Elove: What Does Fiction Know?


But in order to consult and believe Siri when it/she says that it is going to rain today, I have to believe Siri. I have to be ready to enter momentarily Siri’s world. I come to her, in other words, with a predisposition to believe her. When you interact with an artifact, knowing it is an artifact, you pretend for a while that it is not. A good example is a child playing with her teddy bear. She picks it up and pretends for a while that it is a real animal. She cajoles it, she scolds it, she hugs it and suddenly throws it to the side, giving it back its true nature, an inanimate object she just got tired of, and moves on to something else, another plaything and its own world. Or, she comes back to the real world and calls out for her parents. While playing, the child is in a different world with a different mindset, the play mindset. Once the teddy bear is thrown to the side, the play mindset is abandoned and the player re-enters what we can call a reality mindset. Taking on a mindset (or entering a world of play) requires some kind of mental predisposition; in other words, you have to be ready to play to enter that world and ready to abandon the play mindset to exit it.
Something goes wrong in the play mindset to allow a love relationship with a machine. Nathanael doesn't at first realize that he is dealing with an artifact when he spies on Olimpia from his window, when he dances with her, when he reads to her his poems. He has not left his world; he is in his reality mindset and not in a play mindset. Contrast that with the narrator in Cassou-Nogu├Ęs’ “Le Jeu.” He is explicitly playing. He takes on the play mindset when he puts on his VR gear and enters Proust's world and leaves it by just taking off the gear. There are, of course, perversions of this scheme in the form of hybridization of mindsets. Deckard has been attracted by androids in the past (95) and he makes love with Rachael knowing it is an artifact with no pretension that she is human. Is he playing or is he using the android as a sex gadget? Could one play at making love? The case is somewhat different with Villiers’ Ewald. He doesn’t play. He doesn’t abandon the reality mindset. Upon discovering that the entity showing some empathy is Hadaly and not Alicia, he is at first angry for having been taken and, after listening to a long metaphysical discourse by the android (193-198), reconciles himself to a non-sexual relationship and decides to take it back with him to England. We are perhaps witnessing here the collapse of the distinction between mindsets and worlds and along with it the difference between human and artifact. All in a work of fiction, let’s not forget.

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