[Editor's Note — February 2nd, 2010: We're pleased to announce that J. Wood is back for the final season!]
[Editor's Note — March 23, 2009: We have another update on J. Wood's health — read it here.]
And with a flash and a splash, Jin rises from the dead.
He wasn't the only one.
"The Little Prince" is named after the 1943 children's novel by French pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a rather existential little book about a pilot whose plane goes down in the Sahara (not near Tunisia). When stranded, he meets a little blond off-world traveler; "If you please -- draw me a sheep."
The narrator relates the boy's story, who left his little asteroid and flower to travel across the universe. His seventh stop is Earth. Why did he leave his asteroid? That's a good question. Another question: Why does the narrator call this kid a prince? There is no explanation. As the boy makes his way from tiny planet to tiny planet, he meets a variety of adult representatives (a king, a businessman, a drunk), and is consistently frustrated with them; adults are consumed with facts over qualities, so they always ask the wrong questions, like this paragraph just did.
A strange thing then occurs in the sixth chapter; the narrative voice changes to second-person. The audience was in the third-person objective position, and is all the sudden being addressed as if the audience were displaced into the subject of the story. The switch from objective to subjective space is interesting, and it changes back to third-person objective in the seventh chapter. This is just one of the elements the story shares with Lost; like the island characters' experience of cut-up time mirroring the audience experience of narrative time, or how the characters' search for pieces of the overall puzzle is carried over beyond the show proper into the broader experience of the audience; this short chapter mirrors that unstable position where the audience falls into the fiction. Like the fox says in The Little Prince, words are the source of misunderstandings.
Who is the little prince meant to represent, if anyone? One character may be Aaron, the little towhead who is working his way back to the island. But the little prince can't make it back to his asteroid without the help of a snake's poison; if Aaron is the narrative cognate, he may have to deal with the solver of all riddles to make it back.
However, there are all sorts of characters who are trying to make it back to the island. One in particular, though, holds a little more promise. The little prince needed to get back to his asteroid so he could care for his flower. In the episode, Locke wants to beat a path back to the Orchid station, where the flowers are, to see if he can stop the time-slips. Locke also knows he needs to get everyone who left the island back, and to do that, he has to die. Like the little prince, Locke's way home means he has to abandon his shell, and "There is nothing sad about old shells..."
One more link from Saint-Exupéry's book points us toward more ghosts of the past. At the beginning of the story, the narrator states "I have serious reason to believe that the planet from which the little prince came is the asteroid known as B-612." In a sly nod, he notes that it was discovered by a Turk in 1909, but he wasn't believed because he dressed as a Turk. "Fortunately, however, for the reputation of B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume." The narrator doesn't name the dictator, but that was Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk. During the 1920's he threatened the post-Ottoman British Mandate of Mesopotamia, and nearly took Mosul in present-day northern Iraq. The current Iraqi borders were established out of the resulting Treaty of Lausanne, which separated a significant Kurdish population from their brethren in Turkey; this led to political unrest that was put down violently by Saddam Hussein in the 1980's and 1990's, which led to the Gulf War, and Sayid becoming a torturer.
But asteroid B-612 doesn't end there; B-612 is also Be-six-twelve, or BESIXDOUZE, the name on a can from Rousseau's 1988 scientific expedition (douze is twelve in French). On October 15, 1993, a new asteroid was discovered by Japanese astronomers Kin Endate and Kazuo Watanabe. As an homage to Saint-Exupéry's book, it was tagged 46610, which in hexadecimal form is B612. By way of this asteroid to Rousseau's scientific expedition and Montand's arm -- which he's about to lose (
DHARMA shark debunked) -- we find our way back to the floating Jin, and one more ghost come back to life. But we never really knew if Jin was dead.
