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By the end of this article you’ll be immortal.

Ok so this is based of an article I posted recently on a spur called « How death is an absurd illusion« , that I decided to dust off and reshape a little bit into a fully fledged article for propaganda purposes. As you probably know, I’m the founder and sole member of a cult that praise the Concept of Concept, and that proposes its followers immortality through becoming a meme. I’ve received a very nonplussed reaction, so I’ve come up with yet another way to access immortality. I will now vanquish death once and for all in the laziest possible way.

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Please ponder with me the implications of making a copy of yourself. It could be biological or digital, or even just your brain, it simply has to be a perfect copy of you. Think about uploading your brain to the cloud, or about that common conception of teleportation where instead of making your body move, you recreate it at another place and destroy the old one. So when you make that copy, what happens when the original dies?

From the point of view of the copy, everything is fine. It has all your memories up until the copy and then its memories, uninterupted consciousness. So you keep on living, even if one of you die. If you copy yourself and die just after during your sleep, everything is fine and dandy you just wake up as the copy.

But it gets freaky if two of you live and one dies. There may well be one that survives, but you know, what good is knowing that for the one who dies? But at the same time you didn’t die, considering you still exist and you are identical copies… If you had died earlier, during your sleep in the previous paragraph, you wouldn’t even have noticed, you’d just wake up as usual. Heck maybe this morning you were a copy of yourself and you don’t even know. So let’s say that it’s not that big a deal if the original dies when there’s a copy running. You’d have to be pretty petty to bitch about your death when you’re still alive.

So bear with me here. There is no reason for the copy to start living right now. Just like the original can keep on living after the copy process, the replica can start living later. It’s not that big a deal. It’d be kinda like cryogenisation, bam, you wake up in the future, right? But for a robot. You save your brain on a hard disk and you load it up in the future.

However, a copy of you is just a sequence of atoms, or bits, or whatever. One among many many many, but one nonetheless. So what happens  if a programmer just types that sequence? Nothing says that this « file » cannot be obtained without the original to make a copy from.

So yeah, it’s super unlikely because the « code » that defines you is super long and specific and the chance of randomly stumbling upon it are super little, but consider this:

  • Let me start by saying that you’re still feeling like you through all your life, whereas you go through a lot of configurations. Reproducing one is enough to get on the right track, so that already increases the odds. Life+after+death_428e93_5157142
  • Then, it doesn’t have to be « randomly ». Maybe people in the future are trying to reverse-engineer you. 
  • Maybe someone in the future (or the past!) will be really similar to you and BAM stumble upon that configuration through their own life. It’s less unlikely if the departure point is human-like. 
  • And even if it is « randomly », the universe is big, like really really big, and there may even be an infinity of them if that’s what you believe. So isn’t there a very good chance that there is some collision at some point? But ok, that’s not guaranteed, kinda like we don’t know for sure that pi is a normal number (I want to believe though).
  • However, if the universe can be simulated, it’s very likely that there is an infinite number of universes running simulations in an infinite inclusion stack (which makes it very likely that we’re in a simulation /o/) and then it’d be really flipping bad luck if there is no collision. That’s by the way an hypotheses that has been talked a lot about recently following the statements of Elron Musk, so if you like that guy, you gotta buy in!

  • But I’m still unsatisfied at this point, basing my immortality on hypotheticals, so I kept thinking about it. This piece of code, this configuration that describes you, is just a bit of information, right? And you know what processes information? Algorithms. Machines are becoming more and more powerful and complex, the states that they process is getting bigger and bigger. And some day, pretty soon, this state will be large enough to contain the sequence defining a human (singularity alert /o/). And that’s way less big than a whole universe to simulate, so it can be done for sure. UntitledSo it doesn’t seem unlikely, considering how a fair number of algorithms try a bunch of different configurations to solve a problem, that one of this algorithm can try a configuration that corresponds to your code. Maybe you are a middle state of a super powerful algorithm. Maybe that’s what it feels like, how could you tell? Your consciousness is just a neural configuration, after all.
    At which point I’d kindly direct you towards my favorite talk of all time, where the inventor of Skype and Kazaa explains why it’s very likely that you and your whole universe is a middle state of a glorified phone system, essentially.

