History is a child building a sand-castle by the sea, and that child
is the whole majesty of man's power in the world.
As soon as histories are properly told there is no more need of romances.
We wrote this about a dozen years ago. It is the germinal seed of Entropy Gradient Reversals, though EGR -- which is what RETICULUM turned into -- didn't emerge until 10 years later. For one thing, the web didn't exist when these ideas were forming. But maybe this helps explain why we were ready when it came along. Some of the language is dated now. Some of the ideas are outworn. Others, we suspect, are not.
reticulum (rî-tîk´ye-lem) noun
plural reticula (-le)
A netlike formation or structure; a network.
[Latin rêticulum, diminutive of rête, net.]
Entropy and Imagination
Reflections on Artificial Order and Accidental Meaning
Initial Advertisement for
Recursive News of an Emerging Community
This is essentially a message in a bottle, cast on the waves of change to be read by strangers an ocean away. It suggests that some of us may have information valuable to the others, though none of us yet has a way to infer what that information might be or to measure its potential value.
Though the people receiving this message have not been selected at random, there is no single theme that unites us. We are audience to each other, as yet unknown. Collectively, we constitute a slice of modern society, a cross section of a crowd. We might conceivably be found gathered on the sidewalk outside a movie theater, discussing, in little conversational knots, the film we've just seen. Perhaps we overhear snatches of each other's conversation, wonder about them for a moment, then decide on coffee or go home to bed. Perhaps we walk down each other's streets at night, occasionally speculating about the life that goes on behind the window with the bare light bulb and the Kandinsky print, or the one with the Jimmy Hendrix poster and the baby grand.
Driven by factors of which we may not even be aware, new communities are beginning to form. This is nothing new; people have always banded together to share or protect some common set of interests. But something radically different is going on today. Something is emerging that is still vague, unformed, chaotic. These new threads in the the social fabric are not geographically centralized, not based on the old signals of mutual recognition, often unconscious of their own existence. Such nascent communities, where they exist at all, are embryonic networks of cultural dream, fragments of tantalizingly suggestive icons not yet assembled into coherent images. We are all dealing with disconnected pieces of some puzzle whose borders we can only imagine, trying to integrate an enormous body of new knowledge, only a fraction of which we can even articulate. As individuals, we are often alienated from the old structures, groping to make sense of social relationships, not knowing where we're going.
But we're getting there.
All of us are confronted with more information than we know what to do with. We segment it for starters: subscribe to magazines, read books, join organizations that abstract some quality or characteristic we'd like to better distinguish from the welter of information that is simply cultural noise. We select discrete items that will add to our knowledge, or underpin our identity, in predictable ways. By these choices, we edit the possible text of our personal thought and social interaction, and we have little choice but to make such choices. The world's communication is already fragmented along lines determined by professional standing, religious belief, technological orientation, financial position, and social background. We display these categorical affiliations in our degrees, titles, salaries, neighborhoods, work, marriages, and geographical locations. We know who we are.
We edit the possible text to arrive at the concrete document. Otherwise it would be too dangerous a mirror, unfocused and fractured into a thousand shifting images that alternately dissolve and coalesce in a kind of recombinant semiotic mitosis, like the distorted reflections on the rain-slick sidewalk outside the theater where we've never stood together after seeing the same film. Necessary as it is, there is a price for the editorial assumption that deletes one phrase and admits another, just as there is a price for unnatural selection: in the first case the text is made somehow exclusive, in the second the gene pool is reduced.
Are there endangered ideas we should protect or nurture before we heedlessly slash and burn our way through the modern information jungles to erect brave new cultural data structures? Is there medicine in the rare poisons to be found only in the confused undergrowth of the conceptual rain forests that spring up overnight, but which, when cleared, support only two or three seasons of crops before becoming exhausted desert? Is there death before dishonor? Is there life after television?
Wherever we're going, we're getting there. Possibly too fast.
