quarta-feira, 20 de fevereiro de 2013

Technofilia, Technology, Representation, and the Femine by Mary Ann Doane


THE CONCEPT OF THE “BODY” has traditionally denoted the finite, a material limit that is absolute — so much so that the juxtaposition of the terms “concept” and “body” seems oxymoronic. For the body is that which is situated as the precise opposite of the conceptual, the abstract. It represents the ultimate constraint on speculation or theorization, the place where the empirical finally and always makes itself felt. This notion of the body as a set of finite limitations is, perhaps, most fully in evidence in the face of technological developments associated with the Industrial Revolution. In 1858, the author of a book entitled Paris writes, “Science; as it were, proposes that we should enter a new world that has not been made for us. We would like to venture into it; but it does not take us long to recognize that it requires a constitution we lack and organs we do not have.”1 Science fiction, a genre specific to the era of rapid technological development, frequently envisages a new, revised body as a direct outcome of the advance of science. And when technology intersects with the body in the realm of representation, the question of sexual difference is inevitably involved.


Although it is certainly true that in the case of some contemporary science- fiction writers — particularly feminist authors — technology makes possible the destabilization of sexual identity as a category, there has also been a curious but fairly insistent history of representations of technology that work to fortify — sometimes desperately — conventional understandings of the feminine. A certain anxiety concerning the technological is often allayed by a displacement of this anxiety onto the figure of the woman or the idea of the feminine. This has certainly been the case in the cinema, particularly in the genre which most apparently privileges technophilia, science fiction. And despite the emphasis in discourses about technology upon the link between the machine and production (the machine as a labor-saving device, the notion of man as a complicated machine which Taylorism, as an early-twentieth- century attempt to regulate the worker’s bodily movements, endeavored to exploit), it is striking to note how often it is the woman who becomes the model of the perfect machine. Ultimately, what I hope to demonstrate is that it is not so much production that is at stake in these representations as reproduction.


The literary text that is cited most frequently as the exemplary forerunner of the cinematic representation of the mechanical woman is L’Eve future (Tomorrow’s Eve), written by Villiers de l’lsle-Adam in 1886. In this novel,Thomas Edison, the master scientist and entrepreneur of mechanical reproduction — associated with both the phonograph and the cinema — is the inventor of the perfect mechanical woman, an android whose difference from the original human model is imperceptible. Far from investing in the type of materialism associated with scientific progress, Villiers is a metaphysician. Edison’s creation embodies the Ideal (her name is Hadaly which is, so we are told, Arabic for the Ideal). The very long introductory section of the novel is constituted by Edison’s musings about all the voices in history that have been lost and that could have been captured had the phonograph been invented sooner. These include, among others, “the first vibrations of the good tidings brought to Mary! The resonance of the Archangel saying Hail! a sound that has reverberated through the ages in the Angelus.The Sermon on the Mount! The ‘Hail, master!’ on the Mount of Olives, and the sound of the kiss of Iscariot.”2 Almost simultaneously, however, Edison realizes that the mechanical recordings of the sounds is not enough: “To hear the sound is nothing, but the inner essence, which creates these mere vibrations, these veils — that’s the crucial thing.”3 This “inner essence” is what the human lover of Lord Ewald, Edison’s friend, lacks. In Lord Ewald’s report, although her body is magnificent, perfect in every detail, the human incarnation of the VenusVictorious, she lacks a soul. Or, more accurately, between the body and soul of Miss Alicia Clary there is an “absolute disparity.” Since Lord Ewald is hopelessly in love with the soulless Alicia, Edison takes it upon himself to mold Hadaly to the form of Miss Clary.

A great deal of the novel consists of Edison’s scientific explanations of the functioning of Hadaly. As he opens Hadaly up to a dissecting inspection, Lord Ewald’s final doubts about the mechanical nature of what seemed to him a living woman are dispelled in a horrible recognition of the compatibility of technology and desire. 

