Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Formal Blog Part 1 - Representation

Assess the impact that technology has upon representation (which you may want to define) in the world of the novel.

Representation: noun, a creation that is a visual or tangible rendering of someone or something.

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the planet is nearly bereft of life. The human population, (as well as animal populations) has been decimated with just a few remaining survivors. Existence has become a struggle and feelings of isolation abound.

Technology has provided an outlet for many humans in the creation of “empathy boxes” which allow humans to feel connected to their larger community by making them feel as if they are there Mercer in his trials (pelted with stones). The empathy boxes provide a “tangible rendering” of a communal existence and marks the participants with lasting bruises as evidence of their gathering, their communion with others.

Technology has also provided a more significant outlet; the creation of humanoid androids and synthetic animals. These representations also serve to alleviate some of the feelings of isolation as well as bring about other, more complex emotions.

For example, the arrival of Pris (and her compatriots) at Isidore’s apartment complex lifts the sense of despair that Isidore has been struggling under and provides him with purpose. Of course he is attracted to her. Of course he is thrilled to have company in his enormous vacant apartment building. But significantly, when he finally realizes that Pris and her friends are androids (representations of humans), this doesn’t change his feelings. Even after Roy Baty suggests that they (the androids) kill Isidore, Isidore tells the three of them, “I hope I can help make your stay on Earth pleasant,” (Dick 165) and fairly hums with happiness. The androids endow Isidore with a sense of community, friendship, and provide him with someone to care for (even if they feel nothing towards him).

Deckard has a more complex relationship with the synthetic animals (and humans) to say the least. Early in the book, Deckard ruminates on his feelings towards his sheep. He notes that “Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article.” (Dick 7). The mechanical sheep provides Deckard a way to save face among his neighbors. The fact that he possesses and demonstrates care towards an animal (even though he knows it to be a fake) reinforces his humanity, at least in the eyes of his neighbors. After all, androids would not care for any animal, synthetic or organic. The sheep represents Deckard’s desire to remain connected to his humanity and to be accepted in his community. The technology allows him to keep his fa├žade without his neighbors any the wiser. Unfortunately, the animal provides very little true comfort to Deckard. The mechanical sheep is not enough to alleviate his sense of alienation and he reveals it’s falseness to his neighbor in a moment of unexpected candor.

The case of Rachel Rosen is even more complex. She provides two pivotal moments in the book that reveal a great deal about how the humans feel about the androids in the world of the novel. When she introduced in the novel, Eldon Rosen has “adopted” her as his niece. This early in the book she (apparently) has no idea that she is synthetic. Eldon is protective towards her and he is clearly anxious when Rachel is tested by Deckard. Dick writes, “Speaking up, Eldon Rosen said hoarsely. ‘We selected her as your first subject. She may be an android. We’re hoping you can tell.’ He seated himself in a series of clumsy motions, got out a cigarette, lit it, and fixedly watched.” (45). This may be the worried reaction of an entrepreneur eager to see how his product holds up under pressure; or it could be the reaction of a man who fears for his “niece’s” well-being. . When her synthetic status is revealed, Eldon seems genuinely saddened and defends her and comforts her. Perhaps the creation has beguiled the creator? In any case, she is the first manifestation of the Nexus-6 that Deckard comes in contact with and he is shaken by how “real” she seems. She is a “tangible” representation of what he is about to face. Technology has made possible a representative human-like android that is nearly impossible to discern from an actual human being (with all of the ethical quandaries that arise from this fact.)

Later in the book Deckard sleeps with Rachel (odd that there are specific governmental and social restrictions against having sex with androids and yet they are very “human” in their anatomy). He has sex with her because she promises to eliminate Pris for him – so that he will not be conflicted or hesitate when the time comes for the confrontation. She provides him physical and psychological comfort (and booze). But, at as result, he sees her (and all androids) in a new light. The process that began with Luba Luft is concluded with Rachel. Deckard realizes that Rachel is alive, “Biologically. You’re (Rachel) not made out of transistorized circuits like a false animal; you’re an organic entity.” Suddenly his life’s work has a whole new context for him and he has a decision to make. Rachel is no longer a representation (tangible rendering of someone) she is a real, live, person.

Of course, things do not go well for Deckard (or the three androids he is sent to retire). He ends up on the Oregon border, contemplating death. What draws him away from the brink? A toad. A mechanical toad. Even when Iran demonstrates to Deckard that the toad is synthetic, he finds some peace and comfort in its existence. He notes, “The electric things have their lives, too.” (Dick 239). The existence of the toad is a blessing of sorts to Deckard; it brings him some sense of peace, or at least a sense of reconciliation between what his actions and his beliefs.

For Iran, the toad becomes something precious. Early on in the book Deckard asserts that he kept the sheep in large part because his wife would not be able to bear the social embarrassment of not owning a sheep (even if it is a mechanical sheep). However, at the end of the book, she embraces the false toad. She orders it synthetic flies and an environment to live in, because it brought her husband back and brought them closer together. Something the empathy box could never do.

"representation." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 19 Feb. 2008.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

I'm afraid I can't easily do justice to the complexity of your two posts and their relationship with one another. But I can make a few notes, at least.

You do a wonderful job of pinning down when, how and why representations cease to be mere representations in the novel. There are other possible approaches (someday I want to write something coherent about Luba Luft), but yours is a very strong one.

The range of examples you have in the following (less formal) post is very nice. The Kate Winslet example is especially perfect: DADES and its vision of Hollywood really has a solid grasp of, if not what Hollywood was, what it has become.