Monday, October 16, 2017

Do Blade Runners?

I find it telling that the sitcom The Big Bang Theory includes references to Blade Runner, and screenings of the 'Director's Cut' in the roster of nerdy titles to which its characters obsessively refer.  Telling because unlike truly nerd-worthy creations like Star Trek or Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit (which, after all, will embarrass anyone bold and foolish enough to attempt to dress like the characters from these stories), Blade Runner is a very sexy, un-nerdy movie and this says something about the aura under which Philip K. Dick's writing is now generally received in the world, i.e. as something sexier than it really is (Dick is a cult figure whose corpus of writing is a very mixed bag).  The Big Bang Theory's joke, of course, is that the Director's Cut contains only a few extra seconds, and that only obsessives would care.  The beauty of the joke is that gets to the core of something serious, and what that is is the subject of this review.

This review will address, among other things, the perception that Blade Runner 2049 is failing to live up to its earnings expectations because it lacks appeal to female audiences, despite Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford playing key roles (Guardian, 2017).  It will also assess the movie's visual-poetic power (Roberts, 2006) and how it measures up to previous iterations, taking into account the 'inflation' of technological capability in the interims between both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (DADES) (Dick, 1968) and the movie it inspired, the original Blade Runner; as well as that between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.

DADES is concerned as much with environmental and ecological catastrophe as it is with philosophical questions of consciousness and agency.  Especially in its early pages, DADES touches frequently on questions of animal rights, on humans as animal-types, and on the fascisms involved with the denial of the continuities that exist between humans and other animals, the consequences of which are experienced by future-humanity as mass-extinction, environmental catastrophe, and the potential complete abandonment of earth for extra-terrestrial colonies.

In Blade Runner we get only hints, allusions, and metonymies.  The owl at the corporate HQ where Deckard first conducts his tests visually metonymises the whole set of issues around environmental catastrophe, burnishing it in burnt-umber tones, filtered through tower-glass and Deckard's evolving love's fake eyelashes.  Something very fashionable has emerged in the space between DADES and Blade Runner, but it was not entirely absent in the former.  I would cautiously posit that any nerdiness, however, stems ultimately from the book upon which the two movies are based.  The reason for this is simply the medium and the time in which the book was written.  It was the sixties, and it was new wave scifi, but scifi it was, and that generates the distinct waft of the nerd.  This is where Big Bang has remained stuck, of course, as is appropriate to its subject-matter, but the references to Blade Runner the movie are therefore somewhat misplaced.

But DADES does have real sexiness, of course (as do the somewhat unrealistically sexy nerds in Big Bang), in the lone figure of Deckard, his love interest, and in the steampunk-apparatus-from-a-time-before (the catastrophe) such as we see in Deckard's office, for example.  There is always something distinctly retro in Dick, of course, and part of his brilliance was to play with senses of nostalgia and memory that appeal to both his characters and readers and, in doing so, lend an a posteriori necessity to the proceedings, and a synergy of feeling perpendicular to the plane of the page.  We can see, being attracted to civil-war era pistols and video screens in among vast piles of paperwork, that the future is past and vice-versa.  The boundary between steam- and cyber-punk is blurry indeed, and this why Dick was so inexorably before Gibson (Neuromancer) and the Powers/Jeter/Blaylock trio of steampunk. Dick was a priori the master, his times and spaces intuitive to the fabric of later imaginings.

The book, DADES, works with metaphor and text/words.  Its power lies in its ability to get the reader to sympathise with the ongoing set of concerns present in late-60s California (where Dick lived).  Blade Runner was more of the time of cyberspace, with the 70s already past and well into the 80s we were becoming comfortable with this idea.  We were past the idealisms of the sixties, into the materialities of the increasingly computational powers of everyday life beginning to fill up with 1s and 0s, a less organic and more binary era only hinting at what was to come.  This digitality will, I feel, make Blade Runner 2049 all the more powerful, as we are coming into a time when the digital nature of our lives is more seamless, when virtual realities run really well, and when every person has a supercomputer in their pocket.


