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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What would scare the bejeesus out of the Integral community?

Let's look at who already has. I know you're tired of my comments about this particular individual, but there is no question Derrida is such a kennilingus nightmare, and for exactly the reasons you stated: His Wholly Other must remain so, it cannot be assimilated (a la Borg). (And this nightmarish impossibility is also transformative, though not in the kenninlinguist fashion.) Hence a slimy, lower-level lifeform is projected upon him, making him into a macabre and disturbing threat to the type of "order out of chaos" or Hegelian  synthesis type of transformation kennilinguists find so appealing. The horror!

Other nominations: Jeff Meyerhoff and Frank Visser.

Yes, I agree, to an extent.  (I actually thought of you, and Derrida, in my references to Otherness).  I don't think Meyerhoff is that "strong" of a voice, though, in comparison to Derrida (in terms of the "weight" I accord him).  But in this thread, I'm also interested in talking about the horror genre in itself -- having some fun with that, if you (or others) want to.

wow. this is right up my alley.

 

comments upon: "back into our comfortable suburban back yards."

 

Phase 1: It comes from "outside."

genre epitomizers: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Brain Eaters; I Married a Monster from Outer Space, et al. (damn aliens)

 

Phase 2: It's "within" our ken, but still far off in the hills, swamp, or desert.

genre epitomizers: Psycho; The Hills Have Eyes; Deliverance (damn hillbillies)

 

Phase 3: It's down the street.

genre epitomizers: Halloween; Silence of the Lambs (damn psychopaths)

 

PhaSE 4: It's within the self.

genre epitomizers: The Beast Within; The Fly; The Wolfman (damn personal degenerative transformations)

There's an old saying: You can't get to heaven, till you've been through hell.

 

Speaking of hell, that is part of my reference to "the horror" in Apocalypse Now. It is a journey into the darkness within, for Williard comes to identify with Kurtz and is transformed by war and terror into liberation from conventional society. Yet this transformation isn't some nice, wholesome, compassionate "goodness" but rather dark, deadly and destructive.  This is not a destruction or (differentiation) that leads to a higher, progressive, transformative synthesis but is an end in itself and liberating nonetheless. Hence Kurtz is a horror that must  be destroyed, yet ironically the one chosen for the job returns transformed into Kurtz and will bring that darkness from the jungle (subconscious) into the very midst of civilization (consciousness). The shadow isn't "integrated" but forever remains in constant tension with the light.
I was reminded of a college paper I wrote about 20 years ago on Colin Wilson's book The Philosopher's Stone. I wasn't the writer or thinker I am now but it's not bad in it sophmoric simplicity. And it is a science fiction horror story complete with alien others. It is also a cautionary tale of over intellection, a common complaint of the integral movement, at least by women. Hence the role of women in this story. Here it is:

In this book Colin Wilson explores the possibilities and capabilities of human consciousness. Man is much more than he may realize. It is the author's contention that contemporary society stifles our potential to experience our "normal" consciousness, which is beyond the sub-human realm of restrictive societal codes. Man must break out of this mundane way of life and explores states of mind that have been lost to us. He suggests that there is an ancient body wisdom that has been preserved for this purpose, but also that there are certain dangers in this pursuit of man's potential. As a whole, mankind must actively seek this normal evolutionary consciousness or total destruction is a real possibility.

The protagonist of the story, Harry Lester, grows up surrounded by the banality of common existence. He comes from an ordinary family but is  himself gifted in mathematics and science. He finds the life of an
ordinary boy in this setting to be intolerable. He meets an eminent scientist who recognizes his talents and takes him in as a student. Here Lester's mind begins to grow by constant stimulation. He talks at length with his mentor about the brain's enormous capacity and how man's laziness, ignorance, and timidity prevent him from reaching his potential.

In Lester's search for human potential he comes to some questionable early conclusions. When Lester is approached with affection by the maid in the house of his teacher, he rejects her with disgust. He believes that such behavior is animalistic and contrary to "higher" pursuits. Our bodies and their needs are seen as mere distractions in the quest for truth. This is part of the "ordinary" concerns that prevent us from evolving.

