Battle In Seattle: A Personal Response

I just watched the film Battle In Seattle.

I don’t have any grand opinion about it’s quality as entertainment. It isn’t great art, but it did hold my attention. More importantly, it’s about as close as Hollywood usually ever comes to even slightly grasping the reality of a major grassroots protest… which isn’t necessarily saying a lot. It is worthy in how it gives one some idea of what it might feel like to be at such an event. But, of course, it inevitably leaves out a lot of context and substance. It’s only a movie, afterall. In order to have any real understanding, you would’ve had to been there and have read tons of material about it.

I realize many people criticize the film because of its failings, but I’m annoyed by people who criticize it with an attitude of superiority. It’s just a fucking movie. Anyway, it introduces a lot of people to an event that they would otherwise be ignorant about. It might even inspire some people do some research to learn something new.

Anyway, here is one scene that caught my attention:

Sam: “How do you stop those who stop at nothing?”

Jay: “You don’t stop.”

You could say that it’s just cheesy dialogue (“The conversations are made up of clichés or slogans.”), but that misses the point. Cheese or not, it is still true. That is the 64 million dollar question. I feel that question gnawing at my mind (not the exact wording, but the sentiment of the question). It’s always there. The character realizes that those with power control everything including the media. This protest was before the rise of the internet as we now know it. The average person couldn’t easily put videos on the web and have it go viral. Still, even with the internet today, most people feel just as powerless. The mainstream media only reports what is in the interest of the corporations that own the media.

Why did the protests fail? Was it because of the violence? No. If it had been completely peaceful, it would have had even less impact and would now be forgotten. It wasn’t a complete failure. The problem is the media won’t pay attention until they are forced to pay attention. Even when they are forced, they will still just spin the story. Seattle didn’t succeed for the simple reason it was only one protest. Imagine, however, if protests like that had been going on in every major city around the US and around the world all at the same time.

But that wasn’t the real reason I wanted to post about this movie. I was curious about the lines I quoted above and so did a websearch. I found two reviews which both portrayed different versions of an attitude of superiority.

The first reviewer is someone who apparently is an activist and he feels superior out of some sense of haughtiness. His review had two parts (here is the first part), but it was the second part that interested me where he has some minor commentary on the above scene. His commentary lacks any deep insight and so I won’t quote it, just wanted to point it out as an example. The author seemed to be expressing garden variety cynicism… and was looking down upon mere mortals who might enjoy this movie as an introduction to a major event in US history. I guess he is too cool for any movie made for the masses.

The second reviewer annoyed me even more and I will quote the relevant section below. Basically, the reviewer was entirely ignorant of this major event despite his working in the media at the time. He acts nonchalant, maybe even slightly proud, about his own ignorance. And then he blames the movie for not lessening his ignorance (considering the degree of his ignorance, that is probably expecting too much out of a movie based on a complex event).

The funny thing about this real-life incident is that I was alive and well and conscious and even working at a newspaper in 1999, and yet I have no memory of it whatsoever. I’m guessing I read the news stories, saw “World Trade Organization,” had no idea what that was or why people were protesting it, and stopped reading before I got to the good part, i.e., the part where cops were busting hippie skulls.

The film is kind of terrible. It makes almost no effort to explain the protesters’ grievances against the WTO, instead assuming that we will be on their side regardless. One of the characters even makes a joke about how the general public doesn’t know what the WTO is; all they know is that it’s bad. So, OK, ha ha, interesting comment, but it kinda undermines the WHOLE POINT OF YOUR MOVIE.

Also undermining the movie: the terrible, terrible dialogue. I quote some of the more generic examples:

“The press would have a field day!”

HE: “You know nothing about me!”
SHE: “I’ve been around men like you all my life.”

(Spoken to a pregnant woman.) “You want adventure? You just signed up for the greatest adventure of all!”

“You’re gonna turn downtown into a war zone!”

“How do you stop those who stop at nothing?”

So … yeah. “Battle in Seattle.” The minute I saw this film, I knew it was poo.

I’ve noticed there are many other films about the WTO protests in Seattle:

Showdown In Seattle

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

I noticed that some people highly recommend them, but I haven’t watched them. So, I can’t say anything about them, much less compare them to the Battle In Seattle. But let me end with someone defending the relevance of the Battle In Seattle (emphasis mine):

The issue that Battle in Seattle filmmaker Stuart Townsend seeks to raise, as he recently stated, is “[what it takes] to create real and meaningful change.”

The question is notoriously difficult. In the film, characters like Martin Henderson’s Jay, a veteran environmental campaigner driven by a tragedy experienced on a past logging campaign, and Michelle Rodriguez’s Lou, a hard-bitten animal rights activist, debate the effectiveness of protest. Even as they take to Seattle’s streets, staring down armor-clad cops (Woody Harrelson, Channing Tatum) commanded by a tormented and indecisive mayor (Ray Liotta), they wonder whether their actions can have an impact.

Generally speaking, the response of many Americans is to dismiss protests out of hand-arguing that demonstrators are just blowing off steam and won’t make a difference. But if any case can be held as a counter-example, Seattle is it.

The 1999 mobilization against the World Trade Organization has never been free from criticism. As Andre 3000’s character in the movie quips, even the label “Battle in Seattle” makes the protests sound less like a serious political event and more “like a Monster Truck show.” While the demonstrations were still playing out and police were busy arresting some 600 people, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman issued his now-famous edict stating that deluded activists were just “looking for their 1960s fix.” This type of disregard has continued with the release of the film. A review in the Seattle Weekly dismissively asked, “Remind me again what those demonstrations against the WTO actually accomplished.”

While cynicism comes cheap, those concerned about global poverty, sweatshop labor, outsourced jobs, and threats to the environment can witness remarkable changes on the international scene. Today, trade talks at the WTO are in shambles, sister institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are now shriveled versions of their once-imposing selves, and the ideology of neoliberal corporate globalization is under intense fire, with mainstream economists defecting from its ranks and entire regions such as Latin America in outright revolt. As global justice advocates have long argued, the forces that created these changes “did not start in Seattle.” Yet few trade observers would deny that the week of protest late in the last millennium marked a critical turning point.

Quotes: the Gothic, the Gnostic, and the Rational

The Secret Life of Puppets
by Victoria Nelson
pp. 18-19:

At the same time, however, this demonology is the only avenue open to the transcendental.  “You can raise issues in the horror genre that you can’t raise so easily in other types of films,” a Hollywood screenwriter once ingenuously explained, adding, “Characters can talk about the existence of God in a horror movie, whereas in other films that would be incredibly pretentious.”  Ironically, beacause of the old Reformation link between Catholicism and the supernatural, the only means for defending oneself against the Devil in these narratives is always represented as a potpourri of faux rituals rendered in Latin or Greek and always erroneously attributed to the Catholic Church, to the unending aggravation of that church’s worthies, who might be less upset if only they reflected on the unavoidable implication—that the Protestant mainstream unconsciously perceives its own rituals as utterly inadequate for warding off demons.

p. 19:

Lacking an allowable connection with the transcendent, we have substituted an obsessive, unconscious focus on the negative dimension of the denied experience.  In popular Western entertainments through the end of the twentieth century, the supernatural translated mostly as terror and monsters enjoyably consumed.  But as Paul Tillich profoundly remarked, “Wherever the demonic appears, there the question of its correlate, the divine, will also be raised.”

p. 28:

Far from being mutually exclusive, nous and logos share this common denominator of human consciousness, a field that remained constant while its content and focus have swung like a pendulum between the two modes.  For the gnosis-oriented authors of the Corpus Hermeticum tractates, consciousness was not only humanity’s distinguishing characteristic but the special feature that connected us with the divine.  This position  was counterbalanced by the materialist views of their contemporaries the Stoics and Skeptics; indeed, many Greeks and Romans of the time openly mocked graven images.  And, as Susanna Elm argues, far from being a “decline into belief” as is usually supposed, the radical iconoclasm of Judeo-Christianity, learnedly argued first by the rabbis and then by the early Christian fathers, represented a scientific revolution of rational discourse that supplanted the gnosis-dominated cults and religions of Late Antiquity analagous to the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, which performed a similar function in relation to the Catholic Church a millennium later.

Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film
by Eric G. Wilson
p. 26:

Gnostic films understandably migrate toward the gothic genres—science fiction pictures devoted to ambiguous relationships between humans and machines; fantasy movies exploring blurred boundaries between dream and reality; noir movies hovering on the boundary between psychic projection and brute fact; horror films fraught with ambiguous meldings of monstrosity and miracle.  There are historical reasons behind this connection between the Gnostic and the gothic. As Victoria Nelson has shown, ever since the early modern age, esoteric ways of knowing including Gnosticism, Cabbala, and alchemy, have been pushed to the margins of culture.  There on the edges these heretical visions have attracted the aesthtic mediums rejected by mainstream institutions.  This confluence of occult religion and underground expression reached full force in the pulpy sub-world of the twentieth century, the lurid realm of weird tales, comic books, and gothic movies. These historical connections are valid and interesting.  However, as I have been suggesting, there are also deep epistemological reasons for the merger between Gnostic vision and gothic cinema.  Both modes are dependent upon mental failure: the inability of the rational mind to reconcile opposites and of the physical world to transcend dualistic conflict.  However, these failures offer success: the possibility of the mind finding knowledge beyond reason, of the world dissolving into a unity beyond time.

Blade Runner: Rick Deckard

“I need you Deck. I need the old Blade Runner. I need your magic.”

Rachael
: May I ask you a personal question?
Deckard: Sure.
Rachael: Have you ever retired a human by mistake?
Deckard: No.
Rachael: But in your position that is a risk.

Rick Deckard is based on the stereotype of the film noir detective.  He is a loner with old ties with the police, and is hired again by the police to be a replicant bounty hunter(blade runner).  Initially, he sees the world in simple terms, a man of action and not of thought.  When he had been a blade runner earlier in his life, replicants were less developed.  Now, they’re even starting to implant memories in replicants.  Such a replicant(Rachel) ends up playing the damsel-in-distress role to his hero.

The question of Deckard being a replicant has been asked many times.  Harrison Ford said that he and the director Ridley Scott had agreed before making the movie that Deckard wasn’t a replicant.  But Ridley Scott has said that Deckard is a replicant, and he says that Harrison Ford now accepts this about the character.  Nonetheless, when Harrison Ford was playing the role, he apparently was acting it as if he were human.

