Looooong before the words “Christmas,” “Hannukah,” “Kwanzaa,” and “Festivus” ever entered humanity’s vocabulary, we have been celebrating the winter solstice. And why not? Without modern technology and capitalism making us fat, warm, greedy, and complacent, we’d be hunkered down in our holes, caves, and huts trying to make it through the brutal winters.
As many people have said, this is a time for giving. It is a time to appreciate all the things we could be living without, like food, shelter, and each other. And so, with the shortest day and longest night of the year at hand, take time to consider just how lucky we are to be here at this time in history. Whatever you call this time of year, try to remember why exactly why we celebrate it.
So, it occurred to me recently that there are four different versions of the same song that I had on my computer, but it’s not immediately obvious that this is the case. I just thought it was so weird that I wanted to share it. And, besides…I wanted to share my remix anyway.
target=”_blank”>Lullaby” (in that order) on their second album, Thirteenth Step. Then, they released a remix (of sorts) on their third album, eMotive, titled “
target=”_blank”>Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums.”
So anyway, a while back I created a remix of all three songs, which I’ve given the annoying title “Counting Bodies Like Metzae to the Lullaby of the Pet Drums.” The thing is, I just remembered last night that I’d used all three of those songs to create the remix. I took different sections of every version I could find (even a bit or two from other songs). I sped it up and mixed it all together with an industrial sound and rhythm.
The file is loopable, which is intended to echo the cycle of violence, war, and the propaganda that causes it. It starts and ends with the sound of boots marching, a sound that A Perfect Circle clearly intended to be a part of the Nazi/Hilter/military theme. I just sped it up and slowed it down and made the ends meet.
Right around two minutes into the song, listen for the low male voices and eerie sounds. It is the track “Palpatine’s Teachings” from Revenge of the Sith. I didn’t put that there because I’m obsessed with Palpatine (even though I am), but because of how closely the two themes relate to one another, both philosophically and musically. Plus, it sounds creepy and cool.
About three minutes into the song, I wanted to emphasize the only “bad” word in the whole song. I pumped up the volume and added an echo for when Maynard says “fuck” because he kind of mumbles it. In the end, though, it made a nice smacking sound that gets the point across just fine. Besides, if you don’t know what he’s saying there, you’re not really listening to the song anyway.
This is a musical collage, so to speak, an homage to dark and powerful film scores. It is a single piece of music, with an emphasis on the more powerful or dark moments produced by great musical minds throughout the soundtrack genre. I have not composed any of this music, but I have been editing, expanding, and eliminating sections for several years. It is my hope that each version is better (at least to me) than the previous one.
There is a scene in the movie “The Matrix” where the main character, Neo, is visiting a so-called oracle. As he waits to see her, he looks at the other “potentials” that stay with her. These potentials, all children, are able to manipulate objects using what appears to be telekinesis.
At one point, Neo leans down and talks to a small boy who has several bent spoons sitting in front of him. He picks the last normal one up, looks at it, and it starts to bend, almost as if it is made of liquid. The young boy apparently controls the shape of the spoon and is able to return it to its original form. He then looks at Neo and hands him the spoon. As Neo inspects it, the boy speaks.
“Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible,” he says. “Instead, only try to realize the truth.”
“What truth?” Neo asks.
“There is no spoon.”
Neo looks at the metal dinnerware in his hands, and asks, “There is no spoon?”
Understanding the question was rhetorical, the boy finishes his thought, “Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
At this point, Neo, who has already had the truth about the Matrix revealed to him, looks at the spoon. With a bit of concentration, he is able to bend it using only his mind.
This rather mystical scene is obviously meant to show that the world of the Matrix is an illusion, but I believe it can also be interpreted as an allusion to atheism. The most obvious example is the phrase “there is no spoon,” spoken by the boy. This simple line appears to be the epiphany of the scene and the moment. There is a clear parallel to this phrase and another well-known phrase: “There is no God.” It is important to note that people who might say this phrase aren’t necessarily being antagonistic. For many atheists, it is a simple statement about what they believe to be reality.
