Human Enhancement in Theory, Practice and Superhero Comics 2: Nanotechnology


Welcome to the second in this series of posts about Transhuman technologies in theory, practice and in comic books. Part One, all about human head transplants is here. This time round: nanotechnology.

A brief history of nanotechnology

Perhaps more than any other nanotechnology is the most diverse and may prove the most central to achieving some of Transhumanism’s most far out aims.

The term “nano-technology” was first used by Norio Taniguchi in 1974, though it was not widely known until it was popularised by Eric Drexler’s book  Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1986). The theoretical groundwork however, was laid in 1959 by physicist Richard Feynman in his talk There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, in which he described the possibility of  the direct manipulation of atoms. Inspired by these ideas, Drexler would introduce the concept of nanoscale ‘assemblers’, which would be able to build copies of themselves and other items through the manipulating material at an atomic level.

Though atomic-level self-replicating robots appears the stuff of the wildest speculative fiction the 1980s witnessed two major break-troughs.


1981’s invention of the scanning tunneling microscope allowed unprecedented visualization of individual atoms and bonds, and in 1989 it was successfully used to manipulate individual atoms. Second, the discovery of Fullerenes in 1985 pointed towards new potential application for nanaoscale devices and electronics. Though the buckyball, (named for Buckminster Fuller) was not originally descroibed as nanotechnology, research into the fullerene family of carbon structures has fallen under the umbrella of nanotechnological research, playing a major part in related work with carbon nanotubes.

Governments began fund research into nanotechnology, beginning in the U.S. with the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which was announced under President Clinton in a 2000 White House press release entitled “Leading to the Next Industrial Revolution”. As Schummer puts it, “the visionary powerbox has largely been reduced to economic promises”. nanotechnological research moved towards more practical and commercial applications. In 2001, Toyota started using nanocomposites to make a bumper 60% lighter and twice as resistant to denting and scratching; Khakis that use nanoparticles as stain-repellant; suncreams containing nanoparticulate zinc oxide; nanaoclays and nanocomposites used to make me beer bottles lighter and thinner; and carbon nanotubes are currently being used in wind-turbines, surfboards, bicycle components and even as scaffolding for growing bone (see here for more current applications). The use of nanaotechnology has also been of great interest in the world of medicine with ongoing research into the use of anoparticles to deliver drugs, heat or light directly to cells, nanosponges that absorb toxins to remove them from the bloodstream, and there is much talk of one day using nano-bots to repair damaged cells (more medical applications here).

Despite these advances we still seem some way away from the more dramatic implications of this technology. For now there are no nanobots,no assemblers, no molecular-scale machines diligently scraping the cholesterol from your arteries or networking between the nervous system and computer so that you can experience virtual reality as a truly physical one. No instantaneous bodily mutation based purely on whim. No ‘grey goo‘. For now anyway.

Nanotechnology in Comic Books

Given that the discourse around nanotechnology has been premised on the Amazing Transformations To Come rather than the more prosaic Eventually After We Figure Out All This Really Technical Shit, it is little wonder that most works utilising nanotechnology use it in a way that emphasizes the former rather than the latter. Just as in the 1950s and ’60s radiation was to blame for all manner of mutants and giant insects, so too the portrayal of nanotechnology in popular culture (what Johansson calls ‘nanoculture‘) has produced many works where Nano is “competing and sometimes replacing radiation as the prime explainer and transformer in many popular contexts”. For example, in Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, Bruce Banner’s transformation is due to both the traditional gamma radiation AND nanomaccines, though this is not elaborated upon in any way. Nano simply becomes a shorthand for ‘crazy science stuff’.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nanosicence and Society, explicit language relating to nanotechnology only began to appear in comic books in the 1990s, although the ability to manipulate matter at a molecular level has been a recurring power throughout the history of superhero comics (e.g. the tellingly named Molecule Man). As a general rule the use of nanotechnology in comics follows the same schema outlined by Johanssen, as a catch-all modern technological explanation for a character’s super-powers. The most recent iteration of DC Comics’ Mr Terrific, for example, has nanotechnology woven into his costume and mask.



