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Teeming Links – May 2, 2014


Anatomy of the Deep State (absolutely required reading): “There is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.”

Maybe interiority dies or become obsolete when all the world’s an app: “Starting some 500 years ago, the self was understood as an enclosure. It was something that required silence to access and space to experience. I think that used to be true. It probably still is. But it might not be for very much longer.”

Looks like I got out just in time: A Eulogy for Twitter: The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren’t just for the elite (shades of Earl Shorris and the Clemente Course in the Humanities)

How to study the numinous: “If our understanding of the mystical is impoverished today, perhaps it’s because we’ve put too much faith in brain scans, and allowed other forms of knowledge and investigation to ebb. Perhaps what we need is a revival of philosophically-informed psychology and anthropology, rather than a more ambitious spiritual phrenology. Perhaps, instead of a better fMRI machine, we’re waiting for a new (and doubtless very different) William James or James Frazer or Carl Jung.”

The human heart of sacred art: “The humanist impulse not only liberated the sense of transcendence from the shackles of the sacred, it also transformed the idea of transcendence itself. The transcendent was no longer linked to the divine; nor did humans fulfil themselves solely through union with God. Rather humans came to be acknowledged as conscious agents who realized themselves only through self-created projects to transform themselves and the world they inhabit.”

Ghosts of the tsunami (on a Japanese priest’s attempt to deal with the plague of ghosts in the aftermath of the country epochal disaster): “When people die violently or prematurely, in anger or anguish, they are at risk of becoming gaki, ‘hungry ghosts’, who wander between worlds, propagating curses and mischief. There are rituals for placating unhappy spirits, but in the aftermath of the disaster few families were in a position to perform them. . . . Thousands of spirits had passed from life to death; countless others were cut loose from their moorings in the afterlife. How could they all be cared for? Who was to honour the compact between the living and the dead? In such circumstances, how could there fail to be a swarm of ghosts?”

Terror Incognita: The Paradoxical History of Cosmic Horror, from Lovecraft to Ligotti: Los Angeles Review of Books looks at Lovecraft, Chambers, Ligotti, and weird fiction. Worth reading even though it winds up to a somewhat disappointing (because somewhat hackneyed and by now cliched) conclusion about the genre’s appeal (“The imagination, weaned on a materialistic civilization and thoroughly disillusioned with it, yearns for that sublime unknown”) that was articulated at length by Peter Penzoldt 60 years ago in The Supernatural in Fiction, and that has been restated many times since by the likes of Joshi and others, and that has always left a number of significant alternative possibilities unexamined. But that said, hey, how cool is it to see Ligotti being talked about in the likes of LARB?



Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

Teeming Links – July 26, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

As you browse through today’s crop of fascinating, worthwhile, disturbing, and necessary reading, I invite you to consider not just this particular experience but your online experience as a whole in light of writer Benjamin Anastasis’ recent, impassioned, and insightful explanation of why he has abandoned Twitter. Even though he states his reasons in terms of their specific applicability to writers, they actually apply to everybody who dares to make the devil’s bargain of engaging with social media. What a shame it would/will be if the Internet as a whole — which, we’ll recall, Evgeny Morozov has argued is a kind of a fiction anyway — becomes completely overtaken by this subworld of hype and distraction that, despite its obvious uses, seems most useful at enabling and amplifying people’s inherent narcissism, and then exploiting this for profit.

For 1 year, 4 months and 22 days — or 508 days total — Twitter became part of my daily thinking ritual. Should I post that thought as a tweet? How about a picture of that lost parrot poster I saw at the park? Would that be funny? If I’m in Berkeley, is it worth tweeting about the reading I’m giving tonight in case some of my followers live out here?

. . . Writers need mystery and really shouldn’t be on Twitter. Here’s what novelist Benjamin Anastas took away from his 508 days of tweeting. “Twitter isn’t planning to go public in 2014 with an estimated market valuation of $11 billion because it’s in the democracy business, or disaster recovery, or it likes helping out with your local Neighborhood Watch. It’s that valuable in market terms because it wants to own your eyes, and everything on Twitter — from its look, to its speed, to the 140-character limit of a tweet — is designed to create a hunger in you for what it offers, to keep you coming back for more. It’s fucking diabolical, but we’re all used to being hopeless click-addicts now.  . . . Twitter works in direct proportion to how much time you spend on it: if you’re willing to burn entire days on end, you’ll have a satisfying time on Twitter with lots of links consumed, comments favorited, pithy exchanges with your followers and friends. If you just dip in from time to time, you’ll find that your response rate plummets. It’s the nature of the beast that you have to do your time if you want to join the conversation. If you don’t, you’re a stranger in Twitter Village and you’ll be treated accordingly by the natives: no replies, no retweets, no new followers, and a slow attrition of the ones you’ve already gained. Twitter wants your life. Don’t give it up so easily.”

— “Goodbye to Twitter Part Two: Lessons Learned,” Benjamin Anastasis, The Daily Beast, July 9, 2013

* * *

They Know Much More Than You Think (The New York Review of Books)
Recent revelations about the depth and extent of the NSA’s domestic and international spying activities may be just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a history of “what the government has been telling the public about its surveillance activities over the years,” along with a comparison of “what we know now as a result of the top secret documents and other information released by, among others, the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.”

The Maddening of America (Project Syndicate)
The claim that the spread of severe mental illness has reached “epidemic” proportions has been heard so often that, like any commonplace, it has lost its ability to shock. But the repercussions for international politics of the disabling conditions diagnosed as manic-depressive illnesses (including major unipolar depression) and schizophrenia could not be more serious.

The American cloud (Aeon)
The cosy coastal world of pretend farmers’ markets bears no resemblance to the actual back end of America. “The makeover has been so psychologically disruptive that during the past century, the bulk of America’s cultural resources have been devoted to obscuring the realities of the cloud with simpler, more emotionally satisfying illusions. These constitute a theatre of pre-industrial community life primarily inspired, ironically enough, by Jefferson’s small-town visions. This theatre, which forms the backdrop of consumer lifestyles, can be found today inside every Whole Foods, Starbucks and mall in America. I call it the Jeffersonian bazaar.”

Douglas Rushkoff on Deen, Snowden, Zimmerman and the Culture of Contagion (The Hollywood Reporter)
What would race riots organized on Facebook look like? The best-selling author, who coined the term “viral media” in 1993, says the camcorder days of Rodney King offer insights into the “great viral summer” of 2013.

Inner peace (Aeon)
We yearn for silence, yet the less sound there is, the more our thoughts deafen us. How can we still the noise within?

Accessing the Mind through Body Awareness (3 Quarks Daily)
“Emotions and thoughts are automatically embodied, automatically embedded in a social and physical context rather than being expressions of some interior homunculus. From this perspective, paying attention to bodily sensations should not be understood in opposition to paying attention to the workings of the mind but rather as another way of accessing the mental. Bodily sensations can potentially give us access to a large part of our subconscious and precognitive life.”

Inside the multimillion-dollar essay-scoring business (City Pages)
Behind the scenes of standardized testing.

George Lucas & Steven Spielberg: Studios Will Implode; VOD Is the Future (Variety, June 12, 2013)
Moguls predict tentpole “meltdown,” pricey pics and empathetic games.

Why Studios Must End Their Mega-Budget Obsession (Variety, July 22, 2013)
BOX OFFICE EPIC FAIL: Costly misfires pile up in crowded season: ‘After Earth,’ ‘White House Down,’ ‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘Pacific Rim,’ ‘R.I.P.D.’

The Unfortunate Legacy of Richard Matheson: On the Roots and Unfairly Repellant Qualities of Less-Than-Stellar Film Adaptations (The Millions)
Is there something inherent in Matheson’s brilliant writing that resists effective adaptation for movies and television?

An Appointment with the Wicker Man (The Wild Hunt)
The film production and distribution company StudioCanal has announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall.

The Long, Strange Career of ‘The Conjuring’ Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Flavorwire)
The fun, new horror film The Conjuring is inspiring all the usual questions that face a based-on-a-true-story horror film: is the story really true? Are the “demonologists” of the film, Ed and Lorraine Warren, just cranks? It’s hard to say.

“Our faith led us to write a horror story” (Geek Goes Rogue at Patheos)
Author Jonathan Ryan, one of the panelists in our first Teeming Brain podcast, interviews the Hayes brothers, who wrote the screenplay for The Conjuring. “After the typical press/talent greetings, I started with the question, ‘What drew you to tell this story about the Warrens and demonic possession?’ They both answered with, ‘Our Christian faith, without a doubt.'”

Two interesting paths to occultism during the enlightenment era (The Washington Post)
Michael Dirda reviews and discusses The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V. Fleming and Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment by Paul Kleber Monod.

Out of the deep (Aeon)
From Atlantis to Noah’s Ark, we have long been drawn to stories of submerged lands. What lies beneath the flood myths?

India probes ‘UFOs’ after drone denial (The Telegraph)
India has turned to its astrophysicists to explain a ‘UFO’ mystery on its Himalayan border with China.

Twitter vs. blogs in an age of cheap language

Here’s a nicely nuanced and truly elegant little meditation on the meanings (note the plural) of Twitter in an age of universally blogified (in the bad sense) writing — with equal attention given to the latter phenomenon.

Few things could appear much worse, to the lurker, glimpser, or guesser, than this scrolling suicide note of Western civilization. Never more than 140 characters at a time? Looks like the human attention span crumbling like a Roman aqueduct. The endless favoriting and retweeting of other people’s tweets? Sounds like a digital circle jerk. Birds were born to make the repetitive, pleasant, meaningless sounds called twittering. Wasn’t the whole thing about us featherless bipeds that we could give connected intelligible sounds a cumulative sense?

…The Rise of the Tweet takes place amid an internet-induced cheapening of language, in both good and bad senses. The economic cheapness of digital publication democratizes expression and gives a necessary public to writers, and types of writing, that otherwise would be confined to the hard drive or the desk drawer. And yet the supreme ease of putting words online has opened up vast new space for carelessness, confusion, whateverism…[A]ll contemporary publications tend toward the condition of blogs, and soon, if not yet already, it will seem pretentious, elitist, and old-fashioned to write anything, anywhere, with patience and care.

…Enter —  ambiguously — Twitter [which has fostered] the very last thing to have been expected from the internet: a renovation of the epigram or aphorism, a revaluation of the literary virtues of terseness and impersonality…So Twitter doesn’t only have the widely recognized usefulness of providing updates on news and revolution, and illuminating links, and many laughs and smirks. It has also brought about a surprising revival of the epigrammatic impulse in a literary culture that otherwise values the merely personal and the super-colloquial as badges of authenticity.

FULL STORY: “Please RT, n+1, June 14, 2012 (from Issue #14)