The bad thing about living in the Information Age is that I can never get to all the media waiting for me. Books go unread, podcasts are bookmarked but never listened to, the satellite TV DVR is full of nearly a hundred saved shows (everything from Top Chef to old Twilight Zones) and movies (Stolen Life, a documentary about Fred Hampton, Teahouse of the August Moon) that I hardly have the time to sample let alone exhaust. When we first moved to Madison, I pledged to increase my media consumption–I would finally have the time to watch all those movies I'd heard, read, even talked about, but never actually saw. We'd subscribe to the New York Times, get the three-disc Netflix service and the Gameday audio for all MLB contests. Add to this the decent offerings of the Madison Public Library and, needless to say, I'm swamped. I haven't upped my consumption much, but the backlog has certainly grown, perhaps logarithmically.
The other night I finally did get around to viewing a DVD that had been sitting on top of the TV for nearly two months. It was Tom Dowd: The Language of Music, and strangely enough the story of Tom Dowd resonated with my recent visits to Dreamtime. Like who knows how many millions of music fans, I first became curious about Dowd when I noticed that his name was on so many great records. What I didn't know was that Dowd was involved in the Manhattan Project as a young man, before he turned his attention to recording music. In the movie he mentions the secrecy, the surprise he experienced when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This immediately brought to mind my recent exposure to the story of Bern Porter, another Manhattan Project worker who later became an avant-garde poet and mail art innovator.
It was at Dreamtime that I was introduced to Porter's work, and Xexoxial Editions publishes a number of his books. According to mIEKAL aND, Porter and presumably other scientists and engineers were told by the government that their research was going into the development of forty-two peaceful, civilian uses for nuclear energy, in a campaign of detailed deception (these researchers were pretty smart; the lies had to be full). This is what he believed at the time of the bombs being dropped in Japan. He resigned almost immediately after the bombings, and moved headlong into experimental literary work. Dowd talked about the research and the deception, but didn't seem to have much of a problem with it. Perhaps that's to be expected; after all, he was only the age of an early undergraduate student at the time. But the experience nonetheless shaped him, and the documentary makes a point of identifying this formative time by including several clips of the Bikini Atoll test explosions. Dowd only left the research path when he was told after the war that all his research experience would count for nothing in college, and that he'd have to go through the regular coursework even though what he'd already done was more advanced. The comparison between Dowd and Porter left me wondering about other scientists-in-exile from their fields. I wonder especially about those from their generational cohort, and how many of them turned to art and cultural work instead, and how those military-industrial complex turncoats put their talents to creative alternative uses–which somehow contributed to the cultures of experimentation in living that places like Dreamtime continue.