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Reflecting on the noetic wonder of the world of Gaia as Bruno Latour describes it, I suddenly
realised this is exactly what is good about AVATAR, despite the heroic wishfulfilmen fantasy!
Reflecting on why I liked the film and Zizek scorned it, I decided that I could explain the difference
of approach to the film in terms of Lacans graph of sexuation.
Zizek often interprets films by subtracting out any noetic alterity and just seeing the oedipal drama.
He stays for this sort of interpretation on the left side of the graph, that of transcendence and
oedipalisation. He focuses on the heroic wishfulfilment in the case of AVATAR, just as he
concentrates on the familial wishfulfilment in the case of WAR OF THE WORLDS:
One can easily imagine the film without the bloodthirsty aliens so that what remains is in a way
what it is really about, the story of a divorced working-class father who strives to regain the
respect of his two children. Therein resides the films ideology: with regard to the two levels of the
story (the Oedipal level of lost and regained paternal authority; the spectacular level of the conflict
with the invading aliens), there is a clear dissymmetry, since the Oedipal level is what the story is
really about, while the external spectacular is merely its metaphoric extension. (p57)
His monist reductive ontology can be seen in the assertion that in each case the Oedipal level is
what the story is really about, relegating the alterity to the status of mere metaphoric gift-wrapping.
One sees the absurdity of this approach very clearly in a film like AVATAR where the world-making
is the defining feature of the film, especially as Pandora is a planet of noetic abundance. So in fact
to appreciate AVATAR and many other science-fiction films and novels we must situate ourselves
on the right side of the graph, that of immanence and the pluralist unconscious. Of course if you
leave out all that is difference and alterity and archetype, then all that remains is sameness, identity,
and the stereotype. Faced with the awesome, marvelous, sublime world of Pandora, whose
imagined existence is a devastating critique of our world, one ignores all the metaphorics and
concentrates on what the film is really about. But the metaphorics of the film are what it is
really about. This time the alterity is not the hostile Martians of War of the Worlds, for in this film
we are the hostile aliens, but more radically an entire imaginatively rich and detailed world, a
figuration of the unconscious as a whole and no longer of the irruption of certain of its elements
into our world. The stance proposed in relation to the unconscious is more radical too, we are
invited to go over to its images, its energies and values not so much to save it, that is narrative
foregrounding, as to save ourselves.
SF is defined as the literature of cognitive estrangement precisely because it explicitly constitues
itself by means of alterity, and so dwells on the right side of the graph.
Imagine what Zizek would have to say about the novel DUNE (or the film). The oedipal drama is
deliberately foregrounded as is the heroic wishfulfilment, but the aim in fact is to deconstruct the
hero and the oedipal monomyth and to open us out onto a pluralist ontology as the later novels
make even clearer:
In his Golden Path, Leto sought a divergence of futures. Divergence is itself the grand theme of
God Emperor of Dune. Leto is determined to smash the human psychological need for an illusory
universe in which all tales converge on a final Big Message. This theme is the climax of Herberts
original design from the early 1960s to obliterate the monolithic hero myth , argues Bob Bogle.
So I can only conclude on a positive note: Let's forget Lacan. Lets read more SF. Let's read DUNE.
Or ironically situating ourelves on the left side of the graph (transcendence) to propound a
prescription aimed at giving useful advice to those on its right side (immanence): Go watch