Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Eternal Return of the Repressed

Is this about the illegitimate offspring of the 1969 American Tour?
"Nobody ever leaves the circle. Not until the day of release."

I hope I can assume anybody looking at this blog has seen Children of the Stones. If not, as always, go watch it and come back.

I first came across it in connection with folk horror, and it does have a lot of the vibe of folk horror. But this is folk horror with a science fiction (maybe even a little cosmic) twist, and driven by a Nietzschean theme: eternal recurrence.

If you've watched it and don't have a clue what happened, there's always the Wikipedia page for a decent summary. I wouldn't feel too bad about being confused—for a kid's show, it can be pretty baffling. I got it down pretty well my first go-through, but I also wasn't dividing my attention between multiple screens the way most people would these days.

(Some of the creepiest music of any 70s TV by the way—I think it may have even inspired Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, which is a great record for any horror aficionado.)

I was happy to see Phil Sandifer covered it. He touches on the major points. What interests me here about the show is the eternal recurrence theme. If you haven't heard of the eternal return of the same:
The greatest burden.—What would happen if one day or night a demon were to steal upon you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you, “You will have to live this life—as you are living it now and have lived it in the past—once again and countless times more; and there will be nothing new to it, but every pain and every pleasure, every thought and sigh, and everything unutterably petty or grand in your life will have to come back to you, all in the same sequence and order. . . The eternal hourglass of existence turning over and over—and you with it, speck of dust!”. . . If that thought ever came to prevail in you, it would transform you, such as you are, and perhaps it would mangle you.
(as quoted in Vol. II of Heidegger's Nietzsche)
The unconditioned and infinitely reiterated circulation of all things.
Of course, Milbury's burden is not quite Nietzsche's—these events don't happen in exactly the same way every time. There's a tension between the linear time outside of Milbury and the cyclical time within it that produces variations in the recurrence. You could see it along the lines of an ascending spiral, almost repeating but never in precisely the same place, or you could see it as a kind of deformed circle, like Matthew's damaged bicycle wheel.

Still, it's close enough in concept to evoke either the same horror of inevitability or love of necessity that we find in the original. That's the two-sided quality to the eternal return—if you have that kind of Nietzschean resoluteness, then you have amor fati, the love of fate, where you see beauty in the necessity of things and appropriate the eternal recurrence, make it your own and will it to be ever so. As Heidegger puts it in What Is Called Thinking?, "The will is delivered from revulsion when it wills the constant recurrence of the same." If you don't, if you are uncomfortable with your life as it is, then you're condemned to repetition. If true, the same will recur regardless, but in amor fati, you appropriate the return, while those who are out of love with fate would perceive the return as a monstrous burden.

Children of the Stones plays with that dichotomy, but viewed from the perspective of the burdened. After all, our protagonists are horrified by the cycle, but the native villagers who have come to accept the return are the Happy Day People. I'm tempted to say brainless Happy Ones, but they're depicted as having exceptional intelligence. I suppose the idea is instead that they've been deprived of their will by Hendrick's brainwashing.

Yet there's a reading against the grain to be made here. Each villager is brainwashed by being exposed to the light from the supernova, the ultimate cause of the cycle. Is Hendrick really controlling them or just exposing them to the knowledge of the light? Maybe knowing is transformative. Just living in Milbury before being exposed to the light has some startling effects on outsiders—Matthew's psychometry is enhanced, and a farmer's son turns into a regular Alfred Tarski. Why couldn't the change in attitude be attributed to the light itself and not Hendrick's manipulation of it? Light is the most common metaphor for gnosis, so we could read it as a gnostic experience, i.e. that Hendrick is merely bringing them into knowledge.
Khabs am Pekht!
Konx om Pax!
Light in Extension!
(from the Neophyte Ritual of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn)
Margaret says after exposure that she feels "light, powerful, whole." Maybe it is a Happy Day after all.

Heidegger says Nietzsche's eternal recurrence springs from the "most stringent confrontation with Platonic-Christian modes of thought," where the Platonic means that "whatever is measures itself on what ought to be," and the Christian that all things were created by God, and so beings are creatures.
Both doctrines assume preeminence, each considered alone and both taken together in their various mixtures, because two thousand years' worth of tradition have made them habitual for our ways of representing things. Such habituation remains definitive even when we are far from thinking about Plato's original philosophy, and also when the Christian faith has expired. . .
(from Vol. II of Heidegger's Nietzsche)
The Christian faith has expired in Milbury—the church is deconsecrated, and the notions that go along with it are challenged by the eternal return, which is itself the result of a pagan, pre-Christian (pre-Platonic for that matter) past.

Science is pressed into the service of Hendrick's druidry, which is the sort of conscious thread running forward from this past. I'm not sure quite how to unpack the role of science in Children of the Stones. It's something that sets it apart from most of what people call "folk horror." Adam's science is used to stop and restart the cycle. Adam also comes to accept some peculiar New Age notions over the course of the story—he accepts Matthew's psychometry, and eventually the ley lines. Hendrick seems to have achieved a better fusion of science and (for lack of a better word) magic. He's something of a psychogeographer as well, even designing his special chamber to exploit the properties of the stone circle.

Milbury's peculiar psychogeography comes both from its own native stones and from the transformative stellar light. Does Milbury gather the fourfold—earth, sky, divinities, and mortals? It's out of balance. There is no mortality in Milbury. The gathering happens only with the simple oneness of the fourfold, and that has shattered in Milbury, so the gathering is deferred. But much of Hendrick's goals (in his speech to Margaret and Sandra in the chamber) echo the ideal of gathering the fourfold. Perhaps Adam and Matthew are there to repress (once again!) the pagan society. After all, they don't halt the cycle so much as restart it, which keeps the gathering deferred. One could make the case that Adam and Matthew are custodians of the cycle, not its enemies.

Who is trying to break out of the circle? Hendrick, by bringing forth the light from the past. The Brakes are there to circumscribe the light (it was between a car pun or a circle pun). If Hendrick brings forth the light to all, that would be disaster. Gnosis is for the few and secret.

And of course Hendrick is called a magus. The holy word of the magus above the abyss, as it crosses the abyss, sounds like the vilest blasphemy to those who hear it.

I said earlier that time outside of Milbury was linear, but I'm not sure it's as cut and dry as all that. Adam and Matthew come from outside of Milbury, but they're clearly playing out the roles of the two strangers in the initial event that kicked off the cycle as depicted in the painting. So what drives two outsiders to participate in each reiteration of the cycle? Furthermore, Hendrick is Litton is the druid, but both Hendrick and Litton are arrivals from outside Milbury.

Maybe the supposedly linear time of the outside is just cyclical time on a larger scale, somehow compelled to kick into the smaller cycle of Milbury in order to keep it going again, a contribution that seems to be what contains the Milbury cycle and prevents it from breaking into the larger cycle (or is it linear time?) outside.

It seems that the day of release is forever deferred because the Milbury cycle will always draw in the two people needed to close the cycle and start it again. It will always be postponed and the cycle will continue to repeat in Milbury, never really threatening the outside.

It's funny how the snake is associated with the Sanctuary and escape from the cycle, given how easily the snake lends itself to representing the circle (as in the ouroboros) or any deviation from a straight line as it coils and slithers. Perhaps the snake is a clue that there is no escape, and that time outside the stone circle isn't as linear as it may seem.

I've sketched several contradictory readings of this work, so I'll leave it here and maybe return to it later.

"Nobody ever leaves the circle. Not until the day of release."

No comments:

Post a Comment