Eric Voegelin’s Anti-Democratic Worldview

I’ve never been much of a fan of such thinkers as Voegelin, and yet let us be clear we need to understand such right-wing reactionary thinkers and their attack on progressive liberalism and its roots in Modernity. The reactionary spirit is not going away, as we see in our recent political debacle so understanding and thinking through the ideologists of that form of political theology and its underpinnings is needful in the times ahead.

The German Catholic Eric Voegelin a reactionary conservative and anti-democratic ideologist of constitutional liberalism would equate it and its traditions with Gnosticism as the core of Modernity. His attack upon all forms of progressive and socialist thought would stem from his right-wing religious ideology. For him much of our current civilization was under the sign of a “falacious immanentization”, an “End of History” ideology based on a recurring theme of gnostic thought.

Voegelin found in the Calabrian monk Joachim of Flora a hook for his own reactionary thought, believing that this monk created a speculative history that satisfied the desire to endow mundane human existence with a meaning which Christianity, and especially the Augustinian conception of history, had denied it; and he did so by relocating the end of transcendental history, the Christian eschaton, the ultimate transfiguration in God out of time within historical existence. Joachim’s project, according to Eric Voegelin, was the “first Western attempt at an immanentization of the meaning of history.”1

What unites the various manifestations of this spiritual disorder according to Voegelin’s reactionary thought—positivism, progressivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, liberalism, fascism, National Socialism—is the radical “will to immanentization,” the closure toward the transcendent dimension of human experience, that underlies their construction. Indeed, the most extreme modern ideologies go a step further; their proponents not only reject the transcendent ground but seek to “abolish the constitution of being, with its origin in divine, transcendent being, and to replace it with a world-immanent order of being.” They aim to bring about the transfiguration of human nature through human action in history and to build a terrestrial paradise endowed with the meaning and salvational qualities of the Christian eschaton. In short, the ideological constructions embody, in Voegelin’s famous terminology, a radical and “fallacious immanentization of the Christian eschaton.” The Christian conception of man’s ultimate transfiguration in God was brought “down to earth,” transformed into the notion of human transfiguration in time, to be accomplished through strictly human and immanent action; the transcendent Christian end of history was transformed into a mundane “End of History” to be realized in the immanent future. The ideologists carried the process begun by Joachim to its limit; the transcendent dimension of reality was fully absorbed into mundane existence.

Voegelin saw Gnosticism all over the modern age. He even considered liberalism, constitutionalism, and “democratism” to be gnostic ideologies, and some of his students were extremely hard on John Locke, who had a sizeable influence on the American Founding. If he lived today he’d be attacking Transhumanism and the notion of the Singularity as one more manifestation of the Gnostic Spirit of transcendence in immanence or the “End of History” ideology, along with its notion of hermetic revival of self-divinizing cyborg or AGI merger as the new Golem-Homunculus – as Immortal Man.

  1. Raeder, Linda C. Voegelin on Gnosticism, Modernity, and the Balance of Consciousness. Voegelin Review 2020

Negative Capability and Our Predicament

If I had a basic stance it would always return to John Keat’s notions:

“The Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…” (Letter to his brothers Tom and George)

Over and over I seek out such thinkers and writers who seem to be situated in that in-between space where one is faced with the nameless and unknown without grasping for some religious or scientific reason or image to dispel its mystery. Certain forms of horror and the weird come closest to this region of thought beyond which all is silence of mysticism. One reason philosophies of Will rather than Intellect fascinate me is just that, we are driven creatures, irrational and prone to error both in judgment and vision, our brains filling in the gaps of our knowledge and vision of existence with invention.

As Andy Clark in Surfing Uncertainty puts it:

“The mystery is, and remains, how mere matter manages to give rise to thinking, imagining, dreaming, and the whole smorgasbord of mentality, emotion, and intelligent action. Thinking matter, dreaming matter, conscious matter: that’s the thing that it’s hard to get your head—whatever it’s made of—around. But there is an emerging clue. It is one clue among many, and even if it’s a good one, it won’t solve all the problems and puzzles. Still, it’s a real clue is prediction.

To deal rapidly and fluently with an uncertain and noisy world, brains like ours have become masters of prediction—surfing the waves of noisy and ambiguous sensory stimulation by, in effect, trying to stay just ahead of them.” (Andy Clark. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind)

In other words we are the creative animal, we live by and in inventions, worlds of imaginative leaps bounded by reason, logic, and imagination. It’s a world that was well adapted to the natural realms within which we developed and maintained our material existence for hundreds of thousands of years. But that all changed somewhere around ten thousand years ago when men began taming themselves and the natural world around them. We began domesticating ourselves and the natural worlds, began a process of domination and control of which our unnatural or anti-natural realm of artifice, technology, and civilization is the outcome.

With all our philosophical prowess we have yet to encompass the big picture of this actual heritage.

The Labyrinths of the Asemic Night

The Labyrinths of the Asemic Night

The Priest reminded him of the Sin Eater’s of old whose open sores gave acolytes and bearer’s of sin alike visions of infernal worlds of hopeless love. Asemic mappings of the invisible noumenon surrounding us in the Abyss, the slow insectile elaboration of a secret legacy hidden in the seams of broken masonry or the pools of blood found in dark alleys of inner cities. Listening to the chittering patter of the night, the clicking clatter of millions of legs across the rain-soaked stones of the labyrinth he heard in the distance the lonely song of some darkened siren of the veil, her song slipping between the folds of the coronal horizon of dying stars. Here at the center of the darkness he felt the cosmic night drifting through his mind like a hint of closure, an exposed moment of stylish and incipient emergence of some unknown and unknowable future.

On Scientism

Scientism: Scientism is the dogma that the sciences have access to truths that hold some essential Truth denied by other organizations of knowledge. It is a secular religion with its own hierarchy of priests, theologians, and secular proselytizers who deny all other forms of truth beyond their own. Scientific dogma holds that both philosophy and religion are the opiate of former ages, a form of thought surpassed under the aegis of scientific method and inquiry.

