Creating Room For A Singularity of Our Own: Reading Sue Lange’s We, Robots

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Version of Record: Barr, Marleen S. (2013) Creating Room For A Singularity of Our Own: Reading Sue Lange’s “We, Robots”. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.3. doi:10.7264/N3BZ63ZS

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Marleen S. Barr

The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations [involving the rapid increase in intelligence] of our biological bodies and brains. . . . There will be no distinction post-Singularity between human and machine–Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, p. 9

What’s it been three, four years, since the Regularity? The Regularity. When everything became regular, normal, avreage. The opposite of the Singularity.–Sue Lange, We, Robots, p. 1

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7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 Ray Kurzweil has devoted extensive attention to human biological bodies and brains and how they will relate to machines after the Singularity occurs. (The Singularity is the moment when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence.) Not so for the diversity that characterizes human bodies and the multiplicity of ideas which stem from cultural difference. For example, gender is discussed on only two pages (pages 318 to 319) in his The Singularity Is Near . Sue Lange’s 2007 novella We, Robots, in contrast, focuses upon human heterogeneity; her attention to human difference is “the opposite” of Kurzweil’s blind eye in regard to the divesity he does not see. The accessibility of Lange’s text, however, might mitigate against recognizing its importance. Lange’s simple sentence structure and direct communicative mode conveys an at once obvious and presently overlooked logical moral assertion: the impending Singularity is not a male dominated patriarchal domain. The Singularity, in other words, should not be construed in a manner which excludes women and feminism.  Lange creates a clearly articulated corrective to prevailing homogenous  presentations of the Singularity. When she simply substitutes the compassionate “Regularity” (Lange 1) for the monolithic Singularity, she signals that regular components of humanity will be present when people and machines merge. (Lange’s “Regularity” is the point at which an upgrade enables robots to feel pain. They unexpectedly respond by desiring to live biologically human lives.) Failing to mention these components is, in terms of feminist insight, the “Irregularity.”

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This assertion is patently obvious. But, nonetheless, it is often being ignored. Descriptions of the Singularity need to be expanded. We, Robots contributes to fulfilling this need. Before I read Lange’s novella as a description of the Singularity which feminists can embrace, I include the following background information: 1) a discussion about why the discourse relating to the Singularity needs to be expanded and 2) an introduction to Lange’s place within feminist science fiction.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 We, Robots is an imaginative science fiction version of N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Hayles points out that “[i]n the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existences and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals” (Hayles 3). Avey, Lange’s robot protagonist, contradicts this fixed definition. footnote 1 The robot, like a human, can feel pain and can articulate personal goals. Lange implies that human difference and demarcation should be incorporated within discourse which describes the impending Singularity.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Diversifying the Denotation of the Singularity

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 Women and feminism are often not included in discourse about the Singularity. This fact is exceedingly discouraging–and unfortunately normal. Feminist progress, of course, is not an unimpeded forward trajectory. Taking two steps forward is often in tandem with taking three steps back. (And remember that that one small step for mankind moon landing declaration positioned woman as an intruder in the dust.) We, Robots is being read in a context in which the Texas state legislature is impeding  abortion rights and a New York City mayoral candidate routinely uses the Internet to send pictures of his penis to women. Footnote two Lange shrewdly uses directness, simplicity, and accessibility to call attention to how such backward steps apply to making women and feminism invisible in relation to technology which pertains to the Singularity. The male-centered Singularity is a problem that has no name; We, Robots, in relation to this lack of appellation, is a needed feminist science fiction contemporary version of The Feminine Mystique. The sexist Singularity needs a consciousness raising group. Lange’s text signals that it is necessary to go back to the future–to the inception of the second wave of feminism–to insure that our understanding of the Singularity will be articulated in an inclusive manner. I join the “[f]eminist theorists [who] have pointed out that it [the shift from the human to the posthuman] has historically been construed as a white European male” (Hayles 4).

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 1 Understanding why Lange substitutes the “Regularity” for the “Singularity” entails describing the current problem with no name to which I refer. Hence, before I undertake a reading of Lange’s text, I will briefly deploy early feminist literary criticism “images of women” methodology to explain how the Singularity is being described as almost being singularly pertinent to white men[AL1] . For example: The June 2013 symposium called “Global Future 2045: Towards A New Strategy for Human Evolution” included thirty-four keynote speakers. Two of the speakers were women. There were no black speakers. Where are all the women? Where is the racial diversity?

