Blog Archives

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.

Stephen King on the thing under the bed

There have been moments of insight in Stephen King’s work that legitimately qualify as sublime. This widely quoted passage from his foreword to Night Shift is one of them:

At night, when I go to bed I am at pains to be sure that my legs are under the blankets after the lights go out. I’m not a child anymore but . . . I don’t like to sleep with one leg sticking out. Because if a cool hand ever reached out from under the bed and grasped my ankle, I might scream. Yes, I might scream to wake the dead. That sort of thing doesn’t happen, of course, and we all know that. In the stories that follow you will encounter all manner of night creatures: vampires, demon lovers, a thing that lives in the closet, all sorts of other terrors. None of them are real. The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.

King surely intended this as a witty illustration of the irrational or non-rational fears embedded in human psychology that account for our fascination with and responsiveness to supernatural horror stories. But I think it can also be taken as referring to much more. For those who are inclined toward meditation, inner work, and exploring the boundaries of the real — including, pointedly, those episodes and encounters of a Fortean or daimonic nature during which the nominally unreal becomes real, and also vice versa — I’m inclined to think those last two sentences could serve as a superb Zen koan.

On Stephen King and horror as “one of the most literary of all forms”

Doctor-Sleep-by-Stephen-King

Here’s a really nice pair of paragraphs expressing a dead-on and truly significant point, from a review by Margaret Atwood (!) of King’s new novel Doctor Sleep, his much-heralded sequel to The Shining:

King is right at the center of an American literary taproot that goes all the way down: to the Puritans and their belief in witches, to Hawthorne, to Poe, to Melville, to the Henry James of “The Turn of the Screw,” and then to later exemplars like Ray Bradbury. In the future, I predict, theses will be written on such subjects as “American Puritan Neo-Surrealism in ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The Shining,’ ” and “Melville’s Pequod and King’s Overlook Hotel as Structures That Encapsulate American History.”

Some may look skeptically at “horror” as a subliterary genre, but in fact horror is one of the most literary of all forms. Its practitioners read widely and well — King being a pre-eminent example — since horror stories are made from other horror stories: you can’t find a real-life example of the Overlook Hotel. People do “see” some of the things King’s characters see (for a companion volume, try Oliver Sacks’s “Hallucinations”), but it is one of the functions of “horror” writing to question the reality of unreality and the unreality of reality: what exactly do we mean by “see”?

MORE: Shine On: Stephen King’s ‘Shining’ Sequel, ‘Doctor Sleep’

Teeming Links – September 20, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s opening word comes from novelist and National Book Award winner Richard Powers, speaking to The Believer magazine in 2007 about the unique value of reading — and specifically, reading fiction — in helping to “deliver us from certainty” during an age when a great deal of evil arises from a surplus of that empathy-less state of mind:

We read to escape ourselves and become someone else, at least for a little while. Fiction is one long, sensuous derangement of familiarity through altered point of view. How would you recognize your world if it wasn’t yours? What might you look and feel like if you weren’t you? We can survive the disorientation; we even love immersing ourselves in it, so long as the trip is controllable and we can return to our own lives when the book ends. Fiction plays on that overlap between self-composure and total, alien bewilderment, and it navigates by estrangement. As the pioneer neuropsychologist A. R. Luria once wrote, “To find the soul it is necessary to lose it.” To read another’s story, you have to lose yours.

. . . It seems to me that evil . . . might be the willful destruction of empathy. Evil is the refusal to see oneself in others. . . . I truly don’t know what role the novelist can play in a time of rising self-righteousness and escalating evil. Any story novelists create to reflect life accurately will now have to be improvised, provisional, and bewildered. But I do know that when I read a particularly moving and achieved work of fiction, I feel myself succumbing to all kinds of contagious rearrangement. Only inhabiting another’s story can deliver us from certainty.

