Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Love and Death

Here's my latest blog post for Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/morbid-curiosities/201111/why-we-love-dead-things. It discusses why death is always at the heart of great romance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blogging for Psychology Today

I was recently asked to blog on Psychology Today's website. The name of the blog is "Morbid Curiosities: Why Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck." It explores many of the issues I raise in my forthcoming book, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away (http://www.amazon.com/Everyone-Loves-Good-Train-Wreck/dp/0374150338/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320774103&sr=8-1).

Here's a link to my first post, on the morality of the morbid: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/morbid-curiosities/201111/the-moral-the-morbid

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mutants and Mystics

When I was ten or eleven, I fell in love with Batman comics—as well as with (I’m not afraid to say it) the campy Batman television series starring Adam West. But then I became consumed with collecting football cards, a passion that a few years later gave way to yet other obsessions—Tolkein, the Beatles, the Dune series.

So, by the time I got to college, I was far removed from superheroes. However, when I needed a symbol to explain one of my sophomoric realizations, I instinctively invoked the world of capes and spandex.

In a philosophy class, I was required to read Nietzsche, who thought that all of our systems of knowledge and belief are but fictions that we mistakenly take for truth. The proper philosopher, Nietzsche claimed, realizes that we live by these fictions and refuses to submit to those artifices he finds oppressive. He in fact creates new fictions—more expansive, flexible, wondrous, and beautiful ones that open fresh, more imaginative possibilities for being.

Nietzsche’s ideal philosopher, whom he calls the Over-man, or Super-man, is an artist: someone who understands that he can conform to pre-existing fictions, and so relinquish his agency; or that he can fashion his own scripts and thus exist in a universe of his own making.

For a boy brought up in a rather conservative Southern Christian community, this idea was blissfully liberating. It allowed me to undermine the collective wisdom of my elders—so much artifice—and forge my own more imaginative myth.

Drunk on my rather immature rebellion, I vowed to fashion an impossible myth of total freedom—a myth that would self-destruct the minute I made it, and so require a new myth in its place, which in turn would also destroy itself, and so on. The goal was not to imprison myself in any prior language system, no matter how varied and fertile and ecstatic. I wanted to live ironically, undercutting my claims the minute I made them. I wanted to be: Meta-man, as I tried cleverly to put it, always beyond my own being.

After reading Jeffrey Kripal’s brilliant new book, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal, I now understand that my somewhat silly conceit was actually profound in ways that I did not then understand. Maybe it was even a rather weak paranormal experience—a pre-cognition of an insight that would later affect me deeply, transform me.

(I’m recording my thoughts on Kripal’s book as a member of a roundtable discussion of the volume at the Patheos Book Club (http://www.patheos.com/Book-Club/Jeffrey-J-Kripal-Mutants-and-Mystics), where you can read an excerpt, an author interview and engage in further discussion on the book.)

In Mutants and Mystics, Professor Kripal explores how comic book heroes have symbolized a variety of paranormal experiences, such as precognition, telekinesis, and UFO abductions. One way superheroes and their authors have figured these weird occurrences is by showing that the “world . . . works remarkably like a text or a story. Through the uncanny practices of writing, reading, and artistic production, these individuals come to realize that we are all figments of our own imagination, that we are caught in a story (or stories) that we did not write and that we may not even like.”

When we understand that paranormal events are real—and Kripal marshals overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that they are—we realize that these happenings are “participatory, that is, paranormal events behave very much like texts: they appear for us and rely on our active engagement or ‘reading’ to appear at all and achieve meaning.” “In some fundamental way that we do not yet understand,” Kripal continues, “they are us, projected into the objective world of events and things, usually through some story, symbol, or sign. Realization is the insight that we are caught in such a story. Realization is the insight that we are being written.”

Alvin Schwartz, a writer of early Superman and Batman comics, had such a realization. After several paranormal experiences, Schwartz came to understand Superman as an archetype of our “sense of nonlocality that is always present in the back of our minds—the capacity to be everywhere instantly.”

We are all exponents of a World Soul, eddies of a vast ocean, but most of the time we believe that we are self-contained, autonomous egos. In his ability to transcend space and time, basically to be everywhere and “every-when” at once, Superman reminds us of our distributed natures, of the fact that there is no difference between self and cosmos. We are all infinite, all the time.

But we can’t sustain this ego-shattering formlessness for long, this annihilation of particularity. To live in the everyday world—to have a spouse, children, a job—we need to return to the comparatively secure confines of space and time. Enter Clark Kent, the necessary polarity to Superman—the left brain to his right, the profane to his sacred.

Schwartz concluded that the human imagination bridges these poles. The imagination is the “phone booth consciousness,” where super-consciousness, beyond language, is translated into comprehensible words. Imagination is thus the faculty by which the World Soul expresses itself to the individual souls it animates. It, the imagination, creates the narratives—scientific, religious, cultural—that we take to be real. It makes the cosmic book in which we are all characters.

