Aug 26 2012

Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis: The Quantified Life Is Not Worth Living


Eric Packer (played by Robert Pattison) — reigning master of the universe of unencumbered digital financial trading — spends most of his disastrous day in the back of a limo determined to make it across New York City in the midst of traffic chaos caused by a presidential motorcade, to get a haircut, but not, as we will discover, any haircut.

Impeccably dressed, physically perfect, emotionally smooth, and despite a series of sexual encounters during this single day with beautiful female subordinates — Packer’s world, until today, is nothing but data.

At the beginning of the film, we see massive data flows zipping around a small computer screen operated by a hacker employee, and we understand that his world of unfailing predictions based on this data has been disrupted by an error that threatens him with massive financial losses.  But Packer, despite the seeming practicality of the bad day he is facing, is more interested in his existential situation.  He’s having a crisis of meaning and of feeling.

As he and his driver make their way through NYC’s jammed streets, various courtiers slip into his limo to talk about some aspect of his business situation only to be peppered by stark questions that tilt away from business and lean towards meaning.  And yet, his quasi-philosophical inquiries  are all oriented towards calculation as opposed to insight (and how many of our singularitarian friends would acknowledge that a distinction exists).  Packer is in the vanguard of his generations’ and our culture’s reorientation from lived to statistical experience.

The film hinges on two particular events.  Event one: Packer’s previously unfailing prediction machine has failed to predict a crisis in the yuan. Event two: Packer’s daily medical examination turns up a peculiar (and contextually funny) problem that I won’t spoil for you… but both problems revolve around the incursion of irregularity into his smooth world.

Here we have the Quantified Life at its apotheosis.  Even in the midst of sexual encounters, there are conversations that seek information about the nature of the business and sexual relationships and — during the peak of one sex scene — his female partner reports on her successful jogging routine and provides a statistical particular about her fat-to-muscle ratio.

In mixed reviews, much has been made of Cronenberg taking on Wall Street capitalism (and let’s remember that all this is based on the critically underrated DeLillo 2003 novel of the same name) in a biting satire that’s not at all a comedy. There is that. But the critics miss the larger undercurrent, which should have clarified for them during the last scene (and I will spare you any further spoilers).  Several shocking scenes (yes, this is Cronenberg), including the finale, bring home for us that Packer is seeking some experience — any experience — that is not quantifiable.  Whether he finds it or not, I’ll leave for you to sort out.

Oscar Wilde famously said of his countrymen, “They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  But he was thinking of craggy old industrialists who actually traded in things. For Packer, price and value are both de-prioritized by the ersatz bliss of those baptized in dataflow.  It’s a cold but pleasurably high, until something unsmooth, like a poor person or a bodily peculiarity, makes an unpredicted intervention.









Apr 24 2012

A Back Alley World Of Seduction, Intrigue, & Nine & Two Thirds Fingers – Review of Finger’s Breadth By M. Christian



Did Oscar Wilde ever mention a baby-shit sofa, as fetishized by Tom of Finland, and crusted with salty, sweet sticky?  Cliche to throw out Wilde when reviewing a piece of m4m fic?  About as cliche as including a reference to Sex in the City in said fic.

Really, I josh.  Because apart from a (for me) slightly delayed pick-up—and the more obvious fact that yours truly is of the vaginal realm—I had fun with, and eventually became engrossed by, M. Christian’s Finger’s Breadth.

Boilermakers, mambo-fuck you gay bars, scenarios seemingly inspired by a homoerotic Misery, and of course the ever prevalent “asses flexing into handful-sized tightened cheeks” (is that your technology chirping, or is throbbing a better adjective?), Christian flaunts a downright capacity for electric lyric as well as (sorry mum, must include this in such a review) all the “hard cocks, strong cocks, long cocks, thick cocks – bobbing up and down, swinging right and left, even swirling in a sweaty circle,” that you could empty.

Not to mention a devilishly intricate plotline, which goes as follows: Fanning is a freelance cop on a most perplexing case.  He kicks himself for not having caught whoever is terrorizing the tequila sunrises of Boyz Bay (did I just coin that?) by luring men for nonconsensual finger lobotomies.

