Is Code Really Poetry?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

In the “wrapper class” of the WordPress.org footer element someone wrote this: <h6>Code is Poetry</h6>. If the reader asks the browser “what is h6 in html” he or she might stumble on the w3schools explanation, which goes: “<h1> defines the most important heading. <h6> defines the least important heading.”  In the study of literature and language or rhetoric, we call this relationship irony. In this case, I would argue that the subtlety of the footer claim–Code is Poetry is a Fact Claim, but it’s also a Metaphor (it doesn’t say Code is kinda sorta like Poetry, which would be a Simile)–is an example of visual irony in relation to h1 and h6. Because while h6 is supposed to be a less kind a sorta header, on the WordPress website, if one bothers to scroll down to the footer, that “Code is Poetry” argument is pretty prominent. So, it must mean something.

I would argue, however, that WordPress in the future should reconsider the Metaphor as in a few years the casual scroller of its website might not know what it means or implies. It implies that someone thought about it. Someone was at a meeting and suddenly had a thought and said, “Hey, you know, we ought’a put Code is Poetry in the footer, man.” The boss, maybe Matt Mullenweg, responded, “That’s a fantastic idea. I know exactly what that metaphor’s all about.” Mullenweg was a PoliSci major in school. He also played the  sax in high school. He also likes music, you know all that useless stuff. I read all this at the Wikipedia page on Mullenweg. I made up the quotes.

Before the reader wonders at all this nonsense, the above paragraphs were generated by Faith Middleton’s interview and talk with Gina Barreca regarding the latter’s article in the Hartford Courant titled Humanities are at the Heart of a Real Education. As an aside, the title of the article is enclosed in h1 tags. The heart of Barreca’s piece goes to the current and all the past battles over what higher education in the United States should be doing, and, in addition, what constitutes an educated person. Hard or soft, Chemistry or Poetry, Math or English. Employment, unemployment. I hinted at this in an early post on the issue of programmers. The title to that one goes: “Do We Need More Coders”? My answer is an emphatic No and Yes.

Here’s another way of putting the problem. Are Universities and Colleges places where people should be trained or are they places where people should be educated? Barreca writes:

Administrators who market (their verb, not mine) education as a passport to success instead of defining it as pathway to knowledge are, essentially, advocating for the training of workers rather than for the education of citizens.

There are three terms that need defining here: “education,” “knowledge,” and “training.”

In a recent class I provided this metaphor to the students: You have a factory. You’re provided materials sufficient only to manufacture a Pinto. So you make a Pinto. Out comes the Pinto. The Board of Regents of the State of Connecticut observe this and say, with astonished dismay, “Where’s the cadillac?”

It’s not the most precise metaphor. Students are not Pintos. And I don’t like relating schooling to factories. That’s not the point.

Some of the students in class were Poets enough to grasp the figures of speech here. Most, however, had to no idea what “Pinto” meant.

Writ large, the Humanities is about significant stories. The story of women, the story of men, the story of horrors, the stories of success. What we did; what we didn’t do; what wasn’t said; what was known and unknown. It’s about the things we do to ourselves and why. Stories can be lost and forgotten.

To those students who hadn’t a clue about the Pinto, I told the story. They chewed on it for a while. They learned a little bit about the power of metaphor and that maybe paying for expectation might make sense in the long run.


One response to “Is Code Really Poetry?”

  1. In the 1980s, early days of the web, I gave a “poetry reading” of the html code of various early websites, incl mine (first for screenwriters on web), with much emotion and histrionics, and it was a very funny evening!