Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hollywood Garbage: The Mechanization of Desire

I might be in the minority on this, but so many movies these days feel like they should at least be mindless fun, but instead they're just mindless.

Pacific Rim, Superman, Transformers part who-gives-a-fuck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Whatever, etc. It's a little depressing that we're all hailing Guardians of the Galaxy as the artistic and spiritual apex of humanity because it wasn't just a 3 hour long lens flare, though it does serve as a terrific case-in-point for how the vacuity of recent Blockbusters is not in the concept. Even a talking Raccoon can be relate-able if handled right.

This is where "long form" (what else can we call TV shows that often aren't aired on TV?) has been stepping up to the plate. True Detective, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, etc. have been capitalizing on the desire for stories that are, well, stories. Something more than a Pavlovian repetition of set up, conflict, resolve over and over again.

That is all most pornography aspires to, and that's what makes the new normal tent-pole movies pornographic. Clearly it's not nudity or cum shots. No, it's the reduction of desire to a machine like repetition. The mechanization of desire is its own annihilation. The same metric that is being used to gamify all human behavior creates the deep structure of Hollywood screenplays. There's a reason, after all, that all these movies begin to feel the same, despite the fact that the concepts are different on paper. The underlying structure is fundamentally the same, with increasingly minor variations.

Of course we can expect this, with the amount of financial risk that is presented by movie production. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to reduce that risk, by falling back on predictions we can make from our own hard-wired responses? This basic idea is of course nothing new, it goes back to Aristotle, possibly before. And there is, thankfully, a great deal of uncertainty about the big picture in terms of those hard-wired responses. What, after all, is "human nature"? That's a surprisingly complicated question in the macro-scale abstract, but it's fairly straight-forward and easy to test on a micro- scale.

Adorno was skeptical about the implications of myth and propaganda, as all of us ought to be. And yet when you search for analysis of gamification, script writing, and game design, you will mostly find Utopian visions of gamification as method of "hacking our own nervous system." Yet, restrictive as it may be, we may want to look to Adorno's analysis of television and ideology, critical models, myth and the Dialectic of Enlightenment before we proclaim our ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps in such a way. (There is nevertheless some irony in the "long form" being one of the most open and creative entertainment mediums at the moment, considering stereotypes of television that existed, and which were more or less accurate, as recently as a decade ago.)

Flipping this on its head, we might wonder about literal pornography. If it is the application of mechanical commodity that makes pornography, rather than the presence of sexual content, then we have a handy shorthand for the much sought after dividing line between erotica and pornography. It is not the presence of sexual content, it is not whether ones desire is engaged, but rather whether that desire is an end in itself, and whether that end, ultimately, has been mechanized as the root commodity of the media-as-product. There's some difficulty in discussing erotica, let alone producing it, without some patina of pretension, and yet there it is: erotica exists as something more than just its own ends. Perhaps what that is will remain as nebulous as the distinction between self, soul, and brain matter. But if we ignore it, then there is nothing in this world to keep us from nihilism, and nothing that might keep us from the horror of the simulacra, the anonymous self-less repetition, every one of us nothing more than a mask strapped atop a void.

Also, it's pretty hard to argue with a good pair of tits. Even the most craven pornography has that on the average PG-rated Hollywood Blockbuster.

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

A Psychedelic Monster Rises in Babylon

Killing two birds with one stone, I've been working on posters and prints for upcoming conventions, and what will be the 2nd edition cover of Party At The World's End.

I still have fine tuning to do but I think it is starting to convey the right tone, hints at the rock n roll, psychedelic heaven and hell the reader is in for. It's also all wind-up for the intensive visual series I intend to do for the dark, fey and witchy 2nd book in the Fallen Cycle, Tales From When I Had A Face

Want to be a reader? We're giving a special offer:

The coupon code is PY44S (not case-sensitive) and it allows you to get the e-book at Smashwords for 50% off until October 31, 2014. That's just $2. 

