Don’t Get Schwifty, Raise Your Posterior

Of all the episodes of Rick and Morty that bend serious sci-fi to a casual comedic audience, ‘Get Schwifty’ sticks out the most. A giant head appears from the dark recesses of outer space and causes major geological disasters immediately before it issues one command to the people of earth: “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.” The allusion to climate change is made immediately by a tv news reporter who is swiftly told to “not make this political.” The entire fate of the earth and its inhabitants now depends on showing the giant space heads, the Cromulons, what we got. It’s so simple and thrusts upon us so suddenly that there is no time to collectively discern how to react. The Cromulon heads are calling on us, demanding us to give them what they want.

Continue reading “Don’t Get Schwifty, Raise Your Posterior”

Starting Over with The Last Jedi

Here we go again, another Star Wars movie. After the reboot of the franchise in The Force Awakens took the safe route and essentially mimicked the original Star Wars episode IV, expectations were pretty low that The Last Jedi would give this next generation something sizable to chew on. When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars brand it was safe to assume that the same tropes and themes would resurface in shiny new graphics, that they would give enough fan service to keep up with merchandizing profits, that they would sustain continuity between the generations. The fairy tale magic that George Lucas brought to the baby boomers was such a strong force in pop culture that it was bound to make a come-back and Star Wars probably will continue build on its universe in a time when its world is so well-entrenched in the mainstream consciousness. I still remember when my parents took me to see the 1990’s remakes of the original trilogy: it was a kind of inter-generational transference of pop-culture that (most importantly) brought families out to buy movie tickets of a movie they had already seem (many times I’m sure). After that success, Lucas Arts hit the accelerator on filming the prequels and turning this legendary trilogy into a billion dollar franchise that will seemingly never go away.

Continue reading “Starting Over with The Last Jedi”

On Cowboy Bebop, part three

The final bounty that the Bebop crew sets after together tests the crew’s mettle like none other as they go after the leader of a cult. A man named Londis has been appearing on TV and convincing people to join his cyborg cult or “migration.” He has purportedly found a way to store someone’s brain activity – all of the electrical patterns in the brain and so the entire cognitive activity of a person – into data. Once your “soul” is digitalized and mapped into electron-silicon content instead of electron-neural content, you can then release that soul from the body and join the ethereal space of the internet. What if our minds or souls could escape the confines of our bodies and exist somewhere else? It’s an old thought experiment with a Cowboy Bebop twist: a figurehead has created a scandal by forming a cult around his new “technology” and is killing people with it. People get the word that they can leave their impure bodies behind and find ascetic bliss in the “other world” of the internet and they start committing suicide or otherwise going missing. The awakening that the SCRATCH movement preaches is that of the spirit transforming from the imperfect material world to the perfect world of spirit, via a new piece of technology whose powers people are unsure of. The old mind-body problem has taken on a new dimension with the new ability to store a massive amount of material data, and now people are becoming convinced that living in the internet can make their spirits immortal. Continue reading “On Cowboy Bebop, part three”

On Cowboy Bebop, part one

Cowboy Bebop crams so many different styles from visual art, music, and storytelling together that it becomes easy to miss how profoundly deep it reaches into the human condition. The allure of wayward dreams, friendship and finding home, and facing up to a difficult past and certain death all subsist beneath the flare of this single 26-episode season. Fight scenes dazzle with such exuberance, the soundtrack composed by Yoko Kano and performed by The Seatbelts unleashes a fury of notes reminiscent of all-night jam-sessions, and the tv show’s writing so seamlessly weaves death-defying adventure with boredom and bickering-inducing downtime that it’s easy to get caught up with the Bebop crew. Look close enough at the show and you will find more than an abundance of style; Cowboy Bebop’s brilliance lies in capturing the affections of an entire generation and putting them into a single story.

