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That computing is something that has a history is, three generations on now from the first electronic computers, relatively well established. The study of that history itself has grown from a focus on canonical surveys and detailed and vivid oral histories to a very fruitful proliferation of focuses, problematics and methodological scope.

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Programmed Visions places the field of software studies in direct dialogue with that of computing history, but it also suggests that in order to work through history, we need to be able to bring other scales into account, from feelings to geopolitics and the conceptual and ideological orderings that are operative in them.

One of the operations evaluated here is the idea that one thing can stand in for, or be seen as equivalent to, another.

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  • Foreword (to Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions);

This is the essential idea of a code. Systems of equivalence and codification such as capitalism, the universal Turing machine, management, structuralism, each have their idiosyncracies, and each, as constructive systems, have their own capacities for invention. This is one reason why the computer cannot be written off, nor lauded, as a simply crazily rationalist machine.

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There is a velocity, idiosyncracy and thickness to the changes wrought by software that makes it a fundamentally tricky phenomena, potentially rich rather than inherently reductive, but not automatically so. One other set of phenomena that these qualities couple with are the means of assigning value to things.

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The degradation experienced in the neoliberal moment is partly in the abstractions it operates by: that relations, singular qualities of inherence in the world, are exchanged for equivalences; that money becomes the secret means by which a table may be transmogrified into a meal and a house may be turned into a debt. In the secret ironic engine undergirding economics, equivalences are exchanged for sames.

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Review: Programmed Visions: Software and Memory

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Programmed Visions, Software and Memory by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun | | Booktopia

Programmed Visions gives us a means of understanding such processes, but also importantly of how software is the code that works to disintermediate these systems. Thus, to understand the contemporary situation, it is not enough solely to recognize the operations of the economy, nor even to be able to interrogate the morphological expressivity of a genetic array, but also to understand the very mechanisms that conjoin them.

Software, in its relations with other things, brings a capacity of synthesis to multiple scales of reality, acting as a condition of thought, of imagination, investing them with multiple kinds of motility and conjunction. In turn, one of the imaginaries that invests this synthetic domain is a technocratic dreamwork of understanding, interpretability, of ambivalent optimisation, but also of instrumentalisation and restructuration running in a recursive mode which reinforces systems of sames.

This is a necessarily complicated, highly intriguing, series of transitions and the elegance with which Chun marks these moments of the waxing and waning of integrations and encodings is testament both to the expressivity of the systems that she interprets and to the skill with which her analyses are assembled.

This feel for both immanence and abstraction drives Programmed Visions in its figuring out of the relations between the different loci that it inhabits and it is one that is marked by multiple resonances of vicissitude and pleasure. It is in these transitions too that the book engenders its relation to memory, that regenerative capacity needed when one does not have an absolute overview.

Programmed Visions

Memory allows us to see patterns, to unlock codes, even in a world of ongoing change. In broader terms, the book commends us to keep looking at what becomes soft, that which ossifies or proliferates by staying the same, what multiplies and what grows anew. With an urgency that cannot be rushed, we are here presented with the materials to carry out such work. Matthew Fuller.