edited by Thomas Bartscherer, Roderick Coover
 – Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts

edited by Thomas Bartscherer

448 pages
, University Of Chicago Press
, 2011, English
, ISBN: 978-0226038315

The communication problem between humanism and science (defined in the past as the “two cultures” problem) is not a recent one: even William Gibson, in the late eighties, was encouraging people to talk about the slash between humanism and science. This book is trying to focus on the topic using a new methodology. It’s an edited collection of texts, but not just a mere anthology: it’s intended as a dialogue among scholars, artists, and computer scientists, in printed form. The book is divided into four sections which all conclude with two responses, promoting a “conversation”. Most of the essays are about the ongoing and upcoming transformations in how knowledge and information are transmitted, shared and used, with very focused and tightly argued concluding responses. This mostly academic content is also expressed through unusual formats: there’s a dialogue in the first section and an epilogue in the form of fiction at the end. But even more interesting is the Eric Zimmerman contribution, defined as an “interlude” and called “Figment”. It’s played as cards to be cut out of the book that contain snippets of text from the other essays. Their free combination can generate either enlightening or absurd statements, giving another perspective on cultural exchange. Computation has the potential to transform essential human activities and therefore (to some extent) what it means to be human (as Ian Foster argues in the first essay) – and this book provides many opportunities to engage with this intriguing topic.