If you look at the painting, illustration, and figure drawing work of Eliza Gauger, you wouldn’t be wrong if you thought you saw the visual influence of the likes of Egon Schiele, and an overall thematic investigation of the grotesque. Additionally, Gauger’s work on the absurdist Jerk City comic showcases a familiarity with both Dadaism and meme culture, but basically the opposite of how pretentious that makes it sound. On top of visual art, Gauger has done work in music and been an active and charismatic figure online for over a decade. But the project that’s been taking up the majority of their time, lately, has much more in common with chaos magick and the works of Austin Osman Spare than their previous endeavours.
Since 2013 Gauger has been creating Problem Glyphs, through the process of leaving their Tumblr ask box open to anonymous comments, and reading the problems of those who offered them up. Gauger then created visual representations of sigilized imagery, meant to evoke the shape of and the path through the issue. I’ll let them tell you more about it, below, but the long and the short of it is, Problem Glyphs were a runaway success.
As the questions kept pouring in, it eventually became clear that Gauger had struck a current, and that a massively cathartic process was being shared by many people, and now, three years later, a book collection is being developed. From the Kickstarter campaign:
The Problem Glyphs art book contains 100 glyphs and their associated submissions, accompanied by an introduction by Eliza Gauger and a foreword by award-winning writer, Warren Ellis. Problem Glyphs will be a premium edition, display-worthy art book, measuring 10×12″ and featuring a Smyth sewn, genuine clothbound hard cover with gold foil-stamped cover illustrations. The estimated 220 interior pages will be printed on beautiful matte coated art paper. Tremendous care has gone into every aspect of the book, from its binding to its typography, the beautiful and storied Doves Type.
I got the chance to have a tarot-based conversation with Eliza Gauger, to discuss the origins, impact, and future of Problem Glyphs.
In her series Psychopomp, author Amanda Sledz takes a literary approach to writing about urban shamanism, magical thinking, tarot, telepathy and other themes usually reserved for the fantasy genre. The series follows four characters: Meena, a woman who has experienced a break with reality; her parents, Frank and Esther; and Lola, a teenager who is becoming a shaman whether she wants to or not.
The first book in the series, Psychopomp Volume One: Cracked Plate, explores mental illness, empathy, our differing experiences of place, immigration and cultural identity, and the way our experience of family shapes our identity — without resorting to the cliches of genre fiction or descending into boring academic prose.
Amanda was raised in Cleveland and now lives in Portland, OR. She is self-publishing Psychopomp, but her work has appeared eFiction Horror and various small literary magazines. You can also check out some of Amanda’s works in progress on her site.
An excerpt from the first installment is here. You can buy the book from Amanda here, from Powells Books or from Amazon here.
I recently caught-up with her to talk about Psychopomp, self-publishing and more.
Klint Finley: I understand you wrote a first draft of the first book in college — can you walk us through how the book evolved?
Amanda Sledz: I started working on it during my last semester of graduate school. I’d finished the entirety of an MFA in nonfiction writing, and thought I’d try my hand at fiction before escaping the clutches of academentia. There were a lot of subjects that I wrote about in my master’s thesis that were perceived as being unbelievable, because magical thinking as a means of interacting with hardship was described as a natural way of operating. The tone of the thesis (which was a memoir) became very self-conscious, with the over-awareness of the audience that’s required for decent nonfiction writing. I found myself longing to write something uncorked that still utilized the same themes.
I finished the first draft, which consisted of a shorter version of each section, very quickly. The editing and perfecting and development of repetition took a long, long time.
I abandoned it after wrangling it and getting sections of it published in small literary magazines. Then just over a year ago I was cleaning off my hard drive and thought doing nothing with it would be a waste.
And, in a way, as Grant Morrison might say I had myself locked in a hypersigil. I’m fairly certain my writing career would be permanently stalled if I didn’t let it escape.
Gibson’s been talking a lot lately about atemporality, this idea that we live in a sort of endless digital now. In “Zero History” we have an echo of “No Future”: everything compressed into the present. This idea is what Zero History is really about. (This is the Order Flow: the future is defined by the present; who pinpoints the present controls the future.)
While not one to contradict Gibson himself, I’m not sure I buy this exactly: indeed, the wikihistoriography project was, in part, a refutation of this view. But it’s undeniable that something is happening, a network effect produced by the sudden visibility of just how unevenly distributed those futures are.
I want to give it a name, and at this point I’m calling it Network Realism.
