"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." ~ T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jupiter and Beyond.

For the last few semesters, Shannon and I have subjected our students to watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of my favorite movies of all time, that I've watched over and over again and still find something new (some students, however, see it differently... but whatever!).

This time around, Shannon read Roger Ebert's original 1968 review out loud to both sections. And this time, these two sentences resonated with how I thought about the film:

What Kubrick is saying, in the final sequence, apparently, is that man will eventually outgrow his machines, or be drawn beyond them by some cosmic awareness. He will then become a child again, but a child of an infinitely more advanced, more ancient race, just as apes once became, to their own dismay, the infant stage of man. And the monoliths? Just road markers, I suppose, each one pointing to a destination so awesome that the traveler cannot imagine it without being transfigured. Or as cummings wrote on another occasion, "Listen -- there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go."

One of the reasons I love this movie is that my dad loved this movie. It came out four years before I was born, but when it was reissued in 2001, we tried to see it together at the Uptown (that night, we arrived only to find the screening had been canceled in lieu of a private screening of the latest Harry Potter movie; we retreated to another theater up Wisconsin Avenue to watch the latest of the Coen Brothers movies The Man Who Wasn't There). My dad died about three weeks before our class discussion about 2001, so I've been thinking about him constantly, both consciously and subconsciously. I thought about how he, as a teacher, would have presented this film to his students. As excited as he was when presenting algebra to 8th graders-- as a friend and former student of his put it "covered in chalk, arms flailing." We did see the sequel together, 2010 (which Kubrick did not direct, but was written by Arthur C. Clarke), which follows the story after Dave somehow becomes one with the stars, how other astronauts go to find him when he is reborn on Jupiter.

Those two sentences, this time, made me think about the theme of rebirth. How the last section of the film "Jupiter and Beyond" is about the rebirth of humanity as Ebert talks about it here. If we are now infants, the ancients in this advanced intelligent race, then perhaps the monolith this time represents a road marker where I'll return time and again to visit my dad. Where I can go and tell him about when I'm teaching students about 2001, or search strategies, arms flailing, covered in white board marker.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Marilynne Robinson on "Imagination and Community"

"In the stack of magazines, read and unread, that I can never bring myself to throw away, there are any number of articles suggesting that science, too, explores the apophatic—reality that eludes words—dark matter, dark energy, the unexpressed dimensions proposed by string theory, the imponderable strangeness described by quantum theory. These magazine essays might be titled “Learned Ignorance,” or “The Cloud of Unknowing,” or they might at least stand beside Plato’s and Plotinus’s demonstrations of the failures of language, which are, paradoxically, demonstrations of the extraordinary power of language to evoke a reality beyond its grasp, to evoke a sense of what cannot be said." 

This is one of the paragraphs from a beautiful article by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Marilynne Robinson. You can find it here if you'd like to read the entire thing...which I strongly recommend.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Voyager at the Edge of the Solar System

I recently listened to Radiolab's most recent episode titled "Escape" in which Ann Druyan and the Radio Lab hosts discuss NASA's Voyager probe, which is poised at the edge of the solar system. This little probe has caught my imagination. Nothing made by humans has ever gone so far; nothing we have made has ever left our star system. We don't really know what is out there. We don't know what it will be like.

(From: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/voyager20111205.html

And the information Voyager keeps sending us continues to surprise us. The solar wind stills and we think it has crossed over, but it hasn't...though it might any minute. And, as I recently wrote to a friend it makes me feel all excited and worried about this little spaceship all at once. She replied, "I know! Fly little space ship!!!"

There is something of us reaching out beyond any place we have ever reached before. It is beautiful and terrifying all at once...perhaps as we ourselves are beautiful and terrifying all at once...and maybe even as the universe itself. I keep thinking about the old maps of the world, drawn by European hands, who stopped speculating beyond the known world and simply wrote "There be Dragons!" And I wonder what Voyager will find...and if we will know.

Voyager once sent back a parting look at earth when it had reached Neptune. The image is a pale blue dot caught in beams of solar light. It is stunning in its smallness.

(From: http://fettss.arc.nasa.gov/collection/details/the-pale-blue-dot/)

We are that small speck in an endless field, sending out such a tiny ambassador into the universe. And all I can think of is "Fly little space ship!!!"