Monday, December 28, 2009

Dreams and Riddles.

It is widely believed that dreams gather together and rehash in novel and non-linear style the experiences and thoughts of the day, or short time period, immediately prior to the dream. I have heard some adepts argue, however, that this is a chronological error, and a gross reversal of cause and effect. By this contrary logic, the dream is to be understood as a disorganised draft of the day to follow it, which linear consciousness and daylight conspire to organise into grammatical cohesion and the fluid movement of an overarching argument.

The notion that the waking world is composed of material from dreams, and not vise versa , was probably never intended as anything more than wilful paradox, but I have heard many wilder conjectures advanced upon a similar theme. There is one belief which holds that every dream contains a series of a clues to a riddle which is to be manifested in the events of the following day. The person who would solve this riddle must first remember his dream down to very minute detail. He must then separate clue from mere extraneous detail; an arduous task, though it is said that all puns and numbers are automatically clues. Finally, by a system of correspondence never wholly understood, he must connect the dream clues to specific sights, sounds, snatches of overheard conversation, advertisements glimpsed on passing buses and trams, newspaper headlines, and so on, until such a time as he has first articulated the question posed by the riddle, and then produced it's solution. Crucially, they have only a day in which to solve each particular riddle; once night falls, an entirely new conundrum is posited, and the next day a new myriad of sensation awaits to suggest its solution. Of course, it is possible to continue working on a single problem over a course of days, months, or even years. But this is deemed an unwise course, since dreams are subject to degrees of dilution and confabulation even in their immediate recollection; all experience, once it has passed, is subject to similar effects, and thus each riddle is subject to increasing levels of opacity with the passage of time.

This belief about dreams is held to be true by no more than eight individuals currently living. They are simultaneously the most purposeful and lonely of God's creatures. They live in boarding houses and cheap hotels in small cities all of which possess a peculiar air of quietude and transience. They are places we have visited only briefly, and found to have an odd lack of character: a deadening sense of the past compounded by antique shop fronts and discontinued or wholly obscure commercial brands, elevators from old suspense movies, and restaurant terraces left empty, or sparsely seated with old, watchful, childless couples. They are cities with docks, with canals, with rivers, and yet strangely unconnected to the wider world, lacking temporal and global markers, lacking all sense of permanent habitation, all solidity of place. These are the places where our savants reside, frantically compiling their charts, and comparing them against the random flow of information that presents itself upon a given day. This belief in the acute meaningfulness of all sensory information, this sense of a constant and intimate dialogue between world and self, is the essence of magical thinking, and it is a peculiarly human malady.

Yet, the savants of this method of dream analysis have solved many extraordinary puzzles, perhaps owing to a mixture of persistence, and something of the dynamics which engender self-fulfilling prophecy. Most of these solutions, naturally, are self-enclosed, self-referential systems. We admire the complexity and consistency of them, in the way that we admire fabulous works of art, rather than endeavours of a scientific or philosophical nature. However, our savants have also solved a wide variety of real mathematical and scientific problems, which remain completely obscure to the mainstream intelligensia. How is it that madmen, operating by the most subjective, rudderless systems of thought, could so outstrip their academically trained brethren? It may be that where ever man seeks to overstep the merely vegetative and animal aspects of his nature, the baseline survive and replicate command virus, he has ventured into the wide spectrum of magical thinking. The Kabalistic exegete, the conspiracy crank, and the scientist share a common sense of the world as a code, with the human mind indelibly designed to function as the key to that code. These are truly characteristic of the human malady, the freak overspecialisation which is most characteristic of our nature. Further to this, it seems that our grandest ideas and artistic products are not invented, or sculpted out of formless clay, by certain gifted individuals, but rather something pre-existent which is accessed by some process of receptivity and intuition which we barely understand. Witness the mystery posed by mathematical savants and autistic geniuses, or the fact that madmen, in the heroic effort of maintaining the consistency of their delusion, remind us at some level of all our precarious systems of thought.

There is another similar variant of dream-lore which I should discuss before concluding. This is a system which is practised by a very small sect which seem to have originated in the antiquated heresy of the gnostics. This belief agrees in most particulars to the one we have just discussed: every dream represents a key or a code to a riddle which is to be solved in the period of daylight immediately following the dream. However, in this schema, the riddle is always one and the same. It is the riddle that drove Oedipus to intense grief and physical blindness, the question that Lear asked of the heath and the elements: the riddle of identity, of the nature of the self. To these dream-exegetes, the self is a different entity every day, and will continue to be ceaselessly reborn in this fashion, will continue to waste away in an endless repetition of beginning and becoming, until such a time as it recalls the part of itself which is outside time and contingency. The clues to this timeless foundation of identity are not to be found in past memories, which are simply the accretion of discontinuous acts and events, carried out by strangers: disposable as newspapers, alien and unfamiliar as discontinued or wholly obscure commercial brands. The only clues are scattered through dreams, and the only time to resolve the puzzle is NOW, every thing else is stale information, missed opportunity, newspapers blowing fitfully through blank, autumnal cities nobody will ever visit.

I often think sadly of these various dream savants, cut off from the rhythm and pace of the world and its tangible realities, shuffling through one-stop ghost cities, moving with a slow gait redolent of the sorrow of too much time pursuing shadows and myths. Or those others, every night resigning themselves to beginning it all again, to a new set of co-ordinates and instructions, a new reiteration of the same quest.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Found Footage: Out of this World.

Recently came across this fascinating relic of seventies strangeness:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happy Birthday LSD.

LSD is old enough to be your grandfather today. On this day, November 16, 1938, Albert Hofmann was lead by a "peculiar presentiment" to synthesize LSD for the first time in Sandoz laboratories, Basel, Switzerland. (As a historical moment, it is as good a candidate for the Also Sprach Zarathrustra treatment as any I can think of.) Whether a molecular door into a Higher Reality, or a aimless game of neurochemical pin-ball with your brain as the board, acid is a pivotal part of the cultural matrix that has made us the multi-media mutants we are today.

