tag: Dreams



25
Feb 2013

Oscar night on The Quiet Road

Welcome to my much-anticipated live-blog of tonight’s Oscar ceremony. Sadly, due to a scheduling conflict (who knew the Oscars were today!?) it was necessary to write the post last week. But thanks to the wonders of WordPress, it will be automatically published on Oscar night. So, in a sense, this is better than a live-blog as it’s actually ahead of its time. I also made sure to include at least 10% more than the minimum number of exclamation points mandated by the Academy.

And so to the red carpet where lovely celebrities wearing expensive clothes are smiling and having their picture taken. Wheee! What fun! Don’t they look lovely!

There’s whats-her-name! Sporting a beautiful full-length gown by that designer everyone’s talking about. And look who it is by her side… why it’s that famous actor in that film about things blowing up. Good for them! They look both rich and happy. Yay!

Because of its tremendous solemnity, death is the light in which great passions, both good and bad, become transparent, no longer limited by outward appearances.

Søren Kierkegaard

And there’s that guy off the telly. Doesn’t he look dashing in that tuxedo. And what rugged stubble he has. Good for him.

Ooooh… and that actress who always wears daring outfits is wearing a daring outfit. The skirt is split right to the thigh and the word “strapless” will feature prominently in the photo captions tomorrow. Good for her. And look who it is by her side… why it’s that famous actor in that film about things blowing up. Good for them! They look both rich and happy. Yay!

There’s a pop star. Wooo! A pop star.

Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.

Søren Kierkegaard

Ha ha ha! The famous actor made a mildly witty remark to one of the reporters holding a microphone in front of his face. Chortle.

Uh-oh, there’s Hollywood bad-boy whats-his-name! Wherever he goes, controversy is never far behind. Look! Look! He’s wearing brightly coloured unmatched socks… what did I tell you… controversy!

Winners and losers

Of course, everyone’s a winner tonight. There are no losers. Just being nominated… heck, just being invited… makes you a winner in the eyes of this live-blogger.

And now, here’s your host… that dude! Look at him! He’s funny. Gosh! Did he really say that!? Talk about edgy. Ha ha! It’s funny because it’s true! Zing!

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

Søren Kierkegaard

And now the Oscar for best use of hand-held cameras in a fight scene involving supporting actors… that woman from the telly pauses dramatically before opening the envelope. And the Oscar goes to… well, no surprises there. Anyone who saw that film was surely expecting it.

Oooh, a song. From a film. Lovely. Just lovely.

And now the Oscar for best explosion in a period drama. Impossible to call. Critics agree that all five explosions are amongst the best we’ve ever seen. And the Oscar goes to… well, I never! I know some people will say that’s sheer tokenism… positive discrimination at work… but I thought it was a worthy winner. And an explosion we’ll be seeing again and again for years to come.

Listen to the cry of a woman in labour at the hour of giving birth – look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.

Søren Kierkegaard

And it’s another song. By a different singer. Oooh… and some dancers too. Lovely. Just lovely.

And now the Oscar for best cameo appearance by an animated parrot. And the Oscar goes to… well, well, well… that makes it three Oscars in five years. And you know what? It’s absolutely deserved. Well done.

Ouch! Did the host really say that!? Zing!

The mood turns a bit more serious now… a short black-and-white montage of all the much-loved Hollywood personalities who have put on weight this year. Accompanied by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. There’s hardly a dry eye in the house.

If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe; but precisely because I cannot do this, I must believe.

Søren Kierkegaard

Not to worry though… everyone’s soon laughing again as the Oscar for best use of product placement in a romantic comedy features some truly hilarious moments. No surprises who wins though!

And now, one of the most highly anticipated moments of the night as the Academy awards the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Science Fiction Costume Design. Ha ha! A funny anecdote from the actor with the stubble introducing the award. “This woman’s costumes in that 1964 classic were what inspired me to become an actor!!” You can almost hear the exclamation points! And there she is! Old yet sprightly. Well done her!