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 1 Answers to these questions are not included in Morgan Freeman’s introduction to the Science Channel’s Through The Wormhole episode called “Are Robots the Future of Human Evolution?” Freeman says: “Robots are also learning to think for themselves–some are even developing their own private language. Is it possible that these new life forms will evolve to be smarter and more capable than us? . . . Will we choose to merge with the machines, combining the best of our world with the best of theirs? Are robots the future of human evolution?”(Wormhole). The most relevant question: precisely who is represented by “us,” “we,” “our,” and “human.” Lange answers this question when she creates We, Robots and asserts that people who are not white men need to create room for a Singularity of their own.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Charlie Rose did not create this needed room at the symbolically egalitarian round table which dominates his television talk show set. When Rose interviewed GF2045 Symposium founder and chair Dmitry Itskov and robotics designer David Hanson (on June 27, 2013), he said “I am pleased to welcome all three of them to this table for the first time.” The third guest, a robot replica of Philip K. Dick, can mimic facial expressions. It is jarring to see a robot being unabashedly imbued with human talk show guest status. But, even more shockingly, people who exemplify gender and racial diversity were not seated at Rose’s table. A viewer, watching Charlie Rose with the sound muted and no knowledge of the context, would momentarily think that Dick was brought back from the dead. Hayles’ comments about Dick are pertinent to this situation. When she mentions that Dick’s novels explore the various ramifications of the posthuman, she states that the “problem of where to locate the observer–in or out of the system being observed?–is conflated in his fiction with how to determine whether a creature is android or human. For Dick, the android is deeply bound up with the gender politics of his male protagonists’ relationship with female characters. . . . The gender politics he writes into his novels illustrate the potent connections between cybernetics and contemporary understanding of race, gender, and sexuality” (Hayles 24). The hypothetical just-tuning-in viewer’s initial problem could be where to locate the Dick figure–in or out of the human system being observed? The fact that the three entities seated at Rose’s table–two humans and one potential momentarily purported human–are male and/or representationally male would not sit well with Dick. Dick, a writer concerned with gender politics and cybernetics, would not like to see himself portrayed as a Cheshire cat vacuously smiling in response to the lack of any connection between gender and robotics.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 In terms of Lange juxtaposing “human” and “robot,” the Dick mechanism looks human and Itskov acts like a robot. The robotics specialist appeared to be almost devoid of animation and facial expression. And, Itskov answered Rose’s question about why he is interested in robots with rote vacuous beauty pageant contestant vapidity. He said that he wishes to “help people get rid of suffering” (Charlie Rose). He did not say that people suffer from lack of representation–and lack of control regarding how they are represented.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Hanson states that Dick “foresaw a future where mind and machine and human would be perhaps indistinct and indistinguishable from each other but he characterized what defines human as compassion” (Charlie Rose). I will explain how Lange inclusively portrays this future mind and machine and human connection. In terms of backgrounding Lange’s science fiction vision with regard to real present day technology, the following question is crucial: Doesn’t welcoming a robot version of Dick to Charlie Rose exemplify an unethical lack of compassion and disrespect in regard to Dick’s ability to control his image?

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 1 Writer and book editor Danny Miller’s discussion of the use of Audrey Hepburn’s posthumous dancing image in a GAP pants commercial indicates that the answer is resoundingly affirmative. Miller hears Hepburn’s response as “the sound of Audrey Hepburn spinning in her grave.” Miller continues: “I just saw the new GAP commercial featuring Audrey Hepburn and my mouth is frozen in a silent scream. . . . But inserting dead celebrities into crass commercial ads? Don’t you think that we have to draw the line somewhere?” (Miller). Most certainly. The point, in regard to Lange’s humanistic science fictional “Regularity,” is that we should use the time we have before the  Singularity occurs to imbue it with respect, compassion, and diversity.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 1 We, Robots addresses the need expansively to edit the images and descriptions connected to the Singularity. Before continuing to generate a narrow understanding of how the Singularity can transcend death, we need to respect the dead in terms of our present technological capacities. Lange emphasizes this necessity in a deceptively simple and vitally important manner. Reading We, Robots involves noticing Lange’s attention to the fact that the Singularity is not singular; it is, instead, a “Regularity” which must be seen to include all the regular people who are not white men. This reading depends upon understanding why Lange’s text is feminist science fiction.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Why We, Robots Is Feminist Science Fiction

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 1 What has Sue Lange wrought? Is her novella feminist science fiction? David Soyka addresses this question:

