Prometheus ex Machina:

The Archetypal Technician

and the Masculine Fire of Logos

by James W. Maertens, MA, PhD

Reverie and Techne

A great deal can be learned about the structures of masculine gender in a culture by examining its hero myths. The discourses that are most privileged as sources of truth in a culture are usually the most mythologized. Scientific and technical discourses are our Western myths. The scientific scholarship, publications of various institutions, and journalism operate in dialogue with science fiction novels and stories or techno-thrillers to form this hegemonic mythos. It is not the actual, quotidian practice of engineering, science, or exploration that inspire romance, that lure the boy through his unconscious desires; it is the fiction, the mythos with which these disciplines and industries are woven round that is seductive. In our world technicians are heroes, icons of a gendered male identity and, as such, they penetrate to the core of many men's personalities, their sense of worth, their sense of self.

I have been pondering the numinous quality of the technician-hero so ubiquitous in modern films and novels. He almost always takes his cue from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: he is as often a monster as he is a savior. The technician-hero emerges as a mad scientist in the figures of Frankenstein and Faust -- mad, that is, in his hyper-rationality and superbia or hubris. Pondering the masculinity that is taught through such heroes and the dragons they are conjured to slay, I have turned to the roots of the myth in the nineteenth century. At that time rapid changes in science and engineering created a euphoric belief in progress and the creation of utopia through technical knowledge.

I have a special fascination for the scientific adventure novels of the French writer, Jules Verne, and I take him as my example to tease out the dream. Underneath their overt didacticism, his stories seem to open into a surprising, symbolic world of reverie, that state of soul Gaston Bachelard has located midway between dream and rational thought. Surely the most numinous Vernean hero is Captain Nemo, the haunting central figure of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Nemo possesses heroic power, daring and cunning reminiscent of Odysseus, but his strength is not merely cunning: it is scientific reason, knowledge, and the technical expertise to create an utterly new world. He builds a miraculous machine -- the submarine Nautilus -- but the essence of such a hero's techne -- his art -- is not the machine itself. Rather it is technical language, the discursive power to create things by naming them. Two early chapters of 20,000 Leagues consist entirely of technical discussions between Nemo and his prisoner Professor Aronnax. What could be less adventurous? The only thing that could pass for action is a tour of the ship and the smoking of cigars. But it is precisely this ability to master the forces of Nature through words and thought that is the essence of heroism in this myth. If the hero's body does not seem engaged in the way, say, that of Herakles is, that is because his command of words and mathematical signs permit him to generate engines far more powerful than the muscles of men. Such strength is godlike, it permits a man like Nemo to perform fantastic feats. It is Titanic strength, like that of Atlas, but its source is the power of Atlas's brother, Prometheus, for it is the power of logos, the fire of knowledge.

C. G. Jung employs the principles of logos and eros as two of the most fundamental orientations or functions of psyche. Lewis Hyde defines eros as "the principle of attraction, union, involvement which binds together" including, of course, sexual love, parental love, brotherly or sisterly love, etc. Logos, by contrast, is "reason and logic in general, the principle of differentiation in particular" (Hyde xiv). Logos powers are "[l]aw, authority, competition, hierarchy, and the exercise of royal or despotic will through the courts, the police and the military" (Hyde 197) and, on a more abstract plane, science, mathematics, and their application to engineering. Logos is one of the guiding principles upon which our western concept of masculine behavior is constructed, part of the masculinist opposition of body (Woman) and mind (Man). Logos is also associated with spirit: abstractly disembodied, conceived as transcendent, beyond history, beyond individuals, pure, true. From a standpoint that privileges these things, eros, in its intimate embodied nature, is impure, untrue, bound in matter, and so an enemy of "higher" things.

