GABBLER RECOMMENDS: A World Ordered Only By Search The Convivial Society: Vol. 2, No. 17

This kind of reading was grounded not just in the book generically, but in a particular book. Remember, of course, that books were relatively scarce artifacts and that reproducing them was a laborious task, although often one lovingly undertaken. This much is well known. What might not be as well known is that many features that we take for granted when we read a book had not yet been invented. These include, for example, page numbers, chapter headings, paragraph breaks, and alphabetical indexes. These are some of the dozen or so textual innovations that Illich had in mind when he talks about the transformation of the experience of reading in the 12th century. What they provide are multiple paths into a book. If we imagine the book as an information storage technology (something we can do only on the other side of this revolution) then what these new tools do is solve the problems of sorting and access. They help organize the information in such a way that readers can now dip in and out of what now can be imagined as a text independent of the book.

I’ve found it helpful to think about this development by recalling how Katherine Hayles phrased one of the themes of How We Became Posthuman. She sought to show, in her words, “how information lost its body.” Illich is here doing something very similar. The text is information that has lost its body, i.e. the book. According to Illich, until these textual innovations took hold in the 12th century, it was very hard to imagine a text apart from its particular embodiment in a book, a book that would’ve born the marks of its long history—in the form, for example, of marginalia accruing around the main text.

I’ve also thought about this claim by analogy to the photograph. The photograph is to the book as the image is to the text. This will likely make more sense if you are over 35 or thereabouts. Today, one can have images that live in various devices: a phone, a laptop, a tablet, a digital picture frame, the cloud, an external drive, etc. Before digital photography, we did not think in terms of images but rather of specific photographs, which changed with age and could be damaged or lost altogether. Consequently, our relationship to the artifact has changed. Roland Barthes couldn’t be brought to include the lone photograph he possessed of his mother in his famous study of photography, Camera Lucida published in 1980. The photograph was too private, his relationship to it too intimate. This attitude toward a photographic image is practically unintelligible today. Or, alternatively, imagine the emotional distance between tearing a photograph and deleting an image. This is an important point to grasp because Illich is going to suggest that there’s another analogous operation happening in the 12th century as the individual detaches from their community. But we’ll come back to that in the last section.

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” Female Spanish thriller writer Carmen Mola revealed to be three men”

“The men had published under the pseudonym Carmen Mola, which roughly translates as “Carmen’s cool”.

When one of their books won the lucrative Planeta prize, the trio went public to pick up the cheque at a glitzy ceremony attended by the Spanish king.”

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On the first automaton in horror:

“In Hoffman’s novella, Olimpia is an object both created and destroyed by the world of men. The main part of the story tells of Coppelius—part alchemist, part magician, part mad-scientist—who, with the assistance of Professor Spalanzani, creates a life-like automaton that they pass off as the latter’s daughter. The scheme is designed to beguile and entrap the innocent and the one such is the young artist Nathanael. In a critique of the Romantic artistic temperament itself, Nathanael leaves his fiancé Clara as she no longer acts as a mirror to his passions, ironically, calling her a ‘damned lifeless automaton!” before running to his new love Olimpia…She is an inherently Gothic figure as she is not only an uncanny double to a real human—she replaces Clara—but she is also a mirror image of the artist himself. This sees her as not just ‘manmade’ but, in her role of Doppelgänger, as being literally made of Man…Olimpia is a manifestation of this degeneracy while acting as a conduit or mirror to pass it on or reflect it onto other men.

It is hardly surprising then that, as the story reaches its climax, she is literally torn apart by these forces trying to control her or remake her in their own image…

The construction of Olimpia’s femininity is worth examining further as it informs much of the uncanny status of her recurring afterlives. Her womanliness is purely a product of male, patriarchal domination seeing her appearance being created by men for the consumption of other men… Jeffrey A. Brown observes that women and robots can be seen to occupy a very similar status within patriarchal society as a ‘standardized, consumable and indeed replaceable form.’ …

Elissa Marder takes this idea even further and back to the foundations of western civilization in Greek mythology, specifically to the story of Pandora. In Marder’s reading Pandora, the ‘first woman,’ was fabricated by Hephaestus and so was ‘a manufactured product…an android, a robot, or a replicant.’ Further, she speculates that Pandora’s ‘maternal’ jar could be understood as a ‘mechanical reproduction’ of the womb rather than as its representation, which simultaneously posits that the manufactured female body is innately duplicitous in its emptiness, even more so when it looks like a living human, as when Olimpia takes the place of Nathanael’s biological fiancée and future bearer of his children. This mechanical doppelgänger symbolically castrates the young man casting such ‘women’ as inherently evil.

