Tuesday, December 25, 2007
... my spectral face shall come between his eyes
and the soft face of her, my name shall rise,
unutter'd, in each thought that goes to her;
and in the quiet waters of her gaze
shall lurk a siren-lure that beckons him
down halls of death and sinful chambers dim:
he shall not know her nor her gentle ways
nor rest, content, by her sufficing source,
but, under stress of the veil'd stars, shall force
her simple bloom to perilous delight
Thus speaks Lilith in the Poems of the Australian poet Christopher Brennan. The realm of innocence in Brennan's poem is represented by Eve, but Lilith stands for the realm of experience: the wisdom given by the snake. It's an old and oft-repeated argument, from some of the ancient gnostics all the way up to Philip Pullmann's His Dark Materials trilogy: we are torn between innocence and experience, purity and danger. Innocence is beautiful in children, and losing it feels somehow like Original Sin, like a fall "down halls of death and sinful chambers dim". But we are not supposed to remain in the garden, beyond good and evil: we are supposed to learn to know ourselves. Essentially this means the confrontation with eros and sexuality, with the realm that Christianity has so tragically come to confuse with sin (the American scholar of religion Jeff Kripal has written a fascinating book on this, The Serpent's Gift).
And what about beauty in this context? Tastes differ, but for me, the Pre-Rafaelites have been supreme in exploring the erotic boundary between innocence and experience: their female nudes are not only among the most beautiful one will find anywhere, but these women have real faces: no matter how beautiful one may find Botticelli's Venus or the nymphs of the Primavera, these are no real persons who have lived and suffered. Like Eve perhaps, you might admire them as abstract ideals, but you cannot make love to them and they will never make love to you.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The American classical scholar Sarah Iles Johnston published an important book, Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate's Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature (Scholars Press: Atalanta, Georgia 1990). Hekate has usually been seen as the horrific patroness of witches, but the neoplatonic collection known as the Chaldean Oracles portrays her very differently, as a chief mediator between the divine and the human world, a celestial divinity who facilitates communication between those worlds, whence her status as the goddess of crossroads and other liminal places. In short: this is the goddess whom no visitor to this blog will be able to avoid...
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tonight I watched the movie eXistenZ (1999). I had seen it before, but this time I was struck by the obvious psychedelic and sexual metaphor: a group of people (all men) enter a shared altered state of consciousness under the leadership of a female game designer (in fact, a shaman), and they do so by means of a "technology" that is actually organic: the gamepod is entered into their own body, and this allows them to enter other realities. Two memorable quotes:
"You have to play the game to find out why you're playing the game" (Allegra)
" [Ted:] We're just stumbling around together in this unformed world whose rules and objectives are largely unknown, seemingly undecipherable or even possibly non-existent, always on the verge of being killed by forces that we don't understand ...
[Allegra:] That sounds like my game alright
[Ted:] Except it's a game that's not gonna be easy to market
[Allegra:] But it's a game everybody is already playing"
So the movie is really about the nature of reality, and suggests that there is no "baseline world" from which we depart to other realities and to which we return: all realities are games within games within games. Which of course brings up the question: who is playing? And where is s/he?
Twilight traveling means exploring boundaries: between light and darkness, dream and reality, the manifest and the hidden, reason and madness, science and magic, speech and silence, self and society, beauty and terror, knowledge and mystery, and much more...
This blog is an invitation to travel with me. I'll tell you what I see on my explorations, and hope that you will respond by sharing your thoughts.