Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars Eve

My family and I may not be going to see the new Star Wars movie until early next week, but the premiere of Episode VII is nearly here!

In honor of the occasion, I wanted to give you fine nerf-herders a few interesting links...
  • I put up a new video on the Cygnus Youtube channel, with text from the evocative post about Luke Skywalker that I blogged about this past April.  (Hat tip to Fialleril for writing such great words!)
  • If you're an old-school D&D player and would like to role-play adventures in a Galaxy Far Far Away™, I propose avoiding all licensed games.  Just go download a copy of Encounter Critical, and staple on Jeff Rients' super-awesome Star Wars campaign guide from a blog post back in 2010.  (For added context, see two earlier posts that describe Jeff's motivation, here and here.)
  • When I was first exploring the Internet in the late 1980s, I came across a script titled "Star Wars Episode III: Fall of the Republic," written by someone named John L. Flynn.  It's essentially fan fiction, but at the time there was nothing like this in existence.  Go read it!  No worse than the prequels, I say.
  • I wasn't a subscriber to the original Star Wars Fan Club Newsletter ("Bantha Tracks"), but my best friend in 1978 was.  I enjoyed leafing through those things when they'd arrive... getting the inside scoop on what "Star Wars II" would be about.  Someday I'll have to get my hands on some old copies to relive those times.

  • Lastly, I think I may have already blogged about my experience with an, um, less than reputable mail-order publishing house.  In 1982, on the heels of Yoda's wisdom, I sent away for a book (advertised in the back of Starlog magazine) called "The Teachings of the Force."  Darn thing never came.  The P.O. box was in a town just 45 minutes away... and my Dad worked in our local post office... so he drove me over there.  We tried to learn what we could learn.  No dice, though; the perps were long gone.  Still, if anyone out there happens to know if the following thing actually exists, I still would like to know more...  :-)
Redacted, der.

May the Force be with you all, this fine holiday season!

Update:  Saw Episode VII on Sunday!  Woo-hoo, that was some Star Wars.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Whose Tube? My Tube!

The day is here.  Here is the big announcement:  I've started a YouTube channel called "Cygnus' Magic Words."

The URL may change eventually, but for now it's the following mush of characters:

The tag line is "Magic words for the soul."  More from the channel description:
Since 2011, I've been blogging at about games, philosophy, and whatever other weird bits of esoterica I can think of. I'm no master of the Game, just a servant who wants to see what the future holds for both the high-concept stuff (like Hesse's Glass Bead Game) and my old favorites (classic tabletop roleplaying games like D&D).

Here on Youtube I'm exploring another aspect of that weirdness: the magic of WORDS. On my blog I've posted a lot about my favorite creative people, many of whom are wordsmiths of some sort. Posting excerpts of text is fun, but sometimes the words need to be heard by the ear. Sit back, close your eyes, and see how the words will change you.
Right now I've got four videos up.  You won't see me directly, but you'll hear me reading a variety of things -- both poetry and prose -- that I hope will inspire and move you.  What you'll see with your eyes, in most videos, is a sequence of Kandinsky-like artworks that I've generated via a randomizing computer program.  Why?  No reason other than it was fun to make.  (I'm not the first person to think of doing this, but I haven't cribbed from anyone else's algorithms. I'm still tweaking and optimizing.)

That's all for now.  If you're inclined, go have a listen.  Please let me know if there's anything that you'd enjoy hearing, too.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Must be magic

I hadn't heard of comedian and poet Bo Burnham before, but I've been charmed by (some of!) his off-beat verse.  The following are all from his book Egghead: Or, You Can't Survive on Ideas Alone.

Click to enlarge

One can definitely sense the timing & beats of a standup comic in the words.  Many of these have likely been tested out on the stage.  Some, which I won't reproduce here, were designed more for shock value than for deep insight... but a comedian can't be blamed for getting laughs by whatever means necessary.

I think Burnham cites both Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein as inspirations.  You can see their influence, but he adds a unique spark of his own.

This post does have something to do with the big reveal teased over the course of the last few posts.  I'm nearly ready to do that, so keep an eye on this space over the coming week.  :-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Brand Inspector

I didn't want to bury the answer to the last post's quiz question in comments, so here's a quick post for closure.

Although the symbols I showed do look very astrological or alchemical, I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be American cowboy "brands" for cattle and horses.  They were displayed on the walls of the fictional Mel's Diner on the 1970s TV show Alice.  I don't think the characters ever actually talked about these decorations, but they were an omnipresent mini-mystery to me as a viewer.

Meaningless?  Maybe... maybe not.  I've always meant to learn more about the elaborate symbol system of cattle brands, and their ancillary use as the names of ranches and estates.  Most of the ones I've found online seem to be letters of the alphabet that have been morphed or transformed in some way.  That makes the ones from the TV show kind of odd.  The Wikipedia article on the show says the diner was decorated in an "Aztec and cowboy motif," but these symbols don't really look Meso-American, either.  I guess Occam's Razor points to some anonymous Hollywood set-painter who just had a vague idea of what diner decorations in Phoenix, Arizona might look like!  :-)

Anyway, that's all for now.  I've been plugging away at the sooper-secret project hinted at in the last post, but things aren't quite ready to be revealed.  Soon!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Teaser & Quiz

Two quick things...

First, Cygnus has got something kind of big up his sleeve.  A new project will be revealed very soon.  (Well, maybe in a week or two; we'll see.)  I'm not quite ready to spill the beans about it, but let me give you all one hint:


Second, I'm curious if any of your memories might be jogged by a little trivia obscura. Long-time readers will know that I'm obsessed with signs, symbols, and alphabets of all kinds.  There is one set of symbols that I've had in the back of my mind for almost 40 years now.  They made their first appearance in popular culture in the 1970s.  Thanks to the internet, I've finally been able to reconstruct the full set accurately:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tell me where these symbols come from.  (I won't ask you what they mean, because I'm not quite sure about that, myself!)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Update on the Right Stuff RPG

Back in 2012, I mused for a few posts (here and here) about an idea for a new game that allows players to recreate the excitement of not only the 1960s space race, but also the way things "could have been" in the succeeding decades -- moon bases, orbiting agricultural colonies, terraforming Mars, and so on.

Anyway, I just learned about a fascinating new game, just published this year, that covers some of this territory.  I admit that my first thought was along the lines of "Oh no, have I been scooped?!"  However, reading its rules has been a huge help in figuring out what I want my game to be, and what I don't really want it to be.

