picture extracted from V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (Vertigo)
The subject of this article, science-fiction as an inventor of dilemmas is directly inspired by the reading of a very interesting book written by Peter Y. Paik, associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin and published by the University of Minnesota Press. Its title, From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science-Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe reveals a bit too much in my opinion the author’s tone all along the book. Indeed, P. Paik’s thesis can be summarized by a strong doubt for any sort of complete, total and absolute ideology of any kind. This assumed skepticism is for me a little disturbing when the object of the book is so brilliantly pointed out. Science Fiction proposes in fact dilemmas that should not be considered as less problematic and important than the ones that were introduced by the Greek Mythology. One could even argue that those dilemmas are even more crucial than the antic ones. In fact, when the Greeks were introducing problems concerning nation and family (Antigona, Orestes…), the dilemmas proposed by certain pieces of science fiction involve humanity in its essence. In fact, the XXth century would have invented the administrative murder and this way, managed to make responsibility unavoidable. If there is one thing to keep from the work of Hannah Arendt, it might be that Nazism has been only possible because of the participation -or the no refusal- of every single cog of the administration which was implementing it.
In order to introduce such problems, P.Paik has chosen five literary and cinematographic works that belong to the realm of what is commonly called science-fiction:
- Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (1987)
- Save the Green Planet by Jang Joon-Hwan (2003) (which I did not see)
- Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki (1982)
- The Matrix by Andi & Lana Wachowski (1999)
- V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (1982-1989)
While Save the Green Planet introduces the systematic and inhuman torture of several individuals by the main character who wants to save the planet from an alien invasion, Nausicaa questions the problem of violence and war and The Matrix asks (and maybe unfortunately answer as well) if freedom and truth are more important than happiness.
That being written, I would like to spend a bit more time on the two comics created by Alan Moore that are, in my opinion, proposing two even more difficult questions.
Watchmen narrates the action of several characters who all own a form of absolute personality that dictate their actions and choices. Three of them are constituting the dilemma. The Comedian, who is presented as a brute who pathologically rape and murder innocent people, Rorschack, a dark and solitary vigilante who live only for principles, and Ozymandias who appears as handsome, successful, infinitely rich and full of good intentions.
The story starts with the mysterious murder of the Comedian -although his life comes back in flashback along the comic- and finishes by a conversation between Rorschack and Ozymandias when the latter sent anonymously a monstrous creature destroying New York City and its population, and this way brings the USA and the Soviet Union to cancel their nuclear attacks and unite in universal peace. Ozymandias is therefore the character who brings world peace by killing several thousand of people, Rorschack by his principles condemned radically this choice, but those same principles makes him an abstract symbol (he wears a mask) dehumanized and unable to reach any form of solidarity. The Comedian, despite his cruelty appear therefore as the most human of those character as he is fully responsible of his acts that he does not delegate and which effects are visible right in front of him.
V for Vendetta tackles a similar problem. I won’t write about that here, but it is important to notice the very interesting paragraphs that Peter Paik dedicates to claim that the 2006 cinematographic adaptation of the comics killed everything that is interesting about this narrative. The problem I was evoking concerns V’s (the main character, an anarchist resisting a totalitarian acting in the shadow of his mask) personality and acts. In fact, his personality and his principles,just like Rorschack, brings him to a level of dehumanization and a transformation into a desorganic symbol. This status is particularly observable when he kidnaps Evey (the other main character, fairly normal who realizes little by little in which totalitarian system she lives in) and pretend, for several weeks to be part of the secret services by torturing and interrogating her to the point of her sentence to death. That is when she is set free from all fear and according to V, she reaches real freedom. She has therefore been liberated by a man who conscientiously imprisoned and tortured her in the name of freedom.
This problem is like any problem, it does not have a “right solution” but it involves a choice from the concerned person who will have to assume the responsibility of such choice. Peter Paik’s intelligence is too point out those problem in the middle of works that have been quasi-universally received (I personally bought my copy of the comic V for Vendetta in the suburbs of Delhi !) and that can be appropriated by our spirit to confront them with our own lives and responsibilities.