Category Archives: Education

How reading and literature effectively reincarnate us into a higher form of consciousness

From Mark Edmundson, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, a passionate paean to the college English major as a field of study that is ultimately devoted to “pursuing the most important subject of all — being a human being”:

Soon college students all over America will be trundling to their advisers’ offices to choose a major. In this moment of financial insecurity, students are naturally drawn to economics, business, and the hard sciences. But students ought to resist the temptation of those purportedly money-ensuring options and even of history and philosophy, marvelous though they may be. All students — and I mean all — ought to think seriously about majoring in English.

. . . English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who — let us admit it — are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense — more alive with meaning than you had thought.

Real reading is reincarnation. There is no other way to put it. It is being born again into a higher form of consciousness than we ourselves possess. When we walk the streets of Manhattan with Walt Whitman or contemplate our hopes for eternity with Emily Dickinson, we are reborn into more ample and generous minds. “Life piled on life / Were all too little,” says Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and he is right. Given the ragged magnificence of the world, who would wish to live only once? The English major lives many times through the astounding transportive magic of words and the welcoming power of his receptive imagination. The economics major? In all probability he lives but once. If the English major has enough energy and openness of heart, he lives not once but hundreds of times. Not all books are worth being reincarnated into, to be sure — but those that are win Keats’s sweet phrase: “a joy forever.”

. . . Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form. But of course now we’re talking about more than a mere academic major. We’re talking about a way of life. We’re talking about a way of living that places inquiry into how to live in the world — what to be, how to act, how to move through time — at its center.

What we’re talking about is a path to becoming a human being, or at least a better sort of human being than one was at the start. An English major? To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person. Once you’ve passed that particular course of study — or at least made some significant progress on your way — then maybe you’re ready to take up something else.

COMPLETE ESSAY: “The Ideal English Major

Teeming Links – July 30, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To preface today’s offering of recommended and required reading, here’s a not-so-idle speculation from Damien Walter about the momentous fact of our collective cultural obsession with losing ourselves in the ever more immersive fantasy worlds that digital technology has enabled for us:

I am a writer and critic of fantasy, and for most of my life I have been an escapist. Born in 1977, the year in which Star Wars brought cinematic escapism to new heights, I have seen TV screens grow from blurry analogue boxes to high-definition wide-screens the size of walls. I played my first video game on a rubber-keyed Sinclair ZX Spectrum and have followed the upgrade path through Mega Drive, PlayStation, Xbox and high-powered gaming PCs that lodged supercomputers inside households across the developed world. I have watched the symbolic language of fantasy — of dragons, androids, magic rings, warp drives, haunted houses, robot uprisings, zombie armageddons and the rest — shift from the guilty pleasure of geeks and outcasts to become the diet of mainstream culture.

And I am not alone. I’m emblematic of an entire generation who might, when our history is written, be remembered first and foremost for our exodus into digital fantasy. . . . Immersion has . . . become the mantra of modern escapist fantasy, and the creation of seamless secondary worlds its mission. We hunger for an escape so complete it borders on oblivion: the total eradication of self and reality beneath a superimposed fantasy. . . . We’re embarking on a daring social experiment: the immersion of an entire generation into digitally generated escapist fantasies of unprecedented depth and complexity. And the most remarkable aspect of this potential revolution is how little consideration we are giving it.

— Damien Walter, “The Great Escape,” Aeon, July 12, 2013

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This_Town_by_Mark_LeibovichA Confederacy of Lunches (The New York Times)
Christopher Buckley reviews Mark Leibovich’s This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital. “Not to ruin it for you, but: if you already hate Washington, you’re going to hate it a whole lot more after reading Mark Leibovich’s takedown of the creatures who infest our nation’s capital and rule our destinies.”

Who Are We At War With? That’s Classified (Pro Publica)President Obama has repeatedly said the U.S. is targeting Al Qaeda and “associated forces.” But the government won’t say who those forces are.

Halliburton pleads guilty to destroying Gulf oil spill evidence (Reuters)
The government said the guilty plea is the third by a company over the spill, and requires the world’s second-largest oilfield services company to pay a maximum $200,000 statutory fine.

