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Metaphors Are Important: An Ethnography Of Robotics

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First, a story. (A little Christmas story. I call it: the story of Schmuel. Tailor of Klimovitch.)

*****

(The best part of the story is what I leave out.)

*****

I met a mini!Kurt the other day. He was very blonde, with intense brown eyes, but he was very particular about his hat, and his dad was Burt Hummel in all the ways that counted. I’d guess he was about four–his voice was still all exclamation points.

“I’M MATT!” he said, hiding his face from me, and then trying to run out of the waiting room. It was cool though–I don’t know if I even managed ahi.

He was at the stage where he was still mainly echolalic, but he was learning how to store and recombine and modify phrases to work for him. I was excited for him, and almost proud, because he’d mastered two essential skills for that–swapping pronouns, and prompting other people to remember their lines. His dad, trying to bundle him into his coat, was not playing along at first.

“I’M SO CUTE!” mini!Kurt reminded him, trying to make his arms go into the right sleeves. “I’M SO CUTE!? I’M SO CUTE?”

“Yeah,” Dad sighed, wrestling with the zipper. “You’re cute.”

“SO CUTE?”

“So cute, that’s right.”

Mini!Kurt, satisfied that everything was going according to plan, was ready to leave. “BYE!” he called, waving his hand backwards at me, a perfect mirror image.

I waved. Had my mind been more together, I would have flapped.

*****

Echolalia is metalanguage.

*****

Echolalia is an unexpected treasure hunt. You can be watching a bootleg musical you never thought would be any good, but turns out to be beautiful, and suddenly they’re going up the scale singing hot hot hot hot, and you’re back with Kimba, and he’s saying hot hot hot hot–only he’s got this elaborate metaphor about fire and anger going on right now, and here it means I think you’re mad at me, so I’m mad at you, don’t touch me.

And then you’re back at your laptop, wondering when he started watching musicals and rethinking half the things you thought you knew.

*****

Echolalia is what you use when language is too much. It’s just also what you use when it’s not enough.

These things are not opposites.

*****

Walt knows my name, but he’d rather call me Mulan. We’re on the swings, trading movie titles.

“101 Dalmations?” I offer.

“Mulan no thank you!” He chides. Considers. “Rio, with Jesse Eisenberg?”

I grin. I’d only said that once, but he’d picked up on my crush, and he offers it back to me when I am having a hard time with the conversation. I try to remember his favorite, as a peace offering. “Kung Fu Panda II, in theaters now?”

I get it right.

Months later, it will still be the best conversation of my life.

*****

Echolalia, from Echo, of Greek mythos, cursed to speak only through the words of others.

We make it work though.About the cursed: opinions aren’t the same as facts, and no one ever asked Echo.

To be fair, no one would have listened, either.

*****

As much as I can hate words, I delight in them, too. When I’m echoing, referencing, scripting, riffing and rifting, storing and combing and recombining, patterning, quoting, punning, swinging from hyperlexic memory to synesthetic connection, words are my tangible playground.

Make me talk like you, and you’ll get a bunch of syntactically sophisticated nonsense. Let me keep my memories and connections, my resonations and associations and word-pictures, and if you slow down enough, you might hear something ringing true.

These are the words I’m using right now. It’s okay if you can’t see the picture yet; I can’t either. It’s coming together though, the more I practice them.

Ethnography of robotics.

Neuropoetics.

Girls like you always get to see Ireland.

Send my love to the leprechauns.

Please don’t special-episode me.

Why don’t you trust me? Because, honey, you keep setting things on fire.

The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.

I think they might be four separate pieces. The joy is how they come together.

The bestworst part is no one ever knowing.

*****

(The best part of the story is what I leave out.)

*****

I don’t trust my words on my own.

That’s not why I echo though.

I know it’s tempting, but, listen.

*****

Or maybe I’m lying, because I’m not brave enough to explain.

Don’t worry though. I know that Kimba loves musicals now, and Walt named me after a warrior.

We’ll get there.

Written by Julia

February 16, 2012 at 1:33 am