Archive for the ‘sci-fi’ Category

Thoughts on Telos

January 20, 2014

Life doesn’t make any sense. There is no rhyme or reason. No greater understanding to be had, no deeper meaning to be made. But life has purpose. More than this, life is purpose. That’s all it is – a blind, instinctual drive to be; to exist. It’s a constantly renewed desire; a wanting and needing without end. It’s no wonder that some long for the peace of death, as life is the ultimate state of disharmony – a constant irritation. An itch that can never be satisfyingly scratched.

This is the purity of telos – of the end of life. Life pushes, life swells, life consumes and is consumed. This is the primal function of Aristotle – the anima nurtritiva – the nutritive soul. It exists, it generates, it grows, it seeks out nutrition and sustenance, without sense or reason. The philosopher Spinoza saw this as the essential, inevitable fact of the living; that it strives to survive. He called this principle of animation in living things “conatus” (striving).

This is also the essential madness of life. It’s an impulse akin to the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god” Azathoth: “Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity – the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond space and time…” Indeed, it is we, as human beings trapped in a consciousness whose purpose and origin will forever escape us, who “gnaw hungrily” in our own minds – which in a manner of speaking are “inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond space and time.”

Life is the eternal cusp of becoming. It is what Heidegger described as “being” (Dasein). It is the point toward which we constantly strive but never arrive. Life, the essential fact of our very existence – our life force – is desire. Desire and pleasure are connected but not synonymous. Desire is that force which compels us to the point of satisfaction – to the point of reaching our goal (whatever it may be). It is the neurological system that behaviorists argue impels us towards certain behaviors.

The problem, of course, is that this system is at its most engaged – the neurons fire most intensely and the release of dopamine is most pronounced – at a point before we reach our objective. And so, in the end, we as living things are wired to seek and compelled to desire regardless of the outcome.

One can derive all sorts of pseudo-profound axioms about life and its meaning from this fact (i.e. “it’s about the journey, not the destination”). But these are just echoes of mind, of our desire to create patterns, to believe there is true purpose and meaning behind our actions.

There isn’t, of course. Our purposes and actions are no more significant than those of a flea biting a dog, or of that dog’s preoccupation with a ball or a bone that it cannot reach.

In the end, that is our end. We live and breathe and grow and think in spite of ourselves. We are built to strive. Towards what it usually isn’t clear. But always there is the impulse, the compulsion. Always we are propelled forward, oozing out into the world like a cup full of liquid spilling out onto a clean table.

And so, this is why the pursuit of desirelessness – of the contemplation of desirelessness – is the ultimate purpose. And yet, it is not a pursuit – or at least cannot be understood as a pursuit. In fact it cannot be understood at all. It’s a pursuit beyond all pursuits. This is the vipassana – insight into the true nature of reality. This insight is at root insight-less. It is being one with Lovecraft’s “blind idiot god.” It is, in a sense, a being beyond being.

False Front Fiction No.1: “The Orgonocrats”

September 23, 2013

This is a new idea for a series of posts. What follows is a collection of ephemera — bits and pieces of fiction projects I have started, but never managed to finish. It’s in keeping with the subtitle of this blog (“fragments”) and an attempt to exorcise some creative demons and clear the mechanism for future forays. Hope you enjoy this first offering…

This incomplete fragment of fiction (hence the “false front”) was written a few years ago and intended as the beginning of a chapter of a sci-fi novel tentatively titled “The Orgonocrats”. It was inspired by research I was doing on Wilhelm Reich, the pioneering psychiatrist who proposed the idea of “orgone energy” — a kind of life energy permeating the universe and crucial in his understanding of sexuality and health. I’ve argued in a chapter of a book I recently co-edited that he is a kind of vitalist.

The premise behind “The Orgonocrats” was pretty straightforward, if quirky. Set in the fairly near (cyberpunk-esque) future, it envisions a society heavily influenced by eugenics, genetic engineering, designer babies, and all that jazz. Sexuality for the sake of reproduction has become somewhat passe — “normal” sex is thus a kind of taboo. This is made even more problematic because STDs and the like have mutated and spread in deadly proportions. At the same time, scientists have discovered that “orgone energy” is real; that it can be harvested and distilled. And in a world of alienation and isolation it has become a very desirable substance — both as drug, and (as I was going to reveal as the novel developed) as source of almost limitless “cosmic” energy with all sorts of potential applications. It is thus the “currency” in this new society — like oil is in ours — and there are attempts to control and dominate its production and distribution. That’s where the title — “The Orgonocrats” — comes in. The reference to “unbusted” clouds is a nod to Reich’s development of a device called a “cloudbuster” (which you can still go and see) that he thought could harness orgone energy to control the weather. I was going to use this idea, and the notion also hinted at in this piece that orgone has a key spiritual component, prominently in the novel. Without further ado, here’s a fragment of chapter one — “Hell’s Altar Boy”:

1. Hell’s Altar Boy

The stars, obscured by clouds – unbusted – for years. But that didn’t prevent the search for light. The girls were glowing, ringed with the rapture. Those Sisters of the Cosmic Embrace were cute, boy. All dressed (if that’s what you could call it) in slick sheer silver sass and high black bitch boots. Two of them were standing in front of a small marquee some clever, pseudo-literate wag had arranged to read: “Cum commune with the cosmos…”. But Mako didn’t have the “sense”, and rubbing wasn’t on his mind.

The Church of the Cosmic Embrace was tucked in a dark alley, indistinguishable from the rest of the rotting relics of the age of guns, germs and steel. No shiny glass and synth-ceramic bizboy arcologies around these parts. Just lots of forgotten middle tech, crumbling red brick and human detritus…And the sisters.

One of them moved into the alley to intercept Mako; A tall girl, no more than nineteen, but looking like she’d been to hell and back with a smile on her face – maybe she had. Her long, full, firm thighs were exposed and pale, framed by short shiny hot pants and high-heeled boots, laced about fifty times all the way up over her knees. Above a wide clear plastic belt was a stretch of creamy bare midriff, soft but tight, and a half-hearted silver sequin halter, barely covering the bottom of her big, round breasts. They spilled out of the top too, creamy quarts of fulsome flesh. Her hair was high and elaborate, like a blond bird of paradise, little twisty tendrils dangling alluringly at her temples. She completed the look with dark red-black lipstick, fake lashes and too much azure eye shadow.

“You looked charged up,” she said, smiling widely and reaching for his arm.

“Got places to go,” Mako replied, stopping at her touch but still half-turned to head down the alley, away from the sisterly temptress and her curvaceous cadre.

“Can take you wherever you want,” she beamed up at him, leading his eyes with her obscenely long silver painted nails. They slid sharply down from his temple to the collar of his weathered leather jacket. “And bring you back, too.”

“Sorry,” he turned to go, gently brushing her claws away from his face.

“What are you afraid of?” The girl asked, taking a different, more challenging tangent. This caught the attention of her companion, a shorter redhead with heavenly hips and hypnotic green eyes.

“Nothing” Mako replied. “I’m in the same business as you, just have better guarantees.” He reached into his jean pocket for something.

The girl panicked a little and stepped back, her thick-lash-framed eyes widening apprehensively. A professional, Mako knew she sensed a deal going bad. But not in the way she thought…

His hand came out with a small chrome vial, about twice the size of his index finger, with a bright, sharp digital readout along its side.

Just as the big blonde was about to shriek with fear, her petite redheaded friend came up behind her and touched her lightly on the shoulder, briefly startling her but also calming her.

“This is Mako,” the redhead said. “He’s a loan shark.”

Mako looked down at the vial in his hand, and reflected on how accurate that description was. “Lone” indeed.

Suddenly the sultry seller became a potential customer, as Mako uttered the simplest of pitches: “You want some?” He was deadpan, as if he didn’t care whether she bought from him or not. Someone always eventually, and eagerly, did.

“What is it?” the girl asked. Looking somewhat innocently from Mako back to her friend. Like a deer caught in headlights, this one. He looked over at the redhead and shook his head in disbelief.

“If you don’t know, you probably don’t want any.” The redhead intoned, trying to wake her luscious blonde friend from a stupor. Mako could already see she was hypnotically drawn to the vial in his hand. This was the part that always amazed him.

“You girls give it away in the ‘spirit’ of the church, or whatever they’re calling it these days. This is Holy Water to you, sugar.” He was being too cute – this poor creature was like a pretty pet. But the redhead might be more feral.

“Listen, Mako, we don’t need your theology lesson tonight, hun.” “Why don’t you keep rolling…” As if on queue, he thought.

“Right…Like I said, got places to be.” True enough. He turned to go.

“Is that pure o-gone?” The blonde asked, her mascara-laden eyes wide with amazement.

Mako spun back around with a devilish grin slowly spreading across his face. “Sure is.” He said…

Random PKD Quote No.2

August 10, 2013

“Burroughs posits an information virus (or ‘virus’ [like]). (Not so, KW says.)

