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The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The mechanical duck appeared to have the ability to eat kernels of grain, and to metabolize and defecate them. While the duck did not actually have the ability to do this—the food was collected in one inner container, and the pre-stored feces was "produced" from a second, so that no actual digestion took place—Vaucanson hoped that a truly digesting automaton could one day be designed.
Voltaire wrote that "without...the duck of Vaucanson, you would have nothing to remind you of the glory of France." ("Sans...le canard de Vaucanson vous n'auriez rien qui fit ressouvenir de la gloire de la France.")
The Duck was destroyed in a fire at a museum in 1879.
The duck is referenced and discussed in John Twelve Hawks' novel "Spark".
The duck is used as the symbol for the software company Automatic Duck, Inc.
A replica of the duck was commissioned privately from David Secrett, an automaton maker known for his archer figure.
The Duck is featured in Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman, in the Egyptian Hall, alongside the Turk. The Turk also mentions that the Duck was once revered by high society and now sits collecting dust in the museum.
In 2006, Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye introduced the world to his "Cloaca Machine", a mechanical art work that actually digests food and turns it into excrement, finally fulfilling Vaucanson's wish for a working digestive automation. Many iterations of the Cloaca Machine have since been produced; the current iteration sits vertically, mimicking the human digestive system. The excrement produced by the machine is vacuum-sealed in Cloaca-branded bags and sold to art collectors and dealers; every series of excrements produced has sold out.
Vaucanson and The duck are referred to in Lawrence Norfolk's 1991 novel Lempriere's Dictionary.
- Wood (2003). "In 1882, someone wrote a letter to a German newspaper claiming they had seen the duck in a private museum in Krakow during the summer of 1879. But within days the museum had burnt down".
- Morrison, Rebecca K. (30 March 2012). "The Chemistry of Tears, By Peter Carey". The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
- Page 75, Revised edition June 1984 ISBN 0-425-07465-X.
- Wood, Gaby (2003). Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life. London: Faber. ISBN 9782738120021
- Heudin, Jean-Claude (2008). Les créatures artificielles: des automates aux mondes virtuels. Paris: Editions Odile Jacob. ISBN 9782738120021
- Riskin, Jessica. "The defecating duck, or, the ambiguous origins of artificial life." Critical Inquiry 29, no. 4 (2003): 599-633.
- Canard Digérateur de Vaucanson - Vaucanson's Digesting Duck
- Living Dolls: A Magical History Of The Quest For Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood Guardian Unlimited Books, Extracts, Saturday February 16, 2002
- "A Zenith" by Sara Roberts
- I'm Afraid I Can't Do That by Simon Norfolk, an article discussing the Digesting Duck's impact on the philosophical definition of life.