Tag: hole

Free Tilikum, or the Transfiguration of Amber Doll: Radical Passivity in Amber Hawk Swanson’s Doll projects

by on Oct.11, 2012


Others have adopted theories of radical passivity here previously; indeed, the blog is saturated in its submissions to art. These conceptions imbue passivity with agency – or rather, resist this passive/agentive binary altogether, instead recognizing the blurriness of boundaries between subject and object, agency and passivity, domination and submission, toward an aesthetics of mediumicity.

At SDS this year (the Society for Disability Studies conference), Eunjung Kim presented a fascinating paper on radical passivity in relation to sex dolls. The paper, “Why Do Dolls Die? The Power of Passivity and the Embodied Interplay Between Disability and Sex Dolls,” published here, poses a provocative intervention into philosophical debates over personhood recently agitated by Peter Singer’s argument for animal rights, which arrived, disappointingly, alongside a disavowal of the right to life/care of severely disabled (such as “totally unconscious”) humans. Sidestepping the problem of categorizing humanness, Kim turns instead to objects – in this case, sex dolls – with the aim of “undermining efforts to deny a being humanness on the basis of object-like status.” Reading sex dolls as an embodiment of disability in films like Lars and the Real Girl and Air Doll, she explores

how doll bodies make visible and enact passivity in its extreme form, thereby creating a condition for accommodation. The ethics of passivity is to recognize the unmodifiable aspect of object being that enables a subject to become an object to be acted upon, and to actualize the other within the self.  (95)

Lars and Bianca at dinner

Bianca, Lars’ RealDoll companion in Lars and the Real Girl, requires physical care and labor such as being bathed, dressed, and lifted into and out of her wheelchair (102). As those around her work to meet Bianca’s needs and fulfill her desires, they endow her with agentive properties. Bianca’s ability to communicate passively seems to extend offscreen as well – here’s Ryan Gosling in the film’s production notes: “Even when she’s not saying anything, she’s communicating everything. It was amazing to watch” (qtd. in Kim 102).

Dolls like Bianca, who seem to glow with a vital agency all the more powerful for being silent, produce a blurriness between subject and object, active and passive – a betweenness that ultimately proves too uncomfortable for their human companions. “Tellingly,” Kim writes, “their immobility, inaction, incommunicativeness, stupor, and catatonia pose such a dangerous challenge to the able-bodied, normative ontology that the dolls in the films must die” (100). Lars stages Bianca’s suicide by drowning and subsequent funeral, then goes on to pursue a “real” (human-human) relationship.


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