Maybe this confusion is fitting because Deckard himself can be read as being confused by his situation.  The evidence for his realizing he is a replicant has to do with his unicorn dream.

He has this dream shortly after his speaking with Rachel about her implanted memories.  Near the end of the movie, the detective Gaff leaves an origami unicorn at Deckard’s apartment.  This implies that Gaff knows Deckards innermost dreams and this could only be so if they were implanted.

Deckard’s apartment was created in the studio, using the block motif from the Ennis-Brown house. Quoting from Future Noir:

Continuing with Lawrence Paull’s notion that “every Blade Runner set was designed to generate an emotional aura,” the interior of Deckard’s apartment (whose number is 9732, and was erected on Stage 24A of The Burbank Studios) was built to reflect both the idea of Deckard’s bachelorhood and the enclosed, oppressive atmosphere of his manner of employment.

Deckard’s apartment was designed by Syd Mead. The set representing that apartment was composed of an entry hall, bathroom, bedroom, living, and dining room. To help select the apartment’s fixtures and furnishings, Lawrence Paull used an early 1980s book of futuristic illustrations, High Tech, as “an inspirational guide.”

From Wikipedia:

It has been suggested that Rick Deckard’s name may be a punnish reference to René Descartes, whose philosophical writings include several on the topic of what is and is not human, as well as the concept of the human body as a machine. This interpretation is reinforced by the reference to his famous statement “I think, therefore I am“, by the character Pris (to the robotics engineer/scientist J. F. Sebastian)[4]:

Access_public Access: Public 10 Comments Print // Post this!views (3,690)

Nicole : wakingdreamer

35 minutes later

Nicole said

My God! I never even realised that origami was a unicorn, and definitely not what it meant. I did suspect he was a replicant and that he doubted, while wanting to believe he was human. But I wonder how Harrison understood the unicorn origami, if he was being told that Deckard was human?

And I didn’t see the connection with Descartes but now it’s obvious. Cogito ergo sum. Wow.

So he was a replicant who was made to destroy replicants, while believing himself to be human. How sick is that? And at the same time, how absolutely true to life is it?

We believe we are different from others and so we despise and hurt. But we are all the same and need to nurture, protect and love each other.

Wow, Ben. This really hits me hard. I’m tearing up here.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

There is much that can be gone into about this character.

The Descartes connection is the aspect that I would never have thought of on my own.  Eric G. Wilson mentions it in his books.  He writes about how Descartes believed humans were machines and souls at the same time, and that totally relates to Deckard’s job as a blade runner.  His job is to discern whether a humanoid has a soul or is simply a machine.

It does add a lot of depth to the movie when you accentuate the conflict Deckard has in his wondering if he is human.  Its downplayed in the movie.  Someone watching it as an action flick would never even notice it.  His being a replicant hunting replicants is sad, but the whole implanted memory thing is heart-wrenching.  The most emotional scene in the whole movie is when Rachel realizes that her childhood memories aren’t her own, that her whole life has been a lie.

The implanted memory idea is similar to the movie Dark City.  In that movie, aliens acting like gnostic archons are manipulating human memory in their attempt to discover the essence of humanity.  Of course, the Matrix movies also play around with that idea.

Anyways, the whole questioning of identity and reality goes back to Philip K. Dick.  Its interesting to consider Blade Runner in light of A Scanner Darkly where the main character is even more confused and questioning.  In both movies, there is also a theme of betrayal and manipulation as we spoke of earlier.  Deckard is being used by the authorities in the same way that Bob Arctor was.  Deckard thinks he is in control of his life, but he is just another pawn like Roy.

One very important detail is that Roy saves Deckard because he doesn’t beg for his life.  Its only after Deckard spits at him that Roy saves Deckard.  Roy was a soldier and respected someone who fought back.  That whole scene is so pivotal and so hard to understand.  Deckard’s character changes as he sees how Roy changes as Roy approaches his own death.  In some ways, Deckard takes the place of Roy.  His decision to try to save Rachel makes him a criminal who will be hunted down just as he once was the hunter.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 12 hours later

Marmalade said

The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film
Edited by Steven M. Sanders
“What Is It To Be Human? Blade Runner and Dark City”
By Deborah Knight and George McKnight

p.25: “Both Deckard and Murdoch must determine just which broacer schemes they are pawns in.”  “Deckard must reexamine his own identity when it ocurs to him that if he is a replicant, he may, like Roy and the other Nexus 6 moodels, have a very limited lifespan.  These narrative twists display the fatalistic element of film noir, where Deckard and Mrudoch must struggle to regain control over their circumstances.  Until they sort out the schemes they are each inadvertantly part of, neither Deckard nor Murdoch fully understands what he is caught up in or the potential consequences that lie in wait.  Only when they understand  these things can they take actioln to extricate themselves.  At the same time, both Deckard and Murdoch must discover who they are.”

The authors write about the events that relate to Deckard’s questioning his identity.  They mention the origami unicorn scene at the end, and they mention another scene which has to do with photographs.

The replicants have implanted memories, but they also have photographs that they’re given to work as memory devices, to make the memories seem more real.  Leon had returned to get his photographs but was unable because the police had already arrived there.  Leon knew his memories were false and yet he was still attached to the photos.  The authors mention how Deckard had examined Leon’s photos and he realizes one of his own family photos is identical.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 12 hours later

Nicole said

the more i think about all this, the more complex and troubling it becomes. wow, the parallels to Scanner are really strong…

i’m going to have to ponder the implications of him being a replicant some more

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 21 hours later

Marmalade said

In A Scanner Darkly, Bob Arctor is a drug addict narcing on drug addicts.
In Blade Runner, Rick Deckard is a replicant hunting replicants.

In both movies, Arctor and Deckard work for the police and it is the police that are manipulating them and withholding information.  Also, there are mega-corporations that are more powerful than the police, and these mega-corporations falsely present themselves as working for the good of society.

Both worlds are dystopias where normal human relationships have broken down.  For instance, neither movie presents an example of the modern ideal of the nuclear family.  All of the characters are presented as individuals with fleeting relationships with eachother.

Both characters have become isolated within themselves and yet want to connect with others.  But both need to first determine who they are as individuals.  Both question even if their memories are real.  Arctor remembers having had two little girls which he is told he didn’t, and Deckard wonders if any of his past is real.

Both Arctor and Deckard are prototypical PKD protagonists.  And both Donna and Rachel are prototypical PKD love interests.  Donna is deceiving Arctor about his identity and Rachel is antagonizing Deckard’s self-questioning.  In both relationships, the protagonist seems uncertain about the woman he is in relationship with.  Are Donna’s feelings for Arctor real?  Are Rachel’s gestures of intimacy genuine?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

i questioned Rachel’s love too… not sure whether it was the weak acting (am I too harsh? I was distinctly unimpressed by that actor) or the direction but she did not seem to be clearly in love with him.

And as you know I have doubts about Donna’s feeling for Arctor. I think she was too conflicted to love him, and as a woman I didn’t really see the telltales I would have expected. She was using him.

I was trying to discuss this with dailyplanit yesterday but he has not seen Blade Runner so he couldn’t compare… but he found your blog interesting, I think.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

I don’t know if it was weak acting, but the portrayal of the relationship between her character and Deckard was dissatisfying.  I wanted more focus on it in the story.  Instead, the focus was more on Deckard’s interactions with Roy… because, I suppose, the conflict was more straightforward and made for good action.  It is interesting that in both movies the love relationship is mostly on the side, important but not exactly central to the plot.

Another thing I just now was thinking about is that…
Roy is sorta the equivalent to Jim Barris(Robert Downey Jr.) and
J. F. Sebastian is kinda like Ernie Luckman(Woody Harrelson)

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

yes, very true about the focus… is that a more male approach? forgive me if i’m being judgmental but the feminine is usually to prioritise love and give it the central place, but the masculine is often, or so it seems to me, to refer to it as if it’s almost peripheral…

in a sense the love relationship is important, yes perhaps, but in both movies it’s so compromised as to call into question not only that love relationship but love itself – do we really love each other? the movies seem to me to ask. can we really love each other?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

7 days later

Marmalade said

I couldn’t tell ya if that is a more male approach, but it could be.  It could just be PKD showing through.  He had a very up and down relationship with the women folk.

When he was attracted to a woman, there was an absolute intensity that probably scared off many women.  This side of PKD isn’t being shown in these 2 movies.  Beyond the enfatuation stage, PKD did prioritize his work over women.  I’m sure that he at times felt a conflict between the two.  Also, he seems to have had a bit of a problem with first idealizing women and then demonizing them.  Women get a bit of the short shrift in much of his fiction… in particular the earlier books.

I’m going to have to consider this angle some more.  I think David Deida agrees that men prioritize work over women… and he says that is the way it is meant to be, how men are psychologically designed.  Deida goes so far as to say that most women prefer men who don’t make them their first priority.  What do you think?

And how would a woman tell a story about humans, androids, and love?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

8 days later

Nicole said

i do think men prioritise work over women – i observe that most women even very driven professional women like myself tend to prioritise love in terms of whether or not they feel successful, while men will look to their work to gauge success even if they are happy or unhappy in love. so it’s not just PKD and because Sci Fi as a genre is heavily male dominated in terms of authors and read mostly read by men and boys, it tends to be much more focussed on ideas, tech, action etc rather than the love relationships that appear more incidentally.

a woman would tell a story about humans androids and love with all the intricate relationships at the forefront. there would have been a lot more development of the two main love affairs, and probably more drawing out of the other more subtle relationships, more of a feeling of family between the replicants, etc

Avatar: Imagination & Culture

I finally went to see the movie Avatar.  It took me a while to convince my friend to go with me. He doesn’t usually like SciFi, but I think he enjoyed it.  I can understand why this movie has made so much money.  I’m glad I saw it and I’d be happy to watch it again.

I want to say something about the larger meaning and impact of this movie, but first I’ll point out my immediate response to it as entertainment.  Even though it was mostly what I expected, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of its production.  It was a truly immersive experience.  It did, however, take me a while to get into. 

First, I don’t often watch 3D movies and it was initially odd trying to get forget the rectangular screen framing the 3D effects.  In a normal movie, it’s easier to forget the shape of the screen itself.  That wasn’t really an annoyance per se… just something I was aware of.

