Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Midnight's Cabaret: STRANGE LOVE

Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Welcome back, once again, to the Palace.  As always, I am your humble host -- the Master of Ceremonies -- Midnight.  How lovely to see you all here again.  It has been a while, and our girls have missed you.

For our fifth extravaganza fantastique the girls have prepared quite a show for you.  They are prepared to dance, to twist and turn and writhe - and radiate.  They have been awaiting your return for so long that their barely-contained passion threatens to detonate.  Fission waits in their every twinge and tease.

But beware -- the girls of the Midnight Palace are not like other girls.  They are dangerous, and are not truly under my control.  I am merely a figurehead, a gatekeeper.  Truly, it is the girls themselves that run the show. As I'm sure our regular guests are well aware by now.  

Tonight, the girls wish to tell you an intimate love-story  -- a story with the potential to create or destroy.  As always, the girls will leave it up to you to decide how this night will end.  So, once again Ladies and Gentlemen, sit back and relax; light your cigarettes and cigars, and raise your glasses of claret.  The delectable girls of the Midnight Palace are about to lead you into the darkest, most explosive regions of desire...

Come One, Come All!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

KUBRICK AT MIDNIGHT: Meditations of Gnostic Alchemy in 'The Shining' - Part One

This post is the first part in an intended series of Kubrick at Midnight essays – that will attempt to explore the Gnostic, Alchemical and Visionary qualities that I believe to be inherent in the films of Stanley Kubrick.

Prima Materia – Fragments of A Maze

Many differing opinions have been written and expressed concerning Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. Adapted from the 1977 novel by iconic horror novelist Stephen King, Kubrick’s film alters the source material quite significantly.  The screen adaptation is most definitely its own entity, drawing upon but standing apart from the novel.  Upon release King expressed his dislike of Kubrick’s screen version of his novel. Critics alternately hailed the film as slow, boring, overblown, silly, or a masterpiece.  The film divided both critics and viewers rather decisively.  To state my own position clearly at the outset, I’m one of those viewers who believe the film to be a masterpiece.  I am an unabashed Kubrick fan and consider him to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

It is my belief that Kubrick tackled filmmaking much like a chess-player, with viewers, critics and naysayers as his lesser opponents.  But truly, Kubrick’s greatest opponent when crafting his multi-layered works of art was himself.  As an artist he was not one to retread the same familiar ground, always seeking to shove himself out of his own comfort zone; sometimes quite violently. 

Kubrick seemed to perceive cinema in shamanistic terms, like an impossibly intricate puzzle box that could initiate spiritual transformation – full of subtlety, nuance and elusive contexts; a chymical wedding of film and viewer.  I believe that Kubrick saw art as a reflection and crucible of human consciousness.  His films are full of double, triple and even quadruple bluffs, often saying and doing one thing whilst stealthily implying another.  Often in Kubrick’s films the surface ideas and themes are exposed as fallacies when deeper layers of his narratives are uncovered, only to be resurrected and re-contextualized at even deeper levels of the game. Here is a quote that captures much of the flavour of Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, from the French semiotic philosopher Jacques Derrida in his seminal book Of Grammatology:

There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring. There is no longer any simple origin. For what is reflected it split in itself and not only as an addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double, splits what it doubles. The origin of the speculation becomes a difference. What can look at itself is not one; and the law of the addition of the origin to its representation, or the thing to its image, is that one plus one makes at least three. 

I believe this is definitely the case with The Shining.  In his book entitled Kubrick the French author Michel Ciment uses the previous Derrida quote, and suggests that the film “constitutes an intiatory journey of death and transfiguration, this time inside a labyrinth”. Much has been written about Kubrick’s near-mythical prowess as a filmmaker, and his subversive, provocative stance as an anti-authoritarian intellect.  Speaking of intellect, some critics have accused Kubrick’s work of lacking genuine emotion; that his films are largely cold, unfeeling sojourns of the mind.  But I would argue that his work is full of raw but usually sublimated or hidden emotion.  In short I would argue that, like most true Gnostics, Kubrick’s work is furious.

