Dr. Charles Stein Roams Rome

Chuck Stein, poet & philosopher extraordinaire, is in Rome, I learned last night, working with video artist Gary Hill on a major production in that city. He has been sending diaristic posts to Harvey Bialy’s bllog, where you can follow the whole marvellous récit. As Harvey Bialy notes: “On June 11, 2005, Gary Hill presented a multimedia installation/performance, featuring Charles Stein and Paulina Wellensberg-Olsson, in the Roman Coliseum. Dr. Stein’s journal of the events leading to the event and a post-performance critique, along with images, audio and additional notes are located in Comments.” Here’s a little foretaste:


A brief glance at a diagram of the human brain and of the coliseum and it is obvious: the Flavian Amphitheatre is like the brain, the brain is structured like a Coliseum.

In a famous analogy, Freud said the unconscious is like the city of Rome. But conversely, we observe, the city of Rome is entirely like the unconscious.

Successful analogies are symmetrical–like palindromes. They flow both ways.

The sorceress daughter of the sun god, Circe, lived at the edge of the world beyond the paths of the sun and moon, on an island named AIAIA–a palindrome. With a palindrome, you do not know whether you are coming or going, hence the use of them in casting spells. Magic works by strategic disorientation and tactical misdirection. To disrupt the flow of causation and impose the will, time itself must be thrown into confusion. Circe’s capacity to morph Odysseus’s sailors into swine and to book him passage to the underworld, we think, was drawn from such disruption.

Another passage to the DARKLY DISORIENTABLE can be opened by certain magic plants that awaken the chaos at the heart of things. These often supplement the mind-altering wizardry of the palindrome. In the 1970s it was discovered that psychotropic fungi carrying chemical variants of LSD were natural parsites on barley and rye, and that the psychoactive agent in a beverage imbibed during the mystery rites of Demeter at Eleusis (the KYKEON) was very likely a substance of this type. Demeter,the mother of Persephone and goddess of the grain, bestowed upon humanity, it seems, other gifts than the civilization means for separating the wheat from the chaff.

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