Issue #184: A universe of radical split

We’re revisiting a lot of familiar topics this week, but I’d like to think we are breaking new ground.

This is not the first time I have written about sexuation or the non-relation, and it is unlikely to be the last. Likewise, it is neither the first time I have written about The Bachelor, particularly in recent weeks.

It’s a happy coincidence that both pieces of media I consider for this issue are primarily in conversation with the non-relation, though one with a greater focus on the implications for romantic relationships and the other assessing the relationships between subjects that are not necessarily romantic. These essays are somewhat interconnected, and the first lays a great deal of theoretical groundwork for the next. But before that, another return.

The Paradox Newsletter Audio Supplement is back

You asked for it and you got it, the Paradox Newsletter Audio Supplement has another episode available for your listening pleasure. This week, Jared Pence and Kelly Schairer join me in discussing The Bachelorette season seventeen, “Queering Psychoanalysis” by Jack Halberstam and Marie-Hélène Brousse, and “The Real of Sexual Difference” by Slavoj Žižek. It’s as fun as it sounds.

In the tradition of a graduate seminar, I liked the idea of pairing some kind of principal work with some supplementary readings, so that’s the approach I may take from time to time with these sporadic audio supplements.

One thing that’s pretty amusing about this episode is that I try to explain sexuation and the non-relation with virtually no notes and having prepared nothing in advance. This happens at about twenty-five minutes in. All told, I don’t think I did a terrible job, but the experience reminded me that I can actually read from notes when recording something like this.

Finally, I was making edits down to the last second of shipping the audio supplement, so please forgive any mistakes. If there are truly bizarre errors I made or anything about the audio that makes it unlistenable, please let me know and I can turn around an updated version to make sure I do the discussion justice.

The episode is available via Substack’s podcast hosting service, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

What IS the Fantasy Suite?

To begin contemplating if there is anything of value to be discerned from the structure of The Bachelor television franchise, we should begin with this quotation from Lacan:

This S̶ never deals with anything by way of a partner but by object a inscribed on the other side of the bar. He is unable to attain his sexual partner, who is the Other, except inasmuch as his partner is the cause of his desire. (Seminar XX 80)

Lacan’s “S̶”, the barred subject, refers to this subject’s splitness — but, for our purposes, we can imagine it as any potential contestant on either side of The Bachelor/ette structure. Interrogating this franchise, formerly presided over by Dark Lord Harrison, in the most rigorous manner means narrowing my focus to one particular season: the most recent season seventeen of The Bachelorette, wherein a group of men vie for the attention of a woman named Katie Thurston.

As the season came to a close, Thurston called into question the masculinity of one of her former contestants, calling him “not a man” to the 4.4 million viewers. Despite whatever might be implied, it is clear what she means: she associates the condition of “man-ness” (distinct from, for the purposes of theoretical accuracy, “manliness”) with certain positive qualities that the object of her insult, Greg Grippo, did not possess in her view. Ignoring the empirical question of whether or not the qualities that accompany being aligned under the rubric of “man” are positive or negative, if Grippo were a Lacanian he might reply, “well, I may not be a man, but you are certainly not a woman.” And not because of any qualitative assessment on the part of her interlocutor. This is not, of course, a complimentary sort of claim. No, what would underlie such an accusation would be this: “la femme n'existe pas” (Television 60).

The entirety of Lacan’s formulation "Woman does not exist" is not simply an account of a discursive reality that prohibits such a thing as an ‘ideal woman,’ different from the way in which ‘masculinity’ entails a particular set of positive qualities to which one should aspire — and which Thurston finds Grippo to be lacking. Though this is a true statement in this sense, the conventional expressions of femininity are plagued with explicit contradiction that necessitate sacrifice of the very things which supposedly guarantee womanhood’s cohesion (are you are “girlboss” or a “trad[itional] wife,”? Chaste or sexually liberated? Etc, etc), these tensions all exist at the level of discursive reality. For Lacan, women’s supposed non-existence is not an observation about a quality of the Symbolic order, but rather a commentary on sexuality as such — the necessary corollary to “il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel” (Seminar XVII Fr 134), “there is no sexual relation.”

