Thursday, 12 December 2013

Vox Populi



Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? — in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation on conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents on injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for the law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?

         -- 'On the Duty of Civil Disobedience', 1849,
             Henry David Thoreau

Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem. 
       
           -- 'The Problem is Civil Obedience', 1970,
           Howard Zinn


There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.


       -- Mario Savio, 1964, speaking at UC Berkeley as part of the Free Speech Movement



CITIZEN X

If you are a regular reader of Amid Night Suns, you’ll be aware that I’m no fan of the political and economic status quo.  My beliefs about the current state of our global politics can be summed up quite simply.  In my personal opinion the men and women we have ostensibly elected to govern us are at best greedy, manipulative and deeply prejudiced, without any true comprehension of what it means to genuinely be of service to a people.  At worst they are sociopaths, Social Darwinists, war-criminals and hegemonic oligarchs.  Our world is run by a handful of competing elites who differ only in detail and not in broader brush-strokes.

Their entire charade – their gluttony that somehow passes as governance – entirely hinges upon the idea that there is no other realistic way to organize and maintain a modern society.  As though this is the most natural and expedient way for modern humans to live, with a minority of inconceivably rich who control all the resources -- and a majority of inconceivably poor where even the idea of long-term survival is virtually impossible, let alone a quality of life that most Westerners would consider worth living.  And between them is a rapidly dwindling Middle Class.  Although it may be unpalatable to say so, most of our planet has been reduced to a vast, labyrinthine slum – and most of Earth’s inhabitants forced to live like vermin.  For example Kibera, in the Nairobi area of Kenya, is the largest urban slum in Africa.  Westerners who have visited it have invariably equated it to ‘Hell on Earth’, the stench alone being practically unbearable.  It is home to over a million souls, and it is essentially a vast rubbish dump.  Most of the ground is composed of refuse and waste.  There is no running water, electricity or sewage system; nothing even approaching basic amenities or sanitation.  But despite what the African and global governments would have you believe, places like Kibera are not unsolvable problems or insoluble Abysses.  Things are allowed to remain that way.  There is a vast global underclass that is maintained by the elites and social engineers of our world, for the sole purpose of exploitation, desecration and defilement.  The poverty-stricken masses become alternately work, play and food for the global predator-class.




But we are told that global poverty is a huge unwieldy problem that even the best and brightest minds have so far been unable to solve, while our Western economies are demonstrably built upon the breaking backs of the Third-World underclass.  How else do we get to live lives of such staggering opulence when most of our brethren are forced to scavenge subsistence in the human landfill of unending poverty and squalor?  But we know all this already, don’t we?  It is simply that the facts are just so brutal and ugly and unpalatable – and the elitist propaganda so insistent – that we console ourselves with the age-old questions and answers of “What is to be done?  What can I do to change all this horror?  This is human nature; violent, predatory and unfair.  I must look away now.”  This is a perfectly understandable reaction to what appears to be an unvarnished truth.  But the larger and more prescient truth is that the super-rich elites could end global poverty many times over if they really wanted to, but they don’t.  This is Western society’s dirty little secret (or one of them, at least).  Why would an elitist, Social Darwinist and predator want an end to the most profitable and luxurious situation he or she has ever known?



THE WAR OF ART

I am a romantic at heart, and as such I still want to believe in the unconquerable nature of the human spirit.  I want to believe that future generations still have a chance at a more meaningful, sustainable and harmonious future.  Though the somewhat Gothic aesthetic of this blog may suggest otherwise, I am an optimist as well as a realist.  But we must ask ourselves the question, “Are we just too far gone as a society for the civil disobedience of Thoreau or Zinn or Savio to be of any real consequence in the second decade of the 21st century?"  Are we just far too lost, or apathetic, or privileged, to organize and cohere enough to be a mobilized force for political change?  The Occupy and Anonymous movements of the last few years seemed to start bleeding at the edges even as they had begun.  Have we as Westerners grown fat and docile on diets of empty carbohydrates, reality-television and imperious consumerism?  Have we lost our lean, hungry edge?  I don’t think so, at least not entirely.  

I think we have been swept into a cul de sac that is more interested in counterculture posturing and symbols of subversion rather than the countercultures and subversions themselves.  But this does not mean we are destined now to be toothless caricatures and parodies of the better angels of our nature.  The Reality is Now, the Moment of Power is Now.  It always has been and always will be.  THAT is why the elites and predators invest so much time in sleight-of-hand.  They would not invest so much time and effort in trying to fool that which is not a threat.  Hear this: even in your most docile and lulled state you are STILL a threat.  Why?  Because the human race is a legion of powerful creators who have been enslaved, and although we are complicit and tacit in this situation the elites are well aware that things always have the potential to change in an instant.  With the right mixture of contexts and insights empires can fall in a matter of days, revolutions can be ignited in an instant – and suddenly they are larger and more dangerous than the individuals and circumstances that spawned them.  Those who prey on us fear this possibility, as they fear their prey most of all.




