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2001-05-27 20:48:50 (UTC)

Author Leonard F. Wheat wrote..

Author Leonard F. Wheat wrote the following response to
Cliff Lampe's review of his book
http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/05/01/1936213
since i can't post html tags2001:
A Triple Allegory. Wheat has certainly convinced
me about several points, though not on every one. Hang on
tight, please keep arms and legs inside the cart.


This is Len Wheat, author of Kubrick's 2001: A Triple
Allegory, speaking.
I'm here to point out some errors, misrepresentations,
out-of-context
quotations, and other problems with Cliff Lampe's review. I
do appreciate
Cliff's saying that, although "this book goes too far at
times," it "is
worth reading." Still, the general tone of the review -- the
basic notion
that my analysis is "pretty topsy-turvy" and "loony" -- is
negative. The
negativism rests on dubious ideas.
Let's begin with Cliff's statement that "[Wheat] uses
scripts, director's
notes, and some interviews to provide evidence for some of
his claims." The source of this "information" is Cliff's
imagination. I saw no scripts, read no director's notes, and
interviewed nobody. Nowhere in the book is there any such
"evidence," except that I do refer at two points to script
evidence seen by other writers (Walker and Bizony). These
facts tell you something about the level of accuracy to
expect in the rest of the review.
That said, let's examine (1) Cliff's misguided quest for
literalism in symbols, (2) his failure to grasp the subtle
nature of most symbolism, (3)
his misrepresentation of the TMA-1 anagram was being the
basis for my saying the moon monolith symbolizes the wooden
Trojan Horse, and (4) his out-of-context presentation of my
assertion that the three hexagons surrounding Discovery's
three pairs of rear-end excretory orifices
represent bathroom tiles.
Cliff's implicit demand for literalism in symbols
A basic problem with
the review is that Cliff refuses to recognize as genuine any
symbols that
don't come pretty close to being literal-symbols that don't
reach out and
slap you in the face. He doesn't seem to realize that many
symbols,
Kubrick's especially, are subtle. Recognizing them requires
seeing
analogies and paying attention to narrative and physical
contexts. Cliff
accepts Bowman's name as symbolizing Odysseus, because
Odysseus was
literally a bowman (user of the Great Bow). And he accepts
the well
established idea that Bowman's space voyage symbolizes
Odysseus's sea od
yssey, because (a) the movie's subtitle literally says
"Space Odyssey," (b)
Bowman literally "goes on a long voyage," and (c) Bowman,
like Odysseus,
literally "loses all his crew."
But Cliff can't point to any other Kubrick symbols-nonliteral
symbols-identified by me that he will accept. Indeed, Cliff
can't bring
himself to recognize even some fairly literal symbols,
including the ones
representing hexagonal bothroom tiles. I'll give four
examples of fairly
literal symbols that Cliff implicitly rejects when he calls my
interpretations "loony."
First, the Laestrygonian rock attack. Odysseus goes to the
land of the
Laestrygonians. All the ships in his fleet except his own
anchor in a
harbor. The harbor is ringed by cliffs (no pun intended). The
Laestrygonians are nasty-and strong. They stand on the
cliffs and throw
down huge rocks, splintering the ships in the harbor and
killing the crews.
Odysseus's ship, outside the harbor, barely escapes under a
hail of rocks.
Cut to the movie. Just before Bowman goes out on his first
space walk, we
see an exterior shot of Discovery. Two huge meteroids come
hurtling past.
Kubrick is symbolizing Odysseus's escape from the
Laestrygonian rock
attack. But Cliff doesn't believe it. Not literal enough.
Sure, the rock
symbols are literally rocks, and they literally come close
to hitting the ship; but the space rocks are not literally
thrown, so I guess the overall symbolism is not literal
enough for Cliff to accept. The idea that the meteoriods
could be symbolic is, to him, just another "loony"
interpretation.
Second, the three disabled survey crewman. Odysseus visits
the land of the Lotus-eaters. He sends three crewman inland
to survey the territory, so to speak. The three eat lotus,
lose the desire to return, and have to be dragged back to
the ship and put in irons, unable to perform their duties.
Cut to the movie. During the BBC interview near the
beginning of the space odyssey, Bowman says (a) his three
hibernating crewman are (b) "the survey team." And the three
are, for the time being, (c) disabled-unable to perform
duties. Isn't that literal enough?