The technician is a hero of logos battling the dragons of repressed and denigrated eros. The man pursuing his share of male dominance reaches for the ideal of perfect, mathematical predictability and mechanism, the perfect technique. Yet, in reaching for the sky, he loses touch with his body, his connection through soul. Soul, as Hillman suggests, is the middle term between mind and body which unites them, a term western thought lost in its quest for rationality and order. Spirit and mind are marked in our culture as possessions of the fathers and so the hero must penetrate the perfect circle of the father's power-knowledge as a Promethean savior who steals the fire of father Zeus to create a new world centered upon himself. Captain Nemo is such a Prometheus, wielding electricity in defiance of the Thunderer's bolt.

The Promethean Myth

When Jules Verne was publishing his scientific novels engineers had begun to seem Promethean in their ability to reshape the world. Electricity and steam engines were vivid manifestations of Promethean fire promising a paradise of infinite energy and complete satisfaction of all needs. As Genevieve Lloyd and Susan Griffin have each observed, masculine Reason has historically been clothed in metaphors of energy, battle, and virile penetration and set against Nature represented as a mysterious, feminine Other. The longing of the man of science was to strip away her veil with his instruments to possess her naked splendor. Beneath such rhetoric one can sense the archetypal quality of this longing. The Promethean technician is the dream-image of a boy's ego, that fragile "I" which is torn away from its mother and ordered to be absolutely Other than her. The heroic quest represents the boy's lifelong struggle to align himself with an idealized father. He must venture out of the domestic space, which culture assigns to the sphere of the feminine, and into a landscape full of monsters. Such monsters are the contents of the boy's shadow and his anima, all that he must reject from his conscious persona to be a man as men are socially defined.

Mario Jacoby, in his book Longing for Paradise, observes that in the primary, unitary reality of the pre-Oedipal stage of development, the mother is imbued with the attributes of the archetypal Great Mother and is not distinguished either from the infant's environment or from the infant's Self. The result is that the more powerfully a child is forced to separate from its mother, the more it may become alienated from the Self. Nancy Chodorow has suggested that because boys are more forcibly required to separate their identities from their mothers, they tend to develop a poorer sense of connectedness than girls may develop. They often must identify with a distant and idealized father-figure rather than with their first, embodied experiences of love and sensuality. The masculinized ego has more "rigid" boundaries and conceives itself in opposition to others rather than in connection. The feared Other includes the Self, the personality's own unconscious complexes and sense of wholeness. Because Mother-Self and environment (or Nature) are conflated in the pre-Oedipal imaginary, the Other includes the subject's whole environment. In this way the masculinized ego feels threatened inside and outside; its gendered identity is woven round with fear and prohibitions against touching and being touched lest it betray the slightest vulnerability.

The Promethean theft of fire is a form of touching for it violates another man's boundaries in order to establish superiority to him. Violation of other and in turn trying not to be violated by them becomes a masculine obsession. this game is played out around the symbolic phallus. Phallus is not simply the penis; rather it is the penis mythologized into a sign of membership in dominant group, a sign of the father's social power over others. As a result phallic symbolism emerges everywhere not because penises are everywhere but because power is everywhere. Martin Green uses the term potestas to describe the adventure hero's principle trait, his ability to exercise violent power over others and to escape the violence directed at him. Potestas is the assertion of masculine dominance over the Other, a projection of what Jung calls the shadow complex . As domination, heroic potency is an inversion of eros, a response to fear rather than love, fear of the Other, fear of those jettisoned parts of oneself imprisoned in the shadow.

Captain Nemo provides one with a good example of the conflation of phallus and power for his submarine continually enacts the phallus in its shape and in its repeated, aggressive penetration of feminized Nature -- the sea, the Arabian tunnel, the Antarctic ice, the ships of his enemies. Penetration of other bodies is essential to Nemo's heroism, perhaps to all heroism. But the Nautilus is also a powerful machine filled with the living energy of electricity, a still rather mysterious phenomenon in Verne's time carrying associations with a general "life force." Electricity inherits these associations from the larger complex of images and fantasies (much of which passed as science) surrounding the element of fire.

