Heidi Smith responds to Adam Fales

Adam Fales helpfully illuminates some ways in which Ward’s study raises necessary questions about literary theory and criticism now. For Fales, Ward’s account shows the way in which an unexpected array of “past voices might be viable interlocutors in present debates,” suggesting that technology, criticism, and history are deeply intertwined, and might themselves form a feedback loop. Ward’s study tracks the ways in which interiority has been valorized by critiques of 19th century realist novels, and what the limitations of this mode of interpretation have been. This made me wonder about how Ward’s version of 19th century characterization might speak to ways of seeming human in the 21st century. If Ward’s book, as she states, helps show that humans and machines are not opposites, so that “we can more fully recognize the possibilities for human development offered by the connectedness of the system, the growth of the feedback loop, or the heightened perceptions of the neural net,” what are those possibilities? Ward’s account gestures toward a fairly pressing political concern, and suggests that interiority, and turning inward, do not have the capacity to speak to those concerns. Through her technological formalism—which does not negate the fact that these technologies were created by humans and harbor human biases—we might feed 19th century novels back into the feedback loop Fales notices, to speak to seeming and being human in the 21st century.

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