Authors Connected?

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know. Does that make sense?

* * *

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

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

From Horror to Gnosis: Pessimism, Culture, Monomyth

I’ve had many ideas rolling around in my head this past week or so. I’ve at least mentioned most of them in my recent blogs, but there are still some I’ve been meaning to get around to.

Even though I’ve mentioned Ligotti, I haven’t ever written about the one nonfiction work (besides textbooks) that I’m aware of him writing. Only an excerpt of it has been published so far and its in a recent volume of Collapse journal which also included some nonfiction by the well known fantasy writer China Mievelle. Anyways, he writes about the philosophy known as Pessimism in relationship to suffering.

He uses as one of his primary inspirations the ‘The Last Messiah’ by Peter Wessel Zapffe. Zapffe called his type of thinking biosophy and its my understanding that he had major influence on the deep ecology movement. The basic idea is that humans have certain over-developed functions, specifically consciousness, which cause humans to not easily fit into their environment.  More importantly, for my purposes, are the problems it causes with a hyper-sensitivity to suffering, and hence the necessity to counter it with various methods that Zapffe puts into 4 categories: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation. Zapffe was actually a rather life-embracing guy who liked to climb mountains (for the very reason that it was pointless) and wrote humorous stories, but Ligotti takes his ideas in a much more cynical direction.

I get the sense that Ligotti is a failed idealist.  My idealism has likewise failed in many ways but not entirely (and maybe correspondingly my faith has increased in certain ways). I think I’ll always have some of the hopeless idealist in me. Its hard to tell what Ligotti’s personal experiences or views are as he keeps his philosophizing mostly on the level of the abstract. He claims this is intentional because his arguments aren’t based on his moods, but he does admit that the experience of horror is something most people will never understand. He seems to accept that he is in the minority and that his writing will probably never be widely read (despite the fact that he is one of the better writers alive today and is highly respected by other writers).

I can agree with Ligotti in many ways. Humans are naturally optimistic and we avoid the experience of suffering as if our lives depended on it… because our lives probably do. I imagine that most people would go insane or kill themselves if they ever felt suffering fully. In all actuality, I doubt humans are capable of experiencing suffering without various psychological filters and buffers limiting our consciousness.  Its the double-bind of being human… the inability to either fully avoid or fully face suffering.

The problem is that Ligotti seems to leave this Existentialist insight on the level of biological horror. I don’t know that he has never had any experiences that he’d deem “spiritual”, but if he has he leaves them out of the equation. I’ve had experiences that went so far beyond (or within?) suffering that my experience was transformed… or, if not exactly transformed, I did touch upon something that felt entirely Other.

Because of this, I prefer to go the route of something like Gnosticism.  So, in this way, I can accept that the world is filled with suffering and yet not simply resign myself to it. Gnosticism is also a way I can give meaning to why the deep experience of suffering is so rare. Some have criticized Gnosticism as elitist, but I think that Gnosticism was simply observing the rarity of true gnosis (maybe similar to some early forms of Protestantism).

Its not an attitude of judgment because I wouldn’t claim true gnosis for myself as I’m way too confused for all that.  But I will say that I feel there is much superficiality and falseness in most claims of spirituality… and I can sense this even in myself whenever I try to speak of spirituality. I don’t believe gnosis is about being saved and so its not that the unworthy are left behind. Gnosis is just an insight and that is all and serves no greater purpose beyond that. Unlike the Gnostics, I have severe doubts about the notion of escaping suffering and prefer something more akin to Buddhism. Suffering, when felt deeply enough, can open one to understanding and potentially compassion.

As far as pure rationality goes, I consider Pessimism to be one of the most objectively accurate assessments of human experience that we are capable of coming up with.  For sure, its at least as reasonable as any other philosophical or theological position, not that reasonableness is the primary standard by which people choose their beliefs.

In light of Pessimism, there are the criticisms towards mainstream notions of freewill which interests me very much. Its without a doubt, in my mind, that the lack of freewill is the more scientific hypothesis given the scientific standard of parsimony. Rationality is important because all discussion (ie shared understanding) is of almost no use or merit without it, but when it comes to personal experience I don’t limit my understandings to mere rationality. Even someone like Ligotti with his very rational arguments is fully aware of the extreme limits of the human intellect.

I may have lost most of my audience by now with this dreary philosophizing during this time of “holiday cheer”, but I shall continue with another set of ideas.

