Tuesday, December 16, 2008

From the Private Diaries of Tristan Eldritch.

Tzadkiel and I have been spending an inordinate amount of time indoors of late, owing to a combination of the bitter cold, and an increasing fondness on both our parts for opium. Itching to engage in some field work, my familiar struck upon a novel notion. While visiting friends in San Francisco, Tzadkiel had been acquainted with several technopagans, and learned a particular spell whereby the astral body could be miniaturised, and transferred into a digital format. This allowed the cutting age magus to traverse the byways of cyberspace in something akin to the immersive, bodiless fashion envisioned by William Gibson in Neuromancer, and had facilitated all manner of ritual magicks hitherto unimagined, as well as opportunities for high end information hacking and minor credit card fraud. Though generally used for occult practises of the utmost gravity, when it was discovered that the astral body could be sent via email, a form of etheric tourism evolved which some have labelled astral back-packing. This practise, needless to say, is remarkably cost effective, albeit not without some degree of peril. Witness the tragic example of Sausalito local Peter Evans, goddess worshipper, part-time data entry clerk, and luckless exhauster of the arena of online dating. Peter’s astral body had been mistaken for spam in a cyber-café in Thailand, and promptly deleted to whatever chaotic limbo is the final resting place to all chain-letters, scams, and dubious purveyors of erection enhancing pharmacology and Rolex watches. God rest his soul, his curious tale is a timely warning to us all of the dangers inherent in adopting an avatar.

It was Tzadkiel’s conceit that we might utilise these techniques to embark upon a fieldtrip to Google Earth, in order to explore the recent rash of UFO sightings therein.

-Mebbe it’s all just glitches, or that pareidolia, but mebbe, just mebbe…..

Tzadkiel’s tobacco seared baritone trailed off.

My last escapade into the astral realm had been an unmitigated disaster. Back in 1976, I was the lead guitarist, lyricist, and occasional bassoon player with a Lovecraftian prog-rock group called the Great Old Ones. In January of ‘78, we scored an unlikely top 20 hit with the edited version of Cyclopean Masonry (Dripping with Slime.) (I have often suspected that this bizarre success was due to some illegal machination on the part of our manager Chas Hendricks; I always maintained that Chas was a dubious character, though in fairness, the sole reason for my suspicion was his popular and doubtless affectionate nickname “The Hoxton Nonce.”) We spent most of ’78 holed up in the notorious Cavendish Manner, situated near the picturesque village of Chenies, about twenty miles outside London. A mere three miles away stood the very cottage where the blind bard Milton completed his mighty theodicy Paradise Lost, and began its worthy appendage Paradise Regained. (The necessity for a sequel emerged when Milton showed Paradise Lost to a trusted acquaintance, and received the stern rebuke: “There is much here of Paradise Lost….but what of Paradise Regained?”) Cavendish Manor itself was a place of extraordinary architectural and historical interest, containing upon its grounds a white garden, a sunken garden, and an extensive Physic garden comprising an immense variety of esoteric plants and herbs; the obligatory underground passages, a reconstructed penitential maze, and even a reputed “Priest’s Hole.” (I must confess that to this day I have no precise idea what kind of thing a “Priest’s Hole” really is. However, when discovered skulking about the grounds of Cavendish Manor, it was old, infallible joke to say that one was looking for the “Priest’s Hole”! Magical times.)

If the Manor were a person gifted with the faculty of cognisance and the ability to lift a pen, then it could have written a vast summa of scarcely credible anecdotes, such were the wild debauches that took place upon its environs, and the palpable air of legendry that hung like a dank and alluring stench about the place. In the early sixties, due largely to the dissipation of its erstwhile master the 2nd Earl of Amersham, the Manor had fallen into the hands of an amusement arcade entrepreneur called Ronnie Brixton, and his then partner Chas Hendrix, a little known skiffle impresario and all-around dabbler in unlikely money making ventures. What the pair initially used the Manor for is unknown, though there is much talk and innuendo. However, around ’64 or ’65, when London began palpably to “Swing”, it was well-known in certain circles that Ronnie and Chas were throwing frenetic sex parties in their posh gaff in the countryside. These early orgies were illicit and incongruous affairs, where crooked property tycoons and psychotic underworld figures rubbed shoulders with minor pop stars, where secretaries and typists cooed over actors, and a steady stream of “birds” were eagerly pursued, some winsome and youthful in the then-popular style of Twiggy, others, encapsulating the style which I have always found to predominate at organised sex parties, middle-aged, robbed of all illusion, and Rubenesque in proportion. I have myself betimes taken much comfort in these fleshy and gregarious creatures.

A typical scene from Cavendish Manor. More Innocent times.

Where-ever the door is opened to pure sensation, its myriad forms soon follow in rapid succession. As the sixties progressed, Cavendish House became a kind of laboratory for the new hedonic technologies which were the printing press and telegraph- pole of that extraordinary decade. Soon the pungent aroma of marijuana became commonplace, and after that the befuddling sacrament of LSD. Black magicks of all kinds inevitably followed, and in its own strange macrocosmic way the Manor emulated the helter-skelter trajectory of the sixties to its own apocalyptic Altamont. Many believe that the events depicted in the 1970 film Performance were a mere fever dream of the counterculture; in actuality, they were directly based on shadowy events which occurred in the Manor in 1966. In September of that year, Brian Jones paid a two month visit, during which time he fell into the company of psychotic and charismatic hoodlum Chas “Bigs” Chandler. Other revellers described a peculiar symbiosis occurring between the virile thug and the androgynous mod: Chas wore a blood wig, and donned the imitable beads, stripes, and drainpipes of the Stone, while Jones took to wearing an undertaker’s suit, and speaking in the inelegant ergot of the working class hoodlum and fixer. It is suggested that they attempted astral projection, and Chandler stole Brian Jones’ body, strangling his own, which now contained Brian, and depositing the body in the elusive “Priest’s Hole.” Chandler was a marked man, having fled to the Manor to escape certain death at the hands of rival mobsters. Brian/Chas continued to play with the Stones for awhile, by virtue of the peculiar “memory” apparently possessed by the tissue and internal organs, as evidenced by various transplant recipients who have acquired miraculous musical talents. However, his abilities diminished fast; during the recording of You Can’t Always Get What you Want, Brian/Chas famously asked Jagger “What can I play?” to which Jagger responded “What can you play, Brain?”

In 1969, the 27 year old Stone was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool at Cotchford Farm. The coroner said “death by misadventure”, others alleged suicide; those who had been at the Manor in 1966 whispered that the past of Chas “Bigs” Chandler has finally caught up with him. (In actuality, as unlikely as it may sound, the body-swapping of hardened London hoodlums and sixties pop icons was more common than you might imagine. Many say that Paul McCarthy was never quite the same after his visit to the Manor, also in 1966. Indeed, I have reason to believe, over and the above the extraordinary mediocrity of Wings, that the Paul is Dead hypothesis is much, much more than a pothead conspiracy theory.)

