Mark Harrison

1:10p-2:25p D (25 students) 3 cr., A&H, IW.

On way of thinking about fiction is as a mode of examining and articulating what it means to be in the world. With some notable exceptions fiction more specifically engages the problematic of what it means to be human. As an ongoing examination and articulation fiction takes on the full breadth of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual being. In short, fiction, while also engaging an ongoing series of formal concerns—questions of prosody, narrative structure, thematic development, etc.—is a record of humanity’s struggle to come to grips with itself. This course offers up a series of texts that engage a particular vector of human experience, one that encompasses the full range of fiction’s concerns. Humans have been haunted by the question: of what does life consist?, through much of recorded history. This basic question of the source of animation in turn actuates a series of related questions: How do we know something is “alive”?; What is the nature of the “human”?; Do non-humans “think”?: Do they have “souls”?; Is the creation of life an activity rightly reserved for God? All of these lines of inquiry are as pressing now as ever and in this course we will explore them via a series of texts that all in some way deal with questions of Artificial Life and/or Artificial Intelligence.

This course functions on at least two levels. At the thematic level, by exploring a range of fictional approaches to Artificial Life and/or Artificial Intelligence we will enter into a sustained examination of what those two themes mean and what they can tell us about the basic question of what it means to be human. At a formal level, through treating a variety of texts that have differing approaches to a shared set of concerns, our collective attentions will be drawn to a series of questions concerning the craft of fiction. What potential effects can be achieved by treating the themes of Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence? By what formal means are these effects achieved? As we shall see, these two sets of questions are not as separate as they might first seem. We will explore these questions through close readings, in-class discussion and writing, and a series of formal essays of varying lengths.