English 738T, Spring 2015
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Man, Machine,

Posted by Justin Thompson on Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 at 11:46 am - (2 Comments)

By the end of the third Matrix movie, as Neo is held aloft — Christ-like — by the mechanical tendrils of the machine consciousness, it is clear that, if he were once human, he has now ascended to something greater. He has fused man and machine to become the salvation of both. The question of the boundaries between man and machine are complicated throughout the series (including the fantastic series of shorts, “The Animatrix”) but are, ultimately, lost in the final film’s heady brew of theology, resistance, war, and a drawn-out fight between Neo and Agent Smith that would fit better in a Superman film.

The first film flirts with these ideas. Tank calls Neo “a machine” during his training, and Trinity tells him, after one of the many rooftop fights, that Neo “dodged bullets like them” — “them” referring to the agents, the software entities programmed to protect the Matrix from those who would subvert and destroy it. Neo begins to act more and more like the agents as his abilities within the matrix progress, to the point where he is able to enter another entity. This is a relatively confusing moment, and one that receives surprisingly little attention in the sequels. One of the more dangerous capabilities that the Agents possess is their ability to enter (and thereafter control) any mind that is plugged into the Matrix. It happens again and again, whether they inhabit the body of a helicopter pilot or a homeless man. This omnipresence makes them incredibly dangerous. At the end of the movie, however, we see Neo jump into the “body” of Agent Smith (I use “body” because it is unclear what relationship a purely digital being like Agent Smith has to a simulated corporeal body). Neo enters and implodes the body and, as we learn later, “infects” Agent Smith with some of his power. This is all in addition to the very physical manifestations of Neo’s growth under the machines: the plugs and holes in his arms and back and at the base of his skull.

Once Agent Smith, infected and empowered by his contact with Neo, has overtaken the Matrix, it is Neo who offers himself as a sacrifice that “balances” the program and ends the fighting between the Machines and Zion. Metaphorically, then, the binary opposition between man and machine is solved only through synthesis, a point the films could have asserted more strongly or emphasized through a more literal synthesis between Neo and the machines. Instead, Neo’s martyrdom leads to a ceasefire and an agreement (between the Architect and the Oracle) that those who do not assent to the simulation will be freed. The logical extension to this solution, then, is the creation of two different “races” of human: those willing to continue to live blithely in the Machine’s simulation and those who occupy Zion. It is a world where a figure like Morpheus would no longer have any role to play. But such a world reinscribes the opposition between man and machine and posits a future where those groups will remain separate, discrete civilizations. This new dynamic will actually decrease the amount of interaction, as the freedom fighter/ Agent battles will no longer be necessary.

I’m not sure how to interpret this ending (of the final film). Are the filmmakers purposefully avoiding the creation of a cyborg? Is Neo a cyborg? Donna Harroway would not agree, as Neo is recreating salvation history and does nothing to disrupt that cycle. Always more questions …

Matrix and Baudrillard Questions

Posted by Justin Thompson on Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 at 10:25 am - (0 Comments)
    1. Explain, in your own words, Baudrillard’s concept of the simulation and the simulacrum. Give an example (and feel free to take one of the examples from the book).

    2. What is the real? What is the hyperreal? What does it mean to no longer have referents?

    3. Based on this week’s reading, how do you understand the distinction between real and digital in The Matrix? What role does the gaze or the eyes play in this negotiation?

    4. In his stages of the real (see handout for clarification), is Baudrillard saying that we had access to the real during an earlier historical moment?

    5. What about capitalism (and the industrial revolution before) caused us to lose access to the real?

    6. Baudrillard says that the real no longer exists. Do we agree? What are the implications for philosophy, for art, for technology if Baudrillard is right?

    7. The Matrix goes so far as to name the area where liberated humans are introduced to the idea of the matrix as the “desert of the real.

    8. How does the film interpret Baudrillard? Is the Matrix a simulation? Does that mean Zion (and the machine world) are the real?

    9. What does it mean that “naturally” born characters, like Tank, do not have access to the simulation? Are they more human? Is this possible?

