Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chronicles of the Magi: part 6

"He's lying," Hormoz said, glancing over at his companions who were likewise indisposed, sifting through racks of scrolls in the royal library. "He's got an incredibly powerful will, so I was only able to sense surface thoughts, but those were enough to tell me he isn't at all interested in worshiping the child. He'll kill him as soon as he knows the identity."

"Why were we brought here then?" Gushnasaph asked. He had just cast a spell over the scroll he was holding, and the letters on it were changing from Hebrew characters to Pharsee. "This isn't helping us find the child at all."

"Our purpose was not singular," Larvendad reminded him. The old man had no need to change the lettering on the scrolls he was running his hands over. As he touched them, huge reams of knowledge were poring into his mind. It was a wonder he could carry on a conversation at all. "Our awareness of Angra Mainyu's plots to destroy the child made us responsible for keeping him safe as well. Little good it does the world if we find this child of light a corpse."

"There's so much about the Hebrew Messiah in these writings," Hormoz said. "But to make any sense of it without being one of these sheep farmers or their priests...blood sacrifices and smelly festivals. I can't make any sense of it at all."

"Difficult to do without knowing the whole of their scriptures and the rabbinic writings," Larvendad said, running his hand over another scroll. "But I am beginning to get a clearer picture."

"So what are we here for then if you're planning on ingesting all the knowledge in this room before I've even read one scroll?" Gushnasaph asked, exasperated.

"Even I cannot carry on a conversation across hundreds of feet with many ceilings, floors and walls between," Larvendad replied. "And I want us to stay together. I wouldn't put it past this mad king to kill us or throw us in his dungeons." His hand scanned over a very old and fragile scroll...and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

"Ahhhh..." he moaned. "Here it is...'But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.'"

Friday, December 29, 2006

Chronicles of the Magi: Part 5

The arrival of a merchant train in the city of Jerusalem attracted little attention. Throngs of people came and went from the holy city, and this group appeared to be Jews of the diaspora, making their way upon a pilgrimage to sacrifice in the Temple. Their accents were decidedly Babylonian, and their servants and slaves of Parthian dress, but the lords themselves were dressed in the custom of southern Judea.

The bulk of their caravan remained in the outer city while a small delegation comprised of the three lords and a retinue of guardsmen entered the city proper, staying in one of the most luxurious inns in all of Jerusalem. Messengers were sent forth with one question on their lips. And soon all of Jerusalem was talking of the three eastern lords who had arrived in the city of the Jews. They had come to find a new king. A king from heaven, it was said. And while the three lords never phrased it so, the word "Messiah" began circulating along with the accounts of these men and their fabled riches.

And as such messianic rumors inevitably did, they reached the ears of Herod the Great's advisors. Herod the Great, an Idumean whose love for Hellenistic culture had endeared him to the Romans, whose ambition to restore the Jewish temple made him the king of the Jews, and whose treachery and willingness to go to any lengths to gain and retain the throne had left a path of assasinations behind him. Herod the Great, who here, at the end of his years was dying of a disease that ate away at his vitals and chewed his innards. Assasinated by his own avarice and lust. His magicians could do nothing to avert the outcome of the disease, and though his days were numbered, he still considered them his days. The days of Herod the Great. Not the days of any messianic usurper. And when the rumors of the magi's search reached his ears, he summoned them to the palace.

"You're Parthians," Herod said when Gushnasaph, Hormoz and the venerable Larvendad stood before him. Larvendad had recovered from his nearly fatal wounds during the desert crossing, and had finally stood on his own feet when the group had crossed the fabled Jordan river.

"We hail from the ancient kingdom of Persia, yes," Larvendad replied haughtily. He had lived long enough that the idea of his national identity being Parthian was still foreign to him. In his mind, he was still a Persian.

"And you have come here seeking a king?" Herod asked, grazing from a platter of decadent food beside his throne.

"Indeed," Larvendad said. "We have seen a sign in the eastern lands that spoke of the birth of a new king. A great king. We thought you, as lord and protector of this land, might know something of this birth."

Herod spread his hands in ignorance. "I know nothing of any king being born. Certainly not of my loins," he said, "unless you're talking about that bastard Antipater."

Herod stole a glance away from the old man to the middle aged man standing beside him. That one was staring at him in a way that pierced him to the core. It worried him. Whether or not there was any truth to these men's search was irrelevant. The people had made it a reality; a reality that would need to be crushed. At this point, anyone could step forth and make the claim that they were the one these men were seeking. It wouldn't matter if the three endorsed the pretender or not--it would likely result in a bloodbath, and Rome was watching. He would have to be crafty, as he always had been.

"You have my assistance in every way possible. Please make use of the archives my scribes have--we have copies of most of the sacred writings of our people, which may serve to shed light upon your search." Herod smiled and raised a glass of wine to honor his new guests. "And when you achieve your goal, find this new king and let me know who he is so I may also come and worship him."

The words flowed from his lips without hesitation. A lesser man might fear the wrath of the gods, but the fire in his bowels had proved to Herod many years earlier that he was already cursed by the gods. If this child, this king, was truly the messiah, a voice of the gods on earth, then Herod would have his revenge on the gods for smiting him with this disease. Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Chronicles of the Magi Part 4

The caravan moved out of the ancient and virtually abandoned city of Babylon, crossing the Euphrates at the great bridge between the ruins of the Esagila, the temple of Marduk and the Etemenanki, the great Ziggarut, the fabled tower of Babel.

Hormoz looked back at the city as the sun began to rise, casting long shadows in the empty streets.

"The council are all that are left now," Gushnasaph said, stopping his horse beside Hormoz's.

"You were always right about the city," Hormoz told his young companion. "Alexander's coming only sped our destruction."

"And now?" Gushnasaph asked. "Are we headed towards a future, or are we travelling headlong upon a fool's errand?"

Hormoz shook his head. "Even if I had not seen the ball of flame and light strike Larvendad's tower, seen it disappear, and then reappear within his eyes, even if I did not know that something essential about the universe has been changed, as was made apparent by the power of the blood magic our ancient teacher invoked, saving his life...I would know we are on the right path. I can feel fravashi whispers to me, telling me so. Every moment we remained in Babylon it was urging me to leave, to depart, to be gone. There is nothing left but death in those ruins. We are on a journey towards life, even if it is a fool's errand."

"Then your calling is higher than mine," Gushnasaph said, spurring his horse, "For I only seek a new adventure!"

Hormoz watched his young companion gallop to the front of the caravan, and smiled. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step Gushnasaph, no matter the motivation."

And so the caravan pushed westward, lead by the light that burned within Larvendad's sight like a star, always in his vision no matter if he were in his tent or behind the walls of a caravanersary. He could sense it in the periphery of his sight when his gaze was fixed upon the ground beneath them, and it haunted his dreams when he finally was able to fall into a fitful rest, aided by drugs inhaled through the smoke of the hookah. The men in the caravan who had traversed the great desert before were amazed, and spoke many times of how they had never made a crossing where so much shade was found to travel in, nor so many oases. Months passed, and they arrived at the southern tip of the Dead Sea. From there, they turned north, and moved into the land of the Hebrews, which presented a new challenge; the Roman occupation of the land of Israel...and the enmity between the nations.

"I don't suppose they've gotten over the business at the battle of Harran, do you?" Gushnasaph asked Hormoz with a grin. "After all, we did give them back their standards..."

"Thirty years after the matter," Hormoz replied. "We might need to leave the greater part of the caravan here and press on in disguise."

"And what would you suggest for a disguise?" Gushnasaph asked.

"The creator will provide," Hormoz said, pointing to another caravan approaching the water hole they were resting at. "Merchant train. Come," Hormoz waved a hand to the oncoming riders. "We have shopping to do."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chronicles of the Magi Part 3

The council of the Magi had been formed over a thousand years ago, in order to maintain the balance between Angra Mainyu, lord of destruction, and Ahura Mazda, the uncreated creator. There were those who said that there was no balance, that the creator was more powerful than Angra, but if this was the case, then the world did not show it to be so. If there was more heaven than hell in the universe, then it was not apparent to the men who had formed the order of the Magi, and upheld its tenets while Babylonia rose to a mighty empire, and now in the days following its fall. The once-great Persian empire was a thing of the past.

And in Gushnasaph's mind, so was the council of the Magi. His posture before the assembled council said what his words could not; words of respect issued forth grudgingly from a mouth moving above a chin thrust high and proud. He clenched his fists to keep from speaking with his hands, a practice Larvendad found contemptible and had many times attempted to stamp out of his young pupil's public discourses.

"What you have told us is all second hand information," the high elder of the Magi told the young man. "You have gainsayed that these are the words of your mentor, who you have also reported is deep in a fever sleep, recovering from wounds inflicted by the demon which wreaked havoc upon his house."

