Reviewing Modernity

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The present as a burden (and a disappointment). The future as a threat. The past as a refuge. It is arguably a fundamental aspect of human nature to so address our predicament. Do we not all experience an aspect of this suffering? But it’s neither sentimental longing nor existential angst nor a myth-of-the-eternal-return dreaminess that seems to drive The Figure of Modernity: On the Irregularity of an Epoch by Tilo Schabert.

Neither is the book’s keen expression of vexation communicated by its reference to irregularity. Can an epoch indeed be irregular? It’s a word that can mean anything from asymmetrical to jagged to broken. When in fact it may be argued that epochs merely are what they are – none are better or worse than any other – and empirically, within the context of experiencing them, that is, they all come up lacking. Meanwhile, to be objective about anything is to be unbiased and dispassionate. Distanced. And inevitably lacking in humanity. For the heart or, in Oriental terms, the heart-mind, it is said, knows no distance. That is to say, we experience our time, our era, our sliver of an epoch subjectively and passionately and wholeheartedly.

Schabert is nothing if not wholehearted. And if there exists an inarticulate speech of the heart his is reliably articulate. His classic romanticism – namely, the implication that within the Mystery, such as it is, exists ascertainable truth – is authentic. Likewise, his faith in Nature and the essential value of science. His intellectual rigor and spiritual and contemplative acumen continue, after all, to infuse that original epicenter of scholarly and contemplative alchemy known as Eranos, which today stands as its own study in epochal change. He is also a student of Voegelin, hence fundamentally wary of so-called “imaginative oblivion,” or what Schabert himself identifies and calls to task as the hubris of our current cult of self-deification (my term). And he is a political scientist in the sense not of discerning the dynamics of electoral politics and unpacking contests of power but of the compassionate freedoms expressed within the limits of the polis and a unified wholeness, a humane gestalt.

“Under what conditions can a human being, in the flux of his life, be the helmsman of his life?” This from Schabert’s deft 2015 (in English) publication, The Second Birth: On the Political Beginnings of Human Existence. Which functions, it occurs to me, as perhaps a useful companion to The Figure of Modernity. They are both slender volumes, monographs of a sort, which is not to criticize their brevity but rather to praise the focused discernment and penetrating, tenacious enquiry that enlivens all such finely rendered investigations.

That said, where The Second Birth communicates a measured optimism The Figure of Modernity, at least upon first impression, expresses an unsettling anguish. And an underlying, almost irascible frustration.

Humankind has been possessed by an unfounded arrogance. The ways of humans ought to be corrected and be wise ones again. The ethical insights expressed by these lessons are old – and have been largely forgotten. In “ancient” times they were, to everyone’s knowledge, personified by divinities (xxiii).

Ah, myth. Schabert and I come together there. There is urgency, too. “Modernity is an experiment,” he suggests, and elsewhere in the book decries its unholy ambitions. “It is an attempt that by its very nature cannot be allowed to succeed definitively; hence, it possesses a sort of continuity thanks to the feeling it generates in people to be living in a civilizational crisis, in an age of catastrophes, at the end of an epoch” (29).

What to do? As an accomplished academic Schabert expresses his evidence of crisis within the context of the history of ideas. So that we discover via a veritable library of historically substantive thinkers – from Meyer Howard Abrams to Vassili Zoubov there are some 286 of them referenced within a helpful “Index of Names” at the back of the book – the contradictions, advances and the developmental dynamic of this four-hundred-year-old variously compelling and fraught experiment of modernity, so-called.

James Greenaway provides an illuminating foreword and does well to codify things. “Schabert reminds his readers,” he tells us, “at critical points that our humanity is at stake when, in the absence of a ‘cosmos of the world’ we claim a godlike power over the ‘world of nature’” (xv). My diagnosis rather describes the hubris of modernity and the irregularity of an epoch as symptomatic of personal and cultural mythological dysfunction. Which is revealed as more or less inherent and continuous rather than irregular. Likewise, arguably, our ability to reorient ourselves in newly functional mythological terms. We can reengineer, as it were, our faith via access to the past and aspiration on behalf of the future.

Violence? Schabert speaks of it in terms that I understand as rather the violence of subversion but he nevertheless, within the context of modernity, does not appear resolved to the necessity of it. The inevitability of it, yes. And perhaps he would not argue against its wisdom-bestowing qualities. Life lessons and the play-of-opposites that we cannot help but experience.

