Tag Archives: Pyramid of Babel

Twenty. (An anniversary retrospective.)

Today, May 20th, marks the anniversary of my life’s work. Twenty years ago, I set myself to developing a philosophy that I called Promethean, or Prometheanism. Today, composing Promethean philosophy is still what I do.

But many things have changed. To explain some of that, I feel like I probably have to set the stage just a bit.

When I started in 1998, I was writing with the internet audience in mind, which was then select, relatively-educated, and worldwide. Back then, online publishing was a frontier that required web design. It was before blog software. It was before social media sorted everyone within their culs-de-sac. In fact, the usual types were hand-wringing about the “digital divide” of access, not-yet universal, seemingly unaware that mainstream crowds can ruin anything special. Back then, many people actively surfed the web looking for interesting, random, and challenging reading, as well as stupid humor. (That was always there.) Scattered individuals who were motivated to learn and interested in a better future were excited to have the means to connect and congregate. I was unapologetically talking to this forward-looking elite—of all ages, socioeconomic classes, and origins—who were looking for enlightenment, and eager to participate in a renaissance.

Promethea.org maelstrom

The “maelstrom” theme I designed for the Promethea.org web site in 2000.

I wrote and published multiple articles and essays on the web, and especially created novel, illuminated presentations for a website called Promethea, including The Promethean Trilogy, which began with The Promethean Manifesto, the genesis of all Promethean writing of mine. I worked on e-books/series on subjects like the economics of liberated society, critiques of naive faith in democracy, the importance of typical philosophical errors, and prospects for ending war. One goal was to try to build a cross-disciplinary Promethean movement.

You see, back then, with enough talent and very little money, you could create and publish, and people would come. Intelligent people would read it, and converse with you. You weren’t competing with billion-dollar corporations for mere seconds of attention from millions of eyeballs. It was a promising time, but it didn’t last very long.

As of 2004, when everything unique and thoughtful was getting lost in an interminable internet, I began to shift my emphasis to writing paper books, instead.

Photo on 2011-12-22 at 06.02

Checked-off proofreading edits in a printed draft of Pyramid of Babel, December, 2011.

I spent about seven years, on and off, on the great project of writing an unpublished novel, called Pyramid of Babel. I’m proud to say that Pyramid of Babel turned out both provocative to the conventional tastes and temperaments of those who follow along in society—as a novel of ideas ought to be—and unique, as I think a great novel ought to be. It did not fulfill my goal of breaking in as an author, however, so that I could get other books out there. If I had known the dire state of the industry, its rigidity of genres, its sanctimony, and its gatekeeping by agents, it’s possible I would never have adopted that plan—prioritized the novel, bet on success, and sacrificed so much as I have in order to create it. That would have been a shame, artistically.

Pyramid of 5 Aspects of Pyramid of Babel

I made a Pyramid of the complete draft.

Along the way, I also finished and self-published a collection of essays in 2008 called Rising in Words.

I also wrote a lot of material for 2 or 3 important but unfinished nonfiction books. The lion’s share consisted of 1) research to flesh out a cybernetic attractor model of personality and mind, while 2) working to articulate it with the wonder and clarity of the best popularized science writing, so as make it understandable to as many interested people as possible—the closest thing to a user’s manual of the human mind I would ever try to write. I don’t work on it consistently these days, but I have plans to do so again, when the course of writing The Constellation of Man leads me back to the part where I have to work out how to communicate these same mental attractors that we all demonstrate.

Another batch of work laid out my sociological theory of the anti-social origins of conflict, not in Paleolithic human nature, but in historical-era hierarchical institutions, which empowered psychopaths and narcissists. (A subject also intended for a vid-doc script on Myths About Human Nature and War.) Part of the argument would be an evolutionary one, accounting for the presence of these sub-types. And, a perhaps-separable book built on overlapping research would emphasize psychopathoid personalities in modern society over their origins.

At some point I began writing some entries on this blog, Wisdom Dancer. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I needed a place to talk about process, and journal, and vent, basically (as opposed to my “real” writing). I did all that of elsewhere, first, and then gradually migrated here. Happily, I left social media behind.

Currently, I write material primarily with The Constellation of Man (formerly Prometheus Redux) in mind. This evolved from early efforts in The Promethean Trilogy to invent new kinds of philosophical literature, better able to tell a story about reforming and rekindling humanistic values. (Actually, Nietzsche beat me to it.)

thinking-through-philosophy-tpm

February, 2013

I have many emotions as I look back on twenty years of personal history as a philosopher, a creative artist, and a dissident.

I have thought and written across boundaries—for instance, between social criticism, philosophy of science, humanistic psychology, cybernetics, anthropology, political science, history, education, epic literature, and mythology, with enthusiasm for fusion. I’ve held no more regard for artificial academic boundaries than the artificial boundaries of government, or moralism, or collective divisions, which I have repeatedly written against. As a result, I have often found that I fit nobody’s expectations, and fit in nowhere; and that I make impermissible, unpopular arguments. I do not regret it. Taking sincere advantage of freedom of thought is highly likely to have genuine social and economic costs, not only in facing off with institutions and conventions, but with herd-minded people, and those simply ill-equipped by their institutions to recognize (and value) a wider breadth of thought than their conventions. Again, I do not regret it.

