Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Seek Refuge in Darkness...

... and impending doom, but said doom is seldom forthcoming.

When I read the work of Theodor Adorno, I took it to heart. "Auschwitz" became my watchword and the measure of all things. Of course, "Auschwitz" was itself just a cipher, a stand-in for Nazi horrors which didn't seem so much to repudiate 2000 years of Western Culture, as represent it's inevitable trajectory. Auschwitz was the Apocalypse, in the original sense of Revelation. It revealed an essential truth and the baleful glare of its light robbed everything that came after of all meaning and reality.

For me, Auschwitz became a kind hammer. I used it to reject and destroy anything that seemed comforting or affirmative as naively trivial or criminally frivolous. On the other hand, works of art or fiction that were disturbing, unsettling, or even cruel were redeemed by their mimetic approximation to the Holocaust. The serene, albeit inhuman, warmth of Mark Rothko's paintings, for instance, served as a kind of metaphysical valium drawing a veil over void, while the jarring and panicked post-punk of Saccharine Trust, or the macabre austerity of Joy Division, on the other hand, held up a mirror to human brutality and froze its nauseating topography in colours drawn exclusively from the palette of the abyss.

Now, of course, I'm more apt to see this morbid focus on humanity's "darker angles" as a kind of a cop-out. I wasn't living in a death-camp or being driven from my home or seeing my children murdered before my eyes. I was a privileged kid from suburban LA who cavalierly flaunted mankind's malevolence as a badge of hipness. Acknowledging the abominable suffering of others, not just in the past but right now, today, a suffering that the people I grew up around seemed intent on avoiding, denying, or down-playing, was a step towards maturity, clarity, the truth. But lingering there, was not, is not.

The first of the Four Noble Truths states, as I understand, that "suffering is really happening." But that's just the first truth. The Truths go on to acknowledge a cause of this suffering, the possibility of suffering's cessation, and, most importantly, the way to bring suffering to an end, not just for you, but for all sentient beings.

Enlightenment isn't about insisting that things suck, it's about hunkering down and dealing. Or, to quote the Beastie Boys: "Darkness isn't the opposite of light, it's the absence of light."

I want to turn on the light and, as Pigpen used to howl with his alcoholically unbridled passion: "... LEAVE IT ON!"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Humanitarian Catastrophe

Tens of thousands have been driven from refugee camps in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The camps were then looted and burned. 5 million people have died in the civil war there and, as anyone who's been paying attention knows, countless women and children have been raped, and worse (this report mentions forced incest and cannibalism, for example).

Oh, but there are some great Halloween Icons you can use on Twitter!

I'm feeling especially snide today.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

They'd do it, if they could

The other day I heard a story about experiments on monkeys that may prove beneficial to paralyzed humans. Seems that some scientists paralyzed these monkeys with drugs, stuck thin electrical wires into their brains, attached the wire to some sort of transformer which was then attached to a muscle in the monkey's wrist, and discovered that the monkey's could actually manipulate the wired wrist in this way, enabling them to play video games.

I'm more ambivalent about Man's dominion over the beasts of the field than the folks at PETA, but stories like this get me moving more swiftly in their direction. I don't have any problem with victims of paralysis volunteering for studies like this. In fact, I bet a good number of them would. But, this sort of experimentation just creeps me out. We are monkeys, for chrissakes. Would researchers perform studies like this on human slaves? Should they?

Talking with somebody about this story he said, "Well, they'd do it to us if they could." The Nietzschean notion that "life is will to power," and that domination of one species by another is the natural order of things, while not indisputable, certainly has an enduring appeal to which I admittedly have not always been immune. Still, it's not the case that predators hunt their prey of choice to extinction, or raise them for the purposes of exploitation and multi-faceted use. As far as I can tell, only humans and our alien masters do that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

John Coltrane and the Face of God

Listening to Coltrane's Settin' the Pace this morning. It's not one of his greatest hits and even the various jazz cd review books give it second tier status, but I really enjoyed it. "I See Your Face Before Me" is the lead track, an exquisite ballad that, I humbly believe, outshines the more famous "I Want to Talk About You" from Soultrane.

Still, saying this or that by Coltrane is better than this or that by Coltrane seems trivial and, frankly, beside the point (much like I found Ben Ratliff's book on Coltrane's sound). These are just opinions, after all, and vanity moreover. Who cares what you/I think about any particular work by this man? It's a mixture of hero-worship and elevation-by-association that frankly demeans the opiner by revealing a lamentable failure to listen.

