Author Archives: Estefania Tocado Orviz

About Estefania Tocado Orviz

Ph.D Candidate at the Spanish and Portuguese Department Georgetown University

Cyborgs, the monsters of the 21st Century.

Estefanía Tocado Orviz


Monsters, as hybrid and mixed identities of the self, have long generated ambiguity and anxieties in their social context (Irvine).  Generally, monstrosity over the centuries has been utilized as an instrument to dismantle authoritative discourses of political, sexual, and social nature.  Andrew Smith, who studies ghosts stories and the role of monstrosity in 19th century American and British literature, affirms in his book Gothic Literature that there was an important change in the treatment of monsters and ghosts within the field of gothic writing around 1790-1890.  Up to that point monsters had been represented as externally manifested sources of danger, but with the appearance of Frankenstein a new monster had emerged, one in which “the monster lived in you,” installing the evil in the human body.  This miscreation, now an integral part of the self, also invaded private spaces such as the home as well as other sacred spaces that the individual, to that moment, had thought to be safe (Smith).

Similarly, in the 21st Century cyborgs, half human and half technological machines have been the focal point where human concerns about the fear of technological agency and sexual representation have been portrayed.  According to Donna Haraway a cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.  Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction a world-changing fiction (117).  As Haraway states, cyborgs are social as well as fictional entities and, therefore, they condense the image of both the imagination and the material reality (118).  Moreover, cyborgs, in the same way that monsters did in the 19th century, are the reflection of material and ontological cultural anxieties of their time.

The purpose of my essay is to analyze how technological hybridization incarnated in cyborgs projects the social anxieties and repressed sexual desires through their culturally hybridized representation of the postmodern society.  These anxieties are, in the most part, a sign of the cultural, political, and social traumas as well as sexual fantasies of their historical period.  I would specifically like to use three films as case studies:  Cronos (1993) that deals with issues of vampirism and cyborgs in contemporary Mexico, Matrix (1999) by Andy and Larry Wachowski which makes us question reality, hyperreality, simulacra, and simulation of human life in a world where machines have taken over human beings at the turn of the millennium, and Avatar (2009) by James Cameron which immerses the audience into the virtual world of the Na’Vi culture, a non-technological world that has been threatened by the arrival of a highly machine based human world.

Sigmund Freud asserts in his essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” that the resistance of the conscious and the unconscious ego operates under the sway of the pleasure principle:  it seeks to avoid the unpleasure which would be produced by the liberation of the repressed (172).  Therefore, according to Freud, the patient cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him and that forces him to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of remembering it as something belonging to the past.  These reproductions, which emerge with such unwished for exactitude, always have as their subject some portion of infantile sexual desire (171).  This need to repeat and experience one more time a traumatic event of the past is known as “the return of the repressed” and, in many cases, ghosts, monsters, and cyborgs have been an incarnation of the unconscious projections of societies hidden fears as well as repressed sexual desires.

As Freud also asserts in his book Civilization and Discontent, society has forced the individual to repress their sexual libido in order to enter into civilized society, but those hidden primitive sexual impulses come to light through our unconscious (Felluga).  As Freud asserts “we believe that civilization is to a large extent being constantly created anew, since each individual who makes a fresh entry into human society repeats this sacrifice of instinctual satisfaction for the benefit of the whole community” (qtd. in Felluga).  Therefore, the unconscious finds a way out to these repressed impulses through dreams, literature, and fantasy…  (Felluga).  It is precisely through fantasy and the literary and media world that society has channeled these desires towards vampires, monsters, and cyborgs as instruments to deal with these socially repressed sexual impulses and as a platform to collectively project all these fantasized libidinal desires, in many cases turning them into fetishes.

Cronos:  The Vampirised Cyborg,Transnationality, and Hybrid Cultures

This film introduces the audience to the Cronos device through a short story of the alchemist who created the machine.  In 1536, Uberto Fulcanelli was fleeing from the Inquisition and arrived in Verazcruz, Mexico.  After his arrival and with the help of the Viceroy, he was granted the opportunity to invent a device that will provide immortality to its owner.  Uberto hid the device inside the statue of an angel.  In 1937, 400 years later, Uberto reappears as a dead vampire under the vault of a building that collapsed.  His belongings were sold in a public auction and ended up in the hands of Jesús Gris, the protagonist.  As an allegory of the future of the main character, the film uses the metafictive biographical story of Fulcanelli as a way to advise the audience about the dangers of the Cronos device (shaped as an insect with several sharp metal shavings that look like bee stings, these penetrate the skin in search of blood) in his quest for immortality.

As soon as Jesús Gris is bitten by Cronos, he starts experiencing all of the symptoms related to vampirism:  the first after he was penetrated by the device, he ate raw meat from his refrigerator in the middle of the night after he had inserted the device into his chest becoming a cyborg.  That night, paradoxically, occurs during Christmas time as a metaphor of the new postmodern messiah, introducing an embedded Christian component to the movie´s storyline.  Progressively, as he starts transforming himself into a vampire, he suffers from light disruption and other common symptoms associated with vampires.  However, it is interesting to point out that he looks younger, more sexually virile, and his physical appearance improves.  Despite his efforts to repress his need for human blood, he succumbs to his desires.

