The Infinite Hallway (Fate vs Free Will)

  1. We are biologically alive and
  2. We are mentally conscious of this fact which
  3. Allows free will.

Yes, when analyzed, we are but a whirlwind of quarks bouncing upon quantum foam.  We have no knowledge of why quarks behave the way they do – it is intrinsically random.  If we were self-aware of every aspect that makes up who we are as a biologically living, mentally conscious, “free” individual, we would see the foundations of our thought processes are sealed in that of unexplainable synchronicities.  We are not those fractals.  Beyond a base level, do these constraints matter?  Do you first look at the top of a skyscraper, or do you analyze its foundation?  The answer is obvious – in every practical consideration of the term, we have free will.  Yes, there are societal constructs (these are breaking) and there are physical constructs.  However, even though we have no control of the rules in life, it is ultimately up to us how we play (or if we play).

Free will is embraced in optimism, while pessimism takes logical refuge in fate.  Both pessimists/optimists stand in the same hallway, with billions of doors to explore.  The pessimist realizes there are multiple floors and that only one door (which may not even exist) holds access to exploring the other hallways.  This mindset is intensified with the realization that there are also multiple buildings containing even more hallways, all contained within multiple cities, found on multiple planets, etc. etc.  The pessimist focuses on the repetition of constantly exploring the same hallway over and over again; creating a mindset revolving around life’s limitations and the “cruel fate” we have been subjected to.

The context of what’s behind each door is ever-changing.  Those who believe in fate see the limitations and recognize that life plays out like an experiment in a laboratory.  Replace the rodent and the maze with a human and the aforementioned infinite hallway.  The point?  How long before we run out of curiosity?  How long do our most intense moments of discovery last?  How long before the desire to free ourselves from ignorance becomes too repetitious and we grow weary of constantly opening new doors?

The optimist does not focus on this heavy realization.  Yes, while aware of our limited potential, free will ultimately understands that without this existential suffering, we could never experience the revitalization felt when discovering something truly holy, sacred, revolutionary or loving.  The mindset which embraces free will shall walk the hallway and admire its never-ending layers in silenced awe, never bothering to worry about an upstairs or a downstairs floor.

The optimist lives for the next moment; every moment like a lottery in which one picks their own numbers and draws them from a spinning pot.  Being that the ink is abrasive and easy to detect, with enough concentration, the optimist hopes to pull only the numbers found upon their own ticket.  This process of matching and selecting the best of life’s randomness continues until they have found themselves entirely and intentionally lost in plain sight; dancing in the realization of infinite potential and ever thankful for the experience.

This experience is the same experience which pessimism (and fate’s mindset) views as a cold and unrelenting experiment – all for the amusement of some distant observer.  Free will sees the observer as the true experiment.  This mindset finds freedom through transcendence of the boundaries; finding never-ending space and place to rest and contemplate.  The optimist knows that if the question is being thrown toward us (How long before we stop caring about finding novelty?) that an observer is awaiting an answer.  The joy and lifeblood of any optimistic mindset comes from the loving feeling of wanting to live up to human potential and being gracious to have even had the chance.  As this is an extended metaphor, the observer of this experiment and the one within the experiment of conscious (but limited) life are but the same person.

As children, the world is novel and even tragic moments come with the ecstasy of a truly new experience!  Fate says we are confined to search for novelty until we grow tired of the never-ending futile quest, but if we are confined and conscious, we will always have free choices to make.  Moments of shared transcendence continuously occur in reaction to progressive culture.  This essentially proves that when faced with the challenge to explore a billion doors or give up and become self-destructive (escapism), collectively, we have chosen to explore.

Fate and free will, optimism and pessimism – these are both sides of the same coin.  We are whole and feel different from day to day, inexplicably, like quarks (the foundation of our experience).  Today I am an optimist and tomorrow I will no doubt face thoughts of purposelessness.  The point is not that we “contradict” yesterday’s mantra in today’s actions, or that we can detect patterns of disappointment.  The truth is we do have the capacity to listen.  With this capacity comes potential for a love of life, that which goes beyond positive/negative thinking and that which is for transcendent purpose – to embrace every perspective, to attempt to empathize and to share our findings with any open ear.

A final thought:

If given immortality and omnipresent wisdom from birth, what would be the motivation to explore the hypothetical hallway, if one knew what was behind every door?  Knowledge of surroundings would not necessarily indicate transcendence from fate and if anything, it would lead to a desire to create an experiment the likes of which we now find ourselves metaphorically within.  From this perspective, it would appear that we are freer as mice in a maze, than the observers themselves.  It becomes obvious how true free will does not only occur when one is free of responsibility, but as an embraceable mindset possible in any circumstance.

