Saturday, August 19, 2017

David Lynch on ideas

 David Lynch on Ideas

The first lines of David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity sound like typical self-help cliché. “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper” (1). These words sound like the beginning of a paean to hard work, dedication, persistence. But think of some of Lynch’s ideas: a human “ear lying in a field” (24), an angry little dog (41), the “Red Room” (81). These things are violent, even terrifying. But, as Lynch continues, “Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful” (1). Lynch wants to tell readers how to find things, how to cultivate ideas.

“An idea is a thought,” (24) he writes. A thought can grow huge and abstract and beautiful, and if you’re David Lynch, it can become Blue Velvet, or The Angriest Dog in the World, or Twin Peaks. But what if you’re not David Lynch? No worries, “There are fish for business, fish for sports. There are fish for everything” (1). OK. You can catch any kind of idea you want. What’s most important is that “everything, anything that is a thing, comes up from the deepest level” (1). You have to “dive deeper” (1). Again, this might sound cliché, but it’s really a way of engaging the world. It’s a way to sit and stare. It’s a way to watch tv. It’s a way to read a book.

An idea is “a thought that holds more than you think it does when you receive it” (24). One must do something with an idea, take it part, destroy it, make it into something else. “You’ll get an idea here, the you’ll go there, and then there” (30). It’s not simply a matter of making connections, though. Lynch warns us, “it’s not a feel-good program” (30) about self-expression or living a simplified life. It’s something more abstract. “It’s an ocean of creativity. It’s the same creativity that creates everything that is a thing” (51). Lynch uses slight variations of the phrase “everything that is a thing” when writing about ideas. He even writes “the idea is the whole thing” (83). Everything that can become a thing starts as an idea. Ideas can be horrific, like Bob’s face in the nuclear cloud of part eight of Twin Peaks: The Return, or they can be idealized, like Laura Palmer’s face in the bubble in the same episode. Ideas are made into things, for better or for worse.

“I just try to catch ideas” (179).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Adventure Time 3: "Jake the Brick"

The Best Adventure Time episode of them all 

“Jake the Brick”  (season 6, episode 20) begins with Finn, following a map given to him by Jake, walking a half-day journey over hills, through a wheat field, over a stream, and through some more hills, accompanied by pastoral electronic music. He finds Jake in a broken down shack in a field. This establishes that Jake is in the wilderness, far from home. But it’s a Thoreau kind of wilderness—close enough to easily make the trip back home, but far enough to imagine solitude.

But Jake isn’t contemplating solitude or thinking about living an authentic life. He is doing something that Finn doesn’t understand. Jake has become a brick. Literally. As he explains to Jake, “ever since I was little, I wanted to see what it's like to be a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. And this shack is gonna fall down. Just look at it. Like sandcastles in the sun, baby.”  

Everything on Adventure Time is malleable. Things can be themselves and then be something else. Jake, as a shape-shifting dog embodies this malleability. He always keeps the same yellow color, but he can be a brick; he can be gigantic; he can be tiny; he can be a “Jake-Suit” and act as armor for Finn; he can squeeze his whole body into his thumb when he is bitten by a vampire; he can make his hand into a key; he can mimic other people, animals, and things. Jake’s shape-shifting often involves action. He becomes gigantic so he can walk immense distances quickly; he stretches through a maze so he can find his way back to the beginning; he turns into a shield or sword to fight. In “Jake the Brick,” though he compacts himself as part of his “experiment” to see what if feels like to collapse with a bunch of other bricks.

Finn leaves a walkie-talkie at the foot of the shack before he leaves for home. Jake grows bored and begins to narrate what he sees in the natural world around him. He tells the story of a rabbit that gets frightened by a deer. Finn takes the walkie-talkie to the radio station, and broadcasts Jake’s narration. Through a series of cuts, we see that everyone in the land of Ooo is listening to Jake’s story.

The episode is serene, even hypnotic. Jake’s voice is all that we hear for most of the episode. Jake’s becoming brick reminds me, out of the blue, of Brian Massumi’s translator’s foreword to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus, which I haven’t looked at in a few years. I remember that Massumi had something to say about bricks. He compares Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “concept” to a brick. “A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window (xii). Or it can be used to mark the imminent collapse of a brick shack. Jake is waiting for the precise moment when the shack falls just so he can know what it’s like. His experiment is small, almost insignificant. He won’t gain any great knowledge; he’s bored while he’s waiting; he can’t really explain what he expects to experience. He stays a brick for two more days.

Massumi cites Deleuze’s discussion of “concept” as a specific event taking place within a specific context. "What interests us are the circumstances." Massumi continues “because the concept in its unrestrained usage is a set of circumstances, at a volatile juncture. It is a vector: the point of application of a force moving through a space at a given velocity in a given direction. The concept has no subject or object other than itself.” (xviii). Jake, as a brick, wants to inhabit a particular moment in the movement of a force—the falling of a brick shack. He wants to be in the exact moment of that collapse. He wants to be the falling.

