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Today and tomorrow, while I’m doing various filial duties in Virginia Beach, my blog will have a mind of its own.  Here, by largely unpopular demand, is a lightly edited version of my essay on 2001:  A Space Odyssey; the original, along with ten more wacky and daffy essays, can be found in this attractive volume.  Part one today, part two Thursday.

And in the meantime, don’t forget to tune in to my debate with Elizabeth Kantor, author of this unattractive volume, on the Michael Medved Show!  4 pm Eastern, 1 pm Pacific.


Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey is not a political film.  A quarter century after its release in April 1968 (its public debut took place on the day before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.), 2001 is usually remembered for its images, for the music, or for its groundbreaking special effects--all of which are widely and routinely cited in the general culture.  The mysterious monolith turns up in New Yorker cartoons ("it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand"), “Thus Spake Zarathustra” becomes a staple of Sesame Street phonetics lessons, the balletic representations of space flight provide material for a Lenny Kravitz video and an episode of The Simpsons.  Much of the movie’s audience might hesitate to ascribe a “plot” to 2001 at all, much less a “plot” in the “political” sense; the movie’s initial reviews tended to center on the monolith and on HAL, and rereading those reviews today chiefly affords one the spectacle of watching dozens of puzzled film critics circle curiously around this large, black slab in their midst.

To be sure, the scenes aboard the spaceship Discovery, which culminate in the famous breakdown of HAL and his murder of four astronauts, suggest that Kubrick’s concern with humans and machines did not end with Dr. Strangelove, and most of the film’s commentators have appropriately reached the conclusion that, as Alexander Walker has put it, ”2001 is nothing less than an epic-sized essay on the nature of intelligence.” [Alexander Walker, Stanley Kubrick Directs (1972), 244; hereafter cited as SKD.] So it’s not as though the movie is entirely nonnarrative or nonpropositional, even if its director considers it “essentially a nonverbal experience.” [Quoted in Jerome Agel, ed., The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (1970), 7; hereafter cited as Making.] All the same, my sense is that most people would think it takes a strange critical mind to see the movie as a commentary on the Cold War and the rise of the national security state.  But all I’ll be doing here is uncovering one of the film’s premises, a subtext it doesn’t need to elaborate insofar as it takes that subtext for granted (as does its audience).  To date, there hasn’t been any discussion of what 2001 might have meant to the politics of national security and manned space exploration in 1968.  I think that critical silence is itself readable, and that it testifies not only to cultural work the film has done, but also to the possibility that some forms of textual politics may be most powerful when least explicit.

The broader (and broadly deconstructive) theoretical principle at work here is worth stating in full.  The idea is this:  silence is not an absence of discourse, but an integral part of discourse—just as ignorance is not something lying at the outer borders of the map of knowledge (marked “here there be tygers"), but something licensed and sustained by specific regimes of knowledge that tell you implicitly you don’t need to know or you shouldn’t want to know.  Both formulations of this idea are integral to 2001, whose central drama turns on the politics of silence and ignorance.  Basically, I’m restating a well-known passage of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Part I, in which Foucault writes:

Silence itself—the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers—is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them within over-all strategies. . . .  There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses. [Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality.  Volume I: An Introduction (1978), 27.]

Because I find this passage too general for general consumption, I usually annotate it in the classroom by asking students the difference between what’s “unmentionable” and what “goes without saying.” To these vastly different kinds of silence we can then add the silences of tacit agreement and disagreement, the silence of hostile opposition, the silence of not blowing your friend’s cover, the silence of the unfathomable (itself a special subcategory of “ignorance"), the silence of trying to find out what the other person knows, and, not least of these, the silence of not being prepared for class.  Kubrick’s 2001 turns out to be composed of almost all these “silences.” That shouldn’t be surprising, since 2001 is literally a “silent” movie in a number of ways:  it’s a two-and-a-half-hour movie that contains only forty minutes of dialogue; it’s the first (and maybe the only) SF movie whose soundtrack maintains strict silence in the vacuum of space; and some of its most dramatic moments are silent—as when, just before the film’s intermission, we watch from HAL’s point of view as the computer lip-reads astronauts Bowman and Poole discussing whether to disconnect HAL’s higher brain functions.  But although everyone knows that 2001 broaches the unfathomable (human encounters with alien intelligences) and the unspeakable (thermonuclear war), no one seems to have talked about the political narrative that goes without saying in 2001, nor have we asked ourselves what that very silence might tell us.


The premise of the movie, as derived from Arthur C. Clarke’s 1950 short story, “The Sentinel,” is that humans find an object on the moon, an object whose purpose is unclear but that at the very least testifies to the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.  In reworking the story for the film’s screenplay and for his own prose treatment of the script, Clarke simply expanded on this premise, suggesting that Earth had been visited by an alien species four million years ago, when early humans—more specifically, proto-Australopithicene hominids—were still lousy predators:  weak, flat-toothed, slow, and threatened by drought.  The aliens, wanting to foster the spread of intelligent life in the galaxy but wanting to do it “passively,” leave behind a monolith that teaches the hominids to use tools, with which they can kill prey, eat meat—and attack each other.  In Clarke’s rewriting of the Genesis myth, then, the hominids eat of the trees of life and of knowledge, introduce murder and sin into the African plains, and eventually develop toolmaking skills that allow them to become Godlike enough to destroy their own planet.  This much is adumbrated in the most abrupt flash-forward in the history of film, when Kubrick cuts from the first tool—the bone with which the ape-humans have clubbed to death a member of a neighboring tribe—to an artificial Earth satellite.  The satellite is a nuclear warhead, but because the film refuses to make this clear in any narrative voiceover (I’ll say more about that below), and because the flash-forward is also a graphic match of long white tools, it’s possible at first to read the flash-forward as a triumphant affirmation of human evolution.  The rest of the film follows from the discovery on the moon of a black slab similar to the one that appeared amidst the “apes”—but the second monolith is more or less an alarm, buried beneath the lunar surface and activated by sunlight.  It sends a radio signal to Jupiter when the sun’s rays strike its surface; from Jupiter the signal is relayed, we know not where, and the monolith’s creators are thus presumably alerted to the fact that humans have survived the drought, subdued their predators, opened a chain of 7-11s, built spacecraft, and uncovered a strange black thing on the moon.

What’s most successful about this premise, as Kubrick and Clarke hashed it out over four years of rewrites, is that it neatly combines both the pessimist and triumphalist narratives of postwar, postnuclear science fiction.  Unlike some science fiction narratives (Star Trek is the most obvious contemporaneous example), 2001 does not predicate a future in which humans have overcome a bloody, apocalyptic phase of war and carnage; on the contrary, it suggests that there’s really no survival value to intelligence at all.  Although meliorist accounts of evolution like to believe that the universe—or at least terrestrial history—inevitably rewards self-conscious forms of life, 2001 opens by suggesting that tool-wielding intelligence is inseparable from murderous aggression, and that protohuman bipeds wouldn’t have made it anyway without a crucial push from forces unknown.

