Weekend links 178

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Pretty Pictures, a new book by designer Marian Bantjes, is out on October 1st.

• A writer admired by Angela Carter, Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison, Anthony Burgess, Jonathan Meades and Iain Sinclair; a “writer’s writer…[whose] best stories bear comparison with the Ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges”; a writer with an “unsettling quality to his writing, a whiff of brimstone that links him to fin-de-siècle occult figures such as HP Lovecraft—and even, at a further remove, Aleister Crowley”. David Collard explains why you may want to read something by Gerald Kersh (1911–1968), four of whose books are being republished.

• The Eccentronic Research Council and Maxine Peake pay homage to Delia Derbyshire’s The Dreams project with a new single out at the end of the month (Pye Corner Audio and Carol Morley appear on the flip). Ms Peake’s barm-cake reverie may be heard here.

• “Applying for grants, writing artist statements, showing up to openings—artists have to do far more than just make art if they want to find an audience for it.” Jen Graves on lies and deception in the art world.

The material does not make the work. The life does not make the art. Exactly the opposite. The work creates the material. The art creates the life. Did Trinidad exist before Naipaul? Did cargo ships exist before Joseph Conrad? Did Newark and the New Jersey suburbs exist before Philip Roth? Did women in playgrounds in New York City exist before Grace Paley? See how the writer invents the material? These places did not exist as literary subjects. They were invisible to literature. The magic of a great book is that it makes its own subject seem inevitable. The danger is, it makes the subject seem like the source of power in the work.

Phyllis Rose on life and literature.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 087, 40 minutes of original electronic music by Geistform (Rafael Martinez Espinosa).

• “You’ve Got This“, an It Gets Better-style video support campaign for people recently diagnosed with HIV.

• At Dangerous Minds: Babalon Working: Brian Butler’s trippy occult odyssey with Paz de la Huerta.

Manfred Mohr‘s computer-created artwork, from the 1960s to the present.

Robert Macfarlane on the strange world of urban exploration.

Rick Poynor on Bohumil Stepan’s Family Album of Oddities.

• Oli Warwick talks to Martin Jenkins, aka Pye Corner Audio.

• The 384-page BUTT calendar for 2014 is now on sale.

• Pye Corner Audio: We Have Visitors (2010) | Toward Light (2011) | The Mirror Ball Cracked (2012)

Enter the Void

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It’s taken me a while to see this but the long search for a genuinely psychedelic feature film is over. That’s genuinely psychedelic not in the debased sense of a handful of garish or trippy visuals, but in the full-spectrum expanded-consciousness sense for which Humphrey Osmond invented the term in 1956:

I have tried to find an appropriate name for the agents [psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, etc] under discussion: a name that will include the concepts of enriching the mind and enlarging the vision. My choice, because it is clear, euphonious, and uncontaminated by other associations, is psychedelic, mind-manifesting.

Other films have given us flashes of this kind of unfiltered experience—Chas’s mushroom trip in Performance (1970), for example—or attempted to relay LSD states through Hollywood conventions: The Trip (1967) and Altered States (1980). Then there are inadvertently psychedelic moments such as the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Some of the most successful works from a psychedelic perspective have almost always been abstract, micro-budget films such as those made by James Whitney, Jordan Belson, Ira Cohen and others. But until very recently no one had attempted to combine the narrative-free intensity of abstract cinema with a film narrative that would warrant placing psychedelic experience at the heart of the story. I was hoping A Scanner Darkly (2006) might do it but, good as it was, it didn’t really get there. Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void is the film that gets everything right.

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Linda and Oscar.

The narrative is a simple one (Noé calls his story a “psychedelic melodrama”): Oscar, a young American drug-dealer living in Tokyo smokes DMT, trips out for a while then goes to exchange some goods with a customer in a small club called The Void. While there he’s shot and killed in a police raid. His disembodied consciousness leaves his body and for the next two hours wanders the streets and buildings following his beloved sister, Linda, and his friends while they cope with the aftermath. Later on he starts to re-experience memorable (and traumatic) moments from his life. The Big Signifying Text in all of this is introduced in the opening scene: The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Oscar hasn’t read much of it so his friend Alex quickly relates (for the benefit of the audience) how the book describes what happens to the soul between the moment of death and rebirth into a fresh human body. A few minutes later we’re with Oscar experiencing this very process in dizzying, miraculously-filmed detail. Flicking through my own copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (OUP, 1960) one paragraph in the introduction had particular relevance:

The deceased human being becomes the sole spectator of a marvellous panorama of hallucinatory visions; each seed of thought in his consciousness-content karmically revives; and he, like a wonder-struck child watching moving pictures cast upon a screen, looks on, unaware, unless previously an adept in yoga, of the non-reality of what he sees dawn and set.

WY Evans-Wentz

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This is your brain on drugs: the DMT trip.

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