Science Fiction Studies

#57 = Volume 19, Part 2 = July 1992

Elyce Rae Helford

"We are only seeking Man": Gender, Psychoanalysis, and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris

We think of ourselves as the Knights of Holy Contact. This is another lie. We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. (§[6]:72)

In this brief passage from one of SF’s most popular and powerful novels, Lem describes much of what is both important and misleading about efforts (literary or actual) to achieve human/alien contact. He recasts astronauts and scientists as medieval knights on religious pilgrimages, men who quest to assert cultural dominance over new realms. They seek only to encounter that which will prove the significance of their work and worldview. Such quests, Lem suggests, do not require investigation of outer space, because human explorers have their eyes closed to the alien Other as well as to themselves. To see the external universe with open eyes, the quest must begin within.

Reference to this self-validating quest as a search for "Man" (in the English translation) also illustrates the powerful patriarchal bias waiting to be reflected in the mirror of self-understanding. When we admit that space exploration is about humanity, not extraterrestrials, we must further specify that such work is done predominantly by men to validate a "masculine" worldview (quite like the traditional SF depicting such exploration). Self-examination is a possible solution: the scientific gaze must be turned inward, at the construction of human identity and its gender implications, before turning outward. To provide mirrors which help to expose and challenge the closed, patriarchal minds of Solaris’s futuristic knights, Lem emphasizes gender-suggestive metaphoric figures, including an ocean-like alien and the replica of a woman it produces from the unconscious mind of Kelvin, the novel’s questing protagonist. In a highly symbolic tale of self-understanding achieved through human-alien contact, Lem provides a compelling psychoanalytic study of the human mind and the construction of gender.1

Solaris tells the story of Kris Kelvin, a scientist who travels to the much-studied planet Solaris to continue attempts to communicate with the planet’s sole native inhabitant: a huge, sentient body of plasma-like substance which takes up most of Solaris’ surface and which humans can only call an "ocean." The ocean is described by scientists and theorists as either undesirous or incapable of communication with humans. However, soon after Kelvin’s arrival on Solaris’ space station, he feels a presence which is strongest as he sleeps. He first sees the figure of a "primitive" black woman, an example of what he and Dr. Snow (another scientist on the station) come to call "Phi-creatures" or "visitors": beings produced by the ocean from repressed desires in the human unconscious. Several days into Kelvin’s stay, he wakes to find his own visitor, a representation of his former wife Rheya, who committed suicide upon his desertion of their marriage ten years previously. At first, Kelvin spends much energy trying to destroy her; but when he learns that Phi-creatures are indestructible, he attempts to understand these creatures as discourse, as alien communication.

Despite Kelvin’s attempts to distance himself physically and intellectually from the Phi-creature Rheya, he eventually falls in love with her. He swears he will stay on the planet even if the other humans leave, while Snow and Sartorius, the two other scientists on the station, still desire to be rid of their less pleasant visitors (neither is fully described to the reader, but each seems intent on tormenting the human from whose mind it was produced). The scientists decide to bombard the ocean with waking human brainwaves in an effort to force/help the alien to understand their anguish. With the assistance of a hesitant Kelvin, the attempt is eventually successful; the scientists find the creatures can now be destroyed. As the novel ends, the simulation of Rheya "commits suicide" with the help of Snow, because she knows Kelvin will never return to Earth while she is "alive." Despite her death, however, he stays on Solaris, depressed and alone, yet optimistic, hoping for additional communication from the still-alien ocean.

