Well, I’m off to a conference today and tomorrow about branding nations – should be fascinating, might well post about it – so an early morning post, written on Sunday. It’s today for me, yesterday for you, so one or other of us is travelling in time. Whoah…
Anyone, I was pottering round the flat wondering what to talk about, when I noticed my copy of Theodore Roszak’s ‘Flicker’. Now that’s quite a book; it’s actually more interesting than Marrakesh, which I found out when I went to Marrakesh and couldn’t stop reading it. So what’s so great about it?
Well, it’s the only Gnostic conspiracy thriller that conclusively demonstrates that cinema was invented by the Cathars in the Fourteenth Century while also rewriting the modern history of cult movie making that you’ll ever need to read. Put simply, it rocks like a bastard, and everyone should have a copy. Go buy now!
OK, now you’ve been to Amazon, or your alternate book seller of choice, let’s ponder why it’s so engaging. It’s not just the taut, gripping writing or the fascinating conspiracy that’s unveiled – it’s the book’s roots in Gnostic thinking, which reflects back in so many interesting ways on how we live in the world now.
Gnosticism was an early variant of Christianity, suppressed (I think) in the 5th Century BC or thereabouts. The Gnostics radically recast Christian cosmology, understanding this universe to be the flawed creation of the Demiurge, a kind of fallen sub-god who mistook his own partial divinity for absolute god-ness. His mistake trapped the sparks of light that were our eternal selves in the flesh.
Hence, this flawed world – essentially, it’s the physical expression of an almost-almighty egomaniac’s wildly self-indulgent power trip. Our basic mission in life is to transcend the meat he’s trapped us in and return to eternity, leaving his flawed creation behind us. Of course, that’s an incredibly reductive and simplistic take on Gnosticism – but as a working definition, it’ll do.
What’s interesting is the extent to which Western popular culture is now built on an implicitly Gnostic worldview. The flawed material world / ideal conceptual world duality exists everywhere. It’s most evident online; as Erik Davis points out in ‘Techgnosis’, virtuality’s desire to escape meatspace is a directly Gnostic attitude.
But it’s also evident in our broader culture. My conference tomorrow is one part of it. Brands exist within an idealised world, one that points up our daily imperfections and promises escape from them. They’re simultaneously unreal, and more real, than anything that’s physically present around us; platonic ideals that we aspire to reach but never quite can.
That sense of an unreachable, perfect world that – if only we were good enough – we could reach pervades our world. It’s present everywhere, from our shared hunger for celebrity lifestyles to our destructive political preferences for a dream of the Middle East.
Though looking back over that, I can’t help thinking that I’m being unfair to the Gnostics. Back in the day, they felt that achievement of the Pleroma was an escape from illusion, not an escape into it – the reverse of the examples I’ve given above. So perhaps our real problem is not our desire to transcend but rather our inability to do so, as we remain as tangled as ever in the great false nets that the Demiurge – that most lethal of failed gods – has thrown out to perpetually hold us back.