However, it does make me wonder if the creators of the film would be so blunt about something like atheism. After all, the majority of their audience is not atheist. To make a clear parallel to atheism might not go over very well with the audience, so they would’ve had to mask it, or tone it down a little. Because I didn’t write the story and I haven’t read anything about their motivations (The third movie isn’t out yet; I’m not about to spoil it), I am obviously just speculating. I just think that it’s fascinating how these movies walk the fine line between religion and non-religion. For example, so far in the movie series, there are numerous references to faith, beliefs, prophecy, but there are no direct references to any particular deity or religion.
Every reference to religion in these movies is masked, which is to say that it is in plain sight (literally and figuratively) but covered so as to conceal its identity. They are either hidden in layers of context or represented visually through the use of artifacts and costumes. I find it a nice touch that they show all of these people still adhering to certain religions even after they discover their whole lives were a projected reality. It shows a commitment to their religion that is not based in concrete historical or quasi-historical facts, a truly spiritual understanding. Most notably of these lingering religions is the presence of people in Buddhist-like outfits. One of the ideas Buddhism teaches is that if the world changes, the adherents must not fear it but embrace it. It doesn’t affect their basic philosophies. So, if a Buddhist is released from the Matrix, and they realize that they have never actually sat around and meditated all these years, it doesn’t matter.
Right after the young boy hands the spoon to Neo, he says, “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible.” These sentences can certainly be interpreted a number of ways besides the face-value idea that it is impossible to bend the spoon. What I mean by bringing the spoon into this is to refer to it as the argument over the existence of deities. I’m not talking about either side; I’m talking about the argument itself. People can come up with “proof” that deities exist, or they can come up with “proof” that deities don’t exist. By “bend[ing] the spoon,” we are trying to shape our arguments to fit our reality. And when the boy says it is impossible to bend the spoon, he is right. Given the restrictions of reality in the Matrix, it is impossible to bend a spoon with one’s mind, just as it is impossible to warp reality to fit our argument. The problem of doing this is that both sides appear to have evidence in their favor, so which one is correct? How about neither? From the perspective of most people plugged into the Matrix, they know nothing of the real world because the Matrix has provided one for them. But for those “enlightened” few, who have seen what the Matrix really is, they have a completely different perspective on the world. They know it is impossible for an individual to break the laws of the Matrix, just as we know it’s impossible for an individual to break the laws of physics.
Everything that people see and experience in the Matrix doesn’t actually originate in their brains. They are plugged into the vast network of other minds and computers. The “reality” actually exists on the computers that create the Matrix, and the restrictions imposed upon the people inside the network are based in the computers. One major flaw in the design of the Matrix is that mind control works best when the mind is not aware of it. Once a person is “awakened” to the truth, their mind (at least) has the capability to step back and see the Matrix for what it is. That is why the rules of the Matrix are designed to prevent these realizations.
It’s somewhat like a chat room. Anyone with the right equipment can log in, but they can’t break the laws specified by the host computer. This isn’t lawbreaking of the moral or ethical kind, but of the fact-of-the-matter kind. You can’t, for example, go into a typical chat room and start speaking to people using your own voice. It’s not that such a thing is impossible, but rather that the basic structure of the chat room doesn’t allow for it.
So the Matrix is kind of like a big chat room in which we are born, live, and eventually die, all while being plugged into this machine. We are not asked to log in because we are automatically logged in at birth, and part of the restrictions of the Matrix is that the idea of logging out will never occur to us. “Unfortunately,” says Morpheus, “no one can be told what the Matrix is.” The idea that we are not allowed to log out is probably the most frightening aspect of being locked into the Matrix. The only way to escape it is by being forcefully logged out, which isn’t likely to happen very often. The humans aren’t just enslaved out of evil deeds. The machines are feeding on life just as all life does, we just happen to be on the bad end of it. One way a person can free themselves from the Matrix is by “realizing the truth,” the very thought of which is restricted (very literally) according to the rules of the Matrix. This kind of awakening is a clear parallel to the idea of the Buddha, “the enlightened one.” Another way of forcefully logging out of the Matrix would be by unplugging yourself (literally) from the machine. But, since the brain is under the control of the machine, it cannot make its body move to do so. Once your brain, the organ, is free from the connection, your mind, the consciousness, is also freed. And the rest will follow.
