Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Symbols and Signs

Via. Rebel News

How can we decrease the commodification of these empty signifiers? We can continue to build spaces, both virtual and material, that can be utilized by people who share common goals. We can continue to evolve as people and avoid over-identification with easy to replicate symbols of identity. Our interests and digital footprint aren’t who we are. We mustn’t let the map of our identities — personal or social — become the territory. But the border skirmishes on that map are never ending.


This is far from easy. Products themselves have become secondary, as symbols have overtaken the things they symbolized. Fight Club parodied this tendency as the “Ikea nesting impulse.” This is a challenge of modern life, but it’s hardly a singular observation. Guy Debord’sSociety of The Spectacle, now a standard text amongst neo-Marxists and counterculturists alike, deals with this matter in nearly aphoristic style,
The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.
We live in a culture where appearances count for a lot more than reality, and so it is little surprise that we may have a hard time actually making this distinction. We are what we seem. When Ludwig Feuerbach wrote the introduction to the 2nd edition of his The Essence of Christianity, he was speaking to Hegel and Marx’s world, the rapidly industrializing 19th century. But he may as well have been speaking of the present,
But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence … illusion only is sacred, truth profane.
Symbols of success matters more than the things they represent. The symbol becomes the value, rather than the thing signified. The sports car, the expensive watch, the designer suit are all, from a utilitarian perspective, equally or even less valuable than items half their cost. Though luxury items such as these are said to cost more because of increased craftsmanship – which may well be true – the customer is still buying them because they are symbols of wealth and success. To have either of these on their own is not enough; the symbols are of greater value. We are performing wealth at one another. Though this seems harmless enough in itself, a common indulgence of the upper class, it is the same mis-match of value (weighing the symbol over what is represented) that characterizes the ennui of our lives. Nihilist Arby’s quite simply wouldn’t make sense as a joke if we didn’t grasp this on an implicit level.

  Read Full Article for Glorious Revolutions series.  

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Creative Relation of Whole and Part

The following article is by Philip Franses, Senior Lecturer at Schumacher College, who has for seven years been co-holding and teaching the Holistic Science Masters Programme. This piece encapsulates in a simple way the essence of what Holistic Science for him is about, not always an easy thing to articulate, and also inquires into some of its implications for the relation of science and faith.

It serves as an introduction to the book Time, Light and the Dice of Creation, which is a journey of the encounter of spirit through the stories of science. The book is coming out on October 22nd with Floris Books.

Part 1: The Dance

Creative novelty

Our starting point is a simple shift in the relation of whole to parts. Normally we imagine the whole as something already there and the parts as the logical constituents. This article follows a long tradition, where the whole comes into being through the part; and the part is representative of the whole. The whole and the part are in a dynamic interaction. There is no whole without the part, and no part without the whole. The relation of parts to the whole inhabits the novel, which is thereby given the means of expression.

Circular definition

One of the dilemmas is that of circular definition where we define the whole through the parts and the parts through the whole. Immediately there is a problem in this circular definition. Do we start with the whole and get to the parts and then go back to the whole? Or do we start with the part and through this get to the whole? We seem to find that the dynamic of whole and part is illogical. We need another approach before we can deal with this circular definition.

That which is not yet set

The approach requires an attitude of that which is not yet set. This could also be described as something emerging, or about to emerge; still undefined; not yet categorised, fixed or compartmentalised.

The Rebel Commodity

Digital painting based on street art by Trondheim. 

longform editorial over at Rebel News asks if it's actually possible to work against the Man if you are also working for him? 

