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 ...... Journal Title: Camera Obscura Call #: PN1993.C26 no.

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0 MonthNear: September 1991 Item #:
0 Pages: 109-132
(1) - Article Author: Kaja Silverman
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0 - Article Title: Back to the Future
CO ~ Michael Zimmerman
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Back to the Future Kaja Silverman

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) represents a curious generic amalgam; simultaneously science fiction and film noir, it points both forward and backward in time.' It suggests that the farther we travel into the future the more profoundly we encounter the past. Thus, journeying into the year 2019, we discover not only androids, space ships, and new technologies, but the cinematic world of Philip Marlowe, with its low-key lighting, rain-streaked streets, femme fatale, and retrospective male voice-over. Scott describes Blade Runner as "a 40 year-old film set forty years in the future."?

But it is not only through film noir that Blade Runner reprises the past. It invokes expressionist cinema through its use of shadows, smoke, and unusual camera angles,' and fashion of the 1930s as well as the 1940s through the clothes Rachel wears. Like Roy Batty's physical appearance, his leather jacket connotes fascism, and Pris is the veritable incarnation of punk. Zhora's transparent raincoat is borrowed from the late sixties, as are the other items of her scanty apparel. Although, as Vivian Sobchack points out, the Tyrell Building resembles a microchip," it is also literally a pyramid, and the interior of Deckard's apartment has a distinctly Mayan "flavor." Giuliana Bruno has read all of these anachronistic signifiers as a postmodern recycling of the past; "it is the logic of pastiche," she writes, "which allows and promotes quotations of a synchronic and diachronic order.t" While quotation unquestionably represents a major feature of the film's aesthetic, postmodernism is not in my view sufficient to account for them. These historical citations provide the formal analogue of another kind of repetition, that found at the center of the subjectivity imputed both to the replicants and the human characters. There is a profound sense in which, to borrow a joke from Freud, the future of these characters is behind them."

For Donna Haraway, the figure of the cyborg represents a postmodern human subjectivity, a subjectivity which stands outside "salvation history," or-to state the case slightly differently, outside lack and the desire which it sustains? Blade Runner presents a very different account of both the human and the android psyche. It suggests that there can be no subjectivity which is not structured in relation to an

110 irrecoverable lack-no subjectivity which is not afflicted with a profound sense of loss. It does not hesitate for a moment, moreover, to impute this conditionality to its android characters. However, Blade Runner does not encourage us to read replicant subjectivity as an uncanny repetition of its human counterpart. On the contrary, it insists that we read the human characters through the paradigm provided by the androids. In this film it is the replicants rather than their creators' who articulate the basic parameters of subjectivity. .

Blade Runner announces itself in its prologue to be centrally concerned with what we have come to call "difference" -with the cordoning off, within the socius, of certain groups who are deemed to be somehow "Other" in relation to an unmarked and implicitly superior norm." "Early in the 21st century," the opening titles read, "the Tyrell Corporation advanced Robot evolution into the Nexus phase-a being virtually identical to a human-known as a Replicant. The Nexus replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a Nexus 6 combat team in an off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth-under penalty of death. Special police-squads-Blade Runner units-had orders to shoot, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant. This was not called execution. It was called retirement." Through this prologue, Blade Runner indicates that to be a replicant is to occupy the servile position within a master/slave dialectic. It thus situates humans and replicants in a binary relation. However, it also immediately troubles that opposition by suggesting that it has no natural or essential base-that it may be purely positional. Replicants, we are told, are "virtually identical" to humans.

Blade Runner cuts from the prologue to a series of shots of a cityscape blighted by a toxic haze and belching smokestacks, twice intercut with a close-up of a blue eye, in the surface of which a reflected flame intensely burns. Within Hollywood cinema, such a close-up would conventionally imply a privileged point of view, the visual locus from which subsequent events would be seen. Here, however, it remains much more ambiguous. It is never explicitly claimed by any of the film's characters, although it could conceivably belong to Leon, Batty, or Deckard. The two shots of the blue eye thus do not work to map out a spectatorial position for us on one side or other of the human! replicant divide, but to posit vision as the site of a certain collapse between those categories. However, if the opening shots work in an anticipatory way to break down the dichotomy between replicants and humans by focusing on an eye which could represent either, it is


because that organ represents precisely the site at which difference is ostensibly discernible within the world of Blade Runner.

The opening sequence is immediately followed by a scene which puts a particular pair of eyes, again conspicuously blue, on trial. Leon, one of the rebel replicants, is subjected to the Voigt-Kampff test, which is calculated to determine through the "capillary dilation of the socalled blush response," the "fluctuation of the pupil," and the "involuntary dilation of the pupil," whether he is android or human. Significantly, the figure administering the test is unable to make this determination simply by looking at Leon's eyes, even through a magnifying device. Instead, he depends entirely upon the image of an eye provided by the video monitor in front of him. Although that image is supposedly a replication of one of the android's eyes, a salient detail suggests that it is more precisely a "simulation" -a copy without a referent. For whereas Leon's eyes are emphatically blue, the eye imaged in the video monitor is unquestionably green. In the later scene in which Rachel is given the Voigt-Kampff test, the video monitor again shows a green eye, although her eyes are chocolate brown. From the very outset of Blade Runner, we are encouraged to understand the primary difference organizing the world of Los Angeles, 2019 -the difference, that is, between replicants and humans-as an ideological fabrication.

