The Andrew Pendergast Gambit

The character Andrew Pendergast lurked in the background during the first two World Made By Hand novels penned by James Howard Kunstler. Even so, I was intrigued by Andrew after reading World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron. This was a man who had kept the town of Union Grove’s library open during the difficult years of America’s midnight hour.  In the third novel of the tetralogy Andrew is fleshed out to become a pivot on which the novel and the fictional New York state town is made to stand. In A History of the Future, James has given a full breath of life to Andrew Pendergast. I’m very glad he did so, because this is a character those bracing themselves for the seismic shifts in store for industrial in store for industrial society can  emulate now. Instead of just bearing witness to the ongoing drift of American culture further along the twilight path into darkness we can take a cue from these pages of literature and do the work towards making ourselves lamps who will be able to see and act in the darkness ahead.

Andrew is such a man. Adaptable. Foresighted. Possessed of a set of “diverse skills and interests” that are necessary to live in difficult times and save those aspects of American culture worth saving. In the post-collapse village where the character makes his home he finds a number of different roles to play. These roles are not appointed to him. He takes them on because they need doing.

1. He took charge of the town library. He dusted off the card catalog. Running a library on a card system is a skill that can be relearned. When I first began in library work the Olive-Kettering library at Antioch College was just being “updated” to a computer system. Working with the card filing system was a rather fun part of the work. Now with self-checkout machines, just like at the grocery store (instead of at the grocers) human interaction has been minimized and mediated by machines. Andrew’s library ran on limited hours, and with the help of some other volunteers, but it became a treasured for re-skilling and for the non-electric entertainment and edification of reading.

2. He formed a volunteer burial committee during a flu epidemic. In Kunstler’s sequence of novels a successive wave of diseases cull the human herd. In a strained economy, in a country with a brittle health care system, responses will be limited. As bodies pile up something will need to be done with them for the families who grieve, and for the continued health of those who remain. The death process used to be overseen by families and communities. Fraternal lodges and voluntary societies used to provide their members with plots of land and headstones. Now it is all outsourced. From the time a family member gets sick to the shovel of dirt on the coffin. If your town or city faced a plague and strict limitations on resources how would you cope with large tides of death? It’s a question worth thinking about. Doing something to get people in the ground would be an important step.

3. Andrew established a model garden on his half-acre property. Other towns folk learned to copy him because they had forgotten -or never learned in the first place- how to grow plants, how to tend food crops, how to bring in a harvest. Though Kunstler doesn’t spell it out, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the towns people also got some extra seeds off Andrew. Surely he’d be saving those from season to season.

4. Pendergast repaired old mechanical clocks. Some anarchist leaning types might not be so disappointed about a world without clocks. Especially time cards. Kunstler however imagines a world in which a solution for telling time is still in demand. Andrew makes himself useful by learning to fix the type of clocks which would still work without an electrical grid. My take-away from this is that it will also be useful to be able to fix those lower tech and appropriate that can be used to trade with others in the community. Another take-away is Andrew’s ability in managing his time and energy. If you are doing one thing, you are not doing another. To deliver on Andrew’s level requires both time and energy  management. (One of the ways Andrew manages his energy is through celibacy -not popular in our sex obsessed culture, but effective. This part of the book reminds me of the discussion of the body and sexual energy in Wendell Berry’s classic The Unsettling of America.)

5. He painted portraits. In these books cell phones and digital cameras are no longer in use. The grid is down. The narcissism of the selfie is not a given in this history of the future. Non-digital photography may stand a chance of surviving for a time, but portraiture again becomes the most stable method for recording an individuals visage. Andrew had a store of paints he stocked up, but they were running out.  From the books in the library he began the process of learn to mix paint from scratch using minerals and substances he wildcrafted in his own bioregion.

6. He organized and directed stage shows. No netflix. No movie theater. Meaningful entertainment can bring people together instead of isolating them in front of a box. Kunstler is here forseeing a person who works to preserve one of the great  arts of humanity and who sees its value in adding to the quality of life during a time in which everyone has to make do with a lower standard than the Americans of the late 20th and early 21st believed was a birthright.

7. He directed the music circle of the congregational church. Andrew played piano and organized the rehearsals of a group of the towns musicians. Again this is another way of bringing people together and giving the other citizens something to look forward to on festive occasions -performances on the Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, and other celebrations.

This list doesn’t even exhaust other things Kunstler touches on his text (and perhaps it should be noted that Andrew’s story is only one of multiple threads in the novel).

This is a man of tremendous energy and ambition. He likes to work. It brings him satisfaction. Rather than feeling deadened and sad by the passing of modernity Andrew feels alive with an ecstasy he did not know in his former life working in the NYC publishing business. Perhaps his ability to work so hard and so much is aided by the lack of a day-job, perhaps by the absence of distracting gadgetry and digital media. Either way time must be filled and Andrew hears the tick of the clocks he wound and fixed himself. The best antidote to the malaise of depression and meaninglessness so common now, and one of the outcomes people in a collapsed/collapsing culture contend with, is to get to work on saving things that matter, doing which add texture to life. Without shipments of food, and big box stores to supply needs and wants, busyness is also more a matter of survival. In the present, depending on its form, busyness can be seen as a way of distraction from the anxieties of life. It is my view that many of these anxieties westerners face will be seen as superfluous on the far side of Americas imperial meltdown. Rather than being tired and worn out Andrew is vividly alive. I suspect Andrew might agree with the phrase, “idle hands make light work for the devil”.