It is my belief that Stanley Kubrick’s later corpus of work constitutes a nuanced and multidimensional meditation on Gnosticism, Alchemy, High-Weirdness and Hidden History – starting seriously with Lolita and all the way to his last film, Eyes Wide Shut.  Although Kubrick may have publicly claimed to be an atheist his work betrays a sophisticated comprehension of magical symbolism, spirituality and human consciousness, and reveals him as a masterful metaphysician.  Kubrick explicitly discussed his belief in the strange, unacknowledged powers of the human mind during an interview with Michel Ciment.  Kubrick stated:

I hope that ESP and related psychic phenomena will eventually find general scientific proof of their existence. There are certainly a fair number of scientists who are sufficiently impressed with the evidence to spend their time working in the field. If conclusive proof is ever found it won't be quite as exciting as, say, the discovery of alien intelligence in the universe, but it will definitely be a mind expander.

It is my own personal belief that Stanley Kubrick’s knowledge of alternative research, conspiracies and fringe culture is carefully encoded into his films with an artistic cryptography that is rarely matched by other filmmakers. 2001: A Space Odyssey may have been his most ambitious chymical wedding, but I suspect that The Shining was always his most personal.

Overseer of the Overlook – Auditioning the Demiurge

The researcher, videographer and filmmaker Rob Ager has conducted what I believe to be a very detailed and insightful analysis of Kubrick's work, including The Shining.  On his website Collative Learning, Ager suggests that The Overlook of Kubrick’s film is dark metaphor of America.  Not only that, but it is also in some way a sentient metaphor.  Its shifting corridors and rooms, the spatial impossibilities inherent in its design, all imply a living, imagining presence that is the hotel itself.  Stephen King’s original novel touches on some of these themes in a more easily recognisable folkloric way.  But I would go further with this basic idea.  I would suggest that the Overlook Hotel is in fact a metaphor for the Gnostic State of Man; spiritual beings who have somehow become ensnared in a world of shapeshifting illusion by Archonic forces.  I would suggest that Kubrick’s Overlook is essentially the black iron prison later described by Philip K Dick in his seminal novel Valis.  The writer Christopher Knowles explores the literal and symbolic high-weirdness connections concerning Philip K Dick and Valis over on his blog The Secret Sun, particularly in this excellent post: I'll Show You How to Bring Me to Your World.

In both the novel and film of The Shining the distinctly American nuances of the hotel’s spiritual presence are all there, though explored differently - but I suspect there is a more elusively explicit symbolism at work in Kubrick’s film adaptation.  In Philip K Dick’s novel,  VALIS is an acronym for the Vast Active Living Intelligence System; a “spontaneous self-monitoring negentropic vortex...tending to progressively subsume and incorporate its environment into arrangements of information.” To me that sounds like a fairly evocative description of Kubrick’s Overlook.  

It is my belief that Kubrick was an avid Philip K Dick fan, and took some of the broader themes and atmosphere of The Shining from a novel by Dick entitled Ubik; a brilliant work concerning the nature of life, half-life and multiple realities.  But consciously or not, Dick's thematic conception of Valis is also foreshadowed in Kubrick's conception of the Overlook Hotel.  Interestingly, both men were born in 1928, ten years after the end of the First World War, and eleven years before the official start of the Second World War.  Both men were born of a generation that had just survived an apocalypse, and were about to live through another.  Their formative years were undoubtedly shaped in some way by what was going on around them politically and culturally at the time.  The Shining was released in 1980, and then Valis was released in the following year.  It's entirely possible that both Kubrick and Dick were working on their respective projects at around the same time.  The researcher Rob Ager, and other critics -- including the recent documentary Room 237 -- have noted the impossible rearrangement of the furniture and floorplans of the Overlook in Kubrick’s film.  Essentially, both Kubrick’s film and Dick’s novel deal with deep, dark secrets living and shifting below the level of conscious awareness, and with the mercurial nature of reality, identity and simulacrum.  Here’s an excerpt from an essay entitled 'Philip K Dick’s Divine Interference' by Erik Davis, that echoes this hidden reorganization theme:

