This thesis fits within the field of software studies, and aims at clarifying what we mean when we refer to code as . Code as literature, architecture or mathematics, code as philosophy or as craft, are metaphors which can be examined productively by looking at the texts themselves and the discourses around them, an approach that has only been deployed in relatively recent work.
This relationship between practice, function and beauty is the broad, underlying question of this study. In the vein of the cognitive approach to art and aesthetics, this study is an attempt to show how aestethics play a communicative role, and how concrete manifestations can, through a metaphorical process, hint at broader effective ideas. In this sense, this study is not just about the relation of aesthetics and function, but also about the function of aesthetics. While this idea of aesthetics as a way of communicating ideas could be equally applied across artistic and non-artistic domains, another aim of this thesis is to highlight the context-sensitivity of aesthetic standards: practices, uses and purposes determine as much, if not more, of the aesthetic value of a given program text, than a shared medium.
By examining the object of the practice of programmers at a close-level, this study hopes to contribute to a clarification of what exactly is programming, along with the consequences of the embedding of software in our social, economic and political practices. In order to address the question of whether algorithms are political in themselves, or if it is their use which is political, it is important to define clearly what it is that we are talking about when discussing algorithms. A clarification of source code on a concrete level will clarify what this essential component of algorithms is, and opens up potential for further work in terms of thinking no longer of the aesthetics of source code, but of its poetics; that is, in the way source code, as a language of art, can also be a way of worldmaking.
To this end, this thesis is aimed at a variety of readers and audience. From the humanities perspective, digital humanists and literary theorists interested in the concrete manifestations of source code as specific meaning-making techniques will be able to find the first steps of such an approach being laid out, and contrast these specific technique with the broader poetics of code studied by other scholars, or with the aesthetics of natural language texts.
Programmers and computer scientists will find an attempt at formalizing something they might have known implicitly ever since they started practicing writing and reading code, and the approach of languages as poetics and structure might help them think through these aspects in order to write perhaps more aesthetically pleasing, and thus perhaps better, code. Conversely, anyone engaged seriously in an activity which involves a creative process could find here a rigorous study of what goes on into a specific craft, asking how their own practice engages with tools and modes of knowledge, and how they approach the communicative function of their work as an aesthetic endeavour.
Finally, such a study of aesthetics, then, will also be of interest to artists and art theorists. By investing aesthetics without a direct relation to the artwork, but rather within a functional purpose, this study suggests that one can think through beauty and artworks not as ends, but as means to accomplish things that formal systems of explanation might not be able to achieve. An aesthetics of source code would therefore aim at highlighting the purpose of functional beauty within a textual environment.