giornali, libri di giardinaggio interviste con operai della FIAT eccetera). Il suo lavoro consiste nel restituire vita a queste parole morte. In che modo? Introducendo ritmo, danza, leggerezza, pesantezza. Restituendo corporeità alle parole senza corpo, introducendo emozione desiderio e rabbia nelle parole che sono ridotte a mera funzionalità. Per questo Balestrini è un grande. Perché la sua poetica è ricombinazione, ma al tempo stesso è riattivazione. Nel 1964 scrisse Poesia per computer, poi nel 1970 scrive Vogliamo tutto, un lavoro ricombinante-emotivo sulla lotta operaia contro lo sfruttamento.

Velemir Chlebnikov che nel 1917 gettò la federa di un cuscino piena delle sue poesie nel fuoco di una barricata di operai bolscevichi. Chlebnikov inventò una forma di linguaggio poetico da lui definita ZAUM. Lo ZAUM aveva la funzione di portare l’enunciazione linguistica al grado zero della significazione così da rendere possibile un risveglio del processo di significazione originario, il divenire parola dell’emozione.

Nel 2000 nella rete mondiale si diffuse un virus informatico che si chiama I LOVE YOU LETTER. Se ricevevi quel messaggio che ti diceva: I love you e ci cliccavi sopra il tuo computer andava in fumo. Molti furono colpiti dall’epidemia di I LOVE YOU.

Gaetano La Rosa e il gruppo Epidemic ebbero o un’idea geniale: presero il codice sorgente del virus e lo trascrissero, poi mi chiesero di leggerlo in una performance pubblica che si svolse nel contesto di DINA (Digital is not Analog), una manifestazione che si teneva a Bologna.

Mi divertii molto a fare quella performance, perché mi pareva di capire che si trattava di un problema di rivitalizzazione emozionale del linguaggio devitalizzato del digitale.

Gli inventori del virus erano certamente dei tipi spiritosi. L’idea di mandare in giro un messaggio che ti promette amore e appena lo apri ti blocca la macchina è interessante. Ma l’azione che concepirono gli epidemic era una geniale metafora dell’azione che negli anni successivi è diventata la linea generale del movimento Occupy: restituire vita a luoghi parole e gesti che sono stati devitalizzati dall’astrazione finanziaria. Restituire corporeità desiderante al general intellect del lavoro precario e cognitivo.

Ecco il video di LOVE LETTER.

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