Escape Velocity Girl

“A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet…”
November 7, 2010, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Real Worlds, Uncategorized

The ghostly, ghastly pickled putti in Lena Herzog’s Lost Souls, never having been alive, cannot be said to be dead – but rather exist pre-life in perpetuum, pallid as Riftia pachyptila and destined to swim (literally) in the same (figurative) darkness. Herzog traces the practice of preserving such “anomalous” fetuses to the Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities, of the 16th-18th centuries; these proto-museums combined objets d’art and objets d’science in an undifferentiated continuum of wonders, intellectual Edens uncorrupted by categorization, in which a real-“life” baby in a bottle might share a shelf with a rosy-cheeked painted representation thereof.

“Wonder” is the key concept: just as such cabinets were meant to collect objects of and inspire feelings of, so too is a sense of wonder a hallmark of science fiction, expressed as “an appreciation of the sublime, whether natural, such as the rings of Saturn, or technological: a space station or rocket ship.” And indeed sf as a genre breaks down, vaults over, or renegotiates the modern atomization of science and art; astrophysics dressed in literary drag or vice versa (just as Leiden University’s “Mouse Orchestra, or The Rhapsody of Death” twists itsy-bitsy rodent osteo-anatomy into a fictional tableau).

Wunderkammern became particularly popular with the discovery of the New World, which, in its very improbability destigmatized credulity; if a land beyond the sea exists, why not a fountain of youth? Or, for that matter, an interstellar Japanoiserie amniotic bubble, à la Aronofsky’s The Fountain? If narwhales, why not unicorns? Which (at least in this post’s artificial formulation) begs the question: what is that discovery that will re-enable or re-allow wonder when it comes to the possibilities of space travel (as reflected in science fiction), that will reignite the collective excitement that accompanied such early space age events as the lunar landing? The discovery of Gliese 581g, a purportedly habitable planet a mere hop, skip and 200 trillion kilometers away, is apparently not sufficient, having registered as little more than a blip in our ouroborotic news cycle. Or, somewhat depressingly, is “wonder” an incarnation not of intellectual excitement, but rather of avarice at the prospect of material enrichment? Perhaps those bewigged, be-bloomered blue bloods carefully curated their cabinets not to reflect their encyclopedic curiosity, but because all those yellow nuggets, Quetzalcoatl feathers and savage specimens represented serious “bank.”

Economics is the driving factor behind exploration, which means that, until we can quantify space travel in terms of dollars, cents, flatscreens bought and unobtainium obtained, it will continue to trigger little more than a collective “meh.”



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I’m going to need you to stop whatever it is you’re doing and post some more.

Comment by Oof

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