Hey all, here’s the latest bonus letter from your good friend, me. I already have some idea of what my next piece will be on, so this is possibly the start of a series on mundane occultism.
It took me a few weeks to get my podcast queue back under control after mostly ignoring it for three weeks while I was in the States. I don’t subscribe to that many podcasts, and plenty of them are only irregular, but in those weeks away that queue hit critical mass (largely thanks to a backlog of Philosophize This!, admittedly). It weighed on my mind as if it was an important responsibility I’d been avoiding, like vacuuming, flossing, or my email inbox, but one that would take 60-odd hours to complete – even listening at 1.2x speed.
It had become a burden.
Normally I listen to podcasts for a good chunk of the day while I do my dayjob, when I’m cooking and doing chores, during commutes, and when I go out my daily walk. A few years and a couple of houses ago, I lived close to a creek (and a highway, but that’s not important). Every day when I went on my walk/jog, I’d follow the track along the creek – edged with native flora, its every concrete surface marked with graffiti that would fade and bloom with the spraypaint seasons, always changing. I loved that track. I mean, I hated running it – never trust anyone who tells you they enjoy running – but the track itself was a great backdrop. I hit the track with a headful of ideas, and ears full of music, the wind and birds in the trees, and interesting images and turns of phrase painted along the path. All of it came together to feed me even more ideas – stories, characters, dialogue, twists.
The only problem is, running is really fucking boring. ‘Good for you’ maybe, ‘good for your mental health’, but so fucking boring. For every one of those moments of inspiration, I’d have thirty minutes of mind-numbing, calf-aching, bullshit running. And after a while, the music became too easy to tune out. I’d tune it out and my inner monologue would have a chance to dominate, and all my inner voice would say is “Can’t we just fuck off back home and eat an entire pack of Oreos?”
My solution? Podcasts. The podcasts at least require proper engagement. You either follow along with the conversation, or you get left behind.
(For a while, later on, at a different house, even podcasts weren’t enough to counter the boredom, and I took to using my housemate’s treadmill and watching TV shows on my tablet. Let me tell you, that is a great way to test some of the crap that ends up on these streaming platforms. If it can’t distract you from the monotony of the hamster wheel, then it’s not a good show.)
One of the podcasts I listen to is Ultraculture, a podcast about occult and countercultural thinking. Because, like many people who read The Invisibles in their teens or early twenties, I’m interested in chaos magic(k), and occult/esoteric beliefs/thoughts/history more generally. On one episode, I can’t remember which, the host Jason Louv said something that stuck in my head – he likened podcasts to telepathy. That might sound like precisely the sort of technoccult hyperbole you’d expect to hear from someone running an online magick school, but it stuck with me precisely because it rings true. A podcast is someone’s voice being broadcast to countless people in such a way that their singular voice fills the heads of the many, overriding internal monologues, overriding thought.
(This framing of course reminded me of Burroughs and his talk of the telepathic control of Mayan priests… Actually, come to think of it, Louv may have referenced Burroughs directly, but at least I know that Burroughs was already kicking around inside my head before I listened to that Ultraculture episode.)
Maybe podcast-as-telepathy sounds really obvious, or like utter bullshit, but I found the analogy kind of stunning. It’s a new angle from which to consider something utterly mundane. It’s a way to rethink a form of consumption that many of us thoughtlessly take part in every single day. And, like I said, it rings true to me. When I’m on the dayjob clock, any time I have to read something more involved than a single sentence, or any time I have to write an email, I either have to pause the podcast or know that I’m simply not going to hear anything they say until I’ve stopped using the word-focused part of my brain. My brain can only process one language track at a time – my own thoughts or someone else’s, and it seems like more often than not, if I let it, that other voice will drown out my own.
(I’ve long had a distaste for advertising. (The first time I read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition it was like seeing myself on the page.) I think a big part of that is the knowledge that these ads are trying to insert thoughts, ideas, and desires into my mind. For me the worst was always radio advertising – to the point where the only radio station I could listen to was Triple J, a youth radio station funded by the government and thus completely free of advertising. I’m sure part of my hatred for radio ads was related to the awful aesthetic – those horribly cheesy voices and godawful jingles – but maybe subconsciously I was always aware of this aural telepathy.)
Me and m1k3y have recommended Max Anton Brewer’s SCIOPS newsletter a few times. If you’re also a subscriber, you’ll be familiar with his message of remaining aware and wary of the dark magicians that design and run the surveillance capitalism that is the basis for so much of our current internet. MAB focuses on social media and internet advertising, but it’s easy to see podcasts as yet another facet of this crystal of control. I’ve even gotten to the point where if I only feel middling about a podcast and that podcast is supported by ads, then I’ll unsubscribe. It’s mental self-defence.
Anyway, this might seem like a long and barely-focussed ramble, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I ramp up to start writing my next book. I want to reclaim those 40-60 minutes of walking and thinking time each day. I want to listen to varied strains of instrumental, drone, and electronic music as background noise when my brain is firing on all cylinders. I want to fill my head with odd shards of eclectic lyrics that might spark ideas when my mind is feeling blank. I want to give myself a break from the constant chatter of other people’s voices and maybe give my own a chance to speak. I want to let my brain dig through the mound of composting ideas I’ve been adding to for months (years?) now and get to the rich, dark heart of this story so I can bring it to the surface.