Zowie! Did the host really say that!? I bet he’ll get a telling-off in the tabloids tomorrow!

Once you label me you negate me.

Søren Kierkegaard

And now, the one we’ve all been waiting for… Best Film. For weeks now, absolutely everyone has been debating which film was the best. And now we’ll finally know! Lots of people will be pretty darn sheepish when they discover the film they said was the best turns out to not be the best. That actually, there was a better one than the one they said was the best. Though for some, this moment will be one of ecstatic vindication as they discover they were right all along. That the film they said was the best film, actually was the best film.

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

Søren Kierkegaard

And the winner is…

you.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


2
Jun 2012

Takeshis’

Wow. Just… wow.

I finally got around to watching Takeshis’, the first of Takeshi Kitano’s anti-mainstream trilogy (and I do mean anti-mainstream as opposed to merely non-mainstream… there’s a whole bunch of deliberate subversion and outright mocking of mainstream movie tropes going on). The story goes, that after his mainstream international success with Zatoichi, Kitano became disillusioned and frustrated with himself. He’d become too safe. Too predictable, in his own eyes. And while I personally thoroughly enjoyed Zatoichi, it’s definitely a million miles from the existential meditations of Dolls, Hana-bi or even the earlier Sonatine.

And so, he set out to make a trilogy of films that would quite deliberately alienate the wider audience he’d garnered via his samurai action movie. Films that abandoned all notions of traditional narrative; that made no concessions to accessibility… instead placing a priority on artistic integrity. He would gather up all that existential angst, dream-logic and plain weirdness that passes through his mind as he’s lying in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness; and he’d dump it onto the screen with no explanation.

Take that mainstream audiences!

The result is mesmerising and more than a little startling. Certainly not a film for anyone who needs such trifles as “plot” or “sense” to hold their hand for an hour and a half while they watch a screen. At the heart of the film are two characters, both played by Takeshi Kitano. The first is “Beat Takeshi”, a successful actor and film-maker who specialises in gangster / yakuza movies. The second is “Mr. Kitano”, a convenience store clerk and failed actor who spends his days daydreaming about living the life of his idol – Beat Takeshi – when he’s not being rejected at auditions.

Early in the film, there’s a chance meeting between the two Takeshis and Beat Takeshi signs an autograph for Mr. Kitano. Afterwards, we watch as Mr. Kitano walks home to his small apartment above a mechanic’s shop and falls asleep. From then on, the viewer never knows whether the scene they are watching is a dream being had by one of the two Takeshis, or a convenience store clerk’s fantasy of being a successful actor, or a successful film-maker wondering what it would be like to live the life of a failed actor. Or indeed, a successful film-maker imagining what the fantasies of a failed actor about being a successful film-maker would be like. It’s no surprise that the original title of the film was Fractals.

Takeshis'

Characters from the director’s previous films show up in incongruous situations and it definitely helps the viewer if they’re familiar with Takeshi Kitano’s past work. There’s a huge amount of self-referentiality in the movie… scenes from previous films (most notably Sonatine and Hana-bi, but pretty much every movie he’s done gets a look in) are revisited in unexpected ways, with characters crossing over from one to the other. Indeed whole sections of Takeshis’ appear to be deliberate “self-iconoclasm”, with some of the most haunting and affecting scenes he’s ever shot being savagely undercut and turned into absurd parodies – most notably the final beach scene from Hana-bi (in my view, one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of cinema) is suddenly transformed into a bizarre action-film caricature with Kitano machine-gunning a whole range of characters from his past films (along with about 500 riot police).

There’s a great deal of wit in Takeshis’ and while it only made me laugh out loud a couple of times, I spent much of the film with a wry smile on my face. As with all of his films the humour veers from the ridiculously slapstick to the almost-too-cerebral, with plenty in between. And as ever, music plays a large role. Traditional Japanese folk music cuts brutally into high-tempo electronica and back again. Also, the tap-dancing interlude goes on for quite a bit longer than you’d expect.