Third, the Movie's Title. Cliff focuses on the Odysseus
allegory, giving short-shrift to the main allegory, which
depicts Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra (TSZ). This
misdirected emphasis is strange, because (a) the
Zarathustra allegory has at least 160 symbols, compared to
55 for the Odysseus allegory, (b) I devote two chapters to
the Zarathustra allegory
but only one to the Odysseus allegory, and (c) the
Zarathustra allegory is alluded to in the movie's title,
whereas Odysseus's odyssey is mentioned in
the secondary spot-the subtitle. Where does the title allude
to TSZ?
Nietzsche bases TSZ's title character, Zarathustra, on the
Persian prophet Zarathustra (a.k.a. Zoroaster), founder of
the ancient Persian religion
Zoroastrianism. In Zoroastrian mythology, Zarathustra
arrives after 9,000 years of history, at the beginning of
the tenth millennium. The year is
9001. In the Zarathustra allegory, Bowman symbolizes
Zarathustra. So he must arrive at the beginning of a new
millennium. The movie's title year,
2001, symbolizes 9001, the year Zarathustra arrives. One
millennial year
symbolizes another. But Cliff, I gather, thinks my
interpretation is
"loony," because "2001" isn't literal enough: Kubrick
seemingly (to Cliff) would have named his film 9001 if he
wanted to symbolize Zarathustra's
millennium. Well, Cliff, if you look hard enough you can
find the 9000 years that expire before Zarathustra arrives.
Hal, who arrives at the same
time as Bowman, has as his full name HAL-9000: he is
arriving after 9000 years.
Fourth, God's Sticking Out His Tongue and Blowing a Bubble.
TSZ tells the
story of man's evolution from (1) ape to (2) lower man, the
believer, who
creates God, to (3) higher man, the nonbeliever, who
figuratively kills God
by ceasing to believe, to (4) overman, a mentally and
morally superior
being. Young Zarathustra, representing lower man, creates
God ("I created
him"), and the God he creates is the image of man ("A man he
was"):
Nietzsche is turning the Bible upside down by saying that
man created God
in is own image. Later, the mature prophet (now a higher
man) kills God,
declaring "God is dead!"
In the Zarathustra allegory, Dave Bowman is the mature
Zarathustra. The image-of-man God he kills is symbolized by
Hal-Discovery-the spaceship and its computer brain. To be a
good symbol, Hal-Discovery must have some image-of-man
attributes. I'll describe these characteristics in some
detail when I get to the hexagons. But for now, just
recognize that Hal-Discovery has a head (with a brain
inside) and three mouths, arranged in a row resemble a human
mouth. In one scene Discovery opens his mouth (pod bay
door), sticks out his tongue (pod launching ramp), blows a
spherical bubble (space pod), and watches it rise over his
head. Alas, the "tongue" isn't literally a tongue, just a
pod launching ramp; and the "bubble" isn't literally a
bubble, just a metal sphere. Besides, Kubrick
would never resort to humor, subtle humor at that. (The pun
in the name Bat Guano, from Dr. Strangelove, must have been
unintentional.) So Cliff rejects my tongue-and-bubble
interpretation. Indeed, he seems to reject the whole idea
that Hal-Discovery, created by man and then killed by man
during man's ascent from ape to overman (the star-child),
could symbolize God. I wonder who, or what, he thinks the
real God symbol is, or if he even thinks there is one. (He
seems to acknowledge that there is a Zarathustra
allegory.) The subtle nature of most symbolism:
Most allegorical symbolism and other
literary and film symbolism is not as literal as the
symbolism described
above. It is subtle, resting on analogy, word play, and
other hidden-or at
least hard to see-characteristics. Let's examine two closely
related
examples: (1) Nietzsche's rope dancer parable and (2) Frank
Poole's
anagrammatic name. Nietzsche's Rope Dancer Parable. Early
in TSZ, Nietzsche presents his parable of the rope dancer.
"Rope dancer" is an archaic name for a tightrope walker. The
rope dancer symbolizes mankind. He is walking on a rope
stretched between two towers. The tower he comes out of
symbolizes the ape (the first stage in ape-lower man-higher
man-overman), and the
tower he is trying to reach symbolizes overman (the last
stage). When the
rope dancer is part way across, a buffoon-a symbol for
God-steps onto the
rope from the first tower, comes up behind the rope dancer,
leaps over him,
and proceeds in triumph to the far tower, thereby achieving
supremacy.
