Taginterviews

A Conversation With Klint Finley About AI and Ethics

I spoke with Klint Finley, known to this parish, over at WIRED about Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft’s new joint ethics and oversight venture, which they’ve dubbed the “Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.” They held a joint press briefing, yesterday, in which Yann LeCun, Facebook’s director of AI, and Mustafa Suleyman, the head of applied AI at DeepMind discussed what it was that this new group would be doing out in the world.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked to Klint about the intricate interplay of machine intelligence, ethics, and algorithmic bias; we discussed it earlier just this year, for WIRED’s AI Issue. It’s interesting to see the amount of attention this topic’s drawn in just a few short months, and while I’m trepidatious about the potential implementations, as I note in the piece, I’m really fairly glad that more people are increasingly willing to have this discussion, at all.

To see my comments and read the rest of the article, click through, above.

An Interview With Problem Glyphs’ Eliza Gauger

If you look at the painting, illustration, and figure drawing work of Eliza Gauger, you wouldn’t be wrong if you thought you saw the visual influence of the likes of Egon Schiele, and an overall thematic investigation of the grotesque. Additionally, Gauger’s work on the absurdist Jerk City comic showcases a familiarity with both Dadaism and meme culture, but basically the opposite of how pretentious that makes it sound. On top of visual art, Gauger has done work in music and been an active and charismatic figure online for over a decade. But the project that’s been taking up the majority of their time, lately, has much more in common with chaos magick and the works of Austin Osman Spare than their previous endeavours.

Since 2013 Gauger has been creating Problem Glyphs, through the process of leaving their Tumblr ask box open to anonymous comments, and reading the problems of those who offered them up. Gauger then created visual representations of sigilized imagery, meant to evoke the shape of and the path through the issue. I’ll let them tell you more about it, below, but the long and the short of it is, Problem Glyphs were a runaway success.

As the questions kept pouring in, it eventually became clear that Gauger had struck a current, and that a massively cathartic process was being shared by many people, and now, three years later, a book collection is being developed. From the Kickstarter campaign:

The Problem Glyphs art book contains 100 glyphs and their associated submissions, accompanied by an introduction by Eliza Gauger and a foreword by award-winning writer, Warren Ellis. Problem Glyphs will be a premium edition, display-worthy art book, measuring 10×12″ and featuring a Smyth sewn, genuine clothbound hard cover with gold foil-stamped cover illustrations. The estimated 220 interior pages will be printed on beautiful matte coated art paper. Tremendous care has gone into every aspect of the book, from its binding to its typography, the beautiful and storied Doves Type.

I got the chance to have a tarot-based conversation with Eliza Gauger, to discuss the origins, impact, and future of Problem Glyphs.

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An Interview With FoolishPeople’s John Harrigan

Since 1989, FoolishPeople have been creating extraordinarily complex, intricate worlds of immersive performance magic. They’ve been commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Arcola Theatre, Secret Cinema, the BBC, and the Wilderness Festival.

John Harrigan is artistic director and cofounder of FoolishPeople and we have been trying to find the time to get together and have a bit of a chat for quite some time, now. With recent world and personal events being as they are, we eventually came to the realization that there would be no time like the present. On a personal level, John and I have both experienced monumental losses, in the course of the past year, and it can easily be said that they’ve transformed us in some unexpected ways. We’ve also both been given new and unprecedented opportunities, and so now seemed like the perfect time for Technoccult and FoolishPeople to meet.

John’s raw openness about life, art, magick, and the process of creating living, immersive theater is amazing, and really made this interview process something special to facilitate.

Speaking of, let’s take a minute to talk about the process of this interview. I wanted to come up with a format that would do justice to the mythic otherworldliness that FP manages to breathe into every one of their creations, and eventually I settled on using Tarot in a traditional cross and staff formation to devise and guide the questions . Each answer got followed up with another clarification question, determined by another drawn card.

First ten cards and questions, John’s answers, second ten cards and questions, John’s answers. To frame the whole process, I intentionally opened with the Fool and closed with the World, the first and last cards of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. My questions are in bold, and John’s answers are in plaintext.

