Thursday, February 28, 2013

Caelondia dominated! Until it fell...

In the award winning game Bastion, produced by Supergiant Games, you control a character that is only known as ‘kid’ who now lives in a post-apocalyptic world which was caused by an event called ‘The Calamity.’ Few have survived in the city, and those that have survived went to the ‘Bastion,’ the stronghold of the city. The Kid is then given the task to collect district cores from the different parts of his city, and that will supposedly fix the situation that they are in now. The kid travels from place to place, removing these cores from the districts until the Bastion is complete. However as he does this, the player can get an understanding of how their technology has defined nature in many ways and can be related back to Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, when the ideas of ‘the expanding conquest of man and nature,” (Marcuse 3). This conquest can be seen through the collected cores and the supposed enemies that are the windbags and their influence on the pre-Calamity Caelondia, and how the Cael people (the people of Caelondia) mistreated and dominated nature in a way that would then cause the entire civilization to collapse.

The first notable thing about each major district is that it has a physical core, and the material that the core is made of isn’t spoken about until late game.  We first learn that The Cores contain the memory of the land from before it was undone” (Bastion).  This statement implies that the cores have some sort of computational memory, such as a camera of what Caelondia was like before the calamity, and these cores can return Caelondia to its former glory. However it becomes clearer that the cores are more than just computational memory, they are they have the ‘essence’ of the windbags (a creature in Caelondia’s districts) inside of them, which can create a rather interesting theory. This “essence” that the cores contain is never fully explained, but one theory is that the windbags need to cores to create their lives which is why they are so connected to the cores and places such as Burstone Quarry, which is where the cores originate from. We also know that in Burnstone quarry that the cores, “call out to them” (Bastion). This shows Caelondia’s dominance over nature because they are literally using the essence of life to have a useable power source.

When the cores are attached to the city’s districts there is also another effect, when the influence of the Cael’s is gone, the entire district crumbles. This is noted in the first level, once you take the core meteors fall onto the kid and Rucks narrates, “All of a sudden, the ground starts to rumble. Kid has a feeling he better get a move on. Turns out the place is starting to fall” (Bastion). For every core that is taken from a city, this event happens and the district is no longer able to searched for items or anything because it has been destroyed due to the removal of the core. However, the areas that Caelondia has less influence on do not behave in the same way. When the wilderness levels appear and a shard (basically same thing as a core) is removed to be added to the Bastion, that world doesn’t fall apart because the Cael people have not conquered it yet, instead most people in Caelondia would have abhorred the wilderness, and few would have even gone into it at all. So when the cores are highly connected with the surrounding area they cause massive changes, however this is a double edged sword for Caelondia because they lose the areas that they have influence on when a core is taken.

            There is also another interesting point about the windbags, these creatures are distilled into alcohols. There is a distillery in the game in which alcohols can be used to give passive bonuses, and many unlike our world, come straight from parts of these animals. Squirt Cider, Cham-Pain, and Lunkhead liquor are just a few examples of the in-game liquors (Bastion). This wouldn’t seem terrible at first, but many of these animals are intelligent creatures being able to hold jobs in many of the cities, some as foremen, others as trash collectors, but it shows not only how powerful these people were, that they were able to dominate these creatures by being able to capture them and have a hearty toast urging the supremacy of the Cael people unto its citizens. In the long run though, this domination would bite them hard, because the windbags, which used to be peaceful to the much more powerful Cael people, are now angry and attack the main character at will.

            The Caelondia of the past was one that strived on being the best and dominating over all, not only including nature, but the Urals (their rivals) as well. This notion may have led Caelondia to the devastation of the Calamity, but until its collapse, it ran rather well.


Bastion [computer software] . (2011). San Francisco, CA; Supergiant Games

Marcuse and the Comedian

            When putting modern popular culture into context with Marcuse’s philosophy, it is difficult to not gravitate toward chapter three where he discusses warriors and prostitutes as essential characters to question a society’s morals. This idea applies perfectly to the recent, largely cinematic innovation (if not innovation, then perfection) of the anti-hero.
            Batman, as he exists in the Christopher Nolan trilogy is typically what people think of when tossing around the label, anti-hero. They’re right to do so. Christian Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wane fits the idea to a tee. He selflessly accepts his role as society’s savior while willing receiving no recognition even unto his “death.” His powers cause him a large amount of distress as they strip him of the right to live the life he wants. Basically, he is a brooding, depressed, and ultimately flawed yet dutiful hero who is far more human than previous generations of superheroes were allowed to be. Recent years have been chocked full of anti-heroes in film, some more successful than others. The problem with the intellectual complexity usually ascribed to them (not that they don’t have powerful lessons to teach us) is that they tend to rely on and archetypal super villain to fully realize their academic potential. The only one who is capable of functioning completely on his own as being a hero, villain, and a figure to cast society’s morals into doubt is the Comedian from The Watchmen.
            To be clear, I am not using the Comedian from graphic novel but, rather, from the movie as it is more applicable to modern society than the book.
            On the surface, the Comedian is the all-American, tough guy, superhero that everyone knows all too well. He is big and muscular, dispenses a simple, almost black and white form of justice, and works hand in hand with the government. That said, it does not take much digging to realize his far more sinister nature. He is pathologically cynical, indiscriminately violent, nihilistic, and, above all else, a sociopath. Adrian Veidt, one of his former cohorts even goes so far as to describe him as a Nazi. While Veidt’s observation is not without its merits, it is a bit too simplistic. Calling the Comedian a Nazi implies an otherness to American society. But this cannot be as the Comedian, by the time of his death was operating as a paramilitary agent for the government. Additionally, he fought with Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam and has made a name capturing (often killing) criminals who violate American laws. Upon examination, any conclusion other than that he is an agent of American ideals is flawed.
            Enter Herbert Marcuse. In chapter three of One Dimensional Man, he writes:
And in the literature, this other dimension is represented not by the religious. Spiritual. Moral heroes (who often sustain the established order) but rather by such disruptive characters as the artist. The prostitute. The adulteress. The great criminal and outcast, the warrior. The rebel-poet. The devil.
(Marcuse, Ch. 3)