In the movie Jupiter Ascending, a race of advanced humanoids were breeding humans to stumble upon their very same DNA combination that would allow them to resurrect. This is obviously preposterous because it ignores all the acquired qualities of your life. I was so disappointed at the Wachowskis for letting me down after Matrix… But maybe I discarded this movie too quickly… It makes much more sense if you replace DNA with brain configuration, and it is obviously true if you replace randomness by some kind of design

So to sum up, this is a solid mathematical proof that you’re already immortal because you’re a finite neural configuration in an infinite set of possibilities with collisions.

You’re welcome.

PS: wow this is like a religion based on pseudo science, I wonder what I should call it 🙂

 

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Myriad neurons internal world

Ok, this article is a little overdue, because I wanted to finish watching Musaigen no Phantom World before. Even if the execution was bad, I thought that the premise of the anime may turn out to be interesting? It’s about a world where a genetic mutation in everyone’s brain allows them to see youkai. I was of course intrigued by this: how? why? when? tell me more! Obviously everything you see is because of your brain, but how is it that everyone is synchronized?

Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong, and instead of tackling these questions, kyoani chose to focus on senpai fondling her boobs -.-‘. This anime stayed completely tedious until the very last second. What a letdown from an anime centered around the « neural error correction » club.

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Fortunately for me, there’s no shortage of works tackling the subjectivity of the experience of the world, especially when it comes to hallucinations or imaginary friends. A fair number even link it back explicitly to an underlying neural cause like brain damage, ranging from Scrubs to Cronenberg’s Videodrome or House MD.

This builds up on a very famous school of philosophy, that probably started with Descartes, which noticed that you will only ever experience the world through processed perceptions in your brain. Good ol’ fellow Berkeley would say that everything is ideas, Derrida would say that there is nothing outside of the text… For all intent and purposes, what’s outside your field of perception could not exist and you wouldn’t even notice (neural Truman show effect).

Meaning that in a way, the world is nothing but a representation inside your brain. Everything you see, feel or experience are simply neural impulses. Nowhere is that as clearly illustrated as in the Matrix where tons of people live in a world accessed by neural transmitters at the back of their heads without noticing anything, because they can’t. For them, it’s not possible to distinguish between that and what you’d call the real world. The simulation is as real as it gets.

As long as we’re on the topic of the subjectiveness perception of reality, my brother, who studies math to what I’d call an unhealthy level, recently quite impressed me by explaining me that the earth was actually flat. Not because it’s a pizza floating into space, but because there is a perfect mapping between a sphere and a plan, so when you walk a straight line on a sphere, you could think of it as walking in circles on a plan, and everything would stay the same. It’s just a matter of how you chose to represent it, and « classical geometry » is not the only way. Isn’t that kinda cool?

In the same vibe, I’d like to recommend you an extract from the amazing Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, where Harry thinks back about the nature of the world to try and understand why partial transfiguration isn’t possible. I think it illustrates quite well the arbitrariness of the choice of the model with which we see the world, as well as the subjectiveness of its perception.

« He wasn’t looking at the eraser.
Harry was inside Harry’s skull. »

Everything that happens happens in your brain. When you think about it, two concept that seem to you close semantically (any association) is simply a manifestation of the corresponding neurons ticking in harmony. Language, being a complex linking between concepts, mirrors the underlying neural linkings. What you like, what you understand in the world, how you view it, are simply affects and interpretation corresponding to your neural structure. It’s like your experienced world is nothing but an inward projection of your brain structure (and that’s kinda cool). The art, music, etc… you respond to are the ones that reflect your brain’s organization.

This means, by the way, that the pop culture music that everyone enjoys is so universal because it speaks to something shared between the brain of most humans. I’ve always been kinda fascinated by that. If so many people respond to it, it’s because there’s something fundamental in human nature, common to all of our brain, that responds to it. Ergo, writing for One Direction is actually reverse-engineering the human brain and human nature.