As Geoffrey Kantaris asserts:  “Vampires and cyborgs are the prototype of the modernist and postmodernist use of these figures encoding multiple fears about hybridization, racial-cum-sexual pollution, the corruption of the virginal ‘nature,’ and the transfusion of body into simulacrum – the latter being one of the reasons why the vampire has had such cinematic resonance” (Kantaris 2).  As vampires and cyborgs incarnate the projection of hidden fears of hybridization and repressed sexuality, it is interesting to note that in the film the character of Jesús Gris, after being bitten by the Cronos device, becomes a cyborg immediately, later on a vampire, and finally a zombie.  Jesús Gris represents the cultural fear of the loss of masculinity and sexual virility.  As he becomes addicted to the Cronos device, he feels younger and more sexually satisfying to his wife.  Ironically, his counterpart character, Dieter de la Guardia, an old sick man who lives thanks to a highly technologized room with a number of machines that keep him alive, whose obsession for acquiring the device is to gain immortality and, therefore, to turn into a vampire, underlines the current cultural concerns with the use of cyborgs in the medical field.  Moreover, as a vampire he would bite his victims to suck their blood as a metaphor of sexual intercourse as Jesús does and, in this case, neither Jesús nor Dieter would make any distinction of gender regarding their potential victims, pointing out issues of homosexuality or bisexuality.

As incarnated by Jesús Gris, a fallen messiah, issues of religion, hidden sexuality, and life extension (immortality) are portrayed in the film as some of the main collective anxieties of postmodern society.  These could also be related to a transnational apprehension of our current society with issues of time, gender as a social construction, fears of technology agency, and territoriality of urban space[i].  In reference to this last issue, the fact that the film setting is in Mexico City has been argued as being presented as a globalized technological society as well as a hybridized city.  It could be claimed that this is presented to the audience through a constant code switching between Spanish and English, cross-cultural references to Argentinian culture through Tango dancing and the main actor´s nationality, Federico Luppi (who has a noticeable Buenos Aires accent), streets signs in Russian, and the vampire machine brought from the Old World to the New World by an Italian alchemist (The Ghost Smith 2).  This plays as an uncanny allegory of the highly hybridized Mexican culture, as Paul Julian asserts, as well as the close ties between the Latin American world, particularly Mexico, and the United States, as can be seen in the mixture of American and Latin American actors that integrate the main cast, providing in this way a transcultural and transnational background to the movie.[ii]

Matrix:  The Hyperreal Aestheticized Cyborg

The main character of the movie, Neo (the newcomer and messianic character), is rescued from his cyborg[iii] enslaved life as a human electric power generator for the machine ruled world by Morpheus´ team including the woman Trinity (her name is undeniably embedded with Christian connotation).  As a result we learn that there are two worlds:  the so called “real” world, and the “virtual” world in which humans were defeated and enslaved by intelligent machines.  The humans are enslaved to provide electric power with their own bodies to sustain the cybernetic world[iv].  As the film progresses, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus (the mythological Greek god of dreams) live in the real world but access the virtual world[v], called “The Matrix,”[vi] in which they fight against Agent Smith and a number of other machines who are trying to prevent them from succeeding in their insurgence.  Morpheus’ team takes Neo to the Oracle to find out if he is the chosen One to lead the insurrection, but the Oracle advises him that he is not the One.  At the end of the film when Neo dies in the virtual world and therefore the real world, Trinity kisses him in the real world and grants him new life in both worlds[vii].  The number of literary, philosophical, and media references are numerous, but it is worth citing some such as Alice in Wonderland[viii], Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz, the Old Testament (Nebuchadnezzar), Nietzsche’s ideas on nihilism, and Jean Baudrillard´s Simulation and Simulacra.  Drawing on this last reference, the idea of living in a simulated reality serves as a utopian projection (the same way it functions in Avatar) as a parallel platform in which to forecast the cultural anxieties of controlling technological devices, the virtual “internet-based” world, and how to regulate it from the “reality world.”  According to Baudrillard:  “The real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control – and it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these.  It no longer needs to be rational because it no longer measures itself against either an ideal or negative instance.  It is no longer anything but operational.  In fact, it is no longer really the real, because no imaginary envelops it anymore.  It is the hyperreal, produced from the radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere” (2).  If reality does not exist, as the Matrix tells us, and it can be produced and reproduced an infinite number of times, the phenomenological questions of what is reality and how human senses perceive them comes into debate.  As an ongoing debate for the last centuries[ix], the Matrix, and the figure of a cybernetic figure like Neo, promotes this idea of a cyborg who easily traverses all these levels of reality and is aware that he has been freed from his life under the machines’ rule.   His constant entries into and exits from these analogous worlds causes him and the audience simultaneous uncanny moments in which the familiar becomes unfamiliar and vice versa.  It is also remarkable that the figure of Neo is a highly aestheticized, attractive, good looking, and futuristically dressed in leather cyborg (incarnated by half English half Chinese-Hawaiian Keanu Reeves).

The fetishistic sadomasochistic leather attire brings to light other culturally significant concerns as a global collectivity.  When looking at Freud´s theories about the repression of the libidinal sexual desires, he affirms that individuals that have not successfully passed the oral-phase in surpassing their previous “love-objects” or “objects-cathexes” become fixated with these libido objects or are driven to abnormal reaction-formations or substitute-formations.  One of the possibilities to those that remain fixated on earlier libido objects is perversion in which the individual pursues repressed desires and follows his alternative sexual practices such as the sodomists or the sado-masochists (Felluga).  In a more general context it could be argued that the aesthetization of Neo as a sexy cyborg with a sadomasochist hint alludes to the actual repressed sexual desires that have culturally been repressed when entering civilized society.  However, all these non-normative and socially unacceptable practices are redirected to a cybernetic character such as Neo, converting it into an approved and attractive fetishistic sexual object that calls to all these unconscious inhibited desires in a traditionally and communally adequate manner.

