Remarks And Quotations On Science Fiction,
Utopia And Roadside Picnics
(Photograph by Makiko Nagaya)
"I went closer,
and when the next wave came I held out my own hand...the
wave hesitated, recoiled,
and then enveloped my hand without touching it,
so that a thin coating of 'air'
separated my glove inside a cavity which had been fluent a moment
previously, and now had a flesh
[From the novel
by Stansislaw Lem]
Scene: In the car.
Night. [Two Shot]
Whatever you want ...
You drive over to my place, bring
the money, we'll
kick back, drop some Death,
maybe get some Tequila ...
[From the film
of Philip K Dick's 1977 book,
A Scanner Darkly; Linklater,
for everybody! ... Free! ...
As much as you want! ... Everybody
come here! ... Happiness for everybody,
free, and no-one
will go away unsatisfied!"
Picnic, the Strugatsky Brothers,
process ... is hidden under the
surface of our reality ... will
only be revealed later ... and
even then ... the people of the
future. .our children's
children will never truly know ...
the awful time we've gone through
... and the losses we took ...
well maybe some minor footnote in a minor history book ...
a brief mention with no list of the fallen."
[From A Scanner
Darkly, Linklater 2005]
Frederick Jameson writes in The Archaeology of the Future [the
Desire called Utopia and other Science-Fictions]:
'What if the 'idea'
of progress were not an idea at all but rather the symptom of
something else?' Whether films
are drawn from novels, for example
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
original, Things to Come who also
wrote the screenplay for the cinematic interpretation [1936,
like Metropolis, co-authored
and written as a novel after the film by Thea von Herbau,
[1927, Lang /
von Herbau] Utopia or Progress
still looks suspiciously of and in historical time and place.
Other markers of future time, Soylent
Fahrenheit 451 [1966,
Truffaut] adapted from the novel
by Ray Bradbury, move ideas through
Luddite mistrust of technocratic advance,
to a generally agreed desire to reclaim the planet's
ecology; yet swings the pendulum
to paradisiacal, Garden myths of
origin and return. Futureworld
Heffron], following Michael Chrichton's
book and film Westworld 
targets and demonises [out of]
control robots designed for fantasies.
And so on, progress is marked again
as symptom in Kathryn Bigelow's
Strange Days [1996,
Bigelow / Cameron],
pathological desire, fixation,
and fetish, captive in cyber-space.
[The film's central science-fiction
idea is using high-tech equipment
to record a person's experience,
then distributing that recording to a second person who can re-live
the experience over and over as 'virtual
reality'. The idea was mined previously
by William Gibson, who featured
the squid-like simstim devices
in his Neuromancer and other cyberpunk novels.
A cyborg is a cybernetic organism,
a hybrid of machine and organism,
a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction...This
experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial,
political kind. Liberation rests
on the construction of the consciousness,
the imaginative apprehension, of
oppression, and so of possibility.
The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes
what counts as women's experience
in the late twentieth century.
This is a struggle over life and death,
but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is
an optical illusion.
From Donna Haraway's
A Cyborg Manifesto 
As in those novels, potential parallels
are drawn between these recordings and addictive drugs.
Also, the possibility of recording
the experience of someone in the act of death brings forward metaphysical
implications. This same set of
ideas was previously explored in the 1983 film Brainstorm,
and subsequently in Dennis Potter's
1996 TV drama Cold Lazarus. Cyber
iconography develops arguably from what Marc Aug� terms the 'non-spaces'
of transition, [as spaces of invention]
hotel rooms, service stations,
that are the familiar settings for Philip K Dick's
android cogito, and stigmata.
Wrought in Raymond Chandler's prosaic
realism of detection, Dick equalises
the non-ideological with a salvational
attitude, through the pure surface
of America's trash culture,
to visions of a future running out of gas.
Contrarily, in art's
newfound social practices, such
as Marjetica Potrc's 'pragmatic
utopias', [small land holdings
for sustainable use], works are
art, and community,
as affinities elected by local collectives.
