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2001 Book Author Responds 144

Posted by timothy
from the laaaaaaast-word dept.
Author Leonard F. Wheat wrote the following response to Cliff Lampe's review of his book 2001: 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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