Archive for the 'the_unknown_future' Category

Jul 06 2008

Joni Mitchell and the I Ching

Published by Brian under changes, the_unknown_future

essay by Brian Charles Clark and Nisi Shawl

In the Jan. 1994 issue of Acoustic Guitar, Rick Turner wrote,

Joni Mitchell's I Ching guitar was made by Steve KleinSteve Klein built this amazing and beautiful guitar in 1977.

This guitar was built for Joni Mitchell, and it is a great example of what can happen when a musical and visual artist teams up with a luthier. It was designed for Mitchell’s low open tunings, and the removable soundhole rosette/ring allows the guitar’s air resonance to be tuned accordingly for different amounts of bass. Mitchell collaborated on concepts for the inlays, which include I Ching symbols in the fingerboard and around the soundhole; the I Ching’s hexagram number 56, the Wanderer, graces the face and the upper bout. Don Juan’s crow flies on the peghead, and the wandering theme continues on with the mountains and the road.”

In fact, the eight trigrams run up the neck of the guitar, heaven at the nut and earth at the top of the neck. Heaven is bass! Hejira, one of Mitchell’s several masterpieces, was recorded and released in 1976, the year before this guitar was made. Lu, hexagram 56, pretty much describes the album’s mood of not staying together, of fire on the mountain that “does not tarry,” in Wilhelm/Baynes’ words, of a wanderlust that drives one onward toward the greener pasture on the other side of the hill. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2008

Peak Oil

My friend B. wrote me this:

So I was reading the Bay Area Guardian, something I do exactly as regularly as I vote, and I ran across something that I thought might interest you. It seems San Francisco has a Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force to explore life after fossil fuels. Of course few take them seriously.

And I replied:

Do you mean that people locally don’t take the task force in SF seriously? Or don’t take post-oil seriously?

The peak oilers are sometimes hard to listen to because they’re so apocalyptically pessimistic. They see the energy packed into a hydrocarbon molecule and moan, What can possibly replace this? They don’t see anything on the shelf that can replace oil, so assume we’re all doomed. I do admire their historical analysis, tho, and I think Hubbert was right; well, he was right, US production peaked right when he said it would. A year or so ago the Saudi Minister of Energy said the planet was running out of oil and had to get ready. And now the King of Saudi Arabia has created a $10-billion endowment for a new university, sci and tech research, that will be a mini-kingdom unto itself in order to free it (and thus attract students and faculty) of Sharia, the heinous religious law of fundamentalist Islam. The king’s reasoning was explicit: Saudi Arabia won’t be an energy economy for much longer and needs to transform itself into a knowledge economy. Amen, brother. At last we agree on something. Continue Reading »

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Jun 09 2008

Good Advice for Cougar Researchers

Large carnivore’s have been on my mind lately, as my Web development team (the amazing Phil and Rose) just finished a refresh of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Lab’s Web site. I’m pretty sure the Large Carnivore Lab is going to offer you better advice than this, but it probably won’t be as funny:
confronting a mountain lion

I found this sign on a section of Flickzzz called Very Weird Signs. Probably not entirely work safe. More advice for dealing with animals:

The comments on the source post raise doubts as to the legitimacy of some of the signs portrayed there (i.e., they’re a bunch of damn fakes; who was it that said there are lies, damn lies, and Photoshop?), but that doesn’t detract from the irrepressible creativity of the collection.



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May 31 2008

Something about the I Ching

Fortune Telling 000

The arrangement and interpretations of the I Ching’s hexagrams can be attributed to the astute analysis of human nature in many contexts by many contributors over many years. It’s much more difficult to account for the uncanny accuracy, reasonableness, and wisdom of the I Ching’s answers to one’s questions. That, at least, has been my experience.

The I Ching is the ancient Chinese book that accreted around a series of 64 hexagrams. A hexagram, in turn, is an arrangement of six lines. Each line is either solid or broken. Here are the first two hexagrams, the Creative and the Receptive:

Hexagram 1, the Creative          Hexagram 2, the Receptive

Hexagrams are formed by chance action (e.g., the rolling of three coins, and taking combinations of heads and tails for either a solid or broken line) from the bottom up. The lines are taken to represent a temporal sequence, the unfolding of change over time.

Lines themselves can change, and a changing line is indicated by chance action, as in the roll of three heads (a changing broken or yin line) or three tails (a changing solid or yang line). In the above example, if one tossed a set of three coins six times—once for each line in the Creative—and each roll came up three tails, each line would change into its opposite. The result would be two hexagrams: hexagram one, the Creative, would change to hexagram two, the Receptive.

The odds against a six-in-a-row coin toss are astronomical. But, then, what are the odds in favor of receiving a response that strikes one as both wise and a propos to the question?

