Folklore Against Fascism, Magic Against Brexit

Today is #FolkloreThursday; and today, my piece on the parallel hashtag #FolkloreAgainstFascism (looking at the rise of blood-and-soil narratives such as those by Paul Kingsnorth in folklore and the resistance to this narrow attitude) goes live at Daily Grail.

Part of the article refers to my magical working with the band The Indelicates last October: based on their anti-Brexit album Juniverbrecher, it banishes the dark heart of Albion and curses the entire Brexit project. As I note in the article, “The spell is ongoing.”

Here is the full text of the banishing ritual, and a link to download the recording of both it and the final song of the event.


I stand here as a cunning-man of Albion; bound by oath and mark to walk the borderlands and protect my tribe from the dark.
By that power, I now call upon all the forces of of Albion which protect this land.
I first call Elen of the Ways, she who makes the paths clear and free.
I call all the ancestors, gods and Fair Folk, wherever they first came from, who became part of this land, our Mongrel Nation of immigrants, refugees and their descendants, and made its soul richer.
I call Brigantia, the warrior goddess of Boudicca.
I call Arthur and Merlin and Robin Hood.
I call The Wild Hunt and Black Shuck.
I call the warriors of Albion from the lost past and history known; from Wat Tyler and Jack Cade – he who first called Black Shuck to aid the poor, women and children – to the Suffragettes and those who fought at Cable Street and the Battle of Britain and the Poll Tax riots.
I call Saint George, Turkish mercenary, and I call the Dragon entwined with him.
I call William Blake and Austin Osman Spare and all the artists and poets who saw Albion most clear.
I call John Constantine, the patron saint of back alley magic, master of synchronicity.
I call all the nameless ones, the forgotten dead who ever stood between hope and fear, compassion and rejection.
I call upon you all, at this time, to see the monster released from the dark heart of Brexit hate and bind it within its chosen form of Mister Punch.
I call upon those present to see it within that form here tonight.
We know who has been doing it, and We Will Send Him Back.

For purely reference reasons…

…here is the text of Paul Kingsnorth’s essay Elysium Found, written in praise for the documentary Arcadia (and used to publicise same), and withdrawn by the author after multiple accusations of green fascism.

 

(On this subject, I couldn’t possibly comment – oh no, wait, I’m about to do exactly that at Daily Grail.)

 

1346. A hostile French man-o-war approaches the Cornish coast. Is the sky grey, overcast, heavy? The sea is certainly churning. The vessel approaches the village of Padstow, where the crew prepare to drop anchor and make a sortie onto English soil. Then, on the beach, appears a strange creature: some horse-like being, dancing, whirling, kicking. It is like no other beast they have ever seen. Behind it process humans in red robes, carrying torches. The creature and its followers line up on the beach, daring the enemy to land. The ship turns, and makes for the open sea.

1588. The Spanish Armada approaches the Dorset coast. Sir Francis Drake, who as well as being an admiral, explorer and pirate, is also a witch, summons his fellow coven members high on to the cliffs at night. They circle in the dark, murmuring secrets. Together they summon up a great storm, which crashes down upon the approaching enemy ships and scatters them. The Armada fails. England is saved.

1805. Like the Spanish before him, the French Emperor Napoleon prepares to launch an invasion of England; but a group of Sussex witches have other ideas. Gathering on a full moon, as Drake and his fellows had done three centuries back, they too work a weather spell, calling up a south-westerly which leaves Bonaparte’s fleet stranded in the port of Boulogne. The invasion is called off.

1940. Following the calamity of Dunkirk, the magic island gathers its people to itself once more. On the eve of Lammas day, seventeen witches from different covens across the south of England gather in a pine grove in the New Forest, draw a magic circle, light a fire and raise a great ‘cone of power’, which they direct at the mind of Hitler in Berlin. The psychic message they project is stark: you cannot cross the sea. Again, the expected invasion never comes.

Perhaps these stories are true. Perhaps they are not.

This is a magic island. The land speaks through the people, the people speak of the land. They dance, naked or clothed, around the stones and in the streets. They climb over the broken walls that ring the housing estates, they gambol through the fields. There are fires in the hillforts at night, and things move in the woods, seen or unseen.

This is a magic island. It knows how to defend itself.

The truth was in the soil.

What if magic is real? What if the power of place speaks through the human forms that walk its surface? What if the truth is in the soil? These are the questions that Arcadia invites us to ask. No questions are less fashionable, or more dangerous, in the age of the Machine. Like the land itself, Arcadia provides no answers that can be comfortably categorised. Like this island, it is a multiplicity.

Children play in streets empty of cars. A community holds hands in a ring around a church. Naturists dance in the meadows, ridiculous and free. Wide eyes smile in black and white. A strange beast shimmies away from the camera. Men are dressed as walruses, sheep; a transformation is affected that for a second becomes real. There is a strange dreamlike quality to this lost Elysium. Dream and reality here are one; really, they were never anything else. This is folk magic. It is the summoning of a world we have lost.

What is this land?

This is our land of lost content.

What if we are the breath of the land? What if a place creates a people, and not the other way around? If we believe that to be true, we had better start paying attention to the songs we once sung, the stories we once told, the dances we once performed around the elms and through the closes.

This is England. There is nowhere else like it on Earth.

Arcadia is like a bucket of cold water to the face. Wake up! it shouts. Wake up! Look! This world you see on screen is alien, and yet it brings a shiver of recognition. What is that in the trees? What do I see from the corner of my eye? I have been here before.

Here is aboriginal Britain. You thought it was gone beneath a deluge of motorways and malls and screens and engines and scurrying human feet. Much of it is. But what remains? What remains, and what will you do with it?

A land of a great magic. A land of great mystery.

The island known as Great Britain is both of these things; less so than ever, but still, if you know where to look and know who to talk to, you can hear the old songs still sung. It is not always humans who sing them. All lands, all places across this wide Earth, are home to magic and mystery. The complex of human relationships which spring from those lands, the clots of shared behaviour which we call ‘cultures’, are distinct from each other because the places whose stories they tell are distinct also. A mountain people tells different stories to a people of the plains.

