Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Showing posts with label M. R. James. Show all posts
Showing posts with label M. R. James. Show all posts

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2016: The Slender Man, An Internet Monster

A Slender Man Hallowe'en costume (2012). Image Source: imgur via Twisted Sifter.

On the Internet, a Web-based horror folklore is called a 'creepypasta.' Among creepypastas, the creepiest of all is the Slender Man. Slender Man is a monster invented in 2009 on the 'create paranormal imagesphotoshop thread at the site Something Awful; he is a Millennial spectre, invented by Eric Knudsen (pseud. Victor Surge) to give the Web a virtual haunter of children and young teens. Know Your Meme:
"Slender Man (a.k.a Slenderman) is a mythical creature often depicted as a tall, thin figure wearing a black suit and a blank face. According to the legend, he can stretch or shorten his arms at will and has tentacle-like appendages protruding from his back. Depending on the interpretations of the myth, the creature may cause memory loss, insomnia, paranoia, coughing fits (nicknamed 'slendersickness'), photograph/video distortions and can teleport at will. The urban legend has inspired fan arts, fictional creepypastas and a mockumentary series in the style of the 1999 indie horror film Blair Witch Project. As the character has grown in popularity, he’s gained a number of other nicknames including The Operator, Der Großmann, Mr. Slim, The Administrator, Daddy LongLegs, Mr. Thin, The Tall Man, The Thin Man and Slendy."
In the evidential narrative style of X-FilesBlair Witch Project, and RinguKnudsen added to his Slender Man photographs, and in forum posts began to create false 'true story' cases on the thread. These details put fake historical meat on Slender's bones; other contributors added scraps to the fake casebook:
  • “We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…” – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
  • One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
  • 5/24/95**1994: Wilks Estate. One subject reported nothing out of the ordinary before taking photograph. Lower stairs area was said to be very dark. Subject states that after the camera flash she heard a sound like a watermelon being *unable to understand subject*.
  • 5/25/93**Subject unable to recall events after manor power failure. Unable to question other two identified subjects. Camera and film acquired from Gloria Cready, current resident of Woodview Mental Hospital and Psychological Rehabilitation Clinic. Film mostly uncontaminated despite mass of blood and human tissue present on camera. No positive ID on anomalous tall and slender subject. Facial blur caused by possible contamination.
  • 6/7/93**Early digital analysis indicates tall subject may have no eyes. Anomalies, previously thought to be film errors and flash artifacts, now thought to be appendages.
  • 6/10/93**Final identified subject reported missing along with other thirty-three patients and staff of Woodview Mental Hospital and Psychological Rehabilitation Clinic south wing.
  • 6/18/93**Further inquiry to cease immediately. (see report No.3339-2)
  • This first photo was given to me by my uncle, a police officer who was part of the investigation trying to find nine missing teens who had gone camping in the local mountains six years ago. It was developed from a disposable camera found at the campsite. None of the missing teens have ever been found, and all their possessions were still at the campsite. He was pretty drunk and shaken up when he gave me this, and made me promise I'd never show anyone else.
  • The second photo is of an elementary school fire in 1978. No official cause was ever found. Seven students and a teacher became trapped and died before firefighters could respond. Many of the students and teachers from the time have a history of anxiety disorders and panic attacks, even those who weren't at the school on that day. At least one has since committed suicide, and several others legally changed their names once they reached adulthood and have disappeared.
  • **Alert**Alert**Deployment Request**ANTI-S WALKER UNIT to deploy to --Wichita--Kansas--