In regards to this matter, the character of Trinity as well as Neo´s is close to presenting a quite androgynous appearance.  The blurring boundaries of the culturally constructed image of the masculine and the feminine are deconstructed in these two characters.  Trinity plays a dominant role in their love relationship which is normally attributed to the man, and Neo is more passive which is traditionally related to the woman according to Hélène Cixous (579).  Nevertheless, this image, from my perspective, corresponds to the dismantling of culturally constructed roles attributed to men and women as argued by Butler.  This is a reflection of the current cultural and social redefinition of the lack of correlation between sex and gender as Butler affirms, but also with the postmodern need to escape fixed identities.  As Frederic Jameson defends, in postmodern society the individual lives in a “perpetual present” that is clearly a sign of the ongoing frenetic changes of our current society and the need to dismantle traditional concepts of temporality and gender (29).

Avatar:  Cyborgs as an Extra-Terrestrial Aboriginal Hybrid Species

This film starts in 2154 with the arrival of a unit of men who are going to the planet Pandora.  The purpose of their trip is to obtain some of the natural resource of this planet.  However, in order to do so they had to create an individual avatar (a hybrid species produced with human DNA and indigenous Na´Vi DNA) that would allow them to breath and work in that biosphere (Wikipedia).  As the film progresses, the protagonist Jake Sully (who is in a wheelchair and was only asked to participate after his brother Tommy was killed) realizes about the destruction and exploitation that Colonel Quiaritch[x] and the human beings have caused, and allies himself with the Na´Vi after meeting his later partner Neytiri.  As it is a widely well-known plot, Jake fights against the human troops to preserve the Na´Vi culture and land, an indigenous people who live very attached to their mother land and whose deity Eywa is also a mother figure.  Clearly, the polarization of the masculinity and femininity is reinforced in the figure of Captain Quaritch, a military white man and his highly technological men in opposition to the feminine, natural, blue-raced, and non technological world of the Na´Vi, represented in the figure of Eywa, the goddess of the mother land.

Therefore, one of the main issues of the film arises since the very beginning, where the repressed femininity and the imposition of a very masculine society remind us of the duality created by the colonizer and the colonized.  Moreover, it also reminds us of Butler’s affirmations about how gender is a social construction and how these feminine and masculine attributes are also a product of a cultural and discursive normativity (11). It is also interesting to regard the fact that the avatars are, despite their reptilian tail, a highly-sexualized and beautifully sculptured half naked bodies that project present anxieties with physical appearance, the body, and also the culturally constructed perception of the canon of physical and sexually attractive bodies.

A second major anxiety related to gender issues and repressed sexuality is that of imperialism.  In the majority of cases when looking at Western history and the field of post-colonial studies, the invader has always been associated with male attributes and the indigenous people to female features.  As Steve Norton affirms, Avatar´s latent desire is the possession of an archaic feminine-primitive, which is constructed upon an Oedipal drama:  a controlling father, Colonel Quaritch, the insubordinate son, Jake, and the feminine object of desire, Neytiri (133).  This symbolic triangle points out the underlying issues of authoritative discourses that have to be dismantled by promoting a rebellion of the indigenous people and with the new leader, Jake.

There are also other remarkable current cultural angsts that are latent in this film besides that of imperialism and gender construction.  There are clear references to racism and the vision of the primitive as infantile and the civilized as mature (Norton 134).  Commonly, indigenous tribes have been associated with Native Americans in the United States context, manifesting old racial tensions.  All of these issues are introduced thanks to the projection of a utopian and idealized environment of the Na´Vi where all these concerns are disguised in a fictitious world where unresolved anxieties are set free from the normative diegetic reality of the film.  There are also issues of territoriality and space, reinforced with the idea of a highly technological society that has used machinery for non-moral purposes, being the epitome of human moral degradation.  Comparisons can be drawn between the invasions of Pandora for natural resources and the pillaging of American Indians enclosed reservations as well as the deforestation and expulsion of indigenous people by multinational companies in the Brazilian Amazon forest.

In opposition to the negative vision of the type of cyborg that Colonel Quaritch incarnates, the film  promotes a positive vision of another type of cyborg, one that is created as a hybrid entity, half human and half Na´Vi, that uses technology for morally acceptable scientific purposes.  The avatars, like Jake, are connected through a computer in order to access their avatar Na´Vi self.  Hybrid identities represent the declining label of national identity in the postmodern world.  According to Stuart Hall, a possible consequence of the globalization of cultural identities is the rise of new identities of hybridity that are taking place and which are diminishing the idea of national identities as we understood until recently (619).  In reference to Hall, it is also relevant that there is dissolution of the self or a loss of the stable self, called dislocation or de-centering of the subject, incarnated in the figure of Jake who is able to fully integrate into the indigenous environment creating a new self (597).  When the film ends, Jake, now a member of the Na´Vi community, asserts the globalized foundations of our present society and, at the same time, reminds us of the hybrid grounds of all nations.


As seen in these three films, the cyborg represents in a number of different ways in which social anxieties of diverse natures are articulated under the half machine and half human body of the cyborg.  The similarities drawn between cyborgs and vampires are clearly stated in Cronos, and allegorically also in Matrix as well as the idea of their protagonists being fallen messiahs.  Both films share also the idea of the cybernetic seed as incarnated by a mechanized insect, maybe as an undergoing cultural phobia against these species.  Also cyborgs, seen as alien creatures connected to their indigenous origins and to their motherland, recapture the idea of an illusory world in which the mistakes committed by capitalist society and its relationship to natural resources and ecology are questioned.  As a way to come to terms with our mistakes, Western society has created these mechanisms by which we identify and rework haunting ghosts that keep culturally stalking us, projecting them into cyborgs.  The fears of technological agency and robotic intelligence in the contemporary world underline the repressed sexual libidinal desires articulated in the hybridization of human species and robots, and at the same time questions, as it happened in 19th century gothic literature, how to control this integral part of the self that cyborgs represent in our current society.


Works Cited

Avatar. Dir. Jame Cameron. Perf. Sam Worhtington, Zoë Saldana, Steve Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009.

