To Stand In Place

A strong gust blew through the forest. The house sparrow chirped and fluttered his wings, as he bobbed up and down on the branch he perched upon. In nervousness of being a guest in someone else’s space, he tried to make small talk.

“So, you grew up around here, right?” The white oak, standing there firmly in the ground, simply said, “Yeah.” An awkward silence followed. Not knowing what interests a tree, the bird puffed up it’s feathers and cocked it’s head. The tree remained without expression.

The little bird knew that the tree’s family lived nearby. So trying to coax more out of him, he queried further about his childhood and schooling, but was unable to garner any enthusiasm about the tree’s own life. He decided to take a more direct tack.

“Do you have many happy memories?” Then quickly added, “Or unhappy?” There still was little response. All the white oak would say was that he didn’t care about the place he lived. One place is same as another, he explained, solidly rooted to the spot.

After a short visit, the anxious sparrow was glad to leave. He caught a breeze and darted away into the sky.

Beating the Bounds

It was the holidays. Family was gathered. They were clumped together in small groups in adjoining rooms. Where the father stood with his eldest son in the kitchen, the view was open into the main areas of the upstairs. The rest of the family milled about or were seated, many of them in conversations that overlapped across the open space. The mood was appropriately festive.

Everything seemed fine. There was laughter and smiles. Looking into the living room, the father saw his young granddaughter using pens and markers to draw a picture. The paper was sitting on an expensive ornamental rug. Having warned about this previously, he made a critical comment to his son, the father of the girl. That is how it began. The son didn’t respond, but the daughter-in-law did.

The daughter-in-law, who always heard everything anyone else said, typically became defensive of her daughter. The father, who usually avoided confrontation, didn’t back off this time. It wasn’t long before she was yelling. The granddaughter, sitting on the floor at her mother’s feet, was apparently oblivious to all that was happening; or else used to ignoring her mother’s tirades.

The child’s appearance of equanimity would not last long. The mother was now fuming mad. Glaring at her father-in-law, she grabbed her daughter by the wrist, yanked her up, and screamed, “You’re traumatizing her!” The girl, indeed, began crying. If she was not traumatized then, she would over her childhood learn to be traumatized. It was an important lesson to be internalized. It was a rite of passage into adulthood.

As the child’s head is hit at each boundary marker in the feudal custom of beating the bounds, egoic individuality also has to be imprinted through pain and suffering, abuse and fear. The most important point is not only that the boundaries of self must not be forgotten but that they must be associated with the earliest experiences of being hurt by those who are supposed to protect and care for the child.

Self-consciousness is defined by betrayal. The first demarcation to be established between self and other is the separation between child and mother. Then the child too can become an individual, if at first with the help of a favorite blankie or teddy bear. Then the proper social order will be ensured, the social order where everyone is alone, even when together. The greatest threat to society is the child who grows up never learning this. But this child did learn.

Now the holidays can continue. The incident will slip away, just something that happened. To keep the peace, a covenant of silence will seal the shared memory. Later in life, the child won’t recall what happened and no one will tell her about it. All she will have is a gnawing sense of anxiety, of mistrust. To help her fit into this society of other damaged individuals, she will go to therapy, take her meds, and keep her head down. Buried in the unconscious, a child still sits on the rug lost in drawing.

Lem On Humanity, Society And Meaning

Below are two passages from Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, a novel by Stanislaw Lem. It is an odd story, but I enjoyed the weirdness. There is plenty of conversation like the following.

* * * *

But I digress . . . Where were we? My field, yes. What does it mean? Meaning. And so we enter the realm of semantics. One must tread carefully here! Consider: from earliest times man did little else but assign meanings— to the stones, the skulls, the sun, other people, and the meanings required that he create theories— life after death, totems, cults, all sorts of myths and legends, black bile and yellow bile, love of God and country, being and nothingness— and so it went, the meanings shaped and regulated human life, became its substance, its frame and foundation— but also a fatal limitation and a trap! The meanings, you see, grew obsolete in time, were eventually lost, yet how could the following generations discard their heritage, particularly when so many of their worthy ancestors had been crucified for those nonexistent gods, or had labored so long and mightily over the philosopher’s stone, phlogiston , ectoplasm , the ether? It was considered that this layering of new meanings upon old was a natural, organic process, a semantic evolution— yet observe how a phrase like ‘great discovery’ is bled of sense, devalued, made common coin, until now we give it freely to the latest model of bomb . . . But do have some more cognac.”

