Sunday, January 14, 2018

Before the dawn

Seeing two new movies The Post and Darkest Hour on consecutive nights, one is struck that both these retellings of decisive historical moments in 1971 and 1940 have a lot in common. The former is about the publication of The Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post, revealing government lies about the Vietnam War over several administrations;Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham are at the top of their game, as is director Steven Spielberg. The latter film is about Churchill's refusal to knuckle under to Hitler around the time of Dunkirk, despite political pressure to make peace. Gary Oldman superbly evokes the inspiring oratory and fallible human depth of the revered Prime Minister. Both decision situations required unflinching courage in the face of considerable opposition.

Both films by implication may be read as commentaries on the present political situation in the United States. It is the absence of the principled leadership portrayed in Darkest Hour that one feels keenly now. In fact, the war we are in at present not being fought on the beaches but in the cyber-impulses that are flooding our air space. And the matter of "who is the enemy?" is looking very much like our own commander-in-chief. The characteristics of a great leader may be very much the same as they ever were. The lesson here is in what we have lost.

The Post may be seen as "Hollywood Strikes Back" against the attack on news media and the First Amendment by the present administration. I think we have here an instant classic which may have been designed to be so, and may echo typical liberal ideas, but is nonetheless effective for that. What is plainly delivered here by the artists' representatives in our society is that this shall not stand, that the ideal of free speech is what this country is all about, and that lying by governments will not be tolerated.

It is never that simple, of course. The media have often been used to control and misinform the public. Whether more often than not is a matter of debate. Let us see these two films as a history lesson, so as not to forget the moments when leaders had actual integrity and courage, and news media were not afraid to speak the truth. If it happened before, it can happen again. And in fact right now it is happening again, daily in the pages of the Post, many years after their 1970's moments of glory. Attention must be paid: the Fourth Estate is stepping up to the plate.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Place holder

Image result for sunrise eye imageThis blog post is actually a place holder, as I do not want to let 2017 go by without having registered new proof of my existence. I started this blog in 2004 with 128 posts. In 2015 I blogged once and once again in 2016. In 2017 it was almost nonce, until now. To tweet is human, to blog divine.

Why this downward trend, this trailing away into nothingness? Am I becoming inarticulate? Should I be talking about the brilliance of Twin Peaks or Doctor Who (trying to preempt generations of commentators)? Should I be detecting the influence of Van Gogh's style on Shakespeare (because I believe these things work backwards in time)? Should I spout off more of my deranged metaphysics such as what I wrote in 2005?

I probably should say, write, and do a lot of things I don't. Perhaps in 2018 I will be more successful at the Problem of the Unwritten Blog if I just grasp for transient moments of insight or inspiration rather than codify eternal pronouncements of infinitude. Perhaps that will be my New Year's resolution, to do just that. Prepare to be surprised. Or not.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Wonder where you can get it

I discovered some brief comments I wrote after seeing the much maligned Jupiter Ascending in the theater last year. Even now I see that Rotten Tomatoes gives it only a 26%, which to me is positive proof that critics who are not versed in the history of the various genres of science fiction really are not to be trusted when it comes to reviewing sf films. Not to lose track of my comments, here they are:

"The epic science-fiction movie Jupiter Ascending has not made it unscathed through the critics' gauntlet; it wears a giant red spot as its badge of honor. Directed by the Wachowski brothers, who created The Matrix and Cloud Atlas, this new film has been widely greeted as a bull to the reviewers' swords, who have themselves contributed a fair amount of raging bull to the discussion. Most of the critics begin with the tedious assertion that this movie is a rip-off of Star Wars and its innumerable clones. Although its roots in pulp fiction are usually mentioned, I wonder how many have actually read pulp fiction as it was practiced in the 1930s and 40s, or are familiar with the quality fantasy artwork from that period. How many have experienced the vaunted "sense of wonder" which was the genre's original raison d'etre? This film is not some smart-alecky pastiche of this artistic and literary form. It evokes the original spirit of the genre like no other film. Nor can the superlative art and special effects of Jupiter Ascending be divorced from its content. As in The Matrix, in Jupiter Ascending mankind is being harvested for its life-essence, but rather than by scary machines, this time it is by immortal humans living in a parallel dimension on a world that looks exactly like the planet Jupiter."

Much more could be said. In the meantime I would refer you to the Blu-Ray and to this excellent review.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Message on the matter

Half a league half a league half a league inward
Down in the valley the valley so hindered
Grew the tree downward inside the hear ring
To know the green glorifold six hundred things.

Immanent indolent full tide of May
Try to deliver the present with sleigh
Summer no snow puts man on the skids
Aggrieved to store nuttings in jars without lids.

Tried on for size the great gown does not fit
Only can fashion itself to be knit
Into the fabric of all space and time
Including what seems to be rightfully mine.

Stringless pluckers and songs without voice
A bad combination yet what is the choice
Is it better to buy what you still do not have
Or spot a bright copper on the road to the path?

My hand finds the handle the coin springs to touch
I discharge it to you though it doesn’t mean much
But maybe some child will one day depend
In the meantime this child says hello to the end.

Half a league half a league half a league Tuesday
The story’s half told and it isn’t yet bluesday
If I’m not here tomorrow don’t go looking for maps
It’s a long road till Sunday and a short time perhaps.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Adventure in identity

Image result for monica vitti l'avventura
The iconic actress Monica Vitti in L'Avventura.
One of the movies that invariably finds its way onto my list of all-time favorite films is Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960). Very little seems to happen in this film: a party of the idle rich take a day's jaunt to a small rocky island where one of their party, Anna, mysteriously disappears. Her lover Sandro and her best friend Claudia continue to search for her in the towns of the area for several days, during which they too become lovers. Very quickly he is unfaithful to her, but she forgives him. End of picture (running time: 2:25).

