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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Adam Riggio
    July 15, 2013 @ 7:43 am

    Fascinating. Another take on the problematic pragmatist idealism of Star Trek.

    Seriously, though, this is a wonderful exploration of the theme, and one of the most difficult ideas about social progress in the material world. Creatures like the Organians who have already perfected their society don't need to compromise their values to make progress. They can look at a character like Edith Keeler and see someone who would be a powerful role model, and whose premature death (premature because she never had the chance to put her ideals into their most potent worldly action) was a terrible crime.

    This is contrasted with a harsh pragmatism: Edith was literally too wise for her time, a light among barbarians, none of whom could recognize her for what she was. In terms of ideals, she was a beacon. In terms of actually achieving those ideals, she was a terrible obstacle. Progress only ever happens a little bit at a time, something to be slowly worked toward. The perspective of the time agent is morally horrifying, having to maintain all these terrible events out of a kind of Leibnizian bargain: the world can only become the best possible if it changes at just the right pace to be effective. Our ideals become counter-productive when we try to go too fast: a revolution is followed by a worse terror than the overthrown regime.

    The time agent is condemned by the Organian, but the Organian has no place to tell us mortals how to progress. The Guardian offers Kirk the possibility not to have mad adventures in time like Doctor Who; it offers Kirk the role of time agent, leaping through time to keep humanity on the most progressive path. It disgusts him. The agent of your dialogue has been conscripted into that disgust.


  2. Josh Marsfelder
    July 15, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    This is such a fantastic reading I don't have the heart to tell you that it's only almost, but not quite, what I was going for.


  3. Adam Riggio
    July 15, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    You don't have the heart, but you did. That's ok, though. I prefer to be almost on target in an interesting way than actually being on target.

    Both positions seem to be morally reprehensible for different reasons. The Organian perspective is hubristic and patronizing: an analogy would be a human condemning a homo erectus for not coming up with Shakespeare. The time agent's perspective means taking this almost Hegelian perspective on the world: the spirit of a people move at its own pace, and so a time agent has to tolerate intolerable horrors because they're the evils from which greater goods are capable. And the time agent is still mortal. The Keeler case may be clear, but there are probably a lot of situations where good people have to be destroyed to preserve the arc of history, but a time agent might not be totally clear about the effects of his own actions. Maybe some changes would progress things faster, but changing timelines is so dangerous that it can't be risked. It's a terrible double-bind, and I'm not sure if the scenario offers a way out of it.


  4. Josh Marsfelder
    July 15, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

    No, I think it's a great reading and definitely a valid one and that's very much the train of thought I wanted to provoke by putting Organians here. It's just I would argue that's not the only relationship on display here: The agent and Ayelborne were not meant to be quite so…directly…contrasted. This may well be my fault for not making it clear enough in the structure of the post, though.

    I'm starting to feel I should start providing reading guides for this kind of post…


  5. Adam Riggio
    July 15, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

    Why on Earth would you do something like that? The ambiguity of interpretations is what makes it good art. And the best analysis good art is itself good art.


  6. Cleofis
    July 15, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

    Personally I wouldn't mind a reading guide every now and then :T If it could be spoiler'd somehow. Ambiguity is all well and good, but it can be a hindrance if you're not getting everything you can out of the work in question as a result; I found this one a bit difficult to parse at first, but that's just me. And hey, an excuse to re-read 🙂


  7. Josh Marsfelder
    July 15, 2013 @ 8:31 pm


    My sentiments exactly, but it's nice to hear them from someone else on occasion-Validation is good sometimes 🙂


  8. Daru
    July 16, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

    Hi – been reading all your current posts since you began – keep up the good work! Thanks for a good read with this essay.

    I got something interesting from the essay that perhaps was unintended – I love these moments in good art, either accidents creating new moments of magic, or conjunctions occurring that the artist did not themselves see at first. As I scrolled down with my trackpad, I started reading your essay and was very taken with the image of the Guardian as it was superimposed upon that of the Earth below. I noticed something, and this was underlined when further images of the Guardian were repeated as I continued to scroll, but with new visions within.

    What it looked like to me was that the Guardian was creating an opening into the hollow Planet Earth, which then with each scroll down, contained new worlds or civilisations. Interestingly this could not happen in the same way if this was in a book and was an artefact of reading and scrolling on a computer with some images superimposed over others. It also obviously depended on my eye placing the images at the right point on the dark part of the planet for it to work – and the first three or four worked best (my designer eye wanted also to NOT have the image cropped at the bottom).

    Anyway what it made me think of was all of the Hollow Earth tales propagated by many cultures and myths of the Black Sun (Aztecs, Sumerians and many more). What interested me was how groups and individuals use ideas such as this for their own means – such is seen at Wewelsburg Castle in Germany, where the SS redesigned the castle, as for them it sat on the axis point of the "Center of the World" – giving access to the power of the Black Sun in the Hollow Earth.

    Anyways, group have their stories, their myths and even their conspiracies that get out hand and grow a life of their own – such as the idea of this being the best Original Series episode ever. I myself remember rewatching this episode when my partner and I were on a Trek marathon and actually I felt somewhat disappointed I recall. You have articulated perfectly the reasons why. I still enjoyed it but at the time wrote off any feelings of discomfort.

    The final image inside our Hollow Earth states that war is declared – and I think that this war is within the show itself – between the show and its beginnings, with Roddenberry, between the show and its writers, etc, and finally (if the images inside the Earth go across time) with its fans and also a conflict propagated by the fans themselves who later seek to defend the show and its 'image', its mythos and its Black Sun at all costs. As is stated at your essay's end:

    "…the conflict continues. Mark my words, Agent, this is not the last you'll see of us. We will return. And when we do, time will stand still and the war to end all wars will rage once more.”


  9. Josh Marsfelder
    July 17, 2013 @ 8:18 am

    That's absolutely beautiful, and exactly the kind of interpretation I had hoped essays like this would provoke in my readers.

    Thanks for the kind words, and thanks very much for that!


  10. Daru
    July 17, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    Much appreciated! And thanks for your kind words too.

    I have been long inspired by Philip's Doctor Who blog and currently yours. I do sometimes lurk a bit as I don't always have time to catch threads when they are live due to work commitments, but something about this essay caught me – so thanks again for the inspiration and I hope to share more!


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