Saturday, July 20, 2013

Paddy Chayefsky and the Wonders of the Invisible World Part II

Welcome to the second installment in my series examining the films Network and Altered States, both of would sprang from the pen of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. Despite this connection these films are rarely linked together, and not without reason: Chayefsky famously disowned the adaptation of Altered States, even going so far as to have his name removed from the film and replacing it with the pseudonym Sidney Aaron (his real first and middle names respectively). Beyond that, the plot lines of either film are seemingly worlds apart: Network is a brutal depiction of the news media and television in general while Altered States revolves roughly around experiments with, and the spiritual implications of, entheogens.

And yet both films ultimately involve altered states of consciousness. I already began to examine how this relates to the film Network in the first installment of this series by breaking down the symbolic and archetypical nature of several of the major characters, but for our purposes here I want to focus in on one of Network's key plot points (those of you unfamiliar with the storyline are advised to read part one where I gave a brief synopsis or check out the Wikipedia entry on it as I'll be working from the assumption at this point forward that readers are aware of it) and its implications of altered states of consciousness: the disembodied voice that instructs Howard Beale (Peter Finch) to become a prophet on television.

This encounter comes at a time when Beale's fortunes are fading after the media sensation that was caused initially by his threat to commit suicide live on air and his later rant about everything being "bullshit" are wearing off. UBS opted to keep Beale on the air for his "mad prophet of the airwaves" routine but he does not seem up to the task of performing it day in and day out after those inspired initial outburst. Then one night, just as Beale's then-boss Max Schumacher (William Holden) is about to go back to "straight" news, Beale wakes from his sleep and seemingly stares wide-eyed into the emptiness of his bedroom. He then asked something to speak up and a moment later says "okay."

Beale being awakened from his sleep by the voice

The next day he goes on air and explains this episode to his viewers thusly:
"Last night, I was awakened from a fitful sleep, shortly after 2 o'clock in the morning by a shrill, sibilant, faceless voice. I couldn't make it out at first in the dark bedroom. And I said, 'I'm sorry, you will have to talk a little louder.'...And the Voice said to me: 'I want you to tell the people the truth, not an easy thing to do because the people don't want to know the truth.' And I said, 'You're kidding. What the hell should I know about the truth?' But the Voice said to me: 'Don't worry about the truth. I will put the words in your mouth.' And I said, 'What is this, the burning bush? For God's sake, I'm not Moses.' And the Voice said to me: 'And I'm not God. What has that got to do with it?'  
"And the Voice said to me: 'We're not talking about eternal truth or absolute truth or ultimate truth. We're talking about impermanent, transient, human truth. I don't expect you people to be capable of truth, but god-dammit, at least you're capable of self-preservation!' And I said, 'Why me?' And the Voice said: 'Because you're on television, dummy! You have 40 million Americans listening to you and after the show you could have 50 million. For Pete's sake, I'm not asking you to walk the land in sackcloth and ashes preaching the Armageddon. You're on TV, man.' So I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, 'Ok.'"
This is one of the major turning points in the movie for from here on out Howard Beale becomes a bona fide phenomenon after initially appearing simply as an aging and unstable man who caught lightning in a bottle with his suicide pledge and "bullshit" rant afterwards. Beale is suddenly capable of keen and perceptive insights and at one point even seems poised to spur an actual populist revolt.

Thus, a pertinent question emerges: Is Beale simply insane and having a breakdown or did he have an actual encounter with some type of entity? The film itself is coy on this matter --director Sidney Lumet shoots the encounter as though Beale is merely talking to himself while none of the characters (except for possibly Arthur Jensen [Ned Beatty], but more on that later ) seem to seriously believe that Beale heard anything. And yet the perception and magnetism that Beale suddenly possesses is undeniable even as his actions become more and more unstable.

