In loosely chronological order...
1. Masks of the Illuminati by Robert Anton Wilson
RAWillumination.net. Go here to see more about the reading group.)
2. Neuropolitique by Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson
A collection of essays from Leary mainly from the early-1970s, this features a wide array of pieces mostly written while in prison. I most enjoyed his overview of what occurred during the 1960s and early 70s which morphs into an incisive (and humorous) condemnation of the system of glorifying crime and punishment in the US, eventually covering his arrival and assimilation into maximum security prison culture, being in a cell next to Charles Manson, and working a deal with law enforcement to shorten his sentence. There are also essays on the 8-circuit model of consciousness (including one written by RAW) and space migration. My favorite aspect of Leary's spiel tends to be his view of DNA and evolution and I love the way he ties space migration into this. He likens space migration to "the movement from marine to amphibian life or from reptile to mammalian." Why don't people say this kind of stuff anymore? The quality of the pieces definitely seems to tail off towards the end but this book is worth reading for the first half. (This also seems to be the only Leary book without his enduring wide grin on the cover. He means business here.)
3. Info-Psychology: A Manual for the Use of the Human Nervous System by Timothy Leary
Continuing my foray into the life and work of Leary (temporarily put on hold at the moment as I work on some big writing projects), this was the book that always seemed most appealing to me since it's Leary's own introduction to the 8-circuit model of consciousness, which RAW so perfectly examined in his book Prometheus Rising. While it has its bright spots, I found this book lacking in many respects (including its physical appearance, the New Falcon re-issue feeling cheap with rigid, stiff paper). While it gave me a better understanding of the overall picture, especially the higher four circuits, the book doesn't make the ideas seem very intriguing at all and even frequently refers to other books of his for further elaboration (whereas I thought this was the key text). At the same time, its subtitle claims it to be a manual but there really isn't anything interactive here, unlike Prometheus Rising which is a book that can literally change your life. You also get a clear sense that Leary was still hammering out some of the details of his model while writing this book, the re-issue even has an awkward set of footnotes at the end suggesting alternatives or retractions for the preceding material. This is another book that Leary wrote while in prison and, while the ideas and insights are staggering at times, it all seems a little disorganized. I don't blame him.
4. Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson
This is essentially the sequel to his classic Prometheus Rising. Here RAW makes use of the worldview(s) suggested by discoveries in quantum physics and attempts to work these into our experience of everyday life, with lots of interactive exercises that would work best in a group setting. (Once again, Tom Jackson's RAW-focused website had an online reading group for this one.) While there's certainly plenty of fascinating and important stuff here with RAW's usual combo of Zen parables, historical anecdotes, and hard science examining things like psychosomatics, relativity and the 8-circuit model of consciousness, I managed to breeze right through this book without too much of it really sticking in my head. Maybe I'll need to read it again with a more focused attitude and willingness to try all the exercises.
5. The Book of the Breast by Robert Anton Wilson
I picked up the original version, a hardcover edition with pictures, published by Playboy Press (it was later revised and reissued by New Falcon under the title Ishtar Rising). It's one of RAW's earlier works and provides an interesting glimpse at the period when he worked as an editor with Playboy. The subject matter is anthropological and very sophisticated for a book published by Playboy, it reminds me Joseph Campbell's books with its insights developed by a combination of psychology, history, poetry, art, myth, and sociology. At the same time, any regular reader of RAW's works will notice his prose feels a little bit different. Probably due to some combination of the intended audience, the era, the publisher, and the stage of his craft, the writing occasionally tries too hard to come across as hip and cool, man. Ya dig?
6. Baseball Prospectus 2013
This annual stalwart took a major dive by changing its structure, junking its unique, creative essays for a boring, uniform style. Wrote a full review here. Thankfully, they've considered the harsh feedback and are going back to the fun style.
7. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by Buckminster Fuller
A very short book but not a very quick read. The eminent architect-engineer-poet Bucky Fuller conveys his thoughts in a dense manner, heavy on metaphors. Great insights, though, and certainly a book that arouses one's optimism as he asserts the essential truth about our global problems---that they are entirely solvable if we restructure our attitudes.
