I want to argue that today’s modern revolutionary subject is the subject of Capitalism. One meaning of this claim is that there is no subject proper that is not a shopper, and who has not been castrated from his or her real power by the law of value. But this can easily be misunderstood because what this indicates is that there is no way to represent the revolutionary subject, or the subject within Capitalism, because this subject isn’t a voter, a shopper, a worker. The revolutionary subject can’t be seen on any reality show. There is no subject outside of Capitalism, and yet, the truth about the subject of Capitalism is that it has no place within Capitalism.
That is, the commodity is not the simple empirical object that makes our social relations possible, but rather it is the revelation of the impossibility of clean and simple social relations. Therein resides the paradoxical achievement of how Capitalism presents the world to us: the vain quest for authenticity becomes mere shopping. But if this is the unique strength and power of a commodity like Coca-Cola–that it is not simply a way of experiencing the social world as soda pop, but that it already takes into account our own distance from it, and seems to know that it can never really be tasted or experienced–it is also this that opens up a certain way out, for we are always able to point to a deeper explanation of Coke, what it itself stands in for and what allows it to be sold.
It has been said that Capitalist society itself produces a communist party which is nothing more than the organization of the objective movement of history, while others have countered that the party is the organization of a revolutionary subject or agent of history.
But our subjective experiences, this life-style we’re in, is both our immediate experience and the ideas that these experiences match up with, and this life-style only works as a way to live if we can’t see that what we’re living is a life-style. Once we see it as a life-style we recognize that our lives are our self-creation.
To say that the subject today is Value is to say that we are self-determined, but that this self-determination is only how we create what seems objective by living together, how we collectively determine what we’ll be alienated from and how we’ll be alienated. What this means, then, is that those who believe the task of the party is to bring an identity or subjectivity to the proletariat are mistaken to the extent that they see this identity as present to itself. Instead, a revolutionary party is that extra point of concentration, incorporation, and naming that allows the revolutionary movement to decide how to take itself as an object and in the process to lose the sense of being supported by experience. This means a revolutionary party or organization should not aim at formulating a collective subject but rather it should help us face how we’ve already disappeared.
Essay: althusser fetish ideology landru shatner spock Star Trek
I want you to imagine Captain Kirk beaming into your living room and attacking your flat screen digital TV, to imagine he’s doing it in an effort to set you free from the constraints of early 21st century barbarism. He’s killing your television by asking it to solve some unsolvable logic problem. Kirk is whispering the liar paradox to the DVR.
It’s always the same with Kirk. He beams down and outfoxes a computer God, or kills a robot girl with a kiss, and this time it’s your television he’s after.
Imagine your set is sputtering, about to explode, and then it switches on. For a brief instant, just the time needed for a flicker of light to appear before the set goes dark forever, a television program appears onscreen. What’s on the TV? What would does your television turn to in its last effort to figure out a solution for Kirk’s riddle? The answer is Star Trek, obviously, because Star Trek itself is a kind of Technicolor logic bomb. Your TV set is probably showing the episode with Captain Pike and the Orion Slave girl because that’s the one I’d choose.
Kirk understood the show and used his understanding to kill computers. In the second season of the original series, in an episode entitled I Mudd. Kirk explains his own show in order to kill an android named Norman.
KIRK: What is a man but that lofty spirit, that sense of enterprise, that devotion to something that cannot be sensed, cannot be realized but only dreamed! The highest reality.
NORMAN THE ANDROID: That is irrational. Illogical. Dreams are not real. […]
(Smoke comes out of Norman’s head.)
Back in 1986 William Shatner appeared in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live and told Trekkies everywhere to get a life. In the sketch he asked Jon Lovitz if he’d ever kissed a girl and told the crowd of SNL cast members playing the part of Trekkies at a Star Trek convention to leave their parents’ basements and experience the real world.
“I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you’re dressed! You’ve turned an enjoyable little job that I did as a lark for a few years into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!” Shatner shouted.
Shatner could never kill a computer. He doesn’t understand how people use BLAs like Star Trek to live their lives, how some of us even use Star Trek to kiss girls. It sounds impossible, but you really can take your enjoyment of Star Trek quite a long way. In fact, the first time I realized just how far was, coincidentally, my first time.
