Category Archives: The Teeming Brain
In light of yesterday’s awful mosque attacks in New Zealand, I feel led to start with this except from a 2003 PBS interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. After an extensive conversation about Buddhism, Christianity, mindfulness, and other such matters, and their relationship to gritty large-scale matters of war and violence, the interaction ends with this:
Q: What is so tantalizing about talking to you is the wonderful promise of your teachings at the personal level, and the frustration of not seeing how it can change the policies of big institutions, such as government.
A: It is the individual who can effectuate change. When I change, I can help produce change in you. As a journalist, you can help change many people. That’s the way things go. There’s no other way. Because you have the seed of understanding, compassion, and insight in you. What I say can water that seed, and the understanding and compassion are yours and not mine. You see? My compassion, my understanding can help your compassion and understanding to manifest. It’s not something that you can transfer.
Are you burned out on collapse? According to a recent article on “the hidden psychological toll of living through a time of fracture,” you’re not alone. As the writer astutely observes, “When reality itself has turned into something like a grotesque, bizarre dystopia, then just making contact with it is deeply psychologically stressful.”
Douglas Rushkoff has offered a brief and typically insightful reflection on the deep cause and possible cure for our culture of doom and collapse: the Internet is acid, and America is having a bad trip. (Seriously, his thesis is profound.)
Meanwhile, journalist and author Nick Bilton writes in Vanity Fair that “No One Is at the Controls” as “Facebook, Amazon, and Others Are Turning Life into a Horrific Bradbury Novel.” It occurs to me that his thesis — that the Internet now runs itself, that “nobody is behind the curtain” of our digital dystopia — resonates with the horrific discovery of the empty movie theater projection booth in Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The characters storm the booth after the horror movie they’ve been watching comes to life and fills the theater with raging, murderous demons. But their horror is compounded when they discover there’s no projectionist. In other words, nobody is responsible. Nobody is making the nightmare happen. The equipment all just runs on its own. As one of them fearfully observes in a line of dialogue that resonates with overtones of cosmic nihilism, “Oh, God, then that means no one’s ever been here!” (Watch the scene.)
By contrast, this is quite lovely: Composer James Agnelli created music by using the position of birds on electrical wires to represent notes. Then he facilitated the production of this short film about it. Also see the brief explanation of further background at The Daily Grail.
In his recent commencement address to graduates of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Vermont’s Bennington College, poet and author Garth Greenwell communicated some riveting advice and wisdom on living the writer’s life: “To write a story or a poem or an essay is to make a claim about what we find beautiful, about what moves us, to reveal a vision of the world, which is always terrifying; to write seriously is to find ourselves pressed against not just our technical but our moral limits. . . . That intimate communication between writer and reader, that miracle of affective translation across distance and time, is the real life of literature; that’s what matters.” His words on the place of literary awards and sales figures are particularly astute: “The soul one pours into a novel or a collection of poems, the years of effort a book represents — what possible response from the world could be adequate recompense for that?”
This explain a lot: A secret brain trust of scientists and billionaires, unofficially headquartered at Silicon Valley, has embraced belief in UFOs as a new religious mode.
And then there’s this: “The British military is recruiting philosophers, psychologists and theologians to research new methods of psychological warfare and behavioural manipulation, leaked documents show.” Apparently the project comes with a communications campaign to help manage “reputational risks” for participating academic institutions. Quoth one Cambridge scholar interviewed for the linkedGuardian piece, “Now I don’t want to be too academic about this, but it’s very striking that a programme designed to change people’s views and opinions for military purposes would spend some of its money changing people’s views and opinions, so that they wouldn’t object to changing people’s views and opinions. See what they did there?”
An essay at The American Scholar titled “The Sound of Evil” provides an interesting cinematic-cultural-sociological analysis of the avenues by which classical music in movies and television have become synonymous with villainy
A free symposium titled “Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and the Weird in an Age of Post-Truth” will be held this June at Manchester Metropolitan University’s 70 Oxford St. The announcement explains that “Ligotti is increasingly seen as one of the key literary horror and weird fiction writers of recent decades whose works present a unique, bleak and controversial portrayal of both human existence and society.” The symposium “will comprise of [sic] two panels with papers delivered by staff and students on Ligotti and the weird mode, and will include a keynote delivered by weird expert Professor Roger Luckhurst. They will explore the works, philosophy and influence of Ligotti within a diverse range of contexts, from philosophical nihilism and pessimism, weird fiction and horror to his impact on film and television.” (Tangential side note: About half the presenting scholars were involved in my Horror Literature through History encyclopedia.) Even if you, like me, will sadly be unable to attend, you can still read this piece containing brief interviews with some of the participants about their thoughts on Ligotti and his work.