By the time the Great Old Ones descended on Cavendish Manor, it had been staging its particular brand of madness for well over ten years. Alongside those like ourselves who merely sojourned at Cavendish, a sizable community had gradually come to live permanently there. They had gone native, so to speak. They had reached such pitches of ecstasy and unreality that they could no longer return to the grey patina of daylight reality. Like emaciated, sleep-deprived Peter Pans, they had plunged deeper into the schizophrenic realms of unfettered debauchery. Like all such people, they could occasionally resemble sages and the initiates of some higher truth; for the most part, however, they were the very gibbering and inchoate handmaidens of Luna. The singer Bryan Ferry was among their number at that time; clad in trademark tuxedo, he was said to have wondered the maze for a whole month on end, warbling erotic songs about valkyries and mermaids.

Thoroughly inoculated from the reproach of reason, the regulars had come to believe virtually every outré conjecture one could possibly entertain about an old house: that whole family trees were interred within its walls; that a myriad of ghosts walked its corridors, with the endless repetition of anachronistic habit and gesture which such creatures are said to possess; that a race of diminutive humans lived like mice in its nooks and crannies, staging daring midnight raids to steal victuals, and sometimes befriending imaginative little girls; that the very house itself possessed a soul, and the physical decay of the building mirrored the dissipation and decrepitude of their own spirits. I must confess that their madness was contagious. I myself witnessed the somnambulant peregrination of ghosts, and fancied they saw me also, perhaps as an exotic spectre impinging upon their own time. I conversed with the diminutive humans, and found them amiable in the main, albeit prone to prankishness, and a certain insular mentality, rather like the gypsies.

To be continued.

The Great Old Ones freak out the squares at Cavendish Manor:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Country of Paradoxes: The Cautionary Tale of Paul Bennewitz.

One of the preeminent cultural legacies of the Cold War in America was a rich mythology of secrecy and paranoia. Some of these myths have grown inextricably entangled with their embellishments, and reside in a slippery, ambiguous country akin to the fluctuations of the quantum; others possess bare historical bones stranger than most fictions. With their majestic, haunted skies and arid, lonely plains, the deserts of New Mexico are the heartland of high strangeness in America, and the cradle of so many of these myths. In 1945, surveying the detonation of the first nuclear bomb over what is now the White Sands Missile Range, Oppenheimer famously laid a potent hex on the twentieth century with his citation of the Bhagavad-Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the skies, that would be like to the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Also that year, Project Paperclip began its importation of German rocket scientists to continue their research at Fort Bliss and White Sands; according to popular conspiracy lore, they brought with them the prototype for a bell-shaped anti-gravity craft called Die Glocke.

In 1947, the Roswell region of New Mexico witnessed what is either the most significant event in the history of the world, or the most elaborate and persistent Chinese whisper ever to whip through the earlobes of time. In the height of the Flying Disk epidemic of that year, farmer “Mac” Brazel found some unusual debris scattered about the homestead where he was foreman, and eventually “whispered kinda confidential like” to the local sheriff that he might have found a crashed saucer. Legendary Texan conspiracy guru Jim Marrs, linking the Roswell incident to the earlier detonation of the Atomic bomb at Los Alamos, pithily suggested that the extraterrestrials came to New Mexico at that time because “the kids had just found the matches!”

The truth of what happened in Roswell is now thoroughly lost in a sea of claim and counter-claim, bitterly entrenched debate between its adherents and debunkers, unconvincing military obscuration, profiteering, mythologizing, and time. To socio-cultural historians and eager pop-culture poachers alike, the objective truth remains infinitely less important than the extraordinary corpus of legendry Roswell has engraved upon the modern subconscious: the idea of crashed disks, retrieved debris, back-engineered ET technology, alien bodies and autopsies, and, perhaps most significantly, the dark military cover-up which researcher Stanton Friedman, exhibiting a certain genius of inevitability, has labeled “the cosmic Watergate.”

Whatever the true nature of the black magic Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project unleashed upon the New Mexico desert in ’45, the region remains haunted to this day, and continues to be a focal point for the weirdest manifestations of hidden Americana: the seemingly entwined worlds of secret weapons testing, UFO’s, cattle mutilations, and alien abductions. During the 1980’s, a myth emerged of an underground facility in Dulce, New Mexico, which combined all these nefarious and unlikely activities under one very secretive roof. The true origin of the Dulce base conspiracy theory is in itself a dark, shadowy, and disturbing tale, which highlights the murky operation of disinformation.

Disinformation differs from regular propaganda, in that it is a far more subtle and underhand method of disseminating untruths. Propaganda, to a large degree, doesn’t hide its origins, and spreads itself through official channels. Disinformation, on the other hand, possesses a more fiendish ingenuity. Its method is to persuade certain groups that they have come upon privileged information which would otherwise be hidden, and thus turn the would-be truth seekers themselves into unwitting propagandists. The purpose of this activity is either to discredit those who had come too close to the truth, or to distract attention altogether from the reality of a particular situation. Since disinformation sometimes contains partial truths, it generally winds up producing endless Moebius strips of uncertainty: if a government openly acknowledges disinformation, does that constitute a further act of disinformation, thus rendering the initial information potentially true, and so on.

The extent to which the UFO mystery has been mired in disinformation is something which can probably never be accurately gauged. However, in 1955, the CIA started using the then-secret Lockheed U2 high-altitude airplane to perform “overflights” over Russia in order to take aerial photography. Memos from the period prove that the CIA quickly realized the efficiency of fomenting belief in extraterrestrial UFO’s as a cover for their own aerial espionage projects. From this period onwards, the history of the UFO becomes inextricably bound up with the history of secret aeronautics and black budget military technology. While explicit examples of disinformation are difficult to find, the story of Paul Bennewitz is a disturbing example of the occasional ramifications of such strategies.

Paul Bennewitz was an apparently gifted physics postgraduate and inventor who ran a small electronics company called Thunder Scientific Corporation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which provided the nearby Kirtland Airforce Base with high-altitude testing equipment. Bennewitz was also an avid UFO buff, acting as a part-time investigator for the Arizona based APRO (Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization.) Bennewitz’ journey into the bowels of the Chapel Perilous began in 1979, when he and some friends began to witness strange lights in the sky over the Monzano Test Range outside Albuquerque.

While carefully cataloguing and filming the unusual lights, which, in one of the many strange twists in the case, were apparently genuinely anomalous, Bennewitz encountered the psychologist and ufologist Dr. Leo Sprinkle. Sprinkle was one of the first academic figures to openly study the alien abduction phenomenon, and a pioneer in the highly controversial use of hypnosis to restore the memories of abductee encounters. In 1980, a patient of Sprinkle’s named Myrna Hanson claimed that she and her son had been abducted while driving home near a cow pasture at Cimarron. Under hypnosis, Hansen claimed to see two white clad figures emerge from a UFO, and mutilate several cows with an 18-inch knife. Later, she and her son were kidnapped, and taken onboard different crafts, where they were subject to the obligatory examination, and given the obligatory implants. Hanson only escaped after being taken to an underground desert facility where she witnessed more severe cruelty being perpetuated against cows, and row upon row of liquid vats containing human and animal body parts.

Bennewitz believed Hanson’s story, and become utterly convinced that the cattle mutilations and underground facility must be connected to the lights he had been filming over the Monzano Test Range. The story continued to take stranger and stranger turns. Bennewitz built a series of low-frequency electromagnetic antennas, and became convinced he was receiving signals from the alien space crafts. He even subsequently developed a computer program which he believed could translate these signals, and gave his mission to thwart the aliens the grandiose title of Project Beta. Understandably alarmed, he then attempted to alert both the media and the military.

