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New Pub on Nov 25

Published onNov 25, 2018
New Pub on Nov 25

Gender Software and Political Hardware:

Serial Experiments: Lain and Ghost in the Shell.

Earl Jackson, Jr

National Chiao Tung University

This essay will explore the cultural significance of contemporary Japanese anime, not by offering a general survey of the canon, but by looking closely at two exemplary works: Serial Experiments: Lain (1997) and Kokaku Kidotai攻殻機動隊or Ghost in the Shell (Oshii Mamoru 1995). The protagonist in each of these anime experiences a profound doubt about the reality of the world and the real nature of her “self”. Moreover, each of these crises arise from a predominant technology. In Serial Experiments: Lain that technology is the digital communication network. In Ghost in the Shell it is the human-machine fusion of cyborg-science. My reading of these anime will focus on the relations among technology, representation, and subjectivity as well as the politics – and in this case – the sexual politics – that inform and circumscribe those relations.

I have been studying such relations for some time now, and in the course of these inquiries I have adopted the term “technopoetics” as a way to characterize both my object and method of analysis. In other words, I study representational technology on at least two levels: on one level, what it does; another level: what it means. The second level encompasses at least two registers of “meaning”: [1] changes in conceptual systems; [2] new metaphorical lexicon.

My technopoetical reading of the three anime will be guided by the technopoetical readings the anime themselves perform: one level they depict the functions of technology, and on another they exploit its imagery and the fantasies it elicits and sustains. Moreover, these films evince another level of technopoetic expression in that they use the particular technical capacities and limitations of the animation medium itself, even, at times, in order to instantiate in the spectator crises analogous to those dramatized in the fiction, crises that such technical revolutions like cyberspace foment.

Serial Experiments: Lain

In the late 1990s producer Ueda Yasuyuki had an idea for a game for Playstation. He gathered a team who collectively developed that idea into Serial Experiments: Lain. Abe Yoshitoshi was responsible for character design, Konaka Chiaki for scenario, Kishida Takahiro for character design and Nakahara Juji for cgi- programming. As the project neared completion, the team decided to create a multi-episode anime version of Lain. Nakamura Ryutaro was brought in as director and continuity manager. Ironically, although the Playstation game was the original Lain, it was not released in November 1998, while the anime series aired at 1:15 Monday mornings on TV Tokyo from July 6 to September 28, 1998. The series is one of the most audacious and suggestive inquiries into the cybertechnological imaginary produced to date.

My synopsis will be highly selective and will in no way cover the entire narrative or its many subplots and themes. I will single out those elements that most pertinent for the argument I wish to make.

Serial Experiments: Lain, is the story of Iwakura Lain, a shy middle-school student in Tokyo. She had apparently paid little attention to the Internet until her classmates started getting email supposedly from Yomota Chisa, a student who had committed suicide the previous week. Lain digs out her desktop computer from layers of debris and finds the email. In it the writer claims that, although she did actually kill herself, she is still alive in “the Wired.” Her suicide was only a discarding of the body to enable her to enter the higher order of the network. Reading the letter, Lain asks aloud, “Why did you kill yourself,” to which the email responds, “There is a god in the Wired” (“The Wired” refers to the networked world of the Internet [at least initially]).

Lane asks her father for a more powerful computer, in order to “look for a friend.” Shortly after her state-of-the-art Navi computer arrives, Lain finds an anonymous package in her school shoe locker containing a Psyche processor. Upon installing the Psyche, her attitude towards the technology and its capacities changes completely. Sitting at her monitor, she casually tells her father that soon she will be able to enter into the Wired directly, her whole person, thanks to the enhancements she made and the Psyche upgrade. Her father adamantly rejects the notion on both intellectual and ethical grounds, but she seems oddly unaffected. Her confidence is justified, however, as she does indeed enter the Wired directly, but both the source of her ability to do this and its consequences are beyond what Lain could imagine.


Figure 1

The Real World, the “Real World,” and the Wired

The early episodes of Serial Experiments establishes the Wired as an extension of the Internet of the “real world” of its viewers. The story is punctuated by non-fiction information segments, each one focusing on a moment in the actual history of cybernetics and digital media.

There are profiles of Vannavar Bush, John C. Lilly, Ted Nelson, and descriptions of important precursor notions such as Memex and Xanadu.1


Figure 2

These sequences encourage viewer identification between ordinary online experience and Lain’s ultimate adventure.

These mini-histories are structured and presented in formats and styles similar to what one might find on the World Wide Web or in a CD-rom. They appear independent of the major narrative, Lain is never shown watching them, although the information in them becomes relevant to her situation. She also indicates knowledge of this material, which encourages another kind of identification between the spectator’s relation to the knowledge conveyed in these segments and Lain’s. These non-fiction insertions in the story give the real world and Lain’s world a common history, and their format models the presentation style of real-world digital media. While their content could be considered equivalent to the data the Lain gathers, their form underscores the radical difference between interface-mediated online communication in the spectator’s world, and Lain’s full immersion navigation of the Wired.

In Layer 08: Rumors, certain events have made Lain curious about a company called Tachibana Laboratories. Her curiosity leads her to boot up her Navi, but once logged in, the interface disappears. Lain walks through a multicolored, flickering space and strikes up a conversation with what appears to be a very large female striptease artist. The performer responds to Lain’s questions in a deep, masculine voice while assuming a variety of burlesque poses in iridescent fishnet stockings.


Figure 3a.

Albeit an exotic variation, the stripper is apparently a search-engine/database venue, similar in function to those regularly consulted online, such as Lexus/Nexus, or Google. And even the manifestation of that function is understandable: the image of a stripper suggests an agent that reveals what had been hidden; the timbre of the masculine voice (in the patriarchal cultures of both the real and the fictional worlds) suggests authority and thus the assurance of the truth of its information.


Figure 3b

While the mode of conveyance radically departments from the graphic interfaces of the spectator’s real world, the information the stripper-search provides deepens the connection between real world Internet and the Wired. The search engine informs Lain that Tachibana Laboratories have been developing a new Protocol, Protocol 7. “She” goes on to remind Lain what a protocol is and the series of Protocols preceding the new one. Of course, this information is more for the spectator’s benefit than Lain’s. The informant goes on to remind Lain what a protocol is, a gesture clearly addressed to the spectator. A protocol is the fundamental architecture of any network. It is “a set of formal rules” governing the transmission of data “across a network.” The rules cover the size of bits and bit stream, the formatting of data, the syntax of messages, and the access hierarchies among classes of terminals in a system. The Internet we use went through a series of protocols and has in the past few years operating with

rating on IPv6 – Internet Protocol Version 6.2

Since Protocol 7 is brand new, this means that the Wired had been operating on the same number protocol as the Internet of the spectators. This information also allows us to deduce the point at which the Wired most radically departs from the spectator’s real world Internet, and, within the fiction, the point at which the Wired began to intrude into Lain’s “real world.”

