Author: Vincent St. Clare

Half-assed mystic and armchair philosopher, riding out the eschaton. I write about pretty much everything (or at least I try to), and otherwise reasons to tell off the universe. (V.V.V.V.V. "A bell ringing in the empty sky...")

Peace in Our Day (Tranquility in a Time of Ruin)


The Blue Marble, a famous photograph of Earth taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft in 1972. (Photo source unknown.)

I was raised a Catholic. As it is, I don’t much go to church anymore. (Mea culpa.) On Sundays now I’m more apt to sit in front the window in my kitchen, drinking coffee and waiting for the peculiarities of life to bubble up from out of where only God himself knows.

Every Sunday, at church, there was a long procession down the center aisle, under a colorful velvet light that flooded in through the stained glass on either side of the sanctuary. Smoke wafted from the acolyte’s censer and projected translucent shadows onto the walls. Then the priest, at the helm of the procession, halted in front of the altar, and the liturgy was spoken and intoned.

Then, about two thirds of the way through the Mass, after the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest would say an embolism. In Latin it used to go, “Libera nos, quæsumus, Domine, ab omnibus malis, da propitius pacem in diebus nostris…” Since the 60s a less literal version of the English translation has been used:

“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day…” Every Sunday he said that without fail.

My little trepidations and larger concerns were, at one point in my life, overshadowed by an unshakable faith. After all, what’s on the news, or beyond the horizon, or down the street that can stand against a firm sense of religion?

God is a bulwark for the mind. That I quickly came to realize. I understood, though I was young then, that the world could be harsh, and sometimes so harsh, in fact, that only its creator and superior could circumvent disaster. Thus, he could also intervene in the mind. What was there to fear, then? What could happen to me or anyone else that divinity couldn’t rectify?

Of course, people change. People are always changing.

So it was at some point, now vague in my memory—sometime in adolescence—that my faith was shaken. I can’t really remember what lead me to my current outlook, or why, but that’s beside the point, anyway. I have since understood, in my own way, that God doesn’t deliver us from every evil. Very much the contrary, actually: In fact, evil seems to be closing in at every turn.

The insistence is always that, as we humans are now the masters of our destiny, and that we have within our power the ability to create something that at least approaches utopia.

Yet the reverse is hard to ignore: We are the “masters” of our collective fate inasmuch as a heroin addict is of his individual one. Let’s own up to the facts: We are myopic creatures, addicted to our own greed, wrath, and ignorance. We are the supposed stewards of this planet, but our bang-up job has so far consisted of an unconscionable destruction of the world’s ecology and a destabilization of the climate which makes it humanly habitable in the first place.

We are the makers of the Anthropocene, a time when, as they say, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and more than ever that being true. The ability (and incentive) to act responsibly on a global scale is being crippled, however, as governments falter under the pressure to preserve what’s left for a world that consumes and pollutes and reproduces with unbridled apathy toward an inevitable and unspeakable outcome. And, while some positive steps are being taken—e.g. COP21, the historic climate agreement that took place in Paris this past December—I’m left to wonder how effective these will really prove over time.

My news for you is this: God is not coming to save us in the event of a massive disaster, whether it’s a protracted problem like anthropogenic climate change; or a relatively sudden one, such as a nuclear attack. There is no deus ex machina built into the equation of human flourishing, or even the basic survival of species. Pray to whatever being you please, asking for “peace in our day.” (I am not debating the existence of a deity, benevolent or otherwise. On that matter I’m agnostic.) But the fact remains that nearly all of the creatures which have, at one point or another, called this planet home, have gone extinct, and neither we nor our cherished way of life are immune to the same fate.

Peace neither of mind, nor in the world at large, has ever been guaranteed. Throughout history all manner of turmoils have been commonplace. It is at this pivotal junction in the story of the human race that we may either choose prosperity or destruction, love or hatred, greed or charity. If we have any concern for the collective life and flourishing of this world, we must act immediately and without restraint to combat the forces which threaten to undo everything good we have secured for ourselves.

I worry. I worry about the world and how the people in it will fare in the coming decades. I know worrying never makes up for action, and I was tired of never acting on my worries, so I put down the cup and decided to write. These words were born of that impulse, and from the desire for “pacem in diebus nostris.” That is, “peace in our time,” and, at that, for all time to come.


REBLOG: “‘Tropic of Cancer’: A Few Excerpts”

An edited reblog-post from early 2015, off the aforementioned “throw-away” blog.

— ES (VSC)

Stuff and Things

NOTE: Updated on February 25, 2016.

Henry Miller (1891-1980) was one of the more unorthodox writers of his time. He’s also something of a personal inspiration to me.

Any half-decent reader is aware of the man… but, then again, who could forget him? He’s known for leading a rather odd, and yet edifying, life, and is also ubiquitous for the development of the modern autobiographical novel.

Arguably his most famous book, Tropic of Cancer (first published in 1934) is one such work. The novel, considered obscene for its candid and humorous expressions of sexuality, was banned in the United States until the 1960s.

The highlights of this book (like many of Miller’s, including Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn—both recommended) are, however, not Miller’s comedic sexual escapades, but rather his unique brand of non-confessional mysticism—a sort of artistic metaphysics.

Miller was something of a secular prophet, a clownish spiritual guru who taught that the pleasures of life…

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REBLOG: “An Inspiring Passage by W. Somerset Maugham”

This is a little thought on a literary quote by Maugham, published last year. (Early 2015.) While I initially wrote it for/on what was a school project, and otherwise a “throw-away” blog, I think that it’s still noteworthy, so I’m reblogging it here.

— ES (VSC)

Stuff and Things

Somerset Maugham’s novel The Moon and Sixpence contains an interesting passage. The following is a reflection on writing by one of the world’s most famous writers:

“It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours` relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone to their composition; to some even has been given the…

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Memento Mori (woodcut), by Alexander Mair. (Image courtesy of Mundabor’s Blog.)


“Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death.” So said Jean Cocteau, French playwright and filmmaker. Similarly, Marcus Aurelius, the great Stoic emperor of Rome, notes in his Meditations, “Yesterday sperm, tomorrow… ashes.”

I suppose it all wouldn’t feel so brief if time simply stayed at a regular pace.

Granted, this is a nonsensical statement, at least at first glance. How can time have a speed?

Actually, I don’t really think I need to spell it out. We all (or at least most of us) feel the acceleration of time, even if that feeling makes no sense when we try to translate it into physics. However, it should be rather obvious, just observing the simple math of it, why we feel this way: The longer you live, the smaller any particular unit of time becomes relative to the entirety of your life. In other words, when you’re two years old, one year is half of your entire life; when you’re fifty-two, it’s only 1/52 of your life.

What has always tripped me up is the fact that I don’t like to be rushed… I should also note that most things makes me feel rushed. Even if I have to do something in two months, the gulf of time feels as if it dissolves in a matter of days. At first it may seem as if I have some slack, as if I can shrug it off and say, “Hey, I’ve got two whole months,” but then things become a bit unbearable as the days, almost suddenly, turn into hours or minutes.

There’s that strange feeling in the gut, or the head, or somewhere… I’m not sure where it is, or even what… But it’s there: That your life has been an instant, and its contents seem “thin” or [thus] trivial, somehow.


A bust of the emperor Marcus Aurelius from L’Image et le Pouvoir: le sicle des Antonins at the Musee Saint-Raymond in France. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I always say, in regard to myself, that it’s been something like “an hour between now and when I was sixteen.” It often does feel that way. Thinking of it, I’m reminded of a particular moment when time seemed to accelerate, surreal though that may sound:

I was in a buffet, in Waterbury, a city maybe forty minutes away from where I live. I was roughly thirteen. I think I was there for my birthday. I’m not sure. All I know is that somehow, for some reason, I associate the moment that I stepped up to the exit of the restaurant—glass double doors—with a weird contraction of time.

Since then, it’s felt like very little time has passed. And that was eleven years ago.

This is a paradoxical impression, of course, considering that, while often times the past, present, or future seem short, there are also those moments when life is actually quite long.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes there’s this creeping feeling that you’ve been alive a thousand years. I mean, again, logically that’s obviously no the case—but it feels that way. This feeling comes to the forefront of consciousness in the examination of remembrance, and especially in recalling something that you’d thought you had forgotten. One of those “oh, yeah!” moments, you know?

A freshly-renewed memory marks a particular point in time, and breaks up the monotonous blur that is often one’s sense of retrospection, and the general notion of what constitutes one’s life. Hence in that “oh, yeah!” or “aha!” moment, you’re compelled to do a double-take, and think, “Well, if I didn’t remember this [at first], what else am I forgetting?”

There’s another way of looking at the problem of “acceleration”: What if the issue isn’t something like “Well, time flies when you’re having fun” or (more simply) “Life is short!” but rather a lack of action, and ultimately a lack of contentment?

Perhaps the dismal feeling one has when thinking “Life goes by too fast!” really boils down to “I haven’t actually used my time wisely!” Even more so, perhaps it’s “I want more” or “I wanted more” or “If I had done this, that, and the other thing, that would have made me proud of myself, and confident, because I accomplished what I felt would have made me happy in a reasonable amount of time!”

That is to say, what we’re maybe, ultimately just looking at is a lack of fulfillment. I think we all have some notion or another that the materialistic, mundane tasks pitched to us by modern, consumerist society and culture—making a lot of money, or having a lot of sex, or being famous—do not really constitute the “good life”. We are, most of us, well aware of other things, things we usually think of as being nobler, some how. Things like love, and peace, and charity, and so forth. Even if we don’t pursue these as regularly as the former, and “fall into temptation,” as they say, we’re aware of the latter, maybe “higher” values.

