Technoromanticism » Maura-Kate Costello English 738T, Spring 2015 Thu, 21 May 2015 19:52:25 +0000 en hourly 1 Murray’s Digital Affordances and the Matrix Fri, 17 Apr 2015 22:00:33 +0000 Maura-Kate Costello Read more ]]> 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?

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Scar Tissue and the New Self Fri, 13 Mar 2015 16:54:59 +0000 Maura-Kate Costello Read more ]]> 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!

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collecting the leftovers Wed, 04 Mar 2015 23:00:50 +0000 Maura-Kate Costello Read more ]]> 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?

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Pirating PG Wed, 04 Mar 2015 18:04:46 +0000 Maura-Kate Costello Read more ]]> 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 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.

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