. . . Our need for fiction also betrays a desire for kinds of knowing that nonfiction can’t easily reach. Nonfiction can assert; fiction can show asserters, and show what happens when assertions crash. Fiction can focalize and situate worldviews, pitching different perspectives and agendas against each other, linking beliefs to their believers, reflecting facts through their interpreters and interpreters through their facts. Fiction is a spreading, polysemous, relational network that captures the way that we and our worlds create each other. Whenever the best nonfiction really needs to persuade or clarify, it resorts to story. A chemist can say how atoms bond. A molecular biologist can say how a mutagen disrupts a chemical bond and causes a mutation. A geneticist can identify a mutation and develop a working screen for it. Clergy and ethicists can debate the social consequences of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. A journalist can interview two parents in a Chicago suburb who are wrestling with their faith while seeking to bear a child free of inheritable disease. But only a novelist can put all these actors and dozens more into the shared story they all tell, and make that story rearrange some readers’ viscera.

— “Interview with Richard Powers,” The Believer, February 2007

(Hat tip to Jesús Olmo for calling this interview to my attention.)

* * *

Not One Top Wall Street Executive Has Been Convicted of Criminal Charges Related to 2008 Crisis (Reuters – The Huffington Post)
“Five years on from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the debate over how to hold senior bank bosses to account for failures is far from over, but legal sanctions for top executives remain a largely remote threat.”

Online Security Pioneer Predicts Grim Future (LiveScience)
“One of the creators of Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption believes that the future of Internet security will see everyday users getting the short end of the stick. The United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) has likely compromised SSL, one of the foremost methods of Internet encryption. ‘There will be a huge pressure to catch up to NSA, and where this leads is not pretty.'”

CDC Threat Report: ‘We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era’ (Wired)
“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published a first-of-its-kind assessment of the threat the country faces from antibiotic-resistant organisms. ‘If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era,’ Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, said in a media briefing. ‘And for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.'”

Class Is Seen Dividing Harvard Business School (The New York Times)
Truly bothersome information on the way the ultrawealthy are segregating themselves into a walled-off elite at America’s premier business school. Sign of the times. Culture replicating itself from above and below.

The More a Society Coerces Its People, the Greater the Chance of Mental Illness (AlterNet)
“Coercion — the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain compliance — is intrinsic to our society’s employment, schooling and parenting. . . . [The partnership between Big Pharma and Big Money] has helped bury the commonsense reality that an extremely coercive society creates enormous fear and resentment, which results in miserable marriages, unhappy families and severe emotional and behavioral problems.”

Science Confirms The Obvious: Pharmaceutical Ads Are Misleading (Popular Science)
“The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to market their products directly to consumers — in commercials like those cute little Zoloft ads and all those coy Viagra spots. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a new study finds that when over-the-counter and prescription drug companies make commercials trying to sell the public on their product, they’re not always the most truthful.”

Reparative Compulsions (The New Inquiry)
“Social media works similarly [to gambling casinos], aiming to ensconce users in a total environment that ministers to their anxieties by stimulating them in a routinized fashion. . . . Is anyone thinking of me? What are people doing? Do I belong? Am I connected? These continuous processes allow us to digest our memories, experiences and fears and excrete commercially useful information.”

Stephen King: True compassion lies at the heart of horror (The Telegraph)
“Stephen King’s books convey terror through character in a way that films never can. . . . This makes King different from the horror writers of a previous generation — Dennis Wheatley with his wicked aristocrats or H P Lovecraft with his luxuriant, ornate prose.”

David Attenborough: “I believe the Abominable Snowman may be real” (Radio Times)
Hat tip to Matt Staggs at Disinfo. “The world-renowned naturalist and broadcaster says he thinks the creature of Himalayan legend — which has a North American cousin known as Bigfoot or Sasquatch — could be much more than a myth.”

Unholy mystery (Aeon)
How fictional detectives, in the wake of the cultural religious disillusionments following the advent of Darwinian evolutionary theory, came to take the place of priests and shamans in the modern secular mind.

Brazilian Believers of Hidden Religion Step out of Shadows (NPR)
On the new and increasing mainstream cultural status of Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé, which are based on the experience of spirit possession, and which are coming forward for the first time to assert a claim to above-board political, economic, and social power. “Followers believe in one all-powerful god who is served by lesser deities. Individual initiates have their personal guiding deity, who acts as an inspiration and protector. There is no concept of good or evil, only individual destiny.”

Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of Marvels (Joscelyn Godwin for New Dawn)
“The museum of Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) in the Jesuit College of Rome was an obligatory stop for high-class tourists, from John Evelyn the diarist to Queen Christina of Sweden, but they never knew what to expect. . . . By the time of his death Kircher’s world view was already under demolition by the Scientific Revolution.”

Frontispiece to Athanasius Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptiacus, published in 1652-1654. By .Ihcoyc at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Frontispiece to Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus, published in 1652-1654. By .Ihcoyc at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

NSA director modeled war room after Star Trek’s Enterprise (PBS Newshour)
“In an in-depth profile of NSA Director Keith B. Alexander, Foreign Policy reveals that one of the ways the general endeared himself to lawmakers and officials was to make them feel like Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the starship Enterprise from the TV series ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.'”

Educating the Potential Human — Skepticism, Psychical Research and a New Age of Reason (David Metcalfe for Disinfo)
“Whatever one’s personal beliefs on the subject of anomalous experience, it seems a bit blind not to realize that much of the heated conversation on the topic has nothing to do with actual understanding, and plays directly into the hands of profiteers of one sort or another, even down to the most mundane level of ego stroking experts on both sides who use the lack of clarity in the situation to support their personal brands.”

A New Story of the People (Charles Eisenstein)
A brilliant portion of Eisenstein’s talk at TEDxWhitechapel, set to a compelling video complement, that explores the process of changing the world by changing our narrative about it. “The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation.”

Teeming Links – August 23, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s invocation comes from author and cultural historian Mike Jay, author of last year’s The Influencing Machine, slated for U.S. publication in January 2014 as A Visionary Madness. The article’s tagline states the basic thesis, which articulates an uncanny experience, sensation, and intuition that we’ve all had with ever-increasing frequency and intensity in recent years: “Schizophrenics used to see demons and spirits. Now they talk about actors and hidden cameras — and make a lot of sense.”

A_Visionary_Madness_by_Mike_JayPopular culture hums with stories about technology that secretly observes and controls our thoughts, or in which reality is simulated with virtual constructs or implanted memories, and where the truth can be glimpsed only in distorted dream sequences or chance moments when the mask slips. A couple of decades ago, such beliefs would mark out fictional characters as crazy, more often than not homicidal maniacs. Today, they are more likely to identify a protagonist who, like Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, genuinely has stumbled onto a carefully orchestrated secret of which those around him are blandly unaware. These stories obviously resonate with our technology-saturated modernity. What’s less clear is why they so readily adopt a perspective that was, until recently, a hallmark of radical estrangement from reality. Does this suggest that media technologies are making us all paranoid? Or that paranoid delusions suddenly make more sense than they used to?

. . . As the American screenwriter William Goldman observed in his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), in the movie business, nobody knows anything. It might be that a similarly bold metafiction could have been successful years earlier, but it feels more likely that the cultural impact of The Matrix reflected the ubiquity that interactive and digital media had achieved by the end of the 20th century. This was the moment at which the networked society reached critical mass: the futuristic ideas that, a decade before, were the preserve of a vanguard who read William Gibson’s cyberspace novels or followed the bleeding-edge speculations of the cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000 now became part of the texture of daily life for a global and digital generation. The headspinning pretzel logic that had confined Philip K Dick’s appeal to the cult fringes a generation earlier was now accessible to a mass audience. Suddenly, there was a public appetite for convoluted allegories that dissolved the boundaries between the virtual and the real.

. . . In the 21st century, the influencing machine has escaped from the shuttered wards of the mental hospital to become a distinctive myth for our times. It is compelling not because we all have schizophrenia, but because reality has become a grey scale between the external world and our imaginations. The world is now mediated in part by technologies that fabricate it and partly by our own minds, whose pattern-recognition routines work ceaselessly to stitch digital illusions into the private cinema of our consciousness. The classical myths of metamorphosis explored the boundaries between humanity and nature and our relationship to the animals and the gods. Likewise, the fantastical technologies that were once the hallmarks of insanity enable us to articulate the possibilities, threats and limits of the tools that are extending our minds into unfamiliar dimensions, both seductive and terrifying.