As a fun side note, the deck I use is the Dave McKean-illustrated Vertigo Tarot. When I showed him the pictures of the spreads, last week, John informed me that this style of deck was the first he ever owned.

So with that bit of synchronicity and without further ado:

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Mindful Cyborgs Meets Buddhist Geeks: The Vincent Horn Interview

This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and interview Vincent Horn co-founder the Buddhist Geeks community and co-host of the podcast of the same name. Here’s an excerpt:

KF:       Cool. So let me ask you again on the topic of what Buddhist Geeks is. What’s the difference between a Buddhist Geek and a normal Buddhist or a Buddhist Geek and a normal geek?

VH:      Yes, it’s a good question. Well, let’s see. I’d say one difference is that most people that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks are not so sure that they are actually in fact Buddhist. That’s one interesting characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that I’ve noticed.

CD:      Like me.

VH:      Yes. Which is why we’ll see if you’re still in the closet by the end of this conversation. Yes, that’s one characteristic that’s very interesting. The folks that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks often are very skeptical, I don’t know if that’s the right word, or they actively question the validity of any particular model, especially one that originated 2500 years ago in terms of its absolute ability to explain things. I’d say that’s one characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that’s sometimes different than your average Buddhist practitioner. Some Buddhists are like that and others aren’t. Other people treat it much more like a religion in which they’re looking for all the ultimate answers to life and think that religion or the people who started it do have all those answers. Buddhist Geeks tend to question that assumption, and I think that’s a fairly healthy thing to do.

In terms of on the geek side I’d say one of the big differences between a geek and a Buddhist Geek I think … I’m sure you guys in Mindful Cyborgs know this. Most geeks tend to lean in the direction of becoming completely absorbed in their technologies without asking questions about why they’re using them or how they actually support or serve the deeper purposes or aims in life. Certainly there may be a lack of awareness in most of the geek culture about how these technologies actually impact our consciousness or direct first person subjective experience as we move about our day. I think the Buddhist Geek, not by any means rejecting technology, in fact we’re geeks so there’s a lot to be praised and loved about technology, I think Buddhist Geeks tend to ask questions about how that use of technology affects them in terms of their first person experience in terms of their ability to show up in life and participate in a meaningful way.

I think that’s one of the things that Buddhism really has to offer the geek culture is more of the sense of awareness of how our merging with these technologies is changing who we are and how we are and not to do that in some sort of deterministic way where we think oh, we have to, we’re going up in light in a singularity therefore we have to just surrender to what’s evolving. I think, no we actually have to look at these technologies and make determinations about what we’re going to use and what we’re not going to use. Are we fetishizing the technology or are we using it for deeper aims? I think those are questions that we’ve been asking with the Buddhist Geeks project. I think people who identify as Buddhist Geeks, although that’s a weird identity, would probably say they care about those kinds of questions.

You can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher, or download it directly.

Also: listen or read on for the chance to win a fabulous prize!

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Arm Cannons and Futurism, an Interview With the Creators of Light Years Away

lab_Lightyears_004

After a while, most serialized webcomics start to look the same. Just about every series seems to strike a similar balance of influences from anime and western animation. But not Light Years Away, which draws inspiration from European sci-fi comics by artists like Moebius and Tanino Liberatore.

LYA is set in a world where many — perhaps most — people have cybernetic implants. But there’s a growing, violent anti-implant movement called the Puritans. The first story arc, Escape from Prison Planet, tells the story of Milo, a repeat offender doing time on an off-planet penal colony, where he ends up in the middle of a prison gang war between the Puritans and the implantees. Soon, however, he finds out there’s something bigger going on.

I talked with writer Ethan Ede and artist Adam Rosenlund — the Boise, Idaho based duo behind the series — about webcomics, the future of the series and other projects they have in the hopper.

Ethan Ede and Adam Rosenlund
Left: Ethan Ede Right: Adam Rosenlund

Klint Finley: First, I’m curious why you guys self-published online. Did you shop it around to publishers first?

