Monthly Archives: September 2006

Rhythm of Life – Jennie Rosenbaum

Last night we headed down to the Vanguard Gallery (234 High Street, Northcote 3070) to check out the opening of Jennie’s new exhibition, which is running till Saturday 7 October—everyone’s invited.

The work this time, expressionistic nudes in muted colours, is more accomplished than that of her previous show: there is a greater consistency of quality and vision. It’s enjoyable gazing at the bold oil brush lines and turpentine textures; taking in the dynamism of the shapes, each set off with a piece of colourful detail work.

As a dilettante blogger, I also appeciate that Jennie is a professional blogger, narrating her working world. If you want previews of her pieces and an insight into her inspiration, creative process, and the hard work that goes into exhibiting, check out Jennie’s Palette. But note that even the largest Flickr images can’t do justice to the real subtlety of her work.

Imagining Sinclair Happy

I asked, is there something to the conflicting First One philosophies? Richard responds:

Ainslie and I are discussing A New Man and your blog entry… All the Babylon 5 stuff is problematic… In Buffy the existentialist universe is superior to the traditional mythic universe which Babylon 5 never rises from. Such that from the existentialist point of view “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” are the same thing.

(For more on Buffy, see Rich and Ainslie.)

The primary issue here is that, like Sheridan, we three are not disposed to follow either the Shadow or Vorlon philosophies. We want to find our own way. I, however, think that the Shadow War, as waged by Sheridan, is a movement out of cosmos and into history, or, from a mythic view of the universe to an existential one. The subsequent Earth War and Season 5 are stories dead to myth.

Buffy, too, could be seen to follow the end of Babylon 5. Sheridan clears the way for Buffy’s brand of atheism, where questions of mythic justification never come up, and existence is always privileged over essence.

But the Vorlon and Shadow questions do not become identical with the shift in focus. They are not asked honestly with openness. They are teleological questions, each asked to locate a specific desired answer. The Shadows aren’t interested in your desires unless they will lead to conflict on the broadest scale. The Vorlons don’t care about how you constitute your identity, only that you are subservient to your role (contrast Comes the Inquisitor with A New Man).

Writing all this makes me think of Sinclair who I tend to think of as mythic, myth-making and myth-believing, though who knows what he does after his celebrity Valen phase. His replacement can be seen as part of the movement from myth to existentialism, but perhaps he too is an existential hero.

Consider Sinclair as being capable of creating the same crucible as Sheridan. Perhaps someone realised this and sought to neutralise him, or perhaps the universe just took a different path. A zeroing occurs with him. He loses his best friend, his girlfriend, his job, and, eventually, his race. Most tragically, he is moved to the past, where he can do nothing that hasn’t already been done. He must create the modern era Minbari, the exemplar of Vorlon philsophy.

This reminds me of the myth of Sisyphus and so, following Camus, we must imagine Sinclair happy.

Seven Planets

Planet comes from the Greek word meaning wanderer. It was used to describe the heavenly objects that moved independently, of which there seven: the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

It is from the seven classical planets that we derive the seven days of the week:

The seven-day system we use is based on the ancient astrological notion that the seven known celestial bodies influence what happens on Earth and that each of these celestial bodies controls the first hour of the day named after it. This system was brought into Hellenistic Egypt from Mesopotamia, where astrology had been practiced for millennia and where seven had always been a propitious number. In AD 321 the Emperor Constantine the Great grafted this astrological system onto the Roman calendar, made the first day of this new week a day of rest and worship for all.

So, through astrology, the heavens have affected our every day! And, as Horselover Fat would say, the Empire never ended.

Shadows

Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949):

Like the fellow says: in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Zorg in The Fifth Element (1997):

Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder, and chaos. Take this empty glass. Here it is, peaceful, serene and boring. But if it is destroyed… Look at all these little things [robot cleaners]. So busy now. Notice how each one is useful. What a lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and colour. Now think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people who’ll be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny weeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus adding to the great chain of life.

You should recognise the sentiment, from certain Nietzscheans, Social Darwinists, and teenage boys with coffee table books about military hardware. It’s also the philosophy of the Shadows, as expounded by Morden, Anna and Justin at the end of Babylon 5 Season 3. It’s an old thought. In the Western tradition, it goes back to Heraclitus

Heraclitus is famous for the aphorism, “You cannot step twice into the same rivers”. He thought that an explanation of change was foundational to any theory of nature. This led him to promote conflict, as he saw strife as something that led to change.

This view of the world was opposed by Parmenides, who argued that change is an illusion and that everything is fundamentally static. This view is one espoused by Grant Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and the Vorlons—though each draw very different conclusions from this starting point.

I’ve never had a kind word to say about the Vorlons. They stink of death: there’s a place for everyone, and everyone should be in their place. But there’s humanity in a million years (in The Deconstruction of Falling Stars), mostly incorporeal, wearing Vorlon-style encounter suits, using Vorlon hyperspace technology. There is something to be learned from them, the show suggests.

I’ve written very little about what the Vorlons are up to, what they wish to teach, and I’ve never written anything about the Shadows (except to argue with the show’s abuse of the word “evolution”). Right now I’m not sure what I would write about. Despite the presence of the two Koshs and augmented Lyta on Babylon 5, we are never told the Vorlons’ intentions until the very last (Into the Fire), when they crack under Sheridan’s pressure:

There is only order and obedience! You will do as you are told!

