Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hitchcock and the lanternfish camera: or, an experiment with drugs and dreaming

Yesterday a reader of this blog upset by my criticisms of that Kiwi cultural treasure Te Radar and by my use of the words 'imperialism' and 'New Zealand' in the same sentence accused me of lacking any sense of my own absurdity. Rather than reply directly to such a serious charge, I thought I'd get around to posting about a rather absurd experiment I made a couple of months ago.

I've blogged occasionally about the opioids I use to help control the pain from an old nerve injury, and about the strange dreams these drugs sometimes produce. After I described the very light sleep that the opioid tramadol gives me, and the dreams of floating on or flying above the Pacific Ocean that seem to accompany this light sleep, a numbers of readers discussed their own experiences with drugs and dreams. Richard Taylor confessed to a fear of tramadol-induced states of consciousness, Keri Hulme recommended dark chocolate as an aid to dreaming, and a chap named Sven revealed he used opioids solely for their dream-inducing effects.

Three months ago I abandoned tramadol in favour of another opioid called dihydrocodeine. Where tramadol kept me on the borderland between waking and sleep, dihydrocodeine makes me sleep very deeply. Skyler is less than impressed with the drug, because it makes me sleep right through the occasional night-time cry-fests of our baby son. While she's forced out of bed to comfort the poor little lad at two or three in the morning, I'm snoring away contentedly in the land of dihydrocodeine.

Like tramadol, dihydrocodeine gives me vivid and extraordinarily detailed dreams, which are often repeated night after night. But where tramadol sent me flying and floating over land and seascapes, my dihydrocodeine dreams often have an oddly pedagogical quality. All too often, they keep me indoors, in a  classroom or the corner of a crowded room at a party, and make me listen to someone's academic lecture or drunken confession. These orations seem profound while I sleep, and then either nonsensical or tedious, or both, after I wake.
I assume that the dihydrocodeine dreams occur while I am descending into and rising from the depths of sleep, and I guess that their length and detail might be due to the length of time it takes me to descend to and ascend from such depths.

At about the time I started to use dihydrocodeine I came across a copy of Graham Greene's posthumous book A World of my Own, which is a selection of entries from the dream diaries the novelist kept for twenty-five years. Greene describes dreams about a Nazi invasion of Britain, a journey up a Colombian river with a cheery Henry James, and spying missions for both Mi5 and the KGB. In the introduction to A World of my Own, which was written in the last months of his life, Greene looks back over his career and reveals that he often used dreams to determine the course and outcome of his novels and short stories. He would go to bed thinking of a story he was trying to write, and find whatever he needed - the right twist of a plot, the necessary supporting character, the essential setting for an event - in a dream.
One night when I was having a few beers with Paul Janman I mentioned Graham Greene's way with dreams, and suggested half-jokingly that we might use the same method to generate the themes and course of the film we have been meaning to make about the history of Auckland's Great South Road. Because of other, more pressing projects, rather than any lack of enthusiasm, Paul and I hadn't been able to give as much time as we would like to the Great South Road film. We haven't had time, for instance, to sort out the itinerary for my journey down the road, and the list of people I should interview. What would happen, I asked Paul, if we tried to work on the movie in our sleep? Perhaps we could drive the project forward without even blinking an eyelid? Paul was enthusiastic about the idea, and I promised to try to dream some of the details of our Great South Road film.

A few nights after my chat with Paul I took my regulation dose of dihydrocodeine, watched fragments from several of my favourite movies and from Paul's documentary Tongan Ark, flicked solemnly through my collection of old photos of the Great South Road, and resolved, as I was drifting off to sleep, to work imaginatively on our stalled documentary. I dreamt nothing so coherent, and so tried the same formula a couple of nights later. The dream that resulted from this experiment is recorded in all its curious detail below.

I thought the dream was probably meaningless, except to some Freudian or Jungian psychiatrist able to find significance in the silliest images, but Paul seems convinced that Alfred Hitchcock was offering us an obscure message, and wants to repeat the experiment.

[Great South Road Project Dream Log Entry # 1 5/5/12, 2:37 a.m.]

I was standing at the lending desk of the University of Auckland library, watching a young man with skin so white it was almost translucent run some kind of sensor over my library card. The young man squinted at the dreadlocked twenty-something version of myself on the library card, looked up at my bald, middle-aged head, then turned his attention to the screen of his computer. After a silence that might have lasted a minute, he began to recite, in a sonorous, solemn voice, a list of books my younger self had borrowed and then forgotten or lost, and the fine that was due for each of these books.

As the librarian went on and on, giving the author, title, publisher, and fine for each book, I imagined him as a pedantic priest reciting one of the lists in Deuteronomy to a dismayed congregation.

