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 Romanticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Romanticism. Show all posts

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Brontë Effect

Image Source: Opheliac Madness.

At the great blog, Trans-D, Dia Sobin finds artistic connections between layers of time and dimensional existence. Recently, she dug through a trove of old books - with initial posts here and here - and settled on a 1943 edition of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847). She wrote an incredible post on how Catherine's and Heathcliff's love reveals the blurred boundaries of reality. I commented, because she described something one might call 'the Brontë Effect'; the italicized text cites Dia's post, with my comments in non-italics:
"'And, there is also the transdimensional aspect of the story: the odd way in which Emily presented her narratives, from several different points of view, intertwining numerous points in time, thereby, creating a weird, reverberating gestalt as opposed to a linear chronicle.' ... [I responded:] I felt that there was an indistinctness, especially because the characters give their kids the same names. Past, present and future are jumbled together. ...

I wonder if Emily Bronte was exposed via her father to Scottish freemasonry? Because when you look at the story in the sense of two souls in an alchemical marriage, the story becomes much more clear. Maybe she intuitively 'reached for' alchemical concepts without knowing them. I am sure someone has researched it. A lot of the primal gothic takes on the trans-dimensional or multi-dimensional aspects ... if you consider the alchemical. Across time, space, in new incarnations, like the two lovers embody a conflicting spirit of humans on the moors, but [also on] Jacob's Ladder ... ."
First, regarding Dia's observation that Wuthering Heights is trans-dimensional and multi-temporal, one senses this less in reading the novel, and more in the lingering impression after one reads it. The story leaves one with a feeling of time smashed together through characters' blurred and overlapping identities; their names and roles repeat, and generational tweaks are permitted over decades. The novel goes on forever, but Catherine is only about 18 years old when she dies at Thrushcross Grange. The 2009 dramatization had her die at age 25; either way, she remains eternally young and a persistent force.

ITV 2009 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, starring Tom Hardy as Heathcliff and Charlotte Riley as Catherine. Image Source: Elementary.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: Cauldrons and Grails

Efnisien sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron of rebirth. The Destruction of the Cauldron of Rebirth (1905) by Thomas Prytherch (1864-1926). Image Source: Wiki.

As a child, I read Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron, the second book in the Chronicles of Prydain. The hero, Taran, makes his way through a vast swamp to find a black cauldron, which must be secured before an evil king seizes it. This artifact has the power to bring dead men back to life and can create an army of undead warriors. Similar to Sauron's ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the cauldron is depicted as a weapon like today's atomic bomb. It looks like a tool for certain victory in war. But it offers death and despair to those who try to wield its incredible power. The only thing an army can do with this mega-weapon, according to Celtic folklore, is destroy it, because its power lies beyond the accepted boundaries of human existence. Taran learns from the cauldron's witch guardians that the cauldron can only be destroyed by the sacrifice of a live man who willingly climbs into it and dies.

Lloyd Alexander's work adapted the Welsh pre-Christian myth cycle, The Mabinogion. This Celtic legend is part of Britain's earliest prose literature, a romance written down in the 11th century, based on earlier oral sources. In the second part of these tales, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr, "A tragically genocidal war develops fomented by Efnisien, in which a Cauldron which resurrects ... dead figures." The sadistic, psychopathic anti-hero Efnisien is responsible for the destruction of Ireland and the Island of the Mighty, also known as AlbionPrydain or Britain. To make up for his transgressions, Efnisien climbs into the cauldron and destroys it. Thus, bound up with the cauldron's original story of resurrection is a tale of Celtic warriors who have turned on each other and fought amongst themselves. One of their own betrays the other lords, and initiates mass-killing and mass death; he sacrifices himself as a means of redemption and acceptance back into the fold.

Arthurian myth turns right at the point where the Celtic pagan became Christian, and the cauldron became the Grail. Arthur's knight, Percival, with the Grail Cup. Arthur Hacker (1858-1919), The Temptation of Sir Percival (1894). Image Source: BBC. The painting is in the Leeds Art Gallery (LEEAG.PA.1895.0013).

The Celtic cauldron was a predecessor to the Holy Grail in northern Europe. By the 12th century, medieval Christian doctrine transformed the cauldron's abominable symbol, from a grisly instrument of evil resurrection to a tool of sacred regeneration through resurrection, known as the Holy Grail. That means that as ancient societies stabilized, their view of death changed. The symbol at the heart of their stories essentially stayed the same, but the spiritual message around resurrection became a tale of heaven rather than hell. The cauldron became conflated with the Chalice that Jesus supposedly used at the Last Supper. In the 20th century, the Nazis launched an actual search for the Grail, to lay claim to their share of Celtic heritage and Romantic reworkings of Christian legend, while conflating both traditions with the Aryan Cup of Jamshid, a mythical artifact that enabled the ancient rulers of Greater Persia to see the future.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The New Age of William Butler Yeats

W. B. Yeats by John Singer Sargent.

Today is the sesquicentennial 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Many modern poets have captured the spirit of our times. But Yeats stands out as a Romantic Modernist whose work most clearly described the great transition of our times, from one age to another. In his works, he depicted periods of time as sharply-dermarcated sections of human experience during which certain symbolic, spiritual, moral, occult or magical ideas gained total dominance. Thus the passage of time and the turn of ages was imagined by the poet as a violent, ongoing battle between contending philosophies and ways of being. Yeats equated the passage of time with millennia-long developments in collective human psychology. To understand how and why Yeats depicted the current Millennial transition so rarely and perfectly, we need to travel backward through his life, from the end of his days when his visions of the future were most pronounced, to the influences of his early childhood (Thanks to -C.).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beltane's Faustian Bargains

Beltane Fountain. Image Source: Osgrid Gallery.

