Here to Go: Planet R-101, Brion Gysin interviewed by Terry WilsonHere to Go: Planet R-101 Brion Gysin interviewed by Terry Wilson

Brion Gysin is a pretty interesting guy. Along with his friend William S. Burroughs and a few others, he falls into a category that I don’t have a name for but his work is somewhere in the intersection of magic, art and science. Science, I guess, not in the sense of rigorous application of the scientific method, but rather the kind of screwing around that leads to scientific discovery. For now I’m going to call it ‘parascience’ which if you think about is what all magic and art are, aren’t they?

This book is a collection of interviews conducted by his friend Terry Wilson interpolated with relevant excerpts from various of Gysin’s writings including “Interzone”, a portion of his screenplay adapted from Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

Burroughs and Gysin 1965

W.S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, NYC, 1965. Final still from Anthony Balch's The Cut-ups

Most of Gysin’s experimentation over the years seems to be concerned with transcendence of the mundane earthly plain through various more-or-less mechanical methods:

incantation-like ‘permutation poems’ that cycle through the combinations of a set of words or symbols;

the dreamachine (do-it-yourself flicker device that can induce visual hallucination and/or trigger seizures), inspired by Gysin but developed by Ian Sommerville;

magical slide and film projections;

(most famously) cut-ups of the printed word, of audio tape, of film;

paintings of repetitive fields of scribbled shapes that resemble glyphs or maybe those maps made of human eye movements.

Both Gysin and W.S. Burroughs give the impression of being secret agents in the employ of some kind of (alien?) homosexual occult secret society trans-global (interplanetary?) (counter-) conspiracy. I hope to have some more entries on the both of them at some stage. I thought I had a copy of The Third Mind around here somewhere which is a collaborative work they did. If it doesn’t turn up I’ll use blogging about it as an excuse to re-acquire it.

I must share this video of Gysin doing some of his work:

goodnight eileen
B Am I gonna have to shout?
T Yeh-
B I’m surprised that you’ve even heard of Eileen Garrett . . .
T Well, I know that she was a directvoice medium . . . she was supposed to be on the payroll, wasn’t she, of the . . . CIA?
B God knows—they all are . . .
T Do they have a lot of these types of people?

Brion Gysin 1935

Brion Gysin c. 1935

B They believed in it very much indeed, they went to a great deal of, uh, trouble . . . about which one hears only rumors, but both the Russians and the Americans have been interested in telepathy, mind control, for purposes of control, yes.
T Yes. And she’s no longer alive?
B No, she died a few years ago (1970) in the South of France.
T Nice?
B Yeah, believe . . .
T Yeah . . . I remember William saying something there, that there was nothing in the papers, it was completely—
B Yes, one found that rather curious, because she had at one time been very much of a publicity star and had been talked about and written about in the 1920s, 1930s . . . was a publisher in New York in the 1940s . . . was obviously very much in contact with the sort of people who later became the CIA, I suppose . . .
T And I phoned, I believe, the Spiritualist Association in London to try and find out something about her . . . and, uh, blank, they didn’t want to know . . . to speak about her at all . . . they said that they thought she’d passed over.
B That’s all? . . . Well, there’s obviously some strange conspiracy of silence about Eileen, I don’t know . . . I met her in insane circumstances . . . I was in the Canadian Army attached to some Scots regiment at that time; I arrived in New York for a furlough of two weeks, wearing my uniform, and collapsed at a friend’s house . . . John LaTouche . . . a songwriter who wrote, oh, “Ballad For America” which Paul Robeson sang in the late 1930s, and then Touche worked on Broadway, he wrote the songs for Cabin in the Sky, “Taking A Chance On Love,” and lots of other things too, and was a marvelously funny, generous friend with whom I was very intimate indeed . . . and l just crashed at his pad which was in Washington Square on the top storey of a building in which Eleanor Roosevelt lived downstairs . . . and, uh, Roosevelt was President at that time . . . rather unusual to have a President’s wife with a flat of her own in the Greenwich Village area . . . and, uh, Touche said “Oh well, that is nothing . . . I’m gonna have all the weird ladies here this evening, and I hope that Eleanor will come too.” And I said, “Oh no, man, I just wanna relax and you’re gonna give a great big party, I’ll go away someplace.” He said, “No no no you must stay, I’ve invited all of the weird ladies who’re into the fourth dimension, and there’s going to be, uh . . . Evangeline Adams (who was the most famous astrologer at that time), there’s going to be Doctor Mamlock (who was a lady who read palms, a German refugee about which a movie was made, called Doctor Mamlock, about her husband’s death under the Nazis and whatnot, she was a sort of celebrity around New York) . . . and, uh, there was going to be . . . oh can’t remember his name now, Bob Somebody who’d been a wrestler in England in the 1930s when I went to school, had married Princess Baba of Sarawak who was the daughter of the Brooke family who owned the island of Sarawak and called themselves White Rajahs, and their children were called Princess Baba and Princess Pearl . . . Maybe it was Pearl who married this . . . wrestler . . . and I had heard nothing more of him until Touche said Oh! that he was going to be there too, and I said, “What’s he doing in this (laughing) galaxy of stars . . .?” And Touche said, “Oh, he’s doing hypnoanalysis for the American Air Force . . . and, uh, he’s great friends with all these people . . .