I realised how foolish I had been to believe that I could return, even after an interval of years, to this scene of my old crimes, especially when I was wielding the same library card I had used to commit those crimes.

As the young man's litany continued, I remembered that my wallet was empty, and began to wonder whether I would be allowed to leave the library without paying at least some portion of my fines. What non-monetary service might I provide, to compensate these policemen and women of the printed word for the losses I had caused them? I remembered a scene in a movie where restaurant patrons could not afford to pay for their meals, and had to wash stacks of dishes before they were allowed to go home. Perhaps I could put in a few weeks work in the library's bindery, gluing maroon-coloured replacement covers onto copies of Foucault for Beginners and Zizek on Film?

I was about to suggest a period of penance in the bindery when a shoal of students - I knew they were students, because the males amongst them had hair on the crowns of their heads - begun to move towards the building's exit, pushing through turnstiles and waiting noisily for large glass doors to slide open. "It's Hitchcock" the librarian said, interrupting his litany. "He turned up half an hour ago - he's giving a guest lecture".

Taking my opportunity to escape, I pushed my way into another crowd of students surging towards the library exit. In a few seconds I was outside the building, and following the crowd across Princes Street, into the steel and glass ruin-in-waiting that makes an admirable home for the Owen Glenn School of Business. Alfred Hitchcock had, I gathered, commandeered the largest of the half-dozen lecture halls in Glenn's building.

The hall was very dark, but I could hear the sucking and sighing of hundreds of lungs in the rows of seats that fell away to a small stage lit dimly by an invisible source. I stood in an aisle and watched Hitchcock, who was dressed in a powder-blue suit, begin his oration.
"I have come to talk about zoology, not film studies" Hitchcock announced, as giggles and whispers spread through the audience. "I want to talk, in particular, about the ecology of the camera. It is common for us to imagine, in the era of modernity, that technological change inevitably accompanies the passage of time - that one increasingly powerful and efficient device inevitably replaces another, as years and decades pass. That the gramophone and its heavy disc begat the record, which begat the compact disc, which begat the MP3. That the wet plate begat the polaroid, which begat the digital image. But what if technological change worked the other way? What if species de-evolved?"

I noticed that two tanks filled with dirty-looking water sat on the stage behind Hitchcock. In one of the tanks, a large fish with a single, dull green eye and a jutting jaw full of ill-fitting teeth swam motionlessly.

"This is a mutant lanternfish" Hitchcock announced, gesturing at the appalling creature. "Now look in the other tank, where one of my cameras swims. Look at its eye, which has turned green with slime. Note the way that the buttons that control its various functions have fallen off it, and drift about like pellets of fish food. See how the creature's leather sides are rotting, like the boots of drowned sailors. This camera barely works, when I rescue it from its green ocean. And yet it works."
Lights flickered in the tiered seats, and for a moment I imagined that the young men and women who had gathered to hear Hitchcock were holding cigarette lighters aloft, like fans during a ballad at a U2 concert. But the lights belonged to cellphones. The great film-maker was being filmed by a hundred hands.

"This morning, before any of you knew I was around, I shot some footage in your school." As Hitchcock spoke a screen slid into place behind him, and a film began to play on it. We watched shaky footage of one of the long narrow corridors of the Owen Glenn building. After a few seconds a door onto the corridor began to open slowly, as though the person behind it were pushing against a great weight. As the first of a series of students emerged, the air seemed to ripple. When the students walked up the corridor, towards the camera, their bodies became strangely elongated. Necks and shins stretched, exposing inch after inch of pale green skin. The creatures on the screen opened their mouths to speak, and then to laugh, but all we heard in the hall was a single prolonged gurgling noise, like the sound a bath makes when it drains.

"I regret Psycho" Hitchcock said quietly, as the images on the screen behind him faded to a green fuzz.
"All that panicked editing, all those shots, those endless changes of view. Seventy-two shots for the shower scene alone. I cut time into little pieces, like a child torturing a worm. And the subdivision of consciousness has followed the subdivision of time. The brain's attention span is getting shorter and shorter."

Hitchcock paused for a few seconds, then continued. "Put away Psycho and study The Rope, the film I made with a single shot. The camera has to de-evolve, lose its speed and range and focus, lose its digital memory. The camera has to be a primitive, ancient eye, the eye of a lanternfish, an eye that operates ten thousand feet under the surface of the sea, where the sun is a splinter of green light strained through layered nets of seaweed. The lanternfish generates its own light, green and bacterial, and hunts by it - "

I had taken the silence of the audience to be a sign of its reverence for Hitchcock. Now, though, boos and jeers were falling on the little man on the little stage, and balls and darts of paper followed. The lights of the hall flicked on, and a handful of students began to run down an aisle towards the stage. "Grab that camera!" one of them shouted. "You've made us into monsters! Get that fish!"

