Reality Sandwich Reviews, December 14, 2012
In this edition of Reality Sandwich Reviews:
- Life of Pi
- Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss
- Chasing Ice
- How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought
- God: A Story of Revelation
- The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios
- A Hologram for the King
[Film] • Life of Pi (Rhythm & Hues)
Review by Adam Elenbaas
After seeing Ang Lee's "The Life of Pi" for the second time in cinematic 3D this past weekend, I decided that the film is two things: the best non-apologetically 3D AND magical realism film to date, and perhaps the best non-apologetically spiritual allegory ever to grace the big screen.
The Undeniable Human Dilemma: The premise of the film's adventure, where a young boy named Pi becomes shipwrecked on the open sea inside of a boat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker, is like the human condition. We don't know why the big, sturdy tanker crashes, but it did. We also can't possibly explain how only a young boy and a few animals made it on board the survival boat, but they did. Analogously, humanity's self-consciousness, and the tooth and nail of survival on our planet is an isolating and shipwreck liked dilemma.
We are lost at sea and our story begins in the middle of a struggle to survive. We are both radically different from nature, from the animals on board the boat, and yet we are companions with nature on a journey that appears equally treacherous for everyone involved. Insofar as this "dilemma" is the plot marrow of the film it is clearly the plot line of our deeper spiritual quest.
Conflicting Natures: The film's plotline develops as the animals slowly kill each other off, and Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger, and the young boy Pi are the last remaining survivors on the boat. From this point onward the film explores the fundamentally irreconcilable dilemma of trying to "square" the "circle." The square represents both the burden and ingenuity of self-consciousness, represented by Pi and his seemingly irrational attempts to keep both himself and the Tiger alive at once, never plotting or scheming to kill or eliminate the Tiger, as if in some larger cosmic sense we can't do without Richard Parker on the boat.
The circular consciousness is that of the primordial Tiger mind of Richard Parker or the vastness of the ocean. He is cunning and fierce like the ocean is indifferent and mighty. Pi insists to his father before the ship wreck that animals have souls, that everything has soul. Both the Tiger and the Ocean nearly kill Pi several times despite Pi's consistent attempts to cultivate a relationship with the animal and the sea. The film proceeds as the subtleties of the dance between man and nature spell out many more interesting lessons. Hope does not always bring redemption. Redemption does not always bring reconciliation, and surrendering goes beyond living or dying. Still, through every beautiful plot turn, the two forms of consciousness (the circle and the square) remain distinct and relatively irreconcilable opposites.
Just like the mysterious, never the same and always repeating, irrational number PI is precisely a number that implies the inability to square the circle, Ang Lee's magical 3D adventure movie challenges us to envision that "god is like that" too. Our relationship to God, like our relationship to nature, or perhaps our relationship to our own ego, our selfhood in contrast to our primordial roots, is a tension of opposites that cannot be said "goodbye to" or "solved" in any tidy or final sense. This movie is a must see for spiritual seekers, philosophers, psychonauts, and magical artists alike.
Adam Elenbaas is the author of Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest. Adam is the director and founder of Nightlight Astrology, a donation based astrology school located in Washington DC and NYC. Elenbaas is one of the founding writers and contributing editors for RealitySandwich.com.
[Book] • Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, by Dennis McKenna (Polaris Publications of St. Cloud)
Review by Diana Slattery
“My beautiful brother, my mentor and tormentor, was gone.”
This sentence sums up a central conflict in the relationship between Terence and Dennis McKenna, as Dennis relates the story in The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. An older brother taking teasing of a younger to the edge of torment and beyond is not an unusual situation in the hothouse of a nuclear family circa the 1950’s. Their parents were in for their own helping of torment: the full catastrophe of having two very bright sons, in hot pursuit of psychedelic experimentation in high school that spilled out of the home and earned them Bad Example status in the small town of Paonia. Dennis’ datura misadventure is a classic. Terence as mentor brought Dennis along on the wild ride of Berkeley following the free speech movement, his own tongue loosened by ganja, hash, and the mushrooms of language. In Dennis’ words, “In some ways, DMT is what this book is all about. Terence and I were destined to become preoccupied with this substance; it’s what led us years later to the Amazon in search of the Secret.” Dennis’ first DMT trip in high school brought him face to face with the existence the Other, communicating from a completely alien and unbearably beautiful environment.
