Month: September 2014

Asymmetric Creativity: No Shame in Films as Writing Inspiration

Fancy yourself a writer? Have a novel or two in the works? Maybe you’ve finished a half dozen short stories. Proud of each finished project and new idea. Yet there is a bit of shame when the more bibliophilic friends or fellow writers ask,”What author or book inspired your love for the genre,” and you answer, “Uh, movies.”

During several panels at writer and reader conferences I’ve attended in recent years I notice the conversation about writing and books is communicated through the vernacular of movies. A panel on ghost stories talked more about Hammer films and classic monster movies than gothic writers. At another conference a panel on spies and soldiers drifted quickly to good portrayals of warriors on film, rather than bringing forward great examples in print. It is not that we all don’t read or know the authors of today or yesterday, but for some reason we are creatures that find it easier to communicate through movies.

So, it’s OK to become a writer of novels and short stories after a lifetime of watching and dissecting movies. Embrace how you got to this creative point, keep reading and looking for new authors, but remain true to how you got here. That is by watching movies. Yet if you feel a bit skittish about film as inspiration, perhaps its time to seek a new level of inspiration in film.

A few more thoughts on movies as authorial inspiration:

Sometimes we come to genre late: Its perfectly acceptable to come to the bookish end of your favored genre later. Movies are often the easier to consume forms of entertainment when we are in our formative creative stages. Growing up I read less than some bookish friend, confining reading to  comic books or pulpy science fiction. My ideas and tutelage on narrative, characters and scene construction were informed by movies. Film is story telling too, perhaps burdened by the stigma of celluloid mass-market, and not something to be looked down by “authors.”

Find a Director: Directors may not write the films you love, but they have a role that is often editorial and always creator of the visuals in storytelling. When I go to the movies a good portion of my discretionary entertainment income I tend to go for the director. When you find a director, see how he or she uses a color pallet or sound design to further their story. Those can be your inspiration cues. Michael Mann’s The Keep, while flawed, is classic modern gothic war-time movie making. Mann also painted a vibrant and beautiful story in his Last of the Mohicans; while his use of blues and cold tones aided in his crime masterpiece, Heat. Opposite Mann but equally creative is John Carpenter, a horror auteur who understand speculative fiction on film better than director. His The Thing and The Fog, as well as the overlooked Prince of Darkness, position Carpenter as a classic inspiration of mine.

Color Pallet and Sound: When watching movies, you may register the tight scripting or great acting, but you subconsciously absorb everything else. For me I make a concious effort to notice the color pallet and sound used by a director. In Mann’s Mohicans amber and earth tones bring the wild to life. In Heat steel, black and blue colors create a cool, precise world. Bring that new appreciate for color to your work and see where it takes you. Same for sound in film, crunch, crackle and gristle often have more of an impact than we appreciate. Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and listen to the sound effects and design for a feast of sounds. Analyze those sounds, express them in your own words and perhaps your next story will have a new brisance and energy.


 

© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Did Fire Kill the Night and Birth Storytelling and Religions?

With the flick of a switch and by the glow of a smartphone screen we have finally chased away the lonely, terrifying darkness of night. The portable access to light, to entertain and occupy, like the incandescent light bulb, have changed how we deal with and interact with the night. The night was once communally conquered by a bonfire where food was prepared and stories were exchanged. The fear of the unknown that lurked at the firelight’s edge was chased away by tales whispered by the lips of man.

For the better part of 40 years University of Utah anthropology professor Polly Wiesner studied the Kalhari Bushmen, specifically their communication habits and content. Wiessner examined the content of conversation between Bushmen during the day and night. What she found was particularly fascinating- daylight conversations were mundane or gossip filled. While when the sun set and flames rose stories became supernatural and deeply personal.

According to the University of Utah press release:

“What I found was a big difference between day and night conversation, the kinds of information transmitted and the use of imaginary thought,” Wiessner says.

