Unspeakable Otherness—an Essay on the Failure of Cognitive and Epistemic Communication Tools in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris

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Solaris, published in 1961, is one of Lem's most mysterious and discussed novel, but Lem has always refused to explain it, and has laughed at all the exegesis attempts of his time. Solaris is a planet wich is composed of an ocean and a unique island, on which humans have built a laboratory. Psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent on the planet to help scientist Gibarian find a way to communicate with this ocean, who might or might not be sentient. Upon his arrival, a string of strange events turn this expedition into a nightmare, in which Kelvin’s ex-girlfriend’s doppleganger plays a crucial role.. The novel is open-ended, leaving the reader with more questions than answers, if any answers at all. Solaris has been studied and commented numerous times, and adapted to film by both Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1971 and American film maker Steven Soderbergh in 2002. However, with the increasing distance of the years and the emergence of new critical tools regarding language and communication such as we can find in translation theory, it is possible to re-read this work with renewed attention and curiosity, and perhaps re-frame some of its well-known aspects. One of these aspects is the notion of communication with an absolute other that defies all known rational structures based on language. The Solaris ocean can thus been seen as the wall against which all dialogue attempts and explanations fail, and against which humanity has to re-frame its epistemic work tools - if that is at all possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Stanislaw Lem; Solaris; Science-Fiction; Communication; Epistemology


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