The heart of the story, and of their lives, is the experiment at La Chorrera, the central abyss. Dennis validates Terence’s account in True Hallucinations, and tells his own experience “while I was away in hyperspace, or, if you prefer, disengaged from consensus reality; this is a part of the story that only I can tell.” (No spoilers will given in this review.) Part of the story covers the mind-meld that happened between the brothers, manifesting as shared thoughts, perceptions, and realities, access to Akashic-level points of knowledge, and the physical manifestation of the silver key and the “excretum bonum,” the good shit. We have no term without a negative connotation for this state. Folie à deux, psychosis involving shared delusion between two people closely related, is the best psychiatry has to offer.
Post-La Chorrera, the brothers’ paths diverge. Terence, after a resounding rejection by science in the person of molecular biologist Gunther Stent. Though Terence asserted his position as rationalist and skeptic throughout his career, he derided science as woefully incomplete, its tools inadequate to address the psychedelic experience. Dennis chose science: botany, ethnobotany, organic chemistry, and neuroscience as a path creating new knowledge about psychedelics. He is also clear in assessing the limits of science in approaching an understanding of psychedelic experience per se. Each attained what the other did not, and may have envied. Dennis’ bibliography, an appendix to the book, is the quiet proof of his success and acceptance as a contributor to scientific knowledge about psychedelics. Terence, deputized at La Chorrera as “The Teach,” made his career as raconteur on the new age and psychedelic lecture, radio interview, and workshop circuit, notably as an Esalen scholar-in-residence. As such, he reached a level of public fame and recognition within the psychedelic community, and beyond, that Dennis, or scientists in general, rarely accomplish. They both made it work to pursue their psychedelic passions despite the fact that, as Terence quipped, “It’s not easy to make a career out of taking psychedelics.” To put it mildly.
The brothers never return, really, to the mind-meld of La Chorrera, though each tried to draw the other back at one point. When Dennis returns to the Amazon to do funded research, Terence comes along, and tries to detour the itinerary to return to La Chorrera to repeat “the experiment.” Dennis will have nothing of it. And at the end of Terence’s life, it is Dennis who tries to entice Terence back to the mind state of La Chorrera when Terence is at the edge of his own abyss and Dennis is at his wits end.
My beefs with the book are two. The first section which deals with family history before their birth was slow going. And mostly, questions are raised that are never satisfactorily answered. Why, indeed, did the Pied Piper of the psychedelic experience back off from tripping during the last ten years or so of his life?
This book was in many places painful to read, and must have been excruciating to write. Dennis’ due diligence in the search for personal truth through the shifting sands of memories, old journals, pilgrimages to Paonia, and interviews brings up every major regret, misadventure, and shaky decision made, such as how Terence’s hash smuggling adventure went down, or the recognition that Terence was his mother’s favorite child, or the events following Terence’s death with Dennis as executor of the will. In other words, this book is about the opening of the screaming abyss right here in Real Life as well as in the Outer Reaches, and the lifelong adventure of trying to integrate multiple worlds.
Diana Slattery currently working on a Ph.D. with the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth, UK. The working title of her thesis is Communicating the Unspeakable: Linguistic Phenomena in the Psychedelic Sphere. She is the author of The Maze Game.
[Film] • Chasing Ice (Exposure)
Review by Darrin Drda
In the modern West at least, seeing is believing. Therein lies the power of “Chasing Ice,” a multi-award-winning documentary that follows nature photographer James Balog on a heroic quest to document glacial melting in the Arctic. While trekking with bad knees and a small crew to some of the most unforgiving locations in Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska to install dozens of time-lapse cameras, Balog himself turned from skeptic to true believer upon seeing the rapidly shifting icescape with his own eyes. Even more revealing were the images that the project (dubbed Exteme Ice Survey) yielded over several years, which clearly show the targeted glaciers retreating faster than anyone could have imagined.
Thanks to Balog, we no longer have to imagine. His time-lapse sequences comprise the centerpiece of the film, and of the presentations he now gives to slack-jawed audiences throughout the world. Temperature graphs have their place, but there’s something visceral about seeing unfathomably huge and ancient mountains of ice disappear in a matter of seconds. In one the film’s most stunning clips, a glacial chunk the size of Manhattan rumbles, ruptures, lurches, and crumbles into the ocean, in real time. Along with these gut-wrenching images, the film provides a rare glimpse into the breathtaking beauty of the Arctic, of its unique sculptural forms, its blue-hued shifting shadows, and shimmering displays of borealis light.
