February 27, 2006

Paranoid Structures

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The painting is from my most recent series. Michael Moorcock talks about some of the things he was looking for in writing when he took over the science fiction magazine New Worlds in the early sixties. Not surprisingly there was a general sense of dissatisfaction with the science fiction establishment. It’s a good place to start. As with any endeavor that begins with high idealistic intentions the pitfall is coming off bitter. That’s not Moorcock’s style. He clearly prefers to talk about the qualities that he found most compelling in the writing he published. Regular contributors included the likes of J. G. Ballard. These were writers whose work was too experimental to get published elsewhere, and Moorcock, as expected, is only too happy to point out that even those contributors who were otherwise published in science fiction circles thought of New Worlds as a place to test out some of their less conventional story ideas. Slightly less expected is the quality that he was most looking for. Because for Moorcock it turns out it was a sense of “acceptance.” He uses Mervin Peake as his prime example. “Peake,” he writes, “appeared to accept the world [his own emphasis], which is what made him so different from his contemporaries, most of whom were producing at best “satires” on the level of the Boulting Brothers comedies and who seemed to express a conventional distaste for the modern world.” One of Nova’s better episodes was Newton’s Dark Secret. Conveniently washed from official history was that Newton dabbled in alchemy. Modern science likes to think of itself as purely rational. Its authority totally depends on the sustained perception of logic’s transcendence over superstition and the occult. That our understanding of human physiognomy, for example, was entirely dependent on gravediggers and their clandestine eccentric clients busily at work in morbid, candlelit basements full of moldering cadavers is a reality that is conveniently forgotten. Much closer to the truth, of course, is that occult sciences are exactly those explorations from which our clinically and psychologically sterilized version comes from. The episode stressed Newton’s mental breakdown. His search for the Philosopher’s Stone drove him to madness. In the highly theocratic world of the early Enlightenment, Newton wrote his discourses in total secrecy. For most of his early life, Newton was, in fact, forced to work out his ideas, which would become the basis of our physics and mathematics, walled off from the rest of the world, fearful of discovery, and all alone in his dormitory. What is curious is that following his nervous breakdown Newton, who had been up to that point a complete recluse, all of a sudden inexplicably don’s a powdered wig, leaves his hermetic existence behind him, and takes up a position in public society. The total change in his demeanor could not help but invite rampant speculation: What discovery did he make in his experiments in alchemy that made him change so radically? In the end there is no way of knowing for sure. It is simply one of those questions that allow for unending projection. Only, consider that alchemy is about the mystery of material changes. Maybe Newton’s epiphany was about resistance. All his life to that point he had refused to accept the complacency of our understanding of the universe. His resistance had allowed him to ask his own questions, but maybe, just maybe, he realized resistance was no longer necessary. In order for him to fully realize and apply his new ideas what was now necessary for him was, not unlike Moorcock’s favorite authors, to “accept” reality. What follows is a piece by Ballard that originally appeared in New Worlds. It is titled “Alphabets of Unreason” and is quoted in full:

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“The psychopath never dates. Hitler’s contemporaries -- Baldwin, Chamberlain, Herbert Hoover -- seem pathetically fusty figures, with their frock coats and wing collars, closer to the world of Edison, Carnegie, and the hansom cab than to the first fully evolved modern societies over which they presided, areas of national consciousness formed by mass-produced newspapers and consumer goods, advertising and telecommunications. By comparison Hitler is completely up-to-date, and would be equally at home in the sixties (and probably even more so in the seventies) as in the twenties. The whole apparatus of the Nazi superstate, its nightmare uniforms and propaganda, seems weirdly turned-on, providing just that element of manifest insanity to which we all respond in the H-Bomb or Viet Nam -- perhaps one reason why the American and Russian space programs have failed to catch our imaginations is that this quality of explicit psychopathology is missing.

Certainly, Nazi society seems strangely prophetic of our own – the same maximizing of violence and sensation, the same alphabets of unreason and the fictionalizing of experience. Goebbels in his diaries remarks that he and the Nazi leaders had merely done in the realm of reality what Dostoevski had done in fiction. Interestingly, both Goebbels and Mussolini had written novels, in the days before they were able to get to grips with their real subject matter – one wonders if they would have bothered now, with the fiction waiting to be manipulated all around them.