…Huyssen himself sees the urn—the vessel she appears from to perform her dance—as the found of Robot Maria’s second birth, but by introducing Pandora, this becomes a rebirth beyond male control. Although she draws the male-gaze, she uses it for her own ends, constructing her as an active agent in the disruption she causes and not just a puppet or mannequin of male desire.

..The T-X robot [of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines], as with Robot-Maria, should be genderless, a point accentuated by the fact it is able to change its shape at will, yet it is marked at all stages as feminine, even when only its ‘skeleton’ is left.

…Unlike T-X, Ava [of Ex Machina] is never mistaken for a human—everyone involved knows that she is a machine—but she is able to learn and manipulate human emotions….Ava’s femininity is interesting as, like all robots, she should be without gender, but her creator has given her a typically female build…Yet the narrative shows that Ava has modified her own looks and her ways of interacting with Caleb from monitoring the porn sites he surfs from his work computer—this last part is important as it suggests that Ava is able to ‘send’ her consciousness out into the internet. The film does not explore this aspect very much but it means that she is potentially hugely powerful and yet choose to remain in her ‘human’ body. This sees her having a form of individual agency that creates a very specific relationship between herself and the male gaze and male control.”

-Simon Bacon “Remaking Olimpia: Agency and the Gothic Afterlives of ‘female’ Automata” in Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media edited by Lorna Piatti-Farnell

On Frankenstein and robots:

“Jack Pierce’s makeup design for the creature furthers the film’s criticism of technology by making him look like an automaton created by an industrialized society. Karloff’s flat head and neck bolts were a throwback to the original idea of the monster as half-man, half robot inspired by earlier films like Metropolis (1923) and Karloff carried this robotic impression through in his performance of the creature’s stiff-legged gait. The robotic quality of Karloff’s creature speaks to contemporary fear that society’s ‘devotion to science and industry, reason and rationality [was] rendering [people] less human.’ The robotic, fragmented look of Karloff’s creature represents a significant shift in how the monster was adapted. Instead of ‘Mary Shelley’s well-proportioned but scary creature, her new Adam, and instead of Presumption’s dark haired brute in a blue body=stocking, the monster became a more literal thing of scars and stitches and skewers.’ The evolution of the creature from a coherent whole to a thing stitched together form different parts is a powerful metaphor for how modern advancements in technology had fragmented the self. According to Szollosy these feelings of fragmentation were the result of people projecting their unconscious fears of becoming automatons onto the creature as ‘excessive splitting and projections can leave one feeling fragmented, in pieces.’” –  Jeanette Laredo, “Unmade and Remade: Trauma and Modern Adaptations of Frankenstein” in Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media

From the NYTs: ‘You’re Anxious. You’re Afraid. And I Have Just the Solution.’

Horror fans have always known that the genre is more than a nightmare carnival. Horror is, and always has been, in dialogue with the anxieties and fears of its time. During the Great Depression, the misery and economic strife were embodied by monsters from literature and folklore, as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy made their way across the movie screen. In the 1980s, when paranoia about the Cold War and fears of nuclear winter reached a fever pitch, a slate of suburban terrors assured us that our insecurities were valid, that we were not, in fact, safe in our homes. Enter Jason Voorhees, with his machete and hockey mask; Michael Myers, with his mechanic overalls and chef’s knife; and Freddy Krueger, with his fedora and very sharp fingers.

But horror doesn’t just reflect our fears and anxieties back at us. It also helps us process them. Horror is a fun house mirror everybody can use. It exaggerates, distorts and distills whatever it is we’re trying to work through, then delivers it back to us as entertainment.

Horror can offer comfort, can offer solace. Not because it’s an accurate representation or dramatization of our turmoil — who’s that intentional with their media consumption? — but because horror comes packaged for us in 400-page novels, in two-hour movies, in stories that end. Whether those books or films end happily or not, they end. For all of us who sense no end to our own daily horror stories, that’s what’s important.

And even amid the jump scares and houses that are obviously haunted, horror can get you thinking, can get you talking. That’s the key to what horror can do. Horror can shine a light on things we’d rather ignore, can confront us with our failings. Horror can challenge us to do better. “Get Out” didn’t solve discrimination or racism — Black people are still dying in traffic stops — but it did, at least for a couple of hours, make a lot of people see the racism that lurks beneath even the most liberal-seeming facades. And that’s success. That’s art.

Every horror story, whether an ecological disaster or a vampire encounter, a haunted house or a plague, is basically a long, dark tunnel that the story’s “final girl” is trying to survive.

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