This is an advertisement for a communicational network connecting a disparate collection of individuals who may constitute a new community. Some part of us will at least. As a group, we have no central view, no unifying philosophy, no cohesive program to implement. As a group, we don't even know who we are. And therein lies our potential value to each other. In an information environment that is increasingly segmented into discrete audiences according to their particular interest in some abstract category, RETICULUM will evolve by generating an audience as the interests of that same audience emerge. Aside from its content -- whatever that will prove to be -- the newsletter will be an experiment in building an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, syncretic network: a new kind of open-ended community committed only to exploring its own potential for cross fertilizing ideas that ordinarily would not come into contact. It could also be seen as a cooperative temporal/spatial construct in the sense of a work of conceptual art, a product of consensual imagination.
Practically speaking, RETICULUM will have a core editorial board, which for the time being will remain anonymous, and which will make no pretense whatsoever as to any sort of objectivity. The publication makes two requests: 1) that readers consider themselves to be members of an extended editorial board, and as such that they submit reviews, critiques, rebuttals, refutations of, expansions on, or agreements with previously published material -- in this sense, each issue will be a draft of the subsequent number; and 2) that they make copies of each issue to distribute to non- subscribers likely to be interested in this experiment -- the only "advertising," aside from this letter, will be by word of mouth.
New tribes must emerge if we are to retain a society that is both heterogeneous and capable of forging new conceptual templates for joining fragmentary insights into yet unimagined cultural topologies. RETICULUM -- vague as its objectives are at present -- is a kind of smoke signal whose purpose is to gather such a tribe. If its message intrigues you or suggests interesting possibilities, we hope you will join with us in recursively decoding our own collective signals and in passing along whatever significance we may find in them to potential members of this new community.
RETICULUM is a not a journal.
It is quick-and-dirty news of a floating world
published on Kognitive Kleenex.
Street Religion in the City of Dreams:
Cyberpunk Semiotics as Mythomaniacal Cartography
"We ride on this highway of fire..."
David Byrne, True Stories
It has been nearly twenty years since I picked up my first copy of a large book subtitled "Access to Tools," and wondered what I'd stumbled onto. That was in Shambhala Books in 1969 Berkeley. I didn't have enough of a handle to grasp it by; I flipped through the pages fascinated, but left it behind when I left the shop. That scenario has been repeated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times since, in bookstores from Harvard Square to Shinjuku-dori -- and I often return to buy the book, or find it somewhere else, as I did the The Whole Earth Catalog.
Recently I went back for one that -- propped in the window of the darkened bookshop -- had reminded me of the incident in Berkeley which was to prove so prototypical. It was Ten Years of CoEvolution Quarterly: News That Stayed News, put together by many of the same people who had edited or written for the Whole Earth Catalog. In many respects, the spiritual precursor to RETICULUM is the impetus that drove the continuum from WEC to CoEvolution Quarterly to The Whole Earth Software Review to the now current Whole Earth Review. Although I was involved in these publications only as a reader, I felt an engagement -- a sense of community -- that went far beyond the passive role that readership conventionally implies. Along the way and with their help I would buy the right chain saw to stay alive through a Maine winter, learn first-hand the gritty details of organic gardening, goat husbandry, and cabinetmaking, formulate a set of anarcho-political beliefs that still underpin more of my thinking than I'm usually willing to admit, become fascinated with computers to the point of distraction, finally rationalize a terminal addiction to books, and -- most important -- discover networking.
Like many valuable intellectual tools, networking has been quickly co-opted and attenuated by those who covet its results without being willing to submit to its premises. In the business world, this powerful approach to human communication has been spuriously reduced to a synonym for cultivating good contacts in the Old Boy hierarchy: knowing the right people. Although this interpretation might have been predicted for a culture that would use a technology as potent as television to broadcast game shows and professional wrestling, real networking implies a set of principles completely at odds with such brain-damaged mismatches of potential and implementation.