Now, I realize it seems that I’ve forgotten something, namely, how Neo was freed. He was neither directly enlightened nor physically unplugged (except by the machines, which were apparently dumping him anyway). He was “hacked” out of the Matrix by people in the real world. They say they planted a homing beacon in him (the red pill), but it seemed to simply be the way to find where his body was. As for what they did to convince the machines to release his mind, I don’t know. The first movie wasn’t very clear on how this was accomplished, so I’m hesitant to guess. But, I didn’t want to leave it out completely.
Once Neo has repeated the epiphanal line, “there is no spoon,” the boy continues his thought by saying, “Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” In this context, he clearly means that the spoon represents the false reality, and Neo’s conflict (if it can be called that) represents an enlightened mind. But, on a deeper (maybe too deep) level I believe the spoon represents the argument about the existence of deities, which people try to bend and twist with their minds in a vain attempt to change reality to fit their argument. The reason Neo is able to do what he wants with the spoon is that he recognizes the need to step away from the argument entirely. The whole discussion hinges on facts that can never be reconciled, like a singularity of ideas.
Gods either exist or they don’t. That’s the simplicity in binary thought. But, it’s too dichotomous and artificial, much like the now-famous line, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” Sure, there is a yes or no answer, but the statement itself it too limiting. It doesn’t allow for any other ideas or perspectives and so it forces us to focus on which side of the fence we stand. The same stands for deities, of which the answer can be simplified into a yes/no answer. But, it seems that many people ignore the fact that this whole argument just might be a contrived idea in the first place. Clearly, they cannot be logically resolved, and that is why there has been a healthy (and bloodily unhealthy) debate on the subject for thousands of years.
Of all the religions that dominate human consciousness, how many of them are correct? Is it, as atheists are inaccurately accused of saying, that none of them are? What if they’re all right and conflicts only surface because we try to bend the spoon (the argument) to fit our beliefs? If we remember there is no spoon, that the argument itself has been contrived in our minds, we will then be able to step back and observe the argument from above instead of becoming entrenched in it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the purpose of that scene was to say that there is no God. It just seems like there’s more to it than simply the moment where Neo learns to bend spoons. A lot of the philosophy in the Matrix series is ambiguous, and I believe that is just to keep from singling out any particular belief. But, the moment does give us a way to reflect on the idea that—just maybe—the whole discussion of the existence of deities is just like the metaphorical spoon.
Initially, I took my first poetry class because I thought that poetry and prose were two completely different things, and I needed to explore my poetic side. But as the semester progressed I quickly discovered that they are imperatively inseparable. Poetry keeps prose fresh, healthy, and beautiful. I have compared some of my prose from before this semester and I already see its blandness. It is not that they are not particularly boring; they are just stunningly devoid of poetic description and language. Without this poetic element, my writings sound like a boring history teacher. It has enhanced my awareness of the necessity of beautiful language.
Without an aesthetic sense, things become routine and uninspired. Anyone who wonders why the Headwaters sculptures were placed in the courtyard of the English/Education buildings at Tech might have trouble understanding this simple premise. Some would say they “just don’t get it.” By surrounding ourselves with things that are aesthetically pleasing, we provide an environment for fresh and engaging ideas, something that is vital to a university campus. This is why our fine arts and literary departments are so critical.
Unfortunately, it seems function is more important than form in today’s society, and aesthetics often gets overlooked. One of the handiest things I learned that in first class was the boxed wine analogy. People will drink boxed wine because the function (getting tipsy) is more important than the form (enjoying the flavor). This is true for Hallmark cards, cheesy love poems, and television jingles. While some may have all the requirements to be classified as poetry, they are generally unimaginative and uninspired.
