Sunday, July 20, 2008

I am a science fiction character

I happened to rewatch 2001 on DVD the other day. Although I've seen this film probably a dozen times, I never before noticed that my real surname appears in the dialog (well, background sound). It's in the scene on the space station when Haywood Floyd is calling home on the At&T Picturephone. During this there is a a PA announcement that says: "Will Mr [x] please contact the Met Office...". Which just goes to show, you can rewatch something you know practically by heart and still pick up something new.

In addition the surprise of finding myself in this world of the future of the past, I was also surprised to find myself moved almost to tears by the Blue Danube sequence -- also very familiar, but just so beautifully done. Also learned from the commentary tracks that when the thrown bone-club turns into a spacecraft in the famous 4 million year jump cut, that craft is supposed to be some sort of orbital weapon. Which makes sense, but how was anybody supposed to know that? I have a hard time imagining what it's like to view this movie for the first time, without having the benefit of having read the novelization so you have some idea about what is going on. For instance, the movie doesn't make a single mention of the reason behind HAL's malfunction and its connection with the mission, which leaves that whole storyline untethered to anything else.

A more significant use of my name occurs in J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, which is structured as a series of vignettes, most featuring what appears to be a single character whose name varies between Traven, Talbot, Trabert, Tallis, [x], and other variants, who wander through desolate landscapes of obscurely-purposed research institutes. I used to have this quote posted on my door in grad school where I was getting into conflicts with the administration:

...the director watched [x] with his unpleasant eyes. His aggressive stare had surprised [x] - seeing himself confused with the psychotic patients was too sharp a commentary on his own role at the Institute, a reminder of his long and wearisome dispute...

What these two very different pieces of imaginative fiction have in common, besides using my name, is that they are radically uncompromising works. Kubrick and Ballard don't give a fuck if they've left the viewer/reader in the dust. Such is the privilege of genius.

My name is neither very common or very uncommon (it's ranked at about the 4900 most common in the US, with about 2.85 occurrences per 100,000 people), so it's hardly a big deal to see it around. There are a 2 or 3 fairly famous holders of the name, but they are no relation to me since my father pulled it out of a hat when he emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Britain as a youth.

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