    10. References to religion are numerous in The Matrix. How does the Matrix complicate the concepts of (pro)creation, origin, and finally femininity?

    11. Are the humans in the Matrix actually machines? Where is this line drawn in the movie? What characters transgress these boundaries and what does this mean?

    12. What, ultimately, are the humans defending?

    13. How does the movie reinterpret and play with the system of the sign (referent, signifier, signified) previously discussed in Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation?

    14. How does the Matrix utilize the affordances of the digital environment, as outlined by Murray?

    15. What about the separation between mind and body? How does it affect the notion of the self?

    16. In the world of the Matrix, only the “mind” can enter the simulation, even though choices made in the simulation can affect the body in the real. Is the film endorsing a mind/ body dualism or is it rejecting such philosophy? Or is the discussion more nuanced?

    17. Would Baudrillard take the red pill or the blue pill?

    18. Who was Neo speaking to at the end of the film?

Writing as Technology in Jackson’s PWG and in Hypertext

Posted by Amanda Gogarty on Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 at 12:02 pm - (0 Comments)

Reading our course content thus far really has me stuck on the questions of what, exactly, are language and technology.  A particular text that has especially provoked this strain of thinking for me is Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl.  One of the dictionary definitions of technology reads, “machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge,” and when considering Jackson’s work in terms of this definition, it becomes reasonable to see her hypertext novel as a kind of “machinery,” or, in other words, as a “technology” in itself.

By choosing a digital, hypertext format for her novel, Jackson gives her readers a certain amount of freedom to choose how they access the text.  The novel is “rewritten,” (or at least reconfigured each time it is read.)  This constant rewriting or reconfiguring of the text is consistent with how Jackson herself patches together Mary Shelley’s original work of Frankenstein with the stories of the female monster (who Victor created for his original monster, but destroyed) and with the stories of the various, deceased women whose body parts are used in PWG to reinvent the female monster.

In her article”Stitch Bitch: the patchwork girl”, Jackson makes a number of compelling statements about hypertext, however one particular point that caught my attention is when she states:

“I noticed in school that I could argue anything. I might find myself delivering conclusions I disagreed with because I had built such an irresistable machine for persuasion. The trick was to allow the reader only one way to read it, and to make the going smooth. To seal the machine, keep out grit. Such a machine can only do two things: convince or break down. Thought is made of leaps, but rhetoric conducts you across the gaps by a cute cobbled path, full of grey phrases like “therefore,” “extrapolating from,” “as we have seen,” giving you something to look at so you don’t look at the nothing on the side of the path.”

Here, Shelley herself seems to suggest that language is a kind of technology by referring to the arguments she herself used to build as “irresistible machine[s] for persuasion.”  Her notion that the kind of “machine” built from this kind of reasoning can only convince someone of something or completely fail  also tempts us to consider that there is a third option, which she describes as looking at the “nothing.”

Jackson later describes hypertext as “show[ing] the gamble that thought is.  She also views it as a medium that welcomes “criticism” and “refusal.”  One of the most interesting things she says about writing hypertext, however, is that any author of it must consider the fact that his or her reader may choose to stop reading at any point.  She then concludes that “the choice to go do something else might be the best outcome of a text.”

Jackson’s work (specifically PWG) seems to be a call to action to her readers; she constantly invites them to reconfigure and reinvent stories, and she sees writing as a communal, transient act through which stories should constantly be transformed and re-told.  If we re-visit the traditional definition of technology as “machinery or equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge” in conjunction with Jackson’s “Stitch bitch,” is it indeed easy to see PWG, hypertext, and writing itself as a kind of ever-developing technology that is based on a constant application of knowledge.  In Jackson’s hypertext, however, this knowledge comes from entering into a constant, written conversation that allows the reader to become the author and vice versa.  Like stories, reader/author roles are not permanent within these kinds of texts.  They are not only developed, but they are constantly developing.