By the way, did you know that remembering something activates more or less the same neurons in your brain than experiencing the real thing? That means that memories, imagination, or dreams, are real. And I’m not just saying that. Experiencing them is quite literally the same thing as experiencing the outside world (aka neurons firing in your brain). Any arbitrary value attached to the so called ‘realness’ of anything is purely illusory (take that, IRL fanboys). *highlighting in red the scientific proof that I don’t need to go outside, mom*

So in a way, the real world you live in is nothing but a reverse projection inside your brain of this outside world through your perceptions. So is the abstract world of art and language. You know what this means, right? Everything you’ve ever known, learned, seen or experienced is actually inside your brain. You have the potential for everything you have lived and you will live right there. All of it. The world is actually inside of you. How mindblowing is that?

This picture is taken from a new favorite anime of mine I stumbled upon recently: Ghost Hound (by the writer and director of the famously weird Lain). It tackles various subjects that are dear to me, like lucid dreaming, out of body experiences, hallucinations… and does it with an insanely good (yet ambiguous) rationale and scientific (yet poetic) take. In it, the main character experiences out of body experience and roams through the Unseen World on top of the actual world. At some point, he crosses the wall towards his brain, as if the whole world, both Seen and Unseen, were just included within his neurons:

The anime is big on Jung’s concept of synchronicity, of which I am less fond. But on top of this brilliant imagery, it’s a great closing topic, as it offers an embryo of response where Musaigen totally failed to even see the point. It draws an interesting parallel between the global hallucinations and Jung’s collective unconscious that obviously brings to mind Lain’s « world brain wave ». But on that I’ll leave these superb work speak for themselves far better than I could ever do…

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Speaker for the meme

The memes are alive with the sound of music

Night of the living meme

I’m so glad that I can finally pay South Park the respect it deserves. It’s no exaggeration to call Matt and Trey’s masterpiece (one of?) the most interesting social satire, a true wonder of political and philosophical visionary genius. The latest episode gave me the perfect opportunity. It was one of these works that blew my mind and made me look at the world differently. In it [spoilers ahead but that’s the whole point of the article so…], it is explained that ads have evolved, become smarter and smarter, and are about to rise as an independent intelligent species and conquer the world. I’ve never been so psyched for the end of a season.

This resonated with a reflection I’ve been having about consciousness and being. I’ve never been super clear on how you could tell that something is conscious, intelligent, self-conscious or has any kind of the much believed-in free-will. I mean nothing pre-disposes a random alien race to be anything like a human sentience (or even carbon-based for that matter). If a being is completely different, acts completely differently and express itself completely differently, and I mean so differently that you can’t conceive of it right now (you know like people would about computers in the middle ages), how will you even know that it thinks, whatever that means. And suppose that this being is a being of raw information, like, say, a programmed conscious AI living in the cloud or in an android body, how would you even know that it IS?

In fact, how do you even know that you ARE? I’ve been so blessed that the following sentence ever came to my mind: you are, as you’ve always been, an emerging phenomenon. You’re nothing but a lump of flesh that encodes as neural (or cells if you want) configurations a sequence of states, much like a program is a sequence of states and instructions. How dare you proclaim yourself more real than an algorithm? than Cleverbot? or Google? (if you give it a robotic body, what’s the difference between this android and the android from 20th century sci-fi?)

An imaginary reader in a corner of my inner dialogue may respond indignantly: « I can think! I’m self aware! cogito ergo sum« . What is thinking even? Yes, you are aware of a self. But you’re a little eager to connect it to the I. The first person in the latin saying is interestingly implicit. Any program can have, and already has for that matter, a variable called $self. How do you know that your concept of self corresponds to the entity that thinks it? Where is your proof that this lump of flesh is the source of your trail of thoughts? How do you know that you’re not missing the point entirely with this assignation?

