Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We would know what it is to be human instead of just puppets

 [ source ]

From The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti [via Digital Pidgin]:

To repeat: we can tolerate existence only if we believe—in accord with a complex of illusions, a legerdemain of impenetrable deception—that we are not what we are. We are creatures with consciousness, but we must suppress that consciousness lest it break us with a sense of being in a universe without direction or foundation. In plain language, we cannot live with ourselves except as impostors. As Zapffe points out in “The Last Messiah,” this is the paradox of the human: the impossibility of not lying to ourselves about ourselves and about our no-win situation in this world. Thus, we are zealots of the four strategies delineated above: isolation (“Being alive is all right”), anchoring (“One Nation under God with Families and Laws for all”), distraction (“Better to kill time than kill oneself”), and sublimation (“I am writing a book titled The Conspiracy against the Human Race”). To the mass of us mortals, these practices make us what we are, namely, beings with a nimble intellect who can deceive themselves for their own good. Isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation are the wiles we use to keep our heads from dispelling every illusion that keeps us up and running. (“We think, therefore we know we are alive and will one day die; so we had better stop thinking, except in circles.”) Without this cognitive double-dealing, being alive would bare itself as a sordid burlesque and not the fabulous thing we thought it was. Maybe then we would know what it is to be human instead of just puppets beating the boards and one another. But that would stop the show that we like to think will run forever.

[ source ]

Sir Rollin D. Bones at 1:51

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The mysterious vulture that watches for the carcass of some dead illusion

Charles Grogg || Vulture Roost (Tethered Tearers)

The disturbances, anxieties, depravities, death, exceptions to the physical or moral order, the spirit of negation, the brutishness, the hallucinations waited upon by the will, torments, destruction, madnesses, tears, insatiabilities, slaveries, deep-thinking imaginations, novels, the unexpected things which must not be done, the chemical peculiarities of the mysterious vulture that watches for the carcass of some dead illusion, precocious and abortive experiences, obscurities with a flea-like shell, the terrible obsession with pride, the inoculation with deep stupors, funeral orations, envies, betrayals, tyrannies, impieties, irritations, bitternesses, aggressive tirades, insanity, spleen, rational terrors, strange misgivings the reader would rather not feel, grimaces, neuroses, the cruel routes through which one forces last-ditch logic, exaggerations, lack of sincerity, the nuisances, platitudes, gloom, the dismal, the childbirths worse than murders, passions, the clique of assize-court novelists, tragedies, odes, melodramas, eternally presented extremes, reason hissed off stage with impunity, the odours of wet chicken, dulled tastes, frogs, octopi, sharks, the simoom of the deserts, whatever is clairvoyant, squinting, nocturnal, narcotic, somnambulist, slimy, talking seal, equivocal, consumptive, spasmodic, aphrodisiac, anaemic, one-eyed, hermaphrodite, bastard, albino, pederast, phenomenon of aquarium and bearded lady, the drunken hours of taciturn dejection, the fantasies, pungencies, monsters, demoralising syllogisms, the excrement, whatever is thoughtless as a child, desolation, that intellectual manchineel-tree, perfumed chancres, thighs like camellias, the guilt of a writer who rolls down the slope of nothingness and scorns himself with joyous cries, remorse, hypocrisies, the vague perspectives that grind you within their imperceptible mills, the sober gobs of spittle upon sacred axioms, the insinuating tickling of vermin, idiotic prefaces like those of Cromwell, Mlle de Maupin and Dumas fils, the decrepitude, impotence, blasphemies, asphyxiations, fits, rages, -- before these foul charnel-houses, which I blush to name, it is time at last to react against what offends us and so imperiously bows us down.
 - Poesies, Lautréamont

via A Journey Around My Skull

Friday, August 06, 2010

To catch the dragonfly when...

 Kengo Futagawa (59 at the time) was crossing the Kannon Bridge (1,600 meters from the hypocenter) by bicycle on his way to do fire prevention work. He jumped into the river, terribly burned. He returned home, but died on August 22, 1945. [src]

Crossing the Kannon Bridge - 8:15 a.m. 

A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence.
I stood up, took my cap in my hands,
and was about to catch the dragonfly when...
- A Survivor

Detail from a U.S. Air Force map of Hiroshima, pre-bombing, circles drawn at 1,000 foot intervals radiating out from ground zero, the site directly under the explosion. [src]

70,0000 - Nearly... with possibly...

Targeted for military reasons and for its terrain (flat for easier assessment of the aftermath), Hiroshima was home to approximately 250,000 people at the time of the bombing. The U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island very early on the morning of August 6th, carrying a single 4,000 kg (8,900 lb) uranium bomb codenamed "Little Boy". At 8:15 am, Little Boy was dropped from 9,400 m (31,000 ft) above the city, freefalling for 57 seconds while a complicated series of fuse triggers looked for a target height of 600 m (2,000 ft) above the ground. At the moment of detonation, a small explosive initiated a super-critical mass in 64 kg (141 lbs) of uranium. Of that 64 kg, only .7 kg (1.5 lbs) underwent fission, and of that mass, only 600 milligrams was converted into energy - an explosive energy that seared everything within a few miles, flattened the city below with a massive shockwave, set off a raging firestorm and bathed every living thing in deadly radiation. Nearly 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 70,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950. @

Shortly after 8:15 am, August 5, 1945, looking back at the growing "mushroom" cloud above Hiroshima. When a portion of the uranium in the bomb underwent fission, and was transformed instantly into an energy of about 15 kilotons of TNT (about 6.3 × 1013 joules), heating a massive fireball to a temperature of 3,980 C (7,200 F). The superheated air and smoke rapidly rose through the atmosphere like a giant bubble, dragging a column of smoke up with it. By the time this photo was made, smoke had billowed 20,000 feet above Hiroshima while smoke from the burst of the first atomic bomb had spread over 10,000 feet on the target at the base of the column. [src]

In a Wild Hand

In the B-29 Enola Gay, the copilot, keeping a flight log, wrote: "There will be a short intermission while we bomb our target." Next, in a wild hand, he wrote "My God!" @

千羽鶴 - A Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadako Sasaki (January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) was a Japanese girl who was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, near her home by Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan.

