Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 6 Sep 00 13:59
Erik Davis has long lived in a world sharply inflected by the myriad tonalities, intensities, and textures of Light: the bright beaches and shadowy arroyos of his boyhood Southern California; the creamy golden light filtered through the panes of translucent marble in Yale University's Beinecke Library; the mystical Light and Darkness that serve as central symbols in the so-called "Gnostic gospels." It is, therefore, no coincidence that light may be the "meta-metaphor," if you will, of his book, _TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information_. As suggested by the title, in this book Erik uses contemporary technology to illuminate the nooks and crannies, interstices and corners of the human mind as they are reflected in a framework borrowed from the ancient and syncretistic Gnostic religions. As a Yale undergrad majoring in English, Erik's formal interest in his subject was initially piqued by work he did for what might have been his favorite course: The Bible as Literature. He went on to write his senior thesis on the work of Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author who has remained a seminal, if somewhat kooky, archon of Eric's literary imagination and intellectual soul. Since college, Erik has become a frequent contributor to periodicals like Wired, The Village Voice, Details, Spin, Gnosis, Rolling Stone, and Lingua Franca. He has created a rich and substantial body of work, much of which provides the substrate of TechGnosis. His many articles are easily accessed by visiting his Website: http://www.levity.com/figment. In TechGnosis, we find Erik at play on an enormous field, mapped by the compass points of his energetic intelligence and unceasing curiosity, and carpeted with AstralTurf. The scope of his erudition is breathtaking, and the facility with which he finds associations between apparently unrelated or at best tangentially related subjects is reminiscent of James Burke's _Connections_. In addition to Gnosticism, grist for Erik's mill includes: information and communications theory; the philosophies of Leibniz, Augustine, Deleuze and Foucault (among many others); D&D and MUDs; the work of the rather weird Nikola Tesla; Wicca and other forms of pagan cults and cyber-rituals; UFOs and Heaven's Gate; other sci-fi authors like Gibson, Stephenson, and Vinge; Hinduism and Buddhism. And this is but a very partial list! Tony Barreca, his interlocutor for this conversation, is also a student of history and literature, philosophy, psychology, religion, and myth. A longtime denizen of The Well and co-host of the Futures conference, in his day gig Tony serves as Chief Technical Officer and Vice President of Engineering at Identive Corporation, a provider of tools and services for interactive television and video production. Please join me in welcoming Erik and Tony for what promises to be a very provocative and intellectually stimulating discussion here in inkwell.vue!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 6 Sep 00 14:49
Don't forget the web reference: http://www.levity.com/figment/ Hi, Erik...welcome back! You've been abducted by a UFO again, I see...
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Wed 6 Sep 00 15:42
<scribbled by tbarreca Wed 6 Sep 00 17:26>
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Wed 6 Sep 00 17:28
Hi, Erik! Let me join Linda and Jon in welcoming you to the WELL! For the record, let me state that I enjoyed the book immensely and recommend it highly. And to kick off our conversation, will you please tell our audience about the central thesis of the book, and why you think it's important?
Erik Davis (figment99) Thu 7 Sep 00 20:21
Well, I've always had trouble with the "central thesis" question, because my book is really a network of related themes and images that bounce around like a historical and metaphysical pinball game. I love James Burke's Connections, but does Connections have a thesis other than the fact that everything is connected to everything else? Basically the argument in TechGnosis boils down to the assertion that technology has not squelched the "arational" kinds of thought and experience we associate with myth, magic, mysticism and religion. We are taught that the dominance of technology signifies the rationality of our civilization, but that's just propoganda -- we have lived in technological cultures for far longer than we have lived in rationalist ones. And when it comes to communications technology (which is the particular focus of the book) we actually find that many of our ideas, hopes and fears draw from what one could call the archetypal imaginary. What I do in the book is show the historical and cultural roots of these decidedly non-utilitarian ways of exploring and experiencing technology -- UFOs probably being the best and most obvious example, but virtual reality being another.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Fri 8 Sep 00 00:21
Considering that you are not fond of "central thesis" kinds of questions, that was a great answer. Even the introductory line, in which you demurred a bit on responding, contains a great clue: The structure of the book is a network, and since it is ultimately about networks--communications nets--it is, in a sense, self-referential. Of course, self-referentiality generally leads to paradox, but we can explore that a bit later. As I've tried to charaterize for myself what I think the book is about, I came up with the following (and perhaps inappropriate) automotive metaphor: If a car represents modern communications technology, it seems to me that the part in which you are most interested is the sparkplug, and even more specifically, the sparkplug's gap--the void through which the spark leaps to ignite the fuel mixture--the force that fires the whole machine. OK, so it's a little corny. But it seems to me that the gap represents the mind, and the spark, the ethereal substance--thought, if you will--that animates the reality, that gives it meaning. Stated in the terms of your previous response, I suppose this amounts to saying that the technology itself leaves plenty of room for us to project onto it our deepest psychic realities--dreams and aspirations, horrors and afflictions. In fact, it was this realization that led me to conclude that a reviewer who dinged you for not going into enough detail on the technology itself really didn't "get it"--i.e., was clueless on what you were trying to do. All of which was a lengthy setup for a rather prosaic question: In general, did you feel that the reviewers of the book understood it? As a writer, how much do you care about reviews? Do you go out of your way to read them?