By citing such examples as the rebel-poet, the warrior, the prostitute, and so forth, he means that the literature (and by extension, art?) of a society is defined by those characters who call its morality to question and at least attempt to keep it honest.
 The Comedian fits into this idea so well because he fights for the American cause, something that we are all conditioned to see as universally right, no matter what. Take, for example, his actions in Vietnam. After the war’s end, he is in a bar, celebrating with Dr. Manhattan when a pregnant Vietnamese woman whom he has presumably been having a war-time affair with approaches him. She tells him that, now that the war is over, it is time to plan for the next stage of their lives. In response, he scoffs, “There’s nothing to talk about. See, I’m leaving. I’m gonna forget about your horrible, sweaty, little piece of shit country. In understandable anger, she breaks a bottle and cuts his face, declaring, “You will remember. You will remember me and my country forever.” It is important to remember that, in the context of the story, America has won in Vietnam. It is because of this that the Comedian serves as the perfect representation of the American attitude. America has accomplished its goal of keeping Communism out of Vietnam and enough people have died. Both the Comedian’s and America’s intertwined goals have come to fruition. Now, with the war over, the Comedian, like America, simply wants to leave without picking up the pieces of what they have destroyed. Her pregnancy is representative of the fact that America is leaving Vietnam in a more problematic state than it was in before the war. This does not matter to the Comedian and America, by extension. He sees the end to the war as an end to his responsibility. The gash on his face is thus mimetic of the idea that, though the war is a scar on America’s face, the shame is the only consequence they will ever have to endure.
The Comedian is a satire of America’s imperialism. He is figure cloaked in the pretense of justice but who, in reality, is twisted beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Before his moral comeuppance and subsequent death, he uses sadistic, passionless violence to further America’s interests both at home and abroad. He is an extreme example of what Marcuse would consider character used to call a society’s morals into question but perhaps that is why he does the job so effectively. 

Call of Duty as Art?: Guns, Zombies, and "The Other Dimension" - RJ Sepich, Blog Essay 5 Prompt 2

The video game business continues to thrive in first-world societies, particularly in America. Sony recently announced the development of a PlayStation 4 that will hit store shelves in late 2013, and Microsoft is expected to follow that up with the release of the Xbox 720. There’s seemingly no slowing down this business that, according to the Entertainment Software Association, earned about $25 billion in 2011. For the past four years, the top selling video game has been from the “Call of Duty” franchise, a war simulation that has sold more than 100 million copies since its original release in 2003. But what does it mean that America’s favorite video game is nothing more than a first-person shooter with good graphics and gameplay that entices users to spend hundreds of hours playing?

Twentieth century German philosophy Herbert Marcuse wouldn’t be too pleased. Not because the Call of Duty games often shed a bad light on Germans and glorify the killing of various Europeans, but because COD seems to find its success in taking advantage of society’s growing proclivity to find enjoyment in simple and gory things that hardly make us think. While the incredible technology and realistic graphics that allow COD to develop such a following are impressive and would be considered by many to be a significant artistic achievement in modern society, others would say that putting so much research and effort into a video game for nothing more than profit hurts our culture.

Would Marcuse call Call of Duty “art”? Probably not.

In chapter three of his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse says that “art contains the rationality of negation,” and he goes on to argue that true art offers some insight into what our world could or should be, a “Great Refusal” as he dubs it (Marcuse Ch. 3).

What “Great Refusal” does Call of Duty suggest when it leads players on a mission to kill appearing zombies for as many levels as possible? How does 10 online gamers on the same map running around trying to kill each other in virtual reality stimulate our minds and require us to think about improving society?

The answer is easy: It doesn't.

As someone who frequently plays video games, including the COD series, I agree with Marcuse’s probable answer by saying that there is little-to-no cultural positive result from the Call of Duty games. Video games like COD take advantage of our need for instantaneous entertainment and communication—I play the games mainly as a means to stay in touch with my friends who attended other colleges. The other cultural significance I can think of resulting from the Call of Duty franchise is the brief, largely distorted history lessons about past wars that occasionally pop up in the game’s storyline. Meanwhile, the often-discussed negatives—addicting kids to video games instead of activities like playing sports or reading, limiting actual face-to-face interactions with family and friends, and, most worrisome some would argue, creating a culture of violence that has led to more mass gun shootings in recent years—far outweigh any potential benefits that COD produces.

But although he would undoubtedly be infuriatingly annoyed by the prevalence of video games such as Call of Duty in the twenty-first century, Marcuse was willing to accept, even 50 years ago, that type of popularity is to be expected in a capitalist society dominated by rapidly increasing technologies that have essentially made true art irrelevant.

“Now this essential gap between the arts and the order of the day, kept open in the artistic alienation, is progressively closed by the advancing technological society,” Marcuse said. “And with its closing, the Great Refusal is in turn refused; the other dimension" is absorbed into the prevailing state of affairs” (Marcuse Ch. 3).

The other dimension being the zombie farm on Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

“Absorbing the Antagonist: Society’s Refusal of Nihilism in Fight Club” – Taylor Hochuli: Blog Essay #5, Prompt #2

WARNING: Major Plot Points and Ending Spoiled for Analysis.

