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Ramble City: Postmodernism and "Blade Runner"

Author(s): Giuliana Bruno


Source: October, Vol. 41 (Summer, 1987), pp. 61-74
Published by: MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/778330
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Ramble City: Postmodernism
and Blade Runner

GIULIANA BRUNO

"Historyis hysterical:it is constitutedonlyifwe considerit,only ifwe look


at it-and in order to look at it we must be excluded from it. . . . That is what
the time when my motherwas alive beforemeis- History.No anamnesiscould
ever make me glimpsethistimestartingfrommyself- whereas,contemplatinga
photograph in which she is hugging me, a child, against her, I can waken in
myselfthe rumpled softnessof her crepe de chine and the perfumeof her rice
powder."' That is historyfor Roland Barthes and historyfor the replicantsof
Blade Runner.The replicantsare perfect"skinjobs," theylook like humans,they
talk like them, they even have feelings and emotions (in science fictionthe
ultimatesign of the human). What theylack is a history.For thattheyhave to be
killed. Seeking a history,fightingfor it, they search for their origins,for that
timebeforethemselves.Rachel succeeds. She has a document-as we know,the
foundation of history.Her document is a photograph,a photograph of her
mother,huggingher, a child,against her, wakeningin her the rumpledsoftness
of, mostprobably,a hamburger.Historyis hysterical;it is constitutedonly ifwe
lookat it, excluded fromit. That is, my motherbefore me-history. History/
Mother/Mymother. "My mother?I'll tell you about my mother. ... ."2

The debate on postmodernismhas by now produced a vast literature.


Roughly,we mightdistinguishthreepositions:one elaborated withreferenceto
the human sciences and literature,byJean-FranCoisLyotardand Umberto Eco,
among others;one concerningthe visualarts,recentlydeveloped in particularin
the U.S.; and one related to the discourseof and on architecture.3It is the latter

1. Roland Barthes,CameraLucida, trans. Richard Howard, New York, Hill and Wang, 1981, p.
65.
2. Thus answers the replicantLeon when asked about his mother; he then kills his questioner.
3. The literatureis by now extensive,ifnot particularlydistinguished.See, forexample, Robert
Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, LearningfromLas Vegas,Cambridge, Massachusetts,

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62 OCTOBER

which,for the most part, constitutesthe theoreticalgroundworkforthispaper,


in whichBlade Runnerwill be discussedas a metaphorof the postmoderncondi-
tion. I wish to analyze, in particular,the representationof narrativespace and
temporalityin Blade Runner.For this I will use two terms,pasticheand schizo-
phrenia,in order to defineand explore the two areas of investigation.The terms
are borrowed and developed fromFredricJameson'sdiscussionof postmodern-
ism. In his essay "Postmodernismand Consumer Society"4 and in the later,
expanded version,"Postmodernism,or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,"5
Jameson suggests that the postmodern condition is characterizedby a schizo-
phrenic temporalityand a spatial pastiche. The notion of schizophreniawhich
Jameson employs is that elaborated byJacques Lacan. According to Jameson's
reading of Lacan, schizophrenia is basically a breakdown of the relationship
between signifiers,linked to the failureof access to the Symbolic.With pastiche
thereis an effacementof keyboundaries and separations,a processof erosion of
distinctions.Pasticheis intendedas an aestheticof quotationspushed to the limit;
it is an incorporationof forms,an imitationof dead stylesdeprived of any
satiricalimpulse. Jameson's suggestionhas proved a viable workingreference
and a guideline in analyzing the deploymentof space and time in the film.
Pasticheand schizophreniawillthusact, in the economyof myargument,as what
Umberto Eco calls umbrellaterms,operational linguisticcovers of vastand even
diverseareas of concern. My discussionof postmodernismand Blade Runnerwill
involvea considerationof questionsof identityand history,of the role of simula-
cra and simulation,and of the relationshipbetween postmodernism,architec-
ture,and postindustrialism.

