Archive for the ‘Transition’ Category

Theory to distinguish between Religion, a Religion and Spiritualities

September 3, 2008

Wouter Hanegraaff:

Let me begin by pointing out clearly that my book title “New Age religion” in no way means that I consider New Age to be a religion. Religion I propose to define very precisely as

any symbolic system that influences human action by providing possibilities for ritually maintaining contact between the everyday world and a more general meta-empirical framework of meaning.

New Age provides such a symbolic system and can be seen as religion in these terms. As I have argued elsewhere, religion in this sense can take concrete form in “a religion” (plural: religions) or in “a spirituality” (plural: spiritualities. Please note that I never use the word “spirituality” in the singular). We can speak of a religion if the symbolic system I just referred to is embodied in a social institution. Spiritualities, in contrast, can be defined as

any human practice that maintains contact between the everyday world and a more general meta-empirical framework of meaning by way of the individual manipulation of symbolic systems.

I cannot go here into the implications of this threefold definition. For my present purposes, the important thing is that New Age, according to this approach, is not a religion because it is not embodied in a social institution. It does, however, qualify as “religion”, and it manifests itself as a multiplicity of individual “spiritualities”. This theoretical framework allows us to see the essential difference between the secular esotericism of New Age and the traditional esotericism of before the 18th century. Traditional esotericism did produce “spiritualities”, but such spiritualities were always grounded in a religion, such as  Christianity (or more specifically, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism), Judaism, and so on. For example, the 17th-century theosopher Jacob Böhme developed a spirituality of his own, which not only qualifies as Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies religion but was also grounded in a religion: the Lutheranism in which he had been raised. Compare this with, for example, the extremely important but still badly neglected figure of Jane Roberts (channeller of the Seth-messages and, in my opinion, one of the most important religious innovators in Western culture after the second world war): she likewise developed a spirituality of her own, but this one was no longer grounded in any religion. We find here a constellation typical of New Age religion generally: New Age religion consists of multiple individual spiritualities that are rooted not in the soil of any religion, but in the soil of a non-religious secular society.

The Next BIG [BOOK?]

August 20, 2008

What is a Big Book? And what are some examples?

The 2007 Esalen Conference on Evolutionary Metaphysics was centered on an essay contest. Eight proposals were submitted to describe what the next Big Book would be like. But what is a Big Book? Throughout human history revolutionary books have rocked the reigning intellectual consensus and brought forth radical new ideas and visions, which eventually were incorporated into the broader culture. When historians look back in time, they can see pivotal moments when bold new ideas created a ripple effect that eventually changed the course of history. To give the reader a feel for some Big Books in human history, here are five examples:

1. Nicholas Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium

2. Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Mind

3. Darwins’ Origin of Species

4. Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine

5. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


Beginning with Ken Wilber’s framework for the evolution of human consciousness, this essay investigates the critical threshold crossed around the year 500 B.C.E., when human consciousness in the Western world transformed from a predominantly oral and tribal framework to a largely written and abstract one. This transformation has been called the birth of the mental-ego—i.e., the birth of an autonomous, willful, and uniquely individual consciousness. Yet, in the Western world this birth was inextricably influenced by a completely novel literary invention—the Greek version of the alphabet. Living at the precise moment when this new invention was rapidly proliferating throughout ancient Greece, the Western world’s most famous philosopher, Plato, posited his ontology of human disconnection from the sensory world. For Plato, the “real world” is the abstract world of transcendent Ideas, of which our sensory, human world is only a pale reflection. The following essay asks, then: is it just a mere coincidence that the world’s most abstract literacy tool (the Greek alphabet) and the world’s most abstract and disembodied philosophy (Plato’s theory of Ideas) just happened to flourish in ancient Greece at exactly the same time in history?