To realize this is to grasp that we are written, but not necessarily in the way that Nietzsche meant. Yes, as Nietzsche believes, we are all imprisoned by the language systems into which we have been born. However, these language systems—so Schwartz and Kripal would have us believe—aren’t simply fictions hiding an inaccessible physical reality, indifferent to human striving. They, these linguistic constructs, are inflections of an ungraspable metaphysical reality that all humans, if they are to realize their full potential, should aspire to know.

As long as we simply accept the symbol systems that we inherit from birth, we are written, and nothing more: actors performing a script not of our own making. But when we become aware of the play, we can re-write the script—author our stories in which we are the super-heroes. We can become Meta-man, or women, in earnest, endlessly playing with new worlds just beyond the boundary of the old.

As I suggest in my own book, My Business Is To Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing, this is living ironically, if we see irony not as deflationary sarcasm but as a mode of transcendence, the ability to create and destroy at once, affirm and deny, write and erase.

Mutants and Mystics brims with such invigorating, inspiring insights. It is more than scholarship—though it is that, in the best sense, replete with fascinating information and rigorous analysis. It is a handbook for living, a soul guide, a powerful call to what is super in all of us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Death of William Blake

Only hours from his death on the evening of August 12, 1827, William Blake, though exhausted from his long struggle against an illness of the liver, could not stop creating. He had spent most of his sixty-nine years making exuberant art, in image as well as word, and his demanding muse would not let him rest. Inspiration yet burned within, in spite of the closing darkness. Blake refused to put down the tools of his craft.

A few days before becoming bedridden, he had spent his last shilling on a pencil. He required it for his final work, a series of illustrations from The Divine Comedy. Even though he knew that he wouldn't complete his drawings of Dante's paradise—he was feeble and feverish, with a chronically upset stomach and yellowing skin—he continued to compose. He was bent on inventing until he could move no more.

This last desperate devotion was to a calling that had probably killed him. His lifelong engraving practice had exposed him to noxious coppery fumes damaging to his immune system. Lethal as well as enlivening, his muse, in exchange for genius, had exacted his breath. Blake was art's martyr.

And so, committed to the last of the flame consuming his, his joy outweighing the pain, he continued, as he lay on his deathbed, to sketch, driven to convert, for one final spell, his quick thoughts into lively lines. But his brain soon slowed, beginning its descent into the inevitable dimness, and his competent hand faltered. Now, he believed, was the hour. He would have to leave his configurations of heaven undone. He set his instruments aside, his now-dull pencil and his paper riddled with shades.

Faint, he turned toward those attending him, among whom was his wife Catherine, his faithful partner for forty-five years. He saw her crying. Maybe what happened next was a final surge of affection, or perhaps a desperate hope to make the moment stay. Whatever the reason, Blake's haze cleared. His mind revived. He recovered his pencil and paper, reports say, and exclaimed to her, "Stay, Kate! Keep just as you are—I will draw your portrait—for you have ever been an angel to me." This picture he did complete, though it is now lost.

Now finished and feeling the fatigue return, he again laid down his implements, now for good. He silently said farewell to his earthly exertions—all those pictures and poems, forged in visionary fury—and relaxed, ready for his flesh's demise. As his consciousness gently waned, he sang hymns of his own design, about the eternal bliss to which his spirit would soon rise. He expired at six o'clock, his lyrics still trilling in his head. Catherine remained calm. Perhaps she believed that her life would change but little; she had once said of her husband, "I have very little of Mr. Blake's company. He is always in Paradise."

This is an excerpt from my new book, My Business Is To Create: Blake's Infinite Writing, published by University of Iowa Press: http://www.amazon.com/My-Business-Create-Infinite-Writing/dp/1587299909/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1305203801&sr=8-1

Boredom, Contemplation, Creativity

Here's an interesting article on the potential profundity of boredom: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/03/09/the_joy_of_boredom/

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blake on creativity

Here's a thoughtful review in swans.com of my new book on creativity and William Blake: http://www.swans.com/library/art17/cmarow186.html.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Another Early Review of My Business Is To Create

Here's a detailed and generous review of my new book on creativity, as seen through the eyes of William Blake: http://thelinebreak.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/wilson-my-business-is-to-create/.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Creativity, via William Blake

My new book on creativity--what it is, and how to get it (at least through the eyes of William Blake--was just released. It's called My Business Is To Create: Blake's Infinite Writing, published by University of Iowa Press. Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin has this to say about the book: “A risky and exhilarating adventure in reading Blake as a spiritual guide. Writers and artists and maybe ecologists will find treasures here." Here's more information:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Early reviews of my new writing handbook based on the the life and work of William Blake

In about a month, the University of Iowa Press will publish my latest book, called My Business Is To Create: Blake's Infinite Writing. The book is part of the press's Muse Series, which features handbooks for writers of all kinds and levels. Each handbook is based on the life and work of a great writer. Mine, as the title makes clear, focuses on William Blake, and it will be useful not only to writers but to painters and musicians, too.

Here's more information: http://www.amazon.com/My-Business-Create-Infinite-Writing/dp/1587299909/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298974106&sr=1-1.

And here's an early review: http://necessaryfiction.com/reviews/MyBusinessistoCreatebyEricGWilson.

And another: http://the-book-garden.blogspot.com/2011/01/review-my-business-is-to-create-eric-g.html.