“Day conversation has a lot to do with economic activities – working, getting food, what resources are where,” she says. “It has a lot to do with social issues and controls: criticism, complaints and gripes.”

“At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups.”

Healers dance and go into trances, “travel to god’s village and communicate with the spirits of deceased loved ones who are trying to take sick people away,” Wiessner says.

Wiessner goes on to note:

“firelight stories, conversations, ceremonies and celebrations sparked human imagination and “cognitive capacities to form these imagined communities, whether it’s our social networks, all of our relatives on Earth or communities that link us to the spirit world.”

Wiessner’s idea that civilization and community were born over a roaring fire is both brilliant and complex. The role of fire in ritual and worship is an important and continuing connection to those bonfire communes of pre-history. Viewed through Wiessner’s thesis the role of fire there is renewed and complexity to the birth of faiths and myths. If we look at the fire as deified symbol the Burning Bush perhaps started as a communal spiritual experience and turned into a solitary prophetic action that helped codify a faith. In Zoroastrianism fire takes on sacred complexity, with Atar, or holy fire as the “source force which is the source of all energy and the symbol of truth and righteousness,” according to University of Derby Multifaith Centre. From Hinduism’s Agni to Maori ahi tapu, or sacred fires, the role of fire of faith punctuates every continent and culture. And it starts with tinder and a story.

For the full University of Utah press release, read here.

Asymmetric Creativity: Righting World Building Gone Wrong

YggdrasilI have an ongoing wrestling match with world building in speculative fiction. I revel in new writers producing ideas that challenge conventional story frameworks or characters. As one of those new writers I still learn as I go, producing some successes and tossing narrative failures. I plug forward with confidence and hope that my stories, short or long, will entertain readers around the world.

All that said, I do have an issue with the idea of world building some writers use in their works. To call it world building is a misnomer, as often we see a hodge-podge of cherry picked pieces of cultural and religious history cobbled together to form new faiths, nations or histories. I would suggest there is a cleaner, more energetic way at world building that harnesses creativity, while keeping the new world authentic to our shared historical knowledge.

Appreciating that many writers lavish countless hours to research before launching into a new story (a research fetishist myself) I feel sometimes the creative energy is lost in the action of stitching together. There needs to be a cohesive view of the world, not a patch work or “everything and the kitchen sink.” Perhaps other readers do not notice or take issue with such incongruities, but as a devotee of history, folklore and religion, I am sometimes distracted by the world building method employed by some writers. Sometimes speculative fiction is like the infamous movie scene where a Roman soldier wears a wrist watch. On the face of it, they seem authentic, but on closer inspection it doesn’t match up.

One of the reasons I started Asymmetric Creativity was to put down ideas that encouraged unconventional thinking that produced exciting results. World building is one such creative endeavor that I think benefits from asymmetric thinking. If I were to offer advice on how to find asymmetric influence in world building I would propose the following:

1- Museum Visits– Seems like a no brainer, but if you live in a part of the world with a robust museum community I would suggest getting outside of your intellectual comfort zone and visit a museum you would not be drawn to. If you are a classic art fan, go to a modern art museum and seek out unconventional sculpture or paintings. If you are a writer interested in world building, avoid the well worn museum galleries of Roman or Egyptian antiquities. Seek out the remnants of other cultures outside the big exhibits or popular galleries. Seek inspiration in the mundane household items or shard of pottery as often they provide insights into the greater culture. Also, spend time at local, smaller cultural institutions as regional history can provide creative triggers.

2- Seek Cultures Old or Overlooked– Unless I am constructing a story set in those culture, I avoid the typical empires or dominant societies favored by most world building writers. While I have non-fiction interest in Roman, Chinese, Egyptian and Medieval England I avoid using them as templates or research starting points for world building. Piecing together Roman imperial system with Chinese cosmology may seem new and inventive, but often they read incongruous or even silly. Find those precursor cultures which we continue to learn of their influence and astounding vibrancy. How do you find obscure or ancient societies?

