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Teeming Links – July 11, 2014

FireHead

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

Guillermo del Toro on art, religion, and the primal power of darkness

With the recent round of interviews he’s given in support of the newly released horror film (August 26) Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which he co-wrote and produced, Guillermo del Toro has reinforced my already-established impression that of all the “major” horror and fantasy filmmakers working today, he’s easily the most reflective and vocally philosophical. I just can’t think of him as anything but a true magus of the genre.

Two cases in point:

First, del Toro answers 10 questions for Time magazine in a just-published interview, and although the full text is protected behind an Internet paywall, my friend John Morehead has sneak-peeked it by offering an excerpt at his website Theofantastique (which, as always, I highly recommend). Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt, wherein del Toro shares his thoughts on the validity of the fantastic and the experience of art and storytelling as a form of religion:

How do you deal with people who think of the fantastic as infantile?

I try to avoid long conver­sations with them. You cannot convince a Buddhist to become a Protestant any more than you can convince a person who embraces real­ism as the highest form of art that fantasy is an equally important manifestation. It’s impossible.

You speak as if your art is your religion.

It is. To me, art and story­telling serve primal, spiritual functions in my daily life. Whether I’m telling a bedtime story to my kids or trying to mount a movie or write a short story or a novel, I take it very seriously.

Second, in an August 21 interview for the Boston Globe del Toro talks about his personal calling to the horror genre, his disdain for those who debase art to make a quick buck, and his thoughts on the primal power of darkness as a horror motif:

In director Guillermo del Toro’s estimation, most horror movies are cheap products to cash in, a quick and dirty way for studios to make a buck. Originality and artistry are discouraged. “Few filmmakers,’’ del Toro said, “approach horror with the desire to create something either of substance or something beautiful or powerful. Most of the people just try to get a [big opening] weekend and DVD sales.’’

…“I really think I was born to exist in the genre,’’ the quick-witted, outspoken Mexican filmmaker said in a telephone interview from New York City. “I adore it. I embrace it. I enshrine it. I don’t look upon it or frown upon it in a way that a lot of directors do. For me, it’s not a stepping stone, it’s a cathedral.’’

…“I decided to turn it into a sort of very dark fairy tale,’’ del Toro said [of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark], “that taps into universal fears, the invasion of the most intimate spaces, the home, the bedroom, the bed. Little by little we show that these creatures can be anywhere at any time watching from the dark…I think that no matter what culture you come from, the darkness and what lurks in it is an absolutely common fear. I think that ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ taps into the most primal, almost universal, childhood fears.”

(We might note in passing that this focus on the centrality of darkness in horror storytelling echoes Thomas Ligotti’s words in “The Dark Beauty of Unheard-of Horrors,” his own contribution to The Thomas Ligotti Reader, where he describes darkness as “that most basic source of all mystery … the one most resistant to the taming of the mind and most resonant with emotions and meanings of a highly complex and subtle type … Very difficult to domesticate this phenomenon, to collar it and give a name to the fear it inspires.” One is led to indulge in the obviously vain but nonetheless pleasurable wish for a del Toro-directed cinematic adaptation of Ligotti’s work.)

The longer excerpt from del Toro’s Time interview is available at Theofantastique. The full interview itself is available by subscription at Time. The Boston Globe‘s story about del Toro is available at Boston.com.

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