My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts

Critical Writing
Publication Type: 
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Abstract (in English): 

We live in a world, according to N. Katherine Hayles, where new languages are constantly emerging, proliferating, and fading into obsolescence. These are languages of our own making: the programming languages written in code for the intelligent machines we call computers. Hayles’s latest exploration provides an exciting new way of understanding the relations between code and language and considers how their interactions have affected creative, technological, and artistic practices.

My Mother Was a Computer explores how the impact of code on everyday life has become comparable to that of speech and writing: language and code have grown more entangled, the lines that once separated humans from machines, analog from digital, and old technologies from new ones have become blurred. My Mother Was a Computer gives us the tools necessary to make sense of these complex relationships. Hayles argues that we live in an age of intermediation that challenges our ideas about language, subjectivity, literary objects, and textuality. This process of intermediation takes place where digital media interact with cultural practices associated with older media, and here Hayles sharply portrays such interactions: how code differs from speech; how electronic text differs from print; the effects of digital media on the idea of the self; the effects of digitality on printed books; our conceptions of computers as living beings; the possibility that human consciousness itself might be computational; and the subjective cosmology wherein humans see the universe through the lens of their own digital age. 

(Source: University of Chicago Press catalog copy)


Prologue: Computing Kin
Part I. Making: Language and Code
1. Intermediation: Textuality and the Regime of Computation
2. Speech, Writing, Code: Three Worldviews
3. The Dream of Information: Escape and Constraint in the Bodies of Three Fictions
Part II. Storing: Print and Etext
4. Translating Media
5. Performative Code and Figurative Language: Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon
6. Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl
Part III. Transmitting: Analog and Digital
7. (Un)masking the Agent: Stanislaw Lem’s "The Mask"
8. Simulating Narratives: What Virtual Creatures Can Teach Us
9. Subjective Cosmology and the Regime of Computation: Intermediation in Greg Egan’s Fiction
Epilogue: Recursion and Emergence
Works Cited

My Mother Was a Computer

Works referenced:

Critical writing that references this:

Titlesort descending Author Publisher Year
Beyond the Screen: Transformations of Literary Structures, Interfaces and Genres Transcript 2010
Born Digital: Writing Poetry in the Age of New Media Maria Engberg 2007
Code Mark C. Marino 2014
Digital Literature: Theoretical and Aesthetic Reflections Luciana Gattass 2011
Digital Media Scott Rettberg, Jill Walker Rettberg Modern Language Association (MLA) 2010
Digital Poesi. Æstetisk Analyse og det Mediales Rolle i Kunstværkers Kommunikation Mette-Marie Zacher Sørensen 2013
Electronic Literature Scott Rettberg Polity 2018
Expressive Processing: On Process-Intensive Literature and Digital Media Noah Wardrip-Fruin 2006
Inner Workings: Code and Representations of Interiority in New Media Poetics John Cayley Dichtung Digital 2003
Letters That Matter: Electronic Literature Collection Vol 1 John David Zuern Electronic Book Review (ebr) 2007
Locating the Literary in New Media Joseph Tabbi Contemporary Literature, Electronic Book Review (ebr) 2008
Narrative Affect in William Gillespie's Keyhole Factory and Morpheus: Biblionaut, or, Post-Digital Fiction for the Programming Era Eric Dean Rasmussen CounterText 2016
New Textualities Manuel Portela EJES: European Journal of English Studies 2007
Players Only Love You When They’re Playin': Community as Algorithm in Programmable Poetics Chris Funkhouser, Andrew Klobucar 2012
Productions of Presence: Sensing Electronic Literature Luciana Gattass 2012
The Monstrous Book and the Manufactured Body in the Late Age of Print John M. Vincler Dichtung Digital 2010
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Eric Dean Rasmussen