‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book III, Chapter One

2032, Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas, Venezuela

Sergeant Dan Miller, of the United City States Army, Exxon-Mobil Division, saluted Captain Finch as both of them were about to enter their office in their nine-year-old military installation. Both men had coffees in their hands, and they’d just finished lunch.

“Did you have a good lunch, sir?” Miller asked as his saluting hand came down.

“Yes, I did, Dan,” Finch said as his came down and they entered. “How about you?”

“Oh, fine, sir. I must say, I like the food here much better than I did in the Samsung base in Seoul, where I was posted a couple years ago. I hate kimchi, but the corn, rice, and beans here are a lot better. I’m so glad we kicked all the commies out of this place, that old Maduro government, and that Exxon-Mobil is running things in Caracas.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Finch said, looking away and his smile fading. “This whole continent is our backyard. We have far better use for the locals’ oil reserves than they do. Anyway, have those reports on my desk by 1400J.”

“Yes, sir,” Miller said, and went over to the filing cabinet, which was on the wall opposite to Finch’s office, where Finch went in and closed the door.

A minute later, Sergeant Judy West, of the Shell Oil Company’s air force, entered the office. “Good afternoon, Sergeant,” she said.

“Hi, Sergeant,” he said, looking away from his files. “How can I help you today?”

“Oh, I was just wondering if you were aware of any reports of alien activity here in Amazonas.”

“Not much of anything,” he said. “How’s things going in Africa, with the airstrikes and the drones spraying those glowing little bastards?”

“Well, after a year of it, we’ve killed many of them, but they’ve killed many more of ours,” she said. “At best, it’s been a stalemate; at worst, it could become Vietnam and Afghanistan, all over again.”

“Fuck,” he grunted. “Why can’t the good guys win, for a change?”

“I know how you feel,” she said, looking away and frowning. “Anyway, do you know of any rumours that there could be carriers of the aliens among us? Not necessarily here in this base, but maybe in other bases in South America, American soldiers who could be possessed by those little balls of light?”

“I’ve heard a rumour or two, a few suspicions, but nothing more than that.”

“Can you name any names of suspected military people?” she asked. “Even the vaguest lead could help.”

“No, no names, sorry. I wish I knew some, I really wish I did. I’d love to have an opportunity or two to fuck them up. I hate those sons o’ bitches.”

“Oh, I know the feeling,” she said with a sigh and a scowl. “If you learn of anything, just let me know. Here’s my name card.” She gave it to him.

“Thanks,” he said, taking it and putting it in his pocket. “In the meantime, though, I have my trusty can of bug spray here.” He gestured to it, fastened to his belt, as was standard for all military uniforms. “The very second I see any of them, my first reaction won’t be to call you, understand. Instead, I’ll zap the shiny little cocksuckers. Watch ’em die like the little cockroaches they are.”

“Well, you may encounter them pretty soon in the future,” she said. “We have intelligence that they’re infiltrating the whole Global South: not only here and Africa, but also Southeast Asia.”

“I’d enjoy a chance to kill some of ’em,” he said, with his back to her and looking at his files again. “Bring ’em on.”

“You may get that chance sooner than you think.”

“Oh?”

He looked behind.

His eyes and mouth widened.

Those glowing little bastards were flying from her fingers.

He got out his can of bug spray as quick as lightning and sprayed the half dozen of them that flew out in front. They all fell, tapping and bouncing on the wooden floor beside him.

“You little whore!” he shouted, reaching for a pistol he had hidden in the filing cabinet, in case of alien carrier emergency. He pointed it at her. “Now it’s time for you to die, you alien carrier bitch.”

But before he could pull the trigger, Bolshivarian balls of light were entering him in his back. Shaking and grunting in pain, he pointed the gun up to the ceiling and pulled the trigger.

Click.

He still had the safety on.

Still shaking and grunting, he dropped the gun and fell to the floor. The familiar red cracks were showing all over his face and hands.

Luckily for his assailants, his grunts of pain weren’t loud enough to attract the attention of anyone outside. West and Finch approached Miller, looked down with blank expressions at him from either side of his fidgeting body, and watched him begin to rip apart, tearing holes in his uniform.

“Open the window,” Finch told her. “We need to get the toxins out of the room.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, walking around Miller and the sprayed area to get to the window.

Finch watched as Miller’s flesh was ripping open, exposing his brain, trachea, stomach, bladder, and leg muscles. His ribcage was broken out wide open, like two doors to a welcoming entrance, to expose his heart and lungs. His uniform shirt and pants were in shreds.

The torn-open innards had mouth-like holes formed in them, grunting, “No. No. No. No. Get out. Get out of me.”

“It’s a good thing most of everyone else is still at lunch,” Finch said. “We can’t have anyone seeing this.”

Miller’s body exploded, spraying his blood everywhere. Finch and West dodged the red spray in time, getting only a minimal amount of tiny dots of blood on their uniforms.

“I’ll go outside and use our energy to influence everyone to stay away from this office,” Finch said, heading for the door outside. “Our Bolshivarian technology fortunately can clean up this mess far quicker than human hands. Then we can honour our fallen ones lying there among his body parts.”

“Yes, sir,” she said in a choked-up voice, watching him go out the door.

The remaining balls of light came out of her, careful to keep their distance from the bug spray toxins still in the air. The lights pushed the toxins out the window; then they made the blood disappear off the walls, Miller’s desk, her uniform, and the floor. It was a slow fading away of red, but it was ultimately faster than rags, a bucket of water, and mops would have been.

Once Miller’s body parts were picked up and disposed of, she had time to look at the marble-like balls on the floor, those that used to glow with life.

Before picking them up for burial, she needed a moment to weep for them.

Beggars

Head
down,
arms stretched out
and kneeling,

eyes
wet,
on the sidewalk,
feeling

cold
and
dirty. Lost
outside,

with
no
hope, no home,
no pride.

A
hat
before you, filled
with change,

but
no
one wants to
rearrange

your
life,
to fill those hands
with love,

and
help
you, luckless,
get out of

the
pit
of pennilessness,
shame,

and
see
who really is to
blame.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Twelve

Back in their hotel in Luanda that night, Peter, Michelle, and Bob slept much better than the night before. The Bolshivarian lights in Bob’s body gave him a psychic connection with Phil that soothed him to sleep; some of those lights also flew into Peter’s and Michelle’s room to soothe them to sleep with the energy of their parents.

Michelle especially slept like a baby. Her connection with her parents felt so comforting, it was almost as if they’d never died. She felt the Bolshivarians to be the surest of friends.

Peter enjoyed no less restful a sleep, hearing the loving words of his parents’ energy calming him. Still, though he enjoyed his sleep and woke up the next morning thoroughly refreshed, he wasn’t sure if it was his parents that had lulled him into such a perfect sleep, or just the skillful, yet deceptive, charm of the Bolshivarians.

The next morning, after breakfast, Bob apprised Peter and Michelle of the situation regarding the American response to the Bolshivarian takeover of Africa.

“The first of the airstrikes is coming today,” he told them. “The Bolshivarians informed me of their plan to engage the fighter planes and drones, which will hit us not only with missiles and gunfire from the planes, but also with bug spray from the drones.”

“How will the Bolshivarians be able to counterattack with bug spray shooting at them?” Peter asked.

“They didn’t tell me exactly how they were going to avoid the bug spray, but they’re aware of the danger and planning a way to evade it,” Bob said. “Don’t worry: the Bolshivarians are clever enough not to let themselves be exposed to the drones’ spray guns, which our intelligence tells us will all spray only forward. We can sneak up from behind and their radar won’t pick us up. The American and NATO forces are the ones who need to be cleverer, not our side.”

“How will the Bolshivarians fight them?” Peter asked.

“They’ll fly into the planes’ cockpits and into the bodies of the pilots,” Bob said. “You know what happens next.”

“What if the pilots wear those protective suits?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, everybody knows by now that those suits never worked,” Bob said. “Bolshivarians can fly through them with ease.”

“If so, then why did they let people think they were safe in the suits last year?” Michelle asked.

“For several reasons,” Bob explained. “First of all, we wanted humans to have some sense of hope, so they wouldn’t feel all hopeless and despairing. Secondly, we came to Earth right when you humans were so worried about all those coronavirus variants. We wanted you, for the time being, to think our presence was just another disease, to distract you until enough of us had settled in and established enough carriers around the world so we could move around among you and blend in with you, so you wouldn’t be able to tell which ones were carriers and which ones weren’t.”

Clever plan, Peter thought, and devious.

Bob looked at him as if he’d heard Peter say those words out loud. “We’re here to help you, Peter, not to dominate you. Our ways may be strange to you, but that doesn’t mean we have ill intentions.”

Whoa, Peter thought with widened eyes. The Bolshivarians can read my thoughts. I’d better bury my feelings deeper down in my mind from now on.

“We know your doubts, Peter,” Bob said. “But we don’t doubt you. Don’t worry.”

“I don’t doubt you,” Michelle said.

“Even though they killed your dad, my dad, and my mother?” Peter said, glaring at her.

“You know the real reason they died,” Bob said.

“I know your rationalization for it,” Peter said, and then with sarcasm, “‘They rejected the new way, so their deaths were their fault, not yours’.”

“Our parents still exist in spirit, Peter,” Michelle said. “Didn’t you feel them last night?”

“Did we feel their spirits, or did we feel hallucinations?” Peter asked, looking hard at Bob.

“Peter, if we Bolshivarians had wanted to kill all of humanity, we could have done it like that!” Bob said with a snap of his fingers. “If we’d wanted to take control of all of your bodies and enslave you, we could have done it like that!” He snapped his fingers again. “But we didn’t. We could have gotten through every protective suit and either controlled or killed every head of state in your world, every CEO/leader of every city-state government, with none of you able to stop us, in the blink of an eye! But we didn’t…and many, many Bolshivarians have died because of the fluke discovery of bug spray toxins.”

Now Peter looked down at his hands.

“We want to save your planet and your people from destruction, but before we can do that, we need to gain the trust of at least a reasonable number of you, and gain the willful cooperation of enough of you. We’ve given as many of you as we can a chance to choose either to work with us or against us. We’ve allowed many to be non-carriers, because we want your friendship by free will. Even those who’ve died, like your parents, can still communicate with you through our collective psychic energy. Can you please try to trust us, Peter?”

Peter looked at Bob for several seconds.

“They cured the world of the coronaviruses, didn’t they?” Michelle added. “You, Peter, of all people, should be grateful to the Bolshivarians for doing away with the masks and vaccines, right?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Peter said. “Wayne Grey did pull that off. I’ll give him that. I wish I hadn’t punched him.”

“And those were not hallucinations of my mom and dad,” Michelle said in a shaky voice, looking in Peter’s eyes with pain and conviction.

Can you try to trust us, Peter?” Bob asked again.

“OK,” he said. “I’ll try. The governments here on Earth have certainly proved themselves untrustworthy.”

“Good,” Bob said. “Now let’s get ready for those airstrikes.”

************

Four hours later, Bob was in his room, sitting crosslegged on his bed in a meditative position. The balls of light were floating on all sides around his body. He could feel the messages the Bolshivarians from other parts of Angola, including those of the warehouse hideout, were sending him.

Oh, no! he thought.

Peter and Michelle were in their room, too, lying on their bed in each other’s arms and waiting for Bob to tell them what was going on.

From outside their window, they could hear approaching planes.

Just as they got off their bed to look out the window, Bob rushed into their room.

“Hey, Bob!” Michelle shouted in annoyance. “We could have been indecent in here!”

“Sorry,” he said. racing for that window. “I didn’t have time to knock.” All three of them looked out the window.

Four fighter planes were approaching, accompanied by half a dozen small, brown ovoid drones with spray guns on them.

