English 738T, Spring 2015
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For my last blog post, I would like to examination the physical relationship between Molly and Case in William Gibson’s Neuromancer while keeping in mind Shelley Jackson’s “Stitch bitch” and Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.”  I would also like to suggest that out of the few female characters in the novel, Molly appears to have the most agency.

Case and Molly have a few scenes that reminded me of Jackson and Haraway’s articles.  The first one is when they meet.  Case remembers the “silver lenses [that] seemed to grow from smooth pale skin” and that her nails look “artificial” (Gibson 24).  Immediately, Gibson’s language echoes Haraway’s, giving us the idea that Molly is not entirely human, and Case’s description of her invites the idea of her as a cyborg, which Haraway defines as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of a machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (291).  Molly definitely seems to fit this description, since she has parts that are both machine and human, and she seems to be much more comfortable situated in the technological world than Case is.

In a second scene between the two, Case asks Molly about her boss, Armitage, and she discloses that the “profile” he has of [Case] is so vivid that it’s as if she knows him, and that she “knows how he is wired” (30).  This can be viewed as an example of Molly’s female agency within the novel, since it seems as though she knows something about Case that he cannot yet know about himself.  Shortly following, Case undergoes an operation and is given a new pancreas, ridding him of his drug dependency.  He is in pain when he awakes, and the only thing that can ease it is having intercourse with Molly, almost as if she has become his new drug to be addicted to (32).  Case proceeds to initiates sex with Molly, an act by which he should gain agency, but this chance is lost when he touches her face and is met with an “unexpected hardness of [her] implanted lenses” (33).  She tells him to stop because she is afraid of “fingerprints” (33).  The word “fingerprints” here provides interesting parallel to Jackson’s discussion of bodies in “Stitch bitch.”  As Jackson states in her article, “We patch a phantom body together out of a cacophony of sense impressions, bright and partial views…the original body is dissociated, porous, and unbiased…the mind, on the other hand…has an almost catatonic obsession with stasis, centrality, and unity.”  Molly’s repeated obsession with bodies (both sexually and due to her prosthetics,) complements Jackson’s.  Whereas Jackson wishes to constantly merge, mutilate and create new bodies through her work with her readers, however, Molly seems reluctant to let Case leave his fingerprints on her.  It is also interesting that Case touches her face, which is presumably human flesh, but her surgically implanted eye lenses prevent her from showing him any emotion.  She can only order him to stop.

Although this is a brief synopsis of Molly’s potential agency in Neuromancer and of how we can read Gibson’s novel in relation to Jackson and Haraway’s articles, the comparisons between the two peaked my curiosity.  Do you think that Molly exhibits any agency in the text?  Does she fit Haraway’s description of a cyborg, or is she different in any way?  How about in relation to Jackson’s article?  Is it plausible to say that Molly’s sexual merging with Case (or refusal of emotion) in any way mirrors or deflects Jackson’s argument?

Baudrillard, Memento, Disney and the Hyperreal

Posted by Kyle Bickoff on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 at 12:21 am - (0 Comments)

Hi all,

I want to go back and talk a bit about my inspiration for my final paper, my plans for how I hope to see it expand, and the ways in which the readings from the most recent few weeks have influenced my methodology.

While originally I planned to write on Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, I instead chose Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Kenneth E. Foote’s “To Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory, and Culture,” Walker Sampson’s From My Archives: Derrida’s Archive Fever, and Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. After a bit more reading, I became particularly interested in putting some of my newfound knowledge on archives to work. If anyone has feedback from this post, I would certainly appreciate it. I would also be happy to integrate responses from comments into my paper. So first, I’ve taken to Memento to see it as a representation of an ‘archive gone bad.’ While Leonard Shelby seemingly functions fairly well throughout the course of the film with his “condition,” by the end, it becomes quite clear to the viewer that Shelby’s ‘truth’ is not an objective truth, but a newly constructed one. Baudrillard would call this the hyperreal—where the ‘reality’ that Leonard constructs becomes more ‘real’ than the objective reality surrounding him. Leonard, by re-writing the metadata (the notes on the polaroids) is able to re-write the cultural memory within this archive of his mind. Leonard is able to re-make his archive in order to shape his ‘facts’ to fit the constructed reality—thus his ‘facts’ come to have no real association with any of the objective reality at all in the film. I see Leonard constructing an exemplary model of an archive gone wrong here.