"The demon did not incur the damage to the house," Gushnasaph said. "It was the impact of the great fireball that did that."

"A demonic entity to be sure," the high elder said. "We all know that destruction is the work of Angra Mainyu. And once again, as many times before, darkness has encompassed darkness -- the spirits of destruction undo their own work in the madness of their chaos."

Empty words. Poetic drivel...recitations made a thousand times instead of an evaluation of the reality before us all.

"Then you will not send a delegation to discover the identity of this new and great king?" Gushnasaph asked.

"We will not," the high elder replied. "Our place is here, in the lands of our forefathers, retaining the balance."

"The balance has been lost!" Gushnasaph blurted. He realized he was holding his hands out in a pleading posture. Dropping them to his sides, he lowered his voice. "The demon said as much. The king who is born is of the creator's side...and he is weak, and vulnerable. The demon revealed the Destroyer's plans to assasinate the child before he can grow to be a man and accomplish what he has come to do."

"So now we have the testimony of both a mortally wounded man in a fever as well as that of a servant of Angra Mainyu," another Magi spoke from the assembled throng, a sarcastic grin on his face. "Reliable evidence to be sure."

"Then I have only one more thing to report to you. These are my mentor's final words to you all: If you will not take the word of Larvendad, eldest of all the Magi, as relayed through his pupil Gushnasaph, prince of the Suren-Pahlav clan, then this is our farewell. We will go into the West to find this king, and to protect him as best as we are able, with all the devices of the Art and our own wealth. We abdicate our position upon this council. With us goes Hormoz the astrologer as well. We do not seek your approval, only that of heaven and of the creator."

A silence hung over the hall as Gushnasaph pulled three cloth bundles from a bag he had brought along and dropped them on the ornately tiled mosaic that made up the floor of the Magi's assembly hall. They were the ceremonial robes of their order. And with that, the young man turned on his heel and strode swiftly from the hall.

* * * * * * * * *

"Damn fools," Gushnasaph spat as his servants lifted Larvendad's unconscious form into a lush litter carried by four well muscled slaves.

"He knew they wouldn't listen," Hormoz said with a smile. "That's why he sent you instead of me. I'm sure your performance was far more dramatic than mine would have been."

"Perhaps," Gushnasaph said. "But if everything he whispered in his sleep is true..."

"How can we deny it?" Hormoz said. "We both saw the wheel made of fire and light. If that was not a manifestation of the sacred fire..."

Hormoz shouted an order to one of the camel drivers and checked his own saddle once again. He looked over at the younger man, whose face was full of doubt. "I'm surprised at you my friend. All you've ever spoken of is how this derelict city is full of ghosts, that our order is dead, that all the Art we possess is pointless if we aren't actually doing anything to maintain the balance. And now, we three have been given the opportunity to do something. To protect the very incarnation of the Sacred Fire."

Gushnasaph took a deep breath and turned his gaze to the night sky. After a moment, he turned his gaze back upon Hormoz.

"And where do we go?" Gushnasaph asked. "We have no direction, save that we are to head West. That will lead us directly into the sea!"

"I can see the path," came a strong bass voice from behind the curtain on the litter. "Clearer than I see anything else."

Gushnasaph leaped to the side of the litter and pulled back the curtain. Larvendad's eyes were open, staring in the direction of the West.

And his eyes were like the inside of a furnace, blazing with an inner fire...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Chronicles of the Magi: Part 2

The demon was circling Larvendad's prone form, keeping it's distance.

Why hasn't it finished me off?

He followed its progress with his gaze, watching its movements. The creature kept looking down at the floor, adjusting its distance from Larvendad from time to time. He could tell by the line of drool trailing from its gaping jaw that it wanted to close in and devour him, but something was preventing its approach.

The old man forced himself to a sitting position, replaced his hand over the leaking wound and pushed himself backward with his feet until he was up against the column again. Only then did he realized he had been mumbling under his breath the entire time, a nearly inaudible prayer to Ahura Mazda.

"The Sacred Fire surround me, enfolding me and protecting me..."

Larvender's blood had trickled into the grout between the floor's marble tiling...and around each pillar, the tiles formed a circle...inadvertently, his wound had created a circle of protection, albeit a weak one. Blood was more effective in containing such creatures. It was largely ineffective in a circle of protection. Fire was the element of protection, not blood.

And yet the creature was unwilling to even attempt a crossing...if a demon could sense a barrier of great power within a circle of containment, it would not test the boundaries. This one knew from experience that to cross Larvendad's inadvertent circle of protection would cause it great pain.

"It seems we are at an impasse," it growled, red eyes glaring at him. It sat down on its haunches and rolled its tongue across razor sharp needles. "But not for long. You will die, and the protection with you. I can wait."

As can I," Larvendad whispered.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Gushnasaph was riding through the hills above the derelict city of Babylon when the sky exploded with light. He had shielded his eyes, but only momentarily. Seeing that the light, whatever its source, was in motion and headed for the tower of Larvendad, the young man spurred his horse into a mad gallop down the decline, weaving in and out of the ruins and vacant streets in pursuit.

After centuries of disgrace, the Sacred Fire returns to bless us, he thought as the wind whipped through his long dark hair. The light roared over his head, and he could see it better now. A white hot center, around which bursts of yellow, orange and red erupted in wing-like flames...and behind it, a tail of roiling, churning cloud the color of a furnace. As it neared its apparent destination, Gushnasaph uttered a prayer to Ahura Mazda in the hope that Larvendad was not in his observatory on this night.

The ball of flame and light hit the tower in an explosion of stone that arced out over the ruins of the ancient city and Larvendad's palatial grounds, now in disrepair. Gushnasaph reined in his horse to narrowly avoid being crushed by a piece of masonry the size of a man, then spurred his mount on, vaulting over the debris. He cleared the gardens and jumped from his horse the moment they reached the foot of the great wide stairs which formed the entrance to the house proper.

The old man will be glad for all the time I skipped on lessons running in the hills tonight, he thought to himself as he raced up the stairs. If he's still alive.

The gate had been torn loose from its hinges by shock the fireball's impact had sent throughout
the house. Rushing through it, Gushnasaph cried out his old teacher's name; "Larvendad!"


Heading rapidly toward the stairs which lead to the tower and the observatory, Gushnasaph entered the main hall, to see that one of the great columns had collapsed and shattered near the end it had fallen upon.

And fortunate it was that it did shatter, Gushnasaph thought, else it would have struck that other pillar and started a chain of falling pillars, bringing the whole house down.

Odd that it had shattered though. Larvendad's home was ancient - built in the times when slaves from all across the empire had made Babylon the shining city it once was. And it hadn't simply shattered...the marble about the base of the intact column was like sand...

And sitting amidst it, was the crumpled form of Larvendad.

Gushnasaph crossed the room in a few bounds and kneeled at the old man's side.

"The demon..." Larvendad whispered as Gushnasaph lifted him from the granulated marble.

"You're hurt very badly," Gushnasaph said. His eyes darted about the room - if there was a demon loose in the house, that could explain the shattered pillar. Then he spotted it.

Or what remained of it. A dark, spiderlike appendage with a wicked talon at the end protruded from beneath the fallen pillar.

"Fire and ash" Gushnasaph cursed beneath his breath. "What happened here?"

"The King...the King is born" Larvendad murmured, and fell unconscious.

Chronicles of the Magi: Part 1

In honor of my favorite aspect of the nativity narratives, I'm presenting a writing exercise I'm going to engage in over the twelve days of Christmas, namely to write for 30 minutes each day, doing a fictional biblical fantasy of the Magi's journey to find the Christ child.

A demon was loose in the great house. Larvendad, one of the greatest Magi in all of Persia, huddled behind a marble column, desperately clutching his bleeding arm. If the infernal entity had been any more corporeal when it had broken through the circle of protection drawn intricately upon the floor, the old man would have been eviscerated. As it stood, he'd likely only bleed to death in the next hour, provided the beast, now completely material, couldn't find him.

He could hear it moving around the tower where, up until today, Larvendad had practiced the arcane magic of his order. The dissolution of the protective circle had resulted in a backlash of energy that had thrown the old man clear of the room even as the demon had lashed out at him with its talons. He had caught a glimpse of the conflagration within even as he'd scrambled to his feet and raced down the spiral staircase, out of the tower and down into his palatial home.

What had gone wrong with the spell? The last time he'd lost control of an entity was when Babylon was still a thriving metropolis, before the coming of Alexander and the fall of the great and ancient Persian empire...before the dark days that he and his order sought to restore balance to...

