Aug 17 2012

Segment From 1st Pre-MONDO 2000 High Frontiers Editiorial (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #25)

It’s naive.  It’s overoptimistic.  It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s the first segment of the first High Frontiers editorial!  High Frontiers, if you haven’t been paying attention to earlier posts here, was the grandfather of Mondo 2000, which was only slightly less naive and overoptimistic, before becoming mostly skeptical and not a little bit paranoid.   I’m most of all proud of my attempts to turn white hippies on to the funk.  Anyway, here it is…

Wake Up, It’s 1984!   

People like to tell me that these are conservative times. After all, it is 1984, the far right has the White House, and the dollar is tighter than a cat’s asshole. On the other hand, people like to tell me that the rate of change is accelerating. In the last few years, for instance, we’ve changed from an industrial-based society, with the majority of people employed in industry, to an information-based society, with the majority of people employed in the information and service fields. Some forty years after its discovery and abuse, we’re beginning to come to grips with the meaning of atomic energy, in all its forms. Physics is exploding with new information and ideas about the nature of life, the universe, and everything, and the role which humanity and consciousness play in it. This “new” physics is emerging now largely as a result of physicists coming to grips with observations made by Einstein and Neils Bohr some sixty years ago. Computers, robotics, and other manifestations of accelerating technology are propelling us, kicking and screaming, into a leisure-based society. Hundreds of licensed therapies which have more to do with Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Abraham Maslow, mysticism and gnosticism than with Freud or behaviorism, have taken over the psychology field en masse in California.

Kids whiz by on skateboards and rollerskates wearing purple mohawks and bizarre clothes brandishing anarchistic and nihilistic slogans… ho hum. MTV assaults American living rooms with extreme, alien, and surrealistic images twenty-four hours a day. All of it comes to us by bouncing signals off of a satellite in space… yawn. Gays, third world people, and feminists are accepted and established as powerful political forces…  wasn’t it always thus? The largest peace demonstration in American history takes place in 1980… no big fuss. Black funk music explodes with eccentricity and experimentation, creating a challenging, brash, and optimistic space-age party music… oh? I hadn’t noticed. Manned space stations and consumer space-shutt1es? Coming right up. An understanding of the genetic code; how the brain works, how the immune system works; how the universe started? Oh, sure. We’re going over the data right now. New methods of birthing and child rearing? You bet. Open discussions of sexuality? For sure. Go for it. Coming to grips with the implications and possibilities of experiences induced by mind-manifesting psychedelic substances? Uh oh!  


Apr 08 2012

Bad Thoughts & The Politics Of The Polysyllabic: An Interview With Mark Dery

Mark Dery has long been one of my favorite writers: a critical thinker whose razor sharp attacks on American idiocracy are always leavened by dry humor, colorful but precise language and an amused dissection of human perversity.  In a better country, Dery would be widely recognized as one of our premier essayists. Indeed, one reviewer, Jim Lawrence, raved that his recently released collection, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams, is “… more relevant than Mythologies, funnier than Travels in Hyperreality, more readable than Simulacra, less gloomy than Living in the End Times, smarter than Hitchens and without the pomposity…”  Suck it in, Dery. You deserve it.

Mark will be appearing at the 2012 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, at the University of Southern California, on the “Nonfiction: Creativity & Imagination” panel on Saturday, April 21, at 3:00 P.M.  Mark will also be doing an in-store talk and signing at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on May 29 at 7:30 P.M. ( More at

I spoke to him via email on the occasion of that recent release.

R.U. SIRIUS:  Among the things that are evidenced in your writing is a fascination with some of the more perverse, sometimes morbid aspects of human behavior and the human condition combined with a fairly strong sense of moral outrage. Is there a sort of intellectual or literary legacy for this sort of thing that influenced you? Do these interests integrate sort of seamlessly for you or is there a bit of a Jekyll/Hyde thing going on?  

MARK DERY: Funny thing: at dinner, the other night, a friend turned to me and pointedly asked, apropos of nothing, if I was Jewish. (She’s Jewish, so we shouldn’t assume any anti-semitic subtext, I suppose.) Perhaps she was struck by the table-thumping zeal of my philippic about Whatever It Was. (When I’m in my cups, I do tend toward the Menckenesque — sardonic critiques of something or other that veer at times into gonzo kvetch: Alvy Singer channeling Swift.) Or maybe she found my hermeneutics of pop culture, my close readings of even the most seemingly throwaway social texts, so Talmudic that I merited honorary membership in that tribe that occasionally refers to itself as the People of the Book.

But my guess is that my dinner table fulminations were kindled by some sort of moral outrage, as you call it, and that my friend lept to the assumption that anyone possessed of such “moral seriousness,” to quote Sontag, must be Jewish. (As it happens, I’m the usual Anglo-Irish-Scottish mongrel, with a stunted French branch or two struggling for life on the far side of the family tree.) Truth to tell, I’ve always bridled instinctively at the first proposition in Sontag’s thesis, in “Notes on Camp,” that “the two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.” Not only does it imply that Jewish intellectuals hold the copyright on moral gravitas, the essentialist implications of which I find odious, but I believe Jewish thought and culture are ill-served by the sort of humorless rectitude Sontag insists on.