It’s like a very weird remix of his past films, and at no point have you any idea who or what you’ll be seeing next on the screen. Personally I absolutely loved it and am looking forward to watching Glory to the Filmmaker! (the second film in the trilogy). But I suspect plenty of people who see Takeshis’ will hate it, and no small percentage will fail to reach the end. But for fans of the obscure, the odd and the original, Takeshis’ provides an absolute feast for the senses. And the imagination.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Reviews » Film reviews


2
Feb 2012

On This Deity: The Death of Bertrand Russell

This time last year, on the anniversary of Bertrand Russell’s death, I published a piece celebrating his life and work over at On This Deity. Russell is rightly remembered for his work – in collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead – on the three volumes of Principia Mathematica (the book has since passed into the public domain and can be downloaded as a very chunky PDF file if you so wish… it’s currently available on rapidshare, or alternatively do a search for “Principia Mathematica PDF”).

Bertrand RussellHowever, while Principia Mathematica doubtlessly secured his place in the ranks of the Great Philosophers, it’s a highly technical and specialised book about the relationship between mathematics and formal logic. I recall flicking through it when I was a philosophy undergraduate and instantly deciding that unless I spent the majority of my three year degree immersed entirely in Principia Mathematica, I wouldn’t do it justice. And given that I was, at the time, more interested in gaining a broad overview of philosophy, rather than focussing on a single narrow aspect of the subject, I read a few bits and pieces about Principia Mathematica in Hospers (and other similar volumes) and pretty much left it at that.

However, it wasn’t long before I encountered the name Bertrand Russell once more. This time it was while I was eagerly devouring books on political philosophy… in particular left wing and anarchist political philosophy. So while to this day I’ve still not gotten around to reading Principia Mathematica, Russell’s Proposed Roads To Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism was one of the more influential books on my intellectual development. The full text of Proposed Roads… can be read over at the University of Virginia Library website and is worth your while checking out.

Sadly, as I suggested when I was talking about the work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon recently, the hopes and dreams of Russell in that near-century-old text have been comprehensively ignored by a society which has dedicated itself to the attempted gratification of individual desire through over-consumption. Russell called upon us to overcome these baser instincts and push ourselves onwards, towards a more just and free world. But as he said in Proposed Roads… (echoing the views of Proudhon, half a century earlier) the use of violence to achieve supposedly enlightened ends is almost always self-defeating. The achievement of a better world “requires a breadth of outlook and a comprehensiveness of understanding which are not easy to preserve amid a desperate contest”.

Which is why, as well as being the author of one of the seminal works in logical philosophy, Russell is also remembered for being a dedicated peace campaigner. As a founder-member and the organisation’s first President, he gave the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) the intellectual legitimacy it needed to gain a critical mass. And even into his nineties he was active in the movement (as well as organising international opposition to America’s war in Vietnam). Russell firmly believed that humanity held within itself the ability to move past our aggressive selfishness. He saw clearly that violent competition in nature can be – and often is – tempered with a drive towards cooperation. And he felt that we have reached a point – thanks to technology and our global interconnectedness – where it has become imperative that this cooperative drive should now supersede our competitive instinct. Otherwise we risk destroying all we have achieved.

Russell was convinced that the overthrow of capitalism was necessary for us to achieve this evolution. But he was also convinced this could not be done with violence. At least, not if we wanted to replace it with something better. Of course, it’s difficult to see how it can be achieved non-violently, given how entrenched the power of the capitalists has become. However, as he was fond of saying… “we are obliged to give the matter some thought”.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


