Sunday, April 10, 2016

Closing Up Shop

It's been a good 10 years overall for a group blog. Several thousand posts, several million visitors. But I think it's about time to close up shop here. I'll be migrating our better content over to Medium as soon as they allow, and will likely keep this blogspot up for a while as an archive.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Friday, January 29, 2016

I Am A Disinformation Agent

A cautionary tale, by Rusty Shackleford.

"May you live in interesting times." -Ancient Chinese Curse.

My editor has asked me to write a piece for Modern Mythology this evening. That is fine, but making this fit into the format of the site is his dirty job. I should mention that I think JC is a professional social deviant with a sadistic sense of humor, he is SCUM, a complete freak of a man, and this is why I like him so much.

Classic example: it was only after I informed him that I have been smoking black tar opium all day long and eating Kratom, popping Rozarem to help "bring me down" (?!!) that he insisted I run a piece. Insisted.

“And it has to be this evening,” he said. “Don’t worry. You won’t remember it tomorrow.”

I think this is his idea of a joke.

I have known him for nearly a decade now and he just told me this evening that "You've become the Diety representing intoxication in my personal pantheon. You should feel proud."

I do. Either proud, or very, very scared.

So I am going to fill you in on an important conversation I had at the apex of the evening tonight. At some point before reaching the end I may nod out from a pill that makes me think it is a good idea to go for a midnight drive in a stolen car at 3:30 AM to a soundtrack of obscure 70s kraut rock. For all I know, this is my last message to you. If so, I hope that you are deeply moved.
(There may be a number of free resource articles online that could shed light on some of those substances, but they are probably nowhere near enough to paint a pretty solid picture of the damage they can actually do.)

(Note: Yeah, I thought it was a joke at first too, but it is now 4:52 AM and it turns out that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I did in fact go on a joyride at 3:30 AM this morning, ostensibly to get laid, and promptly forgot where I was. Couldn't find the house I had been to a million times that was about 5 minutes away- Thanks, Rozarem. I drove around on an adventure I will never remember for an hour trying to find the house. Sexually frustrated, mortified and humiliated, I resolved to call it a loss and drove to an undisclosed fast food restaurant open at 4:30 AM to pick up a breakfast burrito because I am a consumer whore. I don't remember much of this, other than driving through the exit eating the burrito spilling hot sauce all over my khakis which at the moment look like I just menstruated all over them.)

Meanwhile, I'm hashing out the details of this "piece" with JC. Talking about the "conceptual continuity" of this piece right now is a bit like doing push hand martial arts with an alligator... An alligator with 30 hands made out of black tar heroin.

So I'll just cut to the chase and save him the trouble of having to wade through another 8 pages of this: have you heard of the drug JWH-18? Most people haven't, even though they have consumed it. (What does that say about the mentality of self-made "urban shaman" who readily swallow or smoke anything handed to them?)

JWH-18 is a synthetic cannabanoid. To me, it sounds uncomfortably similar to the Zombie chemical in the "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD" series (245 trioxin- within the mythos of the series it is a chemical the army initially used to spray on marijuana, ironically enough, and is ultimately responsible for reanimating dead corpses. Bear with me here, I am building up to my master's thesis on the zombification of America that will ultimately decompose if you pardon the pun and disintegrate into the gibberish of the cold light of morning and sobriety.)

Of course, you could just go with cannabis seeds. Who am I to judge?

I myself have NEVER tried any sort of legal drug sold at a headshop before, so I wouldn't really know, but word through the grapevine is that we - and I say that in a very general sense, the "we" being the general public because I would never knowingly consume a dangerous unknown substance - are all sort of guinea pigs. Canary in the mineshaft. Enter cliche here. The point is, we have no fucking clue what the long term repurcussion is of any of the legal or illegal chemicals we’re pumping into our bodies at unfathomable rates.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried


I’ve never been deeply upset about a celebrity death. I don’t think I’m a monster or anything. I’ve felt it was a loss. A sad note in the millions of other sad stories filtering at us through the digital feeds we live in, nowadays. But nothing to cry over.

When Blackstar first came out I’d wondered why he suddenly released an album, and something seemed even more nebulous about Blackstar than his usual genuis blend of profound nonsense and profane sense. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

With the news that he had died, 3 days later, it all clicked.

I went back and re-watched the videos. Confirmed by several stories the next day, he had essentially used his death as the focus for an art project.



Classic fucking Bowie. No one could have pulled that off like him.

