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263modernism/postmodernism, was Re: CL and modernism

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  • Pascal Costanza
    Aug 30, 2002
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      "Logan, Patrick D" wrote:
      > >> I have found it strange that Common Lisp is considered a modern language.
      > I would
      > rather have classified it as a post-modern language. <<
      > Common Lisp like Smalltalk *traditionally* have been available as large
      > environments that are essentially operating systems unto themselves. This is
      > opposed to the post-modern Perl, TCL, Python, Ruby, and JVM languages like
      > Jacl, JPython, JScheme, SISC, etc. that combine a little of this with a
      > little of that and can play off each other.

      Yep, you're right. I have read the paper completely this morning and got
      it. Common Lisp is modern in the sense that it is based on a simple
      powerful concept that tells a "grand story".

      However, I still think that Common Lisp is more post-modern than, say,
      Scheme, in the sense that Common Lisp deliberately encourages you to use
      whatever programming paradigm you would like to use, and provides ways
      to combine these different paradigms (oo, imperative, functional, ...).
      So, Common Lisp doesn't tell you how to program, but incorporates many
      different programming styles and even allows you to "invent" new ones.
      In this way, by using Noble's and Biddle's terminology, Common Lisp is
      descriptive rather than prescriptive. (This is why I am so excited about
      Common Lisp right now.)

      Take for example the papers by Herbert Stoyan on the history of Lisp.
      (http://www8.informatik.uni-erlangen.de/html/lisp-enter.html) He mainly
      complains about the fact that people actually used Lisp. (!) Here is a
      quote from one of the conclusions: "As things stand, he [John McCarthy]
      must prefer SCHEME to CommonLISP -- a clear, understandable small
      diamond, to a messy, incomprehensible clump." This should prove the
      postmodern aspect of Common Lisp. ;-)

      Is it acceptable that a language is not either modern or postmodern, but
      somewhere in between? Noble and Biddle suggest that by mentioning PL/I
      and the CLR as examples that have both modern and postmodern elements.

      So, in order to get back on track again, my suggestion to base a truly
      "universal virtual machine" on a Common Lisp core would be a postmodern
      way to try to overcome the problems of today's computer science, by
      seducing people. This would imitate current "trends", like Java and CLR,
      and would offer fashionable languages to have a decent base, like Python
      and Ruby. It could potentially spread usage of Common Lisp again,
      although only under the hoods. (XML is another option: don't say
      "S-expressions are better than XML", say "it's great that you use XML
      and, by the way, here is a language that allows you to directly
      manipulate XML by just doing a minor transformation into something
      called S-expressions - don't mind the term"!)

      I don't know how likely it is that something like this could work out.

      However, another, totally different question is: do we actually want to
      use "postmodern tricks" like that, or do we want to get the world back
      on a "modern track" again?

      My impression is that some of us in the Feyerabend community think that
      "postmodernism" is one of the roots of the problem that needs to
      changed. For example, a postmodern phenomenon is (like Noble and Biddle
      show) that languages like Java or C# are not chosen because of their
      expressive power or their technical merits but because of clever
      advertising. (I do think they have social merits, but that's again
      another topic.) We can change "the world" either by telling people "the
      truth", or essentially by playing the same game. These are two different

      It's probably obvious that I am more on the postmodern side of the
      story. I think we can't get rid of postmodernism and its phenomena
      anymore and we have to find ways to live with it. (And I think it's
      possible - positively possible!)

      What do the others think? Who of you is for or against telling the truth
      and/or playing the same game?


      P.S.: Yes, I think this is a valid Feyerabend topic...

      Pascal Costanza University of Bonn
      mailto:costanza@... Institute of Computer Science III
      http://www.pascalcostanza.de Römerstr. 164, D-53117 Bonn (Germany)
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