Zupančič Against the ‘Deconstructionalists’

Alenka Zupančič makes this clear in What Is Sex? (2017), her provocatively titled book which is perhaps the best elaboration of Lacan’s view on “sex.” She outlines both the “historicist/deconstructionalist” view I have elaborated above, which she assigns to Judith Butler (63):

According to this understanding, Masculinity and Femininity are just ideals (ideal genders) that exist nowhere in reality (no person is one hundred percent masculine or feminine); men and women exist only as differently portioned mixtures of these two ideal states (or “principles”—biological or otherwise). To put this in Nietzschean-sounding parlance: There are no Men and Women, only different degrees, different shades of masculinity and femininity. (65)

As well as the Freudian founding for Lacan’s “innovation,”:

Freud’s point includes a much more paradoxical claim: if pure Masculinity and pure Femininity existed (if we were able to say what they are), they—or, rather, their sexuality—would be one and the same (“masculine”). But since they do not exist, there is sexual difference. In other words, sexual difference arises not from there being two sexes or two sexualities (at least in principle), but from the fact that there is no “second sex,” and from an enigmatic indifference of the “sexual thing” (polymorphically perverse autoeroticism) that appears at the point of the “missing sex.” (66)

She goes on to deliver her own variation of the non-relation:

What splits into two is the very nonexistence of the one (that is, of the one which, if it existed, would be the Other). (66)

We can think of these two phrases, Zupančič’s claim regarding the nonexistence of the one that splits into two and Lacan’s claim about the sexual relation, as restatements of the same point. It is not that there is simply no ideal of femininity one can aspire to in the same way as there is a coherent masculine ideal, but rather there is no sex at all. The missing feminine ideal, the “missing sex,” renders nonexistent its supposed counterpart. And certainly nothing in discourse can resolve this issue, as she posits “Subjects are not “constructed” by language; they are produced as a response to its inherent limit, and the unexpected plus appearing at this limit” (82). But, in terms of the proliferation of “masculinity” in the libido of every subject (On Sexuality: Pelican Freud Library, “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” 141), Freud’s implicit critique of capitalism is evident. After all, is there really an opposition between prioritizing one’s career and commensurate wealth or “starting a family”? Both squarely fit within the ur-capitalist imperative of Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

This elaboration is more than outlining “binary oppositions” that exist between two subject positions. This kind of antagonism would simply be complementarity by another name. Zupančič refers to “not the contradiction between ‘opposite’ sexes, but the contradiction inherent to both, ‘barring’ them both from within” (104). She goes on:

When I talk about a “fundamental contradiction” I am not referring to some contradiction buried deep down in the foundation of things, and influencing them from there. Contradiction is “fundamental” in the sense that it is persistent, and repeating—yet always in concrete situations, on the surface of things and in the present. (104)

As well as stating this point even earlier in the text:

difference or contradiction does not so much exist between the two sides or positions. Rather, the two positions are parallel configurations of a difference or contradiction of the signifying order itself, which they logically decline in different ways (each one reproducing the fundamental contradiction in its own way). (72)

So, the question of a sexed being has nothing to do with one’s gender identity or expression nor with the qualities one might assume another has — as is the case in the ideals presented and promoted in The Bachelorette. Rather, what the graphs of sexuation show is the logical declination of the Symbolic order. This notion is reinforced yet again when considering the sorts of jouissance one is dealing with in these graphs, jouissance that “one cannot say anything about … cannot be an object of knowledge, because it is a placeholder for the knowledge which does not exist. This enjoyment appears at the place of the lack in knowledge, it appears because there is nothing to know there” (77).

