‘The Machine Stops’: What E. M. Forster Knew About the Internet

“How can I possibly explain this? It was naked, humanity seemed naked, and all these tubes and buttons and machineries neither came into the world with us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter supremely while we are here.”

 This year marks one hundred and ten years since The Oxford and Cambridge Review printed ‘The Machine Stops,’ a remarkable short story by E. M. Forster which seems to predict the Internet. It is a strange, Wellsian tale set in a distant future where humans have abandoned the surface of the earth and retreated into a hive-like network of interconnected hexagonal rooms. Though they live alone, they have access to every material convenience and to everybody else in the world at the push of a button, through a global network of networks of machinery known reverentially as ‘The Machine.’ ‘The Machine Stops’ tells the story of Vashti, a ‘swaddled lump of flesh’ with a face ‘as white as fungus,’ and her son Kuno. Kuno is a ‘savage type,’ who defies the Machine to travel to the earth’s surface. After learning, contrary to what he’s been brought up believing, that one doesn’t ‘die immediately in the outer air,’ Kuno tells his mother that ‘The Machine is stopping […] I know the signs.’ To Vashti’s horror and disbelief, Kuno turns out to be right.

 The resemblance of the Machine to the Internet is so striking that it’s hard to believe that Forster could possibly have come up with it in 1909. Vashti has Facebook, inasmuch as she ‘knows’ ‘several thousand people,’ with whom she communicates by ‘button’ from the comfort of her armchair. Other ‘buttons and switches’ are her Amazon, allowing her to order food and clothing, and her Alexa, ‘producing’ music, ‘literature’ and ‘lectures’ on command and controlling her room’s lighting and temperature. Vashti talks to Kuno through a kind of Skype or Facetime, whereby a tablet-like ‘plate’ that she holds in her hands glows with blue light and permits her to ‘see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the world.’

 Her favourite way to spend her time is ‘exchang[ing] ideas with her innumerable friends,’ who ask her if she’s ‘had any ideas lately’ before immediately interrupting to tell her their own ‘ideas.’ Her time is consumed by this constant exchange of ‘ideas’: short, shallow, ten-minute discussions of subjects, which are sent out unedited through the Machine for the whole world to hear. Vashti responds to this constant influx of ‘ideas’ with ‘irritation,’ which is ‘a growing quality in that accelerating age,’ but it never occurs to her to stop. In other words, she’s on Twitter.  Continue reading

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Araki’s Apocalypses: Fragments of Doom

Ahead of Gregg Araki’s upcoming series Now Apocalypse, Jacob Engelberg presents a .gif collage exploring the theme of apocalypse throughout the auteur’s body of work. From alien invasions to New World Orders to fecund desert landscapes, and Armageddon Day itself, Araki’s fictional universes often find themselves on the brink of ruin. These precarious worlds—and the despondent characters who inhabit them—are typical of Araki’s singular style. If the world is doomed anyway, then we might as well jump headlong into hedonism as we tumble carelessly on our perilous decline into the abyss. Continue reading

The end of the world

Thank god 2018 is over.

Another after year of worsening climate crisis, the on-going and ruthlessly unseasonal Brexit pantomime, and the never ending stream of social issues eroding altruistic gumption like a deepening coastal shelf (thanks Larkin), it’s easy to feel like the world is ending.

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Call for Submissions: The Still Point Blog – Spring 2019

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers, established in 2014. The Still Point Blog aims to be a forum for discussion, dialogue, collaboration and experimentation.

We invite submissions for the Still Point Blog throughout the spring of 2019. We welcome blog post submissions of 400–500 words (accompanying images or photographs encouraged). However, if you have a longer – or shorter – piece in mind, please contact us to discuss it. We would also be delighted to publish videos, images or any experimental forms of disseminating or reflecting on research. Continue reading

Introducing the new editorial team

Welcome to followers old and new of the Still Point blog.

As the new editorial team gear up to begin a new year of blogging in 2019, we thought we’d get your academic content tummies grumbling with a glimpse behind the curtain.

Here we introduce ourselves and give some insights into how we became familiar with the Still Point and why we wanted to get involved.

Don’t worry! There’s still time for you to get involved too. Continue reading

Join Our Editorial Team – Apply by 14th November 2018

As the current team begin the second and third years of their PhDs, The Still Point Journal is looking for new research students to take over, develop the project, and make it their own. Roles on offer include journal editors, blog editors, and event organisers. Although some experience is a wonderful asset, The Still Point Journal is all about creative experimentation and learning curves, so if you have a passion for literary journals, indie publishing, creative writing, or design, this could be a great opportunity for you.