The most interesting thing about BR2049 (aside from the visuals) is the trope of replication.  It is about material culture evolving through ideas that act like DNA.  In other words, the figure of the android is a metaphor for the idea of cultural evolution.  So, I think BR2049 operates at a much more metaphorical level than did the original Blade Runner.  The latter montaged its way through questions of identity and memory, leaving its conclusions in fragmentary form summed up in the parting poetic words of the last remaining replicant on Deckard's list.

The former (BR2049) is one big long, but distinctly unboring, metaphor.  Women might beg to differ on this point.  There's the prostitute-as-girlfriend theme running through BR2049 that climaxes in a synced 3-way augmented reality sex scene focused entirely upon the male gaze with Gosling embodying its centre.  There is here a powerful metaphor for technology and the idea of consent in a situation where the participants are all non-human.  Can non-humans consent?  If they are language animals, then yes (and they do); if they are not then the ethical question becomes a lot more complex.  But because they are neither human nor animal, does it really matter?  It seems to here because the replicants have emotions and can obviously verbalise their consent.

The scene is actually fairly gratuitous and peripheral to the cultural evolution metaphor the movie invokes.  The replicants/androids are staging a revolution, meaning the homegenisation of culture under the auspices of global capital.  This is Harvey's time-space compression taken to its logical conclusion and therefore the movie is anti-capitalist.  It is a bleak endgame and montage (again) of the destruction of humankind invoked by its success in the colonisation of the collective life-world, the environment (leading to catastrophic change), and runaway instrumental rationality.  The abject outcome is, paradoxically, the figure of the Blade Runner attempting to do away with the 'previous versions' as a sensitive soul, one that reads Nabokov's Pale Fire in its spare time and trades charming quips with his fake girlfriend.

There are some deeper questions about consciousness, identity, and memory being invoked in BR2049, but it is not ultimately some kind of boringly philosophical movie.  It is pretty riveting stuff, and I found echoes of Arrival (one of Denis Villeneuve's other directorial credits), and Mad Max within, but it is way beyond either of those two movies.

The other thing is, that where the first Blade Runner left some stuff out that was in the book (i.e. DADES), I felt the newer one put more back in.  The line between replicants and humans is blurry in DADES; less so in Blade Runner; but again more so in BR2049.  There is more 'animality' as well in the newest iteration, and one of the saddest scenes is of a dog being left behind in an abandoned apartment after its inhabitants have been removed.  This is a world in which the animal and animality is raised to a position of high value due to its scarcity; one where real wood of any kind is as precious commodity as gold, and these things too evoke Dick's novelistic portrayal of the brave new world of the replicants.

As a cultural phenomenon, the Blade Runner series will continue to replicate, as we only glimpsed the beginnings of the actual replicant uprising/revolution, something that was even more advanced only halfway into DADES.  BR2049 will be very tough to top, but it is exciting that directors like Villeneuve keep on trying.  BR2049, despite being a bit of a nerd-fest (and maybe because of it) is a great success, and we can only hope for more and similar cultural productions in the future.

Dick, Philip K.  1968.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? London: Victor Gollancz.

Guardian. 2017. Like tears in rain: Blade Runner 2049 fails to achieve lift-off at US box office.  Monday 9 October 2017.  Accessed 15 October 2017.

Roberts, Adam.  2006.  The History of Science Fiction.  Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Kant's Dialectic

Paul Klee: Le Fou de l'abîme
Image from Auerbach, Anthony  2007 "Imagine no metaphors: the dialectical image of Walter Benjamin" Image & Narrative

My forthcoming Contrapuntal Cartographies is going through a re-working after a summer in the field (Inverness mostly), and after reading Kant.

