Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fragment from A Mythology of Estrangement

A little bit written today for one of the chapters of the Immanence of Myth:

    The progression of civilization, as we know it, has involved a process of re-learning, of modeling the complexity already existent in the natural world that we perceive around us. As we have explored in depth now, this modeling is done through a representation, mythologization. This could reach a theoretical culmination, if progress is teleological and not asymptotic; we could reach a point where we are able to successfully model and manipulate the complexities of the natural world, putting aside for a moment the problems of model dependence. Does this Promethian process lead us closer to Godhood, or further from the Garden? Do we reach a point of complete alienation and isolation when we reach this theoretical singularity?
   It may appear that we're running the wrong way, away from nature, as we come to know it through the models we build to represent it. However, at this stage in our evolution, who can argue for a complete “return to nature” that would undo the benefits we've gained as a result, or that such a shift would be beneficial, or for that matter, even possible? Yet we must also take stock of the actual processes at work here, and shrug off the blind optimism of the Enlightenment mentality that still clings to the Western narrative of progress.
    This mastery of nature sculpted our so-called Western world-view. It gave us the best and the worst of what we have in our present day society. The American myth of the individual, the idea that an individual can change his destiny, are the results of these underlying presuppositions as much as the hubris, corruption and unwitting bigotry which follows from them. The myth of the individual, so central to the Western myth of progress, (as it contrasts the ubiquitous, identical smiling faces of the Communist myth of progress, for instance), a myth so crucial for the development of the wonders that we have accomplished, is as flawed as any other. Like all myths, it distorts and deletes — inventing further myths in its own image, deleting what doesn't match. And like all personalities, a culture's myth is rendered unique as much by its perceived detriments as its virtues.
    How different would our culture be if we instead inherited the Jainist aphorism “Parasparopagraho Jivanam,” roughly translated to mean: “All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence”? Though Jainism isn't the only mythology that could logically be derived from this premise, all myths derived from this aphorism would be vastly different than those which seem to have an underlying belief in the credo “divide and conquer.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sacred Christmas, and Disembowelment

(photographer site)

I generally try to stay out of commentary about Holidays. But you know, I'm going to. Some thoughts, as creatures stir all throughout the house...

I think it's fair to say that, for most people who would frequent this blog anyway, there is an evident divorce between anything resembling the sacred, and the experience that we have of Christmas. Hopefully, many of us can incorporate the idea of intentional family - the people you live for and would likely die for, or togetherness, into whatever it is that we do. (Why this isn't part of our day to day experience rather than something we only intend on a few days of the year is beyond me, and also beyond the scope of a little rambling blog post.)

What is Christmas for many people that I know?

Swig as much alcohol as you imagine you can stomach, and waddle through an awkward mine-field of hazily recalled, distant relatives.

What else is it?

Being dragged to Sunday mass in the freezing cold. The service, aside from its rare moments of beauty -- usually provided by the music, if the choir isn't cringingly awful -- being something to be silently endured. (Personally, I usually find myself fantasizing about having sex on the pews as part of some sort of joyful, unintentionally sacrilegious orgy. Choir girls -- with ID -- angels, whatever. Hey, it passes the time.)

And let's not ask what it is for the people in the photo to the left. That just stopped my reverie cold in its tracks, and replaced it with a desperate need for about a 5th of scotch. Moving on...

It is possible that some might actually maintain a handhold on the sacchirine myth of a perfect world of sugar plums (the fuck are sugar plums?) and eagerly anticipated presents, parents that never fight, and a fluffy Christmas tree that magically floated in the window without puncturing a thousand holes in daddy's clumsy hands. Obviously the damn thing also wasn't carrying a host of slumbering insects and a family of enraged squirrels. Kids don't scream, snow doesn't melt, and Mommy's drinking isn't eating its way through her liver.

Fuck. Obviously I have my own biases based on personal experience. No way I know what the holiday is for several million people.

This much I do know: it doesn't have anything to do with the sacred. The clamboring of the marketplace scares away the sacred, the sense of time which holidays attempt to re-connect us with. In their most traditional sense, cultural rules and chronological time is cast aside in lieu of primal, universal forces and sacred time.

This is an idea explored elegantly by Eliade in the Sacred and the Profane. Let me give a kind of Jungian reading of this idea, because it's quick and to the point. If we imagine the orbit of the Earth around the Sun as the psychological circle that all of us live in relation to, then the element of the sacred which is meant to permeate holidays originates from that supposedly fixed center-- the transcendent, the Sun. Of course, in the material world, the Sun is hurtling through space as well. But metaphors have never needed the agreement of empirical fact to have psychological impact.

There is a lot more I could say about the co-opting of holidays by political and cultural ideology-- the forces of consumerism and corporatism hiding behind the benevolent masks of smiling St. Nick having the most sway in this case.  But, instead, I'd like to show just a taste of some of the more horrifying beings lurking behind that mask, elsewhere in history and our imaginations.

I've been doing a bit of research today as I return to the text of Nyssa as Jenx and Vika do their things with the first round of photographs. I don't want to give up why it's relevant, but part of the research has led me to the Krampus, which I've written a little about here, and Perschta, his female counterpart. There is a really solid core idea of the psychological nature of winter in these two, Perschta, a swan goddess (or mythological being) of light, and at the same time, a horrifying figure that makes the Krampus look good natured.

All three of them: St. Nick, the Krampus, and Perschta are the same in this one way. All of them represent the darkest time of the year, a time when the fields lie fallow, when the unconscious gestates. Sounds pretty abstract, what it means is that there's a part of our conscious mind that wonders "What have I done well this past year? What can I do better in the future?" It wants to orient in relation to a larger picture of the self, and put us in accord with some kind of personal or cultural myth as a result.