And he filled my glass.

“And so,” continued Dolt with a thoughtful smile, adjusting his nose. “Where does this lead us? Demisemiotics! It’s quite simple, really, the taking away of meaning . . .”

“Oh?” I said, then bit my lip, ashamed of my own ignorance. He took no notice.

“Yes, meaning must be disposed of!” he said heatedly. “History has crippled us long enough with its endless explanations, ratiocinations, mystifications! In my work, we do not simply falsify atoms and doctor the stars— we proceed very slowly , methodically, with the utmost care, to deprive everything, absolutely everything, of its meaning.”

“But isn’t that really— a kind of destruction?”

He gave me a sharp look. The others whispered and fell silent. The old officer propped up against the wall continued to snore.

“An interesting observation. Destruction, you say? Consider: when you create something, anything, a rocket or a new fork, there are always so many problems, doubts, complications! But if you destroy (let’s use that inaccurate term for the sake of argument ), whatever else one may say about it, it is unquestionably clean and simple.”

“So you advocate destruction?” I asked, unable to suppress an idiotic grin.

“Must be the cognac,” he said, refilling my glass with a smile. We drank.

(Kindle Locations 2035-2053)

* * * *

“You mean, the Building is Nature itself?”

“Heavens, no! They have nothing in common beyond the fact that they are both ineffably perfect. And here you thought you were a prisoner in a labyrinth of evil, where everything was pregnant with meaning, where even the theft of one’s instructions was a ritual, that the Building destroyed only in order to build, to build only in order to destroy the more— and you took this for the wisdom of evil . . . Hence your mental somersaults and contortions. You writhed on the hook of your own question mark to solve that equation of horror. But I tell you there is no solution, no equation, no destruction, no instructions, no evil— there is only the Building —only— the Building—”

“Only the Building?” I echoed, my hair on end.

“Only the Building,” he echoed my echo, shivering. “This is not wisdom, this is a blind and all-encompassing perfection, a perfection not of man’s making but which arose from man, or rather from the community of man. Human evil, you see, is so petty and frail, while here we have something grand and mighty at work . . . An ocean of blood and sweat and urine! One thundering death rattle from a million throats! A great monument of feces, the product of countless generations! Here you can drown in people, choke on them, waste away in a vast wilderness of people! Behold: they will stir their coffee as they calmly tear you to shreds, chat and pick their noses as they outrage your corpse, and brew more coffee as it stiffens, and you will be a hairless, worn-out and abandoned doll, a broken rattle, an old rag yellow and forgotten in the corner . . . That is how perfection operates, not wisdom! Wisdom is you, yourself— or maybe two people! You and someone else, that intimate flash of honesty from eye to eye . . .”

I watched his deathly pale face and wondered where I’d heard all this before, it sounded so familiar. Then I remembered —that sermon, the sermon about choking, evil and the Devil, the sermon which Brother Persuasion told me was intended as provocation . . .

“How can I believe you?” I groaned. He shuddered.

“O sinner !!” he screamed in a whisper. “Dost thou still doubt that what may be a harmless conversation or joke on one level doth constitute , on another, legal action and, on yet another, a battle of wits between Departments? Verily, if thou followest this line of thought, thou shalt end up nowhere, since here anything, hence everything, leadeth everywhere!”

“You’ve lost me.”

“Treason is inevitable. But the Building’s purpose is to make treason impossible. Ergo, we must make the inevitable evitable. But how? Obliterate truth. What’s treason when truth is but another way of lying? That is why there is no place here for any real action, whether legitimate despair or honest crime— anything genuine will weigh you down, drag you to the bottom for good. Listen! Come in with me! We’ll form a secret alliance, a conspiracy of two! This will liberate us!”

(Kindle Locations 2333-2354)

A Useless Wrapper

Mike loved candy. He always had a stash of sweets at hand, and it was a short distance from hand to mouth.

More than anything, Mike liked to indulge his sugar addiction with hard candy, letting the sugar form a thick layer of deliciousness upon his teeth. Years of this activity caused his teeth to slowly decay and in their place grew new teeth of crystalized sugar.

Mike’s sugar-based diet had taken a toll on his health. He now lay dying, too weak to even lift another piece of candy to his mouth. Still, he felt no repentance for his gluttony. His last breath escaped him like a belch after a long gulp of pop.

God reached down into his stash of humans. ‘This one is ripe’, God said as he latched onto Mike’s limpid form.

