Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk part 05

In her book, The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson explores this issue by saying “it is because of our culture’s post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment prohibition on the supernatural and the exclusion of a transcendent, nonmaterialist level of reality from the allowable universe has created the ontological equivalent of a perversion caused by repression” (19). Nelson’s book is an exploration of the sublimation of the supernatural in popular fiction into cybernetic entities such as cyborgs, androids and robots.

The post-Enlightenment mindset cannot admit angels and demons, or gods and goddesses. Strangely, it seems to be able to admit aliens, robots and artificial intelligences. As belief in the transcendent has waned in the past century, the proliferation of genre fiction such as science fiction, fantasy and horror has waxed. And within these genre fictions, the use of spiritual or religious imagery abounds, as we have shown within the subgenre of cyberpunk. However, if cyberpunk is truly a postmodern form of literature, then when the narrative demands, as is seemingly the case in Snow Crash to permit metaphysical possibilities rather than avoid them.

In regards to our discussion, the first film of the Matrix trilogy could be said to follow along the same ambivalence toward metaphysics Stephenson has, since it is only within the cyberspace reality of the Matrix that characters are able to defy gravity, “know Kung-Fu” in moments, and “dodge bullets”. In the final moments of the second film, The Matrix: Reloaded and throughout the third film, The Matrix: Revolutions, Neo, the messianic “One” is able to transfer his transformative shamanic abilities into the “desert of the real”.

Yet rather than detracting from the narrative, the ability of Neo to actually transform reality, not just cyber-reality, only added to the mystery of the trilogy. It is this element of mystery, of an unexplained aspect which makes the Matrix trilogy an apotheosis of cyberpunk narrative. The Architect of The Matrix: Reloaded is the fulfillment of Gibson’s Wintermute-Neuromancer and Maddox’s Aleph, while Neo’s transformative powers are the realization of Enki’s nam-shub, both within and without the Matrix. Some of these elements remain unexplained, and therein resides what may be the reason behind the prolific and ongoing discourse concerning the nature of the Matrix universe; the mysterium of Rudolph Otto, “something which has no place in our scheme of reality but belongs to an absolutely different one, and which at the same time arouses an irrepressible interest in the mind” (111).

The films draw copiously upon the cyberpunk tradition, from the mirror shades sported by the heroes and villains, to the use of cyberspace as setting, to the blatant plundering of cyberpunk literature, the most obvious being the use of the word “matrix” in regard to the cyberspace reality in reference to Gibson’s Neuromancer. In addition, it draws heavily upon religious elements to motivate its narrative.

As has been shown in Julien R. Fielding’s article “Reassessing the Matrix Reloaded”, the trilogy creates a pastiche from a number of religious traditions, namely Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, avoiding the easy cage of allegorizing any one of the religion’s mythologies. The reaction to these religio-philosophical elements in the films was fascinating; a large number of websites and books emerged as the trilogy unfolded, all trying to decipher the meanings behind The Matrix. As Fielding observes, “Taoism, Shintoism, popular literature, anime and manga, and even popular films from Star Wars to Vertigo help us peel away more and more layers” (par. 18).

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