He is so alive and full of energy a man who feels he is broken seeks out Andrew out. First this man has the intention of harming Andrew. Then he opens up to the possibility that he could learn something from him. This man, Jack, ends up staying on in Andrew’s home as a kind of servant, but one who is there of his own accord. He works on the chores and projects Andrew gives him in exchange for room and board and for Pendergast’s attentiveness towards rehabilitating the mans feeling of brokenness.

On the far side of America’s ongoing collapse there will be many broken institutions and people who also feel they are broken. One of the best things that can be done as a preventive measure is to shore up any existing cracks in ones self. Don’t add to the strain society is already under, but seek to be self reliant, and from that base, work outwards into the family and  community. Be a rock and shield. This book creates a great example of what that kind of person might look like.

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2014 Book Redux

Now that 2015 is well over a week old, I thought I would take the time to look back over some of the book releases of the previous year. I didn’t pick up a ton of new releases, but I crossed paths with a few. Generally I read where curiosity and synchronicity lead me to, and the books I end up spending time with are from various time periods. A lot of what really moved me came out of the stacks of the library, but there were a number of titles I feel compelled to give note to. Here goes.

POETRY

In February last year I had the honor of meeting Paul Pines through the auspices of the Walnut Street Poetry Society of which I am a member. When we met, his collection “Fishing on the Pole Star” wasn’t out yet. It plumbed the depths and reached deep to catch some whoppers, while also finding interesting bits of flotsam and jetsam as a matter of beach combing. The book is also accompanied by the wondrous visual collage’s of Wayne Atherton. These poems help the reader to remember that consciousness does swim weightless through the world. Published by Dos Madres Press.

Also from Dos Madres was a book from the Skaldric Cauldron of Cincinnati Scop, Ralph La Charity. “FARWELLIA a la Aralee” is Ralph’s tribute through nine poems to poet Aralee Strange who passed away in 2013. Aralee had strong ties to Cincinnati and I had the privilege of hearing her read on a few occasions before she moved to Athens, Georgia. I think she touched everyone who came in contact with her in some way. At the tribute readings for Aralee I was also privileged to hear Ralph execute this sequence from memory with an accompaniment on amplified kalimba at the Northside Tavern (my favorite neighborhood watering hole). My favorite of the poems is Victor Weave, where he writes: “Call the hearth at home friendly fire / Call the cold hours’ starlight friendly fire / & while friendly fires everywhere & forever  / this fire reaps & preys / this fire lights both ways”. This book also inclueds a facsimile reproduction of CINAMANUENSING (a writ of habeas corpus poetique) that Ra’s Elf wrote while Aralee worked on filming her screenplay The Train, a project she never completed, her personal great white whale.

MAGIC

Josephine McCarthy‘s books on magic have yet to disappoint me in any way. She writes directly from her own seasoned experience. While there is a place for the kinds of  magicial and spiritual nonfiction that use textual research alongside magical research, it is also very refreshing to read books where the author puts as much of their accumulated inner wisdom into the text. As ethereal as that sounds, “Magical Healing: A Health Survival Guide for Magicians and Healers” is an eminently practical book that will be of use to anyone who makes the magical arts not an accessory to their personality, but a way of life. Magical practitioners inevitably take hits from the inner worlds that have impacts on the outer body, the vessel of the soul. While some of this material was touched on in “Magic of the North Gate“, it is expanded upon in depth to a tenfold order in this text.  It will also be of interest and use to anyone involved in alternative healing modalities. The book contains methods of visionary healing, using tarot as a tool in diagnosis, chapters on homeopathy, herbs, and much more. It doesn’t matter what tradition you may belong to in magic, this book offers tools that are applicable across systems. Published by Mandrake of Oxford.

Time, Fate & Spider Magic by Oryelle Defenestrate-Bascule also came out in 2014. I must admit, my poem “The Spider” is quoted in full in his textual weave, but that’s not why it is is on this list. The book brings together a lot of the magical, theatrical and ritual work Oryelle has done over more than a decade. At close to 360 pages, with many illustrations, this work gives an in-depth account of all the work Oryelle has done exploring times web through magic and myth. Published by Avalonia Books.

FICTION

The Summer Sacrifice” by Holly Hinton is an exemplar Young Adult novel whose themes revolve around the Underworld, human sacrifice, and the dark Goddess. The heroine Jamie Tuff suffers from the peculiar ailment of soul wandering. Perhaps as teenagers and young adults some of us have had spontaneous out of body experiences ourselves. Or even hopped into other peoples bodies as the character does, getting us into trouble. So we can relate. Something else to relate to: being both Gifted and Dangerous. In the isolated society on the Island in the book, being both Gifted and Dangerous is not a brand you want to carry around with you. Leading to more trouble. And when you want to find out what is really going on with throwing teenagers off the cliff to feed the Goddess, it really doesn’t help you look good in front of the authorities, all set against a backdrop of climate change and collapse. The tone of the language is very British and also steeped in the countries dry flavor of humor, which I quite enjoyed. Each chapter heading is graced with illustrations by Hinton which adds a nice touch and ties it in with traditional elements of publishing for younger readers.  As this is just book one of an ongoing story, I’m looking forward to where she takes The Master Games series next.

