Reality Sandwich Reviews, November 9, 2012
Welcome to the inaugural column of Reality Sandwich Reviews. Reviewed in this edition:
[Film] • Cloud Atlas, directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer (Warner Bros.)
Review by Jonathan Zap
Cloud Atlas is the best film I’ve seen in many weary months of multiplex disappointment. The only thing wrong with this movie is that the trailers don’t begin to do it justice. Cloud Atlas is a visionary masterpiece that is not getting the appreciation it deserves. It is easily the finest work by the Wachowski siblings (once brothers, the Wachowskis are now brother and sister) since the first Matrix film. Tom Tykwer is the third director, and the sequences he directed are equally brilliant, so for the purposes of brevity I will make him an honorary Wachowski sibling and hereafter refer to all three directors as the Wachowskis.
Some people apparently found the movie confusing and assumed it was confused. It is not confused; it is brilliantly and precisely complex and surreal. Cloud Atlas is based on a novel by David Mitchell that involves six complexly interlocking storylines that expand into multiple incarnations. The sextet of stories interlock with the precision one might expect of the inner workings of one of Salvador Dali’s finest melted clocks. Every story line is a version of a single theme: eros/love versus the power principle, false hierarchies, and divisive constructs of the patriarchy. This theme, and the bonds between souls, play out across time and incarnation. Essentially, the movie takes as profound a view of the spiritual dimension as has ever been attempted, but rather than getting that view through the sanctimonious eyes of a religionist, or the sappy, dazzled-by-the-white-light eyes of a New Ager, you get to see it through brilliant, Wachowskian optics.
In other words, you see the spiritual dimension in a more surreal, ingenious, horrifying, funny, CGI and special-effects-intensive way than you ever hoped for. There are more spiritual truths revealed in this movie than you could get in a thousand years spent at Sunday school or imbibing New Age catechisms. Two or three more inspiring masterpieces like this and I’ll be ready to forgive the Wachowskis their Matrix sequels.
To really appreciate the film you need to see it twice. First time see it with no preparation (excepting, of course, the blood-brain-barrier-crossing, movie-enhancing psychoactive substance of your choice) for the raw impact. Before your second viewing, go to the wiki or IMDB and read the plot summaries very carefully so that you understand the six interlocking storylines. Also, stay into the credits. They’ll show you how the key actors were morphed into several characters, some of whom will be unrecognizable.
Don’t be the last mutant in your sector to get Cloud Atlased.
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.
[Music] • Two Fingers Stunt Rhythms, Amon Tobin (Ninja Tune, 2012)
Review by Jill Ettinger
We most often relegate electronic music to little more than dance floor duty—beats and bass to help our hips along in whatever explorations seem necessary. That is certainly a most worthy cause, but perhaps a slight disservice to the range and potential of electronic music, especially when it's an Amon Tobin offering.
The eclectic composer's knobs swing from deep within the dirtiest, crunchiest drum 'n bass into ethereal Philip Glass-esque experimental journeys like 2010's ISAM, which, replete with an unbelievable live tour, seemed to be nothing short of an intergalactic code of sorts—like sonic crop circles—that may have made more sense to extraterrestrials than us simple mortals. Still, it offered humans an incredibly valuable experience: a slight glimpse of something much bigger than life here on Earth that Tobin seems to have been privy to.
Like Tobin is wont to do, he swings himself back from the contemplative explorations on ISAM and into the breakneck full-throttle efforts under the pseudonym Two Fingers on his latest album, Stunt Rhythms. An homage to hip-hop, the synth-heavy beats have addictive properties much like the first Two Fingers self-titled release, which featured the clandestine support and wit of the most charming DJ Doubleclick.
Stunt Rhythms' disc two once again offers dubsteppy backdrops to vocal stylings, this time, featuring Peedi Crack, Chinko da Great, Lady Pharroh and Brefontaine. A proper nod to hip-hop is appropriate ("Stude") as much of the genre looks to be flailing around like a cockroach on its back. Stunt Rhythms turns it upright, allowing what little dignity it has left to surface. Even if it's already too late, Tobin colludes to deliver a new possibility where the cliche becomes urbane ("Problem"). And, of course, it works.