Now he found himself face to face with a marvel the obvious possibilities of which, as they transcend even the imaginary, dazzled his understanding and made him suddenly feel to what lengths a man who wishes can extend the courage of his desires.4

Hadaly’s interior is a maze of electrical wizardry including coded metal discs that diffuse warmth, motion, and energy throughout the body; wires that imitate nerves, arteries, and veins; a basic electro-magnetic motor, the Cylinder, on which are recorded the “gestures, the bearing, the facial expressions, and the attitudes of the adored being”; and two golden phonographs that replay Hadaly’s only discourse, words “invented by the greatest poets, the most subtle metaphysicians, the most profound novelists of this century.”5 Hadaly has no past, no memories except those embodied in the words of “great men.” As Annette Michelson remarks, in a provocative analysis of the novel, Hadaly’s scenes, so to speak, are set in place. Hadaly becomes that palimpsest of inscription, that unreasoning and resonable facsimile, generated by reason, whose interlocutor, Lord Ewald. has only to submit to the range and nuance of mise-en-scene possible in what Edison calls the “great kaleidoscope” of human speech and gesture in which signifiers will infinitely float.6


As Edison points out to Lord Ewald, the number of gestures or expressions in the human repertoire is extremely limited, clearly quantifiable, and hence reproducible. Yet, precisely because Villiers is a metaphysician, something more is needed to animate the machine — a spark, a touch of spirit. 

This spark is provided, strangely enough, by an abandoned mother, Mrs. Anny Anderson (who, in the hypnotic state Edison maintains her in, takes on the name Miss Anny Sowana). Her husband, Howard another of Edison’s friends, had been seduced and ruined by a beautiful temptress, Miss Evelyn Habal, ultimately committing suicide. Miss Evelyn Habal was in a way the inspiration for the outer form of Hadaly, for through his investigations, Edison discovered that her alleged beauty was completely artificial. He displays for Lord Ewald’s sake a drawer containing her implements: a wig corroded by time, a makeup kit of greasepaint and patches, dentures, lotions, powders, creams, girdles, and falsies, etc. Edison’s cinema revels that, without any of these aids, Evelyn Habal was a macabre figure. The display demonstrates to Ewald that mechanical reproduction suffices in the construction of the forms of femininity. But its spirit, at least, is not scientifically accessible. The abandoned Mrs. Anderson, mother of two children, suffers a breakdown after the suicide of her husband. Only Edison is able to communicate with her and eventually her spirit establishes a link with his android Hadaly, animating it, humanizing it. The mother infuses the machine. Perhaps this is why, for Edison, science’s most important contribution here is the validation of the dichotomy between woman as mother and woman as mistress:
 
Far from being hostile to the love of men for their wives — who are so necessary to perpetuate the race (at least till a new order of things comes in), 1 propose to reinforce, ensure, and guarantee that love. 1 will do so with the aid of thous­ands and thousands of marvelous and completely innocent facsimiles, who will render wholly superfluous all those beautiful but deceptive mistresses, ineffective henceforth forever.7

Reproduction is that which is, at least initially, unthinkable in the face of the woman- machine. Herself the product of a desire to reproduce, she blocks the very possibility of a future through her sterility. Motherhood acts as a limit to the conceptualization of femininity as a scientific construction of mechanical and electrical parts. And yet it is also that which infuses the machine with the breath of a human spirit. The maternal and the mechanical/synthetic coexist in a relation that is a curious imbrication of dependence and antagonism.


L’Eve future is significant as an early signpost of the persistence of the maternal as a sub-theme accompanying these fantasies of artificial femininity. It is also, insofar as Edison (a figure closely associated with the prehistory of cinema) is the master­mind of Hadaly’s invention, a text that points to a convergence of the articulation of this obsession and the cinema as a privileged site for its exploration. In Michelson’s argument, Hadaly’s existence demonstrates the way in which a compulsive movement between analysis and synthesis takes the female body as its support in a process of fetishization fully consistent with that of the cinema:

We will want once more to note that assiduous, relentless impulse which claims the female body as the site of an analytic, mapping upon its landscape a poetics and an epistemology with all the perverse detail and somber ceremony of fetishism. And may we not then begin to think of that body in its cinematic relations somewhat differently? Not as the mere object of a cinematic icon­ography of repression and desire — as catalogued by now in the extensive literature on dominant narrative in its major genres of melodrama, Jilm noir, and so on — but rather as the fantasmatic ground of cinema itself.8