On the other hand, of course, the very existence of those forces is reason for hope, and the triumphalist aspects of 2001 certainly do imply that the development of intelligence—as it manifests itself specifically in space travel—is the “natural” destiny of self-replicating molecules (i.e., life) after all.  The film’s emphasis on space travel as the index of intelligence is of course a staple of science fiction, but its resonance in 1968, for a nation about to land men on the moon, is particularly strong; indeed, Wernher von Braun put the movie’s cosmic optimism in so many words when he declared that “what we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down upon the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man.” [Quoted in Dale Carter, The Final Frontier:  The Rise and Fall of the American Rocket State (1988), 196; hereafter cited as FF.] In 2001, apparently, the cosmos agree with this account of our evolution, for when humans uncover the lunar monolith they become automatically eligible for entry into the galactic club of alien superintelligences.

Well, not quite “automatically”:  there’s one final hurdle, a manned mission to Jupiter to find out where the moon monolith’s signal went and why.  This mission takes up most of the film, provides its only sustained drama, and culminates in the battle between HAL and the Discovery‘s sole remaining astronaut, David Bowman.  HAL’s breakdown is, understandably, the central enigma for most critical commentary on the film:  it parallels the narrative of the Doomsday Machine in Strangelove (as well as subsequent Cold War films like 1983’s WarGames), warning us, as Gene Phillips would have it, that “human fallibility is less likely to destroy man than the relinquishing of his moral responsibilities to machines” [Gene D. Phillips, Stanley Kubrick:  A Film Odyssey (1975), 141]; it underlines the movie’s linkage of instrumental reason and deadly aggression; and it solidifies many viewers’ impressions that HAL is the film’s only interesting character.

The man-versus-machine narrative, in 2001 as elsewhere, has long held its attractions for twentieth-century Western countercultures, science fiction fans, and technophobes of all political stripes.  And it can’t be denied that the film deliberately invokes and blurs the distinction between humans and machines, since its human actors are so robotic and its computer so complexly “human.” I grant, moreover, that Kubrick deliberately invited attempts to “psychologize” the computer precisely by stripping the film of the explanatory narrative that would have contextualized the mission and the rationale for HAL’s programming.  All the same, as I’ll demonstrate, the human/ machine binary is strangely inapposite to 2001, and critics’ readings of HAL, accordingly, tend to underread the sources (and the effects) of his programming, while ascribing too much “ineffably human” pluck and initiative to Bowman’s eventual victory over HAL.  [Here I’m cutting a boring footnote to a couple of people who think that Bowman’s decision to re-enter Discovery through the emergency airlock is a “stroke of genius” rather than an obvious and unavoidable decision, and who quite foolishly believe that HAL is incapable of “intelligent improvisation.”]

Kubrick’s explicators are almost uniformly silent on what we might call the “social context” of the Jupiter mission.  Norman Kagan writes that “when he begins to acquire emotions, an ego, and the beginning of a personality, when he starts to be a man [sic], HAL begins to misbehave because of the precariousness of his self-worth, his own emptiness”; Thomas Allen Nelson claims that “once programmed to be human,” HAL “becomes imbued with a consciousness of his own fallibility”; Daniel De Vries says, “he is proud and willful, and when his pride is hurt and his life threatened, he does what any other human being would do:  he becomes murderous”; and Michel Ciment concludes that HAL is a creature “which, rebelling against its mission, falling prey to anxiety and the fear of death, wreaks vengeance on those who no longer have confidence in it by finally sinking into criminal madness.” [Kagan, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick, 160; Nelson, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze, 125; De Vries, The Films of Stanley Kubrick, 53; Michel Ciment, Kubrick, tr. Gilbert Adair, 134.] In making HAL out as a kind of silicon-based existential Oedipus, complete with anxiety, hubris, and Being-toward-death, these readings strikingly fail to acknowledge the film’s most basic point:  HAL has been programmed to conceal the purpose of the mission, even from the astronauts on board.  At the same time, he has been programmed to perform flawlessly:  as he puts it to a BBC interviewer, “no 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information.” Lurking beneath the human/machine binary, in other words, is a specific set of instructions in HAL’s software, all written by very human members of the U.S. national security apparatus.  HAL does not rebel against his mission, and his self-worth is not in question.  He simply seeks to reconcile contradictory mission imperatives, and he does so with nothing more emotional than the microchips in his logic centers; behind the “conflict” between men and machines in 2001 are still more men.

This much can be gleaned, with some difficulty, from the text of the film itself:  its last spoken words are those of Dr. Heywood Floyd, chairman of the National Council of Astronautics (the film’s stand-in for NASA), who appears on a video screen in Discovery‘s computer center just as David Bowman has shut down HAL.  Floyd is of course ignorant of how badly the mission has gone awry, but his message serves to fill in Bowman (and us) on why HAL might have wanted to sever the spacecraft’s communicative link with Earth—and perhaps complete the mission alone:

Good day, gentlemen.  This is a prerecorded briefing made prior to your departure and which for security reasons of the highest priority has been known on board during the mission only by your HAL 9000 computer.  Now that you are in Jupiter space, and the entire crew is revived, it can be told to you.  Eighteen months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered.  It was buried forty feet below the lunar surface, near the crater Tycho.  Except for a single, very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four-million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose still a total mystery.

It’s not clear whether Floyd’s message comes on automatically, as a result of HAL’s “death,” or whether HAL has “released” the tape to Bowman as a final, uncomputerlike gesture either of goodwill (to inform Bowman of the mission profile) or apology (to explain that he had been passively deceiving the crew all along). [Some critics have suggested that the recording comes on automatically because the ship has entered orbit around Jupiter.  This makes no sense whatsoever.] Be this ambiguity as it may, Floyd’s speech is one of Kubrick’s few concessions to narrative intelligibility, and it practically demands that one see the film again in order to go over Floyd’s earlier screen appearances (and I’ll go over them in a moment).

