I was waiting for that! Eager to listen…
On my way down to Montreal this week I listened to the Heraclitus episode, which I loved - like many people I had a vague notion that he was a writer/philosopher of note without really ever having looked at his work, limited as the surviving pieces are. Still a profound thinker and a thoughtful episode, so thanks for that.
Then I tuned into the Garmonboza episode, but since I hadn’t seen Twin Peaks (either the original or the more recent series) I broke off listening to this to watch several episodes of the recent series, and I will go back to listening to the pod cast when I have watched a few more. Then I hunted down a copy of Stalker and watched that, then the two podcasts you guys did on that film. I can’t understand how I never saw it before. In 1979 I was 23, just finishing my Master’s degree in Quebec City, and we had access to all sorts of non mainstream films, so I really don’t know how this one slipped by me. I haven’t seen anything else by Tarkovsky but I certain read several books by the Strugatsky brothers, although not, I think, the one on which the film was based. I did like another Russian film that is also known for its “slow” qualities - Russian Ark, which I loved, so Stalker is a good fit for me. I enjoyed it a great deal, along with your insightful commentaries on it. One thing I noticed that you didn’t comment on, but is consistent with what you did say, is that the sequence focussed on the Monkey at the end is in full color, unlike the rest of that sequence which is sepia - again, reinforcing the idea that Monkey can and in a sense does live in the Zone.
I really liked the discussion about the “definition” of the “Zone”. I wrote several papers over the course of my scientific career on “zones” of one sort or another, and although I viewed them as simply regions, in fact in all the cases I studied, the zones are transformative in some sense - e.g. “perceptual zones”. I also wrote a science fiction story which I never published based on the idea of a post-apocalypse Zone, not quite like this one but with some similarities. So I am sensitive to the subject. I think more could be done with it, in fact. The links to Dhalgren are also fascinating - Dhalgren is one of my all time favorite books. In fact, in one of your podcasts, I think it was JF talked about a persistent dream city, and I thought about Dhalgren when I was listening to that - Bellona is very like a persistent dream city.
I can’t believe that the switch to colour in the final scene with Monkey didn’t register (consciously) with me until you mentioned it. You’re absolutely right and it does lend support to the idea that Monkey is in the Zone, even while outside of it. It’s also nice to know that your experience as a scientist would lead you to agree with our suggestion that zones are intrinsically transformative, and differ from ordinary “places” or “areas” by virtue fo this transformative power. This was an idea we landed on in medias res, but it felt true to both Phil and me, so we pursued it.
Dhalgren is an incredible novel. It was Phil that described a persistent dream city in the Heraclitus episode. Funny we didn’t pick up on the obvious connection with Bellona, especially in light of what William Gibson writes about Dhalgren as a relic of the “City” that arose in the Sixties. We are trying to stay well ahead of our release schedule; when we recorded the episode on Stalker, the Heraclitus conversation was already several episodes behind us.
I would be very interested in reading your s/f story if you felt like sharing it.
Thank you for the attention you’ve been giving our podcast and the time you’ve taken to comment on it. It’s weird, putting these things out there. The numbers tell us that a lot of people are listening, but we don’t really know what’s what unless people share their impressions and reactions. It’s very gratifying and encouraging, so, many thanks!
JF: I listened to Part 2 on Stalker. Really enjoyed it! I’m loving your podcast. The Heraclitus episode was also good, especially how you played with the fragments as a kind of I-Ching divination experiment. The thought that the fragments—in their fragmentariness—fulfill the nature of Hereclitus’ thought (of that thought that moves through all things) was very cool. I hadn’t thought of them that way before, but always as something incomplete, which if we only had the missing pieces, we could fully understand; whereas you are saying that their loss in time (or are they lost? in what sense are missing fragments present?) makes them what they are—delivers their meaning.