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 This is a well told story, though nothing particularly surprising or round-breaking. It adds nothing to the canon. What’s particularly curious is that this is part of a series put out by Aqueduct Press called ‘Conversation Pieces’ . . . that are loosely connected to feminist SF. Other than the fact that women can be considered a subjugated class . . . I fail to see anything about We, Robots that is feminist. In fact, Avey, as are all the other robots, is genderless, though its job of nursemaid is typically female. Other than that, Lange’s theme here is about the human condition, not that exclusively of the female half (Soyka).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Soyka misses the point.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 2 We, Robots is feminist precisely because Avey is “genderless.” More specifically, Avey’s genderlessness eradicates fixed definitions of gender in terms of reading practices. Readers’ responses misrepresent Avey’s gender. For example, a reviewer writing for The Alcove blog, when referring to Avey, abruptly shifts from “its” to “her”: “In We, Robots Avey looks back on its life, from the time it arrived in Wal-Mart to the day it left its owners to return to the factory in which it was built. . . . Avey’s voice is exactly how I imagine a robot would talk and think. When she speaks, she speaks with that stereotypical robot voice, in short, clipped sentences. When she thinks, she processes information rapidly, and puzzles out anything she doesn’t understand in a very logical, stream-of-consciousness manner” (Alcove, italics mine).  Because genderlessness defies human logic, this reviewer refers to Avey in an inconsistent manner. We, Robots is feminist because its premise itself metalinguistically accentuates readers’ reliance upon immediate and rigid automatic gender categorization.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 4 What to do? Avey is neither a she nor a he. Readers become emotionally attached to Avey and resist calling this robot “it.”  English lacks a pronoun such as Marge Piercy’s “per,” an abbreviation for person which replaces “she” and “he” in Woman On the Edge of Time. [AL2] Readers describe Avey in a manner which runs the gamut between “he,” “she,” and “it.” Malene A. Little, for example, construes Avey as being male–and she writes for a blog called Women Writers!: “Avey begins his narrative right before his first interaction with his owners”(Little, italics mine). Lange adroitly generates linguistic “cognitive estrangement[AL3] .” Footnote 3 She absolutely adds something important to the twenty-first century feminist science fiction canon. Piercy, Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Russ questioned linguistic gender categorizations. Lange, in terms of readers’ responses, usurps these categorizations. She does nothing less than point to the necessity for newness in regard to language and feminist reading practices. Even further, Lange addresses the post-human condition. Humans should not be constrained by “she” and “he”–and by the limiting gender expectations these words connote. “He” “she” and “it’ fail in relation to describing the certainly arriving sentient robots humans will encounter. Far from not being feminist enough, We, Robots is both feminist and post-feminist–in fantastic terms. Lange is a twenty-first century literary descendant of Le Guin, Piercy and Russ who boldly goes beyond the feminist parameters they forged.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 3 Octavia E. Butler also bears mention in relation to Lange. Avey transcends both racial and gender categorizations. [AL4] Avey, an entity who is Other in relation to human gender and race constructions, can certainly be categorized as a feminist science fiction protagonist. She is initially Other in relation to the category “we, humans.” Despite Avey’s difference in relation to these categories, she is nevertheless human. Avey asserts her humanity when she insists that she wishes to learn to draw. “Well I could use a pad of paper and a pen. . . . I plan to learn to draw. . . . After 14 years of unpaid service, you’d think I deserved a scratch pad and pen nubbin” (Lange 88).  Avey–who neither looks like a human nor walks like a human–complains exactly like a human. Avey is linguistically–and creatively–human. When Avey asserts her desire to receive a pad and a pen, she echoes Sidney Poitier’s emphasis upon his humanity (in In The Heat of the Night) via the assertion “[t]hey Call me Mr. Tibbs.” [AL5] Poitier’s character insists upon being called by his surname because he wishes to be addressed in a respectful manner. Because robots do not have surnames, Avey cannot act in kind. She, instead, wishes to write in order to juxtapose language and respect–and to apply this combination to her own agency, desire, and self.   She counters  “the presumption that there is an agency, desire, or will belonging to the self and clearly distinguished from ‘the wills of others’ is undercut in the posthuman” (Hayles 3). Avey is quite willful.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Lange Imbues the Singularity with Diversity and Compassion   