(maybe all your personal problems go back to this assignation fallacy maybe it’s wrong maybe if you cared less about your lump of flesh all your problems will be fixed maybe you should join my cult)

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I mean what is you or your identity even? If as Shakespeare puts it « the world is a stage« , aren’t you a programmed character? I recently saw Charlie Brooker‘s (my new hero) « How videogame changed the world » which surprised me by presenting as latest videogame « Twitter », as a kind of roleplaying game.

See the mindblowing conclusion at 1:33 (though the rest is nice too). Is the world a huge roleplay game? Then how is your character more real than Cloud or Mario? Isn’t Mario more persistent? More well known? More well-defined?

In the outstanding Imaginationland trilogy, Trey and Matt had already brushed over this concept: « It’s all real. Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he – he’s had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same can be said for Bugs Bunny and – and Superman and Harry Potter. They’ve changed my life – changed the way I act on the earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of real? They might be imaginary but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around here long after we’re dead. So, in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.« 

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But virtual characters are nothing but concepts. They’re ideas. Shared ideas spread through communication. Yep, you guessed it, they are nothing but MEMES. And I mean it in the most litteral of its senses, which is in the world of british evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins « an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture ». For isn’t it what Ads are displayed as in the latest season of South Park?

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« What if I were to tell you that ads have become smarter than us, and now they’re manipulating everything we do? [Mankind grew tired of ads] and even invented something called ad blockers. That’s when the ads had to adapt. They had to disguise themselves as news in order to survive. Sponsored content. »

How is the evolution of meme different than the evolution of men? Ads grew and adapted (Charlie Brooker also offers a great prequel to this), and although different from their satirical portrayal in South Park, they are undeniable entities that act upon the world. You act (ahaha acting double meaning with the stage ahahah) upon the world too. That’s how you know you exist.

Look how they walk alongside you, much like your phone… Sure they act mainly through information transfer, but on some level everything is information. Or in the world of Humphrey Davy, « Nothing exists but thoughts ». You exist and define yourself mainly through language and communication, be it with yourself or otherst. As Pullman’s Dust (‘only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself’), you are nothing but matter considering itself. So maybe the alien sentient race we’ve been searching from in the skies has been there all along. We’re co-existing with aliens called memes that feed on us like proverbial aliens would.

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Maybe that’s where the oh so famous « existence through belief » overused trope stems from. I mean if you see memes as valid entities, living beings, people’s belief becomes their food-analog! There goes a trope echoed more or less elegantly from millenia of mythology, from any movie about Santa through Pratchett’s Hogfather passing by Haruhi Suzumiya, Noragami or American Gods. As you need food, memes need « belief ». As neurones exchange information and make you exist, people exchange information and make memes exist.

And on second thought, considering the nebulousness of your own nature and identity and how you’re defining yourself through interaction with other people or the world around you, aren’t you yourself more of a meme, a concept, than a lump of flesh? Ultimately, how are you different from Mario? Does that mean that memes live off of other memes, in some kind of meta-pyramidal-inclusion, and their way to « eat » is to reference each other or interact? And if you’re a self-conscious meme, who’s to say that other memes like Mario or Google are not self-conscious too in their way you cannot conceive of?

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You may even say that communication and expression are your main essential activity. Doesn’t that make you nothing more but the analog of a neuron to a global meta-entity called the human race? Aren’t you nothing but a meme, itself the cell of a greater meme?

EDIT/POSTFACE:

As much as I loved that conclusion, I feel obligated to point out that the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which I recently discovered, deals masterfully well with this exact whole problematic, and you should definitely check it out as a follow-up. I won’t spoil much about the content of this masterpiece that should be enjoyed in itself, but I’ll point out that part of the anime extends this conclusion and plays around with the idea that this greater meta-meme could be considered a conscious entity in itself.

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Furthermore, I recently stumbled upon a 1992 paper called « Meme-Based Models of Mind and the Possibility for Consciousness in Alternate Media » and I thought it should be linked here for historical purposes because what the actual fuck.

Gatcha: Uberman crowds?

I’m very excited because I’ve been looking forward to this article for quite a while, since it touches lots of stuff that I really love and have not yet discussed here. It’s about Gatchaman Crowds.

