The Dream Harvesters

Imaginary Places #2

There is an island in the Atlantic named Quantos with an interesting history; it was home to a civilization known as the Dream Harvesters. They were known for their particularly fantastic beliefs, which formed the basis of their society. For one, they believed that all the events in human history could be traced back to a single, initial event, an idea that foreshadowed The Big Bang. However their most well known belief was that the dream world and the waking world were mirror images of one another. They believed that events in dreams would lead to the opposite occurring in the real world, and that people would encounter the opposite of whatever happened during the day in their dreams. This belief eventually gave rise to an industry that gave them their name, and also destroyed them.


The early period of their history is filled with tales of Oracles interpreting dreams to foretell what would occur during the day. Oracles were required because although at times the relationship between dreams and the world was quite literal (a death in a dream predicting a birth during the day) it was more often interpreted symbolically. So, for example, dreaming of death might symbolize an end that would then predict a new beginning in the world (1).

Dream interpretation was complicated by the fact that every facet of a dream had to be inverted before being applied to the real world (2). For instance, spatial relations–dreaming about a death in one’s house meant someone would be born overseas. On the other hand dreaming of a birth in a distant land gave people cause to worry. Oracles had to quantify and invert every element of a dream–its emotional tone, its abstractness, its time period–and thus it was a difficult task that required years of study (3).


The island went through what could be called an existential crisis when an idea known as the Infinite Mirror Theory came to light. It made the observation that, according to their beliefs, an event occurring in a dream would cause an event the next day, however this event during the day would then also cause an event the following night, leading to an event the next day and so on. This idea was terrifying to the people of Quantos–a notion of determinism resting on their foundational belief. The entire culture at the time centered on using dreams to foretell, and then possibly alter, the future. The idea that this was impossible was devastating.

The Infinite Mirror Theory lost some of its power when an individual pointed out what has come to be known as the Multiple Threads Rebuttal. The people of the island believed that each day/night contained a multitude of events that then caused a multitude of events the next night/day. However, they also believed that the universe began from a single event. Thus, the question went, if the multiple events in every dream were caused the multiple events of the day before, and those events were caused by the multiple events in the dream before that, how could these threads of events be traced back to a single event? Either the Infinite Mirror Theory was wrong or the universe did not begin with a single event (4). Notice that this did not necessarily disprove the Infinite Mirror Theory, but finding any reason to doubt it was comforting to the people of the island, and it was soon forgotten. Discussions of infinite loops were relegated to  philosophers, and the general public went on with their lives ignoring what was the natural extension of their belief about dreams.


There were two precursors that lead to the practice of dream harvesting. The first was a general disdain for determinism, stemming from the crisis of faith that the island had just undergone. The second was a discovery that events in the environment of a dreamer could influence the content of their dreams–someone smelling food while asleep would dream about food, for instance (5). The king of Quantos wondered if it was possible to use this to alter dreams as a way of altering what occurred during the day.

And so elaborate dream houses were built, containing rows and rows of beds; volunteer dreamers were continually fed opiates to keep them in prolonged states of sleep. While sleeping, people known as Dream Harvesters used sounds, smells and movements to try and induce dreams of war, famine and death in the dreamers, to then create the opposite in the real world.

The descriptions of the dream houses are fantastic. Enormous halls lined with beds, with Harvesters running in all directions carrying all manner of equipment, from incense to bells to animals. Massive shelves contained every object imaginable, like the storeroom of a giant museum. There are stories of large-scale reenactments of war, of harvesters concocting mixtures to create the smell of death and decay, of dreamers being soaked to create dreams of floods; dreaming had become a controlled industry.

Oracles no longer used their knowledge to interpret dreams but to script them. They developed carefully crafted dreams that would lead to the desired outcomes in the real world. We hear of them poring over intricately detailed mirror diagrams and figures, charting out every aspect of the dreams that the Harvesters would then create.

At first the island enjoyed a period of prosperity. There were no wars and crops grew at incredible rates; the king was lauded for creating the dream houses. Then, however, things took a turn for the worse. Droughts were followed by a horrible plague on the island. The king, and the citizens in general, believed that more resources needed to be poured into the dream houses–more dreamers, Harvesters and equipment. At one point we are told that a quarter of the population was kept in a dream state, while most of the waking population worked towards maintaining the elaborate performances put on by the Harvesters. Not surprisingly with this many people devoted to the industry of dreams, the island’s agriculture and infrastructure collapsed.

Eventually the island became a mess of starving, sick and dying people, supporting a workforce of incapacitated dreamers. Within five years of beginning the dream houses, most of the population was dead. Some managed to escape to neighboring islands; others tried to rebuild their once thriving cities, but it was too late. Quantos had become the nightmare it was supposed to have dreamt of.

During this downfall, many theories arose to explain why the dream houses were not working and how to fix them (6). One was that dreams had to take place on the opposite side of the world to impact Quantos; others proposed that the geography of the island needed to be reversed in dreams. There were other more dizzying ideas, for instance that the definition of ‘reverse’ also had to be reversed when charting relationship between dreams and the real world. Unfortunately the validity of the basic idea that the dream houses rested on–that events in dreams engendered their opposite during the day–was never questioned. The people were stuck inside of that idea and performed endless mental acrobatics to try and make it work. In reality what they needed was to do away with the paradigm altogether, but they were too far into their maze of mirrors to realize it. A quote from the very end of the island’s civilization demonstrates that even then they did not question it: “oh what splendid dreams the rows of dreamers must be having, of an island filled with pleasures and fruits and gems, while in reality Quantos burns.”