8
Jan 2012

Happy Birthday Mr. Bowie

David BowieAs a quick glimpse at my Last.fm artist chart demonstrates, I’m a bit of a Bowie fan. So, on the occasion of his 65th birthday (just imagine Bowie’s bus pass! I bet it’s a specially designed one made out of that crazy folding metal stuff that they got off the UFO that crashed at Roswell), I was going to write something about how important his music has been to me down through the years. How he sound-tracked some of the defining moments of my teens and twenties and lit up the darkness right when I needed it most. I was maybe going to throw some brief reviews of some of my favourite Bowie albums (in no particular order… Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, Diamond Dogs, Heathen, Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, Scary Monsters, 1.Outside, Earthling, The Man Who Sold The World, Hours, The Buddha of Suburbia… er, pretty much all of them really with the possible exception of the 80s stuff, but even then the singles were great; Loving The Alien, anyone? Let’s Dance? China Girl?) I might have related the tale of the epic cross-country hitch with my mate Justin, to see Bowie play in Exeter during the 1.Outside tour… easily one of the weirdest weekends of my life (and that’s saying something… I had a lot of weird weekends during my twenties). Perhaps I’d even describe the recurring nightmare I had for much of the 90s and into the early noughties in which I wandered through an eerily deserted London city until I reached the Tate Gallery within which I discovered a deranged David Bowie slashing his own wrists while whispering the lyrics to some of his songs; after which diseased and disfigured angels began to fall dead from the sky. Yeah… bit of a screwed-up dream that, but pretty appropriate for where my head was, at the time.

But in the end, all of that would just be a roundabout way of saying that David Bowie has had a far greater impact on my life than is strictly sensible for someone I’ve never met personally. And though he’ll never read this, I’d like to thank him for his wonderful contribution to my world, and wish him a very happy birthday, and many many happy returns.

Ultimately it makes more sense to share some Bowie, than just share some thoughts about him…

or…

or…

or look, just go to YouTube and type in David Bowie. You’re guaranteed a great time.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements, Media » Video


3
Aug 2010

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s new film had me intrigued the moment I heard about it. After the runaway success of his big-budget comic book caper, The Dark Knight, it felt like he’d been given a blank cheque and told to let his imagination run wild. What could the writer and director of the excellent Memento do when given a blockbuster-sized palette to paint on?

Inception poster

Now, personally I was far less impressed by The Dark Knight than most people seem to have been. By trying to force comic book characters into the real world, it fell uncomfortably between two stools. It went to such effort to depict a gritty and believable world, yet was littered with obvious fantastical elements that just didn’t gel properly with the setting. It’s perfectly acceptable for Superman to don a pair of glasses and become Clark Kent, unrecognisable even to those closest to him. It’s acceptable because we know this is a comic book and we expect to suspend our disbelief on such matters. But when the film-makers seem to be suggesting that Gotham City is a fictional place but one that plays by the rules of the real world, then Batman’s disguise (a mask that fails to cover most of his face and a silly voice) just becomes a hole in the plot.

That said, it was visually impressive. Undeniably so. Despite the partial retreat from comic book sensibility, it remained stylish and sumptuous. Shades of David Fincher. And it was this that made me so interested in Inception. The constraints you must accept in order to get your hands on a major studio franchise put serious limitations on a film-maker’s creativity (as Kevin Smith explains in this wonderful anecdote about working on a draft script for Superman). So given how amazing Memento is, I was more than willing to credit Nolan with the good parts of The Dark Knight and absolve him of responsibility for the bad.

Which is why Inception held so much promise. Suddenly Nolan had the big budget and the creative control. Plus Leonardo Di Caprio plays the lead character; an actor whose recent work with Scorsese has been excellent. And then I heard the majority of the film was set inside the dreams of a character and my anticipation turned to genuine excitement.

But, as you’ve probably guessed from my tone, I was setting myself — or rather, the movie — up for a fall. The basic story is a good one… di Caprio plays a spy who, with a combination of training and technology, can enter the dreams of others (and bring a team of accomplices with him). While in the dream, he can subtly direct the attention of the dreamer and so access their memories and unconscious. He uses this ability to steal top secret information for high-paying clients. Then, one day, he gets a different request… to enter someone’s dream and plant an idea that will blossom into conscious action once the dreamer awakes. Specifically, Cillian Murphy — who has just inherited his father’s industrial empire — must be convinced to break up that empire.

Frankly that’s a fantastic plot and it could definitely make a great book or movie.

Unfortunately, it’s never going to be a great movie in the big-guns-shiny-metal / Hollywood action blockbuster genre. Having a shed-load of money to throw at a film set in dreams could have resulted in something utterly spectacular. Instead we have car-chases through mundane streets, fist-fights in hotel rooms, gun battles in the snow; all of which go on for far longer than they need to. That there are three separate sequences occurring at three different levels of the same dream is a good plot device. That they are three rather clichéd action scenes is a terrible waste. Especially since none of them seemed in any way dream-like, with only the shift between them illustrating that they’re part of the same dream.

And ultimately this is my main criticism of the film. It’s great failing. The dream sequences that take up the majority of the film are almost never evocative of real dreams. There’s an occasional Escher-influenced staircase, a couple of set-pieces where the environment shifts in unpredictable ways and one or two other optical illusions that provide pleasing little jolts, but almost nothing is authentically dreamlike.

Dreams are the product of a collision between our conscious and our unconscious minds. But despite plenty of talk about it, Inception never truly accesses the unconscious. Everything feels solid and rational even when the characters insist it’s not. The interminable fight scenes are no different to the fight scenes in any action movie. A train suddenly appears out of nowhere during a car-chase, but you don’t think “oooh… just like in a dream!”. Because it’s not just like in a dream.

Yes, the bit when di Caprio’s character finally gets to “the bottom level” of the dream gets vaguely interesting, but it only lasts for a few brief minutes (unlike the constant fist-fights).

In the end I emerged from the cinema feeling distinctly underwhelmed. I’ve subsequently read reviews that complained that the plot got too convoluted, which — frankly — was the precise opposite of my impression. The plot took a glorious premise, one that could have become a brain-bending, visually magnificent masterpiece and instead played it dreadfully safe, offering up an action movie with a minor twist. Which is sad, because I know there was the seed of a great film in there, and based on Memento I suspect Christopher Nolan could have made it.

He just didn’t this time.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Reviews » Film reviews


7
May 2010

Welcome to now

In what’s being described as “a bid to bring stability to the UK after a general election which has created a regrettable vacuum of power”, the queen has declared herself absolute monarch and summoned the three party leaders to Buckingham Palace, where she earlier arrived by helicopter from Windsor Castle. In a statement released through the queen’s spokesman, she plans to “sit down with the three leaders and knock some heads together”. She also plans to broadcast an emergency statement at 9pm this evening on all British television and radio channels.

Having established the firm support of the army and 50 of the 60 police authorities, with only a handful of authorities — in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — choosing to abstain from a hastily arranged secret poll of Chief Constables carried out by civil servants, it is thought that the leaders of the parties will wait until they hear what the queen has to say before making any statements.

Sources close to Prince Charles, however, appear to be claiming that the Royal Family have little to do with this “Stabilisation Process” and are merely being used as a mask of constitutional legitimacy by senior figures in the civil service, armed forces and intelligence community. “The queen is taking some very bad advice”, one insider is quoted as saying. While another suggested that there may even be an element of coercion involved with threats being made against the lives of several of her family members.

While little remains clear at this moment, one thing does seem certain; The Policy For a New Direction, a document that was rumoured to exist in the weeks leading up to the election, will be part of the agenda at the Buckingham Palace meeting. The existence of this ‘covert manifesto’ was only substantiated early this afternoon when it was leaked from within the Police Force of Northern Ireland. It now appears that the document, which has been couriered to every police authority and armed forces installation today, bears the Royal Seal and carries the signature of the queen along with that of General Sir David Richards (on behalf of the entire General Staff of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces) and the heads of the Metropolitan Police Service, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, Ministry of Defence Police and British Transport Police, as well as MI5 and MI6.

Leastways, that’s what I dreamt last night. That, and some stuff about a massive asteroid hitting the Atlantic Ocean and being in the West of Ireland and trying to think of ways to escape the approaching tsunami.

Too much election night coverage, I feel.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


3
Nov 2009

"how urgent?" wondered the Colonel

… and it all comes back to the same fundamental question. “How urgent is this?” No, I’m serious here. What do you really feel is going to happen? Not some abstract theory about possible consequences, what you actually believe. Because if you really believe — truly, deep down, like you believe the sun’s going to rise tomorrow — if you really believe the consequences of resource depletion are as dire as you’re telling me. And if you really believe that the only way to avoid a complete catastrophe is the implementation of some kind of global social re-engineering project that radically changes almost every aspect of society, then the only remaining issue to resolve is… how much time do we need to find an isolated rural home and learn to grow potatoes?

Because there’s just no way the changes you’re suggesting will ever happen. No way the world, humanity as a whole, is capable of the kind of changes you’re talking about. It. Will. Not. Happen.

If the options are, and I’m going out on a limb here and granting for the sake of argument that they are, “planned global change to sustainability per your definition” or “self-destruction via over-consumption” then we may as well get loaded and enjoy the ride, because we live in a society pre-programmed to choose the latter. It’s not even up for discussion. Every decision we’ve made since deciding that fire and the wheel were good ideas has been about choosing the latter option, and it’s just ridiculous to suggest that an “appeal to reason” could possibly alter that programming.

Now, I’m yet to be convinced that resource depletion is the problem you say it is. Though I don’t deny that you make a very convincing case. Of course, you’d probably be even more convincing if you dropped all that philosophical guff about collective psyches and… what was that phrase you kept using…? “ecology of mind”? Ninety percent of people simply have no idea what those words mean, and they won’t take the time to find out. So you lose them. They think you’re talking down to them, or trying to make them feel stupid. And ain’t nobody going to sign your petitions or adopt your manifesto or join your party… not if you make them feel stupid.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not stupid and you aren’t completely right, but the best way to convince people to act in a certain way is to make them believe it was their idea to act that way in the first place. And you won’t do that with the alienating language of academia…

(leastways that’s roughly what Colonel Gaddafi said to me in my dream the other night. In an American accent)

UPDATE 16:47: It’s probably worth pointing out that the dream concluded with me chasing Danny DeVito through a furniture store. We were on skateboards. So I’m not sure how much I should read into it.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Announcements


19
May 2009

Where's Scully when you need her?

Via email from Gyrus

One of the newest energy lobbyists claims he has the answer to climate change: spaceships.

The government has in its possession “extraterrestrial vehicles,” lobbyist Stephen Bassett said. As in flying saucers.

Imagine the power source, he said, behind a 30-foot wide saucer that weighs the same as a tractor-trailer yet hurtles through galaxies at 20,000 miles per hour.

“What is the energy system operating that craft?” Bassett said. “They’re not burning kerosene.”

He added, “It eliminates oil. It eliminates coal. If it’s as good as we think it is, it transforms everything.”

Bassett certainly makes more sense than David Bellamy, for instance. So let’s not discount him entirely. Sadly though, he’s being overly-optimistic if he thinks E.T. will help prevent Climate Change. After all, the space-aliens have been manipulating human culture for thousands of years now precisely in order to create a civilisation that would pump vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Once it’s enough like their home planet, they’ll start Phase 2. And yes, that is a cookbook.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


20
Dec 2007

Archaeologies of Consciousness

Having failed to give the excellent Dreamflesh Volume One the glowing review it so richly deserved here on The Quiet Road, Gyrus threatened to “burn down your home, and the homes of everyone you’ve ever met!” unless I at least mentioned his latest tome.