Utilising global technologies of high-end
satellite transmission Potrc integrates a sci-fi
aesthetic within a pre-modern narrative
[agricultural or rural],
or feudal settlement as part of the life of 'gated'
communities. These projects might
suggest a model utopia as the exception to the rule,
setting up in for example Forest Rising at Xapuri,
Acre, in the Brasilian rain forest:
they could come out of a Dick novel such as _'Martian
For sure, the hostility towards
these isolated 'spaces of exception'
from corporate and government agencies derives from paranoia fuelled
but they are examples of a very real,
and banal contemporary experience [the
murder of a settlement leader for example].
novels such as the science fiction Projet pour une r�volution
� New-York 
also anticipate some of the darker aspects of cults and perverse
communities, [with their 'good'
intentions] undermined by Robbe-Grillet's
disarmingly neutral prose. Subverting
worthy endeavour by his own idiosyncratic visions of futuristic
sexual scenarios, Robbe-Grillet
with the disarmingly neutral description of objects such as a
Trained as an agricultural engineer,
working as an agronomist in Martinique studying the diseases of
banana trees, his apprenticeship
lent itself well to later subversion of the novel,
toward a visual lucidity more akin to dreams.
His cinema and relationship to painting forms an autonomy that
precipitates a new practice. [See
Last Year at Marienbad 1961, made
with Alan Renais, as an example]
By a 'forensic'
precision of style applied to imaginary states of mind,
or sexual fantasy via descriptions of the objects and methods
of torture Robbe-Grillet's
visual style of the nouveau roman depresses the optimism of hierarchy
in a conservative belle �criture,
of the epic 'form and content'
to common narration.
The shift from, say,
Gilles Deleuze's subversive architectural
practice in philosophy, bears an
odd relation. Accelerated technical
miniaturization bears a resemblance to Deleuzian nomadology,
dents Newtonian theories of spatialisation,
yet equates badly, confirming progress
as symptom. The utilization of
aesthetic subversion put into political 'practice'
[as for example aiding the design of military tactics of
Israel's program of colonization]
is pure science fiction, narrated
in the [en]
closure of the dreams of the 'New
Is not science fiction now, precisely,
historical? In fact sci-fi
draws strength from its ironies of performance and redundancy,
or malfunction, against the impossibility
of imaging Utopias. Narratives
need endings, even open-ended
or bad ones; and so too technology,
like writing, is well suited to
speak of new technologies beyond its frame or closure -
that's what defines the limit and
extends it as genre at the same time.
I am thinking of 'La Jet�e',
Chris Marker's 1962 cin�-roman;
black and white stills, classical
music and a visceral vision of an unknowable time-skewed
future. It tells the story of a
post-nuclear experiment in time
travel by using a series of filmed [i.e.
optically printed] photographs
playing out as a photomontage of varying pace with no dialogue
and a voice-over,
ending darkly, and beautifully.
It contains only one brief shot originating on a motion-picture
camera. The stills were taken with
a Pentax 24x36mm and the motion-picture
segment was shot with a 35mm Arriflex.
Philip K Dick's 1977 novel 'A
Scanner Darkly' recently transforms
book into film [by avant-garde
filmmaker Richard Linklater, 2006],
in the appropriate style of a hybrid.
The graphic novel enhanced through computer software,
conjoins Pop Art's acid humour
within a simulated cin�-realism,
setting its action upon the hallucinated terrain of Orange County,
in a vision of the near future 
Californian suburban sprawl. Scanner
_ concerns the drug industry of 'Substance
D', derived from a blue flower,
ultimately standing for Death or at the very least the _jouissance
of taking illicit pleasure in the contract with it,
and consequentially, the phantasmatic
identification followed by disappointment.
not it'. [reference from J.
Lacan Ce n'est pas ceci].
distribution, surveillance and
symptomatic paranoia are acted out at a level of back-yard
familiarity seeded from counter -culture
60s radicals and drug-users [under
surveillance] like Dick,
[and now even the more tuneless derivative subject of Tony
Scott's cinematic style]
during the Nixon years. Recent
history recorded by image technology develops from early American
sci-fi in building scenarios for
youth culture's sympathetic reading
of lost sub-culture into a less
romantic and over-determined contemporary
experience. Hence the success story
of Scott and many others.
'A Scanner Darkly'
was originally shot live-action
on digital video and then turned over to a core group of animators
who painted over the scenes with RotoShop,
the interpolated rotoscoping software developed for Linklater's
innovative 2001 feature 'Waking
Life'. Whereas 'Waking
Life' presented a dream-like,
painterly world, Scanner is more
grounded in reality but tilts things just enough to immerse the
viewer in a state of altered reality,
much like its drug-addicted characters.