Indeed, cinema has frequently been thought of as a prosthetic device, as a techno­logical extension of the human body, particularly the senses of perception. Christian Metz, for instance, refers to the play “of that other mirror, the cinema screen, in this respect a veritable psychical substitute, a prosthesis for our primally dislocated limbs.”9 From this point of view it is not surprising that the articulation of the three terms — “woman,” “machine,” “cinema” — and the corresponding fantasy of the artificial woman recur as the privileged content of a wide variety of cinematic narratives.


An early instance of this tendency in the science-fiction mode is Fritz Lang’s 1926 film, Metropolis, in which the patriarch of the future city surveys his workers through a complex audio-visual apparatus resembling television. In Metropolis, the bodies of the male workers become mechanized; their movements are rigid, mecha­nical, and fully in sync with the machines they operate. The slightest divergence between bodily movement and the operation of the machine is disastrous, as evidenced when the patriarch’s son, Freder, descends to the realm of the workers and witnesses the explosion of a machine not sufficiently controlled by a worker. Freder’s resulting hallucination transforms the machine into a Moloch-figure to whom the unfortunate workers are systematically sacrificed. When Freder relieves an overtired worker, the machine he must operate resembles a giant clock whose hands must be moved periodically — a movement that corresponds to no apparent logic. In a production routine reorganized by the demands of the machine, the human body’s relation to temporality becomes inflexible, programmed. The body is tied to a time clock, a schedule, a routine, an assembly line. Times becomes oppression and mechanization - the clock, a machine itself, is used to regulate bodies as machines. Metropolis represents a dystopic vision of a city run by underground machines whose instability and apparent capacity for vengeance are marked.


But where the men’s bodies are analogous to machines, the woman’s body literally becomes a machine. In order to forestall a threatened rebellion on the part of the workers, the patriarch Fredersen has a robot made in the likeness of Maria, the woman who leads and instigates them. Rotwang, who is a curious mixture of modern scientist and alchemist, has already fashioned a robot in the form of a woman when Fredersen makes the request. The fact that the robot is manifestly female is quite striking particularly in light of Rotwang’s explanation of the purpose of the machine: “I have created a machine in the image of man, that never tires or makes a mistake. Now we have no further use for living workers.” A robot which is apparently designed as the ultimate producer is transformed into a woman of excessive and even explosive sexuality (as manifested in the scene in which Rotwang demonstrates her seductive traits to an audience of men who mistake her for a “real woman”). In Andreas Huyssen’s analysis of Metropolis, the robot Maria is symptomatic of the fears associated with a technology perceived as threatening and demonic: “The fears and perceptual anxieties emanating from ever more powerful machines are recast and reconstructed in terms of the male fear of female sexuality, reflecting, in the Freudian account, the male’s castration anxiety.”10


Yet, the construction of the robot Maria is also, in Huyssen’s account, the result of a desire to appropriate the maternal function, a kind of womb envy on the part of the male. This phenomenon is clearly not limited to Metropolis and has been extensively explored in relation to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which the hero, immediately before awakening to perceive his frightful creation, the monster, standing next to his bed, dreams that he holds the corpse of his dead mother in his arms. The “ultimate technological fantasy,” according to Huyssen, is “creation without the mother.”11 Nevertheless, in Metropolis, the robot Maria is violently opposed to a real Maria who is characterized, first and foremost, as a mother. In the first shot of Maria, she is surrounded by a flock of children, and her entrance interrupts a kiss between Freder and another woman so that the maternal effectively disrupts the sexual. Toward the end of the film, Maria and Freder save the children from a flood unwittingly caused by the angry workers’ disruption of the machinery. The film manages to salvage both the technological and the maternal (precisely by destroying the figure of the machine-woman) and to return the generations to their proper ordering (reconciling Freder and his father). The tension in these texts which holds in balance a desire on the part of the male to appropriate the maternal function and the conflicting desire to safeguard and honor the figure of the mother is resolved here in favor of the latter. The machine is returned to its rightful place in production, the woman hers in reproduction.