It’s a bold claim, as bold as the sign the show throws up in the middle of an episode, prompting a commercial break, that reads: “The work which will become a new genre of its own will be called Cowboy Bebop.” But hang with me a bit longer. This anime tv show launched in Japan in 1998 to universal praise. It tops many a list of best anime shows of all time and I am not alone in my unflinching praise of it as a masterful piece of art. What I will do here is attempt to probe Cowboy Bebop and unearth some things that might have been missed by viewers, hoping to explain just what it is that has kept this show so fresh. Continue reading “On Cowboy Bebop, part one”

On Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop crams so many different styles from visual art, music, and storytelling together that it becomes easy to miss how profoundly deep it reaches into the human condition. The allure of wayward dreams, friendship and finding home, and facing up to a difficult past and certain death all subsist beneath the flare of this single 26-episode season. Fight scenes dazzle with such exuberance, the soundtrack composed by Yoko Kano and performed by The Seatbelts unleashes a fury of notes reminiscent of all-night jam-sessions, and the tv show’s writing so seamlessly weaves death-defying adventure with boredom and bickering-inducing downtime that it’s easy to get caught up with the Bebop crew. Look close enough at the show and you will find more than an abundance of style; Cowboy Bebop’s brilliance lies in capturing the affections of an entire generation and putting them into a single story.

It’s a bold claim, as bold as the sign the show throws up in the middle of an episode, prompting a commercial break, that reads: “The work which will become a new genre of its own will be called Cowboy Bebop.” But hang with me a bit longer. This anime tv show launched in Japan in 1998 to universal praise. It tops many a list of best anime shows of all time and I am not alone in my unflinching praise of it as a masterful piece of art. What I will do here is attempt to probe Cowboy Bebop and unearth some things that might have been missed by viewers, hoping to explain just what it is that has kept this show so fresh. Continue reading “On Cowboy Bebop”

Fantasy Lives and Fantasie Signs

Our Fantasy Lives:
[http://youtu.be/TzlHdvoh0wQ]

It is this line starting at 3:05 that makes it worth pondering:
“A fantasy is often the best shape a wish can take.”

The rest of the video is one man’s personal fantasies of success and his ideal picture of himself. The end is a call to loosen-up our ideal images of ourselves and recognize that we all have fantasies. The narrative form of the video is a monologue that takes place inside the only character’s mind – a voice-over.

It is not enough that we acknowledge the fantasies of others or alter our fantasies to meet closer to the realities of *our* lives. The image of success that the character projects onto himself is that of a wealthy tech-businessman, an idea-generating politico, a celebrity, and a body without blemishes. These ideal images are desired not because of an individual’s aberrant thought wanderings but do to the surrounding composition of forces and dominant regimes of desire at work in human habitats. As Deleuze put it, we always desire in assemblages. [Deleuze A to Z]

A fantasy is an especially libidinous or desire-infused image that projects the limit of our thoughts onto a formed image. One never does this as ’one’ but as a body mixed with other bodies in an ever-more dizzying array of affectations and forces pushing and pulling in all manner of directions. Our desires and therefore our fantasies are not, strictly speaking, our own. “A fantasy is often the best shape a wish can take”, but a wish is also only a shape that desire can take. When individualized/personalized, the word ’fantasy’ draws a negative connotation: “Your dreams had better face up to reality you youthful idealist.” But everyone must admit that everyone else dreams as well (unless you are a solipsist), and we do so in strangely similar fashions… When taken as an adjective, something that is “fantastic” is not just good but extravagantly so.

When de-individualized, fantasy has become an entire genre and even an art style unto itself. Collective fantasies tend to take distinguishable patterns and those images of the past preserved in history as well as those today have no exemption from those patterns.  There is less to separate myths from fantasies than we think.  The demand for belief only obscures this.

A fantasy is a particularly intense form of desire, a desire that has taken form in a coherent image. A fantasy is not simply the opposite of reality – the way things really are.