An excellent starting point for understanding the relationship between Solaris, gender, and psychoanalysis is Alice Jardine’s concept of gynesis: a process by which metaphors for the "feminine" are encoded as "spaces" or "gaps" into postmodern theories which attempt to resist traditional philosophical absolutes. In Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity, Jardine examines the postmodern preoccupation with rejecting and rethinking western "master narratives": humanistic philosophies which rely on absolutes such as "Man," "History," and "Truth." Theorists who attempt to understand and explain existence and experience through these traditional narratives largely omit acknowledgement of their authorial subject positions (most importantly, the fact that they are generally white western men of a privileged class). Reconceptualizing such narratives necessarily involves a reexamination of the patriarchal politics of western philosophic thought. Psychoanalysis, for example, is largely based upon a rethinking of traditional representations of subjectivity. For psychoanalytic theorists such as Freud and Lacan, the "Subject" must not be seen as a reified, unified whole, actively shaping "his" universe; but rather as a complex and divided self, full of repressed desire and an inability to comprehend the meanings of and reasons for his own thoughts. And "he," in Freud and Lacan, must be distinguished carefully from "she," for male and female sexuality evolve in separate and distinct directions. While psychoanalysis does remain complicit with many aspects of the traditional and artificial construction of gender within patriarchy, it effectively destabilizes the patriarchal myth of the universal subject (most often represented as "Man").

Theoretical approaches which reexamine master narratives, such as psychoanalysis, reveal many of the unstated assumptions of humanistic philosophies. However, they often fail as challenges to tradition because they replicate certain universalizing and essentializing tendencies of the philosophical approaches and constructs they reconsider. For Jardine, the most significant problem is the tendency of such theory to replace denial of the issue of gender with an encoding of what is labeled "feminine," a process she labels gynesis. "Woman," she writes, "is and always has been, of course, the original problematic object" (36 n.18), and therefore:

In the search for new kinds of legitimation, in the absence of Truth, in anxiety over the decline of paternal authority, and in the midst of spiraling diagnoses of Paranoia, the End of Man and History, "woman" has been set in motion both rhetorically and ideologically. (36)

As the scientists on Solaris furiously work to understand an alien resistant to study and classification and able to extract information from the unconscious mind of its observers and use it to create beings in human form, they face the (postmodern) cultural crisis Jardine describes. Through the figure of the alien and the simulation of "woman" it produces for Kelvin, a representation of the myth of the universal subject, Lem articulates on a popular literary level the process Jardine describes.

A metaphoric inscription of "woman" can be seen from the opening pages of the novel, which describe Kelvin’s voyage from the "mothership" Prometheus (suggestive of the nurturing, life-giving spirit from Greek mythology who, while male, enacts the role of "mother" to humankind) in a capsule-shuttle to the surface of Solaris. It is difficult not to read the depiction as graphically gendered, from the birth of the shuttle out of the mothership to its immediate metaphoric reconstruction as phallic "shaft," "knifing through space" in a "steadily mounting heat" (§[1]:2). The imagery of sexual climax is obvious as the capsule enters Solaris’s atmosphere, "shaken by a sudden jolt, then another," until "The whole vehicle began to vibrate...." Kelvin states, "I felt no fear. I had not undertaken this long voyage only to overshoot my target!" (§[1]:2). He is powerful, aggressive, absolutely assured of his performance. The shuttle-as-phallus indicates Kelvin’s own feelings of control over his environment. The planet, in this discursive context, is constructed as passive receptacle, the inactive and unresisting object of male desire. And it is significant that these opening images are so blatantly sexualized; the gender metaphorization of space travel directs us to the gender encoding we will see in the depiction of the alien and the Phi-creatures it produces.

Once Kelvin leaves the capsule and enters the space station which hovers over the alien-ocean, he begins to lose his self-confidence. He observes the ocean through a window in the space station, and fears the alienness of his surroundings:

The wave crests glinted through the window, the colossal rollers rising and falling in slow motion. Watching the ocean like this one had the illusion—it was surely an illusion—that the station was moving imperceptibly, as though teetering on an invisible base; then it would recover its equilibrium, only to lean the opposite way with the same lazy movement. Thick foam, the color of blood, gathered in the troughs of the waves. For a fraction of a second, my throat tightened and I thought longingly of the Prometheus and its strict discipline; the memory of an existence which seemed a happy one, now gone forever. (§[1]:8)