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 2 In Lange’s narrative world, racism and sexism–indeed all “isms”–become obsolete[AL6] . Inequality, however, remains. (Inequality is not logical. For example, although few Jews live in Grermany, anti-Semitism still exists there.) She depicts four sentient groups: humans, robots, “transies” (or cyborgs) and Others. These categories, no fixed definitions, are exceeding mellifluous. After the “Regularity” ensues, enormous changes happen at the last minute: humans become robots, robots become human, and transies ultimately inherit the Earth. Lange’s “book is about both coming and going, so to speak” (Schellenberg). Her entire tumultuously transmogrifying pack of protagonists are all ultimately Other than us–i.e. we, humans.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Lange’s scenario nullifies the entire human categorization apparatus. Avey is initially a flying visual consumerism joke who resembles a levitated egg shaped version of a plastic “L’eggs” brand pantyhose container. (Mr. Potato Head is also an apt descriptor for Avey.) Her egg shape evokes R2-D2 as well as Eve, a robot protagonist in Wall-e. (These egg shaped robots are not trivial. They equate women’s reproductive capacity with technology.) After the “Regularity” takes place, humans become psychological post humans who think via robot logic. Post-robot Avey, no former vacuous female caretaker stereotype, becomes a self-aware assertive person. The Others are never described. This narrative lack is logical in a world in which categorizing some people as Other is as obsolete as old model robots. Lange creates a humorous “Robots ‘R’ Us” parody of American consumer culture which very seriously addresses the implications of robots at once appropriating human culture and creating a culture of their own. After “post-Regularity” humans and robots exchange behavioral characteristics and roles, the word “we” in Lange’s title assumes a metalinguistic relationship to standard English. We real human readers most closely resemble the final version of Avey.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 4 Avey and her robot fellows–who become “we, humans–eventually evolve into better people than the newly robotic “post-Regularity” flesh-made humans and the cyborgian transies. The psychologically retrofitted newly robotic humans (Angelina, for example, who as a young child was placed under Avey’s care) are definitely not superior to the post robot humans Avey and her counterparts become. Lange’s brave new egg humans lack human bodies (literal phallic lack) and, hence, are devoid of race and gender. Lange’s “we, human” egg mechanical protagonists must be taken with a grain of salt in that they are humorous. In addition to their Lacanian characteristics–and their perfect suitability to function as objects of desire in relation to feminist theory–they are also akin to the alien in Mork and Mindy who hatched from an egg. Lange, then, at once confronts serious feminist issues and imbues feminist science fiction with a sense of humor. She juxtaposes the eradication of human gender scenario Le Guin depicts in The Left Hand of Darkness with Douglas Adams’ comedic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. She creates something new under the feminist science fiction sun: a version of James Tiptree’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” which applies to My Mother the Car. Avey becomes liberated (or unplugged) from being a servile consumer appliance; Angelina can quite logically discuss my nanny the sentient egg.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 The frenetic role reversals between robots and humans Lange depicts have implications for Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” We, Robots is a text situated at the temporal transition point of a particular example of science fiction becoming actualized. Sentient robots are on the verge of becoming real. “Science fiction is quickly taking a back seat to science fact. Just look at a new report [‘A Roadmap for U.S. Robotics From Internet to Robotics’] by the country’s leading roboticists. By 2030, it says, robots will be everywhere. . . .