Feds tell Web firms to turn over user account passwords (CNET)
Secret demands mark escalation in Internet surveillance by the federal government through gaining access to user passwords, which are typically stored in encrypted form.

The Charitable-Industrial Complex (The New York Times)
“As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’ It’s what I would call ‘conscience laundering’ — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.”

The hour of anthropology may have struck (Toronto Star)
“The strength of anthropology at the moment comes when it turns its eye to our own society as just another tribe or collection of humans trying to make symbolic sense of their experience. We start looking like just another weird bunch of human creatures trying to make sense of their odd predicament, like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes when he finally gets it.”

The MOOC Racket (Slate)
Widespread online-only higher ed will be disastrous for students — and most professors.

E-book vs. P-book (The New Yorker)
On the persistence of the paper codex book in an age when so many are predicting its demise. “For many people, as a number of studies show, reading is a genuinely tactile experience — how a book feels and looks has a material impact on how we feel about reading. This isn’t necessarily Luddism or nostalgia. The truth is that the book is an exceptionally good piece of technology.”

Thank You, Barnes and Noble (The New Yorker)
Michael Aggers on the literary and intellectual joy that B&N brought to his teen years in a small Pennsylvania town. “It was as if a small liberal-arts college had been plunked down into a farm field. . . . I’ll be rooting for you, Barnes & Noble, however you reinvent yourself. I’ve come to see that, despite your flaws, you were a suburban beacon of knowledge, history, and community — noble indeed.”

Creative differences (Financial Times)
Three great film directors — Orson Welles, Nicolas Roeg, and Roman Polanski — offer a glimpse into the complex life and work of the auteur. “Today’s directors are less monstrous, and altogether more respectful of the tiresome fact that cinema is a collaborative art form. Put it down to sharper accountants, blander movie stars, infernally complex technological demands. It is more difficult than ever to be a legend in your own lunchtime, and that’s a shame.”

The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema (The New York Review of Books)
A brilliant essay — deeply informed by an expansive knowledge of history and art, and written by none other than Martin Scorsese — on the signal importance of become literate in the visual language of cinema at a time when we’re awash in a sea of images all around us.

Enlightenment Engineer (Wired)
Meditation and mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley. And it’s not just about inner peace — it’s about getting ahead.

Ecstatic_Healing_by_Margaret_De_WysSpirit Possession Here and Now (Reality Sandwich)
Interview with Margaret De Wys, author of the recently published Ecstatic Healing: A Journey into the Shamanic World of Spirit Possession and Miraculous Medicine. “My acceptance of possession turned out to be my spiritual path. That was my choice and it wasn’t an easy one.”

Mysterious Hum Driving People Crazy Around the World (LiveScience)
It’s known as the Hum, a steady, droning sound that’s heard in places as disparate as Taos, N.M.; Bristol, England; and Largs, Scotland. But what causes the Hum, and why it only affects a small percentage of the population in certain areas, remain a mystery, despite a number of scientific investigations.

Psi in the News – July 17, 2013 (Reality Sandwich)
The latest installment of David Metcalfe’s ongoing roundup of parapsychologically-oriented links. Exceptionally rich.

Teeming Links – July 26, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you browse through today’s crop of fascinating, worthwhile, disturbing, and necessary reading, I invite you to consider not just this particular experience but your online experience as a whole in light of writer Benjamin Anastasis’ recent, impassioned, and insightful explanation of why he has abandoned Twitter. Even though he states his reasons in terms of their specific applicability to writers, they actually apply to everybody who dares to make the devil’s bargain of engaging with social media. What a shame it would/will be if the Internet as a whole — which, we’ll recall, Evgeny Morozov has argued is a kind of a fiction anyway — becomes completely overtaken by this subworld of hype and distraction that, despite its obvious uses, seems most useful at enabling and amplifying people’s inherent narcissism, and then exploiting this for profit.

For 1 year, 4 months and 22 days — or 508 days total — Twitter became part of my daily thinking ritual. Should I post that thought as a tweet? How about a picture of that lost parrot poster I saw at the park? Would that be funny? If I’m in Berkeley, is it worth tweeting about the reading I’m giving tonight in case some of my followers live out here?

