Utopian Grammars of Human-Machine Interaction

history and philosophy of technology

In his essay in the inaugural issue of this journal, Alfred Nordmann suggests that we can speak of a language of mechanics and that machines – in which, according to Franz Reuleaux, movement is domesticated or civilized – can be conceived of as structures that enable the self-expression of things, or as elements of a grammar of things. He points out that the journal is dedicated to exploring interactions of the sphere of ideas (of which language is often seen as part of) with the sphere of technical practice and to fundamental reflection on ‘technology as language’ and on ‘language as technology’. In our article, we thus explore attempts to develop new grammars of human-machine interaction as they were made in literature and in engineering and labour studies in the early Soviet Union. We specifically discuss Alexei Gastev's thinking on labour, technology and poetry. We are interested in the utopian aspects of his grammar of things and bodies, and in the role of the body between technology and language. Given that the two are perhaps the two most common answers to the question of what makes us human and distinguishes us in or from the animal kingdom, experiments with the triangle of technology, language and human corporeality, such as Gastev’s ones, deserve attention beyond the historical context.