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Copying Machines

Taking Notes for the Automaton

2000
Author:

Catherine Liu

Copying Machines

Explores literary theory’s fear of and fascination with the mechanical.

In readings of texts by Lafayette, Molière, Laclos, and La Bruyère—and in a chapter on the eighteenth-century inventor of automatons, Jacques Vaucanson—Catherine Liu provides a fascinating account of ways in which the automaton and the preindustrial machine haunt the imagination of ancien régime France and structure key moments of the canonical literature and criticism of the period.

Copying Machines establishes Liu's reputation in all her diverse fields as a leading thinker/writer. Liu invokes the automaton as ironic departure from the machine histories of media-technologization. Her new reading of technology conjoins Freud and Heidegger, but without excluding the political component of Freud's theory.

Laurence A. Rickels, author of The Vampire Lectures

Anxieties about fixing the absolute difference between the human being and the mechanical replica, the automaton, are as old as the first appearance of the machine itself. Exploring these anxieties and the efforts they prompted, this book opens a window on one of the most significant, if subtle, ideological battles waged on behalf of the human against the machine since the Enlightenment—one that continues in the wake of technological and conceptual progress today.

A sustained examination of the automaton as early modern machine and as a curious ancestor of the twentieth-century robot, Copying Machines offers extended readings of mechanistic images in the eighteenth century through the prism of twentieth-century commentary. In readings of texts by Lafayette, Molière, Laclos, and La Bruyère—and in a chapter on the eighteenth-century inventor of automatons, Jacques Vaucanson—Catherine Liu provides a fascinating account of ways in which the automaton and the preindustrial machine haunt the imagination of ancien régime France and structure key moments of the canonical literature and criticism of the period.

Copying Machines

Catherine Liu is assistant professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Minnesota.

Copying Machines

Copying Machines tells the story of how just before humanism’s autonomous subjects first arrived on the scene in the eighteenth century, the European aristcratic classes were mesmerized by the phenomenon of the automation-the ‘useless machine’ built exclusively to mimic human behaviour. Copying Machines is an impressive study, certain to influence those who wish to continue the project of dislodging the humanist commitments of the academy.

Canadian Literature

Catherine Liu has written an innovative book that bravely attempts to radically reconfigure traditionally linear approaches to the historical importance of the automaton.

Space and Culture

Copying Machines establishes Liu's reputation in all her diverse fields as a leading thinker/writer. Liu invokes the automaton as ironic departure from the machine histories of media-technologization. Her new reading of technology conjoins Freud and Heidegger, but without excluding the political component of Freud's theory.

Laurence A. Rickels, author of The Vampire Lectures

Copying Machines

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Doing It Like a Machine
“What’s the Difference?”
The Princess of Clèves Makes a Faux Pas
Getting Ahead with Machines? The Cases ofJacques Vaucanson and Thérèse des Hayes
Don Juan Breaks All His Promises but Manages to Keep One Appointment (with History)
De Man on Rousseau: The Reading Machine
Friends:Dangerous Liaisons

Notes

Index