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Humanities 2017, 6(4), 85; https://doi.org/10.3390/h6040085

The Genealogy of an Image, or, What Does Literature (Not) Have To Do with the History of Computing? : Tracing the Sources and Reception of Gulliver’s “Knowledge Engine”

School of Arts & Sciences, The City University of New York, 300 Jay St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA
Received: 25 July 2017 / Revised: 23 October 2017 / Accepted: 28 October 2017 / Published: 8 November 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Poetics of Computation)
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Abstract

The illustration of the “knowledge engine” included in early editions of Gulliver’s Travels is an engraving of a sketch from the notebook of Lemuel Gulliver. In other words, it is a purely fictional object. Yet, Swift's fictional invention and its graphic representations have become part of the documented historical lineage of computing machines. Furthermore, one of Swift’s purposes for inventing the “knowledge engine” was to satirize the scientific and technical cultures that now claim it as part of their history. As one piece of the elaborate discursive and material code of Gullivers Travels, “the knowledge engine,” its sources, and its reception offer some unique insights into the relationships that exist amongst factual and fictional narratives, scientific and humanistic discourse, words and images, and print and digital technologies. Although numerous scientific and philosophical texts have been cited as possible sources informing Swift’s satirical invention, this article considers a lesser known one, John Peter’s 1677 pamphlet Artificial Versifying, or the Schoolboys Recreation, which is itself a print-based textual machine for generating lines of Latin hexameter verse. View Full-Text
Keywords: computational poetics; Jonathan Swift; Gulliver’s Travels; history of computing; book history; cultural and media studies; book illustration; history of writing instruction computational poetics; Jonathan Swift; Gulliver’s Travels; history of computing; book history; cultural and media studies; book illustration; history of writing instruction
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Rodgers, J. The Genealogy of an Image, or, What Does Literature (Not) Have To Do with the History of Computing? : Tracing the Sources and Reception of Gulliver’s “Knowledge Engine”. Humanities 2017, 6, 85.

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