Let’s talk about being a rebel. Everyone seems to want to be one. But it’s not entirely clear what it means. Does it take camo- pants? A Che T-shirt? A guitar? Is it just doing the opposite of whatever your parents did? “Be an individual, a rebel, innovate,” so many advertisements whisper. They’d have us believe that True Revolutionaries think different. They use Apple, or drink Coke. We signal our dissent to one another with the music we listen to and the cars we drive. 
There’s something very peculiar going on here, something elusive and deeply contentious. 
In the 1997 book, Commodify Your DissentThomas Frank laid out a thesis that may appear common sense to those that have watched or lived in the commodified subcultures of the 90s, 00s, and beyond. A New York Times review comments, 
... business culture and the counterculture today are essentially one and the same thing. Corporations cleverly employ the slogans and imagery of rebellion to market their products, thereby (a) seizing a language that ever connotes “new” and “different,” two key words in marketing, and (b) coaxing the young effortlessly into the capitalist order, where they will be so content with the stylishly packaged and annually updated goods signifying nonconformity they'll never so much as consider real dissent — dissent against what Frank sees as the concentrated economic power of the “Culture Trust,” those telecommunications and entertainment giants who, he believes, “fabricate the materials with which the world thinks.” To have suffered the calculated pseudo-transgressions of Madonna or Calvin Klein, to have winced at the Nike commercial in which the Beatles' “Revolution” serves as a jingle, is to sense Frank is on to something. (After reading Frank, in fact, you'll have a hard time using words like “revolution” or “rebel” ever again, at least without quotation marks.) 
The urge to rebel fuels the same system they ostensibly oppose. Whether it’s in arms trade, or far less ominously, manners of dress and behavior, there are dollars to be made fighting “The Man.” And maybe making money isn’t always an altogether bad thing. But it is certainly a complication, especially for those espousing neo-Marxists ideals. 
As Guy Debord observed, “revolutionary theory is now the enemy of all revolutionary ideology and knows it.” Rebel movements are a counterculture, regardless of what they call themselves.
(This series will expand upon several earlier pieces I first ran here on the Modern Mythology blog.)

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Friday, September 04, 2015

Glorious Revolutions Part 2: Propaganda is the Editorial of the Masses

The Long March As Parable

With revolution still on our lips as we continue into the 21st century, it’s worth considering how rarely revolutions have worked in the benefit of the people on the ground.
Let’s consider an example from the previous century.  When Mao Zedong left Jiangxi province in 1934, he wasn’t yet the Chairman of legend. He was tall, thin from the life of a revolutionary, but already inspired a reverence in many of his idealistic followers. This was true, at least for a time, of his lover, He Zizhen. She bore him several children, and was forced to abandon more than one in the long march with the 1st Front Red Army to Shaanxi. They were fighting against the dynastic system on one hand, and the KMT on the other, who represented a mostly urban, classist alternative. They were fighting for the common people, and theirs was a just fight.
Or so they thought. In reality, few came out ahead after the long, soul crushing trek, aside from the figures history remembers, like Mao.
Women of the Long March, by Lily Xiao Hong Lee and Sue Wiles, paints the often bleak picture of the idealism and betrayal of these thirty individuals who, we are led to believe, are indicative of a generation. In the case of all these women, the dedication they felt toward the cause was hardened as much by material need and frustration with the status quo.
It was during this march that Mao was established as the revolution’s leader. Red Army soldiers starved, women were frequently abandoned unless they had attachments to important people, having guanxi, (connections.) Even this only went so far. He Zizhen was seduced and then quickly marginalized by Mao, but still had what was likely an atypical experience based on her relationship with the ascending leader.
Throughout their journey, which under his guidance was narrativized from a retreat into an inspiring odyssey, she had been nothing more than an occasional shadowy presence. While he became a demigod, she suffered physical and emotional devastation.
It would be reasonable to assume, for it is not recorded, that 25-year-old He Zizhen was not there to share Mao’s grand gesture toward history when he sat down at his rickety desk in Wayaobu to write a poem of celebration.
The Red Army fears not the trials of the Long March, one thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers. The Five Ridges but gentle ripples… Laughter in the thousand li of Minshan’s snows and smiling faces when the last pass is crossed.
There is always a danger in turning any individual life into parable or myth, but in a sense we can’t help it. Stories are how we understand the world. We must remain aware that narrative always conceals as well as it reveals, and often both at the same time. So the tale of He Zizhen and the other women that marched out of Southern China is nevertheless instructive, even if a totalising interpretation remains elusive. Were they, in the final reckoning, “brainwashed and suffering in silence,” after all? This is one of the challenges of coming to terms with history.

Read the Full Article

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Satan Never Tempted Me - A brief digital history of an odd little tune

“Ol' Enoch he lived to be three-hundred and sixty-five when the Lord came down and took him up to heaven alive. .” - Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Dry Bones

There is an old song recorded by the folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928 under the title Dry Bones (Click Here to hear the song via, I draw your attention to it due to the fact that it has rather odd lyrics for what seems to be an ordinary folk hymn. The lyrics of the last verse in this recording are odd enough that the Wikipedia entry on the song actually omits them in favor of an alternate version found on the webpage of contemporary folk singer Judy Cook.

