May 19, 2010

Desire and Violence

Violence of Desire

"Miri" offers a wide range on possibilities for analysis. The most obvious theme or issue to discuss is bio-technology.

A civilization, trying to capture the secret of eternal youth, destroys itself with its own knowledge--the science that is supposed to save them kills them. Again, this would be consistent with a side of Star Trek that for all its glorification of gadgets is suspicious of technology--how many episodes are there in which Kirk and crew must battle some "runaway" computer or hi-tech apparatus? With "Miri," the old lesson could be the following: "technology that allows us to exceed our human nature and limit is dangerous." But, all technology, in a sense, exceeds our nature and limit. What is the difference, metaphysically, between getting a haircut and a nose job or stem cells? Both alter or manipulate the body and the difference is in degree, not kind. The warning against runaway technology only works if we assume a stable human nature. What if, however, our nature is "by nature" to change and adapt--this would be a Deleuzian human nature of flows and expressivities. "Miri" rejects this adaptive/expressive understanding of human nature and posits a rigid concept of personhood or so it would seem. This is most obvious with the children in the episode. Even though they are hundreds of years old, they don't change--they are frozen in childhood until they slowly reach puberty. At this point they become violent creatures physically, but retain a child's innocent mind. . . aging from sixteen to ninety in a matter of days.
The use and abuse of bio-technology is a major issue for this episode, especially its allegorical relationship to 1960s style emerging anti-aging culture, "health food," vitamins, spas, etc. While all of this is certainly worthy of discussion, I see a more fundamental conflict, the conflict of desire. Why the more or less now dead civilization decided to pursue anti-aging or, perhaps, immortality is never raised. What gave rise to or what gives rise to the desire to live forever? This could be framed in terms of Freud's "death drive" or Zizek's understanding of Freud's "death drive." In this sense, the goal is not to live but to be "undead," to retreat into some non-living living space--childhood in this sense is being undead. Perhaps a space of demand, free of desire? What is desire, then? For Lacan, desire is the third and final stage of a developmental series--need, demand, desire. All three are formulated as responses to a "lack," which the latter specifically belongs to an Oedipal lack.
So, what I am proposing is that the bio-tech content simply masks another content, the formulation of desire/violence. In other words, "Miri" is a study of desire/violence.
In the beginning of the episode, Kirk and the away party survey a desolate 1960s style city on a twin Earth. Among the scattered remnants of the city is a child's broken tricycle--cast on a heap of dirt and junk. As McCoy carefully rests the tricycle on the pile, spinning the wheel in a meditative moment, a creature attacks him screaming "mine, mine." Of course, in dramatic fashion, Kirk comes to McCoy's aid and punches "the shit" out of the creature, which seems almost impervious to the blows. Consumed with desire for the tricycle the creature is oblivious to his surroundings, repeating "mine, mine" and an incoherent "never, never" until he finally dies grasping the trike with his disfigured hand. The first stupid question is to ask, "What does the tricycle represent?" Nothing and everything. The trike is the "objet a"--some "thing" desire seizes upon at a moment. So, the point is not to positively account for the tricycle as a lost object (e.g. childhood, the past, et al) , but to look to the tricycle as an opportunity to see the work of desire. In this instance, an object temporarily holds desire--as something that is "mine," although broken and incomplete, literally. This foreshadows, I believe, a second instance of desire . . . Miri's desire for Kirk.
When Miri, a sixteen or seventeen year-old(?) girl, is discovered hiding in a closet of an abandoned house, it is Kirk who coaxes her to give up information. He soothes her fears and, in effect, seduces her:
(Soft violin music)
Kirk: "What's your name?"
Miri: "Miri."
Kirk: "Miri. Pretty name for a pretty young woman."
Miri: "Pretty?"
Kirk: "Very pretty."It is at this point that Miri "sees" herself as a object of Kirk's gaze. In Lacanian fashion and like the Cheap Trick song "she wants him to want her." So, her desire is not for an object per se; it is for place in the symbolic order--the place that which Kirk desires. All of this, of course, is cast as "natural." Why wouldn't a sixteen or seventeen year old "young woman" fall for Kirk . . . everyone else does? Why wouldn't Kirk notice the prettiness of a young woman? While this seems perfectly natural, there is a violence underlying it.
First, Kirk's flirtation is sexually innocent; however, he "uses" Miri. She is a means to an end--the end is information. Playing with affection is not new to Star Trek--even Spock seduces an over-the-hill Romulan commander in a later episode. Second, Miri's "love" for Kirk has a high degree of violence keeping it afloat. Her love is entirely narcissistic, as we'll see when she sets him and Yeoman Rand up to be killed. Before we get to this, however, let's see how "Miri" stages desire.

In the very beginning of the episode there is a distress signal . . . some need for help. The signal originates from a twin Earth, as if the distress signal comes from within as an internal lack. Once on the planet, as I've noted, the away team encounters the creature and the tricycle and, later, Miri. As the team learns more details, it is McCoy who surmises that the adults died from a plague . . . something external. However, they shortly learn that death came not from an external cause but by an internal cause. The desire to live forever became a bio-medical fix that, from the inside, destroyed them and will, if not stopped, kill Kirk and company. Spock, however, is immune, which is attributed to his Vulcan physiology, but, of course, it is Spock who is the one lacking lack; that is lacking desire.

When lesions begin appearing on Kirk, McCoy, and Rand, they realize that they've been "infected" and proceed to continue the research of the dead scientists. In a sense, the dead civilization's desire has infected the away team (minus Spock). They have been "interpellated" into a (symbolic) system of desire and then are forced to extricate themselves from it. Science, of course, fixes science or that is the hope. Gradually Kirk, McCoy, and Rand become "Grups"--"grown ups." They become excitable, irrational, angry, and violent. It is as if the "infection" has unleashed "pure desire." Even Yeoman Rand admits that she used to try to get Kirk to "look" at her legs back on the ship. What is crucial here in the presentation of desire is that it becomes "explicitly" sexual. Up until this point the flirtation between Kirk and Miri has been "innocent," but when Miri sees Kirk with Rand, in an embrace, she "enters" into the sexual symbolic order--like the child seeing the parents in the sexual act. Miri sees Kirk "seeing" Rand's legs and it is Rand who is object of Kirk's sexual desire--Miri is merely an object or tool to gather information. So, feeling rejected, used, and betrayed (not a good cocktail), she plots with the "Onlys" (the children) to kill Rand and "Captain Lovey-Dovey." Her previous innocent infatuation, once triggered by the Kirk/Rand embrace, becomes violent desire. If she could just kill Rand, she thinks, then she would be able to be the object of Kirk's desire. "Jim," as she affectionately calls him, becomes a depersonalized "Captain Lovey-Dovey."

Miri's path toward bloody revenge is oddy changed when Kirk reveals to her that she will suffer the same fate as he if the stolen communicators are not returned. Self-preservation, the desire that started the whole process, returns in the end. Miri, realizing her impending death, sides with Kirk and brings him to the school house (ideological state apparatus) where Janice (Yeoman Rand) is being held.

Finally, the surface conflict (the race to find a cure) is resolved after Kirk's impassioned speech about saving the children. Oddly, all of this is pointless because McCoy, in an act of selfless desperation or selfish desperation, injects himself with the vaccine. Lucky for him "the beaker of death," as Spock called it, is a beaker of life and McCoy lives. The cure works! But, what is cured? I'll argue that desire is cured or supposedly cured. Desire, by the end of the episode, is put back in its proper place with its proper objects. Miri pairs with John and "parents" (teachers, advisers, et al) are sent to the planet to help the children. The only desire left to be reassigned is Kirk's desire for Miri. Yeoman Rand says to Kirk, "Miri, she really loved you, you know." Kirk pauses, says "yes" and then jokes "I never get involved with older women." Yeoman Rand, amused, looks at McCoy and each moves off to his or her station. How are we to read Kirk's joke? Upon what does his desire fix itself? Miri is ironically or paradoxically too young and too old. So, is Kirk's desire paradoxical, too? It remains ambiguous, but that is the nature of desire. . . desire finds objects and moves on. At its center is a void. With Kirk's joke, desire spins like the wheel of the tricycle in the beginning of the episode. It turns perpetually and any object-order is merely a fiction waiting for irruption.

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