The maternal is understandably much more marginal in a more recent film, The Stepford Wives (1974), in which the machine-woman is not burned at the stake, as in Metropolis, but comfortably installed in the supermarket and the suburban home. In this film, a group of women are lured to the suburbs by their husbands who then systematically replace them with robots, indistinguishable from their originals. The robots have no desires beyond those of cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, and fulfilling their husband’s sexual needs. Even the main character, Joanna, who claims, “I messed a little with Women’s Lib in New York,” finds that she cannot escape the process. As in L’Eve future, the husbands record the voices of their wives to perfect the illusion, but unlike that of Hadaly, the Ideal, the discourse of these robot-housewives consists of hackneyed commercial slogans about the advantages of products such as Easy On Spray Starch. Here the address is to women and the social context is that of a strong and successful feminist movement, which the film seems to suggest is unnecessary outside of the science-fiction nightmare in which husbands turn wives into robots. The Stepford Wives indicates a loss of the obsessive force of the signifying matrix of the machine-woman — as though its very banalization could convince that there is no real threat involved, no reason for anxiety.


The contemporary films that strike me as much more interesting with respect to the machine-woman problematic are those in which questions of the maternal and technology are more deeply imbricated — films such as Alien (1979) and its sequel, Aliens (1986), and Blade Runner (1982). As technologies of reproduction seem to become a more immediate possibility (and are certainly the focus of media atten­tion), the impact of the associative link between technology and the feminine on narrative representation becomes less localized — that is, it is no longer embodied solely in the figure of the female robot. Alien and Aliens contain no such machine- woman, yet the technological is insistently linked to the maternal. While Blade Runner does represent a number of female androids (the result of a sophisticated biogenetic engineering, they are called “replicants” in the film), it also represents male repli­cants. Nevertheless, its narrative structure provocatively juxtaposes the question of biological reproduction and that of mechanical reproduction. Most importantly, perhaps, both Alien and Blade Runner contemplate the impact of drastic changes in reproductive processes on ideas of origins, narratives, and histories.

Alien, together with its sequel, Aliens, and Blade Runner elaborate symbolic systems that correspond to a contemporary crisis in the realm of reproduction — the revolution in the development of technologies of reproduction (birth control, artifi­cial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate mothering, etc.).These technologies threaten to put into crisis the very possibility of the question of origins, the Oedipal dilemma and the relation between subjectivity and knowledge that it supports. In the beginning of Alien, Dallas types into the keyboard of the ship’s computer (significantly nicknamed “Mother” by the crew) the question: “What’s the story, Mother?” The story is no longer one of transgression and conflict with the father but of the struggle with and against what seems to become an overwhelming extension of the category of the maternal, now assuming monstrous proportions. Furthermore, this concept of the maternal neglects or confuses the traditional attributes of sexual difference. The ship itself, The Nostromo, seems to mimic in the construction of its internal spaces the interior of the maternal body. In the first shots of the film, the camera explores in lingering fashion corridors and womblike spaces which exemplify a fusion of the organic and the technological.12 The female merges with the environment and the mother-machine becomes mise-en-scene, the space within which the story plays itself out. The wrecked alien spaceship which the crew investigates is also character­ized by its cavernous, womblike spaces; one of the crew even descends through a narrow tubelike structure to the “tropical” underground of the ship where a field of large rubbery eggs are in the process of incubation. The maternal is not only the subject of the representation here, but also its ground.