I read an interview with Matisyahu once in which he pointed to the number of love songs out there as an indication of how much people are yearning for the love of God. Coltane's commitment to God makes me hear his ballads in the same way. The face he sees before him, is the face of God. The "you" he wants to talk about is You, My Lord.

Is all love the love of God? Should it be?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the perils of anonymity

i've maintained this blog in quasi-anonymity from the get-go. i've done this in part because I lead a public life on the web and, for some reason, i thought that i would be addressing subjects here that would not sit well with my employer or my role as public representative of his company. i'm not sure that i've entered into any territory that is overly controversial or patently offensive and, in fact, i start to wonder if this anonymity is more inhibitory than liberating.

it reminds me of an experience i had on second life some time ago. I had gotten into that v-world and started blogging about its potential as a marketing platform in my worklife. then i had a tryst with another avatar and realized that it would not have been difficult for "her" to find out who i was in "real" life, since a google search for my avatar name would have led "her" straight to me. so that i could then explore the dark digital underbelly of life, i created a new avatar and set off for my adventures. oddly enough, my carefully crafted masquerade actually made me feel more shy, as foolish as that may sound, in this world and, eventually, i stopped second life-ing altogether or, if I did go in for work purposes, i used my original "public" persona.

what am I afraid of? that people will know that i advocate the legalization of most drugs, even if it means that you must acquire a license to take some of them - psychedelics in particular? my thinking is that if people can demonstrate that they can deal responsibly with this stuff, why shouldn't they take it? you can own and use a handgun but you can't even possess LSD without committing a felony? that's just not right

i also think that the war on terrorism is bullshit and a thinly veiled, when it's veiled at all, power grab by the executive branch to do whatever it wants. neo-con guru frances fukuyama effectively stated that free markets and authoritarian government are not mutually exclusive and the war on terror, as it's sometimes called, is the perfect excuse to do anything you want.

terrorism doesn't exist, as I've mentioned here before. no one self-identifies as a terrorist - it's a label you get from an enemy. declaring a war along these lines means giving yourself carte blanche to go after anyone, etc.

again, what am i afraid of? this stuff seems tame or trivial

wait, THAT's what I was afraid of!!!! OH GOD NOOOOOOO!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

tell the truth

can we only tell the truth while masked? while hypnotized? unconscious?

"before too long then I was looking good, man, I was beautiful/i made believe that I could tell the truth to the whole wide world"

the truth is only make believe

the truth is always exactly what you think it is

the really real truth is more like the "ding an sich" - unknowable, by definition, ineffable, inescapable

are we capable of the truth, or incapable of it? incapacitated by it?

like I said, we always know exactly what the truth is

we never know

pure, uncut, the real deal, accept no substitutes - the uncanny connection between the truth and what is.

what is the truth? the truth is what is

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Models of Enlightened Behavior

If you drop something, pick it up.

When the bill comes, pay it.

When the phone rings, answer it.

When the light turns green, go.

Monday, August 18, 2008

One Definition of Enlightenment

To be the same person in every situation, whomever you meet, wheresoever you go.

To be the same person, without masks, without ruses, without guile, without anxiety or greed, without schemes, agendas, or goals.

To be the same person you were before you were born and after you're dead. A carbon atom doesn't change when it belongs to a carrot or a rabbit or a hawk. Neither should you so change.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ethics Are the End of Reason

When someone deems your actions "unethical," they generally mean, "does not conform to a certain ethical standard which separates actions into 'right action' and 'wrong action'." When you ask them the basis for their ethics, they will have two possible answers: On the one hand, they will refer to an authority who has established the ethical code and infer that you should abide by the code out of respect or obeisance to said authority. On the other hand, and this is the post-enlightenment tendency, they will justify their ethical standard in terms of practical or utilitarian concerns regarding the outcome of actions deemed wrong.

Here is where conflict arises. No ethical standards can be immediately or unproblematically derived from the world of phenomena, particularly when the phenomena in question are social in nature. The ethical conclusions drawn in this way from or against any particular act are dependent both on knowledge and depiction of the human situation concerned - both areas in which certainty is, for the most part, provisional.

