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This was quite possibly my last conference for quite a while organised in Perth by the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association. Given that Gender Studies isn’t my home field I only registered for one day. (Well, to be honest, that wasn’t the only reason. I’ve run out of non-competitive funding money to apply for, which means I couldn’t really afford to go for one day, let alone the whole thing!)
I arrived in time for the first session in the morning only to find that my friend Sandra seemed to be the only presenter in that panel who had actually come to the conference! Luckily, someone else from UWA switched panels to keep her company. Both of their papers were excellent, and I was really interested to hear about their research.
My paper was first in the “Science” panel, and I was glad to get it over with. It went ok, and I got some interesting comments and questions, although I felt that I had lost quite a few members of the audience. Given my communication theory bias, towards a phenomenological understanding of the irreducible otherness of the Other, I suppose I shouldn’t have found my inability to share all of my ideas that much of a surprise. Anyway, I definitely feel that my suggestion that machine-like robots could possibly escape being gendered, which I was already aware was colander-like, was irrefutably shot down.
I was so depressed after the conference that I went to Geraldton. Many people I know in Perth wouldn’t go there if you paid them, but I actually had a very pleasant time staying with friends, having a really nice meal out with my husband and also missing the worst of the rain (which really hit Perth that week).
This year the British Society for Literature and Science conference was at Keele, and I had a particularly good time because I had arranged a panel with my friend from Canada, and therefore had someone to discuss all the papers and panels with, as well as someone to team up with for dinners and drinks. Of course, we were both heavily jetlagged in opposite directions, so neither of us was exactly the life and soul of the party, but we had a nice time nonetheless.
The panel, Beauty/Aesthetics in Science and Literature, went really well, and people seemed to enjoy all of the papers. It was lucky that we presented when we did, as John Bryden came up to me in the lunch break and introduced himself. It turned out he was giving a paper about a dancing robot in a panel the following day. I’d never have known this if John hadn’t told me, because only the paper titles were available in the programme. Anyway, crisis averted, I went to the paper, and it sounded like an excellent robot
(Writing all of this so long after the date just reminds me that I really need to contact John again to ask him for more information about this robot!)
The conference also included excellent plenaries from Helen Small, Frank Close and Steven Connor.
As I mentioned in the previous post one of the plenary speakers at the SLSA conference that has just finished in Portland, Maine, was N. Katherine Hayles, who spoke on Friday night. As this was after my panel I was still recovering from “presentation stress”, so off the top of my head I find that I can hardly remember what happened at this session, except for the fact that it was closely related to the theory found in Hayles’ book, My Mother Was a Computer.
However, I did take some notes !
Given that the conference theme was “CODE”, it was unsurprising that Hayles’ talk stressed the need to take computation into account as fundamental rather than just peripheral to our understanding of the world. Hayles therefore spoke about concepts such as hierarchy versus heterarchy (?), intermediation, complexity and emergence. In particular she drew on the work of Douglas Hofstadter, not so much on his first tome Gödel Escher Bach, but more on his second, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, and spoke about understanding cognition as recognition and the importance of analogy.
Having talked about programming and different codes, Hayles then moved to consider the idea that “the meaning of information is given by the process that interprets it” (Fredkin), and therefore an understanding of objects coming from processes.
These ideas were then brought together as Hayles talked about computers as providing a level of subcognition and the ground for analogies, which then allowed humans to work at the level of creating analogies between analogies. This supports the understanding that as humans engineer computers, computers re-engineer humans, in a constant process of coevolution.
Then there were some examples, all taken (I think) from Volume 1 of the Electronic Literature Collection, which looks really interesting.
Hayles also talked about the way that in the media intensive environment that young people experience they develop a talent for hyperattention, which does not prepare them to embrace the still more valued ability for deep attention that most university literacture courses stress in the close reading of novels. This is something I have heard talked about before, and yet I still often hear scholars complaining about their students not reading the novel they have been set each week !
Anyway, I hope that gives some sort of impression of what the plenary contained, incomplete I’m sure, but I hope not incorrect!
For the last four days I have been attending the SLSA (Society for Literature, Science and the Arts), apparently pronounced “salsa”, conference in Portland, Maine.
Above is the view of the harbour from my hotel.
The theme of the conference was “CODE” and I presented a paper called “Machine codes in conversations with embodied emotional robots”, which went surprisingly well considering the level of jet lag I was experiencing at the time! I was on the panel, “Robots & Zombies”, with Nick Knouf and Jentery Sayers, both of whom gave great papers. Nick’s, which was about his robot called Syngvan (n here indicates the version of the project a, b, c, etc), had a particular resonance with my own, as we share an interest in non-humanoid, non-anthropomorphic robots.
In addition to attending the conference, with N. Katherine Hayles and Brian Massumi as plenary speakers, I also had a little time to explore Portland. Here is a picture of the only weatherboard observatory I have ever seen (rather like a windmill which has had its wings pulled off),
and another view of the water from where I ate lunch in the park.
You can see that there is some construction going on in Portland, but it was still a nice place to walk around, and the seafood was great .
Tomorrow I take the early train to Boston, and then fly straight out to Montreal. I’m going to visit Bill Vorn and Jessica Field, both of whom create robotic art installations.