The song begins without any controversy, yet after a few brief verses recounting the story of Enoch’s translation into heaven, Paul’s escape from prison, Moses and the burning bush, and Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming to life, Lunsford intones an eerie concluding verse that takes us back to the temptation in the Garden of Eden:

Adam and Eve in the Garden, under that Sycamore tree, Eve said to Adam, Satan never tempted me. I saw, I saw the light from Heaven shining all around. I saw the light come shining, I saw the light come down.”

In Cook’s version she changes Eve’s statement to the more orthodox - “Adam, Old Satan is a’tempting me.” Although Cook discovered the song via Lunsford’s recording, the version she uses changes the last verse to fit a rendering of the subject that balances with the standard Christian reading. Ironically Lunsford was known to alter and omit lines himself when he felt that they were too risqué for the educated Appalachian ‘hillbilly’ persona that he cultivated in his performances. The fact that this verse was included in his song means that they did not strike a particularly off chord with him. It's interesting to note that the description of the song on does the same alteration as the Wikipedia entry and quotes the verse that Cook uses rather than Lunsford's clear singing of "Satan never tempted me" in the recording.

On her web-page where the altered lyrics of her version are found she includes some history on Lunsford’s recording saying that ‘he first heard (the song)…from a traveling Black preacher named Romney who came through western North Carolina.’

Lunsford was a lawyer in professional life and a careful folklorist, the idea that he might have mistaken the controversial last verse seems unlikely and it proves to be much more fruitful if we return to the previous examples and examine what underlying theme connects all of these familiar Biblical stories and ties them together with this strange rethinking of the story of the Fall.  The answer is surprising considering the source – the theme is gnostic revelation, not the mixed bag of heretical doctrines that so inflamed the early Christian church, rather it is gnosis in its technical sense, that of a direct and intimate revelation of the Divine source. It’s a different sort of heresy, the kind that got Jesus nailed to a cross.

It also appears to be the kind of heresy that causes innumerable sources to innocently skew the lyrical content of a simple folk song without recognizing that they are damaging the oral transmission of a very potent spiritual teaching.  This simple little tune contains within it a key that opens up the Biblical narrative in a way that centuries of scholarly theological speculation, academic acrobatics and comparative analysis has failed to do – and it came from an itinerant evangelist passing through North Carolina in the early 20th century.

I can’t take any credit for discovering Lunsford’s recording, it was a link to the piece on and a brief note from the contemplative mystic David Chaim Smith that lead me to it. He said quite simply – “This song has a very esoteric meaning if you understand the implications.” Mercifully Smith’s book The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis, now in its second edition thanks to Inner Traditions, helps illuminate the issue:
“The serpent is called “Nachash,” which has a numerical value of 358. This number shares gematria with the word “moshiach” (messiah). This suggests that the same power that can awaken the hearts of human beings can also cause confusion and antagonism. Creative tension is such a power. If its essential nature is recognized, then gnosis can be realized. However, if conventional fixation habitually contracts the brilliance of Ain Sof, then endless grasping will continually usurp creativity to manifest endless egoic nightmare scenarios. Life is what mind produces, and its habits determine the manner in which it will manifest. Thus the power of creativity inherent in the serpent stands at the cusp of discernment between the two trees in the garden and the two paths they represent.”
Smith’s book focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis, however, as we can see from the song and his explanation of the term nachash the implications of these teachings stretch throughout the Old and New Testament. In the introduction he indicates how exceptional the mystery implied by this song truly is when he points out that “hidden within the first three chapters of Genesis rests one of the greatest jewels of Western mystical literature. Proper appreciation of this is rare. For millennia religious literalism has dominated the role of the Bible, imprisoning its subtle inner wisdom within the most coarse and superficial aspects of the narrative.” Those familiar with the writings contained in the Zohar, Sefer Yetzirah and other classic kabbalistic texts will be surprised at the ease in which Smith opens up their seemingly impenetrable mysteries and reveals the Biblical narrative as a powerful source of non-dual contemplative teachings. Those unfamiliar with kabbalah will still be astonished at how the Bible, a text that has become so commonplace and derided in our society, offers them far more insight into gnostic contemplative practice than the material being churned out for the contemporary spiritual market.

So how did a wandering evangelist in North Carolina end up with a folk song that contains a core aspect of one of the deepest contemplative mysteries of the Judeo-Christian tradition? Perhaps he simply “saw the light from Heaven shining all around.” The oral tradition has a living power to it that defies attempts at easy explanation. Suffice to say, after listening to Lunsford’s tune or reading The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis the next time you’re in a hotel room you’ll look at that Gideon’s Bible a bit differently.

