Thursday, April 22, 2010

Consciousness: post hoc

Following is a conversation I had with Jason Stackhouse that sprang out of talking about my article that recently ran on Reality Sandwich. (For newcomers here, Jason is an old friend of mine; we've also co-written several projects together. He's an excellent writer, I suggest you check out his blog. This is probably the same debate we've been having in some form for ten years now, but it's still just as fun.)

(Click post title for conversation.)

Reality Sandwich runs Initiation: Masks of Identity

"I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star." -- Frederich Nietzche. 

Initiation is such a constant in the cultural body that it is evident in one form or another in nearly every human culture that has ever existed before the industrial age, at which point it became notably absent, at least on the surface. This absence has produced a very real psychological crisis on a cultural scale, although as we will see in many ways the initiatory impulse has merely transferred itself, oftentimes to behaviors and beliefs which only shallowly fulfill that impulse. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wax: Or The Discovery Of Television Amongst The Bees

In a recent post on Dionysus I made some reference to the mythologies that might spring from bees, and alluded to Wax. Well, here's a clip of it. Enjoy.

Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees [10:00/85:00] from David Blair on Vimeo.

You can also watch the whole thing on Waxweb.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Personal Mythology: Dionysus, A Night Of Drumming (cont)

(For the other posts in the personal myth series, click.)

I was at a festival in the middle-of-nowhere, which we generally refer to as Pennsyltucky. It was a festival held on grounds tended by a Pagan commune, and we were several days into it. As is often the case at events like this, there was a fire circle, surrounded by sand, and an area where drummers often congregate. This particular night was young. There was a slight chill in the air for summer, but faint. Also the kind of pregnancy you can feel before an enormous storm hits. The leaves were turning up. The fire was low, there were a few people huddled about the fire in conversation, and one or two people idly tapping on their drums. I sat down behind an assortment of goat skin drums, lashed together by ropes. I began playing with mallets, hesitantly at first.
    Now, I don't want to cut the flow of the narrative, but I feel the need to interject that I don't feel that anything that happened after this was the result of some incredible talent on my part - rhythm comes pretty naturally to me, and I've played bass for over a decade, but I'm no exceptional drummer by any stretch of the imagination.
    Things started to coalesce every so slightly. More people joined the circle. Those who had been sitting stood up and began swaying around the fire. There was the distant rumbling of thunder, echoing off the hills that surrounded us.

Immanence of Myth anthology: Update April 15 2010

I have finally reached a point where I can say that, although much tweaking and perhaps some re-tooling is left to be done, the first drafts of all of my Immanence of Myth essays are complete. A quick look at word counts has my material at about 1/3 - 1/4 the length of the total book. Since this was originally going to be a solo work, I don't think that is too surprising. The other 1/3 or so is contributed pieces, and the rest are in the form of interviews / conversations. 

With the exception of a couple submissions that I am still expecting, all the submissions are in. A few interviews are still in progress, or about to begin. But for the most part, the whole of the project is beginning to come into some kind of fuzzy focus. To my thinking, this is not only on track. This is ahead of schedule. My internal plan has been to have the project at such a point that I felt confident putting it on the shelf for a couple months by May. As I've said, if you have anything else to get to me by then, please do so. (I'll except... or accept... something very rare and wonderful after that point, but otherwise the doors will be closed, at least on this edition.) 

Over the coming months I am going to be turning my attention increasingly towards some creative - myth and music making - projects that will demand most if not all of my attention. This project will, I hope, gain something for sitting in the cask for a little while. At the least, I'll gain some perspective, and will return when the smoke clears on those projects, to enter the next phase of the project. 

It looks like my partner, Jazmin, will be assisting me with the proofreading and copyediting process. I am incredibly happy about this, by that point she will have her MLS, and she has a very meticulous approach to such things. I am a big picture thinker. Details drive me crazy. So if this thing is going to avoid being rife with typos, it's a good thing to have someone like her onboard.

I will not be setting a release date until the project is actually in layout, which I do not expect until late 2010. At that point, we should also be able to set a tentative release schedule. And I hope that all of you who have come along for the ride so far will not only pick up a copy -- but that you will continue to spread word about this project with those that may find some benefit from it. 

