Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Looking ahead to Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book

While thinking about the beautiful and complex interaction of literature and film, and while simultaneously conjuring the memory of Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, one of our required texts this term and one of the most important meditations on the printed word ever captured in/on film, I happened to recall the work of Geoffrey Cordner. While we will not get to Greenaway for awhile I did want you to be familiar, at least, with Cordner's work before Ewan McGregor et al crowd our synapses.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another obscene machinester writes in with a tip!

Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 00:31:09 +0100
From: "Luisa Schädler"

Hi obscene machinesters, while surfing in the net I found more of those creepy but fascinating video clips of actroids (those human-like robots created by Japenese scientists as mentioned on the blog before)

and, get this, you can even rent them :) see you,

Luisa Schädler

Antique Stores and Ethnic Mannequins

Tria Andrews, a graduate student at SDSU writes in with an extensive posting and semiotic safari for our galleryblog readers:

From: "Tria Andrews"

Professor Nericcio,

Today I went antique shopping in OB. I happened to have my digital camera so I took these photographs. Although I think these pictures speak for themselves--or more precisely speak for the puppeteers who created them--I did want to note that the pinup of the Mexican woman was in startling contrast to the other pinups available for sale. Most other pinups were depicted in primary or warm colors--not a deep, sinister purple--and as the center (if not sole focus) of the photograph. Notice in this pinup, the woman is an afterthought. The maracas and sombrero are prominently displayed, suggesting the fetish as more cultural than sexual.

Of course, there is the simple portrayal of the Mexican girl and boy or woman and man--which if woman and man is the case, is all the more frightening for this racist and childlike depiction. There is also the serving tray (telling in itself) with the depiction of the Mexican man selling flowers, though his Bogarted cigarette and sidelong glance suggest he is plotting something more--here, we the have Mexican as criminal.

Additionally, there is the display of the minstrel dolls--among them salt and pepper shakers--as well as the subservient 'Dancin‚ Minstrel' whose pointed ears conjure none other then Satan.

Please also note the Native American pinups--as if pinups weren't problematic in themselves--and how they are positioned. Of course one Indian has nothing more to worry about then her fellow Indian. She should have her bow and arrow positioned toward the artist and not her fellow comrade, but as you can see, this is not the case.

Anyway, I had a good time. Didn't buy anything, but was certainly entertained--though maybe not in the way the puppeteers intended I be...

Sincerely, Tria


Saturday, January 27, 2007


Sarah Smorol, one of 25 graduate students in our SDSU e725 the Ethnic Mannequins/Obscene Machine seminar weighs in with a thoughtful post--a distpatch, moreover, that helps gel the Obscene Machine and Tex[t]-Mex blog networks:

I am writing to tell you about an interesting movie concerning a Mexican undocumented immigrant who comes to America for work. The film is "Alambrista" by the same Robert Young mentioned on page21 of Tex[t]-Mex. The twist in this film is that the young man leaves a beautiful new baby and loving wife thinking that the land of el Norte will make him prosperous within 6 months time and he will return home with plenty of money for his daughter's education. The reality that befalls him when he arrives however, is one of loneliness, hiding and desolation. The exploitation of undocumented workers is also addressed as the character is denied his pay at the end of a long workday and realizes that he has no recourse to extract his wages. The link to the movie review is on imdb.

There is also a great book that goes along with the movie- it has the same name as the movie and discusses historical migration patterns and circumstances and also attempts to address current border policy as well as critical analysis of the movie- included are many interviews with undocumented immigrants who have crossed and lived to tell. Here is a quote from the book-
"They are often aware of the costs of leaving home but staying home leaves them no options either. This is the story of the Mexican immigrants today, but their voices are not unique. They echo the voices of almost every family in the United States, whose ancestors immigrated to the United States at one point or another and faced pains, insults, vulnerabilities and difficulties, and even death for the sake of a better life. Beneath the voices of the immigration drama we hear the voice of the poor seeking to become full human beings. The tragedy of the immigrant, to paraphrase the words of the director Bob Young, is that while they often spend much of their time cultivating the soil, they are left with little to develop their human potential". (74, Cull, Nicholas J., and David Carrasco, eds. Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border; Film, Music and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.)