God plucked the sugary teeth from Mike’s mouth. ‘No use for the wrapper’ God muttered, crumpling the now useless corpse and tossing it down toward hell. Mike’s discarded flesh dropped through the heavenly regions, a lonesome soul on a lonesome journey, downward and further down.

A passing angel took notice, swooped in on mighty wings, and used its talons to grasp the curious object falling from above. With a single thrust of wings, the angel returned to its perch among the clouds.

The angel added this new find to its nest, placing it with great care just in the right spot alongside some moss and a piece of string. Before the angel nestled down, Mike looked around and thought to himself, ‘The clouds look like cotton candy’.

“I’m a Republican because of social issues.”

The bars had just closed. She was a young attractive woman wearing a dress that accentuated her assets. She was probably a student at the local university with a bright future ahead of her. She was accompanied by a young man, also good looking and sharply dressed. They were having a discussion. As they sat down on a bench in the pedestrian mall, she said, “I’m a Republican because of social issues.”

Behind this young couple, another row of benches had other people on them. The couple didn’t seem to notice they weren’t alone as they were focused on one another. The other benches were all filled with mostly middle aged men. They were scruffy and for certainly they weren’t scantily clad as the young lady. Each of these men was alone on his respective bench, each laying down trying to get some sleep. Some of them probably heard the young lady’s comment, but none replied.

Review: The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem

Review: The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem

Posted on Jan 7th, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

I don’t enjoy most popular horror and I don’t normally buy horror to read, but this book attracted me.  It has nice cover art (you can judge a book by its cover), and I had noticed it at the bookstore for some time before finally deciding to get it.  I might write more about this later, but for now my review from Amazon…

It seems some people just didn’t get this book.  I suppose I understand their confusion.  Its a very experimental book in how it combines autobiography and story all the while doing this as a collaboration.  Its impressive considering how difficult a challenge this must have been.
I liked it.  There were some deep insights in this book and they avoided giving easy answers or simple stories.  Its not exactly a novel, but I wouldn’t go so far to say the label doesn’t apply.  There are many stories within the book.  More importantly, its about the process of making stories out of life experience and making sense of life experience through story.
There is a cleverness to this book, but it didn’t seem pretentious to me.  What the authors set out to do necessitated cleverness.  I enjoyed how smoothly they mixed nonfiction and fiction.
I was satisfied enough with this book that I give it an overall good review.  It was worth the money spent.  It wasn’t perfect, but its hard to imagine any two authors collaborating to create something better.  I’ve never read anything that compares to this book and so reviewing it is difficult.  Fortunately, I had no expectations going in and so I was able to judge it on its own merits.  However, if someone buys it hoping for a normal novel, then they’d be dissapointed.
There is something specific that I appreciated the most.  Horror is too often limited to the perspective of the individual.  This book is about how closely related are love and fear.
Its a hard book to get a grasp of, but I think it will grow on me more and more.  I immediately read back through the book after finishing it.  I’m sure its a book I will return to many times.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

i will probably never read it, but it’s interesting how strongly this book has attracted you.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

Its a very unusual book that attempts to convey a very difficult subject matter. The authors are a married couple. The book is a collaborative work about the very collaboration that is their shared life together. They are very different people and yet seem to balance eachother.

All of their children are adopted, and for whatever reason they seem attracted to somewhat troubled children. One of their sons hung himself when he was 9 years old, an age when a kid can’t even comprehend death.

They clearly demonstrate their love for eachother and for their children. I’ve never been married nor have had children, but I was completely able to understand and empathize.

The book isn’t about horror vs love, but about how horror and love flow into one another, how love demands risking ourselves to the horrors that can befall those we love. This book has the emotional impact that it does because the stories they share are so personal. They give you about as much of a glimpse into their lives as is possible for an author to give.

The book also goes beyond just this. Its about what makes life worth living, what keeps a person doing what they do, what they must do. And its about feeling wonder. Life is hard to make sense of and even story can only go so far. This book is about the limits of life and about looking beyond these limits to see what is there… even when we are afraid or maybe because we are afraid.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

it sounds very powerful.

Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Dick

Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Dick

Posted on Jan 1st, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

David Cronenberg is a director whose movies I often enjoy.  A favorite weird movie of mine is Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch which is loosely based on the novel by William S. Burroughs.  He definitely brought his own touch to that story and there are some common themes with his other movies: mixing of machine and biology, sexuality, the grotesque, etc. 

I’m not sure which movie he first developed these themes, but Videodrome was one of his early movies.  I was just watching eXistenZ which also uses these themes.  Its a decent movie if you’re into dark violent visions of artificial realities. 

What inspired me to write this blog is that there is a scene where the two main characters bought some fast food.  The name on the bag was Perky Pat’s which is a direct reference to the Philip K. Dick story.  The story is about how people get obsessed about the game that their lives revolve around it.  Cronenberg takes this idea in a different direction, but I’m sure PKD would’ve appreciated what he did with it.

Basically, I was just pointing out Cronenberg as one of the contemporary meeting points between WSB and PKD.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 20 hours later

Nicole said

that must be some movie!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

I watched eXistenZ again for a couple of reasons. Quentin S. Crisp mentioned it in his blog recently. Crisp thought it was the best alternative reality movie ever, but I’m not sure what he was comparing it to. After reading Crisp’s comment, I happened to be at the library where I noticed a copy and so checked it out.

I’m glad I did. I had more respect for it watching it again. Cronenberg does play with some fairly deep ideas. The first time I watched eXistenZ I thought of it as nothing but a novel SciFi action flick. I personally don’t agree with Crisp that its the best, but I disagree because I don’t feel that its directly comparable to other alternative reality movies such as The Matrix Trilogy or Dark City.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

right, how can you really compare these movies? so, worth watching then?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

I doubt you’d like much that Cronenberg has made. He has made a lot of films though, and I haven’g watched most of them. I was reading the description of M. Butterfly and you might enjoy it.

Cronenberg is most famous for the movieThe Fly. That is more representative of his oeuvre. I find many of his movies fascinating, but the only one that I’ve watched repeatedly many times is Naked Lunch.

There is a couple reasons.

First, it felt a lot more polished than his earlier movies. He really was taking his favorite themes to a new level… maybe because he was using the work of another artist as the starting point.

Secondly, I’m also attracted to this movie because its a portrayal of Burroughs novel which itself is a fictional portrayal of part of his own life. Petter Weller plays the part of William Lee (Burroughs) perfectly. Both my friend and I are longtimefans of Borroughs, and so I’ve watched this movie with him numerous times.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

it’s great you have such a friend, Marm. It enriches these experiences.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I’m sure I’d be a different person if not for him. If it weren’t for our friendship, I probably wouldn’t have the interest I have in fiction.

We have this odd pattern. Often, when one of us is reading fiction, the other is reading non-fiction. As I was wanting to get back into fiction, I was telling him he needs to stop reading fiction all of the time.

Also, you can entirely blamemy friend forall of my blogging about horror. He reads horror all of the time and tells me about the stories. I wouldn’t even know about Quentin S. Crisp if it wasn’t for him.

It is rather strange to have had a close friend since childhood. Its seems rather uncommon in these days of people moving around all of the time. It also helps that neither of us is marriednorhas acareer. Life is good! lol

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

LOL!

Marmalade : Gaia Child

4 days later

Marmalade said

Hey Nicole – I’ve been noticing a new glitch in the system. All my recent posts show up as missing spaces between words. I can fix it by editing, but its seems an odd glitch. Have you noticed this happening to your comments?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

5 days later

Nicole said

No. But I have noticed extra indents. We seem to be having the opposite problems 🙂

William S. Burroughs as a Character

William S. Burroughs as a Character

Posted on Dec 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Burroughs is different from Philip K. Dick.  Whereas PKD was the first to use himself as a character, Burroughs had been made a character before he even was published himself. 

That would be a tough act to follow.  He had the shadow of someone else’s fame over him (Kerouac), and the popularity and mythos of the whole Beat movement.  Burroughs had to attempt to claim himself not only as a writer but also as his own person.  Fortunately, he wasn’t one to follow on the coattails of the fame of others.  He was certainly a way better writer than Kerouac, and he was quite distinct from all of the Beat writers.

Finding works that Burroughs is in is rather difficult.  I’m not sure how many books in which Kerouac placed a Burroughs character, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other Beats had also used him as a character.  Burroughs is much more a cultural icon than PKD.  I don’t know how to even begin to seek out fictional works that feature him, but I’ll offer what little I know at present.

As far as I can figure, William S. Burroughs first appeared as Bill Lee in Kerouac’s On the Road.  Burroughs used this name later in his own work.  He might of initially used it in Junky which he did intentionally to play off of Kerouac’s work.  He chose to continue this mythologizing.  He later used this name in other Works such as Naked Lunch which was supposedly a name given it by Kerouac.  I don’t know if there are any other names that Burroughs went by in his fiction or the fiction of others.

Novels:

The works of Jack Kerouac

Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas
(A recent novel that mixes the mythos of the Beats with the Mythos of Lovecraft’s Cthulu.)

Movies:

Drugstore Cowboy written and directed by Gus Van Sant
(Burroughs acts the character of a defrocked priest named Tom.  He is loosely playing a character that is a mix of himself and his own fictional characters.)

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Philip K. Dick as a Character

Philip K. Dick as a Character

Posted on Dec 27th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Besides PKD making himself a character in his own work (ie VALIS as Horselover Fat), I wanted to list all of the books that have used him as a fictional character.  I decided to create this list because I haven’t seen a complete list anywhere online which is quite impressive considering how many websites relate to PKD’s work.  There might be more, but here are the only books I’ve discovered so far.

Novels:

Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas by Michael Bishop

The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Anthology of short stories:

Welcome to Reality: The Nightmares of Philip K Dick edited by Uwe Anton

Edit: I removed Philip K. Dick High by David Bischoff because I’m not sure that PKD is actually a character in it.  Maybe I’ll read it someday to find out.  It was this review I was looking at and he mentioned a book of short stories I added to the list.

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Authors Connected?

I’ve been repeatedly mentioning several authors in my recent blogs. While I’m at it, I want to bring in two other authors that I haven’t mentioned in a while. The two other authors are George P. Hansen and Patrick Harpur. I wrote about them when I was thinking about the paranormal and they influenced my ideas in my blog about the Enactivism Symposium. I was thinking about these two specifically in reference to Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson.

The connection might not be obvious even for some strange person who spent their time closely reading my blog. Hansen and Harpur write about the relationship between “reality” and the paranormal. Nelson and Wilson write about the relationship between culture and religion. The connection between them revolves around the mythological and the archetypal.

There is a reason I wanted to bring in Hansen and Harpur. They both speak to what the spiritual means in terms of our actual experience and our attempt to objectively know reality. I admire the insight of Nelson and Wilson, but speaking in terms of culture can put a distance to the ideas. Wilson does resonate with my personal experience fairly well. The main limitation to his writing is that he is so focused on certain traditions… even if they’re traditions that I’m attracted to.

Harpur, maybe more than any of them, has helped me to understand what exists beyond our physical senses and rational knowledge. The concept of the imaginal is centrally important to me.  It gives a point of reference to understand where both atheists and theists can go wrong in their beliefs. The imaginal also gives a point in between story and reality, the source of mythology.

Harpur refers to Hillman’s polytheistic psyche, and Hillman would be opposed to Campbell’s Monomyth. I, however, don’t feel certain of any conflict. There is an autonomy of archetypes that can’t be unified in a simple manner, but neither are archetypes exactly like Platonic ideals. Still, archetypes are all related. I’d even argue that archetypes are primarily relational before anything else. Its this relational dimension that grounds archetypes in stories. Also, for whatever its worth, it brings to my mind the Buddhist notion of dependent co-arising.

* * *

I’m starting to confuse myself. That is fine. I’m sure it all makes sense somehow.

I think that my mind as of late is a bit split between two lines of thought.

First off, part of me wants to make some sense out of what I at times perceive as a hellish world. Horror isn’t really a genre. Its an experience that you’ve had and understand… or else not.

Secondly, I’m just fascinated by stories and myths. This relates to suffering but isn’t limited to it. We use stories to make sense of suffering it is true. Stories wouldn’t make any motivating force without suffering even if only on the level of basic conflict. If there is no antagonist, there is no story. However, I don’t think this is what attracts me to stories. Stories can make me forget suffering, make the world seem to have some kind of purpose or order… and sometimes a really good story (such as The Fountain) can offer a deeper insight.

These two aspects conflict. Stories represent enjoyment and meaning. Suffering, when experienced deeply enough, undermines any sense of order or insight that a story might offer. However, is this problematic. We’re all drawn to stories about characters (real or fictional) like Jesus, but in our suffering we feel drawn beyond the story itself.

I don’t know. Does that make sense?

* * *

There is another blog of mine that has very similar subject matter. Its about a specific archetypes that are related: Trickster, the Primal Man, the Titan/Giant, the Hero, and the Savior… also, the Divine Child and Shadow. These archetypes are especially central to the Monomyth.

Myth, Religion, and Social DevelopmentMyth, Religion, and Social Development