Thursday, September 25, 2014

111. A jumble of limbs } of ill-assorted limbs.

Certainly this observation is not new. Apollonius (the Rhodian) describes evolution in Book 4 of the Argonautica. Here, read, from E. V. Rieu’s translation, a description of the creatures that attend Circe:
A number of creatures whose ill-assorted limbs declared them to be neither man nor beast had gathered round her like a great flock of sheep following their shepherd from the fold. Nondescript monsters such as these, fitted with miscellaneous limbs, were once produced spontaneously by Earth our of the primeval mud, when she had not yet solidified under a rainless sky and was deriving no moisture from the blazing sun. But Time, combining this with that, brought the animal creation into order.
Time! From ancient oceans, under the right circumstances, with enough time, life happens and evolves.

From Richard Hunter’s translation:
Her beasts—which were not entirely like flesh-devouring beasts, nor like men, but rather a jumble of different limbs—all came with her…. Similar to these were the creatures which in earlier times the earth itself had created out of the mud, pieced together from a jumble of limbs, before it had been properly solidified by the thirsty air or the rays of the parching sun had eliminated sufficient moisture. Time then sorted these out by grouping them into proper categories.
Domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species!

(Apollonius’ Circe is wonderful. Alternately magic and mundane. Sunlight behind her eyes, as it is with “all Children of the sun.” Visions of blood that pours from the walls of her cottage. Then sympathy and harsh words to Medea who is only there for absolution from her aunt.

Circe reminds me of my beloved Sidhuri, the veiled tavern-keeper who tells Gilgamesh “You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

110. Vickers in her spacesuit } aboard the Prometheus.

[The following is minute 11 of a pseudo-essay called “10 Minutes from Prometheus” you can read in the current issue of OpenLetters Monthly.]

1:44:35: In response to a distress signal, the Nostromo sends a landing party out onto the moon LV-426 and into the remains of a downed spacecraft. There, on the control deck, they find the remains of an astronaut (the “Space Jockey”) and, covered in mist, eggs. The next act of Ridley Scott’s Alien is driven by questions, partially answered, about the egg; the rest of the film by the egg’s end-result: a monster and its need to eat and reproduce. The Space Jockey remains a mystery. Giant, welded to its chair, and, apparently, with a head like the skull of an elephant.

Prometheus reintroduces the Space Jockey as an “engineer,” and, we learn, more human than elephant: the skull and the trunk in fact a helmet and tubing; the ribs part of a spacesuit.

The spacesuits worn by the crew of the Prometheus are blue with orange piping and form-fitting. They’re aesthetically pleasing. And though, as spacesuits, they must entirely cover their wearer, they are nonetheless revealing. Considered from the point of view of the film’s costume designer, the spacesuits allow the audience to see the faces of the actors, even when wearing helmets, and offer the audience the pleasure of looking at the bodies of attractive men and women. In terms of space exploration, designing spacesuits that are thin and malleable strikes me as practical: it’s difficult to turn a dial or work a screwdriver in the bulky gear with which our astronauts are currently burdened. (Efforts to correct this problem are underway, if we are to believe Wired magazine.)

What of an alien's discovery of humankind? If the dried husk of one of our astronauts is found on a crashed spaceship on a distant moon, how will she appear to it? Not as the Renaissance ideal loaded onto Voyager, but as Michelin Man.

[For the August edition of Open Letters Monthly, I also wrote about space exploration (sorta). See my review of The Mind's Eye: The Art of Omni.]