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2001: A Space Odyssey – The Story of a “Covert” Monolith in Singaporean Blogosphere.

Posted by inspir3d on February 6, 2007

If I had to do it all over again, I would never watch Stanley Kubrick’s seminal futurist epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” unless I knew I was going to die the following day. I say this only because after the show all other sci-fi movies just look like soggy two dimensional pop-up bedtime stories.

In its glorious digitally restored DVD format, it doesn’t take one very long to realize that this is how all sci-fi movies are supposed to be crafted. Kubrick’s work is perhaps the finest in 2001 – the most visionary- and arguably the best the sci-fi genre has ever produced. It is certainly one of those rare films that merits consideration as a work of art.

It was inspired by Arthur Clarke’s fascinating short story “The Sentinel,” and I wouldn’t even try to explain the deeper meaning of the film; as Clarke once said,

“If you understand ‘2001’ completely, we failed.” So there you go, in a neat nutshell. If you happen to figure out the film, there are one of a few possibilities, you’re are either a reincarnation of Kubrick or you’ve been watching one of those South American dubbed versions, where the evil computer HAL (incidentally this is the computer from hell which also happens to be the name of the server, I am posting from, now you know why there are so many spelling and grammatical mistakes) actually laughs like a mad pirate.

So what’s the plot?

Well, I don’t really know and I am certain those who claim to know are just pretending to know when they actually don’t either. But I do know what it isn’t about, such as the trite cliché summary which is often used to describe it as a film about a mad computer who tries to kill everyone in a space ship. That’s a bit like saying the Sistine chapel is a picture about the Bible.

The film revolves around the mysterious appearance of a black monolith (which actually looks like an alien kitchen table top or building material) which is the central reoccurring theme within the three segments which make up 2001. Though each segment has a varying plot and narrative, the same thematic thread runs throughout each of the three miniatures. Hence, it’s often said 2001 is a film that pretty much says it all in the first segment called the “Dawn of Man” only to continue repeating the same philosophical message throughout the rest of movie.

The “Dawn of Man” opens some 4 million years ago where a tribe of monkeys go about their business without any knowledge of past, present or the future. Only the endless tedium of survival filters through the monotony – petty wrangling between two tribes over a watering hole (which reminds me of the fights, I have at the water cooler in my office.)

It’s definitely before the age of reason, because the entire narrative comprises of only meaningless grunts and gestures.

In the evenings the apes huddle nervously in their caves looking at each other, while the cries of nocturnal carnivores fills the desolate darkness. Kubrick is revealing the stark equation of pre-Edenic man. There is an unmentionable savagery here, one that divides those who will awake and perish to marauding predators. (Sounds a bit like modern day Singapore.)

When the sun finally rises, the lead ape sees something that is totally incomprehensible. In a world of ragged bushes, jagged rocks and undulating hills, the ape has never seen anything like the strange object that stands majestically before him. In the middle of the tribe’s habitat stands a black, stone monolith. It’s imposing as it is mysterious, catching the rays of the sun shining through like some silent intruder that has some how sneaked into the night covertly (it’s definitely a ninja, not a samurai). Its angular form is flawless and exquisite conveying its apartness from its surroundings.

As the rest of the tribe awakes, they surround the strange form, not knowing what to make of it. A sort of mania plays up, starting off slowly like a solitary note, then joined by other frantic grunts and wails – in monkey language, they seem to be asking:

“What is it? Why is it here? What is its purpose?”

Throughout this scene Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ and ‘Lux Aeterna’ plays out, which sounds like some sort of psychedelic single note chant that keeps on growing louder and louder, till it reaches a deafening crescendo (now you know why my favorite opera is La Boheme because it is the shortest.). This is a religious and spiritual moment of great importance. Kubrick is using the singularity of the chord to amplify and repeat the doubt again and again, till it just splays out flooding the entire scene.