Beale "listening" to voice

Could it then be possible that Beale is both going insane and actually communing with an entity? Certainly more than a few schools of thought over the years (some of them very ancient) have believed that madness is a doorway into altered states of consciousness and that the insane are simply more in tune to those things beyond our everyday perception of reality. Indeed, in many traditional societies a period of madness is necessary for anyone wishing to walk the path of the shaman.
"For modern psychiatry, every mental breakdown -- every mental illness, every mental disorder -- has its origins somewhere in the patient's life. A person does not go insane for reasons that are not part of his personal history... How could a person go insane -- how could his personality disintegrate to that extent --due to an external influence? There is either an organic reason (such as a hormonal imbalance or some other chemical reason, or physical trauma of some sort, such as a blow to the head), or there is a precipitating cause in the patient's immediate environment. Yet, in the context of shamanism, the precipitating cause is the summons of a spirit. Even more threatening, the shaman is a person who has gone 'through' madness and has become 'cured' without the benefit of modern psychiatric techniques. Even more astonishing, this person who had once been mad is now a valued and even a revered member of his society, and all due to the fact of his madness and subsequent cure.
"The controversial Scottish psychiatrist... R. D, Laing wrote in 1967, and The Politics of Experience,
When a person goes mad, a profound transposition of his place in relation to all domains of being occurs.... Nevertheless, he can often be to us, even though his profound wretchedness and disintegration, the hierophant of the sacred. An exile from the scene of being as we know it, he is an alien, a stranger signaling to us from the void in which he is foundering, a void which may be peopled by presences that we do not even dream of. They used to be called demons and spirits.... Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.
"Madness and psychic disintegration (dissociation?) leading to... spiritual breakthrough, psychic powers, attainment, illumination: the shaman, the medicine man, the magician."
(Sinister Forces Book III, Peter Levenda, pg. 55)
the highly controversial psychiatrist R.D. Laing

Howard Beale does in fact become a valued and even revered member of his society, much to the shock and horror of individuals such as his old friend Max Schumacher. And yet this was historically how the mad who had displayed perception, insight, and even visions had been treated, a prospect that seems the definition of madness in our modern world. Certainly it adds to the incredible air of surrealism running throughout Network's second half.

Incidentally the Surrealists were one of the chief modern movements to value madness, especially schizophrenia, as offering some type of profound insight into the world. Edward Jessup, the lead character of Altered States, becomes interested in entheogens after becoming convinced that some schizophrenics are experiencing states of consciousness that are as real as "our waking states," but more on that in the next installment.

Beyond the fact that Paddy Chayeksky would incorporate such concepts into the project that followed Network there are other indications that he means for us to take Beale's experience with the disembodied voice seriously. Consider the description Beale gives of his state of mind to Schumacher after making the faithful broadcast in which he reveals his encounter:
"This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I'm imbued, Max. I'm imbued with some special spirit. It's not a religious feeling at all. It's a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I'd been plugged into some great electromagnetic field. I feel connected to all living things. To flowers, birds, all the animals of the world. And even to some great, unseen, living force. What I think the Hindus call prana. But it's not a breakdown. I've never felt more orderly in my life. It is a shattering and beautiful sensation. It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and... of such loveliness. I feel on the verge of some great, ultimate truth."

This is consistent with the descriptions individuals have given of the sense of illumination that overtakes them after completing some type of occult initiation or surviving an experience seeping with High Strangeness.
"Illumination is basically a sudden, overwhelming insight into the whole structure of the cosmos and man's relationship to it. Suddenly, for a few brief seconds, the percipient understands everything with incredible clarity. In some cases the process occurs over a long period in the form of short flashes of insight that gradually add up. In others it takes place instantaneously with the percipient seemingly bathed in a reddish glow or caught in a beam brilliant white light cast down from the skies (thus we have the ancient phrase, 'He has seen the light').
"No one is ever exactly the same after an illuminating experience. Mediocre men become great leaders, preachers, statesman, scientists, poets, and writers overnight! Others divorce their spouses, quit their jobs, and embark on new careers that catapult them into unexpected prominence. Some fear for their sanity at first because the experience is so overwhelming. Some are unable to cope with that and disintegrate into various kinds of fanatics."
(Our Haunted Planet, John A. Keel, pg. 201)
Sudden, unexpected illumination, the type of which that frequently follows some type of supernatural experience or even UFO encounters, can be especially destructive as the recipient is unprepared for it. Christopher Knowles recently speculated that encounters with the legendary Men in Black may not in fact be sinister in nature but are in effect a type of warning for individuals who are too unstable to survive in the Fortean realms without succumbing to madness or worse. Amusingly, Howard Beale even begins to dress like a Man in Black once his nightly news programs transforms into The Howard Beale Show.