Hexadecimals are interesting; they're sometimes used to encode messages, and that was the case with the DHARMA Initiative Recruiting Project alternate reality game. One of its components was Ajira Airways, whose logo was on the bottle found in the outrigger. This one's for the code-cracking geeks and the book nerds: The source code for the Ajira Airways web pages contains embedded hexadecimal code, code that wouldn't show on the page itself. When translated, one block of code gives the famous biblical passage from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Given the Catholic sub-themes, that's understandable.
But the hex in the source code for the flights page gives: "So off they started about Irish sport and shoneen games the like of lawn tennis and about hurley and putting the stone and racy of the soil and building up a nation once again and all of that." This particular line comes from chapter 12 of James Joyce's Ulysses, the "Cyclops" chapter, and the context seems apt.
The chapter is notable for its motif that Joyce extrapolates from Homer's Odyssey. In Homer's tale, the cyclops Polyphemus, like any cyclops worthy of the name, has only one eye. Odysseus manages to put that out with a sharpened, heated club (sort of like a primitive flaming arrow). The cyclops' name is also derived from the Greek poly, or many, and pheme, or rumor -- many voices. Joyce takes the ideas of monocular vision, blindness and many voices, and makes them the operating principles of his chapter.
Set at a pub, the narrative presents a variety Dublin drinkers, many of which tend to express singularly narrow-minded social and political views -- especially the character known as the citizen and the chapter's unnamed narrator, who constantly relates what others say and think. The chapter even begins with "I" (or one I/eye). But the tipplers' single-mindedness also blinds them to broader perspectives; their nationalism arises from a desire to be out from under England's colonial shadow, yet they fail to recognize that the Irish identity they champion is just a greenwashed version of how they perceive bully Britain's national identity. They were playing Irish, but their minds were still imperially occupied.
The structure here is what counts, and is what brings us back to Lost. Joyce prefers to show rather than tell, and enact rather than show, and he reveled in tinkering with the relation of the reader to the text and the possibilities of narrative perspective (or what the narrative nerds might call focalization). A narrator is generally either outside the consciousness of a character as third-person, or inside as first-person narration, but first person leaves the narrator outside the consciousness of other characters.
In Joyce's work, the narration often takes on the voice of the character it's relating, even when in third-person; it's almost as if the character influences the narrator, or the narrator is a little too deep inside the consciousness of the character. In his book Joyce's Voices, critic Hugh Kenner calls this the Uncle Charles Principle, after a character who exemplifies such narration in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "the narrative idiom need not be the narrator's." This presents a wholly different model for narrative perspective and point of view, one that's not entirely objective or subjective, and it creates a vast range of possibilities for narrative voices.
Because Joyce allows the audience to witness events through various perspectives and multiple consciousnesses, we can compare different characters' actions and find the blind spots, even when they can't (as does the outsider of the "Cyclops" chapter, Leopold Bloom). Knowing that, even though the various characters of the "Cyclops" chapter display single-minded perspectives, the sheer number of voices the audience encounters in the text works against any single perspective being privileged. Rather than be handed the meaning on a plate, the audience is left to consider what the juxtaposition of perspectives might mean, and then to assimilate them into a broader understanding of the narrative.
This sort of variety of perspective is familiar to us today; its roots are in literature, but it's not an uncommon technique in film and television, and is clearly present in Lost. The narrative structure of Lost constantly moves in and out of different character's perspectives, their pasts, presents and their futures. When we see a Jack episode, we're generally getting a presentation that is sympathetic to his perspective, but with some outside information to temper that perspective (camera angles, dialog, other scenes that clash with Jack's intentions). Uncle Charles could be the cameraman.
But Lost also allows the audience to experience different takes on events that have already occurred. We saw a version of this in "The Little Prince" when Locke and Sawyer flash back to November 1, 2004. With the camera as our narrator, we see them each experience an event that we've all already seen in the narrative -- the light from the swan hatch and Aaron's birth -- only this time, we witness events through new eyes, and as with Joyce, no single overall perspective is privileged. We've seen this kind of play on perspective, before, like with the crash of Oceanic 815 (survivors, Tailies, Others), most of the Nikki & Paolo episode "Exposé," and with Desmond's flashes.
