The following is Steve Leone's rationale and comp lists for an
exam in "cybernetic literature" (please note, due to webpage
limitations, the bibliography may not be exactly in MLA style, but
Comprehensive Exam Proposal
Cybernetic Literature and the Reshaping of the Humanities
- Selected Postmodern Fiction and Literary Criticism
- Cybernetic Theory and History
- Institutional Crisis in the Humanities
The purpose behind this exam is to provide a background for a
project on cybernetic fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Stanislaw Lem, and
Richard Powers. In my dissertation, I plan to argue that the genre
that I call the "cybernetic novel" has totally transformed the
production of literature in the contemporary age. Equally
incorporating a wide array of human writing (such as myth, history,
comic books, science, and philosophy) into a giant interactive
text, cybernetic authors have created a genre of writing where
authorial agency is radically decentered. Drawing on the metaphors
of cybernetics, contemporary cybernetic novelists see themselves
not as high priests or critics of the technological age (as some
earlier authors, as perhaps the Romantic poets, or T.S. Eliot,
might have imagined themselves) but as mutually evolving nodes of
culture. But whereas earlier conceptions of culture have been
organically based (a community of people and other carbon-based
life forms), these authors acknowledge that culture embraces a
universe of inorganic actors as well. Such a wide-ranging view of
man's interactive relationship to the universe fulfills the
Renaissance ideal of the artist-philosopher-scientist, and it
pushes against the current division of knowledge in the university
system into separate academic disciplines, as well as against
aesthetic ideas of "high art" (the novel) and "low" (the comic
book, or the game). In this dissertation, I plan to discuss how
writers like Thomas Pynchon have been actually "written" by comic
books and science fiction. Although humankind's identity has been
reciprocally shaped by its texts and tools since the beginning of
consciousness, the computer age has opened up possibilities for
quantitatively faster transformations than ever before. The authors
cited in this project are looking at an arguably "new" condition
for the human species, where the relation between man and machine
is no longer simply one of master and servant. This decentering of
authorial agency has great consequences for the
institutionalization of the humanities in academia as well. I
expect that my dissertation will conclude that English departments,
despite the cultural studies movement of the last decade, remain
married to a dogmatic belles-lettrism of the classical and Romantic
ages. Until English majors are encouraged to unite the research of
other disciplines into their work, much of what they produce will
be "academic" in the most limited sense.
The reading list is broken into three parts. The first is a survey
of selected postmodern writers who take cybernetics seriously in
their work: Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Stanislaw Lem, Don
Delillo, Richard Powers, and William Gibson. I have included also
some principal criticism, especially the work of David Porush, who
defines cybernetic writing as "a certain perspective on
textuality." In a modestly subversive gesture, I have also
described the computer game, Sim City, as a "literary"
text. In Sim City, players create a city, supply it with
water and provisions, and respond to natural calamities and
epidemics that the computer is programmed to generate. Humans thus
interact with a machine, creating "reality." It's like a novel, or
maybe even life itself, and I use it as a metaphor for what the
cybernetic authors actually do.
The second field is a survey of cybernetic theory by its primary
engineers, such as Norbert Weiner, as well as some general
histories of cybernetics. Some of this material is quite technical
and far away from Literature--such as the history of the Macy
conferences--but it is crucial for talking about cybernetics. Also
included in this list are some of the new age books about the
convergence of science and other disciplines, such as Wilson's
The third field addresses the role of the humanities in the
academy today, ranging from C.P. Snow's 1959-64 discussion of the
divergence of the hard sciences and the humanities (The Two
Cultures), to contemporary discussions of the corporatization
of the university (Aronowitz; Berube; Nelson, etc). Within
this area, I include some of the standard histories of English
studies, such as those by Gerald Graff, Richard Ohman, and Robert
Scholes. Because I imagine that Richard Powers' novel, Galatea
2.2, will be a large part of my dissertation, I feel that it
will be important to learn about the history of the university
system that Powers draws into question in that novel.
(Please not that exam questions are usually dram up after dialogue
with the students' professors. Sometimes exam lists have only a
rationale and reading list until students have had time to do the
reading and talk with their examiners.)
Field 1: Selected Postmodern Fiction and
a) Davis Porush writes that cybernetics offers a "certain relation
to textuality." Please discuss the difference, if any, between
"intertextuality" and "cybernetics."
b) William Burroughs once wrote that "language is a virus."
