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Translating Physics, Teknolust, Transmen?

Anne Dalke's picture

Sunday night @ 7 SHARP we'll meet in Dalton 1 to watch Lynn Hershman Leeson's film Teknolust-- and eat pizza together. In next Monday's class we'll discuss "Physics @ Bryn Mawr" with several members of the physics dept; on Wednesday we'll discuss Leeson's movie.

Which gives you some choices: either post your thoughts about Professor Beckmann's "Conceptual Physics" class (before we meet on Monday morning), or your responses to "Teknolust" (before we meet on Wednesday). No reading this coming week, so plenty of time to write and think-aloud!

And--if neither of those prompts interest you--here's a third possibility. A friend and BMC alum just sent me this article from the Boston Globe: "When She Graduates as He." It addresses the question I wanted to ask Afsaneh Najmabadi: how historically all-female colleges might best respond to transmen, students who are exploring the possibility of growing up to be men. As you'll see from the article, "at Bryn Mawr College...everyone is accepting, but there are no resources."

Sam's picture

I may just be a science

I may just be a science fiction geek, but I really wanted to see more of the "weaponizing of female sexuality" (as Flora put it so awesomely earlier), because that was actually the most interesting part to me.

But to ramble, I was actually pretty interested in the NYT article.

“They think of it as programming,”

But computer science, starting out, IS programming, and programming still isn't taught (in my experience) in a very helpful manner, and people still view it as the bastion of individuals who are primarily self-taught. Even at Bryn Mawr, I took a comp sci course-- the intro level, I believe-- and it was just... java. I couldn't make heads or tails of it, but if there's computer troubles, I can pretty much guarantee you that I can fix it. So what does this say about computer science vs. computer literacy? There's so much more to computing than coding, but that's where we have to start even if you want to learn web design or networking. Once again, we're back to this ridiculous gate keeper business.

I know they addressed that, but I wanted to share my own frustration because we do the same thing here at our school!

And there's absolutely nothing about hardware until you get past the java, but I feel that knowing the hardware is more important than anything else.

Dr. Stone sure as heck didn't create her automatons using java.

Anne Dalke's picture

more abt. teknolust

We were having such an interesting conversation on Wednesday about our reactions to Teknolust that I found myself hurrying through, @ the very end of class, some of the ties I wanted to show you, between what Leeson was up to in her film, and what we have been up to in this class all semester. So, for the record (and drawing from The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson) here’s a list of some of the ways that I think the film plays with the themes that we’ve concerned ourselves with: it

  • explores the relation of spectatorship to identity
  • expands the outcome of art work by opening to up to viewer participation
  • illustrates how deceptive is the view from one-point perspective
  • focuses on interactivity (Ruby’s intelligence increases, becomes more flexible with each encounter in the real world)
  • is a feminist, digital-age Frankenstein tale (recreates world in female form; has an unambiguously happy ending )
  • moves out of earlier idealist art work (independent of external reality) into image manipulation: not objective truth, but ambiguous, unreliable representations

  • invites us to think about conditions of agency/the wherewithal to make something happen
  • explores the tension between insularity and social discourse (with identity a fluid interaction between self & others, assigned BY others)
  • is performance art (requires interaction, is HOSTILE to passive viewers)

eli's picture


Odile hits it on the head for me. What was the point of making this film?

In order to full appreciate the film, it seems to me that I would have to watch it a second time over and really train myself for the details that everyone else seems to be enjoying. For me, it seemed to skim around the larger issues without directly attacking it. Half the time I was sitting there simply trying to figure out the motivations of the characters. I wasn't even looking for "logical reasons" behind what they were doing, but just some consistency in the plot. The pieces just didn't seem to fit together.

One of the things that didn't seem to fit was the acts of intimacy. I didn't feel love. Even between Ruby and her boy, who seemed to be the most "in love." I saw that they were attracted to one another, and they seemed to be acting like they were star-crossed lovers (particularly the boy, who was all about how he had found 'the one'). What.. she ate a donut in a charming manner and made lights flicker? If that was all it took to make a guy fall in love with me, I'm obviously not eating enough carbs.

Oh no, you say, the film is called TechnoLUST not TechnoLOVE. I didn't even feel the lust in the movie. Sex was definitely present, and the guys definitely seemed to get wowed over by Techno-Ruby, but with lust I associate passion. I just wasn't feeling it. (I do think it's significant that the scientists-fellow who ends up with the "mother scientist" -- Sara? -- rejects Ruby... but I couldn't tell if that was just because he was more interested in his drink.)

I'm not saying that I need dripping dialogue or passionate love-making scenes to comprehend the emotion the characters are going through. But this film just felt muted to me.


oschalit's picture

Robots become "girly girls"

So, I've been thinking about Teknolust constantly. Trying to take apart the various subtle and not so subtle implications of the film...and its plot. One of the major aspects of the film, the transition of the robots from inhuman (robotic) to human, has consistently come up in my deconstruction of the film. What's interesting about this transition is that it is so stereotypically "feminine". In a film that makes so many statements about female physicists and sexuality, I was surprised to find that through this transition these theoretically inhuman beings, Marine and Life (?) become flighty, ditzy, retail loving, super sensitive women. I suppose that this class has, in fact, not made me a pessimist as the literature we've come across might encourage...instead i have come to expect more from those who might be able to create something pivotal or challenging. I expected (i was hopeful) that this movie, considering the many statements it attempts to make, that perhaps the writers would have used this opportunity in the plot to do just that - make a statement about femininity. Perhaps hollywood got in the way. Despite the fact that this film clearly did not have the intention to access the main stream community of hollywood films, judging from its very unusual plot line, perhaps the writers were still influenced by the shallowness and superficiality that surrounds them as producers of "entertainment". What was the motivation to make this film? From what angle was this movie produced? I am dying to know!

