Blog Archives

Teeming Links – March 21, 2014

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why great artists need solitude: because it “heightens artistic receptivity in a way that can be challenging and painful.”

The Obama administration aggressively prosecutes leakers. It electronically spies on those who might speak to journalists. It deploys its own counter-media to confuse and evade scrutiny by the press. It is, in short, “a closed, control freak administration.”

Michael Dirda on the lessons provided by the late Cornell scholar Lane Cooper for both life and literature:

[I am a reader] with a passion for “low” literature, for adventure stories and fantasy and science fiction and mysteries and romance. And yet. And yet. Something in me deeply responds to, even if it cannot wholly emulate, such men as Cooper and Bongiorno. I envy their wisdom, their beautiful souls, their serene and noble spirits. Because of them I try to write about books that matter, whatever their genre, and, as often as possible, to urge the rediscovery or renewed appreciation of great works from the past.

The dystopian death spiral of American higher education: In the age of predatory corporate capitalism, faculty are slave labor and students are lambs for slaughter. “Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.”

The Network-Based Interpretation of Dreams: By mapping the links between themes that appear in dreams, network scientists reveal the connections between dreams in different cultures for the first time.

As it turns out, the 2012 apocalypse almost literally happened (but a few months ahead of the putative Mayan schedule) due to a massive solar flare.

The I Ching is an uncertainty machine: “The I Ching repeatedly prompts me to go beyond false certainties and to create new and unexpected possibilities. In this way, divination might not be the enemy of rational thought but could be a means to its fuller flourishing.” (Also see “Meditation, the daimon muse, and the I Ching.“)

Did the U.S. government pay a Hollywood special effects expert to create fake alien bodies for a disinformation campaign against the Soviets? Nick Redfern makes a compellingly suggestive and suggestively compelling case:

So, we have one man claiming to have made alien bodies to fool the Soviets and (in a fictional setting) we have a government creating a monster to fool the Germans. There is a Billy Wilder tie to both issues (in the sense that the source of the above-story worked with Wilder, and Wilder himself directed, produced and co-wrote The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), and both Wilder and the man behind the “alien dummies” ruse worked with the Psychological Warfare Department on Death Mills. Somewhere, in this convoluted saga, I suspect, there is a big secret just waiting to be uncovered.”

Richard Smoley on Colin Wilson, Faculty X, and waking up from the trance of everyday existence:

It is this self-remembering, this awakening, deliberate or inadvertent, that Wilson discovers in many accounts of mystical experience. Gurdjieff might have agreed. When asked once what higher consciousness was like, he replied, “Everything more vivid.” For Wilson, this awakening is the gateway to what he calls Faculty X, which he calls “the power to grasp reality,” and which “unites the two halves of man’s mind, conscious and unconscious” . . . . If we are to win the war against the sleep of everyday life, it will not come out of technology nor even from political or social reform, as much as this may be needed. It will come from the liberation of individuals who awaken from the dreams that pass across their televisions and computer screens — and their minds — and are able to say, “I – here now.”

 

Teeming Links – September 3, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To preface today’s offering of recommended and necessary reading, here are passages from a hypnotic meditation on solitude, inner silence, reading, and the literary vocation by Rebecca Solnit, excerpted from her new book The Faraway Nearby:

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

These vanishing acts are a staple of children’s books, which often tell of adventures that are magical because they travel between levels and kinds of reality, and the crossing over is often an initiation into power and into responsibility. They are in a sense allegories first for the act of reading, of entering an imaginary world, and then of the way that the world we actually inhabit is made up of stories, images, collective beliefs, all the immaterial appurtenances we call ideology and culture, the pictures we wander in and out of all the time.

The_Faraway_Nearby_by_Rebecca_Solnit. . . To become a maker is to make the world for others, not only the material world but the world of ideas that rules over the material world, the dreams we dream and inhabit together.

