We're on fire

Extraterrestrial aggression and what to think, and that last windy day with the drugs.

Published January 19, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Freud said civilization begins the moment men renounce the instinct to pee on fire, but it seems to really hit full throttle when we shoot at the moon and jab burning spears into Mars.

Police in the town of Kahramanmaras, Turkey, detained eight men for firing their rifles at a lunar eclipse on Jan. 9, according to the Associated Press. It's a tradition, Istanbul's daily Hürriyet reported. But Kahramanmaras' chief religious official, Mehmet Baris, said such a tradition doesn't exist, and that the men were simply frightened.

"But they can't scare the moon by shooting at it," he pointed out.

Police in the city of Batman also responded to attacks on the eclipse, the newspaper reported. Batman is in the southeast, a Kurdish and "traditional" area of Turkey, according to the AP.

On the same day this was reported, New Scientist wrote that NASA is planning to sink a meter-long, 1,500-degree probe into the surface of Mars. It's looking for signs of life, and the giant drill bit promises to find evidence that has long since been buried. The extremely hot probe will melt through the rock and turn it to glass, keeping the sandy soil from spilling back into the newly drilled hole.

So it was a day for phalluses and outer space, for male efforts to penetrate the frustratingly mysterious. In one case there's endearing absurdity; in the other, measured cartoonishness. A day like this invites scrutiny.

Three American traditions -- cards, Frank Capra and alien films -- offer relevant facts: A) In hearts, you shoot the moon when you take all the tricks plus the queen of spades. It happens now and then and it's a macho maneuver. B) In "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey promises Mary he'll lasso her the moon. This is when he's young and virile, before the emasculation of bankruptcy and despair. C) In Martian movies, it's the Martians who attack. We scream and watch our skyscrapers razed. It's masochism for 90 minutes and then we beat them in the last 20, because it would be embarrassing to admit to masochism.

After the initial report

There's the problem of assessing the Turkey thing and the NASA thing and in fact any other anecdotal information vaguely evocative of themes. I don't actually want to think about male sexuality right now, or extraterrestrial aggression either. It would be risible. Maybe it's the obviousness of the suggestiveness. There's something about low-hanging fruit that inspires one to lie down under the tree. The men in Turkey and the red-hot drill -- these ripe images won't yield anything serious. They're for parties, if that.

Other applications of the theme, from a few years ago

Who hasn't eaten handfuls of dirt at the end of a cold fall day in upstate New York as the hallucinations wore off? Remember you two squatting on the dirt road laughing or crying? Things were a lark. The bending-over tree was pretty but insufficient. The shoes had come off, and the end of some private era was here or nearby. There was dark water. It was all you could do to fall back on the reliability of absurdity to articulate the stunningness and grief of that age, etc. The government would bomb the moon. That was the idea, the bigness and the smallness and the dumbness. It was the perfect something.

Ad absurdum

We go outside for eclipses, long for Martian residue. These speak to us. We lack satisfying responses so we find great absurd ones; the conversation limps impressively.

Back to the Freud. He says we want to pee out fires. It's a gesture of potency. When we resist, we're left with a burning fire, to be harnessed as we please. That's civilization. If we take the fire and make rifles and 1,500-degree drill bits, presumably that's even more civilization. Probably this is also the perfect something.

By Chris Colin

Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.

MORE FROM Chris Colin

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Middle East Space