While the rest of the US raves breathlessly on about AOC and Wells Fargo or whatever, I much prefer to slow down and savor a delicious interview with Whitley Strieber about his outlandish experiences and the way his career as a major and still-rising horror novelist was derailed when he became America’s most prominent paranormal lightning rod.
December saw the publication of Peter Bebergal’s Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural. Teeming Brain readers will recall that Peter was one of the panelists on the Teeming Brain podcast “Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror.” His new book offers “a journey through the attempts artists, scientists, and tinkerers have made to imagine and communicate with the otherworldly using various technologies, from cameras to radiowaves.”
T. E. (Ted) Grau, who produced a handful of fine articles for The Teeming Brain a few years back, is presently on the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Award for his novel I Am the River. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, saying that “Grau’s poetic prose and stunning evocation of time and place, from the killing fields of Vietnam to the haunted alleyways of Bangkok, form a fever dream of copious bloodshed and many shades of gray.”
Speaking of horror, the crowd-funded documentary In Search of Darkness is in its final stages of production. I only learned about the project recently via a tweet from long-time Teeming Brain friend and fellow religion/horror adept John Morehead. Here’s the official description, followed by the official trailer. The description reads like a feast, while the trailer feels like a time warp to my misspent, VHS-saturated adolescence.
Featuring compelling critical takes and insider tales of the Hollywood filmmaking experience throughout the 1980s, In Search of Darkness will provide fans with a unique perspective on the decade that gave rise to some of the horror genre’s greatest icons, performers, directors and franchises that forever changed the landscape of modern cinema. Tracking major theatrical releases, obscure titles and straight-to-video gems, the incredible array of interviewees that have been assembled for ISOD will weigh in on a multitude of topics: from creative and budgetary challenges creatives faced throughout the decade to the creature suits and practical effects that reinvigorated the makeup effects industry during the era to the eye-popping stunts that made a generation of fans believe in the impossible. In Search of Darkness will also celebrate many of the atmospheric soundtracks released during that time, the resurgence of 3-D filmmaking, the cable TV revolution and the powerful marketing in video store aisles, the socio-political allegories infused throughout many notable films, and so much more.
Finally, a recent piece by Glenn Greenwald deserves to be read by everybody of all political persuasions: “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda.” It presents an utterly damning account of collusion between the U.S. government and U.S. corporate media to foment Venezuelan regime change through brazen lies, thus perpetuating a long and sordid tradition in America’s international relations.
Greetings, Teeming friends. After a break of — what has it been now? four months? — I’ve recently been tracking certain subtle indicators, auguries, and ripplings in the cosmic aether that indicate it’s time to rouse The Teeming Brain from its long winter’s nap. While I’m at it, I would like to broadcast a special thanks to those of you who have continued sending your voluntary monthly donations to the cause during the downtime. This has been a great help with the Web-hosting fees, which went up considerably last summer when I took steps to improve the site’s speed and loadability.
Interestingly, a steady stream of Web traffic has continued to converge here even in the absence of new posts — one of the benefits, I think, of developing a vast and varied collection of content like the one that we have here in our library of articles, essays, columns, and links spanning the past eight years.
I have now managed to dig part of the way — a very, very small part of the way, mind you — out from under the mountain of accumulated projects and responsibilities that necessitated the hiatus. The mummy encyclopedia that I was editing for ABC-CLIO is basically finished and turned in to the publisher, with a rich assemblage of articles by more than 40 top-notch scholars from half a dozen different countries around the world. I have now moved on to the paranormal encyclopedia project for the same publisher, and am thrilled to have secured the participation of many top writers and scholars in the field whose names and works will be very familiar to Teeming Brain readers, since you’ve seen them quoted and cited here many times. I’m also slated to contribute two articles to an encyclopedia about spiritual possession and exorcism. Then there’s the matter of my forthcoming omnibus collection of supernatural horror fiction from Hippocampus Press, To Rouse Leviathan, which awaits my final touches. Work is also basically complete on Born to Fear, the forthcoming book of collected interviews with Thomas Ligotti that I edited for Subterranean Press. I’ll give further details on all of these projects in the near future. Then there’s the ongoing fact of my day job as a college writing instructor. So, yes, my time is still largely spoken for at any given moment.