As a moral animal with a conscience, not to mention some species of lapsed democratic socialist with a devout belief in social and economic justice, I’m moved by moral outrage. I see what I do as intellectual activism; every time I dip my pen, I’m trying to change the world. If that sounds soul-crushingly self-important and just too Bono-esque to live, remember that, some days, my idea of Change We Can Believe In is a world free from the scourge of Gaga mania.

Anyway, moral outrage notwithstanding, I also believe that humor is the first casualty of the culture war. I had a colleague, once, whose aspirations to Moral Seriousness stopped just short of dying a skunk stripe in her hair, in emulation of Sontag. In nearly every essay, she wept hot tears about war-crimes tribunals and human-rights abuses and other instances of Man’s Inhumanity to Man, kicking up a thick cloud of Hannah Arendt quotes in the process. Of course her writing was pure chloroform on the page; its terminal humorlessness robbed it of the rhetorical deftness and intellectual nimbleness that make for good writing, especially on serious subjects. Sure, nobody wants stand-up comedy in the middle of a killing field. That way lies Robin Williams in Jakob the Liar. But humor, even if only black humor, is essential to getting at the truth of things, because like irony it implies a kind of double vision: seeing things as they truly are, behind the facade of appearances. Lenny Bruce, Roland Barthes, Mark Twain, William S. Burroughs, H.L. Mencken, Vidal, and Hitchens (the fundie-baiting Good Hitch, not the Bad Hitch who distinguished himself as a noxious apologist for the Iraq war) are instructive on this point.

As for my fascination with the extremes of human behavior and the human condition, and the perceived tension between my presumably prurient tourism in those forbidden zones and my “fairly strong sense of moral outrage,” well, subcultural scholars like Dick Hebdige and historians of consumer culture like Stuart Ewen and semioticians like Barthes and postmodernists like Baudrillard and neo-Marxists like Mike Davis sold me on the importance of cultural politics — the million little revolutions happening all around us in everyday life, as opposed to the inside-the-beltway politics of official culture.

Fringe ideas, “perverse” practices, transgressive lifestyles, and even beings who stand at the boundary between Us and Them, Normal and Abnormal, and male and female, for example, often have things to teach us about our unconsidered presumptions and prejudices, and about the historically contingent, culturally contextual nature of what we take to be irrevocable givens. A bizarre example: I once found myself debating, via e-mail, an unapologetic zoophile who called me to account for my Moral Outrage™ at bestiality. He argued, with some heat, that a world where eating animals is condoned, even celebrated, yet people who sexually pleasure animals are legally prosecuted and socially persecuted is morally depraved. Oddly, he wasn’t swayed by my argument that, as with a pedophile and a child or a necrophile and a corpse, there can be no consent between a human and an inarticulate animal, and any perceived consent is the merest anthropomorphization. (I should note that he was later convicted of running a bestiality ring that was so undeniably abusive to the hapless creatures involved that they would surely have chosen a more merciful fate at the hands of Purina.) Even so, I owe him a debt of gratitude for that thought provocation. How rare is the truly new thought? Every one expands our minds just that little bit more.

RU. Do you consider writing as a craft and profession to have become utterly degraded? If so, by capitalism, democratization, or both?

MD: If by “writing” you mean intelligent forms of public address, in print, directed toward a popular audience, the Imp of the Perverse is me is dying to do the contrarian thing and say that writing, as a craft, has never been better. Of course, it’s silly to generalize; I mean, what age was the Golden Age of what we now call public intellectualism? The age of pamphleteers like Paine and editorialists like Ben Franklin? Or the age of wits like Addison and Steele? Edmund Wilson’s epic reign over American letters? The gonzo ‘60s, when Hunter Thompson disported himself at Rolling Stone and Tom Wolfe gamboled through the pages of Esquire? That said, not a day passes that I’m not astonished by the snark-monkey brilliance and hard-swinging verve of something I’ve read on The Awl or in New York magazine or Bookforum or some weird little review in some unlit corner of the Web. If memory serves, more Americans than ever before have college degrees, and the fruit of that historical trend is a bumper crop of kids who are both media-literate and fluent in critical theory and who, as Joan Didion might say, have an Opinion About Everything. The result is a kind of renaissance of the “little magazine” — I’m thinking of publications like N+1, The Verge, The Quietus, HiLoBrow, The L.A. Review of Books — and an efflorescence of writerly exuberance, some of which is amazingly smart and stylish.

The downside, of course, is the Arianna-ization of the profession. The surfeit of unemployed former American Studies majors from Brown, or whatever they are, may be a boon to the craft of writing, but that demographic trend is converging with the collapse of the news media as we know them and book publishing as we know it to create a cultural landscape in which publishers, whether of content farms or boutique ‘zines, don’t need to pay anything because overeducated, unemployed David Foster Wallace wannabes are hurling themselves into the breach, resumes in hand. As my friend and former colleague Adam Penenberg likes to say, there’s never been a better time to be a publisher — or a worse time to be a writer, if by writer one means someone who is able to earn his daily crust, however meager, by making QWERTY noises on a keyboard. Then again, nowhere is it holy writ that the marketplace owes writers a living. Still, students of bohemia — Hemingway’s Paris in the ‘20s, the Beats’ Tangiers in the ‘50s — are astonished by how easy it was, back in the day, to hold themselves up in thin air, with no visible means of support, while pecking away at the Great American Whatever.

