THE YORKER ISSUE 10
Cover art by Rei Yatomi (@esmirei)
OUR MAGAZINE MAKERS On the Words: Catherine Coleman, Laura Cox, Jack Harvey, Sarah Lisgo, Benedict McElroy, Caroline Middleton, Allie Nawrat, Ben Pearson, Sophie Reaper, Richard Tester, Frances Treveil On the Cover: Rei Yatomi (@esmirei) Magazine Editor: Rebecca Fletcher Deputy Editor: Nicola Choon Design Editor: Nicola Choon
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For more great articles on everything from news and politics to television, visit: theyorker.co.uk
Brocken Spectre: The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui by Frances Treveil
On the Quality of Television Programming by Benedict McElroy
The Case of the False Séance: An Unlikely Feud Between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini by Ben Pearson
Illusion of the Individual by Sophie Reaper
The Trinity of Illusion by Caroline Middleton
Interview with the York Branch of the Women’s Equality Party by Allie Nawrat
Creative Writing: The Future of an Illusion by Richard Tester
Sophistry and Illusion: Why You Should Read Because You Want To, Not Because You Should by Jack Harvey
Hedy Lamarr: Not Just a Pretty Face by Catherine Coleman
I’m Afraid of The Teletubbies: The Macabre of Childlike Animation by Sarah Lisgo
There is No Free Choice by Laura-Autumn Cox
THE BIG GREY MAN OF BEN MACDUI by FRANCES TREVEIL
he mystery and power of mountains and the fact that they are ultimately unconquerable means they harbour many tales. Insular communities enclosed by fortresses of rock have their own legends and superstitions. Ben MacDui in the Cairngorms, Scotland has its own story of a ‘Big Grey Man’, mentioned in literature, well known by locals and even covered by national press – the Daily Mail loves evidence of supernatural activity. Written accounts of an ‘otherworldly presence’ and an ‘eerie crunch’ date back to 1925. Like most folk tales, ‘Big Grey Man’ has its roots in real experience. Keppel Cove in the Lake District, originally inhabited only by sheep and their shepherds was long thought to be cursed by the people of the nearby village of Glenridding; anyone who stayed in the valley went mad. Yet from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century it was home to the largest lead mine in the area. So, it seems the traditional folk-tale and fear of the valley came down to one thing, cumulative lead poisoning - known for causing a range of neurological symptoms.
Similarly the Grey Man of Ben MacDui can be explained by an optical illusion first noticed in Germany on the Brocken mountain, named the Brocken Spectre. When in cloud or mist, low level light can fall behind a person, or indeed any other object, causing their shadow to refract off the water vapour in front of them. At first sight this can appear to be an enormous figure standing on the next mountain, which can move very suddenly as the clouds shift. The different distances of the water particles confuse depth perception; therefore the shadow seems bigger and further away. Rings of light surrounding the figure add to the ethereal atmosphere. Once explained this phenomenon has been reported on mountains around the world. Even if the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui has its basis in this trick of the light, this doesn’t explain the sound of footsteps heard by many lone climbers on the summit, or the sense of being watched, experiences that have been reported time and time again.
ON THE QUALITY OF TELEVISION PROGRAMMING by BENEDICT MCELROY
be meeting new people. You could be doing all manner of manic dance moves in front of your cats to see how long you can hold their attention.
large number of programmes on TV nowadays are devoted to the inane. There’s not much to be gained from sitting in and watching Storage Wars or Celebrity Big Brother. Like the quite reprehensible genre of music called ‘easy listening’, these sorts of shows are ‘easy watching’. You are not prompted to think or anything similarly taxing. Just sit back and revel in some unmitigated ‘reality’.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s always an opportunity cost to watching anything on TV. But the kind of programmes that I think are at least worth watching have something interesting to say about real life. Don’t mistake the misnomer ‘reality TV’ for an accurate description; they offer a trite glimpse into exaggerated, staged phenomena, most of which are performed to grab the attention of the voyeurs. The programmes worth watching are those which say something about the deeper human condition, or offer a commentary on life or society. Even David Attenborough’s programmes say something about how we humans live, comparing and contrasting with the many varied and wonderful species’ ways of
‘Television’, etymologically, means ‘seeing at a distance’. I think I’d rather keep certain things at a distance, if I’m honest. There’s something else though, apart from the content of these types of shows, which I find disturbing. It’s the fact that they have a significant opportunity cost. That is, you could be doing something far more interesting or worthwhile instead of having the good old ‘easy watching’ experience. You could be talking to your friends about something cool. You could
living. It can really make you stop and think about the normative conventions we take for granted as constituting the way life is lived; life can be lived any way you want it to be.