Yet imagine a person of moral excellence. Even in the pursuit of upright things, is he not, at the end of the day, still itching for just a bit more time? Isn’t even the “good man,” if not afraid of death, infatuated with the prospect of life? Isn’t even the most miserable, suicidal individual, in the back of his mind, thinking “If I just had a happy life… if I just had the means, the time, to make a happy life… If I could just go back in time and start over…” Doesn’t he just want, if not more time, then a better time?

Experience is all there is for us, and experience is entrenched in time—intimately bound to it. All we know, as conscious beings, is “now,” and “then.” For every choice we make, no matter how pure or perfect or pragmatic, in its wake we leave an infinite number of possibilities—“what-ifs” and “had-beens.” And, what’s more, there is no real time to contemplate: Life is relentless, and the seconds press on with locomotive force.

Sometimes, in the midst of this barrage, it seems as if you’re juggling the entire universe.

Certainly, use your time wisely. But also admit to the fact that, in every moment, there are a thousand million ways to act.

Can you, in that moment, “perfect” yourself?

Can you at least try?

And is trying good enough?

As the emperor Aurelius himself said, “Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

Ecocide is Omnicide

the road

Movie still from The Road (2009), adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. (Photo courtesy of Boomtron.)

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”

—Joseph Campbell

I really don’t know where to go with this one. Suffice it to say I’m feeling quite scatterbrained lately, what with the horrifying events unfolding in our tumultuous world, and the lack of recognition they receive.

Let me just start by saying that this will be a bit of a more detailed rant, though one of a kind I think is needed.

I am increasingly at odds with the route global civilization has taken. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the fruits of civilization—penicillin, microwave ovens, tequila, curry, the Internet, and movies, etc. etc.—but rather that the direction it has moved has become increasingly more and more dangerous as time goes on. Perhaps in order to bear those fruits.

Does that make me a hypocrite? That I see the problem rooted in mass-production (among other things), yet buy into coporatocracy?

I will be frank: We are on death’s doorstep as a society. The human enterprise called civilization is, in retrospect, beginning to look little more than a fever dream, a lot less than anything one might call “civilized.” Guy McPherson, often considered one of the most pessimistic climate researchers—McPherson spearheads the “near-term human extinction” (NTHE) movement—calls industrial civilization a “death cult.” I hate to agree with him on that, but it really does seem to be the case nowadays. Even Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, warns that current consumption patterns constitute a “global suicide pact.”

Yes, we have many luxuries and conveniences, all born of the cooperative efforts civilization has won us—but at what cost?

We live with the delusion that these “hard-won” luxuries are everlasting, or at least long-lasting, but neither is true. The fact is that today’s society steals from the future, and exists at the expense of many future generations. (If they should live to see what has become of the world.) This is evidenced by an annual global resource overshoot, which occurs earlier and earlier each passing year.

In the process of extending our ecological footprint, we also destroy the very bedrock of our global civilization. All wealth ultimately comes from “ecosystem services” provided by a healthy environment, and a stable climate. We have natural capital there. We have the food and water and shelter on which we all depend. Yet deforestation, for instance, now occurs on an unprecedented scale. Not to mention the dire state of the world’s oceans, now being acidified by atmospheric carbon uptake on a level never before witnessed.

We all, in our own ways, pursue freedom. And I think we should. The law of liberty is all-encompassing. Humans are hardwired to pursue happiness. But what kind of happiness would it be, should we not be allowed to fail every once in a while?

Problems arise, however, when so very many people make so very many bad decisions on such a regular basis that their pursuit of freedom, individually—in their own lives—is consistently irresponsible, and destroys the opportunities that would otherwise be afforded to future generations. The kind of food and water insecurity that unabated climate change will reap, for instance, will all but make sure that future generations do not have the time or resources to pursue their passions with the same level of opportunity, the same range of options (or “luxuries”) that we now have.

Let’s be clear about this, once and for all: Anthropogenic climate change, especially when compounded with other types of environmental destruction (overpopulation, resource mis-allocation and over-consumption, land degradation, pollution, etc.) represents the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. The problem is so vast and multifaceted. It is one precipitated by both personal and societal choices, by stubbornness on the part of politicians, greed on the part of stockholders and investors, selfishness on the part of individuals, willful ignorance on the part of corporations, and so on.

circle of life

The Circle of Life (date unknown), by Steve Cutts.

Anyway, in the spirit of brutal honesty and existential dread, here’s a little more data:

The United Nations’ UNFCCC’s COP21, a pivotal meeting to take place in Paris later this year (from November 30 to December 11), is intended to rein in humanity’s carbon emissions so as to keep the world under 2C warming (above the pre-industrial average) this century. However, current pledges by the world’s countries (INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) fall incredibly short of an adequate goal, perhaps by 19 or more gigatons of CO2. While all the world’s countries are expected to submit some kind of binding pledge, only a fraction (as of 9/11/2015) have stepped up to the plate, even though little more than 2 months remain before the conference gets underway. Current pledges (which aren’t even guaranteed to be carried out) only account for about 59.4% of global carbon emissions.

Science writer David Auerbach called the UN’s work on climate change “a nice gesture, but hardly a meaningful one.” I would tend to agree. He also concludes, echoing the notion of Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, that humanity will be extinct by 2100 due to climate change and dwindling resources.

It’s also worth mentioning that 2 degrees of global warming may itself be considered quite dangerous, according to a number of scientists, including James Hansen (one of the world’s greatest authorities on climate science, known for raising awareness of dangerous climate change in the 1980s). It certainly wouldn’t bode well for Pacific island nations, many of which prefer a 1.5C goal—one that is essentially impossible to achieve without some kind of miraculous technology, or an unimaginable shift in global trends. Some of the world’s biggest emitters (including Brazil and India) have yet to submit an INDC.

As it stands, a 4C or greater warming scenario is the most likely for this century. That kind of change in temperature will lead to a world that is unrecognizable by today’s standards, and one in which civilization may itself find no quarter. The Earth’s atmosphere currently contains above 400ppm of CO2, and about 2000 ppb of methane. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising by about 2ppm per annum. The last time the Earth saw 400ppm CO2, sea levels were between 15 meters and 25 meters higher than they are today. (~50-~82 feet.) 350ppm (ideally less) is often regarded as a “safe operating space” for humanity and Earth’s ecosystems. We are on track for far more greenhouse gases to enter the atmosphere. We need to go “negative,” and yet residual CO2 (that which is not absorbed by the oceans—itself the cause of ocean acidification) continues to build up in the air, remaining there for potentially hundreds of thousands of years.

Couple climate change with other forms of environmental devastation and resource wastage, and you have a “perfect storm” of future holocausts. Nearly 10 billion people are projected to live on this planet in 2050, consuming ever more resources at an ever-more unsustainable rate. (Consider that India and China, the two most populous countries in the world, are consuming more and more resources in a more hedonistic “Western” fashion.) Of course, with the effect climate change may very well have on crops (not to mention water availability), I think we will likely see a massive cull of the human population over the course of this century. According to a co-national, government-funded study (developed by Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute), global catastrophe may plausibly occur over the next 30 years if humans don’t change their ways.

All this being noted (though it’s ultimately a drop in the bucket compared to the larger reality of what we’re doing to ourselves and the planet’s ecosystems and climate—and I could continue on muchmuch longer), it is high time—it has been high time for quite a while—that the human race consciously shifts its patterns of consumption and pollution in a dramatic fashion. Environmental destruction can only continue so long. Our species is in the business of fouling its own nest, and frankly it’s damning to ourselves and all future generations. It’s reprehensible, dastardly, evil on an unimaginable scale. It’s us running up against the edge of our Petri dish, and only then wondering where the agar went. And this at the expense of almost everything we know and care for.

The horrifying reality of our situation comes down to this: ECOCIDE IS OMNICIDE. That is, you cannot plunder and squander away the very basis of your life, the source of all that sustains you, without destroying yourself in the process. There’s really no other way to put it. Yachts and McMansions just don’t cut it, especially on a planet carrying what will soon be 10 billion people, already stripped of many of its finite resources.

So, considering that humanity seems less than inclined to change its course, I think the best advice we can take—in these most insane and soon-to-be-awful of times—is to “participate joyfully,” as it were.

Of course, life has never been peachy perfect. We all suffer in our own way. But we also have the option to make the very best of our circumstances, come what may. If we cannot change our destructive habits, and will ultimately destroy ourselves in the process, we ought to at least do what makes us happy. Hell, we ought to be doing that anyway. That’s always been, if anything, the perennial truth. To again invoke Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss.” Cliché, yes—I’m sure you’ve all seen an image macro, or side of a hippie Volkswagen, featuring that line—but as meaningful as ever. It has always been crap out there in some form or another, but that doesn’t mean we can’t carry a great light on our journey through the darkness. It doesn’t mean we can’t, at the very least, smile before the end—untimely or not.

Writing Woes


Me on better days.

(Source unknown.)

(NOTE: I update the publication list below on a rolling basis. Regards from 3/23/2019!)

Today I am drinking rum. I left the wine. I gave myself to the bite, poured over a few bits of ice.

Today I am rambling on a bit about the ins and outs of the submission process, a bit of a nerve-wracking thing with unrelenting, resouding NOs. Successive failures in this regard, coupled with the general ambiance of my mom’s basement, and nearing my mid-twenties therein, makes for a nauseating and poignant experience. It’s also really fucking funny, if you ask me.

Of course, anyone engaged in writing—particularly creative writing and freelance work—in this day and age knows the struggle of getting publication credits.