Right now this is the tentative lineup: (!There are some not included in this list because the final materials are not in yet. So if you don't see your name and you have a piece in progress, don't freak! Titles are also tentative.)

  • Editor's Intro - James Curcio
  • An Untrue But Regularly Held Belief - Stephan Griswold 
  • Is Myth Dead? - James Curcio
  • Can Your Elbow Play Beethoven's 5th Symphony In The Key Of Purple? - James Curcio
  • Dissecting A Living Thing - James Curcio
  • Immanence and Butchery - (pt 1 Mr. VI & James Curcio)
  • Immanence and Butchery - (pt 2 & 3 Mr. VI.) 
  • The 101st Monkey Is A Conspiracy Theorist - James Curcio
  • A History of Ideas - James Curcio
  • Myth Is A Mirror - James Curcio
  • Breathing Myth - Damien Williams
  • Beyond Representation - James Curcio
  • Pretty Little Suicide Machine - James Curcio
  • The Myth of a Counter-Culture - James Curcio
  • The Tragic Art of Abstraction - Yakov Rabinovich 
  • The Shining World - Yakov Rabinovich 
  • After God - The Temporal Absolute - Rowan Tepper
  • Kairopolitics of Revolution - Rowan Tepper
  • Guising Along The Web - (updated CC from - Brian Corra
  • Initiation: The Masks of Identity (pt 1 & 2) - James Curcio
  • A View Of The Gods - Michael Anthony Ricciardi
  • A Trail of Breadcrumbs - James Curcio
  • Mythic Narratives - Aeolus Kephas
  • Paper Tiger - Jason Horsley
  • I Am Ecstacy - Mica Gries
  • Medea Companion - Tons May
  • Artist's Statement - Brian George
  • Interview - David Mack (Updated & expanded version of interview.)
  • Interview - William Clark
  • Interview - Foolish People
  • Interview - Laurie Lipton
  • Interview - Amanda Palmer (CC from interview.)
  • Interview - Jared Louche (Tentative.) 
  • Interview - Rudy Rauben (CC from interview.) + The Well comic
  • Interview - Sean Jenx
  • Interview - Brooke Burgess 
  • Interview - David Aronson (CC from interview) + Shadows In Heaven selections
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, ideas... 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Personal Mythology: Dionysus, Maenads, continued

Here are some more thoughts I jotted down about Dionysus today, which concludes the first drafts of my personal myth series.

 The common association with Dionysus is with wine. This is usually what most people think when you say "Dionysus" to them. "Ah, the God of wine," they often say, as if this explains anything at all. There is some validity to this association; certainly a state of "divine intoxication" that exists outside of all social boundaries is the entrance-point to his realm. However, though wine was his sacrament in some Grecian traditions, this association is hammered home more firmly in the form of the Roman Bacchus. Dionysus, especially the "proto-Dionysus" forms of Zagreuss, Bromeus, and many other similar outsider divinities originating in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, all shared sacramental drinks of fermented honey and other grains. This may seem incidental but it isn't. The individual symbols that make up a complex, a God, a Symbol, are all multifaceted, and they are all entrance points into the entire network. Let's look at just a few before making some generalizations about the symbol itself, and turning to personal experience.
    Honey comes up in several places in reference to Dionysus. The pine-cone tipped wands that the bacchante (women of Dionysus) carry drip honey. It can be fermented into a drink, and it is also a curiously effective emulsion for making elixirs with hallucinogenic properties. (There is much argument about to what extent hallucinogens factored into the various historic examples of generally Dionysian rituals.) Honey itself was often considered to originate from a form of fermentation out of death,
"According to Virgil, Aristaois sacrificed four bulls and four cows. He let their bodies lie for nine days; then bees swarmed from their entrails which had become liquid. Here the number four certainly has cosmic significance. It corresponds to the four cardinal points. ... The animal is transformed into a sack containing its own liquids. After four weeks and ten days- roughly forty days, as in the traditional brewing of mead- grapelike clusters of bees fill the hut. ... The natural phenomenon ushering in the great festival for the early rising of Sirius ... an awakening of bees from a dead animal." (Kerenyi, Pg. 41, Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life.) 
    Mythologically, honey is the sweetness of life, a nourishing source, which is derived as a result of death and rebirth. It may be facile to point out that alcoholic libations are also called "spirits," especially without an analysis of the etymology of the term, but on its surface it nevertheless seems appropriate. (That it is essentially regurgitated nectar, bee vomit, is also somewhat amusing but seems less mythologically significant. Just like the fact that much can be said about the mythological significance of the moon,but the moon is essentially a large, cold hunk of rock. These two things may or may not have bearing on each other, depending on whether the physical reality has an immediate bearing on the psychological reality of a thing.)
    I also developed a mythological fascination with bees; those familiar with my works will recognize this readily. When I was working on the first draft of Join My Cult!, I randomly happened upon Wax: Or How I Learned Television From The Bees. This is a very bizarre pseudo-documentary that mythologizes bees and beekeeping through a rather schizophrenic lens. I had already been taken in by the image of the hive, many agents acting independently yet, secretly, operating in tandem, but this movie only further pushed me into the realms of absurd lunacy as I continued through that literary experiment. The hive, the honey, and the directional sense of these curious creatures all seemed magical to me, and like the other disparate symbols of Dionysus, have appeared and re-appeared throughout my lives as what seem like separate metaphors until I realize, again and again, that they are all tied together through this central or mono-mythical figure, Dionysus.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pretty Suicide Machine: Fragment on sacredness