Discuss the applicability of this insight into Burroughs' own
novels, and to the work of two other writers on your list.
c) The universe of bankrupt simulacra that Thomas Pynchon
apocalyptically envisioned in the 1960s seems to be a banal reality
today. Please respond to the allegation that Pynchon himself has
become a sentimentalist of the old world of human contact. Has
Lot 49 become an obsolete text? Feel free to juxtapose
Pynchon's work with Delillo, Powers or, with the cyberfiction of
2: Cybernetic Theory and History
a) Katherine Hayles has argued that the "body," in various forms
(even as "media"), stubbornly remains as a repressed entity of the
cyber-revolution. Please evaluate her investment in the body.
b) David Gerlenter argues that artificial intelligence
will not advance until the problem of dreaming is addressed.
c) Please discuss the break between Maturano and Varela in the
1980s over autopoiesis. Why is this issue so important in
3: Institutional Crisis in the Humanities
a) In what ways does the argument of C.P. Snow's Two
Cultures still hold true today? Are there alternative
explanations of the problems facing the humanties today?
b) With some irony, Stanley Aronowitz quotes the
chancellor's description of the California state university system
in the mid-1960s as a "knowledge factory." By what standard is
"knowledge factory" an accurate description of today's university
c) Most critics of the university system today, both on
the left and right, describe a "university in ruins" (Bill
Reddings's term) Please discuss the scope of the problem and
identify the most reasonable solution yet (or not yet) offered.
Field 1: Selected Postmodern Fiction and
Asimov, Isaac. “You Can’t Even Break Even.” Today and Tomorrow....
New York: Dell
Publishing Co., Inc., 1973. 134-46.
Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse. New
York: Doubleday, 1968.
Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch, 1959.
---. The Soft Machine, 1961.
Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. Ed.
Martin Gardner. Illus. John Tenniel. New York: New American
Delillo, Don. White Noise. 1985.
---. Ratner's Star. 1975.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. 1985.
Legion of Super-Heroes Archives. Vol. 1. “The Legion of
Super-Heroes” Adventure Comics 247. (New York: DC Comics, 1991)
Lem, Stanislaw. The Cyberiad: Fables for the
Cybernetic Age. Trans. Michael Kandel. New York: Avon,
Powers, Richard. The Gold Bug Variations. New
York: HarperPerennial, 1991.
—. Galatea 2.2. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux,
Pynchon, Thomas. V. New York: HarperPerennial,
—. The Crying of Lot 49. New York:
—. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Viking,
—. Vineland. Boston: Little, Brown and
—. “Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?” The New York Times Book
Review. (28 October 1984) 1, 40-1.
Sim City: The Game
Sturgeon, Theodore. “Microcosmic God.” Science
Fiction Hall of Fame: The Greatest
Science Fiction Stories of All Time Chosen by the Members of The
Writers of America. Vol. 1. Robert Silverberg, Ed. New York:
Tolins, Jonathan. The Last Sunday in June and Other Plays:
Including If Memory Serves and Twilight of the Golds. New
York: Grove Press, 2004.
Del Ray, Lester. “Helen O’Loy.” Science Fiction
Hall of Fame: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time
Chosen by the Members of The Science Fiction Writers of
America. Vol. 1. Robert Silverberg, Ed. New York:
Doubleday, 1970. pp. 42-51.
Berressem, Hanjo. Pynchon’s Poetics. Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Cassidy, Eric. “Cyberotic: Markets, Materialism and Method
in Pynchon and Deleuze.” Pynchon Notes. 34-35
Dewey, Joseph. “Hooking the Nose of the Leviathan:
Information, Knowledge, and the Mysteries of Bonding in The
Gold Bug Variations.” The Review of
Contemporary Fiction. Fall (1998): 51.
Duyfhuizen, Bernard. “‘Hushing Sick Transmissions’: Disrupting
Story in The Crying of Lot
49.” New Essays, ed. O’Donnell, 79-96.
Gray, Paul. “Drawing the Line: Thomas Pynchon’s
Long-Awaited Mason & Dixon Is a Tale of Scientific Triumph and
an Epic Loss.” Time. May 5, 1997. p. 98.
Grant, Kerry. A Companion to The Crying of Lot
49. Athens: U. of Georgia P., 1994.
Herman, Lue and Geert Lernout. “Genetic Coding and
Aesthetic Clues: Richard Powers’s Gold Bug
Variations. Mosaic 31.4 (1998): 151.
Hermanson, Scott. “Chaos and Complexity in Richard
Powers’s The Gold Bug Variations.” Studies in Contemporary
Fiction. 38.1 (1996): 38+.
Hume, Kathryn. Pynchon’s Mythography: And Approach to Gravity’s
Rainbow. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.
Hurt, James. “Narrative Powers: Richard Posers as Storyteller.”
The Review of
Contemporary Fiction. (Fall 1998): 24+.
Johnston, John. Information Multiplicity: American
Fiction in the Age of Media Saturation. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins UP, 1998.
Jurich, Marilyn. “The Pseudo-Utopian Cosmographies of
Stanislaw Lem.” UtopianStudies. Spring
LeClair, Tom. “The Prodigious Fiction of Richard Powers,
William Vollmann, and David
Foster Wallace.” Studies in Contemporary
Fiction. 38.1 (1996): 12+.
