Na’vigating Blueness, part_1 [a meta-critique of Avatar]

Oeyä tukrul txe’lanit tivakuk[1]

It is usually not very advisable or sensible to leap to the defense of a masterwork: the piece of art should obviously stand for itself and easily hold its ground… for those who are willing to truly engage with it. However, the debate surrounding James Cameron’s et al.’s [an al. that includes literally thousands incl. Sam Worthington – Zoe Saldana – Stephen Lang – Michelle Rodriguez – Giovanni Ribisi – Joel David Moore – C. C. H. Pounder – Wes Studi – Laz Alonso – Sigourney Weaver- a.s.f.] “Avatar” has been at the centre of debates so misguided and fake-hearted that I will leap nevertheless. To the ones who didn’t bother to look closely or shoot straight I say:

Oeri ontu teya längu![2]

Like many a neoAnarchic [post-postmodern is an inadequate expression, really] cultural products, “Avatar” is subject to an irony non-pareil: the genre it was conceived and created in, Science Fiction, which is so often trivialized and derided, has once again been part of a paradigm shift, this time cinematic. And the shift, so thoroughly missed out on by many, demonstrates that the basics of Sci-Fi are still not comprehended and that it is, thus, not as trivial as its bad-mouthers decry it to be. [Think “Neuromancer”, think “The Dispossessed”, think “The Matrix”, think]. So let me state this basic paradigm lest it get lost in a meandering argument: SciFi is about difference in the sense of positive alterity/otherness projected into the future, illustrated by aliens and advanced technology. Thus it is also fundamentally about newness, how the never-before comes to enter both the now and our imagination as a resource for understanding our own predicament.

Oll korrect then. Let’s begin at the beginning. In an age of fetishized surfaces what hits one in the visual cortex most viscerally are the accomplished 3D representations. The modern shell of “surface and surface only” [e.g. clothes, glossy magazines, customizable iPhone skins, supermodels, etc.] has been punctured and replaced by a sense of depth: we are sitting in the theater, uncomprehending little movie-goers, staring into another world, the unending depths of the jungles of Pandora. Yes, a box has been opened and we are not in Lucerne anymore, Ladies & Gents. Why does this matter? Because the degree of verisimilitude is deepened, that is, we connect more instinctively/empathetically/emotionally with the fictional cosmos: it becomes a reality unto itself in a more transcendent mode. We, the spectators are transported to Pandora. And thus come the statements, as many a movie-goer vented them on the web “Where do I book holidays on Pandora?”, “Our world is so drearily gray compared to the planet of the Na’vi” and “Put me on a space-ship already!” Or, in case you have witnessed the story already, ask yourself this: what is the truth value of the statement “Neither the Na’vi, nor Pandora exist”?

This past paragraph itself, to a certain degree, replicates the general misallocation of critical scrutiny that has attended this cinematographic singularity, namely the focus on the technical/SFX/CGI side. Ironically, it is indeed this technology that allows the work to function, yet it is as nothing compared to the content and development of “Avatar”.

Once one gets beyond the 3D-shock and lands, jets & visual cortex howling loudly, on Pandora, what next is there to point to?

The Na’vi are decidedly, significantly, emphatically NOT a people of the 500 nations. They use bows and arrows but so do the Khoi and the SanSan, so do the Guayaki and the South Koreans have developed a mastery of archery in a league of their own. This hunting implement seems to be a logical development in the technological evolution of humanoid beings, thus it makes sense that the Na’Vi, sooner or later, also have stumbled upon it.

