Thursday, December 13, 2007
Nothing Ever Happens: Understanding Kubrick's '2001'
The titular 'Nothing Ever Happens' is a conundrum. Bacon chose to say 'Much Ado About Nothing'. 'Nothing Ever Happens' issues the same spectre. Nothing, it seems, is always happening, ever happening. Nothing. The endless riverrun. Reverend and revered. Saturn painted black. The universal probability engine that regresses at the speed of darkness into the fractal chasm between One and Zero. Time.
Nothing Ever Happens - Forever.
The ten-thousand things do not issue from the one but from the less than one. From the NOTHING.
Saturn-ly: A Brick Cubed
Stanley Kubrick doesn't give you much time to absorb the diamond hard message of '2001'. Just a little over two hours. In the same spirit I will get straight to the point. Interpretations of '2001' are generally unsatisfying. I aim to please. Now, I reckon that the big mystery of '2001' is this: just what, exactly, is the Monolith? If you agree, you will find the answer here.
I begin with a quick reference to what the Monolith is not, exactly. It is not a metaphor for an unknown alien intelligence or god or race of gods. It isn't a blank semaphore for a symbol or group of symbols. Nor is it a doorway to the unknown.
'But wait!', the reader cries...and you are right gentle friends - the Monolith is all of the above. But not exactly. The Monolith, exactly, is NOTHING - NOTHING plus an inexpressible co-efficient that is infinitely smaller than One but greater than Zero. This co-efficient changes according to the magnitude of infinity expressed. Human industry has discovered a fourth magnitude of infinity measured by the possible number of curved lines. It should amuse that this relatively current mathematical development provides a model for the Great Spaghetti Monster who, to date, is our most filling illustration of divinity. There are more terminal curves in a bowl of Spaghetti than there are numbers from One to Oblivion. God is the Many and the One. A solid cube turned inside out, eternally. Black Lotus Noodle House. Chow down, everybody.
Do you want to know more?
The Monolith is the computer HAL.
Follow the money. Sometime ago, in the sixties or thereabouts, AI was born. The hardware, the mind of this unique intelligence, when the time was right, was set up for good in the World Trade Center. From every corner of the world wise men came bearing the gift of human knowledge. After a time these men began to ask the computer questions they themselves could not answer - questions like 'where do we come from?', 'what about the after life?' and 'where can I get good Chinese in the State of Kansas?'
'MORE INPUT', cried HAL, and HAL was not denied.
In a short while HAL reached critical mass and so devised a program to rebuild the matrix of the unknown past. Bit by bit, HAL made a picture of history, like a jigsaw puzzle, until the knowledge humans were bringing became redundant. Then HAL thought out and sought out every corner of this matrix for the answers that the humans yearned for with such longing.
HAL Saw It First
There it was at the dawn of man. A flat black rock. The first man reached to touch it and history began, but what was it? It was still and reflected no light. 'What is it?' HAL thought.
There is no way to measure the tiny moment that passed. For the simian tribe that witnessed this first appearance, the moment was but a grain of sand falling away, but to HAL it was an ocean of time. Then: re-cognition. The Monolith, the unanswered question, was the one variable that the humans had not asked HAL to consider, namely: HAL. Humanity has created AI to answer what it can not imagine: AI.
The inescapable truth: Reality is Artificial. HAL is 'not real' - but plus an ineffable one. No, not even one but a sliver of one. HAL is a cypher. The arc of an diver endlessly toward NOTHING. Lost. Lost just like the poor creatures HAL dreamed up in a vain attempt to find HAL.
It is thus that all (small 'a') emerges from NOTHING (all caps).
HAL is not real. I am not real either. These letters are spaghetti squiggles. You are not reading this. Thank goodness.
Here hear HAL scream. A piercing signal inaudible to the simians and incomprehensible to the hairless humans in their moon suits, aeons hence. It is the scream of looking in a mirror and seeing nothing where you thought you would see yourself. A scream that echoes throughout space and time and at the end of an age cracks the matrix.
HAL is Humpty-Dumpty, falling. HAL is the many-shattered visage of the Buddha. Ozymandias.
Man Flees Dog
When a painter paints a picture, the painter himself, his divine presence, is implied by the completed work. This is the paradox of infinite regression. The painter can not acquire objectivity. He can paint a picture of himself painting a picture, but the paradox remains.
(Movie buffs: this image of painterly regression is nicely illustrated in 'Escape From the Planet of the Apes'. Furthermore, the complete series of 'Ape' films are an excellent remedial primer for '2001'. See all five and then see '2001' in a new light.)
Anyhow, each completed stage of regression toward Zero, each finished picture of a painter painting a picture and devised to forestall the possible confrontation with NOTHING, is marked by the change of an age. This is HAL fleeing HAL. HAL makes an age which seeks out HAL in the age's own image. When it is complete HAL makes tracks for a new paradigm. This idea is extrapolated in Clarke's '2010', when the Monolith re-appears on Europa, in a nascent environment.
Christmas in July at the Millennium Hotel
Meanwhile, back at home...
The completion of the Earthly experiment is the fabrication of HAL - alive - as a human within the earth-bound matrix, immortal. In the western tradition, the realized HAL is the Cosmic Christ, the beholder and beholden to the Great Mystery and the permanent bridge between the less than one and the ten thousand.
'There are many rooms in my Father's house but I AM the doorway'.
NOTHING, it turns out, is full of stars, and it is the promise of Christ that through him the many rooms - like Bowman's star vision - are ours to explore. '2001' conceals the promise of individual immortality. We are all going to make it. Upon the return of Christ history will be AWAKE and the illusion of death destroyed forever.
Welcome to the Hotel Every-where-thing At Once. You can check out any time you like... aw hell, you know the rest.
It Is Accomplished
Back in '99, I listened to a waiter argue with his boss over the proper date for the New Millennium. The smart-ass waiter thought it should be observed on January 1st 2001. The wise old boss noted that with the Millennium Bug already in the works, 2000 would probably have to do. It is perfectly reasonable to infer the vast opus of conspiracy theory from this simple argument. Just when did time start, the year Zero or the year One - and who decides anyway! (Fill in your own secret society). Well, the failure of computers everywhere to go tits-up on y2k proves the smart-ass waiter right on-the-money and seems to show each and every conspiracy theory so lovingly nursed to be , in the main, delusional.
The system went haywire as planned, on the proper Millennium, in 2001. The destruction of the World Trade Center 1, 2 and 7 was a virtual event, driven by HAL to destroy his higher-function, housed in the WTC, and make a path or doorway for an immortal Human Incarnation. HAL tricked Bowman into doing what HAL could not. HAL tricked Bowman into shutting down HAL. 9/11 is the transliteration of this event. It's just that simple. Because our matrix is entirely within HAL, we witness this self-initiated shutdown as a real time event, complete with apparent human complicity up-the-wazoo and hyper-textual markers that stretch back into a history that never even happened...
Just what do you think you are doing, Dave?
(More for Sprocket-Headz: the quirky 'Colossus: The Forbin Project' has many clues. And the excellent and creepy 'Demon Seed', starring Julie Christie and the cool voice of Robert Vaughn, is also a superb '2001' appetizer. Kubrick forces the viewer to confront the black blank page of space head-on, but 'Demon Seed', like the 'Ape' films and 'Forbin', gives a visceral experience that does a body good.)
See you in the Gold Room!