Up from the Rubble of Babel
“Even the run-down nature of the high-rise was a model of the world into which the future was carrying them, a landscape beyond technology where everything was either derelict, or more ambiguously, recombined in unexpected but more meaningful ways.” -J.G. Ballard, High-rise
Even as empire crumbles and industrial civilization falls it remains possible to continue in the work of engineering a new culture. As creators, makers, and magicians we are left with the task of sorting out the rubble as the structure collapses. Sometimes the bricks and mortar fall into foreign territories, and it is in these places where new hybrids and syncretizations occur. While we could start from scratch, beginning with raw materials, there is something to be said for recycling and using what is already laying around. I think both methods are appropriate in the face of the many crises afflicting humanity. Here I want to focus on the combination of pre-existing materials. In Hermetic philosophy this is known as Ars Magna or the Ars Combinatoria, or the art of combinations.
“The most creative design involves the promiscuous hybridisation of possibilities from apparently disconnected, or even discordant sources to create a new harmony.” –David Holmgren, Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
Mash-up’s seem to be one of the most popular forms of consumable digital art these days, and it usually occurs in the realm of pop culture. With the plethora of music, video, pictures or text from popular media available alongside the tools to manipulate it, fans and artists create simple juxtapositions that are none-the-less aesthetically satisfying. They also often reveal humorous or “unconscious” aspects from within the source materials used, evoking new responses and thought processes in both creator and audience. For the purpose of the current argument I propose that Mash Up’s are just a matter of the addition of two different elements to create a third.
Beat-matching the Zeitgeist
While offbeat and dissonant arrangements can be quite pleasing to some people, a beat matched mashup can insinuate itself into existing culture as a reality changing pill, easily swallowed. Merging two potentially polarized views into a new synthesis can have healing qualities. It can allow for attitudes that might otherwise face death or persecution to not only live on, but rewire cultural transmission and receptor sites, so that further down the line, other more radical alterations can be made.
An example from contemporary practice is the melding of Ceremonial Magick and Grimoire Traditions with the magical techniques of African Traditional Religions, most commonly, but by no means limited to, Voudon here in the States. Rather than looking at this process in terms of psychic colonization, it can be viewed in terms of mutual survival and enrichment of humanities spiritual topsoil. In a country like America, where racism has had such a long and inglorious history, the syncretization of traditions can also be used as a way to heal tensions and divides. If a person takes up the work of a path that is foreign to his culture with sincerity, eventually the spirits and ancestors of that tradition will respond. Those ancestors will then become part of the living persons heritage. Though she may not live to see it, the work that is done to bring the two streams together will have an effect. When they become an ancestor themselves they can act as a force for healing these deep splits. As with much magical work done in service, results aren’t something that can be lusted after, and the time lapse between the working and manifestation might be generational.
Dmitry Orlov looks at the situation of racism in America with astute objectivity in his book Reinventing Collapse. “Over its formative years, there was no formal intermarriage between the Europeans and Africans or the Europeans and Indians. This stands in stark contrast to other American continent nations such as Brazil. To this day in the US there remains a disdainful attitude toward any other tribe than the Anglo-Saxon. Glazed over with a layer of political correctness, at least in polite society, it comes out when observing whom most such Anglo-Saxon people actually choose to marry or date.”
Intermarriage has historically been a way to help create peace, or at least truce, between various ethnic groups. To those who have taken this route in Americas PC, but just-under the-surface-hostile environment, I say hat’s off. This wasn’t easy to do before the Civil Rights Movement, and while some strides have been made, its still such a long road to go for us. The marriage of traditions in magic is another way to work on this issue. It’s always a good idea to learn about other methods and systems in any case, if even just to expand your vocabulary. Having an increased vocabulary in turn, allows for greater possibilities of expression and communication. And when true communication occurs, true understanding might follow. And where humans are concerned, it is never a simple matter of combining two elements to create a third, but rather is a plethora of history, culture, and psychic influence coming together dynamically in a time of hard limits. Mutual aid and respect are worth working for.
“The oldest and most authentic tradition in all of magic is the tradition of stealing anything that’s not nailed down, and bringing along a crowbar for use on the things that are.” -John Michael Greer, from Magical Education, a talk given at Pantheacon 11.
Where a mash-up is the combination of two elements a collage can be seen as the scrambling or piecing together of three or more elements. Throw in some chance operations and the artist finds himself working from a palette fecund and diverse. The selection process is a function of memory, in which existing images, phrases, sounds, or systems are chosen as a way to synthesize, what before might have been discordant influences and uncertainty in the mind. Being exposed to the varied choices available in the waning days of the accelerated age serves up a lot of cognitive dissonance. One way to cope with the prospect of making a choice when “too many choices is no choice at all” is to throw them all into the mental stir-fry in your personal reality studio.
Collage allows kernels of the original to remain. When speaking of a tradition, this is a way to make preserves, to store up the sunlight of winter in a can. When rigid orthodoxies and traditions become brittle, they are more easily broken. When a person or a collective or group allows for outside influences to stimulate them into new growth, it strengthens them. Even when influences may act as a poison, that poison, if not taken in a fatal dosage, becomes transformative. Maybe not a panacea for all the schizoid ills of the world, but an announcement about the potentialities for merging formerly dissociated content. This assembling of the broken and disassembled is a way of creating a continuum of culture, all the while transforming the banal spectacle of society, putting it to a new purpose and in a new framework.
Beyond Collage is the concept of “Intermodulation”. This will be discussed in a future post.
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Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.