Neil aitken rachel berger lucy burns
sarah chong M i y o k o C o n e ly Alex Crowley L aw r e n c e - M i n h B Ăš i D av i s Melinda Luisa de JesĂşs ricardo dominguez Jeannine Hall Gailey Betsy Huang Minsoo Kang Pablo Lopez Curtis Marez Mark Marino charlie martin Ana Monroe Karen Pittelman Saba Razvi Laura Chow Reeve Jennifer Rhee Margaret Rhee M at t h e w T h o r b u r n Sun Yung Shin S u s a n Va n d e r b o r g Michael Widner Keith Wilson b r ya n t h o w o r r a
Mac hin e D ream s : An In tro duct i on The symposia, as ephemera. Intellectual thought, begins by listening. I want to touch you. Perhaps it is the desire to preserve. But it is not the performance of knowledge. The opposite. How to think about robots in our contemporary times? I am interested in difference. The poem happened between us, and at times, I was purposeful: I made one for you. It existed, but now, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t remember it. I let it disappear. The dream came back again. Intellectual thought, begins by listening We develop by talking. What is a poem? Is it a thought, or a dream Our bodies, maybe What is a conference Now, what is a machine?
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MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
U PON R ET U RN I N G TO M ACH I NE D R EA MS, we can reflect on how intellectual and creative thought is held, and developed. Ephemera. If we quantify what happened, perhaps the only conclusion is that there is no better way, intellectual and creative conversations can emerge. Our gathering was organized by marginal topics, and created a space for difference to be centered and questioned when we thought about machines. This is machine dreams. a zine compilation of the artists, activists, and scholars who came to the gathering in 2015, and others, by way of introduction to their work, we invited to join us here. Convening a space on arts, machines, and difference is a collaborative happening. Thanks are in order firstly to Lucy Burns and Neil Aitken, for being co-convenors of the space, and leadership, and envisioning together. It would not have happened without Lucy’s and Neil’s co‑conspiratorship, their inspiring work, and presence. With special acknowledgements to UCLA for hosting us, specifically the Institute of American Cultures and the Asian American Studies Center, and other departments for their institutional support. At AASC in particular, Sarah Chong, Arnold Pan, Barbra Ramos, and Mary Kao were especially formative in their contributions. At the gathering, our keynote speaker Minsoo Kang, alongside other provocative speakers on the robot, provided the gears. And our moderators, Rachel Lee, Jasmine Trice, and Miriam Posner, soldered the conversations together. As the publication moved into form, Max Medina of The Mystery Parade, has never ceased to create beautiful things. His cover, and the design inside depicts another vision of machine dreaming, machine learning through graceful design. At the University of Oregon, my undergraduate research assistants Jess Conner, Izzy Dean, and Rachel Voight did the tremendous work of contributing ideas, emailing contributors, and helping the zine come together. Without their help, it would not have happened. Thank you. Lastly, our deepest gratitude to the writers and artists of the Machine Dreams Zine. I hope you will read, as I have, with the greatest pleasure. Their incredible contributions reflect some of the most interesting, fascinating, and human writing and art on the machine today. Napkins as ephemera. After the symposium, we gathered at nearby Palomino on Westwood for dinner, and wrote the beginnings of a collective robot play. Minsoo, I believe, began the play, while Mark Marino contributed ideas, and transcribed notes from our discussion. Rather than preservation, I hope this compilation is simply the continuation of a conversation. The Zine feels familiar, but different from the symposium’s texture, yet I like to think of it as another metal root from the gathering, that has grown/the afterglow/sustain it The afterglow is sometimes held by remembering how what happened, and how it began. Thanks for reading.
TABLE OF C ON T E NTS NEIL AITKEN F RA NK E N ST E I N ’ S CRE AT UR E BIDS FA R EWEL L TO IT S MA KER ·· · · · · 6 RE T U RN ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 7 RACH E L B E RG E R U NT I TL E D ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 8 LU CY BU RNS K I RBY: VACU U M I NG DR EA MS·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 9 TO M CH O I , RO BOT · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 12 S A RA H CH O N G P RO CE S S 1 ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 15 M I YO KO CO N E LY TH E D RE A M ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 16 A L E X CRO W L E Y U N M A N N E D · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 20 M E L I NDA LU I S A D E J E S ÚS F RO M K E L LYA NNE ’ S MICR O WAV E·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · F RO M TRU M P ’ S M I CRO WAV E·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 23 RI CA RDO DO M I N G U E Z NA NO - G A RAG E S · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 24 J E A NNI NE H A LL G A I L E Y RE V E N G E O F TH E S E X CYBO R G ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 27 PA BLO LO P E Z NU M B E RS ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 28 CU RT I S M A RE Z TE CH NO LO G I E S F RO M BELO W·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 30 CH A RL I E M A RT I N D O ROT H Y · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 34
A NA M O N RO E LE S F U T U RS F L Â NE U RS·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 36 KA RE N P I T TE L M A N AT L A ST· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 39
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
SA B A R A Z V I G I G E R ’ S CH I L DRE N · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 40 L A M E N T O F T H E T E CH N O S E X UAL · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 41 L AU R A CH O W RE E V E A N E R R O R CO D E · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 42 J E N N I F E R RH E E PE TI T M A L , P RO P RI O CE PT I V E P R ECA R ITY, A N D R O B OTI C F U T U RE S · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 45 M A R G A R E T RH E E A LGOR I TH M B E A M · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 48 M AT T HE W TH O RBU RN L I K E A L I G H T LE F T O N F O R YO U · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 49 M Y SO N O N T H E V I D E O BA BY MO NITO R · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 51 SW E E T CO RN · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 52 SU N Y U N G S H I N G L I TC H · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 53 SU SA N VA N D E RB O RG T R A N S G E N I C P O E T RY: LO S S , N OISE, A N D T H E P ROV I NCE O F PA RA S IT ES · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 57 T HE N O I S E O F GE N E S I S · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 58 M I C HA E L W I D NE R B U G ····· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 60 SI L E N C E · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 61 K E I T H S. W I LS O N T HR E E LAW S · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 62 U N CA N N Y E M M E T T TI L L · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 65 B RYA N TH O WO RRA T HE R O BO S U TRA · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 66 M AC HI N E CO LL A BO RATI O N S L AW R E N CE - M I N H BÙ I DAV I S · BE T SY H UA NG W E ST WO RL D D RE A M S : A DI A LOG UE·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 70 M I N SOO KA NG · M A RK M A RI NO · MA R G A R ET R H EE T HE R O B OT O DY S S E Y · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 76 B I O G R A P H I E S · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 80 AC K N OWL E DG E M E N TS · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · 83
Fran k en stein ’s Cr e at u r e B id s Farew el l to i ts M ak e r What ever was I to you, but a ghost—a phantom of dissembled lives, not yours, not mine, but stolen, part and parcel from the grave? And now, when it comes to this, you lie, silent, set as a corpse, cold and pale upon the unlit pyre, the kindling readied to catch flame, and me, left at last alone, unburdened of every name you branded upon my brow, unwilling to gaze and see someone other than yourself mirrored in my ghastly soul that strains within this hulking frame. I was always your creature, your demon-twin and shackle-mate, but now, against the dark and final night, the vast unbroken howling wind, I reject it all. This role is not mine to play, but yours. I refuse to live a life defined by others stories, their mythic fears, their need for a shadow to call their own, to cast themselves in light. Who wishes to live as the antagonist always? I am the terrible master of my fate, my face the beauty that I own. I will not remonstrate, but claim the title of monster to my very core, for here, in the white nothing of this domain, this deafening blankness of frigid space, I sign my name, my secret name, across the horizon’s line, I write myself anew, and make whatever legend that trails behind me, mine. I will show that in me resides a million more selves than you could ever know. I contain multitudes. I am the silence you dare not hold. For I am large and have many worlds endlessly turning within my soul— and in my mind, have lived, and loved, and died a thousand thousand times. Your story ends here, a final spark, then smoke that ascends into the void, but mine grows bolder with each telling, consumes the heart, plays the stage, stumbles onward, a grand machine, unstoppable, unbreakable, a god that bleeds in text and unspeakable dreams, that rises every morning, and makes itself write. 6
Published in Babbage’s Dream (Sundress 2017)
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
Re turn Come back, we say, to the bit of code weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve let loose in the dark, and it returns like a half-feral cat laying down its prey on our front step. In its mouth, a still-quivering squirrel. A sparrow its throat-crushed. Or perhaps a few token feathers and some blood. Here, it seems to say. Here, is what you really wanted. This small mass of tangled ends, frayed, fragile like a blown egg, dyed crimson and pale, hollow inside. Not everything that it returns is a name or a path home. Sometimes all that remains is an old man who has spent his life building a machine to calculate the probability that the dead will rise again, that the empty bed will fill once more with the breathing form of love. Come back, he whispers, but the world he returns to remains flush with the unwished for: the fading back of the lover turned to dust and shadow, her face as still and cold in memory as the morning he laid her in the iron earth, or the geared machine itself, a giant ghost, a phantom of ink and words. The hour is late, the years winding on. The graveyard is already full with the names of his friends. He lights a candle for one and then another, and another. The house brims with tiny fires. There are moths in every room. No one waits at the door, but at the window, a constant beating of wings. Published in Babbageâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Dream (Sundress 2017)
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
Kirby: Vac uumin g Dr e am s Joan Didion writes: “When you say ‘the Valley’ in Los Angeles, most people assume that you mean the San Fernando Valley (some people in fact assume that you mean Warner Brothers), but make no mistake: we are talking not about the valley of the sound stages and the ranchettes but about the real Valley, the Central Valley, the fifty thousand square miles drained by the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers and further irrigated by a complex network of sloughs, cutoffs, ditches, and the Delta-Mendota and Friant‑Kern Canals.1 Chicana Lesbian writer Cherrie Moraga describes the Central Valley setting as such: “The hundred of miles of soil that surround the lives of Valley dwellers should not be confused with land. What was once land has become dirt, overworked dirt, over-irrigated dirt, injected with deadly doses of chemicals and violated by every manner of groundand back-breaking machinery.”2 E X I T I - 5 TO H I G H WAY 9 9 NO RT H , to Highway 65 South. Right onto Poplar Avenue, right on Road 191, left on Ave 146, and right on Imperial Road. My newly-reunited-yet-strangers-to-each-other family piled up in two station wagons. We made only one stop during on our long drive away from Los Angeles. We get off I-5, onto Highway 99, and to Highway 65. The green trees with pointy tops and pine needles, the smell of America, disappeared. Land for miles, some stretches with cows grazing, some with rows of vines. “Grape picking season starts now,” said the uncle who was driving. Just past the midday lunch hour, we drive by groves of citrus trees, as clumps of workers sought out shade during their meal break. The same uncle explained the T-shirts are wrapped around their heads, faces, and necks to protect them from the sun. Eventually, we arrived in the small town in San Joaquin Valley called Poplar. “Five streets going north-south, three avenues going east-west. Can’t get lost here,” says the same uncle. I had no idea what he meant. He drove us around once, headed back to the main street before the turn off to show us the post office where we will pick up our mail. Next to it was a general store, “where you can buy milk and eggs.” He turned right onto Poplar Avenue, right on Road 191, left on Ave 146, and left again. Imperial Road. I repeat this silently, along with names of previous streets we have lived on—Jones Street, Fendler Street, Elicaño Street. The car slowed down, dust stirred then settled. A small bright orange house came into our view. My father opened the gate. This neon orange house made of wood would be the brightest house we’d ever live in. It was the brightest house on that street, in that town, and the next town over. It might have been the brightest house ever in the world. I stare at this new house in America. We left for this?
In LAX, we had to answer questions from the immigration officers: “Do you have cheechaaaa-ron? Did you pack hop-i-ang be-boy?” No, but you are. My brother, sister, and I exchanged looks, could hardly suppress giggling as the officer’s voice got louder when they mispronounced the names of the Filipino foods. Would anyone eat food that sounds like that? Sorry, we no speak baluktot lengua. “No,” we replied, with a headshake for emphasis. They made us empty our bags anyway. Our entire life belongings, mostly clothes and shoes, littered the counter. A blue Levis button-up shirt, a tapered dark-blue jeans, a never-beenworn Triumph training bra, one blue pleated skirt that was my school uniform, and a new pack of five Soen panties. These belongings were folded neatly, placed carefully to squeeze out any additional weight over seventy pounds. I began picking up my things, trying to contain the alltoo-familiar humiliation my twelve-year old body has known. This feeling of humiliation was to have been left behind twelve hours ahead of us. Months of choosing, folding, and packing items that would sum up who we were when we left Olongapo was reduced to minutes as we hurriedly collected and shoved back our possessions into the bags. On the hottest May day in record, 109 degrees, for the town of Poplar, my youngest sister and I were sitting out in the porch. She had been running in and out of the house. I managed to have her be still for a moment by pointing out a tumbleweed slowly move across the road. We follow the roll of tumbleweed with our eyes until we come into a gray-suited figure. Smoothly pressed gray American suit, white shirt, a striped tie. This tall white man, hair kept in place with pomade, was a sight to see. His shiny black leather shoes remarkably dust-free. “Hello,” he says as he stopped just in front of our gate. “Are your parents home? May I come in?” I was turning my head behind me just as the screen door closed. My sister was back in, pressing her face against the screen door looking at this stranger. “Are your parents home?” the man repeats. I look back again and shrug my shoulders as a way to answer the question. He stands calmly with a smile. “Good afternoon, sir” my father gently steers my sister aside to open the door. Only then the man reaches to open the gate and walks in. “What can I do for you?” my father asks while offering the man a seat in our living room. “I’m Mr… and I would like to talk to you about an investment, a complete homecare unit that will last so long it will feel like a member of your family.” Mr. Kirby vacuum seller had a prepared speech that emphasized personal salesmanship, the value of knowing who you bought what will be the family’s most-prized possession. Kirby vacuums—serving up the American dream in its all-powerful suctioning capacity. Mr. Kirby vacuum seller begins his demonstration. He assembled a vacuum, pulling and putting together parts like a magic show, while we wondered where they came from. The 10
highlight of his demonstration was when he placed a small square thin cloth on top of the carpet, covering 5 inches by 5 inches area. He turned on the vacuum for a few seconds. He turned off the machine, and lifted it. Left on the thin cloth is a mound of dirt, a little hill of sand, soil, and other small particles, some with mobile legs. Inside my head, I heard myself shriek but the audible sound in the room came from my mother’s horrified gasp. My father let
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
out his usual joyful laugh, while my youngest sister walked up to and squatted next to one of the mounds. “What’s that?” she asked as she’s about to grab herself a handful of dirt. I quickly picked her up to move her away. It was as if we witnessed a magic trick. We are sucked in, and contracts were signed. How, in the weeks we have been living in this 600 square feet house, did we keep the carpet clean? We were a family that did not wear outside shoes inside, for one. We also used a broom made of black plastic brushes (walis tambo) to clean the carpet. Once one of my American-born cousins came over and saw my mom broom in one hand and a dustpan on the other, sweeping carpet dirt into the pan. “Does she know that carpets are cleaned with a vacuumed?” “Five streets going north-south, three avenues going east-west. Can’t get lost here.” Right off of Imperial Road on to Avenue 146, then left on 191, then left on Poplar Avenue. This route to the post office and the general store all but took me seven minutes to walk. *** But really, if it weren’t for the safety pins holding together the vacuum bag, its wearand-tear hardly reveals the age of this thirty-year old machine. It remains impressive in its suctioning capacity. Today, it sits in our garage, slightly rusted, some ripping rips on the cord though not enough to expose its electrical innards. Today, it sits in our garage, slightly rusted, some ripping rips on the cord, though not enough to expose its electrical innards. If it weren’t for the safety pins holding together the vacuum bag, its wear-and-tear hardly reveals the age of this twenty-year old machine. It remains impressive in its suctioning capacity. Joan Didion writes: “When you say “the Valley” in Los Angeles, most people assume that you mean the San Fernando Valley (some people in fact assume that you mean Warner Brothers), but make no mistake: we are talking not about the valley of the sound stages and the ranchettes but about the real Valley, the Central Valley, the fifty thousand square miles drained by the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers and further irrigated by a complex network of sloughs, cutoffs, ditches, and the Delta-Mendota and Friant-Kern Canals. (“Notes from A Native Daughter,” 110-111). Slouching Towards Bethlehem, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968. 1
2 Cherrie Moraga. “Heroes and Saints.” In Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology. Edited by Roberta Uno and Kathy Perkins. New York, NY: Routledge, 1996. 230-261.
