Category Archives: Teeming Links

Teeming Links – April 12, 2019

We currently live in divided and divisive times. Lately (meaning for the past two and a half years), I’ve been reading deeply in the literature about leadership for the PhD that I’m now close to finishing. And I’m here to say that it seems to me the following words from Robert Greenleaf’s classic 1970s essay “The Servant as Leader,” which, along with a couple of subsequent essays by him on the same topic, basically founded the field of leadership theory now known as servant leadership, advance a message that’s critically relevant to where we presently stand:

Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonably possible with available resources? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions? Who is standing in the way of a larger consensus on the definition of the better society and the paths to reaching it?

Not evil people. Not stupid people. Not apathetic people. Not the “system.” Not the protesters, the disrupters, the revolutionaries, the reactionaries.

. . . . The better society will come, if it comes, with plenty of evil, stupid, apathetic people around and with an imperfect, ponderous, inertia-charged “system” as the vehicle for change. Liquidate the offending people, radically alter or destroy the system, and in less than a generation it will all be back. It is not in the nature of things that a society can be cleaned up once and for all according to an ideal plan. And even if it were, who would want to live in an aseptic world? Evil, apathy, the “system” are not the enemy even though society-building forces will be contending with them all the time.

. . . The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people, and their failure to lead. Too many settle for being critics and experts. There is too much intellectual wheel spinning, too much retreat into “research,” too little preparation for and willingness to undertake the hard, and sometimes corrupting, tasks of building better institutions in an imperfect world, too little disposition to see “the problem’ as residing in here and not out there.

In short, the enemy if servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead.

On to the links…

The Matrix turns 20 this year. Our friend Greg at the ever-reliable Daily Grail recently and incisively underscored a salient antecedent by pointing out that, 22 years before the film made the phrase ‘glitch in the Matrix’ famous, Philip K. Dick was talking about déjà vu being evidence that ‘a variable is changed’ in ‘our computer-programmed reality.’” Click through the above link for a full, brief discussion, which includes this video showing PKD delivering his thoughts on the subject to a crowd in France in 1977.

Speaking of The Matrix and its vision of a dystopian future where the human race is conquered and exploited by the technology it created, have you ever wondered why things have gone so horribly and definitively wrong with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and social media in general as they’ve become breeding grounds for extremism and propaganda? Don’t overcomplicate the issue: Big tech was designed to be toxic.

It has also built us a global digital iron cage.

And speaking of technology, a long, detailed, and impressive article in The Economist manages the impressive feat of discussing synthetic biology in a nuanced-to-positive light while still mentioning Frankenstein, Faust, Brave New World, and more: “The Engineering of Living Organisms Could Soon Start Changing Everything.”

Turning to politics and the media, here in the midst of our collective Mueller Mania, Matt Taibbi nails it: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD:

Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.

On the other end of the attitudinal spectrum, Jason Louv offers some RAW -inspired optimism in “Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, and the Psychedelic Interstellar Future We Need, where he argues that some of Wilson’s and Leary’s SMI²LE vision of the future (Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension) is actually starting to appear amidst the otherwise dark and grim environment of present cultural-global circumstances.

Here’s Steven Pressfield on the profound question of why we write (or otherwise create):

What force is propelling us? In the end, I can’t say why I write. I don’t know. I know if I don’t write it (or at least try to), I’m miserable. Who’s running the show here? Am I at the mercy of my daimon? Are you? Is that a bad thing or a good thing? I don’t know.

In Pressfield’s most recent book, The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning, he talks at considerable length about the daimon, the muse, the inspiring power that drives creative work, and he dwells on the fact of its seemingly autonomous and independent nature:

You are not your daimon, and your daimon is not you. You are the vessel for your daimon. You are the latest edition in a long line. You are the raw material with which the daimon works.

For more in this vein, you can read his book, which I highly recommend. Or you can read my A Course in Demonic Creativity.

Speaking of writing, occult-and-esoteric writer and editor extraordinaire Mitch Horowitz has helpfully explained how quitting writing made him a writer:

We’re often told that you should never give up on your dreams, and I agree with that — but at the same time your dreams must not be idle or fantastical, and they must employ powers that are within your reach. Resilience is an act.

When it comes specifically to philosophical writing, philosophy professor John Lysaker of Emory University counsels that philosophical writing should sound like a letter written to yourself.: “Dear you, here is where I stand, for the time being . . . Yours, me.”

Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond, author of Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic (whose ideas influenced aspects of my creativity book), offers a cinematic meditation on the elusive nature of reality in “Inception: Art, Dream, and Reality.”

In the fourth episode of his podcast Mutations, Jeremy D. Johnson interviews Dr. Becca Segall Tarnas on the fascinating topic of recovering the imaginal with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. G. Jung.

Canadian journalist and meditation teacher Matthew Gindin examines the possible kinship of Buddhism with Western philosophical pessimism in “Buddhism according to Pessimism,” with a specific focus on the interplay of Buddhism with the thought of Thomas Ligotti, Eugene Thacker, and David Benatar.

A recent article at the history site Vintage News examines the way Rod Serling’s World War II trauma informed The Twilight Zone.

