Monday 10 November 2008

Lecture Three: Towards A Social History of Machines

‘Poetry is made up of twenty-six letters.’
Stephane Mallarmé

In 1895 at the Maryinsky Theatre in the Imperial City of St Petersburg a revised version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake was presented to the public for the first time. Choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, one of its highlights was the ‘Entrance of the Swans’ in Act II, which required all twenty-four members of the female corps de ballet to file out onto the stage in one long line that would continually fold back upon itself. Executing a precisely repeated series of steps, each individual dancer copied the movements of those around her until every gesture had become duplicated, restated and superimposed. The effect was comparable to peering through the slots of a Zoetrope, a piece of Victorian parlour magic capable of creating a limited impression of animated movement. Machinelike and serene, enhanced by the dazzling flicker of strict repetition, human movement had entered the age of mechanical reproduction.

Using German media theorist Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter as a guide, this lecture considers how humans and machines have entered into shifting social relationships. From the pen to moveable type to Emerson’s invention of the phonograph, how we mediate experience has continued to change. As sound recordings are used to contact the dead, typewriters are devised to enable those with poor eyesight to write and the cinema becomes a place where those with poor hearing can learn to speak out loud. We will be looking the ways in which the sensory spectrum has been altered by the mechanical reproduction of sight, sound, speech and writing. Are silent movies really silent? Is the modern office a place overshadowed by the spectres of sex, love and death?

Suggested Reading:

Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, translated with an introduction by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz, Stanford University Press, California (1999)
Lewis Mumford, ‘The Monastery and the Clock’ (essay), 1934
Ralph Waldo Emerson,‘Works and Days’, (essay), 1870
Jerrold Northrop Moore,Sound Revolutions: A Biography of Fred Gaisberg, Founding Father of Commercial Sound Recording, Sanctuary Music Library, London (1999)
Nicholas Carr ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ (online article), 2008

Suggested viewing:

Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein, 1909
Friedrich A Kittler lecturing in English at the European Graduate School, 2005

Lecture 3, MACD 2.00pm Wednesday, November 19, see Google Calendar for details.

1 comment:

TianChi said...

Hi, Ken Hollings. This is Tianchi in Group 1 for CRITICAL CONTEXT. I just want to ask for an leave of absence for workshop 2 on 12th November. Because I need to meet somebody in Heathrow Airport for picking up something important, she is an air hostess will stay here for a very short time. I will be back for the 8-things brief next week. Cheers! 谢谢