Hello and welcome to Otaku Academy. For our final class, we're changing it up: we're reading Frenchy Lunning's article “Between the Child and the Mecha” from Mechademia
volume 2. This is a change from the syllabus, but I think that this article better discusses the themes we've been interested in thus far. (I also recommend Margherita Long's article “Malice@Doll: Konaka, Specularization, and the Virtual Feminine.”)
Lunning's article uses the mecha anime series RahXephon
to explain Lacan's theories of pyschological development. Specifically, she's interested in the three stages of development: the mirror stage, fort-da
and the Oedipal complex. She uses specific moments within the story to illustrate these three stages. Most of them come from the narrative of the main character, Ayato, and his mecha, the RahXephon. Since most of her analysis comes from her reading of Ayato, his mother, and the mecha's body, it's easy to see how this applies to readings of the cyborg body. (Again, Long's article would also fit.)
Lunning communicates her reading of most mecha stories thusly:
Between the child inside and the mecha outside is a gap: a symbol of a yawning sense of lack suffused with a compelx of narratives that lie between the child-pilot and his or her mecha-ideal image of power and agency. That gap is the space of lack and the consequent production of desire, the space of conflicting drives and conflating worlds, and the space in which the sets, lights, and costumes for the performance of the transformation into maturity are set for what Jacques Lacan describes as the full emergence into the symbolic realm.
From what I learnt in Lunning's article, RahXephon
is a fairly standard mecha story: there is a moody adolescent boy pilot who discovers a giant mech, and who also happens to be a messianic figure whose dubious parentage affords him world-changing power. The mech helps him define himself as a young adult. He separates from his mother, who also happens to be an alien being, and he ends up joining what was once a bifurcated world and having his own love affair and starting a family. The Mirror Stage
According to Lunning's reading, Ayato enters Lacan's first stage of subject development, the mirror stage, when he discovers the RahXephon mech inside a giant egg. The egg closely resembles the domed city where Ayato lives with his mother. As the egg cracks, Ayato falls to the floor in a fetal position, and the mech absorbs him. Now the mech's pilot, Ayato confronts his mother. She begs him to leave. When she does, she falls and cuts herself. Her blood is blue, and this marks her as different from Ayato – she is one of the aliens who has caused the planetary destruction that necessitates the dome.
Lunning reads this as a mirror stage moment because the Lacanian mirror stage begins the process toward individuation through recognition of difference. According to Lacan, this is often done in very early childhood with a mirror, when the mirror's reflection reveals to the self that the self and the mother are different beings. This causes a sensation of lack and separation, because beforehand (again, according to Lacan) there had been a sense of one-ness, cohesion, and plenitude. In the story, this is symbolized by Ayato's mother revealing herself as completely alien shortly after the mecha's emergence from its “egg.” This is Ayato's re-birth, and his separation from his mother. Shortly thereafter, he joins his father outside the dome. Fort-da
s far as I know, the phrase “fort, da”
means “gone, back” in German. In “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Freud recounts a story of a little boy who would throw objects under chairs and around corners, then spend his time finding them – losing them on purpose so that he could experience the triumph of both his quest and their return. For Lacan, this is an instance of the earliest narrative in our lives – something or someone is gone, then they come back. (In Lacanian psychoanalysis, this original lack is the mother's body.) Narrative, however, requires symbol, and thus language. So the recognition of both absence and time creates the need for language and human entry point for ordered symbol and external knowledge.
I didn't quite understand how this would tie to Ayato's story, but that could be a function of either my imperfect reading or the fact that I haven't seen the series. Lunning points out the temporal dissonance or slippage that occurs for Ayato: the worlds that his mother and father each inhabit are separated by seven years, and the way that he constantly vacillates between each world, torn between his human and Mu heritage. So yes, he is estranged from his home and from his mother, and in a way that more firmly establishes his subject position through the process of lack – a lack he supplements with Haruka, his love interest.
The Father and the Oedipal Complex
The allegory of the anime RahXephon is a cautionary tale, wherein the community at large steps in, in the father's absence, to create substitutes and scenarios to force the production of the necessary transformation from child to mature subject
Lunning examines Ayato's relationships with the other male characters in the series and concludes that he is in a process of “feverish” attempts to discover and identify with a father figure. None of these attempts quite work, but in the meantime he learns about the “man's world” outside the matriarchal society that was his mother's world inside the dome. Here alongside his father, he's exposed to the gritty reality of militarized existence and the steadfast refusal of his father's forces to be polluted by the coded-feminine, foreign Mu. But joining the worlds is the only way to heal them, so in a type of symbolic marriage Ayato joins with the RahXephon, finds a heterosexual love match, and creates a new reality. In this reality he is now the father, having mastered his own father's emotional distance and his mother's Other-ness by creating a realm wherein he can be emotionally present and natural – even mundane and boring, a la
Shinji Ikari and the final two episodes of Evangelion
In the conclusion to Lunning's essay, she writes:
I would suggest, then, that mecha anime are generally narratives of male identity formation and subjectivity that are secured through the relationship and eventual unifying transcendence of the boy-child pilot with the mature image of masculine power and agency of the mecha.
So for Lunning, the importance lies not in the fact that we are all children inside, but that we desire the mecha shell around us – we are all ghosts looking for a shell, and that the search for it is part of a continuous process toward identity formation. I'm intrigued with her characterization of the space between
the pilot and the mecha, especially when she says that it is symbolic of lack and therefore desire. Much of what we have discussed this term has to do with the fear of bodily contamination by the mecha or the “wired” element – that the body might be taken over by machine parts (like in Videodrome
, which comes up often in cyberpunk analysis). Instead, this perspective suggests that the machine might be a place that we return to in a quest to reclaim the peace and security of the womb and to achieve a sense wholeness and unity by joining with another, more powerful agent.