Maltby, Paul. Dissident Postmodernists: Barthelme,
Coover, Pynchon. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P,
Mendelson, Edward. “Gravity’s Encyclopedia.” Mindful
Pleasures. Ed. George Levine and David Leverenz. Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1976. pp. 161-95.
Moulthrop, Stuart and John McDaid. “‘Not Yet Blindingly
One’: Gravity’s Rainbow and the Hypertextualists.”
Pynchon Notes. 32-33 (1993): 132-151.
Neilson, Jim. “Dirtying Our Hands: An Introduction to the
Fiction of Richard Powers.” The Review of Contemporary
Fiction. Fall (1998): 7.
—. “An Interview with Richard Powers.” The
Review of Contemporary Fiction. Fall
Porush, David. “Cybernetic Fiction and Postmodern
Science.” Our Literary History. 20.2 (1989):
—. “Out of Our Minds.” ANQ. 5.4 (1992):
—. The Soft Machine: Cybernetic Fiction.
New York: Methuen, 1985.
Seed, David. The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas
Pynchon. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press., 1988.
“Sim City.” Computer Gaming World. 159
(Oct. 1997): 350+.
Stephenson, Neal. In the Beginning...Was the Command
Line. New York, Avon Books, 1999.
Field 2: Cybernetic Theory and
Arbib, Michael A. The Metaphorical Brain: An Introduction
to Cybernetics as Artificial Intelligence and Brain
Theory. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1972.
Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspective on Ergodic
Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
Ashby, W. Ross. An Introduction to Cybernetics. London:
Chapman & Hall University Paperbacks, 1956.
Brockman, John. The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific
Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
—. Ed. The New Humanists: Science at the
Edge. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003.
Gelernter, David. The Muse in the Machine:
Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought. New York: The
Free Press, 1994.
Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science. New York:
Penguin Books, 1987.
Greene, Brian. The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and
the Texture of the Universe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Hathaway, Donna. “Cyborg Manifesto, An
Introduction.” The Cyborg Handbook. Ed.
Charles Habber Gray. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Hayles, N. Katherine, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual
Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Helvey, T. C. The Age of Information: An Interdisciplinary
Survey of Cybernetics. Englewood Cliffs: Educational
Technology Publications, 1971.
Heylighen, Francis and Cliff Joslyn. “Cybernetics and
Second-Order Cybernetics.” Encyclopedia of Physical Science
& Technology. 3rd Ed. New York: Academic Press, 2001.
“History of Cybernetics.” American Society Cybernetics. 5 May
Kaku, Michio. Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize
the 21st Century. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind
Creates Language. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.
—. How the Mind Works. New York: Norton,
Sokol, Alan and Jean Bricmont. Fashionable Nonsense:
Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. New York:
Tipler, Frank J. The Physics of Immortality: Modern
Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York:
Trask, Maurice. The Story of Cybernetics. London:
Dutton Paperback, 1971.
Varela, Francisco, and Humberto Maturana. Autopoiesis and Cgnition.
Dordrecht: D. Reidel, , 1980.
---. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human
Understanding. Boston: New Science Library, 1987.
Varela, Francisco, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The
Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1991.
Wiener, Norbert. Cybernetics: or, Control and
Communication in the Animal and the
Machine. New York: M.I.T. Press, 1961.
—. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and
Society. New York: Avon Books, 1967.
Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of
Knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
Field 3: Institutional Crisis in the
Aronowitz, Stanley. The Knowledge Factory: Dismantling the
Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning.
Boston: Beacon Press, 2000.
Bender, Thomas and Carl E. Schorske. Eds. American Academic
Culture in Transition. Princeton: Princeton UP,
Bérubé, Michael. The Employment of English: Theory,
Jobs, and the Future of Literary Studies. New York: New
York UP, 1998.
Downing, David B. et al. Beyond English Inc.:
Curricular Reform in a Global Economy. Portsmouth:
Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2002.
Graff, Gerald. Professing Literature: An Institutional
History. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1987.
Hirsch, E. D. The Aims of Interpretation. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Nelson, Cary. Manifesto of a Tenured
Radical. New York, New York UP, 1997.
Ohmann, Richard. English in America: A Radical View of
the Profession. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1998.
Postman, Neil. The End of Education: Redefining the Value of
School. New York: Knopf, 1995.
Reddings, Bill. The University in Ruins. Cambridge:
Harvard UP, 1996.
Scholes, Robert. The Rise and Fall of English:
Reconstructing English as a Discipline. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1998.
Scott, Bernard. “Cybernetics and the Social Sciences.”
Systems Research and Behavioral Science. 18.5 (Sept. 2001)
Shumway, David R. and Craig Dionne. Eds. Disciplining
English: Alternative Histories, Critical Perspectives.
Albany: SUNY P, 2002.
Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures: A Second Look. 1959.
Williams, Jeffrey. Ed. The Institution of
Literature. Albany: SUNY P, 2002.