Friday, 12 June 2009

Space archaeology

Given this blog's iconography, I obviously make no secret of my abiding interest in "ancient astronauts", spanning from the more ridiculous Chariots of the Gods variety through to the sublime Space Jockey in Alien. Other than reading and films, I love to lie back in the dark and allow an appropriately eerie soundtrack to wash over me as this sci fi imagery runs through my mind. Sure, there is Belbury Poly's From An Ancient Star, but my long time personal favourites in this regard are Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 (once described, I recall, as "the musical equivalent of The Martian Chronicles") and Lustmord's (and Robert Rich's) bleak masterpiece Stalker.

So imagine my surprise when I came across this article the other day on the subject of space archaeology in The Los Angeles Times, "We have the opportunity now to ensure that there will still be something there to see when tourists eventually visit, and for our descendants to understand and appreciate." Fascinating stuff, not least because the implicit assumption is that there is a future need to regulate the commodification which would bring artefacts within the reach of not only space tourists specifically, but space travellers more generally. Alien could be construed as a warning against the lack of such regulation, given that the company's science officer risks the crew's lives by recovering a lifeform from the derelict spacecraft on the remote planetoid called Acheron. Or rather, to expand on the subject of Peter Dickens' contribution to the recent book Space Travel and Culture, the horror portrayed in Alien takes place once the cosmos ceases to function as "capitalism's outside". Remoteness, "the final frontier", is apparently no substitute for risk management of a profit driven technoscience...

One of the other contributors to Space Travel and Culture has an interesting blog entitled Space Age Archaeology. Her name is Alice Gorman. The link I've posted here takes you to the chapter titles of said volume, but there are many compelling variants on the basic theme to be found on Gorman's blog, so I'd recommend having a look around while there. For example, I savoured her description of how, "similar to the cliche of Egyptian mummies astronauts are; wrapped up, with the body inside virtually invisible, except through the faceplate, somewhere between life and death like Schrodinger's cat..." In a similar vein, the "aesthetic significance of material culture in space is all about how things look" (because astronauts are cut off by their spacesuits from the sensorium of taste, touch and smell).

What else? Well I have to have some admiration for the single mindedness of anyone devoting a blog to the ideas behind the Alien series. I haven't yet checked some of the claims, such as how Ridley Scott supposedly took inspiration from The Tomita Planets, but I'm putting that on my To Do List. Switching to a more theoretical mode, although I feel the passages in Cyclonopedia discussing Lovecraft's "ancients" mythology are very evocative of the Space Jockey, I'm particularly taken by Melanie Rosen Brown's Dead Astronauts, Cyborgs, and the Cape Canaveral Fiction of J.G. Ballard: A Posthuman Analysis. What interests me in this case is how the "dead astronaut" does not intimate the horror of encountering a limit, (embodied by the xenomorph that blindly assimilates all difference within a fixed biological teleology by using other lifeforms as mere hosts; i.e. the ignominious fate of the dead Space Jockey and all but one of the Nostromo's crew), suggesting instead the positive transformative power of a prospective ideal. Which is to say, the dead astronaut is the remnant of our collective shedding of an outmoded corporeal form, thereby signalling the inauguration of the posthuman adventure.

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