Limit and modernity contradict each other. And nonetheless a limit runs through modernity. This limit is visible in the Gestalt of the constitutional regime (174).

Again, what to do? If nothing else, Schabert seems to suggest, do as modernity does. In spite of itself. As self-limiting, hence hypocritical and ironic but nonetheless, in the end, constitutional. Modernity for Schabert can’t help but to fail forward, as it were.

But I don’t think this is the end of the story of modernity. That is, the idea of the so-called constitutional regime – the self-imposed limits generated by political liberty – leaves me wanting. Hence four stars and not five. Wanting what? A resonant solution to the predicament, crisis or what have you – our condition of suffering – that Schabert otherwise identifies. I sense that he could speak to it. A constitutional regime as a practical result, as a description of how things are playing out, seems a legitimate conclusion to a book only if that book is itself perhaps part of a series: a series to do with… I don’t know, except to relate it to the courageous, encompassing and rigorous spirit of wholehearted investigation that was demonstrated way back when in the golden age of Eranos. Schabert has roots there.

Hence, perhaps we need a third volume, one that expresses full on Schabert’s ideas of mythos or spirituality or mystic vitality or what may be termed the Cosmos of Nature. I don’t know if he’d agree with the term. Yet I know that he agrees with wholeness. Perhaps it would involve romanticism and myth and the psychology of religion – the kind of manuscript I don’t think any academic publisher these days would touch. But they might. And there’s always indie publishing.

Meanwhile, read this little book for its intellectual zeal and emotional courage and intimation of what is and what ought to be. Read it if you’re a seeker. Read it in the flux of your life to help navigate the times and to help become a helmsman perhaps of both.

https://www.amazon.com/Figure-Modernity-Tilo-Schabert/dp/3110671700/ref=sxts_sxwds-bia-wc-p13n1_0?crid=1M2CIYHQXTXQZ&cv_ct_cx=the+figure+of+modernity&dchild=1&keywords=the+figure+of+modernity&pd_rd_i=3110671700&pd_rd_r=de8b4e33-17be-4acc-ab71-5c9424725430&pd_rd_w=efPzJ&pd_rd_wg=xkxNV&pf_rd_p=5be4970c-0256-4afe-9550-68021bd84e5b&pf_rd_r=HN4BQPTK8BCFCBGZEWZJ&psc=1&qid=1604430469&sprefix=the+figure+of+modernity%2Caps%2C169&sr=1-1-791c2399-d602-4248-afbb-8a79de2d236f

Double Vision: What’s In a Book Cover?

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The Time Crime book cover. Which I really adore and frankly never tire of admiring is the top-notch work of Robin Vuchnich (hereafter R.V.) at https://mycustombookcover.com/ and it speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Yes, and… well, no. That is to say, in a compelling way it evokes some perplexities. Does the book cover, for instance, have a meaning? Is it a scene in the novel? What about Vixy’s face – is she wearing a mask? And what’s with the green tear?

No, she’s not wearing a mask. However, in the novel she spends time wearing a veil, There is the partial image of Five, of course, looming over the fraught Vixy. What of the green tear? And the red and green lips? Is it all in the book?

The short answer is no. But most of it is. Akin to a pulp era novel and golden age comic books some enjoyable if curious liberties are taken with the artwork. It isn’t literal. And yet it is intended to be accurately evocative of the content.

Vixy’s teary image is in the book but moreover she’s brought to tears more than once, each time in vastly different circumstances. Devoted readers out there, can you name them? Okay, perhaps I don’t have any devoted readers. Regardless, Vixy  fights back tears almost continually following her kidnapping but surrenders to her anguish first after she’s assaulted in the desert. She puts her face in her hands and perhaps she weeps when she, Hesso and Deloua all confront Five and he endures his breakdown, his enantiodromia, as it were, and everyone suffers a form of cosmic angst together. Finally, and this is the scene that is evoked most strongly for me because the image includes Vixy also putting her hand to her mouth, she breaks down when she realizes it’s Mr. Z. who has arrived to save her.