Network Realism is writing that is of and about the network. It’s realism because it’s so close to our present reality. A realism that posits an increasingly 1:1 relationship between Fiction and the World. A realtime link. And it’s networked because it lives in a place that’s that’s enabled by, and only recently made possible by, our technological connectedness.
Zero History is Network Realism because of the way that it talks about the world, and the way its knowledge of the world is gathered and disseminated. Gibson seems to be navigating the spider graph of current reality as wikiracing does human knowledge.
My groomsmen from my wedding and me. Perhaps not the best example of group intelligence.
When it comes to intelligence, the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts. A new study co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College researchers documents the existence of collective intelligence among groups of people who cooperate well, showing that such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups’ individual members, and that the tendency to cooperate effectively is linked to the number of women in a group.
Fascinating article on the history of AA and some research on why, even though it doesn’t usually work, it does occasionally work.
Here’s an interesting social-cybernetic insight:
To begin with, there is evidence that a big part of AA’s effectiveness may have nothing to do with the actual steps. It may derive from something more fundamental: the power of the group. Psychologists have long known that one of the best ways to change human behavior is to gather people with similar problems into groups, rather than treat them individually. The first to note this phenomenon was Joseph Pratt, a Boston physician who started organizing weekly meetings of tubercular patients in 1905. These groups were intended to teach members better health habits, but Pratt quickly realized they were also effective at lifting emotional spirits, by giving patients the chance to share their tales of hardship. (“In a common disease, they have a bond,” he would later observe.) More than 70 years later, after a review of nearly 200 articles on group therapy, a pair of Stanford University researchers pinpointed why the approach works so well: “Members find the group to be a compelling emotional experience; they develop close bonds with the other members and are deeply influenced by their acceptance and feedback.”
The article covers AA’s effectiveness briefly, and finds that studies of its effectiveness are inconclusive. I’ve posted before about one study that found 12-step programs no more or less effective than other treatment programs.
I have absolutely zero problem with people using religion or whatever else works to improve their lives and get over the devastating effects of addiction, court mandated 12 step programs are clearly a breach of the seperation of church and state. (And There’s evidence to suggest that mandating treatment doesn’t work anyway.)
Have you used an online persona to accomplish self-transformation? I’m doing research for my hypersigil project (currently thinking it will take the form of a free e-book, and then be extended into something else from there), and I’m looking for personal stories from people who have attempted to use online personas to make changes in their lives. Whether that meant taking up another gender identity in IRC or Second Life before taking transgenderism in real life, or crafting a different professional identity to make a career change, or using social media to get out of a rut in life, I’m interested in talking to you.
I especially want to talk to you if you’ve tried and failed. I’m interested in finding out how to make this work for people, so failures are even more important to study than successes.
If anyone can recommend any books, papers, or studies on the subject, I’d be much appreciative.
There were a ton of parallels between that show and my life, especially now, where my online presence affects offline interactions. 
My online presence actually creates who I am. It’s a machine that produces my identity and exists outside of me. 
That reminded me of hypersigils. Morrison explained hypersigils thusly:
The “hypersigil” or “supersigil” develops the sigil concept beyond the static image and incorporates elements such as characterization, drama, and plot. The hypersigil is a sigil extended through the fourth dimension. My own comic book series The Invisibles was a six-year long sigil in the form of an occult adventure story which consumed and recreated my life during the period of its composition and execution. The hypersigil is an immensely powerful and sometimes dangerous method for actually altering reality in accordance with intent. Results can be remarkable and shocking.
After becoming familiar with the traditional sigil method, see if you can create your own hypersigil. The hypersigil can take the form of a poem, a story, a song, a dance, or any other extended artistic activity you wish to try. This is a newly developed technology so the parameters remain to be explored. It is important to become utterly absorbed in the hypersigil as it unfolds; this requires a high degree of absorption and concentration (which can lead to obsession but so what? You can always banish at the end) like most works of art. The hypersigil is a dynamic miniature model of the magician’s universe, a hologram, microcosm, or “voodoo doll” which can be manipulated in real time to produce changes in the macrocosmic environment of “real” life.
Above: an image from The Invisibles. The character in the center wearing a suit is King Mob, the character from Invisibles that Morrison identified himself with. Below: a photograph of Grant Morrison from his web site.
There has been extended internet-drama on occult sites regarding what does and does not count as a hypersigil. I think Morrison is clear that the hypersigil takes the form of a serial narrative – whether that be a comic series, a movie trilogy, a series of songs or albums, or what have you. But others have made a compelling argument that the definition needn’t be so limited. Nick Pell, in his essay “Beyond the Sigil: Creating YR own Mind Viruses” in Magic on the Edge, makes a compelling case for this, using Shepard Fairley‘s “Andre the Giant has a Posse” and “Obey Giant” campaigns as examples of other types of extended, non-static sigils.