About 2012 I started off on Submittable, an online platform for visual and written submissions. They display a list on your profile, with “Declined” in red for every, well, decline, and “Accepted” in green as its opposite. It can be demoralizing, I admit, scrolling through a column of submissions—complete with cover letters and/or little biographies and attachments, etc.—seeing those bloody red phrases, “Declined,” pouring down the page, with a single interruption of “Accepted” for a poem sent in a year ago, to someone’s WordPress startup.

Between Submittable and my other pitches (via e-mail or upload form), I have been thus far booted from the ranks of:

(I also submitted a stage play several years back. I can’t remember the name of the receiving group.)

I suppose that doesn’t seem like much. I’ll admit I had a professor that once said something along the lines of, “even having one in forty submissions accepted is good.” Granted, he was speaking about poetry alone—and that’s its own dimension entirely—but his point remains.

Personally, my list is inundated with poetry, but also includes short stories and flash fiction, as well as academic and creative essays.

There are also those publications that simply don’t get back to you, or take such a long and inordinate amount of time to review anything that you completely forget about them, the only reminder sitting in the bottom of your inbox somewhere.

I’ve more recently been submitting essays, and even put in a chapbook manuscript, with no feedback as of yet.

Of course, you’ve got to keep your fingers crossed. But a few years of plugging away with little success can be disheartening. This especially so if I include in my “body of work” my old Tumblr and Blogger/Blogspot blogs.

What constitutes “success,” anyway? Fame is certainly not the point of being a writer, but I’d be lying if I said that a little recognition wouldn’t be appreciated. I suppose that’s my ego popping up. It’s the delusion that in the vast tracts of time—from alpha to omega—some of my words somewhere on a page will somehow create a resounding echo throughout the universe.

I’ll just keep writing, I guess. What else can I do?

A Little Essay on Scientism (“Existentialism Fun Time”)

Cover art for Eric Frank Russel's Sentinels from Space, by Vincent Di Fate.

Cover art for Eric Frank Russel’s Sentinels from Space, by Vincent Di Fate. (1954.) (From 70s Sci-Fi Art.)

Note: Some of my ideas, as they’ve been framed here, have changed recently. (Typically, they’re in some kind of transition, anyway!) Otherwise, I think that they are perhaps better presented through the dialogue (between myself and Los, a fellow blogger) in the comments section of this post. I invite readers to view that dialogue and add their own input, should they like.

(November 29, 2015.)

This was written circa 2013, as an essay presented during a weekly discussion in one of my previous philosophy classes.

If you take issue with any of the views presented herein, feel free to bitch, debate, or spam the comment section below.

As it is:


Scientism, thus defined: “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).” Effectively, this is the idea that all knowledge and truth is subject to, and only confirmed by, the scientific method, to the exclusion of all other methods. It is a position that was born from the scientific philosophy of positivism (the notion that all useful knowledge comes from logical, mathematical, and directly observable means) as well as materialism (the idea that all that exists are matter and energy and the forces within their domain, i.e. material), and the iron grasp of the analytic philosophies that pervaded 20th-century thought, and pontificates that science is and forever will be the ultimate arbiter of truth in the world. Science, it is claimed, is falsifiable, because it progresses through rigorous self-criticism, and yet this distinction among the various disciplines actually makes it unfalsifiable, basically speaking.

In 2010, physicist Stephen Hawking wrote the following in his book The Grand Design: “Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead… Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

Similarly, the physicist Lawrence Krauss more recently criticized philosophical investigations into the nature of being and non-being, or metaphysics, more broadly, in the wake of the publication of his book A Universe From Nothing, which provides theories and evidence that matter spontaneously creates itself from quantum fluctuations and gravitational forces. In review of his book, philosophers like David Albert note that the laws of nature and quantum strings still constitute “somethingness,” in reply to which Krauss claims that there is a difference between the “nothingness of philosophy” and the “nothingness of reality.”

Krauss’s scathing dismissal of metaphysics drew some scorn from contemporary philosophers, and in reply Krauss half-apologized, snidely stating, “So, to those philosophers I may have unjustly offended by seemingly blanket statements about the field, I apologize. I value your intelligent conversation and the insights of anyone who thinks carefully about our universe and who is willing to guide their thinking based on the evidence of reality. To those who wish to impose their definition of reality abstractly, independent of emerging empirical knowledge and the changing questions that go with it, and call that either philosophy or theology, I would say this: Please go on talking to each other, and let the rest of us get on with the goal of learning more about nature.”

Of course, Krauss’s ideas rely on a materialist worldview, as well as an evidentialist one, materialism and evidentialism both being philosophies, grounded in historical dialogue. In the realm of modern scientism, peddled by the so-called New Atheists (most famously Richard Dawkins), there is no room for a reality outside of the objective.

Now, on that note, I want nothing more than to hark back to Kierkegaard’s views on the two “insanities,” one of which is objective madness: being so utterly enamored with and taken over by the objective world that subjectivity no longer matters. Subjectivity dies under the purview of scientism, as do mentalism, idealism, existentialism, and various other philosophies which assert the existence of subjective realities that can exist alongside objectivity. The death of subjectivity is a terrifying concept. It is not the business of science to become so imperialistic as to deny all other forms of knowledge and understanding as “pseudo-science” or flat-out wrong. Science is a beautiful tool that, alongside philosophical domains such as ethics, aesthetics and, yes, even metaphysics, helps to build upon humanity’s heritage of coming to terms with and understanding the world. If we are to leave it to science to determine what is ethically right or wrong (as Dawkins suggests, at least to a degree) via biology, neuroscience, etc., are we really doing morality a favor? How can science so finely tune our ideas as to tell us what is right and wrong in every sense or context? Or, more broadly, how can science truly distinguish being from non-being, or categorical ontologies? Take those presented by Sartre, who made a distinction between different types of “being,” describing the nature of being for objects and subjects as fundamentally different. For scientism, since there is no empirical evidence for these states in a purely objective world, Sartre is simply wrong. He doesn’t “keep up with science,” as Hawking would proudly assert.

How much of that notion is true? Is it a lack of scientific rigor that puts philosophy under the heels of scientism? Or, rather, is it a difference in description? A language game, that is. Scientism’s puerile dismissal of anything remotely “abstract” does an injustice to science itself!

Science is wonderful, but scientism is arrogant and perhaps even dangerous. (Read: technocracy.) Both science and philosophy have long engaged in dialectic and debate, and to simply sweep one or all disciplines from the playing field in order to usher in the dominance of one denies the real multitude of knowledge and truths that we have as a species.

‘On “Spirituality” and “Metaphysics”’ (Video Transcript & Expansion)

LOGOS II (SoundCloud / YouTube)

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”



Here is my second video transcript and expansion (VT&E), this time on the use of the phrases “spirituality” and “metaphysics,” and regarding phraseology in talking about the “inner life” more generally. (THIS is the video, part two of the LOGOS series of videos that I am slowly (but surely) putting online.)


Aleister Crowley. (Source unknown.)

So, “once more unto the breech…”:

“So, today I kind of wanted to talk about… spirituality. You know: what does that mean? You know, what annoys me is that… I dunno… I guess I think of myself as [something of a] spiritual person. No—I definitely think of myself as a spiritual person, but, I don’t feel the need to define  what that means, exactly… because I feel like “spirituality” is kind of, in and of itself, a bit of a nebulous phrase. Kind of like the word “art,” for instance, you know? Like, if you talk about art to somebody they’re gonna know, like, what you’re talking about. [I mean] it’s art. They’d know what art is. But, when you really ask them to get into the nitty gritty and define it, it becomes… it becomes kind of vague, doesn’t it? And, so, I think spirituality, like art,  is similar in this way. I think because especially it’s something that’s kind of, not necessarily fundamental… but… well, perhaps fundamental to human experience—it’s hard to define. What annoys me is that you have people… [Well] you know, when you hear the word “spirituality” nowadays you might think of, you know, what a lot of people are touting as spirituality, which is kind of a—a “spirituality”—which is kind of a New Agey agglomeration of ideas… I guess that kind of were imported from eastern philosophies [maybe] mixed with paganism and whatever else someone’s focused on. It’s… usually “woo-woo.” You know that phrase? Michael Shermer uses it a lot: “woo-woo.” It’s bullshit… And I’m not necessarily saying that all of it’s bullshit. I don’t think we completely understand the nature of these things. But, a lot of people who say that they’re “spiritual” kind of dive head in—or, you know, head first—into a lot of BS, without really taking the time to really (sic) think about what that means, or what the word “spirituality” means, and what they’re really practicing and thinking about. Like… I’m not saying that I completely deny the possibility that maybe, you know, there’s such a thing or there’s something in the body that’s analogous to [say] chakras, but when you say you’re a spiritual person and therefore you believe in chakras or crystal healing or whatever… it’s (sic) not really [representative of] what spirituality is. I mean, if I were (sic) an artist, or if I said that I was an artist—rather—and I just said, “Well, I like Dalí, I like Picasso, I like Rembrandt—so that makes me an artist!” … that sounds… that doesn’t [really] make you an artist. That’s really doesn’t (sic)… really isn’t what it means to be an artist… if you like a particular thing, or you pursue a particular thing, even. Art, again, is kind of one of those nebulous phrases. And, in any case, I think that the word “spirituality” has just been co-opted by, I guess, the New Age community to mean something that it really doesn’t. And I think that’s problematic, because spirituality is such a beautiful thing. I mean, to me—I don’t really like to define it—but, it’s something, like I said, that, in a way, is fundamental to the human experience. It’s an experience of something greater. And you don’t really… need to go much beyond that, you know, [or] really say what that “greater” thing is. Sometimes there is an experience—I would almost say like a transcendental experience—of the wholeness of the world and one’s place in it, and I would say that that’s spiritual in some sense. But, of course, you have all these phrases that, you know, you get mixed in there: You say, “OK, that’s a mystical experience… it’s [a] transcendental experience, an ecstatic experience, a religious experience…” But, then again, ecstasy and religion and mysticism are not necessarily spirituality… Now, another phrase that gets co-opted like this is “metaphysics.” You know, you have people who say, you know, they’re into “metaphysics”—so [of course] that means they subscribe to Spirit Science, or whatever that page is. But, I mean, “metaphysics” is a much broader term that kind of refers to a discipline in philosophy. And, when I think of metaphysics—at least—I think of, you know, the work of various philosophers: You know, I think of Spinoza’s metaphysics, or Hegel’s metaphysics, or something of that nature. I don’t think of levitation from yogis and shit like that. Even though the word “metaphysics” literally means “beyond physics,” it’s not the same as—again, here’s another phrase—”supernatural,” [or] what’s supernatural. “Supernatural” is not necessarily “metaphysical.” There’s overlap among these phrases: “mysticism,” “religion,” “philosophy,” “metaphysics,” “spirituality,” “transcendental experience.” These words and phrases—there’s overlap—but, we should be careful not to say they mean something that they don’t, or, rather, that they mean something specific when they’re really meant to be more broad than the way we talk about them in normal discourse… Because, I was actually having, I guess, a kind of debate here on YouTube, on a video—I can’t remember what it was—but I was talking to, you know, one of these hardcore atheist types, who’s like, you know, “fuck religion,” and all that. But, you know, I was saying, you know, “even if you’re not religious, spirituality can be important to you.” And, certainly, I’ve met a lot of people who would say that: [that] they’re spiritual but not necessarily religious. But, this guy just kind of wanted to, you know, bust my balls over this and insist that spirituality doesn’t exist.  In the same way that he thought [that] religion was a lie, [that] religion was bullshit, he’s like, “spirituality is bullshit.” That’s like saying art is bullshit. I mean, what is there to be bullshit about it? It can’t be bullshit, because it’s just not… it’s not something that’s trying to be true or untrue, it’s just experiential, and in some ways it’s intuitive… isn’t it? I dunno. But, I think we should be careful when we conflate these phrases or say that,”this is this,” or, “this is that.” There is overlap. That doesn’t mean that one is the same thing as the other…”



