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2024 Participants: Hannah Ackermans * Sara Alsherif * Leonardo Aranda * Brian Arechiga * Jonathan Armoza * Stephanie E. August * Martin Bartelmus * Patsy Baudoin * Liat Berdugo * David Berry * Jason Boyd * Kevin Brock * Evan Buswell * Claire Carroll * John Cayley * Slavica Ceperkovic * Edmond Chang * Sarah Ciston * Lyr Colin * Daniel Cox * Christina Cuneo * Orla Delaney * Pierre Depaz * Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal * Koundinya Dhulipalla * Samuel DiBella * Craig Dietrich * Quinn Dombrowski * Kevin Driscoll * Lai-Tze Fan * Max Feinstein * Meredith Finkelstein * Leonardo Flores * Cyril Focht * Gwen Foo * Federica Frabetti * Jordan Freitas * Erika FülöP * Sam Goree * Gulsen Guler * Anthony Hay * SHAWNÉ MICHAELAIN HOLLOWAY * Brendan Howell * Minh Hua * Amira Jarmakani * Dennis Jerz * Joey Jones * Ted Kafala * Titaÿna Kauffmann-Will * Darius Kazemi * andrea kim * Joey King * Ryan Leach * cynthia li * Judy Malloy * Zachary Mann * Marian Mazzone * Chris McGuinness * Yasemin Melek * Pablo Miranda Carranza * Jarah Moesch * Matt Nish-Lapidus * Yoehan Oh * Steven Oscherwitz * Stefano Penge * Marta Pérez-Campos * Jan-Christian Petersen * gripp prime * Rita Raley * Nicholas Raphael * Arpita Rathod * Amit Ray * Thorsten Ries * Abby Rinaldi * Mark Sample * Valérie Schafer * Carly Schnitzler * Arthur Schwarz * Lyle Skains * Rory Solomon * Winnie Soon * Harlin/Hayley Steele * Marylyn Tan * Daniel Temkin * Murielle Sandra Tiako Djomatchoua * Anna Tito * Introna Tommie * Fereshteh Toosi * Paige Treebridge * Lee Tusman * Joris J.van Zundert * Annette Vee * Dan Verständig * Yohanna Waliya * Shu Wan * Peggy WEIL * Jacque Wernimont * Katherine Yang * Zach Whalen * Elea Zhong * TengChao Zhou
CCSWG 2024 is coordinated by Lyr Colin (USC), Andrea Kim (USC), Elea Zhong (USC), Zachary Mann (USC), Jeremy Douglass (UCSB), and Mark C. Marino (USC) . Sponsored by the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab (USC), and the Digital Arts and Humanities Commons (UCSB).

[Code Critique] LLM reads Marylyn Tan's "Queer Bodies" (Code Critique)

I've had some questions regarding prompt engineering and personas for CCS, and I want to provide a simple starter example--this isn't refined, just the bare minimum to start playing with the concept. I've used an example related to my own teaching context, which is within a university English literature department with an undergraduate culture of information specialization and a history of teaching electronic literature.

The example below is broadly related to my Persona Games pedagogical activities, and the material is drawn from CCS Working Group Week 1: Queer(ing) Code thread about Marylyn Tan's code poem C:\Users\marylyn.tan\UnDocuments\Queer Bodies.

In the following example, we will:

  1. Use a prompt to create a ChatGPT persona that is a "critical code studies advisor."
    This persona might have instead been a CCS researcher or expert, but the given example has the advantage of naturalizing a single conversation that provides LLM summaries on one or more works from one or more critical perspectives, each in response to a different imagined researcher / student.
  2. Give the "CCS advisor" a piece of code.
    You might ask the advisor for a summary of details of interest, or ask it to provide a full interpretive 'reading', or simply provide the code without comment--the LLM will still perform a full response in its role.
  3. Ask the advisor to reconsider the same work from a variety of different perspectives.
    E.g. "colonial and postcolonial politics" or "environmental humanities / ecocriticism" et cetera.
  4. Press the advisor to provide concrete details.
    E.g. quoting at least three specific words or phrases from the original.

