Comments: Does Cyborgs Dream of Digital Pigs?

"There is poetry in the information overlays. They turn the characters into information saints, surrounded by AI-putti and billowing messages like baroque religious paintings. Reality is obscured by overlaid information. In many ways this is the opposite of Edward Tufte's clean and informative infographics. This is info-baroque in strong colors, obviously requiring posthuman attention systems to be manageable."

I'd not considered the artistic effects of the overlays until you blogged about them.

To me, the effect seems more pornographic than numinous. I realize the two do not necessarily contradict each other. Perhaps this tension exists only in my eyes.

Everything Shirow's drawn since the early issues of Appleseed, he draws exactly one kind of female figure: big-breasted, large-nippled, wasp-waisted, and with a heart-shaped face. The overlays and other technological paraphernalia conspire with the panel layout and viewing angles to emphasize pulurchitude.

Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" has a passage that describes the erotic aspect of technology. I can't find it right now, and will post it later.

I hope this post doesn't give an impression of prudery. I like Shirow's work very much, and I like the vision he presents of intimate fusion between humanity and its tools. If adding sex appeal helps communicate the idea, good. Otherwise, the art and its message exist as simple technoporn--fine in their own right, but sterile.

Posted by Jay Dugger at June 1, 2004 02:28 AM

I found the quote, but won't post it on someone else's blog. For those interested, it exists on page 290 of the 1978 Penguin edition. I have in the mind the paragraph that begins "All Margherita's chains and fetters are chiming,..."

Posted by Jay Dugger at June 1, 2004 05:30 AM

Pornography is about arousing desire, usually the sexual kind, but one could easily expand the concept to encompass information and technology. Webster has one meaning as "the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction", which seems to fit the information overlays well. Strong colors, technological shapes, lots of information, dozens of agents and messages at the same time. On the other hand, the Webster meaning misses the desire part. One wants to *participate* in the vivid data processing orgy. Of course, I have always found information more sexy than humans, so I don't count :-)

The question beyond whether it is technoporn is the lasting value (if you return to it again and again, is it then technoerotica? :-). Here I think Standalone Complex is far more successful than Man Machine Interface. The worldbuilding and cybernetic issues involved link it to the real world far better than the cybershinto and intrigues of the manga - many of those are interesting but about as relevant to us as the mechanics of forging rings of power in Middle-earth.

Apropos the standardized protagonist (the Shirow heroine with a thousand names? :-) I find her way of treating her body/bodies rather interesting. One of the best things IMHO with the original movie was how at the start the protagonist was literally constructed on an assembly line, but gradually turned from technology and information into a person/sex object. During the movie the viewer is led to gradually forget the cybernetical nature of her (there is certainly plenty of musings and comments about her condition, but the visual and "acting" impact is very much human). This makes her fighting in the last scenes so dramatic and upsetting - her skin and body is literally ripped apart revealing her technologyhood. She is quite ready to break her own arms in order to achieve her goals, something a human never could do with the same painless focus. This kind of rupture of the illusion of humanity is a very powerful way of showing the weirdness of the setting. Another example is the send-off scene with the tachikomas in Standalone Complex, where the emotional and practical behavior of the AIs clearly do not match and show their alienness starkly.

Posted by Anders at June 2, 2004 08:10 PM