Aesthetigasm

Sunday, May 28, 2006

the word vs. the flesh

In the first season of GITS:SAC, the team was hunting down the Laughing Man, more commonly known only by his logo, that of a smiling face under a sideways baseball cap, and a spinning quotation from Catcher in the Rye.

As many of us know, logos is the Greek word for "word" or "speech." Man is endowed with the power of logos and from it stems his ability to think, to write, to make his wishes known in a civilised manner. In the Gospel of John, John says that in the beginning there was the WORD, and the WORD was GOD, and the WORD was with GOD."

In Greek, John said God was LOGOS. Christ was the Word made Flesh.

In the second season of GITS:SAC, the team is hunting down Kuze, a man. This man has very special gifts--not only does he have a reinforced prosthetic structure which makes him very strong, but as a man he seems to be a natural leader. He has a handsome face, and is capable of making hard decisions, and always seems to want to take the side of the underdog. One cannot help but like him.

One of Derrida's questions in On Grammatology is whether or not the word should be privileged over the text. That is, should we trust a man's "word," that which he gives us with a handshake, over what he writes down? Is there a difference? If so, what is it, and how does that difference change our interactions?

What I find interesting about these two seasons is that the writers of the series seem to be working out this question for themselves. They have split the word and the flesh into two separate enemies. One deals solely in information, the other is spectacularly strong. One is a complete standalone complex, the other was once a member of a terrorist organization held together only by a cyber-brain virus masquerading as a phantom essay which never truly existed. One could barely speak to his friends, the other is a natural leader.

Word, versus flesh.

2nd Gig

Watching Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2nd Gig) has been food for thought. My husband and I have always enjoyed the show, as well as the GITS franchise in general. The first season was intellectually stimulating, but the second season is proving to be even more subtle. It is truly media about media, rife with metaphors which suggest that the Internet may be metamorphosing into a digital Jungian collective unconscious. Such an unconscious could then give birth to a separate entity, like the Puppet Master/Project 2501.

More and more, I am realizing that the GITS franchise is about reproduction, and that Shirow himself is concerned with this theme, as it is at the heart of Appleseed's plot-conceit.

While I agree with the writers of GITS:SAC 2G that the Internet has become a depository for our thoughts and opinions, and that watching the trends among those thoughts is much like watching a school of fish dart through the sea, I don't think that a full collective unconscious--even one maintained on a series of external memory devices--can be achieved until representatives from all walks of life have uploaded data.

Jung himself came under fire--and rightly so--for his anti-Semitism. A milder critique would be that Jung's theory is remarkably enthnocentrist, in that it posits Western archetypes as human archetypes, thereby eliminating Asian, African, or First Nation myths from the universal paradigm. I think these critics have a point, and the same point can be made when we conceptualize the Internet as a new collective unconscious. It simply cannot be a complete unconsciousness, because not all of us are represented. In much of the world, the Internet is a luxury, as are the machines and the infrastructure which make access to it possible. And in the parts of the world where the Internet is available, only certain groups have access. Of the groups that do have access, some are censored. Most recently, China has been criticized for censoring Internet users. Any way we look at it, the fact remains that the Internet is not put together by all people everywhere, but by certain groups.

If the Internet is the site of the any collective unconscious, that consciousness is informed by the archetypes and symbols known only by those privileged enough to communicate them.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In which the Habsburgs have the last laugh.

The Romanian government has handed back a castle in Transylvania back to one of the last Habsburg heirs, who is now an architect based out of New York. The castle has been used in countless "Dracula" pictures, but was seized by the Communists in 1948. You can read more here.

Somewhere in their marble mausoleums, the Borgias, the Medicis, and the Habsburgs are snickering.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

cloaked?!

In other news, modern science has finally brought us the Invisibility Cloak.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Frames Per Second Magazine

I have just completed a review of ACAG '06 for Frames Per Second Magazine. As far as I know, it should be appearing in next month's issue.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Unit 00 (Rei)

Neon Genesis Evangelion's mysterious Rei Ayanami's first name translates to "zero" in Japanese. As such, Rei signifies a time before time, or perhaps a time before counting. This is yet another reference to her identity as the clone of Shinji's mother--she is what he knew before knowledge. She is primordial, primitive, thoroughly embodied rather than spiritual. She has no concern for societal expectations, choosing to prioritize her personal loyalties (like those to Shinji and his father) above going to school, keeping a stylish apartment, or wearing nice clothes. She also rejects social niceties and courtesy in favor of telling the truth--one of the primary differences between Rei and her fellow pilot Asuka is that Asuka is concerned with how others perceive her, and Rei is not. Where the other characters are strangers to LCL--the "primordial soup" in which lifeforms swam before evolving--Rei soaks in it, needing regular exposure to the substance for her body's continued coherence.

