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A poem for our night & times, by Carolyn Forché

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Halloween greetings, and a pre-midterm reminder of what demagoguery brings ]
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The box is a box of Halloween humor, a slight thing and entirely innocent, designed to delight with a nostaligic frisson on Halloweens past.. Spooky Halloween Feel Boxes for Adults: Put your hand in — preferably with eyes averted or blindfold — and feel, as in touchy-feel..

Among the sensations you are invited to feel.. cold spaghetti.. worms in a fishing box.. you get the idea.

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My first association, when I saw a pointer to this article was the Gom Jabbar in Dune — a box containing pain, increasing pain. Should the candidate withdraw his hand from the box, he dies by cyanide needle, and the only means of survival is the ability to overcome instinct, which Paul Atreides manages by recitation of the Litany against Fear:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

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Here’s the movie version:

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Black boxes..

The very idea of boxes filled with feelings is, to my mind, a fine one to explore, in humor, as in the New Yorker piece, or in deadly earnest, as in Frank Herbert‘s masterpiece, Dune.

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But then, reading Colin Stokes and Ellis Rosen‘s NYorker humor piece, I came inevitably to this image:

I said inevitably, perhaps unavoidably would have been keener to the point. I couldn’t avoid my second association.

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That second association was to Carolyn Forché:‘s prose-poem The Colonel from her second volume, The Country Between Us.

On reading her poem itself again after so many years, after reading it aloud to audiences on various occasions, after one miraculous night in the early eighties when I heard her read in LA, after reading her American Poetry Review piece about the experiences inn Al Salvador that lead to this particular poem and others — The Memory of Elena with its unforgettable paella among them — that second and more powerful association was to:

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

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Shattering.

Humor has darkened to tragedy — tragedy does not suffice to speak of this horror — the box of touchy-feelies has become the Colonel’s grocery sack spilled on the floor, dried apricots are dried peach halves — despite the differences, the associative leap was, for me, inevitable.

And far too All Hallows Eve appropriate for comfort..

Far too apt for the upcoming midterms, too..

Ursula Le Guin, RIP

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — The Word for World Is Forest ]
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Today I learn that Ursula Le Guin left us yesterday, Google celebrates Virginia Wolff today..

Timing.

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There’s this saying, a door closing opens a window. I wonder what wonders will greet us now.

Wargames, anyone?

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — i haven’t been keeping up, but it seems the membrane between game and reality is stretching to breaking point ]
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RT, the Russian propaganda organ, declared:

Trump ‘invents’ F-52 fighter jet during joint press conference with Norwegian PM

Well, not exactly — that’s technically false (“faux”) news: Call of Duty got there first. Consider:

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Under the title ‘Game transfer phenomena’ and the problem of perception — hey, I’m nothing if not serious — the Guardian reported (Sept 2011):

Nottingham Trent University has revealed some early research into what it calls Game Transfer Phenomena – the habit of taking game experiences into the real world.

Is President Trump suffering from Game Transfer Phenomena?

If he is, he’s not exactly alone. GamesRadar reported (2014) 6 times news outlets used video game images by mistake. More to my point, according to the Guardian (UK, 2016), RAF urged to recruit video game players to operate Reaper drones — but the USAF goes further:

Recruiting Air Force pilots with the Airman Challenge

Do you think most of our potential military recruits can be found playing Call of Duty of right now instead of serving our country? The Air Force seems to think so and has created the Airman Challenge game to teach prospective recruits more about the Air Force and its available positions.

That was back in 2012. I haven’t been tracking developments, but the day can’t be far off when Orson Scott Card‘s prophecy in Ender’s Game is realized, and someone who believes he is simply playing a video game finds to his surprise and potential horror that he’s been fighting a “real life” flesh-and-blood, suffering-and-soul, war.

I know it sounds a bit grim, but: Limbs ahoy!

The phrase ‘time crystals’ is mental clickbait, well nigh irresistible

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — science fiction & science fact meet — JG Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut, strange matter and a sacramental world ]
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Ooh and aah! From Researchers create ‘time crystals’ envisioned by Princeton scientists, Phys Org News, yesterday:

Time crystals may sound like something from science fiction, having more to do with time travel or Dr. Who. These strange materials — in which atoms and molecules are arranged across space and time — are in fact quite real, and are opening up entirely new ways to think about the nature of matter. They also eventually may help protect information in futuristic devices known as quantum computers.

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A system in equilibrium cannot be a time crystal, but non-equilibrium systems can be created by periodically poking, or “driving,” a crystal by shining a laser on its atoms.

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Two groups of researchers based at Harvard University and the University of Maryland report March 9 in the journal Nature that they have successfully created time crystals using theories developed at Princeton University. The Harvard-based team included scientists from Princeton who played fundamental roles in working out the theoretical understanding that led to the creation of these exotic crystals.

