Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book #3 of 2018

A very satisfying epic sci-fi/fantasy series kick-off. Reminiscent, in richness of setting and imagination, of Dune, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Riverworld, and the Saga of Pleistocene Exile, just to name a few of my faves from back in the day when I used to read these things much more often. The novel is structured in a very clever manner, akin to Cloud Atlas, and has a feel and sensibility similar to the furthest future in that excellent novel.

Now I'm embroiled suddenly in two sci-fi/fantasy series at once: Octavia E. Butler on the one hand and N.K. Jemisin on the other. Should I read Adulthood Rites or The Obelisk Gate next? I'm hooked on each.

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Play's the Thing...

Water in a Broken Glass - Trailer from Lodge Street Films on Vimeo.

Last night Patricia and I went to the historic Senator Theater to see the premier of Water in a Broken Glass. We were invited because our home on Madison Ave in Baltimore was chosen as location for several scenes in the film. The director found photos of the house on AirBNB and immediately contacted us. She rented the bottom two floors for 4 days...our TV room became the dressing room/makeup room, our dining room was the mess area, our kitchen was the equipment space. And our living room and 2nd bedroom became a central character's house.

The opening was PACKED. I haven't seen the Senator that jammed with people since those midnight showings of the Lord of the Rings movies. They had the restored lobby bar open. Everyone was dressed to the nines and getting photographed in front of Art Deco fixtures and a giant vinyl wall hanging with sponsors' logos and the movie title in a repeating pattern.

A bit more than midway through the movie the main character pulls up to our house, parks next to our neighbor's VW, and gets out and knocks on our door. But we don't answer at "our" house. The "owner" lets her in.

It was a peculiar and mildly unsettling experience to see our house--our belongings, our furniture--on screen at the Senator. There was our art work--stuff by Matt Muirhead, Sogh, Lance Moore. There were my knick-knacks. My bookcases full of art books and history tomes, and objects from our travels. The Chinese papier-mache painted cabinet found in Singapore, the pottery from Honduras. The Ifugao blanket from Banaue. Our mid-century throwback SCAN furniture. And in the film none of it is "mine" or "ours," but rather "hers"--it all belongs to the character Satin, who owns a bookstore on "The Avenue," but not really on The Avenue. Satin "owns" our house. But Satin's house is somewhat different. She had rearranged some of "our" art. Satin had taken other works down and replaced them with her own. Our ironing board gets screen time. And (spoiler) Satin has sex in our bed, though at the time it was our AirBNB suite's bed..and after 3 three years of AirBNB and hundreds of guests, Satin was not the first to do so. The stagers replaced several ceiling bulbs with purple bulbs for the movie, and it looked kind of cool with the period Victorian wall colors. (I remember spending a Saturday replacing our stuff after the stagers from the film crew had mis-replaced a bunch of it).

Adding a strong nostalgic and somewhat melancholic tinge to the peculiarity of seeing our house and stuff associated with a film character on a big screen, was the fact that the house is vacant now and up for sale. All the colorful Victorian era wall paint is covered up in a generic bright gray, much of the furniture has been sold or donated, and we are currently preparing to sell, donate, and store even more of it. Last year we left that house and down-sized in preparation for an upcoming move. And seeing how beautiful our home looked on screen, and hearing people in the audience commenting about it, and knowing it is no longer like that at all--that the house which was real at the time it was used in this fiction, has in fact become past that only exists now in that film as "Satin's" house--it was all made even stranger by that reality.

The main character hangs out on a bench in Druid Hill Park next to cherry trees. That bench and those trees are now gone as the Park is being renovated substantially. So that Park is now also a fiction, or a past recorded in a fiction.

So while the date-movie love-triangle story washed over me, I was thinking about how happy we were in that place, in that neighborhood, and at that time. What a great palace we had. And Satin is lucky to live there.

Last summer, Single Carrot Theater did a show called Promenade. Patricia and our next door neighbor and several other people from the neighborhood participated in the creation of the show by telling their stories about Baltimore or their neighborhood. As these stories played on headphones, the spectators rode a bus around different neighborhoods in the City. The bus stopped several times for perfectly-timed, finely executed little vignettes to happen on the street. Several extended segments of the audio were my wife and my next-door neighbor telling stories. I heard the local rabbi telling a story. While I was listening to this I was in a bus next to my wife and the rabbi and our next door neighbor were on the bus as well. As I listened to them on tape--as all the spectators did--they also listened to themselves telling stories on tape as part of a performance. Outside the bus window, the City had become a stage where actors were performing on the street right next to "real" people, who often walked through a scene, or stopped to watch because to them there was no way to know this was a show with a bus-full of spectators watching from the parked bus. And watching my own shit on screen at the Senator in a setting which no longer exists was very similar to sitting next to my wife as we watched a theater piece featuring my wife speaking on tape while I was sitting in a bus with her going past our house where actors were acting all makes me wonder if any layer of this Philip K. Dick shit I experience all the time is actually real? At one point in Promenade the bus pulled into a vacant lot and a flash mob of green-shirted people wearing visors ran over and simultaneously washed every window on the bus while staring blankly into the eyes of the spectators. As if to say "this is not a stage, not a fiction, but perhaps you need to see more clearly what is happening."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book 2 of 2018

Sometimes I miss working in the book industry. I'll stop simply meandering through whatever books I happen to have decided to read, and suddenly I'll choose to read a buzz book--something that's hot and current. The kind of book I miss because I'm not stacking it in mass quantities on a table or end cap display, and because I don't listen to NPR or watch C-SPAN book shows anymore.