  • Spirit Science is the clickbait Facebook handle of The Spirit Science, a website to which no subscription is required in order to access its content.
  • My contention with chakras does not so much boil down to whether they exist or not (I think that, like many things of this nature, they work better as psychological tools, and really I doubt that there will ever be any real, tangible evidence for the existence of something very analogous to them within the body), but rather how they represent the credulity of those who delve into popular/trendy “spirituality.” (i.e. New Age eclecticism, gullibility, and ill-defined/wishy-washy/feel-good superstition loaded with “deep” buzzwords.) In short, I’m using them as an example here.
  • The analogy I made with art and artists is admittedly a bad one. I think that my point still stands, however.
  • Michael Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine, Skeptic. While I think that his use of the term “woo” (or “woo-woo”) is often sensible—and, for the purposes of the video/transcript, useful—he is a bit hard-line for my liking, standing in line with the more uncompromising “scientific/hard-evidence-based-everything” philosophy types. (I’m hesitant to throw this phrase around—as New Age folks themselves often abuse it—but “scientism” comes to mind.)

This video was done impromptu, so if I’m lacking good articulation in either the video or this transcription, I ask you to be forgiving.


Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

I think of myself as a philosophically eclectic person. By that I mean that there are fundamental ideas that come from, say, existentialism, that I hold as sensible, while—at the same time—I also subscribe (to another degree) to something like (or parts of) pragmatism, and/or evidentialism, and/or Hegelianism, and/or Nietzschean affirmation, and so forth. There are concepts put forward by Schopenhauer, Kant, Hume, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Zeno of Citium, Epicurus, Sartre, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Camus, Kierkegaard, Diogenes, Lyotard, etc., etc., that I agree with. And I don’t find conflict between these numerous ideas—they are not mutually exclusive, and the philosophers in question are never completely (on all points possible) opposed—and neither do I find conflict in the ideas (those that I accept) that come from, say, religious philosophy, in particular. To name some sources: Aleister Crowley (Thelema, Western esotericism), Laozi (Taoism), Jesus (Christianity), Confucius (Confucianism, Chinese philosophy), Buddha (Buddhism), Nagarjuna (Mahayana Buddhism), Augustine (Christianity), Adi Shankara (Vedantic Hinduism), Dogen (Zen Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism), Tilopa (Vajrayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism), Hermes Trismegistus (Hermeticism, Western esotericism), yada yada.

I make a point of distinguishing those ideas which I accept, so as to show that someone can entertain an idea without taking it as an irrevocable fact. I take this dichotomy from Aristotle, particularly his saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” All day long I juggle with ideas: I test them out, try them on for size, and if they don’t “work” I leave them as they are. I may pick them up later. I may not. But the point here is that ideas are, generally speaking, provisional. That’s not to say there’s no “truth” to an idea one accepts, but that implicit in accepting an idea there is a usefulness to that acceptance. The idea becomes a tool. Thus, philosophies, religions, paradigms, worldviews—whatever—become tools for personal use; most readily, it often seems, to organize the contents of consciousness or patterns observed in the world or, in the case of spiritually-, existentially-, or mystically-directed paradigms, to foster the acquisition of a proposed “Absolute,” or “Ultimate,” etc.

So, in the realm of ideas, some may have more veracity than others, but, in any case, there is a usefulness there. People tend to get lost in ideas. I am no exception. But there’s also got to be the ability to “pull back from the brink,” as they say, and say to oneself, “wait a minute, does that really make sense? Is there any way in which that could be sensible? If so, how?” In the pursuit of that which is mysterious, skepticism is not only helpful, but essential. I should mention that, along these lines, I admire the motto of Aleister Crowley’s magickal order, the A∴A∴ (a Thelemic organization): “The method of science, the aim of religion.”

What a beautiful and challenging aim it is! And what an excellent method! (Though some have questioned the Thelemic tradition’s commitment to empirical scientific fact, as a religion (or magickal/occult system, or religious philosophy, etc. (Thelema is, in this way, like Buddhism, hard to pin down) its adherents often retain a kind of robust skepticism and pragmatic sensibility that I haven’t encountered among other groups. But this may merely be a personal, and superficial, impression, anyway, as people differ in their beliefs so much on an individual level.)

Anyway, I’m going off topic.

My point is ultimately this: “Spirituality” is a word both as meaningful and beautiful, and yet undefinable, as “art.” By using the phrase to signify something superficial, we devalue it. We are taking that broad, amorphous realm which embodies the sense of awe, reverence, beauty, wonder, and sacredness that human beings have for all the grandeur and minutia of the world, and bringing it down to the level of a commodity. When we begin to have “spiritual supply stores” selling candles and doo-dads, or when we deem talismans, crystals, and bottles of “fairy dust” to be spiritual, we damn something that is at the very core of the human experience.

Similarly, “metaphysics” represents perhaps the most wondrous and penetrative branch of human thought. Metaphysics is at the very core of philosophy (some would say epistemology, but that’s beside the point), and is the attempt by conscious beings to tap into the untold center of themselves and their world. It is a noble goal, and one that is bastardized by thoughtless associations with illogical balderdash. So, I propose we separate the words “spirituality” and “metaphysics” from “superstition,” “supernatural,” “paranormal,” and so forth. I say that serious “seekers” ought to understand both the overlap and the differences, the divide between genuine philosophy and the commercialization of watered down religious traditions, imported from far-away lands or semi-secretive orders at the behest of materialistic Westerners looking for some zest in life beyond the confines Netflix, Starbucks, iPhones, and People magazine. But this has all been said before, in one way or another, hasn’t it? And many times! In the end, bickering and bitching, saying and proclaiming get us nowhere.

Despite my love of writing, I will be the first to say that words will always ill-represent their ultimate, underlying reality, and direct experience—that mysterious conduit of all spirituality—remains in the silence. As that long dead mystic said, “Of all the Magical and Mystical Virtues, of all the Graces of the Soul, of all the Attainments of the Spirit, none has been so misunderstood, even when at all apprehended, as Silence.” It is astride our experiences that we build our knowledge, and we best do so with as much honesty and evidence as possible. One needn’t abandon reason in order to attain the heights of spiritual fulfillment, or be credulous to do the work of the mystics. Well, what is that work? I myself don’t really rightly know, but, in any case, why not approach our truest happiness and greatest potentials with an eye for the truth and a mind that entertains, without accepting?

» Check out the LOGOS! podcast on Soundcloud and the video series version on YouTube.


‘Of Course We’re Doomed’ (Video Transcript and Expansion)

LOGOS I (SoundCloud / YouTube)

I’ve been itching to reboot my YouTube account for a while now. I used to do some sparse reviews and music video mashups and all that. I figured, I’ve still got it on there, and decided to start uploading again.

THIS is my most recent yammering. An impromptu monologue in line with « Forever and Ever (and Ever and Ever and…)—a Little Rant… », on the collision of value and virtue. Part of a new and ongoing series with the provisional name of LOGOS:

I’m not a bona fide philosopher. But I like to talk my ass off.

Gustave Doré: illustration of Lucifer falling from Heaven (1865), for Milton's Paradise Lost.