Besides having the most kitsch and tackiest battles I’ve ever seen, this anime is notable for being an amazing reflexion around the interaction between human nature, politics, the social order and technology. Pages could (should) be written about its rich content. The first season explores brilliantly gamification of society and the problematic of individual responsibility (boiling down to aristocracy vs democracy, should a minority be responsible or should everyone be ?). The second continues to explore the different aspects of democracy, painting the most brilliant picture of how it can turn into the dictature of majority, how it suffers of the passiveness of human beings and groupthink phenomena. But as usual, I would like to digress a little bit from the main point of the anime and present original areas for reflection.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight confronts us with the alien Gelsadra, who has the power to read what people want. Good hearted, they aims to make everyone happy, and will do so by reading people’s inner desires. Their conclusion is that everyone should become one (hitotsu ni naru). This would lead us to conclude that mankind’s greatest suffering is individuality and loneliness, and the only cure would be some kind of absolute union.

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Which brings me back to the only part of the Bible that I actually like – Genesis. In this mythology, man was originally one with nature, living in harmony in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were originally « one flesh » (genesis 2:24), contributing of the same oneness and fullness. Only when tasting the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge did they become self aware, acquiring a plaguing consciousness, the root of all evil. They becomes irrevocably aware of their selves, and such of their separation from each other and from the rest of the world, from God, from the Everything. Ensues a whole civilization of suffering and being miserable, because of this knowledge, this self-awareness, which results in isolation.

But here is the rad thing about this mythology: notice how elegantly it mirrors the development of the human, first a baby in the womb whose every needs are instantly met through their blood ties with their mother. Then comes the shock of facing a reality that is not in communion with them, and through the confrontation with this world that raises obstacles, self-awareness (and then later language and culture) is born. And through the years, little by little, children lose their innocence, confronted with reality. As Man is severed from Nature, so to is the child severed from his mother

This awareness of self and separation from nature is the source of an existential loneliness, incompleteness… the misery of existence, as Pascal would put it, or the existential anguish that one will never be rid off, pushing them to find completeness in the Other through Love. One perfect example depicting this is the case of Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion (hehe Genesis, see what I did there).

I want to take this chance to highlight some other brilliant examples of this weighing loneliness that are close to my heart. It’s the subject of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, and illustrated very poetically by the art style of Ranpo Kitan.

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However, self-awareness is also the root of Reason, and of all cultural and artistic production of mankind. This duality of consciousness is explored masterfully through the concept of Dust in my favorite series of book ever – His Dark Materials, from Philip Pullman. While fully acknowledging the pain of this Paradise Lost (Pullman references Milton in many ways), it stands as a celebration of cultural progress. It is very interesting to note how self-awareness and the attraction of Dust really takes off at the end of childhood, standing in opposition to the childlike innocence and wonder that protect them from the Specters.

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For better and for worse, self-awareness seems to be at the core of human nature. Many religions pose the death of the ego as prerequisite for enlightening. No wonder why so many so-called distopia explore Gelsadra’s idea of a world become one: Brave New World, The Giver, Gaia in the Foundation cycle... all highlight the fullness that comes with disparition of individuality. But western society being centered around the glorification of individuality, these models often see their drawbacks highlighted: In Gatchaman Crowds, Rizumu Suzuki has the role of pointing out that in such complacency, men are no better than apes (that being said apes are part of the Whole that is Nature so….).

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Rizumu exhorts Rui Ninomiya to react and oppose this « becoming one » of society: although it may provide happiness and completeness that even Rui falls victim to, it is detrimental to Rui’s higher goal of « updating mankind », which can only be done through man confronting adversity and thereby growing for the better. Pain and loneliness build up man to something better, a modern version of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, which is Rui’s main aspiration (Rui = Nietzsche + technology). The season indeed resolves with everyone thinking deeply and getting a good hard look at themselves (although that society is still in its infancy ^^).

