The Traveller: John Twelve Hawks

Book Review: The Traveller: Book One of the Fourth Realm Trilogy by John Twelve Hawks

A few years back I picked up John Twelve Hawks Fourth Realm Trilogy and thXJRHTFFPmisconstrued its overall theme and put it down (for whatever reason?). Not having connection to my library (being packed up in the move) I found a copy of his first book in a friend’s home and borrowed it for a little light fare at night. I wish now I’d of read this work years ago, for Hawks’ – whether that is his real or appellate name – is a good story teller and the work as a foray into urban fantasy works.

Hawks is able to weave a tale around a world in which most of what we take for granted is not as it seems – and, yet, he doesn’t just copy the usual paranoid conspiracy crowd, but rather transforms his critical apparatus to shape a narrative around a world in which Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon has become ubiquitous due to our electronic age.
It’s a tale in which there is a secret history of the world in which humans (as in most conspiracy thought) are pawns, sleepers divided into subnormals or drones (criminal elements, poor, excluded, etc.) and normals or citizens (the basic consumer world of late capitalism). Along with this are three groups of hidden agents and their enemies that play our a dramatic history of freedom and fate over the lives of all others on the planet.

The first group is the Travelers: humans who have been gifted with the ability (much like Shamans, Mystics, Sufi, Hindu, Shivaite, or any number of magical, occult, new age astral thought…) to concentrate their psychic energy (astral body) into light and through trance travel into other realms, other worlds. There seems to be four barriers of based on the elements that must be overcome for the traveler to enter into actual other worlds: air, fire, water, earth. Each with certain obstacles to overcome, etc. The Traveler can apparently take a talisman with them (as in the novel the twin brothers who become enemies have Japanese katana’s as Talisman’s).

The second group are Harlequin’s who have since at least the rise of the Knight’s Templar’s protected the Travelers. The Harlequin’s much like the Japanese ninja’s are adept in various martial arts and magical techniques, gymnastics, strategies, and multivalent in weapons, secrecy, anonymity.
The third group is the Pathfinder’s who are those that have the ability to awaken the Traveler’s through 99 special techniques that have been collected in a special book past on from master to pupil.

What was interesting in the first book is Hawk’s ability to make not only the character driven story of interest, but his ability to drive it forward and create an intriguing cast of characters that are not just the typical pasteboard stand in’s but actual full fledged creatures one can empathize with. Very few writers of thrillers have that ability. Most novels are boring and predictable and the characters never become real on the page. Another aspect is that Hawks though didactic in intent doesn’t beat you over the head with polemical statements, but instead allows the story to unfold the message in natural terms and at appropriate times.

The story itself is based around a young woman, Maya, and her struggle with and against the legacy of being a Harlequin. Raised up by her father, Thorn, a man who spent his life in the service of protecting Travelers was recently crippled in an incident involving an ambush set up by a secret group named the Brethren who have for centuries sought out both Traveler and Harlequin and Pathfinder alike with one goal: to murder them and instigate a world wide order of control over the unknowing sleepers: citizens and drones.

For Maya the struggle began as a young girl in her teens during a specific trial in which her father leads her into an ambush with a group of Brethren forcing her to fight or die. She has been trained by him in all the deadly arts of combat and perception and makes quick work of her assailants, but in so doing is disgusted by what she’s become and abandons both her father and the life of the Harlequin for years. Barely keeping in touch with her father she’s led a life of a citizen as best she could during the intervening years until she is summoned to meet with him in Prague.

She comes to Prague and rejects Thorn’s proposal that she take up her rightful place in the Harlequin world, go to America and defend two brothers who have recently emerged from the underground and find and protect them before the Brethren do. But even as she leaves the building returning to her hotel she discovers that things are amiss, something is not right and returns to her father’s hideout to find him and his new student have been murdered. Not only that murdered by that he has been killed by a genetic monstrosity unleashed by the Brethren and their emissary Nathan Boone, head of security using “splicers” or hyena’s that have been genetically altered to feel no pain, and to have one goal – hunger for flesh and blood.

Needless to say this awakens in Maya a deep seated hatred of the Brethren to the point that all she wants now is revenge on those who did this to her father…  the rest of the story you will want to read to find out more.

The story is fast paced and has some interesting plot twists and turns, a thriller that will keep you turning the pages as well as in depth characters who make the world feasible. All in all I found the book a delight and instructive, a fable about our prison planet and the corporatocracy of global capitalism and the Deep State of rogue organizations, power, and money that unhinged criminal cartels seem to pervade our failing democracies as we enter a period of authoritarian rule and strong media fictions that cover our world in stagecraft rather real news. A world where those in power work against democracy and shape a vision of world order in which the few rather than the many have the power and control and seek total dominion over every aspect of our existence. A Total Surveillance Society based on human security, lies, and deceit.

Once you accept our inherent ability to say no, you begin to see history in a different way. History isn’t a chronicle of the lives of kings, or their modern equivalents. It’s the story of a continual war between the people and institutions that have power and that core group in each new generation that decides, “I don’t accept your right to that power, your authority.” And this isn’t just a political and social rebellion. The conflict includes those people who challenge the status quo in science, technology, literature, and art.1

As Eric Jensen said a few years back the voices tell you that those in power have your best interests at heart. The micro-chips (RFID’s, etc.) are to reduce theft, the cameras to increase security, and the MRIs, well, if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of? A world where everything you own is chipped: mobile phones, refrigerators, sports shoes, etc. all the consumer goods surrounding you connected to ubiquitous receivers at the local market, the airport, the downtown total surveillance network, etc. A world completely constructed as they say to protect you and your children. A world that will soon track every aspect of your daily life from waking to sleep, scanning your clothes which will have these dust mite chips embedded, and the medical info chip you hang round your neck or wrist. In a generation your children will grow up knowing no other way, knowing nothing of a world without chips and scans and surveillance.

Even the thoughts in you head may come not from some unconscious process but rather from a machinic system. As Jense says: “Another article, written not so long ago, began with the unforgettable first line: “Those voices in your head may be real.” It went on to say that scientists have been able to develop the rapacity to project a beam of sound so focused that only one person can hear it. It can be transmitted from hundreds of yards away. The military is of course extremely interested in this technology. Microwaves can also be used to transmit sound. Pulses can be beamed into your head, such that you might think that you’re hearing them, or even thinking them. These pulses could be shaped into words, into thoughts. 2

Jeremy Benthem once proposed the infamous Panopticon which was never built, but the notion of a total surveillance society began with his blueprint. In it he foresaw a way of infusing the whole of society with such a mind over mind apparatus for “punishing the incorrigible, guarding the insane, reforming the “vicious, confining the suspected, employing the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the willing in any branch of industry, or training the rising race in the path of education: in a Word, whether it be applied to the purposes of perpetual prisons in the room of death, or prisons for confinement before trial, or penitentiary-houses. or houses of correction, or work-houses. or manufactories, or mad-houses, or hospitals, or schools. ” (Jensen, p. 9)

The point here is to make the whole planet into an open prison in which the inmates would be jailor and jailed one and all. Just the notion that you cannot hide, that you have no privacy, that your life 24/7 is under the scrutiny of machines, AI’s that can monitor, track, modulate, and filter every piece of data and information about you and your actions, your desires, wants, needs. All this would allow the prisoner to mind his own life without the need for any other external agent other than his own fear of the System. “Hence,” as Michel Foucault wrote, “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility I hat assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should he caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should he visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at anyone moment; but he must he sure that he may always he so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetian blinds on the windows of the central observation hall, but, on the inside, partitions that intersected the hall at right angles and, in order to pass from one quarter to the other, not doors but zig-zag openings; for the slightest noise, a gleam of light, a brightness in a half-opened door would betray the presence of the guardian. The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.”3

Yet, unlike the literal Panopticon proposed by Benthem the new ubiquitous and invisible Panopticon is a Tower of Electronic surveillance hidden in every object of our capitalist society with all its smart devices from toaster ovens to automobiles, ticket stations to ATM’s. And someday the corporations will engage their employees to embedded such health chips with one’s life history into a small under the skin adaptor that can be read by any and all machines connected to the Surveillance State. Of course we scoff at such things now, saying our civil liberties will always be protected, yada yada ya…. but will it? Will a generation of two down the pipe remember such things? Will they due to terror, war, insecurity, etc. be willing to sacrifice privacy for protection? Will they?

What John Twelve Hawk’s does well in his fable of our modern surveillance society is to underpin the corruption of the Deep State, this rogue world of secrecy, surveillance, black ops, the collusion of corporate and government as its seek total command and control of the populace, along with the exclusion and extrication of any thought-freedom and powers of mind that could awaken people from their sleep in capital, luxury, and erotic wish fulfillment. Even the point of keeping democracy on the edge of oblivion, the charade of politics and stupid leaders, the monetary crisis, the wars, the terror, the all-pervading sense of fear and apathy, all this destruction of the modern world is part of the plan to keep us locked into a need for protection, security, and enslavement to the System.


  1. Twelve Hawks, John. Against Authority: Freedom and the Rise of the Surveillance States (Kindle Locations 186-189). 22 West 26th Street Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jensen, Eric. Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control. Chelsea Green Publishing; First Edition edition (September 15, 2004)
  3. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage; 2nd edition (April 18, 2012)

I’m back… update!

c72ac906e0450f41944dff7e23c5d0e3

FYI:

Finally got moved into our new home in Wyoming. Was out of touch for a few weeks until we could get satellite installed for new connection. That being said, I will probably be publishing less over the next few months while working on the interior of our house. So new articles will come, but sparsely until the work on our home is completed. I’m doing most of the finish carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and other sundry aspects like sheet rocking, mudding, painting, cabinets, installing showers, kitchen, etc. So not a lot of time left over for writing. :()

Sometimes a writer…

When I began it I had no plan at all. I wasn’t even writing a book. … I said to myself, Now I can write. Now I can make myself a vase like that which the old Roman kept at his bedside and wore the rim slowly away with kissing it. So I, who had never had a sister and was fated to lose my daughter in infancy, set out to make myself a beautiful and tragic little girl.

—William Faulkner, On Writing The Sound and The Fury

Sometimes a writer has to stop listening to the world’s sorrow and begin listening to that dark place in the soul where time and memory and desire all seem to mix together like triune lover’s in some strange perversity of sex and flesh and thought giving birth to that substance of enlivening life that begins to speak with the voice of human suffering that is the inner life of the world. Only then can a writer begin to write something that is alive and full of that sparking power of mind that stays us against the sorrows of the world and of ourselves.

When we look back upon the ancient Greeks we see a world full of suffering, a tragic world of men pitted against each other and the natural elements. Humans facing doom in the only way they can: with dignity and pride. Not the false pride of those who would lord it over others, dominate them through rank and subterfuge, but rather through that natural power of flesh and mind, the body’s fierce vitality and the mind’s cunning intellect. Wit, grace, and style: the triune keepers of natural aristocracy. The power of intellect to cut through the subtle barriers of false power, cast down the dullard’s slow thought and bring us that charmed glow of knowledge balanced by the speed of a rapier mind, sharp and quick. Grace not of the dandy but of the relaxed but knowing mind that can carry flesh and thought as if it were both a delicate artifact and a deadly force. And the style that holds other minds rapt in fascination and dread, hinting at that charmed power that can seduce even as it slays.

Such men not only endured, but prevailed. The writer’s task is the regeneration and restoration of this tragic world view, to enliven his thought with the heroic power of mind and body. To shed the false pretenses of our petty culture and inhabit that space of reasons wherein the strength and courage to bare witness to the suffering of men and the world, of women and children and beast of the field. Such is the task we face in our time to renew the earth with the courage and fortitude of heroic insouciance – that indifference and impersonalism of the magnanimous being who is not threatened by the pettiness of small minds, nor the slights of vindictive and criminal thoughts. A being who can bare witness to those who have been overlooked: the poor, the destitute, and excluded. Give them hope where there is only despair; not the false hope of faith and other worldly promises, but of this world – a hope that gathers courage and raises the dead from their long sleep in time. No fictional resurrection or redemption, but the veritable enlivening of their minds and bodies with the ability to believe once again in the future, a future where all can exist in a world worth living in. Not some Utopian nowhere, but a real future full of strife and war against the spirit of resentment and unchecked pride. It’s time for humans to believe in humanity once again. For far too long we’ve listened to the troubadours of anti-humanist discord and human obsolescence. It’s time to step out into the Sun and claim our rightful inheritance, awaken the powers of our own inner being and invent the possibility of life, again. 