8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Somehow I'd never before read this classic, so a friend insisted I borrow it. What a beautiful prose stylist, this Vonnegut guy. I zoomed straight through this excellent and hilarious story of the misadventures of some American POWs in the German city of Dresden toward the end of World War II. A quirky, spectacularly awkward soldier/time-traveler/dentist named Billy Pilgrim is the star of the show and Vonnegut has fun with his pathetic hero. The prose is very simple, poignant, plain, practical. Repeated motifs like the simple phrase "So it goes" give the novel a vital continuity. With the firebombing of Dresden at its epicenter (in which an entire city was reduced to ashes, killing more people than the bombing of Hiroshima), the depiction of the horrors of war is piercing and unsettling but not overly teary or sentimental. Vonnegut's curt prose lets the reader fill in the blanks. Definitely a book to be read multiple times through one's life.
9. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build your routine, find your focus & sharpen your creative mind by the team at 99u
This little book speaks perfectly to my struggles as an aspiring writer---it's a collection of essays on how to remain focused and manifest your creativity in an era of technology and distractions galore. What it all seems to boil down to is showing up every day, never waiting for inspiration, instead getting your ass to the desk and working. The name for their website comes from the Thomas Edison quote, "Genius is is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Basically, put your nose to the grind and work. Highly recommended book for all creative people out there.
10. Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop
completing Finnegans Wake and, when my attempts to write a summarizing review failed, I had to jump back in and read it again for a better understanding. It's a vast and rich study, a dizzying deconstruction of that most obscure of books, Finnegans Wake, and it may actually be one of the all-time great works of art criticism. In an attempt to explain just what the hell Finnegans Wake is, Bishop begins with Joyce's own frequent hints that it is a book of the night, of the sleeping state, and then proceeds to wrap an astounding array of material from the Wake around his argument through increasingly fascinating chapters, hammering home his points thoroughly and highlighting the deep mysteries of our nightly descent into unconsciousness. His analysis includes large etymological flowcharts, illustrations and diagrams, and even giant maps representing the domain of a sleeping body ("Nocturnal Geography" he calls it). It's definitely not an easy read, but it's arguably the best book ever written about Finnegans Wake and contains some of the most unique and well-argued takeaways from Joyce's puzzling masterpiece I've thus far encountered. Look out for my full review coming soon at my other blog Finnegans, Wake!
The Graphic Canon Vol. 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest
Putting it down here because I haven't read this one in its entirety. Not even close. It's an enormous
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Monday, October 21, 2013
Via New Scientist:
Between AD 600 and 1850, more than 3000 step wells were dug, by hand, in the Indian provinces of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Many of them had intricate staircase designs, peppered with shrines and balconies on which to linger in the afternoon heat. They reach deep underground and provided insurance against the region's fluctuating water supply.
The stairs guided local people – women, mostly – down to the water that seeps in from nearby aquifers. During the rainy season, the wells fill up, but in the dry season, you would have to lug containers up and down the entire well. This particular well, Panna Meena ka Kund near Amber Fort in Rajasthan, has eight storeys. According to local tradition, you must use different sets of stairs to climb down and climb out. The photograph was taken by Edward Burtynsky for his latest exhibition, Water, which opens at Flowers Gallery in London on 16 October.You can find some other jaw-dropping photos from Burtynsky's Water project at his website. Here's another one I really like (of a Colorado River delta in Baja, Mexico):
(Photo Credit: Edward Burtynsky)
Thursday, September 26, 2013
|All hail Lagares, the biggest bright spot on another losing team.|
While it's become an overdone cliché to mock the misery of the Mets franchise, this hapless 70-something win season offered glimpses of realistic hope for the near future and was actually quite entertaining to follow throughout the year as a devoted fan. I watched nearly every game of theirs throughout the spring and summer, only losing touch with the team as they fell into a late summer funk which coincided with an injury to the team's best hitter, David Wright.
Eclipsing any other story about this year's team was the ascent of Matt Harvey to superstardom. The 24-year-old starter spent a large chunk of the season pitching as well as anyone in baseball and even got to start the All Star Game in Queens but succumbed to an elbow injury in late August, sending Mets fans into a deep depression.
Beyond Harvey's five-month flirtation with the Cy Young award, there are still reasons to see this Mets season as a step forward for the franchise.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
I recently re-watched one of my favorite films of all time, Children of Men, and the appearance of Picasso's Guernica caught my eye. (In the film we see the original 20 ft x 10 ft masterpiece serving as a mural in a character's dining room.) I've since been reading up on this painting a bit and watching documentaries about it.
