Tag Archives: literature

Video Journal Episode 2

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth on the art of writing original philosophy (in the Nietzschean tradition), with insights into the creative process of writing a 3-volume work of literature, “The Constellation of Man.” Recorded August 11, 2017.

Included in this second episode:

  1. The big news that some excerpts are now online at my blog, Wisdom Dancer.
  2. the importance of failure along the way, or
  3. Why This Second Episode Took So Long.
  4. (Not) getting comfortable with failure in ambitious creative work, in which failure is quite natural.
  5. Lateral, associative thoughts versus too much deliberate planning, or methodology.
  6. Most written philosophy is boring.
  7. How I’m trying to let resonant images organize material according to a different intuition, which is counterintuitive to a systematic writer.
  8. … the occasional pause, and a bit of inarticulate meandering. Brought to you by sleep deprivation (also natural).

On Satire

Some comments on utilizing satire for social criticism (I think I’m qualified, having taken the genre to heart enough to write a 600-some page novel replete with it):

Listen to the wise words of absurdist-satirist presidential candidate Vermin Supreme, who was asked whether he wouldn’t have to raise taxes to fulfill his campaign promise to provide free ponies to everyone in America: “No, they’re free ponies.”

Satire of political economy is difficult when many genuinely think no further about economics than what they want, right now—and not at “what is not seen”* as Bastiat put it—but I think Vermin’s (feigned) assured refusal to get the question really nailed it. Vermin Supreme knows how to speak to, and for, (many or most) modern Americans.

Unfortunately, satire has no way to reach the people who don’t get it. It’s an unfortunate general weakness of social satire that the people who most need to get the joke are the people at whose expense the joke is made. Therefore it flies over their heads.

I remember much the same thing with the militarism of the movie Starship Troopers; those who found it just an enjoyable, thrilling action film romp (and those who didn’t, but also thought it had nothing much to say to them) are those immersed, naively, in a culture of normalized nationalist and imperialist propaganda.

Robocop had the same problem with becoming visible as satire to a generation raised on both absurdly violent films and cop-as-hero legends propagated by mass media. (Even recently, it’s unabashed in prolefeed like the CBS show Blue Bloods.) The mythology of police righteousness is only just now (I think?) becoming distinguishable, foreign and strange enough to be noticed—and potentially rejected—by a large number, instead of perfectly normal to the culture, and invisible as propaganda.

I love the genre of satire from an artistic standpoint and it can be very difficult to separate that affection from adequately, realistically measuring its effectiveness. I believe George Orwell, the writer of my favorite satire, had much the same problem. His favorite books included Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, and he felt drawn to expressing his own criticisms of automatic thinking (“the gramophone mind”**) collaborating with authoritarian impulses, in this form above others. It’s certainly entertaining to those who slyly get the joke, but remarkably impenetrable to those who do not.

Orwell’s intended preface to Animal Farm, rejected by the publisher, reflects some of his own ambivalence about satire. For there Orwell felt the need to render in explicit prose some of his intention, instead of letting the book speak for itself.

Personally, I know that I have benefitted from reading the implicit, humorous, artful criticism of satire all the more in the context of reading such trenchant, direct, and explicit statements and analyses, also.

Satirists generally forget that many of their audience lack education in the points necessary to understand the attack, and to fully benefit from the art of satire, much as abstract visual art speaks more (and more emotionally) to those who have some familiarity with its prerequisites. It’s no coincidence that the satirical novel evolved alongside the literary form of the essay.

PS. I’ve said so before, but I just want to append that an additional difficulty with satire is that inventing fictional exaggerations as means to mock reality becomes more and more challenging when extreme and absurd realities are already playing out. How do you skewer an intelligence chief who built himself an Enterprise bridge as a control center? How do you mock Trumpish narcissism?

* Examples of “what is not seen” (because these factors are invisible, or only appreciated on a delay, or on alternate possible timelines):
impositions upon other individuals and groups, opportunity costs of various relative priorities, financial costs and other unwanted and unforeseen outcomes like bureaucratic/state empowerment, loss of individual autonomy, decline or replacement of competitive services, and legal/regulatory burdens, and finally, alternate methodologies for actually obtaining desires besides demanding them by political dispensation, which may not actually work.

** “For all I know, by the time this book is published my view of the Soviet régime may be the generally-accepted one. But what use would that be in itself? To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.” — from Orwell’s intended preface to Animal Farm

Video

Video Journal, Episode 1

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth for updates on recent writing and insight into the creative process. Recorded January 10, 2016.

Included in this first episode: a little too underground; giving a name to my current project; uses of metaphor and archetypes; thinking differently about philosophy.

A Letter of Announcements and Retrospection

To readers of Promethea.org, followers of my Promethean writing online or in print, and members, associates, and well-wishers of the Promethean movement:

I have written you a sort of open letter, part essay and part story, instead of a spare announcement of my future plans. I feel that the announcements I have to make merit explanation, and that fifteen years since inaugurating Promethea.org merit a span of reflection also. If you will indulge me in digressions and recollections, I will communicate the background to these announcements in the manner of considerate but unflinching honesty which has delivered me to more answers over the years than any other method of philosophical inquiry. I have constructive steps to relate as well as cessations, and perhaps some commentary of general interest on the recent history of the internet, literature, and more.

– – – – –

The story of Promethea(.org) began in the late 1990s. The burgeoning internet was still compared to a frontier. Self-publishing online was a pioneering approach to putting words in front of others that required web design. The new-media futurists’ predictions held that the internet would change society, and indeed opportunities were changing appreciably. For me and for others, publishing and communication on the net held promise for a radical change. It seemed possible for a small budget, hard work, and the right talent to propagate new and transformative ideas. Optimism about reaching other people across the globe—formerly costly through conventional media, if not made impossible by the obstruction of media gatekeepers—did not seem misplaced. That the internet was implicitly built around the free exchange of information and founded on freedom of expression has often been asserted explicitly and celebrated by its first devoted generation of users. Today they invoke this primarily to reject censorship. Back then it very often also suggested various positive values, changes the internet could bring. (I don’t mean to overstate the difference in attitude. I acknowledge the marvelous exception in recent years of Wikileaks representing the promise of transparency as a positive value, by making independent reporting and whistleblowing famous.)