In a cinematic medium, the camera is also a narrator, and at times the camera/narrator of Lost even manipulates audience perspective without offering any clear signals that it is doing so. Consider the loop shot in the pilot episode, when Jack first makes it out on the beach: Jack is standing with his back to the jungle with the camera starts on his left. The shot then sweeps into his perspective and off to the left, showing the beach. But as the shot comes back around, Jack then appears on the other side of the shot, and the camera is now on his right. The camera was moving away from Jack and to the left; the only way for the camera to sweep so far around to end up on Jack's right side is if it swept behind him and into the jungle. But that's not what happens -- the perspective is always in front of Jack and on the beach. Something strange is happening here, as the camera tracks a Möbius strip pattern that displaces the audience, character and setting from their established relationships to each other. The camera/narrator starts with the audience in a third-person point of view, witnessing Jack, then shifts into a first-person point of view, but when it slips back into third-person, the perspective is the mirror-image of where it began. This is a very different take on multiple perspectives.
One particular Russian critic can help with such issues. In 1922, around the same time Joyce published Ulysses, Mikhail Bakhtin set to work on analyzing the multiple voices in the works of Dostoevsky, including The Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment. His 1929 Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics offered forth the theory of 'the polyphonic novel,' an insight exhibited throughout Ulysses and Lost. Bakhtin's basic argument is that a traditional narrative privileges a singular point of view, usually that of the narrator over other characters. A polyphonic text -- a text with 'many sounds' -- is characterized by a "plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses," each "with equal rights and each in its own world" that combine but do not merge in the singularity of an event. Such a text breaks from traditional narrative by providing a multitude of perspectives without clearly privileging any of them, leveling the hierarchy between characters and narrator. (What would Bakhtin make of blogs and wikis?) Can Lost be thought of as a polyphonic text? Let's take Bakhtin's conclusion:
We consider the creation of the polyphonic novel a huge step forward not only in the development of novelistic prose [...] but also in the development of the artistic thinking of humankind. It seems to us that one could speak directly of a special polyphonic artistic thinking extending beyond the bounds of the novel as a genre.
A good narrative can't keep a good consciousness down; like in the world itself, multiple perspectives presented from various psychological, ethical, emotional and logical positions will persist.
Incidentally, William Faulkner was another modernist author who crafted polyphonic texts like As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. Many of his works were set in a fictional region of Mississippi called Yoknapatawpha County. Over at DocArzt, they managed to clean up an image of the document Sun received and transcribe it. This line occurs near the end: "The client said she would call me if the subject was sighted at the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center." This page may actually be a prop from another game, but if we learned anything from the little prince, it is that we need to look at qualities, not hard facts.
But back to Joyce: The Dubliner has a few other tricks in his tavern that have a bearing on this episode. First, take the hexadecimal line itself, which is a thought belonging to the unnamed narrator: "So off they started about Irish sports and shoneen games the like of lawn tennis and about hurley and putting the stone and racy of the soil and building up a nation once again and all to that." It's the last bit that gives it away, "and all to that"; it's like saying "and all that," or a more formal version of "yadda yadda yadda." Can we trust this narrator? It's hinted that he may actually be a police informer, manipulating his friends for his own benefit, so maybe his nationalist ideas are somewhat silver-tempered.
Of course there's that word hurley. At first one might think it's related to Hugo, but hurley or hurling is an old Gaelic field game still played in Ireland and in the Irish diaspora. There's no telling if it's related to the lovable Latino in lock-up. What the hexadecimal code doesn't offer, however, is the rest of that paragraph:
And of course Bloom had to have his say too about if a fellow had a rower's heart violent exercise was bad. I declare to my antimacassar if you took up a straw from the bloody floor and if you said to Bloom: Look at, Bloom. Do you see that straw? That's a straw. Declare to my aunt he'd talk about it for an hour so he would and talk steady.
