Friday, May 23, 2014

Cosmic Trigger Crowdfunding on 23/5

The lovely folks involved in the Cosmic Trigger play are holding a Crowd Fund Launch Party tonight at Passing Clouds in Dalston, London. I couldn't make it and it is fully booked so if you haven't got a ticket you've missed out. You'll have to content yourself with sending in a substantial wedge of cash once the crowd-funding site goes live. I want to send Daisy and her company my best wishes by way of this post. And, in keeping with the Wilsonian weirdness of it all, and perhaps as an offering to Eris on their behalf in hope of a fecundity of fund-raising, I want to share with you a few odd things.

Cosmic Trigger is a weird book. I read it at 37 000 feet over the Atlantic ocean. As any physics student will tell you, because of time dilation if you and I had read the book simultaneously, you on the ground and me in the air flying over the Atlantic, we would have experienced time differently. That's an strange idea to get your head around.

The recurring thought I had during my reading was about Bob's view of time. There seemed to me to be some conflict between Bob's ideas about time and his actions toward time. What I mean by this is that on the one hand he is happy to consider what physicists refer to as block time (the idea that all points in time are equally real) and also the strange but appealing (at least appealing to those of us who have ever experienced a sense of deja vu) models of 'non-locality' which allow for future-to-past causality. So in this sense Bob is outside time. And yet on the other hand, Bob seems to rage against the flow of time. He is earnest in his desire for immortality and of course investigates optimistically all the promises made by the longevity studies of the 70's. And underscoring some of Bob's important ideas and projects - especially those associated with Timothy Leary - is an evolutionary or developmental nature. And that very much places Bob within time.

I get the sense though, that Bob knew all this. Of his contact with Sirius he says that the entity 'always intently urged that I should try to understand time better' (p.91). In the comfort of my own mind - not knowing that I would later feel compelled to share the thought - I wondered if this message Bob had received, was not from an alien intelligence on Sirius, but was my future thought on reading his book above the Atlantic in an out-of-time place.

So what follows from here then, is not a chronological list of odd things that have happened to me. Its order reflects a record of my own entry into Chapel Perilous.


John Higgs posted this picture to twitter the other day.

That book, to the immediate right of John's as you look, is Debt - the first 5000 years by David Graeber. It's probably the most influential - certainly the most widely read - academic text on money this century. The book's author is a leading light in the Occupy movement and currently an academic at the London School of Economics. Debt is certainly an important book for me. I've been studying money for a long time, so to see a book on money be so successful - and inspirational to so many - was hugely significant to me. The KLF Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds has also been hugely significant to me. If John hadn't written it, I wouldn't be writing this post. And - I don't know for sure - but I doubt Daisy would be running the fundraiser for the Cosmic Trigger play either. 

The strange thing is that John's book and David's book are connected, not only by the theme of money, but also by Cosmic Trigger. Part One of Cosmic Trigger opens with a quote from Nasreddin (Wilson spells it 'Nasrudin') a 13th century Muslim philosopher. His stories appear several times in the course of the book. The one that particularly appeals to Bob is the story of Nasreddin's donkey which questions the nature of reality and what we believe. The same tale appears in David Graeber's book (p.192) - albeit in slightly altered form - and again, Nasreddin's stories (Graeber spells it 'Nasruddin') appear multiple times. In fact, I liked them so much that when I read Debt I put up one up as a Money Wisdom quote on this blog.

The meta-themes, of questioning the nature of reality and belief - particularly as they relate to money - also link John and David's books. John suggests that the KLF's burning of one million quid set the scene for the global economic collapse of 2008 and so created the 21st century. David wants to bring about a new consciousness around money through a debt jubilee - not only will this help relieve the yoke of debt from the poorest members of our community but it will also he claims 'clear our conceptual baggage' around money and reveal it's true nature. 

Perhaps the person who put John and David's books together in the Cowley Club knew all this. Or, perhaps they just thought that two books on money should go together. Either way, if it had been me passing by that window I'd have definitely been reeled in with my wallet open. But then again, I'm not such a difficult catch. I'm a sucker for a bookshop with or without a sprinkling of magic in their window displays. I find the more chaotic secondhand ones especially attractive.

I picked up Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 in my local charity bookshop back in March. I read it unsure whether or not I'd actually read it before. When reading Cosmic Trigger a few weeks later then, I raised an eyebrow seeing Bob mention Billy Pilgrim, the main character in Slaughterhouse 5. Billy is someone who comes 'unstuck' in time and this is an experience Bob empathizes with. Billy also communes with aliens from a planet that can't be detected from earth. I loved that Bob, later on in Cosmic Trigger, slips in the recurring motif of Slaughterhouse 5 - 'So it goes' (p.101). I felt like he did that just for me.