Why this is Important Now and in the New Age

I want to focus on the appearance of the issue of Alphabetic Literacy in the New Age Discourse, taking the tack of Poletti’s essay as an opportunity for distributing knowledge across disciplinary boundaries.  TRANSDISCIPLINARITY.  To ask whether ‘it is just a mere coincidence that the world’s most abstract tool, Literacy’ just happened to flourish at the same time as… is naive according to Apparatus Theory.  Which is not to say that Poletti is far from the mark, only that he’d probably be very interested to learn from Apparatus Theory that Electracy [electronic writing/composition] is as different from Literacy as Literacy was from tribal Orality.  The transition from one apparatus to another is entirely commensurate with the much decried transition into a New Age, which is why I’m interested in how thinkers in the New Age movement approach writing, publishing, the dissemination of information, etc.

Why the next big BOOK is the wrong object of speculation

The next BIG WRITTEN THING will emerge up and out of the complex of distributed biotechnological activity called the Internet.  It will be open source, available for remixes and re-interpretations, available for global participation and thereby fundamentally different from the previously mentioned Big Books.  This doesn’t mean it won’t be Big and as important in the process of metaphysical evolution as all the Bigs before, just that it will read different.

The Next Big [OTHER]

Maybe it’s time to forget writing, or at least the writing we’re used to. The internet will play a part, but writer’s have to work to connect their writing into the networked apparatus of the Big shift underway.  Industry, economy, advertising, technology, environmental awareness, pharmacology, collective dreaming.  Formulation of the Next Big [Other] is a portion of a transdisciplinary apparatus shift that is underway all over the planet and the next BIG WRITTEN THING will figure [into] the global media sphere.

Lawn Gone Manifesto

August 17, 2008

“The Manifesto of Surrealism,” and for that matter all of the manifestos of the avant-garde, belong to the tradition of the discourse on method.  A comparison of Breton’s manifesto with the various classics of method reveal that they tend to include a common set of elements, which are representable for mnemonic reference by the acronym CATTt (Ulmer, 1991b).  The CATTt includes the following operations:

C = Contrast (opposition, inversion, differentiation)

A = Analogy (figuration, displacement)

T = Theory (repetition, literalization)

T = Target (application, purpose)

t = Tale (secondary elaboration, representability)

[Heuretics, 8]


The front lawn symbolized the collective face of suburbia the back-yard its private aspect.  In the back, you could do pretty much whatever you wanted, but out front you had to take account of the community’s wishes and its self-image.  Fences and hedges were out of the question: they were considered antisocial, unmistakable symbols of alienation from the group.  One lawn should flow unimpeded into another, obscuring the boundaries between homes and contributing to the sense of community.  It was here in the front lawn that “like-mindedness” received its clearest expression.  The conventional design of a suburban street is meant to forge the multitude of equal individual parcels of land into a single vista – a democratic landscape.  To maintain your portion of this landscape was part of your civic duty.

[Michael Pollan, Second Nature, On Long Island in the late 1950’s]


A sub-urban front lawn should take account of the community’s wishes and its self-image, but it should do so according to what we, as a community, know about the darker aspects of wishes and wish-fulfillment [‘Careful what you wish for” cf. the myth of the Pied Piper].  Our lawns should express the theory, which also came to a prominant position in American popculture in the 1950’s via psychoanalysis, that our self-images contain paradoxes and blind spots.


The conventional design of a suburban street is meant to forge the multitude of equal individual parcels of land into a single vista – a democratic landscape.

‘Multitude’ is more complicated in the same way that wishes and self-image are.  Hardt and Negri’s attempts to articulate the conditions under which a joyful Global Democracy might emerge is theory about what it will take to ‘forge the multitude’ in a world organized by Global Capitalism.  I am under the impression that the theory of the ‘Multitude’ calls for an alternative to the implicit homogeneity of a ‘single vista’, namely a political dimension made up of heterogeneous political entities, each with their own agendas, all working against the homogenization that certain kinds of Capitalism bring about.