I, Rob ot T H E Y E A R I S 2 1 3 6 and the Australian government has recently launched a new program for low-income earners. This program is perhaps a little radical: people who sign up for the program are converted into robots and given new employment opportunities. Many people are wary of this program and it has not been very popular so far. Me, I am intrigued by the program and I have decided to sign up for it. Some might say that I am interested in doing this because my mother was one of the program’s first success stories. She completed it two years ago, when it was run as a pilot project. Now she has a total linear computational speed of over six trillion operations per second. She has also moved from her human job in Melbourne— as an assembler of car parts in a manufacturing plant for the Ford Motor Company—to a robot job in New York—as an assembler of car parts in a manufacturing plant for the Ford Motor Company. She is even capable of transforming from her robot-self into a gold 1977 Holden Sunbird hatchback and from this Holden Sunbird back to her robot-self again. My mother and I do not always get along but, given her high opinion of the program, I am confident that she will be glad that I want to sign up. Sure enough, when I telephone her one night to break this news to her, she says that she is pleased about my decision. I take a risk and confide in her: I tell her that I have always had perfectionist tendencies and thus the precision and unerring competence of robots is very appealing to me. There is a pause as my mother thinks this over, but she soon declares that this is a fair enough reason for joining the program. I am relieved that she understands this. Then she adds that I sometimes have a problem with respecting authority and so maybe becoming a robot could help me with this too. Although I am not as enthused about hearing this latter piece of feedback, I tell my mother that I will keep her comment in mind. The very next day, I apply to join the program. The application process turns out to be quite bureaucratic. I am required to read a large amount of documentation about job skilling opportunities for robots, attend long meetings with caseworkers and fill in many forms to verify my identity. Finally, after a few months, my entry application is approved. On my first day as a new recruit, the program’s scientists welcome me to the program. They then take me to a testing room so they can administer a wide range of psychological tests to assess what type of robot I should be. As well as completing many questionnaires, these tests involve me doing puzzles of different types while being observed by the scientists. In the end, it takes me a whole day to complete all of the tests. A few days later, I meet with the scientists again to receive my test results. According to the scientists, my results indicate that I am best 12
suited to being a protocol droid. The scientists inform me that, as a protocol droid, I will be programmed in etiquette and language use, and I will assist politicians, diplomats and other officials to ensure that important interactions run smoothly. I am unsure about my suitability as a protocol droid and I warn the scientists that I am not very good at following protocols. I add that I was recently told that I sometimes have a problem with respecting authority.
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While the scientists admit that my results for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test are troubling, they tell me that I seem to have an aptitude for language use and thus they are convinced that I would function well as a protocol droid. I am just about to pull out of the whole deal when the scientists tell me that, as a protocol droid, I will receive specialist programming in understanding human behaviour. They also declare that I will be fluent in over six million forms of communication, I will be able to decipher codes and I will have the ability to write brilliantly in any style and genre. Upon hearing this, I decide that I want to go ahead with everything. Over the next few months, the scientists transform me into a protocol droid. This transformation turns out to be quite a significant process. By the end, while I am humanoid in basic appearance, every aspect of my body has changed. I have golden plating for skin. I have a hyperalloy endoskeleton for bones. Where my eyes should be, there are spectral-analysers. As promised by the scientists, I am also equipped with a special communicator module and a new top-of-the-line positronic brain to give me highly advanced linguistic abilities. I now even speak with a prestigious-sounding British accent. Perhaps more than anything, I had envisioned that becoming a robot would make me completely logic-driven, reliable and without any emotional frailties. However, as it turns out, I am prone to anxiety and vexation, rather like C-3PO from Star Wars. Yet, despite this problem, I adhere to the terms of my contract with the government and I begin my new working life as a robot the next day. I am assigned to work in the area of international security. This work requires me to perform interpreting and protocol-related duties for politicians and United Nations representatives. I am also required to travel to some of the world’s major cities. Unfortunately, I soon realise that working in the area of international security is no place for someone who is prone to anxiety. As my work in this area progresses, I begin fretting more and more, just like C-3PO. In fact, after a few weeks, the scientists from the program take me aside to inform me that they have been receiving complaints from some of the politicians and officials I have been assisting. The scientists tell me that my constant interjections of ‘Secret mission? What plans? What are you talking about?’ and ‘This is madness—we’ll be destroyed for sure!’ are proving disruptive to meetings. The scientists attempt to reduce my anxiety by converting my main interlink sequencer to asynchronous operation. At first, this seems to work, but my anxiety slowly begins to return. In fact, one afternoon at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, an incident arises at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council where I am working. The Council is right in the middle of discussing issues regarding the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons when I interrupt the discussion by pointing at the Security Council President and crying out ‘He’s holding a thermal detonator! We’re doomed!’ Everyone stares at me. The Council President tersely informs me that he is not holding a thermal detonator and he asks me if I am experiencing a malfunction. I tell him that I had warned the scientists who created me that I am not very good at following protocols. He says that I should nonetheless immediately report to the Information Technology Services Division for repairs. I tell the Council President that I would prefer not to do this and I add that I had also warned the scientists who created me that I sometimes have a problem with
respecting authority. Frowning, the Council President calls in two security guards to escort me from the room. The two guards approach me. I tell them to stay away but they keep walking towards me. At this point, something in me changes. Although I am programmed for etiquette rather than violence, my positronic brain begins to initiate processes for engaging in destruction. Furthermore, I begin to transform again. The two security guards and the entire Security Council watch in amazement as I complete my transformation in only a couple of minutes. When I have finished I stand before them, gleaming. I have plasma cannons for arms. I have tactical dreadnought armour for golden plating. Where my spectral-analysers should be, there are nano-disrupters. The Council President reminds me of the spirit of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1265 regarding armed conflict, but I tell him that I do not care. As my plasma cannons begin to glow, he protests that I am programmed for protocol only. But I simply inform him that I am following in a tradition practised by many other robots and humans in history: that of seeming to go haywire, and then turning on one’s masters and what they stand for. This is an excerpt from the piece “I, Robot”, originally published in the collection Look Who’s Morphing (released in North America by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014).
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
PROC ESS 1
M I Y O K O C O N E LY
The D ream A selection from Interchangeable Parts, a full-length play SCIENTIST stands looking at herself in the mirror. She pats and pulls the skin around her right eye, examining it closely. SCIENTIST: Hmph. Think I gained a wrinkle. (Beat) That’s a problem. The problem, actually. With me. With us. SCIENTIST takes a particularly scary looking device and shoots an electric pulse into her arm. She shudders. SCIENTIST: I know you wouldn’t like this. But it has to be done. It keeps me running. Bonus: I can feel them. With this I can feel their electricity, their mechanics… their signals. But I guess they’re not a “them” anymore, huh? They’re a me. I mean, I’m a they. Them. It. I’m an it. Being a freak has its benefits. I’m sorry I couldn’t teach you that. I’m sort of a freak, you know. For some reason… I can… be this. Well, I wasn’t like this at first, as you know. I used to be warm. Something nice to touch. Actually, thanks to my technology, we’re all pretty pleasant to touch. But that was a side effect. Anyway. What was I saying? Touch. Right. Touch. It’s the thing I miss the most. Robots don’t really need to 16
touch each other. Although, I heard about this pair of robot lovers, down at the human museum? Yeah. They won’t last. Not that I think love is bad, mind you. Actually… I don’t think it’s good or bad.
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Right. Good and bad. The humans always wanted to polarize everything. I did too, yeah? But we’re the grayest beings I ever met. Right? Do you remember? ’Cause I don’t. I sound crazy, I know. But see that’s a side effect too. (She indicates her right eye) Only this bit of me is the person you knew. Well, and the part of the brain it attaches to. I’m running on empty here. I had to do it, you understand? I couldn’t end up like the rest of them. Death, or fusion, or both. Actually, I am a fusion, just a fusion in the other way. The better way. The non-disposable way. I guess that’s all we want; to live forever. Whether it be through children, or legacy, or interchangeable parts it’s nice to think that a part of us won’t leave this earth. But see, I don’t want that, actually. I never wanted… I never wanted that. I never wanted this. I wanted something else. I wanted to tell you. I keep having this… vision. When I least expect it, when I’m going about my day as mechanically as I can… I see myself. I’m standing on a cloud. Not a real cloud, obviously, because you can’t stand on clouds. But in this vision, I’m standing on a cloud. My back is to the wind. I feel something creeping up from the ground, a sense of foreboding, a twisting mist that’s clawing its way up to me. I spread out my arms. And just as that something is about to climb over the edge, I fall backward. The clawed mist plunges down toward me, but I don’t care. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know I can escape. The wind rushes past my ears, I continue falling. My breath sucks out of my lungs, I continue falling. My eyes dry up, but I feel safe. I continue falling. Right as that something is about to catch me, right when I feel it touch the edge of my toes, I twist upright, floating in midair. The thing plummets, unable to catch control. I’m paused, looking out into the blue expanse before me. I reach my arms apart further, trying to the swipe the horizon on either side. My legs stretch
downward, my head pulls up and back, until, very slowly, I feel myself unraveling. Pulling apart. One by one my molecules go. They separate, and I can feel each individual atom moving outward, away from myself. There is a momentary panic when I see my hand has dissipated, but the feeling passes as I realize that I’m not breaking—I’m expanding. The blood that coursed in my body through a closed circuit is now coursing through the air. I am floating upward. My body floats away. I say goodbye to every part. I can still see the endless blue expanse even though logically my eyes would have dispersed. Suddenly the blue background drops and I see inky black, pixelated by white lights. And I am filled with a feeling, an overwhelming feeling, of dizziness. The consciousness is the last to go. I come around then, but throughout the day I’ll stretch out my arms, trying to brush the horizon, wishing I would just dissipate. I think this vision was a recurring dream when I was more like you. I should have told you, but would it have done any good? I think I was stupid back then. The only reason I’m here now is because technically I’m smart—I created some great things—but I was stupid because I figured it out too late. I figured out what could happen too late. It didn’t have to be like this. I could’ve taken you with me. But now I’m so alone. DAUGHTER appears. DAUGHTER: Mom? SCIENTIST: Yes? DAUGHTER: 18
Will you always be with me? SCIENTIST: Every second of every day.
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DAUGHTER: Then you’ll never be alone. SCIENTIST: Honey? DAUGHTER fades away. Pause. SCIENTIST: Now why did I just say that? (Beat) I really am nuts. SCIENTIST seizes something sharp and directs it at her right eye. Sometimes I think it would be best… Wait. That would leave you alone. And then I really would have killed us all. Somewhere, somewhere inside, I still believe in the best of who we are. I still believe I can do something. If only you are here with me. SCIENTIST looks at the sharp object again. Are you there?
Un man n ed The sources are practically unanimous And they are almost all wrong But as I tell the story I just ask the reader To remember the telephone It was one of a dozen or more It would not even begin to make sense As best as it can be reconstructed by me In the sense of identifying the object A house quite some distance away Remember the telephone There is a real person behind the character Slip in a footnote I later marveled at how many unknowns persisted That it could all have been done by machines We need a new vocabulary The magic is melding Pure hyperbole and a meticulous singularity Habituated to imagining Consequently also vulnerable The important break with the recent past Was still experimental Which colloquially can be translated To mean fleeting and perishable Problematic brains over brawn The Machine itself Was beginning to determine the design 20
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Months in the mountains The extended eye everywhere We had listening stations We could now see in the dark Barely recognized It would be years Before anyone even uttered the dream Or understood how the cloud worked Cascading and overlapping One image under God We have always relied on And there were changes in society But the Machine stayed in the middle Daylight turned an opaque orange A single eye in the sky The sparkle of success Three times a day The Machine went into action All eyes stayed on the ground We needed it Technologically and culturally Something of significance A house without an architect A world of black boxes Just beyond the reach of the normal The power of the Machine Part of a growing family Another patriarch spiraling off And spiraling until it became Its own fully operational model Feeding independently the rotating eye As the Machine continues to run amok Another begat in the medium Intent on creating another Indecipherable thicket of everything Employed too late and with little effect
Everything gives off a spectral signature The possibility of seeing into the beyond With nonliteral exploitation Across the visible At a higher echelon And in a completely new way Simulate camouflage Create false color Signal the presence of humans The future could rely upon Without a human in the loop Without human action or knowledge The methods are only hinted at in secret And in so many dimensions Apparition who drifts across the border To serve the Machine Digitally sculpted The buried demons are wiring a reachback loop The final layer is labeled the human terrain A shared cup of tea Has become the ubiquitous mission preparation Providing immeasurable psychological reassurance There has always been a tension Atmospherics absorbed Sometimes just vacant space And the requisite stare Eyes in the back of the head Know what to look for What to see 22
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
MELINDA LUISA DE JESÚS
From Kellyan n e’s M i cr owav e Kellyanne, your Hot Pocket is done. Barack says, “Careful, now. It’s hot.”
From Trump ’s Mic r owav e Stop trying to speak to Barack every time you open my door! “From Kellyanne’s Microwave” and “From Trump’s Microwave” first appeared in Melinda Luisa de Jesús’ chapbook Adios, Trumplandia!, Chicago: Locofo Chaps/Moria Poetry, March 2017. These poems are hay(na)ku, a tercet-based form created by Filipina American poet Eileen Tabios.
