Monday, October 31, 2011
“Warning: Please be aware that this is a real experiment using previously unexplored technology and as such we can give no guarantees regarding consequent results and aftermath. We have taken all necessary safety precautions but are legally obliged to make users aware that participation is purely at own risk.”
– from the intro page of The Ouija Experiment
The Ouija Board, a cheap little child’s toy that has inspired a century of urban folklore, evangelical uproar and even a Pulitzer prize winning poem. That’s what happens when you put necromantic tools into mass production.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
“Whatever makes you happy,
Whatever makes you happy,
Whatever makes you happy,
Whatever gives you hope…
…even if it’s a truly tasteless joke.”
Bongwater, Folk Song.
1. Youth and Young Manhood.
You never forget the first one. The first time you’re swept along by a mythology, fall headlong into a set of beliefs and symbols, find a part of your very soul contained in the words and ideas of others.
My first one, when I was very young, was Star Trek.
From the first time I saw that sweeping opening, heard William Shatner say “Space - the final frontier…” I was in love. There just wasn’t anything else like that around on the telly then - hard to remember these days when science fiction TV and movies are so commonplace as to be nearly mainstream.
Star Trek and I are the same age - both of us were born in 1964, just before the 1960’s kicked off big time. Indeed, Star Trek can be seen as one of the strongest surviving manifestations of the Sixties spirit. Nowhere is that spirit - the striving for tolerance and unity in the face of bigotry and fear, the optimism that those of differing race, colour, creed or whatever could strive together for a better future - more clearly expressed in the Star Trek canon than in the concept of IDIC.
IDIC stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. The concept - and its triangle-within-a-circle symbol - first appeared on 18 October 1968, in the third season episode “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” I guess I saw it a couple of years later on British TV reruns - and it had quite an impact.
IDIC as a philosophy is easy to state - and like all such philosophical perspectives, far harder to practice than describe. This quote from the end of the episode sums it up:
“The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.”
“And the ways our differences combine
to create meaning and beauty.”
This idea - that there was everything to gain in the consideration and embrace of alternate meanings and perspectives, that difference is a treasure not a threat - is one that stayed with me, as a geeky kid with very different perspectives from his family and peers. It grew even more significant when, a few years later, I encountered the work of Robert Anton Wilson (himself a devoted Star Trek fan), and especially his multi-model approach to philosophy. The longer I lived, the more suspicious I became of dualistic us-and-them, right-or-wrong narratives - Star Trek’s vision and Wilson’s work gave me a framework to examine them from. Dualism became to me, as Wilson puts it, an incomplete hypothesis - a weak, limited model to describe a complex world of countless viewpoints and beliefs.
I still try to work with that perspective. Though these days I would be more inclined to express the idea in the BDSM phrase “your kink is not my kink and that’s OK”, the basic idea of IDIC is something I, for want of a better term, believe in. So I figured that this proto-myth of mine would be worth revisiting here. This of course entailed rewatching the episode and doing some background research - it’s been years since I actually sat down to watch any classic Star Trek at all. The recent release of digitally remastered Blu-Ray versions of the episodes (with modern CGI replacing the now-dated SFX) provided a truly stunning print to watch.
(But if you want to watch along cheap & easy, here’s the original version of the episode.)
This rewatch & research soon became an object lesson in the intersection of myth and memory - and, ironically, emphasised that, for all the non-zero-sum aspect of IDIC, it’s origins are steeped in dualistic assumptions and imbalances.
