BB pal Erik Davis, my favorite writer on high weirdness, has published a new anthology of his essays and articles, titled Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica. Davis is the author of the classic TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism and The Visionary State, a beautiful art book in collaboration with photographer Michael Rauner about California's strange spiritual streams. In all his work, Erik riffs on our culture's strange attractors with intelligence, understanding, and wit, keeping an open mind without succumbing to "belief" in any one cosmic rap. In this collection, drawing from his contributions to Wired, Salon, the Village Voice, and elsewhere, Erik delves into the likes of the Klingon language, UFOs, HP Lovecraft, and, of course, his "Date with a Burmese Transvestite Spirit Medium." Erik speaks tonight, December 7th, at 7pm at San Francisco's famed City Lights Books in San Francisco, and Thursday, December 9 at 7:30pm, at the Annie Besant Lodge in Los Angeles. From an interview with Erik at Reality Sandwich:
For the uninitiated, what is occulture? And why does it interest you?
I am not sure who exactly coined that term; there's a British scholar who gets recognized for it but it was also online back in the day. It's a good one. For me it means the place where popular culture meets the underground and very real currents of magic, mysticism, and the esoteric — a stream that has always been with us, but which was rediscovered and reaffirmed, in not always healthy ways, in the 60s. "Occulture" is also a way to claim the occult or the religious fringe as a kind of cultural identity or playground, rather than an overly serious and hidden realm. I try to look at the mysteries from both ends — I think its important to look at, say, the contemporary ayahausca scene as a scene, with dress codes and slang and rock stars, not as a sacred separate realm. (Even though sacred things can and do go down there.) At the same time I think it is important (or at least more rewarding) to look at our often junky world of late capitalist culture as a place where the seeds of insight and vision might be found, if only you look at the landscape in just the right way…
Nomad Codes is a punctuation point of sorts. I started writing professionally in the late 80s and I had a wonderful time for almost two decades, managing to make a living writing about things I loved or that intrigued me for magazines, alternative newspapers, and online outfits, while managing to squeeze off a few books along the way. The twin prongs of the financial collapse and the Internet, which has not only glutted the mindspace with words but has encouraged the notion that writing should be free (and now with ebooks further undermining the publishing industry), stabbed the livelihood of people like me — "mid-list" or alternative writers who were never going to be be bigtime but could once keep it going on the margins. I also realized that my interests had shifted, that I was more interested in teaching and in the sorts of esoteric and intellectual questions that are hard to ask in today's mainstream jabberfest. Serendipitously, I saw an opening in the academic world for people interested in outsider topics like me. So I am currently pursuing a PhD at Rice under Jeff Kripal, who is doing fascinating work on alternative religion, the paranormal as the sacred, and superheroes as avatars of transhuman mysticism. I just wrote a long paper on Christian demonology, stage magic, and the Deleuzian idea of the phantasm. It was pretty cool.