Of course the defenders of philosophy and religion dispute such claims and the wars of thought go on… Why do men seek dogmas, seek to ground their stubborn beliefs in systems of thought or inquiry that in their own domain hold great promise, but the moment they assume the mantle of spokesman or preachers of the Real and Reality they suddenly seem superficial navigators of the horizon of thought?

The sad thing in our own time is that the sciences being funded by government and corporations have also been bound by those ideologies to say and do only what their respective employers or political affiliations allow them too. Sciences as an empirical naturalism was once a great tool for exploration of the world and the cosmos; and, still is. But over time it has become dominated by both political and monetary (capitalist) forms to the detriment of empirical investigation and the common hope of humanity. Will this ever change?


Tears were impossible, yet tears were his heritage. Sorrow was beyond him, yet sorrow was his birthright. Anguish was denied him; even so, anguish was his stock in trade. For Trente, there was no unhappiness; nor was there joy, concern, discomfort, age, time, feeling. And this was as the Ethos had planned it. For Trente had been appointed by the Ethos—the race of somewhere/somewhen beings who morally and ethically ruled the universes—as their Paingod. To Trente, who knew neither the tug of time nor the crippling demands of the emotions, fell the forever task of dispensing pain and sorrow to the myriad multitudes of creatures that inhabited the universes. Whether sentient or barely capable of the feeblest unicellular reaction-formation, Trente passed along from his faceted cubicle, invisible against the backdrop of the changing stars, unhappiness and misery in proportions too complexly arrived at to be verbalized. He was Paingod for the universes, the one who dealt out the tears and the anguish and the soul-wrenching terrors that blighted life from its first moment to its last. Beyond age, beyond death, beyond feeling—lonely and alone in his cubicle—Trente went about his business without concern or pause.

—Harlan Ellison, Paingod and other Delusions

E.M. Cioran: Our Century

However severe we are in regard to this century, however serious the shortcomings may appear, one cannot, however unjustifiably, refuse it the merit of knowing itself, and of wanting itself to be condemned. This merit, this privilege rather, assures it a unique physiognomy and gives the fatality that awaits it an irresistible attraction. Happy and unhappy to live there, we contemplate with voluptuarity and terror the signs that define and distinguish it. Other centuries also knew the curiosity of the outcome, the impatience of the imminent and the intolerable, the pangs of a dreaded and expected certainty, with this difference, however, that it was open to them to conceive an after, a day after a disaster, an end followed by a judgment, a hope of compromise or fraud. For us, the irreparable model of completion, is flawless; it is even the only form of rigor and perfection that we can imagine. Consequently, indistinct of our future, it draws us, with its irreproachable tenebrosity, as wonderfully apt to approach it, the more we fall into this flattering nightmare, felt by all those who had the advantage of finding themselves at the heart of some great calamity.

—E.M. Cioran, The Key to the Abyss

Sean Crow: The Godless Lands

Sean Crow’s Godless LandsCapture

Began reading this new entry in a certain type of fantasy I’ve been enjoying of late. Sean himself told me recently he is an adherent of David Gemmell’s work like others are to Tolkien. Gemmell is of course a master of nuance and the gray tones of moral ambiguity. Creating characters of the heroic mold tending toward the grimdark vectors of the great outsiders who hold to no religious or social creeds or dogmas, but rather harbor within themselves a moral compass of unique disposition challenging the universe on its own ground situation by situation. Call them existential heroes who choose life over death, honor and integrity over the imposed morals of State or Religion.

Sean’s characters so far follow in this mold. We find a world that has been inundated by a small apocalypse of disease, The Blight. It’s a world of fear and dread, ruled by a contingent of feudal lords and their Inquisitorial Knights who control access to food and shelter in cities that enforce strict compliance to a regimen of cleansing and purity.

The prologue and first chapter introduce us to Arlo, Ferris, and the Doves. Arlo is a man caught in the circumstance of being the head of the Doves, the Inquisitorial enforces of purification and cleansing of the city of those who once they catch the dread Blight must be mercifully eliminated. It’s a grim task and Arlo is a man who is not evil in the absolute sense, but has been assigned a task, one he does not relish but knows must be done. Arlo has himself lost a wife and loved ones to the Blight so knows the sorrow of this dreaded disease.

Ferris is a Dove, or an ex-Dove, a man who has seen death aplenty, but has chosen to live outside the city in the godless lands where there is no protection or safe haven. Ferris is a coward, but as in Gemmell’s character Rek of Legend, he is a coward on the side of life, a man who chose to protect the innocent and certain of the diseased from the dread execution. We meet him on a road outside the city in a forest where a woman and her child are running from Knights. Ferris unknowing why he does it helps them evade the law chasing her down, and offers her a small reprieve and help to find better safety. Ferris will question his own motives and like Rek in Gemmell come up with no satisfactory reason why he is the way he is. This is as far as I’ve gotten so far, but it’s enough to keep me reading. One thing I will say is that even if there are shades of Gemmell in the work I’m not going to look for such things from here, only that his mentioning of Gemmell as his “Tolkien” or go to writer of inherited influence brings such thoughts to mind.

Just finished Sean’s novel today. Very enjoyable read. As previously stated the novel started out with the escape of a young woman, Bethany, and her daughter, Katrina from an unwanted marriage in the aristocratic town of Brightbridge. Bethany and her daughter run into Ferris on the road outside the town where they are being tracked by a group known as the Pathfinders who are scouts under Arlo’s command. Arlo we remember is a knight under the command of a half-crazed aristocrat whose tendencies to violence are quick and deadly. Yet, Arlo, being a man of loyalty and honor serves his lord with the utmost zeal to the point that he’s gained a reputation as the “Death Knight” in the local environs for his zealous and officious slaughter of whole families who have come into contact with the plague known as the Blight.