I won’t give podcasts up. They’re an easy way to pass the time during those dayjob hours, and there is too much interesting research fodder that could feed into my work, not to mention pop/cultural commentary that I enjoy too much to completely abandon. But I’m wary. I’ve pared my podcast list down to something more manageable so my mind can have the space to do what needs to be done. This book isn’t going to write itself, but my brain can do a lot of the work for me in the background if I only I give it a chance.
All the above said, here’s a list of podcasts I still recommend – telepathic mind invasion or no…
Ashes Ashes – If you only subscribe to one podcast, I would recommend you make it this one. Each episode is a thoroughly researched breakdown of a particular issue – usually ecological, but sometimes political, economic, or socio-political. It will help you realise exactly how much fucked up shit goes on in the background of maintaining our (spiralling) status quo. Recently gone on hiatus, and before that they went less-regular because of changes in their work situation. Still, the archive is well worth your attention. Patreon supported.
Darknet Diaries – Yes, it has a terrible name, but this is actually an interesting and well-researched look at various hacks, hackers, and hacking techniques. A couple of things from this podcast made it into Repo Virtual, and there’s a chance some more of it might feed into a future project (but not the next one – it’s entirely too biological). Ad supported
Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything – I find the episodes of variable quality, but the last time I lamented some poor quality episodes on the main newsletter, the following ones were fantastic. From which I can only surmise that Benjamin Walker is an avid nothing here reader and he wanted to make me eat my words. Well, congrats Benjamin, my words are et. Ad supported, but they’re few and far between.
Criminal – A true crime podcast. I like this one though because Phoebe Judge chooses small, obscure, and/or weird crime stories to focus on. For instance, I can’t remember the last episode she did that was about a brutal murder or a serial killer. While everyone else in the true crime game focusses on the grisly and macabre, Judge finds the more quietly human stories. Ad supported.
Hilarious World of Depression – John Moe talking to various comedians about their history and experience with mental health issues. If mental health is something you struggle with, or something you’re interested in, this is a great show. Supported by ads, donations, and merch sales.
Love and Radio – This has moved to one of those closed podcast systems. Honestly, the thing that will make me stop listening to podcasts is if and when all these different walled gardens emerge and swallow up the various shows and networks. Thankfully most of my favourites are entirely independent. Anyway, Love and Radio is hard to describe because each episode is totally unique. But generally they’re interesting stories of outsider types. They have a very humane and warm way of conducting their interviews and creating their show, even when the subjects might not be very sympathetic. Look for its new home if you want, or just dive into the existing archive – there’s a lot of really interesting stuff there. Supported by a subscription-only walled garden, I think.
Wyrd Signal – a podcast on philosophy, horror, and science fiction, and the intersections thereof. Usually offers a great way to rethink and recontextualise old movies, or an excuse to find new (old) ones. This is honestly one of my favourite recent finds. Patreon supported.
Chapo Traphouse – Irony-fuelled leftist/socialist American political podcast. The heavy focus on American politics means I skip most of the interview episodes, but in general it’s funny, entertaining, and enlightening. Their episodes with Adam Curtis and Alan Moore are probably of particular interest to readers here. Patreon supported (and what a Patreon!).
Boonta Vista – The Australian Chapo? Not really, but kinda. If you’re not Australian I don’t know how much you’d find of interest here, but for Aussie leftists, I’d say it’s a must-listen.
Desert Oracle Radio – A delightfully weird broadcast from the desert, about the desert and other oddities. Probably one of the best sounding podcasts out there – the music, the soundscapes, Ken’s voice, it all just comes together to construct a great half hour of audio. Supported by the heat of the desert.
Struggle Session – Leftist pop-culture podcast, talking about film, TV, games, comics, anime, and politics. This was the first podcast I ever felt the need to support on Patreon because I actually wanted more content (there are other podcasts I love, but one episode a week is plenty). One of the best things about this podcast is the way they allow themselves to be critical of the giant nerdy properties that deserve criticism but are somehow held above it by the online culture/fandoms. But that doesn’t mean the podcast is just a snarky hatefest – they will usually focus on stuff they love, and revisit things they think people didn’t properly consider in the first place. And they aren’t afraid to point out the behind-the-scenes industry bullshit too, where relevant. Patreon supported.
Ultraculture – The podcast that sparked this entire post. Plenty of great ideas, though for someone who has studied different belief systems from all over the world, Louv seems to buy into the Silicon Valley technocapital singularitarian cult a little too readily. (Or maybe being a bower bird of belief systems means he’s exactly the sort who’ll buy into it.) Patreon supported.
Last Podcast on the Left – True crime podcast, also delving into conspiracy and occult topics on occasion. Comedy-tinged. I enjoy it, but if you go back to the very early days of the podcast, shit can get problematic. (The frankly racist “Hong Kong” Henry Zebrowski gag went on for way too long considering it was 2011 and not 1981.) They do much better these days though – I think they’ve realised how big their reach is, and how many people they can hurt if they don’t consider their words. Supported by ads and Patreon, and they have a lot of ads these days. Soon they’re going to be Spotify only, and I won’t follow them into that closed garden, but it’s been fun while it lasted.
Philosophize This! – A podcast on philosophy. Refreshingly short episodes, with an easy, conversational style that helps you grapple with all sorts of big ideas. Recommended (in fact, I’m considering a re-listen after I’ve got the first draft of the next novel sorted out so I can glean some more knowledge out of it). Patreon supported.
And that’s it – hopefully I’ve given you something new to chew on.