***

Other than the above I didn’t really read too many new releases in 2014. There are a number that are still on my wish list. These include:

Reasonances by Carl Abrahamason
David Tibet Sings Omega (by David Tibet)
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Wisht Waters by Gemma Gary

…and many more. But I’ll definitely be checking the above out.

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Kleptomancy: On the Reproduction of Cultural Compost

“To create is divine. To reproduce is human.” -Man Ray

GRAVE ROBBING THE MASTERS

Much of humanities best work did not come into being from passion and inspiration alone. Rather, it came into the chamber of a mind prepared and ripened on the emulation of others. The works produced by previous generations of writers and artists are a part of our heritage waiting to be hacked into. All you need to do is enter the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and choose one to become as your own. Take an author, any author, but preferably one you like, one who is a master of the craft, and copy out a passage of their work into a special book you keep just for this purpose. This book in time will become a compilation of favorite scenes and passages, a land of literary booty, treasures from the tomb.

STEAL TO BECOME AN AUTODIDACTATOR 

If intellectual property is theft, stealing helps you in the quest of becoming an autodidactator. By pumping primary sources for a share of the gold your own mental gears will be slicked. Wheels will turn where before they sticked. It’s like spraying WD-40 into the cobwebs of the mind, or dripping some three-in-one oil on the rusty hinges of neural pathways.

COPYING IS A MANTIC ART

The suffix -mancy is found at the end of words relating to divination, such as cartomancy, and kleptomancy -the subject of this article. If it was just about taking a  joy ride on the shoulders of giants, literary, artistic and intellectual appropriation would remain merely another form of kleptomania. Yet there is something portentous about the brazen act of the rip off, a phrase that can be translated in this context as: to rip up and riff off of.

William S. Burroughs showed how the future leaked out of his cut-up texts. Boundaries or zones are fundamental to both the self and its discourse but they are also passable both in the imaginary and the real. The real and imaginary intermingle of course. In stealing we step over one boundary. In cutting it up we throw it inside a matrix of possibility. In rewriting it fresh we fuse the I-for-myself with its viewpoint or experience. It is natural that prophecy is quoted in art. Copying the work of others establishes a landing strip for the Muse.   

Even if you are just forging someone else’s name on a readymade off the assembly line, at least you have a pot to piss in. Sometimes you have to nevermind the bollocks and take a leak where you stand until the vapor clears. It has come down to us in legend that the Sex Pistols stole amplifiers and other music equipment from the Rolling Stones. This could have been a lie, which over time transformed into truth, and is thus an exemplar of  propagande par le fait or, propaganda of the deed. 

AN EXERCISE IN KLEPTOMANCY

This is only one permutation of a possible practice for cultural detritivores. It can also serve as a memory strengthening exercise, reinforcing key turns of phrase, words and choice rhetoric into your personal memory palace -itself just an antechamber of the vast Inner Library.

1. First pick a poet to plunder.
2. Copy a poem word for word.
3. Now put aside this sheet of paper and attempt to put the sentiment and as many words of the original as you can remember into your own piece of prose.
4. Once this task of necromantic or vampiric plagiarism has been achieved  let this draft wither in the compost for a few days, until it becomes musty, and you have to bat away the fruit flies hovering over it. Move on to another project for a time.
5. Return to the article and make a new version of it, jumbling the collection of hints into confusion, and disarrange them into another perversion of the natural order. In this way you begin to act as a decomposer of cultured reality.
6. Set aside and let it rot for the space of one week to two months.
7. In the interim phase of this process repeat steps 1-6, using a different source author, preferably on a subject you feel to be incompatible with the first. Now you should have two pieces of writing obtained by kleptomantic reduction. Put them side be side together.
8. Through the art of recombination seek to weave the two disparate narratives into a single thread.
9. Edit at your will. This method is primarily one of decomposition, and is one way for artists to add to the cultural soil of the future.

Those who work in the plastic arts will need to use whatever inherent ingenium is available in them to devise an analogous method.

***
HOMAGE CVG of the Cincinnati Royals Collective just dropped this kleptomanic masterpiece.

Parts of this article have been inspired by the works by Negativland and People Like Us.

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I Like Thee Holidays

A message from Thee Majesty:

The publishing arm of Sothis Medias, Oneiric Imprint, has just launched our first book title, HIGH GRAVITY by PLATONIC ONE.

The black magick novel/grimoire by PLATONIC ONE. 150 pages, 100 b&w illustrations. Oneiric Imprint, Sothis Medias. Go to and fro in the earth walking up and down in it with PLATONIC ONE and his friend SAND GO HOWL as they frequent underground clubs to hunt their werewolf brothers, read poetry, and search for the legendary mage COLIN BOYD, all the while indulging their antiestablishmentarian rants about various social and political institutions, processes for demon evocation, solutions to the ghost epidemic, and connections between art and The Great Work. Buy on Amazon. 