The apes scream on as they frightfully contemplate this strange arrival into their mundane existence. The leader cautiously approaches the strange monolith. He attempts to touch it, but his fear is so great he pulls back. Trying again and again while the rest of the tribe goes completely berserk – finally he touches it and the rest of the tribe, sensing its safe to do so, moves in.

Kubrick gives this moment a sharp poignancy and sensuality. The way that the lead ape is almost hypnotized by this smooth, angular and majestic shape, is as if only he can appreciate its significance. As the lead ape runs his fingers along the smooth sides of the monolith, the rest of the tribe does the same. Here mystery is furiously at work.

The first time the black monolith appears in the film, it is revealed in a spiritually-styled motif. This monolith has invaded the tribes reality leaving the viewer without a shadow of doubt, they will be forever altered by its intrusion into their existence. Here Kubrick is telling us, the arrival of the black monolith is the beginning of the history of man – everything starts from this point onwards – from this point onwards there will be a new order that we don’t have all that much to do with. Plans are being profiled elsewhere by a higher order far, far, away. But who are these people who have intruded into the lives of these simple apes? What is their agenda of those who have sent the monolith? What do they plan for the destiny of man? And these interventions are not necessarily comprehensible or even noble, they are insidious, covert even in the secrecy that cloaks the monolith like the morning dew.

If you’re wondering whether the scene I have just described mirrors the sentiments in blogosphere recently when the government announced their intentions to project into the net, wonder no more – in every sense, all of us are asking ourselves the same question that once pervaded through the tribe described some four million years ago in “2001,”

“What is it? Why is it here? What is its purpose?”

Should we be surprised? Not really, when you consider, the apparent democracy in blogosphere is after all only an artifact of its infancy. Sooner or later, all social organisms migrate from anarchy towards hierarchy, and whatever order emerges from the primordial chaos of blogosphere seems as likely to be dystopian as utopian.

Against this proposition the possibility of transformational change looms, drawing again from Kubrick’s film it presents us all with a question not dissimilar to the one posed by sudden appearance of the monolith: the ‘prima materia’. Understanding the meaning of the monolith is extremely pertinent to the argument that I am making here.

According to alchemical mythology, the prima materia can change, or transmute mankind. There is little doubt the black monolith in 2001 is a metaphor of the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s one that Kubrick deliberately inserts against the starkness of a barren and primitive landscape to deliberately extol the “freedom to think” to mark the advent of “the age of reason,” one that draws heavily on Immanuel Kant’s maxim of the Enlightenment: “always dare to know, discover and question.”

It’s a critique on the shallowness of locking ourselves into a single identity, of ascribing that identity all the virtues that come from group identification which Kant saw as a bane to humanity (Kubrick sees this as a indelible feature of cave life and it comes across very clearly in the way he depicts the shallowness of how the apes resolve conflict) – or justifying conducting relations with all others who may not necessarily conform to our sense of what it means to be the ideal, on the basis of hostility and suspicion which Kant termed the “destructiveness which comes from a closed mind, that doesn’t see the value of engaging diversity.”

One aspect of this is by ascribing a higher quantum of moral currency to someone just because that person doesn’t feel the need to be anonymous and less to those who may wish to engage others in this manner. To me it has as much merit as a bunch of cripples debating the usefulness of limbs over well-oiled wheel chairs. Sure, you can prove that wheels are kinetically more efficient, and even manage to convince yourself that limbs are truly the stuff to be dispensed with – that according to Kant is how people go about fashioning and manufacturing the truth through a series of palpable lies. Only just as the manufactured truth disintegrates when a cripple is confronted with a flight of stairs, so are assumptions when we continue to cling to our respective fiefdoms for no other reason except to comfort our fears of what change may bring with it.

