David Bowie’s Blackstar Video-song

Deep, dark happenings are afoot in the new Bowie song, Blackstar. Long term, we’re all doomed. So worry is a contextual prooccupation. Some dead links may lurk here and there. This used to be at gettheebehind.me. I had to pull it off the Wayback Machine where you may find some of the missing links.

baudrelaire

 

By Norman Ball  (November 2015)

Recent developments in cognitive science find common cause with David Bowie’s new short-movie Blackstar where the latter’s solipsism dating back to We Are the Dead (‘I wondered if you saw the things my way’) and Sound and Vision, among others, receives a fresh, dark airing. (Note: As the focus of this ‘ranging essay’ expanded beyond the new Bowie video-song, I went back and hot-linked some of the more obscure Bowie lyric references to assist a non-Bowie audience. It’s also fairly burdened with links for those who wish to tumble down their own pet rabbit holes.)

The eyes, it turns out, are the center of it all. The challenge comes in sorting through the valances, good and ill, that lie behind all that our vision insists we see. This skepticism extends to the Bowie presentation itself. What forces does he herald? How does he come to know what he so clearly knows?

My fondness for the terms herald and heraldic device (the latter from poet Robert Duncan’s Letters XVII), which appear herein frequently, originates with Bowie himself. In fact I recall reading the Cameron Crowe interview as a kid (‘David Bowie: Ground Control to Davy Jones’, Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976) and registering a strangely durable mental note of one passage in particular long before it became a staple of Internet Bible thumpers:

“Rock has always been the devil’s music, you can’t convince me that it isn’t. I honestly believe everything I’ve said—I believe rock and roll is dangerous…I feel that we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves” (Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976)

I prefaced my essay (circa 2010) on the Jungian-Bowie blog Red Book Red Sail with the second bit, noting at the time how,“‘Herald’ is a startling, non-accidental word. Bowie typically exhibits an eccentric though careful vocabulary…Heraldry always points beyond itself, or is it behind itself?”

It’s precisely the ‘what’s behind what’s in front?’ mystery that spurs my perennial, core interest. Inquiring eyes want to peer around dark corners, especially as so many of rock’s own inner circle are quick to pose Satan’s lair as their inspirational backstop. Occam’s razor is blunter still: what the hell’s going on if not Hell itself? Some serious ‘splaining is in order.

The heraldic question is finding indirect resonance, not to mention a strange bedfellow, in cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman who may be on the cusp of a truly Copernican breakthrough with his Interface Theory of Perception. (See ‘Objects of Consciousness’, Frontiers of Psychology, by Donald D. Hoffman & Chetan Prakash, June 17, 2014; stalwart scientist Hoffman, who frequently rails against metaphysical ‘hand-waving’ would in all likelihood be distressed over the deployment of his theory in this manner. That’s understandable.)

hoffman.png

Noting how the process of vision utilizes billions of neurons and trillions of synapses and commands an astonishing one-third of the brain’s cortex, Hoffman suggests that objects are highly processed, representational icons of a far deeper reality which has been hidden (occulted) from us by evolutionary forces that propel our sensory processing toward more stylized renditions. Translation? Objects are inside our heads.

The truth of the matter is, truth be damned. Consistent with evolutionary processes, vision works very hard at producing fitting icons to ensure our survival. Thus the ‘true’ role of vision is to deceive (overlook?) and filter prodigiously so we might live, procreate and—with the advent of culture and leisure—believe. But in the sense of fashioning our belief systems, how disturbing it is to learn that we can scarcely believe our own eyes and that self-deception is an evolutionary ‘advance’.  (In the Monte Carlo simulations Hoffman performs, evolution kills truth in the laboratory every time.)

Seers die. Breeders lie.

It may also be that artists, wizards and philosophers subvert this reductionism with alternate visions that—in reality—stress enhanced ‘truthiness’ (or conceivably, competing brands of deception) over creaturely survival. What’s most exciting though is how our venerable, metaphysical narratives are gaining fresh scientific credence via mathematical and probabilistic overlays. Of course there are antecedents to Hoffman’s anti-materialist approach, even in science; Max Planck being an exceptionally significant one. 

Analogizing the computer desktop, Hoffman notes that when we drag the blue folder to the trashcan, there is no trashcan nor blue folder lurking behind the screen. The Windows desktop is a highly representational, though quite useful, extended metaphor. The ‘reality behind’ the interface is vastly more complex, consisting of unseen microprocessors and electrical charges that defy most users’ understanding. Indeed the subterranean and surface worlds bear little resemblance to one another. However the iconic display provides a fitting enough interface such that a successful experience on the device is possible. As Hoffman says, though we take the interface reality seriously (deleting the folder would cost us a full week’s work) we do not take it literally. This workspace icon description combines Bowie/Duncan’s heraldic devices and Freud’s and Ernest Beckers’ Vital Lie. (“It is fateful and ironic how the lie we need in order to live dooms us to a life that is never really ours.”—Denial of Death, Ernest Becker). Caveat emptor in all cases. A June 11, 2015 Hoffman TED talk is embedded below: 

https://web.archive.org/web/20170419082608if_/http://www.youtube.com/embed/oYp5XuGYqqY?fs=1&wmode=opaque&rel=0

The cube’s a figment of the eye. Connect the dots. Accept the lie.

 

To expand on a Hoffman’s ‘blue folder’ example…

Bill drops dead right in front of us. Nice guy, that Bill. Such a pity. We dispose of his body in short order, effectively scrubbing his icon from the workspace. While he was alive, it behooved us to sustain a qualified belief that he and his body were one and the same whenever we needed to interface with him. Indeed seeing his head occasionally bob up above the garden hedge, we’d often call out ‘Hey Bill!’ On every occasion he would respond back. Perfectly workable assumption. Until it’s not.

With the retirement of his ‘icon’, we can find ourselves plagued anew with thoughts about the depth and extent of his existence. Many of us realize his body was little more than a heraldic interface for a consciousness (or soul) that lurked behind or within his body. (Assuming you and he are like me, and not simply one of David Chalmer’s zombies; but that’s a whole ‘nother level of solipsistic dread!)

Speaking as a Christian, I took Bill’s body seriously but not literally. He was an embodied soul. When his body reached its expiration date, his soul—which precedes, inhabits and survives the former—departed. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; so goes the body-icon. (The same cannot be said for atheists, materialists and physicalists who believe Bill has departed in all but our memory of him; for them, Bill is his body.) We cremate Bill’s blue folder and offer some words of remembrance. Suddenly Hoffman’s work, rooted in science, puts skeptics of transcendent existence on the defensive. They are forced to re-address the central question: where did the operative reality behind Bill go? 

 

I think therefore I am the Great I Am
Bring me the Viscous Things and their eyes on a platter. I’m ravenous for competing visions.

Adding to our sense of unease, all things Outside are an inside job. The falling tree produces neither sound nor vision in an empty forest because there’s no such thing as an empty forest, that is, a forest unsummoned by consciousness. Conventional notions of perception favor the existential weight of objects. However the human eye (really the eye-mind tandem) is so much more than a passive photographic device. Instead, it creates our reality interface from virtual whole-cloth, that is, from a remarkably narrow band of visible electromagnetic and light waves. (One can only wonder from what horror of rooms and malign Principalities it spares us.) Our aural perception is similarly truncated. Reality is an imaginative construct. Or as cognitive scientist Gregory Hickok puts it: “Our perception is nothing more than a useful fiction.”

Hoffman, a radical monist, debunks the object permanence myth—internalized by most human babies by nine months—that objective reality has an existence independent of our perception. On the contrary, says Hoffman, objects are introduced into existence only when various photons are cast, upside-down, on the backs of our retinas. This assertion is very close to 18th century Christian philosopher Bishop Berkeley’s esse est percipi (aut percipere) [to be is to be perceived (or to perceive)]. In essence, the room is there only to the extent there are photons striking the eye and allowing its creation in the brain. No less a seer than Einstein struggled with this bedeviling optical delusion wrapped in quantum paradox, oddly enough reporting his misgivings to colleague Abraham Pais by way of the moon: 

“We often discussed his notions on objective reality. I recall that on one walk Einstein suddenly stopped, turned to me and asked whether I really believed that the moon exists only when I look at it” (Pais, 1979). Einstein was troubled by interpretations of quantum theory that entail that the moon does not exist when unperceived.” –from Pais A. (1979), Einstein and the Quantum Theory

As for that fabled lump of meat between our ears, the brain is as much an object-myth as are the trees and vases that purportedly stand before us. Hoffman’s theory makes short work of the mind-brain dichotomy. The brain doesn’t exist. Nor do our eyes, though both are somehow implicated in ways as yet unimagined to that ultimate inward-out mystery, consciousness. The implications are clear should Hoffman’s theory prevail. Physicalism should be seeking a sublet with the Flat Earth Society. ‘Hard-eyed’ realists have it all wrong. Flesh, blood and front-men are the true figments. How could I not help but look at you and wonder if you saw things my way? 

Nor can much solace be found gazing into the reality-factories of others. Shepherds of the spirit realm, eyes are the visibly haunted portals of the commandeered souls we pass every day on the street. (I’m reminded of the Jesuit exorcist, novelist and ‘trained eye’ Fr. Malachy Martin who once commented on the number of haunted, demon-occluded eyes he encountered just strolling the streets of New York City.) If reality is an iconography produced mostly by imaginative energies and if some manage better than others to impose their imaginative visions on the collective conscious, then it pays to understand the affiliations of the inspirational source, back, front and center. 

In his book Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought, Martin Jay suggests that the dilating pupil, “can unintentionally betray an inner state, subtly conveying interest or aversion to the beholder”. Kevin J. Hunt (from the essay cited in the picture above) adds a Bowie spin to this ambivalence:

“Part of the uncanniness transmitted by Bowie’s eyes is due to the simultaneously mixed messages they appear to impart: dilation of one pupil potentially signifies attraction, whilst contraction of the other more likely shows recoil of interest.” 

Listen to me, don’t listen to me? Ocular ambiguity could be the ultimate silent gun. So, keep a hand on your heart and keep your eyes peeled, boys and girls. This is no less important for those who’ve relied for decades on a left-handed anisocoric rock god from Brixton as their go-to reality arbiter. For all we know, his mind could be in thrall to Descarte’s evil demon. He is on record as seeing things turned around and upside-down. The amount of light an eye shuttles to the brain quite possibly has a bearing on the fabric of reality itself.

Might our eyes be betwixt hoverers, neither fully out there nor firmly affixed organs in our heads? Adding to the mid-distance fog, Freud avails the strange ‘disembodied eye parable’ of E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story The Sandman to propel his 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny’ (or Das Unheimliche which Freud’s etymological study discovered, interestingly enough, equates to the demonic in Hebrew and Arabic). The uncanny occurs when the familiar is stopped in its tracks, acquiring a disconcerting unfamiliarity as when the eyes he sees us with do not match the eyes we see him with.