The alien itself, in its horrifying otherness, also evokes the maternal. In the sequel, Aliens, the interpretation of the alien as a monstrous mother-machine, incessantly manufacturing eggs in an awesome excess of reproduction, confirms this view. Yet, in the first film the situation is somewhat more complex, for the narrative operates by confusing the tropes of femininity and masculinity in its delineation of the process of reproduction. The creature first emerges from an egg, attaches itself to a crew member’s face, penetrating his throat and gastrointestinal system to deposit its seed. The alien gestates within the stomach of the crew member who later “gives birth” to it in a grotesque scene in which the alien literally gnaws its way through his stomach to emerge as what one critic has labeled a phallus dentatus.11 The confusion of the semes of sexual difference indicates the fears attendant upon the development of technologies of reproduction that debiologize the maternal. In Alien, men have babies but it is a horrifying and deadly experience. When the alien or other invades the most private space - the inside of the body — the foundations of subjectivity are shaken. The horror here is that of a collapse between inside and outside or of what Julia Kristeva refers to, in Powers of Horror, as the abject. Kristeva associates the maternal with the abject — i.e., that which is the focus of a combined horror and fascination, hence subject to a range of taboos designed to control the culturally marginal.14 In this analysis, the function of nostalgia for the mother-origin is that of a veil which conceals the terror attached to nondifferentiation. The threat of the maternal space is that of the collapse of any distinction whatsoever between subject and object.

Kristeva elsewhere emphasizes a particularly interesting corollary of this aspect of motherhood: The maternal space is “a place both double and foreign.”15 In its internalization of heterogeneity, an otherness within the self, motherhood decon­structs certain conceptual boundaries. Kristeva delineates the maternal through the assertion, “In a body there is grafted, unmasterable, an other.”16 The confusion of identities threatens to collapse a signifying system based on the paternal law of differentiation. It would seem that the concept of motherhood automatically throws into question ideas concerning the self, boundaries between self and other, and hence


According to Jean Baudrillard, “Reproduction is diabolical in its very essence; it makes something fundamental vacillate.”17 Technology promises more strictly to control, supervise, regulate the maternal — to put limits upon it. But somehow the fear lingers — perhaps the maternal will contaminate the technological. For aren’t we now witnessing a displacement of the excessiveness and overproliferation previously associated with the maternal to the realm of technologies of representation, in the guise of the all-pervasive images and sounds of television, film, radio, the Walkman? One response to such anxiety is the recent spate of films that delineate the horror of the maternal — of that which harbors an otherness within, where the fear is always that of giving birth to the monstrous; films such as It’s Alive, The Broad, The Fly, or the ecology horror film, Prophecy. Alien, in merging the genres of the horror film and science fiction, explicitly connects that horror to a technological scenario.


In Blade Runner, the signifying trajectory is more complex, and the relevant semes are more subtly inscribed. Here the terror of the motherless reproduction associated with technology is clearly located as an anxiety about the ensuing loss of history. One scene in Blade Runner acts as a condensation of a number of these critical terms: “representation,” “the woman,” “the artificial,” “the technological,” “history,” and “memory.” It is initiated by the camera’s pan over Deckard’s apartment to the piano upon which a number of photos are arranged, most of them apparently belonging to Deckard, signifiers of a past (though not necessarily his own), marked as antique — pictures of someone’s mother, perhaps a sister or grandmother. One of the photographs, however — a rather nondescript one of a room, an open door, a mirror — belongs to the replicant Leon, recovered by Deckard in a search of his hotel room. Deckard inserts this photograph in a piece of equipment that is ultimately revealed as a machine for analyzing images. Uncannily responding to Deckard’s voice commands, the machine enlarges the image, isolates various sections, and enlarges them further. The resultant play of colors and grain, focus and its loss, is aesthetically provocative beyond the demonstration of technical prowess and control over the image. Deckard’s motivation, the desire for knowledge that is fully consistent with his positioning in the film as the detective figure of film noir, is overwhelmed by the special effects which are the byproducts of this technology of vision — a scintillation of the technological image which exceeds his epistemophilia. Only gradually does the image resolve into a readable text. And in the measure to which the images becomes readable, it loses its allure. The sequence demonstrates how technology, the instrument of a certain knowledge-effect, becomes spectacle, fetish. But one gains ascendancy at the price of the other — pleasure pitted against knowledge.


