Wonder vs the Wonder-Killers: two related thought experiments

I was thinking about two issues tonight. Both of them were thought experiments.

 – – –

The first issue is about sociopaths.

I guess I was thinking about it because I just posted a blog where I mentioned Max Weber’s Iron Cage (Self & Other in the Movies: Redemption or Destruction?). Weber was theorizing about how bureaucracy and hierarchy increases. In that post, I mentioned I learned of Weber’s ideas from George P. Hansen’s book The Trickster and the Paranormal. Hansen points out research that shows a certain type of person (Hartmann’s thick boundary type) tends to be promoted in hierarchical organizations (which would include most major organizations: government institutions, universities, corporations, etc). I was thinking about this in terms of other research that shows that sociopaths are disproportionately found in positions of power. So, I assume that extreme thick boundary types and sociopaths are essentially the same general categories. A thick boundary type would have a stronger sense of individuality and a stronger sense of disconnection from others. Basically, thick boundary types have less empathy and hence less sympathy, less compassion and concern for others. Taken to the extreme, this would manifest as sociopathic behavior.

The thought experiment was: What would happen if sociopaths were removed and excluded from positions of  power and authority? What would happen if sociopaths were separated from normal society? As it is at present, we reward sociopaths and give them immense wealth and power. All of civilization seems built on this worshipping of sociopathy. I’m willing to bet that psychopathic genetics are found most often in those of royal descent and those of old money. My theory is that it’s not just wealth and power that gets passed on from generation to generation. The genetic predispositions that lead to concentration of wealth and power also gets passed on. The question is: Are these the people we really want to be ruling us?

There has been plenty of research done on psychopathy and sociopathy. We know how to test for certain genetics. We know how to test for empathy and moral development. I think it’s only fair that all citizens in positions of power and authority should be forced to have these tests administered. If they test positive for psychopathy and sociopathy, they would be required to seek rehabilitation through medication and therapy. They would be monitored for improvement. Those who couldn’t be rehabilitated would be put into psychiatric institutions or halfway houses. If we learned how to clearly identify psychopathic genetics, those who tested positive would be forcibly sterilized.

Just imagine that. A world where only people with strong empathy and compassion were allowed to be in positions of leadership and management. This would change everything. Our entire society, at present, is designed to benefit sociopaths. If they were excluded from all important positions, all of society would restructure itself. I don’t know if it would be a better world, but it probably wouldn’t be worse than a world ruled by sociopaths. Still, I have reservations. It’s possible that sociopathic behavior (at least in its milder forms) has some benefits for society. It’s possible that modern civilization wouldn’t function (certainly not as we know it) if sociopathy was entirely eliminated.

 – – –

The second issue is about our experience of reality.

I just started Philip K. Dick’s novel Eye in the Sky. There was no particular reason I chose this book to read. I just semi-randomly grabbed a PKD book I hadn’t read. I haven’t been in a great mood for fiction in recent months, but I think my mind might be shifting back in the direction of fiction and PKD is my favorite fiction writer. I’ve read about equal amounts of PKD’s fiction and non-fiction. It was only when I started reading PKD’s non-fiction that I came to understand PKD’s fiction. PKD, of course, obsessively speculated about reality.

Eye in the Sky is a typical PKD story. A group of people become isolated in a separate reality that functions according to religious principles: magic, prayer, grace, merit and whatever else. PKD puts this all into the context of the modern world. Basically, this is a version of PKD’s idea that the Empire Never Ended. In one of PKD’s visions, he saw the Roman world during Jesus life overlaid on the modern world of California. It’s like the Kabbalah theology which interprets Biblical stories as on-going events in the world. So, the flood never ended and those who oblivious to this spiritual reality are drowning. The Roman Empire and the Nixon administration are just two manifestations of the same Black Iron Prison that we are trapped within.

In the blog I linked to above, I connected PKD’s Black Iron Prison to Max Weber’s Iron Cage. Weber theorizes that bureaucracy functions specifically by undermining the traditional religious authority. The old religious world operated according to kinship (between individuals and communities, between mortals and gods, between humans and nature). Such a society would favor thin boundary types or at least would give such people prominent positions of authority and respect (priests, shamans, healers, etc).

Thinking along these lines, I took the first thought experiment a step further. Our idealizing and rewarding sociopathic behavior has created modern bureaucratic civilization. Maybe this alters our very experience of reality. In terms of Robert Anton Wilson’s reality tunnels, maybe we get trapped in a specific worldview. It could be the world isn’t as we think it is or rather that the world becomes as we think it is. The Iron Cage not only destroys the ancient societies of superstition but also destroys the very experience of the supernatural. Research shows that thin boundary types claim to have more supernatural experiences. Research also shows that most people in general have supernatural experiences. The Iron Cage not only disconnects us from a larger context of the supernatural. It disconnects our personal experience from society and often disconnects the individual from their own experience. Maybe there is some truth to the supernatural worldview, but we simply can’t see it because we are trapped in a reality tunnel, trapped in the Iron Cage, in the Black Iron Prison.

This subject is discussed in immense detail in Hansen’s book (The Trickster and the Paranormal). Hansen explains why science has such difficulty grappling with the fundamental issues of our experience of reality. I should point out that neither Hansen nor PKD perceives science as the enemy. However, science is just one viewpoint and when we hold too tightly to one model of reality we become blind to other perspectives, other experiences. The challenge I see is that those prone to sociopathic behavior (and those prone to the thick boundary experience of the world) have personal interest in defending the Iron Cage bureaucracy that benefits them. Bureaucracy is a self-perpetuating system in that those who are promoted to the top are very motivated in defending the system and very talented in manipulating those below them. There is no doubt that sociopaths are very good at maintaining their power.

The question arises again: Is a different world, a different society possible?
And another question follows: How would our very experience of reality change if society changed?

 – – –

May the power of wonder always be greater than the power of the wonder-killers.

Self & Other in the Movies: Redemption or Destruction?

“Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched.”
 ~ Blaise Pascal

Walking through the cemetary last night, my friend mentioned the movie District 9. It turned out we both had watched it this past week, but my friend didn’t finish watching it because he didn’t like it. So, we discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of the movie as we walked among the headstones.

For some reason, I was reminded of the movie Falling Down. I told my friend that I wanted to see that movie again sometime and he asked me why I thought of it. There were two reasons.

The first reason had to do with the similarity between the District 9 bureaucrat (Wikus van de Merwe) and the Falling Down businessman (William “Bill” Foster, aka D-FENS). Both are pathetic ordinary guys. They lived their lives playing by the rules. All they wanted was the normal mediocrity that was guaranteed to them as boring middle class white guys. 

The second reason was more generally about where my mind has been focused lately. I think I might’ve seen Falling Down used as an example in something I was reading lately. Anyways, it made me think of Glenn Beck being inspired by Howard Beale’s “Mad as Hell” speech in the movie Network. Howard Beale is another example of the middle class white guy being forced out of his contented stupor. So, it seemed to me that Beck would be similarly inspired by William Foster of Falling Down.

