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“Of all the chapters of religious anthropology probably none has tarried to the same extent as studies in the field of mythology. From a theoretical point of view the situation remains very much the same as it was fifty years ago, namely, a picture of chaos. Myths are still widely interpreted in conflicting ways: collective dreams, the outcome of a kind of esthetic play, the foundation of ritual…. Mythological figures are considered as personified abstractions, divinized heroes or decayed gods. Whatever the hypothesis, the choice amounts to reducing mythology either to an idle play or to a coarse kind of speculation.
Mythology confronts the student with a situation which at first sight could be looked upon as contradictory. On the one hand, it would seem that in the course of a myth anything is likely to happen. There is no logic, no continuity. Any characteristic can be attributed to any subject; every conceivable relation can be met. With myth, everything becomes possible. But on the other hand, this apparent arbitrariness is belied by the astounding similarity between myths collected in widely different regions. Therefore the problem: if the content of a myth is contingent, how are we going to explain that throughout the world myths do resemble one another so much?
A remark can be introduced at this point which will help to show the singularity of myth among other linguistic phenomena. Myth is the part of language where the formula traduttore, tradittore reaches its lowest truth-value. From that point of view it should be put in the whole gamut of linguistic expressions at the end opposite to that of poetry, in spite of all the claims which have been made to prove the contrary. Poetry is a kind of speech which cannot be translated except at the cost of serious distortions; whereas the mythical value of the myth remains preserved, even through the worst translation. Whatever our ignorance of the language and the culture of the people where it originated, a myth is still felt as a myth by any reader through- out the world. Its substance does not lie in its style, its original music, or its syntax, but in the story which it tells. It is language, functioning on an especially high level where meaning succeeds practically at “taking off” from the linguistic ground on which it keeps on rolling.
Prevalent attempts to explain alleged differences between the so-called “primitive” mind and scientific thought have resorted to qualitative differences between the working processes of the mind in both cases while assuming that the objects to which they were applying themselves remained very much the same. If our interpretation is correct, we are led toward a completely different view, namely, that the kind of logic which is used by mythical thought is as rigorous as that of modern science, and that the difference lies not in the quality of the intellectual process, but in the nature of the things to which it is applied. This is well in agreement with the situation known to prevail in the field of technology: what makes a steel ax superior to a stone one is not that the first one is better made than the second. They are equally well made, but steel is a different thing than stone. In the same way we may be able to show that the same logical processes are put to use in myth as in science, and that man has always been thinking equally well; the improvement lies, not in an alleged progress of man’s conscience, but in the discovery of new things to which it may apply its unchangeable abilities.”
“The Structural Study of Myth” by Claude Lévi-Strauss
Other reasons include:
“It was when I was preparing this lecture that I discovered that roboticists have a god: Hephaestus. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was an ingenious, talented craftsman, known for the remarkable weapons he made. But he also made wheelchairs that moved about on their own (basically, mobile robots) and golden servants that helped him to move about (basically, helper robots), and he even made Pandora, a clay statue to whom Athena gave life. He had a tumultuous love life, as attested by the following passage by Apollodorus, a chronicler from the second century BCE:
Athena visited Hephaistos, wanting to fashion some arms. But Hephaistos, who had been deserted by Aphrodite, yielded to his desire for Athena and began to chase after her, while the goddess for her part tried to escape. When he caught up with her at the expense of much effort (for he was lame), he tried to make love to her. But she, being chaste and a virgin, would not permit it, and he ejaculated over the goddess’s leg. In disgust, she wiped the semen away with a piece of wool and threw it to the ground. As she was fleeing…
While Hephaestus is the god of doing, Athena, who appears here as the one who calls the tune, is the goddess of knowing or —to protect me from reprimands from the exegetes, especially in this assembly— let me consider her as such for the purpose this lecture. Hephaestus was thus seeking to possess Athena. He was unable to do so. Could the doing not aspire to the knowing? A hard blow for the roboticist.
Robotics stems from this tension. Although the myth contradicts a current tendency to confuse science and technology, it does nevertheless reflects my own experience regarding innovation —experience that I might sum up as follows: even though doing is not understanding, understanding enables one to do, but unfortunately, not always. And even though one may very well do without understanding, doing also enables one to have tools —sometimes surprising ones— for understanding.