April 30 is Walpurgis Night. It is the eve of the May Day honouring of St. Walburga, a West Saxon princess by birth, and an 8th century English abbess. In the mid-700s, she traveled to Francia (to what is now Bavaria, Germany) with other English missionaries, to convert the Germans - who were still pagans at the time - to Christianity. In that work, she supported her famous uncle, St. Boniface, and her two brothers, St. Willibald and St. Winibald.  Dark Dorset describes how the celebration of Saint Walburga overlaps with the older pagan May 1 spring festival of Beltane:
[H]er feast day also coincided with a much older pagan festival of Beltane ... [which] marked the beginning of summer. The eve of Beltane 30th April - 1st May became ... known as Walpurgisnacht, perhaps originally in an attempt to Christianise the festival. Like Halloween, it was also the night in which spirits wandered and witches favoured, as it was an auspicious time for holding their midnight sabbats and for conjuring spells. The most famous of all sabbats held on Walpurgisnacht was supposed to take place on the summit of the Brocken in the Harz Mountains of Germany as mentioned in Goethe's Faust [which you can read in German and English here, and watch here].
In Europe, the night of April 30 became a spring Hallowe'en, when witches and sorcerers held fertility rites around bonfires in wild areas. In earlier times, it was the time when livestock were driven out to pasture after a long winter, and charms were uttered over the animals as they ventured out into the wilds to protect them from harm. In the New World, Walpurgis Night is associated with the dark occult, including the establishment of the Church of Satan in 1966 in San Francisco, California.

Thus, these two days, April 30 and May 1, centre on a moment of pagan-Christian ambiguity, a grey area between seasons and between evil and good, freedom and security, old and new. The sense is of turn-over, confronting the very last of winter's deaths and tests, and putting them behind to be open to spring growth. Dark Dorset summarizes these tensions:
On Walpurgisnacht it was customary for local folk to ring the bells of the church at night, cutting sprigs of blossom from the May bush (Hawthorn) and hung outside or inside the house as deterrent of witchcraft. The burning of Need-Fires and life size straw effigies of men or women which were made prior to burning and cursed with ill-health and ill-luck of the old year. Creating lots of noise by banging on drums, wood or firing of shotguns were all considered effective ways of ridding the area of witchcraft, evil spirits and dark forces. The very name St. Walburga (or Walpurgis, Waltpurde, Gauburge, Vaubourg, Falbourg, as known in other parts of Europe) and her image were also used as protective charms against witchcraft, plague, famine and storms.
In the first part of his great tragedy Faust, published in 1808, Goethe included a scene set on Walpurgis Night:
Now to the Brocken the witches ride;
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.
Goethe's Faust explored the problems that symbolically arise around Walpurgis Night. His famous work principally concerned man's attempt to control the natural environment through scientific investigation and linear understanding, and the points at which faith and magic overtake that rational effort. Goethe's story describes Faust as a scholar, or alchemist, who makes a bargain with the devil to attain limitless knowledge. Faust's quest for infinite understanding automatically forces moral questions about how that knowledge might be exploited. Goethe insists: limitless knowledge can only be mitigated, and finally attained, by a leap of faith.

Image Source: Business Insider.

In the new Millennium, the moral dimension of limitless information, knowledge and technology is a huge problem. There are no St. Walburgas and St. Bonifaces standing now at the confluence of the environment and human knowledge of the environment. You may encounter many devils at the crossroads between environment and technology these days. For example, this week, Business Insider reported on a paper given last weekend at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, which concluded that one third of babies in the USA are using smart phones and tablets before they can walk and talk; and toddlers under the age of one use smart devices for at least one hour per day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

All Hallows' Eve Countdown: The Curse of the Purple Sapphire

The Delhi Purple Sapphire, in an arcane setting designed by one of its owners to contain its maleficent power with binding spells. Image Source: Live Science.

Today's Countdown to Hallowe'en post is about a curse of imperial plunder. Above, a gemstone with a reputation for leaving disaster in its wake. The gem is in fact an amethyst, stolen by a British soldier from a Temple of Indra - Hindu god of rain and thunderstorms - around the time of the 1857 Indian Mutiny. The current owner, the Natural History Museum in London, claims that it was stolen in 1855. From Kanpur, India, the stone made its way to Britain in the hands of Bengal cavalryman, Colonel W. Ferris. According to Live Science and The Indian Express, the gem spread misery to all who possessed it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Positive Thinking and Negative Capability

Image Source: Thee Online.

Yesterday's post notwithstanding, this post highlights a Millennial search for positives. In his 2009 book, Pronoia, Californian astrologer and Baby Boomer New Age thinker Rob Brezsny asserts that negative reporting (like this story) and toxic entertainment are rampant in the new Millennium's global society. Brezsny suggests an antidote in the opposing coined term, "pronoia ... [which] John Perry Barlow defined as 'the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf':
[P]ronoia is ... utterly at odds with conventional wisdom. The 19th-century poet John Keats [1795-1821] said that if something is not beautiful, it is probably not true. But the vast majority of modern storytellers - journalists, filmmakers, novelists, talk-show hosts, and poets - assert the opposite: If something is not ugly, it is probably not true.

In a world that equates pessimism with acumen and regards stories about things falling apart as having the highest entertainment value, pronoia is deviant. It is a taboo so taboo that it's not even recognized as a taboo.

The average American child sees 20,000 simulated murders before reaching age 18. This is considered normal. There are thousands of films, television shows, and electronic games that depict people doing terrible things to each other. If you read newspapers and news sites on the Internet, you have every right to believe that Bad Nasty Things compose 90 percent of the human experience. The authors of thousands of books published this year will hope to lure you in through the glamour of killing, addiction, self-hatred, sexual pathology, shame, betrayal, extortion, robbery, cancer, arson, and torture.

But you will be hard-pressed to find more than a few novels, films, news stories, and TV shows that dare to depict life as a gift whose purpose is to enrich the human soul.

If you cultivate an affinity for pronoia, people you respect may wonder if you have not lost your way. You might appear to them as naive, eccentric, unrealistic, misguided, or even stupid. Your reputation could suffer and your social status could decline.

But that may be relatively easy to deal with compared to your struggle to create a new relationship with yourself. For starters, you will have to acknowledge that what you previously considered a strong-willed faculty - the ability to discern the weakness in everything - might actually be a mark of cowardice and laziness. Far from being evidence of your power and uniqueness, your drive to produce hard-edged opinions stoked by hostility is likely a sign that you've been brainwashed by the pedestrian influences of pop nihilism.
Does Keats's assertion that 'if something is not beautiful, it is probably not true' imply that widespread Millennial nihilism and negativity are lies? - Or do they initiate searches for a new baseline, for new values and new truths? Is negativity symptomatic of larger, positive growth? In some ways, we can view the push and pull between negativity and positivity in our time as a conflict between surviving strains of Enlightenment and Romanticism; in the Millennium, these strains trend between externally-imposed, alienating, hyper-rationalized mechanization and inward-looking, self-involved hyper-naturalism.

When Brezsny positively invokes Keats, he also points to Keats's famous idea of negative capability, a primal Romantic reaction against Enlightenment rationality (see comments here and here). Negative capability involves a Romantic immersion in imagination, the anti-rational, the legendary. It concerns an intuitive jump in the apprehension of the natural world at its most mysterious, which treats nature as something transcendent, not as series of secrets unlocked by science. Keats's 1819 poem Ode to a Nightingale (hear it here) expressed a Romantic search for natural beauty transformed by imagination into a healing, immortal myth; this imaginative process eases the daily sufferings and ultimately mortal troubles upon which reason fixates. But negative capability also embraces uncertainty and strife; it refers to the self-doubt one experiences when one is pushed past one's limits and beyond one's expectations by extreme experiences or emotions. In the negative realm, one must exist beyond the conventional, the labeled, beyond the boundaries of settled norms. Negative capability enables survival through a period of unknowing.

Out of the same Romantic movement to which Keats adhered came the Byronic hero. The Byronic hero is a predecessor of the Postmodern, broken anti-hero. Whether he is a criminal acting as hero, or a flawed, fallen hero, the anti-hero is the standard protagonist in Millennial fiction and entertainment. In today's stories, the drama hinges on whether the broken hero can become heroic. In other words, our epics explore how we may transform our negative world into a positive one. Our favoured tropes imply that only alienated people have moved past moribund limitations to attain the broader view necessary to achieve that transformation.

Often, broken norms or normlessness are taken today as signs of cultural collapse, political failure and societal doom. But Keats suggested that the ability to cope in a realm of social and cultural uncertainty is a negative art, which ultimately rewards with positive beauty and regeneration.

Source: Citation is © Brezsny, Rob (2009). Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, Revised and Expanded: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. North Atlantic Books and Televisionary Publishing. ISBN 1-55643-818-4, pp. 61-62.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Image Source: Donna McGee Fine Art.

The year is more than half over. The summer of 2013 will never return.

Emma Powell, Against the Storm. Image Source: The Independent.

Star Trail. Image Source: Kristen Fox.

Ernest Jackson, The Lovers (ca. 1917). Image Source: The Pictorial Arts.

Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), Twilight Fantasy. Image Source: Illusions Gallery.

Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), Night. Image Source: Art Magick.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Full Moon and a New Prince

Gif. source: Telegraph via Perez Hilton.

Some are less enthusiastic about a succession to a royal line in this day and age. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see very old conventions, myths and traditional attitudes about birth and power renewed in Millennial times. The latest addition to the British royal family was born today at 4:24 p.m. The baby boy was born after several countries amended the rules of succession, allowing a girl - and not just a boy - to succeed to the throne through the whole Commonwealth.

Considering that there was some wild talk of genetically altering the gender of a royal baby prior to a 2006 male birth in the Japanese Chrysanthemum family (when the imperial family was weirdly swamped with princesses), this Commonwealth amendment - ratified by the leaders of 16 countries - shows just how close to being benighted royal authorities can be, even today. In these circles, it does not take much to be cutting edge. Prince Charles, interestingly, cautioned against 'rushing' the amendment to allow female succession earlier this year.

The announcement today, outside Buckingham Palace. Image Source: Guardian.

Image Source: LOLZ Parade.

There are even odd references to celestial involvement in the Prince of Cambridge's birth. Kate Middleton's labour began right at July's full moon in Aquarius the UK. Astrologers claim that this full moon supposedly involves a gushing of emotion which clears the air and puts the past to rest. Cafe Astrology suggests a blending of a cool House of Windsor with a warmer, accessible characteristic for which Princess Diana was known:
On Monday, a Full Moon occurs when the Leo Sun opposes the Moon in Aquarius. The Full Moon is a time of culmination and the promise of fulfillment of that which was started at the New Moon. It is an emotional time--a time of romance, fertilization, and relationships. The Leo-Aquarius polarity deals with the balance between all that is personal (Leo) and all that is impersonal (Aquarius).