After watching the bunny react with indifference to the destruction of its warren, Jake decides that “there’s something bigger than” being a brick in a wall of a shack. He pops out of the shack and transforms into his dog shape. The brick shack collapses behind him. Jake heads home, his simple desire unmet. A shape-shifter can be a brick for days and then he can be something else. He know what it’s like to be a brick, but not what it’s like to be a brick in a brick shack when the brick shack falls down. Jake has experimented with brickness. “Jake the Brick” is the best episode of Adventure Time

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Adventure Time 2

Part 2: Ooo-ian ethics

So, if the origin of the Candy Kingdom goes back to PB’s separation from the Mother Gum, what did PB desire in creating the Candy Kingdom?  She doesn’t really know. She notes that when she was in the Mother Gum, “my mind and my gum was in touch with dozens of others, like a crowded womb. I guess I miss that.” Adventure Time doesn’t tell us what the Mother Gum is or where it came from. We see what looks like a big piece of chewed gum, and we see Neddy and Princess Bubblegum fall from it like viscous rain drops. As Princess Bubblegum notes, the Mother Gum held “dozens of others.” Other whats, though? Minds? Beings? It’s not clear. What is clear is that the Mother Gum contains differentiation. Pieces can drop off and form something new.  In this way, the Mother Gum functions as a kind of hyperobject factory. Pieces drop off and become new hyperobjects. Neddy falls off and hits a pointy rock, so he runs off in fear until he finds a tree to suck candy juice from. Princess Bubblegum falls off, comforts Neddy, and then begins to build the Candy Kingdom. She cannot really explain the different trajectories that she and her brother take, though. When Jake asks her why she and Neddy are so different, she says, “People get built different. We don’t need to figure it out; we just need to respect it.” For me, this statement marks the introduction of ethics into the Land of Ooo.

Princess Bubblegum cannot articulate the “why” of difference. Even as she and Neddy drop from the same Mother Gum only moments aparts, their difference manifests itself immediately. Neddy takes the form of a weird dragon, and Princess Bubblegum takes a humanoid shape. Like snowflakes falling through the atmosphere, complex, minute interactions multiply difference as they fall. In contact with the atmosphere, the ground, the Land of Ooo, Neddy and Bubblegum become radically different in ways that cannot be fully accounted for. “People get built different” serves as the perfect explanation. This explanation fits nicely with Morton’s description of hyperobjects. Hyperobjects force us to see and feel that intersubjectivity cannot fully account for difference. It doesn't work to think of Princess Bubblegum and Neddy as two people who simply have different motivations. Even as they drop from the same gum, they are different in both “mind” and “gum.” Even if the Mother Gum looks like a consistent blob, it is something more.  Morton writes, “the notion of bland, consistent substance is not deep enough to account for hyperobjects. The very notion of a consistent substance is a species of accident, no different from the regular candy sprinkles of color, shape, and so on” (1187). Difference must already reside in the Mother Gum. It might be invisible until it drops off, but once it drops, it sticks to everything, exhibiting the “viscous” quality that Morton gives to hyperobjects “which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them.” Neddy and Princess Bubblegum are incredibly viscous. Neddy finds his tree; Princess Bubblegum sets to work building the Candy Kingdom, with Neddy and his tree a central component of it.

Princess Bubblegum creates a Kingdom by extracting difference from candy. Candy becomes being. Princess Bubblegum transforms what Morton calls “the regular candy sprinkles of color, shape, and so on” into life itself. These things become less the window dressing of a “bland consistent substance,” and more components of time and space itself where objects have what Finn calls “aspirations” and life. Princess Bubblegum and her subjects are all objects at heart. They have no organs; they are built from the same stuff but they are different. There is no distance in the Candy Kingdom, only proximity. Everything is candy—the ground, the buildings, the people. Princess Bubblegum has built an ontological space where being sticks to everything. At first, this saturation might seem evil, like a dream of total control. Princess Bubblegum makes herself ruler of the Candy Kingdom and asserts control over her candy subjects. But then everything in the Candy Kingdom constantly impinges on her. She cannot escape her entanglement in her Kingdom. In this way, the “evil” of despotism gets replaced by the “evil” of proximity. Morton writes that ecological awareness depends on a kind of enmeshment, an inability to for one object to feel itself separate from others. Hyperobjects affect being so that objects stick to one another, just like James stuck to himself.

“This impingement is not susceptible to being pinned down. It is as if I hear the thing breathing right next to me. And that is the true origin of the uncanny inertia we sense in its proximity. Something slightly ‘evil’ is happening: something already has a grip on us, and this is demonic insofar as it is ‘from elsewhere.’ This ‘saturated’ demonic proximity is the essential ingredient of ecological being and ecological awareness, not some Nature over yonder. (Dark Ecology 2595)

This “demonic proximity” is exactly what Princess Bubblegum has built. She is in and of the Candy Kingdom. She has made being stick to every thing, or being has stuck her to every thing. In the Candy Kingdom, being is not a special property of the human, or of the Gum. She is not evil; she is sticky. She is not, with Heidgegger, stuck in what Morton calls “the cupcake aisle of the ontological supermarket” (325), where being only belongs to man. She has, in fact, turned the ontological supermarket into the cupcake aisle. The cupcakes in the Candy Kingdom roam through the ontological supermarket, sticking to the goods in the animal aisle and dripping being onto them, knocking over the shelves of the man aisle, breaking open cans and bottles of being so that it oozes across the floor, and covers every single thing.

In this saturated Candy world, Morton’s “demonic proximity” becomes manifest. There is no discreet self inhabiting a separable environment. Despite her calling them her “Candy subjects,” Princess Bubblegum and those who reside in the Candy Kingdom, and the candy which comprises the structure of the Kingdom, show us a viscous time and space of “ecological being” and “ecological awareness.” Every thing exists in its way: gumdrops, donuts, cookies, ice cream, soda, peanut brittle streets, cake walls. Morton writes, “We might add that OOO radically displaces the human by insisting that my being is not everything it’s cracked up to be—or rather that the being of a paper cup is as profound as mine” (385).   In the land of Ooo there’s a Candy Kingdom that argues the same thing. One human lives in Ooo. His being is no more important than a shape-shifting dog’s, a banana’s, a worm’s, or a Root Beer Guy’s.  

Reading How to Read Nancy and rejecting the cult of Bushmiller

1. How I Read  How to Read Nancy The heart of Paul Karasik’s and Mark Newgarden’s  How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three E...