Read an Excerpt
the absolute at large
Q: What do Canadian cities look like?
A: They look the way American cities do on televisions.
Welcome to the New World (dis)Order.
Welcome to the ambient dread and a certain slippery ecstasy, a sensation akin to constantly walking in ball-bearings.
This is our "future," the one we didn't aticipate: call it Postmodernity.
The giddy anxiety we feel today has little to do with the millennium (another Christian holiday, so to speak) and much more to do with the end of Modernity. Many of usremain creatures of the Modern, more (increasingly) are creatures of the Postmodern,but the majority are still a bit of both.
We inhabit an unprecedentedly deep fault line of history; we are living amid changes so profound that we can only faintly apprehend them.
Civilization-as-we-know-it is ending.
Freud saw civilization, kultur, as being built upon a renunciation of primal urges. Civilized individuals exchanged some portion of the possibility of happiness for a measure of security. The cost of civilization, of Modernity, were suppression and regulation. In Postmodernity the swap reverses itself; we trade security for the scary and delirious possibilities of new happinesses, previously unthinkable gratifications.
Midcentury America was the heyday and homeland of Modernity: the future was out there, and in the official version at least, it was all gain. We were taught, in effect, that there could be gains without losses; that the future, like happiness, was perfectible.
Yet welived in a climate of corrosive, technologically induced global fear: the fear of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) and nuclear winter. The mono-fear of the Cold War has gone now, redeployed into the fabric of an emergent order.
The X-Files is one of my favorite expressions of all of this.
The show is a chimera, a mutant; a final, brilliantly inbred expression of the Age of Broadcast Television.Like the two-headed dog it is, it manages both to bite the hand that feeds it and move phenomenal numbers of units. It is a seamless pop artifact. It is a disturbing and viscerally satisfying expression of where we've come from, where we are today, and all those places where we simultaneously yearn and dread to go.Chris Carter, its creator, is the New Auteur: a re-curator of the seething media-soup we swim in. His business, to borrow a phrase from Kingsley Amis, is the production of "new maps of hell."
The X-Files is not "about" conspiracy theories and the paranormal, so much as it is of the Postmodern. This is the Age of Deregulation, and in The X-Files, as in our daily lives,the very nature of reality is deregulated. Consensus-reality floats, like the dollar, the yen, and our destiny, in the irrational moral blindness of market forces.
Mulder and Scully are the quintessential Postmodern Couple, their relationship perfectly expressing the postmodern redeployment of sex (which would threaten rather than seal their union). Religion, in The X–Files, is entirely postmodern, its manifestation split between the semi-humanist GOMU (God-of-my-understanding) of Christian New Age and the darkest extremes of fundamentalism (Jonestown, the Christian heresy of Satanism).
This is, seriously, some serious stuff, and entirely worthy of being reflected in franchise-objects of an edgier sort than the usual container-ship mountains of coffee mugs, novelizations, gum-cards, and the like.
Hence this book, a collection of images either created for or presented in relation to the The X-Files. Another act of sampling , of curation and re-curation. Along with the "soundtrack"CD, this is easily the coolest and most appropriate X-Files associational item. Check out John Baldessari's Goya Series: I SawIt, 1997; redeployed from its Serious Art context, it suggests the work of some white-shirted CIA drone up for weeks on magnesium pemoline, the walls of his McLean cubicle lined with images of the Absolute. Or Mark Dion's Untitled, a 760-pound mole strung up in another sort of cubicle, this one imagined in the endlessly plastic postreal nonspace of PhotoShop. Or (for myself the most haunting of all) Oliver Wasow'sUntitled #313, in which Something erupts beyond swan and windowlight, beneath a Turneresque, television sky.
This is, if you will, a poetic response to show whose deepest meanings are more interestingly bent, more deeply subversive that any dream of a gray and covert They expressed therein. These artists are connecting directly with something deeply strange'the very thing Mr. Carter and his minions connect with. They have seen that which is even now abducting us, and it is us.
See it with them. Enjoy.