Each one of us is a citizen of two distinct but interdependent societies – the Inner Society and the Outer Society.  Civil disobedience within the Outer Society is useful and fruitful and essential when facing tyranny, but it will be rootless and far less consequential without the requisite and accompanying civil disobedience within the Inner Society.  What exactly do I mean by this?  Well, as we are ‘governed’ by men and ideas and appetites above us in the external world, similarly are we governed by the avatars and symbols of those men, those ideas and appetites, within the confines of our own minds.  Figuratively speaking, there is only one true war being waged on this planet at this time – the War of Imagination.  It has a thousand different physical and non-physical permutations, but the War’s essential purpose is to keep the human race in bondage.  This is really not so hard to understand.  Pimps and warlords and even advertising executives all understand the power of getting people to invest so powerfully in an idea that it becomes a part of them; with the largest part of this phenomenon occurring at an artistic, magical or subconscious level.  This is why I always say at Amid Night Suns that Art is the Oldest Magick.  So, without the necessary internal work our potency will only ever be half of what it could be.  Without delving into the intricacies of the Inner Society and deconstructing, analyzing and understanding how the minds of the colonizers were implanted into the consciousness of the colonized we will never fully be able to appreciate or ameliorate our circumstance. 

There is a War out there – a war for your Heart, Mind and Soul.  It has been waging for thousands of years.  But the war rages also within you.  It creates spectres of doubt and meaninglessness and greed and apathy – and tries to distract you from the truth of who and what you are.  You are an infinite sentient fractal, of something indescribably vast and complex and ancient.  It is your true Voice. You have the ability to continually hone your insight, lucidity and discernment to a razor’s edge.  You have within you the power to reshape your own Internal Society, to speak truth and live with meaning.  With this as your compass the idea of transforming the world for the better becomes far less implausible.  We are not separate from world.  If enough of us change within, the world will begin to change without.  Even if the horrors keep coming for a time, at least we can take comfort in the Gnosis that we are attempting to change that which is indeed within our control.         

People, it is time to Speak Up. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Black Magic, Art and Symbolism: Icons of the Predator-Class



“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”  
          
           --The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake


Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother -- eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother's childless cry,
A cry that ran thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!

          --'Demeter and Persephone', Alfred Tennyson


We have got to imagine some stupendous whole wherein all that has ever come into being or will come co-exists, which, passing slowly on, leaves in this flickering consciousness of ours, limited to a narrow space and a single moment, a tumultuous record of changes and vicissitudes that are but to us.
          
         --White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, Iain Sinclair


SEEING IN THE DARK

What is a predator, in a magical, artistic or symbolic context?  For the purposes of this essay I will define a predator as a consciousness that not only views others as disposable sources of energy – thereby feeding on them physically, spiritually or politically – but also a consciousness that exalts desecration, defilement and corruption in mythic, aesthetic terms; perceiving such appetites and actions as the ultimate spiritual truth.  This is a very dark notion, that there are such individuals and entities in our world who view abuse in sacred terms.  Such predators, in this definition, are the most deviant, hateful and isolated beings imaginable; completely cut off from nurturing, meaningful and healthy human connections.  Theirs is the baroque and byzantine mind of the degenerate sociopath.  Such people are always dangerous, but exponentially so when they have access to money, resources and power.  Many, many individuals among the global elites are predators in the vein I have described.  They are the inner circles within the elites – those who believe they deal only in Truth while others invest themselves in dark fairytales to furnish their pathology and prop up their ruined psyches.  But for the true predators, all is pathology, all is appetite. They have no interest or desire in feeling even remotely human.  Any interest they take in art, mythology or the occult is always in service to further transgression – the exalting of the most vicious, sinister proclivities.  Blood-cults and entire religions have been built around the pursuits of such predators.  But the most intellectual among them (for none of them are wise) understand that all psyche is magick.  When combined with art, symbol and intention such psyche begins to have real-world effects. 



BLEEDING THE MOON

In essence, those predators who are genuinely cognizant of magick have found a way to stage-manage, shape and mobilize their own devastating mental illness – directing and manifesting it into the material realm in various ways.  This is the largest part of what true black magic is.  It is not all ancient grimoires and chanting and hooded black robes.  The modern myth of an Illuminati-style global occult conspiracy is largely a fallacy; a misrepresentation of the mythic imagination.  Such images are potent indeed, but by and large they dwell in the Undeworld; the sunken realm of the unconscious.  Such imagery is often appropriated by men with too much money and power, but often they lack any spiritual seriousness – flirting haphazardly with forces that they can barely comprehend – occultism as lifestyle accessory.  But all magick is the weave and turn of the imagination, whether that imagining faculty is healthy or unhealthy.  Unfortunately, the truly dangerous predators among the elites of our world do understand this generating principle.  They don’t care about art and symbolism in the same way we do, because it ameliorates our lives, brings us closer together, helps us make sense of the chaos.  No, the predators of our world are interested in art and symbolism for one simple reason – because they have grasped that Art is the Oldest Magick.  Considered, creative perception IS the act of transforming material reality, often in ways that are not immediately obvious.



THE RED AND THE BLACK

When a man dies, that’s the end of his power. A monster is different. When a monster dies, its power is just beginning.
          --‘Ripperology’, Orin Grey


The human race is the age-old prey of this predator-class I’ve been discussing, and they don’t want us to possess a sophisticated, nuanced comprehension of what art or magick truly is, and what it’s truly capable of achieving.  Because if enough of us understood it, we would become capable of being sovereign, and we would find ways to liberate ourselves.  Revolution would find its way to our realm.  The predators would no longer be able to do what they do, or eat what they eat.  And that terrifies them.  For the monsters and vampires of our world appetite is everything.

