SmartMonsters

Sunday, June 4, 2017

James A. Cook, farmboy from Yorkshire; James T. Kirk, farmboy from Iowa

James A. Cook, farmboy from Yorkshire; James T. Kirk, farmboy from Iowa. The Endeavour; The Enterprise. Three-year mission; five-year mission. "Farther than any other man has been before me"; "where no man has gone before". Boldly going, into a narrative space which was at least already partly mapped.

My interest here is in this contemporary retelling of old, half-remembered, half-familiar stories. Myth and Modernism, Ulysses and the Odyssey, or more sinisterly the calculated political manipulation of myth and symbol by the Nazis. Jung says these images are hardwired into the collective unconscious. I find that mystical, and mystified. More likely the tales encountered in grammar school remain latent for later reactivation.

Striking case in point: Spielberg's E.T. Retelling of Peter Pan, where Elliott is Peter, the neighborhood kids are the Lost Boys, and E.T. is Tinkerbell. What's the first dialog spoken to Elliott? "Grow up!" When E.T. is "dead" what does Elliott say? "I'll believe in you." E.T. sprinkles fairy dust and the Lost Boys on Bikes fly. This is explicit on the part of the filmmakers. They say so out loud: there are two separate scenes of Mom reading Peter Pan to little Gertie, including "Clap your hands if you believe in fairies!" They've sprinkled these direct references to the narrative they're re-narrating, expecting them to operate, I think, unconsciously or semi-consciously on childhood memories largely submerged. I believe this is in large part what made such a pedestrian flick so memorable. It fascinates me that literally not one person I've mentioned this to over thirty plus years had been consciously aware of the parallel before we spoke of it. It seems that even when the fact of retelling is shoved up the audience's nose, the retelling continues to operate at an unconscious level. "That's very interesting" — Captain Jack Sparrow.

Were Roddenberry and crew intentionally operating with legends of Cook? Certainly the name and the famous tagline were modeled on his. I don't know whether any of Kirk's experiences evoke Cook's. Not sure it matters.

Thomas Mann, of course, in his syrupy middle-class burgherish way. T.S. Eliot in his brilliant leaping syntheses. George Lucas drawing on Joseph Campbell, although I think Luke Skywalker's mythic arc has been vastly overstated. How deep will the catalog go?

To my knowledge, none of TriadCity's authors has knowingly paralleled previous narratives. I frequently draw on borrowed characters, but that practice is a different narrative ontology than Modernism's or Spielberg's. It's a simple juxtaposition, where a borrowed character with a well-understood context is placed in an ostensibly foreign one, inviting potentially infinitely receding comparison of worlds. The respective narrative structures are not paralleled apart from this anachronistic character. It's a different beastie.

We could do the kind of recycled storytelling Spielberg practiced in E.T. I'm not sure it's appropriate. For TriadCity authors the very concept of "storytelling" is reactionary. It's a throwback to works whose modes of distribution imposed time's arrow on their consumers, where the elements of the work will always be encountered in the same order with each new reading or each new viewing, and mythic resonance is one technique for implying dimensions that are in fact absent. Virtual worlds are unconstrained by time's arrow: their narrative ontologies are multidimensional by default. Do we need to go backward?

Robert Natkin, abstract

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