Since our readings that related to archives fell at the tail-end of the semester, I’ve been looking for other examples of archives to which I can apply Baudrillard, Foote, Foucault, and Sampson’s review. I recalled that over winter break I was wandering around the city and managed to find myself in the National Archives. I came to realize that one document in this institution provides another excellent model for me to attempt to apply this methodology: The Declaration of Independence. After recalling a bit of reading from when I was there some months back, as well as a bit more research for this post, the original Declaration of Independence (if we can even point to one original) was itself copied in order to create the Dunlap Broadside, which was printed on July 4, 1776 and copies were handed out the next day. If we recall Baudrillard’s notion of the four stages of the sign-order, this seems to fit the bill of the first stage perfectly. Now, although the original that was used to print the Broadsides is lost, the document on display is a copy from the original, but it’s an unfaithful copy and not accurate to the ‘original.’ The unfaithful copy that we see in the Archives (the one with John Hancock’s John Hancock printed so prominently) is at the second stage for Baudrillard. The third stage is where the simulacrum pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. When we walk into the gift shop and see John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence (the famed image that you’ve almost certainly seen a picture of, or seen if you’ve looked at the back of a two-dollar bill recently) and we look at the copy, we see a great mass of signatories in the image gathering around in the image, signing a copy of the Declaration of Independence. This is a representation of an event that didn’t happen—this idealized version of the document’s signing never occurred—the document was signed over a period of several weeks, which doesn’t make for a particularly exciting painting. Still, there’s a connection with the ‘true’ signing, though this is the copied representation of an event that never occurred (it has no ‘original.’) And finally, comes the fourth order of the hyperreal—at this stage there is only pure simulation. There is no legitimate connection with any real event, although this form comes to inhabit its own reality, baseless as it may be. Disney (Baudrillard’s favorite theme park and movie production company) made the hardly memorable National Treasure in 2004, starring Nicholas Cage. In the film the Declaration of Independence becomes pure simulation, with no relation whatsoever to any reality. Nicholas Cage plays an American treasure hunter who steals the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives in order to decode the document’s hidden message (a series of clues leading to treasure). The document itself is an encrypted map that leads the hunter to this treasure horde, which is a massive pile of looted treasure acquired over thousands of years of stealing from other cultures (and stealing from their cultural memories). Of course, this treasure is found, and the Declaration of Independence had led them to the greatest desire of any American—outrageous wealth. National Treasure’s narrative is completely baseless, and within its own narrative, makes the Declaration of Independence’s meaning even more real within the context of the story (and complete spectacle at that). This new meaning is completely disconnected from any previous conceptions and firmly stands at the level of the hyperreal.

Although these close readings are both planned to be included in my final paper, the process of thinking through this knowledge that I already had with the aid of Nolan, Foote, Baudrillard, Derrida, and Sampson’s writing in mind greatly helped me to grasp the ways I might apply this knowledge. It’s been an excellent semester all, and I’m thankful to have been able to work with all of you!

Neuromancer & the Prosthesis of Self

Posted by Sara Lyons on Saturday, May 16th, 2015 at 12:56 pm - (1 Comments)

According to Merriam-Webster, Prosthesis is “medical: an artificial device that replaces a missing or injured part of the body”. In Neuromancer, prosthetics are more than physical devices but figurative-made-literal ways of discussing the absence and presence of pieces of self. In other words, I argue that the novel documents Case as he attempts to reconcile his lacks in order to assemble some type of cohesive self.

Case first relies on the matrix in order to do this, which is fleeting, faulty. Once he gets this ability back he connects the matrix to himself on a deep level: “This was it. This was what he was, who he was, his being” (59). He depends on this as a prosthetic of self which, once taken from him, becomes a lack. Indeed, the original lack stems from his fragmented identity (between the virtual and the real), but he misconstrues this, perceiving the present lack as the focus for his discomfort. So, he attempts to fill his lack of the matrix with drugs: “In some weird and very approximate way, it was like a run in the matrix. Get just wasted enough, find yourself in some desperate but strangely arbitrary kind of trouble, and it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties” (16). It’s apparent, though, that this prosthetic is imperfect; like a prosthetic limb, it only resembles the original, it doesn’t encompass it. As mentioned before, though, this is a prosthetic of a prosthetic, making it even more imperfect.