But it kept pulling at me. It was getting under my skin and I couldn’t really figure out why.

Usually when this kind of thing happens I’ll go the other way and immerse myself in it until I work out what’s got me under its spell. No sense hiding from emotions — they’ll just sneak into your dreams or bang around in the darkness. I listened to the album front to back several times.

I’m still not finished with this process, which is why this is just a quick, haphazard post. But it’s what I’ve got, and I wanted to type it up before it grows stale. Mea culpa, this isn’t edited.

So, like. Why am I fighting back tears every time I watch Lazarus?



It’s got nothing to do with losing him as a person — that pain is reserved for family and friends — and not even that much about his art, although I have respect for it and some of his albums are amongst my favorites. We will have much more Bowie to enjoy into the future than he will, now.

But it’s got everything to do with recognizing that even when you succeed at creating a living myth, the person behind it will be forgotten. Even while alive, the more a myth grows, the more it eclipses that person. But when you die, that myth is finally freed from the shackles of blood shit and bone.

And there’s another side to it too — that the living person is finally free of the oppressive obsession that drives the creative process. To no longer be driven mad by thoughts and need for the mana of a roaring crowd, that’s really freedom. Some seek it by throwing a career away, but there is no true silence until life itself is silent — until we can get out of our own way.

A lot of this has been on my mind already.

The first script of the Tales From When I Had A Face graphic novels (“The Summer Tree”), gives us a story-within-a-story view of a distant future, where Lilith from Party At The World’s End has used the rock star thing to be turned into a living God in the mind of the public. Civilization crumbles but her myth lives on for the people of New Babylon. Now she slumbers in the underworld, a “black hole waiting in the heart of a Sun.” The Summer tree grows from her unmarked coffin.

This is all recounted by Ayta’s Gran, a Shaman who claims to have been to the second world in the future. There’s a lot in there also about how our stories outlive us and how in fact what we are is much more fundamentally a story. A multi-faceted one told by as many people as we touch, through our creations or our lives.

This is where being an artist has always been a little strange. Or perhaps why you have to be a little strange to be an artist.

I’m not sure just how much the drive to create art publicly really comes down to actually changing the world for the better, as it is about being remembered and recognized as significant. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of an artist’s compulsive need for attention. It’s just in a very specific way: artists generally don’t care so much for being human, or right now — we want to become an immortal idea. And we’ll beat ourselves bloody against the cage bars of our prison body to get it. I’ve probably accelerated the process of my spine degenerating by all the hours spent in the chair. But you can’t let that stop you. There’s only so much time.

Yet at the end of all that, what do you get? The same as anyone else: a coffin. Is the myth freed of the frailty of the body, or are we freed of the incessant demands of our daemon? I guess that’s unclear. Whether you succeed or not, the price is always the same. And you’ll never really know what publicly shared myth will replace you, or how long that double will live on. Throughout his career, Bowie has played with masks. And they are what’s left behind.

Anyway. This might be why Bowie’s death is bothering me.

Or maybe I just liked that thing he did with his tongue.
On the day of execution, on the day of execution
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all
Your eyes, your eyes

In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen
Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah
In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all
Your eyes

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd:
I’m a blackstar.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

WESTERN CULTURE, 2000 AD

by Guido Mina di Sospiro 

Prophets are the incarnation of a dilemma. Their message is quintessentially esoteric, yet they are driven to make it exoteric. As all dilemmas, this cannot be solved, and the usual outcome is the immolation or downfall of the prophet, unless exceptional circumstances temporarily suspend this predicament. Moreover, that there should be the initiate (the prophet) and the uninitiate (the disciples), has become a rather indigestible concept.

Indeed, traditional values such as the teacher-disciple relationship, training, patience, methodicalness, and constancy, have been lost in the sacred and profane spheres alike. For example, in the figurative arts, think for a moment of Jackson Pollock, who based his life’s work on trying to reproduce in paint the patterns made by his long-lost father urinating on stone. Such paintings, to which I used to refer, perhaps flatteringly, as “unappetising spaghetti”, are on display in many major museums the world over. Clearly, this is not the environment for Cimabue to say to his pupil Giotto, “You have surpassed your teacher.”

And yet, a “prophetic” forum such as this, one that rethinks one’s basic assumptions, feels the duty to promote and divulge esoteric ideas into the public domain. But, what is the state of  popular western culture in the year 2000?


Sunday, November 01, 2015

Caveat Emptor: Do You Even irl, Bro?