— Mike Jay, “The Reality Show,” Aeon, August 23, 2013

If you find such ruminations interesting and evocative, note well that the entire final chapter of Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets (2003) offers a lucid and fascinating discussion of the very same phenomenon, with references to the very same texts and authors. And it serves as the culmination of a book discussing the entire thing within the wider context of the Platonic mystical-esoteric philosophical and spiritual impulse that has been squeezing in through the back door of horror, science fiction, and fantasy entertainment during this ongoing age of Aristotelian scientific rationalism.

* * *

Hacker Exposes Big Facebook Security Flaw — By Posting On Mark Zuckerberg’s Private Wall (The Huffington Post)
“Khalil Shreateh, a computer programmer in the West Bank, discovered a flaw that allowed him to post on anyone’s wall on the site, even if that user had strict privacy settings. Shreateh initially submitted his find to Facebook’s ‘white-hat’ program, a system that lets benevolent computer hackers tell Facebook about security flaws. . . . But when the engineering team didn’t seem to think the problem was real, Shreateh decided to prove that the bug he found did indeed exist.”

Fukushima nuclear plant facing new disaster (CBC)
“Tokyo Electric Power Company workers have detected high levels of radiation in a ditch that flows into the ocean from a leaking tank at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Japan’s nuclear watchdog said Thursday the leak could be the beginning of a new disaster — a series of leaks of contaminated water from hundreds of steel tanks holdng massive amounts of radioactive water coming from three melted reactors, as well as underground water running into reactor and turbine basements.”

Ex-pope Benedict says God told him to resign during ‘mystical experience’ (The Guardian)
Pope Francis’s predecessor breaks silence to contradict explanation he gave to cardinals when he stepped down. “Benedict denied he had been visited by an apparition or had heard God’s voice, but said he had undergone a ‘mystical experience’ during which God had inspired in him an ‘absolute desire’ to dedicate his life to prayer rather than push on as pope.”

Dr. John Mack Talks about Transcending the Dualistic Mind (Hidden Experience)
“Harvard professor Dr. John Mack gave a two-hour long presentation at the International UFO Congress in 2003. The title of his talk was ‘Transcending the Dualistic Mind.’ This is the audio lifted from a 12-part YouTube video of this presentation.”

Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude (Harvard Magazine)
On crafting a liberal-arts education. “This is the image I want to leave you with: developing the ability to maintain ‘with perfect sweetness’ the independence of solitude — the integrity and wholeness of the self — in the midst of the crowd. Your education should give you the capacity to shape and sustain your selfhood.”

A Wilderness of Thought: Childhood and the Poetic Imagination (Orion Magazine)
“So much of this childhood ease with both the visible and invisible, what we know and don’t know — the pure sense of expectation and delight in the mystery of what is happening and about to happen — is not only a function of our mind’s ability to balance opposites through the equipoise that is our imagination, but also a way of experiencing the world poetically.”

The Writer as Reader: Melville and his Marginalia (Los Angeles Review of Books)
“Melville remains one of the best American examples of how every important writer is foremost an indefatigable reader of golden books, someone who kneels at the altar of literature not only for wisdom, sustenance, and emotional enlargement, but with the crucial intent of filching fire from the gods.”

Why I love . . . Night of the Demon (BFI)
“Paving for the way for later occult classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man, Night of the Demon is a spooky tale of witchcraft in modern Britain. With Jacques Tourneur’s film opening the BFI’s Monster Weekend, curator Vic Pratt explains why it’s a masterpiece of fright.”

Fans to celebrate horror writer H.P. Lovecraft with NecronomiCon gathering (The Washington Post)
Article inspired by this weekend’s convention in Providence. Many of my good friends in the Lovecraft world are there. Alas for those of us who can’t attend! “The mythos that Lovecraft created in stories such as ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ and ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ has reached its tentacles deep into popular culture — so much that his creations and the works they influenced might be better known than the writer himself.”

