matrix | <notes>

1Works of art are works of art because they produce a very high output of possible interpretations. They are attractive (so we are drawn to them), they delight (so we remain with them), and they are enigmatic (so, even though we “leave” them, we don’t really quite leave them, we haven’t finished with them, or finished them, there is more to them, and to us, and so we return to them, are re-attracted and re-delighted).

The statement that “works of art produce very high outputs of possible interpretations” can be modified to say that “works of art produce very high outputs of possibility”, or, modified again to say that “works of art are highly possible“.

(“Interpretation” needn’t be restricted to an intellectual, critical, semantic mode. Music may be said to be interpreted sensuously, not logically, but with the body or pre- or post-rationally. A short pop song can entrance us, repeatedly, throughout our lives, and although such a brief song might seem capable of producing limited possibilities, it radiates the pleasures of possibility, particularly of possible ecstasy, compelling us to re-interpret it pleasurably over and over again.)

If a work of art is culturally substantial, it becomes canonised, whether officially or unofficially: it becomes part of the body of work that attracts us over time, emitting its possibilities, until society has changed around the work of art, and new societies, or new tendencies within societies, begin to bring to the work of art new interpretations of its possibility.

A classic is a work of art that retains its own possibility: paradoxically, it exhibits a high degree of ephemerality, superseding itself through producing new possibilities, and does not at all achieve a monumental, stable condition.

The film constructs an interesting field, oscillating between possibility and determinism. “Possibility” is a state or condition in which certainty has not yet been achieved. Things remain possible, neither impossible nor certain. A state of possibility is one in which outcomes are not decided. I would suggest that human beings, understood from a particular vantage, are open-ended states of possibility, fields of negotiation who define and limit themselves (create themselves) by choosing to render certain things impossible, by which I mean, no longer available to be chosen, no longer in doubt, no longer acceptable to scrutiny in the present.

2“It’s only people pretending.” “The characters in anime don’t pretend to be their characters. They don’t act. Acting, as a form of visual representation, doesn’t exist in anime”. (There is, of course, the specialised art of “voice acting”.)

Characters in anime are drawn. Drawn characters are not performing roles. They are very clearly not human beings. But neither are they simplified versions of human beings.

The human stars of anime are invisible. Their voices inhabit the animated forms of the characters. In this way, anime is more like a kind of puppet show than it is like theatre or cinema.

Ghost in the Shell features as characters human beings who for one reason or another have been stripped of most of their organic bodies, and have had their living brains inserted into mechanical shells. The spirits of the voice actors inhabit the visual shells of the animated characters. The voices animate, and are part of the animation.

One of the aesthetic triumphs of anime is that it can seamlessly integrate different cultural forms into itself. It can frame like photography or painting, perform “impossible” mutations on its characters, as in a Japanese print or fable from Ovid, it can luxuriate in its foundation – that of illustrative and sequential art – and it can mimic cinema in its language of solarisation, close-ups, tracking shots, zooms, pans, slow-motion. Its artifice is essential and can’t be hidden. Because everything is stylised, “unreal”, and we know we are always watching animated images, there is a kind of equivalence or unity of effect in anime.

In a way, anime can aspire to a “total” art, where different aesthetic-formal strands are woven into a single artefact. One of the glories of Ghost in the Shell is its fantastic score, by Kenji Kawai – a wonderful, overpowering score, very unusual, and a great work of art in its own right.

3It’s a study of materialism, questions the relation of the mind to the body, probes the security of memory, tests the status of the ego and of the self in an era when humanity is growing both more possible and more impossible – an era when humanity is entering a highly mobile, highly excited state, very agitated, with many boundaries opening up to new possibilities, an era when the “classical” human being as an enlightenment object, and subject, is becoming impossible to sustain.

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