Monday, March 11, 2013

Skin Job: Annotations


My buddy and label-mate, Morris Stegosaurus, has been blogging lately about the inspirations behind his poems in his debut full-length book, Zebra Feathers. I've also been reading Jess Nevins' annotations of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, which are putting new wrinkles into my cerebrum.

Since I've been lackluster in blogging lately (Facebook statuses are so much shorter!), I've decided to annotate the poems from my debut chapbook, Skin Job, for those curious about them. Who knows where this could lead? Let this be the first in a series.

The title poem is taken from Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and adapted from Philip K. Dick's novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? While starkly different from the book, perhaps in ways that make comparison unnecessary, I still consider the film among the few screen adaptations that improves upon the book. Dick's work is somewhat bewildering to me, but Scott's film is stunning—bleak, yet elegant, even glamorous. The fact that Scott is currently ret-conning the Alien and Blade Runner universes to be one and the same delights me, but I hope this turns out better than Prometheus.

The term "skin job" is one that I've always loved. It sounds like it could be a sex act, a form of plastic surgery, or a career in god-knows-what. When people ask, "What's the title of your book?" and I say, "Skin Job," they often recoil. Actually, it's a racial slur. In Blade Runner, humans use the term to refer to the lab-engineered slave race, replicants, whom Harrison Ford's character is hired to hunt down and execute.

I don't know if this series of annotated poems will be an exercise in futility, narcissism, or what. I try to make my poems work through imagery and crafted language, so that they gratify readers whether they know the references I'm making or not. If anything, this will be a learning experience for me.

So. Onward. I'm going to try footnoting the annotations. Please leave some comments as to whether this works, or if you have a suggestion for a more reader-friendly way to annotate. I could go line-by-line to avoid all that tedious scrolling.

Skin Job
            Bladerunner, directed 1982 by Ridley Scott

Postapocalypse, preparadise,
you know L.A. will kill you twice. [1]

Real slow-mo and screamy,
the gynoid kicks like an insect. [2]
Tight little doll bride, makeup mannequin.

It's the 80's, and that means every
body dies. [3]

             Nothing that the god of biomechanics
             would damn you for— [4]

[Who('s/se) God?]   [How about now?]

Enter the ziggurat, the temple
of technogenetics.  [5]

Twist the spine, Vangelis, [6]
            + melt like plastic.
Shock the monkey [7]

Progress is in the eye of the Father,
but those peepers are burst
and running down his flaccid cheeks. [8]

             I don't know such stuff—I just do eyes. [9]

The machinic phylum wins.  [10]

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in San Francisco after a nuclear war. Blade Runner is set in a very bleak L.A., though the nuclear winter isn't explained. Dick's plot point that humans survive even though animals haven't, and that all "pets" are mechanical replicas, is retained, though subtle. 

2. The term gynoid, coined by Gwyneth Jones, is a word to describe robots that are specifically female in anatomy. This stanza describes Daryl Hannah's character, Pris, in the film, who dies quite horrifyingly after being shot in the stomach. Pris is described in the film as a "basic pleasure model," nothing more than a euphemism for sex slave.

3. Blade Runner was released in the 80's, and features a very 80's aesthetic (shoulder pads, cyber punk, and synth music). When I wrote this couplet, I didn't mean for it to be an AIDS reference, but I think it may be from my subconscious.

4. This is a tweaked line of dialogue from the film.

5. Tyrell, the scientist/capitalist who owns and runs the corporation that produces replicants, lives at the top of a ziggurat/pyramid. It's all very Near East pagan-spiritual.

6. "Twist the spine" is a suggestion on one of the cards from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards created to deal with artist's block. I adore the deck.
Vangelis is the electronic musician who created the score for Blade Runner.

7. "Shock the Monkey" is a Peter Gabriel song which is rumored to be about the torture of animals in laboratories. Gabriel denies this and says the song is about denial of romantic/sexual instincts.

8. Tyrell is murdered by Roy Batty, one of his "children"/"inventions." Batty kills him by poking through his eyes. When Tyrell asks Roy what he wants, Roy says, "I want more life, fucker." The f-word is dubbed as "Father" in some versions. Roy has come to ask Tyrell to extend his 4-year life span, a limitation that all replicants of his series experience. Tangential note: the line, "I want more life, fucker," is featured in White Zombie's song, "More Human than Human," which is the motto of the Tyrell Corporation.

9. This is another tweaked line of dialogue from the film. Roy is trying to find his way to Tyrell, and is intimidating a lab technician who makes eyes for replicants. It's an eerie foreshadow to the death of Tyrell.

10. The "machinic phylum" is a term used by Manuel de Landa, inspired by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (though I'm not sure who coined the term). The machinic phylum treats machines as their own branch of evolution, shaping the evolution of other species as they are in turn shaped by humans (or so I understand it). I'm by no means an authority on this term, but I think it's fun to think about and say out loud.

I hope that gives you a better insight into the poem. As my beloved sister Danielle would say, "This poetry makes my brain hurt. But in a good way."


The Wicker Man
Tales of Hoffman
Django Unchained

A Blazing World by Jess Nevins
Fear, Some by Douglas Kearney
Maximum Gaga by Lara Glenum
Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino

Lonerism by Tame Impala


Christian said...

This is gorgeous!

Evan J Peterson said...

Thanks, Christian! I had meant to do so many more of these for Skin Job (the book), but writing the next one, The Midnight Channel, has taken me away from blogging. Thank you for your kind words.

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