[R]obots will become ‘as ubiquitous over the next decades as computer technology is today’ . . . . We may not be in the Jetsons’ age yet, and Roomba is no Rosie, but even [Director of the Georgia Tech Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines Henrik] Christensen agrees: ‘Science fiction — it’s happening'” (Subbaraman). When science fiction happens to the extent that Roomba becomes Rosie, something will also happen to the Three Laws. The Three Laws, no longer mere science fictional texts, will become post postmodern reality. I have said that “post postmodernism involves the hitherto science fictional impact of technology, especially electronic media, on society and culture. This social manifestation occurs when what was once science fictional comprises the very definition of reality. . . . technological innovation causes what was once comfortably defined as science fiction suddenly to become real” (Barr 168). Lange describes what transpires when the Three Laws become post postmodern in actuality. She, in other words, rewrites Asimov in the manner that Kathy Acker rewrites Cervantes in her Don Quixote: What Was a Dream. “Post postmodernism” defines what happens when the fanciful I, Robot literally becomes on the cusp of becoming real We, Robots.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 1 There is no such easy definition for Lange’s four “coming and going” (Schellenberg) versions of humans who resist fixed categorization. But this is not true of We, Robots itself. Lange’s fantastic post feminism fused with contemporary feminism is not separatist feminism. We, Robots includes a garden variety nuclear family in which a generic male has heterosexual intercourse with a generic woman (a human who possesses eggs); she gives birth to Angelina. Angelina is very obviously female. But this definite gender categorization is initially impossible to determine in relation to her parents, who are named Chit and Dal. (These names are as genderless as Track, Trig, and Tagg–indistinct appellations which hail from the Romney and Paley families[AL7] .) “Chit” and “Dal” adhere to Lange’s penchant for obscuring readers’ categorization markers. In addition, Avey, who feels connected to the Others, calls them “us” and categorizes herself as being secondary in relation to them. “So these chickens eventually get together and make us, the AVs and Others[AL8] . We’re an offshoot, a spin-off. A second order reaction” (Lange 54). Readers are not told why Avey believes that the Others are superior to her.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 2 Lange eventually provides markers which function as gender role stereotype booby traps. Avey observes that Dal is “beautiful” (Lange 8). When Angelina wants to tell “Mommy and Daddy of her adventures at morning school” (Lange 19), readers do not know which gender category applies to both Chit and Dal. First contact with some semblance of gender designation in regard to Angelina’s parents does not ensue until page twenty-four in the novella. “Dal called over his shoulder while he stood at the message board” (Lange 24). This sentence seems to serves as a message board which communicates Dal’s gender and announces that he is a “beautiful” man. Or, alternatively, “his” and “he” could be read as being ambiguous; whose shoulder is being referenced and who is standing at the message board remains ambiguous. Chit and Dal could be gay men. Only when Dal is “looking up from his iPod” (Lange 74) does he cease to be as genderless as the electronic device he holds. And, finally, Chit is designated as a she in this interchange with Dal. “Then she turned to me. We’ve been waiting for you to come around to get that information” (Lange 82). Readers have been waiting for Lange to assign a female designation to Chit. However, regardless of the protagonists’ and the readers’ emotional attachment to Avey, the robot is called “it.” Avey remains an “it” even after she has nearly drained all of her battery power in order to act like Lassie saving an imperiled Angelina-as-Timmy: “It’s [Avey] coming around. . . . its had a rough time of it” (Lange 82). No one would disparage Lassie by calling her “it.”

