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My spiritual autobiography: A video interview

In 2017 I published an enthusiastic review of Jerry L. Martin’s God: An Autobiography here at The Teeming Brain, and also at Amazon. The book presents Martin’s account of being an atheist who was hit with an unexpected experience of what presented itself as divine communication. Over the course of about a year, he found himself involved in an ongoing dialogue with God (plus a couple of additional spiritual beings at one or two points) in which the nature of God, humans, life, death, and the universe itself were given decidedly unconventional expression. As I said in my review, these things are given added weight by the fact that Martin is no flaky peddler of New Age hype but a real philosopher whose resume gives him serious intellectual credibility. The first paragraph of his biographical entry at Wikipedia serves as handy evidence of this:

Jerry L. Martin is the author of God: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher (godanautobiography.com), coordinator of the Theology Without Walls project at the American Academy of Religion and a contributor to The Good Men Project. From 1988 to 1995, Martin held senior positions at the National Endowment for the Humanities, including acting chairman. From 1967 until 1982, Martin was a tenured professor and chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also served as the Director of the University’s Center for the Study of Values and Social Policy. He has testified before Congress and appeared on radio and television. Martin is chairman emeritus of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. He served as president of ACTA from its founding in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum until 2003, when he was succeeded by Anne D. Neal.

A few months after I wrote my review, Jerry — whom I knew on a first-name basis from having interacted with him online — interviewed me via Skype for one installment in a series of videos that he was putting together to dovetail with the themes in God: An Autobiography. The videos were to present conversations between him and some of the thinkers with whom he had come into contact via the book.

These are now being released. My own interview was published just yesterday. In it, I talk about my religious upbringing in a conservative evangelical church. I recall my early love for fantasy and horror fiction and film, with horror coming to take center stage in my late teens. I describe my sleep paralysis and nocturnal assault experiences and their formative role in darkening my philosophical worldview and emotional outlook and thus catalyzing my birth as a horror writer. I mull over the question of whether darkness or light is more fundamental as the spiritual or metaphysical ground of being. I describe my fascination with the subject of the muse, the daimon, the genius, and experiences of both divine communication and demonic possession. And I relate these things to the subject matter of God: An Autobiography. Along the way, I also recount how I first came into contact with Jerry Martin when the online excerpts from the God book that he shared prior to its publication came to my attention as I was conducting some of my perpetual research into inspired creativity and the experience of anomalous communication from a seemingly spiritual source.

Two necessary notes: First, an apology for the lousy sound quality in the video’s first few minutes. I can’t imagine why I wasn’t using earbuds or headphones. Second, when Jerry asked me at the end of the conversation to suggest a starting place for those who are interested in reading my books, I didn’t name To Rouse Leviathan because it was still in a questionable hyperspace at that time. Presently it’s set for publication next month. If the conversation were recorded today, that’s what I’d name.

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.”

My “Daemonyx” album available on YouTube

A few months ago I discovered that my entire Daemonyx album has been uploaded to YouTube by CD Baby. This is the same album that accompanied my Dark Awakenings collection when people bought it directly from the publisher, Mythos Books.

In case you’d like to hear it:

The whole thing seems strangely alien to me now. Although playing music is still a very important part of my life, the four-year burst of inspiration and creative obsession / possession that resulted in this particular body of music feels, in retrospect, rather like a dream. I regard such an impression as pretty appropriate given the music’s dominant focus on themes of daimonic inspiration and possession, filtered and refracted through multiple musical styles and emotional wavelengths (primarily beauty, sadness, darkness, and sublime exhilaration). I know these same themes are important to many reader of The Teeming Brain, so maybe you’ll find that the music resonates with you.

Back when I was nearing the end of the project, I solicited a few comments and blurbs from friends and colleagues with similar thematic and creative obsessions. Some of you may have read these previously, but in case not:

Like a soundtrack to a fever dream, the music of Daemonyx plumbs an ever-changing world of mystery, mood, and melodic apparitions. Listen with the lights out and your imagination on.

– Brian Hodge

Daemonyx’s compositions conjure up images of eerie strangeness and awesomely alien worlds that nothing can evoke better than music.