The second thing was that the indigenous people of Pandora were essentially just very large blue Native Americans.  Their language and facial features all had elements of the Native American people (along with bows and arrows and weird large horse-like creatures).    I eventually just had to accept that large blue Native Americans could actually exist on other planets and just go with the story.

I’ve noticed that other reviewers have pointed out that the story isn’t all that original.  That is true to an extent.  White soldier goes native and helps the natives fight the evil invading military.  There are many other movies with a more original vision of an alternative world, but the central conceit of the movie (the avatar bodies) was an original twist.  I don’t care if a story is all that original as long as it is told well.  Most stories aren’t original.  Even the story of Jesus isn’t an original story and that has never lessened its popularity.

So, was the story of Avatar told well?  I think so.  I was immersed in the world.  The character development was limited, but I genuinely cared for the fate of the characters and I was saddened when the large tree was destroyed.  The movie probably would’ve been better if done as a trilogy.   But, even as is, I was more than satisfied.

The real reason I wanted to write a review is because of thoughts I had of its larger cultural context.  I have heard that conservatives really don’t like this movie.  Even the Vatican made an official statement of criticism.  I’m not surprised.  I don’t think it’s an overestimation to say that this movie will have some impact on the collective attitude of our society.  It is a movie that is full of messages and conveyed in a very entertaining and compelling way.

As an adult, this movie is impressive even if only for the special effects… but, to a child or young adult, this movie is the type of experience that could help shape the mindset of an entire generation.  The youth today are already very liberal in most ways because of various demographic shifts.  Conservatives dominated most of the twentieth century with their formulation of the cultural war.  Conservatives have been very good at controlling the cultural narrative and the group that controls the narrative controls all social and political dialogue. 

Liberals have been challenged in recent decades.  The conservatives managed to reframe progressivism as socialism and communism, as big government, as intellectual elitism.  But liberalism was never entirely limited to progressivism or not any simple notion of progressivism.  The liberal vision was never solely or centrally about creating a new society.  Rather, the liberal vision was about basic human rights, about empowering the common person.

Avatar has deep resonance with struggles that have been going on throughout US history and world history.  I’m just about finished with my second reading of The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.  If you want to understand why this movie matters, read some of Jensen’s writings.  Avatar is, in some ways, a simple story but it is also a story that is communicating some basic truths about our culture.  The evil military guy may seem like an exaggerated stereotype.  However, I would argue that he is a fairly realistic portrayal of a certain kind of person.  Jensen goes into great detail about US history and there have been plenty of military (and non-military) people who have had the same basic attitude and who have said very similar things.  Sadly, this character isn’t an exaggeration.  There really have been (and still are) people like him and they really did try to get rid of any culture that got in the way of their ideology or profits.  For certain, the US government’s treatment of Native Americans wasn’t an isolated event(s). 

In the early 20th century, the workers union movement was connected with the beginnings of the civil rights movement.  These progressive movements were led by working class people.  For example, the Wobblies fought against unfair pay and immoral working conditions.  What was interesting about the Wobblies is that they didn’t refuse blacks and women from joining.  It was a truly egalitarian progressive movement that happened decades prior to Martin Luther King, jr.  And, yes, the Wobblies were violently put down by the government.

The first World War undermined this movement even further because patriotism has a way of redirecting public outrage to convenient foreign enemies.  In place of these progressive movements, arose the renewed KKK.  The KKK was different in that its membership was mostly middle and upper class.  The KKK was a gentlemen’s club and not an organization defending the common man… although it did play off the dissatisfaction and anger of the common man.  This was the beginning of the conservative movement as we now know it.  The beliefs of the KKK are essentially the same as the beliefs of present rightwingers (patriotic nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiments, traditional family, white culture/supremacy, and Christian fundamentalism; it was the KKK that was behind the early attempt in getting Creationism taught in public science classes).  The story of the conservative movement has been that of true Americans fighting for the American Way, the American Dream.  This “America”, of course, was a bit exclusionary toward a large portion of the population, but it appealed to all the people who mattered (i.e., those with power). 

Even the moving speeches of MLK had a hard time of challenging the conservative narrative.  Because MLK couldn’t change the popular narrative, the popularity of the civil rights movement mostly died with him.  Ever since, liberals have been trying to communicate their message.  Obama has been somewhat successful in awakening the progressive sense of hope, but he too hasn’t been able to find the narrative to empower this hope beyond speechmaking.  Conservatives are just better at creating and controlling the political attitudes of the general public.

Still, not all is lost.  Liberals seem more successful in using entertainment as a mode of communication.  This is where conservatives have failed.   The conservative ideology doesn’t fully appreciate the power (and the potential merits) of imagination, and the conservative movement did successfully limit creative freedom during the 20th century (Hollywood blacklists, Comic Book Code, etc).  The conservative response to imagination is simply to fear it.  Both conservatives and liberals understand the liberating potential of the arts and of popular entertainment. 

In the late 20th century, the conservative oppression of the Cold War started to lessen.  There was a tremendous explosion of cultural creativity that was combined with technological innovation.  The liberals found the media for their message in movies, and special effects allowed them to communicate their message in ever more compelling ways.  Star Wars was the first great use of movies to express the liberal vision.  Following that, Blade Runner and the Matrix began to remind Americans of the true power of the liberal vision.  The Boomers set the stage for all of this, but it took the GenXers to instill this liberal ethos into the very structures of our culture (e.g., the internet).

That brings us to the last decade when a new generation was coming of age.  This new generation is the largest generation in US history and probably the most liberal generation in US history.  The Millennials have grown up with liberal vision.  Harry Potter has become central to their identity, and the message of Harry Potter is very liberal.  Fantasy/SciFi in general is very liberal.  Our culture has been slowly shifting towards liberalism, but I think Avatar might be a tipping point of sorts. 

The improvement of special effects has unleashed the collective sense of imagination.  Movies may seem like mindless entertainment, but the power of imagination shouldn’t be underestimated.

All of this reminds me of an incident from a several years ago.  I went to hear a lady speak at the University of Iowa.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected.  The lady turned out to be a conservative Christian.  She discussed popular culture and the entertainment industry from the view of conservative Christianity.  She thought conservatives needed to use popular culture to communicate their ideology.  There isn’t anything necessarily wrong about this attitude, but my sense was that this lady’s view (and the conservative view in general) had an extremely superficial comprehension of the value of imagination and creativity.  Conservatives want to control entertainment for their purposes.  The best example is how the Mormons like to spend money making movies with good Christian values, but these movies of course are never very popular.

Liberals don’t need to use imagination and creativity to express their ideology… or at least not in the way that conservatives try to do this.  For liberals, imagination and creativity isn’t just a medium for their message.  It is their message.  The very act of imagining is inherent to the liberal attitude, the liberal view of reality.  This can be understood in terms of Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types.  Liberalism corresponds to the thin boundary type.  Thin boundary means that a person’s experience demonstrates less distinction between dreaming and waking, between subjectivity and objectivity, between imagination and perception.  Liberals don’t use imagination.  Liberals live in imagination.

After listening to the conservative Christian lady speak, I went into the University library where there was a showing of William Blake’s art and writing.  There couldn’t have been a better contrast between the conservative and liberal understanding of imagination.  In Blake’s vision, imagination was something with the power to liberate.  I don’t know if Blake was a visionary, but he was most definitely touching upon the visionary potential of imagination.  It was imagination as self-expression, as celebration, as defiance of all oppressive forces.

Avatar isn’t on the same level as Blake.  Even so, Avatar expresses the same liberal impulse.  There is ideology in Avatar, but it’s ideology as a vision of reality.   With liberals, ideology is expanded through imagination.  With conservatives, imagination is constrained by ideology.  Both may start with ideology, but go in different directions.  The liberal impulse wants to escape or transform ideology into something greater.  It’s not that conservatives don’t have a sense of something greater.  It’s just that to conservatives ideology itself is an expression of that sense of something greater.  Maybe it’s a difference between ideology as means vs ends.

Imagination has so much influence because it’s so easily dismissed.  Entertainment beguiles our conscious mind and sneaks past our rational and ideological defenses.  The most powerful stories are those that alter our very perception of reality.  We don’t see imagination.  We see through imagination.  And it’s liberals who understand this best. 

As such, Avatar is a vision of what imagination means in the world.  Imagination is potential.  We live in and embody imagination.  The world is alive with the imaginal.  To see this planet or any planet as an inanimate chunk of rock is a failure of imagination.  Killing life for profit can only be accomplished if imagination is first killed.  But imagination is an ever-present potential that can be reborn in any person.  That would seem to be the message of Avatar.

The Nines: videos of or about

Here are some videos from one of my favorite movies.  If you like weird thought-provoking films, then this will definitely satisfy.  The Nines reminds me of several movies related to the topics of forgetting and remembering, perception and reality… but I think the mood is closest to the playfulness of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind which is another great movie.

If you haven’t seen The Nines and plan on seeing it, you might not want to watch all of these videos.  The last three are scenes from the movie which give a fair amount away.  But even if you watched all of these videos, the movie still probably would confuse you a bit on first viewing.

Lone Star: Western, Noir, Romance

 

I just watched the movie Lone Star.  It’s all around good movie.  The script and acting were solid, and the mixing of past and present was very smooth.  I wouldn’t call it a great movie.  It’s just quality Hollywood fare.

There was one thing that intrigued me about it though.  Outwardly, it was a contemporary Western with good guys and bad guys.  However, the story was more complex than good versus bad because the good couldn’t be determined until the truth had been discovered.  So, this is where it had an element of Noir to it, but nowhere near as dark and tragic as typical Noir. 

Where it was most like Noir was in the idyllic surface of a small town with old secrets that no one wants to talk about.  Along with this, there is the detective-like character who is determined to discover the truth no matter what.  He is the rugged american individualist type with his personal code of ethics, and that is where the Noir elements connect with the Western setting of the story. 

So, this Westernized Noir replaces the Noir oriental aspect with latino culture.  What would be the femme fatale is latino, but although she is part of the dark past she doesn’t try to pull the hero down.  Instead, there is an easy, almost too easy, resolution at the end.  Even though the past hangs heavy, the hero manages to escape its hold.  This is where it departs from most noir, but then again it’s not entirely unkown for noir protagonists to find redemption.  He avoids self-destruction because he is interested in the truth and not vengeance or even legalistic justice, and this aspect is pure Noir for the protagonists in Westerns aren’t usually all that interested in truth.