Here we can read the ocean as a great womb, a womb which cradles and protects the fetal Kelvin within the amniotic membrane of the space station. Kelvin seems involved in a birth and rebirth cycle in which he plays multiple roles and over which he has little control. There is strong suggestion of reincarnation as he is "born" of the masculine mother(ship) Prometheus, propelled into instant male adulthood (in which he engages in sex with a new mother), and then turned back into a fetus within the Solarist ocean-womb. However, this new "mother" is different from the original. Kelvin, as confident product of earth technology and science, does not return to the "strict discipline" of the Promethean patriarchal womb, but rather to an unknown alien body which comes to represent a metaphorization of the "feminine." The question for the novel as it addresses the concept and implications of gynesis becomes how this rebirth will enable Kelvin and the reader to rethink the gender-coding of experience. A productive way to examine the question is to study the gender implications of Kelvin’s experiences as they suggest elements of feminist and psychoanalytic theories which engage in the process of gynesis.

Kelvin’s first reaction to the alienness of his new surroundings is an attempt to render them less so by immersing himself in human histories of the planet and its sole inhabitant. By reading Terran theories on the alien rather than studying the ocean itself, Kelvin feels safely distanced. Furthermore, this focus on texts reveals a distrust of his own subjective responses to the alien. As the novel progresses and Kelvin is "contacted" by the ocean through the generation of the Phi-creature Rheya, he becomes increasingly obsessed with Solarist studies. When most threatened, he retreats to the station’s library to read; this windowless space is centered in the station and the ocean is completely shut out.

Eventually, however, Kelvin realizes the futility of reading and rereading these texts. They may offer interpretations of the phenomenon that is the ocean, but each historian or scientist can only produce a personal and highly subjective hypothesis and narrative. There is no "Truth" that can explain the ocean and Kelvin’s experiences. When he finally does make physical contact with the ocean at the conclusion of the novel, Kelvin claims to see it "with a different eye": his own subjective vision. The primary impetus for Kelvin’s turn from literary histories to personal experience is his reexamination of self through his relationship with the Phi-creature Rheya.

Kelvin arrives on Solaris the embodiment of the confident scientist, seeking to explore and explain his surroundings through allegedly objective studies. However, the presence and actions of the ocean quickly destabilize his self-confidence and eventually lead him to a new constitution of identity. Although all the scientists wish to escape the Phi-creatures, the ocean, and the planet for most of the novel, only Snow directly acknowledges the value of their experience for personal enlightenment. He tells Kelvin, "It might be worth our while to stay. We’re unlikely to learn anything about it, but about ourselves..." (§[6]:77). Snow realizes that humans not only fail to see the truly alien but will not and cannot until they better understand themselves. And this understanding is what their experiences with the ocean of Solaris should provide.

A vast reflective pool which defies human understanding, the ocean communicates only through the creation of Phi-creatures, causing the scientists to turn inward before they attempt to focus their gaze more directly upon this alien. It remains entirely Other no matter how hard humans try to construct it in familiar terms. Within the histories of Solaris are frequent attempts to anthropomorphize the ocean; yet it resists identification. Theorists label it "autistic," elevate it to the status of "cosmic yogi," scientifically classify it by type, class, and category (of which the ocean is for each, of course, the only example), even call it a gigantic "brain." All this becomes meaningless busywork in light of living with simulated and indestructible projections from the unconscious mind. Even the accepted label "ocean" is a misleading description. In the face of this huge body of "plasma" and its constant metamorphosis through various temporary growths or distortions which humans rigorously classify as "extensors," "mimoids," "symmetriads," and "asymmetriads," even "ocean" is overly simplistic and grossly inaccurate.