Kubrick’s collaborators and consultants registered a few complaints about this aspect of the film’s reticence to explain itself.  As Arthur C. Clarke said:

I personally would like to have seen a rationale of HAL’s behavior.  It’s perfectly understandable, and in fact would have made HAL a very sympathetic character; he had been fouled by those clods at Mission Control.  HAL was indeed correct in attributing his mistaken report to human error. (Quoted in Making, 133)

Astronomer and astronautics researcher Frederick Ordway, a scientific and technical consultant to 2001, similarly weighed in with a lengthy critique of Kubrick’s final version.  The full text of his response to the film can be found in Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, and it indicates how thoroughly Kubrick excised all narration and explanatory voiceovers from his final cut:  originally, the movie opened with documentary narrative on the hominids’ possible extinction, on U.S.-Soviet relations (specifying that the first two satellites we see are nuclear warheads), on the radio emission from the lunar monolith, and on the enigmatic “Star Gate” orbiting Jupiter.  Where Ridley Scott gave in at the last moment and supplied a voiceover “noir” narrative to Blade Runner (1982), the notoriously difficult Kubrick did the opposite, purging his film of narration—notably, for the first time in his career.  What’s most crucial to my argument, however, is that as Ordway’s memo makes clear, Kubrick even excised dialogue between the astronauts and HAL that would have raised the question of who knows what about the spacecraft’s mission (and thus would have let viewers know that there was something else to know about the mission).  This is Ordway’s sense of the script:

Indispensable dialogue regarding the three hibernating astronauts was lacking; see particularly C12, where Bowman and Poole first become aware that “there is something about the mission the sleeping beauties know and that we don’t know. . . .” These few words are probably the most critical to the logic [sic] structure of the entire film, and lead to a valid reason why HAL breaks down.  Yet they were inexplicably cut out.  Poole tells HAL that there is “something about this mission that we weren’t told.  Something the rest of the crew know and that you know.  We would like to know if this is true.” HAL enigmatically answers:  “I’m sorry, Frank, but I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing everything that all of you know.” (Qtd. in Making, 197).

At this point, I realize, 2001‘s politics of silence and ignorance become confusing; it would seem a simpler task to determine who knows what about ghosts in “The Turn of the Screw.” But here’s what’s at stake in this “silence.” When Bowman and Poole realize that HAL knows something they don’t (and recall that Bowman is putatively Discovery‘s Mission Commander), they ask for simple confirmation of whether this is so, only to be met with doubletalk from HAL that suggests Bowman and Poole have the informational advantage on him.  Yet this entire exchange is “inexplicably” cut from the film, so that we don’t know—until Floyd’s tape appears, when it is too late—that Bowman doesn’t know what HAL knows, just as we don’t know that HAL knows that Bowman doesn’t know what mission he’s “commander” of.  The on-screen title that announces this segment of 2001 tells us that this is the Jupiter Mission, “eighteen months later,” but Kubrick has put us in the same narrative position into which Mission Control has put Bowman:  we don’t know what this “mission” is, or why it’s going to Jupiter, and Kubrick has kept us in ignorance by striking from the script the one exchange that would have alerted us to the fact that HAL is hiding something from his human crewmembers. [Puzzling as the “Jupiter Mission” title is, coming abruptly after the moon-monolith scene, it’s actually one of Kubrick’s few concessions to narrative intelligibility; as Gene Phillips reports (149), Kubrick added the two titles, “Jupiter Mission 18 Months Later” and “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” after the film’s puzzling premiere on April 1.]

Only one scene gives us any clue to the status of mission information aboard Discovery, and that scene, too, is gnomic at best.  HAL’s breakdown begins when he reports—falsely—the imminent failure of the AE-35 unit that will keep Discovery in touch with Mission Control (so the “breakdown” itself, as Clarke’s novel makes clear, turns on the availability of information and ostensible control of the mission).  But his false report about the AE-35 follows crucially from his tentative questioning of Bowman, when (on my reading) he tries to determine whether Bowman has any suspicion of the truth.  After asking Bowman if he’s noticed any of the “extremely odd things” about the mission—the absolute secrecy, the decision to place astronauts on board already in hibernation, and the “strange stories floating around before we left, rumors about something being dug up on the moon,” HAL is rebuffed:  Bowman replies, “you’re working up your crew psychology report.” Retreating from his inquiry, HAL says, “Of course I am.  Sorry about this.  I know it’s a bit silly,” whereupon he announces the fault in the AE-35 unit.  Having determined that Bowman is merely a good company man who sees no ambiguity in anything he’s been told about his job, HAL thereby ascertains that he cannot discuss the mission’s real objectives with Bowman until he is cleared to release the prerecorded briefing from Floyd.  It is then that HAL reports the failure of the communications unit; whether he does so out of impending “guilt” over his deception of Bowman and Poole (brought on by the aporia at the heart of his mission programming), or for a more sinister reason (which I’ll discuss below), is, to quote the film’s last words, a total mystery.

So far this narrative is still fairly routine, even if, like the lunar monolith, it does require some serious digging before it becomes visible.  Evil gremlins in the military-industrial complex misprogram a supercomputer, and the misprogramming backfires horribly; as Carolyn Geduld writes, following Clarke’s account, “HAL is messed up by some Dr. Strangelove working in Mission Control on Earth.” [Geduld, Filmguide to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1973), 59.] But when we turn back to Dr. Floyd’s role in the film, we begin to realize how inadequate even these accounts (including Clarke’s) really are.  First of all, contra Clarke, HAL was not “fouled” by “clods,” and contra Geduld, his programming was not derailed by a Dr. Strangelove; as Floyd’s closing statement says explicitly, the decision to withhold mission information from the Discovery crew has the highest security clearance.  It is not the work of a lone Strangelove in Mission Control, but of the entire national security apparatus.  Second—and this is critical to my reading of the film—the information blackout aboard Discovery gives the lie, retroactively, to everything Dr. Floyd has said in his three earlier scenes, on Space Station 5 (in Earth orbit) and on the moon.  And since Floyd’s trip to the moon presents itself, on first viewing, as a gradual uncovering of the “truth” about the monolith, it’s worth going over those scenes more carefully, for here is where we can see Kubrick’s depiction of space-race paranoia working most effectively—again, because most silently.


Tomorrow: we go over those scenes more carefully!  Keep it right here for more critical thrills and spills!

Posted by on 12/20 at 09:29 AM
  1. Looking forward to the next episode of your analysis. Had the pleasure of watching 2001 for the fourth or fifth time at the Castro theater in San Francisco way on January 12, 1997; a date which reflected a wry bit of film booking by the theater’s management, as anyone familiar with HAL’s history can understand. It changed the nature of the filmic experience and involved the audience in an ineffable (yet, to members of the audience, publicly palpable) way.

    “Nonverbal”, indeed.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  11:03 AM
  2. Breath bated for tomorrow. This is cool.
    Marginally topical: Caught the first half-hour of Son of Frankenstein (1939) this morning (Karloff, Lugosi AND Rathbone)...in addition to the obvious inspiration for Young Frankenstein (huge knockers, e.g.) I did not know until this morning that the film’s Inspector Krogh was clearly Kubrick’s inspiration for Dr. Strangelove’s semiautonomous arm.
    Yet more marginal: Double Features I’d Like to See:
    Son of Frankenstein / Young Frankenstein
    Failsafe / Dr. Strangelove

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  11:33 AM
  3. Feel free to post these as soon as humanly possible--I am going to see “2001” tomorrow at Brooklyn Academy of Music, for the first time on the big screen (seen it more than a couple of times on video/dvd), and this is a good primer on what to look for again and again.