Pastiche
It is useful to note thatJameson has derived his view of postmodernism
from the field of architecture: "It is in the realm of architecture. . that
modificationsin aesthetic productions are most dramaticallyvisible, and that
theirtheoreticalproblemshave been mostcentrallyraised and articulated;it was
indeed fromarchitecturaldebates that my own conception of postmodernism
began to emerge."6 It is in the architecturallayoutof Blade Runnerthatpastiche
is most dramaticallyvisible and where the connection of postmodernismto
postindustrialism is evident.

MIT Press, 1977; CharlesJencks,The Language ofPostmodern New York, Rizzoli, 1977;
Architecture,
Paolo Portoghesi,Postmodern: nella societapostindustriale,
1'Architettura Milan, Electa, 1982.
4. FredricJameson, "Postmodernismand Consumer Society," in Hal Foster, ed., The Anti-Aes-
thetic,Port Townsend, Bay Press, 1983, pp. 111-125.
5. FredricJameson,"Postmodernism,or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,NewLeftReview,
no. 146 (July-August1984), pp. 53-92.
6. Jameson, "Cultural Logic," p. 54.

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RambleCity:Postmodernism
and Blade Runner 63

.AV? .

Ar"

Blade Runner.1982. Deckardona rooftop.

The filmdoes not take place in a spaceshipor space station,but in a city,


Los Angeles, in the year 2019, a step away fromthe developmentof contempo-
rarysociety.The linkbetweenpostmodernismand late capitalismis highlighted
in the film'srepresentationof postindustrialdecay. The futuredoes not realize
an idealized,aseptictechnologicalorder,but is seen simplyas the developmentof
the presentstateof the cityand of the social order of late capitalism.The cityof
Blade Runneris not the ultramodern,but thepostmoderncity.It is notan orderly
layoutof skyscrapersand ultracomfortable, hypermechanizedinteriors.Rather,
it createsan aestheticof decay,exposingthe dark side of technology,the process
of disintegration.
Next to the high-tech,its waste. It is into garbage that the characters
constantlystep, by garbage thatPrisawaitsJ.F. Sebastian.A desertedneighbor-
hood in decay is where Deckard goes to findthe peace he needs in order to work.
There he findsthe usual gang of metropolitanpunks exploringthe ruins for
unexpected marvels. In an abandoned, deterioratingbuilding,J. F. Sebastian
livessurroundedby nothingbut his mechanicaltoys.It is a buildingof once great
majesty,now an emptyshell leftto disintegrate.The rain completes the am-

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64 OCTOBER

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Blade Runner. 1982. Deckardin pursuitofa replicant.

bience. It fallspersistently,
veilingthe landscape of the city,furtherobscuring
the neobaroque lighting.It is a corrosiverain whichwears thingsaway.
The postindustrialdecay is an effectof the accelerationof the internaltime
of process proper to postindustrialism. The systemworksonly if waste is pro-
duced. The continuousexpulsion of waste is an indexical sign of the well-func-
tioningapparatus: waste representsitsproduction,movement,and development
at increasingspeed. Postindustrialism recycles;thereforeit needs its waste.7A
postmodernpositionexposes such logic,producingan aestheticof recycling.The
artisticformexhibitsthe returnof the waste.Consumerism,waste,and recycling
meet in fashion,the "wearable art" of late capitalism,a sign of postmodernism.
Costumesin Blade Runnerare designedaccordingto thislogic.The "look" of the
replicantsPrisand Zhora and of some of the womenin the backgroundin thebar
and in the streetscenes reinforcesthisaesthetic.Pris,the "basic pleasuremodel,"
is the model of the postindustrialfashion,the heightof exhibitionand recycling.

7. On the historyof waste,see Dominique Laporte, Histoirede la merde,Paris, ChristianBour-


geois, 1978. Laporte traces the historyof waste as a cyclicprocess of repressionand return.

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and Blade Runner
RambleCity:Postmodernism 65

-WAS -MM..

,Ago
mw...

