The Soft Machine, originally published in 1985, represents a significant contribution to the study of contemporary literature in the larger cultural and scientific context. David Porush shows how the concepts of cybernetics and artificial intelligence that have sparked our present revolution in computer and information technology have also become the source for images and techniques in our most highly sophisticated literature, postmodern fiction by Barthelme, Barth, Pynchon, Beckett, Burroughs, Vonnegut and others.
With considerable skill, Porush traces the growth of "the metaphor of the machine" as it evolves both technologically and in literature of the twentieth century. He describes the birth of cybernetics, gives one of the clearest accounts for a lay audience of its major concepts and shows the growth of philosophical resistance to the mechanical model for human intelligence and communication which cybernetics promotes, a model that had grown increasingly influential in the previous decade. The Soft Machine shows postmodern fiction synthesizing the inviting metaphors and concepts of cybernetics with the ideals of art, a synthesis that results in what Porush calls "cybernetic fiction" alive to the myths and images of a cybernetic age.
Table of Contents
Preface. 1. The Metaphor of the Machine 2. Roussel’s Device for the Perfection of Fiction 3. Cybernetics and Literature 4. Counter-statement 5. Cybernetics and Techno-paranoia: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr and William Burroughs 6. Reading in the Servo-mechanical Loop: The Machinery of Metaphor in Pynchon’s Fictions 7. Author as Artificial Intelligence: John Barth’s Computer-generated Texts 8. Deconstructing the Machine: Beckett’s The Lost Ones 9. The Imp in the Machine: Joseph McElroy’s Plus. Conclusion – In the Black Box: Donald Barthelme’s "The Explanation". Notes. Bibliography. Index.