Hitler’s “novel,” Mein Kampf (Hutchinson) was written in 1924, nearly a decade before he came to power, but is a remarkably accurate prospectus of his intentions, not so much in terms of finite political and social aims as of the precise psychology he intended to impose on the German people and its European vassals. For this reason alone it is one of the most important books of the twentieth century, and well worth reprinting, despite the grisly pleasures its anti-semitic ravings will give to the present generation of racists.

How far does Hitler the man come through the pages of this book? In the newsreels Hitler tends to appear in two roles – one, the demagogic orator, ranting away in a state apparently close to neurotic hysteria, and two, a benevolent and slightly eccentric kapellmeister sentimentally reviewing his SS bodyguards, or beaming down at a picked chorus of blond-haired German infants. Both these strands are present in Mein Kampf -- the hectoring, rhetorical style, shaking with hate and violence, interspersed with passages of deep sentimentality as the author rhapsodises to himself about the mystical beauty of the German landscape and its noble, simple-hearted peoples.

Apart from its autobiographical sections, the discovery by a small Austrian boy of his “Germanism,” Mein Kampf contains three principal elements, the foundation stones, walls, and pediment of a remarkably strong paranoid structure. First, there are Hitler’s views on history and race, a quasi-biological system which underpins the whole basis of his political thought and explains almost every action he ever committed. Second, there are his views on the strict practicalities of politics and the seizure of power, methods of political organization and propaganda. Third, there are his views on the political future of the united Germanies, its expansionist foreign policy and general attitude to the world around it.

The overall tone of Mein Kampf can be seen from Hitler’s original title for the testament: A Four and a Half Years’ Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice: A Reckoning with the Destroyers of the Nazi Party Movement. It was the publisher Max Amann, who suggested the shorter and far less revealing Mein Kampf, and what a sigh he must have breathed when Hitler agreed. Hitler’s own title would have been far too much of a giveaway, reminding the readers of the real sources of Hitler’s anti-semitic and racialist notions.

Reading Hitler’s paranoid rantings against the Jews, one is constantly struck by the biological rather than political basis of his intire thought and personality. His revulsion against the Jews was physical, like his reaction against any peoples, such as the Slavs and Negroes, whose physique, posture, morphology, and pigmentation alerted some screaming switchboard of insecurity within his own mind.

What is interesting is the language in which he chose to describe these obsessions -- primarily faecal, one assumes, from his endless preoccupation with “cleanliness.” Rather than use economic, social or political arguments against the Jews, Hitler concentrated almost solely on this inflated biological rhetoric. By dispensing with any need to rationalize his prejudices, he was able to tap an area of far deeper unease and uncertainty, and one moreover which his followers would never care to expose too fully to the light of day. In the unanswerable logic of psychopathology, the Jews became the scapegoats for all the terrors of toilet-training and weaning. The constant repetition of the words “filth,” “vileness,” “abscess,” “hostile,” “shudder,” endlessly reinforce these long-repressed feelings of guilt and desire.

In passing, it is curious to notice that Hitler’s biological interpretations of history have a number of striking resemblances to those of Desmond Morris. In both writers one finds the same reliance on the analogy of the lower mammals, on a few basic formulas of behavior such as “struggle,” “competition,” “defense of territory.” There is the same simple schematic view of social relationships, the same highly generalized assertions about human behavior that are presented as proven facts. Hitler talks without definition of “lower races” in the same way that Morris refers to “primitive societies” and “simple communities.” Both are writing for half-educated people whose ideas about biology and history come from popular newspaper and encyclopedia articles, and whose interest in these subjects is a barely transparent cover for uneasy fantasies about their own bodies and emotions.

In this preface, the translator of Mein Kampf describes it as written in the style of a self-educated modern South German with a talent for oratory. In this respect Hitler was one of the rightful inheritors of the twentieth century -- the epitome of the half-educated man. Wandering about the streets of Vienna shortly before the first World War, his head full of vague artistic yearnings and clap-trap picked up from popular magazines, whom does he most closely resemble? Above all, Leopold Bloom, his ostensible arch-enemy, wandering around Joyce’s Dublin at about the same time, his head filled with the same clap-trap and the same yearnings. Both are the children of the reference library and the self-improvement manual, of mass newspapers creating a new vocabulary of violence and sensation. Hitler was the half-educated psychopath inheriting the lavish communications systems of the twentieth century. Forty years after his first abortive seizure of power he was followed by another unhappy misfit, Lee Harvey Oswald, in whose Historic Diary we see the same attempt by the half-educated to grapple with the information overflow that threatened to drown him.”

