Archive for the ‘ English 532 (2006) ’ Category

Literary Computing

Last spring I took a course called “Literary Computing”. I remember my first class, which was actually the second class for the course as I’d been away for the first several days of term. Dr. Mo, the instructor, launched immediately into the question that would pervade our research for the rest of our semester: what is literary computing?

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A Sudden Insight on Cyborgs

Cyborgs actually exist. About 10 percent of the current U.S. population are estimated to be cyborgs in the technical sense, including people with electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, drug-implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial skin. (N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, 115.)

It’s sometimes hard for me to distinguish the difference between this technical definition of the cyborg and the more elusive, metaphoric definition. Probably because, writing about narratives and cultural constructions, I trade mainly in metaphors. But the fact remains, and it should be made perfectly clear, cyborgs are a reality.

A much higher percentage participates in occupations that make them into metaphoric cyborgs, including the computer keyboarder joined in cybernetic circuit with the screen, the neurosurgeon guided by fiber-optic microscopy during an operation, and the adolescent game player in the local video-game arcade.

In this way– as Haraway’s chimera, as the ever-shifting figmental blur– we are all cyborgs. In the way that Pattie Belle Hastings’ cyborg survey defines it, we are cyborgs. Is it okay for us to think of ourselves in this way? Does it mean anything that I can quite easily define myself and most of the people around me as cybernetic (wo)man-machine organisms?

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Fast, Cheap, and out of Control

During our meeting the other day, Q gave me some interesting insight into this documentary by Errol Morris. One of Morris’s more interesting choices is to intertwine the interviews with apparently random scenes of the circus. He told me the key was to listen to what was being said in the interviews during these interludes, and to ask myself what the significance of these scenes might have in that context.

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I am a chimera (Part 2)

Every junkie, he thought, is a recording. (Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, 159)

And, according to Christopher Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin, perhaps he is more specifically a camera.

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

Like a machine. Isherwood gives us the view of a posthuman subject. In this way, Isherwood’s detached self-as-camera and the perspective of the posthuman as addict agree. As indicated in part 1, the posthuman subject is a culture junkie, addicted to feeling. Without input to record, without images to photograph, he is like a blank disk, an unused roll of film. We see, perhaps we see more, but we feel only on cue, we feel what the image tells us to feel. And that is one interpretation.

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Google the 12-Step Program (Part 1)

Technology was smooth, you have to admit. Somewhere in all the sweet talk it got to second base and we were so charmed (“It’s so worldly, so mysterious!”) we never saw it coming. Besides, all those cautionary tales we were fed growing up didn’t prepare us for how this would really feel.

Robert Plowman, “I Was an Internet Addict”

Technology, Don Juan for the 21st century. What if we tried stepping on the brakes and cooling the romance? “You’re getting a little too handsy for me.” How would we handle it? How would technology handle it? (Casanova’s probably got millions of flames that burn like LED lights in the middle of the night)

That’s what Robert Plowman tried to do. He said, “You’re a player, and I don’t want in on your dirty little games. We need a break.”

If this is a love affair we’re having with technology, the internet is where things stopped being casual. Is it just me, or is this really real? Sometimes you don’t know how deep you’re in until you spend some time apart.

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The Corporation as a posthuman construct

So, in a clever if misguided tactic designed to avoid work yesterday, I decided to watch The Corporation. Within the first five minutes, however– and a testament to how university has only exacerbated my chronic poindexterishness– the documentary had me sitting up scrabbling for a pen and a scrap of paper to take notes.

The Corporation is a documentary about “the rise of the dominant institution of our time.” It investigates the psychology (or psychosis) of the corporation by drawing on its legal status as “a person” and then asking “what kind of person is it?” The documentary is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan.

What struck me immediately as I was watching was indeed this social construction of the corporate as a “person”, an individual entity. This entity is made up of other individuals, other consciousnesses, and the whole construction resembles something not unlike Hayles’ posthuman.

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Where can I get some of that?

When I started Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? one of my first thoughts was, “a mood organ? I wish I had one of those!”

The mood organ (or Penfield artificial brain stimulation) is an invention that allows you to “dial” a given mood or feeling. The possibilities for such a device are enormous; the possibilities of abuse are even greater. The urge for me to dial a 481– awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future– would be overwhelming and, like the novel’s protagonist, Rick Deckard, no doubt it would become a regular indulgence. An addiction.

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