Lixgrijb Again … and Again

Coyote3in“I was just thinking,” said Coyote/Llixgrijb, “that maybe I’ve chosen the wrong realm to live in altogether. I created this physical, temporal realm, and put Brillig in it to experience it for me. But, really, all this physicality spells nothing but trouble. It seems that suffering, ignorance, and mortality are the only things that hold the temporal realm together. It leads to more grief than gratis.”

“Indeed,” said Wolf. “Buddha taught us that suffering and sacrifice are key ingredients in this realm.”

“Then why stick around? I believe I’ll scrap the whole thing and move on to the mythic realm—the world of flow, of determinacy. A world without surprises. I like the sound of that.”

“So are you contemplating destroying our world altogether?”

“What do you think?”

“Be careful, my friend,” said Wolf. “If you try to scrap this world, you may find the mythic world extremely boring. There will be no meaning or purpose to it, without information from our temporal realm leaking into it. The mythic world is only important because of the physical world, and the physical world is only important because of the mythic world. Here, at least, you get to experience the heroic myth of the mystic experience, because death is real here.”

Coyote/Llixgrijb grinned at him. “You’re trying to scare me out of it, aren’t you?”

“Besides,” continued Wolf, “getting rid of either realm would prove rather difficult. Dividing the mythic from the physical or the temporal is like cutting a magnet in two; the pieces will divide into physical or mythic wherever you make the cut. It’s either both realms, or nothing. It’s a cosmic/mythic complementarity. You must have both to have your dream.”

“I think you’re bluffing,” said Coyote/Llixgrijb.

—physicist Fred Alan Wolf in conversation with Llixgrijb, from The Jamais Vu Papers newsletter and book by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin. Reprinted in Jamais Vu Views along with additional material.

We thought that Llixgrijb was a fictional character, but if you Google that name today, you’ll get about 12,000 results. Some are quotes, usually (but not always) attributed to The Jamais Vu Papers, and sometimes translated into various other languages. Many are said to be posts by Llixgrijb, who apparently speaks Russian and a bevy of other languages as well as English and lives in various parts of the world. Here are just a few Llixgrijb links:

offering to be a pen pal

playing music

playing chess

discussing software

tweeting

lurking

You can read how that came about in our blog of 2012/10/05

Avoid Mere Self-expression!

Avoid mere4inThat’s a line that I once scrawled inside a paper sculpture—one of a series of artworks called “messages.”

Google “self-expression.” Today I got 2,480,000 results in less than a second. At a glance, it’s obvious that a lot of our cultural dialogue is dedicated to self-expression. A Wikipedia article connects it with a “creative class” of people who get to express themselves in their work. Centers, classes, and various kinds of gurus offer to teach people how to express themselves. And self-expression is highly recommended in discussions on leadership, spirituality, democracy, self-esteem—to say nothing of selling pitches for cars and clothes (which, of course, look just like a lot of other cars and clothes).

OK, so that could go on and on. Clearly, self-expression has many advocates.

First have a self. Wim reminds me of the observation—probably originally from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way—that one must have a self to express. But that self must be an evolving thing. So we sort of dance around in circles—find self … express … find … express … Maybe that’s not a bad way to go about a creative life. (Though I must note that art galleries and publishers can resist the finding and expressing of a new self—they often prefer the repetition of whatever has already proved commercially successful.) Why should anyone avoid expressing the self?

Let’s get back to that word mere.

In essays, articles, books, academic research, and artworks, I’ve tried to understand, identify, and explain the creative experience. In my definition, “self-expression” is not nearly enough. Those very words seem to imply the expression of something you already know, and that’s what a lot of self-expression seems to be about. But as the expression of a self in a state of discovery it can become part of the whole creative experience. At that point, it’s no longer “mere.”

The creative experience is more like hanging off the edge of a cliff … or jumping off … or falling off. It’s risky. You’re writing about something you almost know, or barely know, but that you’re in the process of finding out more about.

Comments from other cliffhangers are welcome. —Pat

Which Came First — The Tool or Its Name?

