Monday, October 29, 2012

Spooky Times!

About this image: I took this shot of the clock tower on Concord"s Main Street with the 
Capital Dome in the background, using a long exposure to blur the pedestrians and then 
posterizing the image in Photoshop to increase the overall quantum spookiness.

Spookiness is in the air. And it’s not just from Halloween ghosts and goblins. Take, for instance, election day spookiness: Vampire-like political operatives spending hundreds of millions demonizing their opponents, blowing through enough money to reopen NH’s roadside rest areas for eternity – or as a down payment to avoid careening over the dreaded fiscal cliff that economic fortune tellers foresee in their crystal balls.  The candidates all warn of a stampeding hoard of impending catastrophes, all of which will surely be our ruin if we do not vote for them – all, that is, except for one.

The enormity of this omission is, at least to me, the spookiest thing of all! Why is it one subject is never mentioned on the campaign trail by either party, even as the candidates frantically rearrange their schedules as the super storm approaches, the ‘Frankenstorm’ some predict could be the storm of the decade or even the century? Why is it that extreme weather and climate change is not a campaign issue despite the fact that, in the long run, nothing else is more certain to do us harm, if not do us in.

Issues like climate change reveal a deeper existential dread we all harbor, living as we do in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. Many of the old, bedrock realities by which we have lived our lives are either gone or threatened. We want to take action but find ourselves paralyzed instead, like being stuck in place, unable to move when confronted by a nightmare monster. What could be spookier than that!

Life appears increasingly tentative and unpredictable. What kind of a future will our children and grandchildren face?  Can the dazzling profusion of capitalist growth continue or will we be consigned to the quiet rhythm of sustainability? Did Jesus really have a wife? Are we living in a new and exciting Postmodern Age or reverting to the Dark Ages?  Will the human race survive?  Is America on an inevitable downward slide? Has Bill Belichick lost his touch?

Perhaps life is indeed stranger than fiction, more unpredictable than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams – and always has been!  According to quantum physics, as outlined in David Deutsch’s book, The Beginning of Infinity, we live in a multiverse consisting of an infinite number of ordinary universes all existing simultaneously.

The very essence of the quantum universe is unpredictability: “At every instant, the objects in our physical environment—the atoms in our lungs and the light in our eyes—are making unpredictable choices, deciding what to do next.”  Not to worry, the multiverse contains a universe for every combination of choices, no matter what it is. “The ‘quantum weirdness’ that we observe in the behavior of atoms, the ‘spooky action at a distance’ that Einstein famously disliked, is the result of universes recombining in unexpected ways.”

According to Deutsch, each of us, as a human being, exists in the multiverse as a crowd of almost identical creatures, traveling together through time along closely related histories, splitting and recombining constantly like the atoms of which we are composed.

If life is indeed this spooky, uncertain and unpredictable, than we should at the very least, as almost identical creatures traveling through time together, be kind to one another. Because, as every great spiritual tradition has affirmed, like it or not, we are all in this together.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Maya: Facts and Fictions of the Mind

Maya Deren gazing out the window of 
abandoned Texico station in Hooksett
Photoshop dream image: CC Jean Stimmell
A dream image: This is the way Texaco stations looked in the 1940s and 50s when Maya Deren was doing her best work. In her travels around New England, she undoubtedly stopped at such a station…perhaps she went inside to use the restroom and took her cat with her…pausing to gaze out the window.

  I was a kid growing up back then and used to go with my father to get gas at a Texaco station that was a twin to the building in my photograph. It was a simpler world back then – and more personal. Rocky, the proprietor,  always bustled out of the station to greet us with a big smile and embrace us with his enthusiasm and goodwill, despite his advancing years and fingers deformed into claws by rhomboid arthritis. Rocky is now long-gone, along with his gas station that was torn down in the sixties to  make way for a modern, multi-pump, self-service station, sterile and anonymous – where no one will ever be happily waiting to greet you. 

Somehow, the Texaco station I photographed in Hooksett, although shutdown for decades, has escaped the wreaking ball of history, just as Maya’s films have. I believe she would have been in favor of associating her image with an abandoned object because that concept had special significance for her: she believed a work of art is never complete, just abandoned at some point.  That’s what she meant when she, as she often did,  referred to her films as abandoned

As I write this, I find myself falling into a state of personal reverie because, in a real sense, this story is as much about me as it is about Maya: In the beginning, I was a little boy visiting the Texaco Station in Epsom with my father, but now I am an old man taking photographs of its abandoned twin, the Texaco Station in Hooksett. 

Luckily, Maya is once again able to come to the rescue: being well versed, not just in film making but anthropology, spirituality, and mythology, she is able to salve my weary soul, transforming the “material circumstances” of my plotting existence into an adventure of the mind.

While the following quote by Maya refers to indigenous rituals and ceremonies in Haiti,  I believe it is universal and applies to all of us.  It is from her book, Divine Horsemen, which Joseph Campbell, preeminent scholar and mythologist, encouraged her to write. Campbell wrote in the preface: “It has always been my finding that the poet and the artist are better qualified both by temperament and by training to intuit and interpret the sense of a mythological figure than the university-trained empiricist.” 

Myth is the twilight speech of an old man to a boy. All the old men begin at the beginning. Their recitals always speak first of the origin of life. They start by inviting this event which no man witnessed, which still remains mystery. They initiate the history of their race with a fiction… Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter. 