I spent most of today dealing with some errands - amazed at how physically exhausted I became moving a small fraction of what I have to move this month (I have gotten so out of shape!) - talking on the phone with a wonderful muse and friend, loving my bunny, and generally trying to take a break to let some more gestation occur. That has been the way with The Immanence of Myth, which is why I refuse to set solid deadlines for this one, as I so often do with other projects. There must be thousands of stops and starts, periods of reflection, of expulsion, of feverish writing, and gestation in between. I am writing this out of a deep desire to contribute something that will - I pray - help inspire many others to realize just how much change the can create with their words, music, films, etc etc.


Here is a little fragment from today when I had an idea that felt too important to let sit: 
It is easy to draw a distinction between myths that participate more in what we might consider the sacred, and those that do not. This is a crisis that I hinted at in Is Myth Dead? Although I avoided confronting it directly for a reason. We cannot so easily separate myths from the sacred, nor can we extricate either of them from the biases of a specific culture, least of all the ones we are immersed in. Artistic movements such as the Surrealists did move in this direction; there was a general desire to rediscover, reconnect with some primal, sacred source. Consider this quote from Bataille's essay The Surrealist Religion, "Everything Breton has put forward - whether it concerns the quest for the sacred, the concern with myths, or rediscovering rituals similar to those of primitives - represents the exploration of the possibility we again discover, possibility in another sense; this time it is simply a question of exploring all that can be explored by man, it is a question of reconsituting all that was fundamental to man before human nature had been enslaved by the necessity for technical work." (pg. 75 The Absence of Myth.) It is easy to make this distinction, and feel a need to somehow return to a state of sacredness, real or imagined, which seems to have been stripped from or lives, from our very psychological beings, by the realities of global industrialization. Let's resist the urge to see it as such a clear dialectic, and instead move forward under the supposition that we are exploring an ideological history through the unfolding of a select few of the legion of mythic ideas that differentiate the world now from the world four thousand years ago. A multiplicity of myths, not clear, opposed opposites. If new myths are born, re-tethered to something sacred, they must be new, brutal, possessing unavoidable gravity, poignant, fragile, they must be anything but contrived, planned, and developed with the intention of bringing us the sacred. She does not come to us on a platter. More likely, the platter will have your beating heart on it. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Statistics, Damn Lies and Statistics

There are many issues that I've slammed my head against for years about verification, fact, and truth. I have already put a lot of time and effort into trying to synthesize the elements of this relevant to myth in some of the early sections of the Immanence of Myth. (For the final form of that, you'll have to wait until publication.)