Three subsequent scenes calls this difference further into question - 113

the one in which Rachel and Deckard return to his apartment after

she shoots Leon, and those in which Deckard struggles first with Leon,

and then with Batty. The first of these scenes is particularly crucial to

the film's enterprise, since it works simultaneously to eradicate the

notion that replicants can be distinguished in any essential way from humans, and to foreground their divergent cultural positionalities. Wrapping her fur coat protectively around herself, and holding tightly

onto the drink Deckard has just handed her, Rachel evinces acute agitation over the death of Leon. "Shakes?" asks Deckard. "Me too.

I get them bad. Part of the business." He thereby acknowledges Rachel's capacity not only to feel emotions, but to feel precisely the same emotions as himself. But Rachel's response reminds Deckard that while

they both have the "shakes," the structural distinction between the

two of them remains, since she has been relegated to the category of

a replica nt, and he to that of a blade runner. "I'm not in the business,"

Rachel replies, "I am the business." She thus obliges both him and the

viewer to confront the arbitrariness. and the violence of what passes

for "difference" within any given culture.

The immediately preceding scene, in which Leon initially gets the better of Deckard, not only emphasizes that the distinction between humans and androids is entirely a matter of the parts they have been assigned, but it situates Deckard temporarily in the place conventionally reserved for the androids. It then shows him experiencing the same emotions as those felt by the replicants when reminded of their subordinate status, a symmetry underscored by Leon. As the replicant prepares to smash a desperately frightened Deckard once again in the face, he pauses for a moment to say tauntingly: "Painful to live in fear, isn't it?"

Batty echoes this line in a scene near the end of the film where he breaks Deckard's fingers, providing in the process a radically revisionary definition of what it means to be a slave. "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it," he says to the human who once again occupies a manifestly servile position, "That's what it means to be a slave." Once again we are reminded that if androids are different in any respect from humans at the level of their emotions, that is entirely a consequence of their cultural placement. Deckard himself stresses the fundamental psychic similarity of humans and replicants at the end of this scene, when he says of Batty: "All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us wanted - 'Where do I come from, where am I going, how long have I got.' "

The viewer might be inclined to provide a "liberal" reading of these scenes-to conclude from them that the replicants are fundamentally

114 "just like" the humans, made in the latter's mirror image. However, Blade Runner does not ultimately permit us to rationalize the android characters as "copies" or "reflections" of the human characters. Instead, it encourages us to see the replicants as "more human than human" - as living out more fully and more consciously than their makers the basic conditions of subjectivity. Blade Runner suggests, in other words, that the viewer can discover more about his or her own psychic organization by studying Rachel, Leon, Pris and Batty than by looking at Deckard. But before attempting to demonstrate just how prototypical is the subjectivity imputed to the android characters, I want to pause briefly in order to consider the relation of the human/ android opposition to difference as we live it in 1991.

As we have seen, the opposition of humans and androids in Scott's film is shown to rest upon a situational logic. However, as indicated in the scenes in which the Voigt-Kampff test is administered first to Leon and then to Rachel, the fictional world of Los Angeles, 2019, attempts to naturalize this difference by showing it to rest upon an empathic deficiency on the part of the replicants, which can be revealed through certain involuntary optical responses. The two primary forms of difference in our own culture that depend upon a similar visual and biological rationalization are of course the sexual and the racial. Whereas sexual difference is constructed through the castration complex and the positive Oedipus complex, and reinforced by an almost infinite series of representational and signifying imperatives, it is generally assumed to be fully in place at the moment that the child exits the womb, verifiable through a quick glance at the genitals. Racial difference seems similarly self-evident at the moment of birth, although "blackness," "brownness," "whiteness," and "redness" are all the result of a laborious and constantly repeated cultural construction. What does Blade Runner do with sexual and racial difference? Does the human/android opposition render those two forms of difference obsolete, or are the three somehow articulated in relation to each other?

The world of Blade Runner seems at first to be the product of a veritable ethnic and racial "meltdown." Its futuristic Los Angeles is as much Japanese and Chinese as American, and many of its residents communicate in "cityspeak," a language which represents a composite of Japanese, Spanish and German. The androids might thus seem to have taken on the symbolic function presently served by certain racial minorities in the United States, thereby permitting skin pigmentation to carry a less binary value than it does in the present. However, as Michael Dempsey points out in an early review of Blade Runner, whereas the film shows many Chinese and Japanese characters, it

contains no black characters." It also shows no characters who might 115

be said to "bridge" the imaginary divide separating "blackness" from "whiteness." Blade Runner does, however, provide one overt verbal reference to racial difference, and it significantly focuses on negritude.