Bill Foster: I’ve passed the point of no return. Do you know what that is, Beth? That’s the point in a journey where it’s longer to go back to the beginning. It’s like when those astronauts got in trouble. I don’t know, somebody messed up, and they had to get them back to Earth. But they had passed the point of no return. They were on the other side of the moon and were out of contact for like hours. Everybody waited to see if a bunch of dead guys in a can would pop out the other side. Well, that’s me. I’m on the other side of the moon now and everybody is going to have to wait until I pop out.

Falling Down largely puts this into a class context with obvious racial tensions. It’s not just the ordinary guy refusing to take it anymore. It’s the middle class white businessman refusing to take it anymore, the middle class white businessman who is the ultimate symbol of the American normalacy we all are supposed to strive towards. This middle class white businessman is frustrated, but his frustration doesn’t cause him to feel sympathy for all of those who have been frustrated their entire lives. No, he sees the poor and the minorities, the gangsters and other dregs of society who have refused to play by the rules, as the source of his frustration. Even the Korean shop owner is seen as an enemy simply for the perceived insult of charging too much for a soda. 

Why should these poor people and these minorities be allowed to get the better of good Americans? All the hardworking middle class white businessman wants is to be a good American and be rewarded for playing by the rules. Yet, he realizes that life isn’t fair and so he seeks retribution for this perceived loss of moral order. What he doesn’t realize is that life never was fair (even when it was personally benefitting him in the past), that life isn’t fair for anyone.

Bill Foster: I helped build missiles. I helped protect this country. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons, you know they lied to me.
Sergeant Prendergast: Is that what this is about? Is that why my chicken dinner is drying out in the oven? You’re mad because they lied to you? Listen, pal, they lie to everyone. They lie to the fish. But that doesn’t give you any special right to do what you did today.

Howard Beale, at least, realizes that they’ve been lying to us all… and not just to middle class white guys. Beale’s speech evokes populist discontent and righteous anger. Beale is portrayed as noble in his standing up and speaking out. Foster lacks any such noble qualities. In District 9, Wikus could’ve gone down the path of Falling Down, but eventually his sympathetic side wins out. The difference is that, where Foster clearly holds himself above all those he condemns, Wikus is literally turning into one of the aliens he had previously treated, in his role as a heartless bureaucrat, as being below him. Foster dies never doubting his own righteousness towards others and Wikus risks his own life in righteously defending the Other.

It would be too simplistic to portray Foster’s anger as mere racism. Foster has no more love for the rich white guys on the golf course than he has for the Latino gang. It’s the rich guys like them who fired him without any care for his fate. You’d think this might make him feel sympathy for all the people who have been likewise screwed over by the wealthy elite, but that isn’t what he feels. As I see it, Foster is mad not because he doesn’t believe in the American Dream of the good life but because he does believe in it and believes he deserves it. On the other hand, Beale and Wikus seem to come to some understanding that the good life they had known is not real or not worthy and so they don’t look for easy targets on which to project their frustration.

At this point in my discussion with my friend, I was reminded of A Scanner Darkly (of which I’m often reminded). In Scanner, the protagonist Bob Arctor remembers (or else has a vision) of once having lived the good life, of having  had a nice house with a perfect family. It’s in that scene he realizes he didn’t ultimately hate the momentary pain of life’s events but rather he had felt hate for how his life had once been, the life that wasn’t real and that hid the deeper pain of a world without meaning or wonder. Arctor hated what that dream of the perfect life represented. The perfect family and home weren’t as perfect as they appeared. Society and human relationships are filled with endless deception. No matter how comfortable the fantasy, it’s not enough. The realization that the dream is fake is a good thing because only in knowing what isn’t real can one then seek out that which is real.

Foster is deluding himself that if he can just get back home that the world will somehow be put right again. By tightly holding onto his dream of normalacy, he ends up hurting almost everyone he meets. As portrayed in Scanner, facing reality isn’t always pleasant… even so, there is something worthy in it. The key element is the willingness to self-sacrifice. Foster instead chooses self-destruction that achieves no end other than self-righteousness. Foster is shocked to discover that he is seen as being the “bad guy”, but he doesn’t ask for forgiveness for the destruction and suffering he has left in his wake. 

I thought of one last example of this narrative: American Beauty. Lester Burnham is yet another middle class white guy who had been living the American Dream and found it lacking. When confronted with this situation, there are many possible responses. At first, Lester responds by becoming infatuated with his daughter’s friend. So, he turns from the fantasy of career to the fantasy of youthful desire, but something stops him from following through with this infatuation. He sees the young girl as a real person and not merely an object of his desire. He seems to realize that he doesn’t want to harm another simply because he himself feels hurt by life.

Interestingly, both A Scanner Darkly and American Beauty end, after everything going wrong, with a vision of beauty. Quite differently, Network and Falling Down end on a note of almost pure cynicism. District 9 just ends with self-conscious movie cliche silliness.

However it ends, I find it a compelling story when the middle class white guy is thrown out of his middle class white world. But why is it compelling? Should we pity the middle class white guy who has been forced to face the everyday suffeing most of humanity faces all of the time? Should the middle class white guy feel sorry for himself because he has lost the sense of comfort that his socio-economic class normally provides? Why, as a society, are we obsessed with telling (and being entertained by) stories about the struggles of middle class white guys? Is it compelling because the middle class white guy as the collective symbol of normalacy represents our collective sense of self? If the middle class white guy loses his direction, will our whole society collapse? Is the middle class white guy the moral compass of modern Western Civilization?

I could leave it on the level of social criticism of middle class white guys and our fascination with them, but there is another context I wanted to throw in. The theme of the superficial normalacy of American culture has been explored in Film Noir and Neo-Noir. Starting with the first Philip K. Dick adaptation (Blade Runner), Science Fiction has become a popular form of Neo-Noir. Like much of Philip K. Dick’s work, A Scanner Darkly also has Noir elements. Important elements of Noir and Neo-Noir are memory and identity. None of the movies I’ve discussed are specifically Noir, but for all of them identity is the most central element in that the characters have their identities shaken to the core. In Arts of Darkness, Thomas S. Hibbs discusses American Beauty (p. 193):

Not technically a noir film, American Beauty does overlap with noir in a number of respects: in its use of flashback and voiceover; in its focus on a character who is already dead (D.O.A.); in its assumption that the source of American alienation is somehow connected to the infiltration of consumerism into the very heart of intimate relations; in its theme of a doomed quest; and in its setting of the final, crescendo of violence at night in rain. American Beauty is also a deeply, if not entirely coherent religious film that, according to at least one perceptive Christian film critic, can help viewers see “the world as it truly is: resplendent and suffused with a radiant, implacable love that shows itself in the exquisite beauty of the very fabric of the created world.