    Thanks! Fascinating stuff.

    It is slightly irritating that, for some of this extra meaning to come out, one must actually know things about the movie that were cut or have read the Arthur C. Clarke books/short stories. My natural inclination is to want to approach the movie as a movie that exists and says nothing outside of what it says up there on the screen, and having to consult what was cut or what was written by people connected with the film...well, it kind of feels like cheating.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  11:37 AM
  4. This may be a little disjointed, for it has been a long, long time since I have either seen the movie or read the books you make me think of here (and I want to be brief)--but I can’t help but be reminded of Philip K. Dick’s The Unteleported Man, which became Lies, Inc. in versions cobbled together after his death.  Also of his Our Friends from Frolix 8.

    Strangely, it’s not the human/machine interaction that I am reminded of (the thing one normally associateds with PKD), but the long spaceflight, the mission.  The idea of a grand vision and then of its unintended consequences.  The question of whether we really can or should jump beyond our little pond… which now is making me think of Now Wait for Last Year, where humans have made the wrong choice in an intergallactic war, allying themselves with the aliens who look like them rather than with the visually off-putting (but more humane) kind.

    Maybe we can make the right choices, though.  Joe Fernwright, in Gallactic Pot-Healer, is given a choice between joining a community dominated by a god-like creature or returning to his small, individual quest--his new decision to be a pot-maker and not simply a repairer.  That he turns out to have no talent in this direction doesn’t matter: he made the decision best for him and his small life.

    And that, after all, is PKD’s main theme: we need to look to the things immediately around us and forget those grandiose plans.  I’ll have to watch 2001 again with an eye towards humans overstepping themselves....

    Captcha: “quite” Quite.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  12/20  at  11:44 AM
  5. Yes, please. Do go on, Michael.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  12:19 PM
  6. IMHO MB’s critical strategy anent “2001” is a waste of ingenuity, a rather procrustean attempt to “read” the film as essentially political, whereas politics in any ordinary sense was quite far from Kubrick’s concerns when making this particular masterpiece.  What MB criticizes as needlessly cryptic or willfully obscurantist was, in fact, the result of a specific artistic and philosophical strategy on Kubrick’s part.  This becomes quite clear when one compares the film with AC Clarke’s “The Sentinel”, the nominal source of “2001“‘s plot. 

    Clarke’s story, while deftly done by sci-fi standards, is a rather conventional affair, where everything is “explained” rather neatly within standard sci-fi logic--the “monolith”, the “stargate”, the “hostelry” where Bowman is housed by the aliens in more-or-less familiar surroundings, the “aliens” themselves.  But Kubrick deliberately, and to Clarke’s great chagrin, cast aside all this narrative scaffolding.

    Specifically, the central dramatic element of the film, HAL’s homicidal madness, is not only unexplained but deliberately inexplicable.  It is not a matter of Machiavellian schemes by the earthside bigshots, nor of some inadvertant foulup in HAL’s “programming”, whatever that might mean.  It is a matter of deep existential terror on HAL’s part.  Terror of what?  We may surmise that it flows from HAL’s intuition of the nature of the aliens and their plans for the human race, an insight deriving from HAL’s superhuman intelligence, but one that leaves “him” in a state of dread and hostility toward his human creators.

    Likewise, Kubrick’s undeniably cryptic ending even more emphatically throws Clarke’s plot gimmicks overboard.  The earth-like, “culturally appropriate” living quarters which Clarke’s aliens kindly provide Bowman whilst he begins his “education” are replaced by the enigmatic “room” with its inexlicable 18th century echos.  We may well conjecture that the room exists only in Bowman’s mind as his “soul” literally undergoes “death and transfiguration.” But all of this is mere surmise.  “2001” is not a puzzle-drama where the clever viewer is invited to unearth the largely-concealed “explanations”.  It’s not an elaborate “Where’s Waldo?” Melvile doesn’t want you to figure out the “real” meaning of the White Whale and Ahab’s quest; by the same token, Kubrick doesn’t “explain” HAL’s madness or Bowman’s transformation, and doesn’t intend for you to find a “correct” explanation.  If he did, “2001”, however polished, would be just another sci-fi flick, instead of a masterpiece.


    Posted by  on  12/20  at  01:18 PM
  7. As I recall my thoughts on first viewing in 1968: the hominid sequences pretty clearly bore the imprint of pop paleontology, specifically the Raymond Dart “man the aggressor” flavor then attracting attention, though not (as it turned out) from a lot of paleontologists. The moon sequences certainly were shadowed by the Cold War--the suave Russian scientist trying to figure out what’s going on and being misdirected with a false “real” story about epidemic disease. The rest--the HAL melodrama and the light show--seemed, and to tell you the truth still seem, like just so much Hollywood sci-fi razzle-dazzle, though of course it’s worth investigating (as Michael is doing) what that razzle-dazzle and not some other. In any case my favorite moments were and are the touches of homely realism. I love the hominid who, after chasing off a rival by “displaying,” delivers a final howl and gesture that made me call out in the theater (a thinly-attended weekday matinee in Times Square) “Oh, well said, sir!” The AT&T moon-earth videophone, the micro-skirted “stewardesses” serving plastic-wrapped sandwiches on the moon shuttle, the “stand closer together” gesture as the group snapshot with monolith is being posed--those were fun. As for the rest, I agree it can be “read,” silences and all, but (as an Elmore Leonard character remarked about eating stewed bat) once you skin it, what’s left to eat isn’t worth the trouble.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  02:10 PM
  8. In 1968 the film was fun, mostly because one could get really high and pretend to be transported through some dimensional portal or another.  By the third or fourth viewing (only on big screens then you know) that was all that really mattered.  Then a year later, we sat around watching small screen tv’s as human beings landed on the moon, and got out and walked around.  That tended to make the movie just that, a sci-fi film of lesser importance than factual events (at least for those of us that grew up in families involved in the space program). 

    Since then, we have had numerous opportunities to witness all sorts of space adventures, complete with gold records carrying music to the stars (even pieces from the 2001 soundtrack).  Some of these adventures have been disasters, terrible events worse than Kubrick could have imagined in the mid-60’s.  From the “Open the pod bay doors, Hal” we ended up with “Houston, we have a problem.” Human error--and isn’t all computer programming human originated--has given us a space telescope that needed more than a billion dollars in repairs (was that millimeters or tenth of inches?), chunks of foam ripping off heat shields, space station losing power and so forth.  On the positive side, we have robotic collectors on Mars that have vastly outlived their predicted life cycles, space vehicles sending back data from the edge of the solar system, and even a retriever satellite returning to Earth with material from a comet.  The film has lost nearly all of its relevance; and that doesn’t begin to critique the now, immature, special effects.

