Monday, October 18, 2010
In thinking about human affairs, always call common sense into question. It is the most creative part of philosophy. Take ideas which are commonly accepted and which seem to be incontrovertible and question them. Turn them inside out and see what would happen if they were thought about in another way.
This from our friend Alan Watts. If Dedalus Enterprises has a motto, it very well could be that. And it applies to everything from metaphysics to politics to Star Wars.
Rely not on the teacher, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but experience. Do not believe in anything because you have heard of it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
This from the Buddha himself, right out of the Kalama Sutra. Honestly, is this not remarkably sane? If someone had inserted just such a paragraph anywhere into the texts of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, one stands in awe how much trouble could have perhaps been avoided.
And incidentally, if you're looking for another blog full of philososphical mischief and cosmic wonder, might I suggest Hardcore Zen? I am almost finished with Brad Warner's new book, Sex, Sin, and Zen, and it is fantastic. Be sure to pick up yours at Borders today!
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
It is almost impossible not to experience a delicious thrill of delight rolling down your spine when the Doctor introduces his new, awestruck companion to the interior of the TARDIS, and proceeds to offer her the journey of a lifetime. One that can encompass "Everywhere and anywhere. All of time and space. Everything that ever has happened or ever will. Every star that ever was ... where do you want to start?"
Pure storytelling magic. But that's Doctor Who for you. After the first ten minutes of the new series, we're all wide-eyed children again.
Sure, so many of us were skeptical after David Tennant finished up his triumphant reign as the Tenth Doctor. Arguably, he was more popular in the role than anyone but perhaps Tom Baker and his scarf back in the seventies. No one had any idea who this Matt Smith guy was. His hair was weird, he was too young for the part, and most troubling of all, he wanted to wear a bow-tie!
Well, I am relieved to announce that somehow, someway, Matt has pulled it off, bow-tie and all. Actually, I want a bow-tie now. The tweed jacket is really working for him too. Impossibly, he has made the transition as painless as possible, so much so that after the opening scene, he seems a perfectly natural successor.
After seeing the first few episodes, I am already very attached to the Eleventh Doctor, not to mention his companion, Amy Pond. With Stephen Moffat at the helm, the writing has been superb, perfectly capturing the fairy tale feel they wanted to weave through this series.
We've already had giant eyeball spaceships, ominous cracks in the walls of the universe, futuristic Britains floating in orbit, gun-totting amnesiac queens, benevolent star whales, Daleks fetching tea for Winston Churchill, World War II dogfights in outer space, and now the return of the much loved (and much feared) Weeping Angels! And did I mention we're just four episodes in?
The stories have been fascinating and multi-layered, with enough imagination to fill at least two or three television shows. As always, it has generous doses of science fiction, fantasy, adventure, drama, tragedy, humor, and maybe even a hint of romance.
And yeah, that new steampunk TARDIS is about the coolest thing I have ever seen!
Quite frankly, Doctor Who is about the best thing to be geeking out about right now. If you are not a part of this, well, you're seriously missing out. Next to it, American television continues to be a joke. If I honestly had to sit down and watch American networks every night, I would take a baseball bat to my own skull without a moment's hesitation or regret. FOX, from hell's heart, I continue to stab at thee.
All I can say is, now that the transition is over, I cannot wait to see how it all turns out on the other side of the pond. Tune in on BBC America and help make those record-breaking numbers a little more spectacular (though they do truncate episodes to an alarming degree!).
Not that Doctor Who fans wouldn't watch it on TV and have bootlegs or anything ... nope ... never ... why are you looking at me like that?
Series Five Trailer
Thursday, April 22, 2010
“Learn well, Jakesully. We will see if your insanity can be cured.”
Kaltxi one and all.
This is my long awaited philosophical exploration of Avatar, the James Cameron film that has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Months before the film's release, most of us had heard the story behind the story. We knew Cameron had conceived Avatar well over a decade ago. We knew he had to wait years for technology to catch up with the visions conjured by his imagination. We'd heard again and again how this promised to be a lavish, epic 3-D experience, a panoramic digital painting of an alien world with a level of detail previously unheard of.
