Technology (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: Technology has had a powerful impact on Native Americans, resulting in both improvement and deterioration of their quality of life
There is an old story about a group of Quechan Indians who were being brought to Mexico City by train to be wined and dined by politicians who wanted to buy some of their land. As the locomotive left the station, one of the Quechan, Yellow Feather, pointed at a nearby bluff and said something calmly in his native tongue that the Mexicans who were with them did not understand. Soon passing an enormous cactus, again Yellow Feather pointed and spoke, though he spoke more quickly this time because the train was moving faster now. As the train picked up steam, now racing through his ancestral lands, Yellow Feather pointed here and there, every moment speaking more quickly and frantically. Then it was quiet. Startled by the sudden silence, one of the Mexican escorts looked over and noticed that Yellow Feather was now only looking out the window and weeping. “What’s wrong with him?” the escort asked. “It is our custom,” replied one of the other Quechan, “to recall who we are and where we come from as we travel through our lands. Landmarks, such as the Coyote’s Blood Cliffs or the Cactus Giant, have stories attached to them, which we tell as we travel by them. This not only helps us to remember who we are, but it is also an honor to the spirits who inhabit each place. Yellow Feather...
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Technology (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
The definition of technology is a much controverted topic. At one extreme, the word is used for an intellectual discipline, analogous to biology or psychology. This is a refined use, emphasizing the Greek root logos (word or meaning) combined with techne (artifice), to focus on the study or science of arts and artifices. Thus, distinguished institutions that offer sustained investigation of practical arts are often called institutes of technology. But at the other extreme, the word technology is often used to refer to concrete objects, tools, and implements themselves, or their workings. When archaeologists speak of digging up samples of a culture's technology, they are not referring to learned studies but to pots, tools, or weapons. Historians and anthropologists refer to the technologies of a society as the practical arts and implements themselves, not studies about them. And ordinary usage tends also toward the concrete. When one is baffled by the technology in a new car, it is the knobs and switches that are at issue, recalcitrant things.
Another polarity is found regarding the involvement of science in technology. Is technology (whether a study or a set of artifacts) simply applied science? If so, then science must have come first, to be applied, and there could be no prescientific technologies. The distinguished institutes of engineering tend to lean toward this understanding, but historians of human craftsmanship tend to see important continuities between pre- and post-scientific arts, and emphasize vital technological achievements (such as the telescope and microscope) that made science possible, thus predating and empowering the rise of modern science, not shrinking to its mere application.
There are other significant disputes over the essential nature of technology: for example, whether it must be embodied, somehow, perhaps in metal or plastic, or whether it can be entirely conceptual, as in the important Arabic invention of the number zero, which greatly advanced the calculational power of mathematics. Another example is the question whether technology can be said to exist outside the human context, as in the sometimes elaborate constructions of animals like beavers and many birds, or must it by definition be the product of human making? This raises the broader issue whether technology is ever a natural phenomenon or is necessarily artificial. Unfortunately, the relatively new field of philosophy of technology has yet to come to consensus on these definitional issues.
Technology and language
In the absence of consensus, the process of constructing and evaluating a definition is actually clarified. One cannot pretend that a proposed definition is inevitable, or is the only one that stands to reason. It becomes more obvious that language is conventional, that a definition is a rule for linking concepts together in ways that are clarifying or helpful. Since what is clarifying or helpful is always relative to some context-giving purpose, there may be as many differently helpful resolutions for using words as there are purposes for doing so. Deans of distinguished institutions for the systematic study of industrial arts may find it helpful to use words in one way; aircraft maintenance personnel may find it more helpful to use them in another.
Since the purpose in this entry is philosophical, its aim will be for as much comprehensiveness as reasonably possible, combined with as much critical coherence as can be achieved in light of the variety of data in hand. The norm of adequate comprehensiveness will warn against premature exclusions of whole domains from the extension of the term under discussion, and the norm of critical coherence will warn against such excesses of inclusion as might make the term vacuous by referring uncritically to everything. For example, if we are to understand technology from the broad philosophical perspective, it will probably be more useful to include prescientific craft traditions within the concept of technology, to see the internal similarities and differences brought by modern science, than to exclude the earlier practical arts from notice by definition. But, contrariwise, since understanding a subject must allow for contrast with what is not that subject, it will probably not be useful to accede to such all-inclusive definitions as would identify the mind-activated body as the primary all-purpose tool. This would imply that a conscious human being is never without tools, is never in a nontechnological condition. With an over-broad definition it is harder to express the significant difference that the introduction of a tool makes to the naked hand; with an over-narrow definition it is harder to notice significant similarities between tools of different types.
