In the Shadow of the Colossus

El coloso (The Colossus), by Francisco Goya, or a Goya follower (1808-1812). Image Source: Wiki.

Yesterday, while reading this post at JenX67 (aka Are You There God? It's Me, Generation X), I had a Repo Man 'plate of shrimp' moment. That is, I saw part of the 'lattice of coincidence that lies on top of everything that is part of the cosmic unconsciousness' (see my post on this here). The coincidence, in this case, was the word Colossus. The blogger at Are You There God? It's Me, Generation X, Jen, described an exhibition by artist Laurie Frick, in which Frick has catalogued the minute data of her daily life and translated those bits of information into multi-coloured collages and drawings which form a holistic creative vision. Frick has taken her fragmented life, and conveyed the message that our chaotic reality is one interconnected whole.

Jen's post began with reference to another synthetic experiment during the Second World War. This experiment was the first electronic computer, the Colossus.

Colossus, the first generation computer, breaking code in 1943. Image Source: The National Archives (United Kingdom), document record FO850/234 via Wiki.

Jen explained that the Colossus was designed to break German codes at Bletchley Park:
They said they were part of a shooting party, ready to fire hundreds shells at wild birds. But, in reality, they were scholars turned code-breakers who’d come to evaluate the estate as a wartime location for intelligence activity. They were members of the Government Code and Cypher School, and, their journey into the English countryside would not prove in vain.

Bletchley Park went on to play a vital role in World War II. It employed 10,000 people involved in gathering military intelligence. Among the workers were pattern recognition experts who cracked enemy codes and helped bring an early end to the war.

Some say, the information age was born at Bletchley Park, home to the world’s first electronic computer, Colossus.
I also ran across the word Colossus the other day on the Wiki page for Guillermo del Toro's 2013 film, Pacific Rim. This is the summer blockbuster flick which is getting medium-fair reviews, about sea monsters confronting giant, human-controlled robots. Wiki: "Del Toro drew inspiration from Francisco Goya's The Colossus, and hopes to evoke the same 'sense of awe' with the film's battles."

The New Yorker review of the film dismissed the monster-robot conflict for its tedious overemphasis on size:
Does size matter? It does to Guillermo del Toro, whose new film, “Pacific Rim,” pays homage to the humongous. So what if the script is feeble, the plot is perforated, and the characters are so flimsy that you wouldn’t risk blowing your nose on them? The point is the fight between the big guys. It’s like watching a pair of angry cathedrals going dome to dome. In one corner, Kaiju—scaly monsters that rise from a cleft in the ocean floor and lay waste to large conurbations. When they roar, which is most of the time, their open mouths give off a bright-blue glow, as if they had just breakfasted on a bowl of crunchy police cars. Ranged against them are the machines built by man and known as Jaegers: metallic giants, kitted out with missiles, superswords, nuclear reactors, corkscrews, bottle openers, and so forth. Each is driven by two pilots, one for each side of the device’s brain.
That is a good simile - two cathedrals - because the film symbolically shows a very Millennial conflict between tech and organic matter, between humans and the environment, between mind and body. It may be thin on plot, but del Toro's film speaks truly about two gargantuan forces, which wear many guises today, but boil down to control and chaos.

This metaphor neatly encapsulates the yin and yang of our times, the sometimes obscene balance that is continually being struck and re-struck between an exponential technological boom and our emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives. Did we think that vastly expanding our ability to do things by means of a global technological revolution would not bring up the most profound moral questions about soul and agency? Technology creates a gap in moral potential; it inspires a crisis of consciousness. When that crisis is not addressed, technology creates a runaway train of compulsion and misperception.

Indeed, it has been one of the puzzles for analysts of our times that as our technology has become ever more sophisticated, human relapses into savagery and brutality become more acute, bizarre and frightening. The era began with that combination: the Holocaust's sickening industrial efficiency paired with the development of the atomic bomb. Why do genocides, wars, outrages (such as the 2012 Delhi gang rape case in India or the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan) proliferate as human beings become more technologically advanced? Perhaps it is because huge advances in the tools we use take a human toll on the collective unconscious, on the body politic, on whole worlds of old norms, cultures and traditions. There are inevitable organic reactions.

A similar phenomenon is evident in the Fifty Shades trend of Millennial amusements, which are always pushing the boundaries. These pastimes locate some impulse, the need to become harsher and ever more self-indulgent. That search continues on the Web every day, with no compromises or apologies.

The New Yorker review of Pacific Rim also covers another film, the strange 2012 docu-mocumentary, The Act of Killing, directed by Gen Xer, Joshua Oppenheimer. From the review, by Anthony Lane:
There are good reasons to see The Act of Killing, a new documentary directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, but pleasure is not among them. A more likely response will include convulsive nausea and disbelief. The setting is Indonesia, where, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, a plan of mass murder was carried out against anyone suspected of being a Communist, and against the ethnic Chinese. At least half a million died. We see no footage from that time, nor do we meet survivors; rather, Oppenheimer interviews a number of perpetrators, who, far from fearing exposure or justice, are keen to discuss their deeds. And why not, when the purges are still celebrated by a current government minister and, even worse, by the smiling female presenter of an Indonesian chat show?

One of her guests is Anwar Congo, whom we follow throughout the film. Elderly, personable, and light on his feet, he shows us how to snuff out a life with a simple garrote of wire and a length of wood, and he recalls his use of a machete for decapitation. ... Oppenheimer ... invite[d] Congo and a fellow-killer, Adi Zulkadry, to restage—or reflect upon—their activities in any way they choose. We get musical sequences, and passages of grotesque cross-dressing; scenes in which torturers play their former selves, or, pasted with fake blood and flesh, their own victims; and the reconstruction of an assault on a village, in which local women and children are hired as extras and left in traumatized tears. This is difficult to watch, and, by the end, even the implacable Congo is affected, retching and groaning like an animal at the acknowledgment of his sins.
The killers interviewed here fascinate because they have 'normalized.' They sit, barely burdened by guilt or trouble, having transgressed everything that supposedly forms the boundaries of stable, functioning society. There is no correlation between the stability or even prosperity of a society (or an individual therein) and the 'virtue' of a society. These killers sleep just fine at night. And even if they do not, they can still function normally, which, if their society was truly outraged, could not happen.

Why is this heart of darkness brought into ever sharper relief? Because we live in the shadow of the technological Colossus, and are traveling in the night of first ages. The Technological Revolution challenges the soul. We may be lucky, like the artist, Laurie Frick, and find peace and balance through creative syntheses of our vast, new found capabilities. But the darker corners of recent history, and of ongoing daily affairs on the Internet, testify that for many people, shiny technology has unleashed the Id, and a timeless, thrusting reach into oblivion.

Laurie Frick: Installation for Walking, Eating, Sleeping at Oklahoma Contemporary June 11 – August 23, 2013. Room size patterns of self-tracking data experiments. Image Source and © Laurie Frick.

Laurie Frick: Quantify Me, installation for Walking, Eating, Sleeping at Oklahoma Contemporary June 11 – August 23, 2013. Room size patterns of self-tracking data experiments. Image Source and © Laurie Frick via Oklahoma Contemporary.

See the trailer for The Act of Killing below the jump.
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