Fantasie Sign:

Use this translation to follow along with the French lyrics if you do not understand it:

A walk
and the universe is me
After a cascade
It’s water is always you
an escapade
Life is in the woods
And then a ballad
It’s subject is always you
A walk
and the universe is me
After a cascade
It’s water is always you
It’s like the green of the fields and
Like a bird that flies
It’s always you
It’s always me
It’s always the rock of the excited soul
Like a child who sees
The time pass like a funny
It’s always you
It’s always me
On the wings and the songs of great love
It’s like the green of the fields and
Like a bird who flies
It’s always you
It’s always me
Always the rock of the excited soul
In this cybernetic era
Full of computer people
It’s the only fantasy here for always
It’s always me
It’s always you
Like the green of the fields and
like the bird that flies
It’s always you
it’s always me
It’s always the rock of the excited soul
Like the air it’s sweetly sharp
The blue of the sky is clearly apparent
It is the only fantasy here for always
It’s always you
It’s always me
For forever
and more days
and days
and days
It’s always you
and me
and you

*In full honesty, this was the first time I ever checked the translation of the lyrics for this song, while it had already come to be my favorite song in the great soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop without knowing them.

Geopolitics and Ecological Spirituality in Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The last Airbender gives us a stylistic and colorful look at a fictional world of warring nations together with a sharp focus on the planetary and even cosmic elements. The problems and conflicts of nations are interwoven with the quest of a group of teens or pre-teens as they try and right a world that is on the verge of total domination by one nation. These kids have no problem taking on a nation imposing its will on the rest of the planet, primarily using their powers to manipulate the elements but also teaming up with other nations to mass attacks and engage in war. This American cartoon with a decisively Asian stylistic influence, despite its heavy use of spiritual abstractions and flashy battle scenes, highlights some of the most important aspects of global geopolitics for us to learn today.

The imagined planet we begin on is one populated by four different peoples, each representing one element of nature as they were conceived in ancient times: water, earth, fire, and air. The first three nations are locked to a continent, with the air people being monkish nomads inhabiting mountain-top temples and the water nation having territory at both of the planet’s two poles. Keeping these nations each with their disproportionately weighted qualities from invading other territories and assuming power over them is the avatar, a Dali Lama like character that reincarnates upon death and wields enormous power. The avatar alone can learn the power to “bend” the element of each nation, while a select number of people can learn to bend the element from their own nation of origin. It’s an international system that weaves together martial-national ambition with individual spiritual enlightenment into an icon in such a way that nations can be nations, monks can be monks, merchants can be merchants, farmers can be farmers, etc., while a mechanism exists to keep empires from rising. The avatar is like Buddha and Sun-Zu mixed together, as if attaining enlightenment also granted this single great figure a god-like fighting power.

This scenario is an enchanting thought experiment and I’m tempted to ask: “who are the avatars today?” To quickly answer that question, no individual has that power nor should they. But rather than musing on the avatar as inhabiting a middle-place between this fictional world and the real, what I’d like to turn your attention to the way that international politics and forces of the earth work together in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show is particularly effective in making the personal/emotional trials and tribulations that most everyone faces in their life blend together with the grand scale of nations and the problems afflicting each. The disruptions and excesses of individuals, villages, and nations, felt by each other when they come into conflict with friends, our travelers, and other nations are all indicated at the same level and with similar affects gone astray. The difficulties of keeping the crew together and on task, moving toward their goal and not at each other’s throats, etc. are reflected in the deficiencies of nations in maintaining an international balance of power. For instance, the leadership and resilience that water bender Katara learns in rallying the band is reflected in the qualities that the Water nation lacked in beating back the Fire Nation, but have had traditionally: resilience and adaptability.

Isaac Yuen has already pointed out many of these connections in his ekostory of the show, so I’ll just link you to his great piece here: [http://ekostories.com/2012/09/08/avatar-airbender-forces-change/]. And there’s two more pieces on Avatar lying that way.

Our heroes eventually pick a member of each elemental to form the final version of their team, but thanks to the main protagonist, the new Avatar Aang, and his giant flying bison (that’s right) Appa the group itself operates nomadically in their quest to “restore balance” between the nations and reestablish harmony. The absent peoples of the show is the air tribe – not only has the Fire Nation killed them all but Aang in an act of genocide but of the three seasons (Books) of the show the book of air is the only one missing. Seeing as the crew we follow on their adventure is always moving from place to place and they are led by the only airbender Aang, we can say that they represent the missing element themselves: the nomadic opposition to the ascendant empire.

