Pataphysics Magazine interview with Barrington Vincent Sherman from the Industrial/Grave issue 1989
Pataphysics: What use does the study of history have for you? Barrington Vincent Sherman: Being brought up in the Jewish/Christian culture, although not having any religious instructions (my family being dead against it), I have a very historical view of life, like anyone in the modern Western world does. It’s a great romance. When you know the origins of things you can often take things in a more sober way. You can see things for their morality rather than for their scale.
P: What is your methodology in researching history, such that enables you to reach conclusions?
BVS: You look at all the texts that are left. I mean that in a hermeneutic sense. Fundamentally in hermeneutic interpretation you don’t say anything is untrue, you take into account that people found certain things to be important. It’s irrespective of whether the world is flat – the point is that that motivated people. No text is to be seen as nonsense, they’re all to be dealt with, because it was important in that day, even if it’s not now. Another sense of hermeneutic is that if everything is language then what isn’t interpretable? You have to find aspects to language which are analogous to the subject you are dealing with. You can find lots of things in the Hellenistic world that have very little bearing on Christianity or whatever other subject you are investigating; so you have to make the right analogy.
P: What is religion?
BVS: So far, the only definition of religion I can come up with is: the sacred in culture. Burning the American flag or flying the hammer and sickle in Times Square, painting anti-war slogans on the shrine, setting up a Koori embassy in the grounds of the M.C.G. … things like this would offend various elements in our society because certain acts assault the validity of the sacredness by disregarding the taboos of doing such. In order to understand religion in the secular world of today, it is important not to see religion as a brand name, but to see its possibility as an adjectival noun. There are lots of parallels between secular religion and the fragmentary state of pre-Constantinian circum-Mediterranean religion. So in this age God is best appreciated as your God/ideal. The scope of God is today portrayed as something far too local to be that omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.
P: Are you talking about the individual finding truth in their own culture?
BVS: The first assumption is that truth is not coming to the world naked but in images and types. There’s types of truths and images of truth. So you can never know the true scale of God, you will only know an image of that. You can transcend that, but not in a cultural sense. Every human being has a soul by which I mean they have feelings, personality, a life. Each person is worthy of respect. Human beings don’t have to be a threat – they can actually be your greatest asset. If you trust something that feels good rather than sounds good, you’ve got an idea that has yet to be fulfilled. There’s a lot of ideas that sound great, but we always need new ones, so you really destroy things all the time. The old always gets replaced by the new, because the old is taken for granted, but the new has to be valid in order to be accepted. A lot of ideas seem to come from a similar source, they have a similar structure. Ideas seem to be of a definite nature. You can’t expect a horse to fly around Mars because horses weren’t built to fly around Mars. So to, ideas are built to imbue the world with meaning.
P: As a Gnostic what do you believe in?
BVS: Gnosis basically means knowing how to do so something, having the expertise to put the kingdom of Heaven on earth. I will now go into cosmology. I believe the world is run by Yaldabaoth. Yaldabaoth is not the devil, is nothing like the devil – something more insidious; he’s just stupid. I wouldn’t think a loving God would throw people out of the Garden of Eden, or would cause suffering on man. I do believe in the existence of the Garden of Eden.
P: As something that still exists?
BVS: It still exists, in fact you’re living in it now, you just don’t know it, because Yaldabaoth has got you in a veil of sleepiness you don’t realize. To me the world is a hell of squanderers. It could be the most beautiful place but it’s not going to be.
P: Because we haven’t got our eyes open?
BVS: Because you haven’t got your sense of beauty open. Beauty is a great criteria, but you need a well-developed being to be able to interpret that into life. Consequently, the Spirit needs the soul to be as mature as possible, so it can carry its beauty, the essence, or the great possibilities of the Garden of Eden down to the body or earth. That is one of my basic assumptions. There is actually a better God around when you see the beauty of the world or when you feel at one with nature. You think, isn’t the world a great place, but in fact there are people still starving to death, so it’s not that great a place. It just reminds you of you true home, which is a more noble type of life.
P: Do you mean life after death?
