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The Prophetic Other: Orientalism Within and Without
It is difficult to discuss other worlds and their relationship to humankind without summoning Edward Said's Orientalism as an important authority on the matter. Orientalism, or the study of "the other," can be discussed and analyzed "as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient" (Leitch 1992). Said considers the Orient as an almost "European invention, [which] ha[s] been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories, landscapes, and remarkable experiences" (1991). Though the Orient originally referred specifically to all that was not-Western, it can also be understood as all that is "other" to oneself. An encounter with something that one does not know or understand, something outside the cartography of their world, engenders either fear or fascination, which results in the urge to annihilate "the other." This annihilation dons various forms (i.e. assimilation, subjugation, and genocide), but it always feeds on humankind's assumption that it will always exist and that its existence will remain as it is, if only slightly improved. This fear and fascination creates what can 1) be labeled "the prophetic other," in other words, a future encountered being which threatens one's society as he knows it, and 2) be considered in relation to "the other" being or "the other" self which future encounters may illuminate.
Though they are not restricted to the genre, encounters with beings "other" than oneself, often aptly referred to as aliens, occur frequently within science fiction literature. Geoffrey Whitehall cites Carl Freedman's definition of science fiction as "a literary genre that champions the tension between the beyond and the known by offering up imaginative alien worlds to scientific laws and cultural norms and mores" (172). With so many potentially ambiguous signifiers, this broad definition can be stretched to include almost any kind of literature one would like to include. Jodi Picoult's world in The Pact details the tension between the known and the unknown worlds of the parents and teenagers but can clearly be excluded from the discussion of science fiction. The small town in India from Forster's A Passage to India represents an "imaginative alien world" to Adela Quested. The examination of cultural norms and mores is just as common, but it is Said's insistence that a literary work maintain the aforementioned qualities and explore scientific laws that makes science fiction what it is. However, Whitehall's second category, experimental science fiction, can be expanded to include most literature which might be considered mythographic or utopian in nature. Whitehall describes Albert Wentland's categorization of experimental science fiction as "a speculative philosophy that constructs thought experiments in the space between science and fiction" and is "therefore, portrayed as a creative and progressive classification of literature that explores the (future) limits of humanity" (173). This definition, the nuances of which will be left unexamined, opens the science fiction canon to include works of magic realism, fantasy, utopia and dystopia, fairy tale, and satire, which rarely contain any scientific aspects.
The world we live in each day is a scientific world of cause and effect, one which is predictable and by its nature leads people toward attempts at predicting it. This is scientific reality, the very reality Angela Carter's magic realism does its best to bend but not break in Nights at the Circus . The true Lacanian-undertoned landscape unleashes "a world [that is] at once beautiful and terrible, filled with the surfeit of desire, ... haunted by other worlds and the suppressed fears of our nightmares" but seldom pursuing anything scientific (Pugmire 218). By placing the winged freak Sophie Fevvers on a trapeze for all to gawk at, Carter displays Walser's combined feelings of rapture and terror to show that his feelings are not that far removed from our own. Fevvers's six foot two inch stature, combined with her winged humpback that resembles a dray mare more than an angel, and her dyed multicolored feathers, makes her an intimidating lady, both "freakish and disturbingly alluring" (Peterson 294). A freakish specimen of a woman, Fevvers enthralls Walser, who continually succumbs to her erotic, seductive power.
Walser begins his interview with Fevvers with the goal of showcasing her as one of the great humbugs of the world. The purpose behind Walser's series of articles is fueled by a fear that the wings of the famous Fevvers might be real, as might all the other freaks of nature he aims to debunk. What would happen to society if these creatures were real? What would that mean to the social norms and mores if creatures different than humans could and were allowed to survive? Peterson claims that "freaks in various forms ... actually embod[y] our cultures' fears about ourselves - our 'secret selves'" (291). This means that Walser's desire to expose the fraudulent freaks highlights his fear of being discovered as one himself. This Lacanian bond between the external and internal rings true when set beside Said's Orientalism .
It is this labeling of "other" that allows an individual to remain hidden within himself, unexplored, and ultimately perceived as powerful by those around him that do not know him. If Walser was to be exposed as incompetent, his world would collapse, which is precisely what Carter explores through his infatuation with Fevvers. Walser masks himself as a common circus clown in order to remain in close proximity to his fantastic freak. His choice to abandon the plush lifestyle in pursuit of "the other" ultimately leaves him suffering from amnesia and training beneath a Shaman in the Siberian wilderness. Not until the reunion of Fevvers and Walser at the end of the novel does Fevvers get the opportunity to accomplish her goals:
On that bright day, when I am no more a singular being but, warts and all the female paradigm, no longer an imagined fiction but a plain fact - that he [Walser] will slap down his notebooks, bear witness to me and my prophetic role. (Carter 286)
Even Fevvers sees that her prophetic role within the societal construct is a proclamation of the power of "the other," which manifests itself in the reborn twenty-first century woman which man has not yet been able to understand.
Like Fevvers, the various forms of freak comprise "the other" of which society is so often fascinated and afraid. The island microcosm in Golding's Lord of the Flies serves as an ideal test tube in which to explore the nature of humanity. Although the novel seems to characterize the loss of the children's innocence and their "growing into wickedness," "it is rather the coming of an awareness of darkness, of the evil in man's heart that was present in the children all along" (Boyd 191). Freud located this inner evil within the unexplored unconscious containing the hidden urges and fears of the individual. Freud "detected the presence of the Other, or das Unbewusste , literally 'the unknown,' in the course of his ... attempt to treat his clinic patients who bore various tears in the fabric of consciousness" (Pugmire 142). The introduction of the Beast mythology into the minds of the children begins the inward spiral of self-exploration for them all. Jack, the first to surrender to his hedonistic desires, pulls some of the boys with him to go hunting. They easily abandon their "responsibilities" in pursuit of a life of ego-fulfillment, while at the same time the younger children are having nightmares about the Beast.
What is the meaning behind their dreams? "Freud supposed that they are the Other's sense of things, its interpretation of events, its assertion of instinct, its declaration of fear, and its search for pleasure" (145). Freud sensed that the unconscious revealed itself through the substance of the individual's desires. In other words, the individual discovered his understanding of the other through the material of his dreams and the quality of his desires. If "[humans] are, in Golding's words, a species that 'produces evil as a bee produces honey,'" then the children's evolution toward evil behavior is a natural outgrowth of their internal selves (Boyd 193). As they try to rid the island of "the Beast without," "the Beast within" only further manifests itself. In the chapter, "Beast from Water," the first real proof of their [d]evolutionary path presents itself in the murder of Piggy, the shattering of his skull, and the splattering of his brains on the rocks below. Piggy's body is then engulfed by the sea, which was suggested to be the dwelling place of the Beast. When Ralph inspects the area, the narrator describes the sea's motion as "like the breathing of some stupendous creature, ... the sleeping leviathan" (Golding 97). Piggy had been the character most certain of what he knew. Earlier, he showed his trust in the laws of science and in societal common sense based on the known world: "'The trouble is: Are there ghosts, Piggy? Or beasts?' 'Course there aren't.' 'Why not?' ''Cos things wouldn't make sense. Houses an' streets, an' - TV - they wouldn't work'" (Golding 85). The problem with recognizing the reality of "a Beast[ial] other" is exactly as Piggy's prophetic words say. If the Beast were allowed to [co]exist with their civilized, Western, microcosmic world, the result would be the end of the world as they knew it.
Later, when Simon is engrossed in daydreams sitting on the hill where he receives the prophetic words from the dripping skull, he becomes the prophet of the lord of the flies to the rest of the tribe. While in what is arguably a hallucinogenic or visionary state of mind, he "hears" the following:
'Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!' said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter: 'You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why things are as they are?' (Golding 133)
This experience teaches him that the Beast, the symbolic other, is just a man, just a parachutist sent from the outside world of corrupted man, while the real Beast is within them. For Lacan, "the other" resides deeply-hidden in the unconscious but carries with it the truth of our individual existence:
[It] contains the essence of human, the characteristics that are not built on the falsehoods of the imaginary. Whatever the world of the other is, it is not a world based on illusion. That, for Lacan, is enough to ... place a value on the other world, but he follows the eschatological drive for the end of the present (imaginary) order and the emergence of another (symbolic) order. (Pugmire 154)
This unconscious, eschatological drive for an ending reveals our desire for an unknown, other future that will change our present, but not too much. Our fear is that the future changes will destroy our world as we know it. Simon's desires are exposed in the thrill he experiences when he learns that the Beast is a hoax and wants to share it with the rest of the children. He thinks he has learned the truth that will liberate them all from their fears. When Simon the prophet emerges at the campfire, they project their fear of the Beast onto him and kill him, and the truth about themselves and their world is once more lost within themselves.
In D.H. Lawrence's primarily mythological The Plumed Serpent , this Lacanian, unconscious fear of "the unknown other" presents itself within the characters who grapple with "the technological other." The two main characters handle their thoughts differently, Don Ramon leaning toward feelings of fear and Kate Leslie toward those of wary fascination. Don Ramon's emergence as Quetzalcoatl characterizes Lawrence's beliefs regarding the unconscious:
For the whole point about the true unconscious is that it is all the time moving forward, beyond the range of its own fixed laws or habits. It is no good trying to superimpose an ideal nature upon the unconscious. We have to try to recognize the true nature and then leave the unconscious itself to prompt new movement and new being - the creative process. (Przybylowicz 294)
Don Ramon despises the American capitalist system and, at least, looks down upon the Christian religion in Mexico. Predicting the rise of the ancient, nature-connected Aztec gods and the death of the Christian gods, Don Ramon creates himself as Quetzalcoatl and begins to accrue followers, who "he apparently wants to keep ... innocent, simple, and untouched by Western ideas" (300). The people greet his new religion with mixed feelings, most of which are violent representations of the fear that lies within the Mexican people. How dare someone offer an alternative to the dominant theology, especially one based loosely on a former religion of theirs, albeit one that they have neglected and forgotten.
Kate Leslie becomes an interesting figure in the midst of this growing religious conflict. Donna Przybylowicz uses details from the novel to show Kate's inner struggle:
[She] "admires the 'ponderous power of blood,' the 'helplessness,' and 'profound unbelief that was fatal and demonish' in the Indian, yet she believes that 'all the liberty, all the progress, all the socialism in the world would not help him. Nay, it would only help further destroy him'; 'When you got these dark-faced people away from wrong contacts like agitators and socialism, they made one feel that life was vast, if fearsome, and death was fathomless.' In other words, the natives must be kept away from politics since they are supposedly too simple to deal with complex issues - for Lawrence and his characters, their strength and brilliance lie in their dark sensuality, which needs to be reawakened by their Aztec heritage and gods. (302)
Kate's sense that the lives of Ramon's followers were vast and fearsome is perhaps the best possible approach to "the other." An approach of fear is too closed, and one of fascination is too open. Lawrence is suggesting a proper balance in one's dealing with "the other," in this case a [self-]proclaimed religious deity. Her admiration of their helplessness within the dominant system is the mindset many would want her to have of sympathy for the unknown, juxtaposed against a violent fear of it.
For much of the novel, Kate is ambivalent in her feelings towards Ramon's crowd, to the degree that the reader is able to see her contrasting thoughts within certain single passages. In one sense, the natives engender feelings of "tenderness and revulsion" (Lawrence 73), while at the same time being "fearsome and so appealing" (46). Their "passionate warmth" (107), "richness of physical being" (59), and fantastic "intense semi-abstraction, a gleam ... of the morning star ... that watches between the night and day, the gleaming clue to the two opposites" (87) appeal to the curious side of her nature. However, her logical, skeptical side recognizes their "vacuity, arrest, and cruelty" (87), their "brutish, evil, cold, and insect-like," (72) even "reptilian" (73) nature, "primitive" (131), "slightly imbecile" (212), and embodying a "monkey look of subjection and fear" (131). The exploration of her unconscious beliefs reveals a complex individual who will not place judgments on people until she fully knows them. She further illustrates her willingness to explore the unknown and her unconscious self by becoming Malintzi in her attempt at playing "other" as an Aztec goddess. At the end of the novel, she reveals her motivation for joining Quetzalcoatl by admitting "that she is a 'fraud' and is simply amusing herself with this whole experience [and] ... that she can leave when it becomes too boring" (Przybylowicz 309).
A Post-Colonial, Saidian reading of Bram Stoker's Dracula reveals aspects similar to Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent . In his article "Defanging Dracula: The Disappearing Other in Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula ," Erik Marshall compares Coppola's version (which I will not discuss) to Stoker's original. Stoker's version depicts an evolving modernized London at the center of a colonizing empire that for the most part has managed to remain racially pure. It is into this culture that she introduces Dracula, an emerging vampire from a primitive era. Marshall claims that "the threat he brings to modern England represents not only a fear of the non-English invader, but also an anxiety over technological and cultural relapse" (289). The reactions of the characters (i.e. Jonathan, Mina, and Van Helsing) are particularly telling in regards to their Lacanian fear of and fascination toward the unknown.
For Jonathan, Dracula begins as an intriguing individual who happens to live in an intimidating, if not horrific, primitive Eastern environment. His experiences on the journey to Castle Dracula make his arrival a welcomed safety. Jonathan is trusting of the Count for much of the castle portion of the novel, only questioning his own ignorant understanding of "the foreign other" when his unexplainable experiences and visions begin to occur. It takes seeing Dracula scaling the side of the castle with no supports for the reality of the Count's otherness to sink in, and from that point forward Jonathan's mind fears the unfathomable capabilities of this monster. He resolves that his immediate escape from the situation or Dracula's necessary destruction are the only two options. Peaceful cohabitation is out of the question. For Mina, Dracula exists as a creature to be publicly afraid of yet privately captivated by. This dichotomy is made possible because of Dracula's hypnotically sexual nature. His materialization from a fantastic mist, his trance-inducing whispers, and his kissing bite on the neck contrast strangely with his terrorizing of her husband Jonathan at the castle, his summoning of the wolves, and his mastery of the natural elements. Dracula is, to her, a frightfully alluring creature who threatens her very existence. For Van Helsing, Dracula embodies the struggle between the foreign them versus the cultural us. Marshall suggests that "[Dracula's] aristocratic pedigree and his immortality make him Other not only in nationality, but also in class and generation. This overdetermined Other comes to represent many of the fears of the nineteenth-century England, embodying the multi-faceted anxiety of a nation that is beginning to lose its imperial hold" (291). Van Helsing's methodical approach, documenting each development for later study, shows his belief in Dracula's necessary extermination. Dracula is not someone who can be contained or entertained; he needs to be destroyed.
It is clear that the tenets of Said's Orientalism pervade the realms of what Wentland calls experimental science fiction, including such genres as magic realism, fantasy, and mythology. His Oriental "other" commonly exists in "binary oppositions - proper/improper, norm/deviation, sane/mad, authority/obedience," us/them, human/alien - that threaten current existence but may also suggest a potential eschatological revolution against the accepted present (Pugmire 159). The exploration of these binaries leads to what Freud and Lacan assert represents one's hidden, suppressed, authentic desires. However, Lacan would love to "give reign to the unconscious, the Other, in opposition to Freud's fundamental belief that the ego must remain ascendant over the id to avoid the collapse of civilization as we know it" (165). His disagreement with Freud on this issue is evidence that this battle against "the other" exists within the realm of theory.
The difficulty in filling in the trench of "the other" continues to exist within our cultures today, particularly in the Western world. Though this Oriental barrier has been whittled away at in past decades, its enduring presence is still felt by individuals and cultures who feel they are treated as "other" than the norm. However, Lacan suggests that this "other" is not only an external, repressive force but that it lies internally as well and must be conquered within the unconscious before any substantial changes will be evident in the individual's external world. Until then, the reaction to anything outside the cartography of their world will engender fear, fascination, or an intriguing mixture of both, and will ultimately result in the desire to annihilate "the other." The prophetic nature of our impulses against "the other" are rooted in our views of "them" as threatening to our society as we know it. It is this examination the world with the realization that "the Beast[ial] other," the true unknown, resides within the individual that is near the heart of Said's Orientalism and may speak into our reluctance to let anything exist beyond our level of knowledge and line of sight.
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