Archive for August 2009

Human Behavior

August 22, 2009


There comes news of a wonderful discovery in northern Mexico, the Cueva de los Cristales, where selenite crystals grow to enormous size, dwarfing the orange-suited explorers in the photos provided in the National Geographic story. Those photos, especially the one reproduced above, take me back to Pope’s Grotto and the beautiful sets created for the film Fantastic Voyage. In the Mexican cave, though, the effect is more pronounced, much more what I had in mind for scenes that unfold inside the diseased, hunchbacked body of the author of “An Essay on Man.” In my film, the anatomical structures may appear gigantic, but it is the explorers who are the size of homunculi, and their task is to impose an Augustan symmetry on the messy, romantic sublime we find both in great caverns and human cavities, rearranging things so that when the explorers emerge, and Pope awakes, he stands straight and tall, as physically commanding as he is philosophically adroit. History is rewritten: the Age of Reason has its hero, and the Enlightenment Project is completed before the irresistable illogic of human behavior has a chance to postpone it forever.


The Empire of Spines

August 9, 2009


The headline that appears this week, “Giant Jellyfish Invade Japan,” familiarly positions something in nature as an external force, an enemy that crosses an established truce line and runs riot in zones that are presumably free of such abominations, zones that are thought to lie entirely within the guarded empire of human regulation. However, this kind of rhetoric does not apply in all such cases. Whales, as I mentioned below, also have a tendency to beach themselves, to enter “our” space, but such entries are never referred to as “invasions.” The difference, perhaps, is the spine. The Nomura jellyfish are invertebrates, and therefore alien, untoward, unwelcome. I recall an artist’s conception, from many years ago, of the surface of Jupiter, which included speculative life forms: giant jellyfish that drifted in the planet’s heavy atmosphere, tentacles hanging down toward the Great Red Spot. Typically enough, the aliens in the current film, District 9, have a distinct underwater invertebrate look to them, and I believe are even referred to derogatorily as “prawns.”

My own answer to this issue is to recognize and renew my affection for my own vertebral column, which keeps me safely enrolled in the more privileged and, sadly, much more invasive of the two kingdoms. As They Might Be Giants ruefully puts it, Spines/Gonna make you cry/Gonna make you crawl/Gonna make you fall in love again/Spines/Gonna make you beg/Gonna make you plead/Gonna make you fall in love with spines.