Frightened, the rope dancer falls to his death.
Zarathustra, standing
below, picks up the rope dancer's body and later disposes of
it. In this parable, almost all of the symbolism is
subtle, not literal. The
only thing approaching literalism is Nietzsche's use of a
man, the rope
dancer, to symbolize mankind. But how can a tower symbolize
either the ape
or overman, let alone both? A tower isn't even alive. Well,
the first
tower is where man's journey from ape to overman begins (at
ape), and the
second tower is where the journey ends (at overman).
Beginning and end are
the first two subtleties-analogical relationships-you must
grasp. But how
can the buffoon symbolize God? Nietzsche says man creates
God: man, not
God, is the creator. So God comes after man, just as the
buffoon comes
after the rope dancer (both temporally and
spatially)-another analogy. And
God, to Nietzsche, is an idiotic concept, hence "buffoon."
Also, the God
man creates is himself a man ("A man he was"), so a man-the
buffoon-is a
good symbol for God. Fear causes the rope dancer to fall:
man's fear of
God dooms man's chances of becoming the supreme being,
overman. Only one
being can be supreme. When man makes God the Supreme Being,
man dooms his
own chances of evolving into a supreme being (overman). That
is the
parable's symbolic message.
Frank Poole's Anagrammatic Name. In 2001, Frank Poole is the
character
who symbolizes the rope dancer. How can this be, given that
he does not
literally walk on a rope? The answer is easy to deduce.
Hal-Discovery, we
have already seen, symbolizes God, and Frank's space pod is
a detachable
part of God's body-God's shoulders, arms, and hands. Now
observe six
subtle clues. (1) The pod-view it either as a part of
Hal-Discovery or a
weapon used by Hal-Discovery-comes up behind Frank, just as
the buffoon
came up behind the rope dancer. (2) The pod kills Frank,
just as the
buffoon killed the rope dancer. (3) Frank is taking a
spacewalk-a
figurative walk-when he is killed. (4) Dave Bowman, symbolizing
Zarathustra, picks up Franks body, just as Zarathustra
picked up the rope
dancer's body. (5) Bowman later releases Frank's body,
figuratively
disposing of it, just as Zarathustra disposed of the rope
dancer's body.
(6) Bowman, verifying that he really does symbolize
Zarathustra, later
kills Hal, just as Zarathustra "kills" God by ceasing to
believe and
declaring, "God is dead!" Cliff considers interpretations
like this
"loony." But that is because he fails to recognize that most
symbolism
involves subtlety, and he finds subtlety hard to grasp.
Now we come to Frank's name. Cliff quotes me out of context
when he
quotes me as writing, "These letters [TMA-ONE], like the
last nine in Frank
Poole, can be rearranged to form an anagram." Cliff doesn't
even bother to
say what the anagram is. Naturally, many Slashdot readers
have taken
Cliff's word for it-"loony"-and have ridiculed the idea that
Frank Poole is
an anagram. But we know Kubrick uses anagrams. A Slashdot
commentator
named Babbage, in comments #224 and #225-points out that,
"in Kubrick's
version of 'Lolita,' he has a character named Vivian
Darkbloom, an anagram
for Vladimir Nabokov-the author that wrote the original
book." (Babbage
also gives five other examples of Kubrick's "anagrams, puns,
and general
word play." His comments-the most intelligent I have read in
this
Kubrick's 2001 forum-deserve your consideration. What they
don't deserve
is the score of only 2 given them by Slashdot's Comment
Rating Bureau.)
Also, I have already mentioned the punnish name Bat
Guano-another type of
word play-from Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. (If you don't know
what guano
is, use your dictionary.)
Frank Poole is what I call a 90 percent anagram. The last 9
of the 10
letters of "[F]rank Poole" can be rearranged to form "[W]alk
on Rope." I
figured that one out by starting out with the knowledge that
Frank Poole
symbolized the rope dancer. Then I looked for phrases like
"Rope Dancer,"
"Rope Walker," "Dance on Rope," and "Walk on Rope." I didn't
have to look
far. Cliff seems to consider the whole idea that Kubrick uses
anagrams -- Frank Poole, TMA-ONE, Vivian Darkbloom -- "just
a skoach over the
top." But I consider Cliff's refusal to judge these anagrams
in context as
something akin to burying one's head in the sand. In the
case of "Frank
Poole," the context is the six points of evidence showing
that Frank Poole
symbolizes the rope dancer.