Some further clear elements of noir are the flashbacks.  It reminded me of Citizen Kane because a central character is never seen in the present even though everyone talks about him.  He is present by his absence.  The question is whether he was the good guy that everyone made him out to be.

The Western setting is interesting as it seems so different from Noir.  The latter emphasizes the human world of cities, and it’s as if humans are trapped in their own human world.  Lone Star begins with a scene of the wide desert which makes the human world seem small.  Noir films are filled with stark contrasts of shadow and light whereas the desert is brightly lit.  However, the desert creates a similar starkness that serves a similar purpose as that of Noir. 

The camera work mostly isn’t very much in the noir style, but there are scenes that have a noir feeling.  Near the beginning, a police officer approaches some young men sitting on a truck.  It cuts to an image of his approaching as seen in the reflection of a mirror.  The kid in the truck is working on it and so is laying on his back.  The kid looks up and sees (and the audience sees with him) the officer upside down.  The use of reflections and odd camera angles is something Noir uses often, but it’s only occasionally used in this movie.

The story felt very familiar even though it was done in a fairly complex way.  It wasn’t fully Noir or fully Western, but it melded them together.  Also, by mixing in the happy ending of a Romance, it tamed the darker streaks of both Noir and Western films.  Romances necessitate clear resolutions which neither Noirs nor Westerns need.  Especially for Noirs, clear resolutions are rare.  In Lone Star, the mystery is solved and the ending was a bit anti-climactic.

The Curious Incident of the NASA Moon Footage

Here is the type of news that just sounds off.

NASA lost moon footage, but Hollywood restores it by Seth Borenstein (AP)

There are two possibilities for what happened to this NASA footage. 

The first one the media latches onto is probably the least likely.  This unlikely scenario suggests that it was just an accidental loss.  NASA has some of the highest security in the world.  Nothing happens at NASA without approval.  These tapes would’ve been some of the most important information that NASA has ever had and would’ve been under lock and key.  If NASA accidentally lost or destroyed these tapes, then it demonstrates an extreme level of incompetence that is beyond imagination.  There should be a major investigation and those responsible should be punished to the furthest extent of the law.

The second is what no respectable media person would say out loudly because it’s such an obvious possibility.  For whatever reason, someone quite likely destroyed the footage on purpose.  Obviously, someone had to approve of their destruction and a number of people would’ve been involved in the actual process of destruction.  The media seems to portray it as if NASA doesn’t even know what happened.  NASA may be choosing not to tell the media what it knows, but NASA (or rather specific people of authority within NASA presently or in the past) certainly know more than what they’re telling.  Assuming it wasn’t motivated by malign intentions, there would be a paper trail of authorization.  If there is no paper trail, then that increases to a great degree the possibility of malign intentions.  As such, it becomes explicitly improbable that it was an accident.

This also points to another strange factor.  Back in 1969, the world only saw the footage that was grainy by its passing through several relay stations.  However, NASA had the original perfectly clear footage.  NASA claims it not only chose not to show the original footage, but chose not to transfer it into a normal format so that it could be released to the public and chose not to make backup copies.  Furthermore, the NASA officials and scientists of the time supposedly had no interest in inspecting the footage and simply dumped it all into storage.  That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Are we really to believe that one of the largest and most expensive programs in all of US history was run this incompetently?  Are we to believe that one of the most historically important moments in history was treated so carelessly?

The ironic part is that Hollywood supposedly restores the footage which as I understand it isn’t entirely true.  They only restored the small percentage of the footage that was originally played by NASA and some other footage that survived by other means.  This only feeds the conspiracy theorists and who is to blame them.  Some conspiracy theorists believe it was all fake in the first place which isn’t anything that I personally give much credence to.  I’m more attracted to the idea that the footage was real and there was something on it that NASA didn’t want the public to know about.

From the Borenstein article:

“It’s surprising to me that NASA didn’t have the common sense to save perhaps the most important historical footage of the 20th century,” said Rice University historian and author Douglas Brinkley. He noted that NASA saved all sorts of data and artifacts from Apollo 11, and it is “mind-boggling that the tapes just disappeared.”

To say it’s “mind-boggling” is a good way of putting it.  One could even say it’s so mind-boggling as to be beyond belief.

Smithsonian Institution space curator Roger Launius, a former NASA chief historian, said the loss of the original video “doesn’t surprise me that much.”

“It was a mistake, no doubt about that,” Launius said. “This is a problem inside the entire federal government. … They don’t think that preservation is all that important.”

If that is true, then that is one of the saddest statements I’ve ever heard.  Maybe the government isn’t all that interested in preservation as it doesn’t serve their purposes.  The only time someone in the government gets in trouble is when the wrong information gets preserved.  I’m sure Nixon regretted preserving certain tapes.

For further thoughts on the conspiracy angle, check out these next two analyses of the situation.

NASA Apollo Moon Footage Conspiracy Continues (blog post) by ahrcanmum

If you read through the now declassified and very abbreviated transcription of the Apollo conversations which can be found at http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/mission_trans/AS11_CM.PDF one of the first conversations is over the cameras.

[ . . . ]

NASA knew damned well the importance of documenting the Apollo missions, but the the conversations between the astronauts sounds more like the three stooges trying to figure out light readings, how to turn things on and which camera to use.  They had color and black and white film to preserve what they saw including what was noted on Page 72, day 4, when they get a good look at the moon’s surface  “03 04 06 44 CMP Yes, that’s what I was talking about just a minute ago. It’s kind of hard to believe that that’s volcanic and formed by some faulting, isn’t it? I don’t believe that – but it’s such a perfect straight line.”

[ . . . ]

It is all recorded on film and NASA tapes over it? Perhaps the real reason the tapes went missing was not to allow anyone to ever see what is described here, “ 

05 05 31 03 CDR Yes.05 05 31 08 LMP … structure somehow  05 05 31 31 LMP 3.5, Nell.

05 05 32 44 LMP Woo-woos is on VHF B –

05 05 32 48 CDR … B?

05 05 32 50 IMP Not on A.

05 05 32 58 CDR (Laughter) That’s your story, huh?

 05 ll 45 56 LMP Well, I hope – I hope they have the data that shows Just what we did have at contact when they can get photographs … all the film we got….

Interestingly, ahrcanmum mentions that NASA managed to save the footage of the food the astronauts ate.  He also put up a YouTube video bout the UFO sited by the astronauts.  It includes some original audio and it has a nice interview with Buzz Aldrin describing the UFO (which he would later deny as having been a UFO).  Another person on the video explains how UFOs were seen on other missions as well and there is video of one of these from a later mission.

NASA Moon Landing Videos: The Mystery Deepens by Fred Burks (examiner.com)

What’s going on here? NASA loses the tapes of one of the most important landmark events in human history. Then they find them, but parts have been erased to save money. And now Hollywood is being paid to restore the videos. How could anyone allow these historic tapes to be erased to save money? How could they even have been lost in the first place? I don’t doubt that the Apollo missions went to the moon, but there does appear to be some kind of cover-up and manipulation going on here.
 
Hundreds of military and government witnesses have gone on record claiming a major cover-up around UFOs. Among them are a former chief of the CIA, the former chiefs of defense of the UK and Canada, and two NASA astronauts, including Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. Could the moon landing video tapes have contained some images with UFOs or other images that they didn’t want the public to see?
 – – –
 
Additional note (11/18/09): I thought of another possibilities.  Of course, some people know what happened to the lost film, but maybe no one who is presently working for NASA knows.  It could’ve been stolen which would’ve probably be an inside job, but the people who were responsible might be long gone (either dead or living elsewhere in the world).  Those presently heading NASA may know it’s been stolen or maybe simply know it disappeared and probably was stolen.  Either way, they probably would rather not admit to a major security leak.  For some reason, they were forced to give a public accounting for the missing video footage.  Claiming it was destroyed was simply the closest they could come to a plausible answer.  As history shows, the media and the public at the time rarely questions to any great extent government statements even when they later turn out to have been lies.  A lie doesn’t have to be plausible to be convincing.  It just can’t be obviously implausible to the casual observer.

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I tend to think in terms of connections, but when writing about any particular subject I’ll only be emphasizing certain connections.  Still, all the other connections are at the background of what I’m trying to convey.  A minor frustration is all of this background can’t easily be conveyed and so what gets communicated is simply an uprooted plant.  So, this post will be my humble attempt to elucidate this web of ideas, subjects, traditions, and writers.  But of equal importance I wish to demonstrate that these connections exist outside of my mind in the actual world… meaning in other people’s minds as well.

 

The Beginning: Historical Context

A) Ancient World: Religion and Philosophy

So as to be orderly in my presentation, let me start at the beginning… not the beginning of my own thinking but rather the beginning of the Western tradition.  I’ve already written about much of this in prior posts (for example: Graeco-Roman Tradition, Development of Christian Mysticism, and Mani’s Influence).  My thinking about this subject is informed by authors such as Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy; and I would also add Karen Armstrong and Richard Tarnas

Basically, during the Axial Age, Greek and Egyptian thought formed Hellenism which was later incorporated into and formalized by Roman culture.  At around this time and before, Jews were being influenced by Hellenism and the culmination of this was the Alexandrian Jewish community.  Jews had in the past been influenced by many cultures, borrowing wholesale at times some of their myths and theologies (including maybe Monotheism which was an idea both in the Egyptian and Greek traditions).  Mixed in with all of these were Persian influences such as Zoroastrianism.  Out of this, Christianity arose precisely with the arising of Rome.  Romans brought the synthesizing of Hellenism to a new level and they were constantly seeking a universal religion to unite the empire, such as Serapis worship, Pax Romana, and Romanized Christianity… of course these Roman universal religions themselves became mixed over the early centuries of the common era. 

Anyways, Gnosticism was either the origin of Christianity or else one of the earliest influences on Christianity.  Gnosticism was connected with the traditions of NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism.  An interesting aspect of Gnosticism is that it’s adherents sometimes used scientific knowledge to explain some of it’s theology.  This merging of the spiritual and the scientific would be carried on in various traditions.  Besides Gnosticism and Hermeticism, the offspring traditions Cabala and Alchemy speculated to great degrees about the physical world.  This line of thought seems to have been particularly focused in Germany.  The German mystics helped many of these ideas to survive.  These mystics emphasized the sympathy between the microcosm and the macrocosm and also the merging between the subjective and the objective.  The Reformationists were influenced by all of this even though they focused less on the mystical.  Paracelsus lived during the Reformation and was influenced by both the mystic tradition and the Reformation (which he didn’t identify with).  Most directly, he initially was more interested in science and medicine.  This led to Paracelsus’ theorizing about Gnostic ideas such as planetary influences (although he denied Gnosticism).  Paracelsus also believed in a universal healing energy and he is also credited for the first mention of the unconscious.

