Icarus falling, Lazarus rising:
revisiting reflections on The Man Who Fell to Earth
Per ardua ad astra. Through difficulties to the stars
V. Seeing and Being
‘They’re stuck! I’ll never get them off.’
Deleuze’s conceptualization of becoming is based on his commitment to immanence (being in the world) against transcendence (bearing over it) (1987: 284-5). Becoming-molecular (or ‘imperceptible’) is the response to perception by immersion in the flow of life and therefore liberation from a detached, organizing perspective. Becoming-molecular is opposed to being-molar, the contraction of experience into ‘knowledge’. It is Newton’s descent into the social space that first gives him knowledge of the world then binds him to it, his subjectivity increasingly responding to the gravity of shared heterogeneity (just as cultural homogeneity can be an effective oppressive illusion, the hallucination of cultural heterogeneity can encourage us we have more agency than we really do). Newton’s way of seeing the world is fundamentally altered in tune with the fundamentality of the world’s way of seeing Newton.
Newton’s initial alien liminality allows the creation of ‘lines of flight’ where flows of becoming are opened up beyond those flows of light actualized by the human eye. The film’s optical theme is Deleuzian in the sense that Newton falls under the power of a scopic regime that subsumes untrammelled sensation and affect through signifying and explaining the world. The telescope he presents Mary-Lou, with its focus on the outer-molar, is a direct exchange for her gift of a microscope and its attention to the inner-molecular. But both machines bring the world to the organizing brain of perception and not only limit the perceptions of the users, they can be said to actualize the world represented by them. Similarly, Newton’s knowledge of the world is gained via television: its effect, even by his admission, is not to tell him about the pure difference of life but to actualize a virtual contraction from the differential light and sound waves, substantiating him as the being-man.
In the scene where Newton perceives the ghosts of early American pioneer-settlers we
witness a more unconventional contraction of temporal perception borne of Newton’s naïve alien sensitivity to experiential flows. Here the machines of science are not the obvious mediators of Newton’s disorganized perception and the scene therefore provides a counterpoint to those that demonstrate his visually mediated experience. On the other hand, it is also possible that contact with television has indeed mediated this experience of America’s pioneers (in an event the film audience is not made aware of). In which case, the intensity of Newton’s response could be explained by his experiencing a media-induced déjà vu. After all, we all see things that aren’t really there. This is something that confuses my cat Harri whenever she spots something fast-moving and runs to the back of the television set. Perhaps Harri is ahead of the game and we should all question those media ghosts a bit more than we do.
The film’s two x-ray scenes seem to confirm the emerging limitations of Newton’s worldview. In the first, the disillusioned scientist Bryce (Rip Torn) secretly attempts to gain the truth of Newton’s alien nature. His x-ray image reveals the white void of Newton’s interior at the boundaries of which are progressively darker halos. This image is perhaps a useful way to think of Deleuze’s ‘Body without Organs’ (BwO) (1987: 149), at the core of which is a degree zero and over the surfaces of which are deterriorializing and reterriorializing life flows, desirous of freedom but interrupted into contractions of physical constitution. The BwO is ‘not space, nor is it in space’ but rather it takes up space only to the degree that intensities are produced. In a sense the BwO is not there, it is ‘nonstratified’ and ‘unformed’ but a matrix of intensity and life flows (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 153). Since it is not really there, we should talk about being presented with various simulacra of Newton in this scene: first of all, there is the ‘human’ Newton under scopic interrogation; secondly, this construction, according to Bryce, ‘looks like’ the human Newton of the television commercial they are watching; thirdly, there is the x-ray image of Newton which potentially refers to the BwO surrounded by the various layers of Newton-simulacrum. Three Newtons! At least! But the objective of Bryce in imaging Newton is to uncover his ‘real’ identity.
In the second scene, an x-ray flash results in Newton’s biomedical actualization, the literal and figurative confirmation of his being-human. The very apparatus that promises to reveal Newton’s true nature, literally confirms his being-human: the x-ray flash fixes the prosthetic lens to his eyes while the scientists investigating Newton’s claim to be alien use their equipment to reinforce their ‘knowledge’ that he must be human. The machines of science, unlike the Deleuzean machines of assemblage, actualize the world as the virtualization of man’s knowledge. If we read this across the fantasy gender dichotomy on which the film is premised, Newton’s worldview is shaped and dominated by the inherited androcentric reason that gives birth to his subjectivity as an illusion of being-man. Remember though, we all inherit this androcentric sense, so in Deleuzean terms we are all the being-man. Since Newton does not inherit this as a birth-rite, his entry into being (his fall) can be more clearly identified as a process.
So far, then, my reading is Deleuzean in the sense that Newton’s transcendence is illusory for this is the world of the ‘despotic signifier’ (Deleuze 1987: 117) of which becoming must necessarily take a line of flight. However, from here on I problematize the figuration of the film as well as Deleuze’s concept of becoming-woman.
PREVIOUS Part IV The Gravity of Knowledge