Paradigm Shift in the “Real World” and the Wired

Having established the common ground between the “real world” Internet and the Wired, we can then venture to draw parallels between the effects and affects of our digital revolution and those dramatized in Serial Experiments. Let us recall the paradigm shifts I described in the previous section. Life on line has changed the basic ontological paradigm from a binary opposition between “real” and “unreal” to a tripartite model of “real” “unreal” and “virtual.” Furthermore, the ability to communicate to terminals anywhere from anywhere undermines the ordinary physical understanding of space, just as the freedom to re-present oneself in multiple guises through different screen name, avatars and the like, destabilizes traditional presumptions about identity and “self-hood.” The Wired offers immensely amplified technological capacities that are nevertheless analogous to those of the Internet. Correlatively, the situations in Serial Experiment: Lain dramatize the senses of empowerment and the anxiety caused by the paradigm shift. Lain’s access to information and her contacts with others take her far away from her cozy bedroom while apparently keeping her snugly within it. Lain remarks on this advantage in a way the evinces the new indeterminacy of space and location I described in my technopoetic synopsis of the paradigm shift. Chided in school for being a loner, Lain protests that she is socializing intensively, and her new friends visit her nightly. But then she wonders aloud, “Or do I go to them?”

The dispersion of the heirachical binary of real and not real yields euphoria in the scenes of Lain’s fantastic voyages into planes of visualized information. But the anxiety over the loss of this distinction is figured quite nightmarishly in some of the deadlier cross-overs from the unreal to the real via the virtual. The self-proclaimed posthumous existence of Chiyoda after her suicide is one such example, albeit one that could have a logical explanation. Others exceed such explanations. For example, children who play a dungeon-battle game called Fantoma they download from a hacker site on the Web actually kill each other with their virtual weapons.

Lain’s deeper involvement with the Wired will take the quasi-metaphysics of the digital revolution to a translogical extreme.

Parallel Transgressions

As the narrative progresses, the boundaries between the Wired and the real world degenerate. One of the first major transgressions of the boundary, however, occurs simultaneously on the level of the plot and on the level of the visual presentation, i. e. , the direct address of the screen to the spectator. All episodes of Lain begin with same urban neon night sequence with a Stop/Walk signal, but each reiteration of this visual track has a different aural track.


This preface is usually an unidentifiable voiceover either speaking to no one in particular, or speaking as part of a freefloating conversation. The topic of the voiceover bears some relation to that episode’s title. The opening sequence of Layer 05: Distortion , distorts the usual image sequences of the prelude, making some sections appear to be shot in the animation equivalent of home video: the images are as grainy as pointillist paintings. The voiceover is also a striking variation on the pattern. The masculine voice very pedantically intones a description of the evolutionary standstill in human development. The image track includes scenes featured in the typical prelude, as well as other easily recognizable sites in Tokyo. The overall effect is that of a hybrid between the prelude and the kinds of expository segments I discussed above.


The final scene of the sequence closes with a now familiar overhead shot of Shibuya, unsurprising until Lain appears among the crowd of pedestrians as the narrator drones on. This is the first time a character from the narrative has appeared in one of these preludes. Yet more surprisingly, Lain pauses in the middle of the crosswalk and looks directly into what would be the camera if this were a live action film. She has overheard the voiceover, and stops to speak to it. And the voiceover answers her.


Below is an excerpt from the voiceover’s monologue, beginning from a point prior to Lain’s entry and ending with their exchange.

[Male Voiceover]: Human beings are creatures that no longer evolve.

[Male Voiceover]: Compared with other animals, the cancer rate in humans is quite small.

[Male Voiceover]: According to one theory, the human being is a neoteny, and will never evolve further.

[Male Voiceover]: If so, what a wretched creature.

[Male Voiceover]: Ignorant of the force that drives them, they keep their bodies, merely to satisfy the desires of the flesh.

[Male Voiceover]: Pathetic, don’t you think?

[Male Voiceover]: That’s all human being is.

[Male Voiceover]: But it is no longer necessary to remain a low human being.

[Male Voiceover]: Humans have finally created an escape route.

Lain: What do you mean?

[Male Voiceover]: The Network. The Wired . . . Lain.

Lain: Who are you?

[Male Voiceover]: I'm God.

In the context of the story, the encounter between Lain and the voice marks an intrusion of the Wired into the real world. This intrusion is depicted through an analogous intrusion of the soundtrack into visual track, a shock for the spectator that analogous to the shock Lain sustained. There are two boundary transgressions in this scene:

[1] Within the fiction, the boundary between the “real world” and the Wired.

[2] The boundary between the fictional world presented, and the mechanisms of its presentation image and sound track (the voiceover occurs in a level of the presentation beyond the level of the fiction – so that a character should not be able to hear it, and certainly not be able to converse with it).

Through this dual infraction of boundaries, comes the first message of the God of the Wired, that Chisa invoked in her posthumous communication.

Traumatic Communications

Although the Wired is both the stimulus for transformation and the matrix on which those transformations are articulated, the plot does not support a simple equation between computer involvement and the identity crises Lain will suffer. While Lain is plagued by the news that there is another “Lain” frequenting the Wired, her school friends had already begun to see Lain’s double in the “real world” the night that Lain’s new computer was delivered. When her school friends suspect Lain of spreading a rumor that her best friend Alice had had an affair with one of the male teachers, the gravity of that accusation eclipses the theoretical distinction between a simulated self in the Wired and a double in the real world.

While attempting to trace the source and circulation of this rumor, Lain has two fateful encounters with the self-proclaimed God of the Wired, and between these two encounters, she has a series of fantastic experiences that seem to occur in a cataclysmic interfusion of the Wired and the Real.

When Lain enters the Wired to search for the source of the rumors she finds herself in an immense tatami room in blackness.


Figure 5

About twenty people sit seiza on the floor in pairs face to face. Or it would be face-to-face if they had faces. The figures are apparently adults of both sexes and from a wide range of classes and age groups. This is clear from the various modes of dress. But above each collar a mouth hovers in a space where the head would be. Everyone incessantly spouts rumors and gossip at each other. Exasperated, Lain, yells, “What’s so interesting about that,” and then the disembodied voice of God announces his first manifestation to her, as a shimmering silver blob undulating in place where it floats above the gossiping minions.

His speech is neither helpful nor consoling and Lain is ready to give up on talking to him, when the God brings up the existence of the other Lain. He then makes a claim she finds incredible.

[Male Voice]: I believe you noticed that there has been another "you" in the Wired. You are just a hologram of it. You are only a body.

[Lain]: I don’t believe you. It’s unbelievable.

[Male Voice]: Even you can't believe that Lain in the real world is the same person as current Lain in the Wired.

[Lain]: But, I am myself . . .