At the time of the explosion Sadako was at home, about one mile from Ground Zero. By November 1954, chicken pox had developed on her neck and behind her ears. Then in January 1955, purple spots had started to form on her legs. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which her mother referred to as "an atom bomb disease." She was hospitalized on February 21, 1955, and given, at the most, a year to live.

On August 3, 1955, Sadako's best friend Chizuko Hamamoto came to the hospital to visit and cut a golden piece of paper into a square and folded it into a paper crane. At first Sadako didn't understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold the story about the paper cranes. Inspired by the crane, she started folding them herself, spurred on by the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish. @


 Outshone the Sun

If I were asked to name the most important date in the history and prehistory of the human race, I would answer without hesitation, 6 August 1945. The reason is simple. From the dawn of consciousness until 6 August 1945, man had to live with the prospect of death as an individual; since that day when the first atomic bomb outshone the sun over Hiroshima, mankind as a while has had to live with the prospect of its extinction as a species.
- Arthur Koestler, Janus: A Summing Up

Arrogant like Jupiter

The effects were spectacular. Despite the very substantial burst height of 4,000 m (13,000 ft) the vast fireball reached down to the Earth, and swelled upward to nearly the height of the release plane. The blast pressure below the burst point was 300 PSI, six times the peak pressure experienced at Hiroshima. The flash of light was so bright that it was visible at a distance of 1,000 kilometers, despite cloudy skies. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 km. One cameraman recalled:

The clouds beneath the aircraft and in the distance were lit up by the powerful flash. The sea of light spread under the hatch and even clouds began to glow and became transparent. At that moment, our aircraft emerged from between two cloud layers and down below in the gap a huge bright orange ball was emerging. The ball was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter. Slowly and silently it crept upwards.... Having broken through the thick layer of clouds it kept growing. It seemed to suck the whole earth into it. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.

Another observer, farther away, described what he witnessed as:

... a powerful white flash over the horizon and after a long period of time he heard a remote, indistinct and heavy blow, as if the earth has been killed!  @

Although the body of Moto Mosoro (54 at the time) was not found, a part of her burned head was discovered on September 6, one month after the atomic bombing, at a place 1,500 meters from the hypocenter. This was taken from an eye socket. [src]

There is only the question: When will I be blown up?

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

- William Faulkner's speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall 
in Stockholm, December 10, 1950 @

Melted Image of the Buddha [src]

གཅོད - A small heap of charred human bones

Alexandra David-Néel tells of a rite practiced in old Tibet called chöd, which she had witnessed and into which she herself had been partially initiated. It is a kind of mystery play with one actor only, the celebrant. It has been so devised to terrify the participants that one hears of men who have suddenly gone mad or died while engaged in its performance.

It is performed in a cemetery, or any wild site whose physical aspect awakens feelings of terror. The place is thought even more suitable if it is associated with a terrible legend or if a tragic event had actually occurred there recently.

The rite is designed to stir up the occult forces or conscious beings which may exist in such places, generated either by actual deeds or by the concentration of many people's thoughts of imagined events. During the performance of chöd, the performer may see himself suddenly surrounded by players from the occult worlds.

The one to perform chöd, the naljorpa, must first learn the ritual dance, his steps forming geometrical figures, and also turnings on one foot, stampings and leapings while keeping time with the liturgic recitation. He must learn to handle, according to rule, the bell, the dorjee, and the magic dagger (phurba), to beat rhythmically a small drum (damaru), and to blow a trumpet made of a human femur (kangling). The dancers are young ascetics emaciated by austerities, clad in ragged robes, their unwashed faces lit by hard, resolute, ecstatic eyes. They are preparing themselves for a perilous undertaking.

The ceremony begins with long mystic preliminaries during which the celebrant tramples down all passions and crucifies his selfishness. Then the celebrant blows his bone trumpet, calling the hungry demons to the feast he intends to lay before them. He envisions a female deity, who esoterically personifies his own will, and who springs from the top of his head and stands before him, sword in hand. With one stroke she cuts off the head of the naljorpa. Then, while troops of ghouls crowd around for the feast, the goddess severs his limbs, skins him, and rips open his belly. The bowels spill, the blood gushes forth, and the hideous guests bite and chew noisily, while the celebrant excites and urges them on with the liturgic words of unreserved surrender:

"For ages, in the course of renewed births I have borrowed from countless living beings--at the cost of their welfare and life-- food, clothing, all kinds of services to sustain my body, to keep it joyful in comfort and to defend it against death. Today, I pay my debt, offering for destruction this body which I have held so dear.

"I give my flesh to the hungry, my blood to the thirsty, my skin to clothe those who are naked, my bones as fuel to those who suffer from cold. I give my happiness to the unhappy ones. I give my breath to bring back the dying to life.

"Shame on me if I shrink from giving my self! Shame on you, wretched and demoniac beings, if you do not dare to prey upon it . . . "

The act of the "Mystery" is called "the red meal." If the initiate is one far advanced, it will be followed by "the black meal." The vision of the demoniacal banquet vanishes, the laughter and cries of the ghouls die away. Utter loneliness in a gloomy landscape succeeds the weird orgy, and the exaltation aroused in the naljorpa by his dramatic sacrifice subsides.

Now he visualizes himself having become a small heap of charred human bones that lie on a lake of black mud-- the mud of misery, of moral defilement, and of harmful deeds to which he has cooperated during the course of numberless lives whose origin is lost in the night of time. He must realize that the very idea of sacrifice is but an illusion, an offshoot of blind, groundless pride. In fact, he has nothing to give away, because he is nothing. These useless bones, symbolizing the destruction of his phantom "I," may sink into the muddy lake; it will not matter.

That silent renunciation of the ascetic who realizes that he holds nothing that can be renounced, and who utterly relinquishes the elation springing from the idea of sacrifice, closes the rite.
- From The Dreadful Mystic Banquet by Alphonso Lingis @

The practitioner works entirely with their own mind, visualizing the offering, and—by practicing in lonely and dreaded places, like cemeteries—works to overcome all fear. [src]

"You appear to know Chöd, Jetsumma. Do you really? he inquired calmly.

"Yes," I said, "I have practiced it too."

He did not reply.

After a while, as the lama remained silent, and seemed to have forgotten my presence, I tried again to appeal to his pity.

