Friday, March 27, 2009

Do What Thou Wilt

Grace, honour, praise, delight,
Here sojourn day and night.
Sound bodies lined
With a good mind,
Do here pursue with might
Grace, honour, praise, delight.
--Francois Rabelais
I discover today that Do What Thou Wilt originated not with Aleister Crowley, but with the French mystic poet philosopher Rabelais, he of the famous lines from The Music Man's PickaLittle song:

Alma: Chaucer

Ethel: Rabelais

Eulalie: Balzac!

Writes Rabelais concerning the Abbey at Theleme, built by the Giant Gargantua:

All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed,

Do What Thou Wilt;
because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.

Sir Francis Dashwood of the infamous Hellfire Club adopted the central law of Do What Thou Wilt and it became synonymous with licentiousness and immorality. Crowley has tried to rehabilitate the notion.

  • Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law"
  • "Love is the law, love under will"
  • "There is no Law beyond Do what thou wilt"
For Crowley, the Will was the innermost highest purpose. This is not a call to gratify base lusts and sinful desires, but to follow your bliss as Joseph Campbell famously said. In essence, it is a call to find existential meaning in one's life. And this in 1904!!!

Furthermore, He taught that the True Will of each individual was identified with the Holy Guardian Angel, a daimon unique to each individual

Those who have seen or read The Golden Compass, what think you of that?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lisey's Story

I'm listening to Lisey's Story (read by the incomparable Mare Winningham) by Stephen King. As writers we hold the mirror up to nature as Aristotle's famous trope says. That means we are not strictly natural, we are mirroring the natural. The little bits of day-to-day minutae that comprise life are redacted in favor of those elements which support the story, and its artful rhythms.

While Lisey's Story has some heart-wrenchingly beautiful poetic prose (SK's description of John Lennon comes immediately to mind), the way Lisey thinks is simply not natural. She imagines all the little bits leading up to the big event (which I haven't got to yet). But that's not how real people think, I believe. That's how authors think who are plotting a mystery; or like a historian giving us the step-by-step reasons leading up to disasters like the Hindenberg's or the Titanic's. Because this thought process (not the words themselves, but the substance, the rhythm and the meaning) seems stilted, the book keeps me at arm's length, gnashing my teeth and muttering, "get to the point already!"

Real people remember the big events first. Then we fill in the gaps. We also have fantasies about what we could have done differently if only we could turn back time and have a do-over. Lisey experiences none of this (or very little--since I'm listening I may not have the same focus as reading on the page). Reactions make the story. Big events--then reactions--make the story. In all of her musings I often lose where she is in the moment--what's she's doing in real time. If she were writing the story--i.e., if it were in first person--then all of this would be moot because she would be de facto unreliable. Then we would have to piece together the clues ourselves because she's focused on other things and the author, like her subconscious, is dropping little hints along the way.

As it is, Lisey's Story is rather like a murder mystery in which you've been in the point of view of a character the whole time, and only on the last page do you discover this character is the killer. Fraud! Cheat! Compare this with Hearts in Atlantis, and I think you'll agree. When you're writing psychological horror--you have to get the psychology right.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bram Stoker Award

Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet has been nominated for the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Anthology. Excuse me while I pinch myself. I must be dreaming!

Friday, March 20, 2009

I am a camera

Natasha Richardson, rest in peace. Natasha Richardson won a Tony award for her performance as Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret on Broadway, a production I later saw in Seattle on tour with Joely Fisher as Sally. Cabaret was based on a play by John Van Druten titled I Am A Camera, which was based on one of Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories."

“I am a camera with its shutter open. Quite passive. Recording, not thinking. Someday all this will have to be developed, carefully printed. Fixed.”
-Christopher Isherwood, Berlin Stories

Christopher Isherwood was born in England, lived in Berlin during the Weimar Republic and emigrated to America in or about 1940. He settled in Santa Monica during the war and worked as a novelist and teacher. Besides his own fiction, he is noteworthy for his circle, which included W.H. Auden (champion of Tolkein), Stephen Spender, and for having met fledgling writer Ray Bradbury in a Santa Monica bookstore, a chance meeting that resulted in a famous positive review of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. I met Ray Bradbury in Seattle about 10 years ago at a book signing. He was gracious and spoke to me for some minutes regarding On the Orient North, a short story of his that had been made into a teleplay by Ray Bradbury Theater on Showtime. He didn't care for its execution, but after I sang its praises he promised he would take another look.