One of the earliest appearances of nanotech in comics was the Technovore from Iron Man 294 (July 1993). Because Technovore’s body is made entirely of nanobots it was able to disassemble itself into a stream of nanites, allowing it to squeeze into and travel through through extremely small spaces. Each nanite carries a copy of the entire viral personality, implying that the Technovore can reconstruct itself from a single unit. Moreover, the Technovore can assimilate technology into itself, as well as adapt its form to become immune to different types of weapons. In short, the Technovore is the most Dystopian possibilities offered by Drexler’s Engines of Creation writ large, its desire to assimilate everything around it a clear precursor to Drexler’s infamous ‘grey goo’ scenario, whereby self-replicating machines run out of control, building more of themselves by consuming all the matter around them until the entire Earth is destroyed.


Nanotechnology made another notable appearance in Iron Man  during Warren Ellis’s Extremis story-line (which served as the basis for the third Iron Man movie). In this story the Extremis virus can be injected, giving users powers akin to Iron Man but with the technology contained within the body (as in the panel at the top of this post). Iron Man himself uses a modified version of the nanite virus to improve the neural interface between him and his armour, a conceit also found in recent iterations of DC’s Cyborg, whereby Victor Stone’s brain and nervous are linked by nanites to his robotic prosthetic grafts. This idea is not entirely absurd. The US Air Force is currently backing a project  “involving nanoparticles that can amplify optical-detection sensitivity by 10 to the 14th fold.”

More outlandish is another Ellis creation, The Engineer from The Authority. Angela Spica is, as he team captain describes it, “the woman who distilled an incalculable number of intelligent devices into nine pints of liquid machinery…and exchanged your blood for it“.  The nanoload works like blood for The Engineer while also covering her entire body, allowing it to morph into new shapes and weaponry. In one issue she is able to defeat a group of bad guys by “extruding the machinery out into a web of knives small enough to slip between atoms“, effectively slicing them into smithereens. Which is amazing and also deeply unsettling if you think about it. Elsewhere, the Engineer is able to use the nanites to survive on the surface of the moon, and to interface with the Authority’s sentient, dimension hopping vessel The Carrier.

Outwith the comic book page, the link between superheroes and nanotechnology has a fairly ignoble history. In 2002, the U.S. Army awarded $50 million to a proposal submitted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). The proposal’s cover image, which featured a futuristic soldier in mechanical armour, presented, in visual shorthand, the scientific possibilities outlined in more technical detail within the proposal. The image was later removed from ISN websites when two comic book creators alleged that it was simply a reworked version of the cover image of their Radix issue one.


For Milburn this is because both the discourse of nanotechnology and militaristic visions of the super soldier, “rely on cultural familiarity with comic book myths…to suggest that nanotechnology, in replicating or materializing these myths at the site of the soldier’s body, can create “real” superheroes”.The comic book image serves to create a gap between a written account of science yet-to-occur and the image of what a futuristic soldier might look like. What happens within this gap is the slow, complicated business of the science itself. It is worth noting that even prior to the introduction of nanotech to superhero comics, heroes such as The Atom, or regular jaunts to realms such as the Microverse, also played with issues of scale and molecular engineering. Are the actual mechanics technically any clearer in the bottom image from Yale Scientific than they are in the panels from the Atom or Supergirl?



As Johanssen noted above, nanotechnology largely performs the same role any techno-scientific ‘explanation’ plays in comics- the ability to achieve the impossible; science as magic. And in some respects the scientific literature around nanotechnology, at least at the more speculative end of the spectrum, is engaged in that same kind of bombast as the superhero genre. What Milburn calls ‘nanowriting’- that genre of scientific text in which the already inevitable nanotech revolution can be glimpsed” is characterised by an ‘operatic excess’, whereby writers:

frame their scientific arguments with vivid tales of potential applications,which are firmly the stuff of the golden age of science fiction. Matter compilers, molecular surgeons, spaceships, space colonies,cryonics, smart utility fogs, extraterrestrial technological civilizations,
and utopias abound in these papers, borrowing unabashedly from the
repertoire of the twentieth-century science-fictional imagination