“In the excerpts of the Exegesis reworked into the "Tractates Crytptica Scriptura" that close the novel VALIS, Dick expresses the MIT computer scientist Edward Fredkin's view that the universe is composed of information. The world we experience is a hologram, "a hypostasis of information" that we, as nodes in the true Mind, process. "We hypostasize information into objects. Rearrangement of objects is change in the content of information. This is the language we have lost the ability to read." With this Adamic code scrambled, both ourselves and the world as we know it are "occluded," cut off from the brimming "Matrix" of cosmic information.  Instead, we are under the sway of the "Black Iron Prison," Dick's terms for the demiurgic worldly forces of political tyranny and oppressive social control.

It is interesting that the manager of the Overlook Hotel is named Stuart Ullman. Stuart is a name that means steward, and Ullman can be interpreted as a play on the words all men.  So, even in King’s novel the manager of the monstrous hotel can be seen as the ‘Steward of All Men’.  I suspect that Stanley Kubrick sensed something powerful lurking below the surface in King’s novel, and indeed in the writer’s psyche – a capacity or scope for a detailed metaphysical, Gnostic meditation.  In King’s novel Ullman is more akin to the archetypal villain, a sinister character that has a hand in initiating Jack Torrance’s descent into madness.  But in Kubrick’s screen adaptation Ullman is a different sort of sinister; he’s a seemingly congenial presence, made creepy by the fact that he is so bland and casual about the hotel’s dark history.  Jack’s initial meeting with Ullman in the film doesn’t feel so much like a ‘bringing you up to speed’ situation as it does an audition.  There is an odd, disquieting humour traded between the men, almost as if there is the implicit notion in the air that Jack is expected to perform.  He is to put on a good show for the hotel.  And so he does, in spades.  Or rather, axes. 

At the time of release many critics didn’t gel with Nickelson’s overblown lunatic performance as a man in the throes of violent madness.  Nickelson’s interpretation didn’t sit well with them, and many of them questioned Kubrick’s ability to direct his actors.  Why such a hammy performance?  But Jack’s initial meeting with Ullman sets up this expectation, this implicit pressure to perform.  Ullman and many of the other background characters are so bland that Jack is the intoxicating juice by comparison.  There is something interesting to be gleaned here.  In Kubrick’s film it is clear that Ullman is just the public relations face of the hotel; another intermediary, a lesser Archon doing the grunt-work of the real intelligence of the Overlook.  The true demiurgic presence of the hotel is embodied in the character of Lloyd the Bartender. 

Alcohol has always been viewed as an initiatory, sacramental substance throughout human history, and Lloyd the bartender is quite literally the Keeper of the Spirits.  Spirits that are both consumed and consuming, imbibed and imbibing.  Lloyd is a name that derives from the old welsh for ‘grey’.  And so, since the character has no first name, Lloyd is quite literally Mr Grey.  He is the many shades of grey in the narrative; the odd nuances and strange contexts that collectively represent the implicit intelligence of the Overlook.  Most of Jack’s interactions with other characters in the film take place in front of or behind mirrors.  Mirrors are often placed carefully and crucially in key scenes.  This creates an anxiety of ontology whereby characters can be interpreted as doubles, reflections and fragments of one another.  As I quoted from Derrida earlier in this essay: "There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring."  And so Jack becomes much more than just a caretaker of the black iron prison - he becomes the reflections, the infinite reference - the very thing that animates it, that gives it spirit and life.

(To Be Continued...)

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Anomaly Contingent

n. pl. a·nom·a·lies
1. Deviation or departure from the normal or common order, form, or rule.
2. One that is peculiar, irregular, abnormal, or difficult to classify.
3. Astronomy The angular deviation, as observed from the sun, of a planet from its perihelion.

