• The Anachronistic Ada: Inventing a Twenty-First-Century Public for a Nineteenth-Century Programmer

    Eileen McGinnis (see profile)
    GS Comics and Graphic Narratives, GS Life Writing, GS Speculative Fiction
    Literature and science
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    MLA 2016
    Conf. Org.:
    Modern Language Association
    anachronism, biography, comics, mla16, Session 425
    Permanent URL:
    Today, Lady Lovelace is recognized as the first computer programmer – for an algorithm she co-authored with inventor Charles Babbage in 1843. She has also become, per biographer Betty Toole, a “modern myth,” whose very ambiguity and otherness encourage readers’ self-invention around gender and tech, human-machine interactions, and female sexuality. Her life has inspired an eclectic cultural afterlife, ranging from operas and plays to steampunk fashion and even an eponymous underwear collection. One such contemporary artifact is Sydney Padua’s web comic “2-D Goggles,” which playfully re-imagines Lovelace and Babbage as a Victorian crime-fighting duo. This paper examines how Padua’s comic both comments on – and creates – new publics around Lovelace. Despite its fictional premise, the comic blurs the lines between fantasy and biography, grounding its plots and dialogue in primary documents. Through its recursive structure – the feedback loop between Padua’s panels and hypertextual footnotes – “2-D Goggles” reveals the processes by which contemporary publics have shaped Lovelace’s story. At the same time, its form has an invitational quality, engaging readers in an emergent act of (auto)biographical discovery. Padua’s work ultimately illuminates broader questions about comics, life writing, and reading publics. Why is the comics medium so adept at immersing readers in life-writing practices, at linking an individual life with a collective story? What makes certain lives conducive to generating new publics? Does Ada’s anachronism, her lack of fit with her own time, make her paradoxically a more resonant figure in ours?
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