I grieve with thee

It’s hard for me to know what to write in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death yesterday at the age of 83.[1] For better or for worse, Nimoy is remembered almost exclusively for his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series and in several of the Star Trek movies.

I tend not to focus on celebrity news. And I grew up in an era where to have a hero was a sign of weakness. I see, nonetheless, that many people, including several roughly my age saw Spock as just that, a hero.

I remember a book by Nimoy entitled I am not Spock. This book is no longer in my possession but I remember it concluding that in a very real sense that Nimoy was Spock. And he apparently followed it up nearly twenty years later with a book entitled I am Spock.[2]

My connection with Star Trek is, these days, problematic. Though I was once Captain David Benfell of the U.S.S. Augusta Ada, the San Francisco chapter of Starfleet International, a Star Trek fan club, as an anarchist, I object to the militaristic structure on its own merits and I object even to the idea that such a structure, backed by considerable firepower, can solve planetary problems.

The repeated theme of saving earth in the movies became tiresome, so much so that I began to reconsider my faithful attendance at those movies.

And, I am troubled by the reduction of Nimoy to Spock, even if it was Spock whom I found most interesting.

Spock eventually surpassed my objection to the Vulcan philosophy of logic, that the suppression of emotion was ultimately a suppression of the reason for living and therefore that in such a philosophy, living itself becomes a waste. He came to recognize that there are limits to logic, that some things can be true, even when they are not logical.

Spock was vegan long before I was, eating as far down on the food chain as possible, preferring, as I understood it, a macrobiotic soup.

But most of all, Spock survived a tortured childhood. Half-human, he was never accepted by the other Vulcan children who, seemingly quite emotionally, were relentless in teasing him. He broke with his father to join Starfleet because of Vulcan intolerance—oh yes, another emotional and quite illogical trait. His father had wanted him to work in the Vulcan Academy of Sciences.

I was much too slow to break with my father, who steered me toward a computer programming career. It would not be until he had committed suicide (in 2000) that I would feel able to pursue a career that wasn’t what he would have considered “real work.” And I burned out on programming in 1985. Since then, neoliberalism has exerted an ever greater influence on this society, virtually guaranteeing that I would never find gainful employment even as I returned to school in 2003 and am now in the dissertation phase of a Ph.D.

Spock’s suppression of emotion echoes my own felt need not to confront emotions from my childhood and adult life, stemming from an abusive father and my own social isolation, an isolation made worse by years of unemployment.

Spock found a place, first in Starfleet, second as an ambassador. I never really have.

So in some ways, Spock is what I should have been but could not be. Just as I tried and catastrophically failed to be a securely-employed professional like my father.

Nimoy, it seems, “relished playing outsiders.”[3] I actually am one.

I will miss Spock, the elder Spock, even if Nimoy seemed a bit cheesy in ending every tweet with the hashtag #LLAP, which stood for “Live Long and Prosper,” the Vulcan expression of good wishes. In the end, it seemed like he had reduced himself to Spock: “Given the choice,” he is said to have written, “if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”[4] And Zachary Quinto, who plays the younger Spock, has some mighty big shoes to step into.

  1. [1]Virginia Heffernan, “Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83,” New York Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html
  2. [2]Virginia Heffernan, “Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83,” New York Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html
  3. [3]Virginia Heffernan, “Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83,” New York Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html
  4. [4]Virginia Heffernan, “Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83,” New York Times, February 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.