1 – The writings from who could be called the theologians of Quantos are quite interesting, debating the exact relationship between an event and its opposite. For instance, they questioned whether any event could truly have an objective opposite. They also asked vertiginous questions such as whether instead of an event being situated at the opposite end of its spectrum, when going from the dream to the waking world, it would instead be situated at the opposite end of the opposite spectrum.

2 – Interestingly, their language had dozens of subtly different words for the concept of reflection.

3 – Thus dream interpretation became a process of dividing the dream into its smallest components, quantifying those components in terms of multiple dimensions of meaning, and then inverting them. Further complicating matters was the fact that the manner in which these various components interacted with one another was also inverted. For instance, if the relationship between the opposite of two events implied one thing, it now implied the opposite.

Some argued that this approach lead to futility–infinitely dividing a dream into smaller and smaller elements was a process that would never truly end. Thus there were those who proposed simply interpreting the overall gestalt of a dream. These people were branded as heretics by the Oracles and exiled from Quantos. Many historians believe that the Oracles wished to keep dream interpretation an arcane science so that only they were able to do it. Oracles were well respected and held a great deal of power in society, and perhaps this was a way of ensuring it stayed that way.

4 – There were those who believed that both could be true. They believed that while the day contained nearly an infinite number of events, because dreams were the opposite of waking life, they contained a single event–a single event at night that then created a multitude of opposite events during the day. Thus the single event creating the universe occurred within a dream, allowing the events of the world to be traced back continually from dream to day to dream.

5 – The question of why smelling food wouldn’t cause someone to dream of the opposite of food didn’t emerge until much later. It is emblematic of the history of Quantos that simple questions such as these were ignored in favour of obsessively poring over minute details. Perhaps this allowed them to ignore fundamental challenges to their idea of the relationship between dreams and the waking world.

6 – One of note was that the dream houses were in fact operating in reverse, and that they should have been enacting plays of peacemaking and road building, and that these would have engendered dreams of war and destruction. Ironically, taken to a large scale, this may have saved Quantos by leading to the sorts of actions that a society requires, albeit for the purpose of engendering inverse dreams.


The voices began calling me at night. Now it seems impossible that there was ever a time without them, so perhaps I should say that I remembered them one night. At first I thought they were a dream, but I heard them the next night and the night after that. By that point I could no longer sleep, so there was no question of their being a dream. I searched everywhere for their source: a radio, a loud neighbour–for a time it helped to think there was a reasonable explanation.

What did they sound like? Like a memory. Like a voice from far off just before you fall asleep that jolts you awake. They were louder when I faced south. I tried to ignore this.

After the third night I heard them during the day as well. Somehow they were easier to ignore when they belonged to that in between, pseudo-world of night. Once I began to hear them during the day they truly caused me distress. I tried drowning them out with music and loud conversation. This worked for a time, but all the while I knew that the voices were still there, and that as soon as the sounds died down I would hear them again. I once made the mistake of telling a friend. ‘Crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘weirdo’–he didn’t understand.

What did they want? They wanted me. I tried to reason with them and tell them that I couldn’t come, that I had a life, to bother someone else. They didn’t understand reason.

At night I tried to sleep by putting cotton balls in my ears and leaving the television on. But they were louder at night, and I could hear them, far away, no matter what I did. I began to walk the town aimlessly instead of lying awake.

Where were they coming from? Our town is bordered to the south by a forest. It terrified me and I hadn’t been inside since I was young.

Every moment was filled with unrest, everything I did felt like a distraction. Nothing satisfied me, nothing was fulfilling. Every moment was a moment spent ignoring the fact that voices were calling me and that I knew they would never stop.

One night, I awoke from my dazed wandering to realize that I had come to the edge of the forest. It was dark, unknown, full. I had always known it would end here. The voices were incredibly loud now and perfectly clear.

Finally, thankfully, peacefully, I went in.

Night Time #1

The magician is in the tower about the village.  His black silhouette moves against the dark blue sky, not in time with this world–like a projector being run too slowly.  His hands trace arcane figures in the air and light bursts from them.  Children gather beneath the tower and watch, mouths agape.  Parents stand behind them with a knowing smile on their faces.  They see the path before their children, the day in the distance when they will know these are the parlour tricks of an eccentric, when they will forget magic.  The children see the path before their parents, the day in the distance when they will remember it.


An old city.  Or the dream of an old city.  Stone roads and buildings repeating themselves in all directions.  Illuminated by the full moon everything is bathed in silver–bright though without colour.  Stark against the starlit sky, it feels as though the city is floating in outer space.  In a recess three men wearing cloaks huddle around a candle.  One by one they hold their fingers to the flame, burning their callouses off.  They are the city’s musicians–guitarists–scoring this endless night in this endless city.  You ask them why they are doing what they are doing.  “So it hurts again” they say.


I see two buses moving towards eachother along a route, a long straight road through a residential neighborhood.  Night.  Foggy.  Like being underwater.  The drivers can only see as far as their headlights allow them.  I see a line through blackness, two dots traveling along it, bringing the world around them into existence.  A lonely night.  The people in the houses are asleep, their pets are asleep, their refrigerators hum.  The buses drive on.  Suddenly they see life ahead, light.  The other bus.  They pass.  For a moment instead of two small worlds a single large one comes to be.  They nod and drive on, comforted, continuing to bring darkness to light.


In the city of Aastyn there are two temples.