The narrator's complaint is that Bloom overinterprets things, even the smallest things, which brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Umberto Eco. Bloom is the kind of person who would see a hexadecimal code and follow it down a rabbit hole and up a wormhole, even if it just brought him right back to where he began. Perhaps this code and the line from Ulysses is some sort of recursive diversion, a game that says stop playing so many games (yet nevertheless is productive).
But the hexadecimal reference doesn't stop yet; there are two more elements of this chapter to consider. For one, the citizen is the pivot point in the chapter. He's the guy Bloom needs to watch out for. The citizen is seething with an inflated sense of his own masculinity and patriotism, and he's irrational -- he doesn't like Bloom because Bloom's a Jew, but he also calls Bloom a bloody Freemason; back then, the Freemasons in Dublin, no Jews allowed. But the citizen says something in passing at the beginning of the chapter that may have some resonance. A drinker named Joe asks him "how's the old heart, citizen?" and the citizen replies "Never better, a chara."
A chara. Achara -- the Thai tattoo artist who inked Jack in a season
two three flashback, defining him, not decorating him. They're not quite pronounced the same; in a way, they're slant homophones.
Yes, they're different languages. In Gaelic, a chara would be something like "my friend" or "my dear," sort of the in the way one might start a letter: Frogurt, a chara. In Thai, Achara is a female name. But isn't Achara Jack's a chara? This seems rather coincidental, but it's the second instance of recursive word play echoing out of that hexadecimal code: Achara, a chara. Like the fox tells the little towhead prince, words are the source of misunderstandings.
The world play doesn't end there. A key event in Ulysses is the funeral of Paddy Dignam. Bloom attends the funeral in the morning before he carries on with his day. Just after the citizen calls Bloom a bloody Freemason, the narrator is talking to another drinker named Alf, and asks him how Willy Murray is: "I don't know, says Alf. I saw him just now on Capel Street with Paddy Dignam." That's where it breaks: "You what?" "With who?" "Is it Paddy?" "You saw his ghost then." "They took the liberty of burying him this morning anyhow." And with that we have a ghost (not the first in Ulysses), or possibly a zombie, or was he reincarnated, like Ana Lucia, or Charlie, or Christian, or Walt, or Claire, or Jin? Could "death" at times be some kind of temporal displacement? "Dead! says Alf. He is no more dead than you are."
And so we have Ben's van, the side of which reads Canton-Rainier, Carpet Cleaning. Canton-Rainier is an anagram for reincarnation. We have an encoded reference to a passage in a chapter that has a dead man walking, and we have seen supposedly dead people do things like drive cop cars, work in hospitals, and hang out at an asylum. But when it comes to the question of reincarnation, the Ulysses chapter from which the encoded passage comes is more of a teaser than an answer.
Those are the main books for this episode, but there are still some questions. Why does Aaron need to get back to the island? Is he a reincarnation of someone? Many will be wondering about Ben's ulterior motive, or for that matter Sun's, and for that matter, where is Ji Yeon? Something from a while back may be playing a role: We know that Sun has taken a controlling interest in her father's business, Paik Heavy Industries (whose logo resembles the Orchid station logo). She's also carrying that pistol everyplace; remember Chekov's rule-if you show a gun, it has to be used.
Back during the first alternate reality game, it was learned that Paik Heavy Industries was building some sort of special ship for the Hanso Foundation, the Helgus Antonius. It departed in 2006 for Sri Lanka. Sun was already back by 2005, so she may have learned something through her father's business. For all we know right now, that's how they get back to the island.