themselves. Actors are deliberately trying to do the exact opposite of that in their roles. As for Gaz…
Concerning illusion: it is notable that the TV which actually offers something worthwhile is, ironically, often fictitious. Yet great drama like The Wire does not try to deceive by producing a false or misleading impression of reality’ (of course somewhere I was going to define the word, ‘illusion’). Rather, it tries to offer points which echo those experiences of life we find most perplexing and emotive. Death, bereavement, relationships, success, failure…they have been covered in myriad ways on TV, yet they will continue to be covered as long as people still enjoy being transported to another world and drawing parallels with their own lives, loves and experience. A large portion of reality TV is illusory, however. As said before, it creates exaggerated, staged versions of how people live their lives and tries to pass them off as accurate depictions. Just look at MIC or TOWIE or Geordie Shore. They explicitly state that some scenes (read: ‘most/all’) are made for dramatic effect and are not real. These shows are more illusory than Game of Thrones. It doesn’t matter about the setting. The trials and tribulations of Jon Snow or Arya Stark are far more interesting and make me think more about my own experiences than those of Gaz Beadle or Amy Childs. They offer more than the veneer of life presented in those shows. They offer snapshots into the darkest, most real moments of the characters’ lives. The characters have no way to filter or present a false depiction of
There are differences of opinion on what constitutes a good TV show or a bad one and I can accept that there can be a case made for any show having properties which one can use to parallel or to inform one’s experiences in life. TOWIE for instance is not that far removed from a soap opera, and soaps deal with the trials and tribulations of people’s love lives and health scares etc. on a regular basis. I don’t want to be a snob about these things; I used to be an avid follower of Neighbours and Hollyoaks in my younger and more vulnerable years. But that was when I came home from school and I would as a matter of course switch the TV on almost from when I set foot in the door. And it would remain on until shortly before going to bed. Thus, to conclude, let me say a few brief words. Tempus fugit, which means ‘sometimes, f*** it’. And in light of that, carpe diem, which means ‘on the carpet, daily’… ahem. What they actually mean is, essentially, don’t waste all your free time watching rubbish on TV. If, however, you do watch, watch well and watch wisely.
THE CASE OF THE FALSE SÉANCE: AN UNLIKELY FEUD BETWEEN SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE AND HARRY HOUDINI by BEN PEARSON
t is not often in history that two famed individuals come to meet and share a lively friendship. In 1920 the enigmatic and skilful illusionist and escapologist, Harry Houdini, met the author of the greatest series of detective books to date, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The two of them had a characteristic in common that seems to be bizarre to people today: a strong conviction in Spiritualism, a belief in paranormal activity and a life after death. Unfortunately, this shared interest in spiritualism would also prove to be responsible for the destruction of their improbable friendship.
he suffered a great tragic loss that he started to rely on Spiritualism as he sank into a deep depression. It became the subject of his book The Land of the Mist and he even debated the sceptic Joseph McCabe at Queen’s Hall in London arguing for the claims of Spiritualism. Soon after the publication of Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, a Hungarian immigrant in America by the name of Erik Weiss started performing as a trapeze artist at 9 years old. He was soon to be known as the great Harry Houdini. Focussing on card tricks he managed to make a name for himself, but not finding enough satisfaction here, began to move into escape acts. After making a name for himself in 1899 on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, Houdini dreamed bigger. He toured Europe the following year. Nothing could prevent this man from wriggling free of imprisonment: handcuffs, cages, chains, even a Siberian prison transport van, all failed to keep the escapist imprisoned. Houdini dreamed bigger. There had to be something that could keep him trapped. In 1913, Houdini attempted to escape a Chinese Water Torture Cell. He did. In
Conan Doyle initially studied as a doctor from 1876 to 1881 before eschewing this life and turning his hand to writing. It was only in 1887 that he published his first book A Study in Scarlet and from here embarked upon a successful career as an author of detective mysteries. During this whole time, however, Conan Doyle had always had a deep interest in mystical subjects. In 1887 he joined the Society for Psychical Research and was also initiated as a Freemason the same year. It was only during the First World War though when
In 1924 Houdini published A Magician Among the Spirits, where he discussed his many outings with spiritualists and outlines why they were frauds. He was merciless. No one was safe and everyone was eventually exposed. Yet Houdini’s respect for Conan Doyle remained. An entire chapter was devoted to the man himself; albeit much about Conan Doyle’s blissful ignorance of the subject.
1912 he attempted to escape a straitjacket whilst suspended upside down from a tall building. He did. In 1915 he attempted to escape being buried alive. He did. Whilst going on these shows, he was away from his mother when she died in 1913, a moment in his life so devastating that he sank into a depression and turned to Spiritualism much like Conan Doyle had done. However, after attending several séances who alleged to communicate the words of his late mother, he was able to debunk them all. He exposed them of pulling tricks on patrons whilst the lights were down, employing accomplices to make objects move in the dark or quite simply lying. Houdini was outraged. These mystics had tricked him and exploited his grief for financial gain. Houdini turned against Spiritualism and spent much of the rest of his life undermining it, proving it to be entirely false.
Unlike Conan Doyle’s dramatic tales and Houdini’s mesmerising tricks, their friendship never came to a climactic end. They were real friends who tried their best to navigate one another’s beliefs in order to get along. Houdini stated that, “it is impossible not to respect the belief of this great author who has wholeheartedly and unflinchingly thrown his life and soul into the conversion of unbelievers. Sir Arthur believes. In his great mind there is no doubt.” It is simply futile to try and convince his good friend otherwise. Houdini never found himself drawn to Spiritualism to expose it for its lies; rather, it was an attempt to find peace due to his mother’s passing. Houdini longed to hear her words one last time. There was no reason for these two men to try and convince one another of their respective beliefs because they both found Spiritualism in a time of hardship. Houdini was not able to find it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle relished in its mystery.