Erik Davis (figment99) Fri 8 Sep 00 07:27
Well, the book was not widely reviewed in the U.S., and did not really crack the upper middle-brow zone that I had hoped for (New York Times, New Yorker, New Republic, etc.). This was disappointing, but not surprising -- the fact that I treat the margins of consciousness in a suggestive as well as analytic light means that my book frustrates people who want to know "where I stand" on the tricky issues of mysticism and popular myth. However, I was very pleased with the U.K. response -- the book was widely reviewed, and well, and wisely. They generally "got it." There is far more appreciation of intellectual eccentricity in that land. However, even it these cases, I didn't really read the reviews very closely. Instead, I scanned them for their general drift, and then filed them away. Positive or negative, I mostly found the whole thing kind of disturbing, perhaps because I have reviewed so many books myself and know the way that one's personal agenda infects the review. The only one that really pissed me off was in Wired, not because the guy dissed the book, but because he provided no details about what the text contained, leaving a reader little possibility of saying "Screw this guy, this sounds good!" On the other hand, the nastiest review I got, in New York Newsday, was full of detail and rich language, so I actually rather enjoyed the fellow's Catholic-conservative-East-Coast bromide (I recall that he claimed that the "smell of the bong" wafted through the prose). My favorite review was a short blurb in a London South Asian magazine: just a snapshot of the cover, and words in an "exotic" language I will never be able to read. I am actually more interested in the reach of the book than specific response, and am pleased that the text is being translated into German, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, and, perhaps weirdest of all, Polish. I must say though that while many people responded and wrote well about the material I covered and the underlying "we never escape the weirdness of the mind" message, few people got what I was doing rhetorically. I was deploying language with a very specific goal, which was not merely to deepen the reading experience or show off my verbiage, but to try to express on a level of suggestion, images, and "poetry" the way all this technology makes us *feel* on unconscious as well as conscious levels. Attempting to communicate these powerful but often inchoate tingles and terrors was ultimately far more important to me than making any specific "point" -- and also explains why I generally stayed on the "surface" of technologies, avoiding the explanatory prose that infests most popular books on technology. I stayed on the level of surfaces and stories, because that's where the images breed.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Fri 8 Sep 00 14:31
> ...the level of surfaces and stories [is] where the images breed... You got that right! Your point about "deploying language" was a most fascinating one, and I'd like to pursue it a bit. One of your favorite words is "fractal," and as I was reading I found myself wondering how familiar you might be with the actual mathematics of fractal geometry. Let's put it this way: If you are not familiar with the math, at least at a conceptual level, you have amazingly good intuitions. I hope I won't bore you, Erik, or any of our readers, but a bit of background is in order. Fractals are broadly charaterized, at least on a qualitative basis, by certain properties. The word "fractal" itself derives from the phrase "fractional dimension." In other words, although we live in a 3D world, and are reading this conversation on a 2D screen, the mathematics of fractals allow dimensions of 1.73 or 2.33 or whatever. Fractals generally also exhibit the property of self-similarity. That means at every level of organization, the structures found in fractals are similar to those found at other levels. If one looks at a computer graphic of a fractal closely, you can actually see this pattern. Finally, the computer algortihms used to construct fractal images are what is known as "recursive." This is a structural analog to the self-referentiality that I mentioned in a post above. Why is this germane to your point about deploying language? Well, it had occurred to me that this historical and metaphysical pinball machine that you have created was indeed fractal in structure--i.e., that it had the characteristics delineated above. But to find out that it was so intentionally done--really down almost to the level of the individual sub-section, if not paragraph--is pretty mind boggling and very impressive. A writerly achievement of note! But I have a question or two about how you accomplished it. As I noted in the intro, it seemed to me that your articles formed a substantial substratum for the book. What was it like to re-shape existing material, create new material, and fashion it into a coherent whole? How did you go about it? What made it hard? Easy? In the Introduction, you suggest that you hit at least one obstacle along the way. You mention that your editor helped you get over it. How? What was that process like?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 8 Sep 00 18:14
It's been quite a while since I read TechGnosis so my memory may be faulty, but the impression I have is that unlike some books covering similar topics, you don't seem to take a stand on the truth of the beliefs you talk about. It's more like, here are all sorts of wacky things that people believe, and isn't that interesting? Do people tend to see your work in support of their favorite beliefs? (Or am I reading my own beliefs from it?)