Another example of this is in Linda Lee and Molly. Linda Lee, once dead, haunts Case, becoming a presence of an absence that pulls him between the real and the unreal – a prosthetic that presents the struggle between the two worlds of the text, and for Case. This provides some meaning to her haunting him as he doesn’t seem all that emotionally invested in Linda Lee as a person once she’s gone. Molly, too, exists in the real world and the virtual. It is Molly’s physical prosthetic – her mirrored eyes – that implicate Case’s self-examination.

In the end, then, Case can only achieve a cohesion of self through his division of the virtual and real worlds. The text says, “He attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he’d known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness…grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die” (262). This “wish to die” seems negative, but what Case experiences here is an epiphany followed by that cohesive thought – and “clarity.” I feel it’s no coincidence, then, that he is saved by the song that proclaims “a true name” (262), which indicates a true self for Case. This is only part one of is reconciliation, however: the other part lies in his final refusal of the virtual reality of the matrix. The final climax of the story marks this when Case tells Neuromancer, “I don’t need you” (270). In fact, those are the last words before we find out what happens to Case in his “happily ever after.” His final refusal of the overall self-prosthetic, the matrix, allows Case to exist outside of and within the matrix, both cohesively. I say this because there is a version of his self that lives within the matrix, with Linda Lee. In fully disconnecting his virtual and real selves, he’s allowed the ability to function as a cohesive self in both realities.


Furthering the Discussion of Eyes

Posted by Denis Dodson on Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 at 11:21 am - (4 Comments)

For my final blog post, I want to further discuss how I view, (forgive the pun), the use of eyes within many of the works presented to us in this class.  As we discussed while discussing Blade Runner, in particular, there is a massive emphasis on the physical eye, as well as the act of seeing.  This is exemplified by the fact that it is often the glowing eyes of the genetically engineered beings that cause differentiation to be made between creation and human.  As we discussed in class, the reason Roy seems to have an affinity for attacking the eyes of his victims might emphasize the idiom, “the eyes are the windows to the soul” – meaning, eyes are a form of connectivity.  By linking eyes, it can be stated that you are connecting, at least at an emotional level, to that other person.  Which is why it is imperative that Roy destroy the eye, or window, to the soul, as it robs the person of far more than their life.  This is a fascinating idea, particularly in what it means to have genetically created eyes.  The need to connect with another via sight, however, is not a new concept.

One of my favorite examples of emotional connection through the physical eye is in Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale”.  There are two very distinct passages that speak to this phenomena:

1075         That through a window, thickly set with many a bar
1076         Of iron, great and square as any beam,
1077         He cast his eye upon Emelye,
1078         And with that he turned pale and cried, “A!”
1079         As though he were stabbed unto the heart.

1095         This prison did not cause me to cry out,
1096         But I was hurt right now through my eye
1097          Into my heart, so that it will be the death of me.
1098          The fairness of that lady whom I see
1099          Yonder in the garden roaming to and fro
1100          Is cause of all my crying and my woe.

As stated within Chaucer on Love, Knowledge and Sight by Norman Klassen, “Chretien de Troyes discusses the importance of vision at length in the romance Cliges.  There, the eyes serve a double function as perceivers of beauty and as active agents.  As agents, they strike through the eyes and enter the heart of the person whose gaze they meet” (86).  As it can be read in “The Knight’s Tale”, love requires sight.  When you look upon someone, a piece of you, as it was believed, literally enters their heart through the eye.  In this way, the eye has a very real and truly physical consequence in “The Knight’s Tale”.  I would, however, argue that this is of extreme consequence for the majority of the works that we have read for class.

Although it cannot be argued that a literal part of oneself enters the hearts of modern romantic literature, the eyes still have an enormous stake in forming emotional bonds.  Frankenstein, for example, is absolutely obsessed with the yellow of the creature’s eyes, and the terror that Victor finds in them.  Therefore, by Roy focusing on destroying the eyes in particular, I believe it is speaking to the necessity of eyes to form human connections.  Although eyesight is not as imperative as it is within “The Knight’s Tale”, it is a valid form of creating human attachment.  If the world is merely a creation of our perception, to forcefully rid our bodies of the main organ for perception is crippling.

