Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unlearning Reality : Afragility, Twitter, and Embodying Myth as Incunabula

I personally don't suffer with the problem that Hunter S. Thompson did, the problem which he elucidated in the 1978 BBC documentary, and James recalled in his post on Living and Embracing Ego:

I'm never sure which one people expect me to be. Very often, they conflict — most often, as a matter of fact. ...I'm leading a normal life and right along side me there is this myth, and it is growing and mushrooming and getting more and more warped. When I get invited to, say, speak at universities, I'm not sure if they are inviting Duke or Thompson. I'm not sure who to be.
There is no conflict between the myth and reality for me. The Roman numerals which make up VI are as much a signifier of my self-hood as the name I was given at birth. Gonzo is the insertion of self into the narrative - the breaking of the notion of objectivity. The author goes native, becoming a native of the text or medium.

Native has its roots in natal, relating inextricably to birth and innateness. There is only a conflict if you were ever born somewhere else; the ontological and cultural tensions induce a kind of schizoid existence.

A double life, like Clark Kent and Superman or Bruce Wayne and Batman. We've all read enough comics or seen enough of the films and other media to realise that this tension is manufactured by the environment we're in.

Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are masks. Batman and Superman are the faces behind those masks. Those faces are the real identities, and they are made of myth, born of it. In Immanence of Myth James and I talk a great deal about the body, the corpus of myth as living flesh.

Whether it be the twilight world of cannibalism, butchery, or simply eating fucking and dying, the reasons for such discussions are horrifically simple:

Our bodies, these flesh and blood machines; by their creaking, groaning, pounding and pulsing they are our method of experiencing the universe, and they are the only one we will ever have.

Going native, becoming part of the narrative; this requires that you become myth. It is in a sense, a second birth, a second Nativity - to become the 'rough beast that slouches toward Bethlehem to be born'.

The body becomes the text, the medium. That is when you have become a native, when your very flesh has been juiced with myth, suffused with and marinaded in it.

It may sound insane, to aim to become a living being composed solely of myth; a thing of dream and nebuluous, quixotic creative potential. After all, if there is no dividing line between fiction and reality, one is insane, no?

Except, there's things like this, where fictional characters tweet supportive messages to the people of Japan:
In the light of last week’s events in Japan, a twitter account has recently surfaced with encouraging comments from previous heroes on tokusatsu shows such as Ultraman, Super Sentai and Kamen Rider.
Tokusatsu means 'special filming'. Of the like seen in, y'know, Godzilla movies or Power Rangers for those of us not up on Japanese culture. Miraculous effects.

This isn't some mystical 'becoming-myth'. No, it's an attempt to help people parse the enormity of a catastrophe. This is an attempt to give people hope.

And it's happening right now, in a so-called 'rational' age. Seriously, am I the only one seeing the connections here? As I said in my last post, albeit obliquely - Godzilla and fellow mythic monsters serve a need that goes way beyond rationality.

Because the tension between reality and fiction is manufactured in an attempt to avoid acknowledging the fact that the majority of existence has fictive qualities; that apparently fundamental things are actually agreed upon fictions.

In many contexts, the mythic is seen as exterior - the Otherland, the Outside or perhaps some transcendent realm. It can also be viewed as completely interior - all in the mind, unpossessing of an external reality.

Such a division is ridiculous.

The human mind often seeks external causes - the seeking of both gods and scientific theory is born of the same impulse. This makes certain people uncomfortable.

It comes from a very visceral survival method - recognising patterns which are either detrimental or beneficial. This is an animal thing, pre-human and actually extraordinarily successful.

If it wasn't, you wouldn't be here.

It comes from pre-conscious times. It's innate, and inborn, part of our heredity. So, given that's true, what of the 'second birth'?

Suppose it's only a metaphor? Suppose one birth is actually all we need, that all the shifts in awareness suggested in myth are methods of returning to - a reacquisition of - faculties rendered latent by socialisation - an unlearning of 'reality'?

What happens when a system breaks, when the precarious functioning of society is disrupted by cultural shift or natural disaster? We're witnessing it now, with the insurrections across the Middle-East and the situation in Japan.

The myriad narratives spinning into existence, the hysteria and sense of foreboding - the sense that things are rushing headlong out of control, and the desperate attempt to try and make sense of things - all these are triggering, or are effects of our latent survival instinct.

Obviously a robust system is desirable - something that can endure such events. Most of the extremely clever people on the ground are already trying to alter things so that their systems don't fail next time.

Because that's a sensible thing to do.But sometimes, no matter how robust a system, an event will occur that breaks it. It may be of a tiny level of possibility, say once in a million years but it will occur, and it will come in a way which bypasses our control.

So what do we do, if even the most robust system may break?

What if we could build systems that weren't just robust, but are in fact afragile? What if you could make a thing that worked even better when it was at that breaking point?

Accepting the rupture and utilising it.

Evolution works on afragile principles to a point - the survival of the fit. Selection pressures mean that eventually an organism arrives which functions better in its environment than its predecessors.

There is an assumption that in disasters, people panic. Yet recent events have proved otherwise - the Japanese scuba-diving badass Hideaki Akaiwa who swims through a swamped city daily rescuing people.

This works for ancient events as well. Around 60000 years ago, the whole of the human species was in Africa - down to just 2000 of us. Humans were an endangered species and yet we prevailed because of social ties .

Oral storytelling and myth-making is an afragile practice. Don't believe me - then look no further than the world of pro-wrestling - when fictionalised storylines replaced the previously standard plays of 'catch-wrestling' the industry began to evolve into a multi-billion dollar industry.

And when it became clear that much of wrestling was fictive - when the storylines were deliberately designed to entice and entertain - rather than simple actuality, instead of signalling the deathknell for the sport, it allowed more intricate and engrossing plots via the practice known as kayfabe.

So what does this boil down to?

By accepting ourselves as native to the mythic - that it runs through our blood and physicality and has done so since the beginning of us, we no longer have to look elsewhere for the door to such spaces.

An incunabulum is an early printed pamphlet or book, with its Latin roots in 'swaddling clothes' and figurative childhood. As a natives of the mythic, we are living texts, incarnate in gonzo-bodies.

We are all incunabula. We are changelings already.

All the mythic properties ascribed to the external are products of interpretations of physical stimuli. In order to find their source we simply must unlearn our ideas of what is possible.

We cannot escape our physicality, our senses - the notion of an 'out there' will never actually be made manifest to us. We must unlearn 'reality' itself.

Be seeing you.

The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011

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