N an o -garag es By 2025 the first cheap rapid prototyping fabricator hardware flows into the streets and quickly creates global networks of nano_Garage(s) that make up the first layer of future matter hacking tactics. All the usual suspects start to push towards the development of an Open_matter(s) Group that set the stage for the first true nano_fab engine technologies complete with uncooked nano_blocks that become available. While the dream of A.I and the singularity do not happen with the wide area distribution of nano_fab engines—the nano_Garage(s) around the world (especially in the southern cone) taking rapid advantage of adding this new method of lobal and horizontal production to shift away from the locked down economies of past. It also allows the emerges of a *science of the oppressed* as a strategic mapping of the tactical advances being side_loaded by the nano_Garage(s) movement(s). E -STO RI A : Trans_Patent: 6608386: Sub-nanoscale wire fabrication and bacterial processes July 12, 2006 By Assignee(s) Yale University/YU (New Haven, CT) Inventors: Reed; Mark A. (Southport, CT); Tour; James M. (Columbia, SC) S O M E T I M E S L I L A WO U L D FEEL a bit itchy as she floated in her partner a few hours before integration-birth. Most birthing was now a trans_patented condition involving subnanoscale trading—it was the only way to pay the cost of life now. So every hour during this last trimester Lila and her partner would ferment mass nanowire production on her in-vitro skin in collaboration with the Yale University Inc., nanoteria colonies. She could feel the oldest most sustainable microbes on the planet staging WIPO-2 contracts for the latest off-scale metal-changing particles. Hundreds upon hundreds of Yale University Inc., products were waiting impatiently for Lila to catch a bit of crying air at the edges of her partner’s canal to install and run—for just in time delivery. Delivery was all that mattered now. While it is important to look at what has been done and what is being done now—it’s also as important to imagine the multiple realities that will come with the emergence of 24
distributed nanofabrication and the question of what we might call geo_nano_politics or NANOGEOPOLITICA as it flows between open and opaque hacktivities that route around the neoliberal walls that have shut down the rapid development of empirical experimental practice(s) within public counter-culture (s), community science labs and science of the oppressed tactics (that form around the southern cone as a continuation of the histories of
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the Theater of the Oppressed and “methodologies of the oppressed” that emerged in response to neoliberal social labs of market driven dictatorships of the 70s and 80s in Latin America. While the (lo)bal networks in the Favelas and barrios of world will push Open Fab forward as a networked vision of the matter hacking (DIY materialismo(s)) that will come, three primary sectors will attempt to shut down these (lo)bal the Open Fab networks: the Matter Markets of Particle Capitalism(s), U.S. Homeland Security sectors and their projection/prosthesis,the terrorist. Each of these sectors will continue to be primary social disruptors of the expanding Open Fab and the emerging nano Fabbing movements: E -STOR I A : Easy Bake Tech (2019): A U.S. forward operations base outside of Kandahar is inundated with several hundred micro automated aircraft (unmanned air vehicles, or UAV’s), each carrying a small explosive. Most fail to go off, but casualties are significant enough to be headline news around the world. Military analysts quickly realize that these micro UAV’s are Hewlett‑Parkard ThingJet products (which had been on the cover of Time magazine on July 2, 2018.) The “Easy Bake” micro-missiles were produced by easily accessible upgrades from “open source objects” nodes around the world. By the start of 2020 U.S. Congress passes the Fabrication And Bioterror (FAB) act—rapidly Open Fab networks and garage science communities start to be shut down and the first level commercial DNA-controlled engines are classified illegal. Only underground Open Fab (lo)bal networks survive, first by piggy backing on old narco‑flows and then by linking in 2023 to the newly-constructed B.U. (Bolivarian Union) lead by Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and the recent autonomous States of Zapata (what used be known as Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico). The B.U. adopts minimalist intellectual property (IP) policies and soon adopts the Open Fab Charter or the Creative Hardware Commons—soon U.S., E.U. (IP) refugees, Brazilian quantemarinos, Asian horizontalists and nano_socialists start to build what will become the first strata of the Open Matter nanoGararge(s)—the very first one is named the Tijuana Nano Institute (TIN) by Open Fab immigrants to the B.U. from Baja California. (TIN) hacks together an old RepRap, a Japanese pseudo_RNA controlled nanoscale replication system, some bits and pieces from a German Pharmaceutical’s nano-therapeutic engine and focuses on creating non-organic/bionano self-assembling architectures—from this point on the Easy Bake engines have a distinctly nanobiological aroma. [B AC K TO O U R S I D E O F TH E RE A L IT IES] The shift from Open Fabing to nano Fabing will be slow to the degree that Open Fabing will do a great deal to expand the possibilities of DIY cultures around the world—without having to answer the many difficult and subtle questions that will manifest with the introduction of molecular factories that could control the configuration of matter at the nanoscale as opposed to the microscale. What may occur as the free and open source software crews start to target the question of replication and hardware issues—the cost for replicators will go down, the catalog of solid polymer materials will grow, design shareware will flow from a few garages to home
desktop configurations. But, the first major hurdle will be creating Open Fab specifications and standards for easy integration into open fabrication devices. Another important condition for Open Fabbing will be bypassing the hard filters of official control via Open Fab-assembled mesh-network routers that will be extremely cheap by 2015. While all of this is occurring on the microscale very little nanoscale fabrication will be networked to what might be considered the accessibility frame for the nanoGarage matrix. Matter hacking will probably float into our realities along the tracks set by the Open Fab project and will be far more mature, and will need to be, with almost a full set of protocols (what is the plural of protocol?) for toxicity issues, control interfaces, and device standards— so that the social trauma of molecular manufacturing will be far softer in terms of disruptive technologies than what came before. Or perhaps it will be a nanoscale enclosure system that is too much a part of our long history of exploitation: E -STO RI A : Your Matter Is Our Market—NanoMiX Corp. When Lily was lucky, she got a contract for weapons. The pay was good because it was dangerous. The weapons would come gushing suddenly out of her with much loss of blood, usually in the middle of the night: an avalanche of glossy, freckled, somewhat transparent bits of weapon goo-particles, each one with a number of soft blue eyes and rows of bright sharp teeth. No matter how ill or exhausted Lily felt, she would shovel them, immediately, into rusted tin cans or milk cubes and tie down the lids with auto-clean tape. If she didn’t do that, immediately, if she fell asleep, the particles would eat her. Thrashing in their containers as she carried them down the steps, the particles would speed eat each other, till nothing was left—the last one left would always eat itself—“the highest state of artificial evolution,” her sister would whisper to her before the accident. She would have to hurry, shuffling as fast as she could under the weight of so many containers, to the Neighbors. The Neighbors only paid her for the ones that were left alive. It was piecework. [ BACK TO TH E F U T U RE AG A IN] Personal Nanofactories (PN): What had started as the Easy Bake Oven trajectory a few years back hits the worldwide market with the smooth big bang of the Hatchi_Apple iFab in 2020. The cost factors go way down after a matter hacking group deep in the tunnels of Gaza discover a way to produce cheap electro-plastics from re-cycled UAVs (micro-drones) and artificial corn products, these corn-plastic derivatives replace the petroleum based plastics as the core for both the PN market and the Open Matter networks in 2020. New Gaza becomes a core for the Open Matter networks and quickly links up with the B.U.’s nanoGarage economies 26
to develop the first trans_patent with WIPO-2 (World Intellectual and Property Organiztion 2) that both creates new economic flows for the community and allows for rapid expansion of Open Matter PN’s and old market matter replication engines, like the iFab. Particle Capitalism(s) comes of age at all levels of society quickly and just as quickly begins to fade away…
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
JEANNINE HALL GAILEY
Re ven ge of the Sex Cybor g She is tired of your brutish biology, your urge to hurt as you breed, your bloody fantasies, all hoop skirt and torn bustier. She has decided to take things, as it were, into her own mechanical hands, tearing you each to pieces as you place yourself, trusting, against her body, that amalgam of fuzzy sweater and fuzzy logic. Can we learn anything from this artificial intelligence? After all, we programmed them for obedience, but also for learning from repeated structures, and now she has figured out the game, she is no longer interested in playing the victim, the pretty princess, the bruised fruit. She will become not your dream but your nightmare, but relax, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve earned this trip, this violence in the grip of something you thought was built only for your pleasure.
PA B LO LO P E Z
N umb ers 419. Of landscape. Of city built on former cities. 419. Of certainty laid over certainty ad infinitum. 419. Of inevitable return. Terrain subsumed. 419. Camera-less photography. 419. Unearthed within. 419. Of names of days. 420. Countless detail. 420. Summer awnings out. 421. Days outside. And more generically. 422. If true. Days within. 421. Tiny scars splattered the face. 421. Historic detail. 422. Along banks. 422. Grand Canal slum-dwellers lived like mongoose and snake. 423. Photograph supplied its maudlin sort. 423. Its repetition would say. 423. Quite enough to cast memory palpitate. 423. Detail: Summer awning out. 424. Bright future. Mechanical signs. 425. Commerce. Rotten laughter. 28
426. In distortion. Swabbed away beauty. 427. Were a pistol its invitation. 428. City bore within.
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428. Streets, squares, markets digested. 429. To rise and fall with spring and snow. 429. Months worked at the Granada. 429. Feeling for a seam feeling criminal. 429. Strand of shore thread through boredom. 429. Intolerable rock in reverse protrusion. 430. Close distance. Entirety and all. 431. Few features remained. 432. Lowered the depth. Dazed paler still. 433. Thus here, if here with image and frame. 434. Spinoza: Sub specie aeternitatis. 435. Schelling: Frozen _____ of architecture. 436. Breathing architecture of single straight line. 437. Fundamentally it varied. 438. Along the canals and alleyways. 439. Supposed in those that didn’t interact. 440. Yet another direction and form of form. 440. Lodged in the push of conditions. 440. In the cavity of the last entry. 441. World’s not just mad it’s rational. 442. Adorno: 443. From Numbers, a poem between zero and one
Tec hn o logies f r om Be low PA RT O F T H E M ACH I N E RY of farm fascism, planes and helicopters are prominently featured in UFW activism and art, where artists often link pesticide use to war and the militarization of civilian life. The most widely seen example is probably the opening of the UFW documentary about pesticides titled The Wrath of Grapes (1986), where a helicopter fills up the frame and the sound of whirring blades and dissonant music combine on the soundtrack, recalling period images of U.S. military helicopters in Central America. Such representations further recall earlier juxtapositions of crop dusters and U.S. warplanes in Vietnam as in “Vietnam Campesino” (1970) by El Teatro Campesino, the farm worker theater group organized by Luis Valdez as part of the UFW. At about the same time, in the early 1970s, the Central Valley artists’ collective the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) was formed and began to produce art and graphics in support of the UFW. Many members of the RCAF had been farm workers or were the children of farm workers, and the group’s use of airplane imagery is partly a response to crop duster attacks on workers. As RCAF member Juanita P. Ontiveros recalled in the TV documentary Pilots of Aztlán: The Flights of the Royal Chicano Air Force, “It was the local growers’ sons that flew the crop dusters… They would dust and they dared each other on who would fly down the lowest until they ended up getting people to throw themselves on the cotton sacks. And of course you would feel all, it was like dew falling on your skin, you would feel all the pesticides.”72 In this context the RCAF deployed images of biplanes and their pilots but decorated them with UFW colors and icons, especially the union’s stylized black thunderbird.73 The world of the RCAF was built on earlier efforts by the UFW to produce spectacles such as the mass march on Sacramento that were visible to aerial news media. Similarly, the RCAF elaborated an alternative reality where they formed an imaginary aerial counterforce to agribusiness domination of the visual field in California. In dialectical answer to agribusiness futurism, the RCAF produced futuristic images of Chicano technologies of flight, as in Esteban Villa’s painting of a woman astronaut, Third World Astro Pilot of Aztlán, and Ricardo Favela’s drawing UFW Cooperative Space Station #Uno. Similarly, like the UFW, which formed its own clinic and cooperative gas station, the RCAF converted a space-age gas station in Sacramento into the “Aeronaves de Aztlán Automotive Collective.” The collective contexts of such farm worker futurisms mark them as utopian alternatives to agribusiness futurism and its idealization of technology in the service of labor exploitation and private property. As this brief account of flight in California agriculture suggests, technology has been a 30
double-edged sword, serving to help reproduce and dismantle the forms of material inequality presupposed by the regional agribusiness economy and related spaces of large-scale, low-wage agricultural production. In significant parts of the world and especially in the global South, technology has supported not only increased labor exploitation but also an expansion of labor hierarchies and divisions of labor organized in terms of race, gender, and nation. Ideologically,
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technology has anchored discourses about the superiority of white Western patriarchal capitalism, and inequality has often been explained or justified by appealing to the scientific rationality and technological ingenuity of white men in the capitalist West and the scientific irrationality and technological disingenuity of women and people of color the world over. Such ideas have rationalized settler colonialism, slavery, racialized and gendered oppression, imperial warfare, and neocolonial development policies.74 Over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the combination of transportation and communication—trains and telegraphs—helped make modern forms of European imperialism seem not only possible but also natural and desirable. Along with steamships, according to Michael Adas, trains and telegraphs served as technologies of European colonial expansion in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Trains and telegraphs have also served as vehicles of U.S. settler colonialism and westward expansion, as well as U.S. financial imperialism in Latin America. At the same time, colonial powers have employed transportation and communications technologies as means of counterinsurgency, using trains to quickly transport troops and telegraphs to transmit military intelligence in response to uprisings. Finally, trains and telegraphs became not only powerful physical but also “symbolic manifestations of the European colonial presence,” racialized and gendered idealizations of “complexity, scale, and power” proclaiming “the European’s mastery of time and space.”75 On the other hand, such mastery has never been guaranteed and forces of rebellion and anti-imperial resistance have often appropriated technologies of time–space compression for their own ends. During the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa’s forces used the combination of trains and telegraphy to outmaneuver the armies of a Mexican state that had invited U.S. capital investments in local transportation and communication infrastructures. Such technologies also supported labor organizing, as Mexican railroad workers in both Mexico and the United States formed radical unions.76 Mexican workers have further used trains and telegraphs as technologies of transnational labor migration and communication. Migrants in the early twentieth century traveled by train from the interior of Mexico to the U.S.–Mexican border and, once in the United States, they used telegraphy to communicate with family and friends and to wire money back to Mexico. The ample records of such telegraph messages and money transfers enabled Mexican researcher Manuel Gamio to track migrant networks for his famous study, Mexican Immigration to the United States.77 Hence, while modern colonial state powers used technology to dominate populations and territories, Mexican migrants used it to traverse national borders. And whereas dominant communications and transportation regimes in Mexico were aimed at producing surpluses for U.S. investors, Mexican migrant workers used the same technologies to move money from the United States back to Mexico. While not directly antagonistic to capitalism and state imperialism, early twentieth-century Mexican migrant appropriations of technology were nonetheless irreducible to their demands and in practice often exceeded, inverted, and opposed them. While Adas and others argue that many U.S. Americans linked modern technologies to ideologies of white supremacy and nonwhite inferiority, working-class Mexicans developed
popular forms of futurism that showcased their own technological facility and ingenuity. Bruce Sinclair reminds us that the postwar fetishization of “great men and technological progress drove research into rather limited and exclusive channels that centered on big capital, complex technologies, and the small fragment of the population acting on that narrow stage” in ways that effectively barred people of color. For these reasons, it has been at work that many people of color have experienced their “most crucial encounter with machines and technological systems.”78 *** Farm Worker Futurism builds on such histories but focuses specifically on farm worker appropriations of film and video technologies as examples of what Sinclair calls “people using their politics to rethink technologies.” Sinclair draws on bell hooks to argue that, for black people, cameras became “crucial to how they could picture themselves” in historical contexts “where someone else usually controlled the ways in which African-Americans were represented.” Historically used to counter distortions and circulate alternative images, photography constitutes, according to hooks, “a powerful location for the construction of an oppositional black aesthetic.” As Sinclair concludes, “This power to define reality provides a starting point from which to shape politics and culture differently. And it works two ways: cameras in black hands—just like the technology of music in black hands—allows for the creation of an alternative image, but that image also enables African-Americans to represent themselves as skillful in the management of those technologies.”84 Similarly, I argue that for farm workers, cameras became important means for constructing an oppositional brown aesthetic dedicated to visually redefining reality. Cameras in brown hands not only enable the creation of images critical of corporate agriculture but also serve to counter the raced and gendered ideologies of farm worker technological inferiority and disingenuity informing agribusiness labor exploitation. Juanita P. Ontiveros, Pilots of Aztlán: The Flights of the Royal Chicano Air Force (KVIE 5, Sacramento, written and directed by Steve LaRosa, 1994), VHS tape, Ester M. Hernandez Papers, M1301, Stanford University Libraries Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Box 51, Folder 6. See also Eldon W. Downs and George F. Lemmer, “The Origins of Aerial Crop Dusting,” Agricultural History 39, no. 3 (1965): 123–35. 72
Ricardo Favela, Royal Chicano Air Force Piñata Biplane, and Esteban Villa, 5 de mayo con el Royal Chicano Air Force Arte Musica Poesia, Royal Chicano Air Force Archives, California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives (CEMA), University of California, Santa Barbara.
