Alan N. Shapiro, Senior Lecturer, Art and Design University, Offenbach, Germany

Blog and project archive about "computer programming for artists" and media theory

Lost: The Crash Out of Globalization and Into the World

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The Pilot Episode of Lost: Phenomenological Narratives

We Are ‘Lost Together’

The television show Lost premiered on September 22, 2004. En route from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California, USA, Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crashes on an unknown Island in the South Pacific. This flight that was supposed to circumscribe half of the globe already symbolizes globalization, and the crash of Flight 815 symbolizes the crash of globalization. But the crash into what? The crash into what the philosopher Martin Heidegger called world. Clearly we will need to understand what Heidegger meant by the world itself, a term which only makes sense within the system of terms which Heidegger developed in his system of thinking, and which does not correspond to the meaning of the term in ordinary language. The 48 survivors of Lost find themselves in hostile surroundings. Combining elements of drama, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, thriller and Reality-TV, Lost is arguably the most original and influential TV program since Star Trek: The Original Series of the 1960s and Star Trek: The Next Generation of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Lost is at the forefront of the ongoing total revolution of suspenseful content and technological creativity in television. It has received all the major industry awards in the USA, such as the Emmy and the Golden Globe. It is seen in more than 70 countries. An Informa media survey of 20 countries concluded in July 2006 that Lost is the second most viewed TV show in the world (behind CSI: Miami). In my media studies writing on Lost, I continue my project of inventing the literary genre of theory-fiction that I began in my book Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance (called by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. in the academic journal Science Fiction Studies one of the most original works in the field of “science fiction theory” since 1993, and called by Professor Franco LaPolla of the University of Bologna the leading work in the field of Science Fiction Studies).

Now going further than the retelling of stories, I write first-person phenomenological narratives of what each of the 14 major characters of Lost is feeling, perceiving, thinking, and experiencing from moment to moment. It starts in the opening scene of the Pilot Episode with the predicament of Dr. Jack Shephard, who awakens in the woods after the plane crash with a painful flesh wound in his side that I see as metaphorical for the unexamined psycho-biographical wound of men in today’s global culture. I develop a new men’s movement theory that departs significantly from all currently circulating gender theories, like that of Judith Butler. More generally, my view of Lost is that it is telling us more about where we are after September 11, 2001 than any other discourse that has tried to define our situation following that Event. The crash of Lost is also the crash of the terrorists’ planes into the Twin Towers. Like the survivors on the Island, we confront an entirely new socio-cultural-political-economic-ecological-aesthetic-existential reality for which there is no preexisting explanation and no road map. We are truly Lost Together.

Pilot Episode, Part 1

9/22/2004

JACK SHEPHARD: In the Name of the Father

(played by Matthew Fox)

I, Alan Neil Shapiro, am a passionate television viewer. Television is an old media. But I now watch TV engrossed in practices that I have developed during my years of participation in new media: the hyper-textual World Wide Web, online multi-player interactive video games, and sex chat rooms. All the main characters of Lost – male and female – are my sexual identity avatars. They are virtual reality body-suits that I freely robe and disrobe. I inhabit their bodies and clothing as I choose. I exist inside their semiotic silhouettes. I am a rider of their purple vehicles. As the Pilot Episode of Lost begins, I wake up from oblivion as Alpha Male Jack Shephard, supine and homeless alone in the woods after a devastating aviation accident. It is my very first arrival in this particular virtual party-experience scene-space, a personal appearance financed by part of my Cable-TV subscription monthly fee, and enabled by the technological meat-machine interface of my image-saturated commodity mind. I exit the transient wormhole-like void of precision-instrumented passage between worlds quantum-leapt into an initiatory moment of surprising arousal. From now on, whatever Jack sees, feels, touches and hears, I see, feel, touch and hear. I am Jack. Jacked in.

First there is nothing. Out. My right eye is wide open, startled. It relaxes. I see tall treetops above. I’m looking straight up. Thin, bamboo-like trunks. Bright tropical green leaves. A pristine light. Pain. Somewhere in left torso. I see my left hand. It’s scrunched up. But I can move it. I can manipulate my wrist. I’m lying on my back, on the ground. I can feel my body. It’s generally all right. But I’m breathing heavily, exhausted. I’m moaning with fear and discomfort. Yes I am wounded. A sharp pain in my left side, at the height of the rib cage, rushing up through my arm. My cheeks are stinging. I hear a rustling noise — something moving towards me. Naked terror. There could be wild animals here. I’ll be eaten alive. Turn neck in dread. It’s only a dog. What a relief! He’s brown and friendly-looking with flappy ears, his long tongue hanging out. No danger there. He whimpers and runs away.

The hurt is intense, the reality of my wound unmistakable. Got to get on my feet and go look for help. C’mon, go, force yourself. In spite of the agony. But standing up is nearly impossible. Unbearable anguish. I grab hold of a bamboo stalk. I lean hard against it. It supports my weight. I push myself up. I’m grimacing in pain. Got to have a look at the gash. Difficult angle to see. It doesn’t look good. Is this whole circumstance that I’m in real?

The concepts of reality and virtuality, reality and fiction, don’t explain anything anymore. We need to invent entirely new concepts. This is what Heidegger called thinking or what Deleuze and Guattari called philosophy. Heidegger said that there would come a time when all the binary oppositions or dualisms on which Western culture, science and society are based would collapse. After that we would really need to start thinking. “Most thought-provoking is that we are still not thinking – not even yet, although the state of the world is becoming constantly more thought-provoking.” (Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking) “Man today is in flight from thinking … Part of this flight is that man will neither see nor admit it. Man today will even flatly deny this flight from thinking. He will assert the opposite. He will say – and quite rightly – that there were at no time such far-reaching plans, so many inquiries in so many areas, research carried on as passionately as today. Of course.” Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking. “The philosopher invents and thinks the Concept.” Gilles Deleuze, What is Philosophy?1

What’s the last thing I remember? Reach with right hand into right business jacket pocket. Yes, it’s still there. The one-drink size airlines liquor bottle I tucked in there seemingly minutes ago. Good. I’ll use it to sterilize the wound. The laceration will have to be stitched up. Then I’ll be OK. My head is so light. Such faintness. Got to get to a clearing, out of these woods for at least an instant. See where I am. Get help from someone to sew the lesion. Gotta move. Carry me, legs! Go, go. Run this way. So many bamboo shoots. Zigzag my way through them. Go, go, go. A lone sneaker hanging by a lace over a branch.

The story begins with a man and his wound.

I am given The Name of the Father. I am told by the Father how to act, how to make it through life. But are these guidelines sufficient for survival? For happiness? What if the Father has not investigated his own wound? What if I am stabbed in the flesh both for him and for me? The wound might be the consequence of a fundamental lack of love, neglect by a self-absorbed parent, the deep shame of being an outsider, or the trauma of something worse like physical violence or sexual abuse. How does a man (or a woman) cope over the course of a lifetime with this original wound to the “soul” or to the emotional body? “What wound do we have that hurts so much we have to dip it in water?” asks the American poet Robert Bly in Iron John: A Book About Men.2 I am strong enough – for a certain period of time – to carry myself along through sheer will. I join the ranks of the walking wounded. I make use of an addictive substance like alcohol or drugs or gambling or lots-of-chocolate to temporarily numb the wound. But to make even the first step towards locating the commencement of the path of real healing, I must engage in sustained self-examination and gradually awaken my fount of courage, intelligence and dogged perseverance. Then I would be at the start of a long spiritual journey. It will be a difficult yet highly rewarding adventure. I, however, cannot embark on, make, or successfully complete this voyage alone.

JACK

Out of the Woods. Onto the Beach. Look to the right. A broad white sandy beach. An ocean of dark blue crystal water, waves not too rough. A brilliant azure sky with a few cumulus clouds. I stand here for a brief moment and take in this loveliness. So this is where I am. No longer on the plane from Sydney to Los Angeles, but on some coastline, maybe on some Island. There’s lots of green foliage at the edge of the woods. Look to the left. Oh my God! The plane has crashed! Burning fuselage. Screams coming from over there, a woman’s screams. People strewn about the beach in varying states of distress. Smoke and flames. I’m suddenly smack in the middle of an Emergency Medical Situation! Pieces of the demolished plane – of every irregular shape and imaginable size – are scattered everywhere. One of the below-wing podded engines is making a nasty whining sound and generating a sucking wind that pulls inescapably into its lethal vortex. No matter what, don’t go there! Stay down. Bend low while running.

My adrenaline is starting to kick in. More fragments of the plane over here. Ripped up, burned out corrugated metal. A strip of the rear section with a long row of passenger seat windows. Harrowing screams from all directions. People calling out for their missing loved ones. Some survivors can walk. They are stumbling, helping one another. Others appear to be badly injured. I feel a pang in my own left side. Look around, look around. Situation assessment. Where can I help first? Crackling mechanical din from above. Look up. An immense chunk of one of the wings is threatening to break off and tumble to the beach! But of more immediate concern, a man is lying in the sand trapped under a huge piece of the wreckage, pleading in despair. “Somebody help me! Help! Help!” I’ll go to him. He’s buried under one of the wheel units of the chassis.I can’t move it myself. I need others. “Give me a hand! You, come over here, give me a hand! C’mon! On the count of three! One, two, three!” I raise the man’s limp arms high over his head and pull him out by these appendages. His right leg is bleeding badly. I need a tourniquet. I’ll use my necktie. I tighten it around his thigh. There, something accomplished.

Scream of a woman. “Somebody help me!” I see a young woman in the distance. She appears to be pregnant. She’s on all fours on the beach. [Claire Littleton, played by Emilie de Ravin] “Get him out of here! Get him away from the engine!” I shout to the two men who just helped me free the hurt man from beneath the heavy load of the landing gear. Yes, I feel my juices flowing. That’s me giving instructions, being a leader. Now run to help that pregnant woman. Go, go, go! Man, I’m swift, even in these business shoes. The girl is an attractive blonde with an Australian accent, wearing a black minidress with thin shoulder straps, and a grayish-white linen shirt on top of that. She tells me that she’s having contractions. I ask her how many months pregnant she is, and how far apart the contractions are coming. Glancing to the left, I see a trim young man in an unbuttoned aquamarine shirt, his shirttail hanging out. [Boone Carlyle, played by Ian Somerhalder] He’s trying in vain to revive an unconscious woman lying flat on her back. [Rose Henderson Nadler, played by L. Scott Caldwell] The black-skinned middle-aged lady has on a rose-cream colored sweatshirt and black pants.

A man foolishly walks too close to the active jet engine. He is abruptly sucked up and instantly killed! A fiery explosion. Take cover now! Protect the girl. Another male passerby is fatally felled by flying debris. “You’re gonna be OK. Do you understand me?” I tell the pregnant woman. “But you’re gonna have to stay absolutely still.” The thin man still hasn’t been able to reanimate the black woman. I notice a chubby fellow with long plaited hair, garbed in very casual attire. He looks emotionally really down and out. “Hey you, come here!” I holler to him. “I need to get this woman away from these fumes. Take her over there. Stay with her. If her contractions occur any closer than three minutes apart, call out to me!”

I go over to the unconscious woman. The slim guy doesn’t have a clue. Her head is too far back and he’s blowing air into her stomach. He tells me that he’s a licensed lifeguard. “Well,” I say to him pseudo-jokingly, “you need to seriously think about giving that license back.” Now he’s suggesting that we puncture a breathing hole in her neck with a pen. He’s imploringly earnest about this. What’s up with this guy? “Good idea,” I tell him. At least my wit’s still functioning. “You go get me a pen.” I perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the supine woman. C’mon, c’mon! Don’t die on me! With a surprising gasp I no longer fully expect, she is breathing again and restored to awareness! Now I can turn my attention to that massive portion of the wing about to break off. When it falls to the ground, it’s going to kill somebody! It’s swaying menacingly in the wind. It’s about to give! The pregnant woman and the overweight man are directly below it! I hasten to stand up. I turn awkwardly dodging my pain and start running again. Run, run, run! “Move, move, move!” I call to them forcefully and repeatedly while laboring to reach them on foot.

“Get her outta there!” I finally catch the portly guy’s attention. [Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, played by Jorge Garcia] He looks up bewildered. “Get her up! Get her outta there!” I yell louder than I ever have before. The wing collapses and explodes. A chain of explosions. The second podded engine blows up. The near-obese man, the pregnant woman and I are thrown to the ground. “You OK? You? Stay with her!” I shout to them. Man, am I wound up tight, way too vehement. The slovenly dressed fat fellow – who actually seems rather amiable – senses that this last directive of mine was out of line and promptly answers back: “Dude, I’m not going anywhere!” Hugo “Hurley” Reyes is wearing an open light blue flannel shirt with a dark, thin-lined rectangular grid pattern, and a pale blue T-shirt underneath.

The Unexamined Life

By means of my ceaseless productivity, via my agile speed and consummate ability to get things done, through my high level of competency and professional skills, I avoid almost all available entrances into the ritual spaces and calm meditations that might enable real existential encounter with the wound of my emotional body. Countless contemporary TV shows and Hollywood films portray America’s exemplary heroes: emergency physicians, homicide detectives, attorneys for the defense, secret service agents, counter-terrorism specialists, life-risking firemen or beat cops. These daring occupations encompass weighty responsibilities and are undoubtedly among the noblest of vocations in today’s society. But the omnipresent virtual realities of the media propagate an iconography of the trained practitioner who “does good” or “helps others” that half performs the commendable service of showcasing worthy role models and half does the disservice of manufacturing a manipulative mythology of the obligation to make excessive macho self-sacrifices for the public interest.

The small and big screens hook us seductively into the pervasive workaholism corresponding on the level of the individual to what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger – in his 1936 essay “The Age of the World Picture” – correctly diagnosed as being the plague of modern times: the characteristic bustle or constant “industrious activity of mere busyness” of our oppressive institutional existence.3 Permanently enchained by the everyday life ideology that constrains me to make my contribution to business, family, nation, or the accumulation and spending of money, I operate nonstop in a pumped-up feverish caffeine-assisted trance of work and consumerism in order not to face myself. I never have to ask the terrifying question of what I would do with my life if I were truly free. Especially as a man, I steer clear of contact with my own feelings and emotions, evade looking sincerely into my own psycho-biographical pain, and fail to develop real self-love. This is the perpetual high-wire act of the Unexamined Life. But physician, heal thyself!

JACK

Finally a quieter moment arrives. Compose myself. Walk around on the beach. All of the emergency cases have been handled for now. I can turn my attention to my own wound. It’s beneath the left arm, more towards the back than exclusively on the side as I previously thought. The broodingly resolute young man whose name I still don’t know returns with a fistful of pens that he’s scavenged. It’s been quite a while since I resuscitated the black woman. “I don’t know which one will work best,” he tells me. “They’re all good,” I reply. “Thanks.”

The Wound and the Pen

What does it mean to take up one’s pen – or one’s word processor – and write about Lost? Are the producers of Lost consciously aware of the fact that their television show activates profound new questions for the fields of knowledge of philosophy, psychoanalysis, epistemology, computer technology, the natural sciences, aesthetics, deep ecology, and even politics and economics? Or is it the world itself (Heidegger) – as the emergence of an intelligent, radically singular, unfathomably complex living system that has arrived at a certain point of maturity in its unfolding history – that is executing a kind of automatic writing? Is our beloved wounded planet Gaia finally starting to defend herself by transmitting new knowledge to us so that we can help her? This vital S.O.S. transmission is being emergency-broadcasted via the “low culture” mass media par excellence of TV that is now undergoing a stunning total revolution of “content.” The “stream of messages” is the conveyance for the progressive unraveling of the most advanced insights in science, art and the humanities, flirtatiously forwarded to us from the radical alterity of an “absent” elsewhere. Lost is one exemplary instance of this “message is medium” turn, but there are others.

It is very interesting that the major figures of media theory – Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard – said that “the medium is the message.” In other words, the contents of a media (like television) – the specific programmes – do not matter, because everything is ultimately shaped by the format of the media, by its form. I think that this is an important truth, but it is only one aspect of the truth, one component of what is going on. The opposite is also true: “the message is the media.” Both are true at once. The real-time suspenseful intensity of each moment in the phenomenological narrative shapes the media.

For many traditional humanist intellectuals and art experts, television is just the idiot box. It is the very last place that these guardians of “high culture” would think to look for the liminal appearance of ideas, sublime forms, cognitive and conceptual breakthroughs, the “new real,” or the making of history. For the previous generation of “old media” theorists – with its classic position that “the medium is the message” – the content of TV programs was secondary to the extensive restructuring and “patterning of human relationships” (Marshall McLuhan) or to the undirectionally encoded “speech without response” (Jean Baudrillard) operationally instituted by a primarily process-oriented communications technology.4 One can transcend this downplaying of the message through cultivation of the very sensitivity to the medium as “culturally framing technological-literary form” that one learns from these two thinkers. Science fiction, fantasy, and crime investigation TV shows are the literature of today. They can tell us more about what is going on in the world than any other genre of artistic expression. Professors at universities in literature and literary studies should no longer focus only on novels, poetry and plays, but rather on TV shows, film and new media like computer games.

