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April 28, 2004

dark dungeons of the mind

Back to hysterical fundamentalism and its discontents, with this classic cartoon from Chick Publications, which explains how playing Role Playing Games is actually a gateway to witchcraft.
I'm at a loss for words on this one... I'd use the word "medieval", but that would probably be unfair to the Middle Ages, a wonderful historical period of progress for mankind. When compared to where these people are at, that is.

Go thou and read the cartoon. It's only funny until you meet somebody that really believes this shit, so take the opportunity while you can — you never know.

reasons why hexing people is not a good idea, #666:

'Wonders will never end, they say. For several hours, doubting thomases and credulous Togolese all got glued to the seats behind their TV sets, starry-eyed, as a delegation of penitent fetish priests from the local voodoo Anyigbaton Hunorgah fetish shrine of Klikor in the Volta Region of Ghana was shown making a pilgrimage to Lome, begging President Eyadema to free them from a demonic curse.

The curse was believed to have been imposed on them after a spiritual ritual they claimed they had indulged in to kill President Eyadema, allegedly backfired.' (The Gahanaian Chronicle article)

Oh, that... subversive mainstream media?

The NY Times has a nice article on South Park, the wickedly funny cartoon that's been infecting young (and not-so-young) minds, worldwide, for almost 7 years now.

The article uses as its focus the great "Passion" episode, in which Mel Gibson's movie, among other things, pushes one of the cartoon's protagonists to try and start a Holy War against the Jews. While discussing the merits of that particular episode (and providing a nice summary for those of you who missed it), the piece is also a nice praise for the bit of media subversion that South Park represents — which is always welcome, coming from a mainstream outlet.

Of course, I'm sure nobody was doubting the quality and value of South Park anyway. I mean, just judge by the reviews! This one, for instance, comes from the site ChildCare Action Project: Christian Analysis of American Culture, and I couldn't think of a better endorsement for a cartoon I'd like to see. Here's a couple snippets:

'South Park is an incredibly dangerous movie for those who do not understand or are developing an understanding of the Gospel ....... INCREDIBLY dangerous. Some of the scenes in South Park reminded me so much of the image of demons screeching and dancing around a boiling cauldron as Satan gleefully looks on from the background as the demons pitch soul after soul after soul into the burning cauldron.'

Oh yeah, I can see that too! Holy shit man!!! How much acid did you put in the punch bowl?

'That is all I will say about the content this extraordinarily vulgar, vile, and repugnant movie. Other examples are just too vulgar and vile to even try to describe without being as vulgar and vile. Please note that the final score of 29 is not the lowest of scores earned by the movies we have analyzed, but this movie has earned the most severe CAP Influence Density (ID) of over 800 movies: a CAP ID of 10.65! Natural Born Killers (R) earned a CAP Influence Density of 7.46! Most R-rated movies earn CAP IDs between 1.00 and 3.00. A child cannot escape being influenced by "entertainment" such as this.'

Yes, they have their own rating system, too. Anyway, I was wondering: do you think that fundamentalist bigots sublimate their repressed sexual energy into mind-blowing, righteous orgasms every time they use the words "vulgar" and "vile" in the same sentence? From the above paragraphs, it would indeed appear so.

One more excerpt, from elsewhere in the site:

'In the eight years of an on-going study, the ChildCare Action Project: Christian Analysis of American Culture (CAP) Ministry has revealed objective mathematical evidence of the relative position and movement of morality in popular movies, evidence not possible by subjective traditional movie reviews and subjective opinion-based evaluations.'

(emphasis added — this time)

Leaving aside the question of what exactly is "the relative position and movement of morality in popular movies", I want these people and their ilk to know one thing:

We're coming for you.

We're coming from every direction and there is nothing you can do.
You will barricade yourself inside your hateful, hysterical fear. You will absent-mindedly mouth your castrating propaganda. You will do your best to ban everything, seeking to impose your fanatical agenda on the rest of us even as you whine about your rights being abused. You will deploy impressive amounts of money, political pressure and human resources in a bid to control the mediaspace.

All for naught.

In the end, you will lose — you have already lost. Your deathtrip ideal, in which for millennia you have been trying to lock us up, is crumbling under your feet, a little bit faster with every encounter between free minds. As you haste to cover up one breast, the whole splendid, naked body of Cognitive Liberty is fully visible to anyone who's not afraid to look. Always has been. We are just helping to make it known, you know, spread the Good News. Always have been. You are just nervous spasms of blind apprehension on a collective body awakening to its full potential — and you are being outgrown, as your children look on wondering if you'll get the fuck out of the way in time for them to have a life.

One day you will stop fighting this process, and accept it as that very Love that you like to pretend you know so well, waving around a dead image of it as justification for all the miseries that your terror of life has engendered.


Hmm. Guess I'm gonna have to do better than that to get my own CAP Influence Density ranking, uh?

April 27, 2004

spooks will soon be haunting blogs

Via both Warren Ellis and Nick Mamatas, here's a link to this Yahoo! News story: apparently, US intelligence officials have announced that they may soon start tracking weblogs.

A question sweeps through the nation: how do they manage to always lag this far behind?

Aren't they just being put on the spot for not being efficient enough? Do I recall correctly?
So wouldn't it be better to at least give the impression of being up to speed with the rest of the cosmos, and quietly start tracking? Then, if anybody ever asks anything, they could deadpan something like, "Yes, we've been aware of this phenomenon for some time. All the agencies regularly scan blogs as part of our internet operations", or whatever. Using that standard Ominous FBI Tone, the one that comes out so well on TV.

That way, at least appearances would be saved, while they scramble to get some decent advisors to let them know when a new way of disseminating information, potentially capable of revolutionizing news media worldwide, starts spreading through the Internet. Perhaps that way they'd even know before millions of ordinary citizens are already using it.

Of course you never can tell, with 'em spooks. Maybe they've been watching every single blogger from under his or her bed since day zero, but they are cunningly feigning total ignorance. "Say what? Blogs? Hmmm. Looks like it might be interesting... we'll take a look at it — next year."

You know what, though? Something tells me that is not the case.

Still, I'm sure they'll catch up, if they work at it. Then we'll finally be able to rest in the knowledge that every single word we blog is tapped. And we won't even have to pay a dime for— oh, wait. Nevermind.

While we wait for the thousands of threats to homeland security blocked by blog-tracking to start rolling in, I can only hope that a certain commenter on Mamatas' journal is right:

'So...some government dude's new job description is to read livejournal all day, tracking "cutting-edge information and opinion"...sign me up! Sounds like a great job.'

Hopefully they'll give the job to somebody even remotely smart, lest the blogosphere is entirely wasted on them. That would be a shame.

we all knew this was going to happen

Via Warren Ellis' die puny humans:

US firm Microvision has developed a system that projects lasers onto the retina, allowing users to view images on top of their normal field of vision.

It could allow surgeons to get a bird's eye view of the innards of a patient, offer military units in the field a view of the entire battlefield and provide mechanics with a simulation of the inside of a car's engine. (BBC News article)

new design coming soon

I know I've already said this, but this time it's really imminent. The new design is slated to go up sometime within the next 2 days. It's going to be slick, so stay tuned....

April 21, 2004

Integral Naked

Through Erik Davis' mailing list, I recently found out about Ken Wilber's cool new site, Integral Naked.

Erik's message said:

'Ken Wilber is one of the most interesting and influential American philosophers on the scene today, having charted out a very productive space -- gridded with quadrants and levels and stages -- between transpersonal psychology, the perennial tradition, and the science/culture wars of the day. He also looks kinda like Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore's Watchmen series. In any case, Ken is behind a website called Integral Naked, which is full of interesting stuff and currently features interviews with Burning Man founder Larry Harvey and... yours truly. We talk about the post-post-modern, spiritual generations, and Burning Man. The site costs, which I know is a disappointment, but here it is: http://www.integralnaked.org/'

Actually, it appears that the site is free for the first month, with the option of unsubscribing at any time — and yes, for the cheapoids among us, you can also resubscribe at any time, and get the free month again. In fact, Wilber himself says:

'We're not selling a product, we're looking for people who want to become members of a community, and support it with modest monthly dues. But if people just want the goods, they can sign on, download everything, sign off, and sign on again next month, free forever. We don't care.'

Hey, thanks, Ken!

The site is really slick and well put together, I highly recommend a visit and signing up at least for the free month. This is a great opportunity to increase your own intelligence by being exposed to others "as smart or smarter than you are", as Tim Leary recommended... still a very good idea. Right now they're featuring Wilber's dialogue with Larry Dossey, theme: "Your Nonlocal Mind". Check it out!

The Gray Lodge Occult Review #11

...is out. Featuring: Christopher S. Hyatt Ph.D, William S. Burroughs, Aldous Huxley, Howard Bloom, Antonin Artaud, and many others. Issue after issue, the guys at Antiqillum.com don't cease to amaze me. Check out their magazine right here.

RFID implant madness

More support for Neal Stephenson's argument that after 9/11, writing science fiction is pointless, because the future is here now:

A company called VeriChip has developed a subcutaneous RFID device, the kind of stuff that we used to see in futuristic nightmare (cheezy) fantasies like 1999: Escape from New York.

Via the libertarian blog White Rose:

The VeriChip minaturized Radio Freqency Identifcation (RFID) Device is the core of all VeriChip applications. About the size of a grain of rice, each VeriChip contains a unique verification number, which can be used to access a subscriber-supplied database providing personal related information. And unlike conventional forms of identification, VeriChip cannot be lost, stolen, misplaced or counterfeited.

Once implanted just under the skin, via a quick, painless outpatient procedure (much like getting a shot), the VeriChip can be scanned when necessary with a proprietary VeriChip scanner. A small amount of Radio Freqency Energy passes from the scanner energizing the dormant VeriChip, which then emits a radio frequency signal transmitting the individuals unique verification (VeriChipID) number. The VeriChip Subscriber Number then provides instant access to the Global VeriChip Subscriber (GVS) Registry - through secure, password protected web access to subscriber-supplied information. This data is maintained by state-of-the-art GVS Registry Operations Centers located in Riverside, California and Owings, Maryland.

Also note this piece of news: Worldnetdaily.com article (Via Bruce Sterling's Beyond the Beyond).

04.16.2004 — An Evening With Disinformation

OK, it's my turn now to talk about the Disinformation evening last Friday in NYC.
The event, held at the CUNY Graduate Center, was well attended — though not packed — by an audience quite varied in terms of gender, age, and appearance. It featured a few select clips from the Disinformation DVD, along with speeches by Disinformation co-founder Richard Metzger, Douglas Rushkoff, Joe Coleman and Howard Bloom.

:: Richard Metzger ::

Metzger — as MadGhoul.com noted — was "at home in front of the audience" and delivered his opening keynote with ease, quick wit and a good dose of humor. It was a golden opportunity to listen to the Wicked Warlock himself tell the full story of Disinfo's "great corporate media swindle", or how the notoriously conservative CEO of TCI (now known as AT&T Broadband) was persuaded into spending 1.2 million bucks to finance the Disinformation website. Later, he would realize what he had done, reportedly refer to the site as "anarchist bullshit", and get rid of it — by giving it back to its creator.

The story has, of course, been told before, but it was a real treat to hear Richard tell it from the beginning, complete with anectodes and witty quips (which at times had the audience laughing uproariously). What's more, he gave it full context by referencing how the ideas behind Disinfo (the series and the site) were conceived. From such perspective, the whole endeavor takes on the connotations of an intensely personal story — almost like a work of art, through the medium of... a corporation. And that in turn lends personality to the company itself, one that for about 8 years has been providing me — and plenty of other aficionados — with tools for bending, hacking and expanding our cognitive paradigms. In all this time, I had never taken as satisfying an overview of how it all started, developed and changed over time — and across such years of powerful social/economic mutation as the early spread of the Internet, then the Dot Com boom and the Dot Com crash.

Last but not least, that tone of mischievous glee with which Metzger related the whole TCI episode, by itself tells volumes about Disinformation's vision and raison d'etre. Too bad it can't be encoded in HTML and put on Disinfo's about page.

:: Douglas Rushkoff ::

Following this very enjoyable keynote, Douglas Rushkoff took the stage and casually delivered what I can only describe as a truly classic speech — of the epic, stirring, eye-opening variety. Others have characterized it as preaching, and I would agree that it was — but in a very positive way. Rushkoff — clearly drawing upon insights deriving from his Jewish religious background — powerfully tore through the surface, to address the soul of several of the issues that Disinformation has tackled throughout the years. Issues like the fallacy and limitation of traditional media, its being transformed into a huge influence and propaganda machine; "a media space in which facts are disappearing", where merely listening to a bunch of opinions clashing and neutralizing one other is taken as a, uh, 'fair and balanced' way of getting to the truth.

He proceeded to comment on recent efforts by the Left to confront the Right at its own game of media manipulation, influence and compliance; such attempts being often accompanied by the justification that "it's a tough electorate out there" and, in the Realpolitik ballpark, propaganda is the name of the game — so at least let's play "for the good guys". Rushkoff questioned, then rejected this entire premise; he convincingly drove home the point that the game really worth playing is waking people up, and not putting them to sleep — "even if they're going to dream in the way you want them to dream". He reminded us that everything we know is not wrong: only most of it, because we don't really know it, but rather we accept it on faith. And on that note, he concluded with a statement which is worth quoting in full (emphasis added):

'Well, I don't think we can live in a faith-based society anymore, because the people concocting the stories that we would like to believe in do not have our best interest at heart.

The only thing we can do, at a time like this, is having the courage and compassion for one another to collaborate on the stories we are living together. And to do that, we've got to take over a certain part of the media.

We've got to find one another.
However bizarre the circumstances under which we meet in order to conspire lovingly together, we have to do that... and continue to write, just write our stories together, and see whether or not we can — and maybe we can't, but we can at least die trying — whether or not we can bring more truth into this realm.'


:: Joe Coleman ::

Next, a man known as The Apocalyptic Visionary Painter, the deviant orator seen delivering a sermon on how humanity is a cancer at Disinfo.con (just before blowing himself up on stage); ladies and gentlemen, need I say more — enter: Mr. Joe Coleman!

Joe's bit was remarkably different than the explosive performance at the Hammerstein Ballroom event 4 years ago. It was... understated, almost; although the powerful impact of what he was saying, coupled with the slides of his paintings projected behind him, sustained quite a strong emotional space. I thoroughly appreciated his honesty and quiet openness in discussing himself and his art — two subjects that really cannot be separated. Joe Coleman the human being — sans the cathartic theater we've seen (and appreciated) before — was well visible, exposing himself, and offering us an opportunity to get to know him better.

He described the personal pain that his paintings come from, and how he arrived at extracting such amazing images out of it. He spoke of his childhood, and of the early influences coming through his Irish Catholic mother, who through the stories of saints and martyrs convinced him that there must be something very holy in pain — and by extension in his own pain. To Coleman, painting is inextricably connected to pain, and viceversa.

Particularly interesting were the explainations of his artistic process — one bit I hadn't heard before: he begins every one of his paintings without sketching or planning anything beforehand. He says he wants the painting to tell him what it is — and what he is. So he begins painting, with his single horsehair brush, by completing a single square inch; and then he proceeds outward, without having a clue what the completed image will look like. At this rate, one of his paintings might take a year, but at the same time it will be a sweeping, non-linear and unpredictable meditation through images — spanning many aspects of his life, weaving threads inside it, stitching dozens of pop-culture and occulture references into it along the way. "There's truth in faith", says Joe, in another ironic tip of the hat to the Catholicism of his infancy — the faith of trusting a painting to come to life even as he abandons all attempts to control the composition, focusing only on the smallest details at a microscopic level.

And this, my friends, is just one small insight in the darkly twisted, deliciously raw world of Joe Coleman. This incredible contemporary American artist, whose work has been shown with that of Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch, whose degree of mastery (though decidedly not the classical sort of mastery) cannot be doubted, also talked about his being kicked out of art school. Those of us that have had their brush with the academic 'art world' could easily relate to his stories about the obnoxious, oppressive narrowsightedness often shown by art teachers. Naturally enough, this has been Coleman's destiny for long after his school days: pretty consistently rejected by the mainstream art scene all along, Joe has recently been excluded even from the New York Outsider Art Fair. Yet another example of the gulf that seems to every time insert itself, by default, between 'mainstream' and 'fringe' culture — and such gulf, incidentally, is one of the many fields of study that interest the next guest speaker at this Disinfo event: Howard Bloom.

:: Howard Bloom ::

The author of The Lucifer Principle, a book that has been praised very highly by Richard Metzger and featured time and again on the pages of disinfo.com, closed the event giving a brief speech — his first in Manhattan in about 15 years. Long kept bedridden by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the brilliant scholar and former music PR legend seemed to be in pretty good shape Friday night, as he briskly walked onstage, to sit next to Richard Metzger around a small coffee table.

Bloom's research in the field of "mass moods and cultural convolutions" — to use his own words, strangely accurate in their generality — is groundbreaking. His approach to human mass behavior is wide and unorthodox enough to include connections ranging from the microbiological world to the social interactions of sea anemones. Studying humanity, he came to see our race as genetically divided in "super organisms", sort of macro colonies locked in an eternal conflict that serves certain evolutionary purposes and which is hardwired in every single one of us. In other words, according to Bloom, there is no way to eliminate the impulses that lead to war, racism, strife and evil in general. But, provided that we first accept them, there are ways to turn these impulses into a constructive force by consciously integrating them. An example of this might be the conflict between Americans and Japanese turning from the actual war with the nukes, the kamikaze, the dead, the wounded etc. into the fierce economic competition that followed it — strenghtening both countries instead of hurting them both.

Not the least controversial of all theories, I'm sure we can all agree. But that, by itself, is not really what shook up those sitting in the audience at the Disinformation event, ultimately pushing them to engage in direct dialogue with Bloom, questioning his statements and demanding him to back them up in more thorough ways. What got the audience was that Bloom's speech, kickstarted by a question about his book The Lucifer Principle, soon turned into a full-blown (and very heartfelt) rant — with Howard painting in vivid detail the impending danger that he believes faces mankind, and particularly Western secular democracy.

He spoke of the Pakistani atomic bomb, developed in recent years and now worshipped almost as a god in the region, and of the danger of Pakistan building its own nuclear submarines with technology acquired from France. He railed against the evils of radical Islam, how it does not believe in our values, and so on. He did so viscerally and emotionally, on issues that are quite emotionally charged already, point blank, in front of an audience that in all likelyhood was expecting a rational and intellectually detached lecture. I don't think anybody should be surprised that he rocked the boat a little.

Bloom was clearly speaking from a place of genuine concern, and said he was trying to "warn people" and to "save lives". His concern for genocide, and how to stop it is what motivated him to start researching these issue, and what still drives him. There is no doubt in my mind about that, and personally I find his point of view very much worthy of consideration even when expressed in such an incensed rant. However, it appears clear to me that the dissenters in the audience did have at least one point: Bloom dropped the bombshell of "impending doom", then sort of indirectly suggested some kind of preemptive move to stop the danger of the Pakistani submarines, and left it at that. Well, sorry, but nobody can make that sort of statement, at a time like this, and then leave it at that saying, "I am not a military man", "I don't know what the right policy should be" and so on. Responsibility for those words is bound to be demanded, feelings are bound to be stirred and clashing opinions to be invoked. And quite frankly, as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. Controversy is a fitting note to end a Disinfo event on — and besides, even during the most heated moments, the atmosphere was more one of intellectual stimulation and humor than one of anger and degeneration of dialogue.

:: Conclusion ::

I left the Graduate Center thoroughly inspired by this highly unconventional event, and feeling fortunate to have been able to participate in it. Disinformation once again delivered the goods, once again it was able to commit another "random act of higher revolutionary mutation". What the three guest speakers had to offer blended into a strange cocktail that happily and quickly got under my skin — framed by Richard Metzger's narrative and vision, Ruskoff's, Coleman's and Bloom's contributions packed an undeniable cultural wallop.

With Douglas' exhortations to "take over a certain part of the media" in order to "find one another" still ringing in my ears, I walked away with the clear cognition of having experienced something real, something with a precise intention: waking me up and jolting me into an active state, one of greater participation in the co-creation of the reality around me. Stimulating a greater cognitive "literacy". Pointing once again the way to reclaiming of the media, that may allow us to reclaim authorship of the reality that we share.

All this and more may be found during an evening with The Disinformation Company, Ltd... If such things are your idea of a nourishing intellectual meal, you are probably starving out there — so follow the network, let's find one another, and once again — start bending reality.

April 18, 2004

brief notes, site redesign, even less blogging

This just to note that I won't be blogging very much for the next few days, either. The Corridor of Madness is about to undergo a major redesign. Stay tuned, it's going to look cool... I'm still in NYC, leaving Tuesday morning (about 2 days from now), and once I'm back on the Other Side I'll be posting more. Until then, I'll try to post a few important items (such as the Disinfo conference that took place on Friday night), but that's about it. The internet connection just started working again, too — in this old Manhattan apartment, the wires get soaked when it rains and the connection becomes completely unreliable... I could not live here.

More later... stay tuned.

April 13, 2004

Hellboy, and the thoughts it spawned

Just to make good on my recent promise: about Hellboy, I just want to mention one thing. If you want an actual review, do a search or read MadGhoul's for the more descriptive comments of a fellow blogger close to my own focus. What I will say (WARNING: spoilers approaching) is that, while as we all know the movie is a cartooney, inflated Hollywood blockbuster etc. etc. blah blah, I actually quite enjoyed it (for reasons I won't really go into) — except for one thing: The Big Letdown Moment(tm).

The BLM(tm) occurs at the crucial moment in the story when Hellboy, after re-embracing his demonic origins and at the exhortation of a triumphant Rasputin, is about to open the gates of Hell for good. At that point, the otherwise completely vapid, ineffectual and useless "other protagonist" (agent John Myers) tries to dissuade him, informing Hellboy that he has "a choice", the one that "your father gave you". There is a brief moment of utter dialogue autism (Rasputin: "You must do it!" - Myers: "No, you don't!"), then agent Myers whips out the secret weapon: a pendant in the shape of (ladies and gentlemen) a crucifix! He throws the thing at Hellboy, hitting his hand, where the cross leaves a burn mark, suggesting (you guessed it) a stigmata.
Severe teeth-grinding (mine) ensues.

Why? Why do they have to always do this? Why the constant, mind-numbingly repetitive pandering to the lamest feel-good Christian sensibilities? We know that the character just has to be turned at the very last minute from his evil ways, thereby inevitably saving the world. But would it not be better to at least having him do so more subtly? Oh wait, subtlety is obviously too much to hope for. Make that: ...at least without having to attach Christian icons to it?

OK, so I got a little carried away: they don't always, in a "constant, mind-numbingly repetitive" way, attach Christian icons to it. What's really going on is that I'm venting my long-repressed anger at seeing Jack Nicholson's Joker (one of the best villains on film of all times) die an ignominious death in the first Batman. I was 11 at the time, and I took it very personally. Yeah, that's it.

Anyway, The Big Letdown Moment(tm) in Hellboy continues until later in that same scene. Rasputin, finally accepting that he won't realize his long-cherished dream of being responsible for the ultimate devastation of the planet, admonishes Hellboy: "Now you will never come to understand the power within you" (or something along those lines). At this Hellboy shrugs, "I'll just have to learn to live with that". Great! Now, after tantalizing us for two thirds of the movie with the devilish coolness of the main character, they put subliminal, patronizing Right Hand Path propaganda in his mouth. Again, he could have saved the world (assuming that's the right thing to do) and avoided lameness, but no! We have to remind you that those faint, long-forgotten voices inside you calling for will, knowledge and self-actualization are BAD. You know, on the off chance you might actually start listening, some day. Who, I ask, is really responsible for Nietzsche continuing to be misunderstood to this day in the way the Nazis did, and his ideas made synonymous with Nazism? This moralistic bullshit is, that's who — certainly not Nietzsche himself.

This kind of train of thought followed me (or maybe it led me) all the way to an interesting Fortean Times interview with Gary Lachman, author of Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. In such interview, Lachman makes a point that he has already made in the book. Talking about the widespread thirst for an uncompromising plunge in the Unconscious, for going "beyond Good and Evil", that underlay the '60 occult resurgence, he says: "There's a certain point at which the hunger for [intense experiences] becomes so extreme and so overriding that it easily leads you into danger".

Fine, I thought, that's fair enough — Charlie Manson all by himself would be enough to buttress such an argument. But then, throughout the interview, I noticed that Lachman was sounding more and more like those people by whom — in his own words — "Nietzsche is always misunderstood". He takes Robert DeGrimston (former head of the Process Church of the Final Judgement, ex-Scientologist, all-around Mansonian character) and liquidates him as someone who advocates the destruction of the world because of his inability to handle the fact that "90 percent of our life is lukewarm mediocrity".

First of all, I have read DeGrimston's essays and nowhere did I find that he was saying "let's destroy the world". Rather, it seems to me he's affirming that the world and humanity are doomed to destruction, because humans refuse to make an effort to change their course (perhaps, you know, their lives are too mediocre?). Therefore, says DeGrimston, we (those who see this, who are determined to go beyond) would do well to detach ourselves from humanity, lest we suffer their same fate. A radical point of view, I grant you; extreme, if you wish. But he's not saying "let's destroy the world".

Secondarily, Lachman makes it sound as if it's so pathetic to fail to accept mediocrity in life. To that I just want to say: man, if NINETY PERCENT of your life is "lukewarm mediocrity", you've got a problem. Stop sweeping it under the rug, and acknowledge it — it's the first step to overcoming it. Fortunately, there's a whole world out there (at least as long as it lasts) in which you might find support and even help, if you know how to look. The last thing you need is that kind of resignation, along the lines of: oh well, when I was young I too strove for bigger and better things, but grownups know that "90% of life is lukewarm mediocrity". I mean, just how lame is that? As far as I'm concerned, pushing in any way the idea that life is mostly mediocrity, that we should all resign to that fact, should be considered an unforgivable betrayal of the human race — even if you believe that humans are an evil cancer bound for utter doom, which Lachman evidently does not.

Then there's the thing about how Aleister Crowley shouldn't be considered a hero, but rather a "moral lesson". Lachman "never understood the extent to which Crowley is admired". To him, Crowley is "the Romantic, decadent sensibility taken to an extreme. His life shows us its limits." So you realized that the Romantic, decadent sensibility has its limits! Oh what a big, fucking deal. You know Gary, some of us reject the idea that the failures and limitations of one man's life must be taken as a parable on how his entire way of life is flawed. We find it much more interesting (not to mention less oppressive and boring) to reflect upon the single failures and how they spur us to go beyond the accomplishments, however great or small, of those who came before us — Crowley, in this case. We have no use for "moral lessons", with their tendency to reduce everything to a smart-ass educational story pretending to teach us what life is about, and how to "succeed" in it. We don't believe that life ever succeeds — even the mightiest of strivings must necessarily end in death, along with the most moral, the most spiritual and so on. Yet we don't find this is reason enough neither to hold back nor to "destroy the world"; and we have nothing but contempt for those who point at the failure of one dream and sneer, disgustingly, at our attempts to realize dreams in general.

To be fair, I think Lachman may have been too young during the height of the 60's to really appreciate or connect with what was going on. There is a certain essential quality that's definitely missing from his words, as if he never really was a part of that "dream" he so subtly and rationally dissects. There is in his words — how to say this — the loud absence of even the smallest tribute to the importance of being there, participating in a TAZ of that import; as if it all came down to just this cultural event, all explainable (in retrospect!) in terms of the adolescent hunger for the extreme, and the need to fill the hole in the collective consciousness left by Kennedy, and blah, blah, blah. What about the immediate impact of it, Gary? What comes before all these cool concepts that your mind can juggle around so deftly? Did you get any of that along the way or did you just grow up in a hurry to find a nice, intelligent explaination for it all?

I guess that's what I'm getting at: there's not enough courage in Lachman's chronicle of the Sixties. Not enough attention paid to the positive things, the liberating things, the simply amazing, wondrous and unexplainable things — that is still my largest complaint with his book, which by the way I greatly enjoyed. Yet I can't help but feel like his main objective in writing it was making this sort of very dismissive point, putting a kind of wet blanket over it all; conceptually throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. I find that we need those far out and "dangerous" thinkers — DeGrimston like Manson, or like Cioran or add your favorite iconoclast here, with his/her complete lack of regard for "the light of civilization". Not because I necessarily agree with what they say, but because I think it's important for outrageous points of view to circulate.

These individuals are one thing as thinkers and another as people, who may have done horrible things, or incited others to do them, or simply lived a squallid life while aided and abetted by their own ideas. It's important to remain able to distinguish between the person and the ideas, so that we might catch those views and insights, often quite valid and precious (or if not, at least challenging and thought-provoking), that only dangerous minds can come up with. Otherwise we end up stamping the ideas out because of what their proponents did or were — and frankly I find this to be quite unfair to the ideas, if you get my drift.

Anyway, after I was done mulling over all this, and done reading the interview, I ended up following another link. And thus I ended up reading this post on filmmaker Brian Flemming's weblog, re: movies and drugs. The whole post is quite interesting, but with all of the above roaming free in my mind, I locked onto just one key passage -- the one in which he describes seeing the guy morph into a Grim Reaper beckoning him to come along and die... and he eagerly accepts the invitation!

See, that is a great image of exactly what I miss in Lachman's approach: the willingness to take that plunge, going for it even in the face of possible disaster. Can you imagine that moment in Brian's life? How would you have felt, deciding to let the Grim Reaper take you for a ride, even as your visions "warned" you that death would ensue? That is what I'm talking about. We humans need that ability to take the plunge and crash right through our illusions, risk that extreme gamble and accept that we might lose. We need it to be truly, fully human and alive. We need it at least once in a while, or our life will perhaps be longer, but still... 90 percent lukewarm mediocrity.

April 10, 2004

Monster Road

Continuing my chronicles from the past weekend, a few thoughts on Monster Road, the documentary about claymation master Bruce Bickford.

:: April 3rd, 2004 // San Francisco, Red Vic Movie House ::

Bickford is famous for having worked on Frank Zappa's movie Baby Snakes — or rather he was famous for a while, then descended into underground obscurity. As I write, he is holed up in the basement of his Seattle home, tirelessly churning out amazing claymation work which then piles up on his shelf — unseen by the public.

I went to the Red Vic to see the shorts featured in the Hi/Lo Film Festival, but it turned out that Saturday's 8pm program consisted solely of Monster Road, Best Documentary winner at Slamdance 2004. This turned out to be a wonderful, serendipitous way to see the movie; in the end I just bought the Hi/Lo DVD (containing about half of the shorts), kicked back and went with the flow.

The only regret I have is that Bruce Bickford himself, that very same night, was in person at Craig Baldwin's Other Cinema for a screening of the very same movie. Bummer. At any rate, I did catch the movie, and it was really quite uncanny. Bickford is an absolute genius of clay animation, and the movie features plenty of his work. As far as I'm concerned, the man fully qualifies as a Visionary Artist, and an astonishing one at that. He brings to life his fanciful, childlike and gutsy inner world, incarnating it in the tactile richness of clay, animating it through the flickering, lush imperfection of film. The results are often quite psychedelic, and it's easy to get lost in Bruce's world, one where everything keeps mutating into everything else, without any logical continuity of scale, meaning, context. Needless to say, the artist's pet obsessions are all there, and Bickford's "fanciful little cartoons" often take on quite the macabre and bloody form.

But the movie wouldn't be as great as it is, if it didn't do more than just allowing Bickford's creations to speak for themselves. Indeed it does much more, gently guiding us inside Bruce's daily life and his personal universe: Bruce's father plays another important role in the movie, and through his recollections and musings we are treated to an extremely intimate view of the context in which Bruce grew up. He also has Alzheimer; perhaps thanks in part to the fact his mind is on the way to deterioration, his reflections on life, death, philosophy, creation are truly moving and arrestingly honest.

The movie therefore immortalizes a wide-angle view of Bruce Bickford's personal and artistic universe as one single thing, showing us the incredible work of an unknown master with none of the typical artistic hype and self-consciousness. It is a beautiful testament to pure dedication; to a refusal to be restricted by social and cultural norms; to a poignant communion with the depths of one's own life, reshaped by the magic of imagination.

I sincerely hope that Bruce Bickford, during his own life, will succeed in his recent efforts to market his work more effectively. But even if he doesn't, filmmakers Brett Ingram and Jim Haverkamp have created a lasting tribute, a respectful, beautifully crafted portrait of a rare being and his art — a memory of his passage through the world.

April 08, 2004

Alex Grey — Visionary Art: Eye of the Soul

Well, I've arrived safely in NYC and taken temporary residency in the East Village. Yesterday was my first day in New York, though in some way (of course!) I feel I've been here plenty of times already. But I'll get to the present moment later, if such a thing is possible — I still have a bunch of recent experiences to digest; so right now, to kick off my April notes, let's go back a week to Alex Grey's lecture/presentation/slide show.

:: April 1st, 2004 // San Francisco, Ramada Plaza Hotel ::

Alex Grey's lecture, themed Visionary Art: Eye of the Soul, was quite rich. I keep calling it a lecture because that's what I thought I was going to attend, so I showed up with my voice recorder only to find out that there was a huge visual component to the thing, a type of information that my little digital toy wasn't able to store. I should've brought a camcorder, but that would have been sort of a pain, plus they might not have let me do it. I think they (that would be CIIS, I suppose) were recording the event themselves... who knows if/when/how a copy of it will be available? Am I the only one that wishes there was an easier access to this kinds of things? Say, an mpeg available online, right away, for a small fee? Is it just too much to ask or does nobody else care?

But I digress. The "lecture" as I was saying was more like a slide presentation; first a sampling of many visionary artists throughout history, then an exhaustive collection of Alex's work, from his paintings to his performance work. Finally, we were shown the ASTONISHING (yeah, I mean it) animation from the Tool video featuring Alex's depictions of the human figure and its anatomy, from the physical to the subtle, etheric and purely spiritual levels. Another animation brought us inside a virtual rendition of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a permanent installation of Alex Grey's art soon to open here in Manhattan, Chelsea to be exact.

The place promises to be stunning, a sort of psychedelic magico-spiritual temple powered by Alex's visions of the anatomy of body, mind and spirit. It's going to take a lot of money and work to realize this thing, though, and that's why the Grey family and the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors organization are asking for help. Coolest: one of the reasons they are opening the Chapel is that they hope to raise (ta-dah) Five Million Bucks to build "third millennium sacred architecture" to permanently house the collection. Today a temple, tomorrow a cathedral. I like these people.

Throughout the presentation Alex provided a running commentary, and when it came to his works he told some of the priceless stories behind them and behind his overall vision. Like when he got a job in a morgue to study human anatomy and started doing performances there (yes, inside the morgue), doing things like shutting himself inside a walk-in fridge in total darkness to experiment with sensory deprivation, and eventually exposing himself and his wife copulating in a glass case (yes, inside the morgue), to show and celebrate life in the midst of death. Or the time when he traveled to the north magnetic pole at Resolute Bay, Canada to follow the Earth's shifting magnetic energies, then proceeded to completely take off his clothes and ran in a circle until he couldn't feel his feet anymore. "I felt I had dissolved into a pure energy state and become one with the magnetic field surrounding the earth." Just back from Resolute Bay he was given, by one of his professors, a bottle containing a mix of Kahlua and LSD. After drinking about half of it (I know what you're thinking. But if I'd just come back from stomping around naked on the north magnetic pole, I might feel a little brazen too), he ended up at the party where he met his future wife Allyson, of course with a quick few stops in various far-out extradimensional bardos along the way.

In short, moments from a life lived, and still very much alive.
Alex Grey is blessed with a vision of huge proportions. He pursues it with courage and the firm intention to make a true, lasting and powerful contribution to the human community at large, with its desperate, endless need to cross the boundaries into a more integral collective consciousness. With the kind consideration of a bodhisattva, simple levity and humor, Alex is still charting the realms beyond our perception with the precision of a medical illustrator (somebody at the presentation jokingly insinuated about Alex Grey being related to Henry Gray, author of Gray's Anatomy). With every step of the journey, he does his part in celebrating the daring exploration of consciousness and reality, the richness of the human experience, the urgent necessity of evolution.

April 06, 2004

hiatus, continued

The pause in my blogging (not that I've ever been a truly regular blogger — working on that, too) will continue for a little while longer. I'm leaving for New York tonight, and will catch up about this last, wonderful weekend and other things from there.

The weekend in question consisted of attending a pre-workshop lecture by Alex Grey last Thursday, and a Saturday 3rd screening of Monster Road (one of the best movies I've seen in a long time) at the Red Vic. For good measure, I caught Hellboy on Sunday nite (MadGhoul saw it recently too, and already has a review). More about all that later.

Oh, and while in the Apple, I couldn't possibly miss this event, so I'll soon be telling you about that, too.
Over and out for now. Communications will resume when I get there...