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2001: An Alchemical Spatial Odyssey

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Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s concurrently-written science fiction novelwas a visual and technical accomplishment, unparalleled at the time of its making. Not only were the technical advances monumental, it was also a film that was uniquely philosophical.  Prior to 2001, most science fiction had been relatively cartoonish, with little attention to esoteric and alchemical themes, aside from scant instances. And that is precisely what 2001 is – an alchemical slash philosophical presentation of the supposed evolutionary ascent of man from primal, animalistic ape into reborn Starchild, an initiatory process that purports to unfold through aeons of brute, meaningless time, culminating in a series of revelations associated with stellar alignments that “awaken” a new stage in the process.  Along the way, Kubrick includes a host of ideas and themes that I will exegete below.  Ultimately, my thesis is this: 2001 is about space, planar, pointed and linear, in a geometric sense, and the transcending of that limitation of form, into the infinite and beyond form.

In the opening sequences we witness a few crucial elements: the planetary alignment, the monkeys and the monolith.  The setting is a dry, dusty landscape of sparse vegetation and tribes of apes shown in confrontation over a watering hole.   The planetary alignment signifies to the viewer a new aeon is emerging for man, the so-called dawn of consciousness.  Primal and savage, the apes pre-signify Kubrick’s perspective on the totality of human history, centered around resource wars.  With the advent of the monolith, composed of a wholly other, angular and sleek form, it is completely out-of-place among the sprawl of vegetation and natural, geological formations that make up the apes’ environment.  Kubrick uses, as many now know from Weidner’s documentary, the technique of front-screen projection, which allowed for a highly realistic way to shoot these scenes in a convincing way, and the possibility that NASA and the CIA were interested in this technique for media deception in relation to the moon landing is not without evidence.

Yet the real focus of this sequence is not the apes or the brutal environment, but the monolith.  As the apes are thrown into a frenzy, the monolith stands stark and cold as something both extraterrestrial, yet inviting.  The largest ape lurches forward to touch the monolith, and as a result we see the development of what Kubrick and Clark appear to conceive of as “consciousness,” correlated with techne, but not merely techne, it is technology as an extension of space and power – warfare.  The bone the ape uses to bash the skull of the other ape suggests a radical “survival of the fittest” mythos in the pure Darwinian sense, revealing a radical version of process philosophy that finds commonality with Darwin, Haeckel, and Marx, and even suggests the dialectical determinism of the Eastern Bloc Marxists like Lenin, Mao and Trotsky, all of whom have explicit treatises on the metaphysical presupposition of Marxism, being perpetual flux.

Despite the common misconception that materialistic Marxism had no metaphysic, the truth is quite the contrary, the metaphysic of Marxism is the atomistic process philosophy of old, repackaged to present man as an animal, like Darwinism, that through either radical collectivism or radical Nietzschean-influenced individualism, will attain to the status of the famed “New Man.”  I am not saying Kubrick is certainly some committed Marxist, his films do consistently present class warfare, elitism and oligarchic deviance and control.

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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