aimless wanderings of the mind [on and around Erik Davis' TechGnosis]
The book is a brilliant study of the currents of magic, mysticism and religious mythology that easily slither through the cracks of technoculture to envelop and imbue its means of communication, all the while remaining largely unseen.
Davis takes a pretty good crack at restoring the reader's awareness of these factors. After reading the book, you might find yourself thinking of the instruments of information technology in a different way, one which reveals them as embodiments of cosmic forces - like those symbolized by the Greek gods - or parts of an unbroken, animistic cosmos, where the divide between Nature and Culture has never existed.
Indeed, by absorbing the visions encoded within the pages of this book, and digesting their kernel of perceptive lucidity, readers may be pushed to experiment with a new vision of their own. And in casting a new light over InfoTech, they might end up reconsidering the entire world we live in, riddled as it is with info-technological elementals of all kinds.
Such a vision can help us restore our ability to decipher the timeless myths woven in the fabric of the universe around us. Through it we may reclaim the "other" side of our selves, the one very much connected with, embedded in the cosmos. All those flashing LEDs, flickering screens and interactive gadgets around us may finally cease to distract us from our path, and instead come to take their place among our mythologies. That way we might actually develop our own, current mythos, rather than keep trying to cram a world far too huge and complex inside old maps, just because they are traditional and/or exotic.
Obviously, this is kind of a tricky issue.
For instance, I feel a lot of affinity for Hakim Bey's comments on what he calls "CyberGnosis" (quote: "Virtual Reality as CyberGnosis. Jack in, leave Mother Earth behind forever"), and believe strongly that a general burial of all body-denying mythologies is long overdue. However, I don't see the TechGnosis that Davis is writing about as having anything to do, necessarily, with the Gnostics' wholesale condemnation of the entire material universe.
The conflict is mostly just apparent. Already elsewhere, Bey has exhaustively acknowledged the important role that communication technology can play in supporting his Temporary Autonomous Zone. But that's not really my point here. I can see the outline of something else in the strange jumble of feelings that I inadvertently unlocked by re-opening TechGnosis.
It seems to me that a worldview that erases the split between Nature and Culture (as Davis does, following Bruno Latour), that makes technology part of our magico/spiritual dreaming landscape, is exactly what we need to battle the dehumanizing aspects of the postmodern age. Choosing the opposite would be counterproductive, in my opinion, except maybe for those of us that have distanced themselves altogether from the "newer products" of Nature, and withdrawn deep into pre-technological nature. But then, those folks simply do not need to face this question, as their chosen route avoids it entirely.
Remember Greek mythology. When Peleus and Thetis got married, the other Gods decided to exclude the troublemaking and unpredictable Eris from their celebrations. It was a Very Bad Move, of course: I'm sure you remember what happened as a result.
Now. Maybe it's because of my Discordian tendencies, but I've always felt there is a clear - even self-evident - yet profound warning embedded in the story: if you try to keep out something inconvenient, or "bad" or "negative", chances are it will eventually kick the door down and blast its way in with a vengeance. Or you can look at it from Lao Tzu's perspective, with his admonition (in the Tao Te Ching) that the widespread recognition of certain things as "good" automatically defines others as "evil". The two opposites create each other, so that the more we try to have the good, the more we create evil. And it's nobody's fault. Blaming the Trojan War on Eris, all evil on the evildoers/Satan/etc., only widens the dualistic divide that created the trouble in the first place. Better would be to make peace with the Other, learn to befriend its ambiguous energies even as they surround and besiege us, and begin harnessing its blessings, mixed as they may be.
Soul, spirit and myth have never left this planet, and never will.
They have merely put on new clothes. It's up to us to see through them and maintain our humanity in a changing world, this one, not some imaginary past Arcadia, or an equally fictitious Brave New World. If what makes us human eventually gets stripped away from us, because we can't adapt to the new challenges that we have created for ourselves, whose fault will it really be?
All the timeless dreams and symbols, "as old as suffering and despair" (to paraphrase WSB), that have accompanied us ever since we moved our first steps on Earth, are still there. And paradoxically, this mediated age might be the best time to relearn to experience them directly. As interconnection grows exponentially and we become exposed to ever-increasing quantities of each other's thoughts and feelings, an ancient reality begins to shine through the cracks of consensus reality: the cosmos is alive, breathing and conscious, and there is nothing that is not part of it.
[may be continued ...]