Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 8#4 Paul Groot 1 Jan 1996

Teilhard and the Technognosis

the avenging JHWH in Silicon Hollywood

With the advent of Dreamworks, the entertainment company founded by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bill Gates, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have merged conclusively. Multimedia is the magic word, but what will become the ideology of this Silicon Hollywood? According to Paul Groot, the main thing in coming years will be technognosis, a religious tenor in which Judeo-Christian traditions dominate a gnostic atmosphere powered by technological progress.
A contribution about Johnny Mnemonic, Batman and Judge Dredd as the first witnesses of the new religion of the 21st century.


Teilhard en de Technognosis -


Teilhard de Chardin, the theologist-palaeontologist who was almost excommunicated but managed to inspire the Silicon Valley-Hollywood dream team with the aura of a new McLuhan, is a remarkably mediumistic hero. A dedicated Jesuit priest – who could have been the model for the success-archaeologist Indiana Jones – as the guru of mass-media developments; this points to a real trend. His biography is exemplary: the palaeontologist who became archaeologist, behaved courageously, worked with selfless zest and, once contaminated by unorthodox ideas, became aware of unknown worlds and unknown interrelations. This makes him indeed an attractive leader, more particularly because of his almost heretical wilfulness. It was that almost traumatic experience, some time in the twenties in the Egyptian desert, of finding a stone which put him on the track of a modern mystery whose Secret he wanted to divulge, which he would cherish all his life. This stone, as his own philosopher's stone, became the cornerstone of a fantastic conceptual network, so unconventional that it raised many questions in Rome. At this point, Teilhard's biography gradually recalls that other legendary heretic, Giordano Bruno. Bruno died at the stake in Rome; Teilhard was deported to an outpost in the Gobi desert.

As with Rome, Hollywood has always needed heretics to justify its own ways. Hollywood cannot survive without a God, any more than without rebels. Quite a number of Babylonian idols and heathen Greek heroes hide behind the prevailing Christian and Jewish religious atmosphere. The origin of all these unorthodox mysteries has never been properly analysed in context. But plenty of books have been written about one single, ever returning phenomenon: the enigmatic Golem, imported from Prague, a figure which has fascinated Hollywood from Frankenstein's Monster to the body of Schwarzenegger. A clay-footed giant who, while having become more athletic, has lost none of his original identity in his monomaniacal expression and his actions. Even when in Total Recall a chip is grafted into his brain, Schwarzenegger still shows the cliché image of the Golem, the expression of the anachronistic alchemistic secret of the old, analogous, Hollywood.

Although the alchemy of Prague has been refined in Silicon Hollywood, it certainly has not been permanently replaced. This body developed from the decoding of God's name from Pentateuch or Tetragrammaton, may have been replaced by dna mutations in this neo-hellenistic syncretism, but the chemical alliance of mysticism and materialism, of Christian fundamentalism and heathen authenticity, of Hebrew religion and hellenistic scepticism, still has Hollywood in its grasp. Indeed, this neo-late-antique syncretism is much more inspiring than the more trivial Golemism from Prague, because the metamorphoses of the old gods and heroes now go hand in hand with the more sophisticated possibilities of the contemporary imagination. Customs, traditions, rites and themes of barbarian, heathen, Jewish, Christian and heretical origin are constantly being updated. The pursuit of the Other, the Better and the Higher has mainly become a search in the sphere of digitalisation. This search turns out to be the perfectly matched to the philosophy of Teilhard, who transposed the body of the Golem to the Soul and the Spirit. His work dealt with the conventional religious typecasting related to the dark undercurrents of the old Hollywood, but at the same time seems to predict the new trends.


An explosive religious mixture is forming in the new multimedia parish of digital entertainment. It is as if Hollywood, and particularly George Lucas with his digital entertainment industry and the trio of David Geffen- Steven Spielberg-Jerry Katzenberg from the new Dreamworld empire, are building an enormous multimedia playground which will reduce Third-Reich propaganda to child's play. An ambitious project which should weld the digital developments and theological and artistic simplifications together into a single one-dimensional, neo-alchemist mixture. In the predominantly Christian fundamentalist United States, this religion has been proving itself more and more to be a competing religion, due also to the applications of magical encryptography. Technognosis as the brand name of the new religion of the 21st century.