BVS: I don’t believe in death as anything more than transitory. This is the basic criteria of change, that you live in a world that is fundamentally plastic – that human existence is a constant regrouping of matter and ideas, and that everything around you is made. What does the making? Change is incredibly important to me in the soteriological drama towards perfection, which is, of course, an incredibly individual thing.
P: How does that individual thing relate to a more general culture?
BVS: Talking to people as a group obscures the individual’s potential. I don’t think the concept of the masses is very important towards changing the world for the better. For us here to agree on things is quite easy, because we are from similar backgrounds – comparatively speaking – but if you get 10 people from different backgrounds it’s harder to get people to agree. Consequently, the compromises will be more vague. How can you have a decent world if your needs in the world aren’t met?
P: But things still exist on that level. How do you deal with them?
BVS: You ignore them and deal with them on a more significant level.
P: So you’re advocating a pluralist approach?
P: What’s your relationship to the rest of the world?
BVS: Here I am, here you are. There’s no masses out there. There’s just here and now. Now is now – if it’s talking to a hundred people, it’s talking to a hundred people; if it’s talking to five people, it’s talking to five people. It’s got nothing to do with all these other dissipating concepts that basically enslave someone else’s will, and make them feel insignificant. People talk about biological diversity, but what about cultural diversity? Who knows, by studying these so-called primitive tribes in the Amazon you might work out ways of getting rid of prisons or sexism. Who knows what analogies you can make with other cultures. I believe in human diversity, and I don’t have an unrealistic conception of ‘there lie dragons,’ because for me the idea of masses is incredibly vague.
P: Can you be specific about methods of change?
BVS: I’m interested in change, as to what it actually is, like why do things repeat themselves, and why certain cultures do or don’t take certain options, like why is this culture the way it is. Many choices are meaningless, often because potentials are not appreciated.
P: What of your secret activities?
BVS: I am a member of seven secret societies and have had experience with lots of mystery cults. I call them mystery cults in the same way as they were called in the Roman Empire, in the sense that they have a secret teaching that is only open to a few and can only be appreciated once you are exposed to their teachings.
P: And what of their teachings?
BVS: This is a really weird story. I went to hear a Hindu master talk in a Mason’s hall. He was a westerner in the classic style of modern mystery cults – conspicuously conservative. They have no furniture, everything is clean and bare. In the hall was a coffee table and on the coffee table was a chopping board and a meat cleaver. Everyone sat at the back of the hall. The Hindu master began talking about heady sorts of things that you get from any mystery cult. The mood was very strange, and I was there for three hours. When I say heady, I mean lofty, like out of the Hermetica – ‘I fell asleep and my mind drifted,’ that sort of thing. After that he asked who would give him strict observance. I thought, I wonder what strict observance is? Then this girl comes up and puts her hand on the chopping block. She had this look on her face as if to say ‘I want to be fucked.’ And sure enough, because she did it right, he chopped off her hand and she felt no pain. I was so far away I could only hear this. I thought, am I seeing this? I’ve got such bad eyesight, I can never tell anyway. In one way, I was really pleased that I had come across this really bizarre bag of tricks, but on the other hand I was really scared of it.
P: What happened after she got her hand chopped off?
BVS: He just lifted her hand up, which I could see was cut off and not bleeding, and he joined it back to her arm. She was wearing a long Indian dress and long hair. After that this guy came up. He was a bit goofy. He had what looked like a green striped business suit. He was neat but quite sloppy. He put his hand down, but when it got chopped off he started screaming and blood started flowing everywhere. I didn’t know what was going on. I was basically too scared to leave the room and in total shock. This was the big test, and this guy was the one in every hundred to fail. The master just put the guy’s hand back on anyway. After that, the master got up and walked through the wall into the next room and came back through the wall with three of his mates (it was a real show of power). Then they all sat down and meditated and began to levitate. When they were high enough off the ground their assistants put Bunsen burners underneath them and lit them… I remember being so shocked. It could all have been bullshit, but it just unnerved me. I remember getting driven home in a white station-wagon and this guy saying, ‘I’ll see you next Thursday.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and just went home and sat on my bed started crying. I was so scared. When he phoned me up I told him I didn’t want to know anything about it. I was totally confused, totally unnerved, and through much of this sort of chaos, my identity revealed itself to me.