(For Ira C. and Jean-Luc Godard)
Some call it Alphaville, and some call it Moloch, but most people just call it New York. I used to call it the City of Doom. The following is an accurate depiction of the City of Panic and a warning which should be passed on to those who might be lured into visiting it. The stories of Alphaville are many; each is the ultimate warning. Mine goes like this.
One morning I’m awakened by a phone call. It’s a long-lost friend of mine, a shaman and a warrior, who has just arrived from the third Megagalaxy. He’s been travelling from one galaxy to another in search of the meaning of life, love, the Holy Grail, and for the last remnants of hope. Everyone who’s a shaman and a warrior at heart, and who has failed to find these things in other galaxies, will ultimately end up in Alphaville. He tells me that he’s stuck in the third Megagalactic ring, circling Alphaville, and asks me for directions. He’s surprised that my voice is faint and tired. I’m surprised that he’s not asking me the supreme questions): Should I really be doing this? Is life possible in Alphaville? What’s this place all about? Had he asked me these questions in advance, it’s almost certain that I’d have lied and misled him. After all, I myself am just an old, tired Alphavillite in need of fresh blood, energy, and information on a daily basis. One would think that the last bit of love and humanity that I’d manage to find for another human being would compel me to recount the story of the city to an innocent traveller like this, thus certainly dissuading him from ever coming. Yet I can’t take the moral responsibility for stopping a kindred soul from visiting. The reasons are many.
Aside from the Alphavillite’s basic need for the fresh, innocent blood and energy that travellers supply, it is a fact that the desire to visit the city resides in a Higher Consciousness. That is to say that someone who’s never lived in Alphaville has already attained a certain level of consciousness, or perhaps, a simple state of desperation, in order to have ever conceived the heartfelt desire to see the city. Or, to put it simply, the road to the city is so tortuous, paved with such suffering, incites such curiosity and noble despair, that to refuse someone’s desire to dwell in the city would be to deny the desire for self-realization, the need to grow, to follow the singular path to destiny. Whatever Alphaville might not be, it certainly does present the opportunity for the individual to confront life and death in the split second of an afternoon rainstorm. After all, if someone succeeds in staying in this city for longer than three days without wanting to leave, it’s a sign of sanity, the state of mind which permits the person to function once having left the city behind. This done, the person has stayed long enough to be considered capable of living anywhere and honoring the human race.
But few ever manage to leave Alphaville. Even fewer get out unscathed, so great is the curse of the city. I’ve only gotten out once, and then only for a year, a time which I spent mostly sleeping, agonizing like a patient in an insane asylum, craving to return to Alphaville! By the end of my exile to other galaxies, I realized the extent to which I had been damaged by the city. No matter, the poison of its lure was too great, and, no cure in sight, my mouth opened to whisper, “Alphaville!”
Several more or less successful cases of getting out of the city are on record. These people, for better or worse, all of them damaged and worn, now travel through other galaxies telling their tales of horror, doom, and disgust, of the unspeakable terror of Alphaville.
There’s the story of an old man who left the Capital of Panic in his youth to look for more spiritual galaxies. After travelling for over twenty years living as a local saint, prophet, and guru, having exposed his knowledge of Alphaville in warning, he returned to his hometown only to become a furrier. When asked by the local authorities about his overseas activities he answered, “(Writing) poetry is the way to transform darkness into light.” Of course, the only way to stay alive in the City of the Living Dead is to “think poetry” . It’s also true that the only way to stay alive in the City of Doom is to FORGET poetry entirely. Poetry is illogical, requiring emotion and thought, things the city forbids, condemns, despises. Therefore, the very thought of this Forbidden Art is heroic, the act of a madman or a lost soul. Of course in the beginning all Alphavillites are madmen or lost souls. Perhaps to “think poetry” in this city is, in itself, the start of lunacy. I should add that all inhabitants of this city consider living here an admission of lunacy, more or less. Those who don’t agree have acquired an animalistic shape and character and therefore don’t count as human. Those who understand this but are reluctant to leave, either temporarily or permanently, belong to a lower class of consoiousness. Those who vaguely feel the need for a long weekend “out of town” need serious help. The old prophet, now become one of Alphaville’s many furriers, taught me the art of surviving the period of transition which begins when one prepares to leave the city. His sacred secret was to think and do the OPPOSITE of all believed to be normal in the city.
