Koyaanisqatsi   Leave a comment

KOYAANISQATSI – (from the Hopi language)  n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life disintegrating. 4. life out of balance. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.

“I spend so much time on the computer writing a description of the work done that day and then sending it to my supervisor that I do not have enough time to do the actual work. This creates a stressful Catch 22 for me. I struggle completing the real work, because of the computer time I am required to do explaining what work I have done.”

One might imagine that the above comment came from a nurse documenting times and doses of medicine given to patients or some such occupation, but the statement came from my brother, a butcher, who works in Fort Collins, Colorado. It struck me, because my job in social work requires workers to complete such an enormous amount of paperwork that it increases their stress levels to unhealthy amounts, and decreases the amount of time doing what they hoped the job was about –helping people.

The imbalance of workplace duties and what purpose the job was originally created for seem out of order. Many jobs require documentation by the worker to prove what he or she has done, so as to meet quality guidelines, and prevent getting sued by whomever one is working for or trying to aid, but in actuality the quality of the work being done decreases due to the increasing amount of paperwork.  Reality means that there will never be a return to the handshake-contract, which means that I will do what we have agreed upon and my handshake is my promise, and if I do not, you will take your business elsewhere. But this extreme covering of one’s backside has reached the point of idiocy.

The Hopi word “Koyannisquatsi” is the title of a film by Godfrey Reggio.  It is the first film of a trilogy, and the concept for the film and the making of it took place between 1975 and 1982.  I watched this film a few years ago, but it came to my mind as I considered how the workplace, and our lives have changed as technology has increased.

Not many of us would consider giving up electricity or indoor plumbing, and this movie does not ask anything of the viewer except to sit back for 87 minutes and absorb our world speeding up even by 1982 standards when this film was completed. The film does not deny the magic of technology and the beauty of our cities, or the amazing roadways and architecture that have been imagined and then created, but it does express the change in how we live, and how we expect to live with more man-made ways of being and less of nature.

Reggio describes his film:

“KOYAANISQATSI attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the “original” is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive. That being said, my intention in-other-words, let me describe the bigger picture. KOYAANISQATSI is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. KOYAANISQATSI is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer. Art has no intrinsic meaning. This is its power, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value KOYAANISQATSI might have comes exclusively from the beholder. The film’s role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of KOYAANISQATSI is whatever you wish to make of it. This is its power.”

The movie has no dialogue and if a person loves technology, he or she may view it as a tribute, but if it causes the viewer to consider that nature and humans need to be and stay in balance, it may leave an unsettling feeling to that viewer. The time-lapse photography and the other images matched with a film score by Philip Glass makes for a well-spent 87 minutes.

Aldo Leopold was born in 1887 and died in 1948, and is best known as the author of A Sand County Almanac. He was a leader in environmental ethics before anyone knew what it meant, and is rolling over in his grave or maybe spinning in his grave as the oil spill continues to spew its death sentence on many species in the gulf coast. Like Reggio, Leopold would most likely be concerned at man’s continual separation further and further from nature while continuing to use and misuse its resources.

From A Sand County Almanac

Leopold wrote:

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”

“This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and who do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

As always it is the perspective of the viewer, reader, owner of the life you choose to live and defend that causes a reaction to Koyannisquatsi, or to Aldo Leopold’s words.  A fear that Reggio’s film brings to attention is how young people who do not have the experience of nature and only of technology will know that nature is something to be saved, and to be shared in a creative balance with the lifestyle we have become accustomed. Walt Whitman knows the secret and said,” Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.“

And we can do it today in sleeping bags designed with the best technology to keep a person sleeping in the open-air warm as toast on the cold ground.


Posted August 15, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays

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