Here’s some news that amazed me recently, and also got me to asking myself a lot of troublesome questions. Working gears have been discovered in an insect. Scientific American’s video of these gears in action is pretty breathtaking to watch. The story broke just a couple of months ago

220px-Issidae_-_Issus_sp...The juvenile Issus—a plant-hopping insect found in gardens across Europe—has hind-leg joints with curved cog-like strips of opposing “teeth” that intermesh, rotating like mechanical gears to synchronize the animal’s legs when it launches into a jump.

And so human hubris suffers another body blow from the inventiveness of Natural Selection. Until now, mechanical gears were believed to have a distinctly anthropocentric pedigree. They first appeared (or so it was said) in the “south-pointing chariot,” invented by the Chinese engineer Ma Jun back in the third century CE. But no, the juvenile Issus has been using gears for millions of years. In what seems almost a cosmic practical joke, nature invented gears millions of years before it bothered to invent their human “inventors.”

The Jamais Vu PapersAll this reminds me of the fictional psychiatrist Hector Glasco’s ill-fated and ill-advised meeting with the real-life New York superagent John Brockman in 1989. The oracular Mr. Brockman held forth about hearts and pumps and such …

We talk about the heart as a pump. It isn’t like a pump. It is one.

Now this is a long-familiar example of nature beating human engineers to the punch. Artificial pumps date back to Ctesibius (no, I can’t pronounce it either), a Greek inventor of the third century BCE. But nature has been manufacturing pumps for as long as there have been hearts with two or more chambers, and hearts have been around for at least as long as there have been fish.

Similar cases abound. During World War II, for instance, around the time when the Allies were secretly developing sonar, scientists happened to discover that bats had been using sonar all along. Talk about security leaks!

It should no longer surprise us that the beautifully intricate mechanisms created by Natural Selection should … well, surprise us. But further paradoxes lurk in the realm of language. Regarding hearts as pumps, Brockman went on to tell Hector …

That metaphor is a human invention.

Indeed, nobody knew that hearts were pumps until William Harvey figured it out in the 17th century. So which came first, the tool or its name?

I suppose, if Hector had thought to ask Brockman this question, he would have answered that words like “sonar” and “pump” and “gear” weren’t around when nature first toyed with echolocation, primordial jumping devices, and throbbing two-chambered movers of blood. Neither were any other words. There wasn’t anything we would call “language” at all. And as Brockman put it …

If it’s not in the language, it isn’t. If you can’t say it, it isn’t.

And so, although little gears appeared in bugs untold millions of years ago, they didn’t actually become gears until we noticed them and called them “gears.” The same goes for pumps and sonar. Hector Glasco might take heart from this. “If it’s not really invented until there’s a word for it,” he might say, “then surely human beings actually did invent gears, pumps, and sonar! After all, aren’t we, and not nature, the makers of words?”

The words of another oracular figure come to mind—Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass

Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel-1

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

But according to Brockman, even so lofty a linguistic authority as Humpty Dumpty is wrong, for words are the makers of us—and of everything else:

[T]he words of the world are the life of the world, and nature is not created, nature is said…. I’m talking about the idea that we are our words. We create technologies and tools, and we become the technologies and tools. So, too, with language. All we have is language. All we have is ideas.

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“Astride Occam’s Razor,” the story of Hector Glasco’s encounter with John Brockman, appears in both The Jamais Vu Papers and Jamais Vu VIEWS.

Invasions of Privacy … the Kind We Like

Mayan-72A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the allegedly late Timothy Leary’s disdain for privacy—“the evil of monotheism,” he called it. Personally, I’m as alarmed as anyone else about threats to personal privacy from both government and corporations. But some invasions of privacy seem downright benign—or at least they do to me.

For example, Pat and I just now discovered that Amazon.com keeps track of people’s highlights in Kindle copies. Pat and I were delighted to see what readers marked in our award-winning novel Mayan Interface. You can find these quotes at the bottom of its Kindle page. (It is also available in paperback.) Here are a few that we especially like:

Change is always dangerous. And to become a new person, first you must die. It’s an absolute requirement. Now getting resurrected—that’s the tricky part.

You may have heard that Eve was the first woman, but that’s not quite true. Eve was actually a small, dark-eyed, long-tailed monkey—well, not quite a monkey, more like a lemur. And she lived, oh, some fifty million years ago—back during the Epoch of Miracles, let’s say.

What’s required is the courage to risk change without knowing what it will bring about. What’s needed are adventurers willing to go into whatever is ahead without even knowing what they, themselves, will become—because no one transformation will suffice for all.