Lyrical Analysis: “Accordion” by Madvillain (MF DOOM + Madlib)

The lyrics can be found here.  Here is the official music video:

Daniel Dumile channels various traits of his personality into several characters.  One character, Viktor Vaughn, embraces a youthful, ambitious side of Dumile.  Another, King Geedorah, represents a colossal alien who commentates on humanity from an objective view-point.  On 2004’s Madvillainy LP, Dumile teamed with Madlib to create a character known to many as “Madvillain” (also referred to as “The Villain”/”Villain” on the recording), and it is in this character why so many have flocked to Dumile’s provocative flow.

In the opening statement of Madvillainy, “Accordion”, we have a chance to meet Madvillain — or at least, we hear a testament to his greatness.  What differentiates Dumile’s braggadocio from his contemporaries is in the nature of said testimony.  The opening narration, “Living off borrowed time the clock tick faster” is entirely detached from the rest of the verse.  The line vaguely contemplates upon the notion of time before sparking inspiration from an observer of said narration.  This is the masked man who tells the tales of the legendary Madvillain — MF DOOM.

Think of MF DOOM, in the context of “Accordion”, as a street poet or preacher upon a soapbox, dazzling the audience with hyperbole-ridden tales of a legend (Madvillain) whom is not even physically present (and indeed, artistically, Dumile literally hides “Madvillain” behind MF DOOM’s mask).  The very next line which follows the opening narration is spoken matter-of-factly, responding to the omniscient narration, as if one was reading a newspaper and remarking indifferently: “that’ll be the hour they knock the sick blaster“.

This line, as soon seen, starts a stream-of-consciousness description of Madvillain as a character.  The reason why this lyricism inspires such originality and thought within the listener is because Daniel Dumile is not the one boasting about Madvillain (at least, directly).  Instead, what Dumile does is create a third-person narrative, using what amounts to a street preacher (MF DOOM) to describe a main character (Madvillain) which personifies certain elements of a real personality (Daniel Dumile).

While “Accordion” is riddled with interpretive poetry, arguably four of the strongest lines are found in the following verse:

Keep your glory gold and glitter
For half, half of his n***** will take him out the picture
The other half is rich and it don’t mean s***-a
Villain a mixture of both with a twist of liquor

In these four lines, Dumile, as MF DOOM, describes Madvillain as someone who is unaffected by promises of monetary gain and illusionary, ‘glittering’ successes.  In the second and third lines, we learn of his rationality for this mindset.  While these lines strike hard just for the discussed content, the final line pulls together the reason why the audience is so captivated by “Accordion”.  “Villain a mixture of both…” is self-loathing and self-inspiring all at once, admitting that Madvillain, as a character (and thus, part of Daniel Dumile), embraces both extremes — “with a twist of liquor”.

While “MF DOOM” is telling of the “Madvillain” character/legend, the fourth line (“Villain a mixture…“) carries the same sort of off-handedness which follows up “Living off borrowed time…” — the opening line of the song.  This alludes a light-hearted glimpse into the actual character of “MF DOOM” (the street-corner poet/preacher), indirectly suggesting the characters within the world of “Madvillainy” see themselves as Madvillain.  Therefore, they view him in a heroic light, and not with the same villainous bent as most of the populous.

See RapGenius’ entry on “Accordion” for a line-by-line interpretation.

Interpretations of the “Monolith” (2001: A Space Odyssey)

The marbled monolith represented exactly what it was — a massive slab of obviousness.  It was something that could not be ignored if one was consciously present within the room.  However, it represented something more.  It hypothetically put forward how we evolved from apes to humans, as despite it being so obvious, one does have to be consciously aware to detect a change in one’s environment — to detect a spontaneous black slab that appears out of nowhere.  What I think Kubrick may have been illustrating was how we transitioned from a lesser state of awareness and into something more.  The apes saw the world from a primal and survival-based intelligence level.  Then, one day, they saw something in a way which they could not describe.  It captivated them in a manner which superseded all that in the background.  The apes had their first intelligently conscious moment.  The black slab was so sudden and so out-of-nowhere, that there was no way to not perceive it with intense reactional response, elevating one’s self from a lower conscious level to ultimately realize human potential.  The apes realize that one can use objects as weapons and begin to interact with the world in an evolutionary manner.  Kubrick was describing the birth of conscious intelligent life.

