By Jonathan Zap, 2006
Eucatastrophe is a term coined by J.R.R. Tolkien which refers to the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which result in the protagonist’s well-being. He formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu , meaning good , to catastrophe , the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot…It could be said that the ending of “The Lord of the Rings” is an Eucatastrophe. Though victory seems assured for Sauron, the One Ring is destroyed beyond all hope. Essentially a bad situation suddenly turning good.
Pronoia (from Rob Brezsny’s new book, Pronoia ) was “…coined in the mid-1970s by Grateful Dead lyricist and cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, John Perry Barlow, who defined it as the opposite of paranoia: ‘the suspicion that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.'” Carl Jung’s approach to most dreams was to see them as compensatory, as compensating for an imbalance in the waking attitude. If a compensatory Olympics were held today, Rob Brezsny’s new book Pronoia would probably win both the gold and silver medals, while Dick Cheney dreaming about being a Taoist vegan doing volunteer work in a solar powered quail sanctuary might only win the bronze.
Just think of how much less work it would be to write a book entitled Paranoia containing media samples that pointed toward a negative world view. That book could consist of a single sheet of transparent plastic and then you could rest it on your computer monitor, television screen or the pile of magazines and newspapers on you coffee table. It would be the supreme act of redundancy for that book to bother with any content whatsoever.
From the point of view of the perennial philosophy we should be at the cusp of a great age of darkness becoming a new golden age. But most media are giving us wall to wall coverage of the great age of darkness, while streaks of golden light starting to penetrate the dense cloud cover over Mordor go largely unreported. The once every three years, one in a hundred million school shooter is deemed more newsworthy than the dramatic drop in adolescent violence and all the unreported moments of unexpected empathy and insight happening amongst the young.
Especially living at the cusp, paranoia and pronoia are perceptual choices, one isn’t right and the other wrong, some are conspiring against us, some are conspiring for us, and you have to decide which group you want to welcome into the doors of your perception. When optimists and pessimists were studied they found that pessimists were better at reality testing, but in every other measured parameter—-health, wealth, relationships, etc. the optimists were better off. They train race car drivers that if they are heading toward the wall not to look at it, but to look in the direction they want to go. So stop looking at CNN long enough to read Pronoia .
But if disaster scenarios are your espresso, if you feed off of “if it bleeds it leads” coverage of the hottest terrorist story of the day like a subway rat on two day old extra cheese pizza, be prepared for some major withdrawal symptoms as you read Pronoia. Rob Brezny warns you right up front:
You will not find any references to harsh, buzzing fluorescent lights in a cheap hotel room where an Arab American heroin dealer plots to get revenge against the teachers at his old high school by releasing sarin gas into the teachers’ lounge. There are no reports of Nazi skinheads obsessed with recreating the 14th-century Tartar’s war strategy of catapulting plague-ridden corpses into an enemy’s citadel. Completely absent from these pages are any stories about a psychotic CEO of a fortune 500 company who has intentionally disfigured his face to help the him elude the CIA, which wants to arrest him for the treasonous sale of his company’s nanotech weapons technology to the Chinese.
If you can deal with such serious omissions, you may find Pronoia to be more contagious than an aerosolized human variant of avian flu, and should therefore probably consult your doctor about whether this book might jeopardize the underlying perceptual choices that are crucial to your consumption of Serotonin Specific Re-Uptake Inhibitors and lead to uncontrollable outbreaks of wellness spreading like wild fire as your life spirals toward eucatastrophe.