I will use the work I've been doing there as an entrance point into just how difficult these things can become. Whenever I pen a single line, it is clear to me that there are tens if not hundreds or thousands of silent assumptions lurking behind that line, which support it, bring me to say it, and which, submerged under the surface, contain the actual inter-mixture of truth and fallacy which our statements generally contain. There is no means of gaining a statistical analysis of most of the sweeping generalizations that are required to perform any kind of philosophical investigation of myth, culture, or psychology. Even when there is, the results are dubious.

For example, how does one really remove the cultural bias from a study on social cognition done in the United States? Pushing this one question and refusing to back down is the reason why I began college a psych major and finished in another department. You cannot! And the fact that you cannot is not something that should be pushed under the carpet. This would sidetrack my main point here but there was a recent article in the NY Times that made the case I've been making for years:
...This unnerving possibility springs from recent research by a loose group of anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists. Swimming against the biomedical currents of the time, they have argued that mental illnesses are not discrete entities like the polio virus with their own natural histories. These researchers have amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places. (Article here.)
The fact that this surprises anyone, or that it is something that has just dawned on professionals in this field, is both hilarious and terrifying. However, I'm not here to poke fun at the massive and curiously lucrative blind-spots of psychiatry, (although I could do that all day), but rather to point out my own. I am aware that most of the work I'm doing falls down to anecdotal and personal experience, "written large" as a means of exploring myth. There is no time nor means to statistically verify the statements I am making. This is the formula of artistic and creative work: one must dive inwards, be honest to that, and hope that the experiences that spring from within will resonate with the inner lives of others. The idea of a creative process born and verified on statistical analysis is both curious and nauseating. (I'm looking at you, Hollywood.)

But we are still left in the cloud of unknowing. Non-fiction, analytical writing has the aura of science to it. We are taught to support our arguments, to verify, verify, verify. But what this actually means is we are taught to lie, lie, lie: as no true verification is possible. All that we can do is "philosophical due diligence."
And here is the rub: the culturally shaped analytic/individualistic mind-sets may partly explain why Western researchers have so dramatically failed to take into account the interplay between culture and cognition. In the end, the goal of boiling down human psychology to hardwiring is not surprising given the type of mind that has been designing the studies. Taking an object (in this case the human mind) out of its context is, after all, what distinguishes the analytic reasoning style prevalent in the West. Similarly, we may have underestimated the impact of culture because the very ideas of being subject to the will of larger historical currents and of unconsciously mimicking the cognition of those around us challenges our Western conception of the self as independent and self-determined. The historical missteps of Western researchers, in other words, have been the predictable consequences of the WEIRD mind doing the thinking. (Article here.) 
James Lincke
My solution for this book thusfar has been to do that due diligence, and to front-load the introduction with a sort of gauntlet that includes many (though not all!) of the presuppositions that must be made when trying to responsibly explore the psychological and cultural territory.

Let me be clear at the extent of this: I'm not even convinced that there is such a thing as "culture." A footnote from my introduction on this,
A note about characterization, and the usage of terms such as "capitalist society." It should be obvious that, within the contexts we are beginning to explore, "capitalist society," "existential philosophy," "corporate culture," and so on are all myth-structures that we're essentially presupposing. Like any other myth they may or may not relate to a series of facts, but more important the effects of the characterization is real. In other words, there are sufficient people that believe in such a thing as "capitalist society" as to make it worth talking about, even if, speaking very strictly, there may be no such thing. Even "culture" can be considered a myth in this sense, as Manuel De Landa explains in 1000 Years of Nonlinear History. This applies equally to phrases like "world-view," a term which has become fairly commonly even outside anthropological writing. Terms like this sometimes create more questions than they answer. What exactly does it mean? Is it a passive or active process? Can it be willfully changed, or is it provided fully-formed? We will attempt to engage with as many of these terms as possible, but there must be a level of approximation in using such terms, or else we would be footnoting every couple words, and the book in front of you would be thousands of pages long. Let us say that it could be either of these things, in different contexts, and move forward. (Immanence of Myth)
"Culture" is... a useful fiction. But you can't observe it like a table, and it operates on a scale such that the trends we observe that we think of as proof that there "is" culture could be any number of other things.