In that context, it did not seem to me unachievable for a small movement to snowball using the novel methods of access and communication possible on the internet and succeed by taking remarkable approaches, especially the movement I wanted to found on a well-considered philosophy.

First of all, the internet’s advantages seemed to offer an historic opportunity to change the world, an analogue to contemporaneity with the movable-type printing press—without which coincidence Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, et al. could not have spurred a Reformation (however one judges that outcome).

Secondly, with multimedia still a recent concept in the 90s, web pages also seemed to me to offer the same sort of opportunity that William Blake had once had for philosophical artistry integrating color visuals and text in the same space. (This led to my experiments with “illuminated” versions of principal philosophical writing, echoing the manuscripts once copied laboriously by monks.)

Thirdly, instant and inexpensive international communication could, in theory, link up individuals capable of spearheading a personal and societal change process. We could find each other for the first time, and work together.

Even before considering the web, I was fired up by a desire to change the world through individualism, free thought, and liberty, and I’d committed myself to the mission of writing philosophy in this cause, starting with The Promethean Manifesto in 1998. I felt compelled to help save the world from the crisis of civilization I predicted and feared if we continued to follow the same traditions of force and other folly. I knew that beyond simply saying “no” to them, the solution would be to supersede collective goals for so-called “society” with an enlivening hope instead: the reinvigoration of human potential in individuals, in the finest spirit of Nietzsche or Renaissance humanism.

I was experiencing for myself that indeed, the individual with spirit could step into a life greater than he’d imagined. I had proven to myself, in my own case, that once we understand that a constraint is not fundamental to our identity we can find a way outside it. We can unlock many doors with the right keys of knowledge and practice, for which we can search. I knew that it was possible to straighten up, and stand higher than before. I knew it was possible to become more than familiar walls allowed to their prisoner. In my joy I wanted to awaken others to unlocking the doors of their own painful cages or modest prison rooms. In the energetic pursuit of that ambition, I found joy reignited fiercely that very few get to experience. That too, I wanted to share.

I followed also the hopes of (classical) liberals—men of the Enlightenment on the Continent, in Britain, and America, and their successors—for “society” to loosen the grip of constructed social hierarchy, and let other men grow like wildflowers. (I had, at the very beginning, no knowledge of the obscure politics of libertarian “anarchism” and had to logically reinvent that particular wheel [of stateless society], which I think turned out to facilitate original and post-political thinking on the problem.) I was interested not just in broad strokes but in figuring out all necessary particulars, not only by acquiring knowledge that I could, but by inspiring the assistance of others to supplement deficiencies in my own reach.

To reach other people, I began to create what would be the internet’s first website to depict an original philosophy, in works designed from the first for portrayal on the internet—laid out for the web, but also to enable a living philosophy that could be revised, continually updated and improved, instead of remaining static on the pages of fixed and permanent books. I adopted the term Prometheanism for the philosophy I envisioned, and Promethean for the movement I envisioned.

– – – – –

I felt an acute responsibility, but from the beginning, the future of this movement was never solely in my hands simply because mine wrote down the founding ideas of Prometheanism. Responsibility would have to pass to the hands of hundreds of others also, before it could ever rest in the hands of thousands. I would have to begin by searching for individuals also able to take initiative and responsibility to push the snowball along.

I needed to find others who felt personal responsibility to ensure that we, the human beings alive in modern times, took the steps necessary to resolve the great problems that the dead bequeathed to us, and the myths they made us believe. But success in convincing others was never guaranteed. No one who tries a great thing can ever be sure of a favorable outcome from it, even with the greatest will to realize it. Worse, having spirit might not allow us to admit this, but when one must work with others and count on others, an apathetic failure is as possible as a glorious one.

From the beginning I made the argument however that the attempt itself is noble, and the challenge without peer. Some like myself would always feel it necessary, dictated by passionate sentiments of character, foresight of historical concerns and crisis, and duty. I have since come to realize the combination is too unusual to find in an appreciable number of others today, unless perhaps one has the means to search high and low. Perhaps because I underwent a rigorous, old-fashioned intellectual training like a boot camp—or more accurately, like an officer’s school—abdicating the duty before me never seemed an option.

Beyond this, it seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, that no other strategy offers a pragmatic alternative in the long term other than achieving the objectives of Prometheanism, broadly including Promethean education in some form, accommodation and maximization of our own natures personally and socially, and—following the method of giving proof of concept—eventually founding a Promethean society suitable to Man.

Even the best of the less ambitious and cohesive measures offer band-aids instead of cures. They suffer from failures of imagination; they misunderstand the pervasiveness of the entire interconnected problem of misshapen society, stunted culture, and unrealized potential of human life on Earth. Each shows preoccupation with different syndromes—political, social, economic, legal, moral, cultural, physiological, psychiatric, linguistic, intellectual, or so on—without seeing their necessary interdependence, and without a properly holistic idea of health to encourage. The worst measures, on the other hand, mistake Man or human nature for a disease.