3- Monitor Archaeology News– Social Media has provided an immediate and constantly updating flow of news about our past. I follow over a dozen archaeology and history organizations, websites and blogs. If you have the ability consider joining organizations like ASOR or at least following their social media updates. Or for a treasure trove of historical, anthropological and archaeological information, possibly join JSTOR. Read reputable history or archaeological periodicals.

4- Read Non-Fiction for Fun. Not Just Research– I have been a reader of non-fiction all my adult life. Currently I read 60% non-fiction to 40% fiction, with the non-fiction primarily folklore, religion and global histories. I read non-fiction for the enrichment, helping me keep the modern world in perspective knowing what came before and how it parallels today. This enrichment helps fill in the imagination, providing credible and realistic starting points for my fiction. World building fiction can only come by understand the way the world of the past operated on every level. Avoid confining the richness of your worlds to capes, armor, sword or sexual debauchery. Look at the names of men and women in 19th century America to forge characters in a strange future. Read about the faiths of Central Asia in the Bronze age to conjure a strange, yet authentic religion. While we all cannot be Tolkein, we can aspire to build authentic, individual and engrossing worlds on our own and not create a Frankenstein’s monster.

5- Write a History– If you feel compelled to create a world, then write a brief “paper” on the world you’ve imagine. Consider going back in time to your youth, to college, when you crafted papers with purpose. Now, as a fiction writer, you have a purpose to craft a world as authentic as any real society you would have profiled in college. Break it down in any form as you want, but create a level by level history of the world or society you imagined. Also, write the history with an authenticity and in a way that has a solid academic underpinning. Don’t worry about footnotes or following MLA standards, but take it seriously as you write a report on the layers of your imagined society. This becomes your history resource and creates a cohesive, authentic vision for your imagined world.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Magic in New England’s Fields: People of God in the Devil’s Lands

There was a magic in the woods and glens of Colonial New England. Puritan settlers while quick to eye the forests and mountains with suspicion and fear of maleficium, they just as easily looked upon fellow men and women of God-fearing English stock with fear. The Natives of the region, exemplified by the Abenaki of the northeast, practiced their own form of ‘magic’ in land’s that Puritans believed was once the Devil’s dominion.

To Cotton Mather it made sense that the Devil would stalk the lands of New England as where else would he be than among a group who hated him the most, “Where will the Devil show the most malice, where is hated, and hateth the most.” From his Wonders of the Invisible World of 1693 we get a glimpse of the Devil’s power over not just man but the world itself, creator of wars, heresies and storms, ” Once more, why may not Storms be reckoned among those Woes, with which the Devil does disturb us? It is not improbable that Natural Storms on the World are often of the Devils raising. We are told in Job 1.11, 12, 19. that the Devil made a Storm, which hurrican’d the House of Job, upon the Heads of them that were Feasting in it.”

According to a 2012 lecture by Stephen Mitchell, professor of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, everything which happened on Earth was connected morally and physically in the Puritan mind. These groups saw ship wrecks, storms and infant death with equal suspicion of the Devil’s handiwork as a product of God’s divine plan. Disease or ‘possession’, according to Mitchell, were handled by Puritans through fasting and prayer. These actions further ratifying the connection between the spirit and physical.

Mather wrote of the Natives of Massachusetts at the time of colonization, “The Indian Powawes, used all their Sorceries to molest the first Planters here; but God said unto them, Touch them not!” Mather continued, “The New-Englanders are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devil’s Territories.”

One can imagine the pious indignation Puritan’s experienced when they witnessed Native American ‘magic’ in New England. In 1624’s Good Newes, Englishman Edward Winslow wrote, “The office and duty of the Powah is to be exercised principally in calling up the Devil, and curing diseases of the sick and wounded.” The Powah is the Native “powwow” where priests with special powers of divination were exercised over nature, often for the benefit of man but also as a weapon. According to Winslow’s Newes, which preceded Mather’s work by nearly 70 years, the magic men of Native New England, “can raise storms and tempests which they usually do when they intend the death and destruction of other people.”