Sothis Medias will be back in 2015 with new content. I hope everyone is having a happy holiday!  Be Safe and have fun. -Justin Patrick Moore

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On Becoming A Bullshit Artist

ON BULLSHIT

I recently picked up a copy of Harry G. Frankfurt’s 2005 essay “On Bullshit” at one of my favorite used bookstores.  I had read this not long after it came out, but it was good to spend some time revisiting the theme he addresses -the bullshit our culture finds itself mucking about in, and what exactly bullshit is from a philosophical perspective.  Nine years later the essay is just as pertinent. There seems to be no shortage of the stuff, whether its just your average poop, or grand politcal crap slinging.

Harry asks the important question, “Why is there so much bullshit?“, and answers, “Of course it is impossible to be sure that there is relatively more of it nowadays than at other times. There is more communication of all kinds in our time than ever before, but the proportion that is bullshit may not have increased. Without assuming that the incidence of bullshit is actually greater now, I will mention a few considerations that help to account for the fact that it is currently so great.

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated by whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled -whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others- to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinion’s and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.

Certainly the proliferation of blogs -such as this one, laden with my own BS- and the lower barriers to publishing created by the widespread utilization of computer technology up the ante on the crap quotient. Add to this the fact that the world population now has a higher rate of literacy, more people reading, more people writing, and the amount of printed bullshit, aside from that discharged out the mouth, is sure to see an increase.

Could it be though, that within the fecal matter which most abhor, is a hidden resource? At a time when the soul of the west is barren, when our inner landscape has eroded, when the things which bind us together are under assault from materialist nihilism, absurd reductionism, and the corrosion of conformity, what we flush down the collective crapper may very well be what is actually needed to restore the inner and outer landscapes from their current state of gross misuse and waste.

To see how this might be so we must first check in with some deities and myths related to cattle. Bullshit, might after all, have a divine providence.

HOLY COWS(HIT)

“Don’t plug the Cow-a-bunghole, dude.” -Bart Simpson

Instead, let it rip.

Cattle have long been part of the sacred terrain of humanities shared mythopoetic landscape. From the caves of Lascaux where our ancestors traced images of bison onto the walls, to the earliest written mention of cows being sacred in the Rig Veda, the cow has been seen as a symbol of wealth and fertility since ancient times. The Irish based their national epic around the favorite past times of cattle raiding as documented in the Tain Bo Cuailngor Cattle Raid of Cooley.

It is not surprising that there have also been a number of cow and bull related deities. Kamadehenu is a Hindu bovine-goddess, not worshiped independently as such, but honored in the general reverence for cows within Hinduism.  In ancient Egypt there is Hathor, who is depicted with cow horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus serpent. Isis is also at times depicted with cow horns. Apis is another Egyptian deity who took on the form of Bull. Mithra is the guardian of cattle, and in his later Roman form was shown as slaughtering a bull to bring to a banquet with Sol. Let us not forget the Golden Calf made by Aaron for the Israelites while Moses was up on Mount Sinai communing with Jehovah. The bull was sacred in Crete, in Cypress, the list goes on and on.

The life giving status appointed to the cow and related cattle species is not only from the flesh and dairy they provide, but from the from the foliage they graze upon being digested in the four separate chambers of their stomach, and being pooped out as a powerful manure to keep the soil healthy. This prima materia is rich in minerals. Besides being spread on the fields to ensure a bountiful harvest, while simultaneously providing  food for other animal and fungals species, cow dung is also used as a source of fuel, the dried patties and cakes being burned. Buffalo chips and meadow muffins must surely be another form of manna.

Not only is bullshit sustainable, but holy.

SCATOLOGY

In my own personal lexicon of symbolism shit represents the nigredo phase of alchemy. The time when everything is decomposed and putrefied. Depth psychologists have equated this with the dark night of the soul. Yet within all this mushy-stinky matter, this shit, is the very stuff of life, fertile and if composted, gives life and strength. This concept of taking crap material, and making into something that is good was explored in music by post-industrial group Coil on their 1984 album Scatology.

One reviewer said Coil made “good music, from shitty sounds“. The cover of the album shows an ass framed inside an inverted cross. The inside shows pictures of John Balance and Peter Christopherson lurking around a sewage treatment plant, “Sleazy” Peter’s hand covered in liquified filth. To me this picture shows the musicians as having something more powerful than the Midas touch. It confronted the biophobia so prevalent in society today, and showed the glory that can be found in the study of shit. The album had emerged out of the inspiration the couple found in their bondage and S&M practice, Sleazy often tying John up to the toilet. This approach, which revels in the by-products and wastes of our humanity, is one way to go about revitalizing culture in an age when it has all gone to shit. This is the work of the bullshit artist. It is the special province of those who would call them self a commissioner of the sewer.

A BRIEF DETOUR TO THE PISSOIR 

As an antidote to purely visual art, Marcel Duchamp pioneered the field of readymade art. According to Andre Breton and Paul Eluard’s Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme, a readymade is “an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.” The practice of choosing an object was part of the aesthetic decision. In his quest to get away from himself by choosing prefabricated items, we see both influence and similarity to the working methods of John Cage, who also strove to take himself out of the art, through the use of chance operations.