Speaking of The Twilight Zone — which everybody is doing lately because of the launch of Jordan Peele’s new iteration of the series — Rod Serling daughter says he would be stunned that it remains so relevant:

“He dealt with human issues and themes that are still so prevalent today, like racism and mob mentality,” Serling continued. “We don’t seem to be able to move ahead and change.” Even the phrase — “feels like I’m living in the Twilight Zone” — is often used to describe how many feel about the current state of the world.

“I can tell you [my dad] would be absolutely apoplectic about what’s happening in the world today. And deeply saddened,” she said. “There are moments that I’m glad he’s not here to see.”

Also see this excellent and fascinating history of the iconic Twilight Zone theme music, which was not written by Bernard Herrmann (unless you’re talking about the original “lost” (but now found) music for the first season’s opening, whose narration I always liked best).

Organizational psychological Adam Grant recently made the utterly sensible recommendation, in a New York Times op-ed, that we should stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up:

I’m all for encouraging youngsters to aim high and dream big. But take it from someone who studies work for a living: those aspirations should be bigger than work.

In their new anthology Ghost Stories: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense, editors Leslie Klinger (creator of those wonderful deluxe annotated editions of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Lovecraft’s stories) and Lisa Morton (the Bram Stoker Award-winning horror writer) bring together 18 stories by the likes of Poe, Hawthorne, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Arthur Machen. They frame it all with an introduction that lays out the history of the form. Happily, you can read that introduction in its entirety online: “The Birth of the Modern Ghost Story: On Spiritualism, Seances, and the Evolution of Ghostly Literature.”

Teeming Links – March 29, 2019

 

I have to start this edition of Teeming Links with a very special message:

Vale and R.I.P., Wilum H. Pugmire, 1951-2019

Wilum died this week after several years of troubled health, and the news hit me hard even though it has been quite some time since I spoke with him. If you’re not familiar with him and his work (which he published as W. H. Pugmire), here’s his Wikipedia entry, plus an interview and another interview (by Nicole Cushing), to fill you in.

I first met Wilum in Seattle at the 2001 World Horror Convention, where he constituted a very colorful presence. Then when my first print publication occurred in the 2002 anthology The Children of Cthulhu, Wilum was in there, too. So he has been part of my mental and personal world as a reader and writer of Lovecraftian fiction for quite some time.

A few years ago, his place in my life became much more specific. It was through his unsolicited and generous actions that I was put together with Hippocampus Press for the purpose of producing a new collection of my fiction. When that collection, To Rouse Leviathan, is published just a few months from now, it will owe its existence largely to Wilum’s unpaid facilitation, which he offered spontaneously, out of the blue, just because he was that kind of person. On the book’s acknowledgments page, he’s the first person I name.

Others in the horror community have their own, similar stories about what a lovely human being Wilum was. And that’s not even to say anything his own contributions as an author, which are substantial.

Goodbye, Wilum. You will definitely be missed.

Have you heard of Dr. D. W. Pasulka and her book American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology? You can gain a solid understanding and appreciation of its contents from the article “Belief in Aliens Could Be America’s Next Religion” at The Outline, which tells of Dr. Pasulka’s explorations into “how the once-fringe phenomenon has taken root among the powerful,” with tech billionaires devoting themselves seriously to UFOlogy, recovered alien tech, and the like. Dr. Pasulka is Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. This makes her work all the more significant.

From The Orlando Sentinel, here’s an interesting gauge of the current status of UFOlogical beliefs: “‘Alien in my Backyard:’ The UFO Community Still Believes — and Science Is Starting to Listen.”

Speaking of which: “What happens to religion when we find aliens?” In the linked piece, a Rabbi, an Imam, and a Christian theologian discuss what life in space could mean for the spiritual.

Issue 37 of EdgeScience is now out. Looks fascinating. It’s free. And it includes the following tantalizingly titled piece by none other than the above-mentioned Dr. Pasulka: “The Reception of Scientific Ideas from Alleged Supernatural Beings and Extraterrestrials: A Chapter in the History of Unorthodox Science.”

There are just too many good books to get to lately. However, one that sounds like we all need to wrap our heads around it is Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, which is all the rage right now (along with the above-described American Cosmic, making for a rather revealing literary syzygy). The idea of “surveillance capitalism,” which is Zuboff’s own original coinage (she’s a scholar of sociology and business at Harvard and the author of 1988’s In the Age of the Smart Machine), holds that the new world of digital tech has overwhelmed our cultural safeguards, which were utterly unprepared even to comprehend this new threat. The result is that now, to quote the official publisher’s description, “vast wealth and power are accumulated in ominous new ‘behavioral futures markets,’ where predictions about our behavior are bought and sold, and the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new ‘means of behavioral modification.'” As Zuboff sees it, this is not just a technological revolution but a completely new and intrinsically dystopian form of capitalism. Read “Capitalism’s New Clothes” at The Baffler and “‘The Goal is to Automate Us’: Welcome to the Age of Surveillance Capitalism” at The Guardian for good primers. Also see this astute critique at Inside Higher Ed, which argues that the problem isn’t so much a totalitarian Big Data coup from above as an uncontrollable Frankenstein that Big Tech has unleashed and that is now beyond even their control, as seen most recently and sickeningly in the unstoppable proliferation of the New Zealand shooter video.

