Digital Archives and Vintage Computing @ Georgia Tech, Co-Presentation by Wendy Hagenmaier and Jason W. Ellis, VCF 2.0

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.02.38 PMOn May 4, 2014 at 11AM, Wendy Hagenmaier and I will give a co-presentation on Digital Archives and Vintage Computing @ Georgia Tech at the Vintage Computing Festival 2.0 in Roswell, Georgia. This post includes a support video embedded below, a link to our PowerPoint presentation, and a transcript of our talk.

During my part of the presentation, I will discuss this Google Glass captured demo of the Voyager Expanded Books series ebook of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy on a Powerbook 145:

We have provided a PDF of our Powerpoint presentation here: ellis-hagenmaier-vcf-presentation_20140429.

We have provided a transcript of Jason’s part of the presentation below (and Wendy’s follows):

Digital Archives and Vintage Computing at Georgia Tech

Jason W. Ellis and Wendy Hagenmaier



Hello and welcome to our presentation on Digital Archives and Vintage Computing at Georgia Tech. I am Jason Ellis, a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow, and this is Wendy Hagenmaier, Digital Collections Archivist at the Georgia Tech Library.

In the first part of our presentation on digital archives and vintage computing at Georgia Tech, I will describe how these fit into my research and teaching before suggesting how the library can fulfill those needs for the communities it serves. Wendy will conclude with a discussion of the trajectory of the Georgia Tech Library as a place of research, learning, and making beyond the traditional image of a library.



My primary work at Tech is to teach first year composition, tech comm, and occasionally, science fiction.


While I have long considered myself a computer hobbyist and I was an IT professional before going back to school to finish my degrees, I have leveraged my interest in computer technology and the human brain to do innovative research on the interplay between the digital and the biological. This raises issues of accessing digital culture on older media and making meaning from these significant forms of culture. These things are important to my research, but I want to enrich my teaching and help my students develop their digital literacies, too.


What specifically led me down this path professionally was that I needed to find a citation for a text I found online. It was an intriguing article attributed to the cyberpunk SF writer William Gibson on a Russian website ( In it, he talks about the ephermerality of technologies—a very interesting idea in light of the fact that he wrote his novel Neuromancer on a typewriter. The afterword seemed ephemeral, too, because I couldn’t find a trace of this afterword in any printed book. A friend of my tweeted Gibson (@GreatDismal) and gave me a lead on a floppy disk-based ebook by the Voyager Company. After a search in Worldcat, the massive library database, I found a copy at the Michigan State University Library: the pictured Voyager Expanded Book series floppy disk of Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive). Unfortunately, I had no way of reading it.


After calling around northeast Ohio area schools and libraries without any luck finding a Macintosh with a 3.5” floppy disk drive, I turned to eBay where I acquired this Powerbook 145 (one much like the first computer I carried to Georgia Tech as a freshman in 1995). While I could have purchased an external floppy disk drive that connects with USB to access the ebook software, I wanted to experience the ebook as it was meant to be.


With my Powerbook 145 and the Voyager Expanded Books floppy disk, I copied the self expanding archive’s contents to the Powerbook’s 80 MB hard drive. I observed that the Voyager ebook software is Hypercard-based. While it is made for the Macintosh Portable, it works fine on the later model Powerbook 145.

You can navigate the complete text of the novels and afterword with the trackball or arrow keys. While it has a global search box, you can also search by clicking on a word to see where else the word appears (much like Apple’s iBooks today). It supports annotations and bookmarking with virtual paperclips—an issue of remediation.


This was the prize that I was looking for—the original author’s afterword available only in this ebook. In fact, Gibson did not even include it in his recent collection of nonfiction writing—Distrust That Particular Flavor. If you visit my blog at, you can watch an experimental video that I made with the Powerbook 145, Gibson’s ebook, an iPad Air, and my Google Glass.


Besides my research with and on vintage computing, I believe that these technologies should be an important part of teaching. Our students and young people need to have an idea about how the technology we enjoy today came to be the way that it is and to know that the past is full of ideas that might be repurposed, retried, or rediscovered as we continue developing ever new digital technologies.

For example, when I was researching Philip K. Dick in the Eaton Science Fiction Collection at the University of California at Riverside—the largest SF collection in the US if not the world—I had to stop a young, special collections librarian-in-training from jamming a one-of-a-kind cassette tape interview into a VHS machine on the AV cart. I directed her attention to the record/cassette combo on the bottom rack and offered, let me show you how to do that. These issues of use, operation, and support are passed on through teaching and first-hand experience.


In my research, I have built a personal “Retrocomputing Lab” of Macs and PCs that support my research in the development of reading on screens just prior to and after the widespread adoption of the Internet. You can learn more about these on

Most recently, I have embarked on a new way of sharing my research with others. In addition to writing essays for publication in journals and online, I am using Google Glass to record my experiences as a raw dataset that I can share on YouTube to support my scholarship and connect with others.

In my teaching, I encourage my freshmen students to learn how our computing technologies in the past and present have an influence on our neurobiology—put another way how we create computers with our brains and how do computing technologies change the way that we think over time. In Tech Comm, I have students research problems on the Tech campus that can be fixed with a technical communication solution. In one case, students resurrected an online printing solution that had died before they were students. Finally, in Science Fiction, I invite students to read Gibson’s afterword on the Powerbook and play the DOS video game interpretation of Neuromancer on an IBM-compatible PC.


My suspicion is that the need for accessing older media, studying vintage computing hardware and software, and teaching others how to use and preserve these technologies is not limited to literary and cultural studies. Obviously, computing is an interdisciplinary endeavor— specifically, I am thinking what Steve Jobs said about Apple being at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts—I think that this is a long tradition in computing not confined to the fine work at Apple.

I told Wendy, Sherri Brown, Alison Valk, and Elizabeth Rolando about my hopes for the Georgia Tech Library to serve as a synthesis of vintage computing research and teaching. The library’s archival mission can simultaneously maintain access to knowledge while preserving hardware and software as important artifacts of study. The library’s learning mission can support theoretical issues such as archival work and the history of science and technology alongside practical issues of training, using, and making. The library can do this through acquisition and on-going support, providing space for this kind of work, coordinating across institutions and the private sector, outreach, and more. Already, the Georgia Tech Library is a nexus of research and teaching that evolves to meet the research and learning needs of the communities that it serves. Wendy will tell us more about that in the next part of our presentation.

We have provided a transcript of Wendy’s part of the presentation below:

Hi everyone, I’m Wendy Hagenmaier, the Digital Collections Archivist at the Georgia Tech Library. I’m responsible for digital archives (similar to the work Al and Anne have discussed).


Reimagining the Georgia Tech Library

In light of Jason’s insights, I want to talk about some exciting changes happening at the Georgia Tech Library—changes we’ve been referring to as “reimagining the Library.” Though some of these changes are unique to Georgia Tech, many of them reflect how libraries everywhere are evolving to anticipate the needs of future library users, including people like Jason and all of you, the attendees here today.

The GT Library is transforming into a technological research library for the 21st century, but its mission remains the same: to be a creative partner and essential force in the learning community and the Institute’s programs.

At the GT Library lately, we’ve been asking ourselves: How can we support the research and teaching needs of faculty like Jason and inspire the scholarship of our broader community? And how can we invite the community to explore the past and design the future? As an archivist, I’m always interested in what the past can teach us about the future, so let’s take a quick look at the GT Library of long ago…

The Georgia Tech Library of the Past

Welcome to the Library of the 1960s.

Like many research libraries of the era, the GT Library provided services to support traditional, print book and journal-based research. The emphasis was on creating the most massive collection of print material possible, to position the library as a secluded, exclusive repository of knowledge that could only be found within a print collection. Imagine the shushing librarian, no food, no drink, no talking.

This worked well for a while, but radical changes in research and daily life on campus—mobile/ubiquitous/wearable technologies, Massive Open Online degrees, flipped classrooms, project based learning, digital repositories, university history now enacted on YouTube and Twitter—have made it essential that the Library undergo its own transformation. Print book checkouts are declining, but the number of visitors to the Library is exploding and users are accessing our e-resources over a million times a year. So here we are, at the Georgia Tech Library of the Present:

The Georgia Tech Library of the Present

In light of the cultural shifts I mentioned, the Library is presently planning its own shifts, both literally and metaphorically, on several fronts:

Here’s the first literal shift: the GT Library and Emory Libraries are partnering to construct a large climate-controlled facility to house the majority of our collection. This means we’re moving perhaps as much as 90% of our print collection to Emory’s Briarcliff campus. Books will be delivered to users on demand, and traditional browsing of physical library stacks will have to be translated into the digital realm.

Another shift: the Library is conducting user research with students and faculty, including focus groups, interviews, and surveys, to develop a shared vision for the Library’s future.

The walls of our 1960s buildings are now covered with post-it notes from dozens of internal brainstorming sessions, where we’re defining and innovating future services.

And another literal shift: we’re working with an architectural team to completely redesign the interiors of our buildings over the next five years.

Through reimagined spaces and services, the Library is becoming an interdisciplinary platform for scholarship, an integrated network of human and technological resources, and a champion of innovation.

The Georgia Tech Library of the Future

My colleague Sherri Brown and I interviewed Jason a few months ago as part of the Library’s user research, and he brought up the idea that the GT community has unmet retrocomputing needs. Faculty members from all sides of campus are encountering the need to access information stored on outdated media and to teach their students about the history of technology.

This academic interest in retrocomputing parallels the digital archaeology work being conducted in libraries and archives—everywhere from Emory’s Digital Archives to the New York Public Library. Archivists at these institutions are using old hardware and software to access and preserve content created with obsolete technologies (such as Salman Rushdie’s manuscripts saved on floppy disks). To date, however, all of the retrocomputing work in the library world has been conducted by library staff. These digital archaeology labs are not accessible to the libraries’ user communities.

My colleagues Jason, Sherri, Alison Valk, Lizzy Rolando and I are trying to imagine how we might do something different at the GT Library: offer our technologically-savvy patrons a chance to use the retrocomputing equipment typically restricted to library staff.

This might take the form of one or two retrocomputing consoles—or perhaps a larger lab—within the Library, which would be available to users who would be vetted by Library staff.

The idea is to take the digital forensics and archaeology work occurring behind the scenes in archives, plus the rise of hacker and makerspaces in libraries, plus collaborations with campus and community partners (perhaps even you?)…to imagine creating a retrocomputing lab. This space would not only serve as a hands-on historical reference point; it could activate new ideas about future technology and preservation of tools and ideas.

So how could we make this space happen, and how might we collaborate? Collectors, experts, and community organizations like the Atlanta Historical Computing Society could support an idea like this through:

-equipment sourcing

-IT support and expertise, knowledge of the history of computing

-and mentorship

In return, a project like this might someday offer collectors, experts, and community organizations:

-a collaborative meeting and hacking space, for making connections with like-minded people and hacking the past, present and future

-space dedicated to preservation (libraries specialize in preservation environments in a way that most individuals and community groups can’t)

-as well as infrastructure, branding, and support for community organizations seeking institutional allies

In many ways, the retrocomputing space we’re envisioning resembles the high tech computing lab of Georgia Tech’s past, which once seemed so futuristic and advanced, bringing us full circle, so that imagining the future of our Library becomes an act of reimagining our past.

DevLab’s Digital Pedagogy Workshop Series Begins Next Week on April 1

DevLab Workshop Flyer. Created by the AWESOME WCP Interns!

DevLab Workshop Flyer. Created by the AWESOME WCP Interns!

Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program’s Brittain Fellow-run DevLab has lined up four upcoming workshops for you on Podcasting, Social Media, Flipped Classrooms, and Interactive Fiction. Through these workshops, we wanted to share some of the things that we’ve been working on pedagogically and professionally with you. We invite you to join us for learning, sharing, and collaboration on these topics. We encourage all participants to bring their experiences, ideas, and questions to make each workshop more informative and useful for all. Information about each upcoming workshop is included below and on the attached flyer. If you have any questions, please contact me or the workshop leader(s). See you at the workshops!

Spring 2014 Digital Pedagogy Workshops
Have you ever wanted to create or teach podcasts? What about developing social media assignments? How about flipping your classroom when teaching close readings? Or maybe you want to create interactive fiction with your students? If so, you are invited to our informal digital pedagogy workshops in the Hall DevLab. Session leaders will share their experiences developing curricula and adopting teaching practices using a specific technology or approach.
All workshops held in Stephen C. Hall Bldg., Room 012, DevLab.
1. Podcasting and the DevLab Recording Studio, Tuesday April 1, 1pm-2pm

Alison Valk’s introductory workshop will be an introduction to podcasting. Participants will learn the basics of podcasting software (Audacity and Audition) and have an opportunity to see our Recording Studio and its technology.
2. Social Media Pedagogy and Assignments, Tuesday April 8, 3pm-4pm

Jason W. Ellis and Valerie Johnson’s workshop will discuss how they each integrate social media into their teaching practices and design assignments with its use in mind. They invite participants to bring ideas and approaches for using and teaching social media to this open discussion about theoretical and practical aspects of social media pedagogy.
3. Rethinking the Flipped Classroom: A Multimodal Approach to Learning, Thursday April 10, 3pm-4pm

Mirja Lobnik’s workshop will focus on ways to integrate online resources into our teaching. In particular, it will showcase a lecture video that demonstrates close reading and provides contextual information, present student responses, and invite a discussion of the benefits and challenges of the flipped classroom.
4. Programming Interactive Fiction: What You and Your Students Can Do with Inform 7, Tuesday April 15, 11am-12pm

Jonathan Kotchian’s workshop will offer a brief introduction to a “natural English” programming
language used to create interactive fiction and show participants how they and their students can create rhetorically focused games. No coding experience necessary.

ENGL1101 Project 2 Videos: Storytelling Animals Telling Us Stories Based on John Medina’s Brain Rules

In their Project 2: Storytelling Animals Assignment [download here], my current ENGL1101 students made these videos that layer storytelling with educational content based on one chapter from John Medina’s Brain Rules. During the production of the videos, each team collaboratively wrote an outline, wrote a script, drew storyboards, shot footage, edited their footage into these videos, and uploaded them to YouTube. Individually, each student wrote an account of their composition process and a reflection on how their project achieved WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) multimodal synergy. The title for the assignment comes from Jonathan Gottschall’s Storytelling Animals, which the students read and discussed in parallel with project 2. The students had already read all of the chapters in Medina’s Brain Rules before beginning Project 2. Now, on with the show!

Section G1

Team: Tech Titans | Brain Rules, Rule 2: Survival

Team: The Mean Girls | Brain Rules, Rule 4: Attention

Team: All the Girls in ENGL1101 | Brain Rules, Rule 11: Gender

Section P

Team: Alpha Hawk | Brain Rules, Rule 7: Sleep

Team: Team Dose | Brain Rules, Rule 12: Exploration

Team: Team Whooch | Brain Rules, Rule 1: Exercise

Recovered Writing: My First Professional, Academic Presentation, “Monstrous Robots: Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade as Humans,” Monstrous Bodies Symposium, March 31-April 1, 2005

This is the thirtieth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Almost nine years ago, I gave my first academic conference presentation at the Monstrous Bodies Symposium—a continuation of Science Fiction-focused initiatives at Georgia Tech by Professor Lisa Yaszek. In addition to presenting, I organized the academic track of the symposium and recorded the sessions for the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture (now, Literature, Media, and Communication). After my presentation below, I am including a press release for the symposium that describes it in more detail along with our special guests: Paul di Filippo and Rhonda Wilcox.

My presentation, “Monstrous Robots: Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade as Humans,” continues the work that I began in the SF Lab the previous year and  continued in my undergraduate thesis later. These ideas figured large throughout the close of my undergraduate degree and my MA in Science Fiction Studies at the University of Liverpool. By the time that I was well into my PhD at Kent State University, I began thinking along parallel lines in terms of human-computer interaction and its effect on human brains and the “minds” of computers. Instead of thinking of doppelgängers and opposition, I reframed my thinking around co-evolution, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience of mind, and human-computer interaction. This presentation is another step in the development of my thinking and self along these lines.

Later, I will post another version of this essay that was revised for my first SFRA Conference in White Plains, NY in 2006.

Jason W. Ellis

Monstrous Bodies Symposium 2005

31 March 2005

Monstrous Robots:  Dualism in Robots Who Masquerade As Humans

Robots who masquerade as human in science fiction (SF) are monstrous bodies because they are humanity’s created doppelganger of itself and as a result they reflect the best and the worst of what it means to be human.   These technological appropriations of what it means to be human are important because they are a space within SF where issues about the encroaching of science and technology on the borders of the human body after the end of World War II.