Bowie’s mismatched eyes solidify and prolong the hovering effect that forms the very basis of uncanniness. A stubborn blind spot forever haunts our locked gaze. While this alienating effect creates a rather plausible alien, Lis Møller in her book The Freudian Reading: Analytical and Fictional Constructions notes even Freud’s failure to collapse the distance:

“The Sandman is an enigma Freud sets out to solve, but that which is enigmatic appears to be inextricably bound up with those aspects of the story that are set off by this reading—those aspects for which his archaeological reconstruction cannot account. The enigma lies ‘in between’ as it were…The focus is the figure of the ‘eye’ in Hoffman’s story—the eye that constitutes the point of departure of the psychoanalytic interpretation, but which at the same time confronts us with that which this interpretation ignores or excludes.”

Clearly, the eyes have it in spades. Yet, an unresolvable infinity can hover between two pairs of eyes intent on regarding one another, (not unlike the mise en abyme of two mirrors). This is no less true for an odd-sock(et) set.

Idolatry is the elevating of one object over another when the truth is no objects possess any transcendant power since no objects exist. Careful then what might be gained or lost when exchanging a gazely stare across the idolatrous abyss. (Nietzsche: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”If you can see him, he can see you. But does this shared field of vision offer a fair fight? This is after all the man who sold the world. Sold it on what, one has to wonder. 

Having fairly kicked the eye in the head, this inquiry now moves out beyond our muddled noggins to the myriad unperceivable entities that lurk Outside our consciousness: interdimensional trespassers, extraterrestrial interlopers, fallen angels, spirit-world tricksters, ex-girlfriends and their complicit heralds that seem to share an awareness of the contours and limitations of our sensory faculties, and vie in the middle-realm for the deflection and theft of our love (John 10:10: The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.)

Put another way, there are active and formal occultists, in league with nonhuman entities, who together exploit the naturally occluded faculties of humankind. 

One elemental background figure, far darker than ourselves, who has competed since the beginning of time to manipulate and control our realities is the Great Deceiver, or the Devil of yore. The yore part is apt, great artists assure us, because—via pen, paint and song—they have succeeded in ‘de-literalizing’ him into nonexistence such that, today, he barely hangs on in the backwatered province of pastiche and heavy metal send-up. Others are not so sure.

Recent tragic events in The City of (En)Light(enment)’s le Bataclan nightclub prompt a re-familiarization with Charles Baudelaire in a hurry, in particular his 1864 prose-poetry collection, Paris Spleen, where we find Lucifer in a loquacious mood. I had already been pondering that devil of late, thinking in fact he had never lost control. In fact so much couldn’t have happened had his intimate proximity not been so effectively veiled behind heraldic devices. This is the Prestige Act of the modern era. How did the Devil manage to vanish ‘right before our eyes’ while converging ever more closely on our souls, “transforming from a symbol of evil in a Manichean universe to an articulate arbiter” of wealth and taste (from Satanic Indifference and Ultimate Reality’, by Brian J. Reis, LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research, Claremont Graduate University, 2013)?

The culture crowd applauds genius with indiscriminate abandon, never asking which Principality of the Air underwrites the uncanny effort. As we’ve seen, even science has cast a fresh eye on immaterial realities and spooky actions at a near-distance. This unconcern is a fascinating phenomenon in and of itself, especially as our real struggles arise from all we cannot see. Yet, in true Eyes Wide Shut fashion (the latter itself being a potpourri of hidden meanings), culture aficionados seem content to busy themselves in the intellectual and aesthetic folds of Satan’s robes, ignoring the implications of the occupant within. How did this invisibility cloak come to be?

demon He flung to earth

For the purpose of this discussion, Satan’s coy evolution into the midst of our indifference warrants a brief recounting. Seizing the baton from a stubbornly Catholic Dante, Milton proceeded to make Satan more interesting than God. The Romantics, via Shelley and Byron, elevated him in order to balance the Manichean scales of good and evil and obtain for God a proper adversary. Twain takes it further, imbuing him with a compartment of truth. Lovecraft shifts the onus to the universe at-large which he describes as being so supremely indifferent and oblivious to Man’s presence that all anthropocentric notions of good and evil are destined to burn out, unnoticed. Human affiliations, godly or demonic, thus extinguish themselves in the fullness of time. 

By the late nineteenth century, Satan is eager to escape superstition and move onto the Enlightenment and some really cool science experiments. Through his lieutenant Abraxas (the demon of ‘magic’ in the Arthur C. Clarke sense of any advanced technology being, “indistinguishable from magic.”), Satan has science covered—and my how he has us marching to its drum at an inhuman clip! Few grasp that the driving imperative behind transhumanity is nothing less than the Babelian bid for immortality. The prospect of cosmic immunity is a tantalizing one for those whose sin-driven lives make death all the more dreaded. At the deepest unexpressed murmurings of their souls, the damned fear Judgment Day like no others. What though if death could be forestalled forever? Lazarus interrupted.

By the time we reach the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, Satan is fully acculturated (and I’ll swear on a stack of Blackstar Bibles Jagger and Baudelaire entertain the same Luciferean permutation). However to imply that a succession of artists are the autonomous ‘re-imaginers’ of Satan gets things turned the wrong way round. Satan doesn’t require our imaginations for his existence. What he seeks is a cultural and artistic sensibility consistent with his eschatological designs for a given human era. Propitious artists are guided accordingly. In short, he’s cool with ceding authorship, anointing front-men and ‘inspiring pens’ (automatism much, Mr. Burroughs?)

Drive like a demon. Satan has human history to conduct and needs to reach a prearranged place at a designated time. The Man won’t wait. The End Times must crescendo aptly into the Antichrist or else the whole show gets dinged for bad choreography. Yes, everything has already happened and the battle is already won. We’re in the paradoxical realm of free will and determinism. For reasons known only to God, we tread a preordained path fully endowed with the choice to venture good or evil.

Thus Baudelaire’s Satan is already signaling his boredom with cultural pedagogues (he can sniff rock ‘n roll just around the corner). With Christianity largely subdued on the continent and the artist fully permissioned as spiritual arbiter, the Devil’s preoccupations will lie elsewhere in the century ahead (my bold-face):

“He complained in no way of the evil reputation under which he lived, indeed, all over the world, and he assured me that he himself was of all living beings the most interested in the destruction of superstition…my strange host declared to me that he didn’t disdain, in many cases, to inspire the pens, the words, and the consciences of pedagogues, and that he almost always assisted in person, in spite of being invisible, at all the scientific meetings.” —Charles Baudelaire, The Generous Gambler

Today, our worst superstitions have been vanquished, seemingly tamed and commodified onto black polyester T-shirts emblazoned with Morbid AngelBlack Sabbath, etc. to which no one raises an eyebrow (never mind a batted eye) anymore.

Consider for example a front-man in 2015 called The Devil exorting a demonic invocation (Song? The Eagles of Death Metal’s Kiss the Devil has no discernible hook, chorus or verses) only to have his ‘prayers’ answered in the form of unmitigated evil bearing not-so-silent guns—yet none save the usual shrill chorus of evangelicals thinks to offer comment. One need only sample the vehement scorn visited upon those on Youtube and discussion boards who dare suggest what Eagles front-man Jesse Hughes stated unequivocally on prior occasions. Eyes wide shut.  

In a way (and as regrettable as it may be to Hughes now) this unabashed literalness is the most comprehensible part of what otherwise is an epic, foretold clash of Principalities on par with 911 (an event pregnant with its own foreshadowings). Were we to re-literalize the Devil (in effect reconstruct superstition) the ‘rationale’ (albeit couched in supernaturalness) would become immediately self-evident. The Devil was summoned. The Devil arrived. Yet there are powerful societal forces that resist this rendition. Why?

Fellow Jungian intronaut and visual artist Tanja Stark’s insights pervade this essay, particularly her indispensable synchronistic linking of the Eagles of Death Metal band with Blackstar. Her recent blog essay Eagles in my Daydreams, Diamonds in my Eyes is very much a companion piece to this that I can’t recommend enough. The title of course is taken from a line from Blackstar and directly implicates the song in some pre-cognitional business, entangling the Eagles of Death Metal and the Deftones in a tightly-wound script. Beware deaf fools, the tones you cannot hear. I urge you to read Stark’s compelling breadcrumb trail to fully absorb her thesis.

Stark and I have chatted around this territory since the 2012 inaugural of my Jungian-Bowie blog, Red Book Red Sail (which consists mostly of 2009 writings; even earlier, formative ramblings, circa 1999-2000, are cited in Peter R-Koenig’s The Laughing Gnostic— David Bowie and the Occult and elsewhere; herehere and here are some recent ones). 

aim for the Apple, Bill

A brief comment is warranted here on Jungian synchronicity or, better, acausality. Precognition is not as counterintuitive as one might at first think. Remarked Einstein: “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Space-time possesses physical properties. There are vantage-points in the universe where the totality of human history is observable. God exists outside time (what Spinoza called sub species aeternitatis), and often shares through prophecy what linear time prevents us from seeing. The 1976 ‘Station to Station’ locomotive with the warning horn is the last thing Brother Terry hears as he lays his head on the tracks in 1985. How could it be otherwise? Traumatic events reverberate—overflow in all directions—beyond the chaste tracks of time’s stations. Everything’s already happened. This makes our lives seem no less eventful.

Others express skeptical amazement at how fine-tuned these entanglements can often be. There are precedents supporting this tight-woundness. For anyone who has spoken with bona fide Torah scholars (spare us the the Youtube jockeys please), every moment of history—your life, my life—is embedded in the Torah. The whole of human existence is a unitary exhalation of God. For the cleverest angel, the backwardation of human language in such a manner as to create twofold meaning could very well amount to a walk in the park. This is a speculation, not an affirmation of the backmasking claims.

How fascinating though that the human herald always feels obliged to divest authorship. When automatism vanguard William Burroughs describes Naked Lunch as the “horribly wrong” product of a “hostile entity”, we can well imagine a competing, antithetical force (some cosmic Blackstar scribe) insisting that its own counter-text receive equal airing. Similarly, when John Razimus claims to find unsavory messages (including the one heading this section) within Blackstar when it’s played backwards (that they are alleged to be in French would please Baudelaire immensely!), we want to laugh outright except, in all seriousness, we can’t.