Fred: 'whatever you want'
Donna:' you drive over to my place,
bring the money, we'll
kick back, drop some Death,
maybe get some Tequila...' Fred:
Jameson writes, 'Science fiction
does not seriously attempt to imagine the 'real'
future of our social system. Rather,
its multiple mock futures serve the quite different function of
transforming our own present into the determinate past of something
yet to come'. Susan Buck-Morss,
drawing heavily on Walter Benjamin's
work, has written about the failed
Utopias of state communism in her book 'Dreamworld
and Catastrophe: The Passing of
Mass Utopia in East and West' 
from a similar yet oblique optical angle.
Nostalgia, not for the unrealised
dream, but for the very possibility
of having a dream to realise, is
what might be transformed in the present by our view of the past's
future image of what that present might be.
The title 'La Pens�e Sauvage'
[translated as The Savage Mind],
taken from Levi-Strauss'
1962 book of that name surrealistically,
uncannily a pun on 'Wild Pansies'
in the French, or wild flowers,
not unlike Substance D connotes also for Jameson a double-meaning;
the shared political unconscious that might narrate mythical,
archetypal and projective, surrealist
material yet that does not depart from the scientific idea.
It impacts and colludes with it in a transformational,
social sense of technological progress,
which will want to affirm the priority of fantasy as knowledge
and belief in theory and praxis alike,
beyond its symptom. In the archaeologies
of utopia, which have no real a
priori, in the traces of time and
the history of science-fiction,
a double-bind is narrated and pictured,
as in early noir visions of metropolis,
of Japanese manga and anime, of
the avatars of ideology, satirised
lurching out of electronic light,
never completely restrained and dismantled,
They multiply robotically, like
schizoid car ads from the 50s,
as Deleuze writes of the cinematic wastelands of the post-war.
It is also unsurprising then that the new marketing of sci-fi
technologies of cyber modes of interactivity suggested of the
inaccessible spaces of nanoart or banal ones of second life reveal
conservative values and traditional ideas of space /
time geared to masculinity and warfare,
in games generated from movies.
Netart and netwar enact cyberwar imaginaries to subvert representations
by deepening their simulation [a
distinction is to be made between what is called netwar,
societal-level conflicts waged
in part through internetted modes of communications,
and cyberwar at the military level.
The Rand Organisation, on this
basis, is employed by the US government
to research and locate the new monadic operators,
referring back to the ancient art of information in warfare,
for example the intelligence operations of Mongolian armies of
the 13th Century, for a legitimate
cause. I am thinking of the series
of books Dune by Frank Herbert, 
made into the movie by David Lynch 
and their mutual, marketable,
transfer to computer game.
What might be offered by such imaginary scenarios to that 'something
else' of ideology and the uses
of history and science, is the
simulacrum offered of sci-fi,
as the 'something else'
reflected - the fear felt that
the other's fear is mirrored,
whether passage a l'acte or l'acte
propre, as a fabulation,
turning either against the other's
control or dissolving it. Edward
Said writes, how,
in changing viewpoint, what is
enforced to be regarded from a fixed position has as its destination
the standard assumption of 'alien'.
is arguably aimed through the African 'lens'
focused out from its subject. For
'Heart of Darkness'
is not aimed back in vengeance in the writing of the Nigerian,
Chinua Achebe]. It presents a non-restrictive
logic in l'acte propre distinguished
from Conrad's restrictive logic.
Coppola's version of such vision
may present itself as fantastic and science fiction-as-fact,
not at all a fabulation, [Apocalypse
Now! 1979] in his depiction of
genocidal American soldiers surfing to a background of the indifferent
mass bombing of civilians mixing into the buoyant sound of the
Beach Boys. [Coppola's
Redux version adds anti-colonial
import to offset and critique the 'Western'
gung-ho! machismo tendencies in
his work. Seen as a dystopian sci-fi
/ realist horror /
psycho / war /
gothic / cross-genre
Hollywood picture, it marked not
an ending, but the beginning of
a disturbingly revitalised Catholicism in how 'redeemed'
futures are drawn out from their confession in l'acte
propre. A return as figured in
the character of Fritz Lang's spectral
Dr Mabuse, the Lord of Misrule,
is enacted in a passage a l'acte,
to chaos. [As befits pulp influences,
Mabuse is a master of disguise like the shadowy Fant�mas and a
master of telepathic hypnosis not unlike the Ur-hypnotist
Fant�mas was championed by the Parisian avant-garde,
first by the young poets gathered around Guillaume Apollinaire,
who, together with Max Jacob,
founded a Soci�t� des Amis de Fant�mas in 1913,
and then later by the surrealists,
as a figure, for the bourgeoisie,
Fant�mas is the Lord of Terror,
the Genius of Evil, the arch-criminal
anti-hero of a series of pre-WWI
French thrillers written by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain.