Speaking of light displays, Christmas is just around the corner. If you have loved ones who continue to deny global warming in the face of increasingly frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires, tornados, and hurricanes, then you have an opportunity—if not a moral responsibility—to buy them a one-way ticket to reality, courtesy of Jim Balog and company. Tell the relatives that “Chasing Ice” is a must-see holiday movie. Bonus points if can convince the whole family to walk, bike, or take the bus to the theater.
Darrin Drda is an artist and author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times, published by the Evolver Editions imprint of North Atlantic Books. He is a Regular Contributor to Reality Sandwich.
[Book] • How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought, by Ray Kurzweil (Viking)
Review by Hillary Webb
In a recent NPR interview, Diane Rehm described futurist Ray Kurzweil as a “techno-evangelist,” noting that, “His belief in the power and good of technology has almost a religious fervor to it.” Based on a read-through of Kurzweil’s most recent book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought, Rehm’s characterization seems eerily apt. The power of the evangelist lies in his or her exceptional charisma and ability to speak about complex ideas in a way that persuades those around him or her to adopt a particular vision. Just so, in his latest work, Kurzweil neatly unpacks the complexities of human intelligence, alternately praising our natural cognitive abilities (for example, human beings’ above average ability to recognize hierarchical patterns) while at the same time pointing out its inherent limitations (apparently our capacity for logical thinking leaves much, much to be desired … ouch).
The punch line: You think biological evolution is something? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Intelligence is capable of transcending its natural limitations and transforming the world in its own image. The real future of human evolution resides in the evolution of technology, which, moving a million times faster than biological evolution, will offer us a near-future filled with intelligent machines. In one of his many predictions, Kurzweil speculates that by 2029, a machine will pass the Turing Test, making it indistinguishable from human intelligence. But will this machine be conscious? Well, that depends on your particular philosophical position of what constitutes a “conscious entity.” And there, of course, is the rub; the “hard problem” that fuels the many debates and squelches the techno-fantasies (or, nightmares, in some cases) of many when it comes to the potential of creating a “sentient” machine. Kurzweil readily acknowledges this philosophical conundrum, even going so far as to argue that this aspect of AI “can never be fully resolved through science” but instead requires “a leap of faith as to what and who is conscious, and who and what we are as conscious beings.”
Whether or not the many theories and predictions laid out in the book have scientific or philosophical traction remains to be seen. Regardless, Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind is a remarkably well-articulated and easy-to-follow exploration of a very complex subject matter, offering a perspective into the future of our world that is well worth contemplating. Above all else, the book provides the reader with the opportunity to peek inside the mind of a man with a powerful—albeit sometimes somewhat startling—vision of who we are and what we may become.
Hillary S. Webb, PhD, is the former Managing Editor of Anthropology of Consciousness, the peer-reviewed journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. She received MA in Consciousness Studies from Goddard College in 2006 and a PhD in Psychology from Saybrook University in 2009. She is the author of numerous articles and three books exploring shamanic philosophy and practice.
[Film] • Lincoln (Dreamworks)
Review by Jonathan Zap
Everyone whose soul is not completely eaten away by cynicism should see this superb film. First, a few sentences of conventional movie review: An inspired and inspiring performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and a great supporting cast. Attention to period detail and authenticity that incarnates the gritty world of 1865 America so well, that at times you feel you can smell the damp wool, cedar planks, fountain pen ink, Kentucky bourbon and muddy streets filled with horse manure. Spielberg got permission from the Kentucky Historic Society to record the ticking of Lincoln’s actual pocket watch, so that when you hear Lincoln pensively listening to the sound of his watch, you are hearing the same sound that Lincoln heard. The choice of Tony Kushner to write the screenplay shows a commitment to create a soulful experience -- a commitment that this inspired collaboration of talented people fulfills.
Besides its success on every level of cinema, this film also succeeds in the conjuration, the incarnation, of what I call a “talismanic personality.” A talismanic personality is one that is numinous and inspiring, an exemplar of wholeness that reminds us of what Lincoln called the “better angels” of human nature. In the presence of a talismanic personality all that is superficially glamorous is revealed as the shoddy, mediocre product of false personality and inflated ego.