Just as the apes, the bones-as-a-weapon realization and the rocky, wild and unconquered landscape acted as an allegory for where conscious awareness found itself, the ending “room” is the same.  We see a fully civilized, cultured man surrounded by a pleasant bright white light in an ordered and structured room.   Whereas before the sun was the only source of light, now the source is fluorescent and man-made.  The world in which the apes found themselves was completely out of their control and foreign, whereas the room the ‘futureman’ finds himself within is completely of his (in the species sense) own creation and understanding.

Just as before, this man sees a black slab appear out of nowhere.  He chases it around the room and finds himself getting older and older in the very process.  As with the apes (‘dawn of man’), the black slab represents something in which to call attention to and inspire evolutionary reaction.  However, as a being already evolved, it is perplexing to understand its context in this room.  The man is chasing the meaning to his own human life, representing the human species as a whole.  His drive and inspiration is personified as a cold, impersonal metallic slab.  The futureman is chasing this until he dies, but with every realization, he finds himself ending up at a goal, with no memory of how he got there.  His only memory is standing at his previous position, looking out at the end-goal.  He then finds himself at the end-goal, only to not have actually ended anything.  Ironically, he finds himself once again on the chase, immediately focusing on the end-goal, until his physical body runs out of life — the entire process fueled by the monolith.  Yet even on his deathbed, at the very last moment, with his very last ounce of strength, the futureman sees this black slab once more and MUST reach out to it.  He is determined despite knowing that there’s no way he can possibly do such a thing, as he is confined to his bed and limited by his old age.  However, he must reach the end-goal and is always searching for an answer that simply cannot be reached.

This man represents what we are as a human species at the present moment — 1% away from complete control but somehow we still find ourselves unable to reach this remaining percentage.  Kubrick’s only explanation is indirect, as he eventually zooms into the black slab and transitions into space.  We live on earth and we look at space, a massive beautiful black slab, and it drives us.  Space isn’t the actual root drive of humanity; it just represents something that makes us realize our own subjectivity and scale.  It represents something so massive and so incomprehensible — its existence is a symbol for human ambition.  Like the black slab, space is unexplainable, yet we must understand and decode its mystery.  As illustrated in the final room, though, we see how the pursuit will kill us.  It is only in our last moment in which we will ever feel complete, as death is the only end-goal that can be reached with complete satisfaction.  Upon death, we go once again back into the chaotic world which we so often, in life, pretended did not exist.  We are so afraid of the unknown, that just to live we have to build white rooms of cutting edge architecture to hide us from the scary black space.  This space, like the monolith, represents the majority of existence which we do not have wrapped around our finger.  We hide from chaos and disorder, but it always exists.  Death exists, space exists and everything beyond our perspective exists and it is out of our control.  As the apes did in the beginning of the film, we go insane at these realizations — just as the futureman drove himself to death in pursuit of an explanation for what is inherently unexplainable and chaotic.  All perceived order is nothing but one flower in a field of trillions of weeds which are slowly creeping in on our shell of artificial order.

An Alternative Interpretation

The final scene could also be viewed as Kubrick’s interpretation of death, post-existence and post-humanity.  The starchild symbolizes the final peaceful understanding felt just before passing after a lifetime of seemingly futile pursuit.  The last scene shows this starchild looking over the earth and it is here where the individual starchild transitions into a metaphor for the human species.  We see the starchild looking over the earth in a contemplative and honorable manner.  If you could replace the earth with “a lifetime of personal memories” and the starchild with “someone passing away”, the intention would be exactly the same.  Instead, the final scene depicts the personification of the perfect human looking back upon the earth and thinking upon how far man has come.  In this state, one can only observe in reserved tranquility rather than act.  For a perfect, fully-realized species, this is the ultimate heaven — to look back on the source of our life, the earth, and marvel at how far we have come.  In this light, the ending is a love letter for the human species of the future.  We see a peaceful, beautiful, golden and intelligent fetus rather than something wrought with flaws.  Despite the journey, despite the chaos that once so defined humanity and the desire to understand everything, we float in peace at the finish line with nothing to do but bask in the odyssey of our achievement.