Of course, that does not mean the Transhuman dreams of nanotechnology may not someday be realised (though the process may be more laborious than some might like), but if the superhero comic book is playing into the nanotechnological imagination it is worth asking, “in what way?” For, on the one hand, the words of Edwin Thomas from MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies describing, “the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armour and endowed with superhuman capabilities” seem, to me at least, fairly terrifying and at odds with the real ethos of the superhero. Nice to know then that at least one Nano scientist has advocated a nanotech-ethics based on Spider-Man’s dictum, “with great power comes great responsibility”. After all, it’s not the technology that separates hero from villain, but how they choose to use it.



New posts are coming! (this isn’t it though)

Hello humans.

Nth Mind has been a bit quiet lately, but new posts are coming, I promise. A couple of fresh Comics are Magic entries are percolating nicely and some other stuff is ready to boil over, so stay tuned. In the meantime here are a bunch of things that have been dragging the Scott Jeffery Machine away from Nth Mind and into the meat-world. It’s been busy. Continue reading

Comics are Magic Part 8: Warren Ellis, Language as Code and Technology as Magic

Planetary Issue 7

It is little surprise that this Comics are Magic series has regularly returned to the works of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, both being prominent and vocal practitioners of magic. In this installment and the next I want to focus on two other members of the “British Invasion“, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, whose work often touches upon the subject of magic but without either creator claiming any explicitly magical intent. At first glance Warren Ellis might seem an odd choice for this series. His work most often displays a science-fiction bent, as in his epic Transmetropolitan, and even his superhero work is marked by hard sci-fi tendencies. Magic is not a prominent theme in his work, but nor, as we shall see, is it entirely absent either. One particularly interesting example is the short graphic novel Frankenstein’s Womb, in which Mary Shelley encounters her own creation (or her creation’s creation?) prior to her actually having written the book. This story presents an elegaic meditation on time , memory, art, science and magic that is arguably as close as Ellis has come to occupying a similar magic territory to Moore or Morrison, who generally allow their magic to “BE” magic. As a rule though, Ellis makes a point of repeatedly inverting Clarke’s Third Law, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“. In Ellis’s work, instead, magic is indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology. Continue reading

A Whole Bunch of Exploitation/Grindhouse Film Documentaries

Below is a list of documentaries about exploitation/grindhouse/b-movies and, where possible, links to where you can find them on-line. Consider it a public service. So feel free to skip this intro and scroll down to the links instead…

Lately, and by lately I mean my entire life, I’ve been watching a lot of cheap, cheerful exploitation movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love cinema full-stop. I’m happy to watch a respectable, Oscar winner or an art-house film. For me, as for so many others (you know who you are), film is a drug. All of my movie-watching has always been about dragging myself through the celluloid streets for one more angry fix; an attempt to recapture that first high of watching a King Kong/The Day the Earth Stood Still double-bill when I was three or four. Exact details are obscured by time. Only traces remain. I was in the spare room, not my bedroom. Put there for a nap maybe? There was a small TV in there, old enough (this would have been 1981/82) that it had a dial for changing the channels. Certain images are seared into my brain. Kong pushing the trees aside, light emanating from Gort’s visor. These visions changed me as fully as any later, more clearly remembered, more ‘real’, life experience.

Film as drug: If a classy, prestige Hollywood picture is an expensive bottle of wine, exploitation and B-movies are cheap amphetamine. A quick sleazy, scuzzy buzz compared to the mellow high of the prestige picture.  Not that it is simply a question of budget. Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce was one of the most expensive movies of it’s day, but has B-Movie spirit coursing through every frame. Indeed, we might argue that post-Star Wars (or even post-Jaws) the vast majority of Hollywood’s output has actually just been big budget B-movies. For the true film junkie, however, there is no real distinction. Example: Scorsese’s love of 1953’s cheap, sci-fi quickie Invaders from Mars (particularly it’s set design and use of colour) is made manifest by in the opening scene of his own, far more “respectable” Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

