The Mind, The Body and The Machine: Understanding Ourselves Through Technology

By Anthony John Rodden

‘Dissertation presented at the University of Salford in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of BA(Hons)English Literature in 2013



Throughout my entire life I have been fascinated by the benefits that technology has had on daily life in human 20th and 21st century. Medical innovations and communications technology which was once only dreamed about in science fiction is now a reality in our life time. However I wanted to look at technology through a negative perspective. Originally the idea was to delve into the social implication of technology reflected throughout different time periods. However, through my research I found that issues concerning Culture, identity and the city are prominent topics which arise in both texts. This dissertation will look closely at at J.G. Ballard’s Crash and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In an attempt to understand how these key concepts relate to our lives in the 21st century.


Chapter I:

Fifteen Minutes of Fame: The Effects of the Communications Landscape

J.G. Ballard mentions in his introduction to Crash (1973) that the ultimate role of the novel ‘is cautionary, a warning against that brutal, erotic and over lit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape.’ (Ballard: 2008) Ballard constructs a dark vision of a future dominated by the media and celebrity obsession, and sexual violence and car-crash fetishes and voyeurism. This chapter will explore how Ballard delves into the darkest aspects of a technologically saturated landscape and the links that this has to voyeurism, celebrity obsession and the car-crash.

One of the key themes that run throughout the novel is the subject of voyeurism. We exist in a world where celebrity life stories are consumed by millions every day. One particular reality T.V ‘star’ springs to mind due to continuous bombardment by the media is Katie Price, to whom sells aspects of her life that are eagerly consumed by the public and thus making her private life, public domain. Crash explores the consumers of this media in the character of Vaughan and the psychological effects of media technology.

Vaughan plays the role of the photographer, capturing images of fatal car-crashes and hospitalisation. As well as this, Vaughan exhibits how celebrity culture impacts and changes the nature of an individual. ‘Vaughan dreamed endlessly of the deaths of the famous, inventing imaginary crashes for them. Around the deaths of James Dean and Albert Camus, Jayne Mansfield and John Kennedy he had woven elaborate fantasies.’ (Ballard: 2008: 8) These obsessions lead to a strong desire to die in a head on collision with Elizabeth Taylor, an icon who dominated the media of the 20th century. According to Joel Black, dying in a head on collision with the film celebrity would ‘paradoxically ensure the victim’s immortality. After all, celebrity is a modern phenomenon that is conceivable only in the recording age.’ (Black: 2002: 186) This has been made clear in the 20th century with the murder of John Lennon in 1980 at the hand of Mark Chapman. Chapman was found at the murder scene reading a copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye which the media and Chapman himself attribute to the murder. However, the cultural icon that was John Lennon was constantly in the public eye leading his controversial campaign against the war in Viet Nam. Chapman has been quoted numerous times stating ‘I wanted to be videotaped.’ And ‘I feel that I see John Lennon now as not a celebrity. I did then. I saw him as a cardboard cut-out on an album cover.’ (Chapman: See bibliography)  His desires to be immortalised on film were indeed successful and his name is almost as famous as that of Lennon’s due to them now being forever joined together by the media. If one thinks of Lennon’s death, Chapman springs to mind. Also the fact that he saw Lennon as a ‘cut-out’ hints also at the dehumanising nature of the media in the eyes of the public to who an image is constructed for their consumption.

The media allows us to fulfil our deepest and darkest fantasies in the privacy of our own homes. With the advent of the internet, pornography is far more acceptable than it was in 1973 and there are a vast amount of different categories to suit the needs of any consumer. Also it highlights something about our society that we need so many different categories in order to flesh out the mundane and repetitive aspects of our lives. Linda Williams suggests that pornography’s current prevalence on the Internet is not simply because it allows the quick and easy distribution and private consumption of erotic images, but because ‘the affective charge of pornography is linked to, and redoubled by the affective charge attached to new and perpetually renewed computer technology.’ (Williams: 120) The constantly renewing technology is something that J.G Ballard is particularly interested. He witnessed the beginnings of home video entertainment which allowed for private viewings of anything recorded on tape. This is indeed central to the understanding of the complex relationships that the characters have with each other in this forever alienating and abusive world that J.G. Ballard has constructed.

The obsession with the celebrity moves away from simply voyeurism in regards to a pornographic sense, however these relationships have with them a clear sense of a perverse fetish for the death of the celebrity and the transformative affect that technology has on the human body. ‘He saw Reagan in a complex rear-end collision, dying a stylised death that expressed Vaughan’s obsession with Reagan’s genital organs, like his obsession with the exquisite transits of the screen actress’s pubis across the vinyl seat covers of hired limousines.’ (Ballard: 2008: 8 ) Showing that with access to the private lives of these individuals, the constant photographs taken of Elizabeth Taylor imbed her in the desires of many in the 20th century, thus the sexual imagination is limitless due to media accessibility. The particular interest of her pubis on the leather seats of limousines represents the invasion of the private world as limousine windows are blackened to shield the passengers from the prying eyes of the outside world, and thus the private sphere can be invaded by the mind’s imagination with a staggering amount of sexual possibilities that can unfold within them.

The obsession with Reagan’s genitals was originally a chapter/ paragraph of The Atrocity Exhibition entitled Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan. This particular chapter is one of the reasons why The Atrocity Exhibition was banned. It is clear that Vaughan’s interests are not just the death of Elizabeth Taylor but also political figures who owe their notoriety to media representation. Incidentally Reagan was shot during an attempted assignation attempt as he was returning to his car.