The photographs of Lincoln's face reveal to anyone with an ounce of intuition that he is an old soul's old soul, an embodiment of seriousness of purpose, moral gravitas, and the visionary intelligence to see through to the heart of a matter. The portrait of Lincoln in the movie is not a hagiographical idealization, but rather a well shaded and fleshed out character portrait. We see Lincoln as a man of high principle, who is also ruthlessly pragmatic and not above descending into lawyerly slipperiness and hard ball politics if that's what it takes to get the job done. We see a man being severely worn by the weight of what he carries with him---the fate of a nation, the death of his son, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of others. He is deeply humble and well grounded, but, when circumstances warrant, he is capable of wielding power with authority and authentic grandeur. As portrayed in the movie, Lincoln personifies and dramatizes the principle that the alchemists endeavored to live by---to do every action, large or small, as if the fate of the whole universe depended on it. The big screen has brought us so many antiheros, false personalities, and morally ambiguous men of action; Lincoln is a rare chance to see the magic of cinema incarnating a fully realized, noble personality from our mythic past.
Jonathan graduated with honors in philosophy and English from Ursinus College and has an MA in English from NYU. He is a photographer, author, teacher, paranormal researcher and philosopher who has written extensively on human evolution, contemporary mythology and many other subjects. A large collection of his writings and his popular online oracle can be found at zaporacle.com.
[Book] • God: A Story of Revelation, by Deepak Chopra (HarperOne)
Review by Stella Osorojos
The structure of Deepak Chopra’s most recent book, God: A Story of Revelation, published in September by HarperOne, is novelistic, with each chapter told as half narrative, half exposition, and focused on one of ten spiritual figures ranging from the Christian St. Paul to Puritan Anne Hutchinson, to the first Hasid, the Baal Shem Tov. It’s a potentially rich methodology, one that seems to promise a right brain/left brain fusion of texture and exposition—and who better than Chopra to undertake this experiment in unification?
Unfortunately, his narratives bear only a haphazard connection to the points he makes in his expository “Revealing the Vision” sections. In the chapter about Socrates, for instance, Chopra first imagines the relationship between the famous teacher and his purported pupil, the hot-headed Athenian general, Alcibiades. He portrays Alcibiades as lusty and reckless, but intrigued, nonetheless, by Socrates’s wisdom—and something here feels true about the nature of the student/teacher relationships. But in the exposition section, Chopra turns his attention away from the connection he’s taken pains to illuminate and instead focuses on the historical importance of Socrates message to Alcibiades, which is to “Know Thyself,” and which marks a shift away from the dogmatic, authoritarian visions of god that prevailed at the time. An interesting point, but not one that requires a narrative indulgence concerning a hedonistic student who was apparently heedless of Socrate’s teachings.
The loose relationship between the narrative and expository sections reaches real disjointedness in chapter six, which is entitled “Julian of Norwich,” but spends almost all its pages on the 14th-century mystic’s contemporary, Margery Kempe. Eventually, Chopra gets around to imagining the meeting during which Kempe sought Julian of Norwich’s affirmation of her visions, and, later, justifies his focus on Kempe by saying that, in depicting the two, he raises “the central issue that hovers around mystics: Are their revelations real?” Would that he stuck around to answer this question; instead, Chopra abandons it to discuss what he sees as Julian’s true contribution, which was her “direct account of an ordinary person suddenly seeing with the eyes of the soul.”
The lack of cohesion between narrative and expository elements isn’t Chopra’s only problem. There’s a sloppiness evident here in tense switches and dropped threads, but there is also a touch of the Chopra magic still in evidence. Waxing sermonic is Chopra’s real gift and, when he finally gets to the point he seems to really want to make in each “Revealing the Vision” section—lucid points about how each figure advanced the notion of god toward a unity consciousness—he uncovers something new and worthy. If only he’d found a similar unity through his narrative conceit.
Stella Osorojos is a freelance writer and Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Her stories have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Spirituality & Health, InStyle, and more.
[Book] • The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios, by Ernst Jünger (Telos Press Publishing)
Review by Gary Lachman
In 1947, Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, wrote a fan letter to the German writer Ernst Jünger. Hofmann had been reading Jünger for years, but the book that really did it for him was The Adventurous Heart (1938). “Everywhere in his prose,” Hofmann wrote about this subtle but powerful work, “the miracle of creation became evident… No other writer has thus opened my eyes.” Hofmann soon returned the favor, opening Jünger’s eyes to the effects of LSD and psilocybin, during the celebrated trips the two took together in the 1950s, ‘60s, and 70s, and which Hofmann relates in LSD: My Problem Child (1979).