1. Liable to occur but not with certainty; possible.
2. Dependent on conditions or occurrences not yet established; conditional.
3. Happening by chance or accident; fortuitous.
4. Logic True only under certain conditions; not necessarily or universally true.
1. An event or condition that is likely but not inevitable.
2. A share or quota, as of troops, contributed to a general effort.
3. A representative group forming part of an assemblage.                                                                                                       

Amid Night Suns has been a very powerful touchstone for me over the last two years.  Creating written and video content for this blog -- that I hope maintains a consistently high quality -- has taught me a lot about personal integrity, truth-telling, seeking, and what it means to be of service to others.  Being a blogger, you are not usually paid for services rendered, but there are other innumerable ways in which you are rewarded.  Every kind word or nod of appreciation in the comments section is greatly appreciated.  But the rewards are greater than this.  It is my belief that art is a powerful form of magick.  In fact, it is THE most powerful form of magick -- pre-existing all the arcane spellcrafts that most people associate with occultism.  But if one really takes the time to ponder, meditate and muse on the nature of art and storytelling -- and its role in human history -- one can see quite explicitly that Art is the Oldest Magick; a holy secret that has been hiding in plain sight for as long as we have been cognizant.  Art and storytelling has walked beside us from birth; our imaginary but powerful friend, and it continues to walk beside us through our maturation. Indeed, it follows us and guides us through our death.  It is the most immediate and most literal of human experiences, and paradoxically the most metaphorical.  

We live now, on the opening cusp of the 21st Century, in a society of shallow surfaces and gaudy trinkets -- a world filled with refuse in place of culture.  The ultra-rich elites of this planet are raping and pillaging the poor, and also stealing away our most Holy Gift -- the ability and desire to make meaningful stories.  It is the most insidious and cruel form of slavery imaginable.  We are losing our awareness and desire for meaning-production.  If you doubt this, take a long, hard look at the world around you.  We must remedy this situation if we are to stave off the New Medievalism that is intended to sweep the Earth and remove the last vestiges of our freedom.  We live now in a global City of Detritus.  That is the awful, ugly truth.  But even in Detritus, there are spiritual and cultural diamonds to be found - glinting just beneath the surface.   

In very basic terms art is an awareness and a capacity of and for MEANING.  Without these hidden witnesses walking beside us there is no way for human beings to conceptualize, contextualize or articulate our experiences and perceptions.  Art and story-telling gently governs our entire lives.  Without it, there is no meaning-production.  Without art and storytelling, Language, Communication and Cognition itself would not be possible.  Think deeply on this and you will realize it to be true.

As most artists, visionaries and shamans are well aware, reality is not generated out of sameness but out of difference.  The entire universe, including both the Seen and Unseen Realms, are born of anomalies, subtleties, nuances and quirks.  Those who are intimate with the phenomena of Mystery will have some comprehension of what I'm suggesting here.  You cannot fit consciousness, meaning, art or storytelling into a box.  There is nothing and no-one in creation that can be fully explained.  There will always be anomalous data and different interpretive strategies.  This is how Psyche sings her song.  It is also how energy and matter dance and mate to birth the twin miracles of awareness and reality.  It is my belief that human beings will eventually realize that this reality is a dream, a story, a living work of art -- as is everything contained within it, including ourselves.  Even today our theoretical physics are giving us intimations of this profound truth.

So, it is my understanding that art and consciousness can create new paths and affect subtle changes from the microcosm to the macrocosm, because there are threads and filaments of meaning at the heart of EVERYTHING.  Beneath the apparent material nature of reality lies the non-local energetic pulse of creation itself.  Many have called this pulse God, or the divine, and they are as accurate terms as any other.  With each work of art that is brought into being in this realm I believe that the micro and macro levels of literal and spiritual reality are subtly but profoundly changed.  Yes, it might seem like a bold and bizarre claim, but I believe that art and storytelling alters human beings and physical reality at genetic and atomic levels.  I don't need nor will I attempt to try proving this to you, as I am speaking to you artistically -- but I mean it in the most literal and also the most romantic sense imaginable.

