My Paper on The Tempest

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William Castro
Professor Buell
English 399W
6 October 2010

Out With the Old, Here Comes the New; The Evolution of Technology in The Tempest

            Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, has been interpreted through many lenses. Some have looked at the work through postcolonial eyes, while others have touched upon the anti-feministic elements at work in the play. While these arguments are all plausible, there still, undoubtedly, remain vast tropes ripe for textual examination. For instance, there are technocritical nuances that can be brought to light within the play. I argue it is in The Tempest that we bear witness to a technological evolution; the movement from magic, an old technology, to a new technology found in this Renaissance text, that is, the technology of print and the print-knowledge made available by the early printing-press. In addition, throughout the play, like all new forms of technology, we witness its triumph over the old.

            If magic was the first form of technology for the ancients, print, and the knowledge which emanates and succeeds it, was a form of technology for Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Keeping our eyes on the text, one does not have to look far to see the power that can be brandished with print-knowledge. When looking at the character of Prospero, we can come to two conclusions in regards to the source of his power; one, he’s working with the magic of old and dealing in the supernatural or occult; or two, he’s mastered a new art and wielding power through his superior print-knowledge. The latter seems to be the case in the play. Hence, it is his print-knowledge, or simply put, books, substituting the old art of magic. With the techno-artifact of print in prospective, Prospero can now be seen in a different light, that of learned man or newly bred scholar, who intellectually surpasses everyone on the Island, instead of mage. Prospero’s scholarly affinity is exemplified in the play when he begins to tell his daughter, Miranda, about his brother’s usurping of the kingdom. In the midst of that narrative, Prospero states,

                        And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed

                        In dignity, and for the liberal arts

                        Without a parallel; those being all my study,

                        The government I cast upon my brother

                        And to my state grew stranger, being transported

                        And rapt in secret studies… (I.ii. 72-77).

In this exchange, we read that Prospero gained an all-around-knowledge in liberal arts. Thus, Prospero was more knowledgeable in most matters than your average peasant of the time and, for the most part, anyone else in the play. Prospero gave his life to study, and was such a reputable scholar that when spared death and faced with exile, he is given his personal book collection to study, which he makes use of while on the island. Prospero tells Miranda, in regards to Gonzalo giving him his books,

 … So, of his gentleness,

Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me

From mine own library with volumes that

I prize above my dukedom (I.ii. 165-168).

These books, being the source of his power and dominion, are highly esteemed by Prospero. This emphasis on print is not coincidental. It is through the knowledge of print that Prospero is able to manipulate his environment, people, and spirits to exercise his will and desire. Prospero’s power overcomes magic. This is exemplified through his ability to release Ariel from bondage. We read,

                        … It was a torment

                        To lay upon the damned, which Sycorax

                        Could not again undo. It was mine art,

                        When I arrived and heard thee, that made gape

                        The pine, and let thee out (I.ii. 289-293).

Hence, at Prospero’s arrival on the island, he comes with so much print-knowledge that he is able to free Ariel at once. Interestingly, the reader is never fully aware of the capacity of his powers. Regardless, Prospero’s source of power still remains superior to Sycorax’s.

            Prospero’s power differs from Sycorax’s in regards to the potentiality print-knowledge releases through Prospero. Unlike Sycorax, who has no full understanding of her magic (magic being an art that is unexplainable and difficult to measure), Prospero gains mastery of his art through the books he has access to, his studying, and the wide variety of knowledge he can use through the books to transform prior knowledge of the old art of sorcery. The print-knowledge he has access to works by cultivating old forms of the art in ways that allow Prospero to surpass the old. Thus, Prospero can work with all different levels of magic and manipulation. For this reason, Prospero is always referring to his books; as we read towards the end of Act 3 and scene 1, after Ferdinand and Miranda consecrate their future union:

Prospero: So glad of this as they I cannot be,
Who are surprised with all; but my rejoicing
At nothing can be more. I’ll to my book,
For yet ere suppertime must I perform
Much business appertaining. (92-96)

Through what he says, we are made aware of a plan he has been working on, a plan that involves his daughter and Ferdinand falling in love. But the plan cannot succeed without the guidance he receives from his books, the critical source of his power. Conversely, Sycorax’s power is “… earthy and abhorred” (I.ii. 273). Meaning, her power is easily accessible, unlike the print-knowledge Prospero solely has access to. It’s as if print-knowledge, when juxtaposed with Sycorax’s, is celestial, transcending the temporal, a power that only a select few can possess.   