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers, established in 2014 and supported by the LAHP (London Arts & Humanities Partnership) and the AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council). The Still Point aims to be a forum for dialogue, collaboration and experimentation, and offers a space for creatively writing through ideas in original forms. The Journal features short fiction, poetry and visual art, although its particular focus is on non-fiction writing, related – however tangentially – to our research and the kind of rich thinking and exploration we do during the course of this research. These informal articles and journalistic pieces, free of footnotes or bibliographies, should feel more like a collection of conversations had with fellow researchers over coffee than academic papers.

At The Still Point we believe in the untold stories of the PhD, the creative energy that fizzes at the peripheries, the mind-wanderings and tangential inspirations, and we wanted to create a space to celebrate this. In its current iteration, The Still Point publishes an annual literary journal with submissions from arts and humanities researchers from institutions across London, and runs a regular online blog that accepts submissions from researchers across the world. We are passionate about the medium of print and about exploring new possibilities for the intersection between print and digital media.

In addition to our print issue and blog content, since 2014 The Still Point has organised a range of events exploring the intersection between the creative and the critical, including poetry readings, a creative exchange and art exhibition, a launch party with readings and live music, creative non-fiction workshops, and co-ordinated and curated an innovative online symposium. If you think all of this sounds exciting, then you should think about joining The Still Point.

To Apply

If you would like to join The Still Point editorial team send an email to editor@thestillpointjournal.com telling us why you would like to be involved with the journal, what role you are interested in, and mentioning any experience you think you can bring to the role, by the 14th November 2018.


Roles

Journal Editors

To oversee the development, editing and design of Issue #3 of The Still Point Journal (to be published in a digital and print format), including attendance at monthly editorial meetings.

Main Responsibilities:

  • Develop and write a Call for Submissions (CFS).
  • Circulate and promote the CFS to all relevant institutions, students and student groups.
  • Manage and read through submissions, and select material for Issue #3 after discussion with other editors.
  • Work with the selected writers to edit their pieces, as required.
  • Liaise with a designer to create the layouts for Issue #3
  • Work with the events team to organise a launch party and help to distribute the Issue, including depositing it in libraries such as the BL, and the Southbank Saison Poetry Library.

Blog Editors

To manage the blog for The Still Point Journal for a period of one year, including attendance at monthly Editorial meetings.

Main Responsibilities:

  • Commission new blog posts and liaise with guest writers
  • Edit and upload posts
  • Maintain a schedule, aiming for 1 blog post per week where possible
  • Write posts yourself, including any news regarding the journal
  • Promote new posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  • Use the blog to promote the Print Issue, both the Call for Submissions and the final product
  • Organise an online symposium in July 2017, making the most of the digital medium (optional)

To Apply

If you would like to join The Still Point editorial team send an email to stillpointjournal@gmail.com telling us why you would like to be involved with the journal, what role you are interested in, and mentioning any experience you think you can bring to the role, by the 14th November 2018.

Exhibitions 1 – Charles Dickens: Man of Science

 

Attribution: Charles Dickens by Daniel Maclise, oil on canvas, 1836, National Portrait Gallery, London.

In an 1850 All the Year Round article, Charles Dickens writes about his visit to the Royal Polytechnic Institution as a young boy. He recalls how scientific lectures and exhibitions on display were both entertaining and accessible – an experience that opened up new vistas of knowledge:

There was an indefinable feeling as if it were not real, out-and-out, holiday place: as if our education were in some way going on whenever we were there. Instruction, we felt, lurked behind amusement, and it was impossible to forecast, from the programme of the entertainments, exactly at what point the baleful genius of mental improvement might be expected to claim its victim. There were diverting objects to look at, doubtless, but even machinery in motion – a charming object always to any boy of a well-regulated mind – can be turned to an evil educational account.’ Continue reading

Reflections 6 – Shelved Memories: The Occasional Hauntings of a Dissertation Long-Finished

HauntingIt’s been more or less two and a half years since that day in September when, sitting outside on the pavement, at exactly 9 am, after a horrific night of frantic formatting, editing and desperate attempts at taming the endless spaces and margins that should have been a bit wider, or narrower, slightly more to the left, to the right – a carnival of imperfections, really – I was on the phone with the printer’s: ‘Are you absolutely sure it will be ready to collect on Tuesday? Did you say you are binding it (my baby!) in… Essex!?’ ‘Well, you never know, there might be a fire on the truck on the way to London…’ …How dare he joke about this?! On a sacred moment like this. Would you joke with a woman in labour?! A woman who doesn’t know if her baby will even make it into the world? Will it be healthy? And safe? Will it survive the shock of birth? …It doesn’t matter now. It’s all done. Printed, bound, and sent to those that will determine its fate.

