Lecture 05 - Traces of the Vanished World


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Fifth lecture for my students in English 192, "Science Fiction," summer 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/m13/

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Lecture 05 - Traces of the Vanished World

  1. 1. Lecture 5: Traces of the Vanished World English 192 Summer 2013 12 August 2013 “He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not." — Cormac McCarthy, The Road
  2. 2. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) ● Lived in Los Angeles for most of his life. ● Works have been frequently adapted for cinema and TV. ● Published several early stories in Weird Tales. ● Probably most famous for The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953). A publicity photo of Bradbury in 1959
  3. 3. “The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.” (477) “The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air, higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.” (477)
  4. 4. Sara Teasdale, “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1920) There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, And swallows circling with their shimmering sound; And frogs in the pools, singing at night, And wild plum trees in tremulous white, Robins will wear their feathery fire, Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire; And not one will know of the war, not one Will care at last when it is done. Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, If mankind perished utterly; And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, Would scarcely know that we were gone.
  5. 5. The future: like the present, but automated “Two thirty-five. “Bridge tables sprouted from patio walls. Playing cards fluttered onto pads in a shower of pips. Martinis manifested on an oaken bench with egg- salad sandwiches. Music played.” (478) “Four-thirty. […] Hidden films clocked through well- oiled sprockets, and the walls lived.” (478) “Six, seven, eight o’clock. […] In the metal stand opposite the hearth where a fire now blazed up warmly, a cigar popped out, half an inch of soft grey ash on it, smoking, waiting.” (479)
  6. 6. A few words before we get to Lippit ● I expect that many of you found the selections from Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) to be difficult reading. ● However, dense theory is not inappropriate in a senior-level English class, and I believe that encountering difficult texts that push beyond your current thresholds of understanding is a positive educational experience. ● I do not expect that you will be intimately familiar with, e.g., the differences between the various Japanese Invisible Man cinematic adaptations. ● I’d like to say a few words about the theoretical tradition in which Lippit is working before we get to his text.
  7. 7. The (Saussurean) Linguistic Sign ● The following discussion is based on the theoretical approach of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). ● Language (and other systems of meaning) consist of signs: elements of meaning consisting of symbols that point toward something in “the real world.” ● Signifier: the thing that does the pointing (a word, for instance) ● Signified: the thing that is pointed to (the thing in the real world)
  8. 8. The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign ● One of Saussure’s most influential principles: signs are arbitrary. ● The relationship between the signifier and the signified is not “natural”: it is determined by culture (has a history, and does not come somehow from inherent properties of the thing itself) English: tree Finnish: puu French: arbre German: Baum Italian: albero Latin: lignum Russian: дерево Spanish: árbol Etc ...
  9. 9. For Saussure, meaning is based on difference between signs “bat” “cat” “Matt”
  10. 10. ● Much of linguistic theory in the latter part of the twentieth century has been a critique of (what is taken to be) Saussure’s belief that signs point to things “in the real world.”
  11. 11. So what is deconstruction? “Deconstruction is most simply defined as a critique of the hierarchical oppositions that have structured Western thought: inside/outside, mind/body, literal/metaphorical, speech/writing, presence/absence, nature/culture, form/meaning. To deconstruct an opposition is to show that it is not natural and inevitable but a construction, produced by discourses that rely on it, and to show that it is a construction in a work of deconstruction that seeks to dismantle it and reinscribe it – that is, not destroy it but give it a different structure and functioning. But as a mode of reading, deconstruction is, in Barbara Johnson’s phrase, a ‘teasing out of warring forces of signification within the text’, an investigation of the tension between modes of signification.” — Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, 2nd edition, p. 140.
  12. 12. “Woman is the opposite, the ‘other’ of man: she is non-man, defective man, assigned a chiefly negative value in relation to the male first principle. But equally man is what he is only by virtue of ceaselessly shutting out this other or opposite, defining himself in antithesis to it, and his whole identity is therefore caught up and put at risk in the very gesture by which he seeks to assert his unique, autonomous existence. Woman is not just an other in the sense of something beyond his ken, but an other intimately related to him as the image of what he is not, and therefore as an essential reminder of what he is. Man therefore needs this other even as he spurns it, is constrained to give a positive identity to what he regards as no- thing. […] On Gender
  13. 13. “[…] Not only is his own being parasitically dependent upon the woman, and upon the act of excluding and subordinating her, but one reason why such exclusion is necessary is because she may not be quite so other after all. Perhaps she stands as a sign of something in man himself which he needs to repress, expel beyond his own being, relegate to a securely alien region beyond his own definitive limits. Perhaps what is outside is also somehow inside, what is alien also intimate – so that man needs to police the absolute frontier between the two realms as vigilantly as he does because it may always be transgressed, has always been transgressed already, and is much less absolute than it appears.” — Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (second edition, p. 115; ch. 4)
  14. 14. So, what binary oppositions does Lippit break down? ● In today’s selection, Lippit works with … ● Inside—outside ● Visual—a/visual ● Visible—invisible ● Theological—technological ● Living—dead ● Subject—world ● And other oppositions, as well.
  15. 15. Radiation ● … developed as a visual- epistemological technique, in the form of X rays, that collapses inside and outside (Lippit 4-5). ● … causes damage and destruction while allowing for sight. ● … and, therefore, is a deconstructionist technique in and of itself. ● These characteristics are present even more strongly in nuclear radiation. Wilhelm Röntgen, “Hand mit Ringen” (1895)
  16. 16. To put it another way ... … the possibility of atomic destruction after the end of World War II results in a radical epistemological shift in human consciousness: “A spectacle in excess of the capacity of any individual to recognize it as a spectacle, or even to see it. De Kooning’s angelic, wrathful light of atoms suspends for a moment, but also forever, the economies of visibility and visuality—melting in ecstasy the eyes of those who say, blending all colors into one, and making everyone angels. A phantom temporality that passes in an instant, in a flash, that leaves behind a historicity scarred and haunted […] by an image, an image of time, torn from its place in history. A timeless image of timelessness. It inscribes an end of visuality, an aporia, a point after which visuality is seared by the forces of an insurmountable avisuality.” (82)
  17. 17. Atomic radiation, for Lippit ● … cannot be directly figured in postwar Japanese cinema, due to both (external) U.S. censorship and (internal) cultural prohibitions (83). “The sense of total destruction unleashed by atomic war initiated a fort/da effect: the closer one moved toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the more those topologies receded. At the hypocenter of destruction, a fundamental density left the event invisible.” (92) ● … renders the human body inside-out (90-91). ● Lippit elsewhere calls this process exscription (e.g., on page 3); contrast the way in which Hōichi’s body is inscribed with Buddhist prayers (1-2).
  18. 18. Media Credits ● The photo of Ray Bradbury (slide 2) is in the public domain because it was published pre-1977 without a copyright notice. Original source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Ray_Bradbury_ 1959.JPG ● Saussure's diagram incorporating a picture of a tree and derivatives thereof (slides 7 through 10) are from Wikimedia Commons. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tree.gif ● The photo of Matt Damon (slide 9) is also in the public domain and also from Wikimedia Commons. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Damon_croppe d.jpg ● Wilhelm Röntgen's “Hand mit Ringen” (slide 15) is out of copyright because it was first published before 1923. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_medical_X- ray_by_Wilhelm_R%C3%B6ntgen_of_his_wife_Anna_Bertha_Ludwig %27s_hand_-_18951222.jpg