"Rimpoche," I said, "I warn you seriously. I have some medical knowledge; your disciple may gravely injure his health and be driven to madness by the terror he experiences. He really appeared to feel himself being eaten alive."

"No doubt he is," answered the lama with the same calm, "but he does not understand that he himself is the eater. Maybe he will learn it later on...."

- Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Alexandra David-Néel. Quoted in Transgressive Compassion: The Role of Fear, Horror and the Threat of Death in Ultimate Transformation by Lucy Annette Jones [pdf]

Kangling is a tantric Buddhist ritual instrument used by practitioners of Chöd.
Made from a human femur, this kangling or thigh bone trumpet from Tibet has heavily carved Silver metal covering the epicondyle end which serves as the sounding end of the horn. This particular Kangling is made from a human femur and also has inlaid coral and turquoise stones. [src]

A small fire from the world's first nuclear bombing

Takudou Yamamoto feels a family duty to hand down a message against the tragedy of war. He is the keeper of a legendary flame which his late father lit after the Hiroshima nuclear attack.

Tatsuo Yamamoto, a wartime soldier, carefully preserved a small fire from the world's first nuclear bombing -- doing so in complete silence until the late 1960s when local media first reported his unusual story.

He died four years ago but the "nuclear bomb flame" is still alight under a glass shield at a peace monument on a park looking out on his secluded village of Hoshino, some 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Hiroshima.

"Yes, it's a symbol. A symbol for peace," said Takudou Yamamoto, 58, a monk and ceramic artist and Tatsuo's second son. @

A flame that has been burning continuously since the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. [src]

Charles "Bonesy" Jones was born on 6 August 1945.
I am the keeper of his flame.
His spirit eats away at my flesh
In every instant of every day.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lincoln's Brain: Suddenly the bullet dropped out

I first encountered Sarah Vowell through the Daily Show and then in The Incredibles. Finally picked up a copy of Assassination Vacation the other day. Was going to read only the first 20 pages or so and was 51 pages into it before I stopped to make note of the extraordinary passage quoted below.

The above video is an excerpt from a longer talk she gave to promote her book The Wordy Shipmates. She has a rare ability to add humor and charm to subject matter that is usually devoid of both. In the clip, she is discussing the differences between the Geneva Bible and the King James Bible, illustrating this with an anecdote from her youth about how she would put on a puppet show "about how people of faith needed to stand up to wrong-headed kings."

Assassination Vacation is about her pilgrimage around the US to various museums, prisons and historical homes having something to do with presidential assassinations - specifically, those of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. The passage below is about Lincoln's brain:

Curtis and Woodward were examining Lincoln's head, looking for the bullet, this bullet now in this museum. Curtis wrote, "Not finding it readily, we proceeded to remove the enture brain."

Think about that. I know I have. For the first few days after I read that, every time I took a five-dollar bill out of my wallet I looked at the engraving of Lincoln's head and couldn't get the image of his detached brain out of my head. Curtis goes on to write that as he was lifting the brain out of the skill, "suddenly the bullet dropped out through my fingers and fell, breaking the solemn silence of the room with its clatter, into an empty basin that was standing beneath." Listen. That room was so quiet. Of course it was. When the bullet dropped in such a quiet room, it must have been almost as jarring as the original gunshot. In less steady hands, the brain could have fumbled to the floor. Curtis stares at that bullet:

"There it lay upon the white china, a little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger - dull, motionless and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world's history as we may perhaps never realize.... Silently, in one corner of the room, I prepared the brain for weighing. As I looked at the mass of soft gray and white substance that I was carefully washing, it was impossible to realize that it was that mere clay upon whose workings, but the day before, rested the hopes of the nation. I felt more profoundly impressed than ever with the mystery of that unknown something which may be named "vital spark" as well as anything else, whose absence or presence make all the immeasurable difference between an inert mass of matter owing obedience to no laws but those covering the physical and chemical forces of the universe, and on the other hand, a living brain by whose silent, subtle machinery a world may be ruled. The weighing of the brain... gave approximate results only, since there had been some loss of brain substance, in consequence of the wound, during the hours of life after the shooting. But the figures, as they were, seemed to show that the brain weight was not above the ordinary for a man of Lincoln's size. "

Monday, June 28, 2010

Colin Wilson: Hoping to talk to TS Eliot and ended up meeting Marilyn Monroe

Just discovered this excellent post about the rise and fall of Colin Wilson at Another Nickle in the Machine. I have heard most of the story before but what is entirely new are the photographs and secondary material. Nice.

From Another Nickle in the Machine:

A gossip columnist buttonholed Wilson before he left the party and asked what he was doing there. Wilson said that he had spent the evening hoping to talk to TS Eliot and ended up meeting Marilyn Monroe.

The next morning the columnist duly wrote about the young author meeting Marilyn at the premiere adding that Wilson, while there, had been asked to write a play for Olivier.

It was publicity like this that made his supporters question whether he really was a serious writer. The New York Times had written about his almost over-night ascendancy -- “he walked into literature like a man walks into his own house”.

If it’s easy to walk into your own house, it’s presumably just as easy to walk out, and Wilson’s fall from grace was almost as quick as his initial success. The tabloid backlash began in December 1956 when a story in the Sunday Pictorial informed the public that Wilson had a wife and a five year old son but was living with a mistress -- his girlfriend Joy -- in Notting Hill. Indeed, one of the reasons he lived rough on Hampstead Heath, while he was writing his acclaimed first book, was to avoid paying maintenance to his estranged wife.

Via The Hound Blog

Lemmings and the Alienation of Mass Culture: Life quickly leaves them, and they die from the slightest injury....

A week or so ago, as I was walking past Michael's Books, I stopped to check out the boxes of free books that they always leave outside. My attention was caught by the title of a tattered paperback, Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society. Of course, I had to pick it up.

One of the more influential books in my life was The Outsider by Colin Wilson, published in 1956. Strange things in the air from around 1955 to 1965. The issue of the "alienation of modern man" had a surprising relevance for popular culture: that there was a seething subculture disconnected from society; that the psychological effects of two world wars and the atomic bomb had undermined traditional values; that there was a "crisis" that must be attended to. The existential was cool. The world was burned-out, beat, whimpering in whispers. Something had to be done. Urgently. Unflinchingly.

The cover copy of Man Alone:

From Karl Marx to James Baldwin, from Dostoevsky to Ignazio Silone, and unflinching survey of one of the most critical dilemmas of our time.