Acid has a complex cultural legacy. One of its great condtradictions lies in the fact that it provided the youth of the West with a Door into a re-animated cosmos - a world of mystical rather than rational connections and significances. Yet there is no purer product of the rational scientific edifice - LSD came from a laboratory, not an ashram. As Mark Dery points out in his book Escape Velocity, the hippie appropriation of the slogan Better Living Through Chemicals was layered with irony - the notion of enlightenment in a pill was as much a product of technocratic capitalism as it was a reaction against it. In tandem with this, LSD produced a kitsch iconography of kaleidoscopes and sitars, much of which had very little to do with the actual experience itself. (In more recent times, what the trobbing bargain bin techno of psytrance has to with the psychedelic experience will always be a mystery to me.)

But if LSD didn't, contrary to popular expections, make everything beautiful overnight in any kind of lasting way, it crept slowly into the collective bloodstream, mutating twenieth century culture in a variety of subtle, incremental ways. LSD re-invigorated a notion of William James - that everyday consciousness was not the totality of reality, but rather a form of reductive valve that simply made that reality easier to navigate and survive in. For a variety of musicians, writers, artists, and future Silicone Valley visionaries, acid opened up a variety of other channels that the brain could be tuned to - a multiplicity of exotic frequencies that differed in every regard to the base-level signals of survival, status, and compeition that normally predominate in our civilisation. So this day, 71 years ago, can be envisioned as a mutation of the medium of consciousness, as something akin to the movies becoming talkies - or, more aptly, the monochrome of Kansas giving way to the technicolour of Oz.

Boing Boing celebrated the birthday with a wonderful audio visual piece by Larry Carlson, which can be seen here. Linked to that was another Carlson piece, which, in the interests of synchronisity, I feel compelled to post here. The Great One gets around:

Jackie Gleason Manipulating Space and Time from Larry Carlson on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Curious Tale of Jackie Gleason, Richard Nixon, and the Dead Aliens.

Our tale begins in May of 1986, in the Westchester County home of an aging legend: the Great One himself, Jackie Gleason. First we must be introduced to another man: Larry Warren. Warren was a member of the US Air Force Security Police; in 1980 he was stationed at the RAF Brentwaters base in Rendlesham forest, Suffolk, England. Something really strange happened in Rendlesham Forest in December 1980, which is the source of great controversy to this day. A group of RAAF airmen stationed at the base claim to have witnessed the landing of an extraterrestrial craft in the forest. The event, which remains unexplained and hotly debated today, came to be known as the Rendlesham Forest Incident, and the “British Roswell.”

Warren wrote a book called “Left at the Gate” about the incident. In 1986, he was in New York, contributing to HBO and CNN specials about the Rendlesham incident. In his own words: “Through mutual friends who knew members of his family, I was told that Gleason would like to talk to me privately in his home in Westchester County, and so the meeting was a set for a Saturday when we would both have time to relax.” The pair adjourned immediately to Gleason’s recreation room. According again to Warren: “There were hundreds of UFO books all over the place, but Jackie was quick to tell me that this was only a small part of his collection, which was housed in his home in Florida.” The two men commenced drinking (Warren on beers and the Great One on scotch) and talking saucers. It wasn’t until late in the session that Gleason dropped a bombshell: “At some point, Gleason turned to me and said “I’m going to tell you something amazing that will probably come out some day anyway. We’ve got ‘em.” Got what, I wanted to know. Aliens!” Gleason spluttered, catching his breath.” Within a year, Gleason was dead.

Flashback to Florida in 1973.

Jackie Gleason is a show business aristocrat in America. He will be remembered chiefly for two iconic roles – as the luckless, temperamental bus driver Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners, and as Paul Newman’s sagacious opponent Minnesota Fats in The Hustler. (Kramden provided the model for Fred Flintsone, and thus a whole sub-species of luckless American husband is born, extending into modern times through Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, and a variety of others.) What is less known about Gleason at the time is his fascination with the paranormal. Gleason is a chain smoker of the old school, averaging between five and six packs a day. He apparently suffers from insomnia, and reads long into the night, slowly assembling a collection of fringe/UFO literature which will one day be donated to the University of Miami libraries. He has also built a futuristic house on the outskirts of Peerskill, New York, which resembles, well, a flying saucer. Popular Mechanics run a feature on it, revealing that the “Mothership” contains an eight foot bed with a television built into the ceiling above it. On February 19, 1973, Gleason is in Miami, running a charity golf tournament at the Inverray Golf and Country Club.

Enter Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States of America.

Gleason is a keen supporter of both the Republican Party and the FBI, and he and Nixon have been friends for years. The two men play golf on the eighteenth hole of the Inverray Golf course. According to the second-hand testimony of both Frank Warren and Gleason’s second wife Beverly, the conversation soon turns to the subject of UFOs and aliens. Gleason expresses his interest in the subject, and Nixon archly suggests that he, too, is interested in aliens. But he refuses to say too much, and the two complete their game in high spirits.

Now here is where things start to get strange, and increasingly subject to Ripley’s caveat. Apparently, later that night at around twelve o’clock, Nixon shows up at Gleason’s house, by himself, in a private car. Enigmatically, he tells Gleason he has “something to show him”, and the legendary comedian and infamous president head off into the night. Their destination is Homestead Air Force Base. They finally arrive at a segregated compound in the base, and enter a heavily guarded complex of laboratories. Nixon first shows his puzzled guest what he insists are parts of a flying saucer. Gleason is at first convinced that Nixon is playing an elaborate prank, but there is more to come. Ralph Kramden is about to go where he had so often threatened to send his television wife, with the lo-fi rocket propulsion of domestic violence; the Great One is about the come face to face with the Secret of Secrets. “Next, we went into an inner chamber, and there were six or eight of what looked like glass-topped Coke freezers. Inside them were the mangled remains of what I took to be children. Then – upon closer examination – I saw that some of the other figures looked quite old. Most of them were terribly mangled as if they had been in an accident.” According to Warren, Gleason insisted that the bodies had three or four fingers on each hand, and were definitely not human.