Indeed, Silicon Hollywood is not looking for its own identity, but is rather obsessed by the idea of encompassing a new religion within an adequate religious software programme. The archetypes of the old tradition are being polished up and adjusted to modern times. It is an unequalled attempt to connect the virtual future with a virtual past. A pantheistic tableau as the melting-pot religion for the next century. God and the Devil, as ever the last witnesses in the background, are being redefined and reprogrammed. The idea of jhwh as the malevolent hidden god finds response everywhere. And there could not be a more likely candidate for the new God than this jhwh who, according to gnostic insights, conducted a satanic practice at the same time. In this community, always fascinated by mysteries, the idea of the evil demiurge, of jhwh as a pitfall digger who clouds our view on the true God, is more topical than ever. Therefore, in Silicon Hollywood, the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum or Werner Künzel's cobol translation of Raymundus Lullus' Ars Magna are suddenly as topical as studies on the neural network or the possibilities of risk technology. And Oriphiel, the saturnian angel who had at his disposal a network to transmit messages within twenty-four hours to all corners of the heavenly universe, has found his peer in Teilhard's network: the centre of a wide, pulsating web of divine life in which the keystones of the old and new Hollywood seem to be meticulously geared to each other. It is only natural that Teilhard should be celebrated there as a fellow-believer, because precisely the suspicion that he knew of as yet unrevealed secrets makes him the perfect guru. Perhaps he knew of secrets which Moses, in the forty days of tuition by God, did not write down; perhaps he knew of profundities taught by Jesus himself, which not even Dionysus Areopagus, who kept little to himself, wrote down.

The God of Hollywood is not the God of Descartes, who gave up the world to the coordinates and gave time a place in space. This is a god preaching the old nineteenth-century concept of the total work of art, the Gesammtkunstwerk, as an artistic discipline; a god who does not favour the reality of cosmic science over astrology. But it is also a God who knows of multi-processing, who makes use of threading and polyinheritance, who knows everything about vectors and polynome functions. A God we could track down by hacking and retro-engineering. He is at once hardware, software and wetware, and then again he is none of these. He determines form and content, but at the same time can choose to ignore them. The development of this technognostic model has probably never been more exciting since the fatalistic brew that Hitler, Goebels and Speer distilled from the underground sphere of visual art and religion.

However, nobody could be more aware of this than Spielberg, who of course had his reasons for letting Indiana Jones fight the Nazis over possession of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Last Ark. Just like Teilhard's Austrian colleague, the mysterious Jesuit Grisar, Spielberg is always searching for the ultimate, final, secret hidden in Jewish history. In his Entdeckungen und Studien in der Palastkapelle der mittelalterlichen Päpste (Findings and Studies in the Palace Chapel of the Mediaeval Popes) (1908), Grisar finally appears to have discovered the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant. Emperor Titus took the stone tabulae and the secret of the Ark of Triumph to Rome after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; the first Christian emperor, Constantine, presented them to the Pope; ever since they have been stored away in a mediaeval chapel at the Lateran. There, in the Sancta Sanctuarum, a cassette with the stone tablets is kept behind heavy iron bars. Spielberg did not know of this book when he made the Indiana Jones film. Harry Mulish, a well-known Dutch writer and a confirmed gnostic, did know it when he sent Quinten Quist on a quest to Rome in De ontdekking van de hemel (The discovery of heaven), a novel written as a film script. Quist's adventures, based on Grisar's findings, show us more than just the tablets. Because the unveiling of the tablets gives Quist, and therefore us all, at once greater insight into undisclosed secrets only revealed to Moses in his meetings with God. Indiana Jones could only speculate respectfully, but Quinten Quist manages to discover the whereabouts of this reactor nucleus of the nuclear reactor ( -non -1est -in - toto - sanctior - orbe - locus - and to open the cassette by means of a simple letter combination (-j - h - w - h). It contains an oblong, dark-coloured, almost black stone (...), but a lighter stone than you would have expected.

The stone tablets rediscovered! Quist, the hero from Heaven, literally gets hold of the tablets, brings them back to Jerusalem and thus experiences the euphoria which befalls a mere mortal at the sight of the original stone tablets. This shows that the accompanying ecstasy mainly derives from a Piranesk architectural, typically gnostic sophistication. What Teilhard gathered from this, to him so important, stone after he had rubbed off the dust, must therefore have been something similar. Magic spaces, virtual corridors, shapes lighting up and finally a vanishing into an allegorical, in fact undescribable, space. This must have been the sphere of knowledge for which Teilhard was exiled deep into the Gobi desert to prevent him from endangering the church.