First, a network exists only by virtue of free and participatory association; unlike a corporate organization chart, it does not reflect a given structure with assigned functions. Second, since the initial motivation is not predicated on substantiating X, or retrieving Y, but rather on uncovering potentially significant fragments of an emerging pattern, it is seldom possible to predict which sources of information will result in worthwhile insights and which will lead into pointless conceptual culs-de-sac. Because critical decisions must be made in real -- and accelerating -- time, conventional wisdom is often reversed in this respect; in enough cases to make a difference, the definitive pronouncements of established authorities will deliver far less value than the hip-shot intuition of pragmatic dilettantes. Therefore, third, there are no "right" or "wrong" people to cultivate, only more or less noisy channels of information transfer to tap into. Finally, because the point is to accumulate, digest, integrate and apply new ideas and perspectives, a network that does not transcend the intellectual imperialism of sphere-of-influence thinking is no network at all. If only because of the tenuous nature of the new electronic geography, workers of true nets can ill afford the questionable luxury of fixed informational borders.
In earlier times, one traveled to Paris, London, or New York -- or arranged to be born there -- in order to be surrounded by a knowledgeable society of informed thinkers with whom one could pass the time in intelligent conversation, deplore the rapid decay of educational standards, or hatch plots to overthrow the current regime. Granted, such networks have preserved and propagated much of the contemporary knowledge base, for good or ill, and have undeniably shaped the socio-cognitive landscape we have inherited. However, most of the academic enclaves that have been molded in their image to ensure the continuity of cultural knowledge -- or whatever version of the White Man's Burden is currently invoked -- are grossly inadequate to the prime task at hand: to better enable those still awake at the wheel to collaborate in constructing rich and mutually sustaining imaginative cultural environments. In a comparison of Alan Bloom and Mick Jagger, I would have to admit a pronounced sympathy for the devil, though neither of the Major Networks they represent has enough raw wattage, in itself, to achieve critical mass.
So, from a quick aerial circuit of the Ivory Tower and the Heavy Metal Stadium we return (how strange) to the Bookstore, for where else will we find The Closing of the American Mind sharing shelf space with The Art of Rock: Posters from Presley to Punk? (The latter I first came across in a review by ex-Fug Ed Sanders -- for those of you young-or-old enough to remember him in that role --in a recent New York Times Book Review.) In itself, each book is mildly interesting for what it has to say and how it says it, alternating roles between visionary herald of potential futures and nostalgic chronicler of irredeemably lost pasts. Yet juxtaposed, what a conversation they might carry on if books could speak directly to each other! Imagine the stroboscopic red-and-blue arabesque scarabs of a Rick Griffin Dead cover mocking Bloom's priggish lamentation of youthful license. "Relevance?" I can hear them chanting in disturbingly sarcophagal insect echoes, "Whatever a-r-r-r-r-e you talking about?" Unfortunately, books cannot converse among themselves like this. But we can.
We can traverse the whole fabric of modern thought, rhetoric, premise, position, argument, refutation, illustration and example by fully penetrating the nexus of the transcultural cognitive network whose locus is the humble bookstore. By decoding the artifactual signs books pass among themselves, we begin to map certain currents in the cultural flux, perceive the outlines of ghost continents, chart courses directly on the moving waters. Why, we can ask ourselves, has Descartes' Dream promoted the dictionaries and thesauri into the front window? Why has the arrival of so many computer books stimulated the sales of books such as On Writing Well? Why is it that business books make every attempt to be more humane, while would-be humanists draw parallels from the mythology of business? These questions are too pedestrian, though. There's more afoot. The bookstore is only the nexus, not the net, yet its changing internal structure does not simply reflect external attitudes, it recursively shapes them. To the semiotically permeable organism, a random walk through a bookstore is like a dip in the intellectual equivalent of messenger RNA. The following is an example of the genre splicing and cognitive mutation that is taking place at your local Waldenbooks and B. Dalton's all the time. In this, The Role of the Reader is to relax, let go of causal logic, and listen to the circadian rustle of new species being born: new classes, orders and phyla of our potential and collective sentience.
Loop back (this is hypertext, nonlinear) to News That Stayed News, the ten-year retrospective compendium of CoEvolution Quarterly articles. Stewart Brand says in 1979 -- though it is probably not the quote he would most wish to be remembered for -- "The show of violence in punk is good explosive theater, exposing a paradoxical sweetness to the night." Now "punk" is not a word I've heard a lot lately, except in its newest context: cyberpunk. I recently read Software, touted as belonging to this literary niche, by Rudy Rucker, who I also know from his non-sci-fi Infinity and the Mind, and who has just published Mind Tools: The Five Levels of Mathematical Reality reviewed by Martin Gardener in the New York Review of Books. His previous science fiction novel, Master of Space and Time, is as loony as it sounds, and even Software would not have especially whet my appetite for more cyberpunk, if this was it (though, interestingly, its musings on physical mortality versus digitized consciousness reappear in The Mind's I by Douglas Hofstadter (who later went on to edit Gardener's old column at Scientific American) (and Rucker was recently quoted on the dust jacket of a novel about Ludwig Wittgenstein called The World as I Found It (himself quoting Wittgenstein's last words, which were: "Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain."))). (The (Plot (Already (Thickens)))).
But it was Neuromancer by William Gibson that turned the cyberpunk trick for me. Unlike so much fiction today -- whether science or otherwise -- which has retreated into trivial social satire and vapid wish-fulfillment fantasy, it may well live up to the claim it stakes in its very title: der Neu Roman, the new novel. Its characters move through a dark and proximate future as much inhabited by computers as by the multinational corporate cabals and lone-wolf information outlaws who ply them for profit in the "consensual hallucination" that is cyberspace. This is not a brave new world, neatly separated from our time by nuclear apocalypse or visionary utopia. It is contemporary culture raised to the nth power, evolved along the lines that populate the headlines and back pages of today's popular newspapers and specialized engineering journals, the logical extension of current electronic technologies, colliding economic systems and covert political strategies.
Whether this speed-freaked world, where life is cheap and immortality expensive, is one in which they would chose to live, is not a question Gibson's characters waste their time considering. Love it or hate it, it is as undeniable as death. Whether constituted of flesh and blood or gallium arsenide circuitry, its inhabitants intensely experience the keen edges of their own existence unshielded by the comfortable yet ultimately suffocating metaphysical assumptions embedded in so much of the current cultural matrix. Cyberspace is a deconstructed social fabrication in which no deus-ex-machina salvation is possible; even the machines who achieve sentience are subject to the same realities, however tenuous, that shape the fate of their human counterparts. Yet it offers glimpses of dazzling intellectual beauty and rare human tenderness at the very moment they are least expected. This icy landscape paradoxically illumines the inherent warmth of intelligence -- whether human or artificial -- by clearly marking the boundaries beyond which all wisdom and compassion end. Here, courage is shorn of posturing machismo, loyalty of sentimental dream. Alone in the degraded backstreets of accidental cities, the new romancer encounters visceral passion, unvarnished evil, and the constantly recurring choice between insane power and genuine dignity.
If this was cyberpunk, I wanted more. And got it in Gibson's second novel, Count Zero. Near the end of this book, one of the characters encounters an artificial intelligence that she finds abandoned in a derelict space colony. It spends its time constructing strangely empathic diorama/sculptures from the debris that floats weightless about it, a maelstrom of forgotten artifacts that reflect the history of a long-dead family. These boxes containing carefully arranged objects leave a deep impression on viewers who stumble across them as they mysteriously surface in various human communities. After this close encounter that owes nothing to Spielberg, she says to the AI: "You are someone else's collage. Your maker is the true artist.... Someone brought the machine here, welded it to the dome, and wired it to the traces of memory. And spilled, somehow, all the worn sad evidence of a family's humanity, and left it to be stirred, to be sorted by a poet. To be sealed away in boxes. I know of no more extraordinary work than this. No more complex gesture...."
This extraordinary image of extracting value and meaning from random noise and useless information comes as close as anything I can recall to an allegorical icon for our present situation. It represents the possibility of a humane art that neither perverts its own vision by subserviently extending the semantics of the reigning cultural powerbase, nor rocks itself to sleep with idiot dreams of an aseptic New Age or a technological Promised Land. There is fire here, and night-black ice. There is a dangerous break with previous conceptual allegiances. There is a radical invitation to forge new links, new outlaw networks. And there is a single word for all this. Punk.
In an excellent introduction to Burning Chrome, a collection of Gibson's shorter works, Bruce Sterling includes Thomas Pynchon and William Burroughs as influences on the cyberpunk genre. Is it coincidence that Laurie Anderson titled one of her songs after Gravity's Rainbow, and for another, invited Burroughs to read the lyrics on the album? Is Laurie Anderson "punk," a term that used to be reserved for the likes of Sid Vicious? Given the depth of Gibson's vision, and the all its attendant connotations, I think the punk of cyberpunk tends toward a thicker description (a phrase coined by Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures) than that associated to it by rockers with a propensity for safety pin jewelry, spiked hair and hard noise.
In fact, the same day I picked up the CoEvolution book, I bought another titled Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising, in which its author notes in a Preface to the Fourth Impression: "...semiotics, for example, appeared, metamorphosed, on the streets of 1977 (the year after I wrote this book) in the self-conscious structuring of 'stolen' and inverted symbols that was Punk." With the mention of semiotics we get flashes of C.S. Peirce, Ferdinand Saussure, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco (and the Borgesian labyrinth/encyclopedia in The Name of the Rose). She unpacks "stolen and inverted" with a reference to the use of the French term "bricolage" -- which means something like discovering useful tools in apparently worthless rubbish -- in Claude Levi-Strauss's The Savage Mind. It is interesting to note that "The Winter Market" -- Gibson's best story in Burning Chrome -- includes a highly successful artist named Ruben who is described (in Japanese) as: "Gomi no sensei. Master of junk."
This trash artist delivers a little speech that may be worth quoting here as counterpoint to the questions we're all asking at this point (me too): is this screed going somewhere or is it merely coincidental free association, randomly dropping names and titles like little silver balls into the spinning wheel of some marginally coherent game of literary roulette? And is it possible to hold several dozen loosely related and quite possibly opposing thoughts in the mind at the same time without going mad? No problem. Ruben, he say:"You know what your trouble is?.... You're the kind who always reads the handbook. Anything people build, any kind of technology, its going to have some specific purpose. It's for doing something that somebody already understands. But if it's new technology, it'll open areas nobody's ever thought of before. You read the manual, man, and you won't play around with it, not the same way. And you get all funny when somebody else uses it to do something you never thought of."To me, that has the sound of a manifesto, the ring of a tract hammered up on a cathedral door, the whiff of a urinal entered into an art exhibition. Garbage In, Art Out. The renaissance men and women of today, the new romancers, wear mirrored shades and are hardwired to the network: they are intelligent punks whose communication is not outward through the eyes, but inward through the consensual hallucination constituted by the interdependently interpretive readings of collective cyberspatial possibility.
Hypertext on Brand. In addition to his views on punk, Stewart Brand can list a few other credits, not the least of which was introducing a generation of punks (we used to call ourselves freaks, but times change) to Gregory Bateson (Steps to an Ecology of Mind; Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity). And among Bateson's many accomplishments can be listed the introduction of those same punks to the basics concepts of cybernetics, a set of ideas that otherwise would have been totally eclipsed by the more engineering-oriented concepts of computer science, with which they are congruent but by no means identical. Cybernetics, by Norbert Wiener, introduced a field that studies feedback and control in inherently informational circuits, systems, and networks, whether they be mechanical, electronic or biological. Bateson's terse but seminal cybernetic exegesis on information described it as "any difference that makes a difference." Among an enormous range of interests, he was deeply concerned with issues of biological evolution and natural selection, methods of learning and conflict resolution, and Bertrand Russell's theory of logical types. Out of all of these and more, he developed the double-bind theory of schizophrenia, as it manifests in individuals and cultural groups. His last book, Angels Fear: Toward an Epistemology of the Sacred, was edited by his daughter from existing papers and published posthumously this year. The title may come as a surprise to anyone who still thinks of mind and matter as subject to some sort of cosmic Cartesian apartheid.