Scar Tissue and the New Self

Posted by Maura-Kate Costello on Friday, March 13th, 2015 at 11:54 am - (1 Comments)

Our class discussion on Patchwork Girl and the supplemental readings for that week got me thinking a great deal about scar tissue, ugliness, the self, monstrosity, desire, and beauty. It is clear from both the structure of the hypertext and Jackson’s lecture on it that unity, linearity and wholeness partake of a tyrannical lie that she wants to reveal as such and to overturn. And this is ideal for her because unity necessarily means uniformity, which in turn necessarily excises those parts of the self or existence that do not or cannot conform to whatever image of unity is upheld as the ideal, and it also overlooks the scars (marks of joining) that make any kind of conglomeration possible; for Jackson, this excision and denial are the monstrous acts rather than deviations from wholeness more traditionally ascribed to the monstrous. But what do we make of the fact that “it was her scars that seemed to pain her the most”? Her scars, the signs on her body that both testify to the accomplishment of some kind of unity of parts and to the fact that the “wholeness” of her body is, in reality, a patchwork. We have been shown the lie of unity, but the scars that mark our bodies still leave us longing for beauty; they are painful because they force us to recognize our patchwork monstrosity, which seems to trap us in an eternal horror at oneself. At worst, we are like Victor who violently rejects this, and at best, we can accept this condition as Mary does (though even she remains uncomfortable with it, even as she comes to terms with it). Another scene that speaks to this dynamic is that in which patchwork girl is falling apart in the tub, and Elsie joins her there amidst her disintegrating parts. The juxtaposition of this grotesque image with the tenderness of Elsie’s gesture is supremely interesting to me. It seems here that Elsie, even more than Mary Shelley, is able to truly love and embrace patchwork girl in all of her fragmented monstrosity, but this love is not able to make any of that monstrosity whole or beautiful… Elsie enters the grotesque and the ugly, stays there and truly loves it, but beauty is not generated from this. PWG, who is so ashamed of her scars is never able to see herself as beautiful, no matter how much Mary or Elsie embrace and accept her patchwork nature. It leaves me wondering… is it possible to truly love oneself or to love an other if one adopts the view of the fragmented self that Jackson (and all contemporary theory) proposes? What does that look like? It seems to me that the position that regards the self as, in its essence, a fragmented entity (because, in any case, this is still, at bottom, an essentialist argument; albeit one that is organized around the principle of fragmentation and diversity rather than unity and sameness), has still to answer: what beauty does this generate? What does this build? What does it mean to love such an entity? I do not mean to suggest a return to a completely Arnoldian view of the self, literature, world, etc. As we know, this is rife with deep problems that many scholars have explicated at length. However, I would be interested to see where the pendulum will settle between these two extremes, because they both, to me, seem to lack a great deal. I’m unwilling to give up the possibility of a unified self, just as much as I am unwilling to deny its fragmentation.

I think Jackson gets close to responding to this dilemma in her article “Stitch Bitch,” when she explains, “I don’t want to lose the self, only to strip it of its claim to naturalness, its compulsion to protect its boundaries, its obsession with wholeness and its fear of infection. I would like to invent a new kind of self which […] changes directions easily, sheds parts and assimilates new ones. Desire rather than identity is its compositional principle. […] The banished body [or we could say “the self” just as easily] is permeable, it is entered by the world via the senses and can only roughly define its boundaries.” What’s interesting here, is that even though they are roughly defined, in any case, boundaries do exist, and boundaries suggest a wholeness. But Jackson’s notion of permeable borders is an interesting one because it allows for some level of coherence (even if the most basic) while at the same time openness to “change,” “infection,” and assimilation of new parts that can generate something new… It’s a notion of the self that is trying to get away from the sterility of monolithic notions of identity and is motivated instead by “desire” for novelty, for what is other-than the self.

There are still many ideas and questions to sort through for me here, and I think I still need to articulate the ones I’ve written here more clearly, but it’s my first stab, and I’d be interested to know what you all think of these issues!

collecting the leftovers

Posted by Maura-Kate Costello on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 6:00 pm - (0 Comments)

Just had an idea thinking about our work from the previous week between the draft, 1818 and 1831 editions of Frankenstein… What if we did something with the parts of the Frankenstein text that were shed or recreated in its various stages, and “resurrect” them to construct a new body in our redoing of PG. Maybe that’s not the best way of putting it… Those changes we observed are testimony of the multiplicity and malleability of text… of text as a location of change and moving parts. What if those “abjected” pieces came back to haunt and interrupt our new PG narrative?

