Rent gets in the way. I’ve wanted to write lately, but whenever I plonked down in front of my allocated terminal I’ve been too zonked from work/moving/life to actually do anything. Old story, told a million times in all possible ways. Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent declares all stories told; that now, rather than try in vain to conceive of new archetypal or revolutionary narratives, it is only possible to attempt new combinations of old material. Uses an obtuse metaphor involving gases and elements. Just noticed that after referencing a text I remember from uni I didn’t allow myself to write “it’s”. Pavlovian.
This is a round-about way of reminding myself that it’s fairly masturbatory to write about having writer’s block. But sometimes I go a while without coming up with a sort of neat idea for an opening chapter to something sorta sci-fi or an absurd comedy. That’s all I seem to come up with, and it’s a bit frustrating. I can come up with concepts, maybe even lay down some basic foundation, but I just don’t have the discipline to flesh any of them out. I lose faith in them, grow bored, etc. Never had the greatest attention span, think I only managed to finish Ulysses out of stubbornness and the promise of getting to feel really fucking smug about it. Also, I read it around the same time I was getting into LSD, and the psychedelic quality of the text resonated well with my thought-process at the time. I remember listening to a bunch of interviews with Terrence McKenna about Joyce, and about approaching Joyce as a psychedelic/hallucinogenic artist. Ulysses certainly went well with acid. The fractured timeframe of the narrative, the constant leaping from one narrational perspective to another, the deconstruction or detailed analysis of the seemingly mundane; you’ll experience all of these when tripping balls. Sounds cliché I suppose, but the first time I dropped a tab I came up reading the ‘Circe’ chapter and I remember crying with laughter, tears streaming down my face because I *got* it. I’d been enjoying the book up to that point, but it was then, while slipping through that weird hallucinogenic stageplay of a chapter while Hoffman’s wrecking-ball was taking apart a lot of my psyche’s load bearing beams, that I felt I understood something up until then out of my reach within the text. Then again, there’s a real cliché: getting high and thinking you see the hidden messages and “True meaning” in something. Drop enough blotters and you’ll probably see subtle references to Christian Gnosticism and the Epic of Gilgamesh hidden between the lines of a Primark receipt.
Robert Anton Wilson was an author who meant an awful lot to me. I was reading him about the time I was having my magickal awakening, and I think he in no small part prepared me for Joyce. Illuminatus! was basically Ulysses with a 70’s counter-culture topping, so when I got to Joyce’s rambling, confusing and seemingly aimless magnum opus I mostly just felt familiarity to the form. Sure, a cuckolded Irish Jew wandering around Dublin for the day is a bit of a departure from a bunch of communists, libertarians, anarchists, Satanists, Discordians and others battling it out with the Illuminati (who may be communists, libertarians, anarchists, Satanists, Discordians or others (smacks of Chesterton’s Thursday)) across millennia, but the books flowed evenly enough.
Wilson warns the reader, through not up-front, that Illuminatus! is likely to lead the reader into Chapel Perilous; a state of mind where the individual may start to suspect they are being influenced by some ‘outside force’, and where one is unsure as to whether they have witnessed something outside their usual sphere of reference or have imagined/hallucinated it. Wilson, who wrote and spoke further on the subject elsewhere, suggested that there are only two exits from Chapel Perilous: the individual becomes extremely paranoid, imagining there to be hidden forces behind everything, eyes always watching, ears listening, secret plots, cabals and powers slipping their tendrils into all facets of human existence behind the scenes. The other exit is agnosticism, the decision that there is no way to totally confirm, deny or observe the ‘objective’ state of anything, and to simply try and incorporate this uncertainty into one’s worldview. I read the book twice, and left by both respective exits. For a time, yeah, I bought into a helluva lot of conspiracies. They go well with a magickal mindset, and to be quite honest it’s actually pretty comforting to think that there is some kind of Force powerful, wise and influential enough to control human affairs without operating out in the open. But on my next read I started to get the feeling I was being made fun of, that Wilson was in some respect mocking the paranoid perception I’d first taken from the book. I realised that there was no reason to boil things down to binaries (world is free/world is controlled, magick is make-believe/magick is real, the author is honest/the author is dishonest), doing so felt reductive to the point of unintelligent and unimaginative. It kind of clicked, there. Wilson was a big admirer of Buckminster Fuller, who he often quoted as having observed that “Universe is non-simultaneously apprehended.” It’s a bunch of five-dollar words suggesting that ‘reality’, whatever you want to call it, can’t all be viewed at once; you can’t see all the angles, all the motives, all the catalysts, all the forces at play at any one given moment. Without this omniscience, how can you possibly hope to assemble any kind of optimally detailed map of probability? Boiled down: You can’t *know*. You can suspect, you can believe, you can use all available evidence to draw a conclusion that works in all currently available models, but you can’t *know*. I found this other exit to Chapel Perilous far more comfortable and exciting, and so was glad I’d made a second attempt.
Rambling. Rambling on about boox and such. I’ve read plenty of classics, lots of high-brow lit, but to this day my favourite book remains William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I’m not doing it a disservice by saying that it’s simply a fairly revolutionary piece of sci-fi. But it’s my favourite text just because no other book, film, game, comic, or any other form of media you care to mention has done quite as good a job of transporting me somewhere else. When I first read Neuromancer, Christ, I could *feel* the Sprawl. I could smell the damp, plastic-strewn markets of Chiba City, hear the whine of Ratz’ prosthetic arm. And I loved the abstract way Gibson described cyberspace. For years we’ve lived under threat of Hollywood attempting an adaptation, and we should thank the pantheon that no project has ever made it off the ground. Any effort to visually capture any of that universe would just be the most depressing thing I’d ever see.
Cyberpunk’s a great genre, only one you can’t really do anymore and appear sincere. There’s a reason why everything that followed the Sprawl books was considered ‘post-cyberpunk’; Gibson’s universe, viewed through a contemporary lens, almost feels like self-parody. The all-pervasive Noir tropes, the clichéd cynicism of the protagonist, the staples that today feel like old trodden ground like megacorporations, hacker cultures, commercial cybernetics, all of it. When you read Stephenson’s Snow Crash, there’s a reason the main character’s called ‘Hiro Protagonist’ who works as a pizza delivery guy for the mafia: it’s because anyone else who wrote a story like Neuromancer with a straight face would be ripped apart for plagiarism. Deus Ex did a great job with the genre, maybe utilising it in a video game format made it feel fresh again. But all the archetypes were there: supplanting organics with technology and the existential anxieties that might arise from such a practice, an increase in the surveillance-state coupled with deregulation of increasingly powerful corporate bodies, questions on the natures of ‘life’ and ‘sentience’ in the wake of artificial intelligences, etc. Oh, and it’s always night time, can’t forget that. It was a really great and experimental game which arose in what I guess was the Golden Age of PC gaming, probably to this day still one of the best marriages between the FPS and RPG genres. Sure, if you want to be a prick about it there’s little in there you wouldn’t find in a freshman western-philosophy essay, the gunplay was evidently not the main design focus and it was butt-ugly even for its time. But it was more than the sum of its parts, a real game-changer of its time, and it’s generally remembered as thus. The sequels were respectably abominable and admirable, Invisible War proving what happens when you sacrifice design scope for marketability, and Human Revolution delivering an earnest prequel that displays genuine respect for its progenitor while never quite having whatever it was that locked me into the first one.