The solstice is a passage from darkness back to light. And out of that can spring guilt. We need something else, a force both benevolent and terrible, to keep our sorry asses in line. Krampus charges out of the frigid night, howling, beating the christ out of women and children with sticks, and carrying the especially bad ones away. Perschta asks,"have you been weaving your flax little girl? Have you been good? Are you eating the awful gruel and fish that are to be consumed on my holiday?" If the answer is no, the poor children are disemboweled, and their insides are stuffed with straw and stones. So, you know. Don't fuck up.

And...Santa just gives you a bit of coal. For once Capitalism sees fit to work us with the carrot rather than the stick. If you're good, you get new toys that you can stuff full of firecrackers and blow up in the front lawn the next day. (Or maybe that was just me.)

Maybe something could be drawn from the relation between the much the kinder, gentler Coke-a-Cola Santa, Saint Nick, Christ and his mis-attributed birthday (if "he" had one at all), and these Pagan throwbacks from the Swiss Alps. It's late and I don't care enough at the moment. This much I know: Krampus and Frau Perschta would totally kick both Santa and Jesus' ass. That's for damn sure.

[Where is the fucking counterculture? Mythos Media.]

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Media-Mas You Cheap Bastards

Fucking lunacy.

For a very limited time, you can download a 1.2 GIGABYTE archive containing madness of almost Lovecraftian proportions. This includes selections of music and podcasts produced over the past 10 years, occult weirdness, conversations, audiobook episodes, as well as a few tidbits I've yet to put out publicly. There is also a smaller selection of documents, and many clues and portents of work to come.

Every year, I like to clean out what came before and plan a bit for the year ahead. This coming year I have a lot of exciting projects waiting in the wings which draw on all of my past experience, but also supersede it.  I feel like I'm putting many thing behind me, erasing the past and trying to build a mythology anew-- and it's maybe not entirely coincidental that this represents breadcrumbs along a decade of collaboration and production, as this decade comes to a close (in my book, 2010, not 2009.) It's like an aethyric spork that I'm digging into my innards to clear out room for more innards. Except...nothing at all like that, thank God. But if you put these tracks in your iPod I promise you'll get an erection that'll last at least seven days or your money back! (Male, female. Doesn't matter.)

While you're at it, buy something new. Tequila isn't free and my laptop needs spinning rims. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Laurie Lipton Interview for Immanence of Myth

I am pleased to share an interview I did with Laurie Lipton for the Immanence of Myth anthology. This is one of the many discussions I had with artists for this book. Her work seemed especially appropriate in regard to many of the themes that run throughout, and it was a good conversation I think. Enjoy, and please subscribe to this blog and look for further publication notes about IoM in 2011!

James Curcio: Do you see exploring these images as a way of actively engaging with the issues behind them? Do you think that process is the same for someone looking at your work in a gallery?

Laurie Lipton: I have been drawing since the age of four. It served as my main means of communicating, so my work has more facets to it than a mere engagement with an “issue.” When I sit down to draw a whole life time of experience comes into play. How do other people engage with my work? Everyone is different. I can only tell you how I personally respond to a work of art. When I see a painting, read a book, or listen to music it is a deeply subjective experience. If the work connects to me it hits me on a number of levels; intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, but not necessarily all three. It speaks to me about the "story" of my life and tells me something about who or where I am. It gives me another piece of myself and or clarifies something I've felt to be true. I feel a sense of self recognition in a good work of art, a “yes! that's it!” moment. I hope to do this for the viewers of my work. Whether I succeed or not is debatable and changes in degree from individual to individual. 

JC: It's amazing how different reactions can be when you put something out into the world. In a way I think it's like having a child. You give it your genes, and have some influence certainly, but as they become a part of the world, I imagine you come to realize that they were never “yours.” I'm imagining based on my friend's experience. Thusfar, my work has been my child... Well, and my cats. Was there a sudden point when you realized “I'm an artist,” or has that always been with you?

LL: I've always drawn and created art, but an Artist seemed like a rarefied Being. I felt it would be too grandiose to crown myself with that title. I traveled a lot between Europe and the USA and you need to fill out a Landing Card every time you pass between countries. I finally wrote in the Occupation section, “Self-Employed Artist,” when I was 26. I remember it distictly. It hit me: “I am an artist!” 

JC: Is there a narrative running behind your work? Do you think it's important for that to explicitly carry through to the audience, or just remain a part of the creation process?

LL: The “story” that ties my work together is from my conscious and unconscious self. My imagery is the result of many associations, thoughts, feelings... I think in images. They come to me easily. I have never experienced an artistic block in my life and always have too many drawings lined up in my head and not enough time to do them. I try to remain “true” to my self, not a slave to fashion or influenced by what I believe people would buy. I am trying to be unutterably subjective so that I can come close to a kind of Objective Reality. The creation process is the effort to communicate... not only to an "audience" but to myself. It serves an inner need. If I weren't allowed to create, I believe I would become psychologically, perhaps even physically, ill. 

JC: A couple things that you said just now are interesting to me. First off, you said you are embracing the subjective so as to reach the objective. These two things are often shown as diametrical opposites, certainly the myth of objectivity is most commonly related to science and mathematics. Can you expand a bit on what you mean by that?

LL: Why do myths and legends, written thousands of years ago, still affect us today? How can a work of art by a dead Italian Catholic man in Renaissance Europe speak to a live Jewish girl in 21st century New York? What makes certain things reach beyond their time and culture? I believe it is because the artist somehow hit a core subjective truth within himself. All of humanity, from the beginning of history, has experienced certain fears, yearnings, questions. Look at The Epic of Gilgamesh: thousands of years ago mankind was asking “why am I here, what is the meaning of all this?” just as we are today. So the personal becomes the Universal, the subjective becomes Objective… to a degree. 