Anne Dalke's picture

women resist the nerd factor

From today's NYTimes: "Computer Science Takes Steps to Bring Women to the Fold."

sky stegall's picture

complicating conversations

class has been so interesting this week; i can hardly wait for wednesday.  i mean, i didn't get to experience the conceptual physics class that y'all went to together, so that conversation was both very interesting and very alienating for me.  i'm sure it was weird for the specs, too.  so i'd rather talk about teknolust here tonight.  wow, weird and wonderful.  and somehow both very funny and very sad - as stereotypes often are.  in my head, (and maybe this is me being really odd), the three sra's seemed not just to be kind of "ideal" people, as computer programmed, gorgeous adult women, but perhaps parodies of children... and in some sense, of men.  ok, bear with me here - they're super dependent on a female "mom" figure, but struggling for independence, they get cranky if they can't experience the physical contact and specific food that they crave, and they (ruby, at least) are being taught to suppress their natures and their emotions.  they sound a lot like conflicted little kids to me - ruby because she's expected to the provider without ever having emotions, olive because she's the nurturer but also the gatekeeper, and marinne with her pickiness and "acting out."  and somehow, (maybe, again, this is just me and please feel free to tell me i'm talking crazy), that makes me think of little boys.  so maybe we still have a fairly deep ideal of the perfect person as intrinsically male... or, more likely, the perfect person as that-which-we-have-socially-constructed-as-being-male.  i don't know, perhaps i'm nuts.  i'm looking forward to hearing what everyone else got out of the film, though.  it sure was interesting.

rmalfi's picture

Here, here! A fine attempt.

Conceptual Physics Follow-Up Discussion:

I felt like we had a very engaging discussion today (perhaps our rapid responses were somewhat provoked by our *observers*?) about how we perceived the conceptual physics lecture and what we believe science literacy is and how it should be taught... A recurring issue that comes up in class, and in my own thoughts, is how to reconcile pedagogical ideas that apply for non-physics majors classes and classes for majors... In the last paper I wrote, I explored the idea that women are absent from fields like physics and engineering because these subjects are, perhaps, not often taught in relation to humanity. This doesn't just mean consequences of our actions on society and the environment, but also our own agency in experiencing, doing, and making scientific knowledge. From what I saw in Peter's class, he really tried to convey this... we can be responsible knowledge seekers and decision makers without being professional scientists.

I like what Odile said in class today about having an influence in science without pursuing a science career-track... we can be involved in the implementation part of science (energy types, as a for instance) without producing the knowledge itself. So, even if a student does not want to fulfill a career full of mathematics, that person can and, indeed, should still have a role in understanding the science available and making good decisions based on that knowledge. And, getting back to people who want to major in or who are interested in pursuing physics further - it is still important to teach this to these students! They, too, should understand their own role in making science and how it will affect the rest of the world. Professor Nice jumped into the conversation today to say that this does happen in physics classes, but I wonder to what extent and also how Bryn Mawr classes differ from larger research institutions. I can bet you would find some very big differences there.

As for the "to have math, to not have math" portion of our discussion today... I agree, to some extent, with the sentiment that Alex and Flora expressed. They seemed discontent with the lack of math in the class, and I can see where Barad might take issue with this as well. I still believe that it is good to cater to the end of the spectrum that feels an aversion to mathematics but takes an interest in science. I realize this may conflict with Sky's comment about science as a "problem solving" endeavor (in that, we learn to do this via science), but I feel that it is important to maintain this atmostphere for those specific students.

Teknolust: Sweet colors, wierd movie - who was in who's reality? More to come on Wed.


Flora's picture

Physics and Technolust!

Switching gears between talking about physics pedagogy and Technolust is pretty rough for me. Before I move onto film-mode (traveling from the island of science into the land of what david called the non-technical laypeople realm), I'd just like to reiterate one thing. I realize that I may seem a bit stubborn at times in my insistence on a need for changes in upper level physics pedagogy. And that may be confusing, since my experiences cannot be accessed as texts in the class the same way that something like Barad's writing can be. But I am stubborn because I really believe it's possible and necessary. It troubles me deeply to encounter the attitudes that both "real physics" cannot be understood without sophisticated math and physics for physicists cannot be taught in any new way without threatening students' graduate school chances. I am not interested in legitimizing barriers to knowledge. I agree with Liz that education and science literacy is about accessibility. And this accessibility cannot be gained with insistence on hierarchical models of knowledge. Just because a change in pedagogy is hard does not mean it is impossible or even would not be more effective. But all of this writing is just talk, since I am a physics drop-out and cannot actually teach innovative upper level courses myself. I don't know that all our critiques from mostly outside the physics community would be as effective as one person changing from within (i.e. Barad). After all, I'm just one of the non-technical laypeople now.


But back to Technolust-- Wow! I liked it! Not sure how I felt about the idea that a successful female scientist is, of course, a lonely, frustrated virgin who uses her mind to make herself a family that pursues sexual exploits she doesn't have the guts to. Weaponizing of sexuality/stealing masculinity certainly did not seem very new or interesting to me. What I was interested in was the exploration of personhood. I liked the parts about patenting life, talking in code (time = love) and especially autonomy as crucial to happiness.

Looking forward to discussing it further.


Anne Dalke's picture


I had promised, but forgot (til today, when a new posting about "hot cross buns" went up) to send you all the link to that delicious blog I'd told you about, called Syllabub: Words on Food. Enjoy!