Reinstituting Paternal Law

At this point it should be clear how the non-relation gives an alternate account of the conditions underlying contemporary understandings of gender. Complementarity between two internally-consistent, coherent sex/gender subjectivities cannot be assumed, and not just because those subjectivities do not exist in the first place. However, clearly, there is a persistent ideological effort to cover over this fact. In the universe of The Bachelor, there are only two genders and the contestants presented are these genders’ supposed ideals. And in Katie Thurston’s season of The Bachelorette, there is a sexual relation through which one seeks another’s subjective complement as Thurston looks for her “person.”

The hoops through which one must jump and the lengths to which one must go in The Bachelorette, all for ‘love,’ is a tacit admission of the claim Žižek makes in “The Real of Sexual Difference” (2002):

[The subject exists in] [a] universe of radical split … in which no a priori Law guarantees the connection or overlapping between the two sides, so that only partial and contingent knots-symptoms (quilting points, points of gravitation) can generate a limited and fragile coordination between the two domains. (59)

What The Bachelorette presents is a world in which complete, non-lacking subjects fight through artificial setbacks one after another, and even endure extreme physical and psychological pain, all because this system the architects of the show, the producers, have set up will produce the outcome of a romantic coupling. But not just any coupling, one motivated by love. The world of The Bachelorette is one where the primordial Father has never been usurped and nothing has been relinquished (Zupančič 74).

Libido, Sublimation, and Structure

This structure matches another point of curiosity for Lacan in his Seminar VII, that of courtly love. His treatment of this courtship system in the seminar ostensibly has less to do with the reinstatement of paternal law and more to do with the question of sublimation. Namely, why does one make art? Bracketing the question fo whether The Bachelorette qualifies for such a designation, we can look to what drives Lacan’s curiosity:

Freud points out that once the artist has carried out an operation on the level of sublimation, he finds himself to be the beneficiary of his operation insofar as it is acclaimed after the fact; it brings in its wake in the form of glory, honor, and even money, those fantasmatic satisfactions that were at the origin of the instinct, with the results that the latter finds itself satisfied by means of sublimation.

That’s all well and good as long as we assume that the already established function of poets exist on the outside. (Seminar VII 144-145)

But this notion of “secondary benefits” is unsatisfactory to Lacan:

What needs to be justified is not simply the secondary benefits that individuals might derive from their works, but the originary possibility of a function like the poetic function in the form of a structure within a social consensus.

Well now, it is precisely that kind of consensus we see born at a certain historical moment around the idea of courtly love. (145)

If courtly love is being likened to art by Lacan and The Bachelorette by me, this may lead to some uncomfortable conclusions. However, one cannot but notice the obvious similarity when Lacan describes the “tribunals devoted to the casuistry of love” that “presupposed perfectly coded points of reference that are by no means vague” (146). It is totally unambiguous, too, that The Bachelorette aligns the strength and fidelity with one’s love with their ability to sustain physical pain while scantly clad (S17E5), amusingly mock other suitors (S17E6), or even forgo masturbation (S17E6). Along the same lines, Lacan explains that “The Lady” in the courtly love context “is never characterized for any of her real, concrete virtues,”:

If she is described as wise, it is not because she embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she represents its function more than she exercises them. On the contrary, she is as arbitrary as possible in the tests she imposes on her servant. (Seminar VII 150)

Again, we see yet another similarity in this most recent The Bachelorette season, though it’s not unique to it in any case, with the ambiguous way Thurston is described. She’s admired for her “qualities,” what she “represents,” how she “carries” herself, and for the “presence [she] brings.” To what any of this refers is anyone’s guess. However, the compliments are warmly received by Thurston and legible as compliments because of the facsimile of paternal law imposed by the production staff. There is a necessary master signifier that emerges, “the right reasons,” yet another piece of ambiguous terminology that serves as the criterion against which everyone’s behavior is judged. The reason The Bachelorette’s structure does not completely transgress viewers’ suspension of disbelief is because this master signifier serves to create “conventional, idealizing themes, which couldn’t have any real concrete equivalent” (Seminar VII 148).