But back to the matter at hand: If Beale did in fact have a genuine encounter, then with what pray tell? According to Beale, the entity itself said to him: "And I'm not God. What has that got to do with it?" Nor does the entity claim to be an angel or anything commonly associated with the Christian realm. Indeed, Beale's encounter more closely resembles descriptions of entities known as daimons in the ancient world. Daimons are Trickster-like beings which, from early times, were understood as manifesting bother externally (i.e. the physical world) as well as internally (psychologically). Unsurprisingly, these creatures were eventually incorporated by Jung into his concept of Archetypes.
"The great authorities on the intermediate world of psychic reality were the Neoplatonists who flourished from about the middle of the third century A.D. to the middle of the sixth. Following Plato's most mystical dialogue, the Timaeus, they called the intermediate region the Soul of the World, widely known in Latin as Anima Mundi. Just as the human soul mediated between spirit and body, so the world-soul mediated between the One (which, like God, was the transcendent source of all things) and the material, sensory world. The agents of this mediation were called daimons... who, as it were, populated the Soul of the World and provided the connection between gods and men.
"Christianity later, and unjustly, pronounced the daimons demons. But originally they were simply the beings who thronged myth and folklore, from the Greek nymphs, satyrs, fauns, dryads, etc. to elves, gnomes, trolls, jinn, and so on...
"Daimons were essential to the Gnostic-Hermetic-Neoplatonic tradition of philosophy --which was more like psychology (in the Jungian sense) or a mystical discipline than the logical exercises philosophy became. But the daimons of myth evolved into a sort more suited to these philosophies, whether angels, souls, archons, thrones, or powers -- many of which later infiltrated Christianity. Ever-flexible, the daimons changed their shape to suit the times, even becoming abstractions when necessary (the Neoplatonic henads, for example) but preferring if possible to remain personified. Jung's cast of archetypal personages --Shadow, anima/animus, Great Mother, Wise Old Man -- placed him firmly in this tradition.
"Never quite divine nor quite human, the daimons erupted out of the Soul of the World. They were neither spiritual nor physical, but both. Neither were they, as Jung discovered, wholly inner nor wholly outer, but both. They were paradoxical beings, both good and bad, benign and frightening, guiding and warning, protecting and maddening. Plato has Diotima described them in the Symposium, a dialogue devoted to the most neglected of topics and modern philosophy --love...
"Jung was clearly just a man. In his terms, the daimons are archetypal images which, in the process of individuation, conduct us towards the archetypes (gods) themselves. They did not have to convey messages; they were themselves the message. The Greeks understood from early times that daimons could be psychological, in Jung's sense. They attributed to daimons 'those irrational impulses which arise in a man against his will to tempt him --hope, for instance, or fear.' Daimons of passion or jealousy and hatred still possess us, as they always have, causing us to cry forlornly: 'I don't know what got into me. I was beside myself.' But while daimonic activity is most noticeable in irrational, obsessive behavior, it is always quietly at work behind the scenes."
(Daimonic Reality, Patrick Harpur, pgs. 35-36)  
an early depiction of a daimon

Daimons have also long been associated with nature-spirits commonly referred to as Elementals.
"Just as visible Nature is populated by an infinite number of living creatures, so, according to Paracelsus, the invisible, spiritual counterpart of visible Nature (composed of the tenuous principles of the visible elements) is inhabited by a host of peculiar beings, to whom he has given the name elementals, and which have later been termed the Nature spirits. Paracelsus divided these people of the elements into four distinct groups, which he called gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. He taught that they were really living entities, many resembling human beings in shape, and inhabiting worlds of their own, unknown to man because his undeveloped senses were incapable of functioning beyond the limitations of the grosser elements...
"The Greeks gave the name daemon to some of these elementals, especially those of the higher orders, and worshiped them. Probably the most famous of these daemons is the mysterious spirit which instructed Socrates, and of whom that great philosopher spoke in the highest terms.
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 329-330)
the elementals