Reveries of Fire

"There is one source of power which is obedient and rapid, easy and pliable, and which reigns supreme on board my shipÉ It gives me light, heat, and is the soul of all my machinery. This source is electricity" (Verne 82)

Like the phallus, fire also symbolizes masculine knowledge-power, and particularly the father's Law, his prohibition against a son's "theft" of that power for himself. Fire is logos because it is a substance that hides within objects, within the warm human body, and which upon flashing out, transforms the world, illuminates it, destroys it.

If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and it is universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky. It rises from the depths of the substance and offers itself with the warmth of love. Or it can go back down into the substance and hide there, latent and pent-up, like hate and vengeanceÉ It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell. It is gentleness and torture. It is cookery and it is apocalypse. (Bachelard 7)

Bachelard calls the union of the love and fear of fire, "the instinct for living and the instinct for dying," (16) the Empedocles complex after the Greek philosopher who originated the theory of four elements. Empedocles ended his own life by throwing himself into a volcano expressing his "desire to change, to speed up the passage of time, to bring all of life to its conclusion" to be consumed by Nature. The Promethean complex is the "will to intellectuality," the desire "to know as much as our fathers, more than our fathers, as much as our teachers, more than our teachers" (12). As he puts it, "The Prometheus complex is the Oedipus complex of the life of the intellect" (12) to take the fire inside oneself.

The Promethean male, the superman, is a figure of the super fire. This is the fire which, because of its inwardness, can open up bodies, can possess them from within. In the alchemical texts where these images enter the reveries of science, such possession of the body is obviously sexual. Masculinity is defined in terms of its secret, inner power, but correspondingly becomes obsessed with the containment of this consuming, digestive fire. Sexual desire is, as ever, oral as well as genital, conflated with the infant's desire to eat the maternal body. So the Vernean technician-hero, as Andrew Martin has observed, conflates nutrition and cognition. The mind itself becomes a stomach, consuming the world as it ingests more and more knowledge, ever classifying, naming, subsuming Nature to logos and ego (Martin 122 and passim). To consume the world is to contain it, to possess it rather than to come into an equal relation with it.

The Waters of the Great Mother

"Ah, Commander," I cried enthusiastically, "your Nautilus is truly an extraordinary ship!"

"Yes," Captain Nemo replied with genuine emotion, "and I love it as if it were my own flesh and blood!" (Verne 91)

Fire and the phallus are ubiquitous symbols in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and many other adventure novels. But of equal importance are the feminine symbols of the ship and water. Roland Barthes has suggested that "[t]he image of the shipÉ is, at a deeper level, the emblem of closure. An inclination for ships always means the joy of perfectly enclosing oneself. . . A ship is a habitat before being a means of transport" (65-66). It is also a womb and a domestic space that imitates the feminine sphere but contains the hero in a male world. Captain Nemo's Nautilus is a particularly nurturing male womb contained itself in the larger embrace and nurturance of the sea.

Captain Nemo's description of his union with the sea in chapter ten, titled "L'Homme des Eaux," ("The Man of the Waters") is one of several erotic hymns to the sea. He describes how he makes clothes from "the filaments of certain shellfish" and colors the fabric with purple dyes taken from sea hares. The very ink with which he (and Aronnax) writes is "the secretion of the cuttlefish." Nemo exclaims, "I receive everything from the sea, just as one day all will return to it!" (73), and Aronnax responds: "You love the sea, don't you, Captain?" Nemo's reply is a study in the interweaving of Nature and Woman in the imagination of western culture:

"Yes, I love it! The sea is everything. . . Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert where a man is never alone, for he can feel life quivering all about him. The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it; it is only movement and love; it is the living infinite. . . a vast reservoir of nature. . . There lies supreme tranquillity. The sea does not belong to tyrants. On its surface, they can still exercise their iniquitous rights, fighting, destroying one another and indulging in their other earthly horrors. But thirty feet below its surface their power ceases, their influence dies out and their domination disappears! Ah, Monsieur, one must live--live within the ocean! Only there can one be independent! Only there do I have no master! There I am free!" (73-4)

