Nick Land: The Tropic of Cancer as Sacred Literature

“For any ardent materialism truth is madness.”
– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

How many of us remember those opening lines that shook the world at one time, not the world of our liquid modernity, but the world of last men and women who danced to the decadent beat of the speakeasy and the riotous horns of jazz musicians during the ‘anything goes’ era that novelist Fitzgerald termed the “Jazz Age”:

“I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead. Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.
Boris has just given me a summary of his views. He is a weather prophet. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.” (The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller Obelisk Press, Paris 1934)

A paean to nihil, a nautical journey into the seething sea of chaos and nothingness, a joyride on the train to Oblivion Miller’s book erupted on the scene like a fragment of a demented religious tract for profane Osseologists; or, as Ezra Pound would say later to T.S. Eliot: “Here’s a dirty book you will want to read!” Anaïs Nin the diarist of this strange era said of it: “This book brings with it a wind that blows down the dead and hollow trees whose roots are withered and lost in the barren soul of our times. This book goes to the roots and digs under, digs for subterranean springs.” Yet, it was Miller himself that infamously describe it as “a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty.”

Yet, for all this maybe Nick Land has it right that Miller was no more nor less than a true son of Zoroaster, an Osseologist for whom the confrontation with the great “oceanic blank of zero” was always a horror, and that he always “falls back upon the spurious identity of bones, which he associates with Phallic rigidity” (TA, p. 89). Land dives into the occult worlds of decay and subterranean ooze like a dark diver of our chaotic age, he enters the intricate maze of an education in osseology:

“Osseology, in its deep sense, is the usage of the difference between the hard and soft parts of the body as a logical operator in the discourse on matter and death. For instance, differentiation between eternal form and perishable substance, celestial purity and terrestrial filth, divine architecture and base flow. The skeleton is thus conceived of as an invisible harmonious essence, an infrastructure beneath the disturbing tides of soft pathology. It is the prototype of intelligible form, contrasted with the decaying mass of the sensible body” (TA, p. 89).

Maybe Miller was fearful of what the old ones of that ancient religion of the Parsi feared most: Druj, the Mother of Abominations. Miller vividly portrays her without ever having stepped foot on the desert soil of her homeland: “The world around me is dissolving, leaving here and there spots of time. The world is a cancer eating itself away… I am thinking that when the great silence descends upon all and everywhere music will at last triumph. When into the womb of time everything is again withdrawn chaos will be restored and chaos is the score upon which reality is written” (TOC, p. 2). We know that the devouring mother the Vagina Dentata or “Toothed Vagina” is according to Barbara Walker the “the classic symbol of men’s fear of sex, expressing the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner during intercourse. … Apparently Freud was wrong in assuming that men’s fear of female genitals was based on the idea that the female had been castrated. The fear was much less empathetic, and more personal: a fear of being devoured, of experiencing the birth trauma in reverse.” (The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara Walker)

One remembers that the Kharfastras – obnoxious things that turbulently move in swarm and pack … wolves, ants, locusts, flies, upsurge of thoughts, body scavengers, etc. … all pestilentially moving things:

“Kharfastras according to Vendidad are the engineers of unclean meal (the meal of Druj-) or the vectors of matter (corpus: corpse) into darkness; they are the ones which bring the myth of inert matter to its self-irony and breakdown, actionizing the compositions to enmesh a network of flowing intensities, putting base-communication as the only function of any composition or body. Kharfastras are the strategic fluxes of openness to the Mother of Abominations; they are the machines of snatching the bodies, spreading, exhuming, actionizing and molecularizing them, that is to say, making them untraceable and pestilent to the State and Survival Economy; they provide the means for germination or (re)composition of each body or composition as a war instead of being (inert) matter or grounded body” (An Introduction to Maraka Project by Basilisk).

As Nick Land tells us the “savage truth of delirium is that all ossification—far from being a metaphysical separation from decay—is a unilateral deviation from fluidity, so that even bones, laws, and monuments are crumbled and swept away by the deep flows of the Earth. Far from establishing an eternal logos on the model of pure ossification, the tongue rots into a delirial meander of oozing slime and dirt, indistinguishable from the contaminating mess it vomits into the gutters of literature” (TA, p. 91).

It is this guttural howl at becoming inhuman that leads both Miller and Land into that strange territory of nightmare wherein as Miller states it: “If I am inhuman it is because my world has slopped over its human bounds, because to be human seems like a poor, sorry, miserable affair, limited by the senses, restricted by moralities and codes, defined by platitudes and isms” (TC, p.  257). While Land affirms only that humanity “is a petrified fiction hiding from zero, a purgatorial imprisonment of dissolution, but to be stricken with sanctity is to bask in death like a reptile in the sun” (TA, p. 93).

In a final trump against the Priests of Death that bind us to a false world of light Land spits out his message of nihil in a gambol of poetry and diatribe:

From birth we are brain-washed into conformity with the cage, taught to accumulate, to shore ourselves up, to fear madness and death. Trapped in a constricting tangle of language routines we tread a narrow circuit in the maze
We are told that chance will not take care of us, and that it is difficult to live
but work and seriousness are slums of delusion the garbage-heap of individuation has no worth what is called life at the outer edge of patriarchy is a bleak box of lies, drudgery, and anaesthesia blended with inane agony what matters about the outside of the box is not just that it is the outside of the box, but that it is immense what matters is the abyss, the gulf
They want us to fear death so much, but we can inhabit it like vermin, it can be our space, in our violent openness to the sacred death will protect us against their exterminations, driven insane by zero, we can knot ourselves into the underworld, communicate through it, cook their heavenly city in our plague.
we can scamper in and out of the maze in a way they cannot understand,
during the first weekend of June
at half-past one on Sunday morning
deep in the crypt of the night
together with a fellow voyager in madness
i crossed the line into death
which is called Hell because the police control heaven
* * *
Melting shells drunk on our inexistence
torched in the flame of the sacred
we trudged though the burnt and blackened swamps of the shallows
testing the edge of the estuary
dripping brimstone from our boots
an immense ocean of annihilation stretched out before us
* * *
There has been a revolution in Hell
Satan hangs from a gibbet and rots
wreathed in the howls of anarchy
out there beyond the stars  the cold wind of zero rages without interdiction (TA, pp. 93-94)

—————

From the pit of Hell Land howls out to us, saying, “God is dead, but immeasurably more importantly, God is death (except ‘God’ means the fascist ass-hole of the West). The beginning of the secret is that death (= 0) is immense” (TA, p. 93).

After such knowledge what is left of Wisdom? I started my readings of Nick Land as a preparatory toward a reading of Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, asking myself just where did all these strange ideas come from, and now I have entered a darker labyrinth than I at first knew to exist: in Land we see thought wavering between the occult and the demarcations of all post-Kantian philosophical speculation. Like a Gothic Magician he seems to wander among the ruins of our western culture diving here and there seeking out the forgotten fragments of a lost philosophy. He seems to have been one of the first explorers on the edge of what now is becoming an avalanche of speculation that is leading us into a weird realism from which philosophy is not soon to recover. This is a good thing! We see in Land the eliminative particle thruster of a mind torn between oblivion’s wake and reason’s sleep. Let us hope the new explorers of that terrain do not end in the silence to which Land himself seems to have dispersed himself. We know, the man, Nick Land, still lives; but what of the philosopher? Did he die off in some oblivion of his own choosing, or was he a victim of the Academy of Reason that seems to still rule over our post-Kantian universe of discourse with its iron hands?

1. The Thirst for Annihilation by Nick Land (Routledge 1992 )

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