So I am curious – now that we have finished the semester and have read an abundance of literature that seem obsessed with sight or what is seen (in particular, I am also fascinated with the technology of photography in Memento), how is the physical eye and sight handled throughout the course?

In our discussion on The Book of Urizen, I called attention to figures’ eyes and gazes in Blake’s images, which were represented differently in various copies of the work. Further to that discussion, I’ve continued thinking about perspective in Blake, both that of the figures illustrated and of the reader. In particular, I am interested in how the engravings in The Book of Urizen govern the reader’s experience of space through the relationship between text and image. In Blake’s illuminated works, the boundary between text and image on plates that contain both cannot be clearly defined. Insofar as the text is not only decorated with designs in margins and between lines but is itself represented artistically rather than uniformly, I believe we can view the text as an extension of the image, and that such a conclusion bears significant implications for the representation and analysis of space in Blake’s works.

As language, Blake’s text communicates with the reader beyond the image, but the lettering itself remains a visual component of the image as a whole, and can communicate through visual as well as linguistic means, as when words are split visually, adding an additional visual inflection to their meaning. One such manipulation occurs in the word “Reli-gion” on Plate 25, an example that not only splits the word, but reverses the momentum of the reader’s progress through the text by directing the eye up and to the left to complete the word. Such movement, I believe, is particularly significant in that it defies the practice of reading text and forces the reader to visually interact with the plate in a process more akin to that which is applied to an image, in which the details of the image dictate the movement of the eye, in contrast to the predetermined and consistent path a reader usually takes through lines of text.

See "Reli-gion" at the bottom of the left column.

Just as the text exists as part of the image, Blake’s illustrations govern readers’ experience of the text. The page is endowed with a sense of space that expands or contracts based on the integration of text and image. In Plate 9, for example, the image represents a figure that seems constricted by the edges of the plate and the swirling material surface that surrounds him, and the arms locked around the face emphasize a sense of enclosure and tension. Similarly, the text that appears at the top of the plate is bordered on all sides, with heavy ornamental lines creating a parallel constriction in the reader’s visual navigation of the text. Further, the lines that frame the text originate in the material that surrounds the figure in the image. At the bottom right of the text panel, it appears that the texture of the image background transforms into the lines that both form and frame the text. The shift in color and texture as the material background of the image becomes the line of the text occurs without a break in the line, emphasizing continuity between text and image. Additional crossings of the visual border between image and text occur in Plate 18, where there is no distinction between the background of the image and that of the text, such that the text simply seems to hang in the sky above the figure represented, and Plate 22, in which the lines that ornament and divide the text spiral beyond the text panel, leaking into the world of the image.

It is possible to examine any plate of The Book of Urizen and find image-text interactions that would contribute to this discussion. To close my current analysis and gesture toward greater conclusions about how the reader’s experience of space in The Book of Urizen is altered through the integration or mutual assimilation of text and image, I’ll turn to Plate 15. This plate bears a wealth of illustrations among its lines of texts, modeling the means by which Blake tells a story with language and image together, narrating through text in one moment and speaking through pictures in the next. In a mirroring of Blake’s practice of inserting images between lines of text, the plate as a whole represents two sets of text divided by an image, with the image not only complementing the text but contributing to the narrative and determining the reader’s experience of the plate and its contents, both visual and textual.

When I approach Plate 15, the illustrated lines guide me to understand that the text is split into two columns. However, because I assume the text’s dominance, I expect to first read the left column, moving from the top to the bottom of the plate, and then to resume at the top of the plate with the right column. Thus, I essentially ignore the image in the middle of the plate, relegating it to the role of a decoration that I will examine after experiencing the plate’s primary communicative material, which I assume to be the text. Instead, Blake treats the image as part of the ongoing narrative, not an element of the plate to be skimmed over but one that forms an integral part of the reader’s progression through the plate and directs that progression. Therefore, the columns of text are not continuous from top to bottom; the left column must be read up to the border of the image, then the right column to the same border. The image is encountered as a whole between the top and bottom panels of text before reading can resume with the bottom left column, such that the eye must travel diagonally across the breadth of the image before reaching the next section of text. While my assumptions as a reader may differ from others’, I believe the split between reader expectation and the reality of Blake’s plates that is observable in Plate 15 is indicative of the comprehensive reorientation of textual space that Blake achieves in The Book of Urizen. Blake’s readers may attempt to examine the textual and visual elements separately, but his representation ensures that the reader must encounter text and image as one, entering into a spatial experience that challenges definitions of the book, literature, narration, and art.