Add cyber to punk and what do you get? Take the following quote straight, no chaser, completely out of context. Except that its from Gibson again, Count Zero, and the speaker is both a cyberspace "cowboy" and a serious practitioner of what he is describing. Ask yourself: what is this doing here?"Vodou isn't like that.... It isn't concerned with notions of salvation and transcendence. What it's about is getting things done. You follow me? In our system, there are many gods, spirits. Part of one big family with all the virtues, all the vices. There's a ritual tradition of communal manifestation, understand? Vodou says, there's God, sure, Gran Met, but He's big, too big and too far away to worry Himself if your ass is poor, or you can't get laid. Come on, man, you know how this works, its street religion, came out of a dirt-poor place a million years ago. Vodou's's like the street....Earlier in the book, Gibson introduces "Legba...master of roads and highways, the loa of communication...." Why is this familiar? I fish out the soundtrack from David Byrne's movie True Stories, and find the cut: "We are your children... Come and op-en the gate.... Pa-pa Leg-ba... come and ride your Horse.... In the night...in the night... come and ride your Horse...." Here, a Horse is not a horse, but a medium through which the loa speaks. The song is an invocation for the spirit to possess the singer, to cross the threshold separating him from another world. But which other world?
We're talking a professional priesthood here, you want to call it that. Otherwise, just imagine a couple of major dudes -- console cowboys, among other things -- who make it their business to get things done for people. 'To serve with both hands' is an expression we have, sort of means they work both ends. White and black, got me?.... Sorcerers...."
Several weeks ago, I spoke with a man who is currently using artificial intelligence in his research on natural language. He said he had come to this work by a rather circuitous route, having started his professional career as a psycho-pharmacologist. Right? I recently picked up a book about Haitian vodoun called The Serpent and the Rainbow. Its author, Wade Davis, describes himself as an ethnobotanist. His advisor at Harvard, in giving his blessing for a proposed field trip to the Amazon, "suggested enthusiastically that I not return...without experimenting with ayahuasca, the vision vine, one of the most potent of hallucinogenic plants." There are a lot of people around these days who would have no trouble with the question of other worlds. But later in the same book, describing reactions to vodoun by certain whitebread anthropologists, Davis quotes one researcher who "considered possession a behavior of 'psychically disequilibrated persons with a mythomaniacal constitution; mythomaniacal being defined as 'a conscious pathological tendency towards lying and the creation of imaginary fables.'" Really? Where do I sign up?
Also appearing in True Stories is Spaulding Gray, a performance artist who tells fabulous stories punctuated with gestures that convey maximal significance with minimal objective reference. Stories, that's it. He relates his experiences in the theater, for instance, as in Swimming to Cambodia, a meta-film about the filming of The Killing Fields, which is, in turn, a story about a photographer taking pictures of the war in Southeast Asia to illustrate stories in the New York Times. After many years a correspondent from the Times goes back to Cambodia and brings out this photographer, who is now working for the paper. Every word is true; except for the part about the banana. I wonder if he has any stories about the filming of the vodou sequence in True Stories that would shed any light on the larger story we're telling here. He does do a manic dinner-table soliloquy in that movie in which he has lots to say about roads and communication, using the available food to illustrate his point. Is it possible that artists these days are actually performing vodou ceremonies to promote their work? Are people tuning in to some kind of parapsychological satellite link, some common carrier wave that delivers the cultural equivalent of a Home Box Office signal just waiting to be unscrambled? Are bookstores perhaps the advanced outposts of an alien civilization? Or are these various possibilities pointing to a metaphor for some penumbral process whose time has come, but for which we have as yet no separate word? And is the construction of wildly contrafactual stories a form of possession in which the storyteller becomes the Horse for some unnameable loa?