What really happened? If the alleged midnight run to Homestead actually happened, was Nixon merely playing his Hollywood buddy for a chump? Was the story a witty invention on Gleason’s part, or perhaps a senile fantasy spun out in later life? Was it merely bid for outrĂ© publicity on the part of Larry Warren and Beverly Gleason? (Are people called Larry inherently untrustworthy?) Or….what if it is entirely true? What if there really was a weird singularity in the history of the twentieth century, a secular miracle that crash-landed onto the soil of the Heartland of Dreams, and found itself buried in reams of secrecy and tabloid myth, and lived on only in that country’s brawling, paranoiac dreamlife? Fact or gonzo folklore, the curious tale of Jackie Gleason, Richard Nixon, and the dead aliens is far too good to resist. “Bang! Zoom! Straight to the moon!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Way Out World of Long John Nebel.

The America of the 1950’s was a joyfully weird place. The rapidly emerging grids of suburban housing suggested a social planners dream – a Norman Rockwell ideal of prosperity and conformity for the age of rockets and tailfins. Meanwhile, the feverish realm of the b-picture suggested a country – or a psyche – which was perpetually at the mercy of a never-ending tide of monsters, mutants, creatures from outer space, and the occasional gang of beakniks. It was an era of phenomenal growth and security on the one hand, and Creatures, on the other, all of whom Came from very clearly specified locations, and all of whom, for very obvious reasons, Had to be Destroyed.

The continuing UFO saga was beginning to yield its first shivers of kitsch spirituality, in the form of the contactee movement. The contactees were a disparate group of citizens all of whom claimed to have met and established a kind of diplomatic rapport with the denizens of flying saucers. The aliens of the early contactee movements came from our solar system – Mars, Saturn, mostly Venus – to preach a treacly gospel of cosmic brotherhood. They were perfectly anthropomorphic, Hollywood beautiful Aryan humanoids, and they came to be known, hilariously, as the Space Brothers. Needless to say, all of these cosmic diplomats were sorely lacking in credibility. Some, however, were worse than others; the aptly named hillbilly contactee Buck Nelson claimed he was unable to see the sun during a jaunt in a flying saucer, because “space was very dark.”

Happily into the midst of this madness came the pioneering broadcaster Long John Nebel. Nebel was born in Chicago in 1911, and it is said he dropped out of school in the eight grade to commit the archetypal act of defiance against the real world – he ran away with a circus. Nebel wound up in New York in the early thirties, working a variety of gigs until he finally established an auction and consignment store in New Jersey called Long John’s Auctions. Show business was never far from his mind, however, and even then he was a flamboyant personality, known as “Long John, the grab and gravel man.”

In the early fifties, Long John gravitated to radio, establishing a paranormal chat show, the first of its kind, at New York’s WOR AM station. Nebel’s programme basically established the template which Art Bell’s Coast to Coast would later follow so successfully – a freeform nite owl radio forum, in which people with bizarre claims and belief systems were given a non-judgemental podium to spin their tall tales. Long John himself was no true believer, describing himself as a curious sceptic; like Art Bell, he realized the extraordinary riches that existed at the weirder end of the free speech spectrum. Nebel’s programme gave a voice to the burgeoning contactee community, as well a dizzying variety of occultists, conspiracy theorists, and cranks, who would otherwise have remained silent in the staid mediascape of fifties America. He also conducted various interviews with Richard Shaver, whose paranoid schizophrenic visions of a race of nefarious underground robots called the Deros became an minor sensation in the late forties.

Alongside his various guests and callers, Nebel’s show frequently had a studio discussion panel. Regulars in this coterie of the bizarre included Arthur C. Clarke, Frederick Pohl, conjurer and sceptic James Randi (the Great Randi), and the Honeymooners TV star they would later call “the Great One”: Jackie Gleason. As well as being an all-around comedic genius, Gleason had a voracious appetite for the paranormal, and was said to possess the largest private library of books on the subject of UFOs in America. At one time, Gleason was offering 10,000 dollars (later a million) to anyone able to furnish him with physical proof of the existence of aliens. (Although the prize was never claimed, some say that Gleason would, in time, be shown the proof he required. More of this in a later post.)

Though a confirmed sceptic, Nebel’s private life would itself become entwined with what he called “the way out world.” In 1972, Long John married Candy Jones, a fashion model who had been a popular pin-up during WW2. Jones had an erratic, unstable personality, and under hypnosis (by Nebel himself) it emerged that Jones may have been a victim of CIA mind control experiments, carried out under the notorious MK-ULTRA programme. These claims remain controversial to this day, but produced a non-fiction book with a pitch perfect b-movie/grindhouse title: The Control of Candy Jones.

Wading in the weird waters that he did, in an era long prior to caller ID, Long John Nebel was inevitably the victim of many pranks and more abuse; however he gave as good as he got, as these clips amply display:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Invasion of the Image.

When asked Where do UFOs come from? most saucer buffs are content to say outer space, and leave it at that. This is because most saucer buffs like to regard UFOs as basically physical objects, like trucks or air planes. Trucks or air planes, that is, that come directly from the impossible, yet strangely intelligible, curve of advanced technology represented by outer space.

The problem with this lies in the fact that UFOs derive much of their appeal from the fact they have never been a definite object of any kind. UFOs are tiny smudges on an otherwise pristine canvass; tiny blurry spaces in a moving image that was meant to capture something else. They seem to exist, if they exist at all, to dart across the world's peripheral vision, and prompt people to say things like Did you see that? or What the hell was that?

The human mind abhors blank spaces and fuzzy anomalies as much as nature is assumed to disdain the vacuum, and thus projection, interpretative frames of reference, and belief systems begin. It is for this reason that the real study of UFOs cannot be simply a study of physical objects, at least until someone is lucky enough to capture one in a butterfly net. Their real fascination lies in the study of how information is processed, how it is continually mutated by categorization, and by the assumptions and myths we project onto slippery pockets of raw, unruly data. Semantically, the UFO is an oxymoron: an indefinite object that nevertheless conjures a solid, tangible concept in most people's minds, i.e. a vehicle from outer space, piloted by the strangely blank, iconic figures that are believed to pilot such things. If you think about this at all, the UFO begins to appear less a dynamic, physical object, and more like a newspaper cartoon, with it's alien pilots golem-like agents of the absurd, perpetually caught in the act of asking some befuddled passer-by to Take me to your leader.