Click Here to visit the Inner Traditions website for more information on The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis.

Click Here to visit David Chaim Smith's webpage for more information on his work. 

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Glorious Revolutions Part 1: Lived Again and Again

Tear Down the Wall

I still remember when the Wall fell. November 9, 1989. If you were alive, you remember.
A newscaster on the television, his image warped and tattered by static around the edges, was talking about the end of nuclear threat. It was a revolution of culture, some said. Then President Reagan appeared, and took credit for the fall of Communism.
Revolutions leave an indelible stamp on those lived through them. But how did a falling wall end the Cold War, let alone stanch the tide of violent revolution? This is the kind of rhetoric we are fed. We’re given the pieces to this puzzle, but never told what image they’re supposed to make.
If it wasn’t already painfully obvious in 1986, it certainly is now. No one should have thought that violent uprising was a thing of the past. The legacy of globalization has generally been more revolutions, not fewer. It’s as if, with every generation, we forget the lessons learned by those that came before. This “nightmare of history,” to refer to Joyce’s famous quote, calls to mind several essential questions. Are revolutionaries incapable of hearing the ghosts of the past? Is this forgetting itself the nature of revolutions? Finally, how can we keep others from using our own hopes and ideas against us? These questions are hard to answer, and any analysis is likely to sound irrelevant to those that have lived through the mute horror of violent conflict.
Still, we must wrestle with this legacy if we are to have any hope of freeing ourselves from it. The cycle of loss and vengeance itself is a crucible for revolutionary ideology.

Read the Full Article

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Theater of Ultra-Violence

On last Wednesday, a man approached a couple talking on a patio, a man and a woman. It became apparent that the two were News reporters. How they spoke, the too put-together clothes and makeup all gave it away.  We see the scene in the first person, as if we’re watching Half-life or Call of Duty. This sense is increased when the point of view pulls a guns and fires repeatedly into the bodies of three reporters.
So runs Bryce Williams’ video footage that was discovered on social media minutes after the shooting. Traumatic real world violence, performed for the camera both on live TV and social media. We discovered his account moments before CNN did, so I didn’t know what I would find when I clicked it.
When I saw it,  for a moment, I couldn’t believe it was real. This is a common reaction even in the midst of real violence — somehow the surreal cuts in. But soon I lost myself in my job as an editor — getting the story up, seeing it’s updated, pushing to social media, reacting to the reactions…
Nevertheless, this troubling sense of cognitive dissonance grew through the day. Especially as I heard all the same narratives over and again on CNN that always follow a violent tragedy. When we talk about psychology we are always talking about the killer’s motive. Were they a loner, a disgruntled worker, a jilted lover? But we never hear a dialogue about mass psychology, or about our relationship with violent media that gets past this surface level. We never talk about how we are all a part of this theater.
So, I don’t want to talk directly about what happened yesterday. Instead, I want to explore the related, larger issues in a way that never seems to get on the news. And maybe that’s because it’s too complicated, or that it doesn’t have simple answers. Those aren’t good enough. It’s a conversation we should be having.
Let’s begin not with the violent act itself but in the fall out, and how we talk to each other about traumatizing media.

Full article

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rebel News is live!

The big day is here! is now live and open to the public, and our Kickstarter begins today. The future of our site hangs in the balance over the next 45 days, and we hope you can contribute.

We built Rebel News for one purpose — to bring you substantial, well sourced journalism. News should do more than titillate or enrage. It should connect us, inform us, and educate us. Most of all, news should be actionable. News should make the world better. What better looks like is open to interpretation, but the need for editing, fact-checking, and independence is not.

We get you involved in creating solutions. Anger might drive site traffic, but on its own, it doesn’t do anything. Rebel News will help you go beyond that, and take action. And now, we’ve taken a step closer to that goal. The gates have been opened. The site is live, our Kickstarter and Patreon campaigns have started — we’re in this thing.

Half a year of hard work with an amazing team of people all revealed in one day. Success depending on reaching millions of people. Many products have seen success with this new method of investment, and we’re hoping to be one of them. Are you interested in joining us in this journey?

You Can Help

With your support, we can continue writing the stories that get behind the political and corporate smokescreen. Is it possible to keep the lights on without pandering or being owned by millionaires? We intend to find out.

