Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Some comments on the themes of "Alien" and the new leaked "Prometheus" trailer

The name of this blog and the pic of the Space Jockey are all drawn from the movie Alien (which as a kid gave me my first sense of the connections between biology and technology), so I might be expected to comment on the leaked trailer for the prequel which has been doing the rounds in the last 24 hours, and disappearing at an equally rapid rate thanks to threats from 20th Century Fox . There was still a poor quality version left on YouTube when I last checked, but I urge anyone who might be interested to instead wait for the official release (which is why I am not posting that trailer here).

The original film was very important for my personal development and I would like to be able to say more about this once Prometheus is released. All I will say for now is that my expectations are not that high for this prequel because the key to the original's success was that it was largely based on H.P. Lovecraft's maxim, "atmosphere, not action."  So no need for exhaustive explanation either, which forces us to use our own imaginations instead. But how can the prequel respect this when everything so far suggests it will be attempting to explain everything. Drawing on the term used by sci fi critic Peter Nicholls, I can also say that what really fired my imagination as a youngster was the Nostromo crew encountering "a big dumb object" i.e. the Space Jockey on Acheron LV-426. This incredible sequence, the greatest I have ever seen, sticking with the terminology favored by Nicholls, Clute et al, instilled in me a "sense of wonder". This was  tempered by the knowledge that the warning signal meant there was no possibility of being enchanted by the kind of "cargo cult" qualities associated with the properties of other mysterious xenoarchaeological artifacts, not least the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike Dave Bowman then, there is no lebensphilosophie style personal transfiguration from crossing a threshold, given how everyone who walks around the derelict is eventually killed by the alien; starting with the necrogenesis scene (better known as the "chestburster scene"), when male crewmember Kane gives "birth" to the alien that implants itself in his body in the derelict's egg chamber (although it could be argued on the basis of the deleted scene featured on the DVD that Captain Dallas [and Brett] is forced to undergo a metamorphosis by being incorporated into the creature's life cycle; however, this is so horrible that it is probably as far from the "exalted" sense implied by transfiguration as one can imagine). 

Mentioning Clute et al shows that over the years I've realized that Alien draws on certain conventions of science fiction, but this has only enhanced my appreciation of its qualities. In addition to being so prescient, as all good science fiction should be, with its theme of bio-weapons meets corporate malfeasance, I credit the film a lot for violating the formerly pristine, white environments usually favored in depictions of space travel, through its spectacular focus on body horror. And this raises another intriguing question: whose sense of horror is it really? Perceptive critics have responded by examining the racial coding of the xenomorph as black, whereas feminists are fascinated and appalled in equal measure by the film's equating of technology and reproduction. I'd recommend reading this comparable essay on John Carpenter's The Thing for more of a sense of the "body horror" that might be at stake in Alien as well (The Thing, incidentally, shares with Alien a linkage back to the xenoarchaeological themes of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness"). Eric White ties together the issues of racial/species/gender identity in relation to evolutionary theory:

Evolutionary theory has often figured in science fiction as a powerfully resonant topic, a privileged point of departure for the staging of a variety of highly charged concerns and conflicts. In some narratives, the positing of a shared kinship between humans and other animals provokes revulsion at the implied refusal of any claim to human preeminence in the greater scheme of things. But the erosion of "Man" as a putatively ontological category and the prospect, moreover, of reality as a Joycean "chaosmos" of perpetual change or metamorphosis can also be depicted affirmatively. The theoretical elaboration of an evolutionary universe need not exclusively elicit horror and anguish. It may also prompt the speculative imagination to extrapolate a future for what might be dubbed "the post-human body becoming." In this essay I’m going to examine a number of exemplary responses in science fiction to the advent of modern evolutionary thought. Discussion will focus in particular on John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing and Octavia Butler’s more recent XENOGENESIS trilogy as evolutionist narratives offering respectively traumatized and affirmative perspectives on a world in which, as Heraclitus long ago put it, "everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed."

It isn't clear to me though whether the author's enthusiasms are really stopping short of the kind of Deleuzian excesses that we saw Steve Fuller recently criticizing in the interview I posted on this blog. Sci fi then can clearly be mobilized either  in support of, or to express horror at, the kind of projects we humans strive for in the future. It can be worthwhile taking the time to seriously consider its implications.