Tastee Wheat

Posted by Manon Soulet on Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 at 3:41 pm - (5 Comments)

I wish to dedicate my second blog post to the part of our presentation on The Matrix and Baudrillard that we did not have time to cover, that is, the problematization of the system of the sign. I will try to answer our own question, which goes: how does the movie reinterpret and play with the system of the sign (referent, signifier, signified) previously discussed in Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation?

In order to start thinking about this, I want to bring up the part of the movie we intended to show to the class, which was the “Tastee Wheat” scene, initiated by Mouse:

“(Mouse to Neo) Did you ever eat Tastee Wheat?

(Neo) No.

(Switch) No but technically neither did you.

(Mouse) That’s exactly my point! Exactly! Because you have to wonder: how did the machines really know what Tastee Wheat tasted like, uh? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tastee Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken for example. Maybe they could not figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything!”

Interestingly, what appears, at first, to be a trivial conversation about everyday food is in fact highly significant and hides another level of meaning; the way I understand it is that, given the configuration of the world featured in the movie (Matrix/desert of the real), the machines have no way to know the original taste of food (like Tastee Wheat) for the very reason that, since they have no origin in the Western civilization. As Donna Haraway explained:

“…the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense… an origin story in the… humanist sense [that] depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history.” (292)

Therefore, the machines – or cyborgs – have no original reality to base their knowledge on. The way it complicates the system of the sign is that in a world where simulacra have replaced originals, where representations have replaced reality, there are no referents anymore, just signifieds and signifiers, void of their referents. Significantly, Agent Smith himself points out later in the film in reference that the first matrix failed because “we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world”. Although Smith refers to human needs here, he nevertheless unveils a crucial element: there is indeed a problem with language, and this linguistic disruption is at the source of everything. The machines have no access to the referent because there is none. The signifier, on the contrary, is stable for the very reason that it is the only element – or code – the machines understand. As for the signified, without referent, there is an endless multitude of interchangeable possibilities (which is why Tastee Wheat can taste like tuna fish for example). In the matrix, only symbols – brand names – exist and they hide the fact that there is no corresponding reality behind it. There is no Tastee Wheat in the real. What is left of food has no taste, it is a “desert of food” (the “snoot” they are eating during the scene) – so I want to argue that, even though they are eating something real, there is no food in the original sense anymore, just a form of fuel. In the end, their conversation about senses (taste – Tastee) is just a way to show that human experience is merely a simulation of reality in The Matrix, as Baudrillard suggests. The machines can only provide a simulation of taste, albeit a deficient one.

Even though the movie does misinterpret Simulacra and Simulation in the sense that the Wachowski Bros feature a “real” outside of the matrix, I want to defend the dexterity with which they manipulated and illustrated such slippery concepts as the ones developped by Baudrillard. To finish this blog post, I want to extrapolate a little and put another question on the table in the light of this discussion: considering Baudrillard’s initial argument is that there is no reality and that we are living in a hyper-reality, how do we know that the food we eat tastes like what it originally tastes like (especially if we consider that most of the food we eat has been processed many times…)? Have we ourselves ever had Tastee Wheat? Or put differently, are we in a hyper-reality?


The Complexities of Modern Subjectivity in Reporting

Posted by Denis Dodson on Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 at 3:14 am - (2 Comments)

It is currently 2:51 am, and I devoted the entirety of tonight to following the incidents occurring in Baltimore, particularly with an emphasis with Twitter.  Obviously, Ferguson was at the fore-front of my mind, and how each of these two separate events might somehow intersect.  And it is just about to turn to 3am, so excuse if this is complete rambling, but I am very interested in how each of the “sides” to the Baltimore incident handled the reporting of the incident.

