October 31, 2003

Hypertext haiku?

It isn't quite as exciting as it sounds, but if you head on over to "Our Mutual Estate Conference: Hypertexts: Multi-linear, non-sequential text" you will find a pretty interesting array of hypertext resources and whatnot. Among them is a hypertext description of the haiku....if you click on one particular word (I won't completely spoil the slight element of surprise) you will arrive at an "Interactive Haiku Homepage."

I also recommend you click on "ELA" on the homepage... it's kinda cool... at least at this hour!

Hope y'all get something out of this site-


P.S. It still seems to be very much a site in progress- so if some of the links don't work, I don't think it's you... it's... them... (whoever they are).

Posted by epetrick at 12:54 AM | Comments (1)

October 28, 2003

Vonnegut at the movies

Although this has nothing to do with most of the academic discussions we have been having, I thought you all might be interested in this bit of information. I just read that Darren Aronofsky (who brought us the brilliant films Pi and Requiem for a Dream) may be directing a film version of Vonnegut's darkly humorous novel Cat's Cradle. The adapted screenplay will come from Richard Kelly (who wrote the weirdly elegant Donnie Darko among other films). If this project ends up happening I will be extremely excited.

If you would like to read more about the possibility of the film (which is still in pre-production) see Harry Knowles's website, Ain't-It-Cool-News.

If you have not had a chance to read the novel and are interested, you can get more info on Amazon.

- Patrick

Posted by pjagoda at 12:46 PM | Comments (1)

October 27, 2003

The Novelists of Coming Soon!!!

I was looking through some reviews of Barth's Coming Soon!!! and came across the following in a review from "Publisher's Weekly":

"Unfortunately, the display of metafictional conceits that subtends the novel does not make up for clunky writing and uninspired characters. Hop Johnson, the Novelist Aspirant, seems to write, think and talk just like the Novelist Emeritus, which subtracts from the internecine authorial quarrel that is this novel's main interest. There is much gap filling (for example, we are given condensed reports of the news, from 1995 to 1999), and for large stretches the enterprise is seemingly propelled mainly by the need to fill pages with words. Readers are advised to turn to the original Floating Opera and leave this massy addendum to Barth's academic acolytes."

This was only one among many negative reviews of the book. What interests me besides the pure joy of criticism and book-bashing is what the reviewer says about the two narrators. Here is a question to think about as we continue reading the book:

Does the Novelist Aspirant really write like the Novelist Emeritus? Does this tell us anything about who comes up on top in terms of Barth's scheme of values? Does the similarity between their styles (if you all see it this way) suggest that only one is the "real" author of the book? Is the "internecine authorial quarrel" really at the center of the book or (unlike Hop Johnson) do we see a continuity between p-fiction, e-fiction, and (eventually) Virtual Reality (see page 14 for more on this)?

If you are all interested in a few more review blurbs (including a portion of the "Publisher's Weekly" review above), there are some here.

Posted by pjagoda at 03:45 PM | Comments (1)

October 26, 2003

Archeologies of the (Post-)modern Archive

I had the opportunity to see Sven Spieker's talk on "Archeologies of the Modern Archive" last Wednesday. Although the application to the class may be indirect, I thought that some of you might find Professor Spieker's arguments interesting. What follows is based on my memory and my extrapolations so I apologize for the cursory nature of this post.

Spieker began his talk by comparing the paper archive (in the sense of the museum, the bureaucratic archive, and so on) to our contemporary digitial archive (namely, the internet). Despite the technological gap between the two, the idea of the "archive" remains the same in both cases. The word "archive" comes from two different Greek words. The first, "arkhe," refers to the "beginning" or the "commencement." The second, "arkheion," refers to the building of the Arkhons who were the guardians of the archive. Thus, an archive is both the collection of documents that recount a given history and the institution that collects those documents. This distinction also suggests a further question (one that we have considered in class in terms of the inside/outside binary): An archive clearly contains history (or historical documents), but how do we write a history of the archive itself? Or perhaps, using a metaphor prevalent in the 19th century, how do we perform an autopsy of the "body" that is the archive?