He carries out the most appalling crimes:
substituting sulphuric acid in the perfume dispensers at a Parisian
department store, releasing plague-infested
rats on an ocean liner, or forcing
a victim to witness his own execution by placing him face-up
in a guillotine. Fant�mas is the
master of a thousand disguises and the leader of a vast army of
street thugs. Very cool,
the origin of subversive youth culture.
His spies and henchmen are everywhere,
spreading the seeds of chaos and terror.
Fant�mas is anyone and no one,
everywhere and nowhere, waging
an implacable war against the very bourgeois society in which
he moves with such ease and assurance.
The encounter with Kurtz in Apocalypse Now! precedes and exceeds
both as linear narrative framing,
story within story, within the
story, in Conrad's
Heart of Darkness since it is encountered again as historical,
schizoid, and without cause,
therefore ostensibly 'post-historical'.
Heart of Darkness, A Filmmaker's
Apocalypse, the documentary released
in 1991 by Eleanor Coppola adds further quotation marks around
to reduce fact to science fiction and simulate it back again.
A further aesthetic categorial shift occurs with the publication
of 'Notes on the Making of...'
March 4, Baler
'It was the
first time any of us had seen water buffalo,
rice paddies and nipa huts. We
crossed the bridge at the edge of a little village and entered
deep foliage. Sofia said,
"It looks like the Disneyland Jungle Cruise".'...I
could here the wind in the tall palm trees,
but layers of sound seemed to be missing.
There were no people.'
Simple special effects, such as
a liquid mirror, provide the transport,
poetically visualized, in Jean
Cocteau's film 'Orph�e'
, for an image of
an unknown technological and mythological intelligence to be registered.
We may pass with Orpheus through Death and beyond Heaven and Hell,
Good and Evil, to an inhuman awareness,
and to final incomprehension of the image of an encounter.
The alien dread / ecstatic confrontation
with any new consciousness [evil,
or at least something beyond comfortable notions of life and death]
is staged in the real as if 'somewhere
else'. In both the novel and film
Solaris [by Stanislaw Lem and Andrei
Tarkovsky respectively], the alien
is the ocean, Solaris,
who vividly conjures, without any
explanation, fantasies of undeniable
awe, complexity and terror for
its observers. Solaris is a negative
proof of our own 'human'
limit, as what Brian Massumi might
advocate as the moment of 'something
for a revolution in the here and now,
fomenting discontent in the 'oceanic'
undreamt, of the melt-down
of past and future. The immensity
of that imaginary, a kind of mega-Babylonian
universe of unknowable effects upon effects without original cause,
is to be made palpably iridescent,
as an intelligence in colour, beyond
language: there is no writing,
no message, and the sentient ocean,
Solaris, merely activates immeasurable
traces within our own glow-boy
brains and projects them back to its observers as an 'unknowability'
thesis'. Its private expressions
[such as identified and given names
as the 'mimoids',
may be either lucid signals, or
sonorous envelopes, dissonant echoes
of an encounter's misread,
bad timing. We cannot speak of
what we know not. Or can we listen?
Science fiction speaks of a deficit economy in this sense;
it kicks into activity an affective memory of something lost,
or being lost, by getting lost.
The very effort to negate that 'lostness',
to imagine utopia, and furnish
it, unhappily ends up betraying
the impossibility of doing so.
from the infinitely subjective and variegated futurist-demotic
lexicon invades so-called high
culture, for example in Deleuze
and Guattari's geo-political
lingua franca of 'desiring machines',
pursuing an aesthetic that has everything other than to do with
art as we know it today; though,
Jameson writes, we can find a strange
pleasure in these peculiar formations of words,
images and ideas as if we already have some recollection of its
future utopia [and simultaneously,
in negative bonding, dystopia]
within their infinite excess. That
excess breeds best in the normative,
to loosen a hold, as the affective
technology of fantasy. Future visions
of Capital [government/corporate]
converging with Resistance [underground
groups as 'terrorists']
do so in a numbingly real and troubling way since they are already
locked in together without the fluidity of symbolisation.
Their convergence logs clearly the places in which our own ideological
universe as the limits that are the most surely inscribed as hard
data, contained in representational
forms of science fiction [i.e.
those that merely extend existing systems and technological conditions
into a 'future'
place and time, as a symbolic reinforcement].
Utopia is, we recall in song,
an impoverished place where nothing will ever be permitted to
'This first movement of our world-reduction,
of the destruction of the idols and the sweeping away of an old
world [in violence and pain],
is itself a precondition and premonition of the reconstruction
of something else.' Jameson writes
in The Seeds of Time 
of the need to undream and forget the corruption of the puritan
set to moralise utopia; the symptom
compromises everything, making
no apology of colonisations of new worlds:
a substitution applauded by the old,
hideous, and most ardently sung
in enthusiasm by the young. Ursula
K Le Guin's Legend of Earthsea
would also deconceal these limits vis a vis seductions in the
censorship of her work. [A Whitewashed
Earthsea, How the Sci Fi Channel
wrecked my books, Ursula K.
Le Guin, 2004]
There is an argument that fantasy in the endorsement of the return
to universal truth itself is the driving and divining force of
the genre of sci-fi,
an invasive action that has surreptitiously entered every aspect
of ordinary urban life; the ideology
of progress and science; infinite
precedence registered on the time-scale
of the moment, the present,
the everyday. It might be argued
[for better or worse]
not to exclude the so-called mythologising
as a desire within a collective,
In framing sci-fi productions as
neither high-art nor philosophy
nor politics, but as meta-generic
fictions, in universal,
popular stories, a paradox beyond
the binary structures held firmly in place is disclosed as a last
symptom, the dissociation of public
from private, subject from object,
personal from political, etcetera.
The future, invoked in these narratives,
animations and cartoons, pulp novels
and commercial movies and so forth,
is nevertheless just a product of the 'now',
even something purile, as an acknowledged
event that has already taken place.
As such science fiction either over-determines
or destroys an aesthetic as a political unconscious,
the rapidly altering consciousness of today,
beyond the facile and obligatory references to the rival social
systems and their technological determinism,
in class and culture, East and
West. A proselytised science fiction
exists in the present tense, that's
a given, but what about tomorrow,
really, will we still wish to imagine
written or pictured, a fiction
for, and of 'tomorrow',
however briefly glimpsed? That
the condition of an unknown possibility is also at once,
the condition of impossibility?
Or is proselytism manufactured,
endorsing a science fiction product to be conflatable with utopianism
and therefore a lost cause for concern?
Jameson's thesis is only workable
if there were to be a subtraction,
or restriction from its mandate made conspicuous,
at the very least by its absence.
The alien 'Zone',
from Tarkovsky's film,
which Chris Marker, in his 1982
film Sans Soleil, references as
a space of exception to describe the 'somewhere
else' in which images and their
attached memories are made possible,
and transformed, is an aporia,
a place of impossibility. It is
announced quietly l'acte propre,
when the protagonist pauses, to
recite a poem inspired from the rather unpleasant feeling of impasse
within an encounter:
still not enough...'
I became aware that I was holding something at bay,
or shutting something out. Or,
if you like, that I was wearing
some stiff clothing, like corsets,
or even a suit of armour, as if
I were a lobster. I felt myself
being, there and then,
given a free choice. I could open
the door or keep it shut; I could
unbuckle the armour or keep it on.
Neither choice was presented as a duty;
no threat or promise was attached to either,
though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset
meant the incalculable. The choice
appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional.
I was moved by no desires or fears.
In a sense I was not moved by anything.
I chose to open, to unbuckle,
to loosen the rein. I say,
"I chose," yet it did not
really seem possible to do the opposite.
On the other hand, I was aware
of no motives. You could argue
that I was not a free agent, but
I am more inclined to think this came nearer to being a perfectly
free act than most that I have ever done.
Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom,
and [...] most free when,
instead of producing motives, he
could only say, 'I am what I do.'
hen came the repercussion on the imaginative level [...]
the melting was starting in my back---drip-drip
and presently trickle-trickle.
I rather disliked the feeling.
[From Surprised by Joy,
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