Britain no longer has a culture. Instead, it has a civilisation, and magic is anathema to civilisation. Civilisations suppress magic, and mystery, and beauty, and wonder. They overlay these rough superstitions with a patina of money and reason and progress, ringed around with border guards of scorn and dismissal. Civilisations are the enemies of real places. But magic will not be rooted out. Hidden, perhaps, around the edges of the fields; but never grubbed up.

A shadow has fallen on the land.

Patriotism has taken a beating in recent decades. The guardians of our civilisation tell us that attachment to place and tradition is reactionary, backward, dangerous. Like magic and mystery, attachment to land and history are things which belong to a dark and grim past, and should stay there. We are all progressives now. You are romanticising a past that never existed, they tell us. But it did exist, and not long ago. You can see it here, flickering in black and white. I defy any Briton to watch Arcadia and not feel a surge of patriotism; the real kind, the old kind. Not an attachment to monarchy or church, institution or government, idea or ideal, but the old pull of the land you walk on. The ground beneath your feet.

On this screen, the official flag ceremonies of the State – clean, white, ordered – contrast with dark soil, feathers from a dead bird, crooked old folk customs, half-whimsy-half-Wicker Man. The soil is older than the State, and will outlast it. But there is nothing to be scared of. It’s only magic. Listen. Watch.

Listen, watch, and you will see that the place, the landscape, is the star of this film. There is little human speech, and the human bodies that play across the screen are like fireflies in a forest at night. They are part of the scene, they light it up, they distract the eye, cause a few intakes of breath, but they are incidental in the end. The great, brooding presence of the trees is what frames the picture. The darkness around the edges, inviting and fearful.

What is this land?

There are spirits in every well, and each is subtly different from the other. Places do not take kindly to being homogenised. They don’t like being talked over. They like the people who sit by them and pay attention. When you pay attention, what do you notice? Do you feel the land breathing you in, then out again? What if you are the breath of the place? What if these dances, these songs, these rituals and ceremonies are a sensory image of the personality of the part of the Earth that manifests them? A folk map of Britain would show us the speech pattern of each river, the face of every field and spinney, the curve of every hill painted pewter by the moon.

We need a new humility and a reverence.

What happened to our Arcadia? We stopped listening to it. We stopped dancing, we moved away, we started listening to the chant of the Machine instead. It is debt we chase now, not the moon. We are individuals, not parts in a wider whole. In a broken time, it is taboo to remember what was lost, and that fact alone makes Arcadia a revolutionary document. Look, it says. This is how it was. This is what was broken. At night, when you lie awake with your phone flashing under your pillow – do you miss it?

One night we wake when the moon is nearing full, and we turn off the phone or grind it beneath our heel and we dress quickly and step out onto the grass, which is wet with dew. In the air we can hear cars and smell diesel but beneath that, and above it, something else. A thin, high song is being sung just beyond our horizon. We start to walk towards it.

Is something calling our name?

The moon is so bright tonight. Where is that song coming from? It seems to be all around. When we stop, we can hear it clearly. Now, dimly, we can see something approaching in the distance. It is coming closer.

It is not how they said it would be.

Now we find ourselves asking, in words we have heard before, only recently: what is this land?

A voice answers: it is you.

‘And so we return and begin again…’

Been a minute, folks… but I’m back. Part of this has been a series of woes with my former web hosts – fuck you very much, FatCow, and bless you Kay Orchison for saving my ass – the rest.. well, you can read about that below: this is the newsletter I just sent out.


IN WHICH YOUR NARRATOR BECOMES A VERY DULL CYBORG

(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of surgery and depression.)   

Thanks so much for sticking with me post-GDPR purge, after an absence of… oh shit, that long??

Well. Honestly, I had a good reason…

Basically, I was losing the use of my hands throughout 2017.

It started near the end of 2016. Kept up most nights with shoulder pain. Went to the doctor when the pain started to get worse and carry on through the day; I was also beginning to experience numbness down my arms and into a couple of my fingers. The doctor – a chap half my age, with the cheerful arrogance only an English public school can inculcate, told me it was “posture”: subtext, “sit up straight and get some exercise, you fat old man”.

Within the next couple of months, the numbness had spread to most of my fingers on both hands, and the chronic pain was joined with sudden shooting pains from the neck down to the fingertips. (On the 0 to 10 pain scale doctors use  – where my 10 is “waking up after the second debridement for my gangrenous foot, screaming like lava was being poured into the wound as soon as the general anaesthetic wore off” – the shooting pains were an 8, and happened daily at random.)

A better GP saw me, thankfully: he immediately put me on the waiting list for an MRI and started me on fentanyl for the pain. Not a fan of opiates, but I accepted them eagerly.

My last newsletter went out 5 October ’17. At that point, I could no longer hold a knife safely enough to cut vegetables for cooking, and I had sunk into the worst depression of my life.

All I could see was what I was losing. Typing became nearly impossible; clumsiness was my norm. I’ve done some martial arts: I could no longer make a fist. I picked up some stage conjuring skills in my youth, literal legerdemain: I could not even hold a coin securely. When I touched my wife’s skin, I could barely feel her.

Day by day, my life… emptied.

The MRI happened a couple of weeks before The Indelicates’ October Ritual: an amazing event that I was honoured to be involved in, and one where the magic (mental and/or otherwise) was just enough to carry me through.

The diagnosis: two ruptured cervical discs, complicated by bone spurs growing into my spinal nerves. Basically, early onset arthritis had eaten part of my spine and was now chewing on my central nervous system. I was put on the urgent waiting list for spinal surgery.

The surgeon in Leeds was very clear on the possible failure modes of the operation, to the point of bluntness. Though the odds were below 1%, the first three on the list were:

Death; paralysis from the neck down; mutism.