The readymade’s of Duchamp show cleverness and humor and open the viewers eyes to seeing everyday things in new ways. By placing his piece Fountain, a urinal signed with the moniker R. Mutt, in a gallery show he questioned the idea of art itself, and showed that it isn’t always about what you make with your hands, but with how you frame an object, or assign meaning. Playing with meaning, reframing events, words, or whatever media you are working in, is part of the job of the bullshit artist.

(The work of Marcel Duchamp will continue to receive coverage inside the pages of the avant-garde grimoire.)

THE ART OF BULLSHIT

The urban dictionary says a bullshit artist is “a deceptive fuck that gets off on selling people worthless info as if it were fact.” This is why, as an artist, you have to know your shit, and be able to bullshit. Knowing your shit helps you put power into your work. Being able to bullshit might get your work into a gallery, or some other forum advantageous to for you to float a piece. If you want to be able to roll like banker, double-count and inflate the net value of what you think a piece of art, performance or what have you is worth. Distort the measurement of supply and demand, to create a speculative bubble around your creation. Reel people in and baffle them with bullshit. They’ll thank you for it later.

COMMISSIONER OF SEWERS

I got My Education in dreams. For years I had dreams of looking for something in sewers. I later realize the sewers were manifesting  as part of an Underworld initiation experience. The Archangel Gabriel appeared in the guise of my high school friend Gabe Moses, and helped me find a piece of myself that was lost in the sewers. This was a bit of spontaneous soul recovery.  Sewers are places we might lose a bit of ourselves to, if we’re not careful about what we are flushing away. It is good to get to know the guardians of these inner places. William S. Burroughs set himself up in the sewers as a commissioner.

CONCLUSION

This little essay has humbled my question on how freedom is expressed in a democracy. It is the spokesman of how to use sewers as a place for piping-in power. The crooked stink of ambition is smelled on the shirtsleeves of our presidents. The Sultan’s have ruptured the intestines of America, all for the price of an orgy. The personal sewage of opinion is a condition of democracy. It is best to secure dirt on the governor, to get pictures of him smoking the sheriff’s reefer with the Sultan’s. In the afternoon we stop by the majesties house to make friendly deals. It is time to blow the virtues of Richard Nixon, a vital folk hero who revered the skepticism of the United States public. We will no longer cover up under-the-counter deals, but give free reign to bourbon snorting, cigar swilling, fat ass politicians. No skill is required.

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The Arachnist Manifesto

I. Everything is connected by threads, both visible and invisible, forming a web.

II. Vibrations on even one strand of silken thread effect the entirety of the web.

III. The web is also a net and can be used to catch morsels of food. Thus the web sustains life through the mystery of the Eucharist and the transmutation of life into death into life. This is the Supper of the Fates.

IV. Webs are also used as a form of protection, to watch over the entrance of dwelling spaces and to encase the egg sacs of the thousand young.

V. The web is also a gate. The spaces between the strands can be used to travel instantly to any other point in the web.

VI. The strength of a web is dependent on the strength of the spun silk, but also on the web’s design. Arachnists, keep fast to your health and be cunning in the orchestration of your skein! As a weaver, flawed designs can be rewoven on newspun thread.

VII. Webs are spun at night. Spinning is a nocturnal activity connected to the Moon and dreams.

VIII. Spider webs can be used to stop bleeding. In a world rife with wounds, weavers are needed to restitch those bolts of cloth which have become frayed.

-Justin Patrick Moore

 

8*13*8*23*8*13*8*23*8*13*8*23*8*13*8*23*8*13*8*23*8*13*

Copies of issue 8 of the Dyslexicon: Dreams, Time Travel & Spiders are still available directly from Sothis Medias.

Oryelle Defenestrate-Bascule’s thrice revised and expanded tome Time, Fate and Spider Magic is out now from Avalonia Press.  Essential reading for anyone interested in these three interlocked subjects.

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Artist or Artisan?

When did distinctions between art and craft first arise? Did this separation of utility and beauty come in the heady days of the 19th century when creators were rebelling against those who thought the sole value of art was to serve didactic and moral purposes? How will l‘art pour l’art fare in a time when resources will need to be allocated according to concerns more pressing than the aesthetic? 

A lot to think about. and I don’t know that I will be able to answer every question I have raised for myself to the fullest degree, which is why this avant-garde grimoire for art school drop outs is an ongoing affair, nibbled on and chewed away at in chunks, not all of them digestible.

For most of history the skilled handyman was also considered an artist or artisan.  They made work to serve a purpose other than the conceptual, the shocking, or just for arts sake (or Pete’s). Making art does have value in and of itself, at least for the person making the art. Whether or not it serves another purpose can only be decided by the experience of the people the work impacts -or fails to impact. Although the term “art for arts sake” was used to help separate the judgment of a pieces aesthetic value from the themes the work might touch on, the spirit of this phrase, has gone on to influence several generations of artists, who still working under romanticized notions about their particular trade, “create just to create” and perhaps because they can’t do anything else.