Princess Diana with her sons. Image Source: Mode Aim.

Dark Star Astrology wrote of the influence of the star Altair on this full moon which "is somewhat heroic, but not in a brash Martian way. It is more refined, like a chivalrous knight. I’m thinking 3 parts Sir Galahad to one part Sir Lanc[e]lot.'" What is that myth about Arthur and his knights returning from Avalon in England's greatest time of need?

Sir Galahad, noblest of King Arthur's knights and one of the achievers of the Holy Grail. Sir Galahad - The Quest of the Holy Grail, by (1870; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK). Image Source: WikiPaintings.

There is an old wives' tale that the full moon induces births. There are also semi-mystical theories on the Internet that somehow the heavens pulled this new prince into the world with a full moon or an electrical storm. Belfast Telegraph:
Some believe Kate's labour was influenced by the lunar cycle and the arrival of a full moon.
The suggestion is that the moon's gravitational pull affects the amniotic fluid in the same way it affects the water in the sea and rivers.
Maternity wards are said to be busier during a full moon, although there is debate in the medical world about whether the moon does encourage women to go into labour.
Mervi Jokinen, of the Royal College of Midwives, said midwives often talk of how the full moon makes for a busy spate of deliveries.
"It's always sort of been an old wives tale saying that the full moon brings women into labour. Midwives usually do say 'I'm on call. It's a full moon. I'll be busy tonight'," she said.
"There was a study about 20 years ago at a hospital near the River Thames which is a tidal river and it showed that on the full moon they did have more births. "The idea is that because the baby is surrounded by water, the time of the full moon and the high tide causes the waters to break. "But there's not enough scientific evidence to show it's proven."
Birth doula Zara de Candole, of Doula UK, said: "As a doula (birth coach) who has supported many women in labour, there does seem to be some link between labour kick starting and a full moon."
As in times past, an important royal birth is surrounded by oracles' proclamations about the future. The baby was born under the sign of Cancer, with Scorpio rising. In astrological parlance, this implies that the baby will grow up to be an inwardly sensitive, caring and appealing personality who will be outwardly perceived as a guarded, deliberate, yet magnetic and seductive figure. (James Bond is considered to be a classic Scorpio male characterization.) If this new prince had been born half an hour later, he would have been a Leo. The cusp birth, Cancer on the verge of Leo, indicates a personality who will privately oscillate between water and fire. For astrological predictions of the baby's future, go here, here, here, here and most ominously, here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Progressive Rock Returns

Image Source: caseymongoven.

Just as 1990s' grunge is back, so is a pocket in pop music which reached its high point roughly from the 1970s to early 1980s - progressive rock. The Independent reported on 30 June 2013:
Clubbers who have made "Get Lucky" this summer's dance-floor anthem will be shocked to hear that Daft Punk aren't the robot-friendly sound of the future – but revivalists of Seventies progressive rock, once the most derided of genres.

Prog, a bombastic mutation of rock and classical genres typically performed by highly skilled musicians in outrageous capes, could once be heard echoing from student halls and stadiums across the land. Supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer sold 40 million copies of their symphonic rock while Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes and Rush became prog's most commercially savvy flag-bearers.

In the end it was punk that swept away those highly designed concept albums with their epic or medieval themes and ostentatious, lengthy, and, some would say, self-indulgent displays of musical proficiency.
Long dismissed as laughably self-important and pretentious by critics, progressive rock combined classic rock and hard rock with more complex classical and jazz musical styles. It also amalgamated some of the wild lyrical images from Psychedelic rock and the Canterbury scene. Wiki notes that it was "an attempt to give greater artistic weight and credibility to rock music." Progressive rock was rooted in no-nonsense electric guitars, but it embroidered upon classic riffs with gorgeous, elaborate layers and florid lyrics with loaded metaphors. Using a bigger and bigger sound, it overlapped with the big sound and themes of stadium rock favoured by groups such as Queen, Journey, Foreigner and Styx. This style also influenced power ballads produced by hard rock groups.

Progressive rock was a style conceived as high thinking for the masses, for the isolated or downtrodden, for the little man. It took everyday, depressing, banal situations and blew them up to epic levels, to the realms of myth, karma, mystery and eternity. Moments of individual alienation (being unpopular in high school, romantic break-ups, losing a job) were gnostic triggers, doorways to more profound and exalted levels of thinking. This probably made prog the most conceptually complex form of rock music.

This is Spinal Tap Stonehenge sequence. Image Source: This Blog Goes to Eleven.

This style was mainly a British, European and Canadian phenomenon. Kansas became the most famous American progressive rock band. The Genesis News forum lists newer American prog bands: "Djam Karet, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Glass Hammer, Timothy Pure, Echolyn (very Genesis influenced), Discipline, Enchant, Spock's Beard." There is a longer list of American progressive rock groups here. A global list of prog bands is here.

Aspects of prog were parodied in the Druids-and-Stonehenge sequence in the film, This is Spinal Tap (1984) as progressive rock became commercialized. By the 1980s, progressive rock was swept aside by punk, and the anti-punk, glitzy, synthesized New Romanticism. But new prog music was revived around the turn of the Millennium. Subsequent progressive rock genres are progressive metalneo-prog, and new prog, also known as nu prog or post-prog music.