 Well, I guess until the new film comes out, I'll continue when I have moments to myself to take a relaxing  walk, plotting my own little psychogeographies as I go by listening to and dreaming about certain music that for me evoke the scene of the crew approaching the derelict (such as the opening track of The Tower by Mordant Music). And speaking of artifacts, don't masks have a slightly xenoarchaeological quality about them as well, in that they too can function as gateways/portals in rituals and fantasy literature that can open the wearer up to forces with the power to transform personal identity? But as I've already hinted in my reference to Kane, to describe the "facehugger" in this way would be a bit of a stretch; although it was probably inevitable that someone would make this anyway (which is clever and humorous in its own way, to be sure).

These have just been a few fairly spontaneous musings inspired by my viewing of the new Prometheus trailer and then looking for a further excuse to avoid going back to work. Not long ago, for the very same reasons, I threw together the following little piece, which combines a couple of motifs from Alien and Lovecraft. It doesn't really look too bad on a big monitor. I thought the storyline could be something like this:

"After surveying the outer systems for many long years, a team finally made it back to Earth to find out why they had lost all contact. This pic was taken in China, but the team discovered identical statues in every major city around the world. The cities had all been reduced to smoking ruins and the atmosphere was no longer breathable. It seems Earth's fate had something to do with the mysterious Cthulhu cult which had spread during the team's absence...."

Monday, 21 November 2011

"...as if he's dousing bugs with insecticide"

Thanks for your excellent series of posts, derridata. I hope you're avoiding Spiked, which is running pathetic pieces comparing Occupy to the Tea Party!! Is Occupy the product of astroturfing funded by the Koch brothers? Uh, no, so there's really no comparison--but you'd never know that if you relied on Spiked.

Anyway, you've probably run across this latest atrocity, which reinforces the point of your post about paramilitary policing techniques:

"At the University of California at Davis this afternoon, police tore down down the tents of students inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and arrested those who stood in their way. Others peacefully demanded that police release the arrested.

In the video, you see a police officer [Update: UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike] walk down a line of those young people seated quietly on the ground in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, and spray them all with pepper spray at very close range. He is clearing a path for fellow officers to walk through and arrest more students, but it's as if he's dousing a row of bugs with insecticide.

Wayne Tilcock of the Davis-Enterprise newspaper has a gallery of photographs from the incident, including the image thumbnailed above (larger size at davisenterprise.com). Ten people in this scene were arrested, nine of whom were current UC Davis students. At least one woman is reported to have been taken away in an ambulance with chemical burns.

This 8-minute video was uploaded just a few hours ago, and has already become something of an iconic, viral emblem accross the web. We're flooded with eyewitness footage from OWS protests right now, but this one certainly feels like an important one, in part because of what the crowd does after the kids are pepper-sprayed. Watch the whole thing."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Former Captain Ray Lewis Charged With Three Violations After Occupy Wall Street Protest

17th November: retired Philadelphia Police captain Ray Lewis was arrested at Occupy Wall Street. Lewis traveled to New York City to protest the heavy-handed behavior of the New York City Police Department.

Photo via Johnny Milano

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Paramilitary Policing of Occupy Wall Street: Future Growth Industries

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

Much of the problem is rooted in a rigid command-and-control hierarchy based on the military model. American police forces are beholden to archaic internal systems of authority whose rules emphasize bureaucratic regulations over conduct on the streets. An officer’s hair length, the shine on his shoes and the condition of his car are more important than whether he treats a burglary victim or a sex worker with dignity and respect. In the interest of 'discipline,' too many police bosses treat their frontline officers as dependent children, which helps explain why many of them behave more like juvenile delinquents than mature, competent professionals. It also helps to explain why persistent, patterned misconduct, including racism, sexism, homophobia, brutality, perjury and corruption, do not go away, no matter how many blue-ribbon panels are commissioned or how much training is provided.

Norm Stamper
former Seattle police chief and author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing
Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street

Monday, 14 November 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street? 4 Reasons.

My advice would be to avoid like the plague the kind of "analysis" offered in online forums such as Spiked! I don't think Frank Furedi has written anything insightful or fresh in the last ten years or so when examining social movements. He ALWAYS says their appeal is predicated merely on "moral authority". That criticism is so lazy because it merely obfuscates the differences between movements by refusing to engage with any concrete proposals on their own terms.

As an antidote, I recommend taking a look at the following video, which clearly sets out four reasons why Wall Street should be occupied. It also demonstrates the missed opportunities in the past when there was a chance to act in a pre-emptive fashion, and thereby avoid, or at least minimize, the catastrophe that has unfolded. Of course, regulation alone will never be a solution to the problems capitalism creates, but as a prelude to the "Great Emancipation", the social democratic reforms in the video have considerable merit.

Marx was a realist; the real romantics think you can have capitalism without great crisis:

More at The Real News