The actual episode “Is There In Truth…” is a near-textbook expression of the power and problems of dualism, expressed in archetypal Star Trek style. The USS Enterprise is playing host to an alien ambassador, Kollos of the Medusans, a non-corporeal race described as highly intelligent and spiritually advanced, but so unbearably ugly to look at that they drive humans insane on sight. Kollos (encased in a travelling box!) is escorted by a Vulcan-trained human telepath, Dr. Miranda Jones, who has two characteristics of note - she is stunningly beautiful, and poisonously jealous of Mr Spock’s skill at telepathically joining minds with aliens. (Actually there’s a third trait of note regarding Miranda, but this isn’t revealed until later.) Kollos and Miranda (along with engineer Larry Marvick, whose long-standing crush on Miranda has unfortunate consequences) are working towards the integration of Medusans - superb instinctive space navigators - into Federation ships. Conveniently for the plot, Kollos is both the cause of, and remedy for, a life-or-death problem that only his abilities can rescue the crew from.
As is apparently the way with such events in the 23rd Century, Miranda and Larry are fêted at a formal dinner with the senior crew. It’s in this scene that we first see the IDIC symbol - and the sheer depth of dualism, along with the (by modern standards) preposterously sexist behaviour displayed there, provide quite a contrast to its message. Basically, the dinner entirely consists of Kirk, McCoy and Scotty hitting on Miranda, while she snipes at Spock, and Larry The Engineer grows increasingly defensive about her…
After the dinner is over Larry declares his love for Miranda in her cabin, forcing a kiss on her - when she rejects him, he storms out to try and kill Kollos. Inevitably he goes mad in the attempt, commandeering the Engineering deck & sending the Enterprise to ‘the edge of the galaxy’, leaving them trapped with no hope of rescue. Unless, of course Kollos can navigate them away… which means Spock has to mind-meld with him, let Kollos ride him (almost loa-like) to save the ship.
This does not go well… mostly due to Miranda. However powerful a telepath she is, she can’t fly the Enterprise, Kollos or no - because she is blind. (She gets around as well as a sighted person due to a neat sensor-web worn over her frock, which everyone but McCoy thought was just decoration. He was keeping her secret out of doctor-patient confidentiality. Thanks, Bones!)
Spock’s only able to survive looking at Kollos outside his box while wearing a protective visor, and taking a very strong mental grip on his human half while doing so. When Spock-possessed-by-Kollos has finished steering the ship back to normal space and Spock goes to put the ambassador’s consciousness back in its box, Miranda nudges Spock mentally to forget his visor… and seconds later, an insane Spock is attacking the bridge crew.
Once subdued, it’s clear Spock is dying. And only Miranda can save him. Cue a classic James T. Kirk ‘persuasion of the woman’ scene, where he basically bullies Miranda into risking her life in a mind-meld with the insane Spock in order to save him. She succeeds - and the experience not only brings her closer to Kollos but also frees her from her jealousy. The last scene has Miranda and Spock saying their goodbyes, Miranda noting her new appreciation of the IDIC philosophy in the lines quoted above.
That precis doesn’t actually do the episode full justice. It still stands up well, despite the usual Trek pitfalls of garish decor and dissimilar stunt doubles substituting for the main cast in all the fight scenes. Diana Muldaur’s icy, vicious performance as Miranda is a pleasure, as is seeing Leonard Nimoy play the passionate and charming Kollos. It’s got pretty much everything you could ask from a classic Trek episode - Sulu and Chekov both on deck, McCoy saying an actual “He’s dead, Jim”, Scotty in a dress uniform with kilt(!), and Shatner bringing The Full Kirk - seductive, territorial and ruthlessly loyal to his ship and crew. There’s some great dialogue, especially when Kollos-in-Spock talks about his perspective as a telepathic, non-corporeal being experiencing the limitations of flesh for the first time:
“This thing you call language, though... most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much, but is any one of you really its master? “
But… watching the show from the perspective of of a man pushing fifty instead of a kid of six, the flaws stand out harshly against all that egalitarian optimism. Let’s go back to that dinner scene:
The scene opens with what appears to be a flirty chat between Kirk and Miranda - Kirk of course doing most of the flirting. After a few exchanges, the camera pulls out to show that Kirk’s incessant attempt to pull is apparently his idea of light dinner conversation during a formal occasion. The food (those ever-enjoyable primary coloured cubes so beloved of early Federation cuisine) is served by the only other women in the scene - two yeomen, dipping and gliding around the table in their ludicrously tiny minidresses.
