Cephalopod as Modern Totem

The searing summer days we have spent together at Vacation Necronomicon School are quickly coming to a close — though there seems no end in sight to the heat itself, or the horror of forbidden knowledge.

I designed our curriculum with the procrastinator in mind — so if you’ve been dragging your feet on your final composition, now is your chance to attain completion.

Today’s reading is an essay on the current popularity of the cephalopod from H+ Magazine, and though we’ve covered most of its material already in our discussion of Cthulhu, I still felt it was a worthwhile read as it ranges widely in its analysis.  There is no official writing assignment today (beyond your final composition), though you may report your opinion on any aspect of this essay in the comments, as usual.

Class dismissed.

About Headmistress

Sarah L. Crowder, current headmistress of Vacation Necronomicon School, was once a pupil at the prestigious Miskatonic Academy for Girls -- though she did not graduate, as the school closed under mysterious circumstances shortly before her studies were completed. She spent many years contemplating both the arcane arts and hidden dimensions of commonplace life, and now lends her talents to our little online haven for workaday scholars.
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5 Responses to Cephalopod as Modern Totem

  1. infinitywaltz says:

    A Mark Dery essay. Strange coincidence, as he’s been recently seen on Metafilter (also the place where I first discovered this very Vacation Necronomicon School), flaming out in spectactular fashion and casting insults indiscriminately after some posters critiqued his writing style for being too cumbrous.

    Personally speaking, I find his barely concealed contempt for what he dismisses as geek/hipster culture distasteful, but his critique of McKenna (whom I find a fascinating but flawed emissary for psychedelic posthumanism) is delightful. I also think he could’ve done more with his contrast of “friendly totem octopus” and “horrifying alien squid” by throwing in some anecdotes about Humboldt squid, but that’s mostly just because I like (and am terrified by) Humboldt squid.

    As an aside, I love the Wallacavage chandeliers; there’s a little gallery and shop called Gold Bug in downtown Pasadena that has a few of them for sale. It was hard not to buy one.

  2. acrasis says:

    When I was a kid, the symbol of intelligent “otherness” was the dolphin or whale. Some people believed they were telepathic, others that they had a sonar language, but the point was that, lacking opposable thumbs, they had turned their thoughts “inward” and become peaceful and gentle beings. Unlike us. Somehow that all culminated in “Star Trek: the Voyage Home” and then vanished. It is interesting that today our ocean mascot is the octopus or squid. Intelligent, but malevolent and slimy. Perhaps this is because young people are no longer optimistic about the future, or perhaps better science education has allowed them to appreciate the wonder of mollusks. I don’t pretend to know. I suspect that culture has fragmented so much that we can only communicate with each other through the last shared cultural experiences we had- “Star Trek” perhaps, or reading Lovecraft.

  3. Headmistress says:

    @infinitywaltz I wasn’t familiar with the author; I just came across the essay by chance, so I had no idea of the controversy on Metafilter. I am also fascinated/terrified by Humboldt squid — and also glad, for the sake of my pocketbook, that Gold Bug is in another state…

    @Borrowind Stimulating as always — and compelling illustrations. I am similarly nauseated by fishy smells, though I didn’t know of Lovecraft’s distaste — some things have fallen into place now.

    @acrasis I hadn’t really thought about the transition to cephalopods from marine mammals before (nor the “Star Trek” connection), but I think you may be on to something. Not only are whales and dolphins intelligent and (mostly) gentle, they are social creatures — we talk about schools of dolphins and pods of whales — but cephalopods are mostly solitary creatures, and their intelligence is usually presented as “crafty” or even “devious.” (Think of the all the tales of captive octopi stealing fish from other tanks, for instance.) Cephalopods are much more suited to the Every Man For Himself ethos more prevalent in our culture now, I think.

    Thank you!

  4. M. Dery says:

    Infinitywaltz will be convinced I’m stalking him/her from Metafilter to VNS but it was a Google Alert that brought this fascinating thread, and Borrowind’s stunningly designed post, to my attention. (I’ll swear a blood oath.) Many thanks to the Headmistress for her interest in my essay. I won’t dignify the MeFi charges with comment, but I am curious to know what in my essay inspired Infinitywaltz’s characterization of my attitude toward “geek/hipster culture” as one of “barely concealed contempt.” I don’t see anything contemptuous in the assertion that Architeuthis “has emerged, in recent years, as a tribal totem for geeks and hipsters of the Threadless T-shirt persuasion,” unless one assumes that Threadless T-shirts are the Mark of the Beast when it comes to insufferable hipsterdom. The implication would be ironic, since my summer wardrobe leans heavily toward Threadless T’s.
    In any event, we can at least agree that McKenna was a luminous intellect, all the New Age cant notwithstanding.

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