UFO historians who have a particular investment in the extraterrestrial hypothesis rarely acknowledge that ufology is at least half a cultural history, in much the same way that sceptics insist that it is nothing but. The idea of invaders from outer space is as old as the hills, but its modern formation began with the cool, unsympathetic Martian intelligences of H.G. Wells, and really assumed its iconic form through a series of static images - those appearing on the covers of science fiction novels and pulp magazines. The idea that our culture selected to animate the aerial Rorschach ink blot of the UFO came from inner space, and was the fruit of a gradual invasion of the subconscious by the imagery of the pulp imagination.

It was via the pulp imagination - itself a peripheral phenomenon, populated to a large degree by weird outsiders, hacks, and troubled visionaries - that many of the salient elements of the UFO belief system took shape. It was through sidelong glances into the pulp pressure cooker that we learned, basically, what aliens look like - massive brained, bug-eyed, spindly-limbed creatures - and what, basically, these creatures spend the bulk of their time doing - the aliens spend a lot of their time being interrupted in the act of abducting beautiful women, carrying out experiments, generally committing menacing acts in spaces that resemble both hospitals and laboratories.

There are an endless amount of reasons why the alien meme stuck. The alien and the UFO facilitated a marriage of the driving engines of the modern world - high technology and progress - with the perennial desire of human beings to have some kind of congress with intelligent, non-human beings, be they angels, demons, gods, or monsters. It is this contradictory synthesis between the demands of the modern mind and the prehistoric one that chiefly illuminate the UFO. During the forties and fifties, many people felt an unavoidable presentiment of this contradiction inhering in humanity itself. The Bomb, like the UFO, reflects an indivisible synthesis between technological mastery and dark primitivism, and flying saucers emerged, chronologically and geographically, in the shadow of the Bomb.

Regarding UFO lore as being somehow inherently a literalization of pulp imagery - a collective reverie composed by half-remembered magazine covers and movie scenes - would certainly explain some of the stranger aspects of alleged UFO encounters. First of all, it would explain the high percentage of absurd, almost cartoonish material recorded by apparently credible witnesses - stories of aliens in diving suits asking farmers for the correct time, and making saltless pancakes for other befuddled humans. Jacques Vallee often argued that the alien behaviour reported by alleged abductees in the seventies and eighties simply made no sense - there is no reason why an advanced race would need to preform the same essentially primitive medical procedures, over and over again, on thousands on people. But if the Greys were somehow composed of cultural memories, often of static illustrations, then they would be trapped in a perpetual loop, forced to perform their generic function over and over again.

If ufology is a simply a history of cultural contagion, then it gives us a valuable insight in the process whereby imaginary imagery gradually becomes a reality - to a certain marginal percentage of the population. The late John A. Keel's theory of ultraterrestials, however, suggests an another possibility. Basically Keel claims that beings that exist in a different dimension from ours - which he christened ultraterrestials - are constantly manifesting themselves in our reality:
"Instead of thinking in terms of extraterrestrials, I have adopted the concept of ultraterrestials - beings and forces which coexist with us but are on another another time frame; that is, they operate outside the limits of our space-time yet have the ability to cross over into our reality. This other world is not a place, however, as Mars or Andromeda are places, but is a state of energy."

Keel knows little for certain about these vaguely Lovecraftian entities, except that they like to play games with us - games whose pieces are our belief systems, frames of reference, and explanatory manifestations. The ultraterrestials appear to us in the forms we have created for them - they adapt themselves to the prevalent belief system of any given period, and escalate those beliefs by manifesting them. Hence, everything from the appearance of a Homeric deity in ancient Greece, to an angelic visitation in medieval England, to a flying saucer hovering over the New Mexico desert "are not real in the sense that a 747 airliner is real. They are transmogrifications of energy under the control of some unknown extradimensional intelligence." Returning to information, we simply process these energy frissons in the language of our dominant mythologies.

Whether you think that Keel is On to Something, or has simply injected an industrial dose of Philip K. Dick paranoia into the insights of cultural anthropology and postmodernism, there is a certain irresistible elegance to his theory:
"If you saw a strange light in the sky in 1475 you knew it had to be a witch on a broom because you had heard of others who had seen witches on brooms skirting the treetops. Now in 1975 you might decide it is attached to a spacecraft from some other planet. This conclusion is not a qualified deduction on your part. It is the result of years of propaganda and even brainwashing. If you are under thirty, then you grew up on a diet of comic books, motion pictures, and television programs which educated you in to believe the extraterrestrial hypothesis. A small knot of nuts has talked to you year after year on interview programs, telling you how the sinister air force has been keeping the truth about flying saucers from the public; the truth being that UFOs are the product of a superior intelligence with an advanced technology, and that the flying saucers have come to save us from ourselves. The gods of ancient Greece are among us again, in a new guise but still handing out the old line. Believe.
Belief is the enemy."
Just as the rickety old space faring Venusians and Martians were a perfect folkloric foil for the modern period, Keel's ultraterrestial tricksters are a potent myth for the hyper-sceptical, post-quantum, postmodern condition of today - a unified field theory and Copenhagen Interpretation of the paranormal. If the alien invasion was really an invasion of images - and, as such, an invasion of media technologies - then this myth can only continue to resonate, as that invasion continues apace into the fabled uncanny valley of perfect simulation.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

RIP Mac Tonnies.

Fortean researcher, futurist, and Posthuman Blues blogger Mac Tonnies passed away this week at the tragically young age of 34. William Gibson, a long time hero of Tonnies, noted on Twitter: "Very sad to learn of the death of @mactonnies. Whip smart young Fortean surrealist dudes are too thin on the ground to begin with." Here is an excerpt from Mac's recent interview with George Noory on Coast to Coast:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tomb of the Unknown Junkie.