“Unlike Conan Doyle’s dramatic
tales and Houdini’s mesmerising tricks, their friendship never came to a climactic end.” Houdini continued to perform his daring tricks and whilst on tour in London met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1920. The two became good friends. Yet it was to be a tentative relationship at best. After viewing these escapes, Conan Doyle believed that the only explanation for these tricks was that Houdini himself was able to wield the powers of the supernatural. Houdini believed this to be farcical, dismissed it and continued his crusade against Spiritual rogues, much to the upset of Conan Doyle.
ILLUSION OF THE INDIVIDUAL
When the weight of the world becomes just too heavy to bear, we all need a way to escape it all. by SOPHIE REAPER
©anna gutermuth. 2009. https://flic.kr/p/7f3f95
obs. Education. Responsibilities. We all have something in our lives that at times becomes so stressful that we cannot put up with it anymore. That is why we each have our own individual illusions, a chunk of our lives that remains completely separate from whatever it is that we sometimes need to get away from, the thing that we can crawl away to at the end of a difficult day and put the trauma behind us for just a short time. It’s a magical place where we can forget all about the torturous obligations of “real life” and for a brief period drift around in the glittering illusion that life really is easy…
“..we are able to focus on what
happens in their distorted version of reality, hence forgetting about the crappiness of our own. What a prospect.” For many, becoming engrossed in a book or television series is a fantastic way to forget all about what is happening in their actual lives; they are instead submerged into the lives of the characters whilst the plot duly unfolds. I honestly believe that this is where the worldwide obsession for reality television stems from, as by following the life of Kim Kardashian, the relationship of Geordie Shore’s Gaz and Charlotte or the endless cheating allegations found in Made in Chelsea, we are able to focus on what happens in their distorted version of reality, hence forgetting about the crappiness of our own. What a prospect. As you might expect, not everyone has such a positive approach to this concept. Rather than read a book or watch the television, some people create their individual illusion with the help of their friends; alcohol and drugs. By taking these substances, people are able to not only escape briefly from reality,
but instead completely forget about its existence. Inhibitions are lowered and any responsibilities become inconsequential. It could be argued that this has the same desired effect as any other preoccupation one might select, but the problem arises as the addiction takes hold. As this intoxication becomes second-nature, so does the illusion created to distract them from reality. Their actual lives remain for a while, but the bigger the addiction grows, the less attached to the real world they become. Only after it is too late do they eventually realise that the illusion these substances create are not sustainable, but by this time their reality has crumbled around them and they are left almost always unable to salvage anything of their life previously.
reality has always gone straight out the window, and full-blown Sports Fan Sophie has taken over. Everything I’m angry or upset about at that time is converted into determination to win, and for the time I remain in sports-mode, the stress of reality is instead just fuel to my fire. I’m so thankful everyday for my parents (but mainly my dad) for introducing and developing my love for sports. He has always been my biggest supporter, and whether it was taking me to training, competitions, Bolton matches or even to watch the 2012 Olympics, it was through sport my dad encouraged me to forget the stress of my actual life and instead flourish in any sporting environment I ever decided to partake in. Sport is, and always has been, my individual illusion.
“Obviously we must face up to our own reality at some point, but what’s the problem with taking a breather from real life every now and again?”
For me, the escape from reality was always sport. Whether it was watching and supporting Bolton Wanderers FC play every other Saturday till I moved out and came to University, playing for every sports team imaginable at high school (and taking it way too seriously by the way) or Long Jumping with my Athletics team for Town and County. Sports has always been an unrivalled factor in my life, and whether I’m watching or playing, you can bet that
Some people might say to you that escaping from reality is a negative thing, because it means simply ignoring the problems in your life or ignoring the truth, but let’s be realistic, sometimes we all need to forget some of the things the World throws at us. Obviously we must face up to our own reality at some point, but what’s the problem with taking a breather from real life every now and again? By maintaining our own illusions of a simpler life, I think it makes it a little bit easier for us all to hold on to perhaps just a tiny fragment of our sanity.