In the scene in which Deckard is summoned to his boss's office, Bryant

tells him: "I've got four skin jobs waiting for you." Deckard comments

in sardonic voice-over: "Skin jobs-that's what Bryant called repli-

cants. In history books, he's the kind of cop who used to call black

men "niggers." He thereby suggests that rather than replacing blacks

as America's primary racial Other, the androids somehow subsume

them. Through the replicants, in other words-and most particularly through Batty-the film interrogates what passes above all else for

"race" within our contemporary cultural scene, with its defining history

of slavery and revolt.

There is a similar interarticulation of the categories of "woman" and "replicant." The two categories are not of course completely equivalent in the film, since two of the replicant figures are male. However, whereas "replicant" does not signify "woman," "woman" does largely signify replicant. Although the novel on which Blade Runner is based contains an important female character who is also human, Scott's film does not. The only three women who have a narratively significant part to play, and who are available to the spectator for identification, are androids. Rachel, moreover, is not only prototypically human, but prototypically female. Blade Runner interrogates not only "blackness" but "femininity" through the figures of the androids. Since, as I indicated earlier, it also projects the androids as the very model of human subjectivity, it might be said to posit "blackness" and "femininity" as somehow closer to that model than the terms which they oppose, and hence doubly to displace the human white male from his privileged position.

Because Batty is the leader and presumably the instigator of the Nexus 6 expedition, which is quite literally an uprising of slaves against their unjust masters, he is the figure who most fully represents "blackness" in the film. It may seem at first glance deeply problematical that this category should be embodied by a figure who is physically the very embodiment of the Aryan ideal. However, it is precisely through this character's hyperbolic "whiteness" that Blade Runner most dramatically denaturalizes the category of "slave" -the category which our culture still manages, in an attenuated way, to rhyme with negritude. By putting Batty in the position classically occupied by those with dark skin, the film obliges the white spectator to understand the relation between that position and those who are slotted into it as absolutely arbitrary, and absolutely brutal.

116 In the scene in which Batty comes to ]. F. Sebastian's apartment,

Sebastian asks him and Pris to show him "something," that is to reveal to him what a Nexus 6 replicant can "do." Batty objects to the presumption that they are computers, but Pris's response is more complex. She ironically repeats the rhetorical formula which is for Lacan synonymous with self-delusion - Descartes's "I think, therefore I am." This definition of the human condition insists not only upon the absolute primacy of conscious thought, but upon an untroubled human agency. The subject confers existence and self-knowledge upon him or herself by thinking, which is assumed to be free of either external or unconscious determinants. The replicants pose a dramatic challenge to these assumptions; they demonstrate that the subject is neither selfconstituting, nor substantially self-knowing.

In an important scene near the beginning of Blade Runner, Deckard administers the Voight-Kampff test to Rachel. The test "reveals" her to be a replicant, but she believes herself to be human. In an ensuing private conversation with Tyrell, Deckard says with considerable surprise: "She doesn't know." Tyrell responds: "She's beginning to suspect." Deckard then utters one of the most chilling and reverberative lines in the film: "How can it not know what it is?" Perhaps the most startling element of this exchange is Deckard's shift from speaking about Rachel as a "she" to speaking about her as an "it." As Elissa Marder points out in her analysis of Blade Runner, the impersonal pronoun dramatizes Deckard's attempt to establish a maximum distance between himself and Rachel precisely with respect to the issue of self-knowledge-to de-humanize her, and thereby to obviate the need to interrogate the meconnaissance upon which his complacency rests.'? But for a being who is virtually indistinguishable from the human subject not to know "what it is" does more than pose a radical challenge to the assumption of self-knowledge implicit in Descartes's "I think, therefore I am." It also calls into question the values of autonomy and supremacy which are implicit in the first person pronoun. The word "it" ultimately operates less at the expense of the "her" than at the expense of the "1," or to be more precise, of the "I am." The "I" is that whereby we impute to ourselves an innate human essence-what Lacan would call "being." It is also that through which we linguistically stake out for ourselves an active and constitutive position.'! However, none of us can lay claim to presence once we have entered language. 12 As psychoanalysis has taught us, every subject is also more spoken than speaking, more constructed than constructing, and consequently more an "it" or an effect of discourse than an "I." Blade Runner uses the Nexus 6 replicants as a vehicle for exploring this "itness."


In the scene which we have been discussing, Tyrell explains how it is that Rachel passes so successfully both for herself and for others as a human. "If we give them the past, we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions, and consequently we can control them better." "Memories," Deckard responds, "you're talking about memories." Deckard's momentary astonishment is understandable, since our memories are what most of us assume to be both most fully our own, and our most authentic record of a lived past. They are also that which we imagine to be most unique to ourselves, and least transmissible from one person to another. Blade Runner will ultimately call all of these assumptions into question.