The fire nation is in the midst of a conquest of the rest of the nations, having pacified the Water nation more slowly by capturing its water benders and is in the process of laying siege to the Earth Nation. In the finale to season 2, we are taken brilliantly through the stages of a coup in the vast capital of the Earth Nation, Ba Sing Se, with the rest of the war to be fought in clandestine fashion with sneak attacks by the cobbled together rebels met in past episodes. They will attempt an invasion of the Fire Nation and all those left willing and able to fight are accepted, regardless of nationality (or age), in this teenage (at best) militant resistance force.

It is the Avatar’s duty to maintain the balance of power between nations, and she/he is not restricted by the nation in which he/she was born. In season 3 we are told of a particularly significant recent Avatar who was born in the Fire Nation and grew up best friends with the Fire Lord (king), who also happened to have started the fire nation’s dream for expansion and conquest. He was born in the Fire nation and trained together with the soon to be Fire Lord in adolescence, remaining friends until a turn of events allowed the Fire Lord to cross him and begin his multi-generation plan to spread the Fire nation influence and control over the rest of the planet. This cultural superiority was justified by the time of unprecedented technologically-infused prosperity that had to be “shared”. No culture is judged here in its entirety. The ambition of a nation is to be expected; it was the avatar’s inability to foresee the danger of his expansionist fiend and his untimely death due to a natural disaster that disabled him from preventing it. Luck and lack of precaution by those with power seem to be the holders of blame for the war rather than the Fire Lord alone, should blame need be assigned.

The real strength of the show lies in its planetary perspective of warring nations and their continental territories. When the Fire Nation attacks, the Earth Nation loses the will to fight (falling to authoritarian propaganda, fear tactics, and class dissension), and the Water Nation gives way to eking out an existence as scattered and relatively disempowered tribes, the cause is attributed to a lack of harmony. The guarantor of harmony in the Avatar was simply absent, and, in his youthful anxiety in the face of his destined the role, he hid himself away in a kind of bad faith. A lopsided spike in the forces of the planet results from a similar imbalance in the psyche of the main character. It’s as if the show is saying that, in a world where the planet is fully charted out and populated with regional powers, the burden for the excesses of an erratic nation falls with personal make-up of certain well-placed individuals. While the idea of the Avatar is a product of fantasy, people with intentions toward global stability could be inspired to maintain a similar balance within themselves in their rise to a position of influence on the geopolitical stage.

As we look for answers to the question of how such historical atrocities were able to happen we are invariably led to the decisions of some politicians who either scheme on the behalf of others and interest groups or are motivated by their own ambitions toward power. Granted, some obvious imbalances of power can be identified as causing such horrifying effects, such as when technologies are developed and manipulated for war sooner than others (Europeans, the Fire Nation) or when a glut of natural resources are discovered in regions that damn them to strife or obedient subjugation (the Middle East), and not the aspirations of individuals. There are always forces beyond our control on one side and those that we can influence on the other. What Avatar is telling us is that for those decisions that we can make for situations within our ability to exert influence over, it would be better off for all those considered to make those decisions in a state where we are not ourselves under the grip of one passion at the expense of another.

It is much more difficult for someone to excuse something like the Fire Nation for an act of genocide against the people of the Air Tribe. This is the case of a planetary extinction decided by an individual (the Fire Lord) in order to eliminate the next Avatar and consolidate his power. The people of the Air Tribe did not have a standing military to withstand the threat of invasion on their temples. They led their lives as concerted monks living to pass on their wisdom detached from “worldly concerns”. This mode of living puts them at an obvious disadvantage as they lacked the affect of anger and a strategic instinct for survival, opting instead for the pursuit of knowledge and practices of self-mastery. This deficiency of the Air Tribe does not doom them but is symbolic of a ripped apart world where hyper-aggression has eradicated that which would be the very thing that would prevent domination and empire – understanding and composure.  The self-criticism that the Air Tribe has got in spades doesn’t stop them from being bulldozed by the Fire Nation, but the Fire people are capable of self-criticism too – it was a result of bad luck, a turn of the wind, that the Fire Lord was able to act in the absence of the Avatar.

