‘Bots’ was originally an essay that examined how life and the language to express it are getting so boxed-in by work patterns that they are becoming robotised. Instead of the revolution in life promised by surrealism’s ‘automatic’ creative methods, wrote Koolhaas, we now have new kinds of automation that amount to its opposite: economic slavery. However, her faulty vintage word processing machine had other ideas.
One of its function keys had a bug that corrupted her text files. Rather than get her university support team to ‘patch’ the problem, she used it to solve another problem: how to find a new paradigm of consciousness in literature that accounts for changes in what we understand to be ‘consciousness’ that are brought about by technology. She soon abandoned her essay and corrupted her text files with abandon. A posthuman novella was born.
And yet, to call ‘Bots’ a novella is misleading. Its jumpiness is legion: one moment it reads like an essay, the next it is a fictional account; one moment an unspecified narrator speaks in monologue, the next we encounter a dialogue between unannounced characters. Their identities – clearly based on historical figures in the history of computing – are far from clear. They recount their struggles with unnamed robotics administrators in detail, yet bizarrely so. Post-industrial English cities form the backdrop to the ensuing techno-poetics as they drift from anxieties to allusions to equations to words accidentally created by a malfunctioning machine.
Better known as a cultural theorist, Koolhaas achieved in ‘Bots’ the most extreme book since James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’, Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’ or Harry Mathews’s ‘Tlooth’. C. M. Cohen does an excellent job in setting out the novella’s context. Writers will discover how the novella’s ‘glitch’ approach to writing is an exciting avenue for exploring new possibilities in working with technical failure. Cultural theorists will find a new addition to posthumanism from a surprising source: the thought of Maurice Blanchot. Blanchot’s notions of anonymity, freedom, community, and the ‘limit-experience’ open up angles to the posthuman that readers of Sherry Turkle, N. Katherine Hayles, and Donna Haraway will recognise as original and highly productive. Most of all, readers in general will find the introduction illuminating and the novella itself their ‘shock read’ for 2016.