Part 2 of the Stalker episode definitely delivered on what Part 1 left unexplored in the film, so thanks for that too. I have really been taken by this film, which, like @Geoffrey_Edwards, I hadn’t previously seen and don’t know how I missed—though it would have been well-received by my high school peer group in the 90s (which sounds a lot like your own, more on which later…we actually had a zone of potentialities we went to, called “the Lot”). Perhaps it just wasn’t the time for Stalker then. And now it is.
I also dug your references to Dhalgren—likewise for me, a book that’s left a deep impression. Even just thinking of it, I feel weird. There’s more I want to say about Stalker, however, and I don’t know where to begin. I enjoyed your discussion of the music, the color (out of time) aspects, and the Zone as contemplating itself through the humans desperate enough to need to enter it. I also wonder: what is the Zone’s deepest desire?
A couple unmentioned moments that particularly stood out for me:
Stalker’s return to his family, which he had abandoned, and his terminal despair (which the wife attempts to assuage, in vain) that his clients didn’t really have the experience they were meant to. I think he desperately wants them to see how beautiful the Zone is—to have the religious experience—which, though perhaps they’re capable of it (the writer sees it, but I would argue, doesn’t experience it), they remain closed off to.
Stalker is terribly alone in his faith, and there were times during the film when I thought he might just be a delusional madman.
Monkey’s incredible silence—her absolute boredom—as her head is resting on the table and she’s making the glasses move with her mind. How pointless is this act? I saw this scene as a great lament for all the wasted potential embodied in our (humanity’s) children—potential which is systematically destroyed through the real ‘meat grinder’ of industrialized education (or the modern state, or technology, or what have you).
Over the weekend, I read a book by Geoff Dyer called Zona: a book about the Film about a Journey to a Room. I highly recommend it! Dyer reads the film scene by scene, starting at the beginning and ending at the end, but following a squiggly, non-linear line of thought, with lots of personal reminiscences, film history references, and moments of aesthetic contemplation. He has an entertaining writing style, though he reminds me ever so slightly of the Writer in the film (he admits to maybe being jaded), which wore on me by the end. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the book overall: it was like literally re-watching the film through another person’s eyes—not seeing it as a critic (though the author is obviously critically sharp) but experiencing it as kind of lover or stalker oneself.
There is so much more I feel the film is saying. I also note how that the notion of the Zone (and Weird Studies in general) has been creeping into other conversations here. I wish I could gather up all the thoughts! Put them into a long, weird, boring poem or something. Yet it wouldn’t be enough…
Hi Marco. Brilliant stuff.
Yes, Solaris was definitely on the high-school radar for me, but not Stalker, even though that film would have been much appreciated by my friends and me at the time. I discovered it in my early twenties, thanks to a very cool artist named Matt Melanson, who designs wine labels now. Anyway, I think there’s something about this film that suits it to a later stage of life – late thirties, early forties – it is a film for those who have lost “hope,” if by hope we mean that belief that the bingo machine of the all-too-human world will someday spit out some magic number that will make sense of everything.
I’m not at all surprised to hear that your own 90s scene resembled my own. We’re the same age, and I felt a deep sense of kinship the first time we met in Colorado, as though I were meeting a long-lost high school friend!
Yeah. If it weren’t for that super weird scene where they find a working telephone and the Professor uses it to call his lab, we might have thought that the whole thing was a bizarre, Beckettian folie-à-trois.
Such a good observation, and very apposite. From a different perspective, people have written recently about the need to let our children get bored again, because the imagination finds fertile soil in boredom. So again, there is a note of optimism in this scene, even if we see it as a critique of the meat grinder. Something always escapes, there is always a line of flight…
Re: Zona – I considered reading Dyer’s book before recording the podcast, but decided against it as I feared it my scramble my ideas and cross wires and stuff. Now that you recommend it, I will definitely check it out. Thanks for bringing it up.
So glad you’re enjoying the podcast. We have an episode on Dogen’s Genjokoan coming out tomorrow, and one on William James’ “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?” coming out next week. Then we’ll move to a bi-weekly schedule for June-July-August.
Definitely. Good point. Our society is addicted to artificial stimulation, which is ruinous to brains, minds, souls—especially those of children. But then again, as you point out in your podcast, this is also “nature.” However, the agendas underlying much of this nature are what most concern me. The addiction to stimulation is not value-free, but part of the large-scale management of attention per se, with political and economic motives.
This is why I feel that movies like Stalker, or any kind of deep reading, contemplation, or aesthetic experience that requires the mind to do the work of imagination, interpretation, and understanding is also a political act, because it is self-empowering, developing an independence of consciousness from the forces which would capture it for their own ends.
Looking forward to the episodes on Dogen and James! You guys are doing excellent work. I really appreciate you sharing it and interacting here.
Update: viewers of Stalker may appreciate this episode on the Chernobyl “Exclusion Zone,” which shows a number of images eerily similar to the film, and tells the story of the resurgence of wildlife in this now human-unihabitable area.
Here is my story, called “Blast Zone Fugitive”, written, as far as I can make out, around 1980, hence more or less in the same period that Stalker was made. It is a post nuclear apocalypse story, and those went out of fashion for a while, but given current world events it may be in fashion again. I reread it, and it’s actually not too shabby. Too bad I never got around to publishing it.
BlastZoneFugitive_v2_Edwards.pdf (116.6 KB)
Thanks for sharing the story. I look forward to reading it and will be sharing my impressions when I do.
Infinite Conversations comes up near the end of the latest Weird Studies episode, where we take the time to thank listeners who have been super supportive since we started this thing in February. Hopefully it attracts a few more seekers to the forum!
What an awesome plug, JF. You just made my day. Thanks so much!
I’ve missed the past couple episodes while trying to relate to and open up to Aurobindo & his idea of “Supermind,” but I left off right in the middle of the talk on Dogen, and I know you guys have something recently on William James and the question of Consciousness, which is coming up strongly elsewhere here—so I look forward to catching up. Your bi-weekly summer schedule will help.
I have some notes, too, which I wanted to share about your episode on The Mezzotint (Art is a Haunting Spirit) - which I had listened to twice and had an outline of a response…but then got distracted by some shiny object before I could compose them here. I hope to come back to that, as well as this piece: On the World-Disclosing Rifts of Cinema: J. F. Martel and Christopher Yates in Dialogue — which I feel really deserves some follow-up.
I’ve pressed a personal pause button on promoting this platform, for the time being, just because I’ve found social media and marketing efforts too destabilizing to my neural architecture, as I’m also trying to write and be a decent husband/dad. I just don’t have the time or energy for it all. So the mention helps! More importantly, it’s encouraging to get such feedback from thinkers whose work I so enjoy and respect. Keep it coming! (The shows, I mean.) I’m particularly looking forward to your talk w/ @michaelgarfield. His piece on how the future acts like you looks intriguing.
Hi there. Following Marco’s reference to the fact that you guys had done a podcast on this subject, I listened to both parts of the James discussion. Speaking of synchronicity, I essentially dived into the subject independently of your interest, simply because it has been on my mind to do so for some time, but it turns out you beat my to it literally by only a few days!
I have long read commentaries on James, including Harry Heft’s book that covers James, Gibson and others that I read years ago when trying to make sense of Gibson’s affordance theory, but I had never taken the time to read James in the original. In our current exploration into Erin Manning’s book The Minor Gesture, she draws heavily on James’ ideas, and so I really felt driven to do this, despite a still busy schedule. And currently, in my discussions with @hfester on the idea of a “poetic field” or “quantum poetics”, James’ field-like ideas of “pure experience” as non dualistic also appear to be relevant.
I thought that both episodes were interesting, and certainly some of your insights in the second part were useful and relevant. The whole role of James in contemporary thought I find fascinating. He predated all of the major modern philosophies which were for the most part strongly influenced by his thought, and one would think it unfortunate that scientists seem to have turned a deaf ear towards his ideas, because they also appear to me highly relevant there as well. It is hard to understand what he is saying, however, as you point out, because we have been trained to a different mind set. There were times in your podcast were I felt you had allowed yourselves to “lapse” back into the non-Jamesian dualistic perspective in your use of language, but I admit it is hard to avoid doing so, especially in a free-wheeling verbal exchange such as you two engage in.
I have no pithy remarks to make today about the content - overall I thought it was great! I did want to note that on the discussion of the fine-tuning of the physical parameters of the universe, that it was Paul Davies who made a compelling study of this - I read The Accidental Universe, but I believe he has written others since (a quick look on Amazon revealed The Goldilocks Enigma - Why The Is the Universe Just Right for Life?). It is also sometimes called the “anthropic principle” - you might have mentioned that, I can’t remember. Other factors that seem to be “just right” for humans to live in this universe include the so-called “fine structure constant” that characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic interactions, which if it were different might disrupt the ability of molecules to form, and the ratio of electromagnetism to gravity, which if it was different would result in, for example, only small and short-lived universes. There are many others, as you indicated.
My response here is coming very, very late, so if you’ve since moved on to other things and don’t feel an inclination to engage further, I won’t be offended!
Thanks for listening to James episodes. It’s true that discussing James’ ideas can be very difficult, because he is trying to use language to get at something outside language. That’s what distinguishes him from a lot of the 20th century philosophers: a belief, which he shares with Bergson and other fin-de-siècle thinkers, that reality is accessible to us without language. This belief has resurged recently in the form of so-called speculative realism. For me, it feels like we’re finally getting back to philosophy after a long excursion into linguistics.
For James, IMO, language is innately, inexorably dualistic. Language works with concepts, and concepts are by nature binary. In “Does Consciousness Exist?,” James explicitly states that a kind of splitting-off into dualities is part and parcel of the thinking process, so long as thought utilizes language. Bergson goes much deeper into this in his work, which posits that consciousness, far from defining some ontological essence, is actually a process by which reality is reduced to a livable world, which the intellect then mistakes for the world. To embrace dualism at the epistemic level while recognizing that no such thing obtains at the ontological level is to practice philosophy as a kind of poetic endeavour. The goal at best is to allude to the true multiplicity of the experiential world (“pure experience,” which James argues does not constitute an essential substrate but a simple fact of existence). All great philosophy succeeds by means of allusion. This to me, is a strong argument for the fundamental aestheticism of philosophical work. It isn’t in this conclusions, but in its mode and expressivity, that philosophy communicates something like truth.
I was reading Lev Shestov the other night and came across this great passage:
It is related that a famous mathematician, after hearing a musical symphony to the end, inquired, “What does it prove?” Of course, it proves nothing, except that the mathematician had no taste for music. And to him who has no taste for dialectics, metaphysics can prove nothing, either. Therefore, those who are interested in the success of metaphysics must always encourage the opinion that a taste for dialectics is a high distinction in a man, proving the loftiness of his soul.
The idea here is that metaphysical thinking has no privileged access to some substrate that other modes of inquiry fail to touch. Metaphysical thinking is a process that lives and dies by the sword of poetic vision. Through time I’ve realized that this is the implicit (semi-unconscious) argument of Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice. Metaphysics always begins with a kind of divinatory projection of axioms which, to use Deleuze’s language, form a plane of immanence within a fundamentally chaotic space of infinite possibility at infinite speed. This is necessarily a poetic act, deeply contingent, but ontologically illuminating at the level of expression.
The latest Weird Studies episode is an interview with Joshua Ramey that gets into this question of divination as a fundamental gesture in every field of intellectual activity. I’m now thinking of Ramey’s ideas in light of James’. Sorry for the ramble.