The glamorized image of the inspired artist working under immense pressure, subject to the whims of the muse -or the availability of mind altering drugs- has come down to us as gospel. The tortured, frenetic artist, oscillating between states of gloomy despair and wild eyed ecstasy is set at odds with the craftsman who steadily drums up water from the inner wells of creativity.  The person who makes tools or objects of everyday use is contrasted with the composer whose genius requires a battery of other musicians to play according to his own scored requirements. The music may be moving. It may touch the soul. Will the social cohesion and sense of status provided by an orchestra be necessary once the funding is gone? The first chair violin player may find herself as a fiddler instead at a campfire with a bluegrass band playing for an extra sip of moonshine. Maybe at home though, she will keep a collection of scores by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and Terry Riley. She might play in a noise ensemble as well. Yet she will have in place some other skills to keep herself fed when l’art pour l’art is no longer a paying gig -not that it has ever paid exceedingly well by the standards of bankers, or been available in the same level to the astounding number of people who count themselves as artists in the world of today.

Art for arts sake, was very much product of a time when the amount of surplus energy available for pursuing these types of creations allowed larger numbers of individuals to move away from having to occupy themselves with subsistence alone. The wealth of nations as a whole allowed them, even if not “rich” themselves to live off the relative fat and table scraps thrown their way.

Why should I buy your ink splattered canvas hanging on an otherwise perfect coffee house wall when I can go home and create my own? Art as a commodity will lean towards those who can also be artisans and create objects of both aesthetic and utilitarian value. There will always be room for painters, illustrators, sculptors and musicians in the collective economy of the future, but during the interim between the end of the industrial age and the rise of a new civilization most folks will be living in third world conditions -whether or not they arrive slowly in a soft crash or come abruptly from a hard crash. Getting a job as a set designer for the local metropolitan opera might not be feasible. It’s best to have some alternatives -while working to keep low budget  community theater a going concern.

There are many potential areas to work at as an artisan. Some of these can be done on the side as hobbies rewarding in their own right but that would also give the practitioner skills and products they could trade for other commodities or services.

The beginning list looks something like this. These are areas where artists may want to get a hand at working in now, developing those skills, building a culture of craftsmanship and putting down roots in between the cracks of current society.

The Book Arts: inlcuding bookbinding, calligraphy, papermaking, inkmaking, letterpress printing. These skills will be of use to all those who need to keep records. This is a personal area of craft I want to make further headway in.

Furniture Makers/Woodworking/Carpentry: Access to cut and seasoned wood may at times be wanting. The ability to use salvaged and reclaimed materials will be a boon. Think of reupholstering/refinishing the stuff you picked out of the garbage and trading it for a good knife or pipe wrench. Folks are still going to need things like tables, chairs, cutting boards, butcher blocks, shelves, cabinets. As mass produced pressed boards get burned to keep warm during the long winters, strong pieces which could be come new heirlooms will need to be made.

Leatherwork: The skins of beasts killed by cars are there for your taking. If the power goes out you will need to stay warm, and in the summer a belt is nice to keep the loincloth up. Which leads to…

Fashion: Tailors, hatmakers, and shoemakers all had a skill useful for fiat currency or trade. And they could make a man dandy or a fop, a woman a trendsetter fit to scandalize society with the latest thing. Getting nimble with a thread and thimble and other arts of the cloth can be a way to transform an entire thrift store while staying stylish.

Glassblowing:  This is already being practiced by the folks who keep head shops supplied. I know of one homesteading farmer who does glasswork on the side. He is able to sell sake sets, pipes, and other commissioned pieces at the same stand he sells his collard greens at in the neighborhood farmers market.

Jewelers: Most everyone likes pretty shiny stuff. When the banks go down jewelers are often de facto banks. Even-if-not, being able to make baubles out of bits of wire, metal, glass and bone will give you an edge. Gifts become valuable and things like rings, necklaces, bracelets, etc. will still be given and exchanged by people to mark special occasions.

Locksmiths: keeping your hoard or stash safe from bands of raiding warlords or petty thieves might be something you want to be able to do. Jewelers may be able to moonlight as locksmith, as could others who work with metal.

Potters: New bowls, cups plates etc. will need to be made for when the plastic ones become brittle with age and break.

Instrument Makers: While electronic detritus remains, and batteries are still available, the fine art of Circuit Bending may help to keep electronic noise music alive for another couple of decades. Otherwise it will be nice to learn how to grow gourds and turn them into string, percussion, and wind instruments.  Luthiers will remain in demand, while those who work with metal may get a chance to specialize in crafting and repairing the brass instruments so important to jazz music, which has a good chance of remaining part of Americas cultural legacy.

Tattoist/Piercer: This one is for all you post-postmodern  primitives out there. Tattooing, piercing and other forms of body modification have been around for a long time and will be here to stay. This is a useful sideline for groups of squatters living in the margins between rural and city-life. Its a good skill for anyone employeed as a gangster. Even for those still struggling to uphold white middle-class values  the occasional marker of some quasi-initiatory rite of passage is still in order.

These are just a few areas of artisanal trade a person could become a practitioner of, all the while working on the magnum opus during a lunch break where no carryout will be ordered. It is also true that the avant-garde techniques that were pioneered during the late 19th to early 21st century can potentially be applied to artisinal trades. John Cage’s I Ching informed chance operations have been used in printing, for instance. Perhaps there would be ways to use them in glassblowing, to determine the colors used. Cut-ups and collage will be apparent simply from working with an array of salvaged materials.

Some of these arts can be practiced in a spare corner of a home. Others require a bit more of a set up. Outfitting your Reality Studio with the tools needed for the Work is a part of the game, as is being able to improvise with the things already around you.