. . . Writers need mystery and really shouldn’t be on Twitter. Here’s what novelist Benjamin Anastas took away from his 508 days of tweeting. “Twitter isn’t planning to go public in 2014 with an estimated market valuation of $11 billion because it’s in the democracy business, or disaster recovery, or it likes helping out with your local Neighborhood Watch. It’s that valuable in market terms because it wants to own your eyes, and everything on Twitter — from its look, to its speed, to the 140-character limit of a tweet — is designed to create a hunger in you for what it offers, to keep you coming back for more. It’s fucking diabolical, but we’re all used to being hopeless click-addicts now.  . . . Twitter works in direct proportion to how much time you spend on it: if you’re willing to burn entire days on end, you’ll have a satisfying time on Twitter with lots of links consumed, comments favorited, pithy exchanges with your followers and friends. If you just dip in from time to time, you’ll find that your response rate plummets. It’s the nature of the beast that you have to do your time if you want to join the conversation. If you don’t, you’re a stranger in Twitter Village and you’ll be treated accordingly by the natives: no replies, no retweets, no new followers, and a slow attrition of the ones you’ve already gained. Twitter wants your life. Don’t give it up so easily.”

— “Goodbye to Twitter Part Two: Lessons Learned,” Benjamin Anastasis, The Daily Beast, July 9, 2013

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They Know Much More Than You Think (The New York Review of Books)
Recent revelations about the depth and extent of the NSA’s domestic and international spying activities may be just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a history of “what the government has been telling the public about its surveillance activities over the years,” along with a comparison of “what we know now as a result of the top secret documents and other information released by, among others, the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.”

The Maddening of America (Project Syndicate)
The claim that the spread of severe mental illness has reached “epidemic” proportions has been heard so often that, like any commonplace, it has lost its ability to shock. But the repercussions for international politics of the disabling conditions diagnosed as manic-depressive illnesses (including major unipolar depression) and schizophrenia could not be more serious.

The American cloud (Aeon)
The cosy coastal world of pretend farmers’ markets bears no resemblance to the actual back end of America. “The makeover has been so psychologically disruptive that during the past century, the bulk of America’s cultural resources have been devoted to obscuring the realities of the cloud with simpler, more emotionally satisfying illusions. These constitute a theatre of pre-industrial community life primarily inspired, ironically enough, by Jefferson’s small-town visions. This theatre, which forms the backdrop of consumer lifestyles, can be found today inside every Whole Foods, Starbucks and mall in America. I call it the Jeffersonian bazaar.”

Douglas Rushkoff on Deen, Snowden, Zimmerman and the Culture of Contagion (The Hollywood Reporter)
What would race riots organized on Facebook look like? The best-selling author, who coined the term “viral media” in 1993, says the camcorder days of Rodney King offer insights into the “great viral summer” of 2013.

Inner peace (Aeon)
We yearn for silence, yet the less sound there is, the more our thoughts deafen us. How can we still the noise within?

Accessing the Mind through Body Awareness (3 Quarks Daily)
“Emotions and thoughts are automatically embodied, automatically embedded in a social and physical context rather than being expressions of some interior homunculus. From this perspective, paying attention to bodily sensations should not be understood in opposition to paying attention to the workings of the mind but rather as another way of accessing the mental. Bodily sensations can potentially give us access to a large part of our subconscious and precognitive life.”

Inside the multimillion-dollar essay-scoring business (City Pages)
Behind the scenes of standardized testing.

George Lucas & Steven Spielberg: Studios Will Implode; VOD Is the Future (Variety, June 12, 2013)
Moguls predict tentpole “meltdown,” pricey pics and empathetic games.

Why Studios Must End Their Mega-Budget Obsession (Variety, July 22, 2013)
BOX OFFICE EPIC FAIL: Costly misfires pile up in crowded season: ‘After Earth,’ ‘White House Down,’ ‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘Pacific Rim,’ ‘R.I.P.D.’