THE TRINITY OF ILLUSION by CAROLINE MIDDLETON
llusion is a staple of humanity, our ability to reason and therefore find the ‘unreasonable’ inevitably contorting our perceptions, both in optics and thought, into illusions. Clark’s Vanities of the Eye explores how our preconceptions of real and fake could morph into physical reality: the witch craze and its bounty of possession, faked possession, bewitchment and good and evil magic was the product of the Reformation, which put issues of faith into a visual framework. Idolatry, the material and colour were typical of Catholic worship, and their use of exorcism was proof of their deceptive inferiority. It was a performance put on by the priest, a visual illusion trained to expel a non-existent demon or unknowingly trick a young victim into thinking they were cured. This Protestant view was supported through its ‘purity’ or, in translation, comparatively bland, form of worship. In stripping Christianity back to the barest visuals, one could ascend to the syncretic Hermetic, Cabalistic and Neo-platonic heights of heaven and move closer to God. Indeed, Neo-Platonists believed that
our descent into the material realm was a necessary process in order to uncover divine intellect, and therefore to reascend with pure, untarnished faith. They wanted to free themselves of illusion and of the physically attractive qualities of Catholicism that blocked such ascension in distraction and visual seduction: into a vanity of the eye. Applied to contemporary philosophical thinking, illusion is a contextually relevant, perhaps even vital, element of early modern life due to its practice in magic—the bridge between religion and rationality, or as we call it, ‘science’ - a foundation of art, medicine and belief. Magic in this sense does not relate to physical manifestations of miracles or the impossible, but manipulations—illusions. The focus on water in Renaissance sculpture was popularised through the illusion that could be obtained by contorting the marble using ‘mechanical magic’. Alchemy was practised by contemporaries in the early-modern period to their cultural and intellectual benefit, and highlights
their strong belief in the prevalence of illusions on earth. Turning base metals into gold was an occult pursuit by scientists to manipulate the physical properties of the original metal to a more economically desirable form. The science of alchemy was practical as well as theoretical, their experimentation with substances developing modern chemistry as we understand it today. This consequently made alchemists more advanced than physicists at the time, whose work was based heavily on observation. Alchemists were investigating the transformation of properties not only to attain gold, but also medicine, with famous names like John Dee, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, garnering large swathes of sponsors and sums of money in the pursuit. The only illusion was the belief that it was possible to manipulate metals into completely different physical properties, something indicative of how magic was intermingled with faith as well as scientific practice, and clarifies popular belief that magic and its illusory force were a potent influence in the material world.
executed for declaring that the sun was the centre of â€˜the universeâ€™ and not Earth, and that space was expansive and neverending, because it rejected established faith. Faith, both religious and magical, was a depending appendix of science: one could not exist without the other, though itâ€™s three elements could be visually represented in a defined trinity structure, which appealed to the numerically focused Cabalists, who enjoyed looking beyond superficial illusions and discovering interior meaning. Clark in another work mentions how the Cabalistic trinity focused on the angelic, heavenly and earthly, which establishes the various denominations of ascension. Three was the important number in penetrating the illusion of God, seen through his creations (us) and discovering holy truth.
Three was the important number in penetrating the illusion of God, seen through his creations (us) and discovering holy truth.
Modern perceptions of illusion were the makeup of early modern understanding, as discussed with the manipulation of water to make inanimate objects animate, just as the makeup of our own modern understanding was viewed as illusory nonsense in the Renaissance: men were
Progression was not smooth and consistent, and proof of what are now accepted scientific facts were met with hostility and suspicion, because they rejected contemporarily rational rules of magic. It was a melting pot of intermingling beliefs rendered grey in an increasingly complicated philosophical world. Rationality led to debate, and debate poses the question of our perceptions, illusions, which religion aimed to eradicate, but which magic and science bolstered through their manipulative methods. Illusion was very much a part of Renaissance life, utilised by contemporaries to the benefit of their art and architecture.
INTERVIEW WITH THE YORK BRANCH OF THE WOMEN’S EQUALITY PARTY The existence of the Women’s Equality Party suggests that gender equality has not been achieved in the United Kingdom. Allie Nawrat interviews the York branch of the party about current gender equality issues in Britain and how the party aims to deal with them.
by ALLIE NAWRAT Who are its founders? The Women’s Equality Party was founded by author and journalist Catherine Mayer and broadcaster and author Sandi Toksvig. Catherine suggested founding such a party during a debate on women in politics at the Women of the World festival last year, and when she talked to Sandi about it, it turned out she’d be considering the same thing! The first meeting of the emerging party was held on 28th March 2015, and Sophie Walker was chosen to lead the party on 22nd July. What prompted its foundation last year? Women make up 51% of the population, but are still hugely under-represented in politics, the law and business, among other sectors. There are more male MPs at the
moment than there have ever been female MPs, and at the current rate it will take 70 years for the gender pay gap to close. That such a situation still exists in 2016 means that something needs to be done, and that’s why the party was founded - to continue to press for gender equality, and ensure it remains top of the political agenda. What are its main aims? The Women’s Equality Party will be fielding candidates at all elections, including for the upcoming London mayoral election, and so one of the first objectives is to get party candidates elected! The aim is also to engage as many people up and down the country as possible, and this is being done by the starting up of regional branches. This has been so successful that we already
have over 45,000 members.
“Although the aim is gender equality, it is women who are currently underrepresented and marginalized in society.”
The party’s first policy document was released last October (if anyone is interested in reading the whole thing, it’s on the Women’s Equality Party website), and the objectives are split into six main sections: Equal Representation, Equal Pay and Opportunity, Equal Parenting and Caregiving, Equal Education, Equal Media Treatment and End Violence Against Women. They might seem like broad aims, but within each of those sections are specific policy points to ensure they are achieved. Perhaps one of the most important calls is for equal representation in parliament: with women’s voices being heard equally in the halls of power, and women in charge of making government policy, other changes will follow that will benefit women. The Women’s Equality Party urges all parties to agree to make two thirds of their candidates female for the next two elections. If they did this, the country would have an equal parliament by 2025. Other important policies include sexual consent education at schools and universities - in a society where one in four students have been the victim of unwanted touching or groping, better sex and relationship education is vital.
society. An equal society will benefit all, for example by breaking down the gender norms that say dads can’t be househusbands, but ultimately it is the lot of women in society that needs improving. WEP is a party fighting for a society that values women just as much as men and allows them the same opportunities, and thus it has to be called the Women’s Equality Party, even though the end goals will be to everyone’s benefit.