While it's difficult to call anything Tobin does "lacking," there is an unquenchable desire for something more on Stunt Rhythms. No doubt, not much else in the known universe can take the place of Tobin himself delivering it loud and dirty in dark club where the beats sweep out all the hidden, dusty corners of who you think you are. And Stunt Rhyhtms teasing isn't much solace; it's often as if Tobin's going to wind us through the most necessary cavernous crunch for a good hour or so of pure sweat-soaking release, but tracks rarely lift past the three-minute mark ("Fool's Rhythm," "Sweden," "Smurf"), leaving listeners with a vulnerable ache. Perhaps though, the short journeys are intentional; aware of his potency—like a DMT trip—Tobin recognizes the urgency in delivering us back to reality sooner rather than later so as to avoid any permanent departures.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter: @jillettinger
[Book] • The Moneyless Manifesto, by Mark Boyle (Green Books)
Review by Darrin Drda
While reading the free, online version of Mark Boyle’s new book, The Moneyless Manifesto, I compulsively clicked over to my Facebook feed only to see the image of a presumably homeless man holding a tattered cardboard sign reading: “Keep your coins. I want change.” It struck me how this clever meme could well be the motto of Boyle himself, a UK resident also known as the Moneyless Man for having written a book by that title while living without a pence to his name—on purpose, mind you.
Coincidentally, Boyle went moneyless in 2008, the year of the Wall Street crash that brought the subject of money front and center in the collective consciousness, with many people wondering, “Where did it all go?” and others asking, “Where did it come from in the first place?” The weird wizardry and inherent injustice of money creation has been covered by countless YouTube videos including the Zeitgeist films of Peter Joseph, while the deeper questions about the unnatural nature of money have been eloquently addressed in books like Debt: The First 5000 Years (David Graeber) and Sacred Economics (Charles Eisenstein), both of which are referenced in The Moneyless Manifesto.
Indeed the book begins with a foreword by Eisenstein, followed by a careful unearthing of the assumptions that support what Boyle calls the money delusion, including the root belief in a separate, independent self. Like Eisenstein, Boyle explains why money is so destructive to the social fabric and the web of life and maintains that money is simply a story, a shared illusion. But he boldly goes a step further than most by unraveling the restrictive yarn that money is a necessary evil, something we all need to survive. And he does so by way of quiet example, not just surviving but thriving—reconnecting to the rhythms of nature, to the gifting spirit of others, and to his own peace of heart-mind by living a money-free life.
For those interested in doing the same, Boyle advocates an incremental approach that he ingeniously describes as a Progression of Principles towards a truly moneylesseconomy, defined by Boyle as one based on gifting, local resources only, and a pay-it-forward attitude. Here he reveals his Luddite leanings by eschewing imported gadgets and dismissing techno-utopian solutions like those advanced by the Zeitgeist films and the Venus Project. Like Derrick Jensen and others, Boyle regards agriculture as a massive mistake from which humanity is still trying to recover, and insists that our only hope lies in reconnecting to our Paleolithic—or at least preindustrial—past. As an ecologically engaged Buddhist, I’ve long imagined a middle path, although I’m encouraged to reconsider this as a delusion tied to my addictions to modernity.
Boyle’s path, which he prefers to tread barefoot, is beautifully earthy: “I believe that the depth of your spirituality is revealed by the ways in which you attain and eat your food, create fire, how gently you walk in Nature…” In the latter part of his book, Boyle gets pragmatic by describing the many methods of meeting one’s needs for free, from labor and materials to housing, food, water, heating, transportation, clothing, communication, education, and health care (an especially tricky area, like land acquisition and use). He lists the growing number of free-sources like Freecycle, Freegle, Couchsurfing, and dumpster diving (called “skipping” in the UK), as well as the moneyless (but not technically free) exchange programs like Help Exchange, WWOOFing, time banking, and Local Exchange Trading Systems. Especially inspiring is the gifting network founded by Boyle himself, Freeconomy, which is based on unconditional giving—no credits, no recordkeeping, simply a cadre of kind souls offering over 500,000 free services in over 160 countries throughout the world.
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] • Dreams and Guided Imagery, by Tallulah Lyons (Balboa Press)
Review by Ryan Hurd
Dreams and Guided Imagery by Tallulah Lyons may best be described as an introduction to contemporary dreamwork for those in the expanding field of integrative medicine. The book accomplishes a lot, starting with how to remember more dreams and how to work with those dreams, and then focusing on how to apply dream imagery for the purposes of health and healing. As such, it’s a practical, how-to guide for anyone in the healing arts who wants to add dreamwork to their toolkit.
