Saturday, October 07, 2017

Of Love and Hegel

Note:  I don't ever do this-- "review" things, like books, or films, or plays, or art exhibitions.  I don't ever even pretend to review things, like books, or movies, or plays, so I can glom the review copies, or get free tickets to advanced screenings, or any of that nonsense trade. Among the numerous things I knew I never wanted to be in my life-- like a cop, like a vegetarian, like a lawyer, like a cheerleader for this, or that, for any or all iterations of deformed "workers' states," like president of the United or any other states-- I knew I never wanted to be a "critic"  a "reviewer."

But, you know what they say about never saying never and all that, so maybe just this once, maybe just this one film...

"Quite an experience to liven in fear isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."  So says Roy Batty to the policeman sworn to "retire" him, Rick Deckard.  Batty says that just before saving Deckard's life in Blade Runner (1982).

Of course we can trace that--that two sentence exposition on the history of human relations-- back, and we should, since the sequel to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, is all about tracing things, relations, beings, back; tracing images back; tracing memories; tracing generations and regenerations back to their origins; and tracing the origins themselves back, specifically because the origins are artificial, synthetic, designed, manipulated, implanted.  

We can trace it back to Hegel's master-slave dialectic; where the master creates the condition of the  world where the master experiences everything through the activity, the work, through the self-conscious-ness of the slave.

We can trace it forward from Hegel, beyond Hegel, to Marx's dialectic of the social relations between capitalists and proletarians; to the struggle between capital and wage-labor; where the relentless need to aggrandize labor-power in order to express that aggrandizement as profit;  to appropriate the "self-conscious-ness" of the class of laborers through the wage relation, through the reduction, compression,  of necessary labor-time, takes us to a world where profit trends every downward, accrues in fits and starts and in proportionately smaller and skinnier increments.

This, Blade Runner 2049, is a story of origins and endings, as Blade Runner was a story of origins and endings... as life is a story of origin and death is its ending.

Blade Runner was a story about what happens in that dialectic under conditions of expanded, accumulated, decay, where and when the needs of commerce, of business, of reproducing the masters make the life of the entire species more than precarious; less than marginal; and less than marginal at best.  (Almost) The entire species of human beings is made immaterial and irrelevant to anything and everything other than reproducing fragments of synthetic life-- "I just do eyes...ju-ju just eyes," says Hannibal Chew when confronting the being implanted with "his" eyes.  Irrelevant and immaterial unless reproducing fragments of synthetic life or... policing those stumbling through the wasteland commerce has created and retiring those beings required to do the "heavy lifting" that sustains the accumulation of decay, the replicants.  "Chew, if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes," replies Roy.

The beings that are of the earth, that are the natural-born human beings, undesigned, unsynthetic are superfluous to the reproduction of their own social lives.  They trade in artifice. They are the trade in artifice, always scampering between landfill and night club.

The replicants, those beings artificially generated, quickened, are designed for and restricted to the great commercial endeavor of the time, the reduction of entire planets to colonies.

The replicants are in both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, just like us; just like their marginalized sub-masters, except bigger most of the time, stronger almost all the time, smarter more than usually, and.....better looking most definitely.    Like ourselves, they are coded beings; they're being is derived from a code, a set of instructions generated and replicating in every cell at every moment of existence.  Like ourselves, they develop from experience, from training, from emulation.

They develop their identities, their beings from the resonance those experiences, that training, the emulation creates upon impact with that code.  The resonance gets processed, captured, archived as memory.  Memory is the neural loop; the self-adjusting algorithm, the product of the code.  It becomes life, real or simulated, real and simulated. 

Just like us, the replicants have a defined life-span.  In Blade Runner, the limits to the definition are designed and implanted in the code, and is independent, most of the time, from experience, emulation, and training.  In 2049, the life-span is defined by the interaction of the code with experience, training, emulation, more like us.

And more like us is the step taken in Blade Runner 2049.  "More human than human" was the Tyrell Corporations slogan, but Tyrell went under in the big blackout that destroyed almost all the digitized electronic data that had been accumulated, or so we're supposed to believe. Indications are that there's quite a bit of that institutional memory that's been recovered.  If after all, memory is adhesive, the tissue that binds the disparate organs, functions, systems, into an identity, what happens to a society that has had its memory erased?

What's missing isn't just the memory, but the access to it; the ability to recover the memory.

More like us, the replicants in 2049 are not immediately and automatically outcasts, outlaws, scourges, scapegoats.  They become outcasts, outlaws, scourges, criminal when they look, strive, and search for too much, too much for the all important commerce that can only support them in their assigned roles as slaves, and slave catchers, can only support them in a degraded existence.....just like us.

Blade Runner appears as an origin story where the synthesized beings are allotted a time so compressed and constrained as to make every intake of breath a blade descending unto the neck of the breathers.

The replicants have a bit more room to breathe in 2049, but the air is more foul than ever.

Both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 appear as origin stories, with the issue of love representing a complication to the quest for the understanding of origin; to the reconciliation and reconstruction of memory.  The link between the movies, and within the movies, is that the origin of their life is incomprehensible when separated from love, in both its social expression, and its physical, intimate, coupled expression.

In Blade Runner, the replicants are possessed of and by a critical difference from the humans.  The replicants alone, it appears are able to love; and to act out of love. They are driven not solely by a  need for life in general, but also by the need for intimate, personal love.  Roy loves Pris.  He is determined to win more life for himself and for her.  When her life is taken by Deckard, Roy cries for Pris.

The humans don't cry for anyone.  Tyrell doesn't.  Gaff doesn't.  Bryant wouldn't be caught dead crying.  J.F. Sebastian comes the closest to crying, and loving someone, but then he's possessed by the very same syndrome that drives Roy and Pris:  "Methuselah Syndrome."  "Accelerated Decrepitude."

Who does Deckard cry for?  Nobody.  Better question:  who would cry for Deckard?

Rachael?-- but that's the point, isn't it?  She's the replicant; yet she can love.  Deckard cannot...until he is saved by Batty.

These are the themes, strains actually, cultures like micro-flora that are carried over from Blade Runner  to Blade Runner 2049.   The new movie is not just a sequel to, but the successor to the original, expanding and expounding upon the themes.  We discover that what defines human beings is the ability to make more human beings and make more human beings.  We discover that the freedom of the slave begins when the slaves reproduce of and by themselves outside the limitations of the masters, outside the code, so that the issues of that reproduction, those children, are not slaves, are not property.  We discover that Hegel was right.  The slave can't simply transcend the master; transcend the condition of slavery.  The slave must overthrow, abolish, destroy the master as the embodiment of slaveholding.  The death grapple cannot be avoided as the existence of the institution itself is an everyday slow motion death grapple. 

As for the usual movie review stuff,  I'll just point out how  good Ryan Gosling is in the part of the blade runner 2049 in his quest for the memory of his origins, his history, and love.  I 'll point out the brilliance of having Deckard hiding out in our very own derelict, post-nuclear version of Stonehenge, Las Vegas.  I'll point out the genius in confining Dr. Ana Stelline in a germ-free bubble because of an immune deficiency... and tell you to see the movie for all those things, but see it two or three times more for the other reasons.

S. Artesian
October 7, 2017

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