Like most of what I'm working on in this project, this is not "merely academic." I don't struggle with these things just because it's a fun game. (Sometimes it isn't fun at all, and sometimes it is.) These are things I find myself smacking up against on a daily, if not moment-to-moment, basis. In my life, this comes out more frequently than I'd like. How often am I in the dark, working to gather some facts to help inform a decision- only to find that the information that I gathered was appropriate more to a different context, that they changed, that I changed, or that I had some false assumption lying under the very question? That's rhetorical. The answer is: "really fucking often."

The extent to which we're stumbling around in the dark amazes me, mostly due to the fact that so many seem to have this deluded sense of certainty. It is not some philosophically rhetorical reduction to say: I know that I don't know. I depend increasingly on intuition for this very reason: because it seems to draw a holistic image which, though also fallible, is often a great deal more informed than the conscious processes I might otherwise attempt. The challenge there lies more in unifying the intuition which might say "YOU MUST GET ACROSS THAT RIVER," and the actual process of somehow doing it. Intuition does not provide that, it only provides the direction. The mechanics are up to us. Should I build a raft? Should I try to swim? Should I see if I can circumvent it by foot? How strong is the current, and how deep does it get? Intuition doesn't help us with any of those things. It just screams in your ear, with no explanation, GET ACROSS THAT RIVER. And you'd best pray that the intuition is right, that it isn't a desire posing as your intuition, and that halfway across, another impulse will suddenly scream into your ear WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THIS RIVER, YOU FOOL? CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN OVER THERE!

Faith for the faithless is a tricky proposition. But else do we have?

I'm going to start working on that raft...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

David Mack: Drawing Outside The Lines, Updated

By James Curcio

This interview expands an interview David and I conducted in 2007 for It will be run in the Immanence of Myth anthology along with many other interviews with creators working in the realms of modern myth. (Edit: now available!) 

I still remember the first time I encountered Kabuki. I was just browsing around a Barnes & Noble, buzzing on caffeine, and this beautifully illustrated hardcover book found its way into my hands.
It’s not hard to be taken in by the art, really, it is both graceful and bold- but I actually laughed out loud when I started reading it- there was a section where the characters were talking to one another, and then moving through a building. Now most sequential artists would draw panel after panel of them walking and talking, West Wing style, maybe breaking it up with different angles and whatnot so it’s not just a bunch of talking heads. But you just give us a top down view of the building, and little talk bubbles as they wind their way around the maze. I just thought that was completely brilliant…
I never would have thought of that, but then looking at it, it’s just like “of course!” This is something I’ve seen continuing through these books, that you are really good at finding the straightest line, the best means of telling the story rather than just adhering to whatever storytelling conventions people might be used to.

David Mack: I like how you described that. I think you described it very astutely. That is how I approach the art. As a tool of the writing. I try to consider what pace, or rhythm, or medium or visual personality of style of art will best and most effectively communicate that particular story or scene of the story.

Do you refer back to previous myths and stories when you write? Are there any that you find yourself returning to frequently?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Looking at the impact of symbols: Contact With the Subconscious

(This is the most recent post in a personal myth series.) 

    The story does not end here, however. (It never ends, not really.) Our subconscious can never be truly boxed away; and the ability to deal with the experienced that are shored up from that "world" conferred by psychedelics or even a practice like yoga can never fully prepare us for the strength of a confrontation with its full strength, though they certainly can help. You can spend years on solid ground and then, as I recently experienced, you can take a single small step and fall back into the water. Luckily, swimming is a skill one doesn't need to entirely relearn, even if it's been a long time.
    To conclude this section I'd like to give an example of this. Nothing theoretical or conjectural, but rather an experience taken directly from my life, not more than a day or two ago.

(Click on post title for more.) 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Magical thinking: mythologizing our daily lives

(This is a follow up to my post on Magical Thinking.) 

The meaning-attribution process is primarily automatic or subconscious, but also not entirely outside our influence. Meaning isn't attributed consciously. Yet, at some point, on some level, we have to choose what the pieces of our personal history mean. There are many ways that this plays into our lives. In cases of clinical depression, for instance, there is some evidence that the thought processes that produce depression are habitual. It is likely, if not absolutely certain, that at some point the "pathways" were conscious, or at least they lay closer to the surface, like young roots that have yet to fully embed themselves in anything other than topsoil.


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