RU. My education is admittedly fairly spotty, but after 27 years in the business of writing and editing, you’re one of the few writers that still sometimes tosses off a word that makes me reach for “the dictionary.” (Well, Google, of course.) Can you say something about your love of elegant language and do you think it might get in the way of finding a popular audience… and do you care?  

MD: Ah, the Politics of the Polysyllabic, a subject dear to my heart. Or, better yet, the Politics of the Sesquipedalian, itself one of those words that is just too preposterous to live, like “defenestrate,” and “antidisestablishmentarianism.” Their meaning is so ridiculously arcane and the words themselves are so jawbreakingly polysyllabic that they collapse, under the weight of their silliness, into self-parody; you can’t use them without sounding like the kid who swallowed the O.E.D., unless you’re using them with a knowing wink, to ironic effect. Linguistically, they’re evolutionary follies, like those Gertrude-McFuzz tails some tropical birds drag around.

Obviously, no writer devoted to the craft of writing would deny that clarity and concision are essential to good prose style, especially in a form of public address like the popular essay.

That said, there’s something endearing about Big Words and Weird Words — their giddy delight in ornament run riot, their sublime uselessness in any everyday context.

It’s this exuberant uselessness that makes such words political, in the culture-wars sense. Their extravagance violates the canon law of modernism — form follows function — and, at the same time, mocks the Protestant virtues of sober restraint, thrift, homespun simplicity (Quaker plainness, Shaker furniture, “’Tis a Joy to be Simple,” etc.).

As well, Big Words and Weird Words rouse the Anglo-Saxon suspicion, which runs deep in the American grain, of poetic excess (hence British analytic philosophers’ dismissal of Gallic theorists such as Foucault and Derrida as just so much “French fog”).

Poetic excess takes the devil’s side, in the Anglo-American mind, of the Artificiality/Authenticity binary, and thus is highly suspect. In the same way that English fiction used the polymorphous perversity of gothic ornamentation in Italian architecture and art, as well the operatic excesses of the Catholic mass, to signify decadence and depravity, Anglo-American culture, from Samuel Johnson through Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and on, into Strunk and White, and those “Rules for Writing” manifestos from bestselling novelists that get handed around the Web, views with deep-dyed suspicion prose style that embraces arcane vocabulary, self-conscious wordplay, linguistic experimentation (for example, neologisms), complex Proustian syntax, lengthy Jamesian paragraphs, arch or ironic tone, and a discursive, flaneurlike approach to getting from here to there, rather than the shortest distance between point A and point B preferred by our age of time famine, Twitter attention spans, and corporatist, PowerPoint pedagogy.

Of course, the embrace of the artificial is allied, historically, with the subversive, specifically the gay aesthetic (from Wilde and the Aesthetes to Sontag’s camp ironists to Bowie’s appropriation of gay tropes), which is why Anglo-American culture insists on the muscular prose style popularized by Hemingway and shrinks from epicene, “purple” prose. (Have we ever stopped to wonder why it’s purple? As in lavender?) The emerging field of what’s called lavender linguistics looks not only at the affective ways in which gay speakers signal their queerness through tone of voice, rising/falling cadences, the storied lisp, and so forth, but also at normative masculinity’s recoil, in America, from overly “refined” speech — vocabulary that sounds “literary,” an arch or knowing tone, the use of figures of speech and allusions — as effeminate. In his book Psycholinguistics, Peter Farb examines the widespread idea, among American men, that eloquence — what you call “elegant language” — is inherently queer. (Hemingway was gnawed by the fear that the act of writing, or at least writing fiction, was innately queer, an anxiety I explored in some depth in my essay on the gender politics of Hemingway’s style, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Beard,” on Thought Catalog.  Thus the tough-talkin’, g-droppin’ style affected by male politicians like serial-malapropper George W. Bush and self-styled Grizzly Mom Sarah Palin and even Obama, who should know better — does know better, but is attempting to manipulate to his own ends the pugnacious populism of our times.

RU: You pierce my heart by singing praises of excessive language and artifice.

I wonder how you manage the boundary or justify the distinction between the exuberant word play and excess that you (and I) love in contrast to your hatred of the irrationality of the stupid and reactionary. Or put another way, Burroughs, surrealism, and so on — assaults on the edifice of rationality…  and Burroughs, particularly, believed in some pretty out there stuff… Reichian orgone, UFOs, etcetera.  Does great languaging cover a multitude of sins or does it create its own sort of transcendence or…?

MD: Languaging! A solecism, as Paul Bowles would say (and a galumphingly unmusical one, at that). In fact, did say, in one of his letters to me, in taking me to task for some grammatical misdemeanor. Which brings several points to mind, which somehow went unaddressed in our earlier improvisations on this theme: first, that my defense of what you call “exuberant wordplay” has at least partly to do with my devout, almost innate belief that a writer is, above all, someone in love with language —someone passionate about the erotics of language, so to speak: the music of words, the internal rhymes and rhythms of sentences, the sheer deliciousness of words like sesquipedalian, or, say, Brobdingnagian, which, silly as they may be, seduce the ear with their euphony, the drum roll of syllables rattling off the tongue.