The Unfortunate Legacy of Richard Matheson: On the Roots and Unfairly Repellant Qualities of Less-Than-Stellar Film Adaptations (The Millions)
Is there something inherent in Matheson’s brilliant writing that resists effective adaptation for movies and television?

An Appointment with the Wicker Man (The Wild Hunt)
The film production and distribution company StudioCanal has announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall.

The Long, Strange Career of ‘The Conjuring’ Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Flavorwire)
The fun, new horror film The Conjuring is inspiring all the usual questions that face a based-on-a-true-story horror film: is the story really true? Are the “demonologists” of the film, Ed and Lorraine Warren, just cranks? It’s hard to say.

“Our faith led us to write a horror story” (Geek Goes Rogue at Patheos)
Author Jonathan Ryan, one of the panelists in our first Teeming Brain podcast, interviews the Hayes brothers, who wrote the screenplay for The Conjuring. “After the typical press/talent greetings, I started with the question, ‘What drew you to tell this story about the Warrens and demonic possession?’ They both answered with, ‘Our Christian faith, without a doubt.'”

Two interesting paths to occultism during the enlightenment era (The Washington Post)
Michael Dirda reviews and discusses The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V. Fleming and Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment by Paul Kleber Monod.

Out of the deep (Aeon)
From Atlantis to Noah’s Ark, we have long been drawn to stories of submerged lands. What lies beneath the flood myths?

India probes ‘UFOs’ after drone denial (The Telegraph)
India has turned to its astrophysicists to explain a ‘UFO’ mystery on its Himalayan border with China.

Teeming Links – July 23, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For an overall commentary on this particular crop of fascinating, worthwhile, disturbing, and/or necessary reading and viewing, see “Alan Moore: The revolution will be crowd-funded,” recently published at Salon. In this interview, “the ‘Watchmen’ creator talks about his new Kickstarter-funded film series, zombies and the surveillance state.” Most pointedly of all (in my humble opinion), he says the following:

There seems to be something going on, even from the briefest appraisal of the news, with the amount of events transpiring. This is such a connected world, it’s useless to isolate any part of it as a discrete phenomenon. You can’t really talk about the problems in Syria, because its problems are global. The waves of discontent and outrage — whether in the Arab countries, or in Brazil, or in America and Europe over the degrees to which its citizens are being monitored — are not separate phenomena. They are phenomena of an emergent world, and the existence of the Internet is one of its major drivers. We have got no idea how it’s going to turn out, because the nature of our society is such that if anything can be invented, then we will invent it. Sooner or later, if it is possible.

So the Internet is changing everything, but I wouldn’t yet want to say for good or ill. I suspect, as ever, that it will be an admixture of both. But we are all along for the ride, even those people like me who do not have Internet connections, mobile phones or even functioning televisions. I’m slowly disconnecting myself. Basically, it’s a feeling that if we are going to subject our entire culture to what is an unpredictable experiment, then I’d like to try to remain outside the petri dish. [Laughs] It’s only sensible to have somebody as a control.

. . . While I’m remote from most technology to the point that I’m kind of Amish, I have played a couple of computer games — until I realized I was being bloodied with adrenalin over something that wasn’t real. At the end of a couple of hours of very addictive play, I may have procured the necessary amount of mushrooms to save a princess, but I also wasted hours of my life that I’ll never be able to get back. This is the reason I am not on the Internet. I am aware of its power as a distraction, and I don’t have the time for that.

Despite the constant clamor for attention from the modern world, I do believe we need to procure a psychological space for ourselves. I apparently know some people who try to achieve this by logging off, or going without their Twitter or Facebook for a limited period. Which I suppose is encouraging, although it doesn’t seem that remarkable from my perspective. I think that people need to establish their own psychological territory in face of the encroaching world.

Amen, Brother Alan.

* * *

The Blip (New York Magazine)
What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?

Turns of the Century (The European)
What the protests in Brazil and Greece tell us about world history. “The big shift of our time, the epochal change that affects or will affect billions of people around the globe, isn’t the rising threat of terrorism, but the rising precariousness of economic realities. The story of the 21st century begins in earnest with ticker news about imminent financial collapse.”

