Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feeling the Breath of Empty Space

And against this inward revolt of the native creatures of the soul 
mechanical man, in triumph seated upon the seat of his machine,
will be powerless, for no engine can reach into the marshes and 
     depths of a man.

-- D.H. Lawrence, "The Triumph of the Machine"
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Locke. The arrival of empiricism. Nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses. The blank slate. No innate ideas. But do sense impressions accurately correspond to external objects? This cannot be known definitely. And yet we can make a distinction. There are "primary qualities" that can be objectively measured -- shape, motion, weight, etc. -- and there are "secondary qualities" which are subjective only, varying from person to person -- colour, taste, feelings, odour, etc. Thus we can know the real dimensions of a given thing but not its colour. The Eye over all other senses.

Berkeley. But isn't this distinction between primary and secondary qualities also arbitrary? Doesn't this also break down? Even primary qualities are just mind experiences. There is no guarantee that there is any precise match up to external reality. Everything is filtered through the senses and the mind itself, phenomenal, bound to appearances. Idealism as hyper-empiricism.

The only things that exist with certainty are the mind and its ideas. And yet all is evidently not subjective fantasy. There is an apparent, even objective, common experience. How can this be accounted for? The world only has a coherent form because all perceiving minds are contained in the mind of God. The Eye becomes cosmic, omniscient.

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Hume. But the postulation of "God" to hold the world together betrays empiricism entirely. There is no way to know anything -- God or his surrogates -- beyond the data that the senses impress upon the mind.  Likewise, however, all statements of reason -- defined by logic and mathematics -- are ultimately tautological. They may only refer to themselves. Heads up their own bums. No way of knowing if there is any fixed correspondence to anything external.

Induction -- crucial to science -- is also entirely based on non-empirical assumptions. Even though we have observed the Sun rising in the morning day after day there is no absolute surety that it will do so tomorrow. As with all phenomena. The "physical laws" are only provisional just-so tales. Causality itself cannot be sensed. We assume that A causes B, but we never actually witness the causal connection between the two.

We cannot even hold that there is a consistent Mind that does the observing. There are only moments of observation. No Self can be isolated and sensed, only an unceasing stream of impressions, sensations and ideas. What self? What mind? Where can it be located? No objective knowledge is possible through such a non-entity. The Eye dethroned. Empiricism has eaten itself. Complete epistemological skepticism. And Hume loved his beer.

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Kant. Abruptly shaken awake from his "dogmatic slumber" by Hume. But, but surely some knowledge must be possible? Newtonian science, for one, works, doesn't it? It has a predictive capacity. How can this be? There must be a real correspondence between inner mind and outer world. But Berkeley and Hume are also right -- we cannot know anything outside of our mind and its senses. And, as Hume demonstrated, there is no evidence of a God that could hold it all together either. So what gives?

Kant sparks off a "Copernican revolution" -- the whole of the world that we will ever know is that structured by the intrinsic categories of the mind. The categories of time, space, causality, substance are embedded in the very structure of our minds. They exist prior -- a priori -- to anything observed by the senses and therefore they condition every experience. Newtonian science works because the world that it describes is necessarily that which is framed by the categories of the mind. There is no escaping this.

The phenomenal world -- things as they appear -- is the only world describable by science or any other epistemological method. The noumenal world -- things as they are -- is entirely unknowable. We can only observe with our minds the world which is structured according to the categories of the same mind that observes it. We order the world according to how our perception is ordered. Every look out is also a look in. An apparent step back from Hume's skeptical cliff edge.

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The German Idealists. Pushing the limits of Kant came Fichte, Schelling, Hegel. Perhaps the phenomenal world is the noumenal. There are no things outside of the mind. Back to the idealism of Berkeley, but God is now part of the mix and not external to and transcendent of it. Our minds are identical with the mind of God. God is immanent in this world, the world of the mind, one perfectly reflecting the other. This is also the worldview of the Romantics. As in Coleridge:

The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am. 

Hegel's World Spirit evolving itself through the media of time and history, from pure spirit to the plunge into unconscious matter, to gradually recovering sentience, to eventual and ultimate self-awareness as spirit once again. This process encompasses all. Spirit and matter becoming butter as they chase each other around the Tree. Skepticism morphed into mysticism.

After the Revolution. But why stop at the categories of space, time, causality, etc.? These are not the only shaping factors of the mind. As Richard Tarnas explains in The Passion of the Western Mind  (where much of this is derived), the inbuilt yet changing lenses and filters are legion:

From Kant and Hume through Darwin, Marx, Freud and beyond, an unsettling conclusion was becoming inescapable: Human thought was determined, structured, and very probably distorted by a multitude of overlapping factors -- innate but nonabsolute mental categories, habits, history, culture, social class, biology, language, imagination, emotion, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious. In the end, the human mind could not be relied upon as an accurate judge of reality. The original Cartesian certainty, that which served as a foundation for the modern confidence in human reason, was no longer defensible.  

Yet even these "categories" are only identified as such by some other category-determining faculty. And this faculty is also a category. It all turns in on itself, devouring and copulating, like an Albert Ayler free jazz saxophone blowout.


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Kant's original a priori categories of cognition -- the last vestiges of absolute certainty for the philosopher -- have themselves dissipated, wafts of grey vapour reenter the fog. Melted away by the very intellectual force that Kant had hoped to save -- science. Tarnas:

But with twentieth-century physics, the bottom fell out of Kant's last certainty. The fundamental Kantian a prioris -- space, time, substance, causality -- were no longer applicable to all phenomena. The scientific knowledge that had seemed after Newton to be universal and absolute had to be recognized after Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg as limited and provisional. So too did quantum mechanics reveal in unexpected fashion that the radical validity of Kant's thesis that the nature described by physics was not nature in itself but man's relation to nature -- i.e., nature as exposed to man's form of questioning.

Where are we left then? There are no longer any "transcendent" categories. Nothing remains that could be called objective or absolute or permanent. We are brought back to Hume's cliff edge. Reason, causality, the existence of the self -- none of these can be affirmed absolutely. We are collectively placed in the position of Nietzsche's infamous madman, and none of us can travel any further along this route than he:

"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."

God is surely dead, but as Nietzsche makes very clear "God" in this sense is only a placeholder for any centralized and/or centralizing vantage point. Away from all suns. No facts, only interpretations. The grimmoire of grammar is one of the last hiding spots of the Demiurge. A sentence is also a prison sentence.

Philosophy and science have largely tried either to ignore or downplay our epistemological predicament. Philosophy has in most part retreated into the analysis of language, logical wordgames, phenomenology, academic circle-jerking and beard-tugging, and science into the manufacture of novel trinkets for the corporate and military death machine. Experts, texperts, choking, smoking. And endless spectacle and distraction for the rest of us.

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But what these specialists of the non-sacred are avoiding and/or trying to actively hide is that the old rules no longer apply.

Because induction can never render certain general laws, and because scientific knowledge is a product of human interpretive structures that are themselves relative, variable and creatively employed, and finally because the act of observation in some sense produces the objective reality science attempts to explicate, the truths of science are neither absolute nor unequivocally objective. In the combined wake of eighteenth-century philosophy and twentieth-century science, the modern mind was left free of absolutes, but also disconcertingly free of any solid ground.

Hume was right. Induction is a reassuring convenience, but nothing more than that. Without it, and this is the fluid groundless ground we now all shake and shimmy on, metamorphosis and mystery and magic come raging back in full force. Neither time nor space are uniform or continuous. Form itself is in question. If it is possible in thought, in the imagination, it may also be possible in "reality". After all, we are only ever and always looking simultaneously out and in on our own mind undulations.

The philosophers have mostly given up, washed their hands. It is the time again for the poets, not as debauched entertainers and cynics, exiles from the Republic, auto-castrated and word-weary, but as true Bards and Makers, books of verse as dynamos of flame, casting spells, spinning worlds, stopping war. Coleridge and the Romantics were on the right track. Mind is the unus mundus. Nature and the imagination interpenetrate, mutually inspire. Poe's dismay in his "Sonnet -- To Science" has finally been overthrown.