Gustave Doré: illustration of Lucifer falling from Heaven (1865), for Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The transcript:

“Of course we’re doomed. That’s a given. But, I think we often wonder how and when… I mean, you can’t honestly expect the human race to survive, say, the heat death of the universe; and, we know in all likelihood that it will be much earlier than that, that the species meets its demise. I mean, I think it was said [that] that would occur in something like 10 to the hundreth power (10100) years or something—some wildly ridiculous number like that… the heat death of the universe… the “degenerate era,” or whatever. But I guess the problem boils down to one of infinity and immortality… you know, this idea that we need to preserve something… Why? I mean, you see monuments and statues and all sorts of things erected all over the world all the time in honor of so and so or such and such; and you do have to wonder, you know… several billion years from now the Sun is going to engulf the Earth… and you have to wonder exactly what people are thinking. Like… this is being left for posterity? [I mean] it’s short-sighted. If you’re long-sighted you realize none of it lasts, and there’s no point in doing anything with a sense of I’m preserving something… [That] I’m preserving some kind of artifact, especially… that, you know, is really ultimately a product of my ego. And I think this is where we boil down to a lot of moral philosophy… that here and now, what can we do to alleviate the suffering of sentient creatures? I think that ultimately that’s what we care about, even if we don’t realize it. “We all want to be happy.” I think that’s what the Dalai Lama said, right? But… “what can we do to make ourselves and other people [truly] happy?” Not, “what can we do to gratify ourselves and make us feel like we’re somehow memetically (sic) immortal?” Because, we won’t be, and none of this—none of the grandiose structures… none of the art, the literature, the music, the philosophy—nothing that humans have ever done is going to be a lasting thing in the universe at large (sic). So, what do we do now? Here and now? I think that’s the real question.”


I think that if we take this view to its logical conclusion we realize the general importance of empathy and compassion. Now, there are moral relativists, and solipsists, and other types who think that morality, generally speaking, doesn’t have a set state, or that suffering is either non-existent (and thus a non-issue) or dulled for other minds. (If there even are other minds.)

Anyway, there are a lot of different ways of looking at morality. But I think that most of us can agree that, if there is such a thing as morality or virtue, it ties into our sense of empathy and the existence of suffering for both ourselves and others. Poor old Schopenhauer had this in mind when he, in his On the Basis of Morality, wrote:

“If an action has as its motive an egoistic aim… it cannot have any moral worth… the everyday phenomenon of compassion… the immediate participation, independent of all ulterior considerations, primarily in the suffering of another, and thus in the prevention or elimination of it… Only insofar as an action has sprung from compassion does it have moral value; and every action resulting from any other motives has none.”

Now, that being said, I will say that pity is something I think should more often than not be avoided. I mostly agree with Crowley’s assertion on this issue, as presented in his article “On Thelema” (c. 1926-1927):

“Pity implies two very grave errors…

The first error… is an implicit assumption that something is wrong with the Universe, and that moreover one is so insidiously obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow as to have completely failed in the task of solving the riddle of Sorrow, and gone through life with the groan of a hurt animal—”All is Sorrow.” The second error is still greater since it involves the complex of the Ego. To pity another person implies that you are superior to him, and you fail to recognize his absolute right to exist as he is.”

Crowley was, of course, speaking from the perspective of Thelema, a rather (I would argue) Nietzschean occult system which promotes the divine sovereignty of oneself and the primacy of joy over suffering (“Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains…”—Crowley, Liber Legis sub figura CCXX), putting it somewhat at odds with Schopenhauer and Buddhism (which I will mention further down). Schopenhauer and Buddha both seemed to have as their emphasis the nature and problem of suffering (“Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and originates in needs and necessities inseparable from life itself, as serving no purpose at all and the result of mere chance…”—Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism), whereas Nietzsche promoted—in his disagreement with Buddhism, Stoicism, and Christianity—amor fati, the love of one’s fate (despite pain), and Thelema seems to have a vaguely similar idea of things. (“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”—Nietzsche, The Gay Science.)

Frankly, I find all four—Gotama Buddha, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Crowley—to be incredibly wise in their own ways, and it is difficult to “side” with any particular one in terms of ethics and value. We’re talking about some very profound thinkers and articulate writers and orators here.

Anyway, true compassion, to my mind, does not involve any kind of power exchange or other faulty dynamic. It must be a recognition that what is within oneself is also within another.

Despite Crowley’s admonishments of those who are “obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow,” the Buddhist view (particularly in line with the Mahayana) is one very close to my heart on this issue. As is noted by the Buddha of the Diamond Sutra, in speaking to his disciple Subhuti:

“…Subhuti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity.”

In this context, compassion is something that must exist without regard to condition—the condition of ourselves, others, or the world at large. It must be self-existent and be provided to all beings.

But this brings me back to my original point: In a world so transient (as the Buddha, speaking of Buddhism, was so eager to point out), suffering and happiness must be our chief concerns. Looking to impermanent objects or projects for a lasting sense of meaning, security, or peace of mind is ultimately folly and is destined to fail. We are very much “doomed,” both as individuals and a species. We will not and cannot go on forever, and the idea that we persevere through objects/products/creations is a trick of the ego. Plus, considering the current state of our little planet’s climate and ecology, there’s a distinct possibility that we won’t be around much longer anyway. Given that, it is time to afford ourselves and other creatures a perfect measure of respect and love. I think that, despite any philosophical debate, we must come back to the fact of suffering and do something about it. What can we do otherwise?

» Check out the LOGOS! podcast on Soundcloud and the video series version on YouTube.


Thirteen Weeks (Bullshit—Layman’s Review of Unfathomable Art)

I’m a shitty student. I’m not a stupid person, but I am a shitty student. Just some sick and lazy undergrad. I had a writing class this semester, the topic of which was “hybrid genres.” It was a good class, and an easy class, but I still managed to score a C- overall, mostly out of sheer laziness.

Anyway, we had to make a research portfolio, with a study of a primary artist, as well as other artists encountered during our course of research, due each week, for 15 weeks. I cheesed most of it. (And only did 13 of the 15.) Still, the final product came out to about 30 pages of double spaced text, and I thought, why not? I’ll put it online. (With a few additions.)

So here’s something both heady and stupid, a bit of half-BS about art and music, multimedia, inter-textual things, and all those aesthetic shenanigans.

If this comes across to you as some name-dropping bonanza, then you’re definitely on to something. It’s basically supposed to be.




In the past several weeks I’ve encountered a variety of artists, musicians, and poets who inform contemporary artistic milieu. For instance—just to name a few of many examples—Pavarotti’s opera, Magritte’s surrealist paintings, and the poetry of Neruda have had various impacts on the many art-forms that we see proliferating today. I’d like to write a little on them, as well as Ed Ruscha (my first of many, henceforth, “weekly artists”) before initiating a discussion on, and observation of, the work of Toulouse-Lautrec.

Surrealism, in this case represented by the work of René Magritte (1898-1967), was a key player in the development of postmodern art. Magritte’s works are masterful portrayal of a world that exists outside the normal bounds of nature: they are symbolic, haunting, challenging—often a subtle trick on the viewer’s state of consciousness—and, perhaps above all, full of wit.

Magritte said of his work: “My painting is (sic) visible images which conceal nothing… they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question: ‘What does that mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”

I was lucky enough to see some Magritte’s paintings (as well as Dali’s) in the MoMA a few years ago.


Magritte: The Lovers II (1928). (From

Neruda (1904-1973) took on a slew of different topics in his poetry. His work tackled subjects as diverse as politics and nature, nostalgia and food. I recently finished reading his compilation On the Blue Shore of Silence, a series of beautiful contemplations on the sea. His diversity and the exquisite nature of his expression never fail to captivate me. They also did not fail to inform a greater postmodern aesthetic.

Pablo Neruda in 1966.

Pablo Neruda in 1966. (From Wikimedia.)

One of his most striking poems from that collection is, in my opinion, “The Sea”:

I need the sea because it teaches me.
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining
suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
in some magnetic way I move in
the university of the waves.
It’s not simply the shells crunched
as if some shivering planet
were giving signs of its gradual death;
no, I reconstruct the day out of a fragment,
the stalactite from the sliver of salt,
and the great god out of a spoonful.
What it taught me before, I keep. It’s air
ceaseless wind, water and sand.
It seems a small thing for a young man,
to have come here to live with his own fire;
nevertheless, the pulse that rose
and fell in its abyss,
the crackling of the blue cold,
the gradual wearing away of the star,
the soft unfolding of the wave
squandering snow with its foam,
the quiet power out there, sure
as a stone shrine in the depths,
replaced my world in which were growing
stubborn sorrow, gathering oblivion,
and my life changed suddenly:
as I became part of its pure movement.

Pavarotti’s (1935-2007) voice was as powerful and moving as Neruda’s poetry. I grew up listening to some of his aria: My grandfather would often put on a Pavarotti cassette when he would drive me to church on Sundays. In retrospect, listening to his opera is much different than watching a video of him singing. Due to the advent of the Internet, we can experience music differently: The result is a blending of media, and a very different reception of it. There is something so much more gratifying, for instance, in seeing Pavarotti take a first, long breath before unleashing Vesti la giubba on a crowd. Film, and its proliferation as streaming video, has undoubtedly changed the way we experience music… In any case, Pavarotti and the Three Tenors made opera more accessible to a wider audience.