Dreams and Guided Imagery is readable and easily applicable, full of scripts for meditations, worksheets and case studies. Lyons makes clear the distinction between “curing” and “healing,” suggesting that dreamwork is not a substitute for standard allopathic treatment. However, she does share a tantalizing story of a miraculous cancer cure (an overnight tumor disappearance) that came along with a powerful dream, bringing to mind Larry Dossey’s works with medical miracles.
In the last generation, mainstream medical centers (institutions that perform services that insurance companies actually cover) have increasingly included mind-body practices in their treatment plans. You can see the effect all across the board, from hospitals, to palliative care treatment centers (which focus on pain management for chronic and life-threatening diseases), and in hospice. But while meditation, acupuncture, and drumming are more common than ever before as powerful healing agents for “whole person” care, strangely enough dreamwork has lagged behind in acceptance. Lyons’ work is slowly changing that. She’s been leading dream groups at cancer centers in Atlanta, GA for over 20 years, and she has helped chair a long-term project called the “Cancer Project” with the International Association for the Study of Dreams. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the IASD, which is how I discovered Lyons’ work and her book.)
Lyons’ central claim is that dream imagery contains visual symbols and emotional experiences that are tailor-made for empowering the healing process. Those looking for hard science and clinical references may be put off by Lyons’ style and the anecdotal nature of her work. The book is more about applying dreamwork than theorizing about how it works. She’s also not trying to convince skeptics. Her bias, common to those in the contemporary dreamwork movement, is that dreaming is always reflective of a healing process of growth. Personally, I would add a bunch of “buts” to this concept. However, Lyons makes up for this with several appendices of resources, and more importantly, shows the reader step-by-step how to draw up a secure container for doing dreamwork in a safe and emotionally-supportive way.
Ryan Hurd is an independent scholar, editor of DreamStudies.org, and board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. He is the author of Lucid Immersion Guidebook: A holistic blueprint for lucid dreaming and Sleep Paralysis: A guide to hypnagogic visions and visitors of the night.
[Film] • Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives, directed by Jeffrey M. Smith (Institute for Responsible Technology)
Review by ST Frequency
Americans are sick—and getting sicker. Chronic diseases account for more than 70% of all deaths in the United States, a rate that has risen sharply over the last two decades and surpasses that of all other nations. Obesity, smoking, and environmental factors clearly play a role in this convergence of health crises. But what if a prime culprit were lurking in the very food we eat?
This is the question asked by Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives, a new documentary exploring the potential dangers posed by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply. Directed by outspoken GMO critic Jeffrey M. Smith, the film is an unsettling tour through a myriad of serious health conditions implicated with genetically altered crops, from allergies and intestinal disorders to diabetes and autism. Many explanations are offered for how these ailments could arise. For example, the haphazard process of genetic modification—which involves blasting foreign genes into cells—leads to “massive collateral damage” in the DNA sequence of the plant. Consuming this mutated DNA, the film argues, could present unpredicted effects such as inflammation, immune disorders, and allergic reactions.
Supported by references to research studies and interviews with a wide range of physicians, scientists and activists, these claims are compelling, even when admittedly speculative. But what is ultimately most persuasive is the story of collusion between the U.S. government and the biotech industry, which Genetic Roulette reveals with relish. Here unfolds a sordid tale of revolving-door politics starring key figures in the FDA, USDA, and top brass at the biotech giant Monsanto. When FDA scientists assessed GMO technology in the early 1990s, they warned of potential health hazards such as allergies and new diseases. But the person in charge of policy at the agency was former Monsanto attorney Michael Taylor, who today serves as Food Czar under Obama. The FDA scientists were ignored, and GMO foods were fast-tracked to our dinner plates without regulation.
Clearly the fox is watching the henhouse, and we can take no assurance from government claims that genetically engineered foods are proven safe. In a dense 80 minutes of information, Genetic Roulette makes a strong case to the contrary. Smith leaves no GMO stone unturned in his film, dispelling the myth about increased yields from genetically-modified crops and touching on Monsanto’s notorious patent lawsuits against small farmers. The documentary closes with an appeal to California voters to support Proposition 37 for mandatory GMO labeling, a people’s initiative which was narrowly defeated after a Monsanto-led lobby spent $46 million on attack ads to squash it. Supporters quickly affirmed that they would continue to educate the public on this vital issue. As the food fight rages on, films like Genetic Roulette wield the persuasive power to tip the balance and send GMOs to the compost heap of history.
