DELEUZE AND ALIEN (1): Dreams, Gothic, and the Sublime

Even if the novelization of ALIEN is more of a straightforward narrative and less visceral horror than the film, the incipit on dreaming is brilliant. Alan Dean Foster characterises each of the crew in terms of their style of dreaming and sets us up to experience the story as an archetypal encounter in the dream-time. Given the overall atmosphere of entropic decline on the ship there is the implicit suggestion that one mode of resistance against entropy is the dream.

Given the parallels (ruthlessness, rationality of design and near immortality) between the capitalist corporation (Weyland-Yutani), the robot Ash, and the Alien, there is an interesting suggestion in the book (but not in the film) that Ash managed to communicate to some degree with the Alien.

The aesthetic of the film is the sublime, not beauty. This infinite force of pure survival and reproduction inspires horror, despite being only obliquely (sub+limen) perceptible. We never get a clear look at the alien, what we see defeats our visual codes and mental categories. Ash sees the alien as beautiful, but this is because he is himself pure program with no affect.

We cannot help sexualising the alien, but our perceptions are inconsistent and ultimately incoherent. The phallic is undercut by a more omnipresent vulval imagery, undercut by the biomachinic imagery, itself undercut by the pure will to profit of the company and the pure drive to survive and reproduce of the creature. The film is thus Gothic in this fusion of vitality and abstraction

The Gothic elements are everywhere, however the sublime in the film ALIEN is not just Gothic but Lovecraftian, i.e. it combines the inexorable power of the dynamical sublime and the infinity and eternity of the mathematical (or techno-scientific) sublime.

The opening shot of the film condenses these two aspects of the sublime. The spectacle of interstellar space combines mathematical immensity and dynamical alterity (as the title « Alien » forms by a sort of viral replication and composition).

Then the shot inside the Nostromo of the empty hallway is reminiscent of the inside view of the deck of Discovery One, the space ship in Kubrick’s 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. The grit and grunge replacing the luminous clean aesthetic of its predecessor, as if Ridley Scott were re-Gothicising 2001.

My own approach is less that of the history of art movements and more conceptual, and passes through Gilles Deleuze’s analyses and explorations of the Gothic and some of his more general concepts, which I will try to apply to the film ALIEN.

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