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February 21, 2014

A Lunch BIT from Is Oedipus Online? by Jerry Aline Flieger

In the widely successful movie Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut who on her first spacewalk is detached from the main ship and drifts away untethered. The classic Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey shows a similarly terrifying scene as HAL 9000, the ship’s computer sabotages a spacewalk resulting in an astronaut floating into deep space. What is it about this trope of the astronaut drifting away, unretrievable that resonates with the audience? The author of Is Oedipus Online?, Jerry Aline Flieger says that this deeply frightening concept, “plugs into an age-old terror of sailing off into a void, and arouses primal human separation anxiety. Once the cord to the Mother Ship is cut, the familiar human axial symmetry of absence followed by presence is lost”.

In the BIT “Is Oedipus Online? Surfing the Psyche” Flieger uses the example of the lonely astronaut to apply Freudian analysis to the modern era. Astronauts are the explorers of outer space, while internauts are those of us who seek to explore the internet. Internauts have no fear of being set adrift into the unknown, but face a similar type fear of irretrievability—the inability of retrieving the collected data that was lost. See below for a brief excerpt:

All twenty-first-century internauts share a new version of the phobia of failed retrieval: the terror of data loss (and, of course, lost digits or members recall an older “oedipal” fear). Like an astronaut who has missed his window, our data risk oblivion if our too-human digits miss a key, deleting the record. While data loss is a real problem, the terror it evokes suggests a deeper fantasy, and one which the virus hoaxers exploit to the fullest by launching rumors of impending data doom. Certainly we never feel so helpless as when our computer interrupts our operations to scold us (“This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down”). Insult added to injury, we are without appeal: we are offered but one choice, to hit the “OK” button consenting to our punishment.

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