Meanwhile, according to the 2019 World Happiness Report, the U.S. is the unhappiest it’s ever been because of our business-driven culture of addiction. Knock me over with a feather.

If all of the above strikes you as a downer, this bracing shot of wisdom from Morris Berman for our present troubled moment might help: “Speaking of Liberation.” TLDR: There’s probably no hope for humanity at large, so it’s better to focus on your own personal awakening from history’s nightmare.

From The Daily Grail, here’s a great article for starting your day with your head blown off: Remember The Young Ones? Yeah, me too. I fell in love with it during my undergraduate days. But do you remember the fifth young one who lived in the flat with Vyvyan, Rick, Neil, and Mike? The young girl who mysteriously appeared in various scenes? Yeah, me neither. But apparently she was there.

It was also in college that I first became acquainted with the Church of the SubGenius. For a while I took to posting images of “Bob” Dobbs around Columbia, Missouri. Now comes this:

For all you Death Metal fans out there, be advised that I suspected as much: “Death Metal Inspires Joy, Not Violence.”

However, things aren’t so good for horror fans, at least according to Instagram: “‘Can We Help?’ Instagram Suggests ‘#Horror’ Fans Are in Danger of ‘Harm’ & ‘Death.’

Speaking of horror, Cody Goodfellow’s take on the Lovecraft Problem in this essay — which appears in Forbidden Futures 3 — may be the most lucid, insightful, and helpful that I’ve read: “Lovecraft Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.”

In the video below, Dr. Andreas Sommer, who really knows his stuff, explains 1) why your knowledge of science and magic is almost certainly based on demonstrable falsehoods, and 2) why the intertwined history of these subjects is far more significant than you may think.

A recent interview with Christian Wiman for The New Criterion shows the poet emitting a profusion of lucid, insightful, and beautiful thoughts the way a bonfire sends up sparks “I don’t think that art is something that’s going to save you or that it’s the single most important thing in life,” he says. “I find the writing of poetry a kind of torment ultimately, though it’s also a great elation. I just don’t think it’s going to save me. . . . [A]rt can’t save you. It can give you glimpses of something beautiful, maybe even something redemptive, but there’s nothing there to hold onto. Art is a means, not an end. “

Finally, Vastarien volume 2, issue 1 is now available. The TOC is wonderful, with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork from the likes of Gemma Files, Forrest Aguirre, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, Rhys Hughes, and Matthew M. Bartlett. I’m proud to have been centrally involved in the journal’s inception and the development of the first two issues. Now Jon Padgett continues to take it from strength to strength. (And if all goes well, I may return for an editorial stint in the foreseeable future.)

Teeming Links – March 8, 2019

Has it really been more than a year since I published a Teeming Links post? It would seem so. The last one is dated October 2017. Chalk it up to the fact that I’m deep into a Ph.D. and now buried in my dissertation. And also the fact that 2018 was the most insane race-to-the-finish-line experience I’ve had in my non-writing professional career thanks to a year-long project at my college that involved the near-term fate of the institution, and that I was charged with directing. In any case, it’s been too long.

Oh, and I recently reestablished a Twitter presence after abandoning all social media several years ago. Join me there if you’re interested.

On to the links . . .

I read a lot of ebooks these days, but a writer for The Millions is correct: ultimately, when you’re reading a digital book, you’re holding a ghost in your hands.

Speaking of books, John Langan’s new horror fiction collection Sefira and Other Betrayals has some excellent pre-publication buzz, including a glowing review from Publishers Weekly, which says its horrors “all arise from intensely intimate instances of personal betrayal and the emotional unmooring it causes, their vast cosmic scope notwithstanding.” As a confirmed fan of John’s writing, I’m quite looking forward to this one.

Also speaking of books, Erik Davis’s forthcoming High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies promises to be positively delectable. Developed from his doctoral dissertation, which he wrote under the direction of Jeffrey Kripal, it will offer “a study of the spiritual provocations found in the work of Philip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson.”

In a recent BBC Radio 4 documentary titled “Losing the Night,” writer and economist Umair Haque, who has to live mostly in the dark, asks if the night itself is being eroded, and what this might mean for all of us.

Isaac Newton’s alchemy was formerly branded an extraneous embarrassment. Now it’s seen as underpinning his whole worldview and standing behind all his endeavors.

According to an insightful writer for The Atlantic, America’s real religion is “workism.” We’ve created “a culture that funnels its dreams of self-actualization into salaried jobs,” and it’s making us miserable. “There is something slyly dystopian about an economic system that has convinced the most indebted generation in American history to put purpose over paycheck. . . . For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity — promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.”

Can the United States learn from the fall of Rome? Are we really on a similar path? The idea continues to resonate.

Newsflash: Boredom, as described nicely in this short (one-minute) video featuring the words of psychologist Sandi Mann, is mentally and creatively enriching. These days we short circuit that benefit on a mass scale, primarily through our digital devices. (Um, what was that I said about being on Twitter again? And do things like this very post contribute to the problem?)

In a short, recent, fascinating paper titled “CTHULHU: The Occult Riddle of H. P. Lovecraft,” the author, one Luís Gonçalves, goes all guerilla ontology by employing gematria, the Qur’an, and various mythologies to conduct “a short investigation on the possible roots of the name ‘Cthulhu,’ as the most legendary creation of Lovecraft’s horror fiction.”