Meanwhile, the greenness of Vixy’s tear, which I consider a super snazzy, uncannily apt sci-fi touch on behalf of R.V. is rather a fabrication. Or more accurately an intuition that in my opinion does well to evoke the aforementioned curious liberties that so many early sci-fi stories, in magazines or as novels and of course as comic books were apparently obliged to express. Why didn’t the covers always accurately render an image from the text? I think it has to do with practicality: the illustrators simply hadn’t the time to read the books prior to doing the artwork. Hence, if they were provided a blurb and went as far as perhaps scanning the pages for inspiration they may have come across some bits and pieces of the story and just ran with it, so to say, filling in the gaps and attempting to amplify the drama according to their own on-the-spot inclinations. This will help sell it, they may have thought, or we need to amp this up somehow. I don’t know for certain. I do know that it’s a talent – a real magic trick – to render a novel into a compelling single image and I’m convinced also that not having all the time in the world to get the job done mostly seems to help matters. R.V. admitted that, having already finished a handful of versions she was prepared to submit, the one we used came to her at the last minute and she whipped it together, the whole thing, as is so spookily common in the art-craft world, coming together in a flash.

In the novel, at the point of Vixy reuniting with Mr. Z., her face is “streaked with black tears.” Black is the color of kohl, her Egyptian eye cosmetic. Vixy’s fraught expression is likewise true to the story, though in the novel she is rather experiencing heartrending salvation than sublime fear or horror, which merely demonstrates how facial expressions are oftentimes explained differently depending upon context. So that, arguably, the book cover and Vixy’s expression convey very well the entirety of Vixy’s emotional journey and what amounts to the heart and soul of the entire story. It works beyond my wildest expectations.

Of note, some technical details:

  • I had asked R.V. to try adding some cartographic imagery to the swirly, sandy colored, warped space-time area behind the title but though she did her best to comply I was immediately convinced I was wrongheaded and in the end we didn’t change a thing from her first iteration.
  • I was of a mind not to include the oft used phrased “A Novel” as I’d convinced myself that it was passé to do so but, again, I’m thankful that R.V. followed her professional nose and incorporated the text as part of Five’s eyebeams – very cool and all her idea.

I’d read somewhere about George Lucas, in the first Star Wars film, having managed to “make the future look like the past.” Well, in the Time Crime universe, as any reader will know, the future is the past. And this is perhaps the only useful suggestion I was able to communicate to R.V. for otherwise I was lost in a muddle of 1930s, 1940s and 1950s sci-fi pulpiness and antique thrills as far as the book cover imagery. Make the future look like the past. This is really and truly the best  thing Lucas ever did for the genre and it’s a very touchy, delicate thing to render without appropriating images and otherwise being heavy handed and deliberate and clumsily obvious. R.V.’s magic trick is all about implication and subtlety and innuendo – it’s all there and then again it isn’t, hence our imagination is activated and we make the image our own.

Vixy’s red and green lips? Well, I’d originally suggested to R.V. that it would be nice if she could incorporate the idea of the play-of-opposites, the spiritual or philosophical idea especially well rendered by the famous Chinese taijitu,[1] or yin-yang symbol that runs through much of Time Crime. The novel is concerned, after all, obliquely at least, with the question of whether Time itself is indeed linear in the Occidental or Western sense or circular (wheellike) as it is commonly assumed within Buddhism, say, or Hinduism, even within old Norse mythology – the ages of the world coming to be, coming to an end, coming to be again, and so on, representing eternity within time as it were. Anyway, within the play-of-opposites is life as we experience it. A reliable ethics is rendered questionable, we can never know exactly what to do or how to live and what’s right and wrong oftentimes seems a moving target. We perceive this struggle, this predicament, this play-of-opposites both within and without – within our psyche and tangibly in the world-of-action, so to say.

But R.V. was quickly and accurately dismissive of attempting to incorporate in any obvious manner the taijitu because, as she related in so many words, it always somehow appropriated the idea of the book cover. Again, we begin with intuitions and the associated images that affect us and, if the work is to be at all original, it does better to imply and intimate and symbolize – in this case the novel symbolizes the symbol – it symbolizes, or attempts to symbolize without doing so directly, the essence of our experience itself verily symbolized by the taijitu. And around and around we go, I suppose, trying to get at the thing we’re trying to get at whenever we create, whenever we operate as artist-craftsmen. Myth is metaphor, a discussion I address elsewhere in detail.