Leaving Earth is a tabletop board game written by Joseph Fatula and published by the Lumenaris Group.  Each player takes the role of a space agency, and the goal is to plan missions, build spacecraft, manage risk, and reach for the stars!  In itself, this isn't a new concept.  A year or so ago I also came across a much more detailed game/simulation on the same topic: Phil Eklund's High Frontier.  But Leaving Earth aims to shave off enough of the scientific and engineering crunchiness to make it a fun experience for players of all backgrounds.  It's essentially the same level of complexity that I'm looking to hit in my game.

Despite my love of all the techy goodness of space mission planning -- and I say that without an ounce of irony -- I think that my original "Right Stuff RPG" (name to be changed to avoid getting in trouble) wasn't really about that, um, stuff.  I was always thinking more about the personalities of the astronauts and the ways that they made larger-than-life history.  You can see even in my placeholder name that I consider it a Role Playing Game first and foremost.

I want each player to really get into their chosen astronaut characters, to care about them as people.  And, of course, to inject something of themselves into their characters, too.  Balancing the first (play acting) with the second (wish fulfillment?) is a juggling act that tabletop RPGs have been trying to perfect for more than 40 years now.  I'd love to prod players toward that goal, but traditional RPGs like D&D have an open-endedness of "plot" that requires a knowledgeable DM to manage it all.

Thus, the big question is:  How much of that experience can be programmed into a more casual kind of game?  I still have no answer to that, but I'm always open to inspiration...  :-)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Different Keystrokes for Different Keyfolks

As you may have guessed, I'm not going to let the lack of a new, over-arching theme for this blog stop me from posting about random stuff that I find interesting.  So, let me take this opportunity for a picture post in which I convince you that keyboards are cool.

The above is a close-up of part of the Commodore 64 keyboard.  I spent much of the 1980s figuring out the innards of that beastie.  It served me well.  Note that even back then, there was a superfluous "operating system brand" key -- I remember the "Commodore key" giving access to the weird emoji-like symbols you can see printed on the fronts of the letter keys.  Each of those symbols also served as shorthand commands for various things.  I remember that printing the heart symbol was obligatory at the beginning of most programs, since it was equivalent to a "clear screen" command.

But if you want even more keys for symbols, non-standard shift-key sequences, and overall high weirdness, you can't go wrong with the Space Cadet Keyboard:

Click to zoom... you won't be disappointed

Roman numerals!  Thumbs-up and thumbs-down keys!  Hyper, Super, and Meta?!?  I especially like the keys for set theory, partial differentiation, and infinity.  Hat tip to the great Ron Hale-Evans for introducing me to this one.

However, if you're really into the state of the art, I suggest you find an Optimus Maximus... in which each key contains a fully programmable little screen that you can change to any image you want...

This one made me think of the esoteric, customized keyboard (with a similar tactile look to it) that someone spent a lot of time in crafting for just one brief scene in the 1979 sci-fi movie Alien:

Another one to click on and be amazed

Note all the quasi-Buddhist Theosophical terms... Aum, Padme, and Hum all make an appearance.  Also Lingha and Yoni... as well as "Agaric Fly" next to "Trip."  (If you don't know, I ain't sayin.)  But what exactly is a "Druze Pile," and how does one get rid of "Shakti Excess?"  These keys might come in handy if you encounter Ascended Master Koot Hoomi on the seventh etheric plane, but I'm not sure how they helped Ripley blast a xenomorph out of the airlock.  See here for some additional exegesis of the fonts, buttons, and keyboards from Alien.

But anyway, now that we're firmly transported into the future, I can't help but also remember some other buttons and keypads out of my nostalgic sci-fi dreams...

Don't do it, Scotty!

Putting aside the obvious question (i.e., how would anyone remember what each button does if they're not labeled?), let me just point you to an amazing web page that tracks down the origins of every gol-dang button on the bridge of the original starship Enterprise.  Some were repurposed from existing electronic equipment, and some were made from pouring colored resin into ice trays.  Don't believe me on the latter, do you?  See some recent fan attempts to make some!

This image speaks to me in a language I don't understand, but must follow. :-)

Another sci-fi TV show with interesting background graphical elements was 1978's Battlestar Galactica.  I loved all the quasi-Egyptoid and pseudo-Mormon symbolism, but in a post about buttons and keyboards, the closest thing I can think of is the joystick of the Colonial Viper ship...

The image on the left is the one seen most often... "fire" and "turbo" are obvious, and "IM" (inverse maneuver) was only used once: a rapid stop and reverse.  The image on the right was shown rarely -- possibly accidentally -- since it was the unaltered version. This prop really came from the cockpit of a Vietnam-era surveillance plane; it must have controlled the remote cameras on the outside of the aircraft.

Anyway, that's all for now.  If you're hungry for more stuff like this, there's a lot out there for the astute searcher.  There's also a surprising amount of interest in deconstructing the methods and meanings of sci-fi TV and movie "interfaces," too.  The blog that explored the Alien buttons and fonts also delved deeply into Kubrick's 2001 and a few other movies.  This blog had fascinating multi-post musings about the interfaces of Logan's Run, The Fifth Element, and quite a few others.

Lastly, I thought I'd show you the most sophisticated keyboard of all.  For the budding pirates in the audience, I give you the Corsair!


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cthulhu fhtagn!?

I've recently had a chance to fill in a huge, yawning gap in my geek cred.  Up until this past month, I'd never actually read any H. P. Lovecraft.

I've always known the tropes... In the 1980s, I practically memorized the "Cthulhu Mythos" section of the original D&D Deities & Demigods book.  I got the joke about "Uhluhtc" (oo-loo-tec) in the original Heavy Metal movie.  Heck, I own the game Call of Cthulhu, and I even consulted on a supplement for CoC back in the 1990s!

Artist: Erol Otus.  I'm trying to illustrate this post without any tentacles.

So shame on me for taking this long, for sure.  What spurred me to start reading wasn't Lovecraft himself, but rather a short story from 2014 by Ruthanna Emrys called "The Litany of Earth."  (Online in full here.)  It's powerful and very well-written.  I resist saying too much more about it because I'd like people to read it without preconceptions, as I did.  Suffice to say that it provides a new perspective on the Lovecraftian world that genuinely surprised and charmed me.

This story also got me to seek out more information about cosmicism, a (sorta kinda) real-world attempt to broaden Lovecraft's ideas into a coherent and satisfying belief system.  Despite its stereotypical veneer of bleakness and existential nihilism, there seems to be some raw material for a more positive and optimistic path; see here, for example.  I was already familiar with Kenneth Grant's mind-bending attempts to do something vaguely similar, but it was nice to see a few more modern, less occultish, perspectives on it all.

Virgil Finlay

However, the rub:

Nearly all of the ideas that fascinated me -- both from Emrys' story and from the cosmicistical writings I found on the web -- were extrapolations from Lovecraft... not really taken directly from what he says on the page.  His stories are powerful and interesting -- and I do intend on reading more of them to complete my education.  But after reading a handful, I'm learning that Lovecraft's well-known reputation for bleakness and terror is well justified.

I'm hoping to find some small kernels of hope in the remaining HPL stories in my queue.  I might give Derleth a try, too.  But I'm starting to suspect that Lovecraft may be a bit like another early 20th century thinker who ushered in some scary new ideas: Aleister Crowley.  Both kind of serve as anti-prophets -- i.e., conveyers of wild thoughts that spurred on others in unique ways, but who ought not to be "followed" too slavishly or literally.  That way lies, well, the mountains of madness.

Back to Erol Otus

Friday, September 25, 2015

Won't you please?

Won't you please?
Please won't you roll... for initiative?

Hat tip to the Old School Roleplaying FB page

In a way, it was the perfect gateway drug for RPGs and other imaginatory pursuits.  A trip to the Neighborhood of Make Believe every day?  Who could ask for more?  And given that land was filled with kings, trolls, witches, talking animals, and aliens from the Planet Purple (I'm lookin' at you, Arneson's Blackmoor) I see no incongruity here.

- - -

More content soon, folks.  This blog ain't dead yet!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Gen Con 2015

I usually don't talk much about games to colleagues in my professional life, but I do happen to be mentoring a grad student who is very much into board & card games.  I knew she was taking a trip to Indianapolis last month, but it took longer than it should have to figure out where she was really going.  Here's a snippet from the email I sent her a few weeks ago:
I just put two and two together.  You said "a game convention in Indianapolis."  Understatement of the year!  I didn't realize until now that I should have translated that as "the legendary game convention started by Gary Gygax in the 60s, which I read about all the time in Dragon magazine as a kid, and dreamed about attending all through the late 70s and most of the 80s."  :-)  :-)
That's probably more than I've talked about games to colleagues in the last 25 years!  But what did my student hand me when I saw her this week?

Am I going to have to actually start playing again so I can use these?  We'll see!  :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Church of the Big Gamble

Apologies for not a lot going on here lately.  I'll know the new direction I'm looking for when I see it.  :-)

The other day I came across a really thought-provoking blog post by Joey Vigour in defense of randomness in games.  It helped to explain some of my own (unformed) thoughts and predilections.

The basic idea is that there's a sweet spot between the two extremes of order and chaos.  Staying balanced on that knife-edge is difficult, but well worth it.  The more I thought about it, the more I'm sure this general idea applies to lots of things.  Let me just list a few of them...

Games:  Joey Vigour explained that including the "dark forces" of randomness (dice, cards, etc) in a game gives us a glimpse of the craziness of life.  I'll just let him tell you:
"So why do most game designers introduce an element of randomness to their games? I would argue that dark mystical (or at least unknown) forces are a game designer's ally because the introduction of chaos to a game causes our subconscious to be reminded of real life. Games are a simulacrum of life, but all the beautiful photo-realistic art and all the flavor text is still just fluff on top of the Spark that moves us emotionally. Understanding the Spark is the struggle of all artists: to know that there is unknowable, and to grasp at it in a comprehensive presentation."
Vigour also considers human strategizing as being in the same category with the dark forces of randomness -- after all, other people can sometimes be as inscrutable and hard to predict as a roll of the dice! -- so games like Chess can also invoke these feelings.  Still, too much of the human/random element in a game can be pointless and dreary (like never-ending games of Chutes and Ladders).  Too little of it gives you something easily solved, like Tic-Tac-Toe.

Stories:  The knife-edge between order and chaos is apparent in narratives, too.  Too much order gives us the logical tying and untying of plot-driven "knots."  I'm thinking of the inevitability of events in things like Greek and Shakespearean tragedies.  Fatalism can sometimes be interesting, but not in isolation.  Too much chaos is just surrealistic dada.  :-)

Life:  Too much order leads you right into a rut.  (Think of Mr. Incredible stuffed into his tiny car on a traffic-filled freeway... that had to be inspired by this song.)  Too much chaos means adrenalin and stress all the time, which is just plain not good for you, whether you're a superhero or not.

Music:  Goes without saying, I think.  Our ears and brains have evolved to respect the knife-edge between monotonous order and dissonant chaos.

There are probably so many other examples... enough to build a Glass Bead Game worthy of the ages, I'm sure.  By the way, the title of this post comes from old-school D&D; see here for more about my own history with it.

Back to Joey:
"So let’s embrace dice rolling, deck shuffling, hidden information, and mystery in games. It’s what our subconscious relates to anyway. It’s how we lose our forgetfulness and reconnect with hidden truths. It’s how we find ourselves. Anything less than that is just Tic-Tac-Toe."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Venus Paradise: Cyber Edition

I'm still not done thinking about the long-term goals of this blog, but there is one idea for a post that I've had for a few months, and I'd like to get it out there.  Does anyone remember these?

Some time in the early 1970s, I got a few of these color-pencil-by-numbers sets as Christmas gifts.  For young Cygnus, the color pencils were a godsend.  I loved the ubiquitous Crayola rainbow, but wax crayons left a lot to be desired.  They couldn't give you the fine lines of a pencil or pen... and if you stacked up a few of your creations on top of one another, the papers would stick together and get kind of goopy after a while.

I was fascinated by one particular brand... the Venus Paradise pencils, which had their own unique color palette.  Each color was assigned to an evocative name and a specific number in an esoteric sequence.  The numbers corresponded to the digits on the color-by-numbers outlines, but I don't remember filling in many of them.  I tended to just hoard the pencils and draw other stuff with them (and I still have some nubs left in a box somewhere).