I am not experienced with Twitter, but the top post for “#BaltimoreRiots” states the following, “By my count so far, five journalists attacked in #BaltimoreRiots -some injuries-photos…” and then linked to an outside post which I will not attach.  This, to me, isn’t surprising in the slightest.  Being behind cameras at a heated event is, of course, dangerous.  However, while watching a livestream of the event, on the street at around 1:16am, two events happened on camera roughly 30 minutes apart:

1.)  The cameraman who was livestreaming was told to “Get outta here take a picture.”, and was hit with a glass bottle of alcohol by a Baltimore resident.

2.)  Swat teams flashed strobelights at the cameraman’s equipment, in an attempt to disrupt the recording.

These two incidents, immediately following each other, are incredibly interesting to me, primarily in regards to our readings for class.  In an example of both Frankenstein and Caleb Williams, we have documentation and reporting through narration.  Each of these works seem to hold subjective reporting in extremely high regards, emphasizing the writing of journals in order to document history, regardless of subjectivity.  However, objective documentation in the form of recording seems to be completely unwanted tonight by both sides of the conflict.  And yet each side takes so readily to Twitter to document their feelings.

I would argue, therefore, that Frankenstein and Caleb Williams offer very unique insights into tonight’s conflict – in both of these stories, the reporting is purely subjective.  Likewise, Twitter is also purely subjective.  It seems that the “attacked” medium, livefootage, is unwanted as a purely objective form of documentation.  I am therefore curious what use objectivity has in the complexities of the works we have read for class.  Can we only arrive at the “truth” of these situations by delving into the subjective rather than the objective?  Is there even such a thing as the objective in regards to both journal or footage keeping?

The livefootage was archived, and readily available upon request.  However, the site is very aflame with spammers and racial remarks, so it is a very “Not Safe For Work” environment at the moment, so I will refrain from posting it anywhere on this site, just in case. Now, to sleep.  If none of this made sense, expect edits in the morning!

Murray’s Digital Affordances and the Matrix

Posted by Maura-Kate Costello on Friday, April 17th, 2015 at 5:00 pm - (1 Comments)

Meant to post this sooner- sorry for the delay!


The article we read by Janet Murray on the affordances of digital environments for narrative invited some interesting considerations of The Matrix and the world is projects.

Murray explains that the computer is procedural in that they can replicate and perform procedures that are coded into its software. It can reproduce recognizable patterns and act accordingly. Murray gives the example of the computer-psychologist Eliza, who duped many individuals into thinking there was a real psychologist on the other side of the computer, so well did the software predict the programmatic responses psychologists often give. The matrix is procedural to the maximum degree because it has not only predicted one piece of reality—like Eliza, the psychologist—but it has been able to map out (and I use this word purposely to invoke Baudrillard’s discussion on the Borges map) the entire human reality in all its detail and complexity. This means first of all that there is a “pattern” to human life and the universe that can be determined, and furthermore that the machines have discovered it and been able to reproduce it with almost total accuracy. Of course there are ways to test the limits of these simulated realities—one can play with responses for Eliza that reveal her non-humanness and the deja-vus in the matrix mark the glitches that belie the constructed nature of its world.


That digital environments are participatory means that participants interact with the computer and the variability of their input into the system effects different changes in the computer program. In other words, it gives the illusion of freedom because different choices yield different results. The matrix is participatory, and made visually so by the socket these characters have in the back of their heads. It is interesting to note here that there are two types of participation in the matrix. The “unconscious” humans perhaps model the most immediate, prescribed type of participation, whereas members of the Nebuchednezzar crew model the kind of participation available to hackers. The former type of participant holds the illusion that the choices they make are free, when in reality, they have been predetermined by the computer code that programs the matrix. Hackers, on the other hand, participate in such a way that their choices effect a change in the structure of the system itself—or so the Wachovsky siblings—and Morpheus and Neo—would have us believe; and this is only possible because they can exit the system. All this brings up an interesting discussion on free will and what is really possible in/around the matrix. If it’s really the case that the hackers have a wider range of freedom than the dormant humans, what is the limit (even if extended) of their freedom? What changes can they really effect if Neo kills Agent Smith several times and he always returns? Or if the oracle can predict his action before he performs it?

