Autodidact: self-taught

Feb
15
2013

This week’s reading review has been delayed

by V. L. Craven

by technology (see this post for a longer explanation).

So have this photo instead. I hope it makes up for my reading slackness.

Fry says so be offended

I’m not saying you should be offended by my not posting a reading review this week, I just enjoy this quote. And Stephen Fry.

Dec
05
2012

Some Thoughts on Death

by V. L. Craven

A quote from another forum I frequent that sums up how I feel about death better than I could:

The Tralfamadoreans in Slaughterhouse Five see things much the same was as God sees things in Thomistic theology: The whole universe and everything in it not from instant to instant, but all at once. They see the ripples going out from each life that ever exists as we see the ripples from a handful of pebbles thrown into a small pond.

I think of death, my death, me dying, more as I age. And I spend a lot of time staring into the night sky now that I live in a place of many stars. I am still here to think about it because seat belts work, and copper does not spark, and surgeons are well-trained, and the fire chief hit his brakes some milliseconds sooner than he might have, and any number of other reasons I’ll never know anything about. But one day, I know, in the blink of an eye or a long, slow, fading blur, I will cease to be. All that will be left of me is a mess of molecules and the little bits of memory some few others carry forth into the maelstrom. I hope there will be more good bits than bad.

And eventually the human species will cease to be, and all trace of it disappear, and so the planet, the solar system, the galaxy, and so on, and others will come to be and cease to be from the same elements, even as we recycle the stardust of bygone supernovae in our own bodies at this moment. It is a single thing from beginning to end. How odd, how improbable to be in an instant of it all when we have some faint grasp of of the enormity of it, of how it works, and of our minuteness in it. Of course, others have felt this way before, and we may be as wrong as they were….

Nov
07
2012

Some Fuzzy Thoughts on Nihilism

by V. L. Craven

Get them right here .

My favourite:

“To make sure that my blasphemy is thoroughly expressed, I hereby state my opinion that the notion of a god is a basic superstition, that there is no evidence for the existence of any god(s), that devils, demons, angels and saints are myths, that there is no life after death, heaven nor hell, that the Pope is a dangerous, bigoted, medieval dinosaur, and that the Holy Ghost is a comic-book character worthy of laughter and derision. I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place – not to mention the “ethnic cleansing” presently being performed by Christians in our world – and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women.”

Aug
20
2012

Notes from Empire of Death

by V. L. Craven

I’ve only been reading The Empire of Death by Paul Koudounaris a few days and I’m already in love with everything about it. Aside from the well-researched information and beautiful photography, the texture of the pages is pleasing to the touch and it smells like catalogues from when I was small. There’s also a sewn-in burgundy silk bookmark.

Some notes:

From the Introduction

001 p11 We tend to think of death as representing an unequivocal, non-negotiable and irreducible status, its definition and interpretation are matters of context. In the modern Western world, we have come to consider death as a boundary. In many other cultures it is not—it is conceived simply as a tradition, and a dialogue between the living and the dead forms a meaningful part of social discourse.

002 p11 The most dramatic contemporary example is undoubtedly the Famidihana (Turning of the Bones) of the Malagasy people of Madagascar. This ritual involves removing the body of an ancestor from its crypt, wrapping it in a new shroud, and dancing with the corpse to live music. There may even be a family meal at which the deceased is given a place at the table. The ritual serves to unite families by reestablishing their bonds with ancestors, and introducing younger members to family history.

003 p11 Although the Famidihana is not a Christian ritual, Christianity itself does not preclude a dialogue with the dead., and similar practices survive in some pockets of the modern Christian world. On November 2 in Pomuch, Mexico, family members return to the local cemetery to remove the bones of their relatives from their tombs and clean them. In this ritual, the Dia de los Muertos manages to rise above its modern-day kitsch and become a real and intimate interaction between the living and their departed ancestors.

004 p11 Elsewhere in Latin America, the Fiesta de las Natitas on November 8 in La Paz, Bolivia, brings in thousands of people carrying human skulls to the city’s Cemetery General. The skull, of natitas (little pug-nosed ones), reside in the homes of the living so that the souls of the deceased can act as guardians and helpers. The Fiesta is an opportunity to thank and honour the dead.

