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Anatomy of a Robot

Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Anatomy of a Robot
    Book Description:

    Why do we find artificial people fascinating? Drawing from a rich fictional and cinematic tradition,Anatomy of a Robotexplores the political and textual implications of our perennial projections of humanity onto figures such as robots, androids, cyborgs, and automata. In an engaging, sophisticated, and accessible presentation, Despina Kakoudaki argues that, in their narrative and cultural deployment, artificial people demarcate what it means to be human. They perform this function by offering us a non-human version of ourselves as a site of investigation. Artificial people teach us that being human, being a person or a self, is a constant process and often a matter of legal, philosophical, and political struggle.By analyzing a wide range of literary texts and films (including episodes fromTwilight Zone, the fiction of Philip K. Dick, Kazuo Ishiguro's novelNever Let Me Go, Metropolis, The Golem, Frankenstein, The Terminator, Iron Man, Blade Runner, and I, Robot), and going back to alchemy and to Aristotle'sPhysicsandDe Anima, she tracks four foundational narrative elements in this centuries-old discourse- the fantasy of the artificial birth, the fantasy of the mechanical body, the tendency to represent artificial people as slaves, and the interpretation of artificiality as an existential trope. What unifies these investigations is the return of all four elements to the question of what constitutes the human.This focused approach to the topic of the artificial, constructed, or mechanical person allows us to reconsider the creation of artificial life. By focusing on their historical provenance and textual versatility, Kakoudaki elucidates artificial people's main cultural function, which is the political and existential negotiation of what it means to be a person.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6217-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Robot Anatomies
    (pp. 1-28)

    Stories and films featuring robots, cyborgs, androids, or automata often stage scenes that depict opening the artificial body: someone ejects a face plate, pulls back artificial skin, removes a skull covering, reveals a chest panel, lifts clothing, or pushes a button, thereby rendering visible the insides of the fascinating human-like machine. The interior space may include flashing computer lights, elaborate wiring, metal surfaces, old-fashioned cogs and wheels, or sophisticated electronic equipment. Sometimes the inside is stark in its clean modern efficiency, a gleaming metal box, but it can also be gooey, shocking, or opaque, display a minimalist emptiness, or reveal...

    (pp. 29-68)

    Perhaps the best-known story about a constructed or artificial person in modern literature, Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein;or,The Modern Prometheus(1818) offers an evocative depiction of the animation of Victor Frankenstein’s monster.¹ The creature is formed as a man about eight feet in height, assembled in Victor’s workshop from body parts stolen from cadavers, and animated through a process that is both scientific and mysterious, potentially combining alchemical and electrical means. In contrast to its treatment in film, where it has acquired dials, vials, bubbling liquids, strange machinery, hunched assistants, and the power of lightning, in the novel the description...

    (pp. 69-113)

    At first glance, the tendency to imagine the artificial body as a mechanical, rather than organic, entity seems to be an extension of the animating story’s focus on counteracting human vulnerability. Just as the ready-made, adult-born artificial people of ancient and modern tales usually bypass the frailty of childhood, so robot, android, and cyborg characters are imagined as impervious to need, disease, or even death, and their mechanical bodies present spectacular alternatives to flesh and skin. We see the desire for mechanical resilience inThe Iron Giant(Brad Bird, 1999), for example. Based on a children’s story by Ted Hughes,...

    (pp. 114-172)

    It takes Andrew Martin two hundred years to be declared human. Over the course of these two centuries, the robot protagonist of Isaac Asimov’s story “The Bicentennial Man” (1976) faces human prejudices, anti-robot sentiments, questions about his legal, civic, and social status, and endless judicial debates, slowly acquiring the right to make and keep his own money, the right to wear clothes, the right to be free, the right to make decisions.¹ Yet although he exchanges his original metal robot body for a fully organic one, while human beings in his world alter their bodies through the artificial organs and...

    (pp. 173-211)

    When Spence Olham finds out who and what he is, at the end of Philip K. Dick’s story “Impostor” (1953), the realization is a literal catastrophe.¹ Leaving for work one day, Olham is arrested by a security team who accuse the law-abiding scientist of being an alien robot saboteur, sent to kill the real Olham, take his place, and use his access privileges to destroy the most important nuclear weaponry project on Earth. Olham protests, tries to remind his colleague Nelson of their twenty-year friendship, and begs to be examined by a doctor. “I’m Olham, I know it. No transfer...

  9. CONCLUSION: The Ends of the Human
    (pp. 212-220)

    As a collective product, the field of cultural endeavors we summarize as “popular culture” has a paradoxical relationship to time and change. Precisely because of its decentralized and dispersed nature, popular culture is very responsive to change, absorbing and displaying cultural and social concerns rather quickly, but it also tends to retain these concerns and the narrative models they inspire seemingly forever, connecting them both to the past and to the future. In many ways, the discourse of the artificial person is a quintessential example of this paradox: here is a story pattern that features a constructed being, a being...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 221-244)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 245-256)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)