?Aw "M

The postmodernaestheticof Blade Runneris thus the resultof recycling,


fusionof levels, discontinuoussignifiers,explosion of boundaries,and erosion.
The disconnectedtemporalityof the replicantsand the pastichecityare all an
effectof a postmodern,postindustrialcondition: wearing out, waste. There is
even a characterin the filmwho is nothingbut a literalizationof thiscondition.J.
F. Sebastian is twenty-fiveyears old, but his skin is wrinkledand decrepit. His
internalprocess and time are accelerated,and he is wearingout. "Accelerated
decrepitude" is how the replicantPrisdescribeshis condition,notingthathe and
the replicantshave somethingin common. What Prisdoes not sayis thatthe city
suffersfromit as well. The psychopathology ofJ. F. Sebastian,the replicants,and
the city is the psychopathologyof the everydaypostindustrialcondition.The
increased speed of developmentand process produces the diminishingof dis-
tances,of the space in between,of distinction.Time and tempo are reduced to
climax,afterwhichthere is retirement.Things cease to functionand lifeis over
even if it has not ended. The postindustrialcityis a cityin ruins.
In Blade Runner,the visionsof postindustrialdecay are set in an inclusive,
hybridarchitecturaldesign. The cityis called Los Angeles,but it is an L.A. that

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66 OCTOBER

looks verymuch like New York, Hong Kong, or Tokyo. We are not presented
witha real geography,but an imaginaryone: a synthesisof mentalarchitectures,
of topoi.Quoting fromdifferentreal cities,postcards,advertising,movies, the
text makes a point about the cityof postindustrialism.It is a polyvalent,inter-
changeable structure,the product of geographicaldisplacementsand condensa-
tions. Blade Runner's space of narration bears, superimposed, differentand
previous orders of time and space. It incorporatesthem,exhibitingtheirtrans-
formationsand deterioration.It is a place of vastimmigration, fromcountriesof
overpopulation and poverty. While immigrants crowd the city,the indigenous
petitebourgeoisie moves to the suburbs or to the "off-world"as the case maybe.
Abandoned buildings and neighborhoods in decay adjoin highly populated,
crowded old areas, themselvesset next to new, high-techbusinessdistricts.The
film is populated by eclectic crowds of faceless people, Oriental merchants,
punks, Hari Krishnas. Even the language is pastiche: "city speech" is a "mish-
mash ofJapanese,Spanish,German, what have you." The cityis a large market;
an intrigue of underground networkspervades all relations. The explosive
Orient dominates, the Orient of yesterdayincorporatingthe Orient of today.
Overlooking the city is the "Japanese simulacrum," the huge advertisement
whichalternatesa seductiveJapanese face and a Coca Cola sign.In the postindus-
trialcitythe explosion of urbanization,meltingthe futuristic high-techlook into
an interculturalscenario, recreates the thirdworld inside the first.One travels
almostwithoutmoving,forthe Orient occupies the next block. The Los Angeles
of Blade Runneris China(in)town.
The pertinenceand uniqueness of architectureto specificplaces, cultures,
and times has been lost in postmodernism.The metropolisof Blade Runner
quotes not only fromdifferentspatialstructuresbut fromtemporalones as well.
The syntacticrules are broken down in postmodernismand replaced by a para-
taxis,a regulatedaestheticof lists.The connectionsare not made at random,but
ruled by a differentlogic. It is the logic of pastiche,whichallows and promotes
quotationsof a synchronicand diachronicorder. "The resultanthybridbalances
and reconcilesopposed meanings. . . . This inclusivearchitectureabsorbs con-
flictingcodes in an attemptto create (what Robert Venturi calls) 'the difficult
whole'. ... It can include ugliness,decay, banality,austerity.. . . In general
termsit can be describedas radical eclecticismor adhocism. Various parts,styles
or sub-systems are used to create a new synthesis."8In Blade Runnerrecollections
and quotationsfromthe past are subcodes of a new synthesis.9 Roman and Greek
columns provide a retro mise-en-scenefor the city. Signs of classical Oriental