When such an outside force is felt, one that seeks to destroy merely for the sake of power, expansion, and triumphal cultural superiority, the only way to defeat them is head on with an opposing force. The show understands this and our heroes and heroines use whatever is at their disposal to defeat the Fire Nation. Anger is often the best way to mobilize that force which would fight and topple a domineering force headed your way, but it also can quickly turn into that which it is fighting against, as that other force is using the same affect against you. The self-mastery of such a wide array of affects evidenced in the Avatar’s mastery of all four element bending, so that each one can be drawn on as the situation calls for it, can keep the body (as well as the planet and the nation) from being contaminated by a single force, dominating all of the rest. Although, we are admittedly still within the realm of power and forces with the word “mastery” as in self-mastery and not the tranquility of ascetic contemplation.

Nowhere is this struggle better displayed than in the character of Prince Zukko of the Fire Nation. He begins at the outset of the show with the single goal of finding and killing the avatar to restore his lost honor. His sole goal in life is winning back the favor of his father the Fire Lord. But with some good life coaching from his uncle Iroh (vs. his father) he comes to despise his father for the destruction and fear which he has wrought upon the people of the planet. Due to his transformation and his decision to join the avatar in his quest for peace and “harmony” in season 3, his uncle gives him one last piece of advice: he must disrupt the coronation of his sister Azula and assume the throne to better lead the Fire Nation. It is a change of rule at he highest possible level of political power, with a 180 degree change in policy that is required to seal the transformation and complete the revolution *within* the imperial Fire Nation. Princess Azula took his place as the enemy that the crew fights most often after season 1 and her ruling style is based on fear; she consequently alienated her own friends and servants leading up to her coronation, ending up alone and full of frustrated rage. The Fire Lord himself attempted a jump up from the throne of the Fire Nation to the throne of emperor of the world: the Phoenix King, with new totalitarian symbols and everything.

It is the transformation of Prince Zukko in the later part of the show that demonstrates best the personal/political trajectory of its message. The harmony sought between nations, those great powers set against each other in differing, competing interests is mirrored in the competing emotional drives of the individual and the band of traveling friends. Zukko has a tough time convincing the crew to accept him, being their former enemy number one, but once he does join he helps each of them confront their past demons and clear current barriers. [For the record, Toph didn’t need him. She’s as solid as a rock.]. He is ideally placed to reverse the disastrous policies of three generations of Fire Lords and his internal struggle between the imperial ambition of his father, motivated by aggression, and the advice of his uncle, no slouch in battle himself. Uncle Iroh was once a conquering Fire Nation general himself who turned another leaf after his own son died in battle. The shear force of anger represented by the Fire Nation is an undeniable fact of life; it can be a great ally when unleashed at the right time, but mustn’t be allowed to continue unchecked.

The question of holism in a world of nations fighting geopolitical battles with each other remains. The figurehead of the avatar with its ultimate power to control the elements of the planet/cosmos holds a super-national position with respect to everyone else, and the viewer is led to believe that the avatars are always balanced and harmonious themselves because of their training from the greatest masters of each respective nation. In a world where one elemental people is entirely eradicated, it is hard to see how a balanced avatar could ever arise. The avatar receives not just military training but spiritual training from gurus. They teach them to meditate, that “everything is connected”, and to let go of all worldly desires. After achieving a kind of enlightenment, avatars become “one with the cosmos” or whatever the religious equivalent be in a culture’s spiritual/metaphysical tradition. How could such concepts born of an ascetic eschewing of the material world *also* be the great liberators of military oppression having turned away from such existential commitments? This is not so much a problem within the logic of the show as one for the reality that we face.