Erik Davis (figment99) Sat 9 Sep 00 09:15
First an answer to Brian's question. When I embarked on the project, I resolved to not spend much time wrangling over whether or not certain mystical or religious ways of looking at the world are true or even valid. I did this for a number of reasons. One, I tend to keep a ludicrously open mind myself. While I have certainly developed my own loosely held world view, with tentative answers to a few of the Big Questions, I am possessed by the intellectual and spiritual intuition that reality is much larger than my own filters. I love trying to get into the heads of other people: Christian fundamentalists, UFO true believers, ashtanga fanatics, Catholic conservatives, whatever. That doesn't mean I don't end up leaving those world views aside for very specific reasons, but I do like to keep the door open. In fact, one of the most interesting email conversations that came out of the book was a dialogue with a Scientologist, who convinced me that even my already even-handed take on Hubbard was off on a few points! Another reason for not taking a stand was that I think we waste a lot of time, especially in the topic of religion/mysticism, worrying about belief. Its like a political party -- are you with us or not? Belief is a particular obsession of Christianity, as if what you officially believe -- rather than what you actually intuit, dream, practice, etc -- is what counts. This keeps us on the level of debate and away from the rich loam where our minds and bodies and imaginations actually construct the world. In other words, I am much more interested in how belief systems and cultural perceptions *work* than I am in whether or not they are true. How do they organize perception? What narratives do they tend towards? What faces of the self do they draw out? In this sense, I am kind of a productive relativist -- I don't try to adjudicate between different perceptions so much as show how they produce "reality" in different ways, with different results. In terms of my own life, I have found that whatever answers I have stumbled upon to the Big Questions arise from the practices in my life -- where beliefs are employed, like recipes or algorithms -- rather than from philosophical speculation or ethical argument. (Its also a very psychedelic way of thinking.) Finally, I set myself a challenge: I wanted to write a book that cynical atheistic cybercrits could read and love, AND a book that smart, well-read "New Age" spiritual thinkers could read and love. Bruce Sterling loved the book and so did Jean Houston. Score! I'll respond to Tony in a bit.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Sat 9 Sep 00 16:51
I have another quick inflection on Brian's question for you, Erik. You may have answered it already, but I think it's a slightly different slant from Brian's. If you don't agree, then by all means, feel free to skip it. One of the things I enjoyed most about the book--in terms of finding it both entertaining and intellectually honest--were tensions I perceived. A couple of different ways of charaterizing them: Observer vs. Participant, Empath vs. Skeptic. My question is: Does this perception capture a psycho-emotional truth for you? Do you feel these tugs? Do you play them consciously? Another way to put it: What's it like for you to attend Burning Man, which I know you did again this year? (Note to the audience: Erik wrote a great piece on a previous Burning Man, and it's available on his Website.)
Erik Davis (figment99) Mon 11 Sep 00 12:15
Well, Tony, I'm a Gemini, so I suppose I have a certain tendency toward ambivalence, paradox, and tension tattooed onto my energy body or something. Given my attraction for curious worldviews, I think I have developed a counter-tendency to break the spell, to step back and step aside. In the end, at least in terms of my role as a cultural critic, I am more of an observer who briefly falls into an obsessive rapture and then returns to tell the tail. Again I am less interested in critique or opinion than in trying to understand how a certain cultural phenomenon works, including the internal contradictions that it both needs and avoids. Certainly this is the attitude I had at the Burning Man that I wrote about. But the more I go, the less interested I am in the observer. Its fascinating to peel back the layers and try to explore how BM comes together, the various forces that compose it, its own contradictions, etc. But more interesting is to take advantage of the event as an opportunity to practice, if not participation, than at least a kind of aimless wandering that refuses the comfortable alienation of the observer. My trick at BM is to plan as little as possible, to follow as few goals as possible. The idea that there are certain events that you want to see, and you organize your time to see them, strikes me as absurd. I accept the Observer when he arises, but I'm perfectly happy to let him go in the next burst of weirdness.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Mon 11 Sep 00 12:28
Thanks, Eric. I'd still appreciate it if you'd have a crack at what the creative process of shaping the book was like, especially because you did incorporate some pre-existing materials into it. Mind you, I know that using other pieces is not at all an unusual mode to be in when making a longer piece. But because so many of our readers are writers themselves, I think your insights into the process might be very valuable! After this, I'll stay away from the meta questions for a while to focus on a chatper or two of the book itself.
