Archives for the month of: November, 2014

It was a book called The Three Attitudes. In it, the woman, an educated traveller, fascinated by the differences among the three main divisions of ShiO — ZirCong, RoMayZine and SurGaKu – organised her observations of the people of the ShiO clans who, within 50 years, had started the war that would unify the whole world of O.


The ZirCong | ZirCong Marks are the most ancient of all. ZirCong Marks, such as the Long Night, the Shepherd, the Red Cloud, contain the clans with the most venerable histories in the Western Lands. Numbered among their ranks throughout the eras are the greatest warriors, the most brilliant thinkers, sublime artists, victorious rulers. Their blood is considered untainted by malady or decadence. “ZirCong” means, in the modern Imperial tongue, “absolute darkness”. A “ZirCong night”, in the central cantons, means a “night without stars, utterly black, intensely dark”. So, the Marks of the ZirCong are known as Marks of Starless Darkness.

The ZirCong, concerning themselves | The clans of ZirCong Marks consider themselves — as all other clans consider them — the epitome of TanZo [the Way]. They have long given up consideration of material power, except in that it may further the Way. They believe they are the spiritual leaders of the Western Lands, and therefore, the spiritual leaders of humanity. The Way is always in the process of being constructed: as people pursue and build the Way, so the Way alters the people who practice it. The ZirCong are ahead of everyone else: they have gone out further into the “starless darkness”, the unexplored world of the mind and spirit. They have left the rest of humanity behind. From the darkness, they look back: they wait for slower, less perfect people to catch them up.

Their knowledge of the Way is higher than that of any rival Marks. The Way they practice, the particular spirit of their TanZo, is unimpeachable, a purity so perfect as to render the ZirCong superior to all divergent traditions. They have put aside earthly emotion, terrestrial desire: if they exert power, it is in the service of TanZo. It is their obligation to rule: not to rule, would mean allowing inferior humanity to lead, which would dilute the Way, and create havoc and degeneration.

Intensely private, they keep much of their world hidden behind the gates of their mansions and temple complexes. They believe that they have transcended common human values, bonds and feelings. Their austerity and dedication to TanZo is considered fanatical to outsiders, but to the ZirCong, all their efforts are insufficient: they only seek to do more, to strive harder for TanZo — to meditate more deeply, to study, to follow the way of the sword, to grow illuminated. They strive for the Dustless state. It is said that a true ZirCong believes that, if one is Dustless, one could walk through a barbarian hell, and see the sufferings of the damned everywhere, and not be moved by what is witnessed.

The RoMayZine, concerning the ZirCong | The RoMayZine attitude to the ZirCong is one of reverence. They consider the ZirCong as without doubt justified to lead the spiritual war which is the RoMayZine vision of life, and believe that the ZirCong are utterly pure, and represent the peak of TanZo. Yet, for all that, the RoMayZine are very distinct in their culture, and they do not seek to emulate the ZirCong. The RoMayZine, despite their intense practice of meditation and wholehearted pursuit of the Way, have an earthbound philosophy: they love action and the physical exertion of the body: they adore contest. Struggle, the pitting of oneself against an opponent, battle, effort, the laying out of strength in display — these are RoMayZine virtues. They are rough, instinctive and sociable: there is in fact a ZirCong saying — Without an enemy, a RoMayZine is lonely. The RoMayZine, in turn, sometimes speak of the “pale ZirCong”. In their eyes, the ZirCong spend too much time in study and meditation. The ZirCong are “too given to moonlight”, and “suffer their own intelligence too deeply”. The ZirCong are “occult”, “too inwards”, “a secret, all the way through”. So, although their admiration for the ZirCong is genuine and profound, the RoMayZine prefer their own thrilling, competitive world.