Historically, this dilemma has been resolved in the cinema by conflating the twomaking pleasure and knowledge compatible by projecting them onto the figure of the woman. The same resolution occurs here: as the image gradually stabilizes, what emerges is the recognizable body of a woman (neglecting for a moment that this is not a “real” woman), reclining on a couch, reflected in the mirror which Deckard systematically isolates. The mirror makes visible what is outside the confines of the photograph strictly speaking — the absent woman, object of the detective’s quest. To know in Blade Runner is to be able to detect difference — not sexual difference, but the difference between human and replicant (the replicant here taking the place of the woman as marginal, as Other). Knowledge in psychoanalysis, on the other hand, is linked to the mother’s body (knowledge of castration and hence of sexual difference, knowledge of where babies come from) — so many tantalizing secrets revolving around the idea of an origin and the figure of the mother. There are no literal — no embodied — mothers in Blade Runner (in fact, there are no “real” women in the film beyond a few marginal characters — the old Chinese woman who identifies the snake scale, the women in the bar). Yet this does not mean that the concept of the maternal its relation to knowledge of origins and subjective history — is inoperative in the text. As a story of replicants who look just like “the real thing,” Blade Runner has an affinity with Barthes’s analysis of photography, Camera Lucida,18 Barthes’s essay is crucially organized around a photograph of his mother which is never shown, almost as though making it present would banalize his desire, or reduce it. Both film and essay are stories of reproduction — mechanical reproduction, reproduction as the application of biogenetic engineering. In the film, however, our capability of representing human life begins to pose a threat when the slight divergence that would betray mimetic activity disappears.


In Blade Runner, as in Camera Lucida, there are insistent references to the mother, but they are fleeting, tangential to the major axis of the narrative. In the opening scene, the replicant Leon is asked a question by the examiner whose task it is to ascertain whether Leon is human or inhuman: “Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about — your mother.” Leon answers, “Let me tell you about my mother” and proceeds violently to blow away the examiner with a twenty-first-century gun. The replicants collect photographs (already an archaic mode of representation in this future time) in order to reassure themselves of their own past, their own subjective history. At one point Leon is asked by Roy whether he managed to retrieve his “precious photographs.” Later Rachel, still refusing to believe that she is a replicant, tries to prove to Deckard that she is as human as he is by thrusting forward a photograph and claiming, “Look, it’s me with my mother.” After Rachel leaves, having been told that these are “not your memories” but “somebody else’s,” Deckard looks down at the photo, his voice-over murmuring “a mother she never had, a daughter she never was.” At this moment, the photograph briefly becomes “live,” animated, as sun and shadow play over the faces of the little girl and her mother. At the same moment at which the photograph loses its historical authenticity vis-á-vis Rachel, it also loses its status as a photograph, as dead time. In becoming “present,” it makes Rachel less “real.” Deckard animates the photograph with his gaze, his desire, and it is ultimately his desire that constitutes Rachel’s only subjectivity, in the present tense. In this sense Rachel, like Villiers’s L’Eve future, becomes the perfect woman, born all at once, deprived of a past or authentic memories.


Reproduction is the guarantee of a history — both human biological reproduction (through the succession of generations) and mechanical reproduction (through the succession of memories). Knowledge is anchored to both. Something goes awry with respect to each in Blade Runner, for the replicants do not have mothers and their desperate invocation of the figure of the mother is symptomatic of their desire to place themselves within a history. Neither do they have fathers. In the scene in which Roy kills Tyrell he, in effect, simulates the Oedipal complex,19 but gets it wrong. The father, rather than the son, is blinded. Psychoanalysis can only be invoked as a mis­understood, misplayed scenario. Similarly, the instances of mechanical reproduction which should ensure the preservation of a remembered history are delegitimized; Leon’s photograph is broken down into its constituent units to become a clue in the detective’s investigation, and Rachel’s photograph is deprived of its photographic status. The replicants are objects of fear because they present the humans with the specter of a motherless reproduction, and Blade Runner is at one level about the anxiety surrounding the loss of history. Deckard keeps old photos as well, and while they may not represent his own relatives, they nevertheless act as a guarantee of temporal continuity — of a coherent history which compensates for the pure presence of the replicants. This compensatory gesture is located at the level of the film’s own discourse also insofar as it reinscribes an older cinematic mode — that of film noir

thus ensuring its own insertion within a tradition, a cinematic continuity.