Detroit bankruptcy: Is it a warning sign for America? (+video) (The Christian Science Monitor)
How Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has dealt with financial crises in the state — and how he will handle the Detroit bankruptcy — could hold lessons for the rest of the US.

The Last Days of Big Law : You can’t imagine the terror when the money dries up (The New Republic)
On the escalating crisis inside an old and high-profile profession, whose entire ecosystem has dramatically changed in just a single generation, largely due to greed. The resulting new environment is soul-crushing for everybody involved.

University Suspends Online Classes after More Than Half the Students Fail (Slate)
Inside Higher Ed reported on Thursday that San Jose State is suspending the Udacity partnership just six months after it launched.

Inside Google HQ: What does the future hold for the company whose visionary plans include implanting a chip in our brains? (The Independent)
A visit to the legendary “Googleplex” at Mountain View. The company “is staking its future on a vast store of information called the Knowledge Graph, which is growing at an exponential rate. . . . The future [says Ben Gomes, a Google fellow and the company’s Vice President of Search] is for this enormous resource to be ‘present everywhere.'”

Faith and Works at Apple (The New York Review of Books)
“The world-religion of the educated and prosperous in the twenty-first century is Apple, with its Vatican in Cupertino and its cathedrals in the light-filled Apple Stores that draw pilgrims gripping iPhones and iPads like rosaries.”

How Scientology changed the Internet (BBC News)
What do Wikipedia, Wikileaks, Anonymous and copyright law have in common? The answer is they have all been influenced by the Church of Scientology International (CSI), as it took on ex-members and critics who took their protests on to the internet. As the Church successfully removes another website, just how big an influence has Scientology had on the internet we all use?

What’s Wrong with Technological Fixes? (Boston Review)
Terry Winograd Interviews Evgeny Morozov. “According to Morozov, some of life’s good things come from ignorance rather than knowledge; opacity rather than transparency; ambivalence rather than certainty; vagueness rather than precision; hypocrisy rather than sincerity; messy pondering of imponderables rather than crisp efficiency.”

Rise of the Warrior Cop (The Wall Street Journal)
Is it time to reconsider the militarization of American policing?

Radley Balko: “Once a town gets a SWAT team you want to use it” (Salon)
America’s police are beginning to look like an army, and the author says there’s very little we can do about it.

Lyons: Police raid felt like home invasion (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
“The man just demanded they open the door. The actual words, the couple say, were, ‘We’re the f—— police; open the f—— door.'” Why did more than two dozen federal marshals and local police officers with guns and tactical gear think a Florida nurse and her boyfriend were harboring a child rapist in her apartment? “[W]hen the people in Goldsberry’s apartment didn’t open up, that told [federal marshal Matt] Wiggins he had probably found the right door. No one at other units had reacted that way, he said.”

Save the Movie! (Slate)
If you’ve been wondering why so many “blockbuster” Hollywood movies now feel exactly the same, here’s the answer: there’s actually a formula — one that lays out, on a page-by-page and moment-by-moment basis, exactly what should happen in a screenplay. It was introduced in 2005, and it threatens the world of original screenwriting as we know it.

Word Compression Blues (First Things)
On Facebook, Twitter, and the awesome cultural pressure to compress and condense verbal communication into ever shorter forms. “Our shriveling discourse with one another, our ever shorter exchanges and undeveloped rim-fired speculations: Is this how we seemingly have come to talk past each other? If that is happening with the small topics, what is happening with the big ones?”

UFO Cover-Ups Must End, Moonwalker Edgar Mitchell Says (Bloomberg)
A new interview with the sole individual out of the 12 men who have walked on the moon to go on record about his controversial belief in extraterrestrial UFOs — and of a possible government cover-up.

Stunning UFO Footage Shows Multiple Objects Darting, Flashing Over Russian Sky (Who Forted?)
Incredible footage of a cluster of UFOs captured above Russia was posted to the Alien Andromeda YouTube channel in late June, and the striking video has caught the attention believers and skeptics alike. [Click through to read full description and comments on the video below.]