    Maybe this post will, however, inspire Kantor to leap all over the notion that cultural studies might not be what she wishes it is?

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  02:42 PM
  9. Thanks!  I clicked on the link to the Elizabeth Kantor volume, read the list of things PC professors don’t want you to read, and had to go take a shower.

    I’m undoubtedly more “traditional” than the great majority of people on this blog, but it reminded me of nothing so much as the fog that I used to try to clear from the eyes of Stanford freshmen thirty years ago so they could go on and learn what you really can learn from Homer or Shakespeare.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  02:48 PM
  10. Freakish Elizabeth Kantor quote of the day (Jan 2007 Harpers):

    According to Tower, I claimed that you’re at a disadvantage “arguing the superiority of Western civilization” without the classics: Great works of literature “can be minded for object lessons in conservative values, or dismantled into rhetorical brickbats that make good hurling in culture war skirmishes.”

    Well, no.  What I actually argued was that instead of picking up “rhetorical brickbats” and participating in culture wars, conservative students should spend their formative years actually educating themselves about Western culture.  There’s no point, I urged, in becoming a champion of traditional Western civilization if nobody’s actually getting the kind of education that used to turn people into educated Americans and real citizens of the West.

    I suppose by “real citizens of the West,” she means those from the old west: conquest of manifest destiny through genocide of native indigenous peoples and that sort of thing??

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  03:25 PM
  11. 1. This website is a very good resource for anyone interested in 2001. Includes links to a good number of reviews and interpretations.

    2) One of the items on the site is an “early” script which includes voiceovers (and other material) not in the movie. Will not try to summarize here - but it does have much that is relevant to interpretations of HAL’s actions etc. In fact I probably need to re-watch the movie, since between the various Clarke books, interviews and this script - I have forgetten what actually took place on the screen. (But I guess the whole of it constitutes one big “2001 mashup” which is the real cultural artifact and which continues to grow and evolve.)

    3) I do like your point on the vast silences of the film and the various categories of things left unsaid. I do recall specifically noting during my first viewing, that here you have this really world-historical monolith event - and yet the USA was most definitiely not going into all-humanity-in-it-together mode.
    (I paid closer attention to the film than I might have, since an aunt who was a librarian, and one of my most “literate” relatives, had gone out of her way to take me - so I assumed it was somehow “important”. [And let me put in plug for librarians as the true unsung, underpaid keepers of the letters of Western Civilization - let the Kantors of the world put that in their pipe and smoke it.]

    4) From Michael’s write-up, I finaly “got” his you’re working up your blogger psychology report response to a HAL post from months ago. Don’t know if in-jokes are a dish best eaten (if not served) cold, but don’t let us swine deter your sowing of pearls. (or even silk purses.)

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  03:27 PM
  12. I think that when I go home tonight I’ll pop in my ancient videotape of the movie, fast forward to the “Jupiter and Beyond” segment, set my iPod to “Echoes,” and sit back and enjoy. 

    I still can’t separate the movie from Clarke’s later novelization—your commentary that Kubrick’s treatment frustrated Clarke sheds some light on Clarke was doing when he was writing the book and accounts for what I remember as the book’s overly explanatory tone. 

    Will the next installment(s) explain why in the movie they went to Jupiter but in the book they went to Saturn?

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  03:33 PM
  13. How did you know this story was coming today??
    UK report says robots will have rights!

    The next time you beat your keyboard in frustration, think of a day when it may be able to sue you for assault. Within 50 years we might even find ourselves standing next to the next generation of vacuum cleaners in the voting booth.

    Far from being extracts from the extreme end of science fiction, the idea that we may one day give sentient machines the kind of rights traditionally reserved for humans is raised in a British government-commissioned report which claims to be an extensive look into the future.  Visions of the status of robots around 2056 have emerged from one of 270 forward-looking papers sponsored by Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientist.

    Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues, there may be calls for humans’ rights to be extended to them.

    It is also logical that such rights are meted out with citizens’ duties, including voting, paying tax and compulsory military service.

    Mr Christensen said: “Would it be acceptable to kick a robotic dog even though we shouldn’t kick a normal one?

    “There will be people who can’t distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner so we do not move our boundaries of what is acceptable.”

    Daisy Daisy,
    Give me your answer do!
    I’m half crazy,
    All for the love of you!
    <i>and the captcha word is “man,” go figure?</a>

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  04:04 PM
  14. Spyder --

    I’ve been sick for a week and don’t want to be nasty, but may I ask as a Westerner just how much you actually know about the old west and the people who settled it?  Your comment sounds a bit like a politicized version of a cowboy movie.

    I hate to even sound like I agree with Kantor, but the suggestion that conservative kids should learn about Western Civilization, however defined, is not such a bad one—let’s start with Ross Douthat closing his trap until he’s done two years of Latin and Greek rather than bitching about a course called “Heroes for Zeroes.”

    Now leaving the soapbox.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  04:44 PM
  15. IMHO MB’s critical strategy anent “2001” is a waste of ingenuity, a rather procrustean attempt to “read” the film as essentially political

    Just like my old pal Norman to pop off before the full essay’s been posted.

    What MB criticizes as needlessly cryptic or willfully obscurantist was, in fact, the result of a specific artistic and philosophical strategy on Kubrick’s part.

    Yes, dear boy, that’s my point.  Please wait for the end of the essay before venturing further thoughts about what its argument is.

    Now, here’s a funny thing, for the rest of you: for the past couple of weeks Professor Levitt has been sending me emails chastisting me because I always do this and I never do that in my defenses of academic freedom and the liberal arts, and what about this episode or that episode, and he freely admits that he hasn’t read What’s Liberal? It’s kind of astonishing, really.  A kind of curious academic pathology that deserves its very own name.  Any ideas?

    Posted by Michael  on  12/20  at  04:54 PM
  16. How about whining?

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  05:17 PM
  17. Then again, academics probably whine more than they do anything else, so that’s not very specific, is it…


    - just as long as it ends in -ofascism, it’ll be fine.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  05:20 PM
  18. How to Listen Live

    Folks, I wasn’t able to listen to MB on Michael Medved’s show from Medved’s site because I’m not a member.  But I am listening from this site:  http://www.ksky.com

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  05:20 PM
  19. As I have already explained to MB, his book lies somewhere on my “ought to read” list, but doesn’t necessarily jump to the head of the line.  I’m still slogging away at a review (positive) of Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” for “Skeptic”, (having recently cranked out a review (so-so) of Levine’s “Darwin Loves You” for the same journal); in adddition, an old pal who is a physician with academic roots in philosophy has just asked me for a close reading and markup of a book he’s been writing on the role of the Abrahamic religions in generating the mindset that led to the develoment of (anti-teleological and atheistic) modern science.  That one did jump to the head of the line for friendship’s sake.  So in the fullness of time, I’ll read “What’s Liberal.."--but I don’t think I need a cover-to-cover knowledge of that work to discern MB’s attitude and approach.  This blog, for instance, tells me quite a bit.

