Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Two Men Operating Under Pseudonyms

Penned upon the 17th of June, 2008

I’d like to take a moment to discuss gonzo journalism and superheroes. Hear me out here, there is method in my mandrills.

I never quite understood the scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Hunter S fires his photographer, Lacerda. Sure, Lacerda’s annoyingly chipper and chirpy, but it just seemed petty and mean-spirited. Then, it occurred to me – the very principle of gonzo journalism is that in order to understand something, and thus report it, you have to LIVE it. As Ol Bill Lee put it, in order to FEEL something, you have to BE there. Lacerda spends the scene in question, in the middle of an almighty dust cloud at an off-road rally, tinkering with his cameras, trying to find a setup that will penetrate the fog. “WE NEED TOTAL COVERAGE,” he screams. He’s the very essence of what gonzo was getting away from, the impossible need to see every possible scene unrestricted – call it journalistic positivism. He thinks that by getting his expensive little machines JUST RIGHT he can see beyond the dust of human limitations, of being a sensory being, and capture the world as it REALLY IS. From the back of a jeep. Not going to happen, Lacerda.

There’s a similar scene in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, in one of the false documents in between the chapters. One of the most underrated documents, in fact, by one of the most underrated characters; Dan Dreiberg AKA Nite Owl II. Writing for an ornithology journal, he declares that the science has become too heavily devoted to measurable fact, sacrificing MEANING. A collection of facts is a fine thing, but it’s not science any more than a collection of objects is a museum. Meaning is required to make facts coherent, useful, interesting – and meaning is poetic. Poetry, art, is the understanding and communication of meaning. Science must be artistic. He gives the example of the owl – having studied the owl for so long that he’d forgotten why he started, he lost the spark of his interest, until one night, walking in the dark, he was startled – paralysed, even, with terror – by the cry of the hunting bird. It wasn’t just the adrenaline rush of the shock which he gained from the experience – it was the knowledge of the MEANING of the owl’s cry, the fear which its prey feels which pins them to the ground. To EXPRESS such understandings – the fear, the beauty, the menace – science must be artistic. I quote: “A scientific understanding of the beautifully synchronised and articulated motion of the owl’s individual feathers during flight does not impede a poetic appreciation of the same phenomenon. Rather, the two enhance each other, a more lyrical eye lending the cold data a romance from which it has long been divorced.”

They might be famous largely for their supreme weirdness – which is a fine thing in itself – but they really know/knew what they are/were talking about, Moore and Thompson. Romanticism is alive and well and living in our bookshelves.


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Commentary upon “Two Men Operating Under Pseudonyms”

  1. Madam C was heard to remark,

    Upon the 26th of June, 2008 at 2:15 am,

    Once again you articulate something I’ve deeply believed for a long time, better than I could ever have said it myself. People seem to forget that things like religion, philosophy and science all stem (in my opinion) from the same part of us; the part that asks “why are we here?” and “what is here, anyway?” and all those other questions, the part that wants to make sense of it all. Given so many different means of understanding, how can they not compliment one another? The more possibilities your mind can make room for, the more wonder is increased, and I think wonder is a fundamental human quality..


  2. Sir Frederick Chook was heard to remark,

    Upon the 26th of June, 2008 at 7:11 pm,

    Oh, I’m just a verbose nerd. I’m glad I was able to tap a short tune on our collective unconscious! It always bugs me when armchair anthropologists dismiss all religious thought as “what we tried to explain the world with before science was invented.” Pish posh – the alchemists who we laugh at for trying to turn lead into gold came up with countless advances in medicine, metalworking, abstract physics, anything you care to name, and developed systems of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment in the process – something the arch-materialist scientist won’t even consider. Any system of knowledge that doesn’t include self-transformation – lead into gold indeed – is just counting on its own toes over and over.


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