005 p12 The Fontanelle Cemetery, a large ossuary created in the cave system in Naples during the seventeenth century, is one of the sites where the interaction between the [living and the dead] was at its most pronounced. For over 200 years, the living would come to solicit air from the remains of the deceased, asking for advice on various domestic and personal problems, and expressing gratitude by providing the dead with shrines, prayers and various forms of offerings.

006 p13 In Western Culture, the line separating the living and the dead underwent a fundamental shift during the Enlightenment. The triumph of modern concepts of individualism and the exaltation of private ownership over older concepts of corporateness and community further changed our attitudes toward death. As Baudrillard explained, we have undergone an evolution in which, ‘little by little, the dead cease to exist.’

007 p13 The living would visit mummified or skeletal remains and lovingly robe them, as a means of perpetuating their relationship with their ancestors and loved ones. By contrast, Baudrillard accused contemporary society of being ‘incapable of confronting death without wan humour or perverse fascination.’

Mar
31
2012

Killing Time

by V. L. Craven

“My mission is to kill time, and time’s to kill me in its turn. How comfortable one is among murderers.”

–EM Cioran

Mar
25
2012

Adler Quote

by V. L. Craven

“When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it–which comes to the same thing–is by writing in it.”

–Mortimer Adler

Aug
31
2011

Concrete First Drafts and Crap Editing

by V. L. Craven

‘It’s easier to edit crap than a blank page.’ –M.J. Rose

I remind myself of this when I find myself procrastinating on doing actual writing. The main reason I delay writing (in favour of research and note-taking) it’s because I’m scared I’m going to leave something out that’s important. I don’t expect the first draft to be perfect, but I’m aware that once words are on the page, they have a tendency to want to remain there.

Neal Stephenson says this is why he writes his novels longhand.

Cryptonomicon was the last thing I wrote with a word processor. What I was noticing was that I’ve become such a fast typist that I could slam out great big blocks of text quite rapidly — anything that came into my head, it would just dribble out of my fingers onto the screen. That includes bad stuff as well as good stuff. Once it’s out there on the screen, of course, you can edit it and you can fix the bad stuff, but it’s far better not to ever write down the bad stuff at all. With the fountain pen, which is a slower output device, the material stays in the buffer of your head for a longer period. So during that amount of time, you can fix it, you can make it better, you can even decide not to write it down at all — you can think better of writing it.

He goes on to say that editing is easier to do longhand–something with which I completely agree:

Editing, strangely enough, is quicker and easier with a pen. Because drawing a line through a word is just faster than any sequence of grabbing your mouse and highlighting the word and hitting the eject key. That act of editing leaves behind a visible trace of the word that you decided to change, and sometimes that’s useful; you may want to go back and change your mind about that.

And his manuscript sounds beautiful.

I tend to do first draft in a thick nib. And I have different color of ink in each pen. Then I go back the next day with this Waterman, and do the editing pass, so I can see the contrasting colors and line widths, and kind of assemble a history in my own mind of how this page came into being.

From this article.

And the absolute best pens to use for editing are Pigma Microns. They have tiny tips–I can easily fit three lines into the (double) spaces between lines of typed text.

Aug
29
2011

Inhabiting Your Fictional Worlds

by V. L. Craven

I came across an interview with Neal Stephenson this morning (via Lifehacker and Life’s Paradox ). It turns out it’s from 2008, when Stephenson’s Anathem was released. I’ll be highlighting several interesting points for writers over the next few posts.

First up, the sort of auxiliary work some authors do.

Stephenson: I actually wrote one that never got published that had an extrem ely elaborate, carefully thought-out map, as well as timelines and histories and cultures — the whole bit. I enjoy making that kind of material up, and I’ve got a mind that’s geared that way. I did it even back in the days when I had to do it all with a typewriter and 3-by-5 cards. So working today with computers and 3D graphics and all of the tools at one’s disposal, I could see myself diving into such a project, and not emerging until ten years later, when I had complete topographic maps of the entire world, and all of that.

Joyce Carol Oates does something similar: [Quote from The Writing Life ]

Her writing is not effortless…She writes by hand, starting stories countless times, making comments as she goes, often producing as many as 1,000 pages of notes for every 250 printed pages. Belle-fleur (1980), which has been chatarerized as springing from a dream, “took lots of work,” with charts and graphs and heavy engineering…Her novel American Appetites had 3,000 pages of worksheets. You Must Remember This had 3,500 pages of side notes. My Heart Laid Bare , 5,000 pages.