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Cultural Hybridity, Dialogic and Remix Culture, Art, Music, Photography, Film, Technology. Georgetown U. 2005-2013. Web. 13 December 2013.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York-London: Routledge Classics, 2006.

Cixous, Hélène. “Sorties.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, Massachussets-Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998. 578-584.

Cronos. Dir. Guillermo del Toro. Perf. Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, and Tamara Shanath. Producciones Iguana and Ventana Films, 1993.

Felluga, Dino. Introduction to Sigmund Freud: Modules on the Unconscious. Purdue U. 2002. Web. 12 December 2013.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. New York-London: Norton, 2010.

—. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, Massachussets-Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998. 168-174.

—. “The Uncanny.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, Massachussets-Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998. 154-167.

Hall, Stuart. “The Question of Cultural Identity.” Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert, and Kenneth Thompson, Eds. Modernity An Introduction to Modern Sciences. Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1996. 596-601,611-623.

Irvine, Martin. “Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents.” Cultural Hybridity, Dialogic and Remix Culture, Art, Music, Photography, Film, Technology. Georgetown U. 2005-2013. Web. 11 December 2013.

Haraway, Donna. “ A Cyborg Manifesto.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991. 149-181.

Jameson, Frederic. “Postmodernism and Consumer Society.” Cultural Hybridity, Dialogic and Remix Culture, Art, Music, Photography, Film, Technology. Georgetown U. 2005-2013. Web. 13 December 2013.

Kantaris, Geoffrey. “Between Dolls, Vampires, and Cyborgs:  Recursive Bodies in Mexican Urban Cinema.” 1998. Web. 11 December 2013.

Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Wealing, and Joe Pantoliano. Warner Brothers, 1999.

Norton, Steve. “How the Other Is Not Allowed to Be; Elision and Condensation in Avatar.” Arizona Quarterly 69. 2 (2013): 131-144.

Smith, Andrew. “Hidden Identities: Ghosts.” Edinburgh Critical Guides to Literature: Gothic Literature. Edinburg: Edinburgh UP, 2007. 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.

Smith, Paul Julian. “Ghost of the Civil Dead.” BFI Sight and Sound, December 2001. Web 12 December 2013.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Avatar.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 13 December 2013.

—. “Cronos.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 11 December 2013.

—. “Matrix.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 December 2013.


[i]Néstor García Canclini focuses on the local-global dialectic where Mexico City is a paradigm of the Latin American urbanized and globalized mega city.  In a mega city local communities can only exist in fragmented isolation from an unknowable, unnarratable, unmappable whole (qtd. in Kantaris 2).

[ii] Kantaris uses the term “linguistic hybridization” when referring to the constant code switching from English to Spanish and vice versa (14).

[iii] As seen in Cronos, an insect like machine is inserted in the human body to create a cyborg.

[iv] The cyborgs are the new vampires, they drink the power of humans.  In Cronos, an earlier version of the cyborg is presented in the character of Jesús Gris, one who still drinks human blood.

[v] The telephone serves as a means to communicate between the two worlds.

[vi] Interestingly, the term “matrix” is similar to the Spanish word “matriz” that means “womb.”  It can be argued that machines make humans a power source womb-like generator.  Humans are stored in a womb like facility and are the energy providers that allow the cyborgs to live.  They function as a womb to the matrix world.

[vii] There is direct intertextual / intermedial reference in this scene to the fairy tale “The Sleeping Beauty.”  However, in this case the gender roles are changed, Trinity kisses Neo, dismantling in this way the traditional cultural expectations about gender performance.

[viii] The white rabbit that Alice follows to Wonderland is referenced when Morpheus types on Neo´s screen to “Follow the White Rabbit.”  This is a clue that Neo sees on the arm of a girl at his door.  He follows the girl to a club where he first meets Trinity.

[ix] The idea of life as a dream related to skepticism and determinism versus free will is a constant concern in 17th century Spanish Golden Age literature, especially in the author Calderón de la Barca and his theatrical play:  Life is a Dream (1635).

[x] Colonel Quaritch cyborg is a gigantic robot that he controls and uses to fight the Na’Vi.

Cronos: Cyborgs and Vampires

Cronos (1993), the first horror film written and directed by Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, deals with cyborgs and vampires, topics that in later years would become very popular in Hollywood movies.  The film narrates the story of Jesus Gris, an antique dealer, who finds a 450 year old mechanical device inside the statue of an archangel.  The device, created by an alchemist in Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1536, provides the key to eternal life.  The machine looks like an insect, but it has an internal clock that, when it penetrates a person, causes a slow change in their bodies until they become vampires (Wikipedia).  At the same time, his counter protagonist Dieter De La Guardia, a rich businessman who is extremely ill, searches for the device to secure his immortality.  In this search he sends his nephew, Angel, to find the Cronos which Juan Gris has found by coincidence in his antique store.  The need to insert the Cronos device into the skin turns them into cybernetic human beings producing a number of uncanny situations where the protagonist Juan Gris suffers a process of defamiliarization of his own body.