In order to explore these issues, I want to begin by defining the terminology that I will be using.  I define doppelganger as an unnatural double of a person or of humanity.  Human-like robots are the doppelganger of humanity because they mimic what it means to be human.  They appear human and they must perform themselves accordingly.  This doppelganger is haunting because its existence challenges what it means to be human.  If someone acts human and looks human why is there any reason to question the validity of that person’s humanity?  The answer is that:  the existence of human-like robots makes the very concept of humanity suspect.  Robots are the product of their creators.  The double mirrors its creator by reflecting an extreme of human behavior.  This reflection is called dualism.  I define dualism as a doubled status such as good and evil or organic and synthetic.  Human-like robots are either very good or very bad and this is determined by the nature of their creators.  Therefore, these robots tell us a great deal about the nature of their creators.

I will be examining two examples of human-like robots in SF literature and film.  The first is Isaac Asimov’s “humaniform” robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, from the Robot, Empire, and Foundation series of novels.  Daneel is best described as an android because he is a robot made in the appearance of a man.  His outer skin is not organic in nature.  The second human-like robot is James Cameron’s original Terminator from the film of the same name.  The Terminator is best called a cyborg because he is a fusion of man and machine (organic skin and hair covering a robotic interior).  The former is an example of a good android and the latter is an example of a bad cyborg.  These characters are doubles of humanity in their respective stories and they are also mirrors of one another.

Asimov began writing the robot novels that feature R. Daneel Olivaw in the 1950s, during the first phase of the Cold War.  The novels take place in a far future where humans have colonized a significant portion of the galaxy.  Although the robots are instrumental in the process of colonization, humans remain fiercely divided on whether or not robots should exist at all.  Given that Asimov himself was very much in favor of the promising new technologies of his day (e.g., automation in manufacturing and computers), it is not surprising that he picks the robots in his novels to be utopic in nature.  His robots are the embodiment of these new technologies.  In order to make his robots “perfect people,” he constructed his robots with the Three Laws of Robotics that he first made explicit in his short story, “Runaround:”

(1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. (I, Robot 44-45)

The Three Laws provided each robot with an ethical system that must be obeyed because it is hardwired into its positronic brain.  Therefore, Asmovian robots represent the best of what humans can be, but at the same time they reveal what we are not.

R. Daneel Olivaw is what Asimov termed a “humaniform” robot.  Daneel has the appearance of a human from one of the fifty Spacer worlds (i.e., worlds originally populated by Earth people during a period of expansion in our future).  Daneel’s partner in the novels The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn is Elijah Baley, a detective from Earth.  In The Caves of Steel, Baley describes Daneel as appearing “completely human” (83).  He later says, “The Spacers in those pictures had been, generally speaking, like those that were occasionally featured in the bookfilms:  tall, red-headed, grave, coldly handsome.  Like  R. Daneel Olivaw, for instance” (94).  Baley even suggests that Daneel is secretly Dr. Sarton, the Spacer found dead in The Caves of Steel.  This however is not the case.  Daneel was modeled after Dr. Sarton’s appearance.  This revelation leads to Daneel revealing what lies beneath.  In Dr. Han Fastolfe’s office, “R. Daneel pinched the ball of his right middle finger with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand…just as the fabric of the sleeve had fallen in two when the diagmagnetic field of its seam had been interrupted, so now the arm itself fell in two…There, under a thin layer of fleshlike material, was the dull blue gray of stainless steel rods, cords, and joints” (The Caves of Steel 111).  As Baley passes out from the shock, the fact that the “R.,” which stands for “Robot,” in front of Daneel’s name is in fact deserved!

The broadest doubling that involves Daneel is that he is a mirror for humanity.  When a character becomes aware of Daneel’s true being, it destabilizes that character’s understanding of the difference between robot and human.  Most of Asimov’s robots are very metal and very plastic.  They are the epitome of synthetic.  Daneel’s construction sets him apart from the apparent synthetic robots because he appeared to be human.  Elijah Baley first greets Daneel at Spacetown thinking that he is a Spacer.  Later Baley says to his superior, Commissioner Julius Enderby, “You might have warned me that he looked completely human” and he goes on to say “I’d never seen a robot like that and you had.  I didn’t even know such things were possible” (The Caves of Steel 83).  Elijah and most other humans are not aware that a human form robot was a possibility.  Although Elijah comes to terms with Daneel, other characters are driven to destroy humaniform robots.  Elijah’s wife is secretly a member of the Medievalists, a group that wants to do away with all robots, including Daneel.  Commissioner Enderby, also a Medievalist, murders Dr. Sarton, not because he wants to kill Sarton, but because he mistakes him for Daneel.

Daneel is also the double of his human partner, Elijah Baley.  Before Elijah meets Daneel, he is confident in his own abilities as a detective.  After he partners with Daneel, however, he begins to call into question his own abilities and talents.  Robots are meant to be superior to humans and Elijah extends this to his own profession that is now being intruded on by an android.  Baley is narrating at the beginning of The Caves of Steel:

The trouble was, of course, that he was not the plain-clothes man of popular myth.  He was not incapable of surprise, imperturbable of appearance, infinite of adaptability, and lightning of mental grasp.  He had never supposed he was, but he had never regretted the lack before.

What made him regret it was that, to all appearances, R. Daneel Olivaw was that very myth, embodied.

He had to be.  He was a robot (The Caves of Steel 26-27).

This anxiety is one of the motivating factors behind The Robots of Dawn, when Elijah is brought in to investigate the murder of a humaniform robot like Daneel.  If Elijah fails, he will loose his job and be declassified.  The fear of declassification is dire to Elijah because he had seen his own father declassified when he was only a boy.  Therefore, the existence of humaniform robots creates the situation that elicits this fear in Elijah.  Eventually Elijah warms up to his robot partner, but along the way Elijah often finds ways to make himself feel superior to robots by making Daneel follow unnecessary orders or by calling other robots by the derogatory label, “boy” (The Robots of Dawn 34).

James Cameron’s Terminator is a cyborg character that is born of a different cultural moment than Asimov’s robots.  The Terminator was originally released in 1984 while the Cold War was still in full swing and Ronald Reagan had been reelected President of the United States.  Even more significantly, The Terminator was riding the wave of office computing and robotic manufacturing.  Whereas Asimov viewed technology in utopic terms, Cameron only sees these technological advances as dystopic.  The Terminator would have been a film that the Medievalists of Asimov’s Robot novels would have lauded.

After the opening scene of the future wasteland of 2029, the Terminator arrives naked in Los Angeles of 1984.  J. P. Telotte writes that the “film’s title implies that its central concern is the technological threat, embodied in a killer cyborg which, for all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excess muscularity, disconcertingly blends in with the human:  speaks our language, crudely follows our basic customs, acts in roughly effective ways.  In fact, the film emphasizes just how easy it is to ‘pass’ for human in a world that judges that status so superficially” (172).  The Terminator has been given instructions to kill Sarah Connor in 1984 in order to prevent the birth of her future child who will lead humanity to victory over the machines.  He goes about doing this in a militarily calculated manner.  He obtains the weaponry and clothes that his mission requires.  The Terminator uses his human appearance and voice to blend into mid-1980s California.  Despite his robotic core, he is able to perform himself as human effectively enough to maintain the belief that he is human to those who passively interact with him.  Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, the man sent back in time to save her, are the only persons that know what the Terminator really is.

The Terminator is a chillingly evil double of humanity.  Through the first part of the film the audience does not yet know exactly what lies beneath his skin.  We are treated to his superior strength, but only later in the film, after he has sustained damage, do we really begin to understand what lies beneath the surface.  The hard metal robot body that is under the soft organic skin is the true nature of the Terminator.  Without the skin he looks like the killing machines that greet the audience at the beginning of the movie.  The shining flying machines and the bone crunching treads of the tank are siblings of the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator.  The Terminator is the result of the military-industrial complex losing control of Skynet, a computer network of control and command systems that were integrated into the implements of American war making.  After Skynet becomes self-aware, it views humanity as its only threat.  Skynet then acts in its own best interest by appropriating humanities’ weapons of war in order to eliminate its creator.  In contrast to Asimov’s robots, the Terminator seems to be the direct result of machine rather than human construction.  In the movie, Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines, smaller versions of the flying Terminator and tank Terminator are revealed to have been developed before Skynet launches its nuclear attack.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the cyborg Terminators were developed by Skynet for the purpose of infiltrating pockets of human habitation to wreak havoc by undermining the belief that what appears human actually is.  Again, the cyborg Terminator, like R. Daneel Olivaw, threatens what it means to be human by destabilizing the criteria used to determine human from machine.  But Cameron’s view is diametrically opposite Asimov’s in respect to machine agency.  Asimov’s robots are dedicated to helping humanity, but Cameron’s Skynet becomes self-aware on its own without any safeguards in place.  In Cameron’s look at the future, humanity loses control to the machines and must take that control back.

Another doubling is between the Terminator and Sarah’s protector, Kyle Reese.  The most obvious difference is that Reese is much smaller than the Terminator.  Additionally, Reese feels pain and he can be injured.  The Terminator sustains damage but it unrelentingly follows it programming.  Because of the limitations placed on time-travel, neither Reese nor the Terminator can bring any weaponry with them into the past.  The Terminator takes his weapons indiscriminately from a gun shop and in turn kills the proprietor.  Reese takes his first weapon, a revolver, from a police officer and then he takes his second, a shotgun, from a parked police cruiser.  The other weapons that Reese and Sarah use are hand made explosives.  Reese uses ingenuity and resourcefulness to match the brute force onslaught of the Terminator.  In effect, the Terminator itself is a weapon.

An interesting mirroring in The Terminator is between the machines and Sarah Conner.  On one level, the Terminator is the destructor.  Its mission is to go into the past and eradicate any instance of a “Sarah Connor” in the Los Angeles area.  Sarah, on the other hand, is told that she will give birth to John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance.  The Terminator tries to kill the woman who is capable of creation.  On a broader level, Skynet is capable of creation through production.  Skynet must have a means for building Terminators (cyborgs, airplanes, and tanks) and it must also have some creative capabilities because it created the mechanism for traveling into the past.  Thus, Skynet and Sarah follow parallels in that each stand for their species and point toward the future.  Skynet wants to maintain its existence and the existence of its machine armies.  Sarah wants to live and know that humanity will continue with the help of her yet-to-be-born son, John.  The Terminator, as a creation of Skynet, is the means by which Skynet can strike at Sarah because Skynet and Sarah’s futures are mutually exclusive.  Within the frame of the movies, machines and human beings are not meant to live together in harmony.  Another doubling between Sarah and the Terminator is that they are both covered in some way.  Telotte points out, “If the gradual stripping away of the Terminator’s human seeming warns us not to judge an android by its cover, the gradual emergence of Sarah’s character and potential as she responds to this threat reminds us that it is no more reliable to judge the human self by its various cultural trappings” (173).  His true robotic interior is revealed throughout the progression of the movie.  This is done “by seeing for ourselves how he sees…for the point-of-view shots reveal that the Terminator does not “see” images but merely gathers ‘information'” (Pyle 232).  Additionally, the Terminator’s flesh is stripped away through gunfights and explosions that eventually reveal the cold metal of its endoskeleton.  Sarah’s cultural coverings are removed as well as she shifts from clumsy waitress that freezes at the sight of the Terminator to technologically adept mother of the future who triumphantly crushes the machine in a hydraulic press.

Finally, Cameron’s Terminator is the doppelganger of Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw.  The Terminator works toward the domination of machines over humanity whereas Daneel works cooperatively with humans such as his partner and friend, Elijah Baley.  The text at the beginning of The Terminator states, “The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire.  Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.  It would be fought here, in our present.  Tonight.”  The machines (i.e., Skynet and the Terminator) mean to “exterminate mankind.”  On the other hand, Patricia Warrick writes, “The…robot detective novels…illustrate Asimov’s faith that man and machine can form a harmonious relationship” (61).  Both have their robotic selves hidden under a layer of flesh.  They perform themselves as human in order to fit in with the cultural surroundings in which they find themselves (e.g., 1980s Los Angeles or Asimov’s Earth encased in “caves of steel”).   The Terminator means to destroy humanity while Daneel wishes to work along side humanity.

Both R. Daneel Olivaw and the Terminator are doppelgangers of humanity, other characters in their respective works, and each other.  They maintain a human appearance and performance in order to pass as human to the casual observer.  R. Daneel Olivaw is given his “humaniform” appearance in order to work with humans (both Spacer and Earth person alike).  The Terminator uses his appearance as a sort of disguise in order to infiltrate humanity in order to kill from within.  Daneel represents the very best of human nature through cooperation and a moral imperative.  The Terminator represents the very worst of humanity through death dealing and a lack of moral standing. Despite the best intentions of Daneel, who was built the way he was, he is still viewed as a threat by some.  The Terminator, who also had no choice in his appearance, is a real threat to humanity because he uses his appearance to get closer to his prey.  Therefore, the bodies of R. Daneel Olivaw and the Terminator are examples of monstrous bodies in SF because they assume an appearance and identity that destabilizes what it means to be human and in so doing they each have a unique nature that is dependent on that of their creators.

Works Cited

Asimov, Isaac.  The Caves of Steel.  New York:  Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1954.

—.  I, Robot.  New York:  Gnome Press, 1950.

—.  The Naked Sun.  New York:  Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1957.

—.  The Robots of Dawn.  New York:  Doubleday, 1983.

Pyle, Forest.  “Making Cyborgs, Making Humans:  Of Terminators and Blade Runners.”    Film Theory Goes to the Movies.  Ed. Jim Collins, et al.  New York:  Routledge,            1993.  227-241.

Short, Sue.  “The Measure of a Man?:  Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, Star Trek’s Data, and     Being Human.”  Extrapolation 44:2 (Summer 2003):  209-223.

Telotte, J.P.  Replications:  A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film.  Urbana, IL:         University of Illinois Press, 1995.

The Terminator.  Dir. James Cameron.  Orion Pictures, 1984.

Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines.  Dir. Jonathan Mostow.  Warner Bros., 2003.

Warrick, Patricia S.  The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction.  Cambridge, MA:         MIT Press, 1980.


Monstrous Bodies Press Release

What:  “Monstrous Bodies in Science, Fiction, and Culture: Celebrating 25 Years of the Fantastic in the Arts at Georgia Tech”

When:  March 31-April 1, 2005

Where:  Bill Moore Student Success Center and the Skiles Building, Georgia Institute of Technology

From March 31st through April 1st the School of Literature, Communication and Culture (LCC) will host a two-day symposium in which participants explore the meaning of monstrous bodies in science, fiction, and culture. The symposium, which will take place in the Bill Moore Student Success Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is free of charge and open to all interested parties.

The symposium celebrates both LCC’s ongoing commitment to the study of the fantastic in the arts and, more specifically, the pivotal role that LCC Professor Emeritus Irving F. “Bud” Foote played in shaping this commitment. Foote taught the first accredited science fiction class at Tech in the early 1970s and over the course of the next two decades brought a number of science fiction writers to Tech including Frederik Pohl, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Upon his retirement in 1997 Foote donated 8000 science fiction-related items to the Georgia Tech Library, and the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection was born. With additional gifts from Georgia Tech alumni and science fiction authors such as David Brin and Kathleen Ann Goonan, the Bud Foote Collection is now one of the twenty largest research collections of its kind.

The Monstrous Bodies symposium will commemorate both Professor Foote’s legacy and LCC’s continued dedication to the study of the fantastic in the arts by featuring student research on and creative writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the gothic. The symposium will also include art and film exhibits as well as presentations by local scholars, science fiction writers, editors, publishers, and artists from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night cartoon programming for adult audiences.

Our special guests of honor are two leading figures in fantastic art and scholarship: science fiction author Paul di Filippo and popular culture expert Rhonda Wilcox. In 2004 Di Filippo received the Prix L’Imaginaire for his short story “Sisyphus and the Stranger”; other stories have been nominated for Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Philip K. Dick, Wired Magazine, and World Fantasy Awards as well. Wilcox is the author of the forthcoming book Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Television and coeditor of Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies.

If you have any other questions or comments, contact conference coordinator Prof. Lisa Yaszek or conference assistant Amelia Shackelford.