At this point I should point out that I am aware that there are proper distinctions between the terms ‘exploitation movie‘, ‘grindhouse‘ and ‘B-Movie‘, but this is a blog post people, not a Film Studies journal article so let’s just agree to use them in an interchangeable, somewhat colloquial sense. It’s true that no actual B-movie has existed for decades, while most of the grindhouse theaters and drive-ins that showed exploitation movies have long since closed down and been replaced by the vanilla spectacle of the multiplex. So let’s treat it like the definition of obscenity: we’re not sure what it is but we know it when we see it. No-one has ever mistaken Maniac Cop for Driving Miss Daisy, dig?

Driving Miss Daisy

Maniac Cop


Continue reading

Comics are Magic Part 7: The Book of Vishanti

Fictional books have a special sort of attraction. Who wouldn’t want to peruse Borgesian infinite libraries, or wander through the halls of unwritten books stored in the library of the Sandman (Alice’s Journey Behind the Moon by Lewis Carroll, anyone?). Perhaps the most mysterious of such book is the Necronomicon.. It’s a truism to note that much of H. P. Lovecraft’s lasting influence is the deep mythology woven into his work. The Cthulhu mythos has outlived its creator (or  medium? host-body?!), becoming a source of inspiration for numerous other writers as well as practising magicians. Chaos magicians such as Phil Hine have worked the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu mythos into their magickal rituals, while Kenneth Grant, former secretary of Alisteir Crowley, argued for a fundamental magical reality to Lovecraft’s fictions that even the author himself was unaware of.

At the heart of the Cthulu mythos lies the Necronomicon, a magical grimoire written by  the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, a worshipper of Cthulhu and Yog-Shoggoth.  Containing an account of the Old Ones, their history, and various  means for summoning them, the Necronomicon had a complex history, as outlined by Lovecraft himself in the History of the Necronomicon. Despite Lovecraft’s private protestations that the book was a product of his imagination alone, the Necronomicon has been remarkably persistent in manifesting itself in the “real world” too. If you were to visit the University Library of Tromsø, Norway, for instance, you would find listed a 1994 version of the Necronomicon, attributed to one Petrus de Dacia, although the document is ominously listed as “unavailable”. Or you might be able to track down one of the 348 editions published by Owlswick Press in 1973, written in the  indecipherable, apparently fictional language known as “Duriac”. More easily available is what has become known as the “Simon Necronomicon”, a translation of the “real” Necronomicon by the pseudonymous Simon. The blurb rightly warns the reader that this is indeed, “potentially, the most dangerous Black Book known to the Western World“. Also easily available is 1979 Necronomicon edited by George Hay, with an introduction by noted occult scholar Colin Wilson.

The Necronomicon is not above intruding on universes other than our own either, having made several appearances in both the Marvel and DC Universes. There is even a comic book about how the Necronomicon came to be written. But while the Necronomicon is perhaps the most legendary fictional (OR IS IT?!) book in Western literature, there is only one book of true magical power and import in the world superhero comics; The Book of Vishanti! Continue reading

Human Enhancement in Theory, Practice and Superhero Comics 1: Human Head Transplants

Hello humans.

Welcome to the first of new series of posts where I highlight how some specific human enhancement technologies have been developed, their real world applications, their philosophical implications and how these have played out in the pages of the superhero comic book. So if what you really want to see are pictures comic book characters who have had their heads transplanted then scroll on down, because there is going to be plenty of it.

For those of you hanging around still, here’s a bit of context. If you follow this blog then you’ll already know that my name is Dr Scott Jeffery and that my PhD thesis was on the posthuman body in superhero comics (for a condensed version of the main ideas click here). Anyway, a book that draws on the thesis but is less painfully academic (I want to say it’s ‘accessible’, but that I suppose, is a question of taste) is on its way in early 2016 (more details as and when). In the meantime, as I was editing and rewriting it occurred to me that the book doesn’t really focus on specific technologies as such. So for this new series I want to go into more detail about specific technologies and how they have been presented in posthuman theory, practice and superhero comics. Saying that, this is still the blog, so the depth and breadth of each of these articles will probably vary somewhat.

