Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rewriting Earth History on Mars

Several people have identified the relationships between this week’s readings/media and personal memory, highlighted in Total Recall. What struck me was the repetition of themes of ‘civilizational’ and social memory – and the rewriting thereof. In Total Recall and “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” there are major issues of personal memory. Gallinger breaks his account of the salvation of Mars to describe memories of his father from his youth, which are of obvious personal significance. His memories of his father, who encouraged him to become a missionary, interact with what seems his destiny as he realizes himself as the Martian’s Sacred Scoffer. Doug Quaid exists in the quandary between reality and dream state, unable to certify that his memories are his own once the possibility of memory erasure is introduced. There exists an additional layer of historical memory which, through the colonization of mars, is rewritten.

In “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” we are introduced to a dying civilization, which has transitioned into a state of resignation because of the infertility of its males and the writings of its great historian/poet, Locar. The story itself appears an appropriation of something biblical. A desert people, living in the shadow of former opulence (Gallinger finds “Byzantine brilliance” beyond the antechamber as he begins his historical and linguistic study), its buildings likened to tents with walls decorated with animal skins. They have experienced drought and plague, and are now waiting for their savior in the form of a spiritual dissenter. Even their literature paints their very existence as a kind of disease of the inorganic. The idea of dissent, of critical thought, is what saves them (though, paradoxically, this process of questioning scripture is written into the prophecy to be questioned).

In a way this echoes the development of the United States which, perhaps for Zelazny, is successful because of its rejection of uncritical thought, and its insistence on reasoned dissent against governmental or theological convention. This intervention into the decline of Mars at the hands of blind acceptance is then a kind of revision of Western history as it descended into the dark ages of scientific stagnancy, blind faith, etc. Zelazny is providing us with a revised Jesus, sent ‘down’ from Earth, in the heavens, to Mars for its salvation. Through Gallinger we can rescue ourselves from our own past.

The conflation of time into a kind of past present is furthered as Zelazny describes the Martians as having “science, but little technology,” without providing justification for this failure to leap from one to the other, as if there could exist a type of curiosity which does not then imply manipulation of the natural world by means of knowledge gained. They are a civilization which has “done all things…seen all things…heard and felt all things,” as if valuing experience over development, as if unable to conceptualize the creation of “new experience” until Gallinger brings one to them himself.

The portrait given of Martians resembles an earlier terrestrial time point, which the entry of modern humans as prophets by virtue of their own experienced past. In Total Recall, there is a more direct relationship between the situation of the Martians, who derive from terrestrial humans, and those enslaved populations of recent memory. Here we rewrite our own history by freeing Martians from slavery summarily by eliminating the scarcity of the instrument of their slavery (air/oxygen). Here again we are give an opportunity to rewrite the history of global slavery by liberating the population of this new planet.


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