The story revolves around the escape of mother and child, a tale of two towns and a farm where their destinies are entwined with others who have escaped before and sought in the godless lands a refuge against the madness of aristocrats, the plague, and the cruelty of enslavement. The story will run the gambit of half-crazed aristocrats, cannibals, mercenaries, and innocent men and women seeking to escape the plague ridden cities where cruelty and mayhem have led to inhuman depths of depravity. Brightbridge is controlled by Arlo and his mercenary forces of death, while another town, Riven, is controlled by a sadistic giant named ‘The Butcher’. The Butcher is the son of a doctor who succumbed to the Blight and died leaving his son whose apprenticeship in the arts of healing have taken a darker turn toward sadism and torture and the worship of a dark god of cannibalistic cruelty named the ‘Hungry God’.

In Sean’s novel the deadly ‘Death Knight’ of Brightbridge, and the ‘Butcher’ of Riven, will both leave their respective towns for different reasons. The one in search of his Lord’s runaway bride and daughter, the other in search of a new supply of meat for the Hungry God. As one can tell this will lead both parties into a collision course with the refugees of a Farm where people from both towns have fled to begin new lives in the godless lands. Throw into the mix another group of survivors known as the ‘Withered’ – those who have survived the plague only to succumb to a dark and terrible zombie like state of insanity, and who seek to murder all those who are still normal humans.

I don’t want to spoil the reading pleasure of prospective reader’s mind with more plot and narrative details, only to say that you will be introduced to the members of the Farm who will play a major part in the coming clash between the deadly Deathknight Brightbridge and the Butcher of Riven. Like all novels there are twists and sub-plots, many POVs to delight our curiosity and move the tale along toward its denouement. Sean’s a storyteller with a sure eye to detail, and provides just enough information here and there without overly pounding the reader with infodumps. All in all this was a tight, compact tale which gives us just enough characterization and depth to enrich and pique our interest without bogging us down in an overly wrought tale of description gone mad. Sean has an eye for both psychological and external description to keep us reading, and yet knows just how much is too much guiding the reader into a good balance of strategy and action.

From what I’ve read this novel grew out of several tales that Sean had written in collusion with a painter friend, stories of various characters in the novel that would contribute to its overall design. It does have that visual appeal, and strangely the tale although written before our current COVID-19 crisis seems apropos in its theme shaped by a politics of cruelty and torture, freedom and normalcy. The novel has the medieval feel, and yet as one reads through it one will detect a sense that this is a civilization that has fallen from a more advanced and productive technological one based on a knowledge of the sciences. I’ll leave the reader to explore the threads of that on their own. Unlike many thick books of fantasy this is one that can be read in a couple of evenings. And even though there are other books that are projected to come in the same world, this one can be read as a stand-alone tale without having to worry about sequels. I like that. Too many writers have gotten into the habit of writing long overly wrought worlds that never seem to end. It’s refreshing to see a stand-alone tale that has a good beginning, middle, and end in the old style. Sean is a new voice in a field that is becoming saturated by cliched ridden world-building and stories that seem to endlessly repeat certain tropes over and over again. Sean’s doesn’t. It presents us with a tale about the common people who no matter what background, whether aristocrat or street urchin come together in a wilderness and forge a new life of cooperation and survival in a world of ruins. I like that, and think you will too.

Buy it on Amazon: The Godless Lands
Visit Sean Crow on Good Reads: here

Emile Cioran: The Failed Mystic

Timid, devoid of dynamism, the good is inept at communicating itself. Evil, much more zealous, seeks to transmit itself, and succeeds because it possesses the double privilege of being fascinating and contagious.

—E. M. Cioran, The New Gods

I think anyone who has struggled against one’s cultural inheritance, and let’s be specific: one’s Christian heritage whether of Catholic or Protestant background (although one will always qualify such things further!). I think they must admit to themselves a certain failure to completely extinguish it. Cioran was no different. Raised in an Orthodox Greek household, his father himself a Priest of that Church, enforced a certain inheritance of thought and form on the young Cioran that would never leave him. Cioran was a mystic at heart, but one who never attained its sublime ecstasy. He was a failed mystic. Continue reading

The Illusion

One imagines a Library at the center of the universe housed in a vast cosmic library world labyrinth, hollowed out and housing all the known knowledge of space, time and the multiverse. Then you’re asked to find the Grimoire of a sorcerer long dead whose works were meant only as a guide to the labyrinthine Library of Time… you’ve been seeking this book now for 999 years. You meet Jorge-Luis Borges in a forgotten niche of the library who describes a labyrinth of Babylon which he once entered much like this library…. but that was exactly 232 years ago and you cannot remember exactly what the conversation was about except that it seemed to hold the key to your current quest. Now you begin retracing the years and alcoves of the labyrinth of time seeking him out… but he left the library 231 years ago for parts unknown… you stand there a moment not knowing whether the quest is worth it or not; or, who sent you on this errand into the interminable labyrinth without outlet. To move or not to move is your only thought. You think to yourself that Zeno was a prankster… a deluded god of thought and change. If all movement is an illusion, then the labyrinth, library, and time are all unnecessary delusions of the quest; and, the quest itself can never be completed, because one can never leave one’s current place. But then this must be the place, and you the sorcerer of the one thought, guide and perplexed victim, one.

David Gemmell: Fate and Redemption

‘Only the Chosen One can claim the Armour.’ – Orien the King 

The first time we meet Dakeyras, the Waylander – the killer, slayer, assassin he has just stepped from the shadows to face five men who have stolen his horse. These five men will die, and the man of shadows will be faced by another predicament, a priest of the Source. Is this an encounter of chance or destiny? What are chance and destiny in such a world of death and destruction? The man himself, this Waylander, whose history is one of vengeance, revenge, and assassination lives in a world of shadows where no one and nothing is trusted, a man alone, unconquered, and yet outside the social nexus of the common world of men. Does the man have a soul? Does he feel as other men feel; or, is this shadow man one of those whose inner life has become so numb and empty of its humanity that the notion of caring no longer enters into such thoughts. All rhetorical questions that will be answered over a series of novels that challenge both reader and author to explore the notion of the anti-hero: the man who does not belong, the man outside the law. Continue reading

Souls of the Singing Dead

Souls of the Singing Dead

Marius Schneider (1903– 82), the Alsatian musicologist and ethnologist observed that in the indigenous cultures where music is still used as a magical force, the making of an instrument always involves the sacrifice of a living being. That being’s soul then becomes part of the instrument, and in the tones that come forth from it the ‘singing dead’ who are ever present with us make themselves heard. He’d heard that in times of war and conflict the dark powers of the instrument were called forth, and the singing masters of the wood would call to the daemons who would scatter the enemy in fear and trepidation. Others that at night in the depths of the great forests the night demons would be brought forth to ride the winds and howl among the tents of the sleeping enemy infecting them with such fear and dread that the men would kill each other till all were dead.

