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Icarus falling, Lazarus rising:

revisiting reflections on The Man Who Fell to Earth

Dene October

Per ardua ad astra. Through difficulties to the stars

 

IX. Difference and Repetition

‘I came alone. Nobody saw me.’

 

On what basis is such an (un)ending made possible? And in what way could it be explored in terms of a causative constituent to identity?

It is, of course, hardly a coincidence that the ‘fallen’ Newton is the namesake of the author icarus-pullout-9of the Principia (1687) who constructed a simple, mechanical, predictable universe. Indeed, it is through the classical rationalist model of the universe that I have explored the metaphor of gravity, with its implications for spatial singularity and temporal linearity. But quantum mechanics offers a different model, one in which the apparently stable macroscopic world is impacted by counter-intuitive events on the microscopic scale. In order to exceed the ‘Newtonian’ account of Newton, then, it is important to imagine beyond the evident, intuitive and predictable: this is both a venture in the spirit of Deleuze and in updating the film’s scientific frame of reference.  As Deleuze says, ‘What matters is whether it works, and how it works, and who it works for’ (Deleuze, 1995: 22).

At the time of Roeg’s film, the American physicist Hugh Everett III’s (1930-1982) many-icarus-image-9-press-kitworlds theory (1957) had already challenged both the classical and the quantum systems, but hardly ignited public interest and was even shelved by scientists for a further thirty years. Its premise, that the Universe splits when a choice is presented at the quantum level, does away with the need for an intelligent observer and means, for example, that Schrodinger’s Cat is already really alive and dead before verification – indeed, an observer only verifies the actualisation of one state (DeWitt, 1970: 31).

Everett’s interpretation corresponds with the poststructuralist rejection of standing outside of the language in which one participates (poststructuralism is a school of thought that dispenses with the importance of the singular authority of the author in creating meaning). But quantum theory does not remove the observer altogether: indeed the emphasis has shifted onto the participating observer, and this taken together with Everett’s emphasis on choice, promotes further speculation of the theory’s disposition towards a more amenable account of agency since, although there is no suggestion of a transcendent will, the probabilistic nature of the system invites the repetition of the choice-event with invariably different outcomes: the system is a difference production.

The system can be considered as generative of agency since the choice-event is the icarus-image-8-catoutcome of a necessary participation in the course of action. Indeed, following Alain Aspect (1982) and John Bell (1987), the theory of entanglement posits the instantaneous interaction between entities, even when separated by significant distance, or even systems, since once entangled the entities behave as though part of the same system (Gribbin, 1995, p223). Such behaviour questions the basis of all laws of reality and self-actualisations since a self is limitless … indeed, until choice is exercised, who is to say how it will be actualised?

A common reading of end of The Man Who Fell to Earth is to see Newton as the fallen Icarus figure, drunk and alienated, transforming into what Sinyard describes as ‘that most archetypal of American successes … the isolated alcoholic tycoon’ (Sinyard, 1991, 64) an image the film has prophesised in drawing attention to the coupled W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973) poem Musée de Beaux Arts icarus-image-9(1938) and Pieter Brueghel (1525 – 1569) Renaissance painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (circa 1558): ‘In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster’ (Auden, 1939). Yet Newton is surely himself mistaken in his belief that ‘I came alone …. Nobody saw me’ for, like the poem and painting, he is steadily observed even at his lowest and most lonesome. If at the film’s end Newton has ‘disappeared’ from public focus, this is not the consequence of having remained undetected but the outcome of having been imprisoned by the rationalist gaze which attempts to fix that which it observes into an immutable validation of observation. Like Newton, the early pioneer settlers, having been initially observed, appear to disappear, but unlike the treatment meted out to him, Newton has not attempted to behold the image of them, rather to accept its numinous illogicality. These settlers are an early warning against those substantiating rational visual methodologies deployed against Newton. In Quantum terms, the settlers are neither here nor there, but in both states simultaneously, a state of hyphenated being that enables Newton’s own defiance of Newtonian physics and urges us to re-evaluate his conviction that ‘nobody saw me’ [my emphasis].

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