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

Thursday, August 21, 2014

TED Talks Are Lying To You

From Salon:
What was really sick-making, though, was Florida’s easy assumption that creativity was a thing our society valued. Our correspondent had been hearing this all his life, since his childhood in the creativity-worshipping 1970s. He had even believed it once, in the way other generations had believed in the beneficence of government or the blessings of Providence. And yet his creative friends, when considered as a group, were obviously on their way down, not up. The institutions that made their lives possible — chiefly newspapers, magazines, universities and record labels — were then entering a period of disastrous decline. The creative world as he knew it was not flowering, but dying.
When he considered his creative friends as individuals, the literature of creativity began to seem even worse — more like a straight-up insult. Our writer-to-be was old enough to know that, for all its reverential talk about the rebel and the box breaker, society had no interest in new ideas at all unless they reinforced favorite theories or could be monetized in some obvious way. The method of every triumphant intellectual movement had been to quash dissent and cordon off truly inventive voices. This was simply how debate was conducted. Authors rejoiced at the discrediting of their rivals (as poor Jonah Lehrer would find in 2012). Academic professions excluded those who didn’t toe the party line. Leftist cliques excommunicated one another. Liberals ignored any suggestion that didn’t encourage or vindicate their move to the center. Conservatives seemed to be at war with the very idea of human intelligence. And business thinkers were the worst of all, with their perennial conviction that criticism of any kind would lead straight to slumps and stock market crashes.
Or so our literal-minded correspondent thought back in 2002. Later on, after much trial and error, he would understand that there really had been something deeply insightful about Richard Florida’s book. This was the idea that creativity was the attribute of a class — which class Florida identified not only with intellectuals and artists but also with a broad swath of the professional-managerial stratum. It would take years for our stumbling innovator to realize this. And then, he finally got it all at once. The reason these many optimistic books seemed to have so little to do with the downward-spiraling lives of actual creative workers is that they weren’t really about those people in the first place.No. The literature of creativity was something completely different. Everything he had noticed so far was a clue: the banality, the familiar examples, the failure to appreciate what was actually happening to creative people in the present time. This was not science, despite the technological gloss applied by writers like Jonah Lehrer. It was a literature of superstition, in which everything always worked out and the good guys always triumphed and the right inventions always came along in the nick of time. In Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” (2010), the creative epiphany itself becomes a kind of heroic character, helping out clueless humanity wherever necessary:
Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.
And what was the true object of this superstitious stuff? A final clue came from “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” (1996), in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges that, far from being an act of individual inspiration, what we call creativity is simply an expression of professional consensus. Using Vincent van Gogh as an example, the author declares that the artist’s “creativity came into being when a sufficient number of art experts felt that his paintings had something important to contribute to the domain of art.” Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. And “without such a response,” the author continues, “van Gogh would have remained what he was, a disturbed man who painted strange canvases.” What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Party At The World's End: Available NOW

Paperback $13

eBook $4: Limited time offer: use the code PY44S on Smashwords to receive 50% off!

Take a mad ride past the event horizon of sanity with the band Babylon, in the final days of the American Empire. First in the must-read occult, myth and fairy-tale laced urban fantasy series, the Fallen Cycle.
  • “Beautiful!” David Mack, renowned sequential artist of Kabuki, Daredevil, Dexter.
  • “Brutal, darkly funny, and, above all, honest.” Powell’s Books 'Short List'.
  • “A progressive fictional universe created by a wickedly talented scribe... Philip K Dick might have company someday...” Brooke Burgess, the Creator of award-winning flash animated graphic novel Broken Saints.
  • “A stick of dynamite strapped to reality.” Scenery Zine, on the musical accompaniment.
  • “The Invisibles meets Fight Club. A counterculture must read.” Underground Reviews.
Note from the author: This is the edited, re-worked single volume containing what was first serialized as 'Fallen Nation,' '404 Documents' and 'Words of Traitors,' as well as 20 black and white reproductions from the concept art sketchbook. In other words, if you've read my past books you will find some very similar material here in places. That's because this is (finally) the result of working together the single story I've been syndicating over the past 10 years. And now I can get back to the next book in the series...

[More Information on Party At The World's End]

Peter & Paul: Global Amnesia

Peter & Paul: Global Amnesia: We all forget things, sometimes. Usually it doesn’t matter. There is no permanent damage. After all, in this reality, not...
We all forget things, sometimes. Usually it doesn’t matter. There is no permanent damage. After all, in this reality, nothing is permanent. So, we don’t really care. We can always make it up later. When it’s more convenient, at another time.

At least, we think so.
But there is a major problem caused by our inability to remember. Somewhere or some-when in the murky past a global amnesia swept the whole world. We all, or at least the vast majority of us, forgot that we are all actors on a stage created for the sole purpose of accommodating a whole parade of roles, which we, actors, are to perform. How good actors we were would determine if we’d move into another role, or repeat the same or similar part until we got it reasonably right.
Shakespeare was right when he said that…
All the world's a stage,And all the men and women merely players;
Shall we enact a diversity of roles for forever? Is this all we are, actors so poor in our craft that we have to repeat our roles ad nauseam?

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Myth Is A Mirror

This is a selection from The Immanence of Myth. It is available in full through Weaponized Press. 