“Je vois que vous êtes l’un de nous?”
I see you’re one of us.
“Quand cela vousest-il arrivé?”
When did it happen to you?
“Oui, ça le rend plus facile.”
Yes, It does make it easier.

Incidentally, do you have all your fingers?  Cause if you’ve only got nine-and-a-bit, I may have just cum in my jeans—where no underoos shield my tumescent genitals from the course blue interior of said pant.  Just rubbing, lots of rubbing.  Looooooooots of involuntary spasm threatening netherweather…


More story (*SPOILER ALERT*):  Taylor is convinced that he almost lost his finger to Fanning’s culprit.  He’s not sure but all the earmarks are there and he’s lost his wallet.  Which means the baddie’s got it, which means Taylor is scared.  So Taylor goes full solipsist save for that he polishes a fallback booty’s dingus for rent and asylum from baddie/ultimately all-that-lies-beyond-the-curtains.  When their (Taylor and dingus owner Frost) episodes devolve into some paranoid Stepford realness, I devolved with them.

I must admit, I feel odd saying ‘cock’ as often as Christian, even in reviewing cock fiction.  Dinglehopper.  Peckilenis.  Willy.  Of course, my mother had us using “hinybows,” which is kinda fucked up…  Also fucked up is Varney — Christian’s fictional SFTimes staff writer whose incident with a blender and subsequent lie foments the substratum for our horror story, as well as vast, new horizons for what is sexy on Castro street.

Indeed, the ever-crafty Christian lerves a clever chapter dawning, from spurious police records to online blurbs (courtesy of gayrut and, to conversations overheard on J Church Streetcars or private chats amongst sketchy user profiles.  Trust, our author unfurls with expert patience a back alley world of seduction, intrigue, and nine and two thirds fingers — all while saving room for instinctual blasts of intricate character development, fresh (subtle) poetry and raw (not subtle) fucking.

To use his words, I might argue that the blank page for Christian is akin to a playground, “a bedroom full of nothing but what could happen” — made all the more tantalizing by a darn good secret: “everyone has one…hidden in the dusty corner of a closet of ‘God-this-turns-me-on-so-damned-much’”.   In only referring to TV as ‘system’, computers as ‘machines’, and phones as ‘technology’, the reader is legit trajected to an insulated interverse where hearts beat in 2/2 rhythm despite the civility of traffic lights, but where it’s still a chore to piss through an erection.

Unclean, unclean, he mouthed to his reflection, for a dramatic second pretending to be either a character stepping from Seinfeld, to be common, or Shakespeare, to be pompous.

Never pompous, but consistently provocative, Christian campaigns not just in defense of freedom in lust, but for love and the envied halcyon attained by a clear conscience—not forgetting to delve into demented herd mentalities or rationales of the truly unhinged.

A scream tried to claw its way out of his throat, the sharp
edges of its shame and pain like trying to throw up
a breakfast of razors. 

Tingles purty good, don’t it?  Well you don’t know the half of it.  But if you’re still considering “coming with a shivering, shuddering orgasm in the mouth of a man [you’d like] to take out a very sharp knife and hurt,” may I invite you to get off on Finger’s Breadth, or study this instead.

Jan 24 2012

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)


 As I close in on the evolution of Mondo 2000 History Project book content to the point where I have to consider what the final thing will be — it becomes clear that it will be about 1/3 collective memoir; 1/3 my memoir and 1/3 scrapbook.  The challenge is to have all of it somehow fitting into my grand (or perhaps grandiose… apparently candidate Gingrich now think grandiosity is something to brag about politically and who am I to argue.  Well, actually, I would argue were I to take the time… but grandiosity in art/artifice can on occasion strike paydirt) scheme to have it all somehow fit together and read like a very dense and complex novel (but who would believe in these characters?)

In this context, some of the work involves me retrieving origin stories from my past to illuminate the influences that brought me to High Frontiers and eventually to Mondo 2000 and the cyber counterculture.

Recently, Boing Boing had me contribute to their marvelous weeklong tribute to Robert Anton Wilson — and only as I sat down to write something for them, I remembered that “The Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson trip” was at the unfinished top of my outline of things I need to write for the book. I had put it off as a big challenge and had moved on to other stories and observations.