The most potent conjurer figure from the colonial period was a Pennacook sachem known as Passaconaway who is said to move rocks and return leaves to life. From a modern perspective Passaconaway was a member of a magic practicing tradition that appears to have a marvelous and intimate connection to nature. Yet viewed with the suspicions of Puritan New England Native sorcerers share talents with the Devil himself.

Roger Williams, theologian and New England colonist leader, viewed the healing actions of Native priests with more nuance, “They conceive there are many Gods or divine powers within the body of the man: In his pulse, his hearts, his lungs.” Instead of pulling from Satan for power, these priests, removed the malignant forces within man, an intimate power connected to a larger ideal. However, Williams did write, “These priests and conjurers (like Simon Magus) do bewitch the people,” going on to say rather contradictory, “most certainly (by the help of the Devil) work great cures.” (For Williams reference of Simon Magus, see Acts 8:9.)

One such skilled practitioner was Pennacook sachem Passaconaway, known for leadership skills as well as magic, Passaconaway oversaw a confederation from northern Massachusetts deep into New Hampshire. Uniting tribes from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to bulwark Mohawk aggression, Passaconaway also is said to have possessed powers as a m’teowlin, ‘deep seeing one.’ or powwow.

The native sachem exploits were chronicled by William Wood in his 1634 work, New England’s Prospect, “(Passaconaway) can make the water burn, the rocks move, the trees dance, metamorphize himself into a flaming man.” Going on to describe Passaconaway’s skills, Wood wrote,”in Winter, when there is no green leaves to be got, he will burn an old one to ashes, and putting those into the water, produce a new green leaf, which you shall not only see, but substantially handle and carry away; and make of a dead snakes skin a living snake, both to be seen, felt, and heard.” Wood, who said powwow practitioners were imbued with exorcist and necromancer charms, did note that the sorcery talents of Passaconaway may be nothing more than, “deceptio visus” or visual tricks.

Men and women of the m’teowlin, shamans or the Midewiwin, the Grand Medicine Society, held a unique place in their communities as healer and shapers of nature. These figures could not only heal, but said to command the course of a river, seeing the future, working with spirits of the departed, aiding in hunts or communal ceremonies. These figures were important mediators with the coursing power around them as their special connection to every tree, rock or animal. One example of the power of shaman is told about the Abenaki at war where a seer consulted with spirits and determined a group of Iroquois foes were on an island and if the Abenaki attacked the next day they would wipe out the opposing force. According to the story, the battle was joined and not a single Iroquois survived, each victim having their head cleaved off and placed on a poll.

An interesting footnote to the belief that New England was filled with heathens thriving in the Devil’s dominion was that when the witchcraft hysteria swept New England in the 17th century Natives were not singled out for punishment. Puritans, it appears, were more suspicious of the Devil working through their fellow English than of the Natives of New England. Even though the New English wilderness contained Biblical evil, Native’s of the region were rarely prosecuted or suspected of maleficum.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Salem Witch Hysteria and PTSD Roots Pt. II

burroughs2(Note: The following is an expanded excerpt of a paper I wrote for a Magic and Witchcraft class. For Part I to the article, click here.)

In April of 1692, with witch trial testimonies in full swing, Thomas Putnam claimed his daughter Ann was visited by the spectral figure of Reverend George Burroughs who proceeded to torture the young girl. A month later, Ann Putnam testified that two apparitions appeared to her. According to Ann they were the wives of Burroughs, allegedly killed by the minister’s own hand. The constant whisper of his mistreated spouses followed Burroughs from his earliest days in Salem Village through his forcible return as witch cabal leader. His second wife, widow Sarah Ruck Hathorne whom he married in 1682, was the sister-in-law of Essex County Magistrate John Hathorne, a man who became deeply involved in the later witchcraft accusations against Burroughs. Sarah Hathorne Burroughs died in Falmouth, Maine in 1689.