– Ramsey Campbell

“There are many haunting and beautiful compositions that complement or completely make horror films — you know the ones — as well as appeal to listeners who are sensitive to the mystery and dread of life. In its debut album Curse of the Daimon, Daemonyx has offered us thirteen works of such quality.”

– Thomas Ligotti

The overall ambience of the music reminds me a little of the electronica of Klaus Schulze. There’s a similar powerful evocation of vast and terrifying soundscapes. In the song “Daimonica,” I very much like the way the haunting and oppressive music blends with the grim signal motif, “Is there someone inside you?” In “The Gates of Deep Darkness” the ominous martial nature of the music provides a real chill, as of some impending apocalypse.

– Mark Samuels

Intricate, haunting and complex pieces of music, richly creative and inspiring.

– Tim Lebbon

Terri Windling (and Lewis Hyde and Stephen King) on the care and feeding of daemons and muses

Some neat thoughts on inspired creativity drawn from Lewis Hyde and Stephen King, and presented by Terri Windling, whose editorial and authorial contributions to modern fantasy and speculative fiction have been so very valuable:

As Hyde explained in his book, The Gift (1983):

“The task of setting free one’s gifts was a recognized labor in the ancient world. The Romans called a person’s tuletary spirit his genius. In Greece it was called a daemon. Ancient authors tell us that Socrates, for example, had a daemon who would speak up when he was about to do something that did not accord with his true nature. It was believed that each man had his idios daemon, his personal spirit which could be cultivated and developed. . . . According to Apuleius,” he continues, “if a man cultivated his genius through such a sacrifice, it would become a lar, a protective household god, when he died. But if a man ignored his genius, it became a larva or a lemur when he died, a troublesome, restless spook that preys on the living.  The genius or daemon comes to us at birth. It carries with us the fullness of our undeveloped powers. These it offers to us as we grow, and we choose whether or not to accept, which means we choose whether or not to labor in its service. For the genius has need of us. . . .

Stephen King takes a more irreverent approach to daemons and muses in “The Writing Life” (2006):

“There is indeed a half-wild beast that lives in the thickets of each writer’s imagination. It gorges on a half-cooked stew of suppositions, superstitions and half-finished stories. It’s drawn by the stink of the image-making stills writers paint in their heads. The place one calls one’s study or writing room is really no more than a clearing in the woods where one trains the beast (insofar as it can be trained) to come. One doesn’t call it; that doesn’t work. One just goes there and picks up the handiest writing implement (or turns it on) and then waits. It usually comes, drawn by the entrancing odor of hopeful ideas. Some days it only comes as far as the edge of the clearing, relieves itself and disappears again. Other days it darts across to the waiting writer, bites him and then turns tail.”

On the care and feeding of daemons and muses,” October 13, 2015

N.B. I refer to the same sources in A Course in Demonic Creativity, and even include a portion of Hyde’s quoted words above as one of the book’s opening epigraphs.

Interview with James Fadiman: The Daemon and the Doors of Perception

James_Fadiman
Dr. James Fadiman

Just published and now available here at The Teeming Brain: my interview/conversation with Dr. James Fadiman, one of the pioneers of transpersonal psychology and modern research into the spiritual and therapeutic applications of psychedelics. This has been a long time in coming, for reasons that I explain in the interview’s introduction.

The interview is ten thousand words, so be prepared to settle in. A lot of what we talk about focuses on the practical and philosophical inadequacies of dogmatic scientific materialism in dealing with things like anomalous and paranormal experiences such as inspiration and perceived communication or encounters with supernatural entities. Here’s a key excerpt:

JAMES FADIMAN: The reductionists eventually paint themselves into a corner. Consider the people who talk about the neurophysiology of dreams. They say, “Look, here’s this little part of the brain that turns on when you’re dreaming, and therefore dreams are psychophysiological in nature.” Then we ask, well, what generates a sex dream, a dream where a dead person appears with information, and a dream where you’re seated before a large pizza? And of course they say, “Why don’t you just go away.”

MATT CARDIN: I think you’re raising the basic question of phenomenology as it relates to ontology.