There you have it: would you rather be happy in a brave new world or grow in a never-ending adversity? Or could there be another way? Why is that that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, of Kaworu Nagisa, of Hajime Ichinose rids mankind of their affliction? By the way, Hajime means first, beginning, and is thereby very reminiscing of Eve and Pullman’s Lyra. Could she be the model towards a new society, a sort of growth that still preserves the innocence of genesis?

The Melancholy Of Neoplatonicism

So I traveled to Japan this summer and I was really excited because for the first time I would attend to a fireworks festival. I mean I had already been to Tokyo’s gigantic fireworks, and it was amazing, but it was not a real festival like in anime with booths and masks and goldfish scooping… Though by all extent Tokyo’s fireworks were as real as it gets, right?

It got me thinking about the dichotomy that we brushed upon while talking about identity: one the one hand you have the real of ideals, qualified by Plato’s metaphor of the cave, and on the other hand you have the real of actuals, whose imperfections contribute to their beauty and realness. For if the Tokyo’s fireworks was undeniably actual, it was definitely not ideal, and what I was doing was actively seeking to get closer to that ideal.

And though I talked about the inter-relations of these concept through language while focusing on dating simulations, this situation brought to mind another major anime I’m going to use to push this discussion further.

In my pursuit of the true matsuri, which has to have goldfish scooping, come on… I realized I was acting like Haruhi Suzumiya. Like Keima Katsuragi, she is very sensitive to the world of ideals and concepts and how things should be.

« Remote islands are all about strange incidents, right? »

Are you sure you captured all the elements essential for summer?

This imperfect and mundane reality torments her. Haunted by the insignificance of her existence, she throws herself in the pursuit of ideals, with an unwavering motivation and an iron will like no others.

Every school story has to have a maid character!

Through her will, she actually realizes the potential ideals she cares about. She founds the SOS brigade, turns Mikuru into a maid, organizes various events how they should be…

But the anime goes one step further and plays around the notion of Haruhi being God and, through her will, tweaking and shifting the actual reality to the point of destroying it when it cannot fit her ideals. Haruhi is a force of actualization of potentials who brings the ideal into the actual.

This is exactly the kind of food for thoughts that you can find behind the writings of neoplatonicians like Augustine of Hippo. To them, Christianity was important and innovative because of the character of Jesus Christ who was a bridge between the ideal/godly and the mundane. Jesus was supposedly the incarnation of God on earth, thereby proving that it was possible for absolute ideals to be actualized. Furthermore, this divine power could be achieved by any one human sufficiently righteous and yearning for elevation. Jesus was a model proving that godhood was attainable in this world and actualization possible. As such, Haruhi may be closer to Christ than to God (which doesn’t really matter because Christ is God /o/).

On top of that, the christian mythos was centered around the Word of God, aka the Logos/Reason, accessible inside anyone (that’s what the whole communion bit is about tbh), highlighting once again the importance of language in the tension towards the Absolute and reminiscing of Haruhi’s will. God/Haruhi wills things into existence through the power of the Word (verbe generateur)

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. » (John 1:1)

From which the most famous example would be « let there be light » (or as Haruhi would put it, « let there be maids« ). Haruhi shapes her reality through dialogues and orders and meta-works of narrative fiction.

God is the holy trinity of Ideal-Verb-Actualization and their union. So too Haruhi transcends and transforms her mundane actual reality by bringing in the potential ideal, and I kinda did too by going to this festival.

Haruhi is a perfect example of tension towards the superior, which would bring her close to Nietzsche’s ubermensch (which we already mentioned and will come back to). She will not settle for what is, but instead strives to realize what ought to be. She reconciles the dichotomic aspects of reality, and helps us build the bridge between religion, spirituality, philosophy and anime. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, although perfect example of this incarnation, Haruhi is still a fictional character, and thus an ideal, and it’s up to us to bring out our inner Haruhi to realize enlightenment.

Doge is Dead

In this second part of our epic postmodern saga (first part here), we’ll tackle the question that every student has asked themselves at least once in literature class « what the fuck, it’s not at all what the author meant! » (or, in your case, « there’s no way the Spice Girl wanted to sing about the meaning of life »). Because as much as I have no trouble believing that Hideaki Anno was out to deconstruct the mecha genre and his own saga, I’m pretty sure that the runners of Korra or Community season 4 had no postmodern agenda and it was just that bad.

