Farscape: wormhole deterritorialization and becoming Nomad
The wormhole – John Crichton’s deterritorializing element 

An introduction to the sexiest half-Australian Sci-Fi show ever:

  • Farscape ran 4 seasons between 1997 – 2004 until it was abruptly cancelled before season 5 could be produced. 
  • There was massive protest from the particularly dedicated fan-base and so a miniseries wrap-up, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars was run in 2004. Ten webisodes have also been promised. 
  • Farscape was produced in Australia with the help of Channel 9, who accounted for around half the funding. Hence, the cast and crew are mostly Australian.
  • It is unique for the sci-fi genre in many ways: Firstly, in that it has a very high female following – around 48% (Battis:2). It is concerned more with dialogue, relationships and language rather than action, explosions and intergalactic warfare (although it does have elements of this). 
  • it is inherently sexual, and its key themes relate to gender, race and inter-species sex
  • it was dropped after Season 1 by YTV (youth television) in Canada, where it debuted, because it was deemed too ‘adult’, even though it was promotionally pitched at children because of its use of muppets!
  • The first critical analysis of the show was written by a massive fan and academic, Jes Battis, entitled Investigating Farscape: Unchartered Territories of Sex and Science Fiction (2007). Interestingly, the text not only alludes to Guattari, but also extensively to Buffy in its gender studies perspective.
  • For our purposes, we can look at Farscape to relate Guattarian concepts of Deterritorialization and ‘becoming nomad’ (John Crichton); sound/language de/reterritorialization, the territorial assemblage and viral (translator) machines (Peacekeepers and the unchartered territories); psychological deterritorialization, the rhizome and BwO. 

 

But first some words on Guattari and Deleuze – our favourite incoherent French philosophers…

...so french

Schizophrenic word salad

Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze form much of the theoretical basis of our screen machine subject. Namely in their two key works, Anti-Oedipus and a Thousand Plateaus, which share the underpinning concepts (and title) of ‘capitalism and schizophrenia.’ 

But what the frell are they on about?

If you’re struggling to digest their wacky, invented language and schizoid theorizing don’t worry… you definitely aren’t alone. I doubt there are many academics/humans out there who really get Guattari. (Note – when i say Guattari i’m also talking about Deleuze, as you can’t separate their work in these texts.)

I particularly like the way one academic, Eugene Holland, described the ‘paranoid tendencies’ of Guattari in his refreshingly comprehensible Deterritorializing “Deteritorialization”: 

the schizoid tendencies of the text reduce an all-encompassing argument to flights of surreal imagery and schizophrenic word salad – from which it is difficult (if not intentionally impossible) to draw any definitive conclusions. (Holland: 56).

Even the english translator of their text has a go at them (if not only to inflate his own ego):

“the games and snares scattered throughout the book render its translation a feat of real prowess”

So don’t get down on yourself if you don’t know what the frell they’re talking about. The main thing is that they have some very interesting and revolutionary concepts, and there’s plenty we can draw from the duo. The key is to not try and take any definite conclusions from their work (except that its probably not tobacco that Deleuze is smoking in the picture), but to take what you can – or what you like – from their readings. 

Even Guattari and Deleuze acknowledge their difficult style. In the foreward to a Thousand Plateaus they recommend that ‘you read it as you would listen to a record‘: 

“When you buy a record there are always cuts that leave you cold. You skip them. You don’t approach a record as a closed book that you have to take or leave. Other cuts you may listen to over and over again.” (Guattari, 1987:xiii) 

So get out the Guattari record and see if you can find something that clicks with you… just make sure you get the English version.

Some general notes on Guattari: anti-fascist schizophrenics

  • while Guattari and Deleuze may seem incomprehensible on paper, their interviews (of which there are many) are far more logical and easier to follow.
  • Anti-Oedipus is described as a revolutionary text, and its main enemy is fascism (see introduction): 

“the strategic adversary is fascism… not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini – which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively – but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” (Foucault: xiii)

Thus Anti-Oedipus raises the key question: ‘how could the masses be made to desire their own repression?’

For me this question ties in directly with our study of Television and commodity culture – with the machinic assemblages of television and the commodification of pop-culture, with the desiring-machines that perpetuate the produce-consume-desire-consume loop of capitalism, and with our endless appetite for shows that highlight our desire for the very power that subjugates us (e.g. Fame in Idol, beauty in Extreme Makeover, the aesthetic of ‘health’ in Biggest Loser etc.) But back to Guattari…

  • Ultimately, I would argue that Guattari and Deleuze, being the revolutionaries that they are, are anti-power, anti-hierarchy, anti-fascism, anti-psychoanalysis. (But not anti-capitalist)
  • Conversely they encourage disjunction, multiplicity, nomadism, de-individualisation, flows over unities, difference over uniformity… etc etc. 
  • Hence their enthusiasm for schizophrenia, which ‘designates the freeing of desire and social production from the constraints of any coding whatsoever’ (Holland:56)
  • Later on, instead of talking about ‘schizophrenia’, they swapped over to [the less crazy ideas of] deterritorialization and body without organs, which both also designate the same freeing of desire.

Deterritorialization: a background

Deterritorialization literally means ‘the severance of social, political or cultural practices from their native places and populations‘, however Guattari’s concept of it evolved to become increasingly abstract and complex as we move from their first allusions to it in Anti-Oedipus to their deconstruction of the term in a Thousand Plateaus. 

In Anti-Oedipus deterritorialization (and its opposite reterritorialization) function ‘as a kind of hinge-term to connect Marx and Freud’, to relate the ideas of the libido and labour-power (Holland:57). Thus Deleuze and Guattari use it in terms of psychology, specifically, deterritorialization is the ‘freeing of the schizophrenic libido from [capitalistic] objects of investment‘ (Holland). (This fits in with the concepts of desiring machines, body without organs, and the key themes of capitalism and schizophrenia… but more of this later). 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So already in Anti-Oedipus Guattari has departed from the original social meaning of deterritorialization, which relates to the freeing of labour-power from a farm, a factory line etc. However, it should be noted that in both circumstances (psychological or social) capitalism is the deterritorializing machine. 

Thus Guattari’s deterritorialization is a step forward from Marx’s idea of the process, whereby with the emergence of capitalism in England peasants were deterritorialized from the land only to be reterritorialized onto textile looms in the garment industry (Holland: 57). 

So at this stage deterritorialization remains largely as a social phenomenon, confined to human society – the physical displacement of persons and practices from their native places and populations. In this first sense we can relate this to Farscape in John Crichton’s instantaneous deterritorialization via wormhole from earth to his reterritorialization on Moya in the unchartered territories. However, to develop the concept of deterritorialisation in Farscape we must continue with Guattari’s expansion of the term in a Thousand Plateaus. 

By the time a Thousand Plateaus was published, 15 years later, deterritorialization had evolved into an almost completely new concept. It no longer had much to do with humanism or anthropology at all, and instead could be applied more abstractedly, for example, ‘the hand is a deterritorialized front paw’ (Guattari, 1987:63). 

Also, deterritorialization and reterritorialization were no longer binary opposites, but there was this new concept of deterritorialization as a “double-becoming” where one deterritorialized element serves as a new territory for another deterritorialized element (Holland:59). Perhaps we could make the example of Moya (herself deterritorialized in her line of flight (literally) from the Peacekeepers), serving as a new territory for John Crichton – himself deterritorialized from earth via wormhole. 

Things get further complicated in a Thousand Plateaus’ conclusion: ‘concrete rules and abstract machines’. (The first reading for week 9). Deterritorialization is said to be negative when the reterritorialization ‘obstructs the line of flight.’ In this sense John Crichton’s deterritorialization is negative. His reterritorialization in the unchartered territories blocks the line of flight back to his home territory – earth. That is, in this new far away galaxy his line of flight is blocked in the sense that he cannot find a wormhole that will lead him home. 

Furthermore, deterritorialization can be said to be absolute when we relate it directly to the earth. Guattari says “the earth is deterritorialization par excellence”; the earth is the “strict correlate” of deterritorialization (translation: the earth and deterritorialization are closely tied together; perhaps the earth is the best example of deterritorialization). And so, when we talk about a deterritorialization creating a new earth – ‘a new land, a universe, not just a reterritorialization’, this is the meaning of absolute. 

Thus I would argue that John Crichton’s deterritorialization is absolute. His deterritorialization created a new ‘earth’ for him, a new ‘universe’, Moya and the unchartered territories are his new earth, his new territory. It is a total reterritorialization – there’s no turning back.

However, as Guattari states, and indeed is the case with all of Guattari’s concepts, “deterritorialization is never simple, but always multiple and composite.” The lines between negative/relative/absolute deterritorialization are blurred. (Does anyone think that John’s D was relative? Or positive? There’s no wrong answer here…)

JC’s deterritorialization story, simplified:

Once upon a time, there was a boy named John. One day, when John was doing astronaut things, a big blue wormhole gobbled him up, and spat him out at the far end of the universe.                                                                – John Crichton (Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, Pt. 1)

For Crichton, deterritorialization is the movement by which he left his territory (planet earth/USA/Kansas). His ‘line of flight’ was a wild ride through a wormhole. The result was a reterritorialization on Moya in the unchartered territories. As his line of flight is obstructed by lack of (or limitations to) a wormhole, his deterritorialization is said to be negative in the Guattarian sense. Furthermore, JC’s deterritorialization opened him up to a whole new universe, a whole new intergalactic world which became his new territory. In this sense, JC’s deterritorialization is also absolute.  

Farscape and other relevant Guattarian concepts

John Crichton ‘becoming Nomad‘ 

When John gets shot through that wormhole, he becomes a nomad. The nature of his life on Moya, in the unchartered territories is inherently Nomadic. He and his new family drift through space, from one planetary system to another, often fleeing the ‘war machine’ of the Peacekeepers. In this sense, John Crichton has ‘no points, paths, or land’ (Guattari, 1987:381). His territory is a fluid concept. For this reason Guattari calls the nomad ‘the Deterritorialized par excellence’:

“With the nomad it is deterritorialization that constitutes the relation to earth, to such a degree that the nomad reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself.” (ibid)

Indeed it is Crichton’s deterritorialization that calls forth his ongoing quest for a return home to earth/Kansas – which is the original basis of the plot. (Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who also wants to get back to Kansas). It is his deterritorialization that relates him to earth; his ties to earth are strengthened by this displacement. As soon as he comes out the other side of the wormhole he is no longer John Crichton, IASA astronaut and son of the famous Jack Crichton, he is now the ‘human’, just another escapee in flight. And John embraces this reterritorialization. As the series goes on he becomes more concerned with the survival of Moya and her crew, he falls in love with Aeryn and grows a strong (if not slightly homo-erotic) relationship with D’Argo… in other words Moya becomes JC’s new home and his priorities change. Instead of a blind quest for a return home, it now becomes a moral question of whether a return to earth is the right thing to do – right for his new friends, right for human kind? (see title sequence) Ultimately, John has reterritorialized on his deterritorialization. John has become nomad.  

The territorial assemblage and the translator machine

In a Thousand Plateaus Guattari talks at length about the ‘territorial assemblage’, which he relates in a socio-biological context by looking at the example of birds and bird-songs in ‘the refrain’. 

Guattari defines the territorial assemblage as a ‘milieu consolidation’, which I take to mean the combining or coming together of a people’s/birds’/aliens’ social environment (1987:330). Thus we could describe the social environment in Farscape – the multi-specific crew on Moya – as a territorial assemblage. 

He then goes on to say that ‘whenever a territorial assemblage is taken up by a movement that deterritorializes it, we say that a machine is released. (ibid)‘ 

The territorial assemblage of Moya’s crew is not only facing physical deterritorialization by the despotic Peacekeeper force, but they also face a (sound) deterritorialization of language and communication. Just about every member of Moya’s crew are of a different species (Luxan, Sebacean, Human, Hiberian etc). Hence the need for a de/reterritorialization of language so that they may communicate.

Luckily, there is a ‘machine’ in Farscape that allows this de/reterritorialization of language from one alien species to another. They are called translator microbes and JC was injected with them when he first arrived on Moya in ‘Premiere’. 

How does Guattari describe such a machine?

“as a general rule, a machine plugs into the territorial assemblage of a species and opens it to other assemblages, even to inter-specific assemblages, as in the case of birds that adopt alien songs, and most especially in the case of parasitism.” (1987:333)

When John arrives on Moya all he can hear are alien noises coming from D’Argo – he does not understand a thing. Then a diagnostic repair drone (DRD) injects him with translator microbes, which ‘colonize at the base of the brain’, allowing the inter-specific alien crew of Moya to understand one another. 

Thus I would describe the translator microbes in Farscape as being ‘machinic’ in the Guattarian sense in that they ‘synthesize heterogeneities’: they colonize in John Crichton (like a virus) and open him up to the territorial assemblage of Moya by unifying the communication between different species… John Crichton is the bird that adopts alien songs.

JC’s deterritorialization from his father’s shadow: the freeing of (Oedipal) desires

“In the psychological register, deterritorialization designates the freeing of the libido from pre-established objects of investment: for instance, from the family triangle of the Oedipus complex.” (Holland: 57)

This form of deterritorialization also applies to John Crichton’s, as his reterritorialization in Farscape’s unchartered territories acts to free him from his worldly desires of becoming an automous and worthy son, free from his father’s shadow in which he was living back home in Kansas. According to the Oedipal complex, a son has a desire to exclude his father – his direct competition.

We see JC facing this dilemma in the premiere, where he explains to his famous astronaut father, Jack, “I can’t be your kind of hero”. However John’s deterritorialization allows him to eventually become a hero in his own right. John becomes a leader, a man of action, someone who can be relied upon and who is looked up to by D’Argo, Aeryn and the other crew. Thus, Crichton, in his reterritorialization in this far away universe, is freed from his earthly libidinal desires.

Conclusion: deterritorialization… frell it!

Whilst Farscape may not be your idea of great television, it is definitely worthy of critical analysis. Any sci-fi show with such a dedicated (and largely female) audience and with such prolific (if not slightly disturbing) online cult-fandom must have something to offer. 