Natasha Richardson's aunt, Lynne Redgrave, performed Shakespeare for My Father at the Intiman several years ago, which I saw, and was quite moved by. This was right before the release of Shine. I later saw Ms. Redgrave standing on the corner of Mercer and 1st Avenue N. waiting to cross the street, a dreamy look in her eye. I wish that I hadn't been driving so that I could have told her how moving her memoir was to me, and how much I enjoyed not only her performance, but her writing, which captured a moment from her father's life of such intimacy and grace that it has been indelibly recorded in my memory. Her father, in a completely selfless frame of mind, ravaged by Parkinsons into an egoless state, cries, "I'm so worried about your mother..."

Natasha Richardson's Mother, Vanessa Redgrave, performed in Little Odessa, with Tim Roth, in which her character is dying of cancer. My own mother had passed away just the year before of the same disease, and Redgrave's frank resemblance to my mother was simply overwhelming. To this day I still associate Vanessa Redgrave with my mother because they looked so much alike.

I am a camera.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Human Life - a closed system.

Reading Peter Levenda's Sinister Forces: The Nine, which collects and investigates the minutiae of American political history. Levenda abandons the kind of clear and convincing historical pattern most common to historical textbooks, in favor of collecting and analyzing bizarre coincidences and synchronicities, the warp and weft of historical threads of various intentions and purposes. This I think has an unintented consequence. How often have we heard that "truth is stranger than fiction?" We know this can be true because we have experienced it in our own lives. However, perhaps most historians fear that their theses will be disregarded if they get lost in the tangential circumstances surrounding "the EVENT." While Levenda's tangential obsession makes him seem like a crackpot, it also gives his work a kind of verisimillitude that seems strangely convincing--because it seems like the way life operates.

Levenda likes to find connections and correspondences between seemingly disconnected events. Charles Manson seems to stand at the nexus of many of these threads. How does Charles Manson relate to military intelligence, the CIA, and psychological warfare? Levenda connects the threads in a convincing way. At first blush, most would consider these connections to simply be coincidental. Levenda believes that human history is connected in ways that are invisible and strange (what he calls "occult") and thus not written about by mainstream historians. Levenda believes that coincidence is an illusion. I find his hypothesis meritorius. My life is dicated by my beliefs and desires, and these have led me in certain directions to meet certain people whose beliefs and desires have led them across my path. Human organizations also have beliefs and desires and act accordingly. We do not live our lives in a vaccum. Our lives are determined by forces (belief and desire) which are invisible and often unarticulated and unexamined on an individual level. These forces of motivation are as strong as laws of gravity. Human life and culture is a closed system.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Imported Post: Conspiracy Theory

Originally posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reading Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's Monster of Florence. Epiphany: Conspiracy theories are wonderful for fiction, but they are annoying and bizarre when applied to real life. But, when the police develop a conspiracy theory as in the the case of Dr. Narducci, the School of the Red Rose, and the serial killer(s) known as the Monster of Florence, then God help us.

It is as though the investigators, in their single-minded obsession to catch the killer, see it as a personal offront that the killer is still loose, and develop a kind of collective delusion. They must justify their obsession. They must justify why this character has eluded them for decades. Of course! It can't be only one person! Of course! It must be a conspiracy against law and order. Of course! It has to be a shadowy group of very rich and powerful individuals who are united against me, because a poor Sardianian illiterate could never have eluded justice so effectively for so long. There's nothing wrong with MY methods--I must be up against impossible odds. The motive? Of course--it MUST be SATANIC, because I certainly feel as though I'm in hell...

Apparently such investigative "technique" is tantamount to a kind of hysteria--and leads to factitious delusion and the most bizarre leaps in logic. Like auditors, investigators may need to be rotated so that they don't develop these Captain Ahab-like fixations and mental disorders.

