Recommended Reading 13
This week’s installment of recommended links and readings covers: the psychological, spiritual, and cultural aspects of apocalypse; a bizarre restriction on media coverage of a major event unfolding in America right now; the psychology and spirituality of creativity in art and life; a hopeful statement about the future of books and publishing; a wonderful early essay about horror films by Robert Anton Wilson; and a cool artistic remix/reimagining of a classic science fiction film.
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A Horoscope for 2012
Adri Wong, Hydra Magazine, February 6, 2012
Teaser: Three prophecies on the year to come.
[NOTE: So how do you think the first half of the year so far compares to this prophetic (in the true, deep, religiously truth-telling sense) forecast? Note that you'll want to click through and read the original, since it's dense and rich with links and images.]
2011: We witnessed the end of the world, over and over again…In 2012 we will have experienced the apocalypse, yet remain in anticipation of it…2011 was a year of unanchoring. While the few possessors of static power attempted to hunker down in their burrows, the masses detached themselves from institutions, political parties, dictators; dismantled those barriers that wouldn’t budge; poured into public spaces…Now unmoored, we will drift. We will disperse like ink into water…Like osmosis, like a reverse infection, we will all find it impossible to stop ourselves from bleeding into unchosen territories. We will move through entities we may not wish to move through…The occult themes of 2011 will multiply this year. Post-apocalypse, our artists will now explore their undead selves…As currency becomes asymptotically meaningless, and gold becomes the subject of interest for Ron Paul and the rest of us, there will be a renewed interest in alchemy…The greatest alchemic leap of 2012 will be that of the human soul to the cloud…Applying already existing technologies, the “wired individual” will in 2012 complete the outsourcing of her memories and experiences, setting the groundwork for collective cyber-consciousness as a means of transcendence. The organizing hope of this new era is articulated by the ad copy for one of 2011′s most popular apps: “You’re seconds away from having perfect memory! Evernote is ready to collect all of your ideas, experiences, thoughts, and memories into an always-accessible place. Take down your inspirations and ideas as they happen”…Call it a gothic materialism, perhaps. Now our scientists look to other metals, to the conductivity of copper and fiberoptic cables, as a means to perfect our capabilities, as a way to purify the human soul. His theory of relativity disproven, Einstein in 2012 will be recognized as the mystic and sorcerer he really was. Our old ones having failed us, we will climb down ever darker tunnels in search of new gods.
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Armageddon: The Other American Dream
Scott Chesire, Full Stop, May 2, 2012
Pre-new millennium, if not ignored, apocalyptic prophecy was usually soberly acknowledged. Millennial fever was at an all-time pitch, relatively speaking, albeit slightly tempered by newer and secular techno-fears. Y2K was all the rage and the clocks of the world would stop come midnight, 2000 C.E. Of course nothing happened at all. And then came September 11, just one year later…[F]or most, that great fall was something like a last apocalyptic straw. A terrible collective sigh went out and up with all that shockwave and ash. Death is coming, yes, but at our own hands. A cosmic version of the NRA bumper sticker: Gods don’t kill people, people kill people…Regardless how debatable the religiosity of our founders might be, America, like the fallen angel, the apostate, or the much less invested agnostic and atheist, was made in direct response to God, or at least the idea of one. Specifically a Christian God that promises apocalyptic judgment. From its very beginnings, America has been consumed with religious apocalypse.
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The Culture of Immanence
Jennifer Lilla, Immanence, March 23, 2012
[NOTE: Contrast this brief and vibrant essay's vision of where we're all headed with the issues I discussed in my recent post/essay "Is the spiritual counterculture doomed?" I tend to think it's a both/and situation instead of an either/or one.]
Western civilization has been on the trajectory of transcendence, but this is beginning to change as society takes an immanent turn. The trajectory of transcendence creates a culture based on vertical power structures, built upon hierarchies; and like the Tower of Babel these hierarchies are crumbling just as they reaches toward their apogee…The integration of various transcendental spiritual traditions, the intermingling of cultures, the earthquake in continental philosophy, the increase in those participating in spiritual practice, the underground movements, the growing protest culture, the myriad of potent voices populating the web: all the emergent perspectives mingling and mixing in the minds and hearts of the people of this world forming new ways of relating and creating and being together. Something is emerging from the depth of our collective psychic life: a new myth, a new perspective, a new relationship to the earth and each other. It is a spiritual shift, becoming a cultural shift, transforming the social matrix…While the immanence may be the vision of the mystic and philosophers, the emergent effects are there for all to see. Individuals are beginning to question the well established transcendent hierarchy…This shift of consciousness will changing [sic] the world, as vertical power structures lose their potency, and horizontal and rhizomal movements take root. New ways of organizing, socializing, sharing are emerging: the culture of immanence is blossoming forth.