A moment after this encomium, however, Nemo regains his self-control and Aronnax tells us, "his face took on its usual cold expression" (74). Nemo expresses the longing for a pre-Oedipal paradise and the desire of a bounded, rigid, and disciplined masculine ego to break down its walls and open itself to Nature. But Nemo has brought with him into the deep all the apparatus of hierarchical command. He is the captain, after all, living apart from his crew. He desires separation from other men and from the violence of patriarchal oppression but his own self-definition is itself adversarial and moved by a desire for mastery. The appearance on his deck of Professor Aronnax, a man Nemo admires for his oceanographic work, precipitates the essential thematic conflict in 20,000 Leagues --the masculine ego's struggle to maintain the boundary between inside and outside.

In Nemo's Empedoclean merging of ego with the Sea-Mother-Self, dissolution of the ego becomes a plenitude, an absolute satisfaction of all desires. He enacts this fantasy on himself when he names himself "No one" replicating the disappearing trick of Odysseus, but also employing the trick of logos to create or destroy by what it chooses to name as "real." Nemo presents his self-made life to Professor Aronnax as a seductive existence, but one of mastery, not intimacy, one characterized by initiation into a secret adepthood:

You will travel through a land of marvels. Your mind will be in a continual state of astonishment and stupefaction. . . you will accompany me in my studies. Starting today, you will enter a new element, and you will see what no man has yet seen--for I and my crew don't count any more--and thanks to me, you will be able to penetrate the last secrets of our planet. (71)

The patriarchal exchange of women to form a homosocial bond is replaced by the exchange of the sea and the submarine. They are the love objects Nemo and his crew have exchanged to form their fierce, self-destructive devotion to each other; they are the same objects Aronnax and Nemo exchange in an attempt to form an even more intimate congress of spirits. The attempt ultimately fails because Nemo's erotic nature is encircled, contained within the hermetic seal of logos. He cannot embrace Aronnax's friendship without relinquishing his secret life, his Promethean martyrdom, and his desire to define himself wholly through revenge against the "hated nation" that murdered his family.
Disciplined Phallus/Ouroboric Phallos

The containment of feeling within the circumference of disciplined reason is expressed in the very shape of the Nautilus. For if its outside is an ever-mobile and penetrating phallus, the inside is a timeless, uterine paradise. In his study What a Man's Gotta Do, Anthony Easthope delineates the modern Western ideal of manliness as a circular, impregnable fortress. Chaotic and fluid Nature is kept outside by the fantasy of self-control and the hardness of the body. The hard male is the disciplined male who is invulnerable. Such a man seeks to deny that he has an interior, instead fetishizing what Klaus Theweleit, in his book Male Fantasies, calls the "muscle physis," the dream of being "solid muscle." It is, as bodybuilders have admitted, a fantasy of the male body as one big erection, the mythologized phallus divested of its vulnerable side, divested of feeling, reduced to a spectacle of potency. Others' bodies are fluid, a "mass" (as Theweleit says) of blood and tears and he makes it his business, often enough, to tear them open to emphasize their difference from him. His disciplined body, like Nemo's submarine, contains only fire -- a fierce, secret, controlled energy.

The technician's ego is thus alienated from his own body. Men may glorify and obsessively preen their muscles, but what they glorify is an idealized male body removed from the realities of sensuality, tenderness, fatigue, aging, accident, and disease. Such self-idealization is profoundly Narcissistic. So is the preoccupation of the Vernean adventure (and most adventure stories) with the struggles between men who love each other but can only express it through violence, rather than embodied eros.

