[Note: I typically let these kinds of lexical slips slide, but every time I hear “man” or “mankind” as boilerplate applied to human beings (as in the title above) I can’t help but cringe and append impulsively an imaginary “[sic]” – to me the gendered, generalizing concepts “man” and “mankind” are specific to God’s lower level contract with Noah detailed below, that is, a global system of life predicated on subjugation and suffering]
In honor of the “labor day” celebrated stateside today, I want to talk about human beings and work, by way of Northrop Frye’s systematic analysis of the Bible in relation to literature, The Great Code (1981).
The preamble begins on page 75 with Frye commenting that he can’t find any consistent astrological symbolism in the Bible, aside from allusions to divination and patterns of correspondence such as the emphasis on sevens and twelves in the Book of Revelation. Frye speculates that this correspondence, at the time it was written, probably comes out of the number of days in the week and the number of planets (7), and the number of months in the year and the signs of the Zodiac (12). “Hence these numbers would suggest, more than others, a world where time and space have become the same thing.”
I’ll quote him the rest of the way here:
But correspondence does not seem to be the central thing that the Bible is saying about the relation between man and nature. We get instead a strong feeling that there are assumed to be two levels in that relation. The lower level is outlined in God’s contract with Noah, after the deluge has receded:
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (Genesis 9:2-3)
We notice, first, that no restrictions are placed on what man is to eat, in striking contrast to the elaborate dietary laws later imposed on Israel alone. It was to this general contract with Noah that Christianity decided to return, after rejecting the Jewish law as no longer binding on Christians (Acts 10:15). Second, man’s attitude to nature is assumed to be one of domineering exploitation, a reign of terror over all “inferior” creatures, and illustrating Schopenhauer’s remark that the animals live in a hell of which mankind are the devils. (continue reading…)
A couple of Aprils ago I felt like making a version of 2001: A Space Odyssey with an alternate soundtrack just to draw out different tones and see what happens (Giorgio Moroder did this with Metropolis in 1984). Kubrick uses a lot of silence and non-diegetic music to achieve various gradients of tonal irreducibility, so really all you have to do is pick something that lines up with its visual beats and lay it down. Since we’re using my music library here the result is unavoidably 80s-tinged pop opera.
The highlight is probably the 16-minute sequence toward the end where Dave has his pivotal encounter with the black monolith, catalyzing a next-level mode of existence and featuring an uninterrupted medley of The Knife, Air Supply & Duran Duran (See “Conjunction” embed below), though my favorite arrangements are the live Orbital track with its audience cheering on cue as our willfully dull heroes approach the Moon in full hubris (“Arrival”), and the broken pieces of Heart and Alphaville that soundtrack a panicked Frank as he spirals into the infinite abyss of outer space after his umbilical is severed by HAL (“Void”).
What really comes out when watching the full movie like this is how Kubrick intentionally divests the dialogic narrative of all emotional content (excepting HAL’s demise at the end, which is both ironically and genuinely heartbreaking) so he can introduce it instead non-diegetically and full volume, pumped in from the cavernous vacuum of outer space. It’s as if the lives we live are dimensionally reduced exercises in “being human beings”, while our cathartic interiorities are wired in remotely, via the endless darkness that surrounds this planet, and to which we all return upon death.
As an aside, all of this is reminding me of my favorite all time representation of Eros: a giant lifeless rock careening forever across the black emptiness of space (the devastatingly named asteroid “433 Eros”).
The full version of Dan Hoy’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 was on Vimeo for awhile but was eventually pulled due to allegedly obvious copyright violations (um…). So I’ve uploaded all the doctored sequences as stand-alone music videos instead so they can experience life outside the lonely confines of my hard drive.
Here is the entire set list (embeds below): (continue reading…)
“I remember when your head caught flame.”
I passed through my motherland (Missouri) today, en route to Tennessee after abandoning my (not so) stronghold in the mountains of Colorado. For those following my seemingly willful courtship with disaster, I returned home after several weeks of being displaced from a thousand-year flood only to lose my job a month later. Since like most humans on this planet I still subsist on money and electricity to support a mediated/subjugated lifestyle, I had to hustle to find a solution and found one in my mother’s motherland.
But what I really want to talk about is Michael Jackson.
