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After I finished reading “The Magus” by John Fowles, and while in the process of wrapping up my review of it, I found out two things that I knew would eventually lead to this follow-up. The first is that I compared a few key passages of the book, between the original version and the revision, and I decided that not only the revision is much worse, but that Fowles must have HATED the book, somehow, as if belonging to a young self he now despised and and decided to reject, to the point of defacing it through the revision.

I have the feel that “whoever” wrote The Magus wrote it in a moment of inspiration and enlightenment. My thought is that the older Fowles lost some of that clarity and so, in reading again his own book, found himself as separate from it. Like a foreigner. All the changes I found in the parts I compared are for the worse, and in some cases so bad that they utterly destroy the strong points of the book.

But on the positive side I also found out that Fowles, two years before the publication of The Magus, published another really interesting book titled “The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas”, and this is particularly important to put in the light of The Magus since the two books are directly connected. The Aristos is like the last episode of Evangelion, it reveals the very naked structure of The Magus, stripping away from it characters and story. This happens SO RARELY and, because so, it’s like finding a diamond. Writers never fully reveal their tricks, they never remove the curtain. You are not allowed to see how they work, how the creation comes alive. And for the kind of reader I am, this is the hidden aspect my attention is actually always on, the rest being a distraction. So I’m always excited when the CIPHER to a book is offered so plainly, and generously I guess.

The Aristos is like finding The Magus’ spellbook. And feeling like you’re reading a forbidden text that should have been kept secret. Something only for initiates.

In my review of The Magus you could see that one of the quotes doesn’t come from the book, because it comes from The Aristos, just a little trick on my part. The book is actually not that easy to find nowadays, but I have a copy. Horribly, the preface reveals it’s a goddamned revision. AGAIN. Fowles decided to rewrite this too. The big problem is that I searched all over the internet, but couldn’t find the original version. On the other hand the revision is only two years older than The Magus itself, so there’s always hope Fowles did not yet lost that clarity I’m after. Though his own words in the preface sound ominous:

This edition contains new material, but it is shorter than its predecessor and, I sincerely hope, much clearer. One other criticism of the first edition I fully deserve. There was an irritating swarm of new-coined words. These I have almost completely abolished.

I WANT THE IRRITATING SWARM OF NEW-COINED WORDS. Damn you, Fowles, I’m after your enlightened self that you lost on the way! So here I am with a book I have now the feel has been emptied of its full power and inspiration… I’m convinced that the unrevised version would be so much more important for me, but I’ll have to do with what I have.

Regardless of “what it might have been”, the book is indeed amazing. The Aristos is basically a philosophical book that lays out plainly Fowles’ mythology. Literally a godsend:

The book you are about to begin is written in the form of notes. This is not laziness on my part, but an attempt to suppress all rhetoric, all persuasion through style.

And the actual beginning is one of the Best Ever:

1. Where are we? What is this situation? Has it a master?

It proceeds from there, with very simple inferences. In some ways it reminds me, more than Wittgenstein (to which this is often compared), of geometry. Setting a few basic rules and then use them to build a system.

The trick is to at least remove the illusion of ambiguity.

Still in the introduction, there’s this passage:

I believe this is one of the great heresies – and tyrannies – of our time. I reject totally the view that in manners of general concern (such as the meaning of life, the nature of the good society, the limitations of the human condition) only the specialist has the right to have opinions – and then only in his own subject. Trespassers will be prosecuted.

In my opinion, this reads like a declaration of Post-modernism. To cross barriers and contaminate. To shift the focus. Only this way, for example, you begin to see that some mythology patterns have common roots in different religions. Not simply because of cultural relations, but also because they still originate from the human condition, and so they also all lead back there.

So even in reading The Aristos I go through Fowles’ philosophical points and trying to validate them using my system of reference. In the end the pieces of the puzzle (of the human condition and Reality) are not endlessly wiped and rewritten as it may seem, but they are repositioned on the bigger blackboard.

3. All that exists has, by existing and not by not being the only thing that exists, individuality.

5. The forms of matter are finite, but matter is infinite.

This is again similar to the foundation of the last episode of Evangelion, but also the root of the Law of Form of Spencer-Brown that I often quote. More importantly, the common “pattern” Fowles describes is coherent with the true nature of man. The starting point: the Big Bang that is the origin of the human condition, and that so precedes the Big Bang of physical reality (since we assume the world preceded the human life, but here there’s an obvious contradiction to what I just said that was deliberate, let it not distract you).