The resistance of the ocean to classification is part of its function as mirror for humanity. Its generation of the Phi-creatures is another. These beings absorb almost all of the scientists’ time and energy. And while the humans attempt to understand the ocean by understanding the Phi-creatures, they cannot help but reflect on their own psychological construction as they live with these fleshly projections of the mind. Through the creation of the new Rheya, Kelvin is forced to contemplate his guilt over the suicide of the "real" Rheya, the nature of his feelings for both Rheyas, and his tendency to repress emotions and memories. He sees himself reflected back by the actions of the ocean as a fragmented and complex being, manipulated by an alien he thought he could control.

The fact that the ocean’s only communication with the humans is through the generation of creatures projected from the human unconscious highlights the psychoanalytic emphasis of the novel. A reading of human-alien relations as represented through language in Solaris through the work of Jacques Lacan illuminates this focus and highlights the process of gynesis in the novel. In "The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in the psychoanalytic experience," Lacan discusses the stage at which the infant of six to eighteen months first begins to observe himself in the mirror. While still in the phase of life which Lacan calls the "Imaginary Order," in which the infant—always male—does not yet consider himself an entity separate from his mother, the mirror stage establishes the first sense of identity the child will have: an imaginary one. Because he does not yet possess the skills of language which will allow him to construct a self linguistically, he is not alienated from his union with the mother; however, it is this stage at which the infant develops awareness of his potential as an independent being.

The infant sits, Lacan claims, fascinated with his own image in a mirror (whether literal or in the figurative form of another child), observing himself as a discrete unit within the space of the world, an apparently unified and capable whole or Gestalt. Yet this image is also profoundly alienating, for the infant is still utterly dependent on others, motor coordination is largely undeveloped, and, most importantly, the infant has envisioned this coherent self by identifying with an image: he merges with a mirrored reflection. Thus this early identification is what Lacan refers to as "misrecognition" (méconnaissance); the infant mistakes his dependent and complex existence for a unified and independent image. Lacan concludes:

this Gestalt...symbolizes the mental permanence of the I, at the same time as it prefigures its alienating destination; it is still pregnant with the correspondences that unite the I with the statue in which man projects himself, with the phantoms that dominate him, or with the automaton, in which, in an ambiguous relation, the world of his own making tends to find completion. (2-3)

Kelvin seeks to find self-validation and "permanence" within the library stacks of the enclosed space station; yet, even when he realizes that this world cannot protect him from the alien’s communication (which informs him that he is not in control of his universe), he is still in the "mirror stage": he continues to misrecognize himself through the "phantoms that dominate him," the ocean and the Phi-creature Rheya. His attempts to "find completion" continue to alienate him.

For Lacan, the most profound alienation comes with the inauguration into language and the "Symbolic Order." It is at this stage, according to Lacan, that the child comes to separate himself from the mother. When the child can state "I am," he consciously identifies a self and awareness of his existence as an independent being. The child gives up his sense of unity with the mother, the unity of the Imaginary Order, and begins to take his place within the accepted social and sexual order of his culture. For Lacan, the alienation of the child’s entry into the Symbolic Order creates the split between the conscious and unconscious mind. Through the break from imaginary unity with the mother, the child gains a sense of self; yet this creates a feeling of lack, an inevitable and insatiable desire to regain that bond which is now gone forever. This desire, furthermore, is inexpressible through a conscious use of language, because it was originally experienced at a pre-linguistic stage of development. The unconscious becomes the repository of this inexpressible desire (a "space" to be filled) and constitutes "the locus of the Other," the unreachable site where desire is directed. Solaris illustrates movement in the "Symbolic Order" for Kelvin when Rheya —the object of his desire—is finally gone. Only then can he identify a self and reach out (literally and figuratively) to the alien. His attempts, however, will always be thwarted or, more literally, repelled, for the site of original desire is unreachable.

