What the *Hezmanah* are you talking about?: Alien Discourses in ‘Farscape.’ – Jes Battis

There is neither a first word nor a last word. The contexts of dialogue are without limit. They extend into the deepest past and the most distant future…at any present moment of the dialogue there are great masses of forgotten meanings, but these will be recalled again…for nothing is absolutely dead: every meaning will someday have its homecoming.
– Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech Genres, 373

“Time wounds all heals.”
– John Crichton, Unrealized Reality (4.11).

This article will focus on language and speech practices within Farscape—how the show’s characters gain subjectivity through (but are also subjected to) various languages, and how their individual and communal speech-acts tend to be structured in opposition to conventional expository and exemplary dialogue within SF genres. By expository I mean the recurring ‘this is how the warp drive works’ speech[1], and by exemplary I mean the tradition of moral exempla that proliferates within SF, and which achieves ethnographic perfection in the moment when a human character patiently separates ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ for an alien character. Contrary to the notion that dialogue operates wholly in the service of situating technology within SF (Jones: 1999), I would contend that the characters on Farscape are, if anything, overinvested in—and overdetermined by—their dialogic relations with each other. And by ‘dialogic,’ I am referring chiefly to Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on intertextuality and heteroglossia, which I will discuss in more detail later. For now, let us simplify dialogism as the idea that “existence, like language, is a shared event” (Holquist 28).

The characters on Farscape speak themselves into being, rearticulate their own identities through speech, and become linked to each other through chains of recursive dialogue; that is, through speech-practices which, according to Luce Irigaray, work to ensure that “linear reading is no longer possible…the retroactive impact of the end of each word, utterance, or sentence upon its beginning must be taken into consideration in order to undo the power of its teleological effect” (Irigaray 80). Everything that they say matters, and it matters because it is fluid and interconnected—all of their dialogue has a continuity, in that a past speech-act (for example, something that Chiana said in season 1[2]) can return as a narrative rupture, a determining echo, yet that ‘continuity’ is not rigid because language remains an adaptive tool within the show: it allows these characters to escape from life-threatening situations, just as it catapults them into those situations. Whereas most serial narratives have ‘story arcs’—episodes linked by a common narrative thread, often occurring near the end of a season—Farscape encodes language as a kind of always-present and living story arc, a language-arc that spectators need to interact with in order to understand the complex motivations of the show’s characters.

I am going to attempt, with this article, to situate Farscape’s various languages, speech-practices, namings, and other addresses/interpellations within both current and traditional discussions of semiotics and linguistics. I say ‘attempt’ because this is a near impossible task, especially given these fields’ resolute indeterminacy. Even isolating something like ‘speech-act theory,’ inaugurated more or less by JL Austin in How To Do Things With Words, sends one careening into (surprisingly vitriolic) debates around Saussurian vs. post-Saussurian linguistics, the relationship between sign, signifier, and signified, between langue, langage, and parole[3], between concept and referent, between performative and constative utterances, and—that maddening question—whether language speaks us or we speak language. That is, whether we can impose contextual limits upon our own speech, or whether speech always exceeds, through its essential iterability, the individual contexts and safeguards that we attempt to place on it.

This is no easy terrain to traverse, and, given the rich and extensive mines of dialogue within Farscape, any substantial discussion would have to be a book in itself. For the sake of brevity, then, I will offer only a surface reading of semiotic and linguistic traditions as they apply to the show, using them as general frameworks through which to discuss the flexibility and ingenuity of the show’s many bizarre, offensive, and wonderful speech acts. Working chronologically would be more or less useless, but, if you need a temporal benchmark, the earliest semiotician (in terms of when the bulk of his work was published) will be Ferdinand Saussure (the creator of semiology), and the most recent will be Judith Butler—specifically her work in Excitable Speech. Along the way, we will cover, in brief: JL Austin, Mikhail Bakhtin, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and Helene Cixous. Since much of linguistics and semiotics criticism remains masculinist in its interests—shooting for the ‘big’ language issues while ignoring the ‘small’ ones, like gender, sexuality, and race—I intend to position the work of Butler, Irigaray, Cixous, and Kristeva as a kind of humane antidote to the more epistemological concerns of traditional male writers.

My goal here is not, as I have stated in earlier discussions, to create a convenient envelope of theoretical validity into which we can ‘stuff’ the show, thereby justifying its status as an object of scholarly debate (i.e., Derrida’s work applies here, which means that the show must be worth watching). And this is no mere lip service or self-conscious gesture on my part, meant to peek my head out of an ivory tower window for a moment in order to wink and say I get what’s going on here, I’m not fooled by the academic machine. I can’t pretend to be writing from outside this machine, and I constantly live this tension (what Spivak might call “riding the hyphen”), the tension of being an outsider/insider, of being rewarded for biological things that I can’t control (being male, being white) and feeling exiled for other things that I can’t control (being queer, hence, politically overdetermined), or that I choose not to control (being openly queer, being a writer). Working with academic theory is supposed to produce these tensions—as well as the most obvious tension between conceptualizing and ‘doing’—and if that tension lets up for even a second, then, as Stuart Hall describes it, “theory has let you off the hook” (Hall 272).

Thus, when I say that I am not ‘merely’ situating Farscape within semiotics and linguistics criticism in order to ensure its scholarly legitimacy, what I mean is that I am trying to maintain two discussions simultaneously: one thread is text-based, treating the show ‘in itself’ (though as an intertextual subject, obviously), and honoring what it does on its own, without any academic intervention; the second thread is more like a series of frames, of potential readings, which, like the violable field of space itself (that is, outer space) within the show, are mutually communicative and interconnected, lacking a stable inside/outside.[4] These scholarly ‘frames’ (deconstruction, semiotics, queer theory, etc.) inform each other, as they inform the show, and as the show informs them. This is not just a happy rhizome—Gilles Deleuze’s organism with a network of infinite points, all connected—but a way of reading that honors the text while acknowledging its contributions to scholarly analysis, and honors the interrogatory and transgressive potential of these academic ‘frames’ while acknowledging that they do not make a text ‘real,’ that shows like Farscape were disruptive and wonderful long before academia found them, and that they continue to exceed the classificatory and organizational readings that we (cultural studies academics) offer.

Many shows, of course, depend upon innovative dialogue. In terms of fantasy/SF television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer became such a critical success primarily due to its quick and brilliant dialogue, along with its capacity to ironically address its own status as a television show (through various episodes which drew attention to the show’s means of production). Farscape is not, therefore, alone in its dialogic character relationships. However, unlike Buffy, which both entices and alienates through its adaptation of extant North-American ‘English’—employing such neologisms as wiggins, insane-o, nouned, and slut-bombFarscape actually incorporates alien languages into its characters’ dialogue, effectively re-rendering English as extraterrestrial speech.

