Introduction: Dismantling the Man-Machine*


This issue should have been entitled, “The Man-Machine.” It was the title that we had submitted to SubStance. At first, there was no question of dismantling the man-machine. The dismantling of the man-machine was an accident.

This issue originates from a seminar organized at University of Paris 7, in the laboratory SPHERE, by Pierre Cassou-Noguès, Viktoria Tkaczyk (for a time), and Koen Vermeir. It ran for several years. The idea was to meet about once a month and invite scholars from various disciplines around a common machine, or at least around machines with a common function. There were historians of science and technology, scholars in literature, art, media studies, gender studies, philosophers of science, and the list remained open. The only constraint was that all speakers should be concerned with the same kind of machine: calculating machines, sensitive machines, time machines, talking machines… Some machines were real, some were fictitious; some were invented on the spot, some had existed for centuries, if only in archives, or as mere figments of imagination. Machines seem to work as strange attractors for the human mind, and the same machines (or maybe not exactly the same machines but they still did the same job) navigate through history, or from science to literature, or the opposite; they intervene in the arts, not only as objects but behind the scenes or as a means for representing something else. The sort of ubiquity that enables a machine to reappear in the most unlikely places belongs particularly to machines that are endowed with a human attribute: a function such that one might wonder whether a human is really the only being able to exert that function.

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