“Just as I feared,” he said. “Not only did they know that Lenny Van der Meer and the other Bolshivarian carriers are hiding out in that warehouse, but they know we’re here, too!”

“Who informed the Americans?” Peter asked. “Were there spies hiding out in that basement? Are there spies here in this hotel?”

“Unlikely, bordering on impossible,” Bob said. “We’d have been able to sense treason among us; it would take an extraordinary ability to bury one’s feelings for us not to sense traitors. Spies must have been hiding out among the trees or bushes outside.”

“There aren’t many trees or bushes to hide behind around here, or near that warehouse,” Peter said. “Years of global warming and wildfires have ensured that.”

“Not many trees or bushes, but enough for, say, one or two spies to hide among,” Bob said. “In any case, somebody from outside, somewhere, found our people there…and here. We’ve gotta get out of here. Move!

The three of them rushed out of the room, down the hall, and down a flight of stairs to the ground floor. Just as they were making a run for the front doors, the striking of the first missile shook the building.

“Oh, shit!” Peter shouted.

“Are these the same fighters and drones that hit the warehouse, do you think?” Michelle asked.

“No,” Bob said. “Lenny and his people took them all out as I described before.”

“So, Lenny’s still alive?” Peter asked.

“As far as I know, yes,” Bob said. “Let’s just hope the Bolshivarians here can be as successful.”

Three more strikes shook the building, causing it to collapse. Peter, Michelle, and Bob screamed before losing consciousness and being buried in rubble by the front door.

Outside, drones were shooting bug spray at swarms of dots of light flying at them; after a dozen or so of lights flying in front were sprayed, all of them lost their light and fell like marbles on the ground, all lifeless. Then, the fighter jets shot at the carriers who’d been sending up the lights. They all lay on the ground in a bloody lake.

These victims, however, were just a sacrificial distraction.

A swarm of Bolshivarian lights far greater in number were flying behind all the jets and drones. None of their radar could detect the approach of the lights, whose advanced alien technology could easily evade being picked up by radio airwaves.

The overconfident pilots had no idea what was coming at them.

The first man to feel the tiny lights entering his body screamed. His jet veered to the right as he fidgeted and struggled in his seat, feeling his body tearing to pieces and ripping out of his uniform.

“James, what’s wrong?” the pilot to his right said; but before he could say any more, James’s plane crashed into his. A huge explosion lit up the sky. Three drones flying nearby also got destroyed in the explosion.

A number of carriers looking up from the ground cheered when they saw the explosion.

“Half of the threat gone, all at once!” one of them shouted.

Sadly, he was gunned down, seconds after, by one of the two remaining fighter jets.

The remaining carriers sent up their balls of light; one of the drones sprayed them, causing them all to drop on the ground, as lightless and lifeless as the other ‘marbles.’ Then the fighter jets shot at the carriers and left them all in a pool of gore.

Meanwhile, the other two drones turned around to face the swarm of lights behind. They sprayed at the leading dozen or two of them, causing them and many more behind to fall on the ground. The third drone turned around to help the other two.

Now, the remaining carriers were free to shoot their lights up at the two fighter jets.

As the pilots screamed, fidgeted in their seats, and felt their splitting bodies rip out of their uniforms, the lights took control of the jets, aimed their guns at the three drones, and shot at them.

The carriers cheered as they saw the drones explode up in the air. Then they dodged out of the way when the two jets fell to the ground, a few feet away on either side of the hotel, and blew up in flames.

The surviving Bolshivarian lights flew over to the rubble of the hotel, soon to be joined by the surviving carriers, who ran over. The lights scanned the rubble for signs of life: only three were found to be still alive, and barely so–Peter, Michelle, and Bob.

The carriers, about a dozen of them, worked fast to pull the pieces of brick off the bodies of the injured three. Bob was unconscious, approaching death; Peter and Michelle lay there, hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness, moaning and sighing.

The lights hovered above and around the three. Their light and warmth touched the three hurt bodies.

Bob, being the closest to death, was the priority. The lights scanned his vital signs: his pulse was extremely weak and rhythmically irregular. He had broken bones all over. He was bathed in his blood; his life was fading fast.

Even with all the Bolshivarians’ medical knowledge, centuries in advance of that of humanity, they couldn’t save Bob. Since Peter and Michelle also urgently needed help, they switched their focus onto them. They weren’t as near death as Bob had been, but they weren’t much further away from death, either.

A crowd of people, carriers and non-carriers, watched the process of treating Peter and Michelle. Their eyes were locked on the two injured–eyes full of worry. A tense several hours ensued.

Peter’s and Michelle’s broken and fractured bones, their cuts and bruises, were hardly fewer than those on Bob. All onlookers, including the carriers, who knew of the Bolshivarians’ abilities, and even the Bolshivarian lights themselves, were full of doubts as to whether or not they could save the two.

Their pulses, though not as bad as Bob’s, were still weak and irregular. They showed considerable shortness of breath. The struggle to heal them involved a back-and-forth movement between weaker and stronger pulses, more and less irregular pulses, and greater and lesser shortness of breath.

Broken bones were set, fractures were healed millimetre by millimetre, bruises and cuts ever so slowly faded away–the bloody red slashes lengthening, shortening, and lengthening and shortening over and over again, the blotches of black, blue, and purple shrinking, growing, and shrinking again and again.

But finally, the white lights’ healing efforts succeeded here where they hadn’t been able to with Bob. Non-carriers–local Angolans as sympathetic to the Bolshivarians as Peter and Michelle–watched with dropped jaws and agape eyes at the aliens’ ability to bring Peter and Michelle fully back to health, all in only three to four hours.

Peter and Michelle, of course, were no less amazed.

“What?” he said, getting up slowly and awkwardly.

“We’re better?” Michelle said, also getting up and testing her arms and legs by moving them around. “So quickly? How could they do that?”

“To explain to you what Bolshivarian medicine can do,” one of the carriers said, “would be like explaining computers to cavemen.”

Peter and Michelle looked down at Bob’s lifeless body.

“He didn’t make it?” Michelle asked.

They could feel a sad answer in the negative from the floating lights.

Peter moved his body around, to test how well he’d been healed. “Wow,” he said. “The Bolshivarians make our doctors look like…well, witch doctors in comparison.”

Now do you trust them?” she asked with a sneer.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” he said.

“If only their skill could have saved my mom,” she said with a frown. “I guess she was as close to death as Bob here, too close to be saved.”

Peter’s cellphone rang. “Wow,” he said as he pulled it out of his pants pocket. “My phone didn’t get damaged. Hello?”

“Peter?” a woman’s voice said. “This is Karen Finley. It’s a good thing you gave us your cellphone number yesterday. Are you and Michelle OK? We know about the attack on your hotel.”

“Oh, hi, Karen,” he said. “We’re OK now. The Bolshivarians just saved our lives after the fighter jets hit our hotel. They’re the most amazing doctors.”

“I’m glad for that,” she said. “That’s so awful, what happened to you there. I’m so sorry.”

“How did you know the jets attacked us here?” he asked.

“The Bolshivarians told us,” she said. “They can find out anything, you know, if they focus on it. First, we learned about the warehouse being hit, then Tory and I wondered if you two were OK, so we asked them.”

“Thanks for your concern,” he said.

“Wait,” she said. “Tory wants to talk to you.” She gave her phone to her husband.

“OK,” Peter said. “Hello, Tory?”

“Hi,” Tory said. “Lenny says we’re all going to have to get out of Africa. More airstrikes are planned. Now that we’ve seen how badly the Americans and NATO can hit us, how well they can find us, thanks to their spies, the plan is to go to South America, where the Bolshivarians have many contacts who will help us. Lenny and his contacts here have arranged airplanes to take us there. There’s an airbase not far from where the warehouse was. The Bolshivarians can guide you to it. We all have to hurry, though, OK?”

“OK,” Peter said. “Thanks for the call. We’ll get over there right away. Bye.” They hung up.

“What’s the plan?” Michelle asked.

“We’re going to South America.”

“South America?” she asked.

“Yes, and we gotta hurry,” he said, taking her by the hand. “I’ll explain on the way. Let’s go.”

“B-but Peter?…” she said.

Michelle, Bob’s voice said in her mind. Go!

Yes, Michelle, Siobhan’s voice now said. Go with Peter.

Peter and Michelle started running towards a car one of the carriers was gesturing to.

END OF BOOK TWO

The Ouroboros of Philosophy

I: Introduction

My concern here is not with presenting an encyclopedic understanding of philosophy and its history; I am in no way qualified even to attempt that. Instead, I will look at selected examples of philosophical ideas as manifestations of what I see the ouroboros as symbolizing.

As I’ve explained in a number of posts, I use the ouroboros to symbolize the dialectical relationship between opposites. The serpent, coiled in a circle and biting its tail, represents a circular continuum whose extreme opposites meet and phase into each other, the biting head being one extreme, and the bitten tail being its opposite. The coiled middle of the serpent represents all the intermediate points on the continuum, the moderate points between the extremes.

The dialectic, often being a dialogue of two disagreeing philosophers presenting their opposing opinions in a back-and-forth debate, has been the basis of so much of the history of Western philosophy that I find it illustrative to use my ouroboros symbolism to systematize the dialectic. Such a systematization is what I will attempt here.

II: Ancient Greece, and the Ancient East

Thales, interestingly, conceived of the universe as having originated in water. He believed this origin to be literally true, as Aristotle explained it in his Metaphysics:

“Most of the first philosophers thought that principles in the form of matter were the only principles of all things. For they say that the element and first principle of the things that exist is that from which they all are and from which they first come into being and into which they are finally destroyed, its substance remaining and its properties changing…There must be some nature–either one or more than one–from which the other things come into being, it being preserved. But as to the number and form of this sort of principle, they do not all agree. Thales, the founder of this kind of philosophy, says that it is water (that is why he declares that the earth rests on water). He perhaps came to acquire this belief from seeing that the nourishment of everything is moist and that heat itself comes from this and lives by this (for that from which anything comes into being is its first principle)–he came to this belief both for this reason and because the seeds of everything have a moist nature, and water is the natural principle of moist things.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics 983b6–11, 17-27…Barnes, page 63)

I, on the other hand–and as anyone who has read enough of my blog knows–interpret the water origin metaphorically, hence the name of my blog, Infinite Ocean. The rising and falling of the waves symbolize the opposing sides of the dialectic, the movements up and down each being a sublation of thesis (crest) and negation (trough).

It is from this notion of water that we move on to Heraclitus and his notion of endless movement. I discussed his ideas here. Diogenes Laërtius, in his Lives of the Philosophers, had this to say about the beliefs of Heraclitus: “All things come about through opposition, and the universe flows like a river. The universe is finite, and there is one world.” (Barnes, page 107)

To make a temporary digression from ancient Greece to ancient India, the endless, watery flow of everything in the universe has been used to describe Brahman, Atman being but a drop of this water. Furthermore, this universal Oneness, this monism that has been attributed to Thales, Heraclitus, and the Hindus is described as flowing and moving; yet this monism, pushed to its extreme, from its flowing to its extreme opposite, a Oneness of motionless stasis, is found in the philosophy of Parmenides and Zeno.

Parmenides insisted that notions of motion and plurality are illusions, the maya of the Hindus. All is one according to him; the universe has always been, is now, and always will be, an unmoving, unchangeable sphere. This Oneness is a reaction against Heraclitus (or vice versa) and against the philosophical pluralists, movements from the bitten tail of the ouroboros to its biting head, shifts from one extreme to their dialectical opposites.