For the purposes of this essay there is one icon of this vampiric predator-class that concerns us foremost; that of the legendary Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper.  It is a name that is known the world over, immortalized in countless movies, novels and short stories. For the uninitiated, there exists an entire cottage industry of ‘Ripperology’ – researchers and authors who have taken it upon themselves to attempt to unravel the Ripper mystery and do what Scotland Yard was unable to do over a century ago – identify and ‘catch’ the killer. Ripperology is a complex, labyrinthine subject filled with an assortment of claims and counter-claims, denials and counter-denials, by individuals ranging from wild-eyed amateurs to noted scholars to former police officers. We might ask ourselves why such a vast and potent mythology developed around the ugly and brutal murders of five women in the notorious Whitechapel district of Victorian London - women who were forced to earn a pittance through street prostitution.  If one is not familiar with the realities of Victorian life for London’s ‘Unfortunates’ – especially those of the East End, the sheer squalor and inequalities in living standards will be lost on you.  Like the title of Jack London’s first-hand account of life in the slums of the East End, the lowest strata of British Society were referred to as the ‘People of the Abyss’ – the Abyss being a synonym for Hell itself.  Destitute women were frequently murdered and raped in London’s slums, before and after the five murders that are commonly accepted as ‘Ripper’ murders.  These specific murders displayed a level of mutilation and savagery that seemed to terrify and thrill the public imagination.  That terror, thrill and fascination has not abated 125 years later.  We must ask ourselves ‘Why?’  Why did these particular acts of violence against five women somehow spin themselves into elaborate, almost self-sustaining narratives?  To answer this question we must turn our focus away from ‘facts’ and the so-called reality of the case, and engage instead with a realm of myth, magic, legend and rumor.  It is here, in the contexts, fictions, half-truths and ephemera of the Ripper legend that we discover the source of its power.



Jack the Ripper is a symbolic icon of a very real predator-class that existed in British Victorian society, and still exists today in another form.  There have been rumours and theories that Jack was a man of ‘culture’ all the way back to the time of the killings themselves, as well as odd facts and mysterious happenings that personally don’t seem to add up, but these are often ‘debunked’ by ‘serious’ researchers.  But this essay’s focus is not my own personal interest or knowledge of the case itself.  Its focus is the Ripper legend.  Most mainstream scholars assume that the popular image of the Ripper – a well-dressed Gentleman in a black opera cape, top-hat and white gloves, carrying a Gladstone bag, owes its longevity to the 1959 film directed by Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker, in which the Ripper is depicted as an avenging  surgeon.  It is noted by film historians that Berman and Baker borrowed much of the Ripper’s look from the 1931 version of Dracula, staring Bela Lugosi.  The infamous Count is depicted in a top-hat, opera cape and white gloves, passing himself off as a fashionable London gentleman of the late nineteenth century. Both are vampires of a kind, but whereas Dracula is an openly supernatural fiction, the almost identical icon of Jack the Ripper is a far more uncomfortable symbol of a predatory Victorian society that was all too real. That is how rich Gentlemen of the time often dressed in the evenings, men who often saw the working-classes as somehow subhuman; as either a plague or a disposable resource.  This was especially true of the hordes of ‘unfortunate’ women who society offered little legal avenues to support themselves.  Many of the women working as street whores in the East End were alcoholics – cheap gin being the only thing that made their brutish lives tolerable.  Of course, I believe this was largely by design.  A predator-class always desires an underclass; a resource that can be bought for virtually nil, and they are always willing to provide a narcotic.  Today in third-world countries little has changed.  The poorest women and children still suffer unimaginable abuse and poverty, and the men fare little better.  So, regardless of the truth behind the actual Ripper killings, the icon of Jack himself – a faceless but well-dressed Victorian Gentleman, bloody knife in hand as he moves through the darkness and preys on the poorest and most vulnerable – this image is so powerful because it is true.  It is a pop-culture vessel encapsulating a symbolic truth about a very important period of history.  And while Jack is a distinctly British kind of human vampire, in fiction Jack is also often revealed to be American or European. In fiction Jack the Ripper is rarely portrayed as a working-class murderer, as this is to diffuse the power and ‘truth’ of the myth itself.  By making Jack one of ‘us’ we no longer have any need for the legend, and it stops being useful as a historical/political/economic shorthand.

Jack is not simply a Gothic fiction, a boogieman we have invented to scare ourselves about times long since past.  No, Jack is also a dark truth that we have recognized concerning the nature of our reality.  The icon still lives because he is still relevant today.  He is still stalking the darkened alleyways of our subconscious, reminding us that those who live in the ivory towers still see us as little more than fun or food.                     




