E-Book Metaphor and Sympathy Generator

by Ambar Meneses-Hall

I originally misunderstood the assignment because I had completely misunderstood what metaphorism was. I had originally thought that metaphorism referred to using anthropomorphic metaphors, such as those used by Latour in Aramis, with the idea that re-describing object relations as if they were human relations would clarify them. After re-reading the Carpentry and Metaphorism chapters in Alien Phenomenology I realized that metaphorism was part of the process of carpentry and that it involved making an object that simulated some hidden and withdrawn part or mechanism of another object in order to render it visible and comprehensible to humans. The I Am TIA example clarified this for me. After this realization I thought that I may have failed utterly in my first attempt, which I worked on for this week’s project, in which I created a set of representational objects which for the most part only generate anthropomorphic metaphors of my object, the e-book. Nevertheless, after re-reading about Tableau Machine at the end of the Carpentry chapter it seems to me that perhaps my first attempt is not an utter failure. Like Tableau Machine, the question-game that I created, E-Book Eclectic’s Make Believe Game (http://ebookeclectic.blogspot.com), ultimately prompts the creation of artifacts generating sympathy between humans and machines.

Tableau Machine was composed of a set of “devices, screens, interfaces, cameras and sensors” (106) which were said to simulate something like (human or animal) awareness and which could therefore endow a house with it. Because there would be no way to know about an internal process such as awareness except through the aware object’s external behavior, one of the devices generated representational objects or abstract images. One of the images Tableau Machine generated looked to the human host like a smiling face, and Bogost interpreted her decision to put this picture on a fridge as her sympathy for this machine. This brings us to my somewhat failed first Carpentry project. I created a set of representational objects, such as images, a Facebook page, a blog and a make-believe game that puts all of these objects together in order to metaphorize the perceptions of an e-book. However I ended up creating something that only generates very anthropomorphic metaphors for an e-book and not what Bogost may has in mind when he describes creating an object that simulates a withdrawn object relation. Where the project may succeed may be in its apparent ability to generate anthropomorphic metaphors that lead to the kind of sympathy Bogost talks about.

What I had set out to accomplish was to create an object of carpentry that would illustrate how interaction with an e-book can generate the anthropomorphic sympathy for an object, something which Bogost describes favorably because for Bogost, the human hosts anthropomorphizing of Tableau Machine is not the same as anthropocentrism,
To be sure, this and other impressions of Tableau Machine clearly reveal attempts at anthropomorphism on the part of the family. But as Jane Bennett predicts, such an attitude helps deliver the home’s residents out of anthropocentrism. (108)

For the mother in the house “her experience of domesticity is nevertheless expanded, such that the perception of the house itself has become a part of her sympathies” (109). This is where my make-believe game through Facebook and the blog succeeds the most. The Facebook and the blog were in an undeniably limited way supposed to simulate the perception of an e-book. Through the game the representational objects, such images and questions, actively encouraged human users to become sympathetic with the e-book and to some extent the book. The game required players to come up with imaginative answers to questions such as “If an e-book where a character from popular fiction, who would it be?” “If an e-book were a person, what would a day in the life of an e-book be like?” Sadly very, very few people participated. One of 4 participants posted the following,
They would be a wizard like Harry Potter because they can magically change there screens into a variety of settings...one instant they are a magazine, then an old Alexandre Dumas' book, then a news article, then a facebook page!! (original spelling)

As you can see one of the drawbacks of this game is that it is too narrative, it narrativizes what it is like to be an e-book. The user does provide some insight into e-book-other-object relations, even if the user has more of an e-reader in mind. The concept of wizard still applies to an e-book. An e-book does have some “magical” features that a book does not have, such as being searchable and having re-sizable text. However the problem with this insight is that it required a human agent to make the connection between two objects from a human perspective.

As you can see the main drawback of this make-believe game and its representational objects is that the human units interacting with it, like Latour with his litanies, remain too large a human agent in this simulation. For Bogost, the E-book Eclectic make-believe-game and its representational objects would not be enough like a puzzle game. Rather, the game would be like a Latour Litany, whose lessons about the inner life of objects “is somewhat undermined by the manual, human nature of their selection” (94) and narrativizing process. I plan to do more research about the way e-books and e-readers function internally in order to create an object-stimulation that better approximates what an e-book and e-reader might actually experience. I hope this will help me understand more about the way in which an e-book’s relationship to literacy differs from that of a paper book, and how this generates different kinds of object-human sympathies. I am curious to find out how human-object sympathy actually affects literacy.

The game’s blog address: http://ebookeclectic.blogspot.com