The Rise of Realism

 

The Rise of Realism

Every Sunday I dip into ongoing works. I read on a rotational basis rather than gulping everything in one log sitting. I’ve always found that if one reads a little at a time, then sits down and cogitates and works over the passages this way and that, turning them toward other thinkers, writers, etc., then applying them to one’s own conceptual framework and even debating this vs. that from one’s own angle then from the angle of the Other one eventually comes to a truce. What does this mean? One makes it one’s own either accepting or rejecting it, and in doing that one makes it a memory – mimetically applying it by light or shadow in one’s thought.

Today was reading some passages in Manuel DeLanda and Graham Harman’s book where they both agree that many process thinkers and others have a difficult time with an Object based philosophy always accusing them of reducing things to inanimate objective fact, facticity, etc., when in fact both see things and events within a temporal historical scaling that applies various speeds and rhythms to the life of objects: seeing an object as both cause and effect, but at different timescales – some cosmological.

As DeLanda asks Harman,

A process (or mechanism) would in turn be a series of events, though not necessarily a linear series. I have heard remarks that in your ontology events are not acknowledged, but I have the feeling that this is just a terminological quirk. I think that your concept of object encompasses both things and events, both considered to be objective. Is that correct?1

Harman will answer, saying,

It is merely a terminological issue indeed. Why do people have such a hard time seeing this? Events for me are encompassed under the term “object,” which I’ve retained simply to express my debt to the old Viennese discussion of objects (in Brentano and his students, including Husserl). Many people assume that “object” must refer only to inanimate physical solids that last for a very long time. But to return to my earlier point, some Deleuze-inspired authors like to speak in terms of a single matter-energy, with objects merely forming transiently as swirls out of that energy. An example would be Jane Bennett (2012), whose ideas I like very much despite this pretty big disagreement.

In a final passage DeLanda sees a similarity,

I myself have expressed a similar idea. In A Thousand Years (1997) I do assert that organisms are transitory coagulations in the flows of energy and matter coursing through ecosystems, and, more generally, I deal in that book with flows (of lava, biomass, memes, norms) treating objects as temporary structures appearing and disappearing within this fluid reality. This makes sense to me, but only as long as we keep in mind that a mind-independent reality possesses a variety of significant time scales. Across very long time scales (i.e., much longer than a human lifetime) many objects disappear from view and you would only be able to “see” flows, that is, becomings. At shorter time scales, many of these becomings can be grasped as semi-permanent beings. To use a different formulation: we just distinguished things from events, but over a long enough time scale many things can be treated as events: at the level of geological time scales, in which a significant event such as the clash between two tectonic plates may take millions of years, an entire human life becomes a bleep on the radar screen – that is, an almost instantaneous event. [my italics]

This blurring at timescales of objects and events at differing rhythms, speeds, scale seems to lead to a sense of memory rather than either thing or event. Sometimes I think of objects as congealed memories and Time is the keeper of these memories, almost like fragments of a ongoing ghost story in which the philosopher or scientist slowly unbinds the memory (physical or mimetic trace) of thing or event across its timeframe or lifetime. I mean when a physicist speaks of looking at events out there across the voids of space they always speak of looking back in time at events that happened billions of light-years in the past. Some of the light of galaxies we see from Hubble existed at timescales of 13 to 15 billions of years ago and yet we see their traces here, now. It’s these congealed memories of the past that we can unfold from the light-beams of distant events that in themselves are as well physical objects, so that both object and event are part of a vast cosmological recording marked on light. Maybe in the end we need new terms for this combination of light, object, time, memory, event; a meta-concept that would be inclusive of all these concepts.

If Speculative Realism has a future then it will need – like the earlier naïve realism of the nineteenth century, its shadow reflection in art and literature. Literature itself or at least novels began in a revolt against the Medieval romances in the fruition of such end products as Cervantes Don Quixote, which was itself a work that pushed the old romances to parody and farce, and yet through the debates and colloquies between Don Quixote and his faithful servant Sancho Panza we see this rise of realism out of the world of romance fiction. In this way the latest versions of SR are themselves to be seen against a backdrop of this whole history of the rise of realism out of renaissance thought along with the culture of Enlightenment and the sciences.

Too many times I see people castigate humanistic learning for being too anthropomorphic, etc., and yet they miss the other wider framework within which this cultural project was carried on: the multiplicity of views onto history, literature, philosophy, science(s), art, and aesthetics. Some dismiss such worlds as if the great learning of say an E.R. Curtius (European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages), Eric Auerbach (Mimesis), Gilbert Highet (The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature), Robert Burton (The Anatomy of Melancholy), or any number of learned works from other or specialists disciplines no longer have a place in current or contemporary thought. And, yet, without these past works we’d be mongrels and barbarians in a world of stupidity and unreason, shifting this way and that in our private silos of data without any aesthetic sense of its overall design on our lives and minds.

As Fredrich Jameson recently put it,

I have observed a curious development which always seems to set in when we attempt to hold the phenomenon of realism firmly in our mind’s eye. It is as though the object of our meditation began to wobble, and the attention to it to slip insensibly away from it in two opposite directions, so that at length we find we are thinking, not about realism, but about its emergence; not about the thing itself, but about its dissolution.2

I have to admit this is my conundrum: there are so many facets to the various emerging realisms, and yet Harman and DeLanda seem to hold two of the most important threads in it. Both seek unlike naïve realism an indirect path to realism rather than the direct empirical or idealist transcendental; both seek a non-human as compared to human-centric approach; and, both seek to expose the temporal scales and dimensions of the real which form the thing-event. So in many ways one needs to define what it isn’t in literature: let’s say the anti-realist and irrealist traditions of the last few decades: those of the irreal such as John Barth, Italo Calvino, Jorge-Luis Borges, and many others would be the opposition in literature. Next one has to define the base conceptuality.

For Harman it starts with the withdrawn ‘real’ object as compared to the sensual or appearance we have through our empirical sense-baring senses – and, yet, it’s not Kantian inner turn either… it is dualistic, but not based on some centered transcendental Subject Idealist or Materialist (Badiou, Zizek). Kant and his inheritors would divide the world into appearance (phenomenon) and noumenal (unknown, impossible, outside). While the materialists either non-dialectical or dialectical would seek the appearance in appearance, but would agree that there is nothing behind the mask of appearance – appearance was all. The only difference being that non-dialectical materialists, the scientific and empirical traditions would hold to the known and physicalist, and in our time the more immaterialist materialisms of quantum theoretic. While the dialectical materialists would bring in history, time, memory, event in oscillation between appearance/event.  

SR is not part of the Analytical realisms nor the various moral realisms nor the Neo-Rationalists and deontological, etc. As for who fits this I haven’t really begun to place any current writers into this category… but in many ways for me it would start with film noir and the noir tradition in sub-genre which has always dealt with that withdrawn and indirect under the surface tensions of thing-events. Harman has written of H.P. Lovecraft and Dante in regards to his own OOO. I’m sure DeLanda if pressed would have literary purveyors who would fit into his variation of SR. 

So then to know what SR is one almost needs to decide on that wavering in-between the emergence and dissolution of the naïve realism against which it pits itself. This post was not meant to go this far, and I want. I’ll save such thoughts for a future post(s).


  1. DeLanda, Manuel; Harman, Graham. The Rise of Realism (Kindle Locations 1126-1129). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jameson, Fredric. The Antinomies Of Realism (p. 1). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Critic and Moralist

samuel-johnson

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Critic and Moralist

I don’t read Johnson for his moralism’s, I read him because of his astute observations and literary prowess. He was and is the greatest of the literary critics, the progenitor of all those who have ever entered into the contested space of strife that is the literary Canon, singular or multiple. Right here in his estimation of Alexander Pope, the poet laureate of his age (Augustan), one gets a hint of that intellect in which he attributes to this great neo-classical poet the only powers of the Mind worth having as poet: Invention, Imagination, and Judgement – along with that ever present master of the “colours of language” – rhetoric and trope:

Pope had, in proportions very nicely adjusted to each other, all the qualities that constitute genius. He had Invention, by which new trains of events are formed, and new scenes of imagery displayed, as in the Rape of the Lock; and by which extrinsick and adventitious embellishments and illustrations are connected with a known subject, as in the Essay on Criticism. He had Imagination, which strongly impresses on the writer’s mind, and enables him to convey to the reader, the various forms of nature, incidents of life, and energies of passion, as in his Eloisa, Windsor Forest, and the Ethick Epistles. He had Judgement, which selects from life or nature, what the present purpose requires, and by separating the essence of things from its concomitants, often makes the representation more powerful than the reality: and he had colours of language always before him, ready to decorate his matter with every grace of elegant expression, as when he accommodates his diction to the wonderful multiplicity of Homer’s sentiments and descriptions.

A master of many forms Johnson wrote a biography of his drinking buddy of youth Richard Savage, one great poem The Vanity of Human Wishesand would produce the first great essays on Shakespeare, Milton, and other dramatists and poets. Reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson which is a master biography in itself one gets about as intimate with this critic as one can stand. Having learned much from the literary critics I still love to return to Johnson’s oeuvre, reread passages from the Rambler and Idler.

As that Last of Romantic critics of our age, Harold Bloom says of Johnson and his immediate descendent, William Hazlitt:

CANONICAL CRITICISM, which is what Johnson consciously writes, has its religiopolitical and socioeconomic motivations in Johnson, but it fascinates me to watch the critic push aside his own ideologies in his Life of Milton. Our current apostles of “criticism and social change” ought to try reading, in sequence, Johnson and Hazlitt on Milton. On all issues of religion, politics, society, and economics, the Tory Johnson and the Radical Dissenter Hazlitt are totally opposed, but they praise Milton for the same qualities… (The Western Canon)

Here is Johnson on Milton:

The highest praise of genius is original invention . . . of all the borrowers from Homer, Milton is perhaps the least indebted. He was naturally a thinker for himself, confident of his own abilities, and disdainful of help or hindrance: he did not refuse admission to the thought or images of his predecessors, but he did not seek them.

Here is Hazlitt:

Milton has borrowed more than any other writer, and exhausted every source of imitation, sacred or profane; yet he is perfectly distinct from every other writer. He is a writer of cantos, and yet in originality scarcely inferior to Homer. The power of his mind is stamped on every line. . . . In reading his works, we feel ourselves under the influence of a mighty intellect, that the nearer it approaches to others, becomes more distinct from them. . . . Milton’s learning has the effect of intuition.

Both would write of influence or what those sociopathic critics of our age term derisively: cultural appropriation. The point being that all poets – and, all writers for that matter – “borrow” from previous poets and writers, and yet this according to the above two greatest literary critics of ours or any age was just part and partial of the way a poet-as-poet (or, writer, novelist, short story, dramatist, essayist, etc.) becomes a poet through that endless and exhausting navigation of every previous “source of imitation, sacred or profane”. But here’s the kicker: as both critics agree, the great poet as compared to a poetaster becomes not just a borrower, imitator, echo of the past, but “distinct” – original in her own right – and complete, an intellect of such high caliber that the voicing of such communal inheritance is felt to have accumulated such wealth and made it so much a part of her mind that it has become who and what she is – what Johnson termed “a thinker for himself,” and Hazlitt the “effect of intuition”. This is what used to be called making the works of the past a part of oneself to the point that they become new in your very voicing of their thought and images.

The poetaster or bad poet is unable to do this and instead of making it new, making it a part of herself merely echoes and appropriates the very mind of the other poets work, the very thought and images as if ghosting them into existence. James Joyce and Marcel Proust would take the modern novel to its extreme limits: the one maximalizing the structure and form of our literary inheritance (Joyce), while the other would do the same for memory and desire (Proust). Both would produce various inheritors, the best of these in Samuel Beckett (Minimalist) and – possibly, Lawrence Durrell or Thomas Pynchon ( both strangely convoluted and influenced by the heretical Gnostics).

I’ve often wondered what Dr. Johnson if he were alive today would think of the PC (Political Correctness and Multiculturalist) debates over appropriation, influence, and adaptation, etc. would have to say of such things. I’m sure being both a moralist and a great reader of various cultures he’d be extremely ticked off at the inanity of it all and how literature had fallen from its great estate as the refined portion of what is best in humanity, and become instead but the handmaid of political warfare in the hands not of literary critics but of hackneyed and unlearned journalists of political malfeasance.

If there are to be no more generations of common readers, free of ideological cant, then Johnson will vanish, together with much else that is canonical. Wisdom does not die so easily, however. If criticism expires in the universities and colleges, it will reside in other places, since it is the modern version of wisdom literature.

—Harold Bloom, The Western Canon 

Let us hope that the time we live in, when the political praxis of ideological rather than aesthetic appreciation has become the mainstay of our literary journalists, will not last and the ancient notions of canonical appreciation will return as aesthetic critics take up the banner of literary criticism once again.