Mercy Lewis, a young woman with personal history with Burroughs, then charged the minister with also appearing as a specter to her in May. Burroughs allegedly went to Lewis to get her to sign a pact with the Devil as well as try to recruit other area girls into his diabolic scheme.

It seems clear that even if the barest of historical accounts of Minister Burroughs are accurate, he cut an unusual, potentially fiery and eccentric frontier character. Known for unusual strength, like lifting a long musket with a single hand or hoisting a filled barrel with just his fingers, Burroughs may have also been in conflict with the Puritan fathers over faith.

Accusations of witchcraft further enflamed the war scars of southern New England. Ann Putnam Jr. reportedly told investigators that Burroughs had bewitched the soldiers of Governor Edmund Andros in 1688-1689. Several figures key to the Salem witch hysteria, like Magistrates John Hathorne and Johnathan Corwin whose fact finding efforts in Maine may have led to the decision to leave Falmouth virtually defenseless during 1690s mass Abanaki assault, made a variety of mistakes during King William’s War. It seems that war-time shortcomings may have been projected onto Burroughs during the trial. Hathorne and Corwin were the lead inquisitors in Salem and pressed a confession from young Abigail Hobbs who claimed she had been approached by the Devil in the woods outside Falmouth, Maine four years earlier. Hobbs was yet another Casco Bay refugee driven to the Village. The solicitation in the woods was not happenstance as the woods were widely regarded as an evil place.


Was the psychological hysteria of Salem’s young women a manifestation of the stress of war, communal squabbles and frontier life? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a widely accepted psychological diagnosis that could be applied to the accusers. However, the individual nature of PTSD does not properly grapple with the group dynamic that gave credence to the wild accusations. Epidemic hysteria, a physical or psychological manic state manifested by a group, seems to fit the Salem case perfectly. Provoked by stress and nurtured by community values or worries, epidemic hysteria has several recorded instances in Europe, from a Black Death induced mass dance hysteria in German to the French “Barkers” who crawled around like dogs, social stress can spread like a thought virus through a community. Could the young women of Salem, reeling from war and reflecting the spiritual worries of their communities; and personal prejudices of their parents have turned to Burroughs as scapegoat? Was Mercy Lewis, who was familiar with Burroughs unconventional ministerial style as well as intimate to his household, the well from which the prejudice sprung from? Could Mercy Lewis, scarred by war and fallen from a position of affluence, also been witness to or possibly victim of Burroughs reputed ill temper during her brief time as maidservant?

Inarguably an unconventional clergyman Burroughs easily becomes the apostate minster of Satan in New England when portrayed by the vivid imaginations of young women, isolated and near a zone of conflict. Death loomed with each raid, Satan rallied his forces in the treeline and frontiersmen needed a strong spiritual figure to guide them in a time of war. Burroughs was effortlessly painted as a failed, questionable religious leader, with a rebellious desire to live apart from the civility and strict leadership of Massachusetts Bay. When viewed through the critical lens of Salem Village religious leaders, Burroughs became not only an enemy of the village, but the colony and the Puritan faith. The men of Massachusetts had gone to war in Maine and returned with losses, physical and financial. Stung by these defeats, it seems their judgment may have been clouded when presented with a figure as odd and spiritually unconventional as Burroughs. The wayward Burroughs was a casualty at the confluence of personal circumstances, religious prejudices and group psychological trauma that led to his execution as leader of the mythic witches of Salem Village.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Salem Witch Hysteria and PTSD Roots Pt. I

(Note: What follows is an expanded excerpt of a paper I wrote for a Magic and Witchcraft class.)

There have been scholarly or psychological explanations of the witch trials and hysteria in Salem and around New England. From petty neighbor disputes to hallucinogenic bread mold poisoning, there were seemingly as many explanations for the craze as there were witch-related indictments in New England during the 17th century. Some 234 indictments were handed down by New England authorities, including 36 executions, during the craze period.