The speech of an elder in the twilight of his life is not his history but a legacy; he speaks not to describe matter but to demonstrate meaning. He talks of his past for purposes of his future. This purpose is the prejudice of his memory. He remembers that which has been according to what could and should be, and by this measure sifts the accumulation of his memory: he rejects the irrelevant event, elaborates the significant detail, combines separate incidents of similar principle. Out of physical processes he creates a metaphysical processional. He transposes the chronology of his knowledge into a hierarchy of meanings. From the material circumstances of his experience he plots, in retrospect, the adventure for the mind which is the myth.” *

Please see my past blog entries on Maya Deren:
Ode to Maya Deren

*   Page xiii from Divine Horsemen: Voodoo Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren; preface by Joseph Campbell. Chelsea House Publishers: New York. 1970
** Page 21 from Divine Horsemen: Voodoo Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Caves of Forgotten Dreams

Photograph taken under the Granite Street Bridge, Manchester NH: 10/5/12

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Like the cave walls in France immortalized by paleolithic art,
this concrete abutment under the Granite Street Bridge
depicts a sense of beauty, the nature of humanity,
and the evolution of creativity.

Rather than the drip of water from stalactites
we have the splashing efflux from storm sewers.
Rather than art memorializing our animal friends,
kindred spirits and dieties killed for food,
we have foreboding monsters and cartoon figures,
a testament to our digital age subconscious.
Rather than witnessing the ice age artist's footprints,
 still preserved in the dust of the ancient cavern floor,
we see the bags and blankets of the homeless,
stashed away while they beg for food.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Maya Deren: until the cinema, "like a mute, had never spoken"

Maya Deren: Entangled in the Web of Modernity*
CC Jean Stimmell
This is Part II in My Ode to Maya Deren.
To see the original post, click here.

The Importance of the Visual Metaphor:  I like the following quote by Maya Deren from a letter she wrote to film archivist, James Card,  reflecting back a decade to when she made her first film: 

"Meshes of the Afternoon is my point of departure.  I am not ashamed of it; for I think that, as a film, it stands up very well.  …I had been a poet up until then, and the reason that I had not been a very good poet was because actually my mind worked in images which I had been trying to translate or describe in words; therefore, when I undertook cinema, I was relieved of the false step of translating images into words, and could work directly so that it was not like discovering a new medium so much as finally coming home into a world whose vocabulary, syntax, grammar, was my mother-tongue; which I understood, and thought in, but, like a mute, had never spoken…."  **
Please see my other blog entries on Maya Deren:
Ode to Maya Deren
Facts and Fictions of the Mind

* This Photoshop creation combines and manipulates a photograph I took of a tent caterpillar web along the Merrimack River 9/4/10 with a still image of Maya Deren @ public domain, taken from her movie, At Land. 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

An Ode to Maya Deren

I’ve combined and manipulated my photographs and Maya Deren’s most famous 
still image[1] into a dream vision of her looking out my office window:
Is she my patient, my therapist, my lover, or my muse?
We were lucky enough to see three of Maya Deren’s experimental silent films from the 1940s at the West End Studio Theater[2] last Sunday in Portsmouth. Although Russet was familiar with her work, I wasn’t.   What a discovery… for me it was love at first sight.

As Gerald Peary so aptly gushes in his blog: “She was the transcendent centerpiece of every red-hot Village party in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a wild-tousled, peasant-bloused 1960s flower child before her time, a Botticelli babe in high bloom with Modigliani almond eyes and matching elongated lips, shaking her booty to Haitian voodoo drums. Pre-Beat generation, nobody in New York was more mesmerizing than Maya Deren, the mother of American underground cinema, the filmmaker and star of Meshes in the Afternoon, At Land, Ritual in Transfigured Time, and other silent-cinema 1940s experimental masterworks.” [3]

Deren’s first name, Maya, adopted by her in 1943, resonates with me. Maya is not only the name of the mother of the historical Buddha but maya is also the Buddhist term used to name the illusory nature of reality. Perfect for a postmodernist!

While she was best known as an actress – particularly for the famous still (see image above) of her looking through a window ­– what people have forgotten is that Deren was also a dancer, choreographer, poet, writer and photographer. In the cinema she was a director, writer, cinematographer, editor, performer, entrepreneur and pioneer in experimental filmmaking in the United States. Like Jean-Luc Godard and Sergei Eisenstein, Maya Deren was both a film theorist and a filmmaker. Unlike these luminaries, Deren’s writing remains relatively obscure in film theory and her films are rarely screened outside of experimental or feminist film courses. [4]

There appears to have been no limits of Maya’s talent. For instance, she was acclaimed for her work in anthropology and myth by Joseph Campbell who encouraged her to write Divine Horsemen, Voodoo Gods of Haiti,[5] based on her years spent studying, participating in, and filming indigenous rituals in that country.

I’ve just scratched the surface. I’m not sure if I am more impressed by her hypnotic, dreamlike early films, capturing so exquisitely our heightened subconscious fears and insecurities, living as we do in the modern age. Or her writings about film and myth and what it means to be human.

To see Part II of My Ode to Maya Deren: importance of the visual metaphor click here.
To see Part III on Maya: facts and fictions of the mind chick here

[1] © public domain
[2]  Georgetown cellist and composer Kristen Miller participated in “Maya & Me,” a concert included in the ACT ONE festival at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth, N.H.
[5]  Divine Horsemen, Voodoo Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren with preface by Joseph Campbell. Chelsea House Publishers: New York. 1970.