I remember seeing the video for “Smooth Criminal” for the first time as an 11 year old in 1988 and realizing in that moment what an artistic mistake it was for Michael Jackson to select “Bad” as the titular framework and audiovisual initiation to his follow up to Thriller (1982). Bad (1987) was the end of the legendary MJ / Quincy Jones collaboration that began with Off the Wall (1979), and the beginning of the end for Michael’s out-of-this-world command as an image artist. By 1987 the effortless impossibility of his ’83 Motown performance had devolved into something more alien than otherworldly, a mutation distilled to perfection by Corey Feldman in real life and in the entirety of Dream a Little Dream (1989), but especially this scene:
My feeling is that Michael was fucked up on pain and painkillers by that point, the real beginning of the end occurring at approximately 6:15pm on January 27, 1984 during the ill-fated filming of a Pepsi commercial in support of The Jacksons’ Victory tour, when Michael achieved apotheosis by going up in flames. Watch how alone he is here, his supposed brothers oblivious to the plight of a genuine god burning at the stake/stage. There is no coming back from a trauma like this. If you’ve been wondering what kind of triggering event would lead someone to eventually seek out a straight up oblivion drug like propofol as opposed to say the narcotic depths of heroin, This Is It:
ATLANTIS, book four of the Blood Work series and the last to be released, is now available in a limited edition of 33 copies from Deathbed Editions.
The trailer features footage of my town Lyons CO getting washed away this past September for those curious what a real deluge looks like.
George Lucas’ first choice to direct Return of the Jedi was David Lynch. He wanted a gun for hire that didn’t belong to the Director’s Guild of America (i.e. someone not American) or an up-and-comer brazen enough to not care about getting blacklisted by the DGA (Lucas quit the DGA after they fined him for having his director credit appear at the end rather than the beginning of Star Wars). Lynch was the latter and declined the offer to make Dune instead, so Lucas went with British television veteran Richard Marquand.
I’ve seen Dune a thousand times and I still can’t really imagine what a Star Wars directed by David Lynch would be like, though I guess we get glimpses of what could’ve been in Jedi’s opening act, with Jabba’s plump grossness akin to the fat repulsive Baron of House Harkonnen in Dune, along with an entire action sequence staged around an abyssal/vaginal/rectal hole in the ground.
But I can imagine what Robert Altman would do to Star Wars, thanks to The Making of Empire Strikes Back and whoever had the genius idea to strap a mic to director Irvin Kershner and record him on set the day they put Han Solo in carbon freeze (a full transcript of the recording appears in the book).
The star of Altman’s Star Wars is not Luke or Lucas, but Kershner as he relentlessly works out his most problematic scene, hitting up Ford, Fisher et al while trying to get at the truth of what Billy Dee Williams calls offhandedly “an impossible situation:” our heroes’ loss of agency as Han Solo is frozen in carbonite in front of his horrified friends and shipped off to his presumable death. This is one of two impossible situations orchestrated by Vader on Cloud City, the other occurring a few minutes later when Luke’s solution to losing his lightsaber hand and learning he is Vader’s son is to toss himself into the oblivion of an air shaft (also to his presumable death). In both situations, our heroes’ knowledge of the impossibility of their situation is key. This is Vader’s signature move and one Kershner wrestles out of the script. As he explains on set to Fisher: “See, the whole scene was based on ignorance before and I want it to be based on knowledge.”
Other highlights from the transcript include Fisher obsessing over her professional insecurities especially as they relate to Ford, which plays out like a recurring gag (Fisher: “So now he’s pissed off because I’m pissed off, because I have no right to be pissed off at him.”), David Prowse (Darth Vader’s body) unsolicitedly pitching Kershner his new fitness book called Fitness Is Fun, and Ford coming up with the iconic Leia/Han “I love you” / “I know” refrain on the spot.
Heads up that THE LUCIFERIANS, the fifth and final book of Blood Work: The Apocalypse of Dan Hoy, is available as of Christmas Day over at Solar Luxuriance.
Like the rest of the series: 33 copies, 33 pp.
(ATLANTIS, book four, will be published out of sequence next month).
This is what the houses look like on the way to my house. Last week I returned home after being displaced for three months due to the September floods in Colorado. Undoing the devastation is both an ongoing and perpetually deferred process.
In the meantime I can confirm that Britney Spears’ new album is better than Avril Lavigne’s and Lady Gaga’s combined.
This is not to say the Gaga album is bad. It’s a mixed bag but so is Madonna’s Like a Prayer, with three transcendent hits (“Like a Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” “Cherish”) obscuring all the sap and filler. There’s nothing here approaching the gradeschool rapture of “Like a Prayer,” but when Gaga’s just being an emotional psychosexual weirdo instead of indulging in art pop self-reflexivity it’s great. That’s really where it’s at for her. Her performance of “You and I” at the 2011 VMAs (for example) is one of the most confident pop performances I’ve ever seen. It’s not as iconic as Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance at the first VMAs in 1984 or MJ introducing the moonwalk to this planet at the height of “Billie Jean” during Motown’s 1983 TV special, but it’s just as legit. This is an image artist at the top of her class. Here Gaga split-personifies a spurned lover with the face of a pubescent Ralph Macchio. Everything about this is real:
For the past year I’ve lived in a valley at 6,500 feet, in a small community of homes tucked in the mountains of northern Colorado, surrounded by national forest. It’s just a fifteen-minute drive down the mountain to Lyons, a surprisingly vibrant town of twenty-five hundred or so that’s now drowning in water and sewage and pieces of people’s homes, and has been since the early hours of Friday, September 13.