Hephaestus is starting all over again with new Pandoras. They are no longer of clay, but mecatronic. And they are animated. The roboticist keeps on asking the question of autonomy: what adaptability can we hope to give these new machines? The analogy between humans and machines has to be made23; it cannot be avoided. In the end, does Hephaestus have the keys to knowledge? With his machines that adapt, that “decide” on their actions, what can he tell us about our own “functioning”? The question is both dangerous and beautiful.
Let us bear in mind the image of the myth —and it is only an image, for even if the roboticist can identify with Hephaestus and can shape Pandora out of clay, he is neither Athena nor Geppetto. He will never give any humanity to clay or wood. A robot is a machine controlled by a computer; nothing else. Although animated, it remains and will remain an inanimate object without a soul that becomes attached to our soul [and without] the power of lovei. Let us allow the demi-gods to talk, let us enjoy works by Fritz Lang and Mary Shelley, and let us not be afraid. But are we actually anxious? That is not so sure. In any case, our Japanese friends aren’t, they who are so different from us; they for whom union is possible.”
THE AUTOMATION is too big for a stocking stuffer, probably. But you can still cram it in your brain for free here.
‘The zoo is a biopolitical apparatus, a carceral space undergirded by an anthropomorphic cultural imaginary. As Brain Massumi writes in What Can Animals Teach Us About Politics?, “The zoo is not simply a space of confinement…The horror of the visible stifling of the animals’ vitality is converted into fun.” Animals are anthropomorphized as having nuclear and domestic(ated) families and thus figured as a heteronormative spectacle. A powerful image of everyday resistance to animal incarceration that was in the news recently was where a panda feigned pregnancy to get access to more food and marginally less harmful carceral conditions – as a result a team of scientists had to reschedule their livestream of it after much laudatory heteronormalizing anthropomorphic zoo fan fare. Since its inception the zoo has also always (already) been a colonial and racial enterprise. The awful history of the anti-black racist and colonial exoticizing exhibitions of people of African descent alongside animals in zoos shows how for blackness the human/animal binary is not only collapsed but is in fact mutually reinforcing through the violence inherent in the racial-colonial grammar of animalization – how black people have been historically seen as beasts.’
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“But the truer intent of Fantastic Beasts reveals itself as veteran Harry Potter director David Yates continues to swoop the camera like he’s mapping out a blueprint for Universal’s inevitable Fantastic Beasts roller coaster. Once I accepted that I wasn’t watching a movie so much as a marketing opportunity, I could focus my attention on the rest of what Fantastic Beasts had to offer.
And even though those days are largely behind me, I still thought the prospect of having a new Harry Potter canon in my life might spark something like excitement. Surely seeing a full-blown adaptation of Rowling’s slim book of the same name could be interesting, especially when interwoven with the rise of Gellert Grindelwald, the dark wizard who was Voldemort before Voldemort was Voldemort. And if nothing else, surely the adventures of a magical-creature enthusiast careening around 1920s New York City would be exciting.
As it turns out, not so much.
See, Fantastic Beasts isn’t just a whimsical tale of Newt chasing mischievous Nifflers and gelatinous rhinos around the city. It’s not even about the rise of Grindelwald. It’s about setting the stage for four(!) more movies. Almost all of these dozen or so plots end with, “To be continued.”
The result is that none of Fantastic Beasts’ stories truly get a chance to breathe beyond their cursory consideration. Given the fact that the movie’s narratives are so thin they’re practically translucent, it’s a good thing Yates and the Fantastic Beasts CGI team do their damnedest to give us something pretty to look at.”
No narcissism here. Nope.
‘An automaton is defined as a machine that contains its own principle of motion. Strictly speaking, a clock is an automaton. The notion of an artificial human figure—an “android” as it has come to be called—derives in part from the tradition of the striking jack in the great medieval town clocks, in which the hour would be sounded by a mechanical figure springing into motion with a hammer and gong. That this employment once fell to a living person, the town watchman suggests that here were our first labor-saving robots. But the animated figure, or moving sculpture, can be traced back to ancient Egypt. “At Thebes accordingly, there were statues that spoke and made gestures. The priests made the heads and arms move by devices not as yet clearly explained” we are told by Egyptologist Alexandre Moret, invoking the same combination of mystery, divine intervention, human ingenuity, and mechanics of deception our own monk exhibits. Theater has always been the partner of religion.
