Respond to chapter 7.
Stanislaw Lem’s “The Mask” (written in Polish in the 1970s) explores the fractured consciousness of an artificial entity, brought into being in the form of a beautiful woman, in order to first seduce and then assassinate its target.
Some discussion prompts:
- What can we, as new media scholars, learn from Lem’s use of “translation” (as Hayles describes it in the beginning of the chapter)?
- Broadly paraphrased, Henri Bergson wrote that a machine that acts like a person is comic; the tragic hero, who has so much “anxiety over the body” and “does not eat or drink or warm himself” is tragic, and thus aims to forget about the world of the body. How does the body of Shelley’s monster and the body of Lem’s assassin support or challenge Bergon’s observations?
- Hayles asks us to use Lem’s story to explore different kinds of freedom; the evolving consciousness that provides the narrative in “The Mask” takes on an identity as female in order to carry out a role, then suddenly removes “her” skin in order to reveal a programmed robot inside the body; the consciousness performing the narrative tries to avoid seducing her target, but finds that everything she says ends up further ensnaring the target; is this “programming” literally code that programs a robot, or is Lem also using computer programming as a metaphor for the programming that “codes” our gendered behaviors in society, as we interact with each other? To what extent are any of us fully in control of our actions? (The question reminds us of Stephenson’s questions about the difference between ownership of and accesss to wealth/information/our own code.)
- As Hayles puts it, “We are no longer the featherless biped that can think, but the hybrid creature that enfolds within itself the rationality of the conscious mind and the encoding operations of the machine. Who then is the agent that acts?” (last page of Chapter 7, location 2749 of 4149 in my Kindle.)