But back to beating the devil…

As attested to by the post-Enlightenment blindness (Brian Reis calls it ‘satanic indifference‘) that today’s culture swims around in, Baudelaire’s Devil has indeed succeeded in destroying superstition precisely as he had hoped in his 1844 recounting to the star-struck man of the cloth. He is everywhere. No one can see him. His symbols have been expropriated as a carnival act. And yet, despite being the object of derisive parody and dead superstition, the Devil becomes, oddly enough, more potent, certainly more proximate, to the unobserved moments in our lives. (“I—of whom one says so much evil—am often enough bon diable, to make use of one of your vulgar locutions.”—The Generous Gambler) The kids stab the air with horned fists. It’s a great night out. Yet the soul never sleeps. Our best attempts at mindless leisure are always attended by a restless menagerie of competing Principalities:

“The soul is so invisible a thing, often useless and sometimes so troublesome, that I did not experience, as to this loss, more than that kind of emotion I might have, had I lost my visiting card in the street.”—The Generous Gambler

Culture warriors can wield allegorical and metaphorical alibis all they like. The Eagles of Death Metal’s Hughes, a professed (though can we say deeply conflicted) Christian begs to differ. Here he is clarifying any confusion, pre-Bataclan of course:

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to take full fucking credit right now for fucking the destruction of everything good, OK? Because it’s true,” he says. “Everything that the Bible thumpers said about Elvis is fucking true. It destroyed everything: Intimacy, the ability for people to be married — society at large is gone.”—from ‘The Devil and Jesse Hughes’, Grantland, October 2015

Hughes never fails to give everything up. I suggested much the same here in 2009:

“There is a tendency to write it all off to the lurid imaginations of bored teenagers i.e. KISS is no more than a 3D Marvel comic book. So leave the kids alone as, mostly, they’ll be alright… Atala, situated in the hips, is the lower chakra of fear and lust, source of Elvis’ pelvic gyrations…However Satan’s masterstroke, in the heavy metal genre, is his reliance upon disarming honesty…There is no subtlety or subterfuge in Megadeth announcing, “I am the devil’s advocate, a salesman if you will…Come join me in my infernal depths…”—from Headlong Plunges Down Mineless Shafts, Red Book Red Sail blog

Video

My guess? Hughes is a lapsed bi-polar Southern Pentecostal waist-high in porn stars and good drugs with the hope of circling back to Calvary someday (a surprisingly common aspiration). He’s a woefully transparent heraldic device, a practicing Satanic Christian if such a denomination exists who insists in more than one interview that a hotter place in Hell is his certain lot. Whereas Bowie, with his decades in the craft, is in all likelihood a full-on conscious agent, a Faust of the first-order. He knows exactly what he’s doing and who he works for. Faust was a brilliant man who inspired envy and awe. Yet look how things turned out for him. The mortal coil is a deception-riddled realm where the intellect and the soul need never break bread together. Our culture has jettisoned moral consideration. Talent and ability are the sole heralds under which it now sails. Was morality just one more superstition?

Red Book Red Sail blog collage (Aug 2012) gun – concert – minotaur – labyrinth

Guns. Guns. Guns. They came to me in spades during my Red Book Red Sail project and for reasons, at the time, unknown as attested to by the blog banner assembled in late 2012 (below). Then this blog entry in May 2103 after TND’s release, On the Horns of a Hypostatic Dilemma: Guitar, Axe, Gun. What is recourse to a gun but the impetuous dispatching of an icon? Consciousness cannot be grazed by bullets. It simply reemerges elsewhere behind another form. There are not enough guns in the universe to halt the perpetual reemergence of all that must come forth. 

The supernatural is the sandbox of the Supermen in our midst. Yet if we’ve learned anything watching the Straussian nation-destroyers of late—pointing Takfirist against Shia against Wahhabist—all that lies beyond good and evil is insufferable hubris followed by further boatloads of evil (The Bible knew this: ‘evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.’ 2 Timothy, 3:13). What we’re living through are the effects of sustained deception. Our Noble Liars have lost the place. The Internet makes quick work of their duplicity. False narratives crumble, under cyber-scrutiny, within hours if not minutes. The more evil normalizes within our culture, the more culture becomes parched for normalcy. Lacking a proper foothold, natural processes find themselves increasingly eclipsed. The Lord of Deception is living up to his name and well he should. These are his crowning hours.

Most revealingly, Bowie shows no signs of dismantling his Tower to the Sky. After a ten-year hiatus, his construction process renewed in earnest with 2013’s The Next Day. He’s not retiring. He’s deifying. Doubling down. As Peter-R Koenig posited years ago, “What next, godhead?” Indeed. What’s left?

Where The Next Day wanted to go, had it not settled back into the comfortable shoes of collaborators-past, was ‘If You Can Hear Me’ and the oblique confession of ‘Heat’. Blackstar follows through, erasing all ambiguity. We’re past agnostic torn-between-ness. All seers must choose. Bowie’s on the Dark Team. His Father runs the Black Iron Prison on the hill behind the village.

As we’ve noted, the best seers (the cleverest ones out there) may be consciously manipulated liars or oblivious heraldic devices. Popular culture—cleverly portrayed in the most banal terms as blow-off time sandwiched between work and sleep—is where today’s happnin’ preachers hang out. Larkin’s churches are crumbling relics. Leisure (or as Lucifer describes it to Baudelaire the ‘bizarre affection of ennui’) is the devil’s plaything, certainly the silly space where he does his most furtive and productive work. Most people are on look-out for swiveling Linda Blair heads and cinematic spews of guacamole-vomit. Now that’s evil (‘cause Wes Craven told them so). However, Hannah Arendt assured us the most effective forms of evil are officious, silent and banal. C.S. Lewis: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual onethe gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” What would these chaste folks have made of a Slayer concert?

“it’s the uncanny feeling that the band are creating something that’s not entirely down to their own consciousness…” —Alex Needham on Station to Station

Laying aside for a moment all that cannot be laid aside, Blackstar is Bowie’s most imposing piece of work, certainly in terms of spiritual portent, since he flashed no color at an earlier station circa 1976. Here I am again says the Great I am, as tall in my room as ever. The title misdirects somewhat as what we see depicted is not so much a star as a sun occluded by an ‘affronting’ moon (though perhaps not our own). The solar eclipse heralds an imposed narrative, a false prophet, crept in from the side and usurping the Source of All Light. Those who expropriate the tools of reality production succeed in imposing their imaginative constructs on others. This is a usurpation that informs the false idolatries of fascism and fa-fashion.

As though fashioned for the express purpose of hiding the sun, our moon is sized and distanced for optimal occlusion—oroccultation (when one object passes between an observer and another object, completely hiding the latter.) For all our burgeoning knowledge about the backend of the universe, no one really knows what the moon is or from whence it came. Jewish mystics insist it (and the sun) exist solely to convey signs from God—a notion not unsympathetic to Hoffman’s consciousness-driven universe. Alternate theories abound.

In Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, Carl Jung notes the alchemical tradition’s view of Saturn as the ‘star of the sun’ or ‘black star’. In a Great Conjunction event (occurring every twenty years), Saturn crosses Jupiter. Maleficence occults beneficence. In Under the Sign of Saturn, Susan Sontag describes the saturnine personality as displaying (my bold-face), “dissimulation, secretiveness…masked by…the most scrupulous manipulation.” Saturn (Satan) was considered by medieval astrologers to be the abode of the Devil. But that’s a whole other rabbit-hole and rabbit-hole-jumping (the tireless quest for cultural referents) encourages the ‘ennui’ of delay, keeping us from that most crucial rendezvouses—with God.

Speaking to the ‘iconicity of the text’ and noting how, “idolatry is connected symbolically to the demonic other side”, Judaic Studies scholar Elliot Wolfson in his book Poetic Thinking translates a passage from the Tiqqunei Zohar thusly (my bold-face):

“The place of the Shekhinah is in the west, which is the back (ahor), but this is also the region of the other gods (Elohim aherin), the demonic potencies led by Samael. The latter is identified as Saturn, a planet that is frequently depicted in malevolent terms, the astrological maleficus. The letters of the Hebrew name for this planet, shabbetai, can be translated into the expression ayyeh Shabbat, “where is Sabbath?” This play on words denotes that the demonic force of Saturn is the antithesis of the holy force of Sabbath.”

Life is not a random daisy-chain of this bumping into that. Keeping in mind the Torah example, human history is an eschatology planned down to the hairs on our heads. We don’t careen into the present moment. We reach it because we had to and because we elected to. Time’s arrow (a stubborn illusion) is far less important than the force animating each iconic gesture. Language is a heraldic device for two competing first-order Principalities, Good and Evil. Between these poles, the curious mystery of human free will contends.

First they steal your moon in order to occult your sun. After that, trust is easily ushered through the strangest doors. Bowie could probably teach us a lot about the alt-God deification process. Though he may not know why (and I suspect he does), he seems to knows how. All that can be said is that, one day a leper messiah emerged from the beer-light to guide us. No one asked to see a passport, an astonishing lapse when you consider all that was at stake. And yet, the most important things are wagered away daily on the palest excuses. It only looks like a game. The gambler wagers sin in the guise of harmless pastime. The highest stakes shadow every played hand.

My conviction has only grown that, with Bowie, we’re being bathed in some dead serious moonlight. Our favorite heralder, by now completely shorn of pop music industry obligations, seems to be asserting his significance with unabashed vigor. Nowadays, pictures of The Man are released with such parsimonious self-veneration, the Vatican gift shop could take a lesson in mythos-building. If video killed the radio star, Twitter celebritized the bathroom break. Bucking the trend, Bowie holds himself in reserve like precious urine. Hyper-veneration ensues. Video director Johan Renck gets teary-eyed upon receiving The Call to Collaborate. Momus has a tribute cover out before the ink dries on the master’s voice. In the theophany business, less is always more. Bowie quite possibly learned this from the same source that instructed him never to smile on album covers.

There’s no point rehashing my The Man Who Sold the World thesis here (as it’s tirelessly hashed out on the blog), but it describes a variant of the preternatural stare shared between the Gambler and the minister. Such are the encounters that define a fate and activate a herald. 

Hermaphroditic estrangement: “I harbor Jesus in one half of my heart and Muhammad in the other.” —Khalil Gibran

Bowie has toyed with the clash of civilizations since ‘Loving the Alien’. And indeed, the Islamic shadow-form has been building for some time, (ever since Zbigniew Brzezinski activated the jihad archetype in 1979 as a means to overextending the Soviet Empire with ‘their own Vietnam’). ISIS is everybody’s shadow, a Rorschach with a universalized imprimatur. Who didn’t play a hand in its emergence, either directly or indirectly? Like Goethe’ssorceror’s apprentice, our weaponized nihilism has proven itself an autonomous and unwieldy broomstick. ISIS has gone viral and now looms as a global epidemic.

Writing for The Western Muslim in 2008, I attempted to translate for a western mindset the rigid core lurking at the heart of neo-liberalism that lay begging for its own shadowy recoil. Less cryptic observers often express this as the ‘liberal paradox’:

“Many liberals (in the classical sense) are contemptuous of all orthodoxies, even as they fail to see their own. In this absolute adherence to relativity, they share a feature common to all fundamentalists—intolerance– cloaked albeit, and with devilish paradox, in the mantra of tolerance. Certainly they are intolerant of anyone seeking to impede their own forays into another’s sacred terrain. The liberal permissions himself and brooks no sanctions on his inquiries. This has been called (most notably by Wendy Steiner in her book ‘The Scandal of Pleasure’) the liberal paradox.”

Oddly enough, In Viral Synchronicity: Avatar and Seal (Oct 2014), I cite Bowie’s ‘Loving the Alien’, something I practically never do in non-Bowie writing. But the mirrors were everywhere as were the mirror-blind. Clearly, we were being asked to look at ourselves, at our explicit culpability in the emergence of the twin nihilistic viruses, Ebola (escapee from a CIA lab?) and ISIS. Now it’s clear ISIS is as much a creature of western intelligence agencies as it is a spontaneous and organic off-shoot of Saudi Wahhabism. Syrian jihadism is also a flashpoint for the simultaneous reigniting of Neo-Ottoman, Pan-Arab, Greater Israel and Persian aspirations. Poe’s ‘Red Death’ helped to differentiate the two strains of deadly virus, the biologic and the ideological: “Ebola is the Avatar. Isis is the Seal.” Both are as contagious, and unstoppable, as evil itself. German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfespeaks of meeting ostensibly ‘assimilated’ first-generation European kids of Islamic heritage from top-flite western schools who walked away from bright ‘modern’ futures to take up medieval barbarism in Syria and Iraq. Rule Britannia is being roundly rejected. The shadow is asserting.

But we drift a bit from Bowie whose own excursions tend to wander. Having a Muslim spouse (by birth at least) and a biracial daughter, he is bound to reflect these global tremors in his art. And he does. Those who listen aloud pick it up. In August 2014, Stark posted Christians and the Unbelievers Hanging by the Cross and Nail with the ‘Loving the Alien’ video in sad recognition of ISIS’ practice of crucifixion of the Zoroastrian Yazidi sect. Here’s Stark again from “Confronting Bowie’s Mysterious Corpses” in the Bloomsbury book Strange Fascinations:

“Bowie’s linking of violence, spiritual belief and death, and the lack of contemporary, culturally resonant frameworks to meaningfully process these powerful energies explored on Outside is intriguing, particularly when considering why people are attracted to violent expressions of belief, such as “Islamic State”.

This recalls for me my 2011 cover recording of The Width of a Circle’, a song Tanja Stark identifies as being in righteous brotherhood with the Eagles’ ‘Who Will Kiss the Devil’. Curiously, the cover begins with an Islamicized version of Warszawa‘s phoneticized chants, almost like a Muslim Call to Prayer. The blackbird evinces the Nietzsche of Ecce Homo. Even more, the bird harbingers the doomed equanimity between Christianity and Islam, a sensibility that Kahlil Gibran internalized all of his life. The video itself is immersed in black stars and pentagrams. I make no claims and seek to convince no one, but merely offer these strange occurrences for the reader’s review.

Who will kiss the devil’s swollen tongue (video)?

Though not directly referenced in Blackstar, ISIS is the ill wind blowing ominously off-stage across the Catcher’s rye field. There are three distinct Principalities at work here—faltering Christianity, Lucifer’s Modernity (the heathen lie) and Radicalized Islam—two explicit, one implied (‘the Christians, the unbelievers’ and the merciless believers from the tribe of Ishmael). Rock ‘n roll is one wheel of the devil’s Trojan Horse. Troy has been overwhelmed, as evidenced by the video’s Elvis pelvic gyrations on Mt. Calvary. 

This is an internal or internecine Western struggle. Rock launches a feminized death cult (The feminine is not being deployed here in a positive manner, in my opinion, but more the fem-glam boys with make-up and long hair. This would make it more misogynistic, certainly parodistic, than matriarchal.) Thus the West has lost its moorings (to Luciferean subversion), becoming easy prey to outside foes (such as radically monotheistic Islam, or ISIS).

False idols form egregores, symbiotic arrangements of shared psychic energy, with their followers. Each must see the other as their powert is interdependent: Worship me and I will be your slave. Whereas God’s power is apriori of His creation. The Bowie death cult raises an egregore in their midst. That’s the shaggy-bodied Id-like creature. But there’s a larger, exogenous enemy on the horizon.

The barbarians at the gates can only prevail against a weakened foe. The West’s greatest enemy is not ISIS (which is not explicitly referenced in the video and has been denied by the artist as being ‘the message’ of the video, to the extent an official message means anything at all), but the leper messiahs (rock gods) who rot the tradition from within. Are the boys in the band up to the task of defending the city? Bowie pondered this very confrontation decades earlier:

“How many are going to pick up a gun and how many of you are gonna cling to your guitars?”—1976, Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe

ISIS at Bataclan becomes an emissary or instrumentality of the Devil. Not the ‘house devil’ the Templars know from their Christian Bibles, but an alien form, Islam’s Iblīs. Satan roams the whole of the earth and, as we’ve seen, employs a contextual and opportunistic plasticity to match the human moment or context he seeks to corrupt. The devil we know is an odd, familiar comfort, encircling us with culture. This Satan is of altogether exogenous features. 

Damien Hirst Interplanetary Cargo Death Cult

At the moment of execution, Eagles of Death Metal guitarist Dave Catching raises his guitar in a seemingly futile gesture to stop the hail of bullets; though no less futile, some might say, than holding up the cross to banish Satan. This is the same gesture employed by Bowie to ward off the wanton killing spree of TND’s Valentine. Live by the guitar. Die by the Cross.  Christianity is reborn on the blood-drenched floor as people use their bodies, Christ-like, to protect and ‘save’ loved ones. I’ve had my share of bullets. Now I’ll help you with the pain. (This is not an attempt to impose a Christian template on the dead; only that it resonates with me in this context.)

Nobody breaks a song down in the middle like Bowie. The interrupting segue is the Leper Messiah’s attempt at an explanation as to how he saw the Blackstar book lying there on a bench outside the Tavistock Institute on Piccadilly circa ’70 and, well, bravely picked it up and ran with it. Even more confoundingly, we ran after him. There are no true victims here. Bowie’s apologizing for kicking the legs out from under our teetering bullshit faith. On The Next Day, he’d levelled heaps of blame on the Catholic Church (and in an unacceptably sacrilegious manner, in my opinion) for making it all too easy and for sealing rock’s effortless death cult ascent. It all seems rather quaint, a veritable in-house squabble, in light of today’s scary monsters set loose in Paris. Now there’s the devil on an existential search-and-destroy mission. (Though I always hasten to add my profound sympathies to the fallen.)

Interesting how most think of the risen Lazarus before they do the thirsty one, especially when both may be the same.

So, how does the Bowie corpus fit into all of this? Long since graduated from heraldic device to conscious agent, Bowie strikes me as the elder statesman of a culture whose first-order inspirational source has become increasingly demonic. This unremitting yet aimless advance of ennui (fashion in, fashion out) amounts to a stylized death march from one dry well to the next. Therein lies the unquenchable thirst.

Ultimately, souls must stake a claim and drill down beneath the iconography. There is a reservoir for those who seek it. Thirst is not a natural condition. The fate of Tantalus is meant to allegorize punishment, not normalized human existence. (Much as my analysis runs counter to that of my friend Steele Savage I’m not deaf to the Gnostic rendition: Sophia smiling with a sense of release on the day the body is shed to earthly execution. However my inner Calvinist bristles at those who refuse God’s quenching. The Edenic God is not a demiurge, but the Almighty Himself. The serpent is Satan, not a well-meaning Sophia. Caveat emptor, reader.)

Decades of idolatry have solidified an unhealthy master-pupil dynamic. One feels Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence pulsing beneath the surface as people either try to please or sink their favorite art-daddy. It can get pretty servile pretty fast as world-class allusion-hunters sift clues and surface arcane cultural referents. What did he mean by this, by that? The quest is the thing as it detains the earnest sleuth in the endless folds of deception, delaying his departure for all that really matters. Satan’s genius is as surpassing as his rabbit holes are deep. Many a decoder ring will be burned out mapping the labyrinthine sub-terrain of God’s cleverest angel. And then what? Nothing ever yields anything. Seductive winks yield blind alleys.

On a more personal note, Bowie strikes me as a man of almost palpable loneliness. (Nietzsche would call it solitude.) With his Zarathustran project so consummately realized and in such an individuated manner, one shudders at the endurance that might be required to live it. What axe on earth could shatter the remove of such an unrelatable existence? This is the sort of life project easily regretted in late life. Mountaineers don’t succumb from natural causes. They topple from ever more arduous ascents. I may be conflating David Bowie with David Jones. For the latter’s sake I hope so. 

When the hour is late, diversion (culture) become deadly. Increasingly we will find events weighted with essential meaning, pregnant with portent and yet tantalizingly indecipherable, always just beyond our ken. This keeps us at our decoder rings while our souls pace the floor tapping at our watches. We should be on by now. Satan’s surpassing genius is now more directly engaged against the ever-more surpassing genius of God. The former is after all fighting for his kingdom on earth. At this late juncture, man finds himself increasingly backwatered as an intellectual agent. We are in over our heads, our puny aptitudes vastly exceeded in this titanic struggle. Prayer, the creaturely recourse to mystery and awe, becomes our most articulate response. 

What Baudelaire mistakes for the faces of the past are the tragic fatal faces of modernity, RIP.

In the end we have this lonely rich man Lazarus, ensconced somewhere in Manhattan’s sterile landscape, swimming in rivers of wealth and genuflection, ripping and rewrapping his eternal thirst in the bone-dry immersions of imagery. Every cultural plaudit is due this rapt, still-toiling black-star disciple who has the gestures of dispensation down pat. The danger lies in confusing oasis for desert, in one parched, doomsday mirage after another. We can no longer see who or what stands before us because he has imposed his room on our existence from the start. Our eyes are sewn too wide shut.

Who would have imagined that, in the final days, dust would flow like water, and so many in their confusion would mistake the dryness in their cups for spiritual refreshment? Raise, raise, raise your glass. Raise your glass. Why?

Who will pick up a gun?
This site is authored by the Red Book Red Sail blogger who can be reached at gspressnow@gmail.com (or click CG’s hat.)