ST Frequency is the alias most associated with Atlanta-based writer and musician Stephen C. Thomas. As part of the artist collective Kids with Codenames, ST has organized electronic music events and has self-released several eclectic EPs. He holds a BA in English from Georgia State University and has studied British and American Culture at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, where he developed a chronic wanderlust.
[Book] • The Secrets of Alchemy, by Lawrence Principe (University of Chicago)
Review by Thom Cavalli
“Alchemy is now a hot topic,” writes Lawrence Principe, “among historians of science” in his newly released book, The Secrets of Alchemy. What “hot” means to a historian is questionable, but this book does at times read like a detective story.
The book chronicles four periods of history that briefly describe the development of alchemy. Unfortunately, Principe purposely excluded Chinese and Indian alchemy, a real loss to any complete history of the subject. I was also surprised that he begins his account with Zosimos and not the much earlier Egyptian-Greek Bolus of Mendes, who is typically credited with first use of the term alchemy. Dating alchemy is important because it signifies critical stages in the history of consciousness and in line with Principe’s major criterion, it contextualizes alchemy within a given time period. Alchemy involves “making things” with “heads and hands” and its history reflects the development of homo artifex, man the maker.
What Principe calls secrets are more accurately corrections to facts and figures that typically appear in most historical books on the subject. Based on current scholarship, Principe informs us that there may, for example, be one, many or no Arabic alchemists by the name of Jabir. Philalethes turns out to be the Bermudian adept George Starkey. Perhaps Principe’s secrets are found in two experiments he personally conducted to provide physical proof of Valentine and Starkey’s allegorical recipes. While Principe succeeds in revealing that such things like a ravenous wolf translates to mean stibnite, what is more significant is that he works like a chemist, not an alchemist. In neither experiment does he put his personal “mind in harmony with the work," as Thomas Norton says in The Ordinal of Alchemy. Attuning one’s psyche to the physical operations marks an essential difference that distinguishes alchemy from chemistry.
In his discussion of alchemy’s dispersion into the theatre, arts, and poetry, Principe stops short of describing it’s relevance to modern science. In these sections, he leaves out or minimizes the contribution of critical figures. Goethe’s Faust receives no mention at all. Instead, obscure Dutch paintings are analyzed. Worse, he groups C.G. Jung with Eliade and Regardie, dismissing their work in toto stating “they are now rejected by historians of science as valid descriptions of alchemy.” Accordingly, there is not a single mention of alchemical psychology and the extensive contributions made by von Franz, Edinger and Hillman. I believe this indictment signifies Principe’s rejection of “esoteric” alchemy and his discomfort with the subjective aspects of the Noble Art. Other than Mary Ann Atwood, he makes no mention of Cleopatra or Maria Prophetess, the soror mystica or more generally, the role of the Feminine in the alchemical opus.
Principe is at his best where he beautifully describes the alchemical Weltanschauung, a view eclipsed by the Scientific Revolution. Despite serious shortcomings, I highly recommend this book. It is well researched, helpful in providing historical accuracy and most importantly, describes the unique contribution alchemy has made to the modern world.
Thom F. Cavalli, Ph.D. is a writer and clinical psychologist practicing in Santa Ana, CA. He is author of the recent Embodying Osiris, the Secrets of Alchemical Transformation (Quest Books 2010) and Alchemical Psychology, Old Recipes for Living in a New World (Putnam 2002). Visit www.CavalliBooks.com and www.AlchemicalPsychology.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
[Book] • Video Game Play and Consciousness (Perspectives on Cognitive Psychology Series), edited by Jayne Gackenbach (Nova Science Publishers)
Review by Hillary S. Webb
Video Game Play and Consciousness is a series of essays geared towards exploring the question: How might our increasing immersion in virtual realities influence the nature and development of human consciousness? An interdisciplinary mix with essays written by authors coming from a variety of perspectives such as experimental psychology, neuroscience, the social sciences, art design, communication studies, and so on, the book is organized into five sections exploring (1) the subjective experience of virtual play; (2) the three variables of “attention,” “absorption,” and “flow” as fundamental to understanding the virtual immersion phenomenon; (3) the impact of gaming on nighttime dreams and how video game experiences become transferred to the player’s daily life; (4) how virtual play influences our imagination and creative processes; and (5) the potential use of virtual play.
Readers will likely have mixed reactions to each of the sixteen chapters, depending on individual tastes and interests. The majority of essays are heavily theoretical and/or quantitative in their approach and, therefore, those who have less interest in slogging through the dense language of the experimental sciences will have less opportunity for insight. For me, this was the primary deficit of the book, as more experiential, narrative data would have created a richer and more tacit sense of the phenomenon being studied. A few gems stand out in this regard, however, in particular game designer Michael Highland’s experiential essay, “Breaking Realities: A Subjective Account of Gaming as a Catalyst for the Development of Consciousness.”
A number of thought-provoking considerations emerge out of the central theme of the influence of video game play on human consciousness. To name just a few:
• Video games have the power to alter one's relationship with reality and even to transform patterns of consciousness.
• Video games may be a significant tool in helping us learn how to break realities; to practice deconstructing and rebuilding new worlds within our own minds. As one author writes, “Though not as dramatic as transitions of consciousness I have witnessed in meditation, or with psychedelics, the disorientation, sensory novelty, and indescribable quality of this experience parallel other instances of expanding consciousness.” (p. 9)
• Video game play provides exciting methodological opportunities for understanding human consciousness; a means by which we can come to explore this enigmatic phenomenon in ways that we have previously not been able.
All in all, Video Game Play and Consciousness is an important addition to an exciting field of study, leading the reader to wonder what will be revealed as our consciousness evolves in response to our increasing engagement with technology.
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, including Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru (University of New Mexico Press, 2012), Traveling Between the Worlds: Conversations with Contemporary Shamans (Hampton Roads, 2004), and Exploring Shamanism (New Page Books, 2003).
[Video] • Terence McKenna Omnibus 2012, directed and produced by Mike Kawitzky
Review by Jonathan Zap
I feel like a bit of an asshole giving a negative review of The Terence McKenna Omnibus 2012 when its creators went to well-intentioned, laborious lengths to put together a collection of McKenna video excerpts without being paid a single red cent for their efforts. I would have graciously kept my negative assessment of the result to myself except that I was asked to review this. Parts of it are cleverly done. It would probably be cool to have it on in the background at a party in someone's industrial-looking loft where old couches and excess bong hits were exerting a gravitational pull toward the passive absorption of McKenna thought bling in shuffle mode with video effects. To actually review something like this, however, becomes meaningful only when we see it as yet another representative of what I call surrealism fatigue---a mediocre aesthetic that has come to be ubiquitous and increasingly clichéd and boring.
Before I get into the problem of surrealism fatigue, a quick note about the McKenna content presented in the Omnibus. There is a lot of emphasis on Terence's discredited Time Wave 2000 software and theory. It seems like the compilers were not even aware that they were embarrassing Terence by emphasizing Time Wave and especially during 2012, the year of its probable complete disconfirmation. Terence was already being embarrassed by Time Wave in the spring of 1996 when it predicted this huge descent into novelty that didn't happen. I talked to Terence about the flaws in Time Wave in the late spring of 1996 and wrote about that here: A Mutant Convergence---How John Major Jenkins, Jonathan Zap and Terence McKenna Met During a Weekend of High Strangeness in 1996.
The Omnibus actually includes an excerpt where Terence describes Time Wave as "my greatest trick." Unfortunately, it was the greatest trick that Terence played on himself. Terence, like many other esoteric researchers, did not sufficiently recognize the trickster aspect of the unconscious. He did not realize that following the mushroom goddess speaking in his head was not necessarily more reliable than someone following the voice of Jesus or Yahweh speaking in their head. I write about this classic pitfall, and Terence's relationship to 2012 here: Carnival 2012---A Psychological Study of the 2012 Phenomenon and the 22 Classic Pitfalls and Blind Spots of Esoteric Research. The ideas underlying the false specifics of the Time Wave theory (seasons of time where habit and novelty fluctuate) were important and brilliant, but to show Terence expounding about the Time Wave software is like someone posting online a photo you hoped was lost forever of you dressed up in 1970s disco attire. They are embarrassing the man, and not even aware that they are highlighting an embarrassment. Terence's image has probably taken enough hits in 2012 and I tried to put those in perspective here: On the Disillusioning Revelations about Terence McKenna. I have also written much about why we should continue to think of Terence as a visionary genius and devote considerable space to his crucial ideas in my recent book, Crossing the Event Horizon---Human Metamorphosis and the Singularity Archetype.
To see the longer version of this review, and much more about the general problem of surrealism fatigue, click here.
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