Luke Jackson on Fools

Suspense Fiction

Fall 1998

Jackson, Jr. [instructor]

Luke Jackson

The Creation of

Subjects in Pat Cadigan’s Fools

„What do I call you?“ I said, pushing the door closed

behind me.

„I’ve been using Anwar, still. For simplicity’s sake. Though I’m still neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring. Bad red herring, perhaps. For a while, orange herring.“

I had a sudden flash of myself as a fish; ridiculous. I shook the thought away.

— Pat Cadigan, Fools , 277

Pat Cadigan’s Fools problematizes the concept of a complete, autonomous subject.

Famous personalities can be copied and transferred like a piece of software; memories can be bought and sold. The body is seen as a „costume,“ a malleable object that can be altered at whim. In this future scenario, what exactly constitutes the subject?

In the preceding passage, Anwar/Sovay suggests that he may be a „bad red herring.“ A red herring, obviously, is something that appears as a clue or relevant piece of information, but turns out to be useless. This passage compares the notion of identity with a red herring-an illusion that appears to be real, but in fact possesses no substance.

The exchange causes Mersine/Marva/Marceline/Marya etc. to flash back to the beginning, when the glamorous people at the franchise party were examining holograms of themselves as fish. These fish were supposed to represent the people they were reflecting, but they were merely ephemeral holograms-red herrings, a clue that leads nowhere.

The metaphor of the fish tank becomes increasingly relevant as the novel progresses. A fish bowl contains creatures in a carefully delimited, artificial space. Their only purpose in existence is to be the object of their owners‘ gazes. The characters in Fools are in a similar predicament: their worldview is more likely than not an artificial construct, and they likewise possess no privacy. All of their minds are open to the Brain Police, because they ARE the Brain Police.

The pathway into the characters‘ minds is their eyes. Wires are connected to their eye sockets, allowing their most private selves to be manipulated. This reinforces the idea that the characters are subjected to external reality rather than autonomous subjects. The eyes are traditionally seen in terms of the assaultive gaze: the eyes probe reality, test it, record it, and judge it. Fools presents a different perspective: the subject does not enforce his/her will on reality through his/her assaultive gaze, but rather becomes assaulted by reality through his/her gaze. One is reminded of the scene in „A Clockwork Orange“ where Alex‘ eyes are pried open, so that his mind can be rearranged by the scientists‘ films. The idea that external reality writes itself onto the malleable mind through the gaze, constructing a subject, is brought to an extreme in this world.

The role of the gaze in producing a subject hearkens back to Lacan’s Mirror Stage. Lacan wrote that the infant first perceives itself as an individual when it sees itself in the mirror for the first time. The infant can then see what it is by differentiating itself from what it is not. A mirror presents the illusion of a complete, autonomous self, and the infant takes that illusion to be a reality. In Fools , a similar situation occurs when Marva creates other identities through her „mirror,“ which exists only in her mind. Marva has incorporated this external process into her inner world. She can perceive alternate selves in her internal mirror, allowing her to create her characters as a Method actress. Thus, the Lacanian Mirror Stage is no longer dependent upon a single external event to create the self; the event can be internalized and repeated to infinity, creating infinite selves. There is no more singularity of self.

In Lacan’s model, the moment when the child individuates itself from the rest of the world is a traumatic one. The child had formerly only thought of itself; it was the center of the universe. With the realization that the child is separate from the universe comes the desire to incorporate the universe or at least those aspects of it which the infant finds pleasing. Freud describes this stage of development as the „oral stage.“ As Professor Jackson outlined in lecture, this stage is characterized by the desire to incorporate that which it is not into itself. This process can occur through sucking, such as on its mother’s breast, and ingesting, such as pleasing foods, etc. That which cannot be incorporated is destroyed. Thus, the careful division between the self and other blurs. That which is not-self can become self through this incorporation.

Many characters in Fools are „stuck in“ the oral stage: „the Age of Fast Information was oral as hell.“ (180) „Mouths, I thought. The world was full of mouths“ (190). One obvious oral fixation is Sally Lazer, or Salazar, Mersine’s boss at the Brain Police. Her obsession is the chew-and-spit: she chews her food into a pulp and then spits it out without ingesting it. „No drugs or surgery for her- she was too proud of her self-control“ (Fools , p. 166). She loves food to the point of obsession, but never allows herself to incorporate it, the most basic desire of the oral stage. Also: “ I didn’t like the idea of access-on-demand of someone’s memories and I never would. Salazar never seemed to understand it as an atrocity“ (pp. 167-168).

Salazar is obsessed with control-over herself and over others. Her role is a characterization of the Freudian superego. She craves food, yet never allows herself to ingest it. That would be an infantile oral stage pleasure, a satisfaction of the id. She exerts a meaningless, painful self-control over herself merely for the sake of repression; she exalts the superego even when there is no purpose in its function. The realization at the end that EVERYONE is an agent for the Brain Police reinforces the parallel between them and the superego. The superego is seen as a social construct externally applied on citizens, in order to keep them moral and functional. The Brain Police literally carry out this process with future technology; the agent implants they give to all citizens are an extreme form of superego, to be called upon whenever the carrier transgresses the law. Thus, the Freudian model of id, ego, and superego becomes no longer a helpful model, but a reality. Everyone in this future is literally a divided self, not a singular one.

A character who deals with his oral stage differently is Sovay. His desire to incorporate external reality is more abstract; it occurs through the creation of subordinate characters whom he incorporates into himself, then sends out into the world. At first, he does this just to survive, but eventually creates his own Sovay-world. When Mersine/Marva/Marceline/Marya/etc. [M] refuses to fit Sovay’s image of who she should be, he responds like a petulant infant who is refused his mother’s teat:

[M:] You just wanted someone else who could be you.

[M:] But it’s not a true reflection, Sovay. It’s a funhouse mirror, and that’s something else altogether.

[Sovay:] No!

His negation came from his pure core of self, undisguised and uncivilized, a baby’s first cry and one that had never ended, not for him; Sovay then, Sovay now, Sovay always.

Fools , p. 281

Sovay repeats the Lacanian process of individuation that all infants must experience. He thought that his „talent“ would allow him to create his own universe, a microcosm of himself. There would be no differentiation between self and not-self if everything was Sovay. He would regain the infant state before the Mirror Stage, when all is the self. When M refuses to act the idealized image that Sovay wants her to be, he is forced to accept that she is not him and never will be. Sovay must relive the Lacanian Mirror Stage.

This Sovay-subject is different from the infant-subject in that he is not limited to one body or personality, however. The infant sees itself as its body, its singular personality. Sovay has come up against the wall of M’s rejection, but that doesn’t mean he is limited or contained in his singular body or personality. The Sovay-subject created by this process is free of body: Sovay’s body has been „sucked“ and is an empty shell in a mental ward somewhere. Nor is this Sovay-subject limited to a singular personality: he creates derivative personalities of Sovay in certain roles to fill out his private world.

Thus, the subject in Fools is freed from the traditional Cartesian limitations and definitions of self: the body and the mind. The subject has no physical definition: it can exist in any body, even in mechanical „Boxes.“ Even the brain itself is seen as a piece of hardware, with „FATS“ [file allocation tables] and „sectors“ (p. 239) like present-day computers. The mind exists outside of physical limitations, and the text repeatedly states that we consist only of our memories. But if even these memories can be bought and sold, the subject becomes an indefinable patchwork. The characters‘ unquestioning acceptance of their selves as themselves may provide them with comfort, but the actual self of the subject may be a distortion, overlap, or „phantoms“ of previous selves. There are no boundaries around the self; the self is in a constant struggle to maintain its integrity against external manipulation, but this integrity itself is an illusion.

Luke Jackson

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