Although your party aims for gender equality, why is it named the Women’s Equality Party? Although the aim is gender equality, it is women who are currently underrepresented and marginalized in
“I think there’s a belief among many people that women have it good in Britain, and so there’s no need for feminist action anymore, but I couldn’t disagree more.”
What persuaded you personally to get actively involved? When I heard about the founding of the Women’s Equality Party, I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be involved in. I’ve always been fairly politically active, with a strong interest in social justice issues- I marched against the raising of student fees, for example- but none of the existing political parties attracted me, largely due to them being overwhelmingly white and male. I felt like the objectives of the WEP matched my own feminist beliefs, and I wanted to see it become a genuine political force in this country. I think there’s a belief among many people that women have it good in Britain, and so there’s no need for feminist action anymore, but I couldn’t disagree more. Obviously we’ve come an awfully long way, and globally speaking women in Britain are of course very well off, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. Women are the majority of victims in cases of domestic abuse and
sexual assault, are under-represented in almost every section of society apart from low-paid work, do the majority of unpaid caring and are bombarded everyday with air-brushed images of perfection that they can never hope to live up to. My mother said she hoped that the things she fought for wouldn’t be things I would have to fight for, but unfortunately we need to keep fighting. I hope that we will have won the war for the next generation. (Emmie, Third Year History Student)
“At a political level, equal representation in parliament for women, as well more MPs who are disabled, LGBTQ+, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic, will mean that more voices are heard and better policies for everyone are implemented.”
Now onto the gender equality issues in Britain. What are the main obstacles to achieving gender equality in Britain at the moment? I think that the media, including social media, are a big hindrance, since they shape the public perception of women and the perception of what it means to be a woman. Women are rarely on the front pages in positions of power or influence in society, but are always in the tabloids or on Instagram as objects of desire. Young women have so few positive role models in terms of politics, science, the arts… Yet there is an over-abundance of Instagram celebrities encouraging them their appearance is everything. I think equal media treatment and representation would be a huge step forward to instigating real
cultural change. At a political level, equal representation in parliament for women, as well more MPs who are disabled, LGBTQ+, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic, will mean that more voices are heard and better policies for everyone are implemented. (Emmie) Obviously this is quite a long-term programme. What is the party hoping to achieve this year? We are currently running several campaigns. One of these is about pushing David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn into committing to equalizing parliament by 2025, using the measures I mentioned above. But probably the main thing that we’re working on is fielding candidates for upcoming elections. This has involved a huge fundraising drive, since finances shouldn’t prevent someone who would be a good candidate from standing. How can people get involved both in York and the national party beyond simply joining? Aside from joining the party, there are several ways to get involved. There are petitions on the website (www. womensequality.org.uk) that people can sign, to do with things like an equal parliament and flexible working hours. But probably the best way to get involved is by coming along to one of the local branch meetings. We are holding a cinema event on 19th March at City Screen for people to come to and meet other branch members, and I would encourage everyone to come along. We’re a very friendly group, we promise! If anyone wants any more information, we have a York branch Facebook page, or people can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CREATIVE WRITING: The Future of an Illusion by RICHARD TESTER
Our Emperor’s new clothes
The Emperor stands bare, clothed by air, and his grey lowlands drift gentle in the wind like one rusted pendulum. Objects, a ceramic pot dressed in calligraphy, a set of soft soldiers crafted by hard Arabian hands, and a quaint quilt dipped in milk, pass under his gaze in the marketplace. He, too, is on display. “Behold our Emperor’s new clothes!” his entourage exclaim, daggers hidden under their red velvet garbs, brown boots stalking their leader’s bloated form, teeth chatter with anticipation. And as his hairy back turns, as the light ripple of fat quivers with memories of his movements, they move in for their kill and reveal their hidden steel. Jewels and nipples freezing before bystander eyes are suddenly bleeding after quick stabs of knives. The illusion shatters as the Emperor screams. He is naked. He is man. He is dying. He is ended.
Analyst ponders the numinous
Red Iranian carpets cover a divan by his chair, its speakeasy walls are cushions lax and piled high. Strange bronzes adorn the shelf behind his bald head, symbols of Hellenophilia and, perhaps, occasional delves into the Orient. Last night’s dream signified an underlying power play between yourself and your colleagues, negative psychic energy built against newfound status. Laughing at this fast gyration, you stop when a harsh seriousness crumples his brow. The interview turns, whilst the doctor inhales another mouthful of cigar, to the matter of religion. The nature of religion is akin to a collective neurosis, a need for comfort and order in a painful and chaotic world. Ritual, the expression of faith, comforts as the neurotic symptom comforts. The source of that faith that pulls one away from rationality, into that deep loch of the oceanic, has no explanation. It seems a call for the foolish, for safety in illusion. His existence is devoid of numinous experience, so you know what he says is untruth.