In a later scene, Rachel attempts to prove her "humanness" with a photograph. That photograph, which she gives to Deckard, shows a woman and a girl of four or five, figures whom she takes to be her mother and herself. Rachel places so much credence in this image that it functions almost as an externalized memory. In linking photographs and memories in this way, Blade Runner foregrounds the issue of referentiality which is so central to each. The photograph is often believed to be ontologically connected to what it ostensibly depicts; 13 as Barthes insists in Camera Lucida, "from a real body ... proceed radiations which ultimately touch me .... A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze .... "14 Memories

118 are also conventionally understood as a form of biographical verification-as proof positive that we were "there."

Much has been written about how Blade Runner drops the referential bottom out of both of these ostensible monuments to the past-about the film's insistence upon presenting Rachel's memories and her cherished photograph as pure simulation, copies without an original. However, what has not been sufficiently stressed is that from a psychoanalytic point of view every subject gives primacy to a fictive past. Our most important memories are often neither "authentic" nor our own, but imaginary inscriptions of the psychic structures into which we have been culturally inserted.

As early as Project for a Scientific Psychology, even before he had a coherent theory of the unconscious, Freud cast doubt upon the reliability of memory as a record of the past. In that text, he reveals that events which never in fact happened, but which are instead psychic constructions, are capable of assuming for the subject the status of highly significant memories. These "memories" are produced through what Freud calls "deferred action" -they are the product of the unconscious rewriting of an earlier event in relation to a subsequent event. Years after its occurrence, an innocuous incident can be so substantially reconfigured that it suddenly becomes a major trauma."

In the essay "Screen Memories" (1899), Freud introduces another category of non-referential memories into the discourse of psychoanalysis. These memories stand in for repressed materials-for fantasies and other memories which are prevented from becoming conscious. They consequently carry an emotional value which does not properly belong to them, but rather to what they replace. But this is not the only way in which these memories are unreliable; they are almost always the result of a rearrangement of the past in accordance with the imperatives of the psyche, and hence largely fabrications. Freud even goes so far as to suggest in the concluding paragraph of this essay that all memories ostensibly dating from early childhood may be screen memories, constructed at a much later point in time. "It may ... be questioned whether we have any memories at all from our childhood," he writes

memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess. Our childhood memories show us our earliest years not as they were but as they appeared at the later periods when the memories were aroused. In these periods of arousal, the childhood memories did not, as people are accustomed to say, emerge; they were formed at that time. And a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had a part in forming them, as well as in the selection of the memories themselves."

Consequently, no one's childhood memories may be any more accurate 119

an index of the past than are Rachel's. Radically falsified "recollec-

tions" may be the only ones to which we have access.

The very inception of psychoanalysis itself is tied to the discovery that childhood memories are not necessarily authentic. Freud's private correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess during 1897 records his dawning realization that the ostensible memory of paternal seduction may often be a fantasy of paternal seduction. In letters dating from February 8 and April 28, he communicated to Fliess his belief that hysteria is caused by a literal paternal seduction, and that his own father was "one of those perverrs.'?" However, only a few days after the second of those letters, he attributed the etiology of hysteria to fantasies, produced through "sublimations" and "embellishments" of "the facts" (239), and began sketching the beginnings of a theory of fantasy. And in a letter written in September 1897, Freud confided his absolute certainty that the memories of paternal seduction recounted by his numerous female patients could not all be taken at face value, but must in many instances be understood as the conscious representatives of unconscious fantasies about the parents (264-65). Finally, on October 15, Freud uncovered in that fantasy the structure of the Oedipus complex (272).

Where do the unconscious fantasies implicit in our most important childhood memories come from? Freud is emphatic on this point. They are "manufactured by means of things that are heard, and utilized subsequently, and thus combine things experienced and heard, past events (from the history of parents and ancestors), and things that have been seen by oneself. They are related to things heard .... "18 Through the primacy which Freud gives to hearing in this passage, he stresses the origin of fantasy within discourse. He suggests, that is, that our fantasies come to us from outside, and that through them we psychically re-enact what our parents psychically enacted before us, their parents before them, and so on. Jean Laplanche suggests in a passage of enormous relevance to the present discussion that our fantasies are in effect implanted, and that that process of implantation begins as early as maternal care of the infant's body. A child's sphincteral zones, he writes,

focalize parental fantasies and above all maternal fantasies, so that we may say, in what is barely a metaphor, that they are the points through which is introduced into the child that alien internal entity which is, properly speaking, the sexual excitation. 19

Like the Nexus 6 replicants, then, every human psyche is organized around memories which are both deeply fantasmatic, and which are

120 riven through and through with "otherness" -memories which might be said to belong to Tyrell's niece.