Hibbs, a few pages later, points out an important insight (p. 199):

A more consistent critique of capitalism as source of brutality can be found in Wendell Berry’s essay “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.” Berry argues that giving free reign to capitalism wipes out local communal life, leaving individuals isolated and powerless in the face of large, impersonal forces. The proper, mediating role of the community is lost and individuals, liberated from local traditions and communal expectations, are increasingly subject to the whims of national bureaucracies and international markets. One of the problems with the “family values” espoused by conservatives is that it often leaves the nuclear family to itself, isolated amid an increasingly hostile economic and social order. Family values are also quite compatible with what Tocqueville identified as one of the great vices of modern politics: individualism. Tocqueville contrasted egoism, which elevates the satisfaction of one’s own desires above all else, with individualism, which is a “a mature and calm feeling” that disposes each person to “draw apart with his family and friends” and ” willingly leave society to itself.” The consequence of this sort of individualism, according to Berry, is the loss of the sense of marriage as anything other than a contract between two isolated individuals: “If you depreciate the sanctity and solemnity of marriage, not just as a bond between two people but as a bond between those two people and their forbears, their children, and their neighbors, then you have prepared the way for an epidemic of divorce, child neglet, community ruin, and loneliness.”

This brings me back to my social criticism of the white middle class guy who is the symbol of our consumerist society. He is the head of the nuclear family and the traditional breadwinner. The role of the individual has become so constrained, so narrow that this role takes on ultimate significance. When the white middle class guy loses his job or family, the center can no longer hold. There is no larger community for him to turn to, there is no other respectable role he can take up. However, at the same time, this role that gives him the only meaning he knows also confounds any search for greater meaning. It’s what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation”.

This “quiet desperation” is often portrayed in the form of bureaucracy. In Falling Down and American Beauty, the protagonists just lost their important positions in large bureaucratic companies. In District 9, Network, and A Scanner Darkly, the protagonists are caught up in the machinations of bureaucracies. This mind-numbing, soul-killing bureaucracy is what Max Weber called the Iron Cage. From the Wikipedia article:

Iron cage, a sociological concept introduced by Max Weber, refers to the increased rationalization inherent in social life, particularly in Western capitalist societies. The “iron cage” thus traps individuals in systems based purely on teleological efficiency, rational calculation and control. Weber also described the bureaucratization of social order as “the polar night of icy darkness”.

[ . . . ] Weber states, “the course of development involves… the bringing in of calculation into the traditional brotherhood, displacing the old religious relationship.”

Modern society was becoming characterized by its shift in the motivation of individual behaviors. Social actions were becoming based on efficiency instead of the old types of social actions, which were based on lineage or kinship. Behavior had become dominated by goal-oriented rationality and less by tradition and values. According to Weber, the shift from the old form of mobility in terms of kinship to a new form in terms of a strict set of rules was a direct result of growth in bureaucracy and capitalism.

[ . . . ] Because of these aforementioned reasons, there will be an evolution of an iron cage, which will be a technically ordered, rigid, dehumanized society. The iron cage is the one set of rules and laws that we are all subjected and must adhere to. Bureaucracy puts us in an iron cage, which limits individual human freedom and potential instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free. It’s the way of the institution, where we do not have a choice anymore. Once capitalism came about, it was like a machine that you were being pulled into without an alternative option; currently, whether we agree or disagree, if you want to survive you need to have a job and you need to make money.

[ . . . ] “Rationalization destroyed the authority of magical powers, but it also brought into being the machine-like regulation of bureaucracy, which ultimately challenges all systems of belief.”

I first learned of Weber’s ideas about bureaucracy from the book The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen. In that book, Hansen describes the eternal conflict in our society between the forces of bureaucratic order and the forces that are beyond control. The Trickster archetype can never be entirely removed or entirely protected against. It’s the role of the Trickster to explode the alien chemicals in the face of Wikus in District 9. It’s the role of the Trickster to create such confused self-deception in A Scanner Darkly. If nothing ever went wrong, there wouldn’t be any reason to tell stories. No satisfying story ends exactly as it begins. Some learn to accept the role of the Trickster and they hold less tightly onto the story they were telling themselves. Those who do try to hold onto their self-justifying stories typically become tragic anti-heroes like in Falling Down and tragic anti-heroes have tragic ends.

Yes, “they” are lying to us, but it also must be understood that “they” are lying to everyone… including to themselves. We are all caught up in a system of lies. This relates to Weber’s Iron Cage or, to put it in the light of gnosticism, what Philip K. Dick called the Black Iron Prison. Ultimately, we should worry more about the lies we tell ourselves than the lies that others tell us. Most of the time, we believe the lies of others because we want to believe them, because we have internalized some fundamental lie that our society is built upon. If you must, scream out the window that you’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Then, after doing so, take a look at yourself in the mirror.

Let me end this with the context of real life.

I mentioned Glenn Beck in relation to Network. I find that fascinating considering that Glenn Beck idolizes a fictional character who ends up being assassinated for speaking out against the powers that be. What is sad about Howard Beale, and hence what is sad about Beck, is that he looks outward trying to find the source of the problem. As I recall, Beale doesn’t come to any grand realization as does Bob Arctor and as does Lester Burnham. Both Beale and Arctor are possessed by paranoid visions which isn’t the problem in and of itself. Their paranoia correctly detects real conspiracies and real deceptions, but there is a difference that matters. Arctor, through profound self-questioning, transforms his paranoia into a spiritual vision.

It’s with this contrast between Beale and Arctor that I rest my own personal struggles. I can’t entirely blame the Beales and Becks of the world for ranting against injustice. I can’t even entirely blame the Bill Fosters of the world for going on their rampages. In the real world, Bill Foster in Falling Down is Joe Stack flying his plane into the IRS building. I understand how a person can feel overwhelmed by the frustration and hopelessness. The rug gets pulled out from under us (whether it’s losing your job or having alien chemicals sprayed in your face) and one is forced to respond. Most will try everything they can to make it go back to the way it used to be, but this inevitably fails. In place of what was lost, some latch onto convictions and others seek retribution. I personally prefer those who seek understanding and those who try to find a way to end the cycle of suffering. Such things as family and career won’t save you and neither will such things as politics and religion. My sense is that genuine salvation is much more personal and existential. Like Bill Foster, it’s all too easy to become the enemy that one wishes to fight against. Righteous anger is a dangerous drug which is highly addictive. I understand the allure of self-righteousness, but I’d like to believe there is some other option… beauty, love, compassion, self-sacrifice… I don’t know… something…

Nonetheless, whether or not we are able to gain something we deem a worthy exchange, it is undeniably clear that most often what is lost can never be regained. As Thomas Wolfe so famously said:

…you can’t go home again… back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love… away from all the strife and conflict of the world… back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

I do, however, hope that at least some semblance of truth can be found or else just the awareness of the edges of knowledge. I admit I’d love to experience a transformative vision or attain some gnosis about the world, but there is no guarantee about anything and I suppose that is the only truth we can rely upon. We can’t know what lies ahead and so that is why we try to hold onto past certainties. Still, I think Bob Arctor was lucky in having entirely lost his former self. It seems to me that it was because he had no past to weigh him down that he was able to see the world in a way no one else could.

“I saw Death rising from the earth, from the ground itself… in one blue field.”

Old School Libertarians?

I always wonder why libertarianism has been taken over by rightwingers. I have nothing against Ron Paul’s supporters. It just bewilders me the association between libertarianism and pro-capitalism, between libertarianism and fundamentalism… and what in the heck do pro-capitalism and fundamentalism have to do with each other?

I know it’s an exaggeration, but sometimes it feels like present libertarianism is a movement only for militant gun-lovers, religious fundamentalists, and big business owners. Libertarianism no longer seems like a movement for the average American. Instead, libertarianism has become a haven for those with extreme ideologies and those who could care less about the civil rights of those different from them (the poor, the minorities, the immigrants).

So…
What about the early libertarians who were working class populists?
What about the socialist and progressive libertarians?
What about the hippy live-off-the-land commune-dwelling libertarians?
What about the lovers-not-fighters live-and-let-live libertarians?
What about the drug-using freedom-loving libertarians?

Where are these wild and unruly liberals?
Where are the proletariat populists willing to fight the powers that be?
Where are the Gonzo journalists willing to challenge the status quo?

I’m thinking about people like Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs. This type of person lived life on their own terms and sometimes suffered for it. I’m also thinking about people like Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick. They were free thinkers who weren’t afraid to question the norm, the consensus opinion. All of these people were intelligent. They weren’t leaders of political or religious movements. They were just everyday intellectuals who lived by their ideas and influenced the world through those ideas. They lived in the real world outside of the academic ivory towers, outside of Washington politics.

Another example is Art Bell. He is definitely a live-and-let-live libertarian. He married a Wiccan and definitely had that old school libertarian vibe. He was (still is on a less regular basis) a radio host who would allow almost anyone to speak their opinion no matter how crazy it might sound. To Art Bell, seemingly no topic was off-bounds. He did support Ron Paul (I don’t know if he voted for him), but his views mostly seemed to be liberal.

All of these guys (I can’t offhand think of a female example) were/are of an older generation. I know this kind of person still exists, but they don’t seem to get the same public attention they once did. So, what has changed in society, in the media? Why aren’t these people being heard?

I guess Art Bell is still being heard, but his show is now hosted by someone who most definitely doesn’t share this liberal/libertarian attitude. There are plenty of liberal-leaning libertarians even if the media portrays libertarians as a rightwing movement. Even populism has been recently taken over by rightwingers and they’ve been astro-turfed by corporate interests. Where are the real libertarians, the real populists, the real freedom-lovers? I don’t care about the militia groups or the people who are obsessed about guns as a symbol of freedom and patriotic fervor.

There is too much politics and too much religion mixed in libertarianism these days. Opposite to this were William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. Sure, they loved guns… but they also loved sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. They weren’t trying to start movements of any sort. They were true independents living their own lives. Maybe it was a different time. Maybe it’s harder to live that way now. They grew up in a time before conservatives started their culture wars, their tough on crime policies, their War on Drugs. Hunter S. Thompson chronicled the ending of that era.

The fundamentalists and the capitalists can take their faux libertarianism and stuff it.

McKenna and PKD, Pronoia and Paranoia

I’ve mentioned Terrence McKenna before, but maybe its been a while.  I just came across him again in my web searches in two different contexts.  Someone in the God pod started a thread about pronoia which was an attitude that McKenna valued (here).  McKenna also valued the insights of Philip K. Dick and he wrote about why he felt a connection (here).

 

I like McKenna because he is a nexus between many of the subjects I’m attracted to: PKD, Jung, spirituality, psychedelics, imagination, consensus reality, pop culture, etc.  Although, he was maybe a bit too pronoia for my taste.  He was like PKD in that he had such a strong desire to believe that his ideas at times seemed a bit simple and naive.

Personally, I feel there needs to be a balance between paranoia and pronoia… which PKD probably came closer to a balance I’d prefer.  However, I will give McKenna one thing.  He took weird to a new level beyond even PKD.  Its hard to get more far out than McKenna and not become lost to the world.  From what I hear, Leary became a bit spacey in his latter life.  McKenna, on the other hand, kept a sharp mind right until the end.

I must add that McKenna was far less naive than your average New Ager.  He did have some very complex theories and seemed openminded about questioning even his own cherished beliefs.  He didn’t seem afraid of facing the darker side of life.

Nicole said

he sounds a lot like you!

Marmalade said

I guess so. I too have a naive side of me that just wants to believe. I shouldn’t judge anyone else for that.

McKenna isn’t known that well outside of a certain sector of society. If you’re interested in psychedelics or appreciate authors like Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, and Philip K. Dick or if you used to listen to Coast to Coast AM when Art Bell was the main host, then you’d probably know of him. But that is probably a small percentage of the population.

Known or not, he is one of the most influential thinkers in recent times. He was probably the first psychedelics advocate that made psychedelics close to respectable, but his ideas went far beyond psychedelics.I should add that a large partof that credit goes to the popularity of Art Bell who had the the largest worldwide audience of any night time radio talk show. McKenna was one of the main people to be repeatedly interviewed on Coast to Coast.

I do get the sense that McKenna and PKD had similar personalities. The similarity was two-fold. Both seemed to love people, and both were great storytellers. Listening to McKenna on the radio, he was riveting in that he wore his enthusiasm on his sleeve. He was just excited about life and the possibilities of humanity.

Nicole said

wow, who knew? this is fascinating, Ben.

Marmalade said

I should add that McKenna, of course, was also interested in Burroughs. He owned some of Burroughs original work which was lost in a fire… very tragic… but McKenna took it in stride losing his entire life collection. McKenna shared Burroughs’ notion that language is something like a virus. However, McKenna put a more positive spin on this view.

 

Nicole said

ok, I’m game. Language as a virus in a positive way? How so?

Marmalade said

McKenna’s theory is about consciousness in general and not just language.

The idea relates to the human relationship to psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelic plants traditionally have gods or other entities associated with them. Anyone at any time will have similar experiences when taking the same psychedelic. This connects to the idea of imbibing God which vaguely survives in the Catholic ritual.

My understanding is that both Burroughs and McKenna thought of language as being external to and prior to the human species. In fact, they saw it as a space artifact, a virus that infected this planet. For McKenna, this is where mushrooms come in because mycelium can survive in a vacuum and at extreme temperature variances.

Here is a McKenna quote I came across:

“And I felt language rise up in me that was unhooked from English and I began to speak like this:

Eeeoo ded hwauopsy mectoph, mectagin dupwoxin, moi phoi wops eppepepekin gitto phepsy demego doi aga din a doich demoi aga donc heedey obectdee doohueana.

(Or words to that effect). And I wondered then what it all meant, and why it felt so good (if it didnt mean anything). And I thought about it a few years, actually, and I decided, you know, that meaning and language are two different things. And that what the alien voice in the psychedelic experience wants to reveal is the syntactical nature of reality. That the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of, you make of it, whatever you wish!”

 

Marmalade said

I’d relate all of this to astrotheology as well. The solar year and the stellar objects are the origins of the probably first systematized religious language. That systematization is what all of civilization was built upon. Also, various people have theorized that psychedelic mushrooms were the origin of all religion.

I know its all far out there, but its fun to think about.

 

Nicole said

it’s all very interesting. Does McKenna speak about glossolalia, is that alien language too?

 

Marmalade said

McKenna speaks about glossolalia in the following article where he distinguishes it from what is experienced with psychedelics (and he also makes some comments about PKD):

Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness

 

Nicole said

He’s so funny, isn’t he? I like how he ends the article:

The mushroom states its own position very clearly. It says, “I require
the nervous system of a mammal. Do you have one handy?”

 

Marmalade said

Yep. Whether or not you take his theories seriously, he is at least amusing.

 

80m said

Nice discussion!

One of Mckenna’s funniest moments, for me, was when he was giving a lecture and refered to an earlier interaction where someone called him “too narrow-minded”.

 

Marmalade said

Hello 80m

I’m not familiar with that lecture, but its hard to imagine anyone accusing him of being “too narrow-minded”.

Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Dick

Cronenberg, Burroughs, and Dick

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

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

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

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

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

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 20 hours later

Nicole said

that must be some movie!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

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

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

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

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

There is a couple reasons.

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

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

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

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

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

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

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

LOL!

Marmalade : Gaia Child

4 days later

Marmalade said

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

Nicole : wakingdreamer

5 days later

Nicole said

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

Philip K. Dick as a Character

Philip K. Dick as a Character

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

Novels:

Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas by Michael Bishop

The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Anthology of short stories:

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

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

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Fiction and Non-fiction, Gnosticism and the Gothic

Fiction and Non-fiction, Gnosticism and the Gothic

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
I have an equal interest in fiction and nonfiction.  They often feel in confict and they can have very different effect on me.  I tend to obsess on one or the other.  In recent years, I’ve been more focused on nonfiction, but I’m slowly switching back into a mood for fiction.

I don’t see them as fundamentally in conflict.  My favorite writers are those that combine fiction and nonfiction.  This is my interest in William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, but its also the reason for my more recent interest in “horror” writers such as Thomas Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp.

There are various aspects in common.  As I said, they all combined fiction and nonfiction, but they also wrote them separately.  Besides all of this, the most obvious similaity is the Gothic.  The Gothic definitely applies to the horror writers, but the Gothic isn’t limited to the horror genre.  The other connection is Gnosticism.  PKD helped to popularize Gnosticism only to maybe a slightly lesser degree than Jung had.  Gnostic themes and references are found throughout the works of WSB, TL and QSP.

What has brought all of this together in my mind are several nonfiction books that have been occupying my mind particularly past year or so.  One book is The Secret Lives of Puppets by Victoria Nelson, and two books by Eric G. Wilson (The Melancholy Android, and Secret Cinema).  Wilson was influenced by Nelson and I always think of these authors together.  Both of these authors write about PKD, and Nelson mentions WSB a couple of times.  Both focus on the the fantastical and horrific in fiction.  Both write about Gnosticism and Wilson goes into great detail about the connection between Gnosticism, the Gothic and the genres.

I won’t go in more detail right now.  I just wanted to set down where my thoughts are at the moment.  This is a very personal nexus of my understanding of life.  Thinking about these authors is my way of contempating my place amidst a world of tremendous suffering.  I plan on blogging more about this soon as I clarify my ideas.

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Ponderings Fictional

Ponderings Fictional

Posted on Dec 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
(1) I’ve noticed a correlation between the length of stories and the type of fiction.  Genre fiction tends toward short fiction… or is it short fiction tends towards the genre?  One thing is for sure, the only way for an author to escape genre categorization is to write a novel.  The only genre writers allowed into the mainstream literature section are those who’ve written longer works.  I can’t think of any exceptions offhand.

Is my observation correct?  If there is a correlation, what might be the causation?

Some possible answers:

 – Suspension of disbelief is hard to sustain in longer works of genre fiction which necessitates both a talented writer and a willing reader.
 – In terms of fantasy and horror, maybe it has something to do with the human psyche.  It could be related to how we tend to only remember short snippets of dreams.  So, this mght imply that the imagination works most effectively when highly focused.
 – Maybe it has to do with technique.  The loose and limited narrative structure that a short story allows may give more freedom for the imagination.
 – It could be as simple as it being the tradition of the genres.  Each generation of writers take their inspiration from and thus emulate the writers that came before them.  The earliest imaginative stories were short and have been influential.
 – Another possbility has to do with the expectations of publishers and readers.  The genres have often had a special relationship with anthologies and magazines.  Partly, this is because the genres have never been big money-makers.  Short fiction is what sold, and publishing magazines is cheaper than publishing a book.  If an author wrote enough short stories, they might be able to eke out a living.  A short story has a quicker return in terms of making money than spending a long time writing a novel.

(2) Horror is somewhat unique amongst the genres.  In some ways its the most respectable of the genres and someways its the least.  The earliest horror writers such as Poe aren’t even kept in the genre section, and even many of the fantasy writers that make it into the mainstream are often of a darker persuasion.  Horror seems to attact more literary writers than many of the genres, but simultaneously horror is the least popular of the genres in that its almost always the smallest section.  Horror gets isolated by itself wheras Sci-Fi and Fantasy usually get mixed together.

Horror has always had a close relationship with philosophy, and it often seems that horror writers can be more loose with their narrative structure than the other genres.  In many horror stories, not much happens at all narrative-wise… it can be rather cerebral where your stuck in a characters head and everything is subjective.

(3) I enjoy authors that have distinctive personalities and voices.  The two examples that come to mind are William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, but to a lesser degree Kafka and Hesse fit in this category for me.  As for WSB and PKD, here ar some of the traits they share:

 – They both wrote fiction and nonfiction, and they often mixed the two together.
 – As such, they often mixed autobiography into their fiction even to the extent of creating characters that essentially represented themselves.
 – Along with this, because of their dstinctive personalities, they were both admired by other writers who also used them as characters in their stories.
 – They use repeating themes and chracter types across all of their work.

WSB and PKD are flawed writers (and flawed human beings), but still their writings compel me to a greater extent than do the writings of supposedly better writers.  Their is a humanity to their writing in that they both were interested in people and were great observers.  Also, you coud tell how much they simply enjoyed telling a good story.

Despite their similarities, they were very different in manyways.  For one, WSB travelled widely and PKD hated to travel.  One other thing is that WSB was way more cynical, but probably the better writer of the two.  PKD was a hopeless optimistic and more overtly spiritual.  For sure, they both had their own versions of despair even though they might’ve dealt with it differently.