The TMA-1 anagram:
I wrote that, when you spell out the figure 1, TMA-1
becomes TMA-ONE. These letters can be rearranged to form the
anagram "No
Meat." The phrase humorously alludes to the Trojan Horse's
being made of
wood rather than flesh and blood. Cliff presents the TMA-1
anagram in an
out-of-context way that invites challenges to the anagram's
validity. The
moon monoliths name, TMA-1, comes before the monolith itself
in 2001, so I
discuss the name first. But in doing so I write, "In the
next scene, . . . it becomes evident that TMA-1 [the
monolith] symbolizes the wooden Trojan Horse." In other
words, the evidence of the monolith's identity is in my
discussion of the next scene, where the astronauts examine
the monolith.
In this discussion I present evidence (1) from the scene
itself and (2)
from surrounding scenes that establish the sequential
context of the
symbolism.
Evidence from the Monolith Scene: In Homer's The
Odyssey, Troy falls to
the Greeks immediately before Odysseus begins his odyssey,
his homeward
voyage back from Troy. The Greeks build a huge, hollow
wooden horse, the
Trojan Horse. Greek warriors hide inside. A clever ruse
tricks the
Trojans (residents of Troy) into bringing the Trojan Horse
(1) inside the
walls of Troy. After dark, (2) something-a bunch of Greek
warriors-comes
out of the horse. The warriors open the city gates, allowing
the Greek
army to enter and (3) inflict pain-actually death-on the
people of Troy.
Thus does Troy fall.
Observe the 1-2-3 parallelism in 2001's moon monolith
scene. (1) The
monolith is inside the walls of a pit, walls that symbolize
the walls of
Troy. (2) Something-a loud signal-comes out of the monolith.
(3) The
astronauts, symbolizing the Trojans, fall back in pain. A
fourth symbolic
element, word play again, is also present. Kubrick-or more
likely
Clarke-scoured the list of the hundreds of named craters on
the moon and
put the monolith in the crater whose name most nearly
resembles the name
Troy. (4) The chosen crater was one named Tycho. It has the
same initial
letter as Troy, T, and it also has two of Troy's other three
letters-o and
y. Given the knowledge that The Odyssey is being
allegorized, we find in
these four pieces of evidence ample reason to infer that the
monolith
symbolizes the Trojan Horse. Evidence from the
Story's Sequential Context: But the above evidence is
just the beginning. More evidence of the monolith's symbolic
identity
comes from the sequence of events. Troy's fall and the
events immediately
preceding and following it display this sequence: (1)
Menelaus, a Greek
king, returns from a trip and is briefed on something that
has happened:
his wife, Helen (now known as Helen of Troy), has been
seduced by Paris and
taken to Troy. (2) Menelaus embarks for Troy with an army on
1,000 ships
(whence Helen's moniker, "the face that launched a thousand
ships"). (3)
Using the Trojan Horse, the Greeks conquer Troy. (4)
Odysseus, in the
first episode on his odyssey, attacks the city of Ismarus.
This episode
has four features: (a) crewmen running through the streets
of Ismarus and
(b) fighting the inhabitants, after which Odysseus (c) loots
the city and
then (d) gets figuratively burned in a counterattack that
kills 72 of his
men. (5) Odysseus goes to the land of the Lotus eaters and
winds up with
three disabled crewmen, shackled and unable to perform their
duties. The relevant events of 2001's surface story
follow the same sequence. (1) Heywood R. Floyd, symbolizing
Menelaus, is briefed on something. (2) A long, many-footed
(two rows of landing feet), bug-eyed (front windows) moon
bus travels to the crater Tycho-Troy. The bus symbolizes a
millipede (mil = 1,000; ped = foot), whose figurative 1,000
feet symbolize the thousand
ships sailing for Troy. (3) The moon monolith performs in
its walled
enclosure.
(4) The space odyssey begins. Its first four events are (a)
Frank
Poole's-Bowman's only active crewman's-jogging, which
symbolizes Odysseus's
crewmen running through the streets of Ismarus, (b) Poole's
shadowboxing,
symbolizing the fighting, (c) Bowman's "looting" the food
dispensing
machine, and (d) Bowman's burning his fingers on the food,
symbolizing
Odysseus' getting burned in the counterattack. (5) The BBC
interview comes
up on the TV, and we hear Bowman say that his three-man
"survey team" is in
hibernation-disabled, just like the men on Odysseus'
three-man survey team.