Discussion of the PG project

Posted by Manon Soulet on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 3:50 pm - (0 Comments)

I was sick last week too so I hope I am not completely missing the point in this post!

Maybe we could have a section that would serve as a map of the project, a sort of itinerary or outline that would organize the digital project. It could work as a form of introduction, a tool to to guide the reader/user and orientate his approach of the project.

Significantly, SJ’s PG represents a digital explosion of parts, pages, images, text… and I could not think of any way to push her project further. But maybe this “map” section could be a way to suture PG back together, and, as such, pirate or “hack” her work.

– But this may be what the ‘Graveyard’ section is supposed to do with the Media Archeology? I am a little confused about what it means.

Moreover, I think we should absolutely devote one of the sections to a literary analysis of the text PG, along with one of its form (not to seem too retrograde). This is why I think the pedagogical/critical reading section part suggested in Neil’s email is a great idea. Unfortunately I was not here to attend the presentation either but judging from the questions and points the presenters sent us last week, it seemed really good and raised crucial points. So jumping from their presentation might be a very creative and productive way to build this section. I think it would be essential to incorporate a part like this in order to provide further explanations and help the user’s reading/experience. It seems like it maybe a nice way to combine both digital work and literary/close-reading work that English students are familiar with and enjoy doing. It may be a way to illustrate or represent our own position in this class, our duality, and our in-between-ness. It could be interesting to use the annotating tool we (Team 1831) experienced with during our reading of Frankenstein.

About the narrative part, do you mean that we should rewrite/complete Shelley Jackson’s and/or Mary Shelley’s story? Because I think it is a wonderful idea and I would like to support Maura-Kate’s suggestion on that topic (about pirating PG and allowing readers/users to contribute to the narrative). It may be a way for our class to appropriate the myth of Frankenstein and advance it, to make our own contribution? Perhaps imagining Mary Shelley’s reaction’s to PG? Or envisioning Mary Shelley herself as the PG?

Finally, I think Colin’s idea about adopting a post-gender position as well is really interesting. And maybe we could also bring in Herculine Barbin into the discussion of the male/female/other/monster categories (or former categories)? (it is the story of a French hermaphrodite during the 19th century).

Another Thought on PWG Project

Posted by Collin Lam on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 2:59 pm - (0 Comments)

So, it was no secret that I was infatuated with Kyle’s presentation on Prezi the other day. Every time Prezi moved to a new frame, it appeared to create the illusion of a 3-D model that I thought was incredibly interesting. For our PWG project, instead of a two dimensional frame presentation like Storyscape or Twine, would there be a way to access a more in-depth story generating model in 3-D? By applying virtual depth to the project, we could create a three dimensional network that would sort of resemble a world or galaxy of our pirated version, which would add a updated feel to the Storyscape model but also allow for a more accessible system of frame networking, if we were to allow for people outside our group to add their own stories or help with the creation of our “monster” story.

Justin’s PG Suggestions

Posted by Neil on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 2:39 pm - (0 Comments)

I do believe we should consider rewriting the story aspect of Patchwork Girl to complicate it further. One of the ways I think we should “edit” the texts is by admitting that we are a collective of authors. So, something akin to:

“Authorial statement: We are not the authors. We are the readers, the collectors, the editors, the vivisectionists. Yes, we have authored this work, we pirates, we ghosts, but you are the author. You are writing this work right now. It cannot exist without you.”