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If the piece had been written more recently there is no doubt Ballard would have felt compelled to ad the Bushevic Regime to the ending, right after Lee Harvey Oswald. The Neocon playbook is unfortunately a fearsome fiction in its own rite. The mistakes of this administration are all the product of a self-serving and half-assed view of history. There is no better example of “half-educated” psychopaths who have inherited the “lavish communications systems,” only updated in their case to the twenty-first century.

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February 16, 2006

Psycho-sodomy

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It’s always a treat to hear one artist talk about another. In a recent public appearance Gary Panter gave his take on Jack Kirby. These guys are the hands-down gods of their respective generations. Neither should require much of an introduction. Panter, famous for his Jimbo comics and his set designs for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, talked about how the “broken line” opened things up for him, and deserves every bit the same accolades as his punk icon peer Raymond Pettibon. More than a stylist like Pettibon, Panter is a deft assimilator, easily going nuclear when necessary with psychedelic abstractions that freely reference modern art. And then there is Kirby. What can you say about the man? He single-handedly reinvented drawing. Despite his downplay, Panter, like so many others, owes his fair share to Kirby’s lead. Not that their styles are in any way similar. Kirby updated mythology for the 20th-century. Kirby’s characters were quite literally the new gods of the modern world. Sometimes, as with Thor, they were the old gods made new, but often, like Galactus, along with just about every other self-conscious superhero Kirby invented, and he was tireless, these were the industrial era, space age successors of the historical standards. Kirby did two major things where the art of visual storytelling was concerned. In retrospect they might not seem like much. He introduced sequential motion to action sequences, an unparalleled dynamicism, and his characters, no matter how far out, were psychological. Kirby was amazingly aware of what he was doing. To read his interviews is a revelation. What is striking is the degree to which he was reacting to the perceived deficiencies in the genre. It should provide inspiration to struggling contemporary artists that much of what motivated Kirby was his own frustration with what he felt was an art form that had grown complacent and dead. Among the many things he reacted against was the lack of personality in the work of his competitors. Kirby’s response, not unlike the surrealists, was to introduce character. When asked why he had painted the Venus de Milo with, of all things, drawers, for example, Salvador Dali, in his famous Playboy interview, slyly responded that he did so because he wanted his Venus to have interiority. At issue was the modern response to classical prejudice. Kirby was, likewise, reacting to two-dimensional classical psychology. His characters, good or bad, were going to struggle with their demons, especially the bad guys. Take Dr. Doom. In Kirby’s own words: “Dr. Doom is a paranoid. He thinks he’s ugly and he wants the whole world to be like him. Dr. Doom is the fox who had his tail cut off, and he’s trying to talk the whole world into having their tails cut off so when everyone has his tail cut off, he becomes the most handsome fox. That’s ridiculous, because paranoids are insane people who never get their way.” He adds, “Hitler tried it, you know.” Of course, Panter, as a fellow artist, was reacting to the drawings themselves. When Panter first saw them, he explained, he dismissed the style as nothing more than “melting wax”. Many of us would have stopped there more than happy with Kirby’s liquid form. Panter, however, didn’t mean it as a compliment. As a fellow artist, Panter meant it as a mild rebuke, like there was something kind’a corny about Kirby’s style, even for a stoner. At first he just saw it as “melted wax”, Panter said… but, then, and here is where the insight of a peer is always revelatory, he conceded that he realized the drawings had “gravity”! There’s probably no way of describing Kirby without taking into consideration the combination of the psychological element he brings to bear and his drawing style, the way they work together to convey an insight about our cultural condition without losing sight of the physical reality of the universe. Chariots of the Gods (1972) has a similar effect. So much of the argument proposed in this pseudo-documentary is based on the sheer material impossibility of our most revered cultural monuments. Two main factors account for the better part of the mysteries that surround so many wonders of the world. The weight and size of many of these monuments, whether on Easter Island, or those in the swamps of Central America, etc., seemingly make them impossible for primitive humans to have moved. The other physical factor is the precision of much of the stonework, practically inconceivable, even by contemporary standards. For the skeptic it is a relief of sorts that Harald Reinl also directed Castle of the Living Dead (1967), memorable for, among many other things, the forest sequence in which severed body parts hang from the trees. Nevertheless, much of the evidence in Chariots of the Gods is hard, if not impossible, to ignore. Oddly, given the present atmosphere, Iraq, uniquely, comes up in the documentary twice. Two of the main exhibits Reinl returns to are the original tablets of the Gilgamesh and a primitive electric battery. There are those, Reinl among them, who believe that the Gilgamesh contains information that describes, if taken literally, extraterrestrial life, while the battery obviously presupposes the occidental invention by a couple of thousand years, at least. There’s probably no real reason to point out that Iraq is the country “between the rivers” which makes it the most likely geographic location of Eden. Among the many stories to go untold was the sacking of the Iraqi museums. Where these relics have ended up is, at this point, anybody’s guess. As the neo-Crusades rage on, Reinl’s speculation takes on creepy geopolitical overtones. When one considers Kirby’s description of Dr. Doom’s mental profile ––that of the paranoiac inferior psychology-race-culture that tries to assert itself by making everything else as ugly as itself––some disquieting questions that would have here-to-fore been unthinkable are raised: Is the war on Iraq, besides the obvious US oil interest, also, even if only in part, being driven by Christo-fascist cultural interests which seek to assert themselves, ala the Kirby profile of the villain, by destroying any and all evidence of the superiority of prior / other civilizations?

