I've been sick.
Dear oh dear.
But that doesn't mean I haven't been keeping up with my readings!
The automata motif is probably my favourite, ranging from the giant 8-armed mechanized goddess in Behemoth or the moving armor in Fullmetal Alchemist. You can't deny that they're all pretty freakin' cool to look at. It's all in the details, I say, the intricacies and elaborate designs, which brings me to recommend this book to you all--Living Dolls: A Magical history of the Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood. While it says that it is a historical account of the attempts to re-create life using machines and dolls, the book doesn't really cover too many incidents and designs in a broad way following a chronology dating from the Renaissance. It does, however, focus on specific, famous inventions like the flute player and the defecating duck by Jacques de Vaucanson and Wolfgang von Kemplen's 'The Turk', the notorious thinking machine that could play chess and beat people at it.
My favourite? The writing twins made in 1774 by Pierre Jacquet-Droze and his son Henri-Louis. It is mind-baffling simply trying to comprehend that more than two hundred years ago there were already people attempting to create life, defying and transgressing the laws of nature. The dolls' faces are doll-like and blank, their legs aren't long enough for their feet to touch the ground when they sit in their chairs. The boys can dip their quill pens into tiny ink wells and move their hands across the page, forever copying lines. In some eerie philosophical irony, they write: "I think, therefore I am."
Often when we consider the mechanic or artificial life, we can't help but remember Descartes' Treatise on Man, but steampunk needs to move past the natural philosophies of the age, and with boldness, come to realise once again, maybe it is not that we're like machines or machines are like us, but that we are both living beings with strengths and weaknesses, with undiscovered potentials and incorrigible flaws, and ahead of us, is the day when life abandons us.
Speaking of life and death, Giorgio Agamben also presents us with a rather interesting theory about bare life. the life that is exposed to so much death that it defies it.. Makes sense? Who knows. Maybe I'll cover this next time since one has to admit artificial life does complicate the matter of not just life but also death.