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Art, Mystery, and Magic: A Fireside Chat with Don Webb

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“True mysteries give more energy, more questions every time you find an answer. I truly think that searching after mysteries is the source of the immortalization of the human soul. If I ever write anything that makes someone consider that maybe they don’t know everything about everything, then I have succeeded.”

– Don Webb

Don Webb is many things: magician, philosopher, teacher, literary critic, writer in a dozen different genres, proud Texan. He is the author of the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated tale “The Great White Bed” (2007), the mind-bending mystery novels The Double: An Investigation and Essential Saltes: An Experiment, and the double title The War with the Belatrin: Science Fiction Stories / A Velvet of Vampyres: Tales of Horror. His non-fiction books include Uncle Setnakt’s Guide to the Left Hand Path and The Seven Faces of Darkness.

Don has also been a friend and collaborator for many years. For Echoes from Hades, he graciously agreed to settle in with me for a fireside chat in which he waxed eloquent on art, magic, love, and all things in-between. Read the rest of this entry

Alan Moore: “Writing is a very focused form of meditation”

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From an excellent new profile of Alan Moore in The Observer, focusing mainly on his rejection of Hollywood but spinning out into various and sundry areas of deep fascinatingness (as befitting his fascinatingly deep and varied person), a statement regarding the deep intertwinement of magic, consciousness, creativity, and writing:

This business of being a practising magician, which he first announced in the 1990s (about the time his beard started to grey, and he got the snake-shaped stick). Is it for real, or is he playing? “It’s a major part of how I see the world. Looking like I do, halfway to Gandalf before I’ve put a foot out the door, you’ve got to diffuse… ” And for once, Moore fails to find an eloquent end to his sentence. He tries again: “There is an element of playing. But what’s behind it is very serious.”

Pick a card, any card? No, says Moore, it’s not about tricks. To him it’s about consciousness — and quickly he gets away on a tangent about the limits of the mind, flitting through Freud, Alan Turing, Paracelsus and Twelfth Night before arriving at an explanation that makes reasonable sense. Moore sees magic as a form of meditation, an outlet for his seriously vivid imagination.

“Do I believe, for example, that by using magic I could fly? No. How would you get around gravity? Impossible. Do I believe that I might be able to project my consciousness into a very, very vivid simulation of flying? Yeah. Yes, I’ve done that. Yes, that works.”

Does it require that you take… “Sometimes you have to take drugs, yes. Sometimes you can do it with dreaming. Sometimes you can do it with a creative act. Writing is a very focused form of meditation. Just as good as sitting in a lotus position.”

– Tom Lamont, “Alan Moore: why I turned my back on Hollywood,” The Observer, December 15, 2012

For more on the same or a similar theme, see my A Course in Demonic Creativity, especially chapter three, “A Writer’s Guide to the Psyche” and chapter eight, “The Discipline of the Demon Muse.” For more on Moore, see my long essay “In Search of Higher Intelligence,” which is mainly about the deeply entangled experiences of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson with these matters, but which also mentions Moore’s experiences and contributions (as well as those of his fellow author/magician/comics auteur, Grant Morrison). You can also find the same essay in slightly revised form, sans the Moore and Morrison references, in the October 2012 issue of Paranthropology.

Image by Matt Biddulph (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiddulph/3590341986/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing, money, art, society, and copyright: A tangled web

Recently in his blog for The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks — novelist, nonfiction writer, translator — has offered some strikingly interesting and cogent reflections on the relationships among and between art, authorship, law, money, ownership, individuals, and twentieth-to-twenty-first century sociocultural realities. Their background is, first, the rise of writing as “a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional,” and, second, the calling into question of current copyright laws and their long-term or even near-term viability as the opening of international publishing markets and the birth of the Internet have posed extraordinary difficulties for policing and enforcement, and also for the establishment of clear ethical boundaries.

In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed … It became clear that the task of the writer was not just to deliver a book, but to promote himself in every possible way. He launches a website, a Facebook page (I’m no exception), perhaps hires his own publicist. He attends literary festivals all over the world, for no payment. He sits on the jury for literary prizes for very little money, writes articles in return for a one-line mention of his recent publication, completes dozens of internet interviews, offers endorsements for the books of fellow writers in the hope that the compliment will be returned … [I]n the publishing culture we have today any idea that a process of slow sifting might produce a credible canon such as those we inherited from the distant past is nonsense. Whatever in the future masquerades as a canon for our own time will largely be the result of good marketing, self-promotion, and of course pure chance.

– “The Writer’s Job,” February 28, 2012

Paradoxically, then, almost the worst thing that can happen to writers, at least if it’s the quality of their work we’re thinking about, is to receive, immediately, all the money and recognition they want. At this point all other work, all other sane and sensible economic relation to society, is rapidly dropped and the said author now absolutely reliant on the world’s response to his or her books, and at the same time most likely surrounded by people who will be building their own careers on his or her triumphant success, all eager to reinforce intimations of grandeur … But if too much money can be damaging, dribs and drabs are not going to get the best out of a writer either … The key idea here it seems to me is that of a community of reference. Writers can deal with a modest income if they feel they are writing toward a body of readers who are aware of their work and buy enough of it to keep the publisher happy. But the nature of contemporary globalization, with its tendency to unify markets for literature, is such that local literary communities are beginning to weaken, while the divide between those selling vast quantities of books worldwide and those selling very few and mainly on home territory is growing all the time.

– “Does Money Make Us Write Better?” July 20, 2012

Copyright…is part of a mass of legislation that governs the relationship between individual and collective, for the most part defending the former against the latter … Copyright gives the writer a considerable financial incentive and locks his work into the world of money; each book becomes a lottery ticket … [C]opyright keeps the writer in the polis, and indeed it is remarkable how little creative writing today is truly revolutionary, in the sense of seeking a profoundly different model of a society … As soon as we put it like this, as soon as we imagine, or try to imagine, the extraordinary confusion, creative and otherwise, that might occur, the many and fragmented ways people might enjoy and share and despair of putting together reflections and entertainments in words for each other, you can see that it is not going to happen; there is still an enormous demand for the long traditional novel, for works that reinforce the idea of individual identity projected through time and achieving some kind of wisdom or happiness through many vicissitudes. There is simply no form of escapism, mental immersion, or sustained illusion quite like the thousand-page fantasy narrative, whether it be the endless Harry Potters or the Millennium trilogy; if to have that experience we have to guarantee a substantial income to its creator then society will continue to find a way to do that, in the same way European soccer clubs still find ways to pay exorbitant salaries to their star players. Copyright, we see, is not essentially driven by notions of justice or theories of ownership, but by a certain culture’s attachment to a certain literary form. If people only read poetry, which you can never stop poets producing even when you pay them nothing at all, then the law of copyright would disappear in a trice.

– “Does Copyright Matter?” August 14, 2012

IMAGE: Joseph Severn, “Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound,” 1845, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Recommended Reading 21

This week’s recommended readings include: a mainstream news article about the distinct possibility of an Armageddon-like solar superstorm; a look at the origin, present situation, and apparently indefinite future of the “Great Recession” by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard; a consideration of the spiritual crisis of capitalism; reflections on the real relationship between writing and money; an autopsy on the American university, which has apparently expired at the hands of corporatization; a journalist’s firsthand and first-person account of investigating the global subculture devoted to ending the “scourge” of human death by extending life forever and/or using cryonics or other means to preserve people and then resurrect them; a report on current Disney-backed research into taking animatronics to real-life Blade Runner/Prometheus-type levels of realism by cloning human faces; an interview with a UFO researcher about UFOs, human consciousness, and government coverups; and a fascinating analysis of the cultural symbols and synchronicities surrounding the John Carter movie.
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