This did not improve the depression, to put it mildly. I spent the next two months basically preparing to die. Badly. (I’m not a stranger to fear, for one reason or another. This was worse: a constant dread, empty and cold. The light fading from my life.)

I had the operation on 11 December. That morning, I held my wife as close as I could manage – her patience and love for me throughout was the only thing that let me hold myself even slightly together.

The nurse came to get me, walking me down to the operating theatre. I felt like I was on death row. But I put one foot in front of the other, all the time whispering to myself the prayer which has been my saviour for much of my life:

I must not fear

Fear is the mind-killer

Fear is the little-death which brings total obliteration…

The surgery is called anterior double discectomy with fusion. The surgeon cut my throat on the right hand side at the front, tilted my head back to open the entry wound wide enough for access. My larynx was clamped and pulled to one side – hence the possibility of mutism – my spine revealed, the broken discs were removed, replaced with sheets of titanium. The two vertebrae were encased in a web of more titanium and held in place with what’s basically a Meccano bar screwed to the front of my spine.

I woke up slowly in the recovery room. I could speak. I could move my fingers and toes. I was lucid enough to explain to the nurses what Fortean journalism is…

Within hours of the operation, the feeling began to return to my numb fingers. I was discharged the next day, already better than when I went in… apart from the spectacular scar across my throat.

I recovered well; did my physio and rested lying flat and still like a good lad. By mid-January, I was almost back to my normal self…

…and then my wife and I fell to a flu which lasted four whole months. Just over it now, mostly.

So, that’s where I’ve been. Shit, as they say, happens.

Some time back, I was involved with the nascent Grinding movement: the community of DIY transhumanist experimenters partly inspired by the Warren Ellis/Ivan Rodriguez comic Doktor Sleepless. I have now finally become a cyborg… of a very commonplace, mundane type. No extras, no upgrades. But I got back most of what I thought I had lost forever which, frankly, is far better.

The tech which really helped me through this was all external. As I could no longer hold books in my hands, I got a tablet holder with a gooseneck attachment, which I clamped to the headboard of my bed: this, along with a Bluetooth mouse, let me read ebooks while flat on my back. The other device which helped a lot was my smartwatch: earlier in the year I finally surrendered my beloved-but-obsolete Pebble Time and got an Android one. The cheapest one on the market, the Ticwatch E, which is no worse in the most important area of battery life than the more expensive ones. The voice-activated Google Assistant became a new limb.

While I was down, a lot of interesting things have happened in the aftermath of the work I’d done earlier that year: the Discordian/Wonderist current has grown mightily – Salena Godden’s poem ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights’ (a philosophy which I struggled to maintain throughout my problems, usually not that successfully) has become both a rallying cry and an installation at Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery (an old haunt of mine).

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of John Higgs performing the talk which gave that poem its’ name at the Cosmic Trigger play’s last night, and of my closing ritual for the event which birthed Wonderism. As a celebration of this, Daisy Campbell is sharing the video of the Alan Moore/Adam Curtis panel which happened between those two, only to subscribers to her newsletter. (Sign up here. Trust me on this, it’s something to see. cosmictriggerplay.com, bottom of the home page.)

The next event from this gorgeous and insane crew is Catch 23 in Sheffield: a one-day event on 7 July, along the lines of the Super Weird Happening in Liverpool last April Fool’s – 14 hours of wacky fun, great music and as much Wonderism as you can handle. It will mark my first public appearance since the op. I’ll be holding an upgraded version of my Defence Against The Dark Arts introductory workshop – times like these, kit which is needed more than ever.

(Oddly, Sheffield is hosting my only other gig booked this year, an event by the British wing of the IOT. I’l be talking about pop culture belief systems, and the cunning-craft of Hookland. More about that soon, I hope.)

As for the Brexit curse? Well, you tell me…

I read a lot while I was infirm. Most of it was fairly light fare – a shitload of daft action-packed urban fantasy and thrillers. I only read one book twice: Nick Harkaway’s astonishing novel GNOMON, which you really should have read by now. If not – fix that. It’s the most mind-altering work of fiction I have read since The Invisibles.

Also watched a lot of telly – one thing I enjoyed more than I thought I would was the adaptation of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, the first episode of which aired on my 54th birthday: some of the changes made for TV worked really well for me. I loved Chris Conner as the hotel AI Poe, and I had one of my getting-wisdom-from-pop-culture moments from the combination of Quellism and the Envoy training, as personified by Renée Elise Goldsberry’s performance as Quellcrest Falcolner: I see a strong connection to the cunning-craft, and have found a kind of Zen strength during my recovery, in her phrase;

We are Envoys, and we take what is offered.

(And while we’re on the subject… I’ve also been inundated during my recovery with ideas and pieces of prose for my long-delayed book on pop culture belief systems, New Gods and Monsters, which is, finally, an actual work-in-progress. The book couldn’t be written until the Trumpian era, with its twisting and the orthodox religious resistance to the postmodern killing of the Grand Narrative: now, it has an ending.)

Oh, and THEY SAVED THE EXPANSE!

That’s about all I can manage right now. Thanks for reading… I hope little intervenes before the next time.

Long Live The NHS.

Overdue update

Blimey, it’s been a long time since I updated this blog! There are all sorts of reasons: quickest way to sum these up and give you a clue as to what I’m doing next is to reproduce my latest newsletter

CATERWAULING 17 June 2016ce

In which your narrator reboots after a crash

I am truly sorry about the gap between the last newsletter and now.

Basically, I did a lot of things, was too busy to write about them during them, and then fell over hard afterwards.

It’s something that never used to be talked about much concerning the effects of chronic illness (in my case, over a decade of Type II diabetes) – your body simply has less ‘energy’ to go round. Doing things, especially things involving a lot of travel, becomes incrementally difficult. Activists on these ‘invisible illnesses’ have come to use the metaphor of ‘spoons’ to describe this effect. I did a load of stuff, then I had no more spoons.

Here’s the things I did…

2nd of April was the marvellous Spirits Of Place event: hosted and envisioned by John Reppion. I was on the bill with some remarkable people, talking about the power of landscape, especially that of Liverpool and its environs. My talk, ‘Where The Buddleia Grows’ was on liminal spaces in urban magic, and seemed to go down well. You can read the text version over at Medium. Was an honour to be in that crew: meeting old acquaintances such as the great Ramsey Campbell and making many new friends. I also took advantage of the chance for a serious night of drinking with my partner-in-crime, David Southwell of Hookland fame.

On the 23rd of April, headed to That There London. I was called in to assist with a public magical working for Daisy Campbell and the Cosmic Trigger troupe: the immediate reason was that the gang were about to submit their bid for Arts Council funding for a second wave of the play next year. As a token of public interest in support of this, a Indiegogo was set up for that day to sell 123 tickets to the last London night of the show (which will happen, with or without the funding… but obviously it’ll be a lot easier with), and of course the first thing Daisy wanted was a ritual to nudge this result. In the middle of Hampstead Heath. The spirit of Eris was fully manifested (in the sense that a shitload of things almost went too wrong but not quite) and the Mischief was Managed. By the time we’d got a couple of rounds in at a nearby hostelry, those tickets had all sold. Took a little under three hours.

(I also got to crash at Daisy’s mum’s flat: which had that specifically odd sensation of sleeping in the home of a former Bond Girl.)

The last weekend of April, brought the extraordinarily fun and gorgeous Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. This 4 day event brought the cream of international performers to our little town & its environs. (This event is so inspiring that I wore four different outfits, none of which was in black!)


So many amazing acts; including our town’s first Naked Girls Reading event, where our own Heidi Bang Tidy read one of my wife’s blog posts about working with the Hebden flood food relief, which had all of us, including Kirsty, in tears.

The peak was the glorious Perle Noire: seeing her perform was like watching the child of Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt dance her exquisite arse off. A gracious woman, both on stage and off (had the chance to pay our respects in the pub after). Yet another triumph for our local community, and further proof that not even a flood can keep this town down.

The week after that, I went back down to the Smoke, to see one of the last performances of KEN: Terry Johnson’s play about his friendship and working with the late, great Ken Campbell, with Jeremy Stockwell in the title role. As Ken was a big influence on me in many ways (from seeing his staging of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy at the Rainbow in 1980 to being the officiant at Daisy’s impromptu wedding at the Find The Others festival in 2014), I had to go. Not only were the play and the performances splendid, but I met two long-lost friends from the HHGG fan club ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha that I was an early member of! (And there was this whole part after the show involving naked people and psychedelic UV body paint. You had to be there.)

The next day was the pleasant change of going to a Treadwells event that I wasn’t actually speaking at: a one-day conference for the launch of the book The Secret Lore Of London. Christina and her gang always put on a good show, and this was no exception: the highlight for me was meeting John Constable aka John Crow, whose extraordinary shamanic and poetic work in, around and for the spirit of London’s lost was inspiring.

A couple of days back home, then down to Brighton for three days. The event I was going to was the Odditorium’s ‘Adventures On The Edge Of Culture’ for the Brighton Fringe. This featured my dear Daisy again, along with John Higgs, Melinda Gebbe and Alan Moore. This was as fascinating as you’d imagine… and then Higgs was kind enough to introduce me to Alan as a colleague.

Alan was utterly lovely. Listened to my somewhat burbling words, shook my hand 3 or 4 times… and then, when I said “there’s so much I’d love to talk to you about” said, “oh, we must go out for a drink next time I’m round your way”. Which, as it turns out, is fairly often. So, that happened.

The rest of the evening was spent nattering with Daisy & the crew (Alan had to make an early exit), which gave me the chance to natter with parts of that tribe I’d not spent as much time with as I’d liked before – people like Greg Wilson and Kermit Leveridge.

Day after was spent with my dear friends from that area that I’d not been in the same room as in years; my ex Lucy (one of the folk Neil Gaiman based Delirium in Sandman on) and her husband, the writer Adrian Bott. A fine reminder that time and circumstance don’t always triumph over love and friendship.

And then I got home and basically collapsed for a couple of weeks.


I have some spoons now. Here’s where they are being used…

Spent today doing final proof-reading of my next Darklore article, for the upcoming ninth volume of that ongoing Fortean compilation: an adaptation of my Treadwells talk on SF & fantasy’s influence on paganism and modern magic. And I just found out it’s right in front of a piece by Alan Moore… (Mine mentions him and Grant Morrison in the same breath – what could possibly go wrong?)

Tomorrow, back down to London to meet up with more of those old ZZ9 people. Folk there I’ve not set eyes on in a quarter of a century or more, so that’ll be interesting.

On the 23rd of the month, I will be getting a new tattoo: the White Horse of Uffington, inside of my right forearm. The timing of this upon the referendum date is not coincidental: seems the perfect time for an old cunning man like me to reaffirm his bond to Albion at a time when fascist and xenophobic forces are trying to make my land into a place of fear, suspicion and hatred. (RIP Jo Cox: she was MP for a nearby community and someone who clearly had no time for fear and hatred. May she be remembered for that, and not the manner of her death.)

Next week, Hebden Bridge is having an extra Christmas because the flood buggered up the last one. Following that, back Darn Sarf: I’m giving a talk on the 27th at the first Art Arcana event, BORDERLANDS, organised by the immersive theatre/ritual troupe Foolish People: tickets are free if you want to pop along, but do book first. My talk is called “Betwixt And Between”.

Following this is Festival 23 on the 23rd (natch) of July and surrounding days. It’s going to be an incredible weekend, and the latest culmination of the 23 Current I’m honoured to be a part of. I’ll be doing a reading of selected works and teaching a workshop in Defence Against The Dark Arts 101. Say hi if you come along!

Thank you reading, and for your patience in my absence! (Now over 500 subscribers.) You can leave any time you want, of course… but hopefully I’ll have more to tell you, and more spoons to jingle.

