We can now turn to some of the gaps and questions left by this review. These can be grouped under three broad areas: dissonant aesthetic fields, lack of correspondance between empirical investigations and theoretical frameworks, and an absence of close-reading of program texts as expressive artifacts.
Second, we can see a disconnect between empirical and theoretical work. The former, historically more present in computer science literature, but more recently finding its way into the humanities, aims at observing the realities of source code as a textual object, one which can be mined for semantic data analysis, or as a crafted object, one which is produced by programmers under specific conditions and replicated through examples and principles. Conversely, the theoretical approach to code, focusing on computation as a broad phenomenon encompassing engineering breakthroughs, social consequences and disruption of traditional understandings of textuality, is rarely confronted with the concrete, physical manifestations of computation in the form of source code.
In consequence, there are theoretical frameworks that emerge to explain software (e.g. computation, procedurality, protocol), but no comprehensive frameworks which tend to the aesthetics of source code. In the light of the history of aesthetic philosophy, literature studies and visual arts, defining such a precise framework seems like an elusive goal, but it is rather the constellation of conflicting and complementing frameworks which allow for a better grasp of their object of study through a dialectical approach. In the case of the particular object of this study, the establishment of such framework taking into account both the specifically textual dimension of source code and the various practices of all sorts of programmers is yet to be done. Following the software development and programming literature, such a framework could productively focus on the role and purpose that aesthetics play within source code, rather than assuming their autotelic nature as art-objects.
Following this overview of the state of the research on this topic, and having identified some gaps remaining in this scholarship, we can now clarify some of the problems resulting from those gaps with the following research questions.
Multiple aesthetic fields are being mapped onto source code, allowing us to grasp such a novel object through more familiar lenses. However, the question remains of what it is about the nature of source code which can act as common ground for approaches as diverse as literature, mathematics and architecture, or whether these references only touch on distinct aspects of source code. When one talks about structure in source code, do they refer to structure in an architectural sense, or in a literary sense? When one refers to syntactic sugar in a programming language, does this have implications in a mathematical sense? This question will involve inquiries into the relationship of syntax and structure, of formality and tacitness, of metaphor and conceptual mapping, and in understanding of how adjectives such as elegant , clear and simple might have similar meanings across those different fields. Offering answers to these questions might allow us to move from a multi-faceted understanding of source code towards a more specific one, as the meeting point for all these fields, source code might reveal deeper connections between each of those.
The final problem concerns the status of aesthetics in source code not as an end, but as a means. A cursory investigation on the topic immediately reveals how aesthetics in source code can only be assessed only once the intended functionality of the software described has been verified. This stands contra to the way of a rather traditional opposition between beauty and functionality, and therefore suggests further exploration. How do aesthetics support source code's functional purpose? And are aesthetics limited to supporting such purpose, or do they serve other purposes, beyond a strictly functional one? This paradox will relate to our first problem, regarding the meaning-making affordances of source code, and touch upon how the expressiveness of formal languages engage with different conceptions of function, therefore relating back to Goodman's concept of the languages of art, of which programming languages can be part of. Particularly, this study will investigate how aesthetic configurations aim at making complex concepts understandable.