From an article on “Leibniz, Llull, and the Computational Imagination” by Jonathan Gray for Public Domain Review:
Ultimately [Leibniz] hoped that the combination of a perspicuous thought language of “pure” concepts, combined with formalised processes and methods akin to those used in mathematics, would lead to the mechanisation and automation of reason itself. By means of new artificial languages and methods, our ordinary and imperfect ways of reasoning with words and ideas would give way to a formal, symbolic, rule-governed science — conceived of as a computational process. Disputes, conflict and grievances arising from ill-formed opinions, emotional hunches, biases, prejudices, and misunderstandings would give way to consensus, peace, and progress.
Jonathan Swift’s satirical classic Gulliver’s Travels (1726) parodied the mechanical conception of invention advanced by Llull and Leibniz. In the fictional city of Lagado, the protagonist encounters a device known as “the engine” which is intended by its inventor to enable anyone to “write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study”:
He then led me to the frame, about the sides, whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. It was twenty feet square, placed in the middle of the room. The superfices was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered, on every square, with paper pasted on them; and on these papers were written all the words of their language, in their several moods, tenses, and declensions; but without any order. The professor then desired me “to observe; for he was going to set his engine at work.” The pupils, at his command, took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six-and-thirty of the lads, to read the several lines softly, as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys, who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn, the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down.
Now here are the three references to the “kaleidoscopes” used in the manufacture of prolefeed in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:
1. And the Records Department, after all, was itself only a single branch of the Ministry of Truth, whose primary job was not to reconstruct the past but to supply the citizens of Oceania with newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programmes, plays, novels — with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment, from a statue to a slogan, from a lyric poem to a biological treatise, and from a child’s spelling-book to a Newspeak dictionary. And the Ministry had not only to supply the multifarious needs of the party, but also to repeat the whole operation at a lower level for the benefit of the proletariat. There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator. There was even a whole sub-section — Pornosec, it was called in Newspeak — engaged in producing the lowest kind of pornography, which was sent out in sealed packets and which no Party member, other than those who worked on it, was permitted to look at.
2. A solitary figure was coming towards him from the other end of the long, brightly-lit corridor. It was the girl with dark hair. Four days had gone past since the evening when he had run into her outside the junk-shop. As she came nearer he saw that her right arm was in a sling, not noticeable at a distance because it was of the same colour as her overalls. Probably she had crushed her hand while swinging round one of the big kaleidoscopes on which the plots of novels were ‘roughed in’. It was a common accident in the Fiction Department.
3. [Julia] had always borne an excellent character. She had even (an infallibIe mark of good reputation) been picked out to work in Pornosec, the sub-section of the Fiction Department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. It was nicknamed Muck House by the people who worked in it, she remarked. There she had remained for a year, helping to produce booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls’ School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal.
‘What are these books like?’ said Winston curiously.
‘Oh, ghastly rubbish. They’re boring, really. They only have six plots, but they swap them round a bit. Of course I was only on the kaleidoscopes. I was never in the Rewrite Squad. I’m not literary, dear — not even enough for that.’
There seems to be a striking resemblance between Orwell’s kaleidoscopes and Swift’s satirical “engine”, so I wonder if the resemblance is intentional.