Archive for February, 2009


Feb 23 2009

Against Technology: Lots of Luddism

by at 11:13 am

I am blown away by Steven E. Jones’s Against Technology. Dr. Macovski recommended reading it for my paper and I’m glad I did. Jones talks about the ways in which the term Luddite has evolved from its initial use in 1811 to describe the followers of Ned Ludd to its contemporary association with the general technophobe. The original Luddites, Jones argues, were far from techophobic. They were, in fact, highly skilled laborers who went around smashing the very machines that were being used to replace their labor. Unlike modern day Luddites or “neo-Luddites,” the original Luddites did not complain about the prominance of technology in their daily lives. “Neo-Luddites” express discomfort over technology’s capacity for enslavement. A “neo-Luddite” would complain of being tied to her cellphone, checking the internet twenty times a day, etc.

This, of course, complicates my earlier argument that electricity is construed as man’s slave. While it is true that electricity is described in these terms (see past blog entry, Electricity as Man’s Slave) other things are also going on in nineteenth-century philosophies of technology. So, at the same time that electricity is described as man’s slave, technology is also percieved as enslaving man. I would like to argue that the fear of technological enslavement that is seen in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has its roots in the ninenteenth.

In Samuel Butler’s 1875 Erewhon, the argument is made that machines will enventually develop consciousness and in order to avoid a mechanical take over machine should be selectively destroyed to limit their numbers (Note, the author says we can’t destroy all machines because we’ve become too dependent on them, thereby acknowledging that man is already enslaved). Butler’s text is an example of neo-luddism of the internet age rather than the Ned Ludds of 1811. Machines aren’t being smashed because they are a threat to the skilled labor force; rather, they’re being smashed because technology itself is fearful. 

So….I think I’ve offically decided on my thesis: I’m interested in the ways in which technology is associated with slavery. Specifically how the very technology that man enslaves also enslaves man. I think that nineteenth-century texts that deal with technology represent this very ambivalence: technology both liberates and enslaves. Yay, thesis!

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Feb 18 2009

Erewhon : or, Over the range / Samuel Butler

by at 2:58 am

So, that Oxford World’s Classics edition of Literature and Science in the Ninteteenth Century finally came in and it’s definitely a keeper! It’s got a great overview of just about every movement in scientific thought from the nineteenth century, plus there’s excerpts from nineteenth-century literary texts that represent these ideas. One of these texts, under the Bodies and Machines heading, is called Erewhon : or, Over the range. It was published annoymously, but Samuel Butler actually wrote it. It’s a dystopic/utopic book with 3 chapters entitled “The Book of Machines” and he talks of the day when machines will liberate themselves from the yolk of man. I think I could definitely make the case that he is playing with the popularized notion that technology replaced slavery. As “slaves,” Butler imagines an eventual revolt. I just requested this text from the library. Exciting!! So, I’m definitely thinking I’m going to widen my thesis…it’s not JUST electricity, although electricity would definitely come into play…but it’s more factory or machine power (which, is, of course tied to machine power as well). So, I guess I’m interested in the general ways Victorian technology is used to stand-in as metaphors for larger issues. I really can’t wait to read the entire book…the little excerpt that I did read was fascinating!

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Feb 04 2009

Of Blog Banner Images

by at 10:01 pm

I was poking around the Library of Congress’s image database and came across this image from around 1899 of a Washington DC classroom. The room is filled with women studying electrogmagnetism. The image is really quite amazing. You see women drawing pictures of circuits. You also see the notes on the board, which I’ve cropped as the header of my banner. You can see “electric telegraph” and “telegraph” pretty clearly. I get excited everytime I look at it. I wonder what kind of classroom this was. Were these women scientists? Were these girls in highschool? Was this a “normal” part of nineteeth-century female education?

Since Cima’s paper, I’ve become more and more interested in just how much science nineteenth-century women were exposed to. Margaret Fuller talks about women’s heightened electrical compositions; Lydia Maria Child, as mentioned before, is also very much aware of this kind of scientific discourse. My outline and notes on how to take my paper for Cima’s paper further will be posted. Eventually.

On a side note, I’m reading Sister Carrie for Merish’s class now and it’s startling just how much electromagnetic language Dreiser uses. I could definitely see myself writing an analysis of this for a chapter of my thesis.

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