Rhona Trauvitch: Judaic Mythology and Speculative Fiction: The Animating Aleph-Bet

Event information
Venue:Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU


Image by artist Mitchell Nolte www.mitchellnolte.com.

Speculative fiction, a genre that encompasses science fiction and fantasy narratives, abounds with depictions of artificially-created beings. Stories about AI, clones, robots and automata, and genetically modified or synthetic creatures foreground central speculative fiction themes, such as what it means to be human, and to what extent a being's components and creator determine the being's fate.

This talk focuses on the Judaic origins of artificially-created beings and the stuff that animates them: golems and the Hebrew alphabet. Beginning with an overview of the aleph-bet's creative and mystical powers, we will trace depictions of their force from Judaic mythology to postmodern literature, from moving images to popular culture. We'll see how the letters, as graphemes, function like other elemental units such as genes that form organisms, notes that form melodies, and instructions that form computer programs, and consider the ways in which building blocks of each type are shuffled to create different structures. In particular, we will focus on Ted Chiang's "Seventy-Two Letters," a tale in which letters go beyond animating the golem, and, when recombined to form specific names, affect robots and homunculi as well. Through this exploration, we will address speculative fiction themes from the resonant perspective of Judaic mythology.

Rhona Trauvitch received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UMass Amherst. She is an instructor at FIU, where she teaches courses in narrative theory, popular culture, and science fiction, among other subjects. Her research interests include narratology, speculative fiction, Judaic mythology, and literature and science. She has contributed chapters to several edited collections, most recently to the Handbook of Popular Culture and Tourism, forthcoming from Routledge. Trauvitch is working on a book project about readers’ interactions with fictional entities and the social experience of narrative.

For additional information call 786-972-3175 or jmofinfo@fiu.edu