Daydreaming: Radiohead's Liminal Slipstream

Originally published at ERIS mag:

Well, I use "slipstream" loosely here, jumping from the medium of literature to music and film. Bruce Sterling coined this term for science fiction, saying it was the kind of writing that makes you feel weird. (1) Radiohead's new music video, "Daydreaming" certainly achieved that.

Stepping from room to room like they're magical doorways, Thom Yorke makes his way across a multitudinous dreamscape; like some slip-streamer of the unconscious, he strolls—casual, inquisitive, blissful, frenetic but always assured—through many different rooms, houses, apartments, laundromats. No one seems to notice him. Hauntingly, melodically he sings: "Dreamers, they never learn...and it's too late, the damage is done." Floating from doorway-through-doorway into the busy scenes across the planet, perhaps he achieves this wandering through an act of dream-walking, "daydreaming." As James Joyce might remark, this short film would certainly "suit the esthetic of a dream, where the forms prolong and multiply themselves." (2)

Then there is the cave. Thom Yorke ends his liminal world spelunking in an icy cavern of sorts. Up a mountain. He rests his head and mumbles—the audio in reverse—as he closes his eyes, ending the video. What was he doing? Was this all a day-dream by one, enigmatic musician?

Here, the man sleeps in a cave, reminiscent of ancient Lascaux—that "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (3)—beholden to all the happenings of the globe, all the dreaming that is life like some galavanted stream-of-consciousness, an electronic Finnegan's Wake through its "reconstruction of nocturnal life." In that state of consciousness, which slips between wakefulness and deep sleep, we are privy to hidden things. We might even become all things, minding the minutia of occluded memory and meaning. Doorways, passages, lives spun out like dreams interconnecting themselves in the planetary sphere. "Here comes everybody." And here he is, climbing into the cave, enveloped by fire and darkness. Is this the primal point? The point of no return, the origins of consciousness, where dreams broke forth into the world. That eruption of "nocturnal life" that makes our species what it truly is: dreamers. It's too late, the damage is done. The dreamers have been unleashed into the world and yet, even as we have so tentatively and anxiously placed our future in the tremendous jeopardy of the Anthropocene—the mystery is being us. This is a song of ourselves, but also: "this goes beyond you, beyond me." As all art truly does.

1)  Sterling, Bruce (July 1989). "CATSCAN 5: Slipstream". SF Eye. No. 5: https://w2.eff.org/Misc/Publications/Bruce_Sterling/Catscan_columns/catscan.05

2) Ellmann, Richard (1983). James Joyce. Oxford University Press, 1959, revised edition 1983.

3) IMDB, for the curious. Turn off your lights and watch this in the dark.