Eileen Garrett, medium

Eileen Garrett

And, there’s going to be Eileen Garrett, who’s going to be the Star of the Evening. And I said, “Who’s Eileen Garrett?” and he said, “What? You never heard of her? She was the woman who was arrested in England in 1920, whatever it was, under the Official Secrets Act because at a seance at Lady Londonderry’s—Lady Londonderry had a great salon of that period—she had gone into trance and contacted the captain of the British dirigible R-101, and he said, “The dirigible is on fire, we are going down,” so forth—“And it’s all the fault of these contractors at the Air Ministry who put in faulty material and swiped all the money” and so on—ah, there was a scandal . . . And indeed the R-101 did crash; the next day the news came that it had crashed: in Flanders, someplace between Belgium and France, something like that, and Eileen Garrett had given the name of the place that it was falling down to, and it turned out that the name of the place denoted a crossroads where there were only three houses on four sides of the crossroads; it had a name but it had a name only on the most secret military maps, it was not a name known to any except the peasants who lived there, or to the military authorities, and it was a hill a very short distance from this crossroads where the R-101 crashed and burned and everybody on board burned up with it—it was a hydrogen-filled balloon.* [* Actually there were six survivors. For the full story of the R-101 seances see John G. Fuller, The Airmen Who Would Not Die, 1979.]  And so Eileen was arrested because—how could she have known this; they didn’t believe in her fourth dimensional capacities, they believed there was another dimension . . . A-n-d . . . books had been written about this, and she had cleared her name, and she’d gone to Vienna where her extrapersonalities had been studied . . . not by Freud but by Adler, who was the nuttiest of all that group; in fact, he was a big coke head . . . and, uh, then books had been written about her and that she had these spirit guides, one of whom was a, I dunno, 16th century Persian at the court of Shah Jehan or something or other like that, on and on, all this kinda stuff, and uh, just while he was telling me all this the phone rang and, uh . . . I wish I could remember this, maybe I’ll remember the cat’s name . . . the one who was now, this Englishman who was now in American uniform doing hypnoanalysis for some secret US Air Force plan or plot, I don’t know, had phoned up to say that he couldn’t make it, and, uh, Touche said, “Oh, that’s terrible, because you had promised to come and cook the meal!” And he said, “Well, I just can’t come.” Touche then turned to his secretary, whom he was always bullying terribly, and said, “Philip, you must stay and make the food!” And “OOOhhh nnnoooo donwanna” . . . “No no, you must stay, that’s all there is to it—all these people are coming,” like that, there’s going to be Bessy Laski, who’s Jesse Laski’s wife . . ..y’know, Famous Players, founders of movies, going to be there; she’s bringing a young man who’s unfortunately losing his hair but he plays the Chinese lute so well and he’s a Mongolian gypsy and we hope that maybe his hair will grow again and maybe he can go back on the stage or something, and this was the first appearance of Yul Brynner in our lives . . . who never did get his hair back and got along very well without it (laughter). . . And, uh, so all have started to arrive, Bessy Laski, and Yul, and Evangeline Adams, and uh . . . Old Mama Mamlock and, uh, whole bunch of them like that—and no Eileen Garrett . . . So Touche said, “Oh, that’s just typical of her, she always tries to make an entrance; you’ll see, she’ll arrive, but she’ll arrive last” . . . she wasn’t gonna get there before any of the rest of these at all . . . daily twenty-four-hour-a-day game, naturally, being one up on your psychic opponent . . . So, uh, she did arrive, and she looked around and she said: “WHERE IS BOB? I’ve had a terrible fight with him, we’ve had this most intense psychic battle that’s been going on,” like that. “I have decided to do something absolutely terrible to him!” At that moment there was a BAAAAAAAAHH a great noise in the kitchen like that, and the secretary came out staggering with blood streaming from his hands and his face — he’d opened the oven and a glass pyrex dish had exploded and shot him full of glass splinters . . . Eileen said, “Oh dear!” she said, “I meant that for Bob! . . . Poor Philippe has been the victim and I shall never forgive myself!” And she swept away again; she wasn’t gonna sit there for some dumb dinner like that. She’d done her whole trick and made her effect and—she was like that, she was on the psychic jump all the time, on the psychic make . . . Uh, she immediately took one sweeping glance at my bare knees and my kilt, and asked the usual questions, which I showed her, that indeed one didn’t . . . umm wear anything underneath them . . . and the next evening she phoned up: (falsetto) “Who’s that charming young man in skirts? . . . Couldn’t you both come around to dinner?” . . . So that’s how I first got to know Eileen.

