Under discussion: aama by Frederik Peeters
In the wake of a bitterly fought election and what even nonpartisans refer to as the tumultuous first months of the Trump presidency, reading Swiss comic creator Frederik Peeters’ science fiction epic aama feels like an accusation, like a bag of evidence presented at your trial. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad news, necessarily. Good and bad don’t feel like useful signifiers here. The comic feels inevitable. Unavoidable.
Set in a far future where religion has been outlawed and science has supplanted it, aama follows Verloc Nim sells books in a world that doesn’t need them. Down on his luck and addicted to drugs, Nim joins his brother, a corporate fixer, and Nim’s ape-shaped robot bodyguard Churchill on a find-and-recover mission to the planet Ona(ji). The mysterious aama project, which the trio have gone to recover, is let loose on the largely barren Ona(ji), and soon sectors of it teem with life. Encountering unfettered biologies and accelerated evolution, things get science-y and things get weird on Ona(ji) but quick. Verloc confronts dreamselves, corporate thugs, organic-technological hybrid beasts wearing human skin faces like masks, and a young girl who looks hauntingly like his own estranged daughter.
It feels as if Peeters has encoded into aama something very personal, diffusing it among the high-concept science fiction ideas and techno-organic world-building so that what is being documented is (purposefully) opaque to the book’s readers. What we’re left with, then, is a series of parable-like gestures whose purpose and reference points have been scoured off, leaving readers with a sense of tremendous transformation without much information about what that transformation amounts to. We know the direction change is coming from, but we pointedly kept in the dark as to what direction we are hurtling.
In this way, aama feels like other psychedelic parable (parable-like object is a more accurate descriptor). I’m thinking specifically of The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 in particular feels a great deal like aama, especially the ending, whose real power extends beyond explicit cause-and-consequence plotting. The future is coming, both endings say in a language invented to say it. The accumulating strangenesses highlight the delicacy of the (in)human moments pictured at the end of aama, and end up leading the reader into a space where everything in their own life is suddenly defamiliarized, where everything can be seen anew.
The future is coming. I’m not ready. You can’t be.
NOTE TO SELF
Here are the best quotes from Frederik Peeters’ interview with Electric Literature:
- “I imagined a scientific society, which had replaced wholesale the worship of intangible gods with the worship of technology, networks and communication; the worship of tradition with the worship of meaningless action. Obviously, that isn’t necessarily a better option. I won’t lay out here all the catastrophes brought about by fundamentalism, be it Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu or capitalist fundamentalism, which denies the ecological and population catastrophes that we’re living through, but I believe that all belief, whatever it may be, contains a form of violence, because it tends to exclude everyone else. I’m very pessimistic, because the only thing that I have to propose is a life based on balance, doubt, philosophy, science, pleasure, art and love. That looks a lot like the basic plan of the first communists, and we can see what happened next there. No, man is imperfect, and I doubt our situation will improve.”
- “I’m very solitary, I’ve been with the same woman for 15 years, I like to travel to see people in real life. I only use email, texts, I have a tumblr without any comments, and I only go on the internet once a day, in the evening at home, because my phone isn’t online and I don’t have internet at the studio, on purpose, so that I can concentrate better. But don’t get me wrong– it’s not that I hate the internet, it’s a fantastic tool that has turned most of our habits on their heads, but I try to see it just as a tool, as a vehicle. I consider how I use my car: I’m not going to spend all day long in it, that’d be horrible. I try to think about my relationship with all technologies like this, in the hope of maintaining an inner life and existential freedom.”
- “Literature and drawing are by definition personal art forms. And comics are the meeting of the two. Cinema is an expensive collective artform, and that hinders poetry most of the time. You have to be a dictator or a genius–often both at the same time–to make poetry for the cinema.”