I thought that I should end the year big with skulls. So here is Danish artist Jacob Dahlstrup's skull. It took him 38 days and 100 hours to complete this hand executed pencil drawing of a skull made up of intricate forna and flora--hats off to his mastery of freehand drawing!!
I like Joseph Arthur--his Notes from the Road section on his blog often throws up some interesting wordplay:
It’s either all divine
or none of it is
It’s either all consciousness
out of the
genius of itself or
it’s just time
against a broken back
(horses in a fading light gallop like the ocean
across our minds turned inside out by a word)
Of a light
which is overwhelmed
The problem with god
versus non belief
to a word
to how we choose
what is here and
apparent to all
But there is a word,
which is like
a line in the sand
It’s putting a value
on all of this
But everything is
There is obvious
intelligence and beauty
in all that exists
I sometimes feel that the atheists
are the true believers
It takes more faith
to be an atheist
than it does a devout Baptist
To say you are sure
there is nothing
beyond what is seen
When what is seen
is already beyond
what can be understood
is a cry of
A faith that to my mind
is more extreme
than a faith in a man
who can walk on water
or make others believe he did
how much blood
When every breath
you take is the universe
breathing into itself
Every breath you take
is god breathing
It’s either all divine
or none of it is
Look at the ocean
lit up by the moon
crashing into sand and dancing on your feet,
as the shadows play
with forms in the sand
greater than any work of art,
which hangs in museums
as the forms are changed
how they are always changing
Across all the shorelines
of all the beaches
In all this world
and the doubtless
Divinity speaking to the silence
In us all
The impossible witness
is mine is his is their’s
(she smiles and lifts the glass up to your lips)
Call it what you want
But how can you not believe
in what you are?
Beyond the mind
Or the ego, which identifies with only the tiniest part
We are free
than all of life
We are all of life
and reaching into
and through out death
flying into darkness
asking ourselves to be forgiven
When life finally ends
I have mentioned my slight addiction to Christian television before, I find it so compelling--for all the wrong reasons-it's usually a fashion nightmare, a theological trainwreck, and a slice of aesthetic tastelessness that it has to be experienced in order to be believed. No offense to the good folks at TBN, or their desire to get their message to the whole world, but wow! Anyway, to be honest, I have cooled my addiction of late, I just got over it, too predictable, but last night, I just happened to click by and glory be! Golden!! So apparently TBN's Holy Land Experience(i'm saying road trip!!) in Orlando is hosting a special event just in time for the New Year. Two speakers will address the topic of their respective books. Don Piper, author of 90 minutes in Heaven and Bill Wiese author of 23 minutes in Hell will come together for a time of salvation, revival and healing--genius!! 113 minutes and you can get all the information you need about heaven and hell, full details of what happens in the afterlife, full descriptions of it all--a perfect way to end the year I say.
For $14.95 you can read Wiese's account of his 23 minutes in hell,
"With electrified senses Bill Wiese experienced the searing flames of hell, total isolation, a putrid, breathtaking stench, deafening screams of agony, terrorizing demons, and finally, the strong hand of God lifting him out of the pit.
Wiese's visit to the devil's lair lasted just twenty-three minutes, but he returned with vivid details etched in his memory. During his twelve-month recovery after this life-changing ordeal, he studied the Scriptures to find answers and has listed more than 300 Bible verses referencing hell."
And when you have had enough information about that you can switch to the more sedate exploration of heaven by Don Piper,
"In his book 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don made a decision to take a different route home from a church growth conference that he attended in 1989. It didn't seem like an important choice at the time, but it turned out to be one that changed his life. Waiting down an East Texas highway on his way back to Houston was a large truck that took his life.
In retrospect, the decision to take a different route might appear to be a crucial one. But the most important decision in Don's life occurred NOT on his drive home but when he accepted Christ as Lord at the age of sixteen. Deciding to accept Christ meant Don had an eternal home in Heaven no matter when he died. Acknowledging Christ as Savior guarantees that you will spend eternity with Him."
I love the image of a truck waiting on an East Texas highway waiting to take him out, such a programmed view of how life unfolds--no accidents just pieces moved into place by the hand of god I suppose---To each his own I guess, and far be it from me to doubt their experiences, but I have to say that this preoccupation that many Christians seem have with the afterlife and its discontents drives me a bit nuts--I have spent a long time with the Bible and hard as I try I can't get this many details about either place, I think you have to do a lot of reading into the texts to get there from here. Which is precisely what I think happens, rather than exploring cosmology and conceptual structures of the universe, they attempt to turn the symbolic into the literal, medieval perceptions of the structure of the universe (and it is essentially in this period that the afterlife is divided into heaven and hell), are given a 20th century sheen and away we go, modern christianity with its obsession on the state of the soul after death.
The above image is from some work by Paul Seely about Old Testament cosmology, how the strucutre of the universe was understood from their perspective. Obviously it is very different to the way we see things now and it would require too much of us to try and go back and see this as the 'way things are'--obviously the writers were limted by their own understanding of things, as are we, but we have come a long way from here, and we have come a long way from the medieval view as well. Perhaps the lesson in all of this is that we have to come to some different understandings of how we come to the biblical texts and how we present conceptions of religious themes and ideas.