I was in my girlfriend’s parent’s old house, a house that they couldn’t sell after they’d moved out, but she still had keys and we were in the empty space that had been an upstairs rec room. There wasn’t any music playing, nor electricity, and we didn’t have anything to drink that might lubricate our coupling. What we had was the Star Trek Edition of a Golden Trivia game. I was in my girlfriend’s parent’s old house, a house that they couldn’t sell after they’d moved out, but she still had keys and we were in the empty space that had been an upstairs rec room. There wasn’t any music playing, nor electricity, and we didn’t have anything to drink that might lubricate our coupling. What we had was the Star Trek Edition of a Golden Trivia game.
Before we got around to intercourse on the wall to wall orange carpet, doing it on the spot where the entertainment center had left a indentation, we asked each other questions about M class planets and the Federation. Rather than grope and undress, rather than struggle with the clasp of a lace bra or the buttons on the fly of a pair of blue jeans, we played strip Star Trek Trivia. We were geeks and this seemed natural to us. We found a way to use our mutual affliction in order to get off.
“Why did Kirk display such inordinate love and affection for Dr. Helen Noel?” she asked me.
“Who? Which episode was that?”
“Do you know the answer?” she asked. I didn’t, or pretended that I didn’t. I ended up giving her my left sock, but, for the record, the answer, per the back of the card, is this: “Kirk was under the influence of a powerful suggestion implanted by use of a devilish machine.” The episode was the Dagger of the Mind and the machine was called a neural neutralizer.
Okay, he didn’t really. He died before Star Trek was ever on the air. But if you google the words fetish and repetition you’ll find a link to a book called Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. More specifically you’ll find a link to this passage:
“Neither the popular stereotype of the crazed Trekkie nor academic notions of commodity fetishism or repetition compulsion are adequate to explain the complexity of fan culture.”
But this assertion simply underestimates the complexities involved in both fetishism and repetition compulsion. Fetishism and repetition compulsion can produce Baroque results, and can certainly explain most of the more faithful fan tributes to the series.
For example, last summer I took the family to Cathedral Park for something called Star Trek in the Park, and watching the reenactment of “Journey to Babel,” seeing Portland actors, hipsters dressed in perfectly authentic uniforms complete with wavy stripes on their shirt cuffs and with perfectly reasonable facsimiles of a Tellarite pig nose or Andorian antenna when necessary, was a queasily religious or fetishistic experience.
The Atomic Arts Ensemble delivered the lines from the original episode and typed into invisible computer panels, their fingers wiggling methodically in thin air. They stared at a view screen that wasn’t there, stared through empty air out at me, and I experienced something like Déjà vu. The repetition of “The Journey to Babel”, the uncanniness of the Atomic Arts reproduction, unsettled me.
Adam Rosko played Kirk for Trek in the Park, and he was perfect. He did an especially good job when he fought the Andorian. He perfectly replicated Shatner’s fighting techniques, and watching him I stopped thinking or comparing. I didn’t have to think.
Rosko grabbed his blue opponent by the shoulders, fell back, and used his right leg to flip the alien onto his back. Then Rosko rolled onto his stomach and dove for the alien’s right arm, for his right hand which held an Andorian dagger, but the alien rolled over onto his belly and stood up. The Andorian tried to wrench his arm out of Rosko’s grip and then used his left hand to deliver a Karate chop which sent Rosko reeling. The Andorian turned on him and lunged with the knife. Rosko as Kirk dodged to the right and, when the alien swiped at his head, Rosko both ducked and brought up his knee, delivering a blow to the Andorian’s belly. The alien bent over in pain and Rosko delivered Kirk’s signature double fisted blow to the alien’s right side. He then jumped at the alien, using both feet and delivering a double kick, but ending up on his back. Rosko rolled over and started to slowly crawl away on all fours (too slowly, what is Kirk waiting for?) and the Andorian grabbed him by the neck and stabbed him in the right side. Was this the end?