Memory of an aunt
A saying is oft said by the folk of my town about those old mystics: they are found only where you are least likely to find them. On that coldest of winter days, my friend and I visited our mutual Aunt Cassie. Tall and bubbly, Aunt Cassie would cook us many good meals. Mash, cocoa, gingerbread… they make our memories fragrant still. That day, when frost plasticised the tarmac and kids rode snowed hillsides, we went down to her, fingers warmed by mittens and necks tightened by wool scarfs. Wrapped as we were, like sausages in bacon, our walk was more of a waddle and it took us great effort to ring her doorbell. It had not the chance even to sing its normal ding-a-ling-a-ling before she swung us through the door, laughing her laugh and speaking her jokes. A visitor, she told us, from a distant land elsewhere had come that day to take us. Shoved into Aunt Cassie’s living room, and with no time for a puzzled reply, we faced a figure twice her size, cloaked pitch black. It blasted Aunt Cassie’s insides out. Reddened, we did not run as the figure’s face ignited with visions of universes too real not to blind. Landscapes littered by endless pyramids of corpses, whole worlds blued by oceans of carnivorous flowers, stars crashing into nameless beasts that rattle cosmoses. Then he showed us the truth of our world, that we are nothing more than conjured figments. We are words, letters. Shadows. We are our author’s terrible game. That is how my friend and I lost our way… how we were confined to this demonic place.
The nature of illusion
“Much has been written about the nature of illusion. It has become a cliché to say that it is delusion, that it is religious belief or ideological possession. The Red Guards and inquisitions were all maddened with illusions, it is said, in their pursuit of purity. The dream of a New World and teleological progress for peace and God. Mao, Marx, Moses, and so many others were mystics, casting spells of false consciousness upon the masses. The humanists and scientists of today claim to stand above this, to possess an objective gaze, an irreligious spirit. This is the highest state of illusion. It might even be the final state of illusion. There is no Enlightenment solution, only eternal criticism. Indeed, we may only be freed from illusion when, after we’ve all died, the Lord arrives and explains to our bones all that was and all that was not.”
©Kate Ter Haar. 2013. https://flic.kr/p/dRpekF
SOPHISTRY & ILLUSION:
WHY YOU SHOULD READ BECAUSE YOU WANT TO, NOT BECAUSE YOU SHOULD by JACK HARVEY In the very last lines of his Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, David Hume concludes that we should abandon any literature that relies on argument without empirical evidence. Ending ‘Section XII: Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy’, he writes: When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysic, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, Hume’s reproduction of
his unpopular previous work, A Treatise of Human Nature, explains, among other things, his argument for philosophical scepticism, asking us to ignore arguments that do not have the backing of empirical evidence and take reason down from its divine position as the guiding force of our moral and philosophical thoughts. Neither dogmatism nor the willing belief that nothing whatsoever can ever be true or false, are helpful. Thus, books that witter on about metaphysics and other things that require faith, hope or the suspension of belief should be binned rather than read. But maybe Hume’s instructions are mistaken. On Christmas Eve I met with an old school friend in a Waterstones coffee shop, where we talked about books, learning, philosophy, money and leisure over a warm drink and a toasted sandwich (coincidentally one of the few things that I can cook myself). Oliver Holdsworth
quoted Hume over his latté but said that Hume had gotten things the wrong way round. It made us think a lot about the way we read and learn, and it is on his idea that I want to dwell here.
©Abhi Sharma. 2006. https://flic.kr/p/dELbZF
Why read the classics? Why read the books that people hold in high esteem, the books that are bestsellers or the books that lay the foundations for future movements and schools of thought? Most critics would say that these books contain great ideas, thoughts and insight; but it’s futile to read a classic novel simply because it is classic. The authors did not dedicate their time and money toward their work simply to have someone recommend them in a dusty bookshop somewhere, or to have their portraits hang on classroom walls. People sometimes read classic works for no other reason than to say that they have read them. What does that show? One should read a book because one wants to read it. I once asked a teacher and literary reviewer for tips on memorising works of poetry and plays, motivated by the selfish desire to entertain people over drinks or to demonstrate my worldliness. He said that most of the time, profound lines of poetry that he has digested come to him in the most mundane of places, at the back of a bus or in the queue to the train
station ticket office, and reciting poems there prove to be the best places in which to remember them without a prompt; but the words come to him because they are profound, not because it is profound to be able to remember them. I soon felt embarrassed that the only reason I wanted to be able to effortlessly regale friends with little lines of Shakespeare and Wordsworth was to seem clever and make people smile. Sharing good work and making people feel happy are virtuous things and I enjoy them, as we all should, but it’s intellectual dishonesty to have memorised lines of poetry for the sole reason to impress others. Hume’s case shows us what is meaningful and what is meaningless, providing a formula for literature that we should read and literature that we should ditch. But we cannot commit anything to any flames without having read it. We should first select the books that we would like to read, read them and think. If we conclude ourselves that Hume was right and that they are indeed full of “sophistry and illusion”, then we “commit [them] to the flames” without the need to finish them. We should not be forced to continue them because it is said to be good or clever of us to have read the book. When we are not required by the rules of a university course to read a book from cover to cover in order to comment on its content, it’s more important to have gained something from a book than to have read it.