B) Post-Reformation: Early Development of Modern Traditions

This was also the time of the Renaissance and science was just beginning to come into its own, but science wouldn’t be fully formed until the Enlightenment.  During this latter period, Franz Mesmer developed a theory and methodology along the lines of Paracelsus’ writings.  Paracelsus’ ideas did become more popular a couple of centuries after his death, but I don’t know if his ideas had a direct influence on Mesmer.  Still, they’re a part of the same general philosophical lineage.  Mesmer did speculate about planetary influences, but he is most famous for his theory about animal magnetism which was a supposed healing energy.  This was the origin of what later would be called hypnotism which was much later developed, partially through the example of the Freudian Erik Erikson, into the methodology of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). 

Hypnotism was introduced into popular culture through writers such as Edgar Allan Poe.  Mesmerism was an early origin to spiritualism.  As such, it isn’t surprising that Poe in one of his stories had a character use hypnotism as a way of keeping a corpse alive.  Another concept that came from Mesmerism was the double which also was incorporated into the Horror genre, notably in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman

Hypnotism as a psycho-therapeutic technique had been taken up by a number of people during and after Mesmer’s life.  Many decades later, Freud would learn hypnotism.  The ideas of sexual repression and hysteria were a part of the tradition of Mesmer’s methodology and these would be taken up by Freud.  Also, Freud had an interest in the unconscious which would seem to also to have been related to these kinds of ideas.  One of Freud’s followers was Wilhelm Reich who had a particular interest in the area of sexuality and healing energies.  He proposed the notion of Orgone energy which is reminiscent of both the ideas of Mesmer and Paracelsus.  Orgone is no longer reputable, but like Mesmer it has become a part of popular culture.  William S. Burroughs was a believer in Orgone energy (and spirituality in general as he considered himself a Manichean and was a Scientologist for a time).  Jack Kerouac mentioned Burroughs’ Orgone accumulator in one of his books and supposedly Grant Morrison (by way of Burroughs?) imagined Orgone energy as being real in one of his fictional worlds.

Mesmer‘s beliefs about healing energy accessible to all was also a major influence (via Phineas Quimby) on New Thought Christianity.  This Christian movement was also influenced by Swedenborg and more importantly by the very ancient ideas of Unitarianism and Universalism.  New Thought was a part of a larger social movement of people seeking a new form of spirituality after the Enlightenment had challenged so many traditional religious certainties and the Industrial Age was generally destabilizing culture.  Another set of ideas that probably was influential on New Thought would be that of Romanticism and Transcendentalism.  The latter in particular was a part of the same social milieu in the US at that time.  Specific organizations that appeared during this period were Unity church, Christian Science, Mormonism and the Theosophical Society.  Also, groups like the Quakers and Shakers became popular in the U.S. later in the 19th century partly in response to the social destabilization of the Civil War.  (By the way, New Thought Christianity has somewhat covertly made a resurgence with it’s incorporation into the mainstream through such things as The Secret and even more interestingly through Evangelical Christianity.  Positive thinking or prosperity thinking is known by Evangelicals as abundance theology or prosperity gospel.)

This collective search for the spiritual during the 19th century (and into the early 20th century) was being fueled by many things including the translation and publishing of many ancient texts (both Western and Eastern).  In biblical studies, some scholars picked up the earlier Enlightenment criticisms of Christianity (despite the fear of punishment by the church still being at the time very real in some places).  With many new texts available, comparative mythology caused quite a stir.  One major force in this scholarship was the publications coming out of the Theosophical Society, in particular those of G.R.S. Mead.  This school of thought mostly died out in biblical studies, but it was kept alive by comparative mythologists and psychologists.  It has, however, been revived in recent decades by a small growing sector of biblical scholars and has been made popular (if not exactly respectable) by the film Zeitgeist.

 

Freud, Jung and Others

Optimism and Pessimism, Religion and Horror

A major figure who was influenced by all of this was Carl Jung (who was the most significant force behind the Nag Hammadi texts getting translated and published).  Even though he was the most favored student of Freud, Jung had developed much of his own thinking prior to their meeting.  They both had great impact on each other, but of course (like many of Freud’s students such as Reich and Adler) Jung left Freud.  The Freudian and Jungian schools are an interesting contrast.  This partly a difference of how they related to the world in general which seems to symbolized by how they related to patients.  Freud had patients face away from him, but Jung (and Reich) chose to have their patients face them. 

Also, I can look at a book’s table of contents and make a good guess about whether the author will likely quote Freud or Jung.  Books that quote Freud tend to be about sexuality, gender, politics, power, the underprivileged, postmodernism, and textual criticism.  Books that quote Jung often involve the topics of spirituality, religion, mythology, ancient traditions, philosophy and the supernatural.  There is much crossover between the two and so it isn’t unusual to find both names in the same book, but still books that extensively quote Jung are more likely to mention Freud as well rather than the other way around.  Both Jung and Freud have influenced artists and fiction writers.  Herman Hesse, for instance, knew Jung and used his ideas in some of his fiction.  Freud’s obsession with sexuality, of course, was an interest to many creative types.  Burroughs‘ view on sexuality seems fairly Freudian.  Another angle is that Freud was less optimistic about human nature.  I was reading how Peter Wessel Zapffe’s Pessimistic philosophy is indebted to Freud and Zapffe is a major source of the horror writer Thomas Ligotti‘s view on life.  Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Jung and PKD has relatively more of a hopeful bent (however, PKD also had a very dark side and was friends with darker fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison).  This distinction between a tendency towards pessimism versus optimism, I would add, appears related to the fact that Freud was very critical of religion and Jung maintained respect for religion his whole life (or at least the ideas and stories of religion if not the institution itself).

One further aspect is Jung‘s development of personality typology which came about by his trying to understand the differences between Adler and Freud and his trying to understand the reasons for his conflict with Freud.  Typology was particularly put into the context of a very optimistic philosophy with the MBTI which is all about understanding others and improving oneself.  Even though typology became a tool of corporate America, it has its roots in the ideas of centuries of philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian.  Typology is the closest that Jung’s ideas have come to academic respectability.  (However, his theory on archetypes is slowly gaining respectability simply by the force of its wide influence, and its important to note that there was always a connection between Jung’s thinking about typology and archetypes.)  With the systematization in MBTI, Jung’s typology has been scientifically researched and correlated with other research on personality theories.  For my purposes, I’ll point out that his typology probably influenced some of Hesse‘s thinking and I know that Philip K. Dick was familiar with it, but typology overall hasn’t been a favorite topic of most philosophical and spiritual thinkers.  Even so, the creation of distinct categories of people is a very old notion (in the West and in other cultures).  For a relevant example, certain Gnostics (e.g., Valentinians) divided people into three categories, but later Christians seem to have preferred the simpler categorization of damned versus saved.  In secular writing, George P. Hansen is a rare thinker who considers types (Ernest Hartmann‘s boundary types which are correlated to MBTI) in terms of paranormal experience and cultural analysis, but I don’t know if he is familiar with Jung’s typology although he does reference Jung a fair amount.  A more amusing example is William S. Burroughs‘ dividing the world up into the Johnson Family and the Shits.

Like Freud, Jung had a strong interest in the unconscious which (along with his many other interests) definitely puts him in the tradition of Paracelsus and Mesmer.  It would almost be easier to list what Jung didn’t study rather than what he did.  He certainly was interested in the same types of subjects that are now included in the New Age movement (which isn’t surprising as Jungian ideas are a major interest of many New Agers).  Specific to my purposes here, Jung often quoted G.R.S. Mead and was also immensely curious about spiritualism.  Jung’s influence is immense, despite his fame being slightly overshadowed by Freud. 

An aspect not often considered is Jung‘s influence on Christianity (which I assume was largely his interest in Mead’s writing).  His family was very much entrenched within Christianity and so Jung was obsessed with it his whole life.  The book he considered his most personal was written about Christianity (i.e., Answer to Job).  Jung had a fruitful relationship with Father White who himself was a writer.  Jung’s ideas became incorporated into Father White’s writings about Catholicism.  Despite Jung not being Catholic or even Christian, his ideas gave a certain respectability to the Catholic emphasis on symbolism and imagery, but it’s hard to estimate Jung’s influence on Catholic thinking.  The most direct influence in this regard would be on the InklingsC.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who were Christians also felt some kinship with Jung’s ideas, but of course they disagreed with Jung’s putting Christianity on the same level as Pagan myths (as such, his theory was simply a myth explaining other myths rather than God’s truth).  Through Jung and Lewis, theology became more of a topic of popular culture.  Also, Lewis helped bridge the separation between the Pagan imagination of Romanticism and Christian doctrine which was furthermore a bridge between theological ideas and fiction.  This bridging obviously influenced later writers such as Philip K. Dick who combined fiction and theology.  The popularizing of Christianity had a corroding effect on orthodoxy (which Tolkien feared), but also it led to a great fertility of thinking where Christianity and popular culture mixed.  I’m sure many Christians have discovered Jung through the Inklings, but  I suspect, though, that Jung probably has had the most influence on Christians who are counselors (and therefore on the people they counsel).  Related to counseling, Jung was a direct inspiration for the development of Alcoholics Anonymous which was originally Christian (also, A.A. is one of the first self-help groups which as a way of organizing people would later became a focus of various New Agers, Christian and otherwise).

I also wonder what connections there might be between Jung’s interest in Catholicism and the supernatural and the interest in the same by Horror writers and movie directors.  Also, as there are Catholics interested in Jung and Catholics interested in horror and ghost stories, I wonder how many Catholics would be interested in both.  Interestingly, both Jungian studies and the Horror genre have simultaneously increased in popularity and respectability.  An obvious link between Jung and horror would be Freud‘s understanding of the Uncanny and I would say that the Uncanny would be magnified by the amorphous nature of the Jungian Collective Unconscious.  The Uncanny becomes quite horrific when it can no longer be safely contained within the human brain, no longer explained away as mere psychological mechanism.

New Age, Hillman, and the Paranormal

There are three other interconnected avenues of Jung‘s influence that I want to consider further. 