Ethan: We self-published this story because we wanted to do it our way. Having control over our product is very important to us, that’s one of the reasons there are no ads on the site, because that is content we can’t control. At the time when we started Light Years Away we were shopping several products around to publishers and we wanted to put something out in the meantime. We actually picked LYA because it is the least like the stories we normally tell.

Adam: As well as the story being built for the format. We were kind of frustrated at the pitch process when we decided on LYA. We just wanted to get some stories out there and read, and at the time, no one was buying science fiction. The market was in contraction, and publishers were reticent to take a chance on what we were selling.

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Technoccult Interview: Wilhelm Reich Comic Book Biographer Elijah Brubaker

reich panels

Elijah Brubaker is the writer and artist of Reich, a biography of Wilhelm Reich in comic form. Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychotherapist known for his theory of character analysis. He fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and came to the U.S. where became obsessed with orgone, which he claimed was a universal energy. He also began developing technology based on orgone, including the orgone accumulator, which he believed could cure cancer, and the cloudbuster, which he believed could make it rain. He was eventually arrested for medical fraud and died in prison.

Reich is published by Sparkplug Books and is available in fine comic shops or directly from Sparkplug. You can read the first few issues online here.

This interview was filmed back in 2008 for Technoccult TV, but the audio and video were too corrupted for release. I managed to transcribe most of the interview, so here it is at long last.

Klint Finley: So you do a comic about Wilhelm Reich, were you involved in Reichian therapy before you started the comic?

Elijah Brubaker: No, I wasn’t involved in the therapy at all. I had read about Reich kind of anecdotally through William Burroughs. And he just seemed like this cool crazy guy, and he’s a great thing to talk about to your friends who don’t know about him. I just like to talk about esoteric bullshit at parties. My interest kind of grew after I read several biographies of him and I started looking at him as more of a person, so my interest comes from the compassionate part of it now. It started as “Ha ha ha, there’s this crazy quack” Now I feel like I’m a crazy quack too.

That really shows in the comic. You don’t vilify him or idolize him. It’s a really human portrayal of him. I think it’s generally sympathetic towards him, was that your intent?

Yeah, just today I was reading the back of a biography of Ayn Rand. And there was a pull quote on the back that said that the people who lionize her and demonize her equally do a disservice by dehumanizing her. That’s how I feel with Reich, he’s such a controversial figure that people don’t really look at him as human anymore, he’s just this series of events that happened or a series of ideas. They either agree or disagree and everyone has a strong opinion about it, but it’s not coming from a very humanistic point of view I guess.

How long did it take you to research it before you started on the comic?

I did strict research for about a year, and then I said “I’ve just got to get something on paper.”

Were your reference materials particularly difficult to find?

Yeah, at first. This book, Wilhelm Reich vs. USA, was pretty hard to find. I actually found it at the library, and I kept checking it out and checking it out and finally found it at Powell’s. I don’t read German. I would like to find some of the papers that he wrote that are only in German, but that would be sort of pointless right now.

Do you do any original research, like interviews with family members or people who knew him?

I wish I could. No. I started out thinking this was going to be a much smaller project. I would still like to travel around and find whoever I could to talk about it now. Originally I thought this would be a way for me to practice cartooning, essentially, of telling a true story in the most truthful way that I thought I could.

Did you expect it to be so long?

Well, I deal better with long works. So yeah, I thought it would be like 300 pages, but I didn’t think that I would have a publisher. I thought I would print like 100 copies and give out to friends.

Have you heard from any Reich experts who has taken issue with any of your portrayals?

Not that has taken issue, but I recently got an e-mail from a person that was at a conference on orgone and pulled out my comic and showed it to everyone. Everyone was really skeptical but semi-supportive.

The e-mail was essentially “Please don’t think mess this up. Graphic novels are a big deal these days and you have the potential to do our work some harm if you portray this in the wrong light. No pressure though!”

Well, it’s one of the most flattering things written about him, so it seems like it could do his work a lot of good.

Well, it’s still early in his career, I’m sort of interested in how people feel about how I deal with some of his more controversial views, his ideas on aliens and what not.

