Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Whose Internet Is It, Anyway? Generation Y Responds

Turner Barr, with the Coliseum in Rome in the background. Image Source: Around the World in 80 Jobs.

Recent leaks about the PRISM project revealed that the American government's National Security Agency scans private correspondence on the Internet in the name of public security; this revelation rightfully awoke concerns over the future of the Web. PRISM was exposed by a Gen Y whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Today, Snowden was about to leave Hong Kong by private plane to seek asylum in Iceland. This was arranged via connections with WikiLeaks people. The US government, however, filed an espionage charge against Snowden and demanded his arrest in order to extradite him. This kind of international incident marks a new era, in which the Internet is becoming a battleground over who has the right to exploit information online.

"A bus drives past a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at Central, Hong Kong's business district, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Image Source: AP / Kin Cheung / CTV.

Some may find the exploitation of the Web on security grounds defensible. But a new aspect of the same phenomenon further demonstrates the problem at hand. The Web, imagined in its early days by enthusiasts as a bastion of free speech and communications for small people everywhere, has the potential to become the biggest surveillance apparatus the world has ever known. Worse, corporations - new and old - have begun skimming enormous profits off the acquisition and manipulation of Big Data. The Web was supposed to be an equalizer. It was supposed to level the playing field, not tilt the balance against the individual.

You might think that building your own business online or sharing your bright ideas on the Web right out in the open means that no one would be brazen enough to steal those ideas and turn them into big business with big profits elsewhere online. In fact, there is no safety in mass exposure. Consider Gen Y entrepreneur and blogger, Turner Barr. Barr graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007, just in time for the recession. Barr, like many people during the recession, took to the Internet and set up his own Website, on which he blogged about the opportunities he created for himself:
After the recession hit in 2008 I was at a crossroads. I had graduated school with the typical guidance a young American gets “Go to the best school possible, get the best job possible that makes the most money, and then get a huge untenable mortgage and live the American dream”. But what is that dream? How can you decide what you want to do if you haven’t had the experience yet to know what would make you fulfilled? From Hallmark, from University, from your parents who grew up in a different time with different expectations with different opportunities presented to them?
I had been on the road for over a year and had finally taken the plunge to solve these tough life questions by starting a youth hostel in Cali, Colombia, when I woke up to find Lehman Brothers and AIG go belly up. And as they went belly up, so did the economy, my little capital and my dream of living overseas. But like our forefathers before us, when times get tough, you can sit around and play spread around the blame, or you can man up and make shit happen. I try to live by the latter.
Barr traveled the world looking for jobs and blogged about his experiences on a site entitled, Around the World in 80 Jobs. You can see an example of one of his jobs here.

Image Source: Turner Barr (left) / Adecco (right) / StylewalkeR.

So far, so good. Then this week, Barr published a post on his blog: "How I Got Fired from the Job I Invented," in which he outlined how a Human Resources company, Adecco, stole the title of his blog and its concept, and even hired an actor play a Barr doppelganger. According to Barr, they pumped out Gen-Y-targeted promotionals, borrowed Barr's idea for their own site (here) and other HR sites (here) and Youtube (here). Their focus was on the 'perspective of young people.' StylewalkeR reports on how this mess unfolded:
Adecco is the world’s leading provider in HR solutions” and currently running a competition called “Around the world in 80 jobs” as part of the initiative “Adecco way to work
The problem is: “Around the world in 80 jobs” is also the name of a website by blogger Turner Barr from Washington. He is actually doing what the title depicts: Travelling the world and working in different jobs, blogging and about it, posting videos and pictures. Turner has been doing this since 2011. Adecco registered the trademark in April 2013.
Barr is upset: “Recently, I was both astonished and demoralized to find that my entire brand, image and web personality was swiped for use in a marketing campaign …
without ever being asked for permission or acknowledged. The video for their marketing campaign was particularly creepy for me, as even my age and personality didn’t escape the level of detail spent on creating this doppelganger.”
See another report here. The trademark application has not been processed yet, so Barr may be able to challenge it.

Midsummer's Lust for Life

Image Source: Fides via Gnawing Bones.

Today marks the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, at 5:04 a.m. UT, the longest day of the year. In the planet's northernmost cities, the sun sets around 10 p.m. locally today (in Helsinki, sunset occurs at 10:50 p.m.), while in the southernmost cities, sunset is around 4 p.m. (Ushuaia's sunset occurs at 5:12 p.m. today) and Antarctica is shrouded in darkness.

Midsummer celebrations once culminated with the Christian feast day on June 24 (six months before Christmas) of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Before that, the solstice featured pre-Christian and pagan bonfire celebrations, which still occur and stretch back to Neolithic times.