The Helgus Antonius is also a quarantine ship, and we're seeing people get sicker and sicker with that temporal displacement jetlag. Faraday's working theory is that prolonged exposure to the island brings on the jetlag, a kind of physical version of being jolted from third-person objective narration to second-person subjective narration, with neurological consequences. It was nearly confirmed that Miles is also Pierre Chang's son (after all, he got that snark from someplace). If exposure to the island is what results in the temporal displacement sickness, and now Miles' pipes are leaking, he may have spent more time on the island than he knows — which is what Faraday asks him. In season four, we saw that Charlotte seemed to be coming home when she arrived on the island; she played in the water like a kid, laughing and happy. So she too may have spent more time on the island than she even realizes, and that's why she's dealing with the displacement jetlag. DHARMA babies, both of them. So how did they get off the island? Were they raised by others?
A quick word about the dynamic developing between Sawyer and Locke: Sawyer has made a turn. He goes back to get Juliet when the flaming arrows rain down; he heads off to save the geek; he's concerned about Charlotte; when Locke asks him if he wants Kate to come back, Sawyer responds "It doesn't matter what I want." In The Little Prince, the fox tells the boy that to be tamed means to establish ties: "But if you tame me, then we shall need each other." Sawyer is becoming a different person, someone less selfish and with ties, someone being tamed. We already saw polyphonic above; the term is usually used in music. One composer, György Ligeti, helped introduce a different take on the idea, micropolyphony. This is where the changes from one sound/voice to another are slight and subtle throughout the piece; the changes can be discerned, but the lines where they occur are fuzzy. Sawyer seems to be a good example of micropolyphany taking place in Lost.
There's also something strange about the way Locke always calls him James. It's already been laid out how Locke is coming to represent a kind of mythic trope; he's the farmer-hunter, and he's going to die for the island, which fits snuggly with the trope of the dying-and-rising god (the god who dies each year, and his rebirth brings life back to the land and people). Is Sawyer becoming a kind of disciple? And if so, a disciple of what?
James is a biblical name, and one of the more popular biblical James is James the Just, or James the brother of Jesus. The biblical James doesn't seem to have much in common with Lost's James, but the biblical James is also thought of as a bridge or conduit between Jesus and Paul. With that, Sawyer's real last name, Ford, becomes a little more interesting; a ford is also a shallow part in a river or stream where one can cross over. In that sense, Sawyer is also James the bridge or conduit.
But again, to what end? Last week in the comments, Pedro Munoz mentioned Albert Schweitzer's 1906 book The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer, an Alsatian philosopher, doctor and theologian, thought that Jesus and his followers believed the end times were at hand. Schweitzer writes that John the Baptist announces the end of the world, and
Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign.
It's a gruesome image, and a far cry from the cross. It's also reminiscent of Ben setting the wheel of the island in motion, and bringing an end to all ordinary history -- at least for the islanders.
One reading of Schweitzer's parable is that the message is to live as if the kingdom of heaven had arrived (however that might look). It was the "irruption," or abrupt incursion, of the kingdom of god into history, creating a break with prior notions of waiting for the kingdom of god, or not worrying about it at all. This incursion idea was modernized by some later 20th century philosophers as the irruption of the other into the now, a different form of temporal displacement, or third-person to second-person narrative displacement.
For Lost, at least for now, what we have is the consistent abrupt incursions of the Others and the survivors into different points of history. Given how we've seen other such ideas literalized (Locke as hunter-farmer), and given that there is such a strong Catholic undercurrent to the narrative, we may be seeing something similar; Ben's turning the wheel caused the irruption and set the machinery in motion toward an eschaton, and Locke is the one who brings it all back.
Some final questions:
- Who did the outriggers belong to?
Rousseau's people? If so, they've been on the island for some time by that point.
- Dan Norton is representing Ben and Claire Littleton; what does he know?
- Has Jack finally made the turn back to old Jack? Just before he went to talk with Carole Littleton, he told Kate "I can fix this, Kate, I can fix it." That was the prelapsarian Jack, always trying to fix things even when his repairs lead to more problems.
- How long can Faraday wear that tie?
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island