A bit like the basic “I think, therefore I am”, often used as a starting point for philosophy for kids because it’s intuitive. Individuality on its own doesn’t exist. It exists when it is observed, and so it requires self-observation. Meaning: only an individuality can recognize itself.

This is intuitive because “we are”, and “we feel”. It’s a basic point because individuality as an abstract concept starts as our own individuality. The fact we are alive. The fact we fear death. The fact we have a beginning an an end, that separates us from everything else (and so creates our individuality).

So we perceive ourselves because we observe a basic distinction between us and the rest, a dividing line. That dividing line is the human condition, or its Big Bang.

Yet we must know that while our individuality is finite, the world and Reality are whole and infinite (as Fowles says at point 5). And we mis-perceive the world and ourselves because we are part of that continuous, infinite thing. We perceive individuality, but we are a continuity.

(form The Magus)
I had the sense this was the fundamental reality and that reality had a universal mouth to tell me so; no sense of divinity, of communion, of the brotherhood of man, of anything I expected before I became suggestible. No pantheism, no humanism. But something much wider, cooler and more abstruse. That reality was endless inter-action. No good, no evil; no beauty, no ugliness. No sympathy, no antipathy. But simply interaction. The endless solitude of the one, its total enislement from all else, seemed the same thing as the total inter-relationship of the all. All opposites seemed one, because each was indispensable to each. The indifference and the indispensability of all seemed one. I suddenly knew, but in a new hitherto unexperienced sense of knowing, that all else exists.
There was no meaning, only being.

Fowles proceeds explaining that the upper world follow rules that are indifferent to the individual. And Good and Bad, Pleasure and Pain, exist because our individuality creates them. We become the measure and balance of what otherwise is neutral and unconcerned. In the relation to us things become good or bad, pains or pleasures.

The Kabbalah’s spiritual “physics” (and Evangelion in its own way) says men come to be from God’s light as separate entities because they were divided by a barrier called “egoism”. It’s the exact same idea. We are driven by desire, because it is created by individuality. Egoism is self. If you want to see this in a more creative literary form you can try read some David Foster Wallace’s short stories titled “The Devil is a Busy Man”, on the technical impossibility of true altruism. In Kabbalah’s physics the egoism is literally the human condition, you can’t avoid it because doing so would undo you as a “man”. So the truth of the condition isn’t obscured as a mere attempt to persuade people to well behave.

17. Man is an everlack, an infinite withoutness, afloat on an apparently endless ocean of apparently indifference to individual things.

14. Man is a seeker of the agent. We seek an agent for this being in a blind wind, this being on a raft; the mysterious power, the causator, the god, the face behind the mysterious mask of being and not being.

I inverted here Fowles’ order because the second is consequence of the first. You can find a positive or negative cause. The positive, like in Kabbalah, says that even in happiness a man feels some lack, the need for a greater purpose that gives his life meaning, spirituality. Desire can never be fulfilled, or the fulfillment is always momentary. The negative cause instead comes from pain. Man wonder “why” all the pain, what it is all for. Something that may justify, and maybe excuse, it all.

33. We build towards nothing; we build.

34. Our universe is the best possible because it can contain no Promised Land; no point where we could have all we imagine. We are designed to want: with nothing to want, we are like windmills in a world without wind.

But again, the immediacy that we feel about these thoughts still origins from our nature as individual. An original separation that in religion is “from god”, or from Eden or whatever literal manifestation of the abstraction. But we know that even from a “scientific” or logical point of view that separation does exist, and it happens the moment we observe (and feel) individuality.

So Fowles’ image of a raft (individuality) in a blind wind and endless ocean (the continuity of the world) preserves the truth of the human condition. And so life as a “passage” from an Eden and toward some promised land. They are just separation from the world as it actually always is. The flux of a process.

Then he continues stating this is the best of possible worlds, or: The necessity of hazard.

24. I am is I was not, I might not have been, I may not be, I shall not be.

25. In order that we should have meaning, purpose and pleasure it has been, is, and always will be necessary that we live in a whole that is indifferent to every individual thing in it; and the precise form of its indifference is that the duration of being and the fortune during being of each individual thing are fundamentally but not unconditionally in hazard.

26. What we call suffering, death, disaster, misfortune, tragedy, we should call the price of freedom. The only alternative to this suffering freedom is an unsuffering unfreedom.

22. A god who revealed his will, who ‘heard’ us, who answered our prayers, who was propitiable, the kind of god simple people like to imagine would be desirable: such a god would destroy our hazard, all our purpose and all our happiness.

These few points unify two important concepts. One I was discussing here, quoting another passage from the Kabbalah (scroll to the second quote block), and about the necessity of partiality (individuality) and pain to be able to also partake with freedom. The other is about my discussion on free will. Or the problem of free will in a deterministic world.

The description I made is very similar to Fowles’ necessity of hazard and his hypothetical mythology that comes next, that I quoted partially in my The Magus review (go to see it). “If there had been a creator, his second act would have been to disappear.”

The same basic trick of the act of writing a story. The writer disappears, creates a fictional world, characters can only be believable as long they don’t know the world is fictional and act on their own will and individuality.

More importantly, this is abstraction and metaphysical and even religious SPECULATION (and the reason why no one is usually interested in this I’m writing), but the personal position of an actual scientist, guess what? It’s identical!

Here’s Sean Carroll, who I follow on internet because he’s one of the pioneers of modern science with also a role in helping the explanation of very complex new theories to the general public.

The search for certainty in empirical knowledge is a chimera. I could always be a brain in a vat, or teased by an evil demon, or simply an AI program running on somebody else’s computer — fed consistently misleading “sense data” that led me to incorrect conclusions about the true nature of reality. Or, to put a more modern spin on things, I could be a Boltzmann Brain — a thermal fluctuation, born spontaneously out of a thermal bath with convincing (but thoroughly incorrect) memories of the past. But — here is the punchline — it makes no sense to act as if any of those is the case.

Maybe you are a brain in a vat. What are you going to do about it? You could try to live your life in a state of rigorous epistemological skepticism, but I guarantee that you will fail. You have to believe something, and you have to act in some way, even if your belief is that we have no reliable empirical knowledge about the world and your action is to never climb out of bed. On the other hand, putting aside the various solipsistic scenarios and deciding to take the evidence of our senses (more or less) at face value does lead somewhere; we can make sense of the world, act within it and see it respond in accordance with our understanding.

Now compare that quote from Carroll to this back from Fowles:

36. We are in the best possible situation because everywhere, blow the surface, we do not know; we shall never know why; we shall never know tomorrow; we shall never know a god or if there is a god; we shall never even know ourselves. This mysterious wall round our world and our perception of it is not there to frustrate us but to train us back to the now, to life, to our time being.

74. I do not consider myself an atheist, yet this concept of ‘God’ and our necessary masterlessness obliges me to behave in all public matters as if I were.

The first part of point 36 reads like the title Carrol gave to his blog post: “What I Believe But Cannot Prove”.

(I consider this explanation as radically different compared to the famous Pascal’s Wager. As that’s more like a selfish, pragmatic bet that doesn’t actually help understanding; where understanding is the goal, opposed to just convenience. And for sure we cannot infer what is to gain or lose.)

We are, as human beings, in a transition, but this essence is ETERNAL. We do not have a place to reach. We will never have it. The origin and end, like birth and death, make the transition possible as a place, defining it, but then they stay outside experience. Our essence is about staying in this transition (process). And accept it for what it is.

42. Look out of the window: everything you see is frozen fire in transit between fire and fire. Cities, equations, lovers, landscapes: all are hurtling towards the hydrogen crucible.

The consequence of this, both for Carroll and Fowles, is that we are forced to use our free will, like I say in my post. We are forced to think as if we are atheists, in Fowles’ words, with our attention focused on our time being. The now. Our actual responsibility on this world, the effect our actions have on other people. Our own responsibility, our own free will, our own limited judgement, given that “we shall never know why; we shall never know tomorrow.” It’s entirely on us.

The driver of a lorry carrying high explosives drives more carefully than the driver of one loaded with bricks; and the driver of a high-explosive lorry who does not believe in a life after death drives more carefully than one who does. We are all in this nitroglycerine truck.

And the last point (of this section) Fowles writes is a thing of poetry and absolute beauty that almost unifies Lovecraft with the movie “2001: A Space Odissey”:

76. I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard.
Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.

I’m archiving here what started as a forum post.

CAVEAT: This is only partially related to the GamerGate affair, in the sense that it’s specular but not linked, if not because of the bigger themes of racism, misogyny and everything. So, Quinn is not involved, games are not involved, yet we see the EXACT same thing that happened on Quinn, yet this time the situation is specular in the sense that the supposed “feminist” target here is found “guilty”, instead of rising shields on her defense.

This requires to step slightly outside gaming and into literature, in particular the fantasy/sci-fi subgenre.

As in the Quinn case, but in much smaller proportions, this thing in propagating across forums and blogs. They even named it “Benjanungate”.

Two forums threads going on:

The gist is that a famous feminist blogger who used to write extremely vitriolic reviews of books, calling out the authors in kind of Sarkeesian way, if only a thousands times more bluntly and aggressive, was outed as being also a writer who’s now starting to get published. The two identities online were kept well separated, with the writer’s blog being instead extremely mild.

The point is: in this one case the smear campaigns were initiated by this supposed feminist, instead of against her.

Why is this important? Because it highlights the terms of the discussion, where this feminist battle crosses over to WRONG territory. For me it’s extremely confusing to differentiate where are the good arguments, and which battles are actually worth fighting. So seeing the mirror image of the ambiguous Quinn affair can help see where things that started good become instead very wrong.

Consider also that even if she’s considered on the “wrong” side pretty much universally, I still think there was a whole lot legitimate and interesting about what she used to write. Yet she falls in the category of “feminists we don’t need”. In the sense that she is the living proof that you can do a lot of wrong even if the principles were good and sound (just one, as an example, she often pointed to the “whitewashing” of book covers, where ethnic people were still made white to sell more books).

So she had merits, if you understood her angle. Yet she made everything possible so that you wouldn’t understand it. This is the problem with these kinds of feminists: they do everything possible to be misunderstood and be vitriolic. They antagonize. So theirs become gut (legitimate) reactions to otherwise complex problems. Yet a legitimate act isn’t automatically a good one. So is “feminism”, good principles that sometime only produce setbacks.

“the tactics she used don’t often change minds, they generally only serve to solidify stances.”


(probably more)

Also relevant:

Just a link to an article, whose theme is already a delicious example of Looping Worlds and wheels within wheels: Reading Wallace Reading.

“Do you have like a daily writing routine?”

Oh well, please bear with me. I don’t want to offend anyone, but see the category, this goes into “mythology”.

A big part of what I seem to do on this blog is about recognizing some recurring patterns about the most disparate things. The world is incredibly complex but sometimes I recognize these common patterns, and in the end there seem to be a smaller number of them. Whether “true” or not, these patterns have a significant explanatory power, so by using them I often understand other aspects I otherwise would miss. So, even if dealing with a rather complicate and sensible matter, I’ll naively describe another of these patterns.

Obviously, this specific one isn’t a novel problem. In fact I bet a common reaction about the recent news has been: “Oh shit! AGAIN?!” It’s more or less like parents that come back home and find that the kids are fighting again.

One of my basic intuitions, many years ago, was that the core of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict could have been represented by another type of conflict that is just far more widespread and common: mind/body dichotomy.

The pattern I’m describing here is that, rather often, large social structure, like organizations, nations, religions and so on, often exhibit general models of behavior that exist within a single human being. It’s as if a social body is indeed a conscious body, with all the shortcoming, conflicts and problems of an individual human being. As if parroting an actual person.

So it’s as if you can “project” on this larger social body the issues that usually belong to a single person. Having a metaphoric power. But, actually, from the original perspective of Kabbalah, it is curious to notice that what I described as a metaphor, for them it’s LITERAL. Since the physical world is strictly illusion, what you see reflected outside yourself depends solely on you. Literally, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is YOUR FAULT. Really specifically yours (or mine), as a single individual being. If people are dying it’s because of what you’ve done today. It depends on you, you monster.

See this video and notice it’s from 2006:

Even this video presents its own dichotomy: Israel versus Nations. Explaining (since all Kabbalah terms are strictly symbolic) that Israel = desire for unity & spirituality, and Nations = striving for mere self satisfaction.

When I came to my own intuition about mind/body I didn’t know anything at all about Kabbalah, but the pattern is rather similar. Getting closer to the point, more than mind/body, this is a conflict of the more “rational” side of the mind, and it’s “emotional” side (because usually rationality = mind, and emotion = body, we’re just switching tools and shapes using the same pattern).

Now. Take Israel. Would you put it on the emotional or on the rational side of conflict? Israel represent rationality. It’s the modern nation. It’s recognized by the western world and legitimated as so. It has the military power. It’s more culturally “developed” (not a quality on itself). Israel represent the official institution that is clearly defined and recognized. Its forms are rational, overt forms. Explicit.

Take Hamas. Terrorism in general is emotional. Religious fundamentalism is especially symbolic and non-rational. It’s an emotional push, it’s less directed. Despite terrorism is really NOT tolerable and can’t be justified, it still has a form of legitimation: when people are so hopeless and feel crushed in a corner, they leash out, with blinding rage and despair. Terrorism comes out of desperation. It is never justifiable, but it can be understood. It just has very deep motives, buried down, away from the rational light of history. It’s the irrational beasts lurking in the dark. A monster. It broods and incubates, till it bubbles up. And explodes, apparently unjustified.

Another step forward: more than simply rational/emotional, I can describe this conflict as taking the form of another rather widespread condition: a panic attack. What’s the most obvious trait of a panic attack? That it is extremely counter-productive. And irrational. You literally can’t explain WHY it happens and WHY it ruins your life now. You just want it to STOP. The panic attack is indeed the result of a deep conflict between the rational and the emotional mind. Or: identity versus rational. Identity, in this definition, is what can’t change. It just can’t. It can’t be moved at all. It’s what you are deep down, regardless of all your struggles. Rationality instead is the part of the mind that goes “social”. It’s the part that wants to be included in the world, that bends under external demands, like the desire to be successful, popular and so on. That needs to achieve and perform. This side is also the only side the external world is interested in because, to reproduce itself, it needs vessels that are uniform. Alike. Society reproduces itself when it can conquer cells and make them like itself. Transformed into something usable. Reproducible. So society forces a conformity. Otherwise, if you don’t bend and conform, you are banished, a thread, become outcast. The rational side of a person STRIVES HARD to conform itself, to become as society demands. And this obviously puts the identity side on a very strong pressure. Because identity just won’t move. What happens then when you have two things, one that won’t move, and another that pushes and pushes hard? That this thing breaks apart. It literally comes to pieces. And it can take a lifetime, if you’re lucky, to bring those pieces back together. Hence all kinds of problems, from drugs to psychological meltdowns and everything else. People break because they are pulled apart in two different directions.

Back to the panic attack. A panic attack happens when the rational mind has pushed (and violated) the needs of the emotional mind so deep down that at some point the emotional mind just EXPLODES. A panic attack is literally the emotional mind sabotaging the activities (and needs) of the rational mind. It’s a bomb. It destroys what you want to do. It stops you. Obviously, it’s extremely counter productive. It arrives at the worst possible moment, as if your body HATES you with a passion. And you, because conscience is the rational mind, you HATE your body with a passion. Because your body doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t respond the way you want and keeps sabotaging what you need to do. The body is your enemy, as if it’s a stranger, that you don’t understand and works against you.

Now, back to Hamas you can notice that all they do is EXTREMELY counter productive to their own causes. If their demands are legitimate, in many ways, THEIR ACTIONS throw all that legitimacy to shit. They do the worst possible to their own cause. If this was a tactical battle, they handle it in the worst possible ways because they just keep making their own position worse and worse. Why so stupid? Because it’s irrational. It’s the emotional side that has been crushed so hard against the corner that it is only able to leash out with rage. Just blind irrational rage you’ll never be able to justify rationally. It doesn’t make any sense, and at some point you just wish you could erase them from existence so that they just fucking stop, and be done with it. And that’s Israel’s answer. Either you stop NOW, or I fucking obliterate you.

The other aspect about Hamas, if you listen to what they say, is that what they say is extremely… childish. They won’t stop launching their toy rockets that do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING if not justify Israel ACTUAL killings because it would be like “giving up”. Kids don’t give up. Ever. And then they say they’ll UNLEASH THE APOCALYPSE. Which is extremely serious and ominous. But also so childish again. Why? It’s irrational again. They speak through symbols because they are an emotional side. They are arrogant because kids are arrogant, especially if cornered.

And then it all seems to bog down to another: who started first? If you stop then I stop too. NOPE, YOU STOP FIRST! BUT IT WAS YOU WHO STARTED! And so on, like kids.

In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace played explicitly with this pattern working on multiple levels. Buildings that become alive, conscious. Forms that are shaped-as, but that also become. Prosthetic bodies. The MIT thing from where Madame Psychosis plays her night drama is shaped like a brain. In “The Broom of the System” the town is shaped like a human profile, and by the end of the book it actually comes alive. Again in Infinite Jest the human double bind that is often described in various forms represent what I just described in the Israeli–Palestinian: a vicious circle. Which is the symbol that opens every chapter. “Annular”, is a keyword of the book. If in a single person the anxiety’s double bind is a vicious circle that seemingly goes on forever dispersing endless psychic and physical energy, this becomes the inspiration to create a kind of vicious circle that, based on trash (which also is a psychological projection), can produce actual energy to power the whole of United States. Forever. Annular Fusion. And “annular” is also the shape of the conscience in the mind. And annular is the structure of Infinite Jest, the book itself, looping on itself. Ending where it starts (but missing a year). It’s both parody and projection on the large of what happens instead “within”.

The same suggest the Kabbalah in that video, but literally (the spiritual self and its struggles projects the physical world and its struggles), and the same I described, more metaphorically, with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Is the real annular fusion the ring of self-consciousness that leads us to feel trapped in our solipsistic cells?

Whether you believe in the hard form of projection (Kabbalah), or the weaker, merely metaphoric and symbolic one I described, I think the form of the pattern I just described can “explain” why this conflict goes on forever and seems at the same time completely ridiculous and yet so dramatic and unsolvable. Because it’s just so deep in all of us, and it’s out there, reminding us the way we are. No so different, or “better”, as we like to think. Nor stranger, or so far away, and “safe”, really.

This means that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict won’t be solved by just putting each in its own territory. That’s only fuel for the worst to surface again and again. The conflict will be solved when they’ll be able to be together (a mind can’t do without a body, go figure), realizing there’s no difference between them, and that to live in happiness they need each other. You know, brothers and sisters, and all that rhetorical banality.

This is a weird movie. A bit like Malick’s The Tree of Life, with a much narrower scope and ambition. But the themes that feed this movies are also the themes I tend to write about. All about consciousness, invisible hands that shape things, awareness and so on.

The movie is more about mood and atmosphere than plot, and it tries to wrongfoot the viewer by explaining very little and jumping between scenes as if following more an abstract association of ideas/stream of consciousness than cause/effect or the usual linear storytelling. So to understand most of it you need to actually work out these associations, while also recognizing the change of scene and different characters involved. Meaning that the actual experience can be VERY fleeting, making you wonder what the fuck just happened on screen. But beside this pretentious and slightly esoteric presentation, the director isn’t one to overshoot his ambition and only offer artsy art without substance. The movie is not a masterpiece but it succeeds at being interesting and deep enough, even if it doesn’t offer enough of a foothold to sustain everything it offers.

When I finished watching it I had only a vague idea of what actually happened, but the movie is not very complex and after reading online various comments I was able to give context to most of the scenes that left me baffled, trying to figure out a connection.

For example, one of the scenes that confused me and that I couldn’t place in the narrative is how toward the end the orchids are shown as white, losing their bluish color. I thought that if the pigs were still taken care of then the cycle would continue, but the message is actually the opposite. I guess that the movie just fails if you analyze it on one level only (for example literal plot opposed to only metaphoric), while it flourishes when you jump freely from one to the other without pretending things make absolutely perfect sense.

Going through the movie I was guessing the “Thief” character as some sort of villain, and then the “Sampler” as a sort of mysterious rescuer, but this latter character isn’t easy to pinpoint into a role and the 2nd half of the movie is already quite frantic and fragmented enough on its own, without the added difficulty of having no clue about what the characters are up to. So what is this about?

I think a cycle was being shown: the “Thief” harvest worms from bluish orchids, uses these worms to mind control people and steal their money, then the “Sampler” rescues the victims and transfers the worms to the pigs, and eventually the pigs are released into the river so that they feed the orchids, making them blue, orchids that then are then taken to feed the beginning of the cycle. This cycle being an “unseen hand”, becoming a whirlpool that captures the victims’ lives, transforming them radically but without them being aware of what is happening or why. The “Upstream Color” of the title could be seen as a sort of Bakker’s “before/after” analogue. The upstream color is the drug itself that creates the cycle, being upstream, in the usual deterministic argument, means that it “causes” everything happening “downstream”. It’s a root of the events. Human lives are then caught in this whirlpool, captured by it, but without any awareness of it. An occluded horizon. In this case the story of the movie is about this cycle being broken. Through obsession, the female protagonist is able to eventually track the Sampler, kill him, understand what he was up to. So the cycle is broken. The scene that shows the orchids being only white symbolizes that change, no more pigs thrown into the river, so no more worms for the Thief character to harvest. It’s only in this that the Sampler, even as a rescuer, is framed as a sort of accomplice for his own reasons. He rescues the victims, but for his own ends, and then he’s the one who actually feeds the cycle by knowingly throwing the pigs into the river. This creates the typical egg or chicken paradox, about how the Sampler and Thief acquired their respective roles, but the movie isn’t interested in exploring this connection.

