Now Playing: Noospheria
It’s our newest book, and it’s been over a year in the making.
[Here’s “Mary J. Levine’s” essay from the front of the book to tell you a bit more about what Noospheria is:]
Noospheria (ˈnəʊˌsfrɪə) – n. cosmology: a fragment of the universe that is enacted by human thought, culture, and knowledge. — Combined English Dictionary & Encyclopedia of ‘Pataphysics. 6th ed. 1995.
Here a new riddle has arisen before us. Thought is not a form of energy. How then can it change material processes? […] As for the coming of the noosphere, we see around us at every step the empirical results of that “incomprehensible” process. — Vladimir Vernadsky, The Biosphere and the Noosphere, American Scientist, January 1945
I told Laika that our children are the only possessions we can take to heaven, but he was confused if I meant our children, or just children in general. — R. Dower, My Year With The Space Dog
It’s an ugly word: noosphere. Phonetically, know-us-fear. Could also read noose-fear, which is partly what lends to the ugliness of the thing. But it’s something I treat — like most words — as a placeholder, or a description adequate for the time being. Examples of other words I consider placeholders are: ferrofluid, monological, algebra, and husbandry.
In his time, Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky (1863–1945) was considered by some to be a scientist batting the same RBI as Darwin, though outside of history-of-science fanboys, you’d be hard-pressed to find Vernadsky’s cause touted in any serious way. His books are the dusty sort you find stacked three rows back in the science section at your used book store. Little decaying artifacts of the modern scientific legacy, which fetishizes innovation and confuses it for certainty.
Much to his historical detriment, Vernadsky wasn’t a paying member of the Cult of Empiricism—the sort of enrollment taken to be granted by his more venerated contemporaries and successors. He was more cosmic than that; think Asimov over Einstein.
Among his other accomplishments, which included research and development in mineralogy, geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and radiogeology, Vernadsky was also a champion of the ‘biosphere,’ an idea he inherited from Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) and Edward Suess (1831–1914), which suggests that, “Mankind, as living matter, is inseparably connected with the material-energetic processes of a specific geological envelope of the Earth.” This envelope Vernadsky calls the biosphere, and as he goes on to say, “Mankind cannot be physically independent of the biosphere for a single minute.”
This sort of holistic thinking is now grounded firmly in the realm of common sense, though many treat the idea of the biosphere as a sort of Supreme Analogue. While I see the sense in giving the biosphere a deity treatment, to do so is a bit like seeing the trees for the forest. There’s another god in the picture, or at least another god constituting the picture, and this is where we start nearing the gateway to the noosphere.
I first proposed noospheria as a theme for V3 at an editors meeting in December 2011. We were sitting around a table at a bar called Carola’s Hansa Clipper on the north side of Chicago. It was a weekday night, unseasonably warm, and I was sipping an Echte Kroatzberg to honor the Teutonic spirit of the joint. There were a few other people at the bar; solitary, working-class folk. The song ‘You Get What You Give’ by Иew Radicals came on in the jukebox. Some of us nodded, smirking at the unspoken ‘remember whens’ that pop up whenever a forgotten top-40-radio-music artifact is unearthed.
The song is from Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too (1998, MCA), an hour-long, 13-track pop-rock joy-ride, decrying the abuses of Western commercialism and materialism, infused with occasional moments of suburban optimism and gen-X felicity. It’s one of many rhetorical contributions to the late 1990’s pop-counter-culture dialectic, before social criticism entirely devolved into irony, self-parody, and mass-produced Che Guevara t-shirts.
On the other hand, you wonder: when Gregg Alexander accepted the $600,000 advance for the album, was his tongue in his cheek?
‘You Get What You Give’ starts with a simple drums + acoustic guitar + piano + delayed guitar effect, and after a 1-2-3-4 count off, we’re launched completely into the song space, where the second guitar and bass kick in. It’s an upbeat song with a positive chord progression, describing microcosmic scenes of afternoon anarchy and materialist disenchantment. Bolstered by jovial lyrical assurances (“But when the night is falling / and you cannot find the light / if you feel your dream is dying / hold tight / you’ve got the music in you”), the chorus, marked by a sunny, arena-rock echo, encourages:
Don’t let go
you’ve got the music in you
one dance left
this world is gonna pull through
don’t give up
you’ve got a reason to live
we only get what we give
It’s a feel-good song. Something teenagers blasted when they got the blues for getting dumped, cheated on, or grounded for smoking weed. You get the impression that Alexander has endured life’s middle-class trials and that his is the voice of experience. Maybe he even has a misdemeanor for truancy?
However, amidst the song’s bright optimism, you get the impression that a more sardonic repartee is lying just under the surface. This is due less to the song’s various anti-corporate jabs and more to its insistent positivity. In ‘You Get What You Give,’ the world is in its twilight stage (one dance left). There is millennial paranoia here, as well as a sort of Ecclesiastical ‘last call,’ as if the temporality of things begets the meaningfulness of things.