Yet, science fiction strikes one as the cinematic genre that ought to be least concerned with origins since its “proper” obsession is with the projection of a future rather than the reconstruction of a past. Nevertheless, a great deal of its projection of that future is bound up with issues of reproduction — whether in its constant emphasis upon the robot, android, automaton, and anthropomorphically conceived computer or its insistent return to the elaboration of high-tech, sophisticated audio-visual systems. When Deckard utilizes the video analyzer in Blade Runner, it is a demon­stration of the power of future systems of imaging. Furthermore, the Voight-Kampf empathy test designed to differentiate between the replicant and the human being is heavily dependent upon a large video image of the eye. In both Alien and its sequel, Aliens, video mechanisms ensure that those in the stationary ship can see through the eyes of the investigating astronauts/soldiers outside. Danger is signaled by a difficulty in transmission or a loss of the image. Garrett Stewart remarks on the overabundance of viewing screens and viewing machines in science fiction in general — of “banks of monitors, outsized video intercoms, x-ray display panels, hologram tubes, backlit photoscopes, aerial scanners, telescopic mirrors, illuminated computer consoles, overhead projectors, slide screens, radar scopes, whole curved walls of transmitted imagery, the retinal registers of unseen electronic eyes.”20 And in his view, “cinema becomes a synecdoche for the entire technics of an imagined society.”

Since the guarantee of the real in the classical narrative cinema is generally the visible, the advanced visual devices here would seem, at least in part, to ensure the credibility of the “hyperreal” of science fiction. And certainly insofar as it is necessary to imagine that the inhabitants of the future will need some means of representing to themselves their world (and other worlds), these visual devices serve the purpose, as Stewart points out, of a kind of documentary authentication.22 Yet, the gesture of marking the real does not exhaust their function. Technology in cinema is the object of a quite precise form of fetishism, and science fiction would logically be a privileged genre for the technophile. Christian Metz describes the way in which this fetishism of technique works to conceal a lack:


A fetish, the cinema as a technical performance, as prowess, as an exploit, an exploit that underlines and denounces the lack on which the whole arrange­ment is based (the absence of the object, replaced by its reflection), an exploit which consists at the same time of making this absence forgotten. The cinema fetishist is the person who is enchanted at what the machine is capable of, at the theatre of shadows as such. For the establishment of his full potency for cinematic enjoyment [jouissance] he must think at every moment (and above all simul­taneously) of the force of presence the film has and of the absence on which this force is constructed. He must constantly compare the result with the means deployed (and hence pay attention to the technique), for his pleasure lodges in the gap between the two.23


 

Metz here finds it necessary to desexualize a scenario which in Freud’s theory of fetishism is linked explicitly to the woman and the question of her “lack” (more specifically to the question of whether or not the mother is phallic). Technological fetishism, through its alliance of technology with a process of concealing and revealing lack, is theoretically returned to the body of the mother. Claude Bailble, from a somewhat different perspective, links the fascination with technology to its status as a kind of transitional object: “For the technology plays the role of transitional object, loved with a regressive love still trying to exhaust the pain of foreclosure from the Other, endlessly trying to repair that initial separation, and as such it is very likely to be the target of displacements.” 24 In both cases, the theory understands the obsession with technology as a tension of movement toward and away from the mother.

It is not surprising, then, that the genre that highlights technological fetishism  science fiction — should be obsessed with the issues of the maternal, reproduction, representation, and history. From L’Eve future to Blade Runner, the conjunction of technology and the feminine is the object of fascination and desire but also of anxiety a combination of affects that makes it the perfect field of play for the science fiction/horror genre. If Hadaly is the first embodiment of the cinematic woman (this time outside of the cinema) — a machine that synchronizes the image and sound of a “real” woman, Rachel is in a sense her double in the contemporary cinema, the ideal woman who flies off with Deckard at the end of the film through a pastoral setting. Yet, Rachel can be conceived only as a figure drawn from an earlier cinematic scene

1940s film noir the dark and mysterious femme fatale with padded shoulders and 1940s hairdo, as though the réinscription of a historically dated genre could reconfirm the sense of history that is lost with technologies of representation. What is reproduced as ideal here is an earlier reproduction.