And whilst Guattari and Deleuze can sometimes read like paranoid-schizophrenic word salad, many of their concepts can be (painstakingly) unravelled and validly applied to a text such as Farscape. 

Deterritorialization is an ongoing concept that underpins much of a Thousand Plateaus. In a way deterritorialization largely takes over from the revolutionary (hence slightly extreme) enthusiasm for Schizophrenia that was apparent in Anti-Oedipus. The concept not only applies to anthropocentric socio-geographical movements of people from physical territories, but extends far more abstractedly into a process that – like the BwO, becomings and schizophrenia – designates a freeing from desire, a ‘decoding’ of signifying regimes, a move towards Guattari’s elusive ‘plane of consistency’ (i.e. what the BwO strives for; opposed to a plane of organization and development). Obviously this stuff gets a bit heavy, and like all Guattari it is Rhizomic (interconnected; branching).

However, I suggest that many components of deterritorialization – and other Guattarian concepts – can be applied to Farscape, as in the following examples:

i. There is JC’s (negative) deterritorialization via wormhole and subsequent (absolute) reterritorialization on Moya.

ii. The de/reterritorialization of language and sound between the inter-specific territorial assemblage of the Farscape characters.

iii. John Crichton’s becoming nomad – deterritorialization par excellence

iv. Crichton’s psychological reterritorialization (freeing of Oedipal desires) as autonomous son and worthy hero. 

Of course, these are but a couple of examples in a multi-faceted text and infinitely complex theory. Indeed, Guattari’s all-encompassing concepts and philosophies could be applied to Farscape ad infinitum. But frell it… what would be the fun in that!

 

 

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pisces.gif

Well… Welcome to my first blog! Born 16 March 2008. I guess that makes her (why did i make her a her?) a Pisces blog, if you’re into that sort of thing (which perhaps I’m not). But looking now at some Astrology character traits from psychicsconnect.com I am dumbfounded by the pertinence of this rhetoric. Its brilliant! Its so good, in fact, that I am going to create this blog in its image…

And so, henceforth, this blog shall be ‘the dreamer of the zodiac’. ‘I believe’ shall be her motto. She shall be ‘drawn to mysticism and anything of an esoteric nature.’ She shall have a ‘very creative imagination and artistic temperament.’

Well there you go! Welcome to my believer-dreamer-esoteric-creative-artistic blog. Feel free to shape her as you please. But beware… she is very impressionable and sensitive! So sensitive, in fact, that she may ‘absorb the moods and thoughts of the people around’ [her]. Spot on! And as simply as that ‘The Pisces Blog’ was born. Let us see if she lives up to her Piscean character…

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Astrology Commodity

I’m not really going to focus this whole blog on Commodity Astrology… although it has been suggested. I just thought it was interesting that the characteristics of a Piscean are largely inline with the characteristics one would attest to a good blog – i.e. open, impressionable, creative, honest, artistic. Would you agree?

***** 

Let us see what Mr Cynic has to say, “Mr Cynic?”

Mr C: “Umandah, you’re talking bollocks mate! You could just as easily take the character traits from any Star Sign and convincingly assign them and apply them to your blog. That’s the whole purpose of Astrology – to play on people’s gullability by writing formulaic rhetorical garbage that could apply to any Joe Bloggs… or Joan Blog in your case.”

Umandah: “Wow, that’s a fairly emotive response Mr. C., why do you feel so strongly about this topic?”

Mr C: “I once dated an Astrology columnist. I was sure she was the one for me… then I found out she was dating 11 other guys… Bitch.”

Umandah: “I’m sorry to hear that mate, but I’m not convinced. You’re gonna have to back this up with something from the readings.”

Mr C: “Right. Well, if we look to Adorno and Horkeimer, The culture industry: enlightenment as mass deception, I’d say that you could apply some of their concepts of culture industy to Astrology commodity. Let us look at where, on page 32, they are talking about the ‘ruthless unity’ in the cultural industry.

“Marked differentiations such as those of A and B films… depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organizing and labelling consumers. Something is provided for all so that none may escape… Everybody must behave in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product turned out for his type.”

In a simplistic, analogical way we can apply this to the Zodiac. The differences between one daily Star Sign and the next are arbitrary, fabricated and irrelevant. What is important is not the subject of the Star Sign, but the classification and labelling of consumers. Those born in early April are labelled ‘Aries’ and classified as ‘ambitious’; those born in early March are ‘Pisces’ and are thus ’emotional’. Everyone has a ‘previously determined and indexed level.’ Then consumers look up there little Star Sign in the paper and (low and behold!) it applies to them! ‘None may escape’. Each consumer will eat up the ‘mass product turned out for his type.’

And there’s my analogy for Astrology commodity and the culture industry.

Piscean blog! You idiot!”