I had never given the song much thought. It was a half-popped kernel of carmel-coated popcorn, and nothing more. But when the song came on that night at the Clipper, it was paired with an a-ha moment. I had just wrapped up a poor explanation of the noosphere and the way it relates to Anobium, literature, and art in general. When Иew Radicals kicked on, without meaning to, we sidled our editorial conversation to reminisce about the ’90s; high school, skateboarding, back seat frolics, underage drinking. I had a lucid visualization of how our conversation looked. I was already two drinks deep on an empty stomach, so this might have had something to do with it, but still, it was a very real picture:
There were the three of us sitting around a table in this dim, hole-in-the-wall bar. We were having a conversation held within the context of this physical environment, though the way we appropriated this environment was itself determined by our conversation. There would be jokes, agreements, and disagreements in our conversation, and all of these things would be taken for granted as sensible within this context. This context, which is enacted by human interchange, is the noosphere. As R. Dower once said, “There’s no point in asking ‘is this my hand?’ if this is indeed my hand.” Like Vernadsky says of the biosphere – with which the noosphere shares many of its attributes—if we were to be extracted from this space, or this space extracted from us, our conversation and language would be altered, or—at worst—rendered totally insensible.
Physical environment is primarily characterized by what we can sense (The walls are made of cheap wood panelling, the floors are sticky with spilled beer, the door to the bathroom swings on squeaky hinges, etc.), the precedence or priority of senses are determined by what we can call – for the sake of conversation – that “incomprehensible” process.
For this—among other things—we had the warm December weather, whose effects on the Chicago psyche are difficult, if not violent. And then there was the way the bartender raised his left eyebrow when I asked him if he had any Belgian-style beers; a gesture I interpreted to mean, “This is a German bar and you should know better.” And then there was the appearance of the Иew Radicals and my latent realization about how the song is a paean to nihilism. These were the ways the things that were happening were being made sensible to me (note: passive voice). How many other unknown things was I experiencing, and how could I assess if my way of making sense of one thing, like a Иew Radicals song, wasn’t my way of trying to make sense of a more “incomprehensible” thing?
These are pre-revelatory questions, bred within the space of the noosphere. For example: Discordianism, a religion based on the worship of Eris, was founded in 1958 by Malaclypse the Younger (Gregory Hill, 1941-2000) and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (Kerry Wendell Thornley, 1938-1998) when they experienced a shared hallucination at a bowling alley in in Whittier, California. Similarly altered by foreign substances, and likewise challenged by these pre-revelatory questions, Malaclypse and Ravenhurst neared the precipice of the “incomprehensible” and articulated a cosmic conception from the experience.
While Discordianism plays like an intellectual satire of religion, it culls inspiration from the same “incomprehensible” context as more mainstream religions, which are themselves attempts to resolve the insoluble nature of the noosphere. In this sense, there is no difference between religion and religious satire. All of them are unable to define (or confine) the dimensions and conditions of their context. At best—in the spirit of the noosphere—they can make suppositions, but they are fooling themselves if they think they can make any declarations. Religion is a placeholder. I can talk about Иew Radicals all I want (which is not much more than I already have), but it would be fallacious of me to argue that Иew Radicals should mean anything. It’s there, here’s what I think of it, and here’s how I think it’s affecting the situation: but even then, I can’t really be sure. Call me a pop-agnostic.
At The Clipper, I realized that while I was talking about all of these things, I was really talking about the noosphere, or the concept ‘noosphere’ as something adequate for the time being. It’s a neologism derived from the Greek νοῦς (nous, “mind”) and σφαῖρα (sphaira, “sphere”), and while Vernadsky did well to articulate, he relied too heavily on the biosphere as the analogue for the noosphere, and not the other way around. However, Vernadsky had the context right. The noosphere is a child of history. He begins his essay, The Biosphere and the Noosphere by announcing the impending climax of the Second World War, which was itself a continuation of the First World War, “which resulted in a new, historically unprecedented, form of statehood, not only in the realm of economics, but likewise in that of the aspirations nationalities.”
He continues, arguing that, “From the point of view of the naturalist (and, I think, likewise from that of the historian) an historical phenomenon of such power may and should be examined as a part of a single great terrestrial geological process, and not merely as a historical process.”
History is not merely historical, in other words. It develops in much the same way terra develops; via something Vernadsky calls ‘the Huyghens principle,’ which, quoting scientist Christian Huyghens (1629–1695), posits that, “life is a cosmic phenomenon, in some way sharply distinct from nonliving matter.” [My italics.] History, the story of life, advances in some way, some “incomprehensible” way. Vernadsky was writing in a scientific age where cosmic conjecture was still permissible, even going so far to cite Goethe (1740–1832). Of him, Vernadsky writes that Goethe was, “not only a great poet but a great scientist as well, [who] once rightly remarked, in science we only can know how something occurred, but we cannot know why it occurred.”