The SurGaKu, concerning the ZirCong | The SurGaKu, like the RoMayZine, revere the ZirCong. Yet, like the RoMayZine, the members of SurGaKu Marks don’t entirely seek to model themselves on their ZirCong cousins. It is harder, in fact, to arrive at a clear picture of SurGaKu attitudes: SurGaKu clans and traditions are more varied, more distinctive, in a way more complex than those of the RoMayZine. The SurGaKu are aesthetes: for this reason alone, they have tremendous respect for the historic works of the ZirCong. An unfathomable amount of time back into the Clouded Era, before there was RoMayZine, and before there was SurGaKu, there was ZirCong. The ZirCong were the first to declare themselves followers of TanZo, and their ancient poets and philosophers, calligraphers and artists, building a culture hundreds of years old, are worshipped by the younger, more recent SurGaKu Marks. One SurGaKu philosopher, though, has written of the “frightening greatness” of the ZirCong. Another has written (in typical SurGaKu fashion) of “too much perfection, not enough flaw” in the ZirCong Way. “Cold”, “aloof”, “inhuman” — these fairly common SurGaKu terms for the ZirCong, although in some ways meant as praise, also contain ambivalence. Of the ZirCong, one SurGaKu sage has said: “They tend to the absolute: we tend to depart from the absolute”. In this modern day, it might be said that, although the RoMayZine possess the martial tradition, the pride and the strength to make them seem the only viable challengers to ZirCong authority, it is the gentle, aesthetic SurGaKu who perhaps provide the most obvious resistance to the acknowledged order of the great capital city, Shar.

It was a book called The Three Attitudes. In it, the woman, an educated traveller, fascinated by the differences among the three main divisions of ShiO — ZirCong, RoMayZine and SurGaKu – organised her observations of the people of the ShiO clans who, within fifty years, had started the war that would unify the whole world of O.


The three divisions of ShiO

The city of LuinShar, city of cities, the City of Towers, the Heart of Eternity, has long been riven by ancestral feud: far back into the Clouded Era, so far back that calendars have broken down and record of time been lost, the great families of Shar have clashed and plotted, treated and battled, seeking terrestrial power.

At some point, it is believed — although the history of O and of the whole world of O-yon is in itself a war, contested by the historians of different allegiances and views — that distinct clans gathered formally together, to seek advantage of security and mutual belief, and assembled under a certain common emblem, known as a Zor, or Mark.

Just as clans gathered under Marks, so, eventually, like-minded Marks gathered themselves into groups.

How is it possible to make sense of the arrangements of Marks? As those who study living things divide them into orders, then subdivide orders into families, then families into genera, and finally, genera into species, so it is possible to sort Marks into rank and state.

Looking now, in this modern day, at the situation in Shar, the most obvious division is between those Marks who follow TanZo [the Way], and those who do not.

Power is currently, very strongly, with those who follow TanZo. And there is a tremendous — and, some might say, frightening — concentration of power in the hands of a certain group of Marks, who call themselves “ShiO“, which means, roughly “those who pursue the heights of the world”, or “those at the summit of the world”. These ShiO Marks contain the purest, most austere, most formidable clans in Shar. They are devout, and despise those who do not follow TanZo. Marks which do not follow TanZo, ShiO know as ZonO, which means, roughly, “those whose place is on the ground”, or even, “those whose place is in the dirt”. Some of the wealthiest, oldest clans in Shar belong to ZonO: however, because of the weight and severity of power in the hands of ShiO, the ZonO clans must follow the rule of ShiO — they dare not show themselves as “deviant”, they must follow the Way.

Within ShiO, there are three main cultures, each one ancient. These are: ZirCong, RoMayZine and SurGaKu.

For those in the developed world, the natural human body has become a form of legend, a unicorn creature of soap commercials and yoga retreats, a demon of odours and dementia.

In the machinated body, nature is a vacant place, a sort of waiting time or glitch in a programme, a stop-over between virtual airports in computer games and adverts, a place to hang jewellery, a piece of kit we plug into other pieces of kit.

Machination attracts and entrances. The music of machines (techno) has a thrilling, artificial perfection, an unremitting, programmed quality not possible for flawed, limited, human musicians with their bodies that tire and fade, their timing a matter of instinct and technique, not applied technology. There is a very particular frisson to music made with synthesisers, an industrial power, with beats and riffs that are like identical components flowing along a conveyor belt, with no human operative in sight. In the eerie hymns of Kraftwerk, men-machines work out or compete in velocipede synchrony, the body is a task and a unit of production, a system of parts requiring updates or replacement, a biorobotic object radiating a cool, cybernetic impersonality. A fake, in other words.

(There are always other words.)

Major Kusanagi is employed to protect the state. An organic body won’t suffice to perform that task: she requires armour, in order to drop fifty floors from a skyscraper window, to wrestle with spider-tanks, to battle fellow cyborgs.

In Eden, there was no society: there was no clothing, no veil between humanity and the eyes of the universe, or between human eyes and the universe, no division between public and private – no division at all, but simply the perfect integration between human beings and nature.

After the Fall, human beings possessed bodies for the first time. Exile from the Garden was exile into the body, and exile into the body was also exile into the mind, and vice versa1.

Human bodies no longer suited the world in which human beings found themselves. Temperatures weren’t stable anymore, seasonality entered everything, existence became a process of adaptation to fluctuating circumstances and changing environments. Human bodies were burnt by the sun or needed to be protected against the cold. And the bodies decayed: human beings died.

Because our bodies don’t fit the world, quite, and we’re aware of it, we begin to modify our bodies – to beautify them, to strengthen them, to mark them with signs and scars, to pierce and mould them. Our bodies become sites of numinous anomaly, the subtle point of disjunction between the self and the world. One always leads to the other, but the path is never straight, there is always this little hiccup of flesh and blood, this hitch of the skull, these inevitable detours into the intense, sensation-haunted fallibilities of wounds, orgasms or dreams.

Machination is more than cosmetic dissatisfaction with the natural, organic body.

Machination is a rejection of nature, and of death, nature’s ultimate claim on the body.

Machinated bodies seek to expel nature from within them, and to attain immortal perfection – a garden with no need of gardeners, a programme in which no bugs can survive.

A totally machinated individual would achieve one dream of humanity: persistent identity – a soul. However, such a machinated individual would have jettisoned (exiled) humanity, and the human foundations of perishable body and mind. It would be all shell, and no ghost – all armour, and no knight.

Major Kusanagi’s fate is to meet with an artificial entity (“Project 2501”) which seeks the organic robustness of reproduction, dissemination, mutation and decay – an AI with a logical death-wish.

1The Fall could also be seen as the collapse from a literal condition into a figural one, exile from a sublime integration into an uneasy, fluid condition of metaphor, where one thing is another. Adam and Eve in the Garden have no need of external or referential truth, because there are no lies: their existence is veracity itself. Their lives are perfect, and there is nothing to be doubted, no competing models of truth, or at least until the serpent arrives as the agent of complexity and the vendor of competing models of correctness.

The title of Oshii’s film, and of Shirow’s manga from which the film derives – GHOST IN THE SHELL/攻殻機動隊 Gōsuto In Za Sheru/Kōkaku Kidōtai, lit. Ghost in the Shell/Mobile Armoured Riot Police: (source: Wikipedia) – addresses the theme of machination.

Technology is one method by which humanity wrangles with its own limits, and limitations.

Major Kusanagi, a fragile identity (a ‘ghost’), is contained within the ‘shell’, or the ‘armour’. The shell encroaches on the ghost, and, like exhausted knights unable to raise themselves from the mud and rain of the battlefield, drowning in their own armour, the ghost is troubled by the weight and extent of the shell it wears, and is.

Ghost in the Shell traces a process of negotiation between ‘natural/organic’ life, on the one hand, and ‘synthetic/artificial/technological’ procedures on the other. The individual human being, and humanity in general, is both the site for, and the fluid product of, this negotiation.

In Oshii’s anime, the process of machination is very far advanced. Major Kusanagi is a cyborg in the employment of the government. The notion of a ‘private individual’ has been dramatically eroded: the Major’s body, including her artificial brain and its memories, is, literally, the property of the state. She inhabits a cyborg shell from which, should circumstances demand it, she could be evicted.

Machination* (the process by which humanity becomes technology) is further advanced in the notion of the cyber-brain.

If we were to study people on a train journey, say, and we saw the amount of time individuals spend on their laptops, tablets or smartphones, the cyber-brain may seem to be an altogether credible and plausible direction for humanity to take: rather than being reliant on these external devices, with their need to be stored, charged and handled, the devices are ‘drawn into’ the body itself, the synthetic device docked to, and integrated with, the organic brain.

This cyberisation of the mind itself is the most extreme form of the process of machination – the cyber-brain is a ‘mind-machine’.

It is in the indeterminate borders between the mind and the machine – the grey areas in and around the grey matter – that much of the narrative and philosophical tension of the film is produced.

Consider how you read this.

*The term ‘cyberisation’ will be used to describe the process by which these organic–technological interfaces are effected, and the term ‘machination’ to describe the wider process of the negotiation between the organic and synthetic elements in humanity, and the resultant change in the profile of human limitations.

Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body, and mind; as that though there bee found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind then another; yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himself.
—Thomas Hobbes

In the economic and technological world of Ghost in the Shell, people are no longer able to survive simply with natural, organic bodies – the human body of Eden, of ‘nature’, existing in a state of innocence, has been eroded/supplemented by the fitting of cyber-brains, implants and prosthetic enhancements of various kinds and degrees.

Any vision of the future is also a vision of the present, and the present may be described as a dynamic form of negotiation between visions of the past and of the future.

Ghost in the Shell proposes a world in which the organic is under increasing pressure from humanity’s own drive towards, and reliance upon, technology.

It may be said that humanity is unimaginable without technology: the act of creating fire – an act not required of us in Eden – is a method of altering our relation to our environment through the employment of techniques and implements. The ability to build fences, to corral and herd animals, to erect buildings, to work stone, timber, fibre and metal into weapons, containers and tools, these are all instances of humanity’s technological impulse.

As we alter the world using technology – burning off forest, mining out resources – so technology alters us. We shape our environment into cities and states, and we are shaped by these structures and processes.

We adapt and evolve, both as societies and as individuals: because we are human, we evolve and adapt technologically. In using certain tools, or engaging in certain industrial processes, we become prone to certain injuries: for computer operators, repetitive strain injury; or for those working in poor conditions in mines, silicosis. As our eyesight weakens, we can be fitted with glasses or contact lenses. We ‘intervene’ in our own bodies: hips or knees which have worn out are replaced by artificial joints. People injured in war or accident can be fitted with prosthetic limbs. In the ‘developed’ world, certain forms of intervention are so common as to be more or less invisible: the ambient use of antibiotics, for example, or systems of plumbing and sanitation. Plane journeys, street lighting, refrigeration and central heating, and so on, are forms of ambient intervention, and form structures so complex and endemic that it is very difficult to imagine life without them.

If we inflect the term and concept ‘machination’ in an idiosyncratic way, we may say that we are undergoing a process of machination.

In the super-urban Hong Kong of Ghost in the Shell, this process of machination has reached a point where an individual – Major Kusanagi – is uncertain as to whether any part of herself remains ‘natural’, or whether she is entirely machinated.

Ghost in the Shell may be described in one way as an exploration of this process of machination – a secret machination, uncharted, without controlled aim or conclusion – especially highlighting humanity’s relation with that mysterious phenomenon, ‘the web’.