J.G. Ballard dissects how the world of the media and reality begin to merge and drastically changing pre-conceived boundaries of privacy that was once apparent in the past. Whilst looking through Vaughan’s album, Ballard describes how around the crushed sports car of Gabrielle, are ‘a group of ambulance attendants and spectators. (Ballard: 2008: 77) ‘Spectators’ grips the reader’s attention almost instantly for it is a term traditionally attributed to people watching entertainment like an audience as such. We exist in a time in which we have free access to a staggering amount of violent images on our television screens and our computers, transmitting live images of atrocities directly into our home. Joel Black makes the point that J.G. Ballard’s characters are far too easily dismissed by readers as ‘sociopaths even as reality TV routinely captivates those same mass audiences with graphic news images of live police chases, shoot-outs, and horrific accident at air shows and car and boat races, as well as celebrity tragedies – all of which are calculated to elicit a precise erotic fission’. (Black: 2002: 186) J.G. Ballard illustrates that these same sociopaths to whom sit at home and watch live police chases and shoot outs have now become bored and disillusioned due to television’s ability to desensitise the mind against these sorts of horrors and so go out into the night in order to fulfil these morbid pleasures of witnessing first-hand that which they could only see on T.V.

This represents the voyeuristic spectators of the novel perfectly. At the scene of Vaughan’s crash site, the narrator describes ‘Now that Vaughan has died, we will leave with others who gathered around him, like a crowd drawn to an injured cripple whose deformed postures reveal the secret formulas of their minds and lives.’ (Ballard: 2008: 9) This shows that we observe things like the tragedies on the news and school-shootings in an attempt to further understand the human condition and our morbid curiosities paint a deep picture of our selves. The voyeurism depicted in Crash has also been noted enable the novel to ‘function as a site for the scopic drive, conceived by Lacan as a pleasurable but also anxiety- provoking coupling of looking and being seen.’ (Krips: 173). This is observed in the accounts of the narrator who states that when Vaughan closed the album depicting photographs of Ballard’s crash and hospitalisation, he wondered ‘why I was unable to rouse myself into at least a parade of anger, remonstrate with him for this intrusion into my life.’ (Ballard: 2008 81) and also ‘Without Vaughan watching us, recording our postures and skin areas with his camera, my orgasm had seemed empty and sterile, a jerking away of a waste of tissue.’ (Ballard: 2008: 97) Here lie the desires, and indeed the need to be an observer and to be observed. Ballard’s emptiness due to his sex acts not being watched by Vaughan signifies the morbid desires of reality tv stars of the present day who constantly crave to be in the public eye, to be talked about and taken notice of. Otherwise they are utterly useless and talentless.

The atrocities reveal the darker aspects of our world. In a TV interview from Face to Face, J.G. Ballard sees the media landscape as ‘a map in search of a territory.’(See bibliography) J.G. Ballard suggests that news broadcasters go out into the world to find something in ordinary everyday reality that will meet their expectations of it, and blowing issues out of proportion in an attempt to present a particular distorted view of the world. This can be seen to take place within the minds of the spectators who see the broken body of Vaughan as a mirror reflection of their own lives, and drawing from it a particular set of expectations from the incident in very much the same way that the news presents the same sort of images accompanied with detailed accounts of the atrocities in order to inform the audience and make them aware of the world they live in.

J.G. Ballard explores how we as a society become desensitized by the media and achieves this by the implication of the ‘spectators’ once again. The narrator Ballard describes an event in which ‘none of the spectators showed any signs of alarm. They looked down at the scene with a calm and studied interest of intelligent buyers at a bloodstock sale. Their relaxed postures implied a shared understanding of the most subtle points, as if they all realized the full significance of the displacement of the limousine’s radiator grille, the distortion of the taxi’s body frame, the patters of frosting on its shattered windshield.’ (Ballard: 2008: 127). Henry Krips has noted that events like these in the novel can be attributed to the fact that Crash ‘presents voyeurism as a specular structure divorced from human pleasure and desire. (Krips 173) Krips’ view has validity due to the fact that none of the ‘spectators’ are alarmed. So Crash explores the impact that media technology has had on human psychology. As a result, complete calmness of mind in the face of violence.

Children are also present at the crash site; in fact a father places his daughter on his shoulders so that she might also get a chance to view this event. These images should shock, however our minds allow us to adjust to the darker images of the world. This is apparent in charity advertising, for example, where depictions of starving children of the world are often viewed now with blank eyes, unless of course the advertisement is new which in that case it shocks and horrifies those who view it however constant exposure ensures desensitisation. Jonathan L. Freedman suggests that ‘exposure to media violence may cause people to become less impressed by, excited by, and surprised by, and generally less responsive to, subsequent media violence.’ (Freedman: 2002: 177). Psychologists Drabman and Thomas conducted studies from the years 1974 – 1976 involving children watching violent television and then being led into a room which they are told that they are observing two other children at play. The children soon begin to start fighting and yet the children exposed to the violent imagery were unresponsive and did not call for help as instructed. The social affects that technology, in particular media technology has on human psychology.