The Maya understand that their people were shaped by both history and myth. We think of history as “what really happened” and of a myth as a story made up to account for whatever people didn’t understand—and unnecessary once science and logic have explained everything. But if a myth has influenced anyone’s life, then in some sense it “happened”—and is therefore history.4 mystery gllyphs

When a Hoax Really Meant Something …

The Jamais Vu PapersFake news stories are all the rage these days. And yes, they can be hard to distinguish from real news. I have friends who were taken in by a recent story reporting that Arizona was implementing a gay-to-straight conversion program in its public schools. I wasn’t fooled by that one, but I have been hoodwinked by two or three others.

This may seem an odd sort of question, but … what’s the point?

Back in 1989, the legendary satirist and Yippies-founder Paul Krassner said to L.A. psychiatrist Hector Glasco,

People are jaded, because of this conveyer belt of information. I already forget what it was that I was so horrified about on the news yesterday. And I was horrified! But you develop an emotional callus to the horror. And a danger satirists can run into is to see the news just as grist for their mill.

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Krassner himself pioneered hoax news stories in his groundbreaking magazine The Realist. But his hoaxes always had a point—for example, his notorious obituary for Lenny Bruce, written two years before the controversial comedian’s death in 1966. As Krassner explained to Dr. Glasco,

I was hanging around with Lenny at the time, and there was almost a competition among police departments to bust him. Nightclub owners were scared. He was not getting work, and his work was his life. So it was as if he were dead. I wanted to pay tribute and expose that harassment while he was alive.

You can read the obituary in The Realist Archive Project. (Is this a great time or what?) There is nothing glib or superficial about it. It is, in fact, an excellent piece of journalism, and the most disturbing thing about it is how much of it was true …

There was a time when Lenny read a lot, from Jean-Paul Sartre’s study of anti-Semitism to the latest girlie magazine. He carried in his suitcase from city to city a double-volume unabridged dictionary. But in his dying days, he carried around law books instead. And he wasn’t as much fun to be with any more.

Or as Lenny explained it to Krassner,

I’m changing.… I’m not a comedian. I’m Lenny Bruce.

The hoax fooled plenty of people. It also moved and enlightened them. The same was not true of a later hoax, in which somebody else wrote an obituary of Paul Krassner. When Hector Glasco asked him about that …

So there’s a distinction between—what? Honest and dishonest hoaxing?

… Krassner replied,

Creative and easy. Having a point or being pointless.

The problem with many fake news stories going around is that they seem easy, uncreative, and pointless. Back when a hoax really meant something, Krassner even took the trouble of asking Lenny Bruce’s permission before publishing his obituary. Lenny cheerfully complied, but also asked,

What makes you think I’m gonna go before you do?

Paul Krassner turned 81 this year—as Groucho Marx once predicted, “the only live Lenny Bruce.”

An abridged version of Hector Glasco’s conversation with Paul Krassner appeared in Pat’s and my 1991 novel The Jamais Vu Papers. Now the full-length original version appears for the first time since 1989 in Jamais Vu VIEWS, available both in paperback and on Kindle.

Timothy Leary in Cyberland

chaos_cyberculture

I think about Timothy Leary a lot these days. He is widely believed to have died on May 31, 1996. If so, it’s really too bad. A pioneering technopagan and an elder statesman of Cyberpunk, he would revel in Google, Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest of our digital paraphernalia. What Douglas Rushkoff has called “Present Shock” (we are way beyond Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock”) wouldn’t faze him one little bit.

Leary wouldn’t even be bothered by encroachments on personal privacy. As I remember, he rather liked having his phone tapped—because whoever was listening might actually learn something. “Privacy is the evil of monotheism,” he once said to me—or rather, he will say it to J. X. Brillig in the year 2040.

Pat’s and my jamais inter-vu with Leary, entitled “Brillig in Cyberland,” was first published in our jamais vu newsletter in December 1988. In it, Leary plays a garrulous tour guide to a futuristic, William Gibsonesque wonderworld. Leary himself included “Brillig and Cyberland” as the epilog to his last non-posthumous book, Chaos & Cyber Culture (1994).