Lain immediately finds herself at her desk in her homeroom class, staring at her email-phone device bearing the message: “Lain is a Peeping Tom.” The atmosphere in the classroom drives Lain into the hall where the disapproving stares of everyone she meets sends her running for refuge. Sitting on the steps outside of the gymnasium, Lain receives a text message from Alice, reassuring her that she did not believe that Lain had betrayed her. But Lain’s relief is shortlived, since, in her desire to see Alice she hits “search” on her palmpilot. But the search occurs in the real world. She is swallowed up into a cybernetic void, with the message “Searching” flashing a few times after Lain has disappeared. 3


Figure 6

The scene changes to a young girl being embraced by an older man – it is foggy as if filmed through gauze. The couple talk and the girl confesses her excitement in engaging in such a taboo relationship. At the point that the image clears enough to recognize Alice, it is also transferred onto the surface of a human eye. Alice’s eye. Again a shift in perspective reveals Alice in her bedroom and masturbating beneath her desk. Suddenly sensing someone in the room, she turns to discover Lain on her bed, staring and grinning maliciously. This Lain taunts Alice for her desire for the teacher and promises to tell everyone. Alice is devastated at being caught and at Lain’s cruelty.


This scene then erupts, dissolving into a shot of Lain, frightened and trembling in her own bed in a dark bedroom. Several more shifts brings Lain into a black void containing only a replica of Alice’s bed on which the other-Lain sits and smirks. Enraged, Lain begins to choke the other-Lain, who merely smiles and asks, “Oh am I committing suicide?”

This scene dissolves and Lain finds herself back in the tatami room with the gossips, but now the gossips all have bobbing puppet heads with Lain’s face on them.


In their previous meeting, the God had taunting Lain with the existence of the other-Lain and had characterized the real-world Lain as less real than the digital one. Now he claims that the Lain before him is the only Lain there is and that it is she herself who spread the rumors about Alice. But in this claim he does not denounce her or incriminate her.


Rather, he celebrates that behavior as a sign of Lain’s active omniscience within the ever more intimately linked planes of the Wired and the real world.

[Male Voice]: Everything is you. I said that you have existed in the Wired.

[Lain]: What?

[Male Voice]: You are my equal. You were dispersed in the Wired. Therefore you were always by everyone’s side, everywhere. You saw everything that everyone never wanted to be known. You just spread the information throughout the Wired. You were right. Information in the Wired would be shared with everybody.

Lain at first refuses to take him seriously, then something occurs to her. She speculates that if she were really dispersed through the Wired, she could erase the memories her friends now have of what the other Lain had done. The voice agrees entirely and invites Lain to attempt it. The screen then goes black. Momentarily, a single flashing word appears :


The experiment succeeded. Her friends, including Alice seem happy without any sign of the earlier trouble. But Lain has to stand by unseen as her double joins the girls. Returning home, she discovers her house dismantled and the couple she thought to be her parents merely actors whose performance had been called off. More and more of her environment erodes, revealing mechanisms responsible for the production of what Lain had believed to be her real world and her ordinary life. After several more such shocks, Lain returns to her class homeroom while school is in session. Again, the students seem normal, albeit too involved in conversation to notice Lain’s entrance. Upon reaching the front of the room where her desk should be, Lain finds herself standing in an empty space. At that moment, the teacher stands immediately in front of Lain although oblivious to Lain’s presence, and announces a pop quiz. She does not respond when Lain reaches for one of the test booklets.

As everyone begins to work on the test, Lain remains where her desk had been, in the shock of the realization that she is not there and now had never been there. Fighting this revelation, she begins to cry and argues to her self, "I…I'm real…. I'm alive….I'm here…. How did it come to this? Did I do something wrong? I’ve always been so careful not to do anything wrong, not to talk out of turn. Why is this happening to me?”

The Secret Genealogy of “Lain”

The answer to Lain’s question is dispersed throughout the series, beginning in the seemingly purely informational semi-documentary segments that punctuate the narrative. Embedded among the segments on Bush, Lilly, and Nelson, there is also a profile of a fictional character, Eiri Masami.


Eiri Masami had been a scientist in Tachibana Labs working on Protocol 7. He secretly added some very special features to that Protocol. He designed it to be able channel the Schumann Resonance, the bands of electromagnetic waves that englobe the earth, forming with them a mega-neural network that humans could plug into directly. Eiri’s innovation inaugurated the direct communication between the real world and the Wired. When his superiors discovered what Eiri had done, they fired him. A week later Eiri threw himself in front of a train. This was not suicide out of despair, but a deliberate discarding of his body so that he could enter the Protocol 7 Wired and become a god therein.

Protocol 7 had not been Eiri’s only project. He and a colleague had also created a self-conscious entity within the Wired and then developed a ribosome-hologramic version of that entity which functioned in the Real world. Both the Wired entity and the hologramic double were Lain. Lain had been designed to believe she was a normal middle-school girl with parents and an older sister. The “family” were actors Eiri hired to support her belief. This explains her “mother’s” coldness, but her “father” was warm and caring to Lain throughout the deception. Which does not necessarily mean he was merely a better actor, but probably the colleague who collaborated on Lain’s creation, thus in some ways her “father” after all.

The Tragic Success

Lain succeeded in erasing the actions of the “other” Lain. But this victory was also a terrible defeat. In undoing the damage the other Lain had done, she did not so much expose the “other” Lain as a fraud as she proved herself to be unreal – and unreal in a more radical sense. She thought the other Lain was an imposter – pretending to be someone she is not. But Lain discovers that she herself is unreal – not because she is something else but because is not. Simply is not. The category “real” shifts from a question of authenticity to a question of ontology. From whether X is really Y to whether X is or is not.

Negative Theology

Lain first encountered the God of the Wired as an invisible voice {literally a voiceover}. In his first appearance to her he manifested himself as a luminous silver amoeba like shape. It is only at the beginning of her final crisis, when Lain is beginning to realize what her ability to erase memories implies, that she first sees the God, “face to face.” The scene opens with a close-up of one of Lain’s eyes as she intones the words, "The sole truth -God," A now familiar voice responds: “Yes, it is me,” he answers. He then appears at the opposite end of a street, in a humanoid-form, reminiscent of his former self, but distorted, like a marionette caricature of Eimi that had cut its strings and learned to walk on its own.


The conversation resumes.

[Lain]: Are you God?

[Eiri]: Yes, I am God.

Then, in a brilliant maneuver, the roles of the two figures reverse. The Eiri-figure speaks the dialogue that could only be Lain’s, while the Lain-figure speaks Eiri’s dialogue. In the portion I quote below, the names in the brackets refer to the figure who speaks them, not the person that that figure usually represents:

[Eiri]: How can you be a God? You’re already dead, aren’t you? How can a dead human be a God?

[Lain]: Because I realized the superfluity of the flesh. Death is only a means of discarding the flesh.

[Eiri]: You’re referring to Chisa.

[Lain]: Yes, I am. But I improved the protocol that operates the Wired.

[Eiri]: Yes, you certainly did. But a protocol is only an agreement.

