Ergo Proxy Episode 11: In The White Darkness (Anamnesis)

Meep meep my friends~! I have about ten drafts of other blog posts I’m working on, but lately, the only thing I’m motivated to write about is Ergo Proxy. For now, I’m feeding the infatuation and rolling with it. I’m especially excited since this episode is probably my favorite or second to favorite in the series. So with that in mind, here’s my review of Ergo Proxy episode 11!

Note: This installment is a little different from other episodes, and is extra difficult to decipher. Therefore, I’m reworking the format of my episode review for this time. The episode synopsis will be fairly vague and general, but don’t worry. I’ll take my time in the discussion section to sort everything out. The discussion section may not be as neat as usual since it’s difficult to divide this content up into easy headings. Instead of doing a lot of mini-section headings, I’ll be discussing points in the episode in free-flow form.


Episode Synopsis

The episode begins with Vincent wandering on foot in the misty wastelands, looking for Pino and the Centzon ship. He discovers a bookstore in the middle of nowhere called City Lights Bookstore. Inside is a curious old man who makes tea for them both. Vincent tries to explain his situation and ask for directions, but the old man’s words in reply are cryptic or nonsensical. When talking reaches a dead end, the old man tells Vincent to try picking up one of the many books in the shop. When Vincent does this, he finds that the book has his own name written on it. In fact, all of the books are titled “Vincent Law.” And all of them are empty.

What follows is an intense experience for Vincent as he is led through the depths of his own mind by his other self, Ergo Proxy, and the bookkeeper. Speaking of the bookkeeper, he can be interpreted as a separate proxy who is investigating Vincent. He can also be interpreted as the wiser, gentler part of Ergo Proxy’s personality. As for the bookstore where everything happens, it’s either a dimension completely inside Vincent’s mind, or an area created by a proxy to delve into peoples’ minds and give them self-refection. I think the latter possibility is more likely, since the old bookkeeper references others having visited in the past. Anyway, it’s important to interpret who is who and what is what if you want a solid understanding of this episode.

(All the books say “Vincent Law”)

Vincent goes through a series of memories and visions wherein his other self, Ergo Proxy, tries to get him to acknowledge him. Ergo also explains a lot about the world and talks about philosophy, identity, and more. All these psychological experiences almost break Vincent’s nerves, and the bookkeeper tries to intervene to save him. But Ergo Proxy mercilessly continues the mental deconstruction of his human self. Eventually, breaking down in tears, Vincent accepts that he is, indeed, Ergo Proxy; and that he wiped his own memories to try to escape from everything.

The worst is over, and Vincent finds himself in front of the bookkeeper again, drinking tea. The old man finally lets Vincent go after he admits that he is completely lost. Then Vincent wakes up in the mist not far from the Centzon ship. Pino is nearby. There is no sign of City Lights Bookstore. At that moment, Re-L and Iggy arrive. Vincent initially thinks Re-L is a dream, and is quite surprised when she says otherwise. Finally, our main characters have met up with each other. The episode ends here.

(Vincent sees Ergo’s face on everyone in the visions in his head)

Discussion Part 1: Books, Solipsism, and Vincent’s Identity

As I mentioned in the introduction, the discussion section for this post will be free-flow form. I’ll address all the points in the order they are brought up in the episode. Some points might be very obvious, but I’ll mention them briefly anyway. The first things of interest are the empty books which are all titled “Vincent Law.” This episode is an exploration of Vincent, so the books represent all the content, thoughts, and memories in Vincent’s mind. Primarily, they symbolize memories. Since Vincent wiped his memories, the books are blank. You could also say that the books are blank because Vincent lacks a purpose or drive in his life right now. He’s completely lost mentally as well as physically lost.

The next interesting thing that comes up is the old man’s commentary on books. He brings up an interesting dilemma. I’ll paraphrase. Books are so complex that they require a working society of people to create them. They all need to be able to communicate with language, know the story to write, write the words, create the paper, sew the binding, and so on. But a modern society (arguably) can’t come to rise without written language. For books, you need society; but for society, you need books. It’s almost like you can’t have one without the other. For that reason, the bookkeeper says it’s tempting to believe books were a gift bestowed upon humanity by some supernatural power.

In reality, this isn’t a paradox by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not hard to find a way around this dilemma. For example, one solution is simply that writing is not required for every society. As long as there is spoken language, primitive societies can form, and from there advance to the level of writing books, scrolls, or tablets. Language develops slowly, and with many steps along the way. So it’s not like language appeared and suddenly people had books. It was a gradual process from hieroglyphs on walls to parchment and ink. But even though this book/society dilemma is easily solved, it’s still an excellent thought experiment. It makes one think about the nature of language and the way human societies form.