Many viewers may be tempted to see Rei as a victim simply because she lives in apparent poverty and has few recognizable social skills. However, Rei seems to be a creature of desire, refusing to consult others when she has made a decision, and often defying orders at critical moments. While Asuka may see Rei as a doll or puppet, Rei frequently makes her own choices, especially where Shinji's safety is concerned. Although ostensibly Rei ascribes to no major religion or philosophy, she has adopted a strong "others first, self last" ethic. When describing this to Shinji, she speaks of a deep love which connects her to all people. In contrast, Asuka has already graduated from university and considers herself an intellectual, but feels profoundly alienated from her fellow humans, constantly estimating her relationships to them in terms of superiority and inferiority.

We might therefore call Rei a child of nature. Although this phrase conjures up images of sublime, pre-lapsarian innocence, Rei is anything but. She is a cyclic being who has lived multiple lives. She has an intimate understanding of suffering and pain. Rather than innocent, Rei is resigned: she is fully aware that what exists now can be swept away later. (Dr. Akagi says that Rei's aesthetic is based on water and light, two elements which are in constant shift.) Her words "if I die, I can be replaced," are at once a harbinger of deep existential torment and a call to reject the crippling, self-satisfactory ideals of individuality, as well as an acknowledgement of her own cloned status. Rather than self-aggrandizement or self-definition, Rei pilots the Eva because it is her duty--she feels compelled to protect humanity.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

International Conference on Asian Comics, Animation, and Gaming

Tomorrow I will be presenting a paper on subtexts of sex work in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It's a dark and stormy afternoon in Toronto, and I am reviewing the episodes listed on my "works cited" page.

There's a Kierkegaard joke in Stand Alone Complex. In episode 5, Kusanagi states that the Laughing Man, a class-A hacker, loaded something called the "Virus Program Unto Death" onto a major genetics firm's servers. Discerning viewers will recall this book, on despair.

Stand Alone Complex also has several jokes at J.D. Salinger, Marshal MacLuhan, and Jean-Luc Godard's expense. Not to mention the early exchange between the Tachikomas, which one might view as a three-minute reduction of Derrida's Of Grammatology.

All of which are reasons to adore the series, as I do.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

what is an "aesthetigasm"?

One misty evening during my Seattle Period, Eigenstate and I went to see GITS II:Innocence at the Cinerama. Occasionally, SIFF yields great gems, and that evening was one of them. We grabbed last-minute seat-filler tickets outside the Theater Paul Allen Rebuilt, the same theater where I had once watched a glorious, 70mm print of Vertigo, and a sepia-toned original print of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since both previous experiences depended largely on the films in question being favorites of mine since childhood, I wondered whether seeing a new film at the Cinerama would give me the same charge. My anticipation for Oshii's sequel to his 1995 masterpiece was high--I had insisted to my friend that we see it together--but the perils of sequels are many. In addition, I questioned how many of my fellow Seattleites would venture out to see an anime film, so close to the end of the film festival.

I needn't have worried.

That night, the Cinerama was packed. The audience was an intersection of consummate geekery: anime fans, sci-fi viewers, Nihongo-philes, cine-philes. We were lucky to find two seats beside one another.

And then we learned it was the North American premiere.

Needless to say, Oshii's second film in the Ghost in the Shell franchise was gorgeous. I find that most films these days--with the exception of fantastical Christmas blockbusters inspired by English authors--are designed for the small screen. They look just as good small as they do large. I think we can thank the widespread use of DVD's for this, because more cinephiles are watching at home for special features than ever before. And in most cases, the moments in a film which make reviewers use stock phrases like "epic" or "sweeping" are those which involve special effects we've all seen before--you know, the sort Cecil B. DeMille once used thousands of extras for, the sort that made us all glad that The Forbidden Planet relied on Walt Disney Studios for its animation.

Rarely is a film better-looking on a big screen, and rarely is it so in a small way.

What made Innocence so delicious were the details. At any moment, within a single frame, were a thousand details which added depth and breadth to what might otherwise have been a very two-dimensional (pun intended) mise en scene. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the festival sequence, which Oshii modeled after a parade he and his producers saw in Taiwan. Later, I would learn that Oshii and his animators refined this scene over and over, adding movement, shifting color gradients, slowing down frame-rates.

During my virgin viewing, however, I knew none of those things. I knew only that I could not quite breathe, because something quite beautiful was unfolding on the screen.

Later, Eigenstate's roommate asked me how the film was. At the time, he was working on a re-telling of Christ's Passion starring Lego men, and was setting up his next stop-motion shot. "It was...breathtaking," I said.

"Oh yeah?" he asked. "Are your panties wet?"

Which brings us to an aesthetigasm. It is that moment when culture and cunning collide, or perhaps when high-brow and low-brow meet in a smile. For me it was a moment when my awareness of one text's place among other texts made the one onscreen all the lovelier--for without its constant invocation of Milton, Innocence would not be half the film it really is.
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