Interpreting and/or Being the Other

“The pendant attached to it was smooth, glassy, black rock. Obsidian. His name might be Rock or Peter or Black, but she decided to think of him as Obsidian. 

[…]

“Now she wore it, thinking it was as close as she was likely to come to Rye. People like Obsidian who had not known her before probably thought of her as Wheat. Not that it mattered. She would never hear her name spoken again.” (Butler 97). 

This encounter between Rye and Obsidian represents the inability to convey individuality in a world lacking speech and communication, as the act of providing one’s name is traditionally a way for humans to assert their individuality. However, names, thoughts, and interiority in general must be conveyed through symbols, which creates the need for a narrator who bears the duty of interpretation. In this case of naming we see that Rye is provided with a very liberal amount of space to interpret others, using her own creativity and predispositions to project identities and ideas upon others. This effect emphasizes the fact that the reader is completely reliant upon a first-person, familiar, and creative narrator as we cling to Rye’s perspective in order to understand this world. The imperative to interpret is similar to Deckard’s role in discerning humanity within androids, but it is different insofar as Deckard’s own sense of humanity, his interiority, and his own unique tools of interpretation are totally dispensable in DADoES, considering the replacement of communication with incredibly invasive technology. (What is more, we know that these things are dispensable because any sense of Deckard’s interiority is excluded from Blade Runner.) Even though both DADoES and “Speech Sounds” place a heavy importance on representing and interpreting the interior through exterior symbols, the different narrative situations make the reader depend on Rye’s interiority and familiarity to ourselves–as opposed to our suspicion that Deckard may even be an android.

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.