As for equine beings, those too are not the monopoly of the original people from Turtle Island, they can be found from the lands of Western Europe to the Tundras of Mongolia and beyond. Moreover the six-legged variety with spiracle-styled breathing apertures, the direhorse, IS exclusively endogenous to Pandora. And how about those flying Ikrans that acknowledge only one rider who they single out by trying to kill her or him? Not really a part of Native North American experience. One could multiply these examples to a ridiculous degree but the main point is evident: while there are [and probably always will be] certain parallels between life here and elsewhere, there is about the Na’vi an essential newness that can only be denied through willful blindness, a stunning lack of imagination. Many a critical skxáwng! has chosen to do this, I believe, because they were ready/primed/looking 4ward to blasting another Hollywood production and now found themselves irritated or helpless vis-a-vis the fact that the movie did not conform to their preconceived notions about what such a big-budget production should be like. Namely, not a display of newness, blue, literally incomprehensible Na’vi doing their awesome thing. It is miraculous this bad-faithed criticos haven’t yet leveled the objection that “Oh, they communicate, they’re so human”.

It is easy enough for the planetarily parochial mind to always see the humanoid form as a projection of our anthropocentric imagination but, on the flip side, it’s just as easy to imagine that the human beings from our blue planet [it’s pretty safe to assume there is more than one] just happen to be the most shit-shaped manifestation of the humanoid variety, something somebody somewhere would consider a misshapen copy.

Let me briefly return to the issue of positive difference because this ex negativo shit is mentally draining. The most momentous/substantial physio-psychological idiosyncrasy of the Na’vi is that they can bodily connect with their fellow beings and the neuro-biological network of trees [! Gaia in the neurons]. The closest us humans can come to this immediate connection would likely be coming itself: a simultaneous climax. However, this lacks the symbiotic and conscious aspect that the Tsaheylu embodies, that is, an orgasm only provides the temporary illusion of becoming one with the other. As for the Tsaheylu, there is nothing like it on earth. But there probably should be so that we all for once, instead of logging into this or that social networking site, could link up with mother earth to EXPERIENCE just how urgent her plight is. This would also mark a paradigm shift: up-loading a mind instead of downloading a surface, a scenario fully within the experimental field of Science Fiction.

This brings us, beloved reader, to the next issue, that of what has been named, by the skxáwng “Clichés”. What is referred to are Na’vi statements such as “All energy is borrowed and must one day be given back” or  “Eywah does not take sides, she is only interested in the balance of life” etc. This is taken to be too commonsensical to bear any type of repeating in whatever media; however, as we know from everyday life, “common sense” is an extremely rare good, easily more precious than the vaunted Unobtanium.

More importantly, the Na’vi sayings are what I would call “non-trivializable truths” [NTT]. NTTs are perennially important to our species’ survival yet the majority of people do not act in accordance with them, consequently they bear repeating ad infinitum if one is interested in humankind’s continued existence. The NTT, short of a perfect world, can never become “trivial” or “cliched”. Rather the accusation as “Cliche” seems very much like the evasive strategy of what the French philosopher-king Badiou calls the “reactive subject” when confronted with an “inconvenient truth”.

“From the interior of a configuration, the reactive subject organizes the denial of that configuration’s formal novelty, treating it as a simple de-formation of admitted forms, rather than as a dynamic broadening of in-formation [mise-en-fome]. It is a mixture of conservatism and partial imitation, as in all the impressionists of the 20th century or the cubists of the thirties […]” A. Badiou – The logics of worlds, p. 73

Present day examples of NTTs that can be repeated without end are e.g to whenever possible use public transport, to consume as little animal flesh a.p. and to fly as infrequently a.p. The late David Wallace also talks about frighteningly uncomplex truths, according to which certain aspects of life can profitably be arranged. These are not palatable to elites because, in their simplicity, they cannot be instrumentalized by priests or academics or other experts who claim to be the only ones able to comprehend scriptural complexities. Sorry, no, fuck away!

[1] Let my spear strike the heart

[2] My nose is full [of your distasteful smell]


About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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2 Responses to Na’vigating Blueness, part_1 [a meta-critique of Avatar]

  1. Thanks for this. It’s going in my meta-dictionary under “overeducated”.

  2. tmabona says:

    Thanks for this. It’s kept on my blog as “utterly useless comment”.

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