I began to appreciate the gap that strangely went unfilled. It would ensure a disaster for civilization, but at some indeterminate, stuttering pace that left symptoms in its wake, to appear unconnected from their real causes. I was determined to make clear the need for a collaboration of perspectives that—remarkably—very few grasped even in part. I was surprised that the fragmentation of general education—I suppose—had left such an obvious historic opportunity for leadership still unfulfilled. I was surprised that Balkanized activists for every meaningful angle on progress, even those I respected very much, apparently lacked an unknown banner of humanism and civilization to tell them: respect one another, for your different insights and ways are needed. Since I could find no one else already assembling the campaign that I felt would ultimately be necessary, I had to be the one to pick up that banner first. I would have to count on others to follow.

The heroic cause of Man, also the cause of heroic Man, was a responsibility I was not reluctant to accept and I wanted to be counted among those who followed it, but founding the necessary movement myself was my last resort. I only undertook it once I understood the fatal limitations of existing kinds of organizations. Their principles were typically confined only to “issues” that concerned them, ignoring other essentials. Often enough, I found their organization or methods aped the conceptual problems they sought to oppose elsewhere (hierarchy or collectivism, for example). I realized that all the relevant efforts I could find would fail in the long term, or find only partial and temporary success. They would not solve the great historical problem by chopping it up for a more “practical” assault. Their recognizing only bits of it also typically excluded their own psychological deficiencies, and the acute challenge of facing them. I knew above all that whatever one could not resolve for oneself, one was always sentenced to impose on the world. Like Cassandra, I was not interested in pretending I knew less than I did. I could not find solace, as others did, in the illusion of partial measures analogous to topical remedies for holistic illness or watered-down remedies for serious illness.

Otherwise, I would have sensibly preferred to join whatever some others—perhaps better suited to motivation or logistics, perhaps already funded or famous—had already begun to mobilize, although I did become excited by the challenge once I committed to building a new movement. My reluctance was not merely due to the prospect of maximum personal effort and self-sacrifice, although it’s true that I would have preferred less than I would have to do in coming years. I would have also preferred volunteering philosophy and strategy as I pleased without trying to play the central role. As an introvert, the prospect of promotional exhortation elicited distaste. As introverts usually do, I preferred my work to sell itself instead of cultivating unseemly popularity to magnify it. Of course, at the same time I risked the usual criticisms of quixotism, narcissism, elitism, or iconoclasm which accompany all nonconformist actions of lone individuals. I reassured myself that I would soon find more extroverted co-leaders and convince them to step in front of me, so that I could apply myself to solving problems, offering guidance, encouraging, and facilitating success. Instead, I was obliged to try to overcome my aversion to making myself into an outspoken representative figure, with mixed success.

– – – – –

The work on Promethea proceeded from the earliest beta versions in 1998–1999. I thought and created, I wrote and designed and published, I agonized and second-guessed as only a perfectionist can, though I did not allow doubts to prevent proceeding as boldly as I could. Over the first few years, attention, praise, and dozens of supporters and members joining the movement encouraged me to think I was following a viable strategy, as well as the path that was necessary to me personally.

I do not mean to understate difficulties that were evident from the beginning, and indeed, obvious before I began. Indolence, apathy, vague misanthropy and pessimism have their fashion. It has always been easier to criticize those who act apart from the established groups and in unexpected ways than to act also, and expose oneself to criticism of the conspicuous. One may also expect that the existing terrain of ignorance and misconception raises more barriers than any deliberate enemies, particularly the modern landscaping, industrial-scale mal-education. Even the plainest counterfactual delusion may be more sternly protected by instinct, the deep-seated resentment against those who uproot loyally-held figments, than by rationalizations subject to argument.

But in those years I put all my determination, efforts and resources behind the movement. I communicated extensively with interested parties, and fielded a great many questions. I ambitiously expanded the writing projects I pursued. As much as possible, I wanted the principles to be in place for larger cooperative projects that could be organized in the future with more support. My concerted attempt at preparation for a larger movement would lead to writing about how we should be organized, later included on a website just for the movement (prometheanmovement.org).

I was concerned not only with growing the movement faster but also how to avoid expansion contrary to its spirit. Having studied or observed the fates of many other kinds of organizations and movements, I worried about making expedient compromises. After all, much attention Promethea attracted was from people who wanted to engage in narrow political philosophy or political strategizing, at the expense of self-development that would be more useful to them, and instead of applying themselves to creating things that could be useful to Promethea or the movement. I was concerned about giving the Promethean movement an exclusively political character, or subjugating it to alliances that would corrupt it. First, I felt that the world had enough politics and not enough civilization, civilizing culture, or civilizing institutions. Second, at the same time I was striving to make Promethean philosophy more holistic in consideration of Man, I was determined that the Promethean movement’s activism should differ from politics, and follow expressive, artistic, psychological, and educational avenues as well as sociopolitical avenues. Nonetheless, I evaluated various prospects for non-entangling alliances to address particular issues of freedom and individualism but not compromise our goals. Accepting the help of individuals who might otherwise differ on Prometheanism but could contribute behind the scenes as they felt common cause would be the smallest scale of this principle.

In the first years of Promethea obstacles and limitations, chiefly reckoned in 1) financial resources, 2) exposure, and 3) volunteers, seemed mere setbacks that even more effort or some alteration in tactics could overcome. If volunteer support proved more inconsistent and unreliable than initial enthusiasm, as has been my monotonous experience, it was reassuring whenever promising individuals appeared with a strong belief in the work or a desire to learn from it. If shoestring budgets seemed prohibitive, personal contribution kept the work going somehow, slowly. I awaited breakthroughs in getting the word out further and reaching the right people, knowing that more exposure could bring both more commitment and more resources. We had, I felt, not only a need and an opportunity to change the world, but superior “products” to offer in the market of ideas—if only we could get the word out to those who wanted to realize personal and social change (not “change” in the sloganeering of politics or self-help).

 – – – – –

But over the past fifteen years, various factors have combined to call the entire strategy (of online publication and organization, and of ramping up to definite goals) into question. I’ll summarize them at the risk of generalization:

  • The proliferation of the internet in its second generation of devoted users swamped messages with noise—and with the same old messages from monied, popular, and conventional interests. The second wave of users discovered, populated, and repurposed the internet for impulsive entertainment, social networking, and commercial advertising.
  • The usage profile of the internet changed dramatically along with the massive expansion in access—now nearly universal. The democratization of the internet marginalized content-driven use. Idealists, dissidents, and other unusual thinkers could once communicate substantive ideas to the first online generation, who would willingly read and frequently enough discuss ideas intelligently in forums or email at length. An atmosphere of frivolousness and indifference accompanied the incoming broader base of users. Ignorance amused with itself, attracted by distraction, seemed to outpace and displace curiosity to learn. I take this as a reflection of more numerous instead of better minds awash in the global flood of information.
  • No longer is it possible to build a special website and expect that interested people will come. Affordable promotional strategies that once worked will be lost in the now-immeasurable internet. Traffic is now an expensive matter of competition. Well-funded websites and networks have come to dominate because comparable investments are impossible for small websites—especially those with select audiences, struggling to afford ongoing costs, hardware and software updates.
  • Disposable content became typical of an internet culture obsessed with dynamism, obsoleting itself constantly through sheer quantity if not erasure, despite the technical capacity for retention of information. The old style of permanent web site acquired the dismissive label “static.” If civilization requires preservation, note well that net culture in its strangeness dismisses websites from the 2000s as old, and websites from the 1990s as antiques. Current readers expect nothing from “old” articles—from five years ago. Writing a retrospective for a website like Promethea is practically archaeology.

If the accretion of a movement suitable to promote the objectives of Prometheanism, such as Promethean education and eventually founding a Promethean society, could have been possible under these adverse conditions, untimely crises would soon make the efficacy of more core commitment or some alteration in tactics into moot points.

  • In September 2001, the cultural environment changed dramatically to one of insecurity and cruelty. The misguided overreaction to one attack would jeopardize far more than an attack could. Untrustworthy, colossal spy and war bureaucracies received blank checks and unchecked powers. Legal excuses were invented to redeem torture, pundits endorsed ethnic cleansing or genocide, and it was common to hear demands that contrary opinions be silenced, or prosecuted for treason.
  • Hostility and disinterest towards dissidents and social critics—at worst called public enemies, at best seemingly obsoleted by events—would mar the “war on terror” domestically. The proclamation of fearsome public crises like Terrorism and the “ratchet effect” of state power feeding on the psychology of crisis were nothing new. However, the timing was particularly unfortunate for recruitment by a young movement in need of open-mindedness and willingness to experiment in order to challenge the internal and social status quo. Defensiveness snapped shut the former (relative) openness to alternate ways of thinking. Former citizens of the world, discovering human identity on the global networks, reverted to territorial loyalties, nationalism, chauvinism, parochialism, bigotry, xenophobia.

It was possible at that time to observe familiar grounds for both contentious and productive debate on the internet re-fragment into camps that found meeting on common ground impossible and intolerable. One could watch polarization into oppositions: reactionaries and reactions to them. Dissidents who dug in to fight back also became embittered and consumed. The deepest corruption by politics being the occlusion of other psychology, I could not but think the disillusioned noble souls of the world were not only in danger from the powers they spoke against; more than ever, they were in danger of losing the best of themselves.

  • 2003, the year we launched a sister site for the Promethean movement (a “portal” designed to accommodate changes in usage of the web), was unfortunately also the year of the Iraq invasion. Hostility and disinterest toward criticism of the public narratives would continue. We who did speak out then were subsequently proven right, but the inimical environment would not recede for years to come.
  • It would first be obscured by a distracting change in public narrative, no less ludicrous and credulously believed, accompanying party-machine politics in the US shifting from red to blue and continuing with business as usual. Mencken’s guffaw has never been disproven.

For a combination of these and perhaps other reasons, the special cosmopolitan culture of the internet of the 1990s and before September 2001, an environment relatively welcoming of alternate ideas, would never quite return. The window of opportunity of having a unique means of access and education, a new printing press for a new literacy, had closed. The infrastructure, as it turned out, was the least of the opportunity.

It seemed to me that when the worst instincts of militancy and paranoia receded a bit, they left behind changed internet subcultures. They seem less often animated by common traits of curiosity and enterprise—and certainly, not so animated by shared optimism. It has been very difficult to say whether exhaustion of the internet’s once-special culture was due more to the great dilution by popularization, that inevitable spreading-out of the “cyberspace” frontier, or to the aggressive psychological environment of crisis that coincided with it.

Regardless, a young generation now uses the internet which retains no memory of relative quality over quantity, as well as no memory of a time in which dystopia seemed a fiction or an avoidable future instead of the unfolding present. Much has become typical that I once believed there was time to avoid and prepare to resist. Reality has outpaced warnings of dystopia to come, putting those with foresight into the awkward position of being right but too late, too few, or too much ignored when we could have made the most difference. Our best chance to wield the new printing press gave way to yellow journalism, rags and magazines, celebrity and lame titillation, noise and nonsense, but also to defensive politicization. Some have observed that in recent years the internet has grown more political, as though this were entirely a positive development akin to “waking up”; I do not agree that it is.

Inimical factors have no doubt contributed to the erosion of attention, support, and momentum that put the Promethean movement into a holding pattern. Attempts to reorganize and reinvigorate the movement have not succeeded. My own attempts to explore parallel, supplementary avenues for outreach and fundraising have not proven successful or sufficient.

– – – – –

I must also be candid here about the role played by my personal health, since it has interfered significantly with my ability to continue strenuous work habits regardless of my motivation, and sometimes reduced it. I have undergone two phases of health issues that interrupted my work. The first was a stress-related blood pressure problem that built up during the years 2007–2009, not coincidentally a period of burning the candle at both ends. The other was an indeterminate neurological disruption that has not ended.