Bearing the liquid nature of history in mind, Vernadsky writes:
“The historical process is being radically changed under our very eyes. For the first time in the history of mankind the interests of the masses on the one hand, and the free thought of individuals on the other, determine the course of life of mankind and provide standards for mere ideas of justice. […] The noosphere is a new geological phenomenon on our planet. In it for the ﬁrst time man becomes a large-scale geological force. He can and must rebuild the province of his life by his work and thought, rebuild it radically in comparison with the past. Wider and wider creative possibilities open before him.”
While Vernadsky was correct in utilizing the noosphere as a conceptual way to describe the development of the ‘large-scale geological’ events throughout the 20th century, it would be a disservice to the spirit of the noosphere to continue upholding it as a mere descriptor. Since the appearance of the noosphere, not only has history been affected by a growing human influence, but an expanding technological, commercial, and communicative influence. For this reason, I prefer Jan Benes’ (1957–) recapitulation of the concept in his entry on Vernadsky in the Combined English Dictionary & Encyclopedia of ‘Pataphysics (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), where he gives the noosphere a proper noun treatment (not unlike the god treatment). The noosphere becomes ‘Noospheria,’ which is both more universal and more Heraclitean – cosmic definition and all: “a fragment of the universe that is enacted by human thought, culture, and knowledge.”
Benes writes, “We are always in Noospheria, though sometimes more than others.” The idea of a precipice is jettisoned and we are left wholly consumed by the “incomprehensible.” My experience at the Clipper, Иew Radicals, was an experience in Noospheria. Whereas the former ‘noosphere’ allowed for a distinction between the real and the irreal (a result of Vernadsky’s scientific background), Noospheria shatters that demarcation. “There is only incomprehension in Noospheria,” Benes says. “If I am to radically ‘rebuild the province of my life,’ I first need to recognize the priority of incomprehension.”
To avoid falling straight into the pit of existentialism, Benes is also careful to note that despite the universal incomprehension of Noospheria, things still remain sensible. Incorporating Vernadsky’s promise that ‘wider creative possibilities’ will be opened, Benes suggests that creativity is essential for navigating incomprehensibility. “Incomprehensibility is not a curse, it is a fact,” Benes says. “While Art is not always comprehensible, it is always sensible – and this is what we should embrace; this is the new domain of creative possibility.”
(And the pitch:) Anobium: Volume 3 — Noospheria is our way of capturing this. Think of this book as a noospheric documentary. For this volume, we’ve hand-selected various writings, essays, and interviews we feel represent Noospheria. The difficulty, of course, is that everything is noospheric, though—to play on Benes—some things are more noospheric than others.
This volume starts with Timothy Schuler‘s essay, Commonplaces, which was formulated over pint glasses and uses the idea of ‘Commonplace’ books to discuss the myth of ownership. Caroline Picard‘s essay, Bound With Bright, Beautiful Things, was first pitched as a small web essay, but grew into a different creature over time, with proprietary illustrations to match. This volume also includes three separate, long-form interviews with Bruce Bickford(sculptor/artist), John M. Bennett(poet/artist), and Adam Levin (fiction author), which—based on their content and rhythm—we consider to be cornerstones for this collection. Jonathan Greenhause, who was included in Volume 1 and Volume 2, is included again here, stellar as always. D.E. Steward, who we published in Volume 2, shows up here again as well. New to Anobium—though not new to the writing world—are contributions from authors Brandi Wells, Benjamin Merriman, and Lauren Goodman. Also, in the true spirit of Noospheria, we are including collaborative pieces from Kathleen Rooney/Elisa Gabbert, Quinton Hallett/Colette Jonopulos/Nancy Carol Moody/Laura LeHew, and a Toshiya Kamei-translated piece originally authored by Mexican author Julieta García González (1970–). Blaster “Al” Ackerman also makes an appearance here, in a piece republished from his omnibus collection, printed by Feh! Press in 1994.
What you hold here in your hands is an actual fragment of the universe enacted by human thought, culture, and knowledge—or lack thereof. It’s a noospheric mix tape. It once was not, but is now, and soon, will not be. As Vernadsky says, “Therefore we may face the future with conﬁdence. It is in our hands. We will not let it go.” Enjoy it. I know do, or at least, my reading of it conjures a feeling of enjoyment, which is suitable for the time being, but I can only peel the crust off so many sandwiches before my time is up. Huyghens be with you (and also with you).
Go to our store at BigCartel to buy Noospheria now. It’s only $10.
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