Azam Dashti Khavidaki, Shahid Beheshti University
This paper embarks on an interdisciplinary study of the novel A Scanner Darkly and cyberspace to explain the human tendency for the realm of dream and imagination. It draws upon Ernest Becker’s death terror theory and discusses human’s basic fear of death and his seeking and clinging to various means to overcome it. One of the human’s mechanisms for self-defense to get over the reality of death is plunging into the realm of imagination and that of infinite fantasy; cyberspace is a systematic form of day dreaming and fantasy. The article shows how characters in the death-stricken world of A Scanner Darkly marred by the presence of computers, scramble suits and scanners manifest a strong tendency for the realm of fantasy and active daydreaming; in addition, it explains that this tendency exists to overcome their basic disguised anxiety, i.e. the fear of death. It draws an analogy between characters and Internet users’ behavior in the novel and cyberspace; and discusses how infinite realms of daydreaming and fantasy evoked by virtual reality touch a latent tendency of schizoid characteristics in humans.
Keywords: A Scanner Darkly, Becker, Cyberspace, Death terror, Daydreaming, Infinitude, Schizoid characteristic.
“There is no point identifying the world. Things have to be grasped in their sleep, or in any other circumstance where they are absent from themselves.”
(Baudrillard, 2002, p. 6)
The contemporary world is the age of simulated realities extended to everyday life (Baudrillard, 1988). The online and offline worlds have merged and add to the slippery quality of reality. Hardly can one estimate their impact on a new generation of lifestyle and perception; one can only make concessions that the digital age is unpredictable and still unexplored.
Philip K Dick, the canonical writer of the digital age, is the creator of alternative forms of realities (Kucukalic, 2006, p.1).Dick’s concerns in all his novels revolve around one issue, the question of reality; in his search for “alternative mental life”, he develops schizophrenic characters in his novels and “re-considers the labels and attitudes toward alternative perceptions of reality (Kucukalic, 2006, p.49).
In the novel A Scanner Darkly, he draws the reader’s attention to the role of technology and its effects on the protagonist’s mentality. He envisages a human being whose perception and sense of integrity are shattered by his digital sides, the multitude of faces and of appearances. The altered mentality is the quality that all characters perceive. Characters suffer from anxiety, depression and hallucination; they often lose the sense of time and place, and in the search for improvement in their condition, they manifest active daydreaming. In fact, characters partly intentionally and partly unwittingly, leave the realm of reality and find some sort of abandon and release in the realm of dreams.
Ernest Becker believes that these behavioral tendencies are more or less universal human problems, and that they are part of a massive disguise of humans’ fundamental fear and anxiety (Becker, 1973, p.8). He calls human beings animals with instincts and gods with power of perception and imagination. Sartre ascribes a “useless passion” to man since “he hopelessly always bungles up, so deluded about his true condition”. He continues to say about man that “he wants to be a god with only the equipment of an animal and so he thrives on fantasies” (Becker, 1973, p.59).
Thus, humans with such power and the ability to predict the inevitable death have to find some way out, anxious about this imminent fate, suffering from the overhanging black cloud of death constantly. The realm of dreams is a way out of this reality. Daydreaming is a way out, and nowadays cyberspace has provided systematic grounds for daydreaming and fantasy in a world with the quality of infinitude, free of time, place, gender and aging, and all other offline world limitations, but infinite possibility is dangerous and opens a threshold to low or medium levels of schizoid characteristics.
This anxiety later in life finds manifold manifestations and is the cause of other psychological ills. Humans suppress this sense of insecurity and apparently get over it, otherwise they cannot keep on with normal life; however, the truth keeps lurking vividly behind the scenes. Man, meanwhile, unconsciously employs various means such as accumulating wealth, striving to stand out, seeking a wide net of protections and joining groups to think no more of this insecurity; the realm of dream and imagination is also one of these ways out, and perhaps a related one.
Bob Arctor, the protagonist, is a narcotic agent who has to put on the Scramble suit, an inventive piece of clothing which hides the wearer’s appearance entirely, the color of his hair and eyes, and even his voice; he gets the code name Fred for his new appearance. Other police members also have to use this suit to hide their identity and protect themselves against drug dealers. But this digital suit, apart from other evils, inflicts serious damage to Bob Arctor’s perception of reality and leads him to confuse reality with unreality.
During the course of the novel, Bob Arctor, the protagonist in the scramble suits or digital dresses, manifests a range of schizoid traits. Scramble suits which change the character’s appearance altogether and give him a virtual identity unwittingly affect this mentality. Holo-scanners, computer-like high techs, affect the protagonist’s mentality even further and change the atmosphere of the novel into more of a simulated reality….Access Full Text of the Article