, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 435-438
Date: 28 Jun 2011

The fateful entanglements of psychoanalysis, cybernetics and digital media

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In The Freudian robot, Lydia Liu analyses the links between psychoanalysis, cybernetics and digital media. This is a rich and dense, arresting and demanding, compelling and remarkable book. Every chapter contains enough research and provocative questions to furnish entire monographs. Liu sometimes seems to take for granted that her readers have read, if not fully understood, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Jakobson, Habermas, Kittler and W.J.T. Mitchell, not to mention a good chunk of modernist literature and difficult scientific papers. The Freudian robot is thus an innovative and intoxicating mixture, rewarding to the reader but challenging to digest.

At the heart of Liu’s book is the “emergence of Freudian robots in the post-war Euro-American world order”, and “any networked being that embodies the feedback loop of human–machine simulacra and cannot free her/him/itself from the cybernetic unconscious is a Freudian robot” (p. 2). Liu wonders how machines that resembled humans came to be made a