Technology and the Fleshly Interface in Forster’s "The Machine Stops": An Ecocritical Appraisal of a One-Hundred Year Old Future

Alf Seegert

Abstract


As a prescient critique of telepresence technologies like the Internet, “The Machine Stops” satirizes hypermediated contact and in its place valorizes contact made with the fleshly body—so much so, that it fantasizes the removal of all technological mediations between that body and the “real.” This move carries strong ecocritical implications in its suggestion that all authentic connection—whether between people themselves or between people and the earth—must be corporeal. The narrator’s apology on behalf of “beautiful naked man” (122) and his nostalgia for the robust, technology-free body are, however, both problematic. Forster appears to conflate nakedness and fleshly connection with unmediated contact or “full presence,” a view that raises many potential criticisms and questions. If the body proves to be but one kind of mediating interface itself, then on what grounds should the mode of fleshly connection be privileged over interactions mediated by motors, buttons, and video screens? If all contact must be mediated somehow, does it even make sense to consider one type of interface as “more authentic” than another? Is it right to equate nakedness with freedom from technology? In this paper I use an ecocritical perspective to explore such questions in the text, focusing in particular on Forster’s depiction of technology as devastating to both the human body and to the experience of space and place. The timeliness of such concerns suggests that “The Machine Stops” might prove even more significant in the hypermediated world of today than it was a hundred years ago for questioning the relationship between corporeality, representation, and nature.

Keywords


Machine, Technology, Cyberculture, E.M. Forster

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549