That way the plot of the movie “mostly” makes sense. Mostly because it requires a bit more than suspension of disbelief to actually justify the mechanics of what is going on. The sharing of memories and feelings, especially at a distance, is definitely metaphysical and completely absurd. The movie is strong when it shows the sort of epiphany/revelation that happens when the characters actually “fish” for they removed memories. All the symbols there hold true value, as it’s a wholly psychological journey perfectly justified by previous experiences. But then it falls apart when the pig being killed causes the characters to completely freak out because of this metaphysical collective unconscious/emphatic link. This opposed to the sharing of memories, that in light of all this can be seen as merely happening through the same metaphysical connection, I had interpreted as far more subtle: they didn’t actually share those memories, they only “appropriated” them. So for example if I share a story of my childhood with you, at some later point you could tell again this story to me thinking it’s your own (this is what the movie shows), but it’s not. You just wrongly appropriated it and are unable to divide your own true experiences from those that are only stories you heard. It would be a completely plausible mental impairment, not a metaphysical super power. But sadly the movie clearly adopts the metaphysical option, instead of the stronger, plausible one. The confusion is not about the stories heard, but about the totality of the childhood, told and untold.

At that point the movie is better if taken metaphorically instead of literally. One might think that the cycle is broken thanks to the “power of love” (since the relationship has a role), but I think the message is actually the opposite: the relationship itself is merely “mechanical”. The two get together because of the hidden link, they are both victims and are brought together by this super natural force that now connects them. This connection that causes everything is out of their “will”. So once again the action that breaks the cycle isn’t outside the cycle itself, but merely part of it. Meant to happen (one could consider this a metaphorical Singularity). Love, as a feeling or connection, is merely reduced to something that can’t be explained because it can’t be seen, but in the end it’s the least metaphysical element of the whole movie. The love happens upstream, not downstream. The love is the worm, nothing else.

And finally there’s also this idea of having achieved something “more”. As if the connection becomes a connection outside the normal human experience. A connection with the flow of nature. There’s almost a transcendental kind of ending (without resorting to metaphysics again) where other people are also being “awakened”, taken out of their reality to change their life forever. The cycle is actually broken, obsession has paid off. Over here there’s enlightenment, over there is Aronofsky’s Pi (or even his more popular Black Swan, that also is about obsession).

For a more complete insight there’s The New Yorker.

Now some quotes without context:

The most visually imaginative American film since David Lynch’s Eraserhead.

It presents us with a glimpse of the vastness of existence, of our inner nature, and of nature without that is as equally dreadful, enveloping, and terrifying as it is beautiful.

What the movie points to is worth following until you’re left with an enormous map that you spend the rest of the drive trying to refold.

Not much to follow on. My favorite part is when the man chops the tree down. Other than that, you might as well check your refrigerator to see if you need to buy some groceries or look around your home to see of the house needs some home improvement.

Shane Carruth is justly famed in SF fandom for Primer, an ultra, super, hyper low-budget film shot in a storage locker with a cast of about 2.5 where you spend most of the movie wondering exactly what the heck is going on here. But, once you do, you can’t help but admire the cleverness of how you were set up for it.

It’s not quite a silent film, but don’t count on the dialog for help in figuring out what’s up.

He also stated that this movie is about tearing people down and their having to build their own narratives.

In many ways, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” may be the key. First, the Thief has Kris copy Thoreau’s work as he prepares to wrench away all her material possession, an act which, despite its obvious malevolence, allows Kris to have a spiritual journey of sorts, to build her life up from the ground floor and truly seize life, as Thoreau sought to do in “Walden”. As we see Kris reciting lines from “Walden” while retrieving stones from the bottom of a pool, she is expressing not only that she is beginning to remember some of what happened to her, but also that she is becoming aware that her life is not her own and that she must take action to secure her agency, which one could argue is the core thesis of Thoreau’s novel. Finally, referencing “Walden” as an analogous narrative demonstrates that the Thief, Sampler and Orchid gatherers as a cycle represent Carruth taking advantage of that most elegant possibility offered by film to heighten and personify all of the inexplicable things that shape our lives

The title, then, is quite fitting. Most structurally, it refers to the blue chemical that flows downstream to affect the development of the orchids. Yet, in a metaphysical sense, it refers to the indistinguishable waves vastly divergent from actions taken far outside our perception, their ripples influencing the trajectory of our lives.

Carruth said in the Q&A that he included countless shots of hands gliding past physical objects without touching them to simulate that to his characters, the substance of the world was just out of reach.