The rest of the meal’s conversation, other than Miranda’s nasty little digs at Spock, is mostly concerned with the men of Starfleet banging on and on about how terrible it is for a woman as physically lovely as Miranda to be ‘cursed’ with having to behold ugliness for the rest of her career. (It’s worth noting that this dinner, allegedly a formal welcome for Ambassador Kollos & his entourage, is conspicuous by the the absence of Kollos himself… which allows the noble crew to insult him behind his back and sexually harass his staff. Which is perhaps a problematic approach to diplomacy when he’s a telepath.) Kirk offers an inevitable toast, “To Beauty”… and Miranda has a sudden telepathic flash that someone wants to kill Kollos. She excuses herself, leaves… Larry mutters a couple of veiled comments regarding her character and goes after her - leading to the pressing of his suit for her (or, as we would say these days, attempted date rape).
The dualisms in this scene and the whole episode sit there, demanding to be reconciled: Male/Female, Good/Evil, Beauty/Ugliness, Love/Hate, Blind/Sighted. To its credit, the script (by neophyte scribe Jean Lisette Aroueste, who wrote one more Trek episode, All Our Yesterdays, before retiring from screenwriting) does address some of these points - leading us back to the symbolism of the IDIC, that noble emblem for the reconciliation of dualities.
The IDIC was created by Gene Roddenberry and inserted into the episode for one reason: not to stimulate non-dualistic philosophies or to symbolically question the unstable status quo of the 1960’s… but to try and sell a range of licensed IDIC merchandise.
2. Age and Guile.
You never forget your first. But then again, you never really remember it right either.
In the intervening forty-odd years since I first saw that episode, I became a very different person. My love of Star Trek led me to my first science fiction convention and a deepening involvement in SF fandom. (At that first Star Trek convention in 1980, and not knowing the backstory at all, I unironically bought an IDIC pendant.) My memory of the actual episode blurred - but even after moving on somewhat from organised fandom and developing a wider, perhaps more cynical, appreciation for things philosophical, that concept still stuck. And, even though its origin is, shall we say, a little tacky, the IDIC is still a powerful symbol for me.
That’s the thing about constructing your own mythology from the hyper-real - reality might get in the way, but there’s still a deeper spirit you can make your own.
The world of 2011 is very different from 1968, but like then it is a time of turmoil and change. A time where dualistic us-and-them mindsets have not vanished in a United Federation of Planet(s) - and also a time where any method of working towards reconciling those warring dualisms could be useful. Even a tackily merchandised one. As ever, it depends on your point of view.
When I started writing this piece, the news came over the wire that Zachary Quinto, the actor portraying Mr. Spock in the Star Trek reboot, had come out as a gay man. Hearing this, I smiled… and just for a moment, the spirit of IDIC was as real and tangible to me as it was in 1968. I thought of the kid who was me watching the telly. I thought of Robert Anton Wilson, some six months after his encounter with the harsh reality of us-and-them in the midst of the Chicago Riots, possibly watching the episode when it first aired. And I realised that any mythology we hold as true has to adapt, but also has to have some solid, irrevocable basis… and these contradictions will never resolve neatly. But, sometimes, they do resolve - with as much elegant simplicity as a symbol balancing a circle and a triangle. Meaning, and beauty. Sometimes you can get both, for a while.
Live Long and Prosper.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The answer to any and all of life’s dilemmas seems to be: To eliminate the tax burden placed on the top one percent of billionaires.