This is of course just scratching the surface --Much more information on daimons can be found here. But back to the matter at hand: While daimonic beings were hardly the stereotypical demons of Christianity many students of the arcane have advised against communing with such entities and not without reason.
"Those who sought to control elemental spirits through ceremonial magic did so largely with the hope of securing from the invisible worlds either rare knowledge or supernatural power. The little red demon of Napoleon Bonaparte and the infamous oracular heads of de Medici are examples of the disastrous results of permitting elemental beings to dictate the course of human procedure. While the learned and godlike daemon of Socrates seems to have been an exception, this really proves that the intellectual and moral status of the magician has much to do with the type of elemental he is capable of invoking. But even the daemon of Socrates deserted the philosopher when the sentence of death was passed.
"Transcendentalism and all forms of phenomenalistic magic are but blind alleys --outgrowths of Atlantean sorcery; and those who forsake the straight path of philosophy to wonder there and almost invariably fall victim to their imprudence. Man, incapable of controlling his own appetites, is not equal to the task of governing the fiery and tempestuous elemental spirits."
(ibid, pg. 317)
Socrates and his daimon

While Hall is perhaps to sever in his judgment most accounts I've read on such beings suggest that their motives are frequently to unfathomable for the human mind to comprehend. Thus, those who form a bond with such beings are frequently led to ruin and this is exactly what happens in the case of Howard Beale. While Beale seems to acquire incredible understanding and wisdom he also begins to have a full-blown mental breakdown (if one was not already occurring), leading to increasingly erratic behavior.

Not that this adversely affects Beale's ratings --in point of fact, it's totally in keeping with the revamped Howard Beale Show where the mad prophet is joined by such nightly regulars as Miss Mata Hari and her skeletons in the closet, Jim Webbing and his "It's-the-Emmes-Truth-department" and of course Sybil the Soothsayer (who prophesied to Diana [Faye Dunaway] of her coming relationship with Max). Beale begins each show behind the backdrop of a strange symbol: four circles forming a cross with four more circles in a similar cross-like pattern within each of the initial circles. At the center of the larger four circles is another circle featuring what appears to be in eight-pointed flower within it.

It's tempting to link this symbol to the Rosy Cross of the Rosicrucians (and many other orders, both real and imagined) but there is little resemblance between either. In point of fact, the "Beale cross" does not seem to overtly echo any occult symbol that I have been able to uncover. Probably the most curious aspect of it is the eight pointed flower at the center. Eight arrows arranged in a radial pattern has been adopted as the Symbol of Chaos in recent times, certainly fitting for the character of Howard Beale. The number eight is also highly significant in Crowley's Thelematic tradition where it is linked to the Trickster figures of Hermes, Thoth and Mercury (all of them "messenger" gods of antiquity).
"Cheth is the number Eight, which is the Seal of Hermes-Thoth-Mercury, the God of Magick. The figure 8 is, by shape, the Caduceus of Mercury and the emblem of Infinity. In The Book of the Law, Hadit (or Set) declares 'I am eight, and one in eight'. The identification is with Sothis the manifestator of the Seven Stars of Polaris (the Great Bear constellation which symbolizes the Dragon-Nuit). She is the Mother of the Primal Gods, and her formula of Change, or Magick, is manifested in One, her Son, i.e. Sothis or Sirius, who, in his occult character symbolizes the Son behind the Sun.
"Magick is spelled with a 'k' because Cheth, its Hebrew equivalent, is the number of the Great Work, and the letter of Hermes, or Hermetic Science.
"Cheth (8, 418), 'k', being the number of the Great Work, is a formula used by occultists, as well as alchemist, to denote the consummation of the marriage of individual and cosmic consciousness..."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pgs. 22-23) 
Hermes and his Caduceus

A "marriage of individual and cosmic consciousness" is certainly a fitting description of Howard Beale at this point in the movie, for clearly his consciousness has been altered by his encounter/bonding with the daimonic being that came to him that faithful night. His road to ruin is also assured at this point but if it is folly to follow daimonic beings then it is complete and utter madness to turn the ideology of corporate titans into a philosophy, as Beale attempts to do after his encounter with UBS/CCA head Arthur Jensen.

Strangely, Jensen is the only character in the film who seems to have any appreciation for the transformation that Beale has undergone. Beale's longtime friend Max Schumacher simply sees his transformation as a mental breakdown when it is clearly not that simple while Diana Christensen and her boss, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), only pay lip service to the metaphysical implications of Beale so long as it is necessary to keep him on the air and out of the nuthouse. But Jensen, almost immediately upon meeting Beale in person, seems to have accurately sized up his magnetism as well as how to manipulate him.


