SLSA 2012


The 26th Annual Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA)

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA)
27 September – 30 September 2012

I will be in attendance with the following paper (which I am thinking of putting together, in part, on this site):

The Child-Machine and the Mechanical Boy: Alan Turing, Bruno Bettelheim, and Taking Care of Nonhuman Generations

While the famous imitation game Alan Turing describes in “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” has served as the speculative benchmark for determining the achievement of human-level artificial intelligence, less familiar is his proposal to build such an intelligence by way of a “child-machine,” which would undergo an education approximate to that of a human child. Turing’s descriptions of this machine and its tuition resonate in intriguing ways with Bruno Bettelheim’s case-study of Joey the “mechanical boy,” which Bettelheim first outlines in the March 1959 issue of Scientific American. I place these contentious texts in dialogue with one another as a means to explore the ambiguous status of child subjectivity in modernity. Childhood is an experience at the limits of the human, during which the traditional markers and guarantors of being human in the modern Western tradition (reason, autonomy, self-possession, and so on) are absent or in flux. The figure of the child-as-machine casts into relief the various techniques and technologies by which the adult world informs—and deforms—a child’s growth to maturity, her passage from nonhuman to human. In so doing, I argue, this figure discloses the undecidability of what distinguishes properly human life from “animal” or “mechanical” life, prompts us to question the discursive and political techniques by which we do decide and do distinguish one form of living from another, and, finally, invites us to consider a renewed ethics of responsibility and care for future generations, whomever and whatever they may be.

4 thoughts on “SLSA 2012”

    1. It’s happening at the Hilton in Milwaukee. I don’t think there’ll be very many library science people there, if at all, though there’ll likely be some digital humanities folk. If you hit the link on the post, you’ll come to the conference homepage, with a short description of this year’s theme. It’s quite a mix of scholars, from hard-core history of science and technology people, creative types with MFAs and such, art historians, philosophers, and literary/cultural studies people like me. This past year’s meeting in Kitchener was fantastic; I heard some very cool papers.

      As for the suitcase, I think you might be a bit tall. One of the children would probably fit, though . . .

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