Pataphysics Magazine Interview with Barry Sherman
from the Industrial/Grave issue
Pataphysics: What use does the study of history have for you?
Barry 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. Itís 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?
BS: You look at all the texts that are left. I mean that in a hermeneutic sense. Fundamentally in hermeneutic interpretation you donít say anything is untrue, you take into account that people found certain things to be important. Itís irrespective of whether the world is flat Ė the point is that that motivated people. No text is to be seen as nonsense, theyíre all to be dealt with, because it was important in that day, even if itís not now. Another sense of hermeneutic is that if everything is language then what isnít 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?
BS: 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. Ö 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?
BS: The first assumption is that truth is not coming to the world naked but in images and types. Thereís 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 donít have to be a threat Ė they can actually be your greatest asset. If you trust something that feels good rather than sounds good, youíve got an idea that has yet to be fulfilled. Thereís 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 canít expect a horse to fly around Mars because horses werenít 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?
BS: 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 Ė something more insidious; heís just stupid. I wouldnít 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?
BS: It still exists, in fact youíre living in it now, you just donít know it, because Yaldabaoth has got you in a veil of sleepiness you donít realize. To me the world is a hell of squanderers. It could be the most beautiful place but itís not going to be.
P: Because we havenít got our eyes open?
BS: Because you havenít 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, isnít the world a great place, but in fact there are people still starving to death, so itís 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?
BS: I donít 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 Ė 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?
BS: Talking to people as a group obscures the individualís potential. I donít 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 Ė comparatively speaking Ė but if you get 10 people from different backgrounds itís 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 arenít met?
P: But things still exist on that level. How do you deal with them?
BS: You ignore them and deal with them on a more significant level.
P: So youíre advocating a pluralist approach?
P: Whatís your relationship to the rest of the world?
BS: Here I am, here you are. Thereís no masses out there. Thereís just here and now. Now is now Ė if itís talking to a hundred people, itís talking to a hundred people; if itís talking to five people, itís talking to five people. Itís got nothing to do with all these other dissipating concepts that basically enslave someone elseís 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 donít have an unrealistic conception of Ďthere lie dragons,í because for me the idea of masses is incredibly vague.
P: Can you be specific about methods of change?
BS: Iím interested in change, as to what it actually is, like why do things repeat themselves, and why certain cultures do or donít 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?
BS: 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?
BS: This is a really weird story. I went to hear a Hindu master talk in a Masonís hall. He was a westerner in the classic style of modern mystery cults Ė 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 Ė ĎI fell asleep and my mind drifted,í 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 ĎI want to be fucked.í 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? Iíve 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?
BS: 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 didnít 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 guyís 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 themÖ 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, ĎIíll see you next Thursday.í I said, ĎYeah, sure,í and just went home and sat on my bed started crying. I was so scared. When he phoned me up I told him I didnít 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.