John David Ebert

John David Ebert

John David Ebert (b. June 26, 1968) is a cultural critic and philosopher who has made several contributions to the study of mythology and popular culture.


Ebert was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He worked for The Joseph Campbell Foundation as an editor immediately after graduating from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English. At the Campbell Foundation, Ebert primarily wrote footnotes for several of Campbell's postuhumous writings, among them "Baksheesh & Brahman, Sake & Satori" and "The Mythic Dimension".

After leaving the Campbell Foundation, he wrote his first book, "Twilight of the Clockwork God: Conversations on Science & Spirituality at the End of an Age" (Council Oak Books, 1999).

He moved to San Francisco during the year 2000, where he ran a bookstore in North Beach known as Black Oak Books for approximately four years (2000 - 2004). During that period he worked on a cycle of essays which were ultimately gathered up and published as a book entitled "Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons: Film as the Mythology of Electronic Society" (Cybereditions, 2005).

His forthcoming book is entitled "Death and Fame in the Age of Lightspeed", an examination of how electric technology created the conditions for the rise of the cult of the celebrity.



Ebert belongs, essentially, to the American Media Studies tradition founded by Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan and carried on by others. But he also has a strong background in the study of comparative mythology, as the influence of Joseph Campbell upon him was quite profound. Also, like Campbell, Ebert's thinking is heavily Romantic in nature and bears the influence of German Romantic philosophers Thus, Ebert's work is largely born out of a cross-fertilization of media studies with comparative mythology.


"Twilight of the Clockwork God"

Ebert's first book is composed of a series of interviews with seminal New Age thinkers whose work interfaces with the sciences in one way or another. These thinkers include Brian Swimme, Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra, William Irwin Thompson, Lynn Margulis, Stanislav Grof, Terence McKenna and Ralph Abraham. Each of these interviews is preceded by an essay-length introduction and the interviews themselves are sandwiched in between two long essays that are meditations upon the fate of the sciences in an age in which the Newtonian world view is disintegrating. The book is a sort of quest for a spiritual vision of the cosmos that makes room for paranormal phenomena.

"Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons"

Ebert's second book "Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons: Film as the Mythology of Electronic Society" is an examination of the last three decades of film, and in particular, it looks at the influence of mythology upon the cinema. Beginning with Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968, the book walks the reader through a labyrinth of celluloid ideas. The overarching theme of the book is the Fall of Man into a mechanical prison. Ebert sees contemporary humanity as essentially fallen, like the Gnostic soul spark, into his machines, and the nightmares which he is having while encapsulated by these machines are the movies which Ebert discusses in the book. Such films as "Apocalypse Now, Star Wars, The Truman Show, Dark City", etc. are discussed from a cosmological and mythological point of view.

The influence of William Irwin Thompson, who wrote the book's Forward, is quite pronounced. For example, Thompson's idea of cultural miniaturization turns up in the book's final section in which Ebert attempts to perform a cultural archaeology of the movie theater. He shows how the movie theater emerged out of the camera obscura, which in turn was bequeathed to the West by the Arabs, who had carried on and miniaturized Plato's cavern cosmology, confining it to their theory of optics. Thus, in Ebert's view, the movie theater is a vestigial survival of the ancient Paleolithic cosmology of the telling of stories before flickering firelight inside of a cave. The Arabs, in preserving an optical theory which, in contrast to the Greeks, viewed the eye as a sort of miniature cavern, eventually led, by way of a long story, to the camera obscura and hence, to the blowing up of the movie theater as a sort of large Arabic vision of the eyeball-as-cave. As Ebert writes:

"At this point in our cultural history of the world as cavern, we arrive at a nexus where optics, cosmology and the origins of cinema converge, for the principle of the camera obscura was indeed the ancestor of the movie theater. "Camera obscura" is Latin for "dark room," and if you miniaturize a room so that it becomes portable, then you're got a "camera." If you then line up a series of cameras, as Muybridge did, in order to capture the motion of a galloping horse through a sequence of still photographs, then your portable "room" is on the way to becoming enlarged again, but this time into the size of a public cavern with which to encompass the illusion of motion you have captured with the help of the little djinn of your technology. In fact, the entire world of the cinema may be regarded, a la McLuhan, as an extension of the human eye, for the movie theater is itself a kind of magic eye shared by the public, like the Graea, the three blind witches of Greek mythology, who could see only by sharing one eye." --"Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons", 213-14


"Nature, it would seem, has triumphed over spirit, for the vision of the cosmos painted by science is one of hard, immutable laws that give rise, of necessity, to stars and planets and great spiraling galaxies that go pinwheeling through space until they crash into each other. Rogue stars wander like pirate ships into stable solar systems where they disrupt the careful balance of gravitational attractions, sending whole systems into chaos, while black holes quietly drain the life out of burgeoning young stars, like spiders feasting on captive prey. There seems little room in all of this for the tiny, feeble productions of man, whose once mighty thought systems are dwarfed to nothing by these incomprehensible magnitudes. Man has apparently been scaled down in this new cosmos to little more than an industrious insect." ("Twilight of the Clockwork God", pp. 15-16)

"The apocalyptic substructure of Maxwell's demon rises to the surface like a palimpsest when we compare it with the vision of Christ at the Last Judgement sorting out the saved with his right hand and the damned with his left, casting the latter into the pits of a fiery hell, while the former take up their abode in the (presumably balmy) climates of heaven." ("Twilight of the Clockwork God", p. 12)

"If we take the analogy of film with dream seriously, then we can only conclude that the Western mind is having nightmares about the megamachine of society that it has built as an exoskeleton to protect itself against nature." ("Celluloid Heroes", p. 7)

"I would point out that the superhero and radio are rooftop phenomena. The superhero, as a masked crusader leaping or flying about rooftops, presupposes the world-view created by radio, with its mesh of rooftop antennae beaming signals at each other from skyscrapers. The superhero himself, and Superman in particular, is a personification of these lightspeed radio waves, as he travels from the window of one skyscraper to another." ("Celluloid Heroes", p. 147)

"Cronenberg's work, then, is a sort of experiment: given the premiss of no higher moral authority, what happens if we interfere with the basic biogenic forces that bring living forms into being? Why not, when we've interfered with everything else? Why should biological forms be set aside in a kind of moral chapel, sacred and inviolable while the Faustian intellect tears the rest of creation apart like a curious child pulling the legs off a spider? Cronenberg's Mission Statement: Let's pull the arms and legs off a human being and see what he does." ("Celluloid Heroes", p. 69)


"Twilight of the Clockwork God: Conversations on Science & Spirituality at the End of an Age" (Council Oak Books, 1999)

"Film: The New Novel," in "The Antioch Review", September, 2004.

"Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons: Film as the Mythology of Electronic Society" (Cybereditions, 2005)

"Ancient Myth and Modern Science: A Reconsideration," in "Parabola", August, 2008.

External links

Ebert's website []

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