Of course not. Rosko reached back and flipped the Andorian over his left shoulder. And when the Andorian got back to his feet and reached for the knife that had flown out of his hand, Rosko was on him fast. Rosko kicked the Andorian in his face and knocked him out cold. Then Rosko flopped against a pole and used the Intercom prop to call the bridge.
Freud says that the sensation of the uncanny arises when what is familiar is made to appear unfamiliar, and what I experienced when Rosko fought like Kirk was precisely that unfamiliarity of the familiar. It was the perfection of the repetition that unsettled me and made Star Trek seem strange again.
Here’s an experiment: Try repeating the same word over and over again like a mantra. Take any word. Better yet, try the word Spock.
Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock…
After awhile the word, the sound of it (or the look of it on the page or screen), will separate from it’s meaning, and all that you’ll be left with is an empty shell. If you say the word Spock often enough all you’ll be left with is the detritus of the name. Spock himself will disappear. Through repetition Spock can cease to be Spock. Through repetition Spock can become something mysterious and unknown. Spock can become uncanny.
To really understand what a fetish is and how the fetish relies on a repetition watch episode seven of the original Star Trek series. It was entitled What Are Little Girls Made Of and on the show the Enterprise sets off to rescue a man named Doctor Korby. Korby was lost during an off world expedition to the ruins on the planet Exo 3, and when the Enterprise arrives Kirk discovers that Korby is living underground with a bunch of life like replicants. Korby learned the secret of the underground ruins and used the ancient technology there to fashion himself friends and servants. After Kirk arrives Korby tries to convince him that these android doubles represent a step toward immortality. These doubles are a triumph, another victory for human reason, another step forward toward enlightenment and away from bodily corruption, but as events unfold Korby reveals himself to be a villain. He has one of his androids, a giant named Ruk left over from the days of the Old Ones, murder several red shirts. Worse he duplicates Kirk and attempts to take over the Enterprise.
Typical, isn’t it?
Eventually we come to know that Korby himself is an android. The real Korby duplicated himself right before he died, and when the duplicate Korby is revealed as an android the effect is uncanny. Korby is a machine, and when this is revealed he becomes pathetic. Nurse Chapel, Korby’s former lover, recoils.
KIRK: You were a man with respect for all things alive. How can I explain the change in you? If I was to tell Earth I was in your hands, to tell them what has become of you (Kirk jumps Korby and traps his arm in a door. The skin tears to reveal electronics.)
KORBY: It’s still me, Christine. Roger. I’m in here. You can’t imagine how it was. I was frozen, dying. My legs were gone. I was, I had only my brain between life and death. This can be repaired easier than another man can set a broken finger. I’m still the same as I was before, Christine, perhaps even better.
CHAPEL: Are you, Roger?
It’s a creepy scene. It’s not just that we come to see this new Korby as a robot, but that we can’t stop ourselves from seeing him as also human. The revelation of Korby’s double fundamentally undermines the integrity of the original.
If a fetish is going to keep working it’s creepiness and inauthenticity has to be denied, if not unknown.
We have to pretend to be authentic in order to keep pretending, and to do that we have to find someone who is innocent, somebody who is authentic, who will believe in our fetish for us. That’s what Barthes was looking for in his essay on the Death of the Author, while in the Star Trek episode the dirty job fell to Kirk:
KIRK: In here, Spock.
SPOCK: Captain, are you all right? Nurse? Where’s Doctor Korby?
KIRK: Doctor Korby was never here.
But, Korby was there. It’s just that he’d turned himself into a robot. That’s a pretty messed up thing to do, of course, but it is also perfectly normal. It turns out that beaming a robot is the only way to become human.
Another French Marxist, a nut job named Louis Althusser, explained how this works in his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. He wrote:
Notice that he’s doubling up on fantasy in that line. Althusser wrote that an ideology is not just some imaginary myth a person believes, but rather it’s the myth people believe explains why they believe in myths. An ideology is not some false picture of the world but our false picture about our false picture.
Take the notion of God. An ideology isn’t the belief in God but the explanation of this belief. The obvious one about God is that we believe in him because he’s up there in heaven, and while he’s pretty much inscrutable he’s giving us some basic ideas and helping us to believe in him. However, another ideology about God wouldn’t take God to be really up there at all. An atheist ideology would explain God to us by suggesting that we’ve been manipulated by a caste of ancient priests, kings, or authors. It’s these rulers who foisted a believe in God on us, and they did it in order to control us. Why? Because they’re bastards.