Much of the punk sensibility seems to share some kind of involvement in spirit traffic, with drugs playing no less important a role than they do in many of the 488 societies in which some form of possession has been reported. In our own society -- or some mythomaniacal subset whose edges are beginning to infringe on the main culture -- a number of films have appeared over the last two decades that offer eclectic recombinations of the core elements constituting the syncretic punk ethos: psychedelic drugs, rock music, parapsychological spirituality, alien encounters, UFOs, space travel, toxic waste, nuclear/biological warfare, information electronics, artificial intelligence, robotics, androids, cloning and bio-engineering. Some better, some worse, but all interesting, Blade Runner, 2001, Robo Cop, Performance, Repo Man, Liquid Sky, Brazil, Scanners, Videodrome, Max Headroom, and The Man Who Fell to Earth combine some or all of these precursors to the fabulous imagination that is cyberpunk. All these films, but especially the last three, place special emphasis on the prime vehicle of punk consciousness: television, the ontologically thin interface that both joins and separates body and soul, and which has become -- in a way that Understanding Media never understood -- the modern mirror par excellence, itself the reflection of another world. "I'm looking and I'm dreaming for the first time... I'm inside and I'm outside at the same time...." sings David Byrne on "Television Man."
Forget which of these works prefigure which others. Mythogenetic images have a life of their own. Call it the Selfish Metaphor Hypothesis: they invade their hosts to propagate their own vision. ("Language..." sings Laurie Anderson, "...It's a virus.") Max Headroom uses TV to animate a rudimentary concept of cyberspace in such a way that the characters join us inside the same circuitry that constitutes, records and projects the action. The Man Who Fell to Earth, written by Walter Tevis (between The Hustler and The Color of Money), introduces prototypical themes that will inhabit many later cyberpunk landscapes. Is it coincidence that Nicholas Roeg (who also directed Performance, starring Mick Jagger) chose David Bowie as the fallen man who constantly scans the multiple television monitors that -- along with their chemical analog, alcohol -- will ultimately undermine his longing for a route back to the stars?
Bowie's earlier song, which played off the "Space Odyssey" subtitle of 2001, suggested certain ambiguously intra-metaphorical parallels between getting spaced by shooting drugs and getting high by being shot into space -- and Kubrick seemed to imply something similar in the movie's final scenes. In "Space Oddity" Bowie sings: "...ground control to Major Tom, your circuit's dead, there's something wrong..." and the Major simply answers, "...planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do..." followed by one of the more memorable guitar breaks in the history of rock and roll. As The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie watches TV and drinks himself to death -- of the spirit if not the body. Meanwhile, back in the real world, recovering from a near-terminal heroin habit, Bowie will sing on a later album: "Ashes to ashes... funk to funky... We know Major Tom's a junkie... strung out in heaven's high... hitting an all time low...."
We are your children; come and open the gate.... For a while there, the Star Gate, the Eye of Heaven, the Doors of Perception seemed ready to admit us. But many of our Horses sickened and died, poisoned with drugs and too much vision, and others convinced themselves that none of this twisted history had ever happened. We cannot forget though -- not completely. The ghost in the machine continues to haunt us. The spirits of our own dead speak. After a long and badly needed sleep punctuated by demented dreams we wake to find are true, new life is stirring at the edges of the twentieth century's last gasp: some rough beast whose eyes we find almost entirely alien, yet slowly begin to recognize as our own. Does the emergence of this collectively semiconscious awareness, appraising us from the depths of our cultural cyberspace, portend the imminent revenge of some long suppressed reptilian hostility, or do the eyes reflect the compassionate wisdom of an impossibly old friend we thought we had lost in a war no one will even admit to?
Who knows? Maybe we just make it up as we go along....
Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time
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"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon Back to EGR HomePage