Thesis Open Access

Artificialities: From Artificial Intelligence to Artificial Culture

Tama Leaver

Thesis supervisor(s)

Jane Long

Artificialities: From Artificial Intelligence to Artificial Culture 
Subjectivity, Embodiment and Technology in Contemporary Speculative Texts

This thesis is an examination of the articulation, construction and representation of ‘the artificial’ in contemporary speculative texts in relation to notions of identity, subjectivity and embodiment. Conventionally defined, the artificial marks objects and spaces which are outside of the natural order and thus also beyond the realm of subjectivity, and yet they are simultaneously produced and constructed by human ideas, labor and often technologies. Artificialities thus act as a boundary point against which subjectivity is often measured, even though that border is clearly drawn and re-drawn by human hands. Paradoxically, the artificial is, at times, also deployed to mark a realm where minds and bodies are separable, ostensibly devaluing the importance of embodiment. Speculative texts, which include science fiction and similar genres across a number of different media, frequently and provocatively deploy ideas of the artificial to interrogate subjectivity, embodiment, spatiality and culture more broadly. In the past two decades the figures of the cyborg and later the posthuman have been the key concepts guiding critical and comparative literary and theoretical studies of speculative texts in terms of the relation between subjects, bodies, technologies and spaces. This thesis builds on these rich foundations in order to situate the artificial in similar terms, but from a nevertheless distinctly different viewpoint. After examining ideas of the artificial as deployed in film, novels and other digital contexts, this thesis concludes that contemporary artificialities act as a matrix which, rather than separating or demarcating minds and bodies or humanity and the digital, reinforce the symbiotic connection between subjects, bodies and technologies.

The thesis structure is five chapters, each focusing on a specific formation of the artificial. The first examines the most recognised trope of artificiality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), as deployed in contemporary science fiction cinema starting with 2001: A Space Odyssey through to the Terminator trilogy. The second chapter focuses on the more recent notion of Artificial Life through a close reading of Greg Egan’s novels Permutation City and Diaspora. The third chapter then takes a more speculative turn, proposing the category of Artificial Space, building on William Gibson’s second trilogy—Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties—mapping an updated concept of cyberspace more clearly connected with living bodies. The fourth chapter similarly proposes the notion of Artificial People, drawing on two parallel discourses: the development of subject-centred digital special effects technology, such as that used in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy; and the unexpected rearticulation of everyday lives and bodies presented in the Matrix trilogy. The final chapter, Artificial Culture, is a case study examining artificialities in the post-September 11th Western cultural climate, focusing on the two Spider-Man films. The thesis concludes by reinforcing the symbiotic character of artificialities and suggesting future utility of the concept for critical literary and cultural studies projects. By examining the way artificialities are articulated in speculative texts, the thesis ultimately argues that the artificial destabilises rather than defending conceptual boundaries. The artificial points to the inextricable interlinking of subjects, bodies and technologies while simultaneously questioning each of those categories.

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