Fully Human, Fully Machine

Rhetorics of Digital Disembodiment in Programming

Rhetoric Review 39.2 (2020)

One way toward a more embodied digital rhetoric is through interrogating constructions of digital disembodiment. To make that case, this article examines one of the most famous esoteric or “weird” programming languages, which are not designed for any “real world” purpose, but as art, parody, or experiment. This language, named “brainfuck,” is notorious for its difficulty and uses challenges of mastery to assert a “true” (white, straight, masculine) programmer identity. As brainfuck reveals, a contemporary struggle to connect the effects of technologies with the people who create them can be sustained because their creators perform being machine-like themselves.