“The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye, therefor the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain.”
Have you ever thought about how you will vanish from the world?

If you do, you might appreciate an immediate irony in that our digital simulacra are the very things we’d need to delete to disappear from the world. Being shut offline has a different significance now than it did even just 10 years ago. What does that deletion actually mean, and more importantly, what lies under the anxiety that would drive us to “delete ourselves” in the first place? If virtual deletion silences the real, can we finally say the one has subsumed the other — or more accurately, can we rather say that virtual and real has been shown as it really is, a false binary?

Like Debord says in Society of the Spectacle, only the spectacle is real, only the performance of identity is a “real” identity. (And if, like clothes, you buy them at Hot Topic you shouldn’t be surprised if the fall to shreds in a week). Only that which is recorded and presented has presence.

Pics or it didn’t happen.

Our irl world, more often than not, is just a sea of strange faces floating by as we huddle aboard a subway car, illuminated by the lights of their phone screens — the “real” world mirrored back, and mediated by the true symbol for the self, not our body but the device in your hand. (Because all symbols lie in the intersection of signifier and sign). The real, then, is under your fingers, not just behind your eyes. (And perhaps, moreso.) That is, of course, assuming we can speak seriously anymore of reality.

irl is an Internet neologism — though not so new, really, in a world where last week is ancient history — “in real life”, that I’ll be using mostly because rather than implying some “realer reality” in our bodies and minds, it is instead a reflection back from the so-called digitized virtual. In other words, it is all that is not a digital other. Neither more nor less real, just a different way that we interact with the world and one another. The “return to irl” is not a Luddite fantasy, a “nature” that has been corrupted by the digital. When we shut ourselves offline, we do not regain some unity with the silent heart of the world. We are, instead, barred from the village.

We still have to recognize the significance of this process, which is so easily rendered banal as any technology — like water to a fish. We live at least partially inside a distributed network, where identity is performance and history is forever forgetful of itself. Online, if you don’t speak, you vanish.

For many of us, ties and boundaries and identities sculpted by long histories have already been cut. We have already started the process of irl disappearing. Forgetting always happens as minds are erased, but stories can keep these things alive — who I am, who we are, what our meaning is. We’ve come untethered, and this is a part of what was once meant by the end of history. Let’s call it, instead, a death.

The death of History is a joke.

But what’s a joke that forgets itself before it gets to the punchline? That is how history ends. This calls to mind the scope, if not the breadth of Kundera’s writing, without ever coming to a succinct conclusion — The joke that is the death of history is rendered insignificant before it is even forgotten. (The Joke, the Festival of Insignificance, Book of Laughter and Forgetting, in conceptual rather than chronological order).

Can a People define themselves by the memes they remember from their childhood? Bronies demand recognition of their culture, Jedi demand religious protection. Maybe they can, but it doesn’t bode well for the content of that communal memory. And none of these provide the things that community is meant to.

Sometimes I get the urge to delete every sign of me that I can — to run from it and try to create some bastion of irl reality. Something with the feel of bedrock under it. “Get off the Internet for good, it’s been co-opted anyway”. The Internet was once a counterculture, and as I’ve written, the future of a counterculture is either obsolescence, to be co-opted, or to manage to outrun the transition from one to the other, if you can manage to surf that edge, and don’t mind living on the fringe forever, while those behind you cash in.

Well, now it’s the main spectacle. And identity, like everything else in late capitalism, is both performance and commodity, or it isn’t anything at all.

If you flee it all, delete what you can and reclaim the material, what have you done but lock yourself away from the rest of the world? Maybe a cell is also a form of freedom, in such a topsy turvy world. But what will you do there, exactly? The fits and starts life demands, if nothing else, constant distraction and dissociation. The Internet is well wedded to that, even if it wasn’t purpose built. “Don’t worry,” they say, when you shut off your Facebook the 12th time. “They’ll be back.” 
And who are “a People” when identity is purely performance? No such thing. We’re all isolated islands, receiving and sending those messages, and yearning for something they can never fully satisfy — a present reality that can be controlled and curated like the virtual can.

We want both. We get neither.

So, why would we ever want to delete ourselves? That’s the question, though it’s a question I consider and then often put aside. Instead, I find myself still scribbling messages in bottles, without any real expectation of their being opened. Fragments of identity bob along like flotsam, friend and stranger means the same thing and that makes whisper down the lane all the easier. (By “bottles” I’m talking especially of larger cargo, novels, but also the novel length tracts of signifier and sign that we have left over a lifetime now across countless social sites — a curated identity and history that is not the life we’ve lived, not quite an echo or even a reflection, but something quite else.)