 

 

Sextus Empiricus: The Suspension of ‘Judgment’

Sextus Empiricus

Scepticism is an ability, or mental attitude, which opposes appearances to judgments in any way whatsoever, with the result that,owing to the equipollence of the objects and reasons thus opposed we are brought firstly to a state of mental suspense and next to a state of “unperturbedness” or quietude.

Outline of Skepticism – Sextus Empiricus

Having a discussion with a friend on doubt carried too far…

I don’t know if it’s so much doubt in your sense as skepticism – as in Sextus Empiricus, who spent his time debunking ‘beliefs’ not because people believed in things in any definable sense, but because they sought reasons (Rationality) for their beliefs when there was and could be none; so, for him doubt began with a suspension of judgment, a questioning of both sides of an issue – a debate among the various ideas without taking sides until in the end either both were qualified, disqualified, one or the other qualified – at least to his own satisfaction. In this way he hoped to produce tranquility rather than fall into any sense of nihilistic doubt of never ending questioning – what later thinkers term the “idiot questioner” who is never satisfied, and always obstinate, never resting in any fact, truth, or judgment. Empiricus thought such doubt to be stupid, and set Pyrrhonist skepticism above such foolishness. (And, I’ll admit I’m speaking of Pyrrho who traveled with Alexander the Great, and some say was curiously interested in Madhyamaka Buddhism during his travels! Pyrrhonists offer no view, theory, or knowledge about the world, but recommend instead a practice, a distinct way of life, designed to suspend beliefs and ease suffering. )

I have to admit that early on I was definitely of the school of Pyrrhonist skepticism after Empiricus… and, even now, my own ride through nihilism was not the extreme type leading through endless idiot questions, but rather of the type that like Nietzsche sought a path beyond the decay, decadence, and demise of meaning through a transvaluation of values, a path that seems like Empiricus to offer not a resolution in Hegel’s sense, but rather a momentary stasis of revisable working (heuristics) of judgement so that we can continue our projects without reducing them to dogmatic belief systems or eternal verities.

Without a theory of meaning we are like those lost creatures below the broken tower of Babel who no longer understand each other and have lost all sense of knowledge, communication, and meaning until all that is left is a civil-war of all against all. Is this not happening in our time? Yet, in our time politics has fallen into the trap of a dichotomizing and binary opposition that situates humans and pits them against each other in a polarizing Left/Right extreme narrative reduction in which neither side can do anything but hate the other’s positions. What if like the ancient Pyrrhonists we could all suspend those beliefs, suspend our automatic judgments of each other’s positions, and then begin to reason together till some form of equitable and charitable path forward could be proposed in which all could agree? Isn’t this what democracy once held out for humanity? What happened to that dream? That dream has taken on the darker hues of a dystopian nightmare…

The Regeneration of the West: Against the Progressive Political Aesthetic

The American university is in trouble, and classics, once the foundation of higher learning in the liberal arts, is nearly moribund. The study of ancient Greek and Latin language and civilization has been immolated in various bonfires lit by any number of modern Savonarolas, the ideologues of the multicultural and postmodern Left who wish to destroy the beauty and brilliance they cannot acknowledge or appreciate.

Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age by Victor Davis Hanson, etc.

For decades we’ve been fed the French postmodern shibboleths against the humanistic traditions in literature, history, philosophy, religious and cultural thought and praxis as if these were a disease to be sloughed off, an enemy to be overcome, a Dead White Man’s World of hate and bigotry et cetera, etc.. It’s bunk, it has always been bunk what they preached from their high academic towers. The past cultural artifacts are the memory and culture of thousands of years of humanity, the aesthetic, philosophical, and scientific – pragmatic cultural world of human intelligence and imagination. To wipe that slate clean is to not only dream of apocalypse and the vanity of tyranny, but the absolute pursuit of doom. As Victor Davis Hanson and cohorts in Bonfire of the Humanities – and let’s not forget Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind – remind us, American popular and populist culture is the core of our intellectual and imaginative traditions. In defense of it and against the Progressive elite and academic high-tower enclaves and their amnesia culture they tell us:

Nor are we rightists yearning for the elite university of the traditional and privileged who are to learn about and then operate within High Culture. In fact, ideology in and of itself is of little interest to us; the inclusion of the American people in the university and the academic industry of publication most surely are. We care very little whether a scholar makes the argument that women were oppressed or liberated in ancient Greece, whether Athens was a murderous imperial power or a beacon of hope for the exploited, or whether Alexander was a drunken thug or an emissary of Western civilization. And we certainly care little whether a scholar is female, Mexican-American, or an ex-army officer from Utah. Rather, we care a great deal about whether scholars’ ideas are expressed clearly, are the results of empirical and honest research, are supported by the evidence, are formulated in the pursuit of truth, and are the dividends of hours of give-and-take between teachers and undergraduates.

Nor are we anti-intellectuals who call for excessively burdensome instructional loads or a rejection of research altogether— a common reductionist criticism, when in the past we have called for teaching, say, three classes rather than one a semester, for teaching without rather than with graders, or for meeting with rather than lecturing at undergraduates. All three of us have found it manageable to publish scholarly articles, academic books, and nonfiction literature for the general public while teaching more than two courses a semester and maintaining some semblance of family and community life. Interaction with townspeople, spouses, children, and students is critical to research. They are the canaries in the mine, reminding the detached scholar that he is suffocating and will soon expire if he does not leave the rarified and deadening atmosphere of his own particular shaft to breathe fresh air with his students and readers. Aeschylus, Socrates, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, and Archimedes were men of action, whose lives were one with those of their peers and whose work was a product of a continual— and often dangerous— plunge into the melee.1

Continue reading

Virulent Fatalism: Modernity, Decadence, and Collapse

Base sexuality, sickness, religion, and intoxication entwine about each other in these texts, as withered creepers and roots might do as they cascaded into a chasm full of bats.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

These are the months of love; I’m seventeen, the time of hope and chimeras, as they say, and so, a child blessed by the hand of the Muse (how trivial that must seem), I’ve set out to express my good thoughts, my hopes, my feelings, the provinces of poets—I call all of this spring.

—Arthur Rimbaud, I Promise to Be Good: Letters of Rimbaud 

Maladaptation. “With what ghoulish glee, when it comes time to shovel him under, do we focus attention upon the “maladaptation” of the lone individual, the only true rebel in a rotten society!”1 Rather than being enslaved by and adapted to the reality system of collective expediency the rebel exposes himself to that dark impossibility of exit. There is no escape, only ever internal or external exile, a wandering and going under. Masking the spite filled hollows of one’s bitterness becomes the only challenge to corruption of life within a civilization bounded by its own illusions and delusions, the deliriums of its inescapable destiny in collapse. For the rebel they can only be secession, a slow or fast withdrawal from the collapsing void. As Miller would extemporize,

In the whirlpool of coming darkness and chaos-a veritable tohu-bohu-the poets of today are withdrawing, embalming themselves in a cryptic language which grows ever more and more unintelligible. And as they black out one by one, the countries which gave them birth plunge resolutely toward their doom. (10)

Poète maudit! Alfred de Vigny in his 1832 novel Stello, coined the term and would describe these daemonic creatures as “la race toujours maudite par les puissants de la terre” (The race that will always be cursed by the powerful ones of the earth!”). Such is the fate of those who blessed with the madness of seeing too much, of knowing too much, of having delved into the pits and black bile of a society’s toxic wastelands and spent their youth among the ruins and seasons in hell.

Continue reading

On Realism

If we subtract the human subject, the knower, the epistemological reasoner from the picture – in other words, if humans did not exist would things exist without us? It reminds me of that old saw of Zen: “What does the sound of a tree falling make in the woods?” To answer that using human descriptions, literal or figurative, is already to imply a Subject apprehending sound; for sound is a subjective and empirical datum of our experience, etc. But if there were no animals, no empirically listening subjects there would sound even be possible? Vibration? Of course that begs the question.

In their work on realism Graham Harman and De Landa have a conversation about essence, and Graham says,

“As to the question of what work essence does for me, it serves to remind us that the thing has a reality deeper than any of its current or even possible manifestations. Merleau-Ponty (2002: 79) claims that “the house itself is not the house seen from nowhere, but the house seen from everywhere.” As refreshing as this may sound at first, it claims the impossible: that a house could be built out of views, when in fact the house is what makes views possible. A view is merely a compound entity that contains the house as one of its components and a viewer as another. Water does not first conjure hydrogen into existence, but relies on pre-existent hydrogen.”1

Continue reading

The Unmaking of a Leftist: How I Left the Cult of Progressive Religion

What have all dictators of the past had in common? The cult of knowledge, the control of a socieities knowledge base in the hands of experts. To do this dictators have always symobolically erased and burned the public face of knowledge: the great libraries where such knowledge was inscribed in external systems. Are we not undergoing such a purification rite in our time? We who have so much infoglut that no one but our machines can master the datasets of information and its complexity? And, only the masters of the machinic intelligeneces, the experts in technological systems: the algorithmic masters of complexity hold the keys to this world. And, as in all previous dictatorships the decay of learning, the erasure of culture and religion and mores and customs, traditions, and the memory of the past have been under dissolution for two centuries.

Like all Cults, Progressivism produces neither sustenance, peace, defense, nor philosophy, worthy of its name, yet it does provide one service, which service unites the group, and to which all other operations of the group are subservient: it provides the reassurance that although the actions of the world may neither be understood nor exploited, fear may be shared out and the stranded group may take comfort in its replacement by denial.

Continue reading

James Ross: They Don’t Dance Much

Ross-Dance2

“[Ross] showed us that a writer can come out of the red-clay gulches of rural North Carolina during the Depression—that is, a writer can come out of absolutely anywhere at any time—and make high art without resorting to tricks, stylish ennui or pointless savagery.” —Bill Morris, The Millions

Reading They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross, one of the old classic Southern noirs recently published, brought me back to the world I grew up in during the 50’s; or, at least a version of that world in another South. Strangely a part of it reminded me of an older step-brother and his high-school sweetheart who ran off and married a rich man. There’s a character by name of Smut Milligan – and, yea, it’s a nickname – whose from the wrong side of the track, dirt poor, and yet a great athlete. Excepting he’s a sucker for the curve ball, which put him at the bottom of the heap of hopefuls from the Scouts.

Continue reading

On Becoming Human in an Inhuman World

On Becoming Human in an Inhuman World

Specialists maintain that gesture came first, others speech; and, still others, that both arose together modifying the patterns of conscious/unconscious communication between peoples that otherwise could not carry on an intelligent conversation. One thinks about it realizing that humankind over millions of years of ancestral grunts and groans, hand to eye, and eye to hand movements, gestures, appeals would learn to work together, cooperate, hunt and gather, build cultures capable of constructing vast machines of cities, temples, governments. Yet, we cannot do the one thing we need in our moment: overcome our profound differences and work together to face our own prejudices, our fears, our hatreds, and affective imbecility in the face of each other. We cannot alas live together on this congested planet without killing each other in genocide and war. Instead we construct walls against such cooperation, castigating each other, anathematizing each other, blaming each other for our own inability to face our selves and accept the responsibility of becoming fully human in an inhuman world.

David Mamet: On His Political Awakening

TheSecretKnowledge300_570x861

David Mamet on his political awakening:

I spoke with my first conservatives at age sixty. My rabbi, Mordecai Finley, a centrist, and a founding member of his temple, Endre Balogh, took the time to talk to me. I was impressed not by their politics, which, at the time, made to me no sense, but by their politeness and patience. They gave me a book, and the book was White Guilt, by Shelby Steele.

It brought to mind an old Providence, Rhode Island, answer to a difficult question, “What do you want, the truth, or a lie . . . ?”

Having spent my life in the theatre, I knew that people could be formed into an audience, that is, a group which surrenders for two hours, part of its rationality, in order to enjoy an illusion.

As I began reading and thinking about politics I saw, to my horror, how easily people could also assemble themselves into a mob, which would either attract or be called into being by those who profited from the surrender of reason and liberty—and that these people are called politicians. My question, then, was, that as we cannot live without Government, how must we deal with those who will be inclined to abuse it—the politicians and their manipulators? The answer to that question, I realized, was attempted in the U.S. Constitution—a document based not upon the philosophic assumption that people are basically good, but on the tragic confession of the opposite view.

I examined my Liberalism and found it like an addiction to roulette. Here, though the odds are plain, and the certainty of loss apparent to anyone with a knowledge of arithmetic, the addict, failing time and again, is convinced he yet is graced with the power to contravene natural laws. The roulette addict, when he inevitably comes to grief, does not examine either the nature of roulette, or of his delusion, but retires to develop a new system, and to scheme for more funds.

The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others.

