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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Maps.

Map are liminal texts, describing something of the place, but never the place itself.

I was curious; since NASA and Apollo space missions we learn that our world is a ball of rock, spinning around the sun, spinning through space. Each of us stuck to the ground through our feet, heads pointing towards the universe.

Even though it doesn't really feel true..there is considerable evidence that it is true.

Yet some people resist and maintain an older, image of the world: the world as a flat disc, or the earth as a hollow sphere.

Other people- often scientists- believe reality to be made of at least thirteen thousand layers.

Well, as far as I'm concerned, all versions work at walking speed.
Believe what you will, but only one can take you to stand on the Moon.

I wanted to find the oldest map.

It may be possible some Neolithic some rock art- cup and ring- represents a sacred landscape. This seemed to be the case with one stone at Newgrange; and I'm sure that there are older. But there is no written history for then.

How about the Sumerians?
We have fragments of their mythology and we know where their cities were...

I couldn't find a Sumerian map.

The oldest is this one.

This map dates from the Persian Period (early 5th century B.C.), shows a flat, round world with Babylonia in the center.

Text on the back mentions seven outer regions beyond the encircling ocean.


The image isn't too incomprehensible:

The map is oriented NW which is the direction of the prevailing wind: the wind Ishtar sends. People try to fill in the gaps in the broken cuneiform map so that it may be read, most take the star-points to be islands. The tablet states that these 'islands' are at equal distances of seven miles (from either each other or from the Babylonian world?), around the outer periphery of the Earthly Ocean.

The Seven Islands (though there may be eight?)- differ in how much light there is there.

The North island (5) is in darkness - a land "where one sees nothing," and "the sun is not visible.

The North-West (4) island "the light is brighter than that of sunset or stars"

The third island (3) is where "the winged bird ends not his flight," in other words, cannot be reached.

The North-East island (6) is "where a horned bull dwells and attacks the newcomer". An exactly similar presentation occurs in the same position in an astrolabe of the 17th century A.D. and has been used in the reconstruction of the tablet.

The seventh island (7) is the east and is is "where the morning dawns," meaning that it faces the sunrise. Again, the islands are all "seven miles" distant from the earth, but the distance between them varies, being sometimes six, sometimes nine miles.

The description of two more islands has not survived.

On the other hand, it is more reasonable to think that the islands may be mountains...

This next map preserves the idea of islands and adds the underworld directly under the earth, the 'Bitter river' seems to flow into it.


The next map shows mountains and is perhaps the best of the modern interpretations:

The earth is a flat disc, surrounded by mountains and floating on an ocean of sweet water. Resting on these mountains is the hemispherical vault of the sky, across which moves the stars, the planets, the sun and the moon.

Under the earth there is another hemisphere, the underworld, a reflection of the upper world. Whilst the whole spherical world-universe floats like a bubble in a limitless ocean of salt water..

..a way of psychoanalysing the psychosis of the place.

Science describes reality in terms of rules that can be made explicit by dissection or by mixing things together; and ultimately the rules make mathematical sense. Yet science is considered a 'hard' subject, as if seeing into a mystery and remembering what you have seen is somehow harder than not interacting with, making guesses about, or even seeing and understanding.

Science is Popperian conjecture followed by refutation, is measuring changes in the 'dependant' variable as you change the independent variable (whilst keeping all the control variables the same). Science pivots around the question: how does something happen?

But science is a relatively new approach to reality.

Aristotle (some two thousand three hundred years ago) is 'the father of biology' and yet he was not doing science. He observed, dissected and he described, but he did not test. Aristotle was content to believe that old clothes created mice and a rotting fish could gave birth to flies, he didn't ask why or test any aspect of his belief.

Clothes and fish continued to 'give birth' until the seventeenth century.

Because of its newness, science contains relatively few archaic ideas that seem to make sense whilst being  wrong. Phlogiston, as an explanation as to why some elements gain weight and other substances weigh less when burnt makes sense; after all there is a loss and gain of something taking place. The theory of phlogiston is wrong mainly because it lacks precision. As with the discovery of bacteria, so Lavoisier's keen attention to weighing closed vessels (mathematical proof of oxygen) changed the way we see the world.

As phlogiston became oxygen so the alchemical tradition of four elements became the periodic table, and no one feels inclined to explain scientific observations in terms of the four elements because the periodic table both predicts things that can be seen to happen, and explains things that were harder to explain using the old four element theory.

But wrong theories that refuse to lie down and die are zombie theories.

It is tempting to use a conspiracy theory to explain their existence, as elucidated by a Professor of Theoretical Medicine:
If zombie science is not scientifically-useable – what is its function? In a nutshell, zombie science is supported because it is useful propaganda to be deployed in arenas such as political rhetoric, public administration, management, public relations, marketing and the mass media generally. It persuades, it constructs taboos, it buttresses some kind of rhetorical attempt to shape mass opinion. Indeed, zombie science often comes across in the mass media as being more plausible than real science; and it is precisely the superficial face-plausibility which is the sole and sufficient purpose of zombie science.
The theory of conspiracy theory misses the self-evident truth that when an experience is emotion, fiction and poetry ease the heart and make more sense than text books. There is nothing that anyone can do about this; it has always been, will forever be so.