As I’m writing this little ‘memoir’, I can’t believe there’s a smile on my face. It seems so far away now, so extravagant and bizarre. Of course he was going to joke about my ridiculous submission drama. Of course the truck made it from Essex to the Strand intact. My baby did make it into the world, it was healthy and safe, with only minor corrections. It’s now sitting on my bookshelf, shiny and blue, winking at me every now and then.

That’s my relationship with academia too. I also wink at it every now and then, but I don’t dare venture too close; we’ve gone our separate ways. But when you’ve worked on an author so hard, for so long, there’s meant to be residues. At the final writing stages, quite close to that day in September, during one of my (failed) attempts at self-therapy, I wrote (not in my thesis, although I might as well have):

What happened to us Georges? We used to understand each other and share our secrets and I felt I got you like no one else ever could. Now I am terrified every time I see your face, and your name has become dangerously literal in my mind.

Now that it’s all over, I do miss Georges. We had some rough times, but we had some pretty good ones too. I’m sure that he would agree, and that he would forgive me for all the cursing (who are we kidding, he probably loved it). When you leave academia, it sometimes feels that, along with your thesis, you’re shelving four years of your life. But that depends entirely on you, and your own ‘Georges’. It’s difficult to redefine a relationship like this; to give it a space outside the one in which it was initially created. I’m still battling with Georges, still trying to learn and, most importantly, unlearn him; only now, I do it whenever I feel like it and without all the crying and despair. Our relationship has grown. My baby has grown.


Alexandra Tzirkoti is a former PhD in French Literature/Critical Theory at from KCL. Her research encompasses the theory and fiction of Georges Bataille. Beyond a personal mode of expression, Alexandra sees creative writing as a means of effective communication in academic contexts as well – a method for making topics approachable to wider audiences and to initiate new lines of inquiry. Check out an earlier submission she made for Still Point last year.

Reflections 5 – The Internal Dialogue of a PhD Student Abroad

From the beginning of my PhD dissertation, I knew it would be likely that I would need to spend a significant amount of the project in Germany. There are simply not enough available sources in the UK on the particular esoteric area of East- and West-German art music in the years following the Second World War which I am researching. A few weeks’ worth of fruitless library searches for necessary volumes – WHICH MOSTLY TURNED OUT TO BE AVAILABLE IN ONLY ONE LOCATION IN THE UK, OFTEN QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY BELFAST FOR SOME REASON, AND RARELY INTRA-LIBRARY LOANABLE – made the need for a research placement not only clear, but imperative. As such, AND AFTER A HEFTY AMOUNT OF BUREAUCRATIC INSTITUTIONAL PAPERWORK ON BOTH ENDS, I find myself now roughly half-way through a year-long research placement at the Humboldt in Berlin, and now with access to a body of relevant literature that is sufficiently comprehensive to rival those institutions found in the UK (EVEN QUEEN’S BELFAST).

There is an element of pressure which comes with the time frame of my placement; there are sources, archives, potential interviewees and other resources available to me in Berlin to which I will only have access for this set period. As such, this time is precious and there is often the feeling that my schedule here should be more exciting, or at least different from what I have so far experienced as a PhD student. I SHOULD BE IN SOME MUSTY ARCHIVE OR ELDERLY GERMAN’S EQUALLY MUSTY ATTIC SEARCHING FOR A UNIQUE COPY OF A PARTICULAR DOCUMENT NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN BEFORE. More often than not, however, the reality is that I am simply working in the University or State Library. All those books which I couldn’t find in the UK are now available for my mundane perusal, meaning that my working patterns and habits here are more or less like they were in the first year of my project in London. There is also (WOE IS ME!) the need to balance the imperative to conduct as much research as possible with a desire to partake in as many of the vast cultural activities Berlin has to offer, ARGUABLY MORE COPIOUS AND DIVERSE THAN IN LONDON, before my year here is over. Continue reading