As entertainment, it is immediately apparent how insidiously The Bachelor franchise and this season of The Bachelorette function. However, the shows tacitly concede points to Lacanian psychoanalysis by the imposition of such complex and meaningless artifice. The Bachelorette is a world of signifiers par excellence. If a significant segment of society can be deceived by the show into believing it represents love, that clearly exposes the tremendous effort that must be undertaken to even present the appearance of sexual complementarity among subjects. Likewise, we can see that effort constitutes the imposition of a fantasmatic paternal law that governs the expression of love, as the structure of the show sublimates libido into various not-so-sublime activities of self-torture. In lieu of sexual relation, one accepts a rose.

The End of The End of Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) has long been hailed for its detailed and affective portrayal of an individual psyche. The twenty-six episode anime series dives deeply into the thoughts of protagonist Shinji Ikari, his overabundant internal-monologue dominating the show. The most well-supported interpretation of the show’s final two episodes suggests that they take place entirely within his mind, leaving the corporeal world behind. But beyond a complex character study, there is an implicit question in the weight of Shinji’s subjectivity. Far from the simple existential ‘problem of other minds,’ in Evangelion we are exposed to the absolute, overwhelming, suffocating force of Shinji’s thoughts. We see without censor “his harmful, malignant jouissance” (Seminar VII 187). A necessary question might be, then, is the problem of knowing another subject an issue of some fundamental prohibition or barrier between the two? Or is it, perhaps, that a subject is too overwhelming and imposing when trying to make sense of their unconscious — or their jouissance about which even they do not know.

Hideaki Anno, throughout the years, has suggested a little from column A and a little from column B. And in his final installment into the franchise, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (2021), it is the notion of an intractable barrier between others that he is fixated on. Of course, this has been an evident preoccupation since the 1990s, with one of the science fiction absurdities of the show being the “A.T. Field,” or “Absolute Terror Field.” The A.T. Field is the possession of every living being with a soul, bringing to fantastical corporeality the Sartre’s closing lines in No Exit (1944), “Hell is other people.”

The aspiration of all the franchises’s characters, or at least Shinji and the principal antagonist, his father, Gendo, is to be understood. For Gendo, that means enacting an absurd villainous plan of the “Human Instrumentality Project,” which means the end of individuated subjectivity and would merge human life into a uniform singularity. No A.T. Fields or ties that bind, just an endless, capacious subject that has transformed humanity into an inhuman collective.

Focusing on the Shin Evangelion or Rebuild films that began in 2007 with Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, the series posits several possibilities about what it is that prohibits human connection and produces these A.T. Fields.

Miraculously, despite the incredibly lengthy gestation time from 2007 until this year, the Shin Evangelion or Rebuild series demonstrates tremendous thematic cohesion. Along with the release of the latest, 3.0+1.0, on Amazon, the other three preceding films have also been re-released on Prime Video complete with a new English script and new dub with both returning and new cast members. All of the actors from the original series dub commissioned by ADV return, with Spike Spencer as Shinji, Tiffany Grant as Asuka Langley-Shikinami, and Allison Keith-Shipp as Misato Katsuragi. While Amanda Winn Lee is also back as Rei Ayanami, she is new to the Rebuild series, having been recast with Brina Palencia for previous dubs of 1.0, 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009), and 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012). John Swasey plays Gendo, who took up the role in the Director’s Cut of the TV series and Rebuild dubs. However, Ritsuko Akagi, Mari Illustrious-Makinami, Ryoji Kaji, and Kaworu Nagisa all have new voice actors. Daman Mills, playing Kaworu, is the sixth actor to play Kaworu in English. Dan Kanemitsu also handled the new English language script for the three films (as well as the first-time translation of the fourth). Though he is Studio Khara’s in-house translator, his work on the dub script for the TV series for Netflix (the third ever dub) was widely panned. But, much like James Strachey translated the work of Freud, Kanemitsu’s proximity to Anno makes his work hard to argue with. And, mercifully, the sum-total of the four scripts for Amazon come together very nicely.