Preston and Spezi, having the temerity to review the evidence and come to their own conclusions--which deviate from the investigator's bizarre construct of events, fall under the lens of suspicion themselves. Like the Salem Witch Trials, when questioning the procedure itself was enough to bring suspicion on the questioner.

Money quote: "I felt like I was in Franz Kafka's The Trial, acted out by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis."

Imported Post: Witch Hunt

Originally posted: Friday, February 13, 2009

Finished The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. It ends on a sad and sombre note, the expression of the mother of one of the victims who has gone bankrupt financially and in almost every other sense during the decades since her daughter's death. "I'll take these pictures down and put them away. I don't care about the truth anymore. There can be no truth that will make up for this pain. I have forgotten I am alive." (I'm paraphrasing there, but you get the idea). Heartbreaking. It put me in mind of the appearance by the mother of one of Ted Bundy's victims on the local news--this was back in 1989 and she appeared together with Bundy's mother, discussing his imminent execution. Her grief was devastating. It was a life-scarring trauma, and she still bore the wounds of it 20 years later. Still, her daughter's death was no mystery.

There was never nor will there ever be a solution in the Monster case. However, finding and punishing a malefactor was not the theme of Preston & Spezi's book. The cerebral romp of pawing through suspects and clues takes a decided turn into uncharted territory for Preston as his temerity to review evidence and come to a different conclusion than the ministers, lawyers and policemen in charge of a seriously derailed and deranged investigation, earns him their scrutiny. He goes from being an obstructionist, to a libeller using the media, to a perjuror, a planter of evidence, and finally, an accessory to the Monster himself.

Preston says that until you've been interrogated you cannot possibly know what it's like. I believe him. In the case of the Monster of Florence, police interrogated poverty-stricken, mentally retarded witnesses who were all too willing to offer testimony confirming the police and prosecution's theory, that a satanic sect was behind the Monster murders.

This testimony would be rejected by parallel court proceedings, invalidated by one jury, yet used to uphold the convictions of others! Incredible. Only in Italy could this happen, yes? A nation of supersitious, backward peasants or excitible Roman Catholics.

Not so fast. Here in my own State of Washington, something quite similar took place in 1995--known as the Wenatchee sex ring. Again, based solely on questionable witness testimony, prosecutors and detectives ruined many lives and reputations looking for a vast network of pedophiles that didn't exist - or so the jury found. Again, the police based their case on confessions gained from poverty-stricken mentally deficient witnesses, who pleaded guilty to charges and then turned around to give evidence against others charged with the same crimes. This evidence and testimony was eventually completely rejected by the juries, but those witnesses still rot in prison as a result of their guilty pleas.

But the worst of the worst--and the theme of this post, is the Witch Hunt. A witch hunt is more than just ruthlessly seeking out a certain group of people, using questionable tactics in single minded obsession on the part of law enforcement. A true witch hunt occurs when the hunt becomes more important than the truth, more important than justice, and more important than reason. In a witch hunt, the investigator feels personally that his theory is correct, it is sacrosanct and can bear no review, anyone who might disagree with his conclusions is automatically on the other side, aligned with the forces of darkness, an enemy, and hence, in league with the malefactors. As in the Monster case, when a person who criticizes or questions the investigation itself falls under suspicion as being involved in the conspiracy--you know you have a witch hunt. Precisely that happened in Wenatchee. America, with all her checks and balances has no defense against irrational, paranoid, factitous rumor--and god help us all when those rumors are believed as truth by a prosecutor.

Imported Post: Absolute Truth

Originally posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009

I've been working on an idea for a novel, and have been casting a wide net. Recently Post Modernism got caught in the mesh and I took a look. While I've written about relativism before, it again gave me pause. Post Modernism can be defined as that school of thought that came after 'modernism.' Well, that's self-evident. Specifically it is a branch of philosophy that holds there are no absolute truths--we are stories without authors--everything must be approached with skepticism.

From there we get moral relativism, I would guess.

Well it makes me damn bilious. While I find the far right wing completely bankrupt intellectually and ethically, I find the far left wing completely bankrupt morally. This sounds like just the ticket for far left wing professors who want to stick it to the establishment, by questioning its most cherished traditional values.

What I don't understand about the school of thought, and I'm completely eager to be taught, is when does the skepticism and the questioning stop? When do you get an answer?

And when do you accept truth as being a priori? I think it's a-priori that murder is wrong. I would object to murder on ethical and moral grounds because if Decartes is right, and my capacity to think defines my humanity, then my murder would deprive me of my ability to think, and by extension, my being.

By questioning absolute truths, see, I think that most people in academe would want to limit that to traditional truths. They wouldn't want to contemplate skepticism from the other side of the spectrum. Such as, "Torture can be justly applied in certain circumstances." or, "Genocide can be a legitimate tool for social engineering."

I do think there is a place for legitimate skepticism in most areas of human endeavor--especially the arts. It's perfectly fine to question the absolute truth that every wall must meet in a right angle (architecture) or "all plays must conform to the unities of time and place," or "All novels must be sub-divided in equal parts called chapters." By questioning the norm, we can often make great leaps of logic and aesthetics. The humanities flourish when questioned. But we cannot ignore experience in our questioning. We cannot question whether genocide is moral because we know empirically, posteriori, that it is not. There is no epistemology like experience.

Imported Post: The Leader Principle

Originally posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Her performance in The Reader won Kate Winslet an Oscar. She plays a concentration camp guard on trial for war crimes. I've been doing a lot of reading this past year about the Third Reich, including Peter Levenda's Unholy Alliance and The Hitler Book, edited by Mathias Uhl. While I recommend Levenda's book wholeheartedly (I'm currently reading Sinister Forces), The Hitler Book really seemed to capture more of the zeitgeist of the Third Reich. I also recommend The Goebbels Experiment, a documentary available through Netflix.

One cannot resist the temptation of comparing those times with the times in which we live. For example, the burning of Reichstag as a prelude for war shares certain harmonies with the lead up to war in Iraq in 2002-2003, and George Bush's conflation of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, and the destruction of the World Trade Center. It also shares similarities with Emperor Nero's burning of Rome and his subsequent blaming of the Christians for the arson.

And while the Patriot Act, the bobble-heads on Fox News calling any dissent unAmerican, etc. and the ilk on talk radio and internet, had a chilling effect on free speech, this was still a Western Democracy. That was not the case when the first concentration camps were built in 1935-36.

Germany had become a totalitarian dictatorship in June, 1934 when Hitler purged his political enemies by murdering 85 of them, including Kurt von Schleicher, former Chancellor of Germany. This would have been on par of say, Richard Nixon ordering the assassination of ex-President Eisenhower. Though the dissemination of news was not nearly as fluid as it exists today, the German hierarchy could not keep the news secret. But the lie told was that the murdered, led by Ernst Rohm, were planning a coup. This event is also known as The Night of Long Knives, Operation Hummingbird, and "the so-called Rohm-Putsch."

It was a turning point for Germany and the German government. It did more than solidify Hitler's power base, it confirmed Hitler as de jure, the sole highest judge of the German people, and above the law. All law was vested in the personal fiat of Adolf Hitler. Extra-constitutional courts and executions would become commonplace thereafter.

This was when The Fuhrerprinzip became the whole of the law in German society. After the war, at Nuremberg, defendants tried unsuccessfully to use the existence of the leader principle as a mitigating factor, or even an outright defense. It was denied by the tribunals, under the rationale that soldiers are not obliged to obey illegal orders. Under the Fuherprinzip, however, it was argued that there was no such thing as an illegal order, that any order that came from your leader was legal. The tribunals responded that officers should have used their moral consciences as their guides.

While I certainly don't excuse their conduct, nor do I weep at their executions, the defendants had a point that was lost. The Third Reich was not a democracy. No dissent was tolerated. Dissent was punishable by death, and this was frequently proven. Sophie Scholl, of the White Rose movement, was guillotined for passing out innocuous mimeographs questioning the policies of the Third Reich--nothing more.