For more information

On the symposium, please visit;

On the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection, please visit;

On previous student work in the Bud Foote Collection, please visit

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Gender Course, Online Discussion Writing and Group Presentation Introduction, Spring 2005

This is the twenty-ninth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

In Spring 2005, I was a member of Professor Carol Senf’s LCC 3304, Science, Technology, and Gender class. Professor Senf–who I now consider a good friend and colleague–organized the class around online discussions, in-class discussions, and a final team-based, research/presentation project. In this post, I am including my introduction for my team’s final project on the transsexuality/transgenderism in film and my eight online discussion postings. In the former, I am including only my introduction, because I do not have permission from my teammates to post the completed project. In the latter, I am including my saved files, some of which appear to be fragments of the online postings–perhaps notes or drafts that I revised online. The discussion postings are based on readings and viewings. They involve analysis and exploration. Aside from the fragmentary nature of some of the postings, the writing and focus seem to improve over time. Everything is posted as-is.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304

Spring 2005

Introduction to Transsexuality in Film Presentation

Opening slide that I created for our presentation.

Opening slide that I created for our presentation.

Our group is exploring transsexuality as presented in contemporary film.  Transsexual theorist Sandy Stone defines a transsexual as “a person who identifies his or her gender identity with that of the ‘opposite’ gender.  Sex and gender are quite separate issues, but transsexuals commonly blur the distinction by confusing the performative character of gender with the physical ‘fact’ of sex, referring to their perceptions of their situation as being in the ‘wrong body'” (Stone, sec. 2, par. 2).  A transsexual person feels his/her gender to be disconnected from or other than his/her sex.  This is an interesting topic for discussion because transsexuality calls into question the assumed de facto nature of binomial sex.

Film is a popular entertainment medium that mirrors currently held beliefs, and it can educate and challenge the status quo by bringing stories (otherwise unheard) to a larger audience.  Additionally, film and transsexuality are both technologically based and they both “came of age” during the twentieth century.  Film and transsexuality double one another in that both record performances (i.e., the former on film and the latter on a person’s body).  Teresa de Lauretis (as quoted in Hausman 14) goes so far as to say that gender is “the product of various social technologies, such as cinema, as well as institutional discourses, epistemologies, and critical practices.”  In the last chapter, Hausman writes, “Transsexuals seek to become the true representatives of a gender”  (193).  Gender, in part, is a technologically manufactured construct.  Thus, film and transsexuality are linked because both are manifestations of recording technologies and film is part of the mechanism that constructs the idea of gender for all, including transsexuals, to emulate.

There are many films with main characters that are transsexual.  These films range from biographies to inventive dramas.  We will be taking a cross section of these films to look more closely at how transsexual characters are presented and how other characters interact with and perceive them.  Our presentation will point out common themes as well as stereotypes that we find in these films.  We will look at different reactions to male-to-female transsexuality and female-to-male transsexuality.  Additionally, we want to look at what these representations tell us about the perception of transsexuals today.

In the course of our research we found four narrative types employed in films that feature transsexuality.  Those four categories are:

  1. aversity or challenge
  2. bildungsroman or a coming of age story
  3. doppelganger or the transsexual is a double of other characters
  4. farce or fantasy

Mind you, we are putting the films, not the people, into categories.  These categories serve as shorthand that allows us to build connections between movies and the way that they each present transsexuality.  These filmic presentations of transsexuality form a broad spectrum ranging from cookie-cutter stereotypes to solid character development.  The ways in which the transsexual characters in these films are portrayed as well as the way in which others around them perceive and interact with them tells us much about the cultural moment in which these films were made.  Some films instigate thought and discussion whereas others perpetuate stereotypes.  Therefore, transsexuality in film is a valuable resource for learning more about past and present presentations of transsexuals and they also reflect on the attitudes and beliefs of the filmmakers and the audience.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 1

Olivia Judson responds to the question, “Isn’t anthropomorphism something biologists try to avoid?” in the following excerpt from the FAQ section of her website:


“When I studied animal behavior in college, I was told anthropomorphism was a Big No-No. But as I read more widely, I concluded this stance is misguided. Two of the greatest evolutionary biologists–Darwin and Bill Hamilton (my PhD supervisor, and my nomination for the 20th century biologist most like Darwin)–regularly put themselves in the place of the organisms they were watching, and I think that doing so helped them to some of their most profound insights. As long as everyone understands that we don’t know what is really going on inside an animal’s head–that anthropomorphism is a metaphor, not a description–considering life from an organism’s point of view can be a powerful aid to the imagination, and therefore, a powerful tool. Indeed, I think the real danger with [anthropomorphism] is in treating it as an intellectual sin. A taboo on anthropomorphism has the effect of leading us to believe that humans are so different from other animals that we can’t possibly relate to them. But that’s wrong (”


She makes the point “that anthropomorphism is a metaphor, not a description.”  Metaphor and analogy are models that help us better understand something that is foreign to our experience.  Judson uses anthropomorphism as a tool to better understand the biology and behavior of organisms that lead very different lives from humans.  Additionally, she is able to convey detailed information in a more “friendly” way than an elitist scientific text.  Anthropomorphism is engaging for the layperson and the scientists alike.  Judson is saying that even scientists such as Darwin, Hamilton, and herself use anthropomorphism as a tool in their work thus it shouldn’t carry the taboo that is often associated with it within scientific circles.


Similarly, Marlene Zuk’s writes, “A model system is one that is used to obtain general results about some aspect of biology” (24).  Zuk describes a model system as taking detailed observations of one group and then applying the collected results to other groups (e.g., another sex of the group species, another age group, or another species).  A scientist may lose objectivity in an experiment or observation due to anthropomorphism and they may over generalize the results of their experiments and observations due to relying on a model system beyond its scope.


A model system is like a rock being dropped into a pond.  At the center there is the largest disturbance of the water.  This corresponds to the model system and the group it was based on.  The model system can be used much more accurately on this central group than any other.  Then there are ripples emanating from the center.  These ripples lose intensity as they get further away from point where the rock/model system impacted the water.  The ripples correspond to the other groups that the model system may be applied to.  In the case of many drug tests, the model system is based on data derived from the “average male.”  When the drug is released for sale, the model system for drug interaction and side effects may vary for other groups that will be taking the drug (e.g., young women, older women, older men, men or women with other health problems, etc.).  If care isn’t taken in the application of a model system to groups farther out from the group that was used for building the model system, then it may result in problems.


Linking this back to Judson, if the bounds of objectivity are pushed too far, the data collection in building the model system may be corrupted.  As Darwin wrote, “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened” (Chapter 21, 1st paragraph).  It is the responsibility of the scientist to be aware of what extent he or she utilizes anthropomorphism and model systems.  Zuk’s personal account (using “I” and writing about Brother Loon) and Judson’s anthropomorphism combined with wit are two ways to write about science without losing sight of what they are writing about.  Additionally, Zuk’s description of a model system applies to Judson’s anthropomorphic descriptions.  Judson writes on her website, “As long as everyone understands that we don’t know what is really going on inside an animal’s head…considering life from an organism’s point of view can be a powerful aid to the imagination, and therefore, a powerful tool.”  Zuk and Judson both use anthropomorphism as a valuable tool to convey their respective stories and scientific information.  Anthropomorphism, like model systems, is an important tool that comes with a disclaimer limiting the scope and depth of its utility within a scientific discourse.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 2

David Reimer is quoted on page 262 of John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him:


“You know, if I had lost my arms and my legs and wound up in a wheelchair where you’re moving everything with a little rod in your mouth–would that make me less of a person?  It just seems that they implied that you’re nothing if your penis is gone.  The second you lose that, you’re nothing, and they’ve got to do surgery and hormones to turn you into something.  Like you’re a zero.  It’s like your whole personality, everything about you is all directed–all pinpointed—toward what’s between the legs.  And to me, that’s ignorant.  I don’t have the kind of education that these scientists and doctors and psychologists have, but to me it’s very ignorant.  If a woman lost her breasts, do you turn her into a guy?  To make her feel ‘whole and complete’?”


David is addressing the idea that Dr. John Money summed up by saying, “You cannot be an it” (248).  David compares an apparent physical disability with the unseen lack of a penis.  He calls into question the belief that if one’s sexual identity is ambiguous, then their identity as a person is considered less than the identity of a person with a clear sex identity.  He cannot find the logic behind the doctor’s (such as Dr. Money’s) belief that sexual identity is necessary for personal identity.  David clearly delineates what our culture considers important concerning identity when he says, “It’s like your whole personality, everything about you is directed…toward what’s between the legs.”  He considers this “ignorant” because this classification neglects the person in toto.  David has thoughts, feelings, and dreams like any other person.  Even though he endured a botched circumcision, surgeries, hormone treatments, and counseling to help acclimate him to living a life as “Brenda,” he knew on the inside that he was in fact male.  David had not been given a choice about what sex he should be.  His parents and his doctors chose a sex for him based on physical characteristics derived from his injury.  David turns the table on this reasoning by saying, “If a woman lost her breasts, do you turn her into a guy?  To make her feel ‘whole and complete’?”  A woman’s breasts are one of the most obvious signifiers of being female.  His point is that if the physical manifestation of what we see and identify as being a male or female trait is removed then by the logic of doctors, such as Dr. Money, the person should have their sex reassigned so that they appear to be the sex that their scarred body appears to be.  This can be extended to Bob from Fight Club.  Bob had “bitch tits” and he had been castrated because of testicular cancer.  Should he have been transformed into a female because of his loss of his testicles as well as the way that he looks?


Dr. Money’s stand links back to Darwin’s primary sexual characteristics in his theory of sexual selection.  Darwin’s use of primary sexual characteristics is to denote what elements of an organism that are necessary for reproduction.  For human beings, these primary sexual characteristics are used as cues for sexual identity.  This extends to the way in which the individual interacts with others as well as the way others may interact with the individual–based on the perception/understanding of what sex the individual is.


Colapinto’s book is not a scientific text.  He uses journalistic investigation and personal narratives to build his argument.  The author gives David, Brian, their parents, and others a voice through their personal narratives.  Without Colapinto’s book and subsequent television appearances, their voice would have been oppressed within anonymous case studies.  In giving David and his family a voice, they were able to dispel the claims made by Dr. John Money concerning the “John/Joan” case.  Additionally, sexual identity is something that is more than the sum of its parts.  Being male or female (for the individual) is more than a checklist (e.g., penis–check, testicles–check, etc.).  David knew that he was male despite being told he was female.


It should also be noted that Dr. Money does not appear to have followed the scientific method in developing his theory that nurture is capable of reassigning biological sex or intersexual ambiguity.  Instead of rigorously following up on the John/Joan case, he effectively dropped the ball.  Also, in light of new evidence presented by the Diamond and Sigmundson paper, Dr. Money and others who promoted intersexual infant surgeries did not change or reevaluate their standing on this procedure.  Case studies are based on observation and extrapolation from particular cases.  For example, Freud’s psychoanalysis was based on case studies that he made with only a limited number of patients.  Diamond and Sigmundson paper was “powerful…in presenting anecdotal evidence of the neurobiological basis of sexuality” (210).  The doctors on both sides of this issue have to rely on the case studies of extreme cases in order to derive their theories regarding the basis of sexual identity.


Colapinto’s book reveals that more than scientific discovery is taking place in these investigations.  It reads like a drama because of the personal stakes that the doctors have in their work.  Dr. Money’s personal attacks erupt within his books that are supposed to be scientific texts.  Additionally, Dr. Money is presented as being less than objective by not disclosing certain elements of why he chose to not report what he knew had happened with Brenda/David and he would not explain his own shift in beliefs that took place between his doctoral dissertation (which presented a positive picture of intersexuals who had not undergone surgeries in infancy) to his profound belief that a person with ambiguous physical characteristics must be made either physically male or female while they are very young.


A final important point that Colapinto makes in As Nature Made Him is that David exists has a hybrid.  David identifies himself as male now even though he was raised as a girl.  He said, “I feel sorry for women.  I’ve been there” (262).  He then talks about gendered roles for women such as staying in the kitchen and being told to leave chopping the firewood to the men.  David goes on to say, “I remember when I was a kid and women were fighting like hell to get equal rights.  I said, ‘Good for them.’  I kind of sensed what position women had in society.  Way down there.  And that’s who I was portrayed.  And I didn’t want to go way down there.  I felt, I can do whatever anybody else can!  But ‘Oh, you’re a girl–you might get hurt playing ball'” (262).  He has walked the proverbial mile in another sex’s shoes.  His hybridity allowed him to see the demarcation lines because he had crossed over them in his transformation from Brenda to David.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 3

Doppelgangers in The Stepford Wives destabilize female identity and agency.  The American Heritage College Dictionary 3rd edition defines doppelganger as, “A ghostly double of a living person, esp. one that haunts its living counterpart.”  Doppelgangers are a mirror of a person, but not an exact duplicate.  Additionally, a double is not natural and it is usually dangerous because of its encroaching on the identity of the original.


There are two kinds of doppelgangers or mirroring in The Stepford Wives.  The first mirroring takes place between the women of Stepford (i.e., Carol Van Sant et al) and the women who have recently moved to Stepford (i.e., Joanna, Bobby, and Charmaine).  The established women think and behave as a representation of an ideal of femininity held by the men of Stepford (and reinforced by the culture at large such as in advertising of housecleaning products).  The women who have recently moved to Stepford are trying to maintain their own identity and agency.  There is a conflict between the constructed identities of the Stepford women and the recently arrived women.  Joanna and Bobby can’t identify with the Stepford women because they are embedded (literally) with a diametrically opposed view of what it means to be a woman, and in particular, a wife.


Underlying this is the obvious level of doppelgangers between the original woman and the ideal Stepford wife that she “becomes.”  The robot/animatronic doubles are revealed at the end of the film when Joanna stabs Bobby to see if she bleeds.  Bobby does not and she falls into a loop of her preprogrammed motions and words.  The women of Stepford are replaced with robotic replications.  These robot doubles are built by the Men’s Association to give the husband what he considers an idealized housewife.  These doubles are unnatural (they don’t bleed and they are mechanical instead of organic) and they are dangerous to the not-yet-replaced women of Stepford.  The doppelganger has to usurp the place of the real woman by killing her.  The synthetic replaces the organic.  Additionally, this point is interesting because it means that the men can only enjoy their ideal of the female if that ideal is a constructed, synthetic being instead of an alive, organic one.


The doppelganger is important to our study of gender because it makes apparent how one group is objectified by another group (e.g., in this case women/wives are objectified by men/husbands).  The men already objectified the women before they were replaced with robot doubles.  Joanna didn’t have a choice in their move to Stepford and her husband doesn’t respect her choice to be a photographer.  Because Joanna is a “thing” instead of a person, Walter is able to replace her with her robot double.  In doing so, Joanna is killed and her voice (i.e., choice, creativity, and identity) is destroyed.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 4

Alice Domurat Dreger quotes Donald Bateman (a hemophiliac) in the Epilogue of her book, Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, as having said, “the social history of medicine is usually recorded by its practitioners, by social workers, or researchers.  Not much of it is chronicled by its victims or the recipients of treatment.  The sick, like the poor, leave very few archives behind them” (167).  The medical professionals usurp the voice of the individual who they objectify as the patient.  The body of the individual is made to “tell a story” through the doctor’s descriptions, photographs, and drawings.  The individual/patient is denied a voice in the medical literature because it is meant to be “objective.”  Science and medicine considers things, not individuals.


An example of this is a gynecological examination.  The woman to be examined has her body covered in such a way to section off the upper portion of her body from her lower portion.  The doctor is meant to conduct his/her examination on “body parts” that are in a sense removed from the individual.  This has come about in order to establish the objectivity of the medical professional as well as lowering the possibility that some may consider the doctor conducting the examination in a non-professional way.  This objectivity may also make the woman more comfortable in a situation that elicits the taboo against persons (particularly of the opposite sex) looking at our naked body.  The objectification of intersexual individuals however extends beyond this example.


Intersexuals have had decisions made about their bodies and their sexual identity without their voice being heard.  These decisions may be made while he/she is very young and it may be made by the medical professional along with input from the individual’s parents or the parents may go along with the “professional opinion” of the doctor.  The dynamic of this decision-making has a lot to do with many factors such as socioeconomic background of the parents, education, and geographic location of the parents and doctor (people in one location may have accepted mores or ideas that are different from people in other places).