Wry Ego Dread

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Oct 102011

The Strange Case of Edward GoreyThe Strange Case of Edward Gorey Alexander Theroux

I grew up reading and loving Edward Gorey. His are the kind of books you might glance at and assume they are for children, then look inside with horror to find bludgeonings, beheadings, and (intimations of) all sorts of interpersonal depravity, though generally taking place out of frame, behind pillars, etc… But not always.

He reminds me a little sometimes of Hilaire Belloc, the same sort of arch, dark humor in the context, sort of, of work for children – I say ‘sort of’ because in Gorey’s case I don’t think he really did intend his work for children, though children I think generally love it – their capacity for imaginary violence and depravity much higher than adults give them credit for I think. I love the sinisterness, the obsessively crosshatched black chasms, obscure and ominous shapes on the horizon, peculiar old carpets and tall, thin, ghostly Victorian figures.

Edward Gorey, B is for Basil

A few things you may not have known about Edward Gorey:

  • Mostly self-taught in art
  • Harvard man (roomed with Frank O’Hara!), studied French
  • Lover of cats
  • Writer of plays
  • Illustrator of book jackets (not his own)
  • Collector of various things including teddy bears and fridge magnets
  • Lover of television, especially old movies on television

A sampling of Gorey’s favorite words and phrases:

  • “spiffy”
  • “icky”
  • “bunty”
  • “twee”
  • “cunning as a bisset”
  • “I would rather be smothered in bunny fur”

The book is published by Fantagraphics who have quite an amazing catalogue. It is a slim volume chock-full of interesting Goreyana as above, written by his friend and neighbor Alexander Theroux. For longtime Gorey-lovers like me it is a real treat to find out that the man himself is more or less just as we would have pictured him had we had the imagination to do so.

The Psychic Soviet. Ian F. Svenonius

A lovely little pocket-sized collection of treateses critical of the current state of rocknroll, psychogeopolitics, religion, &cetera. Appealingly wrapped in weather-resistant pink plastic cover. Lightweight paper to save on baggage weight and compete with Kindle. Tactile: 8/10. Olfactory: 9/10. Would not stop a bullet however. I imagine if this is issued to U.S. servicemen they will include a hinged steel cover.

Content: patently absurd and yet right-on more often than not whether in spite of or because. Svenonius gives himself a free pass from the get-go:

None of this collection is to be confused with so-called “academia.” Instead it is a kind of free verse, outside of science or respectability and at liberty to flaunt its diabolical exhumations on its user.

Like other thinkers on the margin, Svenonius realizes that the intersection of sense and nonsense circumscribes the space occupied by human culture and that any understanding (especially now) of Western Civ. is (only?) reachable through attacking sensible discourse through vigorous polemic.