8. Jencks,p. 90.
9. Among otherelements,the cityof Blade Runnerincludesa set called "New York street,"built
in 1929 and used in a numberof HumphreyBogartand JamesCagney movies;and the Ennis-Brown
house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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and Blade Runner
RambleCity:Postmodernism 67

mythologyrecur. Chinese dragonsare revisitedin neon lighting.A strongEgyp-


tian elementpervades the decor. The Tyrell corporationoverlookswhat resem-
ble the Egyptian pyramidsin a full sunset. The interiorof the officeis not
high-tech,but rathera pop Egyptianextravaganza,to whichthe choreographyof
movementand makeup of Zhora adds exoticism. Elevators might have video
screens, but they are made of stone. The walls of Deckard's apartmentare
reminiscentof an ancient Mayan palace. Pastiche,as an aestheticof quotation,
incorporatesdead styles;it attemptsa recollectionof the past,of memory,and of
history.
The resultof thisarchitecturalpasticheis an excess of scenography.Every
relation in the narrativespace produces an exhibitionismrather than an aes-
theticsof the visual. The excess of violence is such an exhibitionism.The iconog-
raphyof death as well is scenographic.The "scene" of death becomes a sort of
"obscenity,"the site of total, transparentvisibility.The fightand death of Pris
are rendered as a performance.Zhora dies breakingthrougha window in slow
motion.The decor, the choreographyof movementand editing,the neobaroque
cinematographyemphasize visual virtuosity.It has been said thatscenographyis
the domain of postmodernarchitecture.Paolo Portoghesiclaims that "Postmo-
dern in architecturecan be generallyread as the re-emergingof the archetypes
and the reintegrationsof the architectualconventionsand thusas the premisefor
the creation of an architectureof communication,an architectureof the visual,
for a culture of the visual."'o

Schizophrenia
Pastiche and the exhibitionismof the visual celebrate the dominance of
representationand the effacementof the referentin the era of postindustrialism.
The postindustrialsocietyis the "societyof the spectacle," livingin the "ecstasy
of communication."Addressingthisaspect of postmodernism, Jean Baudrillard
speaks of a twistin the relationshipbetween the real and its reproduction.The
process of reproducibilityis pushed to the limit.As a result,"the real is not what
can be reproduced,but thatwhichis alwaysalreadyreproduced . . . the hyper-
real . . . whichis entirelyin simulation."" The narrativespace of Blade Runner
participates in this logic: "All of Los Angeles . . . is of the order of hyperreal
and simulation."" There, the machineryof imitations,reproductions,and serial-
ity,in other words, "replicants,"affirmsthe fictionof the real.
The narrative "invention" of the replicantsis almost a literalizationof
Baudrillard's theoryof postmodernismas the age of simulacraand simulation.

10. Portoghesi,p. 11.


11. Jean Baudrillard,Simulations,trans.Paul Foss, Paul Patton,and PhilipBeitchman,New York,
Semiotext(e), 1983, p. 146.
12. Ibid., p. 25.

