very interesting discussion! I'm especially interested in two points, one by Arthur and one by Molly, the first point being the idea of a virtual MERGER replacing technological alienation, let's call it, the other being the intense fantasy scenario of a unification with some maternal whole. I can say immediately that I quite disliked Avatar, and that I really despise almost everything James Cameron stands for, and that I most definitely hope that we are not witnessing here the future of film (though, alas, it might be that we are). But going back to the two points, what immediately struck me as interesting in Avatar and as extremely timely is the strange relation between, on the one hand, an intense investment in (even a fetishization of ) more and more modern technologies and, on the other hand, a green, environmental dram of some kind of merger/unification with a pre-technological nature, a nature that has not been separated from its own naturalness. it is as if technology, at its most extreme and sophisticated, can allow the human to leave it behind, or to return to the edenic state before the birth of technology, become one with nature again. THis is obviously a completely incoherent attempt, but one that seems to more and more characterize our strange times. The human, or at least Western man, is in the period of his great mea culpa, ashamed of himself and what his history has done (I'm intentionally stressing the gender man, since obviously, it is a certain idea and ideal of masculinity that is being criticized), the slaughters, the conquests, the technological desire that seems to be at the source of all these, and he wants to get away from himself, to leave his guilty history behind (and even thus his humanly guilty body behind (as the end of Avatar makes clear) acquiring a completely new, non-westernly human nature, or perhaps a nature that is beyond the human, whatever these creatures on Pandora are. (Cameron has always had this vision of a humanity that self-destructs through technology - the terminator - but that also can be saved somehow through technology, or through something technology allows for - a return to the past, etc, the affect of his films can perhaps be described as technological apocalypse with the hope of infantile redemption). Man, then, to return to our theme, is guiltily trying to get away from himself and his own history (the recent investment of the guilty American left in black Obama as a redemptive figure is not very far from this logic) and redaem himself in some pure realm of nature, that is , of a realm before technological impurity (the interesting thing is that nature in Avatar seems itself to have at its disposal even more sophisticated technologies, such as the memory tree, but which are explained naturalistically/biologically). Thus, a technology that will lead beyond technology is that incoherent vision that guides the film, rather than a real thinking of what the relation is between man and technology, what has gone wrong with it, and in what way it can be transformed, without giving up on the fact that man IS a technological being, that is, a non-natural being, not a being behaving according to the constant rhythms of nature (though of course it might be that these constant rhythms of nature are another human fantasy, a fantasy originarily trying to protect man from facing his own technological nature. nature itself is most probably not natural either, in the sense of not being subjected to constant unchanging rhythms).
Another interesting incoherence of the Cameronian (finally fascistic - for fascism is this relation between technological fetishism and a dream of a pure, "natural" humanity) vision, is his quite insane relation to masculinity (to the question psychoanalysis named that of the phallus). On the one hand, Cameron sees man, or Western Masculinity as a problem, being as it is at the heart of the destruction to pure Mother nature, but on the other he dreams of a new manliness which is not at all different from the old western one, just more extreme. The film is finally the narrativization of an initiation rite into masculinity - both explicitly in the world of the Navi's - where the main figure finally becomes a man within the tribe - and implicitly in the world of the white men, where the weak, obviously castrated soldier (no legs!) can finally become a leader, a real man, through his technologically prosthetic image (again, the strangeness of the idea that it is the technological prosthesis that will make a real, natural man, out of the hero). Not only that, the hero becomes even more man then the natural men of the tribe, thus the guilty white man who dreams of going beyond himself and his guilty history of conquests by going native, actually proves that he wants nothing more than to continue his conquests by other, disguised, means, for he is the real man of the tribe now, and becomes its leader. the white man can finally only envision its redemption by being a conquering hero, not by liberating himself from the fantasy of the conquering hero. The same paradoxical craziness characterizes the lust for killing displayed in the film. the technological white people are ruthless killers, destroying the innocent natives, yet while the redeemed white man leads the natives, an extraordinary lust for killing of the white men is displayed, no less horrifying then the one characterizing the white men (one could think Cameron is on to some sophisticated critique or deconstruction of the myth of the innocent native, but it does not seem to be the case in my eyes at least, there is no hint of anything but identification with the slaughtering of the evil white men by the "innocent" natives.) there is in general a deranged relation to killing in the movie where there seems to be as if a good, natural killing (when the woman for example, kills mercilessly the animals, but then whispers to their spirit, as if her killing act was finally a pure part of nature).
In brief, Cameron is NOT an artist, but a techno-craftsman geek seeking to gain his masculinity (to become King of the world in his "memorable" phrase) through a redemption by his own techno powers that then try to hide themselves as a return to nature, and it is precisely the fact that he and his films understands nothing about art - that has always been related to the technological being of men, for art is the coming of the non-natural new - that constructs his complete misrelation between technology and a new humanity.