Deconstruction of the B-29
Flying Saucers over the White House,
Cosimo Books, 2010
Let us do something we are not much encouraged to do these days.
Let us try and rediscover the power of one of the great banned faculties of the twentieth century: the Imagination.
Imagine a B-29 bomber crashed long ago on an island in the Solomons group.
Like Princess Diana and Elvis Presley, the B-29 wreck has reached the regions of that advanced life form called pure information. We can be sure that, to the islanders, the crashed Superfortress will enter the mythological pantheon of universal advertisements, just as the UFO itself has done for the people that have long since moved on to make the very different “improved” wings of very different aeroplanes to the B-29. The idea of “improvement” of course is, like Rationalism, a very late and rather callow arrival on the historical scene. The concept of getting better relates to very rapid industrial class-change rather more than anything else. The idea of improvement, either sociological or technological, means managing the nature and targets of ever-young Product Time and its latest development, the showbiz politics of promise-control, from Five Year Plans to Mars Bars, from Monica Lewinski to Dark Matter.
The haunted fuselage of this crashed sample of Product Time comes from our almost-recent past but now, to the islanders, it is a past as far back as Pyramid Time.
Within the rust and grease and analogues of the fractured shapes of the wrecked bomber are interwoven the plots of both consumerism, technology, and the mystique of change. Here in this alien artefact are the long dead crew, most of them victims of the 20mm Shigeru cannon of a supercharged Zero coming fast out of the Pacific sun one early morning in May, 1945. Here, still in flying suits and life jackets covered with yellow dust from cannon-burst bags of shark-repellent, are shinbones and vertebrae from Miami, Little Rock, and Texas. There, rusting headphones still cling to shot-up skulls from New York and San Francisco; here, broken necks, legs, and backbones from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Philadelphia, still sit upright before controls, radio sets, and an array of navigating equipment built, tested, and almost paid for in Detroit, Memphis and Idaho.
Before this broken lance of the vanguard nation stand the ranks of a worshipping congregation. They listen intently to a dancing and chanting Magic Man who whirls a bamboo-stick before the cracked Perspex nose of that essay in wonder and danger that is the Boeing B-29. This is the entrance to the shrine. In the back row of our congregation, let us imagine one pair of eyes that avoid the Magic Man’s gaze and look rather more discursively into the silent ruins of the torn-off Wright Cyclone engines.
Let us say that these are the eyes of Hero.
Hero avoids the Magic Man’s concern with the great chiefs buried in these ruined pyramid-chambers of broken American aluminium, for Hero is experiencing instant Natural Selection. He has begun to replace all Magic Man concerns by quite another kind of question, and we can reconstruct a moment in which that great white hope of humanity called rationalism is born.
The dancing and chanting finish. Night comes, and taking care to avoid the Magic Man, Hero pays a second visit to the depths of the temple. By the light of a shrouded, pig-grease candle, there is revealed inordinate beauty and form. Hero asks himself new questions as his fingers and eyes move over the shapes and surfaces of thousands of old American dreams. Unable to avoid his eternal present, he examines products and techniques long gone with the America of Glenn Miller’s orchestra. How do they do this? How do they do that? Hero does not know, a half-century after the crash, that in many cases “they” have forgotten the techniques by means of which they did this and that.
Hero moves from new gods to old technologies as he surveys precise angles, neat joints, and smooth shapes. He touches textures and shapes of Vulcanised rubber and Bethlehem Mayari low-alloy steel:.
He passes by wiring, castings, and very early plastics (of varying quality), from Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Through the complexity of the shattered instrumentation; carefully he moves past the 50. Cal turret, discarded parachutes, half-inflated dinghies, and oxygen masks. The dregs of long dried brake fluid and carbonised rubber come to him as a mid-century techno-industrial Proustian Madeleine: Paxolin, Bakelite, and Celluloid, all incense rising in praise to the lost gods of apple-pie America: Chance-Vought, Curtiss, Northrop, and Convair; Bell, Tesla, and Edison.
On this night, all are present as Hero moves through this broken lance of the vanguard nation. Passing early radar vacuum tubes, fuel-tanks, and still-full bomb racks, Hero will become aware of the extent of a conspiracy beyond all his imagining. He will begin to understand a little of the mythology of the techno-industrial solution as represented by the aircraft, now as long gone as Bob Hope’s America. He will begin a new experience of Time, not as the coming and going of sun, moon, and tide, but Time as ideological quanta pulsating between Plan, Product, and Performance.