Barthes wonders in this direction with his essay, “Death of the Author.” We might not wonder at our intentionality with a text, when we recognize that by building a book, we are trying to build sense. We’re trying to cocoon and thereby save what in ourselves can ever be saved. I’ve written books because it’s the only way I know how to fight meaninglessness. But once it is adrift in that ocean, the problem remains, and in a sense, heightens the anxiety. (And here I am speaking to a generalized kind of anxiety that many of us seem to be experiencing, more than a personal or particular sort.)

All those bottles are adrift in a sea of noise.

Doubtless a real relationship can happen between many photograph and screen names. But what relationship do those doubles share with our inner life, and what do either share with the bumbling idiots we encounter in ourselves and one another should we chance to meet? “Do you even irl, bro?” I hardly do, myself.

Ultimately, those urges to delete all our doubles and vanish everything that can be erased tend to pass, not because “it gets better,” but because it wouldn’t actually change anything. Without even the facsimile of a shared history, and common referent that goes beyond shared pop-cultural reference, our masks are just chattering at one another, repeating some kind of instinctual script. But under the masks, we find nothing except more signs; “it’s sign and symbol all the way down, man.”

Performance is not only play, it is an obligatory part of our social existence. Even the gesture of nihilism remains a performance.
“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is; I know not “seems.”
’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
Extending this line of thought to our need to socialize, and the rise of distributed networks, the image of the Net of Indra comes to mind, but I won’t belabor that point. After all, if any of this is true, what is really the sense of sending out more of these “messages in a bottle”? Why curate an identity or build a world of words? Because of that very hunger that ceaselessly and restlessly seeks something in the world to reflect back at us, and convince us that our nonexistence is existence, and that something in this has meaning. It is a game we play, I tell you that you are real, and you do the same for me. We can’t possibly do that for ourselves.

If you are aware that meaning is a manner of performance, it is at best a seduction–two lies told to create one truth, at least for tonight–then you can continue that seduction, even though you recognize it will vanish on light of day (much like a bunch of club kids when the sun rises). Or you can stop the dance.

Cease performing, and you cease existing. But the heart beats on. What then?



All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why Can't People Disagree Without Taking Things So Personally?


I think a not-so-obvious reason is the relativism of modern moral discourse, best expressed in the theory known as “emotivism.”
In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that “emotivism has become embodied in our culture.
He defined it as “… the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling.” In other words, emotivism holds that there can be no way of rationally justifying one’s claims about those controversial issues mentioned above. (Intellectual Tackeout).
The basis of our actions aren't rational. Rationalizing is mostly the process whereby we narrativize what we've already done or were going to do anyway. So the issue isn't just about emotional relativism -- it's deeper than that.

It's that we literally don't know why we do what we do, but we have involved stories about why we do what we do, which we call "my beliefs" or even, "me." Might some be rational and some not?  I'm still somewhat unsure about this, based on the various interpretations I've read of post hoc consciousness etc. Maybe research has pointed in directions I haven't caught yet but it seems equally possible that our more cogent rationalization is still a blind, it just might also lead to more valued or preferred results. So we call this "truth" -- and yes I know this is a very William James kind of thing to say.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Questions Toward The Impact Of Human Nature

I've been doing a great deal of research and thought toward The Glorious Revolutions series we've been running over on Rebel News. Much of this kind of work occurs behind the screen. For instance, the rough document for the first two essays was over 20,000 words long, while the essays themselves wound up being about 1,500 words a piece. Similarly, each required the reading of 5 to 10 books. (In addition to whatever was ready at hand from past reading, with a little Internet refreshing.)

So... it's a process. But the next one I have planned has had me held up for a while. I've had a few conversations that have helped me spell out where I'm stuck, which have been both illustrative and interesting, so I wanted to share one here, while I continue to mull it over...

Friday, October 16, 2015

1491 before Columbus

From The Atlantic:
Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact.
The claims about the Amazon seem, at least on their face, more open to skepticism than what now fairly well known -- that the civilizations of the Americas were more developed, and more populated, than once thought. Though archaeological evidence of American civilization isn't quite as bare as the naysayers seem to be saying -- I've been reading about earthworks and the like found in North America from fairly credible sources for a while. And we shouldn't be surprised how quickly "nature" reclaims our civilizations, though also what an effect we can render on the world.