This precis does no justice of course to what the movie is really about. Which is? Well, if you are interested in Antonioni's amazing cinematic style, style is substance and the artist's way of selecting images and placing the actors in interesting natural and architectural spaces is the end in itself. If you are more inclined to want to find a "meaning," then the existential philosophy of Antonioni and the European intellectuals of the time is a natural connection. The film simply underlines the futility of modern life through the shallow, sex-obsessed ways of the bored upper class, and the endless repetition of profane experience that gives no surcease for the soul.

My version of what existentialism should be is discovering the intrusion of pure existence into the landscape of what we call the real but is not in fact real at all, only appearance. L'Avventura is a film burgeoning with pure existence. It is fraught with the trembling ecstatic edge of possibility, replete with the meaning that passes understanding.

The opening catlike theme of the movie is a fantastic dance that announces that we are about to witness nothing less than a mystery story of the most intriguing kind. And that is exactly what we get: like many of Antonioni's films, L'Avventura is a mystery. The question is what happened to Anna? Did she drown? Did she slip away from the island somehow and completely leave her life behind? After all investigations and speculations, it comes down to this: we don't know. We will never know. The filmmaker has posed to us a conundrum and refused to give us the answer, after creating expectations that we had every right to expect should be fulfilled. But of course, what kind of conventional satisfaction are you going to get from an existential mystery, where every question is an open question, and the answers stay at last in the locked rooms that they inhabit?

The real mystery here is not what happened to Anna but what happens to Claudia. As she searches for her lost friend, she takes on Anna's identity. The first sign of this is that after getting drenched in a storm, she puts on a dry shirt belonging to Anna. Then she appropriates Sandro, Anna's boyfriend, taking her friend's place in that relationship and showing the same ambivalence about him that Anna did. Towards the end of the film, she has the fear that Anna has returned but she finds Sandro in the arms of a trollop instead. By accepting him as he is in the end, her quest comes to an end by finding the object (Anna) as herself (Claudia).

Against the primal pure existent background of the sea, the wind, the rocky island, the deserted towns, the silent architectural edifices, the characters shuffle between odd encounters with each other and minor disappearances which seem to emphasize the randomness and fragility of the patched-together reality in which they live.

The ultimate mystery here is the film itself, how it exists, somewhat miraculously, like a monolithic gnomon amidst the wanderings of bewildered humans.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Still turning pages

We are constantly learning and perfecting ourselves, even if we don't realize it at the time. The idea of Earth as a school in which we go through some purifying experiences that move us closer to total enlightenment is, unfortunately, probably correct. I say "unfortunately" because although the analogy explains a lot, it doesn't really comfort. And it leaves the individual learner ultimately alone on a lonely track.

So maybe the whole thing is a team project. Those of us who find ourselves here must find ways to learn together, solve our mutual problems, and achieve communal goals of knowledge and action that could not be accomplished without group interaction. This also solves the loneliness issue.

Looking at the Earth right now, it would be hard to argue that the whole class has not flunked all together. The polarities and intransigencies have hardened as if the global brain had massively shifted obliquely in its techtonic plates. The axis of communication and understanding is askew and drifting hopelessly off its center of gravity and cohesion. Is this the supreme challenge, or simply the endgame?

My generation, the 1960s, I often refer to as "the most disappointing generation." So much potential was wasted, squelched, drowned in materialistic cares, forgotten by the wayside. Yet there was so much that was brilliant and brave and illuminating. As a result we have left a huge legacy.

To give up hope, to say the game is over, would be premature. It also deprives us of our best tool. Give up the vision and we have nowhere to go. It also ignores the fact that a new generation is arriving with better tools and higher intelligence. We could fail completely and yet the team reserves could still pull off a victory.

But what we have done, what we have witnessed, what we have felt--it hasn't been enough to justify our presence here on this planet at this time in our individual and collective evolution. That is why we find ourselves still here, waiting, struggling, hoping, still turning the pages of our textbook. There is more. What happens next remains to be seen.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Our cosmic address

In James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), young Stephen Dedalus writes his address in his geography book: Sallins, County Kildare, Ireland, Europe, The World, The Universe. In Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938), a minister sends a letter to one of the characters, with the following address: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God. An echo of Joyce's influence over Wilder and also a resonance elevating the mundane to the cosmic.

Nowadays we would have to include Laniakea in the address: the newly named and mapped supercluster consisting of 100,000 galaxies, of which the Milky Way, our home galaxy, is a very small part. And since many cosmologists are seriously favoring the idea that we live in a multiverse, not merely a universe, we would have to tack the "multi" at the end of the address.
But in any case this addressing very much follows the geocentric plan, starting small and local, progressing to the largest and most universal. "I" is the center, moving out beyond all boundaries and objectivity into pure idea. A mind blowing concept, yes, but a little too simplistic, perhaps. For we must next ask the question, what after all is the spacetime matrix in which all this expanding pool of consciousness sits?

Let us dispense immediately with the notion that we are still in the realm of material creation in addressing this question. We've entered the realm where consciousness itself has to be part of the equation. And consciousness times x equals consciousness, just as an odd number added to an even equals an odd, or a real number times an imaginary number equals an imaginary number.

In conventional physics, space and time do not exist without matter. They are dimensional only in the sense that they are used to measure the material. In this multiversal age we may take the step into multidimensionality and recognize the independent existence of time and space. It is these entities which, together with consciousness, weave the matrix. Then consciousness takes its place like a baby in the "cradle endlessly rocking," lying in the central heart of immeasurable existence. Cosmic address: wherever IT is.