HEDY LAMARR: NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE by CATHERINE COLEMAN Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Alexander Fleming. These names are known far and wide for their discoveries and inventions which have had a great impact on the human race. However, the origin of perhaps the most important technological development of our age can be found in the most unlikely of places. Born in Vienna in 1914, Hedy Lamarr made a name for herself as one of the leading actresses in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Starring alongside leading men such as Clark Gable, James Stewart and Spencer Tracy, Lamarr’s image was immortalised on film as, in the words of director Max Reinhardt, the “most beautiful woman in Europe”. But beneath the illusion of glamorous screen goddess lay a far more interesting story than Hollywood could ever dream of. Lamarr was first married in 1933 to Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy arms merchant. The union soon turned sour due to Mandl’s controlling and abusive nature, and Hedy fled his grasp to make her name in Hollywood. Her disastrous marriage did, however, provide her with an understanding of science which would
prove vital a few years later. During the early 1940s, Lamarr decided to use her scientific knowledge to help the war effort. In collaboration with composer and inventor George Antheil, she developed the ‘Secret Communications System’. This manipulated radio frequencies, creating an unbreakable code which would hide the contents of classified transmissions from enemy personnel of the Axis powers. Although this invention was not used during World War Two – in fact, it was first used for the US Navy during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – its essential structure became the basis for what may be the most important invention of our time; it has formed an integral part of the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. After more than half a century of virtual obscurity in the scientific world, Lamarr and Antheil were finally inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. While Hedy Lamarr’s name may have faded from popular consciousness in the decades since Hollywood’s Golden Age, her legacy continues to affect our lives to this day.
I’M AFRAID OF THE TELETUBBIES: THE MACABRE OF CHILDLIKE ANIMATION
©saraewood. 2006. https://flic.kr/p/a9i78
by SARAH LISGO
he Uncanny Valley, a concept first proposed by Masahiro Mori in 1970, explores the ways in which the human mind responds to animations that appear to be almost human. Almost - but with just enough faults or inequalities to cause revulsion, uneasiness, or full scale fear in its recipients. However, in order to fall into this category, the subjects must be human-like, such as a humanoid robot or zombie. In fact, it is rather interesting to look at the opposite end of the spectrum in regards to film and TV animation, such as those involving characters so blatantly inhuman, but behaving in human ways, which, intentionally or not, can achieve a far deeper level of anxiety than the former. A particularly successful method of reaching this emotional response is by creating a visual relationship between childhood and adult experience. This can be by incorporating childlike animation
techniques with adult themes of horror, sin and violence. Why is it that films such as Team America caused me to feel slightly ill? Or why, as a child, did certain episodes of The Teletubbies have me running around the room in a trauma-induced frenzy? Perhaps it is something to do with this intrusion of adult themes into the nostalgic and familiar territories that our mind never intended to connect, forming the illusion of safety which exists only to be tainted.
“There have been an abundance of TV shows made with the intention of arousing the amusement of children, which instead resulted in recurring nightmares lasting into adulthood.” 22
David Lynch’s Rabbits (2002) is an avant-garde film involving actors in human-sized, clothed rabbit costumes. Anthropomorphism is a very common trait in children’s television, yet the slow motion of the characters, the inappropriate audience gag-reel and the dialogue without mouth movements are enough to unsettle any viewer that is not a complete monster – that’s before we mention the theme of demonic possession running throughout. Despite this, the major visual themes are not too dissimilar to children’s animation, begging the question of whether we would find this anywhere near as unnerving if the rabbit costumes were subtracted. Claymation is another common phobia for viewers of all ages, yet when paired with adult themes like heroin-use, the effect is even more striking. William Burrough’s The Junky’s Christmas (1993) is even set in the festive period, tapping into the viewer’s fond memories of childhood. Despite the inability for characters to be confused with actual humans, and thus lacking the necessary requirements to enter ‘Uncanny Valley’ territory, the monochrome filter and unusual movements of the characters – such as shots of their feet walking – or jittering – down the street are just some examples of what makes this short film so visually intriguing. There have been an abundance of TV shows made with the intention of arousing the amusement of children, which instead resulted in recurring nightmares lasting into adulthood. The forms of CGI and puppetry are prevalent in cases that terrified young people, perhaps due to the absurd and unnatural mimicry of movement. The Lion and The Bear clip from
The Teletubbies, which I’m sure we all still see in our sleep today (am I projecting?), caused so much controversy from the soundtrack, unnatural movement, and voices – which follow typical horror tropes – that it had to be replaced with a new, more child-friendly version. Courage the Cowardly Dog, popular for its mild-horror themes and as the root of much childhood anxiety, used low-budget CGI to create some of its most memorable uncanny moments. This includes the episode Perfect (2002) in which the infamous blue creature with a human-like face and a disfigured body, appears in Courage’s dream. The sharp pitch of the violin accompanies the sudden appearance as the creature, with wavering eye contact, whispers softly; something any grown, hard-faced man who has seen the world would not cease to find horrifying, not to mention a child. So what exactly is it about the combination of animation and adult themes that causes such repulsion? Surely, by logic, the more realistic the scenario, the more realistic the fear. Or, according to Sigmund’s Freud’s theory of ‘The Uncanny’, “the uncanny experience occurs…when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression…in the realm of fiction many things are not uncanny which would be so if they happened in real life.” Real-life animation such as stop-motion, puppetry, or even CGI (providing that it is life-like enough), exists both within our childhood complexes, and in the realm of the physical world, hence evoking this disturbance. It is a trend that I have learned to appreciate with age.