Or, taking a different point of view, an ideology might explain our belief in God by blaming the world itself. Life on Earth is filled to the brim with toothaches, irritable bowels, plagues, killer bees, and people like Justin Bieber. Living in world like this one requires people imagine a God in heaven. Who wouldn’t fantasize about God when faced with the plague? There are no atheists in foxholes. And no one remains Godless after they’ve been made to watch reality television programs like The Biggest Loser or Jersey Shore. The reality of living in and off this kind of filth and debris pushes us into a God delusion.
But Althusser wanted to get past all of these explanations. He wrote that ideologies are simply necessary. Ideologies are fantasies that support our relationships with each other and these false pictures give us our very identities.
Think of it like this:
An ideology is a picture we take of the world and then pretend is real. We do this by ignoring the camera we took the picture with and all of the other mechanisms and relationships that had to exist in order for that camera to land in our hands.
A 1972 a documentary advertisement or promotional film for Eastman Kodak and polaroid spelled it out.
“Since 1947 Edward Lamb and Polaroid have pursued a central concept, one single thread, the removal of the barrier between the photographer and his subject.”
This idea that a photograph could be taken without “any barriers between the photographer and his subject” is the idea behind every BLA, every robot, there is. It is also the goal of James Kirk in episode after episode. He lands on a planet, discovers that there is a barrier between the people on the surface and the society they’re living in, and sets off to kill or remove the barrier.
SPOCK: This is a soulless society, Captain. It has no spirit, no spark. All is indeed peace and tranquillity. The peace of the factory, the tranquillity of the machine. All parts working in unison.
KIRK: And when something unexplained happens, their routine is disrupted.
SPOCK: Until new orders are received. The question is, who gives those orders?
SPOCK: There is no Landru, Captain, not in the human sense.
KIRK: You’re thinking the same thing I am. Mister Spock, the plug must be pulled.
KIRK: Landru must die.
SPOCK: Captain, our Prime Directive of non-interference.
KIRK: That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?
In the episode Return of the Archons Kirk and his crew discover that the citizens of planet Beta are mindless automatons. They are perfectly pleasant, if a bit placid, most of the time, but occasionally, on the instruction of an invisible voice, they erupt into a riot. Kirk arrives a few minutes before one of these cathartic festivals and witnesses the smiling denizens of Beta transform into shrieking hysterics who beat and fuck each other in the streets.
The trouble is that the people of planet Beta are under the control of a figure named Landru, and Landru is a computer. Kirk is nearly assimilated into this “body” but manages to kill the computer instead. Kirk demonstrates to Landru that the computer itelf is a contradiction. The computer is working against its own programming simply by following the program. Landru’s effort to create a sustainable and harmoniously balanced society has created a stagnant society instead, and Kirk puts it to Landru that Landru should destroy itself because the computer’s efforts toward harmony creates disharmony. Landru follows the logic and self-destructs.
However, once Landru is destroyed a new order, a new mechanism, has to be established if life on Beta can continue. Kirk calls in the Federation to establish a new world order for the colonists. He destroys one barrier and then quickly erects a new one, and all the while he assures the colonists that they will love this new barrier because they’ll find it isn’t a barrier at all.
Paradoxically, Kirk both understands the paradox and doesn’t. There is no real and natural life. The people of Beta will always need a Polaroid Camera, a computer like Landru, or a show like Star Trek, if they want to be able to leave their parents basement and manage to kiss a girl.
I recently said that I thought that Marx’s conception of Value might be thought of as being the same as Lacan’s subject. That is, the Value form has the same structure as Lacan’s subject and might fruitfully be considered as the subject of Capitalism or the Capitalist subject.
What is Lacan’s Subject?