So, a few months ago, I discovered a massive, labor-of-love web site for Crayloa crayon collectors.  Over the years I've also seen quite a few attempts at creating web-based color palettes out of the classic crayon colors.  But where's the digital love for Venus Paradise?  Someone might want to re-create their childhood color-pencil artwork as accurately as possible.  Okay, Cygnus (plus some image-grabbing software) to the rescue.

1. Deep Yellow:  (247, 210, 039),  #F7D227
2. Sarasota Orange:  (245, 120, 057),  #F57839
3. Poppy Red:  (231, 067, 069),  #E74345
4. Hollywood Cerise:  (255, 111, 145),  #FF6F91
5. Orchid Purple:  (089, 062, 103),  #593E67
6. Navy Blue:  (022, 057, 108),  #16396C
7. Peacock Blue:  (078, 195, 239),  #4EC3EF
8. Emerald Green:  (036, 179, 134),  #24B386
9. Deep Chrome Green:  (024, 092, 069),  #185C45
10. Photo Brown:  (136, 068, 032),  #884420
11. Chestnut Brown:  (067, 047, 026),  #432F1A
12. Midnight Black:  (017, 017, 016),  #111110
13. Ultramarine Blue:  (059, 123, 210),  #3B7BD2
14. Natural Flesh:  (246, 224, 181),  #F6E0B5
15. Lawn Green:  (056, 134, 079),  #38864F
16. French Green:  (203, 215, 087),  #CBD757
17. Smoke Gray:  (159, 153, 146),  #9F9992
18. Blush Pink:  (251, 133, 126),  #FB857E
19. Cherry Red:  (217, 057, 064),  #D93940
20. Arizona Topaz:  (243, 208, 119),  #F3D077
21. Indian Red:  (174, 064, 042),  #AE402A
22. Sky Magenta:  (208, 123, 154),  #D07B9A
23. Cotton White:  (254, 253, 253),  #FEFDFD
24. Lemon Yellow:  (253, 243, 132),  #FDF384
25. Bright Gold:  (195, 170, 117),  #C3AA75
26. Bright Silver:  (155, 185, 190),  #9BB9BE
27. Sky Blue:  (104, 192, 236),  #68C0EC

I so love those color names.  If I ever write a noir-ish crime drama, I'm sure I'll steal at least three or four character names from the above list.  I think #4 and #17 must be having an affair.

Here's what the digital RGB colors look like in graphical form:

Please do whatever you like with this information.  I'm still not sure why it's ending up on this blog.  I just know I had a blast putting it all together.  Right now, that's enough for me.

I should note that I never owned numbers 25 or 26.  According to the web, these two were the rarest colors of the bunch.  It took me a while to even find an image of #26 (see below... ain't it bee-u-tee-ful?).  For #25 I had to go slumming with online images of other brands to even begin to guess what "Bright Gold" might look like.  I'll find one someday!  :-)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No X, Y, Z

I'm so sorry, folks, but I'm going to have to cancel the last 3 posts of my (already stretched out) A-to-Z challenge.  I'll give you brief summaries of the ideas I had for X, Y, and Z, but I've just been too busy to devote the time needed to flesh them out into posts that I'd consider worthy to include with the rest.  We moved into a new house over the last few weeks, and I'm still looking forward to the day when I won't be seeing boxes & bins everywhere I look.  :-)

- - -

X is for eXtropy:  As some of you know, I've got a soft spot for the ultra-optimistic claims of the transhumanists.  I was planning on reading up on Max More's idea of Extropianism and letting you all know about the bits that I found most interesting.

- - -

Y is for Your Weird: I actually wrote a little bit on this one, so I'll let me-from-March explain more:

In March 1991, sci-fi author Bruce Sterling gave a speech at the Computer Game Developers' Conference in San Jose, California.  He titled it "The Wonderful Power of Storytelling" (full transcript here), but it's since come to be known as the "Follow Your Weird" speech.  Back in 2011, I blogged about some of the juicier quotes, but I thought I'd recall it here, since it's quite clearly a call to arms... a yelling, screaming screed of hope... a manifesto, for short.  :-)

Among many other things, Sterling tried to wean the video game programmers of the day away from trying to ape the tropes of story and narrative in their new medium.  If it's good enough, those things emerge naturally without the need for heavy-handedness.  His experience at being a genre writer is valuable...
We're not into science fiction because it's good literature, we're into it because it's weird.  Follow your weird, ladies and gentlemen.  Forget trying to pass for normal.  Follow your geekdom.  Embrace your nerditude.  In the immortal words of Lafcadio Hearn, a geek of incredible obscurity whose work is still in print after a hundred years, "woo the muse of the odd."  A good science fiction story is not a "good story" with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it.  A good science fiction story is something that knows it is science fiction and plunges through that and comes roaring out of the other side.  Computer entertainment should not be more like movies, it shouldn't be more like books, it should be more like computer entertainment, SO MUCH MORE LIKE COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT THAT IT RIPS THROUGH THE LIMITS AND IS SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE!
I planned on digging for more gems, but you know the story.

- - -

Z isn't quite for Zoas:  There was a bit of a bait-and-switch, here.  The title refers to William Blake's concept of Four Zoas, or four fundamental archangel-like principles in the universe.  Carl Jung may have gotten his love of alchemical quaternities from this unfinished poetical work...

However, the actual "manifesto" here was going to be Blake's earlier work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  I've always loved its irreverence, energy, and long lists of pithy proverbs.

This one, I might come back to later.  In the mean time, I've got to do some re-evaluation of where I'd like this blog to go, topic-wise.  I'm still very much interested in the two main gaming related foundation stones that the blog was built on (RPGs and GBGs), but I think it might be time to broaden the field of view a bit more.  Let's see what's out there.

Friday, May 22, 2015

W is for the Wilburys

Well, it's all right, riding around in the breeze.
Well, it's all right, if you live the life you please.
Well, it's all right, doing the best you can.
Well, it's all right, as long as you lend a hand.

Is 1989's End of the Line a manifesto?  Glob if I know... but I do think it fits in with my theme.  It seems to encapsulate the hard-won wisdom from the lives of Bob, Jeff, Tom, George, and Roy, which is nothing to sneeze at...

You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring
(At the end of the line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything
(At the end of the line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring
(At the end of the line)
Maybe a diamond ring.

To quote a recent D&D blog post from Joe Bloch, "There's no DIY unless YDI."

But I really love how maturity and moderation seep through this song.  Yes, you've got to go out and do all the things.  But there are no guarantees that the results will be what you hoped they'd be.

Well, it's all right, even if they say you're wrong.
Well, it's all right, sometimes you gotta be strong.
Well, it's all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay. (*)
Well, it's all right, every day is Judgement Day.  (**)

Hmm, I still don't quite hear those exact lines.  (*) has always sounded to me like "...someone to lay with," and (**) really has got to be "...every day is just one day."  But the sentiments are pretty similar, no matter which lyrics website you believe.  :-)

Well, it's all right, even when push comes to shove.
Well, it's all right, if you got someone to love.

I won't quote the whole song.  Their mini-homage to Purple Haze was fun.  But I do have a special love for the above couplet because it was one of the last things Roy sang,

Well, it's all right, even if you're old and gray.
Well, it's all right, you still got something to say.

And that one because it was George,

Well, it's all right, remember to live and let live.
Well, it's all right, the best you can do is forgive.

And that one because I'm still so far from achieving it.

I had a big ending planned for this post, in which I'd compare the "life is a journey" metaphor in this song with some other ones that use the same idea.  But, eh, maybe another time... or in the comments.  (What are some of your favorite songs about the journey of life?)  For now, I'm going to go riding around in the breeze for a bit.
Well, it's all right, even if the sun don't shine.
Well, it's all right, we're going to the end of the line.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

V is for Vision(ary)

This post was originally going to be about William Butler Yeats' strange philosophical stream of consciousness book called A Vision.  However, the more I dug into it, the more I got disillusioned with its rambling and random nature.  Almost an incomprehensible fever dream, in some places.  I still hope to revisit it and understand it better, someday, but it's no fiery manifesto.

So, good luck for me that, right around the end of March, I discovered a completely different kind of Vision.  Nobel-prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek was recently asked to give a talk on his predictions for physics 100 years in the future.  He wrote up a more formal version of that talk and posted it online last month.

I'm no particle physicist, so I didn't really appreciate the most esoteric parts about quantum gauge theory.  I did like that he quotes Heraclitus and Parmenides to contrast the "God's-eye" view of the universe with our own "ant's-eye" view, but I don't think I grokked the physics implications.  However, once he's done giving his opinions of supersymmetry and string theory, the essay gets weirder and better.

Wilczek notes that much of our progress in science has been leading to greater and greater abstraction.  Forces are better understood as aspects of energy conservation.  "Energies" may, in turn, be best understood as symmetries of pure information.  Wilczek has written before about how "its" (physical things) may come ultimately from abstract "bits," but here he notes an interesting irony.  In biology, the trend has been to reduce more and more abstract concepts (like the mind) to an interplay of matter.  However...
"...if physics evolves to describe matter in terms of information, as we discussed earlier, a circle of ideas will have closed.  Mind will have become more matter-like, and matter will have become more mind-like."
He's not done with the physics-biology connection.  Wilczek also predicts that technology will continue to learn lessons from the systems that evolution has honed over millions of years.  Thus, a prediction that our computers will become more brain-like, and our machines will become more body-like.

Again, he brings it full circle.  He predicts the flow will go in the other direction, too -- i.e., that we'll continue to enhance our biology (especially our crude sense of color vision) by using technology.  Two of his briefest predictions are the ones that I'm most fascinated by:
  • We will vastly expand the human sensorium, opening the doors of perception.
  • Artists and scientists will work together, to create new works of extraordinary beauty.
This technological expansion might also help us explore space without actually making the trip in person:
"As people acquire routine access to extremely capable distant sensors and actuators, their sense of identity will expand beyond the limits of their physical bodies.  An immersive experience of "being there" will not necessarily involve being there, physically.  This will be an important element of the expansion of human culture beyond Earth, since human bodies are very poorly suited to extraterrestrial environments.  One can imagine an expanding web of intelligence more easily than an expanding web of settlement, and I expect it will happen much sooner."
Lastly, Wilczek claims that with these expanded senses and powers, we will evolve to greater levels of humility.  Knowing more means having greater perspective about what we still don't understand.  We can only hope.  :-)

Monday, May 18, 2015

U is for Unitarian Universalism

The phrase "five smooth stones" comes from the Biblical account of David and Goliath.  Those rocks were all the puny shepherd had at hand when faced with a seemingly unbeatable foe.  However, I first heard this phrase in a pamphlet I picked up somewhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Titled "The Five Smooth Stones of Religious Liberalism," it's a collection of excerpts from James Luther Adams' book On Being Human Religiously.

Adams was one of the chief American theologians of the modern Unitarian Universalist movement.  I don't know much about where the UU's fit into the larger tapestry of religion and/or New Age spirituality, but I've always kind of liked them.

Adams' Five Smooth Stones encapsulate a mini-manifesto of his conception of UU belief and practice.  Unfortunately, Adams never boiled them down into a short list like many of the others that I've highlighted so far.  Each "stone" in Adams' book was a full essay. Even that little pamphlet that I picked up 20 years ago contains 13 or 14 pages of dense, unillustrated text. :-)  If you search, you'll find some pithy encapsulations, but none that are authoritative.  Here's my own attempt to boil them down to a blog post.....

1. Revelation is continuous.  The Divine speaks to us in our time, just as in all previous times.  Because revelation is still not complete, "nothing is exempt from criticism."

2. Freedom of association.  This applies not only to person-to-person relationships (no coercion or slavery), but also to the relationship between pulpit and pew.  The whole reward & punishment scheme that some religions invoke is off the table.  Love, especially, can only be good and true when it's given freely.  It's all about trust.

3. A just & loving community.  All this talk about love and freedom is worthless without application to the real world.  It's difficult, though, since building a fair, equitable community sometimes means balancing freedom against responsibility.  Adams waxes very Biblical when talking about this; balancing the Old Testament prophets against Jesus' humble mustard seed.

4. Do good to be good.  In some theologies, virtue is elevated to being an abstract, absolute entity.  Not for Adams.  Goodness only exists when it's exercised and put into practice.  There's that real world again.  Do you really believe what you say you believe?  Put your money where your mouth is, mister.

5. Ultimate Optimism.  The universe may not provide everything we want or need, but it provides enough for us to do good, meaningful work in life.  The worst roadblocks are internal, and we can overcome them.  At least we have hope.

Friday, May 15, 2015

T is for Taliesin

I'm not talking about the 6th century poet and singer (and likely model for the D&D class of "bard").  I'm thinking more about the fact that the famous 20th century architect Frank Lloyd Wright was so charmed by fanciful stories of this early creative genius that he named several of his studios and schools after "Taliesin."

