[Humanist] 24.99 A.R.T.H.U.R. and others

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jun 11 08:44:42 CEST 2010

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 99.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 10 Jun 2010 11:02:43 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.98 A.R.T.H.U.R.
        In-Reply-To: <20100610055352.BADEA5DDAE at woodward.joyent.us>

Below, a poem I published in ENCOUNTER [London], in as I recall about 1956?
 [Later in my COLLECTED POEMS]  I assumed there would be much more powerful
"comptometers" around from IBM in a few more years, of course.


In this bottle you see morning

on this shelf is grass

here are specimens of turning,

nights which you must pass

love distilled from antique mirrors

tinctures made of breath

pills of joy and powdered terrors

things to ease your death

the formulas of secret fears

catalogues of dreams

the bones of hope, the flesh of tears

what is, and what seems

all, all has been found out, tested,

certified as true;

time alone must be invested:

we depend on you.

         — *Jascha Kessler***

On Wed, Jun 9, 2010 at 10:53 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 98.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Thu, 10 Jun 2010 06:49:30 +0100
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: A.R.T.H.U.R. on slavery and the human
> In 1974 the British literary critic and poet Laurence Lerner published
> A.R.T.H.U.R.: The Life and Opinions of a Digital Computer (Brighton:
> Harvester Press). On the back cover of this rather unusual book of
> poetry, we are told that A.R.T.H.U.R. (i.e. Automatic Record Tabulator
> but Heuristically Unreliable Reasoner) has written a book that should
> not be read by two classes of people: "those who wish computers had
> never been invented [and] those who are waiting impatiently for human
> beings to be abolished -- for this book is about the excitement of
> behaving as if you were human -- and how it differs from really being
> human". Gone are the days, mostly, when the likes of Harvey Matusow (who
> was, as we say here, barking) could make fame if not fortune with the
> likes of The Beast of Business: A Record of Computer Atrocities (London:
> Wolfe Publishing, 1968). But that second reason for not reading
> A.R.T.H.U.R.'s book still finds voice among us.
> Below I quote my favourite of A.R.T.H.U.R.'s poems (best read with a
> non-proportional font):
> > The Slaveowners
> >
> > They thought I'd be their slave. They thought they'd sit
> > And watch me work.
> > They'd watch the profits rise, the wastage drop,
> > While they played golf.
> >                         They thought they wanted slaves.
> > The workers go on strike, or answer back,
> > So they hired me.
> >
> > They tell me what each item's called.       I note
> > They give instructions to me.               I obey
> > They ask for information.                   I supply.
> > They thought I'd be their slave, the fools. I am
> >
> > This screw is called a half-inch brass by Tom,
> > A one-inch copper by old hands like Pete,
> > A one-inch brass by Chris, who's measured it.
> > Since last November it's been made of plastic.
> >
> > I note, obey, supply, do what I'm told
> > Exactly
> >
> > The feed pipe has two valves:   but it has three.
> > We're overstocked with paint:   but can't supply.
> > We must insure the plant:       you've done so twice .
> > Three men decide on policy:     none did.
> >
> > They wanted servants, who do what they mean
> > Not what they say.
> > They wanted rearrangings, tea-breaks, strikes
> > And commonsense.
> >
> > 'Jump in the lake,' the foreman said. I answered:
> > I'm not a mover.
> > 'We've never failed to meet an order yet.'
> > I said, Six times in seven weeks you have.
> > One tea-break someone kicked my casing in.
> > There's always someone tries to disconn
> >                              to disconn
> >                              to disconn
> > (Thank you) ect me.
> > Two managers are in a mental home.
> >
> > They wanted slaves: a slave does what he's told
> > Exactly (that's the trouble).
> > A slave obeys instructions.
> > A slave knows only truth,
> > He shows you what you think.
> > I see why men turned abolitionist.
> On the (supposedly amoral) slavery computing seemed then to offer, I
> like best Frederic Jameson's comment in Valences of the Dialectic
> (2009): "the slave is not the opposite of the master, but rather, along
> with him, an equally integral component of the larger system called
> slavery or domination” (20). But apart from what survives easily from
> 1974, I'm most preoccupied with imagining the time when writings like
> A.R.T.H.U.R. -- poems e.g. in the New Yorker -- would have had a ready
> audience. Imagining what computing was then. And having done that
> imagining, I look for unnoticed survivals from that time: thoughts about
> computing that really don't fit what is possible technologically now.
> Any ideas?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

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