One of the episodes that illustrates the way the erotic homosocial triangle is played out in heroic battles is Nemo's slaughter of the sperm whales in chapter thirty-six. The tableau is one of Nature feeding on itself, an expression of the divided Self yet also an ouroboric image. A group of black whales is attacked by sperm whales. Nemo's hatred of the "cachelots" seems motivated by some symbolic association out of all proportion to a naturalist's temperament. One moment he forbids Ned Land, the harpooner, to kill the black whales, delivering a diatribe against the barbarism of whalers: "People like you, Master Land, are very wrong to destroy kind, inoffensive creatures like black whales and right whales" (281). The next moment he sights the spermaceti which he says are "terrible animals. I've sometimes seen them in herds of two or three hundred! They're cruel and destructive, and people are right to kill them" (281). Nemo proceeds to use the Nautilus as a titanic harpoon in a clear act of phallic oneupsmanship. He slaughters the huge creatures until (as Aronnax describes it) "[t]he sea was covered with mutilated carcasses . . . The water had turned red for several miles in either direction and the Nautilus was floating in a sea of blood" (283).

This manifestation of phallic aggression vividly captures the violence that can be perpetrated in the name of logos. Ostensibly identifying with the "kind, inoffensive creatures" he sees as oppressed, he uses his machine in a berserk rage that leaves even Ned Land aghast. Immediately afterwards, a mother black whale is discovered floating dead with its calf, Nemo dispatches his men to milk the creature. "The captain offered me a glass of this still warm milk," writes Aronnax but, "I could not refrain from showing my distaste for this sort of drink" (284). After reassurances that it is as good as cow's milk, Nemo wins the professor over. In the context of the pattern of images Verne has embroidered, this communion seems a strikingly symbolic exchange of the mother's body and her nutritive power. But the display of heroic potestas in Nemo's super-harpoon is also a symbolic refusal to bond with Ned Land, a self-assertion through masculine competitive ritual.

Giant Squids

The image of the nurturing (though notably dead) mother is followed by an image of the Terrible Mother. Nemo's violent rejection of eros leaves the mother complex powerfully autonomous in this dreamscape. Submerged instincts and bodily desires burst upon the scientist-heroes in a mobile form that rivals the mobility of the submarine: a school of giant squid. The squids also combine masculine and feminine images. Their bodies and tentacles are phallic, but their horned beaks at the center of the tentacles are the very image of the vagina dentata. Aronnax compares the heads of the "cephalopods," full of tentacles, to the hair of the Furies (presumably meaning the Gorgons). They are expressions of an archaic feminine force merged with the potestas symbolized by the phallus. The squids comprise a shadow image of the submarine as uterine-phallus.

Yet one must observe that the two are different phalluses. The tentacles and elongated body of the squids are not the symbolic phallus I described earlier. They do not symbolize the linear, rising social power of men in patriarchy, a spiritualized power associated with solar heroes, upward striving, and the father's Law. Rather they symbolize what Eugene Monick has called the chthonic phallos, the instinctual, embodied male eros which is submerged in the shadowy depths by too great an emphasis on logos. Repressed, chthonic phallos remains infantile, surrendered to the control of the mother complex, which assumes a ferocious autonomy. Eros is reversed and erupts into phobos (fear) and thanatos (the desire for death). The revenge of Nature on her would-be conqueror mirrors Nemo's own desire for revenge and a symbolic suicide.

Professor Aronnax, however impressed he has been by the conquest of Nature by logos, draws the line at the slaughter of other men. When Nemo prepares to battle a ship of that "hated nation" the professor tries to dissuade him. As a result, Nemo bursts into a rage, saying, "I am the law and justice! I am the oppressed, and there is the oppressor! It is through him I lost everything I ever loved, cherished or worshipped--my country, wife, children, father, mother! I saw them all perish! Everything I hate is there!" (360). Nemo's assumption of the mantle of Law, like his unfurling of the conqueror's flag at the south pole, betrays his self-contradiction and the element of projection in his hatred. When the professor stands beside Nemo in the salon watching the sailors drown on the masts of the sinking vessel, Aronnax's hair stands on end and he describes the captain as a "terrible dispenser of justice, [a] veritable archangel of hatred" (363). Nemo is Prometheus desiring to be Jupiter, Satan desiring to be Yahweh. Yet, immediately after this transfiguration, Nemo breaks down, retreating to his cabin. Aronnax, utterly unable to comfort the man he longs to befriend, watches from a distance: "On the opposite wall of his room, beneath the paintings of his heroes, I saw the portrait of a young woman and two small children. After gazing at it for several moments, Captain Nemo stretched out his arms toward the picture, sank to his knees and burst into deep sobs" (363). Here are the real connections he longs for but cannot replace; here is the violation of himself he cannot heal; and here, in the silent separation of Nemo and Aronnax is the failure of male friendship to fill the erotic need.

