I See You: the posthuman subject and spaces of virtuality – Rebecca Bishop

Figure 1: Jake Sully in his Na’vi avatar. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)

Everything is backwards now, like out there is the real world and this is the dream. (James Cameron’s Avatar, 2009)

Over recent years, considerable scholarly attention and mass media speculation has been paid to the emergence of the figure of the posthuman – a vision of augmented human that has undergone radical transformation as a result of new biotechnological and informatic technologies. This posthumanity lives simultaneously in the world of the virtual and the biological, cast concurrently as the future of a biomedically enhanced humanity and a figuration for overcoming the identity politics of the past. Some are arguing that we will eventually leave the human ‘as we know it’ behind, in a techno-modified, cognitively enhanced evolution, while in critical theory, the posthuman is being lauded as an ontology through which the boundary structures of the EuroWestern legacy of humanism can be dismantled. What has been largely overlooked to date, however, is the way in which early twenty-first century science fiction cinema has added a striking new layer to the fields of discourse that currently weave around the notion of posthumanity. In the films The Matrix (Wachowski, 1999), Surrogates (Mostow, 2009) and Avatar (Cameron, 2009) we see the emergence of a representation of humanness as a multimodal, multipresent subjectivity which is produced in an embodied engagement with the material artifacts of contemporary technoculture. Tracing the history and scope of current conceptualizations of posthumanity, I will point to the way in which these onscreen avatars are indicative of what might be seen as a critical shift in the EuroWestern cultural imaginary, a shift from a core epistemological division between the real and the representational, to a metaphysical matrix in which subjects inhabit and switch between simultaneous physical, conceptual and somatic spaces.

Cyborg evolutions

While certainly broad in scope, both late twentieth century scholarship and cinematic representations of cyberculture were primarily concerned with three core and interweaving phenomena that would prove critical antecedents to the twenty-first century vision of the posthuman. Visions of the cyborg in both critical theory and popular culture offered the human/nonhuman hybrid as a means for interrogating humanist identity politics; the rapid rise of the internet and computer-mediated communications saw new concerns over the mediation and multiplicity of the self in interactions between computer users; and new virtual reality technologies led to an investigation of the nature of the boundary between the real world and simulated space. As I outline below, in each of these fields of representation developments in digital and medical technologies led to concurrent examinations of the teleology of the human itself, and new questions over the capacity of the human to evolve into something beyond what it had always been. This is an epistemological legacy many will now be familiar with, yet it is one worth briefly retracing in order to arrive back to the ‘posthuman’ present.

A hybrid of human and nonhuman, organic and inorganic, the cyborg was heralded in late twentieth century Western academic discourse as a contemporary technocultural manifestation of a legacy of boundary creatures; a figure that might represent the dismantling of the humanist binaries which the masculine military-industrial complex had so rigorously produced. Donna Haraway offered a world of permanently partial identities, a new ontology of hybridity, a “creature in a post-gender world” that had no truck with “seductions to organic wholeness”, and was “resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity” (Haraway, 1991, p.150, 151). Haraway’s cyborg visions preceded a number of investigations of historical hybridities and boundary creatures and spurred cognate feminist epistemologies (see, for example, Lykke and Braidotti, 1996, Braidotti, 1996, 2006). Yet while the theoretical cyborg was lauded as an emergent ontological figuration, the science-fiction cyborg in popular cinema operated on the fundamental binaries that its epistemological parallel attempted to overcome.

Figure 2: Surrogates (Jonathan Mostow, 2009)

The cinematic cyborg was a human/machine hybrid that operated as a border figure that exposed the potentially chaotic consequences of the conjoining of human and nonhuman. Cyborg films offered representations of a subject whose hybridity generated a fundamental conflict between the feeling human self/soul and cold digitality of the mechanical body; we saw human memory traces causing glitches in the cyborg’s operating system (Verhoeven, 1987), the emergence of human sentience in the black void of a cyborg soul (Marquand, 1983), and a myriad of cyborg minds who questioned and grappled what it means to be human. In a parallel, and often overlapping, trajectory we witnessed stories of machinic entities created by humans who became uncontrollable and ultimately tried to harm or destroy their makers (Lang, 1927; Whale, 1931; Cameron, 1984; Wachowski, 1999; Proyas, 2004). Two core cultural stories were woven into these cyborg representations; one, that the human was marked by a capacity for free will, a moral code, and fixed corporeal parameters, and two, that any attempt to technologically mess with the nature and purity of human corporeality could have potentially chaotic consequences.[1]

While popular culture was filled with dark visions of the chaotic consequences of human-machine hybridity, early scholarly discourse on the liberatory possibilities of the new human realm of “cyberspace” was certainly largely utopian in its tenor. Visual metaphors for the virtual abounded; Novak (2001) for example, described a fundamentally liquid space, which was “animistic, animated, metamorphic, as well as crossing categorical boundaries, applying the cognitively supercharged operations of poetic thinking…an architecture that breathes, pulses, leaps as one form and lands as another” (Novak, 2001, p.153). Spiller too (2001) saw this space as one of infinite technological poesis, a “world populated by vacillating objects, Dalinian exuberances, smooth but jagged surfaces and baroque ecstasies” (Spiller, 2001, p.305). For some commentators, this infinite and un-bodied virtuality offered new potentials for the recreation of identity; no longer hampered by the constraints of real world interactions between bodies, this emergent spatiality offered a new terrain for the construction of multiple selves and “dematerialized identity compositions” (Tomas, 1989, p.114). Franck (2002), for example, suggested that “virtual worlds will offer myriad opportunities to encounter and engage objects and spaces in new and different ways and to occupy other bodies, other entities, other species” (Franck, 2002, p.244). Identity, “as it is physically represented” she suggested, “will no longer be tied to the physical attributes of age, gender, race, size or even to the human species. Attributes of humans or other animate and inanimate objects will be chosen and mixed at will” (Franck, 2002, p. 242; see also Turkle, 1984, 1995).

Questions on the nature of the self itself in the context of virtual communications were raised alongside visions of the formation of communities no longer hampered by time, distance and prejudicial politics (Rheingold, 1993, see also Holmes, 1997; Shields, 1997). For some, cyberspace itself offered possibilities for a new modality of being-in-the-world; for JP Barlow (1996), cyberspace consisted of “transactions, relationships and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications…a world that is both everywhere and nowhere” (Barlow, 1996). In the cyberpunk rhetoric that circulated alongside these speculations on identity shifts in cyberspace, the human body itself was offered up as defunct wetware, a viscous fleshly entity that would have no place in the floating exuberance of the digital matrix. In William Gibson’s (1984) cyberspace, for example, the “body was meat” (1984, p.6); for MIT scientist, Hans Moravec (1988), the future was (and still is) a place in which organic bodies have been discarded completely, and “minds” are downloaded directly into networks of digital information.