One overlooked idea that has grown in acceptance is the idea of war-time psychological trauma, specifically to certain players in the Salem Witch hysteria. Not confined to the battlefield, but any dramatic tragic event, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder’s attributes include,”flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event,” according the Mayo Clinic. If we look closely at a pair in the Salem story we find a connection to the horrors of war and its possible influence on the Salem witch hysteria.

George Burroughs, Harvard graduate and unconventional preacher, arrived in Falmouth, Maine to lead a small congregation that included the prominent land-owning family of Phillip Lewis in 1674. Two years of instructions and Bible readings to the populations of friends and neighbors came to an end when war arrived in Falmouth. A splinter of King Phillip’s War racking southern New England pierced Casco Bay as Wabanaki raiding parties killed and put to the torch everything in their path including the homes of Burroughs congregation. The pastor and other Falmouth survivors sought refuge on a Casco Bay island. Burroughs, seeking security and stability in the wake of the decimation, traveled to Salem Village to become its pastor.

Burroughs time in Salem would be short lived as lack of pay and a disputed loan from the prominent Putnam family of Salem led the minister to return to a rebuilt Falmouth, Maine after three years. He would return to Maine, set a new phase in life and await new war.


Maine landowner Phillip Lewis welcomed daughter, Mercy, to the world in 1673. Raised in Falmouth, Maine up to the raids of King Phillip’s War, Mercy Lewis fled to Salem Town until 1683. Like Burroughs, Lewis returned to the reformed Falmouth, leading a typical frontier life just a short distance from the returned unordained minister until war broke out a second time in her young life.

Abanaki raiders and their New French allies swept into Maine in a series of raids in September of 1689 during King William’s War. Reaching back into Falmouth, now fortified and prepared for attacks, the Abanaki battled militia for six hours but were ultimately rebuffed. Once affluent, the family of Phillip Lewis was decimated by the wars of 1689 and 1690. Orphaned during the Falmouth incursions of the period, Mercy Lewis would find shelter in the home of George Burroughs for several months. Mercy remained with the pastor until she moved first to Beverly and then to Salem Village in employment of Thomas Putnam. Thomas Putnam, member of the family whom Burroughs financially battled, was father of nine children including his oldest, Anne Putnam Jr.

It was late January, 1692 when the girls of Salem Village began their convulsions of bewitchment and it was soon that Mercy Lewis, then 19, and 12-year old Ann Putnam Jr. joined the accusatory chorus.


In the conclusion of this post we’ll look at the accusations and how the confluence of war and witchery led to death.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

21st Century Greenland Mining: Self Reliance Meets Reality TV

Americans, for all their environmental and ecological instincts and preservationist dreams, still posses a remarkable capacity for ruthless plunder in the name of self sufficiency and personal determination.

The ideals of toil and earning a place at the banquet table of prosperity is a deeply American trait, nurtured often at the expense of the environment.

Yet in Greenland the idea of broadening mining and drilling divides the country as the nation wrestles with competing ideas of economic self sufficiency versus environmental harmony. A motivating piece to this debate comes from Greenland’s continuing dependence on economic assistance from Denmark.

Curiously, we Americans have a perspective on this foreign discussion and its formed by “reality” television. In recent years a program called “Ice Cold Gold” has broadcast the adventures of a group of American prospectors working their way across Greenland in search of fortunes.

This curious idea of self determination by drill, pick ax or shovel is what led to the plunder of many of America’s natural resources since our earliest days as colonies. New England forests were coveted and cleared to become masts of English ships. Gold was hacked and flushed from California by the ton. Some look back on the old process of exploiting the lands of North America by drilling, digging and cutting with soul quivering shame. While others believe the earth is ours to command and cull in order for our survival and prosperity. To get the latest and greatest cell phone, rare earth metals are needed and some believe they rest beneath Greenland. While others, like the Ice Cold Gold team see Greenland as a new mineral rich Colorado of the past and do not shy away from controversial opinions. Greenland remains unexploited with mineral and gem resources potentially available to feed the world’s insatiable hunger for things shiny and precious.

