Major Tom and the Starman

David Bowie has always been one of my favourite musicians. There’s a touch of the Blakean about his music and his lyrics. This morning I woke up thinking about his song “Space Oddity”, released in 1969, in connection with what I posted earlier about the astronaut or cosmonaut as the contemporary archeytpe of the Prodigal Son. Major Tom, lost in space as image of the contemporary ego-consciousness, became something of a pop cultural meme, even a cult figure, after Bowie released the song and Major Tom continued to pop up, on occasion, in some of Bowie’s other lyrics.

Here are the lyrics to “A Space Oddity”, where evidently the title alludes to Ulysses and the Odyssey, so that “Major Tom” is a contemporary image of Ulysses as well, who is the dissociated human ego-consciousness become rootless and rootlessly drifting while confined in his “tin can”, resembling Blake’s theme about how “man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”, and is the state of the Prodigal Son in his extremity.

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (two, one, liftoff)
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do
Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do”

Then, in 1972, Bowie released another song called “Starman”, and the lyrics to that song are posted here.

Bowie’s “Major Tom” and the “Starman” are the same, for even the title of the song “Space Oddity” refers not just to the Odyssey, but also to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, Major Tom is the protagonist “David Bowman” (note the resemblance with “David Bowie”) who leaves the Earth, but returns, transformed by some mysterious process, as the “starbaby” — the future human. Likewise, Bowie’s “Starman” is “Major Tom” transformed so that we also have here a contemporary reworking of the parable of the Prodigal Son and his own passage through the crucible or the Kali Yuga.

Now, the uncanny bit in all this is, that it also describes pretty well the passage from “point-of-view” to “overview” that is experienced by some astronauts, and which has been described and documented as “The Overview Effect“. Here, again, the astronaut departs as Prodigal Son or “Major Tom” and returns, transformed, as “Starman”. It follows the pattern of the archetypal Nostos as return, and in this case from the egoic “point-of-view” to the cosmic “overview”, and from the partial perspective to the “universal way of looking at things”.

I very much doubt that all this was consciously intended, but which, nonetheless, reveals itself only in retrospect as obvious. This pattern is what we call “self-organising” but which really doesn’t say much except “I didn’t will it that way” or “it just happened that way”, which is just to say “unconsciously”. It belongs, instead, to the “pre-existing pattern” in what we call “evolution” as identified by Gebser. “Self-organising” is a term to summarise what the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington described — “something unknown is doing we don’t know what”.  That “something unknown is doing we don’t know what” is what I call “intentionality” as the active creative and organising principle in the cosmos, and as something other than will.

Call it “soul” if you will, rather than “self-organising”, but it is implicated in Nietzsche’s principle of amor fati — “It is so because I willed it thus”. That is, something behind, beneath or beyond the ego-nature intended it so despite my egoic will. That something is what Nietzsche calls “self” or “soul” — that which “does I am” rather than that which “says I am”, as he put it, and which he described in the chapter in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra entitled “The Despisers of the Body”.

The phrase “self-organising”, like “random” or “chance mutation”, is actually a way of avoiding closer investigation of that “something unknown is doing we don’t know what”. It’s an evasion and a dodge as much as Dawkin’s “selfish gene” is an evasion and a dodge. That is to say, to borrow from Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics, it is a “usurpation” by “the Emissary” of “the Master”, which is quite evidently what Nietzsche called “Dionysian” soul and equivalent to Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “life force power of the universe” she described in her TED talk and is otherwise called “something doing we know not what”. “Intentionality” or “intent” is just another term for “life-force power“.

The Master’s voice, in other words, speaks through metaphor, myth, and symbol, as described by McGilchrist, and here we have a very fine example of it, quite despite whatever Mr. Bowie or Mr. Arthur C. Clarke thought they were doing. Clarke’s motivation in 2001 was to serve as a propagandist for NASA, as he put it, and not to construct a modern myth of Prodigal Son in search of his soul.

What Gebser calls the “pre-existing pattern” is what William Blake calls “the Everlasting Gospel” and is definitely NOT what the fundamentalists take this to be. It is equivalent to what Jung characterised as “archetypes of the collective unconscious”, equivalent to what Blake called “the Eternal Forms”. What science calls its “universal laws” are only hazy echos of the Eternal Forms or archetypes within the sensory spacetime, physical system. As Blake would say, physical laws are only one aspect of the Eternal Form as they appear within the Ulro, but have other aspects and other dimensions to them not perceived by a mind confined to “Single Vision & Newtons sleep” and “the mind-forg’d manacles”.

Propaganda, perception management, branding, disinformation, and so on have become somewhat adept at exploiting this “Eternal Gospel” for very profane ends — for purposes other than enlightenment or emancipation of consciousness from the “mind-forg’d manacles”, but for purposes of distraction. This is what McGilchrist calls the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master’s voice, and is equivalent to what we are calling “technocratic shamanism” (Algis Mikunas).