In fact, Parmenides’ young pupil (and lover), Zeno, went so far as to defend his teacher’s rigid monism by devising a number of paradoxes to show the illusory nature of motion, change, and divisibility. His paradoxes, again, were a reaction, a dialectical shift from bitten tail to biting head, against the pluralists. Zeno’s point, as understood by Plato, was that if his paradoxes–for example, of infinitesimally divided walking distances precluding the possibility of getting anywhere, or Achilles never catching up to the tortoise, or a never-moving arrow in flight–are absurd, so much more absurd are the pluralists’ ideas.

As Plato expressed Zeno’s meaning: “My book attacks those who say that several things exist, aiming to show that their hypothesis, that several things exist, leads to even more ridiculous results, if you examine it properly, than the hypothesis that only one thing exists.” (Plato, Parmenides…Barnes, page 152) It isn’t about the ideas in themselves; it’s about ideas in dialectical opposition to others.

Parmenides’ and Zeno’s unchanging monism can, in a way, be compared to the eternal soul of Atman in Brahman, which in turn was reacted against in Buddhism’s adoption of the doctrines of anattā (or anātman) and impermanence. Again we see the dialectical movement of one doctrine, felt to have been pushed too far (e.g., Atman is believed to exist despite a lack of empirical evidence), over to its opposite (no soul or permanent self), a shift from the biting head to the bitten tail of the ouroboros.

The dialectical relationship between opposites, as I symbolize with the serpent’s head and tail, can also be seen in the yin/yang symbol of Taoism. The white dot in yin, and the black dot in yang, are like the teeth of the head stabbed into the tail. One opposite is experienced in the other.

III: From Doubt to Certainty

Another example of the ouroboros of philosophy can be found in the radical doubts of René Descartes. His doubting of the certainty of any kind of existence, including his own, found him passing beyond the bitten tail of extreme doubt to the biting head of cogito, ergo sum, which given more fully is dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum: “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.”

His very doubting, brought to such an extreme of doubts of existence, becomes the very existence, his own existence since he’s the one doing the doubting, that gives him a certain foundation for knowledge on which he can at least hope to build further certainties.

IV: Hegel and Marx

A few centuries later, we come to Hegel, who systematized the dialectic as a confrontation of, and resolution of, contradictions simplified in Fichte‘s triad of “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis,” a formula Hegel neither used nor liked. For my part, I prefer the terms thesis, negation, and sublation, which instead of being in the simplified form of a triad, go round and round in a circle of endless manifestations of contradictions to be clashed together and sublated, over and over again.

A simple but convenient example of Hegel’s dialectic can be found in his Science of Logic. He opposes being and nothing, which I would represent respectively as the serpent’s biting head and bitten tail. Then, his sublation of these contradictions, becoming, I’d represent as the coiled middle of the ouroboros.

Another example of the ouroboros of philosophy, as seen in Hegelian thought, can be found in his master/slave dialectic. Two men confront each other: a struggle ensues, and one attains mastery over the other. In my ouroboros symbolism, the master is the serpent’s biting head, and the slave is its bitten tail.

Over time, the slave’s creative efforts build up his sense of worth and usefulness to his master, as well as his own recognition of self-consciousness, a moving along the coiled body of the serpent from its tail to its head, to the point where his master finds himself utterly dependent on the slave for recognition of the master’s existence, and for the products the slave makes. Now the slave reaches the serpent’s biting head, and he trades places with his master. The other way to see this trading of places is to imagine the slave going in the opposite direction: right from the bitten tail over to the biting head, an excess of servitude phasing into its dialectical opposite, mastery.

The master/slave dialectic was a great inspiration for Karl Marx, who saw the Labour Theory of Value as the mechanism whereby the proletariat would one day overthrow the bourgeoisie. The workers need to know how it’s the total amount of their socially necessary labour time, not their bosses’ management, that creates value in commodities; and armed with this knowledge, they will be inspired to get organized and bring on a proletarian revolution.

Now, another dialectical shift from the biting head to the bitten tail can be found in Marx’s materialist reaction to Hegel’s philosophical idealism. Marx’s reversal of the notion that the world of ideas, of the spirit, brings about the physical world–typical of religious thinking–and making it instead that it’s the physical (i.e., having a brain) that creates the world of ideas (thinking), was him turning Hegel upside-down, standing him “on his head.” Though as Marx would have had it, Hegel’s dialectic was already “standing on its head,” and Marx simply put the dialectic back on its feet (Marx, pages 19, 102-103).

For Marx, the dialectic presents itself in physical manifestations throughout history, going from the ancient master/slave contradiction to that of the feudal landlord vs. the poor peasant. Within feudalism, though, a growing mercantile class, the first capitalists, would eventually overthrow their feudal lords and become the next ruling class, the bourgeoisie.

The suffering and struggling of those held down by the feudal lord, those including the rising capitalists, are thus symbolized in my system as those moving from the bitten tail of the ouroboros, along its coiled body in the middle, up to its biting head, where they would replace feudalism with capitalism. Such a bourgeois revolution was vividly depicted in Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities.

The bourgeoisie, now the head biting the tail of the proletariat, are no longer revolutionary. The working class has attempted revolution in, for example, the Paris Commune, the USSR, the Eastern Bloc, and Afghanistan‘s attempts at modernization in the late 1970s, but counterrevolution ruined all their hopes. We’ll have to see if a new socialist movement will rescue us all from late stage capitalism, and will sustain itself by repelling all future attempts at counterrevolution.

V: Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer‘s pessimism was inspired by the reading of translations of ancient Buddhist and Hindu texts. Interestingly, his idea of the thing-in-itself, the essence of everything as understood without the deceiving senses, is will, the striving to be alive (“On the Antithesis of Thing in Itself and Appearance,” 1; Schopenhauer, page 55). This conception is in contrast to the Eastern idea that the Oneness of everything, Brahman, Tao, etc., is the source of peace and bliss.

Now, this contrast I speak of is a dialectical one, for Atman, the soul of the willing individual, is to be identified with Brahman, the peaceful Oneness of the universe. The world is will, but it’s also representation, maya, a deception of the senses that, in its illusory nature, causes suffering. One ends suffering by negating the will-to-life, and thus tranquilizing it. When one understands Atman to be the same as Brahman, and to see plurality as an illusion, the ego is neutralized, the selfish desires of the will are extinguished, and one attains nirvana.

So life, for Schopenhauer, is essentially not worth living; being trapped in a body, with all its aches, pains, and ageing, is like being in a penal colony (“On the Suffering of the World,” 9, Schopenhauer, page 49). The extreme sadness such a realization engenders, though–the reaching of the serpent’s bitten tail–isn’t necessarily so bleak. One can pass the tail to the biting head of bliss by, paradoxically, extending one’s suffering, by suffering not all alone, but with other sufferers. Compassion is the basis of moral edification, according to Schopenhauer, and in compassion we find liberation from suffering, since compassion will drive us to end our suffering by ending that of those others we identify with in our pity for them.

The dialectical reaction against Schopenhauer’s pessimism can be seen in Nietzsche’s affirmation of the will-to-life, and his existentialism leads us to the next topic.

VI: From Absurdity to Meaning

In existentialism, one confronts the meaninglessness of life, the bitten tail of the ouroboros, by giving life meaning, one’s own personal purpose, a shift over to the serpent’s biting head. In Kierkegaard‘s Christian existentialism, this giving of meaning to life, as an escape from meaninglessness, is in the form of a leap of faith in God, believing in Him despite a lack of proof of His existence.

With the atheistic existentialism of such writers as Nietzsche and Sartre, though, one lacks the crutch of a leap of faith in God, so one must create one’s own, personal meaning in life. This, after Kierkegaard’s counsel has failed us, means a revolution around the body of the ouroboros, from the biting head after our leap of faith from the tail, going all the way back to that tail the long way, then to go past to the biting head again.

With Camus‘s absurdism, though, even the making of one’s own meaning rests on flimsy ground, since the contradiction between unescapable meaninglessness and man’s need to find meaning is equally unescapable. Camus’s advice, therefore, is to act in defiance against meaninglessness, to strive for flashes of meaning, however evanescent such flashes may be, since one must accept meaninglessness along with our defiance of it.

Just as Sisyphus must endlessly roll that boulder up the hill, only to see it roll back down and to have to roll it up again…and again, and again, and again, so must we go in endless cycles along the coiled body of the ouroboros, shifting past the biting head to the bitten tail, and back around the body to the head again…and again, and again, and again…

Small wonder the ouroboros is a symbol of eternity, Nietzsche’s myth of the eternal recurrence.

VII: Conclusion

So this absurdist advice can be seen as a variation on much of what I reviewed before: Zeno’s paradoxes of walking and getting nowhere, of swift Achilles never catching up to the tortoise, and of a flying, yet motionless arrow. Similarly, one is only certain of one’s existence through one’s extreme doubting; the sublation of two contradictions leads only to a new thesis to be negated and sublated, again and again and again. Will a socialist revolution lead to a classless, stateless, and money-less society? I continue to hope for it, in spite of the miserable state the world is in right now.

In Schopenhauer’s pessimism, the way to blessedness is through compassion, or suffering on a larger, more magnanimous scale; this in a way is strikingly similar to Kierkegaard’s leap of faith (i.e., a faith coupled with deeds of Christian charity), which is odd given Schopenhauer’s atheism…an atheism coupled with the inspiration of Eastern religion! And finding meaning is the solution to the impossibility of ever finding meaning? Again, it sounds like the bitten tail of atheism shifting over to the biting head of theism!

Reflecting on these observations, I find that the unchanging unity of all that Parmenides and Zeno insisted on is actually the ever-changing fluidity of Heraclitus. Parmenides’ stony sphere is really Thales’ water.

Atman = Brahman = anātman

Analysis of ‘Déserts’

I: Introduction

Déserts is a 1950-1954 piece by avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse, scored for fourteen winds (brass and woodwinds), five percussion players (including tympani, xylophone, snare drum, and woodblocks), one piano, and magnetic tape. Deserts, according to Varèse, refer to “not only physical deserts of sand, sea, mountains, and snow, outer space, deserted city streets… but also distant inner space… where man is alone in a world of mystery and essential solitude.”

He elaborated by saying that what he meant by deserts are these: “All those that people traverse or may traverse: physical deserts, on the earth, in the sea, in the sky, of sand, of snow, of interstellar spaces or of great cities, but also those of the human spirit, of that distant inner space no telescope can reach, where one is alone.”

The piece was originally meant to be the soundtrack to a modernist film that was never finished, a film of images of the deserts of the Earth, the underwater sea, and outer space, but most importantly, the deserts of the human mind: his loneliness and alienation, especially after the terrors of the decade that preceded Déserts‘s composition: concentration camps, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, etc.

The piece is divided into seven sections, an alternation of four “Episodes” of music performed live by the ensemble of winds, piano, and percussion, with one of three “Interpolations” of magnetic tape recordings coming between each pair of “Episodes.” So Déserts is structured thus:

1st Episode
1st Interpolation of Organized Sound
2nd Episode
2nd Interpolation
3rd Episode
3rd Interpolation
4th Episode

Déserts is one of Varèse’s most radical pieces of music (and that says a lot, given the already experimental nature of the music he’d already composed before the 1950s). For in this piece, he introduces the use of pre-recorded sounds, a result of an anonymous gift of a tape recorder, which revived his musical inspiration, allowing him to compose music that would further advance its frontiers and experimental potential.

Until the 1950s, Varèse had been frustrated with the limitations of the technology of the time to produce the kind of new music he’d wanted to create. He was tiring of using the instruments of the orchestra, particularly the string section, which he’d used only sparingly (Amériques, Arcana, Offrandes, or the double bass in Octandre). The use of two ondes Martenots (or theremins, depending on the version) in Ecuatorial was something of an advance, but he needed more.

Hence, when Varèse should have been at the height of his creative powers, he actually composed very little, that is, in the 1940s. There was an ambitious idea, Etude pour Espace, that was never finished (<this arrangement of part of Espace was done in 2009). There was the Dance for Burgess (i.e., for Burgess Meredith), and Tuning Up (which was only sketched by Varèse, and completed by Chou Wen-chung in 1998).