The characters Ballard and Catherine exhibit these aspects of Ballard states that ‘I thought of my last forced orgasms with Catherine, the sluggish semen urged into vagina by my bored pelvis.’ (Ballard: 2008: 30)  This event took place before the sexual transformation of the car-crash. J.G. Ballard attempts to display how the imaginative world of the media and the multiplying possibilities of sexuality render the actual world boring and without interest. Ballard’s semen urges its way into her vagina as opposed to being ejaculated out with energy which suggests that not only the mind but the body is now bored of these experience which attributes to his bored pelvis. Pornography has had a stark effect on the expectations of sexual intercourse, most notably how the body should look, and how long an individual should last during sex. These expectations are presented by an ever more exciting world of possibilities that reality struggles to compete with. Even Ballard’s wife, Catherine, is utterly desensitised as Ballard mentions that ‘Catherine’s continuing interest in her secretary seemed an interest as much in the idea of making love to her as in the physical pleasures of the sex act itself. Nonetheless, these pursuits had begun to make all our relationships, both between ourselves and with other people, more and more abstract. She soon became unable to reach an orgasm without an elaborate fantasy of a lesbian sex-act with Karen, of her clitoris being tongued, nipples erected, anus caressed.’ (Ballard: 2008: 24) Sherry Ginn refers to this subject as an ‘exploration of how in a world in which a significant proportion of any individual’s sexual contact is mediated, sexuality increasingly becomes simulacra, oriented towards the sexual image rather than direct sexual experience.’ (Ginn: 217)

This is apparent again in the opening chapter, in which the reader is informed in great detail by the narrator whilst looking at Vaughan’s documentation of Gabrielle’s transformation. ‘The first photographs of her lying in the crashed car showed a conventional young woman whose symmetrical face and upstretched skin spelled out the whole economy of a cosy and passive life, of minor flirtations in back of cheap cars enjoyed without any sense of the real possibilities of her body. I could imagine her sitting in a car of some middle-aged welfare officer, unaware of the conjunction formed by their genitalia and the stylized instrument panel.’ (Ballard: 2008: 79) The imaginative possibilities that the photographs produce are completely different to the events that have happened to her. Ballard’s interest in Gabrielle is striking as it demonstrates that through the collision, she has transformed and been reborn into something else completely. Once her identity was that of a conventional social worker, however, through Ballard’s interaction with these photographs she is transformed in the mind as a sexual object as he delves into the possibilities of her sex showing that what is presented to us is no longer enough in this ever growing, post-modern society. Vaughan demonstrates the concerns also. When Seagrave dies in his car crash, he is dressed as Elizabeth Taylor which deeply unsettled Vaughan and, indeed, cheats him of his own destiny to die with Elizabeth Taylor in a celebrated orgasm as their cars meet. However, as Seagrave adopts the image of Elizabeth Taylor, she is now dead in the mind of Vaughan to who never succeeds in his attempts which can be partly attributed to the fact that the image is no longer relevant.

J.G. Ballard further explores the impact that technology has in regards to human sexuality. Ballard recounts his sexual encounter with Gabrielle. He states that ‘I explored the scars on her thighs and arms, feeling for the wound areas under her left breast, as she in turn explored mine, deciphering together these codes of a sexuality made possible by our two car-crashes.’ (Ballard: 2008: 148) Showing explicitly how these two individuals are united by their shared experiences within the car-crash which has been seen to have a transformative effect on both the body and the mind of the individuals. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the aspects of desensitisation are apparent within these sexual encounters. Ballard states that he realises that conventional sex bored Gabrielle tremendously and so they embark on a journey of bodily discovery noting that his ‘first orgasm, within the deep wound on her thigh, jolted my semen along this channel, irrigating its corrugated ditch. Holding the semen in her hand, she wiped it against the silver controls of the clutch treadle.’ (Ballard: 2008: 148) This rather frank and disturbing account of the sex acts that take place between them both may make you feel uneasy and disturbed, if not sick to your very stomach. However, J.G. Ballard’s repetition of atrocities and inappropriate sexual practices cleverly expresses the way in which we become desensitised to the worst horrors of human existence, in the sense that the more you read Crash, the more and more you become desensitised by the subject matter that is presented. J.G. Ballard states, however, that ‘Crash is the first pornographic novel based on technology. In a sense, pornography is the most political form of fiction, dealing with how we use and exploit each other, in the most urgent and ruthless way.’ (Ballard: 2008) This is an incredibly interesting point that is expressed throughout the novel, particularly in the ways in which Ballard and Catherine use their memories of sexual encounters with strangers in order to use privately with each other later, showing human beings as disposable commodities of sexual pleasure. Technology constantly reinvents the sexuality of the characters within the novel.

Jean Baudrillard makes a comment concerning the implications of this destructive form of technology, stating that ‘in Crash, technology is the deadly deconstruction of the body- no longer a functional medium, but an extension of death: dismemberment and mutilation […] a body commixed with technology’s capacity for violation and violence and in the brutal surgery that it continually perform in creating incision, excisions, scar tissue, gaping body holes.’ (Kuppers: 132) This particular aspect of Crash is explored throughout the relationship with Ballard and Gabrielle, and also the imagined wounds of celebrities in head on collisions, showing a sordid and depraved sexuality that has absolutely no limits or control, forever changing with the developments of technology. This view differs greatly from Baudrillard’s conventions praise of technology, as I myself share the view that technology is ultimately our only true salvation in life. However, J.G. Ballard constructs a world in which these views are turned upside-down, forcing us to view the horrors of the 20th century regarding how we as individuals use and exploit each other for our own gratifications. These claims also account for the seemingly detatched attitudes of Vaughan, Ballard and Helen Remmington who was involved in Ballard’s first crash which resulted in the death of her husband. The fact that Remmington and Ballard engage in a sexual relationship suggests that Baudrillard’s extension of death theory has validity showing and emotional detachment concerning the death of her husband and incorporating a numb connection with the real world.

