Rich Paxson

3.7 What might a new unity look like?: Receiving a new story
In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your lives.
Michele Barrett spoke at the London School of Economics February 26, 2016. Michele is “Professor of Modern Literary and Cultural Theory at Queen Mary University, London and author, with her son Duncan Barrett of ‘Star Trek: the Human Frontier’.” Prof. Barrett’s topic was “To Boldly Go: What Star Trek tells us about the world.”

I attended the event through the magic of an online podcast ( http://bit.ly/1RsO15L ). Prof. Barrett’s initial words are transcribed and shared below because her ideas parallel so closely the practice, explained in great detail in Forgiving Victim, of defining personal identity in reference to ‘those others who we are not’.

“Space travel is the contemporary equivalent of the exploration that underpinned what we now call modern societies. This exploration was, of course, the foundation of the colonial nature of these modern western societies. But the exploration of the globe historically paralleling the scientific revolution in understanding the place of the earth in the solar system was in itself a very important development. And it’s important to emphasize that this was an exploration based on seapower.

“So space travel in Star Trek is an imaginative transposition of the period of early modern nautical exploration. The models, assumptions, techniques, cultures, aesthetics, and principles of sailing have been written into space travel. The naval exploration of the globe was a crucial element in the development of modernity. So the conquest of the seas allowed the western powers to define their superiority through other cultures. The exploration of space similarly allows for a definition of that which is specifically human. Now Stuart Hall expressed that in terms of ‘the rest acting as the constituted outside of the West.’ The West was only able to define itself by means of a contrast with inferiorized others.

“And space, we say, and indeed we argued functions metaphorically as the constitutive outside of the project to define humanity. And that such an enterprise should have trouble as we very clearly see negotiating the dangerous reefs of colonialism is hardly surprising.”