Pavarotti singing (n.d.). (From La

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937) is one of the most recognizable artists involved in the pop art movement, a style of visual art that, while its inception was in the 1950s, is quite alive and well today. Pop art is perhaps best known by the work of Andy Warhol, although there were, and are, many artists who could be considered “pop” in some sense or another. Ruscha’s work seems to mostly rely upon typography. I, as an uninformed viewer, would describe his use of words and scripts as self-referential, idiosyncratic, ironic, and clever. I would almost guess that there is a kind of subtle, continuous scrutiny of of advertising and commercialism woven through much of his work. This is, of course, just my initial impression. In any case, his conflation of writing and visual art makes for a happy medium, a style that easily fits between and takes on the best of these two types of media.

Ruscha: Pay Nothing Until April (2003). (From Tate.)

Far from the time of Ruscha, albeit just as (if not more) prolific, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) made a lasting impression on the world of painting. His post-impressionist portrayals of 19th century France are iconic examples of the culture of the time, soulful depictions of lives and livelihoods, chatter among the high society and lonely, impoverished dreamers drunk over bottles of absinthe. Encyclopedia Britannica states that, “Despite his deformity and the effects of alcoholism and mental collapse later in life, Toulouse-Lautrec helped set the course of avant-garde art well beyond his early and tragic death at the age of 36.”


Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge (1892-1895). (From Wikimedia.)


This week, I encountered and made note of Gustav Mahler and Anselm Berrigan. I’ll also discuss Guillaume Apollinaire, and give a less cursory addition to what I’ve already written on Toulouse-Lautrec.

To begin with Mahler (1860-1911): A close friend had introduced me to his music not long ago. In particular the 4th movement of his 5th symphony—that is, the string-leaden Adagietto. (Which he is perhaps most well known for.) There are few pieces of music so poignant. Characteristic of this piece is a peculiar “climb” toward higher notes, an implication of an audible“peak,” and then a quick, somehow deceptive drawback and descent into the lower register, all the while tantalizing the listener with a unique pairing of musical voices. It was an interesting coincidence that, at the time I was listening to Adagietto, I was reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book full of recurring metaphors about going “above” and “below,” noting the climbing of mountains and descents into valleys, the rising and falling of the sun, death and life, victory and defeat, self-overcoming and self-indulgence, etc. In any case, the dichotomizing nature of the piece makes it stand out.

Mahler (1907?). (From

Mahler (1907?). (From

I hadn’t heard of Anselm Berrigan (b. 1972) until several days ago, when I picked up the latest issue of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project newsletter. Flipping through the magazine, I found around the mid-section two of Berrigan’s poems. I was really very impressed by the duo “Pregrets” and “Regrets.” Here is a sample of the former:

brain will skip these stations in both directions, black
out blink on the mind, on-the-go transit info kiosks a
hit, you know Planned Service Chances didn’t do it
the Degas rehearsal dancers in their slasher flick masks
didn’t do it, the El Greco portrait of St. Jerome’s hung
too high over the fucking fireplace to do anything, no …


Berrigan (n.d.). (From Poetry Foundation.)

The tonal aspects of this poem, as well as its stream-of-consciousness, narrative style are captivating. In this particular part of the poem alliteration and repetition are evident, and “carry” the reader through the writing. The wild, urban scenery of “Pregrets” is given a certain weight with the introduction of disgruntled and dream-like, associative observations.

Berrigan has taught writing in New York, as well as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University—famous for its association with the Beat poets, perhaps most notably Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) is someone whom, before now, I’d never heard of. Reading a bit of his biography, I get a sense that his life was a little Byronesque: few poets seem to come off the battlefield, especially considering the horrors of the Great War. His poetry collection Alcools is listed by Le Monde in their “100 Books of the Century” list. One of his most famous poems, “Zone,” opens that work, and its translators include Samuel Beckett. (Beckett is a personal favorite.) While it’s too long to include the entire poem here, I’ll provide an excerpt:

You are weary at last of this ancient world

Shepherdess O Eiffel tower whose flock of bridges bleats at the morning

You have lived long enough with Greek and Roman antiquity

Here even automobiles look old
Only religion stays news religion
As simple as hangars at the airfield

Alone in Europe you Christianity are not antique
The one modern European is you Pope Pius X
And you whom windows watch what shame keeps you
From entering a church and confessing your sins this morning
Handbills catalogues advertisements that sing overhead
Furnish your morning’s poetry for prose there are newspapers
Dime detective novels packed with adventure
Biographies of great men a thousand and one titles

This morning I saw a fine street whose name slips my mind
New and bright the sun’s clarion
Where executives and workers sweet stenographers
Hurry every weekday dawn and dusk
Three times a morning sirens groan
A choleric bell barks at noon
Billboards posters and
Doorplates twitter like parakeets
There is charm to this Paris factory street
Between rue Aumont-Thiéville and the avenue des Ternes


Apollinaire (n.d.). (From Poetry Foundation.)

Martin Sorrell called this work “the great poem of early Modernism.” Indeed, while it was published in 1913, Apollinaire’s work, in a way, heralds the 20th century, and captures its spirit. The fast-paced, near-constant sense of technological and cultural innovation inundates us in this poem. Capitalism, and the culture of consumerism, screams at us through advertisements and titles, catalogues and handbills. These stand in stark contrast to the “Greek and Roman antiquity” mentioned during the beginning. Apollinaire’s style of writing very much reminds me of the concept of flânerie, the kind of urban narrative and poetics made popular by Baudelaire.

Back to Lautrec: This week, I was looking at more of his illustrations and lithographs, rather than proper paintings. It’s interesting to note just how much Lautrec’s work has characterized the Belle Epoque of France. He is remembered, quite properly, for his frequenting of the infamous French cabaret, the Moulin Rouge. His illustrations also remind us of the Orientalist Japonism (by which he was inspired, in part) popular during the late 19th century, as well as the Art Nouveau style. Finally, his work is also associated with the culture of absinthe, a long-banned and mysterious alcoholic beverage, known for its popularity in 19th-century France. Lautrec’s work symbolizes an entire culture, time period, and way of life.

divan japonais lithograph

Toulouse-Lautrec: Divan Japonais lithograph (1892-1893). (From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)


This week I’m going to provide a few observations of the work of Jenny Holzer (b. 1950), as well as Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).

Holzer makes a nice addition to the current roster of textual artists. My first impression of her work makes me recall Ruscha, in that it seems to be mostly constituted by text, though—importantly—text as it’s presented in a very particular manner. Her dark, noir-esque, monochrome photography seems to stand in contrast to the more exuberant, colorful tones of Ruscha’s artworks (and, when he did produce black and white photography, his lighter, sparcer scenery), and when her pieces are colored they employ different tones. This Whitney installation, for instance, is neon and vibrant, and exemplifies her use of LED lights:

(From Yatzer.)

Holzer: MONUMENT (2008). (From Yatzer.)

Pertinent is the fact that Holzer combines text with installation art. This element, and its more overt conceptuality (her work often presents feminist themes), is something lacking from Ruscha’s pop art repertoire. The way she uses color, shape, and light to bend and juxtapose text adds a refreshingly innovative dimension to intertextual artwork. She is also known for her use everyday objects and cityscapes, as well as projection:

words landmines

Holzer: WORDS, LAND MINES EXPLODING, LOVE AND HATE. (n.d.) (From Oh My Jenny Holzer.)

I came upon Alphonse Mucha by accident, in my study of Lautrec. Both men were important in the Art Nouveau movement, and both blended, and blurred the lines between, art and advertising, helping to create a bridge between the 19th century and 20th-century Modernism. Mucha placed a lot of emphasis on detail in his illustrations, and, in comparison to Lautrec, his works are noted by sharper, more natural lines and curves, vibrant colors, greater ornamentation, and less physical depth. Lautrec is earthy, spacious, and mysterious, whereas Mucha is bright, centered, and whimsical:

job cigs

Mucha: advertisement for Job cigarettes (1896). (From Everything Alphonse Mucha.)


This week I’m going to discuss the work of Hollis Frampton (1936-1984), the artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)—one of the first installation artists I came into contact with—as well as the Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516).

To begin with Bourgeois: I encountered her work in Manhattan a number of years ago, when visiting the Guggenheim. At the entrance stood her famous Maman, a huge, metallic, spindly arachnid figure. This distorted, somewhat disturbing sculpture—like many of Bourgeois’ works—explores femininity, and, in particular, motherhood:


Bourgeois: Maman (1999). (From Guggenheim Bilbao.)

Many of Bourgeois’ sculptures are minimalistic, twisted, distorted, metallic, and concrete. They often take on the likeness of bodies—more often female bodies—and feminine shapes, albeit stretched, amputated, contorted, cool-colored, and surreal. What kind of impression do we have of the feminine, I wonder, and what is Bourgeois trying to tell us about it? Is she celebrating our understanding of femininity, or lashing out against negative perceptions and connotations?

Furthermore, how do we relate to bodies more generally? At what point is the line between object and subject crossed?

Far removed from the stillness of Bourgeois’ works are the experimental films of Hollis Frampton, which, while avant-garde in their own right, make us consider objects and scenery in a different way, often alluding to the nature of film itself. His short film Lemon (1969), for instance, depicts how lighting can dramatically change the way we perceive objects. Zorns Lemma (1970), a primary example of structural film, also uses objects and light—as well as sound and text—in this case to elucidate, quite appropriately, the piece’s own structure and mechanics. Reading reviews of the film by P. Adams Sitney and Bill Simon (two critics who examine Hollis’s work with great care), one quickly comes to understand how, what to the untrained eye might seem merely like a series of letters, scenes, monologues, etc., is in actuality a complex film leaden with intricate structures and concepts. In a sense, Frampton’s work is a kind of “meta-film,” or a feedback loop, in that it examines the very underpinnings of its own cinematic expression.

Alphabetic stills from Frampton's Zorns Lemma.