And THIS? THIS is a hot book? THIS?

Synopsis: A whiny, entitled, pseudo-intellectual European dripping with privilege sets about recording his youth and young adulthood and how banal and empty everything is, except for exposure to some art, music, and writing. Everyone is fake and meaningless. We all inhabit a bleak Bergman film where the characters each get to shred themselves and their personae in 15-minute monologues filmed in stark black-and-white close-ups. He calls his work what Hitler called his work in order to underscore some devastating truths or realizations which actually never materialize in the text.

The suburbs are soul-sucking. The middle class are adrift and alienated from their labor, their families, and nature. The death of God and tradition has been replaced with the ascendance of death and materialism unto death.


MY struggle was getting through this monstrosity. And yet there are some quite good passages, passages where Karl Ove is really honest and his writing (in translation) has conveyed a common experience of our era in an interesting way.

But there's not enough there here. And more volumes? Really? FOUR more? Oh hell no...

Book 1 of 2018

I read some short fiction by Bell back in the 80s--I believe in the Best American Short Stories series? The stories were of an obvious quality, so I wanted to read his more dense work, and of course there was All Souls' Rising...a novel with some substantial accolades and strong sales for literary fiction, and which I purchased in a thick quality paperback.

But several in-person interactions with the author proved him to be such an irredeemable arsehole--we're talking sexist and narcissistic and borderline sociopathic behavior--that I returned my purchased copy of that novel without reading it. I usually do my best to separate the art from the artist, but in his case I thought "fuck that guy and his novels!"

But still, I imagine some day I'll read the Haitian trilogy because the era and the history fascinate me, and as many writers and artists have proven over the years, one can be a dickhead and still create lasting works of merit.

While thinking about re-purchasing and trying All Souls' Rising, I noted Bell had published a shorter book with a tantalizing blurb about shamanism and entheogens in the modern Southwest. I thought I would try this first and see.

Bell I imagine read some Terrance McKenna or Dan Pinchbeck and scored some online mescaline powder or psilocybin spores, or maybe he took a ride on the salvia divinorum express and got woke to the thin membrane separating reality from Reality. The forgotten youthful proclivities of his generation came back--he re-read Castaneda and after binge-watching Breaking Bad one weekend Behind the Moon popped out of his aching skull.

The novel is pretty good. The way the alternate realities bleed together and coexist is done with technical skill and efficiency. The characters are confronted by layers of consciousness and reality and dreamworld as the post- or hyper- modern becomes fractured in a way that allows the eternal to bleed through.

But is Behind the Moon better than the books and authors linked and mentioned above? Is this novel capturing something happening in the continuing dawning of Aquarius? Is it exploring new understandings of the perennial philosophy or the necessity of a return to the sacred?

No. I have re-read Castaneda, and McKenna, and Pinchbeck. I found nothing worth the trouble of re-reading in Behind the Moon. But it may lead you to fruitful research if you fall down its bear-haunted cave.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Graphic Discoveries

Really imaginative, somewhat trippy comics from one of the artists behind Heavy Metal back in the day. The book is vividly colored and beautifully bound.

Existential angst and fantastic art. Always a great combination!

Global Discontents


Glad to see another Barsamian/Chomsky collaboration. I remember reading 'Chronicles of Dissent' almost thirty years ago. Chomsky is much breezier and less academic in these wide-ranging discussions than in his more serious tomes. Topics include imperialism, propaganda, Trump, the economy, global warming, and hopes and prospects for the survival of our species. Oh, and unlike virtually every other thinker there are these novel things called 'Notes' at the end of the book. In the notes you find sources. Sources mean you aren't just making shit up.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Soul's Code

Before you were born into this body, before your parents 'had' you, you did some karmic data analysis, and after guidance from your daimon you chose your body and your parents based on your goals for this incarnation. This daimon stays with you throughout your life, and remembers your purpose here and all your incarnations while you cannot. This idea is thousands of years old, and recurs globally in a variety of cultures, and it is Hillman's contention that your daimon (which he renames your acorn, though the pine cone is a common symbol for it as well) contains your purpose--vocation or calling--and it is imprinted in you at a young age. Some are privileged to know from elementary school what their purpose is...Hillman provides myriad examples of savants in numerous fields whose careers had a sense of destiny about them. And it is also Hillman's contention that not knowing or straying from your purpose or calling will disconnect you from your daimon with catastrophic results for your health and contentment. And most of us fumble along, disconnected, living lives "of quiet desperation," never recognizing our immortal aspect. Of course this work comes straight out of the Jungian project of merging esoteric traditions, religions, myths, symbols, astrology, alchemy etc into psychoanalysis. Socrates summed up this book nicely with his admonition: 'Know thyself! '

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Recent Books

An excellent compendium of topics in the Western Esoteric Tradition, useful not only for scholars in the field but also for casual research. The articles are interesting and illustrated. If, however, you are seeking the Truth this tome will merely guide you on your way to other resources.

Dixon continues riffing on his old age, and as I approach that time of life I can think of no funnier, warmer guide. Another wonderful short book with Dixon's distinctive, fussy and hilarious voice.

The full package--rich characters situated in a lush setting, a searing portrait of Catholic/Capitalist colonialism and burgeoning resistance and reaction in Nigeria. A book about the world as it is for much of the world's citizens. I will read more by this fantastic young talent.