As a first experimental cerebral, Hero will begin a journey of initiation through the rites of Industrial passage; principles of operation, purpose, and manufacture will permeate his very being. In this shattered temple of a fuselage he is being painfully re-birthed. On his voyage of discovery he will often wish he had stayed with the rattling skulls of the tribal sorcerer, and continue to think and accept that the hydraulic fluid seeping from a shattered brake-drum are the grotto-tears of some dying animal, sorrowing for mankind.
Hero will want to know the “facts” that he has no doubt heard talk of from missionaries and visiting anthropologists, from whom, intuitively, the crashed B-29 has been carefully concealed for fifty years. He will try to jump out of his loincloth paradigm by attempting that celebrated process of stage-management called demystification. But from the B-29 to the F-117 Stealth aircraft is a long journey again into a mythological world text. Before he goes on that forward journey, Hero will have to learn to read backwards, although he may not be familiar with either textual dimension. He will have to travel back in time though many centuries of sleepwalking experiments with temperatures, pressures, alignments, tooling, finishing, fitting, and design, and on the way will see bankruptcies, suicides, madness, and not a little love and dedication.
Hero does not realise that the Magic Man knows what is happening. He can see inside Hero’s head. He does not do or say anything. He knows from the way Hero looked at the aeroplane that he has already begun a great epic journey. The Magic Man knows that, in his new task of trying to understand, Hero will have to travel back from the B-29 to the struts of the Wright Flyer, to the Colt pistol, and the Gatling machine-gun men of the American Civil War, back to the English blacksmiths who first hot-hammered the crude-forged iron straps around the parched water barrels of the arriving Mayflower.
He knows that Hero will have to struggle with the pre-Newtonian puzzles about momentum and acceleration, mass and pressure, and will have to re-discover Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Aristotle. Beyond them lies the open-hearth furnace, its stone cups boiling with bronze, and all surrounded by cursing and hope, despair, defeat and victory, birth, death and dream.
Off the main roads of the central mystery there are numberless side-turnings in the shape of questions: on what dismal cold morning did the outline of that particular decision form? What was so and so doing at the time? Was there a particular night on which the curve of a cheek became the shape of an aeroplane? All the mistakes, guesses, and approximations of all these days and nights will feel back on themselves, providing interpretation as crazy as anything in our own science or religion. An ever-evolving landscape of belief turns the fuselage into a grail-vessel. Matter decoded is pure dream, leading back to the cave mouth and Hycernian forest of other wrecked fuselages beyond the sun and moon.
Here Hero comes full circle; the waiting magus will smile. What has Hero learned from his great journey? Perhaps he knows of the mysteries of the Fall in terms of a question: why do the gods need machines to fly? Why do they need radios to talk to people on other islands?
Perhaps nature does not experiment socially, choosing instead to concentrate upon certain individuals such as Hero or George Adamski. The rest, like the animals, go on happily flapping and hooting, snorting, and grunting to infinity. Perhaps that is why certain people lead shattered lives. To be “chosen” is to be the subject of some illimitable cosmic experiment. Just as we are about to award Frank Stranges and Adamski very low marks out of ten, we must remember that, soon after their pan-dimensional texts were published, Flower Power hit California, the home of both Adamski and Stranges. After that the world was never the same again, and space folk were seen everywhere. Adamski’s life-long obsession with Aetherian theosophy, which links almost every single one of these early saucer visionaries, had reached social melt-down and, partly because of this development, the American army was later to be taken from the battlefields of Vietnam.
If such people have anything to teach us, it is not that the gods are good, bad or indifferent, but that they can manifest at all, that they can run riot like a cellular virus, sow their images in minds which become malls, and vice versa. They show us also that we ourselves have power to create that sacred and utterly scandalous tomfoolery which is always at the heart of time, change and product.
Meantime, back in the bush, in a secret place unknown even to the Magic Man, Hero picks up a stone and starts to shape it into a B-29, whose robot now exists as a broken Roswell Scroll in his head.
But far away in the deep forest, the Magic Man smiles.
He knows how far Hero has to journey before he frees the shape from the block.