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.

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