Baudrillard also states that ‘The accident, like death, is no longer of the order of the neurotic, of the repressed, or the residual, or of the transgressive; it is the initiator of a new manner of non-perverted pleasure of a strategic reorganization of life beyond the perspective of death. (Kuppers: 133). However, Baudrillard’s assumptions are incorrect. He directly contradicts the intentions of Ballard and also takes the car-crash as literal as opposed to metaphorical. J.G. Ballard uses graphic descriptions of sex scenes and invariably the chaotic nature of the car-crashes to show the demise in feelings and emotion, thus, paving the way to an increasingly corrupt society. To find these elements of the novel to be anything but cautionary says more about Baudrillard as person rather than a critic. There is no doubt that the sexual liaisons in the book are of a disturbing nature and although the characters enjoy them both aesthetically and sexually says only that they are devoid of feeling as Baudrillard suggested earlier. However this does not excuse the actions of the characters on the grounds that they are no longer repressed. It is merely human nature that is no longer repressed.

Vivian Sobchack agrees with this idea that Ballard’s intention is to project ‘his own grave concern about the potentially fatal consequences of contemporary culture’s increasing technophillia.’ (Sobchack: 2004 166) Sobchack goes on to critique Baudrillard further whilst mentioning her own personal experiences with amputation, stating that ‘This, sharp pain, dull aches, and numbness, the cold touch of technology on my flesh, were distractions from my erotic possibilities, and not – as Baudrillard would have it – erotically distracting.’ (Sobcheck 2004: 166).  Sobchack’s essay (however insightful in terms of navigating our way through Ballard’s nightmarish world) draws heavily on her personal amputation in order to critique the novel and Baudrillard’s assumptions. These views however, have no real place in the body of her essay. Rather it shows a failure of considering that these characters do not live in our world but moreover they are products of it and thus any conventional terms of identifying with the text on a personal level must be abandoned as we assume the role of the spectator.

In conclusion J.G. Ballard explores the role that media technology has in the construction of the celebrity which is seen as a cultural phenomenon of the 20th century with the advent of recording technology which allows for human beings to interact on an emotional and even physical level with the lives of the famous. J.G. Ballard’s strangely prophetic novel, Crash, can be seen to have more relevance in our society today than it did when it was originally published in the 1970’s which demonstrates Ballard’s keen insights into the inner-workings of human nature and suggesting that not only is it due to the technology surrounding our society but moreover that these views already exist deep within our minds and all it takes is a crash to awaken these darker aspects of our society. Ballard achieves this ultimately by not just using the car-crash as a sexual image, ‘but as a metaphor for man’s life in today’s society.

This leads us onto the next chapter of the essay Androids: The Machine as a Thinking Entity and The Dehumanising the Human


 Chapter II

Androids: The Machine as a Thinking Entity and Dehumanising the Human

Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which was published in 1968 represents a futuristic society in which human identity is put into question by an ever growing technological future. Unlike J.G. Ballard’s Crash, Dick’s work is set very much in the distant future of 1992, however has since been revised to 2021 in recent editions. The original date however strange it may seem here now in 2012 was a perfectly reasonable assumption of the future when we need only consider the innovations in space travel that were developed in the 1960’s. Dick creates an ambiguous post-apocalyptic future where androids crave freedom and where human beings are becoming more and more like machines. This chapter will explore the ways in which the humanity is dehumanised as a result of the war and their dependence on technology as well as the machine as a thinking entity which appears more human than human.

In an interview by Paul M Samman in 1981 taken from the Blade Runner Enhancement Archives Philip K. Dick mentions that the concept of the android is a metaphor for ‘humans who act in in-human ways.’ (Samman: 1981: Video: See Bibliography) Dick states that the android represents elements society, for example Nazi Germany, where very intelligent human beings are in some way emotionally defective. Emotional defection can be seen in the very opening chapter of the novel when we as the reader are introduced to ‘The Penfield Mood Organ’. Named after Wilber Penfield who proved through human experimentation that ‘there were connections between the emotions and areas in the brain, later known as the limbic system, where neuropeptide receptors have been located.’ (Mcgee: 2009: 55). These innovations in discovering the area of the brain responsible for emotional responses allowed Penfield to artificially stimulate emotional responses with electrode. The Penfield Mood Organ invariably has the same function. The protagonist Rick Deckard and his wife Iran begin to argue as soon as they awake from the slumber which assisted by the Penfield. Iran states that if Deckard dials for more venom then ‘I’ll dial the same. I’ll dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up to now seem like nothing. Dial and see; just try me.’ (Dick: 2007: 2)

This application of the Mood Organ suggests that the pair is emotionally defective due to them having to dial for more anger in order to win the argument. Iran also has scheduled ‘a six-hour self-accusatory Depression.’ (Dick:2007: 2) which suggests something about the emotional needs of the humans in the novel to feel emotions even though they are synthetic which illustrates a world completely devoid of any form of natural emotion which is one of the defining features of humanity. The reader is not introduced to the fact that it is a post-apocalyptic society yet; however it is clear from this instance that something drastic has happened to the human condition when even feelings of depression and despair can only be achieved via un-natural means. Iran recounts to Deckard how she came about this particular setting of the Mood Organ and states that it happened when she could hear the empty apartments. Iran states that ‘when I had the TV sound off, I was in a 382 mood; I had just dialled it. So although I heard the emptiness intellectually, I didn’t feel it.’ (Dick: 2007: 3) The fact that emotional states are not referred to as emotional states but as the numbers that are dialled into the Mood organ displaces the human aspect of the mind for a more machine like interpretation of numerical code which suggests that whatever it is that has happened to the world, it has deformed human nature in a way that is no longer recognisable.