                I am officially breaking the first and second rule of fight club: “You do not talk about fight club.” This is a rule set down by the book and subsequent popular 1999 movie Fight Club, a story about a narrator who breaks free from the oppression of society. He follows in the footsteps of a manipulative visionary named Tyler Durden who pushes the narrator to co-found a fight club in their basement. Here, the men of the town can break free from their controlled, repressed office lives and engage in the primitive sport of hand-to-hand combat. The movie itself was seen as dangerous by some when the fight club escalated to become a terrorist group within the United States seeing the film as, “pedagogically irresponsible because it ostensibly encourages a male revolt against a constraining feminized culture that has hijacked men of their rugged individualism and instead has transformed them into cubicled automatons that serve the faceless world of corporate America” (Ta, 2006). Yet, the film engages in the “Great Refusal” by sporting the revolutionary figure as the antagonist and a psychopath that is ultimately taken down to keep the established order. The movie Fight Club participates in “the Great Refusal” outlined by Marcuse through its controversial antagonist and portrayal of the actual club.

                The main antagonist of the story starts out as the ultimate teacher and visionary leading the narrator to his enlightenment in the repressive society they live in. Tyler Durden makes his living selling soap “to department stores at $20 a bar” that he makes from the fat thrown out at liposuction clinics. The narrator comments that Tyler was, “selling rich women their own fat asses back to them” (Fight Club). He also works in a film projection room and spends his time splicing single frames of porno movies into children’s movies for his own entertainment (Fight Club). This immediately paints Tyler Durden as an old style antagonist as defined by Marcuse as, “those who don’t earn a living, at least not in an orderly and normal way” (Marcuse, Chapter 3). Tyler’s work is far from “orderly” seeing as he abuses his theatre job and cheats modern culture with his soap scheme. Marcuse also comments that the old style enemy in literature is, “irreconcilably antagonistic to the order of business, indicting it and denying it” (Marcuse, Chapter 3). The comments and speeches Tyler gives throughout the movie follow this criticism of business extending into the 21st century. One of Tyler Durden’s first comments to the narrator is one a plane, noting that, “Oxygen gets you high. In a catastrophic emergency, you're taking giant panicked breaths. Suddenly you become euphoric, docile. You accept your fate. It's all right here. Emergency water landing - 600 miles an hour. Blank faces, calm as Hindu cows” (Fight Club). He is explaining the false sense of security provided by the society so that people are okay with flying. The oxygen doesn’t really increase your chances of living according to Tyler Durden, it only acts like hiding under ones desk to shield atomic radiation from a nuclear device; a simple calming tactic.

               Not only does Tyler Durden attack the airplane industry, but he goes after all the corporate job holders and “enlightens” them through the fight club he establishes. Durden has a speech to the fight club that exactly states his beliefs:

“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.” (Fight Club)

He directly confronts the system that represses these men and tries to defy it with his fight club where the “slaves with white collars” can be free to prove their worth. This, “tirade…condemns the capitalist cycle to which [the men are] enslaved, “ and,  “attacks the democratic principle of individual agency, as it is disseminated through the media” (Ta,2006). Tyler Durden even preaches about consumerism noting that these men are, “by-products of a lifestyle obsession,” who’s only cares anymore are “celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, [and] Olestra” (Fight Club). Toward the end of the movie, Tyler Durden also organizes a direct attack against business, finalizing the idea that he is Marcuse’s “disruptive character” in society (Marcuse, Chapter 3). He plans to destroy a large section of banks in New York in order to wipe out records of debt to achieve “economic equilibrium” in modern society (Fight Club). This final act causes the narrator to fully turn against his former mentor who he adored for most of the movie. The strange nature of Tyler Durden’s work that goes against modern societies rules and his attacks against business and its structure in society show him as a revolutionary in the movie trying to change the oppression he sees around him.

                Despite the overturning of societal norms by the protagonist turned antagonist in Fight Club, Tyler Durden is ultimately “absorbed into the prevailing state of affairs” that promotes society by how he is depicted in the movie (Marcuse, Chapter 3). The revolutionary ideas of Durden are swept away as his ideas become more and more insane. This is alluded to by Durden’s management of life and his ideas about it. He forces the narrator to hold a man at gunpoint, justifying the act by saying, “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life [the man at gunpoint]. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted” (Fight Club). He also crashes a car on purpose to try and show the narrator that only by risking his life can he find out why life is worth living. This extreme treatment of life and death alienates the audience from the character and labels him as non-reliable. Durden is also portrayed as an anarchist who wants to reduce the world to its most primal form by wiping out the existing society. This world has animals “around the ruins of Rockefeller Center” and “wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower” (Fight Club). He even attempts to try and create this reality with destruction of the business district in New York City at the end of the movie. Such suggestions of complete anarchy rather than a true way to solve the problems in society that Tyler Durden points out diminish his revolutionary ideals. It alienates the audience since no ordinary citizen is that intense about their ideals to the point of complete historical reversal.

               The most defining element of Tyler Durden that makes his “antagonistic contents” exist in indifference in society is that he is a figment of a sick man’s imagination and is destroyed to make way for the social order that the movie questions in the first place (Marcuse, Chapter 3). As Marcuse suggests, Durden is the past antagonist “essentially transformed” into a group of “freaks or types of the same life, serving as an affirmation rather than the negation of the established order” (Marcuse, Chapter 3). Tyler Durden turns out to be nothing but a figment of the author’s imagination, created by his need to break free of societal control. By casting Tyler Durden as an illusion of an insane man, he loses all credibility and all his ideas are labeled as crazy too. His marketing of the “collapse of financial history” is redefined as a terrorist act while Durden is branded the villain of the movie who is overcome by society (Fight Club). He is destroyed by the narrator who shoots himself in the mouth to break this illusion he has created. Literally, the person who challenges society is violently blown out of the mind of the normal citizen so that he can return to the oppression he was in at the beginning of the movie. The prevailing message of the movie becomes that the existing society survives over the anarchistic ideals of terrorists once again. Even the slightest bit of betrayal to society will lead to a full on terrorist organization just like the Project Mayhem that evolves from Durden’s fight club. The reveal and demise of the antagonist Tyler Durden assimilates his comments on society into the whole as explained by Herbert Marcuse and the “deterioration of higher culture into mass culture” (Marcuse, Chapter 3).

