Prosthetic Memory in Science Fiction
Because the mass media fundamentally alter our notion of what counts as experience, they might be a privileged arena for the production and circulation of prosthetic memories. The cinema, in particular, as an institution which makes available images for mass consumption, has long been aware of its ability to generate experiences and to install memories of them – memories which become experiences that film consumers both possess and feel possessed by. (Landsberg, 2016: 176)
Landsberg appears to be referring in this quote to unique environment of cinema and film which are consumed through the mass media, that is film and the privileged arena that is the cinema and its ability to create prosthetic memories. By Cinema I mean the privileged environment that is designed purposely to present film as reality. The spectator engages with films of events and life experiences of others that the spectator did not directly experience yet now has memories of, that is prosthetic memories. Film itself is a form of memory, a historical visual record of events and experiences. Science fiction genre films elevate this discourse through the central theme of prosthetic memory. Yet with some caution as Landsberg argues people may have a different experience and prosthetic memory from watching the same film. She argues “[t]wo people watching a film may each develop a prosthetic memory, but their prosthetic memories may not be identical. For each, the memories are inflected by the specificities of his or her other experiences and place in the world”. (Landsberg, 2004: 21).
The Matrix (1999) is an example of such a film. The Matrix’s central theme is that the world is a virtual simulation. Kilbourn argues that “[t]he Matrix itself is the dream world, the false Utopia of a simulated reality”. (Kilbourn, 2019: 11). Humans are born and live their entire lives without physical interaction with the real world in this virtually simulated world, while their bodies are cocooned and used to generate essential electric power for their machine overlords. It could be argued that as all their life experiences and memories are created through interaction with a virtual simulation that these human’s memories are entirely prosthetic. They have not actually lived thier lives and events in the real world but have accumulated prosthetic memories through the use of mass technology. Landsberg states “…films gradually undermine the value of the distinction between real and simulation, between authentic and prosthetic memory” (Landsberg, 2016: 186). Appropriately in this example The Matrix reveals a world where the human populations experience and indeed memories are entirely consumed through the use of mass technology, they believe that the virtual world is real. If we consider that the entire world revealed in The Matrix is virtual with prosthetic memories implanted, this would tie in with a quote by Radstone who states “[t]he term ‘prosthetic memory’ is usually associated with postmodernist theory, with the impact of technology on memory and with the possibility that film and, more recently, digital technology, might enable the ‘implantation’ of memories of unexperienced events”. (Radstone and Hodgkin, 2003: 59). Thomas Anderson (Neo) believes his life is real, yet he lives entirely in this virtual world. Neo, a computer hacker lives on the fringes of society in this virtual world until he is contacted by the woman Trinity. Through her he meets Morpheus who reveals the true nature of world to Neo. The real world is of a devastated earth, the Sun blocked from reaching the Earth’s surface through the actions of a group of humans, a last-ditch attempt to stop the intelligent machines from world domination. Neo’s memories to this point are accrued entirely in the virtual world, his memories all prosthetic memories.
After Neo’s awakening and transition to the real world, Neo is introduced to the training programs. Through this Neo obtains more prosthetic memories directly input through the access port situated in the base of his skull. As Kilbourn states that, “…in the 22nd-century world of The Matrix, people do not learn by reading books or computer screens,- they simply download the information directly into their brains, as if they were themselves machines”. (Kilbourn, 2019: 3). For Neo these training programs are uploaded directly into his brain “I know Kung Fu” Neo states following the upload of not only the knowledge of martial arts but the experience of using these prosthetic memories into his brain. Armed with his new prosthetic memories of martial arts skills and experience Neo returns to the virtual world to battle with the agents who are programmed to protect the simulated world from those who wish to destroy it.
Anon (2017) Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Quotes – IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1219827/quotes?ref_=tttrv_sa_3 (Accessed: 21 January 2020).
Bordwell, D., Thompson, K. and Smith, J. (2016) Film Art: Creativity, Technology, and Business, Film Art: An Introduction.
Hayward, S. (2018) Cinema Studies The Key Concepts. Fitth, Book. Fitth.
Kilbourn, R. (2019) ‘RE-WRITING ” REALITY “: READING ” THE MATRIX ” Author ( s ): RUSSELL J . A . KILBOURN Source : Revue Canadienne d ’ Études cinématographiques / Canadian Journal of Film Studies , Published by : University of Toronto Press Stable URL : https://www.jstor.or’, 9(2), pp. 43–54.
Landsberg, A. (2004) Prosthetic Memory : The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=107227&site=ehost-live&authtype=ip,shib&user=s1523151.
Landsberg, A. (2009) ‘Memory, empathy, and the politics of identification’, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, 22(2), pp. 221–229. doi: 10.1007/s10767-009-9056-x.
Landsberg, A. (2016) ‘Prosthetic Memory: Total Recall and Blade Runner’, Body & society. SAGE Publications, 1(3–4), pp. 175–189. doi: 10.1177/1357034×95001003010.
Lury, C. (2013) Prosthetic Culture, Prosthetic Culture. doi: 10.4324/9780203425251.
Opam, K. (2017) Ghost in the Shell review: a solid film built on a broken foundation – The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/29/15114902/ghost-in-the-shell-review-scarlett-johansson (Accessed: 21 January 2020).
Radstone, S. and Hodgkin, K. (2003) Regimes of memory, Regimes of Memory. doi: 10.4324/9780203391532.
replicant, n. : Oxford English Dictionary (no date). Available at: https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/162877?redirectedFrom=replicant#eid (Accessed: 22 April 2020).
Sloat, S. (2017) False Memories in ‘Blade Runner’ Could’ve Been Solved with Science. Available at: https://www.inverse.com/article/37496-blade-runner-2049-false-memories-ryan-gosling (Accessed: 16 March 2020).
Warner Brothers (2017) Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856101/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0 (Accessed: 5 May 2020).