Erik Davis (figment99) Mon 11 Sep 00 13:27
I did incorporate lots of preexisting material into the book, which was not half as efficient as it sounds. The chapter that included the most pre-existing material -- Cyberspace, the Virtual Craft -- easily took the longest to write, at least in terms of going through revisions. Thematically, though, I was lucky: I suspect some people who write a lot of essays and journalistic articles find themselves trying to cram somewhat tangential pieces together when they turn to building a book from their existing writings. TechGnosis emerged out of an essentially intuitive fascination that has been with me since college, when I read a lot of Phil Dick, Pynchon, Delillo, and Baudrillard -- a kind of gut attraction towards zones of culture where religion/mysticism and technology/media overlapped. All of the articles that got folded into TechGnosis grew out of that fascination, as well as a number that I couldn't fit in (Mormons and genealogical computing, pagan Klingon Trekkers, etc). In some ways, TechGnosis was an attempt to figure out why I was so fascinated by all these various phenomena, and what commonalities they possessed. In a way it was like starting with a lot of individual characters, and having to build a narrative that encompasses them all and explains their reason for being. So when it came to writing a book, I let some of that material form the backbone for a number of chapters, although it was not a very efficient system because the larger context had changed so radically. Sometimes the process was downright excruciating, and I was sometimes tempted to simply abandon earlier material that crankily refused to slip into my new structure. Ironically, the chapter with the least amount of pre-existing material in it was the quickest to write (except for the conclusion), and remains perhaps my favorite: "The Alchemical Fire." But even here, I went through many revisions, and a lot of cut-and-paste. I am a thoroughly digital writer at this point, and use pen and paper only for initial sketches of overall structure, and for line edits.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 12 Sep 00 06:18
Did you start with an outline and write layers of iterations?
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 12 Sep 00 16:23
As I mentioned, Erik, I've been wanting to get more into the actual content of the book, and your previous response provides the perfect segue. Seems to me that we can discuss at least the two chapters you mentioned by name, starting with "The Alchemical Fire," your fave and one of mine as well. Of course, the fire to which you are referring is electricity, or more precisely, electromagnetism. After the first chapter, "Imagining Technologies," in which you discuss developments like the creation of writing and the roles these developments had in forming a nexus between technology and spiritualism, "The Alchemical Fire" probably contains the first material in which technology is treated in more of its modern sense. From F.A. Mesmer to Samuel Morse to A.G. Bell to Tom Watson, Jr., you set the stage for the whole rest of the book in this chapter. Throughout, Marshall McLuhan is prominently mentioned, and even the most casual reader must notice that is he is one your major influences. There's much to discuss in this chapter, so why not lead us off (after you answer Jon's question, perhaps), and I'll follow up with questions based on your comments.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 12 Sep 00 18:50
Ooops, I meant Tom Watson, Sr. in the previous post. A 1000 apologies!