Larvendad looked down at his good hand, clamped over his mangled arm and the blood that sluiced through his grip in scarlet rivulets. It was only a matter of time before he passed out from loss of blood; he'd seen it many times in the wounds of the Persian fighting men who had resisted Alexander's onslaughts...but he'd never been the one to bleed. He needed to get out of his house, get to the servant's quarters, to tell someone to go the house of Hormoz and tell him what had happened.

He braced himself and by pressing his back against the pillar and pushing with his legs, was able to rise to his feet. He felt light-headed and weak. How could he ever make it down another flight of stairs and out the front door, let alone all the way across the gardens?

I have offended the balance with an overlong life, and this is the price I am paying...

Larvendad took a stealthy step forward, which became a stagger all too easily. He crumpled to the cool marble floor, his hand slipping from its grip on his wound. He tried to lift himself from the floor, but the blood pooling about his body had made everything slick and unmanageable. He raised his head weakly to see an inhuman shadow fall upon the white marble from the torchlight upon the tower stairs...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Across the city, from the top of another tower, a man in his middle years stood with his eyes to the night sky. He glanced away from time to time, to consult charts and drawings he'd been making of the heavens, based upon Hipparchus's findings. If the Greek was right, and he often was, there was going to be a conjunction of two of the planets tonight, the ones the Romans called Jupiter and Saturn. It was the sort of astrological phenomenon which would not occur again in Hormoz's lifetime. Unless of course, Larvendad was good enough to reveal the source of his longevity.

Hormoz smiled ruefully. The old man would never reveal the secret; he was convinced that he was the only man worthy of so many years in the world. He had refused his secret to kings. Why would he reveal it to his apprentice?

He focused his attention on an area of the sky where he could already see Jupiter, shining brighter than any of the surrounding stars. Near as Hormoz could tell, the conjunction would also align itself with the constellation of Pisces--the fish. Everyone agreed that such a portent could only mean one thing; the birth of a powerful ruler, a great king.

There was a flash in the night sky, a great burst of light beyond anything the Magi had expected. He had seen comets, eclipses and the like, but nothing like this. It was beyond what the writings of other astrologers had chronicled during such a planetary alignment. Something else was happening here...

The light erupted from the point in the sky Hormoz had been focused on, then raced toward the tower of Larvendad's...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Top 10 Movies of 2006 - Update

Latest update to the list!

1. V for Vendetta: It's a fairy tale dressed up in stylish graphic novel clothes. Cupid and Psyche, one more time, Beauty and the Beast, yet again, Phantom of the Opera without the singing...and it's fantastic. A wonderful piece of work beautifully filmed by the Wachowski Brothers. Highly recommended. Rating: 10/10
2. Miami Vice:
Got to see Miami Vice on DVD just last night at our Reese Family Christmas. I am a huge Michael Mann fan. I also watched Miami Vice religiously and dressed like Sonny Crockett back in Junior High School. I say that right off the bat because I know I love this film based on my bias. I love it for all the reasons I loved the original Vice. Mann's films are first and foremost about style. Substance is always there, but it's delivered in a manner which will either hypnotize you or lull you to sleep, "Last of the Mohicans" being the exception to this rule. While this film was generally panned by critics, I love it as an "extended 12 inch remix" of the original series. It followed one of the classic plots of the series; Sonny and Ricardo go undercover to break up a smuggling organization. Only this time things are longer, darker, richer, more violent, and done with a 21st century hip instead of an 80's one. Really, it's a "day in the life of" movie. There are no deep mythic concepts to draw upon (at least upon the surface--give me another, closer viewing and I'll likely find some), it's just a great cop drama. Rating 9/10
3. The Prestige: A movie that haunted me after I left the theater - its moral ambiguity, clever narrative sleight of hand and very capable performances followed me outside, and are lingering with me today. Also by contrast is the fact that I did not particularly like The Prestige in the sense that I think its a movie I'll ever see again. I might pick it up on video because I think it could be useful for teaching, with its themes of obsession and reality, or its non-linear storytelling. It is, however, a noteworthy film. I recommend it only on the basis that I could not anticipate other people's reactions to it anymore than I have finished formulating my own. I will not call it brilliant - it is a clever film to be sure, but like the Nolan brothers' earlier work Memento, I can't be sure if I've been enlightened, or just tricked.In addition, I have to say that while I was hoping to see some real magic, by the time it arrived on the screen it seemed anachronistic. It lacked the Borghesian subtlety and ambiguity the insertion of real magic into such a production necessitated. So one point off for being clever instead of brilliant, and one for being anachronistic instead of ambiguous. Rating: 8/10
4. Silent Hill: Rating - I haven't watched a film that gave me the creeps like this one did since I saw "The Ring" and I haven't seen a film expression of horror and nightmare as stylish as this since "The Cell". This video game adaptation by Christophe Gans is beautiful in a gothic sublime sort of way. I loved the first three quarters, but once our intrepid heroine descends beneath the town, I have to say that the film seemed to run off its course a bit, and in the last 10 minutes, was far too predictable in a Hollywood movie sort of way. I hate to break it to the writers of this moody, atmospheric piece, but the "twist" ending in horror isn't a twist anymore. A happy ending is. And to add, in my own opinion, backed by far too much immersion in narrative and literary theory, it was actually what this film's themes on mother-daughter ties, sisterhood, and revenge as redemption demanded. With a different ending, I would have given this film a 9. As it stands, I can only give it a 8. Points all lost for the gratuitous and unimaginative ending. Rating: 8/10
5. Superman Returns: I wanted to let this film be my top movie of the year, but there were two things that kept me from being able unecessarily long (ala King Kong) length (hey guys, Lord of the Rings was long because the book was, all right!? More footage does not equal better picture!) and a narrative element involving paternity that left me cold. Other than those minor foibles, I loved the movie, and Bryan Singer has done what I had hoped he would do - give us a Superman film that didn't suck. Loved the crashing airplane sequence. If I had a list for favorite scenes of the year...then Superman diving like a base-jumper to catch up with the plane would have been number one! Rating: 8/10
6. Underworld: Evolution: I've decided I didn't "get" the first Underworld movie. It had a much more epic scope than I was expecting, and while I found some of the narrative decisions contrary to where I'd have taken it, it was a very cool movie. Evolution is exactly what the sequel is...moving the chronicle of this world of vampires and werewolves along in an extremely satisfying manner. Maybe it was the mood I was in the day I watched it, but I have absolutely no complaints about this movie. It excels at being what it is - a B genre flick. Rating: 8/10
7. Pirates of the Carribean-Dead Man's Chest: Like I said in my prediction...Johnny Depp. And the man delivers. However, the film suffers from the same problem any "second" film does in a trilogy - we've already been introduced to the film's secondary world so that what was surprising and fresh in the first seems familiar. And familiarity can breed contempt. Thankfully, Bill Nighy as Davey Jones and his fishy crew provided enough effects eye candy on a regular basis so as to not keep making comparisons to the first film, while the action integrated enough new stunt work and swordplay to keep things interesting. Orlando Bloom's got enough distance between Legolas and any other character he plays now, and I found him easier to swallow as William Turner. Given Jack Davenport's complaint that everyone else got to have all the fun playing pirate-like in the first film, it was good to see Norrington's dark side this time around. All glowing praise aside though, while I realize this is a 'middle' film, it really did meander far more than it needed to. It was like Jack's wandering compass was a metaphor for the film's storyline. It went all over the place, but in the end, we hadn't really gone anywhere. I do like knowing there'll be a third installment next year. If film companies keep this up, will we be seeing a return to the serials of yesteryear? Rating: 7/10
8. X3-The Last Stand: It was good, but not great. Too many new characters introduced at the expense of already well developed ones. Ostentatious and simultaneously pointless use of powers, especially on the part of Magneto. Moving the Golden Gate Bridge is cool, but what's the point? Rogue got the shaft, to be sure. In my estimation, the trilogy had been building around her story. She was our point of focalization, and without her in that place, the whole storyline denigrated into one big mess. For the record, I think a more satisfying ending would have been Rogue returning to the team, powers intact at the point where Phoenix is stripping the skin from Wolverine. Rogue sneaks up behind, pulls off the gloves, and sucks enough of Phoenix's power for Jean Grey to regain control, allowing Wolverine to step in and do her in. That would have set any future sequels up for Rogue to have had the kind of power she had in the comics from draining Captain Marvel. And one more thing. Where the hell was Nightcrawler? Still, Wolverine got to cut loose twice, and there was a fast-ball special from Collossus...and Kelsey Grammar's Beast was spot on. Final word: I can only hope they're done, or they get a more competent director/screenwriter for a fourth installment. Rating: 6/10
Poseidon: Ship gets hit by rogue wave. Chaos ensues, followed by acts of bravado and more pandemonium as the ship slowly sinks. Yeah, its formula, and yes it wasn't as good as the original, and the characters were cardboard, but who cares? It delivered what it promised in my esteem. Thoroughly enjoyed it, like I sometimes enjoy a bacon double cheeseburger from Burger King. You know it ain't gourmet, but it's exactly what hits the spot. Rating: 5/10
10. Ice Age: The Meltdown:
Okay, I laughed at Sid the Sloth. And Scrat. But the rest of the film was mediocre and at times, just plain ridiculous. The animation wasn't up to par, and while I normally love Queen Latifah, I have to say she was the wrong choice for voice in this case. Rating: 4/10

And just for the record...I saw Clerks II, but there's no way in hell it's going on any top 10 list of mine. If this movie was Kevin Smith's apology for Jersey Girl...he's not done apologizing. My rating? 0/10.

