Terminal Dogma and Bureaucratic Realism
This is a response to https://cutenoumena.medium.com/the-capitalist-realism-of-evangelion-31f4a8163113
Cute_Noumena’s article The Capitalist Realism of Evangelion begins to analyse an often overlooked theme of the show, that being the interplay between human social structures (the bureaucratic state, transnational institutions, etc) and the invasion of human reality by world-ending forces, that a response so obvious and immediate as annihilating the world-ending ‘enemy’ requires following an exasperating and inefficient procedure established by humanity, relying on a managerial and technical apparatus to give officiation to an engagement with non-human, non-logical and fundamentally non-rational entities. The episode 6 montage in which various state-bureaucratic actors, all communicating via telephone, permit NERV’s use of the ‘positron sniper rifle’ to annihilate the invading Angel is a perfect display of Evangelion’s fantastic use of time to convey the disparity between the occult work of NERV and the human technical world which NERV operates within and is officiated by. Anno’s decision to make the firing of the rifle a brief, make-or-break act is contrasted with the implied slog of traversing the red tape of human law, the officiating process which allows for the salvation of mankind while also (seemingly) making possible man’s hubristic self-destruction.
As the article’s author writes, “The show overloads you with this sense of “Bureaucratic Realism” to ground the show in a realist aesthetic”, illustrating the “horizon of imagination under Capitalist Realism.” This is certainly true, yet I believe Anno’s vision here goes beyond that of a recognition of limited social imaginations and the imbuing of realism into a ‘kaiju’ narrative. From what we are shown in the show, NERV as an organisation appears to employ scientific means to understand and ultimately negate, transform, command the mystical — the use of lines like “0.0000001%” and the flippant “only God knows” in relation to chances of success are employed to build a sense of threat to the characters’ lives, but also to then make the characters’ (constant) improbable overcoming of the odds that much more intense, satisfying, like a difficult workout that drains you of all energy that you can somehow find within yourself the ability to keep pushing. It is often a denial of the prescribed odds and instructions outright that leads to victory. Anno’s decision to place mentally scarred children as the protagonists allows for this to occur in a more realistic frame, wherein of course the desire to follow orders and conform is less prevalent, and emotions are at their most volatile, allowing for sometimes bizarre expressions of friendship and love to occur at odds with the demands of NERV hierarchy — and at odds with the relations between characters outside the battle environment, wherein socialisation and interpersonal conduct, stemming from self-image and ego, are reasserted.
A central component of the show’s narrative which is realized in the final episodes and in End of Evangelion (albeit in a far darker and more cynical presentation) is that all apparent ‘mistakes’, all illogical and ‘unplanned’ actions conform to a plan, and that both Gendo’s and SEELE’s plans are in fact subordinated to a higher plan — this is shown by both Gendo and SEELE being forced to ‘accelerate’ and ‘adapt’ their scripts according to the actions of the other, both operating in conflict which results in an instrumentality which occurs as a result of both scripts in tandem and in opposition, a true synthesis. This is the meaning of ‘Terminal Dogma’, all rational and irrational activity resulting in an unavoidable, mystical and relatively unknowable end point as achieved by the interplay of various technical plans for control. All actions taken which on the surface appear to threaten the plan(s) only reinforce the true ‘script’: the premature use of the dummy plug, sending the Lance of Longinus into lunar orbit, Shinji holding NERV hostage, etc. all allow for a greater advancement of instrumentality. This here is an indication of the impossibility of science and the vast human technical world — as we understand it — to comprehend or truly command the forces of the mystical and, to turn to the classic psychoanalytic reading of Evangelion, can be read as an inability for psychotherapists to truly comprehend the desires and irregular emotions, affects and activities of the patient, or the human subject at large.
Indeed, Anno makes clear that the Angels and the humans (‘Lilin’) are cut from the same genetic-spiritual cloth, that the entire human race is a singular ‘Angelic’ entity. Despite the ease by which one can dismiss the surface-level esoteric aesthetics as an attempt to lend gravity to the narrative’s psychoanalytic core, this brief revelation at the end of the show, that we humans are of a divine status, holds true to Hermetic understandings of the human-as-divine, the hidden ‘Fourth’ of the Trinity. Here, by returning to the telephone conversation between the state-bureaucratic actors to allow for the destruction of Ramiel by nation-wide power cut, we can see how the human technical world — our means of production, communication, exchange, transportation, collective-consciousness — is, at some level, an expression of our ‘Angelic’ divinity, that despite the crude scientific language which necessitates its use, our technique is the vain attempt to become-Angel, an imperfect mirror of instrumentality. The repeated shots of telephone wires, accompanied by foley of electronic hums, shots of NERV’s computer screens, the elevators and escalators of headquarters, all of this is Anno’s attempt to grant the viewer an understanding of the mystical, symbolic importance of our technique and the inadequacy of the technical language which accompanies and — at least in appearance — powers it. Evangelion is a story about cybernetics, about the strange interplay of technique and soul, and ultimately — in my view — the technical-collective function as Antichrist, an attempt at divinity without self-recognition, an attempt which leads to a denial of divinity itself, an aggrandisement of the human over the spiritual and, ultimately, over God.