in Language



What happens to imagination after it has become an industrialized? That’s what I’m wondering since I went to see Inception with Leonardo diCaprio last night.

The story should be familiar to you already: The protagonist, Cobb, is an “extractor”, a man who steals secrets from within people’s dreams. In a twist on a classic grifter flick, a band of thieves must construct a complicated series of dreams-within-dreams in order to pull off an audacious “inception” job–planting (rather than stealing) an idea within the mind of a mark. It all ends with an uncomfortably Happy Ending–there you are, waking up in First Class, landing in Los Angeles (of course!) altogether uncertain whether or not this is “reality”.

Even before I saw the film, I kept thinking about Cronenberg’s EXistenZ where game designer Allegra Geller descends further and further into worlds of immersive reality video games while being pursued by assassins. Each world becomes more supple–the interfaces more…um… erogenous and fleshy. As the metal element gives way to water, guns eventually become frogs.

After I saw Inception, I longed even more for Cronenberg, who has no qualms about fucking up the viewer. (The YouTube post with the full video rates it “PP” for “possible paranoia.”) But perhaps I also longed for the comfort of being disturbed intellectually–at a distance? The effective storytelling in Cronenberg makes makes “doubt” more concrete, confines it within the story: we don’t know what is “reality” within the film, and while it might leave you uncertain for a few hours about reality after, in the morning, the experience of the film translates into a more critical understanding of video games and the rhetoric of virtual reality and cyberspace.

It’s all online here if you want to watch:

Inception provides no intellectual distance. You are a dreamer, caught within a dream, identifying with one of these “actors”. Are you just a projection of the subconscious of one of these actors? Could you be lucky enough to become an “actor” yourself? Inception refuses to risk leaving the viewer acutely paranoid. What does it deliver instead?

I’m still wondering that, and can’t answer. But, I think we should get together and read Enzenberger’s “The Industrialization of the Mind” to think about it more. What say you?

I’m still thinking–as I have been all year–about Bifo’s question: “What is to be done when nothing can be done”? How can we believe that nothing can be done? Is that position not a product of the industrialized imagination?


ps: while I’m writing about Inception, just wanted to mention “The Dream Passage” by Murray Schafer–which I’m sure the writers of this film listened to. It’s a part of his Patria Cycle The protagonist here is Ariadne, and her first coherent utterance is “I want to commit suicide.” Shafer’s work is beautiful and moving, but the Ariadne of Hollywood (played here by Ellen Page of Juno) comes off a little more “utterly pure” than the prima donna required for Schafer’s work. Listening to Schafers piece this morning, I kept wondering what it meant that the Minotaur in this film is supposed to be DiCaprio’s deceased wife? And why didn’t I realize while watching the movie that she is the Minotaur?

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