Archive for October, 2007

Channeling H.P. Lovecraft

October 31, 2007

Surely the most chillingly rational start to a horror story ever, by way of HPL:

“In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative. It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of supersight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.”

From “The Tomb”.

Dripping with elitism, maybe, but also deeply interesting.

Bibliography

H.P. Lovecraft, The Tomb and Other Tales (New York: Ballantine, 1970).

Keep Talking Mother Nature, We’re Still Listening

October 30, 2007

In the truth is stranger than fiction dept., I was directed to this BBC story by one of my sources. It’s about the oldest animals found to date — clams, in fact. Dredged up off the coast of Iceland. Reminds me of all those wondrous things one finds under the sea. Hopefully they don’t “clam up”, as the article suggests these ancient mollusks may contain a record of the environmental ups and downs of the past 3-4 centuries and also possibly provide insight into the secrets of aging and longevity. Quite the double bill.

Why am I suddenly thinking of putting a conch to my ear and listening to the ocean? Who knows. The ancient knowledge is already there, buried under the sand…

We just need to listen very carefully.

Lost…

October 27, 2007

My cell phone. In a drunken haze, last night. Feeling like I’m losing a lot of things these days. Friends and loved ones. A sense of direction. My connection to the human world. When it rains it pours. At one of those liminal points — could go any way. Thinking I should go live with the wolves — they don’t care so much for cell phones…

At least my back is feeling a little better.

All about the baby steps.

This is a Man’s World?

October 24, 2007

Apologies to the Godfather, may he rest in peace, but this may no longer be so. Especially in the hallowed halls of the Ivory Tower (how’s that for a mixed metaphor), it’s girls gone wild.

Discuss…

N.B. Thanks for the link to those sexy ladies (hey, I’m assuming…) at Arts & Letters Daily.

On My Desk, Vol.4

October 24, 2007

Well, this is starting to be a regular feature. And here I said I wouldn’t do that. Should have asked for it in print. A few curios, some which were once in print, lying around on, well, you know…

R.A. Gilbert, The Elements of Mysticism (Shaftesbury: Element, 1991).

Part of an introductory series on religious and spiritual practices of various sorts, from alchemy to Zen. Other books in the collection are written on things like Taoism, psychosynthesis, earth mysteries, visualisation, pendulum dowsing and even the Grail Tradition. Eclectic enough to spare. This one, on mysticism, seems fairly interesting so far. “Mysticism” is a difficult word, but for this writer it evokes aspects of neo-Platonic philosophy, Eastern transcendence, random Sufi practices, Qabalah, and the spiritual exuberances of Christianity. He also takes what is at once a universal and a critical perspective. In his chapter on “the nature of the mystical experience,” Gilbert discusses the subject in psychological terms, referring to “altered states of consciousness”. Sounds about right. Interesting little book.

Lin Carter, Imaginary Worlds (New York: Ballantine, 1973).

Carter was an American sci-fi author and critic of some note. This book is quite ambitious in its scope, attempting a synthesis of fantasy fiction “from William Morris to the present day”. He goes back deeper still, however, discussing the ancient Babylonian epics in his first chapter. Carter has a sensibility about this genre that’s quite inspiring. While I’ve only thumbed through this text a little it looks like a comprehensive and fascinating read.

Thomas Pynchon, V. (New York: Bantam, 1963).

A weird classic by a classic weirdo. One of the authors I’ve wrestled with a fair bit. I actually prefer one of his shorter pieces, The Crying of Lot 49 — a brilliant book anticipating aspects of the Silicon Valley revolution. Likely Pynchon’s most widely read early work.

John Rosevear, Pot: A Handbook of Marihuana (New York: University, 1967).

Um, I have no idea where this came from. Really, I swear. It’s one of those “myth-busting” books that just gives you the straight dope…Sorry.

Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

This is a brilliant synthesis of Berlin’s thoughts on romanticism and its intellectual origins. Derived from a series of A.W. Mellon Lectures he gave on the subject in the spring of 1965 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and further enhanced by comments he also made around the same time on the BBC. Probably a definitive work on romanticism, exploring its provincial German roots (c.f. Herder) and contrasting this with the emerging cosmopolitanism of the philosophes, whose thought anchors Enlightenment rationalism. Because of the original format (spoken word) this is energetic and dynamic scholarship, not overburdened by excessive detail and instead focused on the “big picture”. An impressive intellectual canvas.

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage, 1992).

A swan song for art and individuality as it existed before the digital age. Technocrats beware!!

Richard Kearney, ed. Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy: Routledge History of Philosophy, Vol. 7 (London: Routledge, 1994).

Secondary essays on continental philosophy. Essentially a scary bunch of academic stuff I should read but probably already sorta know. Moving on to…

Well, that’s it, actually.

Wow. Weak finish. I knew I should have written something about the October Revolution today.

…And Speaking of William Gibson

October 19, 2007

I mentioned him a few posts ago in relation to gomi, inquiring about Spook Country, his new book. Seems that Doctorow over at Boing Boing really seems to like it.

The CBC had a little piece about him two week ago, too. He’s also done a recent radio interview. Interesting.

A way back I wrote a ranty little essay about the c-punks in which I mention Gibson, who has at times been a source of inspiration. Still bummed about missing his book signing in Victoria a few weeks ago. Should he happen to actually hit on this, and choose to comment, well that would be just peachy…

Moshe Safdie

October 16, 2007

Decided to follow the crowds and check out Moshe Safdie yesterday evening. He was presenting the David J. Azrieli Lecture in Architecture at McGill University in Montreal on “Megascale, Order and Complexity”. It was, despite misgivings as to his over-hyped popularity, amazingly interesting.

Safdie began with high ideals, speaking of the “power” of his craft to transform, but he also said that as long as there was a “failure of the urban” it was difficult to usher in the “triumph of architecture” spoken of by so many technophiles. How, he asked rhetorically, can one create truly meaningful spaces and transcend the strictures of “fashion”. Further, how do architects avoid the leveling and universalizing force of the market? “The market” seemed like something he wasn’t terribly fond of. Funny, since it has been pretty good to him…

Tracing the development of the city center from its 19th century origins to the socialist-inspired “new urbanism” of the 20th century, Safdie used this historical preamble to launch into discussions of his own work. He talked of unbuilt “Habitats”, his current mega-project in Singapore, and other more recent successes, including the lovely Salt Lake City Public Library. Through his visual presentation I found fascinating insight into the use of geometry and its obvious centrality in architecture. In his final conclusion Safdie showed how, for him, inspiration comes from the myriad shapes in nature (an eagle’s wing, a conch shell, a spiderweb), talking about complexity, order and “fitness” in the Darwinian sense. Beauty, he suggested, is an absolute — a mathematical, geometrical and moreover, morphological quality. In this sense, I think he feels truth and beauty in art can still be achieved, particularly when one allows nature to guide and inspire.

An interesting — if not particularly original — point. Still, I was inspired that after 40+ years of designing characteristic structures around the world and building a kind of architectural empire, Safdie is still, at heart, a hopeless romantic. Or at least that’s the vibe he gives off in public lectures. Fascinating, overall.

Chuckle

October 12, 2007

Quote of the day:

“I thought dabbling in the black arts would be good for a chuckle…”

Bart Simpson

Somehow seemed appropriate today, since events have seen the sudden resurrection of political careers once thought dead.


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