Alex Tauras on Tue, 15 Apr 2003 01:29:36 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the matrix returns

I just discovered the philosophical essays on the matrix website. Has anyone 
read these? What do people think?

Here are some impressions fresh from my blog:

The release date of the year's most anticipated metaphysical blockbuster 
approaches. To prepare the movie-going public for this revelatory experience, 
the film's producers have included a section on the website dedicated to 
philosophical interpretations of the first Matrix. These essays are all written 
by respectable scholars, including big names like Colin McGinn, David Chalmers, 
and Hubert Dreyfus (who I studied under not long ago). While it's not uncommon 
for philosophers to write about movies, the attention given The Matrix is as 
far as I can tell unprecedented. Given the variety of approaches taken by these 
essays, I'd say the attraction stems from the film's heavy use of familiar 
symbolism treated in a largely (and aesthetically seductive) superficial 
manner, updated for modern tastes and preoccupations. This allows for a 
remarkable conjunction of "perennial" philosophical and religious themes with 
modern technological concerns.

(It's no wonder then that the film is attractive to Dreyfus, a Heideggarian who 
has written a lot on AI, since Heidegger explicitly traces the roots of the 
modern technological practices from Plato through Descartes, Nietzsche, etc.). 
What we get out of this is a neat picture of a largely smooth and continuous 
tradition with which we can all identify. The downside of this, I feel, is that 
irreducible tensions and antagonisms that exist between elements of this 
tradition are glossed over even as they are raised. For example, while 
Platonism and Christianity have much in common, they also diverge on many 
crucial points. The easy assimilation of both into The Matrix goes largely 
unexplored. If Morpheus is a Socratic gadfly, and Neo a Christ-figure, what is 
the significance of their direct coupling in the film? Are Socratic education 
and care of the self really the same as Enlightenment emancipation and 
autonomy? Are Socrates, Christ, Descartes, and Kant all teaching us the same 
thing? Socrates often used myths and fantasies to explain his ideas, and 
famously advocated their institutionalisation in the Republic. On the other 
hand, many thinkers of the Enlightenment rejected Christian doctrines as 
mystifications. It seems to me that the film's sophisticated slapdashery (I can 
get away with phrases like that b/c it's my blog), which brings to mind in some 
ways the exultantly irresponsible pastiche of early postmodern architecture, 
but which on the other hand takes itself quite seriously, needs further 
analysis. The different traditions of Western thought (not to mention those of 
the East) that find their way into the Matrix often express incompatible 
positions and injunctions (even when, as in Kant, the attempt is made to 
reconcile them) that are experienced as unresolved contradictions today. The 
accomplishment of their synthesis through the heroic application of leather and 
CG is an unlikely feat, no matter how good it looks on screen.

I've barely skimmed the surface of these essays so far, so it could be that 
this concern is addressed in some of them.

BTW if anyone can tell me where to get a jacket like Neo's in the new film for 
cheap let me know...

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