Sexual identity is an important element of Lacan’s reworking of Freud. The infant before the mirror, growing into the child who breaks his essential bond with the mother to gain his sense of self, is decidedly male. Only the male child can successfully separate himself from the mother; only he can come to speak the language of the Father—the law of the phallus, for Lacan. However, the figurative terminology of psychoanalysis developed through the study of "real" women who came to represent the inherently deviant "Other" (psychoanalytically constructed "woman") to the male norm. These fundamental premises reveal the gynesis which is necessarily a part of psychoanalytic theory. Jardine writes:

Within this strange gap between the female bodies at the inceptions of psychoanalysis and the male subject taken as its norm, and especially within the resultant syntax, lies the power (and, for some, the faults) of psychoanalysis itself. "The hysteric is a woman who can also become a man" becomes, in a hallucinatory conceptual leap, the very definition of hysteria as an object of psychoanalytical knowledge. Through this gap, itself hysterical, slipped the confusion between women and "woman," a confusion which in turn generated a perpetual oscillation that has never been able to move beyond its first contradictory articulation. (160)

Lacanian theory provides a suggestive framework for explaining Kelvin’s psychic development on Solaris. The opening sexual imagery which involves Kelvin in a cycle of birth and rebirth suggests that his landing on Solaris can be read as the birth of a fetus from the Solarian ocean-womb; from this perspective, he develops from infancy through the course of the novel. Through fascination with the alienness of the ocean-as-mirror, Kelvin at first sees a whole and unproblematic "Self" reflected back. But he soon realizes that this vision is misrecognition. He must acknowledge that he is controlled by the actions of the ocean and is incapable of leaving the planet. He is not the autonomous and powerful subject he misthought himself to be. This is made most clear to him through the ocean’s generation of the visitors, physical manifestations of the psychic divisions between the conscious and the unconscious. When he is confronted with Rheya, Kelvin is forced to abandon his former false sense of self. Through her, he confronts a gender-encoded construction of the complex processes of the human mind.

Kelvin is incapable of questioning fully his own gender-encoding tendencies, primarily because the psychoanalytic deconstruction which he undergoes is engaged in the process of gynesis. A study of Kelvin’s relationship with the simulation of Rhea clarifies the limitations of his denaturalization of identity through contact with Solaris’s ocean. The new Rheya—the embodiment of a constructed "feminine"—naturally loves Kelvin from the moment of her appearance, and wishes nothing more than to be with him. She does not remember the "real" Rheya’s suicide nor Kelvin’s desertion of their relationship. In addition, because she is at a loss to explain her existence, Kelvin can aptly cast her as a child, a role she accepts and one to which she is attracted. It is clear why Kelvin, upon learning that Rheya cannot be separated from him (all Phi-creatures are uncontrollably compelled to remain near the person from whose mind they were created), tells his beloved, "For some reason that neither of us understands, it seems that... you are forced to stay near me. And that’s fine with me, because I can’t leave you either..." (§[8]:108). This incarnation of Rheya is devoid of original thought or action. Her entire existence is dependent on Kelvin’s, both emotionally and physiologically. In the end, she can only reenact her former suicide, but this time to help Kelvin to be free of her, not in reaction to his abandonment. The act offers less evidence of an independent consciousness than did her original self-murder. And, though troubled by the fact that she cannot be apart from him (more likely because he sees reflected in her a troubling and dependent image of himself than because he wishes her to attain an individual identity), Kelvin never resists this Rheya’s self-effacing, sacrificial tendencies. He helps her to know that she is not the "original" Rheya, but never encourages her to develop herself independently from him (except when he occasionally forces her to stay away from him, to give him the "space" to misrecognize himself as the unified individual he once thought he was). Although he seems to question his objectification of the ocean, he continues to objectify Rheya as the product and property of his own mind and to love her for her passivity.

