Thursday, December 13, 2018

It's Alive!

Poster for 1931 movie of "Frankenstein"
with Boris Karloff as the monster
Paul Cantor explains how Mary Shelley's monster  tramples over the supposed line between high culture and pop culture: 
"I am not trying to lower our opinion of Frankenstein but to raise our opinion of popular culture. Or rather, I want to question the simplistic distinction between high culture and low. Just because a work grows out of or is in some way related to the commercial world does not mean that it is inferior in artistic quality. The great example of this truth is William Shakespeare. He was the most popular playwright in the commercial theater of his day, but of course he was at the same time the greatest dramatic artist.
Engraving by Lynd Ward
for a 1934 edition of "Frankenstein"
"[...] Culture is not neatly divided into different and unrelated media or separated into spheres of high and low, hermetically sealed off from one another. Rather, in a real culture (and not an academic abstract mapping of it), the high and the low inter-penetrate, giving life to each other, and the various media interact in complex patterns.
"Accordingly, one may find great art in the oddest of places, even in the ghoulish story of a misshapen creature turned loose upon the world. High art can grow out of elements of popular culture, and can in turn inspire popular culture to new forms of creativity. Culture is chaotic. It results in artistic order, but not always in an orderly fashion. And that makes culture fundamentally unpredictable."

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Every screenwriter, playwright or novelist will have at some point been advised to read Aristotle's Poetics, his famous treatise on dramatic theory. I read it several decades ago, and aside from the classic three-act structure, the main thing I remember is this simple formula I distilled from it:
Logic + Surprise = Wonder
It's the essence and the payoff of any great story (or any other magic trick, for that matter). As the last and the best of the ancient playwrights put it:

"Many things are wrought by Zeus in Olympus
And heaven works much beyond human imagining
The looked-for result will fail to materialize
While heaven finds ways to achieve the unexpected.
So has it happened in this our story."

Euripides wrote these lines for the conclusion of three of his tragedies, including his final, and most terrifying, The Bacchae.
Something to keep in mind next time you hear, "Have a wonderful day!"

Thursday, November 15, 2018


“It is perhaps only a legend,” Anand said. “But it is said that one day, toward the end of his long life, the Buddha arose before his assembled throng of disciples and held up a lotus flower. He spoke no words; the flower itself transmitted the essence of his wisdom. Enlightenment came, not through scripture or philosophy, but through a direct experience—a deep realization—of the miracle of existence.”

“Tathata,” Phoebe said. “In English it’s translated as ‘suchness,’ or ‘thatness.’ It's the transcendent reality of being that shines through the ordinary world of appearances."

“The practice of Zen aims at awakening this awareness,” Anand said. “It is not about thinking the right thoughts or gaining some knowledge beyond us. It is simply experiencing the miracle of what is right in front of our eyes.”

As he spoke, I was staring into my amber glass of Muscat, contemplating the miracle, the “suchness” of the wine. It just so happens it truly was a remarkable thing to behold. The clear glass goblet, with its myriad reflections, was itself a visual spectacle and a marvel of lucid design. It seemed the perfect instrument to display what lay inside: an enclosed, miniature, sunset world, a windless ocean of wine; a crumb of cork floating like a microscopic ship; one translucent, planet-like bubble orbiting the sea’s round edge; and finally, the hue of the sea itself, a luscious honey-yellow, glowing with a radiance all its own, as if the crushing of the dusty, vine-ripened grapes had set free captured sunlight.

This is what the old Dutch masters observed when painting their gorgeous still lives, what art lovers flock to museums to see, crowding in close for a view.

A golden drink in a glass on a table.

“It looks so real,” we say—that is, so replete with “suchness.” The painted wineglass taunts the eye. It seems to contain some mystery. Look closely, it says. Look carefully. If your eyes can pierce the veil of Maya, you might just glimpse the Truth.
~excerpt from THE ASSASSIN LOTUS

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Frame

"Garden of Earthly Delights"
Hieronymus Bosch (c1500)
"Belief systems are intrinsic to human intelligence and survival. They 'frame' the flux of primary experience, which would otherwise flood the mind."
~Camille Paglia

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Thursday, September 6, 2018


"Here is our first lesson in virtue from the medieval West: It was not reading novels, but reciting the Psalms, that first trained ancient and medieval Christians in the practice of imagining the world from another's perspective."
"If, as Steven Pinker suggests, it was reading that enabled the kind of empathy that we now associate with being civilized, this was the reading practice upon which western civilization depended for over a thousand years."
~Rachel Fulton Brown

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Tingle

“Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science. Let us worship the spine and its tingle.”
― Vladimir Nabokov