The recent actions of Pope Francis could be mentioned when he derides nations and industries for imperiling the life-producing capacities of the planet with carbon emissions resulting in global warming. [http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/21/1300969/-Pope-Francis-Causing-Climate-Change-Is-a-Sin#]

His position as spiritual leader of a large chunk of the believing people around the world puts him in the unique position of letting his voice on such crucial matters. Millennia of entrenched religious practices cultivated from the power of the pastorate have placed someone like this (and other similar religious leaders) in a privileged position to let these global matters be explored by their subjects. The scientific community as well, especially when there is as much consensus as is healthy for an organization of skeptics to have [http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm], has an authoritative voice that is heard when looking for support for creating policy and action. The religious wisdom of the avatar could also be understood as the very forces of the biosphere itself as it responds to the threat of human activity by vanishing until, many thousands of years later, it is time for the life inducing complex ecosystems to emerge again. But let’s not get too confused.

The avatar is shown in various flashback scenes manipulating the very substance of the planet itself in a bid to alter the consequences of other human’s actions. An avatar uses her powers to create an island and isolate her people from a different conquering Lord generations earlier, killing him in the process, and another avatar limits the damage done to a village by a volcano by controlling the elements around it. These are actions performed *on* the earth by a privileged person in the context of human dramas. Such talk invokes geo-engineering – which may become necessary after, or during the time we pull together and put a *gigantic* dent in carbon emissions. But this must be in conjunction with a major effort to severely limit carbon emissions largely resulting from market actors and their allies in nations.

What Avatar: The Last Airbender can teach us is the importance of keeping oneself on an even keel affectively, with the sentiment it provides being extractable onto nations whose actions have a more direct effect on the planet. The cosmic-spiritual aspect of Avatar does a great deal of good in connecting itself to the planetary elements of earth, air, fire, and water – as dated as those natural elements are claiming the status of ’substances’.  This makes Avatar an excellent ecological fantasy – a rare blend of grounded spirituality *and* rough and ready international warfare.

As for the issue of idealistic holisms and realistic political forces, the wonder that springs from holistic contemplation should not be divorced from the planetary and human forces those ideas effect. Avatar does this extremely well. Even when extra-terrestrial phenomena like a solar eclipse and a comet come at key plot points in the narrative, they do so not as transcendent forces from another world but as immanent forces effecting the elemental powers of people on the planet. Planetary-natural and national-political forces intermingle in the narrative seamlessly, as displayed by the threat of Fire nation imperialism and its ecosystem destroying weapons factories. The closest we get to transcendent other-worldly phenomena is when the avatar meditates himself away into the “avatar realm” and there are other problems with having an avatar around. But the avatar is best thought of in relation to one’s own choices, even though a select few people have vastly more power over the masses. There’s no telling what a committed and balanced individual can do, however, especially when taught at an early age with good works of fantasy that they can change the face of the earth.

The Greatest Ekostory Ever Told: The Nausicaä Project

Ekostories

“In a few short centuries, industrial civilization had spread from the western fringes of Eurasia to sprawl across the face of the planet. Plundering the soil of its riches, fouling the air, and remolding life-forms at will, this gargantuan industrial society had already peaked a thousand years after its foundation: Ahead lay abrupt and violent decline.

The cities burned, welling up as clouds of poison in the war remembered as the seven days of fire. The complex and sophisticated technological superstructure was lost; almost all the surface of the earth was transformed into a sterile wasteland.

Industrial civilization was never rebuilt as mankind lived on through the long twilight years…”

– Introduction, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

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Critical Fantasies: First Attempt at a Manifesto

Critical Fantasies are a mixture of critical philosophy and a retelling of poplar stories that are made by deep analysis to serve as current day myths. The stories are selected from the cultural field with the criteria that they contain pertinent ideas or operations which can be extracted and elucidated in a conceptual manner. This conceptual exercise will encourage readers to more actively examine cherished fantasies and put into focus a transversal message from the fantasy to themselves – all the more relevant for coming from the realm of the imaginary. This intentional activity of blending fantasy and philosophy will revitalize meaning in the world by eliminating the intellectual pretension towards representing *the* world (considered in the singular) and finding meaning in moving between a plurality of fictional worlds.