The artist who wishes to prosper during the unraveling of empire and into the coming dark ages will have a need to wear many hats. Developing facility with different materials will increase your chances of doing something that has personal and collective meaning.

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Ancestral Artifacts

Harry Smith, Alchemist

Artifacts of our cultural ancestors surround us, whether they be in the form of books, paintings, sculpture, or audio-visual recordings. The media is not as important as the transmission, though the medium might determine what is transmitted. Sometimes a pilgrimage must be made to visit the holy relics of the mighty dead. Whether it is to a museum in Cleveland or Chicago, to a Cathedral, or to a library to pick up a history of the Lettrist movement, the recordings made by the artists who have gone before us are available for us to interact with. their minds are waiting to be renewed through contact with our own. When we are touched by the work another artists it becomes another ingredient ready to be transmuted in the cauldron of our own art.

In this bridging between the zones of time the individual may become fearful of the crisis of collusion. This is but one of many initiations. For the scribe is in many ways both copyist and originator, when she is not playing the game of outright theft (see KLEPTOMANCY). Under the auspices of influence we may often come into our own, receiving just the right nudge, crack of the whip, or insight necessary to allow us to tread further along our own path. Before the block of marble can be carved the light within it must emerge. And this light is often called forth from the resonance of being in the presence of an ancoestor or elder whose own shimmering of the secret fire awakens further that flame which is within the heart of the artist.

Our cultural ancestors -like our living circle of guides and friends- is often great for giving introductions to others. Was not Allen Ginsberg influenced by William Blake, Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams? Was not William Blake under the celestial wing of both Emmanuel Swedenborg and the many eyed angels of the heavens? Thus the chain of inspiration may be followed back. Did not William S. Burroughs glean from the writings of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene? And was not Graham Greene a dream journalist of excellence who sat down every morning to transfer the memories of sleep to the waking page?

We need not be dominated by the lives of our cultural ancestors. They often have achievements which seem to tower above our own. Besides, it is not for us to merely emulate, but to create new patchworks out of the total materials available to us. This is not just our interaction with the mediated forms all around us, but from the stuff of our life, from the tragedies we have all been witness to, from the joys which have sprung out of our heart. We can learn not only the techniques and disciplines which propelled any given artist forward from the study of biography, but we can also learn from the wreckage of their lives what behaviors we can attempt to avoid. We can also learn resilience from the study of the Saints of Art. In our own lives there will be wreckage, pain, suffering, heartache and privation. These are the trials of human life. The cauldron of inspiration cannot be filled unless their has been some schism. Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light.

The skilled artist knows how to open and close the crack at will to bathe in the effulgence of the Void. He or she becomes a skilled mediator bringing the gifts of the ancestors through in her or his own mature work.

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Four Tough Questions

Recently Dmitry Orlov posed four tough questions to his readers. These were inspired by this years third annual Age of Limit’s conference. People jumped in on his blog and email to answer these questions. I thought I would take a stab at them myself here at Sothis Medias. [Dmitry has a new book out, Communities that Abide,  which includes other authors from the peak-oil/collapse “scene”. I had the opportunity to do a radio interview with him over a year ago when his book The Five Stage of Collapse came out.] The questions Dmitry posed are in bold below.

1. How can we communicate the reality of collapse to family and friends in ways that are constructive rather than destructive and find helpful ways to reflect our “endarkenment” in our everyday behavior?

In the words of John Balance of the group Coil we need to “pay our respects to the vultures” for they are our collective future. In a culture obsessed with the extension of life beyond its natural limits we can begin by giving respect to the dead and death itself.

The Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief has been widely used among writers of collapse. To help people transition we need to be able to see and recognize what stage a person is at in their grieving process over the death of industrial civilization, and tailor our approach with them accordingly. The person who is in the bargaining stages will have different needs for action & direction than the person who is in the denial or anger stage. Therefore it is most important that those of us who wish to act as hospice nurses for the old order have been through the five-stages ourselves.

Showing that there are concrete ways we can each prepare, adapt, and continue to co-create are important as is being available to listen, answer questions to the best of our ability, and share resources. Taking action together and working on joint projects can become a source of camaraderie in tough times. We need to find the equivalent of community Barn Raising parties and the like in these times, ways to bring folks together around a goal that improves the lives of not just one individual but families and the webs of interconnection spreading out from them.

2. How can we form personal relationships with people that can survive the disappearance of official life support systems based on finance, commerce and centralized authority?

My wife and I recently went to a flea market in Louisville, Kentucky. There were many stalls filled with salvaged junk, repurposed and rebuilt computers, knock-off phones and knock-off designer goods. Almost none of the people running the booths were anglos, and those who did were more than a touch Appalachian. There was a genuine community in the sprawling flea market, and it was composed of Mexicans, African and Middle-Eastern Muslims, and Asians. The other white folks like my wife and I were probably at a sanitized farmers market where everything was just-so. For the people at the flea market, it was obvious that it was a family affair. Mothers worked with daughters, brother with brother. It didn’t look especially lucrative, but it did seem like a good way to spend the afternoon, talking with people perusing the goods, and with the others hawking wares.