1) As Jung was influenced by the spiritual and the spiritualist movements of the 19th century, he in turn influenced the New Age movement of the 20th century.  Jung acts as a bridge and a synthesizer.  Jung himself and his ideas struggled for respectability, but still it was partly through his ideas that the New Age gained some respectability.  His views on archetypes gave many people a method/language (and an even playing field on which) to analyze mainstream culture and the dominant religions.  The New Age’s incorporation of archetypes, however, made them even less respectable to mainstream culture (at least until recently, maybe partly because the New Age has become more respectable).  If it weren’t for certain writers such as Joseph Campbell, Jung’s writings on comparative mythology might very well be less known and understood.  Joseph Campbell also helped to revive Jung’s study of Christianity in terms of mythology.  Specifically, it was Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey (i.e., Monomyth) that brought this all to a mainstream audience.  Suddenly, both Hollywood and Christianity had to come to terms with mythology… forcing Christianity to also come to terms with Hollywood and popular culture in general.  One other connection between Jung and the New Age would be Quantum Physics.  One of Jung’s patients was the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and they developed a friendship.  They both were interested in the connection between science and the mind, and this interest became symbolized by the number 137.  This number fascinated Pauli (and many other scientists) because the “fine structure constant” is approximately 1/137 which is neither very large nor very small but rather a human-sized number, a number that’s easy  to grasp.  Jung had discovered that going by the numerology related to Kabbalah that the word ‘Kabbalah’ added up to 137.  So, this number represented their shared interest, their shared ideal.  This desire to bridge matter and mind, science and psychology is a major part of New Age spirituality and of other thinkers outside of the New Age (e.g. Ken Wilber).

2) A second line of influence is that of James Hillman who was indebted to and critical of Jung‘s view.  He wrote a book about Jung’s typology and he was very much against it being used in a systematic fashion to categorize people.  To be fair, Jung was extremely wary of his typology being systematized.  Hillman can be considered as loosely a part of the thinking going on within and on the fringes of the New Age movement, but his ideas were a bit of an opposition to the idealistic strain of the New Age.  He believed suffering and illness should be accepted and understood on its own terms.  So, reality should be taken for what it is without trying to make it into something else.  Importantly, this view seems to be different than Freud‘s thinking in that Freud was apparently less trusting of human nature and experience (although there may be some minor similarity in that Freud emphasized helping people adapt rather than trying to fundamentally change them).  For instance, the Freudian-influenced Pessimism of Zapffe (and hence of Ligotti) posits that humans are deceived and self-deceiving.  Zapffe has a very good analysis of the methods people use to avoid suffering (which, to be honest, I’m not sure to what degree someone like Hillman would disagree).  From another perspective, Robert Avens, in his Imagination is Reality, draws on Hillman’s writings.  I found Avens’ analysis to be a useful counter example to the philosophical writings of Ligotti, but this is something I’m still working out.  I see some truth (and some limitations) in both perspectives.

3) The third aspect would be Jung‘s focus on the paranormal.  He studied the paranormal since he was young and had paranormal experiences of his own.  As he grew older, he saw the psyche and the archetypes as not being limited by the human brain.  His interest in the paranormal was far from idle.  Through his principle of synchronicity, he believed non-ordinary experiences had a very direct and practical impact on a person.  He also corresponded with the famous parapsychology researcher J.B. Rhine and they met once, but as I understand Jung was uncertain about the relationship between synchronicity and parapsychology research (since the former focuses on the subjective and the latter on the objective).  One of his last books was about UFOs and it was highly influential on a certain tradition of UFO researchers: Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  This tradition overlaps with Jung’s studies of and influence on religion and spirituality.  Vallee, like George P. Hansen, studied spiritual groups and religious cults.  I’m sure Keel studied those as well.  In The Eighth Tower, Keel details some of the biblical mythicist theories and Egyptology that had become increasingly popular starting in the 1970s (and, of course, he relates it to the paranormal).   Thus, paranormal research was combined with comparative mythology and folkore studies.  This is how Jungian ideas became linked with Charles Fort, another researcher into the paranormal.  Charles Fort was a different kind of thinker than Jung, but people interested in one often are interested in the other.  Even though I’m not as familiar with Fort, I do know he was highly influential on other writers and thinkers in his lifetime (John Cowper Powys, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Booth Tarkington, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Alexander Woolcott and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) and many later people as well too numerous to list (which includes many of the writers I discuss in this post).  A less known fact is that Fort wrote fiction stories that were published early in his career and a major part of his influence has been on fiction writers.  Both Jung and Fort read widely and both changed their minds as they came across new evidence.  Even more than the likes of Hillman, the Forteans are the real opposites of the New Agers.  However, Forteans and New Agers were both a part of the counterculture (before the New Age went mainstream with its being approved and popularized by Oprah).

These last three traditions do overlap in various ways. 

Patrick Harpur is a very interesting writer on the paranormal.  He references many of the above writers: Carl Jung, James Hillman, Robert Avens, Charles Fort, Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  George P. Hansen is even more wide ranging in that he references those same kinds of writers and he references various people from the New Age area and beyond all of that he also references many philosophers and scientists in other related fields.  Hansen is more difficult to categorize, but ultimately he might best fit in with the Fortean tradition.  Another writer I discovered recently is Keith Thompson who wrote a book that is similar to the writings of these other two.  Thompson and Hansen come to a similar conclusion about the Trickster archetype being fundamental to understanding the paranormal (which could be related to Jung’s insight that the Trickster figure was a precursor to the Savior figure). Thompson is also interesting in that he has very direct connections to the New Age and to Integralism.  Besides writing about UFOs, he did an interview with Robert Bly in the New Age magazine which was what first brought the mens movement into public attention.  Thompson credits Michael Murphy for supporting the ideas in the book early on partly by promoting a UFO group at the Esalen Institute (where, for instance, Joseph Campbell had taught in the past).  Michael Murphy has been closely associated with Ken Wilber and apparently Thompson is the same person who was the president of Wilber’s Integral Institute for a time.

Let me briefly point out that, in the context of the three Jungian-related traditions outlined above, there are some counterculture figures that are mixed into this general area of ideas: William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, and Philip K. Dick.  So, this brings in the fields of study involving psychology, consciousness research, psychedelics, epistemology, spiritual practice and conspiracy theories.  Also, I would add a connection here with Transpersonal psychology and the New Age in general.  If you’re a fan of the radio show Coast to Coast AM (formerly hosted by Art Bell and now hosted by George Noory), then these types of ideas and writers should be generally familiar to you (Terrence McKenna, in particular, was a regular guest).  I want to emphasize particularly William S. Burroughs as he was extremely interested in these kinds of subjects.  Despite Burroughs dark streak, he said he never doubted the existence of God.  He believed in lots of alternative ideas such as ESP, but most relevant here is that he visited Whitley Strieber who is one of the biggest names in the UFO encounter field.  In connection to Burroughs and Jung, Reich (who proposed the orgone theory) also had a strong interest in UFOs (which he connected with his orgone theory).  As a passing thought, this last connection of Reich reminds me of Paracelsus as the latter also speculated much about the paranormal (in terms of influences and beings).  Vallee discusses Paracelsus’ ideas in context of modern speculations about UFOs.

 

The Occult and the New Age, Spiritualism and the Theosophical Society

I need to backtrack a bit to delineate some other lines of influence.  I want to follow further the influence Mesmer and spiritualism had on fiction and I want to follow a different influence from the Theosophical Society.

Poe and Horror, Philip K. Dick and Neo-Noir

So, first, Mesmer and spiritualism had a wide influence on fiction, in particular the genre of horror.  Most significantly, I want to follow a divergent influence Poe had.  Poe is definitely one of the most influential writers for modern horror, but less recognized is that he is also considered by some to be the originator of the modern detective storyVictoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson write about Poe’s horror writing, but those two also write about noir (which of course is grounded in the hard-boiled detective story) and neo-noir.  A major factor in the transforming of noir into neo-noir (and it’s related development into tecno-noir and influence on cyber-punk) was the writings of Philip K. Dick and especially the movie Blade Runner which was based on one of his novels.

My interest in noir and neo-noir has increased since reading Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson… and a more recent addition to my library is Thomas S. Hibbs.  All three of them have helped me to understand the religious undertones and philosophical implications of this genre.  Nelson and Wilson cover similar territory, but Hibbs has a different view that emphasizes Pascal‘s ideas (which offers another counterbalance to Zapffe/Ligotti ideas).  Hibbs uses Pascal’s hidden God as a contrast to Nietzsche‘s God is dead.  He also writes some about Philip K. Dick, but apparently isn’t aware of PKD’s own notions about a hidden God (aka Zebra).

Nelson, in The Secret Life of Puppets, writes about writers such as Poe, Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and C.S. Lewis in terms of mythology, puppets, alchemygnosticism, art and film; she also briefly writes about New Age groups and UFO cults.  More significantly, she discusses German Expressionism merging with “hard-boiled detective mode of pulp fiction” to form film noir.  She speaks of re-noir by which I assume she means the same genre that others call neo-noir.  She also goes into some detail about New Expressionism which seems closely connected with neo-noir.  Specifically of interest to me, she discusses the movie Blade Runner.  I’m not sure about her opinion on the subject but I think some consider that movie to be the first neo-noir film (or at least the first sf neo-noir film) which is a type of film that has become increasingly popular in the following decades.  Also, Blade Runner (along with PKD’s fiction) was a formative influence on cyber-punk.  As for neo-noir, besides being mixed with science fiction and fantasy, it has also used elements of horror as in Dark City.  This is natural fit considering Poe’s influence.  Another very interesting topic she discusses is Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber.  She compares Schreber’s view of reality with that of Lovecraft’s fiction.  It’s also significant to note that Schreber’s memoir was made famous by Freud‘s analysis of it in terms of homosexuality and paranoia, and it was Jung who brought this text to Freud’s attention.  Nelson does discuss Freud in reference to Schreber and she discusses Jung in other parts of her book.

Wilson was influenced by Nelson and so was writing along similar lines, but with more emphasis on religion and also more emphasis on subjects such as the Gothic and Existentialism.  In one book, he goes into great detail about Gnosticism and the traditions of Cabala and alchemy which were formed partly from the ideas of Gnosticism.  Wilson also said he was influenced by Marina Warner who is also mentioned in Nelson’s writings.  Warner writes in a similar vein as these two, but it seems she has less interest in pop culture although she does write some about Philip K. Dick.  These writers point out the connection between high and low art and the connection between art and culture, between imagination and religion.