So you haven’t gone through any of the therapy at all, just as research even?

No.

Seen an orgone accumulator?

Yeah, I’ve seen an orgone accumulator, but they weren’t… I don’t know if anyone builds them professionally any more, but the person who owned it was the person who built it.

Are there any ideas of his that you’ve come to accept now, or that have affected you?

Well, since starting working on the book I think about sex in a lot less uptight way. I can actually talk about things in an open matter, where before it was like “teehee, he said the word erection.” I’m still a pretty uptight guy, I’m not going to talk about free love or anything like that.

Other than just freeing of my own language, I don’t think I’ve really adopted any of his teachings or whatever you want to call it.

I’m not exactly part of the anti-psychiatry movement or anything like that. But I’ve never been to therapy and I’m not looking to.

So you found out about Reich through William S. Burroughs — how did you find out about Burroughs?

You know, I can’t really remember. I think Naked Lunch was a book that my brother had in his apartment, just because it was a strange book and my brother likes strange stuff so he kept it around to show his friends. So one day I stopped by his apartment and didn’t have anything to read so I just picked it up. It’s not a narrative in any sense of the word, it’s almost just a collection of jokes or something. But I really gravitated towards it because everything I had read was just straight forward plot stories, and this had no plot and was just dirty and gross and was this guy’s entire brain smashed up. Ever since then I’ve looked for artists that do a similar thing, where it’s just self-expression whether you like it or not. I can’t say that my stuff is even close to that, but I hope that I’ve learned a little bit from that type of sensibility.

That actually makes sense looking at your work, that it would have been influenced by Burroughs, just the psychological aspect of it.

Right. I also like his unapologetic paranoia, because I’ve always felt a certain amount of “they’re out to get me.”

You have a really distinct style, how long did it take you to develop that, where did it come from?

I’ve always had an interest in that 20s era Weimar German Expressionism sort of stuff. And just through looking at George Grosz and Otto Dix and stuff like that, and trying to see what they were doing. I just sort of stole ideas from this person and that person.

You’re also working on a biographical comic on serial killer Billy Gohl. Why was his story so interesting?


I’ve always liked the idea of a serial killer as a boogey-man sort of thing. And Billy Gohl, there’s no movie about him, he’s not in popular consciousness yet.

His story is interesting to me, because he was accused of a hell of a lot more murders than he actually took part in. He was a braggart and a loud mouth. He said he cannibalized a man in the mountains one year.

Gray’s Harbor, Washington at the time was this rough port town where people would go missing all the time. The Christian population of the time looked down on the fact that he had a bar. Fights would break out there and they’d blame Billy Gohl.

He was made a representative of the sailor’s union and he was responsible for watching sailors’ belongings while they were out at sea. If they didn’t come back he was in charge of distributing the goods however he saw fit. Finding the families and everything. Chances were he’d usually just keep it. So his stories were “Oh this sailor I didn’t like, I just killed him and took his stuff.”

And people would show up floating in the bay. I think there was one year where the was just a little under 200 people found floating in the bay, and they referred to them the “floater fleet.” And Billy Gohl was eventually accused of every single murder that happened there, thousands of people over the time that he was living in Gray’s Harbor.

He was eventually convicted of two murders, one of which the court decided he didn’t even actually pull the trigger, he just convinced the other guy to pull the trigger. I don’t know how the legal wrangling were over that.

I think it’s a cautionary tale about how being a loud mouth and talking what a terrible person that you can be. Eventually you’re going to try to prove that and you’ll find your justice.

What’s your favorite work of your own?

Reich is the thing that I’m most proud of. I think the stories in Papercutter are a little bit more aligned with my sensibilities, I think I’m having more fun with those stories, but I think Reich is a more fulfilling story.

See Also

My wife’s intro to Reich and alternative psychology

Brubaker interviewed by Wizard Magazine

William S. Burroughs dossier

Technoccult Interivew: King City Artist/Writer Brandon Graham

King City cover by Brandon Graham

King City by Brandon Graham is a comic book about a guy named Joe and his cat Earthling in a far future metropolis run by spy gangs and evil sorcerers. It’s full of weird drugs, black magic, luchador masks and oddball humor.

