Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Literary Machine

Galatea 2.2
Galatea 2.2 

“Speech baffled my machine. Helen made all well-formed sentences. But they were hollow and stuffed--linguistic training bras. She sorted nouns from verbs, but, disembodied, she did not know the difference between thing and process, except as they functioned in clauses. Her predications were all shotgun weddings. Her ideas were as decorative as half-timber beams that bore no building load. 

She balked at metaphor. I felt the annoyance of her weighted vectors as they readjusted themselves, trying to accommodate my latest caprice. You're hungry enough to eat a horse. A word from a friend ties your stomach in knots. Embarrassment shrinks you, amazement strikes you dead. Wasn't the miracle enough? Why do humans need to say everything in speech's stockhouse except what they mean?” 
― Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2

In this arresting novel Richard Powers uses language and literary references with a sharp pen, deftly weaving them into a moving and beautiful narrative. The novel describes the building of a literary thinking machine. It is a machine that gradually matures over the course of several iterations, but in the end it is a life of reading that fueled all of his loves.
The novel is pseudo-autobiographical: the narrator is named Richard Powers and there is discussion of the four novels he wrote before Galatea 2.2 along with other references to his real biography. Richard Powers creates a version of himself for the novel that is not always flattering. It is not completely clear which specific events are true, and which are not, but it is clearly based on Powers' life.
The result is a captivating and mesmerizing novel that kept me in a state of suspense and wonder.

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