Venturing our own definition, in this context, must be an exercise in balance. We must be conscious of what we will include and what exclude by our proposed linguistic rule, and must be ready to stand by these consequences as long as we support the rule. For example, the concept of the practical has been central in all the discussion thus far. If we make this concept essential, then we exclude from the concept of technology what is purely theoretical or aesthetic or otherwise done for its own sake, without practical motives. If this seems appropriate, we are entitled to make this decision. Again, the concept of the purposive runs throughout, implying intelligent goals as essential to the idea of technology. If this cluster of concepts is taken as essential, then we shall be excluding the purely instinctive from our definition. This need not eliminate a priori all animal constructive activities from the domain of the technological, but it draws the line at a new place: To what extent are the apparent artifacts of animals actually the result of art, or intelligence? If the human species is not alone intelligent, then the concept of technology will apply quite naturally to flexible, environmentally responsive implementations of animal aims, but will not apply to behaviors that are hard-wired, immune to modification in changing conditions. Is this an appropriate distinction? If so, we may legitimately adopt it. Finally, the concept of physical embodiment remains to be resolved, whether technology must necessarily be implemented in material things. If we so decide, then purely conceptual discoveries or inventions, like the Arabic zero, will be excluded from the technological, while the abacus, another great aid to calculation, implemented variously by pebbles in sand or beads on wires, will be included. Like all the other decisions, this is a judgment call. Will it be more helpful for understanding technology to require that it be implemented, especially if that requirement can be understood to include not just metal or plastic but also social and biological implementations, as in the invention of armies and corporations or in the selective breeding of new strains of grain or livestock? If the answer is positive, then this resolution may reasonably be made.
Thus, once we are alert to the conceptual consequences, and accept them, a possible definition of technology, one that could reconcile a number of clashing linguistic intuitions and lay a foundation for further clarifications in this important domain, could be: Technology is the practical implementation of intelligence.
Technology and science
Approaching technology as implemented intelligence aimed at practical goals helps to resolve the contentious question of its relationship to science. There is no doubt that the character of technologies changed radically after the emergence of modern science. There is also no doubt that prescientific technologies, such as the art of lens making and glass-blowing, were indispensable to that emergence, since without them there would have been no telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, or barometers to serve the new goals of precise theoretical intelligence represented by the scientific revolution.
But the differences between the type of intelligence embodied in ancient craft technologies and in modern high technologies are not in kind but in goals and norms. Practical intelligence, as old as our species, is interested in getting jobs done and clinging to techniques that have been found (usually by luck, or trial and error) to work. The norm for such intelligence is practical success, with deep reluctance to fix what is not broken. Simplicity is preferred over complication, the how is elevated over the why, and close enough is favored over abstract precision. In contrast, theoretical intelligence (rooted in the same ancient quest that sometimes leads to myth-making and sometimes, as in classical Greece, is disciplined by logic) thirsts for understanding why, is not satisfied by successful results alone but wants to know in addition what makes things happen so, and is willing to take great pains to achieve precision despite whatever complexity is required. These two contrasting expressions of intelligence, usually isolated by socioeconomic class, made an improbable marriage in seventeenth century Europe, through which the demand for theoretical precision could be served by instruments provided by ancient craft traditions, and the quest for why could be disciplined by attention to the how.
For the first time, practical wants could be suggested by theoretical understanding of the hidden workings of things. The radio could not even be desired without first conceiving abstractly of radio waves. Atomic energy could not be a goal without the modern theory of the atom. After the emergence of modern science, so-called high technologies could be led by theoretical intelligence powerfully outfitted by practical intelligence.
Technology and culture. Technology is the implementation not only of intelligence in various interacting modes but also equally of values, goals, wants, and fears. Without motivating values, intelligence would not be moved to make or do anything. But in culture, values often clash. Early biblical pessimism about technological hubris is shown in the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11: 1), foreshadowing modern negative theological and philosophical attitudes such as those expressed by Jacques Ellul and Martin Heidegger. Science-led high technologies stimulate even stronger condemnation from those suspicious of the practical implementations of human intelligence, but the involvement of modern science is not essential to setting off warnings. Agricultural technology, and urban living itself, is seen as corrupting by the nomadic and sheepherding author, called J, in early biblical thought.