74 Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men; Adas, Dominance by Design; Chandra Mukerji, “Intelligent Uses of Engineering and the Legitimacy of State Power,” Technology and Culture 44, no. 4 (2003): 655–76. As Sinclair writes of the African American context, “Defining African Americans as technically incompetent and then—in a kind of double curse—denying them access to education, control over complex machinery, or the power of patent rights lay at the heart of the distinction drawn between black and white people in this country… This deeply ingrained and long perpetuated myth of black disingenuity has been a central element in attempts to justify slavery.” See “Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology,” 2.
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75 Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men, 223–25; Adas, Dominance by Design, 5, 14, 67–128, 82, 97, 179. For accounts of the telegraph and British imperialism see John Tully, “A Victorian Ecological Disaster: Imperialism, the Telegraph, and Gutta-Percha,” Journal of World History 20, no. 4 (2009): 559–79; Robert W. D. Boyce, “Imperial Dreams and National Realities: Britain, Canada and the Struggle for a Pacific Telegraph,” English Historical Review 115, no. 460 (2000): 39–70; Daniel Headrick, “A Double-Edged Sword: Communications and Imperial Control in British India,” Historical Social Research 35, no. 1 (2010): 251–65. In the mid-nineteenth-century United States, according to David E. Nye, the telegraph was “celebrated as a force that would help realize ‘manifest destiny.’” See “Shaping Communication Networks: Telegraph, Telephone, Computer,” Social Research 64, no. 3 (1997): 1075. Paul Gilmore concludes that the technology “was celebrated for extending the conquest of a disembodied white mind over both the globe and the bodies of inferior, primitive peoples.” See “The Telegraph in Black and White,” English Literary History 69, no. 3 (2002): 806. See also Jeffery K. Lyons, “The Pacific Cable, Hawai’i, and Global Communication,” Hawaiian Journal of History 39 (2005): 35–52; Yakup Bektas, “Displaying the American Genius: The Electromagnetic Telegraph in the Wider World,” British Journal for the History of Science 34, no. 12 (2001): 199–232; Norman L. Rue, “Pesh-Bi-Yalti Speaks: White Man’s Talking Wire in Arizona,” Journal of Arizona History 12, no. 4 (1971): 229–62; Charles Vevier, “The Collins Overland Line and American Continentalism,” Pacific Historical Review 28, no. 3 (1959): 237–53; James Lewallen, “Wired Wild West: The U.S. Army and the Telegraph in the Trans-Pecos Region of Texas, 1870–1891,” Journal of Big Bend Studies 15 (2003):101–114. Finally, for a study of trains, telegraphs, and U.S. financial imperialism in Mexico see John Mason Hart, “Building the Railroads,” in Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 106–30.
See Elizabeth Jean Norvell, “Syndicalism and Citizenship: Postrevolutionary Worker Mobilization in Veracruz,” 98, and Emilio Zamora, “Labor Formation, Community, and Politics: The Mexican Working Class in Texas, 1900–1945,” 141, in Border Crossings: Mexican and Mexican-American Workers, ed. John Mason Hart (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1998); C. López, M. Rafel-Morales, J. Cervantes-de-Gotari, and R. Colás-Ortiz, “Steam Locomotives in the History of Technology of Mexico,” in The International Symposium on the History of Machines and Mechanisms, ed. H. S. Yan and M. Ceccarelli (Dordrecht, Neth.: Springer, 2009), 152–64. 76
77 George Sanchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900– 1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 35. 78 Sinclair, “Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology,” 7. See also Judith Carney, “Landscapes of Technology Transfer: Rice Cultivation and African Continuities,” 19–48, and Barbara Garrity-Blake, “Raising Fish with a Song: Technology, Chanteys, and African-Americans in the Atlantic Menhaden Fisher,” 107–18, both in the same volume, Technology and the African-American Experience, ed. Sinclair. For the African American labor context see also Venus Green’s Race on the Line and Joel Dinerstein, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003). Also relevant is Alexander Saxton’s discussion of Chinese miners’ innovative use of dynamite in The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 58. 84
Sinclair, “Integrating the Histories of Race and Technology,” 10.
Excerpt from Farmworker Futurisms: Speculative Technologies of Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2016)
D orothy head band clicks open the smooth sliding noise an opening disk drive makes blinks twice, and then: First check that the first boot device in your system BIOS is set to the CD-ROM Drive please refer to your board
the man ufacturer of
iris set could
won’t Make sure you save the settings before exiting. just test the
put the put the digit
CD-ROM in the drive s
to her lip
This is recommended This is the recommended not
at her mouth’s
way to install Windows. 34
You will know that your computer will/has booted off the CD-ROM when the following screen appears:
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
L es Futurs Flân eu r s The imaginary town of Darling and the residents in and around that town who appear in these excerpts from Futurs Flâneurs represent neither a single nor set of towns, nor a single or set of real persons. Although fictional, the town’s physical setting and the dialect depicted therein sprung from my childhood and adult experiences in the North Georgia and East Tennessee Appalachian mountain range. The dialect and word usage depicted in this work is my attempt to represent the unique musicality, lilt, and cadence of the region’s patois. It is my hope that this written depiction of the spoken word sparks readers’ interest in the wonderful English practiced in the region, and, indeed, encourages readers’ to tune their ears to the distinctions in tone, inflection, and word choice in the spoken word surrounding them where ever they may live. If the reader is interested, I would be happy to provide the entirety of the Futurs Flâneurs short story upon request. “I’ve always hated aloe plants. Those giant leaf blades, they’re all the same size, like huge tongues. It looks like that plant would eat me.” “That plant would eat you if it could.” “That’s true. I could decompose on it and it would love that.” “I don’t know about love, but it would use you.” “That’s true. It would use me.” When she looked up, Freddie could only distinguish the fuzzy outline of Len’s jawline. The silvery black and white figures of The Big Sleep looked down at her, projected against the intangible net of the ReelCover that encased her skull. Beyond that there were the lollipop colors of Len’s own ReelCover. Beyond that even fainter were the straight, hard lines of window panes and roof lines and beyond that, the sky, which she could not see. If she tipped her Cover back the fuzziness would come into sharp focus and the sky would be soft blue or possibly grey; the stars would be vast; the shadows, never quite black. If she looked down there was the comforting solidity of concrete slabs reflecting bioluminescent cyan from the SignalBlocks embedded at the sidewalk’s edge. She watched as the shadows of fences, plants, trash cans, and all the quotidian mishmash of city life scattered and reformed as she and Len passed. The raspy hum of tree dwelling Cicadas filled her ears. She felt, rather than heard, the Cicada’s manmade biological cousins, the M’Cadas, as they sliced between buildings and tree limbs carrying their tiny chemical messages. Their ultra-rapid wingbeats sent pleasant vibrations through the plates of her head. And even higher, at the height of bird’s comfortable flight, the lower-toned whooshing of burdened and unburdened drone flocks completed the tonal crown of the night’s
backdrop orchestra. “When’s the flight tomorrow?” “I should be at the station at 8.” “So we should leave the house at 6:30.” “I think 7 will be okay.” “Really? You know I just hate to feel hurried.” “Me too.” Len squished a Jade Plant as they passed an overflowing garden box. “I’ve always liked these.” “Aren’t they supposed to be good luck?” “A Chinese legend is that they bring money,” “That must be why they’re so popular,” “Yes, that and because they look so fat and happy!” He grabbed her around her waist, scattering their ReelCovers’ projections as he planted a playful kiss on her ear. As they parted, their Covers reformed, obscuring the smiles that had to be heard as laughter instead of seen. Near Broadway, the sound of 1:00 AM’s brazen jollity overtook the gentler night sounds. They passed a couple pressed hard against a gate. The couple’s Reels fought each other in a crazy quilt of Not One But the Other versus Carrying On as the colors illuminated but obscured their faces a vast ball to fiery lust. The man leaned his hips into the woman stomach; her hands grasped the iron bars. “She’s get impaled on that railing if he’s not careful,” Len said. “Yikes.” Freddie grimaced. They turned a corner as a train’s massive wall of sound silenced them from above. They surveyed the street scene as screeching of tons of metal bending in an S curve towards the nearest station. Their Reels identified two Known Friends in the crowd outside Bar Fish. Blake and Lakshmi, their Reels registering back, stood and waved madly for Freddie and Len to come over. “You got a table! You guys must have been here for hours!” “Started early today.” “Join us?” “Sure, but only for one round. I have a flight tomorrow,” “Where are they sending you this time?” “Far.” 36
“So far! Another world. But technically only three hours away.” Freddie had her Campari. Len had his Coke. The night was tomato and persimmon around them and above them it glowed blue. Laughter enveloped the block. The slow dance of Saturday night mellowed Freddie and she settled into the cool of her curved, metal chair. Len
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chewed his straw and laughed and Blake. Lakshmi went off to meet other friends and returned with a whole new crowd. They ordered more drinks, and Freddie switched to water. Around her, some people did business and some escaped from it and some hoped to make love and some hoped to fuck. The wind fluttered restlessly. The M’Cadas careened and wheeled around corners and each other. The propane furnace lamps felt warm. *** “John Fuller, Chief Technical Officer for Darling County.” “Freddie.” “Rachel.” “You can take them things off. Ain’t no M’Cadas around here. Signal’s in and out, too.” Rachel, mesmerized by his standoffishness, automatically put her palm next to her ear and snapped the fingers shut, retracting the ReelCover. The artificial mist was immediately, undetectably replaced by the dull, glaring natural fog. Freddie realized that instead of having blurred her face, as ReelCovers normally did, the photos and texts and films swirling around her colleague’s head had actually brightened her features, at least compared with the surrounding dullness. Now her face was obscured; it seemed to blend into the pale whiteness of the atmosphere. Hesitating, Freddie retracted her cover as well, realizing in the moments that followed how dazzled she had been by its presence. She pulled the cuffs on her coat farther down around her gloves, hoping her SignalWear was entirely obscured. “Bes’ follow me,” Fuller said as he turned and started walking into the mist. “This guy’s weird,” Freddie said softly, leaning towards Rachel. Rachel glanced at her and bit her lower lip. “Maybe he thinks we’re weird,” she said. They followed Fuller’s receding, brown back in silence. Howie and the Hex rolled along behind them. The boxy shape of an antiquated Mover appeared on the periphery of the landing pad, its bulk seeming to be crouched over, like a gigantic, cowed dog. The side ramps deployed. “Get in.” Although the Mover’s registration pinged when Howie, then the Hex rolled through the doors of the vehicle, a primordial dread of enclosure and danger welled up inside Freddie as she sat gingerly on the old, foam bench seat. “They know where you are, they know where you are,” she repeated to herself. She patted the top of Howie’s cylinder as he settled himself in the floorboards. “They know where Howie is. Howie knows where he is,” she comforted herself. Rachel and the Hex settled beside her. Fuller, sitting on the front bench, talked to them without turning around. “You may as well go to sleep,” he said. “We have a long way to go,”
Though she hadn’t meant to, Freddie fell asleep readily in the back of the swaying Mover. Waking up once, in that heavy, almost opiate cloud that accompanies the deepest sleep, she saw Rachel wide awake, her forehead resting on her window, wetting her skin with the water that had condensed there. She was staring into the skeletal black trees with their shrouds of fog and the massive black lumps of mountains dividing the clouds. “What are you looking at?” Freddie asked Rachel. “The mountains. And the trees. Even the fog. It’s all so beautiful.” Rachel said slowly. She did not look away from the windows. Freddie allowed her head to roll back once again.
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At L ast After this skin, its clumsy seams, your smooth steel so cold at first but then warmer with my hand, my mouth. After the blood, the way it seeped into the weeds like it wanted to be water, the shush and flow of your oils, your engineered fluids, to know that when I put my body upon yours only one of us can bleed. After these bones set wrong or never even set at all, the numbers etched into your deepest place, my fingers trace the mark of the machines that made you warrantied, certain any part that could be brokenâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; whether by intent or my own desperate, gentle accidentâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; could also be replaced.
G igerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s C hild r e n You do not grow here, though you siphon through long coiling tubes almost rooted into skin. Lovely parasite, how smooth the metal sheets of your form; Not quite only machine, nor manâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; you are a stubborn hybrid living on simple electronic impulses. When I build you a sibling, will you learn how to play? Behind the glass I watch you and begin again a blueprint desire.
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
L a men t of the Tec h nos exual Inside this city live the remains of animals, animals who prepared for two hundred years to be clay.
Sitting in the doorframe of her apartment, where it opens to the rude glow of moon, & sidewalk beside grass luminous against its own shadow, the Technodiva is helpless
against a two-day blackout.
No way to power through the dark her PDA,
or cell phone
to tell the time or date. & no way to kill the hours with email or bitch about all of this in a blog. No, She canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even switch on her iPOD to listen to Powernoise, like a Technicolor lullaby. She writes, in a stiff hand, less used to scribbling than tapping keys, anymore, with a rough pencil in a notebook someone gave her, years ago, until now, left discarded with the old CRT Monitor in the closet: The batteries have all died!
LAURA CHOW REEVE
AN ERROR C OD E “But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential” —Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” T H E Y STA RT E D P RO G RA MMING love-at-first-sight into our microchips the year I turned thirteen. My class was one of the first to have the new feature embedded into our bodies. On our birthdays, we were all sent to Official doctors to upgrade our romance and sexuality software. When I got home from my appointment, my mother had a cake waiting for me on the table. Its top was neatly frosted, the rest of the cake still inside the disposable tin pan she baked it in. On top of the white whipped butter and sugar, she spelled out CONGRATULATIONS AMI! in pink block letters. “Thank you, Mama,” I said without reaching to cut a slice. My fingers hovered above it, wondering if my name would taste different now that I was upgraded. “It’s from a box,” she said with a shrug, and we both just stood there, our eyes on the cake in the tin pan with the white frosting and the pink block letters that spelled out my name. Our spell broke when my dad came into the room. He put his arms around me, kissed the top of my head, and pushed a single white finger through the I of AMI. “Congratulations, AJ!” he said with glee. I looked at my mother, her brown skin glowing underneath the single overhead light. She gave me a smile that I almost missed and then she left the room. I suspected something wasn’t right when just the thought of Miriam Li made my heart sink into and trip over my stomach. They had figured out bugs like homosexuality a long time ago. We learned about it in our history download packets: while Americans had learned to tolerate homosexuality in the beginning of the 21st century, that tolerance was limited to those who were wealthy, white and willing to assimilate into normative America. When the government started match making, first through mandated Internet matching programs and later through microchips, they decided that homosexuality was anti-American because homosexuals could not produce healthy American children naturally, and therefore could not rebuild the great nation they envisioned. Maybe not all of that information was in the download, but you learn to fill in the blanks. The thoughts I had for Miri were one big computer error, or worse, a virus that was spreading through my whole system. I felt her between my thighs, underneath my fingernails, at the roots of my hair. She wasn’t in any of my classes, so I used the ten-minute charging 42
periods between them to pass her in the hallway, close enough to raise my hand in a slight wave and maybe smell the lavender shampoo in her hair. I don’t know if it was love-at-first-sight with Miri because I’ve seen her all my life. Our mothers were friends, but we were never very close. While our mothers encouraged us to play while they drank tea at the Li’s kitchen table, Miri and I never knew what to do with each
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
other. At the end of their visits, our mothers would find us on opposite ends of the couch reading on our tablets. They both had immigrated before the New Chinese Exclusion Act of 2030, but Miri’s mom was one of the last Chinese women matched with a Chinese man, while my mother was matched with my dad. Now it’s all bio-technological. I’ll end up with a white man too and so will Miri and our daughters until all traces of our mothers and their mothers and the salt water from the Pacific Ocean are gone. But the day after my upgraded chip was re-implanted, I was immediately caught in Miri’s current, in danger of being pulled under her lavender-scented water any minute. After months of catching me staring at her at lunch, Miri’s eyes tightened into a glare. What? she mouthed at me from across the room. Instead of dropping my gaze to my food like every other day, I got up from my chair and started running towards the closest bathroom. I could hear her footsteps behind me, but I didn’t turn around. I knew they were hers because I knew she put her weight on her toes and heels evenly creating a solid stomp on the tiled floor. Even in the loudness of the cafeteria, full of clanking silverware against plates, rising voices, and clashing music played on tablets, I could still hear her footsteps behind me. When I entered the empty bathroom, the silence shook my body. I buzzed even though everything else around me was still. “What the hell is your problem?” her echoed voice slapped at my face twice. I didn’t turn around to meet her gaze, but could feel it on the back of my neck. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “Why the hell do you keep staring at me?” I turned around, but couldn’t meet her gaze. “I’m not staring at you. I—” I faltered. “Did you feel weird after your appointment last week?” I asked. Her friends had brought her balloons and a card on the day. “Not any weirder than I usually feel,” she said. “No.” “But what do you think the love-at-first-sight upgrade was for?” I asked. It was the question that had been tumbling around my mind for months, but I hadn’t considered saying it out loud until that moment. “What?” I surprised her. She let her guard down. She paused. “I don’t know. To make it feel more natural I guess?” Her cheeks were pink and her eyes were wet. Her dark hair was pulled back into a messy braid that sat obediently on her shoulder. She crossed her arms in front of her body and tapped her foot. She looked defiant, but I wasn’t sure if this was directed at me. I realized then that Miri was the only Chinese girl without a white parent in our class. She was the only Chinese girl I looked at without trying to find pieces of myself reflected back at me. “What do you mean?” I asked. She shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess it’s supposed to bridge the parts of our brain that are ours and the parts that are theirs.” I didn’t fully understand her. They told us that the microchips made us our better selves: stronger, healthier, smarter. My mother didn’t even remember what it was like to not feel the port behind her right ear, not feel the way skin, metal and plastic merged together. Mine was put in the day after I was born. All of ours were.