Alphabetic stills from Frampton’s Zorns Lemma (1970). (From the Cleveland Institute of Art.)

As a departure from the previously examined artists, I’d like to make mention of Hieronymous Bosch. I have long been drawn to his work out of a fascination with Renaissance and Medieval art. A Netherlandish painter, Bosch was known for his landscapes and triptychs in which, like many artists of that time, he explored religious themes. His unique and grotesque depictions of the Christian Hell perhaps stand out the most:


Bosch: From The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (1490-1510). (From In Defence of Marxism.)


On Barbara Kruger:

Having previously examine Jenny Holzer’s works, and now Barbara Kruger’s, I notice a certain similarity. Beyond the fact that they share an inter-textual medium, both of their bodies of work seem to be within the fold of conceptual art. Their artworks are both declarative and aesthetically interesting. See, for instance, Kruger’s following piece:


Kruger: Untitled (You Invest in the Divinity of the Masterpiece) (1982). (From MoMA.)

Kruger is, in a way, more provocative than Holzer, actively engaging and confronting her viewers. Kruger’s work also seems mostly confined to monochrome appropriations of other art or photography. This itself lends a certain cultural nuance to her art, and with the addition of text, her work then enters into a realm of revelation and upheaval. She tackles culture, art, consumerism, and gender, re-contextualizing familiar images with bold swathes of text. In any case, I really enjoy Kruger’s unabashed dismantling of archetypes and her ability to turn commonplace ideas on their heads. Kruger is bold and her work is a perfect exposition of hypocrisy and constraint as it exists in contemporary society:

Kruger: Untitled (Who’s the Fairest of Them All) (1989). (From The Atomic Irish Mommy.)


This week, I’d like to observe the work of Howard Finster, as well as Zdzisław Beksiński, and filmmaker David Lynch.

To begin with Finster (1916-2001):

Finster’s artwork verges on the visionary. Colorful portraits and scenery are arranged in whimsical ways, with deep curves and bevels filled with pastel-like tones, breathing life into his visuals. His art covers a wide range of subjects, from war and politics to religion and pop culture, and mixed into this is a kind of playfulness, embodied by Finster’s unique use of shape and tone. Lehigh University Art Galleries places Finster in the realm of “outsider art”—that is, art that may be considered trans-cultural, or beyond established artistic circles and styles. He is also considered something of a folk artist, and many of his works present a sort of “homemade” portraiture and iconography.


Finster: American Devils Are Friendly (1981). (From WikiArt.)

Finster’s story is itself something odd. A long-time travelling preacher, Finster became a painter later in life, after having a religious epiphany. The importance of faith is evident in his artworks, a number of which depict or reference Biblical stories. At times, he makes his religious overtones clearer through the introduction of text. His use of text, moreover, provides more content and context to his art. Compared to the in-your-face conceptuality and use of photography and installation seen in the works of Holzer and Kruger, Finster’s small lettering, religious overtones, and flattened imagery makes for a lighter, less confrontational—albeit still declarative—and less overwhelming style of visual art.

In the past year I became fascinated with the art of Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005), a Polish artist with a penchant for both the surreal and the macabre. Beksiński’s sketches, paintings, and computer graphics are positively nightmarish, often depicting fantastical hellscapes and devastated wastelands, and their strange, tormented residents. Bodies and architecture are broken down and re-imagined in forms that are truly disturbing and otherworldly.


Beksiński: Untitled (1984). (From Wikimedia.)

Despite his penchant for the macabre, Beksinski said that some of his works were, in fact, meant to be humorous, although overall he declined to offer interpretations of many of his paintings.


Beksinski: Untitled (n.d.). (From WikiArt.)

David Lynch (b. 1946) is probably one of my favorite directors. I think he makes a nice follow-up to Beksinski, considering his predilection for visuals that are ominous and disturbing. His films are surreal, to say the least, and by his own admission, some of them follow a style he calls “dream logic.” Many of his movies appear strange in the sense that they are highly associative, non-linear, and often present some element of symbolism. Their atmosphere does indeed make them seem dreamlike, and nightmarish or creepy, in particular. Lynch’s films are often thrillers or mysteries of some kind, but an element of psychological horror is also pervasive.


Lynch: still from Eraserhead (1977). (Source unknown.)

Inland Empire (2006) is probably my favorite Lynch film thus far. While all of his movies involve some level of strangeness, the driving force behind Inland Empire is that it begins normally—with a basically coherent plot—and then quickly dives into a melange of bizarre scenes, scenarios, and symbols. The sudden movement from reality to fantasy is startling and captivating. Through this descent various scenes take on a terrifying, get-under-your-skin tone that is very much unique to Lynch. You can’t really compare his style of cinematography to anyone else’s. He is not merely “surreal,” but is a self-contained artist with a touch of otherworldly brilliance that is itself meted out in the mundane. From Mulholland Drive (2001) to Blue Velvet (1986) to Inland Empire, many of Lynch’s films take place in otherwise normal settings, but their dark, fantastical nature is realized in the atmosphere of his movies, in the nebulous plots and dialogues that seem to be ubiquitous to his work. In every light, for Lynch, there is a dark underbelly, in every pattern a ray of disarray.

It is fair to mention that, aside from film-making, Lynch is also a painter, musician, and advocate of transcendental meditation, and that his broad interests certainly factor into his movies, web series, and his television program, Twin Peaks (1990-1991). His use of music and musical performance is ubiquitous, and forms an important part of films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet.

indland empire

Lynch: still from Inland Empire (2006). (From Complex.)

To quote Complex, “Disorientation is one of many byproducts you experience while watching a David Lynch film—reality becomes distorted, characters are oblique to the point where they no longer feel human, and the unsettling mood forever teeters are the brink of mind-warping horror.”


This week I’d like to shed some light on the works of Lynda Barry and Eugenia Loli.

Barry (b. 1956) is a well-known American cartoonist and author, known primarily for her comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, as well has her book The Good Times Are Killing Me. Her style of illustration varies, with some of her works reminding me, to a certain degree, of Karen Romano Young’s intentionally childlike drawings. Other works are reminiscent of more mainstream comic strips and some graphic novels. (I am not well versed in graphic novels, though Art Spiegelman’s Maus comes to mind, as opposed to much more richly detailed books like, say, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.) Her work is creative and humorous, and she maintains a very playful, colorful tone, at times poking fun at herself. Barry’s The Good Times are Killing Me (1988), an illustrated novel about an interracial relationship, garnered her critical acclaim, and was later made into a play. In 2002 she published One! Hundred! Demons! (2002), a graphic novel she terms “Autobiofictionalography.” Barry’s work can be playful and whimsical, and at the same time present as serious and poignant, and she is well-established as both a writer and an illustrator. I really enjoy the fact that much of her work is done on lined paper. It makes her drawings very inviting and down-to-earth.

what it is

Barry: excerpt from What It Is (2008). (From Fuzzy Undertones.)

Eugenia Loli is a Greek-American filmmaker, collage artist, and illustrator. I first stumbled upon her online. She uses photos and vintage cutouts, as well as computer software, to produce psychedelic collages full of precision and detail. I’d almost call her “maximalistic.” I find myself wondering how she sources and repurposes different materials. There are times when she presents the viewer with such a wide variety of imagery that it’s almost overwhelming.

it ends with a bang

Loli: It Ends with a Bang! (n.d.) (From Eugenia’s Collages.)

Her art bombards the viewer with images that juxtapose the mundane with the cosmic, ordinary life with touches of dream, sex, and drugged imagination. Loli is a truly imaginative artist who makes no reservation on what to put in her work. There is, therefore, a huge element of surprise to be found in her collages, and I almost find myself playing Where’s Waldo as I pick apart her artwork detail by detail.

Inappropriate Business Offer

Loli: Inappropriate Business Offer (n.d.) (From Eugenia’s Collages.)


On Roz Chast (b. 1954), an American author, cartoonist, and staff cartoonist for The New Yorker:

I’ve always enjoyed Chast’s cartoons. Before I was old enough to read—that is, read anything beyond a small chapter book—I would pick up copies of The New Yorker and flip through the pages, skipping over the articles themselves in order to find her (ubiquitously humorous) comics. Her writing is witty and often pokes fun at modern life and domestic issues, with her monochrome characters meting out significant doses of sarcasm and observational comedy. Her style of drawing reminds me of Lynda Barry’s, but usually involves less text and more detailed backgrounds—often indoor environments.


Chast: “Pre-Existing Conditions,” from The New Yorker (n.d.). (From the Conde Nast Collection.)

Chast’s color works seem mostly confined to her books, such as What I Hate from A to Z (2011) and her Steve Martin-coauthored The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! (2007) Her wry sense of humor never fails to put a smile on my face.

WEEK 10:

This week I’d like to look at the work of Art Spiegelman, as well as Alex Grey, and H.R. Giger.

I have a fondness for Spiegelman. (b. 1948.) I first read his graphic novel Maus in my senior English class in high school. This was my first experience with graphic novels and/or comics (beyond, say, comic strips—if you consider those part of the same genre as full-fledged comic books), and portended my reading of books like Watchmen, the graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451, Jodorowsky’s The Incal and Metabarons, the horror manga Uzumaki, and the comic Transmetropolitan.

Going based off of Maus, as it’s the only work of Spiegelman’s that I’m familiar with, I will first say that I was impressed by his merging of comics—a format that I was hitherto used to seeing only in the context of humor, or light fiction, and in a very superficial way—with a gravely serious topic like the Holocaust. I thought this was startling, at first. I certainly found it unconventional. But, as I made my way through the two volumes of Maus, I found myself becoming increasingly intrigued by the depth and personality of Spiegelman’s story, and the characters that call it home. The obstinate racism of Vladek Spiegelman (the narrator’s grandfather, who, in the novel, recites his experiences during the Holocaust) is surprising, and also aggravating, given his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. But, all the more, the character’s stubbornness ultimately fleshes out his persona, and draws the reader inward, toward forming a more meaningful relationship with the events unfolding in the novel. Spiegelman is an almost masterful storyteller, and his book is both captivating and disturbing.


Spiegelman: excerpt from Maus (serialized 1980-1991). (From Flickr.)

Alex Grey (b. 1953) is a well-renowned visionary and psychedelic artist—a painter, sculptor, and illustrator. The visionary aspect of his work is different from that of, say, Howard Finster, in that—while his paintings do present mystical and transcendent themes—they are not filled with overtly Christian and Biblical imagery. Grey promotes a holistic, universalist view of world religions and “wisdom traditions” from various cultures, symbolizing humanity’s quest for enlightenment. (Though Grey himself claims to practice Vajrayana Buddhism.) Grey is also very honest about the psychedelic nature of many of his paintings, noting that he was inspired to produce some of them under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, or actually produced them under the influence. His “Sacred Mirrors” series of paintings depict beings in transition from corporeal states of life to those of “higher planes,” and, otherwise, much of his art explores states of being that could be called “yogic” or “energetic,” in a New Age or esoteric sense. In contrast to the hodge podge, finely delineated objects of Loli’s collages, many of Grey’s paintings depict figures that are intimately connected on a metaphysical level, their physical structures transforming into brilliant light. The sheer amount of detail—particularly his use of transparency—that goes into his art is staggering.


Grey: Collective Vision (1995). (From

H.R. Giger (1940-2014) is much more comparable to someone like Beksiński than Grey. His work, while just as otherworldly and detailed as Grey’s, is far darker. Still, Giger, like Grey, depicted bodies in an exquisite fashion, though his depiction of them is far more cool and mechanical than transcendent and vibrant. Whereas Grey’s use of religious imagery is largely predicated on Eastern traditions (with admitted references to Western ones), Giger presents us with jarring occult and disturbingly alien themes. Whereas Grey celebrates sexuality as force for cosmic union, Giger transforms it into a biomechanical carnality. Grey celebrates the light and life of the psychedelic counterculture, in all its abundant love and hallucinogenic revelry, whereas Giger is something of a shock jock, transgressive and nightmarish—though equally fantastical. As Giger noted, “A sick landscape marks men. And my landscapes are nothing more than the transplanting of human skin onto our surroundings.”


Giger: Erotomechanics VII (n.d.) (From Count Orlok’s Blog.)

WEEK 11:

Peter Greenaway (b. 1942) is another one of those well-respected filmmakers who, up until this point, I knew nothing about. While I haven’t seen any of his full-fledged movies, I got a taste of his style from his 17-minute, 1977 short film Dear Phone. Like Frampton, Greenaway’s incorporation of text is essential. Unlike Frampton, however (in this case comparing Dear Phone to Zorns Lemma), narration seems more prominent. Zorns Lemma is, admittedly, a longer film, but it gets a lot of its aesthetic from long stretches of silence, whereas a definite story—albeit one that we are somewhat distanced from, as viewers—is the primum mobile for Greenaway’s short movie. There is a consistent element of contrast in Greenaway’s films. I noticed this more keenly in Vertical Features Remake (1978), which, in a very experimental fashion, comes out as something of an intentionally broken documentary, or at least a negligently incomplete one. A kind of meta-film, it documents the restoration or assemblage of footage taken by a fictional ornithologist. There’s an undertone of absurd humor to Greenaway, through his use of narration, which makes his films a little more accessible and level-headed than Frampton’s.

Poster for Greenaway's Vertical Features Remake (1978). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From FilmAffinity.)

Poster for Greenaway’s Vertical Features Remake (1978). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From FilmAffinity.)

My first serious encounter with poetry came from Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), whom I’ve revisited recently. (I recently picked up his Artificial Paradises.) After reading his seminal collection The Flowers of Evil (sometime around 2008 or 2009), I was inspired to take on at least several more poets, working my way through Neruda, Williams, Rilke, Coleridge, and Poe; as well as more contemporary writers like Berrigan, Brenda Hillman, and Tate; the Zen poets Ikkyū Sōjun, Ryokan; and the collective Cold Mountain poets of China. Baudelaire is an important figure in modernism, and without him it seems difficult to fully appreciate the history and nature of poetry, from the Romantic period up until well into modern times.

Baudelaire, circa 1862. Portrait by Étienne Carjat. (From Wikimedia.)

Baudelaire, circa 1862. Portrait by Étienne Carjat. (From Wikimedia.)

I very much enjoy one particular poem from The Flowers of Evil, “The Spiritual Dawn”:

When the morning white and rosy breaks,
With the gnawing Ideal, upon the debauchee,
By the power of a strange decree,
Within the sotted beast an Angel wakes.

The mental Heaven’s inaccessible blue,
For wearied mortals that still dream and mourn,
Expands and sinks; towards the chasm drawn.
Thus, cherished goddess, Being pure and true

Upon the rests of foolish orgy-nights

Thine image, more sublime, more pink, more clear,

Before my staring eyes is ever there.

The sun has darkened all the candle lights;
And thus thy spectre like the immortal sun,
Is ever victorious thou resplendent one!

The beautiful image of a beloved goddess, confined to the clouds, reminds me of Dante’s vision of Heaven, and his quest to reunite with Beatrice, in Paradiso. Baudelaire often seems to posit lofty goals and great attainments that, for us mere mortals, always remain just out of reach. Thus his poetry is very much both a glorification and lamentation of human life.

WEEK 12:

I would like to present some information on Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) this week.

Salomon was a Jewish-German artist from Berlin. Her art, much of it expressionist in its nature, mostly makes reference to Nazi Germany and her experiences during the Holocaust. (Salomon and her unborn baby were gassed in Auschwitz, and much of her family committed suicide during the upheaval.) One finds that in her watercolors, full of opaque tones contrasted by darker, hardened lines (which give the amorphous splotches of paint a more definite form), Salomon puts human suffering into perspective, giving the viewer a visceral sense of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

Salomon is perhaps best known for her cross-genre Leben? order Theater (German: “Life? or Theater?”), a series of gouaches, transparencies, and texts which collectively form a narrative that documents her life, love, and struggles within the backdrop of the Nazi German political and cultural landscape. Salomon intended for the series to combine various artistic approaches, and so the use of text is unconventional. Transparencies, often containing shaped text, are laid over the gouaches in such a way that the viewer can see their “interaction.” See, for instance, this overlay:


Salomon: excerpt from Leben? oder Theater? (n.d.). (From Wikimedia.)

In this clever scene, the phrase “Im Himmel…” is written upward, beginning an ascension, wherein it appears that a spirit, or spirits, leave for paradise. “… Ist oben” means “is above,” and, appropriately, the text is overlaid in the shape of a tree, against a window, above a figure in bed.

WEEK 13:

I’ve always been fascinated by optical illusions, and particularly impossible objects: the blivet, the impossible cube, the Penrose stairs, and (especially) the Penrose triangle. (As examples.) I was, for this reason, attracted to the works of M.C. Escher (1898-1972)—quite the master of optical illusions, and a highly imaginative and thoughtful artist.

Architecture and illusion often come together to create incredible scenes in Escher’s drawings, lithographs, and woodcuts. Otherwise, he was known for his fascination with symmetry, tessellations, and mathematics, generally. The physics of Escher’s “worlds” are distorted, and yet eerily orderly, giving the viewer a sense of disorientation. His impossible geometry makes one scrutinize his art for quite some time, trying to “figure out” the strange-shaped images that are so unique to his body of work.

Escher: Relativity

Escher: Relativity (1953). (From Wikimedia.)

Possibly my favorite filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies are one of my biggest inspirations as a writer.

It is unfair to simply deem Jodorowsky a filmmaker, as he is also an author, comic book artist, playwright, actor, former mime, tarot expert, and performance artist. However, this broad set of skills and proclivities figures into Jodorowsky’s films almost more than any of his other works, so I’d like to examine one of those.

Poster for Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (1973). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From Wikimedia.)

Poster for Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973). (n.d.; artist unknown.) (From Wikimedia.)

Jodorowsky’s 1973 cult hit The Holy Mountain is filled with iconic scenes. Known for his avant-garde and provocative presentation of mystical and cultural symbols, The Holy Mountain teems with images that are both disturbing and beautiful, moving and terrifying. Jodorowsky is, like Lynch, a master of emotion, and pulls his viewers into a world that is—at least for The Holy Mountain—teeming with spiritual brilliance and sacred metaphors, colors and sound and light. I would almost argue that Jodorowsky’s films—while rightly quite beyond adequate description—could be compared to a bizarre merging of David Lynch’s movies with the artwork of Alex Grey. (Just to create an example using artists mentioned above.) In reality, Jodorowsky notes influence from Fellini, and performance art. He was an instrumental part of the reactionary performance art Panic Movement, influenced by Luis Buñuel’s Theater of Cruelty—a reaction to the mainstreaming of surrealism.



(I wanted to write on these fine folks, but didn’t get around to it.)

  • Alfred Jarry
  • Austin Osman Spare
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • David Tibet
  • Genesis P-Orridge
  • Henry Miller
  • Jean Cocteau
  • Kazuo Ohno
  • PFFR (group)
  • Pierre Schaeffer
  • Rozz Williams
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Silk Road Ensemble (group)
  • Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound)
  • Terrence E. Holt