Monday, November 5, 2007

Science fiction and the culture of naham

I will be giving a talk at DANAM (Dharma Association of North America) in November 2007 on "rasa as culture theory." Understanding culture in its essence as the attempt to go beyond the "culture" we apparently inhabit to another transcendent realm of bliss, I discuss one film, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, as an example of the theme of (almost?) all science fiction of the past 50 years at least: the trope of the extra-terrestrial as stand-in for the material, bodily human that we inevitably oppose to a self that owns and is loved by that body. Ironically, the robots, ETs, and vibrating monoliths of Battlestar Gallactica, 2001, Solaris, Forbidden Planet, and the Replicants of my chosen film all aim, in the end, only to show what it is to be human. To be human is to be a body, and body is seen most clearly when it shows itself as other than human. And yet bodies are concerned in their innermost stories and essence with that other thing that makes us human. That is (as my old teacher Raja Rao told us) the abhuman. The search for the abhuman is the story of all (almost all?) science fiction just as it is the theme of all fiction in general. It seems so beautiful to me that at the instant we love a woman, or yearn for God, or even feel profound disgust at the horror of it all, we tell tales of archetypal love and strife and striving; we put it all on the line to tell a story to the King (as Shakespeare said). Culture is that story, refined in the quiet moments that follow passion. Part of contemporary culture is science fiction, and it deserves more respect and more consciousness than it has been granted by the gatekeepers and censors who pass on what counts in the media maelstrom of the 21st century. I do not have time, energy, or expertise to prove the point, but I do claim truth for the intuition: what all the Others of science fiction seek is not other than what I, and the dancing girl of Samkhya, and the demon at the feet of Visnu seek in what we do. A retrospective of AI, Minority Report, Gattaca, The Matrix, and even potboilers like Independence Day, would show the thing clearly. We celebrate the Self in seeking it, and the more we recognize just how far from humanity we are the clearer we see what it means to be human, and how we can live that only by losing it in the act of making--or being made--art.