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I really do believe that the birthmark of the writer is the ability to remember where he or she first encountered a word — its provenance, so to speak. For example, Bowles (whom I interviewed in Tangier in 1980, on a college fellowship to Morocco) taught me the word “solecism” as well as the word “divagating” (instructively!). More important, his punctiliousness regarding language terrorized the self-indulgent adolescent writer and, crucially, the sloppy thinker in me — the two go hand in glove, of course — impressing on me the importance of linguistic and literary exactitude. Every word has its own, unique (though not always precise) meaning; the moral of the thesaurus is not that one synonym is as good as another, but just the opposite: that no two words mean exactly the same thing.

So, going further, a writer, to me, is someone who, consciously or unconsciously, believes there’s a word for everything — that nothing is truly ineffable; that everything can be effed, if we can just find the word for it somewhere in the trackless wastes of the O.E.D. or, failing that, make up a suitable word. Of course, I don’t really believe this; rather, I “believe” it, in the poetic sense. I take Derrida’s point about the self-referentiality of language — the absence of what he calls a Transcendental Signified on whose desk all those passed bucks of linguistic signification finally stop. But I also believe that poetic language—the Surrealist metaphor, the Burroughsian cut-up, and so forth — can vault over the epistemic walls of language as we know, giving us a glimpse of something that might not be effable but is at least imaginable, especially to the unconscious. The trick, linguistically, is to drill a borehole into the unconscious in order to bring the black gold of its insights and visions back, into the daylit world of the conscious, rational mind. This is Surrealism by any other name, of course, and the fingerprints of Surrealism are all over my mind and writing.

But I see I’ve dodged your bullet again. Regarding the ostensible tension between my defense of “exuberant word play and [stylistic] excess” and my “hatred of the irrationality of the stupid and reactionary,” or between my affinity for “Burroughs, surrealism” and other “assaults on the edifice of rationality,” we have to distinguish between the unconscious and the irrational. Surrealism, remember, was about the conquest of the irrational — harnessing it, dragging it stumbling and blinking into the overlit world of everyday reality, the better to exploit it to aesthetic and political ends. The paradox is that the most effective exploitation of the unconscious and the irrational, in my opinion, involves an almost surgical precision, stylistically — the jeux des mots, to be sure, but an exacting, almost clinical insistence, nevertheless, on le mot juste. Burroughs may have had his flaky side — a lifelong insistence on the efficacy of Reich’s Orgone box, an early fascination with Scientology, an apparent belief in psychic phenomena, and so forth — but on the page he is the unequalled master of a kind of button-down excess: the depraved ravings of a man in a Saville Row suit who looks for all the world like a taciturn banker. And his style of mind, even when he was swallowing New Age bunkum that would choke Madame Blavatsky, was always rigorous; he espoused Orgone therapy because he claimed to have empirical evidence for its efficacy. This is poles apart from ayahuasca-peddling New Age charlatans like Daniel Pinchbeck maundering on about the limits of rationalism. I like Burroughs’s quote about Timothy Leary, after observing at close hand the shambles that passed for Dr. Tim’s “clinical” tests of hallucinogens: Burroughs sniffed that Leary possessed “the most unscientific” mind he’d ever encountered.

RU. Would it be fair to say that you are somewhat tormented by American anti-intellectualism?

MD: Well, no less so than Twain in his day (Huckleberry Finn: “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”) or Mencken in his, lambasting the “booboisie,” or Hofstadter in his masterful historical survey, Anti-Intellectualism in America, a book that will take the place of the Gideon bible in every Motel 6 in the land when the scourge of evangelical Christianity is finally put to rout (any day now…).

“Tormented” overstates the case just a little, but I am righteously outraged, at a moment when econopocalypse and ecogeddon demand desperate measures, by the amount of cultural space and precious time being wasted by the criminally clueless. I’m talking about historically and culturally and scientifically illiterate irrationalists of every stripe: the Darwin-denying flat-earth fundies of the religious right, to be sure, but equally the anti-vaccination nutjobs and New Age 2012-ers at the liberal end of the political spectrum; no-nothing nativists; and the Truck-Nutz, rifle-rack lumpen of the Tea Party and the survivalist fringe (cynically enflamed against the “liberal elite” by conservative pundits and politicians who are, of course, millionaires to a man).

By the way, the irrationalism I’m decrying very much includes our national faith in the state religion of unrestrained capitalism, a faith that brooks no mainstream critique even at the very moment that neo-liberal capitalism is utterly corrupting our little experiment in democracy, decimating the working class, criminalizing poverty, monetizing criminality (through the rise of the prison-industrial complex), and threatening to exhaust the planet’s resources and poison its ecosystems to the point where even a posthuman life form like Dick Cheney will find it uninhabitable. Yet never is heard a discouraging word about capitalism as a system, even in the wake of the Occupy movement, on the Sunday-morning political talk shows and mainstream news programs like All Things Considered or The PBS Newshour. 

Seriously, people: the sands in the hourglass are running out. We can’t afford the wetbrained maunderings of Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin or the craven capitulations of most Democratic pols, either, nor the Hobbesian ethos of Wall Street’s predatory lenders and parasitic CEOs, “doing the Lord’s work.” The world is burning. Global weirding is here to stay, and not just in terms of the bizarre tornados and quakes and tsunamis ripping through the least likely places but in economic and social terms, too. Anti-intellectualism is a threat to species survival.

