Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the manna machine


The Manna Machine was published in 1978 in the wake of Erich von Daniken’s influential Chariots of the Gods, a set of highly speculative ruminations about contact between ancient mankind and extra-terrestrial life forms. Such contact, Daniken argued, was behind otherwise inexplicable historical artifacts and phenomena. The Manna Machine applies the same approach to an investigation of the time period spent by the Mosaic Jews in exodus from Egypt. The Bible states that the Jews survived forty years in the desert by consuming manna, and much historical debate, scientific and otherwise, has been carried out around the identity of this mythic substance.

The authors of The Manna Machine speculate that manna was generated by a machine given to the Jews by extra-terrestrials – otherwise, so the logic goes, we cannot explain the Jews’ survival in the desert for forty years. The manna machine theory thus attempts to rationalize the occurrence of a miracle, which be definition requires the suspension of the natural order. In order for this theory to work, both aliens and fictional technology are required. In the world of the new age conspiracy theory, aliens are simply God rendered theorizable, they are the Gods and devils and angels of a modern technological world. In this context, one cannot theorize about God directly. Additionally, if God had given the Jews the machine, we would have heard about it, the Bible would have said something. Thus the machine must have come from aliens, whose presence remains largely occulted within the annals of recorded history. Aliens become the third to God and man: the source of a technology which man was incapable of producing and God unwilling/unable to hand over.

It is said by the authors that “a nuclear reactor used to power the manna machine was stored in the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was supposed to have powered the machine to run continuously, producing manna for six days. On the 7th day it would be taken apart for cleaning so it could run the following week. This is where Sabbath is thought to come from. The knowledge was preserved within the Jewish Kabbalah that the authors claim to have correctly decoded.”

The day of rest becomes a maintenance day: the machine must be cleaned, like a piece of factory equipment. One must admire the strange beauty and narrative quality of the manna machine: the Jews as nomads wandering in the Sinai Desert, without nation or home, armed only with a nuclear reactor and a food machine. These nomads could easily be the inhabitants of a lunar colony, living a life simultaneously Spartan, primitive and futuristic – one thinks of Martian colony life in Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Conspiracy theories and speculative-science theories can be read as indices of historical trauma. Such theories often arise from an incredulity about the likelihood of certain historical events. Take the theories that arose in the wake of the JFK assassination, or 9/11, which are collective efforts to deny a confrontation with causality. These theories congeal around a psychic wound that occurs when a big cause cannot be found to account for a big effect. A psychic impossibility arises, the fact that a single person shot and killed president John F. Kennedy, or that a group of men crashed planes into the World Trade Center and destroyed it while armed only with boxcutters, cannot be assimilated. As a result, a historical event, the kind that ruptures a symbolic order, dividing history into only “before” and “after,” must, so goes the logic of conspiracy, have been engendered by a comparably large agent: secret government agencies, operating in collusion with the mafia, Freemasons, Islamic radicals, drug cartels, aliens or any other number of shadow networks.

I include theology here as a kind of example of a conspiracy theory. In fact, it is difficult for me to see certain theological frameworks, particularly the cosmology of monotheism, with its one God of absolute attributes, as anything other than conspiracy theories. Metaphysics is a conspiracy theory, a theory of the conspiracy of the One. Certain theological developments: early Christianity, for example, or the Zohar Kabbalah the 16th century, are concretely the result of historical trauma. Jacob Taubes goes so far as to speak of the “hour” of theology, which occurs as a crisis in the symbolization of human experience: whenever historical experience no longer coincides with symbols that humans have to orient themselves in a meaningful world, than a traumatic crisis of meaning is the result, and theology sweeps in, to buffer man from the blank negativity of the void. In the case of the Manna Machine, a sci-fi fantasy of alien technology is composed to explain the mythic circumstances of the ancient Jews in exodus.

Fantasy, on the individual as well as the collective level, is capable of generating images that function as indexes of traumatic experience. A traumatic experience is legible in the language of phantasmic imagery, which may depict the experience directly, or displace it by way of allegorical, metaphorical, metonymic or symbolic distortions. This concerns not only the generation of new fantastic images and symbols, but the re-appropriation and re-interpretation of pre-existing material as well: when the “hour” of theology arises, the old symbols must be decoded anew in order to re-inscribe man within the horizon of the cosmos. With this assumption concerning fantasy, we can place image systems like those of ancient theology, modern conspiracy and new age theories, and psychotic fantasy into meaningful dialogue with one another.

1 comment:

  1. The idea of psychic trauma, and the cultural effect it produces, is an intriguing one.