R. Scott Bakker: Disciple of the Dog; or, How a Cynic Bites his own Ass

“Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty.”
—Fredrich Nietzsche 

Existing is plagiarism.
—E.M. Cioran 

“Throughout my life I have always wanted to tell the truth even though I knew it was all a lie. In the end all that matters is the truth content of a lie.
—Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence

 

That old ironhorse of comic relief communism, Slavoj Žižek, identifies our age as a profoundly cynical one, in which ideology’s ultimate triumph lies in a perverse revelation of its deepest secrets: “today, however, in the era of cynicism, ideology can afford to reveal the secret of its functioning (its constitutive idiocy, which traditional, pre-cynical ideology had to keep secret) without in the least affecting its efficiency.” Many of the so called critics of our age consider cynicism a toxic conundrum: as either the deathly fruit of an ancient lineage that has infiltrated our posthistorical underlife like viral machines rendering critique impotent; or as the zombie politics of a paralysed horrorfest or recidivism at the zero point of a posthuman transmigration into machinic existence devoid of even the dream of democracy.

Some would have us believe that our (post?)modern-cynicism leads individuals and nations to abandon all moral values and to drown in a fetid sea of intellectual and ethical moroseness and pessimism.” 1 Those followers of the tub man, the dog-man, Diogenes, have always been contemptuous in their rejection of social convention, their impudent shamelessness, and their reversal of the ordinary hierarchy that placed man above the animals, closer to the gods. The “dogs” willfully flouted customary norms in public, such as proscriptions against public sex, masturbation, or defecation, refusing to view “natural” actions as shameful. Most contemporaries condem such gainsayers as attention-seeking provocateurs, sacks of dog shit, windbaggers full of spittle, rabid devils forsaken of all human sympathy, werewolves bred in the darkest recesses of our nightmares.

Then we turn to noir, to the crime ridden singularity of unfathmable bloodworlds filled with the inhuman semblances of our former residences on earth; where our fragments, our memories, situate themselves side by side our constructed hells and our zombiefied lives of endless labour. Here broken creatures devoid of even zero degree blankness tremble on the edge between religious apocalypticism or cynical despair.

Creatures join hand in hand the living dead in excess of their unused lives.  Trumped by the neuropathic torpididity of a failed existence they spin out their ghoulish tales of dripping corpsespatter in speakeasy lisps that fall empty before the liquididity of the marled void. While twisted trogladytes splayed open on crosses rise above an anamolous theatre of the mind awakening strange thoughts and vampiric ectasies, filling the darkness with alien laughter, where beyond the farthest horizon a screech comes across silent skys and what reanimates a dead city lures the final thought of all being from its black lair… a thought beyond all sense of extropic redemption, which flutters in the voidic wind flickering out in the nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not…

* * *

“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.”

– Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

R. Scott Bakker in his book, Disciple of the Dog, wanders through the tributary blacknesses of noir like a displaced comic, a laughing hyena, or ape of desire reaping the sewage of an American Apocalypse. And, he doesn’t give a frekking pulse one way or the other… my kinda cynical Dog-Man:

“I’m what you would call a cynic.

“This isn’t to be confused with a skeptic. Skeptics don’t believe in anything, because they care too much. For them the dignity of truth lies perpetually beyond slobs like us humans. We’re just not qualified.

A cynic, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in anything because he doesn’t care enough. I mean, really, who gives a fuck?

