The numinous dimension

“In keeping with the tendency of science to objectify the natural world, space, the numinous dimension, was gradually stripped of its mythic qualities and made an extension of earthly reality. An atlas of the year 1652 illustrates a halfway point in this process. Peter Heylyn’s World Geography places the moon in the same dimension of reality as the new territories of Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands; alongside them are maps of Utopia and Fairyland. New conquests and colonies fueled dreams of conquering space. In 1638 the Bishop of Chester published a book predicting the inevitable conquest of the moon by some airborne Drake or Columbus; what concerned the author was the pressing need for missionaries able and willing to convert the lunarian heathen. In the same year, and in 1659, popular romances by Francis Godwin and Cyrano de Bergerac described voyages to the moon that included the traditional layover in the Earthly Paradise setting. Instead of Eden, however, the paradisiacal locations were St. Helena’s Island and Canada. The numinous dimension had been thoroughly assimilated to the expansion of colonial empires.

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“The changing view of space paralleled the cultural transition from the belief in maternal nature to the modern concept of inanimate nature. With the objectification of space, nature is physically appropriated, while its numinous aspect is pushed off the map of a newly rationalized world. (An interesting side effect of all this involves the sense of – time. The numinous dimension was timeless and changeless. But when space became conquerable territory, time was also objectified. History became a charted map of exploration and conquest, while the future was more of the same, an automatic extension of the map of conquest. In other words, if you looked at Peter Heylyn’s map, you saw lands that had already been conquered, history and lands that hadn’t yet but would be, in the future.)”

Myths of The Final Frontier in The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality, by Sharona Ben-Tov. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1995. pp 90-91.

Image: FRONTISPIECE: The early modern moon. From Johannes Hevelius, Selenographia: Sive, Lunae descriptio; atque accurata . . . delineatio…. Early Modern Space Travel and the English Man in the Moon

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Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal

“EUR came as result of Italy’s miraculous economic boom in the post-WWII period when the country’s landscape was forever changed as man-made structures began to dominate, cities expanded and rural areas became suburbs. Although EUR was commissioned by Benito Mussolini in 1935, it was not completed until the 1950s. Italians found its rather odd geometric shapes and sterile surfaces inconsistent with the sensuousness of their culture. Antonioni, on the other hand, was inspired. He was curious about what psychological effects this environment could have on people.

“In The Eclipse, Antonioni transforms EUR into a sci-fi-esque backdrop for the existential anguish of Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a young bourgeoisie woman and translator. For much of the film, Vittoria wanders around EUR puzzled by its apathetic residents and bland modernist architectural design. It’s as if she is living on a distant alien planet at odds with human feeling. After her miserable break-up with Riccardo (Francisco Rabal), she becomes reluctant to start a new relationship with Piero (Alain Delon), a materialistic stockbroker. She doubts whether genuine love is even possible in a place like EUR.

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“The Eclipse concludes with a chilling seven minute abstract sequence that brings the incompatible relationship between Vittoria and Piero and to their surroundings full circle. After they make love and promise to see each other again that night at their meeting place, Antonioni’s camera lingers on the iconography of EUR, which he had established in the first two acts of the film – the rows of housing complexes, the mushroom-shaped water tower, the white lines of the crosswalk, a wooden stick that Vittoria put in a barrel of water, a horse-drawn carriage passing by, etc. He intersperses these images with varying angles of Vittoria and Piero’s meeting place – both from ones we have seen before and newer ones, including wide shots connecting the half-built housing project, a metaphor for the incompleteness of their relationship, with the contours of the intersection.

“The difference this time is that Antonioni almost completely vacates the environment. Our focus instead turns toward its geometric lines, spaces and objects, while we contemplate the glaring absence of Vittoria and Piero, who, for some reason, have not showed up at their agreed upon time and place. In this way, Antonioni metamorphoses EUR into an architectural model to re-examine and investigate how its architectural and spatial design serves the characters. Although it may conform with Piero’s unfeeling material existence, its cold modernist rationality conspires against the earthier Vittoria. So when night falls and the blinding light of the street lamp fills the screen and fades to black, human feeling and Vittoria and Piero’s relationship have been obliterated.”

The Architectural Vision of Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Eclipse (1962), d visible magazine.

New Vision of a Visionless World

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“Over the last seventy-five years it has been science fiction, more than any other genre, that has appropraited [the Hegelian] vision and continued to develop it. In 1926 Hugo Gernsback published the world’s first magazine dedicated to science fiction, and even in the introduction to that first issue, science fiction was already designated as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” Here, the ideas of “science”, “vision” and “future” (suggested by “prophecy”) are already clearly indicated. From these three ideas emerged the golden age of the forties, followed successively by other grand “prophetic visions” such as Robert Heinlein’s Future Histories series and Issac Asimov’s Galatic Empire series (1950-52).

“Ironically, it was precisely at this time that grand narratives like these were becoming obsolete in the real world. The thirties marked the dawn of science fiction and at the same time saw the Nazi’s narrative give birth to Auschwitz and witnessed the Marxist-Lenninist narrative turn into Stalinism. By this time, science fiction’s American consumers were probably aware that it was the uncontrollable spread of these “sciences” and “prophetic visions” that was causing the world to fall apart. Of course, people cannot live without some sort of dream or vision…

“This essence of the genre hasn’t changed much. On its surface, of course, science fiction has gone through a huge transformation since the forties. […]. If someone were to ask what characteristic lies at the core of science fiction, I believe that many fans would still say it is the “grand narrative” or “grand vision.” For science fiction to be science fiction, some kind of vision must be proposed, even if it is a vision of science’s failure or of a dark, foreboding future.In the eighties, cyberpunk filled this role. It was not that the worlds of cyberpunk lacked vision, these authors captured readers’ attention precisely because of their elegant new vision of a visionless world.

“At the core of the science fiction genre lies the paradoxical doctrine that it must continue to depict visions, even when grand visions are impossible. In other words, it is in science fiction that the ideal of the nineteenth century philosophy – the desire for the whole of twentieth century philosophy had to reject – still lives and breathes.”

SF as Hamlet: Science Fiction and Philosophy, Azumi Hiroki [trans. Miri Nakamura], in Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Romay Jr & Takayuki Tatsumi [eds]. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007. pp 77-78.

Drowned World

“Set in 2145, The Drowned World is a haunting vision of post-apocalyptic London. Following the melting of the polar ice-caps through fluctuations in solar radiation, major geophysical upheavals have upset the Earth’s ecological balance, and nature is on the rampage. London has been transformed into a primeval swamp in which mutant botanical forms ‘sometimes over three hundred feet high’ engulf the physical landscape and overwhelm the reader’s vision. Enormous gymnosperms, ‘intruders from the Triassic past’ compete with ‘giant tree forms of the Carboniferous period’ whilst giant lizards, dragonflies and insects compete to assert themselves as the dominant species. Anthropocentric narratives are being radically rewritten in this submerged landscape. The few human inhabitants who remain in the sinking cities are ‘either psychopaths or suffering from malnutrition and radiation sickness’ and human fertility is in radical decline. London, meanwhile, is reimagined as ‘a garbage- filled swamp’ of rotting organic forms and decaying matter. The city’s buildings are drowning in infested waters, office blocks are smothered under silt, and rusting shells of cars and other fragments of urban wreckage clutter the landscape. The result is an ambiguous and fascinating surrealist landscape in which fragments of the ancient and the modern, and aspects of life and death are radically juxtaposed.”

Baxter, Jeannette. “The Drowned World “. The Literary Encyclopedia. 1 October 2004.
Literary Encyclopedia

Zardoz Commands You

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“In the year AD 2293, a post-apocalypse Earth is inhabited mostly by the “Brutals”, who are ruled by the “Exterminators”, “the Chosen” warrior class. The Exterminators worship the god Zardoz, a huge, flying, hollow stone head. Zardoz teaches:

The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth . . . and kill!

“The Zardoz god head supplies the Exterminators with weapons, while the Exterminators supply it with grain. Meanwhile, Zed [as in the last letter of the English alphabet] (played by Connery), an Exterminator, enters Zardoz, hidden in a load of grain, and shoots (and apparently kills) its pilot, Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy) (identified as an Eternal in the story’s prologue), and travels to the Vortex. The Vortices are hidden communities of civilization where the immortal “Eternals” lead a luxurious but aimless existence.

“Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two women Eternals — Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman) — with psychic powers; mentally overcoming him, they make him prisoner of their community. Consuella wants Zed destroyed immediately; others, led by May and a subversive Eternal named Friend (John Alderton), insist on keeping him for study…”

Zardoz synopsis Wikipedia
Zardoz title image Mr Bali Hai’s Psychotronic Titles

Topology

A hybrid use tower located between Melbourne’s docklands and the city, questions contemporary digital form making through the creation of an evolutionary methodology for design.

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“This hybrid use tower located between Melbourne’s docklands and the city, questions contemporary digital form making through the creation of an evolutionary methodology for design. The process operates directly on form, the first part generative and a second, morphological. The “starting topologies” are grown from a custom made program called skyScratcher, which necessarily fulfils the programmatic requirements of each building type. Whilst growing, these entities are programmed with desires – Commercial space is attracted to the city side of the building, and hotel and apartment spaces are attracted to optimal views. Their topological complexity is controlled by the speed at which the system grows as well as the strength of their individual cohesion. These “starting topologies” are then inserted into minimal surface energy optimisation software to negotiate their final positions and forms – an ecology of micro interactions produce the macro outcomes, which cannot be drawn or modelled in a conventional way. In this way of making, form is understood as having certain relationships and characteristics but is never explicitly described geometrically. This process offers a way of digitally crafting form through the characteristics, properties and energies of surface; as such surface becomes loaded with ‘intent’. This offers a significant departure from contemporary digital architectural form making, which typically avoids directly operating on form in favour of emergent pattern making. ”

Highly Evolved, 2004, Kokkugia

Romance and wonder

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“One of the main reasons for describing science fiction as a form of romance is that its subject-matter is romantic: in Shelley’s words, it is not concerned with ‘ordinary relations of existing events.’ Modern SF has done its best to convey the sheer excitement [and horror] of the vistas opened up by science and technology. Like its literary predecessor, the ‘marvellous voyage’, it has often set out to amaze and astound its readers. But if wonder is the authentic response to much science fiction, it is also a very wide spread mode of literary experience. There is, no doubt, something science-fictional in Miranda’s exclamation in The Tempest:

O, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in’t!”

Science fiction as romance,  in Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching, by Patrick Parrinder. Published by Taylor & Francis, 1980, P52.