Polymorphous Perversity and Texts


Polymorphously perverse texts act. Automata have long frightened us.

automaton duck

Jacques de Vaucanson's Digesting Duck (c. 1739) stunned observers with its apparent unnatural ability to eat and digest corn feed, excreting the remains. While only a parlor trick (using machines inside the table on which the duck perched), automata suggested to us that the line between animate and inanimate was not as simple as we once thought. How many people purchase a Roomba simply for the enjoyment of owning a "real" robot? It's not a coincidence the saucer-shaped vaccuum is sold by iRobot or that they also sell a version that's explicitly designed to be modified by users/developers (much as Microsoft, sensing the market for hackable Kinect controllers, reversed their prohibition on hacking Kinects and launched a commercial Kinect-hacker's kit of their own).

We are similarly disturbed by texts that act (react, act, or interact). On one hand, the stable text is something we have mastery over. On the other hand, the stable text has mastery over us. As I've mentioned elsewhere, we spend significant parts of our education learning how to appreciate texts, our "mastery" of them something akin to a priest's knowledge of Latin. Or a rabbi in Prague writing "truth" on the golem's forehead.