Either way, this article is admirable in its approach. The author manages to dig into what psychological motivates different factions likely have behind their theories. Though it's not fully explored, this is something I think that needs to get much more attention in the social sciences. Even a passing interest in history will show such a wide range of contested theories by intelligent people. Some might say "they all can't be right," which is true, but given what we have to work on I think our unconscious motives for constructing a particular narrative might play more of a role than anything else. A lot of it we can simply never know for sure. And that's what we will forever butt our heads against -- the intractable and uncertain, lost past, and the ways our narratives can render a very real effect in the world, whether or not they are grounded in fact, after all.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Glorious Revolutions Series

READ: The Whole Series To Present In Its "Glory" (reverse order)


All free on Rebel News, consider joining our Patreon so we can continue to produce independent news, editorials, and activist reporting.




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 Series

Friday, October 09, 2015

Cultural Cartography

From Rebel News

We’re suckers for simplistic, captivating pictures, mostly because we don’t even realize that we’re being sold a “frame”; we think we’re just seeing “the way things are,” when, in fact, we are buying into a paradigm. That’s why, all too often, while trying to talk our way out of a problem we only dig deeper holes.
... Now imagine the picture holding us captive is a conceptual map that carves up the boundaries of ideas and disciplines, charting the course of intellectual history. A faulty map is the kind of captivating picture that is bound to mislead us. In that case what we’d need is a therapeutic cartography.
— "A Therapeutic Cartography," James K. A. Smith.


AUTHENTIC SUPERFICIALITY

In the previous essay in this series, we looked at how we interact in a marketplace where surface identities drive our purchase choices. We have a very peculiar relationship with the things that we buy — both through and with our iPhones and cars, and soon enough, our sex robots.

More broadly, we identify ourselves and each other through the consumer choices we make, or even the ones we don't make. This is often called signaling, and it's an important part of nonverbal and implicit social communication. That's what the lifestyle brand is all about — integrating consumer choice with our lives, becoming grinning robots in some Orwellian hellscape ourselves, and so forth.

Thankfully that's not entirely how it plays out. Theories about the pervasiveness of brands and media brainwashing fall short of reality. Nothing is quite so simple as the behaviorist “image in, behavior out.” We may signal our queerness or our religion through what we wear and buy, but that isn't all we are. We still have inner lives, and an experience that can't enter into this marketplace, and our identities and beliefs are shifting landscapes more than fixed, binary wastelands.

The idea of Qualia refers to the irreducibility of this inner life. The world of surfaces may be superficial, but there is something lurking somehow beneath all of that, that’s somehow authentic. Erwin Schrödinger, creator of the famous living/dead cat thought experiment, said the following in What is life?: The Physical Aspects Of The Living Cell,
The sensation of color cannot be accounted for by the physicist's objective picture of light-waves. Could the physiologist account for it, if he had fuller knowledge than he has of the processes in the retina and the nervous processes set up by them in the optical nerve bundles and in the brain? I do not think so.
But this way also points toward reductive either-ors. If we're going to distinguish between the commodifiable “dead shells” referred to in the previous article and some kind of deep seated, internal identity, what is that identity? How do we know it's authentic? We are wandering dangerously close to a schema of the false and replaceable versus the fixed and true, and that is not a frame that I’d like to imply. This has become a common sense distinction for most of us: surface and interior. Fake hipsters, and real trendsetters. But the distinction itself is superficial.

Another way of contrasting the idea of real and false self, the figurative and literal, is through mimesis. Here we must challenge the “tyranny of the literal”,
In ‘Realism,’ the opening chapter of J.M. Coetzee’s most recent novel Elizabeth Costello, the eponymous heroine, a successful Australian novelist, gives a speech in which she ironically likens herself to a talking ape from a short story by Franz Kafka. The story’s ambiguities lead her to reflect on this historical loss of certainty, the way it seems to have undone the very possibility of direct communication and unproblematic representation. 
There was, she argues, ‘a time when we knew’: We used to believe that when the text said, ‘On the table stood a glass of water,’ there was indeed a table, and a glass of water on it, and we had only to look in the word-mirror of the text to see them. But all that has ended. The word-mirror is broken irreparably, it seems. ... There used to be a time, we believe, when we could say who we were. Now we are just performers speaking our parts. The bottom has dropped out. 
Her speech is not well received. Elizabeth Costello spends most of Coetzee’s novel acting the role of a celebrity writer. She travels the world making appearances, delivering lectures, fielding questions about the meanings and motivations behind her writing. It is not something she enjoys. Often her appearances do not run smoothly; her ideas tend to provoke dissent and dissatisfaction. ... The audience wants literal confession; but Costello’s aim is to keep ‘her true self safe.’ Or so her son John believes; for Costello the issue cuts deeper than this. She has come to doubt the very existence of such a thing as a ‘true self.’ The word-mirror is irreparably broken, yet she is compelled to appear before an audience. Inevitably, what she presents them is ‘an image, false, like all images.’
So, we are drawn to question the authenticity of both surfaces and interiors. The mirror itself becomes the closest that we have to any kind of certainty — as the image and its reflection can both be called into question.

A MAP OF OURSELVES

We have to contend with this tension between surface and interior, and amongst all the principalities thereof. That's true, even in the face of such uncertainties. Many of us struggle against these seemingly geological forces, without even knowing what we're struggling against.

The self and society as landscape is a frame suggested by Structuralism, and later by Post-structuralism when written in relief. Both position history as structure composed of geological flow rather than events; this was done, in terms of the latter, because the very structures imposed by theory could reify imperialist “grand narratives.” For example,
The history of events, Braudel was to scathingly write, were merely the history of “surface disturbances, crests of foam that the tides of history carry on their strong backs” (Braudel, 1980: 10). The outcome of the struggle for supremacy in the Mediterranean, then, was viewed by Braudel as the outcome of longer term structures (political, social, economic and geographic) and not at all the result events or the actions of individuals. —Extending the Longue Dureé: Manuel De Landa and a Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.
The tension of surface appearance against deeper identity, and the constant anxiety that there is such a thing as a central or deep identity, drives the tectonic forces between what I'll be referring to later as cultural borderlands and centers. We needn’t know which is authentic, but merely recognize the tensions between these principalities. This might still seem a baroque metaphor, even if it’s far from unprecedented in the social sciences, but it's nevertheless apt. Dynamism in the self or the state arises from difference, conflict from too sudden changes; often arising where one identity abuts another, and all are also ever changing.

This is borrowing from the frequent use of geological and even cartographic metaphor in such works. These metaphors are essentially impersonal, even when they refer to parts of personal psychology. For this reason, they have been vastly preferred within post/structural analysis, over the earlier mythopoeia of Freud or Jung, for instance, which paints all inner experience as personal, in reaction to a mythologized external world.

Manuel Delanda’s odd but brilliant 1000 Years of Nonlinear History is possibly the penultimate example of this sort of device. In fact, the entire book is constructed as a series of geological, biological, physical-psychological-historical metaphors (even if he is insistent that it is not a metaphor but rather an “engineering diagram”),
We live in a world populated by structures — a complex mixture of geological, biological, social, and linguistic constructions that are nothing but accumulations of materials shaped and hardened by history. Immersed as we are in this mixture, we cannot help but interact in a variety of ways with the other historical constructions that surround us, and in these interactions we generate novel combinations, some of which possess emergent properties. In turn, these synergistic combinations, whether of human origin or not, become the raw material for further mixtures. This is how the population of structures inhabiting our planet has acquired its rich variety, as the entry of novel materials into the mix triggers wild proliferations of new forms. ...
And so on. It's important to recognize that all the structures on these these maps ebb and flow, empires rise and fall more less the same as colonies of coral might. More prosaically, just as one might stand on the Pacific rim and hundreds of millions of years later, they might spy a new continent on the horizon, a 19th century American Republican might find more in common with many of today's Democrats. Our labels are not what ultimately defines us. After all, nothing is fixed. And what of the center of the world? As Umberto Eco observed, you can hang Foucault's Pendulum anywhere.

Thus, all domains are conceptual maps, even including the inscrutable, uncertain, and ultimately implicit world of qualia. A map does not provide a certificate of authenticity, of course — as so many counterculturists are bound to point out, “the map is not the territory.” But without it, we can’t begin to track our way out of the shifting hinterlands. We cannot properly understand society, or ourselves, until we've charted the surfaces of this never-ending symbolic fault line. But we mustn't find ourselves limited by the names, labels, and borders that happen to be written in this fleeting moment.

So let's look at an example framework...

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.

Friday, September 04, 2015

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 Archive.org), 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 Archive.org 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 Archive.org 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

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

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)

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