Thus, while Kelvin may be transformed through his experiences on Solaris, not only does he fail to question his patriarchal attitude toward Rheya, but his understanding of the ocean does not and cannot reach past the gynesis in the psychoanalytic theory through which he can be argued to have been deconstructed. At the conclusion of the novel, Kelvin ceases to envision the ocean as passive object of human (male) conquest, yet he continues to objectify it. After Rheya’s death, he inverts his perspective and deifies the ocean as an "imperfect god":

I’m not thinking of a god whose imperfection arises out of the candor of his human creators, but one whose imperfection represents his essential characteristic: a god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is a...sick god, whose ambitions exceed his powers and who does not realize it at first. (§[14]:197)

Despite the male gender reference for this god, its connection with imperfection, limitation, and horror suggests the "feminine."2 This is a god(dess) who lacks, whose power is fallible and incomplete. "She" also indicates Kelvin’s conception of a "feminized" self: a self necessarily limited by and to his internalization of the construct "woman" represented by interaction with the Phi-creature Rheya as product of his connection with Solaris’s ocean. Kelvin’s reconstituted sense of self has encouraged him to embrace the "feminine," but is as devoid of an understanding of "real" women as Rheya, the instrument of his transformation and product of his mind, is devoid of subjectivity.

Through Kelvin’s relationship with Rheya we come to understand the construction of gender identity and the effects of the process of gynesis as represented in Solaris. However, representations of gender can also be explicitly and inseparably tied to identifying factors such as race, sexual orientation, and class. "Woman" can become specified, for example, to indicate "woman of color," "lesbian woman," "impoverished woman," or combinations of these metaphoric figures. While examination of the construction of race and culture are not central to Solaris, the process of gynesis extends to such issues through the presentation of Dr Gibarian’s Phi-creature.

Through the ocean’s attempt at communication, Kelvin sees Rheya, a manifestation of the ideal passive (white) woman. Dr Gibarian sees a woman as well, but one who is far more racially and culturally suggestive, a manifestation of an exotic "primitive" African or Caribbean woman. His unconscious produces a replica of "woman" which highlights ethnocentric assumptions within himself that he might never have had to deal with before coming to Solaris. We cannot be sure what Gibarian learns from his visitor; however, he is willing to kill himself to escape from what she represents to him. It is possible to argue that Gibarian could not live with his ethnocentric sexism as it was made flesh by the ocean. To be followed constantly by so symbolic a figure of stereotyped gender and racial prejudice must have been intolerable. Kelvin is certainly horrified by her:

A giant Negress was coming silently towards me with a smooth, rolling gait. I caught a gleam from the whites of her eyes and heard the soft slapping of her bare feet. She was wearing nothing but a yellow skirt of plaited straw; her enormous breasts swung freely and her black arms were as thick as thighs. Less than a yard separated us as she passed me, but she did not give me as much as a glance. She went on her way, her grass skirt swinging rhythmically, resembling one of those steatopygous statues in anthropological museums. Terror-stricken, I stared blankly around the big, empty hall. (§[3]:30)

It is not surprising that Kelvin can only explain Gibarian’s Phi-creature as a "steatopygous statue" and "monstrous Aphrodite" (30). She does reveal the gender and race orientation of Gibarian’s mind, but we receive only this superficial understanding because we do not see the two interact, nor are we allowed into Gibarian’s mind. However, we can add to an understanding of Kelvin’s attitude toward the construction of gender through his reaction to Gibarian’s visitor.

The statues to which Kelvin likens this figure are probably what are called "Venus figurines" or "fertility goddesses." Many traditional archaeologists and anthropologists have argued that these small statues were "objects in some ancient, and presumably obscene, ‘fertility cult.’ They were often viewed as obese, distorted erotic symbols; in other words, as prehistoric counterparts of Playboy centerfolds" (Eisler 24). Contemporary ecofeminist theorists question such assumptions, arguing that the pornographic explanations of the statues were produced within the sexist and ethnocentric context of traditional (patriarchal) archaeology. Riane Eisler claims, instead, that these statues are representations of the life-giving powers of the world.... they are precursors of the Great Goddess still revered in historic times as Isis in Egypt, Ishtar in Canaan, Demeter in Greece, and later, as the Magna Mater in Rome and the Catholic Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. (24)