Why Rod Serling Still Matters (Mitch Horowitz for The Huffington Post)
“The visuals of The Twilight Zone form a kind of collective generational nightmare. The remarkable thing about the man who created many of these episodes from 1959 to 1964, Rod Serling, is that the writer-presenter learned his craft not in the visual era but in the age of radio drama.”

Everything I Know About America I Learned from Stephen King (The Millions)
Written by an only child who grew up in an American Foreign Service family. “I [am] struck by how much of my conception of America comes from those thick books — what they said to me during that quasi-rootless time, and what they say to me now that both the vague internationalism and the natural solipsism of my childhood have mostly dissipated. For better or worse, I cut my patriotic teeth on the oeuvre of Stephen King.”

Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head (TED)
“To all appearances, Eleanor Longden was just like every other student, heading to college full of promise and without a care in the world. That was until the voices in her head started talking. Initially innocuous, these internal narrators became increasingly antagonistic and dictatorial, turning her life into a living nightmare. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, hospitalized, drugged, Longden was discarded by a system that didn’t know how to help her. Longden tells the moving tale of her years-long journey back to mental health, and makes the case that it was through learning to listen to her voices that she was able to survive.”

Teeming Links – August 13, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I invite you to peruse today’s installment of recommended and necessary reading in light of this recent reflection from Walter Kirn, who says his former personal and current authorial involvement with a certain high-profile murderer and impostor has combined synergistically with the rash of apocalyptic awfulness currently infesting global news headlines to generate the impression that we’re all living in a real-life story that’s one part Lovecraftian horror and one part dystopian science fiction:

All summer I’ve been manacled to my desk writing a book about a former friend of mine, the impostor and convicted killer known to the world and the media as Clark Rockefeller.

. . . I couldn’t have chosen a worse few months for such a paranoia-inducing task. Since the end of my old friend’s murder trial in April — a proceeding which taught me a lifetime’s worth of lessons about manipulation and deception — the news from the world of government and politics has been unremitting in its spookiness, a serial ghost story from the Age of Terror. The Summer of Lovecraft, I’ve decided to call it. Snowden. PRISM. Secret courts. The death of Michael Hastings. That program, just outed, that allows the DEA to substitute spurious investigative trails for the ones it actually uses to track suspects. The only winners here? Literature professors. Orwell, Kafka, Huxley, and Philip K. Dick we hardly knew ye, it turns out. But now we’re getting to know ye much, much better.

. . . Tomorrow morning, per my daily ritual, I’ll spend a few minutes reading the headlines before I buckle down to work. I already know what’s in store for me, unfortunately: I’ll learn yet again that what I’m writing about on a small and personal scale is happening in some form on a grand scale.

That much I can trust.

— Walter Kirn, “This Is the Summer of Lovecraft,” The New Republic, August 9, 2013

* * *

4 in 5 in US face near-poverty, no work (Associated Press exclusive)
“Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.”

The Real War on Reality (The New York Times)
On surveillance, secrecy, deception, and the accompanying philosophical danger of “epistemic attack.” “If there is one thing we can take away from the news of recent weeks it is this: the modern American surveillance state is not really the stuff of paranoid fantasies; it has arrived.” [NOTE: Read this one in light of the next item below.]

You’re Being Lied To: The Culture of Conspiracy (Micah Hanks for Mysterious Universe)
“Whether it be the alleged plot to kill JFK, or the conspiracy behind granny’s secret rhubarb pie recipe, many people these days appear to be capable of finding a conspiracy tucked away with nearly every corner and cranny of our culture. In essence, we are living in a literal culture of conspiracy.” [NOTE: Read this one in light of the previous item above.]

