Saturday, January 10, 2004

Who made who?
Who made you?
Who made who?
Ain’t nobody told you?

What is science fiction?
A primary notion of science fiction may be that it is fiction set in the future. The word itself, though, simply indicates that it is a fictional text (not a documentary or in another genre that purports to mime a pre-discursive reality) having science as its subject matter. A popular notion of what science indicates that this type of narrative text should have its emphasis on the so-called hard sciences. This conforms to the narrative content of a number of artifacts common referred to as hallmarks of the science fiction genre: Blade Runner, Alien, Solaris, 1984, Brave New World, The Time-Machine, Metropolis, Frankenstein, and so forth. All these narratives are either set in a relatively distant future in relation to the time of narration, or, in the case of Frankenstein, in a contemporary setting with an isolated incident of a futuristic element. Other examples of the same type of fabula is found in the numerous horror- movies dealing with science “gone amuck”, where, e.g., a biological weapon is haphazardly unleashed on the general public.

While it is a mistake to cling to the idea that science fiction are restricted to themes common to (astro-)physics, biology, chemistry, etc., it has become a popular notion that the genre should deal with an imagined possible future, and that they should feature technologies that are not yet invented or not yet implemented in the way recounted by the story. Some of these futures may in turn be employed in so-called realistic or factional narratives, so that newspapers may portray an politic as “big brother policy”. They may also be productive of popular practices, such as the current obsession with “gadgets”, apparently empowered to convey as sense of avant-gardist technological edge to their owners or knowers. It is as if the entire fascination with the form of modern telecommunication is anticipated in scientific imaginigs. Because isn’t it precisely in the form that science fiction makes itself know to the popular imagination?

Besides suggesting that it is a complicated matter to distinguish clearly between fictional and factional (“realistic”) narratives and that facts may imitate fiction as much as fiction may mime facts, these insights stop at critiquing the latter part of the term, the fictional status of these narratives, but leave us short of a critique of hard science as the central organizing element of the genre. However, most of the narratives mentioned above, and also narratives that are common referred to as science fiction but that don’t conform to the generic outline above, such as Borges’ “Book of Sand” and “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, also feature a certain formal creativity. We will limit our deliberations on how to articulate this generic moment to two narratives: Jorge Luis Borges’ “Book of Sand” and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, considered as sampling a more common formal moment to which we wish to call attention.

In “The Book of Sand” the narrator acquires a monstrously expanding book, an artifact without beginning or end that threatens to usurp the entire world into itself. The narrator stores it away on top of a shelf in the basement of the Buenos Aires public library, author Borges’ workplace at the time, in the hope that it will forever remain there, as a stowed-away Pandora’s Box. The book represents a singular artifact in the story, such as was the case with the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, intruding into the normality of a narrative contemporary. But whereas Frankenstein’s monster is produced by an aberrant science, the abnormal book in Borges’ tale comes from nowhere and ends in a possible contemporary world. It doesn’t have a story of origin, and its existence doesn’t end with the completion of the narrative. It stands as an object miming the narrative act itself, unappropriable, confusing, potentially monstrous, and never-ending.

In Blade Runner, it is the replicant who provides the photographs that are the organizing core of their memory. Darren Tofts recount them as “proof artifacts” (“The World Will Be Tlön”), reminding the audience of the fictional, derived nature of the replicant’s sense of reality, but also, by diegetic implication, interrogating the audiences notion of realism. The blade runner constitutes as evidence of the replicants’ inauthentic past, an interpretation echoed by Tofts in his classification of them as “memories ... belonging to someone else”. Tofts, similarly, finds that Borges’ narratives “intrude into the world-outside text”, as a kind of paradoxical dream. However, if both Blade Runner and “The Book of Sand” threaten to swallow the world, in a kind of psychotic immersion, in the mother-as-body, they also provide a destabilizing moment to the fictional universe, proposing themselves as realistic narratives considering objects available for practices of validation. [The notion of validity understood here as the practice of realistic affirmation par excellence.] As Donna Haraway points out in her Cyborg Manifesto, we already “find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras ... both in formal discourse (for example, biology) and in daily practice (for example, the homework economy in the integrated circuit).” Separating the content of a subjective imaginary from its form, or its body, may never have been a tenable construction, and it would only be within such a construction, exemplified by the blade runner’s interpretative framework, that these moments could constitute a sort of psychotic demon.

From the replicant Rachel’s perspective, these insights exhibit no more than those epiphanic moments when we realize that we were never fully ourselves, and the untenability of an isolationist notion of subjectivity. In Rachel’s radical confusion as who made who, we cognize the fear, love and confusion of cyborg culture: a never- ending recursion as to the question of originary authenticity. As a formal manifestation, such as in Blade Runner’s narrative non-closure, it is symptomatic moment of science fiction as a generic phenomenon.