- My Father, He Killed Me; My Mother, She Ate Me:Self, Desire, Engendering, and the Mother in Neon Genesis Evangelion
In an oneiric excerpt from the Zohar, a key text of Jewish mysticism, we learn of a strange event that takes place before the primal parents' expulsion from Eden:
Now return: Adam and Eve are still in Paradise when Samael, with a little boy in tow, accosts Eve. "Would you mind merely keeping an eye on my son?" he asks her. "I will soon return." Eve agrees.
Returning from a walk in Paradise, Adam follows the piercing squeals of the child back to Eve.
"It is Samael's," she tells a vexed Adam. His anxiety increases along with the screams of the little one, which grow unbearably violent. Beside himself, Adam delivers a blow that kills the youngster then and there. Yet its body continues to wail at a fever pitch, monstrous groans that do not stop when Adam cuts the corpse into bits.
Then Adam cooked the pieces of flesh and bone that remained, to wipe out this fiend. Together with Eve, he ate all that was left. They had hardly finished when Samael called for his son. Denying all knowledge of his son, the culprits were protesting their innocence when suddenly a louder voice [End Page 216] cried out from within their stomachs to silence them: it was the dead boy's voice, come straight from their hearts, his words directed to Samael.
"Leave me, now that I've pierced the hearts of both Adam and Eve. I remain in their hearts forever, and in their children's hearts, their children's children-until the last generation I abide here."1
Taken out of its context as part of a multilayered text of rabbinical hermeneutics aimed toward psychic and spiritual insight, this story forces us to engage it on a most primeval level, one that is essentially preverbal. It is by inference rather than direct analysis that we become aware of a compendium of some of the most primal human fears and anxieties, among them the uncanniness of birth and death; the many forms and terrors of ingestion, including sex; the cannibalistic bond of parent-child relationships and the allure of incest, as well as the presence in our entrails of the seeds of both reproduction and death. It is this level of primal sexual, thanatic, and generative terror that I wish to address in regard to Anno Hideaki's Neon Genesis Evangelion (Shinseiki evangerion), a corpus that includes the initial twenty-six-episode TV series (aired from October 1995 to March 1996) and the subsequent feature films, Death and Rebirth (1997) and End of Evangelion (1997).2 As the title indicates, Neon Genesis Evangelion literally posits itself as the "gospel of a new genesis," a work that questions and ponders the source and meaning of human life. By drawing on particular Judeo-Christian mytho-religious sources, specifically the kabbalistic and "gnostic" interpretations of The Book of Genesis that inform Anno's script,3 I hope to address the series' strong generative thematics. I suggest this birthing and reproductive imperative is located in the figure of the mother, who paradoxically becomes a tyrannical, self-reproducing and recreating entity that impedes generational progression and maturation. However, in the end and in the guise of her more benign and reproductive aspects, she becomes the final sacrifice that paves the entrance into a new order of psychological and sexual potentiality.
Evangelion is, without doubt, one of the most complex anime serials produced in the late 1990s, a rumination and critique on its own nature as cultural and ideological product, art and artifice. The show's proclivity for self-referentiality, parody, pastiche, metalepsis, and, ultimately, deconstruction provides us with a general instance of what Umberto Eco has termed opera aperta, or "open work," a piece that allows and even requires multiple interpretations from the reader.4 There is no single or straight interpretation of Evangelion based on its plot sources: like many of the esoteric works it references, it is layered, crowded with riddles, arguably overcoded. Elements are [End Page 217] shuffled, recombined, and altered to provide a new...