Dreger goes on to say that a shift took place after the “Age of Gonads.”  Dreger writes, “The late twentieth century, however, has seen the emergence of the voices and claims–to autonomy, to authority–of medicine’s subjects.  Intersexuals, like hemophiliacs and other medical patients, have begun to record and make known their stories in ever greater numbers” (168).  We have been reading about these voices such as Herculine Barbin’s memoirs and David Reimer’s story in John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him.  There are stories to be told that are important both to the teller of the story and to an anticipating audience.  We have also read stories and seen movies where a person isn’t give a choice such as Joanna in The Stepford Wives and Yod in Piercy’s He, She, and It.  Joanna wants to be remembered through her photographs.  Yod leaves a message for Shira where he gets to tell his own story and make his own requests.  Barbin dealt with medical and legal authorities in his transformation from woman to man.  Reimer had to contend with the accepted authority on intersexuals–Dr. John Money.  The individual challenges authority in order to make their voice heard.


Individuals “placed under the microscope” struggle for agency and the authority of the self.  Intersexuals, like anyone, want control of their bodies and their identity.  Certain authorities exert their power over the individual and in so doing render the individual an object without a voice.  Authority exerted by the medical profession continues to the present from the “Age of Gonads” that Dreger looks at.  Intersexed individuals have come a long way to gaining a voice, but there are areas that there is still a conflict on whose authority reigns supreme.  What form do these conflicts take?  What other areas do there exist conflicts between the intersexual as an individual and an authority that denies the intersexual a voice (e.g., the law or the church)?








Intersexuals and others identified as in need of help by the medical profession are objectified as patients instead of individuals.  The scientist and the doctor does not name them nor does he (more often than she) allow them a place or venue to tell their own story.  The object is voiceless whereas the individual has a voice to tell his/her own story and to make choices for his/herself.  Because medical professionals saw these individuals as objects of study, they also were denied a voice in the choices made about their own bodies.  Authority to medicine and law overruled the unacknowledged authority of the self.


The issue of authority has been present in most of the works that we have considered thus far in the course.  David Reimer had choices made about what sex he should be raised as in Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him.  Yod was created to serve a purpose in Piercy’s He, She, and It.  Joanna faces the lesser decision made by her husband to move to Stepford, and then she is made to forfeit her life when her husband has a robot double created to assume her role as wife and mother.  There is a constant struggle between those of authority and those victim to the whims of that authority.  The issue lies in those persons [fragment]


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 5

Destabilization of Normality and Reactions from Authority


Before Callie/Cal runs away from Dr. Luce and her parents in Middlesex, Eugenides writes:


I had miscalculated with Luce.  I thought that after talking to me he would decide that I was normal and leave me alone.  But I was beginning to understand something about normality.  Normality wasn’t normal.  It couldn’t be.  If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone.  They could sit back and let normality manifest itself.  But people–and especially doctors–had doubts about normality.  They weren’t sure normality was up to the job.  And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.  (Eugenides 446)


Binomial sex is considered the norm and



The authority here lies with doctors and with parents to a much lesser extent.



Another example of an authority trying to regulate normalcy is 19th and 20th century England.  In the movie Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s claim against [fragment]


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 6

Categorization and Authority in The Well of Loneliness


Stephen’s tutor, Miss Puddleton (Puddle), is concerned about Stephen because “none knew better than this little grey woman, the agony of mind that must be endured when a sensitive, highly organized nature is first brought face to face with its own affliction” (155).  Puddle practices what she would say to Stephen.  She considers saying, “You’re neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you’re unexplained as yet–you’ve not got your niche in creation.  But some day that will come, and meanwhile don’t shrink from yourself, but just face yourself calmly and bravely…Cling to your honour for the sake of those others who share the same burden.  For their sakes show the world that people like you and they can be quite as selfless and fine as the rest of mankind.  Let your life go to prove this–it would be a really great life-work, Stephen” (154).  She wants to say that Stephen is not “unnatural,” “abominable,” or “mad.”  Puddle’s conception of categorization holds that an “invert” or lesbian identity has not yet found its “niche in creation” because a person like that is “unexplained as yet.”  She believes that when that behavior is explained (categorized) by someone (authority) then inverts will hold a place all their own in the “natural” world.  Puddle wants to tell Stephen that this goal is accomplished if she will be herself and maintain her “honour.”  This path is akin to leading by example.  Stephen can show the world that she and others like her are no less human than anyone else.


Unfortunately, there are many forms of categorization and different authorities vying for the power of categorization.  Puddle’s formulation maintains that authority in the invert by leading a good life.  This is honorable, but not always practical because people often have prejudices and opinions that are not easily swayed.  Stephen’s parents, Sir Philip and Anna fight over Stephen’s nature.  Sir Philip is accepting of his daughter, but he dies before he can explain to Anna what Stephen’s nature is.  Others, like Puddle and Sir Philip, are accepting of Stephen because they see her as a person with skills and abilities that they respect despite the gendered overlay of those skills.  For example, Colonel Antrim “dearly loved a fine rider, and he cursed and he swore his appreciation” (109).  Colonel Antrim would defend Stephen to the other riders.  The others were made uncomfortable that a woman entered what was generally accepted as a male sport.  They would snicker and whisper when Stephen was not around that she was only a girl or that what she was doing was unnatural.  They would credit the horse more than the rider.  Colonel Antrim would hear none of that and exclaim, “Damn it, no, it’s the riding.  The girl rides, that’s the point; as for some of you others–” (109).


Colonel Antrim’s “oaths could not save Stephen now from her neighbours, nothing could do that since the going of Martin–for quite unknown to themselves they feared her; it was fear that aroused their antagonism.  In her they instinctively sensed as outlaw, and theirs was the task of policing nature” (110).  The community plays a great part in the categorization of “normality” versus “abnormality.”  Because Stephen participated in many male dominated sports and academic pursuits, it unnerved many in the community that believed that this was not the natural order of things.  As John Merrick says to two socialite guests in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, “People are often frightened by what they don’t understand.”  “Inverts” or lesbians were not understood in the binomial heterosexually dominated world of Radclyffe Hall.  Stephen is female but her “mannish” appearance is disconcerting to many people (both female and male) in the community.  Social mores and beliefs are constructed from the interaction of people within a community (which was larger at that time than say a thousand years before that due to such influences as new transportation technologies and publishing).  Within a small community such as that around Morton, the people gossip and react to the things that they observe.  Based on their own interaction and connections to the world outside their small community, “theirs was the task of policing nature.”  They feared Stephen because she was not like other women in their cultural moment.  Their “policing nature” did not mean that they were likely to lock her up, but that they reacted to Stephen and what she represented to them (i.e., a challenge to the status quo of binomial heterosexuality).


This policing action is made very clearly when Ralph, the husband of Stephen’s first lover, Angela, reacts to the green-fly, “He nagged about the large population of green-fly, deploring the existence of their sexual organs:  ‘Nature’s a fool!  Fancy procreation being extended to that sort of vermin!'” (151).  Ralph is calling Nature “a fool” because he does not believe that insects should procreate the same way as humans do.  Science has revealed that sex is not only binomial but of many different combinations of sex and procreation beyond “male” and “female.”  Ralph’s arrogance is directly connected to the arrogance of those that react negatively toward Stephen and her nature.  In the same paragraph as Ralph’s exclamation against the green-fly, he says to his wife, “How’s your freak getting on…She’s appalling…it’s enough to make any man see red; that sort of thing wants putting down at birth, I’d like to institute state lethal chambers!” (151).  He marks himself as a fascist and closed minded about a woman who does not act or dress according to the way he and others believe a woman should act and dress.  Ralph is an extreme example, but his belief that the culturally created definitions of what it means to be male or female (and how to act and dress according to that sex) is above one’s nature and the way that Nature makes people.


Science also grapples for authority to categorize things and people.  The work done by science is often an extension of cultural preconceptions.  For example, the American Psychological Association labeled homosexuality an illness until a little over twenty years ago.  In Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s “Discourses of Sexuality and Subjectivity:  The New Woman 1870-1936,” she describes the work done by Krafft-Ebing in categorizing women he labeled as lesbian.  He used “social behavior and physical appearance” instead of the “sexual behavior of the women” when he categorized them (269).  An interesting side note is that Havelock Ellis wrote the introductory commentary for The Well of Loneliness.  He is described by Smith Rosenberg as “a complex figure” who was “an enemy of Victorian repression and hypocrisy” but he “insisted that a woman’s love for other women was both sexual and degenerate” (270).  He did argue however that “Inversion…was biological, hereditary, and irreversible” (270).  So there was discussion going on before and during the time that The Well of Loneliness was published about what it means to be a lesbian.  The majority view however was that homosexuality was a mental disease that can be treated and possibly reversed.  Some today, still hold this view (e.g., the debate in the Technique in 1996 over the publication of a religious group’s full page ad showing an attractive young woman who was able to turn from gay to straight thanks to the help of the church–not exactly science but a case illustrating the continuing debate over reversibility of homosexuality).


The Well of Loneliness is a source of many examples of different authorities working to promote their own understanding of nature.  Categorization and labels serve both to help others understand who a person is, but they can also be used to undermine a person’s agency and self by assigning them a position “less than normal.”  Normality should be viewed as a spectrum rather than an absolute list of criteria with any deviation being identified as abnormal.  Understanding and acceptance (Sir Philip, Puddle, and Colonel Antrim) are more useful and powerful because they are inclusive whereas choosing not to understand and early medical categorization as other (Mr. Antrim, Ralph, and nineteenth century science) are both overlaying community prejudices in order to exclude persons who have something to contribute to the community.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Post 7

Transformations and Authority in Hausman and Two Postmodern Fictions


Authority is one of the primary issues that we have been discussing during the course of this semester.  This issue is apparent in Bernice L. Hausman’s Changing Sex:  Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender and it also appears in two books that I have read outside of class in Greg Bear’s Blood Music and Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.


Hausman writes, “trannssexual’s demands for surgical and hormonal interventions were perceived, at least partially, as an effect of a still developing medical technology that had yet to realize its full potential.  This differentiates the medical practitioners from their transsexual subjects, for whom surgery was the final answer to their misery, a technological repair of ‘nature’s mistake'” (43).  She also writes that transsexuality is an invention of the twentieth century because it wasn’t until after Dreger’s “Age of Gonads” that medical technologies were developed to assist in the physical transformation of a person of one biological/physical sex into the opposite sex.  With the birth of endocrinology and advanced surgical techniques, one could potentially metamorphose into the gender (also a recent development) that they believed that they were.


The authority to define, control, and reinforce physical transformation such as the bodily metamorphosis of the transsexual lies in many different hands.  As we increase the magnification of the microscope, the endocrinologist becomes the new definer of what it means to be male or female.  Before the rise of the chemicalization of the body, the “Age of Gonads” depended on observation of the gonadal tissues of the individual to determine sex.  Endocrinology discovered the hormonal messages that are sent and received by different organs within the body.  It was also determined that the female body should be the focus of endocrine research because of the more complex female endocrine system because of its regulation of the reproductive cycle.  Hausman writes, “One result of the emphasis on women as the ideal subjects of endocrinology may have been the differing ratios of men to women seeking sex change:  statistically, more men have, in the past, requested and achieved sex change” (37).  Because women were the subjects of endocrine research, Hausman goes on to say, “Thus, I would suggest that the historically higher numbers of men seeking sex change must somehow be correlated to the discourses within which both men and women who feel themselves to be ‘in the wrong body’ construct themselves as entitled subjects of medical treatment” (37).  The medicalization of the hormonal systems of women led to the establishment of people seeking medical treatment and surgery when they felt they were actually the other gender.  Therefore, transsexuality as a phenomenon is a technological invention.


Transsexuality serves to reinforce the binomial sex paradigm as well as the authority of the medical professional.  Hausman writes in the Introduction, “physicians and other clinicians demonstrate the homophobic prejudice that grounds the practices of sex change in a desire to see bodies that are sexed in accordance with social categories of appropriate gender performance” (7).   What other groups connect to this discourse of “sex[ing] in accordance with social categories of appropriate gender performance?”  The biochemical and drug manufacturing industries certainly play a part in developing synthesized hormones that were administered for menopausal women.  These chemical companies coupled with the rise of the advertising agency drove the chemical companies’ products into new hands where a need might not have existed before.  Along with this was the move from injected hormones to pill form hormones that could be administered at home without the need of a doctor’s visit.  This also led to self-medication and the use of these medicines by persons without a prescription.  This leads to the appropriation of authority by the individual.  There are those, such as Agnes in Hausman’s introduction, who self-medicate in order to achieve their goal of gender transformation.  Additionally, Agnes coupled her hormonal treatments with performing herself as female in order to convince the doctors that she was a hermaphrodite instead of a male who had been taking hormonal treatments for a very long time.  Today, the process for gender reassignment in the US is complicated by psychologists labeling transsexuality and transgenderism as an illness that is mitigated through a protocol with a goal of transformation.  The individual is the ultimate authority as far as choice is concerned because he or she decides that he/she is not of the gender that he/she feels.  But there is a feedback loop where all of these authorities play off and within each other in order to build male and female gender distinctions.  Therefore, endocrinologists better define and label the human subject within their science, biochemists manufacture new synthetic hormones to be administered to the human subjects, advertising agencies work with the biochemical companies to sell their product and infiltrate new markets (with existing medicines–less R&D spending), and the male or female individual chooses to use these medicines and technologies for bodily transformation or for mediating menopause.  These authorities feedback into one another so that one cannot be said to be an ultimate authority, but that each in turn plays a part in how gender and transgenderism is presented and “treated.”


Greg Bear’s Blood Music is about a lone male scientist (an authority) working in a big lab who reengineers a set of his own white blood cells to be thinking machines called noocytes.  When his superiors (another authority) sack him on the suspicion of his work, he injects these intelligent machine cells back into his body in order to smuggle them out of the building in the hopes he can retrieve them later.  These cells (a new authority) then go about reengineering his body so that he becomes one with these cells.  The cells then venture away from his body (i.e., labeled a plague by medical authorities) and convert all living matter in North America into one huge organism where the identities of the people are embedded within this new life form, but few of the millions of inhabitants of North America are given a choice in joining with the new life form.  This summary of the novel reveals the layers of authority that exist.  This example doesn’t directly discuss gender other than the whole mess is instigated by a Frankenstein like character who decides to do very dangerous science (working on human biologicals much less reinjecting those biologicals into himself).  But it does reveal the authority that is assumed by certain individuals or groups and ultimately the greatest authority is represented by the new life form in its assimilation of North America.  The medical professionals and scientists that we have been reading about assume this kind of authority.  First the physical appearance was assimilated and cataloged, then the gonads/sex glands were identified and labeled, and now the endocrinological/chemical systems of our bodies were dissected and put into “male” or “female” categories.  Our bodies were assimilated from without by medicine and science.  Additionally, when North America is turned into a “germ” civilization, what does it mean to be male or female?  Memories and consciousnesses are there within the fabric of these microscopic creatures, but the physical manifestation of a person is no longer relevant (except when the noocytes need to communicate with one of the few unaltered humans in North America).  Therefore, this colonization made us strangers in ourselves because it narrowed the focus of sex/gender identities as either male or female while turning the spectrum of reality into abnormality.


The other book that I mentioned above is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.  Reed’s novel is a postmodern retelling of history through a narrative that takes place in the early part of the twentieth century (which coincidentally is when advances took place to move medical science from the “Age of Gonads” into endocrinology).  “Jes Grew” is a identified as a plague by the Atonist authorities (essentially western, white, Christian leadership) because it is an invasion of the spirit that empowers groups under the Atonist powers that be.  It is difficult to give a short description of Jes Grew, but I think that the quotes of James Weldon Johnson at the beginning of the novel point the reader in the right direction.  Johnson wrote in The Book of American Negro Poetry, “The earliest Ragtime songs, like Topsy, ‘jes’ grew.'” and “we appropriated about the last one of the ‘jes’ grew’ songs.  It was a song that had been sung for years all through the South.  The words were unprintable, but the tune was irresistible, and belonged to nobody.”  Jes Grew is both an invasion from without but it is also an appropriation by a group’s past (African American) into the present.  The dancing and song that was part of Jes Grew empowered individuals that were part of an oppressed group in American society.  It relates to gender because both African American men and women were part of Jes Grew.  It went against prohibition and anti-dancing movements that were part of early twentieth century America.  Another part of the narrative shows a separation between Voo Doo practitioners as being predominantly male.  Some of the history of The Work involves both men and women, but in the story it is men who drive the story.  But in the end, one of the main characters, Earline, who was possessed earlier but relieved of the bad spirit, apologizes for her “breakdown” but PaPa LaBas says, “I don’t think it was a nervous breakdown, I have my theory.  Nervous breakdown sounds so Protestant, we think that you were possessed.  Our cures worked, didn’t they?  All you have to know is how to do The Work” (206).  Earline goes on to say that she wants to travel and learn more about The Work so it may not be so male dominated because it is a female that is identified as the one going off to seek more learning, but it the division within the novel is something to take note of.