After the bookkeeper’s little discussion, he allows Ergo Proxy to begin messing with Vincent’s mind. When Vincent asks who’s there, Ergo replies, “I am no one. Even if I were someone, nobody could comprehend that.” He later repeats the same phrase at least once. What does this mean? Maybe Ergo meant that he was no one in the sense that he is not his own separate being. He is simply part of Vincent. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t exist. As for why nobody could comprehend him, perhaps it’s related to the fact that one’s identity can never be fully understood by others. But really, the meaning of this quote is explained by the very next thing Ergo says. “According to the perspective of others, I am a part of the world. But from my perspective, as someone who contemplates the world, I do not exist within it.” That’s what he meant by not existing.

Let’s continue to analyze Ergo’s words. He goes on to say, “What I see is the world, and I am merely the perspective that gives shape to the world. I cannot be part of the world. That is true at least in principle.” Ergo is describing human consciousness, or what is known in philosophy as ego. Obviously, we are all part of the world. But theoretically, the ego doesn’t see itself. The observer is not part of the observed. Additionally, neuroscience tells us that we perceive reality through our senses, and thus have no direct, literal contact with the world. Ergo states, “This is the limitation of this world, and boundary between my ego and the world.” It’s uncertain at this point why he’s outlining philosophical and neurological principles, but it may become clearer as we continue reviewing this monologue.

Next, Ergo says, “It’s not ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It’s ‘I think, therefore you are.'” In a separate post about Ergo Proxy from a few years ago, I discussed this quote and interpreted it as the philosophy of solipsism. I no longer think that Ergo is arguing for solipsism per se; nor does this view have much relevance to the anime beyond this episode. This line is just expanding on earlier points. But it’s still true that what Ergo is saying is soft solipsism. So, in case you don’t know or need a review, let’s define this way of thinking. The more knowledge the merrier.

Solipsism is the idea that we can only be sure of the existence of the self. Soft solipsism is an acknowledgement that since our view of reality is formed by subjective senses, we do not have absolute certainty of the truths of reality. Hard solipsism goes much farther, asserting that other people are not real or their experiences are just something invented by our own minds. If you follow this mindset through, it means you are the only being that matters, and you may treat others as if they aren’t important or real. Solipsistic ideas can go so far as to say that our minds created the whole world. Logic seems to support the idea of soft solipsism as something we should at least keep in mind. Reality may not always be what it seems. However, you can clearly see both logical and ethical problems with hard solipsism.

For the next few minutes after that, Ergo focuses on telling Vincent that he is a proxy and that he lost his memories. While Vincent has already realized he can turn into a monstrous being, he does not yet accept that it was his true, original self, or that his human identity is something new. In addition, he is still blocking off the memories of his life as proxy before being Vincent. Importantly, he is also trying to suppress certain memories of relatively recent times when he was in his proxy form.

The incident in particular that troubles Vincent is when he broke into Re-L’s home. We see a flashback of this from his perspective, and he was clearly sexualizing Re-L based on his gaze. Vincent is the type of person who would feel shame just for being a normal, sexual human being; so he must feel incredible guilt that he actually did something very bad (invaded Re-L’s home to look at her while she undressed). His guilt over that incident is just one more reason to keep rejecting the truth. Vincent continues running, too horrified to accept he is Ergo Proxy. That is all from the first half of the episode, so let’s move on to the next parts.


Discussion Part 2: Words, Observers, and Heartbeats

The first scene in the second half of the episode shows Vincent returned to the tea table, temporarily free of Ergo. The old bookkeeper explains to Vincent some interesting points about language and philosophy which we will briefly go over. He states that the world is ruled by Logos, so let’s start by exploring that concept. Logos is Greek for word, reason, or plan. It’s an important idea in philosophy and theology, where it refers to the divine logic of the universe. It’s the order in the universe, that which gives everything reason. However, I don’t think the bookkeeper was trying to make a theological argument. He meant Logos as in literal words. The world is ruled by words. This is an extremely interesting point to me. Since words are what let us describe the world, it makes sense that Logos means both word and divine reason. Words are what gives order to chaos.

The bookkeeper then describes a phenomenon about words that he has noticed. Sometimes, a word’s true meaning can be found in the opposite of what it means. The old man also points out that meanings of words can be more interesting than they seem. The first example given is the Greek word bios, which means both bow (the weapon) and life. Both weapons and life lead to death, so these two different meanings actually come together well. One could also say that’s life meaning is a state that is not death but that leads to death. So in that sense, the opposite concept (death) gives meaning to the word (life).

We are also given one more example, which brings us to the title of this episode. The Greek word anamnesis refers to both deliberate recollection and the loser meaning of memory. There’s no direct contradiction; however, this word is strikingly similar to the other Greek word amnesia, which means forgetfulness or (clinically) memory loss. Another way to look at it is that in order to try deliberately recalling something, you must have forgotten it in the first place. Therefore, the meaning of memory is intertwined with its opposite, loss of memory.

Beyond providing an example for the old man’s musings, the term anamnesis also has another use. It’s part of a philosophy used by Plato, which says that humans are naturally born with all the knowledge they need; so what we think of as learning new information is actually recollection of what we already knew unconsciously since birth. This philosophy is flawed, of course, but it’s interesting food for thought. In addition, it’s basically true of Vincent. He did indeed have knowledge since before his birth as a new identity. His journey is now uncovering that knowledge that he hid away.

Following the musings about words, Ergo Proxy once again takes over the exploration of Vincent’s mind. He tells Vincent the truth about their world: that it fell into ruin after an ecological apocalypse. The land turned to empty wastes and the seas froze over. According Ergo, those who brought life to the world left the stage. Now the world is mostly dead, but it has not completely ended because some observers with human minds still remain. For the purposes of the anime plot, Ergo is talking about how the old humanity (the Creators) abandoned Earth. But since they left behind the proxies to keep the last of humanity alive within the dome cities, the world cannot truly end. For the purposes of philosophy, Ergo’s speech brings up more interesting concepts to explore, such as the idea that things essentially do not exist unless they are being observed.

Just as books will rot away without anyone to read them, says Ergo, the world would cease to exist if nobody was there to observe it. This isn’t meant to be taken in a completely literal way. Science and logic tell us that reality continues regardless of the presence of a sentient observer. But the point is that it might as well not exist since there can be nobody to witness it. What if you did take it literally? In my other Ergo Proxy post from a few years back, I talked about how this view, if taken literally, is a form of anthropocentrism. That’s the idea that only humans are special, superior, moral, or sentient. It’s worth looking into that philosophy sometime to examine its logical fallacies and incorrect assumptions. For now, however, let’s stay on track and focus on the meaning for the Ergo Proxy anime.

Ergo begins to tells Vincent about “The Pulse of Awakening,” by which he means the beginning of the end for proxies and the current humanity. Old Humanity, the Creators, will soon return from space to rule the planet once again. The Awakening is what happens as proxies begin to self-destruct or are killed off by Ergo. Note that Ergo does not clearly explain this, but only makes a vague reference to the Awakening and how Vincent can feel it in his heart. The bookkeeper intervenes at that point, detecting the fact that Ergo is starting to push Vincent’s sanity over the edge. Since “pulse of awakening” can also be translated as “heartbeat of beginning,” the old man mentions a fact about hearts. Every animal’s heart is commensurate with its size, and its heartbeat dictates its life expectancy. In case you weren’t aware, that’s true in reality. I liked that little inclusion of biology.

The bookkeeper says that this rule about hearts is “the way of things.” And those who do not follow the way, he continues, have no purpose in fighting. I’m fairly sure he said this to calm the growing conflict between Ergo and Vincent. They are proxies, beings who do not follow the normal laws of biology. Moreover, they are both identities within Vincent’s head, and thus cannot kill each other off. So there is no point in them fighting. Unfortunately for Vincent, however, Ergo blows the old man off. He continues harassing Vincent’s mind, telling him they are the same being with the same heartbeat, and that he must accept this.

Once Vincent feels Ergo’s pulse in his chest, he finally starts to accept the truth. Though it makes him weep, Vincent faces himself, and his true identity as Ergo Proxy. (Note: Ergo also mentions to him at this point that they were created by someone or something else to maintain world order. After telling Vincent that he is only just now at the gateway of the many truths he needs to know, Ergo says no more. Vincent finds himself at the tea table again with the bookkeeper. As I mentioned in the episode synopsis, the old man keeps Vincent a little longer, until he admits that he is hopelessly lost. After that, the bookkeeper congratulates him and snaps his fingers. Vincent awakens lying on the ground in the deep fog. That sums up the discussion section.


Closing Thoughts

Before I end this very long episode review, I want to mention an alternative, important interpretation regarding this episode. The being in Vincent’s head that I have been calling Ergo is voiced by the same Japanese voice actor who plays Proxy One. Additionally, Proxy One is said to be wherever Vincent is, always in his shadow. Therefore, the one pushing Vincent to accept himself might have been Proxy One. As we will learn later, Proxy One created Ergo Proxy, who then developed the identity of Vincent. This interpretation is pretty solid I think.

And that’s finally where I’m going to end. Damn, this was one long review for one very intense and complicated episode. Thank you so much for reading. See you next time!

3 comments

  1. Thank you for shedding some light on this episode! I’ve seen the whole series quite a few times, and this episode always confused me. Kudos for noticing that the same voice actor was in this episode that played Proxy One, I totally didn’t notice that. Your posts are helping me enjoy this series even more!

    Liked by 3 people

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 )

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