Jünger himself was no stranger to drugs; in novels like Heliopolis (1949) and in a later work, Approaches (1970) – neither of which have English translations – Jünger turned his sharp inner eye to the twists of consciousness occasioned by psychoactive substances. But his first trip with Hofmann, in 1951, holds an important but little known place in the history of drug literature: it came three years in advance of Aldous Huxley’s more celebrated tryst with mescaline, recounted in The Doors of Perception (1954).
The language barrier no doubt keeps Jünger’s precedence in the dark, and one hopes that this first English translation of the book that gave Hofmann’s world “a new, translucent splendour,” will lead to more of Jünger being made available to English readers. One other link with Hofmann should be mentioned: both men lived into their 100s. Jünger died in 1998 at the age of 102; Hofmann in 2008, also at 102.
The Adventurous Heart is a collection of short essays, thoughts, stories, dreams, philosophical musings, and other unclassifiable writings on a number of experiences: nature, death, travel, sex, drugs, antique shops, museums, practically anything that caught Jünger’s ever inquisitive eye. It provides, as Jünger says, “small models of another way of seeing things.” This “other way” is what Jünger calls “stereoscopy,” the ability to see things in a dual aspect, perceiving their surface and depth simultaneously. Or recognizing them as phenomena and symbol at the same time: “its action,” Jünger says, “consists in grasping things with our inner claws.”
Although Jünger was a decorated war hero, and his first, most well-known work, Storm of Steel (1920), depicts the Dionysian chaos of battle, in his later years, Jünger sought adventure in less questionable ways. Danger was always an attractant, but here it lies not in the wastelands of WWI but in the sometimes disturbing “knowledge of hidden things.” Jünger’s “stereoscopy” revealed to him the “secret correspondences existing between things,” and his reflections, written in an elegant, often lapidary style, trigger in the attentive reader a similar effect. Hence Hofmann’s high (no pun intended) praise. “When we comprehend one secret,” Jünger tells us, “many others also draw near.”
There are indeed many secrets here, too many to do justice to in a short review. Who knew so much is contained in the color red? Or in the activities of beetles – Jünger was a keen entomologist. Or in a tiger lily, whose “narcotic stamens” awaken associations with an “Indian conjurer’s tent”? Read this book slowly, while walking, preferably in a rugged landscape, or a foreign city – Jünger didn’t use the term, but he was a master psychogeographer - dipping in every now and then. The “secret harmony of things,” I guarantee, will be revealed to you, and you will find, no doubt, that your heart is adventurous too.
Gary Lachman is the author of several books on the link between consciousness, culture, and alternative thought. His books include Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius; A Secret History of Consciousness; In Search of P.D. Ouspensky; A Dark Muse; Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Thought; and The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides: Dead Letters.
[Film] • Samsara (Magidson Films)
Review by Jill Ettinger
Ron Fricke looks like he hikes a lot. Maybe in the hills around a Zen monastery. He's quiet; but as the director of two films with no dialogue, it's not surprising. Fricke directed the seminal 1992 film Baraka, and just released the follow-up, Samsara, produced again by Mark Magidson. The filmmakers call this production a guided meditation on life, death and re-birth.
What first comes to mind as the film opens to the wide, painted eyes of possessed-looking Asian girls dancing is just how intriguing our fecund human peculiarity is. "Samsara" means to flow, and in this case, it's the flow of life Fricke is seeking—what exactly it is that connects us, despite the many differences that separate us. While he avoids being straightforward about the direction of the film—where gorgeous imagery of pristine nature and night skies might be followed with the destructive forces of Hurricane Katrina, or gun-toting tribal Ethiopians giving Fricke's 70-millimeter camera a hollow stare—he hints to a deeper Eckhart Tolle-esque meaning, "there's a lot going on out there and we have to just realize it's all okay."
Life invited everybody here to this planet and didn't ask anybody to approve of the guest list," Fricke told me as I sought an explanation as to why he chose the images and chose to put them in the order they appear. But he and Magidson only tell me that they tried not to steer the images in any direction, particularly not good or bad, but more as a reminder that we are indeed humans…humans connected.