You?” (12)

So we meet Diss, or the Diss Man, or Diss Manning, or Disciple Manning (Castrato of the hungry set, a vampire without a tube to suck the bone marrow dry); although, as we shall see shortly he is a disciple of a strange and twisted sort. He has a quirk, one that bugs the piss out of him: he can’t forget a thing, literally… even his own sorry ass. Diss is a pot-luck philsopher, a moment to moment shit-bag full of dime store thoughts: “it’s convenience that drives the species, not in any grand sense but in the most squalid way you could possibly imagine” (13). This is not your pure nihil ridden benefactor, let’s say a Bataille: “For a fly fallen in ink, the universe is a fly fallen in ink, but, for the universe, the fly is the absence of the universe…” (The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, 104). Heavy shit indeed. No. For Diss there is none of this clap trap, no deep and strange thoughts on flies or universal falls into abysses of ink, instead there is the simple fact of flows – the slippage of blood under a knife flowing into the darker recesses of a city maybe? Yet, none of this is true, its all horsepucky, the usual trivial lead up to the truth. But what is the truth? Diss as dick, a Private Dick that is: a detective, a snooper in the brains of the derilict psyches of the unmerciful. “I’m the archivist of your lesser self—you know, the side of you that calls the shots between official engagements. I’m the bastard who makes your secrets real” (14).

The cliches of noir are all there, the grand theme (“nothing is as it seems”) infests the locutors monologues like a penguin flapping his tongue at the sun. This is no Alice in Wonderland walk through the mirror; instead, the mirror walks through us, inhabits us, becomes us, replaces us like a series of nanobots that have escaped from the future to challenge not our views of reality so much as to replace our reality with a machinic version of their own.

Diss the disciple. But disciple of what? Time? Diss no longer moves through time, time moves through him: efficient causation is replaced with a sort of wind-up doll with glass eyes, a version of negentropy (a storage unit without filters replaying the tape endlessly), a reverse osmosis – not of water, but of the brain on distended fabrications of lust and death: the happening-in-being that flits between freeze-frames; between memory and horror.

Like Ariadne lost in the labyrinth with only a thin red line of silk to call her back to reality, Diss is wound in the endless cords of his own dark carnival hall of mirrors; without the luxury of silk or Greek narratology to guide him, he wanders the depths of an endless maze, where only the Minotaurchy of his own blind mind awaits him in a center that is emptiness itself: – the pure unadulterated nothingness that is everywhere and nowhere. For Yeats the center would not hold, but for Diss there never was a center to hold to begin with, there was only the endless speech-acts of his disembodied voice crumbling in the void.

Yet, this is not the central issue in the novel. What is is the absence that will not return? The repetition that would bring us to closure and collapse, to apocalypse: the ability to forget. Maybe the ability to forget oneself? The central blindness beyond any insight is emptiness, the void of self beyond all the chatter and noise. The excess that is the motor of desire that speaks unceasingly the falsehoods of memory. But let’s not get too glib, we have to remember this is the Archie Bunker cynicism of a creature that is neither Sherlock Holmes nor a dimer copy of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. Like Archie Bunker who was once asked by his wife whether he wanted to have his bowling shoes laced over or laced under, Archie Bunker answered: “What’s the difference?”  Being a reader of sublime simplicity, his wife replied by patiently explaining the difference between lacing over and lacing under, whatever that might be, which provoked only ire.  “What’s the difference” did not ask for difference but required instead the optative mood: “I don’t give a damn what the difference is.” So much for reality or despair. Who gives a damn? You?

Back to the real plot: forgetting… Lisa Trei (article) tells us that researchers at Stanford observe that memory allows humans to be predictive about what’s likely to be relevant to them as they go through life.. “What forgetting does is allow the act of prediction to occur much more automatically, because you’ve gotten rid of competing but irrelevant predictions,” he said. “That’s very beneficial for a neural information processing system.” But what happens if you can’t forget? How do you frame the difference that makes a difference? The distinctions between one memory and the next, the freeze motion of time within the dark matter of the brains storage units? We know that the closest thing to this inability to forget is known as Hyperthymesia:

Individuals with hyperthymesia can recall almost every day of their lives in near perfect detail, as well as public events that hold some personal significance to them. Those affected describe their memories as uncontrollable associations, when they encounter a date, they “see” a vivid depiction of that day in their heads. Recollection occurs without hesitation or conscious effort.