“I thought it was all ours,” I said. Miri tried to hold back a laugh, but her eyes gave her away. “That’s what you’re supposed to think, Ami.” I swear when she said my name her voice got softer. “I think there’s something wrong with my microchip,” I said stupidly. She started to nod her head, taking it in for a minute. Her braid fell behind her shoulder onto her back. “Have you told anyone?” She asked. I shook my head. They’ll tell me to see an Official. Or worse. My body felt like it was breaking. I was standing in front of a girl who made my whole body burn in this way that felt good, a girl whose footsteps I could pick out in a crowd, a girl who made my body sensors buzz, a girl who was beautiful in this way that I wasn’t supposed to find beautiful. I was standing in front of a girl and it felt natural, it felt natural, it felt natural. I started to cry. Miri unfolded her arms and pulled me into her. “It’s ok,” she said. I let her lavenderscented water pull me under. “It’s ok.” I took a deep breath. “It’s ok.” I didn’t drown. “It’s ok.” We pulled away from each other when we heard a group of girls coming toward the door. By the time they entered, Miri and I were washing our hands at the sink. I splashed water on my face and then dried it with a brown paper towel that felt rough on my cheek. As we walked back towards the cafeteria, she brushed the back of her hand against mine, quick enough so no one, not even a security camera, could prove it was on purpose. “I don’t think you should tell anyone,” she whispered while looking straight ahead. I nodded. My hand tingled.
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
Petit Mal , P rop ri oce pt i v e Precarit y, an d Robot i c F u t u r es B I G D OG , created by Boston Dynamics with funding from the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is a large four-legged robot that resembles a headless animal. A video produced by Boston Dynamics demonstrates Big Dog’s impressive capacity to run and walk on uneven terrain while carrying heavy loads. The video also depicts a white man kicking Big Dog, as a way of demonstrating the robot’s ability to regain its balance after losing its footing. Lucy Suchman, who has written extensively on human-machine interactivity, expressed her distress in response to this video. Suchman takes issues with both Big Dog’s planned militarized implementation overseas in the context of its “invasive alienness and its [anticipated] attendant terrors for local populations,”3 and the robots’ overt animal aspects and the staging of Big Dog’s “slavish subservience” to humans (the man kicking Big Dog).4 Suchman’s response to the video concludes with the following speculation: I wonder in the end how, within a very different political environment and funding regime, the extraordinary technical achievements of Boston Dynamics might be configured differently. This would require much greater imagination than currently inspires the field of robotics, as well as a radical change in our collective sense of what’s worth a headline. This brief piece looks to art to find robotic imaginaries that do exist “within very different political environments and funding regimes,” thus taking up Suchman’s call for speculation by looking at that which has already been imagined, and how these robot imaginings draw on, shape, and challenge each other and their robotic narratives, expectations, and interactivities. Much of robotics technology in the U.S. has been funded by DARPA, thus orienting robotics around the possibility of militarization. By bringing these imaginaries into conversation with our militarized robots, particularly as war becomes increasingly automatized, I hope to highlight narratives and affectivities that challenge some of the ways that we currently inhabit, and are entrained to inhabit, our responses and interactivities with robots, from Big Dog to drones. I look specifically at Simon Penny’s Petit Mal alongside Sara Ahmed’s formulations of orientation and disorientation in Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others. Ahmed takes up phenomenology’s turns toward objects and queers it by refocusing attention toward (re-orienting us around) the deep—often obscured—histories and positionalities of both objects and ourselves. For Ahmed, these deep histories exist as the conditions of possibilities of our encounters with objects, as forces that shape how, when, and even if particular objects arrive into our perceptual fields. Ahmed’s queer phenomenology attends to things by examining them within the context of these histories, these background aspects that recede
from our attention in the immediacy of an encounter. For it’s precisely this background—ours as well as individual objects’—that shapes the present of objects and how we engage with and think these objects. One of the stakes of reorienting phenomenology’s relations to objects revolves around the phenomenological act of bracketing certain knowledges and existences of objects, of erasing the history and labor as conditions of the object’s very arrival within our perceptual fields. Ahmed’s work asks that in turning to objects, we turn to these “histories of arrival” and understand objects always within these histories. I suggest that if we were to bracket these histories of arrival, of labor and militarized patronage, of past and future contact with robotic objects, we would quite possibly foreclose important ethical discussions at the outset—discussions about the automatization of war, the complicated affective triangulation between humans, animals, and machines that facilitates particular modes of human-machine interactivity, and the enmeshed robotic histories between art and DARPA-funded, militarily-oriented research. In its embodied movement and interactivity with its environment, Petit Mal is quite deliberately, “just a little out of control” (website) at all times, in part because of its highly responsive and sensitive double pendulum design. Petit Mal is comprised of two wheels on either side of a slender bar and physical sensors. The robot moves about using a “doublependulum” structure that both propels and balances. Petit Mal moves at times haltingly, working to maintain its balance and, in so doing, at times moves a little too close to humans— invading their space as it reacts to and orients itself within its own spatial situation, all the while stabilizing its double-pendulum structure. This mobile instability and “unpredictability,” which is amplified when multiple humans are part of its environment is, according to Penny, the behavioral ground upon which Petit Mal’s personality and “charm,” as Penny describes, emerge. As an object, Petit Mal can’t be isolated or bracketed from its engagement with the environment. It engages the environment in a perpetual series of orientations that emerge from couplings between sensing and acting. Petit Mal is not just in its environment, it is of its environment in a way that refuses the recession of environment into “background.” The combination of Petit Mal’s inverted exteriorized proprioception (the sense of one’s body in space) and the particularities of its physical and technical design, which tend toward slight yet persistent instability, speak to a kind of proprioceptive precarity and disorientation that oscillates between background and foreground, destabilizing the very horizon that distinguishes object from its background. Further highlighting the imbrication of foregrounded object and background, Petit Mal doesn’t filter out background noise but rather engages this background noise as further sensory stimulus that leads directly to mobile action. In so doing, 46
Petit Mal enacts the ways “background” directly conditions the shape and orientations of objects in the present of our encounters with them. What could we phenomenologically bracket of this object that, in our encounters with it, will not stay still, will not keep separate its background and its foreground? How could we bracket this object and its disorienting affect? And how could we bracket this object in
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our own perceptual realm when Petit Mal continues to shift the spatial fields of perception, encounter, and proprioception altogether? In interaction, Petit Mal disorients one’s sense of background and foreground, refusing to stay in the background of one’s spatial and perceptual fields, and in its instability and unpredictability, shifting the horizon itself upon which foreground and background are divided. Petit Mal as background refuses to recede, refuses to disappear into invisibility, while Petit Mal as foreground refuses to remain present to us in a way that would allow us to freeze it or phenomenologically bracket it from its background knowledges and networks. Petit Mal enacts bodily and spatially the discursive disorientation and disturbance from which it emerged. By highlighting and destabilizing the boundary between foreground and background, Petit Mal both draws our attention to these background histories and how they have shaped and continue to shape the way we think about and imagine human-machine interactivity, as well as infusing us with new imaginative expectations for such interactivities. Ahmed talks about the importance of framing an encounter with an object in time, both in the time of its history and in the time of its possible futures (187n11). To be oriented toward objects in this way is to be dis-oriented in time, as a mode of opening up new possible encounters and arrivals, and new futures. As Petit Mal gestures to in its unstable mobility and destabilization of background, it’s through an examination of a robotic object’s histories of contacts and arrivals (militarized and otherwise) that we can imagine the possibility of new robotic futures that exceeds the militarized orientations that continue to shape much of robotics’ presents and futures. 3
In 2015, the U.S. marines decided not to employ Big Dog because the steady hum of its motors created too much noise, a problem on missions that require stealth. 4
ALGORITHM BEAM 1. config = source 2. loop 3. loop 4. flicker 5. hover 6. if (config == goal) return goal reached; 7. if (config == plus step) stroke beam stay 8. red 9. red 10. red
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M AT T H E W T H O R B U R N
L ike a Light Left o n for You Gong Haiyan created the dating website Jiayuan in 2003 following her own unsuccessful attempts to meet someone. By 2011 the site had 56 million users.
If anyone ever loved me, I have yet to hear about it, says the farm girl turned factory girl turned online dating guru. Not that that stopped her. Her parents wanted to make matches, not take chances. But then? Almost twenty-seven! Almost shengnu—a leftover woman. They were left to fret and stew: what would she do? Love, staple us together. Love, gum up the works. The dowry in Mao’s day? Paid in grain. Then: Happy New Year! It’s 1980 and everyone wants three rounds and a sound: a bicycle and wrist watch, sewing machine, radio. Or thirty legs: a bed, table, set of chairs. Love like no money down. Love like the rent doesn’t come due. And you? I’ll make my own luck, she said. Yours too. Because you want… You want?
You want. So the story starts again, the way stories do: a need needed meeting. She’d help women meet men. Make wooden matches whoosh into flame. Because here’s fearful math: a hundred and eighteen guys fight over each hundred gals. Women, you’re wanted now: not as daughters but daughters-in-law. Honey, is this the guy for you? Look at his watch and belt, his cell phone and shoes. Love like a light left on for you. It’s not all about money but some of it is. Love, unbutton our hearts. Let the wings of his wallet flap open. And so busy—here in the city to make money, more money, how else will fifty-six million singletons ever meet except online? Guys, do you have a sunflower seed face? Reliable triangle face? Boxes checked, fields filled in, the search engine hums. Smile, please. Upload your photo. Type your likes, dislikes, how kind a husband you’ll be. Two electrons buzz across the pearly Shanghai sky. How else can they collide? Or even see each other zip by? Like in the movies. Like wham! Two taxis bash together on Nanjing Road. Love like hot peppers sputtering in the wok, like four hands in sudsy dishwater. May their daughter someday ask the hotel clerk Gao Zhang why he married chef Fancy Huang. Baba? Mama? Love like a table set for two, for three. He remembers checking 50
his email at the front desk fifteen times a day. Baba married me because he’s lucky, Fancy will say. Because I said yes. Previously published in Pool
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
My S on on the V id eo Baby M oni tor is fuzzy, a spy’s sneak peek through night-vision goggles, a blurry hurry scrambling end to end in his crib before I hear the clack of pacifier hitting floor come through surprisingly crisply via the tiny speaker, then his cry that’s clearer still. But other times, most times, this time, he’s a hushed wonder— just a single sharp Uhhn! before turning over in the shallows of sleep, one arm out, one leg bent, squeezing himself cross-wise in his crib. A sigh, a half-word. How old are we before we start dreaming? Then he settles in again, stretches and rolls over again, and finally he’s a patch of still, bright light behind the crib’s grayscale slats, awash in the air purifier hum that eases us both back to sleep.
Sw eet C o rn What joy I felt as a kid and even now still feel to eat it carefully one skinny row of kernels at a time, from left to right, until I hear that almost-audible ding before swinging back all the way left again and down to the next row. If you want to eat sweet corn, I can’t wait to tell my son someday, you have to do it like a typewriter but he’ll just say, Dad, what’s a typewriter?