Archaeologies of Consciousness

Well, he’s a man of his word. So I shall do more than just mention it. I shall post a big shiny graphic showing the rather striking cover (designed by Andy Hemmingway) and urge y’all to get hold of this fantastic anthology.

Entitled Archaeologies of Consciousness: Essays In Experimental Prehistory, it’s billed as a collection of writing on “ancient monuments, prehistoric rock art, folklore, mythology, and altered states of consciousness”. But don’t let what may sound like a specialist book on a selection of niche subjects put you off. The essays in this book are explorations of consciousness, of what it means to be human, and of the environment and landscapes that shaped our development. It’s a book that drags these “niche subjects” out of the cosy, dusty libraries in which they’ve locked themselves and takes them for a much needed hike across a windswept moor to get their blood flowing again.

But what’s it actually about?

[...] in Freudian language [we say] that the operations of the unconscious are structured in terms of primary process, while the thoughts of consciousness (especially verbalized thoughts) are expressed in secondary process.

Nobody, to my knowledge, knows anything about secondary process. But it is ordinarily assumed that everybody knows all about it, so I shall not attempt to describe secondary process in any detail, assuming that you know as much about it as I.

Gregory Bateson | Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art

In the space of these five extended essays and a few shorter bits and pieces, Gyrus boldly strides where Bateson fears to tread.

To be honest, that last line is hyberbolic to the point of sheer inaccuracy, but it’s a good pull-quote. In actual fact, the writing of Bateson and Gyrus complement one another in interesting ways. Both are examining the unsettling, blurred region where a number of disparate disciplines intersect; archaeology, anthropology, mythology, psychology (along with psychoanalytic theory) and biology. Both are aware that, for a whole bunch of reasons, traditional academia finds it difficult to comfortably accommodate research in this area, but are equally aware that for their work to be influential within these disparate disciplines (as it damn well should be), it must be accessible to them.

But where they differ is the fact that Bateson is writing from within the establishment; emerging from it as it were; while Gyrus is approaching it from outside. Both approaches have their strengths and both have certain limitations. Thankfully there’s nothing stopping us from reading both and allowing them to, as I say, complement one another.

One thing that strikes me though, is that Gyrus generally overcomes the limitations imposed by his position as a “freelance” / “amateur” researcher (a tendency towards flights of fancy, tangents and a perceived lack on intellectual rigour) better than Bateson overcomes the limitations imposed by his own (conservatism, unimaginativeness and a tendency to obscure meaning with over-complex prose and jargon).

Now Bateson can’t be accused either of conservatism or a lack of imagination, but his writing does occasionally become rather dense and opaque. In Archaeologies of Consciousness however, Gyrus presents his readers with clear, flowing prose that is at turns poetic, at turns scientific, but always comprehensible. And it’s not the patronising comprehensibility of “popular science” books that spoonfeed complex ideas to a mass market by simplifying them to the point of meaninglessness. This is the real deal… exactly as complicated as it needs to be, but no less accessible for it.

The collection opens with The Devil & The Goddess which I recall reading when it was first published over a decade ago. It was around that time that I first met Gyrus, and during the intervening years — in private discussions and through reading subsequent articles — I’ve seen how his ideas and research have evolved. So it’s interesting to revisit The Devil & The Goddess; not the start, but certainly an important early milestone, on a unique intellectual journey; and to find it’s still vital, still relevant and is filled with the questions and themes that would dominate his work for the next ten years.

Culture and civilization are inseparable from material technologies, and things are no less confused in the technophile / Luddite debate. The real dichotomy to be tackled here is that of harmonious / unharmonious technology. Do our tools help us achieve our desires, or do they become our desires?

Later…

This spiritual poverty, this rigid division of life into the sacred and profane (in their modern senses), has only been the norm of human experience for several hundred years, if that. And in their historical accounts, modern scientists have been projecting this division back in time for far too long. A re-vision of anthropology and archaeology is overdue, necessary and, I feel, imminent.