In his conversation with Deckard, Tyrell attributes to the memories which he confers upon Rachel and the other Nexus 6 replicants a structuring role, much as Freud does. He also implies that the particular memories with which he equips the androids are calculated to align them smoothly with the society that depends upon them; he speaks of "controlling" them through the past with which he equips them. However, Blade Runner is concerned not so much with the normalizing as the constitutive effects of the memories implanted into the Nexus 6 replicants. It ultimately suggests that Rachel's fictive childhood memories work less to control than to construct her as a subject, and that in this respect she is no different from Deckard. But what precisely is this structure?

When Rachel holds out her photograph to Deckard with the words, "Look, it's me with my mother," he refuses to take it. Instead, he says:

"Yeah? Remember when you were six? You and your brother snuck into an empty building through a basement window-you were going to play doctor. He showed you his, and when it got to be your turn you chickened and ran. Remember that? ... You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs. Watched her build a web all summer. Then one day there's a big egg in it .... " At this point, Rachel takes over: "The egg hatched and a hundred baby spiders came out and ate her." Together, these two "memories" and the photograph of a mother and child provide Rachel with an entire whole Oedipal history, particularly given the sequence in which they are presented. They insert her into precisely that structure which Freud discovered behind the fantasy of parental seduction, and which Lacan has shown to play an absolutely pivotal part within the constitution of human subjectivity. Rachel's photograph images that romance of mother and daughter which represents the girl's first access to subjectivity and desire, a romance which is generally abruptly terminated in favor of its more normative counterpart.i'' The story about the brother and sister who "play doctor" condenses the whole of the female castration complex - the discovery of the anatomical distinction between boys and girls, and the subsequent reading into that distinction of sexual difference. On the other side of the castration complexthat is, of the culturally orchestrated identification of the little girl with lack-her happy relationship to the mother classically mutates into that relationship which is specific to the positive Oedipus complex, that is, rivalry and hate." All of this is recuperable from the spider story, which can perhaps best be described as a fantasy about killing and ingesting the mother.

I suggested a moment ago that these memory implants do not work 121

so much to control as to constitute Rachel. Significantly, the fantas-

matic recollection to which she clings most tenaciously is that produced through the photo of mother and daughter. She not only refuses to relinquish this libidinally saturated image until the end of her conversation with Deckard, but musters it as a defense against the "difference" which he and Tyrell seek to project onto her. She thus taps

into the pleasurable identifications of the negative Oedipus complex

as a source of protection against what is in effect a restaging of the

female castration complex.

Although we are not made privy to the memories implanted into the other replicants, Batty's behavior toward Tyrell is also manifestly driven by an Oedipal imperative. Not only does he literally murder the figure who produced him, but he kisses him passionately first, in an astonishing condensation of both the negative or homosexual, and positive or heterosexual versions of the male Oedipus complex." Given both his literal enactment of the desires at the heart of the two versions of the male Oedipus complex, and his refusal to relinquish one on behalf of the other, Batty again makes clear that implanted fantasies may often have unpredictable consequences, and that Tyrell's dream of controlling the replicants through their memories is profoundly misbegotten. Leon reacts in 'similarly unpredictable ways when being interrogated earlier in the film about his mother.

But let us return once again to the issues of memory and photography, which are so central to Blade Runner's deconstruction of difference. Elissa Marder imputes the recollections of playing doctor and watching the spider to Deckard. For her, Deckard's monologue is calculated to show Rachel what real memories look like. When Rachel interrupts and completes the spider story, she "dispossesse[s] Deckard of his memory" (95). I would like to suggest instead that Deckard's project is to dispossess Rachel of her memories by repeating them back to her, and then explaining them as implants-hence his remark:

"Those aren't your memories-they're someoneelse's- Tyrell's niece." Divergent as these two readings are, they both maintain that the conceptual movement of this scene is away from a notion of memory as private and essentially unrepeatable to one based upon group fantasies and collective structures-fantasies and structures which span the human/replicant divide.

In the moments immediately following Rachel's departure, Deckard looks for the first time at the photograph she has left behind. His voice-over says: "Tyrell had really done a job on Rachel-even down to a snapshot of a mother she never had, a daughter she never was. What the hell was happening to me? Replicants weren't supposed to


have feelings-neither were blade runners. Leon's pictures had to be as phony as Rachel's. I didn't know why replicants would coUect photos-maybe he was like Rachel, he needed them." This extremely complex monologue begins by stressing once again the difference between humans and replicants, now on the basis of the non-referentiality of Rachel's photograph, and - by extension - her memories. However, that distinction almost immediately collapses, and under terms which warrant comment. Deckard acknowledges that although Rachel's photograph and memories may not be either "real," or her "own," the emotions that they invoke in her are. Through this monologue, Blade Runner indicates that memories do not have to be authentic to work upon us. Deckard then goes on to compare the emotions which he is experiencing to those which he has just witnessed in Rachel. Since those emotions have been communicated to him from Rachel, Deckard reverberates as fully with what originates outside him as she does. Significantly, this time the relay progresses from replicant to human, rather than human to replicant.

