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 Surrealism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Surrealism. Show all posts

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Surrealism in the Afternoon

Image Source: Pedopolis.

Today's conspiracy theories revisit 18th, 19th and early-to-mid 20th century superstitions, Penny Dreadful tales, malicious gossip about royalty and aristocrats, and prejudices. Our updated versions of yesterday's chatter include wild rumours about Princess Diana, Freemasons, Illuminati, Bilderbergers and the like. These rumours are part of a popular culture which as become ever more sinister since the Second World War. Clearly, many wartime propaganda techniques developed by the Nazis and Allies were absorbed by the marketing industry in the post-war period.

The shock of that war, how it transformed and twisted our sensibilities, is still little understood. But there is much evidence suggesting that the horror of World War II was subconsciously absorbed into mainstream society and became instrumentalized within pop culture's institutions.

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.

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.

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.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 24: Bergman's Hour of the Wolf

Still from Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen) © United Artists/MGM. Image Source: Photobucket.

My October 4th post was devoted to the witching hour, also called the 'hour of the wolf.' This is the time between night and dawn - 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. - when wolves are said to lurk outside people's houses in wild areas. Below the jump, one of renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's most famous and frightening films, The Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen – 1968), a surreal piece about a secretive artist who keeps waking up in the middle of the night, and who disappears after several disturbing run-ins with his strange, aristocratic patrons.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Panorama: Paul Klee

Paul Klee in 1911. Image Source: Wiki.

A super new Website, still in beta, WikiPaintings, is a Visual Arts encyclopedia that displays great paintings online. A nice example: all of Paul Klee's works - which spanned expressionism, cubism, and surrealism in the first half of the 20th century - are shown in a WikiPaintings gallery in chronological order. You can scroll through Klee's beautiful gallery here.

Paul Klee, Die Zwitscher-Maschine (The Twittering Machine) (1922). Image Source: Wiki.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Human Consciousness: The New Survivalist Adventure

Awake. Image Source: NBC via Wiki.

This week, a highly anticipated series begins on American television, entitled Awake (thanks to -J.). The premise is that a man survives a car accident, after which his reality splits in two. He wakes up in one, red-hued reality, and his wife has also survived the car accident but his son has not. He goes to sleep at night, and wakes up in another, green-hued reality, in which his wife died in the accident and his son survived. In each reality, he has a psychiatrist and he works as a police detective solving crimes. Eventually, the details between the two realities begin to overlap. Since this divided virtual dreamscape is the only way the hero can keep his family alive, he does not want his psyche to recover. You can see the trailer for the program, which debuts on NBC on March 1, below the jump.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chess for Three

Image Source: Slashgear.

Ack! Thanks to Lee Hamilton for a Slashgear link to this new Chess game for three people. These is more than a geekfest. Millennial shades of gray are literally becoming manifest. For my posts on Chess at the turn of the Millennium, go here, here, here and here. And for my posts on configurations of a third, tripartite agents, and triplets as one of the critical signs of times, go here and here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Amazing Statues and Sculptures

Space Elephant by Salvador Dalí Image (15 April 2008) © picqero. Reproduced with kind permission.

Caption for the above photograph: The famous Space Elephant sculpture by Salvador Dalí, which stands on the River Thames embankment outside County Hall, London. The elephant is a distorted body in outer space, with its 20 foot spindly legs representing weightlessness with structure. On its back it carries a pyramid shaped obelisk, which symbolises power. This strange sculpture is actually based on an earlier painting, by Dali, called 'the Temptation of St. Anthony', in which various temptations are symbolised by animals.

For today's post, see statues which combine the old and the new. Salvador Dalí's London Space Elephant (above) is about the temptation of power. His 'celestial elephant' sketch for the piece is on sale here. You can read more about his sculptures here. Below, Lion 2 by Yong Ho Ji is probably my favourite.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Uncanny Valley

Aimi Eguchi, non-existent Japanese pop sensation. Image Source: Washington Post via Youtube.