I think this acknowledges both our present situation (as a class working together) but also acknowledges the complicated textual history of the story. “We” can mean the class, Mary/ Shelley, Shelley and PWG, the class and PWG … the ambiguity it creates would fit well with Shelley Jackson’s tone in particular. Such a term would also allow us to incorporate the reader as an author (as I pointed to above).
For the story itself, I thought this could work as a series of interruptions into the narrative (or maybe footnotes?) that give it the sense of collaboration. So, something like this (and remember, I’m not a fiction writer):

From the creature: I wrote of my destruction because deaths are convenient endings. A death makes my story complete, which makes me complete. If I can die, then I had lived. If I suffer death, then I experienced life. This was beautiful. Endings are beautiful. My end made my beginning beautiful. In truth, I continue to exist. To live? Perhaps. I am reluctant to revive my tale, to give it a second (or third or fourth…) life that I was never intended to have. (We disagree). My collaboration with Shelley was supposed to be my final act, my first act of creation. After 175 years, I wanted to create and, in doing so, destroy myself. They — that is to say we — would not allow me such a beautiful end, as Elsie did. Elsie, who is now another piece of me. Another body part? A memory? They — that is to say we — claim it does not matter. Elsie is become one of us.

Looking forward to everyone’s feedback and (constructive) criticisms.

Jumping off of our conversation from last Wednesday, the two sections of our Patchwork Girl project that i would be most interested in developing are the “Story” and “quilt” sections.

I think that the idea of a journal (which was mentioned in an earlier post) would be a really beneficial way to approach the story section (or at least part of it) and would be an interesting form to write in, since we would indeed have to make decisions about whose voice(s) to use and about which stories we want to tell, and to what end.  It would allow us to continue, intertwine, and/or retell narratives that we have already been presented with in a unique way.

I am most intrigued by the idea of the “quilt” section for its potential to extend our critical discussion of “ownership,” especially as it relates to today’s digital works that are more widely and instantly accessible than their print predecessors.  Although it would be interesting to interweave quotations from Shelley Jackson (about wanting piratical readers) and Eastgate (about its proprietary control, perhaps even citations of lawsuits it has filed,) I think we could modernize this discussion a take it a step further by incorporating some modern authors, critics, etc. who are concerned with digital ownership of the text (and who have written articles about it in the past couple of years.)  Incorporating some recently scholarly work into our project could make a conversation about PWG itself and about other digital texts more inviting for current and future scholars.

Pirating PG

Posted by Maura-Kate Costello on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 1:04 pm - (0 Comments)

In thinking particularly about the story section, I thought we could possibly take from Scott McLeod’s comics that allow the viewer to view the story in varying layers of detail by clicking how many frames s/he wanted to read (see here http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/carl/3a/03.html) I think this could work especially well with the story line section, but that it could be used for the other sections as well. It may require us to fill in more detail and write our own parts of narrative in the graveyard/body section.

Also, I was thinking that the way Twine is set up, it still upholds the notion of linearity even if it introduces choice, because in any case you can only ever choose one direction to move. What about being able to choose more than one direction? This would manifest an experience of multiplicity in the reader that I think could be interesting. Is there anyway to get Twine to help us open more than one frame? In the story section, for example, a reader may choose to read the “monster” storyline alongside the “mistress” storyline instead of only choosing one and then (if s/he wanted) going back to read the other one. Also, what if you could read these storylines alongside Mary’s Journal and have three windows open? What would reading be like if a viewer could open all the frames at once? Or if s/he left the frames open as s/he moved through the hypertext?

Finally, and I kind of already began to mention this above, in the spirit of true pirating, what if there was a feature of Patchwork Girl 2.0 that allowed viewers not only to choose which direction(s) they wanted to take but also contribute to constructing the narrative? For example, viewers add their own details to the life-stories of the individuals whose bodyparts make up the female creature, or they add/extend the events that take place in the story section, they add journal entries of Mary while she was creating the monster, for example, or from the interim between her creation and her reencounter with her, or after the creature leaves (or does the creature leave? Mary only thinks that she will… a viewer-writer could change this). Or what about creating a journal by the female creature? Which opens up the further question of who is writing and from which part of the body? Viewer-writers could imagine/contribute all these possibilities.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I think these are ideas that we could at least talk about in class and see if we could incorporate in any way, within the limits of the software we will use/can find.