One woman in Korea escapes jail using superhuman strength lent to her by someone who experiences all her senses in India … or Chicago, or Nairobi in the African country of Kenya. She then steals a car using the skills of a thief who also shares all of her experiences in Germany. These are scenes from the Netflix series Sense8–the second season of which I have been binge-watching since this weekend–, where a group of people from different parts of the world share their senses, emotions, and experiences so that, for each one of them, it’s almost like they have eight bodies, and don’t seem to mind the sensory overload that happens from time to time, instead relishing it.
I think the success of the series has to do with our hunger for a diversity of experiences. Experiencing the sensorial input of people in many cultures implies that each sensate can taste many spices, dishes, and culinary offerings that are not immediately available in their vicinity. Also, almost every variety and combination of human sexuality is represented among the sensates, who then know what it feels like for a man to make love to another man, or for a woman to make love to a trangender woman.
Sense8 is the brainchild of the transgender dynamic duo the Wachowskis (formerly known as “the Wachowski Brothers”), who both transitioned and now live as women named Lana and Lilly Wachowski. They are best known for having produced The Matrix trilogy. Some of their other sci-fi films include Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, both of which were visually spectacular.
It makes perfect sense that Sense8 is the product of transgender minds: the idea of body and mind as not always matching, of exchanging experiences with other bodies, might be what it feels like when your body does not feel like it matches your soul due to gender identity. The creativity of the Wachowskis–and their willingness to play with gender identities and roles–reminds me a bit of African-American science fiction writer Octavia Butler, who won Hugo and Nebula awards for her out-of-the-box literature.
In what ways do we become more by experiencing more? I’ve written before on the materialist conception of identity as rooted in habitual experiences and actions. Obviously, the limits of the film or TV medium do not allow the viewer to experience the entire range of sensorial exuberance insinuated by the plot, but I would still recommend the series for the eye candy (of which there is a lot) as well as for the questions it raises about the relationship between identity and sensory (or other) experience, how sentient beings transform their identity by transcending their senses and experiences, and how collective identities are built via shared experiences and multi-layered communication.