This is from Cocksucker Blues, the long lost film of the Stones' infamously debauched '72 tour of the States. Also from that movie, the spontaneous emergence of a mythic archetype:

Outsider Art: "Prophet" Royal Robertson.

Few artists fall into the often unenviable category of "outsider" as neatly as Louisiana-born sign painter, crazy man, and self proclaimed prophet Royal Robertson. The most significant event in Robertson's life seems to have occurred in 1975, when his wife, with whom he'd fathered eleven children, left him for another man. Rather than launch himself back into the dating scene, the Prophet lapsed into a mysogynistic rage of truely Old Testament proportions. Armed with a lo-fi arsenal of paints, pencils, ball-point pens, and magic markers, Robertson preceeded to turn his home into a virtual hate-shrine to his ex-wife, and the inequitious ways of women in general. In time, he began to conceive of himself as the victim of a global, sci-fi tinged female conspiracy. This result of this is a fascinating cannon of work which provides a raw insight into a troubled, al-be-it highly creative mind, and which is replete with some of our favourite themes here - biblical eschatology, futurism, and the archetypes of comic books, science fiction, and UFO literature. Here are some examples:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No More Street Shows.

I am not now
As I was in my youth
Whatever charge

Coursed through
My veins and animated
The actors of the world

Has snuffled out
I do not know when
Or whether by

Nature yielding to
Time, or I yielding to
Some cowardice

That is like time.

Now when I
Am about, walking
My thoughts are

Soft and sleepy
And I am easily distracted
By the street performers

Everyday I will
Lose myself for a time
In one of their shows

I will smile
And then chide myself
With what remonstrance

Remains, for they are truly meagre things.

In my youth, I walked along the harbour
Where the vendors stalls lined the shore
And the dervishes spoke among themselves;
In my youth, my eyes drank in the world.

It seems to me now, that though I saw
Only a small portion of the world, and did
Only a little of what might have been
Done, my memories I believe

Are all gathered together, as it is said
That a man sees, at a glance, an infinity
Of detail, but registers only those things
Which are strictly needful to his safety

My memories, I believe, are gathered
Together in this fashion: though most
Are invisible, some perhaps irretrievable
Nevertheless they are all somehow present

In the mind, as all things are present in
This world, though separated by distances,
And divided among he who sees one part,
He who sees another, and he who is asleep.

In this fashion, I am struck that my memories
Of innumerable little things make something
Vast, like the world; and when I recollect
Doing one thing, or seeing another

In another part of my mind, as in another country
I am doing other things, seeing the colours
Of different days. Perhaps I see the ocean
When the vendors wrap their wares, and smile

Perhaps I see mottled blankets stiff in the morning
Sun, the shadow of a plump woman moving
Behind them. Once, I imagined that I was woven
Of all these things, so I might apprehend them clearly.

But now it seems that I no sooner recollect something
And I am myself in that act an object of recollection
And never out of the stream, never untangled from
That knot. Sometimes I conceive a pattern

Of ashes, that holds its shape in the air for
An impossible instant, like something delicate
And precipitous; then the sustaining air
Swells, and scatters the ashes away.

Other times I think of the day when
All the performers had departed the city
And one I knew to see, rueful and friendly
Smiling, said "No more street shows."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Golly Good New Noises: Orson Welles Meets H.G. Wells.

As everybody knows, Google has gone hog-wild for ufo imagery lately:

The official reason released by Google is to celebrate the 147th birthday of the great British futurist, political theorist, and architect of modern science fiction HG Wells. Make of it what you will. Prior to the revelation of the Wells connection, All News Web, a bastion of stringent reportage if ever there was one, felt compelled to offer the following explanation, received via email from "Tina":
‘Tina’ has a university degree in marketing and came to work on the project which she declines to name via an initial position in the Pentagon's public relations operations. Her position involved relaying and rewriting electronic messages for distribution to certain world organizations regarding imminent open contact with an alien race. We are unsure as to why she has contacted All News Web.
According to 'Tina' the last and only physical meeting between aliens and the Government and indeed the only actual official Government recorded UFO landing and alien visitation in the last century up until now occurred in the early 1950’s. This was a meeting between three alien explorers and President Truman. The meeting involved some form of limited telepathic communication and involved the Aliens expressing relief that WW2 had come to an end. The aliens promised to return one day. The Aliens were about three foot and of somewhat classic ‘Grey’ appearance. Photographs were taken and these, which have been seen by a handful of media figures (Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg), have become a basis for the traditional image of ‘Grey’ aliens.
The Aliens are believed to come from a planet about thirty light years away and it is unknown if they possess faster than light transport. 'Tina' did not receive any information on Roswell or any reverse engineering projects involving ET technology. She does not discount other informal alien or UFO incidents.
The aliens seek to establish ties with Earthlings. They are able to monitor the goings on here remotely and it appears they are at least a thousand years ahead of humans technologically
According to 'Tina' SETI is receiving and concealing regular explicit signals (and has been doing so for at least seven years) from this race that state that they are returning to earth in around four years (2013) and have spacecraft essentially mid-journey. The extra-terrestrials will land openly and in a way that will conclusively prove their presence and are doing so unilaterally. They have given the US government until then to prepare humanity for this event.
'Tina' alleges that some powerful security figures would like to thwart this open contact but are powerless to do so. Many figures associated with NASA and even the Pentagon are positive about the event and a conspiracy to hide the truth form the world’s population is not unanimous.
What all parties agree on is that the best course of action is to leave any announcement of the event to the absolute latest possible time so as not to frighten people or harm the economy.
Major churches have been briefed on the matter and are being given time to shift their positions so as to accommodate this new reality. The US Govt has been ‘requested’ to mend and clean up rivalries and conflicts in preparation and this extra-ordinary event and this is the primary reason for Barack Obama’s peace gesture to Iran and indeed his very presidency. Barack Obama is in almost daily contact with SETI and is communicating with the aliens directly.
The aliens indirectly contributed to the development of internet search engines and they are in limited contact with Google through SETI (and allegedly via NASA's Ames Research Center). They are able to access the internet currently and their involvement in search engine research is for the purpose of allowing them to understand as much about earth as possible prior to their next arrival. It is believed that search engine algorithms are somewhat based on the form of telepathic communication they use.
It is astonishing where a degree in marketing can take you nowadays. Anyway, as a birthday tribute to HG Wells, here is a link to the audio of a meeting between the great man and the equally great Orson Welles. The velvet baritone of Mr. Orson Welles requires no introduction; the voice of Mr. HG Wells transpires to possess the comforting quality of a pair of slippers combined with a dry sherry (and perhaps a loyal, heartbreakingly stoical cocker spaniel.) The prefix "Mr" is used a stunning amount of times in this short audio.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Secret Life of Hoaxes Part 3: A Labyrinth in Curved Space.