During May of 2011, after months of near-constant visual work to edit a 150,000 word manuscript, I underwent terrible headaches, nausea, and virtually lost the ability to read. I began to notice extreme and exotic visual symptoms including light sensitivity, palinopsia, visual snow, flashing, and edge-tracing. (These symptoms eventually led me to pursue treatment courses used for persistent migraine aura, after scans ruled out other possible diagnoses.)

With practice, the scary issue of dysfunctional reading partially improved months later, thanks to the plasticity of the human brain to readjust to neurological damage. By autumn of 2011, I had reacquired enough visual focus to slowly and stubbornly struggle through the same editing. My headaches abated gradually over the next year or so.

However, to this day abnormal visual artifacts and sensitivities impair my visual system, which is easily exhausted. My working times must be brief compared to the marathons I once managed. Careful reading or editing is a strain. My vision remains unclear and imprecise due to persistent visual artifacts, like negative afterimages, that overlay my view of the world. I stumble with words far more than I once did, not least because my brain must sort out each line I read from the overlaid shadow-bars of those before it. I am more or less able to write, as long as I limit glare and other sources of undue visual strain, but I must make allowances for my visual cortex having good and bad days and weeks.

As a consequence, I must be more patient with the progress I can make on any project, and more judicious in expending energy. I have less patience to follow cluttered sentences and large paragraphs, or academic meander. I try to focus my limited time to read and write on the projects of greatest worth. I have ceased work on completing many unfinished articles and essays. I tend to consider whether what I write will stand the test of time, or otherwise deserve the investment. My love of words, writing, and intellectual interaction for its own sake has thus been tempered.

– – – – –

In combination with my personal health and other factors, the aforementioned insufficient financial support and disappointing volunteer support have meant that the Promethean movement cannot fulfill its original intent and ambition. The website presence cannot be updated as it should. The strategy of publishing my writing online to speak for itself and gather support (with limited promotional funds) has also not proven productive enough, after the “snowball” seemingly melted. For years it has no longer made sense to prioritize Promethea, always at my considerable expense in some ways, without a consistent return of attention among those I hope to reach or those I once did. My attempts to draw traffic with other initiatives have not succeeded so far. The sense of speaking to no one—or very few—has been palpable, even with some of my best work.

That is why I have finally decided not to pursue further projects designed to be hosted on Promethea and to suspend formerly planned additions and updates. As of this writing I have no plans to update or maintain Promethea.org further. I have no intention of stubbornness in this decision, and indeed acknowledge it only belatedly and with reluctance, because I feel I must. A return to the web is possible if circumstances seem more favorable, or opportunities can be made so.

I have for some time stopped actively furthering membership in an organized Promethean movement, although I plan to continue mentoring and teaching Prometheanism to some promising individuals who seek me out. I also plan to continue  ad hoc collaborations with members of the movement, without formal relationships and responsibilities. This will allow flexible and organic associations in place of stable organization. The latter only confers advantages if the scale of operations extends beyond one person’s ability to oversee them personally.

– – – – –

It is my task in this letter to relate my decision(s) and describe the ongoing state of affairs. However, I want to assure you that I have no intention of giving up on the larger game, so to speak. I plan to await future opportunities whenever they come, and prepare accordingly. I continue an adaption to longer-term projects with open-ended goals. These are no less ambitious but necessarily less definite. They require more patience, and will quite possibly only see fruition after my own time.

Close entwinement of hope with disappointment is oftentimes the lot of servants of human potential. It is impossible to ensure a result from worthy effort, spoiled to demand it, and irrational to expect it contrary to operative facts. If it is my lot to prepare for some historic opportunity that will only come to a future generation I will never get to meet in a time I will never see, I will try to accept my role to play as cheerfully as Nietzsche once did.

My work developing the philosophy of Prometheanism will not cease. I will continue to explore, create, and consider other possible avenues and media. I can at least ensure that my own creative output represents the cause of rekindling Man and civilization—for that cause deserves clarification and strengthening instead of neglect. I can do my best to ensure that the cause is not lost to all because it has been forgotten by too many. Of course it deserves more than I can ever give; it deserves the best of us.

– – – – –

Since 2004, my work of writing and publication online has sometimes been slowed or interrupted by financial necessity or overtaxed health. But I have also diverted energy to other writing, including:

  • The anthology Rising in Words (available in print), featuring the definitive essay on human progress in idea and reality, “Rising in Walls.” This picked up the theme of Balkanization in detail.
  • A book describing a revolutionary model for understanding the human mind and personality.
  • A book on the origins of hierarchy in human society based on research into the literature on psychopaths and narcissists, also warning about personal encounters.
  • A mini-documentary script about war, anthropology, and commonly misunderstood human nature.
  • A satirical literary novel called Pyramid of Babel (manuscript complete), telling an epic story of struggle against dystopia, as both a social and psychological condition.

I pursued these supplemental projects in part to bring my work to a bigger audience or a different audience. Most of them I intended for print publication, either through self-publishing or a publisher capable of marketing support.

The novel I specifically designed for both mass-market print publication of the book as a salable product and artistic or philosophical merits, instead of sacrificing one to the other. For me, it was never an option to subjugate art or ideas to sales, but I had no objection to sales and had great need of a way to make my work self-supportive. A broader reach for Promethean ideas (which I could then better promote) was also part of my thinking, and so I prioritized the novel.

I’m proud of the creative result. I’m proud of the ideas in the book, and that I managed not to drag down the art and craft of writing with mere ideological pedagogy. As for my strategy though, unfortunately I must report the timing has (once again) been inopportune, in this case for a shift from online publication to print. An artist ought not to create based on market research, but I have since deduced that the present is the most unfavorable era in publishing history for new authors to attempt to market substantive works of ideas or literary art. There are realities of the business that readers of books, acquainted with details about a few non-representative authors’ careers, are unable to appreciate. Pardon the digression as I explain what I mean. I believe that the plight of writers trying to create significant literature today deserves to be widely known.