This month Image Comics published a collection of all 12 issues of King City, which was originally serialized from 2007 to 2010. After a battle with testicular caner Graham literally gave his left nut to finish the book. He’s now working on Prophet for Image and Multiple Warheads for Oni Press. I caught-up with him to talk about Moebius, graffiti, technology in science fiction and more.

Brandon Graham

How many details about the city were conceived in advance? Did you create maps, or list of facts and details about the world the book takes place in, or did you just make it up as you went along?

I had some rough ideas about the characters but I pretty much made up the city as I went along. I was always trying to base places off of somewhere I’d been. I think of Joe and Pete’s place in the 2nd half of KC as being in Seattle’s China town. The diner where Pete meets Exiekiel to get information about the alien lady was me trying to draw a diner in Queens.

King City Board Game

King City, to me anyway, has a very spontaneous feel. I imagine you just making up each page as you went along, packing them with as much detail as possible. Or did you have a more structured plan for each issue?

I had a real rough structure for everything but I try to allow for a lot of drawing what I’m in the mood to draw. And I usually lay out the book in 4 or 5 page chunks as I go along.

It’s nice to just follow your mood with a page and try to find new ways to stay interested in what you’re doing. I like to think about what’ll be fun to draw on the next page forcing me to speed up on what I’m doing because I’m so excited about what’s next. And then there’s days where I’m just not thinking about what comes next and I’m just having fun making lines on paper.

King City appears to take place in the far future, and there are references to certain technological advances like nanotechnology. But in some ways it seems really low tech – I’m not sure we ever see anyone use a cell phone or the Internet. For example, Anna seems to have no way of reaching Joe or Pete remotely, she has to walk to their apartment to find Joe. Did you consciously decide to avoid having the characters use certain technologies or was this  just the way the story worked out?

Yeah, it was on purpose. I avoid certain things like cell phones or the Internet or anything too modern that would seem dated really soon. I was trying to make it feel like it was happening now but with all the sci-fi fantasy elements I felt like throwing in. Excluding all the crazy sci-fi-ery, the technology is probably at the technological level of the early 1990’s because that’s about what I can wrap my head around.

I think a lot about different eras of science fiction and how they portrayed the future. The sci-fi that reflects modern technology seems sleeker and smaller, and it makes sense but it doesn’t look as cool to me. I’m a big fan of the look of big clunky utilitarian 70’s sci-fi. But maybe KC is “20 minutes in the future” of 1992.

Brandon Graham "The Long Goodbye"
Graham’s tribute to Moebius

King City actually reminds me a lot L’Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius and other old European sci-fi/fantasy comics. Moebius recently passed away, can you talk about his influence?

Yeah, Moebius is probably the artist whose work has influenced me the most. Him and Howarth, Shirow and Barlow. I like the Incal all right, but I’m really obsessed with the work he did alone.

I feel like he took a lot of the freedoms American underground comics were doing in the 60s and pushed them to a whole new level adding all kinds of elements from science fiction novels and really creating something new.

I’ve always been so impressed by the joy he seemed to put into everything he did. His comics read like he’s having a great time working on them and the nerve in some of the stuff he pulled off is fantastic. How he’d allow himself to change a character’s look so dramatically in the middle of a story or jump from something completely serious to the ridiculous. I could go on forever about all the elements of his work and his life that have impressed me.

I know you haven’t done graffiti in a long time, but did being involved in the graffiti scene in Seattle as a kid affect the way you perceive the urban environment? Do you think you’d draw cities the same way if you hadn’t been a part of that?

Yeah, I think it definitely affected how I think about cities, certainly the way you interact with your environment when you’re running around drawing on it. It’s nice to be able to fuck with the world around you – changing signs or just writing a response to an ad directly on the ad or having to draw something to fit on the surface you’re drawing on.

Bigger than that, I think graffiti really influenced how I think about the scene I’m in.