Write a comment

Comments

  • Paul A. Toth(Wednesday, December 09 15 12:18 am EST)

    Excellent and frightening!

  • Anne Merino(Wednesday, December 16 15 08:37 pm EST)

    A monumental piece that will resonant with me for ages as I ponder all the images and their connections.

    Brilliant!

  • Jorin(Thursday, December 17 15 05:35 pm EST)

    Wow! So revealing. I could not believe my eyes while reading this 😉 Indeed Excellent!! If only you get more people to read this! It was quite a challenge for me (dutch) i had to look up a lot of
    words but learned so much from your writings. Thank you! i have a lot more reading to do now 🙂 you opened my closed eyes some more. Thanks for the effort you put into this!!

  • cindie m(Friday, December 18 15 10:10 pm EST)

    This is not run-of-the-mill hellfire & damnation…I won’t sleep aftr this. thx mister :0 is that u next to CG?

  • Fred Barnard(Saturday, December 19 15 08:03 pm EST)

    The tangential ramblings of a reflective and brilliant mind. However, if you wish to better understand Blackstar you might want to refer to the JOHAN RENCK interview: where he says “Most things like
    this are for the eyes of the beholder, you know? You make of it whatever you want. What I can say, on one side of things there is no deliberate, underlying, firm quest to have any references to past
    times.” As for me, I think it’s merely the equally brilliant Bowie having a good time.

  • Jacob(Saturday, January 02 16 05:37 am EST)

    A few answers, many more questions. Onward, I search. Though I know not what for.

  • Norman Ball(Tuesday, January 12 16 09:38 pm EST)

    Rest in Peace, David Jones. May you discover the best of whatever lies behind the door.

    My speculations mean nothing in the end.

  • Tanja Stark(Wednesday, January 13 16 04:46 am EST)

    [A-mazing] Grace to the whole damned lot of us.

    Seriously.

    Pax, Tanja

  • Fill(Thursday, January 14 16 05:35 am EST)

    Is it too much to ask for a more simplified summary? I read the whole thing but I’m not sure I understand how or why he’s a herald of this greater evil.

    I agree with the points on culture, Elvis etc. having corrupted us. But it’s a huge leap to then take lyrics at face value like Megadeth’s. If Mustaine or the Sabbath guys are actually Christian are
    they being used against their will?

    Exactly how Bowie is some kind of musical Nazi working for the supermen or worse, I’m not clear on.

  • mark fisher(Friday, January 15 16 08:07 pm EST)

    I read the entire ‘essay’ with an open mind. This is not an essay per say. There were nice connections and many obscure ones. Not an easy read. Pepe Escobar suggested it so took it in. in the big
    picture there is neither good nor evil, rather love or fear. eyes or no eyes, we create our reality based on these principles. brevity is the soul of wit.

  • Agustín(Sunday, January 17 16 05:55 am EST)

    Thanks, this was a very interesting read.
    Beats me how a man of your culture and reflexive nature still resorts to the “Good VS Bad” meme.
    Then why you talk only about the “Evil with guitars” but never mention that of the Churches, the one with the guns (and the most horrible incoherencies)?

  • Barbi Bandor(Thursday, January 21 16 03:25 pm EST)

    I read this , reading all the little references, bookmarking stories. Very interesting. I have now become obsessed with studying David Bowie. LOL … this should be interesting…

  • Dillon(Saturday, January 23 16 01:03 am EST)

    Thank you for this; I’m officially a huge fan of your weblog.

  • פרסום אתרים באינטרנט(Saturday, January 23 16 11:04 pm EST)

    I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this
    website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for
    you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to construct my own blog and
    would like to know where u got this from. cheers

  • Leon(Tuesday, January 26 16 10:59 pm EST)

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as
    though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about,
    why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  • Javier(Tuesday, February 02 16 10:25 am EST)

    Hey would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a tough time
    deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and
    I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

  • popcorntime(Wednesday, February 03 16 03:39 am EST)

    May I simply say what a comfort to uncover a person that
    really understands what they’re discussing on the
    web. You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    A lot more people must look at this and understand this side of your
    story. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular given that you
    definitely have the gift.

  • hydra maximilien(Monday, February 08 16 08:33 pm EST)

    Hey there. Somebody in my Facebook group distributed this Bowie website with us so I came to take a look.

    This is Bowie + a whole lot more. You really nail his spookiness and ice in his eyez. I’m bookmarking and will tweet to my followers. -kh

  • Cinda(Tuesday, February 09 16 01:14 am EST)

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for posting.

  • valentinius anger(Tuesday, February 09 16 03:28 pm EST)

    who told u to do this? Im curious if its the same people.

    http://thevillaoformen.tumblr.com

  • popcorn time(Friday, February 12 16 04:03 pm EST)

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation however I in finding this
    topic to be actually one thing that I feel I’d by no means understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely large for me.
    I am looking forward for your next put up, I will try to get the
    hold of it!

  • https://www.rebelmouse.com/(Wednesday, March 02 16 11:44 pm EST)

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am certainly tired of desperate for relevant and intelligent commentary
    on this subject. Everyone nowadays seem to go to extremes to
    either drive home their perspective or suggest that everybody else in the world is wrong.
    thanks for your brief as well as relevant insight.

  • Brent Flast(Friday, March 04 16 12:28 am EST)

    I just finished watching Black Star.
    Very enigmatic piece, yes.

  • cie.calpoly.edu(Monday, April 04 16 02:07 am EDT)

    Cheers for this superb write-ups. Keep sharing excellent articles!

  • http://www.ahzkt.com/comment/html/index.php?page=1&id=324875(Monday, April 11 16 07:42 am EDT)

    Keep this going please, great job!

David Bowie’s Blackstar Video-song

BLAST from PAST: Antidisestablishmentarianism, a sonnet

(This appeared previously in Witness magazine a few moons back. For those just joining this circus, I’ll be kicking up BLAST from PAST blog entries just to gather all my loose change floating around out there. My Dad used to make us spell this on long car rides. Such was the price of driving south to Marineland. It’s since been superseded by longer words such as, oh, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, which you really don’t want to be catching as it’s a bitch to explain around the water cooler.)

ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM

“Properly, opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England, but popularly cited as an example of a long word.” – Oxford English Dictionary

To define this word on record-breaking length
makes of fixes -pre and suf- the stuff of strength.
Might this word, in short, be rooted in a mission
of uprooting (short of length) true definition?

Anti-dis? It’s clear some cagey cleric-scribe,
bent on dictionary fame through diatribe,
chose a perfectly benign church-state dispute
to exceed both he and it in ill-repute.
Let’s establish, sitting down, a standing rule:
not to stand prosthetic words on gimpy stools.
Too much infrastructure, at the cost of grace,
is a shortfall words alone are loath to trace.

 
Author’s Note: This poem would not have been possible without the renowned 19th century dispute involving the Church of England and the British government. Of course, this church/state tension continues into the present day, and probably will always be with us.

BLAST from PAST: Antidisestablishmentarianism, a sonnet

New eBook & Paperback: ‘East-West Dialectics, Currency Resets and the Convergent Power of One’

nb[1]

I have a new eBook out from Eye Am Eye books (green cover, left) entitled ‘East-West Dialectics, Currency Resets and the Convergent Power of One’ ($2.99). The subject matter is topical, urgent and pursues avenues I’ve not seen discussed elsewhere. It’s on the following e-retail shelves. I’ll plug in links as more outlets appear:

Apple iBooks
Inktera
Kobo
Scribd
Nook
Weltbild (German)
Amazon Kindle has it HERE for $3.99. An ePub version is available HERE $2.99

I1-30-2013 2-00-36 AM myself do not have a Kindle or any eBook device. However I find the ePub reads well in the freely downloadable Adobe Digital Editions which you can get here in Mac or Windows
versions.

A $5.50 paperback version is out from Giant Steps Press (white cover, below). Given the size (almost 22,000 words) and after talking to a few bloggers, I figured book form would serve best. As is apparent from the prices, I’m just trying to get it out there. It’s HERE on Createspace and I will update this blog entry with a link when it reaches the Amazon bookshelf.

I also urge folks to check out the new combined service offerings of Eye Am Eye and Giant Steps Press for cradle-to-grave book offerings, including promotion and video. That can be found HERE.

currency reset book cover

Shout-outs and references draw from a number of cutting edge bloggers and current thinkers, among them, The Vineyard of the Saker, Philosophy of MetricsPepe Escobar, Brandon Smith, Club Orlov, Damon Vrabel, Jeremy Hammond, Satyajit Das, Jim Rickards, Martin Armstrong, Henry C. K. Liu, Ellen Brown, Warren Mosler, Peter Dale Scott, Alastair Crooke, William Engdahl, Sheikh Imran Hosein, Orville Schell, Byung-Chul Han, Zbigniew Brzezinski, The FOFOA blog, Henry Makow, Edwin Truman, Joel Skousen, Zero Hedge, Redefining God blog and transhumanist Hugo de Garis.

Christine Lagarde declined to appear on camera as did the BIS. Apparently, the Greece debacle has their schedules in a kerfuffle. Maybe they can share some herring bones after the revolution. Across the mortal coil’s sublime divide, shout-outs to Orwell, Huxley, Ferdinand Lundberg and Hegel, hardly in that order.

There’s a lot of talk out there about ‘false’ and ‘East-West’ dialectics and where Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China fit within Brzezinski’s Grand Upended Chessboard. So I brush (bruise?) a little bit of Hegel and a teaspoonful of Marx. More important, until we understand the transcendent role International Capital plays, the horizontal maneuverings of nation-state and empire players are largely indecipherable. The truth is we’re operating within a tripartite class system reminiscent of Ferdinand Lundberg’s Finpols, Pubpols and We, the Underlings taking up the butt-end of the Dancing Vaudeville Horse.

The book title is eponymous with the new three-part essay (16,000 words) and includes some prior economics writings from circa 2008 — Bright Lights Film Journal, Potomac Journal, The Wall Street Poet and iTulip.

eBook Cover design: Paul Toth of Eye Am Eye. Thanks go to Paul for accepting the book in his maiden venture Eye Am Eye. I’m flattered to be one of the first eBooks out in the catalog.

There’s also a music video in there (eBook only) of a Depression-era song I penned with Reverbnation’s #1 Canada’s blues singer-songwriter Lonnie Glass. So, the whole enchilada and a poem or two just to drive the austerity home to the streets where many of us will be taking up post-reset residency.

I hope folks pick up a copy. I put a decent amount of time and thought into it and I wouldn’t belabor the electrons if I felt it didn’t advance the conversation.

