In-Brain & Off-Brain Knowledge

On the boat back from his visit to America, Freud confessed to Jung that he thought the Americans must not have truly understood what he was saying, because they took it all in stride. Ideas worth grappling with perturb you, jostle you off your base and push you out of your comfort zone. For me, grappling with an important idea is like learning to climb your first tree: you might fall a few times, you’re a bit bruised and certainly dirty, but the world around you looks fundamentally different from your new perch. More importantly, you’ve uncovered a new feature of the world. Now every time you see a tree, you’re aware that you might be able to climb it. Your space of possibilities has been enlarged in an enduring way.


As a teacher, it’s frustrating to feel like Freud on the boat, to sense that ideas you’re introducing to students are too abstruse, or specialized, or threatening for them to engage. You have a sense they kind of read a manual about tree climbing and report about what tree climbers have said about the views from there, but none of them is actually up in the branches. Nobody looks rumpled or has dirty hands.


So I’m especially excited about teaching Oshii’s 2004 anime film Innocence. I’m hoping it’s the stepladder I was looking for, the link between my students’ experiences and frameworks and important ideas that usually travel in the entourage of theorists like Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, and Haraway. For instance, however monumental Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto may be, it’s a difficult text for undergraduates at my school. I’ve gotten better at introducing it and creating openings for students to relate it to their own lives, but I’m not there yet. Enter Oshii’s Innocence, along with an android named “Haraway” who voices some of Donna Haraway’s insights.


But the film does more than voice these insights. Like the ventriloquism that is one of its tropes, it dramatizes insights from Haraway, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, and friends. Like Blade Runner before it, it explores what it’s like to live inside of these ideas. But unlike Blade Runner, which is from my youth, Innocence is from theirs. It builds upon Blade Runner like Blade Runner built upon Metropolis and noir.


But even on top of this, there’s something especially teachable (and learnable) about Innocence because there’s something didactic about it. Lots of overt quotations, citations, and philosophical debates. It manages to do this without seeming tiresome because it is exploring, precisely, a culture saturated with citations and quotations, a landscape plastered with signs and advertisements, a world where characters brains are augmented with “external memory.”


Which brings me to in-brain and off-brain knowledge. I think Innocence may be the bridge I need to introduce students to fairly abstruse and certainly threatening ideas from Derrida and his fellow travelers that trouble the idea that there is an inner us, a central subjectivity, an unscathed pilot helming our person, that precedes writing, culture, speech, data, and so forth. I think this is an absolutely central, but difficult, idea. Not impossible to grasp, but difficult to live, to experience, to integrate into your life, to grapple with and take responsibility for on a daily basis. Yet Innocence is precisely about that, about characters whose boundaries between self and data, and between self and technology, are permeable. It dramatizes what that’s like.


At least it did for me. It got me to thinking this morning about how I use the web as a kind of off-brain knowledge. I don’t need an implanted memory chip. The web itself encourages a different attitude toward knowledge and memory–a life where knowledge isn’t so much acquired as summoned, cited, and may or may not be retained. That’s a familiar enough point, and one Derrida makes about writing as a technology. But it’s a different thing to grapple with the implications, to experience concretely what that says about inside and outside. To experience that your sense of yourself, your inner citadel of your most private and meaningful experiences, is derived and entangled with all of these things that are resolutely not you, all of these signs and practices that precede you.


I think that’s just one of many ideas Innocence dramatizes in a concrete form. (Don’t even get me started on film’s final image of a dog held by a cyborg looking at a little girl holding a doll.) But it’s an indication of just how productive I think discussing it with students may be.


Special Bonus: Some Great Books & Articles Relevant to Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Brown, Steven T. “Machinic Desires: Hans Bellmer’s Dolls & the Technological Uncanny in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.” Mechademia 3: Limits of the Human. Ed. Frenchy Lunning. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008.
Haraway, Donna J. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, & Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Siminans, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.
Monnet, Livia. “Anatomy of Permutational Desire: Perversion in Hans Bellmer and Oshii Mamoru.”  Mechademia 5: Franthropologies. Ed. Frenchy Lunning. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010.
—-. ““Anatomy of Permutational Desire, Part II: Bellmer’s Dolls & Oshii’s Gynoids.” Mechademia 6: User Enhanced. Ed. Frenchy Lunning. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011.
Oshii, Mamoru, with Masaki Yamada. “Afterword.” Ghost in the Shell 2, Innocence: After the Long Goodbye. By Masaki Yamada. Trans. Viz Media, LLC. San Francisco: Viz Media, 2007. Print.
Taylor, Sue. Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

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