Thursday, April 8, 2010

Earth: The Final Frontier

Or, Notes Towards a Psychedelic Biology

Let me be perfectly clear: I hate this song. I'm not saying it's not good. I'm saying I feel plagued and violated when I listen to it. But it is a perfect introduction to today's topic: the weirdness of the animal world. Jonsi, lead singer of Sigur Ros, sings here about wanting to be transformed into a kind of beast-boy, describing, as pitchfork notes, his new animal life with a Disneyian saccharinity.

Talking about becoming an animal is one example of a grand thematics of escapism that's been operating in popular music for the last decade or so, and you can count Animal Collective as properly the most original proprietors of this trend. Besides becoming-animal, other recent trends of this escapism in music include: primitivism, rural-backwoods qualities, folk revivals, psychedelia, cosmic themes, 80s nostalgia, the fairy-tale fantastical (skulls, dreamcatchers, magic spells, wizards).

Now, one reason why something becomes suddenly popular as an aesthetic object is that it's become so strange, forgotten and alienated for a particular culture that it becomes ripe again as a foreign territory. This is, I argue, what's happened to animal life and nature in general. In the twenty-first century, our own earth has become a strange planet, a psychedelic landscape. Once it's become strange, it's ripe again for cultural exploration. Science has never stopped exploring the planet, but now we're at a moment when biology and other earth-sciences are ready to interbreed with art and culture in new ways.

Let's see how the current historical moment is marked by this new intersection. It's not only musical, it's there in fashion, TV and cinema as well.

Take, for example, the late Alexander McQueen's near-final collection for Spring 2010.

One of many testaments to McQueen's brilliance, the collection, entitled Plato's Atlantis, envisioned a Waterworld-like scenario in which the earth has become flooded by global warming, and humans have subsequently evolved into new life forms. McQueen interiorizes and transforms the psychedelic patterns of insect and animal bodies into something radically new.

On television, anyone with cable or a bittorrrent client will tell you that the most psychedelic thing going right now is the BBC documentary series Life. A follow-up to the groundbreaking series Planet Earth, Life shows the animal and plant worlds in jaw-dropping digital precision, unveiling wholly unseen realms of color and movement.

in this typically mindblowing sequence from Life where, sped up via timelapse, monster worms and sea stars devour a seal.

In film, the occult significance of James Cameron's Avatar is that Pandora is already planet Earth - you can almost imagine Sam Worthington's character discovering the Statue of Liberty on the beach and yelling "you damn dirty apes!".

Avatar is Earth psychedelicized. Look, for example, at folk paintings that depict experiences of the Amazon jungle while on the shaman drug ayahuasca: they look remarkably like the world of Pandora, right down to the blue and purple hues.

by Pablo Amaringo, acclaimed Peruvian artist/shaman

If in 2010 the traditional idea of science-fiction is almost superfluous, it's not only because we've got so much technology that we're already living in the future, it's that a contemporary vision of earth, not space, as the final frontier contributes to an understanding that life on earth is already a science-fiction story. The possibility of life developing on earth and the fact that humans explore this earth cataloging the strange abundant wealth of its life: it's already a hypothetical scenario, a fiction about cosmic mystery and the adventures of scientific practice.


dj slow said...

Compelling writing, as usual.

As for "Life", did you see the fighting, flashing cuttlefish? Insanely psychedelic!

And I'm pretty sure those lizards they fly on are translated to "Psychedactl" in English from the native Pandoran language in Avatar.

dj slow said...

Check this annual Olympia sensation that took place this past weekend:

the saucer people said...

The idea that our DNA sequence was 'tinkered' with millenia ago is not such a far fetched concept, indeed the oldest 'origins' narrative from Sumeria supports this contention and the discovery of so-called 'Junk' DNA suggests just as the catapillar contains the blueprint of the butterfly, its been suggested that we ourselves contain the blueprint for something "Other".

Though coming from an entirely different perspective ontologically and theoretically speaking, what that "Other" could be has been best mapped out by French theorists Giles Deleuze & Felix Guattari in their 1980 book "A Thousand Plateaus" and their concept of 'becoming-animal'.
The other key writer on these themes is Donna Haraway who has explored the philosophical dimensions of "Otherness" in works like "Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature" and "Primate Visions" (mid eighties/early ninities)

Great to see the Pablo Amaringo painting posted, I remember being fascinated with his Ayahuasca Visions book when it came out and went to see an exhibition of his paintings in London in the mid90s - absolutely stunning visuals and his juxtapositions of UFOs & non-human intelligences operating in the dimensional continuum of tryptamine space resonates with my own experiences...I know when myself and a few friends first saw Avatar, our immediate response was he has done DMT/Ayahuasca, the blues and purples gave the game away!

Great well-written post by the way, I like to think that the same people who enjoyed the music posted on this blog would be just as receptive to the ideas in this article....I hope so.

rüya tabirleri said...

And I'm pretty sure those lizards they fly on are translated to "Psychedactl" in English from the native Pandoran language in Avatar.

Anonymous said...

Psychedelic archetypes have existed since the dawn of consciousness, and have been repressed for thousands of years. The 60's attempted to revive this notion, however their efforts for the most part were self-defeating. Our consciousness and the establishment cannot deny this aspect of the human experience forever. It appears now more than ever, that the psychedelic experience is bubbling to the surface, a revival of both mind and spirit. I have noticed as well that major media and marketing corporations are using psychedelic themes to sell products, appealing to this subconscious awareness of the "other," ...of the psychedelic truths "written in the skin of the flesh." I believe we are at the cusp of returning to something more pure and primitive, something closer to the animal soul, and a deeper connection to the cosmos as a whole. We have reached a dead end in terms of selfhood and can no longer allow the collective norms of society to define the human experience for us. Therefore we must return to the bedrock of the human spirit, a place infinitely connected to something larger, something pure, something inherent in us all. This is where the psychedelic experience lies. (The Archaic Revival by Terence McKenna is a good place to start for the readers of this blog post that enjoyed the above writing.) Thanks for putting this blog on the web! We need more of this everywhere.

Northwest Concert and Events Blog said...

This post is great. As I read the whole article, I was about, woooohooo.. this one is nice. I kinda feel interested to read more of your blogs.