Below the jump, some famous progressive rock pieces from the early 1970s to the mid-to-late 1980s. Several of these videos are not pure examples of the genre, but they all contain prog aspects.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wonders of the Millennial World 5: Sehnsucht and Written Dreams

Recently, John Hornor tweeted: "When I was in my 20s, every guy I met played guitar and was in a band. Now I'm 40, and everyone I meet is a novelist." Yesterday's post on saudade as a nostalgia for a lost, pre-tech world continues with a similar kind of longing today, Sehnsucht. This is the longing to be, or be part of, something larger than ourselves.

Wiki quotes psychologists' definitions of Sehnsucht:
Psychologists have worked to capture the essence of Sehnsucht by identifying its six core characteristics: “(a) utopian conceptions of ideal development; (b) sense of incompleteness and imperfection of life; (c) conjoint time focus on the past, present, and future; (d) ambivalent (bittersweet) emotions; (e) reflection and evaluation of one's life; and (f) symbolic richness." ... Some researchers posit that Sehnsucht has a developmental function that involves life management. By imagining overarching and possibly unachievable goals, individuals may be able to create direction in their life by developing more tangible goals, or “stepping stones” that will aide them on their path toward their ideal self." [Sehnsucht has] important developmental functions, including giving directionality for life planning and helping to cope with loss and important, yet unattainable wishes by pursuing them in one's imagination." It can also operate as a self-regulatory mechanism.
Sehnsucht was an important type of idealism for English writer C. S. Lewis:
Lewis described Sehnsucht as the "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what." In the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim's Regress he provided examples of what sparked this desire in him particularly: That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
In Lewis's terms, Sehnsucht resembles a yearning similar to that evoked in this post about the world created by Lewis's friend, J. R. R. Tolkien. It is the ineffable call of 'home,' expressed through emotion and metaphor. Tolkien was interested in creating a fantasy world which brought to life our original hopes and dreams, as well as our consciousness of a lost, great land which existed in mythical terms before memory and before history.

In the western imagination, that lost land lies further in the west, and is often embodied in rumours of Atlantis. In the eastern imagination, a similar lost land lies further in the east and is described in myths of Fusang. In India, the lost continent of myth is Lemuria, which lies to the imaginary south. Most major civilizations have this common thread of displaced yearning and memory, often expressed in symbolic terms as a lost land.

Our lost lands now are virtual. The Web is effectively the terra incognita, and there is a desperate push to find its limits, its outward borders. Once thus encapsulated by our understanding, perhaps the Web will become the new Promised Land. To get back to John Hornor's comment about novelists, the explosion of written output on the Internet might be a response to the Sehnsucht that has arisen in the hearts of countless small authors. If the Millennium is characterized by the destruction and reworking of old values, a confusion about the old order and loss of norms, there is a push in equal measure to find sources of inspiration. In other words, civilization is not teetering on the brink of implosion. It is not a black hole about to swallow itself. The vacuum is being filled, at an incredible rate.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Strange Tales from a Seaside Town

Babbacombe in 1905, postcard. Image Source: Babbacombe and St Marychurch.

Here is a tale about how things can go wrong, and change the fate of a town - Babbacombe, England - over the course of a century.

In late 18th century England, attitudes changed toward the environment. Where the sea had once been seen as a source of danger to be treated with caution, it slowly became perceived as a place of wild beauty. This was part of the trickle-down effect of Romanticism, a reaction against the Enlightenment, against the Industrial Revolution, and against the scientific rationalization of nature.

Under the influence of this shift in attitudes, the village of Babbacombe near Torquay in Devon, England, began to prosper. It sits on a bay on the southern coast of the country, around a cove once known for fishing, smuggling and nearby quarrying.

By the early 19th century, however, the houses huddled around the bay under remarkable rust-red cliffs acquired a new reputation. From A Guide to the Watering Places on the Coast between the Exe and the Dart: including Teignmouth, Dawlish and Torquay, published in 1817:
‘you ascend on the down, overhanging those stupendous cliffs, which terminate in the pebbly beach of Babbicombe (sic), on which, and amidst the cliffs of the beetling rocks, stand some picturesque cottages, which the romantic situation of this hamlet has induced the owners to build for their summer residences; but the most beautiful is that of Mr. Cary, constructed of the rudest materials … The two sitting rooms are ornamented with highly finished sea views in one and landscapes in the other;…The summer residences of Mr Cosserat, Mr Hubbard and Mr Atkins are laid out with much taste, but though they tend to embellish the spot, they take away from the wilderness of the scenery, which has constituted its most attractive feature. It is difficult to find a view more pleasing than that of Babbicombe; the bold projecting rocks around it, which terminate in the Ness, and afford a partial view of Teignmouth, the line of wavy hills that stretching from the mouth of the Exe, and reaching the white cliffs of the Dorset coast, in one glance portray the most frequented and most beautiful part of the south west coast, whilst the shingle beach beneath, glitters with the broken fragments of the marble rocks.’
Over the next few decades, Babbacombe became popular with Romantic tourists. The site Babbacombe and St Marychurch quotes: "The Teignmouth, Dawlish and Torquay Guide: 1829 by Carrington and others [which] says,
‘Proceeding onward we reach Babbicombe, a romantic rocky glen, twenty years since there were only a few fishermen’s huts, but the beauty of the spot having excited attention, several ornamental cottages have been built, and gardens formed along the steep sides of the hill and amongst the rocks, which have to great degree destroyed the beauty of the scene, depending as it does on its wild secluded character’."
So far, so good. Ironically, the very tourists who came seeking seclusion began to ruin that mood with their presence. But for a time, Babbacombe struck a Romantic balance. An annual regatta was founded there in the early 1820s. The village had a few ornamental houses on the bay, along with some fishermen's huts to lend a (genuine) air of authenticity. The allure lasted at least up to the time of the post-Romantic Pre-Raphaelites at mid-to-late century.

Drawing Room at The Glen around the time of royal visits to the house. Image Source: Torbay Library Services via Bytes of Torbays Past.

Perhaps the nicest house built on the bay was 'The Glen.' It so exemplified the aesthetic of the time that it and the wild little fishing village attracted royal notice and eventually several royal visits. This was also partly due to the fact that the Glen was occupied by the Whitehead family, one of whom had been a lady-in-waiting:
Mrs Whitehead attended the baby princess Victoria and was a lady in waiting to the princess’s mother. The young princess was driven out from Torquay to visit her in 1833.

While she was queen, Victoria visited the bay twice, once in 1846 when she did not land and again in1852. This time the queen was taken close to the shore in a rowing boat so that she could admire and sketch the scenery.

Prince Albert with their sons Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred went to visit Mrs Whitehead. Edward came to Babbacombe twice more, in around 1856 and again in 1878. He was staying at the Imperial Hotel and was driven to Oddicombe and from there was rowed across to Babbacombe bay, he met Emma Keyse, the niece of Mrs Whitehead at the Glen and was invited for tea.
When the Royal Yacht sailed into Babbacombe Bay in 1846, Queen Victoria recorded in her journal:
'It is a beautiful spot... . Red cliffs and rocks with wooded hills like Italy, and reminding one of a ballet or play where nymphs appear - such rocks and grottoes, with the deepest sea on which there was no ripple.'
According to local accounts, Victoria's son, later Edward VII, was again received at The Glen in 1879 and visited Babbacombe once more in 1880.

The Glen and its boathouse (right) in 1870. Image Source: Murder Research.

By 1884, Emma Keyse, niece of the original owner, had inherited the house. Then the fate of the locality changed: on 15 November of that year, she was found in the house with her throat slit and several stab wounds.

Her servants' versions of what happened that night were inconsistent. The only man in the house, John Lee, was the half-brother of the cook. The cook was pregnant and Keyse had had angry altercations with the cook over the pregnancy. The picture - described at length here, here and here - is one of a bad atmosphere at The Glen and restive servants leading up to their mistress's murder. Keyse, a gentlewoman, also had had conflicts of some kind with local smugglers. The most thoroughgoing analysis of what happened is at Murder Research:
Emma Keyse was broke and wanted to sell the property. She was in a constant battle with the local fishermen at Babbacombe, who were trying to make a living. She was definitely witness to the thriving smuggling industry at Babbacombe Bay over the years. I think the thorny issue of money (of which Emma had so little) had been the main topic that day. I have a feeling the ‘staff’ were on notice anyway. I believe Emma discovered on the night of the murder who the father of her cook’s child was. I think the general atmosphere in the house with the servants was not at all good. All these issues had been building and building in this stuffy claustrophobic community at The Glen.

So, on that dark Victorian autumn night on Babbacombe bay, Emma Keyse came face to face with her murderers. More than one person was directly involved in assassinating Emma Keyse – one of them tried to hack her head off and the other(s) started to attempt to destroy some evidence by lighting fires around the property. ...

The identity of the man responsible for Elizabeth Harris’ pregnancy and another, probably, embittered person, killed Emma Keyse – whether one of these was John Lee is now the issue as is the other person. And it’s the ‘other person’ that’s so intriguing. The young fisherman, Cornelius Harrington or the youthful Solicitor Reginald Gwynne Templer immediately come to mind as do the numerous other local characters who provided their evidence at court.

After spending so long trolling through so much archive and exploring every avenue I have come to the conclusion that John Lee was, at the very least, somehow involved in the killing of Emma Keyse.
In the midst of the murder, The Glen caught fire. Two of the servants continued to live in the burned out husk of the building - crime scene, charred sections and a missing roof notwithstanding - for the next two years.

The Glen in ruins (right) after the fire. Image Source: Babbacombe Beach and The Glen.

Despite the likelihood of the murder having involved another man or other men who fled the scene, Lee was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death on 23 February 1885. Lee became famous when the trap door on the gallows at Exeter Prison failed to open, despite three attempts by the executioner. After this bizarre malfunctioning of the gallows mechanism, Lee's sentence was commuted by the Home Secretary and he spent the next 22 years in Portland prison. Oddly enough, Lee's second lawyer, Herbert Rowse Armstrong, was later found guilty of murdering his wife in 1921, and was executed in 1922.

When Lee emerged in 1907, he became a minor celebrity in the press - feted as the 'man they could not hang.' (See 1910 reports: April 23, April 30 Pt 1, April 30 Pt 2, 7 May Pt 1, 7 May Pt 2, 14 May, 21 May, 28 May, 4 June, 11 June, 18 June.) Shortly after this flurry of attention, he emigrated, apparently to the United States under a different name. Researchers who have tried to trace his fate believe that he ended his days, sometimes known as 'James' Lee, and is buried at Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee. His life became the subject of a play, a song, a 1912 Australian silent film (The Life Story of John Lee, or The Man They Could Not Hang - it is considered a lost film), a folk opera, and a teleplay.

The cook's lover, Gwynne Templer, who may well have been the actual murderer, curiously represented Lee in court, and did little to defend him. Templer died at the age of 29 on 18 December 1886 at Thomas Holloway’s Sanatorium in Surrey: "the cause of death was 'general paralysis of the Insane – 1 year.'" Murder Research points to another mysterious possible perpetrator, cited from a contemporary source:
About the year 1890 there stood at the side of an open grave, in a South Devon town, a well-known and local resident and his two sons. The man who had been buried was a public man of the town who had been very well-known, highly respected and very popular throughout South Devon. The young men were, also, in their turn, to become public men in the area. As they were moving away from the grave and the mourners were disbursing their father turned to them and said “we have buried this afternoon the secret of the Babbacombe murder."
Whatever murderous violence dwindled down to ugly secrets in this little cove, most researchers focus on Lee and leave the story there. But what happened to the town after this dark twist of fate?

After the murder, the attractiveness of the village slowly declined from its Victorian heyday. The 'Garden Room' at the Glen was bizarrely transformed into a 'beach cafe'' by the local council. The cafe was "destroyed by fire in April 1928." The spot that The Glen occupied became a parking lot.

In 1926, a cliff railway was built so that tourists could ride up the cliff and see the view of the sea. The area still attracted those seeking holidays from the cities from the 1930s up until the 1950s; but by the 1960s, Babbacombe gradually became run down. In 1963, a historic model village was built nearby to attract tourists.

In the early 2000s, there was a concerted effort to beautify and refurbish the area with footpaths and similar wild garden attractions. Now the town invites Scuba divers, anglers and boating enthusiasts. Those Romantic Victorian ornamental cottages have been renovated into B&B's. The local theatre, built in the 1930s, was finally renovated in 2009.

But there is still a darker current here, some odd echoes of the murder case at The Glen. Perhaps it is just the bad economy, or maybe some uneasiness persists between those who appeciate the local wild area and those who seem shaped by it. In the 2000s, areas of planted woodlands were cut down without permission. There are ongoing problems with vandalism, sexual activity and syringes on the footpaths, such that the council decided to wall off the footpaths to prevent access from the surrounding brush. The old cliff railway was covered with graffiti in 2006. In July 2007, vandals destroyed traditional wattle fencing constructed in a nationally funded garden project. In July 2010, vandals destroyed a local garden, pulling up 300 flowers, amounting to £3,000 of damage for the disabled owner, who had spent years carefully cultivating the much-photographed site.

This dark theme has appeared in local fiction. Torquay is the birthplace of author Agatha Christie. The area is not so far from Daphne du Maurier's famed Jamaica Inn. There are Babbacombe roots in Edgar Wallace's The Law of the Four Just Men (read it here), a 1921 vigilante story, "the prototype of modern thriller novels."

Babbacombe's red cliffs. Image Source: Panoramio.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 7: Millennial Romantic Gothic

Image Source: C0untess Bathory.

It is sometimes difficult for those who skate the surface of the Web to grasp how profoundly and rapidly the Internet is altering global cultures. The tidal wave of data and engaged masses create an exponentially-growing multimedia jumble. That hot mess is infinitely anachronistic and rudely disconnected from knowledge and context.

Today, an example of how social media have moved past the Hallowe'en themes in this post and this post, to generate a rumbling new Millennial subculture.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 13: Gothic Love, Romantic Death

Heathcliff on Cathy's grave. Image Source: Macmillan's Children's Publishing Group.

Gothic. Goths were eastern Germans who populated Central, Northern and Western Europe during the Roman period. Viewed by the Romans as barbarians, they were in fact sophisticated tribes. Early Gothic style, especially in architecturepejoratively recalled these peoples' cultures in France in the 12th century, and evolved into an eponymous late medieval style by the 16th century.

The reason the term 'Gothic' became synonymous with today's counter-culture was precisely because it was originally considered to be the barbarous or rude northern and western 'other,' contrasting with the persistent influence of Romans' Mediterranean classicism. The latter was especially popular in its revived forms through the Renaissance and again through the 18th and 19th centuries. In other words, these two strands in European culture - the Gothic alternative and the Roman mainstream if you will - are perpetually brought back into fashion to compete with one another, in different ways and ever-new forms.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, a Gothic Revival recalled medieval times and merged with the Romantic naturalist reaction against the cerebral, secular and neo-classicist Enlightenment.

From that time until today, love stories have lent themselves to contemplation of these trends, because the lovers and supporting characters represent opposing sides to these arguments. The pinnacle of English Gothic Romanticism must be the moment in  Emily Brontë's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff embraces Cathy after death. Heathcliff represents raw, unbridled, violent and alien Romanticism. Cathy is a hybrid character who embodies Enlightenment ambitions and tastes, but she has a Romantic heart and soul. She dies as a result of her inability to reconcile these forces, her doomed love of Heathcliff becomes darkly Gothic.

Our contemplation of these forces continues. It is hard (and sad) to believe, but the lovers in Twilight and that series' sado-masochistic fanfic derivative, Fifty Shades of Grey, are the Millennial incarnations of Brontë's wild amorous protagonists.

Today, the Countdown to Hallowe'en continues exploring horror angles of this blog's themes, from love in the new Millennium, to the revival of 1920s' and 1930s' ideas during the 2000s and 2010s respectively. Below the jump, a clip from a film which presents the lovers of the Gothic Romantic, recast through the surreal lens of the 1930s. The film quoted is director Luis Buñuel's Spanish-Mexican version of Wuthering Heights, Abismos de Pasión. Buñuel originally adapted Brontë's novel in 1931.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 16: Bollywood Dracula

Batman, Vol. 1, #351 (Sept. 1982) © DC Comics.

Horror is a genre which explores moral boundaries and changing values. In other words, it pegs the Zeitgeist. Vampire stories appear wherever something is going wrong in a society. European vampires had origins in the Black Death and in the transgressions of the late medieval nobility (as here and here). From around 1800 onward, the Romantic insomniac suave and decadent vampire reflected the sordid vanities of aristocrats. That preoccupation with class inequality persisted over the next two centuries in the Old and New Worlds alike, whether the vampire was a Gothic immigrant, a surrealists' favourite or an expressionistic caricature, pulped (like DC comics' Batman character, who is basically a metropolitan playboy vampire-turned-vigilante, although the editors make the connection plain only occasionally), or reworked as a celebrity, a rock star, an addict or a fashion model (as below). Millennial America produced vampires who were suburbanites and depressed teenaged vegetarians.

In India, two of the Ramsay brothers directed Bollywood's vampiric answer: Bandh Darwaza (1990).  This film is a clunky cult favourite, whose vampire spans the distance between old-fashioned Indian familial expectations and a rapid move into the modern world. See it below the jump.

There is a list of depictions of Dracula in popular culture here.

Noot Seear's vampiric Mona Lisa for Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche ad campaign in 1998 cast another light on the mysterious smile. Image Source: Cute and Beauty Girls.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Harvest Moon Myths of the Past, Present and Future

Image Source: Crystalinks.

Tonight there is a full moon, known in northern climes as the Harvest Moon or Full Corn Moon in North America. It rises at 11:19 ET (3:19 GMT). Seemingly this is a harmless good old full moon that appears closest to the September equinox and has shorter rising times; under this moon, farmers work into the night bringing in their crops. Oddly, a great deal of online chatter casts this moon in a different and frightening light.

Psychics and spiritualists worry (in very unusual ways) that the full moon may spark castastrophic earthquakes. Astrologer Susan Miller calls this full moon a 'Monster Moon.' Miller's Twitter feed and other astrologers' remarks confirm that many people who are already stressed are reading into the stars around this full moon to support their sense of uneasiness about their private concerns, politics, the environment, world affairs and the economy. Miller suffered personal bereavement on 27 September and read it as part of the full moon's influence. Her fellow astrologers believe that this full moon in Aries is the most powerful full moon of the year; Anne Reith explains their reasoning:
I have spoken to so many people during the past week who are going through MAJOR shifts in their lives, both externally (e.g., losing jobs, death of loved ones) and internally (e.g., major insights, emotional breakdowns leading to breakthroughs). ...  
This is the most powerful Full Moon of the year because it is connected to the ongoing square (90°) between Uranus (the planet of change revolution) and Pluto (the planet of transformation and deep healing). As with any Full Moon, the Sun and the Moon are in opposition (180°) to each other. But the Moon is also conjunct Uranus, and both the Sun and Moon are squaring (90°) Pluto. This forms a very powerful astrological configuration called a T-Square (with very tight orbs). And all of these planets are in cardinal signs, which heralds in new beginnings and new energy. Overall, the wheels of change are turning, and this change can be revolutionary. This energy is so great that it can topple governments, shake up corporations, and be the catalyst for major personal transformations. On the one hand, this energy can evoke insecurities by washing away well-laid plans; but on the other hand, it can be seen as the inspiration for breakthroughs that will shape individual and collective visions of the future. It is riskier now to stand still than it is to move ahead. It is important now to make smart decisions regarding the concepts and values that are worth fighting for and which are best left behind. Adapting to uncertain circumstances and avoiding overreaction will help all of us to ride out these storms in relative safety.
The moon's aspects will primarily affect the sun signs Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn.

While some see the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement as indications of larger rebellion, other chatter focuses on radical individual change and personal transformation; Alexis Mincolla wrote: "uninstall your bullshit this saturday and be cleansed by fire." Sherene Schostak feels that this Harvest Moon is about personal revolutions:
On Saturday, September 29, the full Moon in Aries could be one of the most explosive lunations of the year as it stands right on the precipice of many incendiary factors. For one thing, the Uranus-Pluto square becomes activated by this full Moon, setting off the urgent need for cataclysmic breakthrough. 
Mars, the ruler of Aries, is incredibly strong at the moment in Scorpio, which makes our determination to break through stagnation, denial and repression a do-or-die situation. The time is right now. It is a time for action. We are feeling the dire need to change and let go of what no longer serves the authentic “I am” self -- even if it kills us (or before it does). 
If that isn’t enough of edge: Serious Saturn is about to change signs next week after spending two-and-a-half years in the opposite sign of this full Moon (Libra). The cosmic taskmaster will be moving into the same sign as Mars: Scorpio. So again, the theme of letting go, shedding skin and killing the killers in our lives becomes extremely pronounced. 
Aries (Mars) is about bringing out the big guns and taking no prisoners. Don’t ever ask an Aries or person with heavy Mars in their chart to wait patiently. You get the idea: this full Moon is screaming at us to wake up and stand our ground. If we’ve been too nice and people-pleasing (Libra) at the expense of honoring our true self, this full Moon will light the fire needed to burn that nonsense down to the ground.
On the other hand, some astrologers think that this full moon is about history repeating itself, from 1933 to 1966 to 2013. They claim that this moon is influenced (so to speak) by the second of seven ominous and revolutionary confrontational squares between Uranus (electric change) and Pluto (death, the Underworld and transformation), an aspect last evident between 1932 and 1934. By contrast, the two planets entered into a synod, or synthetic conjunction, between 1964 and 1967, often deemed to be a positive revolutionary trend. You can read an astrological geometry and history of Uranus and Pluto interactions here. This interpretation suggests that we are somehow entering a celestial time loop, or perhaps a symbolic period of déjà vu, in which the conditions of the 1930s are being revisited in order to deliver a harsh karmic response to the revolutions of the 1960s.