Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading as Remote

Perhaps because I just read the story last week, I drew many connections between E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” and Tiptree’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.” “The Sandman” tells the story of a man who falls in love with an automaton, grapples with a variety of father/creator figures, and destroys the doll and himself in the process. From a superficial level at least, these basic plot points correspond well with components of “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.” Delphi is repeatedly referred to as a doll, and she certainly shares many qualities with one – a lack of agency and real life – but I’m also interested in drawing out the connection a little further to gain a different perspective on Tiptree’s work.

In the Gothic literature class (COM 372/ENG 303) in which we read “The Sandman,” we focused on “The Uncanny,” which Freud describes (using “The Sandman” as one of his primary examples) as the experience of something that is simultaneously familiar but foreign, which leads to discomfort. Freud focuses on the Uncanny in relation to “the idea of being robbed of one’s eyes,” which is represented in “The Sandman” by repeated eye loss imagery stemming from the male protagonist’s traumatic (and possibly imagined) experience of a father’s friend attempting to blind him. Reading back through “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” I found a lot of imagery of the eye or obstructed vision, going back to the beginning of P. Burke’s story. Her initial description includes the note that when she smiles, her jaw “almost bites her left eye out” (44), and the characters conclude that Delphi has died by observing her eyes (77). Ayse hinted at the fact that Delphi doesn’t speak with her own voice. Once she commits to living remotely through Delphi, P. Burke cannot see the world through her own eyes, either.

While “The Sandman” focuses on the perspective of the man who falls in love with a an automaton, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” instead provides the perspectives of the “doll” herself and shows the limitations on those perspectives, also reflecting the reader’s narrowed view. We experience the world of the story by proxy as well. I think this idea of a shifted, obstructed point of view moving from the male world to female one can also bring out some themes within the work. I don’t agree with all of Freud’s explanations, but it’s interesting to note that he connected the fear of losing ones eyes to a fear of castration. This idea is complicated when the character losing the power of sight is a woman.

I was particularly interested in moments in which the language suggested a duality of perspectives. For example, when P. Burke emerges from the transformation process that allows for her connection to Delphi, the narrator explains, “And here is our girl, looking – If possible, worse than before” (47). That pause in the middle of the sentence allows readers to imagine P. Burke as someone who looks and is looked at. She has a perspective as well, one that changes when she becomes fully engaged in her Remote.

This ability to look through someone else’s eyes comes at a cost – P. Burke must end her own life in most senses of the word. Though this story deals with it very directly, I noticed the theme of seeing beyond the limitations of one’s own life throughout the works we read this week. From a pessimistic perspective, many of the stories deal with the inevitability of death from the beginning. As Seth mentioned, “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” is certainly a foreboding title. Even before the opening sentence of that story, a sense of ending pervades. “The Girl Who was Plugged In” is also narrated by someone speaking to people who are already presumably dead, telling tales of a future they won’t quite live to see. I think the use of the term “zombies” is particularly apt here. Through the act of narration, and the taking on of a different perspective, the readers become, in a sense, undead. It ties into last week’s discussion of reading as a form of time travel that can take us further than expected. Reading becomes a means of creating a Remote – gaining access to a world we otherwise wouldn’t see.


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