Adam Fales responds to Heidi Smith
Heidi Smith is spot on in pointing out that her reexamination of Tess entails a similar reexamination of Ward’s methodology in Seeming Human. If, in her elegant formulation, “these forms of mimesis become legible but also indistinguishable,” I wonder what we do with the kind of historical resonance that Ward has traced throughout the book. Picking up Smith’s argument, I might begin by pointing out that a theory of character, even one bounded by a certain field and a certain period, and even one that wires itself through the history of artificial intelligence, will never be comprehensive. Any mimesis made legible makes another indistinguishable.
However, Smith hardly suggests that all explanatory theories are made equal. Instead, she points out how Ward’s elision of “material and social contexts” reveals the crucial stakes of our models and the information they make alternatively indistinguishable and legible. Smith points to a necessity not just in how we choose our models but also in how we attend to their gaps. Her response points us toward one way in which we need to learn to stay with our arguments’ contradictions. Keeping in mind that no theory of character will be comprehensive, how might we write and read in a way that distinguishes what has been made indistinguishable in the process of making other things legible? Smith has illuminated the stakes in this case. Too often we fret over what might make our arguments wrong that we overlook the consequences if those arguments are right.