Even possibilities of the future are manufactured synthetically by the mood organ as ‘481. Awareness of the manifold possibilities opens to me in the future.’ (Dick: 2007: 3) This shows the point in which humanity can no longer progress as a species, and in fact it is questionable as to whether or not Deckard and his wife are human at all due to a complete inability to feel emotions without assisted controls in very much the same way that the androids are programmed to display more human qualities and mimic human responses as opposes to human responses being mimicked by humans. Keith Booker and Anne- Marie Thomas suggest that the mood organ is ‘like the ubiquitous television in contemporary postmodern culture, the mood organ may be found in every household.’ (Booker, Thomas: 2009: 223) Which shows the culture of the 1960’s influencing the Dick’s image of a future in which like the television, every home in the world will have a machine that allows one to experience any emotion that they so desire (Even desire for that matter.) If you dial 3 then you get a desire to dial if you do not want to dial for anything which is seemingly funny at first glance however when considering the dire situation that you have to dial in order to be motivated to dial shows the social impacts that technology has on free will because this is striped from humans by their inability to exist in any emotional state of mind without artificial improvement and thus, rendering all emotions synthetic and as a product of the machine as opposed to the product of the human mind itself.

Iran however has no desire to dial anything that morning, and response to Deckard’s preoccupation with her dialling something for the day, Iran states that ‘I don’t want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just want to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor.’ (Dick: 2007: 4) Iran’s acknowledgement and even rejection of the Penfield’s artificial emotions suggest that she still has aspects of humanity left which happen to that of bleakness. Deckard’s wife, after turning off the TV set gives herself over to Deckard’s demands that she uses the mood organ professing that ‘I’ll dial. Anything you want me to be; ecstatic sexual bliss- I feel so bad I’ll even endure that. What the hell. What difference does it make?’ (Dick: 2007: 5) This gives even more insight into this alienating marriage that they have, showing that orgasm is achieved electronically due to the disgust that she has towards her husband for his chose profession as a bounty hunter and referring to him as a murderer of ‘those poor andys’(Dick: 2007: 1) Here we see Iran has having some sort of empathetic response to the androids that Deckard ‘retires’ suggesting the merging of the synthetic world and the natural world in a similar sense that the mood organ artificially stimulate these emotions. Iran views the androids as living and thus the termination of them as murder, however she has no qualms about spending the money that is paid for retiring the androids which shows Iran as being somewhat trapped between two worlds, the natural and the synthetic. Her hatred of her husband and the sorrow that she feels for the androids which appears to be a sort of social contradiction, however as stated in the intentions of this chapter, it displays the androids as more human than say her husband who wears brightly coloured striped pyjamas which masks the fact that internally he is shut off from the world of human interaction.

Artificial animals are common place in this novel due to the mass extinction of many animals due to the war. Deckard used to have an actual sheep named Groucho which died due to an infection caused by his irresponsibility. The empathetic response that human beings have towards animals in the novel is one of the facets of humanity that the androids are unable to replicate. Thus, Deckard’s desires for a real sheep instead of the artificial one that he keeps on his roof is one aspects of his life in which he believes that he can redeem. Simon Cole writes that ‘animal empathy is the highest virtue.’ (Cole: 1997: 179) Cole also makes reference to the fact that owning a pet has replaced automobiles as status symbols and so Deckard is of a low social standing if anyone was to find out that his sheep is fake. These mounting social pressures are what drive Deckard with a strong desire to fulfil his duty as a human being and care for an animal and not a machine. Deckard is talking to Barbour, a neighbour on the roof who has a pregnant horse and Deckard informs Barbour of his misfortune. Yet, Deckard justifies his sheep by stating ‘It’s a premium job. And I’ve put as much time and attention into caring for it as I did when it was real.’ (Dick: 2007: 9) stating that he feels the same as he does with an actual animal, Deckard shows more and more his dependence but desire to distance himself from machines as best he can, however it is apparent in Dick’s use of the characterisation of Deckard is that he finds it difficult to distinguish what is real and what is artificial highlighting Dick’s vision of an ambiguous future.

The character of John Isidore appears to be the most empathetic human in the novel. He works as an artificial vet ambulance driver and in chapter seven he accidently killed a cat in which he believed to be artificial. A fellow worker, Milt mock’s Isidore by declaring ‘I don’t think Isidore can tell the difference, to him they’re all alive, false animals included. He probably tried to save it.’ (Dick: 2007: 67) Isidore’s failure in distinguishing what is real from artificial is largely due to the fact that he works for an artificial vet clinic and also with the progression of more sophisticated machines it is becoming more and more difficult for human beings to register this information. Isidore declares that ‘I thought it was a really good job. So good it fooled me.’ This represents that human beings can no longer distinguish the unreal by sight and touch alone.

Identifying androids in this futuristic society is achieved through the Voigt-Kampff which is a computerised empathy test. Deckard explains the functions of the test to the android, Rachael Rosen of the Rosen Institute. ‘This-he held up the flat adhesive disk with its trailing wires- measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called “shame” or “Blushing” reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can’t be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration and cardiac rate.’ (Dick: 2007: 40) Christopher Palmer writes that ‘this is clearly a dangerous move: now it is technology that is entrusted with differentiating between humans and androids, so the ground of the human is more uncertain than ever. And besides, the better Deckard is at eliminating androids, the more he resembles an efficient, inhuman machine himself.’ (Palmer: 2003: 62) These are similar to the points addressed in the second paragraph of this chapter which suggests the death of the human being and its ability to judge for itself. Like the mood organ, Deckard relies heavily on technology in basically every aspect of his life. He relies on the android as a source of income, he relies on technology in order to feel emotions that he can no longer access on his own and indeed he requires an empathy test so that he can deduce what is human and what is false. The concept of Deckard as an efficient killing machine is achieved through the implementation of these key aspects of Deckard’s life. Deckard is obviously a futuristic interpretation of Descartes and the Voigt-Kampff test is a technological tool of identification which mirrors Descartes analogy of the beeswax which states:

‘Words nevertheless stop me, and I am almost deceived by the terms of ordinary language; we say that we see the same piece of beeswax when it is presented to us instead of saying that we judge that it is the same piece of beeswax because it has the same colour and shape; I would almost like to conclude from this formulation that we recognize the beeswax by one’s vision and not solely by the examination of one’s mind, If I should by accident look through the window at men passing on the street, at the view of which, I do not fail to say, I see men, just so I say I see the piece of beeswax. However, what do I see from this window if not hats and coats, which could very well be concealing ghosts [spectres] or simulated men [des homes feints] who move only by means of springs? But I judge that these are real men, and thus I understand it by the sole power of judgement that resides in my mind, that which I believed I saw in my eyes.’ (Liu: 2000: 41)

However, this is not solely a representation of the Voigt-Kampff test (or rather, the other way around) because the V-K test acts as a mediator between what the eye sees and the mind judges. The eyes fail at first glance, as he see Rachael Rosen as a human being at first due to her ability to cheat the V- K test, and so Deckard is judging a machine that is judging a machine which shows the death of one of the faculties of man which has been made apparent through this essay which is the failings to determine the real and the authentic.

Chapter 16 of Dick’s novel sees Deckard and Rachael discussing the three remaining androids over a bottle of bourbon. When asked whether or not he knows what she has towards Pris, Deckard suggests ‘Empathy.’ (Dick: 2007: 164) This instantly draws back to an earlier situation in the novel when Deckard is speaking to Luba Loft before administering the V-K test and he says that an android ‘doesn’t care what happens to another android. That’s one of the indications we look for.’ (Dick: 2007: 88). Deckard has no real knowledge regarding the Nexus-6 type androids that he is hunting. This bedroom scene with Rachael illuminates these concerns and also the fact that he is beginning to develop feelings for Rachael which go beyond simple physical pleasure which suggests that Deckard finds more solace in the artificial realm. It also suggest further that Deckard has android like qualities, if not being an android himself which poses more questions about how we as readers interpret the human beings in the novel. Dick portrays this through the questioning of whether or not Deckard is fitted with an artificial memory. This would also account for the fact that Deckard do not see his live sheep as an animal but more of a commodity which questions Deckard’s authenticity as a human being. These questions arise because this world is an unknown place to us as readers, and these humans are different in terms of how we in the 21st century view humanity. This is a difficult situation to read and to understand. Particularly when Deckard is arrested and sent to the android run police department which for a brief makes identification difficult for readers and places us in very much the same position as Deckard thus highlighting Dick’s keen interest in displacing the known and making us question what is presented to as truth but cloaked in ambiguity.

Continuing with the events of chapter 16, Deckard constantly asks what has upset Rachael although he is aware that she is an android, these elements begin to blur with each other. Rachael is treated like a human which echoes the convocation that takes place in chapter 1 concerning Deckard’s fake sheep and how it feels as though it is real and that you treat it as though you would a normal one. Rachael contradicts Deckard’s pre-conceived views of androids having empathy with one and other. Booker and Thomas claim that Rachael Rosen’s past sexual encounters with bounty hunters made them stop retiring androids suggests that ‘Rosen’s act, which is calculated to preserve others of her kind, suggests that androids may in fact exhibit signs of empathy, at least for other androids may in fact exhibit signs of empathy, at least for other androids. In her case, she is seeking not just to save the lives of other androids, but in particular one who is almost an exact duplicate of herself.’ (Booker, Thomas: 2009: 226) This theory is true in accordance to the themes of the text as Rachael states to Deckard that ‘Luba Luft and I had been close, very close friends for almost two years.’ (Dick: 2007: 172) The mentioning of the word ‘friend’ demonstrates an emotional connectivity between the two androids which has been seen to be lacking within the interaction between the humans of the novel. An example of this can be seen with the use of ‘The Empathy Box’ which, again mediated through technology, human beings are able to touch each other.

The androids within the novel appear to exhibit emotional responses. These emotional responses are part of the android’s programming; however, these emotions can be viewed as both equally as artificially as the emotions that are dialled into the mood organs, but also these emotions are more genuine due to the androids heavy use of body language that human beings used to rely on heavily when it came to communication.  Irmgard Baty’s smile is described as ‘different from Pris’s, provide simple warmth; it had no veiled overtones.’ (Dick: 2007: 134) The differences in smiles are a result of different programming for the different roles in which the androids were force into. Pris was a sex droid and so her smile is alluring and seductive in order to stimulate arousal however Irmgard’s is not. The fact that the androids have emotions which make them ‘more human’ links to the fact that the off world colonies demanded more and more innovation in regards to android psychology and to make them as human as possible so that the humans that are unaffected by the conditions of Earth can relate to them. The concept of the androids as having human behaviours, feelings and emotions has connotations of slavery. Pris is a sexual slave who is there to serve the gratifications of her owner. When she is endowed with human emotion, as artificial as it may be, it is still registered and interpreted by her Nexus-6 brain which allows us to do what Deckard is unable to do and that is to see the android as an ‘andy’ and that we can empathise with their position however we are constantly aware of the brutal nature that they can destroy lives. Roy Baty is said to smile at Isidore ‘but his bright, small eyes remained oblique.’ (Dick: 2007:133).