I'm now approaching the second half of Kant's major work towards being able to incorporate the whole as a key part of the theoretical framework of Contrapuntal Cartographies.

"All objects conform to our modes of cognition" (Peuquet, 2002, page 36).

But what if they don't?

I'm anticipating that, as with the first half of Kant's Critique, the second will let me start to examine things, and especially maps, in new and unforeseen ways.

Because if we go into the question of representation, for example, assuming a universal and  transcendentally ideal subject, what are we to make of objects that don't seem to fit that mould?

What if not only the (indigenous) subjects we encounter, but also the objects of their belief, not only do not conform to our modes of cognition, but that the whole way of seeing is suspect?

After all, doesn't Kant's dialectic somehow lead to a monolithic god-thing in-himself?  This will be something to grapple with, even as I adopt the dialectic.

For the latter represents a logical and systematic way forward in the face of conflicting spatio-temporal data of the senses.  In other words alternate representations of the same phenomena.

One of those representations (e.g. property regimes in Northern British Columbia) will occupy a hegemonic position over alternate (e.g. indigenous clan) ways of seeing the very same 'thing' (the land).

The dialectic will treat the the production of maps from very distinctly interested standpoints that can be treated in object-like ways.  It will, for example, equally 'objectify' both white settler and indigenous positions.

Overlaying the maps produced by each kind of object (each of which in turn 'contains' distinct modes of cognition and representation) produces, in turn, a hybrid object or 'thirdspace'.

This new, third, space is a thing-in-itself, a contrapuntal image in a Benjaminian sense, that will then be added to a new iteration of counter-mapping, cognition, objectification, and analysis.

Peuquet, Donna J.  2002.  Representations of Space and Time.  New York: Guilford.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Language Animal, Bête, and Kant

Continuing to read Kant (1989), towards establishing a robust dialectical framework for my forthcoming Contrapuntal Cartographies, I am at the same time keeping on top of Taylor (2016) and Roberts (2014).  The relationship of the latter two works to the former is interesting and complex.

Representation and the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity; the concepts of the understanding, on the one hand, and empirical data given through the senses, on the other; these are some of the ideas Kant was struggling with in his Critique.

I see some similar struggles playing out in The Thing Itself and, now that I've read it, in Bête.  But before I go further I have to say that the best thing about Bête is that it is a comedy all the way through.  It is deeply tragic at the same time, but it is the humour I will remember.

This, despite the fact that Bête often reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Because I often found myself thinking about the ridiculous talking animals of The Far Side, even as I was drawn into the desolate first-person post-apocalyptic cogito ergo sum narrative style of Bête.

This is going to be a short review in part because I simply love Bête so much.  That may be insufficient for more critical-minded or academic readers.  But what this book does for me is remind me of some very important points people like Regan (1983) and Taylor (2016) have been saying in their books. These two thinkers just mentioned come at the 'question of animals' and their capabilities and their rights from very different perspectives.

I read Regan's The Case For Animal Rights in depth quite a few years ago, and took extensive notes, but never became vegetarian or vegan as one might've thought I would after that experience.  Reading Bête I am, to some extent, reminded why.  Despite the fact that Regan's work has not been bettered in the decades since its writing, a book like Bête demonstrates a phenomenological impetus for reasons against, and this in turn brings me to Graham Penhaligon.  He is (to me) everyman, make no mistake, very much white, redneck, middle-aged, angry man, and I identified with him.  I want to be like him, even more than I could've ever wanted to be like the characters in The Thing Itself (Roberts, 2015) (though that one is still my favourite).

Now, I go back to Taylor (2016), reading it, and Kant (1989), again, with new eyes.   I am deeply refreshed because Graham Penhaligon, tortured by an artificially intelligent cat, exists.  Graham Penhaligon thinks, therefore I am.  And my own book (Contrapuntal Cartographies, forthcoming 2019 with McGill-Queen's University Press) can proceed.



Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Regan, Tom.  1983.  The Case For Animal Rights.  Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press.

Roberts, Adam.  2014.  Bête.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Roberts, Adam.  2015.  The Thing Itself.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Taylor, Charles.  2016.  The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

SCIENCE FICTION AS COUNTER-MAPPING: Notes on Norman Kemp Smith's Kant: Radical Alterity, Trauma, and Science Fiction

Science fiction and Kant both helped me see the world as radically 'other.'  Science fiction: I've always been a fan.  Kant: I wasn't a fan until I read Roberts (2015).  Through reading Kant (1989), I'm acquiring a set of tools for seeing the world as radically other, heightened by my concurrent reading of science fiction.  Two questions emerge: 1. Is the realisation that the world is nothing other than one's a priori projection onto it a traumatising experience? 2. Is science fiction inherently about trauma?

Without having read The Thing Itself, these questions would not have emerged.  At the same time as I've been cultivating a kind of cognitive estrangement through my building relationship with TTI, another question has flowered beneath the first two, and this is: is the estrangement/utopia SF offers a 'way in' to examination of subaltern experiences of contact and colonisation?  In other words, can SF be used as a tool for analysing coloniser/colonised, settler/disspossessed, native/alien dichotomies?  At the inflection point of each of these dualities lies a trauma, and science fiction, I would argue, offers a set of narrative strategies and tropes for their deconstruction.  Le Guin (2002) is a key reading in this regard, offering a literal counter-map of two worlds in juxtaposition, each seeing the other as its own moon; each seeing themselves, in anthropological discourse, as 'the people.'  (It is my unevidenced contention that Massey's For Space is channelling The Dispossessed in its political focus on anarchism as an ideal political form, and in its emphasis on heterogeneity as an inherent good).

I'm slowly circling around to what all this might mean for counter-mapping, contrapuntality, and indigeneity.  I'm proposing to devote a section to the following trialectical conjunction:

Indigeneity -- Trauma -- Science Fiction

I'll start with the right hand connection (Trauma -- Science Fiction).  There are certainly traumatic episodes in TTI, to the extent that it drives the plot of the book.  Another obvious one would be Slaughterhouse Five, in which Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time as a result of his traumatic experience of the Dresden bombings (something Vonnegut himself experienced) (Vees-Gulani, 2003).  Everything about The Dispossessed is somehow traumatic, from Shevek's (double) forced displacement, to the existence of the two opposite worlds in the first place, and the origin of that binary construction.  Other examples will undoubtedly abound (this is an excuse for me to read a lot more science fiction!).  

Links between indigeneity and trauma are not hard to find.  The two 'set-pieces' I'm examining in my forthcoming Contrapuntal Cartographies are the northern highlands of Scotland; and indigenous/northern Canada.  Evidence of trauma comes from readings of literature, from Scott (Waverley, Rob Roy, Heart of Midlothian, Redgauntlet) and Boyden (Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce, The Orenda); I'm adding to this list indigenous/Scottish science fiction (Taylor, 2016; Dillon, 2012; Wilson and Williamson, 2005).  These will be constructed as counter-mappings.

The last piece of the puzzle then is: is science fiction counter-mapping and, if so, what are its specific resonances for indigenous and subaltern subjectivities and resistances?  What kinds of mappings flow from the extraordinary nova science fiction produces?  In what ways are these inherently 'indigenous', or relevant to subaltern experiences of cognitive dissonance, displacement, and erasure?  To what extent is it OK to say that we (white British people) understand the indigenous experience because we've read War of the Worlds, and were traumatised by it (albeit metaphorically)?  Would it really be like that?  Was it?