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 1 “It,” uttered by Chit and Dal in reference to Avey, is not linguistically precise. The humans are not hierarchically superior to the robot; they all perform the same job. Like Avey, Chit and Dal are domestic servants. Avey is well aware of the situation’s irony: “I had my daily chores . . . preparing Angelina for meals, naps, and nighttime, and then preparing the house for Dal and Chit’s return from their employment as domestics. They had positions doing the same thing as I did, but for the wealthy who could afford humans capable of handling a phone call that needed to be answered with a lie” (Lange 12). Interestingly, Avey explains that robots serve economically disadvantaged people, not the elite. This relationship between the elite and technology is true in reality. Rich people employ human personal assistants and concierges; they do not themselves phone corporations and grapple with electronic voices which instruct them to press one, two, or three. Many socialites do not appear on Facebook.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 2 Lange subtly establishes the particular human category which applies to Angelina, Chit, and Dal. This category becomes surprisingly apparent when Avey describes retrieving Angelina after her first day at school: “We floated down. The front school doors flew open, and out ran 35 curly-headed, shiny-faced brown-skinned, pink-garmented four-year-olds” (Lange 17). Nothing connecting this family to people of color has previously been mentioned. In a world in which sentient robots can fly down, all people of color have not risen up. Angelina returns home to a very real environment: “Angelina raced up the stairs . . .  completely ignoring the drunk in the corner, the broken glass in the landing” (Lange 19). Lange imagines that a dystopian version of The Jetsons contains a bad black neighborhood: “the thick crack traffic on most corners of Dal and Chit’s neighborhood.” Lange continues: “The burnt out buildings with no panes in the windows, some with mattresses . . . or old water stained curtains in Jetsons motifs left on a single nail. . . . Tear gas rolled in the streets” (Lange 16). Technology we can only dream of having which fails to assuage real nightmarish poverty is tragic, not funny. However, black servants who own a robot nanny [AL9] are engaged in a humorous scenario. Chit and Dal are science fiction version of George and Louise Jefferson. Lange juxtaposes The Jeffersons with The Jetsons. The laugh out loud dialogue successful black entrepreneur George Jefferson shares with Florence Johnston,  his black maid, still successfully resonates.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 2 In addition to Florence, another black maid relates to Avey: Aibileen Clark, a protagonist in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Avey is a writer; We, Robots is her memoir. “And so these are my memoirs. . . . I am only just now falling in love with the written word” (Lange 93). The written word enables the black maids in The Help to take action to articulate their subjectivity, their humanity. [AL10] Words function similarly in relation to Avey. Lange’s robot and Stockett’s maid protagonists use writing to state that they are more than appliances such as vacuum cleaners and toasters. The maids and the robot write and, by doing so, they redefine themselves as human. Stockett insists that the maids are not flesh-made appliances; Lange insists that the robots are not metal-made appliances. At the end of The Help, Aibileen dreams of becoming a writer. Avey fulfills Aibileen’s dream. Hilly Holbrook, a white woman, refuses to allow her black maid Minny Jackson to use the Holbrook family’s toilet. Avey does not need to use a toilet. The robot and the maids turn to writing to ensure that their lives will not be flushed down  toilets.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 1 Avey is a mechanistic Shylock who lacks the flesh-made Shylock right stuff. What is true of dehumanized Jews is not true of dehumanized robots. Avey, unlike Shylock, lacks hands, organs, the need to eat; she definitely possesses dimensions, senses, affections, and passions. She can be hurt and she can die. This robot who was born in Wal-Mart–the merchant of “JerseyTown”–feels as a human feels. She “shed a few drops of hydraulic fluid” (Lange 93). She can cry. Readers might be compelled to cry when they are apprised of Avey’s demise.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 1 We, Robots can be read as a science fiction version of slave narratives and Holocaust memoirs. [AL11] Avey is a science fictional Ann Frank and Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl author Harriet Ann Jacobs. Humor figures in the initial basis of this observation. As soon as Avey is switched on in a “JerseyTown” Wal-Mart, she is born and immediately put on sale. The salesperson “went about her business of turning us on and plugging us in, she explained in a high semi-monotone how she was preparing us for the big day of sale” (Lange 5). Avey, like slaves, is a sentient being who is subject to being sold. When Lange combines consumerism, slavery, and humor she becomes akin to Kevin Willmott. His film C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (an alternative history in which the South wins the civil War) depicts a cool contemporary commodified black person being sold on the Home Shopping Network. In a manner evoking Mel Brooks, Lange positions producing robots in terms of springtime for Walmart. Further, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” a song in the South Pacific score, is also applicable to Lange’s style. Oscar Hammerstein II wrote these words: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear . . . You’ve got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade.” Avey successfully learns the lesson Hammerstein describes:  “Dal, Chit and Angelina lived . . . on the bad side of “JerseyTown.” I [Avey] didn’t know it was bad of course. I only learned about ‘bad’ years later’ (Lange 10).  Avey, like all humans, has to be taught about bad neighborhoods–and about racism, about hate.