Central to the conundrum presented by the philosopher’s stone is the idea that any rational engagement requires one to move out from the comfort zone, you know that place where everything and everyone just radiates that sugary homily of familiarity – that just makes you want to stay a while longer. That’s the good news, the comfort zone is also like fusion chamber in a nuclear reactor, the place one dies but by a bit, a slow decaying death akin to slow acting poison, it’s the reason why firms, groups and individuals typically recede into the state of stasis and indecision, precisely because they fear change.

And the fear of change compels us to protect our way of life even more by fashioning all sorts of justifications which we can do very well. (Man is after all a thinking animal.)

Consider this example: If I asked you to go to murder the boy next door, you would probably be called a mad man, and we would probably end up sharing a triple bunk in a cell along with the one eyed dragon.

But if I asked to you to kill the boy next door to protect our way of life and if you did it, you would be a hero and I would become patriot. (Now that’s why suicide bombers do the things they do. It has got nothing to do with dogma and even less to do with religion and everything to do with the fear which accompanies change.) That just goes to show how anything and everything can be justified to find the facts to answer the question.

Flowing from this are disturbing questions:

“Why do we succumb so readily to appeals based on irrational forms of identity?”

Or, to put it in dramatic terms:

”Why do identity politics so often rest on hatreds that do as much damage to the aggressors as to their victims? And why can’t we see the logic of playing a win-win game?”

It’s a tough question to answer precisely because identity as an individual or group (such as bloggers or for that matter members of PAP) don’t see themselves as a homogeneous glob. As Emerson said, even a “brick aspires to something great,” and even if we have a propensity to imitate others, we all eventually become tired of imitating the same models and – lest we forget – we do have our own minds. The situation is exacerbated by the diminishing importance or regard for traditional “beacons” : government leaders who come across as heavy handed after the Brown saga tell us perhaps they may not share or even care to understand our values. Church leaders who drive around in flashy sports cars while the rest of their congregation languish with a make do EZ card existence, simply tell us something is very wrong somewhere and the moral calculus simply doesn’t add up.

We think don’t we, that we make sense of the world, but above all, we remember those scandals, incompetencies and failures to deliver on promises, and not to mention the oppressing pressure that comes with having to be part of any community. We all need to fall in line with the prevailing sentiments of the day, don’t we.

After all, for those who in their right mind as a member of a group would like to stand apart, being different means a one way ticket to Coventry.

I guess our notion of identity (in the context of blogosphere) and violence (and I am deploying a very interpretative sense to encompass all forms of hostility ranging from disparaging remarks to just being plain rude) is rooted very much in how we feel the need to protect who we really are or what we regard is worth holding on to. You know, that mixed bag of nicks and nacks which takes the form of preferences, beliefs, affection, allegiance and a whole telephone book which defies description.

All of them have different degrees of consistencies, all somehow form the mindscape of our world, like trees, bushes, lampposts and even fire extinguishers which we never ever register, they all make up our “identity” which may vary from time to time, place to place or person to person. It’s a Homeric river, one that guarantees you will never step into the same stream twice, even if it’s the same river – things, events, people, situations and perspectives are subject to continuous change. And when it comes to groups, footballers, bikers, bloggers or even politicians all have their respective quadrants, fiefdoms and locales which they can identify with and wish to preserve (even humans are doing it, that’s why rich Americans regularly resort to cryogenics – it’s not so much based on technological logic as it is based on the belief, we as human beings can actually have a sense of agency to “preserve” something.)

That’s alright, some may say, there is nothing wrong with preserving things. That’s only true if we preserve by way of allowing states of mind and schools of thought to evolve, and not by artificially creating exclusionary devices to preserve by design – design such as devices which are designed for no other reason other than to keep out people who may be slightly different from  us or hold a different world view. When we do this, we become very much the architects of our own imprisonment without even knowing it. You will be surprised how a man can get used to the bricks in his 15” by 7” cell to a point where, he would even deliberately commit a crime only to be sent back to his comfort cave. That’s what happens when people set themselves out to design their impression of the truth, instead of allowing it to evolve naturally.

Like competitive exams which are quota driven to only allow 50 candidates to pass and no more, it simply means being part of the 50th is still something, but to be fifty one makes you a nothing. It doesn’t matter if the cohort last year is cumulatively more capable than the one before or after it. A system that discriminates by design doesn’t have to operate rationally, it just needs to be seen to work. Appearances are everything in this world of the chimera.

But where do we draw the line when we begin to fashion, the social world that we wish to inhabit by mere design and a process of pre-determination. The last time someone went down that road, six million Jews were murdered because some man who didn’t learn to shave his moustache came up with some mumbo jumbo about the super duper Aryan race – that incidentally got whipped by an American Negro sprinter called Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics.

That’s what happens when we all learn to fear diversity, we learn to see what we want to see and hear only what we wish to hear and “think” only what we limit ourselves to “think,” only to eventually brick ourselves up hermetically in an in-breeding community where in the nation of the blind even a one eyed man is king – as Kubrick’s story warns us the truth can only emerge, if we continue to engage in the great experiment of life of constructive engagement with even those who may differ from us. That is when man is at his best, when he thinks and provokes others to think along with him. If nothing else, all he demonstrates from this simple act is that he trusts the new hope instead of the sum of all his fears. After all, even government trolls think don’t they?

In the final scene, of the dawn of man after the lead ape unravels the mysteries of how to fashion a femur into a hunting instrument. He howls victoriously and throws his bone into the air. Kubrick is trying to tell us that the apes’ encounter with the monolith was the seed of the very beginning of what would eventually follow……………… in the closing scene of the “dawn of man”, the bone never hits the ground, it is magically transformed into another tool of sorts, an advanced 21st century spaceship…….the human spirit is free.

(By Harphoon /Politics / Philo/ Sociol / EP 883922-2007 / The Brotherhood Press)

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19 Responses to “2001: A Space Odyssey – The Story of a “Covert” Monolith in Singaporean Blogosphere.”

  1. astroboy said

    this reminds me of what it is like when we all go cycling together, very little has changed since the dawn of man.

    Btw we havent gone off-line, we are still here.

    Enjoy

  2. steamboy said

    To the monolith,

    Allow us to introduce ourselves, we are outpost 93 comprising of a crew of 5 Pre-Science (space diplomatic corp) officers and 1 communications officer from the 130th Shardukhan.

    Our mission here is strictly diplomatic in nature. We mean you no harm and we come in peace.

    We will be establishing contact (a radio link, we need to exchange diplomatic credentials, pls stand by.

    Regards

    Outpost 93 Singapore.

  3. leeTH said

    Damn creative! And people still wonder why nobody these days read newspapers. I feel much better after reading this

  4. smokeybearess said

    :)Good day!

    This really is so harphy boy, he’s actually calling us monkeys but in a nice sort of way (I think :). Get your point, we need to engage them, anon or not, that what logical people do, they dont fear engagements.

    This is a good position, its a one that is confident, logical and will hopefully take us all to the next level.

    As for the article, I personally like it but it was going all over the place in the last few paragraphs. However, it came around quite nicely and poeticaly when the chimp threw the bone up in the air and it became a rocket ship. That to me was a very beautiful description of how far we can go if we do this correctly instead of choosing to be hostile or ignoring them.

    I really like this position, I guess all of you have alot of encounters with strange and unique life forms, thats why you have this sort of openess? (it is a question, so pls do reply 🙂

    This really is so typically, the brother, somewhere there is always a reference abt space. None the less an enjoyable and educational read. Cheers!

  5. ceo said

    there was a time when I didnt care very much for the bro-press, I still love and hate you guys. For one you dont try very hard to engage us readers and that simply comes across as arrogant and rude.

    But I will say this, this is a certainly a piece that puts everything in perspective in a very creative way. For that even though we may disagree on many things and still hate each other, let me just say, thank you.