Deadly pedantry: How (and how not) to murder art, literature, and H. P. Lovecraft

University_College,_Durham_Crypt

The “practical beginner’s guide” to H. P. Lovecraft that I published here last month has received a lot of attention and traffic, but not all of it has been necessarily positive. One observer, Teeming Brain regular xylokopos, commented, “What is the point of this detailed, beforehand investigation into the man’s life and correspondence[?] . . . . Doing any sort of online research in advance of reading the stories, will do the reader a major disservice. Why approach Lovecraft with already formed ideas about his themes and motivations?”

I certainly understand and sympathize with the criticism. Even before I clicked the “publish” button on that post, I noticed that I had given the prospective Lovecraft reader a fairly heavy load of introductory material. Chalk it up to my natural bent as a professional teacher of writing and literature, which leads me to focus on the undeniable fact that the very worthy work of a great many authors, and also of many other types of artists, isn’t readily accessible to a lot of people’s sensibilities.

Sometimes this hindrance is due to an inherent quality of idiosyncrasy, complexity, or some other sort of difficulty in the work itself. Sometimes it’s due to the passage of time, which has made an author or artist’s basic style, cast of thought, and/or cultural worldview remote and strange. Sometimes, as in the case of Lovecraft, it’s because of all this and more. Lovecraft, in addition to living and writing nearly a century ago, deliberately wrote in an antique and even archaic style, and to call his basic tropes and themes “idiosyncratic” is a gross understatement. Many modern readers who have heard of him approach his work eagerly at first but then bounce off in boredom, incomprehension, and disappointment.

This is why I think there’s definitely a place for the formal type of introduction that I laid out in my post. The “classroom”-type approach is intended to help a person by giving enough contextual information to facilitate an authentic appreciation and enjoyment of a given author, artist, or work of art or literature. Yes, when done poorly it can be insufferably pedantic, but when done well it can be a wonderful thing. Or at least it has been a wonderful thing for me personally, on the several occasions when I’ve been fortunate to have excellent teachers who introduced me to life-changing discoveries.

That said, I do take xylokopos’s criticism to heart, and I’m perfectly happy to admit that I myself have had many wonderful literary and artistic experiences by skipping the classroom approach and simply diving right into someone’s work.

I think the fact that this has all been on my mind in recent weeks may explain why two recently published essays that would have caught my attention anyway managed to catch it with extra sharpness. Each says something, and says it very well, about the danger of killing art and literature by playing the pedant and refusing to give the works a chance to speak for themselves. So of course I want to share them with you. Read the rest of this entry

Myth, Cosmology, and the Sacred

Dr. Angela Voss is an expert in mythology, astrology, and Western esotericism. She’s also one of the two editors of Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence, whose imminent publication I recently talked about here. In conjunction with that post, she has asked me to help spread the word about an exciting new graduate program in these subjects that she has helped to create in the UK. Conveniently, this is a request that plays right into my already-existing plans, since I was planning to mention the new graduate program at some point anyway! In the past few months I’ve seen various announcements and updates about its development and planned launch in January 2014, and have thought the whole thing looks and sounds quite fascinating.

As you’ll see from the following description, the program also lands right in the middle of the same territory explored not only by the Daimonic Imagination book but by portions of this very blog. I urge you to click through the title link below to the program’s page at the Canterbury Christ Church University site, where you can read more details on the specific subjects to be covered. Items that leap out at me personally include “”The nature of mythopoeic thought: symbol and metaphor,” “Renaissance art and theurgic magic,” “Jung, Corbin and Hillman on active imagination,” “The return to the gods in transpersonal psychology,” and “Subliminal mind and the unconscious.”

Maybe somebody among The Teeming Brain’s audience will find that this is just the thing they’ve been looking for.