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Peak planet: Are we starting to consume less?
Fred Pearce, New Scientist, June 20, 2012
Teaser: Some say humanity’s ever-rising environmental impact is about to go into reverse. Fact or just fantasy?
In 2012, our mood has hardly improved [from the doom-heavy predictions of Thomas Malthus in 1798 and Paul Ehrlich in 1968 about imminent mass starvation due to human overpopulation of the planet]. The focus has shifted from how to feed ourselves to our rapacious appetite for energy and raw materials, and the greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere to satisfy it. Sooner or later, the argument goes, we must send our planet’s climate and ourselves past the point of no return — if we haven’t done so already. Might these reports of our imminent demise also be exaggerated? That is the reasoning of those who see a pattern in recent statistics from the industrialised world. People in the US are driving less. Europeans are using less energy. Water use is down in countries such as the US and UK; so is calorie consumption in the UK. The talk is of “peak stuff”: that beyond a certain level of economic development, people simply stop consuming so much. Technology and the course of economic evolution allow prosperity to keep rising without a linked increase in our use of energy and materials. Our demands on planetary resources stabilise – and ultimately begin to fall. Others are unconvinced, seeing in peak stuff a dangerous myth and a thinly veiled excuse to abandon efforts to limit our planetary impact. Without large-scale intervention to curb our excesses now, they argue, peak stuff, if it exists, will be too little, too late. So who is right? Is humanity really about to lose its appetite for stuff — and if so, will it help?
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Prepare for Lehmans re-run, Bank official warns
Philip Aldrick, The Telegraph, June 20, 2012
Teaser: Banks and traders must prepare for a devastating market seizure as governments grapple with the escalating economic crisis in Europe, a Bank of England policymaker has warned.
Cheap and ready access to the liquid assets that oil the financial markets are under threat from both state-imposed capital controls and flagging confidence in the euro, Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee, told the Global Alternative Investment Management conference in Monaco. Without easy access to liquidity, markets could seize in a re-run of the credit crunch after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he warned.
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The Final Battles of Pope Benedict XI
Fiona Ehlers, Alexander Smoltczyk and Peter Wensierski, Spiegel Online, June 15, 2012
[NOTE: Wow. Just wow. A profound sign of the times. The fact that "the mood at the Vatican is apocalyptic" is in fact screamingly apocalyptic.]
Fear is running rampant in the Curia, where the mood has rarely been this miserable. It’s as if someone had poked a stick into a beehive. Men wearing purple robes are rushing around, hectically monitoring correspondence. No one trusts anyone anymore, and some even hesitate to communicate by phone. It all began in the accursed seventh year of the papacy of Benedict XVI, with striking parallels to the latter part of Pope John Paul II’s papacy. The same complaints about poor leadership and internal divisions are being aired outside the Vatican’s walls, while the pope himself seems exhausted and no longer able to exert his power…The Vatican is disintegrating into dozens of competing interest groups…The current scandal unfolded against this backdrop. The revelations about the secret Vatican documents — dubbed “Vatileaks” by none other than papal spokesman Padre Federico Lombardi — first emerged more than four months ago. They suggest a Vatican mired in corruption and character-assassination campaigns, a plot that seems hardly limited to a butler’s alleged act of theft.
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Law enforcement restricts media wildfire coverage
Dan Elliott, xfinity (AP), June 20, 2012
[NOTE: Not sure what to make of this, but it's pretty bizarre and unsettling. Does it perhaps need to be read in light of Morris Berman's words, quoted in our previous Recommended Reading update, about America's "creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything"? Beyond that, please read this in tandem with the story directly below.]
Reporters covering northern Colorado’s massive wildfire cannot enter areas that have been evacuated — an unusual restriction even for this state, where local officials have extensive powers at fire scenes and journalists are usually kept miles from the flames. In Nevada, a newspaper photographer covering a brush fire this week was roughed up, handcuffed and cited for obstruction, his editor said. The newspaper is preparing a formal complaint…Tim Dunn, photo editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal, was covering a grass fire that destroyed two homes in Sun Valley when Washoe County deputies detained him in handcuffs Monday, said Beryl Love, the newspaper’s executive editor. Love told The Associated Press Dunn was complying with a deputy’s directions to move when he was forced to the ground and his face pushed into some gravel. Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said he was outraged by the incident. “There are occasionally disagreements over where people should be and how much access there is, but I’ve never heard of a deputy actually beating up a photographer,” he said. The sheriff’s department confirmed Dunn was detained and cited but declined to comment further…[Joey] Bunch, [a reporter for The Denver Post and] a 27-year-veteran who has covered numerous natural disasters, said the Larimer sheriff’s restrictions are “the most concerted effort I’ve seen to get between the press and the victims”…The fire has destroyed at least 189 homes — the worst wildfire property destruction in Colorado history — and blackened 92 square miles since it was sparked by lightning June 9. In one incident, the sheriff’s department withheld for 24 hours a video recording, made by a fire official inside the evacuation zone using an NBC News camera and tape. NBC News producer Jack Chesnutt said he thought he would get the tape back immediately to share with other news outlets.
