Award Date

5-15-2018

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Department

English

First Committee Member

Claudia Keelan

Second Committee Member

Donald Revell

Third Committee Member

Emily Setina

Fourth Committee Member

Lezli Cross

Number of Pages

135

Abstract

Hallucination Machines began as three separate texts that I eventually understood to be in dialogue with each other. In these pieces, I understand language as a means of knowing the world – of expanding it or, alternately, fencing it in. Because of this, language is simultaneously world building and destructive. The act of naming and labeling can anchor, locate, or constrict. It can lead to distortions of perception and subsequent suffering. Throughout these three pieces in Hallucination Machines all of these processes occur. The title of the manuscript is from a line in BIG DATA, referencing humanities current fixation on the digital world, the detachment this fixation promotes from accepted realities, and the distortions this creates, though the title can be applied across all three texts as the dream and the hallucination have similar elements.

The first section, “Dream Story” presents a series of poems, each meant as a form of choreography on the page, as this section often deals – directly and indirectly – with language and the body. This section was originally a long hybrid piece that documented experiences I had while living in Japan and attempting to navigate a culture and language that was unknown to me. As I was working on this, I realized that I already had several shorter poems that achieved what I was attempting to accomplish with this larger text. Dreams play a large role throughout the three sections, but they are especially significant in many of the first section’s poems. While writing this section, I realized that I needed to begin it in the form of a set of instructions choreographic in nature, as many of the poems in this section are designed across the page as a dancer might move across a stage. I wanted “Dream Story” to be in dialogue with other well-known texts that use the dreams as a site of memory, premonition, and connection through time and space to other points in both the personal and collective histories. “Dream Story” also contains work that explores selfhood through the lens of the dream. This section takes cues from W.G. Sebald’s writing in The Rings of Saturn and The Emigrants as well as Andre Breton’s Nadja, work on writing and the dancing body in Andre Lepecki’s essay “Inscribing Dance,” and poetry by Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Yves Bonnefoy.

The second section, “BIG DATA,” is a follow up to a full length experimental play I wrote between the years of 2010-2015 called LAME C(ity)++. I knew that I wanted this text to be more poetic in its form on the page than its predecessor, which, while lyrical in nature, follows a much more traditional playwriting format. BIG DATA addresses how human language and understanding is undergoing such a rapid shift due to social media and other digital platforms that are built on algorithms. During the summer of 2017, I read several articles about the coming dominance of Artificial Intelligence and how social media and the internet have rapidly shifted not only human relationships but also the world’s economy. An article I read in The Economist suggested that big data will eventually overtake petroleum as the world’s most valuable resource (The Economist). Another article was on Tay, Microsoft’s first AI chatbot on Twitter, and how over the period of 24 hours it quickly assimilated hate speech and far right ideologies into its dialogue with users (West). I began thinking about what our language, our interactions, our identities, our being mean in an economic system where these things are exchanged in the form of capital. How is our understanding of how we’re supposed to read language changing and what are the effects of this on our understanding of the world? If reality is being subverted by a new form of understanding the world via short (often hostile) exchanges online and these exchanges are being mined further for data that are being used to program Artificial Intelligence, what does this mean for humanity? This section is inspired by W.B. Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” which plays a part within the text itself, as well as the experimental plays and texts of Gertrude Stein, as I attempted to also subvert the usual way one reads plays. There are allusions to other texts and poets throughout the piece as well as music that inspired the various scenes within BIG DATA.

The final section, “They Will Illuminate the Lands” is a long poem about the American sublime that I began in Professor Revell’s class. It is a poem that is in dialogue with several works by both Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane on America, its history and its shifting identity. The poem also works on a more personal level in relation to the American concept of the sublime. While the piece is not directly in dialogue with theoretical work on the sublime, I was thinking deeply about how the individual bares the weight of a culture’s history and, yet, America exists as it currently is because it is a land where people have come to free themselves from their past and the entanglement that comes from cultures with long histories. But in doing so, it also refuses to acknowledge past traumas that have not been fully addressed. Edmund Burke writes in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful that “terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently the ruling principle of the sublime” (Burke). While this piece doesn’t address our current political definition of terror, it does address the mental state of individuals in highly anxious times. In this sense, the voice in the long poem is dealing with ideas and feelings that are also a product of a growing chaos created by the Hallucination Machines that are central to the previous section.

Keywords

Poetry; Verse Drama

Disciplines

Creative Writing

Language

English

Available for download on Thursday, May 15, 2025


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