Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thanatophobia and Chronophasia

Trevor Goodchild, chairman, scientist, dictator, military leader, romantic antagonist, paternal idealist ...

Life, morality, free will - and mortality.  Peter Chung's 90s' MTV series, Aeon Flux, was a study in these and other themes that have become important in the new Millennium. Terrorism, burgeoning political control behind benevolent slogans, video surveillance, media manipulation, mass politics, instrumental patriotism, moral values crushed and infinitely rebranded, integrated tech-organics, epidemics and genetic manipulation.  Chung projected this whole mess of ideas onto subversive sexual themes and one grand romance between an anarchic heroine, Aeon Flux, and her silver-tongued nemesis, Trevor Goodchild.  These characters originate in two countries, permissive Monica and repressed-yet-decadent Bregna, separated by an armed wall.  Chung claimed people often assumed that he was referring to East and West Berlin.  In fact, his inspiration was North and South Korea. Chung plainly gave Aeon the role of protagonist, but he never quite pinned down which side was right.  The two contending sides in this great Millennial argument - whether expressed morally, sexually, mentally or spiritually - could be embodied in two ideas of time that were used as titles of two Aeon episodes: fear of death (Thanatophobia) and time confusion (Chronophasia).

The Demiurge

Chung never shrank from the bloody cost incurred in this battle of ideas.  The original first episode, The Demiurge, drew the battle lines.  The plot concerns the rise of a blue Gnostic demi-god on Earth.  Goodchild as master scientist, politician and dictator of Bregna, has stripped his country of freedom. In the absence of freedom, Trevor feels that reality is purely created by others projecting their perceptions of us onto us.  This split between subjectivity and objectivity leads him to search for an objective subjectivity - a general subjectivity located outside the Self - which he thinks resides in the Demiurge:
"Light in the absence of eyes illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves - only the meaning that the mind imposes on them. Yet the world endures, whether or not the mind exists. I endow the lives of my people with meaning. I tell them to follow me and they come. But I can no longer stand the sleepless nights. I think I will stop worrying. I think I am learning to love the Demiurge..."
The Monicans battle to destroy the Demiurge to preserve humanity's free will. Aeon insists, "No one changes me." She doesn't want anyone changing her subjective existence from the outside. The Breens fight to tether it to the planet so they may use it as their spiritual guide. The vicious battle over the Demiurge leads to aircraft hangars full of military casualties, with civilians picking through the remains. Trevor justifies the losses in a televised announcement which describes a military loss to its citizens as a great victory: "... With the perdition of dreams, the rites of youth fade like pale smoke. And on ember's dust by blood of loss, we ask: for whom serves this vantage of hideous strength? To reap another harvest ..."

This line is a nod to C. S. Lewis's 1945 theological sci-fi novel, That Hideous Strength. According to Wiki, Lewis took the line from a poem written by David Lyndsay in 1555, "Ane Dialog betuix Experience and ane Courteour, also known as The Monarche. The couplet in question, The shadow of that hyddeous strength, sax myle and more it is of length, refers to the Tower of Babel."

Lewis's book opens with an classic university scenario that all academics can appreciate. A cash-strapped college is selling off a portion of its land to a sinister research entity known as N.I.C.E., the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments.   The scene demonstrates how economic troubles can lead to freedom rapidly being sold off to false friends for a pittance.  N.I.C.E. is a malevolent, hyper-rationalized institute in jackboots that appeals to all the blindnesses, flaws and vanities of the educated bourgeoisie.  Lewis characteristically implied that serious problems with the economy and the associated losses of freedom stem from a deeper spiritual crisis rooted in suppressed memories.

Chung no doubt picked up on Lewis's message about a spiritual vacuum and associated chronal vagueries as sources of ideological conflict. Goodchild is not a villain per se, but he is an antagonist with an agile conscience who is nonetheless constantly tormented by spiritual questions behind the smoke and mirrors of political and military control.  He is unlike Aeon, who regularly kills people in droves and is untroubled by her actions.  Later in The Demiurge, Goodchild accuses Aeon: "Is that why you won't let it see you, why you can't bear the gaze? Because you've done terrible things. Then there are the transgressions you never even knew you committed, those are the worst! Because those you can never forget, all you can do is suspect."


In Chronophasia, Aeon's guilt in multiple killings haunts her.  She is on a mission searching for a baby who has been used as an experimental subject in secret epidemic virus tests.  Trevor, meanwhile, is searching for the same lab, because he is convinced the virus creates delusions that are the lost key to human consciousness.  Aeon becomes caught in a delusional loop in an abandoned medical compound that is hidden in the jungle.  There, she is confronted by hallucinations of death with different outcomes.  She awakes to find herself treated by Trevor, who claims she is infected with the test virus, and psychotic delusions are one of the symptoms.

But Goodchild's explanation becomes more unlikely with each successive vision.  She later awakes over and over in a pool of blood, lying at the many-doored central junction of one of the lab's passageways.  She is confronted not only by the lost baby but also by a small boy who talks in riddles about death and time.  Participants on Flux boards have different opinions about what these visions mean.  It could be that this is the one time when Aeon's conscience seeks to assimilate a guilt so great that it can't be assimilated.  Chronophasia - chronal disorientation - arises from moral and spiritual uncertainties that lead to a tenuous grasp of reality: "While most people get over ... [chronophasia], some suffer chronic chronophasia where they feel uncertain of reality, who they are and the meaning of their actions."

Chronophasia Part 1 at Live Leak © MTV/Chung.

Chronophasia Part 2 at Live Leak © MTV/Chung.

Flux discussion board members see repeated dreams or paranoic delusions from which there is no escape as a time loop.  Here are a few of their interpretations of chronal disorientation and spiritual crisis:

Mrs. Whitworth on Aeon's crimes and related karma:
"The virus (near as I could tell) seems to be some kind of Time-Loop. Moral failure inserts you into a time loop - almost a Buddhist idea.  The character Aeon Flux is both the protagonist of these stories, and a murderess many times over.  Originally in the episode Chronophasia, she was supposed to wake up repeatedly in a pool of blood that was not hers.  This was a theme referred to a lot by Trevor Goodchild, that Aeon Flux had anarchistically blocked out her guilt and culpability for her crimes. Yet they still resided in her mind.  This kind of unresolved responsibility - a karma, if you will - unlocks our understanding of time."
Val McCafferty brings up Aeon's inability to die and her Revolving Door of Death while she herself is a renowned death dealer:
"This episode is very similar to the structure of the earlier seasons, as Aeon kept dying in various situations. In this season her deaths are usually rendered noneffective by something (paralyzing fluid, a clone, ect.), here the saving grace could be insanity, disease, nonlinear time, or just a 'dream sequence'; whatever reality Aeon exists in can not allow her to remain dead. I don't mean that metaphorically; her immortality is one of the tenets of her reality. Whether she can learn or change anything with the ability to replay her actions is the crux of the episode, as well as the thing people find so facinating about time travel. ... The end represents another path Aeon may have taken; the route she took to get there isn't as important. One possibility is time itself bringing this about. A baby photo, a set of coordinates, Trevor's troops approaching...; beginning, middle, end; birth (a selfish, cannabalistic baby, a cynical representation of how we all begin life), life (coordinates, location, an attempt to analyze or understand one's place), death (troops, war, futility). Viewing the pool as blood ties death with the beginning. Perhaps Aeon needs to die to advance, or to understand. The child serves as a mentor, or a possible parent figure. The transition of the smiley face from the keyring to the necklace illustrates the passage of time, or the child's memory or hallucination. Just to confuse things further, the universe is winding down in a manner that seems to indicate that time is not constant. If you want to attribute this to a deity or a big bang go ahead, but whatever the precipitating factor of existence was/is, it was probably outside the normal flow of time."
Steve Rach Mirarchi feels that Aeon is an immortal character who could choose to live in a semi-divine, big picture of non-linear time, and instead chooses to live with a linear chronal perspective normally experienced by humans:
"I would argue that AEon chooses to break that vial, the vial that, exactly when broken, freezes time (thus we get the rather abrupt snow/ice imagery). If AEon chooses, there can be no "right" way, but rather one way of many to be chosen. The boy, I would argue, is Time itself. He is "before names," which means before labels, language, and the need to distinguish. His eternal youth suggests as much. He alone can "bequeath" the secret of time, but AEon resists this gift by destroying the vial, instead choosing to live in linear time by the boy's rules, rather than endure the non-linear time afforded by the cave."
Paul D. Gilbreath thinks that the virus is linked to a change in chronal perception through a transformation of consciousness:
"My theory is that Trevor's virus works like the "Spice melange" in Dune. If you've seen the movie, you may remember that by consuming spice on a regular basis, ordinary human beings could evolve into creatures that move ships through hyperspace (or time/the 4th dimension/ whatever you want to call it) using only thought. I think the virus works in the same way, "expanding consciousness" to the point where one can control time. Or to put it another way, if what the boy said is true, and time really is in the mind, then we all have the ability to time-travel. But to a mentally inhibited, "normal" person like you or I, he didn`t see "forever" until after he'd been dosed."
Alex - time is just a construct in our minds:
"The boy is more than just a symbol, he is a being, just one that is unlike us. To say that time doesn't exist for him seems to miss the point a little. He says to Aeon "my time is not your time", thus implying that time does exist for him, but on another level. The bulk of the episode is the boy trying to demonstrate to Aeon that her concept of time is very arbitrary. The thing seems to be that the Boy doesn't see time as a linear entity as we (and Aeon) do. If we think of time as a straight ribbon along which we move in one direction, the Boy seems to relate to time as if the ribbon were crumpled up and piled up on itself; therefore, moving from point to point in time, or not moving through time at all, would be relatively effortless, a simple act of will. He tries to show this to Aeon by allowing her to experience a brief timeframe several times, each one different, but she can not or does not understand the point of what is happening to her ("the waker sleeps", also an interesting time-based paradox). By the end, he tries to force-feed the concept into her brain by showing her that all things in all times ("a brain tumor and an icecream sundae") exist simultaneously, and that linear time is just our way of seeing it so that it can be understood. He shows this to her as well by making her all of the things she is/was/could be/might be/is connected with at the same time (cowgirl/knight/Joan of Arc type person, etc). It is, of course, too much for her mind to grasp, and very nearly tears her mind apart. (think of it like someone shoving the entire North American economic system into the coin slot of a Coke machine). This is the realization that Aeon sees Trevor having made ("time is in our minds"), and the one that leaves her in something of a stupor when Trevor finally finds her."
Paul O'Brien - our concept of immortality, and hence of time, rests on our ability to come to terms with moral failure:
"Aeon falls. Dies. Goes into limbo. The boy is already there...he's not death...he's dead, but doesn't want to move on without his/a (doesn't really matter which, but his mother is a stronger argument for him to wait) mother. This is why he wants her, but not like she thinks herself (in a sexual way). Aeon is often confused by the events that unravel in front of her.