But hyperthymesia is restricted to autobiographical memory only. Isn’t this a part of Diss’s despair? Does he want to forget his own biography? Does this mean Diss actually wants annihilation, the dispersal within some private apocalypse of his own making? Are we seeing a trend, Cult of Framers, cult of naturalists (Physcalists), harbingers of a new religion that frames reality for us, then walks out of the frame leaving us locked into a reality we never made nor really ever wanted? Is this the secret dream under the cloak and dagger cliches, the labyrinth as physicalist descriptive rhetorics turned apocalyptic? Have we entered the nightmare worlds that Bruno Latour limns in his discourse on scientism?

One could say that Bakker in this novel is turning his Neuropath inside out, wherein that thriller gave us a philosophical novel of theory, this one gives us a theoretical critique of neurophilosophical narratives: a narratology of physicalist and naturalist dogmatism. Oh cynicus where art thou? Gibe and jibe, the wandering leviathan, a linguistic troubadour of sour times, Bakker limns the sewers of our neurochemical hybridzations for a truth that hides in our lies not our lives. What do the dead know, anyway? Memory. Death. Maybe only Molly knows the truth, in the pit of her black despair she blurts it out: ”

Poison, Disciple. Why do you turn everything into poison?” (238)

But with all cynics it comes down to this, a garbage philosophy, one that digs in the dregs, the refuse, the collective piles of a city gone bad:

“Glad Garbage Bag Man about to reveal the truth of human existence: that certainty and stupidity are one and the same.” (274)

And after all the struggle, the travail of skin, the lure of the detection what is left? An epiphany maybe? An almost Bataillean sun burst:

The sun’s arc burns through the paper horizon, an incandescent wire that grows and grows, swelling with ruby brilliance, becoming a scimitar, a crescent smoldering with retina-burning wavelengths. It scores the horizon from end to end, drawing the sky away like a curtain, burning higher and higher above a mountain range of atmospheric processors, a heaven-wide holocaust that would have boiled away the atmosphere, made slush of the continental plates, had the earth not been transformed into a machine. (284)

Isn’t this the inhuman truth? The mind/body dualism turned monistic as machine-becoming flutters under a new Sun beyond memory or humans.

Maybe Bataille was right after all:

“I obliterate in myself every nascent response… I see only the point where the broken bridge and the rails of intelligence give way to the void, I am no more than the hurtling train, the catastrophe…”

(The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge 259)

More succinctly Molly after so much horror and pain and blood tempts an answer from Diss, one that inters two thousand years of horror in a nut shell:

She gawked at me with a look halfway between astonishment and indigestion. “What happened to you?” she cried. The stress had caught up to her by now, and she was crying freely. “How does someone get so, so … fucking cynical?” The blood had started to flow from the cut on her forehead.

“They remember,” I said, daubing her brow with a tissue. (258)

Maybe memory is hell’s cold knife twisting its hard truth like a surgeon whose only patient is a time without end, where oblivion’s dark rider seems always just beyond the next horizon, and even despair’s broken dream seems like a heaven compared to this repetition in life’s dungeon of pain and pleasure. Memory bites the Cynics ass…


  1. Luis Navia, Diogenes of Sinope: The Man in the Tub (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998), 147.
  2. Bakker, R. Scott (2010-11-23). Disciple of the Dog (p. 12). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

4 thoughts on “R. Scott Bakker: Disciple of the Dog; or, How a Cynic Bites his own Ass

  1. In Neil Gershenfeld’s (MIT, Maker Movement) new article for Foreign Affairs magazine, speaking of the future of digital fabrication technologies, he says something like the following (I’m going from memory):

    Trash is something that does not have enough information content to be reusable.

    The idea he’s working with is the nanoassembler, varieties of which he is constructing at MIT’s center for bits and atoms.

    The cynic’s view seems to be of a phenomenal consciousness that either cannot disassemble and reassemble information, or that always must disassemble and reassemble without purpose.

    It’s the distinction between two kinds of trash.

    The final quotation about the world being made into a machine seems like the last vestige of the belief in progress, projected onto a planetary scale, a final hope.

    does that seem relevant or accurate?