. . . The object we call a book is not the real book, but its seed or potential, like a music score. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the seed germinates and the symphony resounds. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

. . . Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading.

— Rebecca Solnit, “The Faraway Nearby,” Guernica, May 15, 2013

* * *

Broken Heartland (Harper’s)
The looming collapse of agriculture on America’s Great Plains. “In the dystopian future that Teske imagines, the cycle of farm dissolution and amalgamation will continue to its absurdist conclusion, with neighbors cannibalizing neighbors, until perhaps one day the whole of the American prairie will be nothing but a single bulldozed expanse of high-fructose corn patrolled by megacombines under the remote control of computer software 2,000 miles away. Yet even this may be optimistic.”

Martin Luther King? Not an enemy in the world (The Independent)
“Funny how the kind of people who would have been totally opposed to the civil rights leader 50 years ago now want to claim him as their hero. . . . But the adoration of banks and big business displayed by most Western governments may not fit exactly with the attitude of their hero.”

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How. (The New Republic)
In defense of the wild child. “[We have] crossed some weird Foucaultian threshold into a world in which authority figures pathologize children instead of punishing them. ‘Self-regulation,’ ‘self-discipline,’ and ’emotional regulation’ are big buzz words in schools right now. All are aimed at producing ‘appropriate’ behavior, at bringing children’s personal styles in line with an implicit emotional orthodoxy.”

Legislators of the world (Adrienne Rich for The Guardian)
The late Adrienne Rich, writing in 2006 shortly after receiving the U.S. National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, argues that dark times, far from devaluing poets and poetry as irrelevant, underscore the crucial need for them. “[T]hroughout the world, transfusions of poetic language can and do quite literally keep bodies and souls together — and more.”

Are We Alone in the Universe? (Thought Economics)
“In this exclusive interview, we speak with Prof. Jill Tarter (Co-Founder and Bernard M. Oliver Chair of the SETI Institute). We discuss her lifelong work with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and look at mankind’s quest to answer the fundamental question of whether we are alone in the universe.”

The_Silence_of_Animals_by_John_GrayJohn Gray’s Godless Mysticism: On ‘The Silence of Animals’ (Simon Critchley for Los Angeles Review of Books)
“There is no way out of the dream and what has to be given up is the desperate metaphysical longing to find some anchor in a purported reality. . . . Paradoxically, for Gray, the highest value in existence is to know that there is nothing of substance in the world. Nothing is more real than nothing. It is the nothingness beyond us, the emptiness behind words, that Gray wants us to contemplate. His is a radical nominalism behind which stands the void.”

Monument to ‘god of chaos’ mysteriously appears in front of Oklahoma City restaurant (New York Daily News)
“A heavy concrete block appeared on the front lawn of The Paseo Grill in Oklahoma City on Friday. Restaurant owners aren’t quite sure what to make of the monument or its reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional deity, Azathoth. . . . After news about the monument spread on KFOR, [restaurant owner Leslie] Rawlinson said she’s been getting calls from people who were excited about the find and from people who warned her about its dangers.”

Parallel worlds (Aeon)
“Where did this idea of parallel universes come from? Science fiction is an obvious source. . . . Recently, physicists have been boldly endorsing a ‘multiverse’ of possible worlds. . . . Surprisingly, however, the idea of parallel universes is far older than any of these references, cropping up in philosophy and literature since ancient times. Even the word ‘multiverse’ has vintage. . . . If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality?”

Siri: The Horror Movie

This certainly explains a lot.  “Appletopia” indeed.

Teeming Links – August 27, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s opening word simply has to go to Ben Godar, who, in a marvelous little piece for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, offers exactly what we’ve all been frantically (if unwittingly) yearning for during our past two decades of seeking total fulfillment in cyberspace:

Are you tired of being in the slow lane with your current internet provider? Switch over today and we promise speeds so fast, you will lose your faith in God.