JC: And we define ourselves by how we answer that question, yes. That's one of the reasons I decided to organize this anthology. With as much has been said about myth and the arts, it oftentimes gets framed as separate from daily life. When a person or place gets mythologized, it takes on an element of being “other,” or leaves this world altogether. But ground zero for myth is our daily lives. It's very interesting to me that you can go so far into the “inside” as an artist you can wind up communicating to thousands or millions from your hermit cave. These are difficult things to talk about sensibly. Are there any processes that you use to try to access what you call your unconscious self? It's very mysterious how art seems to constantly shore up material from those liminal states, between waking and sleep, living and dying, and so on. Also, these seem to be themes that come up quite frequently in your work...
LL: I live a very simple, solitary life. Monks and mystics usually had direct access to their God because there were no distractions. I find that I need to be alone to be able to "sink" into my work. If I know that I will be going out in the evening or that someone is stopping by sometime during the day, I can't really let go and draw. It's a very strange, sometimes hard, existence. Most times it is sheer bliss. I am cut off from reality in order to get at Reality. Being on my own is the only way I can let rip and expose my underbelly Self. This way of life would drive most people insane but as I am already off my proverbial trolley, I'm perfectly safe. 

JC: That's true of many artists. On the more technical end, I'm curious about the process you use to get such detail.
LL: Simple: I sit for hours and work my butt off.

JC: I don't doubt that a bit. When composing a piece, do you envision the image ahead of time- like that idea of sculpture existing somehow "inside" unhewn stone, or is it more of an exploratory process?
LL: I keep small sketch books around or near me and either write out images in words as they appear in my head, or do a tiny, quick sketch. Then I let them simmer. I play with the composition for a while. When I feel fired enough to actually put an image down on a large piece of paper, the basics are there. For example: a woman standing in a living room. The details are not yet formed (i.e. the woman's face, her clothing, the furniture). I suppose it is similar to a writer composing a story: he sees the characters and the situations, but then has to dive in to get at the core, the meat of it all. Forgive the metaphor mix. Once I surround myself with the drawing, it becomes clearer to me bit by bit. It reveals itself to me slowly and I have to be patient. If I hurry or force anything, I cut off the life-flow and it dies. So to answer your question: it is both. 

Laurie Lipton was born in New York and began drawing at the age of four. She was the first person to graduate from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania with a Fine Arts Degree in Drawing (with honours). She has lived in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France and has made her home in London since 1986. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the USA.
    Lipton was inspired by the religious paintings of the Flemish School. She tried to teach herself how to paint in the style of the 17th century Dutch Masters and failed. When traveling around Europe as a student, she began developing her very own peculiar drawing technique building up tone with thousands of fine cross-hatching lines like an egg tempera painting. “It's an insane way to draw,” she says, “but the resulting detail and luminosity is worth the amount of effort.”

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dark Side of a Culture:  Thoughts on Abu Ghraib and the Pornography of Cruelty

“The torture? A more serious blow to the US than the 9-11 attacks. Except the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by American citizens.” --Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. 

(This is an update of an article that ran on Alterati in 2007. It appears  in the Immanence of Myth.)

    Several months after the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were first reported, a porn was produced, somewhat unsurprisingly, based on the events that took place there. Some of the copy accompanying the video reads: “I'm sure you've seen the news where they had those prisoners on top of the box with electrodes and a hood on the person's face, and if they fell off they would get a zap? Well we did just that. We put her up on the box with the electrodes on her fingers and hood on her head and did everything imaginable to her in her jail cell.”
    In bad taste? Certainly. But it goes deeper than that. This is a brief investigation of the psychology of vicariousness, which seems to underlie much of the “evil” perpetrated through passive rather than active participation, often revealed through art-forms that confront us with our cultural “dark side.” In this case, the revelation was embodied in the form of pornography, a simulacra based on actual rape and abuse, which itself doubtless didn't have the self awareness to recognize the power of its inadvertent satire. I’m not talking about the “dark side” from Star Wars. Evil rarely identifies itself as such. Instead we come face to face with the dark side of the moon, psychologically, which is never revealed to us unless if we ourselves go there. As Nietzsche rightfully recognized, this is not a safe exploration, you can’t do it entirely from behind a windshield; the “abysses we look into also look back into us.”
    This confrontation, and even the idealization of fascism and oppression as a means of demonstrating their opposite, are very closely tied to what such art seeks to bring about. It is a realm that does not just accidentally lead to misunderstanding, it provokes it. It demands it. Let me provide a long quotation from the introduction to the book Interrogation Machine, which I think makes the point quite elegantly:
In his reaction to the photos showing Iraqi prisoners tortured and humiliated by US soldiers, made public at the end of April 2004, George Bush, as expected, emphasized how the deeds of these soldiers were isolated crimes which do not reflect what America stands and fights for: the values of democracy, freedom, and personal dignity. If this is true, how, then, are we to account for their main feature, the contrast between the “standard” way prisoners were tortured in Saddam’s regime, and the US army tortures? In Saddam’s regime, the emphasis was on direct brutal infliction of pain, while the US soldiers focused on psychological humiliation. Furthermore, recording the humiliation with a camera, with the perpetrators included in the picture, their faces smiling stupidly alongside the twisted, naked bodies of the prisoners, is an integral part of the process, in stark contrast with the secrecy of Saddam’s tortures. When I saw the famous photo of a naked prisoner with a black hood covering his head, electric cable attached to his limbs, standing on a chair in a ridiculous theatrical pose, my first reaction was that this was a shot of the latest performance-art show in Lower Manhattan. The very positions and costumes of the prisoners suggest a theatrical staging, a kind of tableau vivant, which cannot but bring to mind the whole scope of American performance art and theatre of cruelty. (Interrogation Machine, Monroe.) 
    Antonin Artaud’s approach to theater was based directly on shedding light on this unpleasant “cultural dark side,” and the reference here, though speaking of American performance art, surely is in fact speaking to the French surrealist movement that Artaud started, the Theatre of Cruelty. This is not a strictly American issue, it is a psychological one, and one which has throughout history played its role in the definition of in-group and out-group — initiation and all other rituals which bring us in to the social circle, or which thrust us from it — the enactment of taboo, by which societies define their relations to one another and the world around us. In other words, the debasement of the “sacrifice” is not merely, as the quotation would imply, an expression of our dark half, our defining “dirty bits,” it is a psychological demand of the modern, narcissistic cultural identity.