Bruce Fink presents in The Lacanian Subject his interpretation of Jacques Lacan’s theory of subjectivity. In contrast to the ego (in its many guises: the individual, the conscious subject, the mirror image, the subject of the statement), Fink states that Lacan’s subject—the subject of the “return to Freud,” the true subject of psychoanalysis—is none other than the split subject: the barred S[...]As Fink says, “The [Lacanian] subject is nothing but this very split[...]The two parts/aspects into which the S (the subject) is split are consciousness and the unconscious. Superficially, we can say that the subject is divided between thinking—where the subject functions as a conscious agent (an ego) (as when s/he performs a task alertly)—and the unthinkable—that which is beyond the subject, that which s/he cannot think (in the sense of conceive, reflect, understand, articulate, and thus control) consciously (if anything, the subject is driven by it). Contrary to this, however, Lacan insists that there is thought in the unconscious, that the unconscious, as it were, thinks (for the subject). Thinking, Lacan argues, is not the exclusive activity of consciousness. There is thinking that is not conscious. There is unconscious thought. The split is thus not between thinking and the unconscious.
or, put otherwise:
Lacan is simply restating in the language of structuralist linguistics a claim already made by Sartre, and before him Kojeve and Hegel (and arguably Kant). This is the claim that the subject is not an object capable of being adequately named within a natural language, like other objects can be (“table,” “chair,” or so on). It is no-thing. One of the clearest points of influence of Kojeve’s Heideggerian Hegelianism on Lacan is the emphasis he places on the subject as correlative to a lack of being (manqué-a-etre/want-to-be), especially in the 1950′s. Lacan articulates his position concerning the subject by way of a fundamental distinction between the ego or “moi“/”me” and the subject intimated by the shifter “je“/”I.” The subject is a split subject, Lacan claims, not only insofar as—Freud dixit—it has consciousness and an unconscious.
So if Value is the barred subject what is value’s ego and what is the unconscious? I would say that the ego is the commodity and the unconscious is the productive process and the class division that this process requires. But, it’s significant that for Lacan the subject is really nothing more than the divide or split. This means that, if my ponderous musings have any bearing, rather than simply eliminate the class division in society the producers of this division have to seize it. That is, rather than focusing on getting our hands on the commodities of this world those who would eliminate Capitalism would have to take hold of and alter the productive process and the class division in society.
Now, the fascist approach this is to try to return to pre-Capitalist modes of production and to reinstitute authority based on true and real merit rather than on servicing money.
The Communist approach is weirder, harder, than this. But perhaps more likely to succeed? The aim of Marx is to eliminate the basis of class, but not by eliminating the idea of it but rather by eliminating the conditions that support it. I would argue that Marx aims at subjective destitution as a way to create a new subject where competition and division is put into the service of meeting human needs. For Marx, communism is about emancipating pure drive without desire.
The remainder here that determines the subject’s division we can assume, on the basis of Lacan’s remarks we have already looked at, to be object a. It is this object a then that makes the ‘fall’ of the fantasy and subjective destitution possible. But if the subject “no longer wants to take up” that “option” (the object a), how is it that a position of subjective destitution is even reached? Lacan goes on to boldly declare of psychoanalysis that “Subjective destitution is written on the entry ticket:
“The passage of the psychoanalysand to becoming a psychoanalyst has a door of which this remainder [the object a] that brings about their division is the hinge, for this division is nothing but the division of the subject, of which this remainder is the cause. In this change of tack where the subject sees the assurance he gets from this fantasy, in which each person’s window onto the real is constituted, capsize, what can be perceived is that the foothold of desire is nothing but that of a désêtre, disbeing.”
You would think that there is nothing simpler than watching TV and that the only people who might require instructions on how to do it would be chimpanzees and reality show contestants. If you want to watch Star Trek you don’t even have to find out which TV channel is rebroadcasting the show or find your Dad’s old video taped copies and repair the VCR. These days you can stream it from the Internet onto a tablet, iPod, computer screen, or cereal box. Watching Star Trek doesn’t seem like much of a conundrum.
But, these instructions aren’t meant to insult you like the step by step instructions for boiling water that you find printed on a tea packet. You actually need these instructions because watching a television program is much trickier than you might imagine, especially if your goal is to be able to think about the program and discuss it intelligently afterward.
You wouldn’t think watching TV could be a problem, but it is, and you can blame the French for it.