JAMES FADIMAN: But if you take the position that the brain is the place through which consciousness moves, so that it acts kind of like a radio, then all of those different dreams are much more understandable, because we can say they’re coming from different channels, different stations, different gods, different muses. And that makes much more sense. . . . Science’s fundamental error is a religious sort. Science says, “Certain data (since we know it does not exist) you shall not look upon.” Science holds up the story of the church and Galileo to emphasize how dogmatic the church was in its refusal to look at evidence. But if you say to scientists, “What do you know about telepathy? What do you know about clairvoyance? What do you know about near-death experiences?” they say, “Those don’t exist, and I’ve never spent a moment looking at the evidence, because they can’t exist” . . . . Scientism — science as a religion — and science are quite far apart. You see, I think I’m a scientist. That means that anything that happens, whether subjective, objective, sensory or whatever, I look at it. That may be due to my psychedelic experiences, which reminded me that, “Whatever you think the world is made of, James, you have a very limited view.” My muse chimes in and says, “Obviously, if you look at the size of the universe and contrast it with the size of your brain, the chances of your being able to know everything are statistically almost non-existent.”

MORE: “Interview with James Fadiman: The Daemon and the Doors of Perception

 

“Let mystery have its place in you”: Cultivating the artist’s sense of interior privacy

Virginia_Woolf

Virginia Woolf at age 20

Inspired by a reading of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Joshua Rothman, writing for The New Yorker, offers some rather enchanting reflections on a profoundly important meaning of privacy that cuts much deeper than the word’s contemporary framing in purely political terms:

These days, when we use the word “privacy,” it usually has a political meaning. We’re concerned with other people and how they might affect us. We think about how they could use information about us for their own ends, or interfere with decisions that are rightfully ours. We’re mindful of the lines that divide public life from private life. We have what you might call a citizen’s sense of privacy.

That’s an important way to think about privacy, obviously. But there are other ways.

. . . Woolf often conceives of life this way: as a gift that you’ve been given, which you must hold onto and treasure but never open. Opening it would dispel the atmosphere, ruin the radiance — and the radiance of life is what makes it worth living. It’s hard to say just what holding onto life without looking at it might mean; that’s one of the puzzles of her books. But it has something to do with preserving life’s mystery; with leaving certain things undescribed, unspecified, and unknown; with savoring certain emotions, such as curiosity, surprise, desire, and anticipation. It depends on an intensified sense of life’s preciousness and fragility, and on a Heisenberg-like notion that, when it comes to our most abstract and spiritual intuitions, looking too closely changes what we feel. It has to do, in other words, with a kind of inner privacy, by means of which you shield yourself not just from others’ prying eyes, but from your own. Call it an artist’s sense of privacy.

. . .[T]he benefits of remaining “impenetrable” can be profound. Clarissa, famously, buys the flowers herself, and that allows her to enjoy the coolness, stillness, and beauty of the flower shop; the same, Woolf suggests, happens in Clarissa’s inner life, where her heightened feelings are allowed to stay pure, untouched. Even Peter, with time, comes to regard himself in this way: “The compensation of growing old,” he thinks, is that “the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, — the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it around, slowly, in the light.” By learning to leave your inner life alone, you learn to cultivate and appreciate it.

And you gain another, strangely spiritual power: the power to regard yourself abstractly. Instead of getting lost in the details of your life, you hold onto the feelings, the patterns, the tones. You learn to treasure those aspects of life without communicating them, and without ruining them, for yourself, by analyzing them too much. Woolf suggests that those treasured feelings might be the source of charisma: when Peter, seeing Clarissa at her party, asks himself, “What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? … What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?,” the answer might be that it’s Clarissa’s radiance, never seen directly, but burning through. Clarissa, meanwhile, lets her spiritual intuitions lift her a little above the moment. Wandering through her lamp-lit garden, she sees her party guests: “She didn’t know their names, but friends she knew they were, friends without names, songs without words, always the best.” That’s the power of an artist’s privacy. It preserves the melodies otherwise drowned out by words, stories, information.