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Colorado firefighters hampered by winds, heat — and meteors
John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2012
[NOTE: Ummm...say what? You don't have to be Alex Jones to get your conspiracy juices flowing when you read this news against the backdrop of the above-described, heavy-handed restrictions being placed on media coverage of this devastating disaster. Especially note the distinctly facetious tone of the quote attributed to the Chaffee County sherriff in the final line, and read this against last year's public admission by a former British Ministry of Defense official in charge of UFO investigations that it was established British governmental policy for years to use "spin and dirty tricks" to ridicule both UFO reports and the people who reported them.]
Firefighters in Colorado have battled the odds in trying to contain a blaze that has burned uncontrolled across 100 square miles of forest — encountering precarious winds, heat and fatigue. On Wednesday, they contended with a new force: meteors. Authorities grounded firefighting aircraft as a precautionary measure after several reported meteor sightings near the High Park fire area they were trying to contain. Chaffee County Sheriff W. Peter Palmer told the Los Angeles Times that his office received four reports of meteors striking the ground. “People heard a boom; they saw things flying through the air, things like that,” he said. “The local fire chief went looking for smoke to see if the impacts started another fire. That’s the last thing we need.” Steve Segin, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, told the Associated Press that the crew of a heavy air tanker spotted something while making a slurry run on the blaze. “They weren’t sure what it was,” he said. “They landed as they normally do to reload, and for safety reasons they grounded themselves until they could figure out what it was they saw.” The Colorado sightings corresponded with reports of a possible meteor filed by the crews of two commercial aircraft over Liberal, Kan., meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service in Boulder, told the AP. Other sky sightings were reported in Raton, N.M., he said. Fire officials ordered four single-engine aircraft to stay on the ground as a precaution. Two heavy air tankers were also affected. The planes soon resumed their attack on the fire, Entrekin said. The groundings came as firefighters were taking advantage of a break in the heat to ramp up their attack against the High Park fire burning on more than 100 square miles in the northern part of the state. In Chaffee County, Palmer said he doesn’t doubt that residents saw something, but he’s not sure what. “I don’t know. I’ve been feeling kind of weak,” he mused. “Maybe it was kryptonite.”
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The Fall of the Creative Class
Frank Bures, Thirty Two Magazine, June 15, 2012
[NOTE: Gotta love this. Seriously, whenever culture-wide faddish assumptions are exposed as false, it's an occasion for rejoicing. Disillusionment is our best friend.]
[Sociologist Richard] Florida’s idea [in his runway 2002 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life] was a nice one: Young, innovative people move to places that are open and hip and tolerant. They, in turn, generate economic innovation. I loved this idea because, as a freelance writer, it made me important. I was poor, but somehow I made everyone else rich! It seemed to make perfect sense…What was missing, however, was any actual proof that the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants was causing economic growth, rather than economic growth causing the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants. Some more recent work has tried to get to the bottom of these questions, and the findings don’t bode well for Florida’s theory…Today, Creative Class doctrine has become so deeply engrained in the culture that few question it. Why, without any solid evidence, did a whole generation of policy makers swallow the creative Kool-Aid so enthusiastically?…I know now that this was Florida’s true genius: He took our anxiety about place and turned it into a product. He found a way to capitalize on our nagging sense that there is always somewhere out there more creative, more fun, more diverse, more gay, and just plain better than the one where we happen to be. But…I know now that it may be wiser to try to create the place you want to live, rather than to keep trying to find it.
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Do We Really Wants Artists in America?
Bob Dugan, Big Think, June 19, 2012
In this Age of the Austerians, anything considered non-essential is being denied the financial means to survive. Despite mountains of research findings, arts programs in schools fall under the austerity ax faster than any other extracurricular. When I echoed multimedia artist Laurie Anderson’s idea that the White House needs an artist-in-residence, at least one commenter (and how many others?) smirked and questioned my sanity. Now an organization called ArtistsWanted.org is trying to bring together the supply of unknown artists with the demand for art. By putting their contest winner’s work on a billboard in Times Square in New York City (shown above), ArtistsWanted.org believes that they can finally make it possible for artists to make money doing the thing they love. But the real question is whether there really is a demand for art and artist in America?…What we need is a stimulus package for artists, but also a stimulus package for artists’ profile in American culture as something essential rather than purely decorative…Until artists are truly wanted by us and feel that way from an early age, no billboards, no matter how big or well positioned, will change the current state of neglect.