These mundane concerns keep us locked in the present moment. When Lester studies mysticism and alchemy, he determines that it was their goal to enter a state of mind that is detached from our humanity into the eternal life of the mountains and atoms. This state is beyond the "personal" consciousness, which only leads to death and decay. These methods aim at achieving a wider perspective of time and distance away from the present feelings of the body.

After the death of his mentor, Lester reads of the experiments of Sir Henry Littleway, whose conclusions have some similarities. They team up to study human consciousness.

From Maslow they get the notion of the "peak experience". To Lester's mind, this is a detached reflection outside the present moment. These experiences depend on the will, and he hypothesizes that man collapses and dies because of a loss of will and these states of awareness. Theoretically, man could live forever if he
could maintain these states!

It is doubtful that Maslow had such interpretations of his work. The point is that it is the way in which the protagonist is translating all the information that comes to him. From his own rejection of the body he sees everything as doing the same and separating and placing mind above and apart from it.

The second section of the book deals with this rejection of the body metaphorically by the introduction of ancient, bodiless beings who are controlling our fate. (It is either this, or it degenerates into very bad science-fiction.) In the course of their studies, Lester and his companion have done physical experiments of their brains. By injecting an alloy into the frontal lobe and applying electric current, they develop incredible powers of concentration and imagination.

They believe that they are going through an accelerated evolutionary process. Although some of their observations about society's conventions restricting this open, aware state of mind may ring true,
the notion that it is apart from being human is frightening. Consequently, with their expanding powers they become aware that there are creatures of immense power without bodies that created the earth. They perceive them as evil and destructive, their only goal being the complete domination of mankind. It is only their repressed body consciousness projecting outward in extreme distortion from its repression.

Lester comes close to this realization when he discovers that all living things emit magnetic fields, and sees humanity's collective field as a kind of collective unconsciousness. But still he projects his ideas onto something "out there" that is trying to get him for discovering the "truth" of evolution. He justifies his
projections with many myths of different cultures that speak of these "Ancient Old Ones" who created the world and are our evil masters, not realizing that myths are not to be taken literally, but represent the interior of our own minds.

At this point in the story Lester has an outrush of human emotion and sexual feelings. He meets and falls in love with a young lady based entirely on his feelings of attraction. He starts to discover all of the warmth and kindness of humanity that before he had shunned. If only the entire world could feel this way, he muses, all of its problems would be solved. His repressed side, perhaps from its long hiatus, is exaggerating in the extreme, but at least it is making an appearance.

But no, Lester thinks it is only "them" trying to get him to stop his investigations into them. By having a wife and family he will be more vulnerable to coercion by them. His paranoia is exemplified by a cult of which he has read whose leader was on to many of the same techniques that open the mind, andd who also
discovered "them" and went insane and mysteriously disappeared. He thinks "they" will do the same to him.

What Wilson may be trying to show us is that this is one of the traps of genuine investigation into man's possibilities. From doing techniques and studying consciousness, a person can make some authentic strides
in advancing to a higher level of awareness.(And yes, if one is only involved the trivial pursuits of ordinary life, this awareness will be irrelevant.) But by releasing these latent powers there are some inherent dangers, as expounded by mystics and meditation gurus of all ages. One of these is that if the body is not accepted and exercised as well as the mind, the mind has no vehicle to express through, and its expressions are perverted and destructive, much like these "Ancient Old Ones" of mythology.

This is demonstrated by the end of the book when Lester uses his powers to see into the ancient past of "them". The Old Ones ended up destroying themselves because their own subconsciousness starts to
erupt and do catastrophic acts of which they have no control. Their ultimate bodiless power is not tempered by a connection to the earth and leads to the annihilation of their world.

It is true that man needs to wake up and go beyond his ordinary concerns with just his own personal existence, or we may destroy ourselves. Part of this awakening will have to do with the exploration and release of latent powers of our minds. But we must learn the lesson of the philosopher's stone and not forget to include the wisdom of our bodies and our humanity, for without this it is so much empty wind blowing across a desolate desert.

True Blood is my favorite contemporary comedic horror story. Another season coming up this summer.

Great posts, guys.  I want to comment on some particular points in your posts, and will do so next, but first (following the rhizomatic form of the posting on this thread so far) I will post a brief prose poem I wrote 20 or more years ago.  I wrote it after a night hike in the Arizona canyon lands behind my home.

 

Under Lizard Head, At Night

 

Choose a star about a thumb's length above the horizon, split it with your eyes, stare into the space in between.  Suddenly the hills give off a half-light.  It rolls like heat lightning along their jagged lines, heat from a dragon's belly, thought flashing over the curve of the brain.

 

Tonight, cold air sharpens the stars.  They move in a depth that brings all the hills closer.  In the great upward sweep of land to the right, there is something menacing.  The moon makes the stone shine, and in this half light, with your vision untied, you see the rise of rock for what it is: an angel come to wrestle with you in the brittle night.  You know that by the way it pulls your belly, and makes it churn.  That hill is the uneasiness against which we raise our houses, and make our light.

 

Our light is not the light of hills.  It is not for seeing in the dark, but for banishing it.  But here, with the great rock so close, and somehow closer in dark, it is hard to imagine driving it away, or even wanting to.  Jacob came away limping from a hill like this.  You can still see the scuffle marks in the way the cedars limp over rocks, and in the hunchback shapes in the dark.

 

Something is pulling you to leave, the anchor we have in our homes, but here, it does not have enough force to move your feet.  And so you stay here, tugged by two powers, where men may have fed before.  And you crouch in the dark, at the edge of the force that shapes the twisted and powerful trees halfway up the rugged face, and pulls you from the insight, out the chills along your scalp.

 

~*~

 

And here's another brief poem I wrote about the same time:

 

The Way to the Ruin

 

On the way to the ruin,

There is a tree.  You will know it.

Murder or prayer has soaked the soil there:

The whole tree leaps and dives on one spot.

The drawn-down branches     stripped

Of frivolous leaves       brush the earth

And finger subtle air

(as you must have swung in a circle

in a sacred field     and swept the tips

of high grasses with an open hand)

It is that holy here      long wood

Like widow's hair     hung in grief

Whore's hair sweeping holy feet

What is the difference     this brown body

Doubled over something immense      hidden

In the earth and acorns:

It is a gesture we cannot understand

So do not ask.  Stop a moment     breathe

Sit under the branches if you dare.

This is the way in.

Our light is not the light of hills.  It is not for seeing in the dark, but for banishing it.

Perxactly.

I found an interesting website called Novel Guide. Here's an excerpt on Lovecraft:

"Various labels have been employed, from the broad designations of 'horror' and 'Gothic' to more discriminating terms such as 'supernormal' and 'mechanistic supernatural.' At the source of this diverse terminology is the fact that, while these works clearly belong to the tradition of Gothic literature, Lovecraft did not make them dependent on the common mythic conceits associated with this tradition—such as ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and other figures of folklore—and even when they do appear in his work, these entities are often modified to function against a new mythical background, one whose symbolism emphasizes the philosophical over the psychological. For example, Keziah Mason in 'Dreams in the Witch-House' has all the appearance and appurtenances of a seventeenth-century New England witch; but instead of serving the demonic forces of Christian mythology, she is in league with extraplanetary forces wholly alien to the human sphere and ultimately beyond good or evil, superterrestrial entities blind to either the welfare or harm of the human species. This order of alien existence and its imposing relationship to human life is similarly displayed in such works as 'The Call of Cthulhu,' 'The Dunwich Horror,' 'The Whisperer in Darkness,' and 'The Shadow over Innsmouth,' while At the Mountains of Madness and 'The Shadow out of Time' offer more elaborate development of cosmic civilizations whose nonhuman nature violates all earthly conceptions of reality, forcing upon the protagonists of these narratives an esoteric knowledge which they can neither live with nor disregard. The question of how to describe tales whose effect derives from the violation of the laws of nature rather than those of personal or public morality was somewhat resolved by Lovecraft himself when he applied the term 'weird' to such works. In a letter of 1926, he wrote: 'As to what is meant by 'weird'—and of course weirdness is by no means confined to horror—I should say that the real criterion is a strong impression of the suspension of natural laws or the presence of unseen worlds or forces close at hand.' The literary consequences of this distinction between weirdness and horror may be noted in the remarks of critics who find horrific effects minimal in Lovecraft's stories, their power relying more on an expansive and devastating confrontation with the unknown."

I added the emphasis to show the themes that frighten integralists and which manifest in the likes of Derrida. Kennilingusts are obsessed with knowing and controlling it all within theories of everything, a safe place of confidence, consciousness and light. And comforting themselves with this discovery of "natural laws" through special, esoteric knowledge from the "ascended masters." Hence tales that such masters really don't give a damn about their laws, even subvert them and mercilessly confront them with the unknown, are indeed horrific.

Kela,


Phase 1: It comes from "outside."

genre epitomizers: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Brain Eaters; I Married a Monster from Outer Space, et al. (damn aliens)

 

Phase 2: It's "within" our ken, but still far off in the hills, swamp, or desert.

genre epitomizers: Psycho; The Hills Have Eyes; Deliverance (damn hillbillies)

 

Phase 3: It's down the street.

genre epitomizers: Halloween; Silence of the Lambs (damn psychopaths)

 

PhaSE 4: It's within the self.

genre epitomizers: The Beast Within; The Fly; The Wolfman (damn personal degenerative transformations)

 

I like this.  At first, I was tempted (a la the Integral impulse) to associate each of these phases with different levels of development, but reflecting on it a little, it seems I can find "forms" of each in the characteristic "nightmares" of different stages or worldviews.  For traditionalists, for instance: Phase 1 - Hell, demons, Satan; Phase 2 - The untamed, evil, bloodthirsty pagans; Phase 3 - Our neighbors are devil-worshippers!; Phase 4 - demonic possession, "sin nature."

 

Some authors seem to focus more on one than another of these phases.  Lovecraft focuses primarily on Phase 1, for instance (it seems to me), though you could argue that, through the encounter with the Phase 1 Other, the inscrutable, uncontrollable darkness then enters into the protagonist (Phase 4) in the form of madness.

 

Kela:  Later, as an adult, I became aware of children who are also drawn to such images. One was a nephew, by marriage, who was drawn to my horror movie collection and who, even as small child, liked to wear silver symbols around his neck. Another was the younger sister of one of my daughter's friends, who liked to draw images of anthropomorphic winged creatures, while others drew trees and sunny skies, and whose favorite movie, to the dismay of her Christian parents, was The Lost Boys. My conclusion is that there are kids who are, for some reason or other, drawn to such things.

 

I think this is true.  I also like your description of being nearly "addicted to sci-fi and horror movies" as a kid; that was me to a T.  When I was 14 or 15, I wrote the following poem (revealing both the fascination and near-compulsion, and also the discomfort I felt with my attraction to these things):


When I sit down to write

Of flowers and the spring

My mind begins to wander,

A blind and groping thing:

I envision wolves and swords

And terrible, ghastly haunts;

What strange fulfillment is this

That my wand'ring mind so wants?

 

Is it really blood and gore

Or some symbol of what lies in me?

I wish I could peer into my heart

Unafraid of what I might see;

Is it just a love of fear

Or some deep and angry guilt?

Lord, should I stop the sewing

Of this strange and brooding quilt?


The connection between my interest in these things and my later "mystical bent" wasn't quite as direct as yours, but I think I followed a roughly similar path.  For instance, looking this weekend through a box of old writings, I found some stories I wrote as a teenager, one of which contained the familiar sci fi and horror themes, but now which contained a distinctly spiritual element: the protagonist was an atheist, an outcast in a world ruled by universalistic religion and a cross-species "meta-law," who nevertheless has mystical impulses and heightened sensitivity, and who eventually begins to glimpse a hidden (sinister) reality through the use of an alien race's lucid dreaming (and dream-recording) technology, and ends up becoming a "prophet" vainly trying to warn society of impending doom.

I found Kurtz's famous monologue to Williard, following. Is it madness and/or a form of liberation that we just cannot accept?

Kurtz:

I've seen the horror. Horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me . It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies t o be feared. They are truly enemies.

I remember when I was with Special Forces--it seems a thousand centuries ago--we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile--a pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget. And then I realized--like I was shot...like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, "My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that." Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they could stand that--these were not monsters, these were men, trained cadres, these men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love--that they had this strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time were able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment--without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.

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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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