Predicted List 2006
Note: Films can change positions on the predicted list until I see them. Then their position becomes fixed.

1. Superman Returns: I have to give the number one spot to my number one superhero since childhood. I still buy Superman shirts regularly when my old ones wear out, much to my wife's chagrin. I'm not thrilled with the little 'S' on the costume...I like a big shield. Might be compensating for something, but frankly my dears, I don't give a damn. Previews are making a believer out of me to be sure. I watched A&E's "Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman": brought tears to my eyes...seriously.
2. Pan's Labyrinth:
Pan's Labyrinth, however, is the best surprise of the year, sneaking into 2006 on December 29. Billed as an 'adult fairytale', the only thing I needed to know was that Guillermo del Toro is the man behind the film. I loved his work on Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy and was unaware of Pan's Labyrinth until you wonderful people who visit Gotthammer brought it to my attention. I checked out the trailer and was blown away. Too bad the number one position is already fixed...
3. Miami Vice: It's a Michael Mann film...I have yet to see a Michael Mann film I didn't enjoy profusely. They almost always make it into my top 10 list for the year they're released. And I watched the original series religiously, in addition to dressing like Crockett in Junior High.
4. V is For Vendetta: The trailers moved this one from a 5 to the 4 spot...I've not read the graphic novel, but from what I've seen, this looks like one of the best films of the year. Very cool visuals.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - Jonny Depp. That's all I have to say. Jonny Depp. It will be cool. Jonny Depp.
6. The Illusionist: The 'narf' in "Lady in the Water" left me cold enough to dump M. Night Shyamalan's latest prior to viewing, in trade for a different film starring Paul Giamatti, which intrigues me far more. The trailer reminded me of elements from a number of books I've enjoyed in the past few years, and is set in a period I love; turn of the century, 19th-20th. I've also been waiting for Jessica Beil to get a decent script, and this might be it. And Edward Norton is always good, even when the film he's in sucks.
7. Poseidon: Man who made "Perfect Storm" does capsized ship again...only this time it happens at the start of the film and the cast has a hope in hell of making it out. Loved the original, and Kurt Russell's one of my faves, so could be good!
8. X3: The Last Stand: Yeah, I know - the trailers are amazing...but there's no Brian Singer dammit...this could go very badly, you know?
9. The Prestige: I dropped Denzel and his Deja Vu movie because...well, I just like this style of narrative better. It's a personal bias, plus I really like Christian Bale's performances in the films I've seen him in. As I alluded to in my predictions about "The Illusionist", I've read a couple of works in this genre recently, specifically "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" as well as "The Book of Dead Days", and this film seems to capture some of that energy, given that it's based on a book in the same sub-genre.
10. Casino Royale: The Bond Franchise needed a face lift...and it looks like it's a gritty one. Here's to hoping they've returned to adapting the original books and letting James be a jerk, not just a suave ladies man with too many gadgets and not enough kickass. The buzz is that director Martin Campbell is leaning more towards character development than gadgets, so that bodes well. I'm keeping this one on the list for now.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Father Christmas

I'm a nut for Santa. The Father Christmas version, specifically. A few years back I did a photo manipulation/composite of some stock photography to create this wallpaper, which remains one of my favorite pieces, despite a few little glitches resulting from being in a rush to get it done. It's my little Christmas present to everyone. Hope your holidays are fantastic. I'll be starting mine in t-minus seven days.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Lovecraft’s Incarnation Inversion: How the "True Pagan" Stole Christmas

When H.P. Lovecraft stated in one of his letters that “the Judaeo-Christian mythology is NOT TRUE” (1965, 60) it is doubtful he was speaking of mythology in the sense that Mircea Eliade meant when he said that “…in proclaiming the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Word, early Christians employed ancient categories of mythical thought” (Kleiner, 14). Lovecraft was simply stating that he was not a believer of the Christian faith, and because of this, it would be arrogant presumption to enlist Lovecraft’s work in an attempt to produce actual religious belief in Christianity. However, given the ability to compare the “Judaeo-Christian mythology” as “history metaphorized, that is, as metaphorical narratives” (Borg, 1219), I propose that by travelling Rudolf Otto’s via negativa of “darkness and silence” as a “means of arousing the numinous consciousness by artistic works” (Varnado, 208) the reader of “The Dunwich Horror” may through a process of inverted imagery, find the Christian story (specifically the Birth Narratives) provided with “a fresh excitement by retelling it as if it were a new myth” (Carpenter, 66).

Both Mark Lowell and Donald Burleson have observed that Lovecraft’s mythos “contain a perversion of what Joseph Campbell called the mythic cycle” (Lowell, 48). Lowell explains the monomyth as being a tale where “a herald calls a hero into a realm of myth and the unconscious where he confronts various tribulations and emerges with a boon for his fellow men” and contrasts this with Lovecraft, where “this realm of myth contains only sorrow, insanity and death.” (48) Burleson notes that the Whatley twins fit all eight stages of the hero monomyth “quite closely” (146), which is an inversion of who the reader expects the hero of “The Dunwich Horror” to be; on the surface, Dr. Armitage seems a more ‘heroic’ candidate (although Burleson notes with irony that in truth, it is the university guard dog who rips Wilbur to pieces who “has saved the world (148)).

In the majority of these eight stages Burleson uses Jesus as an example. In the case of the “miraculous conception or birth, as in traditional accounts of the virgin birth of…Jesus” (146) corresponds to the Whateley twins as “products of a sort of miraculous conception and birth, sired by the “god” Yog-Sothoth in May-Eve rites on Sentinel Hill” (147). The final stage of Ascension “as in the case of Jesus” (147) is achieved by the Whateley monstrosity “when the twin returns to the place of conception, the great table-rock atop Sentinel Hill”. In reference to the monstrosity bellowing for help from Yog-Sothoth, its father, Burleson says, “One almost expects, “Why has thou forsaken me?” The scene is a clear tongue-in-cheek parody of the crucifixion; the monstrous entity returns to the father” (145-146).

The comparisons and contrasts between Jesus and the Whatley twins are numerous. As Edward Ingebretsen writes:

“Born of the hardly virginal Lavinia, Wilbur is fatherless: spiritually adept at a very young age, he is early about doing the work of his unknown father. Lavinia’s son, in short, is a dark conceit of the Incarnation. Like Jesus, he is a god among us, monstrously conforming to our flesh. The people who have lived in darkness have lived to see a greater dark.” (160-161)

Jesus’ genealogy runs from the Jewish patriarch Abraham to Israel’s greatest King David (Matthew 1:17) while Wilbur and his twin are descendents of “the decadent Whatleys” (374). The strict morality of Jewish society requires Joseph and Mary to cover up the divine nature of Jesus’ birth so as to avoid “public disgrace” (Matthew 1:19, NIV), while Lavinia “according to the custom of the region made no attempt to disavow the child” (374). Where Mary sings a magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Lovecraft has Lavinia “mutter many curious prophecies” (374). Like John the Baptist for Jesus, Wilbur “makes straight paths” (Luke 3:4 NIV) for his monstrous sibling through the numerous renovations to the Whateley home, as well as in pursuing the Miskatonic university’s copy of the Necronomicon, a pursuit which leads to his death, and consequently to the advent of his horrible twin, emerging from the farmhouse when Wilbur dies.

At this point the “three wise men” enter the tale; “old, white bearded” (408) Dr. Henry Armitage, after studying the portents contained within the “curious manuscript record or diary of Wilbur Whateley” (397) calls a “long conference” (401) with “stocky, iron-grey” Professor Warren Rice and “lean, youngish” (408) Dr. Francis Morgan of the Miskatonic university. Like the Zoroastrian astrologers who followed a star to Bethlehem, these three travel to Dunwich, not to pay homage, but to face and perhaps destroy “the earth-threatening entity which…was to burst forth in a few hours and become the memorable Dunwich horror” (402). Since Dunwich, like Bethehem is as disturbed as “all Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:3) was at Christ’s advent, “in the end the three men from Arkham…ascended the mountain alone” (408) where they do battle and finally defeat the monstrosity.

