Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Open University for the Trans-Armies Database & Future Classics: cinetagmatics_006

Late enough last night that we are technically talking about this morning: I am directed by the presiding hobgoblins to an article about the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, the crux of the matter here being that wily Summit, celebrated in the article as the second fastest computer in the world, had been tasked, earlier this summer, with getting to the bottom of COVID-19, processing so much data and working out so many permutations in the process that the job took more than a week. Evidently the handlers believe Summit has established with a high probability of accuracy that COVID-19 attacks the human body by setting off bradykinin storms, not unlike “a burglar who slips in your unlocked second-floor window and starts to ransack your house. Once inside, though, they don’t just take your stuff—they also throw open all your doors and windows so their accomplices can rush in and help pillage more efficiently.” Terrific. That’s terrific. My encounter with Summit in the middle of the night, not twelve hours ago as of my writing this, is especially interesting to me on account of what I got up to this past weekend. Saturday night my friend Laura and I went (in our masks) to go see Bill & Ted Face the Music, only the second movie I had seen in a theatre since the slight relaxation of lockdown measures. On Sunday I went by myself to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in full flickflackin’ IMAX, then later, from around ten at night until well after four in the morning, binged the entirety of Alex Garland’s Devs, a bit of, er, auteurist television, I suppose you could say, that originally ran on FX beginning this past March, the final three episodes airing during or shortly after the period in which I am fairly certain I had COVID. Bill & Ted Face the Music, Tenet, and Devs are all stopwatch tales of entropy we might classify as contributions to a subgenre labeled Icarus Versus the Quantasaurus. All three films believe—or need to appear to believe—that major events of a cataclysmic nature feel or mean only at the level of close on-the-ground associations and intimacies, a postulate which doubtlessly connects with most people, though, to my mind, indicates the mindset of a pitiful simp. If you asked me to apologize for saying so and I did apologize in compliance with your wishes, you could be certain that the apology was counterfeit. Alex Garland considers himself something of a Cassandra among the Trojans, and you get the sense that he doesn’t believe the vast majority of us have sufficient good sense not to break into prison given half a chance. Of Bill & Ted Face the Music, Tenet, and Devs, it is Garland’s series that is the most nakedly Icarian, its also being the story that hinges most directly on quantum computing or the processing power of incredible machines of computation. A quantifiable universe of contingencies relating to mappable relations and interrelations is reproducible in a laboratory, and not only is the model not compromised by the integration of the near-infinite-possible-worlds model, but ends up having needed that supplementary yardstick in order to properly work. A computer reverse engineers the totality of relations and of possible relations. But how did it do that? It was set out on its path by coders, programmers, a first and then a supplementary algorithm. The quantum computer, in short, has a shady background. Bill & Ted Face the Music is more intellectually honest, more intellectually satisfying, and more purely useful than either Tenet (which I don’t especially want to talk about) or Devs, but in order to establish why that is, I would like to begin by noting a curious development late in Devs. Garland has set his pieces in motion in such a way as to allow him to take an idea from Philip K. Dick, both reverse engineering and forward engineering it to the Garden and to Original Sin, presenting to us the first free human choice as a product of determinations. Last night I finished reading Hélène Cixous’ Death Shall Be Dethroned: Los, a Chapter, the Journal, a work of radical autofiction about time travel, ghost interface, and telepathy that makes clear that these phenomena are immediately accessible, cost more or less nothing, and can be put to work for any person alerted (by Los, or a Los) to their existence. You don’t write a book, a secret agent has been writing it for you. The fears that might prevent you from giving birth to the book or any other number of magical beings are not fears that originate with you, but rather free-floating fears, passing through, irreducible to the vessel that provisionally holds them. You as a gaze are the spectation of spectres. Freedom is free to be freedom through you should freedom select you, in the Darwinian sense, to be free. Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves)—last seen, before the arrival of the new film, in the summer of 1991 (two months before the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind)—are ethology before they are incidentally also an ethics. Think of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Might we not imagine that Bill and Ted are something like the Bird of the Air and the Lily of the Field, they the most exalted, though we will concede at the same time that trying to establish who is Bird (not to be confused with Charlie Parker) and who is Lily (Chou-Chou, Gesundheit) is the same kind of absurdist mess as is the basic Bill and Ted Gestalt, the whole business more or less an extrapolation of what we already find in the single-reel silent comedies of Mack Sennett or Hal Roach? Bill and Ted, crucially, maintain a superhuman ease even within a pantomiming of the utterly antic, harried by muddled impossibilities. This is something like an image of what it might be like for us to be available to freedom’s selection. There is, if I recall correctly, a gag in the 2016 Daniel Clowes graphic novel Patience in which the selfish time-travelling prick around whom the tale pivots tells us he is not going to bother us with rigorous considerations of the finer points of time travel, the joke being that we all know that this stuff is so much codswallop. Bill and Ted as time-travellers may originally come from the San Dimas, California of 1988, but they are already fin de siècle French ‘pataphysicians in the Alfred Jarry mode, ratiocinating unstuck and getting sticky with it, becoming fly paper, the joy they capture the easy absurd joy that expresses its joy. Apparently every time Bill and Ted return to Dave Grohl’s mansion they put buckets over their heads in order to blind themselves and randomize their movements and again and again annoy the other Bill and Ted who have arrived at Dave Grohl’s mansion ahead of them. This is freedom that emerges from absolute determinism but liberates nevertheless, and it also happens to be a convincing rejoinder to Kierkegaard’s formulations respective of the “freedom of perversity.” I am forty years old, rapidly approaching forty-one. The day after my forty-first birthday I will (hands clasped in prayer, may the data confirm it) take seven years clean and sober, which is to say I will be celebrating seven years lived in an alternative and magnificent dimension. Bill and Ted just visited me here, their not having visited me since the summer in advance of my turning twelve. They brought their daughters, also named Bill and Ted. In my alternative dimension (Raymond Carver’s World of Gravy), I have just recorded music with two youngsters, my colleagues Jack S. and Matt P. We have consecrated a new musical reality in the form of Falling A Pärt Wagen, a group that plays hillbilly ragas accompanied, thus far, primarily by aleatory sculpted feedback, but able to include any number of players, combining fixed elements and a rangeless capacity to assimilate freer activities. I imagine it is something like the universal transtemporal confederation of virtuosi and adepts who save reality in Bill & Ted Face the Music. We have already recorded the music I intend to comprise the first long-playing vinyl record I will have released in my life. Jack has been effectively ghosting me recently; I haven’t heard back from him since my last message, sent over two weeks ago. I had originally thought it would be fun to drag young Jack through this week’s column, making of him a monkey. The things is, he works basically full time, uses recreational drugs in the agreeable manner of young persons, and has told me he is reading A Thousand Plateaus, which makes me very happy and which I had really ought to let him do at his pace. I am not going to drag Jack through this week’s column. I am very fond of him. That being said, there is only one way I can close this. I have for some time believed that I can reclaim Nietzsche’s ironic megalomania and make it work, believing the modality ultimately failed to work for Nietzsche due to matters strictly hereditary. It is not lost on me that being an ironic megalomaniac is not the same thing as not being an actual (megalo)maniac. Jack S. and Matt P. are spitting images, dead ringers, for Bill and Ted’s daughters. Jack S. and Matt P. were also central members—maybe still are—of a free music group calling itself Turner Fries Jazz Ensemble. Now, I put it to you: how can I possibly fail to feel like Marcel Proust à l’ombre des jeunes frites en fleurs?

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