* * *

Announcing a new Masters programme in Canterbury, UK:

MA in Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred

MA_in_Myth_Cosmology_and_the_Sacred

To begin January 2014, 1 year full-time or 2 years part-time

TUTORS:
Wilma Fraser (director)
Geoffrey Cornelius
Angela Voss
Marguerite Rigoglioso (guest lecturer)

This interdisciplinary Masters programme draws on studies in psychology, anthropology, theology, esoteric philosophy, a range of wisdom traditions and the arts. It offers a discerning investigation into seemingly non-rational modes of knowing, exploring the cosmological sense of the sacred, the widespread practices of symbol-interpretation and divination, and the cultural role of the creative imagination. The programme will appeal to all those seeking to enrich their lives through the study of the history, philosophy and rituals of Western sacred and esoteric traditions, and will be of particular interest to teachers, practitioners and therapists in the fields of contemporary spirituality and well-being who would like to engage more deeply with the foundations of their work. Students will be required to submit four essays, a creative portfolio and review, extracts from an ongoing reflective Learning Journal and a dissertation. The MA is taught at alternate weekends Jan-June, with additional Wednesday mornings for full-time students. The second half of the year consists of supervised research with a presentation weekend in September. Students will be required to submit four essays, a creative portfolio and review, extracts from an ongoing reflective Learning Journal and a dissertation.

For the student handbook and all admin information (including fees) contact Michelle Childs post.compulsory.education@canterbury.ac.uk, 01227 863458. For information regarding course content, contact Angela Voss angela.voss@canterbury.ac.uk

We also welcome enquiries for M.Phil and Ph.D research in related areas.

Taylor Mali on the truth about “what teachers make”

The inferno of busyness that has overtaken my life in the past few weeks has abated somewhat, although various fires are still still burning all around. So here’s another interim item for your amusement and edification while I continue the emergency cleanup.

The following video seems particularly appropriate to share right now, since all around America the summer break from school is presently in full swing. In this piece you’ll see, hear, and experience Taylor Mali, “one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement and one of the few people in the world to have no job other than that of poet,” delivering what’s probably the most powerful recorded performance of his now-famous poem “What Teachers Make.” It’s an inspired (and carefully crafted) rant that literally sends chills up the spine with its flat-out annihilation, on a level rivaling the holy terror of a fiery-eyed biblical prophet, of the fatuous assumption that kids can’t learn anything valuable “from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher,” because, you know, what do teachers actually make?

So this is for teachers everywhere, especially those who toil away in public schools the way I used to do, but who are currently enjoying a well-earned breather. No matter that the system itself is largely broken and deserving of the criticisms that are heaped upon it. A large percentage of the people who work it in do so out of an authentic sense of calling and vocation, and far too often, like Rodney Dangerfield, they don’t get no respect.

Let the delicate-minded among you be advised that there’s a bit of mild profanity in what you’re about to watch. There are several different versions on YouTube showing Mali performing the poem in different venues on different occasions, and some of them qualify as G or PG for language. But this one is PG-13. It’s the preferred version for its flat-out potency.

 

“Let me break it down for you so you know what I say is true:

I make a goddamned difference. Now what about you?”

 

Calvin, Hobbes, and Bill Watterson’s advice on creating a soul-satisfying life

I spent many years reading/reveling in Calvin and Hobbes, both live (so to speak) in the newspaper comics section during its original run from 1985 to 1995 and then later in the many book-length collections. This still ranks among my most cherished literary and artistic experiences. The strip was not only hilarious but frequently brilliant, both artistically and philosophically, and the characters as well as the overall vibe and mood became enduring mental companions for me.

calvin_and_hobbes_ethics

And so it’s always a delight to read any news about the man behind the strip, Bill Watterson, not least because any and all such news is basically non-existent, in accordance with the utterly admirable design and intent of the man himself:

In the days of 4G wireless networks and Twitter, when virtually every moment of a person’s life can be tracked online and many people offer up that information freely, it’s a rare thing to come across a public figure who not only doesn’t buy into the idea of constant communication, but takes themselves in the opposite direction — completely out of the spotlight. The term “recluse” seems like a dirty word, a slur — “private” or “introverted” seem much fairer ways to describe someone than a word that suggests agoraphobia — but that’s how many would describe artists ranging from Emily Dickinson to Marcel Proust, Harper Lee to J.D. Salinger.

