I often have several books on the go. This time it’s no different: retyping Portrait Of The Artist, tackling Infinite Jest, and Philip K. Dick’s Ubik.
I had to abandon Ubik for a short while due to a recent re-watch of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (many thanks to my friend Bogart for grounding me back to my film nerd-dom – click his name and find some awesome tunes btw) . What fascinates me about the movie is the colour schema feast and comforting OCD-pleasing shots that Kubrick utilizes, in all his flicks, but in this film in particular. Something about it always leaves me wanting more and since there is no more (well, Kubrick-wise in that world), I end up watching all my Kubrick movies again. This time, since the book was written alongside the screenplay, I picked the book out of my bookshelf and prepared myself for the dry read I remembered it being.
It must have been the time I had read it when I was a kid, or maybe my mind was busy wrapping its head around the science in its future casting, but it’s definitely a different read now. Almost poetic at times in the passages I’ve picked out below:
1. “It was hard to tell when they lifted from the track and became airborne, but when the roar ofthe rockets suddenly doubled its fury, and Floyd found himself sinking deeper and deeper into the cushions of his seat, he knew that the first-stage engines had taken over. He wished he could look out of the window, but it was an effort even to turn his head, Yet there was no discomfort; indeed, the pressure of acceleration and the overwhelming thunder of the motors produced an extraordinary euphoria. His ears ringing, the blood pounding in his veins, Floyd felt more alive than he had for years. He was young again, he wanted to sing aloud – which was certainly safe, for no one could possibly hear him.
The mood passed swiftly, as he suddenly realized that he was leaving Earth, and everything he had ever loved. Down there were his three children, motherless since his wife had taken that fatal flight to Europe ten years ago. (Ten years? Impossible! Yet it was so…) Perhaps, for their sake, he should have remarried…..
He had almost lost sense of time when the pressure and the noise abruptly slackened, and the cabin speaker announced: “Preparing to separate from lower stage. Here we go.”There was a slight jolt; and suddenly Floyd recalled a quotation of Leonardo da Vinci’s which he had once seen displayed in a NASA office:
The Great Bird will take its flight on the back of the great bird, bringing glory to the nest where it was born.
Well, the Great Bird was flying now, beyond all the dreams of da Vinci, and its exhausted companion was winging back to earth. In a ten-thousand-mile arc, the empty lower stage would glide down into the atmosphere, trading speed for distance as it homed on Kennedy. In a few hours, serviced and refueled, it would be ready again to lift another companion toward the shining silence with it could never reach.”
2. “Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the everchanging flow of information from the news satellites.
It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient. But sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away, to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the Newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg.
There was another thought which a scanning of those tiny electronic headlines often invoked. The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry, or depressing its contents seemed to be. Accidents, crimes, natural and man-made disasters, threats of conflict, gloomy editorials – these still seemed to be the main concern of the millions of words being sprayed into the ether. Yet Floyd also wondered if this was altogether a bad thing; the newspapers of Utopia, he had long ago decided, would be terribly dull.”
I imagine space flight to be a hundred times as exciting as being on a plane taking off or the biggest rollercoaster ride in the world. The miracle in the “miracle” of flight is just another assurance in the way humanity moves forward. There are a few passages where Floyd is amused by arriving on the space station and seeing his passport check/border check as a mere formality. There are no divisions in outside of Earth.
Then further on his thoughts on the news and how we get our news (the Newspad/iPad/e-reader), are topical and say so much of the book’s future and our present. All the news is the same, but it wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t. What would a Utopian newspaper give us? What is the inevitable, unfathomable technology that will replace our current medium of text reading?
All thoughts that coalesced in my head as I rode home reading my paperback in the new streamlined TTC subway trains. The train’s polished silver, blood red seats, interactive maps, soothing announcements, and subtle advertising, were a hint that all things predicted are merely forecasts from the past.
It’s going to be interesting to see The Shining at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in April. I haven’t read the King novel in forever as well. There’s something about Kubrick that compels you to grab the read. I find his cinema to be visual poetry and that’s probably why there’s so much of an appeal on my part.
A reminder that I have an art show opening at Playful Grounds this weekend!
Charlie and Crush Are Here – the Art Exhibit
Playful Grounds: 605 College, Toronto
P.S. If you ever ask me what my favorite movie is be prepared, you won’t hear the end of it.