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68 OCTOBER

Replicantsare the perfectsimulacra-a convergenceof geneticsand linguistics,


the genetic miniaturizationenacting the dimension of simulation.Baudrillard
describes the simulacrumas "an operational double, a metastable,programma-
tic, perfect descriptivemachine which provides all the signs of the real and
short-circuitsall itsvicissitudes."'3It would be difficult
to finda betterdefinition
of the nature and functionsof the replicantsand theircapacityof simulationin
the narrative motivationof Blade Runner. In L.A., year 2019, simulationis
completelydominantas the effectof the existenceand operationsof the repli-
cant/simulacrum."The unreal is no longer that of dream or of fantasyor a
beyond or a within, it is that of hallucinatoryresemblanceof the real withitself."'4
The replicantperformssuch hallucinatoryresemblance."It" looksand acts likea
he or a she. Perfectsimulationis thusitsgoal, and Rachel managesto reach it. To
simulate,in fact,is a more complex act than to imitateor to feign.To simulate
implies actually producing in oneself some of the characteristicsof what one
wantsto simulate.It is a matterof internalizingthe signsor the symptomsto the
point where there is no differencebetween "false" and "true," "real" and
"imaginary." With Rachel the systemhas reached perfection.She is the most
perfectreplicantbecause she does not know whethershe is one or not. To say
that she simulatesher symptoms,her sexuality,her memory,is to say that she
realizes, experiences them.
The fascinationwith the simulacrumhas, of course, generated narratives
before Blade Runner.We findin Der Sandmann,for example, one of the most
influentialfictionaldescriptionsof simulacra. It is this tale, in fact, which in-
spired Freud's reflectionson the uncanny.Der Sandmannconcerns the android
Olympia,who is such a perfect"skinjob" thatshe is mistakenfora real girl,the
daughter of her inventor.The protagonistof the tale, Nathaniel, falls in love
with her, but reality triumphs:the android is unmasked and destroyed. In
Hoffmann'stime,replicationis stilla questionof imitation,forthe real stillbears
a meaning.The replicantsofBlade Runnerare, on the contrary,as the name itself
indicates,serialterms.No originalis thusinvokedas pointof comparison,and no
distinctionbetween real and copy remains.
It is, indeed, in simulationthatthe power of the replicantsresides.Since the
simulacrumis the negationof both originaland copy,it is ultimatelythe celebra-
tion of the false as power and the power of the false.'5 The replicantsturnthis
power against their makers to assert the autonomyof the simulacrum.
But these replicants,"simulacra" of humans, in some ways superior to
them, have a problem: a fragmentedtemporality."Schizophrenic vertigo of

13. Ibid., p. 4.
14. Ibid., p. 142. See also Guy Debord, The Societyof theSpectacle,Detroit, Black and Red Press,
1983.
15. For thisaspect of the theoreticaldiscussionof the simulacrum,see Gilles Deleuze, "Plato and
the Simulacrum," trans. Rosalind Krauss, October,no. 27 (Winter 1983), pp. 45-56.

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Ramble City:Postmodernismand Blade Runner 69

.........:::::I:~: ..........

I
L-:::

"law:
Blade Runner.1982.Deckard witha replicant
fights
amidstJ. F. Sebastian'smechanicaltoys.

these serial signs . . . immanentin theirrepetition--who could say what the


realityis that these signssimulate?"16 The replicantaffirms a new formof tem-
porality, that of schizophrenicvertigo. This is the temporalityof postmodern-
ism's new age of the machine. The industrialmachine was one of production,
the postindustrialmachine,one of reproduction.A major shiftoccurs: the alien-
ation of the subjectis replaced bythe fragmentation of thesubject,itsdispersalin
representation.The "integrity"of the subject is more deeply put into question.
Baudrillarddescribesthe postindustrialage thus: "We are now in a new formof
schizophrenia.No more hysteria,no more projectiveparanoia, but thisstateof
terrorproper to the schizophrenic.. . . The schizophreniccan no longer pro-
duce the limitsof its own being. . . . He is only a pure screen."'7 A replicant.
Blade Runnerpresentsa manifestationof the schizophreniccondition--in

16. Baudrillard,p. 152.


17. Jean Baudrillard, "The Ecstasyof Communication,"trans.JohnJohnston,in The Anti-Aes-
thetic,
p. 132.

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70 OCTOBER

the sense that Lacan gives this term. For Lacan, temporality,past, present,
future,memoryare of a linguisticorder: thatis to say,the experienceof tempor-
alityand its representationare an effectof language. It is the verystructureof
language that allows us to know temporalityas we do and to representit as a
lineardevelopmentfrompast to presentand future.The experienceof historical
continuityis thereforedependent upon language acquisition,upon access to the
realm of speech. It is dependentupon the acceptance of the Name-of-the-Father,
paternal authorityconceived as a linguisticfunction.
Schizophrenia,on the other hand, resultsfroma failureto enter the Sym-
bolic order; it is thusessentiallya breakdownof language, whichcontributesto a
breakdownof the temporalorder. The schizophrenicconditionis characterized
by the inabilityto experience the persistenceof the "I" over time. There is
neitherpast nor futureat the two poles of that whichthus becomes a perpetual
present.Jameson writes,"The schizophrenicdoes not have our experience of
temporalcontinuitybut is condemned to live a perpetualpresentwithwhichthe
various momentsof his or her past have littleconnectionand for whichthereis
no conceivable future on the horizon."'" Replicants are condemned to a life
composed only of a presenttense; theyhave neitherpast nor memory.There is
for them no conceivable future.They are denied a personal identity,since they
cannot name their "I" as an existenceover time. Yet thislife,lived only in the
present, is for the replicantsan extremelyintense experience, since it is not
perceived as part of a larger set of experiences. Replicantsrepresentthemselves
as a candle thatburnsfasterbut brighterand claim to have seen more thingswith
theireyes in that limitedtimethan anybodyelse would even be able to imagine.
This kind of relationshipto the present is typical of schizophrenia.Jameson
notes, in fact,that "as temporal continuitybreaks down, the experience of the
present becomes powerfully,overwhelminglyvivid and 'material.' The world
comes before the schizophrenicwithheightenedintensity."'9
The schizophrenictemporalityof the replicantsis a resistanceto enter the
social order, to functionaccording to its modes.20 As outsidersto the order of
language, replicantshave to be eliminated.Theirs is a dangerous malfunction,
calling for a normalization,an affirmationof the order of language and law.
Their killingconstitutesa state murder. It is called "retirement,"a word which
connotes exclusion fromthe productiveand active social order.
If the replicantsare to survive,the signifiersof theirexistencehave to be
in
put order. Some semblance of a symbolicdimensionhas to be put togetherto
release them fromthe trap of the present.Their assurance of a futurerelies on
the possibilityof acquiring a past. In theirattemptat establishinga temporally

18. Jameson,"Consumer Society," p. 119.


19. Ibid., p. 120.
20. Jamesonstatesthat "schizophreniaemerges fromthe failureof the infantto accede fullyinto
the realm of speech and language" (ibid.,p. 118).

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RambleCity:Postmodernism
and Blade Runner 71

persistentidentity,the replicantssearch for their origins. They want to know


who "conceived" them,and theyinvestigatetheiridentityand the link to their
makers. The itineraryis that of an Oedipal journey. To survivefor a time,the
android has to accept the factof sexual difference,the sexual identitywhichthe
entryinto language requires.
Of all the replicants,onlyone, Rachel, succeeds in makingthejourney. She
assumes a sexual identity,becomes a woman, and loves a man: Deckard, the
blade runner. Rachel accepts the paternal figure and follows the path to a
"normal," adult, female,sexuality:she identifiesher sex by firstacknowledging
the power of the other,the father,a man. But the leader of the replicants,Roy
Batty,refusesthe symboliccastrationwhich is necessaryto enter the symbolic
order; he refuses, that is, to be smaller, less powerful than the father. Roy
commitsthe Oedipal crime. He killshis father;and the Oedipal topos of blind-
ness recurs,reversed.Roy thusseals his (lack of) destiny,denyinghimselfresolu-
tion and salvation.
In thistensionbetweenpre-Oedipal and Oedipal, Imaginaryand Symbolic,
the figureof the motherbecomes a breakingpoint in the text. Replicantscan be
unmasked by a psychologicaltest which reveals their emotional responses as
dissimilarto those of humans.21Blade Runnerbeginswithsuch a testas it is being
administeredto Leon, a replicantwho is tryingto hide his identity.Leon suc-
ceeds up to a certainpoint,but there arises a question whichhe cannot handle.
Asked to name all the good thingsthat come to his mind thinkingabout his
mother,Leon explodes, "My mother,I'll tell you about my mother," and kills
the inquirer.The motheris necessaryto the claimingof a history,to the affirma-
tion of an identityover time. Unmasked by the same test, Rachel goes to her
inquirer,Deckard, to convince him,or herselfrather,thatshe is not a replicant.
Her argumentis a photograph,a photographof a motherand daughter."Look,
thisis me, withmy mother." That photographrepresentsthe trace of an origin
and thusa personal identity,the proofof havingexistedand thereforeof having
the rightto exist.
A theoretical link is established in Blade Runner between photography,
mother,and history.It is a connectionthatwe also findin Barthes'swritingson
photography.In CameraLucida, reflectionson photographyare centeredon the
figureof the motheras she relates to the question of history.Photographyand
the motherare the missinglinkbetween past, present,and future.The termsof
the configurationphotography/mother/history are knottedtogetherin dialec-
tics of totalityand division,presence and absence, continuityand discontinuity.

