Friday, December 15, 2017

Apparition from the Shadow World

"No utilitarian philosophy explains a snow crystal, no doctrine of use or disuse. Water has merely leapt out of vapor and thin nothingness in the night sky to array itself in form. There is no logical reason for the existence of a snowflake any more than there is for evolution. It is an apparition from that mysterious shadow world beyond nature, that final world that contains--if anything contains--the explanation of men and catfish and green leaves."  
~Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Friday, December 1, 2017

What Did the Music of Ancient Greece Sound Like?

Hymns to the Delphic Oracle, the Castalian Spring, Orestes and the Furies, and more--readers of NIGHT OF THE FURIES, check this out: 
First choral performance with aulos of ancient scores of Athenaeus Paean (127 BC) and Euripides Orestes chorus (408 BC), with explanation by Armand D'Angour.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Power of a Saint

ST. CATHERINE, Bernardino Luini (1530)
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, November 25th is the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who converted hundreds of Egyptians to Christianity in the 3rd century before being beheaded at the age of 18. The legend of her martyrdom may now be disputed, but 1100 years after her death she appeared in a vision to St. Joan of Arc, and for centuries after that she was still inspiring great artists like Luini. I love this subtle masterpiece. It radiates a quiet charisma and embodies the enduring power of myth. Click to enlarge.

Monday, November 6, 2017

True Love

In view of the daily revelations of sexual depredation, here's a reminder from the 18th century of the sublime nature of true love, the highest earthly expression of man's endless search for unity:
"I understand by this passion the union of desire, friendship and tenderness, which is inflamed by a single female, which prefers her to the rest of her sex, and which seeks her possession as the supreme or the sole happiness of our being. I need not blush at recollecting the object of my choice; and though my love was disappointed of success, I am rather proud that I was once capable of feeling such a pure and exalted sentiment."
~historian Edward Gibbon

Blue Guitar

"They said, 'You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.'
The man replied, 'Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.'" 
~Wallace Stevens, excerpt from The Man With the Blue Guitar

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Shakespeare on Self-awareness

"Speculation turns not to itself,
Till it hath travell'd and is mirror'd in another person's eyes, 
Where it may see itself." 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Fisherman and the Syren

The Fisherman & the Syren, Frederic Leighton, 1858

The Fisherman

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The water rushed, the water rose
A fisherman by the sea
Observed his line in deep repose,
Cool to his heart was he.
And as he sits and listens well,
The billow breaks and parts,
And from the waters' churning swell
A dripping woman darts.

She sang to him, she spoke to him:
"Why lure my kind away
With human wit and cunningly
To the deadly blaze of day?
If you could know how blithe and free
The fishes thrive below,
You would descend, with us to be,
And prosperous to grow.

"Do not the sun and moon take on
Refreshment in the sea?
Do not their faces billow-drawn
Loom twice as splendidly?
This sky-like depth, it calls you not,
This dank transfigured blue?
Your mirrored form enthralls you not
To seek the endless dew?"

The water rushed, the water rose
And wet his naked feet;
His heart with yearning swells and grows,
As when two lovers meet.
She spoke to him, she sang to him,
His fate became quite plain:
Half drawn by her he glided in
And was not seen again.

1779, translation by Edwin Zeydel, 1955      
(thanks to James Egan)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

From Mystery to Myth, from Myth to Truth

The Fall & Expulsion of Adam & Eve
Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo 
"Unfortunately, myth today has come to have negative connotations which are the complete opposite of its meaning in a religious context. A myth is often spoken of as being the equivalent of superstition and illusion, a fabrication, even a form of propaganda. We refer to the Nazi myth of Aryan supremacy or the male chauvinist myth of masculine superiority or the medical myth of laetrile. Myths are falsehoods which need to be dispelled, and the dispeller is usually understood to be scientific and historic truth. If religion is associated with myth, it is the mission of the scientific and historical method to rid the world of its fantasies and fallacies.
"In a religious context, however, myths are storied vehicles of supreme truth, the most basic and important truths of all. By them people regulate and interpret their lives and find worth and purpose in their existence. Myths put one in touch with sacred realities, the fundamental sources of being, power, and truth. They are seen not only as being the opposite of error, but also as being clearly distinguishable from stories told for entertainment and from the workaday, domestic, practical language of a people. They provide answers to the mysteries of being and becoming, mysteries which, as mysteries, are hidden, yet mysteries that are revealed through story and ritual. Myths deal not only with truth but with ultimate truth."
~from M. Conrad Hyers, THE MEANING OF CREATION: Genesis and Modern Science

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Bacchae
"We think, lazily, that what we want in our myths is something transparent and simple. But what we want in our great myths is the opposite: things that we can't so easily swallow, and at the same time, can't spit out."
~Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Rise & Fall of Adam & Eve 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Moral Compass

St. Michael and the Dragon by Raphael
"It is the thesis of this book that the heroic narrative is not simply our way of telling ourselves comforting fairy tales about the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil, but an implanted moral compass that guides even the least religious among us."