The large majority of what I have written remains unpublished—some of importance, unfinished. The weight of potential hangs over my work, as I do it; I rarely have the satisfaction of completion and feedback, and have never had the feeling of success. It was not a journey I embarked on for attention or reward, although I intended to have more of an impact. It has certainly not been a journey I have continued because any project has, so far, really accomplished what I set out to do. These days, I often have to think that I write for the future and not the present. I continue because the work itself compels me, or needs me. It still fascinates. It still frustrates. I could say that I continue to write because I am a philosopher, and I cannot be someone else.

I can, all at the same time, appreciate that I have made much progress over the years as a writer of philosophical literature. Mastery does not come easily, and it is never finished. Abilities and efficiency go through ups and downs, not continual improvement. But once in a while, usually by sticking it out through many trials and errors—as well as through the marvelous leaps of imagination—the writing does play out as it feels like it was meant to, and fully satisfies even the perfectionist in me.

I will always have mixed feelings about testing the lines between epic accomplishments and impossibilities. I cannot be satisfied with less, in any case. I will always have that kind of ambition.

Regardless, I figure that twenty years of shouldering responsibility in a cause I am truly proud of, and have never compromised—and 20 years of labors, undergoing some immense challenges—well deserves a bottle of Lagavulin Scotch whisky. So that will be my toast tonight. No lamentations for what might have been.

Inspiration for Pyramid of Babel

This is a thrilling time for me. As I finish up the last edit on the manuscript of my novel Pyramid of Babel this month, I find myself thinking back over the often difficult, sometimes exhilarating process of writing and editing.

The journey of conceiving, creating and evolving the background, structure, story and characters was surprising in many ways. I learned an enormous amount about what I myself wanted to convey, as well as how best to achieve it, and more appreciation for the art and craft of storytelling.

One interesting aside—at least, I find it interesting—is that I’ve probably learned almost as much about storytelling from analyzing filmmaking and thinking about writing scripts as from fiction books. And my influences and inspirations for the novel were cinematic almost as often as they were literary. Take this partial list, for some idea:

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • Brazil directed by Terry Gilliam, and other Gilliam films
  • Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott (cyberpunk future film noir! I was influenced by classic film noir, too)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Ray Bradbury’s short stories and Fahrenheit 451
  • Idoru and other stories by William Gibson
  • The Third Man directed by Carol Reed
  • Darren Aronofsky’s film Pi
  • David Mack’s Kabuki series
  • Greek, Biblical, Gnostic and esoteric mythology, and traditional stories
  • traditional epics like Homer’s Odyssey (especially for intricate internal structure and references)
  • the Robin Hood legend
  • They Live directed by John Carpenter
  • the film Run Lola Run
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  • Jack London’s Enemy of All the World
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron

Other major influences: internet politics and conspiracy theories, real-life events and politics (especially since 2001), clubs and underground subcultures, dystopian-aesthetic music such as Haujobb’s Freeze Frame Reality and many more, and lots of reading I’ve done in philosophy, economics, social thought, etc. And the real city of New York, of course—my main setting, or at least New York as I’ve re-imagined it 75 years from now, sort of a cross with Washington DC.

In the end, to fulfill my ever-changing ambitions for the book would stretch a few years worth of obsessive work over 7 years. It would attempt to maintain accessibility of visceral moments and familiar concepts but deepen them with layers beneath to reward the reader for investing attention and thinking about the book, and add some real intellectual meat from time to time by introducing ideas that might be unfamiliar to readers (from perspectivism, to complexity sciences, to Austrian school economics). It would take a form originally based on short-story vignettes to also encompass epic literature’s complexity, breadth and cast of characters.

It would draw upon, recombine and even reverse some conventions of the dystopian storytelling tradition, political satire, black humor, and the cyberpunk sci-fi genre and other genres, as well as experiment with some original ideas (original to my knowledge, at least). As time went on, the background work I did emphasized future technology less, while symbolism and mythology became more central, in keeping with my preference for science fiction as future myth—really about introspection, human psychology and spirituality— instead of geek fantasy with technological toys.

Ultimately I discovered that to realize an experimental vision for a novel of ideas that was up to productively-high philosophical standards as well as my artistic standards for originality and craft was more challenging than I ever imagined. I almost didn’t pull it off. There were many times I doubted the project or my ability to do it justice.

Fortunately, I was tenacious and—although I took time off to work on several other projects as well, such as Rising in Words—kept returning to it.

I didn’t give up on fulfilling everything I wanted to achieve and I believe I have finally done so. It’s immensely gratifying to be on the other side of that struggle and to be proud of the result. I hope readers get half as much out of the experience as I have.