Author Archives: Brittany Liska

x + y = z / x + y ≠ z

It is the character of the weaver, who is by far my favorite of all we have come across so far. Maybe it is because it is whimsical, childlike in its focused intensity. I was so amused by the way in which it was presented, I could not help myself – I had to play around a little and decided to introduce my response with some oneiric babble much like that of the weaver. Enjoy!




The city of New Crobuzon exists in sublime tension. It is here that the extraordinary becomes the everyday as the lines blur between magic and science, making the surreal into the hyperreal. People are both organic and inorganic creatures, bioengineered to suit a variety of purposes both military and aesthetic. It is in this world of spaces, where nothing is what it seems, that we can find an explanation of what? human nature? (perhaps this is taking things too far) Nevertheless, the whole book goes into the exploration of this tension that exists between one object/thing and another, and it is through exploration of these liminal spaces and the relationship between things that truth is exposed. Most compelling of all these relationships is the one established between the Weaver, the Construct Council, and Man. We are introduced to the two distinct minds briefly:

“The Weaver thought in a continuous,incomprehensible, rolling stream of awareness. There were no layers to the Weaver’s mind, there was no ego to control the lower functions, no animal cortex to keep the mind grounded. For the Weaver, there were no dreams at night, no hidden messages from the secret corners of the mind, no mental clearout of accrued garbage bespeaking an orderly consciousness. For the Weaver, dreams and consciousness were one. The Weaver dreamed of being conscious and its consciousness was its dream, in an endless unfathomable stew of image and desire and cognition and emotion…
…the Construct Council thought with chill exactitude. Concepts were reduced to a multiplicity of onoff switches, a soulless solipsism that processed information without the complication of arcane desires or passion. A will to existence and aggrandizement, shorn of all psychology, a mind contemplative and infinitely, incidentally cruel.” ch.50

It is these two types of consciousness which we are supposed to examine in relation to our own. The pure rationality coupled with pure awareness both equals and does not equal the consciousness of the human mind. Like the Council, men are calculating beings, we think and are logical, we understand what it means to be rational and can process information through scientific method. At the same time, we are more than just logic, we are driven by purpose, by desires and motivations that defy our rationality. We appreciate beauty, an order of a different kind; this is the part of ourselves that is like the weaver. What then, do we have that these two entities lack? The obvious answer that lies within the context of the novel itself is simple: we dream.

Dreams, they are so much more than those fancies that invade our sleeping hours. Whether you view them to be divine intervention (not likely in today’s day), or mere reenactments of already experienced events and emotions there is no denying that it is through dreams that our unconscious mind (LINK) is able to surface. It is dreams, that hold the key to the inner workings of the mind. Certainly, shamanistic practices have long looked to the influence of the dream realm, and recently psychoanalytic theory has recognized the importance of dreams to the understanding of personal psychology. More accurately, it is the presence of this unconscious mind that differentiates the human consciousness, it is the source of our creativity and ingenuity. Unlike the Council, who can never deviate from the logical world, the human mind has the ability to ascend beyond the parameters of rational experience. Our ability to dream is evidence that proves our conscious mind is influenced by the unconscious self. We receive inspiration and wisdom from our dreams, they are a source of personal reflection but also illogical fantasy and inspiration. This is true of the Weaver also, but its unconscious does not exist. It is trapped, like the Council but on the other end of the spectrum, with no ability to conceive of logical thought, its consciousness is made up of what for us would be pure unconscious fancy. It is dreams and nightmares which allow our minds to explore all the ideas and consequences of our everyday experience, and it is the unconscious mind that can conceal everything from our most profound to our darkest conceivable imaginations.

It is this aspect of the mind, that is hunted by the slakemoths. At first I wondered how the eradication of dreams from the mind would result in the loss of intelligent thought in an individual. It seemed extreme that dreams should be so intricate a part of the waking mind. In his The Interpretation of Dreams Freud speaks on the importance of dreams to the conscious mind:

“A man deprived of the capacity for dreaming would in time become mentally unbalanced, because an immense number of unfinished and unsolved thoughts and superficial impressions would accumulate in his brain, under the pressure of which all that should be incorporated in the memory as a completed whole would be stifled. The dream acts as a safety-valve for the over-burdened brain. Dreams possess a healing and unburdening power.” Ch.1 s.g

If it is true, and dreams act as the door to the unconscious mind, a safety valve that works to release the built up pressures of conscious thought, than it is those powerful thoughts and emotions that are what the slakemoths are truly after. It is the unconscious that is the true strength our of psyche policing our conscious minds through its subtle influences. It is why the thoughts of the Weaver, although so tantalizing, held no sustenance. Its thoughts have no grounding in reality. What is left behind, the detritus of thought are those unthinkable, nightmarish fantasies, the dregs of unconscious fears and worries. We are greater and yet less than the single-minded consciousness of the both the Weaver and the Council. Their single minded purpose gives them strength greater than our own and yet they can only ever follow the same purpose, what makes us unique is our ability to harness the thoughts of our unconscious and allow our ingenuity to look beyond the constant plodding motions of the everyday and see the endless possibilities that life can hold.



Living with the Cyborg Self

“Men had built cities before, but never a city such as this… Diaspar alone had challenged eternity, defending itself and all it sheltered against the slow attrition of the ages, the ravages of decay, and the corruption of rust…” Clark ch. 2

Virtual immortality, a concept that was, when Clark first fostered the notion of the city Diaspar, something only fit for the realm of the fantastical. As long as men have been sentient enough to realize the fact of their own mortality (and fear it), there have been those among men who have  devoted themselves to finding the secret to abolishing death. In today’s world of technological and medical advances, immortality is no longer a simple fantasy, but an easily conceived possibility for the near future. Death has been pathologized; it is simply one more thing we can now work to cure, instead of fear. Those who have devoted their lives to finding this ‘cure’ are aware that their solution and our future waits in the age of the cyborg. An age in which cities and the people in them will become indistinguishable from the technology they depend on.  Already, we are ‘plugged in’ to the vast communication and information network that exists around us. Our generation will be the first to experience their own form of immortality, in the masses of information archived in online databases. How long will it be until the next step is taken and we move into an age where you can chose to maintain your consciousness through the ages. In reality, the process has already begun.

“I construct, and I am constructed, in a mutually recursive process that continually engages my fluid, permeable boundaries and my endlessly ramifying networks. I am the spatially extended cyborg.” Mitchell pp. 39

We have yet to experience the true ramifications of a fully micro-documented past. It seems impossible that such a shift of attention towards the virtual persona could not have some sort of effect. There are those, having watched as relationships become increasingly impersonal, people gather less and ‘communicate’ more, and identity becomes an increasingly nebulous concept, who would say these effects have already manifested. We have begun to be defined not by our actions and interactions, but by how we present the events of our lives to others. Our digital memory is perfect in that it remembers everything we want it to and it does so on a scale that has never been seen before. Our privacy is both absolute and non-existent, in a digital environment that has no way of distinguishing fact from fiction. We have become dependent on the ease with which we collect and our distribute information; and for the first time, the trouble with information does not seem to be that it cannot be remembered, but that it cannot be forgotten.

“The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish… Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.” Philip K. Dick

But it is not just our own lives that we have sought to preserve. Whether it is for convenience sake or for aesthetics it seems we have a fear of being forgotten. Evidence of our obsession is obvious in our efforts to preserve anything from data, to art, memories, sound, food, animal and plant life, and the physical world around us. People are focused on preserving what it is we cannot hold onto, and in our desperate race to immortalize the world around us there is one question that should be asked: what are the social and psychological implications of this immortality that we seek; what if we were meant to forget? Dick proposes that death is what allows for real life, we must be able to change to truly live. Perhaps we are in danger of becoming paralyzed, of becoming too invested in our emerging cyborg selves to realize that our hyper-connectivity has the potential to create stagnation and a dislocation from our ‘authentic human’ identities. Or, perhaps we are simply being ushered into a new age, and it is this new cyborg self, this kind of pseudo immortality that is the inevitable next step in our development.

“This is the way our ancestors gave us virtual immortality, yet avoided the problems raised by the abolition of death. A thousand years in one body is long enough for any man; at the end of that time, his mind is clogged with memories, and he asks only for rest-or a new beginning.” Clark ch.2

Rest. For Clark, it is rest that solves the problem of immortality; citizens of Diaspar can continue to live because they can re-boot, leave behind the backlog of memories and experience and start fresh. But rest is a concept counter intuitive for those enmeshed within our technological culture. We allow our lives to be documented in the virtual landscape, struggling to preserve more and more everyday. We network, blog, twitter and facebook ourselves into connection with as many people as possible in order to extend our virtual footprint. Unlike the citizens of Diaspar, we cannot live forever, free to slip in and out of existence as we please, as of yet we must remain confined to our bodies, with our cyborg selves extended, preserving our existence. It is hard to say how this will effect us, maybe it won’t; perhaps before long it will be us who are looking for the answer to a question: where is our reset button?


Our discussion of the artificial city of Diaspar that is maintained through by the central computer’s memory banks, got me thinking about memory and how we have experimented with memory in the present. I was astounded to discover the extent to which artificial memory experimentation has been occurring in recent medical research. If you had told anyone 50 years ago that before the end of their lives there would be machines that could be implanted in our brains to help restore and improve memory and control physical action, they would have sent you to the looney bin. The concept of a brain chip is something which even I find hard to believe, but there is no hiding the fact that the technology is here and in use as we speak.

For the most part, experimentation with brain chip technology has been centred around medical research, more specifically, in aiding severely paralysed or brain damaged individuals in regaining motor and cognitive function. In March 2005 Matthew Nagel was the first paralysed individual to successfully receive a brain chip implant and with the help of this handy addition:

He can think his TV on and off, change channels and alter the volume all thanks to the technology and software linked to devices in his home (

This is all very new and exciting but I can’t help to feel slightly nervous about a programmed technology that directly interferes with brain function. In 2003 Popular Science released an article about the technology:

Medicine aside, Biomedical engineer Theodore Berger sees potential commercial and military applications for the brain chip, which is partially funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Learning how to build sophisticated electronics and integrate them into human brains could one day lead to cyborg soldiers and robotic servants, he says.


Now doesn’t that just sound like something out of a sci-fi horror flick or what? It would be more than enough if experimentation stopped at the medical and military applications but further research has been done in the hopes that this brain chip could be used for ‘cosmetic’ reasons. Would you agree to getting a brain chip if it promised to insure you never again forgot a name or a face? Some researchers are saying that implants could potentially increase memory recall over 10 times normal functioning. Imagine the educational repercussions if brain chip implants provided instant photographic memory recall to students with the financial freedom to have one installed. Such technology makes the future seem uncertain. 50 years from now will we be relying on computers to think for us? It is a scary thought, but one which is becoming ever closer to being realized.