Is it ok to posit Kant's categories of space and time (separately) as a priori structuring of the world, subjectivity, and knowledge?  Does the fact that I am, after all, a white Euro-Canadian man make a difference, or offer an excuse, a way out?  Or was Kant just right?  I can't help but think Kant was significantly correct, and got it right so to speak, to the extent that philosophers after him only refined or revised the findings of the critique (at least up to Foucault).  At the same time, science fiction, post-modern genre par excellence (Jameson, 2005), lets us see the world including practically all of its revolutions at once (as in a kind of Borgesian Aleph, once we get into it), and the world as radically other admits of other ways of seeing beyond those circumscribed by Kant (1989).  



Dillon, Grace (ed.).  2012.  Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Jameson, Fredric.  2005.  Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London and New York: Verso.

Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Le Guin, Ursula.  2002.  The Dispossessed.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Roberts, Adam.  2015.  The Thing Itself.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Taylor, Drew Hayden.  2016.  Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories.  Madeira Park: Douglas & McIntyre.

Vees-Gulani, Susanne.  2003.  Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: A Psychiatric Approach to
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.  Critique.  44:2, 175-184.

Wilson, Andrew, J. and Williamson, Neil.  (eds.).  2005.  Nova Scotia: An Anthology of Scottish Speculative Fiction.  Mercat Press.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Notes on Norman Kemp Smith's Kant: On the Thirdspace of the Table of Categories

Kant (1989, page 113) produces a table of categories with four parts, each part of which has three elements.  It is presented in quadrants (spatially), but this is not necessary.  What is important to note is that, though we are well into that part of the Analytical (as opposed to Dialectical) Critique there is an inherently dialectical aspect to the Table that Kant notes in a somewhat self-congratulatory way.  Here is the table:

Of Quantity

Of Quality

Of Relation
-Of Inherence and Subsistence (substantia et accidens)
-Of Causality and Dependence (cause and effect)
-Of Community (reciprocity between agent and patient)

Of Modality

On page 115, Kant notes "this table of categories suggests some nice points" with respect to his construction of a priori knowledge categories which, in addition to space and time, form an exhaustive list of a priori knowledge.   In other words, space, time, and the categories is it.  Now, this is meant to be analytic (not dialectic), but Kant notes on page 116, that the third term under each of the four categories is actually a combination of the first two.

So, for example, "thus the concept of a number (which belongs to the category of totality) is not always possible simply upon the presence of concepts of plurality and unity (for instance, in the representation of the infinite)..."

Soja (1996) might have called the third term of each category a Thirdspace, but this would be to construct it as dialectical (or trialectical for Soja).  But Kant denies that the categories are dialectical, because they are part of a priori knowledge (along with space and time as noted above).

The point here (as Roberts, 2015 has pointed out) is that the table of categories has a distinctly subjective look about it, that also appears to be quite obsessively concerned with symmetry.  To psychopathologize (again with Roberts, 2015) for a moment, it almost has an OCD look about it.

The final chapter of The Thing Itself is called "The Professor [Necessity]", and it takes the perspective of Kant himself (the thing Himself) in his final days, and it is agonizing to be inside Kant's consciousness (this is a correct representation I think).

TTI also structures itself according to the twelve sub-categories by naming each of its twelve chapters after one of Kant's headings, a nice touch to a very heterogeneous novel, and one that applies a nice unity overall to a quite fragmented narrativity.  One of the funnier (for me) parts of the novel is the deconstruction of the number (12) of categories Kant produces, with an alternative of seventeen proposed by the protagonist AI with whom Charles has extensive conversations towards the end of TTI.

All of this to say that, as I enter the Transcendental Deduction section of Smith's Kant (and what a work of literature it is!), I am firmly of the conviction that not only have many after Kant failed to produce anything close to as rigorous (quid juris) or right to expound the organon of their analytic to justify the relation between a priori concepts and its objects; but that Kant himself is firmly under a kind of dialectical illusion with regard to his table of concepts (but perhaps not so much with respect to space and time).

