Object Lesson: Noam Chomsky Puppet

Posted on April 23, 2018 by Sharon Lacey

Object Lesson is an ongoing blog series that highlights some of the art, artifacts, machines, devices, books, instruments and tools that give physical form to ideas that enhance the MIT campus and community.

What is the Noam Chomsky puppet?

This rod puppet, in the likeness of MIT Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics emeritus Noam Chomsky, is the protagonist in Manufacturing Mischief: A Puppet Play by Pedro Reyes. It is inspired by Japanese Bunraku puppets, which are characterized by subtle movements. In this tradition of puppetry, relationships between characters are created by the puppets’ eye contact rather than by mouth movements. Reyes says he likes this style of puppet because its design lends itself to delivering more serious content, not just laughs.

The puppet is a vehicle for discussing Chomsky’s philosophical ideas within the play, especially his critique of artificial intelligence research, the unintended impacts of technology and other dilemmas of late capitalism.

 

Who made it?

Pedro Reyes, Inaugural Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist at MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology, created the work. He commissioned master Japanese puppet makers to fabricate the Chomsky puppet, and the other characters in the play, including Ayn Rand, Elon Musk and Karl Marx. Reyes has collaborated with the same craftsmen to make a number of puppets for his works, Baby Marx (2011) and The Permanent Revolution (2014).

Playwright Paul Hufker wrote the script for Manufacturing Mischief, and used Chomsky’s writings as source material for the puppet’s dialogue. Puppeteers Christine Schisano (Puppet Master), Christina Stone, Victor Ayala, Mery Cheung and Julia Darden animate the Chomsky puppet and the other characters.

 

How was the puppet made?

Puppet construction at the Foundation Modern Puppet Center in Japan requires extensive training in the Bunraku tradition and methods gained from years of study.

 

When and where can I see it?

Manufacturing Mischief: A Puppet Play by Pedro Reyes premieres at MIT on April 26 & 27, 2018 at 6:00pm. Visit the Manufacturing Mischief event page for details.

Manufacturing Mischief: A Puppet Play by Pedro Reyes
Directed by Meghan Finn and written by Paul Hufker
April 26 & 27, 2018 / 6:00pm
MIT Simmons Hall, Building W79
229 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

 

Why is it significant?

The Chomsky character is central to the plot of Manufacturing Mischief. (The play’s title borrows from Manufacturing Consent, a book Chomsky co-authored with Edward S. Herman.) The Chomsky character finds an antagonist in Ayn Rand, who has never been taken seriously in academia, although she continues to be read widely and is a source of ideologies associated with Trumpism.

As for the significance of the play itself, Reyes told the New York Times, “Very naively, I had this goal of creating a certain literacy though entertainment,” Mr. Reyes said. “After I became a parent I found myself wondering, if kids can learn 300 names of Pokémon and Star Wars characters, why not some history?”