DSL can lag, especially if you’re far from the access point, and the cable companies are notorious for outages. But with our premium service, you can rest assured you will be always fast, always on and always alone in the universe.

No more waiting for that web page to load, that attachment to download or that divine spirit to listen to your prayers. Once you’re online with us, you will be surfing the web, sharing files and accepting the random folly of existence faster than you ever dreamed.

. . . While you may experience a profound sense of ennui at the realization that your existence is lonely and temporal, it will soon be washed away as you stream Netflix while surfing the web . . . without that annoying buffering!

— Ben Godar, “Our Internet Speeds Are So Fast, You Will Lose Your Faith in God,” McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, August 23, 2013

* * *

The Confidential Memo at the Heart of the Global Financial Crisis (Greg Palast for Vice)
“The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak’s fantasy: that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of banker big-shots to rip apart financial regulation across the planet. When you see 26.3 percent unemployment in Spain, desperation and hunger in Greece, riots in Indonesia and Detroit in bankruptcy, go back to this End Game memo, the genesis of the blood and tears.”

Economic Fears are Fueling a New Twist to Horror Film Genre (Le Monde, via Worldcrunch)
“[T]he end of the world as represented in several contemporary productions should not be seen as a millenarian threat but rather as the disappearance of a social bond that was damaged by the general workings of the economy. . . . [T]he fantasy of these extravagant tales hides a more tangible dread, that of dispossession, as if these nighmarish scenarios were born from the crisis of a globalized economy.”

Fukushima leak is ‘much worse than we were led to believe’ (BBC News)
Take note: this is a real-world disaster movie unfolding right before us. “A nuclear expert has told the BBC that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated. . . . Meanwhile the chairman of Japan’s nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks. . . . In a letter to the UN secretary general, [former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland] Mitsuhei Murata says the official radiation figures published by Tepco cannot be trusted. He says he is extremely worried about the lack of a sense of crisis in Japan and abroad.”

Appletopia_by_Brett_T_RobinsonAppletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs (Brett T. Robinson, Baylor University Press, 2013)
A new book, published just two weeks ago. Here’s a portion of the official publisher’s description (and also see the next two items below): “Media and culture critic Brett T. Robinson reconstructs Steve Jobs’ imagination for digital innovation in transcendent terms. Robinson portrays how the confluence of Jobs’ religious, philosophical, and technological thought was embodied in Apple’s most memorable advertising campaigns. From Zen Buddhism and Catholicism to dystopian and futurist thought, religion defined and branded Jobs’ design methodology. . . . As it turns out, culture was eager to find meaning in the burgeoning technological revolution, naming Jobs as its prophet and Apple the deliverer of his message.”

How Steve Jobs Turned Technology — and Apple — into Religion (An excerpt from Brett T. Robinson’s Appletopia at Wired)
“Apple product launches and conferences remain sacred pilgrimages where Apple fans can congregate, camp, and live together for days at a time to revel in the communal joy of witnessing the transcendent moment of the new product launch. . . . The question that remains is whether this mode of perception brings us any closer to recognizing the transcendent hidden at the heart of that which is not digitized or downloaded.”

The Faux Religion of Steve Jobs (Brett T. Robinson for CNN)
“Baked into Apple products is a troubling paradox. Like a technological Trojan horse, Apple products assail our senses with sumptuous visuals and rich acoustics while unleashing a bevy of addictive and narcissistic habits. The ‘i’ prefix on Apple devices is a constant reminder that personal technology is ultimately all about us.”

Learning how to live (New Statesman)
“Why do we find free time so terrifying? Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue? Jenny Diski urges you to down tools while you can.”

Let’s Get Lost (Bookforum)
A novelist and inveterate traveler seeks life off the grid. “Nowadays, when cell phones track their owners’ whereabouts, while drones stalk people even in rugged hinterlands in order to kill them for secret reasons, the idea of getting away from it all and building someplace happier, such as Merry Mount, seems more far-fetched than ever. What’s an American to do?”

