term of the day: repressive desublimation

“Repressive Desublimation

This concept was suggested by Annalee Newitz, author of Scatter, Adapt And Remember. The idea of repressive desublimation was first developed by by political philosopher Herbert Marcuse in his groundbreaking book Eros and Civilization. Newitz says:

It refers to the kind of soft authoritarianism preferred by wealthy, consumer culture societies that want to repress political dissent. In such societies, pop culture encourages people to desublimate or express their desires, whether those are for sex, drugs or violent video games. At the same time, they’re discouraged from questioning corporate and government authorities. As a result, people feel as if they live in a free society even though they may be under constant surveillance and forced to work at mind-numbing jobs. Basically, consumerism and so-called liberal values distract people from social repression.”

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reading 2015 vol 2

So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport

Interesting argument that following your passion as a means to find meaningful work is less smart than getting really good at something and building from that. Short and full of padding, but the nugget of gold contained within is pure.

Kettlebell Simple and Sinister – Pavel Tstatsouline

Brutally simple Russian kettlebell protocol from the guy that brought kettlebells to the West. Effective.

The Man In The High Castle – Philip K Dick

Read this maybe 20 years ago and didn’t think much of it. It read a lot better this time, now I have more knowledge of history, the I Ching, and Japanese culture, and PKD’s general philosophy on reality. Set in a world where Germany and Japan won WW2 and have partitioned an occupied America. (Was this the first major alternate history novel? Essentially creating a genre?) A very weird choice to turn into a TV show.

Enchanted Night – Stephen Millhauser

Delightful novella from a Pulitzer prize winning modern fabulist. Dreamy romantic fantasy drenched literature. One unusual, or perhaps usual, night in a small town.

So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood – Patrick Modiano

Novella musing on memory, identity and reality from the recent Nobel prize winner. Pretty weird, the narrative sort of dissipates as it goes, as the narrative turns out to not be the point.

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Novel. Great evocation of 18th century Iceland as we follow the last woman to be executed in Iceland, a mix of intense reconstruction from documentation and narrative extrapolation.

Book Launch – Chandler Bolt

Useful book about launching books.

A Night of Serious Drinking – Rene Daumal

Curious, inventive, and very fun. A short metaphysical/esoteric novel from the 1930s, in a satirical and pataphysical tradition, steeped in Gurdjieff’s perspective. Blindingly funny in places, with more philosophical subtlety present than at first glance. While I would still recommend Mt Analogue by Daumal over this, I think I am more likely to reread this one.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – spoiler free review

I saw this on opening day, and had avoided the hype and trailers as much as possible, as I knew I wanted to see it. I wasn’t quite sure why until the night before, when it came to me.

I wanted to know what happens to Luke Skywalker.

Star Wars was always his story. He was the iconic heroic mythic figure of my childhood. And getting to find out what happened next is a lure too tempting to ignore. (In a way, where the prequels went wrong was by misunderstanding this central premise, and trying to make it about Anakin.)

So I was in.

Fundamentally, the first Star Wars was a wonderful imaginative ride. Fill a story sandpit with space ships, laser blasters, non stop pulp adventure, monsters to fight and aliens to meet, and underlying it all a spirituality that can speak to the modern age via the mythology of the Force, with Good and a real temptation of Evil, wizards and swords and magic, and you have something gloriously fun, fertile and special in which to play.

The Force Awakens gives us exactly this.

Where the prequels fucked it up, The Force Awakens gets it about right.

In fact, it is almost slavishly true to the original trilogy. But I think it needed to be after the catastrophe of the prequels; in order to get goodwill from the fans, it needed to communicate that it gets and respects the source material, and from here it can build on that, and evolve and mature the series.

And that is as much as I will say without delving into what happens in any way, other than that I really enjoyed the ride.

memoir

Just unexpectedly finished a draft of a memoir. Not something I ever thought I would write, but somehow I churned out 65000 or so words in a few weeks, making it the fastest thing I’ve written.

I didn’t write it as an outward facing document – I don’t expect to show it to anyone, or think that I am particularly interesting or have lived a particularly interesting life – approaching it more as an exercise in self-reflection at what is perhaps the half-way mark of a life, and turning an unsentimental gaze across time, identity, and change. As such I have found it a rewarding process, and will be curious to read it over sometime.

Mostly just logging it as it marks the first time I have written two drafts of new books in one year.

reading 2015 part one

Have been very slack at logging reading this year. Does anyone read these or care, anyway? Who knows. But they are useful for me. So here is a recap, glancing through my diary. Feel like I read a lot less than usual this year. I also think I am getting a lot of my mental stimulation from podcasts these days.

 

The Pastel City – M John Harrison

First in the Viriconium series. Oddly angled fantasy, a very different mood and mode, elegiac and austere. Written back in the 70s, maybe? Harrison is a wonderful writer and this is bizarre and neat.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know – Ranulph Fiennes

Autobiography of adventurer/explorer/mad bastard Fiennes. What I read of it was entertaining.

Occupational Hazards – Rory Stewart

Scottish dude ends up running a really large province in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority after the US invasion. Really fascinating insight into what trying to run a country and make things better is like when the country is messy and complex, and the area you are in charge of has its own very distinct history and culture from the rest of the country. Things do not go well. Great read.

Think Two Products Ahead – Ben Mack

Really excellent book about marketing and how to think about marketing and communicate what you are doing by a, well, wizard.

8 Tribes: The Hidden Classes of NZ

That book about NZ being made up of 8 tribes. Meh. It was short to skim. Deservedly forgotten.

What We See When We Read – Peter Mendelsund

Really interesting book by a designer – so there was lots of wild design as a book – who loves to read, about what goes on in our heads as we read, and how we visualise and imagine and interact with words. Definitely worth a look if that sounds like you.

Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty

Epic tome about inequality and how it isn’t going to go away, and in fact has and will worsen, because of how our economic system is structured. Compelling argument. Necessary to be familiar with at least the introduction.

Ritual – Malidoma Some

West African shaman describes the function, role and importance of ritual in the life of his people, with some eye-opening stories.

Conversation – Theodore Zeldin

Something short and light about the art of conversation, I think.

The Laughing Monsters – Denis Johnson

Novel, gave up real quick, Johnson is great but wasn’t in the mood.

Prophet – Brandon Graham (comic)

If you want some very very weird sci fi comics, this is your jam. Epic scope, weird, mad, fun. The most Metabarons-esque thing since Metabarons.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – Neil Gaiman

Nice short story with illustrations, sort of the darker side of Gaiman.

Autobiography – Miles Davis

Entertaining ride, didn’t get too far. Jazz guys were a pretty wild crew, back in the day.

Money: Master The Game – Tony Robbins

Pretty exceptional book about managing money and investing. Robbins used his access to the most successful billionaire investors in the world to model what they are doing and put it together in a system. Essential.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – Ramit Sethi

Irritating smartarse Indian teaches you money management and investment. Very sharp, good material, but annoying.

A God Somewhere – John Arcudi (comic)

Random grab from the library. Neat take on someone actually getting super powers and the guy who remains his best friend through it.

The Wake – Snyder (comic)

Ditto random. Award winning comic. Decent.

Neonomicon – Alan Moore (comic)

Alan Moore turns his genius to modernising Lovecraft. Really fantastic, and easily the darkest and nastiest thing I have read by him. So good.

Ecko Rising – Danie Ware

Random genre novel from the library on a whim. Sort of a sf/fantasy mashup. Shades of Thomas Covenant without the prose ability. A heavily implanted hi-tech assassin wakes up in a fantasy world, doesn’t know what is going on but has some special abilities in the local sense. Fast, fun read.

New Spring – Robert Jordan

Never knew this existed until I found it and read it. A prequel to the Wheel of Time, which I read a bunch of when I was much younger, then gave up on 300 pages into book 6 when nothing had happened for those 300 pages. This prequel features Lan and Moiraine 20 years before the first book, and how they got to where they got to at the start of the first book. It was really fun to reconnect with that world, though man does Jordan go on and on. Like, a hundred pages of this book could have been summarised in a paragraph or twp, but the depth of the world is amazing.

What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars – Jim Paul

Really useful book about when to get out, and how not to lose money, and the inner psychological game of money and investing. Biggest takeaway is this amazing question: if you were not already in your current situation, would you want to get into it?

The White Lama – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Fun times as Jodo does Tibet.

An Interpretation of Universal History – Ortega y Gasset

This was actually pretty fascinating. Dude takes on Toynbee’s model of history by showing that the Rome Toynbee takes as an exemplar of civilisation never existed on those terms.

Guide to Tranceformation – Richard Bandler

Bandler returns and summarises his life’s work. Best book you could get on NLP.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Hugo Award winner? Real good for reasons it is difficult not to give spoilers about. Slowly uncovering just who the main character is and their history is exceptional.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Read about 4/10 of it, which is an immense amount of this tome. It is incredible and Wallace is obvious genius and deserving of whatever praise is heaped upon him. Still, too long, eh? Gargantuan, genius, very funny, very dark, very empathic. No wonder the poor bugger topped himself. Sort of hope to get back to it someday.

Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach

Skimmed it. Woo Buddhist positive psychology.

Bold – Peter Diamandis

Very very interesting book about accelerating change and exponential technologies and what that means for changing the world via business. We are living in very interesting times.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

Classic book by psychiatrist holocaust survivor about the experience of Auschwitz and what separated those who survived from those who didn’t. Incredible, powerful, stark view into humanity, and what is really important. Essential.

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

Sequel to the above. Still enjoyable but much less interesting since most of what there is to be revealed has been revealed.

Magic and Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Kneale

Woo. If you only read one book on Tibet, this is the one. French woman travels around Tibet in the early 1900s, spending time with hermits and magicians and in monasteries and documenting her experience and the stories people told her. There was some wild and crazy shit happening in Tibet, and credible miraculousness.

6 Months to 6 Figures – Peter Voogd

Sharp, punchy, entrepreneurial book. I rate it.

The Metabarons – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Jodorowsky’s masterwork, in a number of ways. A lot of what would have gone into Dune made its way into this. Mindfuckingly epic account of a thoroughly unreasonable lineage as they tear the galaxy apart.

Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Read a chapter, Gaiman doing storytelling, was not in the mood.

Providence

Moore does Lovecraft in Lovecraft era. Still coming out. Nice.

The Death Cure – James Dashner

Third part of the Maze Runner trilogy. Saw the first movie randomly, the second movie is way better and I recommend it, read this cos I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the third movie. A lot must have changed in the second book to movie adaptation. Anyhow. Decent enough. Very YA.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

Absolutely extraordinary. Pulitzer prize winning journalist gets to know slum dwellers in Mumbai over several years. Writes up an eventful period of their lives as a novel, essentially nonfiction but written novelistically and based on immense interviews etc. Shattering, profound.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself – David Lipsky

Lipsky spent a week interviewing David Foster Wallace on the last leg of the book tour launching Infinite Jest, as Wallace was in the process of going stratospheric. Fascinating as an account of a guy coping with the descent of fame, and as an insight into a remarkable mind. A film of it came out, End of the Tour, haven’t seen it.

Hard To Be A God – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Russian SF from way back. Russian observer-scientists go to another planet to document the Renaissance happening in a medieval world… except it doesn’t seem to be happening, if anything, a reversion to barbarism is underway. Great novel. I read it cos I saw the insane, incomprehensible film version at the film festival a year or two ago, and wanted to know what the hell actually happened.

The Magus – John Fowles

The first 3/4 of this are an astonishing novel. The end, well, lost me a bit. But hell, the quality of Fowle’s prose, and the intensity and observation he brings to bear, are exceptional, and the dizzying weirdness of the island and the elaborate charade the narrator is caught up in is unforgettable.

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Modern Chinese SF, apparently a bestseller there. Very unique take on first contact and Earth being invaded by aliens, through a very different cultural and historic lens. Recommended.

Killer in the Rain – Raymond Chandler

Early novella from Chandler.

Teaching the Dog to Sing – Jonathan Carroll

Recent novella from Carroll, whom I hadn’t read in years. Alright, I guess.

Harvest – Jim Crace

Multi award winning Irish novel of the end of the era of peasant farming before enclosure. Beautifully written.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s most intense and darkest vision of the old West. If it was the first thing of his I’d read it would have taken my head off. Incredible evocation of landscape and nature and random brutality and the ugliness of humanity, in astonishing prose.

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Pulitzer prize winning novel, told through a bunch of different tangentially related characters set over many years, about growing up and the changes time wrings. Really well done.

The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

Fantasy novella from a real master of fantasy. Good good shit.

Beasts of No Nation – Uzodinma Uweale

Novel about a child soldier somewhere in Africa caught up in a cycle of senseless violence and destruction. Short and unpleasant. Weirdly similar vibe to Blood Meridian, come to think of it.

 

new draft

just got to write “the end”, two sweet words to write after the preceding 60000 or so, of the first draft of a new novel.

it feels rather too long since I have said this.

but anyway, I know this is where the work begins, and sometime I need to read it and see what I have done and what needs doing, but it is a definite milestone in the process, and for now I can sigh and go flump.

undulating ungulate turned 10 years old a month or so back

undulatingungulate turned 10 years old in September, I have belatedly noticed.

Weird!

In that time 1125 posts have accumulated, and the world and internet have changed a great deal. Blogging is not what it was when I began pre facebook, twitter, social media, smartphones, apps, etc. These days it is all narrow-casting and niche-focus to build an audience for a blog, whereas the ungulate has been all over various places in its day. Thanks to anyone out there who still reads! Hopefully you’ve got something out of the various content and musings…

 

 

 

Lovecraft, magic, and belief

“A few months before he died Lovecraft wrote to a friend, ‘If the Necronomicon legend continues to grow, people will end up believing in it.'”

— Grimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies (p268)

Trump vs Sanders 2016: The Battle for America’s Soul

Even having dropped out of deep politics chasing, the US election looms large and wild eyed this year. Something about the truly preposterous nature of the Republican candidature, a rogue’s gallery of lunacy. And the almost unbelievable emergence of what seems an honest decent man from within the US political system, who talks sense, and, on paper as of now, has a shot at becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, and hence President.

As of now, we face an extraordinary potential Presidential election in 2016: Donald Trump against Bernie Sanders.

Let’s take a moment to grok this in all its poetic beauty as it encapsulates the world and its tensions.

On the one hand, Trump. An exemplar of the 1%: a billionaire, full of confidence, bluster and delusion, but doubtless some real ruthlessness and business cunning. An exemplar of the hype and emptiness of American culture: a candidate essentially making it on his celebrity status from The Apprentice. An exemplar of the very particular type of ignorance insularity and success bring: he’s lived in a world where he can have anything he wants, and doesn’t need to engage with reality the way lesser mortals do. A guy who has announced he is willing to nuke Iran. (Hell, nuke anywhere and you are frankly not the same moral species as me.)

On the other hand, Sanders. This clip was my introduction to Sanders. Five minutes of off-the-cuff comments, nailing lucidity and informed sanity. Seriously, it’s like a litany. Long standing independent, tried to get campaign finance reform, voted against Patriot Act, against Iraq War, is against TPPA. Preaches a necessary political revolution to bring politics back into being a democracy rather than an oligarchy and seems to mean it. Is old enough he doesn’t seem to mind if they shoot him for standing up for working people.

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So there we have it. A perfect choice. The fate of a nation’s soul. And, unfortunately, quite a lot of the world.
I love the symbolism. Seven years ago I called that
Barack Obama will, and needs to, win the election to demonstrate to America that they can still be great. Electing a black president just forty years after segregation ended will help wash away the sour taste of Bush.
Today, the choice is even simpler. Does America want a future? Does it want the world to have a future?
Peak oil, climate change, the multi-polar world of emergent China, the festering hotspots of the Middle East. Who does America choose to guide them through this?
Choose death and ignorance, a dream long since turned sick and nightmarish. Or choose life, integrity and sanity.
(Also: if we end up with Bush vs Clinton, again, this in itself is a defacto vote for disaster and the replacement of the West as world leader. Both represent the system, and the system will fail to respond in time. Trump just represents a will to death. Sanders seems legitimately the only hope for the US to have continued relevance (as anything other than a feared maniacal warmonger in the global ‘hood) and reform itself, and it is frankly a miracle he has emerged.
The terror, of course, is that in the US system, the guy with the most money usually wins. And guess who that is.)

The TPPA, New Zealand, and Sovereignty

The TPPA is a “trade deal” negotiated in secret that the leaked chapters reveal goes far beyond trade. Once signed, the TPPA will be extremely difficult to exit.

The key issue is sovereignty. Leaks reveal the TPPA will override the ability of nations who sign to determine their own laws, and open them up to massive lawsuits from foreign corporations if they do.

New Zealand has a very particular history with sovereignty, which allows a simple one sentence objection to the TPPA to be phrased:

The TPPA does for New Zealand sovereignty what the Treaty of Waitangi did for Maori sovereignty.

ie it cheats us out of it by stealth without our intending to give it away.

This I think communicates the situation in a way that all New Zealanders should grasp somewhat viscerally.

“Free trade” at the cost of sovereignty – our right to make decisions for ourselves – is far too expensive.

NZ should refuse to sign the TPPA.

At the least the government should make the TPPA’s text available to citizens so they can decide for themselves. (Appropriate, as it may be the last chance we get to decide something for ourselves.)

Since our leaders will not do that, New Zealanders should, frankly, actively engage their right to civil disobedience to communicate with our leaders that we do not want a deal on these terms. Because sovereignty and freedom are too important to give up without a fight.

 

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