In 1921, archaeologist Cyrus Atherton discovered a scroll on the island of Malta reputed to be a relic from the last days of the fabled city of Atlantis. It contained a prophecy... at the stroke of midnight of the new millenium, 2001, a new "first" human would emerge. Not yet female or male but still a fully sensual and sexual being, the "innocent" would search for its creator and thereby reveal to the world the next stage of evolution... maharanda.
These words opened a play I wrote entitled, Maharanda. Completely fictional, the concept is based on a theme that has permeated every culture in every period of history: the ultimate appearance of the "messiah", the answer.
The history of our species as perceived through this theme is a series of movements, like a series of master scenes. The first movement ended with the evolution of language extended to the evolution of writing. The second closed with the discovery of the sub-atomic world and extended into so-called artificial intelligence, the electronic computer. The third, scene three, just recently faded to black in a Swedish laboratory where quietly, nearly unheralded, human thoughts and part of a memory were downloaded to an external silcon chip.
And now, the 4th Scene begins... the light slowly fades in on a new world. No death: immortality, timeless life. A brave new world. As this current scene in which we live extends over the coming years, there may be many less humans on the planet, almost no warfare, an end to pain, disease, poverty, and almost no suffering. Great joy and great hope?
Or the distant voice of Peggy Lee singing: "Is that All There Is?"
Huxley was right and it scared the hell out of him.
My life-long love affairs with books, music, and film. For the life of me, I cannot throw away a book... no matter how insipid, or useless, or decrepit. I have paperbacks, from a time when they cost only 50 cents, that are yellowed and fragile like ancient texts. I cannot break off the intimate, secret relationships, all the things we've been through together. Recent surveys show that less than 45% of the U.S. population read books (or magazines or newspapers, for that matter). The numbers are similar in Europe and much higher in many other countries. The obvious and most demeaning factor is the explosion of digital media--the pixel is replacing the ink drop.
The internet, in its quick-fix, here and there way of comprehension, doesn't lend itself to reading books. Amazon notwithstanding, the experience of reading a book on a screen is like dining alone in a delicious Italian restaurant--the intimacy of sharing is missing, in this case, the sharing of your mind with the mind of the writer. You can't get through the glass. As with all screen media activities, you're passive, sitting there as the display takes you along. With a printed book, you can touch each page with its not-perfect paper and its not-perfect ink. To experience a printed book, you have to join it. You and the writer talk to each other and share, almost as if you and the writer were the same (think bicameral mind). You don't need an on-off switch or batteries or protocols or rules. You just need light and quiet privacy. And if you're visually impaired, you have the voice of a reader, holding a book,
almost as if it were the voice of the writer, which sometimes it is.
This may all seem a bit odd coming from me as you read what I write on a screen in Scene4 Magazine, which is now an electronic publication, designed as a print publication but presented only on the web, not by choice. Some years ago, a group approached Aviar proposing investment financing to take this magazine back into printed distribution. Given its large readership and the idiosyncrasy of its content, they believed that it should have a printed edition (to preserve its "intimacy") and that it would make a profit (which was equally important to them). After much discussion and some irreconcilable editorial differences, they realized that only 45% of the readership was in the U.S. and reading was on the decline. It deserved a print edition, said they, but who would eventually read the paper&ink?
With music... a similar nostalgia, perhaps, with the 33LP vinyls. For CD's, no. They're too disposable, can't see the face, the grooves. For film... only the celluloid, the frame-by-frame pictures that look at me when I hold the strip up to the light. I can remember the thrill of my first projector and my first palpable movie... it was The Bride Of Frankenstein, and it was all mine. I rolled it over and over again in a little bedroom on the wall. Imagine, owning a film when very few people did! For videotape, no. Can't see a thing. The tiny magnetic bars dance in their own dimension, and exclude any touch and feel. For DVD's, no. And now for the 0s & 1s of digital reproduction, no. They're all too disposable and there's nothing to see or smell.
The reason I collect these works of art and non-art is because they are part of my time continuum. They exist with me in the present, spread out in all space-time directions, and they are my friends. So I visit with my friends from time to time. I revisit the conversations and the images and the sounds that have placed me into the views of myself and the galaxy I drift in.
My friend Rune once said: If you live in the past, you have no future. And, if you live in the future, you have no present. But all you really have is the present as it rolls and curves in space-time in all directions at once.Yet, sometimes, at the edges, if there are edges, there are tiny, tiny sounds, tiny pieces of melodies? of voices? of images that can be heard but not seen? When the sky is clear and dark, when the wind is steady and plain, when the memories are quiet and the breath is almost silent... tiny sounds beckon, everywhere.