More positive theological assessments, ranging from Harvey Cox's early enthusiastic embrace of the liberating technologies of the secular city to W. Norris Clarke's more measured approval of human co-creation through selective technology, also abound in the literature. Philosophers and social commentators like Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Bernard Gendron defend in different ways the technological impulse and its impacts on culture.
The technological impulse, to intervene intelligently in nature by implementing means for achieving valued ends, is extremely general, however, and open to indefinitely many expressions. The qualities of the intelligence being implemented, as well as the values being embodied, are worthy of analysis and assessment epistemologically no less than ethically and theologically. Though the activities of intelligence may bind all sorts of technologies into a single wide domain, its implemented expressions through modern science are strikingly different in standards and consequences from its prescientific embodiments. Artificiality comes in many degrees, depending on the extent to which the artificial object is dependent on the intervention of intelligence for its production. A neatly planted orchard, for example, is more artificial than a primal forest, but less artificial than the shopping mall that may replace it. On such a scale, modern high technology is artificial to the highest degree because it is completely dependent on the intervention of theoretical intelligence for its existence. Some of the felt discomfort directed toward such technologies may be rooted in the cognitive gap between ordinary experience of the world, familiar to our species from earliest times, and the theoretical structures inhabited by scientific intelligence and materialized in scientific engineering.
Importantly, too, the internal goals of scientific intelligence tend to favor quantification. Much science-led technology may not surprisingly, then, embody the tendency to favor quantity over more ineffable qualities, such as the aesthetic or traditional. Further, scientific values, though powerful in advancing knowledge, are conspicuously lacking in compassion for its subjects of investigation. The typical technological implementations of scientific thought, with some exceptions (e.g., anesthesia) have not been especially kind or gentle. We may speculate that if we are to hope for a kinder, gentler postmodern variety of high technology, sensitive to qualitative concerns in culture, there may need to rise a new, postmodern variety of scientific thinking as well.
See also BIOTECHNOLOGY; INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY; REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGY; TECHNOLOGY AND ETHICS; TECHNOLOGY AND RELIGION; VALUE,
Drengson, Alan. The Practice of Technology: Exploring Technology, Ecophilosophy, and Spiritual Disciplines for Vital Links. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson. New York: Vintage, 1964.
Feenberg, Andrew. Critical Theory of Technology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
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Ferré, Frederick. Philosophy of Technology. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Fromm, Erich. The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology. New York: Harper, 1968.
Gendron, Bernard. Technology and the Human Condition. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper, 1977.
Ihde, Don. Existential Technics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.
Illich, Ivan. Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper, 1973.
Leiss, William. Under Technology's Thumb. Montreal, Quebec, and Kingston, Ont.: McGill-Queens University Press, 1990.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.
Mitcham, Carl, and Mackey, Robert, eds. Philosophy and Technology: Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Technology. New York: Free Press, 1972.
Pacey, Arnold. The Culture of Technology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983.
Schuurman, Egbert. Technology and the Future: A Philosophical Challenge, trans. Herbert Donald Morton. Toronto, Ont.: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1980.
Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-outof-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977.
Technology (American History Through Literature)
"The splendors of this age outshine all other recorded ages," Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803882) wrote in his journal in 1871, adding a list of recent innovations that he saw as important driving forces of modern history: "In my lifetime, have been wrought five miracles, namely, 1. the Steamboat; 2. the railroad; 3. the Electric telegraph; 4. the application of the Spectroscope to astronomy; 5. the photograph; five miracles which have altered the relations of nations to each other" (Journals 16:242). Though one may argue about the actual role of these inventions in changing the course of modern history, there is no doubt that for the eminent New England philosopher technological progress represented not just a revolution of "improved means to an unimproved end," as his disciple Henry David Thoreau (1817862) sarcastically put it (p. 192), but the ambivalent legacy and future of modern society at large. Given the increasing presence of the machine in early-nineteenth-century America, the extent to which technical inventions shaped the minds and attitudes of its people can hardly be overrated. What is more, it was during these important stages of the nation's growing political and cultural self-awareness that the very concept of "technology" as independent from other areas of rational investigation such as philosophy, literature, and the arts had first been introduced. When the Harvard professor Jacob Bigelow (1787879) published his influential study Elements of Technology (1829), the term and its underlying differentiation between the so-called useful and the fine arts became known to a wider public. Despite its utilitarian etymology (from the Greek word techne, meaning a systematic way of doing things), technology for Bigelow signified not merely a method or a new tool but a particular mindset rational, scientific approach by which men cope with the complexity of nature and by which they try to master the vagaries of human existence.
