Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Invisibles 1.3 / City and Colour(ful Language)

(If the following comes off as sweet, sweet crap n’ babble, know that I wrote it after a night of exactly 2.25 hours sleep with an unhappy teething boy-child, and further, wrote it on my lunch break at work, where I rub naked ladies with warm fragrant oils. That I could even get near this head space surprises even me... )

Before we move on to the Arcadia story arc...

Some thoughts on Mad Tom’s secret teachings in this issue re: the true nature of cities. Much like cities themselves, this little speech to the be-pigeoned Dane comes off as a kind of gloss, in my reading at least. The surface is a ‘truth’ about cities and their viral nature, their “one directive is to use up all available resources in producing copies of itself ... until there’s no more raw material left and the host body, overwhelmed, can only die.”

But what are cities if not coral accretions of matter around immaterial linguistic structures, conceptual frameworks, wire and steel cages for flocks of dualities/symmetries?

HOUSE HOME FLOOR WALL FAMILY WORK EDUCATION LOVE FOOD US THEM IN OUT COLD WARMTH ... these are the ideas that act as rich substrate upon which we build our michorizal relationship with a CITY, which is an idea also.

Note that no city is exactly like any other city: London is not Tokyo is not Calgary is not Moscow is not LA is not Mexico City is not ad infinitum... because we build them out of and because of our ideas and needs and in turn they shape us.

So on these pages, I think that GM (through Tom) is talking about language. Certainly the series has language as an obsession and running theme: control language, secret alphabets, the infranet, magic(al) words pulled screaming from the surrounding environment (here, IXAT, or, later, ‘Top of the Pops’ on the telly = TOTEP and hey oh! aneurisms all round)... language is the virus.

The panel in which Tom speaks about the original human homeostatic cultures shows us (I’m assuming) a traditional neo-lithic hunter-gatherer society, small, tribal, self-sustaining. There’s some goats next to that hut, but whatever. It’s been remarked upon elsewhere that the rise of agriculture saw a corresponding increase in our language skills as a species: the ability to describe and classify beneficial and toxic plant types, mark seasons, build calendars, make transactions, etc. That’s the gathering; hunting is a different story. To hunt as we do requires a large reserve of stoicism, a predilection for silence and, when needed, a minimal, succinct, instantly understood language, and most of that gestural. To farm successfully requires a massive vocabulary and a safe environment in which to use it. There’s speculation (only ever!) that women were largely responsible for the burst in prehistoric, pre-agriculture language usage. Quite aside from the various Gnostic interpretations given the ur-myth of the Old Testament, most can agree that the “first harvest” was accomplished by the hands of Eve.

And of course agriculture necessitates the building of cities. Gotta have a wall round your food stores, after all, cuz there’s starving rabble about. Are cities an ancillary/intermediary stage of the language virus? If the Word became Flesh, would it not have to undergo a period of transformation, of putting on technological clothing, wearing artifacts and cities, of “talking” to itself ie. the inhabitants of those cities (Tom again: “Catch sight of the reflection of a neon sign and it’ll spell out a magic word that summons strange dreams...”) before it could complete the cycle and make itself Word again?

The city is where it’s at. Country mouse don’t know shit, yo.

We, all of us, inhabit Burroughs’ conceptual Cities of the Red Night, cycling through every smoking iteration of ‘nothing is true, all is allowed’ on our way to some kind of transcendence through and beyond the consuming fires of language, that flaming, spinning blade blocking the gate to Paradise. This is something THE INVISIBLES points to as its final statement, with the last line of the series, in Volume 4 issue #0: “Our sentence is up.” That last/next spin into the black void of the “.” Language, like Tom’s viral cities, must in due course exhaust itself as a meaning generator. Perhaps when a species-wide immunity is built up? “Our world is sick, boy. Very sick. A virus got in a long time ago and we’ve got so use to its effects, we’ve forgotten what it was like before we became ill...”

In the meantime, you gotta hang your hat somewhere, and the rent is due. Now, where’d I put my keys?