We start with one that is not mentioned at all in the book but has recently been making its rounds on the hive-mind of social media: human head transplants.
Continue reading

A Violence Called Love


It’s only fair that I warn you in advance that this post is going to get dark while I draw on several psychological and sociological studies to prove that everything good is bad for you. What follows is, hopefully, a persuasive, mostly reasonable argument that demonstrates how unfettered capitalism is a machine for producing human beings incapable of empathy or rational thought. In short, a world of sociopathic idiots. Evidence continues to accumulate proving that the capitalist system we live within not only makes humans unhappy (even, maybe especially, those who benefit most from it) but also crueller, more selfish and sociopathic (I’ve written more on what I call ‘psychopathonomics’ here and here). Them’s the facts, Jack! Or some of them anyway.

Let’s start with ‘happiness’. We’ll get to the mechanics of how we are told to get happiness later, but first of all we need to consider the effects of happiness and see if we can’t glimpse the skull beneath the grin.

I’m only half-joking. Though it is more difficult to discern whether Liverpool university’s Richard P Bentall (rhymes with ‘mental’) was joking in this abstract from his 1992 article A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder, published  in the Journal of Medical Ethics:

It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains – that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.

Whether or not Bentall was offering a Swiftian Modest Proposal. more recent studies suggest that he was likely correct about the potentially negative effects of happiness. Firstly, happiness makes people more stupid. Psychologist Joe Forgas has conducted a number of studies demonstrating that people who feel happy people are, as New Scientist puts it,  “less able to develop a persuasive argument, more gullible and worse at remembering objects in a shop window than their unhappy fellows“. Forgas explains that this may be because  rely more on their own thoughts and preferences when they are feeling happy, so pay less attention to the what is happening in the world around them.

More troubling is that in further experiments Forgas found that happiness could increase selfishness. Forgas suggests that “positive mood is in a sense an evolutionary signal, subconsciously informing people that the situation they face is safe and non-threatening”, encouraging people to focus on their own personal preferences. This tendency has been demonstrated on chemical level as well.  Oxytocin, the so-called ‘love hormone’, released when you cuddle a loved one, for instance, is not quite the cuddly, cheeky pheromone it’s been made out to be. In fact, rather than unconditionally support trust in others, it appears to simply enhance feelings of trust, affection and willingness to cooperate with those already known to us. For instance, Carolyn H. Declerck found that oxytocin made people more cooperative in a social game, but only if they had met their partner beforehand. If they knew nothing about their partner in the game, oxytocin actually made them less cooperative. 

More dramatically, but in a logical progression from above, the University of Amsterdam’s Carsten de Dreu has demonstrated that Oxytocin makes us favour our own ethic and racial groups. Dr Dreu describes this as “a  “tend and defend” response in that it promoted in-group trust and cooperation, and defensive, but not offensive, aggression toward competing out-groups.”

So happiness makes us stupid, but it also makes us selfish and racist. Stupid, selfish and racist. Sounds like a stereotypical right-wing jerk, huh? Of course I write that with my pheromones making me blindly and stupidly defend some imagined intelligent, broadly socialist, liberal (or better, anarchist) group from some moronic, evil Other, but still, there’s some truth to it. For example, Hodson and Busseri (2012) have found that lower intelligence and poor abstract reasoning in childhood is predictive of greater racist and homophobic attitudes in adulthood, an effect mediated through the adoption of right wing ideologies.

At this point it seems possible to make a suggestion, extrapolating from this wildly biased selection of data (it’s a blog post, not a research paper!). The desperate scrabbling for some form of happiness, recognised by our bodies as the release of oxytocin, leads us to believe that this mere chemical reaction is happiness itself. As with any addiction we keep pressing the button that triggers our high, and as with any addiction this habitual process takes its own toll. Our capacity for love actually diminishes, extending only so far as immediate family and friends, while the ‘other’, either embodied or as a more generalised fear of change to our current ‘happy’ circumstances, becomes the object of our suspicion, the shadow of our love; that which we come to hate. Which would be fine if we were able to examine, discuss and learn to control this process like rational, carbon-based beings. Except our happiness addiction is also diminishing our intelligence. This toxic mix of then manifests as conservative ideologies and world-views that promise to keep us safe from “the others” and keep our happiness circuits in a state of prolonged narcotic stimulation.