Upon entering the first, a visitor’s eyes are immediately drawn downwards.  There he or she finds a stone floor made almost perfectly smooth by centuries of footsteps.  If the visitor were to look closer, they would notice names and dates written on the stones–the names of the people buried underneath.  The worn names are made doubly hard to read by the absence of light, save for a few candles.  The temple has irregular earthen walls, and is filled with greenery and dampness.  One feels the presence of life all around them, pressing on them–palpable, visceral life.  The bodies lying beneath the floor do not detract from this presence, but rather add to it.

Upon entering the second, a visitor’s eyes are immediately drawn upwards.  Immense columns reach toward a ceiling so remote that it can’t be seen clearly.  The temple is empty–as if the vast open space were decoration enough.  It is illuminated by brilliant sunlight, shining in through crystal windows.  One is overcome with a feeling of wonder.  It is as though the makers of this temple settled for conveying the awe they felt in the presence of some higher truth, because that truth would be impossible to convey directly.

Every visitor prefers one temple to the other.  Every visitor scoffs at the banality of one and praises the correctness of the other.

What visitors don’t see lies hundreds of feet below them: a tunnel connecting the two temples.  It was filled in centuries ago and the entrances have long been forgotten.  But when the temples were still new and in use, worshippers would never visit one without also visiting the other.

The Cult of Book Burners

Imaginary Places #1

A little while ago I read about a group that existed in ancient Greece known as the Cult of Book Burners.  They were a community of philosophers that lived in the Penteliko Mountains northeast of Athens, where they wrote on many different topics.  They’re best known for a strange ritual that occurred on every new moon, in which they would burn everything they had written up to that point.  They would then write again until the next new moon, when they would burn everything once again.  Because of this peculiar practice none of their work has survived, but we do know a little bit about them from the writing of others at the time.

The Pool of Thought

The Cult’s aim was an interesting one.  They spoke of a “pool of possibility”, a metaphor for the totality of possible thought.  Every time someone experienced an idea, they imagined a bit of that pool being emptied.  They believed that the goal of life was to drain that pool–they wanted to give life to every possible concept by thinking them, one at a time.

It’s difficult to comprehend the immensity of this task.  The Cult would have to think of every possible way to explain what is ‘right’, no matter how nonsensical or paradoxical; every idea of what happens to us after we die; every possible way of governing a society–or rather every possible way of governing every possible society.  Even these examples limit their aims to the fields of ethics, metaphysics and politics.  They not only wanted to experience every possible concept within a field, they wanted to experience every possible concept within every possible field, and then in every possible way of thinking that exists outside of ‘fields’.  They would have to reduce thought to its most pure and abstract level, for example, to think of every way for two things to be related: as opposites, as duplicates, as attractors, as repulsors, one as a container for the other, one as a metaphor of the other, one as the cause of the other, one as a future version of the other, and so on.  Even this task when completed would only be a tiny slice of the immense body of possible thought that they attempted to experience, bit by bit.¹

Book Burners

As incredible as this goal was, what strikes most people about their story is the burning ritual.  It’s important to note that this isn’t as nonsensical as it might seem at first.  They only wanted to have thought every concept, not to actually produce a record of each one.  The act of writing was probably only necessary in as far as it allowed them to explore these concepts and form them coherently.  Nevertheless such a bizarre ritual still begs an explanation.  Since none of their writing survives, any explanation would have to be pure speculation–and there is no shortage of that.

Some believe that the burning was symbolic: returning ideas to the pool of thought that they came from.  Others claim that it was for practical reasons: if they kept a record of every single concept they would have quickly run out of space.  Somehow neither of these seems satisfying.

Many people who hear about the Cult are quick to point out how seemingly counterproductive the burning ritual actually was.  How could they have hoped to experience every concept if they didn’t have a record of those they had already thought?   Wouldn’t they end up going around in circles?  Some suggest that this was actually their intent.  The Cult may have indeed begun with the goal of thinking every idea, but eventually became more interested in the journey than the destination.  Perhaps the burning was a way of ensuring that they never reached their goal and continued writing forever.

A final theory proposes that the ritual was to protect the Cult from a discovery that would have destroyed it.  Perhaps the burning was to avoid a member one day seeing a description of the Cult’s very philosophy–the slow draining of a pool of ideas–among the multiplicity of ideas produced.  Maybe it was to protect the members from the realization that the Cult’s supposed all encompassing philosophy was just another drop in their pool of ideas–to avoid their philosophy dying the death all ideas claiming to explain everything die when they are subjected to themselves.


Today the Cult has been relegated to relative obscurity–only mentioned in the footnotes of a few history textbooks.²  However, it would be impossible for a story about mysterious cults and lost literature to have avoided the attention of conspiracy theorists.  Some of these people claim that the Cult is responsible for many, if not all, of the innovative ideas that the ancient Greeks developed.  The Cult would have been like a random number generator that eventually provides the password to a safe–eventually they would have produced an extremely useful idea.  These theorists attribute everything from Athenian democracy to Plato’s theory of forms, to the Cult.

Others go so far as to suggest that every original idea in the history of human thought is actually an idea produced by the Cult that somehow avoided destruction, and was discovered at some later date.  These people claim that Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Christian theology, Marxism, and so on, are all actually Cult ideas.³  As impossible as this seems, it is interesting to imagine every idea that mankind has ever developed, or will ever develop, having already been written and burned by a group of philosophers centuries ago.   Burned by a cult that didn’t see the value in any one particular idea over another, but saw them as equal drops in a pool of possible thought.

1 – One theory on how they might have approached this is known (by its critics) as ‘the tortoise theory’; it was put forth by Jules de Quincy in his book The Burners.  He proposes that they began with a concept, and then made the smallest possible change that would still result in a new concept.  They then repeated this until–at some theoretical point in the future–they had gone through every possible idea.  Perhaps in this way they stumbled onto ideas that minds would later spend years trying to get at deliberately.

