Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.

It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with several others, I sat down before a large Constantine’s bath of it, I found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! No wonder that in old times sperm was such a favorite cosmetic. Such a clearer! such a sweetener! such a softener; such a delicious mollifier! After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize.

As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, wove almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as. I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma,—literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger; while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now, since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side; the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Japanese Ricorso: Beasts made more inhuman by the barbarism of reflection

Japanese Ricorso Series, 2007

But as the popular states became corrupt, so also did the philosophies. They descended to skepticism. Learned fools fell to calumniating the truth. Thence arose a false eloquence, ready to uphold either of the opposed sides of a case indifferently. Thus it came about that, by abuse of eloquence like that of the tribunes of the plebs at Rome, when the citizens were no longer content with making wealth the basis of rank, they strove to make it an instrument of power. And as furious sound winds whip up the sea, so these citizens provoked civil wars in their commonwealths and drove them to total disorder. Thus they caused the commonwealths to fall from a perfect liberty into the perfect tyranny of anarchy or the unchecked liberty of the free peoples, which is the worst of all tyrannies. . . .

But if the peoples are rotting in that ultimate civil disease and cannot agree on a monarch from within, and are not conquered and preserved by better nations from without, and are not conquered and preserved by better nations from without, then providence for their extreme ill has its extreme remedy at hand. For such peoples, like so many beasts, have fallen into the custom of each man thinking only of his own private interests and have reached the extreme of delicacy, or better of pride, in which like wild animals they bristle and lash out at the slightest displeasure. Thus no matter how great the throng and press of their bodies, they live like wild beasts in a deep solitude of spirit and will, scarcely any two being able to agree since each follows his own pleasure or caprice. By reason of all this, providence decrees that, through obstinate factions and desperate civil wars, they shall turn their cities into forests and the forests into dens and lairs of men. In this way, through long centuries of barbarism, rust will consume the misbegotten subtleties of malicious wits that have turned them into beasts made more inhuman by the barbarism of reflection than the first men had been made by the barbarism of sense. . . . Hence peoples who have reached this point of premeditated malice, when they receive this last remedy of providence and are thereby stunned and brutalized, are sensible no longer of comforts, delicacies, pleasures, and pomp, but only of the sheer necessities of life. And the few survivors in the midst of an abundance of the things necessary for life naturally become sociable and, returning to the primitive simplicity of the first world of peoples, are again religious, truthful, and faithful. Thus providence brings back among them the piety, faith, and truth which are the natural foundations of justice as well as the graces and beauties of the eternal order of God. . . .

[Source: Thomas G. Bergin and Max H. Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico, revised translations of the third edition of 1744 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1948), quoted in Franklin Le Van Baumer, Main Currents of Western Thought, 4th ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), pp. 448-451.]

From Giambattista Vico, The New Science
Amazon Link: New Science by Vico

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Edwardian Modernist: E. O. Hoppe

<span class=Ezra Pound, 1918

Just discovered the photography of E. O. Hoppe (via gmtPlus9 (-15)).

What was in the atmosphere of photography between 1914 and 1945 that created so many iconic images? Not to take anything away from the stunning talents of Hoppe, but there seems almost a quality of film... something in the recent development of handhelds? More: a charged quality of light and a weird artificiality in focus. Much of it evocative to me of tilt shift photography where the image appears as a miniature scale model of the real. But with Hoppe and, dare I say, Riefenstahl, there is a larger than life tilt shift, images of more substantial statuary sorts of beings. I feel as if I am stepping lightly around the aesthetic criteria for German Expressionism - and while there is a undeniable resonance, there is something more... a staging, perhaps, for a future aesthetic that was never allowed to emerge.

From the website biography:

How is it possible that a photographer so famous in the early modern period and so prolific between 1907 and 1939 came to be known only in a limited way to a few photo-cognoscenti? The art journals of the 1920s in Britain, Europe, and the US paid far more attention to Hoppé’s exhibitions and publications than they did those of Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Paul Outerbridge, Edward Weston, or others to whom historians point as founders of modernist photography. The answer would seem to be a combination of simple bad timing, and a few unfortunate turns in Hoppé's personal history that caused the bulk of his work to be locked away in archives in London and in Wiesbaden, Germany, for most of the second half of the last century.
What those "unfortunate turns" were, I have been unable to discern through the most obvious internet sources.

The following images are from the hauntingly titled, The Face of Mother India 1935:

Dancer, Trivandrum, 1929

Buddha statue, Mysore, 1929Buddha statue, Mysore, 1929

Buddhist ruins, <span class=Buddhist ruins, Sanchi, 1929

Be sure to take look at the other galleries:
The Book of Fair Women
Deutsche Arbeit
By the late teens Hoppé had spent over a decade making portrait photographs of Britain’s high society. Perhaps to challenge his skills as with Professor Higgins, Hoppé began making portraits of London’s street types. English charladies, maids, and market sellers were at first brought into his studio and photographed. Later he sought them on the street. In 1922 he published a group of these studies in his book, Taken From Life with text by J. D. Beresford and again in 1926 the made a second book, London Types; Taken from Life with texts W. Pett Ridge. In the sprit of G. B. Shaw’s experiment, Hoppé continued a lifelong interest in making portraits of the ordinary working man and woman in each of the diverse cultures he encountered.

An interesting aside is that Shaw’s Pygmalion later became the highly successful musical My Fair Lady. It’s set and costume design was created by another photographer, Cecil Beaton, who had directly modeled the style of his photographic career on that of E. O. Hoppé.

Amazon Link: E. O. Hoppe's Amerika: Modernist Photographs from the 1920s

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Using their "Israelites," the Circumcellions whacked their victims around

Just one of the those days.... First, Drinky Crow and now more amusement via the always enlightening Language Hat. From rotten.com:

The Circumcellions

AKA The Agonistici

The name "Circumcellions" somehow sounds like the name of an advanced Star Trek alien race, or perhaps a groundbreaking association of Ancient Roman jurists. The truth is so much less, and yet, at the same time, somehow, so much more...

The word itself means "guys who hang around villages," rather unglamorously. The Circumcellions were a Christian suicide cult of the fourth and fifth centuries. Their religious practice consisted of delivering random beatings to strangers along the road, with the purpose of goading the strangers into killing them. If that didn't work, they just threw themselves off a cliff instead.

While there's a myth that Christianity began with a monolithic Roman church, the first five centuries of Christianity were in fact a very diverse period in which competing groups battled it out over all manner of doctrinal and political issues.

The Circumcellions were one such group. Based in Northern Africa, at the edge of the decaying Roman empire, they spun off from a more conservative anti-Roman sect to become one of the more peculiar footnotes in the history of Christianity.

Sociologically, the Circumcellions were the Roman equivalent of trailer trash -- rural, uneducated and less-than-notable in terms of contribution to the gross national product. The only job of a Circumcellion was simply "being a Circumcellion." Despite this, members of the sect didn't starve to death... because that would take too long.

Although they considered themselves breakaway Christians, one would be hard-pressed to develop a theological justification for the Circumcellions. Its parent cult, the Donatists, was founded on the basis of an extremely complex stand that generally extolled the virtues of Martyrdom.

The Circumcellions took the premise to lemming-like proportions (literally) and decided that martyrdom was the ultimate Christian value. They set out to accomplish it... by any means necessary.

According to the gospels, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before the Crucifixion. Many Christians have taken this command as an injunction to nonviolence and evidence of Christ's pacifism.

The Circumcellions, on the other hand, took this passage to mean that they shouldn't use bladed weapons. Instead, they favored large clubs, which they inexplicably called "Israelites."

Using their "Israelites," the Circumcellions whacked their victims around in the hopes of provoking their own martyrdom, all the while shouting "Praise the Lord!" in Latin. Because of their combativeness, they were also known as "agonistici," the Latin word for fighter which is the root of the modern word "antagonist."

Since they were destined to be martyrs, the Circumcellions didn't trouble themselves with such virtues as chastity and poverty. Frequently drunk, they cavorted with women and often robbed those victims who failed to assist their martyrdom with a sufficiently violent counterattack.

Frequently, their enthusiasm outstripped their common sense. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a much-discussed historical incident along the highway illustrated this point:

A number of these fanatics, fattened like pheasants, met a young man and offered him a drawn sword to smite them with, threatening to murder him if he refused. He pretended to fear that when he had killed a few, the rest might change their minds and avenge the deaths of their fellows; and he insisted that they must all be bound. They agreed to this; when they were defenceless, the young man gave each of them a beating and went his way.

When faced with such setbacks, the Circumcellions opted instead simply to drown themselves or jump off cliffs. Men and women alike embraced "martyrdom" in this way.
More at Rotten.com

Drinky Crow: The Unobtainable Ideal or The Here and Now?

If you like hyperviolent cartoons about alcoholic-suicidal crows and philosophical monkeys sailing the seas killing female whales (and consequently avoiding the wrath of the husband whales), dreams of eternal sexual torment, mockery of the French as pirates, extreme mutilation, torture and graphic whale sex, then you will enjoy the pilot episode of the Drinky Crow Show. I was greatly amused by suspicions that there was an unintended(?) master allegory involving post-modern critical theory and the resistant textualities/ fertilities of an enduring, mostly unread, American masterwork. (via BoingBoing)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Later. Tonight, maybe.

From the DC's:

For as long as I can remember, 5-meo-dmt has held its reputation as the most intense psychedelic drug available. It lasts 10-30 minutes and, yeah, basically rewires you: bring on the identity crisis, communion with imaginary winged whatnot, You Can Never Go Home Again. It's never had a name, really; people simply call it 5-meo-dmt.

To close: a scene from my eventual memoir. 2002: I'm visiting some friends at Stanford and we all eat 2ci. Some of us also take mdma. We're wandering around campus when I spot 'Sasha' and Ann Shulgin in front of the bookstore. Incoherently, I attempt to illustrate for my friends who the Shulgins are, how important they are. My friends encourage me to go say hi, and I wobble between feeling totally confident, and feeling totally confident that I'll make an ass of myself. For God's Sake, It's The Shulgins!! Would they really want to hear 'hey, right now I'm tripping on a drug you invented!'? They must hear it all the time, right?

I get pushed in the Great Couple's direction, so I approach them. I see them drawn in that 1960s style popular on music posters: black silhouettes outlined in white glimmer, with giant rainbows of hair. By the time I'm next to them, I don't even see humans.

'Are you the Shulgins?' I ask.
'Yes,' they approximately say.

'You... are... fucking... POETSSSSSS,' I return.
It felt like it took me a year to say those words. The Shulgins, shee-it!, they were quick!;

Ann: 'Later. Tonight, maybe.'
me: 'What?'

Sasha: 'Tonight we should be fucking some poets.'

Additional links:

Amazon Links:
Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story by Alexander & Ann Shulgin
Tihkal: The Continuation by Alexander Shulgin
The Simple Plant Isoquinolines by Alexander Shulgin