Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From the Private Diaries of Tristan Eldritch.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

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

Tristan Eldritch: Remorseful, yet still sexy.

Walter Cronkite: Still Alive.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Country of Paradoxes.

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

Daniel Pinchbeck.

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

Kenneth Arnold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

More from the Grove.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

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

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

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

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

Bill Clinton, to a heckler in 2007.

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

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

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

Weird Scenes inside the Grove.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Country of Paradoxes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Elves and Eschatology: The Shape of History.

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

Hendrikus Berkoff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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