The Shadows, by contrast, are very chatty when directly confronted (Z’Ha’Dum and Into the Fire), and it’s easy to see their philosophy in action, and reflected in various others. I guess the Minbari since Valen are an expression of Vorlon philosophy.

So is there something to the conflicting philosophies, or were they selected as thesis and antithesis so that Sheridan could reject them as too black and white? Was there ever a genuine choice to be made, or were the Shadow Wars just shadow boxing? I’ve said before, the multiplicity of the parts of Babylon 5 build a uniformity of view. But have I ignored the First One philosophy because there’s nothing to it, or do I think there’s nothing to it because I ignored it? A question to keep in mind.

I forgive JMS

I have had a lot of trouble with the fictional JMS, creator of Babylon 5, who exists partially in rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated posts, but mostly in the fannish discourse I took part in from ’95–’98—and have kept in mind ever since.

I didn’t mind the various cast changes, but I did feel like JMS delivered less than he promised. The big broken promise was the restructuring of Season 4 and 5 to ensure the main storylines were resolved—the compromise of the Five Year Plan, the sudden lack of faith. But there were so many little things my fannish heart hated as I rewatched the DVDs: that fluffed dialogue and naff shots hadn’t been fixed! that the episodes hadn’t been ordered according to the Master List! that 422 and 501 were renumbered!…

Something happened while I was watching Twin Peaks. How can I explain it? I’m not angry any more. Why was I angry? Perhaps, as Henry Jenkins observes, I wanted to see myself as an exceptional reader and needed to set JMS up as an exceptional author. Certainly it was only in my anger at B5 that the intentional author lived on in my mind. I forgive JMS, and the author is dead. Babylon 5 is what it is.

So Pen and I finally watched The Deconstruction of Falling Stars. It almost makes sense as a coda to the series, its foreshadowing of Season 5 working well as backwards references. And you know, I think it’s an alright episode. It’s not so bad as I remembered, as perhaps I wanted it to be—a scapegoat.

Now we have watched every episode of the series. Now, when the time is right, I can truly return to Babylon 5.

(The slimline season box sets beg me: JB is selling them for $45 each; buy 2, get 1 free…)

Cliffhanger

What a cliffhanger! Jacoby beaten, Lucy’s pregnancy revealed, Nadine’s attempted suicide, James entrapped, Leo shot dead, Jacques smothered dead, Shelly and Catherine and Pete all inside the burning mill, Audrey cornered, and Coop shot! The only season-ending cliffhangers I can think of that are comparable in terms of energy and escalation are for the first season of Babylon 5 and the second season of Buffy.

The first cliffhanger I was aware of was The Best of Both Worlds, which introduced the cliffhanger to telefantasy, and left Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s third season hanging. I experienced this at a remove, living in Australia, in the country. I heard about the episode through fandom, then saw it on video (accompanied by its concluding half), before seeing it end the season on our local station. But the effect that it had on fandom, and thus on me, is hard to overestimate. It raised the stakes in a way previously unimaginable, making any wait for the new season not just eagerness—for more television as good as the ending season—but almost a pathological need to attain closure. It institutionalised the cliffhanger.

Checking the dates, I see that Twin Peaks‘ Season 1 cliffhanger originally aired on 23 May 1990. The Best of Both Worlds aired on 18 June 1990. Twin Peaks may be horror, but its cliffhanger is understood better as part of the discourse that includes Dallas, not Next Gen. Yet only a few years later, Twin Peaks did infect telefantasy, influencing The X-Files

… And this post isn’t really going anywhere, I’m just thinking in public, while I wait for the next season.

(On the topic of cliffhangers, here’s one person’s pick of the seven best season-ending cliffhangers (available on DVD). Check out the Hall of Unresolved TV Cliffhangers. And did you know that Buffy‘s season-enders, like those of Blake’s 7, were always intended to be possible ends for the show?)

Moving House

Fourteen times:

  1. Adelaide
  2. Balaclava
  3. Wilmington
  4. West Tce, Bordertown
  5. Walnut Ave, Mildura
  6. Walnut Ave, Mildura (we moved next door)
  7. Windsor St, Mildura
  8. Aylmer Crt, Mildura
  9. Monash University, Clayton
  10. Moriah St, Clayton
  11. Barkly St, Carlton
  12. Marianne Way, Mt Waverley
  13. Kangaroo Rd, Hughesdale
  14. Kerr St, Fitzroy
  15. Hickford St

Of course, I’ve moved much more than that: moved in and out for semester break; moved friends and family. And moved less: I don’t remember moving to Balaclava, or to Wilmington.

We hired movers to move most of our stuff for us. They sold us boxes (because supermarket and bottle shop boxes aren’t always right). We declined to pay them to pack for us. They only broke one wine bottle in the move. Since then we’ve been unpacking; it goes well.

Now I’m in my first house. (It’s my second property: but I married in to Kerr St; it was a warehouse apartment, not a house; and the Body Corp stank.) I’m so excited!