21. A furtherobservationon schizophreniais made in regard to the test.In the novel fromwhich
Blade Runnerwas adapted (Philip K. Dick, Do AndroidsDreamofEclecticSheep?,New York, Ballantine
Books, 1982), a moralquestionarises fromthe possibilitythathumansmightbe "retired" by mistake.
It is proved, in fact,thata certain "type" of humans respond to the test the same as do replicants.
This typeis the schizophrenic.Thus replicantsand schizophrenicsare "scientifically"proved to be
the same.

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72 OCTOBER

"The name of Photography'snoeme will thereforebe 'that-has-been,'or again


the Intractable. In Latin, this would doubtless be said: interfuit:what I see has
been there, and yet immediatelyseparated; it has been absolutely,irrefutably
present,and yetalreadydeferred."22As a documentof "that-has-been,"photog-
raphy constitutesa document of history,of its deferred existence. A history
conceived as hystericalis establishedonly in an act of exclusion,in a look that
separates subject and object. History is that time when my mother was alive
before me. It is the trace of the dream of unity,of itsimpossibility.
The all-nour-
ishing mother is there,yet as that whichhas been given up. The Imaginaryexists
as a loss.
Photographsare documentsof existencein a historyto be transformedinto
memories, monumentsof the past. Such is the very challenge of history,as
Michel Foucault has pointed out. "History is that which transformsdocuments
into monuments.'23 The document is for Foucault a centralquestion of history;
forBlade Runnerit is the essentialelementforthe establishmentof a temporality,
of perceivingpast and future.Foucault defineshistoryas "one way in whicha
societyrecognizes and develops a mass of documentationwithwhich it is inex-
tricablylinked.'"24 Photographscan be such documentationfor the replicants.
Not only does Rachel exhibit her document-photographof that past moment
withher mother,but she is fascinatedby photographsgenerally.In a second visit
to Deckard, she produces her memories in response to his photographs.She
attemptsto look like the woman in his old photograph,and plays the piano to
recapture a memory,an atmosphere. Leon's preciouslykept picturesserve no
apparent purpose other than the documentationof the replicant'sexistencein
history.Deckard understandsthismotivationwhen he findsthe photos. "I don't
know why replicantswould collect photos. Maybe they were like Rachel, they
needed memories."
The desire of photographyin Blade Runneris essentiallya phenomenologi-
cal seduction: "In photographyI can never deny that 'the thinghas been there.'
There is a superimpositionhere of realityand of the past."25 Photographyis
perceived as the medium in which the signifierand the referentare collapsed
onto each other. Photographsassertthe referent,itsreality,in thattheyassertits
existenceat that(past) momentwhen the person,the thing,was therein frontof
the camera. If a replicantis in a photograph,he or she is thus real.
The functionof photographyin film'stemporal constructionis further
grasped in Barthes'sobservationthat "the photograph'simmobilityis the result
of perverseconfusionbetween two concepts:the Real and the Live. By attesting

22. Barthes,p. 77.


23. Michel Foucault, The Archeology
ofKnowledge,trans.A. M. Sheridan Smith,New York, Pan-
theon, 1982, p. 7.
24. Ibid.
25. Barthes,p. 76.