Roy Baty is quite possibly one of the most interesting of the androids. He is a war droid who is dispatched to conquer other worlds for the ever expanding colonisation of humanity. His poop sheet states that he ‘has an aggressive, assertive air of ersatz authority. Given to mystical preoccupations, this android proposed the group escape attempt, underwriting it ideologically with a pretentious fiction as to the sacredness of so-called android ‘life’. In addition, this android stole, and experimented with various mind- fusing drugs, claiming when caught that it hoped to promote in androids a group experience similar to that of Mercerism, which it pointed out remains unavailable to androids.’ (Dick: 2007: 160) These are attempts at a form of equality for androids led by the militarised Roy Baty. He is aggressive and assertive which are viewed as traditional qualities of leadership with Earth’s military (and still is now) which implies that Roy Baty’s programming makes him more human but it also makes him a much more efficient killer. Also his presence commands authority showing the possibilities of android unification which is also made clear in his experiments with mind-fusing drugs in an attempt at a shared consciousness and a true sensation of unity and togetherness as opposed to alienation which their design perpetuates. Baty is said to have experimented with them which also strikes the reader and forces questions on whether it was simply a logical trial and error, or if it was an act of desperation that will ultimately shave his people for a life of perpetual servitude.

Chapter 9 shows Deckard tracking the androids to Isidore’s apartment. Before shooting Imgard Baty, Deckard says ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Baty.’ (Dick: 2007: 195) It shows Deckard beginning to develop an emotional understanding of the androids by refusing now to refer to them as ‘it’ but by name and gender which is as a result of his personal encounter with Rachael. As Deckard does this, Roy Baty ‘let out a cry of anguish.’ (Dick:2007: 195) which makes Deckard admit his love for Rachael but also acknowledge the love that the android had for his wife which can be seen to express a more striking declaration of love than Deckard has ever experienced with his wife.

In closing, this chapter explores the ways that Philip K. Dick explores the relationship between the human and the machine. Drawing on elements of dependence and separation we as readers can judge ourselves by how we analyse the characters of the novel that each have their own concerns. The role of animals as a status symbol within the society critiques the ways that we place value on things that are seemingly

unrelated to the internal realm of the human mind which questions also whether the keeping of an animal is for the sake of protecting the animal, or whether it suggests again our dependence on other forms of life different from our own as forms of self-gratification.

Chapter: III

The World of Tomorrow: The Future of The City

The urban space that we now inhabit in the 21st century is a marvel of both civil and social engineering. Developments in trains have allowed us to travel much faster and more energy efficiently than we did in the 19th and 20th century. A forever changing landscape comes with it a new sense of uncertainty regarding the future of our society in the urban city. This Chapter will look back on the worlds constructed in J.G. Ballard’s Crash and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the potential futures that they envision.

J.G. Ballard’s depiction of the future is based heavily on the elements of the present instead of the tradition view of a city where there are space ships flying to other worlds and robots marching down our streets. Instead, J.G. Ballard constructs the city as something that is very much still part of modern life as we know it and opting more for a future that is only moments into our future. Set in contemporary London, very little elements of nature are present in the text apart from in Chapter 5 where Ballard ‘put away the rental-car company brochure and gazed through the perimeter fence at the deserted standby runways of the airport. An immense peace seemed to preside over this shabby concrete and untended grass. The glass curtain-walling of the terminal buildings and the multi-storey car-parks behind them belonged to an enchanted domain.’ (Ballard: 2008: 35).

The perimeter fence acts as the barrier to this deserted run way, which evokes images of a closed of society but more so nature is closed off from the world. Untended grass also suggests that it is a future which the garden and nature are disregarded completely and are allowed to overgrow but more importantly it is surrounded by concrete and an immense feeling of peace comes from these man-made structures which depicts a frightening future in which we do not live in unity with technology and nature but more so that the concrete jungle will hold sway over the natural world.

J.G. Ballard’s world although having real places if London will become a completely unfamiliar world. ‘I had barely recognized the endless landscape of concrete and structural steel that extended from the motorways to the south of the airport across its vast runways to the new apartment systems’ (Ballard: 2008: 36) The defamiliarisation of the scenery is the result of a constantly changing and modernising society. Barely recognising the landscape has an alienating effect on an individual. Ballard’s future is one of constant activity. The airports with planes traveling to other countries show also a world much, much smaller than pre-modernisation which shows that the urban space will be the centre of constant change and reform. Ballard also states that ‘Well-to-do neighbours in our apartment house, drenched in a thousand infidelities, faltered before the solid reality of the motorway embankments, with their constant unswerving geometry, and before the finite areas of the car-park aprons.’ (Ballard: 2008: 36’) The ‘solid’ reality suggests a world that is set in stone, that his is the vision of the future. Unswerving geometry also suggests unnaturalness to the design of these motorways which are constantly moving in one direction. The infidelities of the neighbours can also suggest the unnatural effect that the city will have upon the citizens namely infidelity.

The Western Avenue and the airport overpass are constantly present in the book or more so the characters are constantly in these areas. These are the scene of a number of accidents also. But one of the most striking images of the motorway is an ‘immense corona of polished cellulose that extended from the southern horizon to the northern motorway.’ (Ballard: 37)Which represents the constant stand still of cars trapped in traffic jams which appear as though it is a sea of chrome stretching seemingly endlessly down the motorway showing the complete restriction of activity and travel that comes with a city like we live in to. Ballard’s Romantic feelings towards the motorways and the intersections directly contradict, or moreover reflect the ambiguous fears of the author.