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February 01, 2006

State of Disunion

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Everything about this administration reads like a Jim Thompson novel. There’s one theme Thompson kept coming back to. It’s practically identical in both The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280. Take your pick. Either way what you have is an up close and personal portrayal of a trusted authority figure (the county sheriff) who systematically betrays the faith of everyone around him in himself and his office. The tension in these gothic noir novels, like our own sinking political situation here in the good ol’ US of A, is the disbelief and the sheer unwillingness, even faced with clear evidence, of the townsfolk to consider the possibility the sheriff is anywhere near as evil as he truly is. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. And, that’s not all. Thompson’s novels are written from the psycho’s point of view. The reader can follow every corrupt twist and turn in this man’s thinking. Dubya could easily be the Sheriff in these books. Every decision leads to a greater disaster. To cover up one brutal crime, another more vicious is planned to hide the previous one. The size of the canard, or the lie doesn’t matter. The trick is to keep the townsfolk paralyzed with incredulity, indecision and fear. On the one hand the people’s suspicions grow greater until the terrible truth of the situation dwarfs their worst nightmares: the sheriff who they have all embraced like a brother is nothing but the worst kind of snake. While, on the other hand, the sheriff’s plots thicken and take on ever more monstrous and wicked proportions: he believes he is above the law, beyond the grasp of the fools he lords over. Whatever nonsense he feeds them, why they’ll just eat it up. Heck, they don’t have a choice do they? On a scale of one to ten, the shit Dubya shoveled up for the State of the Union was nothing, zero. Only the most insulated maniac Bushevic would think for a second that anyone would believe that they had any real interest in alternative energy. No, that rant was much more about adding to the beleaguered American electorate insult to injury. We must now realize that the present administration not only openly considers us dupes, but, worse still, we are now also thought by them to be nothing but low down “addicts”. And, why not say whatever bullshit comes into your head when you know no one’s going to call you on it? There are few mainstream media sources for alternative viewpoints to the administration's. Public radio is square in the cross hairs of conservatives, and the effects of right wing gag tactics have made their presence clearly felt on the likes of the Newshour. One of the most clear cut examples was on the day the Air Marshals shot and killed a sick bipolar passenger, Rigoberto Alpizar. That evening, the Newshour which is famous for their even handed (to a fault) news coverage, uncharacteristically only gave the law and order side of the story. The security analyst, Charles Slepian, gave the shoot first ask questions later position without any dissenting rational opinion expressed in a situation that clearly called for closer scrutiny. The proof that everyone knows the game the Bushevik’s are playing came in a post State of the Union pole. While a large number of folks responded positively to the empty substanceless sugar candy speech, over sixty percent of them didn’t believe one bit of it would ever really get done. It’s not at this point a question of the Neocons fooling anyone. Their tenure has been, bar none, the most cruel, predatory and greedy in the history of our country. The question is why the American people continue to vote against their own interests.

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