But the totally new sound possibilities given to him through the tape recorder gift brought Varèse back. He regained his Muse, and created not only Déserts, but also Poème electronique in 1957-1958, for magnetic tape exclusively.

To understand Déserts, one must understand Varèse’s music in general, and for the uninitiated, such a general understanding is especially urgent, given how daunting this music will sound when heard for the first time. Frank Zappa was one of Varèse’s biggest and most famous fans, and he himself (also a composer and conductor of orchestral music) admitted that he couldn’t give “any structural insights or academic suppositions” as to how Varèse’s music works or why he liked it. As a teen, Zappa liked it simply for how ‘weird’ it sounded. Varèse’s music, Zappa says, is “completely unique.” If a fan like Zappa couldn’t explain Varèse’s music, the uninitiated will need insights far more desperately.

So I’ll try my best to give those insights myself.

II: Varèse’s Musical Language

To begin by painting with large brushstrokes, Varèse’s music is characterized by huge, dissonant sonorities and an extensive use of percussion, which isn’t generally used to punctuate rhythm, but rather to exploit and explore all the varieties of timbre it can provide. The dissonant sonorities are usually given through stentorian horns and shrill, sustained notes on woodwinds.

Varèse radically redefined music to mean “organized sound,” with a foreword-looking disregard for traditional notions of flowing, lyrical melodies, tonality, classical forms (sonata-allegro, binary, ternary, rondo, etc.), rhythm, or conventional groupings of instruments. Those huge, dissonant sonorities that I described above have come to be termed “sound masses.”

These sound masses of loud, dissonant brass and woodwinds tend to be contrasted with softer sections of individual, or small groupings of, percussion instruments (snare drum rolls, the quick tapping back and forth between differently pitched wood blocks, etc.) or solo woodwinds (flute, piccolo, or clarinet) playing long, sustained notes before the next loud, dissonant outburst. This shifting, from the softer passages of individual instruments to the large, loud groupings of horns and woodwinds, has been compared to natural processes of crystallization.

Varèse had an interest in science, and this interest naturally had an influence on how he chose to structure his compositions. So in the softer passages, the individual sounds can be likened to atoms and molecules; and the large, dissonant sound masses can be likened to the solids, the crystals formed out of those atoms and molecules. Smaller groupings of instruments can be seen to represent the middle phases of the solidifying process.

Varèse conceived of music as “sound as living matter.” So when we hear the crystallization of his sound masses, we can think of them as his intention to create living beings, so to speak. We should remember this when we look into Déserts specifically, a work about deserts of the mind, of people who are alone.

The basic parameters of Varèse’s music are duration, intensity, frequency, and timbre (sometimes space is considered, as in Espace, though the full exploitation of spatial effects in music has been the domain of such successors of Varèse as Karlheinz Stockhausen: listen to a live performance of Gruppen to get my point). For Varèse, these four parameters are all given equal importance.

Duration for Varèse isn’t subservient to traditional notions of rhythm or metre. One doesn’t usually tap one’s foot to Varèse. Instead, duration is more about holding notes at varying, sustained lengths. A note may be held, or repeated in short dots of sound, over a period of many seconds, rather than played to a beat–be this the regular beat of conventional music, or the asymmetric rhythms of, say, Stravinsky. As with the other three parameters, Varèse’s use of duration is generally divorced from conventional notions of ‘expressivity,’ which is not to say that his music lacks expressiveness, but rather that Varèse expresses himself in an entirely different way from the expression of the past.

Intensity for Varèse is his use of soft and loud dynamics. Interestingly, changes in dynamics on an instrument also result in changes in that instrument’s timbre. Don’t assume Varèse never toyed with the interrelation between intensity and timbre.

Frequency for Varèse is much more than just pitch. Sounds can be anything from the lowest to the highest frequencies, not necessarily with definite pitches. Sounds are made up of complex wave forms with multiple frequencies (i.e., the fundamental and overtone series), not just a single wave form. So in frequency, just as in intensity, we can find an overlap with timbre, something Varèse was deeply interested in exploiting to the maximum.

But frequency in terms of pitch alone in Varèse’s music leaves plenty to elaborate on. There is melody in Varèse–not nearly as much as in the music of his contemporaries, much less than that of those before him–but there is some. Varèse’s use of melody is unconventional, of course, using wide leaps and such dissonant intervals as minor 9ths, major 7ths, and minor 2nds. He also sometimes made use of the idée fixe, as in Arcana and Amériques.

Harmonically, Varèse’s music is obviously not tonal. It isn’t necessarily always atonal, either, though. There are ever-so-brief occasions when a melody or harmonic combination may seem tonic…then a cluster of dissonances will remind us we’re listening to Varèse. Consider the opening clarinet melody in Intégrales, which sounds like the 3rd, 7th, and upper tonic notes of a dominant 7th chord; then dissonances in the brass and woodwinds quickly dispel the aural illusion.

The fact is that Varèse didn’t conform to any harmonic system, traditional or non-traditional: not tonality, not Schoenberg‘s twelve-tone system, not Bartók‘s axis system, not Messiaen‘s modes of limited transposition, not the polytonality of Stravinsky or Milhaud–nothing remotely like any of these. Varèse seemed to be content to let the notes fall in any old way, because he’d always been more interested in frequency as an expression of timbre than of pitch. His use of sirens, as representations of a continuum pitch beyond twelve-tone equal temperament, should help us better to know how to think about his choices of pitch, rather than any use of scales or chords.

And finally, we come to what was perhaps Varèse’s favourite musical parameter, timbre. His fascination with timbre is why he used such an extensive number of percussion instruments in his works. Recall that one of Varèse’s most famous pieces, Ionisation, is to be played only by percussionists; these instruments are supplemented by such noisemakers as high and low sirens, two anvils, and a whip. Piano is also used, but not in its conventional, melodic way: it’s used as just another percussion instrument.

In his Densité 21,5 for solo platinum flute, again, though we hear monophonic melody throughout, the focus is on intensity and timbre. He was exploiting all the sound possibilities to be produced on the instrument, including tapping effects on the low finger keys about a third of the way into the piece.

Finally, as can be heard in Poème électronique and the three interpolations of organized sound in Déserts, Varèse uses electronically altered sound recordings on tape as an example of his love of exploiting timbre to maximum effect. Always remember that for Varèse, music is the organization of sound. Don’t listen for pretty, lyrical melodies (though that sort of thing can appear from time to time in his work–there is, after all, that one early work of his, written in a Romantic idiom, that he didn’t destroy, Un grand sommeil noir for voice and piano); listen instead for fascinating and imaginative manipulations of sound.

III: Déserts

Varèse’s discussion, in the above quotes, of deserts on the earth, in the sky, of sand, of snow, of interstellar space, etc., all seem to be metaphors for the deserts of the lonely human mind. On some level, this being alone could be manifested in the solitude of hermits and mystics; but the connotations of deserts suggest emptiness, lifelessness, purposeless stasis, and a sadness from being alone. The mystic’s solitude could be seen as an attempt to escape that sadness.

I will attempt, in my personal interpretation of Déserts, to find symbolism for this loneliness, as well as for mystical attempts to attain peace, in the musical structure of the piece. To begin with, note how there is no integration of the ensemble playing with the three interpolations of musique concrète. Such a division between these two ways of producing organized sound symbolically suggests a mutual alienation between people…and there’s nothing like alienation to provoke feelings of loneliness.

Déserts is probably Varèse’s most radical example of experimental music, of a break from almost every conceivable notion of tradition in music. Apart from the by-now-typical unorthodox instrumentation (no string section, extensive percussion as an integral part of the soundscape), as well as the introduction of tape recordings, he breaks even further with tradition here.

There is virtually no melody in this piece, except for a few ever so brief moments of rising and falling notes, including the lead-ups to those discordant fanfares, as Samuel Andreyev so aptly calls them. If melody is musical line, that is, curvy contours of notes going up and down in diatonic or chromatic steps or leaps, then the musical lines in Déserts were mostly drawn with a ruler, so to speak. We constantly get notes sustained or repeated in one pitch. Once again, his main interest is exploring timbre, durations, and intensities, not musical themes in the conventional sense.

Granted, there are a number of moments in the piece when we hear a woodwind or brass instrument play an alternation of notes a half-step from each other, going up and down several times (for example, the B-flat clarinet in bar 205). There are also two moments, in bars 45-46 and later in bars 50-58, when notes of an octatonic scale are heard in two separate transitions: first, G, B-flat, C-sharp, D, B-natural, and F; then, A-flat, G, and B-flat. But such moments as these are far more the exception than the rule in Déserts.

So, with single notes sustained or repeated on individual instruments making up most of the thematic material (except for the percussion sections and the fanfares, which will be dealt with later), we can see in each of these individual notes a symbol of aloneness.

Added to these lonely notes is a number of mirror chords, that is, chords whose notes reflect the same intervallic relationships among them. One example occurs in the first twenty bars of Déserts: in the bass clef, there is a stack of perfect fifths–D, A, and E; then, in the treble clef, there’s another stack of perfect fifths–F, C, and G. These six notes are static, unmoving during the beginning, except for the later addition of a B-flat, a B-natural, and a C-sharp. The diatonic mirror chord–opening the piece with Fs and Gs in the tubular bells (or chimes), xylophone, piano, piccolo, and B-flat clarinet, and later adding the other notes–symbolizes the lonely person looking in a mirror, seeing only himself instead of looking at others.

IV: Conscious vs Unconscious Varèse

Now, Varèse’s musical philosophy was such that one didn’t need to compose pieces with traditional notions of melody, harmony, rhythm, or conventional orchestration to move one’s listeners emotionally. Nonetheless, there’s the listener’s perspective on the matter as well as that of the composer, and the latter cannot realistically be expected to be oblivious to the attitude of the former.

Varèse may have consciously been dismissive of the idea that only conventional musical arrangements will move the listener in the desired, intended way; but there’s conscious intent and unconscious intent, too. Varèse may have been consciously unruffled by the vehemently negative reactions to his works when premiered before conservative audiences (and Déserts received one of those sadly typical responses); but this doesn’t mean he wasn’t at least unconsciously affected by that negativity.

There must have been something in his unconscious mind reacting with a ‘screw you’ attitude to the rejections he was getting from his audiences during those early performances of his work. Such mutual feelings of alienation between composer and audience, however unconscious and repressed for him, must have come out in its culmination in Déserts, through its extreme experimentation, even by Varèse’s standards, in its paucity of melody and gentle lyricism. He as an avant-gardist must have been in a mental desert of his own, which influenced how he wrote the piece.

Those sound masses of loud, dissonant fanfares are his crystallizations of “sound as living matter.” They are the children he’s sired, so to speak. They come into being between the quieter sections (for the most part), and therefore each sound mass, as a ‘living being,’ stands alone, in solitude, in a state of loneliness, surrounded by relative quiet on either side in musical time, a relative silence suggesting desolation. The fanfares are loud, dissonant sound masses because, experiencing the birth trauma of their crystallization, they’re screaming in pain. Existence is pain, as the Buddha observed.

Varèse surely didn’t consciously have this meaning for the sound masses; they’re just ‘organized sounds.’ Indeed, he once said that his music doesn’t tell any kind of story or have any kind of programmatic meaning; it’s just his music. Still, my interpretation, or something at least similar to it, surely is what the listener is imagining when hearing the sound masses in Déserts. Varèse, having grown accustomed to violent reactions against his musical experimentation, must have been sensitive to, and been anticipating, such reactions. All the same, he persisted in composing as he did, not just for the sake of experimenting, as he consciously conceived it, but as I suspect, unconsciously as an act of defiance against his conservative critics. This must, at least in part, have been what he meant when he famously said, “the present day composer refuses to die.”

V: Mystical Varèse

The quieter sections for percussion, especially those at the end of the third and fourth episodes, give a most vivid sense of loneliness and isolation, the deserts of desolation. On the other hand, there are also moments that seem to allude to a sense of mystical solitude, an urge to rise to a higher spiritual plane of existence. This surely is what the All Music Guide means when it says of Déserts, “The orchestra part expresses the gradual advance of mankind toward spiritual sunlight.” I’ve noticed several passages that suggest such an interpretation.

First, there are the opening tubular bells in F and G. They suggest church bells, ringing to summon the faithful but lonely to enter and receive edification. Then, there’s the association one can make of those horn fanfares with the arrival of the nobility. Their dissonance suggests pain, as I mentioned above, yet pain and suffering are also ennobling.

Finally, there’s the slow, gradual ascent of the following notes (mentioned in this video at about 12:05), buried in the first mirror chord mentioned above and the first two fanfares: C-sharp, D, E-flat, E-natural, F, F-sharp, and G. The burying of these rising notes symbolizes the mystery of spiritual ascent. In fact, the video linked above also mentions (at about 11:45) this chromatic rising as within the second fanfare, whose pitches are also all rising together.

Added to this idea of rising spiritually is how certain instrumentation, especially at the beginning, all play the same notes (if in different octaves), and at the same time, or at similar times. I’m thinking of the opening F and G notes in the tubular bells, xylophone, piano, B-flat clarinet and piccolo. Later, in bars 48-49 (see 15:26 of this video), we hear trombones and tympani playing major third intervals together (D-flat and F) in 5/4 time. This playing of the same notes by different instruments, when understood in relation to the notion of spiritual ascendance, can be seen to symbolize compassion and sympathy, which Schopenhauer deemed to be the basis of all morality.

VI: the Interpolations

The three musique concrète sections make use of sounds derived from factory noises and percussion instruments. The electronic alterations of these sounds seem to consist of a heavy use of reverb, echo, and distortion.

The sounds can be described, for the most part, as abrasive, percussive, and glissading. All three interpolations have at least a few manifestations of all three of these kinds of sounds, while the first has predominantly abrasive sounds, the second has more of the percussive kind than the other two sounds, and the third has more glissandi than the other two. A considerable number of abrasive sounds can be heard in all three interpolations, even if that sound isn’t always dominant.

That many of the sounds are derived from factory noises is thematically significant, given the context that Déserts is about the ‘deserts of the mind,’ a world of being alone. I mentioned alienation above, which is an especially modern problem considering the experience of workers in the world of industrial capitalism. Think of all those lonely, alienated workers in factories: hearing factory noises in Déserts is thus poignantly appropriate.

The abrasiveness of the sounds in all three interpolations, especially the first, is also significant in terms of what it can be seen to symbolize. The scratching, scraping, screeching metallic sounds evoke the harsh life of the factory worker, compounding his lonely misery. Such observations make me understand Varèse’s use of dissonance as more than just a transcending of the limitations of conventional harmony: the discords of the instrumental music shriek pain, just as these scraping sounds do in the interpolations.

The abrasive sounds are drawn out and sustained; when the instruments return in the second episode, we hear an abundance of sustained, dissonant combinations of notes played on the woodwinds and brass. So the second episode begins with a continuation of sustained, harsh sounds; this continuation of sustained harshness from the first interpolation to the second episode suggests the emotional effect of factory life on all the lonely people, whom I’ve described above as being symbolized by the crystallizations of loud, screaming fanfares of brass and woodwinds. Indeed, the loudness is sustained for quite a while in the first half of the second episode, before a substantial moment of relative quiet. That pain from factory life persists in one’s mind.

The second interpolation starts with much of the abrasive sound of the first, before the percussive sounds predominate. These sounds, presumably electronically altered xylophone and wood blocks, among other instruments, suggest again the toil of the workers hammering nails, anvils, etc. So we have a continuation of the theme of the plight of the lonely worker. These hammering sounds are carried on in the beginning of the third episode by the percussionists, with loud banging on the tympani, then later tapping on the xylophone.

The third interpolation seems, to a great extent, to be a fusion of the abrasive, percussive, and glissading sound effects, these last of the three coming more into prominence later on. The electronically altered glissandi seem like screams and wails of pain and suffering, the pain of the factory worker who is alienated from his work, from his coworkers, and from his species-essence. The very use of the then-new technology of magnetic tape, to produce harsh sound effects, is itself symbolic of how new technology can be, and often is, used to cause suffering, as in factories, with bombs, and modern surveillance.

VII: Conclusion

The fourth and final episode has a few more screams of fanfare pain in between moments of relative quiet, those quiet moments representing, as I mentioned above, isolating spaces between each crystallization of a lonely person shouting in agony. This continuation of ‘screams’ from the third interpolation and the fourth episode again suggests the emotional effect of factory life on the workers.

The piece ends with a long passage of quiet, using soft, sustained notes in the woodwinds and brass with intervals reminding us of the opening ninths and fifths in the first episode. These similarities between the beginning and ending of Déserts mean that the work has come full circle: the attempt to overcome the static, purposeless, lonely life through mysticism and religiosity seems to have failed (i.e., no chiming tubular bells are to be heard at the end–no ‘church’ to give guidance to the lonely).

This sustained softness, of relative silence, emphasizes the sense of aloneness, the empty deserts of the mind. Varèse composed Déserts not long after the devastation of WWII, so its horrors would not have been far from his thoughts. During this time, he complained about the conformist, conservative, money-oriented world he was living in.

These themes of loneliness, emptiness, and alienation make Déserts an especially relevant piece of music for our times in the 2020s, when we’re all being made to wear masks, practice social distancing, endure lockdowns, receive vaccinations that many fear haven’t been sufficiently tested, and–as many suspect–aren’t effective against new variants, and to risk losing our work and our homes. Whether one supports or is opposed to these new measures is irrelevant to my point, which is that the controversy is dividing us and alienating us from each other even more. Late stage capitalism is a desert all of its own.

May music like Déserts, Varèse’s appeal for a purer world, inspire us all to end our loneliness, and come back together as a global, human community.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Eleven

None of the three of them slept well that night. Bob could feel, through the energy of the alien balls of light in his body, the psychic presence of Phil trying to console him, though it wasn’t enough to stop Bob’s sobbing or to help him sleep.

All Michelle could think about was the impending air strikes. Actually, she was trying to think only about that looming danger, because it was taking her mind off of something far more painful. She was trying not to think about her dead mother, though the killing of Phil, and how it reminded her of her mother’s killing, was making it difficult to forget. Only her worries about the American air force and drones bombing where they were could approach helping to take her mind off the loss of her mother…and those worries did nothing to help her sleep.

Peter, who held Michelle’s trembling body in his arms in bed, and stroked her hair–to soothe her–still found himself unsure if he could trust Bob and the aliens. He wanted to trust them…needed to trust them, for Michelle’s sake…but he couldn’t completely. The only way he could reconcile himself to them was to know he trusted the American empire far less.

The next day, Bob drove them east out of Luanda in a rented car to the hideout where Lenny Van der Meer and his army of human carriers–of the tiny, white balls of light–were. They arrived at about 2:55 pm.

The place was a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere: it was surrounded by a flat, empty landscape of pebbly ground dotted with occasional tufts of grass and even more occasional, isolated trees. Two people were standing at the entrance to the building. A parking lot was filled with cars. Bob parked there, and he, Peter, and Michelle got out of the car.

Bob was the first of the three to approach the two at the large doors in the front centre of the building. He let out the balls of light to assure the two that he, Peter, and Michelle were friends. They were let in.

Inside were aisles of pallet racks filled with stored goods in boxes throughout. No employees were anywhere to be seen, though.

“Where is everybody?” Peter asked.

“Downstairs,” one of the two at the door said, gesturing with his outstretched arm at a stairway to the basement at the far left of the warehouse. “Go that way.”

“Thanks,” Michelle said, and she, Peter, and Bob walked over to the stairs.

As they approached the stairs, they could hear a crescendo of buzzing voices speaking indistinctly as a group. Obviously there was a large group of people down there.

They went down to the bottom of the stairs, where they pushed two large red doors forward to lead them into a huge basement filled with people. The glowing dots of light were floating above the heads of everyone, illuminating the entire basement so well that the electric lights had been left off the whole time.

Peter, Michelle, and Bob walked through the sea of people with no resistance from anyone. In fact, every face that looked at them greeted them with a smile.

“I’ve almost forgotten the days when those lights actually used to scare me,” Peter said loudly in Michelle’s ear.

“Me, too,” she said in his with equal loudness, as if in revenge for his hurting her eardrum.

“We know the feeling, too,” a middle-aged man Peter was passing by said to him.

“What?” Peter asked him.

“You aren’t a carrier of the alien lights, are you?” the man asked, to which Peter and Michelle shook their heads. “Neither are we,” he said, gesturing to a woman standing with him. He shook Peter’s hand, and the woman shook Michelle’s. With greying hair, they were twice Peter’s and Michelle’s ages.

“I’m Peter Cobb-Hopkin. This is my girlfriend, Michelle Buchanan.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Tory Lee, and this is my wife, Karen Finley.”

“You kept your surname,” Michelle noted with a smile.

“Yes,” Karen said, grinning back. “It’s the feminist in me.” She gave a little chuckle.

“My dad was the Cobb, my mom the Hopkin,” Peter said. “She thought similarly. So, the lights never go inside you two either, eh? They know you’re sympathetic to their cause?”

“We were sympathetic right from the beginning,” Tory said. “We took note of who the victims of ‘The Splits’ were right away–either wealthy, powerful people, or their bootlickers.” He then frowned slightly.

“And we never bought that story that ‘The Splits’ was a new virus,” Karen said, who also frowned slightly at Tory’s last words. “We caught on early that it was an alien intervention.”

“I didn’t know about aliens, but I’d been skeptical that The Splits was a virus from Day One,” Peter said. “That’s because I’d been skeptical of all those ‘coronavirus variants’ that had come before.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tory said. “Those were all obvious government psy-ops.”

The dots of light were humming a soothing middle C, getting everyone’s attention and stopping the talking. They then lessened their glow, dimming the room and making everyone look towards a podium with a spotlight.

Lenny Van der Meer stepped onto the podium.

“There he is,” Tory whispered.

“Who?” Peter asked, not recognizing Lenny’s face from far off.

“Lenny Van der Meer,” Karen whispered. “Our leader.”

“Friends, brothers and sisters,” Lenny said into a microphone. “Let us all remember why we’re here; and for those humans who haven’t been altered by us from the planet Bolshivaria, those honorary humans with no need of a purging, we Bolshivarians will allow you to receive our communication as we would communicate with each other, for ease and clarity of understanding, without the limitations of human speech.”

“That sounds a bit arrogant,” Peter said.

“Shh!” Michelle said, frowning at him.

“Let’s all close our eyes, clear our minds, and listen,” Lenny said. “Relax, take deep breaths, and let us come inside you humans. We won’t hurt you; don’t be afraid. Remember, we’re your friends.”

I want to believe you, Peter thought. But I’m still not sure. Well, I’ll open my mind and give you a chance.

He, Michelle, Tory, and Karen, as well as all the other non-carriers in the basement, felt the lights enter their bodies. They felt no pain at all; in fact, the gentle vibrations felt from head to toe were quite soothing.

Indeed, the Bolshivarians’ intentions were communicated with a clarity and precision that no words, of any verbally expressed language, could ever convey. One didn’t hear or see a language: one felt it.