And the viewer can't help but to follow Fricke and Magidson down the rabbit hole and imagine what it would perhaps be like to go to work in a Chinese chicken slaughtering factory every day, or to bury a dead son in a casket shaped like a gun, to be adrift in the never-ending vortex of worshippers circling Mecca, to carry large chunks of sulphuric rocks down a mountain, or to be a Tibetan monk building sand mandalas in a Himalayan monastery.
Like Baraka, Samsara is a visual treasure trove—much like flipping through the pages of a National Geographic. Shot in 25 countries over several years, the panoply of images invokes a deep quietude, curious excitement, contemplation and awe. The film's lack of dialogue is offset by a haunting, beautiful soundtrack courtesy of Michael Stearns and Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerard, which like the imagery itilluminates, seems to speak one continuous truth: This world is strange, and us humans, even stranger.
Jill’s examinations on our food and culture regularly appear in a number of publications, primarily OrganicAuthority.com, where she writes a daily news column as well as contributes feature articles. She’s also been published on Reality Sandwich, She Knows, The Well Daily, The Huffington Post and We Are Goodkin.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter: @jillettinger
[Book] • A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's)
Review by Antonio Lopez
If Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was the 19th century’s zeitgeist moment, what would it look like in the 21st century? Rather than a wretched soul who knows his life has been fracked, it would look more like Bill Murray’s Prozac gaze at the end of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Or any lead character in a Sofia Coppola film. Which is to say, pop culture’s 21st century scream is more or less a yawn.
Along these lines, in A Hologram for the King we have Dave Egger‘s deflated corporate man. The novel zooms in on globalization’s spiritual vagabonds – IT salesmen – by focusing on a troubled fifty-something, Alan Clay, whose path to redemption is pitching a holographic communications system to the Saudi King. Like an updated version of Waiting for Godot, while anticipating the King’s audience Clay and his team are stuck in the liminal zone of the yet-to-be-developed King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC, the Middle East’s future Plastic Valley, see above video). The King and his associates have little interest in keeping appointments with the sales team, so Clay and his Gen Y staff spend their days in the speculative economy’s version of a bardo state, camped out in the middle of the unbuilt city’s grid in an inhospitable desert where the map has no territory.
To kill boredom, Clay journeys through the surreal landscape of Saudi Arabia that is simultaneously tribal and caught-up in a hightech realm where a loss of wi-fi can bring on a catastrophic crisis in consciousness. (“This is the peculiar problem of constant connectivity: any silence of more than a few hours provokes apocalyptic thoughts.”) Throughout the novel, Clay teeters on personal disaster, a walking emotional implosion that is more likely to disintegrate than blow-up. Drifting in the Kafkaesque KAEC, Clay’s role of hawking holograms is contrasted by reminiscences of his glory days as a Schwin bicycle salesman. In the world of global trade, holograms–illusions–trump hand-made American bicycles. The old ways are made extinct by overseas manufacturing and the information economy.
China is implicated as a villain in the story, but Clay is not innocent. He was complicit in the demise of his beloved Schwin by his own participation in offshoring American jobs. Ultimately, Clay’s predicament comes down to outsourcing life to economic abstractions. The hologram becomes yet another entry point into the disembodied world economy.
The book’s uber-consciousness speaks through a skyscraper architect who decries the lack of American ambition and imagination in favor of globalization’s pop-up cities: “in the U.S. now there’s not that kind of dreaming happening. It’s on hold. The dreaming’s being done elsewhere for now.” Though Clay’s existential crisis is brought on by the sugar rush of the petrol economy, his story can also be read as an update of earlier 20th century French writers who were grappling with the bureaucratization of humanity. As if lifted from the pages of Camus’ The Stranger, Eggers’ Clay ”wanted the simplicity of being who he was: no one.” If anything, this wonderful book offers a humanistic counterpoint to a world in which the technological singularity would reign supreme. In such a world, like space, no one can hear you scream. Instead, what drives the book is the tension Clay feels between the yawn of 21st century corporatism and his caterpillar-like state awaiting transformation. You’ll have to read it to see if he becomes a butterfly.
Antonio Lopez was co-founder of the seminal LA punk zine, Ink Disease. From there he traversed zine culture, professional journalism and media literacy education. He has written for Mondo 2000, High Times, Punk Planet, Tricycle, In these Times, Brooklyn Rail, and scores of zines, newspapers and magazines. His book on media education and sustainability, Mediacology, was published in 2008. His most recent book is The Media Ecosystem: What Ecology Can Teach Us About Responsible Media Practice.
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