These comparisons seem more like blasphemy than aids to “arousing the numinous consciousness” or retelling the Christmas story “as if it were a new myth”. As Ingebretsen notes, “Indeed, the story of Jesus, when viewed from Lovecraft’s point of view, could well be simply another case of an “intruding horror” (170). However, if one accepts Vijay Mishra’s definition of the Gothic sublime as “the “embodiment of pure negativity” into which the subject inscribes itself as an absence, a lack in the structure itself” (17), then it is precisely within a universe where “man is but an evanescent mote in the universe of stars” (Burleson, 148) and “the Elder Gods never truly died, but they could be aroused from their slumbers” (Bloch, xvii), a place that is “cold and negative, with no place for humanity in it” (Lowell, 50), somewhere “in close proximity to phases…wholly outside the sane experience of mankind” (Lovecraft, 408) where we can unwrap Jesus’ birth narratives from “a rhetoric of the Sacred”. Unhampered by the “The cloying contemporary fetishization of the Baby Jesus and his spectacular marketing at Christmas” the reader might find “the stories of the manger, the animals, the angels and the shepherds” no longer sentimentalizing and thus diminishing “the power of the awe-ful” but rather “would be read as disgusting, horrible, unspeakable.” (Ingebretsen, 158)

If the reader finds blasphemous shadows of the Christmas story in “The Dunwich Horror”, and thereby sees the tale from a Lovecraftian perspective, then perhaps the angel Gabriel will have good reason to speak the words, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:3, NIV). And perhaps like Mary, we too, will be “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29, NIV), as Ingebretsen suggests: “We’d be fools not to be scared out of our wits, as indeed we are when we shift our focus and see the Christmas story from a completely different perspective…” (171).

Works Cited

Bloch, Robert. “Heritage of Horror.” The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre Ballantine Books: New York, 1982, vii-xxii.

Borg, Marcus J. “Light in the Darkness.” Christian Century 115 (1998): 1218-1221.

Burleson, Donald R. H.P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings : C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and their friends / by Humphrey Carpenter. London: HarperCollins, 1997.

Ingebretsen, Edward. Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from the Puritans to Stephen King Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996.

Kleiner, Elaine L. “Mircea Eliade's Theory of the Fantastic.” Visions of the fantastic : selected essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts Allienne R. Becker, Ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, (1996): 13-18.

Lovecraft, H.P. “The Dunwich Horror.” H.P. Lovecraft: Tales Ed. Peter Straub. New York: Library of America, 2005, 370-414.

Lovecraft, H. P. Selected Letters Eds.August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Vol 1. Sauk City, Wis: Arkham House, 1965.

Lowell, Mark. “Lovecraft’s CTHULHU MYTHOS.” Explicator 63 (2004) 47-50.

Mishra, Vijay. The Gothic Sublime. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Varnado, S. L., “The Idea of the Numinous in Gothic Literature” Romantic Reassessment. Ed. James Hogg. Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität, Salzburg, (1982): 200-212.

Lovecraft's "Dunwich Horror" full text online

Images by Simon Bisley from "Illustrations from the Bible: A Work in Progress", linked from The Rion Web

Friday, November 24, 2006

Personal Statement of Belief - Scripture

My dad did one of these awhile back, and I vowed that one day I would as well. The current extension of my contract at Holyrood forces me to contemplate what my statement of belief is in earnest, as I will be submitting one in an accredidation process to begin shortly.

Today I came across a paragraph in W. Sibley Towner's commentary of Daniel which summarizes very nicely what I think about the article of the Bible as scripture. He got it from the United Presbyterian Confession of 1967.

It reads: "The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times in which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding." Or as Towner puts it, we need to build a "hermeneutic bridge...between ourselves and the biblical writers".

In my own words, I believe that the word of God (which is divine and perfect) has been incarnated by the language of humanity (and therefore subject to errror and the structures necessary for us to comprehend it). Thus, in order to understand it, one must use both mystical/spiritual approaches (prayer, meditation) as well as very academic ones, such as historical and literary criticism.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Book Worm

Coffee's brewing...then I'm hitting the books.

Speaking of books, when I was a kid, we had this competition in our school for who could read the most books in the year. For every book you read, they placed a new "segment" of a bookworm, constructed of heavy colored paper circles, which by the end of the year ran around the school entire. I've wondered in this past year what my book worm would look like for this semester, and thought I'd share it as a way to kill the few moments it takes for coffee to perc.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Othello by William Shakespeare
Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
Othello by William Shakespeare
Great Speeches by Native Americans, edited by Bob Blaisdell
Narratology, by Mieke Bal
Literary Theory: The Basics - Hans Bertens
The World Hitler Never Made by Gavriel Rosenfeld
World Poetry, edited by Katharine Washburn and Josh S. Major
Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de Las Casas
Narrative of my escape from slavery by Moses Roper
The Four Voyages by Christopher Columbus
Literary Theories, A Reader and Guide, edited by Julian Wolfreys
Selected Essays by Michel de Montaigne
Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide by Lois Tyson
Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, edited by Carl Olson
The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, Sarah Lawall, General Editor...
(Which means I've read all of Beowulf, most of the Iliad and Aeniad, and am currently reading Dante's Divine Comedy)
The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time by Karen Hellekson

Not to mention all the articles and bits and bites of books I read while preparing papers. Coffee is ready. See you guys later.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm in ur blog...peeing my pants

My work computer was on the fritz today, so no update on the Heretic's Guide. Instead, a much needed laugh. I laughed so hard at these pics I cried, my stomach hurt, etc. I hope it's as much fun for you as it was for me. THis pic is what got me going...the rest nearly made me incontinent.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What's Your Sign?

Former religious studies buddy Mandy sent an email with this in it to me. Not me specifically, mind you...although maybe it was. Maybe it was her way of letting me know that I'm a prick.

You can check out more of these all over the Net, but here's one of the many places if you're too lazy to Google "Horrorscopes". language ahead.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Night of Mystery...and More

Last night I held a "Night of Mystery" with the youth at Holyrood...and what a night! So cool. Normally, these games are largely "whodunnit's" over supper...but this one, "Curse of the Pharaoh" from Free Form Games was so much more. Like a live-action roleplaying game without the they LARP with dice?

There was treachery, deceit, ancient Egyptian magic...and Pizza!

Dunno. But the costumes were great, and the time was great fun. I highly recommend a Free Form Game for the next time you feel you need a little mystery in your party.

There are two links to Free Form Games, and this is the one I found them at, which allows you to choose your game based upon how many kids are attending, which I feld so very helpful.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Heretic's Guide to Eternity: Chapter 01 - Jesus Beyond Christianity

The first chapter opens in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's prison cell during WWII, where he wrote a short letter titled "Religionless Christianity", a letter "which does not seem to be abandoning the Christian faith as reimagining it." This is the Heretic's goal. To revision faith, not abandon it.

Burke keeps jumping from the term "traditional religion" to "religion" synonymously. As someone whose academic work has largely been in religious studies, it seems to me that Burke is setting up a straw man and given it the title "religion". Anything that smacks of patriarchy or traditionalism can be given the title religion. We'll ascribe all historical fubars (such as any of the Crusades, Colonialism, patriarchy, anti-semitism) to religion. The alternative Burke offers to religion is "spirituality", a "religionless" way to "celebrate the sacred". Everyone digs spirituality, as he demonstrates by citing Bono and the preponderance of magazine articles on the subject. Those historical cock up's were the fault of religion, not "spirituality".

When Burke says that "cracks are appearing in the foundation of traditional religion" he isn't telling us anything new. Judaism was the cracks in Caananite polytheism. Christianity became the cracks in Judaism. Then that cracked into Orthodoxy and Catholicism. And then Protestantism came along and we've been cracking ever since. I'm simplifying of course, but when Burke says "religion is no longer regarded as a place to find peace for the soul" it sounds like students in religious studies courses wanting badly to not be defined as "religious" in the way that people like Durkheim and Eliade implied all men might be.

If we can just distance ourselves from those bad religious people, those modern day Pharisees, then we'll be in the clear. The problem is that Burke never defined what he meant by religion. He implies it heavily, with words like "external and dogmatic belief systems" and "power-based interpretations of foundational texts". He suggests we need to "move past religion".

He states that "Faithfulness to the message of Jesus does not mean that we must simply imitate our forbears in the Christian tradition. To do so might help preserve their formulas, but it will freeze us in history." I couldn't agree more. But it does not follow, to use his language, that faithfulness to the message of Jesus means that we must simply ignore those forebears, or abandon those traditions. I realize I'm only in the first chapter and there's lots more to unfold here, but if this first chapter were an article, I'd be assuming (and I hate doing that, but this is the limitation of the step by step dialogue) that Burke wants to leave "the Church" behind.