Without making large scale policy suggestions – no prescriptions for the whole world – it seems safe to say that the American Lawn is an artifact of a bygone era and should give way to some kind of diversified expression of our current communal values.  In Boulder there is already a movement underway that fits this programmatic, at least partially.  Community Roots is a distributed multi-plot suburban farm that gives local landowners a way to introduce local labor into the food economy and to strengthen communal identity in the forms of CSA’s, farmers markets, and other local food sharing institutions.  The organization’s conversions of lawn space into food producing gardens definitely expresses the community’s dissatisfaction with an economy that depends of fossil-fuel for food production and transportation.  What may benefit this movement, in addition to hard work and soil toil, which definitely will benefit the movement – What may help is an electrate tale [a blog] that works to place the movement in a historical context, and that will figure a way to express some of the more ambiguous, unspeakable dimensions of growing plants in a deeply wired transition town.


Ethan Brand finds himself guilty of the Unpardonable Sin.  First a 19th century iteration, now a 21st century iteration of the myth of the Original Sin for which AdamEve was expelled from the Garden.  The garden, as the replacement for the suburban lawn, is a site of avant-garde activity.

“If gardening is an exploration of a place close to home, being a teenager is an exploration of mobility, and these two approaches to place, or home, are bound sooner or later to come into conflict… Much of gardening is a[n attempt at] return, an effort at recovering remembered landscapes.”   Gardening is an activity for Theoria, an exploration of a place to find out for one’s self what is going on in the world, as opposed to being at the mercy of global market speculation.

The tale goes that Ethan Brand is convinced that his Sin of abortive romance deserves a recompense of immortal agony, and his tale ends with self-commitment to a fiery furnace or a portal.  If the sub-urban gardens of Boulder don’t figure this tale exactly, they should at least figure some of it’s ambiguity.  There is ample cultural and experiential evidence to believe [and theory is the production of belief via supra-scientific pain sensing] that there are portals to ‘Other’ dimensions that play a part in this tale, and this is a direction for further research.  In trying to imagine a public understanding of what it might mean to pass through a portal to the ‘Other’ dimension, I get the impression that the lawns wont be the only thing that get gone.

Gate Gate Para Gate Para-sam Gate Bodhi Svaha

Power Plants – Light at the Speed of Life

August 14, 2008

CLICK to find out wtf

Photovoltaic power. Appreciation of photovoltaic power is part of the shift toward an appreciation of the elegance of solid state that plants possess. Plants practice photosynthetic solutions to the problems of power acquisition. Compared to the water or animal-turned wheels, which [were] the Ur-methaphors for power production in the human world, the solid-state quantum-molecular miracle that involves dropping a photon of sunlight into a molecular device that will kick out an electron capable of energetically participating in the life of a cell seems like extravagant science fiction. Yet this is, in fact, the principle upon which photosynthesis operates. While the first solid-state devices arrived on the human cultural frontier in the late 1940’s, solid-state engineering had been the preferred design approach of plants for some two thousand million years. High efficiency photovoltaics could today meet the daily needs of most people for electricity.

[Plan Plant Planet]

The application of abstracted plant knowledge to the generation of renewable energy resources [a plant hack] is only, at most, one quarter of the big picture.  The cultural invention happening during the transition from literacy to electracy also includes the invention of novel subject formations, novel community formations, and novel forms of belief.

the 'Other' hand

the 'Other' hand

Consider the belief, widely decried if not widely held since the seventies, that we’re living on the brink and/or IN a New Age.  Then consider, on the other hand, the theoretical reports that the transition is an Archaic Revival.  Electracy is now, but it’s also somewhere back in the future, in between modern Literacy and archaic Orality.

Regardless of which figure you use, there shouldn’t be any doubt about today’s abundance of human suffering.  Yet, as a Boulderite, news of wars and famines feel like rumors.  To become theoria, I have to somehow learn to sense them for myself.

Pain exceeds the reach of science, hence the continuing appeal of belief.

PROPOSITION: Theory is the production of belief via supra-scientific pain sensing

OBSERVATION: the transition is increasingly about the issue of ‘green’

As models, as material realities [materealities], as objects of attention and affection, How do PLANTS figure our personal and collective pains?  To respond to this question, I want to invent and/or make a monument with both electronic and plant features that figures the tale of Ethan Brand and his theoretical discovery of the Unpardonable Sin in his own heart.