As the hype began to build, trailers surfaced online, and hushed presentations premiered on the convention circuits. We soon learned that the film centered around a paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully, and took place a hundred and fifty years into a grim future. With the Earth's resources almost exhausted, a mega-corporation known as the RDA had found a new world to plunder, though it was light years away.
Calling upon Jake to take his late twin brother's place, the RDA brought him into their Avatar program. On a beautiful, rich moon named Pandora, he became an avatar of the native humanoids who lived there. Known as the Na'vi, these exotic, ten-foot tall blue aboriginals reluctantly agreed to train Jake in their ways. Though originally sent to infiltrate the peaceful tribe, he soon falls for a striking Na'vi called Neytiri, experiences a profound connection with the wondrous forests of Pandora, and predictably questions his own loyalties.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Though the most expensive movie ever made, Avatar eventually spun box office gold. It is now the most successful movie of all time, earning over two billion dollars worldwide, and even eclipsing Titanic at the box office. It was nominated for a handful of Academy Awards, and won three of them. It was also a significant critical success, though some have argued its story is somewhat clichéd and its themes are one-dimensional.
I had hotly anticipated the film's release, poring over the trailers and even buying the art book and the soundtrack ahead of time. Still, after that first midnight showing, I'd felt like some of the critics. The visuals were undeniably spectacular, the music was stunning, and the direction was exciting and imaginative. Nonetheless, the story and the script had seemed very one-note to me, not really providing the depth my analytical mind enjoys feasting on. What was worse, at times the film felt more like a static political allegory, and less like the grand, multi-layered myth I'd been expecting.
To be sure, Avatar has generated a fair amount of political controversy. While the left has not been without criticism, the right has been particularly adamant about chastising the film. Rightly or wrongly, they have seen it as attacking capitalism, criticizing the war on terror, and clobbering unwitting audiences with an aggressive environmental message.
For me, the film unarguably contained two or three lines of overt political dialogue, and they hindered my enjoyment during that initial showing. While my concerns are most certainly with humanity as well as with our planet, I cannot help but shrink away from the political side of things. Not only do I personally find politics divisive, unintelligent, and consistently playing to the lowest common denominator, more often than not, it seems real issues are hijacked and become little more than fodder for campaign platforms.
Whether I personally agree or disagree with Cameron's political sympathies is beside the point, because as far as I'm concerned, politics themselves are beside the point. The sometimes smug, usually fevered politicizing of environmental issues is something of a minor tragedy. After all, even though the right and left wings live in different worlds, they do share the same planet. Unfortunately all both sides do now is engage in territorial threat displays, flashing their colored crests at each other like massive Pandoran Hammerhead Titanotheres. And in the process kick up so much dust no one can see a thing.
As the poet William Blake said, politics seemed to him to be "something other than human life," and human life is what this blog is exploring. Particularly how we experience that life, and how that experience informs our relationship with everything else.
That sort of thing really appeals to me, though I didn't see much of it in Avatar the first time. But I was still interested, and so I sat back and watched as the film grew into an unstoppable phenomenon. Clearly, it was resonating with audiences, and with some of them on that deep, mythic level I'd expected and wanted. So much so that many even felt empty and depressed when they had to walk out of the theaters and into our own troubled world.
Fortunately, someone convinced me to go see it again, and I enjoyed it considerably more the second time around. Things started clicking for me, as if the story had been waiting to gel. Then I finally dropped my preconceptions altogether, and went to see it a third time alone. I was transported even more this time, and it became a magical movie-going experience. Now I own the Blu-Ray, and the visual quality remains utterly stunning.
After immersing myself in it, I can honestly there is much to love in Avatar. I love the story, the characters, and even much of the dialogue. I love the creatures, the fauna, and the entire moon of Pandora. Most of all, I love the Na'vi culture, especially the Omaticaya tribe we as the audience are initiated into. In the end, they taught me about as much as they did Jake Sully, at least as far as appreciating the film goes.
Undeniably, Avatar provides a very visceral experience for film-goers. The 3-D practically envelops the theater on a good day, and one can almost swim in the spectacle of the bioluminescent forests at night. Connection is a big theme in the film, and it is easy to connect with the action here. Alongside Jake Sully's avatar, audiences can thunder about on mighty, six-legged direhorses, skate over the uppermost branches of the primordial trees, and soar through the air on enormous, four-winged mountain banshees.
Not to mention simply sit back and savor the majesty of the floating Hallelujah Mountains.
But what struck me most of all, what freed the film from any and all political commentary and opened it up to considerable philosophical interpretation, was one simple line. When it was being decided whether Jake would be taught the ways of the Omaticaya tribe, Neytiri's mother Mo'at was interested in one thing, and one thing only.
Mo'at wanted to know if Jake Sully's "insanity can be cured." And by extension, the insanity afflicting the whole of humanity. Now this was something I could philosophically sink my teeth into.
For some time, it has seemed a distinct possibility to me that modern human beings feel, interpret, and experience reality - and really our very existence - in an utterly dissociative, almost schizophrenic way. The reasons for this are complicated, but much of it boils down to the nature of our self-conscious minds. With the ability to endlessly intellectualize, to conjure up concepts and ideas about life, we have lost much of our basic connection to life. We are trained to live in a commentary on reality, rather than in reality itself. This handicap is in no small measure the reason for both our estrangement from nature, as well as our often destructive technological relationship to it.
In his wonderful book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig looks back over the history of the Western World and comes to the same basic conclusion. Investigating the underpinnings of modern civilization, the narrator even remarks -
And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained the power to understand and rule the world in dialectical truths had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth - but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.
And indeed, Avatar was saying much the same thing. No cinematic creation in recent memory is more a part of their world than the Na’vi, and they even reflected on the impossibility of teaching someone who’s "cup is already full.”
This is of course evocative of a modern mind filled to the brim with so many ideas and preconceptions it can no longer process anything else, much in the same way that an RDA executive is so convinced the real wealth of Pandora is in the market value of Unobtanium rather than in the spiritual wonder of the moon itself.
It is a mentality that has no problem crashing through grove after grove of sacred trees with massive construction vehicles just for another wad of money, an artificial symbol of wealth. It is a mentality that likewise kills Jake's brother, a living, breathing human being, for nothing but "the paper in his wallet." The Na'vi princess Neytiri provides a stunning counterpoint to this when she mourns and prays over the pack of viper-wolves she had to kill in order to save Jake, addressing them as brothers and sisters.
The point of this essay is that scenes like this have absolutely nothing to do with politics, nor can they simply be chalked up to unrestrained corporate greed. They have to do with the institutionalized cultural insanity that has nurtured and developed such a mentality both in the fictional arena of the film, as well as in our own reality. What we are dealing with is a psychological fracture in the way human consciousness has evolved, a neurological divide between the holistic right side of the brain and the hopelessly analytical left, and the way that schism dictates how we view the world. No matter how many plastic bags we recycle or how eco-friendly our corporations become, it is very likely no fundamental change can occur until things are dealt with on some existential level.
As Einstein said, you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it, and there is no indication whatsoever that politics are capable of or even interested in exploring deeper issues. On the contrary, a political mind is one of the fullest cups on the planet, and if human beings are ever to "see" life the way the Na'vi do, politics is probably the first thing that needs to be jettisoned.
This may be borderline heresy for some people, but the story is largely told from this point of view. When Neytiri takes Jake under her wing, and teaches him how to tease out the faintest "scents and sounds" of the forest, how to feel the "network of energy" that flows through all living things, and shows him to respect the "spirits of animals," she is not making political statements. This cannot be stressed enough.
The statement she is making has to do with a complete psychological orientation that values the unity of life over the isolation of the self-conscious ego. She brings him into full participation with the one life that the Na'vi see in all things, and she does so by hunting and swimming, chanting and flying, diving from tree branch to tree branch, and precariously using large leaves to slide down enormous heights. As Jake muses, with Neytiri, he has to "trust his body to know what to do," and that it's either "learn fast or die." She certainly doesn't break out pie charts and lecture him on the injustices of deforestation.
The Na'vi are able to live as they do because that is the way they interpret and mythologize their existence. They let nature speak for herself, specifically through the planetary neural consciousness they personify as the living goddess Eywa. One of the most fascinating things about their culture is that the spiritual has no identity separate from the material, and even their deity only serves the greater "balance of life."
Indeed, their religion consecrates everything they touch, so much so that the corporate executive Parker Selfridge complains that you can't drop a stick on the moon without "hitting some sacred fern." It is a spirituality that is about moving in harmony with nature, rather than perceiving it as something fallen or sinful, something that needs to be conquered and corrected.
But keep in mind, the Na'vi do not live this way to hammer home a political ideology, much less because they're environmentalists. It seems highly likely they would simply see environmentalism as another aspect of our insanity that needs to be cured, if for no other reason than a true Na'vi would never conceive of themselves as something separate from the environment to begin with!
Their entire existence speaks of connection, from the way they all form a network around someone who has been "reborn" into the Omaticaya tribe, the way their braided qeues allow them to essentially download their consciousness into that of other creatures, the way they mate for life under the trees of voices, and even the way in which they are cradled in cocoon-like beds by their beloved Hometree every night.
If the Na'vi are telling us anything, it is that we're going to have to come back to our senses. But if we're going to do that, we're first going to have to go out of our minds - or at least out of the endless narration going on in them that serves to cut us off from life's ebb and flow. Much like Jake Sully, humanity is going to have to learn to sink into the rhythms of nature again, to move with them as easily as branches seeking sunlight, and to foster a deep love and respect for them. In other words, we are all going to have to abandon our old wheelchairs and our old habits and our old mindsets, and learn to walk all over again.
It may be remarkably easy to forget in a world of traffic jams and skyscrapers, but human beings bloomed out of the rich fabric of nature as surely as any tree or flower. There is no fence with humanity on one side and nature on the other, no matter what our social systems or religions or philosophies or sciences may have sometimes argued. The reason Avatar resonates so deeply is because this primal connection with the entirety of nature, what the Na'vi call shahaylu, was also experienced by modern homo sapiens for the better part of the last 100,000 years. It's just the last few thousand that have been so rough.
Yet this natural bond is still direct and immediate, and can be experienced in the biological legacy of our own bodies. After all, our physical organisms are ecosystems of marvelous intricacy and intelligence in their own right, with river systems of veins and arteries and vast root networks of neurons and dendrites. The deep organic wisdom that the Na'vi revere as Eywa is surely the same as the natural patterns that grow our bones, color our hair, animate our limbs, and beat our hearts. We continually miss it because we regard intelligence as something that exists almost solely behind the eyes and between the ears, as if we get in our bodies and drive them around, not unlike the mercenary Colonel Quaritch in his mechanized AMP suit.
Keep in mind this identity with all of life is not, as Dr. Grace Augustine pointed out in the film, "some pagan voodoo." That we are intimately connected to everything around us is evident in the genetic history of every cell in our bodies, starting with the lineage of our parents, then our extended family, then our ancestors, and then into the animal kingdom, and finally into the entire planetary whole, including earth and air, sky and water. Our senses and nervous systems imbue our reality with light, smell, taste, sound, temperature, weight, and color, our bodies unconsciously playing the continuum of nature as a master pianist plays a piano.
But again, all of this has to do with states of consciousness and awareness, not red states versus blue ones. The Na'vi are raised to perceive life as an organic whole, whereas socialized human beings are largely hypnotized into seeing it as an assembled machine that can only be grasped through elaborate signs and symbols.
While it is true that such an orientation enables the humans in the world of Avatar to do amazing things like launch the enormous spaceship Venture Star and travel five light years to the Alpha Centauri system, it also inhibits them from understanding what Pandora truly is when they get there. As Pirsig pointed out, in this bargain we have lost what it means to be a part of the world in exchange for our ability to rule it through language, science, mathematics, and technology.
The late great mythologist Joseph Campbell said it best -
But if you will think of ourselves as coming out of the earth, rather than having been thrown in here from somewhere else, you see that we are the earth, we are the consciousness of the earth. These are the eyes of the earth. And this is the voice of the earth.
The trick is simply feeling this to be so, to bring it into our awareness, even when everything around us is screaming the opposite.
In closing, this sort of orientation cannot really grow in an atmosphere of divisive politics, ecological sermonizing, or doom-laden warnings concerning climate change. Quite frankly, the average individual really has no control over such things anyway, aside from the usual self-congratulatory feelings that one might derive from pointing accusatory fingers at the other side.
One has the choice of growing depressed over this, or simply embracing the one thing they do have control over, namely their own awareness of the world around them. There is nothing whatsoever that prevents any of us from teasing out our own connections to life, and to seeing nature, our relationships, our bodies, and ourselves as something sacred.
We can take to heart the words of our own William Blake when he suggested, "Arise and drink your bliss, for everything that lives is holy."
In the end, we know what saved Jake Sully. In his own words, he simply "fell in love." Even moreso than his apotheosis under the Tree of Souls, that was his redemption, the maturing of his own hero's journey. And it seems fair to speculate that he fell in love not only with the Omaticaya People, and the forests of Pandora, and of course Neytiri, but with life itself. His world wasn't saved through fear, guilt, or angry protests, but rather through love. Love was what taught him to truly "see," to open his heart to a much broader and richer life experience, and to be able to take a deep breath and simply sink into the sheer wonder and beauty that is existence.
No doubt love can do the same for us and, if it does, then we can rest assured this wonderful planet we all call home is more than capable of taking care of itself.
So Kiyevame, and may the All-Mother smile on your path.
* Happy day. My article has been officially posted at naviblue.com in the editorial section as well as the forums, though that version does contain a few typos I failed to catch before submitting.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
While searching for Alan Watts stuff on iTunes, I happened across several wonderful lectures and tributes I had never heard before.
This is pretty incredible, when you realize what kind of an impact Watts has had on me. I like to think I am pretty well versed on the guy. I've read at least twenty books of his, not to mention endless collections of essays. I've also listened to dozens of audio lectures and countless podcasts. So when I find something new, that is quite an event.
Or at least enough of an event to warrant a blog post.
So if any Watts lovers are out there, you might want to check out what I managed to dig up on a groovy podcast known as The Psychedelic Salon.
While I am not, nor have I ever been, nor do I expect to be in the future, a far-out, consciousness-cooking kinda guy, I do find the early experiments with psychedelic drugs in the sixties rather fascinating. Particularly when the type of people taking those first timid steps into altered levels of awareness were people like Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley. In other words, those with a philosophical background that could enable them to understand, interpret, and eloquently express the inexpressible states of consciousness such medicines often produced.
With that in mind, I highly recommend that any wisdom seekers out there take in at least a few shows that our good host Lorenzo has managed to put together for us.
Posted back on August 15th, show number 193 is an absolute gem. As far as I'm concerned, it's the crown jewel of them all. If you haven't heard about the legendary "Houseboat Summit" back in 1967, well, this is it. It features not only Watts, but also Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Timothy Leary.
Show number 207 is also about as rare a podcast as I've heard. Posted back in December, it's truly a Christmas gift. It's called a "Tribute to Alan Watts," and features an entire crew of like-minded seekers and philosophers recalling their experiences with Alan months after he had died. Watts' daughter Anne is featured for a brief segment, and Aldous Huxley's wife is also on there.
Speaking of Aldous Huxley, I would be remiss if I didn't bring up show 209 from the beginning of January. "An Audio Collage of Aldous Huxley" is fabulous. It is a collection of clips from interviews and things that Huxley did back in the fifties and sixties. This is the only time I've ever heard him speak, and his accent is fabulous.