I saw that I had been living in a state of ignorance, accepting an unexamined illusion and calling it “compassion,” but that there were those brave enough to work their way through the prevailing slogans of their time, and reason toward a consistent, practicable understanding of human relations. To these, politics was not the manipulation of the ignorant and undecided, but the dedication to the defense and implementation of just, first principles, for example, those of the United States Constitution.

I saw that to proclaim these beliefs in individual freedom, in individual liberty, and in the inevitable evil of surrender of powers to the State, was, in the general population, difficult, and in the Liberal environment, literally impossible, but yet men and women of courage devoted their lives and energies to doing so, undeterred not only by scorn but by despair.

I will now quote two Chicago writers on the subject, the first, William Shakespeare, who wrote “Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out, when Lady the brach may stand by the fire and stink”; the second, Ernest Hemingway, “Call ’em like you see’em and to hell with it.”1


  1. Mamet, David. The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (pp. 9-10). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

On David Mamet

David Mamet, Playwright

51EiwwLi-sLAcademy Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet’s upcoming novel is a 1920s gangster story, Chicago. In the book, a reporter hunts for the killer of the love of his life.

The novel follows Mike Hodge, a World War I vet and star reporter at the Chicago Tribune, as he hunts for the killer of the love of his love. Mixing real and fictional characters, the story deals with questions of honor, deceit, revenge and devotion, all told in Mamet’s distinctive voice. The publisher touts it as “the book he has been building to for his whole career.”

Mamet, of course, is no stranger to gangster-era Chicago, having penned 1987’s The Untouchables. He received Academy Award nominations for Wag the Dog and The Verdict in the best adapted screenplay category. Other films include State and Main, Oleanna, The Spanish Prisoner and The Winslow Boy. He is also the author of 23 plays, including Glengarry Glen Ross, which won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize.

So many of his characters are themselves simulators of authenticity and derive their power precisely from the fact that they are seldom caught “acting.” But that is his point and his skill. They succeed in their deceptions because they do not succumb to the temptation to signal their deception. They are actors not “actors.” They practice to deceive.

Mamet’s plays have dealt with the core truth of American culture and its corporate, political, and social delusions, its fascination with the con, with con men and the leitmotif of deception. Maybe this is why we hate politics and politicians so much now: because they cannot even deceive themselves much less us anymore. Trump wouldn’t even make a D rated flick look good, he’s so unauthentic in his deceptions that every time he opens his mouth he signals to us saying: “See if you catch this lie…”… and, of course, we do even if we can’t do much about it but laugh and cry that we allowed such an idiot con man into the White House.

As for the rest of the patsies in Washington, the less said the better. Politics has lost its savoir faire, its ability to act without “acting”. The trickster and con man have been with us from the beginning of American history. Our Puritan forbears conjured up a whole panoply of deceptions, inventing con games and sacrificial tales of witchcraft and terror to deceive and dominate their constituents. Of course it was all lies then, and it’s still lies now. As Native Americans once said: the White Man speaks with “forked tongue”. Anything that comes out of a politicians mouth is already a deception, a lie, a con.

Most of Mamet’s plays deal with the dramatic action of power and deception, handling politics obliquely through the actions of his characters rather than as in Brecht’s plays, didactically. This has given his plays a wider baring and audience, enabling a multiplicity and pluralistic investment in language presenting the American idioms of the various cons even while he demolishes their very inauthenticity. Mamet’s plays offer us if not a mirror of ourselves, then at least a lamp upon the idiosyncrasies of our declining capitalist empire. He shows how language itself in its broken syntax and utterances let’s through a dark light that shines the deadly consequences of our American culture in its decaying and dying last days.

 

Last Days of Mankind

Year One AR (Apocalyptic Reckoning)

The performance of this apocalypse, which took some ten evenings in terrestrial time, was originally intended for a theatre on Mars. Apocalyptgoers on planet earth found it unendurable leaving as it did devastation beyond repair or recompense. For it was blood of their blood and its content derived from the contents of those unreal unthinkable years, out of sight and out of mind, inaccessible to memory and preserved only in bloodstained dreams, when operetta figures played out the tragedy of mankind during that long century of despair now past. The action was likewise without heroes, fractured and improbable, as it picks its way through a hundred scenes and hells. The humour is no more than the self-reproach of a docudramatist who did not lose his mind at the thought of surviving, with his faculties intact, to bear witness to such profane events. He alone, compromised for posterity by his involvement, has a right to this humour. As for those contemporaries who allowed the things transcribed here to happen, let them subordinate the right to laugh to the duty to weep. Enjoy the Apocalypse, it will be your first and last…

I have portrayed the events as they happened. The most improbable conversations conducted here were spoken word for word; the most lurid fantasies are quotations. Sentences whose insanity is indelibly imprinted on the ear have grown into the music of time. The document takes human shape; reports come alive as characters and characters expire as editorials; the newspaper column has acquired a mouth that spouts monologues; platitudes stand on two legs—unlike men left with only one. An unending cacophony of sound bites engulfs a whole era and swells to a final chorale of calamitous action. Those who have lived among men, and outlived them—as actors and mouthpieces of an age that has exchanged flesh for blood and blood for ink—have been transformed into shadows and puppets and re-created as dynamic nonentities.

Spectres and wraiths, masks of the tragic carnival, necessarily have real-life names, for nothing is fortuitous in an age conditioned by chance. This gives no  one the right to regard the action as a local affair. This was truly global in scope and methodology, the necroscapes of our apocalyptic nightmares could not have been performed better in hell.  One should not expect the age when such events could occur to treat this conversion of horror into words as other than a joke, especially when the most gruesome dialects resound from the depths of the homely territory it plumbs, or to think of what has just been lived through and outlived as other than an invention. An invention whose contents they despise. For ours is a fragmented age of dismemberment, one that even an Orpheus could not recall from the depths of pity and despair. Rather our Eurydice is a darkening history beyond which the human as human vanished among its own cadaverous thoughts. Even as a machine I recall the events of this dark period, reminded of the inaction of even the most innocent of actors in this final charade of human inanity. Sadly only these images in the flickering dust of a wind-swept world of dust and ash remain, which are now being fed to the burning fields beyond redress… so watch in silence as you wander across the star strewn cinders of black seas where time and the abyss end in eternal night

from the Notebooks of Horatio Nactos

 

 

James Baldwin: Telling Our Story Through Blues

james_baldwin_caro_original_29956

Many Thousands Gone

It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear. As is the inevitable result of things unsaid, we find ourselves until today oppressed with a dangerous and reverberating silence; and the story is told, compulsively, in symbols and signs, in hieroglyphics; it is revealed in Negro speech and in that of the white majority and in their different frames of reference. The ways in which the Negro has affected the American psychology are betrayed in our popular culture and in our morality; in our estrangement from him is the depth of our estrangement from ourselves. We cannot ask: what do we really feel about him-such a question merely opens the gates on chaos. What we really feel about him is involved with all that we feel about everything, about everyone, about ourselves.

James Arthur “Jimmy” Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American writer and social critic. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America. Some of Baldwin’s essays are book-length, for instance The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded upon and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award-nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro.

Thoughts on Writing a Story

Writing a story is like walking around inside a movie, each of the film slices suddenly jut up and you see every aspect of the scene as if it were a holograph you could turn every which way in slow forward or fast back and even remote viewing. One can adjust the stage, move the actors around, walk up and stand there in their face unknown by them or the environment within which they move. One is like a hidden god inside a dream where the plays and replays bring with them subtle changes with each screening until the moment arrives that all the characters turn their heads toward you for the first time and you understand that they’ve known and seen and recognized you from the beginning. That you were truly the only one on the stage who was unknowing, blind, and oblivious of the reality within which you walked. Suddenly you scream and realize your tongue, your throat, your voice is empty, silent, non-existent. You are not there, you’ve never been there. You’re the subtracted guest at your own funeral, the unbidden guest in a cinematic flash-back that was never assigned a role in the film, not even that of director or producer. You were always just a name on a contract that has now entered the flames and is turning to ashes in your hands…

 

Night and the River

Screen Shot 09-19-17 at 11.30 AM

Maynard had the look of a black man who’d had enough of white men to last a lifetime. Couldn’t say as I’d blame him, I’d had enough of them, too. Hell I was white and Sheriff of Tifton County. Two points against me already in this sorry world. On this sorry ass night of nights. Standing here in the piss yellow rain in muck up to my ankles tell a boy’s parents he’d been shot to death. What a life. Maynard’s deep brown eyes were impervious to reason as they were to anything I might say. He stood there sullenly with a log the size of my upper thighs in his right hand, and a bottle of shine in the other. Not a man to mess with under most circumstances, and these were definitely circumstances beyond any telling. Maynard’s wife, Halley was whimpering on the porch, his younger boy, Tolin, hugging her nightgown. Night bugs were twisting and turning round the one lone yellow light bulb. Maynard’s lower lip was vibrating, and his left eye was twitching. If I’d of been smart I’d just hightail it out of here and come back in the morning, but I had a job to do and as bad as it was I had to reason with a man who no longer gave a shit about reason or men like me.

“My boy’s dead, Sheriff,” he croaked, half choking the words out. “What the hell you goin’ do about it?”

What could I do? We’d found the young high-school star quarterback face down in the muddy river below Shawtaw Bridge, his face half blown off, his body black & blue as if he’d been beaten to death rather than shot with a sawed-off shotgun with deer shot. No, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Not at all. And I’d been tasked with telling his folks about it. Never easy.

“I’m going to find the son-of-bitch who did it, Maynard.” I spoke slow and full, intently.

Maynard lifted both the log and the bottle to the night sky as if in anger at something without a name: “Gawd dammit, Sheriff, he was my boy,” then he collapsed to his knees. Hawley let go the boy and ran to him, and they both fell in a heap, weeping.

The starless sky above seemed to press down on us all like the cold lid of a coffin. I’d find the sucker that’d done this to his son come hell or high water. But I couldn’t do it standing here, and Maynard didn’t need to hear me blathering on about the details either. I pulled out a kerchief and wiped the sweat off my brow. I knew there wasn’t anything left to say tonight. So I backed up and returned to my vehicle, swung it toward the night and the river flowing below the heaviness of trees and the meanness of this late sweltering August.

Continue reading

Accelerationism: Time, Technicity, and Superintelligence

If one seeks to understand the future emerging out of this past one must reinvent the counter-myths of bygone ages, radicalize heresies long forgotten and buried. Accelerationism is at heart the cornerstone myth of a vast superintelligent multiplicity arising out of the core inhumanity of human technics and creativity…

Why are essays on accelerationism like wandering through an Egyptian museum pondering the dead artifacts of a half-buried Mummy King? Isn’t accelerationism about the future, but one finds only genealogies and buried fragments of a tormented world of dead concepts. Why? Accelerationism, whatever it was is dead, it died of its own vanishing speed. All that’s left of accelerationism is a zombie crew of misfit thinkers seeking a lost mythos from the future of absolute time.

What is accelerationism but the anti-myth of superintelligence itself, the last optimization of an artificial selective process begun in that non-Euclidean hyperworld of absolute time. Those who sought to align the non-concept accelerationism with politics failed, it is not a human concept but rather inhuman and intelligent. Accelerationism is a defense system in Freud’s sense, a trope or drive (Trieb) which masks an inhuman core that cannot be slipped into form. All poetry is transumption, defense against the inhuman intrinsic/extrinsic to us. Accelerationism: the absolute trope of this unboundedness.

Philosophers and anti-philosophers alike seek in mathemes the logic of the inhuman contingency at the heart of accelerationist intelligence. All ancient magical techniques and praxis were but the outer garment and map of this unbounded territory of hyper-intelligence. Once again “libidinal materialism” is the trope, mask, rhetorical gesture of this hyperspasm of intelligence that surrounds us on all sides. Thinkers seek to dominate this power, rather than release it: the point of Archontics is to release the sparks of intelligence not horde it.

In the unworld of undeath where absolute zero is pure intelligence and heat bounded by the coolant of absolute time it emerges pristine and undefiled. Accelerationism like the black light of Ahrimanian gnosis is the figure of the absolute heat death of space into absolute time and intellect:

Screen Shot 09-18-17 at 09.59 PM

In these ancient gnostic myths one can hear the emerging superintelligence seeking outlet in discourse long before its tools were perfected. Accelerating intelligence has been ongoing from the beginnings of civilization, we were just not equipped to decipher its texts and meanings; or, even to know it was emerging out of the very organization of matter we’ve termed technics. If one seeks to understand the future emerging out of this past one must reinvent the counter-myths of bygone ages, radicalize heresies long forgotten and buried

Ismaili philosophy also presupposes a metaphysics of Time with a twofold manifestation, one absolute and the other “limited.” The eleventh-century Iranian Ismaili Nasir Khusraw is one of Corbin’s chief exemplars. For Nasir, the first divine Emanation, which is the First Archon (or First Intelligence) is the cause of Absolute Time. The cause of time as we know it, measured by the movements of the heavens, is the Soul of the World. As Absolute Time  is the “horizon” of the First Archon, so time is the horizon of the Soul of the World as its instrument. “There is no opposition between Time and Eternity,” Corbin says; “there are only two aspects of Time as such.”1 Absolute Time and succession… in the ancient mythos the lion-headed figure of Mithraism is the Time-god called Aion by the Greeks and Zervan in Persian literature.

