exponentiation ezine
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exponentiation ezine: issue [7.0:culture]

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Title: Hamlet
Author: William Shakespeare
Publisher: Washington Square Press (July 1, 2003)

Hamlet could be one of the most compelling characters in Western literature. Widely read and even more widely discussed, William Shakespeare's masterpiece continues to baffle its readers with ever-new truths revealed. Perhaps mostly famous for its existential rhetoric quote - "To be or not to be, that is the question" - "Hamlet" is a tragic-comic tale about the murder of the royal Danish king by Claudius, who marries the queen Gertrude and becomes the new political leader of Denmark.

Prince Hamlet receives information from the spirit of his father, about the murder and the corrupt motives of the new king. He calls for revenge. Hamlet burns with hate and spends his time planning an assassination of Claudius, thus free his mother through human dignity. He decides to play insane to confuse the king and queen about his true motives. The story becomes complicated when Ophelia, the daughter to the royal servant Polonius, falls in love with Hamlet, and is forced to manipulate Hamlet into revealing his secrets. Hamlet recognizes this and disconnects the relationship to Ophelia, which drives her to commit suicide. Further, the son of Polonius, Laertes, becomes involved with the intrigue when Hamlet accidentally kills his father.

Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is a story with many dimensions. First and foremost, it deals with the conflict between public and private perception of reality. Although we in modern society tend to see everything around us as "real," the truth is that most of what we experience can be manipulated by social opinion. Hamlet is the individual who realizes this and tries to use the knowledge to his advantage, in order to create a "common space" for reality at large. He penetrates illusion by playing with it.

But "Hamlet" is also a study of the human psyche and the basic conditions for love and compassion. For Ophelia and Hamlet, love is a both a socially and politically impossibility, due to the surrounding factors restraining and preventing them from being together. This drives Ophelia over the edge, knowing her love will never be answered in her lifetime. Likewise, Laertes finally understands that hate is only an emotional reaction, which might be manipulated by anyone sharing the same motives for revenge. On top of this, Shakespeare penetrates the Christian dogma of his time, questioning fundamental principles such as "pray," "truth," "peace," and the existence of God.

As expected, Shakespeare was a product of his time, and the Renaissance humanism means the focus remains on the individual and his approach to life itself. What makes Shakespeare unique in this regard is that he doesn't describe an isolated experience, but portray the fundamental conditions for human existence at large, leaving individual experience as a means of communicating a larger truth. Because even if this drama will continue to compel new readers for centuries, it no less succeeds - with an unmatched ability to create humor through the play with rhetoric argumentation and a sharp depiction of human emotions in contrast to rationality -in capturing some of the most intense moments in European culture, and humankind at large. - Alexis


Title: Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveilence, and the Culture of Control
Author: Derrick Jensen and George Draffan
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company (September 15, 2004)

"Welcome to the machine: Science, Surveillance and the Culture of Control" is a compelling book by anti-modernist writer Derrick Jensen, author of the evocative, "A Language Older than Words." Jensen here is teamed with George Draffan, a fellow social critic whose amount of contributions to this text are undetermined. In this text Jensen takes on the culture of the machine and does so often with a biting and satirical tongue.

While perhaps a bit too hippieish and even culturally paranoid on its surface, "Welcome to the Machine" is a text full of insightful commentary regarding modern commercialism, surveillance and technological obsession. In this regard the text draws some parallels with Ted Kacynski's "Industrial Civilization and Its Future" as it attempts to unflinchingly critique and attack many of modern societies neuroses and technological delusions. The text delves into the subsequent cultural effects that technology has on cultures and individuals and it effectively shows the interconnected nature of the major industries of our society, particularly between the media/commercial industry and the military industrial complex.

The book, thankfully, is not a scholarly monograph or some other such piece of writing devoid of boldness and emotion. The book is both well researched and opinionated and does not fail to wear its heart on its sleeve, which is both to its benefit and disadvantage; to its advantage in that it boldly faces reality and expresses opinions and ideas even if they are not politically correct, but to its disadvantage when it launches into the same realm of uncontrolled sentiment that ruined the credibility of many counter-cultural movements. The text also has a tendency to adopt some safe and conventional "radical" views, but it nonetheless launches an attack on many of the sacred cows of modern society, including philosophic liberalism and its economic and political offshoots. In one regard the text is more humanitarian than most humanists in that, in its heart, it cares about life and the entire organization and systems that support life; as such it is not willing to morn the loss of individuals in the battle against environmental and social degradation.

The philosophy of this book can trace its roots back to counter-cultural environmental and anti-authoritarian philosophy, however it is upgraded in this text and given a more hardened and mature edge. The book is not so much a call to arms, but a polemic against surveillance and technological manipulation in our culture. It is simultaneously intelligent and paranoid, making for interesting reading even if it leaves one recoiling over its oversensitivity's like one recoils from a street preacher. The fruits are aplenty here though, especially in regards to the effects of technology on culture, particularly in the form of marketing and mass manipulation. Look for some interesting insights and information on RFID tags, national id cards, schooling's relationship to prisons as well as the use of military tools in advertising and more.

The book embraces a sense of realism as it addresses the hard and ugly and attempts to set its opinions and ideals in a foundation intent on doing what's best for the world at large, even if that means putting various politically correct social ideologies on the back burner if they do not serve the more pressing cause of preserving our environment and making our cultures richer, healthier and happier. On the other hand the text also succumbs to some of the squabbling and under-thought solutions to current problems that stuck a knife in the counter-culture of the late 60's. In the case of this text it's wise to follow the path and view the many trees, but don't necessarily accept all the insights and solutions given, although some of them are fruitful and worth thinking about.

What's nice about this book as opposed to other texts that come from the same counter-cultural background, is that it does not adopt Tim Leary's counter-culture slogan of "tune in and drop out." The authors fully recognize the impossibility of ever "dropping out" and instead advocate action. The philosophy of these authors appears developed enough to the point that they recognize they are still products of their environment and they can never run and escape that as the back to land movement attempted, however they also recognize the need for radical change and attempt to address that change via modern communication means.

Those curious about psychological warfare, marketing control and gimmickry will find something interesting to read in this text.


Title: Irminsūl
Author: Varg Vikernes
Publisher: Cymophane Publishing (2002)

Reading the thoughts and ideas by Varg Vikernes is always, in one way or another, a challenge. The young teenager declaring himself to be an inhuman Satanist, has today grown up to become a pan-Germanic nationalist, advocating eugenics and Aryan mythological ideology. Like always when reading something by this man, one has to take his ideas with a pinch of salt. While it is beyond doubt that Vikernes is a highly intelligent man, he also tends to migrate into very radical rhetoric, too far out for most people. This somewhat limits his reading base to the Burzum-fans and the dissident nationalists in Europe, interested in what this man has to say.

In his book "Irminsūl", Vikernes talks about the god-pillar that in ancient times was worshipped by Germanic tribes. He historically binds the knowledge of the statue and takes it to a mythological perspective, where he claims that it represents Thor. Thor, he says, symbolizes the physical force of gravity. He connects Thor with the Roman god Jupiter, to explain how the planet Jupiter prevents physical matter to crash down on planet Earth, and thus bind Thor to this same power in the universe. The god-pillar, consisting out of two "arms", symbolizes the gravity-force of Thor and the explosion-force of Woden. This means, Vikernes agues, that Woden is behind the scientific phenomenon called "Big Bang", where space matter expanded and eventually formed that which we today refer to as "the universe", while Thor is behind the gravity force which tries to implode all matter and delay the expansion of the universe.

The main idea behind this discussion is the central force, sitting on the throne of the god-pillar, called Frey, which traditionally is understood as the god of fertility among Nordic pagan cults from pre-Christian times. Vikernes explains that Frey represents a balance between the expansion and the gravity of the universe, to achieve a state of harmony with life. He then talks about how humanity is able to create technology to achieve that balance, and this is where we start to see the good old Varg behind all of this: the Aryan race is the only race able to create this advanced technology, and can only reach this state through eugenics and racial separation. Who could guess?

The interesting about this book is that it manages to cover so many fields of understanding: science, mythology, philosophy, history, etymology, politics - you name it. What's even more interesting is that the discussion seem to be very well grounded and contain very few holes. One has to understand this is Vikernes, when we read about how an alien race might have recreated itself through the Aryan race on Earth to immortalize its spirit. Still, it's impossible to discard that this man is very intelligent and paints a surprisingly intriguing perspective, justifying nationalism, eugenics, and a spiritual lifestyle close to nature. It's arguable whether one agrees with him on all points, and some debates may come off as completely absurd, yet we're not able to neglect this book as something irrelevant. No other scientist, if one may call Vikernes a scientist, has come up with the kind of quasi-mythological, quasi-philosophic debate around the creation and maintenance of the universe, like this man has. It's obvious that he takes his ideas seriously and that a lot of studying has gone into the creation of this short but intense material. Through an amazing allegoric depiction of Indo-european thought and culture, we experience a radical but nonetheless fascinating insight, into the mind of one of the most peculiar and far-out thinkers of our modern time. - Alexis

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