I find this very interesting, as I also make copious notes that will never make it into my fiction. I try to inhabit the world my characters would. For my current project I have a map of the village where the protagonists live, as well as a notebook of with quotes they would choose from books. I’ve also been using SweetHome3D to design the house the main characters live in.

In this article Edward Carey explains the way he inhabits his characters’ world, sculpting an entire city for Alva and Irva :

Building the miniature city that I was writing about was essential to me, firstly so that I could really understand what it looked like, and secondly because it is what the protagonists of the novel do, and so I felt if I were really to understand them and their obsession I’d have to do the same. I spent many weeks constructing miniature streets and buildings, rummaging through many architectural books and guidebooks, and stealing building designs from different actual cities to construct my made-up one. I was amazed at how delicate a process it was, how painfully slow, and at how much patience it required. And how vulnerable the plasticine was, how easy to dent, and how quickly it grew dusty.

It was a great adventure for me building the city. I started building it (after I’d already made many maps) when I’d completed a few drafts of the novel, but the process of making the city changed the novel. I suddenly began to consider many new things. I could see the city with much more clarity and certain new possibilities for events began to occur to me. I began to wonder how it would be to be a city planner, and what responsibility there is to the people who would have to live with, and in, the decisions you make. Building the city, playing God, was wonderful but certainly I shall never do it again. I remember having a nightmare that somehow a mouse had gotten into my miniature city and was trampling around the plasticine streets, carving destruction as it went; I woke up terrified.

 

Aug
15
2011

Giving Power to Your Enemies

by V. L. Craven

By paying so much attention to the devil and by treating witchcraft as the most heinous of crimes, the theologians and the inquisitors actually spread the beliefs and fostered the practices which they were trying so hard to repress. By the beginning of the eighteenth century witchcraft had ceased to be a serious social problem. It dies out, among other reasons, because almost nobody now bothered to repress it. For the less it was persecuted, the less it was propagandized. — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Aug
05
2011

The Progression

by V. L. Craven

Professor Oesterreich, in his richly documented study of the subject has pointed out that, while belief in diabolic possession sharply declined during the nineteenth century, belief in possession by departed spirits became, during the same period, much more common. Thus, neurotics who, at an earlier epoch, would have attributed their malady to devils, were inclined, after the rise of the Fox Sisters, to lay the blame on the discarnate souls of evil men or women. With the recent advances in technology, the notion of possession has taken a new form. Neurotie patients often complain that they are being influenced, against their will, by some kind of radio messages transmitted by their enemies. The Malicious Animal Magnetism which haunted poor Mrs Eddy’s imagination for do many years has now been transformed into Malicious Electronics. — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Aug
03
2011

Conjecture Ovens

by V. L. Craven

Montaigne concludes with one of those golden sentences which deserve to be inscribed over the altar of every church, above the bench of every magistrate, on the walls of every lecture hall, every senate and parliament, every government office and council chamber. ‘After all,’ (write the words in neon, write in letters as tall as a man!) ‘after all, it is rating one’s conjectures at a very high price to roast a man alive on the strength of them.’ — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Aug
01
2011

Replace ‘Witchcraft’ with ‘Religion’

by V. L. Craven

And ‘hidden causes’ with ‘science.’

 

Kramer and Sprenger write with indignation of those—and at the end of the fifteenth century they were already numerous—who doubted the reality of witchcraft. They point out that all the theologians and canonists are at one in condemning the error of ‘those who say that there is no witchcraft in the world, but only in the imagination of men who, through their ignorance of hidden causes, which no man yet understands, ascribe certain natural effects to witchcraft, as though they were effected not by hidden causes, but by devils working either by themselves or in conjunction with witches…’

Jul
30
2011

From The Relative to the Absolute

by V. L. Craven

In order to justify their behaviour, they turn their theories into dogmas, their by-laws into First Principles, their political bosses into Gods and all those who disagree with them into incarnate devils. This idolatrous transformation of the relative into the Absolute and the all too human into the Divine, makes it possible for them to indulge their ugliest passions with a clear conscience and in the certainty that they are working for the Highest Good. And when the current beliefs come, in their turn, to look silly, a new set will be invented, so that the immemorial madness may continue to wear its customary mask of legality, idealism and true religion. — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Mar
11
2011

The Great Black Hope: The Satanic N00B

by V. L. Craven

This is, perhaps, my favourite bit from the Church of Satan website:

Let’s look at a typical example. Here’s Joe (it could just as easily be Jane) Schitz, a general loser whose age is between 15 and 29. He’s heard about Satanism from his favorite “let’s freak out the parents” rock star (like Marilyn Manson), and since he’s too lazy to go to the library to do research and too cheap to buy a book, he turns to the Internet. He surfs the web with a search engine of his choice and is confronted by hundreds of sites claiming to be giving valid information about Satanism. Since his image of Satanism includes (like his musical hero’s stage persona) public acclaim, wealth, sex, and notoriety, he is ill-equipped to deal with all this material, lacking any measure to discriminate the valid from the invalid. If he purchased and read The Satanic Bible or carefully read the essays and interviews on the Church of Satan’s official site, he’d begin to see what Satanism is really about. But that would be too much like work. Some of what he sees in this morass—imagery that might prove shocking to others, he likes. He thinks he’s found the passport to a position in the limelight. He compares his own humdrum existence with his perception of Satanism and suddenly wants to be a part of it. So, first off, he changes his name to some less-than-euphonious moniker like, Damien Anton Manson Dragon Azathoth the 23rd.

A brief aside: What is it with these people who feel the need to adopt these “spooky” names? If they really hate the name with which they have been gifted by their parents, why not change it to something more effective as many Hollywood actors and other “showbiz” types have done? Something simple and catchy, easy to remember, but impressive. Names like John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield. Or you might even look to character names from pulp fiction or classic literature to find an appellation more suitable to your personality. However, names that sound like they should be listed on a membership card for a Count Chocula fan club should be avoided like the plague, yet they abound in the ranks of Satanic poseurs. Stop looking through lists of demon names (especially if they are from role-playing or video games). Here’s a challenge: don’t change your name at all. If you’ve looked at history, most of the great names are simply known because the people who had them achieved memorable things. People remember names like Mozart, Einstein, Edison, and Galileo, not because these names had any prior “resonance,” but because of what these individuals created. So, do you have what it takes to stick with your own name and, through your own creativity, make it a name which future generations will use as a synonym with fame or notoriety?

Back to our newbie. He might then start dressing in bizarre outfits, inspired by his favorite musician’s stage show (forgetting the fact that he isn’t a rock star and he isn’t on stage). He might wear black lipstick or nail-polish, or even go so far as to get a piercing or a tattoo (what a rebel!). He’s now received the negative attention of family and friends, but since he wants to be a rebel, he feels this is a good beginning. Now to expand his horizons as there’s a whole world out there, waiting to be annoyed! So, he gets on his parents’ computer and signs up for a free website (an easy process that has predictably lead to the ever-expanding Internet dreck festival). Next, he uses that search engine again to look up Satanism so as to find his own kind, now that he thinks he’s a Satanist. What does he find? A plethora of others like himself! Must mean there’s a “community,” and he’s dying to be a big cheese in it. He’s his own God, isn’t he? He’s just got to show everyone else out there that he’s better than they are. So, he immediately begins to lift graphics from the sites he encounters, as well as any essays he thinks sound scary enough to enhance his reputation—only writings by the most famous names in Satanism will do. The very idea of copyrighted material and creators’ rights never enters his mind, particularly as he feels—by putting these graphics and texts on his site—that he is “helping” to support Satanism. Anybody who’d tell him otherwise must just be an old fuddy-duddy who just wants to rain on his parade—so screw them!

He is now determined to be the “Great Black Hope” of Satanism. He wants to evangelize people concerning his new-found identity (just because he’s unaware of the vast amount of representation that’s been done over the last 35 years by Church of Satan spokespersons must mean it just wasn’t very good—it couldn’t possibly mean he didn’t know how to do research).

Eventually, he runs across the official website of the Church of Satan. He finds it to be a gold mine of material to pilfer (and that he is stealing and thus violating the Satanic concept of “responsibility to the responsible” would never come to focus in what passes for his “thinking”).

