[-empyre-] Machine Dreams: Introducing Keith Wilson and Sun Yung Shin!

saba razvi saba.razvi at gmail.com
Mon May 29 16:59:49 AEST 2017

Dear Everyone,
I was hoping to catch on to the tail end of the conversation during this week-long event with an email in response to some of the wonderful ideas I’ve encountered through it, just before the week concludes.

Mark — you wrote: “But like the poets of the past, our machine dreams do not extend us seamlessly into some chrome-plated future. // These machine dreams, not quite nightmares, but haunting impressions. // It is not a raceless, egalitarian utopia.  Nor is it a Platonic ideal on some frictionless, unblemished grid.”
Beautiful words that I agree with whole-heartedly! I remember first hearing your work on chatbots long ago at a conference at USC. All these years later, your ideas about how the echo and the glitch and the variation that really demonstrate the essence of humanity still ring true. It takes a human to appreciate the beauty of the otherness of the machine, to recognize both its non-human machine-ness and the constructedness that carries human ideals. As a figure in the literary, these places of disturbance, turbulence, variation, or instability prove so very fruitful!
You also wrote, “All of this leads to some questions: what does gender add to our sense of the robot? How is the concept of robots already gendered? “ These are such important questions. In many ways they are very much at the heart of what I am exploring in my poetry project, too. So, I don’t know that I have a short answer…in some ways, the entire project is an effort to find such answers to similar questions. How do we create a robot, and how to we gender it? If we do so, what does it say about who we are and what we value? We can think about the “robot” as the agent or the site of labor, the codex that carries our laws for being (or the terms that suggest what they are). As you can see, I always prefer the questions to the answers. But, in short, there’s something interesting about the ways in which even our robots are sexualized, fetishized, and romanticized in art or literature or culture; The Terminator is unmistakably male, and Lisa of “Weird Science” is unmistakably female — in very particular, heteronormative, cisgendered ways, but…does that actually apply to these nonbiological, nonorganic entities? What about Wall-E and Eva, who are not physically sexualized, but gendered anyway? I don’t think that anyone sees the Netflix DVD management robot in terms of sexual desire. And, the Mars Rover isn’t sexualized at all! Anyhow, there’s something interesting about the gendered and sexualized representations of robots that is worth exploring, as is the distance between how those fictional robots are depicted and how real life robots are depicted!  

Keith Wilson — Your piece on the Uncanny Valley is one of my favorites, in part because of my own interest in the idea of the Uncanny Valley, but also because it is a remarkably salient demonstration of something deeply important to our own conditions and circumstances as artists and as scholars who examine issues of activism, justice, beauty, or humanity in our work with the machinery of thought and ideation. Pain is important, and so is the act of confronting what is monstrous and how we define it as such. Desire and politics are both driven by passion, both subjected to laws and not contained by them, love and grief…seem to have a different relationship to what we recognize as law, as social code, and as certainty. The space between the bullet and the body is small, limited, but it is a chasm that raises question after question after question like an abyss, like a loop, like facing what is impossible and unavoidable. Fascinating work. 

Margaret, you wrote, “i would love to hear your's and Mark's thoughts on the role of literary and the digital in opening up these worlds?” Just a few things I’d like to say about this for now, but I really love the question! I think that the literary opens up these worlds by inviting a sense of the lasting impact or effect of literary art. Words seem to carry a sense of authority, certainty, and finality in them, but also a sense of possibility and change. They are hope-filled pockets, they are structured in ways that imply scientific precision and deep analysis, and they seem like they will be here long beyond us. For this reason, I think that the literary exploration of robots and machines, whether from the perspective of the writer or the scholar, invites a sense of daring that comes from this heaviness or this seriousness. By implying that we are doing serious inquiry, we are freed to dream with all the colors that make up the palette by which we will express the results of that inquiry! As for the digital, I think its immediacy creates intimacy. The analog is a commitment to time and blood and sweat and tears, but the digital flirts with our joy, with our pleasure, and with our adventurousness; these things are important in any work, but they are necessary to a work that seeks to synthesize the free-spirited ecstasy of the dream and the product-centered lawfulness of the machine, the balance between the licentious and the license.  

So much more I wish I could say in response to these wonderful threads of conversation, if only there were enough time! I do hope that another Symposium might afford us all the opportunity to connect again! In the meantime, I am really enjoying reading this zine and learning about the works and the writers — and engaging, again, with ideas that are intimately valuable as well as collectively significant.

With my best wishes for you all — and my hopes for more discussion in the future,

> On May 25, 2017, at 2:47 PM, Margaret J Rhee <mrhee at uoregon.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Continuing Mark and Saba's generative comments and reading of the Zine, and cyborg/robot poetics, I'm so pleased to introduced Keith Wilson and Sun Yung Shin to our conversation.
> This week, we will be introducing different contributors to the Machine Dreams Zine throughout the days.
> In particular, Keith Wilson and Sun Yung Shin are both incredible poets and writers transgressing robot poetics by way of intersections with Keith's work on Black history, resistance, and visuality, and Sun Yung's work on Haraway, Adoptee issues, and Korean Diaspora.
> Their contributions can be found on page 62 and 65, for Keith's powerfully visual poem on the horrifying untimely death of Emmett Till,
> and Sun Yung's enchanting short story of clones, and glitches, found on page 53. Their bios are below, please check out their work here:
> https://issuu.com/repcollective/docs/machine_dreams_issuu
> https://machinedreamszine.tumblr.com
> Sun Yung and Keith, perhaps to begin, can you talk a bit about your contributions, and how it may differ or build upon your larger body of work, and what is your approach grappling with robots poetically, and as Mark writes, and issues of difference such as race, gender, and sexuality?
> -----
> Keith S. Wilson is a game designer, an Affrilachian Poet, Cave Canem fellow, and graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. He serves as Assistant Poetry Editor at Four Way Review and Digital Media Editor and Web Consultant at Obsidian Journal. Keith has received three scholarships from Bread Loaf as well as scholarships from the Millay Colony, Poetry by the Sea, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He holds an MFA in poetry from Chicago State University.
> 신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin was born in Seoul, Korea, during 박 정 희 Park Chung-hee's military dictatorship, and grew up in the Chicago area. She is the editor of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor (winner of the 2016 Minnesota Book Award for poetry); Rough, and Savage; and Skirt Full of Black (winner of the 2007 Asian American Literary Award for poetry), co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson. She lives in Minneapolis.
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