Something’s Touching My Leg. It’s My Other Leg.

Cyborg (creative commons)

So I have been working out this poem, which is part of a series of lyrics, where the speaker’s central concern is a desire to become a monster. It’s slightly off territory for me, not so much that it is macabre or sci-fi or anything like that, but that the speaker must, in order to want monstrosity, be a lovely fellow indeed.  He is a public speaker (something I do, oddly, write a lot about, though I am not much of one myself) and it’s pretty much gold and wind pouring out of his mouth all the time. I suppose some of this is beside the point, but my question for you is, do you ever feel any kind of desire like this, to be a monster? Try and think for a minute beyond childhood fantasy or the slightly more adult desire to have, say, special powers, some kind of hybrid prowess, like a cheetah’s speed or a bird’s ability to fly, or, as evidenced by this rather creepy picture , mechanical (hydraulic) strength and computation, and try to think of some moment where you have more desired to be so fully off the grid that the very nature of your body is in question.

To me, this is true monstrosity, a discomfort with oneself, a feeling of a foreigner controlling parts of you. This doesn’t really sound all that pleasant, really, ever, and as I was working this poem out I was asking myself a lot about the legitimacy of the speaker’s want. A lot of it is wrapped up in this want for ruin, to break out of the palace, and in some instances of this in mythology a kind of monstrousness gets evoked by the hero (the Buddha was a prince, and you could say his enlightenment was the introduction of some foreign element, something that made him less human, which, of course, is up for debate). But I still don’t think a desire for ruin, for change, necessarily lead to this idea of the monster. What does, however, is drama, and let me caveat that I am about to define the monster in an extremely loose way. Loneliness, isolation, ill-feelings, etc., are all marked by a kind of imbalance, in whatever form, and here there is a strong correlation to the monster, whose oversized or multiple arms or incredible strength or infrared vision or whatever else throw him straight through and beyond the standard deviations (digression: what I find so compelling about a character like Frankenstein is this attempt at becoming human, and that what keeps him from being so is not so much one given thing but a serious of very subtle errors or constraints that accumulate into one egregious whole. Frankenstein is really just a bit tall, square, and dumb, but that is enough to keep him from being human), and perhaps when we feel “out of sorts” ourselves it is precisely this sort of feeling that we are having, this being acutely marginalized, this being so beyond the reality we see around us that we can’t possibly be a natural inhabitant. So we feel monster sympathy, Frankenstein is lovable, as is WALL-E, as is Spock (okay maybe not lovable). We sympathize because they are outsiders, by their very nature, and we have flirted with that sort of permanent banishment, at least in the way we feel we are treated. I guess there’s also this whole uncanny valley thing, but damn it that’s for another time–what I really came here to show you was one of my favorite Lorca poems. Pick him up anywhere, really (feeling link lazy), though this translation is W.S. Merwin (I guess you should now the poem is by Lorca of the Federico García variety). I think the relevance to all this monster banter will be apparent.

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Cancion del Naranjo Seco

Leñador.
Córtame la sombra.
Líbrame del suplicio
de verme sin toronjas.

¿Por qué nací entre espejos?
El día me da vueltas,
y la noche me copia
en todas sus estrellas.

Quiero vivir-sin verme.
Y hormigas y vilanos
soñaré que son mis
hojas y mis pájaros.

Leñador.
Córtame la sombra.
Líbrame del suplicio
de verme sin toronjas.

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Song of the Barren Orange Tree

Woodcutter.
Cut my shadow from me.
Free me from the torment
of seeing myself without fruit.

Why was I born among mirrors?
The day walks in circles around me,
and the night copies me
in all it stars.

I want to live without seeing myself.
And I will dream that ants
and thistleburrs are my
leaves and my birds.

Woodcutter.
Cut my shadow from me.
Free me from the torment
of seeing myself without fruit.

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The View of the Park through Two Offices

Hello hello! I know–totally cliche, this absence. But listen, promises are like water; and many things have been happening out there among the parked cars and trees and things. I hope this still finds you, in whatever place you are.

Let me tell you, I got married. Twas lovely and deep and long, and I’ve been travelling and generally on a hiatus, but let me cut right to it: I’ve also been watching a lot of BBC Life and Planet Earth, and the long affairs I’ve had in their various wildernesses brings me to our engagement. Here is a clip from Planet Earth, an immense landscape and drama.

My question: Planet Earth and BBC Life bring vast audiences amazingly remote and unique phenomenon in stunning (as the parlance goes) hi-definition, technologically advanced media. Unlike some of Attenborough’s other nature programs, Planet Earth and BBC Life are in fact relatively thin on really detailed information about biology and ecology, opting instead for what feel like constant introductions to some of the most unique and artful and dramatic events and individuals on the planet. I think this is a very intelligent approach, and I think this because I think it is savvy and fits exactly today’s audiences’ needs. I know much of this is another conversation about the difficulties of something like Infinite Jest, where the hi-def and the dazzling in mass media are narcotic inhibitors of some other, more wildly enriched, deep and clear and true existence (stunning indeed). But where most, in my mind, manifestations of this trope provide no real other alternative than something, at best, imagined, or more often relegated to a small sect of either enlightened or simply unwilling individuals and their microsociety (think of any dystopian sci-fi), BBC’s groundbreaking programs not only provide an absolutely real alternative, well, they are completely about them. Now the content here varies. One can certainly say, if having watched any of the features on the birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea, that the subject perfectly folds into the medium’s “dazzling” qualities. And maybe this is why such features, specifically, are the most widely known–because the subject of them is so well married to the medium. But when I watch that wolf hunt, I feel something different, that immense landscape, the cold and the wind and the absolute shortness of time–and that is its own kind of reassurance to me. I envy that landscape for its simplicity, its blunt rules, even as I feel them most deeply because of the abundance of the world I live in and the access it provides.  It’s a feeling that I recognize, that comes to me in books, but more so, anytime, basically, I am alone and out of doors. And above that, all of this, content and desire, tastes and opinions and associations and the wonder of it all and having to make one’s way through. So I hold these nature programs as one of those things, as a unit in my cultural currency, even as I am conscious that my literateness and sophistication bely a world that has little difference from the animals I watch, in both’s subjection to vicissitudes, the take and have taken. So I am left with a peculiar sense–that I am glad for the candy and glad for the lesson as well, but also, that I am hopelessly lost, that both must always come paired. It’s a question of authenticity as it exists as a noun, free of that which it describes. I suppose.

Or perhaps the real irony is that, if you are conscious of the high technical quality of these programs, you are also conscious that such advances mark a very particular point in time, ours, now, when no doubt nature is in peril. This could be, in essence, a funeral. I don’t think we want to think this, and I’ll leave it at that–as the great problem not by BBC’s programs, but certainly brought forth through them. In the end, I think we are better for watching such testaments, that they might, indeed, live within us, be something that amazes us still.