Cyborgs etc

This is tangentially related to the poverty of poetry paper

Christian Bök has some very interesting, clued in, things to say about the future of literature viz-a-viz technology. He says that with the advent of programs like RACTOR (an almost communicative program) that know nothing of literary history or poetry, can ‘write’ poetry better than humans who don’t know poetry, and perhaps better than those who do, presents a problem in terms of authorship and well as the future production of poetry itself. The authorship issue is essentially that with a computer that does not even understand what it is saying can produce poetry of such quality, then there is no reason why a person who supposedly does know what he is saying has much bearing on the reception of the work.. That’s not clear. What I mean is that RICTOR’s poems generate interest even though there is no author, why should knowledge of the author, therefore generate any more interest? This is an interesting take, although I do wonder why North American writers still feel it necessary to invoke this authorship in this way. As I discussed before in terms of Kent Johnson’s Yasusada, there are more culturally provocative approaches to deal with issues of authorship. To simply say that computers abnegate the author is relevant but a little banal. As for the future production of poetry Bök makes 2 interrelated points: that future poets will be programmers who make code that generates poems so that it is the code and not the poem that interests people and 2. we should be writing poetry for androids as they will be our future audiences. There seem to be poets out there already programming poetry, Alan Sondheim and Lewis Lacook come immediately to mind but there are many many others. However, to say this is the future of poetry seems a little steep to me in relation to the second point, that we should write poetry for computers. He’s saying that code, designed for androids, will also stimulate our artificial audience. I find this problematic for a number of quite complex reasons. First of all, it is unlikely that computers will ‘think’ in the way humans do. When critics of the technological drive to replicate the human say that a computer will need whole life experiences to match the human, these are not just experiences of your second birthday or all that crap about implanted memory from Bladerunner, it is of all the experience that we never notice.. like the fax printer droning in the background and various voices, my experience of space etc etc. That is, embodied experience. It may indeed be possible to create a semi-thinking machine that can ‘process’ highly complex information and handle many of the rules based activities that the human does and may even be able to interact on a factual level with humans, but a machine won’t think.. Now what may be possible would be to biologically engineer machine-like people (as if there weren’t enough already!) say by altering DNA so that they won’t emotion pain. HOWEVER, machines are new tools with which the poet must come to terms with. Perhaps we will come to love a poet’s code, but the question is why would we love the code? Would we live it because of its ingenuity of design, like some people love cars? Because of what it enables us to do? Programs can give you a sense of achievement, like the many poem generators. I guess I can see this possibility, although it reduces the appreciation of the poem to the level of a video game. Bök’s points are very important to discuss because underlying them I see a fundamental conception of the human. The view of this school of thought, just like the view underlying popular culture of Matrix, Bladerunner, and even AI is that the human is programmable and that interaction works on the level of information transferal. However, there is a school of thought (to which I lean favorably) that posits complexity, that information doesn’t really exist as such and that our body in the environment does not operate on the mechanistic model posited by Descartes and, more importantly, Newton. Now, my question is, where does this take poetry????????

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