Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Ghost in the Shell

Matthew Stoddard’s essay on Ghost in the Shell, cognitive mapping and the ‘desire for communism’ is well worth reading. It’s very clever and thoughtful and good fun, and nicely complements Amy Shirong Lu’s insightful “dialectic reading” of Oshii’s work as containing both an old ghost and a new shell: the ‘new shell’ all our favourite option, the posthuman future and its political potential (“I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”), its ‘old ghost’ those stereotypes of maternal function and nurturing which follow images of the female.

Stoddard’s essay reminded me of two questions that stuck in my mind after first seeing Ghost in the Shell (and I’m referring only to the 1995 film here; the manga and Innocence have their own relative autonomy and, for reasons which will become obvious through the post, I won’t watch the misguided CG folly of Ghost in the Shell 2.0).

Firstly, when did Tokyo stop being the future? There’s a politics to the associations of dystopia and China here, of course, but I don’t think it’s enough (or the main politico-aesthetic question, as I’ve argued before about Code Geass) to point in that direction. There’s a post-Bubble aesthetic sorting itself out here; worth wondering what follows on.

Secondly, how does the video imagery of Ghost in the Shell fit with Stoddard’s comments on memory? The connections between the film’s philosophical and posthuman or postmemory ambitions and its strategic use of perspective, surveillance and recording are obvious, sure, but it’s the video part of all that which is so striking. It’s not so much that these devices are dated now, but that they do the work of being troubled by the idea of mediated memory and mediated identity and subjectivity in very different ways to how digital recording and technology does when given similar chances in more recent anime. In one sense, naturally, Ghost in the Shell’s work here – messing with our longing to separate those long mystical moments against the puppet master plot and the fashioning of the robots – is familiar. As Giovanni Tiso argues:

“The seemingly opposite and equally apocalyptic visions of amnesia and hypermnesia, of a crisis of memory and of total recall, endlessly projected by consumer culture, stand in a complex relation which is reciprocal and inclusive as opposed to antithetical and exclusive.”

It’s the damage of transmission in video – the introduction of new material and ‘distortions’ which render an original impossible and a copy new – that seem to carry so much weight in Ghost in the Shell, and to be used to prompt reflection. Kinks, bends, flickers: all these features serve to draw our attention to memory’s mediation, and to point at the plot line covering memory’s crisis and reproduction.

From this distance, though, don’t they look much more like memory’s calling cards, its material traces? Used as we are to forms that stop before they ‘age’ (the DVD left in the cupboard that then stops playing; the memory stick which doesn’t function after coming out the wrong side of the wash cycle; the file corrupted between computers), these earlier images of memory’s vulnerability and malleability come over to us as something like memory’s resistance. When considering aesthetic devices and explorations I think Ghost in the Shell’s effort at mimesis of imperfect recording and flawed or ‘damaged’ perception marks it out as important to consider in any treatment of the development of narratives of the crisis of memory. Quite what that importance is I’m not able to tell you – sorry if you read this far in the hope of a momen’t wisdom – but Stoddard reinforces my sense I’m right to feel it’s there.

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