I sense that they represent different sides of my own personality.  I don’t think they ever met even though they probably had some common acquaintances.  In my mind I try to imagine what they would be like if they had met eachother. 

I’m not sure if they’d even like eachother.  They’d both probaly think the other one was crazy.  WSB would be more confident and aloof, and PKD would be more nervous and talkative.  If they ever became relaxed enough around eachother, they would probably start swapping weird anecdotes, and neither of them would be sure if the other one was telling the truth or merely telling a good story.

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tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 16 hours later

tuffy777 said

Interesting.  Burroughs, Kafka and Hesse were major influences on PKD.       
  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Burroughs, Kafka and Hesse were major influences on me. So there ya go. Come to think of it, Burroughs, Kakfka and Hesse influenced many people.

I don’t know all the authors PKD read, but I know he read widely. PKD was also influenced by Jung and so was Hesse… probably Burroughs too.

Horror and Science Fiction

Horror and Science Fiction

Posted on Nov 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

My friend reads a lot of horror fiction.  I’ve never been all that attracted to horror even though it crosses over with the fantasy genre which is something I read quite a bit.  However, because of my friend, I’ve learned a lot about horror and begun to read some.  He enjoys reading many of the small press horror writers which actually are some of the better horror writers from what I understand.  For instance, my friend says that a number of horror writers consider Ligotti to be one of the best living horror writers and yet Ligotti is practically unknown.

Anyways, my friend and I talk about fiction all of the time.  We share some of the same favorite writers (such as William S. Burroughs and Barry Yourgrau), but usually we’re reading entirely different authors.  In particular, this past year or so, my friend has read hardly nothing else besides horror.  So, even though I’ve read only a smattering of horror, I’ve listened to my friend read quotes from and give synopsis of hundreds of horror stories.

I’ve come to have more respect for the horror genre.  Because it deals with human suffering in such a direct fashion, its heavily influenced by philosophical and religious ideas.  Interestingly, horror has attracted a number of writers of the Catholic persuasion.  Horror writers for sure have been influenced by the ideas of Catholocism: original sin, fallen world, demonology, etc.

I pretty much appreciate any imaginative fiction partly because imaginative fiction tends to be fiction of profound ideas.  Philip K. Dick is one of the writers of profound ideas, but he is somewhat opposite from horror writers.  PKD used Science fiction for his plots even though his stories were often more fundamentally fantasy.  The closest that PKD came to horror would’ve been A Scanner Darkly.  That book could be made into horror with only minor changes.

I was discussing with my friend the differences between the genres.  I was thinking about how its rare for writers to combine horror and science fiction, and when they do its usually through the mediation of fantasy.  Fantasy crosses over easily with both horror and science fiction maybe because fantasy is a more general category.

I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson right now.  I started it quite a while back but became distracted by other books.  I decided to finish it now as its a direct influence on Google Earth and other virtual worlds.  It has some similarities to PKD: the average hero and the interspersing of philosophical discussion.  But its a bit more hard sci-fi than PKD tended towards. 

Hard sci-fi often goes for these massive multiperspective epic narratives.  This is quite different from horror.  Horror is more likely to go for the small scale and single perspective.  Horror writing often creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia through an extreme subjective narrative voice.  This disallows one to see outside of the character and thus magnifies the emotional impact. 

Ligotti believes you need the subjective perspective of a single human to register the horror.  A horror story can’t be portrayed from the perspective of the monster.  The monster portrayed can never touch upon the imagination in the same way as a monster left as a mystery.  This is why Lovecraft stories too often make terrible movies because monsters in movies can come off as simply ridiculous.  Horror is a profound emotion that isn’t fundamentally about blood and guts.  Slasher movies aren’t the most horrific stories.

Besides the claustrophobia of subjectivity, the other technique is intimacy.  Almost everyone remembers sitting around a campfire or in a tent sharing ghost stories.  This is often recreated in horror stories.  Poe used this technique, for instance, in The Telltale Heart.  The main character in that story is telling the story in what seems to be a confession.  This intimacy creates sympathy all the while throwing one off with questions of the narrator’s reliability.  Part of the horror is how the narrator tries to make sense what happened or else tries to rationalize what he did.

How this is different from science fiction is that with sf there is much more action by and interaction between characters.  SF characters may spend pages explaining some idea but they don’t tend to tell the story.  The narrator’s voice is more likely to be less identified with the subjective perspective or at least not a single subjective perspective.

This is intriguing in what it says about human nature.  Science fiction tends towards the optimistic by taking on the big picture.  Horror tends towards the pessimistic by confining it to the small view.

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tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 7 hours later

tuffy777 said

Actually, Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Father Thing” is horror.  Hollywood ripped it off for the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  – nice article! 
  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 11 hours later

Marmalade said

Nice to meet ya tuffy!  I see you just joined.  I’m glad you liked what I wrote and you compliment me by calling it an article. 

You are correct about “The Father Thing”.  That story is very much like a traditional horror story, but it was more of an original idea when he wrote it of course.  Yes, Hollywood has benefited from PKD.

Do you know of any other PKD stories that could be considered horror?

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 14 hours later

tuffy777 said

well, there’s my favorite, “Roog”, in which the dog is trying to warn the family that the garbage collectors are monsters
  – and many more, so I’ll name some more stories later
  ~~~

 

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

I’ve read Roog.  I guess I didn’t think of that story as horror, but I guess it could be labelled such in a more general way.  Its true that the dog did see the garbage collectors as monsters.  As I see it, PKD does use elements of horror, but for me his fiction doesn’t usually have the feeling of horror.  However, there is much from PKD I haven’t read and so maybe they’re are more horror-like stories I’m unaware of.

Do you read much horror?  And how do you define horror?  I usually define horror as any fiction that creates a feeling of horror, but that isn’t how everyone defines it.  As I see it, many shows such as Buffy aren’t horror even though they use elements of horror because they don’t cause a feeling of horror.  Then again, horror merges with dark fantasy and so there is a wide variety.  And, besides, what causes horror to one person might not cause horror to another.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 17 hours later

tuffy777 said

My choice of reading material is quite eclectic, ranging from newspapers and scientific journals to humorous poetry, and from classics to comic books.

Most of my “reading” of horror has been movies, but I have read “Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”. I read Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”, but I classify that more as a romance than as horror.

I used to teach classes in horror fiction and film, and when I asked my students to define horror, I got many different answers. My own definition is that horror first evokes fear and then purges it, much as the Greek tragedies did. I have a book titled “The Thrill of Fear”, and that title suggests that horror is like a roller coaster ride – first we scream, but then we laugh.

~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 24 hours later

Marmalade said

Same here.  My reading is eclectic too, but I can’t say I read scientific journals too often.  I suppose that most of my “reading” of horror has also been movies.  Plus, I’ve read some interesting nonfiction books about horror the past couple of years.  Two really cool books are The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson and The Melancholy Android by Eric G. Wilson. 

I don’t think I’d previously heard of the book you mention.  I did a search on it and I think I might enjoy it.  I like books that give an overview.  I also like books where the subject is analyzed across many media such as film and books.

Your definition of horror is pretty good.  I think that fits a lot of horror.  I was thinking, though, about how Ligotti would likely disagree.  I get the sense that he wants to evoke fear without purging it aferwards, but maybe fear is purged just by the story ending.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

1 day later

tuffy777 said

Most horror fiction either kills or confines the monster at the end. That is why “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween” were so shocking to audiences of their time.

The author of “The Thrill of Fear” is Walter Kendrick. Perhaps that will help you to find it?

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Cool discussion. I like the generalizations you made, Ben.

One of the most horrific stories I ever read I am not sure whether was fantasy or scifi. I have read a ton of the latter and almost none of the former. It was about white spiders, and how their bite would cause one to live in an alternate reality but not know that…. I have no ideas of author or title. But I know it led me to doubt my reality for many days, and of course to get even more phobic about light-colored spiders than I already am about them ALL !!!!!!

Most people might not think that having one’s sense of reality undermined or shaken is “horror” but to me it might be the ultimate of horror…….

Does either of you consider Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as horror? I don’t remember any specifics about it now, except a few generalities, but the protagonist does say, at the end, as he looks back on his life “The horror [of it all that I have done…] and one FEELS that along with him. A kind of almost self-annihilating guilt. That’s pretty horrifying, too !!!!!!

Blessings,
OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Welcome to the discussion, OM.  I’d have to think much more about it to figure out how much these generalizations make sense.  I haven’t analyzed the horror genre all that thoroughly.  I usually only care about horror to the extent that it relates to sf.

The experience of having your sense of reality undermined could potentially fit into the horror genre.  I’m somewhat familiar with the horror writers Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp, and they both play around with the sense of reality.  I love any writer of any genre that plays around with my sense of reality. 

PKD plays around with reality perception, but he doesn’t exactly focus on the horrific experience of it.  The reason is that PKD’s characters tend to take on an attitude of problem-solving which lessens the emotional impact of horror.  PKD’s protagonists don’t usually have a victim mindset.  They most often either overcome their problems or at least aren’t overwhelmed by them.

I don’t know about Heart of Darkness.  I did a quick search about it in reference to the horror genre.  I saw an article which stated that it could’ve been categorized as horror when it was first published.  I wouldn’t consider it horror myself, but my memory of it isn’t perfectly clear.  I read it in highschool and don’t remember experiencing it as horrific.  Even though some horror is expressed in it, I don’t think it has an overall feeling of horror.  That is a good example though because I’m not sure what the dividing line is.  My friend likes Conrad and I’ll ask him what he thinks.

Of books I read in highschool, I personally found some other books more horrific.  Lord of the Flies was pretty darn horrific in that it was so believable.  Another novel was Hardy’s Jude the Obscure which has had a longterm existentially horrific influence on my poor psyche.

Its kind of hard to make an objective definition of horror as the experience itself is so subjective.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Yeah, I agree about Lord of the Flies. I am glad I’ve never read Jude the Obscure !!

Must we distinguish horror from terror from upset? From being disturbed or shaken? As you say, the experience is so subjective. My question is prompted by a couple of disturbing books I read when much younger: George Orwell’s 1984 tops the list, and Animal Farm was very upsetting to me also, but there are psychological torture things in 1984 which freak/creep me out to this day if I ever think of them.
 
That’s cool, about the attitudes of PKD heroes !! And it’s cool that you love having your sense of reality messed with !! I can appreciate the great flexibility that requires. (I have more now than I did when younger.) Do you think that’s an Intuitive characterstic, flexibility around “realities?”

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

We mustn’t anything at all.  In some ways, genres are arbitrary categories.  A funny thing is how any genre writer that is particularly talented gets put in the mainstream literature section of bookstores and libraries.  If a writer is good, his writings must not be genre because by definition genre is crap.  For instance, I’ve read plenty of genre fiction that is closer to mainstream literature than is Kafka.  I think Kafka is one of the greatest horror writers who ever lived.
I’d be perfectly happy if they simply got rid of genre categories or else made them more relevant.  In particular, horror doesn’t seem like a real genre to me.  I’ve always considered it to be a sub-category of dark fantasy which is further a sub-category of speculative fiction overall.

Do I think flexibility around “realities” is an Intuitive characteristic?  By definition, the Sensation function is the tendency towards concrete reality and a conservative attitude.  Sensation types prefer life to not change and be reliable.  It also comes down to the thin vs thick boundary types which correlates.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

2 days later

tuffy777 said

Hi, OM, and thanx fur joining the discussion! You have some pawesome ideas!

When we discuss horror, we tend to think of monsters like Godzilla and the Mummy, but the monster story is only a subdivision of the horror genre.

“Heart of Darkness” is an excellent choice because it is the story of a whtie European man coming to the realization that the horror of the “dark” continent of Africa is actually in his own heart, and not in the dark-sknned natives.

I believe that the horror is greater when you become a monster, than when a monster attacks you.

The irreality of one’s external world is also a type of horror. For example, in PKD’s novel “UBIK”, we can’t be sure who really died in the explosion and who survived. Somebody is in cryogenic storage with a futuristic telephone attached to the coffin, while somebody else is on the outside and still living.

Another PKD novel that I consider horror is “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, in which a recreational drug turns people into evil cyborgs.

~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

21 days later

Marmalade said

Hey tuffy… in case you notice this new comment…
“I believe that the horror is greater when you become a monster, than when a monster attacks you.”
I lost my first response. Let me try to partially reconstruct my argument.
Yes and no to what you said. Yes, horror is more relevant the closer it is to one’s own experience. No, horror in its most profound form can’t be described in human terms. Horror is only horrific to the degree that it has an element of Otherness. But, as Ligotti theorizes, horror necessitates a human or human-like character to register it. Even in “Heart of Darkness”, the protagonist experiences the horror at some distance as he is an observer entering into the world of horror. That is a common technique.
On a different note, I wanted to return to another idea. I found this following quote which relates to the distinction I made between Science Fiction and Horror.

Aron’s twofold task was to remind us, first, that there is no human nature unsullied by the Fall and, second, to suggest, as does orthodox Christianity, that what prophets of the absolute decry as a disaster was in fact a “fortunate fall,” a condition of our humanity. The utopian is optimistic about man, pessimistic about particular men and women: “I think I know man,” Rousseau sadly wrote, “but as for men, I know them not.” The anti-utopian is pessimistic, or at least disabused, about man; this forgiving pessimism frees him to be optimistic about individuals.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

22 days later

tuffy777 said

Hi, Marmalade.  You make some good points, but consider this:

When a monster attacks, you can lose your life.
But when you become a monster, you can lose your soul.
Many children of the 1960s learned this tragic lesson when they became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

22 days later

Marmalade said

Horror is a rather general term. There are many kinds and degrees of horror. Its an interesting question to consider what is most horrific. Everyone would probably have a different answer. To me, ultimate horror is a complete metaphysical Otherness… the dark wrathful face of God or elsethe silent infinite Void.

What is horrific about how serial killers are portrayed isn’t the fact that they’re human, but that they’re made into the monstrous Other. I notice how the news media resists giving any explanations or insights which leaves every event as an inexplicable phenomena. There are no reasons, just the gritty details of reality, facts that add up to nothing… now, that is what seems horrific to me.

The movie “Monster” made this point. Its the only serial killer movie that fully expressed the human side of the killer and thus made her seem less monstrous. Its psychological realism is what encouraged empathy rather than horror.

As for the horror of addiction, “A Scanner Darkly” is truly awesome. Another good one (in a suicidally depressing kind of way) is “A Requiem for a Dream”.My favorite author that has great insights into addiction is Burroughts. Hiswork can be very dark.

Self-destruction is a very horrific topic. Its the Otherness felt within… something we can’t control. Its horrifying in that its so predictably human and yet so humanly incomprehensible. Addiction is akin to demonic possession. The sense of loss of soul is in how addiction can utterly transform someone. When at rock bottom, everything that one previously loved and cared for becomes unhinged and distant as if from a dream or a previous life.

What is horrific about it is that one’s normal sense of humanity (ie soul) is lost. One becomes the Other, a disconnection from self. What may be worse for the addict is that everyone else might also treat the addict as Other in having fallen from the grace of acceptable society… which leaves no lifeline back to “normal” reality.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

22 days later

tuffy777 said

Consider Dr. Jekyll, the kindly gentleman who becomes the loathsome Mr. Hyde whenever he drinks the potion.  (They say that R.L. Stevenson based this character on an alcoholic uncle.)  Eventually, he becomes Mr. Hyde without drinking the potion, and he is unable to resume his former identity as the good doctor when he most needs to revert. 

Only in death can he subsume the monstrous side of his psyche and become the respectable gentleman once more.

  ~~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Child

22 days later

Marmalade said

Ah, yes… a good example. I love stories about doubles or alternate personalities. That is a theme that PKD usesextremely wellin “A Scanner Darkly”. Reintegration can come at a great cost.

God’s Fake Fakes

God’s Fake Fakes

Posted on Nov 13th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
Here is an excerpt from PKD’s essay titled How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later:

In my writing I got so interested in fakes that I finally came up with the concept of fake fakes. For example, in Disneyland there are fake birds worked by electric motors which emit caws and shrieks as you pass by them. Suppose some night all of us sneaked into the park with real birds and substituted them for the artificial ones. Imagine the horror the Disneyland officials would feel when they discovered the cruel hoax. Real birds! And perhaps someday even real hippos and lions. Consternation. The park being cunningly transmuted from the unreal to the real, by sinister forces. For instance, suppose the Matterhorn turned into a genuine snow-covered mountain? What if the entire place, by a miracle of God’s power and wisdom, was changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, into something incorruptible? They would have to close down.

In Plato’s Timaeus, God does not create the universe, as does the Christian God; He simply finds it one day. It is in a state of total chaos. God sets to work to transform the chaos into order. That idea appeals to me, and I have adapted it to fit my own intellectual needs: What if our universe started out as not quite real, a sort of illusion, as the Hindu religion teaches, and God, out of love and kindness for us, is slowly transmuting it, slowly and secretly, into something real?

That perspective is opposite of ACIM.  In the Course, its because God’s love that he doesn’t (that he can’t) recognize the unrealities we create.  But I kind of like what PKD writes.  He seems to be saying that the divine descent into matter isn’t a bad thing.  Either way, you can’t hide from God.  With the Course’s viewpoint, we can’t hide in unrealities because they’re unreal.  With PKD’s viewpoint, we can’t hide in unrealities because God will find us even there.  No matter how you cut it, God will find you out (It almost makes me paranoid).

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1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Here’s my ecstatic version of that paranoia !!

He’s a real mind-stretcher, ain’t he, that PKD !!!?

Love it !!

Thanks for the bunch of interesting blogs !

Namaste, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

I remember having come across that blog post of yours.  Your way of thinking about the matter seems similar to my own.  Presence can’t be limited to anything or excluded from anything. God as Presence is present… in our thoughts and in this world.  If Hell existed, God would even be Present there.

I’m glad you liked the blogs.  I’m not sure what was motivating me.  It must’ve been God’s presence.  🙂

You managed to pick out the most personal of all the recent posts.  That isn’t too difficult to do… just find the one with PKD in it.

I’ve read this essay by PKD many times but I should give credit where credit is due.  A particular blogger reminded me of it and so my blog was directly inspired by his.  My addition was to throw in the perspective of ACIM.  The blogger I’m speaking of is Tim Boucher.  He is a favorite of mine in that he blogs about PKD, conspiracies, Gnosticism and Ken Wilber… sometimes in the same blog.  The blog that inspired this one is titled Fake fakes & God.

1 day later

brianna said

Hello this is Brianna visiting first time to this site and find it very interesting. I really like to join it.and really want to continue the discussion with this site..

——-

Brianna

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1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

2 days later

1Vector3 said

Hi Brianna, welcome to this Community !! There is an Orientation Program in the first two posts here, that will help you learn to get around here. Feel free also to ask me or Marmalade, we like to help new folks feel at home !!

Marmalade, I respond to blogs via an inner call, not always the most personal ones. This one “called” me, haha !!
I will follow up and read Tim Boucher’s blog when I can…. Thanks for “giving credit….” with an interesting link.
Thanks for your words about MY blog and that comment!!!!
If Hell existed, God would not only be present there, God would be the creator of it, and the entire substance of it and all the activity of it, as well. The way I see God, anyway. So in a way, the whole idea of “God” becomes kind of a boring non-issue, from this perspective. Everything one could talk about is God, so let’s just talk about what we talk about! There’s no separate “God” to talk about.

More important, IMO, to talk about Quality of Life….

But, I digress from your topic. Carry on !!!!!!

Blessings, OM

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Thanks OM for responding to Brianna! 

Hi Brianna!  What OM said.

I like this: the whole idea of “God” becomes kind of a boring non-issue.  What a lovely boring non-issue God is.  It is kind of pointless talking about God because you either get lost in abstractions or paradoxes.  All that can really be said about God is what you can say while speaking about something else.

I’m not familiar with what you mean by “Quality of LIfe…”  Okay, I just looked back at the blog you linked.  In reference to this, you mentioned a shift in perception.  I think I understand what you mean.  I’m definitely more interested in this aspect than discussing God, but even so shifts of perception are only slightly less nebulous than God’s Presence.

Don’t worry… digressions are always welcome!  There was no particular topic to this blog… just a mildly interesting product of the random thought generator I call my brain.