THE SHIP OF THE ABYSS

It’s here that this essay takes a perhaps unexpected turn.  I want to devote the second half of this essay to an analysis of a particular film - James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic.   This essay is concerned with the ways art and symbolism can act as a form of magic, influencing and shaping the consciousness of its recipients.  With this in mind, I think it will be useful to explore the idea that the film Titanic is in fact an encoded retelling of aspects of the Jack the Ripper mythology.  This might seem bizarre or unlikely at first glance, but I will endeavor to present enough evidence to suggest that James Cameron was knowingly exploring elements of the Ripper mythology within the subtext of his screenplay. To the discerning viewer Cameron presents the film as a symbolic meditation on the slaughter of an enchained goddess – a kind of pagan ritual-sacrifice, with the famous ill-fated ship and the lead female character having blurred, interlinked identities.  The movie is filled with symbolic names and events, all alluding to the Ripper killings and the larger mythology of the ‘Gentleman Psychopath.’  Cameron seems to suggest in his film that the greater a gentleman’s intellect, refinement and social standing the greater his perversity.  He also uses the Ripper motif in the same way as the author Alan Moore does – as a kind of Antichrist, a harbinger of a symbolic Apocalypse.  In an interview with Rick Schultz Cameron states, “If Titanic is powerful as a metaphor, as a microcosm, for the end of the world in a sense, then that world must be self-contained.”



The story could not have been written better...The juxtaposition of rich and poor, the gender roles played out unto death (women first), the stoicism and   nobility of a bygone age, the magnificence of the great ship matched in scale only by the folly of the men who drove her hell-bent through the darkness. And above all the lesson: that life is uncertain, the future unknowable...the unthinkable possible."
— James Cameron


First and foremost, like many parabolic narratives, there is a level of storytelling in Titanic in which there seems to be only two real characters – the lead male and the lead female, or the God and the Goddess.  They represent the entire society in the sense that all the other characters in the film are splinters and fragments and aspects of their basic identities. Cameron lets the discerning viewer know right off the bat that he is going to be symbolically exploring Ripper mythology by naming his lead protagonist Jack.  Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a homeless but talented artist travelling wherever inspiration and adventure takes him, who along with his best friend manages to win a ticket on Titanic’s maiden voyage. The character’s surname is Dawson, meaning Son of David.  In biblical tradition David was a young shepherd who became the King of Israel, and a direct descendant of the Davidic line is said to become the future messiah.  This is interesting in that one of the film’s most famous lines of dialogue is Jack on the prow of the ship, in a vaguely Christlike pose, declaring himself “the King of the World.”  When Jack and his best friend are first racing to board Titanic, Jack tells his friend that they’re “practically goddamn royalty now”. His friend is Fabrizio De Rossi, a name that translates as ‘craftsman of the red’, or ‘works with his hands red’, which is exactly what the Ripper became known for.  Remember, there is a level of the story in which all the characters are aspects or fragments of the male and female lead couple, so in this sense Fabrizio is an aspect of Jack himself.  The lead female protagonist is Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Kate Winslet, a seventeen year old first-class passenger aboard Titanic. She is an intelligent, melancholy girl who has been forced into an engagement to an older man in order to protect her mother’s high-status after her father’s death left them both debt-ridden.


In the film’s present-day opening beneath the Atlantic ocean the character of Brock Lovett, played by Bill Paxton, refers to the ship as a She.  He alludes to a fall from above – evoking the idea that Titanic is a fallen woman entombed in a ghostly underworld.  Later, above the water and back on the deck of the Keldysh, Brock’s second-in-command Lewis Bodine refers to Rose DeWitt Bukater twice as a ‘goddamned liar’ – a subtle connection between Rose and the Titanic that was dammed on its maiden voyage.   Old Rose also says something similar when she sees Jack’s drawing of her on television.  She says, “I’ll be goddamned.” Lewis doesn’t believe Rose’s story that she was aboard Titanic and survived the sinking.  He then goes on to state that Rose was working as an actress in the 1920s: “…when she was working as an actress.  An actress!  There’s your first clue, Sherlock.”  The mention of Sherlock Holmes is another subtle evocation by James Cameron.  Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes are perhaps the two most famous names of the Victorian period, and are often pitted against each other in Victorian-themed modern fiction.  If you doubt that any salient connection between James Cameron’s film and Ripper lore exists, please bear with me.  There are a number of allusions that may seem slight on their own but when taken together are far more persuasive.

In the opening scenes the character of Lewis Bodine is wearing a t-shirt that is an obvious homage to Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic; a bloodstained smiley face.  Unlike the comic, Titanic’s costume department makes the smiley’s blood-splatter reminiscent of a bullet wound to the forehead, or, more pointedly, a bloody Third Eye.  This is a subtle implication that the narrative is concerned with some kind of occult or psychic vision, connected to blood and death.  But why this curious Alan Moore reference?  Because Moore also wrote From Hell, a graphic novel all about the intricacies and metaphysics of the Jack the Ripper mythology.  It is lauded as one of the best and most sophisticated graphic novels of all time.  If James Cameron had an interest in the Ripper legend, as I believe he did, he would have been familiar with From Hell.  In fact, Lewis Bodine not only sports a Watchmen-inspired bloody smiley, he also sports long hair and a big bushy beard much like Alan Moore himself.   