Wright himself was also quite the creative genius.  I don't know too much about his life, but I know he put a huge emphasis on cultivating harmony between humans and their environment.  He also thought a lot about educating the next generation of architects and designers.  He wrote quite a few bombastic tracts -- both for the public and for his students -- but the most pithy and manifesto-like seems to be a list of 10 fundamental principles for exceeding in his craft.  There is some variation in lists to be found online, but the following is taken directly from his 1932 autobiography, page 464...


I.  An honest ego in a healthy body -- good correlation
II.  Love of truth and nature
III.  Sincerity and courage
IV.  Ability for action
V.  The esthetic sense
VI.  Apppreciation of work as idea and idea as work
VII.  Fertility of imagination
VIII.  Capacity for faith and rebellion
IX.  Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance
X.  Instinctive cooperation

It's pretty advanced... many of these terms have specialized meanings in architecture, and it probably takes decades to really internalize and understand them.  Over and over he emphasizes "organic" design.  In another teaching document for Taliesin fellows, An Extension of the Work in Architecture at Taliesin to Include Apprentices in Residence, he explains this organic impulse in more detail...
"Constant working contacts with the nature of structure and materials, the ground, and of nature-growth itself are the only reliable texts to be used in this connection. Only as these are the actual forms of daily experience directly related to daily life and work are they the texts we must now use to begin again at the beginning."
...but I must admit to not quite digesting this, either.

Wright was probably the model for Ayn Rand's über-architect Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, but Wright famously distanced himself from the connection, saying "I deny the paternity and refuse to marry the mother."  :-)

I'll just leave you with a sketch of my favorite Wright design, the Ralph Jester House (also called the Arthur and Bruce Brook Pfeiffer House), which sadly was never built...

Head for the roundhouse, Nellie, they can't corner us there!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

S is for the Surrealist Manifesto

Hey, finally, something with "Manifesto" in its actual name!  You thought I forgot about those, didn't you?  :-)

The first Surrealist Manifesto was written in 1924 by André Breton, whom I profiled first and foremost in my 2013 April A-Z posts.  I've got a soft spot for Breton's romanticism and crazy creativity, even if he sometimes took it to extremes that I'd shun.

His 1924 manifesto begins with some thoughts about how life, for most adults, tends to make one kind of dazed and anesthetized.  Only children and the insane seem to be able to see through the thick fog.  Art should be an escape from the fog, but in Breton's time there was an ascendancy of ultra-realistic novels that plod on and on with piddly details...
And the descriptions! There is nothing to which their vacuity can be compared; they are nothing but so many superimposed images taken from some stock catalogue, which the author utilizes more and more whenever he chooses; he seizes the opportunity to slip me his postcards, he tries to make me agree with him about the clichés.
He takes a swipe at Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment as an egregious example.  (I admit, I could never get through it.)

But then he goes into psychology and Freud... concentrating on the idea that DREAMS can sometimes tell us truer truths than the boring stock catalogue of normal waking consciousness.  That's what art can be like, he ponders.
We really live by our fantasies when we give free reign to them.
Then he's got to define his terms.  This search for a new reality above (sur-) the workaday world now has a name:
SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. [...] Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.
The remainder of the manifesto gets crazier and crazier... I won't quote more of it here, since you should go and experience it for yourself.  Suffice to say it gives you the tools you need to never be bored around boring people, to catch the eye of desired members of the opposite sex, and to properly usher in death when it's time.

What I do want to do is to list some of my own favorite surrealist tools, many of which have a heritage that goes back to Breton and his merry cohorts:

1.  Hypnagogic States:  When you're just at the threshold of falling asleep, do you sometimes hear voices?  If you catch it at just the right state (which, for me, is very rare, but I've experienced it) the voices can be crystal clear and just as audible as if someone was in the room.  The words are usually random and dreamlike, but sometimes insightful as hell.  I've used them in poetry.  I once heard a phrase that reminded me of a famous tomb inscription in Westminster Abbey, but with a more familiar subject: "O Rare Breton!"

2.  Semi-Automatic Writing:  This phrase without the "semi" has many possible definitions.  I'm thinking of the thing where you just sit down with a blank pad of paper and a pen, and set a stopwatch for 5 or 10 minutes.  Then just start writing out your stream of consciousness.  Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind, with no editing or censoring.  Go as fast as you can, and don't stop until the time is up.  Afterwards, you'll either want to burn the paper, or treasure it away for the rest of your life.

3.  Tzarization:  This is often called the Dada technique, pioneered by Tristan Tzara.  I'll let him define it:

"The poem will be like you."  Aren't they all?

4.  Juxtapomo:  The surrealists liked to make startling compositions that mashed up things that usually didn't belong together -- but still had enough in common to make you think -- like, say, a fish and an umbrella.  But is that really all that different from Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game, which I've blathered on about on this blog to no end?  :-)

Monday, May 11, 2015

R is for Russell

(This post was originally titled "L is for Liberal Decalogue," but Luke bumped it.)

The topic of today's post has been called a micro-manifesto of sorts.  In philosopher Bertrand Russell's autobiography, he tucked in his own version of the 10 commandments... not so much a replacement for the Mosaic law, but a "liberal" supplement for the modern scientific age.  It was originally printed in the New York Times in 1951.

Epistemological Mack Daddy

I put "liberal" in scare quotes above because it's meaning has drifted quite a bit over the decades.  I just checked the holy OED, and the meaning of the word that I think Russell had in mind was "favorable to, or respectful of, individual rights and freedoms."

As a college kid in the 1980s, I had a copy of these 10 commandments taped up on my desk in the dorm (next to these lyrics).  Just reading them again brings me back to those heady days, when I was just starting to think about a career in science.  Here they are:

- - - - - - -

The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

- - - - - - -

Again, there's that tension between rival themes.  So much of the above is about doing your own thing, no matter what the authorities will tell you to do.  But there are hints about a need for some moderation.  He warns us not to be over-confident or arrogant enough to impose our way on others, even if we are in the right.  Just a pinch of be nice to one another, in other words.  :-)

A few other thoughts:
  • From the appearance of the word "husband" in #4, it's interesting that he may have been writing this for a female audience.
  • Many online commentaries on #5 make it clear that he's talking about authority as something distinct from expertise.  The latter is what scientists (ought to) convey to the public, not the former.
  • #10 seems a bit out of left field to me.  I wonder if this envy is something that Russell struggled with himself.
  • I don't think I'll ever fulfill #1.  There are some things that I know.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Q is for the Qesheth Connection

Preface:  I missed posting this on its proper day yesterday.   I was on a plane back from a crazy 3-day trip to give a talk in a foreign land, and now I'm back to packing boxes for our ongoing move from a temporary apartment into our new home.  Busy busy!  :-)

- - -

Some letters require a stretch.  You'll see the meaning of my "Q" soon, I promise.  I also apologize in advance if I'm including too many song lyrics to the detriment of "real" manifestos.  But this is one of the first ones that I knew I had to include somewhere in this list.

