Change Many Can See

“‘The winds of change are blowing. We are change. You will see'” (Okorafor 112).

In Act I of Lagoon, one of the most prominent uses of visual and digital media is the video message that Ayodele spreads throughout Lagos. This particular scene presents readers with a modern take on invasion suggesting the interconnectivity that the internet provides for people now can potentially be both harmful and helpful. The inevitable change is coming, but one is ignorant to what that might mean. When Ayodele states “You will see,” she hints at the inevitability of it while also admitting that because of the technology the people have they can now all be witness to this change. Instead of the few that experience the androids’ message, for example in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, in hopes of change, Okorafor allows many to hear Ayodele’s message which provides a broader spectrum of reaction. Richard Deckard may go back to his life like nothing ever happened, but Lagos will be forever changed by Ayodele whether for good or bad.

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.

Visuals Create Tension

In the film, Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scottthe scene where Rick Deckard first meets Rachael Rosen (16:57) is one the of the few scenes taken directly from the book. Set design plays a key role in this film, the stark contrast between Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s opulent pyramid-like home with the gritty city showcases the extreme difference in class in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  However, Scott’s use of the two-shot creates more of a tension in the film between Rachael and Rick than Dick creates with words. The fast cuts back and forth create a sense that Rachael is completely sure of herself staring Deckard down and having a response to each question, all the while acting very stiff and robotic. A cigarette cloud forms in front of her face (20:37) which creates the sense that Rachael is beginning to doubt herself and needs to hide her reaction from Deckard. Also, the use of an interposed dissolve into an establishing long shot (20:41) accompanied by Deckard and Rachael’s echoing voices creates a feeling of a long passage of time whereas in contrast to the novel which seems to move at a much faster pace during this point of the story. The visuals allow the audience to see how an android would supposedly act in such a setting when with words there can be several interpretations depending on the reader.

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.

Deckard’s Moral Questioning

1:27:45 – Deckard being apprehended by another policeman just after being told to go to The Bradbury.

Police: “This sector is closed to ground traffic. What are you doing here?”
Deckard: “I’m working, what are you doing?”
P: “Arresting you.”
D: “I’m Blade Runner…I’m filed and monitored.”
P: …”Okay, checked and cleared.”

This scene caught me a little off-guard as I was fully expecting something akin to when Deckard is apprehended by Officer Crams in Do Androids Dream in chapter 9. Though in different contexts, this scene in the film could have been a gateway to the moment where Deckard is taken to the parallel San Francisco police department run by androids. While this scene in the novel is more or less available to provide a way to introduce Phil Resch into the story (who is not introduced in the movie), it is also important in the development of Deckard’s moral questioning. The scene in the novel encouraged a lot of questioning and speculation regarding the differences between “humans” and androids (especially pertaining to false memories) and set the tone for much of the moral questioning for the rest of the novel. The film focused this issue of morality more onto Rachael’s character than on Deckard’s, which caused a difference in motivation. With this questioning now focused on a love interest, rather than on himself, Deckard’s character doesn’t undergo this questioning that is so embedded into the novel’s design.

Elevation in Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Though I began to analyze particular differences from Dick’s book to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, one quality shared by the book and the film was a somewhat fascination with heights and an aerial perspective. One scene in particular from the film is when Rick is traveling via aircraft to the Tyrell Corporation building within the city itself (about 11-12 minutes in.) Even in the first image of the film (immediately following the logo) is an aerial view of Los Angeles- something that even reminded me of the cover of my copy of We by Zamyatin. In the book, the animals reside on the rooftops- something that didn’t provoke my interest until the aerial shots of the film, and this scene in particular as Rick takes in the sights of the sight along with us. This concept of seeing things from a birds-eye view, both through the images in the film as well as the concept of having the animals above everything else in the novel, elicits a particular capitalization on subjectivity and objectivity, something that I feel is among some of the main dilemmas within this narrative in particular. From this view, is one able to see things as they are, just as when encountering someone and not knowing the truth of their identity? Or perhaps it serves many purposes, all having to do with authenticity, perspective, and awareness.

Suspicion and Appearance in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

“‘But almost. You feel the same doing it; you have to keep your eye on it exactly as you did when it was really alive. Because they break down and then everyone in the building knows. I’ve had it at the repair shop six times, mostly little malfunctions, but if anyone saw them- for instance one time the voice tape broke or anyhow got fouled and it wouldn’t stop baaing- they’d recognize it as a mechanical breakdown.” He added, “The repair outfit’s truck is of course marked ‘animal hospital something.’ And the driver dresses like a vet, completely in white.” (Dick 12).

While this passage is incredibly early on in the book, and thus before a lot of the groudwork of suspicion is really solified in the novel, I found it incredible provocative and pertinent to the discussion of doubt and suspicion. It believe it inspires a lot of questions, particularly concerning the situation we are to encounter in the rest of the novel. Rick communicates, “then everyone in the building knows.” This raises the idea that one is always under suspicion of their neighbors- that it is important to conceal certain things from those around you, because their judgment has a direct effect. “Mechanical” being italicized further offers that it is judged differently than that of some other malfunction- in this context, biologically. Similarly, Rick establishes that the mechanics themeselves are disguised when they come to fix an animal, further suggesting this importance of concealment.

I think this passage establishes several important … that allow the reader to become situated in this world and understand the environment under which these characters operate. First, that there are many things hidden between those that you know best. The very suggestion that things should be hidden offers that shame inspires action among the population, and that there is more truth residing behind what you see. The very fact that Rick’s sheep is so life-like, and that the mechanic comes dressed as a vet, reveals the depth to which one must now question what they encounter. I simiarly find it intersting that Dick has now opened up a conversation concerning the relationship between what is living and what is mechanical. Throughout the introductory chapters, it is established that biology is favored over a mechanical existence- but what movtivates this, and what problems now arise? What can we know about what we see if what we see conceals a hidden truth?

Is Deckard Really Human?

“Then,” Miss Luft said, “you must be an android.”

That stopped him; he stared at her.

“Because,” she continued, “your job is to kill them, isn’t it?  You’re what they call-”  She tried to remember.

“A bounty hunter,” Rick said.  “But I’m not an android.”

…”Maybe there was once a human who looked like you, and somewhere along the line you killed him and took his place.  And your superiors don’t know.”  She smiled.  As if inviting him to agree.

“Let’s get on with the test,” he said, getting out the sheets of questions.

Dick, 101-102

The conversation that Deckard has with Luba Luft at this point in the novel is particularly interesting due to the fact that she so cavalierly brings to the forefront the idea that Deckard could very well be an android himself.  With this, an important question can be asked: would Deckard in fact be able to pass the empathy test even if he was not an android?  Compared to the other humans and androids we have met thus far in the novel, he truly does not seem to possess a remarkable deal of empathy, and the fact that some humans with low empathy scores can be killed in the place of an android is indeed brought up when Deckard is interrogating Rachael.  Does he recognize that he, as human, is not a particularly exemplary example of one?

Further, although his contempt for andys is made quite clear, given the dense aura of paranoia and suspicion that Dick has already so beautifully executed by the time Luft and Deckard converse, it would be foolish for us as readers to ignore the possibility that Deckard may not be what he seems, either- even though it truly does not seem to be the case.  However, through the suspicion of Deckard’s questionable status as human, we can further examine what it means to be human–both as readers today and as people living in a post-World War Terminus San Francisco–and why exactly we choose these certain characteristics to determine whether or not others are deemed worthy of being labeled as “human”.

Hint of Doubt

“In addition, no one today remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won” (Dick 15).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick immerses the reader into a typical day in Rick Deckard’s life from the beginning of the story which may distract the reader from subtle hints of doubt. One such hint is evident in the above passage in which Rick mentions WWT. To begin with “In addition” suggests that this may be an afterthought of Rick’s which in turn can become an afterthought for the reader that can easily be forgotten. This creates a sense that this “addition” may not be that important which allows the sentence to creep in one’s mind and become just a subtle hint of doubt. Then, the narrator inserts his own thought with “if anyone” which casts the doubt that can be easily overlooked. The passage suggests that everyone, except the narrator, has accepted the fact that there was a war and that there is no need to know anything further.

Pris Stratton’s Identity

“I’m Rachael Rosen.”
“Of the Rosen Association?” [John] asked.
…”No…I never heard of them; I don’t know anything about it…My name…is Pris Stratton. That’s my married name; I always use it. I never use any other name but Pris.”

(Dick, 67-8).

Suspicion and doubt is immediately cast onto this scene as we are given little indication of what the truth is regarding Pris’ real identity. There are a few factors at play here regarding the doubt. The more obvious factor is her swift disregard that she had ever used the name Rachael Rosen before, or even knew the implications of using that name. This can only lead us to speculate that she’s hiding something regarding the Rosen Association (particularly as she says, “I don’t know anything about it. More of your chickenhead imagination, I suppose” [68]–using John’s “special” status as a way to divert the conversation away from her) and her association with it. Is she really Rachael Rosen, on the run now that she knows she’s an android? Or is this a different person (android?), and what is she hiding from?

The other factor at play here is John himself, as he takes on the role as narrator in this chapter. While he is perceptive to Pris’ strange nature (not knowing about Buster Friendly, being nonchalant about the empathy box, etc.), he doesn’t immediately question these qualities. He does say that she’s “out of touch” (69) and “may need help” (70), but he otherwise seems unbothered by her strangeness, even offering to teach her how to cook. This can be in part due to his “special” designation, which in turn leaves him to be much by his lonesome and without the example of other human beings to compare Pris to. It seems to be a matter of how much we can trust his perception and insight, as well as what we can gain from his observations in order to come to our own conclusions.