More specifically you can blame one particular French man named Roland Barthes. Barthes was another critic of Capitalism, but he was one who might’ve enjoyed Star Trek. In 1957 he wrote a book analyzing such banalities as toys, margarine and professional wrestling. Why not Star Trek?
The book was entitled Mythologies and the aim of it was to explore how cultural ephemera can appear to be natural.
Culture tries to convince us that, when the world was formed however many billions of years ago, soap powder boxes and yo-yos were formed along with it. Barthes wrote that the way that culture naturalizes what is really just some marketing man’s big idea, the process that turns McDonalds hamburgers or Lady Gaga into significant touchstones, is this: We are taught to take a symbol or representation of something as the thing itself. So, for instance, a photograph of a kid eating a McDonald’s hamburger isn’t just an example of innocent childish consumption and enjoyment, but as a myth it IS the innocent childish enjoyment.
Recall that Barthes was a Marxist, which means that he didn’t believe in God and that he probably went around picking pockets in upper class cafes like Les Deux Maggots. The point is that he didn’t want any religion in his life, not even the religion of Coca-Cola or, in his case, French wines. So, when he’s talking about myths what he’s driving at is that we treat our cultural products just like the serfs used to treat religious icons or crucifixes. Not that the serfs used to stuff pictures of Jesus into their mouths the way we do with cheese doodles, but that they took their religious trinkets to be connected to God. So, given that Barthes is trying to stamp out God in our world of neon flash and texting, maybe the easiest way to think about his conception of myths is to consider the phenomena of the Blinking Light Alien on Star Trek. Even though the show was supposed to be secular these creatures pop up all the time and in different guises, sometimes not appearing as blinking lights at all. In The Gamesters of Triskelion, for example, the Blinking Light Aliens appeared as disembodied glowing brains that were stored in a glass dome “one thousand of your earth meters beneath the surface” of Triskelian. And in the episode with the Gorn entitled Arena the Blinking Light Alien looks like a teenage Greek boy who is just about old enough to learn the ways of the world with some leering Socrates whose probably hiding just beyond the next hill on the backlot of NBC studios. While in the third season episode The Day of the Dove the Blinking Light Alien is, for once, an actually a series of blinking lights.
However they appear, Blinking Light Aliens are myths that feed off of an opposition. In The Day of the Dove the Blinking Light Alien teleports Klingons onto the Enterprise and uses telepathy to urge the two crews to fight in order to feed off the violent energy that the conflict produces. In the Gamesters of Triskelian the disembodied brains place bets on the battles that they stage between the various alien races they managed to kidnap. Blinking Light Aliens always appear to explain and resolve oppositions, and any opposition will do.
In the “The Lights of Zetar” the opposition was sexual. Scotty’s girlfriend was possessed by one of these Blinking Light Aliens and Doctor McCoy and Kirk had to trap her behind glass and squeeze the alien out of her. They had to do it to save the ship. They had to do it, even if they ended up killing Scotty’s girlfriend in the process.
On a side note, you can find variations on this image of Scotty’s girlfriend Lt. Mira Romaine floating behind a rectangle of glass in other science fiction stories and even in fairy tales. Think of Snow White. The dwarves place their fallen princess in a glass coffin. And a damsel in a glass tube is a long standing trope used on the cover of science fiction magazines. In the 40s and 50s this woman behind glass was a way to display nude or semi-nude women and still get past the comics code authority. After all, the artist maintained the women’s integrity and virginity. That is, the women were sexualized but out of reach, they could not be touched.
The point is that Blinking Light Aliens are perfect examples of the kind of myth that Barthes was on about. They are examples of naturalized concepts, or concepts made into the sort of religious images. Often the Blinking Light Alien is an image meant to signify the idea of perfection, of transcendence, of the very idea of an idea or concept, but the really tricky thing is that at other times the Blinking Light Alien represents the idea of living without concepts. It can be confusing, which is why you need these instructions.
For instance, in the Lights of Zetar the Blinking Light Alien isn’t the alien but Scotty’s girlfriend herself.
KIRK: …what are you?
ZETAR: (through Mira) The desires, the hopes, the mind and the will of the last hundred of Zetar. The force of our life could not be wiped out.
KIRK: All things die.
ZETAR: At the proper time. Our planet was dying. We were determined to live on. At the peak of our plans to go, a sudden final disaster struck us down. But the force of our lives survived. At last we have found someone through whom we can live it out.
KIRK: The body of the one you inhabit has its own life to lead.
ZETAR: She will accept ours.
So the first instruction for watching Star Trek is this: Look for the Blinking Light Alien but always look twice. You have to look twice because once you’ve spotted the actual blinking light you’ll need to find the human figure that it’s feeding on.
In the Lights of Zetar the human figure was Lt. Romaine, in the episode Metamorphosis the human vessel for the Blinking Light Alien was Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford. In the episode Return to Tomorrow Kirk, Spock, and a character named Dr. Ann Mulhall are the vessels for the BLAs, while in the Gamesters of Triskelion the human vessels are the alien specimens that the glowing Brains have kidnapped.
And in Roland Barthes 1967 essay The Death of the Author (written during the second season of Star Trek) the BLA is called the text and the vessel for the BLA is what Roland Barthes called a “writerly reader” but which I’ll refer to as “the fan.”
It’s really Barthes essay that’s caused the problem we’re encountering here. The Death of the Author is why watching TV is so complicated. In his essay Barthes claimed that the author was the wrong vessel for the multifaceted and open BLA called “a text”. And to solve the problem Barthes argued that writerly readers or dedicated fans should take the author’s place. According to Barthes, fans or readers are better vessels for the meanings that can be found in The Human Comedy or in the second pilot for Star Trek than Gene Roddenberry or Balzac.
Barthes says that fans create their own meanings for Star Trek regardless of what the author (say Gene Roddenberry) intends. Barthes says that “the texts [readers] use to [create meanings] are ever shifting, unstable and open to question.”
The consequence of taking Barthes seriously is this: If the author is dead and the fan reader is the one empowered to create meanings from the BLA texts, then the fans can only escape the same death suffered by authors if they disappear. The trick to being a good fan is paradoxically to avoid writing or even coherently articulating your opinions. Every meaningful interpretation of a Star Trek episode accidentally creates another disembodied brain or space amoeba. And in order to avoid naturalizing his or her ideas the fan has to limit himself to expressing his ideas on the level of animal pleasure. It is only when the fan’s interpretation of Star Trek has been erased that the fan’s pure authority can be established.
Barthes wrote, ”There is one place where this multiplicity is collected, united, and this place is not the author, as we have hitherto said it was, but the reader: the reader is the very space in which are inscribed, without any being lost, all the citations a writing consists of; the unity of a text is not in its origin, it is in its destination; but this destination can no longer be personal: the reader is a man without history, without biography, without psychology…”
Both the BLA and the fan have to be dead if the fan is going to adequately embody the meaning of Star Trek.
COMPANION: You are wrong. The man is the centre of all things. I care for him.
KIRK: But you can’t really love him. You haven’t the slightest knowledge of love, the total union of two people. You are the Companion. He is the man. You are two different things. You can’t join. You can’t love. You may keep him here forever, but you will always be separate, apart from him.
COMPANION: If I were human there can be love? (vanishes)
MCCOY: What did you hope to gain by that, Jim?
KIRK: Try to convince her of the hopelessness of it. Love sometimes expresses itself in sacrifice. I thought maybe if she loved him, she’d let him go.
NANCY: (standing in the doorway) Zefram Cochrane.
MCCOY: I don’t understand it. She’s not sick at all.
NANCY: We understand.
COCHRANE: It’s her.
COCHRANE: Don’t you understand? It’s the Companion.
MCCOY: She’s perfectly healthy. Heart like a hammer, respiration normal, blood pressure normal. This is medically impossible.
NANCY: We are here.
NANCY: Both of us. Those you knew as the Commissioner and the Companion. We are both here.
SPOCK: Companion, you do not have the power to create life.
NANCY: That is for the Maker of all things.
SPOCK: Commissioner Hedford was dying.
NANCY: That part of us was too weak to hold on. In a moment, there would have been no continuing. Now we’re together.
SPOCK: Then you are both here, in the one body?
NANCY: We are one.