Scott (urban polyp), writing in/as Victoria BC


  1. "The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way." - Marshall McLuhan

    You ever read McLuhan, Scott? The hoary old media magus, black sheep of the Canadian academe, closest thing to a Sorcerer Supreme this nation's ever seen? I think you'd get a kick out of him, because if you read him as a delver into magic theory (which he is, brother, he is), he's quite the head trip. Writes like a time-displaced blogger, like the Nietzsche of the 20th century. And then there's Bob Dobbs, the "then as farce" follow-up/bastard child to McLuhan, New Age put-on artist of great disrepute... It's pretty great stuff. Media theory, contemporary rhetoric, infinite games - magic wears many skins these days. Whole lotta glosses going on.

    I'm digging the ideas here! You've prefigured and reconfigured some elements of the next blob-post I've been working on, which I drew somewhat from ideas from your LAST post - on The Invisibles as performative grammar, as glamour, as "god forbid a literal grimoire". Which, heaven save us, dumps me right into the heart of that icky, sticky pit of trying to address the elephant god in the room, to gesticulate, or better yet circumambulate, what the term "magic" means to me, and how it relates to The Invisibles. And to add to the challenge, I'm going to try to do it without sounding crazy.

  2. Cool. It's working, then.

    I have not read McLuhan. I have read of and *around* McLuhan, which I can't help but feel he would have found interesting. McKenna has a fun talk about him called 'Riding the Range' and from that I get the sense that yup, magus. For sure. And of course, there's that brilliant 4th wall break in the Canadian Heritage Minute featuring him: uni students in cardigans and poodle skirts enthusing about Professor McLuhan. I will read him now.

    Experiencing a disconnect re: Bob Dobbs, though. You're not referencing J R "BoB" Dobbs, I take it. Confusion! Glorious confusion. Love it.

    I thought you'd pick up on the 'literal grimoire' bit. As far as Castenada is concerned, it's good advice, but yeah, The Invisibles can and should be used as such. Among many, many other uses and readings.

    I've always treated magic and sorcery as the premiere perceptual mode and being-practice. Even when it doesn't necessarily work as a body would like, it's great. It's just... it's just *great*.

    Finally, I hope I won't be the only contributor here. Where are the other guys? And while on that note, where are the ladies? Bit of a sausage fest here, as the kids say.

  3. I may have been wrong about the poodle skirts >>

  4. If you build it, they will come. Eventually.

    But yes, briefly - McLuhan is the shit, if treated as a toolshed instead of a shrine. The man has some crazy techniques to fill out yer toolbelt, and they're a riot to see in action. However, McLuhan is one of my current Buddhas to slaughter so I'm going to try to shut up about him.

    Bob Dobbs - the man has a half-dozen aliases and a strained-at-best relationship with the Church of Sub-Genius. Trying to wrap your head around his is a trip down the rabbit hole. He recently played a major role in the McLuhan (counter-)centennial, McLuhan on Maui. Engaging with Bob Dobbs is an exercise in critical thinking, if nothing else.

    And hey, finally getting shit together for a new post. Just got a good sleep last night and realized this morning I had been running on half a cylinder for a while. Feeling reinvigorated, though.

  5. Passing on a comment from Bill here...

    (you're reading A Trout In The Milk, right?


    Tom fascinates me, and his teaching Dane is my "way in" to The
    Invisibles...on my re-reading last year, I expected to run into that
    thing where "what Tom's talking about is totally not what anyone ever
    talks about again, in the whole comic", and I did, but...the language
    gloss here is the way to go, I think. The City isn't really separated
    from the natural environment, but its convolutions are so mesmerizing we
    come to think it is...the City's a kind of manifest "interior space",
    but the interior space doesn't exist apart from the exterior anymore
    than language lives outside the brain, or the brain lives outside the
    body. When Dane sees through the pigeon's eyes, he sees the City as
    just another natural environment's all one space, just as the
    invisible conflict is not really between two parties but between
    division and wholeness. There is only the Dalang, right? So the
    thought of the City as a maze for humans, that's not quite right, it's a
    maze of humans...

    ...Just like Time, maybe?

    McLuhan continues to astonish, three-quarters of what he says sounds
    like obfuscation and probably is, then you stumble at any moment upon a
    laserlike insight, the shamanic function slapping you in the
    face. The more time goes by, the more of his statements get converted
    into these economical/useful perceptions, from the bulk of the
    obfuscatory tools in the shed. Constantly amazing.