The Rainbow Connection, written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher, was the first song that you heard in 1979's The Muppet Movie.  Sung by a little green frog and his faithful human Jim, it's a wistful and hopeful song that I think goes a lot deeper than Kermit's Florida swamp.
Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
I'm finding it hard to put into words what moves me so much about this song.  If I someday find that fabled connection, I think I'll find in these lyrics a resolution between the extremes from the previous two posts: Crowley's ultra-libertarian Do your own thing, and Queen/Bowie's compassion-at-all-costs urge for us to Be kind to one another.  There's got to be room for both.

I'm sure that people have pointed out that Kermit's vision of optimism and hope is probably meant to echo (in part) the events following Noah's flood in the Book of Genesis.  The "bow of promise" was set in the sky as a sign that better days were coming for humanity.  That same basic idea seems to be coded in other rainbow tales, from the leprechaun's gold to the bridge to Asgard.
Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it,
And look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.
In Hebrew, the word for "bow" or "rainbow" is Qesheth.  In the late 1800s, a secretive British society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn made use of this word, and its optimistic symbolism, to discuss some even stranger ways that better days could be ahead.

Much like the Freemasons, initiates to the Golden Dawn had to go through a series of initiation ceremonies.  Unlike the Freemasons, though, these rituals were meant to take place in a complex symbolic landscape (known as the "Tree of Life") that describes the conscious and subconscious parts of the human mind, their interconnections, and their relationships to the divine.  The initiate's long journey "up the tree" parallels what they hoped would be an internal process of meditation, prayer, and mystical visions.  The end result would be a perfected, saint-like soul, that some claimed would be "more than human" (but many others dismiss that last part, saying that this is what it really means to just be fully human)!
All of us under its spell,
We know that it's probably magic...
Where's the rainbow connection in all this?  The first paths up from the bottom of the tree (where we all start out in life) were labeled with the Hebrew letters Q, Sh, and Th.  Put them together and you get Qesheth.  You need a little optimism when you're just getting started.

But the bow was only one half of the equation.  One of the key paths to mystical attainment was situated a bit above Q, Sh, and Th.  The vertical path corresponding to the letter Samekh shot right up into the heart of the Sun.  It also corresponded to the Zodiac sign of Sagittarius (the archer), so it was seen as the arrow let loose by the bow.

In that swamp, Kermit was just waiting for his chance to shoot that arrow into the air.  May we all get that chance.
Life's like a movie -- write your own ending --
keep believing, keep pretending.
We did just what we set out to do,
Thanks to the lovers, the dreamers, and you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

P is for Pressure

My original plan was for today's post to be about this guy...

Jack Parsons was a real-life rocket scientist, and he was also friends (frenemies?) with yesterday's subject and with L. Ron Hubbard.  He wrote some rockin' tracts on liberty, but after Monday's exposure to Crowley's OZ, I'm a bit freedomed out.

Instead, I'd rather talk about someone with an even better moustache...

What can I say about my main man, Farrokh Bulsara?  There's no need to biographize, is there?  But in 1981 he and his band mates teamed up with David Bowie to create Under Pressure, a mini-manifesto of compassion and fiery love.
Pressure, pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for.
Under pressure, that brings a building down
Splits a family in two,
Puts people on streets.
The lyrics come back again and again to the plight of the homeless, but sometimes I wonder if they're also meant to stand in for the rest of us.  We all sometimes feel "the terror of knowing what the world is about."  Especially when we're too busy, too under pressure, to see the answer that's right in front of us.
Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence, but it don't work
Keep coming up with love but it's so slashed and torn
Why?  Why?  Why?
Love... love... love... love... love
It might have been this song that got me to thinking about "love" as something tangible and real.  Not just some fuzzy emotion or feeling.  Okay, not something like an apple or the Boston Red Sox, either.  But maybe more like "pi."  There'd be something special about 3.14159265... even if no human ever had ever calculated its digits.  But if pi objectively exists, then certainly must love.

Kind of corny, right?  Freddie and David acknowledged that, too.  But it doesn't matter, in the end.
'Cause love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night;
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves,
Under pressure.
We might not ever eliminate the pressure, but we can take ownership of our share of it.  The light of love helps push back the edge of the night, too.

Monday, May 4, 2015

O is for Oz (but not that Oz)

I hope I'm not hopping around too randomly in the world of manifestos.  I am trying for some semblance of logical progression, but the alphabet is a harsh mistress!

Today I'm thinking about a one-page broadsheet written by infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley.  He was the self-appointed prophet of a new religion for a new age of humanity.  In his life, he wrote (and channeled!) millions of words of fascinating, mystical, and often obtuse text.  But Liber OZ was designed to be super simple.  Words of one syllable only, in order to promulgate the new creed to one and all.

In fact, calling it a "broadsheet" is a little much, since he often squeezed the whole thing onto one side of a business card. 
Man has the right to live by his own law — 
   to live in the way that he wills to do: 
   to work as he will: 
   to play as he will: 
   to rest as he will: 
   to die when and how he will.
We're clearly back on the side of "Do your own thing" in manifesto-land.  Other parts advocated free love, freedom of movement throughout the world, and the freedom to be intoxicated in any way that one wills.  The most powerful part, I think, was the advocacy for absolute freedom of expression...
Man has the right to think what he will:
   to speak what he will:
   to write what he will:
   to draw, paint, carve, etch, mould, build as he will:
   to dress as he will.
Je suis Charlie, indeed.  If all this wasn't controversial enough, Crowley capped off his list of non-negotiable rights with a slightly ominous final line:
Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.
Also, at the beginning is a slightly cryptic religious header:
There is no god but man.
Despite sounding like materialist atheism, Crowley's take on divinity was quite nuanced and strange.  He taught his students to use the techniques of magic and mysticism to get into direct contact with one's "Holy Guardian Angel," whose precise nature he never quite elaborated in full.  Was it supposed to be an actual spirit?  A usually suppressed part of one's subconscious mind?  Debates on this continue to go on and on.

One interesting aspect of Liber OZ is that initiates to Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis (a kind of quasi Freemasonry, but adjusted for the New Aeon of Freedom) were obligated to show their devotion to the new creed by posting a copy of OZ in a public place -- preferably near police stations, churches, or other seats of the "Old Aeon" power structure -- complete with their full legal name and address.

I've lived in cities with O.T.O. temples boasting hundreds of members, but I've never come across one of these.  I think there are informal rules about leaving them posted only for a day or so... or maybe stretching the rules about what counts as a seat of power!  :-)

Oh, I shouldn't mock.  If you search for images of this micro-manifesto, you will find a few with real names and addresses on them... and you'll also see lots of evocative calligraphy and art.  One of my favorites seems to have been created right around the time that I was born...

By the way, I don't think Crowley ever intended to refer to L. Frank Baum or his Yellow Brick Road.... "OZ" in Hebrew is supposed to be a word meaning sometimes "goat," but sometimes also "strength" or "glory" or "violence."  I'm sure the multiple meanings gave Crowley a good chuckle.

Friday, May 1, 2015

N is for the Novel

Okay... here's one that I knew very little about before discovering it last month.  D. H. Lawrence became (in)famous for racy novels such as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Sons and Lovers, but he also wrote reams of essays on a huge range of topics.  In 1923, he wrote a scathing manifesto about the future of his craft (shades of our friend Jerry!)  titled "Surgery for the Novel -- Or a Bomb."

It was a bit hard to find information on this essay.  It has a slightly more famous cousin ("Why the Novel Matters," online here).  "Surgery" was heavily edited when it was first published in a periodical, and the original sat in a drawer for much of the 20th century.  But after seeing just a few choice quotes in various places, I knew I had to find the whole thing.  Hooray for libraries!
How do we feel about the novel? Do we bounce with joy thinking of the wonderful novelistic days ahead? Or do we grimly shake our heads and hope the wicked creature will be spared a little longer?
Is the novel on his death-bed, old sinner? Or is he just toddling round his cradle, sweet little thing?
It turns out that he wasn't a fan of the introspective, stream of consciousness style that James Joyce and Thomas Mann were pioneering at the time.  Lawrence considered that the height of childishness...
It really is childish, after a certain age, to be absorbedly self-conscious. One has to be self-conscious at seventeen: still a little self-conscious at twenty-seven; but if we are going it strong at thirty-seven, then it is a sign of arrested development, nothing else. And if is still continuing at forty-seven, it is obvious senile precocity.
Thus, this 1923 essay was essentially a manifesto for the novel to wake up, grow up already, and cut out the navel-gazing.  Interestingly, he looked to the past to find examples of "little novels" that he found worthwhile: the Gospels and Plato's dialogues.
They don't care about how it is just now, or how it was in the past.... What they want is to put a new impulse into the world.
For Lawrence, those ancient texts were a healthy blend of religion, philosophy, and STORY.  Ever since those days, he claimed, the emotional, personal engagement was leeched out of philosophy... and the deep meaning was leeched out of fictional narrative.  Put 'em back together, he says!
The novel has got a future. Its future is to take the place of gospels, philosophies, and the present-day novel as we know it. It's got to have the courage to tackle new propositions without using abstractions; it's got to present us with new, really new feelings, a whole new line of emotion, which will get us out of the old emotional rut. Instead of snivelling about what is and what has been, or inventing new sensations in the old line, it's got to break a way through, like a hole in the wall. And the public will scream and say it's sacrilege: because, of course, when you've been jammed for a long time in a tight corner, you get really used to its stuffiness.... You back away from the cold stream of fresh air as if it was killing you.
Hey, there's that blood-pumping manifesto verve.

The weird thing is that -- to me -- Lawrence seems to embrace many of the same modernist tropes that Joyce was exploring... honest reporting of sexuality, themes of exile and loneliness, and a playful syncretism of ideas made possible by 20th century travel and communication.  I think that Joyce was trying to achieve much of the same thing Lawrence describes in this essay.  But Lawrence was kind of an expressionist, and Joyce was a cubist.  :-)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

M is for Man of La Mancha

Sub-title: "I was a Teenage Carrasco."

Man of La Mancha has been a popular Broadway musical since before I was born, and it was based (in part) on a novel that turns 400 this very year.

You might be wondering where the manifesto is, here.  It's not the play.  I'd like to make the case that its most famous song, The Impossible Dream, contains lyrics worthy of nailing up on a church doorway.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

The original story of Don Quixote was often slapstick and sometimes a bit cruel.  However, playwright Dale Wasserman's take on the conjoined lives of Miguel Cervantes and his fictional knight became something sublime.  The play contrasts the lives of two people: one successful and "sane" -- but cynical and selfish -- and the other "insane" but also kind, magnanimous, and super-inspiring to those around him.  Who's to say that the first one has more of a right to make his way in the world than the second one?

The second one, Don Quixote himself, sings The Impossible Dream as an encapsulation of his chivalric quest.  The repeated impossibilities in the lyrics make it seem he already knows that his worldview is out of step with everyone else's.  He doesn't care.

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

For people my age, and a bit older, this song a bit of an old cliché.  We heard the likes of Robert Goulet and Jim Nabors belt it out on TV shows, after all.  But it was the 60s, and unrealistic idealism was in the air.  I wonder if the sky-high hopes of the Space Race were an inspiration for the lyricists.  This song was also was my first peek through some narrow cracks in a completely rationalist point of view.

I was first introduced to Man of La Mancha in a high school English class.  Our teacher (who was something of a 60s throwback himself) gave us all copies of the script, assigned each kid to a role, and had us read it.  When the script called for the songs, the teacher played them from a vinyl record of the original cast recording -- so we wouldn't embarrass ourselves trying to sing.

I was a bit upset with this whole situation at first, since I was type-cast (ever the science geek) as the rationalist villain of the story, Dr. Sanson Carrasco.  But, if you're familiar with the play, you'll know what I mean when I say this was a mirror that I needed to be faced with.

I'm not sure if I live my life up to the ideals of this song, but I strive, I strive.

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star!