That said, the publication of new Teeming Brain content will resume within the next few days — a fact that will be aided and facilitated not a little by my decision several months ago to permanently delete my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, which has liberated large amounts of time, energy, attention, and soul (something that I may also say more about in the future).
Thank you again to everybody who has ridden out the long break. There has been no lack of activity during the past few months in the various spheres that we’ve devoted ourselves to tracking, investigating, analyzing, and commenting on here, so I look forward to resuming the conversation and receiving your input.
Be advised that as of this Sunday our email subscription service will be changing. We’ll be switching to a new service (MailChimp) that will send you a weekly digest of all new Teeming Brain content from the previous week. That’s as opposed to the current system, which sends you a separate notification for each new post.
This requires action on your part in order to avoid having your in-box clogged with duplicate content! Please click the “Manage Subscriptions” link at the bottom of any Teeming Brain email you’ve previously received (including this one, if you’re reading this notice via email) and follow the simple steps to unsubscribe from that now-abandoned service. (I would remove you from it myself, but I’m prevented from doing so by the way the system works. You have to opt out yourself.) You’ve already been added to the new email subscription list, so this Sunday you’ll receive the first installment of the new “Teeming Brain Weekly,” followed by a fresh installment every Sunday thereafter.
Also remember that you’re always free to subscribe via RSS instead of email.
We’re happy to announce the debut of a new column titled “Aliens Above, Ghosts Below” by parapsychology pioneer Dr. Barry Taff.
Dr. Taff’s presence here is particularly appropriate and compelling given The Teeming Brain’s intertwined focuses on the cultural, artistic, and philosophical experiences and meanings of horror, consciousness, creativity, and the paranormal. For it was his work as lead investigator on a bizarre case of purported supernatural assault in the 1970s that led to the writing of the book The Entity and the making of its famous movie adaptation, which so many of us can credit with having authentically freaked us out when we were young (an unsurprising effect for a movie that no less a luminary than Martin Scorsese included in his list of the “11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time“). Dr. Taff himself served as technical advisor for the film and was represented in it by the character named “Gene Kraft.”
Back in the real world, he played a key role in the early development of remote viewing. He had a doctorate in psychophysiology with a minor in biomedical engineering, and he worked out of UCLA’s parapsychology lab as a research associate in the 1970s. He has consulted for a multitude of businesses, government agencies, and law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In the entertainment world, he has appeared on dozens of television and radio shows, many of them ones you would expect (e.g., Coast to Coast AM; NBC’s The Other Side and Haunted History; ABC’s World’s Scariest Ghosts Caught on Tape) and others a bit more surprising (e.g., CBS News, Unsolved Mysteries). Most recently he appeared on the two highest-rated shows in the Sci-Fi Channel’s history, An Unknown Encounter and California’s Most Haunted. In addition to his work on the film adaptation of The Entity, he has served as a technical advisor or script doctor on the films Logan’s Run, Demon Seed, Altered States, and Poltergeist.
His 2010 book Aliens Above, Ghosts Below: Explorations of the Unknown represents a summation of his life’s work and thought up to now, and details not only his lifetime of involvement in parapsychological and paranormal investigations but his master theory of how psi, the paranormal, and UFOs may be connected, as well as his predictions for a future in which applied parapsychology might actually be harnessed and used for practical purposes.
We’re pleased to have Dr. Taff as a member of the Teem, and we invite you to join us in welcoming him. In his first column, titled “Legacy’s End: The Rise and Fall of the UCLA Parapsychology Lab,” he shares his firsthand account of what really went on at UCLA’s now infamous (and defunct, and disavowed) parapsychology lab.
In the past The Teeming Brain has proceeded on a schedule dictated by personal, mercurial whims, energy levels, and availability. But for those of you among the extended teem (as we like to think of our readers) who prefer some structure and regularity to your online engagement, we’ve now got you covered. Here’s the official posting/publishing schedule for the new Teeming Brain. (Note that the accompanying Mayan calendar is for illustration purposes only, and should not be taken as any kind of metaphor for any kind of apocalyptic enfoldment and overcoming of clock time by daimonic-liminal-spirit time.)
- Mondays – Liminalities by Matt Cardin (launching July 23). Delving into the mutual collision of horror, spirituality, apocalypse, dystopia, sleep paralysis, and daemonic creativity at the interstices of consciousness and culture.
- Tuesdays – De Umbris Idearum by David Metcalfe. An ongoing exploration of anomalous and transpersonal experiences as they are codified, cultivated, and encultured through narrative, art, corporate governance, and popular culture.
- Wednesdays – Cinema Purgatorio. Short films and other delicacies for viewing online from the Internet’s cinematic treasure trove.
- Fridays – Recommended Reading. Our popular weekly profusion of fascination from articles, essays, and blog posts, culled and selected by real humans from the vastness of the media webs.
- First Wednesday (Aug. 1, Sept. 5, Oct. 3, etc.) – Sparking Neurones by Stuart Young. Reflections on literature, cinema, comic books, television, pop culture, and the ideas that drive them.
- Third Wednesday (Aug. 15, Sept. 19, Oct. 17, etc.) – The Extinction Papers by T. E. Grau. Dispatches from the end of the world as we know it.
And of course this regularity will be interwoven with the usual ongoing posting of links, articles, observations, mini-essays, and asides from the apocalyptic multiverse of ideas.
It’s crucially important for all Teeming Brain email and RSS subscribers at the old WordPress.com site to resubscribe here at the new site. See the simple process near the top of the right-hand column. This reminder is one of the final updates that will be sent both to the old list and to the new one. After that, all updates will only come from here at www.TeemingBrain.com, and you’ll only be notified of them if you’ve subscribed here.
The beast has slouched and the stars are right. Elder gods shudder in their ancient sleep. Ripples spread across the interwebs. The brain has landed.
In short, welcome to the new Teeming Brain, also known as The Teeming Brain 2.0.
As you’re already noticing from this page’s appearance if you’ve been a visitor at any previous point during The Teeming Brain’s history, things have now, to put it mildly, changed. Effective today, this is no longer my personal blog but a communally written blog of ideas in an age of apocalypse. This relaunch involves a comprehensive remaking and re-visioning of the whole enterprise from the ground up.
If you can believe it, I have now been writing this blog for six years. Today is The Teeming Brain’s birthday. I launched it on June 13, 2006, and was surprised and gratified to see a sizable audience come together rather rapidly.
In the launch post I said, among other things:
The expression “teeming brain” comes from a famous poem by the English Romantic poet John Keats in which he expressed his “fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain.” In other words, he was saying that he felt so fertile with unexpressed thoughts, emotions, and impressions that he was afraid he might die before he had the chance to write down everything that was demanding to be written. I sometimes share this sentiment; hence, my loose borrowing of Keats’ wonderfully evocative term. I’m one of those unfortunate types who is saddled with a volcanically active intellectual, emotional, and imaginative life that I frequently squander due to a lack of time, opportunity, and quite often the sheer will to bring all of it out into the open instead of letting it rot and die inside me. So I’ve created this blog as one modest effort among several others to help me glean my teeming brain before it kills me. (Incidentally, I also like the term “teeming brain” because it conjures up a vague image of a brain or psyche that’s bristling with bizarre, half-formed organisms like schools of mutant fish shimmering and struggling for dominance in psychic space. Or at least that’s one connotation it has for me personally. Chalk it up to my long-running love affair with the writings and persona of H.P. Lovecraft and a few other relevant horror writers.)
…[M]ost of my greatest satisfactions and even exhilarations in life have come from discovering that my own deepest, most personal insights and observations have been shared and expressed by someone else. Essentially, I take what Tom Ligotti identified as the sole authentic consolation of fictional horror in his indispensable essay “The Consolations of Horror” and expand it to apply to life as a whole: “This, then, is the ultimate, that is only, consolation: simply that someone shares some of your own feelings and has made of these a work of art which you have the insight, sensitivity, and — like it or not — peculiar set of experiences to appreciate.” If it should so happen that something I say in text or music, that some thought, emotion, or idea that I express in a journal entry, short story, song, or rant, ends up invoking that same sense of identification in somebody else — perhaps you? — and that it perhaps helps to solidify and sharpen your own thoughts and feelings about the matter, then the question [of why I’m writing this blog] will have answered itself.
That all seems like a long time ago, and yet the thoughts and sentiments expressed in that post are still current, still relevant. I’m still gleaning my teeming brain, and am still finding it gratifying when, as often happens, the results resonate with other people, whose reactions then speak back to me in a synergistic symbiosis of minds and affects.
