Machine Dreams is a podcast created by the English undergraduate seminar in the Department of English at Harvard University. In our course, we’re interested in how machines, robots, and codes are represented in, and shaped by literary texts. For example, in 1920, Czech playwright Karel Capek coined the term “robot” in his play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots) and transformed societal conceptions of mechanical beings. The contemporary literature we read as a class, similarly push the boundaries of the intersection of technology, machines, and literature. We had the fortunate opportunity to speak with invited authors on this topic of machines and literature, and engage in a collective conversation together. What follows is a dialogue that explores robots, technology, science fiction, intimacy, human conditions, and literary form. We are also interested in literature beyond the page, and the classroom. Our podcast interview is our gesture to a Machine Dream, and we hope you enjoy listening, and join our exploration together.
Mark Doten discusses his provocative and satirical new novel Trump Sky Alpha, shedding necessary light on the Internet, politics, and "the novel as a eating machine."
In her dream-like novel Tell the Machine Goodnight, Katie Williams explores the search for happiness in today's digital age. Williams discusses writing, philosophy, and the possibilities of Apricity--the feeling of the sun warming your skin in winter.
George Abraham discusses neuroscience, robotics, Palestine, visual poetics and "the story in theorems" through his dynamic and riveting poetry collection the specimen’s apology.
Eugene Lim discusses his experimental and moving novel Dear Cyborgs, which upturns and transforms what we understand of the seemingly disparate categories: cyborgs, Asian Americans, and fiction. Through innovative, humorous, and intelligent storytelling, Lim provides an unforgettable cyborgian tale.
Darius Kazemi discusses whether he considers himself a cyborg (and if that's even a relevant term). his bot-making origin story, and whether Twitterbots have a future on a platform that is uninterested, to say the least, in supporting creative bots.
Mark Marino reads from and discusses his project "@Reality: Being Spencer Pratt," in which he takes over a million-follower Twitter account in the persona of an obscure British poet. Marino writes that his new book, Critical Code Studies, "makes the argument that we must read computer code for more than what it does—we must consider what it means. Using the critical methods of the Humanities, the book offers case studies demonstrating ways of interpreting a wide range of code, from hacktivist art projects to climate modeling software, from poetry generators written by digital artists to a computer graphics programs written by a philosopher. The book models initial techniques for this interdisciplinary approach to code."
Poet and novelist Larissa Lai reads from and discusses her book Automaton Biographies, which she describes is organized around the question of "Who gets to be human, and when?" She discusses why the character Rachel, from Blade Runner, allowed her rethink the writing of autobiography, poetry as a way to convey an expression of cyborg being through an "intentionally awkward way of being in English," and both race- and species-based dehumanization in science fiction and neocolonial contexts in her poem "Ham," titled after the chimpanzee sent into space.