Again, according to Baudrillard: “Reproduction . . . makes something funda­mental vacillate.”What it makes vacillate are the very concepts of identity, origin, and the original, as Benjamin has demonstrated so provocatively in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”25 There is always something uncanny about a photograph; in the freezing of the moment the real is lost through its doubling. The unique identity of a time and a place is rendered obsolete. This is undoubtedly why photographic reproduction is culturally coded and regulated by associating it closely with the construction of a family history, a stockpile of memories, forcing it to buttress that very notion of history that it threatens to annihilate along with the idea of the origin. In a somewhat different manner, but with crucial links to the whole problematic of the origin, technologies of reproduction work to regulate the excesses of the maternal. But in doing so these technologies also threaten to undermine what have been coded as its more positive and nostalgic aspects. For the idea of the maternal is not only terrifying — it also offers a certain amount of epistemological comfort. The mother’s biological role in reproduction has been aligned with the social function of knowledge. For the mother is coded as certain, immediately know- able, while the father’s role in reproduction is subject to doubt, not verifiable through the evidence of the senses (hence the necessity of the legal sanctioning of the paternal name). The mother is thus the figure who guarantees, at one level, the possibility of certitude in historical knowledge. Without her, the story of origins vacillates, narrative vacillates. It is as though the association with a body were the only way to stabilize reproduction. Hence the persistence of contradictions in these texts that manifest both a nostalgia for and a terror of the maternal function, both linking it to and divorcing it from the idea of the machine woman. Clinging to the realm of narrative, these films strive to rework the connections between the maternal, history, and representation in ways that will allow a taming of technologies of reproduction. The extent to which the affect of horror is attached to such filmic narratives, however, indicates the traumatic impact of these technologies — their potential to disrupt given symbolic systems that construct the maternal and the paternal as stable positions. It is a trauma around which the films obsessively circulate and which they simultaneously disavow.


1      G. Claudin, Paris (Paris, 1867), 71—72, quoted in Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19 th Century (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1986), 1 59.

2      Villiers de l’lsle-Adam, Tomorrow’s Eve, trans. Robert Martin Adams (Urbana, Chicago, and London: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 1 3.

3      Ibid., 14.

4      Ibid., 125.

5      Ibid., 131.

6      Annette Michelson, “On the Eve of the Future: The Reasonable Facsimile and the Philosophical Toy,” in October:The First Decade, 1976—1986, eds. Annette Michelson, et al. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987), 432. See also Raymond Bellour, “Ideal Hadaly: onVilliers’ The Future Eve," Camera Obscura 15 Fall (Fall 1986): 111—35.

7       Villiers de lTsle-Adam, 164.

8       Michelson, 433.

9       Christian Metz, “The Imaginary Signifier,” Screen 16:2 (Summer 1975), 15.

10       Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 70.

11       Ibid.

12       See Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine — An Imaginary Abjection,” Screen 27:1 (January—February 1986): 44—71 ; and James H. Kavanagh, ‘“Son of a Bitch’: Feminism, Humanism and Science in Alien,” October 13 (1980), 91-100.

13       Kavanagh, 94.

14       Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

15       Julia Kristeva, “Maternité selon Giovanni Bellini,” Polylogue (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1977), 409; my translation.


17       Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman (NewYork City: Semiotext(e), 1983), 153.

18       Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981). For a remarkably similar analysis of Blade Runner, although differently inflected, see Giuliana Bruno, “Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner,” October 41 (Summer 1987), 61—74. Bruno also invokes Barthes’s Camera Lucida in her analysis of the role of photography in the film.

19       See Glenn Hendler, “Simulation and Replication: The Question of Blade Runner,” honors thesis, Brown University, Spring 1984.

20       Garrett Stewart, “The ‘ Videology’ of Science Fiction,” in Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film, eds. George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), 161.

21       Ibid., 161.

22       Ibid., 167.

23       Metz, 72.

24       Claude Bailblé, “Programming the Look,” Screen Education 32/33, 100.

25       Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (NewYork: Schocken Books, 1969), 217—52.

In: The Gendered Cyborg : A Reader / Edited by Gill Kirkup ... [et al.]. 2000, London, pp.110-121.

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