RU: I loved your essay on the Super Bowl (“Jocko Homo”), which I happened to read on the evening before the very event itself. You seem to note a lot of latent or closeted homosexuality in the American brand of machismo. Do you think you ever go overboard?… cigars sometimes being just cigars?

M.D.: Except when it isn’t. Or when it is and it isn’t. The age of tidy binaries, black-and-white philosophical dualisms, is receding in the rear-view mirror. A cigar is just a cigar and it’s a phallic symbol and it’s a self-parodic signifier of the obsolescence of Freud’s overheated theology and an inescapable reminder of the Viennese devil’s maddening persistence, in the pop unconscious, and… and… Where were we? Right, Hysterical Masculinity, as I call it, in America. No, I don’t think I’m pushing the envelope of overinterpretation too far, in the essay you mention. The argument speaks for itself, I think. I’ll quote from another essay in Bad Thoughts, “Wimps, Wussies, and W.: Masculinity, American Style”:

The trouble with manhood, American-style, is that it is maintained at the expense of every man’s feminine side, the frantically repressed Inner Wussy. And what we lock away in the oubliette of the unconscious we demonize in broad daylight as a pre-emptive strike against any lurking suspicions of wussiness. … In his book The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, the clinical psychologist Stephen Ducat argues that American manhood is gnawed by “femiphobia”–the subconscious belief that “the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman” (which, for many straight guys, is another way of saying: not gay). … It’s a masculinity founded not on a self-assured sense of what it is, but on a neurotic loathing of what it is not (but secretly fears it may be): a wussy.

RU: As someone who is writing something that is partially a memoir, your discussion of Ballard’s criticism of introspection in literature sort of freaked me out… or maybe it just liberated me to return to my Warholian roots and let the surface (and other people) tell most of the story.  I’m glad Ballard made these joltingly contemporary works and sometimes I think I’ll never read another novel since he’ll never write one… but at this stage of the game, couldn’t these young’ ‘uns use some gritty blood and guts novelists exploring the presumed depths of what we used to call “the unconscious” or something like that?

MD: Neither I nor Ballard were decrying “introspection” but rather the obsolete model of human subjectivity still hobbling its way through the pages of most mass-market fiction — the solipsistic, inward-turning, sharply bounded ego of modernist consciousness, as opposed to the liquid subjectivities born of the postmodern media landscape, the sorts of media-addled, psychologically polymorphous beings we glimpse in the theoretical fictions of Deleuze and Guattari, the SF of Ballard and Philip K. Dick, the more mainstream lit of Don Delillo, and in the movies of David Cronenberg. Critical theorists call this movement away from the centripedal subjectivity of existentialism — the lone, craggy figures in Giacometti’s sculptures; the alienated beings in Beckett’s plays — to the centrifugal subjectivity of the media phantasms in Andy Warhol’s silkscreened paintings and Burroughs’s cut-up novels the Posthuman Turn. I believe you can have deep introspection in a novel or memoir written in our moment, for our moment, but that, peering inward, you’ll find a landscape colonized by media myths and memes and apparitions, and looking outward, you’ll find social networks where the most intimate information is disgorged for any passing stranger to see or hear. The polarity of personal and public has reversed, to some degree.

Feb 26 2012

Rub Out The Words: The Letters Of William S. Burroughs (1959 – 1974)

Edited and Introduced by Bill Morgan

Dear Brion,

Enclosed please find money I don’t necessarily need to be bequeathing other nabors but anyway human philanthropy is illusion or so says the Artificial Organism Society.  Erections stimulated when electroencephalography waves aimed directly at the hypothalamus are apparently lesser productions than those in your pants fun and games what.

Speaking of, some young thing I paid for sex recently asked if I were schizophrenic to which I countered who Nellie the Disconnecter or Lady Sutton Smith?  Was My Creative Energy Really Abducted For Years By Methods Of Cutting Up? In Which Event Let’s Make Paper Money Collages Where Queens And Presidents Are Replaced By Hassan-i Sabbah Slaying All The Bad Book Editors (Maurice Girodias?) With E-Meters Shooting Sperm And The Slogan “The Human Body Is But A Gimmick Out Of Date”

Still I wish myself above taking censorship personally, particularly in regard to Scientologists:: in seeking that second religiousness as the colonial liver Keroauc called it:: my mother that hideous rank of matriach Inc. could certainly benefit from a good audit of the rusty dusty:: Whole areas of neurosis mapped and eradicated in mass therapy, hallucinations removed by direct brain intervention … the addicts vs. the viruses and the time machines …  then to all out war between officers of poetry and the perfect curse ie women:: infra sound social structures molded by guerilla tactics:: revolutionaries the most pigheaded people on earth.

Suppose one could call me a transhumanist.  Sex boxes that cure cancer Wilhelm Reich?  Augmented realities by docu-photographing every which way beneath programmed soundtracks streaming on an ecological consciousness, cityscapes looped for all the family beside the simultaneous absorption of reading arguments and counter arguments like a newspaper that keeps you locked in time and word?  Art as nonstatistical quality material and a way out to Space?  Regrets not to have shared a multilingual intersection with Arthur C. Clarke?  WRITE.  SHOCK.  EMBARRASS.  BUSY STAYS THE PSYCHOLOGICAL WOES.  EFFICIENCY.  DUPING?  BUT NO WRITER CAN BE MEMBER TO AN ORGANIZATION… 1965 STILL A DEPENDENT BUT LOOK MA.  SORRY MA.  HOW’S THE GRANDSON.  WRITE.  SHOCK.  OPEN FIRE.  BAD NEWS.  DEFENESTRATION, TRICHINOSIS, CRIPPLED DOW JONES, METAL SICKNESS.  And oh the wretched idiot inhabitants of our benighted planet and criminal politics and at least I try to encourage my progeny though equally blighted by literary calling.  Word for stupid ugly word.