THERE IS NO FREE CHOICE by LAURA-AUTUMN COX “So,” said my A-level Philosophy teacher as he scribbled across the whiteboard, “What exactly is freedom?”
to wish that I hadn’t said a word. I didn’t reply, but at the same time I didn’t change my mind.
We’d been studying free will and determinism, and the more I thought about it, the more I began to convince myself that free choice was something of a myth.
The first thing which had made me question the idea of freedom was personal. I was born into a Christian family, and as a toddler I was baptised. This was something which really troubled me. I’m aware there are worse problems to have, but in the context of freedom, I really felt like my own personal wishes had been bypassed for that of the church and my parents. When I decided that Christianity wasn’t for me, I couldn’t go back and change it. I didn’t have the luxury of time travel. It boiled down to this - because I hadn’t been able to form a coherent opinion about my family’s religious persuasion at the age of 1, the choice was made for me.
“Freedom is an illusion,” I said, to the dismay of my teacher. He looked at me pointedly for a few seconds and then crossed his arms. “Then what,” he said gravely, “is the point of anything?” I didn’t want to argue with him. He had studied Philosophy at Oxford, and I wasn’t about to take that on. I was beginning
“Freedom is defeated from birth, as humans are socialised into restrictive cultures.” Baptisms aside, there are also issues with the word ‘freedom’ itself. The Oxford English Dictionary describes freedom as “the power to act, speak or think as one wants”. Freedom denotes an absolute ability, a completely unhindered choice. Of course, no choice is without consequence. I might want to down a bottle of wine after a bad day, but it’s never going to do me any favours. I’m free to make that choice, but actually it is the bad day and the physical existence of the wine which breeds that decision. Freedom is something of a God-like quality. Mortal beings can’t ever experience total freedom, because life is a chain of events and consequences that we often have no power over. Freedom is defeated from birth, as humans are socialised into restrictive cultures. These cultures are not actively restrictive, but by existing as narrow parts of a whole they are naturally limiting. In western society for instance, to take a particularly emotive example, it is completely unacceptable to commit incest. The imposition of a certain moral code on the individual alters who they are. It changes their decisions. Over time, these cultural and social expectations have changed, leaving some members of society totally out of the loop whilst another system evolves. Marrying one’s cousin was totally okay at one point in time, as strange as that seems to us now. It’s not just relationship codes which impinge upon the individual. A human being born into a society ravaged by plague who has
no access to modern medicine is far more likely to seclude themselves. Alternatively, a member of a medically advanced society is more inclined to make the choice to go to hospital. And yet, even these choices may be futile. There are many instances in which survival is, contrary to what Bear Grylls might say, not a choice. I’ve argued that freedom is an illusion from birth, but it might even be argued that this happens even earlier. Transsexuals often describe themselves as having been born in the wrong body – they have no freedom to choose which sex they were born with and thus their physical body provides a prison for their true selves. Yes, they can choose to change their body with surgery, but in the scope of human existence that ability is so very new. Biology can very much dictate a person’s life through the simple application of gender. It is almost impossible to bring a female child up in the same way as a male child. The male child will be brought up in preparation to be a man, and likewise the female child will be trained to be a woman. It could be seen as incredibly odd to surround a girl with the same toys, the same environment, or even the same activities as a boy (and vice versa). I’m talking as a female who quickly decided that trains and dinosaurs were more her thing, but even those interests were the result of exposure that I had no initial choice over. They were the product of my environment and my genetics.
“Four years down the line, and my view is the same. Freedom is an illusion.” I will now do something that I tend to
avoid as a History student and call on the powers of science. During the 1980s, neurologist Benjamin Libet explored the concept of ‘readiness potential’. He found, through studying brain activity, that the brain had already formulated a decision before the conscious mind was aware of it at all. This challenged the concept of free will, although he never explicitly stated that he was a determinist. In more recent years, neuroscientist Sam Harris went on to suggest, and then prove, that there isn’t even an illusion of freedom if you really think about it. In a speech delivered to a live audience, Harris revealed the selective power of the brain. This is one experiment you can do for yourself: think of a city. If you haven’t chosen Moscow, or Shanghai, then why not? You knew that these cities existed, and yet they weren’t considered in your answer. Why have you not considered these cities in your answer? You don’t know. In fact, there was no conscious choice on your part. These sorts of experiments have led Harris and others to conclude that science reveals humans to be ‘biochemical puppets’.
© Carston Tolkmit. 2011. https://flic.kr/p/a4b7bd
“There are too many aspects of existence that we have absolutely no power over which influence our
personal decisions, and it should be liberating rather than unsettling to accept that.”
© Hartwig HKD. 2008. https://flic.kr/p/4XnVPn
Four years down the line, and my view is the same. Freedom is an illusion. But this doesn’t mean that the choices we make don’t have a point. I recognise that my life has been dictated by my upbringing, my gender, my race, and even the year in which I was born, not to mention a plethora of other factors, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t shape or change my life. I do have the power of choice. We all make our own choices in life, but can we ever truly call them free? We can’t, because they never are. There are too many aspects of existence that we have absolutely no power over which influence our personal decisions, and it should be liberating rather than unsettling to accept that. If freedom is the power of possessing absolute choice, then freedom can be nothing but a linguistic term made up to sooth the human psyche; every choice we face is limited in some way, therefore freedom can be nothing more than an illusion.
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