LIT 165 Syllabus
LIT 165 Announcements
LIT 165 Assignments
WRT 120 Syllabus
WRT 120 Announcements
WRT 120 Assigmments
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
Notes on 'Before the Law'
Samuel Beckett Links
Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
Suggested Readings: Independent Project
Character Analysis: Brave New World
Analyzing the Brave New World
Embarking on the Brave New World
A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
Introducing Canto I
Approaching the Divine Comedy
Relating to Dante's Inferno
Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
Leaf By Niggle
Responses to Leaf By Niggle
'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
Analyzing the Mythic Tales
The Four Functions of Myth
Myth and Metaphor
Myth - Links
Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
Alice In Wonderland
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
Commentary: Following Up Your Response
Critical Thinking and Commentary
Casebook: Evaluating Sources
What is Argument?
Parts of an Argument
Casebook Assignment Sheet
Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
Short Stories About Identity
Thoughts on Stories About Identity
Poems About Identity
Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
ENG Q20 Syllabus
Frederick Douglass Excerpt
How to Detect Propaganda
George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
Propaganda Analysis Exercise
Weblog for WRT 120
Writing Assistance on the Web
Blackboard at WCU
WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library
Welcome to the
Monkey House (1968) is the collection of Vonnegut's short stories where
"EPICAC" appears, though it was originally published in Colliers
Magazine , one of the several slick, high-paying popular magazines to which
Vonnegut was a prolific contributor throughout the early part of his career.
His early fiction bears the stamp of his unique style, but not all of his early
stories are "sci-fi"though you may be interested in the ones
that are for your independent paper. Many of them would connect up nicely with
the themes explored in Brave New World, 1984, and Gattaca.
You might be interested
in the following stories from Welcome to the Monkey House:
"Welcome to the Monkey House"
"Report on the Barnhouse Effect"
"The Euphio Question"
"Unready to Wear"
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow"
Two other stories
in this collection that I think are especially fine are "D.P." and
"Adam." Although they are "realistic" fictions, they also
connect up with themes from Brave New World in interesting and very moving ways.
Most of Vonnegut's
stories are characteristically brief and wry and humorous, like EPICAC. But
along with the brevity and they wryness and the humor, which made him popular
and well-paid, Vonnegut's work is substantive and worth looking into more deeply.
The first step
in to decide to go below the surface of the entertaining tale. It may detract
from some of the humor to analyze the story closely, but you can gain something
for the little that's lost. I don't think a really good story ever suffers from
looking closely at iteven a funny one. It's never hurt by analysis, only
made richer in meaning.
The next step is
to ask: what's the underlying assumption that makes this story humorous? What
do we normally assume, and how does what Vonnegut presents cut against the grain
of our expectations? What is it that provokes us?
- The normal assumption
is that humans and machines are essentially different from one another, right?
It's funny to see an anthropomorphized machine. It's a little tame by today's
standards. It's not 1950, after all, and the story is 55 years old! But the
basic idea is still funny enough. Human beings and machines are essentially
different, and this story violates that notion by presenting a machine that's
"noble and great and brilliant."
- I want to ask
you55 years down the line, is this idea more or less funny to us? Is
it less funny (maybe) because we see less difference than we used to between
people and machines? Do we still see ourselves as essentially different from
our machines? What about car commercials?? Or a lot of other commercials for
that matter, that anthropomorphize inanimate objects and make them more human
than we are? Does anyone remember the children's film The Iron Giant? That's
a great film, but is it the least skeptical about a machine's ability to be
one of us?
If we accept that
machines can become like us, do we also accept that we can become like machines?
Do people sometimes become like machines? Consider the main character in this
He's more machine-like than EPICAC, isn't he? Pat doesn't love him
because he's so robotic
. The Brave New World is filled with dehumanized
people who are sort of "machine-like" in their sameness.
- Are we in danger
of becoming too machine-like? What are the threats?
Why do we seem
to want computers to be more like people, to have "intelligence,"
even though we call it "artificial intelligence"? We anthropomorphize
our cars, for example (that cars have "personality" or "identity"
is evident in any car commercial, isn't it?). Are we lonely being the only beings
with this consciousness we seem to have? Do we want to spread the wealth around?
We anthropomorphize our pets, too. Are we lonely? Why do we want to remake the
world in our image??
What's the goal
of artificial intelligence? Where are we going with that? Space exploration?
Do people put a lot of time and effort into thinking about space exploration?