Maybe I’m overselling it, but you see what I’m getting at, right?

The story so far: We ‘have demonstrated that happiness, far from being the best thing ever, promotes stupidity, selfishness, and blind defence of one’s ‘in-group’ over ‘outsiders’. But what does our society believe is necessary for us to be happy? A good job, a nice house, and all that jazz. Capitalism, baby! Now luckily for us, despite promoting the notion that capital will make you happy, and happiness being, as we now know, extremely bad for you, capitalism also promotes intelligence, kindness, and trust in others.

Oh I’m sorry,that was worded incorrectly. I meant that capitalism makes an already dangerous psycho-chemical situation considerably worse.

The very nature of capitalism – the pursuit of profit – depends upon placing the economic realm above all other concerns. This is the reason that the corridors of big business are filled with high-functioning sociopaths and psychopaths. As I’ve written elsewhere on the blog capitalism involves a system of what I call ‘psychopathonomics’. but for now consider the rich have, in a variety of psychological studies, been shown to be more selfishfeel less empathy and find it more difficult to recognise emotions in others; display a higher propesnity for unethical behaviour; and more likely to reachh punitive jusgements about criminal behaviour based on essentialist notions of class position (i.e., that social class is founded in genetically based, biological differences).

Interestingly, there are studies that show the inverse to be true as well, so that, sombunall people from lower social classes felt more empathy than those from more privileged backgrounds. The irony of this is that the accumulation of goods and capital we are told will make us happy appears to be the very same process that will diminish our capacity for intelligence and empathy; in short, our capacity to fully experience love. Not just because the system requires and rewards sociopathy, but also because it diminishes the capacity to experience emotions fully in those lower down the social ladder, hence the increasing rates of depression in recent years (which, if they continue at their current pace, will, by 2020, make depression the second most disabling condition in the world behind heart disease).

So now then. The more money you have, the higher your social status and power the less your ability to feel empathy; the higher your stupidity and more increased your inclination to right-wing ideologies and prejudices. The less money you have the more possibility of experiencing empathy, except in a world increasingly run on sociopathic principles empathy becomes a drawback, necessitating a retreat into depression. Relief from this depression can be found in the love of one’s friends and family, causing a psycho-chemical reaction that diminishes intelligence and heightens fear of the other and change. Into this mire step charismatic, sociopathic leaders with social policies and ideologies that both encourage a sense of ‘love’ (of family, of country, of god, of money) while actually diminishing it.

After all, is it love to say “ever since you were born it’s been my dream to see you grow up into a wealthy, prejudiced moron”? Except we never say that. We say, “I just want you to be happy”, never stopping to consider the implications of that; the flimsy, morally bankrupt framework our contemporary, all-too limited vision of happiness is premised upon. As R. D. Laing once wrote:

Children do not give up their innate imagination, curiosity, dreaminess easily. You have to love them to get them to do that. We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love.

All Too Human (plus some other comedy dates)

That rough beast that is the  Edinburgh Festival once again slouches towards us and while your time would be better spent elsewhere, I will also be there doing whatever the thing is called that I do. It’s not much at all as my inital plan was to not to go at all this year as a result of events and circumstances in the meat-world; but the sweet siren call of Mistress Stand-Up remains all but impossible to resist. It’s only going to be a hastily organised and brief visit so I’m not doing a lot but one show will be an interesting new challenge. Specifically, through a combination of chance and chutzpah I will be doing an hour-long show called All Too Human at Jeremiah’s Taproom at 3pm-4pm on the 12, 13th and 14th of August. This was a last-minute decision so it’s not in the official brochure*, there are no flyers and no posters. And potentially no audience.

Should be fun.

