I’m happy to say I’ve been accepted to speak at the 2014 Electronic Literature Organization conference (ELO) to be held in Milwaukee in June.
Here’s my abstract:
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Screen:
digital fiction and the mind/machine problem
In 21st century philosophy of mind, the mind/body problem shares center stage with what we might call the – equally intractable but arguably more urgent – mind/machine problem. Deeply colored by the rationalist legacy of Cartesian dualism, the mind/machine problem indexes a continuum of concerns that move from better understandings and explanations of our cognitive apparatus with recourse to computer technology to, in its most extreme iteration, the project of formalizing and abstracting the (software) program of the mind for use in other, similarly “computational” media.
The proposed paper begins with the premise that, as a conspicuously hybrid form of human and computer output, one that often – or perhaps inevitably – supplies critical comment on that same communion, digital fiction is well placed to interrogate the aesthetic and political implications of the mind/machine problem. Part of this project certainly entails what David Golumbia (2009), in his critique of a broader set of beliefs that uncritically privilege the (progressive and instrumental) power of computation, calls “computationalism.” But another, perhaps preliminary part is more a matter of where we draw the lines, especially with regard to the phenomena of thinking, intending, learning, and remembering – and the substrates that support them.
The medium of digital narratives can preempt or even predetermine both the critical comment their stories convey and the kind of critical readings they allow. Such readings often amount, by default, to either a mode of Romantic resistance to technoculture and its stranglehold on contemporary consciousness, or one of blissful affirmation of our posthumanist condition.But more commonly we see a profound yet productive ambivalence that explores the kind of imaginative, expressive, and emotive outputs of minds and machines; the same kind of aesthetic uncertainty, moreover, avoids necessarily either opposing or equating both entities involved.
The proposed paper will focus on two works of digital fiction to illustrate its claims: Andy Campbell and Judi Alston’s Nightingale’s Playground (2010), and Fox Harrell’s Mimesis (2012). Nightingale’s Playground puts forth a vision that celebrates the individuality and fallibility of the human mind while issuing a deeply ambivalent comment on our inability to escape the media that enrich, shape, surround, and – for the protagonist Carl Robertson – quite possibly consume it. Mimesis creates a feedback loop between, on the one hand, conceptual domains common to literary practice (in its imaginative fashioning of fictional beings and fictional worlds) and those common to cognitive science on the other (namely categorical and schematic strategies that guide us epistemologically). More specifically, using conversational sea creatures as its narrative agents, the text encodes a limited range of emotional exchanges that simulate subtle forms of social aggression, thereby fashioning an experience that eschews the totalizing realism of a rational system for that which is a highly delimited yet highly convincing social one.
Oh, and the title of my post is a reference to the Italian-American Happy Days character Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (better known as Fonzie, Fonz, or The Fonz) whose statue now adorns downtown Milwaukee. I can’t wait to see him and reflect on our shared – albeit, in his case, entirely fictionalized – Italian-American roots.