  • Steinmen Woods**Both subjects were hunting in the Steinmen woods four hours before sundown. Surviving subject states that while hunting both men grew uneasy as fog levels rapidly increased. A constant murmuring sound accompanied by a low hum eventually became apparent to the two men an hour after the fog increased. An object falling out of tree stuck one of the men in the left shoulder causing him to discharge his weapon. Object said to be the body of a man of unknown age. It was very precisely dissected, with major internal organs still contained within the rib cage in what looked to be clear bags. Surviving subject placed organ bag within backpack. Attack followed several minutes later after a "low children's laugh, like a giggle". Surviving subject ran until he reached his vehicle. Subject then drove to assumed safety. Backpack destroyed. Surviving subject is classified as a B7 witness. B7 witness to be placed in quarantine "Blind Box" until resolution.
  • 2007:Investigation team discovered twenty-two bodies of both genders and various ages impaled on broken tree branches in a radiating circle pattern with chest mutilation as often noted with Slender Man. Upon confirmation, lead investigator ********* called for an immediate evacuation of investigation team at 1700 hours. Bodies first discovered at 1100 hours. Deadline for safe evacuation of team with only viewed physical evidence of Slender Man approximately 1730. Lost contact of team at 1725. Safety procedures fell well within established protocols. Reason for abnormality is unknown. Second team recovered camera equipment one week later. Slender Man safety procedures require this incident's physical photographic evidence to be disposed of by no later than 10/20. I honestly don't get what half this poo poo means. I'm done with this Slender Man stuff. It's starting to make me uneasy. It's like reading the GBS ghost story threads before I go to bed. Why do I have to look at this stuff while it's super late? Luckily, my friend is coming over.
Everyone chatting in the Something Awful forum agreed that Knudsen had created something frightening and original, a big monster begging for a bigger story. One commenter thought Slender Man reminded him (or her) of the scary (and true) 1959 Dyatlov Pass incident in Russia. Another wrote:
"Slender Man would make a pretty nice horror novel in the lines of House of Leaves. Essentially, make the novel a collection of witness statements, newspaper clippings, pictures, drawings, articles discussing evidence for an against the slender man and, to tie it all neatly together, a few stories of people who want to track the slender man, unravel the mystery, [a]nd the kicker would be the last 20 or so pages would be missing, with only scraps of paper left, arranged as logically as possible, just excerpts, words, rips, ink stains, etc."
Another said, "Slender Man is scaring the crap out of me for some reason." Others thought that Slender Man would be great subject for a movie. When you go back and read the forum thread now, you can see how the Internet can be a hotbed of genuine creativity, as it was supposed to be. This was folklore, generated in a brand new way. The Something Awful forum offered a new narrative form, an organic, virtual reality story-telling standing on the shoulders of oral tradition, fairy tales, urban legends, spiritual mythologies, religious texts, and ghost stories. That, in itself, is fascinating and culturally significant. Scholars of mythology have deemed Slender Man to be an authentic example of digital folklore: he is open-sourced, communally-created, variable in form, and audience-response-driven. Commentators have since remarked that Slender Man's appeal exploits the fears of the Digital era:
"Shira Chess describes the Slender Man as a metaphor for 'helplessness, power differentials, and anonymous forces.' Peck sees parallels between the Slender Man and common anxieties about the digital age, such as feelings of constant connectedness and unknown third-party observation. Similarly, Tye Van Horn, a writer for The Elm, has suggested that the Slender Man represents modern fear of the unknown; in an age flooded with information, people have become so inured to ignorance that they now fear what they cannot understand. Troy Wagner, the creator of Marble Hornets, ascribes the terror of the Slender Man to its malleability; people can shape it into whatever frightens them most. Tina Marie Boyer noted that 'The Slender man is a prohibitive monster, but the cultural boundaries he guards are not clear. Victims do not know when they have violated or crossed them.'"
This faux-real authenticity, as the directors of the 2016 Blair Witch sequel will tell you, is extremely hard for artists to achieve; sometimes a fable's original power only strikes full force in a particular time and place. This happened with Slender Man. What the Something Awful forum members did not reckon on was that Slender Man would inspire a real horror in real life.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2016: Interview with Horror Film Director, Oliver Park

