Arts affair with technology has led to more than a marriage of materiality, and more than the augmentation of intelligence that high-speed computing power and ubiquitous networks bring to the human condition In this reconfiguration of ourselves and our culture, the process of transformation lies between what I call cyberception, technologically extended cognition and perception, and the technoetic aesthetic, art allied to the technology of consciousness.
- Roy Ascott, "Turning on Technology"
The increasingly manifest use of technology can complicate literature as much as it can aid it; even Ellison acknowledges that "we live in a mixed-media society" (Ellison, 93). For example, with increased computer usage, it is possible to create a text electronically which only exists in the magnetic domain of the computer. If there is no hard copy - no manuscript artifact to point to a definitive work - how can it be evaluated? With all the discussion of moving from work to text, what happens with a shift in the other direction when the text must manifest itself again as a work so that it may be revised? Hypertext may make more seamless and effective connections between various analyses and media by combining the written text directly with the visual and auditory information it discusses. Although Ellison does not hold any real affection for computers or associated tools (with regard to the Internet, Ellison says, "When they say Gee its an information explosion!, no, its not an explosion, it's a disgorgement of the bowels" (Ellison, 3), he did see some merit - perhaps merely in the challenge exploring virgin terrain - in entering an electronic domain. Interestingly, Ellison owns no computer hardware, so he can not even play his own game. In fact, his direct exposure to video games has been limited to just two occasions (both involving spin-offs from films). In 1982 he reviewed The Empire Strikes Back cartridge for the Atari home system and in 1995 he spent three hours on an airplane playing Jurassic Park. In playing a series of active roles, Ellison adopts the position of authority, allowing his text to move through a series of transformations even while he still attempts to control it to some degree; "finally, as in the dystopian fables, man himself, either directly or through machines, may be the agent for his transformation" (Rose, 183).
Becoming not only one of Ellisons most frequently reprinted stories but also one of the most replicated of the English language, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" emerges as a "mythical allegory which explores the mind and soul of a nation without a long cultural tradition or firm landmarks" (Slusser, 3). The nature of this shifting landscape presented by the story - in whatever form it adopts - points toward the web of forces which imbricates it within a collective experience. "Most typically [Ellisons] stories were about alienation and the struggle between the individual and the all-destroying machine/God/society," but so too are they about the act of creation (James, 174). Ellison manifests his agency through writing, producing a number of significant variations on a theme and at times even changing the manifestations of writing; "[t]he last person to get any public mileage out of the image of the genre-stifled (or genre-unstifled) SF writer was Harlan Ellison [he] forced SF to grow up and realize that genre restrictions were a little more complex that sexually timid editors" (Delany, 45).
Inside this suturing of writing exists the production of text, or as Linda Flower and John Hayes see it, "how writers juggle and integrate the multiple constraints of their knowledge, their plans, and their text into the production of each new sentence." Barthes employs obscurity as a tactical strategy to deal with tactility of literary theory because of its entwinement with language. Creating and articulating these intentional obscurities in language complicates the nature of text where, Lucian Krukowski says, "the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost." Knowing that there are three versions of the story - possessing three different contexts, existing in three different genres, and needing at least three different ways of reading - "a text must invite [its readers] to a relatively easy cosmological task" of semantic and critical interpretation (Eco, 67). Irony aside, the result of this process is a world which the reader fills up with meaning while accepting inner contradictions and limitations within the text. These boundaries provide both a polysemy as well as a unique meaning, located within a specific time and context and accessed by an interpretive authority (the reader). Through engaging in literary transformations, Ellison seeks to suggest alternatives without demarcating answers, to sidestep the simultaneously locating and obliterating "X", to instruct along the journey rather test than at its end:
"I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" is an exceptionally violent warning about technology as a reflection of humanity. If our machines store our knowledge, is it not possible that they can also store, and possibly succumb to, such things as hatred and paranoia? AM [is] a "god" only in the sense of its godlike powers Gods and pseudo-gods cannot destroy us without destroying themselves, and the absence of a mouth or scream cannot invalidate the courageousness of the human spirit. (Dowling et al, 165-66)