Philip Gerard: Catalogue data in Spring Semester 2021

Name Dr. Philip Gerard
DepartmentHumanities, Social and Political Sciences

851-0340-00LWriting Technology: Cyborgs, Cybernetics, and Translating Machines3 credits2VP. Gerard
AbstractIn this course we will examine the two sides of writing technology. On the one hand, we will direct our attention to that most conspicuous writing technology of our world: the digital writing of modern computers.
ObjectiveOn the other hand, we will consider a set of fictional works that imagine the future of technology in writing. More profoundly, however, we will explore the nature and limits of the being who both writes and is written by these technologies, the being we used to call human but which, if we follow the reasoning of Donna Haraway, long ago became an organic-mechanical hybrid—a cyborg.
ContentIn this course students will familiarize themselves with ideas central to both the modern study of literature and the historical development of information technologies. Through a mixture of literary and non-literary texts, we will examine notions like “code,” “medium,” and “translation” as concepts, metaphors, and formal practices. Our readings will range from the early work on cybernetics by Norbert Wiener, Alain Turing, and Claude Shannon to texts on media theory by Marshall McLuhan and Friedrich Kittler to classic science fiction novels by Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delaney. To give students a sense of the consequences of information theory for literary studies, and to introduce the historical links between communication technology, translation, and Global English, we will compare Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Gold Bug” with its translation into BASIC-English, a “universal” language composed of 850 English words selected according to statistical principles. Finally, we will consider the experimental literary form of Samuel Beckett’s Watt, a novel whose prose attains a degree of algorithmic formalization that brings English, as Hugh Kenner once said, “close to the language of digital computers.”
LiteratureNorbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings
Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence
Claude Shannon, “The Mathematical Theory of Communication”

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media
Friedrich Kittler, Literature, Media, Information Systems
Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Samuel R. Delaney, Babel-17
Edgar Allen Poe, “The Gold Bug” / “The Gold Insect”
Samuel Beckett, Watt