In a scene which presumably follows close upon the heels of this one temporally, if not within the body of the film, Deckard toys desultorily with the keys of the piano in his apartment. The camera tracks across a cluster of what at first appear to be family photographs arranged on the piano above the keys. One of Leon's photographs is

124 clipped to an adjacent score of music. After a moment, Deckard reaches up, detaches the photo, and takes it over to an Esper machine. In a much-discussed sequence, he uses this complicated piece of equipment to penetrate the surface of Leon's photograph. As in the scenes in which the Voigt-Kampff test is administered, a technological prosthesis is ostensibly used to supplement the human eye-to see what he cannot. However, the end result-a close-up of Zhora-is not so much discovered within the depths of the image as conjured forth there through the force of Deckard's desire for it. Once again, the technological intervention works to produce, rather than simply to disclose.

What is most surprising about this scene, given that it follows so soon after the one involving Rachel's photograph, is that it appears at first to impute referential value to Leon's photograph-to treat it as a piece of historical evidence, like a bloodsoaked handkerchief or a smoking gun. It thus seems to confer upon an android's photograph the same status as that conventionally attributed to those cherished by humans. This reading clearly works at cross-purposes with the film's primary project. However, the Esper machine sequence also has to be analyzed in relation to the beginning of this scene, which again works to erase the difference between the photographs collected by replicants and those collected by the human characters, but to opposite ends. By bringing the shots of Deckard's photographs into close temporal proximity with the conversation about the imaginary photograph of Rachel and her mother, and close spatial proximity with one of Leon's photographs, which have just been judged to be as "phony" as Rachel's, Blade Runner empties them of truth value; it suggests, that is, that Deckard's photographs testify no more to his literal past than do Rachel's or Leon's to theirs.

I have attempted to demonstrate that although their borrowed memories represent the feature which might seem to distinguish them most decisively from the human characters in Blade Runner, those memories in fact make them almost hyperbolically human. But there are other ways as well in which the replicants might be said to dramatize the fundamental terms and conditions of subjectivity. The android characters in Blade Runner are made in the image of human beings. They are consequently copies, in the strictest sense of the word. The human characters are presumably the collective originals upon which the replicants are modeled. However, as I suggested at the beginning of this essay, Deckard, the central human character, is an extended citation from film noir, and hence himself a copy, as is Bryant, the corrupt and unfeeling policeman. Tyrell is also a replicant of sorts; he reprises a whole history of imaginary scientists who give rise to unconventional lifeforms, from Frankenstein to Metropolis's Dr. Ro-


twang. But there is an even more profound sense in which Deckard, Bryant and Tyrell might be said to be copies, one which cannot be overlooked in a film which is so centrally given over to the exploration of human subjectivity. Once again the replicants provide us with the paradigm for conceptualizing this aspect of humanity, in a brilliant deconstruction of the binary logic for which a figure like Bryant stands.

In the second scene in which Rachel visits Deckard's apartment, she plays the piano while he sleeps. A cluster of photographs of women dating from a variety of periods have been carefully placed in front of a sheet of music on the piano. This unusual juxtaposition suggests that the photographs are less signifiers of the past than props for Deckard's fantasies, much as Rachel's and Leon's are, thus undercutting once again the referential value of photography." Rachel ·picks up one of the photographs, which shows a woman with hair parted in the middle, and pulled back in a bun, but after looking at it for a moment she puts it back. (Her own hair has a similar part, and is also pulled back from her face.) She glances at the other photos, hesitating for a fraction of a second over an image of a woman with her hair worn in a looser, curlier hairstyle. After playing a few bars of music on the piano, she loosens and rearranges her own hair in a fair approximation of the woman in the second photograph, all the while looking intently in front of her, as if into a mirror. Deckard suddenly

awakens, and says, "I dreamt music," making explicit the connection 127

between his desire and the sheet of music on the piano, along with

the photographs which frame it.

In this scene, Rachel "becomes" the woman in the sepia photograph; she deliberately incorporates as her "self" the image of the other. She thus performs knowingly that transaction which is at the heart of all subjectivity, a transaction without which there could be no "me"she assumes the image of the other. The human subject's identity is as illusory and as second-hand as its memories, for it is finally nothing but the result of a ceaseless series of misrecognitions, initially sustained through a mirror imago, but promoted over time through representations which are increasingly less "motivated" by either resemblance or indexicality.t" The ego is consequently a "mirage," as Lacan remarks in Seminar II.25 However, in emphasizing both the imaginariness and the otherness of the self, I do not mean to suggest that the self is inconsequential to the subject's lived reality; on the contrary, it is central to every domain of psychic life. Like those memories which have been worked over by fantasy, identity is no less effective for being completely unreal.