The Bolshivarians’ mission was to save the Earth from her Earthlings. Not only would they rid humanity of corrupt, warmongering politicians; not only would they eliminate world poverty, homelessness, and inaccessibility to healthcare and education; not only would they purge the world of the greedy rich. They would end the ecological destruction of the planet. The oceans, land, and air would be purged of pollution. No more wildfires. No more rising sea levels. Global warming wouldn’t only be stopped…it would be reversed.

This seems too good to be true, Peter thought.

Tory and Karen had the same doubts, though they wanted to believe it as much as Peter did.

Michelle fell in love with the message vibrated throughout her body.

The Bolshivarians’ message continued to be sent directly into the brains of everyone in the basement: no more city-states, each governed by a corporation. The numbing, apathy-inducing effects of vaccines imposed on world populations would be nullified. No more loneliness. No more alienation, no more mutual hate and anger, but communities of loving people, working and helping each other. We Bolshivarians can transform your world. We are your salvation.

This, from the aliens that killed my parents? Peter wondered.

I watched our 22-year-old son get torn to pieces, Karen thought. He was an ambitious yuppie, but did he deserve to die because of ambition? Did our salvation really necessitate his death?

We’ve had to bury our feelings deep down, just to survive, Tory thought. Just to escape our son’s fate.

Now the message changed from promises of an improved world to a kind of communion with the Bolshivarians, a shared consciousness. Vibrations passed from person to person in waves moving from one side of the basement to the other. A collective empathy washed over all of them in a cool cleansing.

Oh, this feels wonderful! Michelle thought, grinning. Beautiful!

All in attendance experienced a peaceful, oceanic state. Ripples of soothing vibrations flowed back and forth, left and right, among all of them. They were no longer separate entities: they were all one. Even Peter, Tory, and Karen let go of their doubts and began to enjoy the experience.

Not even acid feels this good, Tory thought.

Everyone, always with his or her eyes shut, always breathing in and out slowly and deeply as if meditating, fell into a dreamlike state. They all started seeing familiar faces from their pasts.

Bob saw Phil approaching him. I miss you so much, Bob thought, a tear running down his cheek. It’s as if you’d been gone for years.

Don’t feel with your human body, Phil told him in his thoughts. Feel through the Bolshivarians inside you, and it will be as if I’d never left you. We’re all united through them. You know that.

Tory and Karen saw the face of their son. Cameron! mother and father shouted out to him in their thoughts.

Don’t be angry with the Bolshivarians on my account, he told them mentally. They didn’t kill me. My rejection of their values did. I lived a greedy, selfish, ambitious life. They gave me a chance to rethink my attitude, to reject my greed, and I refused to. It’s that kind of selfishness that’s destroying all life here. Better that a few of us die than everybody. If only I’d had the eyes to see where I was going wrong, while I still had the chance. I failed you both. I’m sorry.

Both parents’ faces were soaked with tears.

Peter saw his mom and dad before him. His heart thumped harder and faster.

You were right, son, his father told him. We should have listened to you instead of chasing money and power.

Yes, Peter, his mother echoed in his thoughts. We are so sorry. The Bolshivarians tried to show us the way, and we wouldn’t open our minds to it. Our deaths were all our fault. Don’t blame them.

Are these really my parents’ spirits? Peter wondered. I’d really like to believe it’s them…I so, so want to believe it’s them!…but is it an illusion the Bolshivarians are pushing on us to make us all side with them? Was President Price right in warning us of their attempts to get us on their side, or was she lying, the way the American government always lies? Again, the only thing making me side with the Bolshivarians is my hate for the political establishment of our world, which has already proven itself the worst that anything could possibly be. But can there be anything worse than that?

Finally, Michelle saw her father.

I’m so sorry for not listening to you, Michelle, he told her psychically. I brought my death onto myself. It was all my fault.

“Oh, Daddy, don’t blame yourself,” she whispered, her closed eyes letting out a few tears. “You didn’t know.”

I refused to allow myself to know, he said in her mind’s ear. Your mother did, and she allowed herself to adapt, as I should have done.

Then Siobhan appeared, standing next to him in Michelle’s vision.

“Mom!” Michelle sobbed audibly. “How are you two here?”

(Peter heard her, turned his head in her direction, then resumed listening to his parents, his eyes kept shut the whole time.)

When the aliens came inside us, they absorbed our energy, her dad said. We are part of the Bolshivarian collective consciousness, even in death. We’ll always be with you, Michelle.

We’ll never leave you, sweetie, Siobhan said. Don’t grieve.

Michelle was sobbing louder.

Just let the balls of light come inside you, and you can commune with us anytime, her father said.

It’ll be as if we never left you, Siobhan said.

“Yes,” Michelle sobbed.

We never really died, sweetie, her mom said. We died only in body.

“I love you,” Michelle sobbed.

We love you, too, her father said. Now, to show us your love, do as the Bolshivarians wish.

“I will,” Michelle said, wiping the tears off her cheeks.

It’s for the good of humanity, Siobhan said.

The apparitions vanished. The dots of light came out of everyone, they rose up above the people’s heads, and everyone opened his eyes. All eyes were now on Lenny again.

“Friends, brothers and sisters,” he said into the microphone. “It is time to band together. Our enemy is about to strike, and we must be ready.”

OK, Peter thought. I just hope that the greater enemy isn’t you.

A New…and Different…Poem by Jason Ryan Morton

This new poem by Jason Ryan Morton is–based on all the stuff of his that I’ve read and analyzed–quite a departure. His words are in italics to distinguish them from mine, as usual. Here’s the poem:

In the light of the moon
Pale reflections of Adoration
Enjoy the oceanic saturation
Drinking in beauty of the Goddess three
My love – my heart
The soul of me cries out to touch your lips
With a ghost of a kiss
Brushing my life within your heart
A truth of the dawn heralding a new light
I slowly blend with you into one form
Thus an eclipse is born.

And now for my analysis.

Normally, Jason’s writing is full of themes of despair and trauma, but here we see him adoring beauty and light. Instead of irreverence to religion, and denial of belief in God (a male god, mind you), we have an affirmation of the Divine Feminine, presumably in a metaphorical sense.

He’s looking up to the moonlight and admiring its beauty. The moonlight reflects his “Adoration” back to him; note the capitalizing of Adoration, suggesting that it’s his love that does the deifying. We send out love, and love gratefully comes back to us.

I really like the assonant music of this line: “Enjoy the oceanic saturation.” One feels saturated with the divine beauty surrounding us and passing within us, a connection with the oceanic universe. One is “drinking in,” internalizing the natural beauty all around, the beauty of the Triple Goddess.

He is in love with the moon goddess, wanting to kiss her glowing lips. The “ghost of a kiss” brushes his life, which is within her heart, for inside her heart is where his life and happiness lie.

“A truth of the dawn heralding a new light” seems to indicate that he has found new vitality and hope from her, a vitality and hope to replace the despair and trauma he wrote about before. He would “blend with [her] into one form,” like Atman discovering its identity with Brahman, and finding peace in moksha.

Now, “an eclipse is born” with this blending of him with her into one form. Such a blending suggests that Jason is identifying himself with the sun, since not only is there a solar eclipse, the result of the moon passing in front of the sun; but also since the moonlight is a reflection of the sunlight off of it. If he is identifying himself with the sunlight, then that sunlight can be seen to represent the fiery passions, which are calmed when absorbed by the moon, like a loving mother soothing her agitated baby.

But could the “eclipse” be a case of “love is blind”? Could the moon be driving Jason lunatic; does her mesmerizing beauty block his ability to see straight, to give and receive his solar light? Is this why “Adoration” is capitalized, the deification of his love projected onto her, rather than she herself deified? Is this the meaning of “the dawn heralding a new light,” that his new vitality and hope come not from her, but from his idealizing of her in his mind? Is his love for her real, or is it an illusion?

I’ll leave you, Dear Reader, to decide whether his love of the moon is real or delusional, whether it is good for him or not.

Analysis of ‘Rope’

I: Introduction

Rope is a 1948 thriller film produced (with Sidney Bernstein) and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted by Hume Cronyn and with a screenplay by Arthur Laurents. It is based on the 1929 Patrick Hamilton play of the same name (called Rope’s End in American productions), the play in turn having been inspired by the Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924.

The film stars James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger. It’s the first of Hitchcock’s Technicolor films, and is notable for taking place in real time and being edited to seem a single, continuous shot through the use of long takes. It’s also the second, after Lifeboat, of his “limited setting” films, since Rope takes place entirely inside an apartment (the outside showing only during the beginning credits and through windows throughout the rest of the film).

Contemporary reviews of the film were mixed, it did poorly at the box office, and neither Hitchcock nor Stewart were happy with the results of the real time experiment. The film’s reputation has improved over the decades, though, and it has, as of this writing, a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 49 reviews), with this consensus: “As formally audacious as it is narratively brilliant, Rope connects a powerful ensemble in service of a darkly satisfying crime thriller from a master of the genre.”

Quotes from the film can be found here.

II: Getting a Grip on the Rope

The symbolism of rope, and of rope’s end, ought to be discussed first. The continuous length of rope suggests the continuance of life, just like the real time continuity of the film. Still, the rope must come to its end, rather like the thread of life spun by Clotho, of the Fates, and cut by Atropos.

Similarly, though the film tries to simulate the effect of one seamless take of eighty minutes, back in 1948, takes couldn’t be any longer than ten minutes; so such tricks as having actors’ backs, or those of furniture, block the screen to allow unnoticed switches of reels, were necessary. Also, several cuts are unmasked, as at 19:45, 34:34, 51:56, and 1:09:51. So, there’s the continuity of Rope, as well as the Rope’s End cuts.

The symbolism thus is of life juxtaposed against death, for the ‘life’ of the party that carries on through most of the film coincides with the knowledge that there’s a dead man’s body hiding in a large antique wooden chest, on which dinner is served. Rope, of course, is also the murder weapon.

Hamilton’s play is also continuous in action, adhering to the three unities of place (one setting: the apartment), of time (that of the evening’s party, and no other), and of action (only the one plot of the party and the secret murder). Even this continuous action, though, is divided by the curtain fall at the end of each act: Rope‘s continuity is cut at Rope’s End.

Hamilton’s is what one would call a “well-made play,” whose characteristics are combined with the classical unities mentioned above; this form that it’s in is also symbolic of the elitist thinking of the murderers, who fancy themselves ‘well-made men.’ They are Wyndham Brandon and Charles “Granno” Granillo in the play, but respectively renamed Brandon Shaw (Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Granger) in the film.

These well-to-do young men would end a man’s life to clear the way for the lives of “superior” men like themselves. They use rope as an executioner would, and as Rupert Cadell (Stewart in the film) says at the end of the play, they’ll hang (i.e., by rope–perfect karma) for their crime (Stewart’s Cadell says they’ll die).

Apart from the paradoxical life/death symbolism, the rope can also represent a link between words and deeds. As Slavoj Zižek explains, ‘By means of a prohibition of montage, Rope enacts a psychotic passage à l’acte (the “rope” from the title of the film is, of course, ultimately the “rope” connecting “words” and “acts,” i.e., it marks the moment at which the symbolic, so to speak, falls into the real…the homosexual, murderous couple take words “literally,” they pass from them immediately to “deeds,” realizing the professor’s [James Stewart’s] pseudo-Nietzschean theories that concern precisely the absence of prohibition–to “superhumans,” everything is permitted).’ (Ziźek, page 42)

Another symbolism for the rope is to be understood in light of how the murder of David Kentley (played by Dick Hogan; in Hamilton’s play, the victim is named Ronald Kentley) is, metaphorically speaking, an act of gay sex. In this context, Kentley’s head and neck are the phallus, and the rope is–pardon my crudity, Dear Reader–the tightening sphincter.

This all ties in with the next topic of discussion.

III: Of Homosexuals and Homicide

With the prudish Production Code at the height of its authority and power in the late 1940s, one would think it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to include any gay innuendo in a film. Nonetheless, Hitchcock managed to pull it off with Rope, as he would later do in Strangers On a Train.

Though Hitchcock was a bourgeois liberal, he actually had quite a progressive attitude towards homosexuality for people of the time, and he was intrigued with the idea of suggesting that not only the two young killers, but also Cadell, were gay. Hitchcock often pushed the censors as far as he could (recall the kissing scene in Notorious between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and how close we seem to come to seeing Janet Leigh naked in the shower scene in Psycho); so it would have been irresistible to him to drop many, many hints that the two young killers in Rope are a couple.

Not only are the characters gay, but so were the actors: Dall (closeted) and bisexual Granger. In fact, even the scriptwriter, Laurents, was gay…and he often wondered if Stewart knew that the character he was playing was gay. So Hitchcock had no bigotry towards LGBT people (recall that Anthony Perkins was also bisexual).

These characters in the film are gay because Brandon and Granno are hinted at being gay in Hamilton’s play, too. This is so because, in turn, Leopold and Loeb were actually gay lovers. Hamilton was a socialist, as Hitchcock was socially liberal, so both playwright and auteur would have wanted to address homosexuality in their productions of this story.

Now, the film begins with the strangling of (or symbolic sex with) David, who gives off quite an…orgasmic…scream. The lights are off, the curtains drawn in the middle of a sunny day outside; after all, we generally prefer to screw in the dark, don’t we? Especially if it’s in the socially taboo form of gay sex, something especially taboo before the second half of the twentieth century.

Phillip/Granno wants to keep the lights off and the curtains drawn for a while longer, since he’s the weaker-willed of the killers. Brandon fittingly lights a cigarette. Both are panting. They put Kentley’s body in the wooden chest, on which Brandon would proudly have dinner served.

After handling a phallic champagne bottle, Phillip asks Brandon how he felt doing “it,” a euphemism at the time for homosexual sex, but also of course referring to the murder, since the latter sin is symbolic of the former in Rope. Brandon answers that when David’s body went “limp” [!], he felt “tremendously exhilarated.” Now, how should we think about associating gay sex with murder?

The Legion of Decency–a group of Catholics working in association with the Hays Code, and watching every film of the time like a hawk to see if anything even suggestive of lewdness was there, and thus needing to be censored, boycotted, or banned–surely must have sniffed out the homosexual innuendo in Rope. Still, they approved of it. I suspect that they allowed Rope to go past the censors because, in their Catholic bigotry, they were happy to present to the public a film that associates homosexuality with homicide, a morality tale to deter the Christian flock from ever practicing…it.

But surely neither Hitchcock nor Laurents wanted to promote such an idea, did they? This seems to be where the good gay character, Rupert Cadell, comes in. Now, with Jimmy Stewart’s box office draw and charm as a movie star, the homosexuality of his character had to be toned down. The scenes in which Brandon and Cadell discuss “strangling chickens,” though, would be enough of a hint at Cadell being as gay as the killers.

The association of homosexuality with murder also hints, however subtly, that Cadell is either gay or at least philosophically approving of homosexuality. His defence of murder can thus be seen as a code for defending homosexuality. He is a liberal defending something deemed a sin by society; but like many a liberal hypocrite, he’s disgusted and horrified when presented with a graphic presentation of the act, as we see symbolized by Kentley’s murder, at the end of Rope.

The association of homosexuality with murder, in a way, can be seen historically in the homophobic fear–a totally irrational fear given the low percentage of the world’s gay people (as can be seen, for example, in these statistics of LGBT people in the US)–that tolerance of such sexual practices (anal and oral sex, mutual masturbation, or…choking chickens!) would result in a society producing far fewer children than an exclusively heterosexual, monogamous one. Such “murderers of [their] own posterity” as gays and perpetual bachelors were seen to be detrimental to the survival of any society (Farrell, pages 73-74).

Now, empires, in their political strength, have been somewhat more tolerant of homosexuality; but the Abrahamic religions started out as persecuted minorities, in whom a quick population increase was desperately wanted. Hence the homophobic passages unfortunately immortalized in the Bible (Leviticus 20:13) and the Koran (Al-Nisa, verse 16), meant to discourage gay sexuality, or similar scriptural passages condemning any sexual acts that didn’t result in children protected through the institution of heterosexual marriage.

Small wonder the Nazis condemned homosexuality as contributing to ‘race suicide,’ and put gay men in concentration camps. There was, however, Ernst Röhm, head of the SA, and a practicing homosexual. His sexuality was known, and Hitler grudgingly tolerated him for a while, because Röhm was so highly placed in the NSDAP; but when Hitler had come to power and needed to wipe out anyone who was deemed a threat to him, Röhm’s homosexuality was conveniently used as part of the rationale for having him killed.

A discussion of Nazi ‘superiority’ over homosexual ‘inferiority’ thus ties in with the next topic.

IV: From Untermenschen to Übermenschen

One of Hitchcock’s main purposes in making Rope was to discredit the Nazi notion of the ‘superior Aryan.’ We can see an irony in having two gay men, considered ‘inferior’ not only by Nazis but also by conservative society in general, who fancy themselves examples of the Nietzschean Superman. Röhm would have seen himself racially thus, too, as would his gay deputy, Edmund Heines.

[It’s interesting to note in passing that some have speculated that Nietzsche was gay. Also, one should recall how his younger sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, edited his writing to make his notion of the Superman seem proto-Nazi.]

To get back to Hitchcock’s intentions for the film, though, and his commendable use of Rope as a condemnation of Nazi thinking, on the other hand one mustn’t forget his reactionary stance as a bourgeois liberal, who during the late 1940s would naturally have been eager to distance himself from fascism as much as he could. All the same, consider in this connection what Stalin once said about liberals and their ilk: “Social-Democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” Nazis are to be crushed, not merely distanced from; and Western liberals were using unpunished ex-Nazis to help them fight the Cold War, starting right around the time that Rope was made.

Connected to all of this is a passage about homosexuals in Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis: ‘homosexuals or inverts…are men and women who otherwise have reached an irreproachably high standard of mental growth and development, intellectually and ethically, and are only afflicted with this one fateful peculiarity. Through the mouths of their scientific spokesmen they lay claim to be a special variety of the human race, a “third sex,” as they call it, standing with equal rights alongside the other two. We may perhaps have an opportunity of critically examining these claims. They are not, of course, as they would gladly maintain, the “elect” of mankind; they contain in their ranks at least as many inferior and worthless individuals as are to be found among those differently constituted sexually.’ (Freud, pages 313-314)

I bring up this quote because Hitchcock was known to have been heavily influenced by Freud and psychoanalysis, and gay Brandon’s and Phillip’s preoccupation with Nietzschean ‘superiority’ causes me to wonder if Hitchcock ever read the above-quoted book by Freud, its ideas influencing him in his making of Rope.

In any case, Brandon’s (especially) and Phillip’s/Granno’s sense of superiority doesn’t stem from their homosexuality, but rather from malignant narcissism, in which we see a huge overlapping of extreme narcissistic and psychopathic (ASPD) personality traits. Though the two may have felt narcissistic injury from being regarded by society as ‘sex perverts,’ and therefore wish to assert their ‘superiority’ by displaying the courage to kill, the thrill factor in killing Kentley seems to indicate the psychopathic side to Brandon’s personality, an impatience with boredom.

Now, Phillip/Granno, being the weaker-willed of the two killers, and lacking Brandon’s ability to tolerate stress (even though it is Phillip who does the actual strangling of Kentley!), is racked with guilt and stress throughout the film. While this guilt is surely a factor in his outburst, denying he’s ever strangled a chicken, this denial seems more connected with the implication, as stated above, that he’s gay rather than a killer. In other words, his lie that he’s never strangled a chicken seems to be his narcissistic rage at being implicitly labelled ‘queer.’

The narcissism of the two young killers can be linked to something else, in fact, something far more significant than being gay or wishing to emulate the philosophy of Nietzsche: it’s their elevated social class that gives them a false sense of superiority to most other people.

This ties in with the next point.

V: The Übermenschlichkeit of Capital

Brandon and Phillip/Granno, just like their real-life inspirations, Leopold and Loeb, are spoiled, well-to-do kids from affluent families. They’re preppy students living in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, wearing nice suits, drinking fine champagne, and inviting similarly upper-middle-class friends to their evening party. They also have a servant in their employ, played by Edith Evanson.

Their smug belief in their supposed superiority is therefore symbolic of the narcissism of capital in general. Capitalist imperialists, like those in the British Empire, and now the US, have justified their plundering of the world–killing millions in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia (whether directly or indirectly)–by imagining their stock and civilization to be superior to all the brown people they’ve brutalized. Killing a fellow preppy like Kentley doesn’t deflate my argument, for those white imperialists, the Nazis, killed such whites as Jews and Slavs in their racist hubris, too.

Cadell’s ‘defence’ of murder is meant to be heard as a sardonic take on the hypocrisies of bourgeois society, not as a green light for Brandon and Phillip/Granno to kill. Cadell’s words, like Sade‘s glorification of the most heinous of crimes, are cloaked in irony. Cadell points out, in Hamilton’s play, that war is murder on a mass scale, and thoroughly approved of by patriotic society. Similarly, Hamilton’s Cadell approves of theft because society already condones capitalists’ theft of the poor through their ownership of private property: in this observation, he refers to Proudhon‘s notion that property is theft. Hamilton the socialist would have wanted to make this point to his audience, in the hopes of promoting progressive social change. In these ways, Cadell’s approval of crime is the opposite of capitalist Brandon’s relishing in crime.

…and the notion of narcissistic, bourgeois hypocrisy ties in with the final topic.

VI: Opening the Chest

Another part of narcissism is presenting a False Self to the world, a hiding of one’s True Self. Brandon’s and Phillip’s/Granno’s pretensions to superiority are an example of the False Self, while the concealment of their crime in the chest symbolizes the hiding of the True Self.

Since the crime is also symbolic of gay sex, the two killers are presenting themselves publicly as straight, ‘respectable’ members of society with their innocuous, high-class party. Phillip’s vehement yet dishonest denial of having ever strangled a chicken is an example of such pretending. Cadell, who knows better, and who is growing increasingly suspicious of his two young hosts, cross-examines Phillip, so to speak, while the latter is playing the piano. Cadell has witnessed the…choking of chickens…and knows Phillip has lied in his denial of committing the act. This cross-examination happens while Phillip has been playing, over and over again, the first of Francis Poulenc‘s Trois mouvements perpétuels. (Poulenc, incidentally, was also gay.)

The harmonic construction of the piano piece is a perfect parallel to the growing tension in the movie. It starts off with a pretty, light tune, the ideal sort of musical setting to a party with such people as the father (played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke), girlfriend (played by Joan Chandler), and friend (played by Douglas Dick) of the murder victim, none of whom of course know of the murder. But as the piano piece carries on, it grows–however subtly–more and more dissonant, something paralleled in the unease that the guests are feeling over Kentley’s never showing up for the party. Though Phillip never plays the first movement to the end, anyone who has heard it knows it ends at the height of inconclusive dissonance, just as the film ends at the height of tension and uncertainty for the two killers.

Now, Phillip has been revealing his guilty True Self through such parapraxes as breaking a wine glass in his bloodied hand and letting out nervous outbursts; his heavy drinking is also facilitating his disclosing of guilt. Brandon, on the other hand, enjoys suggesting that he’s guilty of murder, for he fancies himself above the common man’s hypocritical pretences of virtue.