Such reinterpretation produces a feminist reading which can help us to see the figure produced from Gibarian’s mind not as an "obscene" representation of exotified "blackness" and/or "womanhood," but as a representation of the powerful "Earth Mother," the creator and nurturer of all life, the "Great Goddess." Kelvin’s inability to envision the "giant Negress" in such powerful terms is typical of his limited and limiting visions of women (as more clearly represented by Rheya and his affection for her). However, the situation is still further complicated by the essentialism of Eisler’s feminist revision of traditional archaeology, an essentialism which makes gender a determinant of subjectivity.

As I noted above, it is possible to infer that Gibarian killed himself to escape the sexism and racism he saw in himself through what we see as a highly symbolic Phi-creature. He might even have recognized her power in ways that Kelvin did not and could not, because it was from his personal unconscious that she was evoked. However, even if Lem’s representation was meant to encourage a feminist reconstruction, it fails to offer a satisfactory questioning of gender and race. Just as Rheya represents only a metaphoric "woman," so Gibarian’s visitor permits only a metaphoric understanding of "woman of color" or "primitive woman," whether understood traditionally or through essentialist feminist reconstruction. While the feminist reading may be preferable because it grants power to Gibarian’s objectification, it still does not permit an understanding beyond the symbolic and essentialized realm.

Lem’s examination of gender in Solaris relies upon a metaphorization which keeps Kelvin from understanding what Jardine might call the "hysterical" slip between women and "woman." Yet if we can understand the limitations of Kelvin’s transformation, we can begin to destabilize and problematize the tendency to enact gynesis. The furthest we may get is to Jardine’s realization that no linguistic usage or representation of "woman" is unproblematic. As Jardine asserts:

To refuse "woman" or the "feminine" as cultural and libidinal construction (as in "men’s femininity") is, ironically, to return to metaphysical—anatomical— definitions of sexual identity. To accept a metaphorization, a semiosis of woman, on the other hand, means risking once again the absence of women as subjects in the struggles of modernity. (37)

For this reason, while examinations of cultural constructions of "woman" and "femininity" have proved extremely useful for feminist and psychoanalytic critics, the limitations inherent in reliance on the metaphorization of gender must be acknowledged. Critical theory such as Jardine’s, which helps us to complicate the implications of this process through self-reflective analysis, and study of popular yet philosophically dense fiction such as Lem’s are perhaps the most liberatory rhetorical response to this postmodern phenomenon.


1. Throughout this study, the term gender will be used to refer to culturally-constructed notions of sex (the "masculine" or the "feminine," "man" or "woman"), while sex will indicate the biological (the female or the male, men or women).

2. For further discussion of the relationship between "horror" and the feminine within the context of science fiction, see Barbara Creed’s "Alien and the Monstrous- Feminine" and "Gynesis, Postmodernism, and the Science Fiction Horror Film," both published in Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Film, ed. Annette Kuhn (London & NY, 1990).


Eisler, Riane. "The Gaia Tradition and the Partnership Future: An Ecofeminist Manifesto." Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. Ed. Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein. San Francisco, 1990. 23-34.

Jardine, Alice A. Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity. Ithaca, NY, 1985.

Lacan, Jacques. "The mirror stage as formative of the I as revealed in the psycho analytic experience." Ecrits: a Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. NY, 1977. 1-7.

Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. Trans. Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

Abstract.—This essay examines issues of gender representation in Lem’s Solaris through focus on the character Kelvin and his relationships with the ocean alien of Solaris and its reproduction of his former wife Rheya. I argue that Solaris illustrates a process in which gender constructs such as "woman" and the "feminine" are textually encoded in attempts to reconsider misleading traditional philosphical absolutes such as "Man." By reading the construction of gender in the novel through the denaturalizing work of theorists Alice Jardine and Jacques Lacan, I invite the reader to consider the gender implications of Solaris as postmodern discourse. (ERH)

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