Not that this particular pornographic artifact has any value, but its underlying impulse shows us more about ourselves than we might like to see. Nor is vicarious participation in sadism or masochism quite as simple an act as one may assume, (as a tangential note, Foucault was well known in the BDSM scene.) To continue with the quotation:
…It is in this feature that brings us to the crux of the matter: to anyone acquainted with the reality of the US way of life, the photos immediately brought to mind the obscene underside of US popular culture- for example, the initiation rituals of torture and humiliation one has to undergo in order to be accepted into a closed community.” (A note, again: this is not at all isolated to American culture: only its mode of expression is. Continuing.) “Do we not see similar photos at regular intervals in the US press, when some scandal explodes in an Army unit or on a high school campus, where an initiation ritual goes too far and soldiers or students get hurt beyond a level considered tolerable? … Abu Ghraib was not simply a case of American arrogance toward a Third World nation: in being submitted to these humiliating tortures, the Iraqi prisoners wee effectively initiated into American culture. They got a taste of its obscene underside, which forms the necessary supplement to the public values of personal dignity, democracy, and freedom.
…In march 2003, none other than Donald Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophizing about the relationship between the known and the unknown: “there are known knowns, There are things things we known that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we known we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” What he forgot to add was the crucial forth term: the “unknown knowns,” things we don’t know that we know — which is precisely the Freudian unconscious — the “knowledge which doesn’t know itself” as Lacan used to say. If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq are the “unknown unknowns” the threats from Saddam which we do not even suspect, the Abu Ghraib scandal shows where the dangers are: in the “unknown knowns,” the disavowed beliefs, suppositions, and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, although they form the background of our public values. … So Bush was wrong: what we get when we see the photos of the humiliated Iraqi prisoners on our screens and front pages is precisely a direct insight into “American values,” into the very core of the obscene enjoyment that sustains the US way of life. (ibid.)
    Now to the central point: what better example of our unknown knowing is there than a brutal, even horrific, re-enactment of the Abu Ghraib incident, shown on a porn website as a form of entertainment, for people to masturbate to from a safe distance — safe from the potential shame of participation, but allowed to engage with it by proxy, like drivers rubbernecking at an accident? Nothing could be more to the point than this vicarious violence, enacted upon the degraded subject of our (supposed) desire. What better demonstration of precisely what is hidden behind our collective cultural mask of civility, or the outstretched hand of our “foreign diplomacy”? What better way to see it than in something so absurd?  
    At the same time movies like this have an unintentional element of the comedic. Even this kind of analysis of such a subject is, in its way, nothing more than comedy. Yet we shouldn’t let this mislead us: it is often only when we laugh that we are taking something seriously. To find amusement in the horrific is one of the “secrets” of many so-called Secret Societies. The alchemical process deals with the unification of the dark and the light, of the transformation of the dross, of base materials, to a more refined form. Shit to gold. But properly understood, this process does not mean we should support the horrific, it does not mean condone it: it means that we must identify the darkness, peel it back, look into its eye, and laugh. He who is illuminated with the brightest of lights will have the darkest of shadows. As Heinlein recognized, man is a creature that laughs at wrongness. Does this laughter transform? Does tragi-comedy relieve us of complicity? Perhaps not, but it does allow us to approach it without fear of being taken in by it, and this proximity allows for further transformation to occur.
    Only then can we change. Only then can we change others.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Postmodernogamy, Polyamory, and the Marriage Narrative

By James Curcio
Postmodernogamy is a "playful perversion of language," a "facetious neologism" that I've been using for several years. (I'll explain the quotation in a second.)

I mostly used it because I've often gotten into pointless arguments with strangers on polyamory forums for reasons passing my understanding, perhaps having to do with not kowtowing to some kind of imaginary party line, or because my sense of humor is very easily taken the wrong way by strangers that are, in my opinion, clearly over sensitive about being politically correct, whatever the hell that means. (Who knew that the term "tarded" isn't acceptable? I mean, fuck!)

I've also employed it because I'm just a patently absurd being, and the term "Postmodernogamy" is patently absurd. That's not unlike Kierkegaard's ultimate justification for Christianity. (If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. In fact we must believe by virtue of the absurd.) We are meant for each other, like two soul-mates. Or something.

Let me explain it to you in my usual round-about way.

A conversation sparked up on a friend's Facebook, off of his use of the term Postmonogamy, a different term altogether though I was only half awake when I read it so I somehow assumed that he had said "postmodernogamy." And a conversation ensued which went somewhere both insightful and absurd, doubly so now that I realize it was all based on a misreading on my part. I in fact have very little to contribute to the idea of postmonogamy. I think it's unnecessary, and I'm sure we'll have a faux debate about that any day now.

But in the meantime I'd like to share my thoughts with you on the transition of relationships from the archiac to modern to postmodern age. Hopefully I needn't spell the general narrative of that obvious mythically implied linearity. It was the stuff of most of our education, formal and otherwise. De Sade foretold the death of the social convention of marriage, a "slap in the face to the Apollonian man." De Sade was, arguably, shaking his cage bars and fighting the formality of his age in the only ways he knew how. But there does seem to be a hysteria evident throughout much of the populace today, evidenced by the conflicts over gay marriage, and the forecoming arguments about progressive group marriage (as opposed to the regressive forms as seen in Mormonism) that are only beginning to hit the News.

The argument goes that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and should this be contested, should it be sufficiently compromised, the entire fabric of society will collapse. We will revert to man-apes. Jesus will rise from the dead (again?!) and unleash his zombie hoards. Horrific stuff. Unless if you like zombies, which apparently some people do.

If our society hangs from such a fragile thread, if we're dangling so precipitously from the edge of the cliff, then it seems inevitable that we will slide to the bottom. I say we do it champagne glasses in hand. But let's back up a moment. Isn't it plainly apparent that marriage has nothing to do with biology? My wife and I kissed (and did other things) with several wonderful ladies at our wedding after-party, and I've yet to see a single zombie. (Though we should really get married more often, it seems to produce excellent parties, not to mention apparently getting women riled up. Even though that was unlikely the cause, it's still fun to attribute wildly.)

The restrictions applied to marriage, or applied through marriage, are representative of culturally normalizing forces within the society itself. They do not represent some kind of natural, let alone categorical, imperative. Though, of course, the pair bonding of mammals for the purpose of procreation does represent a biological imperative and I'll get to that in a moment.

This is EXACTLY what being polyamorous is like.
ALL THE TIME. Right, Charlie Sheen?
I don't say this as some kind of opponent of monogamy. My contention is with the de facto expectation that it is enforced as the norm in all cases, and I have a reservation about the heirarchy that is formed in modern life: rampant promiscuity when "dating" and "free" to either an ongoing string of serial monogamous relationships, or "settling down" which also implies "shutting out." I've lost more friends, at least practically speaking, to marriage than cancer or any other disease. I would not like to confine myself to this strict narrative.

What are the alternatives, and what the hell does this have to do with postmodernism? Often the accusation leveled at bisexuality and polyamory alike, when other options are expended, is that it is selfish. This accusation is meant to immediately carry a negative connotation, I imagine, thanks to Abrahamic morality. (Which so often uses piety to mask various forms of selfishness, but that's another thing.)

Though any relationship that endures can't be based entirely on selfishness, I still have to question the underlying logic being employed here. What does it mean to be selfish in these cases?

There was a speech given by a Canadian author and playwright whose name is eluding me at the moment called "The Virtue of Selfishness." It was directed at the graduating class of a specialized school -- they were all going into social work. And he asked, in a nutshell, "how can you help others if you cannot help yourself?" (Ayn Rand also had some things to say about the virtues of selfishness but I don't like her politics so I'm biased.)

If we shut ourselves down or make ourselves in the image of what our partner wants us to be, strictly, then we can't be of any service to them. I have often seen a pattern in the most claustrophobic relationships that partners fall for something in someone, and then suffocate it and find themselves dissatisfied with the person they helped engineer. I'm not talking about compromise here, that is an essential part of any relationship. As always it is easy to paint abstract pictures in absolutes when reality tends to fall somewhere in-between.

There isn't, on the flip side, an inherent virtue in selfishness, either. Without any regard for anyone else, the only alliances we can forge are along the axis of very temporary mutual best interests. However, in less extreme cases, if we're being honest, it is the maintenance of mutual best interest that any relationship is maintained. Without that it coasts on inertia only until such a time that a stronger gravitational force, so to speak, pulls it to a new course.

Finally, I can get to my actual point: 

Based on the ideology of those that oppose gay as well as open marriage, the ends towards which marriage are directed are progeny and the maintenance of a certain social order. This is the biological imperative I spoke of conjoined with a set of social rules and expectations which, though they vary by place and time in some ways -- for instance arranged marriages are no longer the norm in the Western world -- they tend towards a fairly similar pattern, with the exception of cultural outliers. (Such as matriarchal Native American tribes, etc.)

This is the archaic and modernist marriage, which implies teleology as the establishment of progeny as successors is a movement towards an end, one's own end, and in terms of time as well a stratification of life is implied.

Let's look at the pattern. birth, childhood and play, young adulthood -- experimentation and social training, college and breaking off from parents, the period of dating which is a code word in many cases for casual sex and genetic sorting (finding a suitable mate), marriage, and a shift of emphasis then on creating a platform for the life that is to come. Then, the long period of toil until the "golden" period when the young have left the nest and the now elderly can reflect before death. This pattern changes slightly by society but it is ingrained by various mythologies and seems mostly constant world-wide. It is re-enforced by the myths, by the laws, and by the possible presecution of the rest of society, should anyone contest these "God given" rules. Women are still stoned to death for adultery in some places of in the world, hard as it is to believe.

The "end of history" that harkens postmodernism is easily reflected in a skeptical attitude towards these patterns; hierarchical methods of time and behavior categorization are replaced with more fluid nonlinear approaches. The jumble can remain a jumble, chaos is striated through its own self organizing principles, and our task becomes simply being wherever we are, recognizing, responding, seeking to be aware-- sometimes to suffer and fail miserably but, we hope, fearlessly -- rather than trying to organize the process of our lives through an imposed order that comes from without. Life is a series of flows. There are heirarchies and orders, but they are self-structuring, and tend to collapse and reform on their own whims. To put it far less abstractly, we aren't the ones in control. We never were, we never will be. The conscious mind is a little air bubble in a giant block of jello, and yes. I know this post has nothing to do with squirrels that are also whiskey bottles. But look at them. They're fucking awesome. What do you want from me?

This is what defines the post-modern condition, as well as skepticism towards meta-narratives, one of which could well be called the "sanctity of marriage." Yet, I don't contest its sanctity, in fact I'd like to see more of the sacred in all of our lives. Instead, let's say that it is a skepticism towards the teleology of our existence as birthing machines, of beings that must always follow the same narrative, the same progression; that our futures must self-organize to the whims and dictates that come from without rather than within.

Now that I think of it, I hate the term post-modernism, too. Damn. Well, some day I'll find a categorization I can live with.

Nah. Probably not. ... Look, schoolgirl maids!

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth now.

Counterculture Consumer-mas Books and Music

All you read and 
Wear or see and 

Hear on TV 

Is a product 
Waiting for your 
Fairly dirty Dollar. 
So shut up and 
Buy, Buy, Buy, 
My new record. 
Buy, Buy, Buy, 
Send more money. 

Full disclosure: Despite appearances, I often feel awkward about self promotion. I hate being sold to, and to a certain extent, I hate selling, though I obviously believe in my work enough to spend countless hours working on it, and I furthermore belive that-- when matched with the right people at the right time-- the work is valuable. In interviews I can talk ceaselessly about the creative process but ask me for a pitch and I'll likely clam up and crack an inappropriate joke. It's not that I don't believe deeply in the collaborations and solo work I'm doing at any given point, even if there is always room for improvement as well...it's just that I cling to that myth that the work should speak for itself, and no one likes feeling like a damn used car salesman.

But in light of the Holidaze and all, I'm going to swallow that absurd misgiving for a moment and suggest that you pick up an unusual Christmas Consumer-mas present for someone special. Bonus: You can get that extra glow for helping support a dilettante independent artist, and for being an "early adopter."

Fallen Nation: Party At The World's End [Early release edition. $14.95 228 pg. book. $2.99 eBook.]

A psychedelic joyride into the death of the American Dream. Also a great novel for your teenage kids if they're smart and you want to set them on a life of philosophy, debauchery, and petty larceny.

HoodooEngine: EgoWhore [CD $9.99, tracks $.99 each on iTunes.] An album I worked on that we wrapped in the autumn. We're working on the follow-up now.

"EgoWhore," transports you through a dystopian Sci-fi tour of industrial strength metal and hardcore crunktronica. It is a true product of the digital / DIY generation, produced mostly on a Macbook Pro with the assistance of enough entheogens to bewilder an entire caravan of oxen.

Immanence of Myth [Early release edition. $21.99 470 page book. $3.99 eBook.] This is the nonfiction anthology of modern myth I've been writing and researching for the past few years. Over half of the 429 pages are my own, but many of the contributions help add different perspectives. Includes many interviews with myth-makers and artists of various mediums at the end, including David Mack (Kabuki, Daredevil), Laurie Lipton, John Harrigan (Foolish People), S Jenx, Rudy Rauben, and many others. Good for anyone that wants to think "outside the box" about how myths and ideas shape our internal worlds, and how you can play a role in that if you're an author, a musician, a visual artist, a film-maker ... 

For eBook readers, Wade suggests: "Download a program called Calibre and you can translate your purchases into either .mobi or .epub for free."

(NOTE: The early release editions are going to be yanked as soon as publishing deals are inked in 2011. They contain all the content the finals will, but may still have some typos / copy errors. The forthcoming publication announcement appears to be immanent, no pun, for Immanence of Myth. If you are a publisher interested in working with me on the Fallen Nation series, by all means drop a line. I'm in discussion with a few groups but it's always good to have options.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Memes, Myths, Birds, Bees, and Markets

Each of our lives is a story, an album, a painting, in which we play the starring role, but only posthumously, in hindsight, or through the internal wrestling of the creative process which separate us, momentarily, from our day-to-day concerns. Proof of this is found, and re-enforced, through the primacy of the protagonist (and antagonist) within the acceptable narrative framework.

No one is an extra, and identification with the core protagonist is considered essential for the saleability of a story because of this psychological fact. Though it is reasonable to wonder if this “fact” isn't a culturally re-enforced idea that has in part structured the very way we interpret our life experience.

These stories – our own stories and the fictional myths born out of them – weave together into an ever-changing tapestry which we call culture. Though it sounds a bit high-flung, we can become demigods for those who inherit the worlds we create. This mantle is both a boon and a curse that is often bestowed posthumously upon certain writers, artists, etc. This worthiness is far from egalitarian, and often strikes a harsh contrast to the living reality of that individuals life. Many of the individuals that our present cultures owe themselves to died impoverished, unfulfilled, or (most famously), crucified. An ongoing mythical tradition is like a river that flows ever forward, sometimes branching off, or dying to drought or dam, yet nevertheless continually flowing, never reaching an ultimate destination.

From this we may recognize that the beliefs and symbols that live on through us, which we convey to those around us, are the currency of the myth. Many have used the term meme to represent this currency, and to systematize this cultural economy. Though perhaps a buzz-word of our time, this term nevertheless is useful in that it distinguishes the symbol from the sign in a structural way, allowing us to recognize that represented ideas themselves operate, in a sense, like organisms. Memes serve a greater function than being mere packets of information, as
...Magic has always been about the encoding of meaning, about symbolic literacy, about the creation and even the restoration of calendars. Memetics is a way of comprehending the ramifications of such encoding, identifying the systems that result from rituals, and transmitting meaning into a goal-oriented complex system, the meme space. Memes are more than a linguistic phenomenon. (The Art of Memetics, Unruh and Wilson.)
Though I don't want to get side-tracked, I think the idea of memes requires more consideration. It's a term that we toss out and either accept on its face that cultural information can, in some way, be likened to the behavior of viruses, or not. As with most metaphors, there are likely ways in which it is accurate, and ways that it is not. More importantly, what are the repurcussions of this idea in terms of the overlapping relationship of genes and culture? In other words, do myths play a role in our evolution, as a part of our mirrored relationship with ourselves?

I would like to provide a few quotations from A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History on this subject, and then give commentary more aligned with our specific line of inquiry.
Darwin's basic insight was that animal and plant species are the cumulative result of a process of descent and modification. Later on, however, scientists came to realize that any variable replicator (not just genetic replicators) coupled to any sorting device (not just ecological selection pressures) would generate a capacity for evolution.  
Thus, the attraction or repulsion we feel when encountering a certain facial structure, or from a pattern of symbols constructed – we might say – right out of the genetic intelligence of an individual, helps provide one of the key sorting mechanisms in literal and figurative mating rituals.

What do I mean by “figurative?” I mean that sexual attraction has a biological imperative inherent in it to produce offspring, but humans have in various ways circumvented that, sublimated that, and so the “children” that can be born from the co-mingling of our ideas needn't be physical or literal. Nevertheless, the ideas that are compelling to us, the art that attracts and changes us, seems to operate more-or-less on the same principles that determine a mating selection process. In other words, we can indeed use a genetic metaphor in regard to our myths.

Richard Dawkins independently realized that patterns of animal behavior (such as bird-songs or the use of tools by apes) could indeed replicate themselves if they spread across a population (and across generations) by imitation. (ibid) 
This has clear repercussions in the study of the diffusion of language and culture, and carried right along with them is the undercurrent of all forms of human representation, as we've seen, which we've taken to refer to simply as “myth.” This opens up the door for a new approach to mythic study which goes far beyond what can be accomplished in a single introductory volume, but I am hopeful that more work will be done in this direction in the future.

Let's take this line of thought a step further, perhaps folding it back into itself like a ribbon. Within the context of modern markets, we are taught to think of the sale of media (books, movies, music, etc) not much different than the sale of a sandwich, or any other commodity. This misses the function a book or other piece of content that embodies mythic content serves – it is “weaponized content,” its value contained within the memes that are reproduced through exposure to the medium, rather than in that embodiment, the container or vessel that merely serves to propagate the content in a material world.

A better metaphor than those following from ideas of consumption and commodity might be found in the relationship of flowering plants and the insects that help them spread. Imagine that pollen is cultural information. Flowers generate pollen and passively make themselves attractive to the insects that also somewhat blindly lap up the nectar, in the process carrying pollen from one flower to the next. Of course, a random breath of wind also plays its role in disseminating this genetic material. To an extent we all serve both as “bees” (memebearers) and “flowers” (nexus points, which can be codified within books, movies, or really in whatever container seems most appropriate to the nature of the narrative.) So we may be lured in by the narrative, or some other element, but what we take in and carry on are the memes embedded within it, which may very well have been placed there completely unconsciously by the author. This can be seen as the genetic code of a myth, and I imagine few of us are consciously aware of our genes.

What's the sweet nectar and bright colors that lures in the unwitting insects? That's the question advertisers are bound to ask. The market is strictly concerned with selling the container, and like the insects, is blissfully unaware of the pollen. Countless dollars have been spent researching customer reaction to different colors, configurations of symbols and patterns. Certainly, much of this plays into the cutting edge of UX design. But, in contradiction of the common wisdom that says our biological similarities make us all susceptible to the same patterns, at least if we are looking for big-picture trends, it has been my experience that results vary depending on the “species of insect.” In other words, though the audience and the authors may all be consciously unaware of the genetic code of their work, we can readily sniff out what suits us and what does not, in the same way we have sized up potential mates through smell before a single word has been spoken. Even our immune systems are keyed to seek viable mates – this relates to our sense of smell as well – and further there is some evidence that even activities such as kissing have a matching and mating purpose, preparing our immune systems for one another.

Perhaps the myth of the genius of the author, or the sexiness of an idea, or the sense of lack manufactured or inherent in the market is what lures an audience to material, on the surface. Women's magazines of course capitalize on this approach almost singularly, and everyone is aware that sex is used to sell just about everything from deodorant to cars. What's being sold is what is being represented, and it is up to us to ensure that the “container” does not over strip the actual function of any piece of art, which is discussed throughout the rest of this bulk, but in any event remains of the utmost cultural import. Pollen that does not impregnate is sterile, whether or not a market is tricked into passing buying into the myth it represents.

It may seem strange or even specious to leap from one conceptual domain to another so haphazardly. I'd like to comment on that before moving forward by considering yet another facet, that of the market itself being subject to a sort of evolutionary and genetic model.

...it becomes clear that interactive species in an ecosystem have the ability to change each other's adaptive landscapes. (This is just another way of saying that in a predator-prey arms race there is not a fixed definition of what counts as “the fittest.”) (ibid)
A market is essentially a conceptual domain mapped on top of the pre-existent ecosystem, so ecological and evolutionary dynamics are more likely causal agents within that system than the formal rules of economics which, based on various logical presuppositions, have shown themselves demonstrably false.
The economists Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter, for instance, espouse an evolutionary theory of economics based on the idea that once the internal operations of an organization have become routinized, the routines themselves constitute a kind of “organizational memory.  For example, when an economic institution (e.g. a bank), opens a branch in a foreign city, it sends a portion of its staff to recruit and train new people; in this way, it transmits its internal routines to the new branch. Thus, institutions may be said to transmit information vertically to their 'offspring.' (ibid)
While we could spin into a tangential discussion of the relationship of various mythic interpretations of economics, my point in introducing this idea is simply to demonstrate that we can glance across many domains at once, and find congruent forms as well as patches of discontinuity; however, it stands to reason that the layer that contains genetic and biological patterns should be considered before the other strata, even if this demonstrates a shard of conceptual hierarchy into what is clearly a series of non-linear systems.

If, in this specific sense, we choose to employ the metaphor of memes, then it is worth asking how these memes are carried from one individual to the next. Clearly there is a secondary medium (symbols), but the points of intersection, and the amalgam that results, is the real “burning point for myth,” a nice phrase Campbell once used in a much publicized discussion with Bill Moyers. Perhaps there are too many variables involved in the specifics to look at it from such a generalized perspective, but we can at least glimpse the shape of it.

This is the key: myths arise as relationships, or points of intersection. The relationship between ritual object or work of art and individual audience member, the relationship between audience members within the framework provided by the myth, and so on. They can represent not only the information carried within the transmitted signifiers, but also, perhaps more importantly in the long run, they exist in the sorting mechanism and desire which fuels the consumption and reprocessing of the signified. The authors of these relationships we call artists, it doesn't actually matter what the medium, and in many ways artists simply serve as the scribes or mediums for a discussion which is constantly occurring. None of our ideas are entirely our own. The ownership of ideas, too, is a myth based on some rather curious presuppositions about the isolation of the individual from a social fabric that quite clearly underlies every action and thought we can and will ever have.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Immanence of Myth - Rabbitholes update

I've been giving some thought to the questions I posed in this post, and some of them have been the topics of interesting conversations. This is an ongoing process, obviously, whereas a book presents a sort of illusion of stasis: "this is the final word." Obviously, this book isn't going to be, isn't meant to be. Maybe it's a snapshot of thoughts from a period of time, in which case the best move might be to get out of the way of it and allow it to be the first installment...

I'm giving those questions consideration. I'm dusting off the hard copy I have. Loading 400 pages of content into my brain is a surprisingly demanding process, but it's necessary if you want to sift new thoughts and put them in the proper place within the structure you've already defined. So, I'm doing that. And, hopefully, we can see this thing in print before the reptilians rip off their human masks and toss us all into FEMA camps. (There of course remains the task of finding the right publisher for a book that is openly hostile towards the posturing of academia, and yet too abstract and demanding for a mainstream market.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Clark Episodes 1-4

There have been few artists who have changed our perception of reality, and even less who have changed the world. This story is about neither.”

Exodus Films presents “Clark,” a gonzomentary reality show art film surrounding the struggles of an independent artist in a capitalist world.

We have now run 4 episodes of Clark, and are halfway through our first season. Check it out and subscribe through your preferred method... or watch them on Blip.tv or on Alterati.com.

Yeah, we're full of options. More to come, and the insanity will only mount as we enter the second half of the season.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

My Issue With God Isn't That He Doesn't Exist, But...

My issue with religion isn't in the basic ideology of religion. The rational attacks athiesm lobs against it seem to miss the point, in terms of whether or not God exists. (The same could be said for religious scholars that have constructed some very elegant, completely pointless proofs for the existence of God.)

Religion is at its core a metaphysical, ontological belief that there is an interconnection between things. (See the etymology - Religio, Religare, etc.) From the Immanence of Myth text, "Just through looking at the etymology of the word, we can see this. “Religion” comes from the Latin religiō, religiōn-, perhaps from religāre, “to tie fast.” Note that the meaning of this word is fundamentally the same as the meaning of the Sanskrit word Yoga, literally “union, yoking,” or “to join.” In both cases it is an attempt at joining the reference, which the religion refers to but cannot in itself embody, the social body, and the individual. “Sutra” also come from the root from which we get the word “suture,” to bind or tie together. So it may seem strange to work our way into a discussion of sacred art through religion, but it is through that avenue that it can be best understood, if “religion” is stripped of baggage. Perhaps if we simply think of it as a means of bringing the sacred into our consideration of the profane, this baggage can naturally fall away."

Religion attempts to put us in a psychological relationship with the whole of being. That which it represents is not human, and cannot make commandments; it is simply a matter of orientation rooted in belief. It is hard to deny this, although we needn't assume as Plotinus did that All is One: systems can be intelocked in a variety of ways, and yet remain distinct in others, even if there is not clear division point from one to the other but rather a series of continuums, and semi-permiable membranes.

(Okay, Plotinus actually said "The One is all things, and yet no one of all. The One is all, because all things co-exist in It." Which actually expresses my point without really articulating it. Gnosticism tends to emphasize the universal at the expense of the particular. A better choice than the opposite, but still deceptive.)

My issue with religion is that the vast majority of them are far too socially conservative, they too typically serve as a series of cultural breaks, a normalizing force against progress and the natural "order" of chaos, and I simply can't get behind that. Even ideologies that you think would express themselves progressively and as a sort of universal solvent against normalization and restriction, quite simply don't. Take Goddess worship in Hinduism. They can worship Devi in one form or another and yet own their wives, and exist within an ideological map that is inherently patriarchal, both in regard to perspective of the material and social.

That's probably the first level that Dionysus spoke to me on. I want to see Goddess worship that tears the roof off the house, and celebrations that blot out the rational mind. Clinging does nothing but turn celebration to madness, as with Agave in The Bacchae, "... transformed— an abomination, something to fill all people's hearts with horror, with disgust— the mother who slaughtered her only son, who tore him apart, ripping out the heart from the child who filled her own heart with joy— all to honour this god Dionysus."

I worship in my way, through acts, without believing in the absolutely reality of anything signified.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Fallen Nation: Party At The World's End - Early Version Available

Fallen Nation: Party At The World’s End is a mad ride past the event horizon of sanity with a group of young, escaped mental patients that come to realize – or believe – that they are demigods. They form Babylon, a band that captures the spirit of the age as sex, drugs, and chaos reign in the final years of the American Empire.

I am presently looking to connect with a publisher or agent to help with copyediting, final layout, marketing and distribution, but it is ready to be devoured by anyone who doesn't mind a comma splice or typo here or there. I am using Lulu because I don't want to enter the Amazon marketplace until I've forged the right partnership to get it to its market.

Fallen Nation: Party At The World's End - Early Version
Order ($14.95)
eBook download ($2.99)

For those of you who have asked if this is a stand alone-- Yes. But it isn't a one-shot. This is intended to be the first in a transmedia series. I talk a little about the writing process behind this book here.

(I worked to get imagery for the cover that matches the content thematically and aesthetically, which uses some elements from the old version of this story, and some new material as well. The "new" material admittedly comes from a shoot done in 2001 but it's never been used in print.) 


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