KINGS OF THE WORLD

Once old Rose begins telling her story and the film starts its series of extended flashbacks, we are reintroduced to young Rose aboard Titanic in her fiancé’s private quarters.  There is an opening shot of red roses in a vase as the camera pans over and Rose states portentously “We need some colour in this room”, while holding up Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to the camera; a painting of five prostitutes, echoing the five canonical  Ripper murders.  Of all the works of art that Rose could be admiring, it’s a painting of five working-class prostitutes.  


It’s interesting that James Cameron decided to use this painting.  It’s the most famous of Picasso’s African period, but still owes much to what art historians call his ‘rose period’ from the previous year.  Even the phrase ‘rose period’ evokes the idea of menstrual blood and the fact that Rose herself is no longer a child, but is not quite a grown woman yet either.  Her thirty year old fiancé Cal Hockley refers to the artwork as ‘finger paintings’. A finger-painting is where liquid is applied directly onto the hands and then onto the canvas; a subtle evocation of the idea of drawing in blood.  Rose tells Cal that the paintings are fascinating, “like being inside a dream or something.  There’s truth but no logic.”  This is a highly resonant line of dialogue.

In this scene we are also introduced to the symbolically-named character of Spicer Lovejoy, Cal’s manservant, played by David Warner.  Lovejoy is a former pinkerton constable, linking him to Fred Abberline in Alan Moore’s From Hell - who also becomes a pinkerton constable after leaving Scotland Yard.  But the truly interesting thing is that David Warner actually plays Jack the Ripper in the 1979 sci-fi drama Time After Time.  The movie is a cult-favourite and features Warner as Dr John Leslie Stevenson, a murderous surgeon known to the world as Jack the Ripper.  Using a time machine engineered by H.G. Wells, played by Malcolm McDowell, Jack the Ripper is able to escape Victorian London and transport himself to modern-day San Fransisco to continue his killing.  But Wells follows him into the future and attempts to put an end to the doctor’s rampage.  So, not only is Titanic a film replete with subtle Ripper references, we also have an actor famous for playing the Ripper himself. 




And in case discerning viewers don’t follow, Cameron makes it clear that the character of Spicer Lovejoy is a sour, humourless man and quite possibly a highly-disturbed sadist.  Cal Hockley may be a petty lunatic who ultimately tries to murder Jack and Rose, but it is David Warner’s Lovejoy who is the muscle in terms of villainy.  Warner also played Lysander in the 1968 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Shakespeare’s play is famous for its depiction of the King and Queen of the fairies Oberon and Titania; a name that’s obviously resonant with Titanic itself, often spoken of as a goddess or queen by the first-class passengers in the film.  Oddly enough, the 1968 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream also featured Ian Holm as Puck – an actor who would later also be cast as Jack the Ripper in the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s From Hell

Interestingly, in a deleted scene the character of Lewis Bodine is seen eating from a yellow bag of ripple cut potato chips.  Not only is this an intentional play on the words ‘ripper cut’, but the words ‘ripple cut’ are printed in cursive script so they almost appear to read ‘nipple cut’.  In no way is this unintentional.  I’m not sure if this is a real brand of chips or if, more likely, it’s something dreamt up by Cameron’s art department.  This happens just after Cal gives Rose the Heart of the Ocean and asks her to open up her heart to him.  Old Rose then describes how she could still feel the necklace “closing around my throat.”  As noted previously, Jack famously refers to himself as “the king of the world!”  It is interesting to know that to the Cathars the king of the world is Rex Mundi - the false god, the demiurge and embodiment of evil.  Of further interest is the fact that the Cathars also refute the concept of baptism, believing that water, like all materiality, is tainted and therefore domain of the false god.




While telling her story to the modern-day occupants of the Keldysh, old Rose refers to Titanic as ‘the ship of dreams’, but also states that for her it was a ‘slave ship taking her back to America in chains.’ In the flashback Cal Hockley sits with other passengers as they discuss the ship as though it is akin to a majestic goddess “willed into solid reality”.  The camera lingers on Rose in this scene, further blurring the identity between her and the ship itself.  Cal then orders dinner from a waiter, telling him that he and Rose will both have the lamb, rare, with very little mint sauce.  The character of Molly Brown, played by Kathy Bates, remarks symbolically, “You gonna cut her meat for her too?”  This is a highly symbolic line of dialogue and is deeply evocative of the mutilations performed on the Ripper’s victims.  The overt meaning of the line is Molly asking Cal if he is going to pre-ready Rose’s meal for her as though she were a child, but the covert meaning is the implication that Rose herself is meat – a lamb for the slaughter, and symbolically at least this is true. We later learn that Rose and Cal have not yet slept together and Cal is becoming agitated by her constant denials.  She is merely an object to Cal, something to be penetrated and deflowered – a pretty wife who will obey him and know her place in a sexist, elitist world.  Molly Brown’s character is somewhat resonant with Molly Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses.  The film refers to her as the Unsinkable Molly Brown.  The film therefore conflates Molly with the ship itself – Titanic, or Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Molly is a compassionate maternal figure to Rose, strengthening her symbolic connection to Stella Maris – the Star of the Sea.  Or, more pointedly, the Heart of the Ocean; the cruel necklace given to Rose by Cal Hockley, that is later transformed into something more positive by Jack’s love.


