Thanksgiving morning I rose, turned on the Today program, and watched the breaking news for the day. I soon had my pc open and began my journal entry for the day. At 9am the New York Macy’s Parade began and I watched as its pageantry got underway wondering if this day would end without terror on those streets. I had several hours before family dinner and sitting home alone in my study, family now in Taiwan, I opened Adam Curtis’s web site Thoughtmaybe, and decided it was time to watch his newest BBC documentary Bitter Lake (2015) which: “explores how the realpolitik of the West has converged on a mirror image of itself throughout the Middle-East over the past decades, and how the story of this has become so obfuscating and simplified that we, the public, have been left in a bewildered and confused state. The narrative traverses the United States, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia—but the country at the centre of reflection is Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is the place that has confronted political figureheads across the West with the truth of their delusions—that they cannot understand what is going on any longer inside the systems they have built which do not account for the real world. Bitter Lake sets out to reveal the forces that over the past thirty years, rose up and commandeered those political systems into subservience, to which, as we see now, the highly destructive stories told by those in power, are inexorably bound to. The stories are not only half-truths, but they have monumental consequences in the real world.”
I have watched all of Curtis’s BBC programs and like all writers, he is always writing versions of the same story. I quickly saw in the Bitter Lake documentary a continuing refinement of the reporting that was done in his three part series The Trap (2007) and almost every other documentary. I kept the Macy Parade playing with the sound low, turned my back to the TV, and started watching Bitter Lake, occasionally turning around to see a Disney character hovering over the avenue. I watched Bitter Lake non-stop taking notes and wondering along with Curtis’s ending suggestion that from our experience of Afghanistan we suspect something is there but “we do not have the apparatus to observe it.”
Curtis’s ending statement is thought provoking; How do we go about observing and understanding the complexity of what is unfolding in the world? At the beginning of Bitter Lake, we see a brief image of the movie Solaris and I was excited when this clip was fully presented later centering on the psychological essence of the Bitter Lake documentary. The plote of the movie is this,
“Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life on a far-distant planet. Solaris is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism, with whom Terran scientists are attempting communication.
Kris Kelvin arrives aboard Solaris Station, a scientific research station hovering near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observing, recording and categorizing the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, they have only compiled an elaborate nomenclature of the phenomena with an — yet do not understand what such activities really mean. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin’s arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive and unauthorized experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation gives unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans.
The ocean’s response to their aggression exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists — while revealing nothing of the ocean’s nature itself. To the extent that the ocean’s actions can be understood, the ocean then seems to test the minds of the scientists by confronting them with their most painful and repressed thoughts and memories. It does this via the materialization of physical human simulacra; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The torments of the other researchers are only alluded.
The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for the protagonists to explain using conventional scientific method, deeply upsetting the scientists. The alien mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind of (objective) consciousness that attempts at inter-species communications are a dismal failure.
Zezik’s comment on the Solaris movie addresses the central point Curtis makes.
Like the planet Solaris’s effect on its orbiting astronauts, Afghanistan has a similar affect on those hovering over it. Afghanistan like Solaris “has the magic ability to directly realize your deepest traumas, dreams, fears, and desires – the inner most of your inner space.” The astronaut Kelvin circling Solaris realizes not so much his desire as his guilt feelings about his deceased wife. It is quite apparent from Curtis’s film that the West led by America and Britain has not resulted in freedom and democracy for Afghanistan and, in fact, it is now apparent they are guilty of not having provided freedom and democracy for their own peoples! Happy Thanksgiving Afghanistan and America.