Before his critics could reach him, though, Hitchcock flicked his wrist, and sent the screen behind him flying up to the ceiling. Behind the screen a dark grey internal wall of the Owen Glenn Building had been replaced by a rough slope of limestone where a green rivulet ran. In the centre of the limestone outcrop was a huge, ochre-coloured fish with a single staring eye. I wasn't sure whether the fish was a massive fossil, or a crudely executed cave painting. The lecture hall was silent again.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous libcom said...

i come to this site for the serious politics - not infantile pseudo-surrealism.

6:52 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Brilliant Scott!! Fuck the politics of dry old "libcom" etc. Keep writing like this: dreams or drugs or whatever!! You've nailed it this time!

These prose poems / dream-real or real-dream things are the ticket for sure. You have evolved your own style.

(I had "cracked it" but realized the silly pun it was in time...)

9:30 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott - unrelated - I heard Bill Direen reading (his own) poem last night on The Concert Programme's "Sound Lounge" which is on Tuesday nights run by Kate Mead. She has a lot of innovative music of all kinds. She was enthusiastic about Bill's poem and the great piano music accompanying it. It was good. Brett may have known about it.

Sound Lounge is worth checking out. There are composers writing or creating right now and back to Varese and earlier maybe to but about 60% or more is late 20th to 21st Century composers of all kinds.

9:59 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Yes, what kind of narrow soul can fail to find the political content of this kind of work? This is liberating on a level that no amount of socialist blather can achieve. Not that I'm denigrating socialism... I just prefer the socialism of the carnival... the grotesque mind flips - anything but infantile.

11:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:11 am  
Anonymous libcom said...

oh yeah its political. i bet john key is shaking in the beehive. political my ass!

7:55 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

It's only as an aesthetic phenomenon that everything is eternally justified. Libcom probably does some good work but it sounds temporary. Might need to broaden their horizons or wind up very sad.

10:39 am  
Anonymous libcom said...

sorry i don't know those big empty theoretical terms i'm only working class you see

wot's that you ask?????/

10:56 am  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

You obviously know what pseudo-surrealism means. The only emptiness here is your attempt to ride your class status. Please don't insult your own intelligence. If kids from the bush in Tonga can learn Aristotle then you can afford to make an effort.

11:55 am  
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11:57 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but hey bro, seriously, what the does this mean?

"It's only as an aesthetic phenomenon that everything is eternally justified."

1:48 pm  
Anonymous libcom said...

it's art wank comrade take no notice

1:56 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

It's a line from Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy". I take it to mean that without some form of disturbing beauty, any human rant will eventually lie down on its side and come to nothing.

By disturbing beauty he means something that is both from the deep and the surface at the same time - like a dream image that feeds on worldly events and rearranges them for some subversive purpose or to aspire to a kind of great utopian symmetry

Marx seems to aspire to the same end, primarily in the political sphere. The three great liberating critics of modernity - Marx, Freud and Nietzsche all complement each other.

3:22 pm  
Anonymous libcom said...

hey paul nietzsche was admired by much for your philosophy!

4:43 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think you will find his nae was Friedrich Nietzsche and his writings were distorted by his own sister after his death. There is a YouTube on it...

Basically libcom, the tragedy is that you don't know fuck all.

How old are you? Do mummy and daddy know you are using a computer?

6:44 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"name" that should be...

Maps - it's a pity you have to take the dihydrocodeine - be good if they could fix this injury.

You don't want to be boozing on it!

But, if some kind of "better society" is ever to be achieved (and humans haven't shown much promise of that - we are not really anymore superior, as Richard Dawkns rightly points out,than rats or even earthworms; and they in fact are more "successful" in evolutionary terms - so anything could happen. The sun could explode tomorrow. Despite advances etc (and most social/economic/political (etc), advances have come because of mass production (long live Henry Ford!) and the technology associated with Capitalism not socialism (which is not to say that some form of Socialism might not replace Capitlalism, but who can see the future?) -

But whatever economic or ideological system we stumble into we will still need posts and artists and so on.

Of course we maybe should still try to be "human" etc. That is about as much as we can do. We can make some gestures towards "progress" but we are all ultimately faced with death - so for us all - the questions of life love and "deep" meaning remain, and the age old basic questions continue. There is really nothing new under the sun as Xenopolius Cragulus said in 203 BC - but he added - but we can be joyful there is sun and we can take pleasure in it's generosity and warmth when we are well.