Bill Moore was the head of APRO in 1980. As the co-author of one of the very first books exploring the Roswell incident, Moore was a well established figure in UFO circles. According to Moore, “In early September, 1980 I was approached by a well-placed individual within the intelligence community who claimed to be directly connected to a high level project dealing with UFO’s. This individual told me that he spoke for a small group of similar individuals who were uncomfortable with the governments continued cover-up of the truth, and indicated that he and his group would like to help me with my research in this subject in the hope and expectation that I might be able to help them to change the prevailing policy and get the truth out to the public without breaking any laws in the process. The man who acted as liaison between this group and myself was an Airforce Office of Special Investigations agent named Richard Doty. I knew I was being recruited, but at that point I had no idea for what.” As it turns out, Moore had been enlisted to spread disinformation.

Here we find ourselves in thoroughly ambiguous territory. For the purposes of security and anonymity, Moore and his associate Jaime Shandera named this high level group the Aviary, giving each member a bird codename. According to Shandera: “We wanted the information, but didn’t want to reveal where we got our clues. To maintain anonymity, I give Bill’s source the codename “Falcon”, the next source we used was called “Condor” and so on, until we had 24 contacts from all levels of government. It was my idea to use bird names.” Shandera continued to give a brief description of individual members, in the same irresistible mixture of All the Presidents Men and the X-Files: “Hawk is a person well-connected in areas of study in ESP since the sixties, with impressive credentials. Blue Jay is person close to the President of the United States, capable of checking on information to determine its reliability. Partridge is a scientist privy to UFO information collected by the government. Chickadee is well-placed in the Pentagon and versed in scientific study. Heron is enigmatic and puzzling, he seems to speak in riddles…” What exactly was going on here? It may be that the group’s intentions were as Moore describes them, but why then was he encouraged to spread disinformation? Were Moore and Shandera merely dupes, actually being feed disinformation as a payment for spreading more disinformation? Or was Moore simply a straight-up disinfo agent from the beginning? The world of disinformation is akin the paradox of the liar extended to Escherian dimensions; when Moore eventually confessed his sins to the 35th Annual MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) Symposium in Los Vegas, he warned them that his information would be a mixture of true information and disinformation, for that was how the government worked, even in dealing with him.

The victim in all this, however, was the hapless and tragic Paul Bennewitz. Its now acknowledged that Bill Moore and Richard Doty subjected him to a sustained disinformation program. Rather than divest him of his delusions, the pair proceeded to feed him evidence with validated and intensified his suspicions. Sections of his notes reveal his increasing paranoia and panic: “Established constant direct contact with the alien….aliens on the ground in electro statically supported vehicles….charging beam weapons. The aliens are picking up and “cutting” people every night….whether all implants are totally effective I cannot predict…..Conservatively I would estimate that at least 300,000 people have been implanted in the US….at least 2 million worldwide….”At the same time, his conception of the aliens at Dulce base were acquiring the complexity of a personal mythology: “Their body metabolism is very high, estimated at 110 to 115 degrees. Elimination is through osmosis. Skin color of the ruling echelon varies from a jaundiced yellow or white. No hair of any kind. Their arms are long – near to knee level. They have very long hands and fingers. All of them look underfed. They have big heads and eyes. The humanoid types are generally light green. When in need of formula or dead they turn GREY. Many in this culture walk with a limp or shuffle their feet…”

Fearing the intrusion of his home by threatening energy balls, Bennewitz constantly surrounded himself with knifes and guns. Inevitably, he suffered a complete physical and nervous breakdown, and was finally placed in institutional care, and released from the quixotic courage and rigors of Project Beta.

The Dulce base and variations of it have gone into popular and conspiracy lore. In the 1990’s, the X-Files brought these kinds of ideas to Simpsons-levels of cultural dispersal, and made conspiracies the widespread fan-boy pastime they continue to be today. It is amusing to speculate that some of these florid scenarios may have originated in the imaginations of Airforce Intelligence spooks. Bennewitz died in 2005, a largely unknown victim of the extreme callousness of the National Security apparatus. Many, including Richard Doty, claim he never stopped believing in the alien threat revealed by Project Beta.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Quick Word from Our Sponsers: Dan Akroyd and the Good People of Crystal Head Vodka.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From the Private Diaries of Tristan Eldritch.


I must first introduce Tzadkiel, who has been the inveterate companion and accomplice to all my strange doings. Tzadkiel is a familiar who has been given the form of a black cat. As is the way with such creatures, he possesses an intelligence far exceeding that of mortals, and as such an insight which sometimes renders his utterances eerie and gnomic. However, his voice is akin to that of the actor Ernest Borgnine, and his manner generally gregarious and unpretentious. He is a well-known raconteur in several of Dublin’s early houses, the sorry denizens of those hellish places regarding him as little more than a phantasm of their patron Lady Delirium Tremen. When out and about, he is normally attired in a miniature Victorian coachman’s cape, which melds seamlessly with his sleek coat. He is also a keen smoker of the pipe. In all other respects, I should add, he resembles a normal cat.

Tzadkiel acquired his fondness for the gentleman’s chimney many years ago, when some adventure or another brought us to an isolated village in Czechoslovakia called Crezna. In this strange, misty hamlet, the locals regarded cats with a superstitious awe, believing that both the success of their crops and the menstrual cycle of their women were inextricably linked to the disposition of the local feline population. Having thus elevated their cats to semi-divine status, they sought to win their favor via the provision of luxuriant rugs, silk cat-sized dressing gowns, specially designed cat pipes, bowls of brandy, and all manner of indulgences scarcely fit for human beings. Never have I arrived upon such a prodigiously odd vista: the square of Crezna, shrouded in mists and the eldritch rumor of vampires and supernatural miscegenation, denuded of all human life; but a veritable symposium of decadent, gout-ridden cats lay supine upon Arabic rugs, purring in unison, and blowing philosophical wisps of fine shag into the mist. I almost lost Tzadkiel to that strange Czechoslovakian village; but he was eventually prevailed upon to leave, having acquired his trademark pipe, along with a selection of specially tailored fashion items.

Were their existence ever to become common knowledge, the familiar would leave Mr. Darwin’s quaint Shangri-La of evolution in dire need of refurbishment. Little is really known for certain of these anomalous creatures. Some avow that they are ancient, endlessly transmigrated souls, buoyed about the Bardo realms by vast and inscrutable bureaucracies of the cosmic realm, destined to be all things at some time or other, until they finally wind up as sentient spoons, who content themselves in their dotage by playing occasional pranks upon individuals of the Uri Gellar persuasion. Others avow that they are the very handmaidens of Satan, set upon this earth to goad His unwary ministers ever deeper into the quicksand of perdition; others still, that they are but the amiable psychosis of their mortal companions. Perhaps they are all these things, and other, queerer forms yet, which we can scarcely imagine. Perhaps we are all a multiplicity, an infinity, of wildly differing forms, marooned in this squat cell of solitary selfhood only via the jealousy of some demiurgic demon, or the sultry forgetfulness of some Lethean stream. It may that these things will be revealed, in 2012.

I encountered Tzadkiel for the first time in the magical summer of 1974, when I had gotten myself embroiled in something called the Avebury Initiates of Horus. We started out as a rather racy clique at Oxford: a plucky, ambitious young gang of magicians, dowsers, and ufologists, united by our love of the esoteric. We spent the summer of ’74 camped about the ancient stones of Wiltshire, having convinced ourselves beyond all reasonable doubt that the stones were beacons for UFO’s, and the UFO’s themselves the sure harbinger of the Aeon of Horus. God, those were truly magical times, before the Avebury Initiates began to splinter into bitter factions of Blavatskyites and Crowleyites. Before things went bad…….Anyway, it was the night of the ’74 solstice, and the stones hummed like the engine of some etheric sports car. We were in the deep trance of a psilocybin Morris Dance, when I suddenly registered a vague shape coalescing in the mist between the stones. It was the outline of a black cat. The cat’s yellow, delicately curved eyes burned like leprous suns over the mausoleum cities of some long dead planet. Then one of them winked, and I heard a broad, husky voice:

-Hey buddy. Wanna solve the Riddle of the the Ages?

Tzadkiel cocked his head, and scurried into the darkness. I left the others, and followed him. I follow him still.

Tristan Eldritch, Jeffrey Jasper-Johns, and Lady Hazel Pusey: The Avebury Initiates at Oxford, 1970

Monday, November 24, 2008

From One Newspaper Man to Another: A Sincere Apology to Walter Cronkite.

Tristan Eldritch: Remorseful, yet still sexy.

Walter Cronkite: Still Alive.

In my recent haste to expose the nefarious activities of the Bohemian Club, I allowed an appalling lapse to occur in my normally stringent standards of investigative journalism. Worse than that, and to my eternal shame, I have committed a calumny upon a personal idol, and an individual who has come to be regarded as the “most trusted man in America.” I will draw your attention to following regrettable line from a recent post: “The owl statue is hollowed out, containing electrical and audio equipment within, and is thus rigged to “speak” with the voice of the late, legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite.”

I have since been contacted by several close friends and associates of Mr. Cronkite, also avid readers of 2012 Diaries, who were understandably disturbed by the imputation in my article that 1.) Mr. Cronkite is no longer alive, and 2.) Mr. Cronkite was involved, while still living, in a ritualistic Masonic conspiracy aimed in some obscure fashion at the domination of global events. Well, what can I say? A cursory glance at Wikipedia has revealed that yes, Walter Cronkite is certainly alive and well. Indeed Walt, as you survey a lifetime of sterling achievement in our noble profession, a career that traverses the byways of contemporary history like a network of rich veins about the circumference of a human body, you are indeed more alive now than many of us could hope to be at the very apex of our pomp.

And you know what, Walt? As one ink-spattered copy-hound to another, I’m sorry. I’m awful goddamn sorry. I’m sorry in the kind of old-fashioned, man to man way that only old Pop Hemingway might have been sorry. This comes down to the h-word. You know what I mean. They say that women cry about any old thing, but men, real men mind, will only shed tears when honor has been breached. And that’s what happened here. This generation that’s coming up now, they just want to preen their mugs on Fox or CNN, or go chase after Britney’s ambulance. They’re more concerned about white teeth and celebrity status than the old fashioned who, what, where, and why that is the lifeblood of our business. But you and I, Walt, we belong to the old guard. The guys who never slept, who built up their stories brick by brick, who went through marriages like other guys went through sports jackets and old Jalopies, just for that rare, magical moment when a bunch of ordinary voters could sit with their feet up in places called Nicks and read a little bit about what’s happening in the world today. That’s why I’m particularly upset by this. I jumped the gun. I assumed that a historical Colossus such as yourself, a man as illustrious and legendary as Walter Cronkite, simply couldn’t reside in the same quotidian realm as the rest of us hacks. Hell, I thought Karlheinz Stockhausen, god rest him, was long dead when he came out with that communistic bullshit about 9/11.

Anyway, Walt, as you sit at the controls of your giant owl, gazing at a panel of screens which show the nefarious schemes of your cabalistic brethren coming ever closer to fruition, I hope you will not look too harshly on Tristan Eldritch, a news man like yourself, who erred in the brisk chase of that lithesome and fleet gazelle Truth.

Sorry is the hardest word…..Tristan Eldritch escapes into the night, after another daring raid on Fortress Truth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Country of Paradoxes.

In the popular culture of our secular age, the gods, demigods, fairies and gnomes of the old mythic realm have returned as extraterrestrials.

Daniel Pinchbeck.

Call me Einstein or Flash Gordon or just a screwball, I’m absolutely certain of what I saw!

Kenneth Arnold.

Whatever Arnold did see, his credibility as a witness lead to a massive surge in the reporting of UFO sightings. Some 850 were reported in 1947, with the number peaking in the month following Arnold’s encounter. The most logical and reductive explanation for the “flap” of ’47 is that a variety of unrelated anomalies and misapprehensions were transformed by the subtle dynamics of mass delusion into a palpable alien invasion. Mass delusion is a controversial and little understood phenomenon. It may be that the dilution of individuality required for the formation of cohesive societies occasionally breeds freak excesses and the production of certain collective reveries. Mass delusion of this kind tends to arise via the adoption of a particular interpretative bias, but the seemingly viral transmission of this bias remains mysterious, particularly in the earlier, less entangled and noospherical manifestations of the Global Village.

One of the most bizarre cases of this kind occurred in Washington in 1954, when a series of tiny dents and dings began to appear in the windscreens of cars in the northwestern town of Bellingham in late march. The small size of the dents lead the local police to suspect a gang of vandals armed with buckshot or ball bearings. Within a week, the mysterious nicks and dents had spread 25 miles south to Sedro Woolley and Mount Vernon, and from there to the town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island by April. The dents arrived suddenly in Anacortes on the morning of April 13, and the local law enforcement sprang into action, setting up a roadblock at Deception Pass Bridge. (Actually getting to say the line “Set up a roadblock at Deception Pass Bridge!” must be a reward in itself.) The culprits remained at large.

When the phenomenon hit Seattle, all hell broke loose. Windshield pitting reached epidemic proportions, operating at such a scale that the work of hooligans now had to be ruled out. Various theories were proposed, ranging from radioactivity caused by recent H-Bomb tests on the South Pacific, to cosmic rays, to the effect of electronic oscillations from a nearby million-watt radio transmitter. In the end, a team of scientists appointed by the president resolved that the dents were merely a normal by-product of use, and the dings, similarly, were the product of tiny coal dust particles which had been blowing in the Washington area for years; people simply hadn’t noticed them before.

In his article about the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic of 1954, Alan J. Stein isolates the key components of such incidences of mass delusion: “ambiguity, the spreading of rumors and false but plausible beliefs, mass media influence, recent geo-political beliefs, and the reinforcement of false beliefs by authority figures.” If the 1947 UFO flap, and the phenomenon in general, constitutes such a mass delusion evolving on a global and historical scale, then it could hardly be said to have possessed what most people would regard as a “plausible” belief at its base. In actuality, it had something far more potent: a popular fictional template which was in the process of acquiring the status of a myth or archetype. Myths and archetypes are something of an entirely different order to standard fictions. Standard fictions vary in form from forgettable novels and plays to the domain of most political speeches, excuses, and all conversations engaged at the behest of necessity and politeness. They are creations of reason and calculation. Myths, on the other hand, arise out of some kind of psychical need, as dreams emerge from scattered fragments of waking recollection; they embody a plurality of meaning, and express a relationship with the world; in doing these things, they acquire a firm lodging in the subconscious, and a certain irrational power which out-weights their physical implausibility.

In literatures and folk traditions throughout history, otherworldly and miraculous creatures have intervened in the lives of men in a variety of ways. They have enlightened some, abducted others; some they set aside for prodigious destinies, while others were merely subject to childish and inscrutable pranks. In the modern, secular world, aliens provided a compromise between the scientific, post-Copernican world, and the seemingly perennial, mythical longing for contact with a secret world of non-human intelligences. They were, from the beginning, an unlikely hybrid of technological futurism and the irrational realm of the supernatural. The first major chronicle of alien invasion was H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, published in 1898:

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

In the twenties and thirties, pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction kicked Wells clinical alien intelligences into a variety of garish forms, creating an indelible iconography of monsters from outer space. Again, these creatures represented a hybridization of technological advancement with much older fears of mythical beasts and demons of both inner and outer space, often reiterating anxieties projected onto racial “aliens”: savagery, inscrutability, and a seemingly insatiable desire to steal our women.

It was this mythical stream that feed into the flying disks panic of 1947. It is a reductive mistake, however, to regard the phenomenon simply as a mass delusion fueled by pulp fiction. There were strange things happening in the skies in the late forties and fifties, things strange enough to warrant the serious attention of the president and the military establishment. The UFO belief has evolved as a constant and subtle cross-fertilization between popular culture and shadowy, real events. In this fashion, it has acquired a weirdly anomalous and paradoxical character, a blurry ontological status that seems neither entirely true nor false. The French astrophysicist and ufologist Jacques Vallee describes the UFO as belonging to “the domain of the in-between, the unproven and the unprovable…..the country of paradoxes, strangely furnished with material “proofs,” sometimes seemingly unimpeachable, but always ultimately insufficient….This absolutely confusing (and manifestly misleading) aspect may well be the phenomenon’s most basic characteristic.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

More from the Grove.

I first came across the Grove on this following video, posted by the youtuber called rockislerecords. Resident of Providence, Rhode Island, devotee of David Icke, and self professed "lighting rod" for UFO sightings, rockislerecords is an unsung legend in the arid wastes of youtube. I'll soon be posting some of his Pulitzer-worthy ufo films, but for the moment, here is a slice of Grove/Illuminati paranoia, scored to some catchy and strident nu-metal.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

“Weaving Spiders Come Not Here”: The Utterly Strange (and True) Tale of the Bohemian Grove.

“Nothing can exceed the solemnity and the stillness of the redwood groves of California, unless it be the great eucalyptus forests of Australia. The song of the birds is seldom heard in these quiet isles, and even the smaller animals do not appear to haunt the groves.”

June 25, 1889, New York Times, Bohemia in California.”

“Did you say the Bohemian Club? That’s where all those rich Republicans go up and stand naked against redwood trees, right? I’ve never been to the Bohemian Club, but you oughta go. It’d be good for you. You’d get some fresh air.”

Bill Clinton, to a heckler in 2007.

This has to be one of the most jaw-droppingly surreal things I have ever heard of. I don’t believe in massive conspiracies and All-Powerful Secret Societies, but…….. (more whirring of Theremins) in San Francisco in 1872, a small group of journalists formed a private club at the Astor Hotel on Sacramento Street called the Bohemian Club. The original members were basically learned, monied men who felt a certain disdain for what they perceived as the plebian character of post gold-rush Californian culture. They longed for the gravitas of the Old World, and the daring excitements of the fashionable European capitals, and modeled themselves after a similarly erudite group in New York called the Century Club. They choose the owl as their symbol, and Shakespeare’s line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here” as their motto.

It seems that initially, the club was more or less true to its name, and membership was based around considerable wealth, artistic talent, and intellectual prowess. However, from the very beginning, the Club’s Eurocentric pretensions dwindled fast, and the interests of commercial and political power came increasingly to the fore. Slowly, it evolved into a highly secretive, all-male club whose membership history is a staggering role-call of the American military, political, and media elite; every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge has been a member of the Bohemian Club. In 1878, several dozen Bohemians took to the secluded redwood forests of Sonoma Country, some 75 miles outside San Francisco, for a private revelry which they called the “Jinks”. The New Times article of 1889 describes the Redwoods thus: “In this grove, the trees stand so thick together that at midday the sunlight filters through only dim rays. The trees are not so large as in many other parts of the timber belt of this state, but they are extremely graceful, rising like Greek columns to a height of 200 to 300 feet. The peculiarity of the redwood is the absence of all branches for the first 50 to 100 feet. Then the upper foliage has a delicate, feathery appearance that distinguishes the tree from the pine, hemlock, or cedar. The green of the foliage is the darkest shade known in nature, and the balsamic odors are more pronounced than that of the pine. The mazes of dark foliage come out strongly against the cloudless blue of the sky, producing effects which few Californian painters have been able to faithfully reproduce, though many have attempted the task.” Something in those forests captured the imagination of the Bohemians, and the “Jinks” of 1878 marked the beginning of an increasingly elaborate and utterly bizarre tradition which continues to this day.

In 1899, the Club bought a 160 acre piece of land in the Sequoia Valley; it was the first of 26 such purchases spread over a 67 year period. Today, they own 2, 712 acres. Guarded like a virtual Fort Knox, containing facilitates to lavishly camp about two thousand people, it is called the Bohemian Grove, and its annual summer camp for the powerful male elites of America and the world have become the stuff of conspiracy legend. In mid-July every year, the Grove holds a three week encampment for some of the most powerful men in the world. (The injunction against the presence of women is absolute, extended even to staffing.) The initiation fee is 25, 000 dollars, plus yearly membership dues, and the waiting list for membership is believed to stretch from 15 to 20 years. Though shrouded in secrecy, we have a good idea of the bulk of what transpires during this three week period. It is best described as a mixture of the American summer camp and the classical Greek symposium. The influence of Greek paganism is quite pronounced, with a series of Grove Plays being enacted, including a more grandiose variety which are called the “High Jinks”, and a more frivolous form of musical comedy called “Low Jinks.” Those productions are said to boast quite elaborate sets, costumes, and pyrotechnics, and naturally must have recourse, like the dramas of Greece and Elizabethan England, to transvestitism for the female roles.

Weird Scenes inside the Grove.

President Herbert Hoover once called the Grove “the greatest man’s party on earth” , and it seems that a great deal of unfettered male revelry goes on. The elites are said to enjoy the freedom of excessive outdoor drinking, urinating, and apparently even a fairly high percentage of homosexual shenanigans, under the shadow of those towering redwoods. (Nixon, with typical charm, labeled the event “very faggy” in private conversation, adding “I wouldn’t shake hands with half those people in San Francisco.”) This, in essence, is how the Bohemian Grove sells itself to the world: as an extravagant, harmless blow-out for the leaders of the free world. The Club motto “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here” is said to be a strict prohibition against any kind of business or political intrigue intruding upon the camp’s easy going escapism and high-jinks. This may be for the most part true, but it is only half the story. It is said that the Manhattan Project, which would later produce the Atomic Bomb, was conceived at the Grove; that Eisenhower was chosen there as the Republican presidential candidate in 1952; that Nixon and Reagan solidified their political futures in close consultation amid the pageantry of the Grove. Before one collapses completely into the conspiracy K-hole, however, it should be noted that actor/writer Harry Shearer, of Spinal Tap and Simpsons fame, and colored side-kick par excellance Danny Glover have both attended at least one Bohemian Grove event. Then again, the conspiratorial worldview really just depends on how far you are prepared to allow for the tentacles to reach. Radio talk show host Alex Jones, and shape-shifting lizard visionary David Icke have really ran away with this one, and in this case, I actually don’t blame them. Because this is where the story starts to get really strange. Pseudo-sacrificial rituals at the foot of 40 foot giant owl statues strange.

Weirder Scenes. This extraordinary picture was taken in the Grove in the late fifties. The man standing is Glenn T. Seaborg, a Nobel prize winning chemist. Sitting at either side are Ronald Reagan and Tricky Dicky. Reagan was still a B-movie actor at the time.

There are certain things which, though certainly true, possess such a transcendent level of camp strangeness that they transform the world we live in into some kind of deranged B-movie extravaganza. This is certainly one of those things. I don’t know how else to preface this, other than by saying that it is all a matter of uncontested record. In 1885, Joseph C. Redding, musical genius and attorney for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, was elected president of the Bohemian Club. Under influences that remain obscure to this day, Redding devised a ritual called the Cremation of Care. The Cremation was initially designed as a cathartic spectacle to follow up the “High Jinks.” Latterly, it was moved to the first night of the camp period, and is still enacted today as a symbolic ritual designed to convey the exorcism of all trouble, stress, and weariness from the denizens of the Grove. A ferryman sails a boat across a lake, where he is met by a group of dark, hooded figures. The ferryman then conveys an effigy of Care (called Dull Care) to the hooded figures. Dull Care is then placed on an alter, and, at the end of the ritual, set on fire. Accompanied by dramatic music and pyrotechnics, the whole thing takes place at the base of a 45 foot, moss and lichen covered statue of an owl. The B-movie grandeur extends beyond even this. The owl statue is hollowed out, containing electrical and audio equipment within, and is thus rigged to “speak” with the voice of the late, legendary anchorman Walter Cronkite, a former member of the club.

Well, we’ve only just scrapped the surface of this rich subject, and will certainly return to it, by and by. For the moment, let it suffice to say if you that if you are ever asked the question Is there a Place on this Earth where the World’s Most Powerful Men participate in a Pseudo-Sacrificial Ritual at the Foot of a Giant Owl that speaks with the Voice of Walter Cronkite, the answer, weirdly enough, is yes. Bohemian Grove, seventy five miles outside of San Fran. It might come up in a pub quiz.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Country of Paradoxes.

It makes me think of J.M. Barrie’s line in Act IV of Peter Pan: “Do you believe in fairies?......If you believe, clap your hands!”

What is the sound of one hand clapping, I wonder, one small, gray-colored hand with three cartilaginous fingers and no opposable thumb?

C.D.B. Brown, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

Scored by the eerie whirring of a thousand Theremins, flying saucers wobbled out of paranoid Hollywood skies in the early fifties, and have remained a source of cosmic innuendo and kitsch ever since. Writing about H.G. Wells and the development of the scientific romance, the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin argued that the “stone, asphalt, iron, petroleum, mechanical country” of the modern world would inevitably produce its own “iron, motorized goblins” and “mechanical, chemical fairytales.” Zamyatin’s assertion implies that our mythological, folkloric archetypes will persist and continue to flourish in the scientific age, al-be-it augmented with suitable upgrades. While the modern world has created many of its own distinct mythic archetypes, only aliens and their ever-elusive aerial crafts have fully attained the power that myth and folk beliefs possessed throughout history: the power to persuade certain people of their literal existence. The kitsch invasion from outer space that Hollywood staged in the fifties and sixties never made it as far as the Pentagon, but it succeeded in an extraordinarily virulent colonization of the mass imagination which continues to this day. While popular cryptids such as Big Foot and the Lough Ness monster constitute little more than minor twitches of the Jungian optic nerve, the lore of extraterrestrial contact and cover-up forms a persistent and fascinating shadow narrative to post-war history. Throughout its long, murky existence, the UFO belief has produced mass panics, messianic cults, New Age religions, and about as many labyrinthine conspiracy scenarios as all the secret societies put together.

Frequently written off as an inexplicable and anachronistic fad, what Carl Jung labeled the “modern myth of objects seen in the sky” never quite goes away. In 2008, it has once again attained the status of a cultural epidemic: UFO’s are being eagerly tracked by a variety of disparate media enclaves, ranging from Larry King’s CNN studios, to the paranoia-fomenting boards of abovetopsecret.com, to the normally more terrestrial-minded journalistic hotbed of the Sun newspaper. The internet, greatest ally to conspiracy theory since the invention of the secret handshake, has proven equally enabling to the shadow-world of ufology. Once confined to the physical heavens above our heads, UFO’s are now routinely spotted in the digital aerospaces enveloping google earth.

The observance of strange prodigies in the sky is a classic symptom of the apocalyptic imagination. Keith Thompson summarized Jung’s more ominous observations regarding the flying saucer in Angels and Aliens: UFO’s and the Mythic Imagination: “With a certain somberness, Jung noted that he was not pleased to conclude that the appearance of UFO’s clearly indicated “coming events which are in accord with the end of an era.” Such large scale anomalies typically arise when wholesale changes are under way in the balance of forces in the collective unconscious- that vast repository of images and motifs common to the myths and dreams of peoples throughout the world, all connected as a complex matrix transcending time and space. Jung had no doubt that humanity was entering a time of profound transition…”

Whether Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious has any validity or not, and I would personally tend to suspect that it does, it seems that people look to the skies with more alert and quizzical eyes during times of crisis and upheaval. This year has witnessed a marathon harvest of high strangeness in the upper atmosphere, operating on a global scale. In recent weeks, Stephenville, Texas, has experienced its second major explosion of anomalous aerial phenomena, prompting one eye witness to observe: “It was like two rectangular boxes containing flames, and it was like something Biblical. It was right there, not far out in space. This was very up close and personal. That’s what the three of us said to each other: It’s like something out of the Bible. And one of the guys said “Could this be the end of the world?” Britain has also experienced a wave of sightings this year, though how of many of these can be explained away by the recent vogue for Chinese lanterns, coupled with the Sun’s apparently indiscriminate yen for X-Files-type innuendo, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, closer to home, eye-witnesses in county Louth claimed to see a massive triangular craft hovering over a small town, and one apparently nerve-racked pensioner arrived in the offices of the Louth Leader a couple of weeks ago, claiming he’d seen the craft on various occasions, and “feared abduction.”

The longevity of the UFO belief, and the extraordinary complexity and consistency of the mythology which has evolved around it, requires some elucidation beyond a mere blanket skepticism. The flying saucer myth was not initially crystallized by surreal drive-in movies; these were in fact a product of a national phenomenon which had seized the imagination of the American public in 1947. The catalyst was a sighting reported by a pilot named Kenneth Arnold in June of that year. The objects Arnold claimed to have witnessed while flying his plane near Mount Rainer, Washington were crescent-shaped; crucially Arnold said they “flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.” It was by virtue of some inspired journalistic alchemy that the great anomaly of the twentieth century, the “mechanical, chemical fairytale” of the scientific age, assumed its iconic form. (Whirring of Theremins: Or was it?)
To be continued.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Elves and Eschatology: The Shape of History.

Our generation is strangled by fear: fear for man, for his future, and for the direction in which we are driven against our will and desire. And out of this comes a cry of illumination concerning the meaning of the existence of mankind, and concerning the goal to which we are directed. It is a cry for an answer to the old question of the meaning of history.

Hendrikus Berkoff.

Though largely unappreciated in their own time, Dick’s novels would come to resonate as the most lucid literary expression of contemporary anxiety since those of Kafka in the first half of the century. The recognition of Dick’s work was slow at first, but it witnessed an explosion in the nineties, when all areas of popular and academic culture seemed to be imbibing some variety of ontological uncertainty. If the scientific revolution had gradually built up a grand, immutable edifice of cold, objectified material reality, whose most characteristic art-forms were journalism and the novel of realism, then the Information Age, whose characteristic products could be anything from New Age channeling to Superstring Theory, seemed to all but topple that edifice into a channel-surfing, paradigm-hopping roller-coaster of simulation. The ideal of scientific clarity, which might once have replaced religion as a dominant worldview, had come increasingly to resemble a staid habit to which people dutifully supplicated themselves on Sundays, while they were otherwise tripping out to Eastern-infused interpretations of quantum physics, being abducted by oval-eyed aliens, cracking da Vinci, conspiracy, and Kabala codes, projecting their egos into media-spun fantasies of utopian escapism, and generally subscribing to the notion of designer and virtual realities.

To some commentators, this erosion or dissipation of the real assumed a negative and dystopian character. According to the interminable diatribe Jean Baudrillard has been cranking out in steady, slender volumes since the ’68 riots, the modern proliferation of media technologies has produced a hall of mirrors in infinite regress, or an endless field of simulation which no longer possesses an original reality referent. I assume that Baudrillard considered this an uncongenial state of affairs, in some kind of residual spasm of Marxist rancor. Baudrillardian ideas are better expressed in the fictions of Borges and Philip K. Dick, or the recent cinema of David Lynch; his own prose is as dehumanizing and soul-destroying as the vast mass media apparatus itself.

Most of these reality fluctuations, however, followed the hopeful, escape velocity paradigm, which might be likened to the gnostic notion of finding a liberating crack in the demiurgic architecture. A generation of undergraduates, exposed for the first time to vainglorious linguistic contortions of Jacques Derrida, believed that they were boldly unraveling the thread of an epoch worth of phallogocentric maya, with the white European male as their dastardly Archon of choice. Meanwhile, running concurrently with this academic avowal of linguistic idealism, the writings of Robert Anton Wilson exemplified a radicalized form of postmodern relativism, birthed in a crucible of Eastern mysticism, Western chemicals, and quantum uncertainty theory: “The notion that “reality” is a noun, a solid thing like a brick or a basketball, derives from the evolutionary fact that our nervous systems normally organize the dance of energy into such block-like “things”, probably as instant bio-survival cues. Such “things”, however, dissolve back into energy dances – processes or verbs – when the nervous system is synergized with certain drugs or transmuted with yogic or shamanic exercises or aided by scientific instruments. In both mysticism and physics, there is general agreement that “things” are constructed by our nervous systems and that “realities” (plural) are best described as systems or bundles of energy functions.”

Terence McKenna shared with the emerging academic movement a sense that the universe was somehow composed of language; he contended that mankind had lost touch with reality only when we had copper-fastened the notion of reality as an objective, impermeable “outside”; only when we had forgotten what magical societies understood as a matter of course: that the linguistic stuff of the universe was to some degree a creation of our imaginations, and as such, always subject to the art of the subtle conjuror. His ultimate dream for 2012, like that of William Blake before him, and generations of Neoplatonic mystics before Blake, was that we would return en masse to the primal, unfettered realm of the imagination, from which all realities had been abstracted, and which all realities had gradually usurped in the fall into historical consciousness.

As the tendencies of the academy dovetailed with those of the psychedelicists, the vision of McKenna and his elk was the mystical first cousin to the adherents of the technological Singularity. The mathematician and physician Frank J. Tipler has famously, and controversially, argued that a computer will one day exist which is capable of producing an infinite simulation within a finite amount of proper “time.” By recreating simulations of all possible quantum brain states, this computer would effectively resurrect all intelligent beings that have ever lived, thus producing a combination of the Christian after-life and the holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. Presumably, whether or not Hitler gets a pass would be one of the moral quandaries inherent in such a scheme. It may be that we already exist within such a super-simulation, and have merely forgotten how to activate the “cheats.”

Expressing itself in a proliferation of techno-utopias, as well as a variety of popular entertainments such as The Matrix and The Truman Show, the salient features of the nineties subconscious were a sense of the end of history, and the end of the “spell” of objective, empirical reality. Whether this represented the brief, flickering potential for an evolutionary transformation, or merely the decadent fantasies of an affluent society which had precariously cut itself off from the ineluctable privations and fluctuations of the natural world, remains largely a moot point. The September 11 attacks changed all of that; they shattered our illusion of a sheltered, post-historical West, and ushered history into one of its most truly Saturnine phases. The many worrying storm clouds which millennial utopians had pushed out to the periphery of their vision – such as the growing ecological crisis, the profound gap instigated by aggressive consumerism between the wealthy and impoverished, and the always ambiguous character of technological advancement throughout the ages – came increasingly to represent the salient features of twenty first century life. While the nineties were characterized by post-Berlin wall optimism and computer-generated hubris, our contemporary collective memories are seared by tsunamis, floods, and toppling skyscrapers. According to Erik Davis: “The collapse of the dot.com bubble put the visionaries back in their padded rooms, and this “return to the real” was cemented by 9/11. Utopian euphoria and posthuman giddiness are out; bottom lines and familiar brands are in. Even academics and intellectuals, formerly taken by all manner of French discursive diseases, have staged a sort of Revenge of the Enlightenment, fomenting a new distrust of the more irrational, surreal, and visionary dimensions of the contemporary project.”

All of the utopian dreams we have looked at in this thread, be they mystical or technological, share the salient characteristics of an eschatology: the sense that history is for the most part a negative, destructive process, but one which nevertheless contains within its working-out a wider pattern or shape, which ultimately tends towards a redemptive, history-transcending event. This remains a remarkably persistent conceptual framework within our psychological make-up, despite a common desire in the minds of contemporary educated people to regard such things as the erroneous, almost semi-schizophrenic divination of signal where noise abounds. Perhaps to provide fuel to such an argument, the loss of a providential model of history has lead to a large degree to the emergent popularity of envisioning an all-pervasive conspiracy as the great guiding hand in our affairs. While these darker manifestations of eschatology will continue to go into overdrive in these uncertain times, it may be no bad thing, sometimes, to yield to that part of the mind that sees ancient, inscrutable faces emerge out of the contours of Martian mountains. A thorough perusal of history does reveal certain oddities and patterns, such as spontaneous evolutionary leaps and the simultaneous emergence of ideas in disparate, unconnected parts of the globe. In the ancient Greek pantheon, the most despised deity was Chance; in the modern world, a vast horde of paranoiacs and visionaries will continue to construct systems sublime and ridiculous, in eternal opposition to the old fatalist adage Shit Happens.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Elves and Eschatology: Virtual Reality Parties.

High Frontiers begat Reality Hackers, and Hackers finally begat Mondo 2000, “mondo” coming from Queen Mu because it sounded decadent and would look good on the masthead, and “2000” from Sirius because everybody back then was “using that to sell shit.” As the magazine evolved, the seemingly obligatory funny Pychonesque names continued to arrive thick and fast: Mondo Connie, Lady Ada Lovelace, Nan C. Druid, Marshal McLaren, and my personal favorite: G. Gordan MIDDI. Published under the then revolutionary auspices of desk-top publishing software like QuarkXpress and Adobe Photoshop, Mondo propagated a uniquely off-kilter world-view, which came on like the lush decadence of La Dolce Vita refracted through a prism of Californian psychedelia and giddy transhuman hubris. Written in a slangy, insider prose that combined the argots of computer hackers and esoteric New Age cultists, Mondo opened the lid an a cliquey world of virtual sex, smart drugs, virtual reality parties, designer psychedelics, and various fantasies of nootropic, nanotechnological self-advancement. Mondo was also one of the chief disseminators of the most surreal counter-cultural meme of the nineties: the self-transforming machine elves of hyperspace.

By the hey-day of the Mondoids, Terence McKenna was a fully fledged guru, appearing on stage to preach eschaton over the throbbing techno of the Shaman, getting name-checked by cult comedian Bill Hicks, and seeing his ideas infiltrate the world of mainstream American comic books via English invasion visionaries Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. Still proclaiming his predictions for the 2012 Timewave, by now transformed, like virtually everything else in the early nineties, into a commercial computer program, McKenna had also become a typically evangelical promoter of DMT use. Described by Daniel Pinchbeck as the “psychedelic equivalent of bungee jumping,” DMT is a naturally occurring tryptamine and potent mind-altering drug. When smoked, its effects are very brief in duration, but apparently intense enough to shatter every cozy rationalist paradigm and worldview going. DMT is possibly one of the most intriguing substances around. Minute traces of it are produced by the human body during normal metabolism, and this admittedly striking fact has placed DMT at the cutting edge of consciousness-exploration, both recreational and theoretical. An increasing number of both mainstream and outré theorists have argued that DMT may be the neurochemical wildcard responsible for such varied anomalies as dream imagery, near death experience, mystical epiphanies, and alien abduction. McKenna argued that DMT transported users not merely to another state of mind, but a whole other universe of incredible Escherian geometries, populated by its own intelligences and entities, which seemed consistent from one subjective experience of the drug to the next. His encounter with the notorious elves is described in typically florid manner:

“And what was going on in this place aside from the tastefully socketed indirect lighting, and the crawling geometric hallucinations along the domed walls, what was happening was that there was a lot of, ah, beings in there, what I call self-transforming machine elves of hyperspace. Sort of like jeweled basketballs all dribbling their way towards me. They were making objects come into existence by singing them into existence. Objects which looked like Faberge eggs from Mars morphing themselves with mandelian alphabetical structures. They looked like the concrescence of linguistic intentionality put through a kind of hyper-dimensional transform into three dimensional space. And these machines offered themselves to me. And I realized as I looked at them, that if I brought just one of these little trinkets back, nothing would ever be the same again.” ( Experience has taught me that discussion of the machine elves leads to largely unsuccessful job interviews, even when broached during the more informal “hobbies and interests” section. T.E.)

In many respects a product of their own insular, drug-addled sensibility, Sirius and his cohorts nevertheless crested a cultural wave. As the new journalism of the 60’s had been a voice commensurate with the radical effusions of that decade, Mondo 2000 spoke directly to a brief utopian blip in which people watched science fictions rapidly become tentative facts, and a global Revenge of the Nerds made the future seem, for a brief instant, firmly within the grasp of a generation of hyper-bright, sci-fi weaned geeks. Behind its impressive strangle-hold on the language and ideologies of the emerging technoculture, Mondo’s particular brand of subversion was politically neutral and hedonistically focused. “Fun” according to Queen Mu “is going to be the saving grace of our universe.” Much of the magazine’s pronouncements amounted to little more than an appeal to the libidinous, Dionysian aspects of the sixties counterculture, recast in a in a language of nineties technophilia:

“High technology enables us to explore sensuality far out on the New Edge…Why settle for passé kinkiness when you can actualize techno-aphrodisia from the infosphere?”

In a maneuver typical of the time, however, Mondo parried criticism by presenting itself as a self-imploding Warhol art-object, semi-celebratory and semi-satirical at the same time. The Mondoids virtual reality parties quickly came to represent for the nineties what Jay Gatsby’s mythical soirees did for the roaring twenties:

“A Mondo party might find a time travel expert being interviewed in one room, people playing word association games in another, others experimenting with weird mind-stimulation glasses, groups quietly chatting in conspiratorial whispers, or Bert Nagel and virtual reality expert Brenda Laurel leaping in the air to see if they could do a complete 360 degree turn without falling down. Rude pornography or Japanese animation videos flickered on monitors, figures preformed frottage on antique sofas. A journalist from GQ might be taking a piss on the lawn. One creature would trap people for entire evenings in conversations about how Sir Francis Bacon was actually William Shakespeare.”

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media were eager to garner a handle on this Brave New World before it evaporated into yesterday’s color piece, and they descended on mass upon the Mondoids seeking exotic copy: “Having defined the nascent cybersexcomputerdrug culture, Mondo assumed the role of oracle to the rest of the media struggling to comprehend the trend. Sirius appeared on Donahue and Ron Reagan’s show. Reporters descended upon the Mondo house from all corners of the globe – Newsweek, Details, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and bureaus from Europe – as well as all the local dailies.

What is cyberpunk? they begged. Tell us why cyberpunks wear mirror shades and drink Jolt cola. What is virtual sex like?”

(Jack Boulware, A History of Mondo 2000.)

Such cross-fertilization between mainstream and underground culture became increasingly common in the nineties, and much of it was focused around the concept of virtual reality. The technology itself turned out to be another media touted high-way to tomorrow that went nowhere fast, leaving behind The Lawnmower Man and a wealth of fast-dating, tacky memorabilia. The concept of virtual reality, however, encapsulated something far greater than crude goggles and graphics; it expressed a pervasive sense that reality itself was becoming an increasingly plastic and mutable medium.

Reality should be the most solid and incontestable of all phenomena, and yet it has been subject to much doubt throughout the ages. Many of the perennial philosophies regarded reality as a beguiling but ultimately aimless dumb-show; as a preliminary step in the ladder of true understanding and being. Plato famously regarded it as a series of flickering shadows cast unto the wall of a cave; in the Hindu tradition, the phenomenological world, called maya, was an illusionary veil that must be pierced in order to attain freedom from an endless cycle of fruitless reincarnation. Interestingly, in the mystical tradition throughout the ages, the illusionary nature of reality has generally been evoked in the positive sense of offering at least the potential for liberation and transcendence. In the twentieth century, such notions assumed a wide currency in the west, but also a distinct positive and negative polarity. In the 1960’s, for example, the psychedelic movement, having had its own maya-shattering epiphanies, eagerly latched onto the classic Eastern texts as guidebooks to the acid experience, and preached a similar gospel of joyous liberation from the false cycles of unreflective being. At the same time, however, the novels of Philip K. Dick envisioned the loss of a stable reality as a paranoid, alienating experience, thrusting his protagonists into shifting, schizophrenic Wonderlands of media-saturation and mental instability.

To be concluded next post.