Another angle to consider is the participation of the machines/agents in the matrix and what this means for their free will… Is Agent Smith exercising free will when he talks to Morpheus without being plugged in or shaded by his sunglasses? Or is he just performing more extreme behavior encoded by the system because it is provoked by Morpheus’ resistance? What kind of freedom was Smith imagining in his desire to escape the matrix? Do we believe that there’s really a subjectivity in him that feels those desires? If so, how is he different than his human-hacker enemies who also want to escape the matrix? These questions trouble the notion of free will altogether and the notion that the hacker-humans are really experiencing/exercising any significantly greater measure of freedom than before they exited the matrix.


The latter two characteristics of digital environments that Murray discusses are that they are spatial and encyclopedic. That the matrix is spatial I think is fairly straightforward in that participants are given the notion that they can move around in space and that the formation of that space has consequences on the range of choices available to them. Even though Neo can bend the rules, he still operates within a space that determines the kinds of choices he can make. To link this aspect to the Heim reading, the matrix has succeeded in creating a fully-immersive experience in a way that our current virtual reality technologies could never achieve. Interestingly, what makes this possible in the matrix is the fact that what it accesses and shapes is a person’s very consciousness (their brain is plugged in) rather than the more external access to sensory input/output afforded by technologies like the helmet and the body suit.  In order here is a nod to the power of ideology in creating its own not-so-virtual realities in their ability to control/access the consciousnesses of its subjects.


The encyclopedic nature appears and is questioned in several moments of the film. Beyond the obvious encyclopedic nature of reproducing all of human reality, we can look to the store of computer programs Morpheus and his crew have in order to train themselves to enter the matrix. These programs are encyclopedic in their attempts at being exhaustive and also hope to simulate circumstances that will train the hackers for all possible problems they might encounter in the matrix. The other more interesting link to the encyclopedic factor of the matrix is that of time. The matrix is not only spatially exhaustive but also temporally exhaustive, as is demonstrated by the oracle’s fore-knowledge of Neo’s bumping into the vase. This more than the spatial component troubles the notion of free-will more than anything else. If the action of the hackers, who have exited the system, is also predetermined, where does free will really play itself out? Another thought on the encyclopedic nature of the matrix is its link to memory. If the matrix builds and stores the memories of all the humans that are plugged into the system, how are they different than the replicants in Blade Runner, whose memories have been fabricated and implanted in them by the Tyrell Corporation?

In February 2015, Oklahoma lawmakers attempted to cut funding for new AP history program because it presented a ‘radically revisionist view of American history.’[i] The radically different history that the state government was trying to extricate from the optional AP program was one that failed to highlight a staunch view of American ‘exceptionalism.’ A main concern was that the course had been ‘written in a way that does not promote a particular political position or interpretation of history;’ the subversive history program’s outline wanted to incorporate the United States’ use of WWII internment camps and “moral questions raised by the dropping of the atomic bomb.” The lawmakers’ explicit use of history as a political tool notwithstanding, political censorship of history is, of course, nothing new. But what happens when that history is not quietly censored but openly changed to suit a more desirable origin narrative? When the political system, through its own disquiet, exposes the constructed model of our social and historical beginnings that it desires so desperately to naturalize? Oklahoma did not want the history program to make a more objective or truthful historical account, merely one that viewed the U.S. as the good protagonist. The problem that this event brings to light is not what can be known about our history, but that there is a responsibility of knowing that we have toward our own origin story because we are its architects.

Blake’s The Book of Urizen re-envisions the Western “original” origin myth, taken from the dominant theological perspective of Christianity. What we see when placing this poem in conjunction with our own national narrative is that his 18th century Britain and our 21st century America are not as disparate as they may first seem. Entrenched beliefs about America’s Christian upbringing permeate a large portion of political rhetoric, while we continue to pass laws across the country that push to bridge the gap between church and state. Yet, the point of this essay is not to confront Christianity as a social model, but rather that America’s fervent desire to return to its believed origins warrants a discussion not about particular origin stories, but how origin myths present a unique opportunity to address what we believe to know about ourselves and our responsibility toward that knowledge.