Back to the Anagram. It is in this double context-the
context of the moon
monolith scene and the sequential context of
before-and-after events-that
the anagram (TMA-1 = TMA-ONE = NO MEAT) must be interpreted.
Once you
deduce by other means that the monolith symbolizes the
meatless (wooden)
Trojan Horse, the anagram's validity is obvious. Sure,
somebody said that
two other anagrams-NO TEAM and NO MATE-could be formed from
the six
letters, but they don't fit the context. Only NO MEAT
describes the Trojan
Horse. Note, by the way, how subtle Kubrick can get. In the
other anagram
he omitted the first letter of both [F]rank Poole and
"[W]alk on rope." In
the TMA-1 anagram he makes you discover that "1" must be
spelled out before
the anagram can be found. The hexagon symbolism:
Cliff also rejects my claim that the three hexagons
at Discovery's rear end -- we all have rear ends, don't we?
--symbolize bathroom
tiles and are part of a scatological joke about God's going
to the
bathroom. Earlier in this reply I noted that Hal-Discovery
symbolizes
Nietzsche's version of God, the God created by man in his
(man's) own
image. As part of Kubrick's God symbol, Discovery must be
the image of
man. So Kubrick gives him a huge bulbous head, wide-band mod
sunglasses
(the high-on-the-head windows), three mouths (pod bay doors)
arranged in a
horizontal row to resemble a single mouth, a tongue (pod
launching ramp)
for each mouth, a tapered neck behind the head, a segmented
spine, a sacrum
(tailbone) at the base of the spine, three pairs of
excretory orifices
(rocket nozzles)-one pair for each mouth-below the sacrum
(same place as in
humans), and a bathroom (hexagonal bathroom tile) for each
pair of
excretory orifices. Hal-Discovery, again like humans, can
see, hear, and
talk; he has human emotions, such as enthusiasm and fear; he
is mortal; and
he becomes senile before dying ("Daisy, Daisy"). Note
that part of this physical-mental context is the three pairs of
excretory orifices. If that's too scatological for you to
accept, you
probably don't think the Dr. Strangelove puns in Colonel Bat
Guano's name
are anything but accidental. But if you recognize Kubrick's
penchant for
humor, including scatological humor, it should not surprise
you that the
rocket nozzles symbolize the orifices God uses to excrete
his waste. And
if you are familiar with the small hexagonal white bathroom
floor tiles
that were commonplace in the 1930s, it again should not
surprise you that
Kubrick has God doing his excreting where it should be
done-in the
bathroom. Bury your head in the sand if you must, Cliff, but
those three
hexagons do symbolize bathroom tiles. There are jokes in
this movie. If you're still unconvinced that the hexagons
are part of a Kubrick joke,
consider a related joke. The Bible says woman was made from
a bone, Adam's
rib. Kubrick, who turns the Bible upside down in several
places, makes a
counterclaim: God, a man, was made from a bone. Begin by
noting that
Kubrick's God is a bony God, essentially an abstracted skull
and spine.
Now ask: how did we get to this bony God? We got there in
an eight-stage,
41-minute evolutionary process, to wit: (1) A prehuman ape
picks up animal
bone-we start with a bone-and converts it into a primitive
weapon, a club.
(2) The primitive weapon, tossed into the air, morphs into
a space-age
weapon, an orbiting nuclear bomb. (3) The orbiting bomb
evolves into an
elongated, self-propelled, phallic space shuttle. (4) In
sexual symbolism
that Roger Ebert was the first to point out-I wasn't the
first to recognize
this-the phallus penetrates the slot in the rotating female
space station:
coitus. (5) A spherical moon lander symbolizing a sperm
cell-Ebert missed
this part-travels to the moon, a larger sphere that
symbolizes the ovum,
which is larger than the sperm. (6) Hangar doors on the moon
open up,
allowing the lander-sperm to enter and fertilize the moon:
conception. (7)
The fetus gestates: Part 2's subtitle, "18 Months Later,"
informs us that
God, who is twice as smart as humans, has a gestation period
twice as long
as that of humans. (8) The bony male God is born slowly,
horizontally from
offscreen into the starry universe.
I hate to say this, Cliff, but those long hours you're
putting in on your
dissertation have dulled your senses. You no longer catch
onto subtle
jokes when you hear them.


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