Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Waking Life" (for David Metres and Brian Gunn)

We watched "Waking Life" last night, recommended by my brother Dave, and enjoyed its dreamy meditation on dreams and waking. Amy saw it as a stunning adolescent text--in fact, the main character seems to be dreaming his way through college (mini-"lectures" on telescopic evolution, language, physics, authorship, cinematic theory and the Holy Moment, consciousness, the collective unconscious, Zen, the psychology of aging, Philip K. Dick, existentialism, all get scenes). They may not always be the most complex renderings of these various disciplines and ways of knowing, but they gesture toward many of the great human dilemmas (free will v. biological determinism, consciousness v. the unconscious, theory v. praxis/action, Marxian false consciousness, individuality v. collectivity) and create a richly broad palette of a liberal arts education.

On existentialism:

In fact, it brought me back to my senior year in college, when my roommates would return from classes and provide synopses of the eye-opening ideas they were still digesting. Once, Brian Gunn returned from Chinese Philosophy to discuss Chuang Tzu's famous koan about the butterfly:

Those who dream of a banquet may wake to lamentation and sorrow. Those who dream of lamentation and sorrow may wake to join a hunt. While they dream, they do not know that they dream. Some will even experience a dream within a dream; and only when they awake do they realize they dreamed of a dream. By and by comes the great awakening, and then we may find out that this life is really an extended dream. Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams—I am but a dream myself. This is a paradox. To-morrow a wise man may come forward to explain it; but that tomorrow will not be until ten thousand generations have gone by.

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a barrier. The transition is called metempsychosis.

This is for Ron Silliman, and his recent posts on the end of theory, and the persistence of poetry:

What is language?

On Philip K. Dick, Lady Gregory, and dreams...:

Some of it is pretty damned hilarious, and demonstrate why the film should not be dismissed as just a bunch of philosophy 101 clips strung together haphazardly; they are ideas set in the motion of a story, which is why narrative is often more compelling than total theories of the universe. Good narratives seem to enact the limits of the frame, in the way that Derrida would recognize, but without the aggravation:

Two final notes: in addition to all the intellectuals' points of view, Linklater includes a kind of ars cinematica that captures fairly well his own loose, breezy, narrative style:


JFD said...

I particularly enjoyed the Philip K. Dick/dreams sequence. Call it ironic, timely, or what have you, but I always thought the release date (September/October 2001) suddenly weighted the film with an extra layer of gravitas. It could be viewed as the first unintentional intentional post-9/11film.

brian (baj) salchert said...

Provocative vids. Also read the
texts outside of them. Was over

Old nickname given me: butterfly,
which I have since changed to

Old warning about me: "He's just a
dreamer." Dreamer I am.

Everything exists now.

And heaven is other people too.

Philip Metres said...

Thanks James, and Brian, for your comments on the film!