Finally, two links related to me. First, my post here on sleep paralysis and discarnate entities, published nine years ago, continues to be a magnet for readers to share their own anomalous sleep experiences. It’s striking to scroll down the list of more than 250 comments, the most recent of which arrived last month, and absorb the fact of just how many people are struck with strange and terrifying sleep-related phenomena.

This past Feb. 13, I experienced not just one but two UFO (or actually UAP) sightings within half an hour of each other. These were unexpected and startling. I submitted a separate report for each to MUFON, which is dispatching investigators. Here’s the first report, and here’s the second. Seriously, these happened. I make no claims about what I “really saw” or what it might mean. I just know I saw it.

Brain photo credit: www.modup.net

Teeming Links – Halloween 2017 Edition

3D illustration by Quince Media

 

During the past couple of years, I haven’t had any time to pull together the expansive lists of links to recommended reading that I used to post here regularly. This situation may continue for some time. But in honor of the current Halloween holiday, here are some recently published items about horror pop culture, monsters, and the supernatural that are worth looking at.

Betwixt Nature and God Dwelt the Medieval “Preternatural (Aeon)

These accidents of nature were known as “prodigies.” A non-exhaustive list might include floods; rains of blood or body parts; miscarriages, human and animal; volcanic eruptions and earthquakes; comets, eclipses, and conjunctions of the planets; apparitions of armies in the sky; and beached whales. What united this Borgesian collection was its strangeness. Each of these phenomena departed from the ‘norm’, but not enough to be considered a true miracle. They occupied a middle ground between natural and supernatural: the preternatural.

In theory, prodigies could be explained by natural causes. But in creating them, nature wasn’t tending to business as usual. This strange, quirky, slippery realm, the realm of the monstrous, fulfilled a human need to see the moral order reflected in the non-human domain. Prodigies allowed humans to see their own desires, fears and political judgments woven into the fabric of nature itself. In a secularised form, this impulse is still with us today.

The True, Twisted Story of The Amityville Horror (Topic)

One would like to believe that journalists have enough common sense not to believe in ghosts. But in the 1970s, American culture was awash in superstition. It was a time rather like our own, filled with economic and political instability. The Lutz family’s press conference took place 18 months after Watergate had forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency and the onslaught of upsetting news had led everyone to question conventional facts and truth. It was unclear whether the stable laws of the universe still held.

Anger and fear were everywhere, and often enough, they bloomed into outright delusions. Couple that with the remnants of the New Age philosophies of the 1960s, shake in a little bit of good old American folklore, and you got something like what the Lutz family’s story would eventually be: The Amityville Horror, a story that would inspire several books and more than half a dozen films, spanning from the 1979 original blockbuster starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, to the rather poorly-reviewed, middling effort released just this past October 12, called Amityville: The Awakening, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bella Thorne.

Though a lucrative and ubiquitous emblem of American mythology, it’s telling how dull the story actually is, when summarized . . .

2017: The Year That Horror Saved Hollywood (The Week)

Hollywood is facing crisis on multiple fronts: the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are shedding light on a trade plagued by sexual harassment and gender inequality, cord-cutting and streaming platforms are upsetting the regular order, and the movies are struggling through yet another dismal year at the box office. If there’s a silver lining in any of that for America’s film industry, it’s that the horror genre is still plugging merrily along, seemingly immune to the financial troubles that have befallen most studios. As the rest of Hollywood flounders in 2017, horror is in the midst of its highest-grossing year ever. On the backs of huge hits like It and Get Out, the horror genre has combined for a record $733.5 million in the US this year, according to box office data compiled by the New York Times. The year has proven that horror films are more than just cheaply made movies for niche audiences and can still cross into the mainstream to become bona fide successes.

How Horror TV Embraced Our Demons (The Week)

Where The Walking Dead does connect to Channel Zero and American Horror Story though is in its overriding sense of despair. Every time the heroes seem to be making progress, their egos lead them to blunder into some catastrophic error that destroys nearly everything they’ve built. This is a case of a long-form serialized TV show deriving a thematic angle from an economic necessity. To keep this successful show going, the story has to keep dead-ending and resetting. Fans waiting to see anything like hope in The Walking Dead are going to have to wait for viewership to completely crater. But while that nihilism can be unsatisfying to the audience, it’s also fascinating as a statement of where we are right now as a society. The phenomenal success of The Walking Dead and American Horror Story mean that week after week we’re gazing into an abyss, willingly. Perhaps we’re searching for clues to how to survive it.

Retro Retail: Classic Monsters of Marvel Comics (Inside the Magic) (This article is rather sumptuously illustrated with classic Marvel horror images)

While classic monsters may find their fame from films in the Universal Studios Classic Monster movies of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, they’ve also haunted the pages of the Marvel Comics universe. With revised backstories and sometimes intertwined story lines, these Marvel monsters made multiple appearances in the 1970’s, both under their own titles and as team-ups (or villains for) various Marvel super heroes.

Why We’ll Always Be Obsessed with — and Afraid of — Monsters (PBS News Hour)

Fear continues to saturate our lives: fear of nuclear destruction, fear of climate change, fear of the subversive, and fear of foreigners. But a Rolling Stone article about our “age of fear” notes that most Americans are living “in the safest place at the safest time in human history” . . . .