One of the preeminent concepts that shapes our thinking about virtually everything in the modern world is evolution. It is often argued that almost all classical ideologies and belief systems partake to some degree in Platonism – in the belief that certain things retain the same essential form throughout eternity. Evolution constituted a paradigmatic sea-change because it argued for mutability instead of permanence, for the temporal instead of the eternal, and – in almost all interpretations – the contingent rather than the preordained. (The significant implication of the latter point being that there were a variety of other forms that the basic building blocks of nature could have taken – and no inherent necessity in our emergence from the primordial stew.) An unavoidable implication of the William James quotation cited in previous posts is that truth may itself be a quantity subject more to evolutionary mutation than to unchanging Platonic perfection. (To clarify, I mean truth here not in terms of a record of events – such as the Holocaust – but rather in terms of the underlying bedrock of how we understand ourselves and our position in the universe.) It rarely occurs to evangelical Darwinists to extend the evolutionary paradigm into the realm of truth itself. Science must always juggle its awareness of the temporal nature of theories – the principal of falsification – with its strongly Platonic impulse to discover eternal and immutable laws and theories.

In order for truth to be a fully evolutionary entity – it would require that truth be more a creative than a receptive activity. Being an activity grounded in the reception of exterior things would allow for the progressivist outlook that fuels most mainstream science – for the belief that our perception of those external realities becomes ever more acute and clear, until we can arrive at a system of postulates which will remain irrevocably true for all time. (The holy grail of this particular outlook being the Theory of Everything eagerly sought in certain factions of the physics community.) On the other hand, truth being an activity more thoroughly grounded in interior mental processes allows for a whole slew of complications to intrude on the principal of objectivity – for the most self-evident, commonsensical truths to be hopelessly enmeshed within a wider net of physiological, linguistic, socio-ideological , emotional, and evolutionary factors. If this is correct, then truth may be envisioned as a entirely temporal, constantly mutable entity – a creature that grows a coat of fur when the weather is icy, sheds it when the sun shines, and developes a poisonous sting when threatened by larger predators. The movement towards truth may not be, as the progressivist envisions it, a journey along a linear path towards a definitive destination, but rather an endless amble through a labyrinth in curved space. A labyrinth in curved space would be traversed forever, so long as its inhabitants maintained the assumption that it conformed to the standard, and possessed a way out, however ingeniously hidden; but what appeared to be the way out would always be the way back in again.

(The popularity of the labyrinth as a metaphor in contemporary culture, evident in Borges, Escher, Last Year in Marienbad, and elsewhere, is often related, no doubt correctly, to the theories of Einstein. But many of these ideas were already evident in the works of Kafka, who was writing more or less contemporaneously to the great discoveries of Einstein. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether the creative artist or the scientist has priority, or whether both are merely carving shapes from the same clay.)
Bowie gestures to Einstein from the depths of Jungian Hyperspace.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The questions, Mr. President, the questions....

In what is either this century's grandest act of celebrity folly, or its most unique act of political activism, reformed actor Charlie Sheen has made a direct demand to President Obama to re-open the 9 11 investigations. This strangely orchestrated media event began about a week ago, when Texan firebrand Alex Jones promised that his biggest ever news story was going to break during the 9 11 anniversary. On september 8, Jones' website prison planet published a fictionalised, hypothetical 20 minute interview between Sheen and the President. Controversially, perhaps ingeniously, the interview was online for a few hours without any disclaimer, or indication of any kind that it was entirely fictitious. Two things are noteworhty here. First of all, this is the first on record that the "fanfic" form has been used in the pursuit of a political cause. Secondly, there is a kind of fighting fire with fire logic at work here - Jones and Sheen are attempting to expose a false flag terror means of a false flag interview.

Jones came under severe fire from the alternative community for the stunt, with many posters on Above Top Secret and Coast to Coast host Georgre Noory decrying the manovere. Undeterred, Jones rather feebly cited technical difficulties for the lack of a disclaimer, and boldly declared that he and Sheen were carrying out a "psyop on the New World Order." That psyop was intensified in the past few hours, with the following video address to the President:

I cannot help but admire the peculiar madness in the way this stunt has perpetuated thus far - and Jones claims that it is only the opening salvo in a chain of events. Whether it blows up in their faces, or initiates a new era of false flag journalism and viral activism remains to be seen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

2032: The Return of the Flying Teapots.

This is the video for Gong's How to Stay Alive, featuring the drawings of Davevid Allen animated by Japanese Manga maestros Mood Magic. Be sure to watch in fullscreen!

Visions of Things to Come, Courtesy of Raquel Welsh.

Raquel Welsh - immortal lovely, actress, dancer, and futurist:

Here Raquel rocks some Mayan and Astrological memes with a distinctly 2012 flavour:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Secret Life of Hoaxes. Part 2.