Even though there remain remnants of magic in his act of deliverance and manipulation throughout the play, there is a stark contrast made between him and Sycorax that does not allow him to be fully identified as sorcerer, and also figuratively fixes her as a form of archaic technology. One must look at the way she’s described. She is constantly referred to by Prospero with negative titles, that of “witch,” and “hag”. Prospero, on the other hand, is seen in a rather pleasant light, except when talked about by Caliban, the witch’s son, who describes him as “tyrant,” and “sorcerer”. For the most part, he can be read as master scholar, trying to craftily plot his own redemption. His power is never allowed to be seen as equal to Sycorax’s. The two when juxtaposed only convey dominance over the other. This paradox symbolizes the passing-away of magic by the new form of technology brought to the island by Prospero. Sycorax represents the outdated technology that is being replaced by print-knowledge. Before this can be accepted, Sycorax magic has to be disregarded in society, in order to make room for the new. In fact, a throwing away of the old is actualized in the play. This is evident when we learn that Sycorax was sent to the island from Algiers. Prospero makes it clear that “For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible / … [she] was banished” (I.ii. 264, 266). Like most forms of outdated technology, when new technology is about to emerge, there has to be a societal infectiveness of the old. This is the case with magic and the reason why Sycorax, being a symbol of that technology, is depicted in such a negative light, is illustrated as the old, withering hag-witch and is “banished”. Interestingly, her son, being her offspring, is also depicted in a sub-human manner. The witch’s son, Caliban, is described as “A freckled whelp, hag-born not honored with / A human shape” (I.ii. 283-284).

Now that I have mentioned Caliban, we can figure in his failure of maintaining rule on the island and Prospero’s hypocritical usurping as the ultimate illustration of Prospero’s source of power representing an evolutionary shift in technology and a greater source of technology than the old. The new technology that Prospero puts to use on the island cannot be seen as superior to the old if Caliban, upon Prospero’s arrival, maintains dominion of the island, or doesn’t become Prospero’s slave. Caliban’s frailty in the face of Prospero’s power can be read when he says,

            This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother,

            Which thou tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first

            Thou strak’st me and made much of me; wouldst give me

            Water with berries in’t; and teach me how

            To name the bigger light, and how the less,

            That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee (I.ii. 331-336).

These lines are very telling; Prospero is portrayed as a teacher to Caliban and shares some knowledge with him but not all of his knowledge. Hence, it’s Prospero’s knowledge that allows him to overcome Caliban and reign over him on the island, even though Caliban is the rightful ruler. Caliban recognizes Prospero’s supremacy, he says, “I must obey. His art is of such power” (I.ii. 371). With Prospero’s art defined as his print-knowledge, and his print-knowledge defined as a technology, the means by which Prospero subjects Caliban can be compared to a king ruling his kingdom by keeping everyone around him ignorant. Though, Caliban is taught some things, for instance, language, he has limited learning and no access to Prospero’s books.

            What takes place in The Tempest is a passing-away of the old and an introduction of the new. The play makes clear the transition from an enchanted, magical consciousness to a disenchanted, informed world, where books and print-knowledge are sources of power. We see the printing-press in the forefront of dominion but it, too, like magic, can face its own demise. All technology lasts only for the moment, but within that minute it has its awe.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Hulme, and William H. Sherman.

W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004. Print.

Philip K. Dick’s UBIK

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What are some forms of technology evident in the novel?

“Ads over TV and in the homeopapes by the various anti-psi prudence establishments had shrilly squawked their harangues of late. Defend your privacy, the ads yammered on the hour, from all media. Is a stranger turning in on you? Are you really alone? That for the telepaths… and then the queasy worry about precogs. Are your actions being predicted by someone you never met? Someone you would not want to meet or invite into your home? Terminate anxiety; contacting your nearest prudence organization will first tell you if in fact you are the victim of unauthorized intrusions, and then, on your instructions, nullify these intrusions—at moderate cost to you” (9).

“Probably Runciter’s body contained a dozen artifogs, artificial organs grafted into place in his physiological apparatus as the genuine, original ones, failed. Medical science, he conjectured, supplies the material groundwork, and out of the authority of his mind Runciter supplies the remainder” (10).

Does the novel’s portrayal of society convey a dystopia or utopia?

