Saturday, July 26, 2014

Myth Is A Mirror

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Myth of Estrangement

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beyond Narrative: Systems Theory and the Unveiling of History

Eduardo Mata Icaza
The contours of a train of thought has been surfacing lately — it’s the kind of thought that can very easily lead to a book or PhD thesis, if you’re not careful. But at the moment, they are thoughts that have come about researching and writing a graphic novel.

It begins something with systems theory

My interest in systems theory began with De Landa’s 1000 Years of Nonlinear History, as this turned much of my thinking on pretty much everything on its head,
One of the ideas that I attack in my book is precisely the primacy of “interpretations” and of “conceptual frameworks.” Sure, ideas and beliefs are important, and do play a role in history, but academics of different brands have reduced all material and energetic processes, and all human practices that are not linguistic or interpretative (think of manual skills, of “know-how”) to a “framework.” The twentieth century has been obsessed with positioning everything. Every culture, given that it has its own framework of beliefs, has become its own “world” and relativism (both moral and epistemological) now prevails. But once you break away from this outmoded view, once you accept all the nonlinguistic practices that really make up society (not to mention the nonhuman elements that also shape it, such as viruses, bacteria, weeds, or nonorganic energy and material flows like wind and ocean currents) then language itself becomes just another material that flows through a much expanded picture. Language, in my view, is best thought of as a catalyst, a trigger for energetic processes (think of the words “begin the battle” triggering an enormous and destructive process). (Interview with De Landa.)
…and at the same time pointed a way toward a workable avenue of dealing with a serious problem in how we speak and think about groups of people— we talk of what “Americans” or “the French” or “Women” or “Palestinians” or “gay men” or “Russians” think, so on and so forth, we speak of these things as a given, and as monolithic, or at best we flail at a recognition of the generalization we’re performing as being based on meta-narrative or ideology.
In other words, our basis for such statements, if there is one at all, is merely generalized stories about stories. Or perhaps stories about ideologies. And we speak of these ideologies (Marxists, Christians, Islamic, Neo-liberal, etc) as if they present a material force, as if they themselves are fixed and certain things that are in the world in the same way as a chair or tree, because that’s the only way many of us have learned to think of things. After all, parsing different equally valid ontological categories is time and energy consuming stuff. Consider “Why The World Does Not Exist,”
There aren’t really unicorns on the far side of the moon, are there? Of course not. The very idea is ridiculous. However, in saying that, I am assuming the ontological perspective of science, not the ontological perspective of, say, the fantasy literature aficionado. To take another example, consider witches. They don’t exist in the realm of scientific explanation but they do exist in Goethe’sFaust. Doesn’t this mean that we end up with what Gabriel calls “an unpleasant contradiction”, namely “witches exist and witches do not exist”? He’s sanguine about that affront to logic. “Existence,” he argues, “is always relative to one of more fields of sense.” This sort of suggestion is scandalous not just to scientific orthodoxy but to materialists, who hold that everything in the universe has a material foundation. In Gabriel’s more generous philosophy, everything exists — everything that is, apart from the world.
We think of the as if these classes of ideas have identical ontological ranking. Do all Unicorn feel the same way about Bill Carson? Well, we’d first have to establish that we’re actually talking about things that can compare to one another.
Sometimes we even speak of these totalizing ideas as if they had agency themselves, or as if we are actually saying anything at all, beyond fabricating a myth from whole cloth. This charge can be levied against Christians or Feminists or really any group of people that we cluster based on a single idea, that can’t possibly enclose or even describe or define many of the other traits about them. Like whether they even exist in the same way, or exist at all.
This uncertainty is not meant to imply that concepts can never describe the things they are meant to label. So then we can ask the opposite, what is the sense in which ideologies do present a material force? What are the ways that are some commonalities between one group and another, if we grant all the fallibilities involved in defining a group? This is a fundamental issue the social sciences have wrestled with for hundreds of years, though most of that valuable research and debate never makes it past the walls of one discipline or another. Despite all this work, we might want to take the other approach and come to it as if we’re children: How is it that wholes and large scale groups function, in chaos certainly, but how at all?
Only by looking toward emergent, non-linear, or open systems can we even hope to find a way. Post-modernism has burrowed deeply into the role narrative plays, and it tries to get beyond the limitation of single perspectives through multiplicity — compounding conflicting or divergent narratives, the problematic of narratives that overlap or don’t line up — but this approach too reaches a limit, and beyond that limit it has exhausted itself,
I don’t believe there is such a thing as postmodernism. It’s exhausted. We truly need a complete new thing, and [Deleuze and Guattari’s] A Thousand Plateaus is the direction. Those guys are fifty or sixty years ahead of everyone else. You read it at first and you think you’re reading poetry: “Metals are the consciousness of the planet.” Get out of here, what the fuck is that? Then you read about metallic catalysts, how in a way they are like probing heads that unconsciously accelerate certain reactions and decelerate certain others. They allow the exploration of an abstract chemical space by probing and groping in the dark. And you realize those two are right. (De Landa, Destratified)
What’s even more poignant for me, poignant and troubling both, is how De Landa’s materialism rests somehow within the very idea of immanent mythology we started to unearth in the Immanence of Myth (and I explicitly always considered that work a kind of beginning, groping around it the dark for what hasn’t been and maybe can never be fully grasped), and yet at the same time, that kind of materialism — which removes us as actors, which completely abnegates or disregards or narratives and ideologies — would seem to be completely contrary to immanent myth.
Immanent myth might seem the kind of pinnacle of the post-modern project, standing in opposition to De Landa’s project, (and in another sense Zizek’s as well). But I don’t think that is the case. No. I think this path will show how the absolute mental semiotics or symbolics of myth-theory (such as in Barthes or Levi-Strauss) and the absolute material of De Landa’s “history” are not irreconcilable opposites but two sides of the same.