7:00 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Bother! "posts" - oops - should be "poets"

By "need" poets (we don't necessarily "need" poetry or music or art) I mean we will need (or like to have a lot?) more than work. We "need" to have fun as well as make progress! Or if our profess means we cant be creative etc we have not, indeed, really made progress (however one defines that.)

7:05 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Another typo! "Process" is "progress"...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................

7:07 pm  
Anonymous libcom said...

hey great...another holier-than-thou ivory tower art-wanker telling me a worker how much i don't know

9:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that fish floating in the sea or in Outer Space?

11:32 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Riding your class status again libcom. It's an unproductive excuse for not working. Richard has toiled for many years in all kinds of jobs and still does with his poetry and reading. Time to quit the insults. If you don't have time for artistic work then either offer a cogent argument or get out of this kitchen.

9:42 am  
Blogger Richard said...

libcom - you've lost track - Maps started by saying he was himself maybe being a bit dour about Radar, then showed his "inner side",(in some ways his own "silliness" [we all have our "silly ides"] and then he wohsed how he had turned his pain and the drugs he takes into kind of prose poem to show a humouresque? other? side of himself...rather than a long moan.

It all means that the picture is much more complex than say "it's all about class struggle" or something. But it doesn't mean he has abandoned the real or non dream world BUT that dream or "inner" world is part of what makes up the totality of the real world.

You might be worker but that is not ALL you are.

Paul is right, I've never been in any ivory tower. I'm not an academic (not that being such is not good), but the "highest" I got to I suppose was being technician, ebofre aht Iwaslinean and abeofe ath I ah amnymostly labouring jobs and atone sate I was a deleagte for teh Freezinfg workers union. Iahev laso beenin amny protests fro the VItenam war days to 1981 (hwere I was battened)and more lately Iprteted against the SAS going to Afgahnistan etc

But being "in reality" or being worker doesn't mean you cant take an interest in art or literature etc Or films or whatever. Maps is showing diversity. Showing that 9as seen in his study say of
E.P.Thompson that the world is not just x versus y there are more variables so to speak...

And pain, Marxism, good as it is, doesn't have a ready answer to pain. I was being a bit tongue in cheek with some of my comments, and maybe was bit unnecessarily abusive, but I still think that from his "affliction" Maps has created an interesting "art from" etc


8:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The seven year cycle of Apocalypse, the unveiling, began January 20, 2009, when Obama the usurper took control of America. Revelation 6:2.

"And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer."

On January 20, 2010 we entered year two of the Obama Nation of desolation. Revelation 6:3-4.

"And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.

And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."

Obama the obsessed is unrelentingly driven to fulfill his Marxist Progressive agenda. He does not rest. There shall never be peace in Obama's reign. Obama as commander in chief controls the greatest sword on earth, the American military. However, the great sword he uses against his opponants is the sword of his lying tongue.

Obama's tongue pours forth a river of devious devising deception and cunning ruse. If one set of lies does not yield Obama his goal then another set of lies pours forth, until this spoiled egocentric brat gets his own way.

Obamacare is the tool by which this usurper intends to establish absolute control over every individual in America. It is the power of life and death to be administered by the government and for the governments purposes.

Obama like Judas the betrayer before him, manipulates the people behind the mask of Marxist progressive humanism. When Judas saw Mary of Bethany annoint the feet of Jesus Christ, he complained. John 12:5-8.

11:09 am  
Anonymous Keri Hulme said...

Fascinatingly erratic comments you get Scott!
Always appreciate Richard T but - cheeezus! some of the others are either fanatics/nutters/or so indocrinated (o! you're right! they're all the same - unthinking twits...)

Except for the enduring - even saintly! - patience Richard exhibits, I would'nt've bothered with this comment. But - you have a greatly appreciative group of readers out here- dont let the bastards wear you down-

10:53 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I know Scott appreciates your comments here Keri. Many (radical or left leaning?) people seem to think hat if we have some kind of wonderful social-political revolution no one will want to "do art" or anything or there wont be anyone in pain (as Maps is with his his elbow). Or that dreams will stop happening? (Dark chocolate or not!)

When I was younger I got quite fanatical but now more realistic without thinking tha all is lost!

And Scott's point was in a sense to say, o.k., I've said some heavy things (about Radar etc), so here is my own "weakness", here is me being light (about my life etc) but also serious...and so on.

But the point is lost (pearls before wine?).

I'm not so saintly, it's just that I contain multitudes of contradictions!

As was once said of me: "Richard's mind is like an enormous ice cream."

Maps keeps the anons on. Fair enough, but I think any anon forfeits rights to be taken too seriously. No?

6:32 pm  
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