MORE: “Virginia Woolf’s Idea of Privacy

One is reminded of Lewis Thomas’s thesis in his classic essay “The Attic of the Brain” about the importance of preserving the mystery of one’s own mind:

It has been one of the great errors of our time that to think that by thinking about thinking, and then talking about it, we could possibly straighten out and tidy up our minds. There is no delusion more damaging than to get the idea in your head that you understand the functioning of your own brain. Once you acquire such a notion, you run the danger of moving in to take charge, guiding your thoughts, shepherding your mind from place to place, controlling it, making lists of regulations. The human mind is not meant to be governed, certainly not by any book of rules yet written; it is supposed to run itself, and we are obliged to follow it along, trying to keep up with it as best we can. It is all very well to be aware of your awareness, even proud of it, but never try to operate it. You are not up to the job. . . . Attempting to operate one’s own mind, powered by such a magical instrument as the human brain, strikes me as rather like using the world’s biggest computer to add columns of figures, or towing a Rolls-Royce with a nylon rope. . . . We might, by this way [i.e., by deliberately hiding a portion of our psyches from ourselves], regain the kind of spontaneity and zest for ideas, things popping into the mind, uncontrollable and ungovernable thoughts, the feeling that this notion is somehow connected unaccountably with that one.”

One is also reminded of Henri-Frédéric Amiel’s words in his Journal Intime about the need to protect the mystery of one’s inner self by avoiding a too-quick and too-keen attitude of psychological self-awareness:

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God. Then if a bird sing among your branches, do not be too eager to tame it. If you are conscious of something new — thought or feeling — wakening in the depths of your being — do not be in a hurry to let in light upon it, to look at it; let the springing germ have the protection of being forgotten, hedge it round with quiet, and do not break in upon its darkness; let it take shape and grow, and not a word of your happiness to any one! Sacred work of nature as it is, all conception should be enwrapped by the triple veil of modesty, silence, and night.

And so we’re back to the discipline of living as if you were (because you are) accompanied by and paired with your own peculiar muse, daemon, or genius.

Photo by George Charles Beresford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Interview with novelist T. M. Wright: Creativity, the muse, and finding your writer’s voice

Strange_Seed_by_T_M_Wright

When I took down the Demon Muse site in 2012, this did away with the couple of interviews that I had conducted for the site. A few weeks ago I republished the one with John Langan here. Now the circle is complete, because here’s the resurrection of my interview/conversation with T. M. Wright:

An Unleashed Imagination: Conversation with T. M. Wright

Many of you surely know Terry as the author of the classic horror novels Strange Seed (1978) and A Manhattan Ghost Story (1984). In this interview he talks about his creative process and his thoughts on the relationship between muse-like inspiration and hard work. Here’s a sample:

Getting in touch with the creative unconscious is probably a tricky thing to do. After all, it’s the “unconscious” for a reason: it doesn’t want to be gotten in touch with. But to find that true creative voice, my advice would be to forget it’s there, and simply write.  It doesn’t really matter what you write as long as it’s got some kind of flow, strange or otherwise. How much should you write? As much as you can until it becomes drudgery. When that happens, back away.

The perils of literary shamanism and the gothic horror of ‘Melmoth’

Melmoth_the_Wanderer

In a fascinating article from 2008 at The Daily Grail, Aeolas Kephas (a.k.a. Jason Horsely) reflects at some length on the roles of Whitley Strieber and Carlos Castaneda as literary shamans whose dedication to sharing their paranormal experiences, encounters, visions, and insights brought them much trouble:

Both Castaneda and Strieber were apparently singled out by mysterious parties to undergo an extraordinary initiation process and bring account of it to the world. Without the intervention of don Juan Matus and his party of sorcerers, it’s doubtful we would ever have heard of Castaneda, and the same holds true of Strieber. Although he was already a best-selling author (of horror fiction) before his alien encounter of 1985, it was only with the publication of Communion, in 1986, that Strieber established himself as one of the most puzzling and original writers of our time. In the field he has chosen — or been chosen — to write, that of UFOs and alien visitation, Strieber is probably the current leading exponent.