The tone is now nostalgic, the narration of a film trailer from the same period. Sweet. 50s naive. You wonder which bourgeois-losers were publishing all those cowardly surveys of non-critical dilemmas. The smell of the old pages alone was that of serious thinking, intense conversation.

Scanning over the contents of Man Alone, I noted the final piece, The Hare and the Haruspex: A Cautionary Tale by Edward S. Deevey (originally published in The Yale Review, Winter 1960). It is a remarkable essay concerning the odd behavior of lemmings. From the distance of 50 years, it is still intellectually enchanting, something you might find from the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the style an engaging cross between Swift and Borges - subversive irony mixed with annotated counter-factology. Several times in the reading I had to slow down in order to parse the levels of satire and, for lack of a better term, scientific irony.

Deevey was a respected and influential paleolimnologist. Nothing in his other publications - that I can find - is similar in style to The Hare and the Haruspex.

I have included quite a few quotes below. Additionally, the piece led me to a moderately deeper consideration of the Analogy and Mythology of the Lemming. A few notes in this regard are also included.

From Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society:  Edited, with an introduction, by Eric and Mary Josephson, Dell Publishing, 1962. The Hare and the Haruspex: A Cautionary Tale by Edward S. Deevey [originally published in The Yale Review, Winter 1960]:

What is now suspected is that the lemmings are driven by some of the same Scandanavian compulsions that drove the Goths. At home, according to this view, they become depressed and irritable during the long, dark winters under the snow. When home becomes intolerable, they emigrate and their behavior is then described by the old Norse word, beserk.

As Caruso's vocal cords, suitably vibrated could shatter glassware, the whole of animate creation sometimes seems to pulsate with the supply of lemmings.

The reindeer, which ordinarily subsist on reindeer moss, acquire a taste for lemmings just as cattle use salt.

In his authoritative and starkly titled book, Voles, Mice and Lemmings, the English biologist Charles Elton summed up "this great cosmic oscillation" as "a reather tragic procession of refugees, with all the obsessed behavior of the unwanted stranger in a populous land, going blindly on to various deaths."

The diagnosis, if that is what it was, amounted to saying that the hares were scared to death, not by lynxes (for their bodies hardly ever showed claw-marks), but, presumably, by each other.

The Second World War was on at the time, and for a while no one remembered what Collett had said about the lemmings: "Life quickly leaves them, and they die from the slightest injury.... It is constantly stated by eyewitnesses, that they can die from their great excitement."

These Delphic remarks turned out to contain a real clue, which had been concealed in plain sight, like the purloined letter.

Well-trained in the school of Pasteur, or perhaps of Paul de Kruif, the investigators had been looking hard for germs, and were slow to take the hind of an atrophied liver, implying that shock might be a social disease like alcoholism. As such, it could be contagious, like a hair-do, without being infectious. It might, in fact, be contracted in the same way that Chevrolets catch petechial tail fins from Cadillacs, through the virus of galloping, convulsive anxiety. A disorder of this sort, increasing in virulence with the means of mass communication, would be just the coupled oscillator to make Gause's theory work. So theatrical an idea never occurred to Gause, though, and before it could make much progress the shooting outside the windows had to stop. About ten years later, when the news burst upon the world that hares are mad in March, it lacked some of the now-it-can-finally-be-told immediacy of the Smyth report on atomic energy, but it fitted neatly into the bulky dossier on shock disease that had been quietly accumulating in the meantime.

Keyed up by the stresses of crowded existence - he instanced poor and insufficient food, increased exertion, and fighting - animals that have struggled through a tough winter are in no shape to stand the lust that rises like sap in the spring. Their endocrine glands, which make the clashing hormones, burn like a schoolgirl making fudge, and the rodents, not being maple trees, have to borrow sugar from their livers. Cirrhosis lies that way, of course, but death from hypertension usually comes first.

Haruspicy, or divination by inspection of the entrails of domestic animals, is supposed to have been extinct for two thousand years, and no one know what the Etruscan soothsayers made of a ravaged liver. Selye would snort, no doubt, at being called a modern haruspex, but the omens of public dread are at least as visceral as those of any other calamity, and there are some sound Latin precedents - such as the geese whose gabbing saved Rome - for the view that emotion is communicable to and by animals. More recently, thoughtful veterinarians have begin to notice that neurotic pets tend to have neurotic owners....

 From Wikipedia:

The myth of lemming "mass suicide" is long-standing and has been popularized by a number of factors. In 1955, Disney Studio illustrator Carl Barks drew an Uncle Scrooge adventure comic with the title "The Lemming with the Locket". This comic, which was inspired by a 1954 American Mercury article, showed massive numbers of lemmings jumping over Norwegian cliffs. Even more influential was the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, in which staged footage was shown with lemmings jumping into sure death after faked scenes of mass migration. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Cruel Camera, found that the lemmings used for White Wilderness were flown from Hudson Bay to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they did not jump off the cliff, but in fact were launched off the cliff using a turntable.

From Snopes:

Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate "suicide" attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings' venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.

Disney's White Wilderness was filmed in Alberta, Canada, which is not a native habitat for lemmings and has no outlet to the sea. Lemmings were imported from Manitoba for use in the film, purchased from Inuit children by the filmmakers. The Arctic rodents were placed on a snow-covered turntable and filmed from various angles to produce a "migration" sequence; afterwards, the helpless creatures were transported to a cliff overlooking a river and herded into the water. White Wilderness does not depict an actual lemming migration - no time are more than a few dozen lemmings ever shown on the screen at once. The entire sequence was faked using a handful of lemmings deceptively photographed to create the illusion of a large herd of migrating creatures.

Nine different photographers spent three years shooting and assembling footage for the various segments that comprise White Wilderness. It is not known whether Disney approved or knew about the activities of James R. Simon, the principal photographer for the lemmings sequence.

Nature documentaries are notoriously difficult to film, as wild animals are not terribly cooperative. Many nature shows and films of this era - including Disney's "True-Life Adventure" movies and TV's Wild Kingdom - staged events to capture exciting footage for their audiences. The sight of a few lemmings mistaking a lake or ocean for a stream and drowning after swimming out too far, or being pushed over a cliff during the frenzied rush of migration, has become the basis of a widespread belief that lemmings commit suicide en masse when their numbers grow too large.