So why are we still so afraid? Emerging technology and media could play a role. But in a sense, these have always played a role. In the past, rumor and a rudimentary press coverage could fan the fires. Now, with the rise of social media, fears and fads and fancies race instantly through entire populations. Sometimes the specifics vanish almost as quickly as they arose, but the addiction to sensation, to fear and fantasy, persists, like a low-grade fever.

People often create symbols for that emotions are fleeting, abstract, and hard to describe. (Look no further than the recent rise of the emoji.) For over the last three centuries, Europeans and Americans, in particular, have shaped anxiety and paranoia into the mythic figure of the monster – the embodiment of fear, disorder and abnormality – a history that I detail in my new book, “Haunted” [from Yale University Pres, subtitled “On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Earth”]. There are four main types of monsters. But a fifth — a nameless one — may best represent the anxieties of the 21st century.

The Halloween Tree Remains an Adventure in Friendship and Understanding (AV Club)

“It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state.” The opening line of Ray Bradbury’s 1972 fantasy novel The Halloween Tree reads like the beginning of a good horror movie, and the film adaptation’s intro does little to quell this terrifying tone. With ominous music, a jack-o’-lantern title card, and Bradbury’s narration, the 1993 feature-length animated television movie produced by Hanna-Barbera seemingly set the stage for something sinister. And that’s how I remember my childhood viewing of this film, as one filled with my favorite holiday tropes. Upon revisiting it, I recognize the adaptation is much more faithful to Bradbury’s work than my younger self realized. That is to say, this is an extremely educational look at Halloween and how its tropes came to be, from witches to mummies and lots in between.

It’s hard not to relate The Halloween Tree to current juggernaut Stranger Things. Both quickly ask that viewers be emotionally attached to a young boy that has been whisked away on a journey that could determine whether he lives or dies. The characters left behind are so enamored with the boy that it makes it hard not to care, too . . .

Teeming Links – May 1, 2015

fire-head

Don’t say you weren’t warned: artificial telepathy might turn out to be a nightmare. “Will the next generation of telepathy machines make us closer, or are there unforeseen dangers in the melding of minds?” (Aeon)

What is the future of loneliness in the age of the Internet?  “As we moved our lives online, the internet promised an end to isolation. But can we find real intimacy amid shifting identities and permanent surveillance?” (The Guardian)

An Even More Dismal Science: “For the past 25 years, a debate has raged among some of the world’s leading economists. At issue has been whether the nature of the business cycle underwent a fundamental change after the end of the ’30 glorious years’ that followed World War II, when the economy was characterized by rapid growth, full employment, and a bias toward moderate inflation. . . . Today, a degree of consensus has emerged. There is no longer much point in questioning whether the glory days are over.” (Project Syndicate)

Astrobiology research scientist Lewis Dartnell considers a pertinent question: Could we recreate industrial-technological civilization without fossil fuels? (Aeon)

Weird realism: John Gray on the moral universe of H. P. Lovecraft: “The weird realism that runs through Lovecraft’s writings undermines any belief system — religious or humanist — in which the human mind is the centre of the universe.” (New Statesman)

George Lucas rips Hollywood and laments the digital dumbing of Internet culture: “George Lucas offered a bleak assessment of the current state of the film business during a panel discussion with Robert Redford at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, saying that the movies are ‘more and more circus without any substance behind it’ . . . . The man who took bigscreen fantasies to bold new worlds said he never could have predicted the smallness of popular entertainment options on platforms such as YouTube. ‘I would never guess people would watch cats do stupid things all day long,’ said Lucas.” (Variety)

Arch-skeptic Michael Shermer writes about an anomalous event that shook his skepticism to the core: “[T]he eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave [my wife Jennifer] the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation. The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.” (Scientific American)

The Return of the Exorcists: “With papal recognition of an international group of exorcists comes a renewed interest in their ministry and role in the pastoral work of the Church.” (The Catholic World Report)

Case Study: The Horror Genre: “Unlike the western or gangster film, where there are a few fairly hard and fast rules in terms of the environment that the action might take place in, or indeed the nature of the characters that are ranged against one another, the horror genre can encompass an extraordinarily wide range of environments, characters, threats and subtexts. This is perhaps one of the major reasons that the horror film has remained popular — or has been able to reinvent itself when its popularity seemed to be on the wane. But what exactly does the horror genre consist of?” (Routledge, from the companion website for the textbook AS Media Studies: The Essential Introduction)

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – July 25, 2014

FireHead

What happens in a world where war has become perpetual, live-reported popcorn entertainment? Answer: we’re as far as we ever were from understanding anything about it. “Far from offering insights into the mysteries of history and politics, these spectacles give us a sense that we are further away than ever from understanding their causes, their implications, and their consequences. Combat makes for a disappointing program — we approach it with great expectations, prepared to encounter essential truths of human existence, but we leave empty-handed.”

Novelist William Boyd reflects on how mortality shapes human existence: “I am convinced that what makes our species unique among the fauna of this small planet circling its insignificant star is that we know we are trapped in time, caught briefly between these two eternities of darkness, the prenatal darkness and the posthumous one.”

Philosopher and journalist Steven Cave meditates on the reality, mystery, and meaning of death, from humans to flies: “Perhaps, as Tennyson believed, death’s relentless reaping should lead us to question the existence of some higher meaning — one above, beyond or external to us. But whoever thought there was such a thing anyway? Not the frogs and tadpoles. . . . Because life is so teeming with intentions and meanings, the death of each creature really is a catastrophe. But we must live with it anyway.”

Paul Kingsnorth, co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project and co-author of Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, discusses his defeatist position on climate change and the liberation to be found in giving up hope.

Journalist Matt Stroud delves into the unbelievable life and death of Michael C. Ruppert: “After decades of struggle, the notorious doomsayer finally found fame and recognition. Then he shot himself.” (Also see my reflections, in a post published five years ago, on Ruppert’s startling ascent to mainstream fame via the movie Collapse.)

Historian and writer Rebecca Onion looks at how 1980s childhoods changed the way America thought about nuclear Armageddonwith an extended analysis of the role of the 1983 television movie The Day After, which utterly freaked out my 13-year-old self.

Jacob Silverman reflects on the dystopian plight of office drones in the digital tech age: “[They are] more gadgeted-out than ever, but still facing the same struggle for essential benefits, wages, and dignity that workers have for generations. . . . Such are the perverse rewards we reap when we permit tech culture to become our culture. The profits and power flow to the platform owners and their political sponsors. We get the surveillance, the data mining, the soaring inequality, and the canned pep talks from bosses who have been upsold on analytics software. Without Gchat, Twitter, and Facebook — the great release valves of workaday ennui — the roofs of metropolitan skyscrapers would surely be filled with pallid young faces, wondering about the quickest way down.”

Seriously? We’re now entertaining the possibility of robot caregivers? Sociologist and tech expert Zeynep Tufekci is right: this is how to fail the third machine age.

You’ve seen me mention my love of My Dinner with Andre many times here. That’s why I’m so pleased to call attention to this brand new interview from On Point with “The Inscrutable, Ubiquitous Wallace Shawn.” It’s highly recommendable both for the way it offends common radio sensibilities (the whole thing gets off to a rocky start as the interviewer adopts a somewhat glib approach that apparently annoys Mr. Shawn) and for the depth of Shawn’s carefully expressed thoughts on everything from the heady joys of being a writer and articulating things you never knew were in your soul, to the changing nature of conversation in an age when everybody is perpetually interrupted by phone calls and text messages. There is also, of course, some discussion of his portrayal of Vizzini in The Princess Bride. (Oh, and also see the recent pieces on Shawn, and also Andre Gregory, and their new collaboration, in The Wall Street Journal, Vulture, and Salon.)

When I was a kid, my mother actually walked out of the theater during the heart-ripping scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Well, guess what? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg hate that movie’s notorious grimness and violence, too. Grantland unearths the history of why Temple of Doom turned out that way.

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – July 18, 2014

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William Binney, the ex-NSA code-breaker and whistleblower, says the NSA’s ultimate goal is total population control: “Binney recently told the German NSA inquiry committee that his former employer had a ‘totalitarian mentality’ that was the ‘greatest threat’ to US society since that country’s US Civil War in the 19th century.”

“New research finds having a mobile device within easy reach divides your attention, even if you’re not actively looking at it.” (This explains a lot about an increasing number of my daily interactions with people who literally cannot maintain interpersonal attention for more than 30 seconds.)

There just has to be a Ligottian corporate horror story buried somewhere in this: Financial Times reports that businesses are increasingly using big data, including social media footprints, plus complex algorithms to make hiring decisions.

You can still be a passionate reader, but it’s getting ever harder to make a career of it: “A less-heralded casualty of the digital age is the disintegration of the lower rungs of the [publishing] ladder that have long led young, smart readers into the caste of professional tastemakers.”

Steven Poole says that, whereas the disciplined cultivation of spontaneous, effortless action along the lines of Taoism’s wu wei is a great thing, the counterfeit cult of consumer “spontaneity” encourages psychological and social chaos and numbs us to morally reprehensible sociopolitical conditions.

John Michael Greer lays out, in his characteristic elegant prose and with his characteristic lucidity, a vision of the deindustrial dark age that may await us.

Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli argues cogently that science, philosophy, and the humanities in general all need each other: “Restricting our vision of reality today to just the core content of science or the core content of the humanities is being blind to the complexity of reality, which we can grasp from a number of points of view.”

Astrophysicist, author, and NPR science blogger Adam Frank reflects on the “science vs. religion” debate in light of Eastern philosophy.

If you “hear voices,” is it brain disease, communication from discarnate spirits, or perhaps the very voice of God? Tanya Luhrmann and three co-authors of a new study observe the profound impact of cultural assumptions on the subjective experience of voice hearing.

The ancient history of dream interpretation points to humanity’s insatiable hunger for the divine. For the ancients, every slumber held the promise of the numinous.”

Speaking of dreams, a recent study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping finds that psychedelic mushrooms put the brain in a waking dream state, with profound worldview-altering effects: “[T]he mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.”

David Luke reflects on psychedelics, parapsychology, and exceptional human experience: “Psychedelic researchers since the time of Huxley and Osmond have been fascinated by exploring the apparently parapsychological affects of these drugs. Rightly so, because the implications of such research for understanding our capabilities as a species and for understanding reality itself are deeply profound.” (I’m happy to report that David will be contributing an article on the relationship between drugs and the paranormal to my paranormal encyclopedia.)

Finally, it looks like my adolescence (and also a significant portion of my twenties) wasn’t so egregiously misspent after all, since Dungeons and Dragons has now influenced a generation of writers: “As [Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot] Díaz said, ‘It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.’ ”

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – July 11, 2014

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Apologies for the dearth of posts during the week leading up to now. I have reached crunch time on both the mummy encyclopedia and the paranormal encyclopedia, and, in combination with the fact that just this week I started a new day job at a new (to me) college, my time will be limited in the near future. That said, weekly Teeming Links will continue appearing every Friday. I also have a number of great features lined up for publication, including a very long interview with psychedelic research pioneer James Fadiman (finished and currently in the editing and formatting stage) and the third installment of Dominik Irtenkauf’s “Sounds of Apocalypse” series.

 

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Niall Ferguson wonders whether the powers that be will transform the supposed “libertarian utopia” of the Internet into a totalitarian dystopia worthy of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: “[T]he suspicion cannot be dismissed that, despite all the hype of the Information Age and all the brouhaha about Messrs. Snowden and Assange, the old hierarchies and new networks are in the process of reaching a quiet accommodation with one another, much as thrones and telephones did a century ago.”

Writer and former Omni editor-in-chief Keith Ferrell describes what he has learned from an experiment in living like an 11th-century farmer, or rather, like a post-apocalyptic survivor: “Our modern era’s dependence upon technology and, especially, chemical and motorised technology, has divorced most of us from soil and seeds and fundamental skills. . . . Planning and long-practised rhythms were at the core of the 11th-century farmer’s life; improvisation, much of it desperate, would be the heart of the post-apocalyptic farmer’s existence.”

In a world where the dominating goals of tech development are mobilility and sociality, Nicholas Carr wonders what kinds of alternative technologies and devices we might have if the guiding values were to be stationary and solitary. (Personally, I can think of one such technology, though not an electronic one: the paper book.)

Speaking of which, Andrew Erdmann uses the vehicle of Hal Ashby’s classic 1979 film Being There to reflect on our collective descent into aliteracy and electronically induced infantile idiocy: “I consider myself fortunate that I experienced reading and thinking before the Internet, and the written word before PowerPoint. I like to think that these experiences afford me some self-defense despite my own use of the Blackberry and other technologies.”

Roberto Bolaño says books are the only homeland for the true writer.

Javier Marías says the only real reason to write a novel is because this “allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be.”

The Vatican has formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists and approved their statutes.

In response to the above, Chris French, the prominent skeptic and specialist in the psychology of paranormal beliefs and psychological states, argues in The Guardian that possession is better understood in psychological rather than supernatural terms. (Chris, btw, is writing the entry on anomalistic psychology for my paranormal encyclopedia.)

BBC journalist David Robson offers a firsthand, participatory account of how scientists are using hypnosis to simulate possession and understand why some people believe they’re inhabited by paranormal beings.

Over at Boing Boing, Don Jolly profiles Shannon Taggart, photographer of séances, spirits, and ectoplasm: “Taggart is not a ‘believer,’ in the traditional sense, nor does she seem to debunk her subject. Rather, she presents a world where belief and unbelief are radically mediated by technology — and raises the possibility that in the age of omnipresent electronic image what is ‘true’ may be a much harder debate than the skeptics suppose.” (Shannon, btw, is writing the entries on thoughtography and Kirlian photography for my paranormal encyclopedia.)

Philosopher Bernardo Kastrup absolutely nails, in his typically lucid fashion, the reason why scientific materialism is baloney:

It’s a philosophical and not a logical interpretation of science. Science itself is just a study of the patterns and the regularities that we can observe in reality. It doesn’t carry with it an interpretation. . . . Scientific materialism is when you load the scientific observations of the regularities of nature with an ontological interpretation and you say, “What you’re observing here is matter outside of mind that has an existence that would still go on even if nobody were looking at it.” That is already an interpretation. It’s not really pure science anymore, and the essence of scientific materialism is [the idea] that the real world is outside of mind, it’s independent of mind, and particular arrangements of elements in that real world, namely, subatomic particles, generate mind, generate subjective experience. Now of course the only carrier of reality anyone can know is subjective experience. So materialism is a kind of projection, an abstraction and then a projection onto the world of something that is fundamentally beyond knowledge.

Awesomeness alert: Guillermo del Toro hints — nay, states — that there is still life in his At the Mountains of Madness dream project.

Journalist and novelist Joseph L. Flatley offers an engaging exploration of the real-life occult influence of Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon (with much info about, e.g., the origin of the Simonomicon and the theories of Donald Tyson).

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – July 4, 2014

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If current world events have you wondering — or especially if they don’t have you wondering — about the possibility of a bona fide new world war, please bear this in mind: a hundred years ago World War One was impossible — until it was inevitable.

So, is anybody really surprised that Facebook was (is?) running a scientific experiment to manipulate users’ emotions? “We’re really, really sorry,” says their second in command.  Time magazine points out one reason to be worried beyond just the obvious ones: private sector and tech companies are increasingly funding what was once independent social science research.

Nick Hanauer, himself a certified member of America’s ruling  “one percent,” warns his fellow plutocrats that the pitchforks are coming for all of them: “No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”

In The Washington Post, political commentator  Dana Milbanks reflects on the current disastrous reign of boomers in American politics.

If this were a joke, it would be a bad one — but it’s not a joke at all: Massachusetts SWAT teams claim they’re private corporations, immune from open records laws.

We’re told that “predictive policing” isn’t — really isn’t! — dystopian SF come to life. But then we read something like this: Predicting crime, LAPD-style.

Canary in the coal mine for the American southwest: Las Vegas is seriously running out water.

Then there’s my own home state of Texas, which is also running out of water due to greed, drought, and rampant overdevelopment.

Guardian journalist Rory Carroll investigates the psychic toll of unrelenting failure in Silicon Valley’s frantic culture of tech startups.

Mark Edmundson (author of, among many other things, the classic 1997 essay “On the uses of a liberal education: As lite entertainment for bored college students”) warns that while attentive absorption in some worthy work or subject is the essence of happiness and fulfillment, we live in a culture afflicted with ADHD and devoted to absorption’s evil twin, electronic mesmerization.

BBC journalist Nicholas Barber delves into the mysterious fascination of exorcisms.

Psychologist Charles Fernyhough emphasizes the normalcy of hearing voices (with a reference to the Society for Psychical Research): “The sooner we come to appreciate that voice-hearing is something that happens to people, rather than merely a symptom of a diseased brain, the sooner we will close in on a genuinely humane and enlightened understanding of the experience.”

Religion scholar Timothy Beal (author of the wonderful Religion and Its Monsters) examines the relationship between our spiritual impulse and our enduring fascination with the monsters of supernatural horror: “The import of the spiritual mainstream is holistic and ‘cosmic,’ speaking to our desire for grounding and orientation within a meaningfully integrated and interconnected whole. The monsters of contemporary horror, on the other hand, often remind us of the more chaotic, disorienting, and ungrounding dimensions of religion, envisioning an everyday life that is not without fear and trembling. ”

David Duchovny muses on future possibilities for The X-Files: “It’s not done until one of us dies.”

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – June 27, 2014

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Beware the man who has more influence on the future of reading than anybody else in the world: Jeff Bezos is simultaneously a visionary, an innovator, and a destroyer.

Pro Publica explains why online tracking is getting creepier. (Hint: It has to do with the merging of all the mountains of online and offline data about you.)

Meanwhile, Facebook has recently announced that it will start tracking users across the Internet using its widgets such as the “Like” button,” and it won’t honor do-not-track browser settings.

Helpfully, Pro Publica offers an illuminating look at Facebook’s complicated history of tracking you.

Feeling more antsy and irritable lately? Nicholas Carr says blame smartphones, which are turning us into patient and irritable monsters: “Society’s ‘activity rhythm’ has never been so harried. Impatience is a contagion spread from gadget to gadget.”

The Wall Street Journal briefly reports on Americans who choose to live without cellphones.

William Deresiewicz warns against uncritically buying into the apocalyptic rhetoric about the state of higher education, much of which comes from profit-minded billionaires who want to remake college for their own purposes: “The truth is, there are powerful forces at work in our society that are actively hostile to the college ideal. That distrust critical thinking and deny the proposition that democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. That have no use for larger social purposes. That decline to recognize the worth of that which can’t be bought or sold. Above all, that reject the view that higher education is a basic human right.”

A new survey of all 7 billion humans on planet earth — conducted by The Onion — finds that we’re surprised we still haven’t figured out an alternative to letting power-hungry assholes decide everything.

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On Point presents a 45-minute conversation about the deep and perennial fascination of Dracula in history, myth, and literature:

There is something about biting and blood that we never get over. Luis Suarez and his bite debated round the world in the World Cup. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the Victorian tale of castles and darkness that we still feel at our throats. That story has had amazing staying power. “I want to suck your blood!” and all the rest. Built off the story of Transylvania’s real Vlad the Impaler. Back to Europe’s long struggle with the Turkish caliphate. The story never dies. This hour On Point: the history and myth of literature’s great vampire — Dracula.

Historian Tim Stanley explains how Slender Man is a strongly Lovecraftian myth that became a violent reality.

E. Antony Gray gives a brief introduction to egregores and explains how Slender Man is a non-abstract and positively Lovecraftian example.

Writer, artist, and photographer Karen Emslie writes from first-person experience about the terror — and bliss — of sleep paralysis (while holding to a reductive neurobiological understanding of the phenomenon): “[S]leep paralysis has naturally spawned some very scary stories and films. But as a writer and filmmaker as well as a long-time percipient, I have another story to tell. Beyond the sheer terror, sleep paralysis can open a doorway to thrilling, extraordinary, and quite enjoyable altered states.”

(Note: I have personally never experienced the bliss of SP. For me it has always been pure, overwhelming, transformative horror.)

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Bela Lugosi as 1931 Dracula by Anonymous (Universal Studios) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Vlad Tepes by anonymous artist (Unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.