Critics are quick to point out that it isn’t clear what defines a ‘new concept’, or what the ‘smallest possible change’ would be.  They hold that a change in a concept is an infinitely reducible quantity, so that if the Cult had taken this approach not only would they have never arrived at their goal, they would never have even arrived at a second concept.

What I find interesting about ‘the tortoise theory’ is that it imagines ideas as a homogenous field, without any boundaries between categories of thought.  Someone might being with a mathematic proposition that slowly morphs into a theory of music, which then slowly becomes a metaphor for life, which becomes a mathematical proposition once again, and so on.  It’s neat to think about developing ideas in this way–in a sense only being aware of their form and not their content.  Treating concepts like objects that you alter slowly without considering their meaning or their relation to the real world.

2 – Nevertheless we can see echoes of the Cult’s philosophy in various places.  One example is the musician Willie Solmners, who aimed to record every possible three seconds of music–every combination of notes that could be played in that time.  He died before completing this task, but his three hundred CD box set “Forever in Three Seconds” is popular in some music circles.

Another example is the musician John Frusciante who recorded hundreds of songs without ever intending to release them, simply for the sake of creating them.

3 – It’s interesting to consider if there is a limit to the ideas that the Cult could theoretically have produced.  Many agree with Marcelle Adams who, in his book Burning the Burners, claims that the field of possible ideas open to a society is necessarily limited by their advancement.  For example, it’s difficult to imagine the Cult developing ideas of software programming or genetic replication, which require scientific and technological knowledge that they didn’t have.  However others argue that even something like software programming can be, after a number of abstractions, reduced to a form where it exists as a series of abstract propositions.  Ideas in this form wouldn’t necessarily have been beyond the Cult.

…if they existed.

Twelve books I would love to read…


‘Abyz’ – Lewis B. Georges

This novel is written as a mirror of itself.  An event on page two (of one hundred) is mirrored on page ninety-nine; a birth on page thirty-seven is mirrored by a death on page sixty-two; a cathedral being built on page twelve is mirrored by a graveyard being dug on page eighty-seven.  The plot winds its way to the midpoint and then becomes its own reflection, as each event’s opposite occurs in reverse order, while still telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

‘Now’ – Ionor Peters

Only one sentence in this novel is written in the present tense and it is located precisely at the book’s midpoint.  The half coming before that sentence is written in the past tense, and traces the events that lead up to that moment.  The half coming after is written in the future tense, and tells of the events that will follow.  According to the author this reflects the “microscopic and diaphanous nature of the present, a sliver of time encroached on by the endless past and future.”  Nevertheless he hopes to impart the importance of the present: “Though it is quite mundane, that sentence [in the present tense] becomes incredibly meaningful to the reader because everything else in the novel determines it and is determined by it.”

‘Loquela’ – April Waarden

This novel is presented as the journal of Richard Warif, a linguistics professor whose life falling apart.  We hear about events beyond his control that constantly do him harm.  After he loses his job he decides to regain control by taking command of what he sees as the most powerful thing in the world: language.  He begins making small changes to the rules of language and applying them in his daily life.  For example he decides that repeating the first syllable of a word at the end indicates that the word now means its opposite (happyha=unhappy).  What makes this such an interesting read is that every time he invents a new rule, the book (his diary) adopts it and follows it.  The changes take place slowly so that the reader can keep up, but by the end of the book the language is completely unrecognizable to someone that hasn’t been following the changes.  It’s a unique way to express–and let the reader experience–a person’s descent into madness.  As Dr. Warif becomes absorbed and isolated by this new language, he is eventually cut off from the world around him.

‘The Journey’ – John Bellington

This novel tells a continuous story from beginning to end, but changes genres every chapter.  It includes chapters done in typical–almost to the point of being caricaturish–film noire, fantasy, western, superhero styles, as well as many others.  It isn’t just the style that changes, everything from the setting to the characters changes with each chapter, while the plot continues in these different guises.  For example the medieval chapter ends as the hero is about to joust with his enemy.  The next chapter picks up the plot with the hero facing the enemy in a duel, ready to draw, thus beginning the wild west chapter.  All in all the novel gives the sense that plot exists in an abstract way, and takes on various accidental forms depending on the specific work.

‘Her Violet Flame’ – Henry Davidson and Paul White; Henry Davidson and Moe Walters; Henry Davidson and Sharon O’Connor

Henry Davidson died before completing this novel and it was finished independently by Paul White, Moe Walters and Sharon O’Connor, creating three different novels that diverge at the point where the original Davidson text ends.  What is interesting is how the portion that they all share–the beginning, written by Davidson, identical in all three–becomes different in each.  For example, a mysterious stranger whose identity was never revealed by Davidson is identified as three different characters in each version, retroactively making the Davidson portion different (though technically identical) in all three.  The three texts also differ wildly in terms of genre and style.  The Davidson portion seems to match when connected with all three and becomes coloured by them, in the same way that a series of three notes can take on different qualities based on the fourth.  In this way all three books are internally consistent, mutually exclusive worlds, despite having half of their texts in common.

‘Books I Would Love to Read’ – Michael Dishu

This novel tells the story of a book editor whose workdays are filled with reading that he doesn’t enjoy.  Ironically since he is so busy reading for work he doesn’t have the time to read for pleasure.  What is interesting about this book is that we get tiny glimpses of the books he edits: one about a planet whose culture revolves around the number three, another whose plot is a mirror of itself, even a book containing summaries of many other books, one of which is a book similar to Books I Would Love to Read.

