Adam Fales responds to Devin Griffiths
“Which middle?…And why that beginning?” I am grateful that Devin Griffith gestures at the end of his response by also asking, why this present? We might extend this and ask, why not the future? Questions about the future motivate debates around presentism because, after all, the present is the closest we’ll ever get to it.
Ward’s methodological innovation comes from both the expansive totalities that push on our periodizations and the particularities that populate Seeming Human. Bracketing for a moment people like Levine, Said, and Dimock, who have brilliantly called our organizing integrities into question, part of what I love about Ward’s historical middle is her close attention to how these questions stem from particular instances strung together. Often, Seeming Human fruitfully does less than explode temporal boundaries and instead puts two moments in conversation. This is part of what I got out of Ward’s description of her nineteenth- and twentieth-century examples as“interlocutors” (8). Neither century models the other, but rather both are engaged in a conversation about how to theorize immense shifts in technology (and behavior, as Griffith reminds us), shifts that we’re still trying to understand in this present.
Careful attention to these particular interlocutors can be incredibly generative (as Heidi Smith shows in her response). From her present vantage point, Ward pays equal attention to how AI resembles Victorian Realist character as how Victorian Realist character resembles AI. Reading these forms in the twenty-first century re-opens unexpected moments of the surprise that form affords, as it pushes us toward the future. Until then, here I am, stuck in the (historical) middle with you.