[-empyre-] Machine Dreams

saba razvi saba.razvi at gmail.com
Wed May 24 04:39:24 AEST 2017

Hello, everyone. 

I’m glad to be here to celebrate the recent publication of the Machine Dreams zine. I’m also delighted to join in on this conversation with all of you, here at empyre!

 It is with such nostalgia and delight that I think about the Machine Dreams Symposium, which truly brought together the collegial and creative spirits of inquiry and exploration in the context of an amazing topic. What I remember most fondly (in addition to the excitement of a staging that brought so many of us together in real time to talk about ideas that have significance and resonant importance to our worlds) is the way in which the event captured so many different avenues and perspectives, considered the idea of robot and machine and otherness from a number aspects that indulged possibility and promise. The sense of depth fostered by this approach embraced multiplicity, instead of pursuing the monolithic, bringing us into an encounter with what is one of the most important myths or metaphors of our present time: the robot. The robot is both labor and lovelessness, both desire through absence and free from the pain of desire, both part of the order of things and outside of them. In a world that is increasingly torn between the inherited value of empathy and the alleged progress of technology, these questions inform the heart (or the core, the CPU, the code) that drives our choices and the well-being of our communities, and remind us to consider our own responsibilities with regard to material and psychological terrain. That we can bring some of that dynamism into a continued discussion now just showcases the lasting relevance of issues raised at the the event, such as the nature of personhood, the role of the individual among the collective, the value of labor and curiosity in an increasingly automated world, the distance between a longing that creates discipline and the discipline that effaces desire entirely. In the pages of the collection “Machine Dreams”, we find an echo of those thoughts, see the shadows cast by those conversations, and discover the kind of literary experience that can truly open a door into such a world.

Mark, you bring up the notion of what draws us, as artists, into the idea of the machine and how it relates to the fundamentally human aspect of dreaming.
I find this engagement of ideas to be an incredibly ripe and rich resource for the imagination. We wonder (on the page/screen) if animals dream, if plants do, if robots do, how aliens or monsters do…as if somehow the act of having a dream — an experience that leaves us at the whim of a narrative that is not under our control and in which we have no agency, but often a sense of delight and fascination just the same — can make possible a connection or community, a meaningful exchange with another. The dream is an intimate space, almost a sacred one, tied into oneiromancy and romantic fantasy as much as goal-setting and productivity planning. The dream is both entirely mechanical, based on body processes that we do not control, and entirely biological, based on being psyches, at once; as such, it invites us to consider what makes us special, after all. Is it the ability to follow directions or create them, to process information or to process it with some synthesis into individual agency and motivation that matters? Are we interested in the fantasy of a singularity because it frightens or fascinates us, because we want to be creators and the created? Are we interested in how to control a fictional or potential robot because we want to know how to limit its agency to keep it from harming us or because we enjoy the power over a being that comes from deprivation of its agency, from its subjugation into commands and orders. How we answer this questions shapes the paths we take through the world, I think.
As humans, and as artists, in a changing society aware of its state of flux (but not the consequences or courses those changes will invite), we are interested in the limits of our abilities as much as we are in maximizing our potential, as if knowing those boundaries could free us or create machine helpers to free us. Does it free us to give in to empathy or to reject it? Does it free us from the tyranny commands or grant us the freedom to give in to the glory of giving them? So much of being human has to do with vulnerability — or fragile, mortal bodies feel far less magnificent than the potential we might believe our consciousnesses to contain, but machines, too, break down and become bothersome — as durable as they are, they wear their designs and their constructedness on the outside, inviting deconstruction as much as investigation in a way that the privileged human in the Anthropocene does not. Alterity and empathy take on greater significance in these conversations. After all, designing something beyond the human does mean considering what human is — considering its flaws and its abilities, and how we define what those things might be in the context of globalization and decolonialization, war, environmental degradation, genuine diversity, and the allure of technological development that affords power or freedom. It also means considering what the role of the human is, by exploring what it is not, what it creates to reject a reflection of itself, its weaknesses and its vulnerabilities. These questions tie in to issues that I confront in my own poetry and in my own critical inquiry into literature, some of what most delighted me to see refracted in the symposium and the zine!

These are some of the things that come to mind as I flip through the new collection and consider your own words. I’m looking forward to expanding on these avenues and exploring new ones, as this conversation develops! 


——————————————On, Mon, 22 May 2017 08:45:04 -0700, Mark Marino Wrote:———————————————————————————
Message: 2
Date: Mon, 22 May 2017 08:45:04 -0700
From: Mark Marino <markcmarino at gmail.com <mailto:markcmarino at gmail.com>>
To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <mailto:empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: [-empyre-] Machine Dreams
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Hi, Machine Dreamers,

I'm so excited for this week's discussion.  Our Machine Dreams encounter
was one I will not forget.  For those of you who missed it, you can watch a
somewhat pixelated version here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFYFaWrqZik <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFYFaWrqZik>

As I read over our publication from Machine Dreams, flip through the pages
of Radio heart, or think about our time together, I'm struck by the shear
humanity of the whirls with robots.  Or rather, I'm struck by the parts of
humanity that emerge from the whirls.

Why are we so drawn to the machines of our machine dreams, as people, as
artists, as dreamers? I'm starting to think that it is not their inability
to be completely human but instead their ability to fully embody one part
of the human attributes without manifesting the full meat sack of messy,
squishy embodied being. In other words, they allow us to imagine intensely
our humanity in part.   Not metonymic but in isolation.

An emotion.  A logical flow.  A sense of consideration without empathy.
Knowledge without understanding.

But our intense encounter with even that part of humanity -- that part of
humanity isolated from the whole -- is transformative.

"I still hear you radio heart beating
Inside the meat of mine."

And of course, no doubt this partiality is part and parcel of our
experience of one another.

That is my first thought.  Looking forward to our conversation.

Mark Marino

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