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Abstract

Focusing on several Italian and Portuguese novels that remarkably thematize the encounter of the human with the machine and its noise, this dissertation is an inquiry into the history and modalities of three archetypes of human-machine interactions: creature-creator (Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, 1883), master-slave (Eça de Queirós’s The City and the Mountains, 1901), and hybridization (Luigi Pirandello’s The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Camera Operator, 1915/1925). In three chapters, I flesh out the “voices” of technology in these novels as they became louder throughout the Second Industrial Revolution, in continuous dialogue with representative French, British, and German fiction. For nineteenth-century writers almost immediately picked up on the transformations brought up by technological advances. Soon enough, trains, androids, phonographs, cameras, and other devices became literary protagonists that could acquire human speech, amplify it, or supplant it. Thus, a conversation began between voices of flesh and steel, each vying for the airwaves. My contention is that it was this confrontation of the human with a new machine-interlocutor and its noisy persistence that would significantly destabilize anthropo(-voco-)centrism—a crucial encounter that can shed new light on enduring questions about Artificial Intelligence and the question of what it means to be “human” in our era of technological dependence. Unlike their northern European counterparts, however, the novels that are the focus of my research subtly parse out anxieties about human-machine interactions. They ultimately neither demonize (as, for instance, Mary Shelley or Émile Zola did) nor glorify or eroticize machines (as E.T.A. Hoffmann, Joris-Karl Huysmans, or the Futurists did). Rather, they elaborate ways in which productive coexistence and communication can remain a prime objective along the lines of what Franco Cassano has dubbed (a southern) misura (moderation or temperance) as opposed to (a northern) “dismisura della tecnica” (“excess of technology,” Il pensiero meridiano, 1996). By focusing on a small piece of the Southern technological puzzle, this project then calls for a shift in critical focus from nineteenth-century European centers to the periphery, from Paris and London to Sicily and Lisbon. Rather than promoting a myopic provincialism, it calls for dialogue by questioning Eurocentrism and its take on industrialism “not from the outside but from the marginal inside of Europe itself” (Dainotto, Europe (in Theory), 2007). Such a recalibration has far-reaching implications for peripheral regions and their literatures, and for the ways in which we understand literary responses to major epochal transformations such as the Industrial Revolution.

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