A number of feminist commentators recognized this vision of defunct wetware and uploaded consciousness as one that was profoundly masculinist, a recasting of the male, transcendent subject of the Cartesian ego, the desire to be finally free of the immanent body in the ultimate disembodied transcendence (Plant, 1999; Sofia, 1999). Yet at the same time it was suggested that the virtual (or ‘Jupiter Space’) offered a terrain for “post-phallic formation”, a site for the construction of a matrix of subjectivities freed from the constraints of the phallocentric order (see, for example, Sofoulis, 1994). Inspired by Irigaray’s casting of the masculine as a quest to escape from the womb towards god-like transcendence, some argued that the virtual was represented in both image and language as a pregnant, womb-like space, a site both desired and feared (Plant, 1999; Springer, 1991; Wolmark, 1999).

Figure 3: ‘Stim-chair’ in Surrogates.

While the expansion of cyberspace prompted calls for the recognition that disembodied interaction might provide a platform for the sloughing of identity categories premised on embodied physicality, early discourses on the digital productions of virtual realities, where users might engage with simulated environments via haptic data gloves, headsets and bodysuits, prompted a new conceptual engagement with the ontology of the real.  A term coined by computer company VPL in 1989 to describe new technologies for user engagement with built virtual environments, the notion of “virtual reality” prompted a slew of questions on the nature of space itself. If a subject could be physically present in one space, and perceptually present in another, where did that subject truly reside? If one senses and touches a virtual space, moves within it, and alters the nature of that space, is the virtual any less “real” that the environment within which the physical body exists? Within this Neoplatonic rhetoric of digitally mediated shadows there was a strong initial sense that VR technologies would completely transform human engagement with electronic media; it would “enhance the power of art to transform reality” (Heim, 1993, p. 118), it was a means to “create, experience and share a computer-generated world as realistic or as fanciful as you would like […] a parallel world” (Briggs, 1996); it was “not a technology” but “a destination” (Biocca, Kim and Levy, 1995, p.4). A speaker at the first IEEE Virtual Reality International Symposium (1993) captured this sense of augmented perceptional futures when he noted that “we are building transportation systems for the senses…the remarkable promise is that we can be in another place or space without moving our bodies into that space” and that these “advanced interfaces will provide an incredible new mobility for the human race” (Furness, 1993, p.1).

What was particularly striking in these discussions of both creating and inhabiting new metaphysical territories was the emergence of an ontology of the digital which suggested that, mediated by technology, the human subject was capable of multiple modes of presence. The notion of telepresence, the perceptual “being-there” (Steuer, 1995, p.35-36) that occurs when one’s mind is transported into a virtual environment, provided the framework for conceptualizing new modalities of a trans-spatial human experience that was no longer limited by the “mind” located in a single, fixed corporeality. We have here the underpinnings of what I refer to as a multimodal subjectivity; a figuration of the human as a perceptual stratum capable of switching and inhabiting multiple real and virtual spatialities while maintaining its core ontological integrity. This was not a cyborgian notion of being, where one becomes-hybrid in a meshing of human and nonhuman, organic and inorganic, but a construction of the human self as a central point of fixity composed of multiple perceptual and embodied engagements with changing social and somatic environments – an emergent subjectivity that operates in multiple, and simultaneous, perceptual spaces.    These early figurations did not challenge the conceptual boundary between the human and its techno-material others (as many feminist scholars of technoculture have and continue to envision), but offered a new means of conceptualizing human being-in-the-world itself.

Posthuman emergences

The notion of telepresence manifested in late twentieth century virtual reality films which explored the nature of the border between reality and simulation in the context of developments in digital imaging technologies and the growth of the information network known as the World Wide Web. Here, stories exploring the blurring of boundaries between embodied and virtual, cyberspatial identities conjoined with dark tales of destruction caused when the fantasy world of the virtual reality headset spilled over into the real world of human relationships (Trumball, 1983; Leonard, 1992; Fleming, 1995; Bigelow, 1995; Roth, 1996; Leonard, 1995; Cronenberg, 1999; Rusnak, 1999).

Yet the film that clearly captured the twin-poles of late 1990s cyberspatial rhetoric was The Matrix (Wachowski 1999), combining cyborgian representations of machines that destroy their makers with an exploration of the boundary between real and virtual perception. The subject of a remarkable plethora of academic discourses on the way in which the film dealt with mediated virtuality and hyperreality[2], this tale of humans that led a fantasy virtual existence while their “real” bodies were harvested to provide a power source for machines captured the rhetoric of virtuality that circulated in the EuroWestern imaginary.

In The Matrix the self was revealed as capable of being transformed into pure digital information, carried into the realm of the simulation via the code-switching capabilities of digital technologies. Like earlier virtual reality films, the characters in this film “jack-in” to the virtual world via a portal in their bodies; their “wet-ware” is left behind as the mind or self is transported into a world of pure simulation. Losing consciousness of their “real” bodies while engaged in the simulation, these characters become-virtual as long as they remain in the spatial architecture of the Matrix. In this text, a chosen few have learnt how to leave the illusion of the Matrix, to transport themselves back into their earthly bodies, and ultimately, battle with the machines that keep them virtual prisoners of their own perceptual fields. Here, an emergent visual culture of the virtual combined with a legacy of cyborg narratives to produce a form of rabbit-hole that media audiences had never seen on screen.

In its focus on mad sentient machines and multimodal selfhood, The Matrix might be seen as a kind of semiotic bridge between late twentieth century cyberculture and the discourses on the posthuman that emerged in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In 1999, Katherine Hayle’s seminal How We Became Posthuman offered an analysis of the historical trajectory of the EuroWestern intertwining of human and machine, arguing that past conceptions of a cybernetic relationship between technology and biology were being displaced by an ontology of the posthuman. This posthuman, she argued, could be seen as “an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction” (1999, p. 3). In this merging of organic and inorganic bodies and matter, we find “a dynamic partnership between humans and intelligent machines [which] replaces the liberal humanist subject’s manifest destiny to control and dominate nature” (1999, p.289); a new ontology of being-itself in which “emergence replaces teleology; reflexive epistemology replaces objectivism; distributed cognition replaces autonomous will” (1999, p.289). Graham (2002) too maintained that digital, cybernetic and biomedical discourses and representations of the posthuman challenge “our very understanding of what it means to be human” (Graham 2002, p.1, see also Badmington, 2000; Haraway, 1997).  ). In a critical appraisal of posthumanism, Wolfe (2009) pointed out that we have entered “a historical moment in which the decentering of the human by its imbrications in technical, medical, informatics, and economic networks is increasingly impossible to ignore”.  However, unlike Graham, Wolfe offered the term “posthuman” as a means of interrogating the historic production of knowledge itself.  He insisted that we recognize that the human is at once one of a multitude of co-creating autopoetic beings and an ontological specific produced via engagement with “many forms of technicity and materiality” (p.xxv). It is time, he suggested, to find utterly new ways of thinking about and representing the nature of being, and to recognize the many human and nonhuman figures that together constitute and experience that nature.

Evocations of the posthuman were not limited to scholarly theory however; taking an utterly different perspective on the telos of the human, a number of scientists and writers variously used the term “posthuman”, “transhuman”, or “Human +” to describe an “advanced’ humanity cognitively, physiologically and neurologically superior to the human in its current state. NBIC technologies (nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive sciences), coupled with advances in genetic manipulation, robotics and artificial life, were heralded as the grounds for a form of technocultural ubermensch who would ultimately transcend the human itself. While some advocated the techno-augmentation of the body to produce a stronger, healthier and fitter humanity as a starting point for new evolutions (see for example, Bostrom, 2008, Kurzweil, 1999), others suggested that the body itself may have become obsolete, and that humans might in the future become pure, disembodied subjectivity. The World Transhumanist Association declared, for example, that “some posthumans may find it advantageous to jettison their bodies altogether and live as information patterns on vast super-fast computer networks”, where they might “employ different cognitive architectures or include new sensory modalities that enable greater participation in their virtual reality settings”.[3] Hans Moravec, a leading figure in arguments for posthuman transcendence over the material body principle, made a similar point:

Today’s virtual adventurers do not fully escape the physical world: if they bump into real objects, they feel real pain. That link may weaken when direct connections to the nervous system become possible, leading perhaps to the old science-fiction idea of a living brain in a vat. The brain would be physically sustained by life-support machinery, and mentally by connections of all the peripheral nerves to an elaborate simulation of not only a surrounding world but also a body for the brain to inhabit.

“Some individuals”, he suggested, “could survive total physical destruction to find themselves alive as pure computer simulations in virtual worlds”. [4]

These popular posthumanists have been the target of a plethora of critiques both on the grounds of their resurrection of humanist principles in a new technocultural eugenics and on their challenge to the ontological scantity of the human (see for example Fukuyama, 2002; Habermas, 2003; Kass, 2002); at the same time, however, these visions of the augmented and “uploaded” future human subject have had real resonance in cinematic popular culture. In the 2009 films Surrogates (Mostow, 2009) and Avatar (Cameron, 2009) we see a striking blend of social commentary with imaginings of the future human as a form of multimodal subjecthood that can be switched and uploaded between bodies. In these films, humanness is cast as an ontological essence that retains its integrity as it moves between metaphysical spaces; becoming indeed, as Hayles suggested, a “material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction” (1999, p.3).

Avatar Selves

Figure 4: Jake and his N’avi self in the film AVATAR (2009)

The films Surrogates and Avatar are key examples of the merging of late twentieth century cyborg imaginings with twenty-first century cultural representations of multimodal subjectivity. Each of these films produce a narrative of multipresence in which subjects switch between human and nonhuman bodies and spaces while at the same time maintaining a centralized human subjectivity. Both set in a future in which humanity has evolved into something-other, these texts can be seen as a culmination of the intersection of scientific imaginings of VR and a popular culture of cyborg bodies and posthuman becoming.

Surrogates is set in an American city in 2017, a world in which humans interact with each other via idealised, physically attractive robotic surrogates of themselves.[5] Their real bodies remain locked in their houses, sitting in “stim chairs” through which they are able to upload their consciousness, or “neuro-signature” into their surrogate bodies while at the same time, remaining conscious of their physical presence in the “real’ world. In this multilayered reality, surrogates can interact with humans as well as with each other, and surrogates can be destroyed without causing harm to their users, or “operators”. These surrogate bodies, we are informed at the onset of the film, are the result of military-industrial research, and have become a technology now so affordable that “98%” of people use them in “all facets of their everyday life”. The surrogate bodies, produced by the corporation VSI (Virtual Self Industries) offer the “ability to live without risk of disease or injury” and “have perfect looks without plastic surgery”.

In this world, a minority group of rebels oppose the use of surrogates and appear to develop a weapon which, when aimed at a surrogate, destroys its “real” operator as well. In the opening credits, we are alerted to the presence of this rebellion; a voice-over, who we later realize belongs to the rebel leader known as “The Prophet”, warns that the public must “unplug from your chairs, get up and look in the mirror”, because “what you see is how God made you; we’re not meant to experience the world through a machine”. As FBI agent Tom Green, sporting a more attractive surrogate version of his human self, tries to uncover who or what is behind these surrogate killings, we are drawn into a society in which purchased, surrogate perfection both masks and produces a myriad of very human vices, and in which the hedonistic illusion of the “self” is clearly promoted and reproduced by the advertising and commodity industry.

Clear visual allusions to MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) and virtual worlds like Second Life (www.secondlife.com) feature throughout the film, as surrogates bump into strangers in public spaces and take part in banal chat, and engage in romantic and sexual relationships This is “life on screen” (Turkle 1995) with a twenty-first century technological twist; rather than watching their idealized selves on a monitor, these subjects literally embody the fantasy of their own making. This is a representation of multiple selves in virtual space that is certainly reminiscent of early scholarly commentary on cyberspace and selfhood, where “virtual worlds will offer myriad opportunities to encounter and engage objects and spaces in new and different ways and to occupy other bodies, other entities, other species” (Franck, 2002, p.244). Yet in this film these surrogates are, for their users, ontologically real – not simply costumes but alternate corporealities inhabited by a subject that exists in the same metaphysical plane as its constructed, corporeal other.

Figure 5: Jake, with his N’avi self ‘growing’ in a tank behind him

Set over 100 years later in 2154, James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) provides a representation of multispecies, multimodal embodiment and engagement, where subjects switch between human and nonhuman forms of life. The film rehearses familiar environmentalist and postcolonial discourse, framed with popular stereotypes of Noble Savages (the Na’vi), who spiritually connect with the planet on which they live (Pandora) and of an (American) masculine military-industrial complex bent on destroying that environment. In this text, we find a military/commercial operation desperate to mine the Pandora’s precious resource, “Unobtanium”. In order to do so they produce a technology which allows human consciousness to be downloaded directly into genetically bred, visually identical, Na’vi bodies, a download which allow them to enter the local environment and engage with the native population. In the manner of multispecies ethnographers, the scientists involved in the project intercept and interact with the local community in order to learn their cultural values and take botanical samples. At the same time, lead character “Jake Sully” (wheelchair bound in the human world) is asked by the military to use his Avatar to spy on the Na’vi and gain information on how to convince the population to release their Unobtanium – and how best to destroy them if they don’t.

As the story unfolds we find Jake stumbling with the pleasures and pitfalls of participant observation; he is accused of being “like a child” in his failure to grasp the spiritual relationship of the people and land, as well as in his corporeal clumsiness in his avatar body. Gradually though, Jake adjusts to life in this “other” state of consciousness and increasingly resists returning to his “real”, fleshly body; he falls in love, he begins to embrace Na’vi culture and he is slowly accepted by its inhabitants. He is, in part, what Bukatman (2002) has referred to as a “cybersubject”, where:

…virtual reality significantly extends the sensory address of existent media to provide an alternate and manipulable space [and to] be installed into such an apparatus would be to exist on two planes at once: while one’s objective body would remain in the real world, one’s phenomenal body would be projected into the terminal reality…(Bukatman, 2002, p.149).

Yet these are representations not of projection into a virtual reality, but of a subject that physically exists in simultaneous planes. In this switching between bodies and visual realities, Jake’s character struggles with the ontologically real, noting that “[e]verything is backwards now, like out there is the real world and this is the dream”.

In both Surrogates and Avatar hybridity has given way to convergence, cyborgian chaos to posthuman emergence, the virtual to the multidimensional. Yet this evolution is not simply a matter of linear teleology; like all things posthuman these narratives spin trajectories that intersect the legacy of humanism itself. In both of these films the resolution of the narrative rests on a return to a state of singularity, where multipresence is ultimately rejected in favour of a stable state of being; in Surrogates, a recognition that the illusory world of surrogacy corrupts the integrity of human nature and that one should live in one’s original state of embodiment, and in Avatar a decision to cease switching and make the virtual the “real”, leaving behind the wetware of the wheelchair-bound body.

In both Avatar and Surrogates, narrative closure rests on a decision of where to finally be. This cinematic end-moment, where the subject’s ontologically integrity is finally realized via an agentive decision to inhabit a singular corporeality, reveals a critical tension between humanistic narrative and posthumanisms in popular culture. Chaos, randomness and emergence, the unpredictability of multimodal presence, situate the posthuman experience as one of infinite possibility, unbounded by earlier social and corporeal constraints. At the same time, this unpredictability, this nonlinearity, creates a point of crisis or conflict within the subject that must ultimately be resolved in order to achieve narrative stability. Within this imaginary, posthuman possibilities become human predicaments, and like the cyborg narrative of twentieth century cinema, these predicaments must always be resolved in order to attain a state of balance, an equilibrium, between human and nonhuman forms of being, between lived embodiment and cybersubjectivity.  These subjects, it seems, must inevitably choose the space in which they will ultimately reside.

From the unity of the subject to ‘posthuman’ selfhood and back

Notions of illusory reality and alternate or multiple planes of consciousness have grounded both branches of Eastern philosophy and elements of Western metaphysics for centuries. Yet the interception of technology in the achievement of multipresent states can be seen as an emergent phenomenon; a “mode of revealing” (Heidegger 1933) that has travelled from representations of cyborg conflict between human and machine to visions of virtual realities that exist alongside the real, and now, to the realm of the posthuman.

Figure 6: A rescue: N’avi Neytiri removes Jake’s human body from device that transports human consciousness to its N’avi avatar

Cinema itself can be seen as a modality of revelation, a screen upon which cultural narratives are made manifest. The cinema screen today conjoins with the computer screen; the virtual visual of cinematic film co-existing with the cyberspatial, multimodal digital reality that is becoming an increasingly present part of the everyday life world. Digital technologies in themselves generate an everyday multipresence, an embodied switching between the 3-D real, the laptop, the smartphone; a multipresence in which users themselves must negotiate the ontologically real and the visually virtual. Twenty-first century cinema itself is beginning to provide stories of new forms of spatiality – spaces of multimodal perception, spaces of somatic transition, an emergent ontological reality in which subjects both physically and perceptually negotiate their own being-there-in-the-world.  What we see in these forms of story-telling are a number of complex interplays between historical conceptions of the human as a fixed, corporeal entity and the development of technologies which allow that human to “be” in multiple places simultaneously – interplays that produce both fantastic imaginings and deep-seated cultural anxieties.

Recent cinematic representations of the multipresent subject are always ultimately conflicted – they remain fundamentally humanist, and always find narrative conclusion in a return to a state of being a ‘single’ subject in the world of technological possibility.  We are meaning-making animals that turn to our histories to make meaning; however, we invent new possibilities, imagine new ways of being, generate new trajectories.  We can clearly see that current EuroWestern visual representations of a multipresent subjectivity have a rich technocultural legacy; these representations will in turn inform new figurations and imaginings of the boundary between the “real world” and “the dream”.

 

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Filmography:

Bigelow, Kathryn. (1995). Strange Days. USA: Lightstorm Entertainment.

Cameron, James. (1984). Terminator, USA: Hemdale Film.

(2009). Avatar, USA: Twentieth Century Fox.

Cronenberg, David. (1999). eXistenZ, Canada: Alliance Atlantis Communications.

Fleming, Eric. (1995). Cyber Bandits, USA: Cyberfilms Inc.

Lang, Fritz. (1927). Metropolis, Germany: Universum Film.

Leonard, Brett. (1992), The Lawnmower Man, USA: Allied Vision.

(1995). Virtuosity, USA: Paramount Pictures.

Marquand, Richard. (1983). Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, USA: Lucasfilm.

Mostow, Jonathon. (2009). Surrogates, USA: Touchstone Pictures.

Proyas, Alex. (2004).  I, Robot, USA: Twentieth Century Fox.

Roth, Philip J. (1996). Darkdrive, USA: AGATE Films.

Rusnak, Josef. (1999). The Thirteenth Floor, USA: Columbia Pictures.

Trumbull, Douglas. (1983). Brainstorm, USA: AJF Productions.

Verhoeven, Paul. (1987). Robocop, USA: Orion Pictures Corporation.

Wachowski, Andy and Lana Wachowski.(1999). The Matrix, USA: Warner Brothers Pictures.

Whale, James. (1931). Frankenstein, USA: Universal Pictures.

 

Notes


[1] I have argued elsewhere that these films represent a particular EuroWestern approach to the stability and fixity of the human;  and that much of the cybercultural discourse that surrounded these representations tended to universalize notions ‘the human’ that lay at the core of cyborg texts. See Bishop (2007).

[2] A plethora that indeed let Slavov Zizek to suggest that the “The Matrix is one of the films which function as a kind of Rorschach test, setting in motion the universalized process of recognition”.  Inside the Matrix: International Symposium at the Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, October 28, 1999.  Accessed 15 December, 2010, from  http://www.lacan.com/zizek-matrix.htm.

[3] “Transhumanism: Post-Human and Trans-Human” (n.d), retrieved 9 July, 2010, from http://www.miqel.com/transhumanism_nano/transhuman-posthuman-uberman.html.

[4] “Simulation, Consciousness, Existence”, (n.d).  Retrieved 9 July 2010, from http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1998/SimConEx.98.html.

[5] Originally based on  2005-2006 comic series, Surrogates, written by Robert Venditti, drawn by Brett Weldele, Top Shelf Productions.

The Single Female Intruder – David Surman

Abstract: This essay examines a contemporary cultural icon that operates across distinct media boundaries, as a kind of transmedia archetype. Of interest is the visuality of what I call the ‘single female intruder’, which emerges as the intersection of a variety of low cultural forms, and has its origins in the Japanese visual and literary culture of the nineteenth century. What are the characteristics of the single female intruder? She wears closely fitted clothing, which describe the shape of her body, though she is tall, willowy and androgynous. She comes equipped with a variety of powerful weapons and technologies, that she keeps secreted away on her person, and combines this armoury with expert knowledge of a variety of relevant disciplines. She is always proficient in martial arts, though her willingness to fight is measured against the dramas of her past, tempering the speed of her sword-hand. Her movement is characterised by an impossible elegance, and she seems preternaturally adapted to exploit any space that she comes to occupy. The technologies she deploys are an extension of the physical body, and never encumber her.

Figure 1: Vanessa Z. Schneider in the videogame P.N.03 (2003)

Introduction

Within the generic realities of film, animation, games and comic books, there are many varied female archetypes. Indeed, the representation of women in the media inevitably segues into the active discussion of typologies. The distribution of such types fall within the predefined boundaries of high and low, popular and peripheral, men’s and women’s culture. The effect and ideology of certain types has been actively debated in the humanities, and in particular in feminist criticism. Tanya Krzywinska has outlined the way in which cultural analyses of action heroines has orientated toward the critique of such icons as role models, within the frame of identity politics (Krzywinska, 2005, p. 3). In her critique of action heroines within videogames, she suggests that the critique of representation is limited insofar as it fails to describe the dimensions of play and control that underpin the videogame experience.

This essay examines a contemporary cultural icon that operates across distinct media boundaries, as a kind of transmedia archetype. Of interest is the visuality of what I call the ‘single female intruder’, which emerges as the intersection of a variety of low cultural forms, and has its origins in the Japanese visual and literary culture of the nineteenth century. With the ‘recentering’ of globalised media from its traditional North American power-base toward new Asian counterparts (that has come as a consequence of sustained growth in Japan’s media and cultural industries), such icons have been disseminated to receptive western audiences. The characteristics of the single female intruder are defined as a consequence of the media that converge to form the transmedia space of contemporary popular culture. Their positioning as low cultural forms unifies the constituent fields that converge in the figure of the ‘single female intruder’.

What are the characteristics of the single female intruder? She wears closely fitted clothing, which describe the shape of her body, though she is tall, willowy and androgynous. She comes equipped with a variety of powerful weapons and technologies, that she keeps secreted away on her person, and combines this armoury with expert knowledge of a variety of relevant disciplines. These will usually include computer programming, reconnaissance, research and investigation. She is always proficient in martial arts, though her willingness to fight is measured against the dramas of her past, tempering the speed of her sword-hand. Her movement is characterised by an impossible elegance, and she seems preternaturally adapted to exploit any space that she comes to occupy. The technologies she deploys are an extension of the physical body, and never encumber her.

She is an amalgam of high trash clichés and narrative conceits; often orphaned, wracked by bereavement, seeking vengeance, driven by the urgency of an incurable illness. Such melodramatic tropes are buried beneath the sobriety and perfection of grey-white skin, expressionless and captivating. She is two people in one body; the face of an angel, the heart of a demon; but never duplicitous, her expressions of emotion are sincere and forthright, often taking place in secluded confessionals away from the song of carnage. She is never the homemaker, though the riddle of such happiness might emerge in moments of reprieve. She is a nomad, constantly on the move, often moving out of the frying pan and into the fire. She is more a heroine of generic reality than everyday life, a celebration of the seductive tropes of contemporary fiction and the intermingling of technology, imagination and desire.

The single female intruder is so ubiquitous in contemporary popular culture that an examination of her sophisticated rhetoric is necessary. In the course of this article, I want to show how such an internationalised, post-modern archetype, which seemingly operates outside of any clearly defined cultural boundaries, has origins in pre-modern Japanese culture. I shall argue that the history of this archetype can be seen as metonymic of the changing post-war relationship between American hegemony and the rise of Japanese popular culture as a new global centre. The proliferation of this archetype follows a very particular path, and its movement can be traced from aesthetic reforms in Japanese antiquity, subsequently retrieved in the 1970s by filmmakers and mangaka eager to revisit the culture of the Edo period. Hiroki Azuma has described how this internal appropriation of Edo period aesthetic and cultural values comes as a consequence of the cultural anxieties arising as a response to wartime defeat and American occupation. He writes,

Their preference toward the association between the 80s postmodern society and the premodern Edo can be easily explained once you recognize the abovementioned process of “domestication” of the postwar American culture. In the mid 80s, many Japanese were fascinated with their economical success and tried to erase or forget their traumatic memory of the defeat in World War Two. The re-evaluation of Edo culture is socially required in such an atmosphere (Azuma, 2001, np).

As I will explain, the tropes of ‘rikyu grey aesthetics’ and ‘the poison woman’ are retrieved and then celebrated within the generic reality of Japanese popular culture from the 1970s onwards. The ambiguous, seductive and controversial qualities of this historical figure consequently circulate within the growing international fandom for Japanese popular culture. From there, contemporary influences imbibe this peculiarly Japanese anti-heroine with a new agency, to embody principles of control and beauty in an age of technological anonymity and information terrorism. Influences that immediately spring to mind include videogames, action cinema, exploitation cinema, science fiction literature, in particular cyberpunk, fetish clothing and the goth, techno and electronic music scenes. Contemporary single female intruders reveal the traces of their Japanese antecedents in their sober demeanour, snow-white skin and mobile technologies. Like the massively successful franchises Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! The single female intruder is an ambassador for an alternative set of generic parameters in popular culture that assert the Japanese aesthetic, and is resolved in the interaction of multiple cultural centres.

In the first section of this paper, I will explore the Japanese antecedents to the single female intruder, with an emphasis on the relationship between simultaneous reforms in attitude to both colour and femininity. From there, I examine how Japanese film and literature of the mid-to-late twentieth century transformed this figure into a modern heroine first through exploitation, and then science fiction. I then want to examine briefly the transformation of this figure in the science fiction film and literature of 1980s America and Europe. The representations and descriptions generated by the likes of Ridley Scott and William Gibson play a central role in Japan’s imagining of itself and its iconography. To conclude, I examine how digital culture and convergence have effected the transformation of the single female intruder, and how her sophisticated rhetoric has been transformed to speak to our contemporary environment.

Poison Woman Dressed in Rikyu Grey

Figure 2: Hishikawa Moronobu “A Standing Woman”, c.1690.

The prehistory of the single female intruder archetype is much more culturally specific than it might first seem, since such characters nowadays enjoy an international audience. The archetype emerges from the changes in the construction of cultural attitudes to beauty and femininity around the time of the Meiji reformation of Japan. Single female intruders are invariably rebels, whether they are escaping societal reforms, in the case of Trinity in The Matrix trilogy (1999; 2003; 2003) or the eponymous Aeon Flux (2005), complex mercenaries like Vanessa Z. Schneider (fig.1) in the videogame P.N.03 (2003), or living technologies driven by existential angst like Major Makoto Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell (1995).

Christine L. Marran has described the origins of what she has coined the ‘Poison Woman’, in stories made popular during the Meiji reformation (1868–1912) of the nineteenth century. They profile the lives of sensational women who had caused some sort of scandal, more often than not though the murder of her spouse, perhaps guilty of involvement in other high profile vices. She writes,

The long and changing tradition of writing about female criminals began with the rise of the newspaper serial. With such colourful nicknames as Demon Oden, Night Storm Okinu, Viper Omasa, and Lightning Oshin, to name only a few, the first poison women appeared as anti-heroes in Japan’s earliest serialized newspaper stories. These serials were based on the lives and crimes of real women. (Marran, 2007, p. xv)

The media furor around the activities of female criminals far exceeded the number and frequency of their activities, such was the public appetite for this new sensational fiction. Fiction and reality intermingled from the outset. As Marran asks ‘What national obsessions are articulated through this interest in the female convicts?’ (Ibid.). The rise of the poison woman archetype in Meiji period culture coincides with substantial changes in the representation of women in the woodblock prints of ukiyo-e artists. These changes would complicate the rhetoric surrounding such controversial women. In the Genroku era (1688–1704) the artist Hishikawa Moronobu,(1618–1694) was one of the pioneers of the ukiyo-e printmaking craft, and was known for his portraits of women and lifestyle scenes. In his imagery the women are voluptuous and feminine, shown in brightly coloured, voluminous robes (fig.2). In the later An’ei-Tenmei era (1772–1781; 1781–1789) the work of artist Suzuki Harunobu (1724–1770) departs from this archetypal, highly feminised aesthetic, and instead portrays women with long, slender bodies, demure faces and a spiritual intensity (fig.3). Kisho Kurokawa writes that,

This trend is of particular interest because it suggests the progressive denial of the generous voluptuousness that symbolized the prosperity and material abundance of pre-modern Japan up until Genroku. The An’ei/Tenmei aesthetic, on the other hand, was characterised by a nonsensual, eccentric, and non-physical beauty, expressing the spirit of an age of more refined ambiguity and a sophisticated rhetoric. (Kurokawa, 1997, p. 161)

Figure 3: Suzuki Harunobu “Crow and Heron, or Young Lovers Walking Together under an Umbrella in a Snowstorm”, c. 1769

 

This new aesthetic of ambiguity, which pervades Harunobu’s prints, becomes the face of the poison woman. Her crimes and misdemeanours are complicated and intensified by the aesthetic coding of this new feminine rhetoric. Marius B. Jensen writes of these ukiyo-e prints that, ‘The ladies they portray are not full faced, something the carver could not provide, but minimalist sketches; they return our stares unblinking and uninvolved. We admire them but do not relate to them, somewhat the way Saikaku’s readers regarded his characters’ (Jensen, 2002, 180). Earlier trends in popular aesthetics inform the recurrent representation of the poison woman in ukiyo-e printworks and in newspaper stories of the period. In the period preceding the Genroku era, a sudden fashion for the colour grey emerged in Japanese society, as a result of the cultural reforms to the tea ceremony introduced by Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591). Jensen writes, ‘Sen no Rikyu, who served as chief tea master to both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi […] was a figure who combined considerable personal wealth with a cult of simplicity and modesty that he codified in the tea ceremony of his day’ (Jensen, 2002, 117). Part of this revision of the ceremony was the advocation of the colour grey in clothing and décor. Kurokawa confirms the connection between tea ceremony reforms and the emerging taste for minimalism and grey,

Whereas until this time grey had been considered a vile colour conjuring up the image of rats and ashes, upon becoming known as Rikyu grey it was better appreciated. In the mid-Edo era it gained tremendous popularity—along with brown and indigo—as the embodiment of the aesthetic ideal of iki. Iki in this period is a complex concept but may be conveniently described as “richness in sobriety.” As the cult of tea spread beyond the upper classes to be practiced in the homes of ordinary people, so did the taste for grey. (Kurokawa, 1997, p. 160)

In his rehabilitation of Rikyu grey as an aesthetic category in its own right, Kurokawa emphasises the colour’s essential ambiguity, at times sinister, charming and charismatic. He describes how, ‘In contrast to the grey in the West, which is a combination of black and white, Rikyu grey was a combination of four opposing colours: red, blue, yellow and white’ (Kurokawa, 1991, p. 70). And so, the construction of the ‘poison woman’ in Meiji period mass culture intersects with two crucial aesthetic reforms, the adoption of Harunobu’s slender, ambiguous figure in the representation of women, and the rise of the widespread fashion for Rikyu grey, which emerged from reforms to the tea ceremony which emphasised simplicity, austerity and sobriety.

The Blizzard from the Netherworld

Figure 4: Yuki in Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime, Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

I want to make a leap now to postwar Japan, where the domestic influence of American occupation was having an effect on popular culture. Tensions arising from wartime defeat, aggressive industrialisation and urbanisation and a sense of cultural dissipation motivated media producers to rehabilitate narratives and character archetypes from the Edo period, as a means of cultural recovery and national reflection. The three tropes of the poison woman archetype, Harunobu’s willowy bodies, and the aesthetic sobriety of Rikyu grey are consolidated in Yuki Kashima (fig.4), heroine of the Japanese exploitation film Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime, Toshiya Fujita, 1973). Fujita’s film, based on the manga by Kazuo Koike, follows the journey of Yuki, played by Meiko Kaji, who seeks bloody vengeance for the rape and murder of her mother and father at the hand of a gang of bandits. She is the quintessential poison woman, and her exploits are publicised in the course of the film by newspaper reporter Ashio Ryuhei. The sophisticated and ambivalent quality of Yuki, and also the actress Meiko Kaji, is captured by Rikke Schubart, who writes,

The star persona of Meiko Kaji is located between the extraordinary powers of a castrating gaze and the existential malaise of a female killer. Kaji’s characters are haunted, if not by the past, but by a sense of not belonging, of being out of place and out of time. In this, they resemble the mythic hero. They are exceptionally beautiful, yet out of reach emotionally. Their weapon skills are at the expense of inner balance. They move faster than any opponent but lose track of life. (Schubert, 2007, p. 119)

The cult appeal of Asian exploitation heroines such as Yuki had the effect of reenergizing the antiquated archetype of the poison woman, along with the sensibility of Rikyu and the aesthetics of Harunobu. Poison women exist in every age, but the sword wielding she- demon of the Edo period had a romantic appeal all of its own. The unsettling and arresting beauty of her skin, and the ghostly perfection of Yuki’s ‘whitewashed-wall weave’ kabe shijira kimono, dominate the mise-en-scène. Suddenly, she breaks her repose to flip into action and attack; fountains of blood arc across the frame, her kimono drips wet, marking her as victorious in auspicious red and white.

Lady Snowblood marks the overlap between the icon of poison woman and what I call the ‘single female intruder’. Concealed within her umbrella, her secret sword is idiosyncratic, and operates within a sophisticated rhetoric that emphasises not only martial power, but also skills in deception, persuasion and elegance. The attraction of the character arises from repeated emphases on sharp contrasts, and this is continuous with the expanded principle of Rikyu offered by Kurokawa. Her subordinate shuffle is broken by sudden and supernatural agility; her sword strikes are unwavering, and land with the spirit of hissho (absolute victory). The vacillation between opposites characterise the single female intruder; she has brutality and elegance, bloodlust and sobriety, movement and stillness in equal measure. Kurokawa connects this principle to the baroque, he writes, ‘In his book on the baroque, Eugenio D’ors states that when conflicting intentions are bound together in a single motion, the resulting style is by definition baroque’ (Kurokawa, 1997, p. 170). Later he adds that, ‘The “baroque” essence to which I refer is represented by the mutual resistance and harmony of weight and drift, stillness and movement, straight and curves lines’ (p. 175).

American Idols

Post-war industrialisation and the rise of commodity culture have placed technology at the centre of the Japanese popular imagination. At the same time as filmmakers like Fujita withdrew into the images of Edo Japan to draw sustenance, others, like manga and anime artist Osamu Tezuka, were thinking forward into imaginary futures, populated by the dream of robot, cyborg and alien life. The ‘single female intruder’ is the recombination of these two sensibilities, at once strongly reminiscent of her Edo counterparts, and also situated within film or gameworlds that are nonetheless ostensibly works of science fiction. She emerges as a coherent iconic figure in the 1980s. The transformation of the poison woman in to the single female intruder takes place in the figure of Molly Millions in William Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic (1981), and in the character of Pris in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Gibson’s lifelong obsession with Japanese culture is evident throughout his literature to date, and traces of the influences of the multifaceted concept of the poison woman are evident. Taken for granted, moreover, is the place of Rikyu grey, both literally as a colour sense, and as a philosophy of ambiguity and contrasts, and the idealism of Harunobu’s slender courtesans. The entrance of Molly Millions echoes that of Yuki in Lady Snowblood. The same emphasis on concealed technology, and a lethal capability, shroud the character in a mist of ambiguity and tightly wound sexuality.

‘Hey,’ said a low voice, feminine, from somewhere behind my right shoulder, ‘you cowboys sure aren’t having too lively a time.’

‘Pack it, bitch,’ Lewis said, his tanned face very still.

Ralfi looked blank.

‘Lighten up. You want to buy some good free base?’

She pulled up a chair and quickly sat before either of them could stop her. She was barely inside my fixed field of vision, a thin girl with mirrored glasses, her dark hair cut in a rough shag. She wore black leather, open over a T-shirt slashed diagonally with stripes of red and black.

‘Eight thou a gram weight.’

Lewis snorted his exasperation and tried to slap her out of the chair. Somehow he didn’t quite connect, and her hand came up and seemed to brush his wrist as it passed. Bright blood sprayed the table. He was clutching his wrist white-knuckle tight, blood trickling from between his fingers.

But hadn’t her hand been empty? (Gibson, 1981, p. 18)

The description of Molly emphasises her stature and costume, and the scene is characterised by an anxious stillness, which breaks into sudden action. Like Yuki’s hidden sword, Molly’s ‘weapons’ aren’t disclosed, but their effect enjoys a glorious description, again reminiscent of the exploitation film aesthetic of bloody carnage found in Lady Snowblood. Later, the secrets of Molly’s fatal frame are laid bare:

‘Chiba. Yeah. See, Molly’s been Chiba, too.’ And she showed me her hands, fingers slightly spread. Her fingers were slender, tapered, very white against the polished burgundy nails. Ten blades snicked straight out from their recesses beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double-edged scalpel in pale blue steel. (p. 21)

Molly’s finger blades are like Yuki’s concealed sword, in that they form a highly personalised accessory crucial to their survival in a world that is largely hostile to them. Through them their bodies become ‘trick machines’ designed to entrap, confuse, and terrorise their opponents. The complex rhetoric of hidden capability runs through the single female intruder, and is most apparent in the gynoid half-machine characters that have appeared since Molly first took to the streets of Chiba.

Transnational Assassins

Figure 5: Beatrix in Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)

Within the generic reality of convergent media culture, the tropes of the single female intruder have folded in on themselves, and, while the poison woman was penned in direct relation to the changes in society, the single female intruder of recent film and game texts is not so motivated to comment on changes in culture. She operates, like Beatrix in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, within the “movie-world”, that is, within the circular distribution of generic styles, codes and conventions.

While the single female intruder certainly develops, in contemporary digital culture, the aesthetic, form and rhetoric of the femme fatale and other types of female killer (see Schubert, 2007), my interest lies with the long history that underpins her making, and the politics of globalisation she traverses. Her seductive deadly methods evoke fear outside of the textual worlds she inhabits, since she, like the ninja kids of Naruto, is an iconic player in the global media game, and is metonymic of the massive changes taking place in the landscape of media power. Koichi Iwabuchi writes that,

Japan’s hitherto odourless cultural presence in the world has become more recognizably ”Japanese” as computer games and animation from Japan have grabbed large shares of overseas markets. Japan’s success in exporting cultural products that are unmistakably perceived as “Japanese” have evoked a sense of yearning and threat overseas, including fear of cultural invasion (Iwabuchi, 2004, p. 59).

The single female intruder has emerged as the most prominent action heroine type in recent years, with films released that seek to comment on our technologically driven, information culture. Her independent agency, computer expertise and athletic finesse position the single female intruder as a dominant fantasy of control for our time. Connecting body politics, privacy issues, technology and gender relations in the actions of this subtly orientalized superhero, contemporary media producers have created a figure as pertinent to our time as the muscle-bound action hero was to the 1980s. While the ‘high trash’ of summer blockbusters, videogames and exploitation films might suggest that the single female intruder is nothing more and techno-fetish and titillation, I hope to have shown, through an emphasis on her origins in Japanese aesthetics, that such characters are playing an instrumental role in the reorganisation of gendered heroism within transmedial representation.

 

Games

Bullet Witch (Cavia, Inc./Atari, AQ Interactive, 2007)

Final Fantasy 12 (SquareEnix, 2006)

Ghost in the Shell (Exact/THQ, 1998)

Gun Valkyrie (Smilebit/BigBen Interactive, 2002)

Ico (Team Ico/SCE, 2002)

Oni (Bungie Studios/Rockstar Games, 2001)

P.N.03 [Product Number Three] (Capcom Production Studio 4/Capcom, 2003)

Panzer Dragoon Orta (Smilebit/Sega, 2003)

Panzer Dragoon Saga (Team Andromeda/Sega, 1998)

Perfect Dark (Rare/Rare, 2000)

Perfect Dark Zero (Rare/Rare, 2005)

Rez (United Game Artists/Sega, 2001)

Space Channel 5 (United Game Artists/Sega, 2000)

Space Channel 5: Part 2 (United Game Artists/Sega, 2003)

Tenchu: Fatal Shadows [Tenchu: Kurenai] (K2 LLC/Sega, 2005)

Tomb Raider (Core Design/EIDOS, 1996)

Films and Anime

Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama, 2005)

Aeon Flux [Animated Series] (Peter Chung, 1995)

Bladerunner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995)

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Mamoru Oshii, 2004)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Kenji Kamiyama, 2002-2003)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (Kenji Kamiyama, 2004-2005)

Shurayukihime [Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld] (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

Shurayukihime: Urami Renga [Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance] (Toshiya Fujita, 1974)

Sympathy for Lady Vengance [Chinjeolhan Geumjassi] (Chan-wook Park, 2005)

The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999)

The Matrix: Reloaded (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003)

The Matrix: Revolutions (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003)

Manga

Kurata, H. Yamada, S. (2000 – present) Read or Die. Tokyo: Shueisha.

Shirow, M. (1989 – 1991) Ghost in the Shell. Tokyo: Kodansha.

References

Azuma, H. (2001). Superflat Japanese modernity, Retrieved [August, 01, 2007] from<http://www.hirokiazuma.com/en/texts/superflat_en1.html>

Gibson, W. (1981) Burning Chrome. London: Voyager.

Iwabuchi, K. (2002). Recentring globalisation: Popular culture and Japanese transnationalism. London: Duke University Press.

Iwabuchi, K. (2004). How Japanese is Pokémon?. In J. Tobin (Ed.), Pikachu’s global adventure: The rise and fall of Pokemon. London: Duke University Press. pp. 53-79.

Jensen, M. B. (2000) The Making of Modern Japan. London: Harvard.

Krzywinska, T. (2005) ‘Demon Girl Power: Regimes of Form and Force in videogames Primal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, New Femininities Seminar Series, London, 9th

December.

Kurokawa, K. (1991) Intercultural Architecture: The Philosophy of Symbiosis. Aia Press.

Kurokawa, K. (1997) Each One A Hero: The Philosophy of Symbiosis. London: Kodansha International.

Schubart, R. (2007) Super Bitches and Action Babes. London: MacFarland & Company, Inc.

 

Bio:

David Surman is an artist and designer, based in Melbourne, Australia after migrating from the UK. Over the past 10 years he has worked in many different creative environments, and he is currently creative director and co-founder of Pachinko Pictures, an award-winning boutique design studio based in Melbourne. David has also pursued a career as a scholar and teacher, which has given him many more opportunities and challenges. He developed a pioneering degree programme in games design at Newport School of Art (University of Wales), which focused on the principles and processes of art and design for games; and was Lecturer in Multimedia Design at Swinburne University of Technology. David is currently completing a PhD in videogame aesthetics at Brunel University, and holds a Masters in Film and Television from Warwick University and a Bachelors in Animation from the Newport School of Art, Media and Design.