Few with profound ideas in mind and the talent to write them out also grant themselves the experience of laboring for the years they need to perfect a magnificent book—building on preparation that begins long before. Most who do finish an opus discover that their prolonged anticipation of others finally reading and appreciating it was misplaced. For today, they struggle to have their work seen at all by literary agents and publishers, based on some tiny selection they are permitted to send, much less to reach the reading public.

It is difficult to convey such indecisive disappointment. The author is never allowed an entirely crestfallen resolution (unless he settles for some obscure press), but still the book sits, and no one sees it. A blunted book presses down many urges to create again.

A number of factors I will not enumerate here have led to a perfect storm of detritus in the literary world. A record high of manuscripts circulate, primarily of low quality, to which the gatekeepers for an indiscriminate market generally attach little value.

Typical gatekeepers include literary agents, whom authors must now use to reach most publishers. Many have the highfalutin vices of politically-correct university spawn. One can find repugnant talk about literature—reduction of books to demographic jargon, arbitrary specifications, or the “pitch”—in perfect doublethink with professing personal love of special books. An awful lot of agents seem to consider writing dispensable and interchangeable, not to be prized as literature—a marketable art—but fungible like coinage, as though one manuscript swaps with another in its genre.

All in all, in accordance with some corollary of Gresham’s Law for authors, low quality manuscripts in great quantity must drive the much greater investments that authors make in higher quality manuscripts out of the marketplace. Instead of trading unequally with the lowest entertainment, we authors must be tempted to keep high art to ourselves if we even trouble to write it.

Put another way—and I suppose I say so at the risk of sounding bitter, but I do say so—the literary industry or much of it is essentially abdicating from responsibilities to literature as traditionally understood. Too many gatekeepers have assumed they can only sell the miserable and regular supermarket-tomato cross-breeds of genre-fiction lines, the latest sprocket-widget assemblies of familiar tropes. Many seem unprepared to discern quality aside from professional craft inside these little boxes—but even that fails to explain the very bad writing one can easily find on the shelves.

The most obtuse gatekeepers attribute to authors the cachet of great literature because they sell well. They forget how much they select for the expectations of the market, and that the available English literature teaches each literate generation what to expect. Overall, it’s almost inconceivable that a great many of the high-selling singular classics of the twentieth century, irregular, original, strange and beautiful, would ever have made it past them.

Nevertheless, I will continue to pursue publication in print or explore alternate media as makes sense for each specific project. At most, anticipating publication shapes the form of my writing and the choice of projects I feel encouraged to pursue—the lure of readers having nudged me towards online articles once, and later to write a literary novel to be both artistic and marketable. The vector of publication certainly affects who will hear about my writing in order to have the chance to read it. A few success stories aside, it’s still very rare for either small presses or self-publishing without independent funding to match the exposure of major publishing.

That is the influence of publication. Otherwise, I continue quietly writing regardless of reception or appreciation. I think I usually manage without too many sighs and untoward complaints, even if I occasionally feel as remote from others’ notice as a nameless hermit.

I find that after any listless or doubtful fallowing of my creativity, at a primary level of encounter I come back to the writing I would create for myself alone—for my own inspiration, for my own experience, for my own understanding. I trust what comes when I listen closely to inner voices. I trust the process, not only the craft but also the more mysterious impetus from within. I believe in what I make as much as I believe in making it as well as I can. I write to clarify for others and to teach, but I do not write to satisfy anyone else.

It would be a great mistake to start, not only for the sake of what I write, but also for my own sanity and even for my own survival, according to some hierarchy of needs peculiar to the outsider thinker or artist. I depend on the honesty of the work.

My stubbornness in the matter of writing may be considered perverse by the financially-driven or socially-driven population. My writing will continue—must—regardless of publication or the means of publication, regardless of whether an audience awaits to notice or anyone stands ready to pay.

It would be misguided to entirely disregard others, and inaccurate to boast that I am untroubled by the opinions of others. But in the end I have to write not what others applaud or approve, but what seems to me important and most interesting, without too much concern for whether the work will come at my expense or (at best) remuneration will exceed penny wages.

I have nothing against profit and certainly prefer profit if it comes without significant compromise. But it seems to me that attachment to the work instead of the pay is the salient method to discern an artist or creator from an entertainer or employee. Likewise if an intellectual writes for remuneration by his university support structure, he must write what is acceptable to academic venues and cannot be free to think. A philosopher worthy of the name risks alienating others, and thus his own poverty. This lesson I learned first from Socrates.

– – – – –

While I have had mixed news to communicate, I am more pleased to finally share the following news about what I have been writing in recent years. I have been sketching out and filling out a magnum opus of Promethean philosophy in two volumes. Prometheus Redux is the tentative title.

Obliged for the reasons I have described to step back from the goal of organizing societal proofs of concept, I have turned to another task instead: creating a landmark philosophical and literary work designed for the all-around needs of those who would shoulder human progress, including self-development (as real progress must). Few would imagine it possible to assemble a work this ambitious, either. I hope to inspire intellectuals with proof that philosophy, literature, and humanism worthy of the words are not dead, and show that standards can and must be raised. I hope also to empower individuals in the future with the keys I have managed to devise, or to collect from the great and special individuals who inspired me, and guided me on my own path.

In writing these all-new volumes, I have created a successor to fifteen years of Promethean material—a synthesis of ideas from published work and the considerable amount as-yet unpublished, with ideas new to my readers. I have challenged myself to improve, refine, and go further than previous work, to try to create the definitive expression of Prometheanism thus far. The volumes of Prometheus Redux are named as reimagined editions of my first foundational works, The Promethean Manifesto and Anticonstitution for a Promethean Society, although these titles may change.

Vol. 1, The Promethean Manifesto, and Vol. 2, Anticonstitution for a Promethean Society, have changed since their last editions in 2003. The changes reflect considerable effort to develop Prometheanism since 2003, and a more precise understanding of the most pressing issues for Promethean philosophy to examine in present day. This does not refer to current events, but neglected and poorly-understood fundamentals of life. The new books are intended to provide a foundation of knowledge instrumental to personal transformation and cultural reformation.

In brief, these volumes will not only put forth Prometheanism as a philosophy, but also integrate the broad foundation of knowledge needed by the remarkable individual who wants to make human potential real, personally and in the world around them.

For one of the things I have learned over the past fifteen years is the ineluctable importance of fundamentals, or the realizations that should be fundamental. Pioneering advanced ideas and techniques among those who lack more fundamental ones is not possible. The unfortunate mis-education of our times—to ignore some important things, misunderstand others, and particularly to fight against oneself—remains a terrible and broad obstacle in the way of human progress. Those who have somehow escaped serious mis-education or clawed their way back out of brainwashing are as scarce as hen’s teeth, far fewer than those who believe they have.

I aim to address the problem seriously, almost from the ground up, by supplementing available modern resources for self-education and holistic education (Bildung). This new work will be my answer to the challenge of reorienting any enterprising reader so that change can happen for him or her, despite unlucky mis-education. Of course, my goal is not merely remedial, so I have also labored to refine insights at the cutting edge of self-knowledge and understanding.

  • The new Manifesto will encourage a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Prometheanism, explore essential inner experiences and the psychology of individuals, and suggest realistic steps for personal development based on fostering human nature and culture.
  • More than an argument for inner development, The Promethean Manifesto will offer a guide to human nature, reconsidered, and a defense of human potential against both its traditional ankle-weights and the fashionable modern abandonment of humanism.
  • The Manifesto will propose a new theory tracing the mind of Man out of nature. This model integrates evolutionary insights with cybernetics and complexity sciences to reform outdated philosophy of mind. It draws on personality theory, prehistoric anthropology, mythology, and more. (The case for this model will also be explored and brought to a different audience in a dedicated book for all intelligent readers curious about science or themselves.)
  • The new Anticonstitution will expand Prometheanism from the individual outward, into society. The Anticonstitution will describe a Promethean society that best reflects the realities of human nature. The Anticonstitution will expand the Manifesto’s discussion of culture to the networks of exchange essential to material and experiential life.
  • In addition to applying Prometheanism to the social realm and making an argument for connected individualism, the Anticonstitution will offer a defense of human civilization in an age of its casual and contemptuous erosion.
  • Readers of former editions of the Manifesto and Anticonstitution will also notice developments of style more akin to evocative myth or storytelling, and more conducive to meditation on ideas, as well as retaining the immediacy of a manifesto. This “MMM” style strives to state what most needs to be said elegantly and boldly.

I have not yet decided on how best to circulate Prometheus Redux, and I’m far from an estimate of completion. As well as considering print and web publishing, I have considered recording audio readings of key passages, and other options for dramatization. I will have more concrete details to offer in the future, and I hope to have your support.

– – – – –

I have always wanted to ride the edge of what might be impossible. Although once it seemed an opportune path, Promethea.org was soon faced with an increasingly unworkable set of challenges to overcome. I would like to offer my profound thanks for the volunteering and sponsorship that have aided the work at Promethea over the years—and to those who will no doubt support future trials and experiments which may succeed or fail. This is how we learn what is really impossible, after all. Anything assured is, of course, barely worth the ambition to do it.

The mentoring I have been able to conduct because of reaching some promising individuals through Promethea stands out in my mind as the greatest testament to the idea, which assumed the global internet could succeed or supplement the peripatetic method of the old philosophers, teachers, rabbis, sensei, without all the walking. Certainly, some of my finest experiences in life have come from teaching interested, intelligent, aspiring individuals who sought me out to discuss Promethean writings.

To all of you: more is possible. Never give up.

signed,
Phoenix / Colin Patrick Barth
written in the winter of 2013–2014

Some random writing about writing, and complaining about the writing business (or, what writers do on their blogs)

The original idea behind writing my novel Pyramid of Babel was to devise a converse of the usual single-protagonist-versus-the-system formula for a dystopian novel. (It sure did change a lot as it matured.) Today, vaguely echoing Jonathan Swift, I’m thinking about a new idea for a novel or short story: what if you dropped someone who expects the factors of a modern dystopia into a different and free (if not utopian) society, someone like an insufferably politically-correct political columnist? What would they spend their time complaining about, and what kind of window might it provide into that society?

OK, so part of me wants to write fiction again—this has to be the fourth or fifth story concept I’ve generated this year and kicked around in my head for a day or so. But only if an idea absolutely compels me will I give in and commit the personal investment to it. Taking the trouble to write excellent fiction is simply asking for misery in this market, which is all about gatekeeper agents looking for genres catering to masses of readers with awful taste, indifferent to quality.

Finding a home for a serious, important novel (like 1984) with a caring literary agent and publisher is a lot like winning the lottery. You’re much more likely to find a patron or patrons, in today’s environment. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t imagine a writer like Orwell who did something new and challenging becoming half as successful today. (1984 would probably be relegated to a sci-fi niche next to teen space vampires series, or something.)

If you’re not a writer at all, or you are an economically-fortunate writer of genre-fitting fiction, trust me, you think it’s easier out there than it is. This is not to say that there isn’t necessarily some good writing passed along the ruts on the bar serving the usual, nameable, marketable mix-and-match genres. But those of us who aren’t interested in dispensing with art and ideas in order to engage in a writing career are inclined to create different things. And we have reason to curse the immoderate influence that percentage-seeking “literary” agents, with all that implies, now have on the selection of those who will even have the opportunity to reach the desks of publishers.