What’s in a name?

If they’d called these whatevers “chronosynclastic infundibula” there’s be less excitement, less funding — but fans of Kurt Vonnegut would have had a quiet chuckle.

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But no, they called them “time crystals”. Brilliant, from a PR perspective.

And me? It reminds me of JG Ballard‘s brilliant 1964 short story, The Illuminated Man, which I here juxtapose to the Princeton / Harvard science, in another effort to stitch together the arts and sciences at one of the high arch- points in the nave of what Hermann Hesse called “the hundred-gated cathedral of Mind.”

Some choice quotes:

‘Here in this forest everything is transfigured and illuminated, joined together in the last marriage of time and space.’

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Something glittered in the dusk behind me. I turned to see a brilliant chimera, a man with incandescent arms and chest, race past among the trees, a cascade of particles diffusing in the air behind him. I flinched back behind the cross, but he vanished as suddenly as he had appeared, whirling himself away among the crystal vaults. As his luminous wake faded I heard his voice echoing across the frosted air, the plaintive words jewelled and ornamented like everything else in that transmogrified world.

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There in the Everglades the transfiguration of all living and inanimate forms occurs before our eyes, the gift of immortality a direct consequence of the surrender by each of us of our own physical and temporal identity. However apostate we may be in this world, there perforce we become apostles of the prismatic sun.

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I shall return to the solitary church in that enchanted world, where by day fantastic birds fly through the petrified forest and jewelled alligators glitter like heraldic salamanders on the banks of the crystalline rivers, and where by night the illuminated man races among the trees, his arms like golden cartwheels and his head like a spectral crown.

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Kurt Vonnegut:

These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chrono-synclastic infundibula.

JG Ballard:

Here in this forest everything is transfigured and illuminated, joined together in the last marriage of time and space.

And that brief quote —

There in the Everglades the transfiguration of all living and inanimate forms occurs before our eyes, the gift of immortality a direct consequence of the surrender by each of us of our own physical and temporal identity. However apostate we may be in this world, there perforce we become apostles of the prismatic sun

— that in turn calls to mind Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch’s A Theology of Creation, from which I quoted yesterday in On riding a rapidly accelerating world.. in slower motion:

Absolute personal existence, the Lord as a divine Person, “One of the Holy Trinity,” as our Liturgy says, not only lets himself be contained by the universe at one particular point in space and time, but by realizing at last the vocation of the person, he contains the universe hidden in himself. He does not want, like us, to take possession of the world; he takes it up and offers it in an attitude which is constantly eucharistic. He makes of it a body of unity, the language and flesh of communion.

In him fallen matter no longer imposes its limitations and determinisms; in him the world, frozen by our downfall, melts in the fire of the Spirit and rediscovers its vocation of transparency.

My latest fiction, aptly titled “No Clue”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the lack of advance scheduling for black swans is a recurring theme for my futurizing self ]
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August Cole — co-author with PW Singer of Ghost Fleet — just posted my most recent fiction at the Art of the Future site:

Charles Cameron’s “No Clue” is a finalist entry in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security Global Trends 2035 creative contest that called for writers to explore the technologies, trends and themes that will shape the world two decades from now. He is a multiple finalist in past contests for his stories “News Enhancement In An Info Overloaded Age” and “War In Heaven.” Progenitor of the game Sembl, he can be found on Twitter @hipbonegamer and writing at Zenpundit.com.

My piece begins:

I shall lie quietly under the greensward by 2035, either oblivious, deep into my next incarnation, or something close to omniscient. Oblivion offers the near certainty of being right about the future, but lacks communications skills, so I won’t linger there. From the point of view of my next incarnation, finding myself once again a yak herder in Nepal — yaks haven’t changed much since my grandfather’s day, and his grandfather’s day before him – may I offer you a bowl of tsampa and butter tea? So that leaves us with semi- or quasi-omniscience.

Time — previously a Torah-like scroll with the far past rolled up and vanishing on the left just as the future unspools and becomes present, legible, then recent, on the right – is now laid out in all its simultaneity and glory in the Museum of Timeless Reality. Walking up and down it, noting the Art of Future Warfare challenge of 2016 and inquisitively visiting 2035 to see what unfolded over the timespan between them, I’m grateful for the tweaknology that permits me to select 2016 as my point of origin and observe in broad outline the probability tree across a 19 year spread from there.

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August has very nicely presented my entry in the magazine-style issuu format, meaning that if you click below and bring it up to your appropriate viewing size, you can then flip through my 8 pages as though you were reading a magazine.

Kudos and thanks, August!

Enjoy!

Added: a .pdf version:

NO-CLUE-by-Charles-Cameron


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