I think the ideas Burke has are good, but his dichotomy is false. Most of the academic staff in the program of religious studies at University of Alberta would still label a "celebration of the sacred" as a religious actitivity, therefore a form of religion. Burke wants to define religion as patriarchal Christendom, or perhaps fundamentalism, or both and all the other shit that gets swept under the header of "religion". A better polemic might be traditional religion vs. transforamational religion, which Burke calls spirituality. I know I'm playing a semantic game, but words are powerful, and I dislike that "religion" is equated with some dry, lifeless concept while "spirituality" retains an effervescence and vitality. I also find it suspicious that we will revision, not abandon "faith" but that "faith" is not "religion". And I dig Bono's sentiment that "religion is the temple after God has left it", but that won't change that popularly, we still think of religion as being associated with God. Again, maybe what's needed isn't abandonment of religion but revision. Redemptive revision of the word religion.

Better yet, let's get historical. What is it exactly we're all rebelling against in the West? Is it really the Church of Jesus Christ, or is it the Church of Reverend Jimmy Bakker, and via him to fundamentalism, and via that to Colonial missionary movements, etc., which could be boiled down into the term "Christendom" could it not? The earthly kingdom of the church. As defined over at wikipedia, Christendom "in the widest sense, refers to Christianity as a territorial phenomenon: those countries where most people are Christians, or nominal Christians, are part of Christendom." It's a political entity.

I am not so eager to divest myself of Christianity. There have been many times I've wanted to ditch the phrase, to call myself something funky like "follower of the Way" but I always end up in my explanations telling people I'm a Christian. A Christ follower. You can dress it all up, and the people you're talking to will likely still think "Christian". Christianity, and the church ought to be, to use one of Bonhoeffer's other works, a spiritual reality created by God which we may choose to participate in.

And why not? I'm not proud of everything in the history of Christianity, and I find most church life stifling, but then again, not everything in the Perschon family tree is squeaky clean and I'm not changing my last name to Bush (God, that was inflammatory, wasn't it?).

Maybe I've misunderstood Spencer Burke. If I have, my apologies...hopefully by the end of this road, I'll know more definitively. But in a nutshell, my back's up a bit. Trying hard to keep an open mind, but...well. I digress. Until next week.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Someone likes my picture of that Biblical whore...

Got asked if my first rendering of Rahab from the Josh and Caleb webcomic could be used on a blog today. Irony of it was a woman. And she said "your comic of her is exactly how I see her". After all the crap I've taken for my take on was nice to have someone say that. Check it out over at What Donna Learned Today.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Heretic's Guide to Eternity - Part One: Introduction

Spencer Burke, the man behind sent me an advance copy of his book, "A Heretic's Guide to Eternity" (HGTE), asking me to do a review of it. I read half of the book in a frenzy when it first arrived, and then my first semester of grad studies started up and...well, those who know the blog know that I'm too damn busy for my own good.

For those of you who are wondering what the hell I'm doing posting a fresh blog entry instead of just pasting in excerpts from my academic papers, rest your minds. This is something I'm taking on as part of my paid work. I think a pastoral examination of Spencer's book is valuable enough to do that. Not to mention I promised him I'd review the book.

Rather than just review it though, I'm going to walk through it step by step as I re-read the first half, and then carefully examine the part I haven't read yet. I'm not going to say what I've thought of the book so far--that will come later.

In the introduction, Spencer states that the "focus and hope" of HGTE is to see "Spirituality in the twenty-first century...not etched in stone but fashioned out of the fabrics of our lives in new and ever-changing permutations" (xxiv). This thesis statement is prefaced by the claim that "God is to be questioned as much as obeyed, created again and not simply worshiped. Our views must be continually revised, reconsidered, and debated." Hence the Heretic in the title. Spencer is saying that "we need heretics today" (xxv) to revise, reconsider and debate our views.

Unlike a lot of works from so-called emergent church thinkers, Spencer has the balls to say he's not "merely seekly to put a new spin on old beliefs; I am actually declaring that there are new ways of believing when it comes to the Christian story" (xxvi).

Provocative enough for you? It was for me. I've been considered a heretic by many, and since yesterday's heretics are often tomorrow's saints, I don't much mind being branded thus. The way Spencer starts out HGTE makes me look orthodox. I'm looking forward to the journey, since I had trouble putting this book down before time constraints made me do it.

I'll be working out each chapter as a weekly discipline, so check in next Friday to hear what I have to say about chapter 1.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk part 07

Works Cited

Bear, Greg. “Petra.” Mirror Shades. Ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House, 1986, 105-124.

Fielding, Julien. “Reassessing the Matrix: Reloaded” 7. Journal of Religion and Film 2003: [electronic resource].

Gibson, William. “The Gernsback Continuum” Mirror Shades.

K¯okaku kid¯otai, a.k.a. Ghost in the Shell. Dir. Mamoru Oshii. Bandai Visual, 1995.

Kelly, James Patrick. “Solstice.” Mirror Shades. Ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House, 1986, 66-104.

Maddox, Tom. “Snake-Eyes.” Mirror Shades. Ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House, 1986, 12-33.

Nelson, Victoria. The Secret Life of Puppets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Olsen, Lance. “The Shadow of Spirit in William Gibson’s Matrix Trilogy.” 3 Extrapolation 1991: 278-289.

Otto, Rudolf. “The Idea of the Holy.” Theory and Method in the Study of Religion: A Selection of Critical Readings. Ed. Carl Olson. Toronto: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003. 107-119.

Porush, David. “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson's SnowCrash” 3 Configurations (1994): 537-571.

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. Toronto: Bantam Books, 2003.

Sterling, Bruce and Gibson, William. “Red Star, Winter Orbit.” Mirror Shades. Ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House, 1986, 202-222.

Sterling, Bruce. “Preface.” Mirror Shades. Ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House, 1986, vii-xiv.

The Matrix Reloaded. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. Village Roadshow Pictures, 2003.

The Matrix Revolutions. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. Village Roadshow Pictures, 2003.

The Matrix. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. Village Roadshow Pictures, 1999.

Voller, Jack. “Neuromanticism: Cyberspace and the Sublime.” 1.Extrapolation 1993: 18-29.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk part 06

The element of the metaphysical in cyberpunk is an example of the literary sublime, not as “the powerful and cataclysmic aspects of physical nature” as Jack Voller writes, but as “at its heart, a tradition of spiritual inquiry, an aesthetically grounded quest to recovering intimations of the divine” (18). In “Snake Eyes”, Aleph has an aspect of the sublime to it, since it possessed “several thousand voices” (18) and “is constituted by an infinite regress of awarenesses…” (17). The snake as well is spoken of in transcendent language, relating to the sublime, for it “cannot be reached through language—it exists in a prelinguistic mode…” (23). In Bear’s “Petra”, the sublime is revealed when the canvases drop, and a “burst of light” which was “more than simple sunlight” throws the Cathedral’s smoky world into clarity, astounding “all who beheld them” (118-9).

As Jack Voller observes, the sublime nature of infinity is “relocated, interiorized, and manifested as cyberspace” in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Likewise in Snow Crash the Metaverse is an example of the sublime simply based on its massive size of “65,536 kilometers around”, but gains a spiritual sublimity in that it is also compared to the spiritual world (208).

For each of these examples, the words of Colonel William Hawley in James Patrick Kelly’s “Solstice” are true; “The more we dig, the more the mystery appears to deepen” (79). If the mystery is taken from the reader, then the mystery ceases to hold its attraction. In the matrix, the spiritual quest embodied in the sublime is made explicit, but the mysteries it seeks after retain their ambiguous nature. Every time a question is answered, another emerges. Neo’s ability to transform reality does not diminish the sublime nature of the matrix universe. Rather, if anything, it enlarges it.

Cyberpunk’s spiritual path is not an altruistic one. Not all cyberpunk contains spiritual imagery—it is not one of the defining features of cyberpunk. However, insofar as it does express a sense of transcendence, it is often encoded behind the movement’s penchant for anti-authoritarianism. Behind that veneer however, often exists a deep yearning for something beyond the seen, for sublime metaphysical possibilities.

Like the mirror shades that are the totem of the movement, what is reflected on the surface leads us to believe there is an absence of soul. However, in addition to giving a true picture of what is immediately before them, mirror shades also hide the eyes, the gateways to the soul, protecting the “sun staring visionary” (Sterling, ix), permitting them to look into the face of glory without coming away blind and in the dark.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk part 05

In her book, The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson explores this issue by saying “it is because of our culture’s post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment prohibition on the supernatural and the exclusion of a transcendent, nonmaterialist level of reality from the allowable universe has created the ontological equivalent of a perversion caused by repression” (19). Nelson’s book is an exploration of the sublimation of the supernatural in popular fiction into cybernetic entities such as cyborgs, androids and robots.

