So this is a VERY provisional thing I am writing. Its not much but I hope to build on it in the future. I figure I would share it though to get feedback and maybe someone might find it useful.
The Human Instrumentality Project and Lacanian Psychoanalysis
Throughout Neon Genesis Evangelion SEELE, the antagonists of the show attempt to bring about the Human Instrumentality Project, The destruction of barriers between Human beings and the joining of all in an Immortal Body. Someone watching the show can be forgiven for failing to see why this is desirable. It seems to run counter to typical villain narratives being motivated by Egoism or a misguided idealism typical of this kind of fiction. Counter to standard interpretations, I’d like to propose that the characters and writers of the show understand humans via the lens of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Furthermore I feel that understanding this can not only provide a better understanding of the plot of the show but also a deeper appreciation of the characters and themes of the show.
As a quick summary, all Terrestrial life in Neon Genesis Evangelion has a soul and all souls produce what is called an Absolute terror field or AT-Field for short. For large creatures like Angels and the Evangelions this produces a powerful force field that can only be overcome by the most powerful of weapons or another AT-Field. For normal life forms however an AT-Field is what gives a soul its physical form. If overcome the body will revert to primordial LCL and the soul will be no longer bound to it. An AT field gives humans form but it is also responsible for the separation and alienation between people. If they did not exist no such separation between people would exist and it would be impossible to see any difference between oneself and anyone or anything else.
Jacques Lacan was a French Psychoanalyst,who was best known for reinterpreting Frued through Structuralism/Poststructuralism and the concept of the Mirror Stage in infant development. Both of these concepts are relevant. Structuralism is Intellectual movement that holds all Human activity thoughts and perception are constructed rather than naturally occurring. Everything has a structure and this underlies all of our activity. Lacan says the Human Unconscious is structured like a language. In Structuralist linguistics a Sign is made of a Signifire, the form of a sign and Signified, the meaning. Lacan takes this further, for him there are ONLY Signifiers and no Signifred. The Unconscious is a Chain of Signifiers that only have meaning because they are not other Signifiers.
Shinji: What? It's me. The shape that I show to others,
the symbol representing me.
This (picture of Shinji), and this (doodle of Shinji), and this (Shinji’s written name) all these are the representation
of me. Nothing but the things that make others cognize me.
What am I? This is me? The true me? The false me?
Wishes, desires, etc.are manifestations of these Signifiers in the unconscious (equivalent of Freud's ID). Because there is no Signified, Signifiers only have meaning in not being other Signifiers and thus are always dynamic and changing
Rei: You are still unstable.
Misato: The present you
Asuka: The people around the present you.
Rei: The environment that surrounds the present you.
Misato: None of them doesn't last forever.
Asuka: Your time always flowing.
Rei: You are made of the changing world.
You are the thing that may change according to
your own mind.
This is something of an Issue because if the unconscious is structured like a language and our Signifiers are always shifting what does that say about our wants and desires? How can we have an understanding of ourselves? And how could we have an understanding of others?
Shinji: This is the me within your mind.
Misato: At the same time, it's my mind within you, isn't it?
Lacan’s next concept is the mirror stage, This refers to the point where young children 6-18 months first recognize themselves in the mirror. Children go through Need, demand and desire which corresponds to Lacan’s REAL, IMAGINARY, AND SYMBOLIC.. Prior to this point according to Lacan children have no concept of Self or separation from the world around it. A baby sees its feet and doesn;t really know its HIS feet, on the other end he sees his mother and doesn;t really know she’s another person or something separate from himself, because the baby has no concept of “I”
Shinji: What? The world with nothing. The world with nobody.
Shinji: The world of freedom.
Shinji: The world of freedom that would never be restrained by anybody.
Shinji: Is this Freedom?
Shinji: Yes. The world of freedom.
Rei: As the result, there's nothing.
Shinji: unless I think.
Misato: Yes, unless you think.
Shinji: What's the hell! I don't know what I should do.
Rei: You are uneasy.
Asuka: You don't have your own image.
A baby at this point only has needs and is dependent on his mother for survival. In Eva terms infants are in a state of Instrumentality. This is the mental realm of the REAL, Where their is wholeness and completeness and separation does not exist.
It's not that everything returns to nothingness.
It's nothing but returning everything to the beginning.
Nothing but returning things to the mother which
has long since been lost.
All the minds become one mind, obtaining peace forever.
Nothing but that.
As the child approces the age of the mirror stage it begins to understand that the world around it is separate for it but does not yet know they are others people because it has no concept of self yet. It switches from Needs to Demands. The concept of separation causes anxiety for the baby who wants recognition but can’t articulate it yet
Asuka: I'm in Eva without my intention.
I'm forced to be in this.
This junk won't move!
Oh, no, it's me that is a junk.
Useless am I.
No one needs me.
No one needs the pilot who cannot pilot Eva.
Rei: You are trying to find yourself within others.
Asuka: Shut up!
Anxiety of separation.
Rei: You fear being alone.
Anxiety of separation.
Rei: You fear because you'd be erased together with others.
Anxiety of separation.
Asuka: So piloting.
Action of attachment.
Asuka: Shut up!
Action of attachment.
Asuka: Shut up! Shut up!
I don't wanna be told that by a doll like you!
It is this context that the Mirror Stage happens. The child gets the idea its mother is seperate from itself (Mother is the first other) A child lacks a self concept but it sees other people and can imagine itself as one. The Ego is born when a child looks in the mirror for the first time after observing others and things to itself “This is me?”