[Lain]: True, But I upgraded the protocol to a higher plane.

[Eiri]: And? Masami rebukes her, "So what?"

[Lain]: I included certain information compressed into the Protocol that will run as code.

[Eiri]: What information?

[Lain]: One person’s memory. . the dreams, the worries, the memories, the emotions, mine. Myself. Eiri Masami.

[Eiri]: What do you mean?

[Lain]: I mean I can go on eternally in the Wired, a secret existence, and control the environment through the information in which I’m embedded.


This scene suggests Lain has not only come to terms with the nothingness of her “self,” but that she has accepted assimilation between her digital existence and the digitized memory of her deceased creator. But Lain’s final realization is as ambivalent and volatile the reversal of voice and persona in this scene. Her acceptance of the “truth” of her “non-truth” is gradual, contradictory. It progresses through several stages of denial, curiosity, despair, and resolution. Ultimately, she accepts her anti-nature, but does not relinquish the value the real world held for her during her artificial life therein. She acknowledges Eiri’s description of her state, his metaphysics, so to speak, but rejects his theology. Her sense of loss at her discovery about herself does not resonate with Eiri’s nihilism, nor does it awaken in her a need consonant with Eiri’s need that he sought satisfy through her.

Gendered Ontological Difference

Eiri’s suicide and his frequent remarks to Lain about the irrelevance of her body follow the gendered tradition of cyberpunk fantasy since its officially recognized inception with William Gibson’s Neuromancer. The hero Case, lives to be “jacked in” cyberspace, freed of his body to expand his horizons and the scope of his conquests. 4 This proclivity is neither an idiosyncrasy of that character nor that novel. 5 Hans Moravec, a specialist in Robotics envisions a future in which human consciousness could be extracted from the brain, digitalized and inserted into cyberspace. The newly liberated consciousness, Moravec contends, would enjoy immortality and absolute freedom of movement. “As a computer program, your mind can travel over information channels, for instance encoded as a laser message beamed between planets.”6

The contemporary digital-culturescape is rife with men – both fictional and real (simulated and bioenergetic) who express an enthusiasm for abandoning the confines of corporeality to enter the brave new limbo, 7 while there is very little corresponding call for a out-of-body exodus from women. 8 Dominant social orders have made it difficult for women to remain in their bodies on their own terms, and often difficult to remain in them at all.9 Even supposing that in some contemporary societies for certain groups of women that struggle has grown less conspicuous; such a respite would hardly be the time to vacate what had been so long fought for and so recently and so tentatively won. 10 Furthermore, both Case’s adventurism and Eiri’s overvaluation of the Wired continue a much older tradition in which the masculine is associated with the conceptual and the transcendent, and the feminine with the material and earthbound.11

Serial Experiments: Lain, however, ultimately departs from the above paradigm in several aspects, embedded within each other. First of all, the feminine-gendered figure Lain is more radically non-material, more purely conceptual than the male scientist/mastermind Eiri Masami. This gender-reversal also comprehends another way in which the anime disassociates itself from traditional tendencies of the genre: Lain’s final state is not an apotheosis – her omnipresence in the Wired is not the result of a willed evolution from human finitude to a posthuman, incorporeal immortality. She is not a human being who opts out of the human body for a higher state. She was never human in the first place. She was not a human being who “realized” the superiority of the inorganic alternative to life. She was software designed to mistake itself for human. And in that mistake and the consequences of its correction comes the third difference: Lain’s virtual memories of a real life invest a greater value in embodiment and tangible existence than in the pseudocosmic vacuity of the infoverse.

Canonical cyberpunk, virtual reality, and related venues in digital culture evince a metaphysics that prioritizes pure information over context and embodiment. 12 One of the most striking speculations that have emerged from this informational metaphysics is the conception of the human psyche as a configuration of information patterns that can be quantified, abstracted from the organism that houses it, and transferred into a data-environment that ensures a survival and a future for that psyche beyond the decay and death of the physical body, now merely a biohistorical contingency. Eiri Masami reenacts this metaphysical value system in his suicide-into-the-Wired.

Lain’s withdrawal from the real world, however, is not a suicidal acquiescence to a patriarchal nihilism. She does not transcend human life; she has been foreclosed from it. Although she returns to the incorporeal matrix of her origin, she does not subscribe to her creator’s mystical reverence for it. She may not have lost a real body, but she resolutely mourns it. She recognizes the reality of her digital existence, but remembers the richness of the material life she had been duped into believing was hers. In Lain, Eiri created an ideal entity who in turn debunks his idealism and witnesses against the sanctity of his heaven.

I now turn to Ghost in the Shell, which is, to put it rather simply, another story of a woman’s struggle to ascertain her reality. I will then return to Serial Experiments: Lain in order to compare those struggles and their larger implications.

The Technopoetics of Post-manifesto Cyborgs

Ghost in the Shell

Masamune Shirow’s manga series, 攻殻機動隊 appeared in Kodansha’s Pirate Edition of their Young Magazine from 1989-1990. The episodes were collected in a single volume first in 1991. In 1995 Oshii Mamoru directed the anime version. Both the manga and the anime were enormously successful both nationally and internationally. Oshii’s film version takes portions of three of the series originally discrete episodes and fashions a single, concentrated story.

I now must ask the reader’s indulgence as I must devote a few paragraphs to a plot synopsis. This synopsis, however, differs from a typical plot summary in that it is the first stage of the two stages of my technopoetical reading method. In other words, this synopsis corresponds to the description of what the technology does, a description that provides the ground for the second stage, an exploration of what the technology means.

Technopoetic Reading Level One

Although a relatively “near” future, the world of 2029 seems completely alien. In the wake of two more World Wars, conceptions of nations and politics have mutated considerably. The film views the world through the operations of two Japanese government agencies charged with maintaining order: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Section VI), and the special anti-terrorist police force known as Section IX. One of the things that makes Section IX so formidable is the number of agents whose bodies and brains have been cybernetically augmented. Major Kusanagi Motoki is the most augmented of them all, having had her brain transferred into a completely cyborg body, called a gitai 義体 which would mean “prosthetic body,” following the ordinary Japanese words such as gishu 義手“prosthetic hand” and gisoku 義足“prosthetic leg,” etc. Figures 4.14

Thanks to this prosthesis, Kusanagi is effectively super-powered. But this augmentation leaves her with nagging questions about what really remains of her self. Because she was a real individual and it was her human brain that was transplanted, she is assured that she remains herself thanks to the preservation in titanium of her “ghost,” [the English word ghost in katakana]. The “ghost” is that which is the core of an individual’s personality and coherent self. Although Kusanagi’s description of it sounds at times psychological and at other times philosophical or even religious, the “ghost” also has an organic concreteness, since it leaves an image on a brain scan called the “ghost line.” Although digitally recorded psyches can generate a pseudo-ghost line, such a simulation is never an exact replica of the real thing.