While You Are (Not) Alone seems by all accounts to be yet another entry into the grand tradition of anime compilation movies, it is gorgeously animated with quality that holds up remarkably well today. The Rebuild series seems to be influenced in part by Yoshiyuki Tomino’s return to 1985’s Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam with his 2005 A New Translation series that would rewrite Zeta Gundam’s ending with something altogether more optimistic — although this very possibility might have been opened up by Anno’s own work on Evangelion: Death & Rebirth (1997) and The End of Evangelion (1997) which would serve as codas to the original series’ ending.

But if You Are (Not) Alone looks like it might be a compilation, it sets your expectation for newness right away. Like Evangelion in 1995, the open shots focus on water — in 1.0, lapping up against a beach. But 1.0’s water is red rather than blue and combined with the beachfront shot evoke some of the most iconic scenes in The End of Evangelion.

What this opening scene announces is an allusion that is frustrated in the original Evangelion but payed off in Rebuild, Shinji’s appearance is that of the prodigal son. But not before he bathes in the amniotic fluid of LCL to do battle with a competing set of Earth’s inheritors — the monstrous Angels, Adam’s children.

Throughout the Rebuild series as a whole, and beginning with 1.0, Anno shows a renewed reverence to his mechanistic creations whether it is the Wunder in 3.0 and 3.0+1.0 or the Evas themselves in 1.0. This is Anno showcasing his ‘otaku’ bonafides.

As the film draws to a close, it hammers on the theme announced by the title: You Are (Not) Alone. This question of human connection is revisited again and again, and returned to most poignantly in 3.0+1.0. Just as Shinji feels disconnected from others, his fellow pilot Rei confides the same kind of anxiety when she says that piloting the Eva is “my link to everyone.” In reality, though, both of them are deeply connected to others whether they like it or not. In their concluding showdown with the 6th Angel (Ramiel in episode six of the original series), the entirety of Japan have to shut down their electrical power to sustain the high-powered giant sniper rifle that can pierce the 6th Angel’s core. Misato tells Shinji he is receiving “all of Japan’s power and hope,” and as the power grid goes quiet we can see endless observers watching Shinji’s showdown with the Angel. Even more importantly, we can see the stars previously blotted out by the city’s lights. It’s not just others to which Shinji and Rei are connected, the people who they protect, who observe them, who give them power, but also the cosmos. Something bigger than yourself. As the first movie comes to a close, having dispatched the Angel, Rei says, “I don’t know how to act at a time like this.” Shinji says, “You can smile. That would be good,” and extends his charred hand.

With the second film’s subtitle, You Can (Not) Advance, it invites some questions more urgently than the first. Advance where? Beyond what? In retrospect, it seems even more clear that the question of whether one can advance or not is inherently post-human. While we still have characters that are isolated and struggling to connect, played out largely through Asuka’s video game addiction and Shinji’s own vexed gendered embodiment by his role as domestic cook for all the women in his life, the film introduces the concern of advancing beyond humanity. In a sense, Shinji’s abjuring of expected gender roles is connected to this kind of advancement. In his interactions with Kaji, Shinji is repeatedly shown himself in a Sartrean prison cell. Kaji flirts with Shinji and provokes him by asking, “don’t you know that love is genderblind?” and then revisits the hedgehogs’ dilemma, a parable mentioned in 1.0 regarding Shinji, telling him “being a little familiar with pain makes a person more caring.” These incisive moments show clearly how Kaji is Shinji’s foil, someone who can show Shinji a version of himself as he’s seen through the eyes of another. Kaji is not the first, either, Kaworu will be able to do the same. Emphatically, it is almost always men who produce a recognizable vision of Shinji through their gaze. Misato, Rei, and Asuka repeatedly fail to do just that. They can only try to mold Shinji in their own image. This is to say nothing of the status of man, woman, or otherwise in Evangelion as a whole, but rather to assert that the relationships that are primarily at issue here are among men. Evangelion has the qualities of an Oedipal drama through Shinji’s relationship to Rei, a youthful clone of his own mother, but the more important element is the connection between a son and neglectful, even villainous, father.

Given all of that, the film flirts with the idea of moving past humanity as being the best path toward finding subjective human connection. However, the series will cut the legs from this notion in 3.0+1.0. It’s not the essence of humanity, but some other quality not endemic to humans that makes mutual understanding so challenging.

Though the end of 2.0 shows a trailer for what 3.0 is supposed to be, instead Anno upends all expectations and produces in 3.0 a story that is vastly different from all Evangelion work prior and takes place fourteen years after the end of 2.0. With the Rebuild series, Anno set out to make something radically different from the ‘95 TV series. In my view, even up until this point, he succeeded. You Are (Not) Alone and You Can (Not) Advance are works that cohere Evangelion’s previous thematic concerns very effectively. They also draw largely from a more elongated storytelling form, television, and yet don’t feel rushed or condensed. However, they looked more or less the same. By abandoning familiar plot points, introducing new characters and organizations, Anno seemed to be saying, “well… you thought Shin Evangelion was too similar to the TV series, huh?”

You Can (Not) Redo is also different. But, its sparsity and narrative opacity resulted in a painful (nearly) decade-long wait between it and Thrice Upon a Time. In the new, even more bleak future of You Can (Not) Redo, Shinji finds himself forced to don a bomb collar called a DSS Choker, one Misato carries the detonator of. Ritsuko tells Shinji, “it symbolizes our distrust of you, as well as your punishment.” It’s the mark of Shinji’s inability to escape his own past and a harsh reminder of the cost one incurs by naively believing one can undo what’s been done, as it ends Kaworu’s life in place of Shinji’s.

This film also verges into meta-commentary, as Anno himself tries to “redo” the narrative of Evangelion with Shin Evangelion, but can’t. The water is red instead of blue, carrying the mark of The End of Evangelion. Even though all the other characters seem to be ‘blank slates,” Kaworu remembers the events of Evangelion ‘95 and The End. To barrel ahead may have demanded a steep cost, as Kaworu’s head explodes much like the proverbial condition of the Evangelion fandom over the next decade.

Even though Gendo’s screen time is minimal, as usual, we begin to learn more about the connection between he and Shinji. They both have a wish they want to bring to fruition, and in reality, it’s the same wish. Gendo wants to return Yui to life — or, at the very least, be reunited with her through human instrumentality. Shinji wants to revive Rei, the version of her who ostensibly died at the end of 2.0. The futility of both their wishes is that even bringing them to fruition wouldn’t satisfy their desire. The world of 3.0 more than even the previous Evangelion films is:

[a] universe of radical split … in which no a priori Law guarantees the connection or overlapping between the two sides, so that only partial and contingent knots-symptoms (quilting points, points of gravitation) can generate a limited and fragile coordination between the two domains. (“The Real of Sexual Difference,” Žižek 59)

When Kaworu and Shinji seek the Spear of Cassius and the Spear of Longinus, Kaworu is onset with delirium when the pair discover not a complimentary pair of spears, but two of the same, two Spears of Longinus, which Shinji mistakenly wields to disastrous results. “These are not the spears we need,” Kaworu says, evoking the horror occasioned by the Lacanian non-relation where there is nothing in the place one expects, according to ideological fantasy, a complementary pair (for more on this, see “What IS the Fantasy Suite?” above).