 

 

DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #5: The Authenticity Rant

Posted here for reference, one of the most important things I ever read in a comic book: the rant on the nature of ‘authenticity’ in music, personality and life from 2007’s Doktor Sleepless issue 5, “Your Imaginary Friend”.

I gave a spoken-word performance of this piece in 2014 at Treadwells as part of my talk ‘Cthulhu, Fiction and Real Magic‘.

(Worth noting that an earlier issue also contains the retelling of Alexandra David-Néel’s tulpa experience, which I discuss in my recent academic paper The Tulpa In The West.)

I was also recently delighted to discover one of the ur-texts for this piece: Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor  (ISBN: 9780571226597, which has the Big Bill Broonzy information and a treasury of other tales in this fascinating area. A must-read if any of this interests you.

All rights to this piece remain with writer Warren Ellis, artist Ivan Rodriguez and Avatar Press.

doktor5.3

 

It’s 1991. Richey Manic is carving something into his arm because Steve Lamacq has suggested that The Manic Street Preachers lack an essential authenticity. What’s echoing in the backstage room is the voice of Ian Brown, still saying “Cos it’s 1989.Time to to get real.” In 1999 Godspeed You! Black Emperor start releasing CD’s sleeved in untreated cardboard. Intended or not, it denotes authenticity. Keeping it real. Like brown paper bags from Muji, founded 1980: Full name Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “No Brand, Quality Goods.”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor didn’t play the media game. Half of them were anarchists, and all of them hated the music industry. But of course they had a brand. You can’t help but notice that Naomi’s Klein’s book “No Logo” had a fucking logo on the front. Godspeed’s brand was authenticity. That’s what they had to sell. And if they didn’t sell records and gig tickets, then they were just 12 guys in Montreal eating ramen until they died. Richey Edwards couldn’t be Richey Manic, THAT RICHEY, unless he sold you on the concept that he was 4 real. Ian Brown and the Stone Roses couldn’t be that band, the band of the moment with the authentic voice that turned out to be the band in the right place at the right time and raised everyone up – unless they were more real than you.

 

Around the turn of the century Justin Timberlake began to carry around with him a group of black vocalists, whose job it apparently was, in live performances, to declare how “real” Justin Timberlake was before he began to sing. In 1938, sharp-dressed bluesman Big Bill Broonzy who’d been tearing up Chicago, played New York for the first time. But a blues guitarist in a good suit brewing up the primal muck of rock n’ roll with drummers and bassmen didn’t seem authentic enough to the Carnegie. So the concert programme described him as a poverty-stricken farmer who “had been prevailed upon to leave his mule and make his very first trek to the big city.” And they had him do acoustic guitar blues on his own. From there to his death twenty years later, he booked pretty much nothing but solo acoustic gigs. Because fake Big Bill Broonzy was deemed the authentic version.

 

No matter that he pioneered electric instruments in the blues, and was also recording with people like Pete Seeger, who wanted to take an axe to the cables when Dylan went electric in 1965. He changed his story in later years, but he was clearly offended by Dylan’s sudden inauthenticity, that maybe he’d been championing a fake all along. Because no one ever knew, or every one pretended to not know, that Bob Dylan was a fictional person. His authenticity was entirely constructed. Bob Dylan and Superman are the two greatest American myths created in the last century.

 

Who the hell wants to be real?

 

In 2006, Bob Dylan’s playing ” The Levee’s Gonna Break” Except the song’s called ” When the Levee Breaks” and it’s by Memphis Minnie. And she’s playing it in 1929, a few years before she moves to Chicago to tear up the town with Bill Broonzy. Who’s Memphis Minnie? One of the other great electric blues pioneers. And her name is actually Lizzie Douglas. And she’s not from Memphis either.

 

Authenticity? Authenticity is bullshit. Never more so than today. We can be anyone we can imagine being. We can be someone new every day.

 

You know why Grinders never got any respect in this town?

See if any of these comments are familiar:

‘You should be happy with who you are.’
‘Be yourself’.
‘That stuff is just fake.’
‘Don’t get any ideas above your station.’
‘Take that shit off.’
‘Dress Properly.’
‘Why can’t you be like everyone else?’

 

Yeah?

 

We are not real enough. We are not authentic to our society. Free speech does not extend to our own bodies.

 

But you know what? Back in the days before the internet, a kid called Robert Zimmerman said, “Fuck that, I’m going to be the man I dream of being. I’m going to be someone completely new and write about the end of the world because it’s the only thing worth talking about.” And that was one guy in Minnesota, in the same decade the telecommunications satellite was invented. Imagine what all of us, living here in the future, can achieve.

 

Be authentic to your dream, be authentic to your own ideas about yourself. Grind away at your own minds and bodies and become your own invention. BE MAD SCIENTISTS.

 

Here at the end of the world, it’s the only thing worth doing.”

 

Update: Hyper-real in the Year of the Slenderman

It’s been a while since I put up a post – a lot’s been happening. For one thing, I turned fifty years old – and honestly, it feels pretty good.

I have a new monthly column at the venerable occulture site Spiral Nature: called ‘The Hype’, I’m taking a look at currents in occult-related pop culture which are sliding further into both the cultural mainstream and the ‘real’ world. The first piece sets up my angle of attack (using the perspective of sociologist Adam Possamai and his theories on hyper-real religion – hence the name). The second article considers the way True Detective brought the cosmic horror of The King In Yellow to a far wider audience and the third, up today, considers The-City-As-Character in urban fantasy – with a specific, personal focus on London.

(My interest in Possamai’s models will also be involved in my next piece for the Darklore journal, coming later this year.)

I’ve been doing more for Daily Grail, including my partial review/flag-waving for the upcoming stage adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson’s autobiography Cosmic Trigger which promises to be extraordinary (there’s a crowdfunding campaign for a planned 23 November premiere in Liverpool – get on that!). I’ve also done a review of the recent Current 93 gig at Halifax Minster church and the NSA’s facial recognition algorithm seen in light of the prescient (and excellent) TV show, Person Of Interest.

And then there’s Slenderman…

At this point, pretty much everyone has heard about the shocking events in Wisconsin: the attempted murder of a twelve year old girl by two of her friends, trying (allegedly) to sacrifice her in order to become Slenderman Proxies. News agencies across the world have been trying to get a handle on this ever since – I was interviewed for The Guardian a few days after it happened. Then, two more cases involving Slenderman happened – one was a similar attack by a child upon her mother, the second an aside in the multiple cop-killing in Las Vegas by a husband-wife pair, whose interests included right-wing extremism and cosplaying as Joker/Harley Quinn and Slenderman.

Two days after the latter attack, it was the fifth anniversary of Slenderman’s birth – I noted the occasion for Daily Grail.

And… I’ve been commissioned by Fortean Times to write a feature on Slenderman for the next issue. This is a big deal for me, to put it mildly. I hope to do the subject – and the fall-out from the Wisconsin tragedy – justice.

It’s a strange world, and getting stranger by the day. Be safe out there, folks…

“My gaff…”

This has been kicking around in my head for a while…

The more I think about it, the more the corporate/government interference with the internet offends me on a very specific level. Here’s why:

It’s not their home – it’s Ours.

It’s like they’re walking uninvited into someone else’s house, moving all the furniture, throwing away the things they disapprove of and making it suit themselves – all without ever asking permission or forgiveness.

It offends me on the same gut level as any other breach of hospitality norms. They take the bread and salt of the internet and leave only their shit and piss.

And I won’t be having with it.

My gaff – my rules. It’s the oldest rule of turf there has ever been.
And the consequences of breaking that rule are, necessarily, severe.

(If the reference is obscure, go here.)

 

The Right Man/Violent Male

I was googling for links describing the Right Man syndrome (for, of all things, a post to the AV Club’s review comments on this week episode of The Good Wife), and I found 2 things – there’s still not a vast amount of stuff on this vital model of extreme male behaviour, and something I wrote on the subject for the Dark Christianity LJ is still on the first page – and I don’t have it reprinted here. So, here it is (mostly, as you can see, quoting RAW) & a few additions after.

I’ve often mentioned here the theory of the Right Man/Violent Male as a model for the behaviour of the Dominionists. This was created by AE van Vogt and later developed by Colin Wilson – but there’s not much about it online.

Here is a lengthy but excellent consideration of the model by Robert Anton Wilson, which puts the model in context.

“If, as Colin Wilson says, most of history has been the history of crime, this is because humans have the ability to retreat from existential reality into that peculiar construct which they call The “Real” Universe and I have been calling hypnosis. Any Platonic “Real” Universe is a model, an abstraction, which is comforting when we do not know what to do about the muddle of existential reality or ordinary experience. In this hypnosis, which is learned from others but then becomes self-induced, The “Real” Universe overwhelms us and large parts of existential, sensory-sensual experience are easily ignored, forgotten or repressed. The more totally we are hypnotized by The “Real” Universe, the more of existential experience we then edit out or blot out or blur into conformity with The “Real” Universe.

Concretely, the Violent Male—the extreme form of the Right Man1—edits out the suffering and pain he causes to others. That is only appearance and can be ignored. In The “Real” Universe, the victim is only one of Them—one of all the rotten bastards who have frustrated and mistreated the Right Man all his life. In existential reality, a large brutal male is beating a child; in The “Real” Universe of self-hypnosis, the Right Man is getting his just revenge on the oppressors who have abused him.

We have repeatedly employed Nietzsche’s metaphor in which existential reality is abysmal. In one dimension of meaning, this merely asserts that it is endless: the deeper you look into it, the more you see. It has the sense of infinity about it, whether or not it is topologically infinite in space-time.

The “Real” Universe—the model which has become experienced as the real universe—is, on the other hand, quite finite. It is compact and tidy, since it has been manufactured by discarding all the inconvenient parts of existential experience. This is why those self-hypnotized by a “Real” Universe of this sort can be so oblivious to the existential continuum around them. “How could a human being do something so cruel?” we sometimes ask in horror when an extreme Right Man is finally apprehended. The cruelty was “only” in the world of existential appearances; it does not exist in the edited and improved “Real” Universe of the Right Man. In The “Real” Universe, the Right Man is always Right.

The ghastly acceleration of violent, inexplicable and seemingly “pointless” crimes by Right Men in this century—and their hideous magnification into mass murders and war crimes by Right Men in governments—indicate the prevalence of this type of self-hypnosis and what Van Vogt calls “the inner horror” that accompanies it. This “inner horror” is a sense of total helplessness combined with the certainty of always being Right. It seems paradoxical, but the more totally Right a man becomes, the more helpless he also becomes. This is because being Right means “knowing” (gnosis) and “knowing” is understanding The “Real” Universe. Since The “Real” Universe is, by definition, “objective” and “outside us” and “not our creation,” we are made puny by it. We cannot act but only re-act—as The “Real” Universe pushes us, we push back. But it is bigger, so we will lose eventually. Our only defense is in being Right and fighting as dirty as possible.

This, I think, is in succinct form the philosophy of Adolph Hitler. It is the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, and of any rapist or thug you can find in any prison in the world. Where Single Vision reigns—where The “Real” Universe is outside us and impersonal—this shadow-world of violence and horror follows in its wake.”

 

The new stuff: Found a couple of excellent pieces on the subject from blogger PHinn – here’s a shortish quote, drawing mostly from Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind:
“The notion of ‘losing face’ suggests an interesting alternative line of thought. It is obviously connected, for example, with the cruelty of Himmler and Stalin when their absolute authority was questioned. They were both men with a touchy sense of self-esteem, so that their response to any suspected insult was vindictive rage. Another characteristic of both men was a conviction they they were always right, and a total inability to admit that they might ever be wrong.”

“Himmlers and Stalins are, fortunately, rare; but the type is surprisingly common. The credit for recognising this goes to A.E. Van Vogt who is also the author of a number of brilliant psychological studies. Van Vogt’s concept of the ‘Right Man’ or ‘violent man’ is so important to the understanding of criminality that it deserves to be considered at length…”

[…]

“In 1954, Van Vogt began work on a war novel called The Violent Man, which was set in a Chinese prison camp. The commandant of the camp is one of those savagely authoritarian figures who would instantly, and without hesitation, order the execution of anyone who challenges his authority. Van Vogt was creating the type from observation of men like Hitler and Stalin. And, as he thought about the murderous behaviour of the commandant, he found himself wondering: ‘What could motivate a man like that?’ Why is it that some men believe that anyone who contradicts them is either dishonest or downright wicked? Do they really believe, in their heart of hearts, that they are gods who are incapable of being fallible? If so are, are they in some sense insane, like a man who thinks he is Julius Caesar?”

“Looking around for examples, it struck Van Vogt that male authoritarian behaviour is far too commonplace to be regarded as insanity. […] [For example,] marriage seems to bring out the ‘authoritarian’ personality in many males, according to Van Vogt’s observation.”

[…]

“… ‘the violent man’ or the ‘Right Man’ […] is a man driven by a manic need for self-esteem — to feel he is a ‘somebody’. He is obsessed by the question of ‘losing face’, so will never, under any circumstances, admit that he might be in the wrong.”

 

PHinn knows what he’s talking about and is well worth reading on the subject.

For me… Colin Wilson makes a good case in Criminal History that the Right Men were the drivers of civilization – they tend to be charming when not pushed, smart and driven at what they do, and usually unconcerned by the consequences of their need to be Right – in short, excellent generals, leaders and despots. But the price of having them eventually becomes too high.

I think that time is now.

Dunno about you, but I’m seeing signs that this habit of thought is appearing more and more, especially in the intersection of politics & religion.

It’s impossible to negotiate with a Right Man – so a prevalence of them appearing in, say, the leadership of various extreme Dominionist Xtian paths makes any kind of resolution of opposing philosophies almost moot. They Are Right. Can’t argue with that. But, knowing how their rage cannot fail but descend if you insist (however politely and calmly) that they are in error… well, I leave that as an exercise for the combat philosophers in the audience. (And I know there’re a few – Hi Damien!)

The fewer of these in the world, the better. I don’t mean slotting them – I mean breaking them. Force them to show their monstrous nature whenever possible. Taunt them, tell jokes, satirize them  where they can’t help but see it. Drop these fuckers like Cain dropped Abel, like Godzilla dropped Tokyo. Break their wills, so hard and strong but oh so easily shattered.

Because they’re as Wrong as men can be.

(Colin Wilson’s books on the Right Man, Criminal History… The Killer & Written in Blood are all still available, as is van Vogt’s initial Report on the Violent Male.)

 

 

A Citizen of the Internet – first thoughts

“A constitutional amendment was offered to create a new fourth branch of government for American citizens whose ‘primary residences were virtual networks’.” – Bruce Sterling, Distraction

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” – John Perry Barlow

“The general concept is simple, there are people that want to send a message that the Internet is a sovereign territory” – Barrett Lyon

————————-

I do not trust the government of the country of my birth. I do not feel any loyalty to them, or any other country, whatsoever. At best, I see them as an especially powerful mafia I have to kowtow to and buy services from. The closest thing to patriotism I have ever felt is to the Internet.

So, why can’t I take Internet as my nationality?

Barlow’s Declaration of the the Independence of Cyberspace is now nearly fifteen years old – which coincidentally is about how long I’ve been online. The internet was a very different beastie back then.

In the last couple of days, the fallout from the Wikileaks affair has spread far and wide. Julian Assange is in a British jail on what even skeptical observers note is a rather enthusiastic prosecution of an alleged sexual assault charge. Few doubt the real reason he is there is pressure from the US government. Ranking members of that government have called for his assassination. Wikileaks has been hit by multiple DDoS attacks – and, perhaps inevitably, Anonymous have responded with a wave of DDoS attacks of their own against targets which have supported the pressure on Wikileaks and Assange (from Paypal, Mastercard and Visa to the Swiss bank who froze his assets).

On the same day as Assange was arrested, the US Dept of State sent out a press notice, thus:

The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 – May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.

…New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.

I’m not quite sure what is worse – the staggering hypocrisy of this, or that the US think we’ll not notice that, or that they simply don’t care.

My own country’s government – run by a weak coalition government which is acting like they have a landslide mandate – is cutting vital services to the poor and disadvantaged to pay for deficits caused by their banking pals’ having been caught running the largest Ponzi scheme in human history… and their representatives have the gall to blame those poor and disadvantaged for the financial mess. Students are taking to the streets in protest. They are not my rulers, except by virtue of monopoly of violence and general habit.

When we’re at the point where The Economist refers to Anonymous as “a 24-hour Athenian democracy” I think it’s time to at least consider the idea. (Although, as my esteemed colleague David Forbes points out, that also means unruly mobs…)

There’s plenty of precedent for dual-citizenship (such as my being both a citizen of UK and EU), as well as transnational exemptions based on residential status – think diplomatic immunity. (And if ever there was a system that sums up the idea of privilege overriding local law, it’s diplomatic immunity… though as a quick-and-dirty way to get Internet Citizens protected, granting all such citizens diplomatic status under the Vienna Convention would do nicely! After all, every Internet Citizen is potentially a post-state actor unto themselves…)

There’s also precedent in such ideas as the World Citizen aspect of the Bahá’í Faith, as well as libertarian proposals for independent states such as Sealand.

Citizenship implies abiding by, and contributing to, a social contract. Doing Your Bit. I have to tell you I’m far happier doing that for the internet than for any state. It’s rules, customs and rituals make more intuitive sense to me than any state I have ever heard of. And yes, I would cheerfully give up my right to vote in the UK and EU for the rights and responsibilities of Internet Citizenship. (Dear David Cameron – that’s what a Big Society really fucking means.)

(Of course there’s intrinsic problems with being Citizen Internet. As I was writing this, I had an ISP issue that required multiple reboots of router & 2 hours on tech support. The physical infrastructure of the internet is indeed reliant on meatspace hardware located in post-Westphalian states. But then again, a huge amount of the wealth and culture of those states is now internet-based… some form of detente is surely negotiable. And perhaps the Wikileaks fallout is the first ugly step towards such a detente.)

(I’m also very aware that saying The Internet is a gross oversimplification of a whole bunch of different, sometimes competing, cultures. A key issue would be finding some common ground among all users – from attitudes to censorship to trolling to vandalism. But having a set of ground rules all citizens can accord to is surely the first necessary step for a citizenship, yes?)

The single biggest issue with declaring the internet as a sovereign territory is that nation-states have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from this. But then again, that doesn’t make it unthinkable – those nations once also had a lot to lose by making slavery illegal. (I can imagine quite similar arguments from them, too – “We own that! You can’t take our property!”) The quote from Bruce Sterling’s political SF novel Distraction comes from near the end of the book, after a post-financial crash US has to negotiate with a new power within it’s borders, nomadic tribes who conduct most of their social admin and political apparatus online (think Whuffie on steroids). I can easily imagine circumstances where the US would have to come to an understanding with non-state (or rather, post-state) actors. Another quote from Distraction goes, “Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations”.

OK – so let’s assume through some miracle the Powers That Be allow Internet to be recognised as a nationality. There’s a rotating crowd of randomly selected Anons sitting at the UN or something. What does that actually do?

One advantage I can see is that all those Blue Laws which use the phrase “based on the prevailing standards of the community” go away. My community is the Internet. Our standard for sexual freedom is /b/. (Obvious exception – and perhaps a necessary precondition – is zero-tolerance of actual child pornography and images of actual rape.) I also imagine that property and privacy laws would develop rather differently… the most important part for me is that those who wish not to play the same games as their home state have somewhere to call home. It would also be somewhere (for a rather virtual definition of ‘somewhere’, of course) where organisation to survive failed states and other antiquated tribes can be accomplished.

No doubt existing state actors would cause all kinds of problems for the Internet Citizen – governments tend to do that. But then again, they do that between each other – as the Wikileaks cables clearly show.

And for the states which claim to be democracies, it’ll show one possible result of truly sharing power among the people.

——————

NB – This isn’t a working proposal. It’s not even really a manifesto, yet. It’s perhaps just a naive dream… but it’s one that obsesses me increasingly. If anyone has useful ideas to contribute to this, sing out!

Voting

“Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations.” Bruce Sterling, Distraction

Election day begins. And, for the first time in the 28 years I have been eligible to do so, I am going to vote.

I always vowed that I would never ever do so, unless a candidate or party came along that were supporting at least some of my non-standard views, were not merely players in the status-quo game. I also vowed I’d never vote against a party or position rather than for one, unless the BNP or similar scumbags stood a chance of winning.

(How serious was I about that? I didn’t vote against Thatcher.)

I despise party politics. I think it a vile mash of knee-jerk bollocks veneered with hypocrisy and histrionics. I’ve seen good, honourable people I knew personally become part of the party machinery and rendered either irrelevant or absorbed into the Borg Continuum. Churchill’s line about Democracy being “the worst system of government except for all the others” never struck me as enough excuse to support it. My reply to questions on why I didn’t vote was, “Same reason I don’t gamble in Vegas – the House always wins.” The longer version is; governments effectively perform experiments on the entire population of their country while in power, based not on science but various economic and (HAHAHAHA) moral principles, with no training in doing anything other than winning and dealing. I’d love to see candidates have to show an understanding of this simple fact and act accordingly – rather than their usual skills of rhetoric and corruption.

I’ve worked in the British Civil Service (Treasury), so I’ve seen how the game is played. Like working in a sausage factory, but far worse for your sense of smell.

I was one of the few on the night that misbegotten mad-eyed cuntbag Tony Blair was elected who stated outright that he’d be a worse whore than the Tories for corporate cock. That ended any chance of voting for the working-man-gutted version of Labour. And the behaviour of that vile man we called The Smiler and his glum successor in regard to unjust foreign adventurism, erosion of civil liberties and in the end their inability to realise the oligarchs they served would sell even them into the ground – and then demand compensation when the economy noticed the fraud – and Labour gave it to them… no way could I ever vote for them, even to stop a return to Conservative rule.

My disgust for the Tory hypocrisy on matters such as homosexuality, and their utter disregard (now shared by ‘Labour’) for the non-rich, non-elites renders them unacceptable under any circumstances to be given power again. They think they deserve to rule us plebs – reason enough for them to never do so ever again.

The LibDems blew their chance with me by their cowardly “oh we’ll fix it later” attitude to the Digital Economy Act (and that after writing personally to my local MP on the subject, I was fobbed off with press releases.) Also, another status-quo white public schoolboy as leader. Same song, slightly different verse.

Greens just seem overcommitted to their special-interest angle (and a little Luddite for my taste) and the other small parties are right-wing wankers of various stripes.

I also never considered it right to just turn up and spoil the ballot paper, or just piss it away on a Monster Raving Loony Party-like candidate. Given the options I faced, I felt (like that line in Slacker) that withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy, so that’s what I did.

So why change the habits of an adult lifetime now?

Because I have a local candidate whose platform comes from the poor bastards who usually just suffer political decisions rather than make them – ordinary people. He stands for a controversial and important position in social change – drug legalisation. And, in the very likely hung parliament, it’s a time when a single voice could actually be heard and do some good.

I’m voting for the People’s Manifesto candidate, Danny Kushlick.

(More on the People’s Manifesto here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_People’s_Manifesto)

EDIT: One way that I think voting should be changed is to allow actual voting against a candidate, rather than having to vote for someone else as a protest/attempt to curb them. Simple enough – one column for Yes, one for No. You can tick one candidate in one column, not both. That way, those who wish to express the (all-too-common) view that “they’re all scum but this fucker shouldn’t be allowed near anything even vaguely resembling power” can be accounted for.