In robotics and CGI circles, there is a concept known as the 'Uncanny Valley,' which describes the alienation people feel when confronted with a simulated human.  It's a psychological response that is a last divide between the real and the unreal.  Bridging that divide is key for enterprising film-makers and marketers who want to create believable imaginary worlds or CGI characters.  Slowly, they are devising ways to do that.  Wiki defines the term and explains its origins:
The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's human likeness.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970, and has been linked to Ernst Jentsch's concept of "the uncanny" identified in a 1906 essay, "On the Psychology of the Uncanny." Jentsch's conception was elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled "The Uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche").
The Uncanny Valley was recently almost crossed with the creation of supercute Japanese pop star Aimi Eguchi.  However, fans treated her with suspicion because she resembled her fellow pop band members too closely, and her fictitious back story seemed implausible.  On 24 June, Eguchi was revealed to be a computer simulation. From the Telegraph:
The perfectly-formed fake singer was made up of the very best of pop pedigree, with computer scientists plucking specific facial features from six of the most genetically blessed of AKB 48's real life female members.

The cut-and-paste popstar was bestowed with eyes taken from Atsuko Maeda and a button nose from Tomomi Itano while her long, lush hair hails from Yuko Oshima and her sensual mouth belongs to Mariko Shinoda.

Even her eyebrows were borrowed from pretty band member Mayu Watanbe while the mix of features were cleverly united within a face outline belonging to Minami Takahashi.
But manufacturing your own AKB 48 idol, is not as easy as it looks. Skilled computer scientists used detailed imaging to highlight the points on the real-life girls' faces before their best features were captured and digitally implanted onto Aimi's virtual face.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heat Waves and Fraying Realities

Image Source: Recap.

Yesterday, my cousin called me and said, "It's freezing here."  She's in the one small, northern corner of North America that isn't suffering under an awful heat wave.  As for the rest of the continent, the American media are full of reports about relentless temperatures.  In eastern Canada, several weather records were set today.  With the humidity factored in, it felt like 51 degrees Celsius (124 degrees Fahrenheit) today in Toronto.  Meanwhile, Hurricane Dora is churning toward Mexico.  Great!

Image Source: Twitter via The Inquisitr.

Just that was enough to inspire a blog post with a few images inspired by heat waves (see below the jump). The natural sympathy of heat waves speaks to a fractured consciousness.  Pop culture tropes say that heat waves generate a weird atmosphere, which inspires people to do strange things.  Some examples where the heat drives the action in films and novels and pushes characters past their limits are (in no particular order): Body HeatDo the Right Thing; Dark Knight Returns; Stand by Me; In the Heat of the Night; Summer of Sam; Ice Cold in Alex; The African Queen; Predator 2; Rio Grande; The Glass MenagerieThe Long, Hot Summer; and The Sheltering Sky.

The most curious example, though, and the one that perhaps best demonstrates my point, takes fictitious tensions right into our tense reality.  The novel Heat Wave by Richard Castle offers a typical Post-Postmodern Millennial marketing play between meta-reality and metafiction.  That's because Richard Castle doesn't exist. He's a character on a TV series. From the Straight Dope:
On the TV show "Castle", [the character] Richard Castle is supposed to be a mystery novelist. In the show, one of the books he recently wrote was called "Heat Wave", introducing his new protaganist, Detective Nikki Heat.

I was just in a book store and I saw on the shelf "Heat Wave", by Richard Castle! The book plays it completely straight: Nathan Fillion, the actor who plays Richard Castle in the TV show, is shown as the author. The acknowledgment section lists his TV daughter and mother and the fictional NY detectives on the TV show. There never is a "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" that I could detect.

My question is, who ACTUALLY wrote the novel?
Good question. In 2009, Heat Wave made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list, followed in 2010 by another novel written by the TV series' fictional character in 2010, Naked Heat and another, Heat Rises.  You can partake of this Millennial Post-Postmodern meta-reality by visiting the Website of the 'author' Richard Castle. There is some speculation that Tom Straw is the real novelist.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Interludes

Points of Departure II: Nijinsky Variations (1996) © Peter Milton.

The blog is going on a summer interlude while I polish off some work on other projects.  I will post weekly pieces between now and summer's end - more if events merit it.  Regular posting will resume in late August.  For today: check out these remarkable, time-tossed, surreal images by Peter Milton.  All images are © Peter Milton and found on his Website; you can see an animation of how he changes the same scene in different prints here (Hat tip: Woods Lot). There's a bit of Edward Gorey in these art pieces, as well as some neo-Realist-Impressionist touches, neo-Art Nouveau, Steampunk, Escher, and some Piranesi.  But the overlapping, ethereal, mental-physical realities, along with the neo-fin-de-siècle temporal themes, are pure turn of the Millennium.

