Desire and the Fort-Da of Local UFOs

Authors: Paul Kingsbury*, Simon Faser University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, Environment
Keywords: Desire, skywatching, UFOs, Vancouver
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Studio 10, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The famous X-Files slogan "I want to believe," which appears beneath a UFO on a poster in FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder's office, aptly captures the long-established conjunction of desire, disbelief, and the supernatural. My paper explores this relationship in terms of the worldwide practice of skywatching in "flap" areas, that is, sites with regular occurrences of UFOs such as the "Hessdalen Lights" in Norway. Here, desire involves not so much striving to prove the existence of an unbelievable object, but the waiting for the reappearance of an unbelievable object. I focus on the amateur astronomer Charles Lamoureux's decade-long practice of filming UFOs above the False Creek area of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. Drawing on interviews and participant observation, I argue that Lamoureux's relationship towards these local UFOs involves the spatial and affective dynamics of the Fort-Da game in Sigmund Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Lamoureux's repeated returns to the scene of an initially traumatic encounter enables him to carve out a space of desire that keeps anxiety at bay via the symbolizations of his high-tech "Skywatchers Mobile Unit." Here, desire is paradoxically sustained by avoiding an object of desire through the repeated failures of capturing it in terms of definitive evidence. I conclude by suggesting that this mode of desiring is thoroughly ethical because it maintains a gap between reality and the horrifying Real, as well as shuns a melancholic "nostalgia for origins" (Derrida 1978, p. 292) for the "joyous affirmation of the play of the world" (ibid).

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