    As to the case at hand:  I asked MB for his opinion on a situation at Johns Hopkins where a student is getting the royal screw for being a bit overexuberant in advertising a hip-hop themed party at his frat.  He did this on-line on a Facebook site independent of JHU, and was caught out, not by an indignant student, but by some administrative flunky at JHU whose job, apparently, is to prowl the net for unseemly opinions.  The persecution of this kid and assassination of his undergrad career appears to have been the work of a star-chamber like proceeding, where at least one of the student jurors was an officer of an organization that lodged an accusation against the kid.  Student opinion on the whole, insofar as I can gather net-wise, is that the punishment--suspension for a year, plus an obligatory course in thought-reform--is, at the very least, highly excessive.  Meanwhile, the JHU prexy has published a piece claiming that the whole affair is about “civility” and has nothing whatever to do with free-speech issues.  Details my be found at


    and related links.

    Now, obviously, this is a case where someone--a 17-year-old Korean-American--is getting a severe shafting, not from David Horowitz & Co., but from the sort of folks who indignantly decry DH.  In the context of this blog, the question that occurs to me is why MB eagerly takes potshots at squishy-soft targets (like E. Kantor) but shies away from the tough cases, tough because the bad guys overlap to such a great extent with the admirers of “What’s Liberal..” and all that.  For one thing, it’s obvious that cases like the one cited are raw meat to the right-wing blogosphere, as well as to O’Reilly, Hannity, and similar Fox Network
    Gauleiters.  Therefore, if one is really worried about Horowitz-type assaults against the academy, it would seem the first order of business to cut off the Right’s supply of horror stories, rather than augmenting it at frequent intervals.


    Posted by  on  12/20  at  05:41 PM
  20. NL, in what sense of the word is Melville ever apolitical?  Why separate formal innovation and politics?  What’s your reading of Birth of a Nation?

    Love your ID work, BTW.

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  12/20  at  05:46 PM
  21. but may I ask as a Westerner just how much you actually know about the old west and the people who settled it?
    Oh i can’t possibly know anything about the old west and the people who settled it; being a Lakota, we weren’t edumacated before all our land was taken and so many of us killed (and continuing to be killed by neglect, fraud, corruption, uranium toxicity, etc. et al).  However you do need to remember upon which site you are posting and therefore remember that in-jokishness is a rite of posting hereon.  As for politicizing, must be your mirror on the cover of Time you are looking at today, given that Kantor’s view is that all kids need to be conservative kids.  Latin is just all Greek to me, but Lakota can sound like Nakota and Dakota and still make sense; too bad they don’t teach that to conservative kids.

    “Total Transformation” for your children: could there possibly be a more ironic advertisement for the Medved show today??

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  05:54 PM
  22. and while i’m mentioning binaries, does professor/administrator matter? 

    and for SF/anime geeks, how about Trigun/Cowboy Bebop for different ways of picking up on and running with 2001....

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  12/20  at  05:57 PM
  23. spyder is Silko! so is fafblog! 

    any 2001/Almanac of the Dead (or Ceremony) readings out there?

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  12/20  at  06:01 PM
  24. Just finished listening.  I thought you came off very well and got in a few good points, despite the “sound bite” format.  And the last caller cracked me up.  (For what it’s worth, I’m no English major and I thought you spoke quite plainly.  Dr. Kantor is the one who brought up Lyotard and Habermas, etc.  She certainly left me with no desire to read her book.  It sounds like she has one point, which she repeated over and over.)

    On a side note, how do talk radio listeners stand all that advertising?  It seemed like ads took up 70% of the airtime.  (captcha word: radio!)

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  06:08 PM
  25. the question that occurs to me is why MB eagerly takes potshots at squishy-soft targets (like E. Kantor) but shies away from the tough cases

    NL, what the hell blog are you reading?

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  06:12 PM
  26. I liked the bit about silences and Spyder’s point above about big versus small screens and the odd disappointment of the moon landing pictures.  The ship is also oddly sepulchral, with the whiteness and mummy-like spacemen in hibernation.  My experience seeing it when it came out was that the absence of exposition (the movie nonplussed me though I attributed that to being a kid) forced me to scrutinize the pictures a lot more carefully and gave what dialogue there was a lot more weight.

    It does illustrate that having sound, it’s very hard for film-makers not to fill time with it, to the point that I find current pop films in theaters almost unbearably noisy.  One thing I like doing in class with documentary films is asking students to listen for the music—we’re so inured to music in film that often we don’t register that many documentaries have soundtracks, and directing attention to this helps break some of the spell of naturalness that documentaries cast.

    Michael’s essay reminded me of the breathing you hear in the near-silent parts of 2001, especially those moments when you the viewer are claustrophobically inside the helmet of the spacesuit at the same time that you’re outside in the greatest void possible. 

    captcha: first time I tried the captcha space was blank and I couldn’t submit.  Now, appropriately, it’s “hear.” Hal, can I post now please?  Possibly we are, since 2001 came out, a lot more used to the experience of being blown off by machines like automatic telephone systems.  Please listen carefully, because your options are diminishing!

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  06:14 PM
  27. On a side note, how do talk radio listeners stand all that advertising?  It seemed like ads took up 70% of the airtime.

    Just wait until I get my socialist United States!  As I told Michael Medved after the show, then there will be no commercial interruption.

    He laughed, as did Ms. Kantor.  And I told her (quite honestly) that I’m flattered that she read my book.  There’s a lesson there for Professor Levitt!  By all means go ahead and read the thousands of other more important books out there, but hold off on telling me what I do and don’t do until you get around to the actual reading.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  06:24 PM
  28. Michael’s essay reminded me of the breathing you hear in the near-silent parts of 2001, especially those moments when you the viewer are claustrophobically inside the helmet of the spacesuit at the same time that you’re outside in the greatest void possible.

    And I think the decision to go with nothing but the breathing during the EVA sequences was effing brilliant.  Among other things, it reminds you how fragile those bodies are—and I’ll say more about that tomorrow. . . .

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  06:27 PM
  29. So Michael (Dr. Beroobay - You did say you have a Ph.D., didn’t you?), let me see if I have this straight:  When you quote Chaucer you’re too erudite to be understood and therefore must be cut off immediately, yet you are the one who withholds great literature from your students.  You teach postmodern morality in your class because yours is, after all, a morality course.  You haven’t written a book about higher education, or the liberal arts - at least not one that’s worth mentioning - but it’s not too late for me to buy a copy of Kantor’s book before Christmas, and I can read all about you in David Horowitz’s book.