Several of the films brought out this season in Silicon Hollywood focus very explicitly on technognostics. In the film of the same name, the fascistoid Judge Dredd (I never broke the law. I am the law) embodies the false god JHWH. Sylvester Stallone is the personification of the vindictiveness of all that is good in Mega City One, when, as Judge Dredd, he imposes his will on the world with his dna-coded, voice-activated machine gun and his Law Master Cycle – a flying motor bike. In Johnny Mnemonic, a film based on a story by William Gibson, Dolph Lundgren is a priest who, as a false God and antichrist, chases the body of Keanu Reeves, which has been modified by chips and dna-experiments. Ric in Judge Dredd and Johnny Mnemonic himself are the poor souls whose memories have been replaced and whose role it is to play the living target to an avenging authority. These modern versions of the age-old gnostic theatre of the memory – to which Schwarzenegger also belonged in Total Recall – seem to allude to the real practice of the legendary Dr. Cameron from Montreal, who removed parts of the memory of his patients. But of course, above all they are the first practical applications of the theories of the labyrinthine Memory Theatre in the digital era. Without really jeopardising your eyesight, you can read the mnemonic manifestos from the Renaissance as an accompaniment. Whether it is the Priest, modelled on Albrecht Dürer's Portrait of Christ and decorated by stigmata, reading Marat/Sade on his honeymoon, or the satanic figure of Judge Dredd, we know that we have lost sight of the old dividing-line between good and evil.

In Batman Forever, in which Gotham City, the ultimate technognostic city, comes alive again with Catwoman and Batman as black angels, the technognostic angle is clear once more. The iconography of the city is that of the darkest melancholy, an urban nightmare. Darkness reigns, outside and in the sewers, against a gnostic background where black is not black if it can mean white. And where the bat does not stand for fear but rather for rescue. This is the home of those born under the sign of Saturn. Such as Jim Carey as Riddler, drifting along the peaks of the Gothic city, who is governed by the stars and moves like a genius in his melancholic madness. More than the civilised Batman himself, he represents a typifying super-ego, a neurotic suffering from black bile. Since Ficino we have known that a melancholic disposition, already mentioned by Aristotle – and just as fiercely denounced by the Church as depression, epilepsy, lethargy or Platonic mania – must be the hallmark of true art.


Robert Longo, director of Johnny Mnemonic, believes in the Rosetta Stone rather than in the computer as the starting point for his cyberpunk. Even theology as represented by Teilhard cannot do without an all-encompassing philosopher's stone. As a revelation of what was etched and chiselled into it, but at the same time as evidence of what cannot be mentioned. Those who have held the stone know that there is more to unravel than man can grasp. The editorship of written wisdom is in the hands of the official church authorities, whereas the unwritten secrets must be exploited by gnostic mysticism.

Of course, the software used is not bound to the existing rules. The poetics of the Stone Tablets make their own rules, and the apologists of the stones are among the more wilful of their kind. Quist lives in a spiritual world where the symbolism of the codes used is more important than their practical value. Neither Gibson nor Longo are interested in the grammar of software codes. Gibson operates in HyperSpace, Longo in ArtistSpace, which means that when you think of computers, Nam June Paik's artefacts spring to mind. Johnny Mnemonic, the film, in fact includes a vast amount of persiflating lowtech equipment operated by punk anarchists with crossbows and ice hooks. (The touchstone of their cooperation would of course be the cinema version of Gibson's Neuromancer. Much too late, but never too late, and we must hope that it would not be the only attempt, so that we can observe the integration of Hollywood and Silicon Valley time and again. However, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is in fact an adequate cinema version, with Rutger Hauer as Case, still in Hollywood-golem outfit, or even Godard's Alphaville, in which Eddie Constantine takes on the perfect dna-Silicon disguise of Case. The ultimate digital body, undistinguishable from an old-fashioned real body. Cinematic kinematics which only by the use of sunglasses, or some kind of tic, betrays Case's characteristics.)

Teilhard was not interested in the prevailing scientific standard. In his eyes, his science was of course of a higher order which exceeded the vulgarity of the existing world. But the mythical dimensions of his reputation are of course much more important. Now that the dna in protein chains will soon be programmed as a digital code, and chemical reactions will take care of digital calculations, and, through these biochemical analyses, we will indeed return to the laboratories of the alchemists, Teilhard's secret language enjoys a renaissance. The secret of the philosopher's stone incorporated into the net. It is a beautiful coincidence, to which Teilhard owes his cast-iron reputation. This lone wolf, rejected by the Church (and, for that matter, by the entire philosophical community), whom McLuhan had already mentioned as the prime witness, celebrates his triumph as the cornerstone of the multimedia sphere.

translation OLIVIER & WYLIE