I see the bestsellers, I see what’s “popular” (because many pandered and made it so) and what we’re charitably calling “literary.” I have some similar feelings about the business to those that many people began to have about record companies in the 80s and 90s, because of what they were doing to artists in the music business, and what popular music became, all so that the money could manage the artist and his/her process (and “the product”), and not the other way around, with the artist and the process driving the business end. They didn’t need to do it to make money, and in fact, ended up killing golden geese in various ways by eroding the special cultures of artists and enthusiasts with respect for artists. The publishing business is different, but it could learn a lot from the way the music business treated music and musicians as fungible, and presumed to tell the consumer that garbage was good—that counterfeit culture was great culture.

Some once-great publishers and once-great agencies have reason to be ashamed. (If you are not one of these, that’s wonderful. I congratulate you. I might very well want to work with you. But I can’t deny the obvious decline in standards.) It saddens me how many creative and insightful works may never be finished because of the economic disincentives to invest quite that much thought and labor.

To be crystal clear: I have no objection to making money at all, and I believe that literary agents and publishers provide valuable services and play valuable and necessary roles. Many both earn their money, and deserve it. And yes, the market is consensual (well, except for the corporate structure and law involved); no one’s making consumers buy the crap. However, the enemy of great art is my enemy, and I make no apologies for that. Also, dumbing down the culture, lowering standards, and counterfeiting artistic quality is a way to get on my bad side. Someone has to stick up for art in culture, and count me in as one of the volunteers.

In my latest non-fiction news (don’t get me started about the business prospects of non-fiction), I am coming close to finishing the rough draft of an eight-section series on various facets of extraordinary and potentially transformative experiences, such as revelations and other experiences with “spiritual” aspects. I’m looking forward to passing this along to my small group of volunteer readers for their feedback.

Though it will serve as part of the much larger grand-tour-of-gnosis book/series that I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, if I like how it turns out enough, I might just consider pre-releasing it as a standalone thing online; this bit is the epitome of relatable-yet-important philosophy, I think. Otherwise it will be a much longer time before it’s publicly available with the rest.

Some thoughts on showing writing

The process of working alone on a creative work for a long time can be such a strange one. Even stranger to emerge from those depths, and show any of it to someone else who has spent the time differently.

Three years ago, I  would have been talking about the uneasy prospect of showing a rough manuscript of my novel to beta readers after living with it for years. A year or so ago, I would have been talking about stepping away from working on the novel to the surreal experience of trying to interest agents in a literary epic instead of the latest mix-and-match genres, vampire immigrant experience biography or young adult fantasy memoir. Now, I’m not talking about either experience.

I’ve been thinking about a working group.

For a while, I’ve been thinking ahead to when I will want to show drafts of my next project, the non-fiction philosophy I’ve been working on, to a small number of readers. I figured this would be a good way to solicit valuable feedback, but also help me with catching errors, especially important for someone with a visual condition that can cause fatigue and omissions. (I developed a rare, unexplained visual-brain handicap called palinopsia during 2011. Among other things, it makes editing my writing more difficult.)

Screen shot 2013-01-08 at 7.07.18 AM

I have a better-defined idea now, though. I am thinking about a working group for perhaps five or ten of my best readers with whom I have communicated, who have supported my work in the past. I could always expand the initial number.

At first, I would occasionally send them selections, and get reactions back (if any): whatever they thought, whatever the work made them think of, basically anything at all. I wouldn’t send a lot at once, in order to ensure a short turnaround remained easy, and that focus would stay on one selection at a time. I would mostly be sending selections from my main project for the foreseeable future, but if I wanted feedback on other projects I might pass those along too.

Getting their reactions would help to stimulate ideas on my part, which is a very important part of the process.

In the future, I’d perhaps also ask them to deliberately look for errors in more advanced drafts. I know from previous experience with volunteers how most people are averse to serious editing/proofreading, though, so I think soliciting focused musings is an easier goal for a while. Besides, I currently have no projects ready for a critical magnifying glass.

Eventually, I would make an entire draft available for those with the time to read a whole manuscript.

The main perk for participants would be the opportunity to read some of my favorite material far in advance of anyone else. And of course, the chance to become involved and help make the work better, for themselves and everyone. As a perfectionist that is always my goal.

I want the work to be the best it can be, and I want people to obtain a special experience from interacting with it, and have their ways of thinking changed.

A fallowing time…

Here is an update for those who follow my work, and possibly wonder what I’ve been up to since I finished my novel manuscript, especially if they haven’t read my posts from earlier this year under the category of Philosophy.

In terms of writing, this autumn has been less productive than I tend to expect from my favorite season. So for me, November is all about getting back on track with the dual books of philosophy which were my focus for the first half of 2012 (and sporadically in 2010–2011).

Call them Gnosis and Praxeology for those who are familiar with those terms, and because I’m not going to go into their actual titles, back stories, or present aims right now. I will offer more information in time, and actually, I already have in previous posts you can find from the category link above.

In short, these two interconnected projects comprise by far the most ambitious attempt at a synthesis of thought & magnum opus I have made so far. I already know they will not be finished this year, but I think a reasonable goal is to have decided on the organization and division of their material into parts by the year’s end, and to have as much filled out as possible.

The organization of Gnosis is mostly finalized, which goes to show that one is far along. The precise organization of Praxeology remains a bit more up in the air, although the amount of quality material for it hasn’t lagged too far behind.

I am able to draw on notes and previous work collected over fifteen years, so there’s no shortage of material. The challenge is raising the standard in every way, and bringing disparate material together elegantly.