We live in an information rich culture and the truth has always been with us, the more we find out, the less others seem to know. But the mechanism that pulls bad ideas from the aethyr and gives them life has more to do with social conditions -anxiety over job losses and fear for ones children- than by a malevolent other who wants to take control. Richard Dawkins can rave as long as he likes about the stupidity in believing in angels, but ultimately the truth may not be as useful to the individual as the lie the mind weaves to protect itself.

But finally, what I'm trying to say is I want to find a way to bridge the gap between the two worlds -the real and the virtual; and I'm thinking that psychogeopgraphy may be the correct synthesis.

Sinclair “For me, it’s a way of psychoanalysing the psychosis of the place in which I happen to live."

Friday, 7 January 2011

Cellar deep inside the earth...

I'm totally fascinated by so called 'satanic rumour panic'!

Once upon a time demons were a way of dealing with the randomness of events: of disease, floods and earthquakes. A demon was a local thing, and a name for a cause; and their function -sociologically speaking-was to make the meaningless, meaningful. A demon rarely represented pure evil, its actions could be malevolent, but the entity blamed for the events was rarely totally intractable or overwhelming.

Sometimes demons could be persuaded to become protectors, oath bound to help rather than hinder; most of the time the appearance of some guy in special robes, burning special herbs and chanting special words would be enough to deal with the situation.

It is possible that the nature of the job (of exorcist and priest) changed when writing became a common skill. Once demons were named in books, it was no longer necessary for the demon to be named via a more cooperative process: conversation and actions based on nothing more substantial than guesswork and empathy. The priest or shaman working before there were written lists of demons and their natures, had to use intuition alone to give the afflicted what ever they needed to hear.

Books created 'experts' and standard ways of dealing with.

The contemporary vision of demons and the demonic has its roots in a specific myth: the end-of-the-world myth. The Great Battle. Good Vs Bad. Armageddon and Ragnarok. But this does not explain why demons stopped being imagined as a kind of paranormal 'antisocial behaviour' and became instead a symptom of catastrophic disorder about to overwhelm the earth; all humanity swept away by a tide of chaos...until god steps in and divides the sheep from the goats.

I see it as a commodification process; religions had a product to sell and demons are interesting: control, promised by official books, seems useful. Fear sells.

In the 21st century the myth of the great-battle functions as an organising principal in two main ways. In the world of fundamentalist Christianity anything a bit odd is a sign of end-times; and secondly in the world of 'social work' thought crime, gateway experiences and algorithms predict and forewarn of dangerous behaviour. A myth drags in and organises random events. A myth appears to explain the inner core of what is going on..

In both systems there is a fear of contagion...as if the forces of chaos exert an attraction that will inevitably subvert the normal into the pathological.

The best example of this myth is the dystopian zombie hoard; god is a very long way away and may sound like a distant helicopter.

Freud took the energy of the Great-Battle/End-Of-The-World myth and re-visioned the demons as forces of the mind, the repressed selfish and un-socialised primal mind. These unconscious desires he called the id. In Freudian myth, the id is always looking for ways to overwhelming the conscious mind and to operate in the real-world. Freud really had seen the gates of hell swing open -a totally man made event known as world war one- But Freud didn't see any myth, only confirmation that his basic theory was correct. Thus the demons of of the id, like the local 'demons' of the past became -via books something considerably worse than a way to name and handle random madness.

The myth of the great battle predicts that demons are a symptom of the devil. Therefore, like the good Christian the social worker needs to be on the look out for gateway crimes and signs..that indicate a potential for something worse.

The essential difference between the demonolgy of the past and of today (psychology and Christianity) is how demons fit in. In the past demons had a location, as Gods had locations. There was a link between place and 'ghost'. Now demons are a class of 'alien' being. They 'intrude' from elsewhere.

When demons were considered a 'local phenomenon they were more likely seen as a part of a functional system; a part of the 'natural order' of things. Unusual events were a sign of something, but not necessarily of catastrophe.

This idea of demons as a part of this world, either as bound to a place or psychologically as messengers of inner tensions, corresponds to the Jungian view. For Jung 'demonic' symptoms of inner tension are to be read as a message aiding integration and growth...I'm thinking now of the the exploding table and the shattered bread knife...

What has all this to do with The Book Of Persephone?
Not much, I have to admit.
Just...

The Demeter/Persephone myth was linked to Eleusis; no where else was quite so much The Place of  Persephone's return. That emphasis on real-world-place is an archaic way of thinking, or pre-literate. Eleusis isn't a symbol of Persephone's return.

It is the place where it happens...