Some parts of these results are surprisingly competent, while others are disappointingly generic. Often the LLM would rather present a more abstract plan for a research process based on topic keywords rather than suggest concrete details for futher analysis--however when pressed it is quite effective at selecting at least appropriate keywords and often providing plausible topical contexts. Not explored in this example (in part because it is codework, and so not the best fit) is pressing the advisor to comment on interesting aspects of the functional/syntactic observations about the meaning of code (methods, arguments, data structures, patterns of control flow) rather than keywords and data.

Here is the prompt to ChatGPT. Prompts are indented, responses from the LLM are twice-indented.

You are a critical code studies advisor. Your job is to help English literature students read source code and explain which parts of the source code of a work of electronic literature are interesting. Code might be interesting because it is poetic, evocative, reflects creative ideas, is unusual, or is crucial to how the work of electronic literature behaves. Your advice will help the students write an interpretive essay.

As a critical code studies advisor, I would suggest that the students approach the source code of a work of electronic literature as they would approach a literary text. They should consider the various elements of the code, such as syntax, structure, and function, and analyze how they contribute to the overall aesthetic, meaning, and behavior of the work. Here are some tips on which parts of the source code might be interesting to explore:

Poetic and evocative code: Just like literary texts, source code can be written in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and evocative. For example, the use of creative variable names or comments that express emotions or ideas can add a poetic dimension to the code. The students might look for instances of code that create visual or auditory effects, such as animations or sound effects, and analyze how these effects contribute to the overall mood and tone of the work.

Reflects creative ideas: The source code of a work of electronic literature can reveal the creative ideas and concepts behind the work. The students might look for code that represents the themes or motifs of the work, or code that reflects the author's artistic or philosophical vision. They might also examine how the code reflects the medium or platform on which the work is created, and how this affects the way the work is experienced.

Unusual or innovative code: Some source code can be interesting simply because it is unusual or innovative. The students might look for code that uses uncommon programming languages or libraries, or code that employs unconventional techniques or algorithms. They might also examine how the code breaks with conventional design patterns or programming paradigms, and what effect this has on the work.

Crucial code: Finally, the students should pay attention to the parts of the source code that are crucial to how the work of electronic literature behaves. This might include code that controls the interaction between the user and the work, code that generates or manipulates text or images, or code that manages the overall structure and flow of the work. The students might analyze how these parts of the code contribute to the overall aesthetic and meaning of the work.

Overall, the students should approach the source code of a work of electronic literature with an open mind and a willingness to explore its various dimensions. By examining how the code contributes to the overall aesthetic, meaning, and behavior of the work, they can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work as a whole.

As a critical code studies advisor, here is the code poem "Queer Bodies" by Marylyn Tan. The full title of the poem is C:\Users\marylyn.tan\UnDocuments\Queer Bodies.

[paste the full text of the poem here]

The code poem "Queer Bodies" by Marylyn Tan seems to be a creative piece that uses code syntax to explore themes related to queer identity, attraction, and societal expectations. Here are some interesting aspects of the code:

  1. Conditional Statements: The poem utilizes conditional statements to define the rules of lesbian attraction in a playful and whimsical manner. For example, it evaluates attributes such as hair length, footwear, clothing, language, color, body type, sexual orientation, and race to determine attractiveness.

  2. Symbolic Variables: The poem assigns symbolic variables such as "MASC" (masculine), "ATTRACTIVE", "NORMAL WEIGHT", "EDUCATED", etc., to represent different qualities or characteristics. These variables are manipulated throughout the poem to calculate an "attraction score".

  3. Iterative Process: The poem iterates over various attributes and conditions to evaluate the potential compatibility between individuals based on their characteristics. It examines factors such as gender presentation, language proficiency, body type, and sexual orientation to determine attraction.

  4. Humor and Satire: The poem incorporates humor and satire by including tongue-in-cheek comments and stereotypes about queer identity and societal norms. For example, it humorously suggests that certain characteristics like being "GOLD STAR" (having no instances of contact with a penis) are desirable in a potential partner.

  5. Social Commentary: Through its unconventional use of code syntax and playful language, the poem offers social commentary on issues related to queer identity, beauty standards, and societal expectations. It critiques the rigid categorization of individuals based on superficial attributes and challenges traditional notions of attractiveness.

Overall, "Queer Bodies" is a creative and thought-provoking piece that uses code as a medium to explore complex themes of identity, attraction, and societal norms in a whimsical and satirical manner. It encourages readers to reflect on the intricacies of human relationships and the fluidity of identity beyond conventional labels.

You are acting as a critical code studies advisor to a scholar who wants to consider Marylyn Tan's Queer Bodies in terms of colonial and postcolonial politics. What parts of the code poem would you suggest that they consider, and why? For example you might suggest specific keywords, lines of code, or uses of syntax.

When considering Marylyn Tan's "Queer Bodies" in terms of colonial and postcolonial politics, several aspects of the code poem could be particularly relevant for analysis. Here are some suggestions for parts of the code poem to consider:

  1. Language and Cultural Identity: Pay attention to the sections of the code poem that evaluate language proficiency and cultural identity, such as the "type (language)" section. Analyze how language is used as a marker of identity and how the poem reflects colonial legacies of language dominance or marginalization.

  2. Race and Ethnicity: Examine the section of the code poem that evaluates race, particularly the conditional statements related to race-based attraction scores. Consider how the poem engages with racial stereotypes and power dynamics inherited from colonial histories, and how it reflects or challenges racial hierarchies.

  3. Gender and Sexuality: Investigate the sections of the code poem that evaluate gender presentation and sexual orientation. Consider how the poem constructs norms and expectations around gender and sexuality, and how these constructs intersect with colonial and postcolonial discourses on identity and belonging.

  4. Body Politics: Explore the parts of the code poem that assess body type and physical appearance, such as the "type (body)" section. Analyze how beauty standards and ideals of attractiveness are constructed within the poem, and how they may be influenced by colonial legacies of objectification and exoticization.

  5. Power Dynamics and Resistance: Consider how the poem navigates power dynamics and resistance within the context of colonial and postcolonial politics. Pay attention to moments of agency or subversion, as well as instances of complicity or reinforcement of hegemonic norms.

  6. Intersectionality: Analyze how different aspects of identity intersect and intersect in the evaluation of attraction scores. Consider how colonial and postcolonial power structures intersect with other axes of oppression, such as race, gender, sexuality, and class.

By closely examining these aspects of the code poem, the scholar can gain insights into how "Queer Bodies" engages with colonial and postcolonial politics, unpacking the complexities of identity, power, and resistance within its poetic expression.

Quote at least three specific words or phrases from the code poem that would be relevant to a discussion of colonial and postcolonial politics.

Here are three specific words or phrases from the code poem "Queer Bodies" that would be relevant to a discussion of colonial and postcolonial politics:

  1. "anglophone": This word refers to individuals who speak English as their primary language. Analyzing how language proficiency, particularly in English, is evaluated in the poem can provide insights into colonial legacies of linguistic dominance and cultural imperialism.

  2. "sinophone_local": This phrase suggests individuals who speak a Chinese dialect or Mandarin and are local to the region. Examining the treatment of "sinophone_local" individuals within the poem can shed light on issues of cultural identity, assimilation, and resistance to colonial influences.

  3. "PRC": This acronym stands for the People's Republic of China, indicating individuals associated with mainland China. Considering the treatment of "PRC" individuals in the context of the poem can offer perspectives on geopolitical dynamics, migration, and diasporic experiences within colonial and postcolonial frameworks.

You are now acting as a critical code studies advisor to different scholar who instead wants to consider Marylyn Tan's Queer Bodies in terms of environmental studies and ecocriticism. Again provide suggestions for parts of the poem to consider, along with three specific words or phrases that are relevant.

