In MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing programs, we try to distinguish ourselves from other universities’ humanities programs by recruiting and featuring faculty with tech and digital production skills. We just hired a professor who studies drones as a way to get at questions about the culture of surveillance, and we have another faculty member—with a joint appointment with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab—who co-produced a VR project that puts you face to face with combatants in places like Gaza and Tel Aviv.
However Professor Nick Montfort SM ’98 may be our most obvious node between media studies, writing, theory, and practice. Montfort is best known for his work in “generative poetry,” using code to algorithmically create meaningful poetic texts. For example, in 2012, he and nine other authors used a single line of Commodore 64 code to explore how code is now totally embedded in our culture. Give it a read.
Last year, though, Montfort came at his studies from the other side: instead of presenting code to others and trying to make the case that it is worthy of study as art, he wrote a book that teaches students and scholars how to write that code themselves. Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities “reveals programming to be not merely a technical exercise within given constraints but a tool for sketching, brainstorming, and inquiring about important topics.” To me, as someone with a traditional humanities background who has nevertheless been inspired by MIT colleagues to try things like Internet-of-Things projects and 3D printing, that is way fascinating.
So I interviewed Montfort on his book and work. We recorded this podcast together a couple weeks ago, just as he was preparing for a semester teaching courses on non-narrative digital uses of text and, conversely, interactive narrative. The common thread? The caveat to registrants is that “programming ability [is] helpful.” Take it from him: there is a huge opportunity, and not just for MIT students, to make programming an integral part of your creative life.