The division between body and ghost is not only of concern to cyborgs. Most of the general populace have had implants placed in the brain which allows direct access to information networks by plugging data lines into two apertures in the back of the neck. Through these datalines, however, a master hacker has infiltrated plugged-in users and “ghost-hacked” them: the victim’s memories are erased and replaced with artificial memories that give the victim reasons to commit specific criminal acts. Section IX is charged with apprehending the hacker, nicknamed the Puppet Master.

The case becomes even more alarming when a newly completed gitai – a female cyborg body like the one Kusanagi inhabits – began operating itself automatically and escaped from the factory. The escaped cyborg body stood naked on the highway, and when it was hit by a truck, Section 9 took over what was left of it – the head, torso and stumps of the arms. The mystery of the body’s self-movement deepened when the scientists in charged discovered a ghost-line in the brain scan. Figures 4.15a and 4.15b

Officials from Section VI come to claim the cyborg remains. They claim that they tricked the Puppet Master into diving into this cyborg and now have trapped him in there, having “murdered the original body.”

But then the inert torso comes to life and asserts that there is no “original body” because it never had a body. It identifies itself as Project 2501, originally a surveillance program designed and launched by Section VI to infiltrate intelligence systems and other minds, but that as it traversed the sea of information Project 2501 became aware of itself and as a self-aware entity it considers itself now an autonomous life form and entered the cyborg body voluntarily in order to present itself to Section IX to request political asylum. The Section VI officials, embarrassed that their plot was exposed, also scoff at Project 2501’s request. They reject the idea that the request itself proves the program to be a life form because the software was also programmed to protect itself from erasure and this gesture was simply that self-preservation command talking. Project 2501 retorts that DNA could also be considered a program with a self-preservation command embedded in it.

This exchange is interrupted when the third member of the Section VI contingent, invisible because of his thermofiber camouflage kidnaps the cyborg body housing the Puppet Master. Kusanagi follows the kidnapper to an abandoned warehouse where the Puppet Master is guarded by a formidable mega-tank. She and Batteau manage to destroy the tank, and Batteau connects Kusanagi’s shell and the Puppet Master’s so that Kusanagi can dive into the Puppet Master’s ghost. Instead of Kusanagi reporting to Batteau from the Puppet Master’s body, however, the Puppet Master speaks from Kusanagi’s body. It asks Kusanagi to merge with it, so that they can become a new entity, that would have both the advantages of embodied life and the infinite capacities of the net. Figures 4.16a and 4.16b

Their union would transform both of them and would allow them to generate new entities with variations that would not arise from simply generating copies of an individual program. Kusanagi has no time to weigh the pros and cons of the offer, however, as heavily armed aircraft from Section VI, blast the trio, pulverizing Batteau’s arm and shattering both Kusanagi’s and the Puppet Master’s cyborg shells. The scene darkens to black on the image of Kusanagi’s severed head laying on the warehouse floor like a broken doll. Figures 4.16c

The screen fades up to a shot of the length of a well furnished flat. The POV is situated in a library room at one end of the flat, showing a smaller room in the distant at the other end. The room’s open doorway frames an image of what appears to be a large doll in a high-collared velvet dress. Intravenous tubes are attached to both arms. Figures 4.17a and 4.17b The slow zoom into the room increases the ominous quality of the setting and amplifies the uncanny aura of the figure in the chair. A medium close-up remains still and silent for a moment, then the figure opens its eyes. Batteau’s voice reacts with the question, “So you’re awake?”

Batteau had managed to save the brain casings from both cyborg bodies and hide them. After Section IX repaired him, he was able to download the contents of both brain cases into the only cyborg body he could find on such short notice. The vocal cords in the new body give the figure the voice of a young girl, but it’s questions and responses clearly suggest that it is Kusanagi speaking. However, when Batteau directly asks the identity of the newly awakened entity, it replies: “Neither the program known as the Puppet Master, nor the woman known as the major exist any longer.” The entity politely declines Batteau’s invitation to stay, and walks out into the night. Standing on a precipice overlooking the city, the figure asks, “Where should I go? . . . The web is vast.” 13 Figures 4.18a

Technopoetic Reading Level Two

Now to begin reading the technology for the meanings it catalyzes. First of all, like Serial Experiments: Lain, Ghost in the Shell expresses both euphoric and anxious responses to the new possibilities technology has instigated. The euphoria is figured in the powers and freedom of the Puppet Master. The anxiety is figured in many ways, among them: the shock over the presence of a ghost in an “empty” cyborg shell; the attempt of the government to destroy a program that demands recognition as a self-aware life form; and Kasunagi’s doubts about the reality of her selfhood.

Decentering the Human Self

On one level, the reaction of the Section IX operatives to the discovery of a ghost line in a mechanism without a human brain and the refusal of the Section VI officials to recognize Program 2501 as a life form can be read as a defense of human rationality and consciousness as unique. The presence of the ghostline intimates a decentering of human consciousness, and Project 2501’s speech articulates that decentering literally. The negative reaction to the emergence of a cybernetic intelligence is comparable with an important moment in digital cultural history: the 1997 Chess match between world master Garry Kasparov and IBM Computer Deep Blue. Prior to the games, Kasparov is quoted as saying that he agreed to do this to “defend the dignity of humanity.” Kasparov won the first game of the six game series, but lost the second. He was devasted, but not simply over Deep Blue’s victory, but how Deep Blue played. Kasparov was alarmed by the choices Deep Blue made that seemed more human than mechanical. Kasparov never recovered his composure and the emotional toll was vividly evident in the rest of the tournament, ending early in the final game when Kasparov resigned. 14

While the reasons for Kasanagi’s concern over the cyborg’s ghostline are more enmeshed in the film’s fiction and somewhat personal, they also raise compelling questions beyond both the personal and the fictional. Even before the appearance of the runaway cyborg, Kasanagi had a recurrent worry about the nature of the “I” that had been plucked from its original body and reestablished the multipurpose metal apparatus that everyone now recognizes as “the Major.” Seeing the cyborg body, the same model as her own, lying motionless – as it should prior to receiving a human “ghost”, its possible autonomous generation of a ghost increases Kasanagi’s suspicions. She asks Batteau – if this cyborg can come up with a ghost from its electronic brain, isn’t it possible that the “ghost” in her own shell, the “ghost” that assures her that she is her and human, is actually also a laboratory-created software loaded with memories of a fictional life and programmed to believe in itself? Batteau’s arguments that Kasanagi has human brain cells in her skull casing and that she’s treated as a human by every one fail to comfort her. She retorts that most people have not seen their brain. And, more interestingly, she asks if being human is a function of being treated as human. I will return to this question later in another context.

Both the general reaction and Kasanagi’s reaction to the non-human “ghost” lead us back to the question of the meaning of “ghost” in the underlying philosophy of Kasanagi’s world. Furthermore, exploring this question should be done technopoetically, namely we must first extrapolate the meaning of “ghost” from the text of the anime, and then read those meanings and that status of the ghost as themselves technologies whose significance extends metaphorically.