And last but not least, show 213 belongs to Watts. It is called "The Alchemy of LSD," and offers not only Watts feeling on the possibilities of the drug, but also an eloquent summary of his own philosophy. I highly recommend that, no pun intended.
In short, any time you have an opportunity to listen to Alan Watts, take it. As brilliant as he was on paper, the rhythms of his voice and the cadence of his laughter really captures him as much as anything can. I always come away smiling and a little bit more enlightened than I had been beforehand.
All the shows are available here, and if you have any interests in such things at all, you won't be disappointed.
In closing, I would also like to remind everyone that Mark Watts does an excellent job hosting the official Alan Watts podcast every week, which is available for download here.
Monday, December 14, 2009
December 18, 2009
Discover Mills AMC
AVATAR in 3-D
Well, this is it kids. Some fourteen years and $300 million in the making. The controversial trailers, the comic-con footage, James Cameron's return to movie making after TITANIC. Rapturous applause. Almost diabolically stupid internet comments.
It all erupts Thursday night. Or Friday morning. Take your pick.
The critics have spoken. 45 reviews. 92% at Rotten Tomatoes. Most love it. Some call it groundbreaking. A few call it cliched. All say it is unlike anything ever seen by human eyeballs. Roger Ebert said sitting down to watch AVATAR was like sitting down to watch STAR WARS in 1977. One thing is for sure - movie making is going to change forever after this weekend.
And as IGN pointed out, ten minutes in and this baby pretty much silences whatever little critic you have camping out behind your eyes and between your ears. This is as close to visiting another planet as most of us will get. No doubt many will want to purchase tickets to Pandora the minute they get out of the theater.
This is mythic.
As IGN also pointed out, the odd thing is - less than a week to go, and the general public seems to have little to no idea what this movie is going to do for cinema, or what it's even about.
Too high concept for general audiences, perhaps?
I guess we'll see.
P.S. No, it wasn't. 3-D Movie. 1-D script. Yep, I called this one wrong kids. Oops.
P.P.S. Actually, it was pretty awesome the second time. Who knew?
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Well, gentle readers, here we are. Yet another blog post that isn't really a blog post. No amusing anecdotes from the book-selling trade or embarrassing reminiscences of personal experiences. It's ironic that I feel as if a good deal of my writing life is spent resisting the Siren Call of this Blog, yet here it is. If I'm not doing something constructive as far as novels and such go, I just feel bad tinkering on here. Yet here I tinker. Sort of.
One more YA novel down. Of course, when I say down, I mean I have to finish out the reworking of my back story in fine detail (it's already 25 pages long), and then I have to actually put together a final, final edit. But first comes a query letter and a synopsis, and the thought of writing those is enough to put me in a corner where I may or may not eat my fingers. Who knows, maybe that's why I'm on here? But I digress.
William Blake is essential to this whole series I'm doing, providing a very firm set of shoulders for me to wobble precariously on (even I wouldn't attempt to actually "stand" on them). And wow, is he quotable. So why don't we take a minute to stop and savor some words of wisdom from the sage who jump-started that whole Romanticism business?
- To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.
- The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.
- Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of genius.
- I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath die end. I was angry with my foe; I told it not, my wrath did grow.
- God appears, and God is Light, To those poor souls who dwell in Night; But does a Human Form display To those who dwell in realms of Day.
- Thy heaven doors are my hell gates.
- But to go to school in a summer morn, Oh, it drives all joy away! Under a cruel eye outworn, The little ones spend the day-- In sighing and dismay.
- Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.
- A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
- He who binds himself to a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sunrise.
- God forbid that Truth should be confined to Mathematical Demonstration! (amen)
- A truth that's told with bad intent Beats all the lies you can invent.
- The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
- If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
- Arise and drink your bliss, for everything that lives is Holy.
- I must create a system or be enslav'd by another man's. I will not reason or compare: my business is to create.
- I rest not from my great task! | To open the Eternal Worlds, | to open the immortal Eyes of Man | Inwards into the Worlds of Thought; | Into eternity, ever expanding | In the Bosom of God, | The Human Imagination. (amen to that too)