    Is that it?

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  06:28 PM
  30. A kind of curious academic pathology that deserves its very own name.  Any ideas?

    Well, how about (yeah, I’m gonna’ say it, you know I am) “leave-it to Beaver” syndrome? Though, as I recall, the Beav wasn’t the most scholarly type. But then, I guess, that’s the point.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  12/20  at  07:04 PM
  31. Michael,
    Puhleez tell me you know roughly when/where that New Yorker cartoon ("it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand") appeared.  I’m having trouble turning it up...my skillz with The Google are apparently insuffecient.  In my mind’s eye, it’s at least as funny as the “Scotch and toilet water?” dog cartoon.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  07:30 PM
  32. A kind of curious academic pathology that deserves its very own name.  Any ideas?

    Reflexive ass-blowing—brought on by a state of imbalance where one has more answers than available questions. A safety valve.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  12/20  at  08:06 PM
  33. That curious academic pathology?  “Ill-williberalism,” isn’t it?

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  12/20  at  08:21 PM
  34. Eesh. My ears haven’t been subjected to Medved’s show in years. But it did give me a chance to learn that my local conservative talk radio station goes by the call letters WIND. Anyway, good job.

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  08:28 PM
  35. Of course, Foucault’s insight was anticipated much earlier, as so many things were, by Spike Milligan and the Goon Show, a 50s English radio program.  Who can forget their laziest ever show -
    “This, for example, is a splendid example of a Yorkshire silence.”
    “Here, by contrast, is a West Country silence...”
    “and this is a rollicking Cornish silence. You can practically smell the ozone.”
    And at this point who could resist passing on Eccles on epistemology?  Certainly not me.
    “What’s the time, Eccles?”
    “Five o’clock, Bluebottle.” [Note; it helps if you can do the voices, but it’s not compulsory.]
    “How do you know?”
    “I’ve got it written down here on a piece of paper.”
    “What happens if someone comes and wants to know the time and it’s not five o’clock?”
    “If it’s not five o’clock I don’t tell it to them.”
    “But how do you know whether it’s five o’clock or not?”
    “I’ve got it written down here on a piece of paper.”

    Dear dead days.

    Posted by Chris B  on  12/20  at  08:58 PM
  36. No, that second-last line should be
    “But how do you know when it’s five o’clock?”
    Bugger.  I blew the joke.

    Posted by Chris B  on  12/20  at  09:01 PM
  37. "It’s all in the mind, you know.” (Lt. Neddy Seagoon)

    Posted by  on  12/20  at  09:02 PM
  38. Seagoon: I was led through a bead curtain and across a floor so cunningly laid that no matter where you stood it was always under your feet. In the far corner of the tea-room, I could see the sinister oriental saxophonist Fred Fu-Manchu playing strict tempo Chinese ballroom music.

    Fx: Strict tempo Chinese ballroom music plays…

    Seagoon: Finally I was led to a military man reclining on a coolie

    Bloodnok: Aaaah! So you’re the man who’s going to do the job

    Seagoon: Yes

    Bloodnok: So, about the certain English upright rosewood piano

    Seagoon: Yes, where is it?

    Bloodnok: Up river at the Kowgoon Missionary

    Seagoon: Kowgoon? That’s 600 miles away!

    Bloodnok: Is it?

    Grams: Footsteps Running Away Into The Distance, Silence, Footsteps Running Back Towards Microphone

    Seagoon: Yes, it’s exactly 600 miles

    Bloodnok: That’s too far to travel, therefore we shall take the fiendish Chinese river-steamer tonight

    Fx: Gong Strikes

    Seagoon: In the darkness we sat huddled on the fiendish Chinese river-steamer, the silence broken only by the sound of the silence being broken

    Bloodnok: Ah, Seagoon! I’ve just been speaking to the fiendish Chinese Captain, he says we’ll be in Kowgoon at 2300 hours

    Seagoon: What time is that?

    Bloodnok: I don’t know, my watch only goes up to 12

    Seagoon: Curse this fiendish Chinese triple-summertime


    Posted by  on  12/20  at  09:18 PM
  39. Two points, then I’ll slink back into the lurkers’ shadows.

    First, I once wrote up a Lacanian reading of 2001 proposing that the monolith’s first appearance is essentially the formation of the Ideal I: the hominid experience as an inchoate Infans Stage; the symbolic desire to touch the monolith/mirror whether with furry, space-gloved, or wrinkly old hands, etc. The paper was a perky and fun little ditty, maybe, but nothing like the pure funk laid down by MB here.

    Second, can anyone confirm that when Floyd noshes on the shuttle to the moon monolith, the gravity inside the shuttle would not have been the same as earth’s gravity, all evidence to the contrary? When the crew move around and open the sandwich cooler, it appears that they’re in earth gravity without the benefit of gravity-creating devices a la the spinning wheel at the beginning of the humans-in-space sequence.

    Posted by Trout  on  12/20  at  10:12 PM
  40. Well, I did the 2001/Echoes thing.  The music truly is synchronized to the movie.  Remarkable.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  12:00 AM
  41. So Michael (Dr. Beroobay - You did say you have a Ph.D., didn’t you?), let me see if I have this straight:  When you quote Chaucer you’re too erudite to be understood and therefore must be cut off immediately, yet you are the one who withholds great literature from your students.  You teach postmodern morality in your class because yours is, after all, a morality course.  You haven’t written a book about higher education, or the liberal arts - at least not one that’s worth mentioning - but it’s not too late for me to buy a copy of Kantor’s book before Christmas, and I can read all about you in David Horowitz’s book.

    Is that it?

    Um, yes.  That’s about it.  And thanks for listening!

    And you know, my Chaucer point was really not all that arcane; it was a point about the bad faith of people who complain about academic feminism.  Let’s take Kantor’s book as an example:  she construes feminist literary critics as nose-pinching scholars who insist that everything is about women’s oppression, and one of the many sidebars in her book about “what they won’t tell you” suggests (though not in these words) that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are great.  Well, excuse me, but they are great, and feminist critics of Chaucer know it very well; that’s why, when they finally showed up at the faculty club in the 1970s, they said, “hey!  look at this here Wife of Bath who renounces any authority but that of experience and then goes on to deliver a scathing critique of St. Jerome!  Wow!” Far from harping on the way the Big Bad West oppresses women, these feminist critics were crediting a late-fourteenth-century white dude with having created an astonishing, jawdroppingly compelling female character.  But Kantor can’t very well chastise feminist critics for championing Chaucer in this way, now, can she—so she invents evil feminist critics who hate Chaucer and won’t let you read him even though he created this great Wife of Bath character who. . . .