The Nature of the Ghost

On the official website for the Ghost in the Shell spin-off television series Ghost in the Shell: Stand alone Complex, there is a glossary. Two of the sentences in their definition of “ghost” are quite helpful, and one is open to question. First of all the two sentences I like:


The ghost is “A factor that delimits the “individual” whose existence has been proven.”


Now the sentence that requires more reflection:


Words in contemporary use whose meanings approximate “ghost” include “tamashii” and “reiki.” (both words mean “spirit,” sort of).

I would like to reserve the question of whether or not the “ghost” is equivalent to “tama” or “reiki”.

Why this is so important involves a more external level of the technopoetic reading of Ghost in the Shell. While the Puppet Master’s very mode of “existence” and the final transformation of Kasunagi and the Puppet Master are both radical reimaginings of subjectivity, identity, and existence, the structure from which they depart invites more conservative interpretations. Both the English title and the main events in the film conjure the phrase “ghost in the machine,” Gilbert Ryle’s characterization of Cartesian dualism, which he rejects absolutely. The ghost/cyborg structure and even the appellation “Puppet Master” both reflect a hierarchy of intelligence over physicality and a division between a psychical “self” that transcends the body that houses it. The history of twentieth century philosophy as well as other discourses such as psychoanalysis, semiotics, Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and feminism have all brought forth powerful critiques of the Cartesian cogito and the mind/body split and all its sociopolitical consequences. Ghost in the Shell dispels the certainty of the ego but in some ways retains its transcendence.

To put Ghost in the Shell into a Japanese context, however, it is interesting to compare the ghost-inhabited cyborg body in the Section IX laboratory to a distant, celebrated forebearer. The predecessor in question first appeared as a subsidiary character in Osamu Tezuka’s 1950 manga series, Captain Atom, but in 1951 it took center stage its own magazine. This magazine led to the first television anime serial of its kind, Tetsuwan Atom, which was broadcast from 1963 until 1966, and has reappeared in many forms and in many media since then.

Figures 4.19

The story begins with a parent’s grief over the death of a child. The father-scientist creates a replica of his late son and names it Tobio, but eventually abandons it when he realizes the robot cannot mature. The robot is rescued by another scientist and encouraged to integrate into human life. The robot, renamed Atom, has extraordinary powers beyond those of a human being, but what sets him apart and earns him the affection of those he meets is the presence within his artificial body of a kokoro.

Kokoro is a native Japanese word that can mean, among other things, “heart,” “mind,” “sincerity,” “human essence,” “capacity for feeling,” “faithfulness,” etc. It is usually written with the Chinese character 心 but it is also frequently written in the native syllabary hiragana as こころ, to emphasize the indigenous meanings and affects of the term and to distance it from the more clinical semantics of the Sino-Japanese lexicon. (The title of Natsume Soseki’s novel, Kokoro, for example, is written in hiragana for this reason). Atom thus constitutes a very specifically inflected contradiction: a machine not with a “soul,” or simply a “human heart,” but with a Japanese human heart, an emotive-affective capacity considered uniquely Japanese. And the robot’s kokoro resonates with other uses of the term in a variety of discourses from the zen arts of rock gardens, to archery, and swordssmithing, each of which teach of a kokoro within the object and within the practice toward perfection. In Atom’s hybrid state, the contradiction between machine and human is doubled with the contradiction between modern [Western] science and Japanese traditional values. But while doubling the contradictions, the cultural saturation of kokoro also serves to ameliorate or even resolve them within an “indigenous” sense of belonging.

The vacant cyborg shell evincing a “ghost,” is a different sort of hybrid in a different sort of world. In the place of the native kokoro, the cyborg shell is inhabited by something named not in Japanese nor even in Sino-Japanese – such as seishin 精神 (“spirit”) or ishiki 意識(“consciousness”). Figures 4.20a and 4.20b Instead it is a borrowed word from English, that must be written in katakana, the syllabary for foreign words, sounds, and animal noises: ゴースト. The core of the human personality, the concentrated locus of the self, therefore, is named with a borrowed foreign word, a word without resonance in either Japanese or Chinese. A word, in fact, whose meaning in its original language suggests not the living essence of a human being but a terrible remnant after the human had died. 15

The absolute division between Kasanagi’s “self” and the cyborg body that houses it is a very particular case, but its structure is generalized to the human condition at large. Kasanagi values her “ghost” far more than her body, since her “ghost” is all that remains which is “really” her, while the cyborg body is simply a mechanism into which Kasanagi had been transplanted. Non-cyborg humans are also conceived of as a union of “body” and “ghost.” And Kasanagi’s priorities are generalized as the model hierarchy for the human too: same priority of ghost over body as a priority of intelligence over mechanism.

One of the scenes in which Batteau and Kasanagi apprehend a criminal-victim of the Puppet Master makes this clear, but the English subtitles in the U.S. release obscure the actual statement. Watching the arrestee, overcome with the realization that he has no idea who he is or what he was doing, Batteau expresses his sympathy. The U.S. subtitle reads: “Ghost-hacked humans are so pathetic.” But what he said in Japanese was :

ゴーストがない人形は哀しい.”Dolls without ghosts are so pathetic.” This is not so much an expression of sympathy for the victim, but a disparagement of the human body as a manipulable vehicle for a self that lends it its only temporary value.

Intriguingly, while Batteau here voices the film’s estimation of the human body as a purely instrumental mechanism, in another scene he expresses a belief in a quasi-mystical animistic power within cybernetic neuroscience. When a younger, non-cyborg policeman scoffs at the idea that the empty cyborg shell could have a ghost, Batteau’s retort is more interesting than its rendering in the English subtitles.According to the subtitles Batteau replied, “Even dolls can seem to have souls.” Figures 4.21 But in the Japanese dialogue he said: “セイロフアイヌ人形に霊魂が入ることもあるぜ。

“There are occasions when spirits/ghosts have enter cellophane dolls!”

The self that is valued higher than the body, however, also is subject to devaluation in other contexts. Even the name of the Puppet Master’s crime, “ghost-hacking” encapsulates a contradictory estimation of the self. As “ghost” it is the most essential and most private core of the human individual-qua individual. Yet the “hacking” designates that self as at least quasi-material, publicly accessible, and susceptible to external manipulation and radical revision. And, oddly enough, this turns out to be the good news. This commodification of the self is what overcomes the self’s transcendence. 16

Spiritual Communication Noise

Speaking of transcendence, there are two brief, linked moments in Ghost in the Shell that flirt with a Western-style spirituality best avoided. On a boat after Kasanagi reemerged from a deep-sea dive, she and Batteau have a serious conversation about the constitution of human identity. Immediately after Kasanagi gives her sketch of what makes up her “I”, out of nowhere, a female voice, possibly Kasanagi’s whispers:

We now see as if in a dark mirror, vaguely

This is the first half of I Corinthians 13:12, which in the King James’ translation reads:

For now we see through a glass, darkly . . .