The difference between philosophy and poetics, science and fantasy, or reality and fiction is not collapsed but maintained. The duality is impressed upon the reader while simultaneously, a multiplicity of worlds prevents any one world or any pair of worlds from claims to perfection. Instead of moving from one unreal world to the real world, there are many to hop around to; only wherever on begins from or ends up is always fictional. The multiplicity worlds, connected by their rejection of representation, will subvert claims to the divine authority of any one story. Many worlds are potentially inhabitable, each offering various messages. The stories of these worlds are given a fresh interpretation in being retold, but inso doing a message is released and made more explicit. Critical Fantasies translate idea kernels from the enchanting myth that the narrative invokes and in those ideas point beyond them. Examining this message conceptually will provoke the reader to in turn reexamine their own favorite fantasies in a way that draws out a meaningful lesson or truth beyond the particular fantasy world.

Far from being devoid of meaning or a source of believability, we have multiple fantasies within our cultures from which purpose, guidance, and significance can be discovered. They merely require a critical perspective with which to interpret them in moving beyond their fictional worlds. The fantasies across the cultural spectrum are many and diverse; some can be revelatory, creating an fervent attachment not so far off from belief. Crossing the world gap serves this function, but no story takes primary status over another – even if there is a favorite. A fantasy affirms its other-worldly quality without demanding precedence over any other save for the impact it has, the impression it leaves. The plurality of fantasies is only a hindrance if equality is demanded between the construction and “reality”, instead of having a higher degree of potency. The acceptance of their own unreality can only be a benefit.

Though separate realms, neither pure philosophy nor fiction can endure without the other. Indeed, philosophers have always tended to make use of myths and stories (in the form of illustrated examples, diagrams, thought experiments etc.) while every captivating narrative involves something conceptual. The themes, motifs, and characters of works of fiction become a repeatable talking point which can be crystallized in an idea. A source of wonder comes from their interplay; the fantasy requires an implicit trick of falsehood shared by both the author and audience, philosophy requires a commitment to truth and honest inquiry amidst incessant illusion and dogma. The selection of the story and the selection of the concepts with which to cross-connect will function as the creative production: in reinterpreting popular and exciting fantasies with a critical eye, the ideas projected will be illuminated and updated as well as recontextualized. Critique will not take place over and above the story but within it, offering up ideas that will inspire thought from not just an exclusively mythical or philosophical perspective but with a mutual reinforcement. This performance will necessitate inhabiting the plurality of imagined worlds while simultaneously pushing their topics and devices beyond it. Critical Fantasies are an inherently pluralistic construction.

The works of fantasy will be chosen by their critical capacity from the outset; or, the work chosen already possesses the critical power to change, provoke, inspire the audience/player within it. The mining of it from a critical-philosophical angle only serves to make its impact more forceful and its message more obvious. Each interpretation or commentary of anything from anyone will add to or alter its meaning, but the choice of candidates for a critical fantasy by itself indicates that the work contains a message that resonates beyond its world. The stories that endure in history, that have that “timeless” quality endure for a reason that exceeds its own comprehension. A critical focus on those ideas that endure past the world from which they originated discovers more than just a cold concept: it finds advice, it finds wisdom. Criticism will not be of the particular world of fantasy itself as a fantasy (its illusory, negative, or unreal quality) but come from that work and direct its latent critical capacity outward, approaching the threshold of its world as a fantasy world.

This endeavor can be called critical in three senses of the word:

First, inhabiting fantasies gives one a meaningful if incorporeal world of signification from which to base a judgment on something outside of it. By self-consciously remaining within its interpretive zone, its (illusory) hermeneutic circle, criticism can then appear to be launching outward, though the representative target remains transfixed within the fantasy zone as a concept. A world of significance is found from which critique can situate itself. This mixes an awareness of limitations with a feeling of transcendence. Second, criticism attempts to approach a condition where a body is forced to exceeded the outer limits, no longer being able to contain the force originating within the border. Critical Fantasies reach for a critical mass which overflows in its fantastic resonance. Floating between crossing the threshold and remaining at the border, these fantasies suggest a break-through that is impossible because of their self-conscious falsity. They nonetheless make the suggestion, implying a leap all the more tempting for being impossible. Third, critical inquiry necessitates close scrutiny to specific areas within the subject considered. The ideas under examination are intensified by the attention payed to them within an uncommon sphere. Dwelling on certain isolated ideas in a strange place casts a spell of significance and importance, majestic by being both fantasy and under fixated examination.

