“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, May 19, 2005

odd man out at the orgy

Once, long ago, LI allowed ourselves to be talked into seeing one of the Star Wars series. We must have been in the late teens, early twenties. The blurry memory seems to indicate the talking into was done by a date. So we dipped our toe in the Great American Madness, and picked up from the experience a raging headache, aggravated by the squeals of Wookies. Besides those squeals, we have, honestly, no recollection of the business of the film whatsoever – the humans acting in it, the plot, if any, the S/FX justifying the whole sorry sequence. That we had watched a movie in which the dramatic momentum depended on things named Wookies seems, in retrospect, to eminently justify a little pain.

Every time one of that series comes out, there is a rush of interest, a true and naïve interest, in a thing that has such an intrinsically uninteresting story line, and has such a taste for visual gimmickry wholly separate from a taste for visual beauty, that we… can’t figure it out. It makes us feel a little alien – which, I suppose, is a sci fi sentiment in itself. Since this gives a pleasure that we can’t participate in, the human all too human thing is to think that it must be a lesser pleasure – or maybe a vicious one. We are enough of a puritan and a prig to measure our superiority on the gaps in our sensibility – and to label those gaps good taste.

Well, as Nietzsche once said, good taste be damned. The perdurably alien Philip Dick wrote an essay about Sci Fi which is much on our minds, lately: “How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later.” Obviously, the perennial life of the Star Wars serial has accomplished that task – but Dick says something interesting about his title:

“So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe— and I am dead serious when I say this— do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things are born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves will begin to die, inwarrdly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.”

Dick says a lot of things in this essay that are a bit crazy – for instance, he finds such intensely meaningful and accidental parallels between his book, Flow my tears the policeman said, and the Book of Acts that he is forced to draw conclusions that are stretchers: “So my novel contained material from other parts of the Bible, as well as the sections from Acts. Deciphered, my novel tells a quite different story from the surface story (which we need not go into here). The real" story is simply this: the return of Christ, now king rather than suffering servant. Judge rather than victim of unfair judgment. Everything is reversed. The CORE message of my novel, without my knowing it, was a warning to the powerful: You will shortly be judged and condemned. Who, specifically, did it refer to? Well, I can't really say; or rather would prefer not to say. I have no certain knowledge, only an intuition. And that is not enough to go on, so I will keep my thoughts tc. myself. But you might ask yourselves what political events took place in this country between February 1974 and August 1974. Ask yourself who was judged and condemned, and fell like a flaming star into ruin and disgrace.”

I rather want to be Isaiah myself. Unfortunately, the flaming star from Crawford who I want to see fall into ruin and disgrace seems to blithely escape my prophetic mental ray gun.

On the other hand, Dick earned the right to his stretchers, if you ask me. But this is getting off the track. What impressed me most about the essay was how it captures the sci fi moment that encloses both the work and the reception of the work. Or, to be less mysterious about it – Dick gives us a sense of how the science fiction of something like Star Wars lies not in the series itself, but the viewing and buzz around the movies. That great machinery of commerce and p.r., dovetailing with these passionately awaited and debated story/games, makes it hard to know what is going on here for someone like LI – who, when all is said and done, is just your typical boojwah symbol pusher, thinking to put himself in a one on one with the great works – or the video, or the novel, or the poem. Thinking that the orgy is all about himself.

One more passage from the Dick essay, just for the hell of it. I love this: “If any of you have read my novel Ubik, you know that the mysterious entity or mind or force called Ubik starts out as a series of cheap and vulgar commercials and winds up saying:

I am Ubik. Before the universe was I am. I made the suns. I made the worlds. I created the lives and the places they inhabit; I move them here, I put them there. They go as I say, they do as I tell them. I am the word and my name is never spoken, the name which no one knows. I am called Ubik but that is not my name. I am. I shall always be.

It is obvious from this who and what Ubik is; it specifically says that it is the word, which is to say, the Logos. In the German translation, there is one of the most wonderful lapses of correct understanding that I have ever come across; God help us if the man who translated my novel Ubik into German were to do a translation from the koine Greek into German of the New Testament. He did all right until he got to the sentence "I am the word." That puzzled him. What can the author mean by that? he must have asked himself, obviously never having come across the Logos doctrine. So he did as good a job of translation as possible. In the German edition, the Absolute Entity which made the suns, made the worlds, created the lives and the places they inhabit, says of itself: I am the brand name. Had he translated the Gospel according to Saint John, I suppose it would have come out as: When all things began, the brand name already was. The brand name dwelt with God, and what God was, the brand name was.”

3 comments:

cyberiago said...

Das Stimmt! Ubik spare us from another summer of Lucas' candy-coated pablum. Though I'm not a complete affionado of his work (A Scanner Darkly is not bad pulp phunn however) was right: the simulation has overpowered the reality; Darth Vader, the puppy-dog alien and the rest are now invading burger stands, walmarts, billboards, the net. The simulation is enforced on all: Big Hollywood Money and its favorite high-technology bubblegum melodrama replaces the Iraqi wars, the tsunami (a disaster far more ugly and tragic than Voltaire's lisbon quake), and the takeover of LA by a nearly maoist mayor. Each and every scandal and political outrage currently in progress is obliterated by the glittering spectacle of some wunderkind's pop-jungian bong dreams.

roger said...

Surely there has to be a shelf life on wunderkind-hood. Or maybe I'll just go and quietly open a vein...

Anonymous said...

bloggers writers freaks failed beats oughta to form a little corps du mort and drive up to that freak's Marin palace and in effect open his veins (in multiple areas)....then head down to bel air and westside and continue the work..........can u say spagos ala oozi seal vu play