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The Essential Psychopathology of Creativity
Andrea Kuszewski, h+, June 12, 2012
[W]hat is the difference between creativity and psychopathology? Where do we draw the line between functional excess of extreme traits and the point at which they define a psychological disorder? Is there a discriminating characteristic that separates these two groups? Yes, there is, and it’s called cognitive control, or high executive function…The truth is, in order to be truly exceptional at something creative in nature, whatever domain it may be, you need to have those extreme traits that get you labeled by the DSM as meeting the criteria for some kind of a personality disorder. However (and this is the catch), in order to have those extreme, intense traits and not suffer from a disorder, you also need to have some sort of regulatory mechanism that helps to control those traits…The point here is this: Were it not for those “disordered” genes, you wouldn’t have extremely creative, successful people…[S]ome of those people with the traits that define Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, ADHD, and other psychological conditions, have the fortunate gift of high cognitive control paired with those traits, and end up being the creative geniuses that we admire, aspire to be like, and desperately need in this world…If we were to be able to identify the genes for Schizophrenia, or for Bipolar Disorder, or for ADHD… would we want to eliminate them? If we were making a “designer baby”, would you choose those genes to be added into your child’s genome? I say yes…[I]f we want to continue to have exceptional, creative geniuses, those pathological traits are an absolute necessity.
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Creativity Begins in the Womb (pdf)
Richard Heinberg, Shift, March-May 2005
[NOTE: Yes, this is the same Richard Heinberg who is more well-known for his brilliant writings about peak oil and the end of the growth paradigm in technological-industrial society (and the same Richard Heinberg whose work I have referenced many times here at The Teeming Brain). If you go and read up on him, you'll instantly find that peak oil is just one among many trends and subjects enfolded within his rich sensibility. This article from the official magazine of the Institute of Noetic Sciences illustrates that point.]
The idea that fetuses and newborns are capable of interacting with and being deeply imprinted by their social environments may be revolutionary from the standpoint of conventional Western science, but it is far from new. Indeed, many ancient and traditional cultures — including some of the most “primitive” ones known — have beliefs that agree closely with what we are learning from age-regression studies. Moreover, these same cultures often have childbirth practices that seem in some respects more humane and enlightened than those frequently still followed in modern hospitals. In Bali, one woman told [psychotherapist and social psychologist Anne] Maiden that as soon as she became pregnant the first thing she did was to talk to the dukun, the village healer. His role was to help her enter into a dialogue with the child in the womb in order to discover the child’s identity and its purpose in life. Those two questions — of identity and purpose — follow through all of Balinese education and spiritual training, which aim to assist the incarnating soul to fulfill its destiny. In Aboriginal Australian society the spirit of the child is believed already to exist prior to conception, and is associated in the spiritual realm — the Dreamtime — with a particular place in the sacred landscape. Robert Lawlor, author of Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime, writes: “To the Aboriginal mind,the modern explanation of conception as the collision of a tiny sperm and egg is absurd. In their view, sperm may prepare the way for the entry of the child into the womb, but the spirit of the child appears in the father’s dreams or inner awareness before conception”…[Among the Yeqeana Indians of the jungles of Venezuela] from the moment of conception, the child is made to feel that it is a valued part of its social and natural environment.
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The Muse of Impossibility
Alberto Manguel, The Threpenny Review, Fall 2010
[T]he history of literature is the history of this paradox. On the one hand, the deeply rooted intuition writers have that the world exists, in Mallarmé’s much-abused phrase, to result in a beautiful book (or, as Borges would have it, even a mediocre book), and, on the other hand, to know that the muse governing the enterprise is, as Mallarmé called her, the Muse of Impotence (or, to use a freer translation, the Muse of Impossibility). Mallarmé added later that all who have ever written anything, even those we call geniuses, have attempted this ultimate Book, the Book with a capital B. And all have failed…Like the ancient Biblical commentators, Borges pondered again and again these fundamental questions: What are the limits of creation? To what success can an artist aspire? How can writers achieve their purpose when all they have at their disposal is the imperfect tool of language? And above all: What is created when an artist sets out to create? Does a new world come into being or is a dark mirror of the world lifted up for us to gaze in? Borges disbelieved in realism and psychological fiction; for him the world made out of words was the world. But is the world of a work of art a lasting reality or is it an imperfect lie? Is it a living Golem or a handful of lifeless dust? And finally, even if there were an answer to these questions, can we know it?