A little later during the dinner Rose mentions the work of Sigmund Freud and alludes to Beyond the Pleasure Principle, to male anxiety over penis size, even though Freud’s thesis was published much later than the year the film is set.  Cameron doesn’t care if this is historically inaccurate.  He uses the allusion to highlight Rose’s intelligence and perceptiveness, and to illustrate the idea that male ego and distorted sexuality are all fundamentally connected to what eventually occurs aboard Titanic.


PERSEPHONE BLACK

When Rose has finally had enough and attempts suicide at the rear of the ship, Jack tries to lure her away from the railing.  He attempts to frighten her out of the idea of suicide by describing the cold water as "a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body."  Again, this is a highly resonant piece of dialogue.  A thousand knives suggests a thousand murders, or a thousand murderers.  If Rose is symbolically an imprisoned goddess who shares a partial or blurred identity with Titanic itself, then Jack’s line about her being stabbed with a thousand knives evokes the idea of a ritual-sacrifice – a thousand Rippers all wanting a piece of her.  Molly has already asked Cal if he is going to cut Rose’s meat for her.  This attempted suicide scene, within the surface level of the film, is about Rose no longer being able to deal with her objectification by Cal and the first-class passengers of Titanic; and the society they represent.  It is about her body and her presence being little more than a commodity to others.  Cal makes it clear he wishes to penetrate her sexually, but also to own her psychologically.  The encoded Ripper references simply add to and strengthen these meanings by making them that much darker.  To drive the point home, as it were, Cameron has Rose wearing a dress in this scene that is the color of blood. 


The character of J. Bruce Ismay tells Captain Smith that they should push the ship’s engine and “retire with a bang” – an obvious sexual/death innuendo.  Similarly, Molly Brown later refers to Jack as a “good man to have around in a sticky spot.”  It’s an awkward phrasing and is there in the film to create another sex/murder innuendo.  It is also interesting that James Cameron makes the character of Jack Dawson an artist and painter.  Although Cameron himself was a former draughtsman I suspect this is also a nod to two particular theories concerning the Ripper’s true identity.  The late author Stephen Knight, in his book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, is responsible for popularizing what has come to be known as the ‘Royal Masonic Conspiracy Theory’ in the field of Ripperology – the idea that the Whitechapel murders of 1888 was the work of a cabal of men, one of them a royal surgeon. So the theory goes, the murders were committed to cover up the secret birth of a royal child to an East End woman of low standing. Most mainstream researchers see this theory as a completely discredited nonsense with virtually no basis in fact. But Alan Moore found it resonant enough for it to form the basis of his From Hell masterpiece.  In my personal opinion, Stephen Knight’s theory, while containing numerous errors, suppositions and leaps in logic – cannot be entirely dismissed.  As Alan Moore had no doubt come to intuit as a psychic and budding ritual-magician, the truth behind the Ripper murders is far more complex and dangerous than mainstream researchers are able to recognise. The second theory of note in this context is connected to Stephen Knight’s and forms the basis of Jean Overton Fuller’s book Sickert & The Ripper Crimes: An investigation into the relationship between the Whitechapel murders of 1888 and the English tonal painter Walter Richard Sickert. Both theories are interconnected and involve Sickert and members of the Royal family.  

La Hollandaise, Walter Sickert

But with regards to Titanic, I think that James Cameron is paying homage to these two particular theories by making his lead protagonist a painter.  Walter Sickert was known to use prostitutes as models in some of his paintings.  He had a love of France and spent a lot of time in a small northern town there called Dieppe.  The character of Jack Dawson has been living in Paris and has been filling his sketchbook with drawings of French prostitutes.  In a strange way this connects Rose more intimately to Jack, for as I mentioned earlier she also has an artistic interest in prostitutes – having a copy of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, formerly titled The Brothel of Avignon) aboard the ship.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Piccaso

Rose asks Jack to draw her “like one of your French girls”, and the viewers are treated to an innocent but erotically-charged scene where Jack draws Rose naked whilst wearing the Heart of the Ocean.  Later they are chased by Spicer Lovejoy and find themselves in the cargo hold.  The last thing Rose says before they make love is “Put your hands on me, Jack.”  A short time later a steward for the first-class passengers tells Cal Hockley, once the ship has hit the iceberg and begun to sink, “Dress warmly, it’s quite cold out tonight.  May I suggest topcoats and hats.”  Again, this is an allusion by Cameron to the iconic image of Jack the Ripper as a well-dressed top-hatted Gentleman, as discussed earlier in this essay. Nearing the climax of the film Cal asks Rose if she is unwilling to get into the lifeboats because of Jack’s presence aboard the doomed ship, if she is in fact choosing to be “a whore to a gutter-rat”.  Rose responds with this highly symbolic and telling line of dialogue: “I’d rather be his whore than your wife.”  Rose is explicitly describing herself in this scene as one of ‘Jack’s’ whores.  This is a deliberate resonance on Cameron’s part.  Remember, the film is an exploration of the two leads as a kind of holy union – a parabolic God and Goddess.  So, in this sense, Cameron plays around with blurred and fragmented identities in his film, leaving a certain ambiguity as to the intentions behind his frequent allusions.   