Meanwhile as some of America brings its brash and abrasive energy to Greenland, there is a third group looking at mining as nowhere near an economic panacea. Comprised of specialists from within Greenland’s mining community, a committee was assembled and determined that small scale, limited time frame resource explorations would help shore up Greeland’s economic base. However, according to a report, resource mining would not provide a long term independence from Denmark’s financial aid.

So as Greenland struggles to find an economically viable and independent future, modern American prospectors dig away under the glare of camera lights in search of fortune and fame.

Cli-Fi: Eco-Disasters and Electric Sheep

Last month I wrote about eco-disaster as a form of entertainment and its lack of spirituality. While conducting some research I came upon a news story from the University of Copenhagen of a thesis defense that argued environmental disaster fiction prepare us or inform our imaginations on potential climate change disasters.

Gregers Andersen PhD, using the term ‘Cli-Fi’ (coined by climate activist Danny Bloom) for the genre, is quoted in the university news piece, “We use these films and novels to imagine what life and society might be like in a future when global warming has dramatically changed our world because, as opposed to numbers and statistics, fiction can make us feel and understand the changes.”

Andersen importantly diversified the spectrum of experiences created by the Cli-Fi he studied breaking them down into five themes: social breakdown of civilization, nature judges man, establishment conspiracy, loss of nature’s aesthetics and mankind developing technology to survive disasters.

Also, Andersen hit on something with fiction adding punch to our understanding potential ecological disasters. Only when rendered in print or pixels does disastrous consequence come to life, even if briefly.

An example of fiction’s power to portray ecological themes is a scene from 1968’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In Phillip K. Dick’s novel the extinction level of animal life is vividly portrayed by the character of Rick Deckard encountering a wildlife menagerie collected at astronomical costs.

In the scene, Deckard is transfixed by an owl, long time symbol of wisdom and mystery, “For a long time he stood gazing at the owl, who dozed on its perch. A thousand thoughts came into his mind, thoughts about the war, about the days when owls had fallen from the sky; he remembered how in his childhood it had been discovered that species upon species had become extinct and how the papers had reported it each day- foxes one morning, badgers the next, until people had stopped reading the perpetual animal obits.”

Deckard longs for a real owl and sees a raccoon for the first time. He understands a clearing house has been created for the sale of once mundane now exotic animals and loathes the synthetic sheep which he cares for, “the tyranny of an object,” as Dick wrote. The sharp loss of something like a raccoon seems insignificant considering they are often nuisance animals to suburbanites. They are pest dumpster divers to be trapped or poisoned. Yet remove them from the picture entirely, as Dick does, and the raccoon becomes as precious and invaluable.

Perhaps our every day lives keep us preoccupied or blind to the news of climate change, disasters or extinctions. Or perhaps we retain an pre-Copernican view, where we are the center of the universe, the Earth merely a vehicle for our corporeal form to bide time until an after life? Potential disasters are as inexplicable or mysterious as the minute tweaks and changes of Darwin’s Evolution. And no fiction or scientific lecture will change minds.

The complete press release on Andersen’s thesis defense can be read here.

Movable Type and the Witchcraft Craze

witches_624Starting this month and through early 2015 the British Museum will exhibit the portrayal of witches and their craft in artwork. The show will feature artists ranging from Durer to Goya and their interpretations of witches that haunted the night and cavorted with the Devil.

The exhibit piques my interest for several reasons as it returns my thinking to the idea of the advance of the printing press and the growth of belief in witchcraft. With the creation of the movable type, books became more widespread and could immediately influence populations. While the ability to read and write, literacy, varied from nation to nation there were always literati that could help disseminate new ideas. These new books also provided the first opportunity for widespread artist portrayals of the unholy acts ‘witches’ were accused of.