Questions. Where do they come from? You, me, worrying the hems of our lives; John Cage, wondering what it really means to compose; and anybody, really, who engages in the act of breasting change with a story of self in mind. To put the previous question another way, What are the odds of a story emerging from apparently unconnected facts, experiences or observations?

As with most fortune telling systems, the odds favor making sense—if you can accept enigmatic replies as sense. For me, the difference between the I Ching and, say, the tarot (which has much sexier images), is perceptual: the I Ching responds in poetry, the tarot in cliché. One enlightens me, the other makes me vomit. It’s not the tarot’s fault; it’s cultural chance. The Romany, vectors of prognostication by chance action of card dealing, eschewed written language until relatively recent times (and then a palette of languages pattern Romany texts, rather than a national language); the Chinese, just as ancient, famously co-pioneered written language. The Romany poetry of the tarot is, at best, confined to a small group of disrespected people while the written texts of the Chinese have become venerated for their wisdom and verisimilitude. Continue Reading »

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Aug 05 2007

A Change in the Weather

Jeanette Winterson, the British novelist, wonders in the Times of London (and which I found via BroneteBlog):

As the floodwaters rose around me and we sank in a summer of rain, I tried a kind of homeopathic charm; what books could I find on my shelves where floods and rain played a part?

Multiple lightning strikes; image: NOAAWinterson rattles off the usual list of suspects, including the biblical flood story and (weirdly) the movie version of Frankenstein (which movie? and why not the novel?). What’s odd to me is that almost none of the academic eco-criticism types have picked up on climate as at least a viable leit motif for analysis. In my reading of gothic lit, climate and weather are veritable characters. Wouldn’t it be useful (something that is normally very difficult to say about contemporary literary studies) to analyze climate and weather in literature with an eye toward shedding some light on our current crisis, a crisis which, in our inability to do anything concrete about, is surely as much moral and psychological as scientific and economic?

I took a stab at it a couple years ago by presenting a paper at a low-level, regional MLA lit-studies conference. I was met with blank stares, for the most part, perhaps because I eschewed the jargon of the trade as much as possible. Because they could understand all the words I used, the audience may have felt talked down to. Or maybe it’s just a crappy paper. It certainly doesn’t delve deep enough into the implied thesis: that climate is a character or anyway a means of characterizing roles.

In any case, here’s the paper as presented at the conference in 2005. Perhaps it’ll be of some use to an eco-conscious scholar attempting to open the field of climatocriticism. Continue Reading »

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Jan 14 2006

Avant Spud

Potato chip bar - it's from the future!

Still waiting for the City of the Future? Look no further! In 1961 the American Potato Journal published this photo of the food of the future: the potato-chip bar! Get a dose of salt and starch to fuel the jetpack-powered business of you day.


“The potato chip bar is made by crushing chips and molding them by pressure into a shape and size resembling a candy bar. Such bars can be shipped economically without the protective packaging normally required for potato chips, and their flavor and crunchy texture give them distinct possibilities for commercialization” (Am Potato J 38:10 [1961] 340).

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Aug 29 2005

A Film of Nematodes

Here’s something that supports my long-held thesis that scientists make the best science fiction writers not because they know so much about science but because they’re so damn weird:

“…if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites.”
From Nematodes and Their Relationships, 1915 by Nathan Augustus Cobb, the “father of nematology in the U.S.

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Jan 13 2001

Splitting, a novel by Brian Charles Clark

Splitting, a novel by Brian Charles ClarkA rhizomatic epic poem disguised as a novel, Splitting is “A psychedelic odyssey of love and spiritual discovery.” –Publishers Weekly

“Four hundred billion stars for Brian Charles Clark’s world-heavyweight champion novel… In this hallucinatory yet grounded tale, our narrator employs a richly allusive style, half Joyce, half William Borroughs.” –Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, review by Paul Di Filippo

“Brian Clark’s romp through a world of static television screens and desert landscapes sends science crashing headlong into fiction with its highbeams on. The resulting wreckage, Splitting, is a jagged collage of delicate poetry, hip-flasked theory and high-energy prose broadcast directly from the cerebral cortex of a bisexual potassium terrorist struggling to resist the systematic telepathic colonization of earth by hyperlingual aliens. Using a host of agents, neurotic doctors, and psychotic drugs, the aliens are replacing our fractured, amnesiac reality with a cohesive, linear history that corrodes the human capacity to think.” –Review of Contemporary Fiction, review by Trevor Dodge

“Brian Clark’s first novel is a fever dream: a voluptuous explosion of melody and rhythm. A gender-bending ride in search of spiritual identity, Splitting revels in the regenerative power of art and language.” –Nikki Dillion (aka Lisa Dierbeck), author of Scratch

Splitting, excerpt from part one

The rush from the injection while supplies last kicks me in the chest, a chill metal gasp fleeing custody, a lightning of Tartars hording down my medulla oblongata. Continue Reading »

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