Sunday, November 26, 2006
A Canticle for Leibowitz
“The Monks waited. It mattered not at all to them that the knowledge they saved was useless, that much of it was not really knowledge now, was as inscrutable to the monks in some instances as it would be to an illiterate wild-boy from the hills; this knowledge was empty of content, its subject matter long since gone. Still, such knowledge had a symbolic structure that was peculiar to itself, and at least the symbol-interplay could be observed. To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday – someday, or some century – an Integrator would come and things would be fitted together again. So time mattered not at all.”
- Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz, pp. 66
Miller's Science Fiction classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, imagines the centuries and millenia following the near-total destruction of human civilization. Decimated After nuclear holocaust, there occurrs a great populist backlash against all knowledge and technology. Blaming the apocalypse and the desecration of the Earth on science and learning, the survivors carry out massive book burnings in an age that comes to be known as the great ‘Simplification.’ The only keepers of human history and the written word are the monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz, safeguarding any and all recovered documents, from blueprints to textbooks to shopping lists, through written copy and memorization.
Pictured above is the book cover (left) as well as a photograph of my book report from sixth grade, a fully rendered movie poster for a hypothetical film based on the novel (right). This poster is a wonderfully telling artifact of my strengths and weaknesses as a young man, a revelatory relic on par with the tattered document it depicts – the sacred shopping list of Saint Leibowitz.
I am proud that in planning this feature film, I gave little thought to cost constraints. The movie’s budget is comically boundless and the ensemble cast is really something to behold. Just look at that lineup of Hollywood heavy-hitters: Danny Glover, Jeff Bridges, Mel Brooks, Kurt Russell, Tom Hanks, Ossie Davis, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith, all under the direction of the legendary Terry Gilliam. I myself am named as the producer while my father, Patrick, gets the nod as executive producer. What is the meaning of this?
The teaser media excerpts raise several puzzling questions. These quotes are either plain statement of objective fact (NYT, LAT), starry-eyed praise for the film’s provocation of ‘thoughts’ (Newsweek, GMA), or absurdly hyperbolic declarations that explode the prevailing order of film criticism (Siskel and Ebert). The personification of Newsweek and the LA Times promotes a special flavor of cognitive dissonance in yet another peculiar turn. All of this may or may not be knowledge. I feel like an illiterate wild boy from the hills.
Its age and its relevance long-since forgotten, this poster is an inscrutable, jumbled, mash-up of empty signifiers. I can't be sure of its meaning, but I record this information faithfully in anticipation of the day when it will once again make sense.
Posted by Martin M