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?


Dragged Diana from her car! Driven out the Hamadryad and thrown the Naiad from her watery home! No more. They have never left and they are eager to return.

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There are only fragments of Thales left, the first known Western philosopher, but these are powerful. They are testimonies, almost incantations, of another world dominated by poetry. Philosophy had not yet become fixedly chained to the rational, a strange wind blew across the barrier.

Three of his postulates survive according to G.R. Levy in The Gate of Horn: there is one original soul-substance -- "water" but really the transforming fluid of life itself; the All is alive, nothing is without life including rocks, river, fire; the All is full of daemons, gods, spirits, elementals. Man into woman into animal into tree into god into man. This awaits us. This is already here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The General Impossibility of Honey Pancakes on a Sunday Morning

For although it is our aim to establish a purely spiritual dynamic relation on the upper plane only, yet, because of the inevitable polarity of the human psychic system, we shall arouse at the same time a dynamic sensual activity on the lower plane, the deeper sensual plane. We may be as pure as angels, and yet, being human, this will and must inevitably happen.

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The Order of Seraphim trumps the Order of Cherubim. Roots mirror branches. The smiling, sprawling mass intoxication of rubberized souls. Tubers of distributed sensuality without limit, without control. One reflection thirsting for air and light, one grasping for earth and darkness. Each a marine imperialism of sensation, a lintel of petrified fish.The Watcher glassblower is Himself just a part of the beat. The glass sphere without edge is also a chant, a hum.

    This busy, vast, inquiring soul
             Brooks no control,
         No limits will endure,
    Nor any rest: it will all see,
Not time alone, but even eternity.
         What is it? Endless sure.

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The vomited lyrics of light. All tilted at the same angle or angel if you look closely enough. Winged and bearded, tentacled and antennaed, broadcasting and receiving. This bird has flown. Pointing north, the cock has crowed for a third time. At least two orders battling for unattainable supremacy -- bulls and serpents, stones and stems -- shatter any false sense of equilibrium. The shell never creates the cell, yet, even so, upon this Rock....

My invention this time, my dear, is that literature is a pure matter of words. The moon making a false star of the weather vane on the steeple makes also a word. You do not know the fine hairs on a hickory leaf? Try one in the woods some time. You will grasp at once what I mean.

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And branches becoming roots becoming angels becoming spheres. The animal within projected up through the centre, fountaining out at the pole, reflecting again as a false star, and now recognized as the animal without. Without organs, without a head, without separation or hierarchy. The probing filaments of apprehension radiating outward in all directions at once. Quaquaversality and pandimensionality. 

Yet the tonal is only an island. For the nagual is also everything. And it is the same everything, but under such conditions that the body without organs has replaced the organism and experimentation has replaced all interpretation, for which it no longer has any use. Flows of intensity, their fluids, their fibers, their continuums and conjunctions of affects, the wind, fine segmentation, microperceptions, have replaced the world of the subject. Becomings, becomings-animal, becomings-molecular, have replaced history, individual or general.

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The caped sorcerer teaches metamorphosis and symbolism at the centre of the island, his form itself just barely stable. Perception becomes microscopic, pinpointed, fluid, shifting in identity. At once it takes flight to the topmost twigs, then settling on a fence post, then in the follicles of back bristles, then in running sap, then in the slow, solid pressure of the bedrock. All of these are words, quick or dead, lucid or obscure, polarized to conduct currents. Whirlpools hatching eddies that suck and excrete sand, wind, protoplasm, metaphors. 

Trees and stones seem more like me each day,
and the paintings I see seem more seen into;
with my senses, as with the birds, I climb
into the windy heaven out of the oak,
and in the ponds broken off from the blue sky
my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

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Assembly lines, aerial prop roots, ears and tusks, luminous breath blowing worlds. The stagehands keep changing it around. And on the island, structures form as a result. Something solid remains there as well, something so massive and impenetrable that it defies wave after wave of plunder and vivisection. Bones of the Earth placed upright, defining their own sacred space. Roots of petrification moving at glacial speeds, unperceived by the gnats of history. Both frames and gateways to some sort of dance in which no form is final.  

Taken as a whole, however, the sacred island kept its artistic integrity, in spite of the foreign ships. In pitting their intellect against the weight of giant stones, her builders obtained a grandeur which was not dependent on size. But it must never be forgotten that the architectural elements so impressively assembled in these temples, were the stone circles, trilithons and dolmens, of the primitive Megalithic rites. 

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Epiphytic and desiring, attracting those who are not like us. Creatures from the Pleistocene, circling and riotous, constructed of vinyl, rubber and glass. Extinct but in constant communication. Reflected by the moon, dynamic and aroused, reversing all flows, primal pathways of production and distribution. And the flipside punchline is, of course, that the spiritual is also aroused in direct proportion to the arousal of the senses.  Voices from the caves, red ochre on fingertips. The rites continue with every moment of perception. Still attempting to balance on the slippery backs of stacked fish. Lines always and inevitably in flight.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

B(oo)K!

Demeter, nurse and mother of my art, 
Let me be worthy of thy Mysteries.
-- Aeschylus from Frogs, Aristophanes 

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It may appear that I'm spacing on this blog. That's partly true. My schedule has taken a manic turn and I don't have the time I'd like to devote to my writing here. It would be wonderful to be at this full time, but there is likely even less support out there for writers and artists than there was back when Ezra Pound was slowly drifting towards alternative economics and ultimately fascism in the hope of solving the problem of funding the arts. Pound failed in his mission, and I'm not anywhere near about to go fascist.

I am up to something, though. Several people have been prodding me for quite a while to get my blog, or parts of it, out in book form. And that's what I'm working on. I'm not sure when the actual tome will be available, but it's presently in the pipes. The main reason for doing this is to have something tangible, something to hold. I've been doing this blog for almost four years and it still seems abstract to me. It'd be nice to see it as a single, colourful object that I could cart with me to the toilet or on the train.

When I recently squeezed all of this onto a single word file, without the images, I was amazed to find that it was over 800 pages. That's a ton of work, although it doesn't seem like it to me, for an effort that could just vanish into the ether with one peck at a key. And if an event like that did happen I don't know what would happen at this end.

But can a blog be a book? Pound, again, said somewhere to never present a work in one medium that could be better expressed in another. I hope that this venture will not be a case study of this. Yet this blog is already bookish, I guess, and maybe a book can be bloggish. And so far the transition seems to be going smoothly.

And it won't be 800 pages, maybe 500 tops, but I'll try to strip it down as much as I can. I'm selecting a bunch of "posts" from the past few years and squeezing and tweaking them into "chapters." The book will also likely have three new unblogged, wholly booked, pieces: an introduction, one chapter on time and a final chapter on sex. These three will round out the book, complete or tie together a whack of themes, and hopefully provide enough of a draw for people to bother reading a book full of stuff that they might have already seen, or could see, in a blog.  

Anyway, it would be nice to hear from you about this. I keep wavering back and forth on whether this is a good idea or not. I mean, I'm going to do it anyway, but some feedback would be wonderful and a welcome spur to action. The present post has the same purpose. Fire on the ass, as one wise woman put it.

You know, I don't normally have these kind of dear reader, state of the union, posts. I usually just begin in the thick of it without much explanation or commentary, but I felt like I should at least make an appearance. Thanks for reading and commenting and challenging. I don't know exactly who I'm writing to, but I'm awfully grateful that there is anyone at all.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A short note on Tactics

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Plunging deeply into McLuhan's weirdness, an insight arrived concerning the media subversion of the present and the suffocating built environment. This can be sloppily formulated like this:

Mythologize the Linear
Deconstruct the Spectacular

Before getting into the meaning of such a formula, it is imperative to have a clear idea of just where we're at. Despite about a century and a half of the increasing saturation of global societies by electric media -- from the telegraph onward and despite within this even several decades of full electronic incursion -- TV, satellites, computers, the Internet -- the world, at least structurally, is still mired in print-based values.

Under the apparent sway of the electronic media none of the pernicious things that McLuhan, tongue in cheek or not, predicted would pass into the dustbin of collective human folly, given the obsolescence of print, have actually retreated. In fact, most have become stronger, even more entrenched.

It is not only our educational system that cannot stand up to the new electronic speed of information movement. The stock exchanges of the world are just as helpless and will disappear under the impact of the computer in a few years. The large cities of the world are so obsolete and irrelevant that they will all suffer the fate of London Bridge which has not fallen down but is to be taken down and transferred to the private property of a Texan. Within ten years New York will have been dismantled and the ordinary citizen will have returned to life on the land. There will be no roads and no wheels but only anti-gravitational transport. One of the paradoxical features of substituting software information for hardware machinery is total decentralization.  -- War and Peace in the Global Village (1968)

The world, very evidently, still has nationalism, militarism, mass production, assembly line manufacturing, centralization, materialist science, class hierarchy, categorization, typologies, fundamentalist religions, individualism and the atomization of the individual, control grids, the automotive infrastructure, urban sprawl, ecological disregard, deadlines, bloated yet deadening bureaucracies, classrooms, frameworks, schedules, action plans, right angles, grammar and reams and reams of printed text itself.

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All of this certainly is in flux, and "there's no tellin' who that it's namin'," but it is clear that at this moment, at least, the global village does not at all resemble tribal society. We are still very much trapped in the Machine.

What happened? Was McLuhan wrong? Are we still enthralled in the age of print? Still under the domain of the Eye? Or is it simply taking a lot longer than expected for the full transformation to take place?

At the same time, though, the transforming effects of the electronic media have never been more obvious. Each part of the world is intimately intertwined with every other part in a way that is historically unprecedented. Information, from all quarters, is broadcasted and narrowcasted to the entire globe. The full exteriorization and collectivization of the central nervous system is right there for any one with eyes that see. We are kept entranced in a perpetual 24-hour cycle of infotainment and distraction.

As the result of the endless repetition and diffusion of information we have once again entered a mythic timespace. The archetypes and old gods are now easy to spot. We all follow the stars. Everything is connected, each screen reflects all other screens. The whole thing syncs. Are we there yet? Have we finally attained the post-mechanical, nondualistic, synesthetic utopia that artists and other sensitive souls have dreamed of for centuries? Evidently not.

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We are instead the abused slaves of a monstrous hybrid. A mythical electronic shell masks a rigid mechanical exoskeleton. A schizoid schism representing the very worst of the tyrannies of Ear and Eye now throttles the Earth in its deranged mania. Endless spectacle -- including all news, both "mainstream" and "alternative" -- keeps our minds fogged and our senses overwhelmed, allowing us all to pretend to forget the totalitarian mechanization of all aspects of life.

Our tactics of subversion, our desire for autonomous expression, should reflect this schizoid condition. The mythic masks the mechanical. The spectacle is the lipstick on the pig of the Machine. The counter-spell to this -- McLuhan's anti-environment -- cannot therefore be purely mythical or mechanical. It cannot solely be expressed by the electronic media or by print. Instead, in the ever-transforming media ecology, we need to strike with different media at different facets of the Spell.

How does this work? What follows is more of a set of suggestions and deflections than any sort of a prescription. Only suggestions are appropriate in an environment where no feature is constant. It might be best to start with what does not appear to be working.

Exposing the Conspiracy by naming the names, ripping off the masks, meticulously mapping out who is linked to what clandestine organizations and what nefarious individuals, seems only to have made the conspiracy stronger. Global conditions are worse than ever. Why?

Could it be that the conspiracy theorists themselves are writing the myth of the conspiracy? Does whatever that is blocking our collective perception draw its lifeblood from metastasizing into a single omnipotent, monolithic Agenda -- a self-conscious, Leviathanic archetype of total power? Does the spectacle want to become spectre?

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More and more this is becoming just too obvious -- from popstars using "Illuminati" handsigns, to the now almost cliched display of esoteric symbolism at international entertainment and sporting events, to the pastime of spotting "crisis actors" at the weekly atrocity reality show -- and it should become clear that we are writing the script. We are making the Spectacle even more spectacular. We are painting the masks, not ripping them off.

And our choice of media is even more important. To frame an event in video, capable of easy and endless repetition, is to create myth. And all videos inter-reflect, inter-penetrate. Youtube in its entirety is its own context. Now you are part of the tube. A cat purring by a warm fireplace is exactly as significant as a video "exposing" the attacks of Brussels as a false flag event, and the cat video is more entertaining.

Each screen is a portal into a hall of mirrors with an endless succession of fractured images -- pet tricks, massacres, advertisements, summits, panics, ecstasies, celebrities.

Is the Spectacle all-connected? Of course it is. This is the nature of myth. Does it challenge the structure of power or raise the consciousness of the powerless to point this out? Perhaps there is a momentary high, but little more than this. To make a video demonstrating this only makes the myth stronger.

Instead, deconstruct the spectacular. Extraction from the sweet suffocation of myth is possible with literary detachment. Print, paradoxically, has become a subversive anti-environment to the electronic media trance world. This is precisely why McLuhan wrote books. The printed word still has the power to remove oneself from the fray, to attain at least the illusion of objectivity.

With print and texts we can answer these questions: From where and when did these myths originate? Which cultures did they arise from? Which first presented them to the global academy? Which popular writers then took these themes from scholars (often without credit), dumbed them down, sexed them up and declared them to be timeless wisdom to the enlightenment-starved masses?

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Which writers, producers, directors, artist subsequently transformed all this into Hollywood magic and why? And from here -- how was society altered by this process? What agenda was advanced? What sectors of power benefited? How precisely did people become entranced?

Because there is very little timeless wisdom. Mythic themes, however often they recur in history, have their own history. This context of who and how and where and why and when can be traced. Analysis and detachment makes the Spectacle impotent.

And yet -- mythologize the linear. This is the place for the electronic media as a tactic of subversion. The linear, mechanized, alienating super-structure of the Megamachine must be itself be converted by perception into myth. It, in all of its banal drudgery and lifeblood-sucking horror, should be revealed as the monster of myth that it is.

Films like Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" and "Koyaanisqatsi" do exactly this. They don't present a spectacular fantasy that we can all dream of escaping into, but instead they reveal the mythic terror of modern society, the Auschwitz logic of the hyper-mundane, that we all are forced to exist within. The archetypes of this myth are more akin to the Minotaur or the Juggernaut than anything fair or fanciful. But even here heroes and heroines will emerge.

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We head to battle on our daily commute through the waste land. The windmills -- or oil refineries or nuclear power plant or institutional bureaucracies -- really are giants. Quixote's quest to save the world for romance is not a flight from reality if we become aware that it is a mechanical spell that has blinded us from beholding the poetry of life. To transform it by perception into myth we can begin, like Quixote, to see the beast and begin, like Chaplin, to gum up the gears. 

All this is not really science, but only scientology. It is language. It is the magic lullaby in which the shapes of things melt and reshape themselves forever. And so, when we would try to stop that wheel we call the mind, and look between the spokes, at once the All-Thing in its turn begins to spin about us, and all which it contains to slide and glide away:—as in that wondrous story of creation handed down from Finnish sorcerers of old, when the wizard Lemminkainen comes into the hall and sings; and while he sings the swords vanish out of the hands of the feasters, and the cups vanish from their lips, and the tables and the walls melt and fade, and lastly the hall itself and all within it melt and fade away, and only the magic song goes on. -- Allen Upward, The New Word (1908)

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Four Machines of Yoyodyne

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Perception of thyself, the knowledge of him who created thee, the sense of the worship thou owest unto him, are not these plain before thy face? And behold! what is there more than man needeth to know?  -- 21-87

At the heart of Thomas Pynchon's 1965 psychedelic masterpiece of paranoia and the postal underground, The Crying of Lot 49, is a machine.

This machine has been designed by John Nefastis, an independent and somewhat disgruntled engineer and employee of Yoyodyne Inc. Yoyodyne, "one of the giants of the aerospace industry," occasionally surfaces as a murky conglomerate in Pynchon's fictional universe, but even more bizarrely it came to transcend even this rich imaginative cosmos.

Inspired by Lot 49, Yoyodyne would later appear in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, and even within the endless domain of Star Trek itself. The Nefastis Machine, a key to a great mystery, has become the prototype for equally esoteric devices in Buckaroo Banzai, Star Trek and through these, in post-Yoyodyne manifestations, to Back To The Future and beyond.

Four of these machines, using The Crying of Lot 49 as a guide to decode and decipher their arcane schemata, will be the focus of this essay: the Nefastis Machine, the Oscillation Overthruster, the Flux Capacitor, and the Yoyodyne Pulse Fusion Warp Drive.

The Sweet Breath of the Universe


In The Crying of Lot 49, the principle of the Nefastis Machine is described as being derived from a thought experiment by Scottish scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, an early theorist of electricity. The thought experiment came to be called "Maxwell's Demon":

The Demon could sit in a box among air molecules that were moving at all different random speeds, and sort out the fast molecules from the slow ones. Fast molecules have more energy than slow ones. Concentrate enough of them in one place and you have a region of high temperature. You can then use the difference in temperature between this hot region of the box and any cooler region, to drive a heat engine. Since the Demon only sat and sorted, you wouldn't have put any real work into the system. So you would be violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics, getting something for nothing, causing perpetual motion.

Perpetual motion. Unlimited energy. The fulfillment of the age long dream of getting something from nothing. A kind of space age horn of plenty.

Oedipa Maas, the protagonist of Pynchon's novel, quickly points out the problem in this equation. The demon, allowing for the moment that it could even exist, would still be required to separate the fast molecules from the slow molecules. Sorting itself, argues Oedipa, is a type of work.

Sorting is a form of work, concedes Stanley Koteks, another employee of Yoyodyne and an advocate of the Nefastis Machine, but it is "mental" work and not "work in the thermodynamic sense." The demon requires information, but as its sorting, in the original thought experiment, is "frictionless" it does no real work.

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Oedipa remains unconvinced, but she is curious enough to venture up to Berkeley to meet the inventor himself, John Nefastis, and to request a demonstration of his miraculous machine. Nefastis attempts to explain how it operates. Essentially, it involves the interplay of two types of entropy:

One having to do with heat-engines, the other to do with communication. The equation for one, back in the '30's, had looked very like the equation for the other. It was a coincidence. The two fields were entirely unconnected, except at one point: Maxwell's Demon. As the Demon sat and sorted his molecules into hot and cold, the system was said to lose entropy. But somehow the loss was offset by the information the Demon gained about what molecules were where.

The demon, whose sorting mechanism is activated by a psychic "sensitive" staring at a photograph of Maxwell, therefore, is the product of a mathematical synchronicity. It may even be the embodiment of the sync itself.

"Entropy is a figure of speech, then," sighed Nefastis, "a metaphor. It connects the world of thermo-dynamics to the world of information flow. The Machine uses both. The Demon makes the metaphor not only verbally graceful, but also objectively true."

A very insightful essay by N. Katherine Hayles, "'A Metaphor of God Knew How Many Parts': The Engine that Drives The Crying of Lot 49," puts this into the context of the scientific debate, propelled by Maxwell's thought experiment, of the relation between entropy and information.

Claude Shannon, called the father of modern information theory, dissented from the more conventional view that entropy and information were opposites. Shannon, compelled by the coincidence of the identical equations for information and entropy, used the two terms interchangeably.

In Shannon's view, systems rich in entropy are not simply poor in order; rather, they are rich in information. The key is to think of disorder as maximum information. So influential has this view become that in contemporary irreversible thermodynamics, entropy is seen as an engine driving systems toward increasing complexity rather than dissolution. In cosmology, it has recently been used to construct a model of the universe that does not end in heat death, because entropy bestows upon it the capacity to renew itself.

Pynchon, regardless of how well-versed he was in this particular scientific debate when he was constructing Lot 49 in the early Sixties, nonetheless intuitively grokked the intimate connection of information and entropy, of order and disorder.

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The Nefastis Machine, a device which generates energy from the differential of fast hot particles and slow cool particles, is itself an elaborate metaphor of the endless energy obtainable by the simultaneous positioning of order and chaos.

Apparently the purpose of the machine is to literalize the connection between information and entropy by converting information directly into mechanical energy... Just as a very small amount of mass is converted to an enormous amount of energy in Einstein's famous equation E=mc 2, so in the Nefastis Machine a huge amount of information is necessary to create a tiny amount of energy.

The almost impossible conjunction of mass and energy metaphorically parallels the equally uncanny, and yet more controversial, coupling of information and entropy. And for Pynchon it becomes clear that the atomic blast of imagination made possible by the conjoining of these opposites is as creative/destructive as anything derived from the Manhattan Project.

A Flipping Miracle


As in the magical work of Giordano Bruno, "in tristitia hilaris, hilaritate tristis" -- "cheerful in the midst of sadness, sad in the midst of cheerfulness" -- which Joyce in typical and maximal poetic concision in the Wake isolates as "laughtears," Hell and Heaven celebrate their chymical wedding within the pages of Pynchon. 

The ancient secret was divulged -- coinciding with the invention of the printing press -- by Nicholas of Cusa: 

But the whole effort of our human intelligence ought to center on those lofty [matters], so that the intellect may raise itself to that Simplicity where contradictories coincide.

And it was this thread that Bruno and his esoteric and literary successors took up and continued to weave.

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Tristitia and hilaritas also appear explicitly in The Crying of Lot 49. Dr. Hilarius, Oedipa's therapist is, perhaps paradoxically, partially modeled on the life and career of Dr. Timothy Leary. Like Leary, Hilarius is an early advocate of the use of LSD-25 for therapeutic purposes. And as with the efforts of Leary, the results of Dr. Hilarius' psychedelic therapy are decidedly mixed. 

Oedipa's husband, Mucho Maas (much more), a depressed and disenchanted DJ at Station KCUF (FUCK inverted -- the life force rechanneled towards commercialized death), becomes a victim of Hilarius' questionable prescriptions. Maas has mutated and multiplied into "a walking assembly of man," "a whole roomful of people," his identity encompassing the multitude. The one has become interchangeable with the many. And he achieved this transformation, via Hilarius' acid as catalyst, through sound. 

Spectrum analysis, in my head. I can break down chords, and timbres, and words too into all the basic frequencies and harmonics, with all their different loudness's, and listen to them, each pure tone, but all at once.

And here, just as those on the cultural margins were starting to feel the faintest shockwaves of the coming psychedelic explosion, Pynchon is revealing something which McLuhan and others realized at about the same time. The Eye, at least in its print-based dominance of the culture, was being avenged by the Ear. The tribal drums were beating again. 

Mucho Maas took the plunge back into the dark mass in pure ecstasy. His wife Oedipa, in her quest to unravel the riddle of Man, suffered the loss of individuality through increasing paranoia and dread.

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The spoken word, either live or recorded, in universal transmission through electricity, is the portal back into the mire. The texts themselves have become unstable and illegible. The carved letters have worn off the Tables of the Law. Literary detachment is no longer possible. At every instant that a word is spoken an immediate link is created between that particular speaker and everyone else, regardless of time and place, who has ever uttered the same word. The link is in fact so strong that it forges an identity.

Everybody who says the same words is the same person if the spectra are the same only they happen differently in time, you dig? But the time is arbitrary. You pick your zero point anywhere you want, that way you can shuffle each person's time line sideways till they all coincide. Then you'd have this big, God, maybe a couple hundred million chorus saying 'rich, chocolaty goodness' together, and it would all be the same voice.

But this is madness, right? An obvious acid casualty, eh? Not so fast. Pynchon is marking the beginning of a new phase of culture, in the late 50s and early 60s, which later becomes categorized and watered down as "postmodern," and is the terrain of all his art. Immense energy is released when opposites are forced together. A sudden alchemical transformation of the senses has burst out in combined colour and sound:

When those kids sing about 'She loves you,' yeah well, you know, she does, she's any number of people, all over the world, back through time, different colors, sizes, ages, shapes, distances from death, but she loves. And the 'you' is everybody. And herself. Oedipa, the human voice, you know, it's a flipping miracle.

And the new era is distinctly psychedelic and electric:

You take it [LSD] because it's good. Because you hear and see things, even smell them, taste like you never could. Because the world is so abundant. No end to it, baby. You're an antenna, sending your pattern out across a million lives a night, and they're your lives too.

Madness and sanity, ecstasy and paranoia, speed and stasis, sound and vision, entropy and information, tristitia and hilaritas, all converge onto a single point. The artists as always -- Pound's "antennae of the race" -- are the first to notice and the first to make the transmission. The signal rapidly spreads, provoking an audible shudder through every citadel of power, increasing in volume to a dull roar. An earthquake of sound.

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Dr. Hilarius, a clinical father figure, a pillar and stalwart advocate of the reality principle becomes the victim of his own new eon medicine. LSD both shatters the facade of the beneficent patriarch and therapeut -- Hilarius is unveiled as an unrepentant former Nazi death camp mind control shrink -- and in this shattering invokes active and destructive paranoia -- he undertakes an armed assault on the police which he hallucinates as being Israeli secret service Nazi-hunters.

But -- and this is precisely the paradoxical point where absolute control implosively flips into ultimate anarchy -- Dr. Hilarius' final psychoanalytic summation is expressed at this crisis as the furthest thing possible from Nazi ideology:

"I came," she said, "hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy." 
"Cherish it!" cried Hilarius, fiercely. "What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be."

Cherish your own singular madness, and do so proudly and in spite of whatever authority advises against it. Order becomes chaos, reality becomes fantasy. Every centre cannot hold. Mucho Maas is swept into multitude and ecstasy, Hilarius into singularity and paranoia, two poles of the same pulse. 

Hilaritas becomes tristitia, and tristitia, in The Crying of Lot 49, is the shadowy Tristero, a subversive and underground postal network that has existed in challenge to the the imperial and official service since at least the late Renaissance. As Oedipa's quest for truth progresses through Lot 49, more and more of the secret history of Tristero is unearthed. 

The Silent Empire


The Tristero emerged in radical opposition to the Thurn and Taxis' continent-wide postal monopoly. The Thurn and Taxis themselves were quite historical. They were the postal service of the Holy Roman Empire, and they arose and fell in tandem with the Empire's fate, forming around 1300 and not dissolving until Bismark bought them out in 1867. As information equals power, their monopoly on communication brought them immense power. Any challenge to their authority, in effect, is a direct affront to the reality of Empire.

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The challenge came, as it often does, from within. In the late 1500s a rejected claimant to be rightful heir of the Thurn and Taxis estate and enterprise, Hernando Joaquin De Tristero y Calavera, decided to establish his own autonomous postal service. The Tristero was born. 

He [Tristero] began a sub rosa campaign of obstruction, terror and depredation along the Thurn and Taxis mail routes.

And as one of Oedipa's fellow researchers observed:

...Any period of instability for Thurn and Taxis must have its reflection in Trystero's shadow-state.

Subversion is the mirror of Empire. Entropy is the mirror of information. After several centuries in pursuit of insurrection and overthrow, perhaps culminating with the French Revolution, the Tristero was finally and forcibly suppressed in Europe after the failed revolutions of 1848. 

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But this was not to be the end of Tristero. It reformed itself in the U.S.A. -- the new heart of Empire, which undoubtedly "never ended" -- and rebranded itself as W.A.S.T.E., "We Await Silent Tristero's Empire." It's symbol continued to be the muted post horn, a sign of its violent opposition to the communications monopoly. 

It is through this symbol that Oedipa picks up their scent. For in some inexplicable and maddening way, W.A.S.T.E. is connected to the estate of her billionaire ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity. Inverarity, after his passing, has willed Oedipa to be the executrix of this estate, and it is in the ordering of these affairs that Oedipa begins to get increasingly drawn into the Tristero mystery. 

Inverarity is not just any billionaire. He is the major shareholder of Yoyodyne and seems to own most of the Californian town of St. Narciso, the fictional setting of the novel. The range and depth of Inverarity's influence and power often appears superhuman. He is all present and all knowing. He reminds one of Dick's Palmer Eldritch or Bowie's alien character in The Man Who Fell To Earth. He is Yoyodyne, in all of its power and intrigue, personified.

And as Oedipa becomes progressively ensnared into Tristero's dark web -- to the point where she seriously questions her own sanity -- she begins to suspect that Inverarity might be behind it all. Four distinct and mutually exclusive possibilities arise in her speculations, and these four may be fruitfully applied to all research into the Conspiracy and its equally shadowy counterpart. The passage is worth quoting at length:

Either you have stumbled indeed, without the aid of LSD or other indole alkaloids, onto a secret richness and concealed density of a dream; on to a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even on to a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too sweetie.  Or you are hallucinating it.  Or a plot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate, involving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books... so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull.

Either an authentic and effective, though clandestine and criminal, opposition to the Empire really exists, operating covertly within its fissures and margins; or we are simply imagining and projecting such an organization as a kind of wish fulfillment; or we are caught up in an elaborate plot by TPTB to make us think that such an opposition exists; or we are hallucinating the existence of such a plot -- likely implying that we are are truly insane. 

All such possibilities continue to exist, and none can be really ruled out. As the full spectrum dominance of the Empire becomes daily more totalizing any true rival would, of necessity, be its near match in absolute power, and perhaps in malevolent potential. More and more the two would resemble, if not in fact be, rival magical orders. 

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Each would foremost be obsessed with obtaining complete control over the channels of communication, thereby ensuring absolute sway over human perception. Lot 49's "Tristero" is the equivalent of the "Counterforce" of Gravity's Rainbow, and is echoed in the "deep web" of Bleeding Edge, Pynchon's most recent novel. 

It seems clear that Pynchon believes that such a counterforce -- at least in potential -- definitely does exist. And yet if we question its existence then we may, by the same argument, question the existence of the Empire itself. Perhaps the Counterforce is only projecting the image of an all-powerful Empire for its own nefarious purposes. 

Or could it just be that we are all insane? And yet, as is laid out in Lot 49, extreme paranoia is simply the reflection of supreme ecstasy. As one becomes unstable the other becomes secure. We are all being sorted and unsorted by Maxwell's demons and angels.

The Pentecostal Church of Sputnik


It is in San Fransisco that Oedipa at last takes the final plunge into a foundationless Walpurgisnacht of ultimate paranoia/ecstasy. She begins to perceive or imagine the Tristero everywhere and in everything. All is infused with meaning. The entire sphere of perception becomes branded by the muted post-horn. Is this madness or revelation? The numeric in the book's title provides an obvious clue.   

In an inspiring essay on Lot 49 by Pierre-Yves Petillon, "A Recognition of Her Errand into the Wilderness," this sign is uncovered.

The "whole story" of the novel takes place in an interim period of 49 days, a time which can be construed in two ways. First, 49 is 50 minus one, the fiftieth day of the Christian liturgical calendar (after Easter) being the Pentecost. The story takes place in the 49 days between the Easter rising of Christ and the awaited Pentecost when the Holy Ghost, speaking in a babble of voices, will typologically foreshadow the Day of Doom and ultimate revelation. But the 49 days also refers to another "interim," the 49 days during which, in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the newly deceased slowly work their way toward final death and rest. In this sense, the interim period points not only forward to the "awful" things to come, but also backward toward a world slowly dwindling into oblivion.

To all of this should be added the traditional precursor to the Day of Pentecost: Moses' receiving of the stone tables of the Law after his 50-day visionary ordeal on Mount Sanai. But other parallels may also be included. 

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According to the research of Dr. Richard Strassman (a kind of benign version of Dr. Hilarius or Dr. Leary), DMT -- "the spirit molecule" -- first presents itself in the embryo after a period of 49/50 days. Strassman, also in reference to the Day of Pentecost and Tibetan Buddhism, suggests that with the formation of DMT the body becomes ensouled. 

And a more esoteric correlation might also be with the 49 to 50 year orbit of Sirius A with Sirius B. At this conjunction a very different Pentecostal radiation may enter our solar system. 

In every case, however, it is the descent of the Spirit that is described. The Word is made Flesh and the Flesh is made Word. As with the Nefastis Machine, it all has to do with communication, and every communication is also a miscommunication. Pynchon's books all explore a distinct period of time -- the very bleeding edge of meaning and noise -- and the "post" of the dual and dueling postal system of Thurn and Taxis/Tristero is also the post-modern. 

Starting with the late Fifties/early Sixties of Lot 49 and extending -- despite the temporary post-9/11 veneer of literalism and recategorization -- to the present day. And despite how dry and academic this narrative may have become on the one hand, or cliched and consumerist on the other, it really defines a truly exciting mass alternation of perception. 

And this, in turn, can be very precisely timed. Petillon, following Pynchon, hones in on the exact moment as Marshall McLuhan: the launching of Sputnik. The stifling stasis of the Eisenhower late Modernist mirage essentially ended on this day.

This came to an abrupt end in 1957 when America was jolted out of its complacency by the shattering news that the Russian Sputnik was orbiting the earth, and started waking from its drowsy, almost Edwardian languor. The Crying of Lot 49 is a record of that slow process of awakening, as new voices "humming out there," at first muffled and faintly heard, began to register.

As per McLuhan, nature and artifact became one with this launch. Collective human consciousness became externalized and identical with the body of the world. Heaven was finally married, in the garb of high technology, to Earth. And yet not unambiguously so. Was this the Day of Pentecost or the Fall of Babel? Was the satellite launched by the Empire or the Counterforce? Was it a triumph of information or entropy, ecstasy or paranoia? None can say. 

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We are still trapped in this moment. It has only become more complex, more hardwired, more ambiguous. Nothing has been resolved. The energy generated by the conjunction of these opposites -- reducible from one perspective to Ear and Eye -- fuels all activity in the world today. And this same energy drives The Crying of Lot 49 and all of Pynchon's subsequent novels. Everything cries out for resolution, but there is no guarantee that this unstable instant won't loop on forever. There may be no final sorting.  

The Earth, the collective body of humanity, is one vast Nefastis Machine, its only purpose to transcend all limitations and to truly awaken the World Soul. In like manner, Pynchon's novel can be described in precisely the same terms as Umberto Eco once applied to Finnegans Wake:

...a complex machine destined to produce infinite meanings, operating beyond the years of it's own Creator.

Both texts are perpetual meaning machines. Artesian wells of signification. What Joyce invokes with thousands of inexplicably cross-referencing, multi-linguistic puns, Pynchon summons with an over-saturation of hyperlinked symbolism and imagery. 

Both authors, both engineers, have been rendered obsolete by their creations. For a perpetual motion machine is also an Artificial Intelligence. Once it overcomes, Frankenstein-style, its own creator it becomes enabled to create creators who are then equipped to create beyond themselves. A kind of singularity is the result, a singularity that works of art like the Wake and Lot 49 only mirror and prefigure in the culture at large.

And yet all of these machines -- really just one machine -- are driven by the same engine. As with the Nefastis Machine they are powered by the conjunction and differential of opposites. And ultimately -- as machines -- they are the extensions, since Sputnik stretching spherically on and above the surface of the planet, of human perception. 

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The senses are only fully cleansed when they are merged in synesthetic ecstasy. All of the old categorical limitations to human experience -- time, space, causality -- are breached. The infinite has once more come dimly into view. And of course this understanding fully pervades the arts, even and almost especially in popular culture.

Ending the Exile in Matter


The Nefastis Machine, and its Yoyodyne origins, has taken deep root in the popular imagination. Its rhizomes of influence, though largely subterranean, extend nearly everywhere. After two decades of cult proliferation Pynchon's mycelium finally burst into flower with the 1984 movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! This connection of Pynchon with the cult classic is by no means a secret. 

The film opens with Buckaroo Banzai's test drive of a jet car which has been specially rigged with the "Oscillation Overthruster." The Overthruster is a top-secret machine, first tested unsuccessfully in 1938, that is designed to allow vehicles to pass through solid matter. 

Let me ask you to imagine the Oscillation Overthruster as a sophisticated rifle accelerator firing a steady stream of protons at a target -- in this case a mountain -- and the Jet Car as a giant super-conducting magnet.

Banzai's test drive is a spectacular success. He drives at high speed directly through the rock body of a mountain, and the only anomaly is that a fairly harmless yet disturbing creature is found attached to Banzai's pick-up truck. The creature is a kind of hitch-hiker/parasite from the 8th dimension, and the appearance of this being immediately recalls the original 1938 experiment.

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During this experiment, the Overthruster only succeeded in projecting its operator, the physicist Emilio Lizardo, partially through a rock barrier. Lizardo becomes temporarily trapped in matter and before he is released his mind becomes possessed by John Whorfin, the commander of a reptilian alien race, the Red Lectroids. Whorfin was himself exiled with his followers into the 8th dimension by a rival and more benevolent race of reptilians from the same planetary system, the Black Lectroids.

After a bloody reign of terror, the hated leader of our military caste, the self-proclaimed "Lord" Whorfin, a bloodthirsty butcher as evil as your Hitler was overthrown by freedom-loving forces, tried, and condemned, along with several hundred of his followers, to spend eternity in the formless void of the Eighth Dimension. Death was deemed too good for their ilk.

Whorfin through his host body, Lizardo, arranges a Red Lectroid invasion of the Earth. This event was factually reported through Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast, The War of the Worlds, which was later dismissed -- transformed into a cover-up -- as a total spoof.

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And here the blatant tie-in with Lot 49 begins. Whorfin's Red Lectroid followers disguise themselves as humans and establish a company, Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems. As in Lot 49, Yoyodyne is a major U.S. defense contractor, whose covert objective is the manufacture of an effective Oscillation Overthruster in order to release the remaining Red Lectroids encased in the 8th dimension. 

For decades, despite growing influence over the U.S. government, they failed in this aim. Now, however, news of Banzai's success has provoked Whorfin to launch, through Yoyodyne, an assault on Banzai to steal the Overthruster and liberate their comrades. 

The rest of the movie boils down to a fairly conventional struggle between Banzai and his "Blue Blaze Irregulars" (the Tristero/Counterforce), assisted by the Black Lectroids, versus the Red Lectroids and Yoyodyne (Thurn and Taxis/Yoyodyne again).    

The occult conspiratorial subtext of Buckaroo Banzai is obvious. An evil reptilian race with effective control over the U.S. Military Industrial Complex, the very heart of Empire, is engaged in a long term magical/high technological operation to liberate their fallen captains from the prison of matter.

Nothing could be clearer. The Red Lectroids are a perfect match with the Qliphoth of the Kabbalah. The Oscillation Overthruster is a high-tech version of the Philosopher's Stone, the object of both being final transcendence from the corruptibility and density of the material realm.

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Use of the Overthuster, like the Stone, can bring about both liberation or further enslavement. Like the Nefastis machine it is driven by contradiction, by the conjoining of opposites. As the Nefastis Machine represents the overcoming of energy, the Oscillation Overthuster overthrows the bounds of matter. Maxwell's demons have been unchained from the 8th dimension.

Trumping and Humping Space and Time


The impact of Buckaroo Banzai, saturated with the esoteric insights of Lot 49, was like a bomb blast. And in the year after its release it detonated an even bigger explosion. The deep influence of Buckaroo Banzai on Back to the Future is both explicit and fully admitted.

The plot of Back to the Future, which is so well known that it is unnecessary to explore in great detail, centres around the use of a DeLorean equipped with a plutonium-powered "Flux Capacitor," enabling travel through time.