On the one hand, he can see how his body has become more vigorous and young.  On the other hand, he craves for human blood.  Freud affirms in his essay “The Uncanny” that the uncanny creates a feeling of a situation being familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.  “The uncanny would always be that in which one does not know where one is, as it were” (154).  Freud also asserts that the source of uncanny feelings is an infantile castration complex or a childhood fear.  Moreover, he also affirms that the source of uncanny feelings could be the intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one” (156).  If we apply this last definition to Cronos, the Cronos device produces this type of condition since despite the fact that it is an inanimate device, it becomes alive through the human body, creating cyborgs who need to absorb other people´s lives and human blood.  At the same time vampirism, especially in the English Victorian times, is an allegorical figure of repressed sexuality being liberated through the act of penetrating other bodies for their blood, and I believe this metaphor would fit perfectly well to this film´s plot.  Geoffrey Kantaris asserts in his article “Between Dolls, Vampires, and Cyborgs:  Recursive Bodies in Mexican Urban Cinema,” there exists a close relationship between the body and postmodern technologies affirming that the postmodern cybernetic organism unites the body and the machine interfacing multiple networks.  At the end of the film, both main characters have become cyborgs.  While Gris dies to liberate himself from his slavery to the Cronos device and human blood, De la Guardia perishes in his need to replace his old damaged machinery for a new one. (Interview with Guillermo de Toro) (Movie Trailer)

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden-Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Kantaris, Geoffrey.“Between Dolls, Vampires, and Cyborgs:  Recursive Bodies in Mexican Urban Cinema,”

Wikipedia Contributors. “Cronos.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 26  November 2013.

Daft Punk´s “Get Lucky”

In Random Access Memories (2013), Daft Punk recompiles influences from music history such as electronic, techno music, funk, R&B, and 70’s and 80´s early disco (Irvine 7).  Analyzing in more detail their well-known hit “Get Lucky,” played along with Pharell Williams and Nile Rodgers, the hybrid sounds stand out.  They derive from the common encyclopedia mostly relying on the fusion of disco and pop music of the 80´s and early electronic music that is heavily supported by synthesizers.  In the minor scale, we can trace R&B and overall a strong Motown (even a Jackson Five kind of sound) rhythm with a disco beat played by actual drummers (7).  

Regarding the composition of the song, the main instrument sounds are the disco drums, the funky guitar, and a strong presence of the 80´s synthesizer.  In general, the dynamics of the sound go from soft to loud until the end of the song where the synthesizer plays an important role repeating the main chorus.  In terms of the vocals, the main singer, Pharrell Williams, starts the song in a style halfway between singing and rapping and moves to a disco falsetto where his tone rises as the song peaks at the chorus.  The melody is slow paced dance music and the lyrics are catchy and party oriented.  The phrases repeat frequently throughout the song inviting the listener to get involved in the rhythm as the melody is quite contagious.

Overall a great song to sing and hear at any time as it gives away a good vibe!

Like the legend of the phoenix

All ends with beginnings

What keeps the planet spinning

The force of the beginning

We’ve come too far to give up who we are

So let’s raise the bar and our cups to the stars

She’s up all night ’til the sun

I’m up all night to get some

She’s up all night for good fun

I’m up all night to get lucky

We’re up all night ’til the sun

We’re up all night to get some

We’re up all night for good fun

We’re up all night to get lucky

We’re up all night to get lucky (x4)

The present has no rhythm

Your gift keeps on giving

What is this I’m feeling?

If you wanna leave I’m ready (ahh)

(chorus again)

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Popular Music as a Meaning-System: The Combinatorial Structures We Use in Understanding Music.” Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Nov. 2013. Web. 17 November 2013.


Daft Punk´s Random Access Memories: A tribute to the 70´s and 80´s.

Estefanía Tocado

According to Marc Katz, sampling is fundamentally an art of transformation in a manner that blurs the distinctions between traditional ideas and expressions (156).  Under their futuristic aesthetic, Daft Punk, the French band integrated by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, has been working on experimenting and sampling with new electronic sounds since their origins in 1993.  Their appearance and the band´s live performaces are visual components and the means by which they tell a story more than a musical performace (Wikipedia).

Their latest album, Random Access Memories, pays a tribute to disco music of the 70’s and 80’s, and it comes to the public as a collective work with other artists such as Pharrell, Neil Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Chilly Gonzales, DJ Falcon, and Todd Edwards.  The album was recorded in Los Angeles and New York City.  Their last recorded work draws from previous musical influences with a strong reminesce of disco music (Donna Summers) and 80´s music in songs such as “Get Lucky,” jazz and disco in “Motherboard,” pop of the 90´s in “Instant Crush,” rock and roll, techno, disco, and jazz.  It´s all in there with a new touch and flavor.

Daft Punk affirms that their musical influences came from Elton John, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and The Stooges.  As in their new album, the band has asserted that they wanted to claim the “west coast vibe” referencing bands such as Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, and The Eagles.  They also pointed out the influence of Jean Michel Jarre (Wikipedia).

The members of the band, who hide under their robotic attire to escape celebrity fame, rely on hardware components such as old drum machines and synthesizers to make their music rather than using computers as musical instruments (Dombal). The group also asserts that electronic music has to be about unifying and equalizing:  “It’s very strange how electronic music formatted itself and forgot that its roots are about freedom and the acceptance of every race, gender, and style of music into this big party,” says Bangalter.  “Instead, it started to become this electronic lifestyle which also involved the glorification of technology” (Dombal).

In this era of the “glorification of technology” the French band has incorporated the old and the new, the traditional and the digital, into an extraordinary album that has climbed the music charts in half of the world making their highly hybridized work a new way of understanding electronic music.


Works Cited

Dombal, Ryan. “Machine of Life.” Pitchfork Web 11 November 2013

Katz, Mark. “Music in 1s and 0s: The Art and Politics of Digital Sampling.”Capturing Sound: How Technology has changed music. Berkeley: Berkeley UP, 2010. 137-157.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Daft Punk.” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 11 November 2013.


The Reality of the Photographic Image

Estefanía Tocado

Despite Henri Cartier Bresson´s lack of interest in the technical aspects of photography, modern photography has made technical devices, such as iPhones and all kinds of digital cameras, the means by which the majority of people experience what it is to make a photograph.  Pierre Bourdieu asserts that the ordinary photographer takes the world the way he or she sees it, according to the logic of a vision of the world which borrows its categories and its canons from the arts of the past, that is to say, to see photography as a way of capturing reality.  However, as he also affirms, photography captures aspects of reality that are the result of an arbitrary selection and of a transcription (73).