It is John’s extensive pop-culture knowledge that remains a foreign language to his friends on board Moya, bizarre and impenetrable, while John himself begins to pick up words like arn, metra, and microt, adapting his own speech to admit a common language (what is probably a ‘pidgin’[5] language within the Uncharted Territories). When D’Argo or Aeryn try to speak Crichton’s ‘language’—that is, the language of popular culture—they inevitably produce comic results, whereas Crichton has little trouble building up his own alien lexicon.

Whether this is a comment on the adaptability of the human subject, or the indecipherability of North-American English, is a point to be debated. What remains more interesting is that, aside from Aeryn—who begins to casually study English near the end of the third season[6]—nobody seems particularly interested in learning Crichton’s language; Crichton, on the other hand, must understand the meaning of crucial alien words and concepts if he is to survive. Standing on Moya’s bridge-area in the Premiere episode, freshly transplanted into this alien environment and without the aid of translator microbes (they haven’t been injected yet), Crichton cannot understand Zhaan or D’Argo—he hears nothing but disconnected sounds. In that moment, the spectator understands that language will be a very important part of this show, and that Crichton’s ability to negotiate this alien universe will be intimately connected with his ability to master particular forms of linguistic interaction.

But ‘speech-acts’ don’t occur within some hermetically sealed language realm—the speaker’s body communicates, through a gestural language of its own, as much as her words do; in fact, it often transmits a context entirely separate from her words. Bakhtin calls this context “extraverbal” (Bakhtin, Marxism 99). It is the messy component of human linguistic interaction that so annoyed JL Austin, who was looking for “felicitous” speech acts to occur in the right place and time, under the right circumstances (Austin 22).[7] In order for a “performative”—that is, a speech act that ‘does’ something rather than merely describing something—to be felicitous for Austin, the speaker needed to mean what she was saying, to know what she meant, and to speak within the right context. But what happens when we say one thing, and our bodies say another?

Gestural language remains a crucial component of the signification process, and the characters on Farscape communicate as much through their bodies as they do through strict phonation (that is, speech). A character like Chiana often says more through body language, gesture, kinesics—which is the study of gestural codes—than she ever does by speaking out loud. D’Argo’s tongue is a weapon, and a sign of physical superiority, as well as a speech organ. And Rygel speaks, perhaps, too often with his body.

In order to understand these characters’ dialogic relations, we need also to incorporate gestural communication, as well as bodily configuration—how their bodies are deployed in relation to their speech-acts, what spaces (of vulnerability or superiority) they occupy, and how they relate spatially to one another. Space, both within Moya and beyond her—the breathable kind and the fatal kind—remains a crucial determinant and ‘third witness’[8] within Farscape, as it does within all SF narratives. Article Six, on bodily functions and bodily permeability, will discuss the space/body relationship in greater detail; this article will instead focus on the body’s role in language-making, on a show that is, arguably, all about language and all about bodies.

The two most oft-used alien words on the show are curse-words: frell and dren. Frell translates ‘literally’ as ‘fuck,’ although, like fuck, it has a delightfully broad spectrum of connotative meanings.[9] Dren translates as ‘shit,’ and, like its English counterpart, can be used either as a noun (look at that pile of dren) or as an expletive (dren!). Because the characters on Farscape, including Crichton, swear in a language other than English, they are able to get away with a great deal of luridly inventive phrasing that would never normally get past a network censor. This strategy is similar to the one used in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, wherein characters swear exclusively in Mandarin and Cantonese (which I’ve been told is somewhat ‘creatively’ translated). The difference with Farscape is that the English-speaking spectator knows precisely what is being said, but the alien word, frell or dren, creates a rupture in the normal chain of signification, a bit of Derrida’s differánce[10] within the utterance, making it mean ‘what it means,’ but also mean something else simultaneously—that is, making it different, alien, to itself.

One of many examples occurs in the episode Suns and Lovers (2.02), when Aeryn, upon finding a group of lost children in a derelict space station, looks up in surprise and says “frell me dead!”[11] The utterance is made more complicated (could it even be more complicated?), though, by her intonation: she says “frell me dead” in a light, somewhat curious register, as one might say “well I’ll be!” upon witnessing something surprising. Austinwould see this statement as infelicitous, because Aeryn is obviously being sarcastic, rather than literally inviting someone to “frell me dead.” In this sense, she is “abusing” the locutionary or descriptive power of the act, as well as its perlocutionary or agential power, its power to affect a change (Austin13; 99). It neither describes a reality nor produces a consequence—and a perlocution is really just a consequence of an illocutionary speech act—but rather separates itself off from the physical universe, being neither true not false, neither constative (a statement that produces no direct consequence, but which can produce indirect ones) nor performative (a statement that is also an action, thus, also a consequence).

Austin’s oft-cited example of constative/performative is the wedding ceremony, within which the bride’s “I do” becomes a performative that actually creates the reality of the marriage itself: “In saying these words, we are doing something—namely, marrying, rather than reporting something, namely, that we are marrying” (13). If Aeryn were to say, instead, “I now pronounce you frelled dead,” the utterance would be performative (although we can’t be sure to whom she’d be speaking). If, on the other hand, she was relating this event later (perhaps to Crichton) and said “I was frelled dead,” the utterance would be constative—it might produce an indirect consequence, such as John worrying about her, or being angry with her for going out alone, but its ‘value’ would remain narrative and descriptive rather than physically performative.

The fact(s) that Aeryn is being sarcastic, that she is carrying a pulse-rifle, and, of course, that she is a character within a fantasy program, all act as vitiating forces to the constative ‘truth’ of her utterance—what Austin calls “etiolations,” (Austin 22) which are, quite literally, “withering” forces that blast away the value of the speech-act because they represent a disruptive and fallacious context. These forces include most of literature (so we’re frelled there), poetry especially (double-frelled, since much of Farscape’s dialogue exhibits the same linguistic patterns as poetry), and any lack of honest intent on the part of the speaker (Aeryn’s sarcasm, then, makes this a triple-frell-threat, in terms of etiolating forces).[12] Three strikes, and we’re out—which is another Austinian example of the performative at work: that is, the umpire’s call that makes “out!” a physical reality.

But why stop there? We can also use frell to ‘clarify’ Saussure’s thorny notion of the sign, which is the double-sided psychological/physiological event that produces signification among humans. A sign is the combination of a sound, which Saussure calls an “acoustic image,” with a concept, in order to produce a “complex physiological-psychological unit” (Saussure, CGL 8). I never really understood this until Julia Kristeva explained it, succinctly (and with pictures), in her book Language—the Unknown (1989, tr). “The sign,” she says, “is a psychological reality with two sides, the concept and the sound image…which Saussure describes as two sides of the same piece of paper” (Kristeva, LU 14). These two “sides” form the signifier and the signified, which Saussure originally posed (in his Course in General Linguistics) as “acoustic image/concept,” and which were changed by his editors into the much catchier signifier/signified” (Holdcroft 50).

In order to understand frell, then, as a sign (and what a flexible sign it is), we need to divide it into its psychological and physiological components, which will combine within the act of phonation to produce a linguistic reality. The word itself, “frell,” is a combination of phonemes, or units of sound, which here combine to produce a morpheme, or unit of meaning. Fe-rell becomes Frell, which actually means something, as opposed to just the fricative ‘f‘ or the liquid ‘r‘, which don’t mean anything on their own. That sound-unit, the actual word which can either be spoken phonically or written graphically, is the signifier, the psycho-linguistic ‘envelope’ for the word’s concept. And that concept, the image of what frell is, of what it might mean to frell or be frelled, is the signified, the concept that the word references.

This is not to be confused with the physical reality of the concept, which is one of the most common mistakes that first-time readers of Saussure make. The signified is not the matter itself, but rather the concept of that matter, understandably unique for whomever happens to be doing the conceptualizing. The matter itself is the referent (Kristeva 14), which has little bearing on the act of signification itself, and which leads to the common fallacy that linguistics isn’t actually concerned with physical reality. What remains important is that, together, signifier and signified form to create the sign of frell, which can than be used to represent frell within a conversation.

All signs represent something in absentia, in its absence, which means that language itself is built around absence rather than presence, like something swirling around the event horizon of a black hole, always about to fall in. Derrida is thus referring to this absence when he describe the “iterability” of the sign or “mark,” (Derrida, LI 48) its potential to outlive the addresser and addressee, and hence to exist, in a way, outside of time (like something within a singularity, wherein the laws of physics break down, and time/space becomes infinite), never subject to an origin, always “marked, from the beginning or even before the beginning, by iterability, that is, by impurity” (80).

This sense of linguistic impurity, of a word or speech-act never quite doing what we want or need or expect it to do—because no originary template for it exists beyond its own already-ruptured state of flux—suggests a compelling parallel with the doctrines of genetic purity that the Peacekeepers adopt on Farscape. When Aeryn first comes into contact with Crichton and the others, her (then) commanding officer, Captain Bialar Crais, tells her that she has been “irreversibly contaminated” (Premiere 1.01).[13] This is an inversion of Star Trek’s “prime directive”—rather than the threat of an advanced civilization interfering with a pre-spacefaring one, the Peacekeepers are more concerned with the threat of a “primitive” civilization (that is, anyone who isn’t Sebacean) contaminating their own genetic purity. Given that, in Crais’s view, Aeryn is contaminated simply by being near Crichton and the others, we have to assume that this dictate of purity is violated by any kind of contact, social, proximal, spatial, and—most importantly—psychological. Any form of contact with an outsider carries with it the threat of irreversible contamination, but the most insidious kind of contact, for Crais, seems to be any form of emotional sympathy.

This sense of being contaminated by another subject—specifically of being contaminated through psychic or emotional affinity—echoes Judith Butler’s ideas on hate speech and its effects on the subject in her work Excitable Speech. “To be injured by speech,” she says, “is to suffer a loss of context, that is, not to know where you are” (Butler, ES 4). This is a kind of anti-interpellation, a “shattering” that exposes “the volubility of one’s ‘place’ within the community of speakers; one can be ‘put in one’s place’ by such speech, but such a place may be no place” (Ibid). The Peacekeepers have arranged many of their cultural practices in general to avoid this moment of potential shattering, to avoid the contamination by external ideas, by other subjects, for fear that their own subjectivity as a dominant cultural force in the Uncharted Territories will be somehow unmoored by this contact. The contamination that they fear is not, although it seems outwardly so, a genetic one, but is rather a psychic contamination, a sense of iterability, of emotional and ethical flexibility, that will expose their own speech-practices and cultural mores as being ambivalent, marked, impure.

Butler locates this fear of iterability, of subjectival “shattering,” as one of the deepest roots of racial and sexual intolerance. Giving an example of the phobic subject’s own thought process, she says that “‘if I must be in this kind of proximity to a person of color,” along with a broad spectrum of ‘othered’ subjects in relation to the master-subject, the heterosexual white male speaker that both Austin and Saussure always supposed to be the norm within speech-act theory, “‘I will become undone in some radical way.’ We see forms of segregation and phobic forms of organizing social reality that keep the friction of these subjects intact” (Butler, Interview 738).

The Peacekeepers want their language, their context, their speech-patterns, to be the only ones accessible within the galaxy, thereby creating a speech machine that does nothing but approve and validate its own unique ethical (and unethical) contexts, re-rendering them as universal. At the heart of this effort, which is, after all, the effort of the western epistemological tradition in general, is the fear that their own efficacy as cultural subjects will be contaminated—not by the alien-others that the Peacekeepers try so hard to quarantine, but by the ineluctable impurity that has always lain at the bottom of their language and cultural practices, like silt and detritus at the bottom of the ocean.

Aeryn tells Crichton in The Way We Weren’t (2.06) that “most Peacekeepers are bred, and reared, for one purpose: military service. Procreation is…assigned.” Peacekeeper High Command monitors the interpersonal (and physical) relations of its soldiers through a powerful surveillance system—the same system which catches Aeryn on camera, years before she boarded Moya as a prisoner, when she was still a soldier. A discussion of this event will have to wait until Article Five; but, for the purposes of this article, Aeryn’s own speech-practices in that episode are of interest. She never questions what cargo she has been assigned to carry (the cargo is Pilot, which she discovers later), and, when the officer Velorek[14] questions her about this, she replies simply that “I do what I’m ordered to do, but it doesn’t mean I have to be interested.” Peacekeeper Command controls its soldiers, like any military apparatus, by limiting both their knowledge and the parameters of their speech. Aeryn knows only what she needs to know, and asks only what she needs to ask. Her speech-practices are thus, in an Austinian sense, felicitous, because she only ever says what she means, and only ever knows the ‘right’ thing in the ‘right’ context.

Pilot, on the other hand, employs a language that operates on precisely the opposite principles. In fact, he employs two languages—his own native speech, which is untranslatable, and the ‘common’ speech that the translator microbes pick up on, which is severely limiting for him. When Pilot is distressed, he reverts to this original language, which nobody else can understand. “One sentence,” Velorek says, “can carry over a hundred different facts…concepts, emotions—far too complex for our translator microbes” (2.06). Pilot’s language is a mass of colliding contexts, an Austinian nightmare, wherein one word can mean a hundred different things, and a few simple morphemes might convey a whole book’s worth of information.

In this sense, Pilot’s language is a material representation of the fundamental iterability that Derrida finds within all speech-acts. That is, the original “contamination,” the impurity, the lack of originary meaning, which “leaves us no choice but to mean (to say) something that is (already, always, also) other than what we mean (to say), to say something other than what we say and would have wanted to say, to understand something other” (Derrida, LI 62). Pilot, because his language is constructed around iterability (rather than in illusory opposition to it), actually means to mean something different with every utterance, to say ‘what he says’ but also something always beyond that. Whereas Aeryn’s language is a closed context which, nevertheless, remains contaminated by such iterations as her memories, her own gestural communication, her relationships, and countless other things, Pilot’s language is an exercise in iterability from the start, and thus completely indecipherable to the Peacekeepers.

We now have two ‘official’ models for linguistic communication within Farscape. There is Aeryn’s model: say only what you mean, know only what you’re meant to know, and suppress any extraverbal context so that your utterance remains felicitous. Then there is Pilot’s model: communicate in two languages at once, one of which is context-controlled and limited, the other over-invested with context, beyond framing, impure in every mark, and nearly infinite in its possibilities for simultaneous signification. Let us add to this two more competing models, as demonstrated by the characters Chiana and Stark., who rarely say what they mean, but often mean something above and beyond what they say; that meaning lingers, ghost-like, visible through sometimes-hysterical gestures and psychologically fractured histories, along with the ideological codes—’crazy’ and ‘woman’—that inhere within them.

In summary, both these characters operate much closer to Pilot’s model, always communicating an overabundance of information whenever they speak.[15] But Chiana’s extraverbal context is gestural, communicated through her body—and through her subjectivity as a sexualized female character—whereas Stark’s is phonetic, communicated through excessive language that often seems to lose all meaning and become virtually aphasic: a “word salad.” But Stark always means something through his excessive speech, and that liminal meaning tends to be more crucial than the literal one that conceals it. In the same way, Chiana always communicates something vital through her gestural representation, although that information often gets read simply as erotics, rather than as a unique fusion of body language and phonation.

When Chiana first appears on board Moya, as a prisoner of the Nebarri, she begs Crichton for “amnesty.” Her captor, Sallis, then activates a sort of mental-torture device that subdues Chiana, sending her into convulsions and effectively cutting off her speech. When Crichton protests that “she was just talking to me,” Salis asks him coldly: “are you now the arbiter of our justice system as well?” (Durka Returns 1.15). Clearly, Chiana is not “just talking” in Sallis’s view, because her speech patterns, her propensity for saying what she likes, are the reason why she has been imprisoned in the first place. There can be no “just talking” for Chiana, just as women’s speech has historically been a threat to various patriarchal ideologies, which has necessitated its strict surveillance and containment—often through instruments similar to the Nebarri torture device, such as the gags and other silencing devices common in the Victorian era. Chiana expresses, through speech, not only her dissatisfaction with Nebarri political policies, but her own desires as a physical being, which are actually a great deal more threatening to the physically repressed Nebarri.

More than any other character, Chiana comes to be signified by what other people call her, by the hate speech that defines and limits her own sexuality: tralk. Even Aeryn, who is normally non-judgmental of sexual practices (it’s the emotional practices that scare her), calls Chiana a tralk when she is angry with her. In this sense, tralk becomes a double-voiced instance of hate speech. It comes to represent not merely “slut,” but also “idiot,” “child,” and other addresses that are most common to Chiana. The linkage here of feminine sexuality with imbecility and childishness remains a severely problematic factor within the show, although I do think that Farscape works to ‘un-address’ its own epithets by eventually rendering Chiana as one of its most mature and perceptive characters—a character who risks frequent bodily harm, as well as permanent blindness[16], on multiple occasions in order to save her friends.

Although Chiana always says what she wants to, this is not the same as always meaning what she says, or, for that matter, saying what she means. Like Rygel, she is at first relegated to a selfish outsider position, a childish margin, only to be given a great deal more character development as the show progresses (and perhaps it is fitting, then that Chiana, like all Nebarri, is grey in color). In the episode Nerve (1.19), for instance, Chiana proposes to Crichton that they both infiltrate a Peacekeeper command carrier together, in order to find a “tissue graft” that will help save Aeryn’s life. Everything that Chiana says in this scene is mediated, and extended, by a wealth of extraverbal context, including her gestural communication, her spatial relations to Crichton, and the curious outfit that she is wearing. She enters Moya’s maintenance bay in a flowing grey coat and shawl[17], very Hepburn, and, upon seeing Crichton, says “gotta love a man in uniform.” Crichton’s reply, “gotta love a girl in grey,” is fitting—for Chiana is a “girl in gray,” in that her femininity is constantly a background force, constantly influencing all of her speech, and yet it becomes so visible to the other characters that it is eventually rendered invisible, peripheral, grey.

Chiana speaks in a light, airy register, and seems to dance as she moves, passing between Crichton and his ship in a manner that is, while playful, also disruptive. Crichton sees her, here, as a child in his way; but Chiana’s aim is anything but childish. She is absolutely intent on following Crichton to the command carrier, although her breeziness might suggest the opposite. The casual pleasure with which she says “gotta love a man in uniform” suggests that she enjoys how Crichton looks in his Peacekeeper outfit, but has absolutely no sense of reverence or trepidation about what that uniform is supposed to signify. Just as Crichton pays no heed to her traveling outfit—nor to her grayness—Chiana is not concerned by the authority that his uniform represents. Both appear, in this instance, to be ignoring what is most visually obvious about each other. The difference between them is that Crichton really doesn’t care what Chiana is saying, really isn’t paying her any attention at all, whereas Chiana—as she always does—is carefully cataloguing his every movement and gesture, his every word. She has him fixed in her gaze, and he doesn’t even know it.

When Crichton asks her if she is “volunteering,” Chiana makes no verbal reply, but merely stares at him. Although it may seem here as if Farscape is about to commit a traditional SF misogynistic gesture—that is, setting up a female character to appear sexually powerful and flirtatious, only to have her be physically overpowered by a male character in the next instant—we should pay close attention to Chiana’s gaze. She raises her eyebrows, and just barely smiles; Crichton, who is significantly taller than her, rises to his feet, but her head mimics his motion, following him exactly. “What’s the angle?” he asks, leaning in closer.

Chiana executes a kind of paradoxical movement here. She leans away slightly, but doesn’t retreat—instead, she angles her face upward, so that there is a small but intimate distance between her and Crichton. He replicates her movement, and then she his, until they appear to be sliding against an invisible field, their faces drifting as if through some frictionless environment. Who is in control here? Every time Crichton attempts to make a physically overpowering gesture, Chiana not only matches it, but re-translates it into a subtle erotic movement—and physical eroticism remains her sphere, not Crichton’s. She is fluent in intimate body language, whereas Crichton tends more often to be on the receiving end of sexual contact, clumsy and generally unprepared. Just as Crichton, by leaning in, attempts to subsume Chiana’s sexual agency with an overpowering physical one, so does Chiana reverse that maneuver, continually reinscribing power as erotics, erotics as power, until the two blur and become unrecognizable from each other.

When she offers him a “Peacekeeper ident-chip, maximum security clearance,” her smile is not ironic, but visibly and obviously pleased. As Chiana dangles the chip in front of him, she is also saying I got this for you; I did something that you couldn’t. The authoritative power of the chip—the power that Crichton needs in order to get past the Peacekeepers’ security checkpoint—is conflated now with Chiana’s femininity, her resourcefulness, her perceptiveness and willingness to act. Thus, the technological sign here, which is almost always a masculine sign within SF, mingles and becomes inseparable from a sexualized female body.