Inspired by the despicable bombing of a civilian Spanish village by German and Italian planes in 1937, the shattered, sharp, and screeching imagery gives a unique, haunting depiction of the horrors of war. With the recent stream of bullshit pouring out of American media and government concerning the desire of the United States to drop bombs on Syria (drop bombs on who?), I've thought about this painting a lot.
A tapestry of Guernica hangs inside the United Nations building and in 2003, while Colin Powell and American military officials gave a press conference detailing the urgent need to invade Iraq (in the name of "freedom" and "peace" of course), the tapestry was covered up by a large blue curtain so as not to appear in the background. Don't want to give people mixed signals, I guess.
Guernica has become a universal and powerful symbol warning humanity against the suffering and devastation of war. Moreover, the fact that there are no obvious references to the specific attack has contributed to making its message universal and timeless.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
There have been a few periods of long neglect in this blog's three-plus years of existence, but none which have coincided with as much prosperous real life activity as this past month. And in the midst of not getting anything posted here, lots of ideas have piled up so I'm now hoping to get back to writing here, getting some posts churned out.
First, a bit of catching up.
I completed my 28th journey around the sun recently and had a pretty relaxed, subtle, though lengthy and memorable birthday celebration. Most importantly, I had quite a miraculous and mind-blowing synchronicity/serendipity occur.
On the eve of my birthday, during a rare rainy night in Austin, I ventured over to one of my favorite sources of sustenance, a cafeteria-style eatery called Casa de Luz. Casa de Luz is a special place, essentially a restaurant in the middle of a holistic integral health center. Always seemingly buzzing with a positive spiritual vibe. Of course, the food is very healthy---all macrobiotic. And one always tends to meet interesting people there. Whenever I go there by myself, I seek to sit next to a stranger and engage them in conversation. Twice this has resulted in meeting people who were essentially exactly who I needed to meet at that moment (one a prize-winning poet who strongly encouraged my writing and another a master physical therapist who eventually gave me much-needed gratis treatment on my bum knee).
This time, as soon as I walked in I spotted a gorgeous young woman sitting alone at a big table and immediately decided I had to join her. I asked if I could sit with her and she said yes, we got to talking, and it turns out she was originally from Staten Island, less than 3 miles away from where I grew up. As soon as she mentioned where she was from, my head virtually exploded and pretty much everything since that moment has felt like a dream. Still, almost four weeks later, I'm trying to assimilate how all of it can be real.
In all my travels and with all the people I've met since leaving home five years ago, I don't recall ever meeting anyone else who actually grew up in Staten Island (though I do have a friend in Austin who lived there for four years), so the fact that a beautiful woman who I'd---admittedly somewhat courageously---approached on the eve of my birthday happened to be from there struck me powerfully. Like I said, Casa de Luz is a special place.
We hit it off immediately, conversing for almost 2 hours (she's not only beautiful, but intelligent, funny, artistic) and then exchanged contact info before leaving. The next day was my birthday but since it was a Thursday, I'd held off on making any major plans until Friday night. Seeking to reenact the great vibes I'd felt with her the night before, I contacted the gorgeous Staten girl to see if she'd like to have dinner again that night. Alas, she had plans but quickly arranged for us to go out on a specified night soon afterward.
So I spent the day of my 28th birthday floating along the river on a paddle board, swimming, and then later went to an art museum with a friend. After the museum we went to get some dinner and, sure enough, there was the same Staten girl sitting in the restaurant with her friend. We were actually born in the same hospital, played basketball for the same church as kids, and have many other hometown connections, but for the first 28 years of my life we never met. Then we met twice in the span of 24 hours surrounding my birthday, deep in the heart of Texas.
We've gone out many times since, each date better than the last.
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The birthday celebration lasted for about five days, all told. Nothing wild, just spending time with friends, hanging out and doing Austin things. During the weekend, I got to go see one of my all-time favorite baseball players, Manny Ramirez, ply his trade for the local minor league team.