I could make even more connections here in terms of Gothic fiction and Existentialism.  I’ve read a number of fiction writers that fit in here, but I’m not sure about specific lines of influence.

Theosophy: Darkness and Light

Now, let me follow a very odd linking of people starting with the Theosophical society.

First, most people don’t realize that the distinction between the Occult and the New Age didn’t initially exist when these ideas were first being formulated.  Aleister Crowley was associated with the Theosophical Society and he considered it significant that he was born in the year that the organization was founded.  Crowley appreciated the work of Anna Kingsford who established Theosophy in England and briefly headed it.  Whereas Blavatsky had emphasized Oriental esotericism, Kingsford was in favor of a Western esotericism with a focus on Christianity and Hermeticism.  She supposedly was more known for her advocacy work for women’s rights, animal rights and vegetarianism.  She would seem to represent the more New Agey side of Theosophy which is odd considering the association with Crowley who was known as “the Beast”.

I want to momentarily point out a tangential thought that is relevant to the Theosophical Society and similar organizations.  George P. Hansen has written some useful analysis of the connection between the New Age and the Occult.  The following is mostly based on his ideas, but a similar analysis of the dark side of alien experiences can be found in the works of Jacques Vallee.

Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate.  Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example.  They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them.  Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors.  They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish.  They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few.  You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings (and in the historical accounts of various traditional religions as well).

I was reading a book by Vallee who began his career as a scientist before becoming a UFO investigator.  He was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore.  In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view.  Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in discussions about both both New Age and Integral theory.

The Two Krishnamurtis

To return to the topic of the Theosophical Society, after Blavatsky died there was major conflict.  Crowley became antagonistic and various leaders turned against each other.  Rudolf Steiner helped to establish the German and Austrian division as independent, and out of this Anthroposophical Society formed.  The Americans also split off and later split again.  Annie Besant and Henry Olcott took over the division in India.

So, in India, J. Krishnamurti was adopted by Annie Besant and was groomed to be a World Teacher which Crowley didn’t like (I’m not sure why, but maybe he wanted to be the World Teacher).  U.G. Krishnamurti, through his grandfather, became involved in Theosophy in his teenage years.  The two Krishnamurtis met while a part of the Theosophical Society.  They shared their views with eachother and shared a questioning attitude.  Both rejected the role of guru which led to both leaving the Theosophical Society.  However, J. Krishnamurti did continue an informal career as spiritual teacher which U.G. Krishnamurti criticized as his having become a guru after all (and U.G. has been called an anti-guru and even the anti-Krishnamurti).  Both Krishnamurtis had profound spiritual experiences that transformed them, but U.G. Krishnamuti’s experiences led to a less popular viewpoint in that he believed that the physical world was all that existed.  According to my limited study of U.G., his view of no-mind seems something like a materialistic version of Zen.  J. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, is very popular with the New Age crowd (which is where I learned of him).  For instance, the same type of person who writes about J. Krishnamurti also writes about A Course In Miracles (another early influence of mine)… by the way, ACIM according to Kenneth Wapnick (who helped form the text) has a similar theology to Valentinian Gnosticism (which makes sense as the Nag Hammadi discovery was just beginning to become popular at that time). 

 

Horror Writers and Scholars

From Ligotti to Wilber

To get back on topic, U.G. Krishnamurti is less well known as he didn’t see himself as having a public mission.  His writings are on the extreme fringe of the New Age, but I’m not sure what kind of person is typically attracted to his philosophy.  However, I was interested to discover that Thomas Ligotti mentions him in an interview.  U.G. Krishnamurti’s materialistic bent fits in with the general trend of Ligotti’s thinking, but I’m not sure what value Ligotti would see in even a materialistic spirituality (not that U.G. was trying to promote its value).  I was reading from a thread on Thomas Ligotti Online that the story “The Shadow, The Darkness” was a direct homage to U.G. Krishnamurti.

Anyways, Ligotti represents an interesting connection between Horror and many other ideas.  Ligotti’s favorite thinker apparently is the Pessimistic philosopher Zapffe.  I came across that Zapffe was close friends with and mentor to Arnes Naess.  That is extremely intriguing as Naess was the founder of the Deep Ecology movement.  I find it humorous to consider the hidden seed of Zapffe’s Pessimism at the foundation of Deep Ecology.  Like Theosophy, Deep Ecology is another major influence on New Age thinking.  This confluence of Horror and the New Age is maybe to be expected for I suppose it isn’t entirely atypical for someone like Ligotti to go from being a spiritual seeker to becoming a fully committed Pessimist.  In terms of ideas, the opposites of optimistic idealism and pessimistic realism seem to evoke each other… as they say, scratch a cynic and you’ll find a failed idealist.  I was thinking recently that horror as an experience can only exist in contrast to hope.  If humans had no hope, then there’d be no horror.  So, the greatest horror is only possible with the greatest hope and the contrary would seem to be true as well.  In terms of environmentalism, Pessimism is a natural fit anyhow.  Environmental writers such as Paul Shepard and Derrick Jensen are far from optimistic about the human situation.  Paul Shepard, in particular, seems to have ideas that resonate with Zapffe’s view that something went wrong in the development of early humanity.  Along these lines, a book that would fit in here is The Love of Nature and the End of the World by Shierry Weber Nicholsen.

I think this is a good place to mention Julian Jaynes.  He was a psychologist who became famous through his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  His ideas generally relate to the kind of ideas put forth by Paul Shepard, Ken Wilber, Max Weber, Karl Jaspers, and Peter Wessel Zapffe.  He theorized that human consciousness was different in the past and a shift happened during early civilization.  He thought that ancient man’s mind was more externalized with less sense of individuality… something like schizophrenia.  He had two sources of evidence for his theory.  He saw traces of this early mode of consciousness in the oldest surviving writings and he referenced psychology research that demonstrated that stimulating parts of the brain could elicit a person hearing voices.  The reason I mention him is because he influenced, along with many others, both William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber.  Buroughs wrote about Jayne’s ideas in his essay “Sects and Death” and Wilber wrote about them in his book Up from Eden.

Related to Deep Ecology is Phenomenology for Deep Ecologists have often used it to support their view.  This is so because, in Phenonmenology, there is something of an animistic appreciation of nature.  Phenomenology influenced Enactivism which is a fairly new theory involving the scientific study of consciousness and perception.  Enactivism was also influenced by Buddhism and as such Enactivism tries to scientifically explain our direct experience of reality.  Enactivism especially discusses the connection between mind and body.  I bring this up because Ken Wilber, who is critical of Deep Ecology, is a major contributor to and proponent of Integral theory which has had some fruitful dialogue with Enactivism (see my post ENACTIVISM, INTEGRAL THEORY, AND 21st CENTURY SPIRITUALITY).  Irwin Thomson has co-written some books with the Enactivist theorists, and  Ken Wilber has been contrasted with William Irwin Thomson (the father of Irwin Thomson).  The former is a systematic thinker and the latter non-systematizing, and yet both write about similar subjects.  (Jung was more of a non-systematizer and that might be why Wilber ended up feeling critical towards his ideas.)  Ken Wilber is useful to bring up as he has synthesized many different fields of knowledge and he has helped to bridge the gap between academia and spirituality.  Also, Wilber has become a major figure in popular culture such as his speaking on the commentary tracks for the Matrix trilogy.

I want to point out that there has been much dialogue between the ideas of Wilber and those of Jung.  Jung’s less systematic style of thought also allowed for great shift in his understanding over time.  This makes it difficult to understand Jung’s spectrum of ideas as his opinions changed.  Wilber, on the other hand, is extremely systematic and his theory has remained fairly consistent even as he adds to it.  Wilber does have some basic understanding of Jung which he describes in some of his books, but various people have pointed out some inaccuracies in his understanding.  As a systematizer of many fields, Wilber inevitably simplifies many theories in order to evaluate and synthesize them.  However, to understand the connection between Jung and Wilber it would be better to look to a third-party viewpoint.  The best example of this would be Gerry Goddard (whose lifework tome can be found on the Island Astrology website).  I bring up Goddard for another reason.  Goddard was also a systematizer like Wilber, but he brings a number of other writers into his theory.  As I recall, he gives a more fair assessment of Jung.  Also, he includes the ideas of Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof.  I briefly mentioned Tarnas at the beginning.  Tarnas is a historian whose writing is a useful resource for understanding the development of ideas across the centuries, and he also has an interest in astrology.  Tarnas wrote a very interesting book about history and astrology that Goddard references.  Goddard also writes about the psychologist Stanislav Grof who is often contrasted with Wilber.  Grof is interesting as he started off researching psychedelics, but later focused on non-psychedelic methods of altering the mind (such as breathing techniques) for the purposes of psychotherapy.  Goddard is a less known theorist, but is a good example of the relationships between some of the people I mention.

There is another related distinction I’d like to make.  Wilber and Goddard are systematizers which somehow connects with their work being squarely set in the field of non-fiction.  Wilber did write a novel, but even then it was simply a mouthpiece for his non-fiction.  William Irwin Thomson seems more like Jung.  Along with wide ranging interests, they both were deeply interested in the creative as well as the intellectual side of human experience.  By deeply interested I mean that they sought to express themselves creatively.  Jung was often painting or carving stone or simply playing around with whatever was at hand.  I don’t know as much about Thomson, but I’ve seen poetry he has written and I’ve seen him referenced as a poet.  Also, Thomson writes about literature.  Along these lines, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs would also be of this latter category of non-systematic creative thinkers.  Ligotti is a bit harder to fit in with this scheme.  He definitely has strong interest in both fiction and non-fiction, but relative to PKD and Burroughs he seems much more systematic and focused.

Let me conclude this section by saying that Ken Wilber is a major focal point of my own thinking simply for the fact that he covers so much territory and because his ideas have become the focus of more intellectual discussions of spirituality.  He is relevant to my discussion also because he was influenced by the counterculture ideas of his Boomer generation and so he is familiar with many of the people I’ve mentioned so far.  Wilber was interested in alternative ideas like those of Jung, but ended up setting his theory in opposition to depth psychology, transpersonal psychology and deep ecology.  Unhappily, Wilber often gets categorized in bookstores along with the very New Age writers he criticizes.  Similar to Ligotti, he spent much time seriously seeking spiritual perspectives which in his case even included following a guru for a while.  Ligotti and Wilber represent two very intellectual responses to the search for knowledge and understanding.

