Monstrous masculine in Dead Space

I have some more notes on Dead Space.


Ability, agency and the monstrous in Dead Space. Gendered monstrosity in DS 3.

The ‘bulk abduction’ trope in science fiction.

Brother Moons in the Dead Space series, aka “Oh dear, no, that is not an egg”.

Dead Space lore and ‘masculine’ primal scene?

I spoke about this during my presentation last week. It is quite long, so I have posted it under ‘comments’.

One Response to “Monstrous masculine in Dead Space”

  1. playhouse Says:

    The Deus Ex paper will finish with a discussion section that focuses on embodiment. There’s a drafted Dead Space paper here at the blog, but the discussion section will change to focus on the triangle of agency, masculinity and ability in Dead Space. The DS series raises questions about the monstrous masculine in science fiction and horror.

    Throughout the DS series the Necromorphs are linked to an obsessive drive to ‘make us whole’ or take part in some kind of collective ascension. This drive is framed as religious in DS 1 and 2, and revealed as something else in DS 3.

    In DS3, the mystery of the markers is explained. Markers are planted to call ‘Brother Moons’ to flesh-rich feeding grounds. Brother Moons are very large, floating spheres.

    In DS3 Isaac solves a puzzle in a lab. The puzzle involves the re-assemblage of an alien body (nicknamed Rosetta). It triggers a vision. In his vision of a distant past he sees a Brother Moon feeding. We are shown a massive, alien ovoid that vacuums up bodies in bulk, from a great height.

    Here is a clip of the vision.

    Don’t watch it if you have not finished DS3 as it is full of spoilers.

    The relevant section runs from about 3:30 to about 5 mins and then it leads into some scenes of melodrama and heartache. There are notes about melodrama in DS3 in an earlier post. The clip has captions.

    The bulk abduction of bodies imagery in DS3 will look familiar if you have seen the film Skyline (2010). There’s also a resemblance to bits of War of the Worlds (2005 version) which features alien ovoids that collect, store and then use bodies indiscriminately.

    The alien abductions in DS3, Skyline and WotW (2005) seem different from other visions of alien abduction. Previously, you’d be taken alone, tested or experimented on alone, and then returned home only to suffer further isolation because nobody believes you (except members of alien abduction support groups). Most of the abductions in the X Files, for instance, follow this pattern. Being singled out, and the links between being identifiable and being paranoid, these are part of the nightmare.

    But in the more recent bulk abduction fantasies, it is the irrelevance of your distinctiveness that becomes the problem. This connects to issues of ability/disability and agency, because it connects the removal of ability with the removal of your distinctiveness (the abductor does not care about your capacities relative to others).

    Perhaps between the isolation trope and the bulk abduction trope, there is an intermediate step – as in those fantasies where bodies are taken selectively or stored separately, yet are doomed to some kind of bulk or mass process. Examples could include The Matrix, Mass Effect 2 (I’m only halfway through so the collectors have just introduced themselves), or The Borg (thanks to DB for The Borg suggestion).

    So, in earlier abduction fantasies (70’s – 90’s) you are alone and nobody believes you, and so you are isolated during, and after. Whereas in the new version, bodies are taken in bulk and the nightmare is that your distinctness is moot.

    Thinking about abduction tropes, gender, agency and ability/disability in Dead Space – things get strange. For one thing, the ovoids in DS are masculine, and monstrous. It is not difficult to find essays about the monstrous feminine in screen studies literature on science fiction and horror. For example, there are well known essays work that explores abject fertility and the female monstrous in Alien and Aliens, drawing on psychoanalytic theory from Kristeva, Lacan and Freud. See Creed’s Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine, in Kuhn’s Alien Zone, 1990, Verso, and C. Constable’s Becoming the Monster’s Mother: Morphologies of Identity in the Alien Series, in Kuhn’s Alien Zone II, Verso, 1999.

    So you can talk about carnivorous wombs, homicidal reproduction and the monstrous female. There is literature on the monstrous masculine, but I have not found any that focuses on particular body parts. I will keep looking.

    The other psychoanalytic reference would be to the primal scene – Freud’s work on the nightmare/fantasy of witnessing your own conception (Creed’s essay on Alien uses these theories), but in screen studies literature that usually seems to be discussed in terms of the mother’s body (see also work on masochism, the screen and the pleasures of maternal reunification, as discussed by Gaylyn Studlar (1985) ‘Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema’).

    What if it is a primal scene that focuses on male aspects of reproduction? While it is not difficult to find literature on the masculine monstrosity, what I can find looks to monstrosity or ‘otherness’ in relation to representations of male subjectivity. Which means that there is no obvious equivalent vocabulary to discuss the monstrous in Dead Space 3, because – as their name suggests – the Brother Moons are male. They are brothers (which ties back to the religious themes running through the series).

    They are not eggs, ova or wombs. They are big, round and male. They are depicted in proximity to sinuous waving tentacles, explosive bursts, and small projectiles. The Brother Moons are central to a process that involves bodies sucked up en masse into space and absorbed, their differences obliterated or irrelevant. It is sort of ejaculation in reverse, towards a speedy and collective obliteration. Maternal reunification is not on offer (following this line perhaps it is about reunification with a paternal agency, so imaginary rather than symbolic, sadistic rather than masochistic). Though I am not really sure where this sort of analysis goes, or what it would offer.

    Regardless of that – the point is that if there is a body part being evoked, it is testicles. That sounds silly. Brother Moons are large, lone, carnivorous testicles. They convert individualized subjects into indistinguishable units. They consume and absorb in bulk. The cut scene indicates that the climax/explosion is not without its female aspects – the ‘convergence event’ (as it is termed in DS) involves the marker glowing and then acting as catalyst. The markers look sort of female – or perhaps female/male at the same time.

    I don’t know if there is any psychoanalytic literature that I could use to make this interpretation of the Brother Moons sound a bit less ridiculous. I’ve checked indexes in books by Freud, Lacan, Kristeva as well as various screen studies books….If it was phallic imagery under discussion, then that would not be a problem, because phallic imagery is all over science fiction (rockets and ray guns) and has entered popular discourse. Not like testicles. So that’s a bit awkward really. It also suggests that psychoanalytic theory (in its various incarnations) and the conventions that have grown up in its wake make it easier to find examples of the monstrous feminine, and more difficult to discuss or even notice the monstrous masculine.

    The monstrous masculine runs alongside an interest in masculinity-as-problem in DS. Isaac is sad, damaged and haunted throughout. One of the final conversations between Isaac and Carver in DS3 touches on these issues as well, when they discuss regret, loss and being ‘a good man’.

    (p 98, Dervin, 1990) “What is interesting, though, is less how films […] implement general axioms than how such flims vary, invert, and exceed anyone’s psychological assumptions and manage to engage audiences’ current political and cultural concerns.”
    D.Dervin Primal Conditions and Conventions: The Genre of Science Fiction. pp 96-102 in A.Kuhn (ed) Alien Zone. London: Verso 1990/2003

    Further references:

    Essays on the monstrous masculine/masculine monstrous, masculine aspects of primal scene. Sobchack’s description of Woody Allen as anxious sperm (in Screening Space) and her essay on ‘The Virginity of Astronauts’ (in Kuhn, ed. 1990). Cornea’s chapters on masculine and feminine subjects in science fiction (Cornea, chapters 4 and 4, 2007). Science fiction and ‘primal scene’ essays.

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