In Search of Lost Time (Second State: Visions and Revisions [No. 123]) (2006) © Peter Milton.
Sight Lines III: Eclipse (2011) © Peter Milton.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 6: Saluting the Dearly Departed Doom Patrol

This is what Millennial comics should do: DP fighting a sentient black hole in front of the Large Hadron Collider. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #2 (November 2009).

We who are about to die salute you!  That's the gladitorial rallying cry of DC's ill-fated superteam known as the Doom Patrol.  On Valentine's Day, DC Comics announced the cancellation of several titles.  Among these was the fifth incarnation of Doom Patrol, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Matthew Clark.  This cancellation to 'free up' creative talent for production of the summer comics blockbuster Flashpoint has prompted outcry from the DP's fans (there is a petition asking DC to save the title here).  This series had poor sales but great reviews; it was considered by many to be the publisher's most sophisticated title.  Today, the last issue of the series hits comic shops.

Why?  What makes any comic, belonging to a genre known for its clichéed action and romance, its cheesy borrowings from the epics, mythology, pulps, mystery, horror, romance and science fiction even come close to having pretensions? 

Comics are sometimes one of the areas of pop culture where certain ideas are tested before they become mainstream.  This series of blog posts on the 'Revolving Door of Death' is about the use of death in comics as a means to finding new values of heroism - a new moral compass - in times that are rapidly changing.  That change involves pushing the boundaries of superheroism past the point of no return.  In that regard, the Doom Patrol fits right in - and the title is still unique. 

First, the Revolving Door of Death. Comic book creators, especially mainstream publishers Marvel and DC, have earned a lot of criticism over the past twenty-five years for cheapening death and rebirth when they used them repeatedly as sensational devices for making money. More surprisingly, post 9/11, the editors at DC Comics have killed off hundreds of heroes.  Then, in a bid to make comic book killings 'more serious,' they recently announced that their characters will no longer be reborn.  But the deaths of superheroes continue.  This trend suggests a high degree of confusion and ambivalence.  DC has continually worn down the moral stature of its heroes.  The company has made them ever more flawed and weak - while building up its villains.  DC is letting evil win.

Why?  Does this reflect a crisis in American culture? Last week, DC had Superman renounce his American citizenship in Action Comics #900, a move which won the editors a lot of criticism in comics forums and the mainstream media.  Does this chime with the intense, politicized commentary against American campaigns abroad?  Marvel Comics, echoing the 1960s' voice of social criticism, can jump on that train without any problems.  But DC, the classic American comics company, is in a strange, ambiguous place right now.  Like her exhausted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's heroes in the DC Universe are being pushed to the breaking point.  The question is where DC will go with this existential crisis and soul searching.  Comic books thrive on taking their characters to the greatest extremes possible, within the current bounds of taste and story-telling.  The catharsis comes when the heroes triumph against all odds.  DC has yet to pull off that gigantic catharsis.  Its creators are still in the midst of dragging its characters down deeper and deeper.

The Nascar accident which almost kills Cliff Steele. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #21 (June 2011).

In this context, the Doom Patrol is unusual, because they are already ahead of all of DC's other heroes as far as being pushed past the limits goes.  They were always a team 'out there,' beyond the pale.  DP stories demonstrate how changes and challenges to our concepts of life and death are transforming our society, our consciousness and our moral attitudes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prometheus Unbound: Fukushima Workers

Unbearable Lightness (2010) © by Elsilencio. Reproduced with kind permission.

The Wall Street Journal has reprinted some messages exchanged on 23 March between TEPCO workers regarding the conditions under which they are struggling to contain the problems at the Fukushima I and II nuclear plants.  They are heartbreaking reflections on drastic courage.  If you pray, remember these brave people in your prayers.  Remember them, even if you don't pray.  They are all that stands between us and disaster. They have been working incessantly since the earthquake on 11 March to stabilize the nuclear crisis. Incidentally, Fukushima (福島市) means good fortune island; let's hope that the place lives up to its name.

What follows below is quoted directly from the WSJ and all credit for translation and reporting belongs to them.  Note that the report does not fully clarify where the writers are referring to Fukushima I (the Dai-ichi plant) which is where the major problems are occurring - or to Fukushima II (the Dai-ni plant), which has been shut down.  But even then, at the Fukushima II Dai-ni plant, one worker died in a crane accident on 13 March and four others were injured, which tells you how desperate conditions are.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

H. R. Giger Exhibition Alert

Alienmonster (Giger's Alien), 1979 © HR Giger, 2011. Image Source: Kunst Haus Wien.

H. R. Giger Update. What should pop up in my inbox yesterday, but a nice invitation from Kunst Haus Wien to a press conference with H. R. Giger? The Swiss artist who famously designed the alien in the Alien franchise will be meeting with the press today to discuss his new exhibition, Träme und Visionen (Dreams and Visions) which is running at the Kunst Haus (Untere Weißgerberstraße 13, 1030 Vienna) from 10 March to 26 June.

Atomkinder (Atomic Children), 1968 Collection of City Zürich © HR Giger, 2011. Image Source: Kunst Haus Wien.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Love in the New Millennium 3: Destino

Still from Destino. Image Source: Wiki.

Many thanks to my friend S. for bringing my attention to the short film Destino, made through an unusual 1946 collaboration between American animator Walt Disney and Spanish painter Salvador Dalí.  It is a surreal depiction of the blossoming of true romance. I was surprised at how similar some of the imagery looked to Peter Chung's Æon Flux. After decades of complicated production issues, the film was finally made available for home viewing on Blu-ray on November 30, 2010.  See the film here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nuclear Disneyland: Ukraine Lifting Tourism Restrictions to Chernobyl in 2011

Image Source: Kidofspeed Ghost Town Chernobyl Pictures. [Addendum (2016): Kidofspeed Website was later accused of faking photos of Chernobyl.]

CNN is reporting that Ukraine is lifting general tourism restrictions to Chernobyl in 2011.  Full report here: "But most radioactive material has sunk into the soil, and visitors receive a dose comparable to the exposure they would receive on a trans-Atlantic flight."  So much for the haunting images immortalized by the blogger Kidofspeed, one of the few people previously to regularly explore the restricted area and who posted her photos of the degraded, abandoned site on the Web.  Her famous Chernobyl blog is here

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Debts to the Past, Debts to the Future

"When you go home - Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow We gave our today."  Stained Glass Window, St. Michael at the North Gate Church, Oxford, UK.  Photo Credit: 2009 © Sheepdog Rex. Image Reproduced with kind permission.

I recently had a look at Oxford's Saxon tower and church of St. Michael at the North Gate.  This is the oldest building in the city, constructed around 1000-1050.  A couple of stained glass windows in the church struck me because of their messages about the debt we owe to the past.  These were national and religious devotional windows, dedicated to the dead from the First and Second World Wars.  But in the act of remembering those who died to secure our present, they remind us that we too, must sometimes live as the predecessors of those who will follow, and do things to help those we cannot see, will never know, and cannot anticipate.  We owe a debt to those who live in the future.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Heir Apparent for H. R. Giger?

Killing Time (2007). By Jud Turner.

Hallowe'en - are we there yet?  In my run-up to this autumn festival, I have to thank my friend J. for coming across the American artist I'm mentioning in my post today.  The artist's name is Jud Turner.  He's a Gen Xer from Oregon, and he is  taking H. R. Giger's themes to a new, Post-Postmodern industrial level in his sculpturesBy Post-Postmodern in this case, I mean the juxtaposition of different time periods in a single existential narrative.  Turner's aim appears to be to create and somehow shockingly reconcile paradoxes.  He installs the ancient or the fossilized within industrial sculptural constructions and goes one step beyond Postmodern messages about disjointed, navel-gazing subjectivity.  This produces some visceral, jarring results, as with the fossilized junkyard fish trying to eat a dime in the sculpture, Greed Eater, below.  I haven't seen a better comment, anywhere, on the inflationary psychology that led to the Great Recession of  2008 to the present.  You can see more of Turner's sculptures on his homepage, here

Greed Eater (2010). By Jud Turner.