On David Marshall's Integral Archipelago forum, a member there named Shashank recently posted a blog (and initiated a discussion) on the relationship between horror and fantasy literature and spirituality that I am quite enjoying.  I invite
you to read it, if you're interested.  Here, I wanted to open a related
discussion, based on some of my comments to Shashank, particularly if
any of you enjoy the horror or fantasy genres.  (I wish I had time to
compose something nice, but I don't, so here are a few jotted notes).

 

 


I no longer read fantasy or horror, but I used to read and write quite a lot of both, and I still enjoy an occasional horror or fantasy film.  In my conversation with Shashank, we were discussing the respective approaches of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft.  I was noting that Barker tends to see "order" behind the terror and horror, and redemptive or transformative potential in the encounter with darkness and evil, whereas Lovecraft attempts to present a vision of reality as ultimately alien, containing dimensions which are wholly other -- realms and beings that are wholly unassimilable, human contact with which can only result in madness or destruction.  In other words, absolute limit conditions.


In my reading, Lovecraft's Otherness is an Otherness that must remain Other for the human center to hold, and for our higher ideals to flourish (though those who encounter it now come to see those ideals largely as flimsy defenses in the face of a vast, menacing, terrifyingly alien realm).  If I had to place Lovecraft along the values line, I'd say he was a Modernist -- writing for a genteel Modern audience, many of whom were likely in hard flight from "animal nature."  This is revealed, I think, in his preference for pre-human, visceral images to represent the Other: slime, gelatinous substances, crustacean or invertebrate anatomy, etc.


But while Lovecraft is primarily a modernist (as opposed to Barker's more postmodern approach, where otherness is a functional limit condition of particular stages of development or perspectival frames rather than a concretely identified, metaphysical "thing" or "realm"), I still find his work offers something interesting to consider, particularly in the context of Integral spirituality:  he presents a powerful challenge to complacency and a "comfortable" anthropocentric view of the universe, a view that honestly I sometimes feel marks much New Age and even Integral discourse and thought.  I don't think Lovecraft is an Integral thinker (as I said, I view him as essentially a Modernist, though some post-metaphysical materialist writers find kinship with him as well), but I think he makes a kind of move -- a firm presentation of That which intractably challenges and disturbs present boundaries and narratives -- that we could use more of in Integral circles, in my opinion.  With talk about "making sense of everything" in Integral marketing, and even in the popularized use of phrases like "swallowing the whole universe in one gulp" (assimilating it in its entirety to the "known"?), I feel there is a move towards what we might call the suburbanization (or urbanization) of the Kosmos.  No spooky corners left, no pesky unknowns, no threatening or destabilizing shadows.  (This is why King, Barker, Lovecraft, etc, are so powerful: they bring the 'unknown,' the terrifyingly alien and powerfully Other, back into our comfortable suburban back yards).


So, I guess what I'm groping toward is the question, What is an Integral nightmare?  What, in its appearance or irruption, would deeply disturb, even terrify, Integral consciousness?  What are the boundaries of our (often comfortable, suburban) narratives, and what has the potential to shred them?


I enjoy and appreciate this topic because I think wrestling with, encountering this sort of "dark" or Otherness, is both humbling and chastening (something Lovecraft cultivates through his shocking, chthonic vistas) and potentially transformative (a la Barker).  I am thinking here of several things: Rilke's terrible angels, which perhaps show up in modern popular form in something like Strieber's Communion series (where the Other is a vastly more evolved and powerful entity, an entity that has a disturbing, inscrutable agenda for us); and which showed up for me, in a wilderness visionary experience many years ago, as powerfully disturbing -- even terrifying -- entities who I associated with Krishnamurti and who put me through a mind-blowing (and humbling) ordeal.  And I think also of the "darker" aspects of Tibetan practice, which I explored when studying with Dzogchen teachers:  practicing ch'od, for instance, or purposefully going to graveyards or other frightening places in order to practice.  But even doing that, I also was aware of bumping up against worldview differences: not all of the images cultivated in traditional Tibetan practice were really terribly disturbing for me, and I recall wondering at the time what a modern equivalent could be -- how could the practices be made more challenging and relevant for our time?


What would scare the bejeesus out of the Integral community?  :-)

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"Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath) is a thirteenth-century Latin hymn.The poem describes the day of judgment, when souls will be summoned before God where some will be saved and others cast into eternal flame.
The hymn is used as a part of the Catholic Requiem mass, or Mass for the Dead.

It opens with the following lines (from an English translation of the Latin).

The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes...

Here is a version set to a Gregorian chant, or plainchant.

The tune used in the above plainchant is quoted by over 20 composers, including George Crumb in Black Angels, and is often adapted and used to evoke a sense of ominous foreboding.

Here is Franz Liszt's Totentanz.

Probably its most well known appearance in the classical repertoire is in the section titled, "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" from Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. (Scroll to 2:30.)

But possibly its most familiar current occurrence is from the opening to The Shining.

Another theme with a sense of impending doom that is often associated with the horror film genre is "O Fortuna" from the opening section of the first movement, "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi," from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. "O Fortuna" is also a 13th century peom. The poem bemoans the role of fate in life, personified as the Roman goddess, Fortuna.

Orff's setting of "O Fortuna" is often confusing with the theme and chant from The Omen. But a moment's listening will reveal that the two are not related at all.

 

Lynch's use of "tonal sounds", specific music and exaggerated audio-visual splicing (much of which has been recently recapitulated in the TV series Hannibal) deserves examination in terms of its use in the evocation of dark bardo realms with transformative potential.

In and out of the rabbit hole: the Ear from Blue Velvet.

Lynch uses a similar hissing ambient sound when Henry "enters into" the world of the Lady in the Radiator.

The sound appears to denote a kind of entry into the imaginal realm.


Lynch's use of "tonal sounds", specific music and exaggerated audio-visual splicing (much of which has been recently recapitulated in the TV series Hannibal) deserves examination in terms of its use in the evocation of dark bardo realms with transformative potential.

Lynch likes to use sound associated with electricity, like the buzzing light fixtures in Dorothy Valens' apartment. These light fixtures also sometimes fail.

Article on Zizek and the horror of the Real

It opens with a quote from The Call of Chthulu":

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to
correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black
seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each
straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing
together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of
our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee
from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. (1999: 139)

The following is excerpted from Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature":

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown....
The appeal of the spectrally macabre is generally narrow because it demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity for detachment from every-day life. Relatively few are free enough from the spell of the daily routine to respond to rappings from outside.... But the sensitive are always with us, and sometimes a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head; so that no amount of rationalization, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood. There is here involved a psychological pattern or tradition as real and as deeply grounded in mental experience as any other pattern or tradition of mankind; coeval with the religious feeling and closely related to many aspects of it, and too much a part of our inmost biological heritage to lose keen potency over a very important, though not numerically great, minority of our species.
Man’s first instincts and emotions formed his response to the environment in which he found himself.... The unknown, being likewise the unpredictable, became for our primitive forefathers a terrible and omnipotent source of boons and calamities visited upon mankind for cryptic and wholly extra-terrestrial reasons, and thus clearly belonging to spheres of existence whereof we know nothing and wherein we have no part.... Though the area of the unknown has been steadily contracting for thousands of years, an infinite reservoir of mystery still engulfs most of the outer cosmos, whilst a vast residuum of powerful inherited associations clings around all the objects and processes that were once mysterious, however well they may now be explained. ...
Because we remember pain and the menace of death more vividly than pleasure, and because our feelings toward the beneficent aspects of the unknown have from the first been captured and formalised by conventional religious rituals, it has fallen to the lot of the darker and more maleficent side of cosmic mystery to figure chiefly in our popular supernatural folklore. This tendency, too, is naturally enhanced by the fact that uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities. When to this sense of fear and evil the inevitable fascination of wonder and curiosity is superadded, there is born a composite body of keen emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality must of necessity endure as long as the human race itself. Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.
With this foundation, no one need wonder at the existence of a literature of cosmic fear.... This type of fear-literature must not be confounded with a type externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome. Such writing, to be sure, has its place, as has the conventional or even whimsical or humorous ghost story where formalism or the author’s knowing wink removes the true sense of the morbidly unnatural; but these things are not the literature of cosmic fear in its purest sense. The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space....
We may say, as a general thing, that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear...true supernatural horror-literature. ... The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim....

at... the outer limits... (cue theme music).

kelamuni said:

A passage pertinent to the question as to whether horror has a transformative potential: 

In Seminar XI Lacan argued that ‘no praxis is more orientated towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psycho-analysis’ (Lacan 1979: 53). This suggests that although the Real cannot be simply assimilated to the Symbolic the praxis of psychoanalysis relies on a transformative relation to the Real. Psychoanalysis, as the ‘talking cure’, only works through the Symbolic and in doing so it allows us ‘to treat the real by the symbolic’ (Lacan 1979: 6). What might this relation, this treatment, be? As Lacan puts it: ‘an act, a true act, always has an element of structure, by the fact of concerning a real that is not self-evidently caught up in it’ (Lacan 1979:50). The exception of the Real, as what cannot be integrated into structure, provides the act that touches on it with a structure. Contra Žižek’s initial formulation, it appears that the real is no longer
simply opposed to the Symbolic, as the ‘outside’ of the ineradicable monstrous ‘Thing’, instead it appears that the Real provides an element of structure to the act, to the praxis of confronting the Real.

The article on Zizek, Lacan, and the Gothic makes as reference to the horror of Hill House, as it appears in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House: 

"The horror is conveyed through the fractured disturbance of the group, figured in the geometry of the house itself..."

Or as Jackson puts it,

'The undetectable ‘unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house’
(Jackson 1984: 34).

This relates back to my initial post above on the use of distortion and exaggeration in Expressionist film, as well as to Lovecraft's "freakish curvatures of space."

Steven King's "Rose Red" also makes reference to a "living" house that is continually recreating itself -- with rooms appearing and disappearing -- and that has perspectivally impossible and claustrophobic corridors, etc. 

McLuhan posits that horror is the appearance of the forms of a previous neuro-mediated age through the media of a subsequent age. Thus the creepy rural world of pre-television America was a site of decadent savagery that expresses the implicit "violence" that is merely the discontinuity between general media-systems. Distortions of appearance, disrupted size, insubstantial solidity, doublings etc. are common effects when one medium is viewed through another. As when we try to take a photograph of a computer screen or use electronic monitoring devices to scan radio static (for GHOSTS!).

However, something more is required. Clearly Alice in Wonderland presents distortion without the accompanying "horror" mood. Likewise we might have a rather genteel time watching a film about paintings. So an additional element must dial forward the spectrum of distortion which docks with the horror aesthetic.

Layman Pascal said:

McLuhan posits that horror is the appearance of the forms of a previous neuro-mediated age through the media of a subsequent age. Thus the creepy rural world of pre-television America was a site of decadent savagery that expresses the implicit "violence" that is merely the discontinuity between general media-systems. Distortions of appearance, disrupted size, insubstantial solidity, doublings etc. are common effects when one medium is viewed through another. As when we try to take a photograph of a computer screen or use electronic monitoring devices to scan radio static (for GHOSTS!).

However, something more is required. Clearly Alice in Wonderland presents distortion without the accompanying "horror" mood. Likewise we might have a rather genteel time watching a film about paintings. So an additional element must dial forward the spectrum of distortion which docks with the horror aesthetic.

Cronenberg attended some of McLuhan's lectures at the University of Toronto, and apparently, the character from Videodrome, "Professor Brian O'Blivion" -- who only ever appears in the flick as a simulacra, on a video screen -- is based partially on McLuhan. Here are some of the things Dr. O'Blivion says in the film: 

  • The television screen has become the retina of the mind's eye. That's why I refuse to appear on television, except on television. Of course, O'Blivion was not the name I was born with. That's my television name. Soon all of us will have special names, names designed to cause the cathode ray tube to resonate.The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena — the videodrome.
  • The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena — the videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television.
  • After all, there is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there? You can see that can't you?

I'm am plugged into the internet no less than a Borg is plugged into the hive. Except I give the seeming appearance that I'm my own person, with my own ideas. While I can go along with Bryant that we nonetheless retain a withdrawn core that provides my individual autonomy, that is likely 0.1% of 'me.' The rest is part of the machine. Welcome.

Ecclesiastes 1.9:

"The thing that hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun."

Shakespeare, Sonnet 59:

"If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
The second burden of a former child."

Horror story idea: Title: Collage. Plot: A postmodern tale of a man who repeats things he's heard from various sources. His only originality is in how we weaves them together in his personal collage. Moral: It's the only creative license anyone has. The horror: By so experiencing the story we must confront the existential angst that we are not progressing, evolving, creating a better world. Last scene: pan out, see each person in their cubical cell, repeating the same things that have been said countless times, piecing together paper quotes on their cell walls. Outside, Rome burns.

Ha! Surely this has been done before? By whom?

Along the above line see this article.

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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