Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blog 3, Prompt 1

So Lonely: Technology Fostering Loneliness in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

After World War Terminus, it’s hard to imagine that people would be able to bounce back to normal in society. In the first chapter of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, “One-Dimensional Society,” he discusses advanced industrial civilization. Specifically, he addresses the concept of alienation that can be the product of technology creating a sort of societal control. Marcuses’ conclusions about how technology can result in an advanced form of alienation when they lose their identity and just blend in with society resonates with Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, with the best example being J.R. Isidore, whose story is interwoven within Rick Deckard’s.

J.R. Isidore is a special, or genetically damaged being who cannot leave earth, living alone in his apartment. When he turns off his television, he experiences an overwhelming silence that “supplants all things tangible” (Dick 18). The silence for him, which is something that also covers the earth now, consumes him.

He wondered, then, if the others who had remained on Earth experienced the void this way …He lived alone in this deteriorating, blind building of a thousand uninhabited apartments, which like all its counterparts, fell, day by day, into greater entropic ruin. Eventually everything within the building would merge, would be faceless and identical, mere pudding-like kipple piled to the ceiling of each apartment. And after that, the uncared-for building itself would settle into shapelessness, buried under the ubiquity of the dust. By then, naturally, he himself would be dead, another interesting event to anticipate as he stood here in his stricken living room alone with the lungless, all-penetrating, masterful world-silence. (Dick 20-21)

Silence is something that will eventually take over all of humanity left on earth. Isidore’s passage notes that the silence is entropic. In the novel, the characters sense the entropy of the earth as they almost destroy all of humankind. The silence that represents the alienation that people experience will prevent the organization of the chaos that resulted after World War Terminus. Marcuse calls alienation “questionable” a few times because it’s a more elaborate concept. The reality of alienation is at a further stage, one in which the subject is “swallowed up by its alienated existence” (Marcuse 6).

Isidore’s attachment to technology is his empathy box, which connects the people into a collective consciousness that shares the pain of Wilbur Mercer, who took an infinite walk up a mountain as people cast stones at him. Marcuse, before his conclusion about the definition of alienation, says when people are confronted with the advanced industrial civilization, they tend to “recognize themselves in their commodities” and that is how social control is anchored. In order to avoid the anxiety of the silence in his deteriorating apartment, Isidore resorts to his empathy box. “As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets. He experienced them, the others, incorporated the babble of their thoughts, heard in his own brain the noise of their many individual existences. They—and he—cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities....” (Dick 20). Marcuse discusses the concept of introjection within his discussion of alienation. He talks about the way that “introjection” is perhaps not the best description of how people perpetuate society’s controls. Because Isidore, and others, are consciously using the empathy box, maintain their own awareness, but are also aware of others. So it would be fitting to conclude that introjection is not the correct term to use because, like Marcuse says, Isidore does not have an inner dimension that is separate from the behavior of the rest of the people.

Dick’s presentation of Isidore presents the idea that technology has an alienating effect that causes humans to want to create a form of social collectiveness. “The manifold processes of introjection seem to be ossified in almost mechanical reactions. The result is, not adjustment but mimesis: an immediate identification of the individual with his society and, through it, with the society as a whole” (Marcuse 5). World War Terminus was the product of a lack of social collectiveness, with humans behaving toward one another as predators. But the technology that destroyed the earth now contributes to an alienation effect that Mercerism tries to solve by providing a void to isolated people. A failure to identify with others will mean that people will suspect one another of being androids.


Kira Scammell said...

Hi Amy,

I think you bring up some great points about silence here through John Ididore as an example.

If you decide to revise this essay, I think it might be beneficial to mention silence in other places in the novel-- like when Iran hears the silence of the building and finds the setting for despair. And perhaps talking about the mood regulating organ in general.

I think further reading will definitely reveal your reasoning that technology is creating this great divide among people, and using examples from the novel in later chapters will be beneficial.

Adam said...

I'm struggling a little with this one, and it's taken me a couple minutes to begin to work out why. I mean, I agree that the idea of alienation is very relevant to DADES (although I also think that you could do a little more to clarify how you see alienation working in the novel). I also think - after reviewing Marcuse a little, that introjection (a term to which I've never, I admit, paid that much attention before!) provides a good vocabulary for talking about the empathy box and what it does.

One non-trivial objection I have is that we need not take the silence which you discuss as originating in or representing alienation. The silence is, literally, the silence of a dying world - which in turn might *create* alienation, but I think it's important to deal with the fact that this is a literal as well as metaphoric silence.

What I finally realized is that I thought you were starting to use Marcuse in an interesting but underdeveloped way to discuss the empathy box and the television - and then I was thinking forward to later in the novel: my view is that this line of thought will work best when you have all the information about Mercerism and about the television culture in mind - but that you also need to somehow grapple with the seeming conflict between the two (especially since they would both seem to be forms of alienation - how does it make sense for them to be in conflict with one another?).

So I think you're using the right vocabulary and applying Marcuse in an interesting way, but I also think, more than with most, that this is an essay that can't come fully into its own without all of the book, especially all of the material about Mercer, in mind.