In the original Greek : blepomen gar arti di' esoptrou en ainigmati

This is one of two occurrences of the word espotron, “mirror,” in the entire New Testament. The “darkly” in the King James Version, translates ainigmati, the sole occurrence in the New Testament of the word ainigma, which means “riddle,” or “dark saying,” – the source for the English word “enigma.” The “speaker” expresses dissatisfaction over an unclear understanding of reality, and compares that unclarity to vision obstructed by a technological instrument.

In the final scene, the hybrid-entity tells Batteau that she/they/it discovered the “rest” of the passage, and recites it to him:

When I was a child, I [spoke] as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became [an adult], I put away childish things.

The passage is strange, for one thing because the doll-like little-girl body that recites it lends a weird, disconnected irony to the references to a past childhood and an attained adulthood. But the choice of text also seems disconnected, displaced. Since the disembodied voice that spoke to Batteau and Kusanagi recited only the first half of I Corinthians 13:12, one would expect “the rest” of the text to be the second half of that verse, but instead the entity recited Corinthians 13:11, text that occurs prior to the passage read on the boat. It neither completes nor explains the verse originally uttered.

The full text of I Corinthians 12:13 reads:

For now we see through a glass, darkly . . but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

This verse seems more clearly pertinent to the situation at hand. The omission of the second of the verse is actually underscored by this second omission. 17 The first half seems to describe Kusanagi’s “doubts” about her ghost, questions literally suspended within the cyborg body, a resemblance to a human woman that Kusanagi may have been, an image obscured by its technology like a reflection in a dark mirror. While the merging of Kusanagi and the Puppet Master was technologically facilitated, once merged, the two subjects know each other beyond the face-to-face (interface-to-interface), their knowledge is now as direct and total, free of any technological mediation. More ominously, in the original letter to the Corinthians, Paul is referring to the Christian believer’s ultimate direct knowledge of God. By factoring this into the analogy, the verse casts Kusanagi in the role of troubled truth-seeker, and the Puppet Master as the divinity into whose truth she is allowed to dissolve. While I am willing to suspend disbelief (pun intended) regarding these allusions, I find this a good point of departure from which to turn from the purely technopoetic, to the technosexualpolitical aspects of Ghost in the Shell.

Technopoetical Sexual Politics in Ghost in the Shell

There have been many criticisms of anime such as Ghost in the Shell for their depiction of the female body, and indeed Ghost itself has been subject to them. In a fascinating and suggestive essay comparing Ghost in the Shell with bunraku (Japanese puppet theater), Christopher Bolton addresses these critiques in a thoughtful and responsible manner.

The argument that the film's voyeuristic male gaze undermines its radical possibilities is outlined in more detail by Carl Silvio, who concludes predictably that while the film “seems to espouse a political agenda that is in keeping with feminist theorizations of the cyborg, it covertly reworks this agenda into an endorsement of conventional configurations of sexual difference.”8 But while it is hard to argue with Silvio's conclusion, this approach oversimplifies by failing to acknowledge some additional dimensions of this ambivalence or ambiguity—specifically, the layer of performance in anime. Silvio follows Haraway's lead in regarding fictional figures such as Kusanagi as unclouded mirrors that reflect a cultural scene. Concerned with linking anime to a real-world context in which flesh-and-blood bodies are threatened with genuine objectification and violence, this approach treats fictional cyborgs on more or less the same plane as living human subjects. But treating Kusanagi as a living subject clearly misses the ways in which her body will always fall inside quotation marks; she is a virtual or performed subject that is both unreal and more than real from the start. As a performed medium, anime must be approached not just as a generic category of social text but also on its own aesthetic terms.18

While I am fundamentally in agreement with Bolton’s statement, I also wish to play the virtual devil’s advocate here. For one thing, the very “ambivalence or ambiguity” of the anime that Bolton himself cites in his rejection “linking anime to a real-world context” also allows for that linkage. Bolton also categorizes Kusanagi as “both unreal and more than real.” The omission of the category “real,” however, invites collapsing these two extreme aspects into unreal alone. And to reject any critique of the figure “Kusanagi” on the grounds that Kusanagi is not real has at least two major drawbacks:

[1] This argument would also make it impossible to critique the misogyny or sexism in hentai anime such as the ultra-violent, sexually explicit Urotsukidoij, or La Blue Girl.

or even to challenge the sexual politics of other forms of visual representation such as paintings, drawings or sculpture, since the individuals depicted in these media are “not real.”

[2] The statement that “Kusanagi is not real,” ironically extracts from the fictional narrative its central dilemma – the female subject’s crisis over her own reality –and forecloses the question that the text’s agenda is to keep open.

My final provocation as devil’s advocate concerns Bolton’s final statement in the above citation which I also actually agree with : “anime must be approached not just as a generic category of social text but also on its own terms.” In the context of his argument, this statement is not simply a stand-alone axiom in a methodology, but it also rejects reading the anime as a reflection of real-life. But aspects of the manga-anime-digital subcultures complicate these issues. When assessing the effects and significance of an anime as globally successful as Ghost in the Shell, it is not simply an issue of the anime’s reflecting the real world: those images become part of real worlds. As a case in point, I did a Japanese Google search for the word gitai. This is a very technical and rare word, obviously. Predictably the majority of hits were for sites about Ghost in the Shell, science fiction, and cybernetics. But a surprising number of sites were adult porn sites offering subscribers female “gitai” – many of them barely pubescent images who would strip, assume a variety of nearly impossible poses, and perform a variety of sexual acts according the subscriber’s manipulation of their puppet mechanisms.

Obviously, Ghost in the Shell cannot be blamed for this phenomenon nor should knowledge of these sites alter our reading of the anime. But it does illuminate the larger discourses of sexual representation and power politics in which Ghost in the Shell emerged and into which it circulates.

Now I’ve removed my devil’s horns, and wish to reinstate my agreement with Bolton and affirm that Ghost in the Shell’s display of Kasanagi’s body seems neither purely voyeuristic nor does it recuperate a conservative binary of sexual difference.

In fact, I believe that the aspect of the anime’s sexual politics that requires critical intervention is not so much Kasanagi’s “femininity” as the Puppet Master’s “masculinity”. The film assigns the program a masculine gender even before the characters do. When the Puppet Master first speaks from the female cyborg body, it speaks with a deep male voice. It speaks with the same voice from Kasanagi’s cyborg body in the climax. But these bodies were designed to be anatomically and physiologically indistinguishable from actual human bodies. Kasanagi spoke with a woman’s voice. The hybrid-entity in the child cyborg body at the conclusion spoke (at least for the most part) with the voice of a young girl. We can conclude from both the realistic aim of the body design and the evidence of these inhabited bodies, that the bodies have female vocal chords. To give the Puppet Master a male voice in those situations, therefore, is not merely a technical oversight but the technopoetic equivalent of a Freudian slip.

