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Monday, May 29, 2017

Email to the Universe online reading group, Week Three!

Jaques and the Wounded Stag by William Hodges (from Shakespeare's "As You Like It")

By Gregory Arnott, guest blogger

One simple observation about the haikus this week is that all of them have to do with the occluding of the light in some way. Whether this was an intentional theme, simply a result of living on the foggy Northern Californian coast, or an archetypical theme recurring in an elder’s ruminations is open to interpretation. My favorite one was the only haiku so far to receive a title “Midnight Haiku,” I didn’t say it was a good title; does anyone have any opinion on haikus herein on the form in general. I’ll admit that I’ve written one haiku sequence during an afternoon in Boulder and found it personally pleasing but I’m no Basho.

“Schrodinger’s Other Cat” is a short review of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I haven’t read Adams’ since I was in eighth or ninth grade and I never made it to his Dirk Gently series so I have little to say about this essay and honestly I wonder if some other more substantial piece could have been here instead. However, I do see how it follows along with the themes in the book as a whole. On pg. 40 RAW refers to Dirk Gently as “the most scientific novel of the year,” later it would be noted on the back of the books and brought up by RAW in interviews that his  Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy was called “the most scientific of all science fiction novels.”

Considering that The Universe Next Door was published a few years before this review would have been written I think this is a funny synchronicity.

pg 41: Let us pause here and consider ~dove sta memora~

Paranoia: Do you believe that individuals who profit from illegal business pay off our lawmakers to continue their way of life? Is this even a question anymore? Again, I must point out that the situation has degraded since the Bush years that now seem relatively sane.

Black Magick & Curses: Secrets of ye Arte call’d Ducdame

Melancholy Jaques, of “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players” fame, provides the following song to the exiled court after the wonderful statement “I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.”:

JAQUES Thus it goes:

If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame.
Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me.

AMIENS What’s that ‘ducdame?

JAQUES ‘Tis a Greek invocation to call fools into a circle. I’ll go to sleep if I can. If I cannot, I’ll rail against all the firstborn of Egypt.

An invocation to call fools into a circle and an essay on our primate game rules…can’t think of what he could possibly be implying there. (For the curious my Norton Shakespeare helpfully notes that ‘ducdame’ is “[a] word of unknown meaning. Possibly a variation on a Welsh phrase meaning “Come hither” or on a Gypsy phrase meaning “I foretell.” It also points out that the term “Greek” could simply mean unintelligible rather than a magical word derived from the Graeco-Egyptian magical cults of late-antiquity.)

(RAW begins his essay with two references to Shakespeare, who perhaps more than any other single person altered the English language, but I haven’t read King John so I won’t comment on the quotation.)

Since magic is essentially humanity’s first grand survival technique so it is appropriate that a discussion of magic would be contextualized as a survival manual for any humans trapped on the planet of the apes. I can think of many different examples of ducdame and different tribal taboos that I’ve encountered. Like last week’s focal essay, “Black Magick and Curses” is an excellent summarization of the bigger themes in RAW’s work. And I swear to god I have read the definition and illustrative passage from Magick on pg. 46 so many times I mumble it in my sleep. Funnily I’ve never really been impressed by Crowley’s definition or illustration here or I have at least failed to grok its profundity.

“In other words the distinction between “magick” and “communication” exists only in our traditional ways of thinking.” (pg. 47)

And herein lies the whole of the essay. In 2003, when the “Black Magick” was initially published, the premise would have hardly been original; but it is something we can take for granted thanks to writers such as RAW who helped explain Crowley that such theory is common knowledge to anyone interested in the field.

On the next page where RAW speaks about the dangers that arise when type [A] and type [B] statement become mixed together is directly related to the themes of one of his most important and impassioned essays “The Right Man.”

We are treated to a little summary of NLP theory concerning the meta- and Milton models and a general discussion of how exactly language can be used and is used to directly influence our realities, while this is the meat of the essay, I again have little to add as I am unfamiliar with NLP, although I did begin thumbing a copy of The Structure of Magic that I own after initially rereading this, so anyone more knowledgeable feel free to jump in.