~ Michael Walsh, Devil’s Pleasure Palace

Friday, October 6, 2017

Believe It or Not

Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
"A friend was visiting in the home of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, the famous physicist.

As they were talking, the friend kept glancing at a horseshoe hanging over the door. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he demanded:

“Niels, it can’t possibly be that you, a brilliant scientist, believe that foolish horseshoe superstition!”

'Of course not,' replied Bohr. 'But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.'”
(via Lloyd Joseph) 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Magic Mushrooms and the Roots of Witchcraft

Was witchcraft just a "social construct" perpetrated by the Christian patriarchy? Or were witches herb and drug dabblers experiencing hallucinations?
For example:
"Hutton also makes no reference to the cases of ergotism in the 16th to 19th centuries, this poisoning by the fungus on rye and barley called ergot, which when baked in bread changes into a chemical similar to LSD that causes visions and convulsions often interpreted as demonic possession. The Salem witch trials occurred in a wet, cold summer favourable to the ergot fungus: the next, hot and dry, produced no reports of demonic possession. Some scholars blame ergot poisoning of both victims and perpetrators for the Salem ‘possessions’."
Fascinating SPECTATOR book review HERE.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Art of Boredom

Don't know that I have the patience for the slow film anymore, but back in the 1970s, I was enamored of what writer/director Paul Schrader dubbed the "transcendental style." The intention, much like religious ritual, is to draw you into a contemplation of the mystery of life. Still a worthwhile goal today, but given the pace of the digital age, very much harder to achieve. Here's Schrader explaining it (3:00 video):

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Performance Art, 1929

A lion rides in the sidecar during a performance of The Wall of Death carnival attraction at Revere Beach , Massachusetts in 1929.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Mystery of Evil

"It is a strange thing. Dozens of times I have been asked by patients or acquaintances: "Dr. Peck, why is there evil in the world?" Yet no one has ever asked me in all these years, "Why is there good in the world?" It is as if we automatically assume this is a naturally good world that has somehow been contaminated by evil. In terms of what we know of science, however, it is actually easier to explain evil. That things decay is quite explainable in accord with the natural law of physics. That life should evolve into more and more complex forms is not so easily understandable. That children generally lie and steal and cheat is routinely observable. The fact that sometimes they grow up to become truly honest adults is what seems the more remarkable. Laziness is more the rule than diligence. If we seriously think about it, it probably makes more sense to assume this is a naturally evil world that has somehow been mysteriously "contaminated" by goodness, rather than the other way around. The mystery of goodness is even greater than the mystery of evil."  ~ M. Scott Peck

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Aryan Invasion

The once-discredited "Aryan migration" theory, which forms the basis for the plot of THE ASSASIN LOTUSis now increasingly accepted to be true:
"The thorniest, most fought-over question in Indian history is slowly but surely getting answered: did Indo-European language speakers, who called themselves Aryans, stream down into India sometime around 2,000 BC – 1,500 BC when the Indus Valley civilization came to an end, bringing with them Sanskrit and a distinctive set of cultural practices? Genetic research based on an avalanche of new DNA evidence is making scientists around the world converge on an unambiguous answer: yes, they did."   [Full article HERE.]
It's not only linguistics and genetics that provide evidence. Among the Aryans' "distinctive set of cultural practices" was the ritual use of a plant-derived drug called "soma"--the same used by the ancient Zoroastrians of Persia (Iran, "land of the Aryans"), who called the courage-inducing substance "haoma." THE ASSASSIN LOTUS imagines the rediscovery of the long-lost drug in the multi-cultural cauldron of modern-day Central Asia--setting off a firestorm of espionage and murder.

"...a genuine suspenseful page-turner steeped in the esoteric history and traditions of both Hinduism and Buddhism." --Bookgasm
"The book is rife with nail-biting tension... The action rarely stops. Angsten hits all the genre highlights--action, suspense, mystery--in this worthwhile thriller." --Kirkus Reviews

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Just beginning

"From the age of six, I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about 50, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice… Thus when I reach 80 years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at 90 to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at 100 years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive."
~Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Awe - the oldest emotion

This stone mask from the pre-ceramic neolithic period dates to 7000 BC and is probably the oldest mask in the world (Musée de la Bible et de la Terre Sainte)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Art is Humbling

"Do not only practice art, but get at the very heart of it; this it deserves, for only art and science raise men to the God-head. [...] The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun."  ~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Friday, May 19, 2017

Inner Space

"The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion."
~ John Updike  (quote & photo from Joseph Durepos)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Poison Stories

“To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of the story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.” --Ben Okri
Ben Okri is a Nigerian novelist living in London. His 1991 novel, the Famished Road, won the Booker Prize. (Thanks to David Brown and Tonie Mwangi for this pearl of wisdom.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is."
– Joseph Campbell 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Story is Metaphor

"Stories are not just entertainment, not to me. A story records and transmits the experience of being human. It teaches us what it’s like to be who we are. Nothing but art can do this. There is no science that can capture the inner life. No words can describe it directly. We can only speak of it in metaphors. We can only say: it’s like this—this story, this picture, this song."
~Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Spirit and the Flesh

Christ as the Suffering Redeemer, Andrea Mantegna, 1431-1506
The Italian Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna has always been a particular favorite of mine. The clarity, the sculptural solidity, the vivid characters and colors, the careful detail (click HERE to enlarge) combined with epic scope, all put in service of a transcendent reality. It's a paragon of the "imaginative realism" I try to create in my novels. The stories walk that slippery line between the real and the ethereal, between the matter of the spirit and the imagination of the flesh.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Week - Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)

"Mantegna's realism prevails over any aesthetic indulgence that might result from an over-refined lingering over the material aspects of his subject. His realism is in turn dominated by an exalted poetic feeling for suffering and Christian resignation. Mantegna's creative power lies in his own interpretation of the "historic," his feeling for spectacle on a small as well as a large scale. Beyond his apparent coldness and studied detachment, Mantegna's feelings are those of a historian, and like all great historians he is full of humanity. He has a tragic sense of the history and destiny of man, and of the problems of good and evil, life and death."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

True to Character

"We live in passionate times at the moment, political and otherwise, and as usual, the art world is being encouraged to take sides and be part of the polemic. I think this is very dangerous... there's a higher calling for those of us that tell stories--there are character truths, and the idiosyncrasies are more true than general truths."  
~film director Walter Hill

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Johann Sebastian Bach
March 21, 1685 - July 28, 1750
“Bowman was aware of some changes in his behavior patterns; it would have been absurd to expect anything else in the circumstances. He could no longer tolerate silence; except when he was sleeping, or talking over the circuit to Earth, he kept the ship's sound system running at almost painful loudness. / At first, needing the companionship of the human voice, he had listened to classical plays--especially the works of Shaw, Ibsen, and Shakespeare--or poetry readings from Discovery's enormous library of recorded sounds. The problems they dealt with, however, seemed so remote, or so easily resolved with a little common sense, that after a while he lost patience with them. / So he switched to opera--usually in Italian or German, so that he was not distracted even by the minimal intellectual content that most operas contained. This phase lasted for two weeks before he realized that the sound of all these superbly trained voices was only exacerbating his loneliness. But what finally ended this cycle was Verdi's Requiem Mass, which he had never heard performed on Earth. The "Dies Irae," roaring with ominous appropriateness through the empty ship, left him completely shattered; and when the trumpets of Doomsday echoed from the heavens, he could endure no more. / Thereafter, he played only instrumental music. He started with the romantic composers, but shed them one by one as their emotional outpourings became too oppressive. Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, lasted a few weeks, Beethoven rather longer. He finally found peace, as so many others had done, in the abstract architecture of Bach, occasionally ornamented with Mozart. / And so Discovery drove on toward Saturn, as often as not pulsating with the cool music of the harpsichord, the frozen thoughts of a brain that had been dust for twice a hundred years.”
― Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


"Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity." 

~ Tolstoy

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fact vs Fiction

"An autobiography can distort, facts can be realigned. But fiction never lies. It reveals the writer totally."  
~V. S. Naipaul

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Primacy of Art & Religion

"If I were loosely gathering topics of study into categories, I might call them arts, religion, scholarship, and science. As important as scholarship and science are, arts and religion are more important. Those were my main goals (my wife’s, too) in educating our two boys, who are now both in their 20s. Arts and religion define, in a sense, a single spectrum rather than two topics. And this spectrum is where you find mankind's deepest attempts to figure out what's going on in the universe. A student who doesn't know the slow movement of Schubert's B-flat major op post sonata, or the story of David and Absalom, needs to go back to school and learn better."        
~David Galernter

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

To Carve Out a Refuge

"Why the awe for the Second Law? The Second Law defines the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order. An underappreciation of the inherent tendency toward disorder, and a failure to appreciate the precious niches of order we carve out, are a major source of human folly."
~Steven Pinker on the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

Monday, January 9, 2017

I've flipped

I love printed books, their tactile heft, their beauty, but over the years I've developed a preference for ebook reading. Instant word-touch dictionary access, text highlighting, easy word or name search, no need to turn on a lamp at night and wake your sleeping spouse--it just offers so many advantages. And now the biggest remaining deficiency has largely been overcome: page flipping.