“She would not smile at his arrival. When he departed she would not cry. Is this worth it? He asked himself. Is this better than the old way, the direct road from full-life to the grave? I still do have her with me, in a sense, he decided. The alternative is nothing” (12)

What do you think about the half-lifers? Do they exist or not?

            “Put her in solitary right now,” Runciter broke in. “Better she be isolated than not exist at all.”
            “She exists,” von Vogelsang corrected. “She merely can’t contact you. There’s a difference.”
            Runciter said, “A metaphysical difference which means nothing to me” (18)

How does the expiration of items in the novel effect the characters perception of reality?

            “My cigarettes,” Joe said. “Dried out. The two-year-old phone book in the ship. The soured cream and coffee with scum on it, mold on it. The antiquated money.” A common thread: age. “She said that back on Luna, after we made it up to the ship; she said, ‘I feel old.’” He pondered, trying to control his fear; it had begun now to turn into terror. But the voice on the phone, he thought. Runciter’s voice. What did that mean? (101)

Why are perceptions so important in maintaining a concrete idea of reality?

“And yet he sensed the presence of the other, older elevator; it lurked at the periphery of his vision, as if ready to ebb forward as soon as he and Joe turned their attention away. It wants to come back, he realized. It intends to come back. We can delay it temporarily: a few hours, probably, at the most. The momentum of the retrograde force is increasing; archaic forms are moving toward domination more rapidly than we thought” (118)

“An unnatural and gigantic force, haunting their lives. Emanating either within the living world or the half-life world; or, he thought suddenly, perhaps both. In any case, controlling what they experienced, or at least a major part of it” (130).

“You are a spray can,” Joe said to the pasteboard container which he held in his hand. “This is 1992,” he said, and tried to exert everything; he put the entirety of himself into the effort.

What do we make of the ending?

            Runciter took a good long look at the fifty-cent pieces. He saw at once what the attendant meant; very definitely, the coins were not as they should be. Whose profile is this? he asked himself. Who’s this on all three coins? Not the right person at all. And yet he’s familiar. I know him.
            And then he recognized the profile. I wonder what this means, he asked himself. Strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Most things in life eventually can be explained. But—Joe Chip on a fifty-cent piece?
            It was the first Joe Chip money he had ever seen.
            He had an intuition, chillingly, that if he searched his pockets, and his billfold, he would find more.
            This was just the beginning. (216)

My Technocriticism of Olds’ poem

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            Olds’ poem, “Summer Solstice, New York City”, is very relatable because we are given illustrations of things that can be found in most cities. In the midst of all the images, we read about a man who wants to commit suicide, the reason why is unknown. Maybe, he was sick of the technological world he was surrounded by or maybe he was in need of human interaction and fellowship. Nonetheless, what I find most fascinating is the paradoxical usages technology seems to have or embody in the poem.

            Technology seems to be a means to preserve life or take away life. Hence, technology can be something to embrace or fear. It has many uses and many facets. The man who wants to end his life uses technology – the iron stairs – to ascend the building because he wants to commit suicide. Ironically, if the building didn’t exist — or the form of technology the building embodies — the man wouldn’t be presented with the opportunity to take his life. Probing deeper, the man is utilizing technology for a different purpose, a purpose it wasn’t originally constructed for. Hence, man makes meaning of technology through a potential expression. But technology can be counterproductive to ways in which we want to use it, as we read in his scenario.  We read, “…the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life” (6). Now, we see technology coming to the rescue. Also, the policemen put vest on and feel safe in an otherwise potentially dangerous situation. The cops wore their vests “… in case / the man was armed… (10-11). Thus, in the previous lines, we read how technology can be a fearful menace (weaponry). Something quite unexpected happens towards the end of the poem, the man comes down and we read that it’s humans that actually save his life. In a sense, all the technology wasn’t as useful for preservation, and it’s the need of human interaction that preserves life and the end result of this is illustrated in the following lines:

                        … they

                        took him by the arms and held him up and

                        leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the

                        tall cop lit a cigarette

                        in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and

                        then they all lit cigarettes, and the

                        red, glowing ends burned like the

                        tiny campfires we lit at night

                        back at the beginning of the world (32-40).

This passage exemplifies the nostalgia for human-interaction, expressed through the smoking, which the poet parallels with campfires from the start of civilization. For the most part, campfires are social arenas where people can come together. Therefore, it appears that the poem touches upon the productive and counter-productive aspects of technology and the great need and longing for human connection.

Hello world!

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Trying to get the hang of this thing……

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