Cracking the Code
Yes, that’s binary code, the language computers use to talk to themselves and to talk with each other. There are only two characters, which feels way unwieldy to us meatbags, but silicon-based consciousnesses eat it right up. There’s a message in that pile of digits, sent from my computer’s brain to yours. (If you want to know what it says in a language you know, just copy and paste it into an online translator.)
This whole post is in code, in fact. I’m using a 26-character code in this paragraph, give-or take, plus ten numerals and a few more marks for punctuation. What’s more, I’m using that visual alphabet code to represent an aural code which consists of some 44 sounds, (more precisely, phonemes) grouped together in words, sentences, paragraphs, and trashy novels. Most all of us use this kind of code to convey ideas, which in turn some might argue are yet another code that our brains use for manipulating information about the physical world.
Now here’s the thing: As a writer, I’m really a coder. So are we all. And painters are coders, too, with images. Dancers are coders in yet another language, much less precise. We’re all coding all day long, in our minds, in our words, in our art.
Does that sound cold and technical? I don’t mean to be harsh. I’m all for the elegance in a well-done poem. There is meaning in just the beauty of a fine dance. Even computer code can be beautiful; have you ever heard programmers talk about it?
I’m more about providing another perspective. Seeing all of this language and “writing” stuff as code is to see our work without all the lace and fluff. Yes, even the finest literature is just words and letters. They’re just conveying ideas. The ideas are the important thing. That’s where the heart of the art is.
It’s good to have perspective on the code. When you’re all tied up in the letters on the page, or the paint on the canvas, it does the soul good to step back and remind yourself that it’s all just symbols and sounds. Get friendly with it on a personal level. Take a couple of verbs out for a beer and notice how they behave when they’re kicking back. You might be surprised. Strike up a pickup game with some loose punctuation. It’s all good. The more comfortable we are together the better it’s going to be for the art.
YOUR CHALLENGE: Use a code (the Roman alphabet and English language, for example) to make something that breaks the rules entirely. Words with no meaning. Punctuation with no reason. Crumple the code like a spent piece of paper. Play with it for a while. Show it who’s boss. Let go of the need to make art with it. Just revel in your freedom from the code. See how that feels.
And please do send me a sample. I love it when artists break the rules.