Erik Davis (figment99) Wed 13 Sep 00 12:36
(Good to see ya Jon!) I'd like to say that the process was as coherent as starting out with an outline and then progressing through iterations, but sometimes it was just one big darned mess. I often needed to build a coherent sequence from the ground up. Inevitably, the best laid plans when awry, and I had to build unexpected bridges. But generally, things eventually fell into place. "The Alchemical Fire" for the most part fell right into place, because it was a story that was waiting to be told: how the supernatural and mystical ideas initially associated with electricity and, later, electromagnetism, "infected" the technologies that exploited those forces. Electricity is a marvelous topic, as its controlled arrival into human civilization occurs during the birth of the modern era -- it is almost as if a new element, in the old earth, air, fire, and water sense, appeared when "science" began. I had discovered a German book called The Theology of Electricity, and that formed a foundation for understanding "the electromagnetic imaginary," along with Mesmer's magnetically charged "animal magnetism." Then I traced the mystical side of the electron through different technological manifestations, mostly in the nineteenth century: telegraph, telephone, wireless. Some of the most novel historical arguments concern Spiritualism, and how this incredibly popular occult religion drew much of its force from the example of telegraphy, literally proclaiming itself a "celestial telegraph." In this way, I showed how media is always in some sense "haunted" by the shadows and doubles of the self, whether you interpret those shadows mystically or simply psychologically. Another way of approaching it is more productive: electricity and electromagnetism essentially produce a new dimension of the real, and this new dimension inevitably calls up fantasies, utopias, spirits, and new mutations in subjectivity. This is a kind of McLuhanesque line, and McLuhan was always very insistent on the importance of the telegraph, even though its essentially a dead media for us today. McLuhan was indeed a huge influence on the book, though ultimately less for his specific proclamations (although I take his notion of the erosion of alphabetic consciousness very seriously) but for his tactics. I love the way he takes specific elements of media culture -- ads, images, technologies -- and "reads" them as if they were almost poetic signs of deeper processes, psychological, literary, even religious. Its a dangerous operation, because one can always be accused of over-reading, even of slinging B.S. Certainly McLuhan was accused of this, sometimes quite justifiably. And yet if we are to engage the "inside" of technology, we must pull back the utilitarian and functional narratives that package it for mainstream consumption. The more you recognize the spectral dimension of electrical and electromagnetic technologies, for example, the more you can understand science fiction, UFO religion, the Tesla cult, certain strands of alternative medicine, "power line paranoia," etc. By diving into the meaning of technology, and risking the irrational, one winds up with a much broader sense of its implications for our culture.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Sep 00 17:55
It's all about power, no? And where power transcends the mean level of social comprehension, you get myth, religion, etc.? And marketing, of course. *8-)
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Thu 14 Sep 00 10:26
Quick question: How did you happen to find _The Theology of Electricity_? It's such an off title that one must surmise that you got a hit on a search with 'electricity" and "theology" as keywords. I figure that the hit must have surprised even you!
Erik Davis (figment99) Fri 15 Sep 00 13:26
Actually, The Theology of Electricity was not a websearch number, but something I stumbled on through a catalog of esoteric books. The more esoteric sides of culture are still only adequately represented online, though of course that is changing -- Im still amazed at things that *dont* turn up. This whole aspect of electricity is really an undertold story. And it does have to do with power -- literal and social. We steal the fire from the heavens -- taming the thunderbolt is the ultimate Promethean act, at least read mythologically. And then the whole dream of "power," which gets you into Tesla and the utopian visions of free energy, vs the control and capital we associate with the extisting electrical system. (Today's free energy buffs are definitely participating in a very old tradition, albeit with new ideas). Finally, there is the idea of metaphysical power, and all the fantasies that raises. In many ways I do believe that new technologies, especially media technologies, open up what amount to new "spaces" or dimensions of the real -- and the first thing that we do is to project our hopes and fears onto these spaces -- hopes and fears that are often tinged with the religious and even mystical impulses that I believe are stitched into human being.
Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Fri 15 Sep 00 19:58
hi erik ... i'm wondering whether you've considered writing an entire volume devoted to the "alchemical fire." it was a wonderful, fascinating journey in your book, and definitely left one wanting more, more, more -- kinda like following Dr.Megavolt around the Playa.
Erik Davis (figment99) Sun 17 Sep 00 12:37
Yes, Dr. Megavolt, which, for those who have not had the pleasure, was a roving Burning Man performance that featured two Tesla coils and lots of thrills and chills. What is amazing about the Tesla coil zap is that it is now simultaneously science-fictional and nostalgic, amazing and kitsch -- especially when you consider that people were wowing to the same spectacle over a century ago. Anyway, I have thought about a book length study, one that would do more history but would especially go into more heretical, mystical, and pseudo-scientific 20th century ideas about the energy body. There is a new book by Jeffrey Sconce called Haunted Media, which is OK. It covers a lot of the same 19th century territory as I did (though frustratingly does not cite TechGnosis). But in the later parts of the book, which was Sconce's dissertation, he just off into the typical cultural studies analysis of TV shows and movies, rather than talking about HAARP, alternative medicine, channeling, etc -- far more interesting electrico phenomenon. I made me go: The story remains to be told! But I won't be starting any massive, weird, heavily researched books for a year at least. The sad thing is they take lots of time, demand a lot from their readers (not a welcome move in today's publishing climate) and put one into debt. That said, I love it, so I'm sure something TechGnosis-like will happen again, though definitely in a more focussed and narrow direction (or, alternately, a more diffuse and "philosophical" one). I am writing a proposal at the moment, though I don't want to talk about it until we (its a co-written jobbie) get the go-ahead.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Sun 17 Sep 00 14:24
Erik, your next-to-last (dare I use "penultimate?") response anticipated--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say "answered"-- my next question. I am specifically referring to a passage in the chapter in which you are writing about Galvani's experiments with frogs legs (which, as you note, ultimately gave rise to another very "techgnostic" projection in the form of Mary Shelley's _Frankenstein_). In this case, I'd like to quote you: "Count Alessandro Volta soon proved that, while animal tissue did carry an electrical charge, Galvani had actually stumbled onto the principle of the battery--only one in a long series of victories by the mechanists over the vitalists." In the 19th century, it was the whole panoply of vitalists, spiritualists, mesmerists, etc. In the late 20th, it has been the MUD'ers, UFO freaks, etc., etc. It seems to me that we touch upon a paradox of sorts here: The more we spread the mechanisms of technology over the planet, the larger a canvas or backdrop we provide for the sorts of irrational and arational projections that lie at the heart of what you are illumninating with the book. As I said, you touched upon this fact in a previous response, and I presume you agree with my observation. But please feel free to elaborate. I also wonder if you notice any qualitative differences as this progression occurs. For example, where do the people fall who worry about the effects of cell phones on neural tissues? How about the ones who are concerned about living close to high-tension power lines? Over time, is the gap between the "mechanical" and the "spiritual" narrowing? And although you only briefly touch upon it, some of the results in superstring theory are getting pretty weird, at least according to popularizers like Brian Green (unfortunately, it takes some serious math to actually follow this stuff in a rigorous way, and my math background is about 20 years too old to do so). However, at least as I understand it, superstring theory provides the strongest foundation yet for ideas like parallel universes, which were previously relegated pretty exclusively to the domain of science fiction. I'd love to hear your thoughts from the techgnostic perspective.
Erik Davis (figment99) Mon 18 Sep 00 22:56
I was just reading more of Sconce's _Haunted Media_, and he makes the point you did: that its not enough just to say that mystical fantasies keep re-occurring in the context of technology (he is especially concerned with the electronic media I talk about in chapter two of my book). He points out that to avoid a simple "deep structure" argument, a la Jung, you must draw attention to the way these electronic fantasms change over time as historical circumstances change. I do believe more in a deep structure than he does (or at least I am bored with the relentless historicizing that accounts for much cultural studies), but he's right here. So how do these electronic ghosts continue? In terms of postwar culture, Sconce goes into the media -- TV shows and movies that speak to the mythology of electronic presence. Most obvious here would be the discourse of virtual reality, The Matrix, etc. This makes perfect sense, and I say much the same thing in TechGnosis. But I think perhaps a more fruitful line of inquiry points in the direction you suggest: fears of cell phones, power lines, even (I discovered the other day) those pip-squeak handheld devices you use to lock and unlock your car remotely. Here we are far from the scientific metaphysics of the Spiritualists, with their celestial telegraph, and yet we are continuing the same sort of intuitions. In this case, however, fears arise about the invisible penetration and cancerous "rewriting" of the body, with the attendant anxiety that all these new tools which extend the body amputate the body. Of course, there is a more "mystical" answer as well, one that I provisionally accept as well. This is the idea that there is indeed something like an "energy body" -- an energetic form that permeates our flesh but partakes equally of characteristics of "mind." Anyone who seriously practices yoga or tai chi or ceremonial magic or Chinese acupuncture can grow familiar with these "tantric" flows of energy that nonetheless elude Western reckoning. Even if the specific fears about power lines and cell phones prove exaggerated (I don't believe they are without any merit at all), these anxieties may arise because on some level our unacknowledged "energy bodies" (such a flaky term, I know) are suffering mightily. Or perhaps they are simply transforming, molting into some sort of high frequency vessel appropriate for our now saturated and spectral spectrum.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 05:31
This line of thinking seems to assume that 'qi' is fragile, but I've always had the sense that it's tougher than visible flesh. However isn't it the case that we are so detached from our immaterial or invisible manifestations, owing to pervasive Newtonian thinking, that we fear that whole realm? Meaning that we fear our own invisible essence as well as the various immaterial energy forces, including those that are new and those that were always present? And isn't it more likely that alienation from the invisible or less visible realms is at the heart of our contemporary dysfunction?
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