Back us on Kickstarter to make this happen!

Thank you again for being one of our early supporters. This is a big, scary endeavor, and we wouldn’t have made it this far without the community behind us. Here’s hoping we can make it even further!
- James Curcio & The Rebel News Team

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Blackbirds and Fox Bones – Notes from an imaginal pilgrimage

By David Metcalfe

We that walk at nights, looking after our sheep, see many strange sights, while other men sleep, (from the 2nd Shepherd’s Play, Wakefield Cycle)

Surprise and excitement accompanied a note I received from Phil Legard mentioning that Hawthonn was ready for release.  As a collection of music that he and his wife Layla recorded in honor of Jhonn Balance, a creative soul who has long been a personal inspiration, I’d been eagerly awaiting the album. As a topic of conversation between my roommate and I just minutes before Legard’s email arrived I was surprised that the first digital release of the collection had come at such a coincidental and timely interval. Yet, so it goes when one walks the borderlands of reality and imagination.

With the song of blackbirds and rattle of fox bones Hawthonn opens an invitation to journey through the imaginal landscape of Jhonn Balance’s post-mortem pilgrimage from Worlebury Hill in Weston-Super-Mare to where his ashes were scattered by his lover beneath a Hawthorn tree which sits on the grounds of St. Bega’s church overlooking an inland lake at Bassenthwaite. Ethereal atmospheres of sound and voice draw the listener to the edge of that summerland beyond the veil, where spirit supplants flesh and all time comes together – a place well walked by Balance long before his transition.
If you kill me, I'd have to live forever,
(Jhonn Balance in response to an audience member at a concert in 2004)
Best known for his experimental sound work with Peter Christopherson under the moniker of Coil, Balance is one of the premier visionary artists of the late 20th century.  As a testament to their vision – Coil’s multiphasic amorphous musical assemblage continues as one of the most challenging, primal, and beautiful examples of contemporary sound experimentation by way of “pop music,” despite the passing of both Balance in 2004, and Christopherson in 2010. Hawthonn’s success as a conceptual album can be seen in its eerie evocation of Coil’s underlying themes – ghostly sketches of possibility emerge from these sonic landscapes, a peculiar and specific spirit hovers over the work. Using what can in some sense be described as musical necromancy the Legards have created a series of sound evocations that allow the listener to embark on a mythopoetic voyage beyond the waking world. Diving deeply into the album’s compositional techniques one begins to understand the delicate process which lead to this effective evocation of Balance’s spirit.
Don't believe AE, see for yourself the summer fields. See for yourself the summer fields, before the tractor comes and wakes you, before the cereal is sown, (Beestings, lyrics by Jhonn Balance)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Half of the Literature Is False Science Journalism

The realities of the daily grind don't always mesh well with the necessities of good journalism, let alone good science.


Why A Journalist Scammed The Media Into Spreading Bad Chocolate Science
"He's really only scratching the surface of a much broader, much deeper problem," Schwitzer says. "We have examples of journalists reporting on a study that was never done. We have news releases from medical journals, academic institutions and industry that mislead journalists, who then mislead the public." And the pressure to publish or perish, he says, can lead well-intentioned scientists to frame their work in ways that aren't completely accurate or balanced or supported by the facts.
And this is even more damning, supposing of course that the supposition is correct,
In the past few years more professionals have come forward to share a truth that, for many people, proves difficult to swallow. One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world.
Dr. Horton recently published a statement declaring that a lot of published research is in fact unreliable at best, if not completely false.
“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” (source)
This is quite distrubing, given the fact that all of these studies (which are industry sponsored) are used to develop drugs/vaccines to supposedly help people, train medical staff, educate medical students and more.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Bullying and the Cycle of Abuse

Research suggests my experience isn’t unusual. UC Davis sociologists Robert Faris and Diane Femlee have studied bullying extensively; in a CNN interview, Faris summarized their findings:
"Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status ... It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins or the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things … often, typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors. When kids increase in their status, on average, they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive."
Abuse isn't restricted to one history or narrative. Abuse compounds abuse. That cycle passes from hand to hand and person to person.

Such truisms can be deceptive, but that doesn't make them invalid. For one person it's their childhood trauma, for another, its when their brother was killed by Palestinians. For another it was growing up poor and having a meth addicted mother. Whether you turn around and take it out on someone else or whether it changes you in more subtle ways, you can't help but react to your history with every action you take, and inflict that history on others, maybe even without knowing it. Given how endemic cycles of abuse are, it seems unlikely we can heal all wounds, so long as you have to remain in this world to heal from the world. How do you get the goose out of the bottle? 

