:: Essays archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

Three Visions of Zosimus published 08/06/2015

Three Visions by Zosimus

“I am Ion, hierophant of the innermost sanctuary and I have endured unbearable violence. At dawn, I was overtaken and dismembered by one wielding a sword. He chopped me apart according to the strictures of harmony. He gripped his blade, scalped me, and gathered together my bones and flesh. Then he burned them in the numinous fire until I learned to become spirit through transformation of the body.”

Andrew Barrett translates three visions of Zosimus from the Ancient Greek.

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The ‘Deus’ in ‘Ex Machina’ published 24/05/2015

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Would the advent of conscious machines would aid humanity, even save it, by leading to the kind of super-intelligence that we can harness to our own ends? Or would it mean the end of human beings, their replacement by creatures with godlike powers? If the former, the end of the human story is more like the deus ex machina of ancient Greek drama, a plot device in which divine intervention saves characters from an otherwise irredeemable tragedy. If the latter, it has more in common with the contrived ending to which the phrase now generally refers: radically incongruent with the events that have preceded it, to sinister effect.

Wes Alwan on Deus ex Machina.

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Paperback nasties published 13/05/2015

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In Suedehead, Joe Hawkins’ milieu shifts from Plaistow in East London, with its ‘poverty and hardship’, to a West End pad and dalliances with more affluent women, where he’s all of a sudden stepping out wearing a bowler hat. But what we’re dealing with is a more enigmatic prospect than Skinhead, as suedehead itself represented a more tailored approach to the skinhead aesthetic, with its velvet-collared Crombie, houndstooth check suits and brogues.

Intros to the digital reboot of the New English Library, by Andrew Stevens.

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An ostentation of solitariness: looking for the wilderness in Abney Park Cemetery published 10/05/2015

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I’m going to take the easy way out and suggest that the physical location of the former wilderness isn’t actually that important. In the context of a mapped and clearly demarcated space, the use of the word ‘wilderness’ describes a human aspiration to a particular kind of experience. The seventeenth century garden wilderness, like the ‘managed wilderness’ which fills Abney Park today, embodies various ideas about people and nature, organised in a way that is no less deliberate for not being aggressively overt.

Bridget Penney broods on experiences of wilderness.

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Soggy Falafel and Mangoes published 09/05/2015

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We were two naive human (vegan) beings thinking we could travel for six months through Africa and survive without consequences. The obvious question you might ask is: “Did you end up eating meat?” or something of that sort, throwing your predisposed notion of what “vegan” might be like into our faces, and guess what, you are completely wrong. Food was the last thing on our minds, we never had to worry about food running out, or vegan food being unavailable.

Katya Luca writes about her vegan journey through the Sahara.

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An open letter to Mark-Francis Vandelli published 08/05/2015

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” I think you know the Tories are full of crap and that their values aren’t your values. I am persuaded that you have a keen affection for the masses, and hope benevolently to improve us; else why would you bother appearing on something as vulgar as a reality television show?”

An open letter to Mark-Francis Vandelli by Lauren Elkin.

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Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face published 28/04/2015

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The central ‘signifier’ of Edith Scob’s character in the film is her mask. Casting her face into an enigmatic, inscrutable facade, it has absolutely no expression. The screaming, naked, human face would repel but the cool facade of the mask—with the scream behind it—does not. Masks allow us to know the unknowable, to experience the unspeakable. The most hysterical behaviour is contained by the mask.

Richard Skinner on Eyes Without a Face directed by Georges Franju.

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Bukowski and Dick In Bangkok published 14/04/2015

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As I dusted myself off and went to find a quiet street to force pad thai into my alcohol-shrunken stomach, I wondered about whether Charles Bukowski and Philip K. Dick had ever crossed paths. I imagined them at some cafe in Hollywood, Bukowski morose, hungover, withdrawn, Dick talking ten to the dozen about some ethereal mind-warp, whizzing on speed and passing pills over the coffee. Bukowski wouldn’t have liked it; he once compared the meetings of writers to too many flies on a turd. Dick might have laughed back, saying about sci-fi writers that “our knowledge is limited, our fiction is terrible.”

George F. on Charles Bukowski, Philip K. Dick and Bangkok.

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Kamal Daoud: L’Étranger Nouveau published 11/04/2015

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Algerian author Kamal Daoud seems ultra cool, like Camus and it’s not incongruous to push these two Algerian writers together. Daoud’s last novel explicitly talks to Camus. He’s writing about the choices facing us at this precarious time, and doing so from a perspective that isn’t Anglo/American or European. It’s a young modern Algerian existential perspective that’s angry, poised, clever, Muslim, playful, generous, anguished and cosmopolitan.

Richard Marshall raises his glass to Algerian author Kamal Daoud.

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Total Satisfaction published 09/04/2015

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In his 1990 essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” Wallace notes that irony is best used in an emergency situation: it is good at shocking us out of ingrained ways of seeing, by exploiting and exacerbating the rift between things we say and things as they actually are. Thus Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory works by using the simple pleasures of sweets to expose many of the dark sides of consumer culture: hidden labor, hoarding, addiction, greed, paranoia, etc. Wonka’s quirky chocolatier and his entire shrouded factory of fabulations serve to send up the grimy post-industrial world beyond.

By Christopher Schaberg.

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