    Oh, you get the idea.  The fact that Medved cut me off by explaining that the Wife of Bath was a “modern” character who tells a “bawdy” tale was just amazing.  But the object lesson here should be simple:  when you invite literary critics to debate, expect them to talk about literature.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  12:04 AM
  42. And confuse Lakota and Laguna!  (Sorry, spyder, but if you are Silko, very clever strategy to hide both your gender and affiliation!)

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  12/21  at  02:31 AM
  43. Hey, I’m not even Catholic and this confession thing feels good.  For my next act (contrition), here’s a link to The Editors’ call for nominations for their prized “Soggy Biscuit Award.” Enjoy:


    captcha:  “present,” as in Hanukah Harry sent me this captcha as a....  Wait--was it HAL?  Maybe he’s making up for his smart-alecky choices a few days ago....

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  12/21  at  02:50 AM
  44. Interesting. I didn’t know academics had “concern trolls.”

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  04:57 AM
  45. ...silence is not an absence of discourse, but an integral part of discourse...

    I’ve often made this argument about voting.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  12/21  at  07:24 AM
  46. Puhleez tell me you know roughly when/where that New Yorker cartoon ("it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand") appeared.

    Sorry I didn’t answer you last night, fuckyb0ss!  I don’t think the Google will help.  If memory serves, it was in the early 1990s, a few years before I wrote the essay.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/21  at  09:29 AM
  47. A kind of curious academic pathology that deserves its very own name.

    RTFM is the rejoinder in the technical community, so I assume RTFB will serve here. But don’t have a name for persistent RTFBism, perhaps something from one of the clueless profs in Gulliver but I can’t really say, since it has been a long time since I last RTFB.

    <various silences on ‘50s English radio show>
    ... and the John Cage score added a lot to the effect as well. (or maybe they were in fact very early Infiniti(?) commercials.)

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  10:10 AM
  48. there will be no commercial interruption.

    Beacause the revolution will not be televised.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  10:17 AM
  49. The topic of Justin Park’s racist invitation to his fraternity’s racist Halloween party (is there anything that could demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education more than a simulated lynching?) may be best avoided until Dr. Bérubé brings it up.

    However, it seems to me that this isn’t a matter of “suppression of free speech;” it’s a matter of “here are the consequences of your saying and doing things that are unacceptable.” It’s much like how laws don’t prevent you from committing a crime; they specify a punishment when you do.

    If the punishment that Johns Hopkins handed down seems excessive to you, consider that they could have simply hired a couple of African-American males with the ability to beat the stew out of Mr. Park while his fraternity brothers were forced to watch. These days, though, for some reason, universities seem much more apt to use persuasion than brutality.

    Posted by  on  12/21  at  10:11 PM
  50. 49 from eco2geek:

    “The topic of Justin Park’s racist invitation to his fraternity’s racist Halloween party (is there anything that could demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education more than a simulated lynching? [etc.]”

    A fascinating exercise in self-refutation.  Any thoughts on when and how this style of rhetoric, supersaturated as it is with non sequiturs, gained currency?


    Posted by  on  12/21  at  11:29 PM
  51. Now I know why they ignored you.

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:48 AM
  52. FWIW Johns Hopkins is in Klan country. In the Spring of 1966 the Klan burned a cross on campus to welcome Bayard Rustin, who’d been invited to speak through the Chaplain’s Office. So Hopkins likely to be very sensitive to racist rhetoric. What Park and his fraternity did was dumb beyond belief. Aggressively tauntingly “come get me” dumb. They got what they asked for.

    Reminds me of a college hockey coach coach who called the only black player on the team a “n_____” while chewing him out in front of the rest of the team. The man couldn’t understand what he’d done wrong, after all, he pleaded, “they use the word among themselves.”

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  12/22  at  07:42 AM
  53. A kind of curious academic pathology that deserves its very own name.  Any ideas?


    a- Gr. “not”
    lect- L. “reading”
    o- “but”
    graph- Gr. “writing”
    -ia Gr. and L. “anyway, pathologically”

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  11:12 AM
  54. Curiouser and curioser!  JHU is supposed to kick out a kid for the crime of doing a bad imitation of an MTV announcer on Facebook at the behest of his frat, because the KKK trespassed on JHU property 40 years ago.  Wonderful logic.

    Meanwhile, “The Wire” is solemnly honored by all the bien-pensants for its supposedly no-holds-barred depiction of the bleakness of life in the Baltimore ghetto.

    Meanwhile, the president of JHU, who pontificates, sophistically, on the disjunction between “free speech” and “civility” issues, remains secure in his job--this despite the fact that the guy--an MD and biomedical engineer--gets paid a fee of $80,000/yr for sitting on the board of Medtronics (the pacemaker giant), a company which does lots of business with the Med School and hospital branches of JHU.

    Meanwhile, theprofessionally self-righteous, ever eager to dress themselves in a little brief authority, conveniently forget that a university has no positive obligation to retaliate against a student or faculty member who expresses racist opinions (not tht this has anything to do with the Justin Park case), and, indeed, has a positive obligation NOT to retaliate.  This is an important instance of what is meant by “free speech,” assuming that that notion hasn’t been fatally attenuated by (in this instance) the hit men and women of the supposed “left”.


    Posted by  on  12/22  at  11:21 AM
  55. Not too strong on logic yourself, NL. What’s “The Wire” have to do with it?

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  12/22  at  01:55 PM
  56. B. Benzon:

    In contrast to the lighthearted, essentially harmless, if silly and sophomoric, Facebook posting by Mr. Park, “The Wire” earnestly depicts the black community of Baltimore as the source of an endless stream of murderers, thugs, and predators.  Which is more “racist”.  Has JHU done anything to ban “The Wire” from reaching the tender eyes and ears of its students?  What would you say if it did something of the sort?


    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:08 PM
  57. Though I’ve not see the program, I know about it. I’m not aware of anyone complaining that it depicts a situation that doesn’t exist, though I can imagine that some people would prefer not to be reminded of the world depicted in the program.

    I still don’t see what that has to do with that fraternity party and the notice advertising it.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  12/22  at  02:47 PM
  58. Alectographia!  I love it!

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  02:53 PM
  59. ...a university has no positive obligation to retaliate against a student or faculty member who expresses racist opinions (not tht this has anything to do with the Justin Park case), and, indeed, has a positive obligation NOT to retaliate.

    What an amazing statement.

    Johns Hopkins’ administration disagrees with you, and it has everything to do with the Justin Park case.

    I’m a working stiff, not an academic. Here in the “real world,” if I did something like Park and his fraternity did and it became a workplace issue (which is not too great a stretch), I’d be penalized for exercising my “freedom of speech” by getting fired.

    Captcha: school, as in, “When Levitt has his own school, the Ward Churchills of the world will have a home.”

    Posted by  on  12/22  at  05:33 PM
  60. I move that “The Wire” be suspended from Johns Hopkins.

    Posted by Justin Case  on  12/22  at  10:46 PM
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