English 197: Remainder

English 197: Remainder
By Taylor Holland
The Building
• The narrator desires to create a simulation of a fake memory, or, at
least, one he cannot place
• The narrator attempts to, in some sense, simulate a simulation. He
becomes deeply involved in his fantasies about the reality of the
building, and only wants to make the building actual.
• Interestingly, however, he is simulating something that does not
exist in reality (or, at least, he can never remember it existing in
• He consciously wants to place himself into a simulation; note how
different this attitude is from those seen in our previously analyzed
texts. Generally, immersion in simulation is seen as a negative, yet,
in this case, the simulation is somehow more real than actual
The Building Cont.
• Yet, in the case of the building, the simulation is not immersive
enough – problems begin appearing that shatter any illusion of
actuality: The pianist’s tape, the cats falling from the neighboring
roof, the smell of the liver, his initial failures to brush against the
counter, the changing length of the day, and the accumulation of
pig fat throughout the building’s ventilation system. The narrator’s
simulations are always broken by the invasion of the external world.
• “Had it been a success? Difficult question. Some things had worked,
and some things hadn’t. My shirt had slightly caught against the
cutting board, but then the fridge had opened perfectly. The liver
lady had come up with that fantastic line but then dropped her
rubbish bag when she’d tried to re-enact her movements for a third
time. Then there was the question of the smell, of course.” (Pg 152)
• “When was it that you came into contact with cordite,
then?” “I don’t think I’ve ever been near cordite.” (Pg. 280)
• Cordite is one such external factor that breaks the illusion
of reality brought on by the simulations. He is nearly
satisfied with the state of the building simulation, yet the
lingering smell of cordite, an unexpected smell, seems to
halt any feelings of complete immersion.
• Since the narrator has never actually encountered cordite,
perhaps we should read this as some type of personal
barrier, a subconscious knowledge that this type of
separated simulation is incapable of producing complete
immersion. He needs his simulation to become a part of
reality, not something separated from it.
• Throughout the text, the narrator is concerned with the idea of a
societal mechanism – a sort of understanding that every member of
society is filling a role without any knowledge of filling that role.
• In his encounter with the homeless people at the beginning of the
text, he says: “I started seeing a regularity to the pattern of their
movements, the circuits they made between the two spots, who
replaced whom, when and in what order. It was complicated,
though: each time I though I’d cracked the sequence, one of them
would move out of turn or strike out in a new route. I watched
them for a very long time, concentrating on the pattern.” (56)
• There is, then, a pattern, mechanistic, as if each participant in the
system is an interlocking piece, moving in unison, in response to,
and as a beginning for the other actions of other participants.
Mechanism Cont.
• When they begin to devise the plan for the bank robbery, they talk about
the “Choreography” of the robbery: “Who stands where, who does what,
when, how they move: it’s all very orchestrated.” (Pg. 248)
• The narrator’s simulations all attempt to participate in the system of
reality by mimicking this sense of mechanism (i.e. the tire shop’s endless
repetition of the same action for weeks on end, a deterministic machine
playing out a loop of commands) yet only the final simulation is adequate,
seemingly because it involves itself directly with the mechanical
operations of the external world.
• The final simulation works so well because instead of trying to replicate
the mechanical feel of reality, it becomes a part of an existing machine: “I
watched too, with the same fascination. I stared amazed at the passer-by:
their postures, their joints’ articulation as they moved. They were all doing
it just right: standing, moving, everything – and this without even knowing
they were doing it.” (283)
The Role of The Hyperreal
• The narrator begins to request models off his
creations. He uses the first such model to
create scenes, and after a short while, the
model begins to replace the building: “The
next day I placed my model on my living-room
floor. I moved the figures around once more
and issued instructions down the phone to
Naz as I did this – only today I didn’t go and
look. Just knowing it was happening was
enough.” (Pg. 165)
The Role of The Hyperreal Cont.
• “I watched it, utterly fixated. It was a perfect
likeness of the van we’d used up at the
warehouse. More than perfect: it was identical in
make and size and registration, in the faded finish
on its sides, the way its edges turned” (Pg. 284)
• There is a certain confusion here. Reality begins
to mimic the simulations. The simulations exist
prior to their actual counterparts, and the
counterparts resemble the simulation.
Reactions to Simulation
• In prior texts, we have generally seen a movement away from the
simulation. The main character learns that he is in a simulation, the
simulation then breaks, and the character is left in a place that is
more real.
• Remainder’s treatment of simulation is somewhat different. The
narrator desires to enter simulation, to be wholly captured by it,
and then to relish this envelopment. Simulation is not something to
fear, instead, it becomes a welcome replacement for reality.
• Breaks in the simulation are annoyances, not triumphs.
• In this way, Remainder questions the nature of reality just as much
as a text like Ubik. Why does the notion of reality have any
significance when we can supplant reality with simulation?
Reactions to Simulation Cont.
Baudrillard raises similar questions in Simulations. He asks what the difference is
between a simulated bank robbery and a real bank robbery. The simple answer?
There is no difference. To those not ‘in’ on the simulation, the simulation and the
real are the same thing.
“Go and simulate a theft in a large department store: how do you convince the
security guards that it is a simulated theft? There is no “objective” difference: the
same gestures and the same signs exist as for a real theft; in fact the signs incline
neither to one side nor the other. As far as the established order is concerned,
they are always of the order of the real. Go and organize a fake hold-up. Be sure to
check that your weapons are harmless, and to take the most trustworthy hostage,
so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand
ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion
possible – in brief, stay close to the “truth,” so as to test the reaction of the
apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of artificial
signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements….in brief, you will
unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is
precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some
reality” (Simulations Pg. 39)
Reactions to Simulation Cont.
• As with our other texts, however, there is a break
(at least in some sense). Immediately after Four is
shot, the robbers begin to realize that it is not a
• “These people don’t know that it’s a reenactment.” “It’s real!” (Pg. 293)
• Those in the simulation suddenly realize that the
simulation is not something apart from reality –
they understand that reality and the simulation
are one-in-the-same, that there is no layer of
The Man Behind The Curtain
• For Ubik we discussed the concept of the man
behind the curtain, and how there was no
obvious generator of simulation. In most of
our other texts, we had obvious generators
(i.e. in The Matrix and The Truman Show). In
Remainder, we know the identity of the man
behind the curtain, but unlike in our other
texts, he is not vilified (at least not initially).
The Narrator’s Break With Reality
We know that a great deal of the disconnection that the narrator feels from reality
is a direct result of the accident. The narrator’s insanity manifests in strange ways,
The narrator’s search for the word “recidual,” and the subsequent discovery that
he has imagined the existence of the short councillor. (“What short councillor?”)
(Pg. 270)
The narrator’s constant disappearances into fantasy: “I spent the next three days
drifting into and out of trances. They were like waking comas: I wouldn’t move for
long stretches of time, or register any stimuli around me – sound, light, anything –
and yet I’d be fully conscious: my eyes would be wide open and I’d seem engrossed
in something. I’d remain in this state for several hours on end.” (219)
The narrator’s simulations begin to replace any semblances of formal reality. He
lives in a simulation, spends his days immersed in fantasy, works tirelessly to create
new simulations, etc.
At the end, he seems to almost fracture from reality completely.
Disintegration of Matter
• “That’s no good. I want it so that it disappears from the
reservoir, then doesn’t reappear again. Just disappears.” (Pg
• “I’d told Annie and Frank to come up with something, some
device, that would stop the blue goop from falling on me make all its particles go up instead, become sky, disappear.”
(Pg 270)
• “All vaporize and be sprayed upwards. When we have to
disappear, like you said. Remove traces, all that stuff.” (Pg
• “Isn’t it beautiful?...You could take everything away –
vaporize, replicate, transubstantiate, whatever – and this
would still be there. However many times.” (Pg 300)
Disintegration of Matter Cont.
• What do these passages mean?
• They seem to reference a certain mechanistic view that
all things ultimately become nothingness – all things
play this role, all things participate this way in the
• There is an interest in destruction as creation.
• Perhaps they point directly to the narrator’s
psychological breakdown. He loses context and
become apathetic about destruction.
• Preservation of matter laws come in to play here. The
things still exist, they gain a permanence of sorts,
through their destruction.
The Conclusion
• “Poor Naz. He wanted everything perfect, neat, wanted all matter
organized and filed away so that it wasn’t mess. He had to learn too:
matter’s what makes us alive – the bitty flow, the scar tissue, signature of
the world’s very first disaster and promissory note guaranteeing its last.
Try to iron It out at your peril. Naz had tried, and it had fucked him up.” (Pg
• This seems to work counter to the stress of logistics that is pervasive
throughout the latter half of the text. The narrator gains some new
understanding, a certain acceptance of chaos. Perhaps his fascination with
the vaporization of matter is related to this: destruction is inherently
• “I want you to pay the people who’ve done all the organizing bits more.”
(Pg 204)
• Notice the shift in attitude. Initially he is fascinated by the planning
involved in his re-enactments. After the bank robbery, he becomes
dismissive of the worth of such planning, seeing it as unnatural.
Perspectival Enlightenment
• “They were too small to make it out, of course, or
even to know that it was there. No: it was legible
only from above, a landing field for elevated,
more enlightened beings.” (Pg. 199)
• Examining the models allows the narrator to gain
a greater sense of perspective
• By noticing individual simulations in their
entirety, he gains knowledge about the workings
of the societal machine.