However, for purposes of this essay, I’m only going to consider “hypersigils” as narrative works- but I do want to consider narrative beyond strictly fictional narratives. For example, one can create a narrative in a personal blog or Live Journal or their Twitter or Facebook updates.
After suggesting a connection between hypersigils and cybernetics, Nabil replied:
The number of ways that hypersigilism applies to the internet/cybernetics is kind of staggering when you think on it. 
Think about something as basic as a myspace/facebook profile, the choices we make defining the online persona  which creates a manifest change in the offline world. .
The things we choose to place on the internet reflect and magnify the awareness of self to ourselves and those around us. 
Above: a diagram I made illustrating feedback loops of perception in hypersigils
The way I see it, the online persona, fictional self, or avatar one creates can create feedback loops to reinforce behaviors and perceptions and have a create significant “real world” changes in a person’s life over time. In the case of Grant Morrison, he was also shaping his persona in the letters column of The Invisibles, in interviews he gave, and his public persona at comic conventions.
Nabil says: “I know of one person who used net-anonymity to explore gender before pursuing changing gender IRL.” . I suspect that’s rather common. Also, to go back to my interview with Amber from last week, in which she gives advice to liberal arts majors looking to establish a career outside academia:
Create an online presence that is ubiquitous and enjoyable to interface with. Let it be known who you want to be. Put that on your business card and on your social profiles.
Which, of course, is exactly how she came to be a “cyborg anthropologist.”
So I find myself wondering: what is and isn’t hypersigilic activity online (and off?) Is creating an avatar on an MMORG? If so, what about playing a character in a pen and paper role playing game?
I think it depends on the role of online and offline feedback involved – if playing a character (online or off) changes the way you think of yourself and *especially* if changes the way OTHER people think about you, then yes – I think it does.
*There was some discussions on cybernetics and complex adaptive systems and the occult at Esozone: The Other Tomorrow lead by Joseph Thiebes, deadletter b, Wes Unruh, and Edward Wilson but I missed them. I suspect the overlaps have been discussed elsewhere, if the curious reader wishes to look.
I’m missing David Mack at Floating World tonight for Bogville. Sometimes Portland is so awesome it sucks.
WHO: David Mack
WHAT: Art exhibit, slide show discussion, Q&A with the artist
WHEN: Thursday, April 2nd, 6-10pm
WHERE: Floating World Comics, 20 NW 5th Ave #101
JASON LEIVIAN: Kabuki: The Alchemy talks about a new beginning. Everything that came before (Volumes 1-6) was childhood. Maybe one way of putting it, when I was younger there was a developmental stage where I immersed myself in books and ideas that I was interested in. But then at some point there was a breakthrough and things got crazy. It’s like it all became real and my life became some science fiction novel. When I was younger read things in books, but now my life is these things. What was metaphor, now seems like platonic truth, even realer than this reality, which seems like maya by comparison. Let’s talk about the spiritual journey of David Mack as it’s expressed through your art. In Kabuki you see the work as a self fulfilling prophecy. Can you discuss that a bit?
DAVID MACK: I think I understand what you are describing. What you focus on has a tendency to change you, affect you. When you are passionate about something and active in working on it, it can seem like you hit a point when your real life seems to operate on dream-logic: You think it and then it materializes.
Creating on a regular basis is a great practice for that. It clues you in, trains you, to realize how malleable the material world is – that you can have an immediate effect on it based on your thoughts and actions. When you write or draw everyday, you start with a blank, and then you make something- an idea suddenly exists in the three dimensional material world. Just by writing it down, drawing it, you take this thing that only existed in your head, and then suddenly it exists in three dimensional physical reality. Practicing that everyday, starts to reveal to you that things work that way. You experience that transition everyday and it becomes larger than the page or the work you are doing. It has a ripple effect in people that experience your work and their response to it.
Suddenly you realize you have not just created one story, or one work, or a body of work, but you’ve created your own career, and your own life, as your self portrait, and your contexts for your life, and your work has become your passport to a variety of worlds. And there is a point when the dream you were dreaming, and then dared to enact in reality, has become completely real and you live it everyday. And other people can even share it with you.
That is a great lesson to learn. Because once you learn it, you can go about living it very consciously. As consciously as you would craft your work on the page, you realize you are crafting it off the page as well.