Legends of the Makers: Musical Instruments through the Ages

Thought of the Day: On Language…

When a man is born…there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.

—James Joyce

Without language, no thought; yet, language is an impersonal, collective and objective system of attached meanings sponsored over time (i.e., has a history). We are all immersed and limited by our specific ties to language. Does this mean that those who acquire other cultural referents, languages outside the cultural, social, and civilizational milieu think different thoughts; and, will these thoughts transliterate and translate between cultural referents? Or, are we bound by our linguistic limits to the socio-cultural boundary markers of our inherited forms? If so, then math is the only language impersonal enough to be unhinged from any specific cultural referent; thereby insuring its continued valency and impartial transcultural ascendency from all reductions to a socio-cultural and political-ideological system of meaning.

Should we seek a transcultural natural language as well?

On the Weird…

“Here is the hopeless despair of one haunted by the night.”
– Mark Samuels, The Age of Decayed Futurity

What’s always fascinated me by weird tales is the seeming entrancement by supernatural events as a sort of temptation. Why? Because most horror is written by atheistically or skeptically inclined authors, who for the most part neither believe in such events nor in the religious meaning conveyed by such beliefs. What is this attraction for outmoded forms of human experience? Do we seek to revive the animistic gewgaws of shamans and sorcerers? Explore the darkened environs of the undead and the monstrous night? Travel into those edge lands, the liminal spaces where imagination and reason switch places and the world begins to tremble with a life other than we know? What if the world is not as it seems, that all the mythical and legendary personages of our ancient ancillary thoughts existed; were more real than reality? What if the unreal worlds of ghosts and zombies, vampires and werewolves; monstrous creatures from the depths of sea or infinite black space were but a unqualified abstraction away? What if horror itself were an abstraction that portended more concrete experiences which those who seek to master in their own fears and dreads could no longer abstain from? If one were to look in the mirror one day and see the very image of fright staring back at one out of the mimicry of one’s own visage… then what?

I’m not a religious man, yet…

I’m not a religious man but I’ve always loved the sentiment of Paul in this passage:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

We humans are a deluded lot. Some of us know it, others deny it. The universe as science and nihilism teach us doesn’t give a shit about our loves or hates, our hopes or desires. It is absolutely indifferent to our human wants or needs. Yet, that is it, isn’t it: We know this, and we also know that all meaning we impose on this indifferent universe is a delusion; and, yet, without these feelings of love or hate what would we in the end do or be? In the end we need our delusions, our dreams, our madness. Otherwise we might as well as the extreme pessimists suggest end it all in a grand bonfire of suicidal war to the last creature. But there is something in us that dissuades us from such extremes, something that brings us to laugh at our own inanity, our comic fatalism intact. Even now as bad as it is on this planet – and, it is bad and we all know it – we still need the simple day to day feeling of loving and being loved. It’s what gets us through the day… without tears or laughter what would we be? Zombies or psychopaths…. mindless, gutless manipulators of life-in-Death without end.

We see that in our so called leaders, in the right-wing morons that shed nothing but crocodile tears that mean nothing, who gloat and steal from the poor and oppressed to give to their rich Oligarchs and corporations at the expense of the people. One turns an eye toward history and sees it is the same now as it has always been in this world. Sadly. And, yet, the simple truth of those of us at the bottom of the emotional heap still trudge on and care and love and feel for people the best we can. It has always been that way, and always be. Compassion is all that remains… the memory of one who gave a shit, who cared, and loved. Nothing else remains, that’s why those who seek power, those who oppress will vanish forever from memory….

On Pessimism as a Sublime Failure

Quite different is the sway of the Demiurge: how, in his absence, would we face our ordeals? If we were equal to them, or even worthy of them to some degree, we could abstain from invoking him. Before our evident inadequacies, we cling to him, we even beg him to exist: if he were to turn out to be a fiction, conceive our distress, our shame! Upon whom else would we vent our failures, our miseries, ourselves? Appointed by our fiat the author of our deficiencies, he serves as our excuse for all we cannot be.

—E. M. Cioran, The New Gods

More and more I’ve seen pessimism as just one more form of optimism in sheep’s clothing, since it writes “about” suffering, pain, death, etc. more as a defense system against these things rather than as any form of truth-telling or revealing about the human condition per se. Hell even Peter Wessel Zapffe, presumably the bleakest of pessimists, according to Thomas Ligotti came to the conclusion that all thinking, writing, etc. was just a ploy, a distraction from actually living death out in one’s being. From the beginning Schopenhauer’s philosophy was a mere gloss on Kant, a way to assuage his own mortal failures and pains for not being recognized as the great philosopher; so instead he spent his life disparaging all those others… a mere distraction from his own incessant failures. All pessimists, so called, have followed this path of failure. Cioran being the epitome of such thinkers having perfected it in life and thought – failure as a absolute program.

On Growing Old

Reading this passage in David Gimmell’s Legend I was reminded of my own aging process:

“The old man crumpled the letter and let it fall. It was not age which depressed Druss. He enjoyed the wisdom of his sixty years, the knowledge accrued and the respect it earned. But the physical ravages of time were another thing altogether. His shoulders were still mighty above a barrel chest, but the muscles had taken on a stretched look – wiry lines which criss-crossed his upper back. His waist, too, had thickened perceptibly over the last winter. And almost overnight, he realised, his black beard streaked with grey had become a grey beard streaked with black.”

There’s a moment when it hits you, when you realize without doubt you too are mortal. The process of decay, the loss of energy, the slow pains from early sports and athletics, the injuries from youth in muscles and bones; all of it comes back to haunt you, a presence that awakens in your flesh like deep seated memories of past triumphs and losses. One either fights it or gives in to it, depending on the kind of creature you are. I’ve fought it, and will continue to labor against this shambles I’m becoming. I know now it’s a losing war, but I’m still winning the small skirmishes and battles.

Isn’t that what matters? Why? I’ve asked myself that question for years, seen what the pessimists say is at the end of the road, offering their dark portents and toxic wisdom of the worm and tomb. But no… I realized a few months back that I’m not that; I’m neither hopeful, nor in denial, and yet I will not give in to the malevolence of this indifferent universe and its meaninglessness. We have a gift for gab, for stories, for illusion…. whether its good, bad, or ugly it’s what sets us apart. To say it’s the exception is to be derogatory in our contemporary philosophies, so no it’s not the exception but the rule. Whatever dark gods of flesh and mind brought us forth from the slime pools of ancient seas and began that slow process of evolution that led to us through chance and necessity … we’re here; no one can deny that, and we dream, we envision, we adapt, we ponder the impossible; and, in the face of insurmountable odds we become heroes or cowards, or both in a region of imagination and reason unlike anything else we know of on this bright earth. We’ve created myths, legends, tales, and… yes, sciences to invent, create, and explain what it is we are and what it is we live in. For this I will not degrade mine or anyone else for being alive for this one unique moment in existence, even if it is for naught.

Breki Ironfist

“I would have come home sooner, but for the old Daegish imperative of having to stay gone.” 
— Fagan’s Sayings

It’s always twilight in the Mung, not a place to wander around alone. It’s where I live, a sort of hovel world where people like me seem to congregate like flies on a bull’s arse. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. It grows on you like the mange, just more deadly. It’s the place where all cutthroats, thieves, and assassins of Luvaen find thier niche in one guild or another.
—A Thief’s Journal

“I’m Breki Ironfist and this is my home,” he said to no one in particular.

The man across from him looked unimpressed, lifting a metal tankard full on honeyed mead up in his fat fist, taking in a long deep sip, then wiping the frothy foam from his thick lips with the back of his sleeve, belching in absolute delight, mumbling something Breki couldn’t quite make out but thought it might be a curse, then fell head first into the cold bowl of stew that’d sat there in front of him for way too long. As his pudgy jowls plopped down in this slop, brown gravy squirted out, with bits of mutton and potatoes splashing across the scarred surface of the pocked marked table where Breki remained calm and unperturbed.

Breki seemed nonplussed about the man’s actions, knowing this was typical of the clientele in the Broken Crossbow. The tavern was full of laggard’s, out of work soldiers, gamblers, drunkards, small-time traders in drugs and alchemist fare, slavers and their hussies, and the usual riffraff and low-life scum from the surrounding hovels in the South-East Quarter. Just a typical evening in the Lower Mung; or, the Thieves’ Quarter as the snobs up on Piker’s Hill called the walled city of hanging ruins which clung to the inner battlements of the ancient fortress of Luvaen.

Continue reading

An Atheist’s Credo

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great:

Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and—since there is no other metaphor—also the soul. We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful. We are reconciled to living only once, except through our children, for whom we are perfectly happy to notice that we must make way, and room. We speculate that it is at least possible that, once people accepted the fact of their short and struggling lives, they might behave better toward each other and not worse. We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true—that religion has caused innumerable people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow. Most important of all, perhaps, we infidels do not need any machinery of reinforcement.

We are those who Blaise Pascal took into account when he wrote to the one who says, “I am so made that I cannot believe.”

On Freedom, Evil, and Determinism

R. Scott Bakker in his forward to a Grimdark anthology edited by Adrian Collins and Mike Myers, Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists tells us:
“Infants display bias for and against at the tender age of three months! The more we study the psychology and neuroscience of good and evil, the more clear their biological bases and evolutionary origins become, to the point where it now takes a genuine leap of faith to say evil is more than a matter of mere perspective.

‘Evil,’ you could say, is the name our ancestors used to label victims.

Which is to say, to do evil.

We don’t ask where we’re going to be born, nor to whom we’re going to be born, nor the particular color of skin, hair, eyes, etc.; and, even less, do we have a choice as to which cultural inheritance is going to enforce its set of (a)religious, (a)moral, political, social, or ideological systems and beliefs on us from an early age. We all suffer our cultural inheritance as we emerge within the milieu of our parental, civic, and national regions till we supposedly reach that age when we are able to stand on our own and choose and know for ourselves what we think and do. Of course then the whole rigmarole of education begins anew as we leave our parents and enter into that ambiguous world where either private tutors or State controlled systems of education begin imposing their mores and memories, sciences and or religious ideologies. It seems we’re enveloped in a world that is not us for most of our young lives, and some never leave that envelope to step out on their own and begin the long struggle of freedom. Continue reading

Mike Shel: Aching God – A Review

CaptureAching God by Mike Shel is a slow burn, a novel that gathers its steam along the way in an adventure that is as old as fantasy itself. In the beginning we meet Auric Mentao, a retired member of the Syraeic League, a soldier and swordsman whose prowess and intelligence had carried him through many adventures in the service of his Queen. Living quietly on the edge of the seat of power where his farm lies under the protection of Lady Hannah in Daurhim we first meet Auric arising from a nightmare. A nightmare that will immerse us in a scene of his greatest disaster and the cause of his retirement these three years. A man who suffers from what we’d now term PTSD, or the trauma of an experience so dreadful and shocking to his system that even now he can barely cope with existence. And, yet, he must, for now he has been summoned by Queen Geneviva, Imperatrix and monarch, to the court to once again take up arms and perform the duty of a Knight and Soldier. Continue reading

Mutant Grotesquerie: Richard Gavin’s Monstrous Vision

CaptureReading Richard Gavin’s new book, grotesquerie is like moving through the undergloom of some ancient Roman grotto, a journey into the monstrous carnival of appetite and inhuman pleasure, where flesh and beastial sensuality melt into darkest paradise. The notion of the grotesque has been associated if not equated with the bizarre, macabre, fantastic, weird, Gothic, and arabesque, each signaling a snapshot slice of this strange beast that leads us down into the undergloom. Richard is both a guide and psychopomp to the mysteries of these chambers of mind and flesh, guiding us through a series of darkened hollows where we will meet the denizens of the land of nightmare in ways only he can tell.

A master of primeval gnosis and a veritable treasure trove of lore and occult instruction his grimoire or manifesto of the magickal arts, The Benighted Path reveals a region of nocturnal wisdom; an eerie dimension, where sleep has delivered us onto the back of the charging Night-Mare, and recollections of these brief visitations survive in countless tales of terror and in the folklore of locales rumoured to be fey or cursed. Rare, however, is the individual who willingly pays the tariff and passes irretrievably through that twilight of existence in order to become Benighted. It’s in this domain of the uncharted regions and nameless zones of the monstrous that Richard Gavin’s tales guide the wary reader, exploring the hinterlands of psyche and the outer liminal essence of the hidden.

Richard Gavin is an acclaimed author whose work explores the realm where dread and the sublime conjoin. His supernatural tales have been published in five collections, including Sylvan Dread and At Fear’s Altar. In 2015 he co-edited (with Patricia Cram and Daniel A. Schulke) Penumbrae: An Occult Fiction Anthology. Richard’s works of esotericism have appeared in Starfire Journal, Clavis: Journal of Occult Arts, Letters and Experience, and The Luminous Stone. His nocturnal manifesto The Benighted Path: Primeval Gnosis and the Monstrous Soul was released by Theion Publishing in 2016.

The tales of grotesquerie are like a series of frescoes that carefully reveal only the most luxuriant and sensual aspects of an event that is never named, much less fully fleshed out. Vignettes more than stories, small minimalistic glances into the the frayed mind’s of men and women who for the most part have discovered themselves lost among the fragments of their own broken lives. One wants to ask whether the monstrous is something hiding among the liminal regions of outward manifestation, or is the effect of this loquacious inner world of most of these denizens self-made madness and sacred transgression; part of some ongoing revelation of the monstrum – a portent of something forever about to be that unbinds itself only in the very movement of consciousness itself.

I thought about delving into the tales themselves, but to do that would be to reveal too much, to sink into the gloom and monstrosity of each delicate weaving, unbind its carefully woven patterns and lead the wary reader into a region of being that is best left unsaid. In other words I’d spoil the very need for pleasure and jouissance – that pleasure-pain we all get from reading a well-crafted tale of horror, especially of the grotesque kind. All I can say is these are tales that will draw you into a labyrinth of liminal design where if you are not careful you will remain like a victim of some monstrous nightmare in which just as you awaken you feel the very touch of the beast upon your shoulder, and a whisper saying: “Come, my dear, we’ve been waiting for you so long! We have so much to show you, want you come now!”

You’ll find Richard’s work on both Amazon and Undertow Publications!

And visit Richard Gavin on his site: 

Ed McDonald’s Black Wing: A Review

BlackWingThoroughly enjoyed reading Ed McDonald’s Black Wing, a work set in a fantasy world where Deep Kings and Nameless Demi-Gods vie for control in a eternal war that has been ongoing for millennia with no signs of stopping. It’s a fast paced hot and gritty novel full of action and a noirish and grimdark cast of characters. The main character is a Bounty hunter Ryhalt Galharrow, a Captain in the Black Wing’s a small mercenary organization run by one of the Nameless: Crowfoot. 

Ryhalt is a fallen aristocrat, a man who after killing a rival long ago in his youth, driven out of his family – disowned and exiled, has made his home on the edge of the Misery. The Misery is a no-man’s land of toxic and terrible magicks, a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that separates human civilization from the Kingdoms of Old Dhojara where the Deep Kings and their minions hold sway. The Misery itself was produced by the destruction in the last great war by a Nameless who blasted it with a dark and voidic magick which left the lands scarred and poisonous, a region where strange and bewildering creatures roam so full of vile and degrading corruption that humans who venture too far into those realms are usually never heard from again.

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Mulg the Giant

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
― Tavern Gloks

The first time I met Mulg the Giant was in the Crimson Djinn. I’d been slugging down some of the best Zagrozian ale this side of the Sindariian snake pits of lower Tigal. And believe me it was good, and smooth; just like I like it. I was shitfaced to say the least; almost ready to pass out, but not quite. Mirii was whispering something about her place, which didn’t sound too bad the way I was feeling. I was almost ready to take her up on her offer when a trader by the name of Chot Godin slammed into my table spilling drinks, food, and Mirii into a heap. I jumped up like a fool, grabbed him by his jerkin, and was about to toss him back where he’d come from when Mulg appeared before us. I’d never seen such a big man before, his fist all balled up like a twisted iron kettle.  None too happy, either.

His thick neck and bull’s head almost touched the tavern’s ceiling, his bushy locks oiled like the desert jinn fell down in knotted ringlets around his wide-set shoulders, where small skull bones and other strange pagan stonework’s bunched up against his roiling flesh.  His blood red eyes were so full of piss and vinegar I thought they’d burst out in flames. He rammed his balled up fists down on the table between us with such force the two traders that had been sitting there bounced up and back three feet as the boards yawed and flipped. This wasn’t going to go down well. I could see that now. 

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Tahir Shah – Jinn Hunter: Book One: The Prism

CaptureQuirky. Strange. Off-the-wall funny in places. Reading Tahir Shah’s opening gambit in a trilogy series on the life and times of a reluctant Jinn Hunter is to say the least a joy to read. If you’ve wandered through the pages of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, their mad-cap adventures into symbolic logic and non-sense realities, then this is a book for you. It’s hard to place it as children’s literature, or even the faddish Young Adult YA type fiction, instead it seems to be a real throw-back to those ancient tales of the desert, The Arabian Night’s Tales that Andrew Lang, Sir Richard Burton, and in our modern age the likes of Muhsin Mahdi, Malcom Lyons, and so many others have translated. And, yet, not quite; not quite like these endless tales and narratives. A little something different and strange…

Tahir Shah himself, whose father was the Sufi teacher and writer Idries Shah, born in London grew up in largely in the county of Kent, where his family lived at Langton House, a Georgian mansion in the village of Langton Green near Royal Tunbridge Wells. He mingled at an early age with many of his father’s famous friends like the poet Robert Graves, and Doris Lessing whose Canopus in Argos: Archives series would be heavily influenced by the Sufi traditions of Shah’s father. During his childhood, Shah and his sisters would be taken to Morocco for extended periods, where his grandfather lived until his death in November 1969. Described in his book The Caliph’s House, the journeys introduced Shah to “a realm straight out of The Arabian Nights.” Tahir Shah is a prolific author of books, documentaries, book introductions, peer reviewed academic articles, and book reviews. The vast majority of Shah’s books can be considered travel literature, most of it collected in The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. (wiki)

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A List of Jinn Novels I’m Reading

Contemporary Jinn Novels and Stories

Saad Z. Hossain – Djinn City

Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in super dense, super chaotic Dhaka. His father, Dr. Kaikobad, is the black sheep of their clan, the once illustrious Khan Rahman family. A drunken loutish widower, he refuses to allow Indelbed to go to school, and the only thing Indelbed knows about his mother is the official cause of her early demise: ‘Death by Indelbed’.

But when Dr. Kaikobad falls into a supernatural coma, Indelbed and his older cousin, the wise-cracking slacker, Rais, learn that Indelbed’s dad was, in fact, a magician and a trusted emissary to the djinn world. But the djinns, it turns out, are displeased and one of the consequences of their displeasure is that a ‘hunt’ is announced with ten-year-old Indelbed as prey. Still reeling from the fact that genies actually exist, Indelbed finds himself on the run. Soon, the boys are at the center of a great djinn controversy, one tied to the continuing fallout from an ancient war, with ramifications for the future of life as we know it.

Djinn City is a darkly comedic fantasy adventure, and a brilliant follow-up to Saad Z. Hossain’s acclaimed first novel Escape from Baghdad!

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Abu Bilaal Yakub: The Amulets of Sihir


Added another work of the Jinn to my list this last week: The Amulets of Sihir by Abu Bilaal Yakub. Unlike the previous work I wrote of last week this one is not about ghul hunters, but rather about the dark powers of ancient sorceries themselves and how they can envelope humanity in a web of consequences not easily controlled nor overcome. At the center of this epic fantasy is a young black smith, Mukhtar:

Like his elder brother, Mukhtar possessed no less a rebellious trait, but coerced by reality, he adapted an early maturity, and his cunningness and tenacity helped him persevere. Fatherless for the better part of his life, he grew up poor but healthy, destitute but happy, and life taught him what he needed to know. Mika’il Abaraina, married to Suha’s elder sister, had taken custody of Harun Zafar’s forge, and it was under his watchful eye that Mukhtar earned his livelihood as an apprentice blacksmith.1

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Saladin Ahmed: Throne of the Crescent Moon

CaptureI just finished this desert fantasy tale by Saladin Ahmed ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’. It’s a light fantasy in the Arabian Nights sense of the word. A tale that involves strange and monstrous creatures of magic, but also fun loving characters who parade their human foibles and idiosyncrasies. Doctor ADOULLA MAKHSLOOD is the central character, whose compassion and pride for his city become the focal point of the tale. An old ghul hunter at the end of his days, tired, burnt out, and yet still willing to fulfill a sense of honor and pride to protect the people of his city, Dhamsawaat. That to me is the core of the book, this old man’s love of his city and the need to protect it. He’s sacrificed years of existence from becoming a husband and living a normal existence because of this profession as a professional ghul hunter.

Spoilers ahead…

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Smoke and Flame

Even now the thought of her sends him god-ecstatic,
dawn of sun-fire glint upon his desert mind commingling;
and he comes to her inside a dance of molecules;
a fiery djinn of the morning’s light reddening to desire.

—Ghazal of Istanii Mir

The summer winds were on them as they traveled across the wind-swept dunes; dervish djinn whirled their plumes of dust across the bleak horizon: a shadowblur of the day turned night. They call this wind andhi, ‘darkener of sky’. Even the squat eyed sun sat there in the horizon’s thin veil like the King of the Djinn, his red pupil sinister and without mercy barely piercing it’s thickening curtain with his fierce intelligence. Movement among the dunes was like traveling among the labyrinths of Jazael, each step leading them deeper into the gloom where the demon herds of Istarii roamed like agents of chaos. Even as the sun closed his deadly eye across that vast swath of silence and dust they knew there would be no rest for them this night. Continue reading

R. Scott Bakker: The Darkness That Comes Before

“The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?”
― R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before

Rereading R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series again after so many years, and I must admit it has not lost its power to mesmerize and enchant. A grim and gritty epic unlike those lightbound fantasias of the Tolkien variety where elves and dwarves and hobbits wander among the bewildering array of ancient Middle-Earth. No. This work is closer to the ancient warlike Sagas of the Norsemen, a rugged tale of war, vengeance, and revenge. A tale that brings with it its own unique world and history, a world in the throes of conflict and apocalypse.

In the beginning we are introduced to a young warrior Monk, Anasûrimbor Kellhus a former Dûnyain, and heir to the ancient Kings of ancient Eärwa. Trained as a child up in the arts of sorcery and the “Logos” he has of late been troubled by dreams of his father. His father Anasûrimbor Moënghus is a Cishaurim Priest and former Dûnyain monk who lives in the Shimeh: the Holy City where the prophet of the ancient Inrithi, Inri Sejenus’s Ascension to the Nail of Heaven took place. It is also the home of the Cishaurim sorcerors. I’ll leave much out for those who have yet to read this work. Moënghus has a plan for his son, and uses his sorcerous skills to call him out of the citadel of the Ishuäl, a hidden fortress in the Demua Mountains. Kelhus begins his trek out of the Dûnyain of the North seeking his father… Continue reading

David Roden: Posthumanism: Critical, Speculative, Biomorphic

“Rhetorics of depth or intensity must be sacrificed, not because actual bodies are abstractions, but because unbound posthumanism cannot frame the deracinative effects of the future as the adventure of some given subject (whether human, animal, mundane, or transcendental). If this future can be embodied, it is by remaking and remarking bodies, reiterating the disconnection that lifts the formerly human into the orbit of the posthuman.” (p. 82). …

“Posthumanism explores the possibility space of subjectivity through performance— mutating and experimenting with exemplars and models (biomorphs) rather than by inference or dialectics.” (p. 82). …

“I introduce the idea of limit agency to motivate the claim that our concepts of agency might be too parochial to travel far outside our historical niche. If so, unbinding posthumanism requires us to relinquish them as constraints on the potentialities released by the posthuman predicament. Thus, even the ecological agent of Posthuman Life proves too “speculative” for speculative posthumanism, which thus loses its means of identifying disconnection events. We must withdraw from speculations on technological deep-time bounded by a psychology-free ecological agency to terrain where disconnection becomes “maximally unbound.”” (p. 85).

—David Roden, Posthumanism: Critical, Speculative, Biomorphic

CaptureAs I’m reading David’s essay which deals with the various posthuman thought of the vitalists like Braidotti; or the neorationalists like Brassier; the Non-Philosophy of Lauruelle (this third providing an immanent path not of representation but rather a non-representational performative thought) we get a thought that is neither representational nor non-representational but an experimental interplay of both/and through a release of biomorphic dynamics. As he puts it “unlike Non-Philosophy or critical posthumanism, biomorphic posthumanism has no thought of resistance. While its inhuman “human” exists on an alien planet unmeasured by philosophy, there is nothing remotely emancipatory about this unmeasure. It is not, after all, philosophy that deracinates the (in)human. The Wide Human deracinates itself.” (p. 87). The notion of deracinate goes back to a sense of being plucked out of its environment or milieu, an uprooting that as David would have it disconnects the Wide Human from its connection to the old embedded field of the human as we’ve known it. An immanent and experimental play of forces in continuous biomorphic mutation and transformation. As he states: “The posthuman predicament disconnects the human/inhuman; generating novel modes of existence. The figure of the biomorph… performs or disseminates this effect. The biomorph is, then, a model of the torsions and stresses of the posthuman predicament translated into its proprietary format. (p. 87).”

As David suggests in a “maximally unbound posthuman,” there is no agent based ontology by which to judge whether something has become disconnected from the Wide Human. He’ll explore the effects of the Japanese notion of hikikomori’s (young men that withdraw from social life into online worlds) immersion in Ben Yeager’s Amygdalatropolis. David will ask the question about the character 1404er: “Is /1404er/ human, or posthuman? There is, of course, no interesting binary answer to this. What is important is that the novel performs the distance between /1404er/ and our fragile judgments of who or what composes the human.” (p. 87). What we discover is that the biomorphic is “embodied (it is felt, however opaquely) and aesthetic insofar as what constitutes “disconnection” is now mediated through form and reading. Thus, as in the Atrocity Exhibition or Amygdalatropolis, art can be a source of biomorphic models for the deracinating potentials of the posthuman predicament.” (p. 87).

He’ll explore in the works of Hans Bellmer, J.G. Ballard, and Gary J. Shipley the notion of the biomorphic as a subtraction of life. “A biomorphism extends “no-need into no-utility … no-utility into ‘art’” (Massumi 2005: 131; Roden 2014: 189).” (p. 88).

Bellmer’s perverse dolls subtract the subjective sense, a perversion as “counter-ethics”: the “subtractive passion is not for anything and must, like the biomorph, produce the thing it thinks (Tracy McNulty 2013: 33, 2013).” (p. 89). As David will surmise:

“While Bellmer’s doll provides a fundamental anatomical module of extroversion: the preemption of desire by the teaming unlife of the posthuman predicament, it is perhaps still too domesticated, too sexualized to hint at its planetary compass. Ballard’s pornography of violence is similarly anagrammatic but explicitly imbricated within the technological landscapes of modernity (see Roden 2002).” (p. 89).

Speaking of Vaughn in J.G. Ballard’s Crash he states: “This biomorph is utterly subtractive; without unity or sense beyond its multiple symbolic ties to the “unique event” that we know, from the novel’s outset, cannot occur. The future is thus abolished and unbound in the most elegant gesture by this terminal metaphor. Ballard’s cyborgian sexuality doesn’t just puncture our skin-bag in the style of the contemporary “posthumanities.” It unbinds agency as such, extroverting the body into a limitless multiple.” (p. 89).

In his estimation of Gary J. Shipley Roden tells us: “Gary Shipley’s work is often compared to Ballard for its single-minded estrangement of sense. Yet it refuses even more, the satisfactions of setting and psychology. It is sometimes marketed as “concept horror”—which is accurate insofar as it is the concept which does most of the hurting here—remarked, disjointed, its grammatical lifelines sliced, and hamstrung. In a sense, it is one of the purest expressions of a formal disconnection of thought from thought.” (p. 90).

Speaking of Gary’s Warewolff! he suggests that something happens, “even if we do not understand what. Its dispersal is the horror of biomorphism: a condition somewhat akin to life that, like Shipley’s alien, “discloses its arrangements” through our language centers. And this is the condition of unbinding: we are spoken by something; we pass into something without even the assurance that our hunger is our own.” (p. 91).

Ultimately the biomorphic paradigm suggests an imperonalism and cold intelligence that “deracinates” itself out of its human enclave in the evolutionary tree and into a myriad of non-agential biomorphic prodigy. This sense that something is working in and through the human to become posthuman. Something that cannot be named so much as performed.

  1. Mads Rosendahl Thomsen and Jacob Wamberg (Author), Mads Rosendahl Thomsen (Editor), Jacob Wamberg (Editor). The Bloomsbury Handbook of Posthumanism. Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (July 23, 2020)