The sixteenth century was a period of tremendous mechanical sophistication: the dawning of the scientific revolution. Clockmaking was to become a profession in its own right, separate from its origin in the blacksmith’s art, and its former association with gun- and locksmithing. Precision timekeeping in centuries to come would become crucial to the world shipping trade for its use in determining navigational longitude.  But in its early form, clockmaking was driven less by the problem of measuring time, and more by the astronomer’s efforts to model the locations and motions of “the fixed and moving stars,” that is, to capture the animating principle of the universe.
A significant development—perhaps the significant development—from the medieval town clock, driven by enormous systems of weights, was the emergence of the spiral spring combined with the fusee. A fusee is an ingenious device for making the driving force of a spring constant. Once attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, earlier examples of the fusee have now been found. When wound, a mainspring could now deliver a steady application of tension, rather than a stronger and then progressively weaker force as it ran down. An early fusee, made of wood, is found in the mechanism of the monk .
The other important development in the mechanical arts was the cam. An ancient device attributed to Archimedes, the cam reached broad use in the fifteenth century in the striking trains of clocks. A cam is simply a barrel or disk of metal rotated by the gear train. Its outer edge is either studded with short pins, or cut to a calculated profile, and as it turns, one end of a lever, riding against that uneven edge, is set in motion. Called a following arm, the lever translates the cam’s calculated profile into reciprocating movements that can be highly precise and carefully timed. Numbers of such levers can operate for example the spring-tensioned linkages to the monk’s arms, legs, head, eyes. The cam is thus the memory of the machine, and its profile is the analog information base for generating the exact movements of a given part.”
-Elizabeth King, “A Short History of the Relations Between Machines and Divinity (Deus ex Machina).”
“In the history of European clock technology, the monk is an early and very rare example of a self-acting automaton, one whose mechanism is wholly contained and hidden within its body. Its uncanny presence separates it immediately from later automata: it is not charming, it is not a toy, it is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and it engages even the twentieth-century viewer in a complicated and urgent way. It has duende, the dark spirit Federico García Lorca described. Myself a sculptor, negotiating competing ways of representing human substance and spirit, I wanted to know more about this hypnotic object, and the legend connected to it…
How was the monk used once it was made, who operated it and who would have seen it? Above all, how was it seen, and what beliefs might have been crucial to its effect on spectators? This essay narrates the chronology of my search for answers to these questions. I am not a historian, and I have preferred to let the search itself be visible as a part of my subject. Driven as much by the physical presence of the monk as by the legend of the bedside promise, this work is ultimately an artist’s homage to the human attempt to model an act of the spirit…
The monk is, like all automata, a recording, a kind of artificial memory. What can he tell us?
…In 1980, the Smithsonian changed the name of its National Museum of History and Technology. It would now be called the National Museum of American History. And some changes started to take place, subtle ones at first, but in recent years there have been shifts in institutional priority that have alarmed many historians and scholars. For one thing, the monk, as of December 1997, is now removed from view. The old instrument and timekeeping displays have been redesigned with a new theme in mind: the meaning of time to Americans and its influence on American life. But it isn’t just politics as usual: not only is the monk unAmerican, he slips through all kinds of identification parameters. He isn’t a clock, he isn’t a calculator, he isn’t a sculpture, he isn’t an icon, he isn’t a plaything: he doesn’t fit anywhere! We still don’t know how to look at him. And he troubles us.”
Doctor Strange, the best Marvel movie of the year (hell, the best superhero movie of the year), was a pleasant surprise. The worst part about it was the final end credits scene (the second one, not the first), where one of the “good guys” reveals the setup of his Leeland-like rampage to destroy all of his “kind”…without proper motivation or reasoning. Makes me want to see if the comic books gave him better motivation (I’ve never read them). Otherwise, it seems like it was out of character. He goes from walking away from it all ambivalently to I’m actively going to stop this overall ambivalence. However, this is forgivable, as such set up can be smoothed over in a full-scale movie. It’s only supposed to be a tease.
But the film itself explores major themes like “Making a deal with the devil” and “Choosing the lesser of two evils” and “There is no such thing as pure good.” Hell yes, please!
As I mentioned before, one of the “good guys” in the final final scene, in his quest for purity, does some evil things. This is in contrast to Dr. Strange refusing to kill to maintain said purity, yet making his “deals with the devil” just like his master (it’s so hard for me not to want to capitalize the M right now, you guys). Thus, no character is “without sin” despite their fight for good. Paradox upon paradox.
And the best character? The cloak.
Hilarious without being cheesy, it’s the best comic relief. Sorry, Wong.
You’re still funny.
Excellent pacing, imagery, and plot.
Suck it, Doctor Who.