There are so many issues in all of this that I dont track with--the subjective soul, cosmology, consciousness, the role of scripture, the purpose of christain proclamation and witness, pretty much everything, but it sure makes for some crazy tv--why watch another rerun of Law and Order when you can get 113 minutes of heaven and hell?!!
Duke University professor Katherine Hayles has a great take on the present cultural moment. She regards what is occurring as a profound cognitive shift in our intellectual history and offers a couple of terms to help us understand it. According to Hayles we are shifting from a Deep Attention society to a Hyper Attention society. A deep attention society prefers cognitive input from a single information stream, which is to be engaged with for a long period of time. A hyper attention society is pretty much the reverse, it is characterized by a hunger for high levels of stimulation and rapid movement among different information streams. Hayles applies the challenges of such a shift principally to centers of higher learning where commitment to concentrate deeply has been considered the cornerstone of intellectual and creative achievement.
What Hayles highlights is that the need for deep attention remains because accessing the information in a hyper attentive state is one thing but processing and evaluating that information is still the domain of deep attention. How do we recover and learn to engage again in deep attention, where do we nurture sustained thinking? In the Middle Ages memory was viewed as a craft and techniques were developed to help with memory. It was particularly linked to composition and practitioners used the tools and techniques to craft new songs, prayers, pictures, music etc. If your curiosity is piqued you might take a look at Mary Carruther's book, The Medieval Craft of Memory, which is a really helpful exploration, it's a book I have assigned quite a lot over the years.
All of that to say, I wonder if we need to develop some new techniques to help foster deep attention. I say new because I think we have to do more than go back to ancient techniques and here's why. Undoubtedly there is a move, or there are moves, towards reclaiming things like contemplation and meditation, lots of people are exploring things like centering prayer, mindfulness, meditation, breathing etc. all extremely helpful, but al developed in a different time. That is not to say they cannot be a starting point, but the medieval craft of memory was developed in the midst of its own cultural moment, the techniques were borne out of the human interaction with the issues of the time. I am not advocating the ignoring of ancient ways, just simply asking whether or not, we might just want to seek some additions to those techniques, new tools that emerge from here and now? Maybe not, but I am going to give it some thought--deep thought, if I can, haha!
Hayles deep/hyper attention dialectic brings to mind a book I read recently. Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains (this book has a slightly different subtitle in the UK), explores similar issues,
"Over the last few years, I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory."
More from Carr here.
Here is a link to another nice essay by Hayles, slightly different topic but in the same range and worth the read. This is a taste of what's to be found there,
"In this last decade of the twentieth century, information circulates as the currency of the realm. Genetics, warfare, entertainment, communications, grain production, and financial markets number among the sectors of society revolutionized by the shift to an information paradigm. The shift has also profoundly affected contemporary fiction. If the effects on literature are not widely recognized, perhaps it is because they are at once pervasive and elusive. A book produced by typesetting may look very similar to one generated by a computerized program, but the technological processes involved in this transformation are not neutral. Different technologies of text production suggest different models of signification; changes in signification are linked with shifts in consumption; shifting patterns of consumption initiate new experiences of embodiment; and embodied experience interacts with codes of representation to generate new kinds of textual worlds.(1) In fact, each category--production, signification, consumption, bodily experience, and representation--is in constant feedback and feedforward loops with the others. Pull any thread in the skein, and the others prove to be entangled in it."
I am thinking about all this as I go back to teaching next week--I have been very aware of this shift in recent years, to watch a class as you teach is very enlightening--hyper-attentiveness floods ever class and I have been wondering how to address it--there may be some beginnings in all of this stuff.
I am sure the Heinz workers are desirous of much more than a good response to their clever use of sloganeering, but you have to give it to them, these signs are brilliant. I hope they get what they want, they definitely put some thought into capturing the audience with their pithy signs. The factory in Wigan produces 2million cans of beans and soup every day,
"With Heinz's profit margins extremely healthy at 37%, the workers rightly feel that the company is vastly wealthy and can easily afford to help them meet the spiralling costs of living."--Up the workers I say.
I am not the biggest fan of year-end top ten lists, I don't know why, I have nothing against lists, in fact I loved Umberto Eco's book The Infinity of Lists, about which his site said,
"In the history of Western culture we find lists of saints, ranks of soldiers, catalogues of grotesque creatures or medicinal plants, and hordes of treasure. This infinity of lists is no coincidence: a culture prefers enclosed, stable forms when it is sure of its own identity, while when faced with a jumbled series of ill-defined phenomena, it starts making lists. The poetics of lists runs throughout the history of art and literature. We do not only see it at work in ancient bestiaries, the celestial hosts of angels or the naturalist collections of the 16th century. We also find it more obliquely from Homer to Joyce, from the treasures of Gothic cathedrals to the fantastic landscapes of Bosch and cabinets of curiosities, until we get to Andy Warhol and Arman in the 20th century. In this 5-colour illustrated edition, Umberto Eco reflects on how the idea of catalogues has changed over the centuries and how, from one period to another, it has expressed the spirit of the times." In light of this quote perhaps for me, we have come to the end of the effectiveness of lists, at least in terms of saying this was better than that etc. there are too many variables to be overly dogmatic, I guess top ten lists as meant to be viewed as intensely personal categorizations, but I can't do it when it comes to music--art it is not meant to be competitive in my view. Lady Gaga sold more music than anyone else in America, does it make her number one? Well yes in terms of sales, but does 'most sold' equal anything other than some savvy marketing, a cultural moment and a whole load of luck? I mean I love Lady Gaga and think she is certainly worth the accolades she is receiving but I can't put her at the top of any list I am making.
So rather than a top-ten list here are some music selections I have enjoyed this year that I think are worth mentioning and I mention them in no particular order--
Number one...just kidding! Swansongs: Chocolate Genius Inc.--there is beauty here, mellow songs of loss and mourning, mixed with a bit of profanity and some lovely melodies. CG--is an umbrella under which Mark Anthony Thompson works his magic.
Where did the night fall? Unkle--more magic from one of trip-hop's pioneers--cultural critique and dangerous grooves what more do you need?
I'm New Here: Gil Scott Heron--back from the brink thanks to Richard Russell and XL Recordings, one of the unique voices in American music--prison, crack, decades of lost time all contribute to one of the finest pieces of recorded work--a constant play.
Black Dub---band name and album title--simple-. Daniel Lanois' latest musical venture--a heavy layer of dub, throw in a bit of gospel a bit of blues some ambient groove, Brian Blade--the best drummer around and a girl singer who just belts, just belts out some serious vocals.
High Violet: The National--I love this album, everything about it--just get it if you dont have it--something about this one demands multiple plays.
Brothers: The Black Keys--perhaps the ultimate album so far from Detroit duo Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. They have been building a following since their 2002 debut and hit this one out of the park. Last year they released Blakroc--a hip-hop influenced side project with a bunch of guest rappers and rhymers--these boys know how to lay down a blues groove.
The Best of Dennis Brown: The Crown Prince of Reggae--Brown never achieved the internationl acclaim of Bob Marley but he was one of the most respected and widely emulated reggae singers Jamaica gave the world. If you only think reggae is Bob Marley, then Dennis Brown will be an education, and while you are edicating yourself, check out anything by Lee Scratch Perry and you will be on your way.
Grinderman II--sometimes you like a pice of music for the spirit of it more than the sum total of its parts--for me that is the case with Nick Caves latest project--Grinderman is Cave's bold move in his 50s---pick up a guitar, improvise lyrics on the spot in the studio, writing nothing down, and let everyone in the band tap into their inner wildness throw back their heads and roar!!!!! Makes me smile.
Familial: Phil Selway--Radiohead drummer reveals a folky side--sweet and tender songs, nothing fancy, nothing too digital, a few loops but mostly accoustic and organic--sweet songs--something from someone in Radiohead, until their next collective work shows up!
Scratch my Back: Peter Gabriel--the man with the golden voice does an album of covers with an orchestra--a tasty piece of work made all the more vibrant by seeing the live performance. I love Gabriels' album, he is never a disappointment to me, but he is an unparalelled live performer and with the New Blood Orchestra we get to hear is voice in a way that exposes just what a great singer he is.
Dark Night of the Soul+Broken Bells-two albums both featuring the work of DJ Danger Mouse--DNS was an experimental project with Sparklehorse and a bunch of guests and BB is another experiment with Danger Mouse and James Mercer, songer from The Shins. Musically they are in similar teritory, but each of them has a unique musical marker--poppy, reflective, meditative inner-directed pop music
Distant Relatives: Nas+Damien Marley--the youngest of the Marley kids joins with Nas to create a dancehall influenced album of rhymes and reasons hip-hop vocal stylings and some wicked wicked bass lines--you notice a preponderance of reggae music in my musical likes--it is always a staple and has been for decades.
I came across a list of favourite films of 2010, none of which I had even heard of, well, not true, I had heard of one--they all look pretty interesting and hopefully I will be able to find them on Netflix sooner or later. It is interesting of course, to remember that the number of movies that manage to garner some broad media exposure is very small--it is a bit like the music biz--bands you have never heard of release beautiful gems that sink without a trace because of an inability to gain exposure to an audience. The particular list I refer to is made up of largely european films, and you can find the list here.
"Let music sound while he doth make his choice; Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, Fading in music." Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.
If you haven't come across Chocolate Genius, the musical venture headed up by Marc Anthony Thompson, this fourth release in what was originally going to be a trilogy of song cycles, might be a difficult entry. It focuses on the loss of his parents and some other less than positive themes like the passage of time, but don't let that deter you. The universe of Chocolate Genius is one everyone should familiarize themselves with. Black Music, Godmusic and Black Yankee Rock were the three albums that precede this one. Godmusic is a particular favourite of mine, a sort of reverse spiritual album, maybe a worship session to an absent god. Thompson mines a pretty mellow musical coal-face, ambient grooves and soundscapes with soul-searching and revelaing lyrics. It has been a twelve year cycle for Thompson to get to Swansongs and it has been well worth it to travel along with him.