The reason why the time keeps looping is because she hasn't realized that in limbo, one continues to live until they realize they are dead and life never ends. The secret.

The vial is the last symbol of her former life. But, in order to smash it, she has to redeem herself. So, Aeon repetitively tries to complete her mission not knowing she's dead. Finally, in the last iteration, she realizes she's not going to win, and the baby comes to see her. She's ready to redeem herself and does. Now, she's totally ready for the truth. The boy shows her the truth by opening her portal (the red dot) up to complete understanding that she's never been dead. Just as he's never been dead (his inheritance is the recognition of eternal life).

As his time isn't her time, he suggesting that he's been dead for a long time, even though in the living world, it's only been three(I forget exactly) weeks. This is important because one would ask how would a little boy give an inheritance to an older person. Hence, the answer.

Anyway, after learning that she's been around for eternity, and that the vial, the picture, Trevor were all "things" of her former life. She can't take it and smashes the vial (the last thing left) and leaves limbo to move onto another existence with the boy.

BTW, the snowy scene is them waiting to be reborn."
In 2005, Peter Chung remarked on this discussion thread that the structure of the narrative mirrored the internal meaning of the story - the story was elliptical, not linear:
"In the commentary to this episode, I called this a 'circular' narrative as opposed to the 'linear' type toward which MTV was constantly (and hopelessly) trying to steer us. I'm not sure that circular is quite right, though, since it is an open loop. I wish I'd said 'elliptical', which as a word, is fairly elliptical itself."

Thanatophobia is less of a mystery than Chronophasia. Titled for the fear of death, it involves Aeon's and Trevor's manipulation of two lovers separated by the deadly wall that divides Monica and Bregna.  It implies that people are so afraid of a meaningless life and death that they will risk anything to avoid them - even death.  This irony comes out in twisted judgements between the lovers, whose mutual betrayal is the real origin of the frightening wall that maims and ultimately divides them.

Credits: In some regions, you can watch full Aeon Flux episodes on the MTV site here.  All Aeon Flux images, dialogue and videos are copyrighted © MTV and Peter Chung, with all rights reserved to them.  They are reproduced here solely for the purposes of review and discussion.

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