Nuke the Cat! Star Script Doctor Damon Lindelof Explains the New Rules of Blockbuster Screenwriting (Vulture and New York Magazine)
“That escalation can be felt across the entire film industry this summer, a season of unparalleled massiveness: more blockbusters released, more digital demolition per square foot, and more at stake than ever. But Hollywood’s gigantism, Lindelof points out, is practically algorithmic — and the effect tendrils all the way down to the storytelling level.”

The Art of Attention (Sven Birkerts for Aeon magazine)
The peculiar vividness of the world becomes clear when we slow down and attend, learning to see all things anew. “To pay attention, to attend. To be present, not merely in body — it is an action of the spirit. The things of the world are already layered with significance, and looking is merely the action that discloses.”

Grotesque Horror Through a Kid-Sized Window (NPR)
Novelist Erin Morgenstern on the enduring personal impact of Stephen King’s It, which she read at age 12. “It was filled with things I didn’t understand juxtaposed with things I did — like a fascinating, if morbid, glimpse into the future. It showed me that the things hiding under your bed and lurking in the sewers don’t disappear just because you grow up.”

Wonders_and_the_Order_of_Nature_by_Lorraine_DastonMonsters, Marvels, and the Birth of Science (Nautilus)
Interview with Lorraine Daston, executive director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and author of Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. She traces the central role played by the emotional-spiritual “Bermuda Triangle” of terror, horror, and wonder — the latter tinged with awe — in the birth of modern science, as early figures such as Francis Bacon tried to shake people out of the complacency of their established assumptions about the world by highlighting anomalies and monstrosities in nature.

Byron and Mary Shelley and Frankenstein (The Byron Centre for the Study of Literature and Social Change, PDF)
Absorbing 2000 lecture delivered to inaugurate the University of Nottingham’s Byron Centre. “Victor’s dream of what he could accomplish became a monstrous reality that outlived him; and Mary Shelley’s waking dream, which became the novel Frankenstein, has outlived her — what she called her own ‘hideous progeny’ has given her a kind of immortality. Both Byron [in his poem “The Dream”] and Mary Shelley seem to be saying that sleep, which mimics death, yields dreams that yield art that can transcend death and mutability.”

Necronomicon_31st_Anniversary_EditionThe Necronomicon: 32 Years Later (New Dawn)
A 2009 essay by Simon, author of the most famous (notorious) putative Necronomicon, who offers an interpretation of current world conflicts, and especially the Iraq war and associated disruptions, as illustrations of occult principles at work. “It may be that the Middle East conflict is a metaphor for a deeper spiritual struggle — a jihad — taking place within our own hearts and minds as our modern sensitivities wrestle with our ancient instincts. However we characterise it, a Gate has been opened.”

Gods in Mind: The Science of Religion Cognition (The Templeton Foundation)
An utterly fascinating project. “At present, scientific descriptions of how people think about God and gods are fragmented across subdisciplines of the psychological, cognitive, and social sciences. . . [T]here is little sense of an integrated and global conception of how God or gods are represented in mind. This funding competition is designed to promote integration of existing lines of research and to generate and test new hypotheses emerging from such integration. ”

 

 

Stephen King on writing, inner dictation, and his fears for the future of reading

There’s a nifty interview with Stephen King in last weekend’s edition of that bastion of substantive journalism, Parade magazine. It’s actually the cover feature, which knocks the usually fluff-filled magazine up a notch in my (probably immaterial) estimation.

Among the highlights are the following points of interest:

King explains why he’s not a horror writer:

Interviewer Ken Tucker: [Your new novel] Joyland has supernatural elements, but it isn’t a horror novel.

Stephen King: I’ve been typed as a horror writer, and I’ve always said to people, “I don’t care what you call me as long as the checks don’t bounce and the family gets fed.” But I never saw myself that way. I just saw myself as a novelist.

King explains the mysterious fact of inner guidance in the act of writing:

I’m a situational writer. You give me a situation, like a writer gets in a car crash, breaks his leg, is kidnapped by his number-one fan, and is kept in a cabin and forced to write a book — everything else springs from there. You really don’t have to work once you’ve had the idea. All you have to do is kind of take dictation from something inside.