So crushed by his own violent feelings and inner division, Nemo abdicates control of his ship and, while Professor Aronnax and his companions narrowly escape in the dingy, the Nautilus is sucked down into the maelstrom, the "navel of the ocean," as Aronnax puts it. It is the final in a series of circular motifs: the giant pearl in the Manaar pearl beds; the secret volcano in which he moors the Nautilus; the ice-enclosed polar sea in the Antarctic; the hurricane Nemo defies by tying himself to the rails before the raging Jovian lightning. The sucking whirlpool is a vagina that cannot be resisted, forcing the final descent of the hero in the maternal body. Yet, in Aronnax's "navel" metaphor, it also signifies a return to the womb. In this sense it is the repetition of the motif of the volcano so ubiquitous in this book as it is in the earlier Journey to the Center of the Earth. The submarine sucked down to its apparent doom reverses the rebirth of the heroes in a volcanic eruption in Journey to the Center of the Earth.

It is poignant that the technician-hero Jules Verne so reveres on the surface is hollow, fragmented, and tortured by longings he cannot fulfill as long as he is contained within the heroic armor of hegemonic masculinity. His attempts to possess the feminine are often displacements of his desire for intimacy with other men. His heroism expresses thanatos and leads to self-destruction. Other nineteenth-century writers, such as Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and H. G. Wells in The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau, have also created scientist-heroes alienated from feeling and relatedness and obsessed with the objectification and technical manipulation of bodies. They are fragmented and embattled men whose monsters are, in the end, themselves and whose deaths are a form of auto-vivisection. In each case techne is culturally constructed in such a way that it excludes eros, "the companionship, the feeling of being fully met by others, the warmth of empathy, the joy of equality, and the sharing of the heart" (Doty 76).

Techne, one wishes to tell Captain Nemo, must come from the soul as well as the mind, it must embrace and even welcome the squids with the pearls in our polymorphous psyche. Perhaps the re-telling of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea in the Disney film version (1954) captures Nemo's dilemma better than Verne did originally. For in the film -- showing to an audience that was familiar with the use of submarines in warfare and had just seen the launching of the U.S.S. Nautilus, the first "atom sub" -- Captain Nemo deliberately destroys his vessel to prevent its being captured and replicated as a mass-produced weapon of war. This is an appropriate re-visioning of the myth, for it suggests the real impossibility of the artistic and scientific genius ever escaping the institutionalization of patriarchal violence. If he will produce fantastic weapons, he will find himself consumed by the system of patriarchal Law, martyred by Zeus for his refusal to submit. Nemo's Promethean dream extends beyond just the building of a powerful machine that can be used for war. Indeed, one has the feeling (in the novel especially) that he designed the Nautilus to defend itself, to be a ramming phallus countering the phallus of the patriarchs waging their constant wars. His primary desire is to be left alone to study the sea, to amass knowledge in ouroboric self-sufficiency. But there is more. Verne permits us few glimpses of Nemo's crew -- we never even learn how many there are -- but the pursuit of aquaculture, coal-mining and so forth suggests that Captain Nemo dreamed of an alternative culture based in brotherhood.