The post-Enlightenment mindset cannot admit angels and demons, or gods and goddesses. Strangely, it seems to be able to admit aliens, robots and artificial intelligences. As belief in the transcendent has waned in the past century, the proliferation of genre fiction such as science fiction, fantasy and horror has waxed. And within these genre fictions, the use of spiritual or religious imagery abounds, as we have shown within the subgenre of cyberpunk. However, if cyberpunk is truly a postmodern form of literature, then when the narrative demands, as is seemingly the case in Snow Crash to permit metaphysical possibilities rather than avoid them.

In regards to our discussion, the first film of the Matrix trilogy could be said to follow along the same ambivalence toward metaphysics Stephenson has, since it is only within the cyberspace reality of the Matrix that characters are able to defy gravity, “know Kung-Fu” in moments, and “dodge bullets”. In the final moments of the second film, The Matrix: Reloaded and throughout the third film, The Matrix: Revolutions, Neo, the messianic “One” is able to transfer his transformative shamanic abilities into the “desert of the real”.

Yet rather than detracting from the narrative, the ability of Neo to actually transform reality, not just cyber-reality, only added to the mystery of the trilogy. It is this element of mystery, of an unexplained aspect which makes the Matrix trilogy an apotheosis of cyberpunk narrative. The Architect of The Matrix: Reloaded is the fulfillment of Gibson’s Wintermute-Neuromancer and Maddox’s Aleph, while Neo’s transformative powers are the realization of Enki’s nam-shub, both within and without the Matrix. Some of these elements remain unexplained, and therein resides what may be the reason behind the prolific and ongoing discourse concerning the nature of the Matrix universe; the mysterium of Rudolph Otto, “something which has no place in our scheme of reality but belongs to an absolutely different one, and which at the same time arouses an irrepressible interest in the mind” (111).

The films draw copiously upon the cyberpunk tradition, from the mirror shades sported by the heroes and villains, to the use of cyberspace as setting, to the blatant plundering of cyberpunk literature, the most obvious being the use of the word “matrix” in regard to the cyberspace reality in reference to Gibson’s Neuromancer. In addition, it draws heavily upon religious elements to motivate its narrative.

As has been shown in Julien R. Fielding’s article “Reassessing the Matrix Reloaded”, the trilogy creates a pastiche from a number of religious traditions, namely Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism, avoiding the easy cage of allegorizing any one of the religion’s mythologies. The reaction to these religio-philosophical elements in the films was fascinating; a large number of websites and books emerged as the trilogy unfolded, all trying to decipher the meanings behind The Matrix. As Fielding observes, “Taoism, Shintoism, popular literature, anime and manga, and even popular films from Star Wars to Vertigo help us peel away more and more layers” (par. 18).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk Part 04

William Gibson’s Wintermute computer in Neuromancer also embodies this godlike artificially intelligence. At the end of the book Wintermute has joined it’s “hive mind” with the “personality” and “immortality” of Neuromancer, and has “become something else”. It has become, in its own words, “the sum total of the works, the whole show” (268-269). As Lance Olsen observes, “the spiritual infuses the material, the material the spiritual” (281).

This is seen as well in Ghost in the Shell when the Puppet Master says to the female cyborg Motoko, “Now we must slip our bonds and rise to the higher structure”. Given the film’s reference to 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways”, the spiritual connotations are inescapable. And Motoko’s union with the Puppet Master speaks of an inner yearning to be one with some form of divinity. However, Wintermute-Neuromancer and other godlike AI represent “vast knowledge which cannot be known by humans. It appears by means of indistinct intimations, whispers, a voice speaking out of a babel of tongues” (Olsen, 284).

This ‘babel’ of tongues calls to mind Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, a work so thick with religious imagery that to cite and discuss it would alone take an entire essay. Like the cyberpunk writers before him, Stephenson uses religious imagery to construct his narrative world but maintains the earlier works’ ambivalence toward organized religion, and more importantly here, metaphysics.

Stephenson has created a narrative wherein cyberspace serves the function that the otherworld would have in mythic tales. Anyone with a computer can visit the Metaverse, but since Hiro is part of the elite few, those like the “technomedia priesthood of Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong” (192) who have designed parts of it, he is able to do more than simply travel there – he can transform it, like some sort of cyber-shaman.

Unlike Gibson, Stephenson goes a step further by introducing a physical way in which the code that has constructed the Metaverse can be used as a form of magic, namely the nam-shub of Enki. Stephenson describes Enki as a sort of messianic figure, stating that Enki was “…a fully conscious human being, just like us…he created the nam-shub of Enki, a countervirus that spread along the same routes as the me and the metavirus. It went into the deep structures of the brain and reprogrammed them” (397-8).

This messianic aspect is reinforced by the further exposition that “the ministry of Jesus Christ was an effort to break Judaism out of this condition—sort of an echo of what Enki did. Christ’s gospel is a new nam-shub, an attempt to take religion out of the temple, out of the hands of the priesthood, and bring the Kingdom of God to everyone” (401). Here Stephenson is referencing Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar, when he says that “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” but rather “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 23, NIV). If the words of the Christian messiah are merely an echo of Enki’s nam-shub, then the reader must conclude that Enki possessed a potent spiritual power.

Yet, despite the groundwork Stephenson has laid with this idea of the nam-shub being something that works both in and outside cyberspace, Hiro never attains the ability to use it. He is set up as a sort of Enki, but is never granted an actual nam-shub; his ability to transform reality remains limited to the Metaverse. Even the character of Juanita, who becomes a “ba’al shem” who can “hack the brainstem” (430) is treated dismissively by Hiro.

Given the metahistory the narrative has developed, this power should make her “an extremely righteous rabbi, someone possessing such deep penetration that he knows the unutterable name of God and can use it to control nature” (Porush, 568). Yet her awesome ability only serves to rescue Hiro so that he can reenter the Metaverse, the cyberpunk otherworld and foil L. Bob Rife’s plans using a computer hack. It seems that Enki’s magic is more along the lines of “subtle kind of magic, the only kind still possible in this overly explained world” as being a “magic that works exclusively in the mind” (Kelly, 68).

Porush sees Stephenson’s “rejection of the metaphysical turn not as a lack of insight, but as the residual restraint one of the most potent viral ideas in our culture has on Stephenson and on his hero: a commitment to orthodox rationalism” (569). I would apply this statement to most of the previously examined writers, with the exception of Bear, whose “Petra” has nothing to do with rationalism. It’s the most postmodern of the works examined here, allowing more than just reality to be considered a matter of perspective; reality is determined by perspective in a very real way.

Nevertheless, the absurdity of the premise for “Petra” does not allow for the wild verisimilitude of Snow Crash, which is built upon a mythology which demands that Stephenson acknowledge “spiritualism as an activity just as important to civilization as word-tech:
“The effect of the Babel/Infocalypse…was to enlarge the domain of human activity in two directions at once. The first leads to words…which from thence forward would never be enough. The second leads to a recognition of the spirit world, a domain that transcends physical presence and mechanical activity, a realm beyond words, which we can never utterly know…The inability of Snow Crash to confront its own metaphysics, the spiritual transcendence it conjures only to banish, comes from the fashionable unwillingness to grant any credence to narratives of metaphysics, even while so much of postmodern culture apparently yearns for it” (Porush, 569).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk Part 03

Speaking from orbit, Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into space was reported to have said, “I don’t see any god up here”. On first glance, the characters of cyberpunk seem to be saying the same thing, albeit from the vantage point of seeing a “perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth” in Stephenson’s Metaverse (106). William Gibson “openly and methodically mocks organized religion…implying that it is potentially crazed and possibly even hazardous to one’s mental and physical well being” (Olsen, 281), and portrays a couple of urban missionaries as predators “edging toward a trio of young office techs” who stand “like tall exotic grazing animals” (Gibson, 1984: 77).

Neal Stephenson’s portrayal of the Pentecostal L. Bob Rife in Snow Crash as good-old-boy-turned-megalomaniac seems to make his comparison of televangelists with “polluted rivers, greenhouse effect…and serial killers” (293) superfluous, but the injury has already been added to insult to organized religion. When Y.T. visits “the Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates #1106”, transcendent language is used to describe the Visa transaction necessary to enter the interior of the chapel, the swiping of the card as a “sacrament…as though tearing back a veil” after which “it just remains for a Word from on High”, namely for the charge card to be verified (195).