. . . Caught between a strange and deeply threatening new reality and an old reality that no longer offers comfort or assurance, that seems increasingly hollow and illusory, is it any wonder if both Strieber and Castaneda took refuge in writing, and in the grand gestures of prophet-gurus?. . . The very gift for which they were chosen as conveyers of forbidden knowledge would make Castaneda and Strieber outcasts, both in the world of men, and the realm of sorcerers and “aliens.” Like Mercury, the price of being granted free passage between the realms meant that they belonged to neither. Intellect, like the messenger, like language itself, is a means and not an end; it has no place in the primal realms or the supernal spheres: the one is beneath it, the other beyond it. This is the comedy and tragedy of the word, and why a day comes in the life of every writer when he or she is forced to choose between the illusory control of the written word — being the messenger — and the power and freedom of direct experience: becoming the message. He who lives by the pen, dies by the pen.

MORE:
Carlos Castaneda, Whitley Strieber, and the Perils of Literary Shamanism

But of course such dangers, and the existence of people who willingly court and/or accept them by taking on that literary shamanic role, are nothing new. Case in point: Charles Robert Maturin, author of the towering Gothic classic Melmoth the Wanderer, published in 1820. Melmoth is a novel that, with its distinctly Faustian plot of a man who sells his soul to the devil and then spends 150 years trying to undo the deal, has long been recognized as one of the greatest and, as it so happens, appallingly darkest novels of its kind. No less a light than Lovecraft described it as a masterpiece “in which the Gothic tale climbed to altitudes of sheer spiritual fright which it had never known before. . . . No unbiassed reader can doubt that with Melmoth an enormous stride in the evolution of the horror-tale is represented.”

Apropos to Kephas’s words about Castaneda and Strieber above, Maturin’s masterwork gains a resonance that’s all the more riveting when considered in light of the following words from one of his biographers, Robert E. Lougy, who notes that Melmoth arose out of a very real and very deep psychic well of darkness that very nearly undid Maturin when he assented to its opening:

[O]ne has the feeling that Maturin, in writing Melmoth, calls forth a reality that is so powerful, yet so grotesque, so cruel, and so foreign to Maturin’s daily existence, that the dividing line between genius and madness is throughout it very thin. (Indeed, a contemporary account of him during the time he was writing this novel suggests that he was virtually obsessed with his creation.) And Maturin himself frequently alluded to his own creativity in terms of witchcraft — of how he wanted his reader to “sit down by my magic Cauldron, mix my dark ingredients, see the bubbles work, and the spirits rise.” The danger, of course, in evoking spirits is that one can never be certain whether he can control them or of the price they will demand from him. The dangers would appear to be multiplied when one calls upon the spirits in their own territory, as Maturin seems to have done in Melmoth.

For to write such a novel is to probe those areas of knowledge, both “the visions of another world” and the darkest recesses of the human psyche, which strain the endurance of the mind, and to cross, perhaps irrevocably, forbidden boundaries. The writer then becomes isolated from the world around him, having used the incantatory power of the world to bring forth a reality that borders on the irrational and the insane. He is at once the possessor of secrets he will share with those readers who dare to sit down by his “magic Cauldron” and also possessed by those demons whose presence his art will reveal.

For a lengthy excerpt from Lougy’s 1975 monograph that includes this very passage, see the entry on Maturin in Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion.

For more on the same general theme, see “Shirley Jackson: Witchcraft, madness, and the uncanny dangers of writing.”

Teeming Links – April 25, 2014

FireHead

We’re entering an age of energy impoverishment. Richard Heinberg explains: “It’s hard to overstate just how serious a threat our energy crisis is to every aspect of our current way of life. But the problem is hidden from view by oil and natural gas production numbers that look and feel just fine. . . . Quite simply, we must learn to be successfully and happily poorer. For people in wealthy industrialized countries, this requires a major adjustment in thinking.”

A new stone age by 2114? Jared Diamond ruminates: “In this globalized world, it’s no longer possible for societies to collapse one by one. A collapse that we face, if there is going to be a collapse, it will be a global collapse.”

The zombies are already here — and they’re our digitally addicted children.

Here's_Your_Zombie_Apocalypse

Education is not the answer“It clearly is not the case that plausible increases in education quality and attainment will have a substantial impact on inequality. This will require much deeper structural changes in the economy.”