Here is the Preface:

This three-part series attempts a vaguely Christian read of the so-called ‘East-West dialectic’ first by exploring the overarching engine of historical advance (usury and debt-money creation); then onto Russia and China’s expanding and consensual roles in global power consolidation before reviewing how the impending currency reset levers power away from the Anglo-American empire (the last empire) towards an ostensible ‘multi-lateral system’ which, as it turns out, is the penultimate phase of New World Order consolidation.

Some related essays are included from ‘the last great financial crisis of 2008’ era just to stir the pot further.

I thank Carlo Parcelli too for penning a very thoughtful introduction which I’m including here:

INTRODUCTION

The poet, Ezra Pound, opens his Canto XLV

“With Usura
With usura hath no man a house of good stone”

His wretched anti-Semitism and pro-Fascist sympathies aside, there can be little doubt that Pound was not wrong about the deleterious effects of usury, its ability to create wealth without commensurate production. Besides, as Norman Ball points out in this short but extraordinarily ambitious volume, the kind of production that would be required to de facto reduce derivatives debt alone would in turn accelerate global ecological devastation. Thus prudent prescriptions at this late stage would precipitate an apocalyptic tailspin far swifter than today’s slide toward a secular end-times.

The moral and religious condemnations of usury aside, Mr. Ball’s book is no theological screed. No matter how dark, ‘East-West Dialectics’ is a sober appraisal of the current state of the world economy and the institutions that run it by one who is thoroughly versed in its many facets. There’s no evocation of Christ among the money changers here. Facet by facet and with great concision, Ball convincingly argues that the world economy is coming apart at the seams and that the planet’s long history of usury, creating wealth from nothing, is the culprit.

In the first part of ‘East-West Dialectics’, Mr. Ball clearly lays out the connection between ‘usury’ and the collateral damage of population and planetary dissolution. In the latter part of the book’s first section and into the second and third sections , Mr. Ball deftly moves from the eschatological dimension of ‘usury’ to international jockeying between the US and Britain, Russia and China over which nation-state, or multipolar confluence, will wear the ultimate garland of ‘Destroyer of Worlds’. He writes convincingly that the US as unipolar power has already exported itself out of contention, and is in all likelihood, the last empire on the way to the fabled New World Order.

Mr. Ball’s writing even about a subject as dry as world economics is vibrant, often brilliant and occasionally dazzling. He brings wit and Swiftian irony to a very grim and difficult topic. All this plus a profound and convincing argument for why we are faced with a modern secular end-times in the age that promised to be a scientific/technological Utopia.

–Carlo Parcelli, Editor of FlashPoint Magazine and Author, The Canaanite Gospel, A Meditation on Empire: 88 Monologues

New eBook & Paperback: ‘East-West Dialectics, Currency Resets and the Convergent Power of One’

Big Brother, Big Data & the Sustaining Power of Kellogg’s® Eggo® Waffles

This article previously appeared in Pop Matters and Foreign Policy Journal and The Pennsylvania Review

barack tv

Nobody is listening to your telephone calls… But by sifting through this so-called ‘metadata’, [the intelligence community] may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.”
—President Obama, 7 June 2013

One of the blind spots of the digitized form derives, paradoxically, from its ravenous, undiscerning and all-seeing eye. Raw data has no introspective mechanism and affixes no value-coefficient to its own informational content. This evaluative process is left to external entities; sentient, sifting human beings—or their algorithm-proxies—who realize that within oceans of data, trophy catches are few and sea garbage is the norm. Actionable or useful data thus swims against near-insurmountable odds of detection. The ‘promotion’ from data to information requires human agency and recognition. How can humans accomplish this crucial anointing when information must be dredged from a great dismal data swamp that retraces God’s infinitude a little more each day?

The statistics are suitably staggering: According to a recent CSC study, data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009. A July 2012 BT survey reported,

“…a quarter of the decision-makers surveyed predict that data volumes in their companies will rise by more than 60 percent by the end of 2014, with the average of all respondents anticipating a growth of no less than 42 percent.”

This fantastic upsurge in digital effluence is commonly known as Big Data.

Faced with towering silos of bric-a-brac, poets tend toward metaphysical swoons, certainly one technique for navigating the meta-morass. So consider this fair warning.

That said, I can’t help but think of Carl Jung’s Answer to Job. God is a stalking horse for today’s Big Data in the sense that His infinity induces a moral blindness that only Job, a human agent of particular discernment, can instruct Him through. Seeing everything is not unlike seeing nothing at all. Human insight, by contrast, is a narrowed gaze. Vision demands a focal point, a seeing-eye dog, a discrete POV. Poets are the woofers amidst the tweeters, our first-order data miners. They name things and in so doing give form to chaos.

Database administration is a degraded form of poetry, really a meta-poetry whose administrators play in a sandbox beside the legislators of the world. This latter poetic function Sven Birkerts, channeling Ranier Rilke, identifies as the human being’s seminal role—raising the world into consciousness, not just, “collectively, into a noosphere, and not digitally, into a cloud of data, but subjectively, inwardly, into language.” (“The Room and the Elephant”, Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 June 2011)

All that has first been named can be data tagged but only after our fervency—Rilke’s word—has expended itself. Thus, those who prioritize the Cloud have it backwards. Technologists are the post facto manipulators, the illusionists in our midst whereas poets keep it real. That’s why the latter can’t find jobs in a Big Data world. Birkerts quotes the following lines from Rilke’s “Ninth Elegy”:

Are we here perhaps just to say:
house, bridge, well, gate, jug, fruit tree, window—
at most, column, tower… but to say, understand this, to say it
as the Things themselves never fervently thought to be.
—(C. F. MacIntyre, Translator)

Birkerts and Rilke invite us back to Jung’s subjective self whose universe exists only because we have the eyes to (data) mine it. God recognizes Himself through our cognition. We suspect this pleases Him immensely. The Book of Job becomes a pre-Mosaic prototype for the Anthropic Principle. Data, by contrast, is a retrospective, a cataloguing of prior ‘authenticities’.

Far and away most data, if not much of life itself, is hardly worth our powers of recollection. Yet in the Digital Age, every traversal of Sisyphus’ hill becomes a discrete negotiation, an indexable transaction. By now Sisyphus’ travelogue would require a supercomputer. There is no human act or gesture so beneath our retrospective radar that it can anymore slip, blithely undetected, into the veils of time. The NSA and its commercial doppelganger, Facebook, are committed to the eternality of the less-than-mundane. Interestingly, Sisyphus’ punishment derived in part from chaining Thanatos, a ploy aimed literally at cheating death. Life seizes the moment. The life force doesn’t look back. Data storage makes its bones with the dead. All these data-dependent claims on our past help to encourage a retro-reptilian-hoarding reflex.

There’s existential philosophy; then there’s existential practicality. We compound Big Data’s overhang by adding to it daily. However, it’s in the here-and-now where the potential for comprehension is greatest. A host of nimble and proactive analytics tools loom on the horizon which will better prepare us for what Anukool Lakhina of Big Data company Guavus calls ‘knowing the now’ (“We Need to Prevent Insights from Dying in the Big Data Avalanche” Gigaom; 6 October 2012). Humanity’s accumulated now‘s form Big Data’s past. The future must be seized knowingly. We can ill-afford to dither and let it just happen.

The past will not be relinquished lightly as the bankers have our coupon books to keep track of. Old Power and Money cements its power on the backs of our deeply regretted past transactions. Usura’s how they make their game in the present and promise the future to the image of the past. They are the celebrants of stasis. Under their rubric, we are going nowhere fast. All these data-dependent claims on our past help to encourage a retro-reptilian-hoarding reflex. IBM Global Business Service’s Teresa Pritchard in a recent exchange called it Dino’s Albatross:

“…we now see the head looking behind at an enormous tail, a tail so heavy that the creature can hardly move forward. It is a tail comprised of hoarded information, kept without any measure of true value.”

Big Media casts its own Big Data footprint. We desecrate the up-close and sacred naming task with what novelist Don DeLillo calls white noise, that is, the make-work routine of papering over the hard work of consciousness-raising with a dust-layer of bytes and suspect media coordinates (or as DeLillo terms it, that “dull and unlocatable roar, as of some form of swarming life just outside the range of human apprehension.’‘— White Noise). Mediation is a diversionary campaign that traffics in the propagandistic terms of clarification and distillation; or, if you prefer the Fox News coordinates, fair and balanced.

Big Media’s Big Data diverts us from the task of Big Apprehension. We are kept to the realm of the observable. All that can be measured is pored over as though nothing else exists while Keats’ infamous Vale toils at the crucial work of soul-making at the subjective ‘unobserved’ level. Yes of course, the poets’ by-product, poems, are in evidence on the web. But the process of manufacturing soul through suffering evades the artifactual record. This flattening of poetry into bytes abets a shadow-project to equate poetry with food recipes and baseball scores. Suddenly at the time they are needed most, poets are marginalized further.

Fortunately, regular folks are more than taking up the slack. In the social media realm, we have the power to avert much of the Big Data landslide if only we could stop chattering amongst ourselves, continually giving up banal lives and journeyman repasts that surely drive our overlords to an ever rising contempt. Frankly, who could blame the Illuminati for its machinations as, handed the mic, all we could think to tweet was what we had for breakfast? My point Mr. Everyman, is that your grating ignorance and predilection for Eggo’s may have bought you a dystopia that’ll hang around well past the dinner hour. I told you to brush up on your Adorno and Marcuse. But nooo, you wouldn’t leggo.

The real little man disease is well-earned envy as the floodgates of Facebook fly open only to reveal oceans of drivel. How oceanic, you ask? “Just two days of the current global data production, from all sources — five quintillion bytes (a letter of text equals one byte) — is about equal to the amount of information created by all the world’s conversations, ever, according to research at the University of California, Berkeley.” (“Sizing Up Big Data, Broadening Beyond the Internet”, by Steve Lohr, The New York Times, 19 June 2013)

One could be forgiven for wanting to head some of this yadda-yadda off at the pass before the Word becomes flesh to make its dwellings among us. I mean, I gotta be me, you gotta be you. But must our Eggo’s leave behind minable contrails? The collapse in embedded processor pricing will soon allow for smart toasters. Every appliance will have a snappy retort. Every briefcase will carry an airtight alibi. The world is irrevocably data and sensor-rich and there’s no going back.

Going forward then, how can we vouchsafe an authentic human sphere within this sea of data? or is ‘soul’ ripe for a digitized deconstruction? The trans-humanists suggest Job v.2 will be a robot sent to teach the machine the ineffable nature of soul. That’s provided the ineffable (that transcendent, ‘extra-data’ realm which literature purports to stalk) is indeed antithetical to data and not subsumable within a Big Data skein. Stephen Marche suggests as much:

“Literature cannot meaningfully be treated as data. The problem is essential rather than superficial: literature is not data. Literature is the opposite of data.” (“Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities”, Los Angeles Review of Books, 28 October 2012)

Marche’s essay title hat-tips a vast field of endeavor known as Digital Humanities to which he (and I) probably give shamefully short shrift. Some of the mandates emanating from this new academic wing are tantalizingly terrifying. Here, Bruno Latour is discussing nothing less than Big Data’s potential for cataloging the ‘inner workings’ of the soul:

“The precise forces that mould our subjectivities and the precise characters that furnish our imaginations are all open to inquiries by the social sciences. It is as if the inner workings of private worlds have been pried open because their inputs and outputs have become thoroughly traceable.”
“Beware, Your Imagination Leaves Digital Traces”, Times Higher Education Literary Supplement, 6 April 2007

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange pointed out recently that the East German secret police employed ten percent of the population at one time or another as informants. That sort of high overhead will cripple any enterprise. No wonder the Soviet bloc collapsed. Fortunately, the fascio-corporatists have our backs. The genius of Facebook is that it is an emoticon-besotted surveillance apparatus through which friends rat out friends routinely, unwittingly and for free. Hey, if I’m sending my buds to the Gulag, I want beer money to help subsidize my tears.

Big Thinker Jaron Lanier proposes an even starker equivalence in his latest book Who Owns the Future?:

“Information is people in disguise, and people ought to be paid for the value they contribute that can be steered or stored on a digital network.”

Despite his defense of regular folks, Lanier seems oddly acquiescent to our object status as though we are in fact mere data warehouses, albeit with a propped-open backdoor that encourages shoplifting and prevents equitable compensation. Nonetheless Lanier is onto something when he suggests the value-exchange is poorly understood by the average Facebook consumer-supplier.

In a nation of rip-offs, the thief is king, so it pays to study his M.O. Facebook aggressively runs all of its employees, regardless of formal function, through Big Data boot-camps in an effort to “promote a culture in which everyone uses data to test and ultimately roll out new products, design changes, and other improvements.” (“What I Learned at Facebook’s Big Data Boot-Camp”; CNN-Money-Fortune, by Michal Lev-Ram, 13 June 2013)

The Facebook micro-culture may augur the macro-culture, or is a nation of thieves unsustainable? Clearly, Facebook knows the trove over which it presides and the extractive capacity for all nearby hands to just dig in. Good for Facebook. Apply the distributive computing model over a massive pro bono user base, paint a solicitous happy face above the front door and the cost of data collection suddenly vanishes into the ether. Where the East Germans insisted on payment, we give ourselves and our loved ones up without a fight, without a nickel.

Alright, so everyone gets a shovel and we’ll dig ourselves to a collective nirvana. On the other hand (said one equivocating economist to another), might what Big Data pioneer Jeffrey Hammerbacher calls the impending renaissance of the ‘numerical imagination’ yield up the metrics of what poets have insisted on calling since time immemorial, soul? Perhaps there is no ghost in the machine. Perhaps it’s all machine. Perish the thought.

Poets notwithstanding, all that glistens on human lips has never been gold, anyway. That our fingers excel at capturing every demiurge now with dispatch on one PDA or another does nothing to burnish the archival value of the utterance. Would Zeus have been less cruel, more circumspect in his meting out of punishment, had it also fallen within his purview to store the repetitions of his wrath?

Perhaps human data generation should consist of a finite annual allotment of bytes per year, per capita much like a carbon tax. No doubt Al Gore can invent the apt paradigm. Perhaps we are discovering the darker side of near-universal literacy, you know, those same seven billion souls who can’t wait to share what they had for breakfast on Facebook.

Are we being incorrigible elitists even to suggest such things? The carbon analogy is not as facetious as it sounds. In some sense, data is an exhalation. Of course there’s money in the quotidian. Facebook makes a fortune monetizing our errant chatter. But is there transformative meaning? Surely we’re not here only to make money (an imaginal exercise itself) only to have them listen to us very closely so that they can take it all back again—echoes of Sisyphus in his green-eyeshade permutation? Studies have shown three-quarters of all data has the retention value of an empty gum wrapper.

No, the human race didn’t wait for the Digital Age to dawn so that it could suddenly exhale en masse. What has changed is that we are all now affixed with carbon dioxide monitoring devices, low-cost handheld appliances that record our every hiccup. Our heart beats. Our data emits. Barely audible, off-hand remarks—veritable verbal tics—that our own spouses have the good sense not to query for clarification are being cataloged by digital devices.

Nor am I deaf to the durable idealistic notion that all human musings (nothing less than the murmuring of souls) are inherently valuable, certainly of a higher order than, say, other excretions, e.g., perspiration, waste product and the like. Indeed the democratic impulse is offended by the notion that quotidian effusions do not merit attention. This was not always the case.

In his 1994 essay, “The Future of the Book”, Umberto Eco reminds us that broadly prevalent literacy is a relative blip on the human culture timeline. All the hand-wringing over our TV-besotted age (a phenomenon Eco refers to sardonically as “mass media criticism of mass media”) forgets the profound illiteracy that preceded it for many centuries: “We can complain that a lot of people spend their day watching TV and never read a book or a newspaper, and this is certainly a social and educational problem, but frequently we forget that the same people, a few centuries ago, were watching at most a few standard images and were totally illiterate.”

Eco delineates further between publishing and communicating. With the advent of handheld devices, many of us have migrated unwittingly into the realm of publishing (fossilized entrails) versus ephemeral (sound wave-dissipating) communications. Indeed the NSA has conscripted all of us into the publishing game without so much as a referendum. Police states are funny that way. Every hiccup has a shelf-life. Long live the permanent record.

For the moment, Moore’s Law is still finding cupboard space for our personal effusions. But even that venerable efficiency curve is flashing the fault-lines of fatigue. (Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku predicts its collapse in ten years.) Only Uncle Sam has the real estate and the mindless profligacy to even try and keep abreast of the tsunami. In a   Russia Today interview (4 December 2012), whistleblower and former NSA crypto-mathematician William Binney suggested well before the Snowden revelations that the NSA is collecting everything from everybody (what a shrewd discerning beast, that Uncle Sam!), thus the need for the 1.5 million square foot, $2 billion data storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah:

“I don’t think they are filtering [the totality of society’s data]. They are just storing it. I think it’s just a matter of selecting when they want it. So, if they want to target you, they would take your attributes, go into that database and pull out all your data.” (William Binney, “Everyone in U.S. Under Virtual Surveillance”)

On one level, the NSA’s strategic plan seems to have stepped out of a French existentialist novel. It collects the data because, well, it and the data are there. Of course, part of the plotline involves forgetting that the Constitution is there, too—or once was, anyway. For the moment, storage capability and analytics techniques are evolving briskly and the government is flush enough to afford them. The day has arrived when, if the government decides it doesn’t like you, it will simply data-mine you to backstop all the reasons why it doesn’t like you.

Alas, profit-making entities do not enjoy the same boundless access to acres of Utah desert and public largesse. Big Brother enjoys scalability whereas profit centers cannot forgo front-end data analytics techniques. Capitalists have to take out the trash because data warehousing is a huge and growing expense. In a perverse twist on the crowding-out effect, the private sector could ultimately contract under the onerous burden of data storage costs (even as the business value of the stored data is known to be de minimus), while the public sector sits smug atop your paramour’s pet name. You call that fair, Mr. Orwell?

Studies have shown three-quarters of all data has the retention value of an empty gum wrapper. This is one way of saying the legal profession has zero interest in its liability value (and don’t think for a minute that defense against potential lawsuits isn’t a big part of the anal retention bias). IBM’s Pritchard, again:

A large part of the inability to push a delete button is the result of legislation requiring businesses to maintain certain identifiable information to ensure transparency when ostensibly working on behalf of stockholders. In addition, a business of any size being sued, or suing to protect its rights, better be able to produce evidence to prove its case. Court sanctions have been swift and harsh in the evidentiary arena.  Attorneys have responded to keep it all. Attorneys are focused on risk. They look in one direction, strictly adhering to the law, torpedoes be damned.

Fortunately, there are countervailing forces within the enterprise. IT departments, threatened by the predations of data storage costs on their budgets (and the resultant brakes on innovation and development) are as eager to take out the trash as in-house general counsel are to let the refuse just pile up. Nor did enterprising CIO’s climb the corporate ladder for the purpose of becoming graveyard caretakers. And yet a recent McKinsey & Company report (“Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity, May 2011) projects 40 percent growth in global data generation per annum versus five percent growth in global IT spending. With fewer allocable dollars contending with explosive and unabated data generation, Big Data risks becoming the dumpster that ate The Next Big Thing.

How will innovation maintain a place at the IT table? Slowly, senior management is coming to realize that the security blanket is really an anvil in disguise. The fact, is Big Data threatens to be a major job and productivity killer. With more bytes and less people, the machine wins again. Frankly, how many more battles can We the People afford to lose?
Even today, only two percent of all existent human data is on the Internet. Oh good, only 98 percent more to plow through! Rilke would be struck by the frivolity of the task, indexing the totality of (ever-expanding) human data, tantamount, one suspects, to moving every grain of sand on every beach from the left side of the beach to the right side and vice versa.

Suppose Sisyphus managed just once to tip his boulder over the crest of the hill. Would it not just careen into a meta-valley on the other side? How is our wisdom, our knowledge enhanced by the reptilian impulse to catalog everything under the sun or, as Sven Birkerts characterizes, the replicative meaninglessness of the so-called ‘digital path’, to invent:

“…a parallel realm… [that] would move us away by building a new world, with new human rules, and placing it squarely atop the old.” (“The Room and the Elephant”, Sven Birkerts, Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 June 2011)

Should the day ever arrive (it would have to be at the end of history) when the universe becomes fully indexed on the Internet, does the Internet not become the universe? or at the least a parallel meta-universe? What will we do then? Re-roll our boulders to their originating valleys? Admit the inevitable and collapse our souls into avatars? Who will conduct the first-order, up-close reconnoiter, what Emerson, anticipating Rilke describes as, “…the poet nam[ing] the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other”? Metadata names names, making it at least one step removed from the poet’s sacred project. Our transformative energies are wasted on filing chores, relegating us to glorified machine-language adjuncts. Steve Lohr looks ahead to this very prospect:

“Decisions of all kinds, [Big Data experts] say, will increasingly be made on the basis of data and analysis rather than experience and intuition — more science and less gut feel…what psychologists call ‘anchoring bias.’” (“Sizing Up Big Data, Broadening Beyond the Internet”, The New York Times, 19 June 2013)

Anchoring bias sounds a lot like poetic voice, that woefully inadequate yet durable nemesis of analytics everywhere, the human soul. The impending Big Data train-wreck cries out for a deeper reckoning to which we must rally our poet-technologists, all five of them. If we would only self-listen with proper gnostic intensity our data footprints would collapse like the nervous babel they mostly are. Big Data is the shadow-form of all we could not bring ourselves to reflect upon. Intuition will not be indexed.