‘Trzy” – Raqu Anami

This science fiction novel takes place on Trzy, a world similar to our own but with one major difference.  Instead of having a sun and moon traveling through their sky, they have three objects: a sun, a moon and a small planet caught in Trzy’s orbit.  These three bodies create three equal phases of the day instead of our two.  Because of this, their world didn’t develop concepts as binary oppositions like we did.  (The author assumes that this way of thinking on Earth can be traced back to ancient civilizations basing their mythologies on the duality of day and night, leading to distinctions such as good and evil, strong and weak etc.; a manner of thinking that has carried on until today.)  On this world every concept is anchored on three ends; instead of being situated on a spectrum between two extremes, their concepts can be visualized as a triangle with three extremes.  For example their world doesn’t have the concepts of good and evil; the closest  corollary would be their ent (roughly corresponding to someone who follows the law), ka (roughly someone who does things based on an action’s long term outcomes) and ip (roughly someone who does things based on how it makes them feel).

[I obviously haven’t read it, but from what I know these concepts become even more complicated.   People in this world can’t be ‘more’ or ‘less’ of a ka, for example, since more and less are ends of a spectrum of quantity.  Instead there is again a tripartite concept that describes how each end of a tripartite concept applies to a person or thing.]

‘Notes on the Underground’ – Bethany Nomo

There are two overlapping worlds in this novel.  The actual text tells the story of a curtain cleaner who reflects on, and meddles in, the lives of his customers.  But we also get a glimpse into the world of a fictional reader of this text, whose notes we see scrawled in the margins of the book (written while on the London underground).  Through his notes we can follow the events of his life, and also his interpretation of the novel.  This becomes especially interesting when he makes mistakes and misunderstands something in the text.  We get a glimpse of how these mistaken ideas enter his life, sometimes for good but more often for bad.

‘That Down Feeling’ – Willie H. Solmers

On the surface this short novel is simply about a man who loses the things around him and then finds peace with what he has left.  What makes this book interesting is that it aims to represent the musical movement of a chord progression by way of plot.  The book is made up of twenty-four chapters that reflect two cycles of a twelve bar blues progression.  So for example, issues resolve themselves and return to a stable state as the chapter corresponding to the ‘V’ chord ends and the one corresponding to the ‘I’ chord begins.

A Treatise on the Mental Creation of Objects’ – Remi le Marche

This is a bit different than the others on the list.  It’s one of those ‘lost books’, like Homer’s Margites or Plato’s Hemocrates, books from history that we have reason to believe existed, but of which no copies remain.  I wrote about Remi le Marche here, a philosopher turned reclusive monk, who dedicated himself to proving his theory of metaphysics by demonstration.  He spent years developing the mental focus needed to envision tiny points of light with such accuracy that they would necessarily have to exist.  Although he had stopped publishing by this point there are rumors that he wrote this book on the topic.

‘Our Oboros’ – William Stevehouse

This is essentially a book of short stories, with each story emerging from the preceding one.  For example, in one story we read about the protagonist’s experience at a party which reminds him of a walk he took some time in the past.  That walk is then narrated in the present tense in the next story, during which he recalls falling into a river which becomes the next story, and so on.  It’s a book of stories within stories within stories.  The cool part about this book is the ending.

SPOILER (highlight to read):  As I said, each story ends with a recollection of some previous event that becomes the next story.  The final story in the book ends with a recollection of the first.  This makes all of the stories into an endless loop of recollections with no beginning or end.

‘A Life in the Day of Walther Gil’ – Calvin Venicio

This novel recounts the unremarkable life of Walther Gil, from the moment he is born to the moment he dies.  What makes this book special is the changing prose, which matures along with the protagonist.  For example, during Walther’s first few months the story is told in bursts of words, without grammar or punctuation.  A nap is described as: ‘angry hurts       nononono   soft    dark    dream’.  This slowly develops through rudimentary sentences during his first few years before reaching an apex of complexity in adulthood.  It then gently descends through short, calm sentences when Walther reaches old age before returning to unstructured bursts of words during his last few moments.


…if they existed.

The Cabin

It began two weeks ago in a field opposite my home.  The field has a few trees, wonderful green grass and gentle sloping hills.  I cross it everyday.

Then it appeared.

At first it was a black square where there had been only grass for as long as I could remember.  Its edges were long enough for two men to lie along, flat and framing an empty patch of earth.  I didn’t pay it much attention, but I kept my distance.

The next day it had grown and was one foot off of the ground–two the next.  I waited, far away, until it got dark the second day to see the builder.  No one came.  It was three feet off of the ground when it was light.

Each morning as I awoke and looked out at the field I could see it.  Sinister and perverse.  Ominous and somehow sentient–aware that it was out of place and not bothered.  I realized that it was becoming a cabin.

My path home got closer and closer to it each day until, a week after it had first appeared, I found myself next to it.  Its walls were dark, but not suggestive of an emptiness like the sky; it was closer to charcoal–dirty and cold.  An unholy blend of ancient coal-blackened machinery smelling of archaic otherworldliness, and primal savage rock that had once been buried under the Earth.  It was horrifying.

I went to see it on the way home each day after that, staying longer every time.  A few days ago its windows began to glow with a fire from the inside, but it wasn’t warm.  The sickening walls made the fire seem evil–not the giver of life but the destroyer.

It was finished yesterday, I know because there were no changes this morning.  I’m going inside tonight.  I don’t think I will be back for some time.

Syncing Season Five of The Simpsons with Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’

(If you just want to read the interesting ways that these two things synced up, skip to where it says ‘Long story short‘.)

