Archive for anthropology

Artifact, Ritual, and the Hypostasis of Time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2011 by theclockworm

An edit of material written for Total Cognitive Penetrability #1, available on request.


When the Balinese dance, they dance the dance their fathers danced. They wear the masks their fathers wore. They play the parts their fathers played. There is an esoteric meaning which proximity does not confer, which anthropological holism cannot synthesize by gestalt. These rituals are a form of time-travel. Eternal Choreographies, cyclical motions, ever available, which can be accessed. It is literal magic.

Balinese Hinduism is not only a loop but a cycle. Observe the Balinese baby-worship: a baby, newly born, has been in the heavenly realm very recently, and is revered as a result. But her arrival in this, the “lower” earth, is also celebrated. There is no apex of a circle in a void of gravity, in a world without poles.

Time is a wheel, and the dance is a way of spinning it. They smile from behind the hologram of character, from beneath the overlay of myth. They have collapsed time in that moment, distributing themselves amidst all other times, a thread connected by nodes of ritual which form a smooth and unbroken cord. Plucking this cord, they smile, and no material change in the world can pull them back from the All-Time where they have always lived.


Where once it was said with some assurance, “Gnosis is the presence of truth,” we can now say, “Gnosis is less untruth, which is not less doubt. It is the intersection of improbabilities into a gestalt of doubt. It is a noise unheard by others that causes us to travel down a darkened corridor. But what will we find? Hearing the sound is not knowing its source, or the intentions thereof. It does not attach itself to this savior or that, to this orthodoxy or that heterodoxy. It is not about god. It is about the world and us in it.

It is not finished speaking.


The organization of information that constitutes the universe is misconstrued by the human mind in terms of time. Time is a doldrums dialect of the information-weaving procedure of reality.

Yes, the kipple is entropy. Yes, it is often wetted with blood and packed into castles in that endless annexation of our world by the Black Iron Prison. But it is not death itself, nor likelier to become death than truth. It must be able to wax and wane, to bloom and rot. This is how the universe protects itself.

To wear a name is not enough.To be struck by the light is not enough. To eat one’s own death is not enough. To remove duality is not enough. To send the golem back is not enough.

To wear the face is enough.To respond to the name when it is called, and not be a liar: this is enough. To internalize the tastes and thoughts of the other, to heed its advice, is enough.

The Word for Write is Open

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by theclockworm

Ursula Le Guin’s anthropological SF has been a big inspiration for me. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness is basically a fictional ethnography; without it, the world of Ari Ascher in my as-yet unpublished story would not exist. As I progress through various avenues of approach in writing SF, I find myself knocking often at the door of anthropology. The other doors I have moved through thus far are: the door of cognitive plasticity, the door of psychological manifestation, the door of literalization, the door of strange gifts, and the door of doctors of artifacts not limited to the human.

Here are some things Le Guin has said that I like quite a bit. Her introduction to LHoD, in the paperback edition, should be on everyone’s list of essential essays about SF.


“I am struck by how much we talk about rebirthing but never about rebearing. The word itself is unfamiliar to most people. Yet both women and men are capable of rebearing, women literally and men metaphorically. A door opens just by changing the name. We don’t have to be reborn; we can rebear. This is part of the writer’s job, either to rebear the metaphors or refuse to use them.”

“What I was doing there is playing with the idea of our present growth technology from the Industrial Revolution on through the present the last 200 years. We don’t know when this period will end, but it
will. We tend to think of our present historic era as representing the highest evolution of human society. We’re convinced that our exploitive, fast-growing technology is the only possible reality. In Always Coming Home, I put people who believe this into one little capsule where the Kesh could look at them as weird aberrations. It was the most disrespectful thing I could do, like wrapping a turd in cellophane.”

(Above quotes are from this interview.)

“As for the charge of escapism, what does “escape” mean? Escape from real life, responsibility, order, duty, piety, is what the charge implies. But nobody, except the most criminally irresponsible or pitifully incompetent, escapes to jail. The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is “escapism” an accusation of?”

(from her blog, speaking of fantasy)

To think that realistic fiction is by definition superior to imaginative fiction is to think imitation is superior to invention.