KEYS OF THE SIGN

We the human race are so much more than we think we are.  We are a continuum of Key-Keepers and Sign-makers, sculpted from divine fire and willed into existence by the Creator.  It is my belief that once upon a timeless the marks we made were capable of birthing entire sentient worlds – a fabled timeless when the interrelationships between literality and metaphor were far more keenly understood.  I believe we were once stewards and warrior-priests, protectors of a form of art-physics currently unimaginable in our modern materialist/reductionist paradigm.  The Lucid among you will understand that none of this has to be true for it to be real, and neither does it have to be real for it to be true.  We have been gifted with cognition. When truly understood, cognition necessitates the presence of magick and art. You cannot consciously perceive except within a shifting context, you cannot think without associating.  If you find yourself alive, in whatever form, it’s because everywhere within and around you art is happening.  You are a creature of art and symbols, not merely psychologically, but materially as well.  Your biology is not simply inert, dead matter; you are a cathedral and a city and a universe of complex interconnecting systems.  We are all Keys of the Sign.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Devil May Care



“Knowledge  forbidden?  Suspicious,  reasonless. Why should their Lord envy them that? Can it be a sin to know? Can it be death?” 

“Into this wild Abyss/ The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave--/ Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,/ But all these in their pregnant causes mixed/ Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,/ Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain/ His dark materials to create more worlds,--/ Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend/ Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,/ Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith/ He had to cross. ” 

“I sung of Chaos and Eternal Night,
Taught by the heav'nly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to reascend...” 
                                                                             --John Milton, Paradise Lost
                                                                         




Happy Halloween, my friends.  I would like to sincerely thank you for taking the time to read this post, since I’m aware of how precious our time is these days.  Anyone who is a regular reader of Amid Night Suns will be well aware that this blog is possessed of a certain Gothic imagination – in the best possible sense, I would hope.  All Hallows' Eve is only a few days away.  Or Samhain, as it was known to the Gaels.  Those researchers who suggest that the Gaelic Samhain and the Christian All Hallows' Eve arose independently and share no inter-resonance are mistaken, in my opinion.  Even today, in its highly commercialized form, the night of October 31st is still clearly a harvest ritual – a liminal time of transgression that ushered the darker half of the year and the impermanence of thresholds between worlds; not simply between the realms of the living and the dead, but also between the realm of the Mortals and the hidden realms of the Others. 

There is a vast canon of magical lore that is worldwide and thousands of years older than the patriarchal Christian God. There is much evidence to suggest that Christian imagery and concepts have their genesis in far older forms of occult mythology. But even so, does this make Christian mythology any less ‘real’?  Not at all.  Our world is still filled with demons and archangels and a strange, secretive celestial politics. We needn’t immediately delve into Gnostic interpretations for our evidence; we only have to open our bibles and read canonical Christian scripture to see that Heaven is a strange, dark place.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.  And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

                    -- Revelation 12:7-9

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!  For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners? 
                                      -- Isaiah 14: 12-17





DEEP DARK HEAVEN   

Despite the War in Heaven and the Fall of Man, the truly disturbing thing about biblical scripture is that it is filled with countless references to acts of rape, murder and enslavement, most of which seem to be sanctioned by God himself.  Here are just two examples, among many. 

When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.  And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the Lord thy God hath given thee.
                
             -- Deuteronomy 20:10-14

Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

             -- Zechariah 14:1-2

Because of examples like these, that say just as much about the psyches of the men who wrote the words as it does about their supposedly ‘divine’ inspiration, I personally find myself looking further afield for context and detail and intimations of the larger picture.  I believe that the Space-Time Continuum, as we call it, has incredibly strange and mysterious non-local quantum properties.  From my post entitled Secrets of the Blind God:

It is my belief that everything in the universe is connected by gossamer filaments of information and knowledge, interlinked threads of sentient meaning.  Furthermore it is my belief that magick is the manipulation of those threads by an imagining sentience.  Is there a limit to sentience, to consciousness?  How many spirits, souls or personalities dwell in the visible and invisible universes?  Is the phenomenon of sentient consciousness truly infinite, as the mystics, shamans and visionaries have claimed?  If so, then perhaps this is our intimation of a powerful and holy secret.  That stories live and imagine just as we do, that they are somehow self-aware.  Is it possible that Gnosticism is at some strange and secret level concerned with the alchemical properties of Light?  In modern times the fields of theoretical mathematics and Quantum Physics seem to hint at the stunning and bizarre properties of such Light.  It is simultaneously a wave and a particle and seems to be capable of non-local communication, beyond the remit of what we think of as the Space-Time Continuum.  


I believe that art and mythology are indivisible from the minds that create it, and yet – art and myth seem to have a life all their own beyond the space circumscribed by its originators.  So, what does this mean then?  I think it means that stories and legends are alive and real in ways that we cannot fully comprehend.  As an artist and researcher fascinated by Gnosticism, mythology, conspiracies and the literature of Christian dissent I have always been drawn to the ideas explored in John Milton’s Paradise Lost; that of a seemingly heretical battle against the ‘Christian’ God – in the hope of toppling a tyrannical kingdom and building a democratic republic in its place. 


