Pokemon, Dominated Nature, Language

pikachu crying

“Because she is mute,” Walter Benjamin tells us in his early essay, ‘On Language as Such and the Language of Man’, “nature mourns.” ‘Human language’, according to Benjamin, is distinct from the ‘divine language’ (which for the early Benjamin as good as literally existed before the Biblical fall) insofar as it does not directly map onto its objects. The language of man is, on the picture Benjamin draws in his essay, unable to satisfactorily ‘speak’ what is outside it: the conceptual, as it were, is no longer able to capture in an adequate way, its object: the non-conceptual. Non-human nature can only be ‘overnamed’, and subdued: this is why it falls silent. It in part falls silent because it mourns, and it also mourns, which is why it must be silent…

The Pokemon, then, would look, on Benjamin’s picture, to be the very model of reconciled nature. The language of the Pokemon is precisely modelled along the lines of the divine language: the Pokemon can only speak its own name, can only speak its essence. There is absolutely no mistaking a Pikachu; if it was not a Pikachu, it would not say “Pika-chu.”

But then if we look at the Pokemon like that, then it becomes very easy to forget that they are, precisely, commodities. “Gotta catch ’em all,” goes the injunction of the game, and that means one and one alone of each, regardless of scarcity. The Pokemon is a commodity, like all postlapsarian nature, only good insofar as it can be captured and dominated, and repurposed as something useful (in the case of the Pokemon, as a fighting machine).

As Benjamin also tells us in his essay: “it is a metaphysical truth that all nature would begin to lament if it were endowed with language.” So too with the Pokemon’s cry. The Pokemon of course appears to be able to speak its name as its name. It is all it can speak, and this is its essence, so to the uncritical eye it appears to be reconciled. But this essence is in fact mere appearance. What the Pokemon is actually able to speak, if it is able to speak at all, is whatever name it has been given, as identical with its suffering, its domination.

All false identity, all reconciliation in the false world, is a stifled scream. “Pikachu, you’re my Pokemon!” is in truth the vicious call of the slave-driver, or perhaps of an abusive lover. Insofar as we live in human time and not Messianic, every idea that anything, ourselves included, might be identified with some one concept which can then be shunted out of the play of critical rationality, will only result in the same sort of unfreedom that the Pokemon find themselves in. Every time you feel at home with yourself, always ask: just who exactly, is collecting me?

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