365px-Die_Hexe_(Albrecht_Dürer)The infamous misogynist witchcraft treatise Malleus Maleficarum saw its first printing in 1486. By 1520 the work by Kramer and Sprenger was reprinted 14 times. Until the late 15th century ecclesiastic prosecutors had little central guidance on how to deal with witches until printing ideas and procedures more readily. The Malleus became the most well known guidebook of witch prosecution. The consolidation of European witchcraft views also came as works like chapbooks and pamphlets filled with sensational tales became more widely consumed. One such example was the case of the Chelmsford Witches, their trial and its sensational content, was printed for a wider audience than that which lived within ear shot. In the case of Matthew Hopkins, England’s self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, produced The Discovery of Witches in 1647 and his colleague, John Stearne contributed his tales of witch-hunting in 1648’s A Confirmation and Study of Witchcraft. The ideas spread in salacious and sensational ways were given credence by clever addition of “facts” such as in the case of the Malleus which tacked a Papal Bull on it’s introduction as pseudo-sanctioning.

MatthewhopkinsIn a span of five centuries ‘witches’ were either women deluded into thinking they were flying in the night, according to the Canon Episcopi, or simple practitioners of low magic; to devil cavorting heretics. It is this shift from harmless low, village magicians or healers to heretics that thrust witches into the forefront of public imagination. With the creation of the printing press, the stories, images and rules engraved the heretical activities as fact and punishable by torture or death. While it would be simplistic to claim the spread of printed materials caused the witch craze, what it did do was make “evidence” readily available and illustrated by images that thrilled and terrified.

witches

 

© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

 

Asymmetric Anthropology: New Look at Paleo-Eskimos & Kennewick Man

In recent weeks there have been some interesting developments in the field of North American anthropology starting with work from the University of Denmark which revealed a broader history of human habitation in the North American Arctic.

The team concluded, according to a press release, “Paleo-Eskimos, after surviving in near-isolation in the harsh Arctic environment for more than 4,000 years, disappeared around 700 years ago – about the same time when the ancestors of modern-day Inuit spread eastward from Alaska.”

Additionally, the Paleo-Eskimo population represented a single group that were the first inhabitants of the Arctic. The migration waves identified in this newest look at North America’s population showed there were the ancestors to Native Americans (covered in this University of Copenhagen report from 2013,) followed by the Paleo-Eskimos and finally ancestors of the Inuit, according to the Danish team. (Full Danish team’s press release in English can be found here.)

So we are coming to understand that Neo-Eskimos were the middle wave of migration from Siberia to North America. What about those populations that first arrived? That brings us to the another bit of anthropology news, Kennewick Man.

The wild and meandering story of the Kennewick was covered ably and outstandingly by the team at Mysterious Universe in podcast 12.08. The story culminates with an exhaustive report that concludes the skeletal remains discovered in south east Washington State are of a seal hunting man dating back 9,000 years ago. The male, said to have Asian traits, is a rough contemporary to a 12,000 year-old skeleton discovered in Mexico.

Follow the link over to Mysterious Universe for their link to a Smithsonian article on Kennewick. Here is a brief overview of Kennewick Man from the Washington Post and a complete detailed look at test results and additional data from the National Park Service.

An interesting footnote to the Danish team brief on the discovery was an insight into Inuit belief in their origins. According to the accepted story, Inuits followed a race of “giants” called Sivullirmiut or Tuniit. This group, according to the Canadian Virtual Museum page on Inuit: Origins and Heritage, “The Tuniit, a race of giants, were the very first to occupy our lands and make them inhabitable. It was the Tuniit who discovered the caribou hunting grounds and places where the fish could be found in the rivers and lakes. Tuniit though taller and much stronger than Inuit, were timid and could easily be chased away. In some of our stories we tell of a war between the Inuit and the Tuniit causing the Tuniit to flee.”

The July 2014 issue of Fortean Times review of The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America popped into my head because of its connection to the Smithsonian Institute and an alleged “cover up.” While the Fortean Times review isn’t available online, there are some readers who opined at Goodreads. Take all, from the reviews to the subject of the book, with salt and a chaser of skepticism.