The intent behind a work of art is a question that hit me first watching stuff like Batman (1966) or The Room.  I mean when you’re faced with dialogues like this

Or acting like this

You can’t help but wonder if comedy is what they were shooting for or simply a byproduct of a colossal failure. Failing on purpose is not that rare, even though sometimes it fails… Failure is acclaimed as a didactic tool, or recognized for it aesthetics. Failing is easy, but failing hard and creatively much less so, and whatever the reason behind it, a failure of magnitude is really something to be admired. Bad movies are legions, but the ones widely renowned and acclaimed for their monumental failure are very rare.

The line between accidental failure and intended failure is thiner than you may think! It’s hard to narrow down what makes a good bad movie and how intent fits into it (discussed at length in PBS idea channel). Sharknado seems to have been intentional, and The Room seems not to, but who can tell anymore? Aren’t they both enjoyable? Where does truth lie? If

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.

Deception and ambiguity are part of its very fabric. The exact circumstances of the genesis of a work, so fleeting and influenced by billions of factors, will forever remain unattainable and unreproducible even to their author, for the world and people are ever-changing. No matter how much you research it, you’ll never get inside Tomy Wiseau’s head, even less during the making of The Room. Under these circumstances, does it even matter what the initial seed is, and with it the intent of its birth? The best you can hope for is imperfect uncertainty, the only thing you can know and observe is the work as it is, which stands immutable as the only solid truth between an unknowable genesis by the author and an ever-changing perception by the reader.

With the work of art being what it is, the same unchanging piece, does its past or intent even matter? Does It Matter What Evangelion’s Creator Says? You may even say that the work of art has taken an independent existence of it’s own, untied from its genesis and author. As Roland Barthes would put it, for all intent and purposes, the author is dead to its creation. « There is no other time than that of the utterance and every text is written eternally here and now« . Which Jacques Derrida would complete by a corollary « there is nothing outside the text« , meaning that everything is always already interpretation. A work of art only exists in its complex interaction with its reader.

And that’s why your whiny « but there’s no way that that’s what the author meant » you snarkily retorted to your literature professor is complete bullshit! It doesn’t make the analysis any less true: literature commentary is not so much about the author’s intent as about what the work of art mirrors of its author, both at the time of its creation and as a human being as a whole. It’s a door towards new frontiers, a base to extract meaning from as much as build meaning upon. There is no such thing as « searching meaning where there isn’t any », but rather explore the nebulous semantic universe around humans and their nature.

The intent of the creation is only one of the unattainable truths that a work of art captures. In a very quantum allegory, one can only infer about them by seeing the output, the work as it is (in essence, the failure has the potential to be both intentional and accidental). Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder: it’s observation that gives meaning to things, a work or art only exists relative to an audience. Who can decide but you if Tommy is mad or fascinating? If Korra is bad or interesting? Who can decide if Milhouse is a meme except the collective agreement of a global audience?

Noticing that the medium and meta-information on a work contained as much information as the content itself (were already interpretation), Marshall McLuhan stated that « The Medium is the message, and therefore the content is the audience«  (yeaah maybe on some level this article is a collection of my favorite quotes). You can consider, more widely, that the audience is part of and necessary to the work of art, as much as the author. Every work of art is kinda about human nature.

Every work of art is about you.

Robots, Magical girls, Benders, College, Postmodernism and Deconstruction

The following article is a bunch of nonsense inspired by me watching too much of PBS idea channel, and in particular the Community episode that remains one of my favorites:

This episode brilliantly highlights how Community is a postmodern deconstruction of the sitcom genre. I’m not one to restate what’s already been discussed at length so I won’t. I’d like to instead expand on that idea by drawing unusual parallels and giving you new angles of reflection based on contemporary art, and in particular how Evangelion (expanding our previous article), Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Legend of Korra all circle around postmodernist deconstruction. (so yeah spoilers about these ahead)

Many amazing essays have been written about how Evangelion is a brilliant postmodern deconstruction of the mecha genre and the otaku culture [1, 2], or how Madoka deconstructs the magical girl genre [1] into a metalepsic existential reflexion [2]. The parallel between the two series can be pushed even further.