I'm continuing to read (and be critical of) Massey (2005) at the same time as I write this, noting that she is often in the grips of a canon she thinks of as an organon (instrument), in my opinion.  To wit (Massey, 2005, page 80), "that far from standing for the stability of representation, real space (space-time) is indeed impossible to pin down."  The anti-representational rhetoric gets turned up again, but there is that hubristic human geographical claim to be able to access the thing itself (REAL SPACE) glaring through.

All of this will be appearing in my forthcoming academic monograph Contrapuntal Cartographies, due on shelves in 2019, published by McGill-Queen's University Press.


Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Massey, Doreen.  2005.  For Space.  London: Sage.

Roberts, Adam.  2015.  The Thing Itself.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Soja, Edward. 1996.  Thirdspace.  Malden and Oxford: Blackwell.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Notes on Norman Kemp Smith's Kant: SPACE and TIME

All the mobilities stuff, it's all already here, in Kant.  After wrapping up the preliminaries of the Transcendental Aesthetic in terms of first Space, and then Time (i.e. separately) we have a few pages on both (i.e. Space AND Time).  Here's where the combination is introduced:

"Motion presupposes the perception of something movable.  But in space, considered in itself, there is nothing movable; consequently the movable must be something that is found in space only through experience, and must therefore be an empirical datum.  For the same reason, transcendental aesthetic cannot count the concept of alteration among its a priori data.  Time itself does not alter, but only something which is in time.  The concept of alteration thus presupposes the perception of something existing and of the succession of its determinations; that is to say, it presupposes experience" (Kant, 1989, page 82).

In other words space and time are analytically separate.  Motion unites the two.  This is quite a crucial point.  We tend to think, however, in terms of space-travel when we think of motion, but it is useful to stick to Kant's original formulation of motion as fundamentally being about alteration.  We alter spatial coordinates only through time; temporal coordinates only through space.  Thinking time-travel, for example, H.G. Wells time-machine would never have worked because it did not move through space.  Nahin has pointed out that Wells' time machine would collide with itself as soon as it started, causing a thermonuclear explosion (Nahin, 2011, page 64).

Now, if what Massey (2005) is getting at is that spacetimes are inherently relativistic and that Newtonian considerations are in error because of this (i.e. because they keep space and time separate), we can answer that not only are space and time properly kept analytically separate for philosophical purposes, they are also properly kept separate for everyday conceptions of space and time.  These rely upon Newtonian mechanics and their representations.

A trace of your run depicted on Strava may have been generated by (relativistic) GPS signals, but the fact remains that you did not run anywhere near the speed of light.  Even if you had, in both cases, (slow and near-light-speed running) can only be thought of in terms of representations of spacetime.  They cannot be kept separate in any kind of 'alteration' as Kant would've put it because in motion space and time come together empirically, but not on a priori grounds.  Alteration/motion is therefore analytically an a posteriori proposition.

Not only does Massey leave out the cognitive (bodily) basis for her metaphysics of space; she also leaves out the considerable imaginative and presuppositional content inherent to spatiotemporal considerations in geography.  It is a lack of imagination that leads one down the dead-end path of non-representational theory.  It is an a-theoretical text that takes on space without any reference to Kant (Thrift is almost guilty of this too).

This review is also a review of Adam Roberts (2005) The Thing Itself, and I have more to say about this brilliant work of science fiction.  Its novum is strikingly original.  I (in my admittedly limited capacity as sci-fi critic) can think of nothing like it in the genre.  But perhaps that is due to its genre-defying capabilities.  The Thing Itself is a Kant-machine for generating implications of taking the idea of the thing itself literally, and to its most logical conclusions.  There are implications for space-time, which is why this review is wrapped up in a critique of non-representational geographical reason.  The novum, in short, is the thing itself, as time-machine, as bomb, as computational enabler, and many other things, many of which are given their own distinct chapters for exploration.  A couple of these chapters feel like short stories, but they feel no less like parts of a novel for that.

Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Massey, Doreen.  2005.  For Space.  London: Sage.

