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"That Great Leviathan ... Which Is but an Artificial Man" : Mo~-Dick and the Lowell Factory System DAVID H. EVANS Let us begin with two quotations that seem. to sum. up m.uch contem.porary theorizing about the im.plications ofrecent technological developm.ents for the future ofhum.anity: "When you are linking your brain up [with a m.achine], you change who you are.... You are not just a hum.an linked with technology; you are som.ething different and your values and judgm.ent will change." Not the external and physical alone is now m.anaged by m.achinery, but the internal and spiritual also.... . . . [Recent developm.ents] indicate a m.ighty change in our whole m.anner of existence . Men are grown m.echanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand....Their whole efforts, attachm.ents, opinions, turn on m.echanism ., and are of a m.echanical character. Both passages reflect what is by now a fam.iliar sense that the evolution ofthe m.achine has passed a critical point, after which it can no longer be regarded sim.ply as a tool for fulfilling hum .an goals, but rather m.akes itself felt as som.ething m.ore like a ESQ I v. 50 14TH QUARTER I2004 315 From George S. White, Memoir of Samuel Slater, the Father of American Manufactures ... , 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, 1836), focing385· MOBY-DICK AND THE LOWELL FACTORY SYSTEM participant in their definition. Both see in this transition a profound reshaping ofthe human as it becomes more and more completely integrated with its technological surroundings, until, as one theorist puts it, "there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals. "I Both, in different degrees, register a mixture ofexhilaration and anxiety about this development and its implications for what we have hitherto thought of as the essence of human identity. However, the two quotations differ significantly in one regard. The first comes from KevinWarwick, the prominent roboticist and professor in the Department of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, commenting on his experience after officially becoming the first cyborg when a computer chip was implanted in his body a few years ago. The second, probably more familiar , comes from Thomas Carlyle's essay "Signs of the Times," published in r829.2 This juxtaposition is by no means intended to discredit the fundamental insight that informs each claim: that technology is not simply an element in human life but a fundamental constituent ofhuman life, of the forms it takes and of how it is experienced. The point it should make, however, is that the advent of the posthuman has been taking place for some time now. Stripped of its millennialist rhetoric, the excited theorization of the cybernetic revolution betrays its continuity with reflections since the mid-nineteenth century on the ways in which the machine has been remaking humankind. Indeed, in retrospect it is sometimes hard not to feel that the writings ofmany nineteenth-centuryobserverswere, ifanything, more percipient and farsighted about the social potential ofthat development than are those of some contemporary celebrants of the cybernetic and associated laudatorestemporisfoturi. Such is the case, it might be argued, with this essay's focal text, Mo~-Dick. Readers have long suspected that questions concerning technology are centrally connected to whatever Melville's oceanic epic is all about. Most commentators, to be sure, have been drawn to a somewhat idealistic reading, choosing to regard the Pequod as a factory of allegories, the stage for a titanic 317 DAVID H. EVANS epistemological drama about how properly to read the dark writing of the world, in which the figures of Ishmael and Ahab act out what will finally be a disastrous conflict of interpretations . But alongside what we might call the standard model, there has been a persistent current ofinterpretations that would see it as an allegory of factories, a sustained meditation on the profound economic and social transformations the United States was undergoing at midcentury.3 What follows is intended to offer a refinement of that reading. Mo~-Dick is not simply a vague and broad reaction to "industrial civilization...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 315-350
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-11
Open Access
No
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