Over the past few years, I have been stunned and fascinated by this phenomenon of what would appear to be self-inflicted blindness. To me, the anti-gravitational flight of UFOs or the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza are far less mysterious than a phenomenon of this type. If we were talking about a DMT induced vision, then we might expect any and all descriptions of an object to diverge, but we are talking about the realm of shared three-dimensional space. I often feel, quite literally, that I am living inside of a dream. Not only do people not seem to see the gigantic object that is right in front of them, hidden—by Plutonic as well as other archetypal forces—plain sight, but the Powers That Be have not gone to any lengths to disguise it! As any child can see, in the middle of the room there is a creature that looks just like an elephant.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Most of those we call "friend" can't bear the full weight of our honesty. The inverse is also likely true. You imagine you can hear the moorings creak and groan when you stray too close, even, to whatever personal truths are mutually, exclusively taboo.
I can be completely honest with you, of course, because you are anonymous. Even if I know you, I can't control whether you read this or not. That forces a form of anonymous relation even though in another context we may know one another. It is easiest to have honesty in an environment of anonymity, as I have often found through years of writing my most personal secrets for all to see online. Let's not pretend that honesty is not itself drawn in relation to falseness, but it is a statement I can make all alone, singularly owned, and it is not said with any expectation of the response.
But how is that taboo actually determined? It never is. It comes, instead, by way of expectation. This expectation has an internal dynamism. The expectation engine, fueled by imagination, rainbows, and the belief that if we lived our lives speaking our truth (we'd be delusional to think it is The Truth) we might find ourselves antagonized and then entirely alone.
I hope you can already see a really odd idea taking form here, and though it might be fuzzy yet, it still has sharp edges. Our relationships are based on a kind of personal fantasy. Beginning at a time before we even have memory, in earliest childhood, we begin building relations, behaviors, habits, ultimately, our conscious selves, based on the expectation of what is mutually desirable, or at the least, safe. Kosher. Of course, this is not the only model available to us. Some may engage with the counter-clockwise current of rebellion, and shoot instead for the personally desirable, or even mutually undesirable. Yet somehow the fact remains that all of that is based on a kind of mutual compromised based on imagined boundaries and past experience rather than what is empirically known about the present.
Two things seem very interesting to me about this.
Having just returned from the 50th anniversary of SPEP (Society of Phenomenological and Existential Philosophy) conference here in Philadelphia, my brain and body are just a bit taxed. Following the papers presented in various panels and the ensuing conversations was, for the most part, engaging and got me thinking about some new things and some old things in new ways. It was just also, in addition to all that, a tiring week. So while at first I had planned on doing a sort of panel-by-panel write up of my experience, Phenomenology meets Gonzo--and let me say that side of things was certainly present at least in my experience of all that transpired there. It's irrelevant, and I'm not sure if my reactions to various post-graduate papers of philosophy would be of interest to the bulk of you.
Even if that wasn't the case, I'm simply far too spent to even consider engaging in that right now. But the very existence of SPEP, that is, one of the central issues that the organization was founded around, is precisely the same in many regards to what this project is dedicated to.
That is: the divide between analytic and continental philosophy, or between science and myth, as first explored in regard to this project in "Is Myth Dead?" from The Immanence of Myth. Come along.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
A thought occurred to me that I want to share in hopes that it will generate more thought, writing, debate, and the reference of source material, as it is one of several issues I have seen silently begged, if not raised, by the Occupy Whatever movement. It also is an extension of the more general consideration raised in this article. (The conclusion of this line of thought will appear in our upcoming anthology Apocalyptic Imaginary.)
Unicellular to multi-cellular evolution took a seemingly inordinate amount of time, that is, until you consider the systemic leap that is required between a single unit, with a single will, and multiple units with a shared will. This complexity certainly shouldn't be lost on anyone who has tried to make a decision when in a group, and how the layers of expectation and posturing, demand and avoidance, can compound until it is quite simply impossible for the group-as-such to make a decision at all, and it invariably fragments in any number of ways.