Next, he decides that he’ll start a Satanic organization. Since he’s a God, how can he not be a leader? He’d never think of “following” someone with more intelligence and experience. That would make him seem “weak,” to admit that he doesn’t instantly know everything. Naturally he’s got to be the High Priest (move over Anton LaVey). Anyone who emails him and compliments his site becomes a member and if they kiss ass particularly well, they receive an instant Priesthood. After he’s been at this for a few weeks (if he’s patient), he finally decides that he’s going to approach the Church of Satan and propose an alliance, as he thinks he’s really become the leading force for keeping Satanism alive in the world. The poor old Church of Satan just better recognize this, lest it be left in his dust. So he sends an email, full of bluster and bravado, claiming he’s got a huge international organization (of which we’ve never heard, naturally), and a website (Satan save us!). He signs this portentous missive with his grand new name, appended to which are numerous titles such as “High Priest of the Universal Elite Legions.” One of our representatives reads this (and a dozen like it which came in that week) and then dutifully checks out the site, discovering (once its interminable download is over, as it is chock-full of crappy animations and soundfiles), that it is also full of stolen Church of Satan material (both copyrighted texts and graphics). Our representative then sends a formal email pointing out these blatant copyright violations and asks “High Priest Azathoth” to remove them, or else we’ll have to approach his service provider. This naturally enrages “HPA,” (How dare the Church of Satan stop him from becoming the world’s greatest Satanic leader?!). So he writes back, his response full of profanity and indignation—after all, his “Satanic Genius” has not been recognized. Our Church of Satan representative must then go through the tedious task of contacting HPA’s Internet service provider, quoting the guidelines for service of which HPA is in violation, and then monitoring the situation until that page has either removed all copyrighted materials, or is simply cancelled by the provider (the usual outcome).

Now, disgruntled Damien, thwarted in his bid to rule the world of Satanism, must start a campaign to re-assert himself in the “Satanic Community,” with the Church of Satan as his target (How dare they protect their material when I know how to use it better?!). He’ll email his cronies and they will try to invade chat rooms frequented by real Satanists, doing their best to prevent pleasurable discussions from taking place. That the “Ops” for these chat rooms kick and ban them only serves as a stimulant. They could make their own chat room in which they would be free to gather and discuss how rotten the Church of Satan is, but that never suffices. They desperately want recognition by real Satanists, and they’ll get it by being annoying, rather than trying to earn respect for any tangible achievements or simply engaging in intelligent discussion.

Of course, our would-be High Priest may eventually find something else to hold his interest. He might actually go out on a date, or find that he does have some kind of skill which he needs to practice (aside from being a royal asshole—the one skill which he’s perfected by now). But he may prolong his tenure in the “Satanic Community” if he stumbles into another kind of online group—a collection of like-small-minded losers, who have washed up on the shoals of the Internet, after their website-vessels have been sunk by the torpedoes of the mean old Church of Satan. Here is the haven wherein he’ll find fellow self-proclaimed “High Priests.” They are usually collected under the direction of a new “Magus” (even more pretentious and pompous then they are, hence he’s top of the shit heap). Here they will huddle together, fueled by their hatred for the fact that they couldn’t conquer the Satanic Universe as embodied in the Church of Satan and united in their envy of those who have earned positions therein. Now they have a peanut gallery to cheer them on, as they spew their illiterate vitriol (of particularly dilute vintage) against the real Satanists whom they might encounter. They will clutter Usenet as well as chat rooms with their pointless, moronic postings. Of course, when the time comes to sort out the pecking order amongst these “High Priests,” then the fur will fly and schisms will abound as they scratch out each other’s eyes fighting over ever-sillier titles. Eventually they will just leave Satanism behind altogether (if only this would happen with greater speed).

Feb
01
2011

On Keeping a Notebook

by V. L. Craven

I enjoy blogging but I also enjoy working in my favourite notebook, which is a 600 page, grid-lined Miquelrius notebook. I keep quotes, writing ideas and miscellaneous information there. I try to work in it every day.

A hundred years ago it would be called a commonplace book or a silva rerum (a forest of things) and loads of people had them.

Today I came across a quote by Joan Didion about the importance of keeping a notebook:

“We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”

I really like the phrase, ‘bits of the mind’s string’.

I take my notebook everywhere, subscribing to Oscar Wilde’s statement: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

I’m much more involved with my inner world than my outer world so my notebook is filled with thoughts on fiction I’m writing (plot ideas, dialogue, characters) or quotes that mean something to me. Writing down scraps of information I like helps me draw connections I might not have seen otherwise.

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