Blade Runner insists as strenuously as does Lacan upon the crucial importance for every subject of coming to an awareness and acceptance of its dependence on the other for its very experience of "self." This is in a sense what Rachel's difficult transition from believing herself to be human to knowing herself to be an android is all about-first discovering that her memories and then that her identity are not her "own." Although Deckard and Tyrell attempt to make this discovery coincident with the accession to difference, Blade Runner insist upon its crucial importance not only for the replicants, but for the human characters. Indeed, it shows that it is only through this painful education that the binarism of humans and androids can be overcome, for as Deckard slowly begins to see himself less as a model for than a copy of the replicants he becomes more and more incapacitated for his murderous task. I have already commented upon the moment when he has a first glimmering of this realization-the moment at which he becomes aware of feeling the same emotions that Rachel is feeling upon being relegated to the category of a replicant. However, it is not until Batty saves his life that he comes to understand how fully dependent he is upon the other for his very existence as a subject.

The scene where Rachel plays the piano has a conclusion which is at first glance extremely troubling, since it turns throughout upon apparent male sexual aggression and female submission. However, although the violence with which Deckard prevents Rachel from leaving is inexcusable, most of what follows takes on a more complicated

128 meaning on subsequent viewings, working to undermine rather than to fortify the opposition of humans and replicants. This part of the scene begins when Deckard wakes up and joins Rachel at the piano. He says: "I dreamt music," and she responds by playing the piano once again, and wondering if her memories of piano lessons are also nonreferential. When Deckard kisses Rachel on the cheek, she offers no protest, but when he then attempts to kiss her on the lips she runs to the door, clutching her belongings. Deckard slams the door shut with his fist, throws Rachel against the facing wall, and kisses her. The following exchange ensues:








"I can't rely on .... " "Say 'kiss me.' "

"Kiss me." (He kisses her.) "I want you."

"I want you."


"I want you. Put your hands around me."

The most irreducibly disturbing feature of this part of the apartment scene is, as I have already indicated, the brutality with which Deckard asserts his desire for Rachel to stay. However, after throwing her against the wall, he then holds his hand up in a calming gesture, and pauses markedly before moving to kiss her. Blade Runner thus attempts to establish a firm demarcation between what precedes that gesture, and what follows it, even if it does not entirely succeed in doing so; it attempts, that is, to separate the moment at which Deckard slams the door and throws Rachel against the wall from the erotically-charged conversation which follows, a conversation which pushes even further Rachel's education in alterity.

The crucial line in reading the subsequent exchange is Rachel's halfcompleted sentence, "I can't rely .... " It is the first thing she has said since telling Deckard that she remembers piano lessons, but doesn't know whether those memories belong to her, or Tyrell's niece. "I can't rely ... " clearly has to be read in relation both to the remark about piano lessons, and to the assumption by Rachel of the photographic image. She is in effect telling Deckard that she can't rely upon the desire she is beginning to feel for him-desire which she clearly manifests when she loosens her hair-because it, too, may come to her from someone else. Deckard responds by seemingly putting words in Rachel's mouth-by coercing her into articulating wishes which are commensurate with his own. But although this reading cannot be entirely ruled out of order, given the long history of films in which women are coerced into saying what men want them to say, Blade


Runner's larger concern with implants facilitates another, rather different understanding of the scene. By inducing Rachel to articulate the desire which she has already manifested, Deckard proves to her that it is no less urgent or psychically real because it comes to her from the larger symbolic order. He thereby acknowledges both to Rachel and himself that she, no less than he, is a fully constituted subject. Importantly, the last words Rachel speaks- "Put your hands on me"are unprompted by Deckard, and immediately after saying them it is she who kisses him, with sudden urgency.

Although I began this essay by suggesting that the future of characters like Rachel, Deckard, Leon, and Roy Batty is behind them-that all apparent movement forward is really a reenactment of the past-I have increasingly called into question the historical veracity of the memories which propel them. What, then, is the status of the past which they, and we, repeat? This past, as I have attempted to demonstrate, is less personal than cultural-less the accumulated events of a given life than the history of representation and the persistence of certain collective structures, most particularly the Oedipus complex. Blade Runner insists that Deckard is fully as much of a replicant or a copy as is Rachel. His identity, like hers, is a composite of images that come to him from elsewhere, a representation of preexisting repre-

130 sentations. And he, like her, inherits his determining memories, which are in fact fantasies, from other people; signified by the portraits on top of his piano, they date back to a moment before his birth, and are answerable not to the demands of truth but to the requirements of desire. Blade Runner thus shows the category of "humanness," like those of "masculinity" and "whiteness" in our own culture, to be not an originary norm from which everything else derives, but rather a fiction created through the denial of the second-handedness of all subjectivity.