Gendou: The things that forms you are your own mind and
the world surrounding yourself.
Ritsuko: Since this is your own world.
Misato: The real figure that you conceive.
That is the reality.
Shinji: This is the world with nothing, the space with nothing,
the world with nothing.
The world with nothing but me.
I am getting less understand myself.
I feel as if I am going to disappear.
My existence is fading away.
Misato: Because there's nobody but you.
Shinji: Nobody but me?
Misato: Because you have no existence but of yourself,
You can't figure out your own shape.
Shinji: My shape?
Misato: Yes. You are getting to know your own shape through
seeing others' shape.
Asuka: Seeing others' wall, you imagin yourself.
Rei: You cannot see yourself unless there are others.
Shinji: Because there are others, I can exist.
If alone, I am always alone at anywhere.
The world is entirely by my ..
Misato: By cognizing the difference between you and others,
you form the image of yourself.
Rei: The very first other person is your mother.
Asuka: Your mother is a different person from you.
Shinji: Yes. I am I. Yet, it's true that others form the shape
of my mind.
Misato: That's right, Ikari Shinji-kun.
Asuka: Too slow to understand.
However what the child sees in the mirror is just an image, accidentally reinforced by well meaning adults who say “yes this is you” we have gone from the REAL to the IMAGINARY. The Ego is a fiction, as said before our unconscious is dynamic but the EGO is stable, ideal stable and whole, Its imagined with no Lack, no void at the pit. It is however Imaginary, a construct. Shinji Pilots the Eva and sees himself as an Eva pilot for recognition, Rei as someone Gendo cares about, Asuka as a prodigy. This is all a ruse, masks made to make up for the loss of the original Oneness, a way to survive in culture and live. But we can NEVER live up to this Ideal. Shinji hates piloting, Rei feels Gendo doesn’t really care about her and Asuka can’t live up to her own hype. This image becomes another other or the the little other (lowercase)
As the Child grows we enter the SYMBOLIC. Oneness loss we develop Language, Interestingly for Lacan Language exists because of lack, you don’t need words for something you have
Kaji: The kanji that we use for the word "she" literally means "a woman far away." No matter how hard we try, women will always be on a distant shore of a great gulf of misunderstanding. The current that separates men and women is broader than the ocean itself.
The Big Other (upper case) is DESIRE, the Ending of lack, a point where everyone is trying to “Merge” with. Its Language itself, Law. Nothing however actually can become one with it.
Misato (to herself):
Having reached its limit as a colony of flawed and separate entities,
Humankind is to be artificially evolved into a perfect single being.
The Instrumentality Project...
An ideal world...
And to achieve this the Committee plans to use not Adam or NERV, but Eva.
Just like Kaji predicted.
SEELE wants a return to the REAL the pre mirror stage, before the EGO, before the lack. All souls in an Immortal body that could care for their needs and those of all of humanity. However Yui, and later Shinji realized that was flawed. The EGO may be a construct but the Unconscious isn’t a stable ground itself. Its impossible to be human, so where does that leave us? If the EGO is an ideal can it not be changed? Well yes and that's the realization Shinji comes to in both The shows ending and EOE
Shinji: I've got it. This is also a world.
The possiblity within me.
The me at the moment is not always the me as I am.
There are many myselves.
Yes. There must be the me who is not the Eva pilot.
Misato: Thinking so, the real world itself is not always bad.
Shinji: The real world might not always be bad.
Yet, I hate myself.
Makoto: It's your mind that conceives that the reality is bad
Shigeru: The mind which confuses the reality with the truth.
Maya: The view angle, the position. If these are slightly different,
the things inside the mind will change a lot.
Ryouji: The truthes are as many as people.
Kensuke: But there's only one truth that you have,
which is formed of the narrowed view of the world,
That's revised information to protect yourself,
the twisted truth.
Touji: Oh, yes. the view of the world that one can
have is quite small.
Hikari: Yes, one measures things only by one's own small
Asuka: One see things with the truth given by others.
Misato: Happy in the sunny day.
Rei: Gloomy in the rainy day.
Asuka: If taught so are you, you always think so.
Ritsuko: Although You may enjoy rainy days.
Fuyutsuki: Through the different way of conceiving, change into
very different thing will the truth, the weak thing.
Ryouji: The truth within a human is such cheap that
people wish to know the more deep truth.
Gendou: It's only that you are not used to be liked by people.
Misato: So, you don't have to look upon other's face.
Shinji: Yet, don't you hate me?
Asuka: You idiot! It's you that is always trying to think so.
Shinji: Yet, I hate myself.
Rei: Those who hate oneselves cannot love or trust others.
Shinji: I am wicked, coward, weak and ..
Misato: If you know yourself, you can be kind to others.
Shinji: I hate myself.
But, I might be able to love myself.
I might be allowed to stay here.
Yes. I am nothing but I.
I am I. I wish to be I.
I wish to stay here as do I.
I can stay here as do I!
Shinji learns the self image he’s always carried could be replaced with something else. This is how we can tell he rejects instrumentality in the show and movie, he’s getting instructions on how to forge a new self. In both the show and Film Shinji says goodbye to his mother, again the Mother is the first, the first other person when a child reaches the mirror stage and forms an ego. The Beast that Shouted “I” in to the heart of the world
In summary Human instrumentality sought to overcome the alienation that being an individual inevitably causes. However the cure SEELE wanted would be a glorified return to infancy. Shinji learns to overcome the otherness his own self image caused him and try to be an adult in society.
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