English 738T, Spring 2015
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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!

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.

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.


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 …

    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?