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Cardassian monsters and Bajoran freedom fighters: Federation politics and the dialectics of difference

Nolton, M.ORCID: 0000-0002-9375-1123 (2008) Cardassian monsters and Bajoran freedom fighters: Federation politics and the dialectics of difference. In: Decker, K.S. and Eberl, J.T., (eds.) Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant. Open Court, Chicago, pp. 185-200.


Since its inception in 1966, Star Trek has had a big impact on viewers. As its characters travel through space encountering different planets and people, the series provides a forum for many ethical and philosophical questions. The episodes are often morality plays—the situations and dilemmas of the crew serving as allegories for much larger social issues like race, gender, the nature of war, and religion. The result is a Federation message of progress, integrity, and optimism that has sustained audiences throughout the years. Deep Space Nine (DS9) takes these Federation ideals a step further and deliberately places them and its characters in situations which question some of these grand notions, often in ways that are not easily reconciled. DS9’s questioning and further exploration of boundaries occurs specifically via its use of religious tropes, mental illness, and through the concept of difference. DS9 is particularly well suited to such an analysis given the strategic significance of Bajor to the wormhole and the Federation’s insistence that Bajor become a member of the Federation ‘by any means necessary’. In such a situation, the Prime Directive is temporarily set aside or suspended in the quadrant, as the democratic ideals of the Federation move from pharmakon in the curative sense of host to pharmakon in a poisonous sense of parasite. In ‘Duet’ Major Kira interrogates Aamin Marritza, a Cardassian accused of war crimes against the Bajoran people during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. It is revealed that at the Gallitepp labour camp thousands of Bajorns died, and that Marritza is somehow—although it is not yet clear to what extent—associated with this camp. Major Kira feels compelled to punish anyone who served at the prison camp and believes that a trial would give Bajor satisfaction. Marritza, in turn, accuses Kira of not wanting the truth: “It’s not the truth you’re interested in”, he tells her, “all you want is vengeance”. To further compound this situation, Commander Sisko and Gul Dukat also enter into dialogue on the prisoner, with the implication that relations between their two governments will suffer depending on the outcome of such a trial. We clearly see that all parties involved are at an impasse, where the possibility of justice—and questions surrounding notions of justice and recompense—become highly problematic. The question remains: are all Cardassians monsters? Are all Bajorans righteous freedom fighters? This chapter outlines the antagonistic construal of the discourses informing the Bajoran-Cardassian interaction, specifically with regards to the way these discourses have been used to both legitimate certain stakes and identities, while also marginalising and displacing others. For instance, the Bajoran-Cardassian relationship in ‘Duet’ is a particularly clear example of the antagonistic relationship that exists between the two species since the occupation. As I demonstrate, this relationship is particularly entrenched as antagonistic by the constitution of particular identities—the Cardassian overlord or the Bajoran victim—which operate to displace the other as either Cardassian monster or Bajoran freedom fighter. Overall, the chapter is split into three parts. In the first of these I contend that the parties in ‘Duet’ have reached an impasse—unable to move beyond certain grounded assumptions about themselves and others as a result of the occupation. From this point, I turn to engage with DS9 in terms of the theory of agonistics as outlined by Jean-François Lyotard, a theory that is suspicious of, and destabilises closed traditions and narratives, whether they be Federation Directives, Cardassian military stratagem or Bajoran faith claims. Further to this, I will draw on Derrida’s notion of differance as a useful tool in recognising the temporality of our claims to truth when applied to the various parties involved in and around the struggle for the rebuilding of Bajor and the Federation’s claim to wormhole access and technology. This discussion is concluded by an exploration of some of the implications of such exclusionary functioning in terms of its impact on Bajor, Cardassia and the Federation. Finally, although the Bajoran-Cardassian-Federation matrix may often seem to be incommensurable, I would argue that DS9 as a series constantly subverts these (and other) relationships in ways that are best described as transgressive. Furthermore, I would argue that this ongoing transgressive subversion reminds us that agonistic relations and closed boundaries and identities are in fact always open to subversion and a consequent shift beyond impasse. DS9, I suggest, is an exercise in postmodern hope.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Publisher: Open Court
Other Information: Part of 'Popular Culture and Philosophy, 35' George A. Reisch (Series Ed.)
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