No Cover Image

Copying Machines: Taking Notes for the Automaton

Catherine Liu
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv0jv
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Copying Machines
    Book Description:

    In readings of texts by Lafayette, Molière, Laclos, and La Bruyère—and in a chapter on the eighteenth-century inventor of automatons, Jacques Vaucanson—Catherine Liu provides a fascinating account of ways in which the automaton and the preindustrial machine haunt the imagination of ancien régime France and structure key moments of the canonical literature and criticism of the period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9113-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    THIS WORK IS A SUSTAINED EXAMINATION of the automaton as early modern machine, and curious ancestor of the twentieth-century robot, who slaves away at the assembly line of being, sustaining the most precious fantasies of our humanity, while entertaining us with nightmares of the treachery of others. In Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” the Turkish attire of the automaton is slightly faded and dusty, giving it an air of obsolescence, quaintness, and disrepute.¹ On the one hand, the chess-playing automaton is considered an allegory for a relationship with the “magical” operations of ideology; on the other hand,...

  5. Chapter 1 Doing It Like a Machine
    (pp. 1-20)

    INALLEGORIES OF READING,PAUL DE MAN describes the grammar of a text as functioning “like” a machine.¹ What are some of the consequences for literary interpretation of this comparison? This is a question that this chapter hopes to answer in a provisional manner; the arguments presented here will be worked out in the rest of the book in a series of readings, of both primary texts and secondary debates. De Man’s point is rather modest at first glance: he suggests that the grammar of a text labors tirelessly to produce interpretative possibilities that are relatively impervious to the intervention...

  6. Chapter 2 “What’s the Difference?”
    (pp. 21-48)

    IN HIS ESSAY ON “THE UNCANNY,” FREUD reads Olympia, the automaton of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story “The Sand-Man,” as a double of the doomed protagonist Nathanael: she is the incarnation of his paralysis and impotence vis-à-vis his father.¹ The father, at least according to Freud’s reading, is a two-faced figure, who on the one hand is a weak, loving figure who is eventually killed, and at the same time an evil patriarch who is murderously successful. Freud’s theorization of the uncanny takes place through his reading of automaton in relationship to the two-faced father. These two faces are evoked...

  7. Chapter 3 The Princess of Clèves Makes a Faux Pas
    (pp. 49-75)

    IT IS INEVITABLE THAT IN THINKING THROUGH MACHINES, we cannot avoid focusing on the question of sexual difference. From Roentgen and Kintzing’s dulcimer playing automaton to Hoffmann’s Olympia and Villiers de l’Isle Adam’s Eve, from Fritz Lang’s Maria, to Phillip Dick and Ridley Scott’s Rachel, the feminized or feminine technological double calls up a range of specific problems and urgent questions. In the next chapters, the issue of sexual difference becomes increasingly important because it becomes more and more clear that machines are feminized and identified with women in the following literary representations. I propose a return to an examination...

  8. Chapter 4 Getting Ahead with Machines? The Cases of Jacques Vaucanson and Thérèse des Hayes
    (pp. 76-105)

    In Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” the automatonpuppet dressed in Turkish attire wins every chess match against its human opponents. Inside the contraption, hidden by a system of mirrors, is a hunchback who happens to be an expert chess player, guiding the puppet by means of strings. This device is an ironic and ambivalent image of Benjamin’s own methodology:

    One can imagine a philosophical counterpart to this device. The puppet called “historical materialism” is to win all the time against historicism. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of theology, which today,...

  9. Chapter 5 Don Juan Breaks All His Promises but Manages to Keep One Appointment (with History)
    (pp. 106-126)

    IN PRESSING ON, IN ORDER TO IDENTIFY the joint or break that modernity has made with the past, and in order to reassess a reading for the mark of violent historicity, we find ourselves considering a literary figure whose fall is the subject of great debate in the world of comparative literature. What follows is first and foremost based on a play on words that promises nothing more than the production of a few critical insights, and a modest amount of intellectual pleasure or irritation, depending on the position of the reader. The modesty of such a promise may seem...

  10. Chapter 6 De Man on Rousseau: The Reading Machine
    (pp. 127-154)

    A HERMENEUTIC DISRUPTION AUTOMATICALLY OCCURS when we read literature for its mechanical or machine-like qualities. The force of a fictional character like Don Juan, who is nothing more than a set of strategically arranged performatives, is threatening to any search for meaning. The principles of mechanical repetition and reproduction provide the conditions for a literary space shaped by the activities of so many copying machines, furiously at work. The empirical problems raised by the thematic formulation of machinesandliterature, or even the representational problems raised by machinesinliterature, are not very interesting. The machine is history, and it...

  11. Chapter 7 Friends: Dangerous Liaisons
    (pp. 155-182)

    THE SEVENTEENTH- AND EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL made elaborate excuses for its very existence because its fiercest critics felt that it should be abandoned as a corrupt and corrupting literary form. Georges May and later Vivienne Mylne have explored the dilemma of the ancien régime novel, and the various strategies employed to frame narrative fiction as both historically accurate and pedagogically valuable in the instruction of its readers.¹ In these novels, excuse making becomes indistinguishable from fiction making. The novel was often forced to adopt the mask of historical or archival document: it pretended to be something it was not. The duplicity...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-224)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)