Can you expand on that?

The graff writers I was around really pushed the idea that the culture has to be treated with a fair amount of respect. You’re expected to know the history and you have to earn your place in it.

I think the comic industry gets dirty because people make the excuse that it’s a job. For me it’s that if it’s where I’m going to spend my life then I want to make it a scene that I’m proud of.

The pillars of hip hop influenced you when you were younger – what, outside of comics, influences you now?

Still a lot of hip hop, I think in the last couple years the wordplay in rap has really driven a lot of what I put into my stuff.

I think I’ve been really influenced by some of the authors I’ve been reading. Robert Heinlein’s way of rethinking the way future relationships work and his whole out look on life being so different from mine. I’ve been influenced with how William Gibson structures his books and certainly the way Haruki Murakami writes about food and music.

My misses Marian has been a huge influence as well. She’s coming at art from a much more fine art/literary way of looking at it than I was used to. She’s really good at challenging my ideas and helping me think about what it means to be a life long artist and how I talk about art. A big thing I learned from her early on was the idea of talking about the quality of work not from a “this is the best” but rather “this is my favorite”.

Prophet cover by Marian Churchland
Prophet cover by Graham’s wife Marian Churchland

Given the amount of improvisation in your work on King City, how different is it to be a writer, instead of an artist, on Prophet?

The whole approach is pretty different. It puts a lot of the weight on the guy drawing it, plus we go back and forth on the layouts and script. I do the text after the art is done so there’s lots of room to improvise.

I think it uses the same skills that I use in my solo work but it feels like a different animal.

Multiple Warheads by Brandon Graham

Other than Prophet what are you working on?

My main thing is Multiple Warheads that’ll be coming out later this year from Oni press. It’s a fantasy comic set in a fictional Russia. and I’m putting together an 80 page book of my sketches.

See Also

The Comics Journal’s interview with Graham

Inksuds’ video interview with Graham

Graham on what it’s like working with Liefeld, and the matter of how women are portrayed in comics

Technoccult TV: Hacktivists Peter Fein and The Doctor

In this video I speak with Peter Fein and The Doctor of the digital activist group Telecomix, which worked to keep the Internet available in the middle east during the Arab Spring by providing dial-up Internet access and even using fax machines to send information into Libya. The Doctor also works on the wireless mesh darknet project Project Byzantium. In this interview we talk about what Telecomix does and why it matters.

This interview has been a long time coming. It was conducted at Contact Summit in October, 2011. It was recorded at the end of a long day and we were all pretty tired. Please excuse the background noise, this was the quietest place we could find.

See also:

Forbes article on Telecomix

Ars Technica’s article on darknets

An idea for solving the distance problem in wireless darknets from acrylicist

My lists of “government-less Internets”: Part 1 and Part 2

Technoccult posts on decentralizing the Web and/or Internet

Technoccult Interview: Douglas Rushkoff On Kicking the Consensus Reality Habit

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.

“No, not anymore,” I told him.

“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.

“All of what?” I asked him.

“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.

Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.

Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.

“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”

“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”

But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”

But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”

“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”

He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”

He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”

He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”

So what stands in the way?

“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”

I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.

I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.

“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.'”

“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”

I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.

“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?'”

And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.

But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.

I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.

Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?

I for one choose not to be believe that.

Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.

But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.

Selections from The Dream Manual Artist Michael Skrtic – Technoccult Interview (Part 2)

Dream Manual Now tell me what I am here for

Selections from the Dream Manual is an “aesthetic grimoire.” On one level, it’s a collection of cut-up texts by Bill Whitcomb (occasional Technoccult guest blogger and frequent commenter) accompanied by collage paintings by Michael Skrtic for each line of text. On another level, it is a collection of excerpts from the employee handbook of the Ministry of Dreams. On both levels, it’s a remarkable and engaging work. As Antero Alli writes in his foreward, “Look at them as meditation portals to the cinematic dreamscapes of the Other Side, or if you prefer psychological terms, the Unconscious (and naturally “other” to the conscious Ego). Or, if you side with the Australian aborigines, the Dreamtime.”

