We have quite a varied assortment of reading this week, including: an article about a brilliant reclamation of an abandoned Wal-Mart building for a wonderful counter-purpose; an analysis of Burning Man’s sociocultural-mythological function; a report on widespread distrust of the United States around the world; a fascinating interview with a psychologist on the nature and reality of synchronicity; news about the launch, in Poland, of the world’s first magazine devoted entirely to the real-world study and practice of exorcism; an engrossing essay by Jonathan Franzen about solitude, literature, and the inner life in today’s frenetically extraverted culture; a report on a visionary art community and project in Santa Cruz; reflections from poet Robert Creeley on the value of LSD to creativity; and an excerpt from Gary Lachman’s new biography of Madame Blavatsky.
Abandoned Walmart Is Now America’s Largest Library
Web Urbanist, September 4, 2012
[NOTE: Given our frequent focus on dystopian trends here at The Teeming Brain, it’s a good thing to pause sometimes and note some of the positive developments happening in the world. And the development described in this article is surely one of them. If ever there was a creative monastic/culture-preserving response to the sci-fi dystopian-esque tone and direction that much of contemporary industrial-technocratic civilization displays, then this is surely it.]
There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library. Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle transformed an abandoned Walmart in McAllen, Texas, into a 124,500-square-foot public library, the largest single-floor public library in the United States … The library even has an acoustically separated lounge for teens as well as 6 teen computer labs, 16 public meeting spaces, 14 public study rooms, 64 computer labs, 10 children’s computer labs and 2 genealogy computer labs. Other new features include self check-out units, an auditorium, an art gallery, a used bookstore and a cafe.
(Photo via Web Urbanist)
The Mythology of Burning Man
Derek Beres, The Huffington Post, September 5, 2012
The annual ritual known as Burning Man probably had 60,900 meanings for everyone in attendance this year. But my second sojourn to the festival in the desert verified what I recalled from my first: This is the most widespread example that America has at consciously creating a modern mythology. Myths have always had conscious and unconscious elements — the ritual is consciously constructed, but what happens within the container of the construction is anyone’s guess. This is the empty space where magic happens … [B]eyond a party and getting f’d up in the desert, Burning Man is a mythology in the making, creating a social order relevant to our time, right now, 2012 America … As one teacher of mine always remarks, how we do anything is how we do everything. Having a community support our progress and creativity on such a scale is unlike anything America is experiencing. Ritual is a human function; it will appear whether or not we consciously create it. To be involved in actively engaging with a festival devoted to impermanence is more valuable than grappling with a theology that demands a sacrifice of integrity in submission of false ideas. The only idea that matters is the one we create and live with our fullest and most uninhibited expression. This is how the mythologies we invent define us, and how we live our mythology without fear.
Widespread distrust of US extends beyond Middle East, poll shows
Julian Borger and Tom Clark, The Guardian, September 11, 2012
Teaser: Suspicion of America outweighs faith in its good intentions in Germany as well as Arab world, YouGov survey suggests.
American influence on the world stage is being sapped by widespread distrust of US intentions, not just in the Middle East and south Asia but also among traditional European allies, according to a survey of global opinions. Suspicion of America outweighed faith in its good intentions by large margins in the Arab world and Pakistan, and even its heavyweight European ally Germany was more sceptical than trusting, a YouGov survey found. British and French opinion was more positive but still deeply divided … The results suggest that Arab antipathy arising from the Iraq invasion and US support for Israel has not been softened by Obama’s military withdrawal from Iraq, US support for the Arab spring and the relatively low-profile US role in the Libyan and Syrian conflicts. Perhaps just as worrying for Washington is the lukewarm support among western European allies. More Germans questioned in the YouGov survey voiced misgivings than trust in the US. Perhaps surprisingly, in view of past wariness, French opinion was somewhat warmer: just over half of the French poll respondents trusted America, against 40% who did not. The so-called special relationship between the US and Britain emerged from the survey as distinctly lopsided. There was widespread American affection for its close ally, but the sentiment was only partly requited, reflecting deep British ambivalence about America’s powerful role in world affairs … The case for democracy is coming perilously close to being lost around the world, the poll reveals. In Pakistan and to a lesser extent across the Middle East and north Africa, respondents told YouGov that they thought a strong economy was more important than a system of government based on democracy … Perhaps more surprising is the nonchalant attitude towards democracy shown in some of the states that have enjoyed it for longest.
Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence — An Interview with Dr. Kirby Surprise
New Dawn, September 8, 2012 (from New Dawn No. 132, May-June 2012)
Dr. Kirby Surprise demonstrates that synchronistic events, based on the activity of the mind, are actually caused by the person who perceives them, and reflect many levels of their consciousness … A licensed psychologist who makes his living assessing, diagnosing and treating delusions and thought disorders, Dr. Kirby Surprise is certainly qualified to untangle the web of reflected meanings and false assumptions about synchronistic events.
KS: You are the actual miracle. You have billions of sensory neurons pointed out into the environment. Each neuron is literally a digital biological computer operating like a binary circuit sending signals to the brain. Your brain is the known universe’s most powerful supercomputer. Your brain has a hundred billion neurons, each as powerful as a small desktop computer, each networked to as many as two hundred thousand others … You, the conscious executive functioning in the frontal lobes, is about the size of a walnut. You have no direct contact with the outside world. You experience a neurological representation of the world constructed for you on a stage of the brain’s memory. You are, in effect, your own “Matrix” computer … SE do not appear as “tricks of the mind.” They partially result from the automated systems of the brain searching out and enhancing patterns in your environment. The patterns are always there, but unless they have some emotional relevance to you, what psychologists call “Emotional Valence,” they are deleted and no memory of them is created. SE often appear because you have been consciously, or unconsciously, thinking about something, and the automated pattern recognition systems in your bio-supercomputer highlight matching patterns in the environment for you. Even more amazingly, you are also altering the randomness of events in the external world as well based on your thoughts and emotions. You are not just altering sensory data, you actually change the probabilities in the outside world as well … Clearly, none of us creates actual reality. We do have some influence over the randomness of events around us though. We create SE that mirror our thoughts and emotions. This happens with all thought processes, conscious, unconscious and transpersonal.
Exorcism boom in Poland sees magazine launch
AFP, September 11, 2012
WARSAW — With exorcism booming in Poland, Roman Catholic priests have joined forces with a publisher to launch what they claim is the world’s first monthly magazine focused exclusively on chasing out the devil. “The rise in the number or exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling,” Father Aleksander Posacki, a professor of philosophy, theology and leading demonologist and exorcist told reporters in Warsaw at the Monday launch of the Egzorcysta monthly. Ironically, he attributed the rise in demonic possessions in what remains one of Europe’s most devoutly Catholic nations partly to the switch from atheist communism to free market capitalism in 1989. “It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation,” Posacki told AFP. “If people can make money out of it, naturally it grows and its spiritual harm grows too,” he said, hastening to add authentic exorcism is absolutely free of charge … “Our hands are full,” admitted fellow exorcist and Polish Roman Catholic priest Father Andrzej Grefkowicz, revealing exorcists have a three month waiting list in the capital Warsaw … According to both exorcists, depictions of demonic possession in horror films are largely accurate … With its 62-page first issue including articles titled “New Age — the spiritual vacuum cleaner” and “Satan is real”, the Egzorcysta monthly with a print-run of 15,000 by the Polwen publishers is selling for 10 zloty (2.34 euros, 3.10 dollars) per copy.
Farther Away: “Robinson Crusoe,” David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude
Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker, April 18, 2011
In the nineteen-sixties, Chilean tourism officials renamed the island for Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish adventurer whose tale of solitary living in the archipelago was probably the basis for Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe,” but the locals still use its original name, Masafuera: Farther Away. By the end of last fall, I was in some need of being farther away. I’d been promoting a novel non-stop for four months, advancing through my schedule without volition, feeling more and more like the graphical lozenge on a media player’s progress bar. Substantial swaths of my personal history were going dead from within, from my talking about them too often. And every morning the same revving doses of nicotine and caffeine; every evening the same assault on my e-mail queue; every night the same drinking for the same brain-dulling pop of pleasure. At a certain point, having read about Masafuera, I began to imagine running away and being alone there, like Selkirk, in the interior of the island, where nobody lives even seasonally … Nowhere was Defoe’s psychology more acute than in his imagination of Robinson’s response to the rupture of his solitude. He gave us the first realistic portrait of the radically isolated individual, and then, as if impelled by novelistic truth, he showed us how sick and crazy radical individualism really is. No matter how carefully we defend our selves, all it takes is one footprint of another real person to recall us to the endlessly interesting hazards of living relationships. Even Facebook, whose users collectively spend billions of hours renovating their self-regarding projections, contains an ontological exit door, the Relationship Status menu, among whose options is the phrase “It’s complicated.” This may be a euphemism for “on my way out,” but it’s also a description of all the other options. As long as we have such complications, how dare we be bored?
The Art of Awareness
Damon Orion, Good Times, September 5, 2012
Teaser: A community of local visionary artists is making higher consciousness visible.