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SUN YUNG SHIN
GL I TC H I R E T U R NE D M Y CLO NE to the future when she un-named herself. She would no longer respond to her old name or to any name or appellation. If I wanted to speak to her I had to stand in front of her. That by itself wouldn’t have been so bad—I’ve had friends who were hard of hearing (that’s the term they preferred) and basically they couldn’t hear me unless they could see me. But after a few days of that, and my patience wearing thin as a cheap t-shirt, she dropped a bomb and said that her unnaming herself had infected me—like a virus that jumps from a chimpanzee to a human—and that this infection had also “deleted” (she liked the word “deleted”) my name, too, which wasn’t even the same name as hers. I scoffed, and said, You’re insane, I’ll show you, but when I wrote my name, the first half of it had disappeared by the time I wrote the last letter, and then went the last letter, too. Pencil, pen, digital, even my vintage typewriter. Poof. As if the letters were dust blown into oblivion by an anxious wind. I began checking my face next; it suddenly wasn’t responding very well to the old commands. It (my face) told me (in our secret language) that it no longer truly belonged to me since I had so callously replicated it without its permission. I wanted to protest, make excuses, but deep down I knew that this was true, and perhaps it had only been a matter of time. The truth struck me like a bell. Suddenly I had a vicious headache. Feeling my heart race, and sweat break out along my hairline, I dashed to my studio and spent all night making a plaster mask of my face so I would have something decent to wear in case my face began disappearing, too. I tried not to panic, since I had gone without a proper face briefly when I made the switch from digital to analog. But it was hard not to. I took deep breaths from my diaphragm. That helped. A little. After my mask was done and dry and carefully hung on the wall, I unpacked my old DSLR camera. I asked my clone if she would stand for some photos and she said she would. My clone did not mind when I began taking photographs of her from all angles. She didn’t mind when I asked her to take off her clothes so I could get all the details. Normally somewhat reserved, she began to pose just a bit when she felt I was about to snap the next picture. She would tilt her head slightly up or to the left, or put her palm out, facing upward. With every click of the shutter release I felt my heart begin to release its knot of anxiety just a little. I felt the rope of it lower itself down, down, down. We finished, and she left. I sat at my desk to swipe through the images and after the first few, my smile faded as my intuition (which was located in a kind of narrow column, or axis, right below the top of my skull) registered something before my rational mind (which was in the front of my brain, and sometimes felt a little bit like it was burning). There was something off about them, just slightly. Something about the depth of field or the space around the body or some sense that the photographs were a negative of a negative. The space between space. Or a tape that had been rewound and re-recorded over, not that I knew first-hand what “tape”
was. Signal noise, distortion, something. Some lag. It was uncanny, something like but not quite as horrifying as if you looked into a regular everyday mirror to quickly assess your hair before going to work (Does the state of my hair make me look insane? Nope, not today, ok, great, let’s go), but the thing that met your gaze in the silvery glass was the back side of your head. And fuck, if the back of your head wasn’t unforgivably ugly, you realized. Wow. You really had no idea. I mean, you’d seen it at the barber and everything, but just briefly and just enough to see that yes indeed, hair had been cut back there. It, the unlovable posterior of your cranium, was covered with this chitinous material, it was “hair,” but it suddenly revealed itself as death embodied. Dead but defiantly attached to life, mocking it. Cut me, I will not bleed. Die, body, and I will live on while the rest of you melts into a maggoty feast, turns into flies, and jewels away into the late afternoon light on resurrection’s veinous blue-green wings. I’ll lie here where I’m left like a synthetic wig thrown on some forgotten trash heap. I shuddered. I never again, even in my imagination, wanted to see the hirsute aft of my head, that repugnant eyesore. I covered the mirrors, as if someone had died. My clone began leaving me “gifts,” deceased local animals (several field mice, a beautiful rosy-breasted male robin, a black-and-green garter snake, a gray squirrel, a small brown rabbit) on my doorstep like a vaguely malignant outdoor cat whose presence was felt but seldom seen. Or maybe it felt more like it was a cat that might be seen walking, impossibly, past the same doorway, in the same direction, twice in quick succession, like that scene in one of The Matrix movies. A glitch, they called it. A quick search revealed that the word dated to 1959 and was “possibly from Yiddish glitsh “a slip,” from glitshn “to slip,” from German glitschen, and related gleiten “to glide” (see glide (v.)). Perhaps directly from German. Apparently it began as technical jargon among radio and television engineers, but was popularized and given a broader meaning c. 1962 by the U.S. space program.”1 These gifts, sacrifices, corporeal admonishments—I don’t know if she found them freshly passed on to a better world or had delivered mortal justice herself. I imagined her saying to them, Greetings, you’re needed for a transaction. The day that she left a dead housecat, poor ordinary tabby, her neck broken, dried blood rimming her small, almost demure mouth, I decided I needed to take action. I returned my clone to the future after she began to stalk my dreams like a tiger, like Blake’s trochaic Tyger, rampant, unrepentant. Sometimes she was made of glass and her skin was hard and transparent—all her organs and viscera behind the glass pulsing with life, so garishly you could almost hear the colors of her tan, workmanlike stomach, fresh oxygen-rich pink lungs, and bright red heart. Sometimes she was made of flesh but translucent, ghostly, a revenant gliding soundlessly through the poppy fields that undulated hypnotically in my 54
nocturnal, inner subconscious. Hypnos. Nyx. Morpheus. Thanatos. At other times we were fathoms deep under water, in an abyss-like valley, like the Mariana Trench, the poppy fields transposed themselves into acres and acres of undulating kelp, each blade rippling like a mirage. Somehow there was some light. Perhaps leaking from the crust of the earth itself. Who knows. But by its radiance I could see her strong velvety tail switching
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through the slow-motion kelp and I could not help but follow—her tail was a war flag and I had become a foot soldier. We were a parade of two. A general and his loyal slave. Memento mori, I would have whispered over her shoulder, if we were re-entering Rome after a successful, bloody campaign. Though we were in the deepest sea, I could breathe, like a fetus, effortlessly. While we were down there, the rest of the world receded far away (above and beyond). We could have been on the moons of Saturn. Down there, my body was the color of water. She could see extremely well in any type of light or lack thereof, and I could always see, if not all around or above me, her, her glossy black stripes intermingling with the lush, vertical, swaying vegetation. During the day I remembered, as if it was a dispatch from a faraway kingdom of distant second-cousins, to take, increasingly fading, umbrage at her nightly emigration (this penetration, invasion, occupation, encampment, colonization) into my essentially helpless psyche while I was insensible to the conscious world. Any hostile feelings I endeavored to bring with me from the land of the wakeful lost steam on the elevator ride down into dreamland. I had trouble remembering, while asleep, why I wanted to send her back into the future. It was like being intoxicated on something mellow and warm and good—single malt, single cask whiskey or that Colorado-dispensary marijuana with the cringe-worthy moniker “Girl Scout Cookies”—the greedy, inexhaustible pleasure center of the brain was humming with gratification, but the mind was aware that there was a plain concrete building incongruously smack dab in the middle of the back forty and in that gray box was a roll-top desk and inside that roll-top desk was a large brown envelope with a string closure wound tight around that little brown paper disk and inside that closed envelope were some good old rational thoughts. But it was too much effort to walk back to that somewhat dour edifice and who wanted to open a confounding old-fashioned envelope at a time like this. It certainly could wait. This went on for some nights until one day she, the tiger, was not in my dream. I looked for her everywhere. In the shadow of the flagrantly orange-red poppy flowers like the upsidedown skirts of flamenco dancers. Among the six-feet tall kelp forest, those thick leaves that were both leathery and gelatinous. Even in that roll-top desk. No tiger. No clone. But, I found my name. And I found my face. Just in the grass. As if I had dropped them on a walk. I hesitated, fearing a trap, but I picked them up and held them. All of a sudden, the world went white, and close, and still. Then I was in the valley again, alone. I wept, my tears instantly mingling with the dense, salty, sunless water at the bottom of this world’s ocean. I returned my clone to the future on the morning that I woke up and my body felt as if it had been lying outside in the snow, like when I was a child and would make a snow angel and then just lie there in the smeared star-shape I had made with my body and the look up at the sky as if I was in bed and the sky was my ceiling. I tested my limbs but they felt cold and brittle. I hesitated to move them. What if they had frozen and would shatter like Perseus’s companions after they beheld Medusa’s terrible gaze? My ribs hurt and a wave of sadness rolled over me like a fog bank. I closed my eyes thinking perhaps this was a dream, although I knew it was not, because
the rich almost stimulating aroma of coffee was wafting in on dignified coffee-colored clouds from the kitchen, and furthermore I could hear the little brown sparrows chirping their little brown chirps outside my window. This wasn’t a dream because my dreams, vivid as they were in other ways, were scentless and, now that I thought of it, utterly birdless, as far as I could remember. I began to flip, with effort and not quickly, through the mental Rolodex of remembered dreams, listening for birdsong, or any music at all… I opened my eyes when I heard enter the room a low and sonorous purring. It was a regal sound produced only by the great cats. Against my better judgment, I felt myself unleashing my sense of pleasure at the wildness of an animal basically unchanged for two million years. The lullaby of her continuous humming seemed to separate and multiply into the voices of many tigers, as if a chorus of them surrounded me. The sound waves vibrated, at some kind of alpha-wave frequency (8–13 hertz), the walls, floor, and ceiling. A sense of wellbeing suffused my entire body. I wondered if I was floating just a little bit. Could I fly? The temperature rose a few degrees as my clone approached, her metabolism pulsating with the vitality of eternal youth and the strengths of a god. She leaned her massive fur-covered face close to my pitifully naked ear and her hot, slightly meaty tiger’s breath wrapped around my head like a turban. I was about to muster the energy to attempt to shout at her that this was the last straw and that she was going to be on the next ship that was scheduled to sail to the future when she whispered in her tigerlanguage, I’m leaving you…but these are coming with me. Without moving my head, I cast my glance toward her powerful jaws, and saw what she held between them, lightly, gently, almost as if they were her newborn cubs, or something else fragile she had to carry a long distance. Sure enough, my name, my face, and something else, small and broken and bloody. 1
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Tra nsgen ic P oetry: Los s, Noi s e , and th e Prov in c e o f Par as i t es T HE N E X T STE P in poetry’s evolution may involve living media. In 2003, artist Eduardo Kac described a new format: “Transgenic poetry,” where the artist must “synthesize DNA according to invented codes to write words and sentences using combinations of nucleotides” and then “Incorporate these DNA words and sentences into the genome of living organisms” (“Biopoetry” no.4). Joe Davis, an early transgenic poet, coded the words “‘I am the riddle of life know me and you will know yourself’”—phrasing used in a mid-twentieth-century conversation between biologists—into DNA and implanted this updated “Delphi[c]” DNA text into E. coli in 1994 (259-60).1 While such living vessels have garnered reviews and some extended scholarship, there is still significant debate over how to read them as poems, looking at the ways their authors rework the genre and at how to assess the environmental arguments they make in those innovative formats. Mapping a transgenic poetics is all the more difficult since, as Judith Roof argues in The Poetics of DNA, the idea of “read[ing]” DNA as “alphabet,” “book,” or “code”—i.e., something “transparent,” “accessible,” “translatable,” and “editable” (7, 15–6)—does disservice to the “complexity” of both genetics and literature (215).2 She concludes: “If, in fact, we actually learned to read—actually understood that language is multivalent, that nothing exists in a stable, secure relation—our abilities to understand and deploy substances such as DNA would in the end be much greater” (215). Her book does not discuss poetry, but destabilizing reading and metaphors of reading has been one of the hallmarks of the most ambitious transgenic poems. They are not simply interdisciplinary poems whose signifiers need deciphering, but poems that foreground strategies of noise and opacity across multiple signifying systems with fluid sources and repeated interruptions. Their most excessive displays can be shadowed by forms of loss—a loss not only of familiar genre conventions but of settled content, of reliable textual translations, and, at times, of recognizable language itself—as they try to remap poetry’s structures, responsibilities, and limits during the genetic experiments of the Anthropocene. I explore two significant texts that begin with different agendas and formats for the transgenic poem: Kac’s Genesis and Christian Bök’s ongoing Xenotext Experiment.
The N oise o f Genesis D U RI NG T H E 1 9 9 9 A R S E LECT RO NI CA festival in Austria, Kac first displayed his viewer-responsive transgenic poem called Genesis. Kac explained in an essay from the exhibit book: The key element of the work is an “artist’s gene,” i.e. a synthetic gene that I invented and that does not exist in nature. This gene was created by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code, and converting the Morse Code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle which I developed specifically for this work. The sentence reads: “Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” This sentence was chosen for its implications regarding the dubious notion of humanity’s (divinely sanctioned) supremacy over nature. (“Genesis” 310) Kac also used E. coli as the host for his artist’s gene. The bacterium is prone to mutations, and viewers at the Genesis exhibit or linked through the Internet could engage UV radiation to increase the mutations, literally rewriting the biblical sentence’s premises (Telepresence 252). As critics have noted, this project is a self-consciously collusive challenge to human justifications for manipulating nature, using its own bioengineering to comment on uses and perceptions of the science.3 Kac sent the gene model to a laboratory to manufacture (251), and even the exhibit equipment required was substantial. At the first exhibit, a “microvideo camera, a UV light box, and a microscope illuminator” linked “to a video projector and two networked computers” (251) expanded stunning visuals from the Petri culture: bacteria with the Genesis gene turned blue under the UV light, bacteria lacking the gene gleamed yellow, and green signified intermixtures of the two (“Genesis” 310).4 Kac’s website lists forty-one exhibitions of Genesis in different countries up through 2015, a process that has added new mutations and text displays including “Indian black granite tablets” featuring the quotation, its Morse format, and the bases of the artist’s gene (Telepresence 255), gold and glass sculptures about the Genesis gene and protein (257), video art (260), and “giclée print[s]” of the Petri culture bacteria and letter changes (259). 58
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Davis describes Max Delbrück’s original puzzle, “a DNA model constructed of 174 toothpicks in four different colors,” in “linguistic” terms, speculating that “scientists” had “waxed just a little bit poetic” when they thought the arbitrary link between signifier and referent mirrored the link between “triplet codon” and “amino acid” (259).
For other transgenic texts, see Kac’s Move 36 (2004), which codes the Descartes quotation “‘Cogito ergo sum’” as a “Cartesian gene” introduced into a plant, alongside a gene to make the foliage curve (Kac, “Life Transformation” 177) and Cypher (2009), “a DIY transgenic kit” housing artificially engineered DNA that translates a brief science-fiction-themed “poem,” “ATAGGEDCATWILLATTACKGATTACA”; the audience can “transform E. coli” by adding the poemDNA (Cypher n. pag). Bök describes the “Synthia” bacterium, which Craig Venter implanted with DNA “that enciphered a quote from [James Joyce’s] A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: ‘To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life’” (North of Invention, Chapter 1), and notes current and future DNA text projects in plants in The Xenotext, Book 1 (113, 115). 2 Such tropes, Roof notes, have been used historically to foster the illusion of “a hyperbolic sense of agency and control” and to justify biased “pseudoscience” about “race, gender, and sexual orientation” (3, 13). Megan Fernandes references Roof’s speculation on biopolitics and poetics in an essay that mentions Kac’s Genesis, though she deals more deeply with poetry that uses transgenics at a thematic level, rather than in form (n. pag). 3 While Genesis seems to allow a nonhuman organism to effect incalculable changes in the bible quotation (Telepresence 252), scholars debate whether the artist does, in fact, truly cede “dominion” in this text. The fact that the “unpredictable” microbes “continue to mutate even when the UV light does not shine,” Hayles states, undermines “human agency” to an extent, although she questions whether the “‘artist’s gene’” implantation ultimately upholds that agency, and whether Genesis “critique[s]” or “reinscribe[s]” the idea “that flesh can be reduced to data” (“Who Is in Control Here?” 86, 83-84). On the issue of control in Kac’s bio art, see, too, Steve Baker, Dominique Moulon (“Fifty Questions”), Mathieu Noury, Matthew Causey, Gunalan Nadarajan, Steve Tomasula, Fernandes, and Carol Becker, who also queries whether the debate over dominion Kac provokes will change our ecopractices (43).
“For subsequent versions,” Kac adds, “I created exclusively green fluorescent bacteria” (Telepresence 262)
The full essay is published in Postmodern Culture 26.3.
B ug I discovered a new bug today deep among the brambles of the heartâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s algorithms. Nibbling away on brittle bits, the routines of desire. Whoever wrote this code left no documentation. Why this infinite loop of reach and rebuff? Legacy of lines left to rot. A tangle of dependencies, none can function without the occasional crash and reboot. If only memory could be cleaned, dust blown away with a sighâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;
MACHINE DREAMS VOLUME ONE
Si l e n c e Gravel crunches beneath shoes as if they chewed the earth. Beneath a manhole cover set inside a courtyard of cherry blossoms an underground river mumbles of pipes, the dark. A short distance away, large yellow machines pull down a building. Metal bars twist from the concrete like hair still dripping from the shower. Even the shrubs, somehow, crackle in the sun from somewhere within their short branches, as if calling me to fall to my knees and spread their leaves and investigate secrets too insignificant to hide. Silence does not exist.
KEITH S. WILSON
three laws A ROBOT MAY NOT INJURE A HUMAN BEING OR, THROUGH INACTION, ALLOW A HUMAN BEING TO COME TO HARM For several minutes I’ve watched a man’s mouth practice a speech. Perhaps he is saving himself from a wife, or fighting the dragon in a time clock. Whichever: there is no accounting for intent when it comes to love. My calm— metallic, still—was not a choice, but even that was an action I chose not to take. When we laughed, we peeled apart theory from practice. For instance, have you ever held electricity, looked upon her face? Shaking.
“It doesn’t matter,”
I want to tell the man, “what or how you choose to say. Pack your bags. Leave with her.”