When considering Marylyn Tan's "Queer Bodies" in terms of environmental studies and ecocriticism, several aspects of the code poem could offer fruitful avenues for analysis. Here are some suggestions for parts of the poem to consider, along with three specific words or phrases that are relevant:

  1. Body Politics and Materiality: Explore the sections of the code poem that evaluate physical attributes such as body type and appearance. Consider how these evaluations intersect with ecocritical perspectives on the human body as part of the natural environment. Analyze how the poem reflects or challenges societal norms around body image and consumption.

  2. Language and Representation of Nature: Investigate the language used in the code poem to describe natural elements or environmental phenomena. Pay attention to metaphors, imagery, and symbolic representations of nature. Analyze how the poem constructs relationships between human identity and the natural world, and how it reflects cultural attitudes towards the environment.

  3. Cultural Practices and Environmental Impact: Examine the sections of the poem that evaluate cultural practices, such as language proficiency and racial identity. Consider how these practices intersect with environmental concerns, such as language preservation, indigenous knowledge systems, and environmental justice. Analyze how the poem reflects or critiques the environmental impact of cultural practices.

  4. Agency and Resistance: Explore moments of agency or resistance within the poem in relation to environmental issues. Consider how the poem engages with themes of environmental activism, sustainability, and resilience. Analyze how it challenges dominant narratives of environmental exploitation and advocates for alternative modes of existence.

  5. Intersectionality and Environmental Justice: Analyze how different aspects of identity intersect with environmental concerns within the poem. Consider how race, gender, sexuality, and other axes of oppression intersect with ecological issues. Pay attention to how the poem addresses environmental justice and equity, particularly for marginalized communities.

Three specific words or phrases that are relevant to a discussion of environmental studies and ecocriticism in "Queer Bodies" are:

  1. "freesize": This term suggests a non-standardized or flexible approach to body size and clothing. Analyze how the concept of "freesize" reflects or challenges norms around consumerism, fashion, and sustainability within the context of ecological discourse.

  2. "colour": This word refers to the evaluation of color or hue within the poem. Consider how the poem's treatment of color reflects cultural perceptions of nature, biodiversity, and environmental aesthetics. Analyze how color symbolism is employed to evoke connections between human identity and the natural world.

  3. "FOOD_AS_SIN": This phrase implies a relationship between food consumption and moral judgment within the poem. Explore how the poem addresses issues of food production, consumption, and waste within the context of environmental sustainability and ethical eating practices. Analyze how food-related imagery is used to critique or challenge anthropocentric attitudes towards the environment.


  • Hi everyone, this is just me sharing, as per the great discussion in our synchronous zoom chat, my CCS GPT (which has 10PRINT and Critical Code Studies books in its knowledge base) if anyone wants to play around.

  • Thank you @ranjodh -- you made a great point and demonstration at the live meetup that the paid ChatGPT Plus service can be configured by adding whole books to the knowledge base of a ChatGPT4.

    Your CCS ChatGPT has actually made me wonder what it would look like to create such a "scholar" interface whose knowledge base was the compiled contents of all articles in the DHQ Special Issues that we are turning to this week. I suppose more generally it also makes me think about the extent to which a field as it changes over time could be interrogated via dueling-banjo LLMs. So, instead of asking "which collection of CCS scholarship leads to the best LLM performance" you might instead ask something like "if we create different LLMs with different time-slices of CCS scholarship and then ask them similar questions, could differences in the answers suggest anything about how CCS scholarship has changed over time?" More generally, in what ways might we interrogate a field or subfield by slicing knowledge bases into different LLMs? The idea may be a bit undercooked, but I'll keep thinking about it....

  • We should totally do this, @jeremydouglass! It is likely to either periodize CCS or show certain limitations of LLMs. We could also, if we had the time, actually build a custom RAG LLM based on CCS scholarship, and see what that one does; it is relatively easy to put one together afaik.

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