Most hoaxes are crudely executed, and are revealed as such with relative ease and brevity. In other cases, we find varying degrees of ambiguity. Some hoaxes start out as a genuine phenomenon, and gradually stoop to fakery when a particular demand develops for a miraculous font which has ran dry. Other hoaxes may have kernels of truth scattered within their myriad falsehoods, which remain fundamentally difficult to disentangle; as we argued in a much older post, disinformation operates on a Cretan liar basis of truth and falsehood mixed together in a subtle and almost indivisible fashion. Strangest of all are those cases of obvious, blatant hoaxes which nevertheless seem to have weird, ripple effects that create a degree of ambiguity/irresolution. A good example of this is the Santilli alien autopsy film; it was plainly a fake made in the nineties, yet a variety of military insiders confided to researchers that they remembered seeing the film back in the sixties.

The point of all this is that hoaxes exist in a slippery space that tends to unseat, even if only in minor ways, the most crucial of our logical/ontological binaries. Consider the example of Carlos Castaneda's infamous Yaqui shaman Don Juan Matus. Beginning with The Teaching of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote some twelve books which purported to detail his training at the hands of the alternately humorous and severe sorcerer. The books were best-selling trailblazers that influenced a generation of seekers, largely introducing the shamanic revival and concepts of alternate realities to the nascent New Age movement. But was Don Juan even a real person? Today, nobody really knows for sure if the Don Juan cycle of books are literal biography, partially fictionalized, wholly fictitious, or a conscious and deliberate allegory that aims to express a philosophical truth in the manner of Plato's dialogues. (A similar uncertainty principal surrounds Whitley Strieber's narratives of encounter with non-human intelligence which began with Communion.)

Imagine, for example, that you came into possession of a painting by an Old Master, and cherished it for decades. Then, suddenly, after about a decade or so, it is finally revealed to you that the picture is a fake. Immediately, your whole perception of the painting changes. Are all your years of appreciation and pleasure invalidated by this sudden awareness of the painting's origins? (Are any insights you might have gleaned from Don Juan, whom you only ever experienced as a disembodied spirit mediated through paper and ink, invalidated by the possibly that he never existed outside of that paper and ink?) What is the ontological status of the painting in relation to you if its forgery is only discovered after your death?

While this may seem like cheap sophistry, it relates to the manner in which categories construct our realities. (The painting itself hasn't changed, only its status with regard to the symbolic system whereby the merit of the picture is judged. In a society where ingenious forgery was esteemed, the possession of an original would be a gross disappointment.) In the elaborate Christian geography of the afterlife, outlined in the Divine Comedy and elsewhere, the virtuous pagan who was born prior was the revelation of Christ is consigned to Limbo for all eternity. (Limbo was also said to be the permanent home of unbaptised babies. Though adjacent to hell, Limbo was believed to be a reasonably pleasant place, albeit somewhat downscaled from the eternal bliss of heaven. I don't believe that Limbo was ever the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Its curiously stilted and bureaucratic logic suggests the crude literalization of a myth; its undeniably resemblance to life here on earth suggests that our universe may itself be a crudely literalized myth.) In many respects, successive epochs have consigned the polymaths of the Christian era to a Limbo of ignorance. Being born prior the advent of the Scientific Age, it is their ill-fortune never to understand the true nature of the physical universe.
This, however, restates the question raised by never discovering that the painting is a forgery. Were the universes of Newton, of Einstein, and of Heisenberg, present in the universes of Homer and Augustine, waiting for a sufficient ingenuity to be discovered? Or, from the perspective of those temporal coordinates, bounded by the mortality of those who lived within them, are the later discoveries so abstract as to be almost meaningless? Is something true in a particular era, even though it never registered within the conceptual framework of the majority of men who lived in that era? Once again, we are returned to the significance of consensus categories and symbolic systems in the crystallisation of truth, and to Henry James' assertion that “truth happens to an idea, it becomes true, is made true by events.”

More Sophism will be added to this in the next Post, until, by an Affect of Steady Accumulation, a Point Almost Credible will Emerge, alluding to the Essential Pliancy of Reality, and its Particular Vulnerability to the Occultic Works of Hoaxers and Other Magicians.

Inherent Vice.

Today sees the release of Thomas Pynchon's new psychedelic noir Inherent Vice by Penguin Books. I have to admit I've grown very cold towards Pynchon's books in recent years. However, I still have great fondness for his eighties aging hippie fanstasia Vineland, and going on the following trailer, Vice is very much in that mold, and very much in the mould of the Coen's essential masterpiece The Big Lebowski. (A Jeff Bridges audiobook recording of this would be incredible!)

Vintage Paranoia!

Jon Ronson is a highly successful British journalist who has carved out something of a niche for himself documenting the shadow world of fringe belief communities for a sardonic middle-class audience. Developing a style which mixes the participatory character of Gonzo journalism with a particularly British sense of self-deprecatory humour, Ronson's most successful works include The Men Who Stared at Goats, an exploration of the US military's study of New Age and paranormal techniques, and Them: Adventures with Extremists, a picaresque account of his experiences in the company of individuals such as David Icke, Randy Weaver, and Alex Jones. (A movie version of The Men who Stared at Goats, with George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacy, is slated for a November release, while Universal and Jack Black have apparently bought the rights to Them.)

Ronson's take on fringe topics is a little too sardonic, commonsensical, and basically sane for my liking, but he has done some good work, including infamously infiltrating the New World Order summer soiree Bohemian Grove with Texan conspiracy firebrand Alex Jones. Way back in 1998, Ronson hosted For the Love of....Big Brother on Britain's then edgy and alternative Channel 4. Airing well into the late night/early morning stoner slot, For the Love of.... basically gathers a motley panel of remote viewers, spook-watchers, and etheric healers, to discuss the New World Order, microwave weapon technology, remote viewing, and advanced surveillance techniques. While most of these topics are quite familiar to today's paranoia saturated culture, to a random pre-9 11 audience of insomniacs and students, this must have seemed like pretty mind-blowing stuff. I love the little details that date the programme – Ronson smokes throughout, which just never happens in panel TV today, and the panellists quaintly regard mobile phones as solely the preserve of the wealthy upper class. (Tune into Channel 4 late at night today, and you are likely to be transported into the sickly retro-futurist design of the Big Brother "reality TV" house, an annual media event that turns the constant surveillance state, and the dystopian nightmare imagery of the twentieth century, into fetishistic mass entertainment. Strange times.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tripping the Switch: The Secret Life of Hoaxes.