Yet despite this “fashionable condescension toward religion” (Olsen, 281), cyberpunk maintains a sort of ambivalence toward religious imagery and metaphor. Greg Bear’s “Petra” is thick with it. The setting is a Cathedral, wherein live animated gargoyles, stone saints, fornicating nuns and a patriarchal bishop. God is dead, and the Stone Christ in the Cathedral proves a poor replacement, “only as good as He does” which in the end is nothing and therefore “there is no salvation in Him” (115). He contains “barely…enough power to keep myself together, to heal myself, much less minister to those out there” (121). In the end, it is up to the collected minds of the newly enlightened dwellers of the Cathedral to hold reality together in a consensual creation.

Tom Maddox attempts a similar theme in “Snake Eyes” where the religious imagery takes on the form of the cerebrally implanted wire-snake which has clear diabolical overtones, described as an “incubus that wants to take possession of my soul” (13). Maddox would like his reader to conclude that George and Lizzie are “Adam and Eve under the flaming sword, thrown out of Eden, fucking under the eyes of God and his angel, more beautiful than they can ever be” (33), and by implication, so are we all; outside paradise, having to make our own way. However, despite the statement that there’s “no place to go, no Eden” (28), it is ultimately the mysterious and somewhat omniscient artificial intelligence of Aleph, who precipitates victory over George’s “uncivilized, uncontrolled nature” (22) by urging George toward his attempted suicide, thereby defeating the snake. This Aleph, named for the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and by extension related to the Hebrew name for God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14, observes the personnel of Athena Station with a certain omniscience, and is said to love humanity (32), attributing godlike qualities to the AI.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The subtle sublime of cyberpunk Part 02

While it might be assumed that the goal of cyberpunk is to deconstruct mainstream science fiction, since its writers are “Steeped in the lore and tradition of the SF field” (Sterling, viii) it would be more accurate to say that the creators of that earlier lore and tradition built a house, and cyberpunk writers decided it was time for a renovation. It is this restructuring that simultaneously houses and obscures the spirituality of cyberpunk. As David Porush notes, “the intersection between the transcendent world and this one has always created or required an architecture that ultimately restructures society itself…” (556). He cites the destruction of Solomon’s Temple as the catalyst for the creation of the Jewish Talmud. Both were receptacles for the transcendent, but related that in very different ways.

The Jewish Temple contained the Holy of Holies, where heaven and earth intersected in a physical sense, but was ultimately a symbol of the complete otherness of God. The Talmud wasn’t simply a portable temple, but was rather “a new sort of invitation to transcendence: Come inhabit this world, not through the architectonics of material, but through a dynamic architecture of interpretation, dialogue, a never ending symposium. The most portable altar of all is in your head and in your words” (560).

Like Jewish temple worship, classic science fiction was concerned with finding transcendence in an exterior fashion; in some distant galaxy, on another planet, within the customs or powers of an alien race. The keys to whatever step the human race was going to take next were in outer space, beyond the confines of this world. Cyberpunk reverses the direction of this exploration. The settings are earthy; an alternate, dystopian version of earth to be sure, but earth nonetheless.

This change of direction necessitates a restructuring of the “architecture” of science fiction. The “saucer people” and “Art Deco futuroids” of Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum” (10) are replaced by demons and avatars in virtual reality. The materials of “white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze” (5) give way to “symmetrical sheetrock shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks” (Stephenson, 191).

And instead of blasting off into outer space, we discover that “Canaveral is in ruins” (Sterling & Gibson, 214) and the orbit on our metaphorical space stations are decaying. To escape this dark future requires not astronauts, but cybernauts, who play in the fields of cyberspace rather than outer space. As Sterling states, the technology of cyberpunk SF is “not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds” (xi).

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The subtle sublime of cyberpunk Part 01

Mirror shades, the iconic emblem of cyberpunk serve to hide the eyes, “the window to the soul, insight and love” behind “reflective surfaces” (Olsen, 278-279), leading one to assume a lack of transcendent elements within the genre. However, buried within the semiotic jumble of hardwire and circuit board landscapes (both inner and exterior) and the yearnings of the rock rebel protagonists in the works of Gibson, Maddox, and Stephenson a sublimated spirituality hides.
The path to this spirituality is convoluted; to uncover it, we must first understand how cyberpunk has restructured mythic/religious narrative, by identifying the transcendent elements (and the writers’ ambivalence toward them) in various cyberpunk writings. In doing so, we will find that most cyberpunk writers could not commit to fully realizing the metaphysical levels of reality they constructed as narrative devices. Ironically, at the end of the path we will discover the trilogy of literature which first ignored its own sublimated spirituality shares the same name for cyberspace as the film trilogy which was able to realize it fully. While cyberpunk seems to state with unanimity that “God, as such, had died” (Bear, 106), it will be shown, that to the contrary, God has merely moved into cyberspace.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Excellent Quote

Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can do only as much as God makes us able to; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.

- Archbishop Oscar Romero, from his last homily, March 23, 1980

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A clearer explanation...

I looked over my last post and realized how disjointed it sounded. It chronicled the stuff I'm doing and not all the reasons why. So here's an addendum...


SPEED. And lots of it. I’ve compared my current situation to the first lap of a race on a new track, where you don’t know where all the turns, bumps, and hazards are. I’ve done school before. I’ve done work before. I’ve never done it like this, altogether with family life.
Earlier this year I was under the impression I could do my M.A. part time. The Comp Lit faculty has streamlined the program since I first looked at it, and a requirement of the Thesis track is two semesters full time. So being in school full time for the next two semesters is something that must be done to get to my goal. But that means more tuition. More books. More fees. So suddenlty the question to pay for it all?

(The car rubs up against the side of the track...)

I taught two courses for Guru Digital Arts College this summer; impressed with my work, they wanted me to do more. I was given a fall course schedule and told “however much or little as you want”. The extra money was needed, but the schedule juggling to accomplish it was Herculean. I began to despair. Jenica would be heading back to work in November, but that would only account for what the loss at the end of her maternity leave.

Now I feel like Sandra Bullock in the movie “Speed” where she had to keep a city bus driving above 50km or a bomb attached to the bus would go off. I can’t quit working to just go to school because I have the primary income. I can’t (or won’t) give up school because I’d only be returning to it at a later date with less momentum and an atrophied academic brain. Jenica can’t stay home because my solitary income doesn’t permit it, but we don’t want to put Gunnar in a dayhome because 1) we aren’t fans of other people raising our kids and 2) the amount needed to put him in daycare makes the requisite income accrued superfluous. In other words, we’d be working full time to keep him in daycare. The options are manifold, but none seem sufficient.

My first week of classes was a disaster. I was supposed to attend seminars on being a teacher’s assistant (even though I likely wouldn’t be one, since those positions are reserved for Doctoral students) but missed many while planning for the Harvest Moon weekend, and attending meetings here at HR. I had to miss a deadline for an article I was writing. By Thursday I was a tired mess. (The car hits an oil slick and goes into an uncontrolled spin) That day, I stopped by the office of one of the Graduate Studies administrators and asked a few questions. She closed by asking if there was anything else she could do for me.

“Not unless you have a teaching assitant’s position for me” I replied.

She gave me the standard response - not enough money in Interdisciplinary Studies, and those positions usually reserved for PhD students. “But if anything comes across my desk I’ll let you know,” she finished.

Friday morning I attended my first actual class. To my dismay, the attending professor is one I’m not fond of and the reading list was gargantuan(car blows a tire, comes to complete stop and stalls.). After taking a few notes, I stopped, and wrote this prayer...

“Lord, I guess we’ll have to talk like this for this semester. It’s difficult to find time to pray. You know how difficult I am finding things right now. Issues of belief...bu I still want to love you. I could be wrong obviously, but I want to take hold of those imperative words(here I was referencing the Lord’s Prayer...give us this day...). I want to be able to ask boldly. I want to be free of working at so many different things. I want Jenica to stay home with Gunnar. I am asking you, my heavenly father to open doors and close others. Please make it so.”

That afternoon I opened my email at work to discover an offer for a teacher’s assistantship. For the entire year. I had to do a double take to make sure it was real. I closed the email and reopened it. Sure enough. It was real. Six hours a week, but it would make the difference we needed. It still doesn’t mean Jen can stay home, but I’m not running in so many different directions anymore and that’s a start.

(Pit crew finishes putting a new tire on and I fire the engine again...)

With all the fall kick off events at work (the Harvest Moon weekend, last week's all-nighter) getting Sunday School off the ground, and attending several planning meetings, I’m still having trouble getting a good feel for the track, but I think with those behind me I’ve come around into the second lap, and I have a better idea of what lies ahead. All the same, your prayers and graciousness for when I show up late to things will be greatly appreciated.