The secret history of life-hacking: The popular modern cult of self-optimization is, ironically, the descendent of Frederick Taylor’s much-despised “scientific management” of the early 20th century. But today instead of being “managed” at work by iron-fisted supervisors with stopwatches in their hands who enforce a faux gospel of maximum efficiency, we do it to ourselves, everywhere and endlessly.

The alchemy of writing: This recent Expanding Mind interview (click through or use the player below) features some great thoughts on the preternaturally inspired approach to writing from the Reverend Nemu, author of the Nemu’s End trilogy, a three-volume revision of the formerly published single-volume megabook  Nemu’s End: History, Psychology, and Poetry of the Apocalypse.

Jeffrey Kripal on horror and religion (from a great 2012 Skeptiko interview titled “Dr. Jeffrey Kripal on Science Fiction as a Trojan Horse for the Paranormal”):

It’s a common misconception that religion is about the good. It’s about being peaceful and good to each other and holiness is some kind of state of equanimity and all positive things. In fact, if you look at the history of religion, if you even look at the Bible, a lot of encounters with the Divine or the sacred are incredibly terrifying, often very dangerous, and some are actually deadly. So the sacred is not just for good; the sacred is both profoundly attractive but also often terrifying and destructive.

So horror, the modern genre of horror films and horror fiction, are calling up these ancient religious impulses. I think the reason that horror is so powerful is that to get a profound religious experience, you somehow have to suppress the ego function. You somehow have to do something pretty dramatic to the person. One way to do something really dramatic to the person to get them out of themselves, as it were, is to scare the living crap out of them because that’s a form of ecstasy. It’s a mild form of ecstasy. So horror fiction often has these religious qualities to it. I think that’s why some people, lots of people actually, like to go and be terrified watching a movie or reading a book.

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is the unconscious the door through which the divine speaks?

Fury_of_Achilles_1737_by_Charles-Antoine_Coypel

From an engaging discussion of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory by writer and philosophy commentator Jules Evans, at his website Philosophy for Life:

I’m particularly interested in the link between voice-hearing, dissociation and creativity, and in the incidence of voice-hearing among creative individuals like novelists Marilynne Robinson (who occasionally hears a voice inspiring her novels), comedians Graham Linehan and Jonny Vegas (both of whom hear or have heard voices), and musicians like Lady Gaga and David Bowie (the former says she heard voices and started to act them out as personae, while the latter likewise embodied and acted out radically different personalities and has a history of schizophrenia in his family).

Not to mention the dissociative capacity of gifted actors to become other people (Le Carre called Alec Guinness’ ability to become someone else a ‘complete self-enchantment, a controlled schizophrenia’); or all the many poets and song-writers who say their poems came to them from a voice / presence / spirit / muse.

What Jaynes fails to address, I’d suggest, is the value of these ‘vestiges of the bicameral mind’. When we seem to feel or hear messages from the beyond, it’s not just a primitive throwback to Homeric times. These messages sometimes tell us something useful, beautiful and wise, something our ordinary consciousness does not know. They are often sources of moral inspiration or consolation. I’d suggest the right hemisphere is still not entirely accessible to our ordinary consciousness, and there is a value in learning how to access it through things like meditation, trance states or techniques of ecstasy (though of course there are risks as well, particularly if you end up with an inflated or Messianic sense of self).

To go a step further into the mystical, if we do receive inspiration through the right hemisphere, does that mean the origin is definitely purely material or neurochemical? Could we not consider William James’ hypothesis that the right hemisphere / unconscious is the door through which the divine speaks to us? Such has been the suggestion of various spiritual critics of Jaynes’ theory, from Owen Barfield to Philip K. Dick.

Still, the voice-hearing network is fascinating, from a theological perspective, because in some ways it suggests a very modern attitude to the gods. We hear their commands, and yet we don’t have to obey unquestioningly. We relate to them less as a child to their all-powerful father, and more like a friend to their equal, rather like Lyra’s friendship with her daemon, Pantalaimon, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. Happiness, then, is eudaimonia: having a friendly daemon to keep one company in life and through death.

Very well, says my daemon, looking over my shoulder as I write. But who made the daemons?

MORE: “Gods, Voice-Hearing, and the Bicameral Mind

Image: “The Fury of Achilles,” 1737, by Charles-Antoine Coypel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons