Astronomy Picture of the Day

It’s a breakfast doodle by Malcolm Mc Neill. He writes in an email, “If only …”

‘Uh Oh’

Mc Neill has two books coming out at the end of October from Fantagraphics Books: The Lost Art of Ah Pook Is Here: Images from the Graphic Novel and the memoir Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook, and Me. Check out the “overview” about OWF and any of the excerpts. This gives you a taste:

Observed While Falling is the account of the Word-Image Novel Ah Pook Is Here, an idea conceived by writer WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS and artist MALCOLM MC NEILL in London in 1970, abandoned after seven years, lost for twenty-five, then rediscovered and published four decades after it began.

Ah Pook Is Here was a book about Time; the ways in which it is perceived, the methods of controlling it and the possibilities of traveling within it. Burroughs contrasted the Judeo-Christian temporal model with that of the ancient Maya and proposed a fictional modern-day reenactment of the actual confrontation between these two views that had occurred five hundred years ago. It was a story in which characters from the past using the formulae within sacred texts traveled through Time to determine the outcome of that future event.

William Burroughs was not a conventional writer and Ah Pook, the Mayan Death God, is no ordinary character. The interaction between them would result in an actual manifestation of the ideas they evoked. …

Burroughs was a visionary author; he had the ability to “write ahead”. It was his contention that the fundamental purpose of writing was “to make it happen” and in light of recent events, Ah Pook Is Here certainly validated that idea. It confirmed his sense of the inherent potential of words: their ability to access and convey information beyond the constraints of linear time.

Ah Pook was a project in which images were added to the mix. They became the catalyst for increasing the likelihood of such an idea occurring. In the course of the collaboration inexplicable real events did in fact “happen” that appeared to mirror those in the book. The most significant of these, however, would not be realized until many years after the project had been abandoned and after Burroughs himself was dead. The unprecedented nature of that event and its direct bearing on the premise of Ah Pook Is Here is what led to Observed While Falling being written.

Postscript: Oct. 8 — Getting back to that curious encounter on Mars, Mc Neill writes:

The image was a doodle for Columbus Day. It seems like a cliche maybe, but it’s not an indictment, only an observation. I made it because of the penny.

There is a 1909 Lincoln penny attached to the probe arm of Curiosity; a unit of currency, as it were, stuck to its palm. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem such a remarkable idea, but on the coin there are inscribed three sentiments: “In God We Trust,” “Liberty,” and the date. That money should precede us in the exploration of other worlds is regrettable. That the money is endorsed by God that much more so. Whose God? Which We? Trust in what?

The space between the head of the robot and the American Indian is five hundred years wide. It measures the time from when Europeans first set foot in the Americas to now. Europeans fortified with the same God, endorsing the same material interests. There is a consistency to that space therefore, a sense that nothing has changed. There are no indigenous peoples on Mars, but the mindset that anticipates encounters with other-worldly life forms apparently remains the same.

Liberty is a concept associated in particular with Abraham Lincoln, the president who is acknowledged for “freeing the slaves”. Liberty had been a founding principle of The United States, and now almost a hundred years later, he had allowed African Americans to include themselves in the idea. The American Civil war however, was an economic war over control of the South’s material production, specifically cotton. The Liberty of slaves was an expediency, not it’s essential motive. Despite Lincoln’s moniker, the sentiment on the coin is far from honest.

Immediately after the Civil War came The Indian Wars. The same soldiers now reassigned to complete the process that had begun four hundred years before: the relocation and removal of the indigenous Native Americans in the interest of economic aggrandizement. In the interest of more money. It was a process that would continue into the next century.

1909 appropriately, was the year the “Lincoln” penny replaced the “Indian” penny. It was also the year Chief Red Cloud died at the age of 87 on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He had outlived all the other major Sioux leaders of the Indian Wars. “They made us many promises,” he said, ” more than I can remember. But they kept but one: They promised to take our land…and they took it.”

It is “They” who own the robot, Earth’s ambassador to another world. Its outstretched arm reads: “Superstition, Dishonesty and Greed”. We’re in good hands.

Methinks Bill Burroughs would agree.

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