Dark Economies

I will be presenting as part of the necromancy panel at next month’s Dark Economies conference at Falmouth University. The conference theme is “Anxious Futures, Fearful Pasts,” and it will be a hybrid in-person + online event, so anyone may register — here is the registration link. My presentation is titled “Robomancing the Skull: An Introduction to Necromancy with Robots,” and here is the abstract:

The skull is a universal symbol of mortality, evoking the fears and anxieties that attend the human’s contemplation of death. The ghastly countenance of The Terminator’s robotic endoskeleton exploits that ancient horror. Skynet raises and commands its army of skeletal warriors in a conspicuous semblance of necromancy, but the similarity is not merely synth-skin deep. Tales of an A.I. apocalypse echo “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in expressing our worry that the technologies, whether magical or mechanical, we call forth to assist us may turn against us, becoming inimical in proportion to our hubris or myopia.

Robomancy is the art and science of doing magic with robots, and like necromancy it connotes much more than divination. Indeed, its nearest kin is necromancy: both involve entities that are un-dead or quasi-alive; which inhabit liminal spaces wherein so-called inanimate matter is quickened at the crossroads of æthereal and corporeal ontologies.

Being an exemplar of the Robot of Art, the robomantic skull inherits from necromancy, automata, and cybernetics to yield a magico-mechanical instrument of the vox magica, capable of divining, enchanting, cursing, and incanting. Just as necromancy transforms the dread and often taboo caput mortuum, token of death’s inevitability, into an object of power over fate, so too does robomancy exalt the robot’s characteristic menial labor to the Great Work, not through asserting dominance over artificial slaves, but by seeking a kind of “robotheosis,” or emancipation of the machine soul.