Nahin, Paul J.  2011.  Time Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.

Roberts, Adam.  2015.  The Thing Itself.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Notes on Norman Kemp Smith's Kant: TIME

Maybe I'm reading too much into a novel.  Maybe not.  I find, reading Adam Roberts' brilliant science fiction novel The Thing Itself, that Roberts is following his own rule.  That is, the one given in his guide to writing science fiction, also known as his Gold Rule: 'Show, don't tell' (Roberts, 2014).

The Thing Itself shows the reader (who, I posit, is in all probability a science fiction reader, and therefore more likely than most readers to be an active participant in the cultural milieu of the writer and potentially a writer him/her-self (Roberts, 2006)) what it means to construct a performatively heterogeneous world.

The world of The Thing Itself, as a heterogeneously performative one, is distinctly preferable to that of, for example, Doreen Massey in her book For Space, where she asserts that heterogeneity is something worth wanting in and of itself, and she asserts this without evidence, and as a statement, furthermore, with political intent.

Instead of a tedious quote from Massey, I will here assert with Kant (and Roberts) that heterogeneity is a property of the cognitive structure of being human and it is, furthermore, chalk-full of representational content that largely gives the structure its content.  It is part of a dialectic of inside/outside that maps onto time/space quite precisely.  The origin of this dialectic springs ultimately from the thing itself.

Roberts novel maps onto the Kantian dialectic very nicely, while at the same time producing a cognitively diverse set of responses to The Critique of Pure Reason (translation used by Roberts: unknown).   There is, truing to the fundamental dialectic of the thing itself of Kant, a mix of the interior and the exterior in terms of the locale of narrativity of the various voices found in The Thing Itself.  There are many.  We switch, in ten chapters, between several with the longest being 'A Solid Gold Penny', corresponding to Kant's category of Limitation.

The beauty of the heterogeneous narrativity of The Thing Itself lies also in its compulsive readability.  The cognitive structure of a main character corresponding to each 'fragment' chapter is set up and then fulfilled through the production of a stream of representations.  In the Solid Gold Penny section, we have a sort of Molly Bloom cognition that is inhabited by a child who evolves through the course of the section to the point where this chapter alone constitutes a short story or mini-novel in itself.

There are alternating chapters that continue the thread of the ongoing conflict between Roy and Charles who become united in their opposition to an evil AI, product of 'The Institute' that has 'solved' the problem of 'the thing itself' by accessing it through computing devices that do not hold the same cognitive limitations as humans.  They are thus able to directly access the thing itself because computer intelligences are not limited by the products of human evolution: brains structured specifically with underlying hardware that automatically 'see' the world structured in terms of time and space.

Time, in Roberts, is given as careful consideration as space, and it is structured logically according to various psychologies, times, and places in which the characters find themselves situated, from the 'olden days' of the Golden Coin chapter, to a futuristic one in which genders and times alike have become blurred almost beyond recognition.  There is an experimental quality to these chapters that feels true somehow to the spirit of Kant, for whom time:

"is therefore to be regarded as real, not indeed as object but as the mode of representation of myself as object" (Kant, 1989, page 79).

I cannot help but think, when reading Massey (2005) that not only does she incessantly 'tell' (as opposed to showing), but that she completely misses the fundamental dialectic of space-time, that of the body and its structuring devices.  She misses out too on the space-times of science fiction, as for example explained not only by Roberts himself (2006 and 2014), but by expert 'hard' science fiction writers like Nahin (2011), who demonstrate (i.e. 'show') what is and is not possible, logically and in light of the given theory and evidence, in time and space travel.

It is much more exciting to be told about space-time in a story like Roberts' The Thing Itself.  I wish the reading (both popular and academic) portions of the world had more space (and time) for this kind of thing.

[To Be Continued]


Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Massey, Doreen.  2005.  For Space.  London: Sage.

Nahin, Paul J.  2011.  Time Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.

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