This is the film equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes. Film critics and their pompous arrogant “lovies” couldn’t dare be seen not to understand and applaud this film, when the simple fact is its a badly written, no story, poorly filmed 90+ minutes of trash, that could easy be mistaken for a joke by a stoned teenager if it was not so bad.

0 out of 10.

Let me start by saying that if you are the type of person who likes going to art galleries and staring at abstract acrylic painted squares then this is probably the film for you.

If, like me and unlike hipsters, you’re squeamish about subcutaneous creepy-crawlies and the erosion of the self, exercise caution.

The Sampler isn’t meant to be necessarily God, but he represents that thing, whether that’s a good or bad thing or even real, and so to track him down and blame him and punish him — it’s one of the things that I think is subversive about the film.

Well, [the two characters are] being forced together by offscreen forces — the pigs are coming together — but there’s a real tension because it’s not happening organically. So we’re two people in a city meeting on a train: this is meant to go a certain way. But it’s not going that way for whatever reason and I just felt like there would be a lot of tension in that constant poking from offscreen that’s pushing you toward something.

It turns out that the Sampler is a connoisseur of the confusing human auras associated with his pigs. He’s able to tap into the auras by sitting near and touching the animals, and we see him eavesdrop on the lives of a number of other former worm hosts, rather after the manner of Whitman’s visitations of firemen, slaves, swimming youths, and women in labor in “Song of Myself.” The Sampler is also a connoisseur of sounds. He records roars, hums, ticks, and rattles on his farm, which seem to have echoes in the wheezing and grating of the printers, photocopiers, and other machinery that surround Kris and Jeff in daily life.

If animal and spiritual natures can be meaningfully separated, surely the spiritual is a parasite on the animal rather than the other way around.

It’s not a comfortable awareness to wake up to. Being conscious in a material world, his metaphors imply, is like being a human with a worm in his brain.

Provided without context:

“People can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is animated.”

“When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself.”

“the opposite direction: playing old footage, over and over, until a mythical structure declares itself.”

As the work of Claude Levi-Strauss perpetually reminds us, every myth never merely describes, but participates in the myth it narrates. Myths within myths, a continuous re-writing that is never separate from its putative foundations. There can be no “outside” to any myth.

I was watching the stream of a conference on quantuum mechanics to see if I could gleam some interesting patterns, something that caught my attention is “QBism”, or:

So QBism being one of the various models that are actively being considered as plausible explanations for the quantuum mechanics types of phenomena. “Ugliness” in Science measures the amount of unsettling change and perturbations a theory brings to the field. The ideal being “elegant complexity”, which I assume is a quality of god. Summed up in the Occam’s Razor principle, that wants the most amount of phenomenons explained by the smallest amounts of formulas.

In this case, while the technicalities escape me, it seems to me a reformulation of Von Foerster’s “constructivism” mixed with the most magical ideas revolving around the “collaborative universe” crackpot theory.

Since this particular theory seems limited to explain quantuum paradoxes then its confirmation might have a milder impact on “reality”, but the question is always the same: how can my “belief” actually affect the probabilistic outcome? How can the model itself transition from the unobservable magical “small”, to actual concrete and observable reality?

But in this case the interesting part is about fitting the problem into another. From an article I found, some of the suggestive quotes:

Danish physicist Niels Bohr, insisted in a 1929 essay that the purpose of science was not to reveal “the real essence of the phenomena” but only to find “relations between the manifold aspects of our experience”.

People argue to this day about whether wavefunctions are real entities, like stones or ripples on a pond, or mathematical abstractions that help us to organize our thinking, like the calculus of probabilities.

Fuchs and Schack adopt the latter view. They take a wavefunction to be associated with a physical system by an agent — me, for example, based on my past experience. I use the wavefunction, following rules laid down by quantum mechanics, to calculate the likelihood of what I might experience next, should I choose to probe further. Depending on what I then perceive, I can update the wavefunction on the basis of that experience, allowing me to better assess my subsequent expectations.

As another Viennese investigator even more famous than Schrödinger — Sigmund Freud — put it in 1927: “The problem of a world constitution that takes no account of the mental apparatus by which we perceive it is an empty abstraction.”

The actual papers sound even uglier:

QBism personalizes the famous dictum of Asher Peres. The outcome of an experiment is the experience it elicits in an agent. If an agent experiences no outcome, then for that agent there is no outcome. Experiments are not floating in the void, independent of human agency. They are actions taken by an agent to elicit an outcome. And an outcome does not become an outcome until it is experienced by the agent. That experience is the outcome.