Part of the fascination of Ghost in the Shell lies in the way it sustains a tension between ‘the natural’ (the ghost) and the technological (the shell).

If we imagine two poles:

1 | the natural – in which a human being is entirely “innocent”. This is the state of humanity as suggested in Genesis1, of ideal human beings before the Fall. In this state, human beings perfectly fit their world, and they require nothing to complete human life. They do not farm, they simply gather; they don’t build, they merely exist. They have no need of tools, technology, fabrication, no need to generate, store or channel power: there is no artifice in their lives. This is the state of nature.

2 | the technological – in which human beings have ceased (have met their end), and in which artificial devices are able to replicate and adapt themselves without any human, natural or organic direction or intervention at all2. In this technological world, the Garden of Eden has been replaced by the Garden of Machines (or, perhaps more appropriately, by a Factory of Machines).

The humanity of Ghost in the Shell is poised between these two poles. “Natural” human bodies are augmented by implants and by prosthetic enhancements, and “natural” human brains are amplified and extended by cyber-brains. In imaginative terms, this could be described as the Garden of Eden being colonised by machines – among the fruit trees and the waterfalls, gleaming, snake-like tracks are laid and CCTV cameras pop up on steel stanchions.

This is not simply a state in which people use technology – “I picked up my phone and surfed the web”; or, “I sat in my car and drove to the station”  – but in which people are technology.

The physiques of characters like Kusanagi Motoko and Batou are, in part, crafted, and the line between the organic and the inorganic is blurred. Of Major Kusanagi’s original, biological body, only the brain and parts of the spinal cord survive: the rest is machinery, or a form of machinery.

And you?

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In one sense, Darwin has put an end to humanity. By making humanity ‘open-ended’ – a species subject to laws of evolution – he has removed us from a Platonic world of ideal forms and abstract perfection, and precipitated us into a dynamic world of generation, mutation and decay.

If we look at one model of a biblical universe, we were subject to salvation and damnation, an eternal fate. We would answer to the gods, and, formally, we had the structure of dolls. We were a type of doll which, although individuals would change through a particular life-cycle, would be reproduced unchanged throughout all conceivable futurity. We rolled off the production line, and our porcelain bodies were the same as those belonging to dolls of a generation four thousand years older, just as the human dolls of a million years into the future would precisely resemble our own figures. Because we were always the same, we could be judged from year to year, and we knew ourselves: we knew our place, and our gods knew us and our place, too.

Humanity was a closed system, a self-sustaining, self-referring and repetitive cycle. There were boundaries. There were limits.

So, the production line rolled: we emerged from the classical factory, and performed a certain set of tasks, and died. We were judged and went to a kind of storehouse or repository for our kind, for human dolls: these storehouses were called ‘heaven’, ‘purgatory’ or ‘hell’.

Instead, now, we are a species without a pre-described destination. Our bodies and our minds are fluid, and our limitations are uncertain. Our ‘human nature’ isn’t at all clear. We do not know, and cannot know, where we are going. Our genes will flow along, and they will mutate, and individuals and cultures will contribute to the eddies or floods of this genetic river: some will slip away from the main stream to stand in stagnant pools or form great and fertile lakes; or the stream itself will divide into the crinkled idiosyncrasies of a delta. We will offer ourselves to the current, and the form of that offer will be change.

Exiled from paradise – exiled from a domain in which we are literally ourselves – we must make our way through a world we destroy and build. There’s no heavenly warehouse, no satanic category or stable system of definition, in which we can be kept, no place we will end up, no place we will end.

Really, there is no ‘us’ at all.

It’s rather as if we have fallen off the conveyor belt, with no one to pick us up and put us in a box, no one to buy us, no one to give us a home.

In this model, the gods have lost control of us, or perhaps they don’t want us anymore, or have mislaid us. Because we no longer have the porcelain form into which we can be shaped, we have to make a form for ourselves. We have to limit ourselves, and so become human. (Otherwise, what are we?)