Red and green, then, within the realm of the technicalities of color, are understood as opposites. Yellow and blue are another example. Not being a visual artist nor a color scientist (if there is such a thing) I’m hardly the one to explain why certain colors are considered opposites and perhaps it’s a worthy study in itself but suffice it to say that it was, again, R.V.’s brilliant and uncanny inspiration to incorporate the play-of-opposites in the manner of Vixy’s lip contrasting and aptly other-worldly lip color. It isn’t in the book. But it seems like it is. At least to me. R.V. evokes and invokes in a very subtle and exciting manner, as visual artists are wont to do, something unexpected, unforeseen yet remarkably apt about the novel. If a subtlety like this is lost on folks, if it amounts to something of an inside joke, well, so be it: it’s striking and I like it. Vixy is from a far-future Earth, after all, and who knows what type of cosmetology trends would apply in her time?

Which brings us finally to Vixy’s duotone complexion. Her half white, half bronzed face. Is she a black woman wearing a mask? Is she wearing a mask at all? What type of mask, one wonders, would allow us to see her lips and nostrils, unless it were some futuristic textile technology? Depending upon the particular printed iteration of the book cover, namely the particular inking – darker or lighter, more brown or more blue toned – expressed by whatever particular print-on-demand (POD) system is employed to render a copy, she appears variously a tanned Caucasian, a Native American, a Native Canadian (Haida, for example) or an African-American. Her hair could be a cropped so-called afro or merely a vague graphically generalized intimation of a hairstyle. The collar of her garment could well be of any era or culture. Her hand may be gloved or merely in shadow. Is any of this resolved within the novel?

Yes. It is. Which is to say, no, Vixy isn’t wearing a mask. Remember first that the book was written in 2015, edited into its final version in 2019 and published at the end of January 2020, prior to newsworthy so-called pandemic concerns. Moreover and more to the point it was R.V.’s intention, as we discussed when she first forwarded the image to me, simply to render Vixy’s face literally half in shadow and half in light, ostensibly shadowed by the curled book cover and alternately brightened by Five’s eyebeams. In that sense alone it is a fun, again pulpy style hyperbole or exaggeration of the drama implied within. In another sense, I think R.V. does well to play with perspective in this way.

But I admit that I had immediately recognized not shadow and light but indeed a veil. In 1881 Egypt, after all, Vixy is oftentimes wearing a veil, a so-called niqab as it is referred to in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen and of course Egypt and elsewhere. Women’s veils and face and head coverings, of course, whether they symbolize religious or cultural orthodoxy or indeed its opposite – the freedom of women (and men) to wear what they please and worship as they see fit – have been a contentious topic worldwide aside from the current epidemiological concerns involving masks of all types. And in the novel Vixy at first fights against the veil for all the obvious reasons a modern Western woman would – it’s bothersome if nothing else, physically irritating until a person perhaps gets used to it and otherwise a frustrating, contrived affectation and hindrance.

Until Vixy herself learns of its power. Or powers. That is, she learns how it serves to enhance and encourage the allure and expressivity of a woman’s eyes. And at the mastabas she learns the protection it affords her in the presence of leering or inquisitive or otherwise unknown men and circumstances – she has a newfound capability to hide (or at least remain less conspicuous) in plain sight. It even supports her mandate, so often transgressed of course in the story, to leave no trace.

The image of Vixy’s light and dark aspect, then, while it was intended by R.V. as an innocently pedestrian but nonetheless graphically striking, hence successful affectation became instantly loaded with larger or I might say mythological implications. R.V., surprised when I saw a veil where there wasn’t one, immediately obliged my interpretation by offering to modify the image to make it more obviously veil-like. No, it’s great just the way it is, I replied – if folks like me see a veil and others see a shadow-and-light thing, it all works, let’s leave it. So we did. And I’m so glad for it. Because I’m convinced all these layers of meaning, all the depth of interpretation for me only enhances the power of the cover’s mythology and its ability to advance the mythology of the novel. It’s a dynamic synergy. In short, the book cover is a story in itself – it contains its own obvious and likewise mysterious narrative – and what more could an author want when it comes to a book cover but to have everything working together.

That I’m suspicious that many of the “clicks” the novel receives on the various platforms where it appears for sale, especially within my Amazon advertising campaigns where it gets almost all its attention has to do with, for better or worse, the Covid confusion. Confusion? Yes and I’ll leave it at that. I’m not going to voice my opinion on this odd cultural phenomenon except to say that for whatever reason it seems to have become too much a political agenda thing. Meanwhile, if it gets folks to click on the image of the novel, to read the blurb and, heaven help me, to help inspire them to purchase the book or sign up for a giveaway, what have you, hurray, I’m all for it.

Alternatively, for every reader who may think, gosh, that cover kind of fooled me into thinking Time Crime was about people with green tears and crazy cosmetics or high-tech masks or people of color and I’m bummed out that it was only, well, black tears and shadow and light and Vixy with a tan from hanging out in the Egyptian desert, well, so be it. I’m all for letting the images do their thing or not, the mythology is wholehearted and authentic but nobody has to agree with me or have their expectations satisfied. No harm, no foul, no apologies. I can only hold to the faith that perhaps the story will carry the day and stand on its own two legs and sell some copies and get read and liked. And endure the test of TIME, too.

[1] From wikipedia.org, “Taijitu,” retrieved 11.1.2020: A taijitu (simplified Chinese: 太极图; traditional Chinese: 太極圖; pinyin: tàijítú; Wade–Giles: t’ai⁴chi²t’u²) is a symbol or diagram (图 tú) in Chinese philosophy representing Taiji (太极 tàijí “great pole” or “supreme ultimate”) in both its monist (wuji) and its dualist (yin and yang) aspects. Such a diagram was first introduced by Song Dynasty philosopher Zhou Dunyi (周敦頤 1017–1073) in his Taijitu shuo 太極圖說.

Freedom & the Transformation of the Mask

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I’m pining to see the U.S. paperback recorded as shipped (a print book only appears within the U.S.-only Amazon sales rank chart until it ships) so that October can stand as my most successful sales month – six copies! – despite that crappy eBook refund in Germany. Meanwhile, it’s f*cking snowing, my god, the thought of winter is unbearable and here it’s the earliest snowfall I can remember.

I’ve done nothing with TC2 for I don’t know, at least a week or two. I’ve got to keep chugging and learn to abide the for-better-or-worse status of TC1, I know this. But I can’t help devoting my energies to pursuing and tracking what I see as the tenuous arrival status of the first book and me as a legitimate authorpreneur. Too many wannabes remain just that with a handful of pitiful sales as the only record of their effort, after which they either fold their wings and drop, to borrow a phrase from John Gardner (author of 1971’s Grendel), never to be seen again or they plunk along as forever independent outsiders, a sort of living death as a writer. And it’s the same for any artist-craftsman: you’re either making a living from your work or you’re not and if not, then, well, you’re a failure. It’s that simple. Success late in life, following decades of penniless or subsidized slogging (the sense of ceaselessly humiliating defeat is the same) qualifies in my book as worthy and sufficient to justify the whole otherwise miserable endeavor but to die never having made a significant mark is a tragedy. Van Gogh is probably the most famous example of the tragic nature of posthumous zero-to-hero art-craft arrival but it’s the legion of workaday practitioners whose talent, perhaps short of greatness and genius but nonetheless worthy and legitimate (I’m describing myself of course), is denied its place within the global oeuvre that makes life seem cruel. We require so very little, indeed – just a modest living – yet for most (statistically virtually everyone) even that remains so far out of reach as to be a shameful conceit.

Shameful conceit. Freedom is all I want but to long for it I feel ashamed. So writes Rabindranath Tagore. For me, success, which in my terms is the personal mythological freedom of vocational legitimacy, is all I want but to long for it I likewise feel ashamed. Why ashamed? It has to do with the intuition that longing itself is a weakness and a form of refusal of things as they are, which only leads to more longing, an ultimately decrepit, self-defeating, self-sabotaging condition. But within the poison, as is often the case with poisons, there exists a cure, a salvation and it is the power and sustaining force of legitimate dreams, the kind grounded in the expression of our talents, which are themselves bestowed by the same Cosmos that we seek so desperately to unite with. Such is individuation, the process, as described by Carl Jung at least, as achievement of self-actualization through a process of integrating the conscious and the unconscious. When we realize, make real or otherwise express in conscious terms the driving energies of our unconscious, our sense is naturally that of wholeness by way of incomparable wholeheartedness: we express who we are so completely, in such a fundamental and truthful manner that a sense of integration or unity with all things within and without is experienced. It is, as Joseph Campbell described, not meaning that we seek – a commonly misguided interpretation of our predicament – but rather the experience of being properly alive. Individuation is commensurate with the experience of being properly alive; it is the immediate and unquestionable resonance of our life in the world versus our sense of life merely within our own imagination, within our waking dreams and visions.

It’s nothing to do with selfishness. Part of the sense of shame in wanting what we want of course arises from this idea, namely, that we don’t deserve it. Getting what we want only happens to other people because they are better, we tell ourselves; they are more giving, more saintly, more divine. Or, conversely, they are devilish, appropriating, criminal, despicable and corrupt. To want what you want, for some of us, means to want that which we ought not to have, that which is an undeserved luxury and a selfish conceit. The best version of ourselves, after all, does not want. Because wanting inevitably begets taking what is not ours.

Bullshit. I say “bullshit” to such self-sabotaging righteousness. Because that’s exactly what such unhealthy self-denial amounts to: righteousness, be it derived from one’s spiritual beliefs or an intuitive sense of ethics. Righteousness always seeks to deny somebody something. The righteous operate under the delusion that, well, they’re right and most of the rest of us are wrong. Right about what? Mostly, it seems to me, about everything that makes us intuitively happy and fulfilled – individuated and having the experience of being properly alive. To be who you are, after all, is not to be like me. But I would argue that in fact it is, more so than anything else, namely, being who you are is being more human, more a part of humanity in the general sense than anything that seeks to comply with that perniciously misunderstood third aspect of personal and cultural mythology: sociology. We seek to belong but we too often surrender to donning a mask so as to accomplish it.

Be who you are and you will be one with all the world. We all have experienced glimpses of this connectedness, of doing what you’re best at, at being wholeheartedly immersed in one’s proper work, of time flying when living within the realm of one’s talents. And time flying – the incomparable experience of being free of the consideration of time – which amounts to our sense of eternity is a key indicator, perhaps the indicator of having the experience of being properly alive. Eternity is not a long time, it is not the experience of vastness that we have in the presence, say, of some marvelous, moving, stirring open space or upon the ocean or before a mountain range. No. To be profoundly stirred is to be awed. A sense of awe being the first requirement of an authentic mythology. Yet awe retains a sense of time, even a heightened sense of it. Awe somehow begets all of time and our place within it as ineffably proper and inarguably legitimate. A sense of eternity, of timelessness amounts to no sense at all, really, for our senses arguably depend upon time for their cause-and-effect operation.

What am I talking about, then, when I declare that one’s proper work begets the experience of being properly alive? Perhaps that only then, immersed in our veritelically authentic vocation (paid or unpaid) can we both fully experience and break free of time. We are not awed when we express our individuated selves. Neither are we happy, at least in the contentedly cheerful pedestrian sense of the word. As Campbell was at pains to try to describe, we are not blissful in the sense of pedestrian pleasure. Bliss is not synonymous with pleasure nor leisure nor play nor what is typically understood as blissfulness. No, Campbell was rather referring to, as anyone who has read him deeply enough understands, exactly the experience of being properly alive that incorporates wholehearted immersion and devotion come what may.

It gets touchy. That is, it gets tricky to discern bliss from, in the case of the fictional yet authentically representative Ahab, for instance, compulsion and obsession. Tricky only until one remembers that the experience of being properly alive never requires appropriation. “Moby dick seeks thee not.” Starbuck understood the balance, he understood and represented in the narrative Melville’s understanding of vocational bliss. Which for a person like me who recognizes nothing else but vocation as the means to bliss, explains everything about our predicament. Following one’s bliss is following one’s blisters, as Campbell also described it: that is, one’s true work will be hard, difficult and consuming but in the end gladly so. One’s true work may be by definition the most challenging of your life but only by way of it does time drop away and one’s sins, so to say, also. We come into ourselves, we roll out of our own center, we experience a sense of direction and progress – of unquestionable orientation – so that we are without question, without self-consciousness or shame, ourselves in the world. Ahab circled this idea, he orbited his bliss but failed to attain it. Perhaps because it involved a form of surrender he was unwilling to concede.

One’s proper work lends itself to work for its own sake as sufficient. However, after many years of personal experiment I can admit that never is work for its own sake actually attainable. We work for results and outcomes in mild awareness at least that no result or outcome will be sufficient. Too often such results and outcomes hinder us, divert or otherwise inappropriately, ineffectively, ineffectually consume our energies. One loses one’s place, advises Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, within the principle of eternity when one becomes anxious for the outcome of one’s deeds. The context is ostensibly that of the Bhagavad Gita – it is Krishna’s lesson to Arjuna – but it is a universal truth expressed within all fully functional mythologies.

I just checked my sales report on Amazon and cringed when I did not see the paperback as shipped. Amazon claims the book to be available to ship within “1 to 2 days.” No shipment, no legitimate sale. So, I wait, anxious for outcomes. Hence, I suffer.

The solution to the suffering? One’s proper work. My work. Which is this journal entry/blog and, albeit with a greater sense of difficulty, my editing of TC2. So that then I will inevitably have the experience, however brief, of being properly alive. It’s paradoxical, then, that one’s true work takes one into and out of how things are and ought to be – our dreams and visions are pure and true but life is messy. But I refuse to believe that my work is to function as an escape. That’s not individuation as I understand it. Individuation is affirmation of life rather than refusal. Refusal has to do, again, with masks, with falsehood and inauthenticity, with righteousness. Merely look to electoral politics and religious fundamentalism in all its forms for reliable demonstrations of righteousness. I’ll say no more on the matter.

Except that I work a modest closing shift at the home improvement tonight – 5-10pm – and it’s not my true work at all because only when I’ve sold a book does it seem justified or in any way contributive to my experience of being properly alive. A job is not one’s work exactly in this way: the job, if that’s all there is, is not sufficient. I’m forced to don a mask so as to function within it. And when one writes, say, commensurate with one’s perceived veritelically authentic vocation and does not receive reward reasonably commensurate with one’s dream or vision a schism ensues in which the writing tends to transform into the job and not the vocation. Because while we artist-craftsmen indeed require so very little we nevertheless require something. So that Krishna, for example, would raise his eyebrow at us and we nod and say we know better and we’re ashamed, then, for freedom being all that we want. You have it, would be the response from the Divinity. Or the so-called block universe. Your work and your life has already happened and has its place in the world-of-action and it’s but up to you to surrender to that, to the work – your work – assigned to you by way of your legitimate place here. And around and around we go, struggling against the paradox, against the impenetrable mask that Ahab seeks to penetrate, to peel away so as to remove the maddening obfuscation and reveal all that is.

Masks. The header image happens to be a Haida mask in the open configuration. Closed, it appears thus:

According to the Canadian Museum of History https://www.historymuseum.ca/ it was “Collected on Haida Gwaii (probably at Skidegate) in 1879 by Israel W. Powell.” Furthermore:

This spectacular transformation mask, when closed, represents an Eagle or Thunderbird; open, it portrays the Moon. Human hair attachments add to the drama of the powerfully serene face of a supernatural being. The transformation of the mask is accomplished by pulling cords attached to the hinged panels that extend to form the corona.

Writer’s World Episode 117: The Howling Infinite

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A paperback sale last night in the USA! And from my Amazon ad campaign which costs me dearly to keep delivering. So that for the last two months I’ve been allowing it to run out of budget but given the upcoming holiday season I figured bloody hell, why not just shoot the moon and try to keep it running come what may? So I jacked the budget up to $100 per month and the daily budget to $15 per day. Then this morning I find 80% of my monthly budget chewed through and fuck it all I upped the monthly to $150 and the daily to $20 – crazy money, yes, my ACOS is ludicrously poor but what else to do if it keeps generating a sale or two? Advertising is expensive all over the world in all things but for an emerging entrepreneur trying to break through and otherwise build a platform from scratch, well, if you’re going to play you’re going to pay and pay and pay until, one fine day…. I know, odds are the one fine day never comes and the big pay off likewise. But there is no other way. Because the alternative is zero exposure, zero sales and zero future for my work. One must get in front of people to allow the work to do its work, to make a name for itself or flop based on zeitgeist and vibe and, yes, quality.

Time Crime cannot simply be allowed to sit, I believe this, for the competition is simply too outlandishly keen. My single paperback sale in the U.S. last night for example vaulted the book to a ranking of 146,907 from its dismal 3,473,354 spot, an increase. It takes a month or so of zero sales to plummet to such depths and then, bam! – a book rockets into the comparative stratosphere. I’ve shared the hard facts before but here they are again:

Still only the single rating and no reviews, too. Argh. What must it be like to see one’s novel get a hundred positive reviews and indeed attain the coveted thirty sales per day that bestows legitimate (which is to say minimally sustainable) authorpreneur status? To look at one’s sales data and see not a spikey up-and-down snaggle-toothed chart but a moderately smooth amplitude of high-altitude flight? To enjoy sales every day! Furthermore – and this is almost unthinkable to me right now – to enjoy sales of each format, eBook, paperback, hardcover and audiobook, every goddamn day. I try to imagine it, to envision that success because the power of intention is something that works. Why and how it works, well, that’s part of this study as transcribed in the DOP. Meanwhile, it’s difficult for me (just as it’s perhaps difficult for every newbie) to comprehend that type of success because we just fail, I think, to grasp the numbers properly. That is, there are so many goddamn people who buy books in this world that it’s too intellectually staggering to properly comprehend. What, for example, does the fact that print book sales in the U.S. as I write this are at 675M per year mean to anyone? I did a quick internet search: so what is a good sales figure for any book? – and I found an article from 2015 on npr.org, by Lynn Neary, “When It Comes To Book Sales, What Counts As Success Might Surprise You.”

“A sensational sale would be about 25,000 copies,” says literary agent Jane Dystel. “Even 15,000 would be a strong enough sale to get the publisher’s attention for the author for a second book.”

According to this article, Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, a finalist in 2015 for the Man Booker prize, had sold a mere 3,600 copies in the U.S. The article goes on to discuss indie authorship which of course even five years ago when this article was written was probably an exponentially tinier market than it is now but the lesson is clear, which is to say the data is clear: authors, let alone writers, don’t make shit. And never will. So that it’s both heartening and cruelly disheartening to understand that selling a few thousand copies of Time Crime would be considered an accomplishment. Three-thousand seems doable. But what we want and really need to make a living is sales of ten times that. So be it. There is no other way than to write. And now, for me, there is no other way than to publish as an indie and spend as much as I can on advertising and my own marketing. It’s ugly and desperately frustrating – read my damn journal entries, after all! – but it’s the way of things. Meanwhile, I dream of the Time Crime series selling millions and the books becoming films and the whole shebang. Dream big. Why not?

Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shorelines, indefinite as God – so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then oh! who would craven crawl to land? Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart…! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of the ocean-perishing – straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

From “The Lee Shore,” chapter XXIII of Moby-Dick, a novel which I am becoming convinced may be the most mythic, most mythologically potent publication in what may be termed the period of the modern novel. This book may in fact qualify, arguably enough, as the beginning of modern myth. Nonetheless, I’m going to indeed go that far: Moby-Dick stands as the beginning, hence the loadstone and reference point of modern mythology as I interpret it. It may be America’s first modern myth – I won’t speak for the rest of the globe, not yet anyway. But it is the first-mover within my own business, so to say, of fiction and the thing, the instrument of power (to borrow a line and a chapter title from Time Crime) which every myth-centric novel that comes afterwards must acknowledge as its intentional or unconscious embryonic source. That goddamn white whale swims the waters of our unconscious individually and it is perhaps collective in Jungian terms in this way: Moby Dick, the whale, is our modern universal and active affecting image. Perhaps someday it may be a monster from deep space or the monstrousness of deep space itself that thus expresses all our hopes and fears – symbolizes our personal and cultural mythological predicament but still, for now, it remains the world’s oceans that most effectively and reliably stir our soul. The great seas of this Earth are just that: ours as Earthlings. When other inhabited planets are inevitably discovered, well, we’ll see how mythology changes, how it adapts to incorporate such incomprehensible universality. It will.

Meanwhile, of course, we have science-fiction and fantasy novels as our sailing ships and space trains and what have you: our vehicles of landlessness and the howling infinite. And if, to paraphrase American fiction writer Miriam Allen de Ford, science fiction expresses improbable possibility and fantasy expresses impossible plausibility, then my study of comparative mythology, mythography and the psychology of religion (the psychology of mythology) will continue to require the vast mythic resources of both.