Critical theory takes on big subjects and claims to further political goals by engaging with dominant ideologies. The title ‘Critical Fantasies’ also reminds one that action in a meaningful ethical-political sense does not occur within the confines of a text or a video screen. Critical theory interprets texts and techniques closely, bringing them to their limit in hopes that this symmetry-breaking motion will be reflected elsewhere. However, the going-beyond of critical analysis, the breaking things open and/or extending them outward can only operate non-textually by addressing this world-gap. Critique can undermine beliefs, opinions, and assumptions by making them argumentatively untenable, but strong forces back those frames and institutionalized power relations stabilize them. By joining the fantastic with the critical, all pretensions to subversion emanating directly from the narrative are abandoned and immediate direct action is to be found elsewhere. Fantasy knows this about itself: it is not real. It is like Socrates who knows only that he knows nothing. Fantasy affirms its falsity. This is a relief though; the distance fantasies hold onto puts the specter of action and conversely the dogmatism of representation in another world altogether with respect to each other. Incommensurable with the present and its accompanying “here and now”, fantasy nevertheless does not forget this “other”; for in the persistence of approaching what it is not, fantasy cannot rid itself of its relation with the present, however confrontational and problematic that relationship might be. Fantasy holds onto action in the present but at a distance, a distance spanning worlds.

Fantasy sets limits on what it can do in the substantial material world – the indirectness from which it must relate to it – and continues along in its negative constrictions regardless. Fixing that material world at the outside, a fantasy world is able to play endlessly with the boundaries its willful negation sets. Indirect Critical Fantasies – Direct Action. The imagination is stretched always apart as it is forever tasked with coming to terms with its own nothingness; all the while, it cannot shake the feeling that whatever is produced, whatever piece of work the imagination creates, is somehow bound up with that other thing – matter. Neither purely false nor purely representative, fantasy moves forward in playful ambivalence.

To reflect on these aesthetic productions brimming with joyful negation, to analyze these current day myths, criticism is brought to bear on the scene – but this is no synthesis. The momentum or force of fantasies are left in tact (not that one could do anything to prevent that) but an outside line joins with it that blows up certain moments, placing a greater emphasis on the ideas of critical importance for other worlds not of its own. A concentration is built up around those flashes of wonder where something seems to jump out of its worldly confines.

Critical Fantasies put together two irreducible forces and create an entirely new non-holistic production. Neither a combination of the two nor a sublimation of them into a higher thing, it sets familiar work of art in fantasy into a different rhythm. The moments of highest intensity are given an additional push bringing it closer to the outside of its world and establishing resonance. Critical Fantasies are always found in a polarizing situation: with an understanding that they are limited to their fictional worlds of significance, they select those aspects that come the closest to breaching their worldly limits and making a connection outside of them.

I believe that people by and large already make use of fantasies in this way. What is most often missing in them and what I aim to inject is the rigor of a critical philosopher. The potential in this unholy alliance seems vast and within the care of the right hands could intensify a largely apathetic population with awesome and innumerable fantasies at its disposal. Fantasy stories in their highest moments have replaced the divine revelation as our source of ethical energy. These are those empowering moments when a vital surge breaks out like a geyser. This is when epic wins become possible, and epics always start in the middle. They don’t always end well though. It is in attempting to begin from solid ground like a tautology, as well as end in a secure and harmonious goal that we lose sight of the urgent task. Fantasies cannot provide perfectly clear answers as to what is to be done, but when it comes to teachings and inspiration, they are the best we’ve got. At the very least, their internalized negativity wards off dogmatic faith. Together with the sustained focus of criticism, fantasies can at best nudge us in the right direction.

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