Posted by: Tom Triumph | December 31, 2011

167. All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Richard Brautigan

I enjoy the path that brings us to things.

Looking for another article on Wired.com I clicked a few end-of-the-year lists: My cynical nature had me click on Alt Text: Top 10 Things Nobody Cared About in 2011 before being hyper-linked to Best of 2011: Pop Culture’s Tastiest Bits. In the latter, they listed as the “Best Techno-Doc” the documentary, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.”  In it, filmmaker Adam Curtis argues that computers have failed to liberate us and instead have “distorted and simplified our view of the world around us”.  As I am planning on teaching Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” beginning next week, I was intrigued.

But before I looked into the film, I found myself in love with the title.  It reminds me of Charlie Kaufman film title “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, which was taken from Alexander Pope’s “Eloisa to Abelard”. Perhaps it’s the mix of religious terms (Eternal, Loving Grace) and science terms (Mind, Machines)?

The title is from a Richard Brautigan poem, a poet I know little about. I have read snippets about his life, from time to time, but that West Coast, Pacific Northwest style never quite captured my imagination; that Ken Kesey and Tom Robbins style leaves me cold. Everything about it should interest me, but I have too much New England in me. Too puritanical, I guess.

Here’s some background from Curtis’ documentary, with a Brautigan voice recording of the poem.  Click here to get to the page, with a wee tiny video window.  You can also hear his reading the poem with this link: YouTube of Audio of Brautigan Reading

Which brings me here. The poem is great. It is exactly where I would start the discussion on the machines that have invaded our lives. My students have told me they are tired of dystopias, but perhaps it is because they feel like they are too close to the bone?

Two areas to focus on, beyond content:

First, the repeating refrain of “I like to think”. How does that work in the poem? Is it as wish, and if so, why doesn’t he simply wish it? Is the poet an expert? What makes him think that this future is waiting?  Why does his think it is good?

Second, how do the parenthesis work in the poem? Read it out loud. Do they hush their voice in the parenthesis? Pause? Grammar and language are fascinating.  Point that out.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
Richard Brautigan

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.

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