After 1934 no resistance to Hitler was possible on the individual level, and all who attempted it were murdered. The Hitler book reveals how bloodthirsty Hitler was, and illustrates his pathology--his compartmentalization of the suffering of his victims. He was a true psychopath, no doubt about it. He was the Gordian Knot of the German People. I don't think it's rational to expect someone to make a choice between one's own death, or the death of another (even many, many others), and hold them accountable for not choosing the former!

All that said, we must remember that Hitler didn't almost destroy the world by himself. There were a host of fellow travelers eager for the bloodbath and the victory, and they share Hitler's guilt and culpability. Those at Nuremberg enthusiastically supported Nazi programs and policies, it was just and meet that they should be executed for their crimes. But for the individual German? I'm not so sure how much suffering they needed to experience to atone. In any event, most of those who were alive at the time, are alive no longer. Time is justice.

Imported Posts

I'm going to import a few posts from my other blog - White Space - here. This is an attempt to separate the themes of the two blogs, and reserve White Space for news about my writing and its publication. I'll post links here from time to time when that blog is updated with specific news about writing.

Two Blogs - A Crisis of Theme

Since starting this blog, which was intended originally to be more about my writing and news regarding its publication-its theme got lost. I will endeavor to post my "deep thoughts" on my other blog, Furor Scribendi, which can be found by clicking on the link. I invite you to go there, read, absorb and comment if you like.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blinding me with Science

I was recently raked over the coals by Katherine Ramsland for comparing dactyloscopy to phrenology and spectral evidence. In my own defense, I was not making a literal comparison, only citing examples from history where generally accepted practices were later found to be unreliable. This was in response to a phrase I thought I read in her article--that the underlying assumption of dactyloscopy, that no two persons have identical fingerprints, has never been proven, and as such, is an urban myth. Certainly the forensic study of dactyloscopy is scientific, and the points of comparison between two fingerprints can be trusted in a court of law. My point was somehow lost in this exchange--which was, that jurors mostly do not have the wherewithal to independently verify the assertions of scientists on the stand, that they must trust those conclusions on faith. Faith that the scientist is telling the truth and that his or her method is sound. I don't think that prosecutors can as jurors to take scientific evidence on faith. They MUST educate jurors in the science, or risk them disregarding the evidence as irrelevant.

It's like the legal term "beyond a reasonable doubt." What exactly does that mean? And how does it differ from "a preponderance of the evidence" or "clear and convincing evidence?"

I'm speaking here only as a layperson. Katherine Ramsland, with her scientific/forensic background would never be picked to be on a jury. I have a jury summons laying on my desk as I write this. These are questions that matter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Other - Thomas Tryon

So, this entry follows on the heels of the previous entry, as I further hone my thinking about psychological doubling, and the doppelganger. One non-fiction project I've had on the far back burner for some years (along with an encyclopedia of Seattle murder) is a biography of Thomas Tryon, the author of The Other. What makes Tryon's life interesting is his metamorphosis from a leading man film star with rugged good looks into a literary lion. In that transformation I feel a resonance within my own life (though I was never so handsome nor famous as Mr. Tryon). The forsaking of acting for an altogether more secluded, isolated form of creative endeavor. I'm indebted to my dear friend David Dollase for confronting me with this truth ("I think acting is a creative outlet for you."). With regard to Tryon, his switch, or drift, or course correction, as it were, may have come as the result of a species of artistic post-traumatic stress disorder after working with the dictatorial German director Otto Preminger. It took him seven more years to complete the transition, but perhaps the seeds of the change were planted during this horrific experience.

When actors must expose themselves to the most dubious manipulations in the bad-director's handbook, they have very little power in the matter. They can only hope that their directors are human beings. People like Christian Bale, for example, regarding his recent on-set tantrum, can be forgiven their temperament because that's the only way they have of maintaining a sense of personal power in this relationship. Bale was powerless to walk away from this commitment. He would have been ruined financially. But nothing in his contract prevents a temperamental outburst. I'm so happy I'm out of it...

Anyway, back to Tryon. It seems clear to me that The Other is a classic example of the doppelganger/doubling trope in American literature.