Now 41-years-old and somewhat desperately hoping to make it back to the major leagues after being essentially blacklisted for a while (and finding brief success and renewed stardom in Taiwan), the
Sitting just a few rows behind the home team's dugout, my first glimpse of the notoriously childish Manny was perfect: he stumbled stepping out of the dugout toward the on-deck circle and immediately went to swipe at a teammate who'd tried to trip him. He was like an exaggerated comedic stage actor. Wearing the same number 99 on his back that he'd donned while taking the major leagues by storm in his stint with the LA Dodgers, it was a bit disheartening to see his trademark long dreadlocks completely shaved off. He now sported a shaved head, following closely to the Texas Rangers' organizational policy of looking clean-cut.
Though he only got on base once via a walk, there were some moments of excitement when he'd take a mighty cut and foul a pitch back. This is, after all, a man with 555 career homeruns, certainly one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time and here he was playing in a little ballpark against scrubs in Round Rock, Texas. The crowd loved every minute of him being on the field. So did I.
His finest moment came in his first at-bat when he crushed a very loud line drive to deep right-centerfield that would've been a double except for a great running catch by the center fielder. Otherwise, his beautiful swing often seemed a millisecond too slow. Right before we decided to leave, we stood on the concourse watching his final at-bat. Next to us, a Mexican family was screaming encouragement in Spanish at him and the sunset made the sky a gorgeous pinkish orange. The former star swung late on two fastballs which loudly cracked the catcher's mitt and there was a slight tint of worry in the focused crowd. Our hero may really have lost it.
He caught up to the next fastball, but smacked it for a fly ball to center field. An easy out and that was it. Today, the Texas Rangers officially released Manny and it's quite possible we'll never see him play baseball in the United States again. If so, I'm thankful for the birthday gift of getting to see the notorious star from Washington Heights taking one last at-bat as the sun set on his colorful career.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Despite the air of its lofty reputation being one of haughty, high-brow, ivory tower academic density and seriousness, Ulysses is a damn funny book.
I'd like to briefly illustrate its humor by highlighting a favorite selection---a satirical vignette depicting a hanging---from perhaps the funniest chapter, known as the "Cyclops" episode.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
|Personaje Astrale by Remedios Varos (1961)|
Remedios Varo Uranga (December 16, 1908 – October 8, 1963) was a Spanish-Mexican, para-surrealist painter and anarchist. She was born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in Anglès, a small town in the province of Girona, Spain in 1908. Her birth helped her mother get over the death of another daughter, which is the reason behind the name.While I only see one mention of Salvador Dali on her wiki page (noting that she attended his alma mater, the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy in Madrid) she was born only 4 years after him, was a fellow Spanish surrealist painter, and her work certainly bears a slight influence of his.
Even better: Dali had the exact same history behind his birth. His parents had a previous child named Salvador Dali who died before the age of two so nine months later they had another baby boy and named him Salvador Dali.
Definitely need to pick up a book on Miss Remedios Varo soon. She's my kind of thinker:
"Varo was influenced by a wide range of mystic and hermetic traditions, both Western and non-Western. She turned with equal interest to the ideas of C. G. Jung as to the theories of G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Helena Blavatsky, Meister Eckhart, and the Sufis, and was as fascinated with the legend of the Holy Grail as with sacred geometry, alchemy and the I-Ching."
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Some other new old minds I've recently discovered and taken an interest in...
Benjamin Lee Whorf
Benjamin Lee Whorf (April 24, 1897 – July 26, 1941) was an American linguist and fire prevention engineer. Whorf is widely known as an advocate for the idea that because of linguistic differences in grammar and usage, speakers of different languages conceptualize and experience the world differently. This principle has frequently been called the "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis", after him and his mentor Edward Sapir, but Whorf called it the principle of linguistic relativity, because he saw the idea as having implications similar to Einstein's principle of physical relativity.
Throughout his life Whorf was a chemical engineer by profession, but as a young man he took up an interest in linguistics.Whorf discovered that the Native American Hopi language seemed to have no concept of time as a series of discreet events, that they were experiencing everything as one event.