Most of you have probably heard about Dark Side of the Rainbow, the idea that The Wizard of Oz overlaps with The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.  As cool as it is, it seems pretty unbelievable that the connections are in any way deliberate.  They’re more likely the result of two things: our need to find relationships in the world around us, and our tendency to remember when our expectations are supported while forgetting the times they aren’t.  (Blah and blah.)  That being said, of course there are going to be some pairings that produce more overlaps than others just based on random chance.  So not every movie/album pair is going to sync up as well as The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon, making that pairing special even if it wasn’t planned.  The same can be said about other popular pairings like: Alice in Wonderland with The Wall, or 2001: A Space Odyssey with the song Echoes.

To me the fact that these pairings aren’t the product of intent doesn’t make them any less interesting, just like you don’t need to believe in a divine will to find bizarre coincidences amazing.  This also means that you can pair up any random visual and audio to look for connections, without worrying about the plausbility of it being contrived.  It’s a lot fun to just present a random piece of music, and a random video to your mind and let it go to work finding connections between the two.

I think that the connections are of two sorts: content and mood.  Content is what I’ve been talking about up until now: lyrics/sounds from the audio coinciding with something going on visually.  It’s almost a challenge to actively look for these connections, thinking about ways of interpreting words so that they reflect what you’re seeing.  Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it takes creativity.  Although I wouldn’t agree with them, some people might use the fact that you can find these connections in a random pairing to take away from the interpretation of art in general.  I would say that just because we can find them at random doesn’t mean that artists don’t put them there intentionally when they control all parts of the final product.

By mood I mean the way that the audio affects the feel of the visuals, and vice versa.  Just like watching a music video might change how a song feels, or a soundtrack might change how a given moment in a movie feels.  The only difference here is that the pairing is random and it’s entirely up to the viewer to fit the two together (both actively and passively), creating a new third experience, different than the audio or visuals by themselves.  I find it very interesting to feel your mind making two things that were certainly not meant to go together fit with one another, creating one unified product out of two disparate things. (1)

Long story short I paired season five of The Simpsons with Kanye West’s fifth album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2).  I hit ‘play all’ on the first DVD of season five as I hit play on the album.  I only went through the album once but in theory it would have been cool to go through the entire season with the album repeating.  However despite what some people may think after reading this I don’t have that much free time on my hands.  These are some of the cool content connections that I noticed between the audio of the album and the visuals of the episodes (which were on mute):

-The line “Don’t make me pull the toys out…” coincided with a shot of Lisa looking at a box of toys.

“Penitentiary chances, the devil dances…” coincided with a shot of Springfield Penitentiary.

“I thought I chose a field where they couldn’t sack me…” coincided with Wiggum getting fired from the Be Sharps.

“But God said I need a different approach…” coincided with a shot of Wiggum wearing a costume and trying to trick them into taking him back.

-“You blowing up, that’s good, fantastic…” coincided with them discovering that Barney could sing (and later getting him to join the group).  I’m hoping my friends won’t need this, but just in case

-“No more chances if you blow this…” coincided with their (the Be Sharp’s) agent talking to them outside of Moe’s.

-“Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation…” coincided with the Sea Captain stopping his fight with the giant squid and starting to talk to it.

-“I got the power to make your life so exciting…” coincided with Homer giving his Dad a new car.

-“Want you to see all of the lights…” coincided with a shot of Hollywood, with two searchlights moving around.

“Can’t see my daughter…” coincided with a scene of Homer being on tour, and Marge trying to fill his absence with this

-A scream in ‘Monster’ coincided with this shot.

-“Do the rap and track, triple double no assist…” coincided with Matt Groening’s name in the credits.  If you have to ask how that relates…

“She came up to me and said this the number 2…” coincided with the second episode starting.

“I smell a massacre…” coincided with this.

“Praises due to the most high, Allah…” coincided with a shot of an angel that Ned had trimmed out of a hedge.

“Fucking insane…” coincided with Sideshow Bob laughing manically, when you first learn that he’s the one sending Bart the bloody messages.

“So if you had her too, it don’t affect me in the slightest…” coincided with a shot of Selma testifying and everyone behind her in the courtroom raising their hands.

“The way you look should be a sin…” coincided with this.

-“We’ll have a big ass crib and a long yard…” coincided with a shot of a big ass crib and a long yard.

-Lastly, I’m not exaggerating when I say the credits of the third episode ended exactly when the album did.  It’s also cool that the last song ends with applause.

1- If this is true it brings up the interesting question of whether or not two things can really “go together well” in terms of mood.  We’ve all thought about a scene in a movie that was complemented perfectly by its score, but if any visual and audio can combine to create a third thing, how can any pairing be “more appropriate”?  Is it just a pairing that better fits what the creator intended?  Or fits in better with the rest of the project?  Do they view one (audio or visual) as being the primary component and the other one being secondary, slightly colouring the primary one instead of creating a third and altogether new thing?  Or maybe two things “go well together” when they create a third thing that isn’t fundamentally different than the two other things by themselves?

2 – They both have red covers!  The third season and his third album both have purple covers!  But sadly that’s where it ends.

120 Sentences (19-22)

1  I love coming up with brand new cliches and non contradictory oxymorons.

2  I’m a chain-gumchewer; I go through like two packs a day.

3 I’ve always (since this afternoon) wanted to leave a piece of string in my ear for a year, let a nice ball of wax form on it, then pull it out and keep it.

