Geoff Cox, Alex McLean, Franco “Bifo” Berardi – Speaking Code: Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression


The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262018364, 168 pages, 2012, English, USA

One of the main open questions about code is its similarity to spoken language. The latter connects to code in many respects: as an essential “interface” with the machine, but also as something intrinsically connate with machine logic itself, lying at the antipodes of our most natural way of communicating. Code’s peculiarities are also important, like it’s ability to describe processes and perform them at the same time, eventually incorporating non-executable spoken language in comments. Starting with these qualities the book explores theoretical discourse and examples of code (provided by renowned researcher and live-coder Alex McLean), also engaging with topics like recursion, generation and self-modification. The synergy between theory and programming expressed in the book seems to physically combine the strong connection between language and code, somehow also manifesting Cox’s goal: “I wanted to explore the ways language goes out of control”. The infinite processual nature of code is one of its most underestimated characteristics. Another is its often forgotten centrality to contemporary society, culture and economies. The text restates the key role code plays in economic processes and its influence on power dynamics. Here the investigation into the parallel between free speech and free software is nodal, and the fight against the lack of mass literacy becomes emblematic for the liberation movement, which strives to give individuals the option of publicly and effectively “acting” with code.