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    • Interesting conception of and use of ‘distinction’. Niklas Luhman founded his whole sociological system on that one word. As for a distinction between two kinds of trash… as a distinction between lack or excess of information I see a sense of Bataille’s notion of excess, of the need to make a distinction between two forms of social expenditure: first, the type that can either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or, second, a form that is destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring, in the contemporary age most often in war, or in former ages as destructive and ruinous acts of giving or sacrifice, but always in a manner that threatens the prevailing system. It’s all about energy and waste (trash). Excess energy can be used productively for the organism’s growth or it can be lavishly expended. Bataille insists that an organism’s growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible. The wasting of this energy is “luxury”. The form and role luxury assumes in a society are characteristic of that society. “The accursed share” refers to this excess, destined for waste (trash).

      I do see the angle that your working in the sense of a distinction between the reusable and unusable trash as a part of information theory. Although some of the more pragmatic engineers that build actual trash factories have been able to squeeze out of trash through many forms of decomposition and composting techniques. So I guess it always comes down to what we mean by ‘reusable’. I get the point of his article and would agree in the sense that he defines it for his specific criteria and technology. Yet, I would read anything of this into a universal description about trash. His is specific definition within a discipline.

      As for that quote on the world as machine: I think he was actually making a joke against the cartoonish apocalyptics of the cult, against their vein idealism of rapture and transformation rather than as inviting any sort of progressive politics. The reduction of the world to machine would counter such tendencies of religious ecstatics. It was an joke an interesting use a irony couched in poetic statement….

      I think we have to separate the ancient conception of cynicism from its postmodern conterpart:

      Ancient Cynicism as Philosophy of the Dog and his followers:

      At a base minimum the ancient cynics philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature (i.e., they were both pragmatic and in some sense our first naturalists against what we might term scientific naturalism which is its reductionist cousin). This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society. They became the first watchdogs of society, indifferent to the gaze of others they took a mental knife to its foibles exposing the root of pretensiousness and false-consciousness.

      Modern and Postmodern cynicism:

      This form of cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realistic criticism or skepticism.

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  2. “The ancients are thought to have distinguished between two kinds of time — the time of Chronos, which proceeds consecutively, and the time of Aion, which pauses interminably: for example, the time of waiting, suffering, and forgetting, as when one is caught up (or merely caught) in a moment from which the past recedes into what never happened and the future holds itself in abeyance.” — from a review of a new book on Maurice Blanchot through Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

    ” In “Le grand refus” (1959), Blanchot figures it as a time of impossibility, of which there are several traits, in the first of which “time changes direction, no longer offering itself out of the future as what gathers by going beyond; time, here, is rather the dispersion of a present that, even while being only passage does not pass [la dispersion du present qui ne passe, tout en n’étant que passage], never fixes itself in a present, refers to no past and goes toward no future: the incessant.”

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  3. Hey thanks for the quotes….

    To be honest the Greeks divided time between Kairos (καιρός) and Chronos:

    Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature. Kairos (καιρός) also means weather in both ancient and modern Greek. The plural, καιροι (kairoi or keri) means the times.

    Aion was centered specifically with Hellenic conceptions and referred to the unboundedness of time. Aion (Greek Αἰών) is a Hellenistic deity associated with time, the orb or circle encompassing the universe, and the zodiac. The “time” represented by Aion is unbounded, in contrast to Chronos as empirical time divided into past, present, and future He is thus a god of eternity, associated with mystery religions concerned with the afterlife, such as the mysteries of Cybele, Dionysus, Orpheus, and Mithras. In Latin the concept of the deity may appear as Aevum or Saeculum. He is typically in the company of an earth or mother goddess such as Tellus or Cybele, as on the Parabiago plate.

    Yea, Blanchot’s view of time was closer to the figure of absence. Of a sense of time that can never be present to itself or others. More of a breakup of Hume’s necessity and a recursion to contingency without any necessary reason to underpin its incessant movement or process.

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