Works Cited
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Fox 2000 Pictures, 1999. DVD.
Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964. Print.
Ta, Lynn M. "Hurt So Good: Fight Club, Masculine Violence, and the Crisis of Capitalism." The Journal of
American Culture 29.3 (2006): 265-77. Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 15 Aug. 2006. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <>.

Blog 5 - Is Bioshock "High Culture"?

“Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor. No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God. No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone. I rejected those answers. Instead I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose…Rapture. A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small.” Bioshock’s Rapture, built by Andrew Ryan, was originally constructed as an escape from government control. On the surface, it would appear as though this massive underwater city embodied the idea of The Great Refusal, however, Marcuse might not believe this video game to be “high art.” After looking deeper, I think there are aspects that at least try to engage in “the protest against that which is,” but ultimately I think it fails to really be what Marcuse would consider high culture.

Without going too far into plot details, the city of rapture has been torn apart by class struggle. What was supposed to be the ideal utopia has been turned into a crumbling dystopia, mainly because of the use (and abuse) of the plasmid ADAM. ADAM gives the user super-human like abilities and the ability to obtain it separated the rich from the poor. What was supposed to be a community, free from government control, has now turned into a dictatorship with Andrew Ryan at the controls. He hoards the ADAM supply (“little sisters” embedded with the sea slug that produces it) and carefully protects it with the “big daddies” (heavily armored killing machines). This totalitarian control over Rapture would lead Marcuse to say that Rapture has not fulfilled its mission statement of remaining free from government control and thus, does not reject the established order. There is, however, an uprising from the lower class, led by a man named Atlas. He wants to take the power away from Ryan so that the power (ADAM) can be distributed among the masses, thus leveling the playing field, so to speak. He uses Jack, the protagonist of Bioshock to kill Andrew Ryan. This is, at least, trying to upset the order of Ryan’s control and rebel against the established order. But wait! Atlas is really the mob boss, Fontaine, who, along with a Dr. Tenenbaum, discovered ADAM and its source but was defeated by Ryan when he tried to seize power from Ryan earlier. He really uses Jack as a mind controlled tool to carry out his bidding. It seems as though all opposing forces in this story aren’t trying to end the order of governmental control but merely trying to steal all the power for themselves.

In addition to the goals of all the characters to seize power and control, I there are a few other important ideas from Marcuse that solidify my stance on Bioshock not engaging in the Great Refusal. Marcuse says, “Now this essential gap between the arts and the order of the day, kept open in the artistic alienation, is progressively closed by the advancing technological society... the other dimension is absorbed into the prevailing state of affairs.” The society that was created to stimulate the artists and scientists has made all of the art and technological advancements commonplace. The ADAM even becomes controlled by the leader of Rapture and is used as a form of governmental control. It has become a part of the one-dimensional society rather than break away from it. I think one other interesting point is seen with the character J.S. Steinman. He is an ADAM obsessed plastic surgeon that tries to create perfection in his patients. In one of the diary entries scattered about the levels, you hear him aspire to be like Picasso. “When Picasso became bored of painting people, he started representing them as cubes and other abstract forms. The world called him a genius! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could do with a knife what that old Spaniard did with a brush.” By trying to emulate one of the “classics” as Marcuse would say, “they come to life as other than themselves; they are deprived of their antagonistic force.” Once again, by trying to go against the standard practices of his plastic surgery, he still fails to engage in the Great Refusal of that which is. 

Blog 5 - Prompt 2

Marcuse on De-erotizaion vs. HBO’s Girls

“The mobilization and administration of libido may account for much of the voluntary compliance, the absence of terror, the pre-established harmony between individual needs and socially-required desires, goals, and aspirations.” (Marcuse Ch. 3). Here Marcuse is saying that the ever present theme of sex throughout society actually enables our own repression. By integrating sex into many aspects of our lives (television, movies, advertisements), we are over-stimulated and under-eroticized, allowing for controlled satisfaction. This is true is a lot of ways. Sex in popular culture is often displayed in ways formally confined to pornography. Take for example, a commercial about chocolate. Often you’ll see an extremely attractive woman seductively eating a piece chocolate as if it will make all your sexual fantasies come true if you just buy that chocolate. We see this and do not even blink because we’ve become desensitized to the constant sexual stimulation found in this and many other examples in popular culture, making society as a whole complacent yet unfulfilled. Marcuse sees sex as repression not liberation, but when sex is not eroticized, like in HBO’s Girls, can it be liberating?

Girls follows the lives of four 20-something year old girlfriends trying to figure out their lives. Like any other HBO, sex scenes are numerous, but they mostly revolve around the character Hannah Horvath played by Lena Dunham. Along with being frequent, these sex scenes are fairly graphic, involve multiple partners (over different scenes, not together in one scene), and just overall explicit in nature. But one thing they are not is erotic. Personally, I have watched this show since episode one, and not once during a sex scene has any sex-related emotions been induced. If anything, I feel a mix of cringe-worthy and awkward emotions, often followed by a feeling of understanding when Hannah undoubtedly makes some offhand insightful remark. These scenes evoke real and relatable sentiment. During the first sex scene Hannah is engaged in on the show, she voices her concern over to her partner over whether she is doing enough during the act. Other episodes show her obviously uncomfortable with what she is doing. During one episode, her sort of boyfriend Adam accidentally sends her an explicit photograph of himself meant for someone else, to which she replies by sending her own nude picture. Adam basically tells her how weird the picture was, instead of responding in the expected, “That picture was so great/sexy/hot” way.