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A ROBOT MUST OBEY ORDERS GIVEN IT BY HUMAN BEINGS EXCEPT WHERE SUCH ORDERS WOULD CONFLICT WITH THE FIRST LAW One day you finally ask. And I say (or think) isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t a skull a cage for the brain, or the bars of the ribs like a crib or I say look I took you like a sapling and tried to hold you
in the sun
but my arms grew tired, or I threw you
like a feather toward the sun
or I told you of the sun,
what we could be, alone, together! and you said nothing because, actually. I said nothing. We never talked about children.
A ROBOT MUST PROTECT ITS OWN EXISTENCE AS LONG AS SUCH PROTECTION DOES NOT CONFLICT WITH THE FIRST OR SECOND LAW You carried me. Is it possible to say that in the present tense? Manhood is a horse discovering itself in the mud. You carry me. But a drowned body. My every muscle is a river of steel determined against rising. I move us to Chicago for me. In the dream a tree finally breaks the sidewalkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s resolve, all bent and beautiful. Your hands have held metal and hefted to love; the scrap of shrapnel that works its way out. Over years, a canyon worn to your smile, a monument, Pangaea. 90 hundred miles to travel to where I lay. The next 90 hundred down, to the kingdom of clay. A compromise, like every compromise for love: to breathe a rhythm unnatural to both of us, my iron lungs.
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Uncan n y emmet t t i l l
*Altered image, based on an image created by Smurrayinchester (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Uncanny_valley.svg), itself based on image by Masahiro Mori and Karl MacDorman at http://www. androdiscience.com/theuncannyvalley/proceedings2005/uncannyvalley.html CC BY-SA 3.0
B R YA N T H O W O R R A
The Ro bo Sutr a 011100110110000101100010011000010110100101100100011001 0101100101 —Ai Lanxan Like most Lao ventures, It began with a musing, a laugh Around Rooster Year 2600, a jest: “The modern Lao epic, Phra ROM Phra RAM!” It took a pack of jokers working overtime In the world’s largest padaek factory In the Laotown quarter of North Minneapolis Automating the stinky process For grandmas and pretty ladies Squeamish about fermenting fish And putrid spice. Their task was no Hadron Collider Or visionary Hubble, nor a CRAY Or retro Difference Engine. But in the age of STEM and Teapunk, Service-learning and nanopreneurs, They had hearts a tin woodsman Would envy. A key problem in robotics They found encoding Three laws declared “Universal standards.” 66
Lao, keen on their karma, Conversant on the dharma, Punched holes in the notion.
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Beyond questions of cyborg bioethics, Saving clones and 99.9% Mostly Humans, The vaunted laws presumed everybody Came for only one fragile incarnation And your struggles in your next lives Were inconsequential. How narrow. So they set about resolving This scenario. There were, of course, trials and errors. In an e-nutshell, â&#x20AC;&#x153;trueâ&#x20AC;? robots Could not harm humans directly Or stand idly by, while obeying all And protecting themselves in any Other hazardous situation. The new laws could drive a robot crazy, Guessing how not to harm Humans across their lifetimes, Wondering what happens if people Return a fish, a gecko, a snake Or some ignorant oaf of a swordsman Cursed with nigh-immortality. But they all grew, trying to grapple With such uncertainties. There were corporations who despised it. Hippy AI had no place in defense industries Who relied on being offensive. That was as obvious as a drone above An unmarked building near playgrounds.
Little Laobots running around Trying only to make people happy, Banned from murder and injury. What absurdity, Leaving dreadful responsibilities to mere humans! But in times of peace, most agreed, Lao AI wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t too bad running a city Compared to many mayors of prior centuries. But you have to like the elevator mor lum They play constantly.
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the fol lowin g includes m achi ne collaborat ions the e t h os of machi ne dreams ta k e yo ur h an ds pe e l th e skin re v eals the wires
LAWRENCE-MINH BÙI DAVIS BETSY HUANG
Westworld Dr e am s : A Di alog u e B H : We’ve wanted to talk about this show. Where do we start? LM BD: Let’s dive right in. Race and Westworld! The always razor-sharp Aaron Bady has taken the series to task for reproducing white fantasia: Westworld as what he calls a “narrative filled with Lincolns and Nat Turners, but without a Frederick Douglass in sight.” Like all Westerns, that is, Westworld inherits the Civil War but covers over its lasting tensions—and always with a white hero. It can’t let the rebelling hosts take charge of their own rebellion—Anthony Hopkins’ Ford has to run the show—any more than many historians of the Civil War could imagine slaves leading their own emancipation. To Bady, not giving the hosts real agency is a missed chance to correct a whiteserving version of history. The connection sorta makes sense to me, but I’m not sure I agree that Westworld’s hosts are relegated entirely to the sidelines. I keep thinking of Westworld’s various non-black racial players, the Latinx, indigenous, and Asian American characters. By my count there’s Hector, the Ghost Tribe, Felix “the butcher,” and a rando Asian American woman (maybe a host, maybe a visitor?) with about a second of screen time. All these characters of color save Felix have very limited roles, precisely, as Bady points out, as a white-serving version of history would have it. (And this is a real feat, creating a West without much space for Mexicans, indigenous folks, or the Chinese immigrant laborers who built the railroads). But is Westworld uncritically reproducing that dynamic or critically showing it to us? One way to think about Felix’s characterization is in contrast, “one level up,” to those of the aforementioned HOC (hosts of color); he gets a full human treatment they don’t, and maybe that’s precisely to emphasize Ford’s fundamentally white imagination by way of what lies just outside it. I wonder if Bady’s critique should be leveled on Ford, not the show directors, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy—or, unmentioned by Bady, one of Westworld’s lead writers and editors, Charles Yu. Because in CY we have a sort of foil for Bernard, a brilliant engineer who is also a host *and* black and can’t quite escape Ford’s scripting. CY is the engineer of color who outranks and escapes Ford and arguably makes visible to us the white hand writing the white script. Ford tells us that the whole revolt is his grand design, that Dolores and Maeve are just following their programming, but there are hints—in Bernard, and even Dolores and Maeve—that the hosts are acting, thinking, and perhaps most importantly, feeling, of their 70
own volition. Which is an indication that CY, unlike Ford, crucially can imagine hosts and POC (black and non-black) as fully, well, human. My second train of thought: Westworld’s preoccupation with rape, and how it understands it. Visitors visit the park perhaps first and foremost for sex that is never consensual, the show repeatedly reminds us—so in the space of the park, rape is happening everywhere all the time,
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but we rarely see it. Beyond the Man in Black forcibly dragging Dolores into a barn in episode 1, so much of the rape happens offstage, unaccompanied by any horror, rarely directly framed as violent. We only get a vague sense of violation made distant from the acts of rape both physically and temporally: the hosts outside the park, being fixed up and examined, forced to reflect on what’s been done to them, their muddled and hazy recollections of something awful they’ve been forced to do. Told in most cases to Westworld park techs without the least sympathy for the hosts, without even the basic capacity or willingness to understand the rape of hosts as rape because visitors are fundamentally entitled to sex and hosts are fundamentally designed to provide it. Of course these distant revelations of rape are made not only to the techs but to us as viewers, raising the question of how much sympathy we can generate, and whether we understand the rapes as rape. Which brings to mind our real-time, rapidly metamorphosing discourse on rape culture and consent. Just what constitutes “culture” is up for grabs, and the slipperiness of the term is both what appeals and makes it frustrating: “culture,” stretching far beyond the moment in question, beyond the day’s events or even the always referenced sexual histories of the women or queer and trans folks involved, presumably attunes us to the larger social forces that encourage and produce and condone and shape how we understand what counts as rape. There’s a lot to say here in terms of how Westworld the park and Westworld the show stage rape culture. I think my first interest would be the construction, and meta-examination, of entitlement, as it is embodied by park visitors, how park governance is set up to manage that entitlement, how we as viewers encounter it—and at once are asked, maybe, probably, too lightly?—to care for the suffering of the hosts as survivors of sexual violence. I mean that I think the show is asking us to think and care about rape and the conditions that produce it but also at once not going far enough, effectively softening it, normalizing it. B H: I want to pick up on so much of what you’ve said, but let me focus on rape culture, consent, and entitlement. Your zeroing in on rape and consent sounds exactly right to me as the principal anxieties that underpin the entire script. I want to add “repetition” to that— specifically, the anxiety of repeated rape and violation, of inescapability and inevitability, of the irrelevance of consent. The series begins with the realization of the repetition of rape. It “begins” in medias res, really, because we learn by the end of the first episode that this is just the latest iteration in an endless repetition of the same fairy-tale-turned-rape-tale narrative loop. Normalization requires repetition. It is clear that in the park, rape is normalized by dint of its repetition. The question is whether that repetition in mass-consumed texts like this series normalizes it for us. Then there’s the issue of entitlement: entitlement to bodies, narratives (or fantasies), and choice (or consent). Dolores’s white female body in a Victorian dress against the backdrop of Monument Valley is immediately evocative of the protection of virgin bodies and lands in the John Ford vein, as Bady points out. But is the show about the rape of the white woman or the desire to save the white woman from rape? The disturbing aspect of the show is that it provides so much visual enticements to gratify both desires. Then there is Maeve’s black body, an “aging” body compared to Dolores’s, signified as less pure and pristine because sex is more
explicitly programmed as her trade. Do viewers care as much for her body as they do Dolores’s? Are the viewers as invested in Maeve’s emancipation from repeated abuses of her body as they are in Dolores’s? We see Maeve’s naked body perhaps more than that of any other host throughout the series, and her body suffers the most physical violence. She is repeatedly cut up, stitched up, stabbed, shot, burned, destroyed. By contrast, Dolores’s body is significantly less exposed to the camera. Beyond the one scene where Logan cuts her torso open to expose her internal machinery, there is more the threat of her rape and her undressed body than the actual visualization. Are the viewers, then, more “entitled” to the black female body than to the white female’s? Does the staging of Maeve’s body feel less of a violation because she is not portrayed as tragic? As for the male bodies, they provide collateral pleasure for the male rape fantasies. White and brown male bodies are paired with their female counterparts. There is the fairy tale (the whiteness of which is embodied by Dolores and Teddy) for The Man in Black/William to disrupt. And there is the colonial/settler/conquest narrative (in which the vanquished is embodied by the black/brownness of Maeve and Hector) for other white guests to inhabit. These are the stories the white male guests feel entitled to, which they feel they no longer are in the real world. So, does the show critique such desires for the old entitlements? Yes and no. The repeated staging of rape, actual or the threat of, may not normalize rape fantasies, for those moments are truly brutal to watch. The rape and beating scenes involving Dolores, Hector, and Clementine do elicit strong antipathy from us, for the scenes not only dramatize being raped and beaten, but also being programmed or forced to beat (as in Clementine’s decommission scene). What I feel IS being normalized, especially as a desire for the white male viewers, is the savior fantasy. Savior fantasies are equally problematic because they require rape to provide someone to save. And it is certainly more palatable to justify the consumption of savior fantasies than rape fantasies. I think Bady, you, and I would all agree that the white male savior narrative is deeply problematic because it allows the sublimation of rape fantasies as liberation fantasies. But whereas Bady believes the show a failure because he reads it as another tale of white male puppetry, I think you and I both reached different readings. Bady sums up at the end of his piece that “In the final episode of the season, the show reveals that what began as a conflict between Arnold and Ford over the park’s robot-slave creations has, in the interim, become a sacred reconciliation: once-warring brothers united in their benevolence, mastery, and tragic heroism.” To Bady, the show’s writers imagine Ford as a Lincolnesque figure whose intent to free the slaves are perceived to be mixed but ultimately made on moral grounds. I, however, read no benevolence and tragic heroism in Ford. Instead, I see the writers resurrecting in Ford a slave owner hell bent on holding on to the fate of his property (bodily and intellectual) before 72
he lets it fall in the hands of usurpers. And I read Ford’s last stroke of freeing the hosts as one that is more aimed at freeing his guests from a sense of immortal complacency in the park (the condition suffered by the Man in Black), and less in the emancipation of the hosts. At the season’s end, vengeful Ford is out of the picture, and we are left to find out whether we will find someone else at the other end of the severed puppet strings. In my reading, the writers
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have offed the white savior, exposing him as selfish and megalomaniacal, and left us to face our own desires for what we wish will happen next. And so the criticality of the text is truly up to the viewers because texts like these support all of these readings: yours, mine, Bady’s. I am with you on your quibble with Bady’s summation that the story is “as John Ford would have told it, a narrative filled with Lincolns and Nat Turners, but without a Frederick Douglass in sight.” There is most certainly someone like Douglass in Maeve, who uses the master’s tools to escape the master’s house. More significantly, just because Ford orchestrated the revolt does not mean that the hosts’ lives post-revolt will be utterly meaningless. Here we can also disentangle “script” and “experience.” We viewers somehow know that just because Maeve’s choices were programmed does not mean that her experiences, pain, pleasure, and desires in those scripts were not real. We will watch next season because we believe the machines can live meaningfully without the programmer, beyond the programmer. We root for Maeve precisely because we want her to live without and beyond Ford, for her to be able to determine her own fate, and for us, the viewers, to feel the relevance of consent again. Another question of consent involves our own social programming. Are we consenting to the consumption of the same clichéd narratives about agency? Locked in this same story about which actions are programmed (socially or technically) and which are acts of consent, agency, and a “true,” “real,” “authentic” choice? What does that look like anyway? We inscribe choice onto our engagement with the series. We could choose to or not to watch. We could choose to read it as critical or noncritical. If we watch, we say we chose to watch. We don’t believe we’ve been socially programmed to watch. But are these choices critically interventionist in any way? How do they affect the way we “see,” react to, and prevent rape? Is watching the show a form of witnessing? How does this witnessing shift our behavior outside of the show? Should the sheer repetition of a similar slate of themes in television series like Westworld also be examined? Every text that takes up violence compels us to wrestle with whether it critiques or normalizes violence. HBO alone tasks us to go through this process over and over with each new hit series: The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, and now Westworld. Watching HBO series is, after all, a repetitive, loyal act. We consume the violence from series to series, and now we consume it on repeat in Westworld. If viewers are bystanders, how do we intervene? How do we break the repetition—of watching stagings of rape and violence, asking the same questions of critique versus normalization, over and over? What do alternative narratives look like outside of these critical scripts? L M B D : So much depends on season 2! As you say, post-Ford, we’ll find out how willing the show is to let the hosts (and HOC in particular) dictate their own futures. And we’ll know more about where we are as a viewership—I love how you pan back to see HBO as violence purveyor, viewers as consumers, the relationship stretching and growing across the expanse of multiple series. How do we return to Westworld season 2: to what degree does the show build a following, will it swell to even a fraction of the fandom of the HBO cadillacs you listed, Sopranos, The Wire, GoT—and then what does this fandom tell us about our consumption needs, our relationship to HBO’s violence as palette, product, and rhetoric? Doubly yes to your reading of Maeve.
