Icarus falling, Lazarus rising:
revisiting reflections on The Man Who Fell to Earth
Per ardua ad astra. Through difficulties to the stars
XI. I Close My Eyes and I Can Fly …
‘Every man who looks your way,
I watched them sink before your gaze’
(In the Heat of the Morning, 1967)
I have argued that the treatment of identity in The Man Who Fell to Earth is nostalgic. In arguing that Deleuze’s conceptualisation of becoming-woman also appropriates historically oppressive figurations, my central criticism is of his apparent short-term memory – the very discontinuity Deleuze and Guattari seize on in order to rupture the ‘gigantic memory’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 293) the being-man constitutes himself as. ‘Becoming is an anti-memory’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 294). ‘I hate memories’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 296), they insist. But is not this ‘forgetting as a process’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 16) the ‘non-self’ delusion of the nomad who, stumbling across a pattern of footsteps in the sand, dismisses their familiarity?
For Deleuze, the denial of the active subject is the drawing of a line, not through the illusion of a stable identity, but through identity itself. An ‘affective’ philosophy, rather like science fiction, is one that attempts a voyage beyond; it does not always admit to its historical undergirding. Deleuze is conscious of this historicity, indeed it is what inspires the need for new modes of thinking, for thinking-difference. But if, as Deleuze argues, the past is a rationalist construction how does a Deleuzian pragmatics escape this orbit? Deleuze’s eternal nomad wanders haplessly into making new connections without, as Kant says (and as Christopher Norris reminds us), a ‘principled or truth-seeking argument’ able to ‘meet our deepest needs … for those needs can only be met through a process of enlightened reciprocal exchange’ (Norris, 1993, p231).
‘I’m not a scientist, but I know all things begin and end in eternity.’ So says a reclusive Newton from the dustbowl of the New Mexico desert, a scene that reminds me of David Bowie’s surprise at finding a wax museum in the same desert in Alan Yentob’s ‘Cracked Actor’ (BBC, 1975). ‘A wax museum in the desert? You’d think it would bleedin’ melt.’
Life is not the degree zero of becoming, nor does history melt at the behest of anti-memory. As Newton’s falling demonstrates, in configuring identity we must not lose sight of gravity’s effect on the subject.
Yet as Icarus plummets into the ocean, Lazarus rises through the depths of memory, an astronaut of inner space where his wife doesn’t need telling how very much he loves her. She knows. With a great fall comes a peculiar kind of freedom. Just as you reach the very bottom, just as you think you have had enough, just as gravity thinks it has had all of you. The end of one film is the beginning of another; in the deep darkness of a theatre closed to public view.
… Just Like That Blue Bird
After David Bowie died I didn’t think I would stop crying (perhaps I will one day). Reading through my drafts and planning a cleaned up and free access version for the fortieth anniversary of the film (drafts that have appeared in several conference forms and chapters since 2003 – and vaguely in my head since much earlier) was partially a coping mechanism. Just as my writing about him going forward will undoubtedly be tinged with fan-sadness. The Promethean prediction of my original essay, that Newton finds a life outside of the public arena, has now of course been picked up by the collaboration between David Bowie and Enda Walsh for the play Lazarus. I wish I could claim to have been a small influence, but the truth is that the metaphor of rebirth has been authored by so many world religions, and effected so much of the way we think of life as a journey. What really surprised me in reviewing my drafts was my own surprise to them. The theoretical discussions and arguments about identity are exactly what enable me to stop the inexorable fall of Newton, and give him back his wings. But if his investments in identity had weighed him down, how do I feel about my own investments in Bowie over all these years? I owe so much of my identity to watching that man, my own third man. Like many others, I have played Icarus to his white light.
We are all aliens wrapped in human skins. Melancholics. Maybe if we shed those skins we’d uncage our full life force. One day we will of course. One day we’ll be free. Rising and falling. Just like that blue bird.
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