I originally imagined that this entry for the book would be largely about the philosophy or Reality Tunnel that some call the “Leary-Wilson Paradigm.”  I would — of necessity — interrupt a narrative flow that leans towards storytelling to explain ideas, since the “Leary-Wilson Paradigm,” more than anything else influenced the magazine I wanted to create.

But as my story about discovering the Illuminatus Trilogy emerged for the Boing Boing contribution, it became clear to me that I needed to explain my fascination with Leary in a somewhat similar style — ultimately merging the two stores into one short section of the Mondo book.

And it was while thinking about my initial fascination with Leary that this entry took a dangerous turn towards “confessing” my mid-70s fascination with famous pariahs…  outcasts from outcast culture. I have a touch of trepidation about presenting these thoughts in these knee jerk times… that people will think I’m speaking to today’s politics rather than the complicated and sometimes contradictory impulses that motivate activity  — and also wonder, often, if I’m going to be telling the MONDOids the stories they want to hear — or if I should care about it.

As to the stuff about Leary maybe being “a fink,” yes… I leave it hanging, as it will always be hanging.  I would say, though, that one of my favorite moments in Mondo history was when I began editing the conversation Leary had taped with William Gibson  (not knowing it would ultimately be transcribed for print) and came across Tim casually talking about being thrown into “the hole” in a Minnesota Prison because the feds were dissatisfied with his testimony about the Weather Underground. (You won’t find it in the linked segment, but you will find it in the magazine… if you have a copy.)

Anyway, for your reading pleasure… a possible fragment from the Mondo 2000 History Project book, tentatively titled “Use Your Hallucinations: A History of Mondo 2000 and the Cyber Counterculture.”

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence

As you already have surmised, I came up through the New Left Revolution years.  From 1968 – 1971 — during and just after high school, I knew that the revolution had come.   Some as yet inchoate mix of left anarchist radicalism and newly psychedelicized youth mutation was simply taking over the world by storm.  As Hunter Thompson famously rhapsodized, “There was madness in any direction, at any hour… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.… Our energy would simply prevail…We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”  Right (or left) or wrong, it was exciting and energizing to be a part of it.

But by the mid-70s, people on the left radical countercultural scene had become — at best, mopey and quarrelsome — and, at worst, either criminally insane or very tightly wound politically correct environmentalist/feminist/health-food scolds.  People were either bitchy; or in retreat — smoking pot and listening to the mellow sounds of James Taylor and Carole King.

I didn’t know it consciously at the time, but I needed to create a space within my psyche that liberated me from the constancy of moral judgment and eco-apocalypse mongering — and one that also didn’t represent a retreat into the mediocrity of middle class liberalism.

Thus, I was attracted to flamboyant “hip pariahs” who were very un-left, politically incorrect… even, in some cases, right wing.

There was the glam rock rebellion against blue denim hippie populism. These performers insulted egalitarianism by dressing and performing in ways that set them apart from their generation’s rock audiences . (Naturally, good old Mick Jagger was the major rock god who didn’t need to change to be a part of it.)  David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed all nipped — in interviews and lyrics and musical styles — at assumed countercultural values while also mocking, at least, cultural conservatism by their very androgynous existences.

I gobbled up materials on, or by, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali — each, in their way, pariah outcasts from political decency — particularly Dali.

By being an unsane solipsistic monarchist, loving money, supporting the fascist Francisco Franco, Dali seemed to me to be the purest of surrealists, running with his subconscious atavistic impulses against the earlier sympathies of the surrealists with the left and developing an utterly inexcusable (sometimes when I say — as I do at the opening of this book — that aspects of my story and my mind are inexcusable, I’m not just using colorful language. I mean it literally) but original persona.  His autobiographical and philosophic texts defied logic in ways that seemed to me to be more genuinely playful and funny than his former fellow travels in 20th Century Surrealism who had long since denounced him.

Warhol played an even more important role in liberating my soul and psyche from the depths of resentment and rational piety since his very role in art and culture was to create a space free from judgment.  While Andy was nominally a liberal, his deadpan consumerist art and aphorisms had a Zen quality — it could, paradoxically, cause you to embrace the flow of frozen moments and artifice for artifice’s sake by inducing silence in the chattering, protesting, judging brain.  To properly experience Warhol was to almost stop thinking… in the best possible way… while still hanging on by a thread to a sense of humorous irony.