“In early times, the legend goes, the world of mirrors and the world of humans were not separated as they would be later on. In those days specular beings and human beings were quite different from each other in color and form, though they mingled and lived in harmony.
In that time it was also possible to come and go through mirrors.
However, one night the mirror people invaded the earth without warning and chaos ensued. Indeed, human beings quickly realized that the mirror people were chaos. The power of the invaders was great, and it was only through the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor that they were defeated and driven back to their mirrors. To keep them there the emperor cast a spell that compelled the chaotic beings mechanically to repeat the actions and appearances of men. The emperor's spell was strong but it would not be eternal, the legend says. The story predicts that one day the spell will weaken and the turbulent shapes in our mirrors will begin to stir. At first the difference between the mirror shapes and our familiar shapes will be unnoticeable. But little by little gestures will separate, colors and forms will transmogrify, and suddenly the long-imprisoned world of chaos will come boiling out into our own. Perhaps it is already here.” John Briggs & F. David Peat 

    Myths are “mirrors of the soul,” which can only reveal to us what we already have in ourselves: so what is a message of love and compassion to one can be a distorting call to hatred and bigotry for another. Meaning exists in the surface interaction with the mythic object, rather than in the myth itself; it is not, as we have said, intrinsic to the myth-object.
    We discover ourselves in these stories, and they are given life through us. We might also say “Myths exist at the cross-roads,” and we find ourselves there, as well. The cross-roads become a potent mythic image: that point where the worlds meet, converge or diverge. We find a similar overlapping of worlds in the symbolism of fog, in the abyssal ocean, and, quite obviously, in the mirror. The mirror is the crossroads, a juncture between two worlds. How do we cross over to the other side?
    Mirrors are curious things. Many animals don't recognize themselves when they see their reflection. A cat may cringe, howl, or seem unaware that the image exists at all. Rather than demonstrating the insufficiency of cat-consciousness, (in not recognizing their self in the image of themselves as an other), it simply demonstrates a little of how they perceive the world – they may, and likely do, perceive it in many ways more clearly than we do. But they do not appear to perceive themselves in it, at least not in the sense that we do.
    When we say we are “self conscious,” this has a dual meaning: we are aware of ourselves within the world, and thereby, as in the myth of the Garden of Eden, we might feel shame, and guilt. We stand outside ourselves, and thus, outside the garden. In an existential sense it is hard to say if we've actually made out in the deal; we gained language and other forms of representation as some sort of consolation prize in exchange for the immediacy of just being. Being in one dimension is exchanged for the possibility of awareness, divided in two.
    When we see ourselves, we see our “selves” in this image of an other. What does self-reflection mean? It implies an exile from one's self. To see a thing clearly we have to stand beside it, outside of it. I see a glass in front of me; I'm one with it in my senses, but I know it through its negation in relation to “myself.” It is not me. If I swallow saliva in my mouth, this is considered normal. If I spat in that glass and then swallowed it a moment later, I might feel revulsion. This is the borderline. After leaving me, bringing it back into myself makes me nauseous. My boundaries were transgressed. The saliva became other. The psychologist R.D. Lang uses this as an example of an element of schizophrenic perception. These barriers are more permeable and confused for them. An author may say “I'm too close to this book to see it clearly, now,” and it is often observed that in some ways, those who know us best know us the least.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Myth of Estrangement

From the Immanence of Myth, available now through Weaponized Press.

“The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference…all that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.” Jean Baudrillard

    Let's explore a new angle of the mirror-myth we looked at earlier in this book. We stand “outside the Garden,” as we said, estranged from ourselves. What does this estrangement mean? Where does it originate? What mythic repercussions does it have?
    Amongst the multiplicity of myths that have played themselves out through the history of the so-called Western world, there is a single idea that seems a prerequisite for all of them. The ideological history we discussed in Pretty Suicide Machine is the legacy of this simple valuation: the priests, scientists, and even artists painted the natural order as something which must be overcome, restructured, and dominated for personal, economic, or even spiritual progress to take place. This prefiguring idea amounts to an underlying assumption that structures the world that we know today. It is not an assumption that lies under all cultural heritages: most Native Americans, for instance, had no such concept in their mythic DNA. However, it would appear that cultures that do not maintain the necessity of mastery, control, and possession quickly become the possession of cultures that do, or they are simply driven into obscurity or even oblivion.1
    This is one of the premises explored at length by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment, “In thought, human beings distance themselves from nature in order to arrange it in such a way that it can be mastered.” Though this thesis is arrived at in part through only considering the negative function of myth, their point is valid nevertheless. Mastery of nature is far from the only valuation that shapes our heritage, but it is a ubiquitous one. The myth of ownership, the myths of social hierarchies, the myth of capital, individuality, freedom, and so on are all the true backbone of our culture, for better and worse, and all of them are informed by this valuation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book 1 of the Fallen Cycle: Party At The World's End

"We are on the side of man, of life and of the individual. Therefore we are against religion, morality and government. Therefore our name is Lucifer. We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkenness. Therefore our name is Babalon. Sometimes we move openly, sometimes in silence and in secret. Night and day are one to us, calm and storm, seasons and the cycles of man, all these things are one, for we are at the roots. Supplicant we stand before the Powers of Life and Death, and are heard of these powers and avail. Our way is the secret way, the unknown direction. Ours is the way of the serpent in the underbrush, our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and of women." -Jack Parsons
Ten years in the making, "Party At The World's End," is a counter-cultural urban fantasy is coming in September from Disinfo alum James Curcio. A few goodies are being offered in the meantime:
 eBook pre-orders are just $4 until the release date. (Post-release price will be $5.)