King describes his uneasiness about the future of reading in a screen-dominated culture:

Tucker: Do you think that reading occupies the same importance for kids today?

King: No, absolutely not. I think it’s because they’re so screen-oriented [TVs, computers, smartphones]. They do read — girls in particular read a lot. They have a tendency to go toward the paranormal, romances, Twilight and stuff like that. And then it starts to taper off because other things take precedence, like the Kardashian sisters. I did a couple of writing seminars in Canada last year with high school kids. These were the bright kids, Ken; they all have computers, but they can’t spell. Because spell-check won’t [help] you if you don’t know “through” from “threw.” I told them, “If you can read in the 21st century, you own the world.” Because you learn to write from reading. But there are so many other byways for the consciousness to go down now; it makes me uneasy.

MORE: “A Rare Interview with Master Storyteller Stephen King

Note that in addition to reading the interview, you can listen to portions of King’s actual conversation with the interviewer, and also watch him posing for a Parade photo shoot,  in this brief “Behind the Scenes” video:

Stephen King: We forget that life is fundamentally mysterious

I ask you to consider the fact that we live in a web of mystery, and have simply gotten so used to the fact that we have crossed out the word and replaced it with one we like better, that one being reality. Where do we come from? Where were we before we were here? Don’t know. Where are we going? Don’t know. A lot of churches have what they assure us are the answers, but most of us have a sneaking suspicion all that might be a con-job laid down to fill the collection plates. In the meantime, we’re in a kind of compulsory dodgeball game as we free-fall from Wherever to Ain’t Got a Clue. Sometimes bombs go off and sometimes the planes land okay and sometimes the blood tests come back clean and sometimes the biopsies come back positive. Most times the bad telephone call doesn’t come in the middle of the night but sometimes it does, and either way we know we’re going to drive pedal-to-the-metal into the mystery eventually.

It’s crazy to be able to live with that and stay sane, but it’s also beautiful. I write to find out what I think, and what I found out writing The Colorado Kid was that maybe — I say just maybe — it’s the beauty of the mystery that allows us to live sane as we pilot our fragile bodies through this demolition-derby world. We always want to reach for the lights in the sky, and we always want to know where the Colorado Kid (the world is full of Colorado Kids) came from. Wanting might be better than knowing. I don’t say that for sure; I only suggest it.

— Stephen King, from the afterword to The Colorado Kid (2005)

To Suffer This World or Illuminate Another? On the Meanings and Uses of Horror

In his interesting book-length meditation, Danse Macabre (1981), Stephen King posited the following theory regarding the intrinsic and perennial appeal of Horror:

Why do you want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the world?

The answer seems to be that we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.

Quite appropriately for somebody with a such royal name, in that passage King effectively gave us the One Theory to Rule Them All, the one idea that would become the ready response to questions about the intrinsic and perennial appeal of Horror. Countless creators and consumers of such entertainment have regurgitated King’s logic over the past three decades, to the point where it has become a convenient catchall that any Horror fan can brandish whenever his or her morbid predilections are called into question. Why Horror art? Because our souls need boot-camp training to toughen us up for when real life comes a-calling, of course!

Simple? Yes. Memorable? Certainly. Useful? Absolutely. But is it accurate?

Although I am an admirer of many of Stephen King’s works, I confess to finding his logic here deeply suspect. The underlying implication of this theory is that Horror is a healthy, even a socially responsible, pastime: no need to worry if your great-aunt Tilly furrows her brow at your movie night selection. Just inform her that the cannibal frenzy she’ll be enduring in lurid, extreme close-ups for the next ninety minutes is for her own good, because it’s steeling her nerves for tomorrow’s lineup at the DMV.

The mind reels at such an absurd imagining. So violently, in fact, that the experience of it raises a fundamental question about the theory at hand, to wit: Does Horror art in any medium truly help us cope with life? And more importantly, must it? Does it require a purpose beyond serving us a delicious tide of frisson and grue? Surely even the genre’s most sophisticated examples cannot honestly be considered life lessons. Or then again, can they? Read the rest of this entry