How about entertainment? People do seem to place a lot of importance on that
And what about war? Why do we want to develop smarter and smarter bombs? Where's
that heading? EPICAC was "built for war," and a hefty sum of taxpayer
money was devoted to its development. How does this compare to today. How much
of your taxpayer money goes to weapons of war? Do you approve of that? What
about AI for machine laboris it okay to make a machine "intelligent"
and then "enslave" it? Is that a silly question? Why? It must be because
we still see a definite distinction between machines and ourselves
What can't even
an "intelligent" machine have that we humans have? Vonnegut creates
a scenario in which a machine has most of the qualities you'd come up with:
Does Vonnegut give this to EPICAC?
Does Vonnegut give this to EPICAC?
- Free will
Does Vonnegut give this to EPICAC?
Does Vonnegut give this to EPICAC?
How does Vonnegut
develop EPICAC's "human side"?
- p. 373:
his sluggishness, his stutters, irregular clicks indicate confusion, boredom,
a lack of ambition that we associate with human underachievement
- p. 375:
the curiosity, love of learning, thirst for knowledge, and desire to develop
his individual talent all make EPICAC seem human
- p. 375:
EPICAC "finds himself." This seems very human, too. What does it
mean to "find yourself"? (Discover your possibilities, tap your
potential, discover your purpose, find meaning, follow your bliss??) Why do
we use this metaphor of "finding," of discovery? Is it a metaphor
of being "lost" and then "finding"? Or is it a metaphor
that's focused more on finding, as in discovering? (Look at this treasure
This small story
has a lot of interesting IRONIES.
- Pat thinks she
wants romance, something warm, but she falls for a machine (without knowing
it). What do you think is Vonnegut's point with this irony?
- EPICAC was built
for WAR but his real purpose is LOVE. Is the opposite irony also true? We
seem built for love, but we seem to be absorbed in making war. Why does Vonnegut
make a computer built for war the next Don Juan? What's the point, do you
- The claim that
"protoplasm" is superior to "metal and glass"that
it "lasts forever" and is "indestructible"also seems
very ironic. Protoplasm is very destructible, very fragile, in fact, much
more vulnerable than metal
the point being?
- The man argues
with EPICAC that " We build machines to serve us"but how much
do they serve us, and how much do we serve them? Is the opposite really true?
We serve them more than they serve us? If so, how long will we be able to
maintain our already flagging sense of "superiority"? And what will
be the consequence of seeing ourselves as inferior to machines? (Say hello
to the Brave New World, right?)
- Do we already
see our machines as superior to us? What about our weapons? On the battlefield,
would you rather have a buddy or a tank? On the job would you rather have
a piece of paper and your brainpower, or your PC?
- f we continue
to let our machines outstrip us, where will we be in a few years? Who
will we value more on the battlefield, on the job? Our expensive machines
or the cheap lives that handle them?
- Even something
simple like our cars
they serve us, right? Well, think about it.
You own a car. It takes you here and there. But if you want it to keep
working, you have to feed it gas (very expensive, so you better work your
butt off to make some money to buy the gas). Next it needs repairs, also
very expensive. And finally, you need insurance. Maybe you decide you
want to get rid of it and save several thousands of dollars a year. Forget
it!! If you want to get around, you'll need your car. Who exactly is serving
- Another irony:
EPICAC is destroyed by the idea of "FATE"the "predetermined
and inevitable destiny" that none of us human beings are liable to because
of our free will. But if someone pronounced your "predetermined and inevitable
destiny" it would probably kill you, too. The man announces EPICAC's
fate: women can't love machines. Yet the irony is that Pat did fall in love
with a machine (without knowing it). If she knew the truth, how would Pat
feel about EPICAC? We'll never know, because the man cheated and lied (he
"loved and won"). He tries to make it seem that there's no way to
change your destiny, to change who or what you are, but the literary proposition
that's existed since Sophocles, since Genesis, is that the human condition
is a condition of free willyou can change who or what you are with a
little effort, a little "character." Character determines fate.
People have free will.
- Does EPICAC
have "character"we've already seen how "human"
what's his "character"? The man describes him as
"noble." Is that a fair description? Is his death then a kind
of tragedy? (Comic, of course, but still tragic in a sense.)
- The man says
he "loved and wonEPICAC loved and lost." But his victory is
tainted by his cheatinghis lying to Pat, his lying to EPICAC about "fate."
Why doesn't he care if he won by cheating? Does that make him seem like a
shallow character to you? More shallow, in fact, than EPICAC? Now that's ironic,
isn't it? The machine is more noble, more poetic, more brilliant, more "great"
than the human being. Welcome to Vonnegut's Monkey House.