Vicious (2016). The lead actress is Rachel Winters. Directed, written and produced by Oliver Park. Video Source: Youtube.

Welcome to another Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon, in which Histories of Things to Come joins hundreds of other blogs during October to count down to All Saints' Eve. Today, I am very pleased to interview UK film director Oliver Park, whom Bloody Flicks calls "the new face of horror." Park wrote, directed and produced the acclaimed short British film, Vicious (above). On 24 September 2016, he premiered his new short horror film, Still, in the UK at the Exit 6 Film Festival in a screening at the Vue Cinema in Basingstoke, Hampshire, with more screenings in coming months in the UK and USA. Originally from Bath, Park is also an award-winning actor.

Vicious is just over twelve minutes long and has won many international film awards. It scared me! Park visually quotes other horror films, but his take is new. He told TurnAbout Media about his inspirations:
"I was born in the 80’s, so I grew up with stories by M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. Then, when I discovered horror films I quickly fell in love with films by Carpenter, Craven, Kubrick, Romero, Cronenberg, Russell, Barker and of course – Hitchcock (to name but a few). I remember being terrified by those stories and I would regret them every night as I was lying in bed unable to sleep!

My father is also a huge film fan so he introduced me to the horrors from the 50’s and 60’s, the Hammer Horror collection – and two of my all-time favourites: Night of the Demon by Jacques Tourneur and Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau.

Modern day horrors are a new breed and cannot be compared to the older ones. I love the work of Leigh Whannell and James Wan, David Robert Mitchell, Tomas Alfredson, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza and of course Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu (among many, many others)."

I do not know if Park draws from film noir, but for me, the first scene in Vicious echoed Experiment in Terror (1962; online here), when a woman comes home from work late at night. The scene is similar, down to the barking dog. The woman hurries to leave the lonely street and get inside her house, where she'll be safe. In fact, the dog is warning the woman not to go inside her house.

This is where Vicious starts, at the moment when the place where we feel most secure becomes a cauldron. The film combines horror genres: the home invasion, the haunted house, mental isolation inside the four walls. Perhaps Park's secret is his relentless subliminal insistence on the invasion, even rape, of Millennial privacy; the associated thrall of home-based technologies and Internet connections leaves us trapped and subjugated. Our time wasted. Our lives squandered. Our identities frayed. Park's films may have monsters, but they are secondary to the violated spaces they occupy. There is no privacy, no safe place left. Park remarked on Still's premise:
"My stories are designed to target real life situations - it's not about a 'jump scare'. Still takes you on a journey that we all go on, but then it takes a detour and asks 'what if...'. We all think of our homes as our safe place, when in fact, they can just as easily be our prison - or worse - our tomb. You think you're safe inside - you're not. You're trapped."

Image Source: Turnabout Media.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 10: Horror's Skeleton Key

The Tarot's trumps, or Major Arcana, mapped onto a Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Image Source: Tarot Hermeneutics. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Behind the tropes and clichés, what is horror? What purpose do horror stories serve? Horror reveals impulses in ourselves which we fear and do not understand, such as the savage motives behind murder. For example: 2006's Black Dahlia (directed by Brian De Palma) was based on the 1947 unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, and was disturbing enough that writer James Ellroy (who famously wrote a quartet of novels about post-war L.A., and included the Dahlia case for his own reasonsnow asserts that he will never again publicly discuss Short (see my blog post on this case, here); or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; based on the 1950s' Ed Gein case in Wisconsin, see it below); or Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986; see it here; based on real life killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole). In a week when the LAPD is reopening the Manson Family case to investigate 12 additional murders, the headlines remind us that reality is worse than any horror drama.

Horror additionally asks us to challenge what we understand to be real and then reaffirm it, according to our common values. A Catholic review from Jake Martin of a fictional account of a boy who kills his classmates, We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), confirms this point:
the film is not "yet another installment in the pantheon of post-modern films intent upon assaulting the human desire to give meaning to the world." Instead, ... [Martin] says, We Need to Talk about Kevin in fact needs to be talked about, as what it is attempting to do by marrying the darkest, most nihilistic components of contemporary cinema with a redemptive message is groundbreaking."
In a third and related sense, some horror stories are actually morality tales. They show the path the protagonists must take out of darkness, once a violent act has ripped apart everything that makes reality sensible. This severe trope is often used by director David Lynch, whose forays into surreal horror involve a return back to a good piece of cherry pie and a great cup of coffee. Lynch will take his audiences to the edge and well beyond it, but he always insists on the final reassertion of sanity over insanity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 14: The Supernatural Ivory Tower

A faux inscription: View of the old quadrangle of the Miskatonic University, Arkham, Massachusetts, built 1797; drawn by G.M. Sinclair, 1915 (from Picturesque Haunts of Old New England, by George M. Sinclair, Boston 1915). Image Source: The Necronomicon.
So much for the Ivory Tower being the seat of Enlightenment rationalism and intellectual skepticism that immediately rejects psychics, mediums, spirits, the paranormal, superstitions, and wide-eyed religious fears of devils and demons. Universities stereotypically harbour godless scientists.  But in 2006, Skeptical Inquirer Magazine conducted a study that found that the higher your level of education, the greater your tendency to believe in the supernatural.  (Hat tip: Live Science) They found graduate students to be particularly susceptible. Having spent more than a day or two in graduate school, I can see how the experience might inspire a belief in the big picture (let us say).  Sceptical boffins (as Brits call them) are believers! From the report:
Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study.

Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.

The results are detailed in the January-February issue of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

The survey was modeled after a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans far more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents.

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma.

In general college students checked the "Believe" box less than the general population surveyed by Gallup. But the lack of "Don't Believe" responses among college students was lower for six of the 13 categories: psychic or spiritual healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, ghosts, clairvoyance and witches. That means a higher percentage of college students put themselves in the "Not Sure" column on these topics. ...

More significantly, the new survey reveals college is not necessarily a path to skepticism in these realms.

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students. "As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.
Academics search for rational explanations of the supernatural in terms of human psychology. The University of Edinburgh is home to the famous Koestler Parapsychology Unit, which investigates paranormal phenomena. Parapsychology is a field of research in some 30 countries, which seeks to explain telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, and apparitional experiences. Other departments and institutes that work in this area include: the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; the Rhine Research Center, successor to the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory (later called the Foundation for Research into the Nature of Man); the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, London; the Boundary Institute; the Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona; the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology, Lund University, Sweden; the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes, University of Northampton; Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology Unit, Liverpool John Moores University; Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, Freiburg, Germany; Institut Métaphysique International, Paris; International Consciousness Research Labs, linked with Princeton; Laboratories for Fundamental Research, Palo Alto, California - previously funded by the US government; Le Laboratoire de Parapsychologie de Toulouse, France; the Mind-Matter Unification Project, Cambridge University; the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute includes investigations of psychopharmacology; and the Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena at University of Derby. This is not a complete list! On a slightly related note, Russian scientists set up an institute to investigate the Sasquatch, Bigfoot or Yeti this year

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ancient Cities 2: Dying Babylon's First and Last Museum

Image Source: IO9.

Imagine travelling back in time 2,500 years to a museum which preserved artifacts that the Ancients thought were ancient! IO9 is reporting on a fascinating mid-1920s' discovery of a Babylonian museum - the world's first - and the tale it told of its own dying culture.  The museum was located in a palace in Ur, once an important city-state seat in ancient Sumeria.  Ur was later absorbed into neo-Babylonia.

The archaeologists were working on the palace of Nabonidus, the last neo-Babylonian king.  They found a strange chamber where his daughter, Princess Ennigaldi, had created her museum. They could not understand why the room contained artifacts from much earlier time periods, all mixed together:
In 1925, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a curious collection of artifacts while excavating a Babylonian palace. They were from many different times and places, and yet they were neatly organized and even labeled. Woolley had discovered the world's first museum. 
It's easy to forget that ancient peoples also studied history - Babylonians who lived 2,500 years ago were able to look back on millennia of previous human experience. That's part of what makes the museum of Princess Ennigaldi so remarkable. Her collection contained wonders and artifacts as ancient to her as the fall of the Roman Empire is to us. But it's also a grim symbol of a dying civilization consumed by its own vast history.
The artifacts in the museum were between sixteen hundred and seven hundred years older than the palace itself, which dated from 530 BCE. In other words, Wooley's 1920s' archaeological discovery in the palace at Ur extended tangible human memory back to just over two thousand years before the time of Christ.

Wooley felt that the museum and the study of history for this civilization was a sign of over-sophistication and ultimate decline.  While the great city of Ur was winding down and coming to the end of two thousand years of history, its royal family was obsessed with preserving a once-glorious past.  By around 500 BCE (a mere thirty years after the founding of the Princess's palace museum), Ur was abandoned.  Its territories would soon be absorbed by the new upstart Persian Empire.

This whole story makes me reflect on my review of Paul Laroquod's blog yesterday, including further remarks in the comments section on the current declining value of copyright. This story about Princess Ennigaldi's museum, in my mind, provides some justfication for copyright as a historical tool; it is more than a formula for declaring possession of property and enforcing power over that property in the name of profit. Copyright is also a marker of time; it is a signpost of intellectual precedent and associated historical legacies.  Through copyright, we can establish not only who had an idea first, but (perhaps more importantly) the sequence in which ideas and created objects appeared in our culture.  The potential of doing away with copyright includes the potential of living in an ahistorical world, where date-stamps (easily manipulated) become meaningless.  Our perspective on the sequence of time as measured through our creative achievements will disappear, unless that sequence is described via another legal or other sort of convention.

H. P. Lovecraft was fixated on the idea that annotated scholarship allowed us to penetrate the clouds of the distant past.  Carefully following citations (that is, the trail of stated copyright) was like following the trail of breadcrumbs back through time.  By tracing historical documents to ever-older tomes, the truly erudite scholar could leapfrog backward through millennia.  In a similar manner, a museum curator could follow the artifacts backward.  Lovecraft suggested that the right sort of occult object, invested with mystical-temporal magic, could allow a Magus to move from the realm of the known past (history), to the near-forgotten past (legend), to the forgotten past (myth), to the realm of Ur-past (the occult), the deepest past of all.  Antiquarians unwittingly crossing oceans of time and disturbing the information and forces that slept there was also a common theme in the stories of M. R. James.  James's stories often start in universities, where a scholar has turned up some curio that is more trouble than its worth because it provides a gateway to past time.  In those past eras, James hinted that some elements of human knowledge were discarded, forgotten and left behind for a reason, because they were unmanageable and dangerous.  Toying with them in the present would only awaken their dreadful potential.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Interlude: A Moment or Two in Lost Arcadia

After a slew of big posts, I want to change tack and look at things that are more contemplative, restful, and get at currents under the surface.  From about 1995 to 2005, I noticed that the European fin-de-siècle was back in fashion.  Fascination with the era from 1870 to 1920 persists: the Steampunk movement, Proust, H. G. Wells or Lovecraft fans come to mind. This period is our lost Arcadia.  (Arcadia, a region of modern and ancient Greece, became synonymous in the late nineteenth century with idealized nationalist utopias.)  People greeted the new century with confidence, certain that the twentieth century would bring great changes - equality and reforms.  They used the term 'Arcadia' to describe a late Romantic reverie that laid the groundwork for things to come, whether fantastic or terrifying.  For a beautiful tribute site to the styles of this period see the blog, The Pictorial Arts, especially this recent post and this post.  There is a great site devoted to the era of picturesque postage stamps here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Retro-Futurism 3: Conan the Barbarian

There is a vast, unrecorded period of human history.  Roughly 18,000 years passed unrecorded from the latest suggested period of Neanderthal interaction with Cro-Magnons up to the Bronze Age.  This is the realm of fantasy associated with the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard.  The Stone Age began in Africa roughly 2.7 million years ago.  The transition from Stone Age cultures to metal-using technologies is in fact much later than Conan's fictional period: "the transition out of the Stone Age occurred between 6000 BCE and 2500 BCE for much of humanity living in North Africa, Asia and Europe." In Europe the transition to the Iron Age took place around 1,200 BCE.  Howard, like many others, placed the Iron Age much earlier in time than it actually occurred.  The author, best known for his 1930s pulp heroes, the Atlantean warrior Kull and the post-Atlantean Conan the Barbarian, portrayed the Prehistoric Iron Age period.  But Howard's 'Hyborian Age' for Conan is set from 14,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE - approximately 13,000 to 9,000 years too early.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lovecraftian Time Slip

H. P. Lovecraft saw time as a well, a living thing, a key to dark, terrible secrets and alternate realities. Brand new material is unearthed at Miskatonic University's Department of Ancient Manuscripts: Cinema Suicide reports that The Whisperer in Darkness produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society will be released in October 2010 (see the trailer below in this post). Eldritch Animation has a new animated version of The Statement of Randolph Carter (see the video link below in this post).

Lovecraft, like M. R. James, relied on a mood of historical authenticity. Lovecraft established his historical mood  by setting his stories in the well-guarded world of early twentieth century academia and indulging his politically incorrect love of the WASP middle classes of New England, now targets of parody.