Burroughs in relation to Ligotti and PKD

Similarly, as I’ve stated elsewhere (see here), Ligotti and Philip K. Dick represent two very different responses to William S. Burroughs as they were both influenced by him.  I really don’t know the specifics of how Burroughs had an effect on Ligotti.  Supposedly, he said that Burroughs was his last artistic hero, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t otherwise speak about Burroughs much.  Burroughs was quite the Pessimist in many ways and so it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t notice his name being mentioned in the excerpt of Ligotti’s non-fiction from the Collapse journal.  Maybe when his full nonfiction work is published there’ll be something about Burroughs in it.  Actually, in some ways, Burroughs comes off as darker than Ligotti.  On the other hand, Burroughs had an explicitly spiritual side.  Gnosticism is particularly clear in Burroughs’ perspective and that is where PKD saw a connection to his own philosophizing.  This Gnosticism is a direct connection to Jung, at least for PKD but probably for Burroughs as well since I know that he was familiar with Jung.  PKD, however, is more Jungian in his view of gender in that both PKD and Jung apparently were influenced by the Gnostic (and Taoist) emphasis on gender as a way of thinking about the dualistic nature of the psyche.  Burroughs’ understanding of gender could also have its origins partly in Gnosticism as there was a strain of Gnosticism that was less idealistic about gender differences.  Burroughs considered himself Manichaean which was a religion with an ascetic tradition and which emphasized dualism to a greater degree (I find it humorous to consider that the great Church Doctor Augustine was also a Manichaean for many years before his conversion… which makes me wonder what Burroughs opinion was about Augustine).  Another distinction here is that Jung and PKD maintained relationships with Christians and biblical scholars, but I can’t imagine Burroughs having much interest in Christianity.  Burroughs, rather, saw Gnosticism as in opposition to Christianity.

Poe and Lovecraft, Christianity and Gnosticism

Another connection would be favorite writers.  I mentioned Poe already.  Poe was a major favorite of Burroughs, Ligotti and PKD.  Lovecraft would be another writer to bring up as he was influenced by Poe.  Lovecraft in turn had a tremendous impact on Ligotti and PKD, and Burroughs made references to Lovecraft in a number of places.  Also, Burroughs supposedly was taught about Mayan codices by Robert H. Barlow who was Lovecraft’s literary executor.  I was reading that Burroughs met Barlow in Mexico while studying anthropology.  An interest in cultures would be something that Burroughs shares with PKD and Jung, but I don’t have a sense that Ligotti has much interest in this area or at least he doesn’t seem to write about it.  To add a quick note, there is a nice essay by Graham Harman in Collapse IV that brings together Lovecraft, Poe and Phenomenology.

Yet another connection is that of Robert M. PricePrimarily, Price is a biblical scholar, but he has many interests including weird writing, superheroes and philosophy.  He seems to have been somewhat of a Lovecraft expert in the past and has written his own Lovecraftian stories.  Price’s interest in Lovecraft makes sense in terms of his interest in Gnosticism as Lovecraft’s view of reality is essentially that of Gnostic archons minus the Gnostic true God (there is a good analysis of Lovecraft’s philosophy in Sieg’s “Infinite  Regress” from Collapse IV).  Price also has written an essay about Ligotti that was published in The Thomas Ligotti Reader.  I know of Price mostly through his biblical scholarship as he writes about Gnosticism and mythicism which are two of my favorite topics.  He doesn’t identify as a mythicist, but is very supportive of mythicist theorists such as Earl Doherty and D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) and he highly respects some of the scholarship that was done in this regard during the 19th century.  Robert M. Price also has written quite a bit about Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.  He seems to have some respect for these two, but he also seems to be very critical of how their ideas have been used by New Agers.

To make a related point, D.M. Murdock‘s most recent book is about Christianity and Egyptology.  In it, she references the likes of Price and Campbell.  A major issue for Murdock is the literalism of traditional Christianity which was an issue that Campbell spilled much ink over.  The literal is seen as opposed to the imaginal according to the views of Hillman and AvensWilber makes similar distinctions using different models and terminology.  As for the Egyptian religion, I’d point out that it was a major interest of Burroughs (and Eric G. Wilson too).  There is a strong connection between Gnosticism and Egypt.  A distinction that some make between Gnosticism and Christianity is that the former preferred allegory rather than literal interpretation.  This began with the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt whose Platonic allegorizing of Jewish scriptures was acceptable even to some of the Church fathers.  The difference is that many Gnostics allegorized and spiritualized the gospel stories as well. 

I want to note here E. A. Wallis Budge who was one of the most respectable early Egyptologists.  Murdock references him to a great degree, and any thinker involved with early Christianity and Western mythology would be fully aware of his scholarship.  Of course, writers such as Mead, Price, and Campbell are familiar with his work.  Also, he was known by writers such as Burroughs and John Keel.  And surely Eric G. Wilson would’ve come across his writings.  Budge’s scholarship put Egyptology on the map and helped put it in context of early Western history including Christianity.  Budge is surprisingly not that well known to most people, but trust me he had massive influence on many thinkers over this last century.  Egyptology had already taken hold of the Western imagination by earlier scholars.  Poe used Egyptian elements in some of his stories and Poe died a few years before Budge’s birth.  Budge lived closer to the turn of the century around the time of Carl Jung, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Fort.

Two Kinds of Thinkers

I want to describe one last aspect that I articulated partly in my post Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti.  I was distinguishing Ligotti as different from Burroughs and PKD in an important respect.  The latter two were extremely restless thinkers and seekers which seemed represented and maybe contributed to by their drug experimentation.  The only drugs that I’ve seen Ligotti mention are those that are medically prescribed for his bi-polar condition and so they’re designed to make him less restless.  I would guess that Burroughs was one of the first writers to truly popularize drug experimentation, but it took others to bring it into the mainstream.  It was during the ’60s that drug experimentation became a hot topic and Timothy Leary I suppose was the most major proponent.  However, many forget that Leary was originally a psychologist and a respected one at that.  There was this meeting of ideas at that time which has persisted: psychedelics, psychology, spirituality, occultism, ufos and conspiracy theories.  Robert Anton Wilson, a friend of Leary, was the one who really synthesized all of these seeming disparate subjects (and, if I remember correctly, it’s through his writing that I first read about Wilhelm Reich).  Another person was Terrance McKenna who in some ways picked up where Leary left off, but his focus was on mushrooms rather than LSD.

Philip K. Dick was aware of this whole crowd and it all fits into his own brand of counterculture philosophizing.  Specifically, he wrote about McKenna (and vice versa).  A common interest that PKD and McKenna shared was Taoism and the I Ching which they both connected to synchronicity.  They inherited this line of thought from Carl Jung who wrote an introduction to a popular translation of the I Ching.  As a side not, I’d add that McKenna’s view of UFOs are also influenced by Jung (and seem in line with theories of Vallee and Hansen).  To put this in context, Jung would relate psychic manifestations such as UFOs with synchronicity.  Related to this, Burroughs’ cut-up technique was based on the principle of synchronicity.  PKD was interested in Burroughs’ technique as it fit into his own beliefs about messages appearing in unexpected ways (i.e., God in the garbage or in the gutter).  Oppositely, this technique is something that Ligotti strongly disliked.  This makes sense as Ligotti seems to be more of a systematic writer, a perfectionist even (which neither Burroughs nor PKD aspired towards).  Along these lines, consider the random and meandering philosophizing of Burroughs and PKD in the context of Ligotti’s carefully articulated Pessimism.  To quote Quentin S. Crisp in the comments of his blog post Negotiating With Terrorists (where he writes about Ligotti’s use of U.G. Krishnamurti): “My own cosmic unease is, I think, far more open-ended than that of Ligotti. I honestly can’t see him ever changing his position, and it’s a position that has already concluded and closed.”  I doubt Crisp would want to be held down to that opinion as anything more than a tentative commentary, but it touches upon my own suspicion about Ligotti’s view.  I don’t mean to imply any criticism of Ligotti for I do sense that Ligotti’s writings are true to his experience (which, going by his own distinguishing between Lovecraft and Shakespeare, is something he values).  By quoting Crisp’s comment, I’m only trying to clarify the difference between Ligotti and certain other writers.  After all, restless inconclusiveness isn’t exactly a desirable state of being (which I’m pretty sure Crisp is well aware of).

Anyhow, the distinction here between these two kinds of writers is similar to the distinction I pointed out between William Irwin Thomson and Ken WilberIn my Enactivist post (linked above), I use MBTI and Hartmann’s boundary types (via George P. Hansen’s writing) to try to understand this difference.  Obviously, one could divide up writers in various ways, but this seems a fairly natural division that my mind often returns to.

For further analysis on types of writers, read the following blog post:

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus

 

Conclusion: Different Perspectives

Many of the writers I’ve brought up disagree about different issues, and yet they’re a part of a web of relationships and ideas.  I wonder if the overall picture offers more insight than the opinion of any given writer.  These traditions of beliefs and lineages of ideas represent something greater than any individual.  I’d even go so far as to say that it shows a process of the cultural psyche collectively thinking out issues of importance, and certain people become focal points for where ideas converge and create new offspring.

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Note: There are many more connections that could be made.  I’m curious how other writers might fit in: Hardy, Baudelaire, Borges, Kafka and Blake; Gothic writers, Romanticists, Transcendentalists and Existentialists; the brothers of William James and Henry James; the Powys brothers; various philosophers such as Nietzsche and Pascal.  Et Cetera.  In particular, it could be fruitful to explore Lovecraft further.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction.  Also, he was immensely influential as a writer and in terms of his relationsips as he corresponded with many people.  Another angle of connections would be organizations formed around the scholarship of specific people.  There is the Fortean Society and the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich which were both formed during the lifetimes of Fort and Jung, but there is also the Joseph Campbell Foundation which was formed after Campbell’s death.  These organizations attracted many thinkers who also became well known for their own scholarship and writings.  Also, I could include the website Thomas Ligotti Online.  Ligotti is still alive, but he has such a cult following that a website (including a forum) was created by a fan.  This forum has attracted a number of other published weird fiction writers such as Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin (both of whom write about the kinds of things I mention in this post).  There are also organizations such as the Esalen Institue which has attracted many diverse thinkers and has led to much cross-pollination of ideas.