  6. primataste said

    Nice one harphyboy, this goes a long way to put to rest some of the fears concerning anonymous postings by the PAP or whoever.I am one of those who post anonymously for private reasons which I do not wish to elaborate. Infact millions of people do it in th net and even more would do the same if they could in the real world. So I do take very strong exception to people who claim quite sanctimoniously and righteously, they have more credibility simply because they choose to wear their identities on their cuffs. That sort of reasoning doesnt cut it for me, because I know for a fact many people out there simply cannot be forthright abt this identities for valid reasons. It could be job, status, class, gender or race related. It could even be imagined, but I feel very strongly having the option to post anonymously opens up a whole chapter of dialogue which would not probably be possible if we just limit the discussion to only those who are prepared to reveal their identities. I personally find it is very hard these days to be a liberal or moderate, especially after 9/11. Alot of people think that only cowards and fence sitters are moderates. How very wrong they are, I feel like slapping these people, it takes courage in my view to walk your own path and disregard the pull of the mob – in the case of the brotherhood, it means been hated sometimes, but I believe there is always a need for a reasoned voice. Politics is tough in the net, there is a whole lot of people here who have formed a sort of clique which they take pride in being a member of. To qualify to be a member of the clique they are expected to propogate hate and mindless criticism, because if they dont ppl will say they are a stooge or a conformist. So in effect many here have to wayang and play the part to their audience otherwise I guess they will not have cred. This I feel is not right, it reminds me of the cultural revolution, where for one to survive, one simply needs to hate or be seen to hate and I really wonder what kind of life that really is? At least now readers have an option to choose. Is this what darkness called the 2nd protocol, I am not trying to be difficult, but sometimes I just cannot understand what he is talking about and worse of all he doesnt seem to dialogue with his readers. I really think this is one area that all of you should work on seriously, otherwise ppl will just come here and read, but apart from that, you will all miss out on cultivating a whole new dimension of blogging and your competitors will simply pick up the slack.

  7. carrefour said

    aiyoh let me tell u a few things about those space boys, they

    just dont give a shit abt govt, politics, religion or even

    popularity and if you really take the trouble to study bambie’s

    character, he could give a flying shit about fitting in either.

    Thats one thing good abt them, they dont pretend what you see is

    what you get. If it is right, they support, wrong they will

    hammer away and if it is not important, they wouldnt even bother

    with you. I think they do that bc they r too confident of their

    readership.

  8. carrefour said

    We dont need any more cults and so called “legends in their own

    minds” to mislead ppl, by focussing on message and not

    personality, it will go a long way towards building a sane blog

    culture. If I am not mistaken that was what bambie bad boy

    said, “personality cults have to be destroyed……etc” I wonder

    how he meant to destroy them?

  9. kumloongyee said

    This has calmed down many in blogland. I feel much better alredi.

  10. astroboy said

    2001, the greatest film ever made, dont say, we never dialogue with all of you. There you go, the prognosis.

  11. tmj said

    Hi all,

    I just want to say, I like the b’hood press very much. I like it bc every time, I come here. I dont know what I will end up reading. They set very much their topic of interest and agenda which is very good in my opinion.

    However, I agree with many of the readers, they should interact more with their readers.

    I would also like to ask whether the b’hood press would like to comment on the bio-tech debate. After all I know the Lee family is involved and so forth, but she is hardly fighting squats but rather the big wigs in the world bank. All of us in the biotech industry have been trying to get a grasp of this whole debate, but since the msm doesnt seem to carry it and whatever on the net is limited, could the b’hood pls consider doing a write up on this.

    Many thanks and looking forward to more ways to improve.

  12. Agatha Christie said

    Harphy boy, we all know bambie is the chimp that does the thing with his foot in the clip, it is so like him to run here and there, where are you? May I ask.

    Nice article, puts it all into a framed perspective.