In theory I wanted to do a show next year so this is a dry-run and work-in-progress, but it’s free, so no-foul, no harm. I’m billing it as ‘stand-up philosophy’ (a term I nicked from Robert Anton Wilson) but only because the subject matter is what is to be human, or more specifically, post-human. Which might sound grand but is in most respects a flimsy excuse to hang together three years of pre-existing stand-up with some new bits gluing them together. I know, I know, I’m really giving you guys the ‘hard sell’ here. At any rate, it should be fun and if you are reading this and you are free then please come along. If you want to buy me dinner and get me drunk that is also acceptable.

Here’s the list of where I currently know for sure that  I will be saying jokes out of my face-hole:

Tuesday 12th August: All Too Human, Jeremiah’s Taproom, 3pm

Wednesday 13th August: All Too Human, Jeremiah’s Taproom, 3pm

Capital Comedy Club, Moriarty’s, Lothian road, 6pm (MC)

Thursday 14th August: All Too Human, Jeremiah’s Taproom, 3pm

Capital Comedy Club, Moriarty’s, Lothian road, 6pm (MC)

Friday 15th August: Ray Fordyce’s Brunch-time Banter, Three Sisters, 11am

Sunday 17th August: About 2.5% Ginger Comedy Showcase , The Newsroom, 7.30pm

There usually ends up being more so if, for some perverse reason, you desperately want to catch my act you can follow me on twitter (@sjzenarchy) where I promise to pointlessly and endlessly inform complete strangers of my whereabouts.

* Although you will find me in there along with Matt T. Woodward for Laughter on the Outskirts: The Return. Unfortunately I’m not doing that show any more (see ‘meat-world circumstances’ above) so you should go and see Matt instead.  Well worth your time.

Happy Birthday Nth Mind!

So now then. Just got a message that this blog is officially three years old. Let’s take a moment of silence to honor this momentous, nay! paradigm-shattering, NAY! WORLD CHANGING! event.

There, feels good, doesn’t it? Seriously though, as you may or may not know, when you have a blog like a future-person does you are able to see some of the stats and site traffic data. What re people reading on it? How did they find it? That sort of jazz. So in celebration of Nth Minds three years of existing as a thing, let’s pull back the curtain and see what the ten most popular posts of all time have been!

The first thing I learned was that  Nth mind has been viewed 14,681  times. 52 people actually subscribe to this thing (so a big thank-you guys!), and apparently the busiest ever day was Friday, April 6, 2012 when I got 120 views. That’s right, one hundred and twenty. So take that, [insert generic popular website here]! Obviously, in retrospect, its been all downhill from there.

The most popular search terms that bought people to Nth Mind make for interesting reading; or terrifying, depending on your tastes. These are my peoples.

  1. posthuman                                        65
  2. erotic experiences                         40
  3. posthumanism                                 37
  4. screaming mad george                  36
  5. nth mind                                                28
  6. mind expanding documentaries     25
  7. cosmic trigger                                         20
  8.  cosmic trigger art                                  19
  9. compare visions of kurzweil, hitler and nietzche   16
  10. batman stained glass       16

Among the lesser-searched for terms were, “trifurcated cervix (4)”, “sadomasochism is not conducive to the welfare of society”   (3), “tentacle erotica”  (3), and “infamous ‘corporate psychopaths’ (1)”. We can only imagine what the 2,780 unknown search terms were. Also, let’s spare a thought to the three poor bastards who were led to this blog out of concern for the impact of sadomasochism on the welfare of society. I can only hope that it opened their minds enough for them to open their other openings.