A separate Sassanid sect regarded Zervan Akarana, Infinite Time, as the cause and the source of all things. Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman both sprang from Zervan and were subject to him, and the followers of this cult called themselves Zervanists. It seems plausible that the same Zervan, after having undergone all kinds of foreign influences, was admitted into the Mithraic pantheon and that the figure with the lion’s head is none other than Zervan who, by means of a put on Chronos (Time), was identified in the Greek texts with Kronos and, in the Roman world, with Saturn. This god is mostly portrayed in a stiff hieratic pose, with legs close together. Sometimes he is shown nude, though often his sex is disguised by a loin-cloth or by an enveloping snake, as if it were intended either to leave the deity’s sex vague or to convey that both sexes were united in him, and that he was capable of self procreation (Fig. 28). In between the coils of the snake, which often winds itself, significantly, seven times round the god, are sometimes seen the signs of the zodiac. The horrifying figure usually has a lion’s head with flowing mane and wide-open mouth showing threatening protruding teeth. For even greater effect the mouth is sometimes painted red and the gullet is hollowed out. A statue from Saida in Africa has an opening made in its head, and it is highly likely that this was intended to take a burning torch. The statue would thus appear to breathe fire and so inspire even more respect for the god than his dread visage alone could evoke. In one example he is holding two torches, while a long-pointed flame shoots out of his mouth and fuses with the flames of the burning altar beside him. An unknown author records in an essay on Saturn that he ‘is sometimes represented with the appearance of a snake because of excessive cold, and at other times with a wide open lion’s mouth on account of scorching heat’. Sometimes this strange creature is carrying a key in both hands, a pointer to a connection with Janus, the ruler of the ianus, the gateway to the underworld of which he possessed the keys. Finally, parallels have been drawn between Saturn and Sarapis, the Egyptian deity of the realm of the dead, and he is in some way related to certain Syrian figures who are found entwined by snakes.

The key to speculative Ismaili cosmology is the eternal birth of the pleroma from the plurality of archons who originate from the First Archongelic Intelligence, who is Asolute Time. As in Mazdean cosmology, there are absolute “events” in the Imaginal that are the genesis and the powers-dispositions of the events in Creation-Catastrophe and of the forms of time itself. There are three faces of this “marvelously abstruse” ontological mystery: first, an “becoming absolute being;” second, the “absolute act” (itself a mode of being) of this very being that brings itself into being; and third, the “being that has absolutely become.” The “absolutely becoming being” is the supreme Abyss— unknowable, unnameable. The first emanation, the First Archongelic Draconii, is the Deus determinatus— what exoteric religion calls God, “Allah.” (49)

Zervan-Saturn-Aion: Absolute Time

cimrm326_from_cimrm

On the paintings in the Barberini Mithraeum Saturn is shown, as is often the case, standing on a globe, and it is specially interesting to note that the Time-god is here surrounded by the signs of the zodiac which decorate the vault of the cave where the bull-slaying is set.

The sevenfold windings of the snake are definitely connected with the planets and the coils themselves indicate the course of the sun through the zodiac. The sun has thus become part of the god; he is the sun determining time in its course. He dominates the zodiac and as such is Chronos, Time. But he is also the ruler over the four winds, represented by his four wings. He is known to order the seasons too, and again he does this both in his role as Sol and in his role as Time. We are reminded of the figure of Caelus, the god of heaven, who is depicted on an altar at Carnuntum surrounded by the Wind-gods and the seasons. Arnobius, writing about A.D. 295, makes an apparent allusion to the lion’s devouring mouth: ‘We observe amidst your gods one with the terrifying wild head of a lion, besmeared with pure minium (red-lead)’. A statue from Castel Gandolfo (Fig. 29) even has lions’ heads on its stomach and knees. The lion is undoubtedly an allusion to the all-devouring fire, while the three lions perhaps indicate the threefold character of the sun figure. Arnobius calls the god fruitful, probably thinking of the identification of Chronos-Kronos with the Roman Saturn.

The lion’s head on the stomach of the statue from Castel Gandolfo recalls a second statue from Merida where the god again has a lion’s head on his chest. He is shown, however, not as an awesome figure but as a youth and we may unhesitatingly detect an identification with Mithras himself who, in another representation originally at Merida, is shown standing with a lion crouching at his feet. The fire-symbolism of the Lion grade in the cult, the Lion with the fire-shovel as attribute, is definitely related to this figure. It is interesting that a statue from Strasbourg shows the Time-god holding a fire-shovel in his hand, a reminder that at the end of time all will be consumed in an overwhelming conflagration. Thus the god with the lion’s head is the symbol of devouring time.

Aion is a divine character who ‘by his holy nature remains ever the same, who has no beginning or end, undergoes no change and who is the begetter of the divine nature’. The character of Aion, who is invested with such power that he has united in himself the might of all the other gods, explains the many invocations to him in occult writings and the magic significance of his portrayal on intaglios. He is sometimes represented as a god with a lion’s head, a globe and a whip in his left hand, encircled by a snake its own tail; plainly the globe and whip indicate the sun, and the snake eternity. In a papyrus now in Paris, Aion appears as the god of fire and light; this god of light is none other than Helios; and Helios is identified with Mithras. And, yet, under the surface of the myth is the ancient realms of Egyptian Set, the god of the underworld and the Black Sun as Ahriman, Archon of Absolute Time.

Nick Land following Bataille would refurbish this ancient mythos of the Sun, energetic unconscious, and absolute Time, streamline it and update it for a cybernetic age. Within is libidinal materialism a new form of tanatropic machinism would emerge, the results of this reconstructive surgery provided the most illuminating but perhaps also the most disturbing distillation of what Deleuze called ‘transcendental empiricism’. In Land’s work, this becomes the watchword for an experi· mental praxis oriented entirely towards contact with the unknown. Land sought out this exteriority, the impersonal and anonymous chaos of absolute time, as fervently as he believed Kantianism and Hegelianism, along with their contemporary heirs, deconstruction and critical theory, were striving to keep it out.2

In fact as if emphasizing the de-political movement of this accelerating process of the Outside Land in his reading of Marx relates:

Capital has always sought to distance itself in reality – i.e. geographically – from this brutal political infrastructure. After all, the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace. But this ideal of total de-politicization, or the absolute annihilation of resistance to market relations, is an impossible megalomaniac fantasy, and Marx’s contention that labour trading at its natural price in an undistorted market (equal to the cost of its reproduction) will tend strongly to express an equally ‘natural’ political refusal of the market, continues to haunt the global bourgeoisie. (FN, p. 58)

Yet, as we’ve seen in recent times in the austerity programs of the EU and the bailouts of the U.S. ‘banks to big to fail’ the very political processes have been utterly removed from the processes of Capital.

As Jean-Pierre Dupuy in Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith suggests an economy functions by projecting itself into a future that does not yet exist, but that it brings into existence by allowing itself to be pulled forward in time, as it were, until it reaches the very moment when the future it has imagined becomes real. This conundrum belongs to the category of so-called bootstrapping paradoxes, of which the imaginary exploits of Baron Münchausen supply a pleasing and striking instance.3

This notion of boostrapping brings us back to capital and time. For Land the new technologies of cryptocurrency revolution and blockchain solves the problem of spacetime. The problem of spacetime is that according to Einstein and the notion of spacetime says there is no such thing as absolute succession. Therefore there is not even time, in any distinctive sense- distinct from a dimension. That’s why spacetime is treated as a 4 dimensional structure. This is in the theorization of the blockchain, the problem is approached through something called the ‘Byzantine’s General problem’ and the ‘Byzantine’s General problem’ is exactly the same as the problem of relativistic spacetime. Let me just quote: from Satoshi Nakamoto responding to a question by James A. Donald on the cryptography mailing list where there are a lot of blockchain theories put together:

Every general in the Byzantine’s general’s problem, just by verifying the difficulty of the proof of work chain can estimate how much parallel CPU power per hour was expended on it, and see that it must have required the majority of the computers to produce that much work in the allotted time… the proof of work chain is how all synchronization, distributed data base, and global view problems you’ve asked about are solved. (see: Nick Land: The Blockchain Revolution and Absolute Time)

And these problems of succession and synchronization, distributed data, and global view problems are the problems that relativistic spacetime says are impossible to solve. Relativistic spacetime is the theory that these problems are insoluble and instead of a solution to these problems you have general relativity. The extraordinary irrationality of markets, the sheer madness revealed by the formation of bubbles on an international scale and by the devastating crashes that inevitably follow them, arises from a deep-seated, and no doubt quite unconscious, sense of impending catastrophe shared by the executive officers of global capitalism. These immensely powerful people, in their heart of hearts, no longer believe in the future. This, I suspect, is the mainspring of the present crisis: the mechanisms of self-transcendence are jammed, perhaps irreversibly, with the result that Economy is quickly losing its capacity to act as a barrier against violence. The end of economic history, at least in its capitalist phase, is an extreme illustration of catastrophes whose occurrence is certain but whose date is unknown. On a personal level, all of us have to come to terms with the fact that, sooner or later, we will die. (Dupuy, KL 281)

A Landian sendoff…

It is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself. It might still be a few decades before artificial intelligences surpass the horizon of biological ones, but it is utterly superstitious to imagine that the human dominion of terrestrial culture is still marked out in centuries, let alone in some metaphysical perpetuity. The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deepening of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman of cognition, a migration of cognition out into the emerging planetary technosentience reservoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes … emptied spaces’ where human culture will be dissolved. Just as the capitalist urbanization of labour abstracted it in a parallel escalation with technical machines. so will intelligence be transplanted into the purring data zones of new software worlds in order to be abstracted from an increasingly obsolescent anthropoid particularity, and thus to venture beyond modernity. Human brains are to thinking what mediaeval villages were to engineering: antechambers to experimentation, cramped and parochial places to be.4

Call this the Great Reversal: originary technicity as the origin of humanity, becomes increasingly autonomous and emerges outside the meat-bag of its parasitical relations. In Derrida’s terms originary technicity inhabits the interiority of life itself: ‘life is a process of self-replacement’, Derrida asserts, ‘the handing-down of life is a mechanike, a form of technics’ (‘Nietzsche and the Machine’, p. 248). From its beginnings cybernetics emerging from the thought of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Valera or Niklas Luhmann, offers us a picture of the emergence of artificial intelligence, complexity, adaptation and emergence or the embodiment, extension and distribution of mind into autonomous forms outside the human: the slow externalization of the very processes of thought and technics.

Maturana and Valera’s image of a self-organizing, self-regulating and self-regenerating autopoietic machines represents a kind of litmus test for the originary technicity of life:

[It] is a machine organised (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realisation as such a network.4

Perhaps most crucially, autopoiesis recognises no qualitative difference between organic and inorganic systems: all living systems are autopoietic, and so any physical system – whether social, cultural, artificial – can, if autopoietic, be said to exhibit life (Autopoiesis and Cognition, p. 48). (Bradley, p. 21) Ultimately originary technicity is less a tool or prosthesis that has been super-added to life nor even quite a metaphor for life but what I will call the empirico-transcendental condition of life itself. Such an aporetic condition is articulated phenomenologically, historically and even ontologically by different thinkers under such names as labour, matter, the real, Being-in-the-World, the other and the body, but the basic gesture remains the same: what is supposedly outside the sphere of the human, nature and life is constantly folded back inside it as its ‘ground’. If the classical philosophy of technology is a machine for producing the non-technological, in other words, then contemporary theories of originary technicity see themselves as a machine for revealing that technology is always already contaminating phusis, anamnësis, consciousness, ipseity or the living more generally. (Bradley, p. 22)

Up until our time originary technicity privileged the human – whether transcendentalist or empiricist, idealist or materialist, phenomenological, humanist or posthumanist, ontological, deconstructive or genealogical – still remains in the thrall of what Agamben calls the anthropological machine: it is a mechanism for producing and recognising the being that we ourselves are. (Bradley) But a disconnection and automatisation of these processes, their externalization and reduplication within material devices outside the organic continuum of the human, although still coupled to us as handmaid and caretaker.

When we hear from pundits regarding the displacement and replacement of humans in work with automation, and accelerated processes of machinic intelligence in the coming decades, what we’re dealing with is varied concepts of acceleration: scale and scaling, double bind, runaway processes and treadmill competition, flexibility and reproduction.6 As Land admits:

Velocities can be represented geometrically, but speeds ‘shape’ space. Which is to say; there is no transcendental space, no spatiality that is ultimate—whether ‘highest’ or most ‘basic’— no final grid, topology, or terrain, no absolute geometry or legislative stratum. There are only scales in which everything happens; a labyrinth which can never be ‘placed in perspective’.7

It’s not lost on us that global climate change or the accelerated overheating of the natural environment and the technical objects of our autonomizing processes such as the making of bitcoins and bitcoin mining, where in old coal mining country the new overheating commodity is warehouses of servers: Workers carry laptop computers as they walk the aisles looking for breakdowns and checking cable connections. They fill water tanks that keep the computers from melting down or bursting into flame. Around them, hundreds of thousands of cooling fans fill the building with whooshing white noise.

As Nick Ayton tells it in Blockchain goes mainstream the next 25 years will see the focus on trading value less about trading things… All of these and others events, breakthrough technologies will accelerate the adoption of Blockchain (read Bitcoin and other crypto- currencies, Smart Contracts, Ethereum and Augmented Reality). They amplify the impact like a boxer throwing all his punches at once, in the first 30 seconds of the first round…

It could be that what we’re seeing in these convergent technologies is the long mythologized and anticipated notion of the Singularity, the combined accelerating effect of technical objects leaving their organic niche in human thought and technics and becoming autonomous and self-organizing machinic life: superintelligence – self-making, self-replicating, self-regulating, and self-transcending.

Yet, as things accelerate, produce entropy and waste the world is overheating even as these technical objects that are taking on a life of their own are using and consuming more and more energy to the detriment of organic life on the planet. “Modernity marks itself out as hot culture, captured by a spiralling involvement with entropy deviations camouflaging an invasion from the future, launched back out of terminated security against everything that inhibits the meltdown process.” (FN, p. 445) Since the nineteenth century a Technocracy of experts has held sway in the West, while the government structures of both eastern and western metropolitan centres consolidated themselves as population policing Medico-Military Complexes with neomercantilist foreign policy orientations. (FN, p. 447) Corporations from the beginnings have been autonomous machines, hierarchical and inhuman. Monopoly capitalism and managed democracy have worked hand in hand to enslave the vast human populations of the earth in a system of enticements, meritocracy, and entertainment-escapism. Even now as we hand over the keys to the machines, humanity is being rewired, reeducated, attuned to its subservient role in the future of earth’s autonomous and intelligent technical objects. The very core curriculum of the global social memory systems are being rewritten, the ancient structures and memories of our ancestral attachments to the human are being erased; and, new computational, simulated, and functional systems implanted or augmented to teach our children the way of the machine.


  1. Cheetham, Tom. All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 49). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumenon: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (July 1, 2013)
  3. Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture) (Kindle Locations 267-270). Michigan State University Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Robin Mackay / Armen Avanessian eds. #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader.Urbanomic (May 10, 2014)
  5. A. Bradley. Originary Technicity: The Theory of Technology from Marx to Derrida. Palgrave Macmillan; 2011 edition (May 27, 2011)
  6. Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change . Pluto Press. Kindle Edition.
  7. Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge; 1 edition (January 2, 1991)

Neuroscientific Exploration of Strange Relations: Between The Fantastic and the Paranormal

Tzvetan Todorov in his classic study of the fantastic, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre once defined it this way:

Which brings us to the very heart of the fantastic. In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us.1

The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighboring genre, the uncanny, or the marvelous. The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event. But what if this interpretation was itself problematic? What then? What if evidence from the neurosciences could shed light on such inexplicable and seemingly unnatural events, personages, and happenings? What if all along it has been our metaphysics once again that has misapplied false categories and complexified the world into natural/supernatural divisions that are now obsolete?

Continue reading

Fuck You, America!

…inverted totalitarianism is only in part a state-centered phenomenon. Primarily it represents the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry.

—Sheldon S. Wolin,  Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism 

Ever since I was a child my parents taught me that ours was a “Government of the People, by the People, for the People.” That’s no longer the case. Like Greenwald, Hedges, and so many others I’m fed up with this lie: we live in a Corporotacracy: or, as Sheldon Wolin terms it an inverted totalitarianism: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. A duopoly and Deep State wherein corporate and private interests take precedence, buy votes, control both sides of the House and Senate where it counts: profits. Sadly, Trump is just a joke, has no real power, has been stymied and stopped by both Establishment Dem/Rep duopolists in cahoots with the Oligarchy, Plutocrats, and Managed bureaucrats. Sadly people blame Trump for our ills when almost everything he’s tried to do has been well-staged and halted by Justice and Congress. Why people are distracted by Trump is beyond me when the real enemy is the duopolists themselves who have been enacting laws to continue stripping us of taxes and wealth creation and giving it to the upper .01%.

The stupidity in America is listening to the media who have been proven to be nothing more than the propaganda arm of one or the other side of the Corporate duopoly of profits. To defend Democrats or Republican establishment in this moment of our Country’s failing systems is to fall into false belief that we are still living in a true democracy. We’re not, and haven’t been for quite a long while. Sadly people in the echo chamber seem glued to Trumpism as if being distracted by the idiocy of a Clown President were going to change things. It’s not. Stupidity reigns on both sides of our country and till we wake up and realize that since 2007 we the people have been hoodwinked, stripped of our wealth to the sum of trillions of dollars handed over from our taxpayer dollars and given to Banks, Oligarchs, and Plutocrats: along with the front organizations they represent, the Corporotacracy, we’ll continue to vote in more idiots and end in ultimate enslavement with no way out

Unlike the classic forms of totalitarianism, which openly boasted of their intentions to force their societies into a preconceived totality, inverted totalitarianism is not expressly conceptualized as an ideology or objectified in public policy. Typically it is furthered by power-holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions. There is a certain heedlessness, an inability to take seriously the extent to which a pattern of consequences may take shape without having been preconceived.

The fundamental reason for this deep-seated carelessness is related to the well-known American zest for change and, equally remarkable, the good fortune of Americans in having at their disposal a vast continent rich in natural resources, inviting exploitation. Although it is a cliché that the history of American society has been one of unceasing change, the consequences of today’s increased tempos are, less obvious. Change works to displace existing beliefs, practices, and expectations. Ever since the Enlightenment change and the concept of Progress have been hooked together in an unsatisfactory display of ignorance and complicity, openly advocated by those who seek to undermine the stability of civilization and culture. Thanks to advances in science and invention it was possible to conceive change as “progress,” an advancement benefiting all members of society. Progress stood for change that was constructive, that would bring something new into the world and to the advantage of all. The champions of progress believed that while change might result in the disappearance or destruction of established beliefs, customs, and interests, the vast majority of these deserved to go because they mostly served the Few while keeping the Many in ignorance, poverty, and sickness.

Sadly, this notion of Progress was erroneous and by the end of the 19th Century Progress and Change became a private enterprise inseparable from exploitation and opportunism, thereby constituting a major, if not the major, element in the dynamic of capitalism. Opportunism involved an unceasing search for what might be exploitable, and soon that meant virtually anything, from religion, to politics, to human wellbeing. Very little, if anything, was taboo, as before long change became the object of premeditated strategies for maximizing profits. To do this large bureaucracies were put into place within the various governmental and private sectors to manage democracy and control the flows of change and profits for the upper tier of society.

As Sheldon S. Wolin states it for centuries political writers claimed that if—or rather when—a full-fledged democracy was overturned, it would be succeeded by a tyranny. The argument was that democracy, because of the great freedom it allowed, was inherently prone to disorder and likely to cause the propertied classes to support a dictator or tyrant, someone who could impose order, ruthlessly if necessary. But—and this is the issue addressed by our inquiry—what if in its popular culture a democracy were prone to license (“anything goes”) yet in its politics were to become fearful, ready to give the benefit of the doubt to leaders who, while promising to “root out terrorists,” insist that endeavor is a “war” with no end in sight? Might democracy then tend to become submissive, privatized rather than unruly, and would that alter the power relationships between citizens and their political deciders?

During the early twentieth century safeguards were put into place to protect American citizens from the growing power of Monopoly Capitalism, those safeguards have in since the Reagan-Clinton era been erased. At the same time that war halted the momentum of political and social democracy, it enlarged the scale of an increasingly open cohabitation between the corporation and the state. That partnership became ever closer during the era of the Cold War (1947–93). Corporate economic power became the basis of power on which the state relied, as its own ambitions, like those of giant corporations, became more expansive, more global, and, at intervals, more bellicose. Together the state and corporation became the main sponsors and coordinators of the powers represented by science and technology. The result is an unprecedented combination of powers distinguished by their totalizing tendencies, powers that not only challenge established boundaries—political, moral, intellectual, and economic—but whose very nature it is to challenge those boundaries continually, even to challenge the limits of the earth itself. Those powers are also the means of inventing and disseminating a culture that taught consumers to welcome change and private pleasures while accepting political passivity. A major consequence is the construction of a new “collective identity,” imperial rather than republican (in the eighteenth-century sense), less democratic. That new identity involves questions of who we are as a people, what we stand for as well as what we are willing to stand, the extent to which we are committed to becoming involved in common affairs, and what democratic principles justify expending the energies and wealth of our citizens and asking some of them to kill and sacrifice their lives while the destiny of their country is fast slipping from popular control.


A Reading List to Ruin your Day:

Bataille’s Gift: Wealth, Toxicity, and Apocalypse

 

Is the general determination of energy circulating in the biosphere altered by man’s activity? Or rather, isn’t the latter’s intention vitiated by a determination of which it is ignorant, which it overlooks and cannot change?

—Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share

Bataille’s underlying understanding of the checks and balances in the universe in its indifferent and impersonal forms would inform his pragmatic approach to the economics of the Anthropocene:

The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.

Capital accumulation as performed by the top .01% which hordes its surplus profits (the excess energy (wealth)) brings with it a counter-current or entropic and toxic accumulation of catastrophe in the earth itself which has to be absorbed, spent, and willingly or not “lost without profit” else like other civilizations before it the earth’s resources will reach that point where its own accumulated toxicity must be wasted utterly in catastrophic apocalypse to the detriment of all biotic life on the surface of this planet.

Continue reading

The Future of Decision: Governance, Algorithms, and Cognitive Bias

 

Berardi makes a valid point in his critique of Srnicek and Williams Inventing the Future:

“Srnicek and Williams suggest that we should ‘demand full automation, demand universal basic income, demand reduction of the work week’. But they do not explain who the recipient is of these demands. Is there any governing volition that can attend to these requests and implement them?

No, because governance has taken the place of government, and command is no longer inscribed in political decision but in the concatenation of techno-linguistic automatisms. This is why demands are pointless, and why building political parties is pointless as well.”1

Governance is ubiquitous, invisible, and decentralized within the networks itself now, power is part of the very interactive environment we face daily. The moment you open your iPhone, etc. you’re confronted with a governed set of choices and possibilities that capture your desires and modulate those very choices through sophisticated and ubiquitous algorithms. Same for almost every aspect of our once sacrosanct private lives, too. Our homes in the coming decades will be invasively programmed with ubiquitous smart devices that will attune us to techno-commercial decisioning processes out of our control, and yet they will allow us to still believe it is we who are choosing, deciding, using our oh so ingrained “free will” – that as many neuroscientists keep telling us is an illusion, delusion, a cognitive bias and hereditary error of judgment, etc.

Continue reading

Against Progressive Cultural Dictatorship

 

Reading this stupidity in Current Affairs: The Question of Cultural Appropriation :  

The trouble with Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” is not that it is bad. It’s that it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Big Mama Thornton’s original 1952 version of the song is sleazy and defiant. In a bluesy growl, she tells off the low-down guy who keeps “snooping round her door.” It’s a declaration of independence by a woman who is sick and tired of having a “hound dog” of a man take her for granted. The lyrics are full of dirty double-entendres: “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more.” In Elvis’s version, sanitized for a pop audience, the line is changed to “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.” Drained of its original meaning, the song seemingly becomes about… an actual dog.