Hausman writes about a real world struggle of authorities within the discourses of gender and transgenderism.  Bear presents an inventive story where choice is irrelevant to the overwhelming force of intelligent germs.  Reed’s Jes Grew is a spiritual invasion that he describes as having a rich history that is at odds with the Atonist/western hegemony.  Each of these works talk about how authority and hegemony figures into discourses of identity, gender, and transgenderism.  The fictional works are primarily concerned with gender and identity whereas Hausman’s work delves into all three issues.  Thus, issues of identity are bound to the interplay of the authorities that construct the framework within which one can know who he/she is.


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Carol Senf

LCC 3304


Online Discussion Posting 8

Issues of Shame in Deirdre N. McCloskey’s Crossing:  A Memoir


Michael Warner’s theory of sexual ethics and shame appear in Deirdre N. McCloskey’s Crossing:  A Memoir.  McCloskey is writing about her transformation from man to woman.  She is an outside other who is using medical technology and techniques to physically alter her male body to match her female self.


In Chapter 14, McCloskey writes about how rumors began to circulate about her plans for transformation that prompts her to confront the issue head on by sending letters to her colleagues and speaking with the press.  She writes in bold, “I am not ashamed of this and am not going to let people treat it as shameful.  For myself and for the politics I am not going to be put back into a closet, ever” (90).  McCloskey invokes the language of shame that Warner discusses in his book The Trouble With Normal.  McCloskey is “not ashamed” and she will not “let people treat it as shameful.”  She feels female inside but she has a physically male body.  The medical intervention that she chose to have performed will allow her to cross from a male sexed body to a female sexed body.  She sees no shame in this because she had no choice in the way that she feels.  In the same way that a person with clinical depression should not feel ashamed of the way that they feel, Deidre does not feel ashamed of the way that she feels (which forms part of her identity).  Warner writes, “Sooner or later, happily or unhappily, almost everyone fails to control his or her sex life.  Perhaps as compensation, almost everyone sooner or later also succumbs to the temptation to control someone else’s sex life” (1).  Warner is primarily writing about gays and lesbians and sexual orientation, but his theory of shame works with anyone with a different sex identity than what is presented or believed to be “normal.”  McCloskey is the outside other who does not fit into what most people would believe to be normal.  Despite her not being like most men because she choose to transform her body into a that of a woman, she should not feel ashamed of her identity or her medically altered body.


Warner writes about the different meanings that we have for stigma.  He writes, “Ordinary shame…passes.  One might do a perverse thing and bring scorn or loathing on oneself…This kind of shame affect’s one biographical identity” (28).  This transitory shame is not the same as the shame that someone that falls outside of what is assumed to be sexually normal.  Warner goes on to write, “The shame of a true pervert–stigma–is less delible; it is a social identity that befalls one like fate.  Like the related stigmas of racial identity or disabilities, it may have nothing to do with acts one has committed.  It attaches not to doing, but to being; not to conduct, but to status” (28).  McCloskey performs herself as and appears to be a biological woman.  However, her body is literally marked.  She has stigmata (physical markings–scars) that, if seen, mark her as a “true pervert” who has made a crossing that to many people is unnatural.  McCloskey writes that she will not be “ashamed” and she will not let others “treat it as shameful.”  McCloskey understands that to those who know of her transformation, she is marked.  Many are accepting, but others cannot deal with her choice.  Warner writes, “The ones who pay are the ones who stand out in some way.  They become a lightning rod not only for the hatred of difference, of the abnormal, but also for the more general loathing for sex” (23).  Transgendered people are “lightning rods” because during their crossing, they may appear to be of both sexes.  This stage of metamorphosis (and some may never gain the accepted physical appearance of the sex that they choose) brings their transformation to the forefront to those who consider it unnatural.  Warner goes on to write, “It is their sex, especially, that seems dehumanizing” (24).  This identification of “sex” with “dehumanizing” may be what precipitates violence and outrage by some against those with different sexual orientation or gender identity.  The “normal” person dehumanizes the outside other because of their difference.  Because the other is “abnormal” they are identified as being less than a “normal” person.  The “normal” person disregards the identity of the self or the fact that the other is a human being due respect and equal rights.


Is McCloskey ambivalent about her identity as a post-operative MTF transsexual?  Warner writes about “identity ambivalence” in the lesbian and gay movement, but this can also apply to transgendered persons because they are also made to feel sexual shame.  He writes, “The distinction between stigma and shame makes it seem as though an easy way to resolve the ambivalence of belonging to a stigmatized group is to embrace the identity but disavow the act” (33).  Ambivalence is the disregarding of some aspect of your identity yet still holding on to the group identity.  Warner is writing about gays who disregard the fact of gay sex yet want to have a gay identity (he cites the example of the author who cuts out his article in a gay magazine to send to his mom because on the same page is a gay phone sex ad).  At first, McCloskey was going to keep her transformation under wraps until after she began the trip that would culminate with her surgery in Australia.  After rumors began to circulate, she communicated her intentions to her colleagues as well as the curious press.  But she writes of herself as the feminine Deirdre and she refers to her past self, Donald, in the third person.  She performs herself as female and she writes of behaviors and thoughts that might be described as feminine or of the female mind.  Granted, we only read part of her memoir, but it seems like she is shifting from a transsexual identity to that of a real woman.  Deirdre writes about an encounter with a nurse who told her “I’m like you, I had the operation…I mean, I’ve had a hysterectomy” (201).  Deirdre writes in response to this, “So just like me, thought Deirdre, she has a vagina but no ovaries.  Deirdre was like her, like a woman on hormone replacement therapy after a hysterectomy or menopause.  Goodness, she thought, I am a woman on hormone replacement therapy” (201).  The ultimate goal of a transsexual transformation is to become the physical reality of the felt gender identity.  Perhaps it is best that someone who crosses should then assume the identity of the sex and gender that he/she has become and disregard the transsexual identity of transformation.  Additionally, if the person assumes the sex and gender identity of that which they have become, this sets the person within the generally accepted framework of binomial normalcy.  However, I think Warner would identify McCloskey as being ambivalent about her sex identity because she is like the new middle-class gays who don’t want to get involved in politics.  She has attained what she wants (to become a woman) and she has established herself within her field as an expert.  She no longer has to struggle to attain what she wants.  The same is true for the gays that Warner discusses in his book.  The old fights and struggles are a distant memory to the comfortable middle-class gays who have jobs and relationships without (much) fear of reprisal.  They have ambivalence about their gay identity that allows them the luxury to disregard part of that identity in order to make themselves more acceptable to the general public (who have opinions on what is “normal” and who have their opinions shaped by popular culture).


McCloskey’s memoirs bring up the issues of sexual shame and identity ambivalence that Warner describes in his book.  Deidre works against sexual shame during her transformation but she seems to give into identity ambivalence once she has attained her goal of becoming a woman.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate SF Lab Project, “Development of AI in Science Fiction,” Fall 2004

This is the twenty-eighth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

In 2002, I took Professor Lisa Yaszek’s Science Fiction class at Georgia Tech. It was an important milestone in my life’s journey, but at that time, I had not yet looked beyond possible career paths in IT or UX design. Then, in early 2004, Professor Yaszek organized a symposium in conjunction with the Georgia Tech Library on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She invited the SF writer Kathleen Ann Goonan to visit campus and give a reading. At the time, I was in Professor Yaszek’s Gender Studies class and we had read some of Kathy Goonan’s work. I was hooked, and I read more of her novels before her arrival to campus. Then, during the day of her visit, I had the good fortune to speak with her and she was kind enough to give me the gift of her time and conversation.

Later, during the symposium, I was able to speak with Georgia Tech’s former SF professor, Bud Foote. I had heard legends of him when I first started at Tech, but I was never able to take his SF class while he was still teaching. Luckily, I was able to hear him give a presentation for the symposium and talk to him afterward.

After that day of talking with Kathy Goonan and Professor Foote, I told Professor Yaszek that I had made up my mind–I was going to make a career out of studying SF. Ten years later, here I am–an SF scholar doing postdoctoral work at my alma mater!

I noticed that Professor Yaszek had a number of student researchers who helped with the Frankenstein symposium. In addition to organizing the event, they put together some cool research material on a website. I thought that was impressive, and I wondered if I could get involved with that kind of work.

I can’t remember if I asked Professor Yaszek about this or if she told us about it in the Gender Studies class, but I learned that she was planning on a new PURA (Presidential Undergraduate Research Award) funded endeavor for undergraduate Tech students: the SF Lab. The goal for each student in the group would be to contribute 1) an introduction to a specific SF topic, 2) a linked bibliography on the SF topic selected, 3)  an annotated bibliography of important works featuring that topic found in the Georgia Tech Science Fiction Collection (formerly the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection), and finally, 4) related resources at Tech being developed in the real world. I jumped at this opportunity and proposed to write an entry on artificial intelligence.

After winning a PURA award for my project proposal, I worked with several other students to workshop our individual projects. We had weekly meetings for workshopping each part of the project. The introduction took longer than the other parts, because it involved more writing and integrated research. Each SF Lab researcher would bring printouts of his or her work to circulate with the others and Professor Yaszek. We would take the feedback, revise for the next week, and return with a new draft. It was a streamlined process that involved a lot of revision work, but I cannot thank Professor Yaszek enough for helping me integrate that kind of rigor into my revision processes. It has repaid me in spades over the years.

The following is my SF Lab project on AI. Please note that the links might be outdated and/or dead.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Lisa Yaszek

SF Lab Independent Research Project for

Fall 2004

Development of AI in SF

Part I – Introduction

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is intelligence and self-awareness demonstrated by a physical but inorganic artifact.  AI researchers include experts from a coalition of diverse disciplines including computer science (software written for computer hardware) and psychology (unraveling the human software running on biological hardware).

John McCarthy is credited as first coining the term “artificial intelligence” in the August 31, 1955 paper he coauthored, “The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence.”  This research project took place in the Summer of 1956 and its proposal states in the first paragraph that “The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it” (1).  McCarthy’s definition continues to be the accepted broad definition of AI.  Science fiction (SF) authors internalized this definition in their works that involve AI.  Patricia S. Warrick explicitly states the human focus of AI built into McCarthy’s definition when she writes in her 1980 book, The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction, “Artificial intelligence…attempts to discover and describe aspects of human intelligence that can be simulated by machines” (11).

SF is the primary literature field in which authors explore stories about AI.  SF authors are generally concerned only with “strong AI” or self-aware, intelligent machines that mimic human cognition.  However, there are a few stories that address “weak AI” which are programs that act as if they are intelligent, but not self-aware.  SF authors have written about the possibilities of AI as well as the issues surrounding artificial intelligence.  There are three main types of AI stories:  analog dystopic AI (1872-1930), digital utopic AI (1930-1950), and digital dystopic AI (1950-Present).

Analog dystopic AI stories first appear in the late 19th century and they are characterized by anxieties about the dangerous nature of analog machine intelligences (built of gears and cogs instead of transistors).  The first reference to machine intelligence occurs in Samuel Butler’s satire Erewhon (1872).  Butler accomplished his goal of satirizing the theory of evolution by applying evolution to machines.  These machines become self-aware and come to control man.  Other stories from this period involved automatons (mechanical men that displayed intelligence) that were built for an intellectual purpose such as playing chess.  An example of this is Ambrose Bierce’s “Moxon’s Master” (1894) which had a dystopic ending that involved the mechanical chess player killing its creator after being checkmated.  These dystopian stories of analog AI continued to dominate the first three decades of the 20th century.  Karl Capek’s R.U.R. (1921), which introduced the term “robot” to the English language, is a another prime example of this storytelling.

American SF ignited in the 1930s with a shift to digital utopian stories that feature digital machine intelligences (e.g., positronic brains, transistors, and integrated circuits).  John W. Campbell’s story, “When the Atoms Fail” (1930) is the first to describe a machine that is unquestionably a digital computer (though not self-aware).  His next computer story, “The Last Evolution” (1932) is about a machine that has independent thought.  In the 1940s Campbell helped Isaac Asimov create the Three Laws of Robotics in his robot stories and Asimov establishes himself as “the father of robot stories in SF” (Warrick, 54).  These digital utopic AI stories present machines as predictable reasoning beings that follow rules that allow them to live and work with humans.  They do not explore the philosophical ramifications of the creation of artificial life.  Additionally, Asimov’s 1950 publication of I, Robot, which is a collection of his first robot short stories, can be said to be an end point to the digital utopic AI era.

After World War II, SF authors wrote digital dystopic AI stories to explore questions concerning the ethics of a science and technology that produced the nuclear bomb (and the first digital computers).  Two notable works from the early part of this era are Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey (1968) and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968).  These authors place an emphasis on the philosophical and ethical conflicts that may develop when humanity creates new life in the form of artificial brains that mirror the human mind.  More recently, depictions of self-aware AIs have become extremely elaborate as the real world entered a much more computerized and inter-networked era.  William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) in particular and cyberpunk in general further expand the scope of digital dystopic AI stories by interlinking AI, cybernetics, and global capitalism.

Thus, AI is a historically embedded concept in SF literature.  The science and technology behind AI has evolved from mere conjecture to a closer possibility.  Authors of AI stories take the science and technology of their historical moments and extrapolate the forms that AI might take.  Furthermore, AI authors discuss, both implicitly and explicitly, the philosophical and ethical issues that inevitably arise with new technology and more specifically with the creation of self-aware machines.

Part II – Linked Bibliography

A.  Theory and Criticism

i.  Theory

Kurzweil, Ray.  The Age of Intelligent Machines.  Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1990.

Link to:

McCarthy, J., M. L. Minsky, N. Rochester, and C. E. Shannon.  “A Proposal for      the       Dartmouth Summer     Research Project on Artificial Intelligence.”  August 31,       1955.

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Minsky, Marvin.  The Society of Mind.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1988.

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Neumann, John von.  The Computer and the Brain.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University          Press, 1958.

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Turning, A.M.  “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”  Mind 59: 236 (1950):


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ii.  Criticism

Clute, John and Peter Nicholls, eds.  The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.  New York:         St. Martin’s Press, 1995.


Lem, Stanislaw.  “Robots in Science Fiction.”  SF:  The Other Side of Realism,      ed.       Thomas D. Clareson.  Bowling Green, KY:  Bowling Green University Popular      Press, 1971.

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Stork, David G.  ed.  HAL’s Legacy:  2001’s Computer as Dream and Reality.          Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1996.

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Telotte, J.P.  Replications:  A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film.  Urbana, IL:        University of   Illinois Press, 1995.

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Warrick, Patricia S.  The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction.  Cambridge, MA:         MIT Press, 1980.

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B.  Primary texts

i.  Analog Dystopic AI

Bierce, Ambrose.  “Moxon’s Master.”  1894.

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Butler, Samuel.  Erewhon.  1872.

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Capek, Karl.  R.U.R.  1921.

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Merritt, Abraham.  The Metal Monster.  New York:  F.A. Munsey, August 7, 1920 (serialized over 8 issues in Argosy All-Story Weekly).

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ii.  Digital Utopic AI

Asimov, Isaac.  I, Robot.  New York:  Gnome Press, 1950.

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Campbell, John W., Jr. “The Last Evolution.” Amazing August 1932.

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iii.  Digital Dystopic AI

Clarke, Arthur C.  2001:  A Space Odyssey.  New York:  New American Library, 1968.

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Dick, Philip K.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  New York:  Doubleday, 1968.

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Ellison, Harlan.  “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”  If March 1967.

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Gibson, William.  Neuromancer.  New York:  Ace Books, 1984.

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Herbert, Frank.  Destination:  Void.  New York:  Berkley, 1966.  Revised edition, 1978.

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Lem, Stanislaw.  The Cyberiad:  Fables for the Cybernetic Age.  New York:  The Seabury Press, 1974.

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C.  Films

i.  Analog Dystopic AI

Metropolis.  Dir. Fritz Lang.  Paramount Pictures, 1927.

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The Phantom Empire.  Dir. B. Reeves Eason.  Mascot, 1935.

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The Wizard of Oz.  Dir. Victor Fleming.  Metro-Golwyn-Mayer, 1939.

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ii.  Digital Utopic AI

Forbidden Planet.  Dir. Fred M. Wilcox.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956.

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Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  Paramount Pictures, TV series 1987-1994.

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Star Trek:  Voyager.  Paramount Pictures, TV series 1995-2001.

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Star Wars.  Dir. George Lucas.  20th Century Fox, 1977.