Dream machine’s been fed new pet monkeys called APOMORPHINE .  Did I mention it’s previous employment for the treatment of erectile dysfunction and homosexuality?  Hummmmmmmmmm Well scripts tend to write themselves.  Ask Terry Southern.  Despite disappointing Turkish bath dreams in alien landscapes I find I like storyboarding gay porn, only mushrooms don’t compare to mescaline and mon dieu Tim Leary’s fat family and I want to write a children’s book.  See if you can tell how I employ iteration in letters to alternate recipients.  So much quicker to read colors than words.

Oh, and after 25 uh years of playing the uh spurned nomad outerspace citizen, I seem to have found myself uh famous in America. Even the interior manufacturing, distributing, and collecting on a book prior to advent of skype and other e-dig about as fun as lips on a female soft machine. I think I’d have liked to Tweet, on the first few trips anyway.  Underground methods better press.  Then look at Libya.  But when tape recorders occupy slithers of humanic brain (per Gerald Heard) can I still lay Jeff Hawkes in 2D?  Are 2D lunches at all fabulous postulates Izzy?

Remember both homo and heterorealities are illusion.  All alpha waves and reactive minds and contradictory commands.  Although I find I prefer straight narrative now, as straight as a tea and critic hazzled fag can expunge.  Find out who your friends are (Allen Ginsberg) and who they aren’t (Mickey/Michael/Darling Portman at least in a few incarnations) though he never claimed my parasitic hypothalamus as you do Mr. Gysin. Brion Burroughs.  Baby Daddy.

Etranger qui JAMAIS passait,

William S. Burroughs (s.m.)

Jan 04 2012

Commandeering the Inner Space Shuttle: Silence and Ecstasy in the Sensory Deprivation Tank

I recently began a series of experiments with the sensory deprivation tank as developed by John C. Lilly, M.D., a device that most have heard of but few have tried. (Yes, that’s the one from the 1980 movie Altered States.) It took me a decade and a half of self-directed experimentation on consciousness to finally get around to using one. Luckily, when I was ready, I found that there was a facility five minutes from my workplace. I booked the time. I got in.

The sensory deprivation tank is exactly that — a large, soundproof, lightproof tank filled with shallow, warm, buoyant water, all designed to completely shut off all sensory input.

The tank itself is heated to exactly 93.0º, a temperature that feels warm without being intrusive, so that your body quickly tunes it out. The water — just shallow enough to lie in — is saturated with Epsom salt, which means that you float effortlessly on the surface. It also means any cuts or scratches that you may have gotten before going in will start viciously burning; for this Vaseline is recommended to cover over them and keep out the salt.

The inside of the tank is remarkably spacious — big enough to sit up in, even stand up while crouching. (The model I used was the Samadhi, the original developed by Lilly. There are other versions; tanks in Europe, apparently, are often much smaller and pod-like, offering very little room to move about in, limiting the size and weight of the occupant.) The inside of the tank is about three and a half feet wide; consequently, I spent a lot of time sliding from one side to the next until I figured out how to stabilize myself. (Hint: Stick your arms out and hold the sides until the water calms down, then hold yourself completely still and breathe slow and deep enough that you don’t disturb the water. Breathing slow, of course, will also help stabilize your body and mind faster.)

One’s experience in the tank, as I was told, is highly susceptible to suggestion. For this reason, the owners of the venue I visited told me they’re very careful about not telling people anything but the basics when they get in, in order not to pre-load their trip.

I found I had some of my own pre-loading to get rid of after getting into the comforting darkness of the tank. Foremost in my mind were the experiences of the tank’s founder himself, Dr. John Lilly: born in 1915, Lilly was raised on a rigid scientific track, developing the tank in the early 1950s while studying neurophysiology for the US Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Corps—work allegedly connected with the CIA MK-ULTRA program, though he broke with the US government almost immediately thereafter. His own experiences were nothing short of revelatory. He later went on to do research trying to communicate with dolphins while on LSD, became involved in SETI, and continued using the tank until his death a few weeks after 9/11.

Lilly reported some mind-stretching tank visions in his books. At one point he believed he had come into contact with extraterrestrials, or “Earth Coincidence Control Organization (ECCO),” as he called them. He also spoke forebodingly of a potential period in the future where “Solid State Intelligence (SSI),” an entity that he believed was composed of the entirety of electronics on earth, would take over and dispense with human life. (Facebook anyone?) But then again, Lilly wasn’t just going in cold: he extensively experimented first with using LSD in the tank, then with Ketamine, both substances he had easy access to as a member of the medical establishment.

These are the images I had swirling in my mind as I climbed into the tank; not surprisingly, nothing happened as long as I continued expecting fireworks on-demand. It wasn’t until I consciously let go and decided to see what the tank had to offer on its own terms that I started to get something. And at least for me, what I experienced wasn’t “psychedelic” at all—far from a mental experience, what I discovered was a drop into a deeply physical, embodied state; once this had happened, the boundaries of the body, tank and space itself just seemed to fall away. Thereafter I seemed to enter into a primal infinity, from which perspective I could comfortably see not just my rational mind but the entire mental bandwidth of Western culture as a tiny, almost inconsequential pinprick in a vast field of mystery. Not “the light,” not “the void” or other shorthands for the unthinkable… simply an endless mystery.

I’ve tried innumerable meditation techniques over the last decade and a half: I’ve learned to sit inhumanly still for hours, slow my breath down to one inhale/exhale per minute, learned the original kundalini yoga of the Himalayan adepts up at 13,000 feet in India, studied a bit of Zen and Tibetan forms of meditation like Samatha or “calm abiding.” But no matter how you twist, prime or calm yourself, the same problem always remains: the body just won’t go away. Even if you’ve “mastered” your awareness of the physical and can sit like a rock with little to no breath, you’re still going to have awareness of the body, and it will continually remind you it exists. Which gives you two options: suppress it as much as you can, or work with it.

But with the tank, the body is just so free of external sensation, and so contented with its literally womb-like surroundings, that it just kind of blips out.

Well, let me rephrase that. First, it fidgets insufferably. Adjusting to the tank can be so initially frustrating that the center I visited gives the first hour for free. Once you “get it,” though, your body remembers the right position and will enter that state rapidly every time you get into the tank from then on.

After the initial learning curve I ended up in place more relaxed, more contented, more free, more expanded than I have after years of meditation — in a few minutes. So much of the discipline of yoga and classic meditation manuals like the Hatha Yoga Pradpika is concerned with “turning the body off” with proper physical postures; a sensory deprivation tank does it almost immediately. The classic instructions for yoga all seem to continue to apply to the tank experience — stilling the body and breath, offering the in-breath into the out-breath, and so on — but one is immediately put into an ideal state physical state, the kind it presumably takes years of yoga practice to get to, if it is even reachable at all without the tank.  

For that alone, I’m a new convert. Take away all the spiritual woo, the promises of inner experiences, and at the very base level you have a tool for relaxing more deeply than perhaps previously thought possible, identifying and then releasing muscle tension you weren’t even aware was there. You feel it. And then you let it go, bit by bit. And then you float. The applications for health alone, when so many physical problems are caused by chronically holding tension, are obvious. Of course, as the physical tension goes, so does the mental tension. I found myself getting insights into, and letting go, of long-standing mental cramps, deep unsolved indecisions or confusions, that I’d forgotten were even there, as they had been embedded into the background noise of the mind for so long.

Of course, that was just the beginning. Beyond the relaxation of the body, I observed a secondary effect: the body enters what I can describe only as an orgasmic field. Here we enter into the domain of Wilhelm Reich’s orgonomy or even of mysticism but, put simply, the message was that nearly all mental and physical tension is the individual attempting to suppress its natural orgasmic state. By orgasmic I don’t specifically mean orgasmic release through sexual contact — I mean that when the body’s energy becomes unlocked it, itself, becomes all-over orgasmic. One releases into infinite “bliss,” the body-as-orgasm melting into the universe-as-orgasm.

Lilly experienced something similar, writing in his autobiography The Scientist (in third person) that “The tank experiences gave him new access to bodily pleasure which he found difficult to integrate with his rather… Calvinistic conscience. His conflicts with sexual expression, sexual transactions, took up a good deal of his time. The resting body accumulated positive energies that were expressible sexually to an almost intolerable level. He began to recognize the intrinsic nature of sexual drives. His parallel studies in neurophysiology revealed the sources of the sexual energy within the central nervous system. He began to see that these sources existed in himself, in his own brain.”

The next level was the seeming heightening of “psychic” phenomena such as telepathic communication (with people who could be dozens of miles away) and the intrusion of “energies” or imagery from the collective unconscious, or simply the individual unconscious depending on how much one gives credence to the idea of transpersonal mind. As these phenomena are entirely subjective, unverifiable and largely deeply individualized to those who experience them, I here pass over details of any specific content, leaving this to individual experience.

The usual tank session is an hour. One returns to “normal” consciousness immediately and seamlessly after exiting the tank. There is no hangover or disorientation. I found rush hour traffic while leaving the facility slightly more aggravating after the peaceful tank experience, but beyond that there were no noticeable side effects. More importantly, one feels as if one has just awoken from a deeply satisfying and relaxing sleep, even if one didn’t sleep in the tank, and even, as I experienced, if floating after a long and hectic working day.

It seems that, when separated from outside stimulus and given free reign, the bodymind knows exactly what it needs to do to restore health and equilibrium to itself, and goes about doing it, quickly and precisely.

For these reasons — and more I’m sure I’ve yet to discover — I recommend the tank to all.

It’s a technology that has largely fallen by the wayside, though it’s recently been making a comeback thanks in part to the highly enthusiastic publicity the comedian Joe Rogan has given it. I suspect that it probably has more to offer us now than it did when Lilly invented it. Silence is a rare commodity in our overstimulated world.

We owe it to ourselves to give ourselves back to ourselves.

Find a place near you to float here:

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible.