This “responsible knowing” idea relates to recent philosophical work done in both epistemology and ethics, which are directly or indirectly in conversation with a disillusioned attitude toward the possibility of absolute knowledge. Particularly, virtue epistemologists over the last 30 years have been trying to determine the moral implications of knowing when knowledge may be logically indeterminable. Unlike consequentialist or deontological ethics, which focus on the moral implications of “acts” instead of the person, virtue ethics decidedly focuses on the moral “agent” and not the “act.” Similarly, virtue epistemology views knowing/knowledge through the person knowing and not an “objective” knowledge itself. The question that this permits is: if knowing is not about immutable knowledge but about the person/society who does the knowing, then what responsibilities does that person/society have in the act of knowing? Blake’s The Book of Urizen implicitly brings to light the responsibility which emerges when we try to construct a self-identity through a single-perspective, historical narrative. Namely, it calls into question why any particular origin story is at all different from any other, even if their antithetical counterpart ends up in the same eventual place, a state of dictated unity. If knowing our history is not just about the truth of already happened events but an “interpretation of history”, then that history is about knowing ourselves in the present relative to our past.

What Urizen makes us consider in this case is: do we have a responsibility to perpetuate a single-perspective history of America, whereby such an America is always the good protagonist, or does that responsibility extend beyond our own desire for the nation to be its own self-generated savior? If we are a “melting-pot” country, comprised out of numerous cultures, languages, and histories that appear to conflict with the constructed national narrative of “exceptionalism,” are we responsible for incorporating those “other” narratives as well? For good or ill? If we don’t then what nation’s history are we retelling? One that does not and has not existed. That history becomes irreferential with no actual place in time to connect it. If we are responsible, then that forces us to recognize our own fragmented and often self-destructive past, fraught with marring stories of by-gone horrors and subjugative tendencies. Something that, of course, makes us no different from the rest of world; it makes us responsible for being decidedly unexceptional.

[i] Hartmann, Margaret. “Why Oklahoma Lawmakers Voted to Ban AP U.S. History.” Daily Intelligencer: New York, Feb. 18 2015.

Urizen & Genesis

Posted by Sara Lyons on Thursday, April 9th, 2015 at 8:14 am - (0 Comments)

What follows will be my (as of yet) underdeveloped thoughts regarding the Book of Urizen, particularly how it compares to the Book of Genesis and what that comparison reveals. (I will further develop this later.)

I feel as though Blake forms Urizen based on Genesis in order to evoke a comparison of the two in the mind of the reader and does so to ultimately subvert that very text…

In Blake’s retelling of the Biblical book, he takes multiple characters from the original and conflates them into singular characters. A primary example of this is Urizen himself, who appears to be a conflation of God and Satan. I’ve read online that some are certain that Urizen is the fallen angel, Lucifer, but in my own reading he is more akin to God himself. At the same time, we get characters like Los and Enitharmon who clearly mirror Adam and Eve; yet, Los seems to have a creative power like that of Urizen in that Enitharmon doesn’t just come from his body, but he creates her. Furthermore, Los is called the “Eternal Prophet” which complicates his role as the creation of Urizen (if he is) because Adam was not a prophet. The “eternal” part of Los’ title comes back into a reading of him as Adam-like because he later loses his “eternity” in copulating with Enitharmon, just as Adam and Eve lose Eden (paradise) in their copulation. After the birth of their child (the serpent), the text says “Stretch’d for a work of eternity/No more Los beheld Eternity”, indicating that Los is now a mortal man (like Adam). In Urizen, then, the result of this copulation is described as a “worm” that turns into a “serpent”; this clearly alludes to the serpent that tempts Adam and Eve from the Garden: “Coild within Enitharmons womb/The serpent grew casting its scales/With sharp pangs the hissings began/To change to a grating cry/Many sorrows and dismal throes/Many forms of fish, bird & beast/Brought forth an Infant form/Where was a worm before.” Yet the fact that the intercourse causes the serpent, rather than the serpent causing the intercourse, seems suggestive of something else (though I have yet to think through this further as to what it might be suggesting).

Beyond the content of the text, I find the textual aspects implicated in this project fascinating (and relevant) as well. The Bible, especially Genesis, has many pieces by many authors that anyone could take as the authoritative text – the same goes for the many existing texts of Urizen. In textual aspects, then, too, Blake subverts the integrity of the Biblical text by following its form.

This takes more close reading and research on my part.