In these ways, just as Rope demonstrates the dialectical relationships between life and death, continuity and breaks in it, ‘inferiority’ and ‘superiority,’ and pride (Brandon) vs. shame (Phillip), so does it demonstrate the dialectical opposition between hiding one’s True Self behind a mask of one’s False Self on the one hand, and on the other, removing the False Self mask to reveal the True Self, be such a removal through parapraxes or through the criminal’s vanity, his proud wish to display his murder to the world.

Just as the murder symbolizes gay sex, so does hiding the body symbolize hiding one’s homosexuality, while Brandon’s unconscious wish to have his mentor, Cadell, know of the crime represents a wish to come out of the closet…or come out of the casket, as is the case here…Brandon’s defiant wish to tell the world that homosexuality is no crime.

In keeping with the gay interpretation, though, we find that liberal Cadell, in his condemnation of the two young men’s symbolic gay sex act, is a hypocrite himself. He has philosophically condoned the act a mere 40 minutes before this condemnation, an unmasking of his own False Self. He thanks Brandon for this unmasking, just as Brandon has wished to be unmasked, too.

At the same time, though, in keeping with the capitalist/imperialist interpretation (particularly in Hamilton’s play), Cadell redeems himself by, first of all, frankly acknowledging his own guilt in killing in war and stealing in his ownership of private property, and second of all, condemning Brandon’s and Granno’s murdering of Kentley (an excess Cadell would never lower himself to), all out of a narcissistic fancying of themselves as superior.

Cadell’s redemption, however, is only partial: for as a liberal (as Hitchcock was), he is symbolically condemning the excesses of fascist delusions of superiority used to justify killing, while maintaining the bourgeois liberal class structure of society out of which fascism arises in times of crisis…just as Cadell’s verbal approval of murder inspired these two bad boys’ achievement of murder.

The rope that links the teacher and his pupils doesn’t end here, doesn’t get cut off, through the difference between word and deed. The continuity between the former and the latter is as smooth as Hitchcock’s deft camera tricks hiding the cuts between long takes.

The Second Poem from Jason Ryan Morton’s Book, ‘Diverging Paths’

I will now analyze poem ‘Two’ from Diverging Paths, a book of poetry and prose by my Facebook friend, Jason Ryan Morton, whose work I’ve looked at before. As before, I’ll be setting his poem in italics to distinguish his writing from mine. Here it is:

Words unheard don’t get the attention they deserve, 
The fall of life on a knife, 
A tongue of sword, 
Swerving to hit the closest, 
Human just a demon, 
In godlike form,

And now, for my analysis.

“The fall of life on a knife” isn’t a literal knife, but the knife of verbal abuse, “a tongue of sword.” Now, there are the hurtful words one hears screamed at oneself, then there are the words one tries to say in one’s self-defence. These are “words unheard”; and not being listened to, not being validated, can be just as painful as hearing the hurtful language of an abuser, for they “don’t get the attention they deserve.”

The sword or knife of verbal abuse is most often “swerving to hit the closest,” that is, those people closest to the abuser: family, close friends, co-workers, anyone whose company tends to be taken for granted.

The abuser is publicly perceived to be virtuous, “in godlike form,” but in terms of his or her nastiness, this “human” is “just a demon.” Such is the reality of the false and true selves of a narcissistic abuser.

The commas at the end of every line, especially the last one, suggest the ongoing, unending problem of abuse. It only ends when we break things off and get away. It’s an ending that comes off as abrupt, as if more was expected before the ending, like a sentence ended with a comma instead of a period.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Ten

Three days later, Peter, Michelle, and the two bodyguards arrived in their hotel rooms in Luanda, Angola. The couples’ rooms were right next door to each other.

“Remember,” one of the bodyguards told Peter and Michelle before putting the key into the door of his room. “If you need us urgently, bang on the wall, and we’ll be right over.”

“OK,” Michelle said as she put the key into the door of her and Peter’s room. “Thanks, Bob.”

“One of us will guard you as you sleep,” the second bodyguard said as Bob opened their door. “Me, tonight. Bob, tomorrow night, and back and forth between us, night after night.”

“Thanks, Phil,” Peter said as she opened their door.

“We’ll put our bags on our beds, then come right over to your room to discuss our plans to meet up with Lenny Van der Meer,” Bob said. “We won’t be long discussing it, as we know how tired you two are.” They went in their rooms and closed the doors.

“I’m amazed at how well they were able to get us out here so fast,” Peter said as he and Michelle put their luggage on their bed. “There really are a lot of carriers out there in so many parts of the world.”

“And they all link together so well,” Michelle said. “Those little balls of light in their bodies seem to be able to feel each other’s presence from miles away.”

“It’s like they’re using the Force, or something,” he said. “I just don’t understand why they chose such a cheap hotel for us. We have money; we could have gotten something much nicer.”

“They said they had a reason for choosing this place,” she said. “We’ll know why soon enough.”

They heard a knock on the door. Peter hurried over to open it.

“Wait, be careful,” she said. “Look through the peephole first. Remember that guy who seemed to be following us all the way from Pearson Airport. Bob and Phil think he’s another assassin waiting to strike.”

Peter looked through the peephole. It was Bob and Phil.

“It’s OK,” he said, and opened the door for them.

“Our contacts tell us we’ll be able to meet with Lenny tomorrow afternoon at about three in their hideout just a mile outside of Luanda,” Phil said as he and Bob walked into the room. Peter took a quick look around the empty hall before closing the door.

“It’s great to have you two to give Lenny and his people assurances that we’re on his side,” Michelle said.

“What about that assassin, though?” Peter asked. “Are you sure he’s an assassin? How do you know he’s not someone who by coincidence was just coming to Luanda on our flight?”

“We know,” Bob said, with a hard look of self-assurance in his eyes. “We knew he was outside your house the night we heard the president’s speech.”

“And you lit up the room with your dots of light, so he’d know who to target?” Peter asked with a sneer.

“He already knew about us,” Phil said. “His people killed Siobhan…”

Michelle shuddered when she heard that.

“…knowing she had us to protect her,” Phil continued, “and now to protect you. We didn’t reveal anything to him that he didn’t already know; we weren’t in any less danger before the lighting up than after it.”

“We were taunting him, if anything,” Bob said. “We were hoping he’d strike that very night, when we were ready for him. All alone in your house, without anybody outside knowing about it.”

“Unfortunately, his stalking us like this is dragging it out,” Michelle said. “I hope he doesn’t strike when we meet Lenny tomorrow.”

“He’ll want to strike in a public place, to expose us,” Phil said.

“Still, if he strikes in Lenny’s hideout, he’s stupid,” Bob said. “With so many of us to protect Lenny, the assassin will be split up into pieces almost instantly.”

Michelle turned on the TV. “Let’s find out what’s going on in the world,” she said.

“I’m hot,” Peter said, reaching for the hotel phone on the bedside table. “I’m calling room service for some drinks. What d’you want, Michelle?”

“Ginger ale, if they have it,” she said as she went through the channels to find the news.

“You guys want anything?” he asked them.

“I’m OK, thanks,” Bob said.

“Me, too,” Phil said.

Michelle switched the TV to CNN. It was showing a live press conference with President Price, who was listening to a reporter’s question. “BREAKING NEWS” was showing in big letters along the bottom of the screen, with “ALIENS ATTACK AFRICA.”

“What?” Michelle said, wide-eyed and her jaw dropping. She turned up the volume.

“What is the plan for dealing with all the American troops suddenly killed in all of these military bases?” a reporter asked the president.

“Our first plan is to send deployments of our air force to the bases and surrounding areas,” she answered. “Including drones. We will start with airstrikes in the areas most severely hit, places like Burkina Faso, Angola, and Zimbabwe. If the airstrikes are successful, we will do the same to the other, less severely hit areas. If not successful, we’ll have to consider…well, a more sweeping response.”

“Which is…?” the reporter asked.

“That is something I’m not at liberty to talk about at the moment,” the president said, then left the podium and began leaving the room. “We’ll update you as soon as we’ve gotten word on the outcomes of the airstrikes. Thank you.”

“Madame President?!” another reporter shouted, but she had already left the room.

“Holy shit,” Peter said. “We just entered a war zone.”

“The war has begun,” Bob said. “Just as you said it would, Phil.”

Michelle continued following the developing news story; her eyes were glued to the TV.

“Do your connections know about this?” Peter asked. “Have they told you about their plans?”

“We know of a general plan to make carriers of all the people in developing countries,” Phil said. “Not much more detail than that.”

“Certainly nothing about hitting American military bases,” Bob said. “We should have thought twice about coming here, given the planned American response.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” Peter said. “I feel more comfortable being around you than around the powers-that-be back at home.”

“Thank you, Peter,” the bodyguards said in unison.

Wow, Peter thought. Their voices sound like that of one man. Do they lack individuality, as the media claim they do?

The doorbell rang. “Room service!” a male voice with an African accent said.

“Our drinks!” Peter said, rushing to the door. “Good!”

Bob and Phil looked over at the door with frowns.

Peter opened it wide. A black man held, not a tray of drinks, but a pistol.

“Shit!” Peter shouted, then jumped out of the way and fell on the floor.

Michelle looked behind her, her eyes and mouth even more agape.

Bob and Phil pulled out their pistols. Phil ran for the door and let out his dots of light.

“No!” Bob screamed, aiming at the assassin.

But the assassin shot first, hitting Phil in the chest just as he’d reached the doorway. He fell on his back, and the dots of light flew at his killer.

Not missing a beat, the assassin pulled a small can of bug spray from his left pants pocket with his free hand, and he sprayed the first several balls of light coming at him. All the lights dropped like marbles on the floor.

Before he could shoot or spray again, Bob fired a bullet in his forehead. He dropped on his front, right by Phil’s feet, with his own legs still outside the door and in the hallway.

“Peter?” Bob said, bordering on sobbing. “C-could you please pull the killer’s body into the room for me? I can’t risk getting too close to it, with that toxic spray in the air.”

“Sure,” Peter said, then went over and pulled the assassin’s body in, getting his feet past the doorway, and closed the door. Bob pulled Phil’s body further into the centre of the room and away from the assassin’s body. He knelt before Phil’s head and wept.

“Was he your brother, or something?” Michelle asked.

“My lover,” Bob said, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. They have feelings no less than we do, she thought. The aliens inside them don’t diminish human emotion; they may be odd in expressing it, but they don’t feel it any less.

“What about the rest of the people in the hotel?” Peter asked. “They’ll have heard the gunshots.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Bob said. “Everybody in Africa is being made a carrier, or being torn to pieces if they reject us.” He closed Phil’s eyes. “That’s what hitting the US military bases was all about. If we can succeed in taking all of them out, then taking out, or converting, the rest of the African population will be all the easier.”

Suddenly, they heard a man screaming from down the hall.

The three of them ran out into the hall in the direction of the voice. They turned a corner and found the man who’d gone with them on the plane from Toronto.

“We told you he was an assassin,” Bob said after seeing the man’s pistol and can of bug spray lying on either side of him on the floor.

He lay there on his back, shaking and screaming, his body ripping open wide enough to tear holes in his shirt and pants legs. His heart, lungs, and stomach were showing behind his ripped-open ribcage, and his leg muscles were showing. Though he had the red crack marks on his face, since he hadn’t opened up there yet, he was recognizable to Bob, Peter, and Michelle.

A crowd of guests and hotel staff were standing in a circle around him, staring down intently at him. The glowing little white balls were hovering everywhere among and around their carriers.

The man’s head was ripping open now, exposing his brain. After one last scream, his body blew apart, spraying blood everywhere.

“He must have provided our ‘room service’,” Peter said.

“No doubt of that,” Bob said. “And now you understand why we chose this cheap hotel to spend the night. Our people are everywhere in it. Now that he’s out of the way, we should be safe to stay here until we go to meet Lenny Van der Meer.”

“Then we’ll just have to worry about the coming airstrikes,” Michelle added.