I had a dream a few years back where I went to a flea market on a quest. It was in Indianna and it was the size of a whole town. At the edge of the market was the dump. And some of the houses, containing room after room of hoarded items, were sinking into the dump. This dream felt like a very real projection of the future to me. I can see flea market / dumps cropping up. What is salvageable stays up front for sale or barter. As things fall more and more apart they are taken deeper in and join with that which can’t be used at all.

While the internet has become a global marketplace for those who can afford to shop online, neighborhood markets and second-hand stores will become ever more prevalent. A good example is the man who lives around the corner from us who has an ongoing yard sale. He also trash picks the neighborhood once a week, going up and down the streets on his bike seeing what he can get. Strategic hoarding can thus be a way to build community, as long as you are willing to set it out on a table and use it to sell, trade or barter with. Learning to repurpose goods can only help.

3. How can we transform our physical selves into ones that will stand a chance, by eliminating lifestyle diseases, bad habits, luxuries and comforts, and by finding maximally independent and resilient ways to provide the necessities?

Several years before I dropped my first tab of acid and smoked my first cigarette I was a sworn again Straight Edger; there is only so much influence a punk band like Minor Threat can have, after all. After a typical teenage run-in with chemical fun, I finally toned things down a bit in my twenties, having seen first hand how drugs affected the lives of people close to me. In the years to come drug use will be even more rampant, when they are available. As the spiral of crisis our world faces continues to converge many more people will seek the oblivion of drugs and alcohol to escape personal and collective pain -and responsibility.

I think there will be a need for lay counselors and others to help addicts kick the habit. Whether they use a Twelve Step format or not isn’t as important as the success they have in assisting their fellows in getting off drugs. I can see situations arising where there are addicts in the community who all of a sudden are out of a supply, no matter how much homebrew has been made or homegrown has been dried and rolled. Industrial civilization has caused hitherto unknown forms of stress. Its unraveling is also a cause for unique systemic forms of stress. As long as industrial grade drugs are available there will be a market for them and that market will cut and eat into communities as it does now.

I think the unraveling of society will also present unique forms of rehab as we all come down from the high of cheap energy. Rehabbing homes, rehabbing community. The rehabilitation of the soil, air, and ocean. Hearthfires will be relighted and passing the torch of memory through story and song will be more important than passing the bottle of forgetfulness.

Whatever we can do now to confront ourselves in the mirror with honesty will help us down the line. If we periodically fast, curb our desire for escape through instant gratification we may have a bit of an edge in very lean times.

4. How can we make use of ritual and spiritual practice to transform a group of individuals into a community?

SABBATH AND SABBAT

Last night I had a dream in which I was explaining the Sabbath to someone. The Sabbath has been an important tradition for me. I grew up in a church that celebrated the Old Testament Holy Days and who were also Sabbath keepers. We shut the TV off from Friday night to Saturday night. That time was sacred. Friday night was always a family dinner or small outing. Saturday’s were filled with church, church, and more church. Sometimes the two-hour long service was doubled with a break for lunch in-between, followed by pot lucks and outings with other churchy church folks.

I don’t remember a time when everything was closed on Sunday. I do know how it felt to have a week dedicated to family and community, even if said community believed in an Armageddon, that according to their calculations, should have come several times by now.  For people of the Jewish faith, the Sabbath is Saturday. For most of Christendom this somehow got moved to the first day of the week Sunday. Seventh Day Adventists and some others choose to church on Saturdays. People can argue the theology of this on their own. Having a day of rest, free from work outside or inside the home, no matter what ones  religion or spiritual path can be a powerful way to help create community and family bonding. If the merchants of cheap plastic crap could close their curtains, Saturdays or Sundays might transform into days focused on the collective, not collecting.

Aside from the Sabbath celebrated by two of the religions of the Book (Muslim’s do not keep the Sabbath, but Friday is a day for prayer at the Mosque) the eight Sabbat’s of contemporary paganism and witchcraft are also another source of inspiration for seasonal celebrations. Peter Grey has pointed out that the Wheel of the Year is indeed be broken in terms of how the four seasons are manifesting, due to climate change. That being said, in each season and in each bioregion, there will be specific festivals and cultural customs that may be celebrated. Most of these at one time combined work with pleasure, as in harvest festivals. Others will be times of conviviality designed to get people through the darkest part of the year with spirit and goodwill still in tact. The Sabbats need not be the traditional eight cooked up by Gardner and co. In Cincinnati, Oktoberfest and Bockfest are more important and widely celebrated due to the German heritage in this area. Other groups, ethnicities and subcultures will each have their own dates. Yet these can be preserved and added elements of ritual and rest can be improvised to help conserve culture in a time of disintegration.

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What Magic Is?

Magic burns somewhere
between phosphorous and philosophy
it churns the midnight soil
after hopping the cemetery wall.

“Dig this,” it says
pointing to an unmarked grave.
Magic wasn’t made
to be an energy slave
whim of yours to hire
black lace and red light
for the convenience of your desire.

Sometimes it is a thirst
slaked by snagging you into the coals
a wild mare giving birth to foals
the snare is, its out of your control.

Who lights this match now smells the sulfur
it doesn’t demand you be pure
but is a catalytic converter of events.

Sometimes it is better not to know.

What is it I am doing? What is it all for?

The horizon is a door.

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