And concluding with…

For ourselves, living in a culture where the dominant spiritual institutions have insisted not only on separating themselves from everyday life, but directing their spiritual aspirations outside this world, it’s evident that a new vision of spirituality more directly concerned with life, the Earth, our bodies and survival is needed. We cannot live on bread alone, but I don’t want to try to live without it. It’s no coincidence that it took an affluent society like our own, where day-to-day existence is taken for granted, to produce a device capable of utterly destroying the biosphere.

… via a route that takes in Shamanism, Satanism, the Kundalini experience, anal eroticism, the origins of blood sacrifice, the Knights Templar and the landscape of Avebury…

It’s the least focussed of the essays in the collection, certainly, but it provides a perfect opener to the book by setting up many of the themes that are expanded upon in the later pieces.

My personal favourites (if one can be said to have favourites among essays on abstract and esoteric subjects) are probably the final two of the long pieces; Form & Meaning in Altered States & Rock Art and Aeons Past & Present. The former contains my favourite line of the book, where the author is examining some neolithic rock art while under the influence of 2CB (a synthetic phenethylamine which is known to produce, among other things, visual distortions not unlike the geometrical patterns found in much primitive art) and has the multi-layered revelation that “There’s no ‘blank canvas’ in rock art!” While the latter draws together theories about time and evolution from a remarkably wide range of sources and makes all manner of intriguing and insightful connections between them, eventually concluding with a call to action in the face of the seemingly paralysing desires manufactured by modern culture.

From the upbeat and characteristically enthusiastic preface by Julian Cope, to the meticulous indices, Archaeologies of Consciousness succeeds in being a well-researched, informative; indeed illuminating; collection of essays which is also a pleasure to read. This makes it a very rare item indeed; so I recommend you grab a copy.

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28
Oct 2007

A dream conversation from two nights ago

“We’re living in a civilisation in decline.”
– You really think so?
“I do.”
– So when did it begin… this decline? When did we peak, as it were?
“1909.”
– Whoa! Really?
“Yep. That was the peak of European civilisation. Western civilisation if you want.”
– Wow. That long ago? For some reason I thought you were going to say 1969 and Neil Armstrong… y’know, how we gave up looking outwards after that and started retreating from the frontiers instead of pushing at them? But I guess I was thinking more about American civilisation than European…
“American civilisation? There’s no such thing. European civilisation became globalised… geographically detached. By 1909 the civilisation that emerged from the European Dark Ages had spread to every corner of the planet. It was at its height. After that… well… the rush towards World War One began. And so the decline began. Modern America is — in many ways — merely the final stage of that decline.”
– I know a couple of hundred million Americans who would probably disagree with you there…
“Well, wouldn’t be the first time a couple of hundred million Americans have been wrong, now would it?”
– Ooooh, bitchy. They told me you were anti-American. I assumed they just meant anti-Bush…
“Politically anti-American. Politically. America is the overheating engine of latter-day globalised capitalism… you could say I’m ‘anti’ the role it plays and has played in the acceleration of our decline into barbarism. And that’s something that goes far deeper than which middle-aged rich guy is currently sitting in the White House.”
– What are you saying? That all Americans are the problem?
“Of course I’m not saying that. Mind you, it’s hard not to make a wise-crack about how getting the government you deserve. If it really is ‘Of The People’, then presumably the people need to accept responsibility for its actions.”
– Oh come on! You know it’s a little more complicated than that.
“Is it? I dunno… yeah, maybe you’re right.”
– No ‘maybe’ about it. Take me for example… I’ve spent my whole adult life campaigning for complete nuclear disarmament. But when it comes to choosing the leader of the country, I’ve never once been able to vote for someone who shares my position. Not once.
“No you’re right of course, I agree with you. I was deliberately winding you up.”
– 1909 though? I really didn’t expect that.

Note: There’s no doubt in my mind that the above dream was heavily influenced by the fact that I’m currently reading Pynchon’s wonderful novel, Against The Day.

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