Photographs versus Visual Art

In order to articulate the problem of differentiating humans from androids, Blade Runner employs photographs to stand in for the memories that are implanted into the latest model of replicas. Photographs work well as a filmic device to represent memory, as they are meant to accurately portray an interior identity in an exterior and collective manner. However, considering that this film is filled with doctored photos, they are also an attempt to show the trouble of representing interior states and, in turn, the difficulty of retaining one’s interiority as a subject–whether human or android. For instance, Deckard is able to access Raechel’s interiority because her memories are actually just implanted ones from Tyrell’s human niece. He recites her own incredibly private memories, which reminds us that not only is Rachael denied a private self, but so was Tyrell’s niece, as her interiority is corporate property, liable to being implanted into androids (32:37). Thus, by using a motif as alterable and inconsistent as doctored photographs to stand in for memory, the film represents a very flimsy and easily compromised view of interiority and selfhood for both humans and androids.

Aside from forwarding a particular argument in the film itself, this device emphasizes a theme in Dick’s novel that I did not previously think too much about: visual art. Munch’s paintings, like Rachael’s doctored photographs, are another version of the attempt to represent interior states externally. (In fact, one could go ahead and define all art in this way.) Indeed, the comparison between photographs as memory and Luba Luft’s inexplicable attraction to Munch’s painting “Puberty,” one could conclude that Luba is drawn to the painting because it represents a memory that she was not granted, but one that she desires and identifies with nonetheless. Thus, the similar treatment of art and photographs begs the question of whether there is much to differentiate between the collective, shared experience of art and the highly individualized, singular experience of looking at family photographs when determining what makes someone “human” or what gives them an identity.

Awards and Conventions

A few sources related to science-fiction conventions and the Hugos, as a supplement to our discussions yesterday. The discussion handout is on Sakai, as are the excerpts from Franson and DeVore’s History of the Hugo, Nebula, and International Fantasy Awards. Fans have also created a long list of Hugo winners and nominees. (Some features of the latter list to think about: what is the significance of the later creation of “retro Hugos”? What is the significance of the changing categories for awards?)

The dates and locations of the World Science Fiction Conventions (Worldcons) can be found in an impressive table compiled by a committee of science-fiction convention organizers. Of particular interest are the approximate attendance figures and the lists of guests of honor, which give hints about the nature of one big organized SF community of the time.

The Big Time won its Hugo in 1958. Program pages and other information about that year’s Worldcon, called Solacon, can be found on stromata.tripod.com. This is a personal site run by someone who organized a more recent convention. Fans have often been their own historians.

Newspaper coverage of early SF conventions is often quite revealing about the way newspaper reporters responded to (or thought readers wanted to think they responded to) fandom. Here are a few selections from searches of the digitized national papers Rutgers has access to:

  1. New York Times coverage of the 1950 New York Science Fiction Convention: “Invasion from Mars,” July 1, 1950.
  2. Washington Post coverage of the 1950 Disclave (that is, the D.C. convention): Lee Grove, “Pen Pals Meet at a Scientific ‘Disclave’ Here,” May 1, 1950.
  3. NYT on the 1956 Worldcon (the list of Worldcons above notes that fans objected to “Newyorcon” and rechristened it “Nycon II”): “800 Writers Here Air Science Fiction,” September 1, 1956.

The national newspapers do not cover Hugo awards in the 1950s, as far as I can tell. In the 1960s, the awards are still not reported on, but publishers’ ads in the book pages start to mention them. Here is an example, an ad for Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky:

nytbr-heinlein-1964

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, “The New Heinlein!,” New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1964: 43.

What is going on here? Two facts to think about: unlike the inexpensive-paperback publishers who put out most SF in book form in the 1950s and 1960s, Putnam was an old-established American publisher. And Heinlein had had a “breakthrough” bestseller–that is, a book that sold far beyond the specialist SF audience–with his Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).