One merely speculates, for the design of the submarine seems to separate captain from crew rather completely (we never see crewmen reading in the library while off duty). Still, one cannot help considering that a generation or so after Verne, France produced Jacques Cousteau, a man whose work and lifestyle parallels Nemo's at many points. From the standpoint of today, one cannot help wondering if this wasn't what Nemo was after, could he only have overcome his obsession with performing feats of phallic conquest over Nature and acts of revenge against those who had so grievously wronged him. What I find fascinating in the story is the way Nemo's future and his possible entry into connection with social structures hinges on the success or failure of Professor Aronnax establishing a true friendship with him. The main dramatic tension turns on whether the professor will chose to escape with his friends (and how they will manage it) or whether he will remain to convince Nemo to rejoin human society. The total rejection of eros in Nemo is signified pointedly not only in his reclusiveness and cold devotion to logic, but in the fact that he has totally excluded the subjects of politics and economy from his library.

Langdon Winner, in his book The Whale and the Reactor, writes of "Techne and Politeia" suggesting that modern technology from Verne's time to today has replaced democratic political structures with authoritarian, hierarchical ones. Linked as it has been in Euro-American culture with capitalism, technology has shaped our social lives and the kinds of relationships that are possible. Relationship and the distribution of power in the workplace is far more important and certainly takes up far more individual energy from day to day, than democratic politics or participation in government. But the workplace is usually characterized, now even more than it was in the nineteenth century, by "rule-guided patterns that involve taking orders and giving orders along an elaborate chain of command," that is, in short, a disguised authoritarianism and centralization of control (Winner 48).

Nemo's exclusion of the political economics of his contemporaries from his library strikes me as a recognition of this fact. Desiring to escape authoritarianism and its logos-driven oppression of people, Captain Nemo sets out as an entrepreneur. Ironically, the components of the Nautilus were originally manufactured by major European shipbuilders and armaments firms. Still more ironically, the naval model of organization Nemo maintains on board is the same hierarchic and authoritarian model promulgated by capitalist enterprise. So, here again, Nemo does not escape the systems that shaped his personality, his masculinity. Yet, we come away from the story with the feeling that he might have succeeded, that we might, when we grow up, succeed in devising a technology that escapes the anti-eros of exploitation and oppression. Like Aronnax, we come away from the dream of the night voyage with an aspiration towards a new techne, a new self-fashioning and a better, wiser world.


1. Robin Williams portrayal of the King of the Moon in the film The Adventures of Baron Munchaüsen is an excellent parody of this fantasy and the way the head is split from the body.

2. I am influenced by the theories of Otto Rank, who considered hero myths in the light of Oedipal rivalries, and writers such as C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Dorothy Norman, who considered heroes to represent a quest toward enlightenment and the capacity for the kind of egoless creative action of the Zen master. I consider the former an interpretation in relation to the personal level of complexes while the latter interpretation reflects upon issues of the transpersonal and collective unconscious.

3. See Lacan for the psychological theory of the symbolic phallus.

4. This is usually rendered "The Man of the Seas" in English translations of the novel, which removes by one step the literal association of Nemo with the element of water.

5. The term homosocial does not necessarily include (and usually excludes) overt homosexual acts. Rather, it is the "male bonding" rituals that join men together while avoiding direct, erotic intimacy between them. The classic example is the exchange of women, either between two lovers or between a father and his son-in-law. Physical touching in sports and locker-room behavior is also a form of homosocial eros which I see as a symbolic exchange of the phallus.

6. Part II, ch. 12 in the original division of the novel into parts.


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Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: U of California P, 1978.

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Easthope, Anthony. What a Man's Gotta Do: The Masculine Myth in Popular Culture. Rev. ed. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. New York: Harper, 1978. See also her Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature. New York: Harper, 1981.

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Lloyd, Genevieve. The Man of Reason: "Male" and "Female" in Western Philosophy. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.

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Norman, Dorothy. The Hero: Myth/Image/Symbol. New York: NAL, 1969. Doubleday, 1990.

Rank, Otto. The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. 1959. Trans. F. Robbins and Smith Ely Jelliffe. Rpt. in In Quest of the Hero. Ed. Robert A. Segal. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.

Verne, Jules. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. 1870. Trans. Anthony Bonner. New York: Bantam, 1962.

Winner, Langdon. The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986.