Indeed, throughout the legendary encounter between the CEO and the mad prophet of the airwaves  Jensen comes off as being nearly as "eccentric" as Beale himself. Many have long wondered if Jensen is simply "acting" during his encounter with Beale (Jensen begins by saying: "I started as a salesman. I sold sowing machines and automobile parts, hair brushes and electronic equipment. They say I can sell anything. I'd like to sell something to you.") in order to get through to the unhinged news anchor or if the CEO is something of a freak of nature as well.

Upon escorting Beale into his boardroom, which Jensen refers to as "Valhalla," the CCA head dims the light so that he appears to be engulfed in a spotlight (as well as giving the effect of being in a cave, the site of countless types of occult initiations the world over) and informs Beale that he has tampered with the "primal forces of nature" and that he must "atone" (this meeting occurs after Beale stopped CCA's deal with an Arab conglomerate after he urged his viewers to flood the White House in telegrams demanding that the deal be stopped). Jensen then goes on to outline the corporate globalism that will bring utopia on earth:
"You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused."

While we, the little people, can reasonably dismiss Jensen's musings as a complete crock of shit in the twenty-first century there are undoubtedly any number of globetrotting CEOs (and other members of the so-called global 'Super Class') still drinking this particular brand of Kool-Aid as well as their mouthpieces on network and cable news. It is to the latter group that Beale becomes a fully converted member of after his encounter with Jensen, which ultimately proves to be even more mind blowing (and destructive) then his daimonic experience.

Jensen shows not the slightest trace of humility when he says "You just might be right, Mr. Beale" after Howard proclaims he has seen the "face of God" while gazing at Jensen. But then again, their encounter ultimately takes on the trappings of the most solemn of rituals: Death and rebirth. Of course the experiences of death and rebirth are the cornerstone of countless occult initiations.
"... I have undergone a number of occult initiations and have become aware of the basic similarity of such rituals in all traditions. This is the pattern of death-rebirth which even today appears symbolically in the Roman Catholic mass and the Masonic 'raising' ceremony. The Investigators is betraying no secret when we say that, in serious occult orders, such performances are not mere rituals but real ordeals. Insofar as possible within the law, the candidate is often brought to a state of terror similar to the emergency condition of the nervous system in near-death crises. What occurs then, and is experienced as rebirth, is a quantum jump in neurological awareness.
"Obviously, the first shamans had no teacher; they simply went through the illness-rebirth transition accidentally, as it were. Later, schools of shamans developed techniques (psychedelics, rituals of terror, yogurt, etc.) to catapult the student into such experience. In most of these schools there is great reliance upon an entity or entities of superhuman nature who aid in the initiatory process, sometimes for years. ('A real initiation never ends,' Crowley said once.)"
(Cosmic Trigger Volume I, Robert Anton Wilson, pg. 139) 
Clearly Beale went through this "traditional" type of initiation inadvertently during his encounter with the daimon but then appears to go through a similar process again with Jensen. Beale is "reborn" from his encounter with Jensen not unlike he was reborn after his encounter with the daimon. So to is Paul Hackett, the UBS head who compared himself to a sun god when he thought the axe was about to come down over the Arab flap. Beale is reborn to become Jensen's mouth piece while Hackett is reborn to more precisely impose Mr. Jensen's will (after the Jensen encounter Hackett seemingly has no moral qualms about plotting Beale's murder other than preventing the network from being implicated). Of course, the results of such "resurrections" can only be an abomination for Jensen has no interest in initiation or illumination beyond how such things can enhance his bottom line.

Jensen seemingly puts Beale in the same type of trance-like state the daimon put him in

Beale's ratings begin to plummet immediately upon his taking up the mantle of Jensen's corporate cosmology. Not long after Diana Christensen, Hackett, and the Ecumenical Liberation Army (who have Beale as a lead into the Mao Tse-Tung Hour, the equivalent of ratings suicide) conspire to assassinate Beale live on air after Jensen refuses to allow him to be taken off. The plan goes through and brings things full circle by enabling Beale to die on air, the prospect of which being the catalyst to all of the high weirdness that he eventually experienced. It is also as fitting a depiction of how those of incredible wealth and power use and ultimately destroy the sincere and gifted in a perpetual pursuit of greater profits as ever there was.

And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment I shall begin my examination of Altered States. Stay tuned.

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