Lyrical Analysis: “Bizness” by Tune-Yards

The lyrics are found here.  Here is the official music video:

“Don’t take my life away / Don’t take my life away”

The manner in which she sings this, rapidly and frantic, suggests that this song may work best if you take the lyrics on a literal level before analyzing interpretatively.  In the main chorus of the song, it sounds as if Garbus is describing a mugging.  From the opening line (“What’s the business?“) asking just what the hell is happening, to the realization that the mugger is moving closer (“From a distance“) finally to the attempt to try to empathize with her perpetrator (“I’m a victim!” / “I’m addicted!“) It all paints a very visual picture.  The intensity of this image obvious increases with every repeated plea (“Don’t take my life away!“).

WhoKill as an album seems to deal with similar subject matter upon the surface, and then on a deeper level one can interpret these things to act as metaphors for more intimate personal issues and insecurities expressed in song.  If you look at the opening verse in this same “Mugger” mindset, you can see how well it fits with just about every line.  The opening, in particular, makes much more sense on a surface level when analyzed from this perspective:

“If I represent the one that did this to you / Then can away the part that represents the thing that scarred you”

It seems to be an extended plea intended to be said to the mugger, only to be mentally pondered.  Muggers obviously don’t personalize or discriminate in terms of the individual; though if they are robbing you chances are you have a look of wealth or content.  She rationalizes, “If you are mugging me because I look like everything you aren’t and desire to be (in terms of wealth), then you need to get over whatever it is that personally traumatized you.”  Such a powerful, opening line.  Obviously, we are starting to see the deeper intentions of the song.

Immediately after this declaration of “Fix yourself before you hurt me”, she declares (“Get up / Stand up / Get on it!“) both the listener and herself to defend against the situation as to change the outcome (“I am no longer who you thought this one would be“).  A victim can be mugged, but a victim in self-defense is not such an easy target.

After this confidence boosting declaration, it’s revealed that she (as a victim) still ends up running into this mugger once more (“We end up around the mountain that I climb to lose you“) and despite how bold she was just moments before, meeting this mugger causes her to enter a state of shock (“Ask me, Tell me / but all my wisdom departed“).  Finally we enter in the main chorus, the confrontation, where all she can ask is “What the hell is going on / How did I get here / Don’t take my life away / I’m just like you!”

This entire time we have seen how simply the song reads in a literal manner, but it’s during the third verse where we start to realize that the song works much more beautifully on a symbolic level.  Regardless, finishing up the mugger theme, the victim in the song tries one final plea.  She states how “I’ll bleed if you ask me”, and we see how the mugger’s response is a simple “No” (“That’s when he said no“) before we enter back into the confrontational chorus once more.  I’d like to point out that the song ends asking the question “What’s the business?” repeatedly, as if Garbus is restating her disbelief of the entire situation.

Obviously, you can replace the whole Mugger / Victim theme with many concepts and interpretations, but what will remain consistent is the general narrative between the two parties.  If you go for the relationship-route, the song becomes a symbolic tale of frustration between two would-be lovers.  I see it as someone meeting someone who has been hurt in a prior relationship, so badly, that they see all of that heartbreak in every new person they meet, including the protagonist of the song.

This is very similar in subject matter to the song “Abducted” by Cults (I analyzed this here), the major difference is that Garbus is attempting a solution to the problem, whereas Cults focused on the sad cyclical nature of the whole thing.  The first verse then declares the protagonist of the song to be their own individual and not connected to any horrific past relationships.  The second verse reveals how the protagonist of the song does NOT enter into the relationship (“The mountain that I climb to lose you“), but ends up meeting this person again in life anyways (“We end up around the mountain“), this time demanding why things can’t work out (“Answer me this!“).  At the same time, there is a realization that no one wants to throw their time away with someone who is just going to hurt them (“Don’t take my life away“), so the protagonist is repeatedly asking in the chorus “What’s the business” — what hurt you before/are you ready for this/I don’t want to be hurt — before finally revealing she does fall in love (“I’m addicted yeah!“).

Writing this, I see a plethora of abstract and less direct ways (ex- an internal dialogue) of looking at this song from several perspectives, but the two general interpretations I’ve provided do indicate that the song is a song about frustration stemming from misunderstanding and miscommunication.  The protagonist attempts to overcome this (in whatever the medium is which the frustration is occurring, depending on personal interpretation), and in the end she finds herself addicted.  The real question, is to what?  To heartbreak?  To falling in love with those who are scarred?  The song’s brilliance lies in how many windows it can be seen through, and I hope my interpretation has provided some insight into whatever your personal interpretation of the song happens to be.