A 1980s science fiction script reaffirms human feelings within the networks of virtual sociality.
"There will soon be nothing more than self-communicating zombies, whose lone umbilical relay will be their own feedback image – electronic avatars of dead shadows perpetually retelling their own story.”
- Jean Baudrillard in Telemorphosis
Around 1979 the American filmmaker Robert Kramer and the French schizo-analyst Félix Guattari started working together on a film about two Italian fugitives from the Italian Autonomia Movement, Latitante. The film, which was to star Pier Paolo Pasolini's regular actress Laura Betti, was meant to be a sort of first person collective reflection on the finitude and fragility of the body, “opposing the enormous weight of things-as-they-are, systematically defined by vast power.” A film about the intimacy of resistance. Somewhere along the way the film morphed into a significantly different creature, the science fiction flick A Love of UIQ, a formal shift (sub)consciously informed by the wider political changes taking place off screen: from the grand ideological narratives of the 60s and 70s, to the videodrome mutations that would characterize countercultural developments in the 80s.
Guattari's narrative somehow bridges these two currents, borrowing the resolve from the former and the conceptual tools from the latter. The headless body of workerism with its absence of political organs prefigured some of the most politicized forms of cyberpunk and its anti-authoritarianism. Hamburg's early incarnation of the Chaos Computer Club, underground zines like Hackerfür Moskau or the British Vague, the militant sci-fi of Italy's editorial collective Un' Ambigua Utopia or the galactrotskyist novels of Mack Reynolds, YIPL or the soviet cyber-fantasy flick Kin-dza-dza (1986) and other undetected influences all seep through Guattari's unfilmed script. At the time of the first draft (1980-81), Kramer was to direct the film and Guattari himself wanted it to be produced in Hollywood. He had in fact sent a copy to Michael Philips, the producer of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Taxi Driver, who took it to be “too political” for US audiences. A second draft, still co-written with Kramer, dates back to 1983 while the final version that has just been published in English for the first time was completed by Guattari alone around 1986. Kramer himself will flirt with science-fictional tropes in his 1985 Diesel, his first and last foray into commercial filmmaking, a film that might have been aesthetically influenced by his work with Guattari, but bears none of its narrative characteristics.
A Love of UIQ reverses the spatial coordinates of science fiction from outer to inner space, from the vast stretches of faraway galaxies and star warmongering to the infinitely small interstices of molecular resistance. Guattari's unfilmed script envisions the discovery of a formless intelligence by a fugitive biologist who finds refuge with the help of an American journalist in a hi-tech squat in Frankfurt. There, along with a group of cypher-punks and techno-squatters, connection is established with this post-structural intra-terrestrial, a sort cognitive interference able to disrupt and hijack official signals (enough to seriously worry the President of the Investigation Commission into Hertzian Disturbances) as well as questioning the linear phenomenology of things. It's the infinitesimally small Universe of the Infra-Quark (UIQ). Initially shaped in pixels, via a screen, as sort of hypothetical Max Headroom from an Autonomist pirate radio, UIQ's immanent manifestations can take multiple forms. “It can take whatever form it wants, one minute it's in the sky, the next in the crowd, but it's the same thing. It can appear in a freak weather front, in radio interference, in anything...” It is the very concept of subjective identity that baffles the mysterious entity: “yours, mine, ours. You, me, you, me. You...yes I understand you. But me...Me, I'll never get it. This face on the screen is only for you. I can change it,” observes UIQ during a conversation with the person it will fall in love. It's precisely that quintessential device of narrative cinema, (heterosexual) love, that will debase UIQ's protean and boundless essence to the self-interested pettiness of jealousy and detonate a “new type of cosmic catastrophe.”
Set in the post-industrial immateriality of data among the embryos of the cognitariat, A Love of UIQ belongs to the science-fiction sub-genre of (political) contamination, somewhere between the bio-tech dystopia of Warning Sign (1985) and the semiotic horror of Pontypool (2009). Culturally and aesthetically though, the script is clearly indebted to Muscha's Decoder (1984) and F.J. Ossang's L'affaire des divisions Morituri (1985) and their politically charged atmospheres and allusions, as Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson, who translated the script from French, point out in their insightful introduction. Containing no descriptions of camera movements, set or light design, the script reads remarkably agile to be written by a philosopher known for his ornate, neologistic prose. Significantly, for someone who had reclaimed the militant role of desire and confuted Freudian repression in his Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, A Love of UIQ is haunted by a post-human pessimism tinged with a residual confidence in the possibility of technological innovations. A distinctive touch of Parisian snobbery, if not outright classism, is evinced in the characterization of the only two working class members of the cast—“who left their provincial hometown in search of the American Dream”—to which Guattari accords, in fact, the most thankless roles. That aside, A Love of UIQ still reads as a legitimate and compelling enough attempt to explore “the rise of computerized forms of imagination and decision-making,” as well as “the digitalization of a growing number of material and mental operations” and how difficult it would have been for all this to be reconciled “with the existential territories that mark our finitude and desire to exist.” Read today, when the science fiction prophesy of Kornbluth's and Pohl's Space Merchants seems to have come true in the digital totalitarianism of Silicon Valley, Guattari's script is both outdated and timely. Outdated because the technological utopia of the early hackers generation has been co-opted and monopolized by corporate interests, but also timely because it reaffirms the centrality of human feelings within the networks of virtual sociality. Cyberpunk after all was the culmination of the progressive nearing of two previously distinct realms, the technological and the humanistic.
As fascinating as the script and the idea of a film by Félix Guattari are, one cannot help imagining how it could have actually ended up looking and feeling, especially since, by Guattari's own admission, “certain thematic elements, though essential, can only be crudely sketched” and “taking form will require a particular stylistic visual and spatial treatment that will not become apparent until shooting.” A Love for UIQ's script is in fact traversed by a palpable tension reaching towards a cinema not only able to critically elaborate the present and its realities, but to radically transfigure them.
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