Bob attributes the 'law of 23's' to William S Burroughs, who no doubt will feature in Daisy's adaptation of Cosmic Trigger (he was in one the excerpts staged at the Horse Hospital on 23/10/13). You'd expect Burroughs to sprinkle a few 23's in his work. So noticing that he wrote a short story called 23 Skidoo was unsurprising. But it did ring a bell with me. Eventually it clicked that 23 Skidoo, or rather Skidoo 23, was in mentioned a book I read long ago by the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith called The Age of Uncertainty. It's the true story of a remote town in Nevada called Skidoo 23; apparently the 23 refers to the number of miles that water had to be pumped over the mountains to get to the gold mines around which the town grew up. What happened there on 19th April 1908 (Easter Sunday) was the town's 'no-good boyo' murdered its most respected and upstanding citizen. As a result, a few days later - yes, on the 23rd April - he was lynched by the town-folk who later re-hung his body on a telegraph wire in order for the press to take a photograph. You can see the photograph and read the reports here. (While we're on matters of such morbidity did you know 23 Skidoo was mentioned in the Titanic inquiry? scroll down to 6341)

Anyway, so far so good. Joining the dots between books, finding literary references, the law of fives, and even finding that I had a nice, little, long-forgotten 23 tale buried in my head are things that arouse my interest rather than push me into a state of paranoia. Chapel Perilous was in the distance.

But I was about to get a good deal closer. Allow me to set the scene.

Since the beginning of the April I've been writing an essay with the working title 'The Messy Business of Conceptualizing Money'. Its an essay which, in various forms, I've been trying to write and subsequently abandoning for the last three or four years. I'm exploring the idea that property and possession are underscored by our sexual relations, and most importantly, how property, possession and sex relate to money and currency. It probably sounds a bit dry when I put it like that. But what informs my thinking on it is not only my study of money but also my experience doing something called 'naturalsex'. To cut a long story short, after studying at the London School of Economics, rather than go and work for a bank I decided to set up a sex site with my wife Sally, and her friend. We called the site naturalsex and we tried our best to make 'good' and 'real' pornography - whatever that means. 

It was a lot of fun. And we learned a lot. 

I came to see that the themes of sexual jealousy, possession, and non-monogamy are not accessible to the intellect alone, but need to be experienced and assimilated. The theme of visibility and invisibility was important too. The boundary between the private and public space was shifting for everyone because of the internet but obviously in revealing one's sex life online one feels that quite acutely. Perhaps the most important thing we learned is that you can't talk about sex without being sexual. This became very apparent to us from the media interviews we did. As objective, non-sexual, and matter-of-fact as a journalist tried to be, their own kink would always shine through in the end. And there was one particular word which was a dead give-away and everybody used despite it seeming a little out of context - the best of the journalists noticed it too. Sally and I would smile secretly to each other when people said 'Really? That's fascinating!' It became something of a totem for us.

So all of these themes - visibility, fascination, jealousy - come together with some ideas on Money and my experience of my yearly money-burning ritual, in the essay that I've been trying to write for the past three or four years. I've been quite pleased with my progress on the latest incarnation and I'm hopeful that I might actually finish it.

What's different this time is I've begun at the beginning. I've been studying the myth and reality of Gyges. For me, Gyges is the guy who invented money - in so far as he was the first king to mint a coin. He was a Lydian tyrant king living around 2800 years ago and he was, alongside his neighbour King Midas, associated in the minds of the ancient Greeks with the birth of currency. Myths have been built around both kings and passed down to us through the ages - making it easy to forget that they were both real flesh-and-blood people. We all know the one about Midas and his touch turning everything to gold. But for me, the Gygian ones are much more powerful.

The most widely known story of Gyges was told some 300 years after his rule by Plato. You may recognize some key elements from a rather more widely known story (although there is apparently no 'material' connection). According to Plato, Gyges - originally a simple shepherd - found a magic ring. This ring bestowed upon its wearer the ability to become invisible. The power of it had a corrupting influence on Gyges who quickly went to Sardis the capital of Lydia, killed the king, seduced his widow and claimed the throne. The myth is still discussed in Ethics classes to consider the idea that people will do, what they can get away with.