Thus, we see Shin Evangelion’s final problem. At the end of 2.0, as Shinji is unwittingly bringing about the Third Impact, Ritsuko says:

Emancipated from human bondage, it’s transforming itself into a divine entity beyond the reach of mortals. In the swells of complementarity, it’s finally binding together the heavens, earth, and all creation and merging them into a pure energy … We’re witnessing the birth of a new life form that has broken free of this world’s logos. And the price to pay is the death of all previous life forms. [emphasis added]

Complementarity is precisely at issue in this series of films, albeit not necessarily of a romantic nature nor along the lines of gender binarism. Instead, this idea of complementarity becomes coextensive with the ‘problem of other minds.’ Shinji and Gendo represent two opposite responses to this same problem. Shinji ignores the prohibition of mutual understanding and insists upon the possibility that two people might be able to — might even be meant to — understand each other, just as the Spears of Cassius and Longinus are paired. Gendo, though, accepts the prohibition and seeks to change his conditions of existence in order to no longer be among those to whom it applies. It is the final turn of 3.0+1.0 that attempts to resolve this problem by stepping outside the confines of the work itself, visiting the ‘Anti-Universe’ that renders the text of the films and the Evangelion franchise as a whole imaginary.

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time is filled with confounding and confusing moments. It’s also the film many of us have been waiting so long for. It stages the final confrontation between Shinji and Gendo in an effort to resolve all the questions about human connection, transcending humanity, and changing the past raised by the first three films. "Thrice Upon a Time,” indeed. Toward the film’s conclusion, Shinji approaches Gendo and in reaction, Gendo has an A.T. Field spring up in front of him. He is shocked and exclaims, “but I got rid of my humanity.”

His belief that his transcendence of humanity might have freed him from the limits inherent to human understanding resonate with lines from Alenka Zupančič’s What is Sex? (2017), quoting Guy Le Gaufey, “perhaps, the difference which keeps apart one … from the other belongs neither to the one nor to the other” (Zupančič 72). For the entirety of Evangelion’s narrative, from 1995 until 2021, Gendo operated as a villain under the assumption that his being human is what made it impossible for him to connect. This misconception was shared by every character to some extent. But in this moment, he realizes it’s something other than humanity that prohibits this connection — not that the film is intent on providing easy answers as to what that something is.

Answers are not plentiful, but self-aware deconstruction is. A few minutes earlier, Gendo introduces Shinji to “Evangelion Imaginary”:

This is Evangelion Imaginary … an Eva that is imaginary and fictional and does not exist in our world. Only humanity, with its ability to believe equally in both fantasy and reality, can perceive this Eva.

This moment gives way to a motion captured fight scene between Evas, the first of its kind, where the Evangelions move uncannily like human bodies and tumble through various important scenes in the history of the films and finally tumble into the real life sound stages (animated — for now) where the motion capture for the scene was recorded.

In the end, Anno seems to concede that the conditions of the ‘current world,’ the world of his fiction for the characters of Evangelion but discursive reality, the reality we experience, to us, does in fact prohibit the kind of connection both Shinji and Gendo are searching for. But Shinji’s naïveté that dooms him in the prior films lets him break out of the world in which he lives, the world of fiction, and into a version of reality that resembles ours — this time represented in actual live action.

In the end, according to Evangelion and Hideaki Anno, it is not ourselves as subjects but our existence in a given place that must be radically altered. Anno seems to invite the reading that Evangelion is in some sense a work of aspirational autofiction, with Anno cast in the role of Shinji and his wife, Moyoko, in the role of Mari, introduced in Shin Evangelion as Shinji’s necessary complement who can take her place once the world is inverted, from imaginary to real — though perhaps not in the Lacanian sense. Though Shinji seems to end the film romantically coupled with Mari, the lack of time spent developing a relationship between them shows that romantic relationships are not Anno’s focal point and never were. Their implied relationship is only to return us to the word actually in the film’s script, “complementarity.” But, once again, Evangelion is a work that shows what great lengths to which one must go to ensure this complementarity. Lengths as far as resetting the world, breaking free from an animation cel, or creating a contrived character with a thin backstory to make a symbolic point.

Anno has declared this the end of Evangelion, but he’s said as much before. If this is the end, though, nothing has been left unsaid.

Weekly Reading List — Just a little supplementary reading for those of us fixated on Evangelion for the foreseeable future. — And another one, this time a focused analysis of Evangelion’s typography. Even if you’re not usually into this sort of thing, I found this piece to be fascinating and informative.

Until next time.