It's the weekend, but that does not stop dedicated obsceneMACHINEsters from writing in with their peculiar and engaging net findings. Case in point? J. Freeman's note:

Professor Nericcio,

Found this today and was reminded of your modified body model: Bet we could send those into battle (if we were in the 1800s...). See ya next week, Jessica Freeman

Friday, January 26, 2007

Read the comments

If you read the comments in the Cindy Sherman post below, you will be directed to the work of Ryan Trecartin. While I cannot say whether or not you will be glad you did, Megan Fancy, one of your class colleagues believes it is worth a peek.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cindy Sherman is in the House

Courtney-Lee Yip writes in to remind us about the tried and true performance art of Cindy Sherman; as Yip's letter has it:

hey professor,
can't wait to try out the new classroom.

i'm not sure exactly how to use the blog quite yet (i'm not exactly technologically saavy) but i wanted to share some art from one of my favourite photographers, Cindy Sherman. I know she's nothing new (most works were before the 80's) but some of her artwork (mostly self portraits with plastic imagery) is pretty close to what we are looking at in this class. this is a link to her website if you haven't seen her stuff before. it can be quite grotesque, but it raises interesting points about exhausting the voyeuristic gaze upon the female body!

take care,

Japanese Automatonics

Brett Patterson weighs in with a link.

Gunther von Hagens

From: Kelly A Thomas
Subject: Re: ENGL493-01-Spring2007: e493

Hello, I'm Kelly from Eng 493. I have an idea for a blog posting. I wasnt sure if I would be able to or not. There is an artist named Gunther von Hagens. He uses cadavers and puts them in various poses that represent everday activities. It is interestingly grotesque. His idea and concept is amazing, but I find myself having difficulty looking at his art.

~Kelly A Thomas~

A gifted secret agent from the obscene machine class writes in

From: "Julianne Mitzel"
Subject: Sultan's elephant and little girl giant
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2007 02:30:52 +0000

Hi Herr Professor,

Following class I was headed for the library to do some homework and figured I would try to find out about the troop that worked with the giant marionettes.After about a half hour of surfing I have found a variety of sites with information about the performance, but no specifics about the puppeteers as to whether they are all male or not. I am planning to watch the video again when I get home (the computers here in the computer lab are blocked from accessing YouTube,) but even if I do that and think I see only men the results will hardly be conclusive.

What I learned is: the troop was a French company called Royal de Luxe and the director for the company is Jean Luc Courcoult. The English producers for this London performance are called Artichoke and they view theater as an act that should not be confined only to indoor performances. The story behind the performance has to do with "a sultan travelling through time and through space, around the planet, on the back of an elephant"--quote from an interview with the director. The story was the director's idea, but coincidentally Courcolt happens to be a Jules Verne fan, and he discovered after coming up with his own idea that Verne had written a story about a metal elephant. The street performance was free, and the director likes the idea of shows free to the public paid for with taxes because he thinks it is "fitting and beautiful that some tax money is dedicated to popular culture." (Also quoted from interview.)

Here are the links to the different sites I found with information about the performance:

--info about Royal de Luxe
--extracts from interview with Courcolt
--announcement for the show from Arts Council, London
--an article about show with comments from people who went to it
--another article about the show
--page with links to the four stories upon which the performances are based.

--and, of course a wikipedia article, which happened to be the last thing I found.

That's as much as I could dig up tonight. I will try to find more specific info about the company regarding whether the puppeteers are all men in the next few days.

Peace out | Julie Mitzel

[site moderator here, one more link of note from the BBC.]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A clever photographer and writer checks in

One of our more savvy correspondents, Brook Barman, has written in to tip our eyes to the remarkable and remarkably moving and disturbing work of Ron Mueck. Barman writes: "i have been struggling to wrap my brain around this guy's work for months now and thought it might further tease your fetish for the almost-human...the guy's name is Run Mueck. he worked on a bunch of those perfectly wonderful 80's, pro-fantasy, anti-science films like Labrynth and Dark Crystal, before giving it all up to be maybe the most unnerving, if not most gifted sculptor ever. here are links to some of his pieces: one, two, and three."

