Archives for May 2015

Fascism & ‘The Wild’ in ‘DIVE: Odes for Lighea’

Throughout the composition of DIVE I was very conscious of, and sensitive to, the relationship between the mermaid, and Mussolini. In the opening Prelude the mermaid vanquishes Mussolini and his fascist crowd with a mighty roar. Later the mermaid plays directly with Mussolini’s speech by improvising over a distorted and stretched out version of it, exaggerating it and distorting it, but also really digging into it and almost becoming a part of it.

‘DIVE’ is based on Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s short story ‘The Professor & the Siren’, set as Mussolini reaches the pinnacle of his totalitarian power, and the mermaid [1], at the core of the story, and who is so vividly and sensually described by Lampedusa, is a wild feminine divine being.

As I told you Corbera, she was a beast but at the same instant also an Immortal, and it is a pity that no speech can express this synthesis continually, with such utter simplicity, as she expressed it in her own body… Not for nothing is she the daughter of Calliope: ignorant of all culture, unaware of all wisdom, contemptuous of any moral inhibitions, she belonged, even so, to the fountainhead of all culture, of all wisdom, of all ethics...”
– Giuseppe di Lampedusa: ‘The Professor and the Siren

Giuseppe di Lampedusa

Giuseppe di Lampedusa

 

Is the tale a premise for the struggle between ‘fascism’ and ‘the wild’? Is fascism a polarity to the wild? Or is the tension between the two more complex? What do we mean by ‘fascism’? And what do we mean by ‘the wild’?

[Read more…]

Fascism & Utopia

a poem for extremists everywhere

Blacktop Mountaintop

 

Fascism is a hair’s breadth from Utopia.

Those who try to force funnel the hard grit gravity ground of everyday into Utopia,
to compel it across the great divide,
turn into extremists, slavemasters, witchhunters.
Naiively they set out to purify the strain, exorcise the demons, exterminate the wrong thinking, abolish the Mixolydians.
They wind up razing the terrain,
sterilising the DNA,
creating mutants and monsters,
which they,
and subsequent generations,
spend their lives chasing,
or running away from.

Pure seeds are so fragile.
Little trees planted in the scarification after the burn.
Acres upon acres,
hectares upon hectares,
kilometres upon kilometres of burn…
God the heat,
the scorching heat on the mountains of burn,
blacktop mountaintops as far as the eye can see.

Here we plant the little tree, the pure seed, the clean gene, the clear clean code,
and wait,
utterly simple single-minded, mono,
for the perfect shoot to grow.

 

 

 

* In my youth I spent summers planting trees.  One season I was in the mountains around Prince George, BC. The mountains had been completely clearcut and then razed by fire, an endeavor so grand in scale that it was, at the time, the only human project significantly visible from space. We planted only one species – one believed to be most profitable 60 years hence when it would be harvested –  to replace the grand diversity that had previously dwelt there for millenium, and returned home each day, head to toe, black in ashes.

 

What is Translibrium?

 QUEST-IONING HOMEOSTASIS


The object of the pilgrimage turned out to be a pilgrim.

– Jorge Luis Borges


 

cloudstorm

In 1986 I was involved in a reconnaissance of evolutionary biology. I was doing an undergrad at Trent University with a focus on the origins of consciousness (!?). I had been buried in grand speculators on the history of civilisation; Oswald Spengler, Pitrim Sorokin and Arnold Toynbee, with a nascent sprinkling of Teilhard DeChardin.

Amongst the historians Toynbee stood out for me, in large part because he was reviewed in an obscure book called ‘Experiment in Depth: A Study of the Work of Jung, Eliot and Toynbee’ by a Quaker, PW Martin, which I had stumbled on in a second-hand bookstore. Martin’s premise from reading the three authors was that cultural transformation and renewal were realised by individuals going through a quest-like ‘creative withdrawal’ from society, initiated and guided (called out) by an intrinsic creative source that Martin called ‘the deep centre’, followed by a ‘return’ to society now informed and inspired by a rejuvenated and compelling symbolic language and imperative.

Toynbee’s contribution was through his encyclopaedic survey, briefed in ‘A Study of History’, of the rise and fall of multiple civilisations, by which he derived a theory of ‘challenge and response’ to explain how and why some societies thrive and others don’t. For Toynbee the success of a civilisations was dependent on its capacity to respond to grand challenges. Civilisations succeed “not as a result of superior biological endowment or geographical environment, but as a response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty which raises [it] to make unprecedented effort.”

From the grand historical syntheses I drifted over to Systems Theory and Cybernetics, and then from there over to evolutionary biology. And it was a first reconnaissance of that field that turned up the central thesis and nom de plume for much of the field, ‘homeostasis’.

The concept of ‘homeostasis’ was first described by Claude Bernard in 1865. Bernard held that the basis of organic survival is ‘internal fixity’. Organisms respond to challenges by returning to their original state; the ‘fixity of the internal milieu’, as he called it.   “The constancy of the internal environment” wrote Bernard, “is the condition for free and independent life.” More than half a century later, following on Bernard, the American physiologist Walter Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’ in 1930 to describe the ‘steady-state’ that any system requires to “maintain a constancy necessary for survival.” Internal homeostatic processes resist external pressures to maintain internal fixity. This notion quickly spread out of biology to find applications in the world of social sciences in general, and particularly Systems Theory and Cybernetics.

I had a problem with this notion of ‘homeostasis’ as a description of health.  I was an etymology junky and knew that ‘homeo’ is from the Greek meaning ‘same’ or ‘similar’, and ‘stasis’ means, you guessed it, ‘stasis’.  There was nothing that I had ever observed that could survive by staying the same or static.  So from my perspective, the notion of ‘homeostasis’ – a return to an internal fixity – was an excellent descriptor for the conditions leading to death.

Philosopher/Biologist Henri Atlan provided me with an alternate model and language.  Atlan understood organisms to have the capacity for self-organization; for emergence and newness.  In the language of biology he called ‘challenges’ ‘perturbations’. ‘Random perturbations’ are temporary disturbances to which an organism can react, neutralise, and then return to it’s original state. ‘Structural perturbations’ however are persistent, even terminal, disturbances through which an organism can survive only by elaborating a new structure.  Returning to the original state would result in obliteration.

Organisms need to continuously evolve, and their evolution creates stresses – challenges – for surrounding organisms, which must also evolve. Challenges require responses which will normally require subtle shifts in behaviour.  Greater challenges will require significant modifications, permanent structural shifts, or even full-scale migrations of identity.  Health is not the maintenance of fixity: fixity, and fixation, are fatal.  Health is a dynamic feedback requiring constant alteration, and renovation as well as periodic bouts of drastic innovation and structural transformation to respond to potentially catastrophic disruption.

As Heraclitus (is said to have) said, “You never step into the same river twice.”
And, I would add, we are all rivers.

Translibrium’ is a word I invented as a counter to ‘homeostasis’.
Trans’ comes from the Greek ‘across’, and ‘librium’ is from the Greek ‘libra’ which connotes both balance (equilibrium) and freedom (‘libre’, liberty).  Whereas ‘homeostasis’ assumes a return to an initial state as a descriptor of health, ‘translibrium’ assumes continuous adaptation as a requisite for survival.  Whereas ‘homeostasis’ emphasises returning to ‘fixity’, ‘translibrium’ emphasises a perpetual path of transformation, in response to a basic milieu of emergence and feedback, requiring novel strategies frequently characterised by an increase in complexity.