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On Loneliness: Art, Life, and Fucking Human Beings
Sonya Chung, The Millions, June 19, 2012
[NOTE: Be advised that this combined essay/review/meditation features some pointedly explicit material in a couple of places. The whole thing is kind of riveting.]
“I’ve been thinking about whether, on average, people are lonelier in real life than in novels,” Elizabeth Bachner wrote recently in the opening to an essay about (among other things) the novel Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann. I don’t have an answer, but the question makes me think about how much of life is about loneliness and efforts to cure or soothe loneliness, and how much of art is about loneliness and efforts to cure or soothe loneliness; and how loneliness is a word — easily enough spoken or written, like death or love — but really it’s a deep sadness, which is also a force, driving so many of our desires and actions, and at the same time shameful and hidden and nearly impossible to live with, out in the open, in any authentic way. David Foster Wallace is often quoted as saying that fiction is about what it is to be a fucking human being, and so I guess what I am saying is that there are days — not every day, but often enough — when it seems to me that what it is is to be lonely; to be in this state of deep sadness and estrangement, and to know — not so much on the intellectual, conscious level but on the level where shame and fear live — that there is something terribly wrong about this loneliness on the one hand, and on the other (in knowing the wrongness utterly), something also potentially beautiful.
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The Incredible Resilience of Books
Peter Osnos, The Atlantic, June 19, 2012
Teaser: Despite challenges faced by the publishing industry and past predictions, the written word has not seen its last day.
So here we are, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, and publishing faces what everyone in the industry agrees are its greatest challenges yet. The overwhelming power of Amazon, both in print and e-book sales, makes the days of Walden and Dalton feel quaint by comparison. Amazon is also making a determined foray as a publisher and producer of audio books…The Department of Justice’s spring lawsuit against five major publishers and Apple charging collusion in price-fixing represents an enormous hurdle for the industry as it reinvents itself to provide maximum flexibility across the multiple platforms in which books can be made available…For all these existential matters in play, the mood at the recent annual gathering of the industry known as Book Expo was strikingly upbeat. The floor of New York’s Javits Center (a venue that does not get any more appealing as it ages) was full for all three days of the fair…Based on the record, I have one certainty: books will endure even as those of us responsible for them are in a perennial, sometimes frenetic contest to keep pace with change…One of the more hopeful aspects of Book Expo was the optimism expressed among what have always been thought of as bookselling’s most endangered (and yet widely beloved) category, the independents. Oren Teicher, president of the American Booksellers Association, reported a modest increase in membership, reversing a downward trend, and a significant boost in sales in 2012 that qualifies as more than a blip…Book readers have proven their devotion to the written word for centuries. How they will do so in the years ahead remains uncertain in a variety of ways. But books are here to stay.
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“Even a Man Who Is Pure of Heart”: The Horror Film as American Folk-Art
Robert Anton Wilson, Journal of Human Relations, First Quarter 1971 (Reprinted at RAWilsonfans.com)
[NOTE: What a total delight this is. One here sees our dear Bob writing and thinking during his pre-Illuminatus! years in a much more conventional style than the one we all later came to know, but his capacious intellect and infinite scope, as well as his focus on deepdark matters of intrinsic fascination, are still very much evident. Much gratitude to RAWilsonfans.com for the awesome reprint.]
Americans have an insatiable appetite for horrors, and a successful horror film will be revived more often than any other kind of cinema entertainment. Now, while it is true that artists of high talent, such as Mr. Chaney and Mr. Karloff (and such great directors as James Whale, Todd Browning, Robert Wise and Jacques Tournier) have graced some of these films with an artistry that is rare in Hollywood, the American movie is basically a commercial enterprise; these monster-epics are produced, not chiefly to express the creative imagination of the talented people who often contribute to them, but to move the audience in a way that will spell financial success at the box-office. In short, these films are manufactured as modern advertising is manufactured: with a cool and unsentimental eye on what is neurotic (and therefore exploitable) in the masses. Thus, they tell us a great deal about fellow countrymen — and, perhaps, about ourselves. Furthermore, if one takes a Jungian approach to depth psychology, one can assume that, as mirrors of the American collective unconscious, these entertainments contain parables of wisdom and healing as well as images of our pathologies and frustrations…The history of the horror film, then, is the record of the American public’s uneasy groping toward an understanding of the repressed and unconscious forces which have made America the most feared nation in the world.
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[NOTE: Blade Runner rendered in watercolor? Amazing.]