Review of Week 4 (Jan 31, Feb 2)
(by Ian Mueller and Charles Ferguson)
On Tuesday, we began with a discussion on The Stone Gods and went on to talk about chapter two of Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman.
We came to the conclusion that a main theme of the first part of The Stone Gods is that the development of technology is making people lazy and stupid as a result of ignorance. Technology is outsourcing everything that is human. This is seen in the novel with the fact that the first Billie has kept herself disengaged from technology, which makes her threatening to the power structure. The sexualization of young children is disturbing and functions as a critique of the present and what may constitute the future.
Spike is a surprisingly poetic robot and her human appearance stands juxtaposed to Billie’s conception of technology. This serves to suggest that technology has been misused but can still be utilized with benefits. The representation of technology as shallow and superficial highlights that a robot, such as Spike, can have more humanity than the biologically humans. For example, Spike argues that humans have essentially created themselves through their fertilization practices and genetic fixing. Furthermore, the importance of poetry emphasizes that it is emotion that makes us human, as opposed to our biological makeup. In the text Spike first experiences emotion when explained poetry by Handsome.
Later in the novel, Easter Island functions as a microcosm of humanity on Orbus and love is once again proven to persevere through the most inhospitable conditions.
Hayles discusses the evolution of information as a code and the fact that implicit entities are taking the place of embodied ones. As we noticed, we are more comfortable than Hayles is and she is challenging us to be more wary. Examples that we discussed include the fact that relationships are more removed and less physically immediate in today’s society; the way that money is more often seen as a number than a physical entity; eyewitnesses are not as heavily weighed as DNA evidence in a trial. Dr. Seaman brought up a personal example in which a man pretended to be someone else, but that someone else didn’t exist. This, we noted, is similar to facebook, twitter or tumblr identities in which a name is floating around without a physical person to stand by it at all times. And yet without that framework of ‘performance,’ the false identity is still seen as very problematic.
Thursday we continued our discussion of Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods and class began with Dr. Seaman pulling up the two poems that are referenced often in the book. The first, “In Sickness and in Health” by W.H. Auden, asked us to love that we are alive and to not take existence for granted as some in the past have. Since the novel has a recurring theme of love as a sign of hope and a foundation of humanity, the poem’s relevance is evident. Before wrapping up this poem we talked specifically about Auden’s line, “. . . murder their las voluptuous sensation.” We seemed to conclude that it is relevant to The Stone Gods because of the fixed beautiful state that the humans are in. Winterson is advocating that the physical and trivial, in addition to the metaphysical, are valuable.
The second poem we looked at was John Donne’s “The Sun Rising.” This poem also brought up the recurring theme of love that is the essence of humanity from The Stone Gods. To the speaker of the poem all else is meaningless except for the love that he and his lover share.
Our conversation over the second half of The Stone Gods began with the fact that the novel advocates a defense of poetry and verbal intention. We noted that this was literally evident when Billie was saved from the nuclear bomb by a bookshelf that fell on her. We also discussed love in terms of gender where men look at universals and women look at specifics. Billie suggests that love means raising children and sharing love within a family, whereas Friday sees love as an economic tool. Winterson here is attempting to critique our gender perspectives since they have been so misconstrued. This led us to the idea of over-emotionalism as a cause for the 3 War. In the novel Winterson challenges the idea that emotions are a problem. By having Spike slowly gain emotional understanding she develops a capacity to know that emotion and intelligence are inextricably linked. Winterson wants us to challenge Billie’s judgements and opinions about Spike and our own assumptions about what it means to love and be human. For instance, through Spike, Winterson shows that a soul is not what constitutes a human being. We finished the discussion with the Unkown, which were re-evolved mutant children that can be interpreted as a symbol for our own selves.
“Who taught the whirlwind how to be an arm?
And gardened from the wilderness of space
the sensual properties of one dear face?”
W.H. Auden, “In Sickness and in Health”
“She is all states, and all princes I; nothing else is.”
John Donne, “The Sun Rising”
“What it means to be human . . . is to be bring up your children in sagety, educate them, keep them healthy, teach them how to care for themselves and others, allow them to develop in their own way among adults who are sane and responsible, who know the value of the world and not its economic potential. It means art, it means time, it means all the invisibles never counted by the GDP and the census figures. It means knowing that life has an inside as well as an outside.”
“Love,” [Friday] said, “Just Nature’s way of getting one person to pay the bills for another person.”
Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods
“Can’t there be a difference between a robot and a human being?”
Asked Billy in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods
emotionalism: having emotions that are easily excited and openly displayed
reaffirmation of contemporary ideas: the redefining of culturally acknowledged ideas from a more objective or pragmatic view
intelligence augmentation: the accumulation of knowledge as opposed to the improvement and growth of knowledge
Preview of Week 5
(by Dr. Seaman)
On Tuesday we will discuss the film Dark City and Hayles chapter 4 on “Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety”; We will discuss the paper assignment, which should be posted sometime Monday. Be prepared to discuss Damasio, too, since Stone Gods overtook our conversation on Thursday. In Dark City, things–by which I mean objects–take on a significance they’ve not had in the same way in previous texts we’ve read and watched, and Damasio’s attention to consciousness and selfhood offers us much to work from in reading John Murdock’s experience here. The aims of The Strangers, which we learn only eventually, can be read productively alongside the apparent aims of the Cylons. And, we get to consider the soul, once more. How is that question addressed, and resolved, here? What, finally, is love? Consider, too, why John (not, say, the doctor) must be the hero.
Thursday we get started on Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Read through the end of Chapter 7. D Attune yourself to what Atwood’s particular concerns seem to be, as she introduces us to her own future world. By this point in the semester we’ve investigated enough different texts addressing the status of the human in the midst of this moment of what feels to many of us like dramatic flux. Try to determine the role of certain qualities we’ve not encountered in quite the same way before (pornography here is quite different from the sexual expression in Stone Gods, for instance). What are we to do with the people we get to know? Are they like the clones and humans in Never Let Me Go?
For Saturday’s BSG review (due now at 6pm), you have your choice of episodes. Do check first to be sure the one you choose isn’t on the list of required episodes for future weeks.