And then there was Dr. Timothy Leary. There was the legendary Leary…  all that stuff about turning on tuning in dropping out the 1960s.  I had read and enjoyed his book High Priest, but actually thought of him as something of an old guy who seemed to be trying too hard to fit into the youth culture.  It was the Leary of the ‘70s that fascinated me.  During the height of my own romantic infatuation with “The Revolution,” Leary had made a heroic prison escape. He had been spirited away by the guerrilla warriors of the Weather Underground and had shown up in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver’s exiled Black Panther chapter, pronouncing unity between the psychedelic and leftist and black revolutions and promising to help Cleaver form a revolutionary US government in exile.  At that time, all of these people — Weather Underground leader Bernadine Dohrn, Eldridge Cleaver, Timothy Leary, Stew Albert — who led a contingent of Yippies over there to cement the alliance — were icons to me, more or less on a par with The Beatles and The Stones (or at least, the Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix).

Then, after conflicts with Cleaver — and just as the buzz of the revolution was souring, he had disappeared, showing up only in a few gossipy pieces that portrayed him hanging out with fellow exile Keith Richards and issuing bon mots that were more of the flavor of Oscar Wilde than Che Guevara.

Then, he was caught in Afghanistan and shipped back in chains to the USA facing a lifetime in prison.  And not long after that, rumors circulated that he was ratting out the radical movement.   This was very depressing.  But at the same time, occasional interesting signals emerged — usually published in the underground press — from Folsom Prison where he was being held.  Strange little quotes about being an intelligence agent for the future; about “offering the only hopeful eschatology around today;” about dna being a seed from outer space; about “going home” to galaxy central and human destiny being in the stars; about how he was writing a  “science faction” book.  Odd signals not fully formed — nevertheless somehow intriguingly differing from the dour vibe emitted by the rest of those publications at that particular time. I couldn’t help myself.  My mutant brain was already starting to find the apostate Leary’s signals refreshing.  I was doomed to become a “science faction” mutant.

[ insert Robert Anton Wilson section here ]

It was several years later, in 1976, that I came across an edition of Crawdaddy, a very cool rock magazine with regular columns by William Burroughs and Paul Krassner that contained an article about the recently released Dr. Tim.  The writer hung out with Tim as he wandered around NYC rattling off his ideas about SMI2LE — Space Migration Intelligence Increase Life Extension — sending up the first coherent transhumanist flare of the 20th Century. There was a picture of Leary in a business suit standing between the newly built twin towers wearing a smile that laughed out loud and pointing, almost violently, with his right forefinger upward to outer space. This was something new.  The picture took its place on my wall in between the cover of the first Ramones album and the picture of Squeeky Fromme being arrested after her attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford.

My final “conversion” to Learyesque proto-transhumanism came in 1977.  It was summer and my mother had the intuitive sense to hustle me away from Binghamton, where my friends were becoming junkies, and moved me early to the college town of Brockport New York where I would start school that fall. The town was empty and there was nothing to do. But the town’s bookstore was open.  I walked in and there — on prominent display — were two books by Timothy Leary, Exo-Psychology and Neuropolitics. The latter also credited Robert Anton Wilson.

I read those books frontways and back and inside out.  And then I read them again. It all resonated.  It all made sense to me.  It was a way of interpreting the world that respected my psychedelic experiences and my times within the counterculture and gave them a new context — one that hadn’t yet failed!  These were now the evolutionary experiences of a premature mutant breaking at least partly free of the programming of an unhappy, repressive civilization so that I could move it towards a bright and expansive future.  The expansiveness that had so energized and delighted me during the late 1960s and early ‘70s would now be — at least partially — a science project to literally expand our space and time and minds perhaps unto infinity.

I was excited, but I was also tentative. I paced around my small one room apartment.  Was I crazy?  Was I wrong?  By now, self identifying as a 1977 spikey-haired hipster who liked to put his cheap punk nihilism unapologetically front and center (yes, trendiness haunts all my days), could I tell anybody about my philosophic attraction to the upbeat pariah and possible fink Dr. Leary?   Actually, that’s something I still ask myself today, although it is clearly too late.