The recently recut version of Blade Runner concludes at the point when, picking up the origami unicorn, Deckard remembers the words "Too bad she won't live - but then who does?" Deckard nods in private agreement, a gesture which underscores once again the symmetry of human and replicant subjectivity. However, the 1982 ending seems to me even more congruent with Blade Runner's larger project. The film cuts from the scene in which Deckard discovers the origami unicorn to the unspecified country landscape over which he and Rachel make their aerial escape. Although this landscape might seem at first glance somehow more "authentic" than the determinedly artificial Los Angeles within which all of the other events take place, and therefore an inappropriate conclusion to a film which is so concerned with the constructedness of desire and identity, the images which conjure it forth are reputed to consist entirely of outtakes from Kubrick's The Shining." This conclusion thus works not only to problematize further the notion of the "natural," but to extend Blade Runner's critique of referentiality to its own final images, which constitute a literal implant. The 1982 ending consequently provides the moment at which the film most emphatically asserts its own derivativeness-the moment, that is, at which it aligns itself most profoundly and movingly with its alltoo-human replicants.


1. Blade Runner is not the only recent science fiction film to effect the interpenetration of past and future. As Constance Penley shows in "Time Travel, Primal Scene, and the Critical Dystopia," Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction, ed. Penley, Elisabeth Lyon, Lynn Spigel, and Janet Bergstrom (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991) 63-80, in The Terminator a figure from the future intervenes so forcefully in the past that he engineers his own birth. That film also features a bar called "Tech Noir," a phrase which has passed into film studies as the name with which to designate the generic hybridization of science fiction and film nair.

2. Harlan Kennedy, "Ridley Scott Interview," Film Comment 18:4 (1982): 131


3. This point has also been made by Douglas Kellner, Flo Leibowitz and Michael Ryan in "Blade Runner: A Diagnostic Critique," Jump Cut 29 (1984): 8.

4. Vivian Sobchak, Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (New York: Ungar, 1987).

5. Giuliana Bruno, "Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner," in Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction, ed. Annette Kuhn (London: Verso, 1990) 66.

6. Freud includes the joke "he has a great future behind him" in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1960), vol. 8: 26.

7. Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," Socialist Review 15: 2 (1985): 95.

8. Constance Penley suggests in her "Introduction" to Close Encounters that "conventional notions of sexual difference" are often "displaced or reworked by science 'fiction film" (vii). In "Time Travel, Primal Scene, and the Critical Dystopia," she observes that in The Terminator, Blade Runner, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Android, and Starman, "the question of sexual difference-a question whose answer is no longer self-evident-is displaced onto the more remarkable difference between human and the other" (72).

9. Michael Dempsey, "Blade Runner," Film Quarterly 36: 2 (1983-84): 36.

10. Elissa Marder, "Human, None Too Human: Readings in Literature, Psychoanalysis and Film," Diss. Yale University, 1989, 91-92. [See also "Blade Runner's Moving Still," this issue: 88-107 -eds.]

11. As Emile Benveniste writes in Problems of General Linguistics, trans.

Elizabeth Mary Meek (Coral Cables: University of Miami Press, 1971), "'Ego' is he who says 'ego.' That is where we see the foundation of 'subjectivity,' which is determined by the linguistic status of 'person' " (224).

12. This represents a fundamental Lacan axiom, which is articulated most fully in Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, tans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1978) 203-229.

13. In "Ontology of the Photographic Image," Andre Bazin argues that "The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored, no matter how lacking in documentary value the image may be, it shares, by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model." What is

132 Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), vol. 2: 14.

14. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981) 80-81. It has become customary to cite Barthes when analyzing Blade Runner. See, for instance, Marder, "Human, None Too Human" 86-87 and "Blade Runner's Moving Still," and Bruno, "Ramble City," 183 and 191-193.

15. Sigmund Freud, Project for a Scientific Psychology, The Standard Edition, vol, 1, 352-357. Freud also discussed deferred action in his and Josef Breuer's Studies on Hysteria, The Standard Edition, vol. 2: 125-134.

16. Sigmund Freud, "Screen Memories," The Standard Edition, vol. 3: 322.

17. Sigmund Freud, The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fiiess, 1887-1904, trans. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985) 230.

18. Freud, The Complete Letters 239.

19. Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976) 24.

20. For a fuller discussion of the negative version of the female Oedipus complex, see my The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1988) 101-129.

21. For a further elaboration of the castration complex and the positive version of the female Oedipus complex, see my The Acoustic Mirror 148-165.

22. Freud offers a brief account of both versions of the male Oedipus complex in The Ego and the Id, The Standard Edition, vol. 19: 33-34.

23. Marder (1992) also comments on the denaturalization of these photographs: "we understand [from the scene] that Deckard's family photographs no more belong to him than Rachel's photo belonged to her . . . . These photos are memory implants for him as well" (101).

24. See Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage," in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977) 1-7.

25. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-1955, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 209.

26. Dempsey, "Blade Runner" 38.

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