NLP founder Richard Bandler

To the closing remarks of the essay I will relay this story: Alan Moore, in a interview from the same time as this essay, discussed why he felt the spelling of magick with a k was unnecessary. This spelling of magick originated with Aleister Crowley who used it to distinguish his occult rites from the sleight-of-hand and misdirection of stage magic. However, according to Moore, there is much less difference between the two than Crowley would admit. Hence, the distinguishing letter is obsolete. Moore also points out in various places that the Bard is superior than the Magician.

On pg. 53 the mention of Charles Laughton reminds me of a similar curse the poor man might have had unjustly put on him by the magician Kenneth Anger. I know since I read Anger’s salacious story that I haven’t been able to watch any movie with Laughton in it the same way. And I used to love The Private Life of Henry the VIII (that and the Laughton/Gable Mutiny on the Bounty were favorites of my Mother).

I highly recommend F for Fake if RAW’s constant discussion of the film hasn’t caused you to watch it for yourself yet. One thing I think he fails to mention anywhere is that part of what makes Fake so much fun is it is basically a framed around a large/chaotic party so the experience is all through that filter which makes it deliciously intoxicating. It is a look at Ibiza before those damn kids and their designer drugs cemented its infamy.

We close with the nonsense rhyme “Antigonish” by William Mearns that brings the circle of primate game rules, language, and magic to a close around the fools.

Next week: Pages 54-78 of the Hilaritas Press edition, e.g. through the end of "Dreams of Flying." 


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

In the modern world of political correctness, trigger warnings and competing incantations on Twitter, the "Black Magick" chapter seems more relevant than ever.

Eric Wagner said...

Well, I put on Beethoven's Ninth as background for this week's reading. I had forgotten that Bob mentions the Goldberg Variations in his piece on Doug Adams, so I took off the Beethoven and put on Bach. I haven't read"Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" although I enjoyed the Hitchhiker's Guide books. (Did I really turn 42 thirteen years ago? Man, time flies.)

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

In regards to the reference of getting [A] and [B] mixed together I think this appears to be another prime example of the influence Science and Sanity had on Bob. Chapter 4 "On Structure"in Science and Sanity makes the same case only instead of using a box of chocolates as Bob does Korzybski uses a box of matches. The main point being,as I'm sure you all have gathered by now,that we can easily settle the case of whether or not there are any matches (or chocolate) in the box by opening it and seeing for ourselves but we cannot solve the problem of god because we cannot gather enough data to resolve the argument. We merely have noises (the word god)which have no symbols attached to them.Therefore we are left with chatter and nothing more.Unless we are dealing with a fundamentalist then we are left with a headache due the excessive arguing.­čśé

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I'm struck to the fact that in an essay about the power of words, Bob twice references the top wordsmith in the English language, Shakespeare. And kudos to Gregory for teasing the reference out.

Rarebit Fiend said...

Well, this can be mistaken for a dry/psychobabble explanation of magic but Crowley once defined it as "a disease of language" which is just, so much better of a definition than the one that RAW repeats in the essay. (I don't know how well known this general outline is so I also apologize if I'm explaining something that we're all overly familiar with.) Since language is seemingly the essential process to self-consciousness we can see its manipulation as a way of manipulating reality "itself." So what magic is essentially is a way to reprogram your language-awareness sphere (consciousness). The funny thing is that this isn't just found in nutball authors like Crowley and Spare but appears in the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the like. Burroughs, RAW, picked up on this and Alan Moore has mapped out pretty much every available elements of this in his post '94 work...and before that too. And I don't know but this flies in the face of logical empiricism but I also think that Hume would have enjoyed these sophistries for what they are and I know Bishop Berkeley would have been at least bemused.

I agree with Joshua is absolutely right that there needs to be a better discussion of the Korzybski elements within the essay. I haven't read Science and Sanity and the Count was easily as influential on RAW's life as Crowley, Joyce, or Leary.

