Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Disembodied Brains, Part I | Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations

Gerard Quinn’s cover for the December 1956 issue of New Worlds

Thanks to Ali I cam across this compilation of Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Disembodied Brains. Joachim Boaz has assembled a number of pulp sci-fi cover art showing giant brains. The giant brain was often the way computing was imagined. In fact early computers were called giant brains.

Disembodied brains — in large metal womb-like containers, floating in space or levitating in the air (you know, implying PSYCHIC POWER), pulsating in glass chambers, planets with brain-like undulations, pasted in the sky (GOD!, surprise) above the Garden of Eden replete with mechanical contrivances among the flowers and butterflies and naked people… The possibilities are endless, and more often than not, taken in rather absurd directions.

I wonder if we can plot some of the early beliefs about computers through these images and stories of giant brains. What did we think the brain/mind was such that a big one would have exaggerated powers? The equation would go something like this:

  • A brain is the seat of intelligence
  • The bigger the brain, the more intelligent
  • In big brains we might see emergent properties (like telepathy)
  • Scaling up the brain will give us artificially effective intelligence

This is what science fiction does so well – it takes some aspect of current science or culture and scales it up to imagine the consequences. Scaling brains, however, seems a bit literal, but the imagined futures are nonetheless important.

Unnikrishnan: Temporary People

Deepak Unnikrishnan’s story collection, “Temporary People,” riffs on the plight of South Asian guest workers in the Gulf states.

I’ve just finished Deepak Unnikrishnan’s collection of interwoven stories, Temporary People (Restless Books, 2017). The stories are about the lives of the immigrant workers in the Emirates. They tell mostly of those from Kerala – those who come and return. The style is rude and magical in a way that conveys the brutal conditions of many migrant workers in the Gulph. The New York Times has a good review,  Stories of Fragmented Lives in the Emirates.

John Stuart Mill marginalia project

Project to digitise and publish his marginalia online will allow scholars to see his cutting remarks on Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Guardian has a story on an interesting digital humanities project, JS Mill scribbles reveal he was far from a chilly Victorian intellectualThe project, Mill Marginalia Online, is digitizing an estimated 40,000 comments, doodles, and other marks that John Stuart Mill wrote in his collection of 1,700 books, now at Somerville College, Oxford. His collection was donated to Somerville 30 years after his death in 1905 because the women of the college weren’t allowed to access the Oxford libraries at the time.

His comments are not just scholarly notes. For example, above is an image of the title page of Emerson’s Essays that Mill added text to in order to mock it. The new title page with Mill’s penciled in elaboration and the original reads,

Philosophy Bourgeois,
being
Sentimental Essays: in the art of
Intimately blending
Sense and Nonsense:
by
R. W. Emerson,
of Concord, Massachusetts.
A clever + well organised youth brought up
in the old traditions.
Motto
In thought “all’s fish that comes to net.”
With Fog Preface
By Thomas Carlyle.
“Patent Divine-light Self-acting Foggometer”
To the Court of
Her mAJESTy Queen Vic.

A JEST indeed. The Daily Nous has an article on this with the title, Mill’s Myriad Marginalia: Mundane, Mysterious, Mocking.

All this from Humanist.

 

DPLA Primary Source Sets

Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) has a fascinating collection of Primary Source Sets that bring together materials around a subject for teaching and historical thinking. For example they have a set on Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan that allows you to see both American and Japanese representations of Perry and the important visit. These sets show how a digital archive can be repurposed in different ways.

Composite Image by Picasso
From the Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Modern War Set

Carpenter: The Gathering Cloud

From the Modification of Clouds

The Cloud is an airily deceptive name connoting a floating world far removed from the physical realities of data.

The Gathering Cloud by J. R. Carpenter is a great interactive work that uses Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modification of Clouds from 1803 to meditate on the digital cloud. The The work “is a hybrid print- and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival 2016.”

Continue reading Carpenter: The Gathering Cloud

Hokusai x Manga

playboy

Cover of Playboy Roasted à la Edo

The Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts has a well designed exhibit called Hokusai x Manga that looks at the history of comics from the first kibyōshi to current manga and videogames. The exhibit draws on an extensive collection of woodblock books and prints from the Edo period. They mix a historical approach with themes like the depiction of demons (Yokai) in print and the franchise Yo-kai Watch.

One of the earliest comic picture books that they have is Kyōden’s Playboy, Roasted à la Edo (1785). Harvard has put up a Flash version of this in English and Japanese. (Second book here, third here.) They also have a copies of Hokusai Manga (or Hokusai’s Sketches) published starting in 1814 which was a sort of manual on how to draw with lots of examples. Note that “manga” at the time didn’t mean what it means now.

There is an excellent catalogue with useful essays including one at the end on “Manga in Transition” by Jaqueline Berndt.

Shulze, S., et al. (2016). Hokusai X Manga: Japanese Pop Culture since 1680. Munich, Hirmer.

 

 

 

Blockbusters: how Rutherford Chang became the second best Tetris player in the world

The Guardian has a story about Blockbusters: how Rutherford Chang became the second best Tetris player in the world. Chang is an artist who has been playing Tetris over and over and filming it. His hundreds of thousands of games can be viewed on YouTube here.

How is this art? I suspect it is in the way he plays with repetition. Another project, Alphabetized Newspaper, takes all the words in stories on the cover of The New York Times and rearranges them in alphabetical order created a sort of sorted word list. (Click image and explore.)

alphabetized

 

He also did this with video of NBC nightly news, which produces a bizarre effect. Imagine all the very short clips of people saying “and” in a row.

I am struck by how he has humanly recreated what an algorithm could do.

 

LOTRProject: Visualizing the Lord of the Rings

ChrctrMentions

Emil Johansson, a student in Gothenburg, has created a fabulous site called the LOTRProject (or Lord Of The Rings Project. The site provides different types of visualizations about Tolkien’s world (Silmarillion, Hobbit, and LOTR) from maps to family trees to character mentions (see image above).

Continue reading LOTRProject: Visualizing the Lord of the Rings

Dennis Cooper: Zac’s Haunted House (A Novel)

Dennis Cooper has created an interesting novel of looping animated gifs called Zac’s Haunted House (A Novel). The novel is published by Kiddiepunk. I’m not sure why he deliberately calls it a novel when it has so little language, though one can think of the animated gifs as some sort of linked visual language. Perhaps animated gifs are becoming the visual equivalent of words with which we can compose.

I found this courtesy of 3QuarksDaily.

Alain Resnais: Toute la mémoire du monde

Thanks to 3quarksdaily.com I came across the wonderful short film by Alan Resnais, Toute la mémoire du monde (1956). The short is about memory and the Bibliothèque nationale (of France.) It starts at the roof of this fortress of knowledge and travels down through the architecture. It follows a book from when it arrives from a publisher to when it is shelved. It shows another book called by pneumatique to the reading room where it crosses a boundary to be read. All of this with a philosophical narration on information and memory.

The short shows big analogue information infrastructure at its technological and rational best, before digital informatics disrupted the library.