Sunday, February 18, 2018

Richard Brautigan's "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace"

While in college I was introduced to the writings of Richard Brautigan, novelist and poet who shortened his life in 1984 by suicide. In the 60's he was a fresh voice on the scene, producing books like Trout Fishing In America and In Watermelon Sugar which spoke to disenfranchised youth.

Having grown up in poverty Brautigan's painful childhood experiences are heartbreaking to read about. In his early twenties he threw a rock through a police window in order to be arrested so he could have regular meals. Instead of jail he was committed to a mental institution and treated with shock "therapy," one of the most bizarre and inhumane forms of therapy that I can imagine. He would later be described by a friend as "a gentle, troubled, deeply odd guy."

In a world that worships charisma and winning smiles, Dale Carnegie energy and can-do spunk, this kind of brooding misfit demeanor isn't the marketable commodity publishing houses clamor for. Nevertheless, Brautigan had a following, for his words connected with a generation that resonated with much he had to say.

* * * *
This past week I've been reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, a book about the history of innovation that preceded computers and the internet, from Charles Babbage's Difference Engine thru the Turing's Enigma Machine to the development of silicon wafers, chips, internetworks to A.I. and learning machines. Isaacson cites Brautigan's poem along the way, and I share it here, a dreamer's dream.

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

* * * *

My 2016 reference to the book Machines of Loving Grace.
Intro to the life and works of Richard Brautigan.
Surviving A.I. by Calum Chace

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." 
--Philip K. Dick

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