Let me try to describe some of the basics of this so-called normal life. The most powerful Gargoyle in Alphaville, its omnipresent and terrifying guardian, is the Keeper of Time. In the city, TIME is the most precious and sought after substance. People live in constant lack of and demand and yearning for Free Time! They slave night and day, working like Sisyphus to earn money and goods to buy it. I remember my first session with the old poet-prophet-furrier. The initial phase of the cure was a hard exorcism. He would speak to me for hours and hours by telephone, while I jumped up and down as if possessed, screaming,
“I have to go! MY TIME IS UP! I’m late for my meeting with so and so, I’m supposed to be at the corner of here and there, I have to do this and that.” Finally I collapsed and began to obey MY TIME. Up to the present I still have trouble enjoying this concept, but I’m certainly not like the more successful denizens of the city. Their constant lack of time propels them to obey the law of EXCESSIVE SPEED. The ultimate picture of Alphaville is a lonely and gloomy urban landscape with a purple-gray sky where red neon flashes and armies of robots rush around like metallic fallen angels propelled by rubber crutch wings. They have no TIME to meet or talk. Even saying “hello” requires a state of mind which I refer to as “higher consciousness.” Lonely and drained, completely unaware of their condition, they run from one place to another to earn money, to buy time (usually associated with weekends when they can enjoy people, or people’s products, and can maybe, even for an instant, forget the phony values of the Supreme Keeper of Time).
All other activities related to the mad rush of the city— such as the fearful impulse to maintain a bare existence or to accumulate material goods—are secondary, and in the end lead to obeying the desire of HAVING TIME. No one in Alphaville enjoys the luxury of free time, because this luxury involves not thinking about time at all, forgetting about it. Certainly no one here can boast of this. One of the prerequisites for getting here is being aware of time, as a notion, and the times we live in. When people from other galaxies think of our city—and they do, quite often—they think of it as a time category, and try to imitate it. By doing this they immediately begin to associate the lapse of time with a percentage of profit which can be earned by those who understand that “time” is an item which can be bought. Those Alphavillites who are clearly aware of this category of time are easily recognizable. There are two distinct groups of urbanites who seek to master this category. First, by far the larger, dresses in modest and plain clothes devoid of personal style. The members of this group are known as “corporates”. The members of the second are usually dressed in black and manifest marked likings for idiosyncratic accessories, a uniform in and of itself. Their mode of existence is often termed “artistic”, “bohemian”, or even “intellectual”. Anyone else is obviously tasteless and clearly has no place in the city.
The next example of a successful escapee of the city is an intergalactically acclaimed anthropologist who, though born in the city, left in his mid-thirties, never to return. This powerful personality became so disgusted with people in the City of Panic that he chose to shun cities and people altogether. After secluding himself on the outskirts of an isolated Indian tribe where he studied their pristine and timeless qualities, he returned to teaching in a distant province where his new subject was how to avoid the traps of Alphaville. In Alphaville he was considered a living saint, one of the few who managed to escape the dreaded enslavement to the Keepers of Time and Money. When I met him, moons ago, before I ever dreamed of getting to the city, I was struck by his exquisitely sad, omniscient eyes. I mistook this particular look as something peculiar to him, for at that time I did not know that his were simply the e ayes of someone who once managed to live in, and then leave, Alphaville. I don’t remember the color of my own eyes at the time, but something in me (Swear to God!) prompted the old man to take a liking to me. He didn’t miss this chance to warn someone of the problematic city. Nevertheless, this sage, a. superior being, understood both my human weakness and my need to live in the City of Doom. Thus, by persuading me to stay away from the city, he enticed me into going there.
“There is only one thing,” he told me, “with which one should be thoroughly acquainted before choosing to live there: it is a place where human emotions are forbidden. There one can neither love nor cry.” I thought he was intentionally trying to confuse me. “How is that possible?!” I exclaimed. “And why do I see a trace of pain in your eyes?”
“Pain can be numbed like anything else,” the old man whispered, and then added slowly, “but I am, after all, a poor example of an Alphavillite.” He told me this and then cried.
“Oh, please don’t cry,” I said.
“Why not? It’s good to cry. And this is my advice to you, my dear. If you ever by some misfortune arrive in Alphaville, pay attention to people who cry, or are on the verge of tears…They are not yet lost, and may be saved somehow.”
At that time I used to cry a lot. I moved to the city beoause a friend of mine, whom I’d met in another galaxy, told me it was a place where people learn how to live tough and never cry. Never. He would never ory, though he was always on the verge of tears, which, of course, I noticed…So, my first impulse was to admire him as an Alphavillite, a paragon of city life, one of those tough, smart people who’s always ready with a come-back, devoid of the schmaltz and sappiness that linger in those more primitive galaxies where I dwelt so long ago!
