English 738T, Spring 2015
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Author Archives: Manon Soulet

Tastee Wheat

Posted by Manon Soulet in Spring 2015 - (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?


Discussion of the PG project

Posted by Manon Soulet in Spring 2015 - (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).

Hacking the print book

Posted by Manon Soulet in Spring 2015 - (3 Comments)

Jumping from our presentation on the Blake Archive a couple weeks ago, I would like to dedicate this blog post to one particular issue raised by digitizing Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – and, generally speaking, by the process of digital remediation – that is the question of the materiality of the print book and its implications.

What do you lose by getting rid of the book? What does the print book offer that the digital one does not? Does the change of frame affect our reception of Blake’s work? According to Andrew Piper in Dreaming in Books, in the 19th century, “it was precisely the materiality of the book that provided the contours to such imagining, indeed to the imagination itself.” But what about TMHH? Blake himself experimented with the concept of the book by combining textual and visual elements in order to unsettle the reader’s reception; eventually contributing to the redefinition of literature. Blake already complicated the traditional signification of the book. With the development of digital technology, the role of the print book is no longer evident.

 Is literature contained within the print book? According to Piper, it was during the 19th century that this idea started to spread with “the emergence of this nexus between the book and literature”. Yet, the growing popularity of devices like Kindles and e-books seem to disprove it. Indeed, digitizing a book amounts to separating literature and print book by transposing literature onto another platform, another space removed from the physical book. According to Piper, it leads us to “reimagine a literary work as residing not in a single book but as part if an interrelated bibliographic network.” Matthew Kirschenbaum in his article entitled “Bookscapes: Modeling Books in Electronic Space” enriches this discussion by explaining that “books on the screen are not books, they are models of books.” What is literature then? For Katherine N. Hayles in “Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis”, literature is to be met as “the interplay between form and medium.” Following this statement, we may wonder: what does a book do? To answer this question, Kirshenbaum identifies for instance what he calls five affordances of the book: “books are simultaneously sequential and random access”, “books are volumetric objects”, “books are finite”, “books offer a fundamentally comparative space”, and finally “books are writeable”.

As Piper explains about in the 19th century: “Adapting to books… was not something that just happened. It necessitated significant reorganizations of both social and individual identities.” The apparition of a new cultural media affected individual identities. The same can be said today about the development of digital culture. As a result of remediation, literature becomes a social experience, a collective process. It no long constitutes a private, intimate experience, but a public and interconnected one, shared across the WWW.

The same transition – from private to collective – goes for the print book itself. When we read a book online, it seems that the question of possession comes into account. We cannot possess anything online because we, as users, are separated from the object in question. And few people know better than students/lovers of literature that a book constitutes a valuable possession. Yet, considering that possessions sometimes work as a way to complete a person, it seems that when we are online, we are losing that sense of possession, and by extension, that sense of completeness. In this sense, reading a book online may, in a way, amount to losing or at least to dispense with a part of ourselves. Moreover, the remediation from print book to the web implies moving the text from a stable and monolithic structure to one that is ever changing. The digital space thrives on evolution; it guarantees interconnection, universal access, and no virtual limits, which in theory sounds like an ideal accomplishment. Yet, as a fluid form of communication, it also constitutes a space of constant mobility and updating, a tool that escapes control and with which the individual can never keep up and can even potentially lose him/herself.

Could a system based on universal access and inclusion turn out to be alienating? Are books bound to undergo re-edition, re-appropriation, transformation, and maybe eventually, disintegration? It sounds like a dreadful prospect – maybe something to think about…

Hayles, N K. “Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: the Importance of Media-Specific Analysis.” Music Educators Journal. 90 (2004): 67-90. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “Bookscapes: Modeling Books in Electronic Space”. Human-Computer Interaction Lab 25th Annual Symposium. May 29, 2008.

Piper, A. “Dreaming in Books: the Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age.” Literature & History. 20.2 (2011): 97. Print.