You can learn more about it, and preview it, here. You can buy it from the publisher here or from Amazon.com.

Part one of this interview can be found here.

I found it interesting that everything right down to the typeface in the book is meaningful. Can you talk a bit about that?

Yeah. It’s all about packing. Density is what it is. It’s symbol density. How much can you pack into each page, each image, and each combination? If you start with the text, you got some very plain, random text that Bill assembled Burroughsian-style. He was assembling lots of text ala Burroughs and Gysin. He made these little stanzas that were just starkly beautiful, but were rather plain in and of themselves…they’re just sort of…pronouncements, but if you start with those and you start stacking images, so that the words couple with the images. Some years after the original dream manual was created Bill created the magical alphabet called the Alphabet of Dreams for another purpose. And as I was painting these things, the first paintings, I thought “Well, hmm, the Alphabet of Dreams.” I needed a textual element. Originally, I was thinking about sort of lettering the text comic book style on the paintings and then thought “Wait a minute, if I grab the Alphabet of Dreams which has these runic…each letter has an association.” In typical Bill-manner, each letter has two or three pages of associations, colors, days of the week, and astrological signs. So I thought that if I just transliterated Bill’s original text into the Alphabet of Dreams, I could use that as a pictorial element. It stacked another layer of symbolism on top of just the images coupled to the text. As we built this thing, we just kept packing and packing to point where, as you say, even the fonts Pentagramm and Pentagraf are based on a five-point star. The idea is that all this should act on you in a beneath-the-consciousness sort of way. Indeed, everyone we’ve been able to get to look at it, to play with it, to really read and experience it, has been totally blown away. Most recently, my neighbor who doesn’t read much – he works with the Forestry Committee in Sweden – his family are farmers. He has absolutely no interest in any odd occult stuff, but he read it from front to back and has been asking questions. He thinks this is completely fascinating, so even unlikely people seem to open it and get immediately lost in all the layers of symbols and meaning in it. You’ve got the text layered on there, and there’s that lovely little bit of foreword matter, and some of those strange line drawings that are placed about, and then the final end-piece. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts of the book – that last piece where we listed the image sources. All of these things came from airline magazine, or French fashion magazines while I was travelling through France or postcards from Tokyo. That just ties it to the rest of the world. Finally, as we were assembling the book, Bill wrote these really lovely descriptions of each of the paintings. Not just a dry description, but sort of a poetic description that provides you another route through it. In a way, I think Bill and I were both heavily inspired by the Dictionary of the Khazars. The Dictionary of the Khazars is really a sort of hypertext novel.

That was mentioned in the introduction. When was that published?

You know, it would have to be the early 80’s. I could actually check if you want, but it’s upstairs.

I can look it up online.

I’m sure there’s even a hypertext version these days – a true hypertext version.

Dream Manual I Could Use Your Help

As Antero Alli points out in the foreword, you and Bill avoid the question of what dreams are and what they mean. Do you have an opinion on that?

At different points in my life, I’ve had different answers with different degrees of certainty. I don’t know what dreams are. I’ve had prophetic dreams. I’ve had dreams that seemed just totally weird. As I was learning to speak Swedish fifteen years ago, I used to dream about John Wayne talking to me about Swedish. It’s a combination of prophecy, and processing daily actions, and you mind spinning loose and just relaxing and fantasizing, like watching TV, I think. No. I have no definitive answer about what dreams are.

Since you’ve just finished this seven year project, what are you going to do now or what are you going to do next?

There are two projects I’m working on right now that are totally unrelated or maybe they are, in an odd sort of way. I’m working on a children’s book called “When Gaia Dreams the World.” I’m doing the text and images for that, but that’s sort of in outline stage at the moment. At the same time, I’m working with Bill Whitcomb on the “The Hard-Boiled Tarot.” It’s a Tarot deck which uses modern popular culture genres like Weird Science, True Romance and Thrilling Detective Stories as suits. Like Selections from The Dream Manual, both of these projects deal with the dreams and stories we tell ourselves about the world around us.

Back to part one…

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