Computer programmers work in formal languages, and try to banish the inherent ambiguity and multiplicity of language. In pre-modern India, generations of linguists and philosophers used Sanskrit, a natural language bound by a generative grammar, and searched for clarity and precision. Despite Sanskrit’s unique nature – it is the only human tongue that is governed by a rule-set equivalent in power to Chomsky’s context-free grammars, which means that every Sanskrit sentence can be derived precisely and unambiguously – the pre-modern thinkers found that ambiguity is unavoidable and indeed is desirable. They argued that purposeful ambiguity is what makes poetic language beautiful and celebrated it as “the soul of poetry.” They recognized that the ambiguity of language resonates with the irremediable multiplicity of human consciousness and celebrated the pleasure of this encounter as divine.
VIKRAM CHANDRA teaches creative writing at Berkeley and is winner of many literary awards. Sacred Games (2006), set in sprawling Mumbai, is Chandra’s most recent novel. His non-fictional book Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty (2014) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It offers a skeptical take on coding and reviews the racialized and gendered history of programming as it discusses the differences between algorithms and creative writing.
Interview with Vikram Chandra. Wheeler Centre. V. Tolholka. 2015 (link)
Vikram Chandra is a novelist who’s obsessed with writing computer code. The Daily Beast. J. Ciabattari, 29 Aug 2014 (link)
‘Geek Sublime’ author Vikram Chandra on the Beautiful, Hideous, and Dangerous Codes that Shape our World. Flavorwire. M. Halperin, 10 Sept 2014 (link)
Chandra on Geek Sublime. Politics and Prose Books. Washington, DC. 2014 (link)
Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code – A Conversation with Vikram Chandra. Columbia Global Centers. 2014 (link)
Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty (link)
[From the cover] The nonfiction debut from the author of the international bestseller Sacred Games about the surprising overlap between writing and computer coding. Vikram Chandra has been a computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a novelist. In this extraordinary new book, his first work of nonfiction, he searches for the connections between the worlds of art and technology. Coders are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? Can we ascribe beauty to the craft of writing code? Exploring such varied topics as logic gates and literary modernism, the machismo of tech geeks, the omnipresence of an “Indian Mafia” in Silicon Valley, and the writings of the eleventh-century Kashmiri thinker Abhinavagupta, Geek Sublime is both an idiosyncratic history of coding and a fascinating meditation on the writer’s art. Part literary essay, part technology story, and part memoir, it is an engrossing, original, and heady book of sweeping ideas.