If that plasmic energy is alive, and it is (or it carries) information, then we have living information. Logos? Information plasma which enters through the optic nerve primarily — or auditorily. Signals that control our brains, open GABA blocked circuits. Like pressing keys on a typewriter.

Once having entered the person’s brain via the optic nerve it now modulates brain functioning so that the person subliminally transduces messages (including instructions) and hence is a ‘cell’ in the brain, responding to sentient override — lifted out of the blind forces of the Yin realm, his actions integrated with that of all others like him. It’s like a beehive, a colony entity, and is immortal, replenishing and shedding continually. Member-units (v. Schopenhauer on the fruit flies*).

*In The World as Will and Representation, vol.1, Schopenhauer uses beehives and ant-colonies as an example of the “will-without-knowledge” working in nature.”

From Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, eds., The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011), 360, 907.

See also.

Rhododendron

June 6, 2013

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The Jest of the Gods

March 31, 2013

“‘True,’ said Kull. ‘I remember the legends — Valka!’ He stopped short, staring, for suddenly, like the silent swinging wide of a mystic door, misty, unfathomed reaches opened in the recesses of his consciousness and for an instant he seemed to gaze back through the vastness that spanned life and life; seeing through the vague and ghostly fogs dim shapes reliving dead centuries — men in combat with hideous monsters, vanquishing a planet of frightful terrors. Against a grey, ever-shifting background moved strange nightmare forms, fantasies of lunacy and fear; and man, the jest of the gods, the blind, wisdomless striver from dust to dust, following the long bloody trail of his destiny, knowing not why, bestial, blundering, like a great murderous child, yet feeling somewhere a spark of divine fire…Kull drew a hand across his brow, shaken; these sudden glimpses into the abysses of memory always startled him.”

From Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow Kingdom,” in Heroes in the Wind: From Kull to Conan (London: Penguin, 2009), 28.

The Mind

March 16, 2013

“The mind is a strange and wonderful thing. I’m not sure it’ll ever be able to figure itself out. Everything else maybe, from the atom to the universe. Everything except itself.”

From Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Twitter!

September 11, 2012

Having abandoned the baby picture and cute puppy world that is Facebook, I find myself still feeling the need to connect to the world through the medium of a social network. There’s an immediacy and a level of interaction there that I miss (and perhaps have become accustomed to…). All this to say that I am now using Twitter for this purpose. Even though some people use it quite frivolously, I find there’s a more focused and professional (and in my case, even educational) quality to the format.

So, yeah, if you jive with that and are interested, please follow me @weirdhistorian

Thanks!

Ten Reasons Why Facebook is the Soulless Bane of Modern Life

August 26, 2012

I’m well aware of the painful irony of castigating the world’s most popular social network on a blog, another form of social network. But I don’t have the money to put stamps on hundreds of handwritten letters, so here it goes:

1. Facebook is not social.

Saying hello to someone on the street is social. Having dinner or a drink (or getting falling down drunk…) with someone is social. Exchanging pleasantries or even bodily fluids is social (after all, it can possibly lead to a “social” disease). Arguing while waving your arms frantically at someone is social. Knitting while sitting on a couch together is social (sad, but social). Typing pithy comments about someone’s vacation pictures you vaguely know while hurtling along the Interstate at 80 MPH is not social. It’s just stupid. And dangerous.

2. Does that “net”-work for you?

Feeling trapped? Nothing is more representative of modern life than a forum for “self-expression” which requires you to fill out lame little standardized electronic boxes. Don’t color out of the lines! Touted as a multi-billion dollar computer platform, most of Facebook just boils down to a computerized version of those dorky name tags that say “My name is ____”.

Just think of that word — network. Nothing more than a bunch of virtual tendrils, designed to ensnare and entrap. The question you should be asking is who is the spider and when is he going to come along and suck out all of your vital juices? If you feel like a fly on the wall. Well…Buzz, buzz.

3. All those douchebags with marketing degrees are simultaneously yelling “gotcha”!

Marketers used to actually have to work to sell you stuff and get your attention. Now you come to them, by the millions, like so many lemmings careening off a cliff. And because you are an open (face)book, they know exactly what you want. In fact, some of the stuff they know you want you didn’t even know you wanted…

4. Individuality?

Heck, you can’t even change the bloody typeface on your page. (Note: See #2). And remember, if you post a picture you’d better not be doing anything too inappropriate. Some bot might come along and be offended. I, for one, welcome our Facebook bot overlords. All hail Zuckerberg!