When I think of Gnosticism, it automatically brings to my mind Jung… probably from whose writings I first learned about Gnostic-type of ideas. Also related to Jung are theories such as Myers-Briggs typology and Campbell’s Monomyth, but most Jungians dislike it when Jung’s ideas are systematized. The type of books that often reference Jung usually won’t reference the MBTI or the Hero’s Journey. This is the case with the books of Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson.

I, of course, consider all of these to be related. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the Monomyth in how Jesus fits the typical Hero’s Journey and thus the corelation to the Gnostic interpretation of the Christ figure.

Even with the vastness of the internet, its still hard to find much writing about these connections. The best source I always seem to come back to is Tim Boucher in his extensive blogging. He has lots of interesting thoughts, but here are just a few quotes from his site that I found relevant:

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

the hero is basically synonymous with the ego. the ego is sort of the main part of the mind that we identify with as a culture. the “hero’s journey” to me seems like a story about what happens when the ego encounters parts of the mind besides itself. looking at how various cultures portray the archetypal “hero” can shed a lot of light on how their minds work, and the values they cherish. alternatively, i think that looking at the types of heroes and stories that you personally are drawn to can shed a lot of light on what’s important to you, what you’re struggling with, and possible symbolically encoded outcomes that could be achieved.

Demiurge and Ego

The Jungian concept of ego/Self dovetails nicely with gnostic theology as well. In it, the Demiurge is a false god who brashly and wrongly believes that he is the creator and most powerful being in the universe. Usually associated with the Judeo-Christian Yahweh, he is a jealous, egotistical god who is violent, capricious and authoritarian. Consider the first of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other god before me.”

The Joseph Campbell of Conspiracy Theory

I’ve wondered before why Campbell didn’t talk more about “pop culture as mythology”. I mean, he did, but it wasn’t the focus of his work. I only realized very recently the sleight of hand that he really pulled. What he did was use pop culture as a vehicle. I think he realized that traditional religions were essentially dead in the water, or if not dead then at least declining in people’s lives. Certainly they still play a role, but nowadays the real grunt-work is done by pop culture. It provides us with a story-system which binds us as a culture, and which acts as a vehicle or vessel for the symbolic contents of our subconscious minds.

I think he realized this, but he also realized that there was a danger here. Namely, that our archetypes were being clothed in pop culture, and we didn’t even know it. Since it was happening mostly outside the context of organized religion, with traditions of ritual and symbolism, most people were missing out on the important lessons learned in those traditions. So what he did, the real genius of his work, was to strip out the symbolic messages out of all world religions, and inject them directly into the bloodstream of the new religion, pop culture. And he essentially trusted that through the chaos of the mediasphere, these messages would ultimately find their place on their own and go right to where they were needed.

His speaking about pop culture returns me to the genres. Ever since Star Wars, the Monomyth has become a standard model for making movies in Hollywood… a model that even mainstream religion has had to come to terms with, however reluctantly. Parallel to the Monomyth, Neo-noir has brought Gnosticism into the public view. These two strains have come together in many movies such as The Matrix. So, I’m back in the territory of Philip K. Dick and the cultural analyses of Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson.

What I was thinking about is the narrative structure of Gnostic films. They often end with the door in the sky. The narrative must end there because that is where rationality ends. Is there something beyond that door? What might it be? Any answer given won’t satisfy. We’d be disappointed if we followed Truman to the world beyond the Demiurge’s false reality.

This makes me wonder. The Monomyth is circular without any apparent escape. The traditional hero leaves just to return, but the Gnostic hero leaves without returning… or, if you prefer, his leaving is his returning to the real world… or in Jungian terms to his real Self. His boon is self-transformation (or else ananmesis) which is rather intangible.

This is where my personal sufferings and doubts come in. I recognize the limits of rationality.  At its best, fiction can (potentially) at least point beyond itself in a way that philosophy doesn’t seem as capable of doing.

Nonetheless, the narrative ends with the Gnostic hero’s accomplishment and yet we the audience are stuck in this endless loop of Monomyth’s repetition. Stories can be just as much distracting entertainment as mode of insight. The Monomyth is a circle, but traditional religion offers us the hope of either escape from the enclosing periphery or otherwise to bring us deeper to the center around which it all revolves.

Can we only worship the hero as most Christians do or like Gnostics can we become the hero? Or is identifying with the hero part of the ego’s trap of endless misery? How does the story truly end? Does the story ever end? Will people still be telling ever new versions of the Monomyth far into the distant future (assuming we’re still around)?

The whole finger pointing at the moon comes to mind. What is the point of studying stories? What is the point of worshipping the Monomyth hero even if you believe him to be the Son of God? Does turning to religion offer us any further insight or guidance?

I don’t know the answer to all of that. My questioning here is partially in response to similar thoughts that Eric G. Wilson writes about which I might go into more detail about sometime. For now, I’ll just end with my wondering about all things archetypal.

What are the archetypes? Mere biological mechanisms of Darwinian evolution? A good case can be made for that, but it doesn’t satisfy me personally. I’d like to believe that archetypes, if not the moon the finger is pointing at, may at least be the trajectory of the finger pointing. If I follow the archetypes in contemplation, where shall they lead me?

To use the sea as a metaphor for the vastness of suffering, is there any reason to leave the shore?

* * *

BTW I’m not despairing beyond hope or anything. I still find life amusing. When I typed that last question about whether to leave the shore, I was smiling. Its a silly question. Yes, life is suffering, but I don’t think anyone gets the choice of sitting on the shore. I like the image though… sunbathing on the beach of human misery… don’t forget to bring the sunscreen.

The most important aspect of this blog for me is that of storytelling.  A religion is only as successful as its story.  Certainly, the Judeo-Christian tradition doesn’t lack stories.  Every large-scale world religion will have its imperialistic tendencies, but that isn’t enough to ensure the conversion of the masses.  Even an empire needs a good story to convince people to accept oppression.

Also, any good story will get re-used and retold again and again.  There is no original story.  This is partly about the Monomyth which is based on human psychology (such as the relationship between men and women) and observation of the physical world (such as the solar year).  But this also largely cultural transmission.  Pretty much every story in the Old and New Testament can be found in various versions in the cultures that preceeded and surrounded the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Those stories survived because they were good stories.  Don’t underestimate simple entertainment value.

Simply put, stories are powerful.  Nations and religions live and die by them.  On the personal level, we need stories to make sense of it all.  Humans couldn’t live without stories.  Many stories are seen as fact because good stories are very convincing.  Stories work mosty on the unconscious level and we are probably barely aware of most stories that rule our sense of reality.

Okay, all that is easy enough to understand.  Considering stories, we must take seriously archetypes whatever they may be.  I doubt stories could exist without archetypes, but archeytpes aren’t limited to story.  Story is just one way of conveying story.

Also, we have a limited notion of story in our culture.  Stories, traditionally, were inseparable from religion, cultural identity, ritual, song, environment, etc.  Stories still carry some of this, but we have seemingly become somewhat disconnected from their true potential.

I’d go so far as to suggest the possibility that reality itself is a story.  If so, who is the storyteller?  And exactly what are we living, individually and collectively?

I’ve had a desire to get at the heart of my own story which obviously includes the larger story of the culture I’m immersed within.  This is partly why I like to write stories because its a way of bringing consciousness to the fore.

Closely related to stories are dreams.  Over the years, I’ve begun to see repeating themes in my dreams.  This fascinates me because it feels like a glimpse into some underlying structure of my psyche.  Dreams are spontaneous narratives.  Dreams give us insight into the nature and limits of narrative.  Its tempting to say that dreams are purer forms of primal narrative structure, but I think that would be a simplification.  The stories we’ve been influenced by will of course influence our dreams in turn.

Childhood is particularly interesting form an adult perspective.  I have many recollections that I can’t determine the source of.  Memories?  Dreams?  Something I heard othes speak about?

I don’t know where my thoughts are going with this.  I’m just pondering.

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.

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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Rilke’s Disappointing Dolls

Rilke’s Disappointing Dolls

Posted on May 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
The Secret Life of Puppets
By Victoria Nelson
Pages 69-70

In the essay “Doll: On the Wax Dolls of Lote Pritzel” (1913-14), inspired by an exhibit of life-size adult dolls he had seen in Munich as well as the Kleist esay, Rainer Maria Rilke confronts the frustrating paradox of graven images that will not come to life.  Noting as a casual given that most inanimate objects “eagerly” absorb human tenderness (“a violin’s devotion, the good-natured eagerness of horn-rimmed spectacles”), he laments the fact that the childhood fusion with the self-object doll is a barren union that promises everything and delivers nothing.  “You doll-soul,” he exclaims in this monologue addressed to an idol that does not reply, “not made by god, you soul, begged as a whim by some impetuous elf, you thing-soul exhaled laboriously by an idol and kept in being by us all.”  As children, he says, we invent a soul for the doll, but ultimately the doll makes the child feel cheated,  “unmasked as the gruesome foreign body on which we squandered our purest affection.’  By the end of cihildhood “we could not make it into a thing or person, and in such moments it became a stranger to us,’ and so the doll-soul and its possibilities die for good.  Rilke suggests that this kind of infantile wish-animism is doomed to wither in the object once it has died within us.

The same is not true of the puppet, however.  Rilke expresses his hope that this simulacrum will prove to be a potential soul vessel in the fourth Duino elegy, where he builds explicitly on the paradoxes Kleist set forth in “On the Marionette Theater”:

    when I am in the mood
    to wait before the puppet stage, no,
    to watch it so intensely that, in order
    finally to compensate for my watching, as puppeteer
    an angel must come to set the puppets in motion

Or, as Harold Segel has elegantly paraphrased this passage: “Once the self is overcome, one stands before the possibility of a heretofore unrealizable interaction of the material world, represented by the puppet figure, and the transcendent world, represented by the figure of an angel… the path to harmonize the world.”  The puppet-angel conjunction is in fact Rilke’s solution to the mute and fruitless idolatry of childhood, a state of innocence to which, like the Garden of Eden, we cannot return.

Rilke continues:

    Angel and puppet.  Now we will have a play.
    Now will there come together what we always
    Divide because of our presence…
    Now will the angel perform over us.

To achieve the loss of ego necessary to experience the true unio mystica, the conjunction of the visible and invisible worlds, he says, we must do precisely as Kleist’s Mr. C. suggests — bite the apple again and re-lose our innocence.  For Rilke, however, this loss of ego may represent not, as Louis Sass argues about Kleist, the subject-object fusion that is “an obliteration of all individuating self-consciousness,’ but rather a more sophisticated state of integration, “a higher self-consciousness that is, at the same time, a higher self-fogetfulness,” the true Paradise on earth.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

38 minutes later

Nicole said

yes, indeed, Rilke always aspired toward that true integration. you can see it as well when he speaks of love, for example in the passage I quoted in the God Pod discussion What is Love? excellent blog. I’m really enjoying this Rilke series, learning a lot

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

I posted these blogs about Rilke for 4 reasons.
1) I thought you might enjoy them.
2) It might start some nice discussion.
3) The 2 books I quoted from are ones I’ve been looking at recently and this gives me an opportunity to think about them.
4) Its a non-poetic way of looking at poetry.  🙂

I was noticing how different a view Rilke’s ideas of the doll are from The Velveteen Rabbit.  No amount of human love(no matter how innocent and pure) is going to animate Rilke’s dolls into animate Reality.  The puppet, on the other hand, draws forth the animating power beyond the human(child or otherwise), the Angel.  The doll can’t be ensouled, but the puppet can be moved by the angelic spirit.  The puppet can be animated because that which animates is transcendent to it.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 6 hours later

Nicole said

yes, Ben! oh, how do you see so clearly? i very deeply admire your keen mind and insight.

and thanks that you were at least partly motivated by my enjoyment. that is definitely full reality!

“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit one day…

I just finished the book The Melancholy Android by Eric G. Wilson.  I really enjoyed it.  It covers much of the same material as another book I’ve read: The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson.  I want to blog about those books later on, but thinking about some of the ideas from those books reminds me of the story of The Velveteen Rabbit.  I never read that story as a child, but its become a favorite of mine since I read it a few years ago.

What does it mean to be real, to be alive, to be human?

The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams Bianco

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by
side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does
it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that
happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just
to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When
you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit
by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It
takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who
break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved
off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very
shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are
Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

This resonates with what I was saying in my comments in my blog post Personal Public Problems.  I was speaking about Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly.  Philip K. Dick was interested in what is reality, but this relates to what it means to be real.  Maybe Arctor is like the Velveteen Rabbit.  Isn’t there a hope in suffering?  Isn’t that what the Christian tradition teaches?  To be real is in some sense to be saved.  What we’re saved from isn’t suffering per se, but the illusions and lies that keep us from seeing suffering clearly.  Our suffering can’t be avoided… it must be faced.  We must let ourselves be transformed by fire.

“I am the nursery magic Fairy,” she said. “I take care of all the
playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn
out and the children don’t need them any more, then I come and take
them away with me and turn them into Real.”

“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit.

“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now
you shall be Real to every one.”

Human love may be where it starts, but that only awakens in us the awareness of a greater possibility, a greater Love.  To be Real in the deepest sense is to find that sense of Realness within ourselves… not dependent on specific relationships.  And this brings up the question of what does it mean to be autonomous, to be free?  The Velveteen Rabbit is saved by the fairy and goes to live with the wild rabbits.  He is no longer dependent on the boy.  What the rabbit does now is up to him.  His Real life is only beginning.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 1 hour later

Nicole said

I love the Velveteen Rabbit and the Little Prince. There are so many profound truths.

Thank you for your beautiful blogs, dear friend.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

I appreciate your appreciation.  I don’t know the Little Prince story very well, but I did see a nice adaptation of it a while back.  Its a strange story.

I was thinking of various stories that are related.  The Velveteen Rabbit has a similar motif to Pinocchio, and both ot those stories seemed to be direct influences of the movie A.I. – Artificial Intelligence.  All three of these involve non-human beings desiring to be made real and also each of them has its fairy.  The fairy in Pinocchio and in AI is blue.  And, interestingly, the flowers are blue in A Scanner Darkly, but I have no idea if Philip K. Dick meant that connection.  Some info about PKD’s blue flowers:
“Philip K. Dick also gives the name of the species of the flower, which helps to show the relevant meaning of the story and the nature of both the drug and the character’s struggle. The name is Mors ontologica, which translates as “ontological death”, that is “death of being”, or more loosely “the being of death itself”.”

So, the blue flowers are a symbol of death which would seem to make them opposite to the blue fairy.  But what kind of death are the blue flowers symbolic of?  

Are the blue flowers symbolic of “the being of death itself”… the demiurge?  That could make sense… what seems like life in this world would be death from the Gnositc perspective.  The blue fairy and the demiurge are both demi-god creators of life. 

Or, instead, are the blue flowers symbolic of “death of being”?  Bob Arctor loses himself, a death of self.  This is the transformation that Gnostics sought.  Even in Christianity, Jesus death is the precursor to life redeemed.  Also, the Velveteen Rabbit had to face the potential of death before he gains living form.
“Time becomes our chance for action, though action is no guard against regret or failure. Twice a person in authority tells Bob Arctor about blue flowers in the spring. First the psychologist, then Donna, both in the context of romance, both specific to size and time of year. Spring, romance, action. Love buries him.”

We must die to the limits of human love.  This what the Velveteen Rabbit did.  Plus, this aspect of romance fits into what I said earlier about betrayal.  For certain, Donna’s betrayal couldn’t be more deeply cutting.  Donna invites Arctor to someday go with her to the mountains.  And he does make it to the mountains, but without her.  While there, he discovers the blue flowers in bloom.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

living is always about dying. we are always dying to parts, being born, and ultimately dying for the last time in this life, perhaps to repeat the whole cycle again (i remain agnostic about reincarnation as i have not “been there” so don’t feel i can really know 🙂 )

the little prince also died at the end of the book, because it is the only way he can return to his home planet. he invites a snake to bite him, again very archetypal, eh?

yes, i agree that the blue flowers are about death, in fact at every level, which is why they are ontological.

death of the self, death of the ability to maintain a healthy connection to reality, death of relationships with other people, death of being able to work or do anything but stay addicted, death of the mind, and finally, death, leaving the world in a sigh of relief.

one of the things we haven’t talked about which is most intriguing about this movie is the “scramble suits”, which make it easy for Donna to deceive Arctor. What are our “scramble suits” but our personae, behind which we look at the world to see how it is responding to the rapidly changing masks we are flashing in front of our true selves to distract it from who we really are.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

7 days later

Marmalade said

I’ve been meaning to respond to this last comment of yours.  The scramble suits are intriguing.  The plot of the movie wouldn’t have been possible without them.  I’ve never thought too much about this aspect of the story, but what you say makes sense to me.

We hide behind our personae and its through this that we deceive others.  But its also how we deceive ourselves, pretending to be something we’re not.  The scramble suits scramble how the characters are perceived by others, and in combination with the drug it scrambles Bob’s perception of himself.  He puts on the suit and he becomes ‘Fred’.  The vague blur that he is when wearing the scramble suit is a symbol for what he becomes.

Part of him knows that he is sacrificing himself.  Here is some of a monologue of Bob as he is going down the hall to take off his scramble suit:

“Crazy job they gave me.  But if I wasn’t doing it, someone else would be.  And they might get it wrong.” … “Better it be me, despite the disadvantages.”

This scene starts with his being Fred and follows him as he transitions into Bob  The whole end of the movie is about these two sides of him merging back together.  As he walks home, the monologue shifts into a commentary about perception and what the scanner sees.  The closer he comes to discovering the truth, the further away the truth seems.  And when Donna in her scramble suit finally tells him that he is Bob,  his world utterly collapses.

There are several themes that are similar in A Scanner Darkly and The Velveteen Rabbit: remembering and forgetting; being seen, known and being forgotten; seeing clearly and knowing reality; love and betrayal; loss, suffering, and becoming real. 

I’m reminded of how the Rabbit thought the mechanical toys were more real because he didn’t know that there was such a thing as real rabbits.  His life with the boy in the house is like Plato’s cave.  Even when he goes outside and sees real rabbits, he didn’t see them as anything other than toys because that is all he had known.  It was only when he had been abandoned by the boy, put out to be burned, that he became really real and understood what reality was. 

In becoming real, he was seen and aknowledged by the real rabbits.  This is something that Bob Arctor never received from anyone.  He couldn’t rely on anyone else, but had to see and aknowledge his own reality.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

8 days later

Nicole said

thanks for responding, Ben, i did want to talk about scramble suits with you, and i really agree with your answer. you have helped me understand and have deep compassion for Bob (and PKD and all his friends).

your last paragraph is sad, it makes me think of people i know who are broken and fragmented like Bob. even when i try to give them the “yes” for their lives, they cannot receive it. as you say, they have to see and acknowledge their own reality. and instead they beat themselves up…

4 months later

Enlightened.thinker said

What a great blog…thanks for linking me to it and writing about it! What a wonder! I did not see it in April, but we may not have been friends then…not sure…thanks so much fr allowing me the chance to read it!


Marmalade : Gaia Child

4 months later

Marmalade said

Of all my blogs, this is one of my favorites.  The discussion in the comments is connected with the discussion in a few other blogs around the same time.  Nicole and I were having an in-depth conversation about Philip K. Dick.

I don’t remember when we became friends, but it seems like it might’ve been after this blog.

I was just speaking with Nicole about a movie I like immensely: The Fountain.  I think that movie relates to the subject being discussed here.  The Fountain is about suffering, death, and transformation.  But its a bit different in that it has a heavier focus on the value of relationship.  And The Fountain reminds me of another movie about an obsessed scientist and his wife: Altered States.

I just was thinking of how all the narratives that I mentioned are from a male point of view.  The Velveteen Rabbit was written by a woman, but the rabbit itself was male.  Do you know of any other good stories about deep transformation from a woman’s perspective?

The author of The Velveteen Rabbit reminds me of an interview I heard recently with Ursula K. Le Guin that was on the extras of the dvd of The Lathe of Heaven.  She was saying how for most of her career she had written from the perspective of male characters, and she had never thought about it.  She eventually started writing from a female perspective and was then considered a feminist.  Isn’t that funny?  🙂  Another related element is that I’ve read that Le Guin and Philip K. Dick were friends and that The Lathe of Heaven was intended as an homage.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 months later

Nicole said

funny, seems like we have been friends much longer eh? but it was about then, indeed.

I really enjoyed our talks about PKD. I learned a lot.

Altered States…. that sounds familiar. Do you recommend it too?

Other good stories about deep transformation from a woman’s perspective? Hmmm…. that’s a very good question. Nothing jumps to mind, so I’d have to do a little looking around.

But you did mention K Le Guin, and that’s funny, what you say about her… she has a great sense of humour… She is a good example of what you were asking. I found her books about Ged and EarthSea to be very much about personal transformation, sometimes literally 🙂 as Ged would use his powers to shape change, but much more importantly on an inner level..And one of them is even about a girl…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

4 months later

Marmalade said

Altered States is a good movie, but a bit strange.  Like what you said about Ged and Earthsea, its partly about literal transformation.  Its loosely based on the life of John C. Lilly who was a very interesting scientist and thinker who wrote several nonfiction books.  Lilly did scientific research about the intelligence and communication of dolphins and he was the inventor of the isolation/flotation tank.  He was a scientist who believed in firsthand experience and did quite a bit of drug experimentation.

I’ve never read much of Le Guin.  I read a collection of her short stories, but I don’t remember ever having read one of her novels.  There was one story in that collection that I found particularly amusing.  It was titled “Schrodinger’s Cat”.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 months later

Nicole said

haven’t read that one but i’m sure it’s delightful!

Lilly, yes, I have heard a little about him but don’t know much.

i’m fascinated by dolphins, in fact, my only ring is two dolphins diving… 🙂