From the Neuron to the World and Back: The Poetics of the Neuromolecular Gaze in Bart Koubaa’s Het gebied van Nevski and James Cameron’s Avatar1

Stephan Besser

Abstract


This article explores the poetics of the neuromolecular gaze in Bart Koubaa’s 2007 novel Het gebied van Nevski and James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. It considers the novel and the film as artistic reflections of contemporary neuroculture and argues that they both employ their central metaphors – the brain as battlefield and the brain as network – in such a way that the same basic principles seem to return on various levels of biological and social existence: the micro-level of nerve cells and synapses, the meso-level of individual brains and human beings and the macro-level of historical events and socio-political interaction. In doing so, the novel and the film both suggest a natural continuity between the neurobiological and the social that closely resembles manifestations of the ‘neuromolecular gaze’ (Rose/Abi-Rached) in contemporary science and neuroculture at large. Significantly, however, these poetic extrapolations of neuromolecular knowledge to personal identity and society do not lead to a homogeneous and reductionist view of the ‘cerebral subject’ (F. Vidal) but to quite diverse, ambiguous and contradictory interpretations of what it means ‘to be one’s brain’.

Keywords


Brain; Neuroculture; Darwinism; Network; Metaphor; Cerebral Subject; Poetics of Knowledge; Literature and Science

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