Psychic Soviet emblem

Svenonius’ influences are not clear, though we can suppose that like other brainy Washington, DC postpunks (he formerly of the notable Nation of Ulysses) he was exposed to his share of red propaganda as well as the (perhaps) more inchoate social critiques proferred by various of his peers within that scene. He himself cites the girl’s magazine Sassy as a literary influence in this blurb from the back of How Sassy Changed My Life:

Johnny Depp Sassy magazine coverA page-turning romp through the secretive and cut-throat world of teen journalism. Sassy was the one magazine that attempted to subvert the usual diet of mind control and hypnosis employed by its establishment peers. And while she may have destroyed herself in a fit of confused self criticism, she left a generation of precocious women in her wake.

From “The Bloody Latte: Vampirism as a Mass Movement”:

The penchant for a culture to imbibe drinks and drugs en masse, in a collective ritual-orgy, is a phenomenon which transcends mere fashion.

This, in itself, is unworthy of remark; the quest for transcendence through intoxication is as old as history itself. The cultural particularity of the proclivity is what is striking: the strange uniformity of every epoch’s beverage cult.

Personal taste amounts to little; instead, for each era, there’s a distinctive mass hysteria for the imbibing of a particular beverage or substance.

The drinks at this juncture in American history are indisputably coffee from Starbucks and the vodka of Absolut. The popularity of these drinks stems from their value as symbolic war booty from recent conquests. A culture’s adopted beverage represents the blood of their vanquished foe.

Drink is transubstantiation a la the Catholic cannibalism of Christ’s blood and body. The smell of coffee is the odor of the Sandinista hospital, maimed by Contra bombs. Ice-cold vodka is the blood of the Russians, raped and murdered by capitalism.

And so it has been through history. Each imperial culture imports a liquid memento from their vanquished foe to serve as a totem of their power and glory. Tea, the Englishman’s beverage, is falling out of favour as their neo-colonial hold on the Sub-continent wavers. For two centuries the English supped on their well-steeped leaves and tasted the sweat of the slaves in the Empire. Now, tea is for old mums, while beer swilling “lads” form the visible majority. The British love their beer; a cold pint brings fond memories of dead Germans, falling out of the sky in the battle of Britain.

Beer first attained great popularity in America immediately after the First World War, when the US had tipped the scale against the Kaiser in the last days of the conflict. That war had been highly unpopular to a then-isolationist nation, with American involvement cynically contrived by Anglophiles in government. The war transformed the country profoundly, much to the consternation of its activists.

The women who had raged for abolition and suffrage now turned their eyes to alcohol, successfully banishing it in 1920. Prohibition, then, was unconsciously a moral crusade against imperialism and the blood sucking and chest beating that followed the Treaty of Versailles. Of course, beer made a comeback, especially after the depression hit and veterans needed to boost self-esteem by slurping the entrails of the wretched Kraut. A cold beer in a bar with one’s buddies brought one’s thoughts to the bread lines in Berlin, with all its one-legged soldiers.

Tangentially related:

Svenonius interviewing Genesis P-Orridge

Dial 9Dial 9 Evelyn Hanlin Shaw

I haven’t got a whole lot to say about this book. I appreciate it as a timepiece, or a spacetimepiece of 1940s San Francisco (though published in 1980); more specifically it seems to be some sort of story set against the backdrop of unionization of the phone company (Pacific Bell?). I guess – I haven’t read the thing though I’ve read some bits and pieces.

The title page has a curious quote:

Rise to the ninth level…
a reference common to the more philosophic members of the system, that took in a number of things.
Dial nine, for outside, was its basis.
And if you were not on the outside level you were just talking to yourself.

I guess it is self-published. The edition notice includes ‘NOT TO BE SOLD. Printed for gift distribution to selected public and school libraries in the United States of America.’

Another detail I like is that it has an org chart of all the characters:

 Dial 9 Org Chart

Presumably so that if you knew the real people the novel was based on, this would be a handy reference.

I like ‘telephone people’. I’m acutely aware at the moment that many of the technological wonders of the 20th century are just about gone. Telephone, radio, television, hi-fi (hi-fi?) all subsumed by the digital.

Warning: We cannot be held responsible. Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha