Hubble space telescope

Gustav Metzger

The podcasts of the Nuclear Forum are now all online. There’s a wealth of material there. Particularly striking is the final contribution (at the end of the third file) from the artist Gustav Metzger. Touching on art, his obsession with the newspaper and on humanity’s relentless urge to self-destruction, it should probably be listened to as a whole – it’s a kind of prose poem as much as a statement – but here, meanwhile, is a brief extract (with a personal endorsement for The Guardian):

With the coming of the Hubble space telescope humanity has gained a ring side view of galaxies – which is Wagner without the intervals.  As you know because you read the same papers as I and most likely the Guardian, it is in fact brilliant, it is outstanding, and one of the reasons I would like to go on living in this country rather than on the continent is for that paper and for many, many others. It really has standards.   

There are restaurants where diners are placed next to glass tanks with sharks gliding along the glass walls.  That is how we, thanks to Hubble, view or can view galaxies safely ensconced in our earthly habitat.  We are told repeatedly that life on earth started as star fragments entering earth…  Is it, then, that we are joined at the hips with the entire universe with galaxies engaged in that constant and endless creative destruction?  The stars entered our blood stream ages and ages ago – still coursing through our veins?  Have we internalised the universe?  According to theory we are perpetually bombarded, penetrated indeed, by cosmic rays and so totally fusing with the cosmos with or against our will.  We might as well accept, there is no choice except to run through permutations again and again testing, testing, testing.  We do need to face stellar realities, understand that we are linked to the incomprehensible, destructive powers beyond us and ask are we affected, are we in irresistible chains of connections?

Nietzsche’s vision for the future of evolution of the human being peaked at the mountain, the mountain tops, that was “xxx” years ago, that is a figure in chronological time, but when we reflect on this in real time we are then faced with totally different perspectives.  In the time since Thus Spoke Zarathustra [Nietzsche, 1883] humans have entered space flight and are exploring outer space.  Computing power, as you know, doubles every eighteen months, time is so packed, our understanding of time is so complex so extraordinary and expanded in so many directions that it is understandable that we transpose Nietzsche’s simile to our accepting the burden of aligning ourselves to the stars and galaxies.  For him, mountain peaks were the top, for us I suggest stars and galaxies are our kind of equivalent of what he was driving towards. 

Let me now endeavour to bring this all back to earth, the earth of the Evening Standard, and of the Today programme.  Humanity, I suggest, needs to enter the state attained by the aeroplane as it touches down at the end of the journey when the flaps on the wings emerge to hold back the plane’s advance.  We need to uncover and restrain the human drive to the extreme.  Intellectuals have a duty to tell the public that the game is up, that there will be no permanent life on earth.  We need to search for the origins of destructive drives in human beings, emersion in contemplating the awesome, and indeed beautiful, imagery of galaxies as we can apprehend it through Hubble, may lead to cathartic resolutions. 

Photo: 100 000 Newspapers. A Public-Active Installation by Gustav Metzger 2003, T1 2 Artspace, London, exhibition view.

Big thanks to Naomi Darlington for transcribing Gustav Metzger’s talk.