|Warning: Star Trek: The Next Generation is going to resist you.|
An alarm sounds. Dare you answer?
“Do you ever have nightmares?”
“I have them. I think they tell me who I am.”
Do you think Star Trek: The Next Generation is afraid of something? This is my diagnosis: A show haunted by the spectre of technocracy. Data was created as the ideal technoscientific glorified body: A sublime machine Vitruvian Man, a posthuman figure with no humanity. And this is what Data fears might be the sum total of his existence: An autocratic vision of humanity's utopian future. Data fears reductiveness, because he fears reductiveness is built into his being. There is not that large of a gap between Data and Lore (“Descent”), and Data's programmatic logic and rationalism does not by definition make him a progressive figure (“Gambit”).
Arch-rationality seeks to purge itself of the marginal waste products that do not fit into its master narrative. Barbarians at the gates of Rome would tear the Enterprise down bit by bit, othered monsters who take the form of working class labourers. But the biggest threat of all is Deanna Troi, the scientist of the arcane: Female, feminine and tainted by the forbidden knowledge of the so-called “soft” sciences, she is the Eve figure upon who is projected the insecurities of the rational, patriarchal world. Rationality is gendered at its core, as is must be because rationality gets to define who is and isn't “us”, and thus who is and isn't deserving of a voice. And the fundamental other from the dawn of civilization is woman and the feminine.
Data is afraid because he fears this part of himself.
“There are no longer any haunted houses, but there are haunted beings”. That's what Anne Dufourmantelle once said. She didn't say it to me, but I overheard her say it in conversation with somebody else. Data is haunted by the ghosts of his past, which is his heritage. He may not like what he might hear if they call him.
PLEASE HOLD. YOUR CALL IS BEING TRANSFERRED.
0.0.1 “You are watching me. I am talking, and you are listening”
Technology is the praxis by which fiction is reifyed. All technology is fiction because all technology begins as an idea, and ideas exist within the imaginal realm. A book gives a fiction material form by conveying a simulacrum of ideas through the technology of printing and bound organic tree matter. The process of technolgizing a concept gives politics (both in the general sense of social connections between human and nonhuman actors and in terms of hierarchical systems of power) material and tangible form. Our dynamic interactions with technology, perhaps one could call it an addiction to technology, will then in turn reiterate the political concepts into daily life. A master narrative is a fiction, but it's a fiction we voluntarily choose to live our lives in accordance with through the way it is invoked through and evoked by technology.
A book is patriarchal technology that breeds patriarchal sentiment in turn. It is the discrete material husk of a dead story being delivered to us from an authoritative figure intended for passive consumption. A gospel, or Word of God. It bears a veneer of discontinuity and authoritativeness that, though it falls apart through the act of critical reading, remains a superficial characteristic. A selling point, if you will.
So the question becomes, how does one bring about a progressive, utopian technological philosophy? Or perhaps more to the point, how do you take a technology that isn't utopian and make it utopian? One way to do this is through reading: The act of critical reading is itself a radical act, because it brings to life truths and meanings from a multiplicity of realities.
This gets at the inherent limitations of written and linguistic communication in general, but that's not this story. “Stop being so literal”, as someone might say. Or was it “literary”?
Vaka Rangi is an interdisciplinary switchboard. It has a multiplicity of identities that I alternate between depending on what I think would be an appropriate angle for the topic at hand. First and foremost it is an examination of the image and archetype of the voyaging starship, and how that manifests in a variety of different modern science fiction works over the second half of the 20th century. My personal thesis is that the best possible interpretation of the voyaging starship archetype is as a western version of the philosophy of Polynesian navigators, where the voyaging canoe was a microcosm of the universe and represented the basic interconnectedness of all things. My personal politics, philosophical background and even aspects of my own blossoming spiritual outlook can't help but contribute to the way my conception of this has evolved over time.
It's also a personal journey for me to revisit a specific media artefact that had a major impact on my life in my formative years (Star Trek, namely Star Trek in the years 1987-1994) through the medium of critical history in an attempt to discern what meant to me back then, what it means to me now and how much it truly shaped me into the person I am today. Furthermore, it's a narrative itself, or rather several narratives, because I can only convey my personal experiences through a theatrical pantomime of metaphor and allegory.
Sigmund Freud's approach to psychoanalysis has been widely discredited, and yet his theories remain fundamental to the field. There is what engineers would call a “design flaw” within psychoanalysis; technoscientific code for a disconnect between two sets of actors. We might call it a “failure to communicate”.
Data understands that Freud's theories are inherently flawed, and yet he summons him as an actor anyway. In fact, he consults him long before he considers calling on the heretical Deanna Troi. But this Sigmund Freud is a holodeck simulation, and thus a phantom channeled through the medium of Data's positionality. This is what media studies scholars might call a “redemptive reading”: Although Data acknowledges the flaws and shortcomings in Freud's approach, he still cares enough about him to wish to speak with him. And Freud further manifests himself to Geordi and Captain Picard as the representation of Data's subconscious in the collective dream.
Data invokes Freud, literally calling on him, because he sees something in Freud's work that is worth preserving in spite of whatever other faults may be present within it. This is an act of unconditional love wherein the reader glorifies the text by making it into something more than it was before. We only criticize because we care.
Do you love Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Although it probably doesn't reach the level of a serious medical condition, I have what I would consider a form of telephone anxiety. I do not like communicating through it and I refuse to own a cell phone (a decision I feel is validated by the fact smart phones are exquisitely designed agents of social control).
I got part of this from my father, who served in the Vietnam War and was trained to treat any form of electronic communication as a potentially bugged information trap and to view any and all telephones with latent suspicion. But I also grew up in a family that was isolated from the outside world for both voluntary and involuntary reasons and, over time, the only time the telephone would ring in our house would be for calls from telemarketers and collection agencies. The only time I had a phone of my own was in college, and the only people I ever talked to were judgmental administrators, financial aid organisations looking for payments and the harried and overworked boss at the mismanaged part-time job I worked who would call me up late at night in a rage to blame me for some breakdown in communication further up the line.
For me, the telephone has always been an invader. It's an assailant into my environment that demands my attention and subservience to its authority with a latent threatening presence. There's the famous Cold War story of the “nuclear hotline” or “red phone” that would only ring in the event nuclear war was declared, a call the entire world would wait in dread anxiety to hear. And in World War II, the Nazis mobilized both the telephone and radio: For Hitler the telephone was a weapon, an instrument of surveillance, propaganda, recruitment and brainwashing. The legacy of fascism leaves the telephone at least a partially fascist tool that appropriates and subjugates its listeners.
Even Joseph Campbell's “Call to Adventure” is phrased in telephonic terms. There is a call from someplace absent and distant that summons someone to a pre-ordained mission they cannot refuse. And thus is perpetuated the master narrative.
Spoken word predates linguistic communication. Mantras (translated in Chinese as zhenyan, literally, “true words”) are sacred syllabic and melodic vocal constructs thought to be older than language itself. And in many indigenous societies, shamanic practice involves ritualistic chanting to enter into trance to bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds. In populist language, hypnosis is synonymous with brainwashing. Yet in practice, hypnosis can be a joint act of guided meditation through which participants can attain a heightened state of conscious awareness. It doesn't work if both parties don't jointly agree to play along.
Can we reconceptualize this as a form of communication? Not on a conversational level per se, but perhaps at an empathic one. Maybe reach the imaginal realm in tandem is the way to understand both yourself and another, because in doing so you'll have attained that truth together. And if the subjective congress were to be read in microcosm, then