AVATAR AND LACAN’S GRAPH OF SEXUATION: A Deleuzian Defence of SF

I read Adam Robbert’s post on the noetic wonder of the world as seen through Uexküllian ontology and I exclaimed « But this is exactly what is good about AVATAR, despite the heroic wishfulfilmen fantasy! » Reflecting on why I liked the film and Zizek scorned it, I decided that I could explain the difference of approach to the film (and to many other things) in terms of Lacan’s graph of sexuation:Now Zizek likes to interpret films by subtracting out any noetic alterity and just seeing the oedipal drama. He stays for this sort of interpretation on the left side of the graph. He focuses on the heroic wishfulfilment in the case of AVATAR, but also the familial wishfulfilment in the case of WAR OF THE WORLDS:

“One can easily imagine the film without the bloodthirsty aliens so that
what remains is in a way “what it is really about,” the story of a divorced
working-class father who strives to regain the respect of his two children.
Therein resides the film’s ideology: with regard to the two levels of the
story (the Oedipal level of lost and regained paternal authority; the
spectacular level of the conflict with the invading aliens), there is a clear
dissymmetry, since the Oedipal level is what the story is “really about,”
while the external spectacular is merely its metaphoric extension.” (p57)

His monist reductive ontology can be seen in the assertion that the Oedipal level is what the story is really about, condemning the alterity to mere metaphoric gift-wrapping. One sees the absurdity of this approach very clearly in a film like AVATAR where the world-making is the main stuff of the film, especially as Pandora is a planet of noetic abundance. So in fact to appreciate AVATAR and many other science-fiction films and novels we must situate ourselves on the right side of the graph for more details see here). SF is defined as « the literature of cognitive estrangement » precisely because it explicitly constitues itself by means of alterity, and so dwells on the right side of the graph.

Imagine what Zizek would have to say about the novel DUNE (or the film). The oedipal drama is deliberately foregrounded as is the heroic wishfulfilment, but the aim in fact is to deconstruct the hero and the oedipal monomyth and to open us out onto a pluralist ontology as the later novels make even clearer:

« In his Golden Path, Leto sought a divergence of futures. Divergence is itself the grand theme of God Emperor of Dune. Leto is determined to smash the human psychological need for an illusory universe in which all tales converge on a final Big Message. This theme is the climax of Herbert’s original design from the early 1960s to obliterate the monolithic hero myth » , argues Bob Bogle.

So I can only conclude on a positive note: Let’s read more SF. Go read DUNE. Or as Levi Bryant advises, situating himself on the left side of the graph (transcendence) but giving useful advice to those on its right side (immanence): « Go watch Avatar ».

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18 commentaires pour AVATAR AND LACAN’S GRAPH OF SEXUATION: A Deleuzian Defence of SF

  1. Bill Benzon dit :

    Or, you could go see Miyazaki. It surely looks like Cameron got lots of his Pandora stuff from Miyazaki, especially Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke. But Miyazaki doesn’t have the bravado bullshit.

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  2. terenceblake dit :

    Yes, Miyazaki can build these amazing worlds (you can add Nausicaa). It’s just that I am surprised by all these negative appreciations of AVATAR when I saw it with my 12-year-old son and we loved it, even though we both thought the storyline was a bit silly. I was shocked when Bryant used « Go watch Avatar » as a synonym for « Go f*** yourself ». Obviously one thinks of Miyazaki as a source, but also Dune (for a good balanced review along the same lines as mine see: http://www.sentientdevelopments.com/2009/12/avatar-good-bad-and-ugly.html. And I do think that those who preach differance and alterity should pay more attention to science fiction.

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    • dmf dit :

      seems to be Shaviro’s bread and butter, but I wonder if the tendency by and large of SF readers is not be inspired to go and build experimental castles in the sky but rather to temporarily live/escape in them via the books.

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      • Bill Benzon dit :

        There’s all kinds of SF and, I assume, all kinds of SF fans. Considering what passes for politics on Bryant’s blog, SF fans are not alone in their escapist impuses.

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      • dmf dit :

        BB, yes very weak on social realms of inquiry, but I’m not sure if there is something to the medium/genre/reading of SF that is particularly useful to creating new, off the page, possibilities…

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    • Bill Benzon dit :

      One thing, to take pleasure in a film like Avatar you have to take pleasure in what Aristotle called opsis, spectacle. And the joy of sheer spectacle is a hard sell in lots of circles, especially circles that consider themselves Very Serious.

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  3. terenceblake dit :

    Don’t forget that one of the traits of good science fiction is the sense of wonder, and philosophy too starts with wonder. They have common roots. SF is like anything else, it can go stupid or go noetic – as can ontology or politics or sport or whatever. There is nothing wrong with escape, though escapism could be a debased stereotypical form of the move towards alterity, to relativise a state of things that presents itself as inevitable and the only way.

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    • dmf dit :

      well some have argued that philosophy starts in disappointment, I don’t think there is any One way in, one way to go, seems to depend on what’s the goal/interest/calling at hand, or at least the one that we wish to highlight/foreground.
      But how do we connect the on the page/screen attractions/interactions to other activities, one’s with more in the way of the kinds of concrete affordances and resistances of the mangles of practices that can make a tangible difference to our overlapping lives?

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      • terenceblake dit :

        Yes this rejoins the discussion of moods in relation to ALL THINGS SHINING. Disappointment, certainly, as a motive for escape. I would add depression, anger, shame, and also love, and friendliness or benevolence.
        As to the link to life, everyone has to find his or her own way, as you know. You have to have that constant concern, or care, and keep in dialogue too. Individuation is not on an isolated mountain top or in a desert or even down in the lonely depths, but in free exchange. All you can have is examples. I think Feyerabend’s autobiography KILLING TIME is one good example. No doubt you can name others.

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      • dmf dit :

        tb, not so much thinking about our personal(ized) links to life, here I agree with Rorty on private ‘salvation’, but rather as Latour&Stengers are worrying about how to make publics to address political matters like ecological issues.

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      • terenceblake dit :

        The answer is still the same, unless you’re planning on being some sort of political or religious leader, or moral authority. It’s micro-resistances all the way.
        This is what Lyotard said even about his most abstruse theoretical books: I wrote them because I thought they could be useful.

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      • dmf dit :

        could well be all we can manage but given the scales of the problems than we are in way over our heads and the project may be more about trying to make a humane life in the midst of various tragic collapses.

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  4. Adam Robbert dit :

    I’ve had a few readers of Knowledge Ecology write to me saying, « Have you read this or that SF writer… » which, unfortunately, I haven’t. I’m really bad at reading fiction of any kind, but given the positive responses I get from the SF crowd maybe SF writing is better suited for me than philosophy (I say only half-jokingly…)

    I did just pick up « 2312 » by K. S. Robinson which I am enjoying so far, and I’m always a little delighted to hear Latour talk about Avatar, even if the movie is pretty silly in its bravado.

    Any other recommendations for philosophically inspired SF?

    J'aime

  5. terenceblake dit :

    I would say the Dune series from 1:Dune to 4: God Emperor of Dune, in conjunction with Bob Bogle’s book FRANK HERBERT: THE WORKS, http://www.amazon.com/Frank-Herbert-The-Works-ebook/dp/B007ZFRME0, most of which is available for free on his blog: http://frankherberttheworks.blogspot.fr/. J.G.Ballard and Philip K.Dick are great, and more recently China Miéville in THE CITY AND THE CITY and EMBASSYTOWN, as well as Neal Stephenson ANATHEM. But science-fiction is good for just lots of little thought experiments.

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