Dispute is always possible when we are describing situations in human life and particularly when we are claiming that, "given situation x, action y, will lead to outcome z." In the realm of science, the experimental method stipulates that exceedingly rigorous conditions be met if someone is to even make the claim, let alone experimentally verify, that, given x, action y leads to outcome z. In fact, the experimental situation is intentionally artificial, the connections between x, y, and z demonstrably tight, and the conclusions peculiarly modest.

Unfortunately, in human life, given the number of variables involved in even the simplest interaction between two people, let alone the complexities inherent in the multiple, both highly interdependent or very weakly linked, interactions that compromise any social process, ethical standards that are justified in terms of "inevitable" outcomes of specific actions are either trivially few or unquestionably questionable.

Yet, herein lies the conundrum. If you question the ethical standard, you are pointed to the utilitarian reason behind it. If, however, you question the utilitarian reason, you are quickly accused of questioning the ethic.

It becomes clear that the ethic itself is not seen as the product of social consensus and open to revision or dispute. The apparent argument from utility reverts to an argument from authority. Thus, if you are questioning the ethic, you are implicitly questioning the authority. If you are questioning the authority, you are in opposition. If you are in opposition, you are an opponent. If you are an opponent, you must be overcome.

Any conflict that cannot be resolved via dialog and compromise, must be resolved by force. While such a resolution may be "comprehensible," to the extent that if follows the laws of physics, for example, it will not be "reasonable."

Disputes over ethics are sad and the sadness stems from weakness. The proponents of a particular ethical standard resort to force in order to silence opponents because, sadly, they do not possess the power that could transmute their ethic into law.

There is no God, but God

Grim: The only thing I care about now is God.

World: But you said God didn't exist.

Grim: You're not fucking listening to me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Intestine Baalism - Bad Name/Good Music

Been on a heavy metal kick of late. Told everyone I was re-dedicating my life to metal. So, I go to Newbury Comics and scrounge through the "[insert letter of choice] Misc" bins looking for metal cds - the semiotics of extreme metal are pretty well-defined, it's hard to know what will succeed, however, within the discipline and rigor of the genre - and buying anything that looks obscure and cheap. Thanks to this aesthetic foraging, I've come across some great stuff. Right now, I'm listening to Intestine Baalism. It's totally awesome!

Death metal, of the Swedish variety, but from Japan, and broken up by epic "melodic" moments - which are more psychedelic than anything, and Maidenish - then back to thrashing death. The 1990s were THE decade for death metal (this one comes from '97), a time of purity and simplicity. A time of honor and focus. Truth.

Everything now is an adventuresome and reverent pastiche (I'll write about Hammers of Misfortune later), not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyway, I had already flipped by this one a few times in search of Inquisition or something, now that I have all the Immortal cds I could ever want, when I saw it today. I almost bought it and I didn't (though I did pick up something by Blood Ritual that was quite impressive, albeit from the 21st century).

I wasn't sure. I'll bet a few bucks ($4-ish) on music I've never even heard of if there is the chance that it will be surprisingly awesome. Anyway, this cd on that score is amazingly brilliant. Crushingly brutal, death-grunt morphing into blackened, tortured screeches. Then, and this is what all the Amazon reviews tell you, it veers into a grungy take on NWOBHM.

But also like I said, the melodic parts sound more progressive and psychedelic than metal. There's even a really spacey acoustic intro on one cut.

Bottom line, the thing is this: as I type these words, and listen to this music, it consistently catches my attention, surprises and astonishes me. Intestine Baalism, extreme and sublime masters of this weird art.

I bow to their excellence.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ripping Corpse, "Dreaming With The Dead"

Saw Ripping Corpse listed on some death metal lists and got their amazing Dreaming with the Dead.

I was expecting something heavy, but not exactly this. The highly processed/phased guitar reminds me of Euro-metal like Coroner, but the drums have some real thrash elements, and the vocals are fairly hardcore. Maybe it qualifies this as grindcore, I don't know.

I do know it's good. Real good. Strange chaos moments, heavy moments, psych-wank soloing, and those vocals. I guess the mainstream version of this would be Pantera, if that makes sense.

I was intrigued by the participation of Erik Rutan, who has played off and on with Morbid Angel and co-founded (founded?) Hate Eternal (in which Ripping Corpse guitarist Shaune Kelly now plays. If I'm not mistaken, the first album was recorded with one of the guitarists from Suffocation, Doug Cerrito). I'll address the question of Morbid Angel in another post.

Final Analysis: Dreaming with the Dead is an artefact of a bygone era, the sign-post to a path not taken by metal, and by extension, the world.