Crichton takes the chip, but appears troubled. Not only has he lost some of his (illusory) power—although nobody else is around to see it—he also appears to have misjudged Chiana. In an effort to reassert some sense of ‘normalcy,’ Crichton grabs Chiana, although not in an overtly threatening way[18], and says “then help…if you’re gonna help.” His implication is as strong as Chiana’s was a moment ago: are you coming to help, or coming to play? But Chiana just looks at him, and, ultimately, he is the one forced to break eye contact. Her look—not angry, not petulant, but more irritated, as if to say can we just get past this prejudice of yours, since there are more important things to do?—is enough to convince John of her intentions.

In The Peacekeeper Wars, when Crichton has “writer’s block” and can’t figure out a particularly thorny wormhole equation, Chiana suggests, simply: “sex” (PKW E2). “That works for you,” D’Argo clarifies; but her rebuttal—”it works for everyone—” is a pretty compelling one. Most of the time, Chiana can’t fathom why everyone around her isn’t having sex all of the time, since this would be the scenario that generated a maximum pleasure principle. When she first says “sex,” and Crichton playfully asks “with you, or with him?” (meaning D’Argo), Chiana merely shrugs: “either.” Bisexuality holds no quandary for her, nor does the thought of Crichton having sex with D’Argo, whom she happens to be in love with. In this sense, she is a lot like Aeryn, who is willing to “recreate” with Crichton, but doesn’t want to establish an emotional relationship with him. Unlike Aeryn, however, she is capable of expressing both sexual desire and physical intimacy, without trying to control or narrowly contextualize either. She talks about sex in the same way that Aeryn talks about pulse-rifles, or John talks about human pop-culture: not because she is obsessed with sex, but because it seems eminently normal and rational to her, which is precisely the ideology that made her a threat to the Nebarri in the first place.

Chiana’s speech-acts often appear as ruptures, but only because their content—infused with her own hyper-feminine presence—is generally at odds with the transparent ideological codes that govern speech within a patriarchal register. When Chiana talks about sex, it “sounds” odd, because women are not supposed to talk about sex in general. When she is physically intimate or sexually playful, it translates as being “forceful,” because women are not supposed to exhibit control of their own biological desires. It is a lot easier, then, to call Chiana a tralk[19]than to admit that she is actually a powerfully disruptive force to the masculine constraints that make narrative possible, that make discourse possible.

In this sense, she aids what Irigaray calls the “sexualization of discourse” (Irigaray 73); that is, she shifts the material of discourse from “neuter”—the masculine disguising itself as the norm—to “feminine.” In so doing, she is able to communicate in Irigaray’s notion of the “feminine syntax,” which involves “nearness, proximity, but in such an extreme form that it would preclude any distinction of identities, any establishment of ownership” (134). In fact, Irigaray states that feminine syntax, although understandably difficult to pin down through masculine language, “could best be deciphered…in the gestural codes of women’s bodies” (Ibid). It remains Irigaray’s project to create a rupture within masculine discourse rather than establishing a place for women’s speech inside of it—to “[jam] the theoretical machinery itself” (78). The strategy for this is primarily self-conscious mimicry, which re-emphasizes the feminine by articulating it through women’s speech, on women’s terms. Not to be subjected to a version of femininity by masculine discourse, but “to assume the feminine role deliberately” (76).

Helene Cixous also supports the agency of feminine gestural communication, insisting that, when a woman (and she is self-conscious about collapsing ‘woman’ into an intelligible term, whereas Irigaray seems less so) speaks, “it’s with her body that she vitally supports the ‘logic’ of her speech…she signifies it with her body” (Cixous, Medusa 1457-58). This is not to suggest that men communicate through some laser of intellection, whereas women must communicate materially, through their bodies, through Kristeva’s “primordial act of signification” (Kristeva, LU 304). Cixous is instead suggesting that women’s speech is a powerful unity of phonetic and gestural context, whereas men’s speech denies this physical interdependence because it needs to shore up the individualizing power of masculine linear communication. This emphasis on linearity, on the necessity of one concept to follow the other—without being unduly contaminated by extraverbal context—remains a criticism of Saussure’s work. It is in direct opposition to Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia, which “insists on difference and simultaneity, rather than symmetry” (Holquist 47).

Cixous calls women’s speech, and women’s writing, the “antilogos weapon” (Cixous 1457). Like Irigaray, she sees a feminine rebellion against masculine linguistic constraint—against masculine ‘normative’ discourse—as arising from radical disruptions of that discourse rather than accommodations to it. She urges women, with every speech-act, to “blow up the Law,” and to affect this explosion “right now, in language” (1461). Chiana seems to represent the most explosive potential within the show, although her linguistic “detonations” can sometimes be reinscribed as patriarchal, reconfigured through various filmic techniques and representational codes—specifically her identity as tralk and her physical inferiority to D’Argo, Aeryn, and Crichton. But the same holds true for these acts of physical superiority, which, by virtue of Chiana’s transgressive potential, can be seen self-critically as the attempts of a masculine discourse to reassert itself, rather than as simply the norm.

If I seem to be talking a lot about Chiana, it is because I see her as an often misrecognized character, a subject reduced to certain codes, like tralk, that the show is actually employing self-critically, not transparently. I will talk more specifically about her sexuality in Article Five. For now, let us turn to Stark, who is in some ways her opposite. In Chiana’s case, much of what she says makes perfect ‘sense,’ but nobody is willing to listen. In Stark’s case, very little of what he says is intelligible at all, yet the crew is generally forced to listen—since they can’t get away from him. Stark also, I think, has a unique relationship with Crichton, although I will leave discussion of that until Article Four, which focuses on Crichton’s masculinity.

Stark is a Banik, a “slave race” (The Nerve 1.19) who are utilized in an unknown capacity by the Peacekeepers, probably for labor. That the Banik resemble the Sebaceans, just as humans do, is a point of curiosity never actually taken up by the show (one could wonder why Crais, upon first meeting Crichton, doesn’t simply mistake him for a Banik with his mask off). The Banik must all wear masks (very Andrew Lloyd Webber) in order to signify their servitude, but some of them, like Stark, also have unique psycho-mystical powers. These few are called the Stykera, and they are able to guide dying souls beyond the physical realm.

When Stark first removes his mask in The Hidden Memory (1.20), he reveals a mass of energy where the other half of his face should be. Later, in The Ugly Truth (2.17), Stark admits that “my physical form is only part of my reality.” It’s difficult to tell whether all Baniks can manipulate energy and exceed their own corporeality this way, or if only Stykera can do this. I get the impression that Stark’s mystical powers began more as an interesting narrative trope than as a serious piece of character development, and that the show avoided over-explaining them for fear of wandering into some strange paradoxes. Still, this gesture towards the spiritual is one of the things that separates Farscape from most SF narratives. Its characters, like Zhaan and Stark, have ties to the mystical realm, and their powers are never sufficiently explained within an analytical or technological framework. Everyone simply accepts that they can accomplish feats beyond the power of technology.

Stark appears, at first, to be crazy (hence his name). When Crichton is forced to share a prison cell with him on Scorpius’s Gammak base, Stark begins yelling at him immediately: “My side, your side! My side, your side! You were just in my chair, too, weren’t you?” (The Nerve 1.19). Crichton assumes that the aurora chair—a physiological torture device, designed by Scorpius, which reads people’s minds by brutally extracting their memories—has driven Stark mad, but Stark is, in fact, perfectly sane. Well…not perfectly. Stark is always a little bit insane, which is one of the things that makes his character so interesting. He exhibits the general sense of insanity, of disjuncture, that everyone on board Moya should be feeling all of the time—Stark is simply the only one who expresses it openly. His initial obsession with “my side” and “your side” is also a coded gesture towards the violability of his own body—which is partly made of energy—as well as Crichton’s (always vulnerable) body, which will very soon be penetrated by Scorpius’s aurora chair.

The The Ugly Truth (2.17) is probably the last episode in which Stark is still able to communicate more or less lucidly and analytically. Told from multiple points of view, it represents an interesting cinematic intervention, an attempt to narrativize the properties of a dialogic ‘event’ as it is perceived by a number of speaking witnesses. What results is ‘false testimony,’ a web of differing stories and oppositional perceptions, as well as a series of multiple and overlapping realities. This seems to anticipate the multiple realities that John will encounter in season 4, when he journeys through a wormhole and experiences a number of “unrealized realities.” But for now, these realities occur within dialogue, spreading outward and threatening to warp space/time as they each try to assert themselves as the truth. The effect is one that can only be told through multiple camera angles, speech-acts, stories, and realities—that is, a manifestation of Bakhtin’s heteroglossia.

Like wormholes, heteroglossia is a bit difficult to pin down theoretically, let alone to express in the kind of linear communication that actually militates against its existence. Bakhtin defines it as not necessarily a state or experience, but more like a “situation”—that is, “the situation of a subject surrounded by the myriad responses he or she might make at any particular point, but any one of which must be framed in a specific discourse selected from the teeming thousands available” (Bakhtin, “DIL” 69). To live within heteroglossic tension is to live within a constantly relational context, or a relation of infinite contexts, a state of flux. Unitary language (Saussure’s linearity) is “opposed to the realities of heteroglossia” (DI 270), but those realities (unrealized?) remain. Between every word and its object, every sign and its referent, “there exists an elastic environment of other, alien words about the same object” (Ibid 276).

Alien words. I am, of course, appropriating this, since Bakhtin surely wasn’t referring to extraterrestrial languages. But the comparison is a provocative one. Behind every ‘normative’ word, every context that we attempt to control, there is another word, an alien word, with just as much meaning; a word that deserves to exist just as much, that does exist, not in spite of our imposed context but within it, alongside of it, in simultaneity. Behind all of Crichton’s ‘English’ (North American) words, there are alien words waiting to be said, words that mean something similar but different, words that he must accept if he is to communicate at all. These alien words seem, at first, to be a threat to his human subjectivity, but they are merely traces of the heteroglossic nature of his own language, emanations of his own unrealized realities, his own suppressed contexts and restrained identities. Speaking them ruptures the linear chain of signification (which Bakhtin tells us never existed to begin with), and allows Crichton, like Pilot, to inhabit multiple linguistic streams, to understand that “no living word relates to an object in a singular way” (Ibid), that, as the quote beginning this article suggests, every lost or unrealized context has its own “homecoming,” just as “time heals all wounds” / “time wounds all heals.”

As the multiple narrative threads of The Ugly Truth unfold, spectators are able to view a single dialogic reality, a reality made possible by multiple speech-acts, proceeding as it always does, over different tracts of space/time, over different visual and auditory terrains, seen and heard differently by each speaking-viewer. The first perspective is an outside one—Chiana and Rygel watch, from on board Moya, as Talyn appears to destroy another vessel, a Plokavian ship. They have the least amount of information about what has happened, since they were entirely removed from the event. Throughout the remainder of the episode, the Plokavians interrogate the crew (using an elevated chair-device that suspiciously resembles a gynecological exam, and which places the male characters in a rather interesting position of physical vulnerability).

Everyone’s version of the story is told characteristically, infused by the traits that make each speaker legible to the others. Aeryn’s version is highly logical; Zhaan’s is inflected with compassionate moments that nobody else seems to have remembered; Stark’s is disjointed and patchy; D’Argo’s is aggressive, with everyone seeming to miraculously agree with his judgment; and Crichton’s, supposedly the ‘objective’ testimony, is the least illuminating at all—though it is funny when, within his own retelling, all of the characters duplicate Crichton’s own mistakes, calling the aliens ‘Plokavites’ instead of Plokavians. Crichton even calls them ‘Plokavites’ to their faces, which suggests that he has unswerving confidence in his own perception of the events, even going so far as to edit out what he sees as incorrect pronunciation. We do, after all, most often reconstruct ourselves positively within stories, especially if we’re the ones telling the stories.

At the end of this episode, Stark is accused of destroying the Plokavian vessel himself, and must suffer molecular “dispersal” as punishment. He does, eventually, return (by reassembling his body), but his behavior grows increasingly more erratic throughout the end of the second season, and the beginning of the third. It seems as though, in being physically dispersed, Stark was psychologically dispersed at well. He can re-corporealize his body, but he can’t just as easily mend his fractured psyche, which was always a bit fragile to begin with. His straddling of sanity/madness degrades completely when Zhaan dies, and he is left with all of her responsibilities—safeguarding Moya, tending to the medical and emotional needs of the crew, and offering spiritual guidance. While Zhaan had a gentle touch in most of these regards, Stark is erratic and unstable, getting the crew into danger more often than he saves them from it.

His frequent descents into linguistic ‘nonsense’—mumblings like “decompression, decompression!” (Wait for the Wheel, 3.03), or “no hands, no hands!” (Plan B, 2.21)—do have their own ‘sense,’ their own rhythm, which is almost prelinguistic. They are similar to the ruptures of poetic language, whose use of rhythms and tones is, for Kristeva, an irruption of the “semiotic” into the “symbolic.” Kristeva describes poetic language as that which “compels language to come nearest to the human enigma” (Kristeva, Desire 206). It carries with it the force of unconscious drives, of what Kristeva calls the “semiotic chora”—that is, the relation of bodily drives that makes signification possible in the first place, but which is “anarchic” because it represents the infant’s presymbolic, in utero connection with the mother. I am not going to attempt a psychoanalytic reading of Stark here (with Zhaan as his potential mother), but I do think that his disruptive and disjointed language often mirrors these same drives, the unspoken desires of the other crew members, as well as the double-voiced quality of every speech-act within the show.

In The Peacekeeper Wars, when Stark is called upon to marry Aeryn and Crichton—this being their third attempt at marriage so far—he responds quickly, but is totally ineffectual. Standing in a pool of water with Crichton and a very-pregnant Aeryn, he begins to incant: “Ra’tuga La’kuga La’keena—” when D’Argo interrupts him, insisting “that’s a Sheyang prayer for the dead!” (PKW E2). Aeryn then punches him, although the gesture seems less angry, more exasperated. She is, after all, under a lot of pressure. Now a bit nonplused, Stark begins again with “Sin’klilo Rashnishi Kashninah,” but this isn’t right, either. “That’s a Delvian puberty rite!” Chiana yells. And, once again, Aeryn hits him. This time she appears a bit more on the angry side. The implications of this scene—’improper’ language acts being punished by physical violence, as well as a marriage ceremony that keeps failing until the context is perfectly right (or perfectly wrong, given that there’s a war going on in the background)—are numerous, and probably deserve a lot more attention, but I just want to focus on Stark for the moment. He seems to be nothing but competing contexts now, entirely unmoored, all vying for linguistic control. He can speak, but that speech is now beyond his control, sliding off into different historic and cultural realms, pulling with it fragments of knowledge that probably even Stark doesn’t know he possesses.

It seems possible that Stark’s misfiring language, as well as his psychological violability, could stem from his very positioning as a Banik slave.[20] He has not simply experienced a few years of personal incarceration at the hands of Scorpius—he also experiences daily the reality of his ideological imprisonment, his subjection to the terms that the Peacekeepers have given him, the terms of being a Banik slave. Peacekeeper command, here, is Althusser’s “ideological state apparatus,” which manipulates Stark’s own personhood, his sense of who he is and what he might become, in order to render him as a concrete laboring subject. And all of this in order to “[reproduce] the relations of production…[the] capitalist relations of exploitation” (Althusser, Lenin 146). Stark’s servitude thus becomes what Althusser calls an “obviousness,” similar to that which “make[s] a word ‘name a thing’ or ‘have meaning’…the ‘obviousness’ that you and I are subjects—and that that does not cause any problems—is an ideological effect” (161). The Peacekeepers’ certainty that words must do as they ask them to, must signify contingently, is identical to their certainty that Stark—along with the other races they’ve subjugated—will remain indentured and beneath their control.

According to Althusser, we are all “interpellated” through ideology, that is, we all “live” ideology and speak through it, as it speaks through us. In fact, ideology as a singular principle is empty, false, without history. “It is merely the pale, empty and inverted reflection of real history” (151), and thus merely a reflection of the multiple and concrete ideological realities that structure our daily speech, our very subjectivity. Like Stark, we are spoken into being, interpellated, through ideologies beyond our control, ideologies that seek to limit us, to politically fix us, to culturally paralyze us. “The author and the reader of these lines both live ‘spontaneously’ or ‘naturally’ in ideology” (160), Althusser says, and thus, through the flexibility of space/time, we get to be both inside and outside of it at once, subjected both to and by ideology, which is always speaking us into being. This is a direct challenge to Austin and Saussure’s linear conceptualizations of the speaking-subject, which begins as a subject (the speaking masculine ‘I’) who then utilizes speech in order to produce correct utterances, under proper contexts. Althusser suggests instead that there is no subjectivity prior to interpellation through ideology, that “individuals are always-already subjects” (164) by virtue of being spoken and subjected through ideology.

But if ideology constructs Stark as a subject, above-and-beyond his ‘prior’ self-construction, then Stark is in so many ways being spoken and narrated by the Peacekeepers, having, to paraphrase Trinh T Minh-ha, “the blanks filled in for him on his behalf,” being said (Minh-ha, WNA 80). His growing insanity only exacerbates this situation, transforming him into a character that needs to be translated, spoken for, because he allegedly cannot speak for himself. “Who can I become,” asks Butler, “in such a world where the meanings and limits of the subject are set out in advance for me? By what norms am I constrained as I begin to ask what I may become?” (Butler, Justice 621). But Stark proves, strangely enough, in support of Austin’s work, that he can speak for himself—when the context is right; when he is in control, and most importantly, when he wants to speak. At the end of The Peacekeeper Wars, when Crichton is still in a comatose state, Stark does speak to him.

“Whenever we cross paths,” he says, “I leave the encounter transformed…thanks to you, I have found my own internal peace” (PKW E2). Stark then removes his mask, to reveal, not the familiar mass of energy, but flesh: a mass of scar tissue, sutured by some unknown force, and not cleanly—since this is Farscape—but violently, painfully, bearing witness to the force of its own inscription. Stark is, indeed, transformed. Unlike Zhaan, who becomes pure energy when she dies, Stark is rendered more material, more flesh. Crichton has left his imprint on Stark’s body, an imprint of kindness and love, just as Stark once cradled John in his lap, telling him to rest, to sleep. Now, as Stark gently places his mask—which he no longer needs—beneath John’s hand, we understand that he has gotten loose from ideology, from interpellation; he has unmoored himself, un-fixed the epithet of ‘slave’ and renamed himself. Althusser, of course, suggests that we can never get outside of ideology, that we can never outrun it, because it runs with us, speaks through us (and speaks us). But this is, after all, the UnchartedTerritories. Anything seems possible.


[1] Gwyneth Jones points out that these explanations are often structured as ‘accidents’ within SF narratives, when in fact they are calculated events. “Characters complaining about the new zoning system or about their tiresome family relationships ‘accidentally let slip’ vital clues about the way the future or distant world is run” (Jones 10).

[2] As an example of this: Chiana mentions her brother, Nerri, in passing (in season 1), and he is then revealed in season 2 to be the leader of the Nebarri resistance.

[3] Linguists are still arguing over exactly what Saussure meant by his cryptic terms langue, langage, and parole. He describes langue as “a storehouse filled by members of a given community through their active use of speaking (parole), a grammatical system that has potential existence in each brain, or more specifically in the brains of a group of individuals. For language is not complete in any speaker; it exists perfectly only within a collectivity” (CGL 13). In the simplest sense, then, langage is the “language faculty” in general, langue is the specific language through which speech-acts are interpreted, and parole is the speech-act itself, as well as the context(s) around it.

[4] This echoes Derrida’s point in Limited Inc. that “the limit of the frame or border of the context always entails a clause of nonclosure. The outside penetrates and thus determines the inside” (Derrida, LI 152). Like Althusserian ideology, which also has a permeable inside/outside (or can be seen as nothing but outside), language and outer space within Farscape share a “nonclosure,” a violability where the laws of physics seem to break down (as in a naked singularity).

[5] There are certain words in the show, such as frell, dren, mivonks (a personal favorite of mine, as in, ‘D’Argo was being led around by his mivonks’), fharbot, hezmana (‘hell’), yotz (seemingly a combination of frell and dren) and tralk, which the translator microbes don’t seem to work on. In spite of that fact, various speech communities all seem to know what these words mean, which suggests that they’re a part of some common intergalactic trading language. Alternately, they could be derivations of a language that was relatively far-reaching within the Uncharted Territories such as Sebacean or Scarran. I doubt this, though—when we hear Aeryn speaking in her own language in the episode A Human Reaction (1.16), Sebacean appears to be composed mostly of vowels; and the Scarrans have their own unique curse-words.

[6] Several characters have visible difficulty in understanding English. Aeryn struggles with pronunciation, sounding out crucial words like “worm-hole” (it sounds more like wourrm-huoll when she says it [Unrealized Reality, 4.11]). When Sykozu first meets Crichton (in Crichton Kicks, 4.01), she asks him to recite the English alphabet because her “brain cannot tolerate translator microbes.”

[7] Austin’s many rules for ensuring the ‘felicity’ of performatives—that is, for outlining the proper contexts which help to create truth value—are also, we must remember, rules for producing a specific politico-ethical environment. Miller states that “the ultimate goal of Austin’s work is to secure the conditions whereby law and order may be kept” (Miller 57).

[8] Lévinas uses this term in Totality and Infinity to describe the one who ‘witnesses’ the encounter between Self and Other, although this witnessing in itself produces a paradox—which Paul Célan summarizes in his aphorism: “Nobody bears witness for the witness” (Célan, “Ashglory,” Breathturn 178).

[9]. Variations on this verb (and noun) include: frellnick (which translates roughly as ‘idiot’), frell you (explanatory), got frelled, frelled up, and the imperative frell! Interestingly, although Crichton frequently uses this verb, he often resorts to “screwed” when he is under physical duress. As an example, in the episode Lambs to the Slaughter (3.20), after Scorpius threatens to kill him if he doesn’t cooperate, John replies (only half-jokingly): “Oh grasshopper, you are so screwed.” Grasshopper is Crichton’s nickname for the ‘real’ Scorpius; Harvey is his nickname for Scorpius’s “neural clone,” who lives inside his unconscious.

[10]In Limited Inc, Derrida admits that differánce is not an explanatory term in itself, but only one of several incomplete terms (like trace, impurity, iterability) that point, catachrestically, to a cultural-linguistic phenomenon that has no proper name.

[11] This phrase spawned the name of a popular chat board within Farscape’s fan community, which served as an instrumental forum for discussion when the Save Farscape movement was at its height. The board is still operational, and encompasses multiple conversational threads—everything from continuing strategies for getting the show resurrected, to discussions about the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries.

[12] Austin linked the performative value of the speech-act with its ‘truth value,’ meaning both the honest intent of the speaker and the facticity of the statement itself. When language was, on the contrary, not“used seriously, but [rather] in ways parasitic upon its normal use”—such as through modalizing registers like sarcasm and irony, or within alienating climates like poetry—then the resulting speech acts became “etiolations of language” (Austin 22).

[13]Aeryn reverses this interpellation in The Hidden Memory (1.20), when Crais is trapped in the aurora chair. Leaning close to him, she asks “does this contaminate you, Crais?”

[14] Later in this episode, we discover that Aeryn had a romantic relationship with Velorek—although she ultimately turned him in to the Peacekeeper authorities so that she could regain her old military position as a Prowler Pilot.

[15] Like many other actors on Farscape, both Gigi Edgley and Paul Goddard, who play Chiana and Stark, have conspicuous Australian accents. The cast of the show is primarily Australian, which is yet another thing that makes Farscape unique. Although “imported” shows filmed in Australia are fairly common on American primetime television, Australian shows with Australian actors are not common at all. In some sense, Ben Browder’s (Crichton’s) American accent sounds ‘alien’ in comparison to the Australian accents all around him. This is never more apparent than when Browder attempts to affect the Sebacean ‘pan-British’ accent, which sounds either playfully mimetic and self-conscious, or painfully incorrect, depending upon how you listen to it.

[16]. In the episode Scratch and Sniff (3.13), Chiana is subjected to a biochemical process (meant to drain a particular hormone from her body) which inadvertently imbues her with precognitive powers. She is able, for a few seconds, to “slow down” an event as it happens—realistically, this must mean that she perceives the event happen much faster than normal, which is why it appears to occur, for her, in slow-motion. Either way, it seems like a violation of general relativity, unless we determine that her reactions are simply much faster than those of an ordinary Nebarri (or human). Immediately after one of these “slow-downs,” Chiana loses her eyesight temporarily, and these periods of blindness grow longer each time she ‘uses’ the ability (although it seems, most often, to use her instead).

[17]Chiana generally wears a form-fitting outfit, something like a cross between a leather bodice and body armor, which resembles the standard ‘alien female’ outfit within most SF genres. The character Jool wears quite a similar outfit, which leads us to believe that either A) only Delvians wear loose-fitting clothing, or B) we are meant, very much, to notice these women’s exposed bodies, since that exposure metaphorically suggests a deeper psychological ‘nakedness’ and vulnerability.

[18]Crichton is surprisingly forceful with Chiana, on several different occasions. Given that both Aeryn and D’Argo are physically superior to him, and Zhaan possesses as-yet-undefined psychic powers of defense (she is also trained in some combat techniques), it seems clear that Chiana is the only character who Crichton has a chance of physically overpowering.

[19] John remains, to my knowledge, the only character who doesn’t, at least once, call Chiana a tralk. In fact, John has endearing nicknames for everyone on board Moya: Chiana is pip; Zhaan is blue; D’Argo is bro; Jool is princess; Sykozu is (my favorite) sputnik (also a clear gesture towards the ‘communist threat’ within most American SF traditions, and a nod towards her stereotypical and inevitable betrayal); Rygel is buckwheat or sparky. These names have, as well, an organizing principle behind them, in that John is using his own language to rename the characters, to re-interpellated them within a human context that he understands.

[20] In The Ugly Truth, Crais calls Stark “the Banik slave” upon meeting him again; Stark corrects him by saying “my name is Stark” For Crais, Stark has no subjectivity other than his status as an indentured servant. For Stark, exceeding the limits of this interpellation remains a painful struggle.

[21] One example that I didn’t have the chance to discuss is the act of ‘translation’ that occurs during the title credits from seasons 2-4. Ideographic alien characters first appear on the screen, and then are stylistically translated into the actors’ names. It is a minor representation, but one of many occurring simultaneously during the visually-complex credit sequence, which encodes a great deal of ideological data about the show.


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Author Biography

Jes Battis is a lecturer in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. This article is used with permission by I.B. Tauris, 6 Salem Road, London UK. From the forthcoming book Farscape: Uncharted Territories of Sex and Science Fiction. To be released Fall, 2006. Email: jbattis@fastmail.fm .