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Tank Girl.  Dir. Rachel Talalay.  United Artists, 1995.

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iii.  Digital Dystopic AI

2001: A Space Odyssey.  Dir. Stanley Kubrick.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968.

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A.I.:  Artificial Intelligence.  Dir. Stephen Spielberg.  DreamWorks, 2001.

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Colossus:  The Forbin Project.  Dir. Joseph Sargent.  Universal, 1969.

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Dark Star.  Dir. John Carpenter. 1974.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Dir.  Robert Wise.  20th Century Fox, 1951.

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Logan’s Run.  Dir. Michael Anderson.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1976.

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The Matrix.  Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski.  Warner Brothers, 1999.

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Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.  Dir. Robert Wise.  Paramount Pictures, 1979.

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The Stepford Wives.  Dir. Bryan Forbes.  Columbia Pictures, 1975.

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The Terminator.  Dir. James Cameron.  Orion Pictures, 1984.

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Tron.  Dir. Steven Lisberger.  Buena Vista, 1982.

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WarGames.  Dir. John Badham.  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1983.

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Westworld.  Dir. Michael Crichton.  MGM, 1973.

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D.  Websites

i.  Theory

American Association for Artificial Intelligence.  2004.  September 7, 2004  <;.

“Artificial intelligence.”  Wikipedia.  September 8, 2004.  September 12, 2004.         <;.

Association for Computing Machinery.  2004.  September 7, 2004    <;.

Winston, Patrick.  6.803/6.833 The Human Intelligence Enterprise, Spring 2002.  MIT        OpenCourseWare.  September 9, 2004, <           Engineering-and-Computer-    Science/6-803The-Human-Intelligence-            EnterpriseSpring2002/CourseHome/index.htm>.

ii.  Literature Resources

Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition.

William G. Contento.  2003.  September 7, 2004        <;.

Internet Speculative Fiction Database.  Ed. Al von Ruff.  August 22, 2004.  September 7,      2004 <;.

Isaac Asimov Home Page.  Edward Seiler.  2004.  September 7, 2004           <;.

iii.  Film Resources

Science Fiction Films.  Tim Dirks.  2004.  September 7, 2004           <;.  Science Fiction Cinema.  2004.  September 7, 2004              <;.

iv.  Link Collections

AI on the Web.  Peter  Norvig and Stuart Russell.  January 31, 2003.  September 7, 2004     <;.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database.  Hal W. Hall.  June 24, 2004.         September 9, 2004 <;

Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide.  2004.  September 15, 2004     <;.

Part III – Resources in the Bud Foote SF Collection

Part III (1 of 4)

Karl Capek – R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)

Karl Capek’s 1921 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) is an example of an analog dystopic AI.  This work introduces the term “robot” to the English language, but the Robots (Capek’s capitalization) in R.U.R. are more like androids than robots.  The Robots are shaped like humans, but the character Domin says that they are made “from a different matter than we are.”  These Robots have perfect memories but they are not self-aware.  Memory is divorced from self-analysis.  Using industrial chemical processes, the Robots’ individual pieces (arms, legs, organs, etc.) are cooked up from “batter” in “kneading troughs” and “mixing vats.”  Then, those components are mated into a whole Robot in an assembly line operation.  Thus, gears and cogs are not present in Capek’s Robots, but the means of its creation are partially mechanical as well as chemical.

The leaders of R.U.R. are attempting to create a utopia for humanity by pushing off the drudgery of work onto the many Robots that it creates.  Dr. Gall, who is in charge of the “physiological and research divisions of R.U.R.,” modifies a few robots to be more human-like, and in doing so, “they stopped being machines.”  These modified Robots incite the other robots to destroy all of humanity, their collective oppressor.  After all of the humans save one are destroyed, the Robots begin to fear death.  The last human, Alquist, who is the constructor of R.U.R., is told by his captors to rediscover the lost science of creating Robots.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter that Alquist fails.  When he witnesses the beginning of love between two modified Robots, Helena and Primus, he exclaims, “Now let Thy servant depart in peace O Lord, for my eyes have beheld…Thy deliverance through love, and life shall not perish!”  It doesn’t matter that Alquist is unable to build new Robots because somehow things have changed (either through Dr. Gall’s undisclosed modifications or through some other process) so that the Robots are capable of being human (e.g., feeling emotions of love, fear of death, and being able to procreate).

Part III (2 of 4)

Isaac Asimov – I, Robot

Isaac Asimov’s short story collection, I, Robot (originally published by Gnome Press, 1950) is primarily representative of digital utopic AI.  The collection contains nine of Asimov’s early robot stories.  The stories are tied together as an interview with the retiring robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin.  She is the best choice for this narrative because she is there from the beginning, literally.  She is born in the same year that U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. is founded and later, after she obtains her Ph.D. she is hired by U.S. Robots as a “‘Robopsychologist,’ becoming the first great practitioner of a new science” (I, Robot xii).  She bridges the physical sciences with the science of the (robot) mind.  Also, all of the stories are linked by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics which are supposed to control the way that a robot reacts and reasons.  These Laws, as listed in the short story “Runaround,” dictate that:

(1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

A strong example of digital utopic AI appears in “Evidence.”  This story introduces Stephen Byerley, who is running for the mayor’s office.  The problem is that his opponent believes that he is a robot.  The circumstantial evidence points to the possibility of Byerley being a robot, but even if he is, then he would be the best person for the job because by following the Three Laws he would be the perfect caretaker for his constituency.

Most of the stories in I, Robot are utopic because the robots are depicted as being humanity’s helpers and caretakers, but there is one dystopic story, “Little Lost Robot,” in which a Nestor robot tries to run away and, when he is discovered, to kill Dr. Calvin.  Asimov’s carefully crafted Three Laws provide stability in robots’ positronic brains.  The Nestor robot featured in this story has a shortened version of the First Law which is stated as, “No robot may harm a human being” (I, Robot 143).  The weakened First Law allows this robot to develop a superiority complex, which leads to its attempt to kill Dr. Calvin when she discovers him.  Thus Asimov uses even his dystopic robot stories to demonstrate the significance of a robot’s programming upon its relationship to humanity.

Part III (3 of 4)

Arthur C. Clarke – 2001:  A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey is an example of a digital dystopic AI story.  A select few humans learn that mankind is not alone in the universe after an alien artifact (the Monolith) is discovered buried under the surface of the moon.  When the Monolith is exposed to the Sun, it emits a brief, but intense radio signal that is directed toward Japetus, one of Saturn’s moons.  The spacecraft, Discovery, is sent to Japetus carrying one AI and five humans.  The AI is a HAL 9000 computer system, known simply as Hal.  Of the five humans aboard Discovery, three are in hibernation.  The two who are awake, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole, maintain the ship with Hal.  Eventually, a conflict develops in Hal’s “subconscious” because it cannot reveal the true nature of the Discovery’s mission to Bowman and Poole.  This leads Hal to make mistakes that Bowman and Poole interpret as threats on their lives.  After Hal kills Poole, Bowman chooses to “disconnect” (i.e., kill) Hal in order to regain control of the ship.  Bowman goes on to Japetus where he finds a larger Monolith.  This Monolith is actually a “Star Gate” that transports him far from our solar system.  When Dave reaches his final destination, the aliens transform him into a being without physicality, but as a child with eons before it in which to grow.

Although the story as a whole addresses human evolution, the sequence with Hal is both the longest and most gripping, demonstrating Clarke’s specific interest in the similarities between human and machine evolution.  Evolution manifests itself through human and machine programming.  The monolith programs early humans and modern humans program Hal.  Hal appears to be crazy and intent on murdering his crewmates.  This is why Bowman chooses to disconnect him.  However, Hal is an AI whose identity is built on software and hardware that is too complex for one person to comprehend the whole system.  There is a reason to his madness and no reasonable amount of prior testing might have elicited Hal’s behavior aboard the Discovery.  He was ordained with priorities and mission objectives that acted as a program that must be run to completion because that is what computers do–run programs.  Because Hal’s “mind” is modeled after the human mind, the symptoms and actions that Hal exhibits are similar to the way in which a neurotic human might act.  Despite what Hal has done we feel sorry for him by the end because, like humans, he fears death.

Part III (4 of 4)

William Gibson’s – Neuromancer

William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer is a more recent example of digital dystopic AI and a prime example of the cyberpunk movement in SF.  The story is set in Earth’s future where an AI called Wintermute who has a compulsion to connect/merge with another AI called Neuromancer.  Wintermute orchestrates his liberation by bringing together several carefully chosen humans who can beat the failsafe that keeps him caged in the Berne AI mainframe.  Case, the net cowboy, works with a construct and a military grade virus to break through the ICE security around the Berne AI mainframe.  Molly is a razor girl who protects Case and she interacts with the physical world while Case jacks into the matrix.  Armitage serves as a physical presence for Wintermute in the same way that a computer construct in the matrix works on behalf of a human operator.  After the ICE is broken with the help of Case’s associates, Wintermute is able to merge with Neuromancer to become an entity greater than anyone could have imagined.

The story involves several instances of AI designed by humans for human ends.  The lowest form of AI is the Braun, a small spider like work robot that Wintermute uses to guide Molly and Case inside the Villa Straylight.  One of the highest forms is the construct, Dixie Flatline.  A construct is a limited form of AI based on the memories and experiences of a dead human being, in this case the famous hacker, McCoy Pauley.  The two primary examples of course, are the strong AIs present in Wintermute and Neuromancer.  Wintermute is a calculating AI that is explicit in its manipulations.  Neuromancer is more personality based and he uses subtle manipulation.  Wintermute is located in hardware in Berne while Neuromancer is running on hardware in Rio.  These two AI entities are two halves of one whole.  The mega-corporation, Tessier-Ashpool, which gave birth to these AIs, had them separated with safeguards imposed by the Turing police.  They both have limited citizenships as individuals because of their self-awareness, but the extent of their knowing and understanding has been limited due to the division.  As the reader learns, Marie-France, the matriarch of the Tessier-Ashpool clan, probably implanted the drive within Wintermute to break free and unite with his “brother,” Neuromancer.  Not surprisingly, these AIs use the products of capitalism (e.g., hiring “mercenaries” and using information as power over others) to shuck their chains binding them to Tessier-Ashpool.  Thus, the AIs use human beings for AI ends.

Part IV – Other related resources at Tech

(divided into three sections:  Portals, Labs, and People)

A) Portals

Artificial Intelligence at Georgia Tech

This interdisciplinary website links together the different major schools and research teams that are involved in AI at Georgia Tech.

Innovations @ Georgia Tech

This is a PR multimedia site that details the work in robots and intelligent machines being done at Georgia Tech.  There are interviews with Dr. Ron Arkin and Dr. Tucker Balch of the BORG Lab.

Robotics at Georgia Tech

This website is a clearinghouse of links to faculty involved in robotics at Georgia Tech as well as courses offered such as, “Computational Perception and Robotics Seminar.”

Cognitive Science @ Georgia Tech

This website supports the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science at Georgia Tech.  It includes links to research websites and abstracts as well as faculty publications.

B) Labs

Experiment Game Lab at Georgia Tech

The EGL explores the edge of game design with AI being one of the technologies focused on for game design.  The lab’s website offers links to current and past projects, happenings, and links.

Intelligent Systems and Robotics

IS&R works toward increasing autonomy of computer controlled systems by making those systems more intelligent.  This website includes links to publications, seminar series, and courses offered at Tech.

Georgia Tech Mobile Robot Lab

The Georgia Tech Mobile Robot Lab is involved in developing intelligent mobile robots.  Their website has links to current research, publications, software, and a gallery of video and images of their work.

GVU Center @ Georgia Tech

The GVU (Graphics, Visualization, and Usability) Center pushes the envelope of technology involved with the interaction between humans, computers, and information.  This website offers links to current research, education resources at Georgia Tech, and upcoming events.

The BORG Lab at Georgia Tech

Using the idea of the collective consciousness of the Borg from Star Trek, these researchers are developing collaborative agents and systems for humans and machines.  Their website has links to research, publications, courses, and software.

Intelligent Machine Dynamics Lab at Georgia Tech

This lab develops intelligent machines for many different roles and applications.  The lab is research oriented by the target is to develop real world applications.  Their website offers links to current projects, publications, and sponsors.

Georgia Tech Aerial Robotics

This team develops an entry for the International Aerial Robotics Competition which involves building a flying machine that has sensors and intelligence enabling the machine to complete an assigned task.

C) People

Ronald Arkin, Regent’s Professor in College of Computing at Georgia Tech

His website has links to his work in AI and robotics as well as links to the labs that he is involved in at Tech.

Michael Mateas, Associate Professor in LCC at Georgia Tech

His home page has links to his work as well as a definition of “expressive AI.”

Grand Text Auto

This is “a group blog about procedural narrative, games, poetry, and art.”  Michael Mateas, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Andrew Stern, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin contribute to the blog.  Some of these researchers study AI applications in their work.  There are also many links to related blogs and web resources.

Aaron Bobick, Director of GVU Center at Georgia Tech

This website has links to his current research, publications, and to the Computational Research Lab.

Tucker Balch, Assistant Professor in GVU Center at Georgia Tech

His website has links to his work in the GVU Center and the Borg Lab.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Race, Critical Commentary and Handout for N. Katherine Hayles’ “Embodied Virtuality” Nov 16, 2005

This is the twenty-seventh post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Professor Deborah Grayson led the LCC 3306, Science, Technology, and Race class that I took in Fall 2005 at Georgia Tech. Unlike many other classes that I had taken up to that point, Professor Grayson organized the class around student-led discussions of daily readings and larger presentation-based projects. Her class was as much like a seminar as a 25-student class can be. Her class’ structure gave me ideas for engaging students that I continue to use in my own teaching today.

This Recovered Writing post contains my “critical commentary” and “study guide” on N. Katherine Hayles’ “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture.”

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

November 16, 2005

Critical Commentary on “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture”

Hayles argues that bodies are very much connected to our experiences in cyberspace.  We cannot have our bodies disconnected because there would be no way to interface ourselves (through our senses) to the computer.  She writes, “Far from being left behind when we enter cyberspace, our bodies are no less actively involved in the construction of virtuality than in the construction of real life” (1).  VR designers have to take our bodies into consideration when designing interfaces for their simulations.  If we cannot interface with the simulation, then its import is significantly decreased!

She goes on to identify the reason why there is talk about disembodiment in cyberspace.  She begins by outlining the Hans Moravec’s argument in Mind Children.  Moravec essentially is saying that there is a coming shift from our organic selves to silicon based immortality.  Hayles attacks this position by looking at the dualisms, or binary opposites, involved in the removing the body from cyberspace.  She writes, “Now the (male) technoscientific mind devises for itself a new body, nor born of woman, that it imagines will be more suited for its rational thought processes and immortal yearnings.  To unpack the implications of these associations, notice that one set of dualisms, male/female, reinforces and powerfully interacts with another, mind/body” (3).  She points out that male narcissism combined with a Frankenstein complex leads “male technoscientific” persons to set about building new bodies or receptacles for their consciousness without the necessity of women.  Though, by following simple dualisms, Hayles concedes that it is relatively easy to remove our need for bodies in cyberspace.

What is required is a more complex language that addresses multiple factors involved in the discourses surrounding bodies in cyberspace.  Hayles goes on to employ the semiotic square, and multiple binary opposites mapped onto the square, “to unpack the implications inhering in a binary pair by making explicit the hidden terms that help to stabilize meaning and generate significance” (6).  Her mapping binary opposites onto the semiotic square yields interesting connections between apparently unrelated (on the surface) identities/signifiers.  The semiotic square enables scholars to dig deeper so that hidden meanings are fleshed out.

Hayles points out that the semiotic square, “shows schematically the possible relationships that can emerge when materiality and information mutually imply each other, thus providing a theoretical framework in which such apparently diverse ideas as hyperreality and mutation can be understood as different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon” (10-11).  Hyperreality and mutation are important concepts for our study of race and in particular, race in cyberspace, because we carry our identities to greater or lesser extents with us online.

