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We Are the Machine

We Are the Machine: The Computer, the Internet, and Information in Contemporary German Literature

Paul A. Youngman
Volume: 41
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    We Are the Machine
    Book Description:

    Despite our embrace of the sheer utility and productivity it has made possible, the revolution in Information Technology has led to unease about its possible misuse, abuse, and even its eventual domination of humankind. That German culture is not immune to this sense of disquiet is reflected in a broad variety of German-language fiction since the 1940s. This first study of the literary reception of IT in German-speaking lands begins with an analysis of a seminal novel from the beginning of the computer age, Heinrich Hauser's 'Gigant Hirn' (1948), then moves to its primary focus, the literature of the past two decades, ranging from Gerd Heidenreich's 'Die Nacht der Händler'(1995) to Daniel Glattauer's novel 'Gut gegen Nordwind' (2006). Along the way, it analyzes eleven works, including Barbara Frischmuth's novel 'Die Schrift des Freundes' (1998), René Pollesch's drama 'world wide web-slums' (2001), and Günter Grass's novella 'Im Krebsgang' (2003). As wildly different in approach as these works are, each has much to offer this investigation of the imaginary border dividing the human from the technological, a lingering, centuries-old construct created to ease the anxiety that technology has given rise to throughout the ages. Paul A. Youngman is associate professor of German at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Director of the Center for Humanities, Technology, and Science.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-752-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Machines, Computers, and the Liberal Humanist Subject
    (pp. 1-27)

    This book examines the literary and cultural reception of information technology (IT), primarily in Germany, but also in Austria and Switzerland, with a focus on the fiction of the late 1990s and the early twenty-first century. The aspect of technological innovation in general that interests me most is its ambivalent reception. There are those who greet new technological developments with alarm and trepidation, there are those who laud each new technology as a nurturer of the growth and development of humankind, and then there is the majority whose opinions and emotions seem to run the entire length of the continuum...

  6. 1: Losing Ground to the Machine: Electronic Brains in the Works of Heinrich Hauser and Friedrich Dürrenmatt
    (pp. 28-61)

    Since past is prologue, I begin this look at the contemporary reception of IT with a view from the year 1941, the beginning of an era full of promise, but also rich with concerns when it came to the new “thinking machines.” We begin in this year because, as the reader will recall, it was the year in which Konrad Zuse completed his Z3 in Germany — “the first fully-automatic, program driven and freely programmable computer that used binary floating point computation” (Dietz 21). Zuse’s computer was followed in close succession by the British mathematician Alan Turing’s universal machine, realized in...

  7. 2: Fearing the Machine — Two Nightmares in the 1990s: Gerd Heidenreich’s New Riddle of the Sphinx and Barbara Frischmuth’s Hidden Meaning
    (pp. 62-93)

    Each era of the information age fosters concerns that are specific to the developments that define the era, but none of those worries ever entirely disappear. In the beginning, for example, humans were concerned about the idea that a machine could calculate and process information. Humans, without necessarily knowing the name of the concept, were also worried about the Singularity, and given von Neumann’s hypothesis, awed by the prospect of machine consciousness. Inasmuch as these concerns are about the boundaries humans use to define themselves, they remained firmly in place in the 1990s. In this decade, however, one begins to...

  8. 3: Becoming the Machine: Günter Grass’s and Erich Loest’s Virtual History, René Pollesch’s Postdramatic Imaginings, and “Real” Cyber-Relationships according to Christine Eichel and Daniel Glattauer
    (pp. 94-152)

    A deeper analysis of new media theorist Stephan Porombka’s notion of “one reality,” as touched on throughout this study, is necessary for any discussion of IT in the twenty-first century. Early in Hypertext, he writes:

    I make the assumption that there is one reality and that all medial spaces that are opened belong to this one reality, although — paradoxically — from the distance provided by these spaces, one can observe reality. And I therefore make the assumption that one cannot really flee reality even when one tries, with all one’s might, to derealize (entwirklichen) the world and oneself. (20)

    Because he...

  9. Conclusion: Questions to Ponder
    (pp. 153-158)

    In the beginning of the computer age in German-speaking countries, Hauser and Dürrenmatt raised concerns about human and computer co-evolution and the Singularity which, they argued, would mark the beginning of an era of conscious machines. Hauser’s novel is also a study of the space of the computer. The user literally walked inside the computer and lost touch with the reality outside of the computer. The computer even created space that seemed somehow more “real” to his characters than the outside world. Moreover, Hauser added the ingredient of a computer-based network to the mix and showed how a centralized network...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 159-166)
  11. Index
    (pp. 167-171)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 172-172)