If I had (something that could be made to work as) a hammer

In a comment to my last post, Cedrick pointed out:

Though I certainly fall more on the hack side of things, I think the yack is nevertheless important and I engage in it daily with my classes. I say this with one caveat: as you suggest, code is a theoretical construct in itself. Anyone doing work in digital humanities work should be willing to understand and be involved in the coding side of things rather than just focusing on the surface of the tech being examined.

Right-o. And those who study literature should take creative writing classes. While I don’t (or haven’t) worked much in the digital humanities, I feel what Cedrick describes pretty often as I try to cobble a media piece to explore some idea I have and need to see and then my few skills fail me. But my previous post was mostly quibbling with the notion of hack as “just” composing. I wonder if hacking isn’t more like substantial revision, in which one discovers and exploits some potential in the thing that arises through some contingent exigency? Of course, composing is also about exploring potential, etc., but it doesn’t often get thought of in those terms (hence, the “just”). For me, revision is where the fun is. In these terms, body modification folks who’re “hacking the properties of the device they’re born with” are revising substantially, I’d say.

One complaint about theory I found in the blog discussions used the axiom “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s certainly a complaint, I guess, as it points out that, say, a post-colonial reading is going to treat its object as something postcolonial and maybe ignore other possibilities. But maybe hacking is more like “When you discover a nail, you start looking around for what can be used as a hammer”? That is, you reuse, re-purpose, exploit what you have available at that moment. My thought is, I guess, to align hack with rhetoric under the banner of contingency.

A side note is that the hack vs. yack argument reminds me very much of the creative writing vs. theory arguments from decades back. “Creative writers produce! Theory people just talk about our work after we’ve moved on.” Much like Ion, creative writers really like the ideas of inspiration, possession, individual genius. Theory folks just don’t get it. My first graduate hat was as an MFA poet who discovered (Lacanian) theory accidentally. I’ve since then balked at so easy a distinction. Back then, though, the creative writers bought the expensive chips and depended on all-natural authenticity.

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