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 1 We humans have all been taught what “bad’ means in relation to the history of how some people have been categorized Other, branded as subhuman. Avey alludes to inhumane human history. After being reconfigured to feel pain, she describes herself and her counterparts as “downright cowish” in regard to “the harsh treatment of our human enslavers” (Lange 52). “Cowish” and “enslaved” pertain to the fact that Avey is literarily branded. She feels the “soldering iron [inserted] into my fifth interstitial. . . . The integument burned a little from the contact. . . . I recoiled in terror, in blinding pain” (Lange 40). Avey is a “we” in relation to the branded slaves Toni Morrison describes in Beloved. The robots’ suffering resonates as a science fictional version of the suffering Morrison depicts. “One of the broken AV’s had an eye plate dangling from its optic wires . . . . A third had a meter-long bit of rebar inserted through its internals. It kept repeating, ‘I hurt, I hurt'” (Lange 45). “I hurt” makes readers feel compassion for the robots who have become more akin to Beloved protagonists than to mere appliances. Hayles calls How We Became Posthuman “a ‘rememory’ in the sense of Toni Morrison’s Beloved: putting back together parts that have lost touch with one another and reaching out toward a complexity too unruly fit into disembodied ones and twos” (Hayles 13). Avey is no disembodied branded number. The word “bit” horrifically appears in Beloved; not so for “rebar.” The rebar, nonetheless, hurts the robots as much as the bit hurt the slaves.[AL12]  Ironically, the Regularity springs from the robots’ new ability to feel pain. All humans experience “rememory” in terms of personal and historical pain. The post-Regularity robots share painful and complex “rememory” with humans. “ inappropriately references real slaves and science fictional sentient robots–and factory farmed animals. “Cowish” Avey evokes tortured animals trucked to the slaughterhouse when she “spent the trip in darkness, with no stimulus apart from the muffled highway noise” (Lange 47). Unlike “it” animals, “it” robots can write about their pain. Education retards slavery. “We should go to school” (Lange 80), say the robots. Avey is ultimately able to create We, Robots, her manifesto for robots –no manifesto for silenced “transie” cyborgs[AL13]  who are voiceless in Lange’s novella.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 1 In addition to Hayles, Morrison, and Donna Haraway, Lange shares commonalities with Jonathan Safran Foer. We, Robots echoes Foer’s attention to abused animals (in Eating Animals) and abused Jews (in Everything Is Illuminated). Serial numbers join branding as another dehumanization method Lange describes. After the robots are branded during their reconfiguration which enables them to feel pain, they are asked to “[p]lease file into the loading transports as your serial numbers are called” (Lange 43). Where there are “serial numbers” and “transports” there are Nazis. “Please” evokes a sense of the banality of death.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 2 Avey speaks like a New York Jew: “We didn’t know from bored at that time” (Lange 5, italics mine). The robots are treated analogously to Jews being rounded up by Nazis. First, Avey is directed to report to a “pick up point” (Lange 25). Thousands of diverse entities classified as robots move into a gated space: “The motorized gate opened at my approach and that of a mob of about 50,000 other Av-1s and models I didn’t recognize” (Lange 27). More robots are transported to the site: “For several hours, 18-wheelers backed in and out of the Depot yard” (Lange 28). Avey and her comrades are sent to a concentration camp: “we didn’t know anything, so we stood, hundreds of us bunched into the near half of the room, levitating and clicking away inside ourselves, waiting for instruction” (Lange 38). Even though robots cannot be lulled by fake shower stalls, Avey endures treatment which could have been devised by Himmler, Goring, and Goebbels. “Arbeit macht frei” famously appears on the gate of Auschwitz. In the end, work makes Avey free. She does the mental work required to identify, describe, and understand her subjectivity–her humanity. She articulates the notion that the robots’ encounters with human experiences should be respected. “And sooner or later, we, robots, that is, experience these things [love, fun, writing, reading and nature] or other things like them [flesh-made living beings]” (Lange 62). Sentient beings who recognize themselves as being designated as “we” cannot appropriately be described by “it.” We, robots are able to name and to categorize themselves. Avey describes how robots are ultimately successful at “searching first for the classification” (Lange 56). They liberate themselves from the prison house of language which automatically refers to them as “it.” Avey’s thoughts and actions clearly show that “we” robots are “us” humans.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 2 Lange’s robots were always superior to and more literate her humans. It took Avey “three weeks to teach Angelina her ABCs. A robot learns in thirty seconds” (Lange 23). Be that as it may, the robots never discriminate against us humans. Avey’s final comment is addressed to the “transie reader” (Lange 93). The implication is that humans in their new robotic incarnation no longer read. When Avey exhorts humans to remember their “painful past”(Lange 93), one thing is certain. Avey says, “Be grateful for the memory and shed a few drops of hydraulic fluid at the thought of all you have lost” (Lange 93). When Avey equates “hydraulic fluid” with “tears,” she rewrites human language to encompass robots’ technological version of humanity. Even though she is made of metal and circuits instead of flesh and blood, Avey is more than human. All of Lange’s flesh-made humans ultimately become the Tin Man in a science fictional “JerseyTown” which is definitely not Oz. “Where are all your people?” (Russ) Russ’s  human men ask when they first encounter the feminist utopian society populated entirely by women called Whileaway. Immediately after the “Regularity” occurs–when the robots called “it” change–robots become people; people become the Borg. The original people have lost their hearts.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Conclusion