But that's not my favourite story about Gyges. Oh no. There is a much better one that doesn't rely on magic rings. It was written fifty years or so earlier than Plato's tale in the first factual historical record of events that we know of, by the 'father of history' Herodotus. And its kinky. Candaules the incumbent Lydian King had a very beautiful wife - we never find out her name. Gyges was Candaules most trusted guard and minister. What the kinky devil Candaules wanted most was for Gyges to see the Queen naked so that he could see with his own eyes - and so have certain knowledge of - how incredibly hot she really was. The trouble with his plan was that nakedness was taboo. So Candaules insisted that Gyges hide himself in their bedroom so he could get an eyeful in secret. Well, the Queen clocked him. She didn't say anything right away. Instead, she waited until the following day when she sent for Gyges. She told him that dishonored he'd her by seeing her naked. To recover her from shame, Gyges must make a choice. He could either be put to death himself, or he could kill the king and take the Queen for his wife. Gyges hid in the bedroom once more, but this time he killed the king in his sleep and so took the Queen and the throne for himself. A scene from 'The English Patient' tells the story brilliantly as does this picture by William Etty from 1820;

You can see that for someone, like me, with some strange ideas about sexual undercurrents in the origins of money this story is pure gold. Hence, my 'fascination' with the Gygian story and my 'belief' that Gyges invented money.

From the time that Gyges claimed it, Herodotus traces the lineage of the Lydian throne back 505 years. Prior to this there is a transition period of five semi-mythical figures the earliest of which is Heracles - or Hercules as we know him today. So, Herodotus tells us that the first king of Lydia was Agron in about 1200 B.C. and he was succeeded in a direct line, father to son, all the way down to Candaules who was the twenty-second king of Lydia. This, of course, means Gyges, the inventor of money, was the 23rd king of Lydia. 

That made me take notice. I was closer to Chapel Perilous than I thought. 

Those 5's in the 505 years of rule, and the five people in transition from myth to history don't really push Discordian buttons in the same way the a good solid 23 does. The law of fives wasn't finished with us yet, though. There was obviously some disquiet about Gyges killing Candaules and then marrying his widow. Its a difficult thing to brush under the carpet. So Gyges made a huge tribute of silver and gold to the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle then told him that his dynasty would be powerful, but due to his usurpation of the throne it would fall in the fifth generation. 

That fifth generation, Gyges great-great-grandson, was Croesus. It's not much in use today, but the phrase 'as rich as Croesus' used to be what people would say when they meant someone was extremely wealthy. Its first recorded use in English goes all the way back to 1390. The British Museum actually has one of Croesus's gold coins. I went to see it in February. You can't actually hold it in your hand - which would be amazing - but you can get pretty close.

Unfortunately for Croesus, the Oracle's prediction came true. The kingdom of Lydia did indeed come to an end in that fifth generation when Croesus was defeated in battle by Cyrus the Great of Persia (who, incidentally, attempted to burn Croesus alive). 

So all of this was very interesting for a student of money and a recent reader of Cosmic Trigger, like me. Spotting 23's and 5's way back in the origins of money - especially with kinky stories attached - that's right up my street. And, I thought, it'll make a nice post. Money being invented by the 23rd king since the beginning of recorded time, the cosmic trigger folks will love that.

You can tell though, I was still not really inside Chapel Perilous. 

It slightly concerned me that I hadn't gone looking for 23s or 5's, I'd just stumbled over them by trying to get a handle on the specifics of Herodotus's chronology. It was more like they'd found me, than I'd found them. But you know, Gyges being the 23rd king - is it significant? It was all a very long time ago. Weird things tend to hit home when there's some connection apparent to you, personally. There's nothing personal to me there. 

Then this. 

Herodotus mentions Archilochus of Paros whom he says, lived around the same time as Gyges. Archilochus was the odd combination of warrior and poet. I like those sorts of juxtapostions. My own twitter profile reads: "Money Burner. Professional Amateur." So instantly I felt a bit of a kinship him.

What follows are words that come from his mind via a scrap of papyrus through the skills of a translator and across 2800 years that had this money-burning fool, who obsesses about the relation between sexual jealousy and gold and would smile to his wife knowingly when people said they were 'fascinated', spread-eagled on the alter of Chapel Perilous for more than an open-mouthed moment.

These golden matters
of Gyges and his treasuries
are no concern of mine.
Jealousy has no power over me,
nor do I envy a god his work,
and I don't burn to rule.
Such things have no
fascination for my eyes.

(trans. Guy Davenport 1980)

Perhaps these words don't cock-slap you round the face in the same manner they do me. That's part of the point of it I guess. We all have our own unique reality tunnel and when the universe, past, present and future seems to flow down it and pulse out all over your life, it can create a bit of a mess. I mean I even got a clear picture in my mind of Archilochus sitting on a hillside surrounded by long grass and wild flowers writing his verse. I can't seem to shake that even now. The trick, Bob tells us, is not to really believe it.

That's good advice. 

Still. As far as Daisy's fundraiser goes, I don't really suppose that'd Bob would mind too much if, for just one night, you believed in the power of those 23's and 5's and their connection to money. After all, supporting the play financially will, in some way, help Bob achieve immortality.

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