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Saturday 15 November 2014

Philae Lander: Fade Out / Frantz Fanon: The End of the European Game


You'd be a sad simulated-topography Ming Dynasty clay lion at the alien base on B-57, too, if the rich kids came over to your part of the Galaxy to play, and then went off again without deciphering a single one of your carefully prepared coded messages designed to help them save the universe from themselves, before it's too late ("batteries went dead" -- right, it's always something... oh, "a shirt problem", yeah...): image via Philae Lander @ Philae2014, 14 November 2014
Rosetta and Philae: Why this space story fills us with so much awe: The comet landing has given us a rare glimpse of the outer limits of human excellence –- and restored our faith in progress
Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, Friday 14 November 2014 14.47 EST

These could be the dying hours of Philae, the device the size of a washing machine which travelled 4bn miles to hitch a ride on a comet. Philae is the “lander” which on Wednesday sprung from the craft that had carried it into deep, dark space, bounced a couple of times on the comet’s surface, and eventually found itself lodged in the shadows, starved of the sunlight its solar batteries needed to live. Yesterday, the scientists who had been planning this voyage for the past quarter-century sat and waited for word from their little explorer, hoping against hope that it still had enough energy to reveal its discoveries.

#SF riots: image via Not Frantz Fanon @violentfanon, 30 October 2014

If Philae expires on the hard, rocky surface of Comet 67P the sadness will be felt far beyond mission control in Darmstadt, Germany. Indeed, it may be felt there least of all: those who have dedicated their working lives to this project pronounced it a success, regardless of a landing that didn’t quite go to plan (Philae’s anchor harpoons didn’t fire, so with gravity feeble there was nothing to keep the machine anchored to the original, optimal landing site). They were delighted to have got there at all and thrilled at Philae’s early work. Up to 90% of the science they planned to carry out has been done. As one scientist put it, “We’ve already got fantastic data.”

Sexist Shirts Aren't Cool, Even If You Have Landed A Spacecraft On A Comet #MattTaylor: image via Feminism Trends @ Feminismolizer, 14 November 2014

Those who lacked their expertise couldn’t help feel a pang all the same. The human instinct to anthropomorphise does not confine itself to cute animals, as anyone who has seen the film Wall-E can testify. If Pixar could make us well up for a waste-disposing robot, it’s little wonder the European Space Agency has had us empathising with a lander ejected from its “mothership”, identifiable only by its “spindly leg”. In those nervous hours, many will have been rooting for Philae, imagining it on that cold, hard surface yearning for sunlight, its beeps of data slowly petering out as its strength faded.

#SF riots: image via Not Frantz Fanon @violentfanon, 30 October 2014

But that barely accounts for the fascination this adventure has stirred. Part of it is simple, a break from the torments down here on earth. You don’t have to go as far as the Christopher Nolan film Interstellar, which fantasises about leaving our broken, ravaged planet and starting somewhere else -- to enjoy a rare respite from our earthly woes. For a few merciful days, the news has featured a story remote from the bloodshed of Islamic State and Ukraine, from the pain of child abuse and poverty. Even those who don’t dream of escaping this planet can relish the escapism.

Philae lander touches down

The wall of rock facing the Philae lander where it has come to rest on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: Photo by ESA/REX/ESA/REX, 13 November 2014
But the comet landing has provided more than a diversion: it’s been an antidote too. For this has been a story of human cooperation in a world of conflict. The narrow version of this point focuses on this as a European success story. When our daily news sees “Europe” only as the source of unwanted migrants or maddening regulation, Philae has offered an alternative vision; that Germany, Italy, France, Britain and others can achieve far more together than they could ever dream of alone. The geopolitical experts so often speak of the global pivot to Asia, the rise of the Bric nations and the like -– but this extraordinary voyage has proved that Europe is not dead yet.

Rosetta scientist Dr #MattTaylor apologises for ‘offensive’ shirt #gamergate: image by #GamerGate Trends @Gamergatolizer, 15 November 2014

Even that, as I say, is to view it too narrowly. The US, through Nasa, is involved as well. And note the language attached to the hardware: the Rosetta satellite, the Ptolemy measuring instrument, the Osiris on-board camera, Philea itself -– all imagery drawn from ancient Egypt. The spacecraft was named after the Rosetta stone, the discovery that unlocked hieroglyphics, as if to suggest a similar, if not greater, ambition: to decode the secrets of the universe. By evoking humankind’s ancient past, this is presented as a mission of the entire human race. There will be no flag planting on Comet 67P. As the Open University’s Jessica Hughes puts it, Philea, Rosetta and the rest “have become distant representatives of our shared, earthly heritage”.