Continuing this thought process, if we compare the work of Bresson and that of Annie Leibovitz, their way of understanding reality is quite different from each other. For Bresson, photography was meant to be “an instant drawing” without the artifice of technical manufacturing.  This is in contrast to photographers such as Leibovitz, known for her work done with celebrities and the fashion magazine Vogue, who polish that “instant drawing” with technical techniques such as Photoshop.  




In today’s society in which the majority of people have a digital camera in their smart phones, the relationship with photography has changed.  The main concern of the reflection of the photographic image as a vehicle to portray reality has shifted to a medium to create a view of reality, that is to say, that the author would like to portray in the digital world of social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.  The person taking the photograph presents an interpretative source of his or her reality with the aim to make it look referential and empirical despite the fact that it is just a simulation of the real.

Jean Baudrillard asserts that:  Simulation…stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference.  Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as a false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum. […] (6-23).  Following Baudrillard´s theory, photography on social media has become a means by which to create the hyperreal, a reality that has no referential reality because it does not exist.  That way, the photographer portrays a specific interpretative vision of reality and captures a simulation of his desired reality to create a new identity of his or her personality on the web.

Works cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Michigan: Michigan UP, 1981. 1-27.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Social Definition of Photography.” Photography: A middle-brow Art. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.

Cartier-Bresson, Henri. “Statement of photography” The Decisive Moment Theory. Córdoba, Spain, 1933.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Photography” Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Nov. 2013. Web. 4 November 2013.


Street Art and its Relationship with the Urban Space

Estefania Orviz

According to the anthropologist Marc Augé, if a “place” can be defined as relational, historical, and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, historical, or concerned with identity will be a “non-place.”  Therefore, supermodernity produces non-places, meaning places which are not themselves anthropological places…and do not integrate earlier places…Place and non-place are like opposed polarities:  the first is never completely erased, the second is never totally completed:  they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten (63-64).  Augé also asserts that Michel de Certeau understands “place” as an assembly of coexisting elements in a certain order and the “space” as animation of those place by the motion of a moving body…” (65).  As we know, street art finds its natural habitat in the city.  The urban space is the place where speech becomes writing and where the street artist establishes a dialog with the urban space (Irvine 9).  It is interesting to point out that the spatial dialog not only goes across a specific city but across other urban spaces as well.  Such is the case for Banksy who has brought his own British touch to the streets of New York the last few weeks.

Banksy has created several works on the walls of Manhattan, but I would like to spend a little more time exploring two pieces of his work and how he has made a place a space, according to Certeau´s theory, and a non-place a place, following Augé´s propositions.  On the one hand, if we look at the heart full of Band-Aids painted on a street of Brooklyn on October 7th, we come to realize how an ordinary neighborhood street that could be considered a “place” becomes a “space” at the moment in which people start walking by it and engaging in understanding its meaning.  The metaphor of a wounded balloon shaped as a heart flying on the streets of Brooklyn serves as an intersection between the arts brought to the city walker and its perennial durability as a metaphor for the heart of the city.  At the same time the artist´s work becomes visible and susceptible of entering into a dialogic relationship with other media, especially photography, as seen in the photograph.  A New York police officer takes a picture of the heart despite the fact that street art is a forbidden practice.  This way, Banksy transforms a place into a space.

Similarly, Banksy turns a delivery truck into a mobile garden with a rainbow, a pond, a waterfall, and butterflies.  By picking a “mobile space” that serves as a means of communication, he puts the individual in contact with another image of himself (Augé 64).  By creating this moving “locus amoenus,” the artist invites New Yorkers to engage in understanding the meaning of this artificially made idyllic location as a case of simulacra that serves the walker to reinsure their reality.  In Baudrillard’s terms, Banksy makes the garden an opposition to reinforce the reality of the city as an example of hyperrealism.  Moreover, he transforms a non-place, a delivery truck, into a palimpsestic place where the relationship between the city’s inhabitants and its own urban space, New York, can be constantly reinscribed every time the truck stops in a different section of the city.

Augé, Marc. Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. London-New York: Verso, 1995.

Irvine, Martin. “Street Art and the Digital City.” Communication,Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Oct. 2013. Web. 28 October 2013.


The Female Body as a Sign of Transgression in Wangechi Mutu´s Work

Estefanía Tocado

10/ 21/13

While I was observing Wangechi Mutu´s paintings, specifically “The Bride Who Married the Camel´s Head,” I started to make connections with other readings and images I had previously seen.  As the artist states, the female body has become one of her motifs in her work through which she explores the contradictory idea that Western media uses to portray African women.  This dichotomy appears under the highly sexualized African woman or the traditional tribal woman.  By reworking these paradigms, Mutu affirms that she wants to establish a dialog between the two archetypes of women in the search for the synergy between both while running away from objectification.  Maybe this need to rewrite the female body represents a means to fix the traumatic real, to screen it, and to produce it (Foster 46).

Mutu’s affirmations made me think of 16th century Spain, an era of serious religious conflict with racial and religious discrimination towards Jews and Muslims, where the female body projected this apprehension towards the Other by the means of preservation of her body and the fear of adultery.  Georgina Dopico Black in her book chapter “Visible Signs:  Reading the Wife´s Body in Early Modern Spain” argues that the wife´s body serves as a transcoder of the cultural anxieties of early modern Spain – a site where issues of interpretation or misinterpretation, especially signs of Otherness – racial, religious, cultural – are projected, materialized, codified, negotiated, and even contested (4).  In the same way as it occurred in the Spanish Golden Age, many other racially discriminatory discourses have used women´s bodies as a sign of double discrimination.  One good example is in postcolonial studies.  Homi Bhabha affirms in his essay “The Other Question: The Stereotype and the Colonial Discourse” that colonial discourse is dependent on the concept of fixity in the construction of the Other.  Fixity as a sign of cultural, historical, and racial difference is a paradoxical mode of representation.  It connotes rigidity.  On the contrary the stereotype, that is a discursive strategy that moves between what is always in place and something that is anxiously repeated, has been created around the bestial sexual license of the African that needs no proof but it has not been proved (Bhabha 18).