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 1 Heart–diversity and compassion–need to be integrated within the discourse which describes our future. Or, in Hayles’ words–which emphasize the not disembodied, the finite human being, and the connection between humanity and materiality–“my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibility of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life as embedded in a material world of great complexity one of which we depend for our continued survival” (Hayles 5). Avey dies. Hopefully, such will not be so for Lange’s inclusive technological vision. Hopefully, the real scientific Singularity will share commonality with Lange’s science fictional “Regularity.”

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 1 These hopes relate to Hayles’ following comments about how literature and science relate to technological innovation: “The literary texts often reveal . . . the complex cultural, social, and representational issues tied up with conceptual shifts and technological innovations. . . . It [literature and science] is a way of understanding ourselves as embodied creatures living within and through embodied worlds and embodied words” (Hayles 24). Descriptions of technological shifts should not be devoid of diversity’s complexity.  We must create a Singularity of our own via imagining future posthuman embodiments in terms of complex cultural, social and representational worlds and words.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Notes

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 1. Avey, of course, is neither female nor male. Since the English language lacks pronouns to describe sentient robots, for the sake of textual convenience, I refer to Avey as “she.”

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 2. For a discussion of the Texas state legislature’s abortion law, please see http://www.texastribune.org/2013/07/13/texas-abortion-regulations-debate-nears-climax/. For pictures of the images Anthony Weiner sent over the Internet, please see http://thedirty.com/2013/07/world-exclusive-anthony-weiner-nude-penis-images-new-york-dont-let-america-down-warning-graphic-images/

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 3. See Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of A Literary Genre.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Works Cited

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Acker, Kathy. Don Quixote: What Was a Dream. New York: Grove Press, 1986.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Adams, Douglas.The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Harmony, 1979.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. London: Octupus Books, 1984.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 The Alcove. “Review of We, Robots.” emsalcove.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/we_robots-review

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Barr, Marleen S. “Science Fiction and the Cultural Logic of Early Post Postmodernism.” Socialism and Democracy. 20 3(2006), 167-186.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Charlie Rose. PBS. June 27, 2013.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. 2004. IFC Films. Directed by Kevin Willmott. Produced by Rick Cowan. Written by Kevin Willmott. With Charles Frank, Rupert Pate, and Evamarii Johnson.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Foer, Jonathan Safran. Everything Is Illuminated. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton, 1963.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Gabler, Neal. Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality. New York: Knopf, 1998.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Global Future 2045 International Congress: Towards A New Strategy For Human Evolution. June 15-16, 2013. Lincoln Center. New York City. http://gf2045.com.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 In the Heat of the Night. 1967. United Artists. Directed by Norman Jewison. Produced by Walter Mirisch. Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant. With Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents In The Life of Slave Girl. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 The Jeffersons. 1975-1985. CBS. Created by Norman Lear and Michael Ross. With Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, and Marla Gibbs.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 The Jetsons. 1962-1988. Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. With Mel Blanc, Penny Singleton, and Don Messick.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near. New York: Penguin, 2005.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 Lange, Sue. We, Robots: A Novella. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct Press, 2007.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York Walker, 1969.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Little. Malene A. Review of We, Robots. Women Writers. www.womenwriters.net/winter08/werobots.htm

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 Miller, Danny. “Audrey Hepburn: Dead Is The New Alive.” Huffington Post. September 15, 2006. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danny-miller/audrey-hepburn-dead-is-th_b_29484.html

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 Mork and Mindy. 1978-1982. ABC. Created by Garry Marshall. With Robin Williams Jonathan Winters, and Pam Dawber.

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 Morrison. Toni. Beloved. New York: Knopf, 1987

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 My Mother the Car. 1965-1966. NBC. Created by Chris Hayward and Allan Burns. With Jerry Van Dyke and Ann Southern.

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time. New York: Knopf, 1976.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 “A Roadmap for U.S. Robotics From Internet to Robotics” March 20, 2013. ‘http://robotics-vo.us/sites/default/files/2013%20Robotics%20Roadmap-rs.pdf

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 Russ, Joanna. “When It Changed.” Again, Dangerous Visions. Ed. Harlan Ellison. New York: Doubleday, 1972.

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 Schellenberg, James. “We the People (Are Robots).” The Cultural Gutter. thecultuealgutter.com/science-fiction/we_the _people_are_robots.html

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 South Pacific. 1949-1954. Composed by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan. With Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza, and Juanita Hall.

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 Soyka David. “Review of We, Robots.’ SF Site. 2007. www.sfsite.com/06a/we249.html

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: Amy Einhorn Books, 2009.

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 Subbaraman, Nidhi. “”Dawn of the Bot? New Era Nears, Experts Say.” NBC News Technology. May 13, 2013. http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/dawn-bot-new-era-nears-experts-say-1C9874088

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of A Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0  Through the Wormhole. Science Channel. “Are Robots the Future of Human Evolution?” July 10, 2013. Hosted by Morgan Freeman.

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 Tiptree, James. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.” New Dimensions 3. Ed. Robert Silverberg. New York: Doubleday, 1974.

86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 Wall-e. 2008. Pixar. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Produced by Jim Morris. Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon. With Sigourney Weaver and Elissa Knight.

87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.” South Pacific. 1949-1954. Composed by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan. With Mary Martin, Ezio Pinza, and Juanita Hall.

88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0  

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