Talismans Against Boring Culture
What's it about?
Welcome to Talismans
Talisman: a charm or amulet to ward off insidious powers
The insidious power we all need to worry about is what I’m calling ‘boring culture’, but that isn’t quite right because this world we live in, with its nuclear weapons, AI and gene editing technologies, its social media echo-chambers and ecocide-inducing industries are so terrifying that most people just want to hole up with some Netflix and a bucket of Madagascan custard.
We’ve somehow created a world which is both boring and deadly.
The boring bit has to do with all the dry language and form-filling, with same commutes down the same grey roads where we sit for hours in stale offices under flat lighting, subsumed in a world of boxes inside boxes inside boxes. Grid-cities, office blocks, housing blocks, watching the box with a boxed dinner, doing therapy in a box room with little awareness of all the box madness, then going away on a packaged holiday to escape it all.
War, climate-crisis, food shortage, mass extinction, illness, disease, god-like technologies. It’s terrifying, but we have bills to pay, kids to feed, work jobs we often don’t love. It’s knackering. At the end of the day we just want to cabbage out with TV and ice cream. No time to solve the meta-crisis, or even to think about it properly, but we can’t forget about it because we’re getting hammered by the News every day.
Boring and deadly is the world we’ve brought forth. It’s a schizophrenic experience to be in.
What I call ‘boring culture’ William Blake named ‘Urizen’. James Hillman imagined it as senex tyranny. Iain McGilchrist calls it ‘the world of the Left Hemisphere’. Paul Kingsnorth (following D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell and R.S. Thomas) refers to it as ‘the Machine’. It has a long history, and has become so pervasive its hard to even see.
‘Ideas you don’t know you have, have you.’ - James Hillman
‘We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.’ - W.H. Auden
‘You can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that brought it about.’ - Einstein
Confucius said that the healing a disharmonious society begins with the correction of language. What kind of language, ideas, and thinking might help to alleviate the soul-eroding power of boring culture?
I don’t have an answer to that, but I’m interested to find out. There is a living tradition to draw on, one that includes the insights of myth, poetry, folklore, depth psychology, process philosophy, and the kind of science that brings awe and deepens reverence for nature. That makes it sound high brow, but what I want to do with this newsletter is to bring in pop culture, mischievous writing, and have adventures in ideas.
I’m imagining each post as a little spell, charm, or a tonic - something to help guard against the drudgery and terror. Soul armour. Spirited writing. Vital ideas from a living tradition.
I’ll be aiming to do these about once a month. Quality over quantity because we’re all inundated. For the first two years, Talismans will be entirely free. In February 2024 it will switch to a paid subscription, at which point the quality and frequency will increase. In addition to this, I’m sharing more free stuff over on my website and YouTube channel.
If you do feel inclined to give me a few silvers, then you have the option to do that here on Substack, or on Patreon if you want to support the work I’m doing in addition to this newsletter.
This is where most of my writing gets done - in a strange little shed overlooking the Derwent valley in the North of England, a short drive from Hadrian’s Wall.
If you’re curious about my background as a writer, and what other stories I’ve been cooking up, then head over to my website: www.benpholden.com
Thanks for reading.