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Lawrence English's 'Wilderness of Mirrors': A Cold War Truth in Dark Drones

A favorite saying from the dawn of domestic surveillance finds sonic life.

by Michael Byrne
Jun 8 2014, 1:00pm

According to an analysis one can find in the CIA's own library, a journey into the headspace of its notorious longtime head of counterintelligence James Angleton is, "a Rashomon-like experience." His tenure, from 1954 to 1974, was a time in which intelligence didn't so much come of age as live out its wildest theories in an unfettered stream. During the Second World War, Angleton helped crack codes and deploy finely caliberated masterpieces of deception, portions of which helped obscure the Allies' Normandy invasion plans for D-Day. According to lore, his own experiences in planting double agents and bad information made Angleton a deeply paranoid leader, assuming infiltration everywhere before uncovering it anywhere.

Angleton became a living pathology of spydom, a prisoner of his own "wilderness of mirrors," a favorite term of the spy leader used to describe a landscape populated by double agents and planted information. It's a place where nothing is real, and all is just a reflection of some distant motive, nation, and-or ideology. Corruption is the base state. Eventually, for Angleton, this notion unfolded into a complete inability to differentiate between the reality and the mirrors, and eventually Operation CHAOS, the intensive domestic spy ring that would eventually be his undoing. CHAOS was the natural conclusion to life in such a wilderness, where the only rational way of finding your way out is by starting with what's closest to you.

The forthcoming album from Lawrence English, Wilderness of Mirrors, might also be taken as an attempt to escape its namesake. Each composition is built from a single "singularity," one real sound, that is "slowly reflected back upon itself in a flood of compositional feedback," as English describes it.

The Room40 description goes deeper:

The album is moreover a reflection on the current exploitation of the ideals of the wilderness of mirrors, retuned and refocused from the politics of the state, to the politics of the modern multiplex. The amorphous and entangled nature of the modern world is one where thoughtless information prevails in an environment starved of applied wisdom. Wilderness Of Mirrors is a stab at those living spectres (human and otherwise) that haunt our seemingly frail commitments to being humane.

In the end, however, the reflections protect as well. The TS Eliot poem the phrase originates from, "Gerontion," continues as such: "In a wilderness of mirrors/ What will the spider do." Will it pause, giving the "other" spiders an opportunity to attack, or will it just attack its own reflection, again and again? Does the spider even have a choice, or is it destined to live in perpetual war with itself, just in case? This conundrum might sound familiar.  

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