Anyways. The most viewed page, with 3,131 views is the Home page/Archives, but that doesn’t tell us anything, does it? So here are the top ten most popular posts

  1. Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the comix underground                     843
  2. Special Effects Auteurs (and the particular genius of Screaming Mad George)                     814
  3. Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives                             782
  4. Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans                                                     577
  5. Comics are Magic Part 1: Superman, archetypes and invocations                                             520
  6. Tales from the Sphinx: An Interview with John Thompson                                                           439
  7. Posthuman Ecstasy: Long Live the New Sex                                                                                         436
  8. Man, if only there were a list of Posthuman Documentaries…                                                      429
  9. The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman                                                                             398
  10. Comics are Magic 4-The Conscious Multiverse: Idea-space and entities                                  315


And now, the bottom five, or least popular posts:

5. new stand-up                                                                                                                       3

4. Transcendental style in film Part One: The Ascetic Aesthetic                        2

3. Live from the Edinburgh festival…                                                                             2

2. I finally uploaded a new stand up video. Ironically, it is very old…            2

1. Transcendental style in film Part Two: The Ecstatic Aesthetic                       2

So, two posts that were published today and three about my comedy. The lesson here, clearly, is that no-one who reads this blog gives a shit about my comedy. In fact even in the search terms no one ever searched for ‘Scott Jeffery, stand-up comedy’. I did, but that doesn’t count. Maybe some people do like the comedy but then they come here and its all tentacle erotica and anarchism and they get put off? Actually, that can’t be the case because tentacle erotica and anarchism are exactly the kind of things I would do jokes about anyway.

Birthday celebrations now officially over. Don’t let the self-congratulatory lack of content in this post deceive you! I’m not just reading water because I’ve run out of things to write about. Coming out of the screen and into your face-holes soon/eventually!: ‘everything good is bad for you’, on the Dialectics of Liberation congress; surrealism as politics; a new Comics are Magic exploring Warren Ellis’s approach to the subject; and more!

I’m going to write it anyway, with or without you. It’s a compulsion.

But I’m delighted to find that people have actually been reading it these past three years. So thank you readers, and here’s to three more years!


Transcendental style in film Part Two: The Ecstatic Aesthetic

Part one introduced the concept of ‘transcendental style’ in cinema. It showed how various critics- most prominently a pre-filmmaking Paul Schrader- described a formal style in the works of Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer designed to put the viewer into a contemplative state. In short: films that are really slow and no-one explains anything and so that makes you think about the spiritual meaning of the film instead of how shitty the CGI is and whatnot The key stylistic choices of this mode of transcendental style are slowness, stillness and precision.

I am going to argue that a second mode of transcendental style in film exists. Why am i going to argue that? A) because I think it might be interesting and B) because I don’t get out much anymore. But anyway, much as in religious practices there are many roads to transcendence, so in cinematic style. The films of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer might perhaps be likened to the spiritual practices of the monk or nun. An “ascetic aesthetic“. a slow life, based on contemplation, quietness, simplicity. In the history of spiritual practices this ascetic trend was countered (complimented isn’t quite accurate) by those schools which emphasized states of ecstasy as the road to enlightenment. In cinema this ‘ecstatic aesthetic‘  repeatedly manifests itself in psychedelic vistas of the cosmos. A Dionysian alternative to the Apollonian order of the first style. If Bresson, Ozu and Dreyer want to open your mind, the film makers who use the second mode want to blow it. It’s probably worth noting that this is not a clean break from the other style. Jonathan Rosenbaum cites a few letters and interviews in which Dreyer, responding to criticisms that the miracle that ends Ordet was simply a retreat into archiac religiosity, mentioned,  “recent psychic research, represented by pioneers like Rhine, Ouspensky, Dunne, Aldous Huxley, and so forth,”  and elsewhere stated that

The new science that followed Einstein’s theory of relativity had supplied that outside the three-dimensional world which we can grasp with our senses, there is a fourth dimension—–the dimension of time—–as well as a fifth dimension—–the dimension of the psychic that proves that it is possible to live events that have not yet happened. New perspectives are opened up that make one realize an intimate connection between exact science and intuitive religion. The new science brings us toward a more intimate understanding of the divine power and is even beginning to give us a natural explanation to things of the supernatural.

This melange of science, psychical research, higher dimensions, Ouspensky, Huxley and so on points towards the counterculture of the 1960s and the  emergence of new age spiritualities which sought to reconcile science and religion. Also, they did a shit load of psychedelics. As such, the ecstatic aesthetic, our second mode of transcendental style, works by trying to immerse the audience in the transcendental experience itself. Continue reading