John Lennon, War, and Peace

Our blog, the obscene machine, is part of a set of required readings for English 725, a graduate seminar in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University and for English 493, an upper-division literature course. These experimental university seminars are focused on "ethnic mannequins," "obscene machines" and other fictional constructs that mimic something called the "human." Imagine a course that fuses elements of a literature symposium, a film seminar, and a media studies colloquium with the heart of an ethnic studies course and the soul of a cultural studies conference and you have our two classes!

Because this class will in the coming weeks repeatedly tangle with movies, literature, photography, and graphic narrative, it is also a class very much invested in pursuing any text that either 1. asks good questions on the interaction of word and image; and 2. performs some new take on word and image interaction in thhe creative arts--between "asking" and "performing" one always finds what we can call literature, this being an English grad seminar and all.

All this preface by way of an intro to the work of Josh Raskin and his short, short, animated gloss of an interview with John Lennon. In particular, as you watch, ask the following question: Why does Raskin depict Jerry Levitan, the interviewer, as a ventriloquist doll?

Monday, January 22, 2007

A colleague of mine at Temple writes in...

Gabe Cutrufello, a San Diego State University English graduate program alum and a doctoral student at Temple University, writes in with a cool link:

"Here's something you may be interested in--you may have seen this, maybe not: video of a 1772 wind-up writing automaton. Creepy as hell. Cool as shit. Gabe"

Cutrufello's contribution is utterly appreciated--may the automaton gods bless him with visits of their ilk (an afficionado of Philip K. Dick, Cutrufello's work in the area of ersatz humans is sure to shake things up in criticism in the near future.

Similar suggestions for posts are appreciated. Just email me at

Episode number 9, wherein we...

...Wherein we tip our hats to previous bloggers who share our rather limited and peculiar interest in manufactured facsimiles, forged fictions, of the human, and our simultaneous predilection for ethnic American versions of the same. Case in point? Visit our internet colleagues at Hyphen for a post that fuses flaneur sensibilities with a digital camera.

This other tale of Latinas, mannequins, etc, with its interrogation of the JLo-fication of department store models backsides is also with charms of its own.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

There is an uncanny agency

There is an uncanny agency, an unnerving oddity, about ersatz humans--they intrigue as they delight, and delight as they leave one unnerved. Here, in this post, gleaned from the amazing site, one encounters something special. What makes this video special, if, indeed, you share my view (and god knows you are free to contest it), is just how archaic and human the technology is--how moving all the more that it is so.

Ron Mueck's work, also sited in the same story, is equally compelling.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Photography | Man as Mannequin

Three recent photographic exhibits at the same site recently caught my eye. All three offer pertinent semiotic input for the purposes of our seminar--they include the work of Martin Richter, Care in Progress; Norbert Enker, Brain-Storm; and Stephan Elleringmann, Sextoys.

In particular, Elleringmann's visual outing of the corporate/factory fashioning of ersatz human sex partners gives, pardon the pun, food for thought in our consideration of ethnic mannequins, caucasion and otherwise.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Disney Automatons

One would never want to underestimate the power of Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Corporation in the collective history of fictional machines, automatons, etc in the United States--in this link stumbled upon at, a vintage magazine documents the animatronic wonders of "Abraham Lincoln" and other Disney ersatz humans.

comment two below shows this related link!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Photoshopped Ethnic American Mannequins at the Dentist

My twin intellectual fetishes this Spring 2007 semester (1. The Obscene Machine: looking at literature and film as prosthetic proxies for the human; and, 2. The Ethnic Mannequin: probing the proliferation of bizarre fictional automatons masquerading as ethnic subjectivities in American mass culture) come together in this published research essay. In an unlikely marriage that fuses the somatic predilections of Josesph Mengele with Laurence Olivier (as Dr. Christian Szell, in Marathon Man), we find dental researchers polling the opposing interests of Mexican-Americans and Caucasions when it comes to photoshopped representations human profiles. Go here, to my Tex[t]-Mex: Galleryblog, for the details.

Ersatz Birthing Automatons

As medical technology accelerates, more and more mechanical human facsimiles will begin to appear. In this story archived at, next-generation medical students garner life's most salient secrets from plastic human facsimiles. Another take on this medical development appears here. Of course, some people are always going to take this a bit far.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Women and Robots

Benoit Godde's illustrations evoke a visionary mix of machine and man. The work provides a semiotic gateway to the human/machine, word/image, aesthetic/technology duos we will be toying with all term.