“Mind-blowing” would be the words I would use to sum up Thomas Lamarre’s talk on Friday afternoon. Using the manga, films, and anime of the Ghost in the Shell universe, Professor Lamarre powerfully wove his interpretation of cyborgs, the direction they are headed, and the ways in which technology works to create them.
Lamarre started off by explaining that cyborgs are a technology of the self. This technology of the self is then composed of two different elements: the technology of replication, which is usually posed at the level of the consciousness, and the technology of communication, which is usually posed through computer components and through cyberspace. He expounded that one existing technology that combines both of these parts is television, or what is referred to as a screen, in that it records images, and then proceeds to transmit them. He claimed that television, “…is what a cyborg is often about.”
The first method Lamarre had of showing this was through his section on the Ghost in the Shell manga, called “Beyond Dualism”. In this, he says that the manga expresses the idea that “…we can overcome dualism in terms of models of our materialism”, and shows this through the panels that depict a human brain and spinal cord hanging, about to be transplanted into an artificial body. He also shows us one of the first examples of a screen, in the manga panel where Motoko is looking through a large window at the garbage man who has had his mind hacked and possesses false memories.
Second, he looked to the Ghost in the Shell films, in a segment called “Beyond Substantialism”. Here, he emphasizes the role of hierarchy in the films, such as in the idea that the higher mental functions can control the lower functions. He claims that this hierarchy is carried out through management. It is also here that Lamarre points to one of the other examples of screens, that of the repeating images of scan lines, and the way that they are also exhibited in characters’ cyber perception. He connects this back to television, since we are led to the conclusion that not only do artificial eyes and cyber perception scan the world or cyberspace, but also transmit this information beyond themselves.
The last portion of Lamarre’s speech was called “Beyond Hylomorphism”. He defined hylomorphism (very briefly) as a theory of emergence of form through competing forces. In the Ghost in the Shell anime, this can be seen through the laughing man incident; a mysterious logo/virus that had no known cause or creator, managed to cause a major social affect merely through its existence. Lamarre connected this to the idea of the pervasive images of screens and televisions within the anime. These images cropped up even when they would be unnecessary (such as when characters were jacked in to the cyberspace), and would even be layered over one another or reflected in glass in a way that Lamarre claimed could actually cause people to “lose perception”. He described these overwhelming visual obstructions as becoming “social contagions”, influencing how people interact in the physical environment without having a physical presence.
At the end of his presentation, Prof. Lamarre left us with the sentiment that in the end, for humans and/or cyborgs, “…electromagnetic radiation is what is most in common”.
For me, Thomas Lamarre’s lecture was both intriguing and overwhelming. His idea that television and screens are one of the elements/forms of cyborgs was interesting, and I could definitely see how in the future this could be realized. Already today most cellular phones can take photos or videos and upload them to the internet, so it’s not much of a stretch to imagine such devices being implanted or attached to our bodies, thereby making us all cyborgs. However, I wonder how Lamarre’s theory of screens would operate when a cyborg does not realize that it is in fact a cyborg. In particular I am thinking of a situation similar to the replicants from Blade Runner. While in this film the replicants are not actual cyborgs but completely artificial beings, one character, Rachel, is not at first aware that she is not human. In all of Lamarre’s examples, he uses easily identifiable screens that have characteristic scan lines or digital displays overlapping the visual feed. For Rachel, we assume her eyesight is much the same as a human’s, except that it is like a camera, scanning and probably transmitting without her knowledge. It would be interesting to see whether her “screens” would fit into Lamarre’s premise.
Overall, Thomas Lamarre’s keynote lecture was an exhilarating experience, wrapping the idea of the cyborg into the technologies of television, and it has left me still pondering many of the proposed ideas still, days later.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, and Daryl Hannah. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1982 (2007 edition). Film.
Lamarre, Thomas. “Humans and Machines – Media Interface after the Cyborg.” Visions of the Future: Global Science Fiction Cinema Conference, University of Iowa. Main Library, Iowa City, IA. 13 April 2012. Keynote Speech.