51 • Lily Robert-Foley




Introduction to Machines

A friend asked me, "What does that mean?" And I told her. And by doing so, I invoked an entire corpus of presuppositions about language. The first of which is the dream that meaning is not somehow on the surface of language, but that it is hidden deep within it like a soul or a structure. In answering her, I could not bring meaning out, but only cloak it again, translate it, give it new form, and believe that somehow in the passage from one utterance to another, meaning would burst forth, invisible, clear, perfect, uncontaminated by the complicated bodies of sound and code. And yet, in spite of meaning's impossible, perpetual absence, somehow it exists, or we believe it does.

A graphemachine is an example of a machine. A machine is not a piece of literature. It is not poetry, and it is not philosophy or literary criticism. It is a method of reading, a tool for conducting an empirical study of language.

Xerolage 51 by Lily Robert-FoleyAs such it adopts an unfamiliar formula for cognition. As the inventor of machines, I understand that it is not very generous to ask a reader to try to understand something that is incomprehensible by its very intention. So I invite you, if you choose to engage with these machines to practice a different type of reading: one that does not aim to understand, but that only aims to notice.

The following work attempts to read a short phrase collected from a google search for "Lily needs" in this fashion. The choice of text is arbitrary.


Lily Robert-Foley was born in San Francisco in the later part of the last century to an acupuncturist and a musician/painter. Her studies can be characterized as having a specific interest in language. Mostly, she writes, travels, and makes radical linguistic translation devices known as machines. Her work has and will have appeared in bathhouse, digital artifact, a s l o n g a s i t a k e s and Omni a Vanitas, among other places. Recently her work has begun to appear on walls, notably at La Espacia, an apartment art space in Chicago. Her work will be included in the form of transcriber's annotations in the republication of The North Georgia Gazette, a newspaper written on board the H.M.S. Hecla during the early part of the 19th Century. The North Georgia Gazette is forthcoming from The Green Lantern Press in Spring 2009. Next year, she will begin a doctorate in Comparative Literature at The University of Paris VIII at Saint Denis.

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