[This post is quite indulgent, and contains no spoilers].
I’ve fallen pretty hard for Eureka SeveN, having experienced it so far as a delightful coming-of-age love story and the power of friendship with interesting characters painstakingly fleshed out against a backdrop of fruity science fiction and sky-surfing robots. What I didn’t expect is how a recap episode — a convention in anime that most of the time that is treated as filler, provoked me intellectually more than any other show that I’ve seen in years.
What follows is my exploration of the rhetoric of one Stoner, a member of Gekko State and writing staff of Ray=Out magazine. I did not count on him spouting the kind of goobledygook that ended up being so relevant to my interests.
The recap episode puts us in Stoner’s head, as he types we are presented with the recapitulation of the story up until that pointm, from the perspective of Renton and Gekkostate.
Stoner’s monologue [abridged, and this sequence is delivered as if he is writing an article for Ray=Out]:
People ignore the ture essence of things and merely talk about their outer appearance. What can one possibly gain by simply conforming to this trend and piling up more empty words? If you can’t easily convey it, then you should put effort in it. If you don’t want to put in the effort, you should maintain eternal silence until you take leave of this world.
And that’s what they were proving. To the riders waiting for the big wave, the fact that they exist at that moment is all that there is to express. The only way to expres everything is via personal experiences. Those whose expressive capabilities were limited to such a simple, inherent language, with the help of fundamental reality at the core of that simplicity, were able to express it into words.What do they refer to? Reality. But those are nothing but shallow words. People will just despise them as a simple list of words. But who really understands the truth? Simply explaining what they saw in front of them with sugarcoated words…
It’s that very thing that detracts from the phenomenon. A phenomenon is nothing but a phenomenon. In order to speak of the phenomenon, you must become the phenomenon itself. However, we cannot become the phenomenon itself, because it’s latent at a point we do not occupy… and manifests itself at that point. That’s right. The phenomenon still occurs even if we aren’t there. It just leaves something behind for the ones who have witnessed it. So will that become something that’ll hurt them? And even that has nothing to do with the waves.
Cryptic? To a degree, yes. The first paragraph tells me that Stoner is no existentialist, believing in “the true essence of things,” that if described in “simple, inherent language” is the very thing that “detracts from the phenomenon.” Stoner seems to believe that the truth cannot be arrived at through language. “In order to speak of the phenomenon, you must become the phenomenon itself,” which he admits is something “we cannot become.”
You can never speak the truth, but you can be it.
This is how Stoner occurs to me. I imagine the anguish he must feel (he is no existentialist though!) how his work, his vocation is entirely about representation. He is a writer, a journalist, and a photographer. He is in a Quixotic quest to represent truth with tools that are doomed to falsify it. Dr. lolikit told me that Friedrich Nietzche held that all language, being representative, and nothing but representations of other things, are lies. This is not necessarily a moral issue.
In his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” Friedrich Nietzsche sets out to demonstrate that the line between “truth” and “lies” as it is commonly perceived is in fact a line between one set of lies and another. He contests our ability to comprehend the real truth of anything, claiming that by the time an idea or image has reached our brain, it is already nothing more than an interpretation of a nerve stimulus—this transition, according to Nietzsche, is “metaphor.” It is because all language and its derivatives—communication of ideas, scientific knowledge—are couched in metaphor that any attempt to tell a truth is futile. Because all language is metaphorical, it is impossible, Nietzsche says, to tell anything but a lie. For this reason, Nietzsche rejects the common perception of lies as inherently bad. In so doing, he justifies three things: firstly, the act of lying according to his definition; secondly, the act of “lying” according to society; and thirdly, the drive for a sense of truth that leads society to have its fallacious definition of lying […]
[…] Nietzsche claims that it is impossible for us to know, and subsequently tell, truths, effectively illustrating that all language is metaphorical. In showing that truth is unattainable and lies ubiquitous, Nietzsche demonstrates the nonmorality of lying and justifies both it (whether it’s used to deceive or not) and the drive for a sense of truth that bestows upon us our fallacious distinction between “truth” and “lies.” His essay leaves us with a utilitarian sense of truth and the knowledge that a liar is not a criminal for lying alone.
—Dr. lolikit “Rhetoric 20 Final” 5/9/09 Wed 2-3 Section UC Berkeley
If Stoner had read this particular Nietzche, I wager he’d feel better about the impossible relationship between representation and truth. He shouldn’t feel too specially ‘victimized’ by being a ‘career liar.’ Everyone fundamentally lies, as long as one uses words, language, and any system of representation.
In the beginning there was the word, and the word became flesh. I am personally more inclined to follow this claim. All knowledge only exists as language. If you don’t have a word for it, a symbol or sign for it, you don’t know it! Let’s talk K-ON! for a bit (because I’m not above being a whore!tertiary commenter on this trend): If you’re asked, “Why is Mio so special?” and you say “I don’t have the words for it, I just know!” it means that you really don’t know why. All it says is that you want us to know that Mio is special to you. If you don’t have words for it, you do not know whatever ‘it’ is. Ritsu however, has fans who know what they like and why they like it: invoking the freaking Golden Ratio as a cause/justification for their appreciation. ‘They’ is perhaps hyperbole, only 1 guy likes Ritsu). I’ve had my Yuri-ka moment and found God (or at least deux ex machina), and have picked Mugi as my favorite. Yes I have the words as to why, but I don’t have to say them here.