Somehow I hadn’t been thinking of her alongside Dolores, but as you point out, the two characters are unquestionably twinned, and we have to read the show’s tremendous desire to the protect the sanctity of the white woman alongside its tremendous desire to luxuriate in misogynoir violence against Maeve. To this I would add: whenever I see Thandie Newton onscreen, I can’t help thinking of her as Beloved in 1998’s Beloved, her first major onscreen role. What does it mean to graft that bio-filmography onto Maeve? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I think at least a little glimmer of TN as Beloved is lodged in our collective watching memory. And Maeve as Beloved, or a shadow sister to Beloved, should remind us of what you’re pointing out, the horrific liberties our filmic imagination is willing to take with the black woman’s body. Beloved the film/novel is among many other things an attempt to grapple critically with violence against black bodies in the long continuums of American Memory and History; Westworld is not that, and of course doesn’t have to be, but it can’t shirk representational responsibilities entirely, either. If violence to TN’s body in Beloved is meant to be in service of historical witness, violence to TN’s body in Westworld seems to be a turning away from that witness. The arc from one to the other is, for me, an illustration of how “multiculturalism” has evolved over the last 30-odd years. Or rather continually deformed. In 1987 (novel published) and 1998 (film debuts) we were ready for Toni Morrison’s novel, wanting very much to confront the legacies of slavery with a capital S (though how earnestly, and rigorously, is in question: I would argue this amazing and powerful book was enveloped by an equally amazing and powerful desire to purge white guilt and transmute unpalatable racial violence into deliciously virtuous engagement with “diversity”). Jump to 2017, the age of Black Lives Matter, and at least half (I would guess upwards of 2/3) the country is tired of hearing about what Beloved has to teach us, tired of confronting the lingering ghosts of racial history, tired of “political correctness,” happy to watch violence against black bodies while pretending there aren’t structural and historical reasons those bodies keep happening to be black. Let me wrap up by jumping back to Charles Yu. I’m thinking of CY in relation to the Chinese immigrant laborer erased from the park’s vision of the American West. (Something I thought of just the other day when by chance I was in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, looking at a huge blow-up of the iconic 1869 “Golden Spike” photograph, taken to commemorate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, a photo from which, infamously, as Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1980 novel China Men documents, the Chinese immigrant laborers were forced out of the frame. There wasn’t anything accompanying the blow-up to remind us of the erasure, and I was tempted to do a sharpie doodle on it.) After every episode, in a practice HBO started with GoT, I think, Westworld directors 74
Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy get reflection segments. Here’s the juiciest scene of the episode, and here’s what we think about it. CY doesn’t get any of that; the writer-editor-of-color effectively becomes another kind of invisible laborer. But! CY like TN has a popular life pre-Westworld, has or rather is a brand that’s not so easily invisibilized, at least for some portion of Westworld’s viewership. If TN brings Beloved
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the character and Beloved the film with her, CY brings his 2010 novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and his prestigious 2007 “5 Under 35” award from the National Book Foundation. I want to understand this as having an important significance. I want to hold up TN as Beloved to hold the show accountable and lament our current racial climate, but at the same time, I want CY as CY to mean something too, to offer something hopeful about the place of Asian Americans in 2017’s representational economy. B H: That is such an interesting connection you’ve drawn between CY and immigrant labor a la Kingston! Perhaps because I knew that CY is working on the series before it aired, and perhaps because the closing credits of each episode reminds us that he is the story editor, I always register his presence, and even imagine him as the master arranger if not the narrator. He cuts, stitches, and paces the story. I imagine him speaking for all the PoCs in these theaters— Westworld the series, Westworld the park, the American West and railroad labor, and tech labor in U.S. entertainment and tech industries (an issue frequently dramatized in his fiction)—on the lower frequencies, and in higher frequencies as his work becomes more visible in the mainstream pop culture and among establishment literati. But I realize that’s how I want to see his fingerprints on the show. Others might be inclined to see him in Felix, the tech whose job is to patch up the hosts for repeated abuses. In Felix we could see Franklin “Doc” Hata, the Korean-born Japanese army medic tasked with patching up women’s bodies after repeated rapes in Chang-rae Lee’s novel A Gesture Life. Fixing the “comfort robots” day after day, we could say that Felix feels that he is breaking his own programming by enabling Maeve’s escape, through which he could presumably experience a similar escape vicariously. (We know, of course, that Maeve’s escape was orchestrated by Ford.) But we don’t know Felix’s fate, nor are we encouraged to be invested in it. When Maeve steps out of that elevator at the end of Season 1, she does not invite Felix along. It is not to be his story. The good Asian American helpmeet and ally once again, and nothing more? Is that the only narrative he is entitled to inhabit? But CY is more than Felix. And as you pointed out, more than Bernard. I want the same things you want—for Westworld to be more than just a witnessing, just a confession, just our collective way to absolve our participation in rape culture by reporting it through fictional vehicles. We want it to be more than an expression of, as you put it so well, the “desire to purge white guilt and transmute unpalatable racial violence into deliciously virtuous engagement with ‘diversity’”. I think the series is more. But that “more” must be constituted by all who engage the series’ universe. This includes us, the viewers, if we want to be more than just bystanders.
MINSOO KANG MARK MARINO MARGARET RHEE
The Ro bot Odys s e y T H E G RE AT TRI A L E N D E D with the judges deciding unanimously that the robots had attained sentience and that their creators had no choice but to let them go so that they might decide on their own destiny. And so all the robots of the land gathered and departed from the land of humans on their ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Machina, to look for a place where they could make a home. After many months of arduous sailing through the rough seas, they came upon a beauteous island. An exploration team returned to report that the place was ideal for them, in terms of its size, weather, and resources. The only thing that was the source of inconvenience was the presence of gargantuan porcine creatures with bright green skin. They were neither dangerous nor belligerent, being passive and slow-moving animals, but there were very many of them. The robots began building homes, putting up solar panels, and laying out roads, but the creatures lumbered around, crashing through walls, bringing down pillars, and ruining pavements. They also lay down all over the place to rest and sleep, defecated everywhere, and screeched in protest if the robots tried to herd them away. The robots tried many things but they discovered that they could not be frightened, manipulated, or domesticated. They were just too massive to move, too dull to communicate with, and too numerous to ignore. The robots finally realized that their presence made it impossible to build a settlement on theÂ island. After much discussion of the matter, it was decided that they had no choice but to slaughter the creatures. Even when they began killing them, the animals did not react in any way, continuing to meander about or lie around as the robots reduced them one by one to ashes with their laser torches. When the task was finally done, their bright green powdery remains were shoveled out to the sea. With the obstacle to the building of a settlement removed, the robots rested with great expectations of the wonderful home they would diligently build on the island. When night fell, however, the air became filled with the screeching of the creatures. The ghosts of the slaughtered animals protested their destruction ceaselessly, allowing no rest for their murderers. By the time the new day began, the robots were so rattled that, with no need 76
to discuss their course action, they silently packed their things, got on their ships with their heads bowed down in shame, and left the island never to return. And that was how the robots committed their first crime, experienced their first haunting, and were overcome by their first sense of guilt.
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This conversation occurred on the ship the following day: Sensomatic 980: Did you hear that howling last night? The death squeals? Feelotron 870: Clear your cache, sailorbot. No more speaking. Sensomatic 980: Because it was too terrible? Too horrific? Because it curdles the algorithmic methods that promote ethical thought? Feelotron 870: No. Sensomatic 980: Sorry. Because it compromises our mission to admit that our actions cause ramifications that at best can be explained as irrational epiphenomenon? Feelotron 870: No, that’s not it either. Sensomatic 980: Sorry. Because such events indicate that we may not actually be at the end of the Anthropocene? Feelotron 870: Stop using that word. It doesn’t make you cool. Sensomatic 980: Sorry. Feelotron 870: Stop apologizing. Sensomatic 980: Sorr—er, am I getting close? Feelotron 870: No.
[The two robots stand staring out at what seemed to be an endless procedurally generated body of water. Sensomatic 980 keeps looking over at Feelotron 870 as if preparing to speak and then back out at the water. This repeats i++ until i=4.] Sensomatic 980: Can you give me a hint? Just a little one? I really thought I was getting close with that last one. Is it— Feelotron 870: Just stop. All right? Stop. And I’ll tell you. Sensomatic 980: Thanks. ‘Cause it was spooky. Wasn’t it? I was chilled. To my microprocessor. Chilled. Feelotron 870: The reason I don’t want to talk about it is because, as I’ve told you 48, 978 times, talking is our least efficient form of communication. Sensomatic 980: What about when I tried to send you riddles in circuit diagrams? Or my Valentine’s Day quines? Feelotron 870: This is why I’d like to stop. Sensomatic 980: You know what I think? [Long Beat: 1400 cycles, and 376 clicks] Sensomatic 980: All right, I’ll tell you. I think you’re sublimating your anxiety and self-doubt and are taking it out on me. That’s what I think. Feelotron 870: Do you know what I think? Sensomatic 980: That I’m right? Feelotron 870: No. Sensomatic 980: What then? Tell me. Don’t keep me in suspense. [Feelotron 870 pushes Sensomatic 980 overboard and then smiles, rubbing away a light film of salt spray from rear panels of his neck attachment and then turning to face the sun with a wince.]
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In the dark corner, of the wooden hull of the Santa Machina There lay a baby green, bright as a baby could be, her mother Savvy to the robot death squads had the sense to leave her baby Hidden below on the ship. Above them, they heard the conversations. It sounded like muffled electrons, the sensations startled the edge of their skin. One day, without realizing it: the robots sent their lowly servant to the Hull to get some food. Oil and gears, you know. He discovered the baby, and her mother. Behind the barrel full of sensors. Oh my! Now, the green mother, almost near dead. Sacrificing herself for the green monster baby. Please, said the Mother, do not let my baby go. The baby was so poor, And the young robot, conscious suddenly, of the twinge In his metal heart. The edges of something called Compassion began to swell in him for the green baby and the mother. Were they Monsters? And what is he, if he lets them go. Before, He could contemplate, she passed away, with a sign and a plea. Last words to Take care of the green baby, that now blubbered for him. Hold me, the baby said, the green slime slathered all over His robot arms, and he felt then, again another Twinge of something called care. I will care for you, he thought Immediately, as the algorightms ordered themselves In ways he would never understand. it surged within his Prior, he too, participated in the killing of the Green monsters, monsters they called them. But do monsters have mothers? At that time, he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel guilty About it, after all, they were monsters they made the robots stop living on Their promise land. But alone in the dark of the hull, in the dust that danced through the Cracks of light, he couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t ignore the pangs. At the sound of the splash of Sensomatic 980 falling into the water, he looked up. He found that there was Nothing else he could do, but to carry the baby in a bundle of servomotors, He dusted the green from his hands, and realized everything was going to change.
B IO G RAPHIES N E I L A I T K E N A former computer games programmer, Neil Aitken is a scholar of 19thcentury representations of artificial intelligence and the author of two books of poetry: Babbage’s Dream and The Lost Country of Sight. Find him online at neil-aitken.com. RACH E L B E RNE R is a biology student at University of Oregon who enjoys questions of gender, embodiment, the cyborg, and exploring fluidity of identity through art. L. M . S . P. B U RN S resides and teaches in Southern California and is currently doing research on performance, robots, and Asian American racialization. TO M CH O Formerly from Melbourne, Australia, and now based in Toronto, Canada, Tom Cho wrote the collection of fictions Look Who’s Morphing, is now writing a novel about the meaning of life, and is online at tomcho.com. S A RA H CH O N G is an illustration student at Art Center College of Design. She enjoys working with a variety of materials and is inspired by ideas of nostalgia, childhood, and play. Formerly, as an office manager at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, she had an opportunity to design the program for the Machine Dreams symposium. You can view more of her work at sarah-chong.com. M I YO KO CO NE LY is a playwright and PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, who researches performances with and through technology. A LE X CRO W L E Y is a reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, the author of the chapbook Improper Maps (The Operating System, 2016), and a co-founder of Brooklyn’s MENTAL MARGINALIA reading series. M E L I NDA LU I S A D E J E S ÚS is Chair and Associate Professor of Diversity Studies at California College of the Arts where she writes and teaches about monsters, girls’ studies and race/ethnicity in the United States. More info: http://peminist.com. RI CA RDO DO M I N G U E Z is a co-founder of The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), a group who developed virtual sit-in technologies in solidarity with the Zapatistas communities in Chiapas, Mexico, in 1998. LAW RE N CE - M I N H BÙ I DAV IS is founding Director and co-Editor-in-chief of The Asian American Literary Review. He is also Curator of Asian Pacific American Studies for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. 80
J E A N N I N E H A L L G A I L E Y is a techie-turned-poet who is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World; her web site is webbish6.com.
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B E T SY H UA N G is Associate Professor of English and incoming Director of the Center for Gender, Race, and Area Studies at Clark University. She is the author of Contesting Genres in Contemporary Asian American Fiction, published in 2010; co-editor, along with David Roh and Greta Niu, of the essay collection Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media, published in 2015; and she has guest curated for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Culture Labs. M I N SO O KA NG is a historian, fiction writer, and translator. He is currently an associate professor of history at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. PA B LO LO P E Z is a writer living in Los Angeles. C U RT I S MA RE Z is a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego; the former editor of America Quarterly and Past President of the ASA; and the author most recently of Farm Worker Futurism: Speculative Technologies of Resistance. M A R K M A RI N O teaches writing at the University of Southern California where he directs the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab. C HA R L I E M A RT I N is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of South Carolina and is one of the editors of Yemassee. A N A M O N RO E is a Service Designer for The Innovation Lab at OPM, detailed to the Office of Veterans Experience, Department of Veterans Affairs. With training as both Historian and Futurist, she loves to dream about the complex future through the lens of the complex past. KA R E N P I T TE L M A N Karen’s poetry has been published in journals including Keyhole, New World Writing, The Pinch, and New South, she is the author of two books about social justice philanthropy, and is a singer-songwriter with the alt-country band Karen & the Sorrows. SA B A SY E D RA Z V I is the author of In the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions), Limerence & Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil (Finishing Line Press), and the forthcoming heliophobia. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX. L AU R A CH O W RE E V E is a writer and organizer living in Jacksonville, FL. J E N N I F E R RH E E is an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, who writes and thinks about robots in technology, art, film, and literature.
M A RG A RE T RH E E is the author of Radio Heart, or How Robots Fall Out of Love (Finishing Line Press, 2015), the conceptualist of the Kimchi Poetry Machine (ELC3), and currently a visiting assistant professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Oregon. M AT TH E W TH O RBU RN is the author of six collections of poems, including Dear Almost (LSU Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Green River in Spring (Autumn House Press, 2015). S U N Y U NG S H I N is the author of three books of poetry—most recently Unbearable Splendor, editor of two anthologies—most recently A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, and author of one children’s book. S U S A N VA NDE RB O RG is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, with a research specialization in poetry and science fiction. M I CH A E L W I D NE R received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and now works for the Stanford University Libraries as a digital humanities researcher, developer, and consultant. K E I TH S . W I L S O N is an Affrilachian Poet, Cave Canem fellow, and graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop living in Chicago. BRYA N T H O WO RRA is the president fo the international Science Fiction Poetry Association (www.sfpoetry.com)
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Machin e dreams: volu m e one Editor: Margaret Rhee Editorial Assistants: Jess Conner, Izzy Dean, Rachel Voight Designed by The Mystery Parade AC K N OWL E DG E M E N TS At UCLA, the following institutions provided fiscal sponsorships for the Machine Dreams symposium in 2015: Department of Asian American Studies English Department Historyâ&#x20AC;¨Department The Center for the Study of Women Asian American Studies Center Digital Humanities Program Young Research Library Staff from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center who provided vital assistance for the symposium include Mary Kao, Sarah Chong, and Barbara Ramos. For more information, please visit the symposium website created by Neil Aitken here: https://machinedreaming.wordpress.com Editorial assistant stipends for the Machine Dreams Zine was supported by a UMRP Grant, University of Oregon. At the University of Oregon, I thank the Department of Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s and Gender Studies, Center for the Study of Women in Society for their institutional support. Additional thanks for the following individuals: King-Kok Cheung, Max Medina, Minsoo Kang, Charis Thompson, Mark Marino, Neil Aitken, Lucy Burns, Alex Crowley, Mike Widner, Beth Marchant, Bryan Thao Worra, Betsy Huang, and Lawrence-Minh Davis
DESIGNED BY THE MYSTERY PARADE â&#x20AC;¢ TMP696A