Andrew Nightingale

the inspiration behind Andrew Nightingale’s poem ‘The Imitation Game’

Turing interests me as an example of the political world’s intrusion into the physical body. In Turing’s case the nation state – through the judicial system – attempted to alter his sexuality through injecting hormones.

Our current celebration of Turing also interests me. I’m cautious of celebration. I feel there can be something self-congratulatory about it. The celebration suggests that we see ourselves as a society in which these kinds of public interventions in private life no longer take place – we are proud of being a society that is profoundly tolerant and can admit its past mistakes. Turing is the ideal vehicle for this celebration because of the emancipatory power with which we credit computer technology. We see a tragic irony in the way Turing was treated: the emergence of the technology to which he made such a large contribution has helped to bring us greater freedoms from which he may have benefitted – free and open information, the facilitation of minority communities, twitter’s purported role in the Arab Spring and so on.

What this overlooks, to my mind, besides the capacity for surveillance and oppression offered by the technology, is the insidious way in which our private worlds are still physically manipulated. For the most part these manipulations no longer take place by the nation state but through its proxy, the markets – through consumption and the engineering of desire. I think of the sexualisation of prepubescent girls, the commodification of the colour pink, body modification to suit impossible ideals and similar examples…

And yet the private world that is being manipulated is already a fabrication. It is a world that has been designed to permit the indulgence of any whim by casting the whim as a defining act of self-expression, and a world in which all acts of expression have become a matter of consumption. I wonder whether Turing would have liked to have lived to see tolerance of sexual nonconformity seemingly reduced to a matter of consumer rights.

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