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Columbus-ing Around: Columbus, The Borg, and the Great White Devil

History is portrayed as a science. And yet popular history remains as much subject to emotion as reason. History may be consciously rewritten; much more often, it simply evolves. ... The present is a consequence of the past. But the past is an invention of the present. (Empires Apart.) 
In the process of doing research for the next Fallen Cycle book, I've been taking in quite a lot of history-related books. This has gotten me thinking more lately about race and culture, as all identity and meaning is ultimately historic. (See also: Beyond Narrative: Systems Theory and the Unveiling of History)

One thing keeps sticking out to me, and that is the image that forms of what “whiteness” is. We speak so frequently about the problems and experiences of whites and not-whites, and yet it is arguable if those categories are meaningful beyond the sense that we insist on continuing to use them. I'd like to look at the mirage of whiteness, and the very real history that produced that myth. 

Like all Modern Mythology articles, hopefully it'll at least get you thinking about these things in some new ways, all with the point of better understanding the myths (collective narratives) we use to understand ourselves. As always, nothing here is meant to be final or definitive. Productive comments are welcome in the comments section.

Let's begin with a curious manifesto from “Race Traitor,”

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beyond Narrative: Systems Theory and the Unveiling of History

Eduardo Mata Icaza
It’s going to take a while to properly navigate this, far beyond what can be covered in a single post, but the contours of a train of thought has been surfacing lately—it’s the kind of thought that can very easily lead to a book or PhD thesis, if you’re not careful.

It begins something like this… With systems theory

My interest in systems theory began with De Landa’s 1000 Years of Nonlinear History, as this turned much of my thinking on pretty much everything on its head,
One of the ideas that I attack in my book is precisely the primacy of “interpretations” and of “conceptual frameworks.” Sure, ideas and beliefs are important, and do play a role in history, but academics of different brands have reduced all material and energetic processes, and all human practices that are not linguistic or interpretative (think of manual skills, of “know-how”) to a “framework.” The twentieth century has been obsessed with positioning everything. Every culture, given that it has its own framework of beliefs, has become its own “world” and relativism (both moral and epistemological) now prevails. But once you break away from this outmoded view, once you accept all the nonlinguistic practices that really make up society (not to mention the nonhuman elements that also shape it, such as viruses, bacteria, weeds, or nonorganic energy and material flows like wind and ocean currents) then language itself becomes just another material that flows through a much expanded picture. Language, in my view, is best thought of as a catalyst, a trigger for energetic processes (think of the words “begin the battle” triggering an enormous and destructive process). (Interview with De Landa.)
…and at the same time pointed a way toward a workable avenue of dealing with a serious problem, what I’ve long seen as a gaping hole in how most of us think and speak—we talk of what “Americans” or “the French” or “Women” or “Palestinians” or “gay men” or “Russians” think, so on and so forth, we speak of these things as a given, or at best we flail at a recognition of the generalization we’re performing as being based on meta-narrative or ideology. In other words, our basis for such statements, if there is one at all, is merely stories about stories. Or perhaps stories about ideologies. And we speak of these ideologies (Marxists, Christians, Islamic, Feminist, etc) as if they presented a material force, as if they themselves are fixed and certain, as if they are within themselves causes within the world, sometimes we even speak of them as if they had agency themselves, or as if we are actually saying anything at all, beyond fabricating a myth from whole cloth. And to a great extent we are, but what is the sense in which ideologies do present a material force? How is it that wholes and large scale groups function, in chaos certainly, but how at all?

Only by looking toward emergent, non-linear, or open systems can we even hope to find a way. Post-modernism has burrowed deeply into the role narrative plays, and it tries to get beyond the limitation of single perspectives through multiplicity—compounding conflicting or divergent narratives, the problematic of narratives that overlap or don't line up—but this approach too reaches a limit, and beyond that limit it has exhausted itself,
I don't believe there is such a thing as postmodernism. It's exhausted. We truly need a complete new thing, and [Deleuze and Guattari's] A Thousand Plateaus is the direction. Those guys are fifty or sixty years ahead of everyone else. You read it at first and you think you're reading poetry: "Metals are the consciousness of the planet." Get out of here, what the fuck is that? Then you read about metallic catalysts, how in a way they are like probing heads that unconsciously accelerate certain reactions and decelerate certain others. They allow the exploration of an abstract chemical space by probing and groping in the dark. And you realize those two are right. (De Landa, Destratified
What’s even more poignant for me, poignant and troubling both, is how De Landa’s materialism rests somehow within the very idea of immanent mythology we started to unearth in the Immanence of Myth (and I explicitly always considered that work a kind of beginning, groping around it the dark for what hasn’t been and maybe can never be fully grasped), and yet at the same time, that kind of materialism—which removes us as actors, which completely abnegates or disregards or narratives and ideologies—would seem to be completely contrary to immanent myth. 

