Lydia H. Liu


On her book The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious

Cover Interview of June 12, 2011


The narrowness of academic literary training tends to blind us to some of the most important inventions not only in communication technologies but in the evolution of alphabetical writing.  Literary scholars work with written texts—even those who study oral literature cannot do without textual inscriptions—yet many of us remain ignorant of what scientists have done to the idea of alphabetical writing.

To reeducate myself, I looked into the cross-disciplinary evolution of written symbols, especially English writing, and its relation to digital writing. I hope that teachers and students in the humanities and social sciences will read The Freudian Robot and experience a similar kind of reeducation as I did in the writing of this book.

New media studies attract a great deal of attention these days both in academia and among the general public.  A common perception there is that psychoanalysis has little to do with digital media and that digital media have nothing to do with psychoanalysis.

I believe I offer in this book indisputable evidence that digital media and psychoanalysis have been mutually entangled from the very beginning.

The pivot of that entanglement is the changing identity and role of language and writing after alphabetical writing made an ideographic turn in the mid-twentieth century. This raises the fundamental question of how human-machine relationships can be rethought at the level of the unconscious.  And this is where a comparative and cross-disciplinary approach proves necessary and particularly fruitful.

The reader may judge this book by its cover.  I love the Dadaist image by Raoul Hausmann—one of my favorite Dadaists who lived in a time when avant-garde art and politics enjoyed a meaningful relationship.  Hausmann’s original installation was called The Mechanical Head: The Spirit of Our Age.  It mesmerized me when I first encountered it in a museum exhibition, and I could not think of a better metaphor for the image of the Freudian Robot.

© 2011 Lydia Liu