"I don't care if ..." you are marie curie. #shirtstorm #shirtgate: image via DeadShane #5421 @Shane5016, 14 November 2014

That fits because this is how we experience such a moment: as a human triumph. When we marvel at the numbers -- a probe has travelled for 10 years, crossed those 4bn miles, landed on a comet speeding at 34,000mph and done so within two minutes of its planned arrival -- we marvel at what our species is capable of. I can barely get past the communication: that Darmstadt is able to contact an object 300 million miles away, sending instructions, receiving pictures. I can’t get phone reception in my kitchen, yet the ESA can be in touch with a robot that lies far beyond Mars. Like watching Usain Bolt run or hearing Maria Callas sing, we find joy and exhilaration in the outer limits of human excellence.

Who's going to get the #Matt Taylor shirt produced so we can signal we aren't interested in #feminist or #SJW scolds: image via Worst Dude Ever @worst, 14 November 2014

And of course we feel awe. What Interstellar prompts us to feel artificially -- making us gasp at the confected scale and digitally assisted magnitude -- Philae gives us for real. It is the stretch of time and place, glimpsing somewhere so far away it is as out of reach as ancient Egypt.

#SF riots: image via Not Frantz Fanon @violentfanon, 30 October 2014

All that is before you reckon with the voyage’s scholarly purpose. “We are on the cutting edge of science,” they say, and of course they are. They are probing the deepest mysteries, including the riddle of how life began. (One theory suggests a comet brought water to a previously arid Earth.) What the authors of the Book of Genesis understood is that this question of origins is intimately bound up with the question of purpose. From the dawn of human time, to ask “How did we get here?” has been to ask “Why are we here?”

Well done, whoever coined the term #shirtstorm MT @astroprofhoff #CometLanding: image via Meg Rosenburg @trueanomalies, 12 November 2014
It’s why contemplation of the cosmic so soon reverts to the spiritual. Interstellar, like 2001: A Space Odyssey before it, is no different. It’s why one of the most powerful moments of Ronald Reagan’s presidency came when he paid tribute to the astronauts killed in the Challenger disaster. They had, he said, “slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God”.

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#SF riots: image via Not Frantz Fanon @violentfanon, 30 October 2014

Not that you have to believe in such things to share the romance. Secularists, especially on the left, used to have a faith of their own. They believed that humanity was proceeding along an inexorable path of progress, that the world was getting better and better with each generation. The slaughter of the past century robbed them -- us -- of that once-certain conviction. Yet every now and again comes an unambiguous advance, what one ESA scientist called “A big step for human civilisation”. Even if we never hear from Philae again, we can delight in that.

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and aren't I cute then? I went for my first simulated walk today...: image via Philae Lander @ Philae2014, 14 November 2014

Frantz Fanon:  Les damnés de la terre

Come, then, comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent and resolute.

We must leave our dreams and abandon our old beliefs and friendships of the time before life began. Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration.

Paris, France. President Francois Hollande wears 3D glasses to watch the Philae probe as it lands on comet 67P
: photo by Jacques Brinon/Reuters via The Guardian, 13 November 2014

And yet it may be said that Europe has been successful inasmuch as everything that she has attempted has succeeded.

Europe undertook the leadership of the world with ardour, cynicism and violence. Look at how the shadow of her palaces stretches out ever farther! Every one of her movements has burst the bounds of space and thought. Europe has declined all humility and all modesty; but she has also set her face against all solicitude and all tenderness.

She has only shown herself parsimonious and niggardly where men are concerned; it is only men that she has killed and devoured.

Sierra Leone double whammy: #Ebola + #TonyBlair photo visit @georgegalloway: image via taigs @taigstaigs (Southampton, South East) 14 November 2014

So, my brothers, how is it that we do not understand that we have better things to do than to follow that same Europe?

That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind.

Easy does it... baby steps... hey, now I'm getting kinda tired... think I'll take a little simulated nap...: image via Philae Lander @ Philae2014, 14 November 2014

Come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.

Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she has shaken off all guidance and all reason, and she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to avoid it with all possible speed.

Migrants are taken to the mainland after being rescued by the Italian navy

Migrants from Africa and the Middle East are taken to the mainland after being rescued off Malta by the Italian navy: photo by Giuseppe Lami / EPA via The Guardian, 18 September 2014

Yet it is very true that we need a model, and that we want blueprints and examples. For many among us the European model is the most inspiring. We have therefore seen in the preceding pages to what mortifying set-backs such an imitation has led us. European achievements, European techniques and the European style ought no longer to tempt us and to throw us off our balance.

When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders.

Health systems are collapsing under the weight of #Ebola crisis response. Demand global action: image via AmnestyInternational @amnesty, 14 November 2014

The human condition, plans for mankind and collaboration between men in those tasks which increase the sum total of humanity are new problems, which demand true inventions.

Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.

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#shirtstorm #GamerGate #OpSKYNET Wear whatever shirt you want. You're awesome and what you achieved was amazing: image via Dattebayo! @OddKinzo, 14 November 2014

Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.
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#SF riots: image via Not Frantz Fanon @violentfanon, 30 October 2014

Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? The West saw itself as a spiritual adventure. It is in the name of the spirit, in the name of the spirit of Europe, that Europe has made her encroachments, that she has justified her crimes and legitimized the slavery in which she holds four-fifths of humanity.

Yes, the European spirit has strange roots. All European thought has unfolded in places which were increasingly more deserted and more encircled by precipices; and thus it was that the custom grew up in those places of very seldom meeting man.

A permanent dialogue with oneself and an increasingly obscene narcissism never ceased to prepare the way for a half delirious state, where intellectual work became suffering and the reality was not at all that of a living man, working and creating himself, but rather words, different combinations of words, and the tensions springing from the meanings contained in words. Yet some Europeans were found to urge the European workers to shatter this narcissism and to break with this un-reality.

But in general the workers of Europe have not replied to these calls; for the workers believe, too, that they are part of the prodigious adventure of the European spirit.

Amanata lies dead under the tree after a day of writhing in the hot sun. No bed available #ebola: image via alex thomson @alextomo, 11 November 2014

All the elements of a solution to the great problems of humanity have, at different times, existed in European thought. But Europeans have not carried out in practice the mission which fell to them, which consisted of bringing their whole weight to bear violently upon these elements, of modifying their arrangement and their nature, of changing them and, finally, of bringing the problem of mankind to an infinitely higher plane.

Today, we are present at the stasis of Europe. Comrades, let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium. Let us reconsider the question of mankind. Let us reconsider the question of cerebral reality and of the cerebral mass of all humanity, whose connexions must be increased, whose channels must be diversified and whose messages must be re-humanized.

Come, brothers, we have far too much work to do for us to play the game of rear-guard. 

Europe has done what she set out to do and on the whole she has done it well; let us stop blaming her, but let us say to her firmly that she should not make such a song and dance about it. We have no more to fear; so let us stop envying her.

The view is absolutely breathtaking ESA_Rosetta! Unlike anything I've ever seen #CometLanding: image via Philae Lander @Philae2014, 13 November 2014

The Third World today faces Europe like a colossal mass whose aim should be to try to resolve the problems to which Europe has not been able to find the answers.

But let us be clear: what matters is to stop talking about output, and intensification, and the rhythm of work.

No, there is no question of a return to Nature. It is simply a very concrete question of not dragging men towards mutilation, of not imposing upon the brain rhythms which very quickly obliterate it and wreck it. The pretext of catching up must not be used to push man around, to tear him away from himself or from his privacy, to break and kill him.

Staff at the European Operations Space Centre in Darmstadt, Germany on November 12, 2014 during the landing of the Philae craft

Staff at the European Operations Space Centre in Darmstadt, Germany on November 12, 2014 during the landing of the Philae craft
photo: Handout/ESA 

No, we do not want to catch up with anyone. What we want to do is to go forward all the time, night and day, in the company of Man, in the company of all men. The caravan should not be stretched out, for in that case each line will hardly see those who precede it; and men who no longer recognize each other meet less and less together, and talk to each other less and less.

It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity. And in the framework of the collectivity there were the differentiations, the stratification and the bloodthirsty tensions fed by classes; and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, there were racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men.

#BlockTheBoat in Oakland records 3rd huge victory in as many months. Apartheid goods are not welcome in the Bay Area: image via Not Frantz Fanon @violentfanon, 30 October 2014

So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her.

Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.

If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us.

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We saw 2 more people ill with #Ebola in the community of Devil Hole Junction -- here a husband & wife...: image via Stuart Webb @Worldwidewebb1, 10 November 2014

But if we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries.

If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations, we must seek the response elsewhere than in Europe.

Moreover, if we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is no good sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection, of their society and their thought with which from time to time they feel immeasurably sickened.

For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961): Chapter 6. Conclusion, in Les damnés de la terre, 1961, translated into English as The Wretched of the Earth by Constance Farrington, 1963, first published in English 1965 

Melilla golf

Illegal migrants attempting to escape into the Club Campo de Golf de Melilla, a public golf course in the small Spanish enclave of Melilla, a tourist and fishing town on Morocco's northern coast, where games can cost up to about $28 per 18 holes. The per capita income of Melilla is 15 times more than that of the surrounding areas of Morocco and astronomically higher than many parts of sub-Saharan Africa: Jose Palazon / Reuters, via Business Insider, 23 October 2014

#WestAfrica ‘on brink’ of major food crisis in wake of #Ebola outbreak, warns @UN expert
: image via UN News Centre @UN_News_Centre, 11 November 2014

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#GamerGate supporter thanking #shirtstorm & the femloons for keeping the spark alive. Bless you THE RIDE NEVER ENDS!: image via Eggard Snark @Eggkin, 14 November 2014


Hazen said...

Thanks, Tom, for putting this techno-circus in perspective. Excellent. Concerning these matters, Mr. Eliot was quite prescient, as in these lines from The Hollow Men:

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
. . .

Nothing is so far away from us as understanding.

TC said...


That's certainly apt. As the old radio show from our day had it, Only The Shadow Knows; and hereabouts the long shadow of Money -- projected by the extended cold mechanical arms of the nouveau hyper rich tech industry, and "reaching out" (much as a kind of bumper) in the direction of the less fortunate pre-existing masses in order to sweep them from the path of the luxury google buses and out of rental housing now designated to be priced and styled up and secured for the new custodians of the future -- has pretty much blocked out everything. The scattered views here of impromptu street protests in SF and of the protestors of the BDS Block The Boat movement (an ongoing peaceful interdiction of the shipping wing of the Israeli state colonialist war industry) were captured by an anonymous political resister who calls himself Not Frantz Fanon, in memory of the great anti-colonialist writer (in some way perhaps attempting to carry on the work of Fanon, who died at 36 of leukemia). As to the great Mechano Triumph That Wasn't, and the attendant embarrassing upwelling of Euro editorial enthusiasm for Progress; for adorable mechanical toys and for the sort of brain-teasing games that keep privileged adolescents busy in their rooms late at night (ideally, though in fact they may be simply wanking to screenshots of Jennifer Lawrence for all we foreigners would know); and for the abiding superiority of European values, in the great creative tradition of Ronald Reagan -- one hardly knew when to give in to helpless laughter, as an even more stupefingly, cosmically silly bit was sure to follow.

All of which might have seemed nothing more than a wonderful offering of harmless diversionary between-holidays nonsense (That's Entertainment!!), imbedded with potential Christmas retail apps and imps galore (you've got to know the home models of the Comet Game, including the X-Rated versions with the ESA copyright Sex Bondage shirt, are in furious production even now) -- if not for the annoying, impossible-to-dispel thought that, to shift for a moment from the figurative language of global marketing to that of epidemiology, a single droplet of the money poured into invading a perfectly harmless comet in outer space might actually have bought a couple of hospital beds, a protective suit or two, or at least a palm-leaf fan for that person lying dead upon the sultry earth beneath that tree in West Africa. But hey, that stuff's all happening on the continent Europe left to die, once everything perceived to be of value had been dug up, cut down, killed off, and carted away.
15 November 2014 16:14