Immanent myth might seem the kind of pinnacle of the post-modern project, standing in opposition to De Landa’s project, (and in another sense Zizek’s as well). But I don’t think that is the case. No. I think this path will show how the absolute mental of myth-theory and the absolute material of De Landa’s “history” are not irreconcilable opposites but two sides of the same.

Eduardo Mata Icaza
This is a problem that ultimately reduces to one of scale, and how we can deal with the infinite expansion or contraction of scale (cosmos, culture, individual, cells, atoms—) without giving primacy to one scale and seeing the others as beholden to that privileged center. Similarly it depends on understanding the structure of our narratives as the chief neurological process through which we come to know both the self and the world; and much as that knowing might seem irrelevant to the macro- scale that emphasizes flows, mesh-works, and all other physical processes that likely span lifetimes as we may take a single breath, even or possibly especially within emergent systems the parts are interwoven with the system, not apart from it, as input or output, but embedded in it. As it. And if we continue to see myth as “collective narrative,” then maybe the first glimmer of this integration of inner and outer, narrative and material, mythos and logos, might occur…

This is the non-fiction or theoretical underpinnings of what I’m looking to do in narrative with the rest of the Fallen Cycle. (So you can see why I say this single project could easily take a lifetime without ever being satisfactorily concluded.)

The problem of the limit of narratives is compounded by how single narratives are used to give us a sense of group narratives (myths.) e.g. Fiction narratives—whether literary or film—tend to over emphasize the role of individuals in the construction of a historic narrative, (nevermind the actual events silently lurking beneath or perhaps tangentially to that narrative.) 

Franz Von Stuck
I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell the story of nations within the personal narrative, and vice versa, e.g. construct a story that deals equally with multiple scales and frames of reference at once. I think within the structure of fiction it remains most engaging to tell the tale of the rise and fall of Peoples as contained within the story of single people, but I'm not blind to how this distorts our perspective of the role that we play in history, when it is quite unlike such a 1:2 ratio. (The tale of Cesar as representative of the "rise of Roman power and at once its own hubris," or even the tale of accidents, such as how a Franz Ferdinand is said to have "caused" the first World War when it's quite evident that the happenstance of that event is merely how the overall systemic trend happened to unveil itself.)

Yet distorted or not, these tales that make us feel that our actions do matter, and that they do reflect on the whole as well as the other way around, never cease to capture our imagination and attention. That’s what is so engaging about Lord of the Rings, I think, that historic scale wrapped up within very “close” narratives, thanks mostly to the hobbits— despite all its other flaws.

The recent TV series “Vikings” in a different way struggles with the same issue, looking to paint personal, relate-able narratives atop the hard detritus and great swath of history.

So that’s my challenge. I intend to use very different source material in Tales From When I Had A Face, Native cultures and the rise of American and Russian imperialism. The Incan rebellion. African shamanic tribal cultures. The fall of Alexandria and Corvinas the “Raven King,” Etc. But even with mindfulness of the systems at work in our world, I can't see a way through, beyond the use of multiplicity (post-modernism) and conflation of individual to collective. I can only hope that doing a couple thousand pages of research reading will at least broaden what can be said in a single story about the loss of a single life as it is unveiled, and how that reflects on the erasure of an entire People.

Check out my upcoming novel, Party At The World's End, book one of the Fallen Cycle. Coming September 2014, available for pre-order now.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

William Irwin Thompson on the Horizons of Planetary Culture: Cyborgs, Psychedelics, & Spiritual Evolution

“Were you to attempt to read all the books Thompson refers to before [absorbing his work], you would likely forget why you were reading them before you finished them. Thus unprepared one must ride the whirlwind with Thompson, holding on for dear life as he escorts us back and forth over ten millennia, integrating the warp and woof of myths into the tapestry of our flying-carpet time-machine as we go.”
– Bobby Matherne

One of the best conversations I've ever had: My second rap with poet-philosopher William Irwin Thompson, former MIT professor and founder of the legendary Lindisfarne Association, on the transformations of self and society in the collapse of civilization and the emergence of a planetary culture - cyborgs, surveillance, and psychedelics in an age of paranoid apocalypticism and inspired new visions for our species.

Get ready for a wild one, folks...comments welcome!

More for the initiated:
My Bill Thompson on Burning Man video mashup
Our first conversation, "AI, Angels, & Mass Extinctions"

Some of the topics covered in this conversation:

• The disappointment of 2012 & each generation's coping with the disillusionment of epochalism/apocalypticism;
• Douglas Rushkoff's book Present Shock, "fractalnoia" & conspiracy theories, the Deep State, media warfare, paranoia as a necessary step along the path of spiritual evolution;
• The interplay between the growth of a global electronic economy and the awakening of the collective unconscious;
• Intelligence as a primary function of entropy to maximize freedom in chaos, fear & intelligence as two sides of the same phenomenon;
• Prokaryotic vs. eukaryotic strategies, the bacterial bioplasm vs. sexuality & individuality as complementary archetypes;
• The pop mythology of the lone genius vs. the reality of collective intelligence;
• Fractalnoia & Autistic Spectrum Disorders, possible relationship between "intense world syndrome" theory of Autism & the psychological impact of electronic communication media;
• Sloughing off the Surveillance State & making it an art object, Big Data/Quantified Self revolutions in the emergence of a new level of personal psychology, Buddhist Geeks & Mindful Cyborgs;
• Psychedelics and Yoga as alternative spiritual paths, LSD's legacy of both burnout and the inspiration of paradigm-changing scientific discoveries;
• Richard Doyle on the exegesis of Philip K. Dick, discussion of how revolutions are colonized by existing power structures, Jan Irvin's argument that the CIA created psychedelic counterculture;
• Isolation/solitude/privacy as prerequisite to the classical visionary/mystical experience, an opportunity eroded in the hyper-stimulation of electronic culture;
• The self as a collective, the "entelechy" as a colonial organism composed of elemental entities & of which the human as defined by modernity is only a part, wearable computers & medical nanobots as "machines in the ghost" with both light & shadow aspects;
• The perils of being an early adopter and the importance of maintaining a critical attitude toward new technologies;
• How Buckminster Fuller & Marshall McLuhan were destroyed by celebrity, the related genius and tragedy of Terence McKenna;
• The liminal spaces of festival culture as a social equivalent to the mystic isolation of individuals in classical wisdom traditions (e.g., Burning Man as an island population, rapidly evolving at a distance from the main population);
• Post-tribal/rule-based sports moving beyond "war in peacetime" toward the individualized rejection of corporate culture, improvisational solo extreme sports as a resurrection of mystical privacy;
• The etherealization of currency (e.g., BitcoinDadara's art-as-money projects), of marriage (e.g., polyamory, nonlocal monogamy), & of other cultural institutions;
• "Wissenkunst" or "knowledge art" as a new art form emerging in post-academic remix culture, "standup philosophy" as an improvisatory approach to the university lecture in the same sense that post-religious spirituality evolves from religion and jazz evolves from classical music composition;
• The critical importance of failure to transformation & of stigma/social exclusion in the creation of revolutionary figures.

Some Bill Thompson quotes from our conversation:

"[The media ecology of exopolitics] is a great group mind, a coral reef dreaming while it is awake."

"I don't NEED to take acid...I got hypercalcemic once on just too much Tums."

"At a certain point, I became sensitive [to the fact] that I am a COLONY..."

"Generally, by the third generation, they've lost the vision."

"Before we rule with armies, we rule with explanations, and an army is really only the outermost external  structure of an explanation."

"Failure is very critical in the transformation."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Act of Killing

“Behind every work of art lies an uncommitted crime” 

For once, actually true. 
Fiction can often get us closer to reality than the approach of non-fiction. Narratives so often conceal, and the very meaning of the word myth has been subsumed by this idea of the "narrative that is a lie." But, as we've so often explored on this site, this isn't the whole picture.

In fact, it's deeply misleading. Because the reality we live most intimately inside is the world of our own narrative, it is through narratives that we can be brought closest to the prima materia, without ever being able to fully say what it is outside its own context. A narrative exists only on its own terms. The further you are removed from that, the less vital it is likely to be. The more removed, the more easy to use it as a tool of deception.

For as much as narratives can bring us close to the blood of life, it is less of a mystery how they can be used to distort, to deceive, to fabricate. The tarot symbol of the Magus (and Hermes, the God most cognate) can lead us into greater understanding of both sides of this bi-valent truth. It is with logos rather than mythos that the Magus creates the illusions that form the world, but it is nevertheless world from word. The most primal and fundamental magic.

This bi-valence is intrinsically linked to what Horkheimer and Adorno called "the dialectic of Enlightenment." They were speaking more specifically of the rise of Nazism when they said “Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology," but it was nevertheless to this truth that they were speaking, that myths create false histories, they support the very sort of premises that served as justification for the now famous genocide that happened in factories of death such as Auschwitz and Dachau.

Similarly, there is a narrative that has been used to cloak the true history of a less famous genocide, that of Indonesian communists in the mid-60's. The sheer genius of the hard-to-watch, essential viewing of The Act of Killing is a recognition of this dialectic, that narratives can both conceal and reveal.

How so? The director, Joshua Oppenheimer, approached some of the very people that collectively murdered hundreds of thousands of peopleerased them so completely that their side of the story could not be told. They understood the grim truth behind the saying, "history is told by the victors." Yet so often the murderer must give themselves away because if there is no one left to speak, then who is there to gloat? Oppenheimer, it would seem, recognized the banal egoism that lies at the heart of those that kill for personal gain.

He approached them, and he said: let's make a movie. Rolled into that would be the true story of what they did at the time. What resulted is one of the most disturbing, one of the most surreal, and one of the most effective documentaries I have ever seen.
Later, Kongo, ....was surprised to find that his "Arsan dan Aminah" had reportedly been renamed "The Act of Killing" by Oppenheimer.
"Oppenheimer has never contacted me about changing 'Arsan dan Aminah' to 'The Act of Killing'. Frankly, I found out about it only recently, after the film had already been shown in the Toronto Film Festival," said Kongo with irritation, smoking a clove cigarette. The tall and slim man pointed out that he and Oppenheimer had agreed not to widely publicise the film, because in the beginning it had only been intended as part of the latter's thesis. (Article)

(For those having a hard time tracking it down, it can be viewed at here. For those who have Netflix, the full movie is available free streaming.)

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Time is a Flat Circle - True Detective as Psychodrama

Joshua Budich 
Many will agree that HBO's True Detective season 1 has been one of the more thought provoking episodic narratives of 2014. HBO has defined itself for some time now on distributing quality original content, leading the way in that regard, though Netflix is now entering the picture as a serious contender in its own right.
Nevertheless, there is something particularly daring about using the tried and true, rather old school cops and bad guys format for a character-piece.

What do I mean by that? Well, the case they are investigating does little more than provide us a mirror for the two "bad men," our protagonists Rust and Marty. So if you're looking to unlock the Keys to Carcosa, you're going to be horribly frustrated with this series.
The Lange murder is just a Trojan Horse. The real story here is much richer and stranger: who are these men, and how did this murder change their lives? (DailyBeast)
This is where the show will either sing for you or never quite satisfy you. And this division will likely bring out the intrinsic viewing preferences of an audience. I'd like to talk about this division, between "What's it about" vs. "Who's it about", as well as point out a few of the interesting symbols and devices used in this show in particular.

No story is likely to be all one or the other, of course. There needs to be some balance of the two in most narrativesa continuum which is represented rather confusingly in the prose fiction world as being "literary fiction" on one end and "genre fiction" on the otherbut it should be amply clear which side True Detective is aiming for.

This conflict comes to a head when the spiral loops back on itself a third time, which is to say the final episode. (More on the spiral motif later.) In a character focused narrative, the plotseries of events that occurare a device to get into the character's heads. So to go any further into the "world" of the monster in the labyrinth would take the narrative off track. An ending that told us everything about the Dora Lange case, but nothing about Rust would fail the show on its own terms.

"This is a world where nothing is solved," Rust says, before he has found a glimmer of his own redemption. But even though they ostensibly solved the case, many questions relating to it are left open. Nothing is solved, and there are no true endings. Must a narrative deliver us a complete resolution? (Nervous Breakdown article, "Resolutions.")

In the Salon article "True Detective vs HP Lovecraft", the author sees a cosmology of light and dark, good and evil carved out of the story, in other words it's a morality play, but this doesn't jive with what Pizzolatto himself has said about theme and intent.
I think what True Detective keeps telling you, over and over again, is that everything’s a story. Who you tell yourself you are, what you tell yourself what the world is, an investigation, a religion, a nihilistic point of view – these are all stories you tell yourself. You need to be careful what stories you tell yourself.
You said there was no conversion in the story. But was Cohle suggesting he now believes in some kind of afterlife when he told Hart about his near death experience?
It’s not a belief – he’s talking about an experience. And he’s not talking about a reconciliation with loved ones after death: If you listen to what he says, he says, ‘I was gone. There was no me. Just love… and then I woke up.’ That line is significant to the whole series: “And then I woke up.” The only thing like a conversion that he has is when he says, “You’re looking at it wrong. To me, the light is winning.” And that doesn’t describe a conversion to me as much as it describes a broadening of perspective. The man who once said there is no light at the end of the tunnel is now saying there might be order to this. I don’t think it says anything more than: Pick your stories carefully.
Or within the story itself,
Once you attach an assumption to a piece of evidence, you start to bend the narrative to support it. (Marty Hart.)
This is one of the fundamental truths about mythology, and as we've discussed at length on Modern Mythology, myth is merely a publicly shared narrative. Little surprise that Pizzolatto was an English professor before trying his hand at script writing.

What's most poignant about the conclusion? Not the unveiling of 'the lawnmower man.' Hardly. The last thing anyone would expect for Rust is redemption. Which is really what the final episode is about. And it's funny because then you go back and realize it puts the apparent theme of the whole season on its head.

I promised that I'd return to the spiral. Throughout the show we see this device used. It's an element of repeated iconography. It exists in the format of the narrative through time (basing the story in 95, 2001, and 2012). It appears in Rust's hallucinations, birds flocking and dispersing in a whirling spiral. And it's alluded to in the various pieces of "Carcosa gobbleygook" that add that Lovecraftian element of high weirdness to some of the episodes. Clearly it is a motif important to this narrative.

The biggest challenge in the spiral motif is that it's always more rewarding the second time around. But it's really neat how the narrative structure is spiral and that image pops up again and again. The spiral is symbolically the unicursal labyrinth, an image that appears throughout world mythology and appears most explicitly in this story in the iconography of the victims as well as the placement of the villain as the monster in the center of the labyrinth, a Southern Gothic Minotaur. The orbit of the spiral leads you ever inward, toward that immanent encounter. Jung wasn't the only one to recognize the monster in this context is a part of the shadowed, divided self.

This "flat circle," the circle that recapitulates rather than repeats itself perfectly, also relates directly to Nietzsche's eternal recurrence. (If you don't think that was on his mind, notice the aside in the clip above, "what's that Nietzsche shut the fuck up!")
The greatest weight.What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequenceeven this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?... Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (Nietzsche's The Gay Science, more Eternal Reoccurence quotes.)
Of course this idea predates Nietzsche considerably, and points the way to Pizzolatto's messagethat the ontological fallacy referred to by Rust is based as much on experience as the narratives we tell ourselves. There are facts in life, to be sure, but just as importantly, we bring our story to it. "The locked room."
But there is a cosmological message behind this motif, as well as an ontological one. And here we can see the distinction between an eternal recurrence that is strictly cyclical, and one that is 'spiral shaped,' which is to say that it implies a sense of progression. The shape of the spiral implies a "return," that is attempted but never fully accomplished, like a planet falling ever to the sun but moving fast enough to miss it time and again. This doesn't exclude myths of apocalypse or teleology (it is after all toward The End that these things move). Supposing that end is never reached, the spiral is a kind of asymptote, an elaboration on the circular model, wherein the symmetry of the endless round and teleology are in a sense unified.
Again we can turn to The Sacred and the Profane, “ Indian thought, this eternal return implied eternal return to existence by force of karma, the law of universal causality. Then, too, time was homologized to the cosmic illusion (Maya), and the eternal return to existence signified indefinite prolongation of suffering and slavery.”
These karmic ties don’t require an actual belief in karma within the Buddhist or Hindu framework of reincarnation. What it refers to is an element of our memory. Consider something that you own that has a great deal of “sentimental value.” Pick it up. Hold it in your hand. Think about the people you associate with it. Grab hold of those emotions, and travel back to the time that the object brings you to. That’s your karmic tie. You are bound to those things.

The same is true of the memories and emotions we hold onto of those we love, who are now gone, and of the life we lived which is also gone. Of course, outside a framework that espouses transcendence, these are neither positive nor negative in themselves, but they are attachments. From this, we can see that a mythic symbol serving some kind of ethical function would arise, when it comes to recapitulation and renewing. To renew, the soil must be tilled. Some attachments can be maintained but others must be severed. (Krampus and Holiday Myths.) 
This seems embedded within True Detective's narrative, as we see at the end with Rust's partial redemption. In this, the final episode fits perfectly within the whole, a masterstroke not marred by the essential irrelevancy of the crime they are investigating.

My only frustration with any of this is strictly personal, as I have been working on exactly the same model
in the Fallen Cycle, (the final installment is planned to be entitled "Center of the Spiral,") and now everyone is going to think it's an homage to True Detective, at least in theme. But there are certainly worse things one could be likened to.

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Upon the Wings of Huginn and Muninn

To celebrate the great summer solstice we at the Great Octarine Siblinghood of the Z.'. Z.'. bring to our latest audio viral release in the form of a sequence of aural pleasures to attune your ears to.

"Upon The Wings of Huginn and Muninn" combines the talents of several Z(enseider)Z memes both on the mic and behind the screen.

Warning: Psi-Hazard!

A necessary advisory please: the meme-bearers and maintainers of accept NO responsibility for ANY alleged symptoms of immediate psychic corruption listeners may report experiencing as a result of exposing themselves to our arsenal of sound concentrations.

By legal authority, we deny the validity of claims that our creations are 'dangerous' and furthermore, admit no such viable, or even tenuous, connection between supposed delta-wave disruptions; fabricated by some of Z(enseider)Z's more emotionally unstable end-users; and the unclassifiable sonic emanations of waveform distortion that comprise much of the media on our albums.

Our full statement of public trust can be found by visiting our warning page.

We thank you for your support.

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]


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