Ballard reflects on when he was in the hospital ‘engineers had pushed its huge decks more than half a mile further south. Looking closely at this silent terrain I realised that the entire zone which defined the landscape of my life was now bounded by a continuous artificial horizon.’ (Ballard: 40) The horizon in question is that of constant traffic pile ups and is surrounded by a crater. The landscape that has defined his life is now gone suggests that the city has little time for sentimentality and that progress and change was the way forward.

Ballard’s heavy use of multi-storey car-parks also suggests of layers. Like the apartment blocks, the multi-storey car-parks are there to accommodate for an ever growing population. These area become places of recreational sex amongst the characters of the novel which allows them to observe the constant movement of automobiles bellow suggesting that through the advent of the motorway systems areas such as London will be more easily accessible.

Philip K. Dick, unlike Ballard constructs the city of the future as a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Dick prophesises a world shaped dramatically by nuclear war which was a huge concern both in the time when Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? J.G Ballard wrote Crash. Dick however suggests that this is the inevitable future for the world.

‘In a giant, empty decaying building which had once housed thousands, a single TV set hawked its wares to an uninhabited room.’ (Dick: 2007: 12) This vision of the future directly contradicts Ballard’s vision of a contemporary future. Set in 1992, Dick sees the inevitable fall out and the devastating affect that it had on the world. Building are no-longer inhabited which shows a dramatic fall in population attributed to both the war and afterwards with mass-migration to the colonies on Mars in order for a fresh start. Thus, Earth was abandoned. The reader is informed that ‘Their ownerless ruin had, before World War Terminus, been tended and maintained. Here had been the suburbs of San Francisco, a short ride by monorail; the entire peninsula had chattered like a bird tree with life full of complaints, and now the watchful owners had either died or migrated to a colony world.’ (Dick: 2007:12

The fact that it was a peninsula full of complaints also implies that the city was in some ways awful before the war took place suggest that the lead up to this society was inevitable. The monorail no longer exists. Both futures seem to be displayed as stagnant.

Due to the nuclear war the Earth is covered in the dust from the aftermath of the bomb. The dust firstly killed owls died followed by the other birds there are those who have refused to emigrate to the colonies and there are those who, due to the dust cannot go ever if they wanted to because they are biologically undesirable as a result of the nuclear war. The dust followed wherever the population moved. Not literally following them but spreading throughout the whole world and affecting the mental wellbeing of individual who are exposed for far too long. John Isidore is a speciel to whom is biologically undesirable and so lives in an abandoned apartment block.

The world is also a world dominated by ‘kipple’ and ‘kippilisation.’ The definition of kipple is defined as ‘useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s helotape.’ (Dick: 56) Basically kipple is mass-litter that has the appearance of physically taking over the city as though it is sentient, as Isidore believes it to be, due to the fact it grows when nobody is looking. ‘Kipple’ is an actually genuine concern that faces our world today with the amount of landfill sites and rubbish that is simply blowing in the wind. Dick draws attention to the fact that we are physically at risk of being overtaken by kipple and no matter how much you as an individual tidy away, you will still lose because more and more people continue to consume and discard.

In conclusion both authors draw attention to concerns regarding the future and our attitudes towards a society. Although these are negative depictions of the city of the future they are in place merely as warnings and not as a clear set of instructions to eradicate life as we know it on our planet. Ballard’s future is merged with the past, present and future, whereas Dick’s sees a world when there is no real future for humanity any more. It has reached the point of no return and so we can view our present conditions and modify them accordingly.


In ending, this dissertation has delved deeply into the effects that technology has on the mind, the body and also our cultural understanding of where we stand in a constant sea of information. Technology is a unifying force technology may be, it also apparent that technology, if used incorrectly can have fatal consequences on society. In particular  the role that a celebrity obsessed media culture has on the aspiration of consumers and the youth but also the alienating world that a techno-dominated society has on the individual and the difficulties that it poses on self-identification and the expression of emotions.


Primary Texts

  • Ballard, J.G, Crash, Harper Collins Publishers, Hammersmith, London, 2008
  • Dick, Philip K, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Orion Publishing Group,  Orion House, London

Secondary sources

  • Black, Joel, The Reality Effect: Film Culture and the Graphic Imperative, Routledge, New Fetter Lane, London, Great Britain, 2002
  • Booker, Keith, Thomas, Anne-Marie, The Science Fiction Handbook, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, UK, 2009
  • Chapman, Mark, Brainy Quotes, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mark_david_chapman.html
  • Cole, Samuel, Do Androids Pulverize Tiger Bones to Use as Aphrodisiacs?, University of Minnesota Press, Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, USA, 1997
  • Liu, Catherine, Copying Machines: Taking Notes for the Automaton, University of Minnesota Press, Third Avenue, South, Suite, Minneapolis, USA
  • Freedman, Jonathan L. Freedman, Media Violence and its Effect on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific Evidence, University of Toronto Press Incorporated, Toronto, Canada, 2002
  • McGee, S. Rosemary, Poetic Justice: Writing for Health and Emotional Freedom, ProQuest LLC, East Eisenhower, Parway, USA, 2009
  • Palmer, Christopher, Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of The Postmodern, Liverpool University Press, Cambridge Street, Liverpool, 2003
  • Sammon, Paul, M, Blade Runner Enhancement Achieves,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAXQ2ox-33c 1981
  • Sobchack, Vivian, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, USA 2004



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s