4  I think that th lttr ‘e‘ has bcom trit from ovrus, so I try not to ovrdo it.

5  I never do my share of the pushing when I’m in a revolving door with other people.

6  I hate it when I miss my gum with my teeth and strangers think I’m biting at them.

7  I think LFO wrote this the same way I wrote this.

8  I hate it when people tell you how many words they’re about to tell you.

9  I hate it when sentences of mine inadvertently rhyme.

10  As he walked along the garden path sentence continued to confuse him.

11  I don’t like words that can’t be pronounced when you emphasize them by repeating a letter – like bet (bbbbbbet/beeeeeet/betttttt).

12  It’s time bands realize that iPods have made hidden tracks a lot less hidden.

13 I think it’s cute when (old) people ding to ‘request’ a stop at a subway station.

14  The most disappointing thing in the world is when a Facebook notification turns out to only be someone else liking a status that you liked.

15  It’s funny when people lean forward in their chair to let someone pass instead of actually moving it.

16  A subject without a predicate.

16  I’ve seen way too many videos of Harry and Ron getting it on (see #9) while looking for clips of Slash on YouTube.

17  .the things I do seem ssa a lot of the timE

18  I wish ‘high going mono’ was a more useful sentence so I could type it using T9.

19  I’ve realized that grilled cheese sandwiches are just sandwiches without toppings.

20  It’s funny how rarely “not to be racist” isn’t followed up by something that is racist.

21  I like phrases like “you are not” that allow for personal expression in choice of conjugation: either you aren’t or you’re not.

22  Warning: This might ruin rap for you.  Highlight inside of the asterisks if you want to go on anyway.  *Listen to this song and try NOT to notice how obvious the sound of Kanye breathing is.*

to be continued…

Comments are very much appreciated!

Remi le Marche

As many of you know – since that’s all I’ve been talking about – I just finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. If any of you are looking for a book to read I would highly recommend it.  Even if you aren’t looking for a book, or you’re already reading a book, I would still highly recommend it. What really got me was how real the magic in Jonathan Strange seemed. It references an entire library of invented books on English magic, and it all seemed so authentic that I almost found myself googling some of them. When I finally accepted that as real as it seemed, the history of magic in Jonathan Strange was invented, I naturally became curious to see if any history of magic does exist.  The answer might seem obvious, but I was still so entangled in the world of Jonathan Strange that a small part of me expected to find at least a rumor of something plausible.

I found a lot of historical information regarding ‘magic’, but at first none of it was what I was hoping for. I came across a lot of magic mentioned in relation to the religious ceremonies of ancient civilizations and modern day indigenous populations, but none of it seemed convincing. There were medicine men and shamans that upon closer inspection seemed to only cast placebo effects.  I found modern figures like Alistair Crowley who’s name is usually  associated with magic, but who came across as more of an occult philosopher.  There were others like John Dee, who though they were fascinating, didn’t seem to have ever actually done anything supernatural.  Lastly I came to the new age crowd that inspires the same grimace in me as it probably does in you. Most, if not all, of their ‘magic’ seems to be vague and un-testable.  All in all the real history of magic seemed worlds apart from Jonathan Strange.  

Then I came across Remi LeMarche.

I was surprised that I’d never heard of him before, but from talking to some of you it sounds like I wasn’t alone in my ignorance.  Remi le March (1732-?) is one of only three people that are ‘considered by history’ to have performed magic.

le Marche was born in Paris on November 21st, 1732 to wealthy parents. His father had aspirations of priesthood for his son but le Marche instead chose to pursue philosophy. His privelidged upbringing helped him in this endeavor because he’d learned to read and write several languages as a kid.

He was drawn to idealism, especially the radical sort that said thoughts were all that existed. George Berkeley had reasoned that since we only ever experience matter indirectly, by way of our thoughts, we have no reason to assume that it exists at all (1).  But, if objects only existed as thoughts, how could they remain in existence when a mind wasn’t experiencing them?  In other words, does a tree you’re looking at actually cease to exist when you close your eyes?  Berkeley’s answer to this was that God was always experiencing everything, and thus everything was constantly being experienced.  It was also God that put the appropriate ideas in your head to correspond with the outside world, so that when you looked at a chair, you saw a chair.  This presented problems for le Marche who didn’t believe in the existence of God and was forced to develop his own theory of metaphysics.

le Marche believed, as Berkeley did, that the internal world of ideas was all that we ever experienced.  He also posited the existence of an external world that we experienced indirectly through those ideas.  However instead of a God, le Marche concluded that there was a natural and immutable law of reality that kept the internal and external worlds consistent.  You couldn’t see something that wasn’t there, and there couldn’t be something there without you being able to see it (2).

This is where his story gets interesting. He asked the question: what if you could force yourself to see something that wasn’t there? Would it necessarily have to exist?  What was ‘out there’ determined what you saw, but if the internal and external worlds were inextricably linked, then what you saw should be able to determine what was ‘out there’.  He was so convinced of his metaphysical theory that the validity of this seemed unquestionable.  This would become his life’s work, a way to provide tangible evidence for a theory about intangibles (3).

It wouldn’t be enough for him to imagine seeing something that wasn’t there, he would have to actually see it.  He reasonably stated that this was easy enough with one’s eyes closed. Everyone can imagine things with their eyes shut, and with a bit of focus can actually see them. It would just require an immense amount of concentration to be able to do that with one’s eyes open, while also experiencing the world. If he could do this, the imagined thing would have to exist along with everything else that was being seen because since the internal and external worlds had to remain consistent.  He expounded these ideas in the final article that he would ever publish in 1765.  Soon after this le Marche disappeared from the public eye and the academic world to cultivate the kind of mental focus that he needed.  Thus, for the next decade or so the record of his life becomes a bit foggier.