    If I read further into your article, I cant help but feel you are actually trying to say, we have as much right to change their POV as they do ours bc the commodity is in fact and logic.

    And I do remember Kant mentioning how these things have so little to do with one’s political allegiance and beliefs.

  13. KLM said

    Very creative. At the rate you guys are going, I really cannot see how it is possible for people to cont reading newspapers. Dont get me wrong, they still will, only I believe, they will start to weave blog surfing very seriously into their life. Keep it up.

  14. jeremy pang said

    Harpoon

    Personally I am not a brotherhood fan myself, but everyone on my office floor is. I like this post very much, its a creative way of dealing with a very complex situation which doesnt quite make alot of sense to most of us.

    When I opened up the flick attached and saw the monkeys jumping up and down, it reminded me alot of a few people I know and how they reacted to the idea of the govt resorting to covert means to control blogsphere. I tell you all of us were rolling and falling over each other in the office.

    I am still not a fan of the bro press and there alot of issues which I will one day trash out with you guys, but after this one thing is for sure, you will all be on my fav read list.

    Brilliant and definitely the best read in the web this whole week. I would also like to ask is there any way to access the bro press archives or respository?

    happy foe and friend

  15. akira69 said

    bruderhud,

    Hilarious, especially the foot thingy abt the lead ape. I agree with most of the folks here, this piece does a good job of capturing much of the sentiments in blog world.

    Moving ahead it is also good that the bruderhood has decided to reclaim many of its readers by being a serious press house again. This is most welcomed. I believe this is very important to most of us because let me share with you quiet honestly, there are not many places a 30 or 40 yr old can go nowadays in singapore blog world to have a serious and detailed read without it eventually turning into an infantile and distracting pursuit.

    So I really do hope for our sake all you will keep the space thing out of the main section of the posted articles. I really believe most of you have managed to do the really tough part, that is to come across creatively in a fun and humorous way, yet being able to capture the outline of the issues very succesfully, many bloggers still have problem with that area.

    I must really commend the current team headed by harphoon and the rest for doing a very good job along with the webmaster for providing such excellent infrastructure.

    So what you guys really need to do is to just focus on nurturing a culture of readers who will eventually speak and dialogue with each other. Without the regular disruption spilling into this forum, I believe many of the readers will pick up the slack and make this site a very vibrant and interesting venue.

    Ciao.

  16. inspir3d said

    Akira69,

    thank u for your kind comments, and insightful suggestions.
    rest assured B’hood Press and IS will work together to create the best experience for you and other readers.

    insp.

  17. Harphoon said

    akira

    Yes, I will have to agree with you. This is our fifth collaboration in a 6 yr period and we totally agree a large measure of the success factor has to do with inspirid.

    I have read thru the rest of the mail and I hear you all. I have discussed the matter with our inspirid and we will certainly work towards a higher quality of service.

    This I promise you.

    Meanwhile thank you and may I take this opportunity to wish you all happy reading.

    Cheers, Harphoon.

  18. Harphoon said

    A question which repeatedly get asked is why we do not blog.

    The answer is very simple, the brotherhood is a fraternity who subscribes to a very strict humanitarian code – we call it the omertan code.

    We do not support personality cults. Under article 16 of our charter,

    “no man can exceed his being.”

    This effectively means even ppl like darkness are subject to this limitation. For example, he cannot interfere with how I choose to run this outpost.

    I know that many of you have directed your praise and to me, but pls note. I cannot accept this sort of adulation.

    In future pls direct all credit to the webmaster of this site and not myself.

    I will in future discuss with inspirid to delete all post which reference me personally.

    Pls remember we are anti cult.

    I hope all of you will take this in good faith and not hold it against me.

    Thx harpy

  19. […] to the Intelligent Singaporean. In remembrance of the Intelligent Singaporean that originated from Inspir3d. Some people called it a “graveyard”. Yes, it looks like a graveyard with all the […]

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