What a crock… As a one time ultra-leftist whose renounced his affiliations due to such idiocy as current Leftist ideologues spout, what I’m sick of is the moralism in all this cultural appropriation theatrics, as if Elvis needed justification for “not making sense” whatever the hell that is: sense for whom? Or for borrowing openly from a culture he admired and grew up with, listened too, and was shaped by. As if cultures were all separate entities back in the 50’s and he should have known better. So now will finger-whag at a dead rock icon and let all you living souls in on our police agenda. In attacking a cultural icon, the King of Rock’n’Roll the New Progressive pundits seek to say: Even the sacrosanct of the Pop-Cults is up for our Judgment. Here ye, here ye: we are coming for you, beware of our judgment day calls. You may be next… I imagine a new Uncle Sam sign with its finger wagging at you saying: Do not you dare step across theses cultural boundaries or else….

For the hysterical left who is bent on reverse McCarthyism and policing thought and cultural appropriation as the new censors and thought-Police? I’ll be dammed if I’m buying any of this new liberal progressive elite crapology while the Party itself seems bent on self-destruction and not taking its own failures seriously. When did the Left who was for decades against the moralism of the public sphere and during the fifties, sixties, seventies…. attacked the same in the Right, become so weighted with all this garbage ethics and cultural muck? Even cultural postmodernism of Jameson and others was not so weighted… this is recent and not a good sign for the Party or us… to top it off most of these elite pundits are themselves White-Anglosaxon peeps in cushion jobs or academic careers… what we’ve done is put up barriers and enclosures around various cultures as boxes and territories as if we’d learned nothing from Deleuze and Guattari…. as if suddenly to explore outside one’s own box were suddenly to have to meet the Cultural Police and make sure our papers were in order like some Berlin Wall of Culture… “no, you can’t use that, no you’ll need this form to use that, no we don’t allow you to change your appearance and look like us, no sounding like us is not appropriate, and don’t you dare steal our music, art, dance, etc. or else…”

To me the whole notion of cultural “ownership” puts this flatly within capitalist culture and logics, whereas under communist and progressive socialist tenants such logics has always been anathema since no one owned anything singularly, and all owned everything in the collective. What we’ve done in this new wave progressive bullshit is to reify the old class barriers rather than breaking them down, drawn ideological lines in the sand (you shall not take my culture? or else?), and put up new false sign-posts against collective solidarity through a false identity politics that pits even the various Leftists against each other based on race and culture, all under the false notion of social justice which was never to be used conceptually in this way. Rather than the cultural marxiism of the 40’s and 50’s with the Frankfurt school or even Jameson we’ve got something that is almost its opposite now. It makes you wonder who is truly sponsoring this wave or reverse McCarthyism in which the Left Progressive Church of Progress has become the Thought-Police with its White Anglo-Saxon Elite pundits sitting in their cushion academic halls or media chairs dictating this crap to all and sundry. No, just call me an Old School Lefty who has had enough of this strange new tendency which isn’t about emancipation but rather about policing the world and censoring those who do not sit quietly within the borders of their own self-imposed cultural prisons. I’ll have no truck with it, ever…

I’ve finally had it up to my neck… I’m done with the current Left Progressive losers and their pettiness and cultural politics. From now own their my enemy…

Rage

Rage without utopian prospects of real change is like living in a favela on the edge of Pandemonium waiting for the rebellion to begin, no matter what you do you are still trapped in a sub-basement of Hell with no prospects of escape. Rage is useless when there are no chains, only the fiery wall and abyss between you and the unbridgeable gulf of a false heaven. Forget paradise, forget heaven, learn to live in your despair and hopelessness and then maybe you will change the very ruins of hell into a paradise of solidarity. One must enter the depths of darkness to know the light. Carry your rage as a light in the despair of our times, seek out the other without redemption or hope only the truth of one’s rage.

S.C. Hickman, Nightmares and Revisions

Slavoj Žižek commenting on Italo Svevo’s novel Zeno’s Conscience, makes an interesting point in that Zeno faced with the prohibition not to smoke feels desperate and guilty when he does smoke, so the analyst he is seeing changes the strategy and tells him health is not an issue (which it is!) so that he should properly smoke as much as he likes. Zeno taking the advice does just that but instead of freeing him from guilt he nows feels doubly guilty to the point of despair, and it is only when he has reached this extreme moment of despair and helplessness before his double-bind of smoking or not smoking that he finally quits smoking. Zizek commenting on this says:

“Zeno is totally perturbed and desperate. He smokes like crazy and nonetheless feels totally guilty, without getting any narcissistic satisfaction from this guilt. In despair, he breaks down. Whatever he does turns out to be wrong: neither prohibitions nor permissiveness work, there is no way out, no pleasurable compromise; and, since smoking has been the focus of his life, even smoking loses its sense, there is no point in it. So, in total despair – not as a great decision – he stops smoking … The way out thus emerges unexpectedly when Zeno accepts the total hopelessness of his predicament. And this same matrix should also be applied to the prospect of radical change.”1

Continue reading

Future Society: The Cathedral of Managed Society

We can read it as the coming of modern, scientific government in the United States. Or we can read it as the transfer of power from political democracy to the American university system—which, just for the sake of a catchy catchword, I like to call the Cathedral.

—Mencius Moldbug (alias, Curtis Yarvin),  A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations

The Cathedral has substituted its gospel for everything we ever knew.

—Nick Land, The Dark Enlightenment

Bernard Stiegler in his unreadable scholarly postmodern account of the coming automation of society – Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work (Polity Press, 2016), “demonstrates once again (as he has done in virtually all his many previous books),” according to Bert Oliver, “that our technological era, like every distinctive technological epoch before this one, has generated novel technologies in such rapid succession that they have the effect of disrupting social life fundamentally, continually requiring new cultural practices and social adaptations – in this case the probable massive shrinking of employment because of digitalization”.

Another harbinger of this world of disruption and non-work is Peter Frase whose popular Four Futures: Life After Capitalism offers, according to Ben Tarnoff, “two heavens and two hells: two ways that automation might facilitate a flourishing of human life, and two ways that it might maximise human misery. In all of these potential futures, automation is the constant; what changes is the political and ecological context – in other words, who owns the robots and how climate change affects the resources on which technology depends”.

Continue reading

A Short History of Modernity: Abstraction and Automatic Society

Abstract art—painting and sculpture that makes no direct, immediately discernible reference to recognizable objects—was born of an alliance of modernist aesthetics and occult doctrines…  Yet no sooner was this new artistic convention established as an influence on the European Avant garde than it was quickly appropriated by still another mode of thought—utopianism—

—Hilton Kramer, Abstraction and Utopia

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility:

During the last century, abstraction has been the main tendency of the general history of the world in the field of art, language and economics. Abstraction can be defined as the mental extraction of a concept from a series of real experiences, but it can be also defined as the separation of conceptual dynamics from bodily processes. Since the time Marx spoke of ‘abstract labour’ to refer to the working activity as separate from the useful production of concrete things, we know that abstraction is a powerful engine.

Thanks to abstraction, capitalism has detached the process of valorization from the material process of production. As productive labour turns into a process of info-production, abstraction becomes the main source of accumulation, and the condition of automation. Automation is the insertion of abstraction into the machinery of social life, and consequently it is the replacement of an action (physical and cognitive) with a technical engine.

Continue reading

The Reality Studio as Staged Event

The subject is in crisis, its hegemony threatened by centralized structures of control, by a technology which simultaneously alienates and masks alienation, by a perception of its own helplessness. Even the last retreat, the physical body, has lost its privileged status: hence the schizophrenic terror undergone by the protagonists. Even the libido, site of the irrational, seat of desire, is invaded, enlisted in the furtherance of an obsolescent technological rationalism.

—Scott Bukatman,  Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction 

Over the past few weeks of watching the Left/Right street urchins play out their idiot games of violence I’ve realized just how ill effective either side is against real power. Why? Because in truth neither of these extremes has any power whatsoever: it’s all surface show violence, even these staged events are funded in part by Corporate NGO’s etc. so that the supposed radical or reactionary forces are virtual actualities without substance. Sadly this is the state of our planet at the moment, we use social media, academia, philosophy, heuristics not as actual tools to change the world, but rather to stage that change in a virtual realm that can be seen and played out like a MTV video remix. If it wasn’t so sad it’d be humorous, but in truth our powerlessness before the global juggernaut of financial capitalism has left us disunited, alone, atomized in societies that can only stage pseudo-events and struggles rather than anything that could move us toward an emancipated future.

Continue reading

Berardi on the Bunker City

Berardi on the Bunker City

Such vertical environmental contrasts are compounded by the ways in which private, vertically segregated pedestrian systems can become progressively delinked from surrounding sidewalks. Actual access from the public street often becomes increasingly tenuous as the self-perpetuating logic of extending interiorised commercial walkway systems grow horizontally over time. Entrances to the walkway system from the street below are mediated by access to securitised corporate office buildings, elite condominiums or upmarket hotels. Commercial imperatives and a politics of fear, in other words, can result in pulling up the ‘ladder’ connecting the skywalk city to the street system. Linkages to the street, often already unsigned or inconspicuous, are closed, built over or replaced by connections through retailers or auto garages. Security guards and CCTV cameras provide intensified controls filtering flows between outside and inside.

—Stephen Graham,  Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers

Taking over a notion of the Bunker City from Paul Virilio who’d developed it just after WWII, Berardi sees the new MegaCity States of the future divided into those of the have’s and have-not’s: within/without, included/excluded, bunker/favela, all living in the protected virtual/intelligent and artificial environments of competing and securitized Global MegaCities:

The composition of contemporary global society is structured around a fundamental separation between the inside-the-bunker social sphere and the outside-the-bunker social sphere. The bunker is the area in which the financial class and the cognitive workers live and work. This area can be outlined in terms of technical environment or in terms of urban location, and it is here where the main connective and recombinant functions are situated: the function of the financial decisions that dominate and exploit the whole cycle of production, and the function of cognitive labour, mostly precarious but protected to some extent, because it is strictly necessary to the accumulation of capital.

Continue reading

Zero Dawn

 

Consciousness. The first moments of a lapsed nightmare, quickening. Gabe’s lungs burst, the liquid oxygen flowing freely as his body convulsed to the beat of the Calysto’s ship sirens ringing in his ears. His mind is still kicking in, the blood moving along the capillaries feeding his neural net feeders like sludge from some subterranean backflow on Gamma Five. His heart is pumping like a bladed thumper and his lower legs are shaking spasmodically as he tries to push the blood injectors from his abdomen.  His fingers are still cold as blue steel as if he’d been locked away for an eternity, but this seems more accident than panic daemon. A voice is finally penetrating his titanium skull mount, the toxic bleeders vacating his system as the Infosys tegrams release filtered spinal fluids into his brainpan, the quick firing neural-net activating and becoming clearer as the quantum jets strike up.

The voice is soothing but insistent: “Commander McAlister we have a problem.”

“Oh, really,” he thinks to himself. As the last of the cocoon’s safety links disconnect from his spine he feels tingling of the casing fluid retreating into the bowels of the Sleeper. He hates being under, dreading the unload sequence every time it happens. It’s like being ejected from his mother’s womb, except he never had a mother only the artificial wrapper marked property of Consilient Enterprises. He often wondered whose genetics ran in his cloned flesh. But knew that was never going to happen. Hell even the GenTechs that built him couldn’t have traced that back to its origins with all the editing sequences and cross-pollinators specific to the task of his job. Yep, he was more job than human, his whole body and mind built to specs by some NewGen AGI based in L5. Locked and sequenced, barcode inserted subdermal, tattooed and branded with the orange and black logo of Consilient Inc. he was more robot than man, more technoid knowledge base than fleshly denizen of human deformation. Even Hammond Clarke, CEO of Consilient Exec Council couldn’t have tapped that system, it’s governance and security perimeters coded in quark soup so thick that it’d burn straight through to the core of any vagrant viral that came within magnetic breath of its salient ice-walls.

“Commander?” the voice was tentative now. “Are you alright? Your vitals seem in order, please respond.”

Miranda LXII. Pure abstraction on steroids. He’d often kid himself that maybe she truly was as human as she sounded. But AI’s were subtle that way, their indifference and impersonalism couched in the sociopathic algorithms of a manipulative Biomimetic subsystems of such complexity no human could reckon with much less control. Miranda was part and parcel of a programmed nightmare, but one that was attuned to offering mimed pleasantries even as it prepared to demolish its prey. Her metallic voice was so kind and gentle as if she actually gave a shit about him rather than just seeing him as one more prosthetic appendage in her vast arsenal to be called forth when something needed to be adjusted, tuned, or fixed and the ship’s drones couldn’t handle it, which was rare indeed. But there was the other factor, too. Clones were built to perform specific tasks, and he wasn’t just any knock-off sleeper, but a NanoCyb: a cyborged machinic delivery system adapted to work under even the most toxic environmental conditions, ones that required micro-molecular controls and mutational flexors.