I believe that, following Bhabha´s theoretical approach, Mutu´s painting is trying to dismantle this stereotype of the African woman from the inside out, in a dialogic manner, as a path to establish a constantly reconfiguring dialog between the Western and African Worlds.  Interestingly enough her painting reflects a woman whose hair is snakes, clearly establishing a symbolism with Medusa, the classical mythological figure.  She is blurring the boundaries between high and low culture, breaking the relationships of power based on European and African myths.  As Hélène Cixous affirms in her essay “The Laugh of the Medusa”:  “Woman must write her self:  must write about women and bring women to writing from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies…Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement” (875).  I believe Mutu´s bride is writing her own story, claiming her own body, and putting herself in a dialogic space in which art serves as a path to dismantle old relationships of power

Works Cited

Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs 1.4 (1976): 875-893.

Dopico Black, Georgina.  “Visible Signs:  Reading the Wife´s Body in Early Modern Spain.”  Perfect Wives, Other Women:  Adultery and Inquisition in Early Modern Spain.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 2001. 1-47.

Bhabha, Homi. ““The Other Question: The Stereotype and the Colonial Discourse.” Ed. Francis Barker. The Politics of Theory. Colchester-England, 1983.

Foster, Hal. “Death of America.” October 75 (1996): 36-59.


Relying on the Cultural Encyclopedia

Estefanía Tocado


While I was sitting in my modern Ikea furnished studio in DC and staring at Debora Azzopardi´s poster entitled “Sshhh” right behind my coach, I started thinking about the connections between the pop art I knew from my visits to the MoMA in New York City and the one I had hanging in my living room from Ikea.  Going back to Umberto Eco, he affirms that:  “The text interpretation is possible because even linguistic signs are not ruled by sheer equivalence (synonymy and definition); they are not based upon the identity but are governed by an inferential schema; they are, therefore, infinitely interpretable” (44).  The text is open, as signs are open for interpretation, so the active role of the reader is completely necessary in order to establish connections between what is in the text and what is inferred.  This affirmation that it is closely related to the literary world can also be extrapolated to the world of art.  Many times the artist relies on the audience to fill in those gaps that live between the piece of art and its interpreter.  If we look at some of the most important pop art pieces produced by Roy Lichtenstein, such as Oh, Jeff…I love You, Too…But… and Drowing Girl, we can see that the adaptation from the comic genre to a painting still preserves the text as a way to engage the audience in the same way it happens in a comic strip. 

At the same time by mixing the hybrid form of the comic, based on images and writing, with painting, the artist is blurring the boundaries of what is considered to be high and low culture while affirming that pop art was “not American painting but actually industrial painting” (Honef 11).  Moreover, the artist takes into consideration that his artwork relied on the audience to presuppose some of the main connections to other artistic movements and he wants the viewer to make connections to the cultural encyclopedia, such as the pointillism that goes back to George Seurat, the American comic world of the 1950 and 1960, or Japanese painting Katsushika Hokusai´s The Great Wave of Kanagwa.  Precisely, it is the role of the reader that attempts to understand the piece of art in depth to uncover all these sources in order to understand that all work of art participates in a network of conceptual nodes and cultural encyclopedia references; most of which are presupposed in the dialogic environment but not necessarily visible in any individual work itself (Irvine 2).

The cultural encyclopedia, as stated by Eco, is based on the idea of an interpretative community that shares a common historical, social, and political context that allows them to have access to this shared common knowledge in order to exchange meaning and be competent to a constantly changing corpus of words, terms, concepts, discourses, events… that belong to a culture´s memory (Irvine 20).  Interestingly enough, by precisely understanding how this cultural encyclopedia continues to grow, recent pop artist Deborah Azzopardi can be seen as an active participant of this interpretative community that belongs to the cultural encyclopedia.  Her work portrays a strong influence by Lichtenstein, American culture, and the comic world.  The same way Lichtenstein took pieces of Picasso and Van Gogh, creating a new piece of art by breaking the boundaries of the canon, she is approaching the 21st century audience with artwork that looks fresh, fun, and attractive.  Her collaborations with Ikea make the copies of her painting Solmyra affordable to a majority of costumers who can pay $9.99 for a pop art poster to decorate any of the walls in their home, making pop art as relevant as it was when it first came out fifty years ago.

Works Cited

Eco, Umberto. “The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader.” The Bulletin of Midwest Language Association 14.1 (1981). 35-45

Honef, Klaus. Pop Art. Tachen Books, 2004.

Irvine, Martin. “Pop and Appropriation Art and the Encyclopedia.” Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Sept. 2013. Web. 13 October 2013.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Roy Lichtenstein” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 13 October 2013.


The Hyperreal in Akura Kurosawa´s Kagemusha

Estefanía Tocado


The film Kagemusha: The Shadow of the Warrior, directed by Akura Kurosawa in 1980 and produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, can be used as a good example of the idea of how mediated images become hyperreal.  The film starts with three men sitting and discussing the future of their clan.  As we find out very soon these three men are Shingen, Nobukado, and a thief who resembles Shingen, the head of the Takeda clan.  Soon after, Shingen dies after he is wounded in a battle in the castle of Tokugawa leyasu, and the rest of the clan decides to have the thief impersonate Shingen.

After this occurs, the clan continues their confrontation with their rival clan and leaders, Tokugawa and Oda Nobunaga, who find out about the death of Shingen after they see that his corpse has been hidden in a jar and carried away by their clan to be deposited in a lake.  Once the clan returns to their palace, the thief, now converted into Shingen, despite the initial doubts of his grandson and concubines, fools everyone into thinking he is the real Shingen.  This way the film continues questioning who is more real, the previous Shingen or the new personification.  Nevertheless, by the end of the movie the secret has been made public and the thief who has played the role of Shingen, now again poor and without power, sees the fall of his clan in a massive battle and the usurpation of his throne by the real Shingen´s son Katsuyori.

Therefore, as Baudrillard asserts: “to simulate is to feign to have what one doesn´t have so implies an absence” (3).  That absence points out that “simulation stems from the utopia of the principle of equivalence, from the radical negation of the sign as a value, from the sign as the reversion and death sentence of every reference.  Whereas representation attempts to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation, simulation envelops the whole edifice of representation itself as a simulacrum” (6).  If we apply Baudrillard´s theories to the role of Shingen in the film, the audience comes to realize that there is a “real” Shinghen that died in opposition of a “fake” Shingen, the former thief, who is the only one we get to know.  However, the hyperreal comes to us as the form of a so called “reality” that has been created in the film, as a mediated image of a definition of the real, as an accepted social reality (Irvine 14).  The belief that there was an original Shingen to be reproduced within the diegetic reality of the film points out that the image:  “has not relation to any reality whatsoever:  it is its own pure simulacrum” and in consequence there is not an ideal to resemble since there is no path to observe the real from the artificial resurrection since everything has been dead and resurrected in advance (6).  The constant idea of wanting to find out how the real Shingen was through his copy is paradoxical since we are never introduced to the real one, which at the same time would have been as fake as the so called double.  The image by which the real is defined perpetuates the challenge of the resemble, and again and again, so the hyperrealism of simulation is expressed everywhere by the real´s striking resemblance to itself (Irvine 18).


Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra” Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Michigan: Michigan UP, 1981. 1-27.

Irvine, Martin. “Mediation and Representation: Plato to Baudrillard and Digital Media.”Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Sept. 2013. Web. 7 October 2013.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Kagemusha” Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 7 October 2013.



Authorship and Collective Culture Then and Now


Estefanía Tocado
Last year while I was working as a research assistant for a Spanish medievalist professor, I spent most of my time investigating a short inscription of the French version of “Prision of Love,” a bestseller in European courts in the 15th century.  As part of my research, I also had the opportunity to digitize a number of books ranging from the 13th century to 16th century from an old film into a digital copy.  While I was doing this task, it kept coming to my mind the idea that all that work and time that I was spending in the dark microfilm room at Lauinger library could have been of great use not only for my professor but for the entire medievalist community if we would have had the copyright laws to publish it on the internet or send to a digitized archive available online.  During that time, I often remembered how in the medieval times authorship and intellectual property was not considered to be something that relevant.  Despite that fact, not much later the figure of the author started to grow.  Nevertheless, authors in many cases did not have the need to claim their work since many times their work was also endowed to other sources (most of the times of classical origin) as a way to legitimize their value or it was a product of the work of more than one author.  In the specific case of the oral anonymous literary form of song poetry “Romancero,” a jongleur would recite it to a local audience eager to hear the juicy plots that often integrated universal topics such as love, revenge, family honor, confronted families, and regional wars.  Then the audience would retell the poem, or parts of the poem, to other members of the community, remembering the entire poem or maybe only the sections they found the most interesting.  That way, through oral retelling of the poems, the network of this literary-oral piece would spread out through communities, regions, and countries.  While this act of retelling the poems was taking place, the stories would suffer adaptations and modifications along the way.  It could be considered, if we extrapolate it to modern terminology, that the poems and the adapted versions were be part of the “collective and generative culture” of their time (Irvine).

In the recent years in the literary criticism field, highly influential intellectual figures such as Michel Foucault have questioned the figure of the author.  As a response to some of the work exposed by Roland Barthes in his article:  “The Death of the Author,” Foucault in his essay “What Is an Author?” questions the construction of authorship and the idea of authorship the way we inherited it from the eighteenth century (Jaszi 29-30).  Later on, scholars such as Peter Jazsi have asserted that the increasing interest in the figure of the author and its domains is based on the cultural figuration of the “author” as the creator of a unique piece of art, and this has interacted with the legal concept of the “author” and its legal property rights (30).  He has also affirmed that in many cases lawyers and judges in legal trials have used the idea of the author-genius derived from Romanticism as a valid claim to challenge copyright laws online.  It has been claimed that:  “computer programs are no less inspired on traditional literary works and the imaginative processes of a programmer are analogous to those of the literary author” (Jaszi 34).  In similar ways as it happened in the medieval oral culture and the “Romancero,” nowadays our main source of literary and artistic culture is called the “internet” and, as in many other cultural manifestations, is in constant renovation and creation of new meanings.  Despite all of the legal controversy related to the regulations of moral rights and intellectual property on the web, I believe that if we want to consider it a window to cultural production and distribution we may want to regard it as one more instrument available to mass population to generate popular culture instead of the individual work that cannot be shared.  Always within some limits and understanding that the “act of creating” has changed since Romanticism and accepting that, as SilviaO affirms in Lawrence Lessig´s book Remix, her voice has become one more instrument among others to remix and generate new ways to interact with individual work and its relationship to collective culture.  Maybe this is the first to step to conceive culture as a shared wealth as well as the “Romancero audiences” understood it back in the time (17).


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Sept. 2013. Web. 30 September 2013.

Jaszi, Peter. “On the Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity,”in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 29–56.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. The Penguin Press: New York, 2008.