The real-time phenomenological details of these hyper-modern virtual narrative paintings (in the case of contemporary American serialized TV shows) are to be treated as the object-oriented fractal micro-constituents or graphic brush strokes of an intensively signifying language. Reversing McLuhan’s designation of it as “cool,” television must henceforth be seen as a hot medium.5 One passes from the negative analysis of the electronic media as externalized mediations of the human body, senses, and psyche or “semiological reduction” of symbolic relations6 to the affirmative mindfulness of a much more personally involved moment-to-moment immersion in the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the posthuman avatar bodies whose VR experiences are the outriding vehicle for ascending to an orbital writing space of infinite hyper-textual links.7 To the admirable dramaturgical enactment carried out by the scriptwriters, actors, directors, and TV technicians of Lost is added the act of writing by the media philosopher. There is a partnership – a pact of lucidity, to borrow a term from Baudrillard – between the automatic writing of the world itself and the good old-fashioned writing of a good old-fashioned writer, somebody inspired by the likes of Hemingway.

JACK

Slowly I walk away. I must search the pieces of luggage for needle and thread. I open the wraparound zipper of a black bag with red trimming. Inside a toiletry pouch with a shiny gold-tinted swirling pattern, I find a sewing kit. At the outskirts of the woods, standing next to a strong horizontal tree branch equal to my stature, I remove my sports jacket. What excruciating pain! I take off my white formal shirt. It’s stained terribly with blood. I gently lift up my white crewneck undershirt over my head and toss it aside. These formfitting jeans that I have on now are much more comfortable than those dress pants that I was wearing on the plane. As I glide the T-shirt over my raised arms, it occurs to me just how advantageous it is for the Challenge of Survival that we face here on the Island to be so generally fit and in such good shape. Thank Goodness for all those workouts I did, like when I ran up flights of stairs between sections of spectator seats at the college football stadium. Barechested, I go down to my knees. In a single sweeping movement, I elevate my left arm over my head. Now try to get a good look at the wound. Maybe feel it with my fingertips. First tactile contact. Ouch, what a sting!

KATHERINE “KATE” AUSTEN: The Fugitive

(played by Evangeline Lilly)

I, the deceitful shapeshifting erotomanic cyborg alien of hideously abstract tentacular Cycloptic Gumby-esque appearance, a.k.a. commonplace television viewer-consumer of sexy media images, depart Jack’s body. For a few nanoseconds I am nowhere, back in the wormhole corridor spacetime void. Look over there: an attractive female corporeal figure. Enter it. Assume its form. Merge my being with its subatomic and micro-molecular structure.

My gosh, am I Lost and confused. Put up a brave front, girl. Hang in there. I’m wringing my wrists in anxiety. How long have I been wandering around on this beach? Will I ever be able to forget what I lived and saw during the crash? I was awake during the whole thing! Memories so extreme and gruesome — how does one process such horrific images? There’s blood splattered on my fingers. Wait, someone’s calling me. “Excuse me! Did you ever use a needle?” It’s the voice of a man. He’s kneeling over there, next to the trees, asking for help. Cute guy! Get a load of that hunk! Handsome hairy chest! Check out that washboard stomach! The tattoos on his left upper arm. But no, what’s he asking me? I can’t help anybody with anything. Not just now. “Did you ever patch a pair of jeans?” That seems to be the sentence that I hear. What’s he saying? Think, girl, think. What exactly does he want from me? “I … um … made the drapes in my apartment.” There, managed to get some words out.

For heaven’s sake, he really does want my help. With what? OK, pull yourself together, Kate. Got to make him think that I’m an ordinary city girl. Someone with a job and a life, a rent to pay and a couple of cats. Uh oh, look at that. He’s wounded on the side, bleeding. It’s pretty dreadful. I can’t see this. That’s what you want me to sew up? I close my eyes. I count to three. Calm yourself, hot stuff, but keep appearing to be a little naive. What’s that? He says that he’s a doctor. Will I help you, sugar-pants? “Of course I will!” I announce in a coy yet kindly tone. He gives me a small bottle of liquor to rub on my hands. “Save me some for the wound,” he courageously quips. “Any color preference?” I teasingly riposte, pointing out the wide assortment of different colored threads in the sewing kit. “Standard black,” he confidently retorts.

The First Sundown

It is almost sunset. The end of the first day. The survivors have built campfires. A confident, dark-complexioned man with long black curly hair and a bearded chin, appearing to be of Middle Eastern descent, self-assuredly addresses a disoriented-looking white Anglo-Saxon working-class male whose head is buried in his own lap: “Hey you, what’s your name? We need help with the fire. No one will see it if it isn’t big.” The good-looking Iraqi veteran of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard is named Sayid, played by Naveen Andrews. The strung-out former guitarist of the punk rock’n roll band named Drive Shaft is called Charlie Pace, played by Dominic Monaghan.

KATE

“I might throw up on you,” I say to Doctor Dreamboat as I’m sewing him up. He replies that I’m doing fine. This guy is so tough, so cool. He’s awesome! What a pretty face, neat haircut. Sure would like to snuggle up with him. “You don’t seem afraid at all!” I blurt out. “I don’t understand that.”

JACK

“Well, fear is sort of an odd thing. When I was in residency, my first solo procedure was a spinal surgery on a sixteen-year-old kid, a girl. And at the end, after thirteen hours, I was closing her up and I accidentally ripped her dural sac. It’s right at the base of the spine where all the nerves come together. So it ripped open. Membranes, thin as tissue, nerves just spilled out of her like angel-hair pasta. Spinal fluid flowing out of her. And the terror was just so crazy, so real. And I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I’d let the fear in. Let it take over. Let it do its thing. But only for five seconds. That’s all I was gonna give it. So I started to count. One … two … three … four … five. And it was gone. I went back to work, sewed her up, and she was fine.”

The brain and the spinal cord are enclosed by the meninges, a covering that consists of three distinct membrane layers the softness of which increases as one moves progressively inwards. The dura mater – from the Latin for “hard mother” – is the tough and fibrous outermost stratum of the central nervous system’s protective shell. The arachnoid is the watery middle tier. It has as fascinating homonyms both the dainty fibers of certain botanical life-forms and the adjective denoting that which pertains to the Arachnida anthropod class of spiders or their intricate webs. The pia mater – pious or tender mother – is the innermost layer of very sensitive vascular tissue. The anecdotal allegory of Dr. Jack Shephard the neurosurgeon inadvertently tearing the dura mater of his young female patient – in the direct context of his telling the story of how he overcame his primal fear – is resonant with meaning for the question of the psycho-biographical wound of a man. Jack’s unconscious patient symbolizes the untapped imprisoned secret reservoir of his primal fluid energy and vitality.

KATE

“If that had been me, I woulda run for the door.”

JACK

“No, I don’t think that’s true. You’re not running now.”

The Oppressed Child

The Fugitive. On the Run.

In our society, not only is the child weaker and smaller than the adult, but he or she is forced into a relationship of subservience to the mother and the father who are granted nearly unlimited power and territorial jurisdiction over him or her. Aside from occasional attention paid to this political condition of fundamental slavery by the anti-authoritarian movement in education, no institutionalized human relationship of domination and submission, of abuse and helplessness, has been the object of less enlightened reflection than this one. Oppressed by the parents and subjected to their arbitrary will, the child dreams of one thing: flight. More than anything else, the small person wishes to run away. It is nighttime and my conscious mind is asleep. If I move my arms and legs fast enough in a propeller-like motion, I am soon airborne. If I become tired and cease my efforts, I fall quickly back to Earth.

I dream of climbing out the window. My Spiderman capability of spinning silk web strands enables me to make my way down the facade of our high-rise apartment building, proceeding from ledge to ledge. Sometimes I shoot a single sturdy thread to a fence on the roof of the low-rise building across the street, get a strong grip on the silk string with my black leather gloves, and slide my way diagonally down to safety. If I have to leap from a fire escape stairway several meters above the pavement, the bounce in my comic book legs gets me instantly back on my feet. Hit the ground running. Run and run and don’t look back. Get as far away as you can as fast as you possibly can and never go back. But freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. In the long run, the pattern of The Great Escape turns self-defeating. The Fugitive keeps fleeing from others and from herself. Without sustained self-examination, there can be no truly successful flight leading to true freedom.

When faced with the self-absorbed phallocratic person (the phallocentric Other can be male or female) who wants to be the Law, I have three choices: run, submit or challenge. One must learn how to challenge.

F-A-T-E

The starlit night sky. Campfires on the beach. Sayid and Charlie Pace sit together. Charlie is wearing a blue-green sweatshirt with a cute little hood over his T-shirt of alternating dark and light brown thick horizontal stripes. He has wrapped small bandages around the bases of four fingers of his left hand. Using a magic marker, he carefully draws letters on the gauze strips spelling out the word: F-A-T-E. “You’d think they woulda come by now,” Sayid muses to Charlie. “What? who?” replies the Catholic rocker. “Anyone,” answers the Sunni Muslim telecommunications engineer.

Crash and Catastrophe

After the plane crash that sets up the science fictional scenario of Lost, Dr. Jack Shephard is instantaneously transported into a situation of proximity and solidarity with a motley collection of his struggling fellow human beings. It is a golden opportunity for deep bonds to form. Yet Jack’s initial predicament of not being able to attend to his own wound while working frantically to save the lives of others is a brilliant metaphorical commentary on the present-day hyper-modern translation of Heidegger’s “constant activity.” In globalized media and corporate culture, Crash and Catastrophe are the only ways for interruptions of the continuous drone of organized and institutionalized mere busyness to take place.

Twenty years ahead of their time, the Canadian cultural theorist duo Arthur and Marilouise Kroker – in The Panic Encyclopedia – identified panic as the “key psychological mood” of hyper-modernism. “In pharmaceuticals,” the Krokers remarked ironically in 1989 – already in full Philip K. Dick SF-becoming-reality mode – “a leading drug company, eager to get the jump on supplying sedatives for the panic population at the end of the millennium, has just announced plans for a ‘worldwide panic project.’”8 At a certain irreversible point, however, Crash reaches such a degree of critical intensity – the Crash Out of Globalization and Into the World – that the conditions for the construction of an alternative concrete utopia audaciously put together by a group of survivors emerge. Against the global culture of alienated work, banal consumerism, instant sexual gratification, psychological self-denial, living on speed, ubiquitous media hyper-realities, and “every man for himself” (Sauve qui peut la vie), the survivors will engage in a social experiment where all the suppressed questions about the true meaning and purpose of human existence will be asked afresh, and the provisional answers enacted in radical artistic projects. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages: a game. A contest. Twenty-five questions. You know the stakes. All that matters is that you give it the old college try.

Who am I?

Who are you?

Why are we here?

Do we have shared dreams?

What is it to be creative?

What is friendship?

What is love?

What is passion?

What is dance?

What is song?

Why do I have fears and anxieties?

Why is there violence and war?

How do we pursue knowledge and true epistemological flexibility?

How do we transcend the division of knowledge in the West between nature and culture?

How do we transcend the social division of labor and instead become interested in everything, but without burning ourselves up?

What is our deep ecological responsibility to our beloved wounded planet Gaia?

What is a wholesome habitat for human beings?

For animals?

For vegetables?

What is Artificial Life (A-Life)?

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

What are the coming fundamental paradigm shifts in science and technology due in the first half of the twenty-first century?

How do we reconcile Western and Buddhist ontologies of spacetime?

How do we reconcile rationalist scientific atheism and spiritual faith in a recursive, unfathomably complex living system that is the world itself in its unfolding history?

And last but not least: What is the best of all possible political and economic organizations of society?

SHANNON RUTHERFORD: High-Priced All-American Girl

(played by Maggie Grace)

Sexy blond gorgeous female over there. And a compatriot to boot. Assume her princess form.

I’m doing my toenails. It’s a good thing I had this polish with me. I’m not going to allow the temporary negative circumstance of this plan crash to interfere in any way with my personal care and simply gorgeous appearance. As everywhere else where I have ever been in my entire life, I am definitely and without any doubt the hottest-looking girl here. What a fantastic pair of legs I have! I am such a glamour girl in this white miniskirt, pink cotton tank top, and fashionable open pink leather cardigan jacket. Oh, here comes that dork stepbrother of mine. He is such a jerk! I’ll keep using him for as long as necessary for whatever he’s worth. When there’s nothing more I can get out of him, I’ll dump him and find some other warm body. Here’s Mr. Dork sitting down next to me. He’s offering me a piece of chocolate! “As if I’m gonna start eating chocolate,” I enlighten the dork. Chocolate, very smart! What’s that gonna do for my figure? “Shannon, we may be here for a while,” the twerp replies. “The plane had a black box, idiot,” I lay out for him the facts of life. “They know exactly where we are and they’re coming. I’ll eat on the rescue boat.” He shrinks to the size of his little weenie.

Talking Korean

An Asian man with finely chiseled features is talking harshly in Korean to his smooth-faced wife. Television viewers who are non-Korean speakers understand his monologue via subtitles. “You must not leave my sight,” he commands. “You must follow me wherever I go. Do you understand? Don’t worry about the others. We need to stay together.” The wife nods sadly.

KATE AND JACK

Jack is medically attending to a severely injured male crash victim who is lying unconscious on his back on the beach. In the dark, the Doctor focuses the beam of a flashlight onto the sufferer’s torn abdominal flesh. “Do you think he’s gonna live?” asks Kate through her left hand which is covering her mouth. “Do you know him?” a surprised Jack queries in return. “He was sitting next to me,” rejoins Kate in a matter-of-fact tone. A short time later, the two new friends are seated together with Kate clenching the same hand into a fist positioned in front of her mouth. In the fingertips of his right hand, Jack tenderly holds a green model-sized airplane about 25 centimeters in length that has been skillfully crafted from a leaf. “We must have been at about forty thousand feet when it happened,” he speculates. “We hit an air pocket. Dropped. Maybe two hundred feet. Turbulence.” “I knew that the tail was gone,” says Kate Austen. “But I couldn’t bring myself to look back. And then the front of the plane broke off.”

“Well, it’s not here on the beach,” interjects Jack Shephard while continuing to affectionately hand-glide the “paper-leaf” airplane through the air. “Neither is the tail. We need to figure out which way we came in. ‘Cause there’s a chance we could find the cockpit. If it’s intact, we might be able to find the transceiver. We could send out a signal and help the rescue party find us.” Kate tells Jack that she earlier saw smoke coming from the interior of the jungle that one can glimpse through the not-too-distant valley. They resolve to make an expedition the next day to look for the severed front part of the plane where they might be able to retrieve the transceiver – a radio communications device that both transmits and receives – from the cockpit.

Yea, Though I Walk Through

the Valley of the Shadow of Death

All of the survivors on the beach hear a prolonged loud haunting bestial cry emanating from the jungle. It is the petrifying sound of what everyone in their worst fears visualizes as an abominable Monster. The Lost voyagers of the semi-global flight from antipodal Australia to Greater Tinseltown, USA gaze in the direction of the fog-shrouded V-shaped horizon that seems to trace the betwixt and between contingent existence down in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Never Forget – Planes Want to Be in the Air

We see the standard view out the passenger seat window that one has when sitting in a plane on a long flight. Steadied high above dense clouds, the familiar image induces a sense of floatation into reverie or disappearance away from the terrestrial frame of reference. Suspended in mildly uncomfortable comfort, in some cases heartened by the trusty companionship of one of the formidable wings, I find myself in a parallel dimension of endless time. I harmonize with the permanently irritating yet reassuring noise of the flying machine.

The smiling pretty female flight attendant with dark red hair and wearing a smart blue uniform asks Dr. Jack Shephard – sitting in left-row seat 32 of Economy Class – how his drink is. “It’s good,” answers Jack. “That wasn’t a very strong reaction,” says the stewardess. “Well, it’s not a very strong drink,” replies Jack. “Just don’t tell anyone,” she says coquettishly while offering him an extra bottle of liquor that he will put inside his jacket pocket “for later” after she walks away. “This, of course, breaks some critical FAA regulation,” the Doctor teases. Moments later, the turbulence intensifies. The flight attendant picks up the public address system phone and announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot has switched on the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.” Jack perceives that the individual sitting across the aisle from him is becoming increasingly nervous. He initiates a conversation with the African-American woman named Rose Henderson Nadler. Rose’s husband has gone to the rest room just prior to the onset of the turbulence. To calm her rising fear as the plane shakes aggressively, Rose says:“My husband keeps reminding me that planes want to be in the air.” Behind Jack and Rose, a man abruptly goes flying through the air. Others are hurtled pitilessly about the cabin like leaves in a gusting wind. The oxygen masks come down from overhead panels. The plane’s rapid loss of altitude begins.

JOHN LOCKE: The Crash of the Social Contract

(played by Terry O’Quinn)

I am male. I am a man. I am a free man. I am not an Arnold Schwarzenegger-designated girlie-man. I am a macho, a Terminator. That male avatar over there — he’ll do! Looks like he’s spent countless hours in the gym! And he has the same name as the famous late seventeenth and early eighteenth century English political philosopher of the modern liberal social contract! The very same social contract of Western Civilization that is so deeply in crisis today! The celebrated author of the Two Treatises of Government (1698) – an “Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government”9 – a consideration of what makes governments legitimate, and of the rights of resistance, rebellion and revolution possessed by ordinary citizens. Locke believed that the holding of beliefs – especially religious beliefs, which might include atheistic beliefs – by humans is what qualifies them to redress their grievances and assert their equality in the face of an unjust political authority. And look at that John Locke over there — he’s living through an intense authentic religious-existentialist experience! I want to be him! Hear me, oh mighty imagination-technology wish-media-of-the-future wizard! Make me a John Locke! Poof! You’re a John Locke!

Sweet mother of Jesus, what in God’s name has happened to me? It’s a cockeyed miracle! I can use my legs! I can use my legs! I feel my toes wiggling inside my shoes! Mobility and full-bodiedness have been restored to me! I’m sitting here on the beach next to the scorched podded engine, surrounded by the remains of the plane. I’m wearing my beige trousers and white shirt with blue checkered stripes. I’m engrossed in the deepest meditation that I have ever known. Here comes a torrential downpour. The other survivors are taking shelter under improvised tents and elevated aircraft parts. I couldn’t care less! Let the rain pour down! I spread my arms out wide, palms facing up. I love the rain! To me to fathom the mysteries of the universe! My turn at bat to contemplate what it’s all about. I know that a Providential Miracle has taken place. And I have been the beneficiary of it! But can one go back to less advanced forms of argument than atheism? These are the most profound of all possible thoughts. I must figure out what this all means. One thing is already certain: I would much rather be here on this Island – facing total uncertainty and the building of a new life from scratch – than back in my previous life in the “civilized world” that had reached a dead end. In America, I was Regional Collection Supervisor for a Box Company. That $50,000 annual salary kept me going, but man, everything about that existence was gone wrong.

Authority is Dead

Kate carefully and deferentially removes a pair of brown shoes from the feet of a dead person. She needs better shoes for the trek through the jungle. Charlie Pace is eager to help and he asks to go with Kate and Jack on their mission to search for the cockpit and transceiver. Walking in the pouring rain, the trio comes upon the front part of the plane sticking up out of the ground at a 45 degree inclination. They go inside the wrecked mass of hardware. Expending a great deal of effort, they climb uphill through the forward fuselage interior towards the enclosed space of the machine’s flying controls. Jack bangs the handle of the cockpit door vigorously with his flashlight. One of the dead pilots – his corpse having apparently been leaning with the full weight of gravity against the door – comes tumbling through. Entering the inner sanctum containing the seats of traditional authority, the three Lost survivors discover that one of the pilots, though injured with at least a concussion, is still alive! They give him some water to encourage him to speak. “How many survived?” he asks. “Forty-eight,” answers Jack. “How long has it been?” “Sixteen hours.” “Has anybody…?” “Not yet.” “Six hours in,” the slightly overweight and out-of-shape pilot explains between moans of uneasiness, “our radio went out. No one could see us. We turned back to land at Fiji. By the time we hit turbulence, we were a thousand miles off course. They’re looking for us in the wrong place.”

The group finds the transceiver, but it is not working. The sound of the monster is suddenly heard loud and clear. Jack tries to see it through the film-covered window. The Captain sticks his head outside to get a direct look. The beast takes him in one fell swoop. Off-camera, he is lifted high into the air and thrashed about. Blood is splashed on the windshield. Presumably the pilot has been eaten. This ground-shaking Event causes the entire construction of the “guiding” part of the plane (which was pointing upwards at the angle of an erect phallus!) to topple over, restored to level ground. “What the hell just happened?” exclaims the bewildered Charlie Pace, who in the meantime had made a sneak trip to the bathroom to give himself a drug fix. Overcome by fear, the three leading characters hightail it outta there pronto. They drag each other through the swamp until Charlie’s leg gets caught in the big muddy.

KATE

I run and run until at last stopping to catch my breath. I’m all alone in the woods! I’m standing here shivering with cold and fear. I’m sobbing and panting. The monster is out here somewhere! Oh God, oh God, it’s going to get me! I don’t want to die! I hear the wailing from above and thunder in the distance. Jack! Where’s Jack? How did we get separated? I need that man. That protector. Protecting spirit, enter me! Have you given me strength? Now what’s this? Someone’s beside me! It’s that other boy. He looks terrified. What’s he got to say for himself? “That thing,” he slowly utters in naked dread and trembling of the Other. “We were dead. And then Jack came back and he pulled me up.” My Jack! A real man. He needs my help. GO BACK AND GET HIM, Kate. But wait it seems that this little girlie-boy doesn’t want to go back! Timidity oozes as words from his mouth. Some lame excuse about the monster’s bulking dimensions. “There’s a certain gargantuan quality about this thing,” the insignificant nothing bleats. Yeah right, soldier boy. Bet it had sharp ferocious Jaws, too. OK, I’m on my horse, Charlie, moving courageously back through the quagmire that guys like you always seem to bumblingly blind-stagger us into. Full stop.

What’s that? A small lustrous precious object lying on a mud bank next to a puddle. Some kind of metal medal? It’s the pilot’s wings. The physical symbol of a Captain’s bravery, skills, and leadership qualities. I reach down and pick it up. Now a slight shift of my ocular perception to the right. I see the reflection of the pilot’s dead body in the small pool of still water. His corpse is hanging from the overhead trees. Who can believe this. Jack appears out of a clearing in the woods. Squinting our eyes in an act of controlled will and maximum intensity to hold back a flood of tears, we look up together at THE DEATH OF POWER. My man! He’s alive! I move to embrace him. Or to be embraced by him. I tilt my pretty head slightly to the left, a subtle gesture. I purse my lips ever so finely. He rebuffs me with a shoulder fake. The pilot’s a bloody mess. His face is disfigured. “How does something like that happen?” wonders Charlie Pace out loud. At least we have the broken transceiver as a trophy from our hunting trip.