This idea seems to be the essence of so many things in our modern world, though ill-understood by most.  Indeed, the idea of a democratic republic in lieu of a corrupt dictator or aristocracy seems to be at the heart of America’s own mythology.  Even here in Britain, despite still having a reigning monarch we still claim to love the idea of a “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, in the words of Abraham Lincoln.  In my opinion anyone who truly appreciates freedom, and moreover, understands what it implies, cannot help but resonate with such ‘heretical’ ideas to some degree, whether they admit it or not.  Just who or what is really ruling our heavens?  Do we have the courage to even dare ask this question?




THIS OLD SERPENT

It is my personal belief that the potential for both sides of any dichotomy exist within each of us individually, and that we choose which aspect of the polarity we manifest. Many of us are undoubtedly furious with religion for its monstrous societal control whilst still being attracted to its stories that have rightly or wrongly helped to shape our inner worlds.


As someone who has always been drawn to the literature of Christian dissent, I have often found myself attracted to the theological idea that humanity’s fall from grace was a fortunate one; a catalyst of consciousness rather than sin. For me, the idea of Eve eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge has always been thrilling and courageous – a good thing for humanity in the sense that we must lose our innocence in order to cultivate wisdom through experience. We seem to live in a world in which we best understand our experience through a dialectic of oppositions; innocence/experience, heaven/hell.  But for me such dialectics imply that eventually we must pass through the fallen or darker realms in order to be redeemed.  We must face the possible shadow-self that may exist in an underworld of denied experience. We must face the shadow, or death, or exile from the garden, in order to know who we really are. It seems to me that this is incredibly important in achieving a sense of internal synthesis and self-governance. As the psychologist James Hillman comments in his book The Dream and the Underworld:

If we do speak in opposites, there is only one absolute material opponent to any position in life, and that is its death. If we deliteralize that statement we are saying that death is the way through the opposites, that is, it is the self-regulation of any position by psyche, by non-literal,  metaphorical perception.



When I was a child I sensed that the Eden story was somehow a powerful and disturbing idea, and while not fully understanding its symbolism, I felt that eating the forbidden fruit was the only logical thing for Eve to do. To my young mind it seemed Adam and Eve were prisoners in the garden; that they were owned by a god (whatever a god was) who thought of them as slaves, or worse, as pets. I was secretly glad they ate the apple. This interpretation of the Eden myth is entirely my own, based on a vague childlike intuition that I was not being told the unvarnished truth. I simply did not believe in the existence of the cold, joyless God that seemed implied by the story.  B
ecause a slave who feels joy will soon take pleasure in questioning such an authority, will not fear death or the whip, and will eventually rise up and take back his or her sovereignty.




THE EXORCISM OF US

Questioning authority is usually far more terrifying than we're willing to readily admit.  Not simply because it is frightening to question tradition, custom or those with power, but because we are aware on some level just how familiar we are with  servitude.  We are comfortable with it because we have been engaging in variations on that general theme for most of recorded human history.  It's easy to tell ourselves that enslavement of varying kinds are simply the prices paid for life in our world.  Part of us is aware that we might feel strangely bereft without the presence of a governing patriarch, at least for a brief time, regardless of how monstrous or controlling he was.  It's things like this that stay our hand when we flirt with the idea of attempting to take back our sovereignty on a spiritual and psychological level.  Most people claim to enjoy change, but are afraid of it when it rears its head.  Things that truly question or threaten the status quo tend to get vilified as satanic, heretical and blasphemous.



Our modern society is deeply schizoid.  But it is more than that.  In my opinion we are collectively suffering from some terrible malady that could be likened to demonic possession.  We are clearly exalted beings in some way, capable of art and magick and wisdom and compassion - the highest beauty.  And yet we are also fallen creatures capable of unholy depths of depravity, filth and spiritual sickness.  I would suggest that this schizoid Jekyll & Hyde psychology is perhaps the result of the human race possessing two minds, two forms of consciousness.  The first is our true exalted nature; our creative, divine spark.  The second is a nature that was given to us somehow; placed within us and retrofitted to appear native to the species -- a predator psychology.  But not the mindset of any earthly predator.  I'm talking about a consciousness so dark and labyrinthine that it seems, for all intents and purposes, alien.  Or, to put a finer point on it, the parasite mind of the Archon.  We needn't take this concept literally though.  I'm simply using it to elucidate the complexities of our human experience.  

Symbolically at least, demonic possession is a useful analogy.  But we must take this analogy further.  Possession has and is being used by religious fundamentalists as an excuse for all kinds of cruelty and abuse, most of it visited upon innocent children.  I'm taking about a far more subtle form of possession -- the possession by fundamentalism itself, of all kinds.  To label a particular group or individual as satanic or demonic or unholy is a tried and tested way to wage war in our world.  The Abrahamic religions do it all the time -- fundamentalist Christians and Jews and Muslims all hating each other, despite their beliefs all being variations on the same basic theme; that of monarchical monotheism.  And a particularly virulent, abrasive kind at that.  Liars come in many forms, and not all of them are fork-tongued and serpentine.  In fact, most of them come dressed in the raiments of our religious, scientific and political priesthoods.  Like all good colonists, they have given us their minds.  We must take back our psychological and spiritual sovereignty at all costs, or they will call us demons whilst they themselves defile every single sacred thing.  We must become exorcists ourselves, not of others but of our own imaginations.  What is at stake is the very fate of Heaven and Earth.