Dec 18 2011

Conjurations in the Element of Flesh: Balancing the Transhuman and the Transpersonal

What are the critical disciplines by which 21st century humanity will initiate itself? How will those who wish to move from reality’s spectator seats to the middle of the ring do so?

How has humanity done so in the past?

The ancients represented the hall of initiation into the Mysteries as being flanked by two columns — one black, the other white. The tradition survives in Freemasonry, ceremonial magick and the High Priestess card of the Tarot, where Isis as initiatrix into the Mysteries sits between the pillars, reconciling them.

For the ancients, the black pillar represented, among other things, the path of ego calcination; the white, the path of ego dissolution. These more abstract principles. or “ways to do life,” if you will, have ended up in the common parlance as “white and black magic” and have become divorced from their original meaning and taken on new and largely inappropriate baggage.

Restored to their original symbolic association, however, the Pillars of the Temple of Solomon can offer critical suggestions about the modes of transcendence that 21st century humanity is beginning to explore.

For the young psychonaut, I draw clear the lines:

The Left-Hand Path: The Transhuman

Transhumanism is the augmentation, and therefore reinforcement, of the self. It is the current edge of the “project of Western civilization” that is concerned, and always has been concerned, with the extension of the individual will into physical, manifest reality. It is the directed use of technology to amplify the human experience — and technology can easily mean nonphysical means or techniques as well.

Here I place the increasing inseparability of humans and advanced communication technology; actual augmentation of the body with wetware, body modification, nanotech, etc., but also body change techniques like hatha yoga, martial arts, plastic surgery; the work of Wilhelm Reich; energy medicine, EFT/EMDR; the contributions of the Human Potential Movement and the increasingly clever and byzantine supplement industry. We can add modern and ancient brain-change techniques like NeuroLinguistic Programming, the Leary/Wilson Eight Circuit Model, Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, radionics, tantra, chaos magick and the rest of the never-ending occult and New Age corpus. All of these and more can be used to change, warp, clean out, amp up, empower, manicure and otherwise “make cooler” the thing you call “I.”

Access to these technologies is increasingly wide-spread and I believe their use and refinement will likely produce some admirable customizations of the human experience as well as increasingly grotesque ego distortions as once-normal human beings mutate themselves into what might only be described as “creatures” comprised of a multiplicity of shattered and exaggerated ego shards rather than anything resembling a healthy, grounded, integrated identity.

The Right-Hand Path: The Transpersonal

If transhumanity can be seen as a continuing quest for dominance over the physical body and physical world, the transpersonal offers a much more direct (if perhaps even more dangerous) path — that of breaking down the barriers which separate the small-s self from the wider world itself. This is what might more vaguely be called the “spiritual path” — the path of the dissolution of the ego by uniting it with something larger than itself.

Under the heading of transpersonal we must place the many branches of mysticism: Gnosticism, Sufism, Qabalah, Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, the higher Yogas, true Tantra, shamanism, depth psychology and the activities that stem from the accelerated empathy that these practices can produce: namely activism, human rights work, ecology work, directed work on the problems of the human race and other such forms of “doing the world’s dishes.”

Leaving questions of actual higher spiritual perception or “cosmic consciousness” aside for the moment, and grounding the spiritual directly into the material world, I believe we can find the highest expression of the transpersonal path in the growing field of ecopsychology: a psychological model which proposes, broadly, that individual problems are in fact manifestations of the problems of the world itself, and that it becomes impossible to talk about healing a patient without healing the world they live in. Self and world are ultimately indistinguishable. There was never a separation to begin with.

Between the Gates

It’s easy to see how these two paths may overlap and blur at their higher reaches. Push the self to the limits of its expansion, for instance, and you may well break it in the process, allowing the “greater reality” to flood in. Similarly, the depth insights that arise from transpersonal work can and should become more greatly actualized in the physical world through the strengthening and empowerment of the “individual” who experiences them — there comes a time when you may have to lift your scarecrow-like, malnourished body from the meditation mat, do some pushups, put on a suit and start communicating what you’ve learned within the marketplace.

You can also see how these two paths can be intensely antagonistic.

Have no illusions about it: transhumanism arises from the same dominator impulse that gave us empires, Satanic mills, nuclear and biological warfare, technological slavery, the rape and degradation of the physical world, and so on. To the expanded awareness of the transpersonal, the products of Western culture and the calcified, soulless ego-worship of the transhumanists can feel as comfortable as splinters under fingernails.

Alternately, it’s questionable how much effect the insights of mystics actually produce — whether their “higher visions” are actually accurate new views into the human equation or just so much hallucinatory navel gazing. The most lasting contributions of the walkers of the transpersonal way are inner insights that, once expressed, can produce massive shifts in how cultures think — but these insights get turned into bureaucratic dominator religions overnight as soon as the original mystic is (all too often) conveniently disposed of… Godfather-style.

What Are We Left With?

Two paths. The black: Change the self as something separate from the world. The white: Delete the self and erase all separation from the world. Both provide a “beyond human” experience.

Followed exclusively, the transpersonal results in ineffectuality; take the transhuman alone, and end up a soulless machine in a world of soulless machines.

Or step between the pillars, and find something new — with no promises — for those who pass through these pillars step through and onto a yet-unlit road where only few have passed before, and where none has yet seen the destination.

Step mindfully.

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible.