Friday, June 17, 2011

Nostalgia for Aliens

We are safely ensconced in a posh hotel room in downtown Nashville, TN, awaiting the Parthenon (!!!) and my dearest Donna tomorrow. God but I love a road trip - we left in the mid-afternoon and headed straight south.  I don't know this landscape at all (these are not the mountains which we take to head east to North Carolina), but the ride was heavily imprinted by my viewing of the movie Super 8 last night. A movie about loving movies and turning the most banal landscape (pretty banal landscape coming down here) into a vibrant fantasy.. by loving movies.  Preteens make a zombie movie using their Super 8 camera, and the director makes an alien movie using whatever they're using today (lots of great explosions).  The marketing for this film was way too savvy to pass up.

I shot this with a (free) iPhone app called (yes) "Super 8" - it makes all of the Super 8 film noises and inserts the clicks and whirs and skips of the Super 8.  And it look like I shot it in 1978.  What is it about the aesthetic of nostalgia that made me nostalgic for all childhoods watching this movie?  Was Super 8 that shared of a technology that its look inspires such a generalized nostalgia?  And what of kids who didn't know Super 8? I asked Oliver what he thought of it, and he said "Something tells me it looks old."  What exactly is that something? Beyond the clicks and whirs. Or is this like the brushstrokes showing themselves somehow?

The alien was nostalgic, too: an ode to the best and scariest of the 1960s monsters.  A physically brutal monster with unfathomably sophisticated intelligence - a monster who does honor to Jeffrey Cohen's Monster Theory - a Grendel for our time (although Grendel was more cunning than smart, I think, which may be an interesting distinction). The Confrontation Scene between our hero and the alien humanized the alien, and they did this beautiful thing with his eyes, which went from slits of fury to limpid orbs of compassion - really quite remarkable. And heralding the moment of the monster's humanity.  Inevitably, I have to wonder if there was nostalgia for aliens in the Middle Ages - if there was ever a hankering for monsters of yore, the "really good ones" that knew a good scare.  Like the primitive, nostalgia is often discussed as a product and a possibility unique to modernity.  But LaTour has me wondering otherwise - not transcendentally (heaven forbid), but otherwise.

Bruno LaTour's We Have Never Been Modern (which I Should Have Read Long Ago) does indeed weigh heavily here.  He takes us in between the elaborate worlds of Nature and Society, but also between Past and Present (or Modern or Future - it multiplies out).  We received our first detailed message from MAC today and reveled in the details: the Qawwali performance, the rickshaw ride through Chandi Chawk market, his striking out on his own tomorrow (with reluctant permission from the faculty-in-charge) to go to a museum (see what a bother art historians are?).  The sculpture galleries are closed, he learned, thereby proving that the art historian's curse (of galleries being closed) is a universal transcendental.  I'm starting to feel the awe I thought I might in realizing that Mac is really in India, really in its midst.  The wonderful student I am working with this summer is from  Calcutta (which, unfortunately Mac won't be visiting), so we are busy surmising all sorts of things about Nature and Society, Past and Modern in the streets of Delhi.  The mishmash of it all is great.  For now, everything defies categorizations, one of my favorite side effects of travels, whether to the South or to India.  Another day has already begun for Mac on this most assuredly swiftly tilting planet.

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