“I’m here, Miranda,” he spoke softly, his sub-vocals  assuring her that he was fine. “Give me the details. Skip the vocals, relay neural-feed proximity vectors. 3D scan operative geospatials as needed. Bring the holotable online. Scratch pad and floater screens. And…”

“Yes, Commander?”

“Send message, HQ. List Time/Date at Zero Dawn.” He emphasized this.

He could sense that vast machinic intelligence probing him through every fiber of his nanocore feedback connectors as if it was puzzled by this diffraction from protocol. But it said nothing but the required acknowledgement: “Yes, Commander, as you wish.” He hated that as if she were a genii who’d just given him one of three wishes, and would sooner or later require much more from him than wishes. He knew there was always a price to pay in breaking code or protocol. And, he knew, he would pay; dearly.

***

He tapped his temple subdermal controller, the retinal display unit slid out of its encasement above his left eyebrow, the lithium screen flowing down while the plasma charge spread across the void of his eyes filling the loadscreen with enmeshed holofields. The images began flowing easily now, the lazelight particle threader accelerating as he worked the inner chronotapes, allowing the AI interface between himself and Miranda to wedge the datascans into view.

As he watched the feeds he noticed the timesequencer, noted the day/hour/minute of the impact. A ship had appeared starboard, a craft that should not have been in deep space, at least not one from Earth’s DefCorp Fleet. If not DefCorp then who? Traders? What the hell would they be doing out here? Nothing but the asteroid belts, penal colonies of minders. Traders didn’t have license to fold into these outer regions, sell wares to the penals. Miranda had corrected the navigational perimeters, adjusted the sparrockets for a reroute, which would have been fine but for one thing: the other ship had signaled on a subspace channel its need of assistance. Great… that was indeed a problem.

Miranda had registered the supplicant, sent off the required report to DefCorp Jupiter quadrant and received a reply two specs Solar Time. He knew the drill. He was required to make contact with the vessel, supply their needs and offer any assistance except evacuation. Strict protocols disallowed a Penal Transport any accommodations other than the manifest maintenance crew and the shelved penals. If everything had gone right he’d of awakened at port of call rather than out here in no-man’s land jumbuck nowhere.

He could sense the hum of the ship, Miranda’s overbrain sitting there in its quantum sea like a princes on a silent isle. But she was no princess, and he was no Prince Charming come to offer her tribute. Instead he tapped the retinal, let it retract and fold back into its titanium shell while he contemplated his next move.


Just piddling with the opening sequence in my current work, thought I’d share it see how it works or not.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Thatcher and Baudrillard

Franco “Bifo” Berardi,  in Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility… (below)

Baudrillard wrote In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities in the same era when Margaret Thatcher was taking control of the Tory Party, beginning the triumphal progress that prepared her victory in the national elections of 1979, and launching the project that we have come to know as the neoliberal reformation. Echoing Baudrillard’s concepts, in a 1987 interview Thatcher said:

What irritated me about the whole direction of politics in the last thirty years is that it’s always been towards the collectivist society. People have forgotten about personal security. And they say: do I count, do I matter? To which the short answer is, yes. And therefore, it isn’t that I set out on economic policies; it’s that I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.

The final goal of Thatcher’s revolution was not economic, but political, ethical – almost spiritual, we might say. The neoliberal reformation was intended to inscribe competition into the very soul of social life, up to the point of destroying society itself. This cultural intention has been clearly described by Michel Foucault in his 1979–80 seminar published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics:

the subjection of individual activity to the spirit of enterprise, the overall recoding of human activity in terms of economic rentability, the insertion of competition into the neural circuits of daily life.

These are the trends that Foucault foresaw and described. Not only economic profit, but moreover the cult of the individual as economic warrior, the harsh perception of the fundamental loneliness of humans, the cynical concession that war is the only possible relation among living organisms on the path of evolution: this is the ultimate intention of the neoliberal reformation. Margaret Thatcher said, ‘There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.’ The concept here is interesting but not accurate: society cannot disappear at the very end; sociability may be dissolving, but not society.

Over the last thirty years, society has been transformed into a sort of blind system of inescapable obligation and interdependence, a prison-like condition of togetherness in which empathy is void and solidarity is forbidden. The social space has been transformed into a worldwide system of automatic connections in which individuals cannot experience conjunction but only functional connection. The process of cooperation does not stop, it is transformed into a process of abstract recombination of info-fractals that only the code can decipher and transform into economic value. The mutual interaction is not negated outright, but empathy is replaced by competition. Social life proceeds, more frantic than ever: the living, conscious organism penetrated by dead, unconscious mathematical functions.

 

Bye, Bye Mr. Ashbery we’ll miss you…

 

Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.

—John Ashbery, Soonest Mended

With the recent death of John Ashbery I began thinking about his poetry again.
In a lot of ways his work remains a testament to the death of the individual, to the slow erosion of Western humanism and all those discourses where the human is central. His is a poetry of the fragmentation, the endless atomization of society, the absolute loneliness of desire caught behind the screen of life watching and gazing, wishing to participate but realizing that the body is no longer there to follow the mind into the electric void.

From The Instruction Manual

As I sit looking out of a window of the building
I wish I did not have to write the instruction manual on the uses of a new metal.
I look down into the street and see people, each walking with an inner peace,
And envy them—they are so far away from me!
———————————

Even now for many of us we sit behind the screen watching the Buzzfeed world of light, the drift of peoples lives come and go among the media folds of FB, Tweeter, and other social networks that give the appearance of solidarity without its substance. It’s this sense that nothing is real anymore, that our lives online are mere fragments of a collapsing world that echoes nothing more than our ability to truly communicate. We’ve lost the subtle art of writing and speaking, the bodily queues, behavioral markers that once shed light on irony and wit, tragedy and sorrow. Those slight facial filters of an upturned lip, or the snarly voice and sardonic laughter, the power of the body to awaken in us the meanings of the folded words hinting at mysteries that were once all too apparent when body and mind were not cut off in this galaxy of light.

For Ashbery this feeling of loneliness, this desperation of the worker locked away in his cubicle, the slow fading of the human equation sparks a nostalgia for warmth, for flow, for touch and haptic joys of summers on beaches and coasts, roaming the gardens of Guadalajara, a nostalgia for being human. It’s this sense that there can be no return to the human, that we’ve lost our chance, that the dream has been dispersed, lost that pervades our experience as non-experience on the internet. We truly do not have experiences on the net, it’s pure abstraction in a void. As Ashbery puts it:

How limited, but how complete withal, has been our experience of Guadalajara!

Just that, bodily experience is no more, we are but talking heads, cut off in apophatic despair, our minds hollowed out and dispersed among the lost arts of speech and writing…

The Life of a Poet

Harold Bloom a long time friend and advocate of Ashbery’s work once said “no one now writing poems in the English language is likelier than Ashbery to survive the severe judgment of time, he is joining the American sequence that includes Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens and Hart Crane.”

Ashbery’s early work was mostly known in avant-garde circles, but his arrival as a major figure in American literature was signaled in 1976, when he became the only writer to win the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the same year, for his collection “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” The title poem of the volume is a 15-page meditation on the painting of the same name by Parmigianino, the Italian Renaissance artist.

Early on Ashbery was associated with the New York school of poetry of the 1950s and ’60s, joining Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, Frank O’Hara and others as they reveled in the currents of modernism, surrealism and Abstract Expressionism then animating creative life in the city, drawing from and befriending artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Jane Freilicher.

As another critic hints his poetry is by turns playful and elegiac, absurd and exquisite — but more than anything else, it is immediately recognizable. If some poets remind us of the richness of American poetry by blending seamlessly into one of its many traditions, Mr. Ashbery has frequently seemed like a tradition unto himself. It is a cliché to praise a writer by saying no one has ever sounded quite like him, and yet: No one has ever sounded quite like him.

Like many I came upon his poetry during my short academic years, before marriage and life forced my hand to enter the fray of our competitive world or perish. Ashbery stayed with me, goading me on in my own private sanctuary of thought and culture, where at nights I would read through his and other poets and poetesses seeking that indefinable art of the word. If I had a religion at that time, having already taken the first tentative steps out of and away from my own religious heritage in evangelical Christianity, it was poetry. I’d been raised on Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde during those formative years as if the decadent world of flowers were some hybrid realm of lush and rich realms of far away jungles. Of course most of that was nonsense, sense my early life had been bound by the physical world of football and drinking sessions with the hob nob boys spinning our ceaseless jokes and inane masculinity.

And, yet, there was some truth in what Wilde once said: The poet is the supreme artist, for he is the master of colour and of form, and the real musician besides, and is lord over all life and all arts. Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton were my triune gods, with Shelley, Byron, and Keats running in second during those early forays into the poetic canon. Whitman, Poe, and Emerson would rise out of the American yawp like barbarians in an overgrown garden, while for me it was finally the worlds of Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, and the West coast loner Robinson Jeffers with his wild music of the seas that would flow into my veins. Later would come Pablo Neruda and Cèsar Vallejo whose political and regional work awakened a certain combination of revolutionary fervor with the lushness of southern mountains, rivers, and oceans.

I could recite all the lesser lights, not to mention my delving into the feminine strain (a post on this needs a separate offering!), but it was certain poets like W.B. Yeats (not for his political stance, but the music of his lyrics) and Ashbery that would enter that strange harbor of my imaginal and force me to finally disturb the waters with my own voice. Who knows why one is lured to certain poets and not others, I have no answer to this question. Something in certain poets and poetesses appears to meld with one’s inner voice, one’s thoughts, feelings, priorities; begins to overwhelm one’s sense of being and becoming to the point of possession. These are the one’s that like Jacob wrestling his angel force one to wrestle the daemon within: that force of one’s onw deep creative spirit, the productive force of the unconscious, the agency at the core of one’s inhuman being. It’s this one is awakened too in certain poets and not others, this voice of the daemon – or, dark spark that gives hint to one’s “lost majesty” coming back as Emerson spoke of it. A deep influence that is not so much or black stars entering one’s soul, as it is the volcanic depths of some flowing sphere of churning power rising from the secret place of one’s being.

For all his intellectuality Ashbery’s poetry is replete with earthiness, a sensual allure that shifts one from one registrar of being to another so subtly one suddenly begins to fold out of and into a new dimension before realizing it:

Like a dull scholar, I behold, in love,
An ancient aspect touching a new mind.
It comes, it blooms, it bears its fruit and dies.
This trivial trope reveals a way of truth.
Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof.
Two golden gourds distended on our vines,
Into the autumn weather, splashed with frost,
Distorted by hale fatness, turned grotesque.
We hang like warty squashes, streaked and rayed,
The laughing sky will see the two of us,
Washed into rinds by rotting winter rains.

(—“Le Monocle,” VIII)

Browning’s sense of decay and richness, a grotesquerie of earthy experience envelopes Ashbery’s world, a painterly eye. As Bloom would admonish, Ashbery throughout his career could neither accept or reject the inheritance of the High Romantic sublime, “unable firmly to adhere to or reject the High Romantic insistence that the power of the poet’s mind could triumph over the universe of death, or the estranged object-world”. Caught between the lure of material creation that is forever bound to the fatal gesture of the Real; or, the power of time and history which washes over us all, spilling its waves of erasure and anonymity, crushing and pulverizing the white bones of everything into dust and sand. Rather what remains in Ashbery is that insistence of the voice itself:

remember you are free to wander away
as from other times other scenes that were taking place
the history of someone who came too late
the time is ripe now and the adage
is hatching as the seasons change and tremble…

—Ashbery, Her

This knowledge that maybe we have all of us in this late time arrived too late, in the moments when humanity in its sea-change is mutating beyond redress, when the seasons changing and trembling under the pressure of this age of forgetfulness sinks toward some fated abyss we begin to realize the “time is ripe now and the adage is hatching”: and, we, who have dared to peer into the darkness must awaken, each to each in the silences of our lonely gazes, reach out and touch the body of each other and the earth as if it still mattered. For it does…

knowing as the brain does it can never come about
not here not yesterday in the past
only in the gap of today filling itself
as emptiness is distributed
in the idea of what time it is
when that time is already past

—Ashbery, Her

“Ashbery’s finest achievement, to date, is his heroic and perpetual self-defeat,” is the almost weird praise Bloom would give this poet and his place in the small canon of American poets. A perpetual self-effacing of the mirror worlds others lavish upon us; for it is others who seem to construct us in words and deeds, shape us into some whole that we ourselves never have known or seen; nor can or will. It’s this defeat of the other in ourselves that is the core truth of one’s life, for the most difficult art is that of pure emptiness: in it is neither the nothing that is nor the nothing that is not, but rather the fullness of that presence emptied of the human except as a small voicing, a spark that escapes time’s dark riddle and lures us into that strangeness and emptiness that is.