The scholar of the paranormal is perpetually bedevilled by the ingenuity of the hoaxer and the charlatan. Our august discipline suffers in two significant ways. First of all, there is the question of credibility, and the perception of us within the wider academic and scientific communities. It seems that once man first longed for the miraculous, the numinous, and the mysterious, he became subject to the confusing topography of what I label the labyrinthine bazaar of the spirit. Consider, my friends, the ambience of the ordinary bazaar: a bustling, gaudy emporium of tent and stall, where traders entice the weary buyer with a wealth of purely material fare – with such clothing, ornament, and bauble as renders the human body itself a marketable commodity, and such roasted nuts, sweetmeats, and mulled wines as satisfy the shopper's delicate palette. It is certain that some of the traders charge an exorbitant fee for their wares, and practise all kinds of wiles to induce the buyer to make a strumpet of his purse. (The common expression to sell the sizzle, not the steak, actually derives from a real practise. In the Moroccan bazaars of the late Medieval period, the trader Ishmael Alveretto was avowed the pinnacle of diabolical ingenuity in matters of persuasion. The most famous of all his feats was the ability to sell - at a discount price – bags of steam from his barbecue, under the pretence that the steam contained the concentrated nutrients of the meat, and sufficed for a meal when inhaled. It is said that he was eventually set upon by a mob of his erstwhile gulls, who had grown emaciated from months of inhaling Alveretto's steam, and the salesman himself was burned alive.)

Nevertheless, the merely physical bazaar possesses an essential honesty, but what of the metaphysical one? Witness the decadence of the Church in in the late medieval period, reduced to a high street boutique of the afterlife, trading in indulgences, relics, and the presumptuous exchange of purgatorial leniency for hard currency. The Dominican preacher Johann Tetzel (1465 – 1519) is credited with the zeitgeist-defining couplet “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs.” Stroll beyond the Catholic concordance of the spiritual bazaar, and one finds oneself in the bold hub of the Age of Reason, lost in a deafening babble of mesmerists, theosophists, rogue geometricians of the Fourth Dimension, etheric and mediumistic parlour conmen of every persuasion. To this day, the study of the anomalous and the strange has had its credibility damaged by the shamelessness of the spiritual huckster, and the inveterate credulity of his gulls.

Further to this, the prevalence of hoaxing provides another pressing difficulty for the paranormal community, and this second difficulty lies in the ratio of signal to noise. Consider, for example, the UFO phenomenon. It is often said that the study of UFOs is bedevilled by a high preponderance of noise to signal, the noise in this case being defined as elements of the UFO enigma which are rationally explicable unknowns, as against the signal of truly anomalous events. A class of physical noise is generated by the misidentification of ordinary aerial vehicles, planetary bodies, and atmospheric phenomenona. A class of intellectual or sociological noise is generated by cultural and journalistic sensationalism, urban legendry and folklore, deliberate government misinformation, and generally speaking, the whole corpus of socio-mythic pollution which influences, or even creates ex nihilo, a particular interpretative bias. When we ad to this intellectual noise the prevalence of hoaxes, it becomes easy to imagine that perhaps the subject under study does not exist at all, but is rather a complex self generating feed-back system, a concordance of error and misidentification which continues to evolve in complexity as the pursuit of one erroneous assumption generates another. (Some wise men have avowed that the whole corpus of knowledge and science may itself be such a self generating feed-back system. This is the problem of the circularity of truth, which is so admirably expressed by William James: “There is no noncircular set of criteria for knowing whether a particular belief is true, no appeal to some standard outside the process of coming to the belief itself. For thinking just is a circular process, in which some end, some imagined outcome, is already present at the start of any train of thought....Truth happens to an idea, it becomes true, is made true by events.” Attend to the nuance; these words are particularly germane to our theme.)

To what category of ontology does the UFO belong, being so complex, treacherous, and potentially illusionary? True scholars of the mystery have invariably found that it is a liminal, twilight category; that it seems to maintain its existence somewhere between the realm of exterior physical reality, and interior psychological projection. It remains impossible to prove, perhaps even to fully credit, yet equally impossible to fully reject. The pre-eminent French ufologist Jacques Vallee recognised this liminal ontology as perhaps the defining characteristic of the UFO: “they exist in the domain of the in-between, the unproven and the unprovable......the country of paradoxes, strangely furnished with material “proofs”, sometimes seemingly unimpeachable, yet insufficient....this absolutely confusing (and manifestly misleading) aspect may well be the phenomenon's most basic characteristic.”

We are drawn, invariably, into the paradoxical world of the Cretan liar, into the timeless machinations of the trickster, perhaps our most indelible and mysterious mythic archetype. But to what avail? What does it mean for something to be neither fully real, nor entirely unreal? If it is true that men create this world, to a certain degree, by virtue of certain pre-exist categories within their brains, and wider sociological categories of consensus which these brains have agreed among themselves, is it possible that the errant creatures of human belief could attain a transitory, residual existence within this matrix? Or does it go further than this? It seems that the notion of objectivity, or of a physical universe wholly unaltered by the prism of consciousness, is the primary paradigmatic casualty of the modern age. Is the next Copernican revolution to be one which will fundamentally alter our conception of the nature of matter, and its relationship to consciousness? And if this is the case, are the flying saucers and other similarly paradoxical phenomenona a kind of koan designed to nudge us towards the collapse of old and untenable categorical distinctions?

As all these questions remain relevant when we consider the ontological status of hoaxes, particularly those of a particular degree of complexity. Do hoaxes remain, as they have begun, harmless and entirely unreal? Or do they partake of an unconscious black magic, a blurring of ontological category, a tripping of some essential switch in the building blocks of reality, that grants them, like the homunculus of alchemical lore, a life of their own?