5. All the world’s a stage.

Unfortunately, everyone in the audience is too busy working on their own acting career. Of course, you too can be the star in your very own movie (not sure what the working title is now, but they used to call it “Life”). Everything is a performance. Look, I got a new job! I have moved further up the rung and am mastering the cogs of capitalism. Please, “like” me. Why won’t you like me? Do I need to do something more extravagant? How is it that over half a billion bad actors clamoring for attention isn’t more people’s idea of hell? When did we all become such showoffs? Reality TV? TV is our reality! We’re always on camera, always observed and observing. Too bad none of us are just bloody living anymore. I don’t need to see the beautiful view you saw on your trip to Aruba or walk around the neighborhood. You saw it. It’s yours. That’s precious. Enjoy it.

6. Whatever you’re doing, someone else is doing something cooler.

Facebook is a constant reminder that no matter what you are doing, it is lamer than what a dozen of your “friends” are doing. Just booked a trip to the beach on Maui? Whatever. Your “friend” just bought an island in the south Pacific. Bought a new car? Your “friend” just bought a new yacht. New baby? Your “friend” had triplets! (Well, on second thought, maybe you are better off there…). A regression back to grade school is the order of the day on Facebook. It’s like one big game of “Oh yeah! Well…”.

7. In old sci-fi novels and movies, weren’t hive minds a bad thing?

I remember an old episode of Star Trek where this guy Harry Mudd had found a whole planet of androids. And there were groups of them — copies — such that you had Alan 216 or Mary 109. Facebook is kind of like that. It’s almost impossible to miss someone famous dying these days because fifty of your closest friends will comment about it. Sometimes they’ll even include some maudlin link to a relevant Youtube video. How touching. And some of these people who are venerated are pretty lame. No matter, its all fodder for Facebook.

I’m waiting for the day when some lunatic puts up a status update of “RIP Charles Manson” and the whole Goth world goes (lady) gaga about the passing of Marilyn. Give me a break! I guess the point, if there is one, is all the collective grief and, by extension, the sense of injustice is totally bogus when all it amounts to is clicking on “like” or “share”. Which brings me to…

8. How many cute puppies does it take to stop a dictator from wiping out a whole town?

Politics. Oh yeah. Remember when that word used to imply that the discussion or debate was about an actual place or space? You know, the polis? Now it’s random rants about how dumb some conservative is, or how bleeding heart some liberal is. Mostly it distills down to re-posting (i.e. “sharing”) some clever cartoon about how we are all totally fucked. Well, if things are so bad, do something! Those occupy people, as aimless and indigent and generally stoned as they were, were doing something. Until Facebook came along and turned it all into a bunch of idle slogans. Facebook has become the dumping ground for frustration and impotent rage. It’s as if it was a cleverly constructed release valve for dissent and criticism. Almost seems planned that way. Hmm…

Oh, yeah, and by the way, the answer to the question above is…none. You need a LOL cat.

9. Your friendships begin to resemble that show — Friends.

I hated that show. I really did. It reeked of a neutered middle-class complacency that makes me want to kick puppies (but not the really cute ones people always post on Facebook — just the ugly, faceless puppy in the crowd…). Everyone was always being clever and pithy and drinking coffee on a sofa on Friends. Kind of like what people do now when they are on Facebook.

I like the idea of friends. I used to have friends. I used to hang out with them and see them too. I don’t have to anymore. I live a completely alienated, isolated and lonely life as an academic (“Oh, he’s one of those!”) in a town and state I basically hate. But with Facebook, my plight is supposed to be somehow more bearable. Your experience may be somewhat similar. I sincerely hope not.

10. Like the real world, Facebook has class (but not the good kind!)

Well, no it doesn’t. But it has developed ghettos and upscale neighborhoods. Whether you muck around on Farmville or post stories by way of the New York Times, everything about Facebook is just part of that time honored human tradition of creating arbitrary distinctions.

The only distinction I think is important anymore is this — are you part of the Facebook herd or are you still vaguely trying to maintain some aspect of your humanity? We in the techno-utopias of the “west” may pity or even mock those poor souls for whom Facebook is only a computer program. But I, for one, envy them. If only they also had a bit of peace and food and clean water…

So, yeah, Facebook sucks. Modern life kind of sucks too. Am I bitter? You bet! Angry? Yup! What would make me happy? If dozens, even hundreds (dare I hope for thousands?) of people put a link to this blog post up on…You guessed it: Facebook! I won’t know about it though, since for now (and hopefully, if I’m strong, forever) my Facebook account is deactivated. But maybe, in some little way, I’m not.


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