Is this liberating instead of being repressive? If we define liberation as changing some aspect of the status quo, then Girls is liberating. Popular culture would have society believe that the only sex that should be discussed is between two perfect people, having a perfect time, and achieving the perfect end simultaneously. Girls shows people of all shapes and sizes engaging in a carnal act in ways that are not perfect nor necessarily satisfactory for the individuals involved. To better demonstrate how this, let us focus on one group that is underrepresented in popular culture: women who are not “beautiful.” Sex or sensual scenes often take place between two exceedingly attractive people, with the focus being especially on the woman’s ideal body. Girls’ Lena Dunham is pear-shaped, has a stomach, has short often frizzy hair, is flat-chested, with a plain face. But it is this completely average looking woman who is shown having sex most often throughout the program, and she does not apologize to the audience for watching her imperfect being having imperfect sex as opposed to the over-eroticized display they are used to. In season 1, episode 3 of Girls there is a scene where Hannah and Adam are hanging out together, post-coitus. Adam begins to play with Hannah’s stomach fat, telling her if it bothers her so much, then she should just lose the weight. In reply, Hannah says, “I’ve decided that I was going to have other concerns in my life,” instead of focusing on her weight. That response there completely goes against the entire foundation that the popular culture and the media have built up around women being nothing more than sexual objects who should be good to look at. There are bigger concerns than how a woman looks.

Can sexual representations be liberating? Based on Girls, I believe so. In Marcuse’s mind, sexual representations is probably only liberating if it goes against the accepted view such as the adultery of Anna Karenina. “It is beyond good and evil, beyond social morality, and thus it remains beyond the reaches of the established Reality Principle, which this Eros refuses and explodes.” (Marcuse Ch.3) Perhaps Eros is no exploding in Girls, no one is cheating on their spouses then committing suicide. No one is questioning the morality of their sexual escapades. What the show appears to be questioning is the blasé and unrealistic way sex is being represented in the mainstream. If sex is presented in a more realistic light, then possibly things will change, and some of those changes could be exactly what Marcuse wants.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekly Response: Gibson/Marcuse, Week 2

As always, your responses/questions should be posted as comments.

Prompts on Gibson & Marcuse, Week 2

Prompt 1

Make an argument which interprets one of the "transcendental" (I want you to be thinking about whether they are transcendental or not, at least) entities of the novel - Wintermute most obviously, although the other AI or even the corporation itself might be valid alternatives - through Heidegger, Marcuse, Dreyfus, or some combination of the above.  Most of you would probably choose Marcuse, but the others are legitimate choices.

Some question you might consider include:  does Wintermute (or some other form of transcendence) fundamentally change the structure of Gibson's rabidly capitalist (very likely one-dimensional) world?  Does Wintermute pose a true challenge to the existing order, or does it perpetuate it?  And, of course, what does that mean for us?  Does Wintermute represent something back in the "real world"?  Note that these questions are examples, and you're better off investigating one question rather than several.

Prompt 2

This is inspired by our discussion in class last week, and in particular by some of the things Karen and Jackson were interested in.

Use Marcuse, including specifics from chapter three and/or chapter four, to analyze a work of "popular" culture.  You are under no obligation to carefully define popular culture or to analyze the term.  If a work (album/video game/movie/book/etc.) is of value to you, but you suspect that it wouldn't be high culture to Marcuse, that's good enough.  You should, as usual, have a specific argument, in this case at least inspired by Marcuse (if you disagree in some fundamental way with Marcuse, this essay might help explain why).  The most obvious question you might begin with is:  "does my chosen work engage in, or try to engage in, the Great Refusal"?

This might sound much the same as what we were doing in class, and it is.  But because you are thinking it through and writing it down, you are obligated to be precise:  to conduct your analysis using precise details of both Marcuse and the work in question.  In other words, you can't just go by what you remember or feel about, say, Mass Effect 3 or whatever:  you need to watch the movie again or play the game again, at least selectively, so you are able to make a precise argument about the details of the "text."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Embodiment and Reality in Neuromancer

            Dreyfus’ idea of embodiment is highly applicable to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, particularly through the novel’s main character, Chase. His life, now permanently (or so he thinks) removed from the matrix has become devoid of meaning. He bitterly shuns his reality in favor of a knowingly false one. It is not ignorance that motivates his melancholy but, rather, a feeling of malcontent in the real world.
            Citing Edward Castronova and Max Webber, Dreyfus writes, “Fans of virtual worlds are seeking and finding re-enchanted worlds…[the] transformation of the world into a casual mechanism has left many inhabitants of the modern world with an unaccountable feeling of loss” (Dreyfus, 92). This idea describes Case perfectly. In the very first pages of the novel, Gibson writes, relating to Case:

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners he cut in Night City, and he'd still see the matrix in his dreams, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void... The Sprawl was a long, strange way home now over the Pacific, and he was no Console Man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through.
(Gibson, 4-5)

Introductory though the passage may be, it sets an important precedent for Case’s character. His general lack of interest in the real world is wrought of his inability to plug himself into the fake one. More than just a lack of interest, Gibson even goes as far as to infer that Case is suicidal, citing his fast and loose approach to criminal dealings in the dangerous black market in Chiba City. Reading this, it becomes necessary to ask why the matrix, the fake world, is so much less preferable to the real one.
            An examination of Case’s surroundings provides perhaps the most obvious clue. Surrounded by a dystopian criminal underworld and isolated (another of Gibson’s critiques of the internet), he finds that his new life is a far cry from his brief but triumphant life as a hacker. Where corporations would once pay him vast sums of money for his services, he now finds himself struggling, living on his meager payments for small time deals. In the matrix, he was a king, in the real world, he is nothing. Case’s drug use is important to remember as well. One can conclude that it replaces the thrill he felt in the matrix although, ironically, it only serves to deepen his feeling that the real world is not as good as the fake one. Ultimately, Case has become so attached to the matrix and his existence within it that he finds the real world wholly repulsive and is unable to take true pleasure in anything it has to offer.
            This information regarding Case is important in that it sets a tone of emotional dependence on cyberspace for him. However, Dreyfus’ idea of embodiment does not take center stage until we meet McCoy Pauley (or at least his saved consciousness) and later are introduced to Neuromancer. These two characters are literal interpretations of embodiment, fully conscious “beings” that are capable of existing without a body, fully sentient (though this is more relevant to Neuromancer) in cyberspace. The implications of such characters are plain to see and explain the generally melancholy, drab tone that permeates the whole book. The mere fact of their existence asks both Case and the reader a difficult question: if a physical body is not required to sustain consciousness, what makes the real world real and the matrix fake?
            Although Neuromancer technically only exists within the construct of cyberspace, his (its?) ability to influence real world events such as planting an entire sequence of events in Armitage’s mind certainly speak to his (its?) reality. Perhaps then, Neuromancer is meant to bridge the gap in a readers mind between the matrix and the real world. He (it?) even said to Case, “To live here is to live. There is no difference” (Gibson, 258). If a consciousness is all that is required to be considered alive, he is right. However, Neuromancer is much more than that. His (its?) orchestration of the entire driving sequence of events in the book shows motivations, an agenda, selfishness, and moral corruption. All of those qualities are usually attributed to humanity. The fact that a completely artificial consciousness possesses them serves to create a reasonable doubt in the reader’s mind as to the idea that Neuromancer cannot be real. Neuromancer’s embodiment is total as all of his imperfect qualities exist without a physical body. Thus, he (it?) serve as something of an intentional stumbling block for the reader, forcing them to wonder if this is the direction technology is heading.
            In conclusion, Dreyfus’ concept of embodiment can be found throughout Neuromancer. Case’s dissatisfaction with his life absent the matrix combined with the examples of saved and blended consciousness paint Gibson’s disturbing future of technology. It is a world in which embodiment has ceased to simply be an idea and is a reality in the most literal sense, forcing us to question the very nature of what is real and what is not. Largely because of this, Neuromancer is a challenging, uncomfortable read that raises far more questions that it gives answers. 

Prompt 1 - Karen Knutson

In Marcus’s On Dimensional Man, he makes an argument that due to our technologies literature has changed in terms of ‘disruptive’ characters and their position in society. He states their difference as “perform a function very different from and even contrary to that of their cultural predecessors. They are no longer images of another way of life but rather freaks or types of the same life; serving as an affirmation rather than negation of the established order” (Marcuse 3). However, this statement seems to be an extreme overgeneralization. Even if the characters are culturally different when written in our technological age, its hard to believe that all of them agree with the societal order in life. In Neuromancer, we learn of a character named Case, who during the course of the novel, defies this overgeneralization and has a duality of these two natures, which neutralizes Marcuse’s argument.

In the beginning of the novel, it seems as if Case does not seem as if he is in disagreement with his established place. He is a hustler for a gang community working the drug trade and in his position, he acts and reacts in a common way that does not go against his micro-society, the criminal organization that he interacts and works for. In one segment we learn that he once defied his micro-society when “He’d made the classic mistake… he stole from his employers” ( page 7). Even though he went against his criminal organization, however, he crippled himself in the process which affirmed that his society could defend itself from an intruder on their order. Even when he transitions to the next criminal organization that requires his expertise he doesn't go against the organization, and does what he is told, because again he is forced to due to the fear that there is "mytoxin sacs"  that will disperse in his bloodstream if her does not suceed in the group, which forces him to not defy the standards that are presed upon him.

However, due to his position, Case was also going against the grand scheme of his society the entire time, conflicting with Marcuse’s idea that all characters in a novel created in a technologically developed area always have to affirm societal standards. Even as Case changes positions from a hustler in a criminal organization to a “cowboy” in a seemingly smaller criminal organization, and in both cases he is doing illegal things that can get him arrested if he is caught. Even though this criminal type seems to be more prevalent, the reader only sees one part of the society through all of the characters, the part that lies, murders, steals, and does advanced computer hacking. He has even gone against his own morals by,"he'd killed two men and a woman over sum that seem a year before would have seemed ludicrous" (page 8). Even in his criminal associative life, Case was forced to go against his ideals by murdering for small sums of money. This makes Case a 'disruptive' character by Marcuse's standard because he is not affirming societal standards, he is becoming the desitute character that Marcue only believes is in classical literature.


However, when trying to position Case into oe of Marcuse's job titles, it becomes apparent that the two sections converge upon each other to neutralize the argument. In Marcuse’s character selection, Marcuse places, “the criminal… the gangster” into two separate categories in his discussion, the criminal is the former category with the disruption of the societal order and the gangster is in the latter category with the normalacy of the society. In Neuromancer, these two jobs for Case seem to intermingle until they are essentially the same position, in which he affirms and detaches from his society. He is for the most part a gangster, having a drug addiction for many years and hustling other people for cash, and he is a criminal when he transfers over to the other smaller crime ring, which I do not consider a gang due to the fact that they act as a small group, but there is no overarching society that is noticeable and there is not a single reference to a gang. It is more like they are a small band of thieves.


In my honest opinion, this section of Marcuse’s argument in the third chapter is not valid for me. There are many other novels that go against the common themes of society, for instance, Jamie and Ceseri Lannaster in a Song of Ice and Fire series with their incestuous relationship, and two of their children so far have been crowned. However, there are also novels that affirm one’s place in society, which are often seen in cheesy romance novels. These defiance’s of society show the breakaway and issues with society, which are still popular topics in literature, and will most likely never go away.

“Matrix Madness: The Drug of the Disembodiment in Neuromancer” – Taylor Hochuli: Blog Essay #4, Prompt #2

               New technology is a drug that we are barely able to handle. It promises better experiences and better lives through use, causing an addictive effect. It has reached a point where staying away from technology too long seems impossible. When the power goes out for weeks during blizzards or hurricanes, most people don’t know what to do with themselves without a television, computer, or smartphone once the battery has run down. This addictive nature is seen in the book Neuromancer where the main character, Case, continually longs to be in a “matrix” and experiences drug-like euphoria when he finally returns to it. He wishes to leave his body behind and join, “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation” (pg. 51 Gibson, 1984). According to Dr. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book On the Internet, such addictive nature to leaving one’s body behind or reverence for digital people is not possible. He argues that such disembodiment could not be more attractive than real life due to issues like limited telepresence to a loss of risk in such a “matrix”. William Gibson makes disembodiment an attractive concept with Case’s drug-like treatment of the “matrix” which directly refutes the conclusions of Hubert Dreyfus.

                Case is described as a “cyberspace cowboy” who worked wonders in the matrix without his body (pg. 5 Gibson, 1984). Already, this glorified title given to Case promotes the advantages of working in the matrix rather than working in real life. The novel begins with Case slowly falling into a suicidal depression since he cannot enter the matrix anymore. After trying to steal from his employers, Case is injected with a neurotoxin that blocks him from being the expert hacker he once was. Case directly comments that being removed permanently from the matrix was “the Fall” trapping him in “a prison of his own flesh” (pg. 6 Gibson, 1984). This idea of being trapped in the body directly conflicts with the idea that the unique, “emotional and intuitive capacities of [the] body,” that Dreyfus says people can’t live without (pg. 5 Dreyfus, 2009). Case looks at the “capacities of the body” as limiting and confining him like a jail rather than praising the body’s emotional ability. There is a contrast between the real life of Case and his life in the matrix that also supports disembodiment over living in a body. Case informs the reader that in real life he, “[is] no console man, no cyberspace cowboy,” and becomes, “just another hustler, trying to make it through” (pg. 5 Gibson, 1984). He constantly praises his experience in the Matrix while hating everything real around him. Case, when in reality, is on the run from murderous back-alley businessmen and had his heart broken by a Miss Linda Lee which takes a toll on his “emotionally capable body”. It nearly kills him as Case turns to drink and drugs to compensate for the loss of his disembodiment; an escape from all the chaos in his real life. He is even seen crying during the night just wanting to, “reach the console that wasn’t there” (pg. 5 Gibson, 1984).

                Case reveres the matrix with a drug-like admiration, comparing it to very intense and even psychedelic sensation. Case directly says that drugs were “like a run in the matrix” after consuming one, making a direct connection between the two. After having sex with his female partner in crime, Molly, he imagines, “his orgasm flaring blue in a timeless space,” and immediately compares it to “a vastness like the matrix” (pg. 33 Gibson, 1984). When Case does finally plug into the matrix and leave his body, the reader is told that the matrix “flowered for him” into a “transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity” that opened up his “inner eye” to the data around him (pg. 52 Gibson, 1984). All these descriptions leading up to Case finally jacking into the matrix makes it out to be an amazing experience that enlightens the user and creates psychedelic images like those of drugs. Comparing this disembodiment to that of drugs makes it seem immensely attractive and great considering that there seems to be no downside to “jacking in” (unless you try breaking into an AI). Such a high opinion of leaving one’s body downplays the disadvantages brought up by Dreyfus and enhances the difficulties of living in a body. Case is never subjected to lasting physical harm while in the matrix. The only pain comes when he switches to experience the pain of Molly’s body through a program called “simstim” as well as when he exits the matrix in space to endure Space Adaptation Syndrome. Rather than trying to, “confront the world [Case is] thrown into,” he refuses, “to live in a way that accepts and incorporates…vulnerability without despair” as Dreyfus suggests one should do (pg. 97 Dreyfus, 2009). Leaving the pains of the body to experience amazing visuals and feelings poses the disembodiment of the matrix as very alluring.

                Case rejects his body as often as possible to jack into the matrix; following disembodiment like a drug that Hubert Dreyfus suggests can’t lead to healthy or prosperous ends. When reality turns Case into a run down, suicidal drunk, only leaving his body brings about a euphoria that revives the life he had. Case experiences a longing for this psychedelic wonderland that is reminiscent of the drugs he takes to make up for not being able to connect into the matrix. Such obsessing over disembodiment puts the ideals of Gibson in conflict with the idea of Dreyfus that disembodiment does not bring a content life. Case finds, “a calling that…results in a life of enduring commitment” to hacking in a world without bodily limits (pg. 106 Dreyfus, 2009). One could say that this is irrelevant in an age where the internet still doesn’t allow us to be removed from our bodies, but such a case could be seen in the near future. Gibson bases his matrix of the future off of today’s technology noting that, “the matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games” (pg. 51 Gibson, 1984). Once video games and computers have created the ability for a matrix that can remove ones consciousness from a limited body, it could offer a drug like experience that elates the individual like Case, or send it in a depressing spiral as prophesized by Dreyfus. Just as a drug has drawbacks, Case struggles in reality without his “matrix drug,” suggesting that matrix may be so absorbing that it does actually pull us away from bodily reality. Even if Dreyfus is wrong about ones misery through disembodiment, the drug-like nature of Case and the matrix reminds us that embracing disembodiment too much could pull us away from the reality we survive in.

Works Cited
Dreyfus, Hubert L. On The Internet. 2nd ed. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2009. Print.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. London: Penguin, 1984. Print.

Blog 4 Neuromancer and Embodiment

Dreyfus’ On the Internet stresses the importance of embodiment, as well as the risks of disembodiment in a future with increasingly present technological advances. Through the story of Case in Neuromancer, I believe that William Gibson also stresses the same arguments that Dreyfus presents. In order for true learning to take place, one must be physically present and take risks in learning.