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

Well since I'm reading Science and Sanity along side with Email to the Universe I will chime in where I see correlations to the best of my ability. Yes I agree that the Count was just as influential as Crowley, Joyce, and Leary as well.One of the characteristics Bob loved about Joyce was the fact that Joyce was already clued in on what Korzybski was saying without ever reading Korzybski.

Oz Fritz said...

dove sta memora - and this week's discussion begins on Memorial Day.

RAW probably enjoyed Douglas Adams including the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Sirius Cybernetic Corporation made all the automated doors and other mechanical devices in that epic series of novels. I'll have to read to read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency now.

I saw a Far Side cartoon today that reminded me of linguistics in the modern world. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is up in his belfry trying to read the book: A Career in Computers while the noise of the huge bells pounds in his ears.

Speaking of linguistics, Aleister Crowley did not originate the spelling of magick with a k, he revived it from ye olde english. Spenser spells it magick in The Fairie Queene, a series of books with much magick inside as well as being one source Shakespeare borrowed from. (plagiarism?) A lot of magick in Shakespeare too. Crowley revived it to distinguish his magick, what Deleuze might call his plane of immanence, from all other kinds of magic - stage magic, primitive animism, spellcasting, etc - anything that went by the label magic that didn't align with his definition: "The Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will. " In this book of neurolinguistic exploration, Email to the Universe, Wilson chooses to use the k in magick aligning himself with Crowley's definition. One of the topics RAW brought up in the Crowley course involved a comparison with this definition to Dion Fortune's slightly different definition: "Magick is the art of causing changes in consciousness in conformity with the Will."

Crowley gave another definition of magick in the Confessions (p.125): "From the nature of things, therefore, life is a sacrament; in other words, all our acts are magical acts. Our spiritual consciousness acts through the will and its instruments upon material objects, in order to produce changes which will result in the establishment of new conditions of consciousness which we wish. That is the definition of Magick."

Black Magick and Curses still rates as one of the best pieces on magick I've seen. RAW originally posted it online in the Crowley course. Some of the highlights for me: "We need to understand Magick to understand ourselves. "(p.46) "To understand the language of magick one must first understand the magick of language. (p.47) "I explicitly reject, not only the traditional verbal division between "magick" and "communication," but the equally fictitious splits between "mind' and "body," between "reason" and "emotion" between "thought" and "reflex," etc." No distinction between magick and communication, magick = communication, seems very profound to me. Puts Email to the Universe in a different light.

I agree with observing Korzybski's influence more. Attempting to write in e-prime can effectually cut down on noise in communication, in my experience.

In the talk, Life of Aleister Crowley, RAW talks about Crowley as a linguistic philosopher, " i the vein of Wittgenstein, only further.

Oz Fritz said...

The last sentence should read "in the vein..." and was actually something I thought I took out from an earlier paragraph - it shouldn't have appeared in the post.

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

I would like to point out another correlation between the Black Magic essay and Science and Sanity. Where Bob says "I explicitly reject not only the traditional verbal division between"magick" and "communication "but the equally fictitious splits between "mind" and "body" between "reason" and "emotion" between "thought" and "reflex" etc." Korzybski also rejected such fictitious splits. One of the first examples of Non-Aristotelian language that I am aware of Korzybski points out would be Einstein's refusal to split Space and Time. Thus instead we get Space/Time. Korzybski points out that this was brilliant on Einstiens part and was a crucial first step in developing a Non-Aristotelian form of communication or e-prime. The organism-as-a-whole model being of great significance to all aspects of human endeavors.

Rasa said...

I saw a man upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there;
He wasn’t there again today,
Gee, I wish he’d go away!

RAW turns us on to a host of fascinating sources, but this one poem has sat in my consciousness for decades. I remember watching Clint Eastwood address an empty chair at the Republican convention in 2012, and I thought, "I saw a man upon a chair . . ."

The poem seems particularly apt in today's Fake News environment.

chas said...

The questions that remain for me aren't so much of "What is magick?" or "How do you do magick?" as much as "What is good magick?" or "How does one perform good magick?" Of course good is such a paltry word. Perhaps quality works better.