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15 responses to “Major Tom and the Starman”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Don’t forget Bowie’s participation in Nicholas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which could also be discussed in terms of the Prodigal Son parable…as could Roeg’s other classic movie, “Walkabout.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Fell_to_Earth
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkabout_%28film%29

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Avoiding naming things by their names is the trick of the ego consciousness to prevent the self from reaching to its higher self. It is astonishing to see so many so called scientists and thinkers, despite so many discoveries that point to the only universal creative force, continue to pursue the same materialistic mechanical path. Language, like the language of sir Eddington that there is something unknown is doing we do not know what, does not help,does not give surety nor rest to the searching heart. I feel more rested with the name of god whom I know what he has done and continue to do and see in my self his creative doing and in my consciousness the tool that helps me to understand him and to bear witness to his greatness. My life is an emanation of his life, my knowledge of his knowledge ,my will of his will,my ability of his ability,my speech of his speech,my sustainability is of his and my balance is also. The difference is I am finite in these attributes and he is infinite. God is an effective force and not an abstract concept that has no influence in the cosmos. Nature as the sufis say is his activities, his emanations. The one who is in existence prior to the cosmic existence and who will be there after the extinction of the existence only to rebuild it anew in a fashion outside the human imagination. The first ,the last the unseen and the seen, the everlasting word or as Blake put it is the everlasting gospel. I read through the link you put on the seven eyes of Blake and i did not see in it what helps me to understand what Blake meant by the seven eyes. I look forward to your clear pen on that.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’ll try to find our more about what Blake was referring to by the “seven eyes” — for the time being, I’m assuming they are the chakras or vortices described in Yoga. That might be, but it seems his seven eyes are connected with the vision of Ezekial.

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+1&version=NKJV

      Ezekial’s vision describes wheels within wheels and the rims full of eyes. In one of Blake’s paintings of Ezekial’s vision, he depicts seven eyes, although Ezekial never gave a number. So why Blake held that there were seven eyes I don’t know. Evidently his own “fourfold vision” he compared to Ezekial’s vision.

      • mikemackd says :

        Over thirty years ago now, I came across a suite of mathematical curiosities naturally developed from the most ancient known rite, that of orientation. I had first come to know of that rite in the 1960s from reading Titus Burkhardt’s “Sacred Art in East and West” (A later work of his which also refers to it is now available online at http://traditionalhikma.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Foundations-of-Oriental-Art-Symbolism-by-Titus-Burkhardt.pdf). (I also read from Mircea Eliade and Ananda Coomaraswamy at that time; those three in particular had a big influence on me then.)

        In the state of “idle reverie” described by Mumford in my latest quote of his, along the postconscious world string, I extrapolated in what I thought would be a perfectly natural way from that rite of connecting heaven and earth by the use of a gnomon, such as an obelisk, as a speculation in the simplest maths I could devise.

        That developed into what I termed “The Star Key”, which I put online some twenty years ago, but has been mostly covered by advertisements since. The deeper I have looked into the Star Key over these recent decades, the more extraordinary things I have found from it.

        I mention it here because it has seven “eyes”, the seven nines down the central spine, around which the ida and the pingala circle, one as 142857, the other as 857142.

        Unbeknownst to me, some kind soul cleaned it up recently, so you can now see it again at http://www.geocities.ws/mikemackd/.

        It will probably not be long before it is covered by advertisements again, but I might, when I get time, make a fresh site, and include more of what I have found out about it since.

        Always wary of my own confirmation bias, but also that we all have it, it seems to me that Blake’s “The Whirlwind: Ezekiel’s Vision”, and his “the Seven Spirits of God”, can be interpreted from that framing’s perspective.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    I forgot to mention that Bowie despite his mundane and decorated appearance is a visionary, reflecting a wakeful soul in a civilization that strung out in heaven high only to hit an all time low. No wonder you like him and see some of Blake in him. The junk to the junky and the junkiness of major Tom and the refrain of the mother warning from falling in the mess of major Tom. Ashes to ashes deserve another visit, may the flashes without smoke rise high. Thank you Scott for refreshing our soul that we may move to the state of the union of the opposites leaving the stages behind.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Speaking of the New Year, Mr. Trump’s New Year’s Tweet was pretty strange: gloat and goad. That’s evidently going to be his style in the presidency: Gloat and Goad.

  5. Dwig says :

    Off topic for this post, but very relevant to the site: A nice fourfold vision by a young Anishinaabe.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    In time of gloating and goading,it is not advisable to talk about lensing whether in its limited cavern or general terms without specification. It is time to remember our humanity away from the conditional boxes we have been brought up into. The more I read and ponder the more I get convinced of the horror of the debilitating limbo we have suspended ourselves in its web, due to our imprisonment in the cultural or religious boxes that depend on historical factors alone. I see in that limbo a betrayal of our spiritual existence, betrayal of the oneness of our humanity, of our cosmos that accommodate our earth and our one god. One only to read the mystical experience of any religion or culture to find the similarity that points to that oneness. The purpose of any mystical experience is to conform to the divine rhythm, to know that my consciousness is part of the divine consciousness, the only source of any phenomenon tangible and non-tangible or meme in the world of meaning or form in the world of object.It is time to really know that there is a divine source of knowledge that needs to be triggered to complement our biological creation which can not be complete without the spirit of knowledge. It is unfortunate that most peoples are carried in a swirl of words unguided by the light of the divine, thinking they are doing well, while they are out of the domain of the light of the one.

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