04 March, 2014

(Never) A Final Word Part I

To post a brief interlude from my current train of thought on education and the question of reading our Western tradition in light of the present, I give you Part 1 of an article bridging quite a unique gap between today and March of 2011. It was then that I wrote this article highlighting the differences and strange similarities between the forms in the narrative structure of Rene Daumal's Mount Analogue and the television show created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, and Damon Lindelof (the latter who then continued to spearhead the show's direction with Carlton Cuse). This new post culminates after years of study and note-taking during re-watches of LOST that concerned friends & loved ones who sat down with me have witnessed. May their care for my mental well-being be either rightfully justified or pleasantly relieved by my writing below.

IV. The numbers

I'm finishing up my fourth time watching LOST in toto. The number four is a number of beginning. 4 lines create a square, 4 appendages of the human being, and 4 is the first numeral in the sequence synonymous with the series, which I've discovered is painted in white on a shutter off 2nd Avenue and 14th St last night in the East Village. It was strange, amusing and also telling, "pushing" me on in a way to write this article. Here is a photo of the sequence:

As viewers we come to know each candidate for Jacob's position was allotted a number. Four is John Locke's number. As the episodes of the final season become increasingly intense, full of steadily rising risks, attacks & counter-attacks, revealing plot advances made both on the island and in "the City of Angels," one simultaneously comes to the end and the beginning. As Jin states to Sawyer in Season 6, "that thing is not John Locke," and one character's end has dovetailed into another's (re)birth when Ajira Flight 316 doesn't make it to Guam. 

Locke is number 4. A square without one of its lines is a triangle, or 3. Flight 815 and Flight 316 are uniquely different. Eloise Hawking said to Jack in Season 5 that if the conditions weren't exactly reproduced for their return to the island, the outcome would be "unpredictable." We see that only one number of the sequence is represented in the flight designation - it is off or lopsided. 3 is not 4, and "the Man in Black" is not Locke. The above is an example of critical interpretation which shows through the writing Locke's replacement before the MiB's masquerade is revealed at the end of the season.

Not every answer which is given by the writers either outright, subtly with "easter eggs" or in the minute details of dialogue, can be divined this way. Much was discovered by the writers themselves as they wrote. This completely disagrees with what some might call a binding contract between the creators and the viewers to be omniscient in their roles, but there it is in the link from an interview with Cuse and Lindelof in 2008. A lot more has to be reasoned and turned over on one's own or with others in open discussion, as one would in a college course or in a voluntary book club. The record of the enjoyment fans took away with them while they spoke to each other as the show was airing remains on The Fuselage, on the special features of the DVDs & Blu-Ray copies, and on assorted pages of the Internet.

However, when our own experience shows that there is a lie in the statement that democratic conversation over the Internet is one of its inherent virtues, we cannot be fooled. As I mention in my post from 2011, the dividing line between fans as to the resolution of the series is a wide and deep gulf. My proposal below suggests a different avenue to understanding what happened (or happens) in the experience of watching this landmark television series. If you have left those discussion boards far behind, know that I don't intend on sending you back to them - they are almost totally inactive anyhow!

VIII. Active watching

I propose here that to appreciate the structure and form of LOST, one must at least make it through 4 active watchings. If it is of any merit to devote the 348 hours (or two solid weeks of one's life) by watching the series four times over, it can't be done passively, or, without one's attention upon the way the show is over the way the show could have been. This is not to say that it can always be watched actively. Viewing the series 4 times ensures that the character arcs and plots are known in detail, key dialogue exchanges are known word for word and the function of each season which displays the form of the series is known to the intellect itself, i.e. without having to refer to Lostpedia via Google, etc.

Some details can and will be forgotten - these details are where we take into consideration the lack of a finer energy or power of the story to impress itself upon us. These are places where we can make a critical statement about the quality of the writing. However, each watching can and would ideally give a person enough time and opportunity to enjoy the series, give the series its proper attention, work through their own subjective biases and allow for finer points of focus to come to light, so that what is valuable about the show can shine for itself. One watches and listens and changes one's own faculty of those senses - each time, a new paradigm in a sound that went unnoticed or a scene that finally made some sense in its relationship to the whole. 

The nature of the construction of the series, with its discontinuous narrative and abrupt sea changes, demands that one must pay attention. Otherwise, you're bemused, confused, frustrated and rationalizing your own feelings upon the construction. Why this and not this!?!? LOST wasn't farted out of one person - it was breathed into life from the mouths and minds of a writing staff that pulled from a myriad of sources and influences, both autobiographical (i.e. experiential) and via their own critical readings of other texts, shows, histories, etc. The strong fan base that grew and changed also spoke directly to the writers and influenced the very shape of the show. Even if you didn't participate in that collective voice, you can still benefit from creating your own inner commentary on LOST. An outline of each proposed viewing with a possible focus for your active watching could look like this:

XV. LOST as an ABC television series airing from 2004-2010 in a primetime slot

Taken into consideration, LOST came onto television during a tough time for its network and in a changing landscape for shows running on regular networks. The success of HBO, Showtime and other cable networks to raise unprecedented viewer ratings and collect many a statue at award ceremonies had ABC (the number 4 network at the time) pining for renewal. The unlikely story seems to be covered recently by another more succinct writer than myself, Alan Sepinwall, in his new book The Revolution Was Televised. An excerpt from his book on LOST's inception and first season can be read here. Damon Lindelof's mental and emotional instability as he took on the brunt of the responsibility for the show should be noted, as the title of the article suggests.

As for my own approach to the show, the first three seasons on DVD were brought before me by Matthew Thomas Ross of Portland, Oregon's Neighborhood Films in 2007. The fourth season was about to premiere and I had just entered a period of concentrated, intentional absence from university. I was reading books I wanted to read, writing poetry rather than papers, walking in the forest, enjoying every sip of tea, and letting what came to me attain my acceptance. And so, having not been involved in watching a television show regularly in quite some time, I was interested by Matt's description of the show and tentatively took up my first viewing. I have Matt to thank for every time I watch, feel, think or write about LOST. After the end of Season 1, I was completely engaged and wished to commit to the other two seasons before the first episode of Season 4. It was a marathon: 3 seasons in 2 weeks.

Thenceforward, having avoided the hoopla of time-slot changes by ABC (but not the Writer's Strike to come) I took a seat with Matt and other fellow Losties each night a new episode was aired. We all nursed theories over the "mysteries" of the show. I followed the details and thin threads as close as anyone could, and read much more into them than was probably there. What shined brightest though were the characterizations and the evolutions of the exercise (or withholding) of emotions, thoughts and will power on the island. Even unto this day where the last episode awaits my lady and I, who has yet to see "The End" either to her satisfaction or disappointment, it's the characters and their relationships that cause stirrings from my heart to well-up and out of me in the form of laughter, anger - or tears. Imagining, empathizing with, or responding to their situations of love, fear, betrayal, surprise, are all activities that require no critical acumen or learned insight to appreciate. This is the basis of all further appreciation, and I return to it comfortably after either championing the series or voicing my misgivings.

End of Part I

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Portland, OR, United States
For the Observatory's Grand Opening