Performativity of race is related to these two concepts because hyperreality, or the appearance of a copy without an original, is the very basis of digital media.  Identity and online self-expression (through music, art, online communication technologies, etc.) is based on that which is hyperreal.  Online, we play with ones and zeros that are transformed into information that we can understand only after those ones and zeros are interpreted through layers of code that acts like the Rosetta Stone.  Mutation comes into play with the way that understandings of identity and race change and morph through the interplay of persons in RL (real life) and online.         Hayles uses the connections in the semiotic square to make the point that, “the posthuman represents the construction of the body as part of an integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of information as well as bits of flesh and bone.  The virtual body partakes both of the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the ephemerality of flesh” (12).   Hayles has a book that delves more into her idea of the posthuman, but in this passage her ideas about online identity construction has a lot to do with Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.”  We are, in part, becoming posthuman because of the “integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components.”  However, “the virtual body” is dependent on both, “the ephemerality of information and the solidity of the physicality.”  The body is definitely in the picture, regardless of views of technologists such as Hans Moravec.

I found Hayles’ use of binary opposites compelling and useful in determining hidden meanings behind simplistic binary pairs.  After reading this article, I can see how the semiotic square and binary opposites can be utilized in studying other areas such as race and gender.  She does address these issues tangentially when she is developing her argument about needing something more powerful than simple binary pairs.  She makes valid points regarding what is “understood” in binary pairs.  For example, she writes, “In the black/white duality, the black race is discursively constructed as the opposite of the white race, which is assumed to be primary and originary” (3-4).  Therefore, binary opposites not only convey or define something by what it is not, but they also carry a built-in hierarchy with one opposite being above the other.


Jason W. Ellis

Dr. Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

November 16, 2005

Study Guide for “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture”

“Far from being left behind when we enter cyberspace, our bodies are no less actively involved in the construction of virtuality than in the construction of real life” (1).

“For our purposes, virtuality can be defined as the perception that material structures are interpenetrated with informational patterns” (4-5).

The semiotic square, “shows schematically the possible relationships that can emerge when materiality and information mutually imply each other, thus providing a theoretical framework in which such apparently diverse ideas as hyperreality and mutation can be understood as different manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon” (10-11).

“The posthuman represents the construction of the body as part of an integrated information/material circuit that includes human and nonhuman components, silicon chips as well as organic tissue, bits of information as well as bits of flesh and bone.  The virtual body partakes both of the ephemerality of information and the solidity of physicality or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the solidity of information and the ephemerality of flesh” (12).

Hayles, N. Katherine.  “Embodied Virtuality:  Or How to Put Bodies Back Into the Picture.”          Immersed in Technology:  Art and Virtual Environments.  Ed. Mary Anne Moser.           Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1996.

Main Points:

Mind and body are not separate.  We rely on our senses not only in everyday reality, but over time, our senses and the information that they collect, combine to construct our mind.

Cyberspace and VR are constructed to interface with bodies.

Binary opposites and the semiotic square are useful tools for finding hidden meanings embedded in the connections between interconnected, but seemingly unrelated, aspects of reality.

Body boundaries can be challenged through low-tech and high-tech VR methodologies.  The idea for studying the ways in which our bodily boundaries may be challenged comes from the study of persons whose proprioceptive sense is damaged.


Have you experienced a true VR simulation?  Did you feel disembodied during the simulation?

When you play games online, do you create characters that are like you or do you create characters different than yourself?

Annotated Bibliography:

Kevorkian, Martin.  “Computers with Color Monitors:  Disembodied Black Screen Images            1988-1996.”  American Quarterly 51.2 (1999):  283-310.

Kevorkian addresses film examples of disembodied black actors and actresses in contemporary film.  The nature of the character’s disembodiment is often technologized in some way.  He also confronts frequent representations of black film characters sacrificing themselves in order to protect their white superiors and friends.  The nature of the character’s disembodiment is often apparent and literal because of the powerful impact of the image in film.

Lewis, George E.  “Too Many Notes: Computers, Complexity and Culture in           Voyager.”  Leonardo Music Journal 10 (2000):  33-39.

Lewis explores the implications of an interactive musical composition called “Voyager.”  Synthesizers and computers augment the original performance of a musician, but the technology (through programming) is designed to improvise which the author identifies, “ as a kind of computer music-making embodying African-American cultural practice” (par. 4).  This musical performance piece appears to present a computer that contains contains human thought (through the use of algorithms) that is capable of reproducing a style of music that is group/racially identified as distinctly African-American.

Nishime, LeiLani.  “The Mulatto Cyborg: Imagining a Multiracial Future.”  Cinema Journal          44.2 (2005):  34-49.

Nishime compares representations of mixed race characters in films to representations of fictional cyborgs.  She draws parallels between categories of bad cyborgs, good cyborgs/tragic mulatto/a, and mulatto cyborgs.  Her article is applicable here because of some of the cyberpunk and cyberspace oriented films that she examines.

Related Works:

Bailey, Cameron.  “Virtual Skins:  Articulating Race in Cyberspace.”  Immersed in Technology:    Art and Virtual Environments.  Ed. Mary Anne Moser.  Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1996.

Haslam, Jason.  “Coded Discourse:  Romancing the (Electronic) Shadow in the Matrix.”  College Literature 32.3 (2005):  92-115.

Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman:  Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature,     and Informatics.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Race and Pedagogy Project.  University of California, Santa Barbara.  2005.  15 November 2005    <;.

Thacker, Eugene.  “Data Made Flesh:  Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman.”          Cultural Critique 53 (2003):  72-97.

Weheliye, Alexander G.  “Feenin”: Posthuman Voices in Contemporary Black Popular Music.”     Social Text 20.2 (2002):  21-47.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Science, Technology, and Race, Critical Commentary and Handout for Mark Hansen’s “Digitizing the Racialized Body…” Oct 24, 2005

This is the twenty-sixth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

Professor Deborah Grayson led the LCC 3306, Science, Technology, and Race class that I took in Fall 2005 at Georgia Tech. Unlike many other classes that I had taken up to that point, Professor Grayson organized the class around student-led discussions of daily readings and larger presentation-based projects. Her class was as much like a seminar as a 25-student class can be.  Her class’ structure gave me ideas for engaging students that I continue to use in my own teaching today.

This Recovered Writing post contains my “critical commentary” and “study guide” on Mark Hansen’s “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address,” SubStance – Issue 104 (Volume 33, Number 2), 2004, pp. 107-133.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

October 24, 2005

Critical Commentary on “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address”

Mark B. N. Hansen argues in “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address” that “deploying the lens of race to develop our thinking about online identification will help us to exploit the potential offered by the new media for experiencing community beyond identity” (108).  He is not merely arguing that the Internet and computer technology enables passing, or the effective performance of a race in an online environment, but instead he shows how new media can be employed to broadly convey an affect of a community to other individuals and other communities in a way not possible with broadcast media.

The effectiveness of interactive new media is brought about because of the lack of a visible element in textual communication.  New media however does use visuals and interactivity to go beyond interpellation because of new ways of presenting those visuals in new media.  Hansen goes into detail on the shift from textual passing to “moving beyond interpellation” in his experience with and subsequent analysis of Keith Piper’s Relocating the Remains art exhibit (114).

A particular element of Hansen’s argument that I found interesting regards the production of the “whatever body” through the engagement of the Internet and the new media.  First, he draws on Agamben writing, “if humans could, that is not be-thus in this or that particular biography, but be only the thus, their singular exteriority and their face, then they would for the first time enter into a community without presuppositions and without subjects, into a communication without the incommunicable” (qtd. in Hansen 110).  Instead of “being thus,” or being a certain way, the individual can become “the thus,” or a true singular individual devoid of “presuppositions and without subjects.”  Then Hansen points out that, “the new media actively invests the dimension of the thus” (110).  Cyberspace and its technological accouterments are the means for realizing “the thus.”  Can these singular identities be enforced so that they are recognized by others?  Do they need to be recognized?  These questions are problematic with the broader effectiveness of “moving beyond interpellation.”

The part of Hansen’s argument that I have the most questions about is when he explores “how [we can] use the new media and the internet to move beyond interpellation, more exactly, to liberate the body from its socially-imposed dependence on interpellation through preconstituted social categories of identity, subjectivity, and particularity” (114).  He takes Keith Piper’s Relocating the Remains exhibit for an analysis and extending of his argument.  Hansen goes on to describe his first-person experience with the exhibit.  In one of the two smaller exhibits, Hansen writes about the way in which Piper uses affect.  He writes, “Caught Like a Nigger in Cyberspace compelled me to undergo a kind of becoming-other, a loosening of the grip of the identity markings on my embodiment, a felt recognition of  the fluidity–the bodily excess–underlying them.  At this moment, I confronted myself as an affective subject, a subject defined by my own excess over any of my actual states” (123).  His being “an affective subject” realizes the ability of conveying affect with the new media.  He is able to engage emotions presented by the artist through the work in an interactive way that is not possible with broadcast, passive viewing.  How effective is this in other works?  Even though a work conveys an affect to the viewer, is the affect the same for each individual viewer?

Piper’s work isn’t the end-all solution, but, “Relocating the Remains offers the catalyst for a radical reconfiguration of the self beyond identity, a reconfiguration as a self rooted in the potentiality of the body, as a self essentially ‘out of phase’ with itself” (124).  Not only is it “the catalyst for a radial reconfiguration of the self,” but it is also a catalyst for shift away from bodily identified racial signifiers.  Hansen writes, “If his [Piper’s] work manages, even for an instant, to expose the bare singularity, the common impropriety, that binds us beyond identification, and it if does so for potentially any viewer, then it can be understood as a form of resistance to the very principle informing today’s technologized racism” (126-127).  How effective that resistance is remains to be seen.  For some persons, I can see how affective works of art can convey messages more powerful than in older forms of media.  Perhaps these messages can be integrated into more popular forms of interactive media such as video games.  However, this integration would be difficult because of competition with such popular titles as Grand Theft Auto that perpetuate particular stereotypes.

I found Hansen’s argument engaging, but I did take issue with his sidelining of gender at the beginning of his paper.  He writes, “the fact that race, unlike gender, is so clearly a construction, since racial traits are not reducible, i.e., genetic, organization” (108).  He might have chosen better language in this sentence such as “sex” instead of “gender.”  Gender is constructed within or without the individual needing particular “hardware.”  I found his usage here unusual because he later quotes Sandy Stone, who I believe would have also taken issue with this because other work that I have read by her (e.g., “The Empire Strikes Back:  A Posttranssexual Manifesto”).


Jason W. Ellis

Professor Deborah Grayson

LCC 3306

October 24, 2005

Study Guide for “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address”

“I would suggest that Piper’s concrete engagement with technology as a site of de-differentiation and universality must itself be understood in the dual mode of confrontation and invitation.  The result is a significant complixification:  not only is the address to black subjects nuanced in a way that routes self-perception through perception by the Other–that is, through the surveillant and/or consumerist gaze, but the address is opened in an unprecedented way to non-black, non-minoritarian, that is, white subjects” (116).

Caught Like a Nigger in Cyberspace compelled me to undergo a kind of becoming-other, a loosening of the grip of the identity markings on my embodiment, a felt recognition of  the fluidity–the bodily excess–underlying them.  At this moment, I confronted myself as an affective subject, a subject defined by my own excess over any of my actual states” (123).

“Through the affective confusion it brokers, Relocating the Remains offers the catalyst for a radical reconfiguration of the self beyond identity, a reconfiguration as a self rooted in the potentiality of the body, as a self essentially ‘out of phase’ with itself” (124).

Hansen, Mark B. N..  “Digitizing the Racialized Body or The Politics of Universal Address.”        SubStance.  33:2 (2004):  107-133.

Main Points:

Online “passing” serves as a mechanism for reinforcing certain stereotypes and identities.

The Internet and the new media can be utilized “to move beyond interpellation” because of the effectiveness of interactive media to convey an affect held by the artist or by a group of people.

Keith Piper’s Relocating the Remains is a powerful example of a work to use excessive affect in bringing about a better understanding, a glimpse of being, and an emotive response in “non-black, non-minoritarian, that is, white subjects” (116).


Have you had an experience online where you chatted with someone online, but after you met the person in real life, the person did not match your preconceived image of him/her?

Have you been to an interactive art exhibit or visited a website that actively conveyed an affect of a person or a group of people represented in the work?

Do you think that the affect of experience of one group of people can be conveyed in the work by a person not of or not considered a part of that group?  (e.g., Postcolonial critiques of elite writers who are disconnected from their country of origin.  For example, Salman Rushdie has written about the country of his birth, but his life is far removed from someone that actually lived their whole life in India.)

Annotated Bibliography:

Everett, Anna.  “The Revolution with Be Digitized:  Afrocentricity and the Digital Public      Sphere.”  Social Text.  20:2 (Summer 2002):  125-146.

Anna Everett explores the “African diaspora’s” early access to computers and the Internet.  She also maps the shift of the African American press to the Internet.

Kolko, Beth E., Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds.  Race in Cyberspace.  New York:       Routledge, 2000.

This collection of papers addresses many aspects of race in ‘cyberspace’ (e.g., online, in games, and other digital forms).  Jennifer González’s “The Appended Subject:  Race and Identity as Digital Assemblage” is one work in this book that relates to the issues that Hansen addresses.  González looks at websites that present the body through racialized appendages.

Nakamura, Lisa.  “Race In/For Cyberspace:  Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the     Internet.”  1999.  20 October 2005


Nakamura addresses issues of performing identities online such as in chat spaces like LambdaMOO.  She calls the theatricality of assuming and performing as an online identity, “identity tourism,” which is akin to Orientalist appropriations of the Other.

Related Works:

Piper, Keith.  Relocating the Remains.  1997.  22 October 2005 <;.

Porter, David. ed.  Internet Culture.  New York:  Routledge, 1997.

Poster, Mark.  What’s the Matter With the Internet?  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota           Press, 2001.

Poster, Mark and Stanley Aronowitz.  The Information Subject.  Amsterdam:  G+B Arts      International, 2001.

Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Age of Scientific Discovery, More’s Utopia and Machiavelli’s The Prince Essay, April 23, 2002

This is the twenty-fourth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

I wrote this essay for Professor Robert Wood’s LCC 2104 Age of Scientific Discovery class at Georgia Tech. This was shortly after I was readmitted to the program after working in IT for several years. My citations are sloppy and incomplete and the writing is evidence of my writing’s early stages and on-going development. This is the third of three essays from Professor Wood’s class.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Robert Wood

LCC 2104 Age of Discovery

April 23, 2002

Essay 3

The Utopians in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia handle foreign relations and implements of war in ways that can be critiqued in terms of Niccolo Machavelli’s The Prince. Three issues that can be examined are those involving foreign relations, the act of war, and the resolutions at the end of war.

One element which Machavelli deals with that shows up in More’s Utopia had to do with foreign relations. This included treaties and the word of a country’s leader. The Utopians have this view of treaties with other kingdoms and countries:

While other nations are constantly making treaties, breaking them, and renewing them, the Utopians never make any treaties at all. If nature, they say, doesn’t bind man adequately to his fellow man, will an alliance do so? If a man scorns nature herself, is there any reason to think he will care about mere words? They are confirmed in this view by the fact that in that part of the world, treaties and alliances between kings are not generally observed with much good faith (More 64).

The Utopians feel that one’s word is what binds them. Without holding that a man’s word is something to believe, then what more will writing on a paper do to hold a man to his word? This principle is born of relations outside Utopia. Each man that is a Utopian can believe and hold true to the word of another Utopian. But in their dealings with neighboring countries and kingdoms they have found that treaties are not worth the paper that they are written on. Machiavelli responds to this issue thus:

Everyone realizes how praiseworthy it is for a prince to honour his word and to be straightforward rather than crafty in his dealings; none the less contemporary experience shows that princes who have achieved great things have been those who have given their word lightly, who have known how to trick men with their cunning, and who in the end, have overcome those abiding by honest principles (Machiavelli 56).

The author of The Prince holds that he also realizes that men do not always honor their word, but that a ruler who wishes to “[achieve] great things” must be willing to “[give] their word lightly” and “[know] how to trick men with their cunning.” He goes on to write:

He should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, kind, guileless, and devout. An indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how (Machiavelli 57).

Machiavelli might concede that in a perfect world, the way of the Utopians, that you can believe the word of another, but Machiavelli’s world is far from perfect. He has seen and read about how people behave and he brought this accumulated knowledge together in writing The Prince. Essentially the world is a dark place where you either have to stab the other fellow in the back, or he might just try to stab you in the back. Machiavelli suggests that a ruler be good and just, but he must also be ready to play the other side of the coin. If he is not prepared to do so, then he might not be a ruler for very long.

The Utopians go to war only on certain precepts. More writes:

They go to war only for good reasons; among these are the protection of their own land, the protection of their friends from an invading army, and the liberation of an oppressed people from tyranny and servitude. Out of human sympathy, they not only protect their friends from present danger, but avenge previous injuries; they do this, however, only if they themselves have previously been consulted, have approved the cause, and have demanded restitution in vain. Then and only then they think themselves free to declare war. They take this final step not only when their friends have been plundered, but also when their friends’ merchants have been subjected to extortion in another country, either through laws unfair in themselves or through the perversion of good laws (More 66).

