Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Mar 2, 2011

The Land of Ever-Been Meets the Place of Never-Was-Before

Oh, make me over; I'm all I want to be; A walking study; In demonology;
Hey, so glad you could make it; Yeah, now you really made it; Hey, so glad you could make it now
Oh, look at my face; My name is might have been; My name is never was; My name's forgotten
Hey, so glad you could make it; Yeah, now you really made it; Hey, there's only us left now.

                                                                                               Hole, "Celebrity Skin"

Part I  --  Oh, Look at My Face, My Name is Might Have Been, My Name Is Forgotten!

There was a sultry night in October, long ago, when my parents both, two adult neighbors, and I looked up toward the dark, clear Summer sky. I think a neighbor kid, named We were in our family's rambling back lawn. Unlike in urban settings today, a canopy of twinkling stars was clearly visible all over the awesome, vast-black overhang.

My parents and those neighbors were disturbed, and shook their tilted-up heads. My mother and father each spoke about disgust and fear, a couple of times. One neighbor seemed quite certain, except his voice had a faltering quality to it, that the End was near. Yes, the End.

We searched the night sky, trying to catch a glimpse of the space contraption, now known to just about everybody as Sputnik. It was, supposedly (we only had news reports from TV and daily papers to go on -- there had been no pictures shown yet, so we had to use our individual imaginations to conjure what Sputnik looked like), racing through space, and thus orbiting the globe! On its own. Or was that "in" space, or "up" there, or "over" there. Defining the space and the then oxygen-rich, earth lifezone continuum was rumored to be a tricky thing. So, if one went to space, he or she definitely did not go up (though it seemed so). The physics of the equation and reality suggested something else. Decades later, like now, I would be reading rather difficult books full of entertaining, but arcane, science about the possibilities of whole universes -- close to us as our, well, neighbors, that consist completely and specifically of mathematics. As the philosopher Suess was to exclaim years later, 'Oh the places you'll go!' You know? 

After about 30 minutes of fruitless and semi-frantic sky-search, my father spotted it. It, Sputnik, appeared to be a tiny (I mean really tie-nee) pinprick of star. But it was behaving oddly. It was racing, like a tiny diamond NASCAR racer, on what appeared to be a consistent left to right track, with a little arcing movement mixed
in cleverly. Once it was spotted, we all stood silently, looking into virtual darkness, and (heads rolling back and forth in disbelief) watched a shiny, tiny Russian monster above, yet in, our space (as the word 'space' is used in common parlance today). To loyal and proud Americans, this was felt like a sharp and forceful right jab, to each person's abdomen, because the bitter enemy of all free peoples, the Soviet Union, was symbolically winning the struggle to do the impossible -- that is, reach out to a finish line (as in a race) and conquer space.

"Damn Ruskies,' said Mr. Alexander, with his thick accent, since he was a native of Scotland and had moved to explore the manifest destiny of the United States lower 48. "Soon enough, I tell you, they be putting us right in their gunsights from up there. There'll be no place to hide."

As a mere child incapable of deep thought, my native response on seeing the dazzling little pinpoint that was now racing away to my right (that was supposedly Sputnik) was limited to observations like "Wow," and "Cool." On an emotional level I was anxious, mostly because my parents were also nervous. And of course they showed disgust that America -- which should be first in everything -- had failed to beat the Russian scientists to space travel. I could not grasp the implications. Not many people of any age could. Mr. Alexander began to pull away toward his crackerbox, frame house next door. He tightened the features of his face, pursed his lips, then said (sadly? like a prisoner giving up once he has been captured?), "This could be it. This is going to be big trouble." Then, he walked away, head down.

I wonder where he is today. In his grave, I would guess. But his progeny live on -- three children Stuart, Jamie, and Jennifer., along with their offspring. On his grave marker, I imagine the saying, "The End is near. This is going to be big trouble.'

The brilliant, energetic, pioneering human foray -- with its many, many smart machines -- into deep space: was it trouble? Well, such a case might be made. Opposite arguments, and all manner of other viewpoints and learning about the human search for ultimate meaning, can also be posited.

Twenty-five years or so after that remarkable night of strange magic on our black-blanket lawn, still recalling with a little thrill my first glimpse of the rogue machine that had imagined Russian insignias (and warlike, frowning grimaces) on its sides, I could read and think about -- and even see detailed pictures of Sputnik I and many other satellites. So many facts, figures, and details had come into focus.

Satellites were conceived to help us look through space, then out toward other worlds -- planets like Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn -- and beyond, even into rumoured parallel solar systems, galaxies, and whatever else strange magic hovered in the impossibly vast chamber of the universe.

But the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote compelling about possibly using satellites for mass communications among earthlings. Clarke thought that perhaps only 3 (powerful) geo-stationary satellites could be launched to provide high-speed, world-circling communications coverage for our entire planet. What was once conceived as a mediating force -- a satellite -- that would telescopically cause us to look way beyond ourselves, into the vastness of the Other 'out there.' Instead, sat-tech began to primarily serve the missions of espionage on all sides East and West; reconnaisance oerflight double- and triple-checking; geological and other earth studies; and the reflection back, to us on earth, of our news and entertainment media --put another way, we got (in all quarters of the globe, rich and poor, developed and underdeveloped, Christian-Muslim-Hindu-etc., pictures and films, advertising images, shapes, sounds, stories, performers, fashion, ideas about food and drink, yes, the whole nine yards of Western pop culture through electronic transmissions. Pop culture myths and stories pinged up on the satellites. And they got pinged back in many directions to many land and many peoples. In philosophical studies of culture, some ask does the culture form the people in it, or is it the people present who are alive, thinking, writing, painting, storytelling who form and develop the culture. In truth, people shape culture. Culture, in turn, shapes people back. It's dynamic and ongoing as a process. Once the mass communications satellites, like Arthur Clarke had imagined, were "up" and running, it was game on. As a human community, we got extreme doeses pinged and beamed from satellites @ us about who we are, could be, might never be, and, above all, how to get the most toys in order to win the game of "I'll get mine."

Computer-technology was just about hit the scene too. Lookout, was the cry throughout the Land of Ever Been, for it had been struck by a game-changing set of conditions. And it was reeling and adjusting. The Place of Never Was Before going to really rock its planet. Some young men were working studiously in common garages, and basement workshops, on motherboards, harddrives, and other eccentricities. This was a few short decades after the impossible had been achieved again -- by the Soviet Union again. Sputnik II had gone racing into space during Novemeber. It's pasenger was alive -- a cute dog named Laika.

As Mr. Alexander said to my father on another quiet, backyard night-watch, this time for Sputnik II. "Well now, does that not just beat all?" Turns out that no, not by any means at all, did that excursion beat all. Which begs for a new topic to look at in this metaphysical musing.

Part 2 --  So Glad You Could Make It . . . (But) Hey, There's Only Us Left Now

         (To Be Continued Soon)

1 comment:

  1. Hey there.... dipping into the blog again, and watching Sputnik.