We are enticed early to understand the terrors of the afterworld. If you aren’t dragged, perplexed and often dehydrated, to a funeral by the age of five, then trick-or-treating provides the framework. Ghosts, apparitions, bones and skulls, coffins the size of cars, shrieks in the middle of the night: Macbeth’s world.
Ominous, elegant architecture stalls out in our mind’s eye because somewhere within the sepia of our memory is a Victorian home we visited to see an elder aunt or uncle or withering great-grandparent.
I vividly remember the horrible haunted house in Wilson, North Carolina, the mausoleum in the cemetery with the cracked corner where you peer inside and fathom the cold darkness. I dared not touch the iron fence around the abandoned house where the Wilson witches once lived.
So I wonder why Arthur C. Clarke would choose to write his seminal short novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in New York City’s most haunted hotel, the Chelsea. However, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.
When you’re burrowing a glowing, humming monolith into the planet’s psyche, what better place to occupy than one of America’s hallowed markers of culture and debauchery? Clarke’s novel was published fifty years before HAL’s devious plot unwinds aboard the Discovery. Years before Janis Joplin and Leonard Cohen checked in. It was written in the era of Dylan Thomas and Larry Rivers, between Mark Twain and Sid Viscous. Stanley Kubrick, who would direct the film adaption of 2001, would stay there.
But did Clarke come up with his primal character, Moon-Watcher, while finishing a takeout meal, pushing chicken bones around on a paper plate, rendering his appetite sated, but his subconscious suspicions acidic with mistrust for modernity?
The faster the future comes, the more we want to predict it. We don’t seem to have time for monoliths anymore. There isn’t so much interest in space these days, either. With civil wars and economic dystopia ripping through our headlines, we have little time to wax poetic or nostalgic. And when we do have time for things, we search our glass screens for solace and enlightenment.
The news streams are so chaotic, I can’t seem to clear my head. It’s as though I can hear “Daisy Bell” in my ears at all hours, every day, in light and darkness. HAL sings this song as he descends into silicon madness. I wonder who played it, on a scratchy phonograph, inside the walls of the Chelsea, as Clarke sat with his pen poised over paper, scratching out his bleak descent of man.
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services