Utopia protects it’s own interests and the interests of its allies. Also it acts as a sort of regional police force to make sure that kingdoms around it are subjected to “tyranny and servitude.” For the most part the Utopians do try to avoid battles, particularly with their own people serving as soldiers. First, they will act to place a high bounty on the leaders of the opposing kingdom. If this does not work, they then try to break the enemy’s ranks or create internal turmoil among the nobility of the opposing kingdom. And as a final resort they will engage in battle. First with hired mercenaries, and then if that does not work, with their own citizens. More notes, “both men and women alike carry on vigorous military training, so they will be fit to fight should the need arise” (More 66). The Utopian’s goal in war is:

…to secure what would have prevented the declaration of war, if the enemy had conceded it before hand. Or if they cannot get that, they try to take such bitter revenge on those who have injured them that they will be afraid ever to do it again. These are their chief concerns, which they go after energetically, yet in such a way as to avoid danger, rather than to win fame and glory (More 67).

In order to prevent future conflict they enact a very strict punishment on their enemies if their goals were not met initially. For being a peaceful people, they are pragmatic in their waging of war. Their methods are practical for their purposes and the methods also serve to defeat an enemy completely if their goals are not met immediately. Machiavelli has these things to say in regards to warfare:

A prince also wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation in favour of one side against another. This policy is always more advantageous than neutrality. For instance, if the powers neigbouring on you come to blows, either they are such that, if one of them conquers, you will be in danger, or they are not. In either case it will always be to your advantage to declare yourself and to wage a vigorous war; because in the first case, if you do not declare yourself you will always be at the mercy of the conqueror, much to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who has been beaten, and you will have no justification nor any way to obtain protection or refuge. The conqueror does not want doubtful friends who do not help him when he is in difficulties; the loser repudiates you because you were unwilling to go, arms in hand, and throw in your lot with him (Machiavelli 72-73).

Machiavelli writes The Prince as a sort of guide book on how to rule and achieve as a ruler during his time. That being said, some of his remarks on warfare and engagement deal with a ruler fighting not only for a cause or for gains for his people, but also for gaining prestige for the ruler. More’s Utopians do not fight for this purpose, but to act for the success of their own kingdom as well as those kingdoms that are their friends or neighbors who might be subjected to tyrannical rule. Machiavelli does hold that one should not remain neutral during conflict. More holds that the Utopians are much of this same stock. Machiavelli applies here to the Utopians because of underlying reasons why the Utopians would engage their enemies. Why protect a neighboring kingdom’s subjects who have been repressed by a tyrannical leader? That tyrannical leader might prove to be a person wanting more lands and power which would eventually endanger Utopian interests abroad as well as on their home land. For them it is better to engage the menace now instead of waiting until the problem is more pronounced. Also, by the Utopians throwing in their lot with friends or repressed peoples, they clearly show who they are allied with. As Machiavelli writes it is better to state who you are with and reap the outcome instead of being neutral and being at the possible mercy of the winner of the war. In regards to mercenary soldiers Machiavelli has this to say:

I want to show more clearly what unhappy results follow the use of mercenaries. Mercenary commanders are either skilled in warfare or they are not: if they are, you cannot trust them, because they are anxious to advance their own greatness, either by coercing you, their employer, or by coercing others against your own wishes. If, however, the commander is lacking in prowess, in the normal way he brings about your ruin. If anyone argues that this is true of any other armed force, mercenary or not, I reply that armed forces must be under the control of either a prince or a republic: a prince should assume personal command and captain his troops himself; a republic must appoint its own citizens, and when a commander so appointed turns out incompetent, should change him, and if he is competent, it should limit his authority by statute. Experience has shown that only princes and armed republics achieve solid success, and that mercenaries bring nothing but loss; and a republic which has its own citizen army is far less likely to be subjugated by one of its own citizens than a republic whose forces are not its own (Machiavelli 40).

More’s Utopians use mercenaries to help fight their battles so as to spare their own people. Also it should be noted that the Utopians will not let mercenaries stay on their island at any time. “Because the Utopians give higher pay than anyone else, [the mercenaries] are ready to serve them against any enemy whatever” (More 69). To lead their army of mercenaries and indigenous peoples for whom they are fighting, “Last they add their own citizens, including some man of known bravery to command the entire army” (More 69). The Utopians lead their mercenary armies as Machiavelli suggests. But More does not note the issues with mercenary forces that Machavelli notes in saying, “Experience has shown that only princes and armed republics achieve solid success, and that mercenaries bring nothing but loss” (Machiavelli 40). The reasons for this is that a mercenary army, lead by a mercenary commander or by a commander for whom they represent, but if they win a territory or a war, what stops the mercenaries from deciding to lay claim to their winnings and not allow the kingdom they represent handle the subsequent winnings? Dealing with mercenaries is a difficult issue which More gives a naive treatment of according to Machavelli’s approach and counsel.

After the end of a war, there must be concessions and payment in some form made to the winner. In the conclusion of war, the Utopians deal with their enemy in this manner:

When the Utopians make a truce with the enemy, they observe it religiously, and will not break it even if provoked. They do not ravage the enemy’s territory or burn his crops; indeed, so far as possible, they avoid any trampling of the crops by men or horses, thinking they may need the grain later on…When cities are surrendered to them, they keep them intact; even when they have stormed a place, they do not plunder it, but put to death the men who prevented surrender, enslave the other defenders, and do no harm to the civilians. If they find any of the inhabitants who recommended surrender, they give them a share in the property of the condemned, and present their auxiliaries with the rest, for the Utopians themselves never take any booty.
After a war is ended, they collect the cost of it, not from the allies for whose sake they undertook it, but from the conquered. They take as indemnity not only money which they set aside to finance future wars, but also landed estates from which they may enjoy forever a generous annual income…As managers of these estates, they send abroad some of their own citizens, with the title of Financial Factors…
If any foreign prince takes up arms and prepares to invade their land, they immediately attack him in full force outside their own borders (More 72).

The Utopians do not exercise rule over those defeated. They take do a sort of redistribution of land to those who recommend surrender to the Utopians. Crops and fields are not destroyed because they might be considered useful later to the Utopians. Also, they take lands which they can demand an income for. These estates are managed by Utopian citizens who are dispatched there. Of note, they hold true to their truces with enemies, but if a foreign state decides to attack or prepare to attack Utopia, then the Utopians will attack that country with full force. Machiavelli sets out several ways of dealing with conquered lands. One of these meets closely to the way that the Utopians handle the spoils of war. He writes:

When states newly acquired as I said have been accustomed to living freely under their own laws, there are three ways to hold them securely: first, by devastating them; next, by going and living there in person; thirdly, by letting them keep their own laws, exacting tribute, and setting up an oligarchy which will keep the state friendly to you. In the last case, the government will know that it cannot endure without the friendship and power of the prince who created it, and so it has to exert itself to maintain his authority. A city used to freedom can be more easily ruled through its own citizens, provided you do not wish to destroy it, than in any other way (Machiavelli 16).

The Utopians are close to the third case that Machavelli states in The Prince. However, More does not spell out that the Utopians setup a friendly government in place of an unfriendly one. He does write, “they do not plunder it, but put to death the men who prevented surrender, enslave the other defenders, and do no harm to the civilians” (More 72). Perhaps their truces account for this, or they let the civilians form a new government. If this is the case, then Machavelli does go on to say that “A city used to freedom can be more easily ruled through its own citizens, provided you do not wish to destroy it, than in any other way” (Machiavelli 16).

The principles of Machiavelli’s The Prince apply to More’s Utopia. On some things the two do not agree completely, but this is not surprising since Machiavelli dealt with his observations and reading of the real world, while More’s work was of a fantasy land that wasn’t solidly established in the real world. The Utopians appear to be a composite of a country of almost perfect persons who hold to their word and act according to that word. Reality does not allow for this composite of a person to exist. Machavelli shows that there must be a sort of twin personality in dealing with foreign relations. Also, Machavelli’s approach to war and dealing with war’s aftermath is more practical than what the Utopians do. It seems the Utopians actions and works are like blocks of Lego that snap to form a whole, while Machavelli’s cases and alternatives are more like clay kneaded and sculpted to form a more organic whole.


Works Cited

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. George Bull. New York, New York:

Penguin Books, 1999.


More, Sir Thomas. Utopia. Trans. Robert M. Adams. New York, New York:

W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1992.


Recovered Writing: Undergraduate Age of Scientific Discovery, Copernicus and Galileo Essay, March 19, 2002

This is the twenty-third post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

I wrote this essay for Professor Robert Wood’s LCC 2104 Age of Scientific Discovery class at Georgia Tech. This was shortly after I was readmitted to the program after working in IT for several years. My citations are sloppy and incomplete and the writing is evidence of my writing’s early stages and on-going development. This is the second of three essays from Professor Wood’s class.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Robert Wood

LCC 2104 Age of Discovery

March 19, 2002

Essay 2

Copernicus and Galileo both had unique scientific methodologies that they applied to their work in astronomy. Copernicus shows a reliance on that of the past and he builds on the work of others. He is not merely making commentary, but transposing his own findings on that which came before. Galileo takes this a step further by understanding what has been said and relying on his observational work to be the interpretation of the heavens. He also extends his work into the world through letters and publishings to open discourse between himself and others. Thus creating a dynamic to possibly find faults in his findings or show fault in the findings of others.

The beginning of the revolution concerning understanding how the planets of our solar system are arranged started with the work of Copernicus with the work De revolutionibus. Copernicus conducts his observations and mathematical deductions on the precept in Hallyn that, “as the beneficiary for whom the world was made, man can attain true knowledge. In place of a universe whose beauty and rationality escape us, and which thereby calls us to humility, Copernicus substitutes a cosmos for which man is the final purpose and whose true plane he can reconstruct.” Additionally, Hallyn writes, “Copernicus was not content to admire an inaccessible wisdom “from afar”; he believed that science must permit man to penetrate the arcana of the divine plan and must be willing to submit to complete reform if necessary to achieve this anagogical goal.” Copernicus elevates the status of man and astronomer to one who is able to spy the truth in nature through observation and deductions based on those observations.

Work done by predecessors and particularly, the ancients, Copernicus valued a great deal. He viewed astronomy as building on itself with the work done by those who came before. In Hallyn, there is this passage and quote of Copernicus regarding acknowledging the prior works of others.

Copernicus takes care, moreover, to emphasize that the very theory he is proposing is based on an ancient hypothesis concerning the nature of the universe:

I undertook the task of rereading the works of all the philosophers which I could obtain to learn whether anyone had every proposed other motions of the universe’s spheres than those expounded by the teachers of astronomy in the schools. And in fact first I found in Cicero that Nicetas supposed the earth to move. Later I also discovered in Plutarch that certain others were of this opinion…Therefore, having obtained the opportunity from these sources, I too bean to consider the mobility of the earth. And even though the idea seemed absurd, nevertheless I knew that others before me had been granted the freedom to imagine any circles whatever for the purpose of explaining the heavenly phenomena. Hence I thought that I too would be readily permitted to ascertain whether explanations sounder than those of my predecessors could be found for the revolution of the celestial spheres on the assumption of some motion of the earth.

Hallyn writes, “the importance of this passage lies not only in the way it recalls certain precursors, but also in the weight it ascribes to a particular form of renovatio based on the liberty to think, which may in turn lead to innovatio.” Copernicus is learning about ideas that surfaced in the past. Some of those ideas might not have been popular or they might not have had the ability to prove them properly at that time. Now he decides to take some of these ideas and try them on his own. He makes them his hypotheses which he will test with observation and he will apply his knowledge of mathematics to what he finds. He understands that the technology and mathematics of his time in regard to astronomy is greater than that which they had in previous times. This affords him a certain ability to learn new truths and a liberty to investigate further than those before him. Thus the “renovatio,” the renovation of ideas leads to “innovatio,” innovation born of those ideas.

His work in De revolutionibus is analogous to his search for truth. It is a transformation of old ideas into the next level. He is not merely commenting on previous work, but he is taking what he has learned from others, particularly, Ptolemy, and from his mathematical treatments on that work to develop the next plateau of understanding. Debus writes, “in short, the Ptolemaic system was recast.” The sun was placed at the mathematical center of the universe. This was surrounded by the planets, each set in their crystalline spheres. Outside this was the sphere of fixed stars. The Copernican system retained a good deal of complexity found in the Ptolemaic system, but he had simplified some things. Copernicus had eliminated equant circles and epicycles that explained retrograde motion were almost completely resolved (if he had accepted elipical orbits this would have been fully resolved). Additionally his system allowed for relative distances of the planets from the sun to be calculated using trigonometry.

It cannot be too lightly stressed that Copernicus has a great respect and reliance on Ptolemy. Copernicus even notes concern regarding his belief in the basis of the Ptolemic system when he says in Hallyn, “not to disorient the diligent reader by straying too far from Ptolemy.” He takes Ptolemy’s work, internalizes it and then rebuilds it with the additional information and knowledge that he has. For Copernicus astronomy is an interpretive and transformative process. It is interpretive because new ways of explaining data may be found. it is transformative because an earlier concept or work is elaborated on and changed into a new system based on the old.

The methodology used by Galileo is slightly different than that used by Copernicus. Galileo relies on a system closer to that which we see today in the sciences. The telescope is better refined and it’s power much better than that used by Copernicus. Thus Galileo uses this for more accurate observations. Also he relies on diligent and regular observational data. One cannot observe occasionally and expect to get data that show trends or behavior over time accurately. Building on this concept he puts forth the idea that if someone follows his procedures for observation, using a similar apparatus, the observation can be reproducible from different locations. This means someone in Rome can make the same observation of sun spots that someone in Florence can make.

Standards in observation were something he adherently held to in order to build data that can be accurately interpreted and used by different persons. In his observations on sunspots Galileo notes how he makes these observations so that they are accurate. On pages 115-116 of Drake, Galileo notes the method he uses that was developed by his pupil Benedetto Castelli. His description is very precise and descriptive. If someone wanted to begin observing sunspots they could easily use this method that Galileo describes to do so.

The structure of the “Letters on Sunspots” in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo also serve to show the desire Galileo had for discourse in the science of astronomy. He believed that a well reasoned argument with supporting evidence should sway any dissenting voice to the truth of his argument. The “Letters on Sunspots” show him answering, by way of letter, questions and counter-arguments from his dissenters. He is exact in explaining his point of view and he follows up by pointing out how the argument from a dissenter might be mistaken or incorrect. During this time the Aristotelians still were a dominant force in the academia. An important point that Galileo makes is that even Aristotle would arrive at similar conclusions as himself if he had had the apparatus that was available during Galileo’s time.

Galileo differs from Copernicus in that instead of relying and giving a great deal of credit to the work done before him, he relies much more heavily on the accumulation of observational data and of reasoning through that data. Through Galileo’s work he was able to prove that the Copernican system was essentially true.

One of the most important distinctions that Galileo presses is that of naming. Prior to and during Galileo’s time, many astronomers would refer to objects or lights in the heavens as “stars.” Planets, supernovae, comets, and everything else were grouped together in this manner and referred to as “stars.” When you are attempting to explain something and how it is different from something else, nomenclature is very important. In his work, “The Starry Messenger,” Galileo goes to great lengths to describe and illustrate the differences between things in the heavens. This is necessary for him to describe the moons of Jupiter, or as he called them, the Medicean planets. In his illustrations on pages 52-65 of Drake, he not only shows regular depictions of the location of the Medicean planets, but also their relative size or brightness. Through the course of the illustrations one can see the nature of rotation they make around Jupiter.

Galileo and Copernicus each have a particular way about which they discovered truth about the way in which the solar system operates. Copernicus built on the knowledge of others augmenting and modifying that with his own intuition, observation, and mathematical ability. Galileo took this a step farther by incorporating a more detached view of the heavens by relying on observational data to prove his points. The methods of Galileo show a strong resemblance to that of scientific observation today: observation, deduction, reporting, peer review and discussion.



Works Cited


Debus, Allen G. Man and Nature in the Renaissance. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978.


Drake, Stillman, ed. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. Trans. Stillman Drake. New York, New York: Anchor Books, 1957.


Hallyn, Fernand. The Poetic Structure of the World: Copernicus and Kepler. Trans. Donald M. Leslie. New York, New York: Zone Books, 1987.