I looked long and hard for this damaged friend when I arrived in the City of Angst, and was disappointed that he disappeared after dragging me here. I remember the laughter of the graceless women constantly asking me between snickers, “You still believe in Love! Can there be such a thing in this world?”
“But love is the only thing worth living for,” I would shyly answer.
To which they would reply, “You sure aren’t a native.”
“But don’t you ever have sex?” I asked.
To which they would reply, “What’s that got to do with love?”
“Oh,” I thought to myself, “you may not think so, but there is someone here who is still constantly on the verge of tears. He’s got to know what I’m talking about. Little did I know then of Alphaville’s magic! Much later when I mastered the city’s laws, I saw clearly that I should have never let this friend come here. Everyone in the City of Angst was damaged by living there. Every man I tried to care for was mortally frightened of my ability to feel and to keep my emotions alive. Sometimes it was only during sex that I could sense someone’s ability to cry or their vitality. The way a man would come in me was the only way left for me to detect if he were dead or alive. Most had no passion and were constantly hurried. I can remember saying, “Of course I don’t hate you, can’t you FEEL? There’s no fear here tonight, just the same old stars common to all galaxies.”
And they would say, “But you’re so different. I can tell you’re from the city.”
“Yes, I’m an Alien. I’m from a different galaxy,” I’d say. “But you don’t have to be afraid of me.”
Once I met a very young man who would listen to me patiently and who, though born in Alphaville, was naive before we met. Well, he listened but could never quite understand my messages. They remained bottled up, even though he liked me. In city terms his curiosity for me read as “great passion, big love.” Let me tell you why. This guy’s father came to the city from my old galaxy long, long ago. Since then the father had become a powerful sorcerer. The son (he was the only son) treasured me as the only opportunity, the very key, to understanding his father. I respected this and loved him dearly. On my last attempt to escape the City of Doom, I took him back to my galaxy thinking I’d transfer all the secret knowledge I’d been storing during my years of solitude to him. What a mistake! The energy was untransferable. Just as I had longed for the city, yet never succeeded in becoming an Alphavillite, so too he failed to adjust to the energy and the knowledge of a new galaxy. This shows how great was the damage that Alphaville had wrought on him! The only thing that he brought back to his Alpha-hometown was an overwhelming memory of Caring (something which in his language resembled love, or some similar, powerful human emotion). Even though he didn’t know quite what , he knew SOMETHING had happened , and that particular something he could never forget.
When I returned I realized that almost everyone I knew had changed drastically, for better or worse. Due to my absence, or to some unrelated astral force, those whom I’d liked best, who’d somehow kept living on the verge of tears, well, they’d hardened and become “over-civilized.” They could no longer laugh or cry. They had become one with the city, walking through the galaxy with no facial expression, daily rushing in and out of the temples where they’d worship the Keepers of Money and Time. Even the person I liked best, who instigated my move to the city long ago, forgot the messages from other planets…The other night I made love to him, and eventually he cried…But the next day he explained it away as a bad dream, saying we’d never met before, that he wanted nothing to do with me, no, not him, a bred-in-the-bone Alphavillite. His behavior is justifiable, however, and no cause for alarm—anyone who wants to stay in the City of Angst must pay the dues. After all, even the Greeks and Romans considered exile the worst form of punishment . Too bad if Alphaville happened to be your home town!
This is something like what a poet who was born in Alphaville and then tried to leave thought once as he sang of the city’s glory and sorrows, thereby earning himself worldly fame only to return to the womb of the city. This is where he always wanted to be, yes, with his mother, the City of Doom. And return he did. Through the clarity of his vision, and by naming the city Moloch, he managed to move the hearts of the inhabitants of all other galaxies. In the end, when he returned after years of travel and found that he could no longer willingly leave its boundaries, these galaxies sent special invitations intended to liberate the beloved poet, paying him with time and money, money and time, liberating him from the Alphaville he loved best…
He was the only one who wouldn’t advise me on life in the city. He only said that it was a place where people live in fear of loneliness and closeness, a place where people dread cold winters and hot summers equally.
“Now that you’re here,” he said, “you may as well stay. But remember,” he added, “from now on, if you try to leave, wherever you go, you’ll always find yourself back here, all new cities will seem the worst possible imitation of this one!”
And so I chose to stay.
End of warning.
Pic Nick Victor