More than any of these simple categories, more than even what we think we know about ourselves, our lives are conditioned by the unspoken and the unconscious. Yet there must be some commonality to our experience, for us to be able to even begin to understand one another, so maybe it isn't all shadow and silence.

What can we say? In a statistical sense, certain populations are more systemically fucked than others. No doubt. So understanding may have to begin with these generalities. But it can't remain there, or we're just stereotyping one another in a new way. Do we not want to know other people's stories, because they might contradict what we already think we know about the world? Or is the complexity of difference simply too much for us to comprehend?

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Friday, May 22, 2015



In 2023, Hive (human interface for virtual evolution) is an augmented-reality technology that consolidates an individual's devices and technology into a holographic visual display that is projected from their mind. Millions connect and become a collective consciousness, while The Disconnected are left in its wake; forced to adapt to a primitive lifestyle in the outskirts of Hive cities. Conflict is inevitable, however the reality behind Hive may be even stranger than anyone realized. Propolis follows nine-year-old Samantha Plessis, as she witnesses her family opt-in to beta testing this new product to receive health insurance benefits to treat her immune disorder. Since her disease prevents her from connecting to Hive, she becomes gradually alienated by her family whose method of communication is now changing. Hive is a science-fiction transmedia project told through a series of books, films, social media and real-world interactive events. This six-part novella series is the main narrative. The story takes place from the year 2023 to 2050.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a FactThe Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lifespan of a Fact caught my attention recently, in the course of a number of project-related conversations about truth and journalism. Overall, I would say that it delivers on exactly what it promises: a discussion, sometimes debate, about the nature of literature and fact. The Talmudic formatting is interesting, and allows the conversation to flow around the central text. The only way I think you're liable to be disappointed by this book is if you're looking for any final conclusions. But this is not a subject that can — or should! — have a final conclusion. It is meant to be struggled with.

I think all writers that have worked in "nonfiction" wrestle with this issue — how narratives can't help but manipulate an audience. Literary journalism is kind of inherently manipulative, certainly you can bring out nuances and the complexity of a character, but ultimately you're painting a sympathetic or unsympathetic picture. The closest you can get to the facts would be to read out a list of data points — at this time, according to this source, this thing happened.

The further we stray from that, the more it's didactic. But I think that narrative speaks directly to how we actually engage with the world. We aren't, fundamentally logical creatures, so that "pure fact" approach is actually more alien in some ways than appealing to people through a narrative that you've constructed out of a *particular evaluation* of the facts.

The main issue with full out gonzo journalism is that it was often used to intentionally lie, or use people's ignorance against them. Like when Hunter S. Thompson went after Muskie by making a wild claim about ibogaine, knowing people take the mere suggestion of a possibility, frequently repeated, as fact. We can laugh about that, but I'm not sure there's much difference between that and what Fox News does, except that we might personally agree with Hunter's politics more.

So there's a kind of contradiction here, the understanding that we make sense of our day-to-day world primarily through narrative, that journalism should play to that, and yet on the other hand, recognizing that narratives are inherently misleading, if not outright duplicitous. There are many ways of dealing with this complexity. My inclination is to own a bias, rather than try to cover it up with feints toward "fair and balanced objectivity." But there is no one, or easy solution.

View all my reviews

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Monday, April 27, 2015

Debord on Riots

From Situationist International:
AUGUST 13 - 16, 1965, the blacks of Los Angeles revolted. An incident between traffic police and pedestrians developed into two days of spontaneous riots. Despite increasing reinforcements, the forces of order were unable to regain control of the streets. By the third day the blacks had armed themselves by looting accessible gun stores, enabling them to fire even on police helicopters. It took thousands of police and soldiers, including an entire infantry division supported by tanks, to confine the riot to the Watts area, and several more days of street fighting to finally bring it under control. Stores were massively plundered and many were burned. Official sources listed 32 dead (including 27 blacks), more than 800 wounded and 3000 arrests.
Reactions from all sides were most revealing: a revolutionary event, by bringing existing problems into the open, provokes its opponents into an unhabitual lucidity. Police Chief William Parker, for example, rejected all the major black organizations’ offers of mediation, correctly asserting: “These rioters don’t have any leaders.” 
Since the blacks no longer had any leaders, it was the moment of truth for both sides. What did one of those unemployed leaders, NAACP general secretary Roy Wilkins, have to say? He declared that the riot “should be put down with all necessary force.” And Los Angeles Cardinal McIntyre, who protested loudly, did not protest against the violence of the repression, which one might have supposed the most tactful policy at a time when the Roman Church is modernizing its image; he denounced “this premeditated revolt against the rights of one’s neighbor and against respect for law and order,” calling on Catholics to oppose the looting and “this violence without any apparent justification.” 
And all those who went so far as to recognize the “apparent justifications” of the rage of the Los Angeles blacks (but never their real ones), all the ideologists and “spokesmen” of the vacuous international Left, deplored the irresponsibility, the disorder, the looting (especially the fact that arms and alcohol were the first targets) and the 2000 fires with which the blacks lit up their battle and their ball. 
But who has defended the Los Angeles rioters in the terms they deserve? We will. Let the economists fret over the $27 million lost, and the city planners sigh over one of their most beautiful supermarkets gone up in smoke, and McIntyre blubber over his slain deputy sheriff. Let the sociologists bemoan the absurdity and intoxication of this rebellion. The role of a revolutionary publication is not only to justify the Los Angeles insurgents, but to help elucidate their perspectives, to explain theoretically the truth for which such practical action expresses the search.
Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to their false needs” — needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasing unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. The flames of Watts consummated the system of consumption. The theft of large refrigerators by people with no electricity, or with their electricity cut off, is the best image of the lie of affluence transformed into a truth in play. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Choice of Ants

Caitlin Murphy
I’m sitting, my arms wrapped around my legs, staring at ants crawling to and fro on the pavement. This was once a pastime of mine, when I was a child. When you are a certain indeterminate age, you can do things like spend hours a day watching ants. Eventually there are groundings and girls and grades and abortions and jobs and you pretty much forget altogether about the world that the ants live in. That is, until a moment like now.

If they've missed me over the years, they show no sign of it. Dutiful. Dedicated. Did you know that sometimes they will build a bridge out of their very bodies, drown themselves, just so that others can cross a stream?

Don’t judge. It isn’t the ants themselves that fascinated me, even as a child. It is the scale that they live in, and the truly magical way that they self-organize. I know it isn’t really magic, but we have no other word for it. Magic is what we call things that we don’t understand. (We don’t really understand anything, when you get right down to it, so the truth is that the entire universe is magical. But that’s something else entirely.)

I can hear sirens in the background. The cops, dutifully, are arriving in a rush, and there will be questions and I’m sure at some point I’ll have to deal with the emotional weight of what just happened. But for right now, there’s just me and the ants—the not-so-benevolent God and His useless subjects. Sometimes I would squash one of them and watch it wriggle. It wasn’t viciousness. I didn’t revel in their suffering. It was just some primal urge. Every now and then when you see a long line of ants marching you just have to reach in and pick one. YOU, you say. And their body, half crushed by the mass of your finger, struggles against the inevitable fact that, for no reason at all, a choice was made, or it wasn’t, but either way, there is no turning back.

That’s really what I’m getting at, I think, through all the shock. One moment everything is a certain way and the next it is completely different, and for no other reason than that you were picked out of a line because that’s just how it is, how it will be, forever and ever, Amen.

My wife Sheila—she would have legally been my wife in three months but we had lived together for years—was broken just like one of those ants, a carcass tangled in the metal that used to be our new car. No more marriage planning, no more—well, none of it matters really. I reached down and pushed down, hard, on one of those ants. I picked his abdomen. It popped and spurted whatever ant abdomens contain onto the sidewalk, and he tried to drag the flaccid thing around for a while. Eventually other ants showed up to the scene and carried it off. I wondered if they were the cops and emergency personnel of the ant world, or if they just switched roles.

The cops wanted to know a lot of details that seemed pointless. What was the make of the third car that hit us? Where were we headed? I looked at him dully and said, “Her favorite flavor was mint chocolate chip.” I couldn't think of anything else. Anyway, there were pieces of the car that hit us from behind scattered across the roadway. Did I look like a mechanic? It was a pileup. I remember the bus. The rest happened too fast.

I thought back a moment. How many breaths separated me, now, breathing alone with the ants, and my wife and I in the car, breathing the same air together? A few hundred breaths? An endless chasm.


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