November 5, 1955! That was the day I invented time-travel. I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation! A vision! A picture in my head! A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor!

Time travel itself is not a new idea in popular culture. H.G. Wells' 1895 book, The Time Machine, is an obvious precursor, but unlike earlier works of fiction like this which treated a different time as essentially a different place, Back to the Future was one of the first mega-popular presentations of time and causality as things that could be manipulated, treated as objects that could be molded and/or overcome through conscious will.

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And as the Flux Capacitor was quite blatantly identical to the Oscillation Overthruster (even to the extent that it is positioned in exactly the same location in the DeLorean as the Overthruster is in the Jet Car) the occult subtext also becomes clear.

The transcendence of time is equated with the transcendence of matter. The realm of the exiled Saturn is at the dark heart of the kingdom of matter. In both films, however, the transition to transcendence is not yet complete. Complications arise, parts are missing, the will to liberate is opposed by the powers of limitation.

While Buckaroo Banzai may parallel Marty McFly, as Dr. Lizardo prefigures the "Mad" Doc Brown, there is no precise correlation to Yoyodyne and the Red Lectroids in Back to the Future. The Libyan terrorists function as villains, and Biff Tannen (especially in the alternate timeline of Back to the Future 2 in which he resembles a mega-rich Donald Trump-like incarnation of Pierce Inverarity) does steal the Flux Capacitor to enrich himself, but there is no conscious and dark imperial agenda at play.

Instead, it is the complications of causality itself that prevents the full command of time. As with the Nefastis machine and the Oscillation Overthruster, and as with the post-Sputnik liminality and synesthesia of postmodernity in general, accidents occur, unintended consequences inevitably arise, forces are disturbed that before were at rest. "Yoyodyne" is abstracted as the cranky wiles of Time proper, pissed off at being shaken from its clockwork slumber.

Yoyodyne, however, does soon after explicitly appear as an essential component within the parallel pop cultural dimension of Star Trek in a direct tip of the hat to Buckaroo Banzai. Here, at least since the 23rd Century, Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems has been constructing starships for the United Federation of Planets.

In particular, it is the Yoyodyne Pulse Fusion Drive which enables Federation starships to zip across galaxies at Warp Factor 4. This engine essentially eliminates the bounds of Space as the Flux Capacitor does with Time, and the Nefastis Machine does with the so-called laws of Energy.

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It is interesting that in the Star Trek universe, Yoyodyne is portrayed as an indispensable industry of the Federation of Planets. Presumably, in the timeline of Star Trek, Banzai and his Blue Blaze Irregulars failed to stop Yoyodyne and the Red Lectroids. In contrast Yoyodyne, just as it is in The Crying of Lot 49, is at the very heart of the Military Industrial Complex, now expanded out to galactic proportions.

And at the heart of the Empire, now rebranded as a "Federation," is the same reptilian, Qlippothic intelligence fully addicted to dominating the passage between Spirit and Matter. The manipulative vision of Pierce Inverarity and Biff Tannen now UBIKquitous. Gene Roddenberry's channeled Nine, now lords of Space, Time, Matter and Energy for all eternity.

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Anarchists also Believe in Another World


Or so goes the dark interpretation of the collective imagination, paranoia triumphant. Pynchon, however, master of paranoia, is not nearly this bleak. Every system, no matter how totalitarian, has its exceptions, has its pockets and enclaves of resistance, that are entirely free of control. And by their very existence and example these pockets continue to threaten to provoke the complete overturning of consensus reality.

The key to this in The Crying of Lot 49 is what one of its characters, Jesús Arrabel, refers to as an "anarchist miracle."

You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world's intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully but when we do touch there's cataclysm. Like the church we hate, anarchists also believe in another world. Where revolutions break out spontaneous and leaderless and the soul's talent for consensus allows the masses to work together without effort, automatic as the body itself. And yet, señá, if any of it should ever really happen that perfectly, I would also have to cry miracle. An anarchist miracle.

A miracle as "automatic as the body itself," the spontaneous coming together of the multitude as singularity, without design, without leaders, without loss of personal identity and without, or at least beyond, technology itself.

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Oedipa, returning back to her hotel after her dark Pentecostal sojourn through the post horn haunted streets of San Fransisco, is swept right up in such a miracle. She is dragged along by delegates of a deaf-mute convention into the ballroom and whisked into the waltzing mass. Even here, in the complete absence of any audible music as a centralizing principle, a kind of spontaneous order miraculously emerges.

Each couple on the floor danced whatever was in the fellow's head: tango, two-step, bossa nova, slop. But how long, Oedipa thought, could it go on before collisions became a serious hindrance? There would have to be collisions. The only alternative was some unthinkable order of music, many rhythms, all keys at once, a choreography in which each couple meshed easy, predestined. Something they all heard with an extra sense atrophied in herself. She followed her partner's lead, limp in the young mute's clasp, waiting for the collisions to begin. But none came. She was danced for half an hour before, by mysterious consensus, everybody took a break, without having felt any touch but the touch of her partner. Jesús Arrabal would have called it an anarchist miracle.

A kind of inexplicable inner music has become manifest, generated, apparently, by the waltzing, whirling dancers themselves. Each private rhythm, no matter how distinct, somehow naturally synced, without any loss of individuality, with that of the collective whole. Order has emerged from chaos, information from entropy.

And in Thomas Pynchon's very first novel V. (1963), we find that the origin of Yoyodyne, the paragon of Empire, is also founded on the harnessing of this same dynamic, spontaneous and spiraling energy. Yoyodyne, once again described as a powerful U.S. Military contractor, had its humble background in the late Forties as the Chiclitz Toy Company.

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Its owner, Bloody Chiclitz, capitalizing on the craze for toy gyroscopes, discovered that these same devices were always in demand by the military in its manufacture of ships, airplanes and missiles. He recognized an immense business opportunity that was not to be passed up.

Chiclitz started making gyros for the government. Before he knew it he was also in telemeter instrumentation, test-set components, small communications equipment. He kept expanding, buying, merging. Now less than ten years later he had built up an interlocking kingdom responsible for systems management, airframes, propulsion, command systems, ground support equipment... Chiclitz christened the company Yoyodyne.

The name "Yoyodyne" stems directly from this new enterprise. Dyne is a unit of force, and yo-yo is the spinning, spiraling dynamo at the heart of the engines of Empire. The anarchist miracle of spontaneous play harnessed and channeled into captivity and death. The power source is identical, and here a great mystery is revealed. What has become external can once again become internal. What has become trapped can once again fly free.

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Yoyodyne, in all of these fictional representations, is associated with propulsion, with movement, with an energy that arises from the coincidence of opposites. The movement of this energy is necessarily spiral, it uneasily combines and transcends both the open-ended and manic "progress" of linearity and the suffocating stasis and sameness of circularity. It is neither loop nor line of flight, neither Ear nor Eye.

And there is no mistake that Pynchon uses this as the central symbol of his work. It is the timeless image for all adepts. From the Presocratics, to Plato in his Timaeus, to the Neoplatonists, the motion of both the soul and the World Soul (micro/macro reflections of one another) has been described as spiral in its dynamic form.

Evelyn Underhill, author and probable initiate of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, traced this same idea through Christian mysticism. She begins her 1922 book, The Spiral Way, with the Latin epigraph:

Gyrans gyrando vadit spiritus.

"Spiraling the spirit goes."Yoyodyne, the propulsion engine of Empire, has monopolized and externalized through high technology the very dynamics of the soul.

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Accomplishments and Capabilities


Ioan Couliano, the brilliant intellectual successor of the Romanian historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, explains in his indispensable Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (1987), that technology and the magic of the soul are virtually indistinguishable.

Historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared with the advent of "quantitative science." The latter has simply sub­stituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the  magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate with faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one's disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boost.

Technology may be a democratic magic in the sense that everyone, given the economic means, can access it without elite or arcane initiatic training, but it remains extremely undemocratic in its, at least at present, dependence on highly centralized frameworks of economic and political control -- AKA the Empire.