Eduardo Mata Icaza
We may come at this from many vantage points, and in fact, we absolutely must. One favorite article I seem to continue to return to lately is this one, “Places To Intervene in a System,” which is absolutely worth the read.
12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards).
11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows.
10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures).
9. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change.
8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against.
7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops.
6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information).
5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints).
4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.
3. The goals of the system.
2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
1. The power to transcend paradigms.
This is a problem that ultimately reduces to one of scale, and how we can deal with the infinite expansion or contraction of scale (cosmos, culture, individual, cells, atoms — ) without giving primacy to one scale and seeing the others as beholden to that privileged center. Similarly it depends on understanding the structure of our narratives as the chief neurological process through which we come to know both the self and the world; and much as that knowing might seem irrelevant to the macro- scale that emphasizes flows, mesh-works, and all other physical processes that likely span lifetimes as we may take a single breath, even or possibly especially within emergent systems the parts are interwoven with the system, not apart from it, as input or output, but embedded in it. As it. And if we continue to see myth as “collective narrative,” then maybe the first glimmer of this integration of inner and outer, narrative and material, mythos and logos, might occur…
This is the non-fiction or theoretical underpinnings of what I’m looking to do in narrative with the rest of the Fallen Cycle. (So you can see why I’ve before said this single project could easily take a lifetime without ever being satisfactorily concluded. And as each is a stand alone piece, within a larger over-arching mythology, I can only imagine it’ll remain somewhere in the fringe forever. But it’s what I’ve always been drawn to do.)
The problem of the limit of narratives is compounded by how single narratives are used to give us a sense of group narratives (myths.) e.g. Fiction narratives — whether literary or film — tend to over emphasize the role of individuals in the construction of a historic narrative, (nevermind the actual events silently lurking beneath or perhaps tangentially to that narrative.) 

Franz Von Stuck
I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell the story of nations within the personal narrative, and vice versa, e.g. construct a story that deals equally with multiple scales and frames of reference at once. I think within the structure of fiction it remains most engaging to tell the tale of the rise and fall of Peoples as contained within the story of single people, but I’m not blind to how this distorts our perspective of the role that we play in history, when it is quite unlike such a 1:2 ratio. The tale of Cesar as representative of the “rise of Roman power and at once its own hubris,” or even the tale of accidents, such as how a Franz Ferdinand is said to have “caused” the first World War when it’s quite evident that the happenstance of that event is merely how the overall systemic trend happened to unveil itself, in retrospect. (And it’s quite hard to say to what extent our unconscious narrative priorities play not only in what stories we tell, but also, how we tell them, especially in the subtle manner of underlying structure and conflict. This comes up a lot in talks with journalists.)
Yet distorted or not, these tales that make us feel that our actions do matter, and that they do reflect on the whole as well as the other way around, never cease to capture our imagination and attention. That’s what is so engaging about Lord of the Rings, I think, that historic scale wrapped up within very “close” narratives, thanks mostly to the hobbits — despite all its other flaws, and a style that really offends a number of presently in vogue literary conventions.

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

So that’s my challenge. I have been using source material for Tales From When I Had A Face, nearly all of it being Asiatic, particularly from the swath that runs between present Russia and China, nearly from border to border, and even more pointedly, toward the native cultures that seemed to originate in what we now call Siberia. This then covers both the story of the erasure of Native cultures and the rise of American and Russian imperialism, focusing on the Russian side, because it is less well known. And yet, after reading as much history and mythic source as I’ve been able to get through the past two years, when it comes to writing, I’m focusing on pure fiction. You have to let all of that go and focus at once on your creative imagination and on the other with whatever the story demands, and go. I have great misgivings about trying to portray an accurate historic nonfiction tale, and that’s because I frankly don’t believe in such things. Thus, many of my thoughts above. I just don’t think “true history” is any more or less meaningful than invented histories, in terms of their function as art, and I’d rather not make the claim. It feels too much like stamp collecting to me.

All the same, when you want to use a single story about the loss of a single life as it is unveiled, to draw a parallel with the erasure of an entire People and their history, you’ve got to try to take in all you can get.

The first book in the cycle, Party At The World’s End, came out September 2014.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the topics covered in this conversation:

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

Some Bill Thompson quotes from our conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

"Failure is very critical in the transformation."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Act of Killing

“Behind every work of art lies an uncommitted crime” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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