Traditionally in northern climes, Midsummer is a season of dreams, illusions and enchantment, the pleasant side of delusion. Astrologer Rob Brezsny recently made a comment that suits the spirit of Shakespeare's famous comedy from the 1590s. Appearances are deceiving when it comes to love and magic. But part of the charm of this time of year is believing in those illusions, however briefly:
"I was often in love with something or someone," wrote Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. "I would fall in love with a monkey made of rags. With a plywood squirrel. With a botanical atlas. With an oriole. With a ferret. With the forest one sees to the right when riding in a cart. With human beings whose names still move me." Your task ... is to [s]ee how often you can feel adoration for unexpected characters and creatures. Be infatuated with curious objects . . . with snarky Internet memes . . . with fleeting phenomena like storms and swirling flocks of birds and candy spilled on the floor. Your mission is to supercharge your lust for life.
William Shakespeare's play involves love, discord and magic around the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta; the plot is described here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Ancient Greek Myth, Cold War Animated

"The Farewell of Admetus and Alcestis. Etruscan red-figure amphora found in Vulci." Image Source: Wiki.

Tonight, see a great Cold War-era Russian animated film by Anatoly Petrov, which deals with an ancient Greek myth, Hercules visits Admetus (1986). It is a story about death, sacrifice and immortality. About.com summarizes the plot:
Admetus was a legendary king of Thessaly who lived during the time of the great hero Hercules. Admetus was doomed to die young, but Apollo, who had been made to serve the mortal king for a year, during which time he grew quite fond of him, arranged for Admetus to be saved from death, if someone would die in his place.

When Admetus' parents refused to give up their own lives for him, Admetus criticized them for their selfishness, then turned to his own wife and the mother of his children. This noble woman was Alcestis. She agreed to die for her husband.

Hercules came to visit Admetus while the house was in mourning for Alcestis, but Admetus claimed the dead was not a member of his family, and therefore none of the hero's concern. When the palace servants revealed to Hercules that the deceased wasn't a stranger, but the wife of Admetus, Hercules went to Hades to rescue her.

The story of Alcestis and Admetus is told in Euripides' Alcestis [which was first performed in 438 BCE].
(Hat tip: Thank you to one of the regular readers of Histories of Things to Come, Gina theou, for recommending this film to a great Google Plus group, Russian Animation.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Animated Orientalism

All images are stills from The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

Tonight's post picks up on yesterday's orientalist theme but with a slightly more benign turn. We look at one of the greatest contributions to cinema when it was in its infancy. This is the third oldest full-length animated film, but it is the oldest one that still survives: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) directed by Lotte Reiniger. It took Reiniger three years, using cut-outs similar to Javanese Wayang shadow puppets. She animated the figures frame by frame with the help of avant-garde artists such as Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch, and Carl Koch. Wiki summarizes the plot:
The story is based on elements taken from the collection 1001 Arabian Nights, specifically The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou featured in Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book. With the assistance of Aladdin, the Witch of the Fiery Mountain, and a magic horse, the title character reclaims the magic lamp and conquers the African sorcerer. The culminating scene in the film is the battle between "die Hexe" (the witch) and "der afrikanische Zauberer" (the African sorcerer), in which those characters undergo fabulous transformations. All is well in the end: Aladdin marries Dinarsade (Achmed's sister and daughter of the Caliph); Achmed marries Pari Banu; the African sorcerer is defeated; and the foursome return to the Caliph's kingdom.
The original score was composed by Wolfgang Zeller. While the link still works, see this beautiful piece of film history below the jump.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Frank Miller's Persian God-King

Still from 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) © Warner Bros. Pictures.

A trailer has just been released for the 300 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014). It is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, Xerxes (2011). Miller presents a clichéed east-versus-west conflict with cultural and racial images which are sure to upset people and generate controversy. Miller's tone aside, it is true that the Persian Wars helped to shape the western cultural memory. Miller's story is more representative of the myth-making of memory around history, than it is about history.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Alan Moore's Space-Time Gods

William Blake, Jerusalem (1804-1820; Plate 100). Image Source: Jechidah.

In the latest issue of The Believer*, Alan Moore was interviewed about his forthcoming novel, Jerusalem, which will be around 600,000 words long when completed. It will likely be finished by the end of this year. Part social realism, part fantasy, Moore described his book not in terms of genre, but in terms of time and its relation to godhood and art. In Moore's terms, time is magic, and magic is art. Therefore, time is art, and both are semi-divine. This may explain why we regard the greatest artworks as 'timeless'; and why a god can be defined as an entity that exists beyond time. Here is an excerpt from the Believer's interview, wherein Moore talks about these ideas and unsurprisingly turns the commandment against graven images on its head when he ties these ideas to art:

AM: Pretty much all of the book is predicated upon the assumption, which seems to be implicit in the work of most modern physicists since Einstein, that we inhabit a universe that has at least four spatial dimensions. There are three dimensions that we are conventionally aware of, and there is a fourth dimension, which is also a spatial dimension, but we don't perceive it as that. We perceive the distances of the fourth dimension as the passage of time. If I understand it correctly, I believe our entire continuum is at least a four-dimensional solid in which time is not passing, where every moment that ever existed or will exist is suspended, forever unchanging, from within this immense solid of space-time. And therefore the passage of time is an illusion that is only apparent to us as we move through this huge solid along what we perceive as the time axis.

BELIEVER: Where do you think human consciousness fits into that? Is it somehow separate from it?

AM: If time is an illusion, then all movement and change are also illusions. So the only thing that gives us the illusion of movement and change and events and time is the fact that our consciousness is moving through this mass along the time axis. If you imagine it as a strip of celluloid, each of those individual cells is motionless. If they each represent a moment, they're unchanging. They're not going anywhere, but as the projector beam of our consciousness passes across them, it provides the illusion of movement, and narrative and cause and effect and circumstances.

BELIEVER: You also believe that we can change the aperture of that projector through various processes like magic or other ways of shaping consciousness.

AM: Yeah, our view of reality, the one we conventionally take, is one among many. It's pretty much a fact that our entire universe is a mental construct. We don't actually deal with reality directly. We simply compose a picture of reality from what's going on in our retinas, in the timpani of our ears, and in our nerve endings. We perceive our own perception, and that perception is to us the entirety of the universe. I believe magic is, on one level, the willful attempt to alter those perceptions. Using your metaphor of an aperture, you would be widening that window or changing the angle consciously, and seeing what new vistas it affords you.

BELIEVER: Is magic's most authentic expression through the creative imagination?

AM: Actually, art and magic are pretty much synonymous. ... The central art of enchantment is the creation of gods and the creation of mythology, or the kind in the practice of magic, what I believe one is essentially doing is creating metafictions. It's creating fictions that are so complex and so self-referential that for all practical intents and purposes they almost seem to be alive. That would be one of my definitions of what a god might be. It is a concept that has become so complex, sophisticated, and so self-referential that it appears to be aware of itself. We can't say that it definitely is aware of itself, but then again we can't really say that about even our fellow human beings.

BELIEVER: But we can tell stories about the god being aware of itself.

AM: Yes, and to some degree, ontologically, the creation of a metaphysical being actually is that metaphysical being. If gods and entities are conceptual creatures, which I believe they are self-evidently, then the concept of a god is a god. An image of a god is the god - a little closer at hand.

*Alan Moore Interview: "Hey, You Can Just Make Stuff Up," The Believer #99 (13 June 2013): pp. 46-53.

Early Modern Prophecies

Goldsmiths, University of London is holding a conference in June of 2014 on Early Modern prophecies. Historians now believe that the persistence of superstitions about oracles and omens in the 18th century meant that the Enlightenment did not bring the expected degree of secularization to society in that period. Their call for papers reads:
The Reformation dramatically changed Europe’s religious and political landscapes within a few decades. The Protestant emphasis on translating the Scriptures into the vernacular and the developments of the printing press rapidly gave increased visibility to the most obscure parts of the Bible. Similarly, Spanish and Italian mystics promoted a spiritual regeneration of the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation. Prophecies, whether of biblical, ancient or popular origin, as well as their interpretations gradually began reaching a wider audience, sparking controversies throughout all levels of society across Europe. In recent years, new research has eroded the long standing historiographical consensus of an increasing secularisation accelerated by the Enlightenment, which allegedly cast away beliefs in prophecies and miracles as outmoded. The multiplication of case studies on millenarian movements suggests a radically different picture, yet many questions remain. How did prophecies evolve with the politico-religious conjunctions of their time? Who read them? How seriously were they taken?
This three-day, international conference will aim to answer these questions by bringing together scholars from around the world to reassess the importance of prophecies from the Reformation to the French Revolution and beyond. We therefore invite papers and panel proposals on prophecy in Europe and the Mediterranean world between approximately 1500 and 1800. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to: apocalyptic predictions, the Antichrist, millenarianism, irenicism, wonders and miracles, astrology and divination, ecumenical movements, religious utopias, mystical networks, enthusiasts and female mystics.