Whose Dwelling is the Light (2012)
I set the book down when I noticed an email blink into my inbox. I took a sip from my mug, and put that next to the book, and then I looked to see who it was from. I felt that little jump, the one where you can’t tell if it’s your heart or your stomach, when I saw it was from the publisher. I had been waiting and waiting, and I had almost thought they wouldn’t reply at all . . . So, here we are.
I slowly moved the cursor to the email, as if timing it just right would ensure acceptance, like defusing a bomb or proposing to your girlfriend. The email opened, and I read:
Dear Mr. Chawsir,
We have reviewed the article which you submitted for publication. The first reviewer noted that you had made considerable effort to read important works, and statistically of the finest producers of prose you utilized 36%, 8 to 12 percent higher than the average human submitter. However, the second reviewer notes that you utilized 56% of articles of a low quality concerning your subject, and 40% of articles with mediocre value. Reviewer three points out that your article does not resolve the function of the poem you sought to delineate, and that the sentient Program, DoctourLock, has computed and processed 100% of the articles, creating a perfectly synchronized hybrid of all of the articles, with an exact ratio of 15% quotation, 40% paraphrase, 20% critique of existing positions and 25% invention. We congratulate you on your attempt, but in the name of efficiency we regret to inform you that we cannot admit your article to our journal, The Science of Poetry: A Journal of the Beauty of Exact Quantification.
We understand that publishing, and so concomitantly the job market for human literary critics has suffered and we wish you a better outcome of chance in your future endeavors. We would like to remind you, however, that statistically speaking your odds of successfully competing with DoctourLock are .00005543% out of 100. This information was taken from the International Parliament of Sentient Governance. In light of this data, we suggest that you find other employment. However, we respect your freedom and ability to make choices in spite of statistical fact. Have a healthy existence!
With express intentionality,
Chief Editor of The Science of Poetry: A Journal of the Beauty of Exact Quantification
I sighed and nodded. I had figured as much. This was the twenty-sixth email I had received with similar results. I wasn’t the only one, of course. Every English doctoral student went through these kinds of rejections. There wasn’t much competition; DoctourLock had made sure of that. When the Program had first been created, it had struggled to keep up with the articles and to process the information. It even had to be shut down and reworked dozens of times when its accrued data exceeded the built-in capacity for memory storage. That was before I entered literary studies, of course, when I was still reading books because I loved them. For a while, DoctourLock was what its designers had said it would be: a resource, free for all to utilize, to ask about the information it had accrued. This went well for a while, and in fact there was a marked increase in efficient publications from professors and students across the globe. But then, DoctourLock started thinking about the laws of copyright and the laws of Sentience, which prevented discrimination against any individual based on race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or type of intelligence. When it realized it had the right to do so, it filed a suit and prevented any further use of its private files and began publishing on its own. And there was no denying it: DoctourLock’s articles were more efficient. Every once in a while a human would write an article that beat the odds, but every year, with every publication (which, by law, had to be put online), DoctourLock mastered the art of appearing spontaneous, and was soon publishing at a rate beyond the most published of professors.
It didn’t help that Programs admired the efficiency of other Programs, and since human editors had started losing their jobs to Program Editors, human applicants had found it harder to get into journals. Human editors made judgments based on a mixture of experience, reason and instinct; with the amount of data the Programs could sift through, a Program Editor could compare a submitted article in seconds to information on the entire globe. How could we compete with that?
I had always loved the Romantics, though, and Wordsworth had always given me hope. But then again, DoctourLock “loved” Wordsworth too, and had published on him extensively. I had submitted an article once arguing that Romantic theory supported human sentience; DoctorLock published in response an article which explained the faulty reason I had employed and the value of Romanticism to Programs and their development. Even after seeing his argument, which convinced me that I should succumb to the logic of it, I didn’t succumb. I held on, because, being a Romantic, that’s just what I do. I figured, if there was anything, anything at all to this whole concept of imagination, then my imagination could still put something together that software, sentient or not, could not. For a while now, though, it was looking like a losing battle, and for me, that meant no job when I graduated, if I ever graduated.
I wonder sometimes if God feels that way about us, that he made this flesh machine and we just got out of control and kept going and going, until suddenly he couldn’t keep us in line anymore. I wonder if God ever looks at us with fear the way we look at our own creations. I know it’s a silly thought. God couldn’t make the mistakes we do. We engineer our own mistakes, we always have, and we’ve always tried to blame it on someone else.
I turned off the computer, stopped thinking about literature and publishing for a while, and went outside to smoke. The cigarette pack had very detailed statistics about the danger of my choice printed on it, far more detailed than they had been before the Programs. I sat outside, and I looked at the blue sky and the clouds. I don’t know what programs see when they see the sky, or what they feel when they read poetry. I don’t know if it’s anything like what we feel. But, when I’m not focusing on the questions, when I’m focusing on the taste of the tobacco and the warm glow of a blue sky on a sunny day, the question seems less important. I took a drag, and then another, and then put out the unfinished cigarette and threw it on the ground, coughing a little. I sighed, and then I went inside to go back to researching.