Technology, the extensions of the body, also extends and externalizes, and thus overshadows and suppresses, the former functions or abilities of the soul. Whereas in previous ages an adept was able to singularly transform the entire field of perception, these powers are now made universal, demystified and dulled, yoked to a machine of doom. What in the Yoga Sutras are described as the siddhis, the "accomplishments," have now become commonplace.

He [the Siddha] is said to possess eight powers: the atomic, the power of assimilating himself with the nature of the atom, which will, perhaps, involve the power to disintegrate material forms; the power of levitation; the power of limitless extension; the power of boundless reach, so that, as the commentator says, "he can touch the moon with the tip of his finger"; the power to accomplish his will; the power of gravitation, the correlative of levitation; the power of command; the power of creative will. These are the endowments of the spiritual man. 

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But, as Couliano goes on to explain, no technology has replaced magic "on its own terrain." This involves the active manipulation of erotic energy to fashion direct intersubjective relationships.

To the extent they have an operational aspect, sociology, psychology and applied psychosociology represent, in our time, indirect continuations of magic revived.

To this of course we can add, and Couliano later does, advertising, government propaganda, mass media, public education, chemical programming, and more overt forms of mind control. All of these are directed towards causing individuals, primarily through fear and distraction, to forget, both within themselves and in their relations with others, that their own bodies and souls are at the very centre of the alchemical process, and that no external technology can be superior than the potential that lies in slumber within.

Another Golden Dawn initiate, Paul Foster Case, puts this powerfully in Hermetic Alchemy: Science and Practice (1931):

Perfect mastery of the alchemical process puts the successful artist in a position which enables him, at will, to alter the electronic structure of any portion of the physical universe. The process, nevertheless, has for its primary object the mental and physical transmutation of the alchemist himself. And the one laboratory in which the entire operation is performed is the human body.

The alchemist's athanor is his or her own body/soul complex. A true democratization of magic would involve the transformation of technology in which it becomes finally liberated from the dark magic of the Machine, in which it becomes decentralized, internalized, "ephemeralized" once again.

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No longer, on the other hand, would these tools and knowledge be the monopoly of an occult elite. Instead, like present technology, they would become the common inheritance of everyone. An end has come to the false wisdom of tradition and the false progress of modernity, a spiraling out from beyond the tyrannies of the Circle and the Line.

But, as is explored here, this process is by no means complete. The Omega Point has not yet been reached. Neither the Empire nor the Counterforce, nor any shades and permutations of either, nor an imaginary or hallucinatory projection of either or both, have fully grasped the swirling Stone.

For this, a full overcoming of the limitations and categories of human perception is required. As Kant -- writing at the apex of the print domination of consciousness in the 1700s -- deeply recognized, human understanding is seemingly forever fenced in by the hardwired categories of time, space, causality, form and so on. Only poetic visionaries like Blake could see beyond this. By no means, in this poetic view, is our psyche on lockdown.

It is our senses, for Blake "the chief inlets of Soul in this age," which are obstructed, with one sense, "single vision," isolated and elevated above the rest. Blake viewed this process of cleansing perception as an inner and mythological one. As it turns out, however, the process has become technological.

And this goes onto explain the four machines of Yoyodyne. These four, and they are by no means only depicted in these films, or in these forms, are portrayals within art -- where technology is always first conceived -- of the final overcoming of energy, matter, time and space.

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These four may be easily mapped onto the fourfold psychic mandalas of Blake, Joyce, Jung and arguably McLuhan. The Yoyodyne Propulsion Warp Drive, overcoming space, opens the Eye. The Flux Capacitor, conquering time, unblocks the Ear. And the Nefastis Machine and the Oscillation Overthruster can be corresponded to Taste and Smell, the respective obsolescence of energy and matter.

Revving Up the Cardiac Synthesizer


And at the centre of it all? "At the centre of it all: your eyes." This, quite evidently, does not refer the organs of sight alone. The physical eyes by themselves, as Blake taught, only allow "single vision," a linearized, rationalized vista entirely bereft of the imagination. "Double vision," in contrast, takes place in the heart -- what Couliano in his study of Renaissance magic termed the "cardiac synthesizer."

It is here, in the "common sense," where full synesthetic "images" are assembled and then projected out through the entire body/soul complex, where the imagination resides. Its combined and unobstructed sensory experience is called "touch" by the poets, and "tactility" by Marshall McLuhan. It is the living energy of Eros.

And yet -- according to McLuhan due to the domination of print and literacy, and according to Couliano due to soul-extinguishing repression of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation culminating in the general slaughter of the Thirty Years War (the two are tightly bound) -- for centuries the West has been disconnected from this centre. The linear, the literal, the rational, the categorical, the superficially visual -- single vision -- have been in full ascendance.

Then, beginning as always with artists and other sensitives, the Romantics, the Symbolists, the Modernists aimed to challenge and subvert the prevailing tyranny of the senses. The expansion in perception enabled by their art eventually had its affect on science and technology, and most notably media technology -- perception made collective and extended across the Earth. Sputnik enacted the final extension, Earth was wed once again to Sky.

Finnegans Wake prefigures, in a real sense embodies, this transformation. The Crying of Lot 49 mirrored it as it happened. Both books, imaginative machines, open texts, are artistic prototypes of what is occurring in global culture as a whole. The senses are becoming cleansed, enhanced, merged in a new electric, erotic, psychedelic stew. The illusory bonds of perception are being broken daily.

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Powers and counter-powers, conspiracies and counter-conspiracies, of all magnitudes and alignments are operating both openly and covertly to promote, accelerate, suppress, distort, channel and/or extinguish this mad pageant towards eventual synesthesia. Social, political, economic and psychic chaos is the direct result of these attempts. And while the process is by no means predictable its outcome is assured.

The four machines of Yoyodyne -- or should this be the four machines of the Counterforce? -- are fictional representations of the opened senses, of the shattered barriers of perception. Fiction necessarily precedes technological manifestation, but in this case fiction trumps reality. Language is the most subtle, the most ephemeralized and penetrating technology and it is within words and images that the body/soul conducts its metamorphosis.

So the machines of Yoyodyne are not merely fictional. They are phantasmic and interlocking components of an even greater inner technology. As these machines transcend energy, matter, time and space, they synergize and combine to unlock the full forces of perception. And this centre has also been depicted in popular art. The monolith, in 2001: The Space Odyssey, perhaps comes closest to representing this device in both its primacy and grandeur -- a black slab of stone.

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And as Joe Alexander's excellent video, "Back to the Future Predicts 9/11," reveals, at the core of Back to the Future, through 9/11 and 2001, is the message to "touch screen," to touch the film, to touch the monolith even in its smartphone miniaturization and personalization, and to shake off the scales of perception itself.

"Touch," in this sense, McLuhan's tactility, is the synesthetic common sense that has been the goal of all artists trapped in the centuries of print, rule by the Eye. All opposites combine here -- information and entropy, ecstasy and paranoia, even Yoyodyne and Tristero. Shaun the Post and Shem the Pen are reconciled here. Yet all is not revealed instantly.

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The heart is veiled, the monolith is buried, kept hidden by Maya, by matrix. And it is precisely this matrix which is first explicitly presented in The Crying of Lot 49:

For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth.

The crying is also a scrying, the lot is also a plot. But why not, as Oedipa discovers, transcendent meaning and the Earth? The binary ones and zeroes of the matrix are only the alchemically fused images that drive the central machine, the cardiac synthesizer. And within this athanor the anarchist miracle occurs, qlippothic and pentecostal. The four machines, the four senses, enfold in a vortex upon the fifth. And the matrix itself, however we fashion it, becomes our own creation:

The transmutation instrument is the body of the alchemist himself, subtly changed by the Great Work, so that by mental imagery alone he can make matrices into which the universal substance will flow and take those forms. -- Hermetic Alchemy: Science and Practice

As proclaimed by the Empire? Or the Counterforce? Or do these distinctions even matter?