God and language is a story as old as religion. The multitude of languages is explained by the Tower of Babel legend. The population of the Earth was recovering after the great flood, and they migrated from the East (of Eden?) speaking one language. They had started building a tower erected to celebrate their own glory, so that they may have a place to gather around and be united in language and culture (this is a Protoculture legend too!). However,God, seeing what the people were doing, confounded their languages and scattered the people throughout the earth. It had been God’s original purpose for mankind to grow and fill the earth. God in the OT is bad ass.
It has been the project of writers of the likes of James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges to (re)create this perfect language, even if only for the purpose of art (whatever that is). Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco speaks eloquently of their related but independent projects.
[Talking about Borges who read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels]
Swift could not avoid producing something very close to the Library of Babel. For in order to name everything in the universe men would need a dictionary made up entirely of things, and the size of this dictionary would match the extent of the entire cosmos. Once more there would be no difference between Library and universe. […]
[Thomas Pavel’s mental experiment]
[…] Let us imagine that an omniscient being is capable of writing or reading a Magnum Opus containing all the true statements regarding the real world and all possible worlds. Naturally, since one can speak of the universe in different languages, and each language defines it in a different way, there still must exist a set of all Magna Opera. Now let us suppose that God entrusts some angels to write Daily Books for each man, where they record all the statements (regarding the possible worlds of his desires and hopes and the real world of his actions) that correspond to a true statement in one of the books that make up the set of all Magna Opera. The Daily Book of each individual must be displayed on the Day of Judgment, along with the collection of those Books that evaluate the lives of families, tribes, and nations.
But the angel writing a Daily Book not only writes down true statements: he links them together, evaluates them, constructs them into a system. And since individuals and groups alike will have defending angels on the Day of Judgment, these defenders will rewrite for each of them another, endless series of Daily Books, where the same statements will be connected in a different way, and compared differently with the statements in one of the Magna Opera.
Such infinite alternative worlds are part of every one of the infinite Magna Opera, the angels will write countless Daily Books, in which there will be a jumble of statements that are true in one world and false in another. If we then imagine that some angels are not very skillful, and they mix up statements that a single Magnum Opus records as mutually contradictory, we will end up with a series of Compendia, Miscellanies, and compendia of fragments of miscellanies, which will amalgamate different layers of books of different origin, and at that point it will be very difficult to say which books are true and which are fictitious, and in relation to which original book. We will have an astronomical infinity of books, each of which hovers between different worlds, and the result will be that we regard as fictitious stories that others have considered true.
—Umberto Eco “Between La Mancha and Babel” On Literature (2004)
Umberto Eco believes that Pavel suggests that we are already living in such a world, where the angels include the likes of Homer, James Joyce, and Jorge Luis Borges. The latter two notable as heroes of literary experimentalism (which make them my heroes too!). He goes on:
I believe that literary experimentalism works on a space we might call the world of languages. But a language, as lignuists know, has two sides. On one side the signifier, on the other the signified. The signifier organizes sounds, while the signified arranges ideas. And it is not that this organization of ideas, which constitutes the form of a particular culture, is independent from language, because we know a culture only through the way in which language has organized the still-unformed data about our contact with the continuum of the world. Without language there would be no ideas, but a mere stream of experience that has not been processed or thought about.
Working experimentally on language and the culture it conveys means therefore working on two fronts: on the signifier front, playing with words (and through the destruction and re-organization of words ideas are reorganized); and playing with ideas, and therefore pushing words to touch on new and undreamed-of horizons.
So Joyce played with words, Borges with ideas, and Eco is playing Stoner, and Nietzche is calling me a liar, or at least, that’s what Dr. lolikit tells me. So is Stoner’s ‘phenomenon’ but an idea that we lie about in order to signify it? Is the phenomenon even ‘real’? What is real? Real as in the ‘real’ in real robot anime? How real is that?! Is Eureka SeveN a real robot anime? Am I being real about this post? Am I just pretending to intellectualism?
The blog post as an essay presents itself as a method for exposition and explanation, a sincere attempt as it seems, to get closer to the truth. And yet if the bony people behind Eureka SeveN really considered these things, I actually applaud their method: make a robot anime. Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake, Borges did his own thing (whatever that truly is!), Nietzche sprach through Zarathustra, Jesus presented his teachings as parables and poetry. Dr. lolikit lets us appreciate the beauty and the possibility of the lie through his reading of Nietzche. The lies are but the stories we tell each other (sometimes, animated stories… with robots!), and somehow through the interplay of stories — the subject’s and the reader’s truths distinguish themselves.