Robinson Crusoe (by Daniel Defoe)

A man alone and his will to survive. “THE LIFE AND STRANGE SURPRIZING ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, Of YORK, MARINER: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of AMERICA, near the Mouth of the Great River of OROONOQUE; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. WITH An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by PYRATES. Written by Himself.”10

The basic situation of Robinson Crusoe’s early life was that of a young man who did not want to get a job. Robinson was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family. His father was a successful businessman, a trader in “merchandise.” Robinson had two older brothers, one of whom was killed in war, the second of which his destiny unknown. Robinson avoided training for any particular occupation. He had a solid general education, and there was a vague idea that he might go into the Law. But Robinson dreamed only of adventure, of “going to sea.” This wayward impulse brought him into conflict with both of his parents, not to mention several of the best friends of his youth. Why he would wish to leave the safety of his family’s home, its environs, and his native land was beyond his father’s comprehension. All Robinson had to do to attain “a life of ease and pleasure”11 was to follow the course that had been laid out for him by his magnanimously given upper-middle class socio-economic circumstance, supplementing this patrimony with a modicum of “application and industry.”12 Thanks to the efforts of those who preceded him, his life had already been shielded from the miseries to which most human beings are subjected. Only men “of desperate fortunes”13 and rich men seeking fame or extravagant wealth go abroad for lengthy periods of time. For a middle class person to voluntarily do so was the height of folly, his father admonished. One invites the worst of all possible misfortunes.

At the age of nineteen, having already missed his opportunities to learn a respectable trade or profession, Robinson Crusoe sets out for the first time to sea. It is a short normal trip from Kingston upon Hull to London, but even on this routine route there is trouble. The ship gets caught in a terrible storm. The weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. “Lord be merciful to us, we shall all be Lost.”14 As he shudders with fear, Robinson pledges that, should it please God to spare him just this one time, he will return to the House of his Father and never stray again. But as soon as the weather clears he forgets his resolution. On the eighth day of the voyage, an even more ferocious storm blows, frightening the most experienced seamen among the crew. “The sea went mountains high, and broke upon us every three or four minutes.”15 The ship takes on more water than it can bear. Robinson and the others on board are saved by another ship just before their own vessel sinks.

After being deposited safely on shore, they walk to the port of Yarmouth. Here Robinson receives a second ominous verbal warning, articulated by the Master of the sunken ship. “Young man, you ought never to go to sea any more, you ought to take this for a plain and visible token that you are not to be a seafaring man. (…) As you made this voyage for a trial, you see what a taste Heaven has given you of what you are to expect if you persist. (…) Pray, what are you? and on what account did you go to sea?”16 After Robinson recounts the story of his rebellious conflict with his parents, the Master reacts with total exasperation, wondering aloud what he had done that such an “unhappy wretch” would come aboard his ship. Not for all the money in the world would he travel again with such a harbinger of doom. “Young man, depend upon it,” the Master concludes, “if you do not go back, where ever you go, you will meet with nothing but disasters and disappointments, till your father’s words are fulfilled upon you.”17

Yet an apprehension of the shame of facing family, friends and acquaintances in defeat deters Robinson Crusoe from returning to his hometown in white England. He instead takes passage on a ship to Africa, provoking the resumption of his misadventures. Sailing eastward of the Canary Islands, his ship of traffic is intercepted by a coast-guarding vessel from the Moroccan seaport of Sallee. He and his shipmates are taken prisoner by the “Moors.” The Captain of the defending rover fancies the “young and nimble” Robinson as his “proper prize.”18 He takes him as a sort of lily feminized ornament tending to his house and garden. Sometimes the Captain has the captured blue-eyed boy lie in his private cabin while the ship is in harbor.

After two years of domestication, Robinson Crusoe undertakes a daring escape by stealing the light sailboat known as the pinnace that is used in attendance on a larger ship. He proceeds along the coast of what is now Mauretania in the company of the Arab lad named Xury. The two male companions live through all manner of death-defying escapades together. They battle wild animals, struggle to obtain food and fresh water, learn to communicate and negotiate with people of native tribes, and deal with their own fear of being eaten by cannibals. Living in the vicinity of mortal dangers without being consumed by worry about them is an important stage in the Tantric challenge of initiation of the spiritual traveler into manhood of a different kind.19 Near the Cape Verde Islands, the exhausted Robinson Crusoe and his pal Xury are rescued by a passing Portuguese ship that is on its way to the Brazilian colonies.

Robinson knows none of the Continental languages – Portuguese, Spanish or French – but there is one Scottish sailor on board who happens to speak the escaped slave’s native tongue. Restored to the company of European Men after months on the lamb in the “state of nature,” the Englishman’s first act as a once again Free Citizen of the West is to sell his young friend Xury into ten years of indentured servitude.

Arriving in Brazil with the tidy sum of 220 Pieces of Eight in his pocket, Robinson is accepted into the settlers’ society and becomes a sugar and tobacco plantation owner. Receiving a shot-in-the-arm of capital from England, he buys one African slave and two white servants. As time goes by, he becomes something of a neighborhood celebrity among his fellow male colonizers by retelling the story of his prior exploits along the northwest African coastline. His braggadocio tales of how he bartered with natives whet the luxury goods farmers’ appetite for ownership of human flesh from Across the Ocean, an indulgence that was until now the exclusive privilege of those who could afford to pay the high prices demanded by the Assiento Monopoly. The South Atlantic West Shore local business doers enlist the services of an expert in how South Atlantic East Shore local business is done. Robinson Crusoe joins the expedition to go get some dark meat to make brown sugar. In exchange for his expertise, he will receive a full share of booty without having to make any up-front capital investment.

After twelve days at sea, the slave-seeking ship gets caught in a terrible hurricane, where it remains trapped for twelve days of relentless terror for the fearless crew. After plotting a course northwest by west in the direction of Trinidad, the helpless victims of Nature’s Wrath are seized upon by a second raging storm that blows them deep into unchartered waters. At the break of Dawn at the end of the Darkest Night, one man miraculously sights Land. But at this very same moment, the ship runs aground. The eleven who are still alive squeeze into a small lifeboat, abandoning themselves to the mercy of the violent waves and uncertain approach to a close by rocky strand. There is no suitable landing spot in view. “As we made nearer and nearer the shore, the land look’d more frightful than the sea.”20 A final massive wave capsizes the boat, sending all the aspiring slavers to their probable deaths.

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