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RambleCity:Postmodernism
and Blade Runner 73

inducesbeliefthatit
thatthe object has been real, the photographsurreptitiously
is alive. . . . Photography, moreover, began historically as an art of the Person:
of civil status, of what we might call, in all senses of the term, the body's
formality.'"26 Replicants rely on photographyfor its perverse confusion,as it
induces the surreptitiousbelief and hope of being alive.
Investigatingthe other side of the body's formalityand the civil statusof
the replicants,blade runnersalso make use of photography.Once Deckard finds
the photographs/documentsin Leon's apartment,he proceeds by questioning
them. Historyas a process of investigationis involved in a questioningof the
document. "History now organizes the document, divides it up, distributesit,
orders it, arranges it in levels, establishesseries, distinguishesbetween what is
relevant and what is not, discovers elements, defines unities, describes rela-
tions.'"27Foucault's descriptionof the historicalprocessexactlydescribesthe way
in which Deckard interrogatesthe documents/photographsproducing history.
Deckard puts a photographin a video machine to analyze it. The photographis
decomposed and restructuredvisuallythrough the creation of new relations,
shiftingthe directionof the gaze, zooming in and out, selectingand rearranging
elements,creatingclose-upsof what is relevant.The dissectedand reorganized
signifiersof photographyresult in a narrative.At work is the same process of
investigationand detection that we findin Blow-up:the serializationof the still
image, the photograph, produces a new meaning, a story,a filmictext. The
revelationof the secretis an effectof the sequentialization,and thusnarrativiza-
tion,of the stillimage. This is how and whythe murderis discoveredin Blow-up
and the replicantZhora is discoveredin Blade Runner.Searchingthe document/
photograph,Deckard unveils the investigativeand narrativeprocess of history.
Blow-upstops at the level of the signifierof photography;Blade Runnerwantsto
believe in itsreferent:Zhora has-been-there;thereforeshe is (to be captured)real
and alive. Not faroffis Barthes'scomment,"I wentto the photographer'sshow
as to a police investigation."'28

Blade Runner posits questions of identity,identification,and historyin


postmodernism.The text's insistenceon photography,on the eye, is suggestive
of the problematicsof the "I" over time.Photography,"the impossiblescienceof
the unique being," is the suppressedtrace of history,the lost dream of continu-
ity.Photographyis memory.The statusof memoryhas changed. In a postmod-
ern age, memoriesare no longer Proustian madeleines, but photographs.The
past has become a collection of photographic,filmic,or televisualimages. We,

26. Ibid., p. 79.


27. Foucault, p. 6.
28. Barthes,p. 85.

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74 OCTOBER

like the replicants,are put in the positionof reclaiminga historyby means of its
reproduction. Photographyis thus assigned the grand task of reassertingthe
referent,of reappropriatingthe Real and historicalcontinuity.The historical
referentis displaced by a photographic referent.In a world of fragmented
temporalitythe researchof historyfindsits image, itsphotographicsimulacrum,
while historyitselfremains out of reach. Schizophrenia and the logic of the
simulacrumhave had an effecton historicaltime. The meaning of historyis
changed, and changed too is the representationin which history,foreverunat-
tainable, merelyexists.29
The loss of historyenacts a desire for historicity,
an (impossible)returnto
it. Postmodernism,particularlyin art and architecture,proclaimssuch a return
to historyas one of its goals. It is, however,the instanciationof a new formof
historicity.It is an eclectic one, a historicalpastiche. Pastiche is ultimatelya
redemptionof history,whichimpliesthe transformation and reinterpretationin
tension between loss and desire. It retraces history,deconstructingits order,
uniqueness,specificity, and diachrony.Again, as withthe photographicreconsti-
tution,withthe logic of pastiche,a simulacrumof historyis established.
A tensionis expressed in Blade Runnerbetweenthe radical loss of dureeand
the attemptof reappropriation.This very tension, which seeks in the photo-
graphic signifierthe fictionof historyand which rewriteshistoryby means of
architecturalpastiched recycling,underliesas well the psychoanalyticitinerary.
An itinerarysuspended between schizophrenia,a fragmentedtemporality,and
the acceptance of the Name-of-the-Father, standingfortemporalcontinuityand
access to the order of signifiers.

29. The debate on questions of memoryand historyin postmodernismis well representedin the
special issue on "Modernityand Post-Modernity"of New GermanCritique,no. 33 (Fall 1984).

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