That said, in recent months and years it has become evident to me that this is all unfolding under a broad but definite supervening theme. This is distinct from, but deeply interwoven with, the fact that The Teeming Brain is bound up with my evolving outlook, worldview, sensibility, relationships, and circumstances.
The theme in question is the personal reality, impact, and implications of apocalypse. I mean the word in its root sense of “the lifting of a veil” or “a revelation” that results in the “disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception” (as Wikipedia currently has it).
Anybody who’s hung out here any length of time will be well aware that I make frequent use of this space to track doomer trends, dystopian developments, and collapse-oriented news in economics, education, ecology, energy use, and more, right alongside the ongoing focus on books, films, psychology, spirituality, creativity, horror, and the paranormal. What I’ve come to realize is that this lies at the heart of what the blog is all about, for the simple reason that it lies at the heart of what I myself am all about: seeing deeply into things, sensing the ideas and principles that underlie conventional surface understandings, and observing how this overturns and transforms both reality at large and personal life up close, often in the most intimate and unnerving of ways. Some years ago the reviewer of my Divinations of the Deep for Cemetery Dance wrote that “In each of these stories, the author personalizes the apocalyptic question of ultimate power and order.” Lately, I’ve begun to realize that he was hitting upon something truly foundational. We are now beginning to see things come apart at the seams here on planet earth, and this raises the question of ultimate power and order: of how things really work on a planetary and cosmic scale, and of whether we have erected upon this foundation a creaking false facade — materially, technologically, culturally, psychologically, spiritually — that is destined to collapse, with results that will both flow from and lead to epic transformations in consciousness and culture. This is all staring us right in the face, and is all demanding a personal response to apocalyptic issues. I can’t see it any other way. And this, obviously, amounts to an issue far larger than just me and my desire to have a place to vent all of those teeming thoughts.
So, in short, I’ve realized that The Teeming Brain has outgrown itself. Or at least it has outgrown its current form. And that means some changes are in order.
In the near future I’ll be rolling out (unveiling?) a thoroughly re-visioned version of what you see here now. The Teeming Brain 2.0, you could call it. It will be more expansive and inclusive in its underlying approach while remaining focused on the same multiverse of ideas and issues that have been in its sights all along. I hope you’ll stick around, because things are about to get a lot more interesting around here.
For now, just know that whether you’ve been here from the start or joined me somewhere along the way, I truly appreciate your presence and support. Six years represents a large chunk of a human lifetime, and it’s a fine thing to spend it in meaningful contact with kindred spirits.
Maybe it’s because I accidentally caught a few minutes of Dan O’Bannon’s wonderful Lovecraft adaptation The Resurrected on TV a few days ago, and the title struck a chord.
Maybe it’s because of the changing weather: the spring season here in Texas is rapidly transitioning to an epic summer (with our historic drought showing no signs of letting up), and the light and heat are invigorating.
Maybe it’s because of the influence of Dark Powers and Mysterious Forces that Man Was Not Meant to Know. Yeah, that’s what I’ll go with.
Whatever the case, the psychological spell that withdrew me into a half-involuntary retreat from blogging and social media and much of the Internet in general for what I thought would be all of 2011 has broken early, and suddenly I find myself blinking and looking around and feeling good about venturing out into the cyber-world again.
So what did I do with all of my extra time during the past five months? Lots of reading and studying. Lots of meditation and contemplation. Lots of cultivating and developing ideas for new creative projects. Lots of resting in the here and now without any sort of plan or goal. This last made for a particularly rich and satisfying experience of home life and day job during the spring semester at my college, since I was fully present for people and circumstances without any ulterior motive or nagging desire to be doing something else — such as, for instance, wasting time on the Internet.
A word of advice from me to you: If one day you come to your senses without any memory of having fallen asleep, and you find that your thoughts and moods, your energy and focus, are being drawn like gravity toward some activity or object of attention without any conscious intention on your part, and in such a way that the rest of your inner life and outer focus are distinctly suffering from this sucking-away of your presence, you should take it as a sign that you need to recenter and reground yourself. That kind of outer-directed, unbalanced psychological situation is dangerous, and also distinctly unpleasant. The specific locus of that spiritual black hole can be any number of things. For me it was social media and the Internet in general. To paraphrase (mangle) Thoreau, I wasn’t riding Facebook and Twitter, they were riding me.
That negative energy feels like it’s gone now. So I’m diving back in while maintaining my center of gravity, because I really do find all of these tools to be pleasantly useful when they’re not playing the role of possessing demons. Hello, everybody. Nice to see you again.