This establishment is called Constant Creation, and the name is no hyperbole: The entire building is abuzz with nonstop artistic activity. Upstairs, a nude young woman is having her body airbrushed with what looks like astral graffiti, and in the back of the studio, a striking mural-in-progress gives off the smell of fresh paint. All told, the place has the feel of a subterranean shelter where a small band of utopian artist-anarchists is waiting out the apocalypse … Alchemeyez Visionary Arts Congress [is] an annual three-day festival that [Rio Gordon] says is “fast becoming one of the benchmark enclaves of visionary artists coming together to create art and to celebrate our culture and our vision.” He describes the space we’re standing in as “the heart of visionary art in the Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay Area. I don’t think there’s anything this pointed, clear, visionary, directed, going on in the South Bay area.” For those unfamiliar with Gordon’s terminology, visionary art can be understood as art that expresses mystic vision. Its cosmic imagery—DNA helixes, fractals, serpents, mandalas, light beings and other such spirit-stuff—will instantly strike a chord with viewers who have experienced visionary states via meditation, breathwork, shamanic practices, etc. For others, the work of wildly talented artists like Alex Grey, Luke Brown, Amanda Sage, Martina Hoffman, Robert Venosa, Kati Astraeir and Adam Scott Miller can serve as an introductory brochure … As [Chicago Art Institute-trained metal sculptor Pierre] Riche points out, we have arrived at a point in history when human intelligence is exponentially increasing. “Technology is going so fast; humanity’s learning rate is crunching and doubling,” he notes. “That’s factually proven. The information that we’re getting and the discoveries we’re coming up with—human consciousness is going off the charts. And I think that’s the same with our spirituality: We’re expanding at an incredible rate. I think visionary art helps us incorporate and assimilate all these changes that are going on in a very profound yet practical way … and realize that ultimately, we are spiritual beings.”
Pierre Riche’s “Healing Eye” at Burning Man
Robert Creeley, The Art of Poetry No. 10
Interviewed by Lewis MacAdams and Linda Wagner Martin, The Paris Review, August 11, 2012 (interview first published in 1968)
Via David Metcalfe on Twitter
INTERVIEWER: What do you think is the effect of hallucinatory drugs on the creative process?
CREELEY: Terrific! That’s at least what I’d like to say. Things had been so uptight, almost for a year — writing, really our marriage as well, just a stale sense of effort and also confusions of feeling older. I think a lot, and at times I can box myself in with all the rationale of army logistics. It can get to be a hopeless logjam. So anyhow the LSD just wiped that out—and fears and tentativenesses and senses of getting lost or of being endlessly separated from the world, all that just went. I can’t claim perhaps so simply that writing was thereby opened but I do know the past year has felt a very active one in consequence. The thing is, it’s information — extraordinary and deeply relieving information. Just as if one were to hear that the war was over, that some imminent peril and/or bitter waste of time had stopped. Of course, there’s no need to be told this over and over; that is, I don’t myself feel much need to take the drug every day. It’s a vision of a life, all life — and obviously that’s a lot to be given by anything or anyone, and so one’s not done with it, so to speak, in a day.
Introduction to Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality (pdf)
Gary Lachman, Tarcher Books, September 2012
[NOTE: Former Blondie bassist Gary Lachman continues to cement his reputation (which was already cemented anyway) as one of the most fascinating writers currently working in the field of philosophy, spirituality, psychology, occultism, and esotericism. The link given here is to the full introduction to his new biography of the inimitable HPB (Helena Petrovna Blavatsky), Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality. Below is an excerpt explaining exactly what is meant by the claim advanced in the title.]
[I]f Blavatsky’s offering to our modern spiritual consciousness was to be suddenly removed, it would drag along with it practically everything we associate with the very notion of modern spirituality. And those of us who had taken Blavatsky’s contribution for granted would certainly notice the loss. To press my point: Anyone who meditates, or considers himself a Buddhist, or is interested in reincarnation, or has thought about karma, or pursues “higher consciousness,” or has wondered about Atlantis, or thinks the ancients might have known a few things that we don’t, or reads about esotericism, or who frequents an “alternative” health center or food shop, would be aware of it if modern spirituality somehow became “HPB free.” And this, of course, would include quite a few people who never heard of Blavatsky, or who have only the vaguest idea of what Theosophy is or of its place in the history of Western consciousness. Which is to say most people. If nothing else, our endless fascination with the “wisdom of the East” would not have arrived, or would have taken much longer to get here, if it were not for her eff orts and those of her early followers. It’s been said that all of modern Russian literature emerged from Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat.” It can equally be said that practically all modern occultism and esotericism emerged from the ample bosom of his younger countrywoman and contemporary, HPB.