Emotional Infectivity: Cyborg Affect and the Limits of the Human
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Emotional Infectivity:
Cyborg Affect and the Limits of the Human

If it is true that our gods and our hopes are no longer anything but scientific, is there any reason why our love should not also be so?

—Villiers de l’Isle-Adam

The epigraph is from the 1886 novel L’Ève future (Future Eve) by novelist, playwright, and poet Jean Marie Mathias Phillipe Auguste, comte de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (1838–1889; hereafter, Villiers). I have highlighted it here because anime director Oshii Mamoru (b. 1951) also chose it as the epigraph for his 2004 film Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (hereafter Innocence).1 It is the connections and disjunctures between emotion and science that lie at the heart of Villiers’s novel and Oshii’s film. For both, a central question is, can an android love and be loved? Or, to put the emphasis differently, is love possible only for humans, or are emotions and affect also possible in artificial beings? Oshii’s film suggests that the emotion that remains in a cyborg or android context is precisely what will keep us “human” even after our bodies have become mostly or entirely artificial. In this study I will use Oshii’s source text, L’Ève future, as well as contemporary affect theory in a preliminary exploration of the philosophical and ontological issues depicted so provocatively in Oshii’s film.2 [End Page 150]

It is clear that Villiers’s L’Ève future, far beyond providing a single sentence for the film’s epigraph, is a source text for Innocence. The novel, which has been called “the exemplary forerunner of the cinematic representation of the mechanical woman,”3 features a fictionalized Thomas Alva Edison as its protagonist and is set in Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1883–84.4 The plot is relatively simple. Edison has invented a perfect mechanical woman and decides to give her to his young friend and benefactor, Lord Celian Ewald, who has been mortally disappointed by the crassness of his beautiful mistress, Alicia Clary, and has resolved on suicide. Edison’s “andreid” (Villiers’s neologism for an artificial creature, the origin for our current word “android”) is called Hadaly, meaning “ideal” in Persian.5 Edison reshapes Hadaly to be an exact replica of Ewald’s mistress in every respect except character: while the flesh-and-blood Alicia has no soul deserving of the name, and is therefore incapable of loving and unworthy of being loved, Hadaly has a “mind”/”soul” fully worthy of Ewald’s love and, Ewald comes to believe, capable of loving him in return. On meeting the completed andreid, Ewald is quickly convinced that she is his ideal woman and resolves to take her back to England where they will dwell in romantic ecstasy until his eventual death (at which time he is to destroy Hadaly, too, Edison instructs him). The novel ends as Edison receives news that the ship carrying Ewald, Alicia, and Hadaly across the Atlantic has caught fire and sunk, drowning Alicia, bearing Hadaly to the bottom of the sea, and leaving Ewald alive to mourn his irrecoverable love.

The original inspiration for Edison’s invention of Hadaly had come from the tragic story of his friend Edward Anderson, who, ensnared by the wiles of the seductive dancer Evelyn Habal, had abandoned his wife and family, and eventually committed suicide after sinking into a life of sexual depravity. Edison has befriended Anderson’s widow, Any (sic), who now uses what seem to be telepathic powers to aid him in his work. (When acting as a telepathic medium, Any Anderson goes by the name Sowana.) It is to prevent such tragedies in the future that Edison has created his Hadaly, and he sees the perfect opportunity to put his invention to use when he hears of Lord Ewald’s desperate situation: Alicia Clary is a virulent femme fatale just as Evelyn Habal was, and Lord Ewald can be saved only by transferring his love to a pure, ideal “woman” such as Hadaly.

Although the plot of L’Ève future is quite simple, much of the narrative is consumed in complex...


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