20th century English astronomer who coined the phrase "Big Bang" although he strongly rejected the theory. As Wiki explains carefully:
While having no argument with the Lemaître theory (later confirmed by Edwin Hubble's observations) that the universe was expanding, Hoyle disagreed on its interpretation. He found the idea that the universe had a beginning to be pseudoscience, resembling arguments for a creator, "for it's an irrational process, and can't be described in scientific terms" (see Kalam cosmological argument). Instead, Hoyle, along with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi (with whom he had worked on radar in World War II), argued for the universe as being in a "steady state". The theory tried to explain how the universe could be eternal and essentially unchanging while still having the galaxies we observe moving away from each other. The theory hinged on the creation of matter between galaxies over time, so that even though galaxies get further apart, new ones that develop between them fill the space they leave. The resulting universe is in a "steady state" in the same manner that a flowing river is - the individual water molecules are moving away but the overall river remains the same.Hoyle also rejected the theory that life had originated on earth, postulating the idea of panspermia, essentially that small pieces of life are flying around the universe on meteoroids, asteroids, etc. As he said it once:
Of course, Hoyle was a staunch atheist, a Darwinist, etc. but scientifically the only conclusion he could derive was that an intelligence had purposefully designed DNA and spread it throughout the universe."If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design. No other possibility I have been able to think of..."
Edgar Dean Mitchell, Sc.D. (born September 17, 1930) is an American pilot, retired Captain in the United States Navy and NASA astronaut. As the lunar module pilot of Apollo 14, he spent nine hours working on the lunar surface in the Fra Mauro Highlands region, making him the sixth person to walk on the Moon.Okay, so he's an astronaut. Big deal.
From an interview:
SET In 1971, as you pulled away from the Moon and made your way back to Earth, what did it feel like to be in the space between worlds?
EM I’ll have to set up the story for you just a little bit. The spacecraft was oriented perpendicular to the plane that contains the Earth, the Moon and the Sun. Not flying perpendicular to that plane – but moving through it back to Earth. The spacecraft was rotating to maintain the thermal balance of the Sun. What that caused to happen was that every two minutes, with every rotation, we saw the Earth, the Moon and the Sun as they passed by the window. The 360-degree panorama of the heavens was awesome and the stars are ten times as bright and, therefore, ten times as numerous than you could ever see on a high mountaintop on a clear night. It was overwhelmingly magnificent.
SET What were you thinking then?
EM I realized that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It wasn’t just intellectual knowledge – it was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy – a transformational experience.
SET You were raised as a Southern Baptist and studied as a scientist. Then you had this visceral, spiritual experience in space: how did you reconcile this with your upbringing and training?
EM The experience in space was so powerful that when I got back to Earth I started digging into various literatures to try to understand what had happened. I found nothing in science literature but eventually discovered it in the Sanskrit of ancient India. The descriptions of samadhi, Savikalpa samadhi, were exactly what I felt: it is described as seeing things in their separateness, but experiencing them viscerally as a unity, as oneness, accompanied by ecstasy.
SET Can you speak to the division that is often drawn between science and spiritual experience, between the material world and consciousness?
EM The materialist worldview says that everything is due to the bumping together of little atomic structures like billiard balls – and consciousness is an accident of that encounter. The opposite extreme is the idealist interpretation, which has been around since Greek times or earlier. It says that consciousness is the fundamental stuff, and matter is an illusion, a product of consciousness.
Science and religion have lived on opposite sides of the street now for hundreds of years. So here we are, in the twenty-first century, trying to put two faces of reality – the existence face and the intelligence or conscious face – into the same understanding. Body and mind, physicality and consciousness belong to the same side of reality – it’s a dyad, not a dualism.
Okay, one last Mind, whose theories tie together nicely with what Fred Hoyle said above.
Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (17 September 1857 – 19 September 1935) was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and pioneer of the astronautic theory. Along with his followers, the German Hermann Oberth and the American Robert H. Goddard, he is considered to be one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics. His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergey Korolyov and Valentin Glushko and contributed to the success of the Soviet space program.
Tsiolkovsky spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about 200 km (120 mi) southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, he appeared strange and bizarre to his fellow townsfolk.While conjuring up new scientific plans for rocketry, astronautics, and space stations at the turn of the 20th century in his secluded log house, Tsiolkovsky had some other brilliant, profound, unflappably optimistic ideas. He strongly believed the human race would advance toward colonizing the Milky Way. As he wrote in his 1928 book The Will of the Universe. The Unknown Intelligence:
"The finer part of humanity will, in all likelihood, never perish---they will migrate from sun to sun as they go out. And so there is no end to life, to intelligence and to the perfection of humanity. Its progress is everlasting."