Going Further In Delany’s Triton

Continuing my reading of Trouble on Triton, I’m responding to the question:

How is a dark ecology reading different from readings centered on content and form?

The figure at the center of dark ecology is what Timothy Morton calls the Beautiful Soul, a subject position that directs a critical eye toward everything except itself. Morton uses Hegel to identify consumerism as the quintessential attitude of the Beautiful Soul.

Consumerism isn’t merely consuming; it is performing. One may abstain, as did Percy and Mary Shelley, who boycotted sugar in protest of the Slave Trade; one may also dine on steak, as in Trouble on Triton when Bron and the Spike go to a kitsch restaurant built in People’s Capitalist China. Whether abstaining or indulging, the performance of consuming is an expression of the same subject position: the consumerist. This subject position allows one to occupy subject positions that are technically reproducible commodities. ? (p.113) The societies in Trouble on Triton consider these commodities inviolate and their consumption imperative.

The description of Bron’s attitude toward the ego-booster booths exemplifies the consumerist. The ego-booster booths are kiosks at which any one can pay to view a snippet of surveillance video collected on them by the government. Bron doesn’t want to be the type who uses these booths and invents an witticism to describe them:

It was as if (he used to think, and had said a number of times, and had gotten a number of laughs when he said it) the Germans, during Earth’s Second World War, had decided to make Dachau or Auschwitz a paying tourist proposition before the War was over. (p.5)

Bron forswore using the ego-booster booths for years, until he recognized he was becoming the type who considered himself better than those who did. He doesn’t want to identify as any type; his subject position is more sophisticated than that. So, he occasionally uses the ego-booster booths but with an ironic distance. Because consumerism commodifies subject positions, it allows one to occupy contrary positions.

Accusing Bron of hypocrisy overshoots the mark; he is not insincere. While he has the acumen to perceive faults in others, he is unable to critically view himself. On his second date with the Spike, he is on the verge of tears describing his anger toward one of his bosses. He is angry, not only because the beautiful, wholesome life enjoyed by a certain class of people is unavailable to him, but also because no one acknowledges it is unavailable to him. He wants to be understood, but he can’t even understand himself.

In the satellites, every consumerist lifestyle is endorsed. Whether your choice is to raise a loving family or to debauch yourself on BDSM and junk food, no desire is censured by government or community. Bron’s problem is that he doesn’t know what he wants:

Decide what you like and go get it? Well, what about the ones of us who only know what we don’t like? ? (p.104)

Morton describes Beautiful Soul Syndrome as the gaze that positions one outside the world. Bron is able to condemn the societies of the satellites because he sees himself as apart from those societies. His description is accurate (it is an unfair and unjust social system), but his problem is the subject position from which he looks at those societies as if he isn’t part of the injustice.

Evil isn’t in the eye of the beholder. Evil is the eye of the beholder. Evil is the gaze that sees the world as an evil thing over yonder. ? (Morton UCLA)

As Bron concludes his diatribe, the Spike notices a change in his body language. His tone of voice changes, his body shifts, and his shoulders pull back as he admits to causing a mutual acquaintance to lose her job. He denies knowing how or why: I don’t know how any of those things came about. And I don’t want to know. ? (p.104) The changes in tone and body language are significant, because it is in such moments of self-awareness that the Beautiful Soul Syndrome is most active.

He scowled behind his mask. Then people like me should be exterminated! ?

[The Spike’s] masked eyes glittered. That would be a solution; I thought we were discounting those from the start. ?

He kept scowling and was silent. (p.106)

Delany’s choice of words is meaningful: exterminated and solution. The connection with the Nazi’s plan to exterminate the Jews as the Final Solution might not be immediately obvious, but the proximity of these particular words in the context of the novel is provocative. Later, the Spike does consider that very solution in the letter she sends to Bron from Earth, and the satellite societies actually do exterminate the Earthies.

Morton addresses this turn of the Beautiful Soul, as well. He recognizes that eventually the critical eye will find one’s own attitude repulsive and vainly attempt to find a subject position that isn’t merely aesthetic. Merely ? is the Achilles Heel that dooms the attempt to failure. Reproving the Beautiful Soul recapitulates consumerism.

At a certain limit of thinking, then, transcending Beautiful Soul Syndrome means forgiving the Beautiful Soul, recognizing that we are responsible for this Syndrome, whether we think of ourselves that way or not. The only way out of the problem is further in… ?(Morton UCLA)

Before jumping to forgiveness and the way out offered by Trouble on Triton, I want to go further in and extend the dark ecology reading to show that other characters in the novel occupy the same subject position as Bron.

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