Case used to be known as one of the greatest data thieves in the Matrix until his ex-employer poisoned his nervous system with a mycotoxin. [Gibson back page summary] It is alluded to in the book, but Case clearly got his abilities by learning from people who already knew how to jack into the Matrix. He was personally taught by McCoy Pauley aka Dixie Flatline. [Gibson p. 49] “He’d spent most of his nineteenth summer in the Gentleman Loser, nursing expensive beers and watching the cowboys. He’d never touched a deck, then, but he knew what he wanted. There were at least twenty other hopefuls ghosting the Loser, that summer, each one bent on working joeboy for some cowboy. No other way to learn.” [Gibson p. 77] Case was Pauley’s joeboy, or sort of an apprentice, as I understand it. Case only became on the greatest data thieves of all time by learning from someone who was already proficient in that field. This is just like Dreyfus’ argument in the entire second chapter. He describes six stages of how a student learns and how the student can reach each stage. The first three levels: novice, advanced beginner, and competence can be reached with distance learning. However, proficiency, expertise, and mastery can only be reached with an embodied presence. [Dreyfus chapter 2] Without the guidance of Pauley, Case could only become competent, and follow sets of rules, even when there might be exceptions which would yield better outcomes.

To go along with this idea, the risk of embodied learning is what truly allows for real growth and advancement. For example, a student could face the risk of proposing and defending an idea while a teacher could be asked a question and risk not knowing the answer. [Dreyfus p. 33] It is this inherent risk of embodied learning that leads to emotional involvement in the topic. It might seem as though emotional detachment is the best way to go about mastering something by not letting gut feeling interfere with facts or statistical advantages, the opposite was found to be true in a study of nurses in each stage of skill acquisition. [Dreyfus p. 32] Even though Case is jacked into the Matrix, his physical body can still be affected by his actions. This is seen when he takes the risk of taking a pass by the AI Wintermute. [Gibson p. 115] The AI catches him and Case’s physical body flatlines for a while. In the meantime, Wintermute is generating a dreamlike state for Case based on his memories through the simstim unit that was wired into his deck. After briefly encountering Linda in the arcade, Case spoke with Wintermute (embodied by Julius Deane) and Case ends up shooting it in the head. This encounter with the AI really affected Case and although he knows that he didn’t actually kill Deane, “Deane’s death kept turning up like a bad card.” [Gibson p. 125]. He also has a feeling that Deane might have killed Linda on Wintermute’s orders. I think it is his emotional connection to these people that make him learn from this encounter and be able to complete the even more difficult tasks ahead of him that Armitage/Corto assigns him.

Blog 4

Disembodiment in Neuromancer

The Internet is a vast, wonderful place, full of nearly endless knowledge and entertainment. In moments, a person can get help on a homework problem, find a forum to talk about the nuances of their favorite television show, and find a YouTube video showing a cat riding a Roomba. When taking these things into account, it is hard to imagine that the internet, a technology that provides so much, could have any negative effects on us outside of it’s addictive environment. But in On the Internet, Hubert Dreyfus believes “when we enter cyberspace and leave behind or emotional, intuitive, situated, vulnerable, embodied selves, and thereby gain a remarkable new freedom… we might… necessarily lose some of our capacities: our ability to make sense of things…. we would be attempted to avid the risk of genuine commitment…” (Dreyfus 6-7). In gaining the boundless freedom of the Web, Dreyfus believes we become disembodied from ourselves, and from those around us. The disembodiment effect the Internet has is a notable element in the character of Case in Neuromancer by William Gibson.

One of the ways Gibson says disembodiment affects Internet users is that it isolates people from their friends and family. When we come into the novel, Case is alone. He does not necessarily have friends, more like contacts. Interactions between him and others are brief, and casual. Even entering into a pseudo-romantic sexual relationship with Molly happens with almost no real intimacy outside of the bedroom, not even much in the bedroom. Instead, he yearns for the Net. “He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into his custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.” (Gibson 5). In fact, his curt behavior with characters makes any interaction that is penetrated by emotion deeper than the surface is almost jarring, such as his memory of when he started to date Linda Lee. Still, perhaps his depth of feelings for her are caused less by his attachment to her, but from how he literally reduces her to the code of an arcade game, some of the only code he can interact with outside of the matrix, with his injury. “…features reduced to code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as the Wizard’s Castle burned… mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon.” (Gibson 8). Most of the time, Case seems to view people as something he has to deal with, as opposed to someone he wants to be with.

Dreyfus also states that Internet users show an increase in levels of depression. “…greater use of the Internet was associated with… increases in their depression and loneliness.” (Dreyfus 3).  It makes some sense that the Internet isolates a person from those around them for extended periods of time, leading to feelings of depression, because people need physical interactions with others. However, after Case’s injury, all he is left with is the physical. Instead of regaining a healthy level of mental wellbeing, he becomes depressed and feels trapped within his meaty prison, and is intentionally living dangerously so that maybe somehow he’ll get killed and no longer have to deal with a matrix-less existence. This is the reverse of what Dreyfus says. Instead of increased depression with the Internet, Case experiences it sans-Internet. Dreyfus asks, “…can we get along without our bodies?” (Dreyfus 6). For Case, the question should be, can he get along with his body?

“We may lament the risks endemic to the embodied world where we are embedded with objects and others in local situations, but the idea of living in boundless virtual worlds, where everyone is telepresent to everyone and everything, levels all significant differences and offers no support for being drawn into local meaningful events.” (Dreyfus 123). In a way, that is a good summary of the Internet. It is leveling yet isolating, giving a lot of good at a price. This price is seen in Neuromancer. Case has all the wonder of the matrix, yet gives up his ability to be without it and to maintain a normal, emotional relationship. Is it worth it? Case would probably believe so.