Friday, February 29, 2008

The Laboratory

Every day when I pass the Frontier Building on A Street going to and from work, it reminds me of the images of galaxies taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Specifically, I imagine the millions of galaxies stuffed inside of a single glass building, which in turn reminds me of the recurring theory of a Hollow Earth, where certain astronomers, starting with Edmund Halley, wondered if the entire universe existed inside the Earth, rather than outside it.

Imagine Earth as a racquetball, with a hollow interior. The entire universe we see above us — the stars, the moon, the sun and the planets — all exists inside this hollowed out space.

We’re in there, too, because the curved surface of the Earth isn’t the outer curve of this ball, but the inner curve. In this theory, if one could fly, this traveler would be able to fly through the entire universe and land on the other side of the Earth, if that makes sense.

Outside the ball is nothing, I suppose. Or God, maybe.

This all in turn reminds me of the atomic nucleus. And then of The Powers of Ten. And then of "The Laboratory," by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.

The Laboratory

Did it all
happen in the laboratory?
Beneath one lamp by day
and billions by night?

Are we a trial generation?
Poured from one beaker to another,
shaken in retorts,
observed by something more than an eye,
each one individually
taken by forceps?

Or maybe otherwise:
no interventions.
The transformations occur on their own
in accordance with a plan.
The needle draws
the expected zigzags.

Maybe until now there was nothing interesting in us.
The control monitors are seldom switched on,
except when there's a war, and a rather big one at that,
several flights over the lump of clay called Earth,
or significant movements from point A to point B.

Or perhaps thus:
they only have a taste for episodes.
Look! a little girl on a big screen
is sewing a button to her sleeve.

The monitors begin to shriek,
personnel comes running in.
Oh, what sort of tiny creature
with a little heart beating on the inside!
What graceful dignity
in the way she draws the thread!
Someone calls out in rapture:
Tell the Boss,
and let him come see for himself!

I first read that poem in this book. Weschler connects it to this painting, but the poem reminds me of this movie, released 10 years ago this summer.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Losing Idols

The Voxtrot song “Brother in Conflict” came on today. The last line of the song caught my attention. Ramesh Srivastava sings — screams, really, several times: “I had to lose my idols to find my voice/ lose my idols to find my voice/ lose my idols/ to find my voice.” Appropriate for someone who channeled Morrissey in early songs.

It reminded me of the Bob Dylan song/spoken word piece “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.” Dylan performed this at New York Town Hall on April 12, 1963.

It’s a eulogy, but not for Guthrie, who was still alive at this point. Dylan obvious owed a great deal of his early work to Guthrie. This was Dylan saying goodbye to that influence and moving on to something new.

They’re actually similar, the song and the poem. Both rattle off in lost lists: “And this, And this, And this.” It’s the like “The Exorcist”: “The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you.” It takes a couple of shakes to get peanut butter off a spoon.

“The music is so much different and much more work-intensive than anything we've ever done before,” Srivastava told “the Austin Chronicle” last year. “You can accept the part of yourself that wants to write really accessible pop songs, and you can also accept the part of yourself that wants to write something a little more complex.”

The last seventeen lines of the Dylan poem:

Where do you look for this lamp that’s a burning
Where do you look for this oil well gushing
Where do you look for this candle that’s glowing
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there
And out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist and turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You find God in the Church of you Choice
You find Woody Guthrie in the Brooklyn State Hospital
And though it’s only my opinion
It may be right or wrong
You can find them both at the Grand Canyon at sundown.

Eric Clapton said this about Dylan and the poem: “He’s a poet. Basically he’s a poet. He does not trust his voice. He doesn’t trust his guitar playing. He doesn’t think he's good at anything, except writing—and even then he has self-doubts. Have you heard that thing he wrote about Woody Guthrie? That to me is the sum of his life’s work so far. Whatever happens, that is it. That sums it up.”

Clapton, of course, being the one who inspired people in London to write “Clapton is God” on subway walls.

All of which begs to reference Exodus 20:19-20: “God said to Moses, “So shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make idols of Me; gods of silver and gods of gold shall you not make for yourselves.” Repeated several times (Exodus, Levitacus, Deuteronomy) of course.

You have to lose your idols to find your voice.