But why am I somewhat skeptical that he actually died in 1996? Well, talk of Timothy Leary’s demise dates all the way back to 1968 and the lyrics to “Legend of the Mind” by the Moody Blues. “Timothy Leary’s dead,” the song announced. It wasn’t true then, and I’m not so sure it is now.

Leary was obsessed with life extension, and he considered death (or “irreversible involuntary coma”) an inexcusable waste of time and resources. So he didn’t plan on dying if he could possibly help it. It’s well known that Leary arranged to have his head cryonically preserved, only to change his mind shortly before his final “coma.” He grumbled,

I was worried I would wake up in fifty years surrounded by people with clipboards.

He opted for cremation—which would seem to put an end to the matter.

But in an increasingly informational world, immortality isn’t necessarily about the survival of the physical body. In “Brillig in Cyberland,” Leary explained (or will explain in 2040),

Basically, immortality is about digitizing. The more of yourself you digitize, the more of yourself is going to be immortal. The more of your actions and memories you get digitized, the more immortal you’re going to be. I was one of the first people to discover this. My claim to fame today is that there is more of me in digital form than almost any other person from the twentieth century.

There is, indeed, a lot of information about Timothy Leary kicking around, so I wouldn’t write him off just yet. While it’s true that the Moody Blues said that he was dead, they went right on to say otherwise:

The Jamais Vu Papers

No, no, no, no, he’s outside looking in.

“Brillig in Cyberland” is now available in both The Jamais Vu Papers and its brand new companion volume Jamais Vu VIEWS. I hope you’ll check them out.

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Metaphor and Tom Robbins

jvV ebook 180In yesterday’s post, we announced the publication of Jamais Vu Views, the long-awaited companion to our underground classic The Jamais Vu PapersIt is available in paperback and Kindle. Both books include jamais inter-views with real people participating in a fictional story. Our first-ever inter-view was with author Tom Robbins in 1987.

At the time, we were fascinated by the role of metaphor in Story (with a capital S). We felt that metaphor was more that just figurative speech, more than just analogy. What was the power of metaphor? We decided to play around with a fictive and admittedly silly idea: that metaphors are literally true, and that you could conceivably make a drug out of a metaphor.

The Jamais Vu Papers began as a newsletter that told the story an addled Los Angeles psychiatrist named Hector Glasco. He was treating a jaded celebrity patient named Hilary, who was suffering from a chronic and potentially fatal case of déjà vu—that condition, of course, in which one has the weirdest feeling that one has been here before. The cure, it seemed, was to instill a sense of jamais vu, a mysterious feeling that one has never been here before—not in this world, this life, or the most familiar circumstances.

So Hector Glasco tried to cure his patient with a dose of a mystery drug called “M”—the chemical equivalent of a metaphor. Disaster ensued, and Hilary escaped from his office on a flying carpet and disappeared. The newsletter itself was Hector’s desperate plea for help; he needed insights into the nature of metaphor. We hoped that this premise would shake loose some interesting thoughts. We were right.

Tom Robbins was our newsletter’s first subscriber/participant. He wrote to us, agreeing to send us 8 answers if we’d send him 7 questions. Naturally, Hector asked him:

As a master of figurative language, what do you think are the transformative and evolutionary properties of metaphors?

Robbins gave this lovely answer:

When we say that “Johnny runs fast,” what have we said that anyone except Johnny’s mother is apt to recall? When we say that “Johnny runs like a deer,” we have provided a memorable totemic image to which our notion of Johnny’s speed might conveniently be stapled. Should we say, however, that “Johnny is a deer,” we have eternalized Johnny, fitting him with antlers and hooves from the unyielding deep forest of primal unconsciousness.

Glasco pushed on, concerned about the use of such a powerful tool:

What will happen if chemical metaphors hit the streets?

Robbins replied:

My suspicion is that chemical metaphors may not belong on the streets. In ancient Greece, the fungoid metaphors dispensed at Eleusis were restricted to those who were deemed spiritually and intellectually evolved enough to benefit from them. Public discussion of the M(ysteries) by initiates was forbidden under penalty of death. That’s probably a sound idea. The problem is, who decides who is or who isn’t qualified for the experience? Certainly, it’s a bit elitist, but as Hermann Hesse pointed out, “The M(agic) Theatre is not for everyone.”

Our Storied discussion was off to a flying start.