From In Depth: ABC Science:

Back in the 1530s, the geographer Zeigler of Strasbourg, tried to explain these variations in populations by saying that lemmings fell out of the sky in stormy weather, and then suffered mass extinctions with the sprouting of the grasses of spring. Back in the 19th century, the Naturalist Edward Nelson wrote that "the Norton Sound Eskimo have an odd superstition that the White Lemming lives in the land beyond the stars and that it sometimes comes down to the earth, descending in a spiral course during snow-storms." But none of the Intuit stories mention the "suicide leaps off cliffs".

When these population explosions happen, the lemming migrate away from the denser centres. The migrations begin slowly and erratically, with an evolution from small numbers moving at night, to larger groups in the daytime. The most dramatic movements happen with the True Lemmings (also called the Norway Lemming). Even so, they do not form a continuous mass, but instead travel in groups with gaps of 10 minutes or more between them. They tend to follow roads and paths. Lemmings avoid water, and will usually scout around for a land crossing. But if they have to, they will swim. Their swimming ability is such that they can cross a 200 metre body of water on a calm night, but most will drown in a windy night.

So lemmings do have their regular wild fluctuations in population - and when the numbers are high, the lemmings do migrate.

The myth of mass lemming suicide began when the Walt Disney movie, Wild Wilderness was released in 1958. It was filmed in Alberta, Canada, far from the sea and not a native home to lemmings. So the filmmakers imported lemmings, by buying them from Inuit children. The migration sequence was filmed by placing the lemmings on a spinning turntable that was covered with snow, and then shooting it from many different angles. The cliff-death-plunge sequence was done by herding the lemmings over a small cliff into a river. It's easy to understand why the filmmakers did this - wild animals are notoriously uncooperative, and a migration-of-doom followed by a cliff-of-death sequence is far more dramatic to show than the lemmings' self-implemented population-density management plan.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

'Yes' said the rider as white as a bone

The Rider - From the film The Proposition

'When?' said the moon to the stars in the sky
'Soon' said the wind that followed them all

'Who?' said the cloud that started to cry
'Me' said the rider as dry as a bone

'How?' said the sun that melted the ground
and 'Why?' said the river that refused to run

'Where?' said the thunder without a sound
'Here' said the rider and took up his gun

'No' said the stars to the moon in the sky
'No' said the trees that started to moan

'No' said the dust that blunted its eyes
'Yes' said the rider as white as a bone

'No' said the moon that rose from his sleep
'No' said the cry of the dying sun

'No' said the planet as it started to weep
'Yes' said the rider and laid down his gun

From Roger Ebert:

Have you read Blood Meridian, the novel by Cormac McCarthy? This movie comes close to realizing the vision of that dread and despairing story. The critic Harold Bloom believes no other living American novelist has written a book as strong and compares it with Faulkner and Melville, but confesses his first two attempts to read it failed, "because I flinched from the overwhelming carnage."
That book features a character known as the Judge, a tall, bald, remorseless bounty hunter who essentially wants to kill anyone he can, until he dies. His dialogue is peculiar, the speech of an educated man. "The Proposition" has such a character in an outlaw named Arthur Burns, who is much given to poetic quotations. He is played by Danny Huston in a performance of remarkable focus and savagery.

[ source ]

From Blood Meridian:

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

"Music for a vast, half-submerged ruined cathedral..."

From an interview with John Foxx:

Sometimes you have to step back to go forward. You need to revalue and restate. The context has altered too, so that alters the use of the content and its meaning. Makes it into something new, which simply uses a few old elements. Twenty years ago sampling remade and re-modelled, then evolved new genres from the older elements. I think that what is happening now is a similar re-use of a previous generations electronic remains. New architecture containing some appropriated material. Gene splicing to make interesting mutations, better able to negotiate new environments.

There are also several other good techno-philosophical reasons for this revaluation, because speaker technology has really only just evolved so that you can now hear how good the sounds of the past really were. For instance, bass speaker technology is only now beginning to realise the quality and range of frequencies analogue equipment is and was capable of throwing out. We have also been through a very puritanical rejection of analogue for digital. So now we are realising the intrinsic and unique qualities of both media are complimentary, not mutually exclusive. A good parallel to this exists in digital video, where, for the first time, we can now see the value of intrinsic imperfections in transferred analogue film- scratches flicker, borders. The beauty of faded and ruined film, variable exposure, different textures and quality of film such as super 8 and black and white.

All these elements have a kind of unique evocative beauty. This beauty was invisible or overlooked until you could fix and begin to control the elements in a new, content free digital medium. So they slowly become incorporated in the new medium as a part of its language. They make the new medium richer and denser. They give an empty new medium texture and content and vocabulary. Sampled surface scratches from vinyl are an example of this process. Things previously regarded as faults become qualities. This re-use of older material happens in all the Arts and Sciences at all stages - Picasso drew from Rembrandt, The Rolling Stones appropriated all the Chicago Blues singers, Oppenheimer used Einstein, Chaplin used Music Hall, They all used that material to create something new, for a new time.

Of course, Foxx's concern here is with external recording technologies. What is interesting to me is the application of his ideas to internal recording, memory. The tendency is always to see memories as static moments fixed in time. However, by entering into a dynamic relationship with memory, by allowing the creation of a fluid interior drama, "the beauty of faded and ruined film," by allowing one's faults and mistakes to "become qualities of unique evocative beauty," by incorporating them into the present sense of self, you make yourself wonderfully vulnerable to creation of a new ground for being, upon which richer, stranger and more resonate forms of self are given space to move and evolve.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gene Rodgers: Old South hallucination of a cartoon world inside of a watermelon

[ source ]

Some sort of fevered fish-eyed Old South hallucination of a cartoon world inside of a watermelon complete with chickens that appear and disappear above the keyboard, a child beauty in styling shoes rocking a leg in a wheelbarrow, and backed by a nearly silent gingham-clad quartet of smiling sisters. Add to it a perfectly out-of-sync Gene Rodgers setting the piano on fire - figuratively. What is amazing here - and that's saying a lot at this point - is how Rodgers is using the piano as ebullient language, as natural as Louis Armstrong effortlessly scatting out the sounds.

For a more restrained but equally sublime Rodgers, check out this from a review of the Grade C Noir film, Shoot to Kill: page down for the video.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Alice Leora Briggs: "The bodies were all akimbo and not neatly wrapped up."

Somewhere out there the Santa Muerte from Juarez is giving Jimmy Webb a new context: 

By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be risin'.
She'll find the note I left hangin' on her door.

 [ source ]

From PBS Newshour:  An Unflinching Look at Violence in Juarez:

When I first spoke to artist Alice Leora Briggs last spring, Juarez, Mexico, was under siege by rampant gang- and drug-related violence. Briggs had just completed an arts residency in southern New Mexico and frequently traveled the 30 minutes to witness the carnage and aftermath left by a recent spate of murders in and around the border town.

She visited so called "death houses," sites of mass executions, and spent time studying the victims' remains in the city morgue.

"One room is entirely full of bullets from the executions," Brigss said. "I saw an autopsy of a young man who was executed. There was a story in the New York Times about the morgue a day or so after I was there. The photos of the freezers had everything looking tidy. They must have cleaned for them. I was glad to get a different view....The bodies were all akimbo and not neatly wrapped up.... I see things on the news and compare it to what I saw and they do not always jive."

In response to what she saw, Briggs picked up her etching knives and, using an old etching technique from the 13th century called sgraffito, cut through dark wood to reveal images of what was laid before her eyes.

Alongside the graphic images, Briggs also incorporates medieval or renaissance scenes like an old-master draftsman. In a more recent conversation, Briggs explained what drew her to violent depictions: "The first time that I went to Italy, I realized that I was part of an extended tradition in Western art. I mean, you go to Italy, walk into any church, and the subject matter is about torture and death and human suffering. And these are things I think maybe are not entertaining, but certainly are worthy of our attention."

Be sure to check out the slideshow:

Thank you, Doe.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Albert Hofman Showed Me: Revelations In A Roman Cauliflower

[ source ]

 [ source ]

    • Albert Hofmann: LSD - My Problem Child

      Although I had firmly resolved to make constant notes, it now seemed to me a complete waste of time, the motion of writing infinitely slow, the possibilities of verbal expression unspeakably paltry - measured by the flood of inner experience that inundated me and threatened to burst me. It seemed to me that 100 years would not be sufficient to describe the fullness of experience of a single minute. At the beginning, optical impressions predominated: I saw with delight the boundless succession of rows of trees in the nearby forest. Then the tattered clouds in the sunny sky rapidly piled up with silent and breathtaking majesty to a superimposition of thousands of layers - heaven on heaven - and I waited then expecting that up there in the next moment something completely powerful, unheard of, not yet existing, would appear or happen - would I behold a god? But only the expectation remained, the presentiment, this hovering, "on the threshold of the ultimate feeling." . . . Then I moved farther away (the proximity of others disturbed me) and lay down in a nook of the garden on a sun-warmed wood pile - my fingers stroked this wood with overflowing, animal-like sensual affection. At the same time I was submerged within myself; it was an absolute climax: a sensation of bliss pervaded me, a contented happiness - I found myself behind my closed eyes in a cavity full of brick-red ornaments, and at the same time in the "center of the universe of consummate calm." I knew everything was good - the cause and origins of everything was good. But at the same moment I also understood the suffering and the loathing, the depression and misunderstanding of ordinary life: there one is never "total," but instead divided, cut in pieces, and split up into the tiny fragments of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years: there one is a slave of Moloch time, which devoured one piecemeal; one is condemned to stammering, bungling, and patchwork; one must drag about with oneself the perfection and absolute, the togetherness of all things; the eternal moment of the golden age, this original ground of being - that indeed nevertheless has always endured and will endure forever - there in the weekday of human existence, as a tormenting thorn buried deeply in the soul, as a memorial of a claim never fulfilled, as a fata morgana of a lost and promised paradise; through this feverish dream "present" to a condemned "past" in a clouded "future." I understood. This inebriation was a spaceflight, not of the outer but rather of the inner man, and for a moment I experienced reality from a location that lies somewhere beyond the force of gravity of time.

    • Huxley on Drugs and Creativity

      Well, there's always a complete memory of the experience. You remember something extraordinary having happened. And to some extent you can relive the experience, particularly the transformation of the outside world. You get hints of this, you see the world in this transfigured way now and then -- not to the same pitch of intensity, but something of the kind. It does help you to look at the world in a new way. And you come to understand very clearly the way that certain specially gifted people have seen the world. You are actually introduced into the kind of world that Van Gogh lived in, or the kind of world that Blake lived in. You begin to have a direct experience of this kind of world while you're under the drug, and afterwards you can remember and to some slight extent recapture this kind of world, which certain privileged people have moved in and out of, as Blake obviously did all the time.

    • From Lama Anagarika Govinda:Creative Meditation and Multidimensional Consciousness

      It was only with the advent of the Kalacakra School in the tenth century A.D. that religious seers and thinkers realised the profound mystery which is hidden under the conventional notion of time, namely the existence of another dimension of consciousness, the presence of which we feel darkly and imperfectly on the plane of our mundane experience. Those, however, who crossed the threshold of mundane consciousness in the advanced stages of meditation, entered into this dimension, in which what we feel as time was experienced not merely as a negative property of our fleeting existence, but as the ever present dynamic aspect of the universe and the inherent nature of life and spirit, which is beyond being and non-being, beyond origination and destruction. It is the vital breath of reality-reality, not in the sense of an abstraction, but as actuality of all levels of experience- which is revealed in the gigantic movements of the universe as much as in the emotions of the human heart and the ecstasies of the spirit. It is revealed in the cosmic dance of heavenly bodies as well as in the dance of protons and electrons, in the “harmony of the spheres” as well as in the “inner sound” of living things, in the breathing of our body as well as in the movements of our mind and the rhythm of our life.


      Reality, in other words, is not stagnant existence of “something”; it is neither “thingness” nor a state of immovability (like that of an imaginary space), but movement of a kind which goes as much beyond our sense-perceptions, as beyond our mathematical, philosophical and metaphysical abstractions. In fact, space (except the “space” that is merely thought of) does not exist in itself, but is created by movement; and if we speak of the curvature of space, it has nothing to do with its prevailing or existing structure (like the grain in wood or the stratification of rocks), but with its antecedent, the movement that created it. The character of this movement is curved, i.e. concentric, or with a tendency to create its own center- a center which may again be moving in a bigger curve or circle, etc.
      Thus, the universe becomes a gigantic mandala or an intricate system of innumerable mandalas (which, according to the traditional Indian meaning of the word, signifies a system of symbols, based on a circular arrangement or movement, and serves to illustrate the interaction or juxtaposition of spiritual and cosmic forces.) If, instead from a spatial point of view, we regard the universe from the standpoint of audible vibration or sabda, “inner sound,” it becomes a gigantic symphony. In both cases all movements are interdependent, interrelated, each creating its own center, its own focus of power, without ever losing contact with all the other centers thus formed.


      “Curvature” in this conception means a movement which recoils upon itself (and which thus possesses both constancy and change, i.e. rhythm) or at least has the tendency to lead back to its origin or starting-point, according to its inherent law. In reality, however, it can never return to the same point in space, since this movement itself moves within the frame of a greater system of relationships. Such a movement combines the principle of change and nonreversibility with a constancy of an unchangeable law, which we may call its rhythm. One might say that this movement contains an element of eternity as well as an element of transiency, which latter we feel as time.


      Both time and space are the outcomes of movement, and if we speak of the “curvature of space” we should speak likewise of the “curvature of time,” because time is not a progression in a straight line- of which the beginning (the past) is lost forever and which pierces into the endless vacuum of an inexorable future- but something that recoils upon itself, something that is subject to the laws of ever-recurrent similar situations, and which thus combines change with stability. Each of these situations is enriched by new contents, while at the same time, retaining its essential character. Thus we cannot speak of a mechanical repetition of the same events, but only of an organic rebirth of its elements, on account of which even within the flux of events the stability of law is discernable. Upon the recognition of such a law which governs the elements (or the elementary forms of appearance) of all events, is the basis upon which the I-Ching or “The Book of Changes,” the oldest work of Chinese wisdom, is built.


      Perhaps this work would better be called “The Book of the Principles of Transformation” because it demonstrates that change is not arbitrary or accidental but dependent on laws, according to which each thing or state of existence can only change into something already inherent in its own nature, and not into something altogether different. It also demonstrates the equally important law of periodicity, according to which change follows a cyclic movement (like the heavenly bodies, the seasons, the hours of the day, etc.), representing the eternal in time and converting time quasi into a higher space-dimension, in which things and events exist simultaneously, though imperceptible to the senses. They are in a state of potentiality, as invisible germs or elements of future events and phenomena that have not yet stepped into actual reality. (p256-60)


      This sameness- or as we may say just as well, this eternal presence of the “Body of the Law” (dharmakaya), which is common to all Buddhas, to all Enlightened Ones- is the source and spiritual foundation of all enlightenment and is, therefore, placed in the center of the Kalacakra-Mandala, which is the symbolical representation of the universe.


      Kala means “time” (also “black”), namely the invisible, incommensurable dynamic principle, inherent in all things and represented in Buddhist iconography, as a black, many-headed, many-armed, terrifying figure of simultaneously divine and demoniacal nature. It is “terrible” to the ego-bound individual, whose ego is trampled underfoot, just as are all the gods, created in the ego’s likeness, who are shown prostrate under the feet of this terrifying figure. Time is the power that governs all things and all being, a power to which even the highest gods have to submit.

      Cakra means “wheel,” the focalised or concentric manifestation of the dynamic principle in space. In the ancient tradition of Yoga the Cakra signifies the spatial unfoldment of spiritual or universal power, as for instance in the cakras or psychic centers of the human body or in the case of the Cakravartin, the world-ruler who embodies the all-encompassing moral and spiritual powers.


      In one of his previous books on Buddhist Tantrisim, H.V. Guenther compares the Kalacakra symbol to the modern conception of the space-time continuum, pointing out, however, that in Buddhism it is not merely a philosophical or mathematical construction, but is based on the direct perception of inner experience, according to which time and space are inseparable aspects of reality.
      “Only in our minds we tend to separate the three dimensions of space and the one of time. We have an awareness of space and an awareness of time. But this separation is purely subjective. As a matter of fact, modern physics has shown that the time dimension can no more be detached from the space dimension than length can be detached breadth and thickness in an accurate representation of a house, a tree, or Mr X. Space has no objective reality except as an order or arrangement of things we perceive in it, and time has no independent existence from the order of events by which we measure it.” (Guenther, Yuganaddha, The Tantric View of Life, 1952)
      An experience of reality (and that is all we can talk of, because “reality as such” is another abstraction) cannot be defined but only circumscribed, i.e., it cannot be approached by the straight line of two-dimensional logic, but only in a concentric way, by moving around it, approaching it not only from one side, but from all sides, without stopping at any particular point. Only in this way can we avoid a one-sided and perspectively foreshortened and distorted view, and arrive at a balanced, unprejudiced perception and knowledge. This concentric approach (which moves closer and closer around its object, in order finally- in the ideal case- to become one with it) is the exact opposite of the Western analytical and dissecting way of observation: it is the integral concentration of inner vision (dhyana). (p263) 
      That the gods of Buddhist iconography and their symbols and functions do not belong in the realm of metaphysics, but to that of psychology, has been correctly pointed out by C.G. Jung in his Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower. Speaking of the great Eastern philosophers, he says: “I suspect them of being symbolical psychologists, to whom no greater wrong could be done than to take them literally. If it were really metaphysics that they mean, it would be useless to try to understand them. But if it is psychology, we can not only understand them, but we can greatly profit greatly by them, for then the so-called ‘metaphysical’ comes within the range of experience. If I accept the fact that a god is absolute and beyond all human experiences, he leaves me cold. I do not affect him, nor does he affect me. But if I know that a god is a powerful impulse in my soul, at once I must concern myself with him, for then he can become important… like everything belonging to the sphere of reality.” (Jung, Psyche and Symbol, 1958)

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    Termite Art: "I saw it mispelled, in mauve Krylon, on the side of a dumpster, and it haunted me."

    Fractal Art: "no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement."

    Starting with the question and answer going on at William Gibson's:

    "Creator's block" sounds like something afflicting a divinity, but writer's block is my default setting. Its opposite is miraculous. The process of learning to write fiction, for me, was one of learning to almost continually be doing it *through* the block, in spite of the block, the block becoming the accustomed place from which to work. Our traditional cultural models of creativity tend to involve the wrong sort of heroism, for me. "It sprang whole and perfect from my brow" as opposed to "I saw it mispelled, in mauve Krylon, on the side of a dumpster, and it haunted me". I was much encouraged, when I began to write, by Manny Farber's idea of "termite art".

    Led to White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art by Manny Farber (1962) [emphasis not mine, but accepted]:

    Most of the feckless, listless quality of today's art can be blamed on its drive to break out of a tradition while, irrationally, hewing to the square, boxed-in shape and gemlike inertia of an old, densely wrought European masterpiece.
    Advanced painting has long been suffering from this burnt-out notion of a masterpiece - breaking away from its imprisoning conditions toward a suicidal improvisation, threatening to move nowhere and everywhere, niggling, omnivorous, ambitionless: yet, within the same picture, paying strict obeisance to the canvas edge and , without favoritism, the precious nature of every inch of allowable space. A classic example of this inertia is the Cezanne painting: in his indoorish works of the woods around Aix-en-Provence, a few spots of tingling, jarring excitement occur where he nibbles away at what he calls his "small sensation," the shifting of a tree trunk, the infinitesimal contests of complementary colors in a light accent of farmhouse wall. The rest of each canvas is a clogging weight-density-structure-polish amalgam associated with self-aggrandizing masterwork. As he moves away from the unique, personal vision that interests him, his painting turns ungiving and puzzling: a matter of balancing curves for his bunched-in composition, laminating the color, working the painting to the edge. Cezanne ironically left an expose of his dreary finishing work in terrifyingly honest watercolors, an occasional unfinished oil (the pinkish portrait of his wife in sunny, leafed-in patio), where he foregoes everything but his spotting fascination with minute interactions.
    The idea of art as an expensive hunk of well-regulated area, both logical and magical, sits heavily over the talent of every modern painter, from Motherwell to Andy Warhol. The private voice of Motherwell (the exciting drama in the meeting places between ambivalent shapes, the aromatic sensuality that comes from laying down thin sheets of cold, artfully cliché-ish, hedonistic color) is inevitably ruined by having to spread these small pleasures into great contained works. Thrown back constantly on unrewarding endeavors (filling vast egglike shapes, organizing a ten foot rectangle with its empty corners suggesting Siberian steppes in the coldest time of year), Motherwell ends up with appalling amounts of plasterish grandeur, a composition so huge and questionably painted that the delicate, electric contours seem to be crushing the shalelike matter inside. The special delight of each painting tycoon (De Kooning's saber-like dancing of forms; Warhol's minute embrace with the path of illustrator's pen line and block-print tone; James Dine's slog-footed brio, filling a stylized shape from stem to stern with one ungiving color) is usually squandered in pursuit of the continuity, harmony, involved in constructing a masterpiece. The painting, sculpture, assemblage becomes a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition; far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turns into mannerism by the padding, lechery, faking required to combine today's esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art.
    Movies have always been suspiciously addicted to termite-art tendencies. Good work usually arises where the creators (Laurel and Hardy, the team of Howard Hawks and William Faulkner operating on the first half of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep) seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn't anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.
    The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement. Laurel and Hardy, in fact, in some of their most dyspeptic and funniest movies, like Hog Wild, contributed some fine parody of men who had read every "How to Succeed" book available; but, when it came to applying their knowledge, reverted instinctively to termite behavior.
    One of the good termite performances (John Wayne's bemused cowboy in an unreal stage town inhabited by pallid repetitious actors whose chief trait is a powdered make-up) occurs in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Better Ford films have been marred by a phlegmatically solemn Irish personality that goes for rounded declamatory acting, silhouetted riders along the rim of a mountain with golden sunset behind them, and repetitions in which big bodies are scrambled together in a rhythmically curving Rosa Bonheurish composition. Wayne's acting is infected by a kind of hoboish spirit, sitting back on its haunches doing a bitter-amused counterpoint to the pale, neutral film life around him. In an Arizona town that is too placid, where the cactus was planted last night and nostalgically casted actors do a generalized drunkenness, cowardness, voraciousness, Wayne is the termite actor focusing only on a tiny present area, nibbling at it with engaging professionalism and a hipster sense of how to sit in a chair leaned against a wall, eye a flogging overactor (Lee Marvin). As he moves along at the pace of a tapeworm, Wayne leaves a path that is only bits of shrewd intramural acting -- a craggy face filled with bitterness, jealousy, a big body that idles luxuriantly, having long grown tired with roughhouse games played by old wrangler types like John Ford.
    The best examples of termite art appear in places other than films, where the spotlight of culture is no where in evidence, so that the craftsmen can be ornery, wasteful, stubbornly self-involved, doing go-for-broke are and not caring what comes of it. The occasional newspaper column by a hard-work specialist caught up by an exciting event (Joe Alsop or Ted Lewis, during a presidential election), or a fireball technician reawakened during a pennant playoff that brings on stage his favorite villains (Dick Young); the TV production of The Iceman Cometh , with its great examples of slothful-buzzing acting by Myron McCormak, Jason Robards, et al.; the last few detective novels of Ross MacDonald and most of Raymond Chandler's ant-crawling verbosity and sober fact-pointing in the letters compiled years back in a slightly noticed book that is a fine running example of popular criticism; the TV debating of William Buckley, before he relinquished his tangential, counter-attacking skill and took to flying into propeller blades of issues, like James Meridith's Pale Miss-adventures.

    From "Virtual Termites" by Lance Olson

    Farber distinguishes between two kinds of art. The first, for which he holds contempt, is White Elephant Art, the sort that embraces the idea of a well-crafted, logical arena, incarnated in the films of Francois Truffaut. Proponents of this near-school produce tedious pieces reminiscent of Rube Goldberg's perpetual-motion machines that exude a sense of their own weight, structure, and status as masterworks. The second kind of art, which Farber advocates, is Termite Art. This is the sort that stands opposed to elite aesthetic culture, embraces freedom and multiplicity, is incarnated in the films of Laurel and Hardy. Proponents of this near-school produce pieces that gnaw away at their own boundaries, leaving little in their wake except traces of enthusiastic, assiduous, and messy endeavor.