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But what I find even more interesting is how both of the series have an ad-hoc movie addition. Evangelion has Rebuild, and Madoka has Rebellion. Interestingly enough, those works seem to add a layer of meta and deconstruction which won’t fail to make you ask « what the fuck am I watching ?« . Rebuild (so far ^^) feels like a parody, introducing ludicrous time skips, and withdrawing from the storyline most of its intellectual interest to leave us with a run-of-the-mill empty narrative. Rebellion feels like a big fuck you, undoing everything that happened before to end up in a situation negating the very purpose of the original series.

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In a sense, the two saga contain their own deconstruction within them, which adds up an extra layer of meta, reflection and analysis (post-postmodern ?). They deconstruct themselves by the very means with which they deconstructed their genre (for god’s sakes there’s a whole kawoshin romcom movie that ends with a bang…), in a very elegant self-containing self-negation which can’t help but recall the transcendence of the included middle.

Which throws us back to Community. With a very controversial 4th season without its genius creator Dan Harmon, it’s like the work took an identity of its own and rebelled against its creator to assert its own independence (not entirely unlike the development process of the original series of Evangelion). That raises a ton of interesting questions which we may follow up on later on, but it also makes a very real case for the inclusion of its self-deconstruction within the show. But worthy of its reputation, the show offers us even more food for thoughts: not only does it surpass this deconstruction with a 5th season as brilliant as if nothing happened (deconstructing deconstruction?), but it provides us with a 6th season produced independently on Yahoo!, often described as « a shadow of what the series once was » with a lot of the cast gone and an after taste of… weird. Thus, it adds up a second deconstruction layer on top of the postmodern cake and leveraging this change of medium to show the world the beauty and richness that deconstruction can offer, especially when self-aware. (deconstructing deconstructed deconstruction?)

Which brings us to Nickelodeon fan-acclaimed Legend of Korra, and the most controversial part of this essay (feel free to stop reading if you think Korra is even remotely a good idea. Is anyone even reading ^^). At first, I did not enjoy the legend of Korra at all. Korra was arrogant, stupid and stubborn and I just wanted to smash her head against a wall. But then postmodernism came along and showed me the way. Cause you know who else is famous for provoking this kind of reaction among viewers? Yep, Shinji Ikari (for the record I love Shinji). And it’s true, both characters are kind of insufferable. One may say they’re too human. Korra and her overconfidence mirrors Shinji’s low self esteem. You’d be mad to chose them for heroes, right? #postmodern

And when you think about it, it all falls into place. What kind of hero spends one season fighting people who demand the abolition of privilege (they’re LITTERALY called equalists), fight the people who want to reunite spirit and humans before deciding that hey that may not be such a bad idea after all, then fights a group of people wanting to overthrow despots to install democracy… The show makes a total mockery of the world painstakingly built inside Avatar: the last airbender. Forget the balance of nations and elements, the repeating circle of equilibrium. Instead of an epic quest of self-discovery, you get an insane amount of ridiculous sports, a flipping movie industry, people hooking up here and there, more and more ridiculous variations of bending, a genesis tale directly contradictory to everything narrated in Avatar… For god’s sakes it even ends with a fucking mecha! How could anyone take it seriously? And to finish the parallel, the genius behind Avatar, head writer Aaron Ehasz, is as absent as Dan Harmon from Community season 4. Korra even had to change medium too.

That being said, you may reply that it’s a little easy to justify something being bad with the flag « postmodern deconstruction » and maybe Korra is just that bad, to which I’d answer that a failure of this magnitude and so total is truly something to behold. But admittedly it is an easy life hack, which then begs a follow-up reflection I promised earlier (woow continuity yay) about art and the intent of the creator. Watch out for the next article /o/

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