Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Delphi, Oracle of Things

Yes, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" is on some level a tragedy about the futility of love (when neither person can ever know the other). But the more insidious effect is a sort of photograph of this world that is so totally run by commodities and corporations that even people are not people. And one of the figures making this world so terrifyingly possible is Delphi, controlled remotely by a 17-year-old girl named P(hiladelphia). Burke. The name is a clear derivation of “Philadelphia”, but also refers to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, home of the Oracle of Delphi. In the mythology surrounding the sanctuary, the Oracle spoke for Apollo and spoke as Apollo--a human mouth filled with a divine voice, just as Delphi is a divine mouth filled with a human voice. The body of Delphi is a receptacle for the consciousness of P. Burke, as the Oracle was occasionally a receptacle for the consciousness of Apollo.

As an extended aside, there's a reason why Delphi is the priestess and not the god, even though the story seems to suggest that she is one of the "custom-made" gods of the future (43). P. Burke's identity stays just strong enough so that Delphi always seems exactly this distant, this much an outsider. She never things that she could be a god, even though the other "gods" are no different from her, not really. They're just as crafted, just as controlled, just as commodified.

If Delphi is a priestess, what is the god to which she constructs her altar? The narrator, explaining to the "zombie", offers a lucid unraveling of the tangled mythology of the future:

“What do gods do? Well, everything beautiful. But (remember Mr. Cantle?) the main point is Things. Ever see a god empty-handed? You can’t be a god without at least a magic girdle or an eight-legged horse. But in the old days some stone tablets or winged sandals or a chariot drawn by virgins would do a god for life. No more! Gods make it on novelty now. By Delphi’s time the hunt for new god-gear is turning the earth and seas inside-out and sending frantic fingers to the stars. And what gods have, mortals desire.” (56)

In this new world, Delphi is an oracle of wealth, and her god is Things. Her entire existence is subsumed to the products sold through her, and it is only thanks to these products that Delphi exists at all. Love and death do not even register for this consumer darling, this perfect doll.


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