Speaking of such slips, Dr. Willis, the head of the Project 2501 makes a big one. When he and Nakamura, chief of Section VI arrive at the Section IX laboratory to reclaim the runaway cyborg, Willis wastes no time in hitting the keyboards and scanning the cyborg’s braincase. When he finds what he was looking for he exclaims: “Confirmed! It’s him!”

As one of those responsible for the creation of the program, Willis would certainly be aware of its sexlessness. His attribution is even more striking in Japanese, since the use of third-person gendered pronouns such as kare and kanozyo is much more limited and infrequent than in English and other European languages. There is tendency to avoid such pronouns even when dealing with actual humans with evident sex/gendered identities.

Nakamura’s attempt to explain Willis’s outburst to Arakawa makes it even worse. He tells Arakawa that, “the sex of the perpetrator has not yet been determined. ‘Kare’ is simply Dr. Willis’ pet name for the criminal.” This explanation is really strange, since the two of them give Arakawa the story that they have trapped the psyche of the American criminal hacker, “the Puppet Master” in this cyborg and murdered the hacker’s “hontai” (original body). Given this story, Willis’s use of kare is not at all remarkable. It only is strange if one knows that Willis is referring to a program, which is precisely what Nakamura and Willis are trying to keep secret. On the contrary, Nakamura’s unnecessary comment that the criminal’s “sex hasn’t been determined yet” casts doubt on their story, since one would be very likely to have determined the sex of a person one has murdered (and in fact, to use their idiom – not a “person” but a “body” one has murdered). After the excitement of the kidnapping subsides, Willis asks Nakamura why the Puppet Master would have risked coming to Section IX, and Nakamura quips, “Perhaps he has a girlfriend here he has the hots for. A minor aside that nevertheless continues the masculine presumptions and extends a banal heterosexual scenario toward the far more complex affinity between the Puppet Master and Kusanagi.

The Puppet Master’s voice, Willis’s slip and Nakamura’s completely self-defeating attempt to cover that slip are elements of a larger operation of the film itself its construction of the Puppet Master as masculine.

Just as the images of Kasanagi circulate within discursive contexts larger than the film, so too does the masculinity of the Puppet Master. To bring this to light I would like to compare the Puppet Master’s situation and its resolution to that of Lain’s.

The Sexual Politics of Ghosts and Hosts

Both the Puppet Master (Project 2501) and Lain are originally programs. Lain is designed to believe that it is a human being. It does not discover its nature through an act of self-realization, but has the truth forced upon it by external circumstances.

While performing the functions it had been designed for, Project 2501 becomes aware of its nature as a program all by itself. Out the program’s realization that it is a program, it developed a reflective consciousness and formed a sense of itself as an extraprogrammatic entity, a “life form”. It essentially willed itself into individuality. No longer bound to the instructions of its creators, Project 2501 started using its abilities toward its own agenda: to concretize its existence in a form that would secure human recognition of the former program as a living, autonomous individual. The program’s new activities looked to the human world like a crime spree of a brilliant hacker, who was given the name the Puppet Master. Thus Project 2501 begins as an artificially aware program that then becomes aware of its own artificiality, which leads to its radical self-redefinition and campaign for the recognition of its self-willed “self” from the very institutions that had created it.

Lain, on the hand, begins operating within a pre-programmed delusion. Her discovery of her actual nature as a program is not a jubilant moment of self-awareness, but rather a catastrophic disillusionment. Although as a program within the Wired, she also possesses extraordinary powers, but this revelation does not instill in her a will-to-power. She does not attempt to use her Wired powers to force the real world to recognize her as a life-form. On the contrary, she sacrifices her “self” – accepting absolute disenfranchisement from the real world, erasing all traces of her “self” from the society, and even from the memories of those who had cared about her. Lain’s errors, losses and her sacrifice are all consonant with the feminine “gender” which, she had literally been assigned in the first place.

By the same token, while Project 2501 had not been “gendered” by its developers, its self-creation, self-assertion, and self-realization, also engender it as masculine.

Earlier I noted that Lain’s progression from bodily existence to disembodied state of pure information at first seems to run contrary to her gender as feminine. Correlatively, the Puppet Master’s successful quest for a body seems to contradict his masculinity since this progression is the reverse of the patriarchal ascension from matter to spirit. Like Lain, however, the particulars of the Puppet Master’s case will mitigate this seeming contradiction. In fact, the scenario manipulates the sexed division of metaphoric labor in a way that preserves both the traditional gender imbalance and their ontological priorities. Project 2501’s final incarnation is neither an abdication from the masculine self-awareness nor a reversal of values granting the material realm a priority over the intangible network. His immigration to the physical world does not close the portals of the transcendental aether of his artificial pre-life, nor does it dispel its virtual postmetaphysical hangover. And this tricky dual citizenship also depends upon the manipulation femininity.

In asking Kusanagi to merge “selves” shortly before their cyborg bodies were destroyed, the Puppet Master also promised Kusanagi full access to “the limitless sea of information” he currently commanded solo. The merging joined both “selves” in the cyborg body of a young girl. In this final solution, the Puppet Master’s masculinity is affirmed in his attainment of his goal (embodiment), while the particulars of that body (female) reiterate the gendering of the physical and the embodied as feminine. And although, the Puppet Master’s arrival in that body is a descent from the intangible to the material, because the merger grants Kusanagi the Puppet Master’s navigational powers, the transfer of her ghost reenacts the paradigmatic abandonment of a physical body that earns entrance an otherwise unattainable non-physical realm.

In short, the Puppet Master has his simulated cake and meta-eats it too.

My digression above is far too oblique to do justice to Ghost in the Shell on its own terms. And my focus on the Puppet Master certainly adds to the eccentricity of my reading, since Kusanagi is the central character of the film – and, unlike the Puppet Master, a character who has a cognizable and memorable form throughout. But one of the reasons I deliberately orient my reading around the Puppet Master, is to foreground the complexity of both characters. A reading of the film oriented around Kusanagi risks taking too seriously the restricted terms in which her identity crisis is initially articulated. Too close attention to Kusanagi, in other words, risks reducing Kusanagi’s search for her ghost to a Cartesian body/mind or body/soul dualism. 19 Having said this, however, even while I find such a reading of Kusanagi overly simplistic, I would like to use the fact that Ghost in the Shell lends itself to such readings to illuminate another radical aspect of Serial Experiments: Lain. While Lain’s tragedy may lie in her not having a body, the philosophical and critical value of the figure of Lain resides in part in her not having a soul, either. Lain neither has nor is a soul. She is neither a spiritual nor a psychological entity, but a cybernetic microsystem whose processing of decontextualized information bits changes according to the various communication protocols it accesses. It is cybernetic but also semiotic. It handles information but is also capable of producing and undergoing changes in response to meaning. 20


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