United_States_of_Paranoia_by_Jesse_WalkerRobert Anton Wilson & Operation Mindfuck (Disinformation)
An excerpt from the new book United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory by Jesse Walker, focusing on the role of the Discordian Pope, RAW himself. Of special interest here to those who didn’t previously know it is that the famous “Operation Mindfuck” talked about by Wilson and Robert Shea their classic Illuminatus! trilogy was real, and the novel was written as one of its major elements.

Aliens, Insectoids, and Elves! Oh, My! (The Vaults of Erowid)
A thoroughly fascinating rumination on encounter experiences with aliens, insectoids, aliens, demons, spirits, and other “entities,” especially as connected with the use of psychedelics/entheogens. From the forthcoming book DMT Underground: A Compendium of Unauthorized Research, edited by Jon Hanna.

One_Simple_Idea_by_Mitch_HorowitzPositive Thinking, Seriously (Mitch Horowitz for The Huffington Post)
Mitch is of course the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin. We have referred to him and his work many times here in the past. His new book One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life is scheduled for publication in January 2014. In the linked article, he briefly talks about the fact that nowadays “positive thinking is the closest America has to a national religion. It is the foundational idea of business motivation, mind-body medicine, prosperity ministering and much more.” He also shares the following wonderful mini-documentary, which I heartily encourage you to watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence, solitude, and self-discovery in an age of mass distraction

“[T]he internet seizes our attention only to scatter it. We are immersed because there’s a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us and we seem to be very much seduced by that kind of constantly changing patterns of visual and auditorial stimuli. When we become immersed in our gadgets, we are immersed in a series of distractions rather than a sustained, focused type of thinking … There are messages coming at us through email, instant messenger, SMS, tweets etc. We are distracted by everything on the page, the various windows, the many applications running. You have to see the entire picture of how we are being stimulated. If you compare that to the placidity of a printed page, it doesn’t take long to notice that the experience of taking information from a printed page is not only different but almost the opposite from taking in information from a network-connected screen. With a page, you are shielded from distraction. We underestimate how the page encourages focused thinking — which I don’t think is normal for human beings — whereas the screen indulges our desire to be constantly distracted.”

— “Information and Contemplative Thought: We Turn Ourselves into Media Creations,” Interview with Nicholas Carr, The European, January 31, 2012

“Has it really come to this? In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight. Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China try to save kids addicted to the screen. Writer friends of mine pay good money to get the Freedom software that enables them to disable (for up to eight hours) the very Internet connections that seemed so emancipating not long ago. Even Intel (of all companies) experimented in 2007 with conferring four uninterrupted hours of quiet time every Tuesday morning on 300 engineers and managers … [T]he average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen … The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day … We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say … The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual.”

— Pico Iyer, “The Joy of Quiet,” The New York Times, December 29, 2011

“I am encouraged by services such as Instapaper, Readability or Freedom — applications that are designed to make us more attentive when using the internet. It is a good sign because it shows that some people are concerned about this and sense that they are no longer in control of their attention. Of course there’s an irony in looking for solutions in the same technology that keeps us distracted.”

— Carr, “Information and Contemplative Thought” Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 25

We have quite a varied assortment of reading this week, including: an article about a brilliant reclamation of an abandoned Wal-Mart building for a wonderful counter-purpose; an analysis of Burning Man’s sociocultural-mythological function; a report on widespread distrust of the United States around the world; a fascinating interview with a psychologist on the nature and reality of synchronicity; news about the launch, in Poland, of the world’s first magazine devoted entirely to the real-world study and practice of exorcism; an engrossing essay by Jonathan Franzen about solitude, literature, and the inner life in today’s frenetically extraverted culture; a report on a visionary art community and project in Santa Cruz; reflections from poet Robert Creeley on the value of LSD to creativity; and an excerpt from Gary Lachman’s new biography of Madame Blavatsky.
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