This is problematic not just in the most obvious sense - in the sense in which any being that thinks of itself as having a singular will - must attempt to couple that with an overarching group objective. "Agreement" so often demands compromise, conquest, even genocide; conflict is the result not necessarily of flaw, but rather an abundance of divergent wills. The natural world is rife with conflict and fecund birth-conflict-consumption-death for this very reason. Life has always been "against all odds," not an agreement met and reached through parliamentary debate.
It seems almost impossible to avoid an entropic movement toward one of several equally undesirable states in one way or another: fascism, where all individual wills are relegated to the group will, which itself will invariably be co-opted by a singular will, or destabilization, where energy is fed endlessly in the system until it eventually, necessarily, must dissolve, most likely to the mutual disappointment of those involved. This is especially problematic for utopian models, but it is equally problematic for the transition from essential (theoretical) to functional democracy. Put one hundred people in a room, give them a system that forces true egalitarianism, and try to get them to reach a consensus about what to have for lunch and you'll quickly see the problem here.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
- We're still working behind-the-scenes on getting our podcast in order. That'll begin running here and on Alterati when it's ready - hopefully soon - and then will run regularly thereafter every other week.
- Over the past few months there have been several ongoing fictional (or quasi-fictional, more aptly) narratives. After some thought, I've broken them off to Join My Cult! to keep the content on Modern Mythology itself focused on commentary, critique, analysis, exegesis, even aphorism, rather than strictly counterculture / conspiracy narrative. On JMC you will find high weirdness created by a world-wide network of cabals.
- In other news, I just finished attending the major SPEP (Society of Phenomenological and Existential Philosophy) conference in Philadelphia. Expect a little about that here in coming days. Among other things, the very split of continental and analytic philosophy is along the same lines as what we draw as myth and science, here, so I'd like to unpack that thought and several others soon.
- The fundraiser continues in November. We've raised $315, and I thank each of the people who have chipped in so far. But we have a way to go. I'm hoping we can kick that up a notch, so we can keep this project going as well as kicking it up to the next level (especially if we meet the full goal.) Minimum donation is now $1, and still gets you a perk - an eBook copy of Fallen Nation: Party At The World's End at less than retail price.
As you were.
[Check out some of the books, albums, and soon movies produced by Mythos Media and our various media partners.]
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Eþel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men,
gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on
brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.
An estate is very dear to every man,
if he can enjoy there in his house
whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity. - Anglo Saxon Rune Poem.
I'm not a Nazi but...
Actually, there is no 'but'. I'm just plain not, so sorry if you were looking for a crypto-Nazi (neo or original) beneath my beard. This is as much a disclaimer as you're going to get, because frankly if I had any sympathy for the vile policies of a potty Austrian painter and his mates, I would have committed suicide long ago because I'd see myself as a drain on the volk.
(It's a cripple thing, all right?)
However, the very fact that I put a disclaimer at the beginning of this article should tell you something, because here at Modern Mythology, it's exactly what we're interested in. This is the first part in a series of posts on the recovery of Norse and Germanic mythology from its status as Nazi source material.
In her comment “I Hate America,” Joan of Art wrote:
“I still clench my teeth every time some loud-mouthed American screams to me across the street, "It's not Halloween!" because costume is my form of social dissent. These cowboy fuckers see a gorgeous queen of a woman in her full sequined Egyptian attire and then think that an appropriate response is to scream rudely across the street to make her feel like crap. Am I to have compassion for their sheer idiocy and rudeness?
“I think the problem with a sample study of taking four well-meaning Americans and writing a book based on the American Dream is that most Americans are stupid as hell. I apologize for being so vulgar about this—but freedom in this country has seemed to turn into the right to shut other people down. The internet has been launching demonic energy at me as a result of tagged words in my Election Art Battle, and I am having to fight multi-demented black magicians and demons right now to get them the fuck off of Earth.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
In “Soul-Sick Nation; An Astrologer’s View of America,” Jessica Murray wrote:
“The placement of America’s Pluto infuses whatever it touches with a hybrid of control and desire. Since the country went off the gold standard, its symbols have become more and more estranged from their source meaning, but they are no less freighted with talismanic charge. It is easy to see how this would be the case, for Pluto governs the archetype of underground treasure; powerful secrets hidden within the psyche and raw mineral wealth hidden beneath the soil. Gold fever has been replaced in the history of America by oil fever, now ratcheted up to a fatal condition…
“A consummate example of this (distorted Plutonian) drive at work is the not-all-that Secret-Doctrine erected by several administrations’-worth of policymakers. This document outlines, quite specifically, a geopolitical and military action plan whereby an alliance of business and governmental elements would achieve control of the world’s resources. Kind of exactly like the I-want-to-rule-the-world-Bwa-ha-ha-ha plotline that super villains are always hatching in comic books. One gets the same feeling from Donald Rumsfeld’s pithy phrase 'Full Spectrum Dominance.' It sounds like he dug it out of an old copy of Superman…
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken aim at “the 1%,” but so far there has not been a great deal of consideration given to the culture or psychology of power.
Countering the charged, idealistic cry of the protesters comes the more cynical stance that “there will always be a 1%.” That, perhaps, it is human nature to claw our way to the "top of the pile," to slay the sitting King and take the throne. Certainly, that is a model we see mirrored in the heroic myths of antiquity.
As a result of our nature, are we forever cursed to live out a narrative of master / slave, of fascist dictator, of oppressor and oppressed? Should we resign ourselves to the "grim meathook future" that seems the inevitable outcome of the myth of the Leviathan, supposing no agents of chaos destabilize the true obsession of fascism? Not control as an end in itself, but rather control as the means to order and homogenization. This is the true face of the New American Century: one of peace secured through violence, possibly tooled atop a myth of racial purity.
Monday, October 10, 2011
By P. Emerson Williams
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
- (Mark 6:21-29, KJV)
The story of Salome is a familiar one in Western culture, the climax of wich with her lascivious dance and the severed head of John the Baptist has fired the imagination of artists, writers and composers for hundreds of years. Then there's Dracula as an allegory describing Victorian men's fear of female sexuality, Lilith in legend and art... The mythical Salome can be seen as both a product of and a window into the minds of those who told it. Salome was a real historical person, born EV 14, the daughter of Herodias and the stepdaughter of the Emperor Herod Antipas. Though she is unnamed in the New Testament, Salome is named in the writings of the historian Josephus.
Saturday, October 08, 2011
A while back, I posted an essay on Reality Sandwich called "Habits of the Heart." I have assembled an essay out of some of the comments from the forum, which I have been in the process of revising. (Comments to me are as orignally written--my own comments have been expanded and revised.) Over the next few weeks, I will be posting the nine sections of this essay. Here are the first two parts:
"And in this sense, I say, the world was before the Creation, and at an end before it had a beginning; and thus was I dead before I was alive, though my grave be England, my dying place was Paradise, and Eve miscarried of me before she conceived of Cain.”—Thomas Browne, from “Religio Medici,” 1643
Though the propaganda of Fascist mythologies such as those of Nazis or the U.S.S.R. serve as the clearest example of these dangers, they exist in only slightly more subtle forms in the media produced by modern Capitalist states. (Subtlety in this case not being an indicator of benevolence, necessarily.) After all, it was Mussolini who declared fascism to be the merger of state and corporate power.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
At the most fundamental level, and the foundation of the world, we are one, and yet we are unable to overcome false transcendence to catch sight of this truth. It is a truth of death, or the unity of life and death, of the fundamental ambiguity of the world, which we avert our eyes to turn away from our eventual dissolution. And yet some, among us have the courage to bear this truth. But can we ever be certain of our endurance? On the contrary, this truth is unbearable: we attain this impossible truth only blind and burning, in that moment in which we surrender to self-loss and are as one, consumed in moments doomed to disappearance, by the conflagrations of love.