The Anomaly Contingent, in this sense, are the various artists throughout the Myriad who are attempting to use the power of resonance and creativity to protect and empower humanity.  The Anomaly Contingent is a vast and multidimensional assemblage -- including Ragged Magi, Apostles of Arcana, Initiates of the Imago Dei, and human artists who recognize the anomalous power inherent in the act of creation.  To create anything, to utter a story in word or deed or image, is one of the most holy acts of magick that a sentient being can perform.  But understand this also: to Love and to cultivate Friendship, Compassion and Grace is also an act of storytelling and a work of art.  There are many forms of genuine magick, and all of them generate something from nothing.

So, Dear Reader, Amid Night Suns would humbly ask that you join this Anomaly Contingent, if you are not already a member.  Take to the Skies of your Mind, and begin a loving, lucid work of art...and understand that with this most holy of magical acts you change the very fabric of reality for the better.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Romany Ragged

I asked a gypsy pal
To imitate an old image
And speak old wisdom.
She drew in her chin,
Made her neck and head
The top piece of a Nile obelisk
     and said:
Snatch off the gag from thy mouth, child,
And be free to keep silence.
Tell no man anything for no man listens,
Yet hold thy lips ready to speak.

    -- Gypsy, by Carl Sandburg

As a person of mixed-race parentage, and as a truth-seeker who considers his own personal philosophy to be a hybrid fusion of many different schools of thought, I have always had a fascination and felt an affinity for the Roma people.  More commonly referred to as Gypsies, often in a derogatory sense, their origins and culture is shrouded in myth and mystery.  They are a people often characterized by extreme poverty, but a huge richness of spirit.  Although they are recognized as a fusion of various cultures and populations, historians generally agree that their origins can be traced back to Rajasthan in India -- migrating out from there over 1500 years ago.  This always fascinated me, since I myself am half Indian and my own family also originated from Rajasthan.  Also, realizing that various Roma dialects still contain Hindi and Gujarati words further cemented my fascination with them.

As an artist, I am also not that interested in demystifying their immensely rich and secretive culture.  Rather, I am interested in how mystique and fiction can support and strengthen such a marginalized people.  The Indian side of my own family migrated from India to Africa many years ago, but then fled their new home to escape the Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin's brutal regime.  So, it has always been clear to me that my family had something of the Roma spirit in their nature, if only in my own romantic imaginings.

At Amid Night Suns I have written a lot about a group I call the Ragged Magi -- a hidden tribe of hooded sorcerers, warriors, poets and artists -- who walk in the Unseen Realms and stalk the monsters, demons and Old Ones who hunt in Psyche's Shadow.  The Ragged Magi are more than just a fiction.  They are a powerful vanguard that maintains the balance of human consciousness.  They have former dark entities amid their ranks; monsters and creatures who's hearts were pierced with the Knife of Love, and who now fight on the side of Compassion, Beauty, Insight and Truth.  They are here to live a life in opposition to earthly and spiritual tyrants.  They are here to break the spell.

The Magi are a ragged tribe of artists and spiritual warriors, much like the Roma people themselves.  In fact, the Ragged Magi ARE the gypsies of the Unseen Realms.  Dear Reader, if you think this is merely a tall tale I am telling you, then you must learn to read between the lines -- and understand that all sentient beings are composed of stories.  This is a Holy Secret I am sharing with you now; a secret that you already understand in the deepest strata of your imaginations.

The Ragged Magi -- the Romany Ragged -- will never, ever rest.  They are my contaminated friends.  We live a life of passion, mystery and insight.  We protect the weak and wounded, and we fight on your behalf.  Welcome to the world of Outlaw Magick.