In a sense, it is impossible to write the history of the archive. We only know the archive (or, if you prefer, History) by participating in it. Professor Spieker offered an interesting literary example that clarified this point for me. In Kafka's The Trial, Joseph K. attempts to understand various institutions (the law, the bank, and so on). However, he cannot understand or, at least, experience each of these archives without participating in them. At the point when he is "inside" the institutions, Joseph K. (and the reader) can no longer see them from the perspective of the outside.

Another reason why it might be impossible to access the archive without participating in it is that an archive does not store mere files or historical documents. The archive also stores the very order used to classify those objects (for more on this see Michel Foucault's The Order of Things and The Archeology of Knowledge). Thus, there is no such thing as an empty archive that waits to be filled by history. Archives are themselves historical documents that suggest how a given era understood knowledge and how it chose to order tha knowledge. So in the age of the archive (in an age of modernism) we move from the interest with the message to the idea (using McLuhan's famous pronouncement) that the medium is the message.

Professor Spieker also commented on a related subject that is applicable to our work in class. By reading the archive he discussed the question of whether waste, excess, and destruction are "outside" systems or whether they are always necessary parts of a system. Spieker suggests that archives store more than historical documents. They (inevitably) store the destruction of the order that they are trying to preserve. For instance, the archive cannot precent the presence of rats, insects, mildew, light, and so forth. Thus the archive is impossible without the simultaneous deterioration of the archive. In fact, this deterioration does not come exclusively from the outside (that is, the rodents and natural sources). There is also an inherent destruction in the idea of the archive. An archive can only accept new material by destroying the old; waste is necessary for the renewal and growth of the archive. Interestingly enough, this particular model of the archive comes up in the work of an important thinker of the late 19th and early 20th century: Sigmund Freud. The psychical apparatus is theorized much like an archive; we can only remember and live by forgetting and repressing parts of the past.

But anything that passes through the archive is not forgotten (just as the repressed is always liable to return). An archive always holds an "other" element (waste?) that is not accounted for by the archive. In this way, Spieker argues, archives are always a step ahead of themselves and of us.

Well that is my brief summary with extrapolations. Here are a few of my questions to think about and (hopefully) to respond to:

- How do you think that the model of the archive described here applies to the (post-)modern archive? Are elements repressed on the web? Is the medium of the internet (or any form of modern technology) indeed the message?

- Is the blending of medium and message particularly evident in hypertext fiction? Is hypertext fiction a truly revolutionary form or does it often assume that it is "beyond" history (when there is, in fact, a direct connection between p-fiction, as Johns Hopkins Johnson calls it, and hypertext fiction)?

- Is the model of "the archive" discussed here applicable to all fiction (that is, despite the quantity of information offered, are there always destructions and silences)? What does this tell us about the form of the novel? Have we (modern readers) become so accustomed to the novel form that we forget its origins (colonialist British origins according to Edward Said) and assumptions?

- Patrick

Posted by pjagoda at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)

Pre-Turing Tests revived

We've mentioned a lot how interesting it is that the Turing Test was initially modelled after a test of gender. I just ran into a web program that tries to determine the gender of the author of a particular text: The Gender Genie.

It's based on an algorithim some guy wrote that analyzes "linguistic patterns of males and females," whatever that means. It seems to have an idea of which words are more commonly used by men versus women, and then it measures the frequency of these words in a given text. Apparently, "was" is a feminine word and "is" is a masculine word. Okay, sure...

Anyway, you paste a bit of text into this program, then select the genre of the text: fiction, non-fiction, or blog. I ran several of our most recent blog entries through it, under the blog category, and the computer guessed "male" for all of them.

Obviously the whole program is just stupid and ridiculous (in my humble opinion). But it's interesting that, however many years after those gender tests that the Turing Test is based on, people still think trying to find the "innate gender" behind the author of an anonymous text is 1.) possible at all and 2.) possible through formulaic mathematical calculation and 3.) a worthy pursuit.


Posted by aazuolas at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2003

Galatea Myths

this site gives some insight into the myths Prof. F talked about in class that relate to Galatea 2.2


Posted by vglaze at 09:26 AM | Comments (1)

October 22, 2003

Who doesn't love The Simpsons

I know we've made this blog of ours quite scholarly so far, but I just wanted to share something funny I read on another blog: Thomas Pynchon, author of one of our class texts and (in)famous for his reclusiveness from the media, is going to be a guest star on an episode of The Simpsons.

We should be proper Pynchon geeks and have a class party to watch it or something, don't you think?


Posted by aazuolas at 01:48 PM | Comments (3)

October 14, 2003

Personal accounts of technology

I'd like to open the blog discussion to a question that prof. Fitzpatrick has asked twice in class: why don't we see more of the kinds of first-person accounts that Ullman writes? You may cite a variety of reasons (ie programmers are bad writers). However, I see one important concern: these kind of accounts shatter our society's blind faith in technology. In order to believe in our computer systems, Ullman suggests that we might have to ignore their workings. How unsettling to learn of how programs are actually written, of the messiness of post-its, of how the needs of the system are privileged over those of users, of how our credit card system might actually be supported by 15 year old technology.

What seemed disturbing for Ullman (who seems to believe in machine logic) is the possibility that human error may be written into supposedly "infallible" technology. This situation seems in a way comparable to Calvino's portrayal of Ludmilla, whose faith in textuality hinges on the absence of the human author. She feels that se couldn't believe in the authority of texts if she were to experience the actual chaos of writing. Or, using another example from the same novel, consider Mohammed's scribe who loses faith in Allah after completing the prophet's sentence. Perhaps our nervousness about programming lies in the near religious status that we've given technology. Or perhaps we just don't have enough faith in the process of writing.

Thoughts, anyone?

Posted by ascott at 10:31 PM | Comments (2)

Breaching the code zone

We've been talking lately about the similarities and differences between the organic, fallible human world and the cold, logical realm of the machine. We've also been discussing attempts to bridge the gap between the two spheres, usually in the form of Ullman or one of her fellow programmers tackling machine code or something similar. But I've come upon an emissary from the world of machines, a system with the basic goal of learning about human cognition by asking us questions. It's actually a pretty simple idea - the computer has to guess what word you're thinking of in 20 questions or less - but it fascinates me as a kind of inverse Turing Test. Significantly, the answers available to each question are not simply "yes" and "no", but include "probably", "depends" and "partly" among other options - much more complicated than the "either OK or Cancel" responses we're used to feeding into computers. Once the system has guessed your word, it then internalizes any incongruities between your answers and those it expected, in order to formulate its own complicated definitions of the English language. I have to wonder if a program like this might eventually be able to perfectly replicate human speech, mirroring every subtle nuance of our language learned from millions of interactions like this simple guessing game. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Anyway, try it out, it's fun (and a little scary). Here's the link: http://y.20q.net:8095/btest


Posted by cmeyer at 01:09 AM | Comments (3)

October 09, 2003


In The Diamond Age contradictions are treated in a very favorable light. Instead of encountering simple binaries or oppositions between phyles, we are introduced to a fictional universe that functions as a complex human network. Within this network, there are individuals who not fit perfectly into their phyles (and many who do not belong to any particular phyle). I do not necessarily mean to imply that these individuals are somehow outside of all technological and cultural systems, but perhaps this topic offers an appropriate starting point for a discussion of the human/machine divide with which Nell (in the world of the Primer) and the novel struggles.

In addition to the diversity of cultures (and the excess individuals who do not belong to any of these cultural groups), the idea of 'contradiction' as a way out of a system, or at least as a preferable way of imagining systems, is repeated throughout. For instance, in a conversation between Constable Moore and Nell, the Constable inquires whether Nell intends to take the path of "conformity or rebellion?" (323). Nell replies that she chooses neither path because "both ways are simple-minded - they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity" (323). What does Nell mean by this answer in light of her later decisions and particularly her command of the Mouse army? Is the ability to cope with and immerse oneself in contradiction something that the Turing machines are incapable of (at least without the interaction of human minds)?

If the above example is unhelpful, here is another context in which contradiction is mentioned. Later, in writing Colonel Napier's fantasy, Nell notes that the "contradiction" which Victorian men embody is "fascinating" (364). She explains further that "They lived a life of nearly perfect emotional denial - a form of asceticism as extreme as that of a medieval stylite. Yet they did have emotions, the same as anyone else, and only vented them in carefully selected circumstances" (364). This type of contradiction is certainly interesting (and it is this type of contradiction or tension that we often look for in analyzing a literary text). But what does this tell us about Nell? Does this form of contradiction collapse into the amoral, postmodern condition that is prevalent throughout the 20th century? Or rather, does Nell have a more individual vision of contradiction in mind? Or on the contrary, does she realize the importance of community in the end? If so, how does this community compare to what we see at the start of the novel and in quite different world of the Drummers?

The most interesting characters in the book are those who see - as the woman tells Hackworth during the odd, interactive theatrical performance - that "belief isn't a binary state" (386). But how do we see characters move beyond such binaries in a practical sense?

If you all are interested in an intertextual discussion, how does the portrayal of contradiction (perhaps as a saving force) in this novel compare to the discussion of opposition that we see in both Player Piano (power vs. the revolution at the end of the book) and If on a winter's night a traveler (the confusing, and often humorous, overlaps between power and counterpower in the final chapters)? I have thrown a number of different questions out partly because I have not yet had time to process this novel and organize the questions in a more deliberate (or if you prefer, leading) manner? I would be interested to see what you all made of this aspect of the book.

- Patrick

Posted by pjagoda at 06:06 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2003

Techno-eroticism and The Diamond Age

Let's talk about sex. I was just looking today at a book by Claudia Springer called Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age. In it, Springer writes about something she calls "techno-eroticism," or, very simply, the intersection between technology and eroticism. Techno-eroticism can take many forms, whether it's glorifying the strong phallic beauty of a steel turbine, or making out with a hot cyborg in a scifi novel, etc. It is "the passionate celebration of technological objects of desire."

Technology and eroticism interact often in The Diamond Age, most bizarrely in the case of the Drummers. The extremely promiscuous Drummers have particles in their blood that spread through the exchange of body fluids, and then interact: "Each one is a container for some rod logic and some memory... When one particle encounters another either in vivo or in vitro, they dock and seem to exchange data for a few moments" (307).

The sex act becomes a form of information exchange, and all the Drummers together function like a massive digital/neural computer running a very complex program. The Drummers also spread their "information" to non-Drummers, making the size of this "computer" potentially infinite. (It sounds a lot like a sexually transmitted disease, doesn't it...)

In her study of techno-eroticism, Singer writes, "Debates about what it means to be male or female and how sexuality should be expressed often find their way into popular culture's techno-erotic imagery. The imagery sometimes explores alternative types of sexuality and at other times retreats to conventional stereotypes from the past."

Any thoughts on where the Drummer episodes fit into this debate? Hackworth's wife, a neo-Victorian, divorces Hackworth because of his "immoral" promiscuity. Hackworth himself seems not a little appalled at having engaged in homosexual acts during his 10-year orgy. What do you think of the Drummer sex-communication system?

What about the novel's obsession with nanotechnology in general? -- microscopic technology that becomes literally incorporated into the body, performing a broad range of tasks, often affecting the host -- Hackworth gets the shivers, for example, when he is loaded with particles that fight both other particles and his own immune system. How are these technologies in The Diamond Age playing with -- or reflecting -- our conceptions of sex, the body and the self?


Posted by aazuolas at 08:05 PM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2003

"Skull guns" scare me

Stephenson's novel, Diamond Age is extremely interesting in that its technological vision of the 21st Century scares me more than it intrigues me. I find that in reading science fiction I end up questioning whether the pleasure in writing such novels is in imagining the ways we will eventually find to torture ourselves and reveling in them, or rather in prophecying our impending doom.

I think Stephenson is, to a degree, questioning the seeming current emphasis on technology as a saving force for humanity rather than just another force, which can be used for good and bad, at times simultaneously. This critique of technology's growing importance in our lives runs parallel alongside Vonnegut's critique of techonology's role in our lives in Player Piano and the unwarranted praise of those humans that develop it. At one point in Diamond Age a fresco is described that features "the Engineer and his cherubic workforce" (Stephenson 42). Basically, humans that create new technology = gods. Scary idea, folks. I guess what I wonder is how far off we are from such a situation right now, and where we think we're headed. Are these authors crazy, or are they speaking to a real issue in our society that should be addressed?

Posted by josborne at 10:12 PM | Comments (1)

October 03, 2003

A crazy old guy on IQ and prophecies of distopia

Player Piano. It's just a scary distopia, right?
We talked a lot about the system of power within the novel--we didn't really talk about what that system was based on: IQ. Seems like a pretty logical thing to base a system on. I mean, if you're going to be elitist, intelligence seems like a better criteria than, say, wealth for determining who's in power and who's not. But...what exactly is "intelligence"? In Intro Psych, I remember being taught about "seven different types of intelligence." And I'm sure that's just one among the bazillions of theories out there. So shouldn't we be suspicious of this all-encompassing "IQ" test and all these other tests that purport to rate things such as "personality" quantitatively? The idea that such traits could be translated into data makes humans sound an awful lot like...machines. And the fact that "Everyone's IQ, as measured by the National Standard General Classification Test, was on public record" (90, though my pages are different) implies a very serious and, I think, disturbing lack of privacy. I mean, it's all right there, in a published number. You can't even lie.

It's a bit tangential, and I'm the first to admit that you have to take everything Tom Wolfe says with a grain of salt; he's kind of old and crazy to begin with, and he's going way out on a limb here. But if you want to read something that will scare your pants off, check out the chapter "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died" in his most recent book, Hooking Up. (I own the book, if you want to borrow it.) It's about brain waves and genetic research, and it makes the not-too-distant future sound an awful lot like the world of Player Piano. I couldn't stop thinking about this chapter while reading the Vonnegut novel. I've included some highlights in the "extended entry" section for those of you who are interested.

Wolfe begins with a not unfamiliar metaphor, first conceived by Edward O. Wilson:
"Every human brain, he says, is born not as a blank tablet...waiting to be filled in by experience but as 'an exposed negative waiting to be slipped into developer fluid.' You can develop the negative well or you can develop it poorly, but either way you are going to get precious little that is not already imprinted on the film. The print is the individual's genetic history..." (Hooking Up, 91).
He expands upon this metaphor later, specifically in relation to IQ:
"Even more radioactive is the matter of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests. Privately--not many care to speak out--the vast majority of neuroscientists believe the genetic component of an individual's intelligence is remarkably high. Your intelligence can be improved upon, by skilled and devoted mentors, or it can be held back by a poor upbringing--i.e., the negative can be well developed or poorly developed--but your genes are what really make the difference...
"Not long ago, according to two neuroscientists I interviewed, a firm called Neurometrics sought out investors and tried to market an amazing but simple invention known as the IQ Cap. The idea was to provide a way of testing intelligence that would be free of 'cultural bias'...The IQ Cap recorded only brain waves; and a computer, not a potentially biased human test-giver, analyzed the results...It was not a complicated process. You attached sixteen electrodes to the scalp of the person you wanted to test. You had to muss up his hair a little, but you didn't have to cut it, much less shave it. Then you had him stare at a marker on a blank wall. This particular researcher used a raspberry-red thumbtack. Then you pushed a toggle switch. In sixteen seconds the Cap's computer box gave you an ccurate prediction (within one-half of a standard deviation) of what the subject would score on all eleven subtests of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale...all from sixteen seconds' worth of brain waves...Neurometrics' investors were rubbing their hands and licking their chops. They were about to make a killing."
And this--the public reaction--is, I think, the most interesting part:
"In fact--nobody wanted their damnable IQ Cap! It wasn't simply that no one believed you could derive IQ scores from brain waves--it was that nobody wanted to believe it could be done. Nobody wanted to believe that human brainpower is...that hardwired. Nobody wanted to learn in a flash that...the genetic fix is in. Nobody wanted to learn that he was...a hardwired genetic mediocrity...and that the best he could hope for in this Trough of Mortal Error was to live out his mediocre life as a stress-free dim bulb" (94-96).
And a few more terrifying quotes, just for fun:
"Wilson still holds out the possibility--I think he doubts it, but he still holds out the possibility--that at some point in evolutionary history culture began to influence the development of the human brain in ways that cannot be explained by strict Darwinian theory. But the new generation of neuroscientists are not cautious for a second. In private conversations, the bull sessions, as it were, that create the mental atmosphere of any hot new science--and I love talking to these people--they express an uncompromising determinism" (97, my emphasis added).
Scared yet? Or laughing really hard? One more:
"I have heard neuroscientists theorize that, given computers of sufficient power and sophistication, it would be possible to predict the course of any human being's life moment by moment, including the fact that the poor devil was about to shake his head over the very idea" (97).
IQ is only one of the many things he suggests are "hardwired" into us. You can borrow the book to learn more. Is Wolfe just a raving lunatic? Does any of this worry you guys? Just a few thoughts on the human/machine spectrum...

Posted by wstubbs at 04:48 PM | Comments (2)

October 01, 2003

FYI Player Piano

Here is some interesting information that may be of some assistance as you read Vonnegut's Player Piano. Player Piano is the mordant first novel of American Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1922- ). Published to little fanfare only three years after Orwell's "1984" (1949), Player Piano (1952, reprinted 1966) continues the tradition inspired by Zamyatin's novel "We" (1922) and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" (1932). Zamyatin's "We" is the first modern distopia, and the work on which all the rest are based, or are based on those based on it. It portrays a future of absolute totalitarian communism in which everyone wakes up and dresses and even chews food in unison and all buildings are made of glass so there is no privacy, not even the idea of privacy. Being the first distopia, it is not quite as refined as 1984, for example, but fully as horrifying and more potent due to Zamyatin's brilliant writing.

Aparently Vonnegut's text "Player Piano" is part of the same literary genre as Zamyatin's "We". This genre is called Distopia. Here is a brief explanation of the genre.

"Distopia, also called anti-utopia, is a rare but potent genre of fiction. The word comes from dis-Utopia, referring to the classic "Utopia" which described a perfect world. The word "Utopia" itself means "Nowhere" but has come to mean paradise, since that is what the work described. Dis-Utopia, then, is just the opposite: a Hell on Earth. This fictional form is usually used as a warning, generally a political one, a portrayal of the author's vision of what would happen if that which terrifies him or her became all powerful.

In discussing the genre of distopia it is important to examine the distinction between what I call a "True Distopia" and something which is merely "distopian." In a true distopia it is the distopian world itself which is the focus and purpose of the piece, the artist's message being expressed by the totalitarian world itself, whereas something which is simply distopian takes place in a distopian horrible future, but the distopia itself is not the focus of the book, but more often the characters in it and their story, making it a distopian novel. For example, the movie "Waterworld" is distopian, but in no way does the future depicted convey the message of the creators, but rather the plot and characters are the point of the movie. This distinction may be difficult to make but the difference is very important for how one views the peace and what one gets out of it.

WARNING: if you have never read a true distopia before and plan to, take care! You cannot read it as you would an ordinary novel. If you read for plot and character interaction you will be angered and upset by the horrible world you see. True distopias must be read for the world, not the characters, and the reader must continually have an eye towards the author's comments on society. If you view the characters as the subject you will be angered; if you view them as the means of showing you their world you will be disturbed, enraged, terrified and delighted by these brilliant works. " (found at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/1634/Distopia.html)

Also note that Dr. Paul Proteus' name "Proteus" is a kind of flower known for showy bracts and dense flower heads and is sometimes used as an adjective to describe that something "a varied nature or ability to assume different forms" (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Click here to see a picture of the Proteus flower.

[UPDATE: Link corrected. --KF]

Posted by vglaze at 01:44 AM | Comments (1)

Mothers Like That

I am backtracking a bit but I have a question about Crying Lot of 49. Remember in chapter one when Metzger and Oedipa are talking about his childhood as a actor? What does Metzger mean when he says, "You know what mothers like that turn their male children into," (29)? What do mothers like that turn their children into? I know for a fact that I was not the only one in class that was unable to figure this out. I am guessing it has something to do with sexual relations with a mother and her child but, I really don't see how.

Posted by vglaze at 01:16 AM | Comments (0)