In the past few years I have devoured more books than in all the years preceding that. One author in particular, Carl Sagan, was not a poet, but the language he used and the topics he explored spoke to me on a very poetic level. After finishing most of his books, it became important to me to improve my vocabulary, even if I did not use it in everyday speech. To me, there is something aesthetically pleasing about using the precise word, regardless of how complex or rarely-used it is. Too often people use a word or phrase just cuz, when more apposite and evocative language can be found.
I am a firm believer that humor is a necessity in writing, even when the subject matter is serious. Pretension, no matter the genre of writing or the place in society, is completely overused in my opinion. I was involved in performing music for several years, and I witnessed a lot of pretension in that field. I do understand that being somewhat pretentious ensures the quality of certain things, but it still bothers me. After all, it does have to do with pretending. I believe the best way to lighten the mood of a poem is to throw a little wordplay or humorous metaphor in the middle of a strong phrase. In my poem Dog Spiel, there is a line that says, “Philosophists invent discussions,” which is essentially name-calling. So I follow it with, “with tautology, like how many angels in the eye of a needle.” I know that the actual phrase talks about angels on the head of a pin. But by not using that exact phrase, it is (intentionally) confusing and/or annoying. The idea is to lessen the chance that it might seem too presumptuous or insolent.
Aside from increased awareness of aesthetics, my musical upbringing has taught me to understand and appreciate rhythm. My first few attempts at poetry were structured around rhythm because I had not really learned much else. Unfortunately, unless you are willing to sound like you are writing a song, using pure rhythms in a poem is very distracting. The rigid sound of my earlier poems seemed too — well — like wine pumped into a box. Those poems used very little inventive language because I was too concerned with the rhythm. Looking back on them, it reminds me of what my father once told me about a rap song I played for him. He said, “Sure, it has a nice beat, and you can nod your head to it, but have you actually listened to the words?” I think that was one of the last times I ever heard a song and did not pay attention to the language being used.
Having said all that, abandoning rhythm is simply the opposite extreme. Part of what makes poetry beautiful is how it flows from the reader’s mouth, the breaks and emphases, the natural flow of spoken language as opposed to forced rhythm. One of the best things about rap music is the rapper’s ability to use language (content aside) and rhythm in an creative and engaging way. A vital part of my poetry writing process is to read my poetry to myself like a rapper. It helps me get a feel for the rhythm of the poem.
Probably the cheesiest aspect of my aesthetic taste is the Easter egg idea. This is simply a hidden message, joke or reference placed in plain site but only intended for those who get it. The reason this is might be considered cheesy is because there is a fine line between crafty and tacky. You have to make sure the audience is vast enough to include a large percentage of people, yet exclusive enough to not lose its appeal. Virtually everything I write has at least one egg in it, and sometimes the writing is one big egg. For example, I wrote a poem this semester that did not make the final cut titled Sickle and Sword. The whole poem was based on a Stephen King book, The Stand. If you have not read the book, you will probably just think this is a dark and brooding poem. But, as my girlfriend easily noticed (because she had already read the book), it was full of references. The main character representing evil in The Stand was a character that had the initials R.F. For most of the book it stood for Randall Flagg, but it he actually had many names, all of which had the same initials. My poem is told from that character’s perspective, and in it he says, “I am the Raven with Furious eyes.” If you have read the book, you understand. If you have not, it hopefully does not distract from the meaning of the poem. This is a personal message to the reader that, if successful, lets them know you have shared a similar experience with them. It is aesthetically important to me to establish some kind of link with the audience.
The connectedness of all things is an idea that I draw from often because it constantly reminds me of the universal experiences we all have. The fact that we have the ability to understand how the cosmos in interconnected is one of the greatest products of our intelligence. Language is an expression of that intelligence, and as every mundane thing, has evolved into an art form. Our words come from our brains, created from the dust of dying suns. The fact that simple hydrogen atoms have become self-aware creatures is absolutely wondrous to me. This is the ultimate connectedness: matter creates intelligence creates language creates poetry about language, intelligence, and matter. If that’s not poetic, I obviously don’t get it.