Beginning in 1766, in the records of a monastery in Tibet, there is mention of a ‘European who wished to see his thoughts’. Historians generally agree that this was le Marche and all we know of his efforts for the next eight years comes from these records. They talk about the European spending every moment of his time sitting in private focusing on his thoughts. From what happened later we can suppose that he started with something small and easy to visualize: a speck of light.  Every few weeks he would approach the monks and ask if they could see the bit of light that he was trying to picture, but for a long time they couldn’t. Then finally one day he managed to create what the monks called ‘a jewel of eternity’ – a speck of light out of nowhere. Over the next few years the bits of light that he conjured became larger and larger until they were the size of a small pebble (4).

Something to keep in mind is that he never saw any of this as an end in itself. He had been thoroughly frustrated by the lack of acceptance his theories received, and all of this was a way to prove them irrefutably. This is probably why he didn’t ride into France immediately to show off his newfound ability. Fame and fortune didn’t interest him in the least.  It seems like he waited patiently until his ability had become reliable and then returned to France some time around 1774.

We know of what happened next because it would be written about in many different philosophical publications over the next few years. On the 16th of July, 1774, le Marche appeared in Paris and succeeded in conjuring a small bit of light in the company of his critics. But instead of convincing them of le Marche’s theories (or amazing them), this just set off a series of articles arguing that the demonstration didn’t necessarily prove anything.  It wasn’t that they doubted the validity of what he’d done, they just didn’t agree that it proved any particular metaphysical theory to be true.  When this feat that he’d worked for years to accomplish failed to convince the philosophical world, le Marche became entirely disillusioned and retired for good (5).

What happened to Remi LeMarche after this is not known for certain. Most historians agree that he retreated to a quiet life, possibly back in Tibet, and lived out the rest of his days in the isolation he’d grown accustomed to. There is no further mention of him practicing ‘magic’, but that doesn’t rule it out entirely since there is hardly any further mention of him at all.

There are of course other theories out there. Some (for example…) believe that his power became too great and that it destroyed him.  Ideas on how this happened range from his nightmares devouring him to a giant hole in reality swallowing him up.  Exciting and romantic as these stories are they seem unlikely, especially since there is never any mention of him creating anything more than bits of light (6). Others say that he never died at all, and is waiting to return one day and usher in a new era for mankind. This also seems pretty unlikely, given that he would be over 200 years old today. Of course another popular but doubtful theory is that the Church, driven by fear that he would use his power to challenge them, had le Marche killed.

It’s sad to say, but Remi le Marche didn’t have much of an impact on the world at large. I don’t know that much about philosophy but it seems like for all of his effort he remains a small ripple in the history of metaphysics. As far as the ‘history of magic’ goes he’s had even less of an impact. There are a few reasons for this. To begin with he was never interested in fame, and knowledge of his ability never quite reached the masses in his time. News of his public feat in 1774 was only written about in esoteric philosophy articles that the public probably never read. Even when he is written about today it is usually as a footnote in the history of metaphysics. Of course he is popular with conspiracy theorists and a few within the new age movement, but they often exaggerate his story to the point of incredibility.  And even if his story were told accurately, it is a story of years and years of dreary isolation in order to achieve what might seem like minor miracles for academic purposes. He certainly isn’t what people think of when they hear the word ‘magician’ – a fact I’m sure he would be happy about. Nevertheless, the world became a little bit cooler when I read about Remi le Marche.

1- For example, when you look at a chair you aren’t really seeing the chair but only it’s representation in your mind. If you want to read more on this idea you’ll find it in Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous.

2 – This law was as eternal, fundamental and beyond debate as the law that makes ‘2 + 2 = 4’.  It was simply was the way the universe worked.  There is of course a lot more to his theory that I’ve left out both because I didn’t quite understand it and because I wanted to keep this short. There is a good summary of it in A History of French Metaphysics.

3 – le Marche also saw this as a challenge to the role of God in Berkeley’s theory.  Berkeley’s God put appropriate ideas in a person’s mind (i.e. seeing a chair when one looked at a chair) but didn’t allow things to work the other way around since he was the one control of all sensations, allowing people access to them when appropriate.  le Marche’s idea was a way to prove that some immutable law, and not a God, kept the internal and external worlds consistent.

4 – There is never any mention of him creating anything more visually complicated than this, ostensibly because it was too difficult to picture.  Some people argue that the monastery records actually say he was able to create small objects like pebbles, not light the size of a pebble, but most don’t agree with this translation.

5 – Most people agree that his critics were justified in not being convinced of le Marche’s theories based on this demonstration. It seems like le Marche had become so obsessed with achieving this feat that he didn’t realize how little water it held as an argument in and of itself.  It’s too bad that he didn’t publish his own articles arguing for the relationship between this demonstration and his theories.  There are rumors that he began writing a book entitled A Treatise on the Mental Creation of Objects, but that he didn’t get further than the introduction.  However no traces of it have ever been found.

6 – I’ve come across theories by some people who believe that he managed to not only create actual objects, but living things.  They say that the Church altered records and removed all mention of his creating life, but this seems dubious. It’s likely that if the Church actually had the opportunity to tamper with records of his abilities they would have simply destroyed them altogether. Or on the other hand they might have instead altered them to serve their own purposes. Historian Garth Edwards brought up a similar idea when he said he was “surprised that the Church hasn’t already canonized le Marche, and attempted to bring the miracles he was able to perform under their jurisdiction”. Of course the fact that le Marche was a lifelong atheist made this rather difficult.