I was with some friends at the Distillery in Lyons the night of the floods, but made it back up the mountain before the water tore through town in the middle of the night. It’s now several days later and entire neighborhoods are gone, the water is contaminated with E. coli, the infrastructure is destroyed, the St. Vrain river is now somehow a few hundred yards south of where it was, and most everybody in town is displaced for several months, or permanently.
Meanwhile, back at the homestead on that fateful night, we quickly lost power, water, phones, etc. By morning the bridges connecting various parts of the community were destroyed, and the highway connecting us to the global supply chain had succumbed to falling boulders & mudslides, the more precarious parts of the winding mountain road collapsing into the valley below. Unlike in Lyons, the houses, for the most part, were spared, but the community was completely cut off.
This was our situation for a few days, until somebody somewhere ordered an evacuation. My girlfriend Maggie and our friend Bernie visiting from NYC took the first helicopter out with our dogs – the only helicopter that day as it turned out, since the storms kept rolling in. I stayed behind for a couple of days until the storms finally passed, locking down the house and acclimating to a new reality, one in which I’m abandoning my home in the deafening roar of a Chinook helicopter, clutching my cats in a duffle bag.
This was literally a thousand year event. Only 1% of Colorado homes are even covered by flood insurance. People are displaced up and down the front range. I’m writing this from a hotel room in Boulder. I have shelter and kind people looking out for me, and a computer to share my lessons learned, en medias res, from this very wet, dry run for the apocalypse.
I watched Oblivion a couple of days ago. Haters won’t be able to get past its shortcomings or acknowledge its topical relevance beyond superficial references to drones and the surveillance state. Good thing I’m not a hater. Complete and total spoilers below.
This is the story of life as Tom Cruise knows it at the beginning of Oblivion: aliens from outer space destroyed the moon in an unprovoked attack on humankind, humans won the subsequent war but Earth was left mostly uninhabitable, and humans are now siphoning off the planet’s water resources (giant floating fortresses circle the globe, sucking up the ocean) and migrating to a new settlement on the Saturn moon Titan. Earth’s remaining inhabitants, at this point, are alien scavengers, the drones that hunt them, and the human tandems left behind to provide drone maintenance and manage the planetary system of water extraction. Tom Cruise is one-half of such a tandem, performing his duty with a sense of pride and adventure and no sense of history, his memory and that of his partner wiped clean every five years to ensure optimal team performance and facilitate their eventual reunion with the rest of their species on their new home planet/moon. This is the story of life that defines Tom Cruise as we join him in Oblivion.
But the story is bullshit, and deep down Tom knows it, and so do we, but access to knowledge in space-time — and movies — is necessarily chronological. Things happen, and Tom eventually learns the alien scavengers are really humans, his human bosses are really aliens, and he is neither, functioning instead as the biological technology that mediates human/alien. Cloned a thousand times over and deployed across the planet with a minor armada of human-hunting drones at his disposal, Tom Cruise is the figurative and literal end of humankind. But as Morgan Freeman, in his capacity as leader of a rebellious band of human survivors, understands, he is also its liberation. In the role of our onscreen proxy, and with the help of Freeman, Tom Cruise comes to an ontological and empirical understanding of himself as not special, not unique, and not even human per se, but as an operator of life. This is why he tells the first clone of himself he meets “It’s ok, it’s ok,” as he chokes the life out of him. He is not bound by the parameters of life and death, but exists as a localized operator of a nonlocal consciousness and a standardized piece of biological machinery. He exists across time and space, but in the form of right here and now.
I’ve got a short piece up at the City Lights Blog on SF poet Elaine Kahn:
There’s a thread of disfiguring throughout that’s benign enough to be ominous — “I am cutting myself / out of a piece of paper”, “when I am cutting your hair in my mind” — but all of it comes back to time, which in Kahn’s work becomes the material and subject of human life: “Time is a mouth.” “It happens on you”, she says, referring to puberty and her indoctrination into the global system of lascivious, gendered control (“& the whole world stares / how the world does stare”), but she’s also referring to time as a condition from which we all suffer. As she sardonically puts it elsewhere, “You think beauty / is a good thing / to forgive,” with beauty reduced here to a cruel reminder (remainder) of what time does to it. But it’s also a reminder that human beings are defined on Earth by their intrinsic timeness — not just in their mortality but in their technology of language, which above all else is a means of communicating with the future. No other creature has access to history as a kind of virtual genetic code on which to build empires.