Therein lies its value. Intuitives risk being hunted to extinction by the NSA State. If you cannot tweet it, it will not exist, an assault on Rilkean consciousness Patriot Act IV will surely codify. The apotheosis of P. K. Dick’s black iron prison (and Bentham’s Panopticon) is the Internet in its late-stage authoritarian form. Even Hammerbacher asks rhetorically if belatedly, “What does it mean to live in an era where things and people are infinitely observed?” Thank you, Mr. Hammerbacher, for tossing circumspection on the pyre of scientific advance.

But then, scientists are famous for plunging ahead and leaving others to look like ridiculously out-of-step Luddites. Allow me to dig my heels in first: If the wonders of Hiroshima have taught us anything, it is that the huge potential of Big Data will be met with a mushroom cloud of compensatory magnitude. Thus, it is precisely the breathless claims of Big Data analytics that have me shaking in my boots. We must relight the early Christian catacombs somewhere off the grid as the soul is being driven underground, once again.

I’m also prompted to offer an updated definition of that cagey yet ineradicable word ‘soul’ as being the human region which proves resistant to data collection and surveillance, not because we erect a killer (and thus someday, ‘with the right technology’, surmountable) firewall; but because there is something within the very fabric of soul that is antithetical to data collection and looms one step beyond Hammerbacher’s ‘infinite’ field of observation. The proof for soul? That Sisyphus’ punishment is so incomprehensible in magnitude and scale that no data silo can ever hope to contain it in the shuttered language of binaries. Capture is impossible. Only poetry can evoke it.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the soul proves to be but a billion points of convergent data, we will brush through the trans-human era on the way to machine-hegemony and human extinction. There’s a whole human movement working earnestly towards this capitulation called Singularitarianism —how traitorous, how charming. Absent this forever vouchsafed realm, the poetic project collapses like a metaphysical hoax perpetrated against the centuries. As goes poetry, so goes the soul. Historic man cannot be so far behind.

In the meantime, we are high-tech beasts of burden dragging stones towards a Great Collective Pyramid of Cyber. Had we realized the Digital Revolution would enlist us in a massive water-carrying project instead of emancipating us to pursue a Greater Meaning (the manna-headstone of information), we might never have picked up those damned Blackberry’s in the first place. Now we’re hooked. But please, just hold that thought. Don’t type it.

Big Brother, Big Data & the Sustaining Power of Kellogg’s® Eggo® Waffles

Getting There First and Other Teacup Storms

This essay appeared previously at Ithaca Lit
cliche
From now on, my head won’t look down to a magazine
Rather, it will contemplate the night
And its bright stars,
And so, no more clichés.
–From Octavio Paz’ ‘No More Clichés’

The drumbeat for ever more inventive poetry is a clichéd refrain that champions newness for newness’ sake. No one wants to be seen loitering around Grecian urns, if it can be avoided. Poetasters instead like to imagine themselves intrepid Ponce de Leons navigating uncharted seas. This pioneering spirit is not restricted to image and subject matter. Like Nietzsche’s Turin horse, language is forever being prodded forward, even when it might be at the end of its enunciatory tether. Mutter, ich bin dumm.

Clichés are the terra firma of the widely received. Call me a dull Thomas, but I’ve learned some really neat things in the land of bread and circuses. Clichés say a lot about how we think. You’d have to be crazy as a loon to discard them outright. Moreover indiscriminate rule-based pruning seems presumptuous in the extreme. Claiming maximum prerogative for the poet, Hart Crane spoke of the ‘logic of metaphor’ being “organically entrenched in pure sensibility”. As clichés are so often built on metaphor and simile, denying their use in all cases trespasses upon the poet’s unfettered access to his own separate but equal logical praxis.

This may be a jurisdictional dispute. English-speakers would never think to impose rules of grammar on Spanish. Who the hell has the right to legislate poetry but poets themselves? Beneath so-called dead language, there’s often a pent-up ghost murmuring a twice-told tale –or is it a dead man unable to tell incriminating tales? Actually it’s both. The thinking is that clichés are too-well-trod; apt perhaps but overused. The aptness fascinates me. I want to know why certain words and phrases acquit our collective cognition like a well-beaten path. Suddenly, as some arbiter never fails to instruct us, we are called to abandon a journey that transported our fathers as though all portentousness has been summarily beaten from the road well-travelled. Surely some ivory tower conspiracy lurks behind this squeeze play?

T.S. Eliot pressed the whole notion of squeezing in poetry when he famously and derisively coined the term “lemon-squeezer school of criticism.” Since then, anyone applying too much pressure to poetry, no matter the utensil, is suspect in my book; maybe in your book too. What are you reading? Speaking of reading books, dilettantes do it all the time (speaking of reading) as the actual reading part can be an arduous task. At the very least, harping on about the proliferation of clichés implies frequency of encounter, a condition attainable only through wide reading. So there is a self-serving predilection buried in the complaint itself.

Indeed writer Kazuo Ishiguro accuses cliché warriors of being armed to the teeth with elitist disdain. Mr. Ishiguro, a Booker Prize winner, is no slouch. So his fondness for repetition probably bears repeating as I am just about to do. Note that the teeth cliché is at my instigation and not his. (Keep your eye-teeth peeled as, a tooth fairy told me, more dental work follows):

I feel that for writers, an obsession with what is elegant or what is a cliché or not a cliché can become very inhibiting….When you write fiction you have to be prepared to adopt the language of everyone that you want to mimic. Prohibitions have behind them a kind of snobbery or fear of being seen as lower middle class.”
–from ‘Kazuo Ishiguro On Clichés’

Clearly bourgeoisie pettiness is fanning false consciousness again. Philip Hensher points his finger too at that striving, sneering ‘someone’ in a recent Telegraph article, “the budding writer has been told that clichés are to be avoided at all cost – “like the plague”, someone once said to [him]…” To all self-appointed, self-contradicting literary mavens, I say a pox on all your plagues. At least to this proud dolt of working class lineage, cliché admonitions already border on cliché, going in one ear and out the other, I believe from right ear to left, as clichés rarely come out of left field. I will not throw the towel in on them categorically. Sometimes my curiosity kills a dead-cat-bounce (a teetering orange tabby formerly known as Invention). Just as often my inquiries spur a formal inquest or foil a premature autopsy: ‘Gendarme, this creature is not quite dead!’

Perhaps clichés are the mark of linguistic failure. Perhaps this is the narrowest of failures. Perhaps it is no failure at all. Christopher Ricks says, “with a true poet, the linguistic concerns are a corollary of a way of looking at life.” A cunning linguist should never be a lapdog to rule-based poetry. To the extent a poem avails hackneyed language, it is almost certainly more than the sum of its hackneyed language anyway.

We should leave it to gifted poets to attempt resurrection on what is widely deemed dead as a doornail. Idioms for example (a form of cliché) can capture a regional flavor the poet is striving to convey. Those who invalidate poetry on the prima facie evidence of clichés are squeezing too hard. There is no kitchen appliance up to the task of poetry or else we would have ceded stanzas to toasters long ago. Someone should be coaxing cliché towards a new lease on life. Heidegger argued that a key responsibility of poets lies in the resuscitation of language. To do this, poets may have to be knee-deep in cliché where the work is hardest.

Cliché possesses no existential weight. Suspend the predations of time and the perceived offense vanishes. In the fullness of time, language’s evocative power hovers like an eternal constant. Frequency of use is a red badge of verbiage. Thus at best, the charge is a flimsy one and rooted in temporalities: we, or a steady succession of we’s, simply wore the language out, through no fault of the latter. There are just too damn many of us for language to bear much novelty for very long. So tread lightly on the best foot forward. The right foot of the Vatican’s Bronze Statue of St. Peter has been worn away from the countless caresses of ardent pilgrims. Should this precipitate an indictment of St. Peter or a rousing affirmation of his ability to move souls? A victim of history, clichéd language is being persecuted, oddly enough, for its efficacy. How unfair.

Thus clichés fall hard on the future. As if onerous debt was not enough, our children inherit a mortgaged language. Early arrivers got a free lunch, whereas late-comers have little choice but to labor under an inherited fatigue. Other mens habits convict us. Some Royal We has deigned that we may applaud, under our breaths, habitually overused language with historical appreciation, but never contemporary usage.

At the end of the day, we find our overlords hopelessly erring on the side of cliché-avoidance. (Ishiguro again: “I find phrases like…‘at the end of the day’ very deep. ‘At the end of the day,’ is full of stoic ruefulness. It’s very close to reflecting the human condition”.) We need not shuffle nervously from foot to foot just because the most comfortable shoes in our closet happen also to be the most worn. Indeed there’s more at work here than dusty old coteries of ‘forward-looking’ professors. Our fetish for the shiny-new, yet another manifestation of consumerism usurping culture, works its own alienating effects on comfortable language. You might say we are being tugged on one end by a well-heeled elite and on the other by the journeyman agony of da feet. Clichés can keep our feet on the ground and our heads out of the clouds, if we would only unlace our style consciousness and avant-garde fixations.

One can easily succumb to dead seriousness on matters such as these. Remember, all that’s required for levity to prevail is for wrist-slitters to sit on their hands and do nothing. Or so we thought. There’s a saying, by now cliché, certainly passé and not everyone’s soufflé, that it takes 43 muscles to frown and only 17 to smile. Thus smiling is easier. Still others say it takes four carets in a row before your cleverness really hits its stride. These formulaic notions should be rejected with the all the strength of our vowels.

Enter Science, that most serious pursuit, to turn urban legend on its head, making every smile a frown. David H. Song, MD, FACS, plastic surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Chicago Hospital, reports that it takes 11 muscles to frown and 12 to smile. Suddenly humor is seriousness without the long face, an uphill slog where a muscle runs through it. We could knit our brows over the sheer precariousness of laughter, but one tiny sprain to the mug, Bub, and guffaws lose their game. It takes a village to raise one peal of laughter, certainly two villagers to lend a joke its ricochet. This makes us all a hop, skip and a jump away from a string of heartbreaking losses, and that’s nothing to snigger at over the garden-wall.

The poet’s prerogative supersedes all critical demarcations. His tongue will not be cowed by cagey admonitions from culture’s stopwatch vultures. How else but in his own quirky voice and with the language that greets him (as much as he, it) can a poet offer anything at all?

Getting There First and Other Teacup Storms