People living in Electracy need experiences that make the apparent incommensurability of duration [sustainability, conservation] and speed [techno-innovation, novelty] into FELT.  The measured pace of a plantscape which is sown, bloomed and harvested by seasonal, annual, biannual, even centennial chronologics is much slower experiential field than the breakneck speedy proliferation of new media applications like the ephemeral condensation of the tag-clouded blogosphere.  In contrast to the super-computed model made of blog-post particles [part-articles] every few days, the cultivation of the Ethan Brand greenscape will take years to develop.  This time-span is in accordance with the years it takes Ethan Brand to find the Unpardonable Sin.  An integral part of any Wisdom ecology grows at plant-pace.

A tentative solution to the problem of plant-pace vs. techno-pace, using a symbiotic inverse proportionality:

Plants grow slowly and live/die in one place.  They epitomize conservative locality.  They invert the widely assumed imperative to process life at the speed of light.  Photosynthetically speaking, they teach how to process light at the speed of life.

Theoria-Artisan in Transition Town

August 8, 2008

Originally, theoria meant seeing the sights, seeing for yourself, and getting a worldview. The first theorists were “tourists”–the wise men who traveled to inspect the obvious world.  Theoria did not mean the kind of vision that is restricted to the sense of sight, but implied a complex but organic mode of active observation–a perceptual system that included asking questions, listening to stories and local myths, and feeling as well as hearing and seeing. The world theorists who traveled around 600 B.C. were spectators who responded to the expressive energies of places, stopping to contemplate what the guides called “the things worth seeing.” Local guides–the men who knew the stories of a place–helped visiting theorists to “see” (Eugene Victor Walter via Ulmer).

The revitalization of this specific sense of the word Theoria is part of a global transition, which in terms of ‘apparatus’ discourse is the transition from Literacy to Electracy.

Literacy = School / Concept / Self ::

Electracy = Internet / Emblem / Brand

Since I am biologically located in Boulder, Colorado, I am learning how to work as a Theoria in that situation – the guiding slogan is ‘think global, act local’.  In lieu of traveling around the three-dimensional world to ‘see the sights’, I travel in cyberspace to ‘see the sites’.  Cyberspace is one of the ‘Other’ dimensions of my local life.

Recently, in 2007, a significant portion of Boulder’s citizenry decided to act to re-invent Boulder as a city organized in response to and in anticipation of global disaster, most immediately imagined as climate change and the end of peak oil.

Boulder’s chosen title for this collective self-organization is ‘Transition Town‘, which places it in solidarity with other so-called Transition Towns around the world.  The word ‘Transition’ is multivalent – it makes Transition Town resonate with the apparatus transition from literacy to electracy.  Transition also suggests thermodynamic phase transition.

the artisan learns to FEEL these phase transitions

the artisan learns to FEEL THE TRANSITION

Before the advent of scientific measurement technologies, Artisans were people who learned to experimentally ‘sound out by ear’ the critical points in the phase transitions of different materials, in order to exploit these critical points to fashion weapons, tools, and other cultural materials for living.  With the advent of scientific measurement, which could mechanistically determine a material’s critical points more precisely than any artisan ever could organically ‘by ear’, Artisans were left with more humanistic imperatives.  It became the Artisan’s work to use ‘by ear’ intuition to learn how to manipulate available [contemporary] material-media in order to locate and exploit critical points in the spiritual-emotional complex called ‘human experience’.

While it is clear that Boulder’s citizens are already focusing energy on responding to the effects of the transition on the community’s ability to procure vital resources [local food sources, local energy], I want to learn how to locate some of the affects of the transition.  To start, I am ‘seeing the sites’ in ‘Other’ dimensions in search of patterns that give form to the mental, emotional, and spiritual properties of the transition.  My proposal is to work locally as a Theoria-Artisan who writes and produces culture to express the critical points in these dimensions of life in Boulder.