Technically Bigelow defined "technology" as a wedding of two already established disciplines: the application of science to the useful arts. Yet in view of what had already been achieved in this new field he was convinced that once technology was instituted as a common practice there would be no return to an earlier state of being, that it was a force administering its own laws and following its own logic. "The augmented means of public comfort and of individual luxury, the expense abridged and the labor superseded, have been such," he explains with regard to possible public skepticism about technology's rapid progress, "that we could not return to the state of knowledge which existed even fifty or sixty years ago, without suffering both intellectual and physical degradation" (p. 6). In a similar vein, Emerson's friend the English critic Thomas Carlyle, while brandishing the age's mechanical orientation in his influential essay "Signs of the Times," published the same year as Bigelow's Elements, outlines his hopes for the future by explicitly approving of the progress made in learning and the arts:
Doubtless this age also is advancing. . . . Knowledge, education are opening the eyes of the humblest; are increasing the number of thinking minds without limit. This is as it should be; for not in turning back, not in resisting, but only in resolutely struggling forward, does our life consist. . . . Indications we do see . . . that Mechanism is not always to be our hard taskmaster, but one day to be our pliant, all-ministering servant. (Pp. 48586)
What such diverse writers as Bigelow, Carlyle, and Emerson thus have in common is a feeling that with the staggering number of mechanical inventions, an irrevocable shift transition from a pretechnological state to a society continuously producing and being shaped by technologyas occurred.
By and large, early-nineteenth-century Americans welcomed the introduction of new devices and means of transportation, and they generally understood the importance of technology for the pressing task of exploring and settling the vast continent. Contrary to Carlyle and other European critics of mechanization they rarely discussed technology as a companion to industrialization. So much did the idea of an "industrialized" society seem out of place in America that the nation readily embraced mechanical contrivances such as steamboats, the McCormick automatic reaper, and the power loom while at the same time denouncing industrialization for its obvious negative consequenceshe establishment of an impoverished, morally weak proletariat and the pollution of the natural environment. What could be observed in England, Germany, or France as a result of large-scale manufacturing simply did not apply to the conditions in the New World. Given the scarcity of its population, the abundance of nature and wilderness, and the great distances that separated individual settlements, instituting improved means of transportation, communication, and production appeared more of a practical necessity than a social evil. "With abundant resources but few people to exploit them," the historian of technology Carroll Pursell reminds us, "Americans who aspired to surpass quickly the splendor and power of the old British Empire soon realized that machines would have to replace hands if the job were to be done" (p. 2).
DO MACHINES MAKE HISTORY? TECHNOLOGY AND AMERICA'S MANIFEST DESTINY
While "Yankee ingenuity" soon became synonymous with the pioneering efforts to build the nation, it also spelled out an unflinching belief in the essential power of knowledge. In line with fundamental ideas of the Enlightenment and the premium it placed on the human capacity to better social conditions and to envision a future perfected state of society, the founding fathers actively endorsed the invention of labor-saving machinery and other useful contrivances. Though apprehensive of the negative impact of the machine on communal life, technological expertise was essential not only as a means to serve the needs of the individual
Two famous literary authors, Edgar Allan Poe (1809849) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804864), took issue with this widespread metaphorical conflation of technology and historical progress. In his political satire "The Man That Was Used Up" (1839), Poe turned the tables on Americans' naive readiness to assume an intrinsic connection between progress and technology. By relating the creation of the republic and the violence associated with its geographical expansion to an authentic historical figure, who literally is made of and, later, "wasted" by modern technology, Poe launches a scathing critique of historical progress as the fulfillment of America's special destiny. In the story technological progress is tied up with this character to such a degree that his very name calls forth commendations on the age's inventiveness and mechanical expertise. Whenever the narrator mentions General John A. B. C. Smith, supposedly a veteran Indian fighter of the late Bugaboo and Kickapoo campaign and alias of former Vice President Richard M. Johnson, the general's friends and acquaintances invariably reiterate a paean to the "wonderful age" of invention (p. 381). Though the general seems to be well recognized among his contemporaries as a living emblem of the marvelous prospects of modern times, the enthusiastic responses to the narrator's query about his actual identity remain strikingly evasive and tautological. With each interlocutor, the fabulous soldier becomes increasingly entangled in a skein of elliptic discourses that are bound to mystify rather than uncover the history of his mysterious personality. In the end General Smith remains but a narrative construct, a hollow (and horrible) signifier of both technological ingenuity and historical myth.
If "The Man That Was Used Up" questioned ante-bellum Americans' love affair with machinery by exposing its inherent (self-) destructive powers, Hawthorne took a different, yet in no way less critical, approach. In his famous short story "The Celestial Railroad" (1843) he satirizes the historical driving role that many ascribed to the onrush of technology and material inventions by making technology the center of a burlesque rewriting of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Machines clearly abound in this allegorical tale. Not only does the modern Christian alleviate the burden of his pilgrimage to the Celestial City by riding on the newly established railroad, he also encounters such engineering achievements as, for example, a daring bridge whose foundations have been secured by "some scientific process," a tunnel lit by a plethora of communicating gas lamps, and a steam-driven ferryboat.
Significantly, Hawthorne's adoption of technological metaphors in the story blurs with his critical stance on specific cultural practices and religious trends. When the narrator finally arrives at the present-day Vanity Fair, where "almost every street has its church and . . . the reverend clergy are nowhere held in higher respect" (p. 139), he ridicules the traveling lecturers of these burgeoning sects as "a sort of machinery" designed to distribute knowledge without the encumbrance of true learning. On the surface a critique of facile latitudinarianism prominent, pseudo-rational strain of thought within the Anglican churchnd the contemporary fad of providing instruction through oral rather than liter-ary discourse, the passage also betrays Hawthorne's anxiety about the ongoing mechanization of American society in general. Moreover, the "etherealizing" of literature that appears to be the bottom line of his complaint epitomizes the difficult position of literary authors within an increasingly technological, differentiated sphere of cultural production. Much as Hawthorne tries to defend the superior quality of the literary text (versus the sheer "machinery" of trivial lectures), his rhetorical strategy also lays bare the degree to which he himself has become a part of the new machine environment. If he dismisses the shallow libertarian sects as a movement inevitably leading to moral and intellectual destruction, to use machinery as an emblem of such inevitability attests to the symbolic power of modern
TECHNOLOGY AND THE ROMANTIC POLITICS OF DISEMBODIMENT
This ambiguity of the literary writer vis-à-vis an increasingly technological environment can be traced throughout the major works of the period. The establishment of the literary profession within the socioeconomic network of nineteenth-century American society required its differentiation from other specialized professions such as engineering or manufacturing, and it rested on a rationalization of the inventive process as exempted from the materialist exigencies of industrial production. The notion of modern authorship, in other words, developed along the lines of strong antimaterialist biases that emphasized the spiritual over the physical implications of writing. Romantics often conceived of their work as a disembodied process that turned on an effort to transcend both the bodily confines of the writer and the material constraints of the text to be produced. That the Romantic poetics of disembodiment were closely tied to contemporary discussions of technology can be seen in Hawthorne's metafictional short story "The Artist of the Beautiful" (1844). The story effectively juxtaposes the materialist foundations of modern technological society and the ethereal, disem-bodied work of the Romantic writer. Resonating with references to early industrial manufacturing and the emphasis that Jacksonian America placed on punctuality and the utilitarian ideal of the "useful" arts, "The Artist of the Beautiful" aptly reflects the cultural changes concurrent with rapid technological advancement and the burgeoning of the antebellum American economy. Not only does Hawthorne apprize the conflict between the practical and the beautiful by creating a character who is both watchmaker and artist; he also has his protagonist, Owen Warland, embark on a highly symbolic project. Searching for a material form that will communicate his aesthetic ideals, the watchmaker builds a synthetic creature, a mechanical butterfly, which combines his artistic ambitions and the difficulties arising from his ambivalent professional status.
Hawthorne's text cogently portrays the human body as the antithesis to everything that is beautiful and aesthetically important. Having set his heart upon the realization of an abstract concept, biological life matters only as conditional to the accomplishment of Warland's task. Whereas the technologicalnd the body as its physical-material counterpartperates in direct opposition to the artist's ethereal strivings, the story as a whole might well be taken as an attempt to amalgamate the divergent forces of creativity and materiality. The ironic and ambiguous ending, which has left many readers puzzled as to the true relation of art, nature, and material culture in the story, could thus be read as a plea for the inclusionather than exclusionf technology into the realm of artistic production. In keeping with the organic principle of Romantic writing, Hawthorne provides his watchmaker with the power to animate, to spiritualize, machinery. Warland's ambition is not "to be honored with the paternity of a new kind of cotton machine" but to produce a "new species of life and motion" (pp. 453, 466). It is thus not by imitating nature but by competing with her, by putting forth "the ideal which nature has proposed to herself in all her creatures, but has never taken pains to realize" (p. 466) that the watchmaker becomes an artist. However frail and transient his imaginative child may be, as carrier of an original idea it takes on a quality more real than reality itself. "When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful," as we learn in the concluding paragraph of the story, "the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value in his eyes while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the reality" (p. 475).
The historian Daniel Boorstin has remarked that capitalist "America has been the laboratory and the nemesis of romanticism" (p. 173). Though Boorstin's use of the term "romanticism" was rather figurative, the bifurcation of values expressed in his statementne ringing with promises of new insights, the other gloomy and apocalypticnderscores the complex self-representations of American Renaissance writers and their contradictory relations with antebellum society. His critical satires notwithstanding, Poe overall responded positively to the wave of new technology. Despite his emphasis on the exceptional cognitive status of creative work, his definition of authorship was utterly technological. Given the fervor with which Poe embraced, for example, "anastatic printing" (also known as "relief etching" that reproduced a facsimile impression of the original) as a way of experimenting with and ultimately increasing the representational value of written texts, he impressively foreshadows the constructivist tradition within modern arts that is mainly identified with early-twentieth-century avant-garde movements. Rather than figuring as the downfall of the writer's profession, science and technology provided for Poe a "laboratory" of new ideas from which he concocted the symbols and metaphors that are now closely associated with his literary oeuvre.
Nor would Hawthorne or Herman Melville (1819891) conceive of the contemporary technological environment as the "nemesis" of literary creativity. Aware of the ubiquitous presence of the machine in antebellum America, these writers examined the changing conditions under which they labored in sometimes excruciating detail. However, the numerous representations of literary work in both their shorter fiction and in many of their full-fledged romances should rather be read as part of an imaginative search for professional identity. Far from advocating the writer's withdrawal from society, they addressed the processes of modernization in a quite pragmatic manner. To find a place of their own within America's dramatic shift from agrarian virgin land to a Tartarus of industrial labor, Hawthorne and Melville often had recourse to highly symbolic modes of self-representation that helped to deflate the rising tensions between, on the one hand, the materiality of the printed text, and on the other, the original ideas it conveyed. Since the conflict between modern authors and the economic and technological environment often turned on the rival ideologies of idealism and materialism, cybernetic imagery, as we have seen in "The Artist of the Beautiful," offered a perfect screen onto which the writer's struggle for social recognition could be projected.
THE AUTHOR IN PAIN: TECHNOLOGY AND THE CIVIL WAR
Complex images of humans-turned-machine (or vice versa), which abound in antebellum literature, reflect the authors' attempt to avoid the social trapdoors of their idealist self-definitions and thereby to narrow the gap between literary work and other modern professions. Yet, however widespread the urge to compete on the marketplace of specialized labor, American Renaissance writing is also marked by the somber prospects of the author's inevitable alienation from society. In Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener," isolation and estrangement of the literary worker sets in after a period of extreme productivity. Since Melville's literary reputation was already flagging when the story first appeared in 1853, the text encapsulates, on one level, its author's doomed struggle for public recognition. On another level, however, it instances the first in a row of mid-nineteenth-century American texts in which authorship appears to be entirely overwhelmed by technology. There is no escape for Bartleby from the prison house of Wall Street and the mass production of written texts; mired in physical deterioration and increasing muteness, the scrivener's initial resistance to the growing mechanization of his office environment eventually turns into a hollow gesture of all-encompassing passivity.
Melville's symbolic depiction of the artist's fragmented, immobilized body in "Bartleby" ties in with concerns traceable in the work of two other contemporary Americans, Rebecca Harding Davis (1831910) and Walt Whitman (1819892). To bring into conjunction writers as structurally different as Melville, Davis, and Whitman is by no means an easy task. If Davis's social realism already differs considerably in both its form and its setting from Melville's Romantic self-representation, Whitman's democratic, all-embracing pose seems to be even farther from the latter's deeply pessimistic stance. However, in Davis's Life in the Iron Mills (1861) and in Whitman's Drum-Taps, a cluster of poems about the Civil War first published in 1865, the besieged artist is rendered as being as muted and paralyzed when confronted with modern technology as the starving scrivener. What thus began as the self-conscious claim of Romantic artists to a voice of their own is transformed, under the influence of war technology and its disfigured, amputated victims, into painful dramatizations of the writer's speechlessness and despair.
See also "Bartleby, the Scrivener"; Popular Science; Science; Urbanization
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