Some say that the “recluse” is an endangered species, but to my knowledge, there’s still one artist who is keeping the idea of the private public figure alive: Bill Watterson, writer and illustrator of the beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

. . . . “As happy as I was that the strip seemed to be catching on, I was not prepared for the resulting attention,” Watterson wrote in the introduction to The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a 2012 compilation of all his work weighing in at more than 14 pounds. “Cartoonists are a very low grade of celebrity, but any amount of it is weird. Besides disliking the diminished privacy and the inhibiting quality of feeling watched, I valued my anonymous, boring life. In fact, I didn’t see how I could write honestly without it.”

Whereas others have relished such a spotlight, Watterson shrank from the publicity, sure that neither he nor his work would not survive what he saw as the curse of celebrity.

. . . . For all the journalists rejected, it’s easy for new ones to imagine that there must be someone able to break through Watterson’s solid exterior; it could be anyone! But Watterson, for one, has said most of what he seems to ever want to say.

— Liv Combe, “Searching for Calvin’s Dad,” Full Stop, April 4, 2013

The new burst of Watterson-centric attention represented by this article, which was also published at Salon, has been occasioned by the appearance of a new documentary film titled Dear Mr. Watterson that debuted, as it so happens, just yesterday at the Cleveland Film Festival:

Here’s a description of the film from its official Website:

Calvin & Hobbes dominated the Sunday comics in thousands of newspapers for over 10 years, having a profound effect on millions of readers across the globe.  When the strip’s creator, Bill Watterson, retired the strip on New Year’s Eve in 1995, devoted readers everywhere felt the void left by the departure of Calvin, Hobbes, and Watterson’s other cast of characters, and many fans would never find a satisfactory replacement.

It has now been more than a decade since the end of the Calvin & Hobbes era.  Bill Watterson has kept an extremely low profile during this time, living a very private life outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  Despite his quiet lifestyle, Mr. Watterson is remembered and appreciated daily by fans who still enjoy his amazing collection of work.

Mr. Watterson has inspired and influenced millions of people through Calvin & Hobbes.  Newspaper readership and book sales can be tracked and recorded, but the human impact he has had and the value of his art are perhaps impossible to measure.

This film is not a quest to find Bill Watterson, or to invade his privacy.  It is an exploration to discover why his “simple” comic strip made such an impact on so many readers in the 80s and 90s, and why it still means so much to us today.

For a glimpse of the genius of Watterson the man — aside from and in addition to the genius to Watterson the artist — I urge you to see the only (to date) college commencement speech he ever delivered. It was given to the 1990 graduating class at Watterson’s alma mater, Kenyon College, and it illuminates much about Watterson’s choice to remain personally outside the media spotlight while relentlessly fighting all attempts by the Borg-like machinery of the modern merchandising industry to capitalize on Calvin and Hobbes. It also offers deeply wise and insightful advice to the rest of us who are likewise obligated to live and work in this same cultural inferno of universal hype and hustling:

As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I thought about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons. Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards. The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need. What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and t-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.

. . . Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble. Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it’s going to come in handy all the time.

— Bill Watterson, “”Some Thoughts on the Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled,” Kenyon College Commence Speech, May 20, 1990

Recommended Reading 35

This week, a more America-centric set of recommendations than usual, covering: the gargantuan crisis of America’s “health-care-industrial” complex, which is literally killing the nation with galactically inflated prices and substandard healthcare; the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of America’s “sequestration” debacle; how the “personalized” Internet experience created by user profiling and content filtering actually delivers up two different Internets for the rich and the poor; the problem with a huge self-help industry that actually has no idea what a “self” is or how to help it; the personal and societal downside of the much-prized elite university education, which inculcates an all-dominating sense of privilege, specialness, and entitledness while grooming new generations of leaders to be just like the old ones; and a lovely essay exploring and honoring the East Texas roots of the recently deceased Van Cliburn. Read the rest of this entry

Books, solitude, and finding your own reality amid a cultural cacophony

From a lecture titled “Solitude and Leadership,” which William Deresiewicz delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October 2009:

Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now — older people as well as younger people — you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought. They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today.

— William Deresiewicz, “Solitude and Leadership,” The American Scholar, Spring 2010

Image: “Man Reading at Lamplight” by Georg Friedrich Kersting, 1814 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons