Blood Meridian: The Dark Nihilism of the judge’s recite…

The judge after reciting a few dark parables of nihilism to the Glanton gang is confronted by Tobin, the expriest:

It strikes me, he said, that either son is equal in the way of disadvantage. So what is the way of raising a child?

At a young age, said the judge, they should be put in a pit with wild dogs. They should be set to puzzle out from their proper clues the one of three doors that does not harbor wild lions. They should be made to run naked in the desert until …

Hold now, said Tobin. The question was put in all earnestness.

And the answer, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes. This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.

The judge looked about him. He was sat before the fire naked save for his breeches and his hands rested palm down upon his knees. His eyes were empty slots. None among the company harbored any notion as to what this attitude implied, yet so like an icon was he in his sitting that they grew cautious and spoke with circumspection among themselves as if they would not waken something that had better been left sleeping.

-Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West

The dark insight, the broken truth of this book comes just here:

The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.

This sense that for men the pinnacle of achievement is also the moment of “his darkening and the evening of his day”. Like a Jeremiah of nihilism the judge confronts us with a cosmos at once treacherous and indifferent to human hopes and aspirations, a realm at once impersonal and unconcerned with the petty achievements of the human animal. In the segment that preceded this we learn of the judge’s wide travels; that he is a learned man, a scholar, a draughtsman, an archeologist, a man of deep and abiding curiosity; that he carries with him a book into which he records his curiosity’s, and when asked about why he creates portraits of those he comes across and their artifacts he tells the Tennessean named Webster that “it was his intention to expunge them from the memory of man”. It’s as if the judge were echoing in direct parody of the Biblical injunctions from the Angelic being in The Revelation of St. John the Divine in the new testament:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (KJS: chp 3:5) …

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.(KJS: chp 17:8) …

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (KJS: chp 20:12) …

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (KJS: chp 20:15) …

And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (KJS: chp 21:27) …

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (KJS: chp 22:19)

It’s as if the judge were the Angel of the blotting, the keeper of the shadows, the soul-eater whose task had been set before the foundations of the earth. Yet, the ambiguity of such a stance is that in Mccarthy’s book it is the “memory” of man, not his soul that will be wiped out, purified from the Book of Time rather than the Book of Life, so that this is not a religious but rather a nihilistic fable of the world without rhyme or reason; more akin to his precursors Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury) and Shakespeare (Macbeth): “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

What’s interesting about Mccarthy’s books is that they are open to these duplicitous and ambiguous (mis)readings, open to misprisionings that could be construed either in a darkened form of Gnosticism, or in a direct parody of Biblical reception and absorption of tradition, or finally as nihilistic parables that work to destroy our expectations and our cultural ties to this ancient religious world. Mccarthy works against our comfortable and human meanings, subtly undermines our usual expectations and received wisdom. He breaks the vessels of our standard religious or secular expectations and opens us to a cosmic perspective that is at once ecstatic and full of horror.

As that last paragraph suggests:

The judge looked about him. He was sat before the fire naked save for his breeches and his hands rested palm down upon his knees. His eyes were empty slots. None among the company harbored any notion as to what this attitude implied, yet so like an icon was he in his sitting that they grew cautious and spoke with circumspection among themselves as if they would not waken something that had better been left sleeping.

It’s as if these men were looking upon something at once daemonic (“eyes were empty slots”), beatific (“yet so like an icon”), alien (“waken something”), or monstrous (“better left sleeping”) – a power at once preternatural or superhuman; else a power for which there is no name: a namelessness at the core of existence, a power at the heart of the cosmos, something inhuman at the core of Being itself in all its darkening glory and horror.

The legend has it that, in 1633, Galileo Galilei muttered, “Eppur si muove” (“ And yet it moves”), after recanting before the Inquisition his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun: he was not tortured, it was enough to take him on a tour and show him the torture devices … (Zizek, Less Than Nothing)

Is there an answer to Mccarthy’s modern fable? Is the judge Archon or Beast? Butcher or Saint? A creature of the night, or a scholar of one candle; else darkness made visible? A nihilist or Gnostic knower? Impure or pure? A keeper of Time’s declivities or a merry prankster of Disorder, a festive King of Misrule whose world of tricks is built out of subterfuge and a Con-man’s games of false appearances, or a carnival hawker and mountebank with his tribal masks born of a antinomian age of jest and derision parades before the crowd a puppet world of dreams and nightmares? Shaman, priest, or killer? Maybe in the end there is no answer, no recognitions scene, that the fable is a fable against all interpretive strategies, a parable of our times between times when the meanings of the past are all dead, and the future has yet to collapse upon us revealing the posthuman monstrosity or climatological catastrophes ahead. In the end like Galileo maybe this is all we can say: “Eppur si muove” – And yet it moves…


The New Fantastic: The Carnival of the World

…the  symbolic  order  functions like  Kant’s transcendental screen, through which reality is  rendered accessible and which, nonetheless, simultaneously prevents our direct access to it.

-Slavoj Zizek, Traversing the Fantasy

Marcel Brion regards the fantastic as that kind of perception ‘qui ouvre sur les plus vastes espaces‘ (which opens onto the widest spaces). It is this opening activity which is disturbing, by denying the solidity of what had been taken to be real. Bataille has referred to this kind of infraction as ‘une déchirure’, a tear, or wound, laid open in the side of the real. The same violent ‘opening’ of syntactic order can be found in Lautréamont, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Surrealism, Artaud, etc. and from this perspective, fantastic works of the last two centuries are clear antecedents of modernist texts, such as Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, with their commitment to disintegration.1

For Sartre, the fantastic tale told of leaps into other realms. Through asceticism, mysticism, metaphysics, or poetry, the conditions of a purely human existence were transcended, and fantasy fulfilled a definite, escapist, function. ‘It manifested our human power to transcend the human. Men strove to create a world that was not of this world’ (Sartre, 1947, p.58). In a secular culture, fantasy has a different function. It does not invent supernatural regions, but presents a natural world inverted into something strange, something ‘other’. It becomes ‘domesticated’, humanized, turning from transcendental explorations to transcriptions of a human condition. In this sense, Sartre claims, fantasy assumes its proper function: to transform this world. ‘The fantastic, in becoming humanized, approaches the ideal purity of its essence, becomes what it had been.’ Yet, as Italo Calvino reports it we cannot stop there,

The problem with the reality of what we see—extraordinary things that are perhaps hallucinations projected by our minds, or common things that perhaps hide a second, disturbing nature, mysterious and terrible, beneath the most banal appearances—is the essence of fantastic literature, whose best effects reside in an oscillation between irreconcilable levels of reality.2

But in our time the humanist discourse of yesteryear falls flat, so that the fantastic is moving away from the human and into the nonhuman world that no longer suffers the powers of humanistic discourse or language, math or science to be transformed or mastered but is beginning to reveal its inhuman face and the order of the Real. Rather than turning inward toward the so called human condition we’ve begun to explore the nonhuman condition so that rather than ‘transform the world’ we’ve begun to transform our perception of the world that is already there without us. The fantastic, in becoming nonhuman, approaches the continuity that underlies the impure inessentialism of the world not as it is ‘for us,’ but rather as it is for itself. Like the Gnostics of old we are learning to deprogram our symbolic blinkers, destroy the cultural filters, habits, customs, mores, and normative barriers of discourse and imagination that have blinded us to the world as it is without us. The fantastic is no longer a task for writers, artists, or any utilitarian exploration, but rather the very truth of our becoming fantastic within the nonhuman continuum. The wound in the side of the Real is opening in our time, and the official reality patrols of the global order are seeking ways to fill that ancient gap in the symbolic order they’ve created to imprison us in their illusory world of Neoliberalism. It’s up to us to enter the bloody gap of the Real, traverse the fantasy of the impossible, and discover for ourselves the possibility of a new world, a new earth in the ruins of the present order.

Fantasmatic Politics

For thousands of years our Masters have set up taboos and prohibitions against the Real, suggesting that if one goes beyond the limits one will go mad or insane, and if not mad then commit sacrilege against society. Those who have broken free of the Law of reality imposed by the cultural ideology of symbolic order of the age have been ostracized or dismissed from the world of acceptable discourse, silenced or obliterated from the Book of the Law of Society’s memory. We’ve seen throughout the last two thousand years those who transgressed the Book of the Law of Western Civilization labeled heretics of one form or another, both religious and secular. All have been hunted to extinction by the Inquisitorial powers of the enforcers of this symbolic order. In one form or another the heterological opening into the Real has led to expulsion, exclusion, and exit from the official realms of the communal vision. Those who opened such gaps in the Real were either burned at the stake, tortured, or imprisoned; else, labeled as irrational, insane, monstrous and cast under the Law of legitimated systems of psychoanalysis or medical treatment and facilities. Those who survived in the no man’s land of the arts where such disturbances could be attested were brought back into the economic, political, and social fold there escape routes closed off and encased in the arena of justified art, and as members of the tribe of fantasists the cultural tribes of critics and philosophers labeled these beings as not to be believed but rather enjoyed as specimens of this new madness and thereby controlled by the strict regulation of the Reality Patrol.

What if ours was the End Times, not in the Biblical sense of Jesus or God returning to judge the wicked and the dead, but rather of the Climatological catastrophe on the horizon that seems inevitably to be collapsing upon our present, or the coming of the Singularity that so many conspirators of the posthuman or transhuman visionary seem to portend, or even some natural catastrophe – an Asteroid, or supervolcano, or rise of the seas due to the melting of North and South poles, etc.? What of all these and any number of other natural or unnatural events on the horizon? We see the political fantasies being portrayed by both globalists and anti-globalists, capitalists and anti-capitalists in an antinomian oscillation between ambiguous and competing strategies. How should we deal with these? If you take one side or the other of this narrative you become a part of the problem rather than the solution, you suddenly enter a cultural narrative that locks you into a controlled vision of the future that suddenly closes off all other possibilities. What if the future is none of this? What then?

I’ve seen friends and family argue for hours over the notion of Climatological change and the degradation of the environment, Global Warming and the myriad of portending facets of civilizational decay and fall into a new barbarism that it might bring about, etc. While the one side argues this is all fantasy, that there is no such thing as Global Warming or climate change, and that even if we are seeing changes these are all part of earth cycles that have happened before, not man-made or done by human intervention, etc. In other words both sides have their clichéd narrative, their fantasy of the future around which they each gather supposed scientific fact and facticity to support their side of the debate. Usually at the end they will either accept a truce realizing neither side will accept the other’s argument or standpoint, or they begin to punch the shit out of each other till someone outside intervenes on their irreconcilable violence. Either way nothing is accomplished, both go away, go back to heir work-a-day-lives satisfied that they alone know the truth, that they are the defenders of the future against the idiocy of all those others. Nothing changes, nothing is accomplished. Sounds like most efforts in parliament or Congress/Senate debates these days. So that whether in private or public life the contradictions remain, the antinomian stance unresolved, no one wins…

Have you ever noticed how people in a conversation that already know they do not agree, implicitly talk past each other rather than with each other; by this, I mean the notion that they already know that this is not going to be a conversation, but rather a moment for a monologue in which the interlocutor can address not the Other but rather herself in the Other. So that it becomes a mere mirror world of Narcissistic self-satisfaction. A self-promoting moment of legitimating one’s thoughts at the expense of the Other.

Are we after all victims of our own Narcissistic self-loss in the Other, promoters of our own delusions and deliriums projected or introjected to/from the Other’s wound? Is the wound in the Real none other than our inability to accept the wound in our Narcissitic Prometheanism, our desire to surpass all others on the registry of success, of being right – of our blind faith in our own superfluous fantasy, collective or personal? Have we constructed out of our fears and terrors of the Real the very prisons of our affective and intellectual lives, given ourselves over to the rational mythologies of our age believing them to be both scientific and real? Haven’t we deluded ourselves into believing that we alone, we ‘humans’ are the exception to the rule, beyond hubris; that our place in the universe is at once the justified and sustained by our own delirious mythologies, rational or irrational, discursive or imagistic?

Traversing the Fantasy

What if as Zizek would have it – following Lacan, that ‘traversing the fantasy’ is not to escape into some alternate realm of possibility and impossibility, but rather as he suggests to push into the immersive fantasy of our official reality matrix, fully identify ourselves with the reality fantasy that disturbs us, terrorizes our worst nightmares and fears; and, in so doing we will as Richard Boothy remarks:

“Traversing  the phantasy” thus does not mean that the  subject  somehow abandons
its  involvement with fanciful  caprices and  accommodates itself to a pragmatic
“reality,”  but precisely  the  opposite:  the  subject is  submitted to that  effect  of the
symbolic lack that reveals the limit of everyday reality. To  traverse  the  phantasy in
the Lacanian  sense  is  to  be more  profoundly  claimed by the  phantasy  than  ever, in
the  sense of being brought  into an ever more intimate  relation with that real core  of
the phantasy that transcends imaging. 3 (238)

This new relation to the Real, both through pacification and by way of shock – a shock that awakens of to a new sense of reality, one not proscribed by the official order of society and its Reality Police.

Zizek will ask: What  if­ as  I  endeavor  to  demonstrate  in  my extensive  and  repeated  analyses-the  final Hegelian  reversal  is rather  a  redoubling  of the  antinomic  gap, its displacement  into the  “thing  itself’?  He’ll go on to analyze (I quote at length):

What  lurks  in  the  background  here  is  the  old  problem  of  the passage  from  Kant  (the  philosopher  of  antinomies)  to  Hegel  (the  philosopher  of dialectical  contradictions) ;  grosso modo,  there  are  two versions of  this  passage:  ( 1 )  Kant asserts  the irreducible gap of finitude,  the negative  access  to  the Noumenal  (via Sublime)  as  the  only  possible  for  us,  while  Hegel ‘ s   absolute  idealism  closes  the Kantian  gap  and  returns  us  to  pre-critical  metaphysics;  (2)  it is Kant  who  goes  only half the  way  in  his destruction of metaphysics,  still maintaining the reference  to  the Thing-in-itself as  an  external  inaccessible  entity,  and  Hegel is  merely  a  radicalised Kant  who  accomplishes  the  step  from  negative  access  to  the  Absolute  to  Absolute itself  as  negativity.  Or,  to  put  it  in  the  terms  of  the  Hegelian  shift  from epistemological  obstacle  to positive  ontological  condition  (our  incomplete knowledge  of the  thing turns  into  a  positive  feature  of  the  thing which  is  in  itself incomplete,  inconsistent):  it  is  not  that Hegel  “ontologises”  Kant;  on the  contrary,  it is Kant who, insofar as  he conceives the  gap  as merely epistemological, continues to presuppose a fully constituted noumenal realm existing out there,  and  it is Hegel who “deontologises” Kant, introducing a gap into the very texture of reality. (Boucher, 248)

Here we discover that Kant introjects the gap or cut in the world internally within the Subject producing a purely epistemological dualism between phenomenal/noumenon; while for Hegel the gap of cut is not within the Subject or Mind, but actually part of the “very texture of reality”: the wound of the world is open, contradictory, and antinomic. Those who perceive one pole or the other, a purely transcendent real or an immanent real divided against itself are both wrong, instead as Zizek would have it: The  tension between immanence and transcendence is thus also secondary  with regard  to  the gap  within immanence  itself:  “transcendence”  is  a  kind  of  perspective illusion,  the  way  we (mis)perceive the  gap/discord that inheres to immanence itself. (Boucher, 249)

One could say that Bataille was right all along, that instead of a return to the officially sanctioned real of religious sublimity of the Church and the Sacred Order, we instead choose the left-hand path, downward bent into the morbid, obscene lairs of our fears and terrors, identifying with all that is most monstrous in our existence, our racist, bigoted, misogynistic and outlandish misanthropic delusions and technogothic nightmares. That only through our identification with what is so ridiculous and obscene, with the grotesque and macabre can we begin to laugh again, communicate again, rejoin each other in the carnival of existence, open ourselves to the Carnival of the World.

…this  brings  us  back  to  our  beginning:  perhaps,  one  should assert  this  attitude  of passive  aggressivity  as  a  proper  radical  political  gesture,  in contrast  to  aggressive  passivity,  the standard  “interpassive”  mode  of  our participation in socio-ideological life in which we are active all  the time in order to make  it  sure  that  nothing  will  happen,  that  nothing  will   really  change.  In  such  a constellation,  the first  truly  critical  (“aggressive,”  violent)  step  is  to wthdraw into passivity,  to  refuse  to  participate-Bartleby’ s   “I  would  prefer  not  to”  is  the necessary first step  which  as it  were clears the ground for a true activity,  for  an act that will  effectively change the coordinates of the constellation. (Boucher, 258)

Todorov in his classic work on the Fantastic would suggest that the ‘Fantastic narrative is presented as a transcription of the imaginary experience of the limits of reason. It links the intellectual falseness of its premises to a hypothesis of the unnatural or supernatural’, gradually arriving at a position in which these hypotheses are untenable so that the fantastic introduces ‘that which cannot be, either in a natural or supernatural economy’ (Jackson, 24). From the late nineteenth century onward fantastic fantasy became the vehicle for interrogating the antinomic, the ambiguous zones of the symbolic order, the came to bet a critical project as being one of dissolution, disrepair, disintegration, derangement, dilapidation, sliding away, emptying. The very notion of realism which had emerged as dominant by the mid-nineteenth century is subjected to scrutiny and interrogation. (Jackson, 25)

Politically the fantastic would give voice to the oppressed, the excluded, the marginal – to all those who were deemed outside the sublime world of economic security, the illusory world of the powerful, the rich, the visible. The poor and outcast of society had become invisible and it was the power of the fantasist to make visible what was now invisible in the social body, what had been rejected and left to fend for itself in the darkness of societies morbid, and obscene slums and decaying systems of crime and punishment. One can see this in many of the stories of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Kafka, Lovecraft, Machen, and on through those such as Borges, Bioyes, and later authors too numerous to name here. Against the realism of society one will discover in the fantastic terms such as the impossible, the unreal, the nameless, formless, shapeless, unknown, invisible. As H.P. Lovecraft famously noted, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.”

As Eugene Thacker will suggest in his three volume work on the horror of philosophy Lovecraft implicitly makes the argument that not only is there no distinction between the natural and supernatural, but that what we sloppily call “supernatural” is simply another kind of nature, but one that lies beyond human comprehension – not in a relative but in an absolute sense. Herein lies the basis of what Lovecraft called “cosmic horror” – the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hiddenness. He’ll go on to say:

It is a sentiment frequently expressed in Lovecraft’s many letters: “Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests are emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form – and the local human passions and conditions and standards – are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all…but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown – the shadow-haunted Outside – we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.”4

This sense that what is reflected in the fantastic is not some extra-ordinary world, some Platonic other realm but rather our own universe seen with new eyes, with eyes that are no longer folded in the cage of a symbolic order that excludes the noumenal and binds us to a realm of utilitarian values and the logics of oppression of capitalism and its imposed economic dictatorship of Neoliberal globalism and austerity. It is this negative relationality to the symbolic order of our Globalist Society and its economic systems which constitutes the meaning of the modern fantastic.

Living In-Between: The Emancipatory Fantastic

Fantastic narratives confound elements of both the marvellous and the mimetic. They assert that what they are telling is real – relying upon all the conventions of realistic fiction to do so – and then they proceed to break that assumption of realism by introducing what – within those terms – is manifestly unreal. They pull the reader from the apparent familiarity and security of the known and everyday world into something more strange, into a world whose improbabilities are closer to the realm normally associated with the marvellous. The narrator is no clearer than the protagonist about what is going on, nor about interpretation; the status of what is being seen and recorded as ‘real’ is constantly in question. This instability of narrative is at the centre of the fantastic as a mode. (Jackson, 34)

In our times the notion of a secular fantastic or as I’m calling it political fantastic is becoming more and more pertinent. In an essay on transgression in the work of Georges Bataille, Foucault compares the kind of transgressive literature found in secularized fantasy to religion in previous ages. He claims for them both the same ontological func tion: an exploration of the limits of being. Foucault suggests that a literature of transgression occupies the ‘place where the sacred used to play, for transgression takes limit to the edge of its being, to the point where it virtually disappears, in a movement of pure violence’. He’d go on to say:

Perhaps the emergence of sexuality in our culture is an event which has several levels of meaning: it is linked to the death of God and to that ontological void which that death left at the limits of our thought: it is also linked to something which is still obscure and tentative – a form of thinking in which an interrogation of limits replaces a search for totality and in which a movement of transgression replaces a movement of contradictions. It is linked, finally, to a questioning of language by itself, in a circularity which the ‘outrageous’ violence of erotic literature, far from breaking, manifests from its earliest entrance into language. (Foucault, ‘Préface à la transgression’, p.767) (Jackson, 78-79)

Zizek again will return to Lacan and Freud telling us the Freudian answer is the drive toward transgressive gestures: what Freud calls the “drive” is not, as it may appear, the craving that enslaves us to the world of illusions or Maya (Buddhist). The drive, on the contrary, goes on even when the subject has “traversed the fantasy” and broken out of its illusory craving for the (lost) object of desire.5 Ultimately the goal of traversing the fantasy is to open up the space for the emergence of the pure drive beyond fantasy.

They evidence the radicality of the fantastic, its ability to suspend the apparent impossibility that things could be otherwise, to provide a space in which the impossible can be renegotiated. The fantastic impulse is bound up with a self-altering praxis. The weird alienates and estranges, ruptures what is. Nick Land’s notion of ‘hyperstitional’ relations between writing and the real comes to mind in which ‘fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, it argues that reality is composed of fictions – consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual,  affective and behavioral responses’ (Cybernetic Culture Research Unit [Ccru], 2004: 275).

Today the fantasist enters into the everyday fantastic, her life becomes a part of the fantastic reality she is participating in as she struggles to disturb the worlds of the present symbolic order of a corrupt Globalist systems that seeks to plug up the gaps in its imaginary. Our struggle is not against imaginary powers, but rather against the very real powers in high places within an ruinous order of the corrupt Oligarchic and State powers who seek dominion over every fact of our physical and mental existence. In this sense the fantastic is our lives in this inescapable world of economic and political sorcery,  and we fight not as external agents in some fantasy world or alternate reality MMO but rather in the very real world of our everyday lives seeking a way to awaken those others around us from the spell of black magic they are entrapped in. Unlike the movie The Matrix, there are no big bad robotic systems out there somewhere controlling us, instead there is a very real world of economic, political, social, and cultural agents of fear and terrors who have enclosed us in a horror show of austerity and ruinous life.

Our escape from it is not to dream of escape into false fantasies, but rather to traverse the fantasy of this very real symbolic order we’re trapped in, become the heroes and heroines of a new order warring against the dark powers that entrap men, women, and children in a false world of mirrors, an utilitarian vision of endless work and slavery. Ours is a visionary fantastic of transformation and metamorphosis as we begin to reshape both our epistemic view onto this realm, as well as redefine and shape our lives toward other goals.

The Carnival of the World

This carnival sense of the world possesses a mighty life-creating and transforming power, an indestructible vitality. Carnival was never just a literary form, but was part of a world of pageantry and ritual in different parts of the world. As a form it is very complex and varied, giving rise, on a general carnivalistic base, to diverse variants and nuances depending upon the epoch, the people, the individual festivity. Carnival has worked out an entire language of symbolic concretely sensuous forms–from large and complex mass actions to individual carnivalistic gestures. This language, in a differentiated and even (as in any language) articulate way, gave expression to a unified (but complex) carnival sense of the world, permeating all its forms. This language cannot be translated in any full or adequate way into a verbal language, and much less into a language of abstract concepts, but it is amenable to a certain transposition into a language of artistic images that has something in common with its concretely sensuous nature; that is, it can be transposed into the language of literature. We are calling this transposition of carnival into the language of life the carnivalization of the awakened contradiction, the antinomic life lived in the space of freedom in-between.6

Carnival is not contemplated and, strictly speaking, not even performed; its participants live in it, they live by its laws as long as those laws are in effect; that is, they live a carnivalistic life. Because carnivalistic life is life drawn out of its usual rut, it is to some extent “life turned inside out,” “the reverse side of the world” (‟monde à l’envers”). (Bakhtin, KL 3456) This sense of living outside the symbolic order of our civilization, of entering into the old forms of the trickster, the fool, the ‘one who walks backwards’ – against the grain of things, thoughts, feelings. As Bakhtin suggests,

Carnival is the place for working out, in a concretely sensuous, half-real and half-play-acted form, a new mode of interrelationship between individuals, counterposed to the all-powerful socio-hierarchical relationships of noncarnival life. The behavior, gesture, and discourse of a person are freed from the authority of all hierarchical positions (social estate, rank, age, property) defining them totally in noncarnival life, and thus from the vantage point of noncarnival life become eccentric and inappropriate. Eccentricity is a special category of the carnival sense of the world, organically connected with the category of familiar contact; it permits–in concretely sensuous form–the latent sides of human nature to reveal and express themselves. (Bakhtin, KL 3301)

What Bakhtin terms noncarnival life is our utilitarian work-a-day-world, the humdrum world of forced jobs, austerity, the literal life of survival in a world of economic necessity and brutality. To be eccentric, no longer fitting into the patterns of acceptable behavior or typology, no longer bound to the corporate treadmill, the usual subterfuge of suppressing one’s urges and displacing one’s real needs, but rather refusing to participate in this degradation, refusing to work in this dark ruinous wasteland of pain and apathy.

The new participatory fantastic breaks us out of this world and into a world of freedom, not by escaping into some imaginary fantasy but through laughter, contact, and communication. All distance between people is suspended, and a special carnival category goes into effect: free and familiar contact among people. This is a very important aspect of a carnival sense of the world. People who in life are separated by impenetrable hierarchical barriers enter into free familiar contact on the carnival square. The category of familiar contact is also responsible for the special way mass actions are organized, and for free carnival gesticulation, and for the outspoken carnivalistic word. (Bakhtin, KL 3298)

Instead of participating in the illusory world of democratic politics which is a false world caught in the trap of State and Corporate corruption the scion of the fantastic moves in another world right here in this one, living the fantastic within a carnivalistic realm among her peers shaping and changing this world, building a new one out of the ruins of the present symbolic order and freeing others around her, showing them there is hope – hope of a new world, a new path forward, a realm of the impossible whose possibility is real freedom.

Bakhtin tells us that the primary carnivalistic act is the mock crowning and subsequent decrowning of the carnival king. This ritual is encountered in one form or another in all festivities of the carnival type: in the most elaborately worked out forms–the saturnalia, the European carnival and festival of fools (in the latter, mock priests, bishops or popes, depending on the rank of the church, were chosen in place of a king); in a less elaborated form, all other festivities of this type, right down to festival banquets with their election of short-lived kings and queens of the festival. (Bakhtin, KL 3324) In our time the King is Capitalism itself, the neoliberal order of economics that pervades every aspect of our lives, the world the State and Corporate controllers and reality police want us to believe is the only world, the final world; that, for them, there is no alternative. This is the fantasy of Capital.

It is time to break free of this fantasy, this symbolic order, this game of austerity and economic oppression, time to awaken the sleepers from their long sleep in economic malfeasance, enslaved to an order of ruin and corruption.  Under this ritual act of decrowning a king lies the very core of the carnival sense of the world–the pathos of shifts and changes, of death and renewal. Carnival is the festival of all-annihilating and all-renewing time. Thus might one express the basic concept of carnival. But we emphasize again: this is not an abstract thought but a living sense of the world, expressed in the concretely sensuous forms (either experienced or play-acted) of the ritual act. (Bakhtin, KL 3328)

This is our lived fantastic, the moment when we begin the act of destruction, the time of our feast-of-fools, our carnival of annihilation and renewal, a time to bring before us all a living sense of the world where men, women, and children can experience a new life. Fire and laughter.

Deeply ambivalent also is carnival laughter itself. Genetically it is linked with the most ancient forms of ritual laughter. Ritual laughter was always directed toward something higher: the sun (the highest god), other gods, the highest earthly authority were put to shame and ridiculed to force them to renew themselves. All forms of ritual laughter were linked with death and rebirth, with the reproductive act, with symbols of the reproductive force. Ritual laughter was a reaction to crises in the life of the sun (solstices), crises in the life of a deity, in the life of the world and of man (funeral laughter). In it, ridicule was fused with rejoicing. (Bakhtin, KL 3376)

Maybe in the end it is fire and laughter that we return too. Fire was humanity’s first symbol of freedom from the natural order, the moment of strangeness when we held the power of the Sun in our hands, turned from raw meat to the taste of cooked food, began the slow process of taming the powers of the natural realm. Laughter was the merriment of contact, of contagion, of festival, drums, music, dance, movement; the fount of the carnivalesque that brought us together in ritual and enjoyment of life, the vitalistic element. As Bakhtin reminds us “by its very idea carnival belongs to the whole people, it is universal, everyone must participate in its familiar contact” (B, KL 3412).

  1. Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion
  2. Italo Calvino. Fantastic Tales (Kindle Locations 39-42). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  3. Geoff Boucher   (Author), Jason Glynos (Editor),  Matthew Sharpe (Editor)Traversing the Fantasy: Critical Responses to Slavoj Zizek. Ashgate Pub Co; First Edition edition (January 2006)
  4. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 (pp. 80-81). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 3147-3155). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  6. Bakhtin, M.M.. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Kindle Locations 3282-3290). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.

Mash-ups, Rhizomes, Funereal Surgery…

They were right, those ancient philosophers who identified fire with the principle of the universe, and with desire, for desire burns, devours, annihilates: At once agent and destroyer of beings, it is sombre, it is infernal by essence.

-E. M. Cioran, The New Gods

Not sure where the hell I’m going with this… been up tonight, mind going like a madman reading snippets of various tracts on the history of iconography, iconoclasm, representationalism, anti-representationalism, etc. Burges The Origins of Objectivity as well… strange amalgam to be sure… I find myself chasing ideas through weird rhizomes as if they were strange beasts in some illuminist manuscript, discovering patterns that might be nothing more than mad scribblings, or finding sparks in one thinker that seem to flash up again in another, each either revising, excluding, or absorbing the others notion and recreating it in a new concept or trope, metaphor or hyperbole. One works both for and against the whole tradition of interpretive strategies, using both forms and playing the one against the other till an idea either survives or is left standing amid the battlefield of other dead ideas. Believe me philosophy is full of dead ideas that have yet to vanish or be excluded. The war goes on…


Are there any new Ideas, or do we just keep on washing away the veneer of old coins? Ideas have a long history. Plato liked to pluck them out of some fantastic world beyond our cosmic realm, a transcendent Real beyond the universal degradation of this dimension of shadows. Ever since him people have fudged his notions, trying this way or that way to expunge that Other world, escape the fault lines of its rhetoric of delusion and delirum. Some want to say that Ideas arise in the moment of their appearance as appearance, that there is no secret depth below the mask, no hidden essence or core within which the dark Idea hides its vital power, its gesture or trace of that Other realm. Others would have us gaze into the Abyss, seek in the dark light of that nihil an incipient strain of the nothingness that annihilates all thought giving birth to the flames of all Ideas out of the energetic nothingness of two voids, the oscillations between two negations; an immanent distillation of that hermetic anti-knowledge that produces the Philosophers Stone of all Ideas. Who knows? Is their a recourse to the rhetoric behind rhetoric? A secret gnosis or anti-gnosis that would deliver us from our meaningless existence, give us the needed proof or reasons behind this hellish paradise? Or we condemned to follow Sophist or Philosopher? Anti-philosophy or Non-philosophy? Today we seem to situate ourselves in the abyss like black angels of some forgotten homeland of the Mind; so forgotten that even the mention of a fall or war beyond the cosmic emptiness condemns us to the outer climes of a metafictional derision. Metaphysics has fallen on hard times in this era of political and social despair. Even the ‘human’ as concept has undergone effacement, lost its sheen in the galactic realm of Ideas. Dethroned from its once proud pedestal of exceptionalism the human has been reduced to the gesture of an empty set theoretic: a place holder for a Leaderless Idea. Now we wander without mask or form, formless we’ve become the very ghosts of a lost world, a nostalgia of nostalgia; broken vessels whose nihilistic light feeds only on the living dead. Cut off in times and times we seem shadows of our former selves, lost in fragments that mirror nothing more than the proliferating multiplicity of a corruption that has spread across the known Universe.

-S.C. Hickman, Essays & Aphorisms

The Movement of the World

Shattering the Human Image

We’re all discursive idealists now, seeking a way out of this mad house labyrinth of society we’ve cobbled together out of language and fear of each other’s lives. Lost in a funhouse mirrorland we wander round seeking some semblance of reality, discovering nothing but the emptiness reflected back we shatter the very belief in images, selves, and reality. Neither the natural nor the artificial bring us hint of self or nature anymore, we’ve wandered into a twilight zone of suspicion and weakening forms where the only thing that passes for knowledge is non-knowledge; calibrated and selected from the datastream we weave a monstrous being out of thin air, a kalliope of gestures, broken vessels of some darker measure of the Night and Real. We break into each others images, dash the very power of creativity and invention with the hammer of derision into so many fragments trying to erase the very memory of our own existence. When this is not possible we begin to efface ourselves from the Other., deliver the last blow of nihilistic light from that abyss where opposites have neither power nor thought but blindly war among themselves in an eternity of elemental pride. War has become nothing more than this exclusion of our fear of attaining existence. In killing the Great Other we believe we have finally ridden ourselves of the inhumanity at the core of being, not knowing that the very thing we are seeking an escape from is the thing we’ve all become; indifferent, alone, bound to the darkened desires of a fated amor we wander in this hellish paradise like daemons chasing the sublunar moon. Being nothing, we seek more than anything to be less than nothing, a negation of negation. Suicide is too good for us, condemned to the pit of our own self-lacerating nothingness we struggle to exist in Time. Time is not the enemy, rather it’s this eternal present of non-time that is. Formless the world flows through forms, metamorphic dance belonging to no one and everyone. For in time there is no there is, only the movement of the World.

-S.C. Hickman

Cormac Mccarthy: The Judge’s Sermon of Fire and Fire

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord thou pluckest me out
O Lord thou pluckest


-T.S. Eliot, The Fire Sermon

The kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth. But men do not see it…Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there.

The Gospel of Thomas

Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favour of the weak.  Historical law subverts it at every turn.

-The Judge, Blood Meridian

The Fire Sermon: The Judge’s World of Mystery

Pyrolatreia, or fire-worship, was once nearly universal. The Moloch of the Canaanites, Phœnicians, and Carthaginians, was the divinity of various nations under different names Moloch was not the only deity tormenting simple maids and tender babes with fire The blazing or fiery cross, in use among Khonds of India, was well known in both Ireland and Scotland The Egyptians, with more modern Africans, have reverenced flame.

Zoroastrians worship in fire temples, where a sacred fire is kept burning to signify an eternal flame, and fire is always present during special prayers and ceremonies. Zoroastrianism originated over 3500 years ago in ancient Persia and represents a religious shift in human history, when polytheism began to give way to monotheism. To Zoroastrians, God is known as Ahura Mazda, which means “wise lord.” Zoroastrians recognize a constant struggle between good, represented by Ahura Mazda, and evil, represented by God’s opposite, known as Ahriman. From them most of the dualistic religions of the world descended (?).

They would also become the first Puritans. According to their writings all natural creations of Ahura Mazda are believed to be pure. To Zoroastrians, purity is sacred. The need for purity is particularly evident in funerary rituals. Since death brings decay, which is contamination, corpses cannot touch the ground. If a corpse is to be buried, the grave must be lined to protect the ground. Cremation can also be problematic, because a body will contaminate the purity of fire. While most Zoroastrians now recognize the necessity of cremation, the preferred method has long been the sky burial, through which a body is placed into something called a tower of silence, or dakhma, where it can then be cleansed by the sun, the wind, vultures and birds of prey.

Dualist religions in antiquity sought to redefine, often radically, the interrelationships between the divine, human and natural worlds, commonly by identifying the source of evil in a force or forces in the divine and supernatural sphere. An ambiguous deity or one associated with death and the underworld was an obvious choice to be singled out and enthroned as an entirely evil agency or else an altogether new deity was conceptualized to fill the place of this ‘other’ god. Religions that were monist and henotheistic in orientation could develop the tendency to view this ‘other’ god as the main adversary of the creator god, effectively as an anti-god, but this process was to be accomplished in some of the systems of religious dualism. While during late antiquity Christianity and Judaism naturally strove to deny an actual godly status to the ‘other god’, heretical teachings ventured to identify his functions with that of the creator god, stating that above him, the public, normative god, there existed another, hidden god, the god of the invisible world or the world to come. Such heretical doctrines were promptly condemned for rendering the evil divine, for granting a godly status to ‘another’ god, whether confusingly understood as the oppressive creator of this world or as the ruler of the realm above and of the future.1

The ancient Greek Orphics were fire worshipers, as well as the first to speak of the Cosmic Egg from which the Sun was born. Apion (Clement, Homil., VI.iv.671) writes that: ‘Orpheus likened Chaos to an egg, in which the primal “elements” were all mingled together. . . . This egg was generated from the infinitude of primal matter…’

The judge was standing at the bar looking down at him. He smiled, he removed his hat. The great pale dome of his skull shone like an enormous phosphorescent egg in the lamplight.

-Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West

Below is only a beginning gesture toward unraveling the strange world of Mccarthy’s Blood Meridian. Going back over some notes and quotes I’d taken I came across a passage delivered by the expriest that speaks of a moment in the Glanton Party’s death march across the vast Sonoran deserts of Southwest Texas and Mexico. The Party has been followed recently by a large group of a hundred or so Apache’s (the tale being related at a later date to the Kid by the Expriest), when they suddenly come upon a  dark sea of ash and obsidian glass, and in the distance they see a lone mountain jutting up out of this shadow kingdom – an extinct volcano – in the distance. At this point  Judge Holden – one of the key members of the gang delivers a Fire Sermon to the elements. Yet, we are not privy to its actual content, it being related only as an event as retold by the expriest to the Kid:

In all this time the judge had spoke hardly a word. So at dawn we were on the edge of a vast malpais and his honor takes up a position on some lava rocks there and he commences to give us a address. It was like a sermon but it was no such sermon as any man of us had ever heard before. Beyond the malpais was a volcanic peak and in the sunrise it was many colors and there was dark little birds crossin down the wind and the wind was flappin the judge’s old benjamin about him and he pointed to that stark and solitary mountain and delivered himself of an oration to what end I know not, then or now, and he concluded with the tellin us that our mother the earth as he said was round like an egg and contained all good things within her. Then he turned and led the horse he had been ridin across that terrain of black and glassy slag, treacherous to man and beast alike, and us behind him like the disciples of a new faith.2

Now to set things up we know the Judge is seven feet tall, hairless, bald, and stone cold Albino – absolutely white as a ghost. Throughout the novel up to that point we come to know the Judge as an almost preternatural being, almost inhuman or nonhuman. A man that seems to know things both about the cosmos and the natural earth that are both uncanny and fantastic. In the above quote it suddenly dawned on me what lies behind this almost mythical being. I was reminded of Melville’s romantic tale of the White Whale, Moby Dick, along with the great hunter of that whale, Ahab. It seemed to me that in this paragraph the two figures come together as one in some parallax vision, both entering into relation with the Judge not in fission but more as echo’s and  reverberations as the whiteness of the whale and its stark inhuman power vandalize the inhuman core of Ahab’s undaunted task. The Judge become at once both Ahab and Whale, hunter and hunted, demiurge and blind god of the seas; or, in this case the deserts of the Southwest.

One critic Edwin T. Arnold explains that in all his novels, “McCarthy’s conclusions are ambiguous and openended, mysterious shifts into alternate realities or into parables implying secret truths or gnosis.”  Early in Blood Meridian, the reader comes upon this passage: “The survivors slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted upon the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night” (46). Anareta was believed in the Renaissance to be “the planet which destroys life,” and “violent deaths are caused” when the “malifics” have agents in “the anaretic place” (OED entry, “anareta”). Because McCarthy has not placed a comma after “pilgrims,” it is likely that his simile includes the entire remainder of the phrase; yet it is easily possible to read the passage as if a comma were present, thus producing the reading: this is Anareta. Either way, the implication is clearly that our own Earth is Anaretic. And in Blood Meridian, the Earth is the judge’s. (see Petra Mundik; and, Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy by Leo Daugherty here)

The kid looked at Tobin. What’s he a judge of? he said.
What’s he a judge of?
What’s he a judge of.
Tobin glanced off across the fire. Ah lad, he said. Hush now. The man will hear ye. He’s ears like a fox.

-Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West

Herman Mellville: The Purifying Fires of Gnosticism

We know that Melville developed a counter-sublime against the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Melville would turn toward a darkened, more pessimistic elemental world of forces and processes, almost Spinozian; yet, not the pantheist variety which is a parody of Spinoza. We know that pantheism is the view that rejects the transcendence of God. According to the pantheist, God is, in some way, identical with the world. There may be aspects of God that are ontologically or epistemologically distinct from the world, but for pantheism this must not imply that God is essentially separate from the world. The pantheist is also likely to reject any kind of anthropomorphizing of God, or attributing to the deity psychological and moral characteristics modeled on human nature. The pantheist’s God is (usually) not a personal God.

Within this general framework, it is possible to distinguish two varieties of pantheism. First, pantheism can be understood as the denial of any distinction whatsoever between God and the natural world and the assertion that God is in fact identical with everything that exists. “God is everything and everything is God.” On this view, God is the world and all its natural contents, and nothing distinct from them. This is reductive pantheism. Second, pantheism can be understood as asserting that God is distinct from the world and its natural contents but nonetheless contained or immanent within them, perhaps in the way in which water is contained in a saturated sponge. God is everything and everywhere, on this version, by virtue of being within everything. This is immanentist pantheism; it involves that claim that nature contains within itself, in addition to its natural elements, an immanent supernatural and divine element.2

So are either Melville or Spinoza, then, a pantheist? Any adequate analysis of Spinoza’s identification of God and Nature will show clearly that Spinoza cannot be a pantheist in the second, immanentist sense. For Spinoza, there is nothing but Nature and its attributes and modes. And within Nature there can certainly be nothing that is supernatural. If Spinoza is seeking to eliminate anything, it is that which is above or beyond nature, which escapes the laws and processes of nature. But is he a pantheist in the first, reductive sense?

The issue of whether God is to be identified with the whole of Nature (i.e., Natura naturans and Natura naturata) or only a part of Nature (i.e., Natura naturans alone), which has occupied a good deal of the recent literature, might be seen as crucial to the question of Spinoza’s alleged pantheism (I’ll get to Melville afterwards). After all, if pantheism is the view that God is everything, then Spinoza is a pantheist only if he identifies God with all of Nature. Indeed, this is exactly how the issue is often framed. Both those who believe that Spinoza is a pantheist and those who believe that he is not a pantheist focus on the question of whether God is to be identified with the whole of Nature, including the infinite and finite modes of Natura naturata, or only with substance and attributes (Natura naturans) but not the modes. Thus, it has been argued that Spinoza is not a pantheist, because God is to be identified only with substance and its attributes, the most universal, active causal principles of Nature, and not with any modes of substance. Other scholars have argued that Spinoza is a pantheist, just because he does identify God with the whole of nature.

The debate over Spinoza want be answered to anyone’s satisfaction, there will probably be partisans for one or the other side of the debate for a long time yet. As for Melville? In his great novel Moby Dick we discover the Whale as “though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar…”.6 We’ll encounter the white fire again a little later on the stark plains of the sea:

The wind increased to a howl; the waves dashed their bucklers together; the whole squall roared, forked, and crackled around us like a white fire upon the prairie, in which, unconsumed, we were burning; immortal in these jaws of death! (my italics)

And, then again, as Melville will recite the ancient notion of the fire worshippers as devotees of the Sun:

As it seemed to me at the time, such a grand embodiment of adoration of the gods was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers. As Ptolemy Philopater testified of the African elephant, I then testified of the whale, pronouncing him the most devout of all beings. For according to King Juba, the military elephants of antiquity often hailed the morning with their trunks uplifted in the profoundest silence. (249)

Even Tashtego, the lone fire worshipping Persian in the chase for Moby Dick “stood in the bows. He was full of the fire of the hunt”. (273) Yet, this pales before the great sermon to the Sun:

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars! (280)

And, yet again, we come upon Ahab just after a sperm whale expires – “that strange spectacle observable in all sperm whales dying—the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring—that strange spectacle, beheld of such a placid evening, somehow to Ahab conveyed a wondrousness unknown before”. (325) With his disquisition on this wonder:

“He turns and turns him to it,—how slowly, but how steadfastly, his homage-rendering and invoking brow, with his last dying motions. He too worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!—Oh that these too-favoring eyes should see these too-favoring sights.” (325)

Then we come upon the magnificent and fierce fire-sermon by Ahab on the death of the Parsee:

Then turning—the last link held fast in his left hand, he put his foot upon the Parsee; and with fixed upward eye, and high-flung right arm, he stood erect before the lofty tri-pointed trinity of flames.

“Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar; I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. To neither love nor reverence wilt thou be kind; and e’en for hate thou canst but kill; and all are killed. No fearless fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of the personified impersonal, a personality stands here. Though but a point at best; whencesoe’er I came; wheresoe’er I go; yet while I earthly live, the queenly personality lives in me, and feels her royal rights. But war is pain, and hate is woe. Come in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but at thy highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there’s that in here that still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.” (331)

All these quotes give us the Mellvillean gnosis, the knowing beyond instrumental reason that only the rhetorical figurations of Shakespearean poetry can at once point the way and allow both the darkness and the fire of the Demiurgic flames to bind us with Ahab in that madness that E.R. Dodds once spoke of describing the Greek notion of menos:

When a man feels menos in his chest, or “thrusting up pungently into his nostrils,”  he is conscious of a mysterious access of energy; the life in him is strong, and he is filled with a new confidence and eagerness. The connection of menos with the sphere of volition comes out clearly in the related words , to be eager, and δνσμενήs,” wishing ill.” It is significant that often, though not always, a communication of menos comes as a response to prayer. But it is something much more spontaneous and instinctive than what we call “resolution”; animals can have it,  and it is used by analogy to describe the devouring energy of fire.  In man it is the vital energy, the “spunk,” which is not always there at call, but comes and goes mysteriously and (as we should say) capriciously. But to Homer it is not caprice: it is the act of a god, who “increases or diminishes at will a man’s arĕtē (that is to say, his potency as a fighter).”  Sometimes, indeed, the menos can be roused by verbal exhortation; at other times its onset can only be explained by saying that a god has “breathed it into” the hero, or “put it in his chest,” or, as we read in one place, transmitted it by contact, through a staff.4

It’s this sense of menos as “verbal exhortation” and the volitional enactment of raising the flames of desire and potency, the vitalistic gesture of Ahab’s defiance against the power not just of the literal Whale, but also of his defiance of what the Whale symbolized – the vast and impersonal, indifferentism of the Universe itself: “Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.” This self-lacerating, self-slaying gesture of the child of an indifferent and horrific universal power in his defiance giving back the Promethean flames of his derision and madness to such darkness in the purity of the nihilistic light captures for us a minimal aspect of Melville’s gnostic shock.

Fire has always been a part of ritual and ceremonial systems. We learn from Dodds that  ecstatic dancers in Euripides “carried fire on their heads and it did not burn them”. So does the ecstatic dancer elsewhere. In British Columbia he dances with glowing coals held in his hands, plays with them recklessly, and even puts them in his mouth;  so he does in South Africa; 31 and so also in Sumatra.  In Siam and in Siberia he claims to be invulnerable so long as the god remains within him— just as the dancers on Cithaeron were invulnerable. (Dodds, KL 5424) We know that the ancient theurgists of the Chaldean Oracles would use fire and water both as part of their purification ceremonies. As Dodds states: “We know from Proclus that before the “sitting” both operator and medium were purified with fire and water.” (KL 5917) Or the manifestation in their ceremonies of “luminous apparitions, which promised that by pronouncing certain spells the operator should see “fire shaped like a boy,” or “an unshaped fire with a voice proceeding from it,” or various other things.” (KL 5977)

Death is a festival, a ceremony, a ritual; but it is not a mystery.  Blood Meridian sings hymns of violence, its gorgeous language commemorating slaughter in all its sumptuousness and splendor…

-Steven Shaviro, “The Very Life of the Darkness”: A Reading of Blood Meridian

The Puritan Connection in Protestantism

All this leads me back to the impact of Puritanism on the American psyche, which is well known to have influenced most of the 19th Century poets, novelists, essayists, and religious thought of that era. Melville even in his antagonistic relationship to that tradition shows signs of its deep impact. Dodds will address it in his work on the ancient Greeks this way, saying that “any guilt-culture will, I suppose, provide a soil favourable to the growth of puritanism, since it creates an unconscious need for self-punishment which puritanism gratifies”. (KL 3019) This sense of the self-divided soul, of the person living under the fear of God is given its supreme poetic embellishment by non other than John Donne in one of his Sermons: “no man may be so secure in his election, as to forbear to work out his salvation with fear and trembling”.5

The almost histrionic note of Donne’s Holy Sonnets may be attributed partly to the meditation’s deliberate stimulation of emotion; it is the special danger of this exercise that, in stimulating feeling, it may falsify it, and overdramatize the spiritual life. But Donne’s choice of subjects and his whole-hearted use of the method are symptoms of a condition of mind very different from the mood of La Corona or even from the conflicts which can be felt behind “A Litany.” The meditation on sin and on judgment is strong medicine; the mere fact that his mind turned to it suggests some sickness in the soul. The “low devout melancholie” of La Corona, the “dejection” of “A Litany” are replaced by something darker. In both his preparatory prayers Donne uses a more terrible word, despair. The note of anguish is unmistakable. The image of a soul in meditation which the Holy Sonnets present is an image of a soul working out of its salvation in fear and trembling. The two poles between which it oscillates are faith in the mercy of God in Christ, and a sense of personal unworthiness that is very near to despair. The flaws in their spiritual temper are a part of their peculiar power. No other religious poems make us feel so acutely the predicament of the natural man called to be the spiritual man. Of course the underpinnings of this is an almost Manichean revulsion of the body and the world, a Gnostic motif that seems to arise in most puritanism wherever it has arisen.

As Jean Delumeau will suggest in his great work Sin and Fear: The Emergence of Western Guilt Culture 13th – 18th Centuries both within the Catholic and Protestant forms all humans were seen first as “agents of Satan,” and that in addition to the “fear,” the “dread,” the “terror,” and the “fright” occasioned by exterior perils of all kinds (natural or human), Western Civilization was afflicted by two supplementary and equally oppressive causes for alarm: the “horror” of sin and the “obsession” of damnation.5 Out of this fear and trepidation our Gothic and Romantic traditions in art, poetry, and literature would emerge, and later the nihilistic light of a universe born of indifferentism and impersonalism in writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and his progeny.

And it seems that what struck these men most forcibly, as they watched throughout the Egyptian nights, is the dark portion of the sky – the vastness, the omnipresence, the heavy opacity of that blackness. It hangs over us like a veil, a wall of shadow encircling the earth, a tenebrous dome through which appear, here and there, through chinks, faults and gaps, the glittering fires of another world. A gigantic black lid seals in our universe and encompasses us with its opacity.

-Jacques Lacarrier, The Gnostics

The Judge as Fire Bringer and Slayer of Delusions

I don’t have time to delve into all the fascinating history and critical underpinnings of this tradition in this post, which would turn into a book in itself but will rather come back to Mccarthy’s great character The Judge. The motif of the puritanism I’ve been tracing reaches back into the pre-Socratics. In that form of the doctrine which Plato attributes to the Orphic school, the body was pictured as the soul’s prison, in which the gods keep it locked up until it has purged its guilt. In the other form mentioned by Plato, puritanism found an even more violent expression: the body was conceived as a tomb wherein the psyche lies dead, awaiting its resurrection into true life, which is life without the body. This form seems to be traceable as far back as Heraclitus, who perhaps used it to illustrate his eternal roundabout of opposites, the “Way Up and Down.” (Dodds, KL 3023)

Like many late novels that are both quests and sermons Mccarthy’s presents us with a diametrically aligned vision in contradistinction to Melville’s Moby Dick. Rather than the singularly told tale by the lone survivor, Ishmael, we are presented with The Kid in Blood Meridian. Even as the Kid begins his quest into the vast kenoma or emptiness of the Sonoran desert we get a feint echo of Melville’s great work with its fire motif:

A light breeze stirred the fronds of his hat, his matted greasy hair. His eyes lay dark and tunneled in a caved and haunted face and a foul stench rose from the wells of his boot tops. The sun was just down and to the west lay reefs of bloodred clouds up out of which rose little desert nighthawks like fugitives from some great fire at the earth’s end. He spat a dry white spit and clumped the cracked wooden stirrups against the mule’s ribs and they staggered into motion again. (KL 373)

I don’t have space to follow the fire trail throughout this great novel but will scope just a few passages. Already above we hear echoes of war, of apocalypse, of some dire world of fire at the world’s end. The next comes with the Glanton Gang riding at night through a great storm:

That night they rode through a region electric and wild where strange shapes of soft blue fire ran over the metal of the horses’ trappings and the wagonwheels rolled in hoops of fire and little shapes of pale blue light came to perch in the ears of the horses and in the beards of the men. All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear. The thunder moved up from the southwest and lightning lit the desert all about them, blue and barren, great clanging reaches ordered out of the absolute night like some demon kingdom summoned up or changeling land that come the day would leave them neither trace nor smoke nor ruin more than any troubling dream. (KL 817)

Here we receive the fantastic summoning of the abyss of the archontes, of a “demon kingdom summoned up” and the “pale blue light” that hovers round the gang like strange beings from that “absolute night”.

Then we come upon the Judge at the end of a scene in which a Spanish trickster-juggler and his wife have given a oracle of fortunes to members of the gang:

The judge like a great ponderous djinn stepped through the fire and the flames delivered him up as if he were in some way native to their element. He put his arms around Glanton. Someone snatched the old woman’s blindfold from her and she and the juggler were clouted away and when the company turned in to sleep and the low fire was roaring in the blast like a thing alive these four yet crouched at the edge of the firelight among their strange chattels and watched how the ragged flames fled down the wind as if sucked by some maelstrom out there in the void, some vortex in that waste apposite to which man’s transit and his reckonings alike lay abrogate. As if beyond will or fate he and his beasts and his trappings moved both in card and in substance under consignment to some third and other destiny. (KL 1667)

This sense of the Judge as different than other men, a creature of fire and bound to a “third or other destiny”. Yet, later on as the Glanton gang wanders in this vast emptiness we will learn that the fire can be at once purifier and deceiver:

They ate and moved on, leaving the fire on the ground behind them, and as they rode up into the mountains this fire seemed to become altered of its location, now here, now there, drawing away, or shifting unaccountably along the flank of their movement. Like some ignis fatuus belated upon the road behind them which all could see and of which none spoke. For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies. (KL 2052)

This “will to deceive in things luminous,” and the notion that it might lead me not to salvation and redemption but rather toward “fraudulent destinies” works against the Protestant notions of faith founded on fear and trepidation. In Mccarthy’s world there can be no faith, only a nihilistic mistrust of every external authority or sign. For if there is a voluntary will to deceive in things then nothing can be trusted and everything must be questioned.

Later still we’ll learn from the expriest a truth about the Judge:

The Almighty, the Almighty. The expriest shook his head. He glanced across the fire toward the judge. That great hairless thing. You wouldnt think to look at him that he could outdance the devil himself now would ye? God the man is a dancer, you’ll not take that away from him. And fiddle. He’s the greatest fiddler I ever heard and that’s an end on it. The greatest. He can cut a trail, shoot a rifle, ride a horse, track a deer. He’s been all over the world. Him and the governor they sat up till breakfast and it was Paris this and London that in five languages, you’d have give something to of heard them. The governor’s a learned man himself he is, but the judge … (KL 2099)

The Judge here seems almost a Nietzsche Übermensch a creature of legend and myth. This leads us back to my original quote in the beginning of the essay. The Judge has been leading them to the Volcano (Malpais). The expriest continues his tale just at the point where they reach the crest and look down into the volcano’s furnace:

Where for aught any man knows lies the locality of hell. For the earth is a globe in the void and truth there’s no up nor down to it and there’s men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoofprints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going but what little doe ever trod melted rock? I’d not go behind scripture but it may be that there has been sinners so notorious evil that the fires coughed em up again and I could well see in the long ago how it was little devils with their pitchforks had traversed that fiery vomit for to salvage back those souls that had by misadventure been spewed up from their damnation onto the outer shelves of the world. Aye. It’s a notion, no more. But someplace in the scheme of things this world must touch the other. And somethin put them little hooflet markings in the lava flow for I seen them there myself. (KL 2218)

This notion of two worlds touching each other in the extremity of things, of powers flowing out of this great clime of hellish fire, etc. all brings the puritan strain back into the novel through the lips of the expriest.


If we remember in the original quote at the beginning of my essay the Judge gives a small sermon ending it telling the gang that “our mother the earth as he said was round like an egg and contained all good things within her”. We know both the Orphic’s and certain Gnostics would speak of the Cosmic Egg. The Orphic egg is usually represented as an egg surrounded by a coiled serpent. The egg symbolizes the belief in the Greek Orphic religion that the universe originated from within a silver egg. The first emanation from this egg, described in an ancient hymn, was Phanes-dionysus, the personification of light:

“ineffable, hidden, brilliant scion, whose motion is whirring, you scattered the dark mist that lay before your eyes and, flapping your wings, you whirled about, and through this world you brought pure light.”

Yet, as Steven Shaviro will say of Mccarthy’s fable:

We are called to no responsibility, and we may lay claim to no transcendence. Blood Meridian is not a salvation narrative; we can be rescued neither by faith nor by works nor by grace. It is useless to look for ulterior, redemptive meanings, useless even to posit the irredeemable gratuitousness of our abandonment in the form of some existential category such as Heideggerian “thrownness” (Geworfenheit). We have not fallen here or been “thrown” here, for we have always been here, and always will be. Only the judge seems descended from another world (125).6 (Bloom, 12)

Whatever Judge Holden is, the narrator in Mccarthy’s tale tells us, he cannot be
adequately explained through science or logic. We might, in fact, read the passage as a refutation of scientific thinkers like Freud who believe there is always a discoverable point, an identifiable action that ultimately explains.This is what the judge maintains: “Your heart’s desire is to be told some mystery,” he tells members of the gang. “The mystery is that there is no mystery” (252). Yet, as Tobin responds to the kid, the inexplicable judge is by his very existence proof of the mystery in the world he intends to deny. And as McCarthy himself has said, that we do not ordinarily apprehend this mystery is the larger question (Wallace 138).8

This notion of a mystery that disturbs the Order of the World, that shocks us from elsewhere, a paradoxical power that seems both marvelous and uncanny at the same time, a fantastic being that we can neither accept nor reject but stand befuddled not knowing whether it is real or unreal, that forces us to stand in the place of no place, the empty place of power where neither God nor man is or is not, and binds us to both silence and the ineffable; yet, also breaks us by its nihilistic light and awakens in us some old and deep within ourselves that is neither presence nor absence, but rather a knowing between two distinct beings who are neither fused nor separate, shaped by the very medium within which they both are fixed and in process: the fire that fires the very core of our inhuman life. Neither transcendent nor immanent but in-between, caught in that strangeness of the weird that cannot be reduced to rhetorical gestures nor dogmatic sermons.

This Kid for whom we know almost nothing, who has wandered in the shadows of the beast of a novel will have a dream.

In the dream the kid next looks into the judge’s “small and lashless pig’s eyes” (310), but what is it he sees? On the one hand he appears to see his fate, his name written in the judge’s ledger, suggesting that he has already been enslaved by the judge, fated to his doom. In it he seems to perceive the darkness of that fire in the abyss of the Judge’s eyes, seems to perceive in these eyes the unfathomable nature of evil, perhaps to realize that evil is not an individual, separate thing but very much an essential part of the system of existence. This is a profoundly metaphysical moment for the kid, and he is eventually changed by it. One might compare it to Job’s ultimate perception of God’s awful grandeur that joins fortune and misfortune, good and bad, in one inexplicable whole; or to Jacob Boehme’s vision of the “Byss and the Abyss” of which he wrote, “For I had a thorough view of the universe as in a chaos, wherein all things are couched and wrapt up, but it was impossible for me to explicate the same” (quoted in James 411). (Companion, 59)

The Vastation, guardian of all destiny, all becoming, retainer of all seeds, powers, and
potentialities; the purely intelligible fire which held, and still holds, the seeds of everything that exists in the inferior circles; animate and inanimate matter, forms, incarnations, stones, trees, and flesh – here below in the world of ash and mud.

Gnostic Hymn

Mystery of Mystery: The Uncanny Guest In-Between

Yet, Mccarthy will not allow us to make of this novel either a metaphysical parable, nor an atheistic fable of nihilism. He seems to leave us in-between in that circle of fate where we have to choose for ourselves. Mccarthy will not hold our hands, will not guide us beyond and into some Faustian bargain nor will he burst our bubble, our delusions, but instead offers only the mystery of the mystery. One is reminded of that other great Southern Gothic novelist or fabulist, Flannery O’Conner who would state it this way,

In the greatest fiction, the writer’s moral sense co­incides with his dramatic sense, and I see no way for it to do this unless his moral judgment is part of the very act of  seeing, and  he  is  free  to  use it.  I  have heard it said that belief in Christian dogma is a hin­drance  to the writer,  but  I myself have  found  noth­ing further from the truth. Actually, it frees the story­teller  to  observe. It is not a set  of  rules which  fixes what he  sees in the world.  It  affects  his writing pri­marily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery. (31)9

We know that Mccarthy like O’Conner was raised Catholic. Cormac was raised Roman Catholic. He attended Catholic High School in Knoxville, then went to the University of Tennessee in 1951-52. His major: liberal arts. McCarthy joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953; he served four years, spending two of them stationed in Alaska, where he hosted a radio show. We know too that in The Sunset Limited, commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, which premiered in May 2006, with publication thereafter. The play takes place in a shabby tenement apartment, where Black (a former convict) and White (a university professor) discuss “big questions” about God, faith, life, and death following Black’s saving White, who had attempted to commit suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train. HBO subsequently produced a successful adaptation of The Sunset Limited starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones (directed by Jones).

We also know that his favorite novel is Melville’s Moby-Dick; he doesn’t care for the work of Henry James, he doesn’t like to talk about writing, etc.), that’s more or less what we know about Cormac McCarthy.

Which brings me to final epiphany from Blood Meridian that seems to sum up the power of fire :

They rode on into the darkness and the moonblanched waste lay before them cold and pale and the moon sat in a ring overhead and in that ring lay a mock moon with its own cold gray and nacre seas. They made camp on a low bench of land where walls of dry aggregate marked an old river course and they struck up a fire about which they sat in silence, the eyes of the dog and of the idiot and certain other men glowing red as coals in their heads where they turned. The flames sawed in the wind and the embers paled and deepened and paled and deepened like the bloodbeat of some living thing eviscerate upon the ground before them and they watched the fire which does contain within it something of men themselves inasmuch as they are less without it and are divided from their origins and are exiles. For each fire is all fires, the first fire and the last ever to be. By and by the judge rose and moved away on some obscure mission and after a while someone asked the expriest if it were true that at one time there had been two moons in the sky and the expriest eyed the false moon above them and said that it may well have been so. But certainly the wise high God in his dismay at the proliferation of lunacy on this earth must have wetted a thumb and leaned down out of the abyss and pinched it hissing into extinction. And could he find some alter means by which the birds could mend their paths in the darkness he might have done with this one too. (KL 4075)

Just here the Gnostic strain comes through as humans are both part and partial of that “fire which does contain within it something of men themselves inasmuch as they are less without it and are divided from their origins and are exiles. For each fire is all fires, the first fire and the last ever to be.” But what origins? Exiled from where? Can we posit a metaphysical or Platonic Other realm? Or is this a more immanent exile from the world of cultural and symbolic forms? Are we awakening to something transcendent, or just to the early and more immanent need to discover another world right here within our own? Is it possible this is neither as Shaviro surmises metaphysical nor existential, but a more pragmatic and psychological realization of our responsibility to forgo such fables and fabulist tales of redemption and salvation? Is our fate to discover in the very ruins of Time a new path forward, a new world to be decided and constructed out of the ruins of the present one?  Is this after all a political rather than religious tale the Judge has been telling us all along? Or is he rather an alien guest at the banquet seeking new members of his mystery cult from the Stars? How can we tell? How can we answer?

Caught between competing visions, competing rhetorical stances, metaphysical, existential, and something else, a third way, a “third destiny” – we are left holding nothing, no key to the mysteries; nothing, even less than nothing. And, yet, a mystery remains. At the end of the book we are left with an image of a lone being wandering in the emptiness of things:

In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground. He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and he enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there. On the plain behind him are the wanderers in search of bones and those who do not search… (351)

  1. Yuri, Stoyanov. The Other God (Yale Nota Bene) (Kindle Locations 90-99). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (Kindle Locations 2205-2211). Modern Library. Kindle Edition.
  3. Nadler, Steven, “Baruch Spinoza”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <;.
  4. Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick [with Biographical Introduction] (p. 124). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.
  5. Dodds, E. R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) (Kindle Locations 202-212). University of California Press – A. Kindle Edition.
  6. Delumeau, Jean. Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Centuries. St Martins Pr; First Paperback Edition edition (April 1991)
  7. Bloom, Harold.  Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Cormac McCarthy. “The Very Life of the Darkness”:  A Reading of Blood Meridian Steven Shaviro. (2009 by Infobase Publishing)
  8. Edwin T. Arnold (Editor), Dianne C. Luce (Editor). A Cormac McCarthy Companion: The Border Trilogy. University Press of Mississippi (October 3, 2001)
  9. Flannery O’Connor. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (January 1, 1969)

The Daemonic Imaginal: Ecstasy and Horror of the Noumenon

Historically speaking, demons are far from being horned and goateed Mephistos tempting us to do bad things. The demon is as much a philosophical concept as it is a religious and political one. In fact, the “demon” is often a placeholder for some sort of non-human, malefic agency that acts against the human (that is, against the world-for-us).

-Eugene Thacker,  In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1

There are three gates through which the hunter of souls ventures to bind: vision, hearing, and mind or imagination. If it happens that someone passes through all three of these gates, he binds most powerfully and ties down most tightly.

-Giordano Bruno: Cause, Principle and Unity: And Essays on Magic

Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess. It describes a labyrinth which is nothing but an intricate hall of mirrors, losing you in an ‘unconscious’ which is magnificent beyond comprehension yet indistinguishable from an elaborate trap.

-Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Stuart Clark in Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe offers us an opening onto an abstruse subject: Demonology. “Demonology was a composite subject consisting of discussions about the workings of nature, the processes of history, the maintenance of religious purity, and the nature of political authority and order.” (6) One could say that contrariety is the key to demonology, a thinking against the impurity and counter-sublime that would destroy both the cultural aristocracy and its elitism, as well as its political, religious, and legal order-nomos. In Empedocles the notion of contrarieties would find its harbinger in promoting discord (Strife) and concord (Love) as the primary contraries in a dualistic system of warring elements that produced the cosmos between Heimarmene (Fate, Discord) and Harmonia (Concord, Order).

Heimarmene or the Moirai (Moirae) were the three goddesses of fate who personified the inescapable destiny of man. They assigned to every person his or her fate or share in the scheme of things. Their name means “Parts.” “Shares” or “Alottted Portions.” The individuals were Klotho (Clotho), the “the Spinner,” who spun the thread of life, Lakhesis (Lachesis), “the Apportioner of Lots”, who measured it, and Atropos (or Aisa), “She who cannot be turned,” who cut it short. Zeus Moiragetes, the god of fate, was their leader.

At the birth of a man, the Moirai spinned out the thread of his future life, followed his steps, and directed the consequences of his actions according to the counsel of the gods. It was not an inflexible fate; Zeus, if he chose, had the power of saving even those who were already on the point of being seized by their fate. The Fates did not abruptly interfere in human affairs but availed themselves of intermediate causes, and determined the lot of mortals not absolutely, but only conditionally, even man himself, in his freedom was allowed to exercise a certain influence upon them. As man’s fate terminated at his death, the goddesses of fate become the goddesses of death, Moirai Thanatoio.

HARMONIA was the goddess of harmony and concord. She was a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite and as such presided over both marital harmony, soothing strife and discord, and harmonious action of soldiers in war. Late Greek and Roman writers sometimes portrayed her as harmony in a more abstract sense–a deity who presided over cosmic balance. In Plato’s Timaeus harmonization by proportion (of contrary elements, seasons, physical motions, and components of the soul) became the principle by which the Divinity created from chaos.

One can discover the use of contrariety as a guiding concept throughout both religious and philosophical speculation from Plato and Aristotle, his pupil on down to Immanuel Kant whose philosophical system both concluded one tradition and began what we’ve come to term Modernity (even though this term had been contested throughout the 16th to 18th centuries). The Aristotelian maxim contrariorum eadem est doctrina expresses this, as does Kant’s dictum that ‘all a priori division of concepts must be by dichotomy’.

The dichotomy that will concern us in this tentative assaying of the territory of demonology or thinking with demons is that of the contrariety of the phenomenal/noumenal divide. So I begin with Immanuel Kant. One could almost say that the demon in his philosophy is the concept of the noumenon. In our own time many philosophers, anti-philosophers, non-philosophers have converged upon the noumenon. Kant  was the philosopher who sundered the known from the unknown, appearance from reality, sensible from intelligible. One could traces aspects of this battle back through the Idealists / Rationalists and on down into the Scholastics nominalist/realist divides in one form or another. Yet, it was Kant that introduced the categories and introduced the specific terms argument of the terms in his division of the concepts of “phenomena” and “noumena” that have haunted both Continental and Analytical philosophy in the Secular Age.  Kant first used these terms in his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World.

Sensibility is the receptivity of a subject in virtue of which it is possible for the subject’s own representative state to be affected in a definite way by the presence of some object. Intelligence (rationality) is the faculty of a subject in virtue of which it has the power to represent things which cannot by their own quality come before the senses of that subject. The object of sensibility is the sensible; that which contains nothing but what is to be cognized through the intelligence is intelligible. In the schools of the ancients, the former was called a phenomenon and the latter a noumenon. Cognition, in so far as it is subject to the laws of sensibility is sensitive, and, in so far as it is subject to the laws of intelligence, it is intellectual or rational. (§3, Ak 2:392).

Kant goes on to claim that there is a form of the intelligible world, an objective principle, which is “some cause in virtue of which there is a combining together of the things which exist in themselves” (§13, Ak 2:398). This cause is a unitary being on which all substances depend, a creator and architect of the world. Thus, Kant makes what he would later call a “transcendental” use of the pure concept of cause (or that from which something is derived) in principles like the following: “The substances which constitute the world are beings which derive from another being, though not from a number of different beings; they all derive from the same being” (§20, Ak 2:408).

Kant introduced the concept of the noumenon in the oppositional or negative sense, as the concept of an object that is not the object of a sensible intuition or the intellect; a placeholder for the limits of thought rather than thought itself. The function of this concept is to “limit the pretension of sensibility” (KrV A255/B311); and since this “pretension” is that sensible, i.e., spatiotemporal, predicates apply to things in general, this limitation is central to Kant’s “critical” project. Moreover, it brings with it the replacement of a transcendental by an empirical realism and therewith a commitment to transcendental idealism.1

One last item is the battle between those in favor of a “two-world” theory, and those in favor of a “two-aspect” theory of the phenomenon/noumenon divide. Allison will condense his argument from the anti-idealist camp using the work of P.F. Strawson and H.A. Pritchard. Strawson would reduce Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to incoherence, suggesting that Kant perverts the scientific empirical model of the mind’s being affected by physical objects by a mental trick. For Strawson Kant division into sensible/intelligible, appearance/reality distinctions creates the very problem it pretends to overcome: the reduction of the spatiotemporal relation to the subjective constitution of the mind (i.e., that the external is constructed by the mind, not affected by the sensible objects themselves). Secondly, is Pritchard’s argument that Kant confuses the issue claiming that we can know appearances but not things-in-themselves, and proceeds to affirm that we can really know appearances and they really are spatial. This leads Pritchard says to the assumption by Kant that we can only know things as they seem to us through appearances (representations), not how they really are in-themselves external to this system of representational mythology. 2

It would lead to too far afield to dig deeper into the tangled skein of analytical vs. transcendental idealist divide in Strawson, Pritchard, Paul Guyer, and Rae Langton. Each in their own way tried to separate out the transcendental idealism from the analytical aspects of Kant’s philosophy. I’ll leave that to the interested reader.

To simplify: the point is that for Kant there is no argument that things-in-themselves exist independent of us (realism), the point is rather that until these things are conceptualized for us and by us in the mind. But this does not mean that they exist as in Bishop Berkeley as Ideas or sense data in the mind independent of those external objects, rather these external objects to become objects for us must conform to the conditions of their representation in our mind. Whatever these objects, things, entities are independent of us is meaningless until they are made intelligible in the mind and conditioned as representations.

Most of modern philosophy and art has been a civil-war over this representational model of the mind that Kant distilled out of ancient to rationalist philosophy.  Kant himself would try to blend the two without fusing them saying: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” (A51/B76) For Allison Kant’s Transcendental Idealism was founded on a “two aspect” theory of epistemic conditioning, one that would require the transcendental distinction between appearances and things in themselves as based on two ways of considering things be maintained (as they appear and as they are in themselves) rather than as, on a more traditional reading, between two ontologically distinct sets of entities (appearances and things in themselves). (TI, p. 16)

This battle between epistemic conditioning of reality for us or for itself on the one hand, and those who would ontologize this gap between things for us and in themselves plays into many current notions surrounding knowledge. If reality must conform to the representations we have of it then we are bound in a circle of predetermined forms that guide our thoughts, while if reality can be divided in itself between objects as appearance (phenomenon) and objects as noumenal unknowns to which we have no direct access then we are bound to diametric and confrontational views of life and meaning.

Some like Quentin Meillassoux in his recent After Finitude would argue against what he termed correlationism, which is seen to be the thesis that it is impossible to think being independent of the relation between thought and being.  Meillassoux’s aim is to think the absolute or reality as it exists independent of human beings. The correlationist on the other hand thinks that there is no human without world, nor world without human, but only a primal correlation or rapport between the two. Hence, the object has no autonomy for the correlationist. In franker terms, the object does not exist. Kant’s ultimate judgment and the central teaching of his so called Copernican Revolution was to turn philosophy into a meditation on human finitude and forbid it from discussing reality-in-itself. So that after him all we could affirm positively was the phenomenal region of our spatio-temporal cosmos as conditioned by our representational mind.

Meillassoux and others since Kant have tried without success to counter this explicit closure of the noumenon, seeking to discover another path, one that seeks outside direct access to this noumenal sphere a more indirect access to its unknowability. It’s in this liminal sphere between the possible and impossible, phenomenal and noumenal that the wars of philosophy between epistemic and ontological access have for two centuries striven sometimes winning small battles here and there but none winning the war. The noumenon will not let itself be reduced to either epistemic conditioning nor ontological excess, it acts like a daemonic continuum that is full of discord, strife, and contradiction that allows only the vagrant mediator, the vanishing mediator to convey, though indirectly some semblance of the darkness made visible.

The Daemonic Realms: The “Subject” of Posthumanism

“…all demons are malevolent, deceiving, posturing enemies of humanity…”

-Jean Bodin, Démonomanie

Thinking about the daemonic or thinking the daemon brings us to edge of both thought and speech, of what can be thought and what spoken. Kepler in his, “The Speech of Daemons,” which formed a part of his allegory of the Cosmos that sought to explain his scientific and natural views constitutes the central core of the elaborately framed narrative. The Daemon became in his Somnium: The Dream, or Posthumous Work on Lunar Astronomy a polysemic allegorical assemblage of the Christian and scientific imagination, represents Kepler’s attempt to resolve competing discourses available for theorizing nature. Kepler struggled to break through the limits of thought in his time, a thought that restricted the minds of those he sought to convey his natural and cosmological information to. To do that he pushed the limits of a form of dream discourse that could reach into that abyss of the daemonic imaginal where meaning could be brought back in a form of daemonic speech that spoke the alterity beyond the limit’s of his time’s cultural register. Eugene Thacker in his three-volume work In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy on the horror of philosophy would offer a view onto this limiting factor of our knowledge of the world and ourselves:

[T]he horror of philosophy: the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility – the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language.(2)

The Daemonic Imaginal is that alterity beyond the limit of our symbolic and cultural horizon that allows the abyss to open its darkness to us and reveal what is both most natural and most daemonic to us in forms that take on powers of speech and thought irreducible to the logic and instrumental reasoning of our everyday utilitarian language and mental make-up. Yet, this is not some transcendent realm of spirits from some external world beyond our world, but rather the powers at the heart of our elemental desires and fears, our deepest noumenal affective registry that cannot be any part of intuition (Intellect) or sense-data (Sensibility) but is rather part of that contrariety and agonistic world of strife that is neither logical or reasonable.

The Daemon arises from that dark sphere of thought by way of indirect appropriation, through lures and traps, alluring its subtle world not by way of representations and the light of Reason, but rather by way of diagrams, sigils, forces and powers of imaginal entreaty, drawing this non-knowledge into that intermediated realm between the sublime and ridiculous without reducing it to our daylight utilitarian symbols thereby degrading it and losing the very force of its message. As Thacker surmises

I would propose that horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us). (8)

Opening any number of current philosophical or scientific works in the past few years one gets a feeling that an advanced cadre of alien invaders were slowly erasing the memory of the human from our cultural complex, as if an invasion of alien thinkers had replaced our age old vision of human exceptionalism. This novel undermining of two thousand years of Christian humanist civilization some say has been going on since the Enlightenment age of Kant. That what is occurring in our midst, to the detrimental to the both the older humanistic and humancentric view of life, self, and the universe is nothing less than the destruction of the human species in advance of some transvaluation of both our values and our genetic inheritance in an ongoing transformation into a posthuman civilization.

If as some have surmised that one can only radicalize or reverse a philosophical system then what has happened recently in terms of philosophy is the extreme end of Kantianism: it has been both radicalized and reversed to the extreme nth degree and found wanting. Over the past two centuries Kant’s system would divide the House of Philosophy into both Analytical and Continental forms in its quest to overcome the dilemma he’d set for his philosophy of finitude and the phenomenal. Unable to break out of the correlational circle of thought and affirm objects independent of the mind’s representations, philosophers have sought either to extend into analytical and mathematical theoretic or the discursive and phenomenological theoretic left open to it. Both paths ended in failure. But even this failure to break out of the correlational circle has spawned other possibilities.

Slavoj Zizek realizing the quandary of this circular reasoning will remind us of Niels Bohr who liked to repeat, at the level of the physics of micro-particles, there is no “objective” measurement, no access to “objective” reality— not because we (our mind) constitutes reality, but because we are part of the reality which we measure, and thus lack an “objective distance” towards it.3 Zizek himself will join all those dualists that have seen a gap between thought and reality, yet he stays with the notion of the Subject or a humancentric view that begs the question. As he’ll say of Meillassoux,

Meillassoux’s claim is to have achieved the breakthrough into independent “objective” reality. But there is a third Hegelian option: the true problem that follows from Meillassoux’s basic speculative gesture (transposing the contingency of our notion of reality into the Thing itself) is not so much what more we can say about reality-in-itself, but how our subjective standpoint and subjectivity itself fit into reality. (LTN, KL 14517)

That seems to be the most degrading and almost reactionary aspect of Zizek’s stance in maintaining the notion of a Subject in a world where neuroscientists and many philosophers have escaped or evaded this notion as retrograde and dubious at best. I don’t have time to go into all the arguments for this here, and will only add Thomas Metzinger’s statement:

Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self. But it is not just that the modern philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience together are about to shatter the myth of the self. It has now become clear that we will never solve the philosophical puzzle of consciousness—that is, how it can arise in the brain, which is a purely physical object—if we don’t come to terms with this simple proposition: that to the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world. So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?4

Which will force Zizek to then ask if problem is not “Can we penetrate the veil of subjectively constituted phenomena to Things-in-themselves?” but “How do phenomena themselves arise within the flat stupidity of reality which just is; how does reality redouble itself and start to appear to itself?” For this, we need a theory of the subject which involves neither transcendental subjectivity nor a reduction of the subject to a part of objective reality; such a theory also enables us to formulate in a new way what Meillassoux calls the problem of correlationism (ancestrality). Here, both Lacan and Hegel are anti-Leninists, for their problem is not “how to reach objective reality which is independent of (its correlation to) subjectivity,” but how subjectivity is already inscribed into reality— to quote Lacan again, not only is the picture in my eye, but I am also in the picture. (LTN, KL 14520)

Ultimately for Zizek there is an irreducible (constitutive) discord, or non-correlation, between subject and reality: in order for the subject to emerge, the impossible object-that-is-subject must be excluded from reality, since it is this very exclusion which opens up the space for the subject. The problem is not to think the Real outside of transcendental correlation, independently of the subject; the problem is to think the Real inside the subject, the hard core of the Real in the very heart of the subject, its ex-timate center. (LTN, 14533) Thinking through what this exclusion from reality might entail, the negation that opens up this object that is the Subject and forces the extreme solution to think the Real at the core of this Subject as internal to the Subject in itself seems to reverse the Kantian distinction. Now the noumenon is at the core of the Subject rather than in the external world or Thing-in-itself. Rather than a split between appearance / thing-in-itself or phenomenon/noumenon we now have in Zizek’s metaphysical system the introduction of a split also into the subject, between its thinking and its (not actual life-being but its) non-thought thought, its non-non-thought, between discourse and the Real (not reality). So the point is not only to overcome the inaccessible In-itself by claiming that “there is nothing beyond the veil of semblances except what the subject itself put there,” but to relate the In-itself to the split in the subject itself. (LTN, KL 14543)

This displacement of the noumenal from the external to the internal split within the Subject-in-itself seems to open the world of the daemonic that Eugene Thacker in the epigraph to this essay terms  “a placeholder for some sort of non-human, malefic agency that acts against the human”.

…it has been gone for 2,000 years, either because God withdrew the Holy Spirit or because for one reason or another man lost the method and the notion. And then all that came were daemons rather than daimons— evil spirits only…

-Philip K Dick,  The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

The Split: The Daemonic in the Subject

I am one of those who not only knows that those who sleep in death will awaken, but I know how (and I know it, too, by gnosis, not pistis). Thus I see now that the fact of anamnesis is tied in with the basic, informational quality of the universe. After all, it was information which retrieved me, whereupon I then could distinguish other higher information and learn from it.

– Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

E.R. Dodds in his now classic The Greeks and the Irrational would remind us that the ancient people of Greece, from whom our conceptuality and notions of reason and the irrational first arose, saw the world in daemonic terms as the will of Zeus “working itself out through an inexorable moral law, his characters see only a daemonic world, haunted by malignant forces”.6 Dodds would go on to say,

The daemonic, as distinct from the divine, has at all periods played a large part in Greek popular belief (and still does). People in the Odyssey attribute many events in their lives, both mental and physical, to the agency of anonymous daemons; we get the impression, however, that they do not always mean it very seriously. But in the age that lies between the Odyssey and the Orestia, the daemons seem to draw closer: they grow more persistent, more insidious, more sinister. (GI, KL 794)

The Greeks would in fact begin to see our passional nature, our irrational emotions and intentions as daemons. As Dodds will tell us those irrational impulses which arise in a man against his will to tempt him, such as Theognis calls hope and fear are “dangerous daemons,” or when Sophocles speaks of Eros as a power that “warps to wrong the righteous mind, for its destruction,”  we should not dismiss this as “personification”: behind it lies the old Homeric feeling that these things are not truly part of the self, since they are not within man’s conscious control; they are endowed with a life and energy of their own, and so can force a man, as it were from the outside, into conduct foreign to him. (GI, KL 804) A second type of daemon would be associated with various diseases that would eat away the body such as Cholera, Smallpox, and Plague. Third would be the notion of moira or “portion” of personal luck in which as Theognis laments that more depends on one’s daemon than on one’s character: if your daemon is of poor quality, mere good judgement is of no avail— your enterprises come to nothing. (GI, 907)

Empedocles would teach the Greeks of the occult self which persisted through successive incarnations which he called, not “psyche” but “daemon.” This daemon has, apparently, nothing to do with perception or thought, which Empedocles held to be mechanically determined; the function of the daemon is to be the carrier of man’s potential divinity113 and actual guilt. It is nearer in some ways to the indwelling spirit which the shaman inherits from other shamans than it is to the rational “soul” in which Socrates believed; but it has been moralised as a guilt-carrier, and the world of the senses has become the Hades in which it suffers torment. (GI, KL 3036)

This notion of the split within the Subject as daemon and psyche would have repercussions down through Plato and then into the Neo-Platonists and Christian Gnostics who would inherit these ideas and extend them taking over the notion that we already exist in Hades or Hell and suffer the torments of a Demon King, the Devil or Demiurge. As Dodds would admit the Classical Age inherited a whole series of inconsistent pictures of the “soul” or “self” the living corpse in the grave, the shadowy image in Hades, the perishable breath that is spilt in the air or absorbed in the aether, the daemon that is reborn in other bodies. (GI, KL 3607) Yet, as the Greeks demythologized their society and rationalized it into philosophical concepts and reason the externalization of these daemons would slowly withdraw into the human head as intentions, impulses, and irrational drives pulling and pushing humans into sinister paths.

Plato’s fission of the empirical man into daemon and beast is perhaps not quite so inconsequent as it may appear to the modern reader. It reflects a similar fission in Plato’s view of human nature: the gulf between the immortal and the mortal soul corresponds to the gulf between Plato’s vision of man as he might be and his estimate of man as he is. (GI, KL 4253) Over time the naturalization of these mythical entities into passions, emotions, intentions would resolve them in ways that allowed the political and social control of human behavior. Yet, the rational never quite was able to exclude the older mythical elements from its systems, and even Socrates would do honor to his daemon on his death bed.

In our time Zizek will speak of this daemonic realm of the Real as the pure virtual surface, the “incorporeal” Real, which is to be opposed to the Real in its most terrifying imaginary dimension, the primordial abyss which swallows up everything, dissolving all identities— a figure well known in literature in multiple guises, from Edgar Allan Poe’s maelstrom and Kurtz’s “horror” at the end of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to Pip from Melville’s Moby Dick who, cast to the bottom of the ocean, experiences the demon God:

Carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes … Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke to it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. (LTN, 1579)

Zizek would return us to Plato, to the Real of the Gap: the assertion of the gap between the spatio-temporal order of reality in its eternal movement of generation and corruption, and the “eternal” order of Ideas— the notion that empirical reality can “participate” in an eternal Idea, that an eternal Idea can shine through it, appear in it. As he’ll suggest:

Where Plato got it wrong is in his ontologization of Ideas (strictly homologous to Descartes’s ontologization of the cogito), as if Ideas form another, even more substantial and stable order of “true” reality. What Plato was not ready (or, rather, able) to accept was the thoroughly virtual, “immaterial” (or, rather, “insubstantial”) status of Ideas: like sense-events in Deleuze’s ontology, Ideas have no causality of their own; they are virtual entities generated by spatio-temporal material processes. Take an attractor in mathematics: all positive lines or points in its sphere of attraction only endlessly approach it, without ever reaching its form— the existence of this form is purely virtual; it is nothing more than the form towards which the lines and points tend. However, precisely as such, the virtual is the Real of this field: the immovable focal point around which all elements circulate— the term “form” here should be given its full Platonic weight, since we are dealing with an “eternal” Idea in which reality imperfectly “participates.” (LTN, KL 935)

For Zizek our realm, this universe of material reality is “all there is,” that there is no Platonic true world beyond the cosmos: and, the ontological status of Ideas is that of pure appearing. The question becomes not “how can we reach the true reality beyond appearances?” but “how can appearance emerge in reality?” The conclusion Plato avoids is implied in his own line of thought: the supersensible Idea does not dwell beyond appearances, in a separate ontological sphere of fully constituted Being; it is appearance as appearance. No wonder that the two great admirers of Plato’s Parmenides, Hegel and Lacan, both provide exactly the same formula of the “truth” of the Platonic supersensible Idea: the supersensible

comes from the world of appearance which has mediated it; in other words, appearance is its essence and, in fact, its filling. The supersensible is the sensuous and the perceived posited as it is in truth; but the truth of the sensuous and the perceived is to be appearance. The supersensible is therefore appearance qua appearance … It is often said that the supersensible world is not appearance; but what is here understood by appearance is not appearance, but rather the sensuous world as itself the really actual. (LTN, 953)

The implicit lesson of Plato is not that everything is appearance, that it is not possible to draw a clear line of separation between appearance and reality (that would have meant the victory of sophism), but that essence is “appearance as appearance,” that essence appears in contrast to appearance within appearance; that the distinction between appearance and essence has to be inscribed into appearance itself.(LTN, 969)

Which brings us to the Void. For Zizek appearance as essence is in itself empty, a nothingness manifest, the “nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, “contradiction”), the pure form of dislocation ontologically preceding any dislocated content”. (LTN, 983)

This whole digression brings us back to the inhuman split subject within as the place of this warring, antagonistic, contradictory realm of the daemonic Real.

The Rise of the Archons: Gnosticism, Gnosis, and Nonknowledge

Why do these spiritual beings have mercy on us in the first place? And why do they choose to speak to us through sudden and striking images? Why is their presence always marked by an odd, eerie, weird apparition? Why do they have to pervert nature in order to reveal their messages?

-Armando Maggi, In The Company of Demons

Philosophical sophisticates like Marcus Aurelius are no less vulnerable than the local shoemaker, for, as Marcus’s own philosophy might show,  daimones can turn philosophy itself into a means of subjugating people to their tyranny.7 Pagels in her study on the origin of Satan will trace the concept of daimonies through its Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic variants. The whole of the ancient world was pervaded by the daimonic in both its moral and amoral forms. One finds literature in all pagan or Christian forms pervaded by magic, binding spells, curse tablets, voodoo dolls, and rituals to control and direct daimonies for good or ill.9

In his Against the Heresies Irenaeus relates the origins of the Demiurge:

When she saw that all the rest had a consort, but she herself was without a partner, she sought for one, with whom she might unite; and when she did not  fi nd one she took it sorely, extended herself, and looked down into the lower regions, thinking to  fi nd a consort there. And when she found none she leapt forth, disgusted also because she had made the leap without the goodwill of the Father. Then, moved by simplicity and goodness, she generated a work in which was ignorance and audacity.

This work of hers they call the First Archon, the creator of this world. They relate that he stole from his mother a great power and departed from her into the lower regions, and made the  firmament of heaven in which also they say he dwells.

One hears in this an echo and inversion of the ancient Christian and Greek myths with Sophia, Wisdom, giving birth to the blind demiurge or first Archon who will in turn steal a “great power” from his Mother that will help him reorder and construct the Cosmos: the lower realms of our universe. One thinks of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus, or Pandora’s box of toxic gifts as well… as if the corruption began with the breaking of a taboo, a sacrifice – a blind and tearful progenitor seeking to mold a universe of pure hate and desolation.

Neoplatonism and Pico’s attempted synthesis of all philosophies on a mystical basis are really, at bottom, an aspiration after a new gnosis rather than a new philosophy. At any rate, it was their immersion in the atmosphere of gnosis through their veneration for Hermes Trismegistus which led Ficino and Pico to their religious approach to magic and to their placing of the Magus on a lofty pinnacle of insight, a position very different from that held by the vulgar necromancers and conjurors in former less enlightened times.

-Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Georges Bataille will tell us that in practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action).9 Here we see Bataille revealing the power of darkness and matter as energetic power, both active and creative. Bataille attributes to such sovereign moments of energetic, affective expenditure a sacrificial character. “the principle of sacrifice is destruction,” he writes, “but though it sometimes goes so far as to destroy completely . . . the destruction that sacrifice is intended to bring about is not annihilation. The thing—only the thing—is what sacrifice means to destroy in the victim. Sacrifice destroys an object’s . . . ties of subordination; it draws the victim out of the world of utility” and into the sphere of the sacred.10 (NE, 220)

One might say Bataille was seeking an anti-political left-hand path out of our capitalist prison, a way to exit the system of profits without expenditure that was a living hell for those trapped within its vast mechanisms of clockwork utilitarian culture and practice. And, for Bataille, the only path out was down and into the daemonic heart of “inner experience,” a revitalization of those dark powers of the ancient archons who were the energetic force of excess and transgression. Bataille sought to negate the darkest prison of all: Time.

For Bataille the sacred was a realm of splits and gaps as well. He’d seek through “inner experience” (gnosis or non-knowledge) a exit from the mundane and utilitarian profane work-a-day world, and an entry into the realm of the left-hand path of the dangerous, decaying, morbid sacred. Bataille advances this “duality of the sacred,” extending and radicalizing the features of the “two opposing classes” observed by Durkheim: “pure
and impure,” vivifying and decaying. According to Bataille’s account, the right sacred amounts to a transcendent projection of the profane world; it is rational utility elevated to the level of God or some other exalted figure. The left sacred, by contrast, is the Dionysian dimension of the sacred; it is not accessed in transcendence but activated through the transgression of prohibitions that keep the profane world intact. Whereas the elevated, Apollonian consciousness seeks stable and enduring forms, the disciple of the monstrous, left sacred revels in “ruptur[ing] the highest elevation, and . . . has a share in the elaboration or decomposition of forms” attendant upon intoxication, madness, and artistic profusion. (NE, 221)

This lower left-hand sacred path was for Bataille excessive and  transgressive, escaping assimilation or systematization. In this way, like the chthonic god with which it is affiliated in Bataille’s thought, the left sacred is a “low value” that disrupts both the rational order of utility—the “real world,” conditioned by telic thought and dedicated to useful projects—as well as its divinized counterpart, the right sacred. It is at once activated by, and provokes the death of, the closed,  individual self—the death that grants the experience of continuity.(NE, 221)

It’s in this realm of continuity that the daimonic manifests itself. “Nonknowledge communicates ecstasy,” Bataille writes. “Thus ecstasy only remains possible in the anguish of ecstasy, in this sense, that it cannot be satisfaction, grasped knowledge.” It is in the “dazed lucidity” of ecstatic agnosia that one realizes the sacrificial shattering of the self. In a manner that recalls Freud’s characterization of dreams, this oneiric mystical experience is “heedless of contradictions”; indeed, it proceeds in and through affective and intellectual contradictions, with “as much disorder as in dreams.” This ecstasy is the anti-Hegelian, excessively Nietzschean fomentation of inner experience: the point of extreme “contradiction” in which “circular, absolute knowledge is definitive non-knowledge.” Inner experience is the encounter with the dream knot: a “dream of the unknown . . . the refusal to be everything,” a loss of self in the night of nonknowledge, which carries the “meaning of dream.” (NE, 236)

It’s this sense in Bataille’s gnosis of nonknowledge of coming up against the limit of the human, of sacrifice and the loss of self in immersion with the inhuman core of being, its continuity. As Thacker will remind us

Here again we arrive at the concept of the demon as a limit for thought, a limit that is constituted not by being or becoming, but by non-being, or nothingness. And here we should state what we have been hinting at all along, which is that in contrast to the theology of the demon, or the poetics of the demon, there is something more basic still that has to do with the ideas of negation and nothingness – hence we should really think of the demon as an ontological problem (not theology, not poetry, but philosophy). (DTP, 45)

It’s this sense that the daimon is more about thought and the limits of thought, an ontological problem about limits that brings us back to Kant and the noumenon. As Thacker will state it “if demonology is to be thought in a philosophical register, then it would have to function as a kind of philosoheme that brings together a cluster of ideas that have, for some time, served as problematic areas for philosophy itself: negation, nothingness, and the non-human. (DTP, 45) What the daimonic brings us to is the agonistic confrontation with the Real outside the mundane and profane realm of work and utilitarian values, and into that horizon of possibility where the unthinkable noumenal that philosophy cannot speak is suddenly communicated by the very daimones themselves via a non-philosophical language. (DTP, 2)

This is where Bataille’s impure way of extreme surrealism, an onerism that no longer as in Andre Breton seeks to synthesize the contradictions of the daimonic in some Hegelian sublation, follows rather the monstrous images of dream into the contradictory realms of darkness and decomposition, risking the loss of self as the acceptable transgression needed to raise the energies from their abyss. Thacker mentions Rudolf Otto in regards to this

In the West, Otto argues, there have been two major modes in which this negative thought has been expressed: silence and darkness. To these Otto adds a third, which he finds dominant in Eastern variants of mystical experience, which he terms “emptiness and empty distances,” or the void. Here the negation of thought turns into an affirmation, but a paradoxical affirmation of “nothingness” or “emptiness.” As Otto puts it, “‘void’ is, like darkness and silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every ‘this’ and ‘here,’ in order that the ‘wholly other’ may become actual.” (DTP, 155-156)

Invoking the Powers of Thought: Daimones as Intelligencers

Is qabbalism problematical or mysterious? …Epistemologically speaking, qabbalistic programmes have a status strictly equivalent to that of experimental particle physics, or other natural-scientific research programmes, even if their guiding hypotheses might seem decidedly less plausible than those dominant within mainstream scientific institutions.

-Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Giordano Bruno would describe transnatural magic as the power of invoking the Mind’s daimons:

The methods of the fifth kind of magic are words, charms, the reasons of numbers and times, images, forms, seals, symbols, or letters. This magic is intermediary between natural magic and extra- or supranatural magic. the most suitable name for it is mathematical magic or, rather, occult philosophy.

The sixth kind is achieved by means of the cult or invocation of external or superior intelligences or agents, through prayers, incantations, fumigations, sacrifices as well as certain customs and ceremonies directed toward the gods, demons, and heroes. The results to contract the spirit into itself in such a way that the spirit is changed into the receiver and instrument and appears endowed with the wisdom of things, but this wisdom can easily be withdrawn, at the same time as the spirit, by means of sufficient remedies. This is the magic of the hopeless, who become recipients of evil demons caught with the help of the Art [Ars notoria]. Its purpose is to command the lower demons through the authority of the higher demons; the latter, one cultivates and attract; the former, one exorcises and controls. This form of magic is transnatural or metaphysical and is called theurgia. (EM, 157)

Couliano’s readings of these thinkers who revitalized the hermetic, magical, and gnostic forms of thought Ficino, Bruno and others gives us a view onto these ancient worlds of the Medieval Mind that have recourse to sources of thought and literature that preserved these traditions and practices out of Greece, Rome, Alexandria, and kept them buried in the vast libraries of the Catholic world. Bruno would castigate the authors of the Malleus maleficarum as obscurantists who knew nothing of the magical arts:

Recently, the words “magician” and “magic” have been denigrated: we have not taken this into consideration at all. The magician has been called stupid and evil sorcerer who has obtained, through dealings and pact with the evil demon, the faculty to do harm or to enjoy certain things. This opinion is not shared by wise men of philologists, but it is taken up by the hooded ones [bardocuculli; that is, monks] such as the author of the Malleus maleficarum. In our day, this definition has been reassumed by all sorts or writers, as we can observe by reading the catechisms for the ignorant and for drowsy priests. (De Magia, III, EM, 157)

It is from Bruno that the philosophical aspects of demonology will become more mainstream within Catholicism. Demons he would tells us are invisible spirits who have the ability to act upon the intelligence and judgment. They produce visual and auditory hallucinations, sometimes simultaneously. Bruno differentiates five categories of demons. The first, who corresponds to Psellus’s subterranean and aquatic demons, are bruta Animalia and have no sense. The second, who inhabit ruins and prisons, are “timid, suspicious and credulous.” They can be invoked, since they are capable of hearing and understanding spoken language. The third are of “a more prudent king.” They inhabit the air and are especially redoubtable since they lead a man astray through imagination and false promises. The fourth, who inhabit the airy regions, are beneficent and resplendent. The fifth, who inhabit the stellar light, are sometimes called gods or heroes but in reality they only agents of the one and only God. The cabbalists call them Fissim, Seraphim, Cherubim, etc. (De Magia, III, EM 427-428)

Bruno’s philosophy cannot be separated from his religion. It was his religion, the “religion of the world”, which he saw in this expanded form of the infinite universe and the innumerable worlds as an expanded gnosis, a new revelation of the divinity from the “vestiges”. Copernicanism was a symbol of the new revelation, which was to mean a return to the natural religion of the Egyptians, magic…

-Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Demonic possessions in this house are not unknown. Is this really Keith, her father? taken when she was half her present age, and returned now as not the man she knew, but only the shell— with the soft meaty slug of soul that smiles and loves, that feels its mortality, either rotted away or been picked at by the needle mouths of death-by-government— a process by which living souls unwillingly become the demons known to the main sequence of Western magic as the Qlippoth, Shells of the Dead. . .

-Thomas Pynchon,  Gravity’s Rainbow

For several centuries we’ve heard the Grand Narrative of the separation of scientific thought out of this ancient world of sorcery, hermeticism, magian literature, kabbalah, occult and arcane practices of witchcraft and other forms. To what end? Is there anything behind this other than the delusions of mythographers and poets? Is the strange and weird worlds of this hidden realm of thought have any place in our world now? One sees the vestiges of it in the soupy sweetness of various forms of New Age obscurantism. Yet, one also sees Universities sponsoring Esoteric studies and an occult revival at reputable universities in such works as Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (here). At night on American television one can see a myriad of programs in the pop-cultural sphere of ghost hunters, channelers: or people who speak with the dead, etc., along with occult or other magical or witchcraft programs as if the ancient sorceries were still well and alive in the madness of the mass mind. Is the unknown at the limits of the mind’s tether opening up to the noumenal sphere once again? Is the noumenal part of the split internal to the core of our inhuman monstrousness? Or, is it rather the Real at the heart of the abyss within which we are all situated? Who can answer? Are the demons speaking, sending us messages from the dark places?

Zdzislaw Beksinski - 1978 (4)

I know it’s true; I mean, I know now that what I’ve been seeing which I assumed was many sources, many doctrines, was and is the worldview and knowledge, the gnosis and secret wisdom…

-Philip K.Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

On January 7, 1994 Alan Moore would spend part of an evening talking to an entity who claimed to be a Goetic demon first mentioned in the Apocrypha (Moore would later weave Goetic demons into Promethea). He struggled over whether the demon was purely internal, that is, a projection of his psyche, or whether it was external and more or less what it claimed to be. In the fantastic paradoxical pattern that will structure all that follows, Moore confesses that the most satisfying answer is that it was both: “That doesn’t make any logical sense but that satisfied me most emotionally. It feels truest.”

“These are gnostic experiences,” the writer declares. “You’ve either had them
or you haven’t.” By gnostic, Moore means a particular kind of direct and immediate
experiential knowledge of one’s own divinity that cannot be reduced to reason or faith
and stands very much opposed to the consensus reality of society and religion: “Faith is for sissies who daren’t go and look for themselves. That’s my basic position. Magic
is based upon gnosis. Direct knowledge.”12

The dark side of the Etz Chiim is also called the Tree of Death and considered to represent the reverse or occult side of the Tree of Life. It is a diagram of the evil forces or Qliphoth (hebrew, Shells) assigned to each Sephiroth. They represent the counter-forces of the ten divine emanations as described in Lurianic Kabbalah. The Tree of Death, however, essentially is a creation of 20th century Western occultism rather than genuine Jewish Kabbalah.


“The Devil is composed of God’s ruins’” 

-Eliphas Levi, Dogma and ritual

The Qliphoth are the evil forces that exist within creation. Their coming into existence was one of the central philosophical problems dealt with after the forced displacement of Jews from Spain in 1492. Similarly like World War II positioned the  theodicy problem (i.e. ‘How can a merciful God allow evil in creation?’) in the centre of Christian speculation, it was the banishment from Spain in 1492 that was perceived as similar fundamental and unanswerable paradox for the Jewish communities. After all the Jews were God’s chosen people, yet the banishment from Spain had destroyed the first perceived state of freedom and homeland since the destruction of the Second Temple.

During his short years in Safed – where many Kabbalists arrived from Spain – it was Isaac Luria who tried to answer this unanswerable question with revolutionary freedom of thought. His main key was to transcend the idea of a fall of man from the Garden Eden into the actual process of creation of the world itself. Thus, with a single stroke he transcended the origin of evil from human to cosmic level. This revolutionary thought of a cosmogonic fall of creation will be sketched out in a highly abbreviated and insufficient form in this first chapter.

The Lurianic process of creation starts with a voluntary act of the Divine to confine itself within itself. The Divine in the final state before creation is called Ain Soph Aur which can be translated as ‘borderless light of non-creation’. In order for the Divine to become diversified and active in creation it had to create a space, a vacuum of non-being into which it could immerse itself by help of a sequence of ten subsequent emanations from the Ain Soph Aur. Nine of these emanations would express one perfect aspect of the nature of the Divine each and they would all unite and come together in the tenth. For these emanations – and all subsequent creation – however, to be differentiated from the perfect borderless light (Ain Soph Aur) they had to be in a confined space of emptiness which they could subsequently fill with life. This ongoing process of the Divine confining itself within itself in order to create space for creation is a key concept of Lurianic Kabbalah and called Zimzum (also, Tzimtzum).

Into this vacuum of non-being the Divine released a single ray of light. This ray of light emerged from the Ain Soph Aur, entered into the empty space of creation and started to bring forth the matrix of all life in ten distinct emanations. These emanations are illustrated as ten ‘first-lights’ which the author of the Sefer Yetzirah introduces by the name of Sephira (singular) or Sephiroth (plural).

One by one, each light would be captured in a vessel made of clay in order to transfer their state of pure being into one of becoming and creation. Each vessel had a specific name, function and shape, perfectly expressing the idea of creation it represented and brought to life by the light it captured. The sequence of filling these vessels with light is called Seder Hishtalshelus (the order of development).

This process went well for the first four Sephiroth, which all came forth from the veil of non-being into the vacuum of creation. The shell of the fifth Sephira, however, turned out to be not solid enough in order to capture the light that emanated into it. The fifth point or light and vessel in the sequence of creation was dedicated to the idea of Strength or Severity (hebrew, Geburah). Thus the clay vessel broke due to the overflowing light of Strength in it and the process of creation continued with the remaining five Sephiroth.

Yet, even though creation continued the original vessel of Geburah couldn’t be restored. This, finally,  is the way how evil managed to enter into creation by shape of untamed Strength or Severity. This momentous event during the first ten emanations is called Schebirath ha-Kelim (hebrew, breaking of the vessels) and marks the birth of the ten original demonic forces, called Qliphoth (hebrew, shells).

The broken parts of the original vessel of Geburah sank down to the bottom of the Zimzum space of creation. Just like droplets of oil remain on the surface of a broken clay vessel the light of creation remained captured on these shells. It is these remains of divine light which are the reason why the broken shells weren’t lifeless but filled with a shadow-like yet highly effective state of demonic being.

This process lays open the essential nature of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah. Just like flames devour its own aliment while burning, the only reason for the Qliphoth to come into being were the original sparks of divine light captured on their shells. In case one managed to separate the oil from the clay surface or the flame from the coal the flame immediately disappeared and the coal was left without life.

The Qliphoth therefore continuously strive for new aliment, just like flames constantly need new coals to keep burning. Yet, at the same time they destroy their very reason for being when they come in touch with it. It is this paradox of using creation to maintain the existence of destruction that marks the essence of demonic forces in Lurianic Kabbalah.

This is also the reason why Western occultists started to call this dark side of the Etz Chiim the Tree of Death. The forces who came to life in the process known as Schebirath ha-Kelim cannot be mistaken for demons in a graeco-egyptian or medieval sense. The Qliphoth aren’t former celestial or chthonic deities related to a foreign cult or religion which were redefined by Kabbalists at a later point. The Qliphoth are an authentic kabbalistic creation in order to explain evil in creation. As each of them reveal by nature of their name their urge is to conceal and suffocate the seeds of life – and to ultimately destroy man’s aspiration and pursuit of finding beauty in every aspect of creation.

(Note Sources: Gershom Scholem – On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism; On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah; Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah; Kabbalah)13

The Gateway to Ignorance and Silence

Because our knowledge is ignorance, or because it is neither knowledge of anything there nor the understanding of any truth, or because even if there is some entrance to that [truth], the door may not come open except by means of ignorance-which is simultaneously  path, gatekeeper, and gate.

-Giordano Bruno. The Cabala of Pegasus

Bruno conceived of a daimonic continuum existing between the human and divine realms. Bataille dreams of the split in the sacred of divine realms and impure and corrupting powers leading to immanent ecstasy and horror neither sublime nor ridiculous, instead a lifting up into the downward abyss of things unknown and impossible, a self-lacerating jouissance at once macabre, obscene, and morbid revealing the realms of the archontes in their blackened night of horror. As Thacker will remark,

If historical mysticism still had as its aim the subject’s experience, and as its highest principle that of God, then mysticism today – after the death of God – would be about the impossibility of experience, it would be about that which in shadows withdraws from any possible experience, and yet still makes its presence felt, through the periodic upheavals of weather, land, and matter. If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet. (DTP, 158)

 And what lies in the dust of the planet if not as Iamblichus once affirmed negatively, the “archons of the midnight sun who guide the terrible rays,” where a picture emerges that presents the descent into the elements of the material world’s envoys, those alien ones from the darkest labyrinths of silence:

It is hard to believe the Gnostics did not manifest above all a sinister love of darkness, a monstrous taste for the obscene and lawless archontes, for the head of the solar ass… a peculiar licentious Gnostic sect with their sexual rites fulfills this obscure demand for baseness that is irreducible and commands our indecent respect even as it continues in the  black magic traditions to the present day. (VE, 48)

  1. Allison, Henry E. Essays on Kant. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 7, 2012)
  2. Allison, Henry E. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense. Yale University Press; Revised ed. edition (March 11, 2004)
  3. Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 14510-14513). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  4. Metzinger, Thomas. The Ego Tunnel (p. 1).  Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  5. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1
  6. Dodds, E. R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) (Kindle Locations 776-777). University of California Press; 2 edition (June 16, 2004)
  7. Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics. Vintage; Reprint edition (October 12, 2011)
  8. Ankarloo, Bengt; Clark, Stuart. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Pennsylvania 1999
  9. Bataille, Georges. Visions Of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 (Theory and History of Literature Vol 14)  University of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (June 20, 1985)
  10. Jeremy Biles, Kent Brintnall (Editors). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP)) Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  11. Ioan P. Culianu. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987)
  12. Jeffrey J. Kripal. Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (December 21, 2015)
  13. Scholem, Gershom. Conf. On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism Schocken; Revised ed. edition (January 30, 1996);  On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah  Schocken (March 30, 2011); Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah  Princeton University Press; Revised ed. edition (January 1, 1976); Kabbalah Doreset Press; 1St edition (December 1987)

Cormac Mccarthy: The Kid Meets the Glanton Gang in Chains

The Kid in chains sees the Glanton Gang for the first time with the Judge among them:

They saw black-eyed young girls with painted faces smoking little cigars, going arm in arm and eyeing them brazenly. They saw the governor himself erect and formal within his silk mullioned sulky clatter forth from the double doors of the palace courtyard and they saw one day a pack of vicious looking humans mounted on unshod indian ponies riding half drunk through the streets, bearded, barbarous, clad in the skins of animals stitched up with thews and armed with weapons of every description, revolvers of enormous weight and bowie knives the size of claymores and short two barreled rifles with bores you could stick your thumbs in and the trappings of their horses fashioned out of human skin and their bridles woven up from human hair and decorated with human teeth and the riders wearing scapulars or necklaces of dried and blackened human ears and the horses raw looking and wild in the eye and their teeth bared like feral dogs and riding also in the company a number of half naked savages reeling in the saddle, dangerous, filthy, brutal, the whole like a visitation from some heathen land where they and others like them fed on human flesh.

Foremost among them, outsized and childlike with his naked face, rode the judge. His cheeks were ruddy and he was smiling and bowing to the ladies and doffing his filthy hat. The enormous dome of his head when he bared it was blinding white and perfectly circumscribed about so that it looked to have been painted. He and the reeking horde of rabble with him passed on through the stunned streets and hove up before the governor’s palace where their leader, a small black haired man, clapped for entrance by kicking at the oaken doors with his boot. The doors were opened forthwith and they rode in, rode in all, and the doors were closed again.1

  1. Cormac Mccarthy Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (Kindle Locations 1359-1366). Modern Library. Kindle Edition.

Steven Shaviro Quote: “The Very Life of the Darkness”

“The Very Life of the Darkness”: A Reading of Blood Meridian Steven Shaviro (quote):

Western culture has dreamed for centuries of some act of heroic transgression and self-transformation: whether this take the Enlightenment form of rational mastery, or the romantic and mystical one of apocalyptic transfiguration. [Cormac] McCarthy, like Nietzsche, exposes not just the futility of the dream, but far more troublingly its inherent piety, its ironic dependence upon the very (supposed) mysteries that it claims to violate. What is most disturbing about the orgies of violence that punctuate Blood Meridian is that they fail to constitute a pattern, to unveil a mystery or to serve any comprehensible purpose. Instead, the book suggests that “a taste for mindless violence”  is as ubiquitous and as banal as any other form of “common sense.” Scalping has been a common human practice for at least 300,000 years, as one of the epigraphs to the novel suggests. Acts of destruction are as casual, random and unreflective as acts of kindness and civility which also occur at odd moments in the course of the narrative. The judge demonstrates this point with cynical clarity when he calmly scalps a young child after having rescued it and carried it about and played with it for three days; for all that he and his mates have just destroyed an entire defenseless village, Toadvine is scandalized. Toadvine is incapable even of imagining transgression; he robs and kills precisely to the extent that such acts seem to him within the normal order of things. The judge, on the other hand, transgresses only in an ironic mode: by his lights, the perversity of scalping the child after it has come to trust him is no greater than the initial perversity of rescuing it from an otherwise total holocaust. In both cases, actual transgression is impossible. Transgression is an endeavor to exhaust the world, to compel it to reveal itself: as the judge puts it, “Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth” (198). Such is the self-transcending project of Enlightenment. And we might be tempted to say that whereas all the other characters kill casually and thoughtlessly, out of greed or blood lust or some other trivial cause, only the judge kills out of will and conviction and a deep commitment to the cause and the canons of Western rationality.

Our order is never the world’s order, not even in the Nietzschean sense of an order that we impose. We mark out paths in the desert or we read the tracks of others, but we cannot thereby master futurity or compel events to our liking. For subjectivity is not a perspective upon or projection into the world, nor even a transcendental condition for our perception of the world; it is just another empirical fact, an inherence within the world like any other. There is no interiority, no intentionality and no transcendence. The radical epistemology of Blood Meridian subverts all dualisms of subject and object, inside and outside, will and representation or being and interpretation. We are always exiles within the unlimited phenomenality of the world, for we cannot coincide with the (nonexistent) center of our being: “the history of all is not the history of each nor indeed the sum of those histories and none here can finally comprehend the reason for his presence for he has no way of knowing even in what the event consists. In fact, were he to know he might well absent himself and you can see that that cannot be any part of the plan if plan there be”. And so, just as we can never possess the world (since we cannot even possess ourselves), by the same logic we can never transgress the order of the world or estrange ourselves from it no matter how hard we try.1

  1. Edwin T. Arnold, Dianne C. Luce (editors). Perspectives on McCarthy. University Press of Mississippi; Revised ed. edition (December 20, 2012)

The Satyr’s Play


The Gnostics were the first in a long line of dualists; yet, rather than asking how Evil came into the world, they asked the opposite question: How did the Good ever come to be in such an evil cosmos. Whereas the ancient Greeks saw harmony and order, the Gnostics saw nothing but chaos, waste, and disarray – a realm of pure spite and horror. The postmodern discursive idealist or anti-realist will offer a third option: How did we ever conceive these strange Ideas of Good and Evil, and how did they ever get attached to the World to begin with? Stuck in the no man’s land between the abyss and the abyss: we wander in-between unable to escape the dilemma of doubts and uncertainty, so we sit on the hedgerow of the fantastic, pondering whether it is the marvelous or the uncanny that seems to lure us onward. Like comic denizens of the oscillating limits of reason we run between the poles of inside/outside ironically seeking a way out of the maze of discourse – or, as some today call it “the Kantian correlational circle,” bound to the limits of the Mind’s own cage or prison: some push it to the max from within, others to limits of the outside, all the while both are driven by forces they do not know or control, tendencies that pull them hither and thither in a comedy of fatal strategies.

We ponder the political dualisms of progressive or reactionary defiance in our time as if they were the dark and violent harbingers of things to come. Like “two pit bulls before the gates of hell” they tear and rend each other to shreds not realizing the game is up and they are both twined victims caught in the mesh  of a sadistic and impersonal universe of dark ecstasy and lust that neither knows who are what they are; nor does it care whether we win or lose, or how play the game: it has its own game, and it is not human. We are insignificant gnats on a slime ball floating on the edge of a particularly diminished spiral galaxy on the edge of nothingness… the nothing that is and the nothing that is not. Whatever is in the unfathomable distances of this vastation is without human meaning or value. All gods or myths were mere defenses against our loneliness in a universal graveyard of dead stars. When the last star dims and goes out there will remain only dust traveling in a blacker than black abyss of night. To where? To nowhere…

Living in a blind realm of infinite force plying our games upon the formless complexity of a realm without beginning or end we seem to think we’re special, exceptional – the favored of gods of fate. As if freedom were just another word for infinite power we blindly move forward seeking advantage over the world and our own kind without realizing we are constructing our own hellish paradise on planet earth, digging the graves of our children’s future today. And like the ancient Greek’s and their theatre of cruelty the only resolution to a night of tragedies is the Satyr’s Play, the gambols of comedy and ridicule, of sacrifice and jubilation, of bloodletting and war to bring in the morning Sun… in such a world only laughter stirs the blood to light.

The Beautiful Prison of Light

Kyõto is the City of Endless Allusions, where nothing is identical to itself, and never could have been, every individual part points backward to the great collective, to some unpreservable Glory, from where its own self of today originates, a Glory that subsists in the hazy past, or which the mere fact of the past created, so that it is not even possible to grasp it in one of its elements, or even to glimpse it in something which is here, because he who tries to see into the city loses even the very first element of it…

…there is only the Colossal Agglomeration of Stipulations, the etiquette that functions above all things and extends to all things; this order that cannot, however, be completely grasped by a human being, this Prison of Complexity — at once unalterable and mercurial — between things and people, people and people, and furthermore, between things and things, for it is only like this, through this, that existence may be granted to all.

-László Krasznahorkai, Seiobo There Below

Herman Melville: The Horrorism of Whiteness


Ishmael’s Meditation

Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.

Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man’s soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. …there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood. This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds.

What is it that in the Albino man so peculiarly repels and often shocks the eye, as that sometimes he is loathed by his own kith and kin! It is that whiteness which invests him, a thing expressed by the name he bears. The Albino is as well made as other men—has no substantive deformity—and yet this mere aspect of all-pervading whiteness makes him more strangely hideous than the ugliest abortion. Why should this be so?

And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions do we fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog—Yea, while these terrors seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the evangelist, rides on his pallid horse.

…not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things… and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues—every stately or lovely emblazoning—the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge—pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick



The Art of Death Sorcery

The Art of Death Sorcery

To formulate your own death system of necromancy you will need only some skulls, a pen, and the ability to doodle creatively… spending time with the skulls you might consider their individual attributes and the experiences which suggested their decomposition; no experience is entirely wasted, even slime has a half-life. The next step for the purposes of sorcery is the process of geometric elaboration: sigils created to retrieve the demons of one’s mind, enabling the potentials for absolute destruction. Practice makes perfect… the slow death of the sun can be accelerated with practice. This is no easy art…

-Austin Osman Spare, The Art of Death Sorcery

The Sacred Plants of Earth

Plants of the Gods

The use of hallucinogenic or consciousness expanding plants has been a part of human experience for many millennia, yet modern Western societies have only recently become aware of the significance that these plants have had in shaping the history of primitive and even of advanced cultures. In fact, the past thirty years have witnessed a vertiginous growth of interest in the use and possible value of hallucinogens in our own modern, industrialized, and urbanized society.

Hallucinogenic plants are complex chemical  factories. Their full potential as aids to human needs is not yet fully recognized. Some plants contain chemical compounds capable of inducing altered perceptions, such as visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory hallucinations, or causing artificial psychoses that, without any doubt, have been known and employed in human experience since earliest man’s experimentation with his ambient vegetation. The amazing effects of these mind-altering plants are frequently inexplicable and indeed uncanny.

Little wonder, then, that they have long played an important role in the religious rites of early civilizations and are still held in veneration and awe as sacred elements by certain peoples who have continued to live in archaic cultures, bound to ancient traditions and ways of life. How could man in archaic societies better contact the spirit world than through the use of plants with psychic effects enabling the partaker to communicate with supernatural realms? What more direct method than to permit man to free himself from the prosaic confines of this earthly existence and to enable him to enter temporarily the fascinating worlds of indescribably ethereal wonder opened to him, even though fleetingly, by hallucinogens?

– Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hoffmann & Christian Ratsch, Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers

Nightmares of Time

“…there was absolutely naught. Naught was, neither matter, nor substance, nor voidness of substance, nor simplicity, nor impossibility of composition, nor inconceptibility, imperceptibility, neither man, nor angel, nor God ; in fine, anything at all for which man has ever found a name. It is nameless…”

-Basilides, The Revanant

“Whoever concocted the world did so under the influence of monsters, incarnations sired from states of self-reflexive revulsion. Reality is horror – it eats people like a carnivorous fog – a construct so diabolical that man has been unwittingly cajoled into adorning the effervescence of his dreams and his fantasies with costumes of malleable terror: ghouls, hybrid creatures, fused entities, seditious organs and limbs, malignant slimes, mythic decapitations, supernatural possession, psychotropic pestilence, brains worm-eaten with paranoia (insanities of truth)… myriad extremities of man’s dull fug.”

– Gary J. Shipley, The Necrology Interview

A pure variant of Ophidian gnosis with the Archons installed as both victors and victims… or, as P.K. Dick once said it: We’re all in the Iron Prison now and the maker threw the keys away long ago, exiled himself, and want be returning this side of eternity. We’ve been left to our own devices, and their not pretty. Caged in a hellish paradise, a funhouse for the mad and insane, we’ve built temporal zones of insipidity and structures of corruption to wile away the infinity of our dark imprisonment in Time.

A bitter truth is that which draws the voyager on! The world, monotonous and petty today, yesterday, tomorrow and forever, makes us see ourselves as an oasis of horror in a desert of ennui!

– Baudelaire

“And those of the corruption will be taken to the place of bones where there is no repentance, and will be kept for the day on which those who have blasphemed the demon will be tortured, and will be punished with eternal life and light, condemned to all eternity to wander the abyss of times and times without end.”

The Lost Books of Basilides the Dammed

We are those fallen, we are the brotherhood of death… this is eternity! Every sacrifice is a reenactment of the first sacrifice, the death of the demon god… all sacrifices repeat the vein gesture of love and catastrophe.

In  about 1923, in Geneva, I  came across some  heresiological book in German, and I  realized that the  fateful  drawing represented a  certain miscellaneous god  that  was  horribly worshiped  by  the  very  same  Basilides.  I  also  learned what  desperate and
admirable  men the  Gnostics  were,  and  I  began  to  study  their  passionate speculations.

-Jorge-Luis Borges, On Basilides

Welcome to the wars of Love, rather than univocal conveyance and the comedy of sociality, the sacrificial gesture begins in utter catastrophic dismemberment and ecstatic horror. “To  those  who  have  followed  me  thus  far I owe  a full explanation. I offer an inhuman image  of man,  and  I know  that  the  air  about  me  grows  irrespirable. In saying that the bloody fantasies  of sacrifice had meaning, I have justified our Molochs  at their darkest.” (Bataille, Sacrifice)

We are not offering a renewal of holocausts, of vast immolations in a heap of skulls, far from it, rather an acknowledgement of the inhuman core of our being, a revelation of the monstrous life at the heart of existence. “I am  of that number  who  pledge men to something  other  than  a  constant  increase  of  production,  and  who  provoke  men  to  sacred  horror.  And  this  demand, in conflict with  common  sense,  must  be justified  by  something  more  than  vague  notions about  the  stars.” (Bataille, Sacrifice)

Salvation,  for  this  disillusioned heresy, involves a mnemotechnical effort by the dead, much as the  torment of  the Savior is  an optical illusion… -Jorge-Luis Borges, On Basilides

A disquieting question still offers itself up to us: How  was it that everywhere  men  found  themselves,  with  no prior mutual agreement, in accord on an enigmatic  act, they all felt the need  or the obligation to put living  beings  ritually to  death? (Bataille) Even now, at this late date, when we seem to have ended the sacrificial offering and bloodletting we look around us and see it under a new guise, a world of plunder and mayhem, of death and rapture, of throngs ready to obliterate, terrorize, dismember each other and tear the fleshly life of the social body into ruination. We need the dead as much as they need us, without the sacrifice to the dead we stop the world and time: remaining in a vacuum without outlet, cut off from the living and the dead we are ghosts wandering the abyss of frozen time.

Bataille would link the quiet man, the man who lives out his life in the Human Security System, protected and working, raising children, performing his civic duty in the shadows never harboring anything but the utilitarian vision of his country. Bataille would link this quiet man with death,  tragic  terror,  and  sacred ecstasy; say of him that living in this world of denial, this false semblance of civilization, this artificial paradise against the truth of cosmic horror he remains ignorant of who and what he is. Ignorant of the inhuman beast lurking in the shadows like a dark force for destruction, awaiting its moment to be set loose upon the world.

The philosophers will not help us, the sociologists know nothing of such terrible worlds. “Discourse  on  being,  metaphysics, is meaningless if it ignores life’s  necessary  game  with  death.” (Bataille) He will come upon a truth: It  is  in  the satiety  of knowledge
that  a man  comes  to recognize  himself  in  his  distant  ancestors. It is to the burden of the dead we return to again and again, the dead must be offered sacrifice by the living, the eternal round – the game of death begins and ends in self-immolation. The laughter begins in anguish…

“…the participant in  a sacrifice  communicates  only the anguish itself  to me,  without lifting it. The  performer of sacrifice and its witnesses  behave  as though there were only  one  meaningful  value,  only  one  that  possibly  matters: anguish.  This anguish  of sacrifice may  be weak;  all things  considered, it is really the strongest possible, so strong that  were  it  to  be slightly  more  so, the  onlookers  could  no longer  be  gathered, the  sacrifice  would  have  no  further  meaning,  would  not take place.  Anguish is maintained  at varying levels  of tolerance;  sacrifice being the communication of anguish (as laughter is the  communication  of its dispersion), the sum of anguish communicated theoretically approaches the sum of communicable anguish.” (Bataille)

One remembers the substitution, the symbolic gesture, the memory of the act of sacrifice, the burden of communion:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Darkness begets darkness and the demons abound, the eating of bodies, the drinking of blood… the sacrifice, the anguish, the laughter, the dispersion… the delirium:

Man  makes his appearance  on  the surface of a celestial body in an existence commingled  with  that of plants  and of other animals.  This  celestial body  appears at some  point  of empty  space, in  that immensity revealed  at night,  driven  by a complex  movement  of  dizzying  speed… (Bataille, Celestial Bodies)

Only one sacrifice remains… “Through loss  man  can regain the  free movement  of the universe,  he  can dance  and  swirl in the  full rapture  of those  great swarms  of stars.  But he must, in the violent expenditure  of self,  perceive  that  he  breathes  in  the  power  of  death.” (Bataille) Death, death alone is our savior, our god, for he is the inexistent, the nameless force of life itself in its necessity – the fatalism of the eternal return. We are dead, this is life.; there is no other… there is no there is. This has happened before, it will happen again. This is the anguish turned laughter in the cosmic funhouse of eternity…

In  the first  centuries of our era,  the Gnostics disputed with the Chris­tians. They were annihilated, but we can imagine their possible victory. Had Alexandria triumphed and not Rome, the bizarre and confused stories that I have summarized would be coherent, majestic, and ordinary. Lines such as Novalis’ “Life is a sickness of the spirit,”   or Rimbaud’s despairing “True life is absent; we are not in the world,” would fulminate  from  the  canonical books.

-Jorge-Luis Borges, On Basilides


The Sacred Conspiracy of Georges Bataille

A nation already old and corrupted which will courageously shake off the yoke of its monarchical government in order to adopt a republican one will only be able to maintain itself by many crimes, for it is already in crime, and if it wants to pass from crime to virtue, that is, from a violent to a gentle state, it will fall into an inertia which will soon result in its certain ruin.


That which had a political face and imagined itself political will unmask itself one day and reveal itself to be a religious movement.


Today solitary, you who live separated, you will one day be a people. Those who appointed themselves will one day form an appointed people – and it is from this people that will be born the existence that surpasses man.


From Acephale, 1st year, June 24, 1936:

What we have undertaken should be confused with nothing else, cannot be limited to the expression of an idea and even less to what is justly considered art.

It is necessary to produce and to eat: many things are needed that are yet nothing, and this is equally the case with political agitation.

Before fighting to the bitter end, who thinks to leave his place to men it is impossible to look upon without feeling the need to destroy them? But if nothing could be found beyond political activity, human greed would meet nothing but the void.

WE ARE FEROCIOUSLY RELIGIOUS, and insofar as our existence is the condemnation of all that is recognized today, an internal requirement wants us also to be imperious.

What we are undertaking is a war.

It is time to abandon the world of the civilized and its light. It is to late to want to be reasonable and learned, which has led to a life without attractions. Secretly or not, it is necessary to become other, or else cease to be.

The world to which we have belonged proposes nothing to love outside of each individual insufficiency: its existence is limited to its convenience. A world that can’t be loved to death – in the same way a man loves a woman – represents nothing but personal interest and the obligation to work. If it is compared with worlds that have disappeared it is hideous and seems the most failed of all of them.

In those disappeared worlds it was possible to lose oneself in ecstasy, which is impossible in the world of educated vulgarity. Civilization’s advantages are compensated for by the way men profit by it: men of today profit by it to become the most degraded of all beings who have ever existed.

Life always occurs in a tumult with no apparent cohesion, but it only finds its grandeur and reality in ecstasy and ecstatic love. He who wants to ignore or neglect ecstasy is a being whose thought has been reduced to analysis. Existence is not only an agitated void: it is a dance that forces us to dance fanatically. The idea that doesn’t have as object a dead fragment exists internally in the same way as does a flame.

One must become firm and unshakeable enough that the existence of the world of civilization finally appears uncertain. It is useless to respond to those who are able to believe in this world and find their authorization in it. If they speak it is possible to look at them without hearing them, and even if we look at them, to only “see” that which exists far behind them. We must refuse boredom and live only on that which fascinates.

On this road it would be vain to move about and to seek to attract those who have vague impulses, like those of passing the time, laughing, or becoming individually bizarre. One must advance without looking back and without taking into account those who don’t have the strength to forget immediate reality.

Human life is defeated because it serves as the head and reason of the universe. Insofar as it becomes that head and reason it accepts slavery. If it isn’t free, existence becomes empty or neuter, and if it is free, it is a game. The earth, as long as it only engendered cataclysms, trees, and birds was a free universe; the fascination with liberty became dulled when the earth produced a being who demanded necessity as a law over the universe. Man nevertheless remained free to no longer respond to any necessity. He is free to resemble all that is not he in the universe. He can cast aside the idea that it is he or God who prevents everything else from being absurd.

Man escaped from his head like the condemned man from his prison.

He found beyond him not God, who is the prohibition of crime, but a being who doesn’t know prohibition. Beyond what I am, I meet a being who makes me laugh because he is headless, who fills me with anguish because he is made of innocence and crime. He holds a weapon of steel in his left hand, flames like a sacred heart in his right hand. He unites in one eruption birth and death. He is not a man. But he isn’t a god, either. He is not I, but he is more I than I: his belly is the labyrinth in which he himself goes astray, led me astray, and in which I find myself being he, that is, a monster.

What I think and represent I didn’t think or represent alone. I am writing in a small cold house in a fishing village; a dog has just barked in the night. My room is next to the kitchen of Andre Masson, who is moving happily about and singing. At the very moment I am writing he has put on the phonograph a recording of the overture of “Don Giovanni.” More than anything else, the overture of “Don Giovanni” ties what is given me of existence to a challenge that opens up a ravishment outside of the self. At this very instant I look upon that headless being, made up of two equally strong obsessions, become “Don Giovanni’s Tomb.” When a few days ago I was in this kitchen with Masson, sitting with a glass of wine in my hand while he, suddenly imagining his own death and that of his kin, his eyes fixed, suffering, almost crying out that death had to become an affectionate and passionate death, crying out his hatred for a world that made weigh even on death its worker’s hand, already I could no longer question that the lot and the infinite tumult of human life are open not to those who exist like poked out eyes, but to those who are like clairvoyants, carried away by an upsetting dream that could not belong to them.

– Georges Bataille, Acephale, 1st year, June 24, 1936

Georges Bataille: The Intimacy of the Sacred

Today I kept thinking back to those lectures by Alexandre Kojève on Hegel’s Master/Slave Dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit that he presented to the world from 1930 to 1939. Most of the major intellectuals of the era would attend these lectures: Jean-Paul Sartre, Jaques Lacan, Georges Bataille, Simone Weil, etc.. Below I discuss Bataille’s relation to and against Hegel’s dialectic, and his own preference for a non-dialectical and formless thought based on immanence over transcendence, sacred over profane thought: and, the return of the intimate order of immediacy.

Warning: Up front… this post is more specialist. If you’re not versant with Hegel or Bataille you might want to pass. It would take me a great deal of time to set the stage for the conflicts between the two thinkers approaches. This one deals with a specific reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as seen through Alexandre Kojève’s lectures. So if you’re not well read in these areas I’d just pass by on this one… 🙂 I make no qualms about it. I’m jumping into the midst of the argument rather than setting it up with a lengthy explanatory opening…

We know that the slave, having passed through slavish consciousness in the dialectical reversal engendered by self-negation forms himself as something distinct and durable. He enters, by virtue of his labour, the world of objective reality – he recognizes himself in the world he has transformed by his work; in doing so, he achieves “his authentic freedom,” his ‘true autonomy” (27).

The point being that as the slave transforms the world of objective things he creates the conditions that spawn within him the revolutionary need for recognition, etc.. Having once been a slave to the terror of death (from the Master and the Natural World), this slave, through work, creates a world that is the reflection of his own most value, and by which he seeks to impose this value on others in the renewed struggle for recognition. The creation of the technical world of work thus engenders and reveals the autonomous self-consciousness of the slave.

It’s in this notion of formalism, of self-reflecting objectification through work of a substantial formalism, and the objectifying self-reflection of spirit in the objects of its labours that will of course intrigue Marx later on to reverse this into his own modes… that is another story.

The story I want to relate – more as a spur to thought, than a thought itself is Georges Bataille’s acceptance of aspects of this and rejection of others. Bataille, along with a whole generation of other thinkers from 1930 onward would attend these lectures by Kojeve. But unlike many of the others Bataille would argue against the dialectic in favor of a non-dialectical approach which would exclude both the notion of Hegel’s “recognition,” and his notion of “sublatiion” or synthesis.

Bataille in his Theory of Religion will see in Death, neither a Master nor the driving force of terror shaping human productivity, rather he will speak of “death’s definitive impotence and absence”. (40) Doing so Bataille refuses Hegel’s movement of recognition and its drive toward a telos of final satisfaction or synthesis, replacing it with the “logic of identification and unsatisfied desire”.1 Instead of following Hegel, Bataille just at the point where Hegel’s self-negation kicks in and the path toward recognition would be forged, truncates this and enacts a contrary movement, a movement opposed to this self-perfecting elaboration of objective spirit into absolute knowledge. Rather, Bataille will see in the moment of wavering between the state of being a slave but not yet a master is the liminal zone of the sacred monstrum.

Whereas for Kojève there is liberation into self-recognition, autonomy, and satisfaction; for Bataille self-negation entails no ultimate telos, no goal, no satisfaction – and, rather than the Hegelian logic of recognition there is the logic of identification and the agonistic war of desire interminable. (24) As Biles relates it the Kojèvean master/slave dialectic (his reading of Hegel) is replaces by Bataille with the dualistic opposition or agon of the sacred and profane, the “world of animal immanence and the human world of technology and transcendence” (25). As Biles suggests Bataille will undo the “Hegelian synthesis through a maintenance of antinomies” (25).

Bataille seeks to erase the goal of transcendence and return us to the animalistic immanence of the monstrous sacred where we reenter the world like “water in water” (TOR, 19), a realm of “pure immanence” and continuity.2 For Bataille self-consciousness was neither a mistake as some assume, nor an error but rather a product of thought and distinction. Self-consciousness arose out of utilitarian production of tools for use in hunting and gathering, and the very construction of tools and the knowledge of their use would in turn rearrange the ways we defined our modes of being in the world. As Bataille would say it “the  day we  see  our­ selves  from  the  outside  as another. Moreover,  this  will  depend  on our first having distinguished the other on  the plane  where  manufactured  things  have  appeared  to  us distinctly.”(TOR, 31).

Yet, unlike Kojève’s Hegel who would impart self-consciousness as the great liberator that shaped the course of history, time, and self-negating mastery over nature and civilization, Bataille would remark that this “bringing  of  elements  of  the  same  nature  as  the
s ubject,  or  the  subject itself, onto  the  plane  of objects is always  precarious, uncertain,  and  unevenly  realized”.(TOR, 31). Bataille would hold forth that rather than overcoming our ancient animal heritage in some liberation of self-negation and self-relating consciousness and mastery that we are rather situated in the gap between continuity and discontinuity, bound to neither a world of pure mastery and self-overcoming nor to the escape back into the natural oblivion of pure immanence. Instead we are in the negation of negation, caught between two antagonistic worlds, two powers to which we suffer in pure terror and ecstasy.

One remembers Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus where they ask,

(What if one became animal or plant through literature, which certainly does not mean literarily? Is it not first through the voice that one becomes animal?)

Their point being that Literature is an assemblage. It has nothing to do with ideology. There is no ideology and never has been. All we talk about are multiplicities, lines, strata and segmentarities, lines of flight and intensities, machinic assemblages and their various types, bodies without organs and their construction and selection, the plane of consistency, and in each case the units of measure. (TP, KL 295) It would take me too far afield to tease out the meanings in this passage, let us only mark the notion of a “plane of consistency”:

The plane of consistency (grid) is the outside of all multiplicities. The line of flight marks: the reality of a finite number of dimensions that the multiplicity effectively fills; the impossibility of a supplementary dimension, unless the multiplicity is transformed by the line of flight; the possibility and necessity of flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions. (TP, KL 389-392)

This flattening into the plane of consistency is Bataille’s pure immanence: “In  a  sense,  the  world  is  still,  in  a  fundamental  way, immanence without  a  clear  limit  (an  indistinct  flow  of being  into  being – one  thinks  of the  unstable presence  of water  in  water).” (TOR, 33). For Bataille it is this movement or tendency from the pure plane of immanence toward the profane world of work and utility in which the logic of recognition and satisfaction are the outcome, and the counter-operation of a tendency or disposition toward an undoing and logic of identification and antagonistic desire seeks the path of immanence in the sacred rather than transcendence in the secular order of culture and civilization that is precarious and uncertain, a wavering between ecstasy and horror.

Yet, as Biles maintains the return to immanence is not an exact reduplication of animality, not a return of the Same, but rather to a world that coexists with the profane world rather than obliterating it or erasing it in an eliminative gesture. Instead of  Kojève’s path of mastering animality and one’s transition to “autonomy,” Bataille seeks to undo and cut the ties to the telos logic of the slave/master dialectic altogether through an evasion of goals and final mastery by entering the sacred realm of immanence. Yet, to attain this is for Bataille to understand what Sacrifice entails:

The  principle  of sacrifice  is  destruction,  but though  it sometimes  goes  so  far  as  to  destroy  comp1etely  (as  in  a holocaust),  the  destruction  that  sacrifice  is  intended  to bring  about  is  not  annihilation.(TOR, 43).

Instead of annihilation, “Sac­rifice  destroys  an  object’s  real  ties  of  subordination;  it
draws  the  victim  out  of the  world  of utility  and restores it  to  that  of unintelligible  caprice.” (TOR, 43) In this way we can tie this notion of Bataille with the recent work of Andrew Culp’s whose rehabilitation of the destructive force of negativity by cultivating a “hatred for this world,” offers us a parallel to the ongoing malaise we find ourselves in within our current social, cultural, political dissatisfaction with neoliberal globalism.4 The world Culp is speaking of is not the literal planetary or natural continuum but rather the artificial Human Security Regimes of our global neoliberal order within which we are all enslaved in the master/slave dialectic. As Culp argues,

[the] politics of destruction, which has too long been mistaken for deliberation but is instead exemplified by the war machines of popular insurrection whose success is registered by the streets themselves— consider the words of the Invisible Committee in To Our Friends: “Like any specific strike, it is a politics of the accomplished fact. It is the reign of the initiative, of practical complicity, of gesture. As to decision, it accomplishes that in the streets, reminding those who’ve forgotten, that ‘popular’ comes from the Latin populor, ‘to ravage, devastate.’ It is a fullness of expression  .  .  . and a nullity of deliberation”. By showing the nondurability of what is taken as real, so-called reality itself, communist politics is a conspiracy that writes the destruction of the world. (DD, KL 502-508)

Yet, unlike Culp who seeks a popular insurrection against the Master’s, Bataille offers another path of evasion that seeks to destroy our ties to the Master/Slave dialectic altogether and cut our subordination to the logics of work and utilitarian modes of being; instead, for Bataille we must separate ourselves out, escape the very terms the Master’s have imposed on us, seek to destroy the ties that have bound us to their logic before we can return to the “intimacy” of the sacred.

I quote below an extended passage on this intimate return to the sacred:

The  major weakness  of dualism  is  that it  offers  no  legitimate  place  for  violence  except  in  the  moment  of pure transcendence, of rational exclusion of the sensuous
world. But the divinity of the good cannot be maintained at that degree of purity; indeed, it falls back into the sen­suous world. It is the object, on the part of the believer, of a search for intimate communication, but this thirst for intimacy will  never be quenched.  The good is an exclu­sion of violence and there can be no breaking of the order of separate things, no intimacy, without violence; the god of goodness is limited by right to the violence with which he  excludes  violence,  and  he  is  divine,  open  to  intimacy, only  insofar as  he  in  fact preserves  the  old  violence within him,  which he  does  not  have  the  rigor to  exclude,  and to this  extent he  is  not the god  of reason, which  is  the  truth of  goodness.  In theory this  involves  a  weakening  of  the moral divine  in  favor of evil. (TOR, 80-81).

It is the violence against subordination to the profane power of the Master’s authority and world of the profane that opens us to the relations of intimacy:

In  the  divine  disorder of crime,  I  call  for the violence  that will restore the destroyed order. But in real­ity  it  is not  violence  but  crime that  has  opened  divine intimacy  to  me.  And,  insofar  as  the  vengeance  does  not become  an  extension of the irrational  violence  of  the crime,  it  will  quickly close  that  which  crime  opened.  For only  vengeance  that  is  commanded  by passion  and  a taste for untrammeled  violence  is  divine. The  restoration of the lawful  order is  essentially subordinated to  profane  reality. (TOR, 81).

The destroyed order is that of the order of intimacy itself. “Through medi­ation  the real  order is  subordinated to the search for lost intimacy,  but  the  profound  separation  between  intimacy and  things  is  succeeded  by a  multiplicity  of confusions.” (TOR, 84-85) Yet, it is this maintaining of the “disorder of things” that is Bataille’s strategy:

Under the sover­eignty of morality, all  the operations  that claim to ensure the  return  of the  intimate  order  are  those  that the  real world  requires:  the  extensive  prohibitions  that are  given as the precondition for  the return are aimed  primarily at preserving the disorder of the world of things. (TOR, 85)

Ultimately not only are the violences that morality condemns set free on all sides, but a  tacit debate  is  initiated between the works of salvation, which serve  the  real  order, and those  works  that  escape or evade it…

I’ll need to return to this in a new post to describe the notions of Death, Sacrifice, Intimacy, and Evasion in more depth, but that is for another day.

  1. Biles, Jeremy. Ecce Monstrum: Georges Bataille and the Sacrifice of Form (Fordham University, 2007)
  2. Bataille, Georges, Theory of Religion. (Zone Books, 1989)
  3. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 294-295). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.
  4. Culp, Andrew. Dark Deleuze (Forerunners: Ideas First) (Kindle Locations 73-74). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.


Joseph Addison: The Fairy Way of Writing


From Joseph Addison’s The Spectator No. 419 (1 July 1712).

There is a kind of Writing, wherein the Poet quite loses sight of Nature, and entertains his Reader’s Imagination with the Characters and Actions of such Persons as have many of them no Existence, but what he bestows on them. Such are Fairies, Witches, Magicians, Demons, and departed Spirits. This Mr. Dryden calls the Fairie may of Writing, which is, indeed, more difficult than any other that depends on the Poet’s Fancy, because he has no Pattern to follow in it, and must work altogether out of his own Invention.

There is a very odd turn of Thought required for this sort of Writing, and it is impossible for a Poet to succeed in it, who has not a particular Cast of Fancy, and an Imagination naturally fruitful and superstitious. Besides this, he ought to be very well versed in Legends and Fables, antiquated Romances, and the Traditions of Nurses and old Women, that he may fall in with our natural Prejudices, and humour those Notions which we have imbibed in our Infancy. For, otherwise, he will be apt to make his Fairies talk like People of his own Species, and not like other Setts of Beings, who converse with different Objects, and think in a different manner from that of Mankind;

Sylvis deducti caveant, me Judice, Fauni
Ne velut inanti triviis ac paene forenses
Aut nimium teneris juvenentur versibus—

I do not say with Mr. Bays in the Rehearsal, that Spirits must not be confined to speak Sense, but it is certain their Sense ought to be a little discoloured, that it may seem particular, and proper to the Person and the Condition of the Speaker.

These Descriptions raise a pleasing kind of Horrour in the Mind of the Reader, and amuse his Imagination with the Strangeness and Novelty of the Persons who are represented in them. They bring up into our Memory the Stories we have heard in our Child-hood, and favour those secret Terrours and Apprehensions to which the Mind of Man is naturally subject. We are pleased with surveying the different Habits and Behaviours of Foreign Countries, how much more must we be delighted and surprised when we are led, as it were, into a new Creation, and see the Persons and Manners of another Species? Men of cold Fancies, and Philosophical Dispositions, object to this kind of Poetry, that it has not Probability enough to affect the Imagination. But to this it may be answered, that we are sure, in general, there are many Intellectual Beings in the World besides our selves, and several Species of Spirits, who are subject to different Laws and Oeconomies from those of Mankind; when we see, therefore, any of these represented naturally, we cannot look upon the Representation as altogether impossible; nay, many are prepossess with such false Opinions, as dispose them to believe these particular Delusions; at least, we have all heard so many pleasing Relations in favour of them, that we do not care for seeing through the Falshood, and willingly give our selves up to so agreeable an Imposture.

The Ancients have not much of this Poetry among them, for, indeed, almost the whole Substance of it owes its Original to the Darkness and Superstition of later Ages, when pious Frauds were made use of to amuse Mankind, and frighten them into a Sense of their Duty. Our Forefathers looked upon Nature with more Reverence and Horrour, before the World was enlightened by Learning and Philosophy, and loved to astonish themselves with the Apprehensions of Witchcraft, Prodigies, Charms and Enchantments. There was scarce a Village in England that had not a Ghost in it, the Churchyards were all haunted, every large Common had a Circle of Fairies belonging to it, and there was scarce a Shepherd to be met with who had not seen a Spirit.

Among all the Poets of this Kind our English are much the best by what I have yet seen, whether it be that we abound with more Stories of this Nature, or that the Genius of our Country is fitter for this sort of Poetry. For the English are naturally Fanciful, and very often disposed by that Gloominess and Melancholly of Temper which is so frequent in our Nation, to many wild Notions and Visions, to which others are not so liable.

Among the English, Shakespear has incomparably excelled all others. That noble Extravagance of Fancy, which he had in so great Perfection, throughly qualified him to touch this weak superstitious Part of his Reader’s Imagination; and made him capable of succeeding, where he had nothing to support him besides the Strength of his own Genius. There is something so wild and yet so solemn in the Speeches of his Ghosts, Fairies, Witches, and the like Imaginary Persons, that we cannot forbear thinking them natural, tho’ we have no Rule by which to judge of them, and must confess, if there are such Beings in the World, it looks highly probable they should talk and act as he has represented them.

There is another sort of Imaginary Beings, that we sometimes meet with among the Poets, when the Author represents any Passion, Appetite, Virtue or Vice, under a visible Shape, and makes it a Person or an Actor in his Poem. Of this Nature are the Descriptions of Hunger and Envy in Ovid, of Fame in Virgil, and of Sin and Death in Milton. We find a whole Creation of the like shadowy Persons in Spencer, who had an admirable Talent in Representations of this kind. I have discoursed of these Emblematical Persons in former Papers, and shall therefore only mention them in this Place. Thus we see how many ways Poetry addresses it self to the Imagination, as it has not only the whole Circle of Nature for its Province, but makes new Worlds of its own, shews us Persons that are not to be found in Being, and represents even the Faculties of the Soul, with her several Virtues and Vices, in a sensible Shape and Character.

I shall, in my two following Papers, consider in general, how other kinds of Writing are qualified to please the Imagination, with which I intend to conclude this Essay.

Beginning to collect lore and essays on the heritage of the fantastic… In this famous essay on pleasures of imagination arising from horror, Joseph Addison regards the taste for gothic in literature to be a particularly modern and English phenomenon: “we find a whole creation of the like shadowy persons in Spenser.” The phrase “fairy way of writing” comes from Dryden’s preface to King Arthur.

Already we see in this early essay the Idealist notions of the artificial, the inner gaze, the unreal the power of Invention, the abstract mind’s power over the natural – imagination as deceiver and tempter to the Unreal realms. Strangeness and Novelty, horror of the unknown: the Fantastic Sublime. For Addison it was as allogoriesis that such worlds exist to provide figures suitable for morality plays of the passions. Being a man of his age the notion of these things being anything more than fancy was to enter that sphere of madness. Like many of his time Reason not Imagination ruled the course of human destiny, not to be challenged by the old folklore of past ages of superstition. Yet, he still read such tales so one wonders if under the silence of reason he was not after all a believer in the Old Ways…

Our Necrophilic Culture of Doom

One of the underpinning’s of my thought is that we’re entering the stage of the Last Man Nietzsche once spoke of, the fractured age of a completed nihilism. The point of my research into this whole gamut of the fantastic, marvelous, uncanny, grotesque, macabre, horror, weird, bazzaro, et. al.. is that people have allowed themselves to be lured into a trap… Nietzsche diagnosed it, Bataille expanded on it, Land defined it… Baudrillard codified it… J.G. Ballard fictionalized it… we are victims of our immersion in artificial worlds. We’ve constructed these Human Security Systems to hide from reality, to defend ourselves from the natural world, the indifferent and impersonal cosmos… and it has proved our undoing, our entry into a full-blown civilization of sociopathic schizoids with tendencies to murderous or suicidal impacts.

I sometimes think people assume I affirm the things I write about… that I’m actually for this whole tradition of the fantastic… actually it’s just the opposite… it’s this immersive idealism that has itself spawned our fractured and apathetic civilization we see around us that has entered what Nietzsche termed the stage of the Last Man, the passive and conformist world of the non-human that has merged with his technologies to the point that nothing else matters outside of this little screen. That is completed nihilism… Nietzsche said it was coming… it just came a little sooner than he expected. The cure: he went mad before he finished that part… we’ll have to figure that out on our own.

I see no salvation, no romantic redemption… not sure where you find that in what I say? For the most part I see nothing more than a terminal end ahead, a collapse of the Human Security System.

Nietzsche once diagnosed modern humanity saying it is like a gigantic heap of backyard compost waste, a pile that creaks and moans under the weight of its own decay. Motley, reactive, exhausted, used up, no longer good for anything purposeful…

In diagnosing the modern age as suffering from rot, Nietzsche is indicating that one of its constitutive drives has gotten out of control and is threatening to convulse the body of modernity and choke it to death. That is why décadence is a diagnosis with a terminal prognosis. The reactivity of decomposing matter—its subjection to its own internal dissolution as its driving force—is an exhaustion that inevitably culminates in its own extinction.

Ours is a Necrophilic culture, we feed off the living dead, we are all apathetic Zombies, a herd culture, conforming, homogenized, caged in, bound to the Reality TV syndrome of a visual matrix of image ideologies dumbed down to the nil. Even watching the UK and US election cycles shows just how stupid we’ve all become. We’re far past redemption… we’re in collapse mode of a final corruption and decadence. The outer form of climate collapse is just an affirmation of the collapse that has already taken place within civilization itself. We’re doomed to our own self-loathing, and defeatism… marketed to our own narcissistic self-modulated screen life, we’ve become the avatars of destruction rather than construction, death not life enfolds us in its declining embrace…

Nietzsche would have laughed at the decadence of our artificial culture, our dreams of surpassing organic life, of becoming immortal machines or living transhumanist medical or nanotech glorified monstrosities. He would have seen it as one more escape from life, from the power of health and a imbecilic leap into a neohumanist salvation within machinic being. A machinic life in cold and impersonal systems that conform not to the chance dictates of organic being, but rather to the controlled algorithms of pure logic and binary code. Finally we’d be locked into an external environment, imprisoned in a network of total control and discipline; bound to the strictures of a system of coercion that required only one thing: total obedience. Otherwise one would be expulsed, excluded.

When seriousness is deflected from the self-preservation and the enhancement of the strength of the body—that is, of life—when anemia is construed as an ideal, and contempt for the body as “salvation of the soul”—what else is this if not a recipe for décadence? – Beyond Good and Evil

Décadence is a uniquely Modern disease because its toxicity is particular to a uniquely Western form of life, a Secular and Religious form of life, which has created a condition wherein “the majority of mortals” are now “physiologically deformed and deranged.” This deformity is intrinsic: it is an “expression of the physiological contradiction—of being modern.” This physiology of decay explains the otherwise unnerving biological determinism in Nietzsche’s texts—as one may recall, the prognosis for modernity was terminal because the very definition of décadence entails death: it is a decay that has exceeded its healthy boundaries and convulsed the entire organism.

As Charles Derber in Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States recently said of our Western Civilization ours is a world of sociopaths, that sociopathic individuals in the [West] are often successful and well-adjusted, most of them sane and socially integrated. They are more likely to be conforming to the values and rules of conduct in our society than violating them. It is the rules and values that are at least metaphorically “sick.”1 This homogenized world of conforming individuals who have allowed themselves to be herded into debt regimes.2 Maurizio Lazzarato in his The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition shows us the debt system on our modern global system began long ago in the notion of Credit:

Credit is one of the most effective instruments of exploitation man has managed to create, since certain people, by producing credit, are able to appropriate the labor and wealth of others. (ibid.)

Over time this debt-relation moved from the individual to the nation, and became the model of integration of finance, banks, and monetary systems integrated into a larger international frame that imposed austerity and debt on nations. At first it became a part of what Naomi Klein once termed the Shock Doctrine:

In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that “only a crisis— actual or perceived— produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”  Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo.” He estimated that “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.”  A variation on Machiavelli’s advice that injuries should be inflicted “all at once,” this proved to be one of Friedman’s most lasting strategic legacies.3

The off-loading capital from citizens to bail-out the “too-large-to-fail” banks back in 2007-2008 was the greatest heist in history. Yet, it all began back in the 90’s with the repeal of the Glass-Stegall Act under Bill Clinton’s watch. The financial crisis might not have happened at all but for the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall law that separated commercial and investment banking for seven decades. In 1999, Democrats led by President Bill Clinton and Republicans led by Sen. Phil Gramm joined forces to repeal Glass-Steagall at the behest of the big banks. What happened over the next eight years was an almost exact replay of the Roaring Twenties. Once again, banks originated fraudulent loans and once again they sold them to their customers in the form of securities. The bubble peaked in 2007 and collapsed in 2008. The hard-earned knowledge of 1933 had been lost in the arrogance of 1999.4

To alleviate the failure of the US economy that tanked, and brought down many of the other Western nations as well, a new notion of austerity arose. As Richard Seymour glibly states it “the label ‘austerity’ covers a multitude of sins”.5 As he tells it for parts of the Right, the argument is simple. You can’t spend more than you take in; sound finances means clearing debts as quickly as possible. In this version of events, the state is something like a household, and austerity nothing more than a little belt-tightening. For the Left, which knows that the state is nothing like a household, it looks like a simple bait and switch job, transferring the costs of a crisis of the banks onto the public sector, thus harming working people and protecting the rich. (ibid., 4)

So here we are in 2016 moving into a world of stasis and decay in both the economy, politics, culture, and civilization. Looking to our leaders to solve the mess they created is like going from bad to worse. Politics and a change in party – especially since these parties have become pawns to the very “Establishment” system of monetary, economic, and financial disaster capitalism that they would solve is both ludicrous and idiotic. People are now running on empty, bound to emotion and fear, becoming extreme on Left and Right through populist forms of crisis and violence, the future does not bode well for Western Civilization.

Solutions? Oh… there all over the place, take your pick, almost every journalist who presumes to be an economist or willy-nilly thinker off-the-cuff or not, academic or philosophical outrider seems to have something to offer us these days. Everything from post-capitalism to Inventing the Future (2015). Rutger Bregman in Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-hour Workweek (2016). Bregman’s answer to this dilemma is that we need use this wealth to buy ourselves more time and more security, not more stuff. What he is proposing is that we establish a universal basic income. This idea has a surprising and long history. Did you know that Richard Nixon almost succeeded in enacting it in the United States? And the results have been very positive wherever it has been tried. It has been shown to be a much more cost effective solution to homelessness than the current mishmash of programs provided by the middle class homelessness industry, for example. But the idea was already proposed by Srnicek and Williams in their Inventing the Future… already old hat. As they’d tell us what is needed is a new type of freedom, synthetic freedom:

A primary aim of a postcapitalist world would therefore be to maximise synthetic freedom, or in other words, to enable the flourishing of all of humanity and the expansion of our collective horizons.  Achieving this involves at least three different elements: the provision of the basic necessities of life, the expansion of social resources, and the development of technological capacities.  Taken together, these form a synthetic freedom that is constructed rather than natural, a collective historical achievement rather than the result of simply leaving people be. Emancipation is thus not about detaching from the world and liberating a free soul, but instead a matter of constructing and cultivating the right attachments. …synthetic freedom demands the provision of a basic income to all in order for them to be fully free.  Such a policy not only provides the monetary resources for living under capitalism, but also makes possible an increase in free time. It provides us with the capacity to choose our lives: we can experiment and build unconventional lives, choosing to foster our cultural, intellectual and physical sensibilities instead of blindly working to survive.  Time and money therefore represent key components of freedom in any substantive sense.6

Great… utopia at last, or not? Most of this hopeful thinking is as most of Marxist history, great on paper but the moment we try to implement it things go South. I think the key here is the notion of freedom itself. Is this really something we’re after? Frank Ruda in his latest outing, , tells us that the only way to think freedom is to show that a proper concept of freedom can arise only from a defense of absolute necessity, utter determinism, and predestination.7 For Ruda freedom as we’ve known it has succumbed to the substantialized formalism of Aristotle:

I will argue that one fundamental conceptual maneuver that is necessarily involved in turning freedom into a signifier of disorientation is the tendency to understand freedom in terms of a capacity that one has. However, by defining freedom as a personal capacity, we turn freedom into something that a person has and owns— something that is someone’s property and can be invested in multiple ways. But there is another consequence of this definition of freedom. As soon as we understand freedom as a capacity, we assume that freedom is not only a capacity but also a possibility. But by understanding freedom as a possibility, we conceive of it as already being real and actual in the form of this possibility (that then can be actualized). Reduced to being a capacity, freedom already has its reality (maybe even its full reality) in its possibility. With this conceptual move, freedom as possibility is identified with freedom as actuality. This, however, is a conflation because it leads to the idea that freedom is already real without actually being realized. Against this conflation, which is, as I will argue, fundamentally Aristotelian in nature, this book will attempt to exorcise the last remaining bits of Aristotelianism from contemporary thought. To put it simply, this book seeks to be fundamentally anti-Aristotelian. (ibid.)

He tells us that even the most staunch opponents on the political spectrum or even philosophical divide have fallen back into this substantialized formalism: on one side, people start from the assumption that human beings are always already inscribed into a space of reasons (and thereby cannot but realize reason, since any step they take occurs within this space); on the other, people assume that being as such is dynamic and allows for certain realizations. Both sides identify being with time as the ultimate version of possibility and thereby are both radically Aristotelian in nature. (ibid. KL 119)

Against such a move Ruda “defends fatalism not only as a means of countering indifference and the identification of freedom with a given capacity but also as the very precondition for articulating the proper concept of freedom. I therefore do not claim to develop here a concept of freedom, even though I will occasionally refer to some of its crucial components. I will only delineate its necessary prerequisites”. (ibid., KL 221) He goes on to say:

I will argue that fatalism is an assumption that makes it possible to prepare for what one cannot prepare for— that is, for what Badiou calls an “event.” My argument resembles to some extent what Jean-Pierre Dupuy calls “enlightened doom-saying.”  Dupuy argues that what might seem impossible, namely a final (for example, ecological) catastrophe that would end the present order of things, is nonetheless absolutely certain based on our present knowledge. Assuming that this catastrophe is our destiny might then retroactively change the conditions of possibility of this very destiny. It may retroactively make it possible to change what appears to us as fate. My argument also bears a strong similarity to what Slavoj Žižek calls the “inversion of the apocalypse”— a maneuver that does not take the apocalypse as something that we will have to face in the future but as something that already took place. (ibid., KL 224)

In the book by Dupuy The Mark of the Sacred he argues simply for the Jonah paradox, the notion of the perfect deterrence which deters nothing. He’ll go on to describe the fatalist as the prophet of doom (and I quote at length):

The prophet of doom cannot be satisfied with a sort of supermarket metaphysics in which possible worlds make up a very long aisle of options from which the futures shopper is free to choose. As a fatalist, the prophet tells of events that will come to pass, come to pass as they are written down on the great scroll of Fate— immutably, ineluctably. How, then, can one prophesy a future one does not wish for, so that it will not occur? This is the Jonah paradox, whose logical structure is exactly the same as that of the paradox of perfect (self-refuting) deterrence. The key to the enigma is found in the dialectic of fate and accident that forms the core of existential deterrence, in regarding nuclear apocalypse as something that is at once necessary and improbable. But is there anything really new about this idea? Its kinship with tragedy, classical or modern, is readily seen. Consider Oedipus, who kills his father at the fatal crossroads, or Camus’s “stranger,” Meursault, who kills the Arab under the blazing sun in Algiers— these events appear to the Mediterranean mind both as accidents and as acts of fate, in which chance and destiny are merged and become one.8

As Ruda mentions Zizek and his “inversion of apocalypse” we discover him saying in his Less Than Nothing:

It is against this background that we should read the basic Paulinian notion of living in an “apocalyptic time,” a “time at the end of time”: the apocalyptic time is precisely the time of such an indefinite postponement, the time of freeze in-between two deaths: in some sense, we are already dead, since the catastrophe is already here, casting its shadow from the future— after Hiroshima, we can no longer play the simple humanist game of insisting that we have a choice (“ It depends on us whether we follow the path of self-destruction or the path of gradual healing”); once such a catastrophe has happened, we lose the innocence of such a position, we can only (indefinitely, maybe) postpone its reoccurrence.9

I quoted at length most of this to show how certain aspects of leftist materialist dialectics is seeing into this time or era of  decadence that Nietzsche had described from more reactionary diagnosis on the right. It’s interesting to see that both intellectuals of the right and left are fairly well on the same page of what is happening, even if their proposed solutions diverge. The basic drift from both sides is that the catastrophe from the future has already occurred, but we’ve been blinded to this retroactive occurrence in our sleeping and unthinking lives. Like sleepwalkers we roam the apocalypse of Western Civilization as it fractures into ruination, corruption, and doom squabbling over minor issues of who will be our next Leader. Does it really matter? Should we not realized that like the tale of the young man who stuck his finger in the dike in Holland that it’s a little too late to plug the leak, that sooner or later that plugged hole is going to crack and drown both him and us in a final conflagration? Or, can we do something else? Is it that our very thought patterns are constructing the future we see collapsing upon us? Could we become more creative and envision another alternate future? Maybe enact a new model or hyperstitional meme that might actuate an escape from our present fatal strategies?

When I watch Hilary and Trump, or the strange happenings across the ocean in the UK I think its like the WWII film King of Hearts, where locals flee and, left to their own devices, a gaggle of cheerful lunatics escape the asylum and take over the town — thoroughly confusing the lone Scottish soldier who has been dispatched to defuse the bomb. French director Philippe de Broca’s comic anti-war fable, was not a commercial hit upon its release, but it soon became one of the most enduring cult favorites of its time, and its popularity continues in many circles to this day. Even considering the somewhat heavy-handed obviousness of its message and the whimsical approach de Broca took to the story, the film resonated with a generation of non-conformists and opponents of the Viet Nam war. The notion that those deemed insane by society may actually be saner than the people who put them away was, of course, a highly romanticized view that glided past the painful realities of mental illness. Still, the questioning of authority and senseless brutality was reflective of the counter-culture movement in much of the literature and drama of that era, and it reached a peak of mainstream acceptance with the multiple Academy Award-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

The genesis of the movie can be traced to de Broca’s experience serving as an army newsreel cameraman in the Algerian war. He later said it was his time in North Africa that shifted his focus to comedy, a reaction to the ugliness and brutality of the world around him. The germ of the story itself came from a news item about 50 French mental patients during World War I who left their hospital after it was bombed, dressed themselves up in the uniforms of dead American soldiers, and wandered the countryside until they were mistakenly massacred by German troops.

Yet, in our time it’s our Leaders who have been let out of the asylum to play the part of legit representatives of the people, but instead they are performing the inverse and becoming the perversity of our society’s madhouse. Our leaders are psychopaths who seem hell-bent on destroying what little remains of Western Civilization.

I know at times on my site I’ve had posts on Bataille, Nick Land, Gnosticism and the dark corners of magic, Satanism, decadent authors, New Age conspiracy, etc. … all part of an ongoing subcultural investigation into the dreamworlds of the mass mind that seems to thrive on alien history, ghosts hunters, decopunk gothic and cyberwar, etc. We seem enamored with the bizarre and weird, the strange worlds of the hidden and unknown that surround us, populating it with all sorts of beasties, monsters, frightful creatures of the imagination, when in fact most of it is more about our fears of the natural and artificial worlds we inhabit in our actual lives. Our Symbolic and Natural orders seem to be fracturing around us so we wander in our fantasias seeking solace from the madness only to find worlds much darker and sadistic full of murder and mayhem, sex and mystery. Rather than doing something to change our actual daily lives we fantasize. We try to escape into drugs, rock-n-roll, and sex, else we fall into the extremes of our drive toward death, our thanatropic speed festival in the ultimate death carnival. We seem to be living in a Stephen King novel at the moment with no prospect of escape, and no one is coming to save us: no one. Because no one is there, because “there is no there is” (Ruda).

Nietzsche notes dryly:

“Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep.” Or, as he sighs in Twilight of the Idols, “Nothing avails: one must go forward—step by step further into décadence (—that is my definition of modern ‘progress’ . . . ). One can check this development and thus dam up degeneration, gather it and make it more vehement and sudden: one can do no more.”

  1. Derber, Charles. Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States (Kindle Locations 232-234). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  2.  Lazzarato, Maurizio. The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. Semiotext(e); Reprint edition (August 31, 2012)
  3. Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (pp. 7-8). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
  4. Good post on this, here:
  5. Seymour, Richard. Against Austerity: How we Can Fix the Crisis they Made. Pluto Press (March 19, 2014)
  6. Nick Srnicek; Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Kindle Locations 1522-1527). Verso.
  7. Ruda, Frank. Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations). University of Nebraska Press (May 1, 2016)
  8. Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 3873-3881). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 21888-21893). Norton. Kindle Edition.

In the Uncertain Realms of the Fantastic…

Opening the world to the worlds… as I retrace the heritage from Jan Potoki, E.T.A. Hoffmann on through the worlds of Victor Hugo and his combination of the romantic and grotesque, the Gothic and Macabre spun out of Edgar Poe, Baudelaire, Thomas de Quincey, Nerval, the Symbolists and Decadents, the Aesthetes, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism… Jorge-Luis Borges on through our time… we discover a speculative realism that harbors aspects of our current return to various forms of the Strange, Uncanny, and Fantastic… the weird realism of spectral materialism, objects that seem to withdraw into their own interiors, or the strange entities that return from the noumenal or a dark phenomenological worlds in H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Aston Smith, Arthur Machen, etc., all layering their visions in art, poetry, tales, and philosophy. From the Enlightenment till now its as if there is this dark undertow, a secret brotherhood and sisterhood of visionaries, eccentrics, madmen, wanderers, artists and shamans of the luminous abyss.

It’s as if when Kant had set the limits to Reason, demarcated the realms into phenomenal and noumenon, and forbidden passage into the noumenal realms that certain renegades had said “No, we will not allow your limits to keep us from the dark abyss of time.” So rejected by the normal, rejected by work and utility, commerce and the bright lights of reasonable society these mavericks of the abyss worked in the night, in the deadly alleys of the blackest cosmos seeking the midnight sun, the luminous black wings of the forbidden knowledge outside the limits of culture and sanity. Slowly but surely in tentative steps here and there these indefatigable explorers of the impossible would begin mapping the outer realms of this non-knowledge, this realm of the impossible. What did they discover? What hides in this tradition of revolutionary fantastic? For years I’ve explored the outer fringes of its mappings, explored the art and legacy of the many who returned from the abyss, some mad and insane beyond return, some babbling of wonders and dark mysteries, of strange hinterlands of futurial gleaming’s or the retroactive visions of a scorched earth. Each with his/her own tale to tale…

Been wandering back through a couple of works that are both infectious, unique, and liberating. Both bring to us that revitalization of the transrealism which may be seen as a slight variation on surrealism, with the difference being that the work becomes a part of the artist’s life, a movement within his/her unraveling of our world revealing in the ruins other realms that surround us in the folds of the universe.

In The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth, an adventure in archeo-fantastic in which we time-travel into Philadelphia, where it is the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?

In the Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini we discover a world that has yet to be deciphered, rather what we have is a group of strange and wondrous paintings supplemented by a textual commentary in an unknown language that could be from another world, or our own in another time or universe.  Italo Calvino in a short essay published in his last book of essays, Collection of Sand, tell us of this work:

“In the universe that Luigi Serafini inhabits and describes, I believe that the images were preceded by the written word, by those minute, agile and (we have to admit it) very clear italics of his which we always feel we are just an inch away from being able to read and yet which elude us in every word and letter. The anguish that this Other Universe conveys to us does not stem so much from its difference to our world as from its similarity: similarly the writing could easily have been developed in a linguistic area that is foreign to us but not unknowable.”

Works like John Crowley’s Little Big or his later Secret History of the World or Aegypt Cycle tetralogy seem to move in this same realm of the fantastic, situated between the marvelous and uncanny in a realm of pure uncertainty and doubt in which nothing can be known or decided and everything is open to endless interpretive strategies. The objects we observe can withdraw into their own energetic universe of forces, and yet still interact with us in indirect ways, mediated by our powers and capacities to create and invent the very relations that can lure these hidden realms our of their long lost mazes.

More and more I’m going to be following this new trail that has been with me for a long time… so many of my studies and journeys both in inner and outer spaces of the imaginal have led me to once again take up this uncertain fold of the fantastic real, the power and capacity of the marvelous and uncanny to touch us from the middle-path of the timeless realm of the fantastic where nothing is for sure, nothing decidable yet everything is real, more than real, – transreal…

H.P. Lovecraft: The Fantastic Weird and the Reader’s Sublime

H.P.L. on the Fantastic:

It may be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness than do those who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order. … Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point. … The artist of the fantastic weird attends to all phases of life and thought, seeing they are equally eligible as subject-matter for the work at hand, and being inclined by temperament to strangeness and gloom, the artist of the fantastic weird is the interpreter of those powerful feelings, and frequent happenings which attend pain rather than pleasure, decay rather than growth, terror rather than tranquility, and which are fundamentally either adverse or indifferent to the tastes and traditional outward sentiments of mankind, and to the health, sanity, and normal expansive welfare of the species.1

That notion that materialists – and, of course Lovecraft’s materialism was of the older metaphysical variety – already register – according to him the “phantom world” as a commonplace rather than an exception; and, that this indexing and registrar comes not from an author’s intentionality, or textual or structural engenderment, but from the Reader’s own emotional investment – what used to be termed the Reader’s Sublime – in fear and terror that arises in that veritable “mundane point”: the intersection of the real and unreal, phenomenal and noumenal, the gap in the Real that produces the very fantasia that must be traversed in fear and trepidation. Negotiating the unmapped abyss of emotion and the numinous real that has overwhelmed the very defense systems of the symbolic or cultural frames of reference that affects such dire consequences in the Reader’s mind. The fall into that abyss of uncertainty and non-knowledge, that leaves the wary Reader of both life and the Real in a state of intense non-relation, unable to decide whether what she is seeing  is supernatural or uncanny, transcendent of immanent; just here is the wavering of the fantastic that catches one in the interminable zone of doubt, unable to choose. A loss of will – if such a thing ever existed, that brings one into that fold of thought wherein freedom and fatalism seem to have their habitation and their doom.

This is where Todorov’s point I spoke of in my post yesterday of the oscillation between the marvelous and uncanny that is brought into relation with non-relation or distancing, that weaves one into an interval of uncertainty and undecidable doubt, unable to decide if the object of one’s fear and terror is of the supernatural (“marvelous”) or psychological (“uncanny”) variety, whether it is intrinsic or extrinsic to the mind of the beholder – or, rather an actual external thing in the world. It’s the duration of this event within which the one experiencing it as doubt and uncertainty, falls into that abyss of the impossible, unable to know for sure – a loss of faith in the cultural or symbolic defense mechanisms that have held one in the realms of logic and reason:  this interminable undecidability of the relation-in-itself as a non-relational event, rather than the thing-in-itself that oscillates on the edge of the noumenal horizon of the unreal is what locks one in an intensity of trepidation without outlet, caught between fate and freedom. The key here is the concentration on the relation of the non-relation rather than the object itself, because this allows one to convey a difference in the investigation of the fantastic real that is not accounted for in those theories of the metaphysical fantastic of former thinkers of modernity. This shades us back in all those discussions between Kant and the German Idealists; Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and their progeny… culminating in Freud’s, Bataille’s, and Kristeva’s reflections on the fantastic, disgust, and the art of abject horror or weird realism.

I’ll return to this later today as I continue my research… stay tuned.

  1. Lovecraft, H. P.. The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged. Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

Fantastic Worlds: From the Surreal to the Transreal

The fantastic implies an integration of the reader into the world of the characters; that world is defined by the reader’s own ambiguous perception of the events narrated.

-Tzvetan Todorov – The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre

The quote above entails absorbing the reader into the fantastic worlds of the characters, but what if the reverse were true; what if what is needed is to integrate the fantastic world of the unreal – allow those uncertain characters and events that seem to shift between the marvelous and uncanny – into our world, allow both the natural and unnatural or transnatural to intermix in that uncertain duration – that interval of time, we in our unknowing, call the fantastic real?

The Surrealists once believed they were constructing a bridge to the fourth-dimension, an inter-dimensional bridge of art, poetry, dance, and imaginal impossibilities. They believed that the ancient arts of the Great Work – of Alchemy and transformation, metamorphosis and magical systems of sigils and hidden knowledge’s could allow them to attain this transitional movement between worlds. For them the mundane world of utility and work were a dead zone where people were sleepwalkers and zombies roaming the machinic realms of dark hellish realm. Instead they sought to break out of this restricted world of commerce, to escape the humdrum realms of work and enter into the world of creativity and invention.

Rereading Tzvetan Todorov tonight reminded me of these various movements. I came across his notion of being caught up in an impossible situation or inexplicable event, drifting between natural and transnatural explanatory modes; shifting between the uncanny or marvelous, or figural or literal tropes without reaching for one or the other nor a factual reason for this ineffable impossibility is to be left in that uncertain twilight zone of the fantastic. The key is being able to live in that transitional state that Deleuze would capture in the use of the conjunction “And…”:

“A rhizome has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu), between things, inter-being, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb “to be”, but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, “and… and… and…” This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb “to be” […] to establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings.”

 —Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Rereading this passage reminded me once again that John Keats the Poet had already accomplished a more succinct definition in his now famous letter:

“Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a 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 — Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

John Mee once said of Keat’s stance that “the provisionality of the correspondence might be taken as a triumphant demonstration of negative capability, recording Keats’s ability to project himself into different roles and live in a state of creative uncertainty, but these letters also seem to express a deep sense of insecurity, which frequently took the form of a desire to escape the fever and the fret of the life around him.”

Todorov in his now classic statement says much the same in that we oscillate between the uncanny (natural, psychological) and the marvelous (supernatural, unreal):

Screen Shot 07-13-16 at 01.41 AM

Todorov tells us three things are required for the fantastic event. First, one must oblige the observer to consider the world of characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and a supernatural explanation of the events. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the observer’s role is so to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the hesitation is diagrammed, and becomes one of the themes or leitmotifs – recurring motifs of the work. Third, the observer must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text: he will reject both the marvelous (“allegorical”) as well as the poetic (“figurative, uncanny, psychological”) perspectives or interpretations.

Yet, if we assume as I suggested in the beginning that we’re no longer dealing with the reading of a book, but rather the role of the reader/interpreter is of the actual world around us seen from a parallax view in which the marvelous and uncanny, transnatural and natural dimensions intermingle or mix then one begins to understand and attain the view of surrealism – of our world opening onto a greater world that encompasses it. Of the noumenal shining through the shadows around us. Not to be confused with any notion of a Platonic world beyond outs, but rather our world seen as it is with rational thought no longer binding our perceptions to the ratio of logic and naturalistic vision.

Yet, one must take great care and not revert to metaphysics or old value systems of symbolic or allegorical import, but rather to open up the gap in the Real or Transreal and allow a space of uncertainty rather than certainty to shift one to either the transcendent illusions of the marvelous, nor to reduce this uncertainty to the psychological biologism of the uncanny; rather, we should as in Keats remain in the fantastic dimension of the Transreal itself where  negative capability allows us to remain in “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”.

Walter Pater in his high aesthetic work The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry related it this way, the wavering moment of uncertainty should be expanded, our “one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us.” He’d go on to say:

Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve—les hommes sont tous condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.

This is to live in-between savoring each moment as it passes without closing it off, without suborning it to some natural or unnatural event, but rather oscillating in the fantastic realms of creativity and invention, grace and the movement of desire; yet, unlike Pater I would add that the Ugly be given it’s due, that the realms of the macabre and grotesque should not be left out. The earthiness of the old art forms, of the poetry of Villon with its enchantments of sex and death, love and wastage should be included, too. All of life should inhabit the pulsation of this enduring moment of the natural and the impossible. This is nothing more and nothing less than participating in the open-ended ongoing creation of the  fantastic world within which the marvelous and uncanny share in a dimension at once surreal and transreal.

On FB David Roden posted a link to The Guardian’s article Transrealism: the first major literary movement of the 21st century?  Which got me to thinking. It had a link to Rudy Rucker’s old A Transrealist Manifesto. As the article states it “Transrealism argues for an approach to writing novels routed first and foremost in reality. It rejects artificial constructs like plot and archetypal characters, in favour of real events and people, drawn directly from the author’s experience.” We’ve all seen Reality TV where we passively watch other people living out fantastic or extreme lives and events that otherwise would never happen, contrived and choreographed affairs that seem doubly scripted to allow the illusion of life and the voyeuristic decadence of seeing the thing we all wished we could live, a distancing move that allows us to identify with the charade yet unable to actually perform or enact its enchantments. A pure lie that that binds us to the workday cycles of our mundane worlds of apathy and passivity.

So we need to reverse this, allow our lives to break free of work and utilitarian goals and enter into our own fantastic lives, not as some representational system of fictional possibility (i.e., living out role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, etc.). No. Instead, we need to open the gap into the Real, unbind the fetters of our techno-commercial systems of reason and ratio that limit and delimit the horizon of our lives, police our emotive and intellectual perceptions, that bind us to a reduced vision of the earth and our lives. Rucker suggests What he suggested by “Trans” aspect is to invent a new set of tools, and with these “fantastic devices it is actually possible to manipulate subtext. The familiar tools of SF — time travel, antigravity, alternate worlds, telepathy, etc. — are in fact symbolic of archetypal modes of perception. Time travel is
memory, flight is enlightenment, alternate worlds symbolize the great variety of individual world-views, and telepathy stands for the ability to communicate fully.” As he says in his manifesto: “This is the “Trans” aspect. The “realism” aspect has to do with the fact that a valid work of art should deal with the world the way it actually is. Transrealism tries to treat not only immediate reality, but also the higher reality in which life is embedded.”

Yet, he is still bound within the two-world theory of Plato in this notion of immediate and higher reality. We need to move out of the metaphysical and into the Real, the gap of creativity and invention itself. This need of an ongoing creation and process of unbinding ourselves from the constructed prison of work and enslavement to capitalist profit and plutocracy, and the invention of a new world where life and creation are situated in the transreal dimensions. As Rucker suggests: Transrealism is a revolutionary art-form. A major tool in mass thought-control is the myth of consensus reality. Hand in hand with this myth goes the notion of a “normal person.”

The normal person is the conformist, the creature of habit and custom, the sleepwalker through existence that lives on the bottom tier of creativity, plodding through life enjoying a hedonistic consumerist vision of existence; seeking sex, money, and rock-n-roll… A life bound to the pleasure-pain of this closed world of Capital. As Rucker tells it “the idea of breaking down consensus reality is even more important”. He continues:

This is where the tools of SF are particularly useful. Each mind is a reality unto itself. As long as people can be tricked into believing the reality of the 6:30 news, they can be herded about like sheep. The “president” threatens us with “nuclear war,” and driven frantic by the fear of “death” we rush out to “buy consumer goods.” When in fact, what really happens is that you turn off the TV, eat something, and go for a walk, with infinitely many thoughts and perceptions mingling with infinitely many inputs.

Thinkers like Noam Chomsky have dealt with media control for years. From the early work of Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays wrote his book on Propaganda that allowed a passive US audience that wanted nothing to do with war, to be manipulated through media – newspapers, magazines, radio, etc.; and, then to move after the war into commerce with the invention of advertising manipulation; and, and, and… to the point that our lives are enclosed in a giant machine of manipulation some term the Infosphere. As Luciano Floridi reports it:

Infosphere is a neologism I coined some years ago on the basis of ‘biosphere’, a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. As will become clearer in the course of this book, it is a concept that is quickly evolving. Minimally, it denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.1

This constructed world of false consciousness and propagandaized ideology that has slowly enclosed the global commons, and become ubiquitous within and without the electronic nexus of networks and mediatainment systems is the ontological object that enslaves us in a world of work and utilitarian goals set by Oligarchs, Plutocrats, and the establishment system of Government and Big Business that pervades the planet. It’s this invisible prison we need to break out of using the tools suggested by Rucker and others… Lacan and Zizek would term it the Symbolic Order. The great task of our time is to dismantle and destroy the current system of enslavement that traps our desires, captures our wants and needs and provides us with only minimal survival while the rich .01% live in luxury.

Now is the time to break out. For just as the discovery of a new reality demanded to
be expressed by a new fantastic surrealism, the creation of a new transrealism has in our time disclosed a brand new fantastic reality not as some world beyond ours nor a sur-reality just to the side or below, but rather as the power and capability within us all to shape and create a realm of communicative transrealism together.

  1. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.


The Automatic Society: Technics, Memory, and Capitalism

In the past few years both the political Left and Right of the current global machine, the “Establishment” now dictates who will be included or excluded from their dominion. Whatever the hell that is? Ah, yes, it always comes down to this bugaboo… the “System” – a sort of Death Inc., a global matrix of social, military, and economic power that pervades every aspect of our lives to the point its become ubiquitous, invisible and so invasive that we’re trapped not by its outer and more superficial conveyances, those mediatainment systems of political stupidity we term government, or Wall-Street, or War; no, rather it is the more subtle pervasiveness of technics and technology that we’ve become so enamored with, that defines and delimits both our passions and our world that is the dark power over our lives in this age of fracture.

Today’s generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their lives and out of the world. Most of them are products of the middle class. They have rejected their materialistic backgrounds, the goal of a well-paid job, suburban home, automobile, country club membership, first-class travel, status, security, and everything that meant success to their parents. They have had it. They watched it lead their parents to tranquilizers, alcohol, long-term-endurance marriages, or divorces, high blood pressure, ulcers, frustration, and the disillusionment of “the good life.” They have seen the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership— in the past political leaders, ranging from the mayors to governors to the White House, were regarded with respect and almost reverence; today they are viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from the police and the courts to “the system” itself.1

We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society’s innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life. The young have seen their “activist” participatory democracy turn into its antithesis— nihilistic bombing and murder. The political panaceas of the past, such as the revolutions in Russia and China, have become the same old stuff under a different name. The search for freedom does not seem to have any road or destination. The young are inundated with a barrage of information and facts so overwhelming that the world has come to seem an utter bedlam, which has them spinning in a frenzy, looking for what man has always looked for from the beginning of time, a way of life that has some meaning or sense.

A way of life means a certain degree of order where things have some relationship and can be pieced together into a system that at least provides some clues to what life is about. Men have always yearned for and sought direction by setting up religions, inventing political philosophies, creating scientific systems like Newton’s, or formulating ideologies of various kinds. This is what is behind the common cliché, “getting it all together”— despite the realization that all values and factors are relative, fluid, and changing, and that it will be possible to “get it all together” only relatively. The elements will shift and move together just like the changing pattern in a turning kaleidoscope.

Ours is the end game that Nietzsche spoke of when he said we were the “sick animal,” that our lives were pervaded by the darkest of nihilisms, by a modernity that brought with it certain weaknesses, a hubris – an overreach or even more, an overloaded mind encompassed in techics and technology; encompassed by too much information, too many details, too much noise – that ours is a world cut off in time and running down, a world of pure décadence. Nietzsche saw himself as the first of many who would follow, as a physician of the soul or what remained of its tattered semblance; his diagnoses of the modern age as suffering from the strange condition of self-loathing: modernity as the habitation of the grotesque paradox of living beings who loathe themselves as living. We’d become necromantic zombies, the living dead who marched to the music of death and economic servitude, allowed ourselves to be imprisoned by an invisible autarchy of archons who manipulated the world through their minions in a Plutocracy of power and wealth. As Nietzsche would say in On the Genealogy of Morals:

“Read from a distant star, the majuscule script of our earthly existence would perhaps lead to the conclusion that the earth was the distinctively ascetic planet, a nook of disgruntled, arrogant, and offensive creatures filled with a profound disgust at themselves, at the earth, at all life, who inflict as much pain on themselves as they possibly can out of pleasure in inflicting pain—which
is probably their only pleasure.”2

During the Renaissance a gnostic-hermetic notion made its rounds among certain thinkers, scientists, alchemists, Magus’s: an obscure allusion to the hostility of the created world evoked by the discord at the heart of the world itself, that our earth was none other than that fabled planet of Anareta, a realm of necrophilic destruction and suicide, a planet which destroys life in which ‘violent deaths are caused’ when the ‘malifics’ have agents in ‘the anaretic place’ (OED entry, ‘anareta’)… the implication is clear that our world is itself this ‘anaretic place’ where the wastelands prevail, the heartless and malevolent landscapes of death and nightmare play out their deadly games generation after generation.

For Nietzsche, the masochistic logic of this asceticism—ordered by what he calls “the ascetic ideal”—is the logic of modernity. Its nihilism epitomizes the various moralities and methodologies that govern its intellectual and ethical life: Platonism, Christianity,
Kantianism, scientific method, aesthetics, modern education, et cetera.3 He would see modernity as the child of Idealism, of a system of temporal technics and technologies of the spirit that sought to cut humans off from the flow of time, to channel them into a timeless realm of pure timelessness, a now without outlet, a presentism: each of these ideals is an attempt to isolate a realm of existence untouched by contingency, becoming, or change; and idealism of this sort is, in Nietzsche’s view, nihilism—it is an escapist drive toward death:

“We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself—all this means—let us dare to grasp it—a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life.” (ibid., GMEH)

Denigrating life’s constitutive aspects of “appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing,” and “longing,” the ascetic ideal dismisses them as both inessential and loathsome. The logic of the ascetic ideal is the logic of eternal sleep, of safety and security only in death. In Nietzsche’s troubled and troubling view, modern human beings are thus a species of living dead, walking incarnations of the suicidal tendency. Zombies.

Yet, Nietzsche had barely begun his diagnosis, much less offering a cure, when he succumbed to the disease himself, spending the remainder of his own life in silence. Yet, he left breadcrumbs for us to follow… telling us it would remain for us to complete this project. Nihilism would not be complete for two-hundred years was his prognosis, an uncanny insight into the degradation and corruption of civilization ahead. Marx would see it as Vampire Capitalism:

Constant capital, the means of production, only exist, considered from the standpoint of the process of valorization, in order to absorb labour and, with every drop of labour, a proportional quantity of surplus labour. In so far as the means of production fail to do this, their mere existence forms a loss for the capitalist, in a negative sense, for while they lie fallow they represent a useless advance of capital. This loss becomes a positive one as soon as the interruption of employment necessitates an additional outlay when the work begins again. The prolongation of the working day beyond the limits of the natural day, into the night, only acts as a palliative. It only slightly quenches the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour. Capitalist production therefore drives, by its inherent nature, towards the appropriation of labour throughout the whole of the 24 hours in the day. [my italics] 4

Jonathan Crary in his explicates the temporality of this dark presentism this way, saying, a 24/7 environment has the semblance of a social world, but it is actually a non-social model of machinic performance and a suspension of living that does not disclose the human cost required to sustain its effectiveness. It must be distinguished from what Lukács and others in the early twentieth century identified as the empty, homogenous time of modernity, the metric or calendar time of nations, of finance or industry, from which individual hopes or projects were excluded. What is new is the sweeping abandonment of the pretense that time is coupled to any long-term undertakings, even to fantasies of “progress” or development. An illuminated 24/7 world without shadows is the final capitalist mirage of the individual is always dispensable if the alternative might even indirectly admit the possibility of interludes with no shopping or its promotion. In related ways, 24/7 is inseparable from environmental catastrophe in its declaration of permanent expenditure, of endless wastefulness for its sustenance, in its terminal disruption of the cycles and seasons on which ecological integrity depends.5

In our time work is being replaced by automation, and humans are becoming more and more obsolete – and, more, being obsolesced and excluded, expunged from the very system of labour, power, and economics they helped to spawn and enact. As Bernard Stiegler tells it even knowledge workers and scientists, educators and all the knowledge professions from lawyers to rocket scientists, to the most mundane task of loading and unloaded truck, driving them, etc. are in process over the coming century to be replaced by automated systems. As he states it “the application of mathematics to very large databases through the use of algorithms, could replace those theoreticians that scientists always are in principle, regardless of the scientific field or discipline with which they happen to be concerned”.6

Ultimately we live in a 24/7 Casino – a world fully automated by financial capitalism, the application of this model based on the “financial industry” and its automated computer technologies is intended both to capture without redistribution the capital gains generated by productivity and to conceal, through a computer-assisted financial fraudulence operating on a worldwide scale, the fact that the conservative revolution has broken the “virtuous circle” of the Fordist and Keynesian compromise. (Stiegler, p. 4) As Philip Mirowski reminds us one of the major classes of newly minted intellectual property spawned by this financialization of economics was precisely “business methods,” particularly those which were inscribed within computer programs. Almost immediately, a wave of financial algorithms were newly patented;  and this, in turn, rendered financial manipulations conceptually more on a par with technologies that had been previously subject to being reduced to intellectual property. What was posited as a newly valid classification ended up as real in its consequences.7

Many thought back in 2007-2008 that the neoliberal order was about to come tumbling down, that it was caput, finished, done. Yet, as Mirowski and others have suggested its not only not going away, its even strong now that it was before; and, at our expense. For we bailed them out, and through austerity and other measures we continue to support their great casino system to our own ruination. Mirowski will explicate the details of this continuing monstrosity. Individual neoliberals reacted to cognitive dissonance precisely in the ways that social psychology has suggested they would. Contrary evidence did not dent their worldview.

Far from withdrawing from the intellectual agonistic field, after brief disarray they redoubled their efforts to influence and capture the economics profession, which has also benefitted economists in weathering the crisis. The preemption of the breaking up of the financial sector in reaction to its insolvency in almost every country has been the single most important event that has bolstered both the transnational orthodox economist profession and the Neoliberal Thought Collective*. Absent the maintenance of the previous leisure class and the further subsidy of the wealthy, the politics of the situation would potentially have been strikingly different. The relationship between the immunity of finance and the imperviousness of change in economic ideas has been direct. (ibid.)

Since economists were caught off-guard during the onset of the crisis, both journalists and the general public had initially to fall back on vernacular understandings of the disaster, as well as cultural conceptions of the economy then prevalent. Hence the prior decades of “everyday neoliberalism” that had taken root in the culture provided a bulwark until the active mobilization of the Neoliberal Thought Collective could mount further responses. (ibid.)

The thought collective has resorted to industrial-scale manufacture of ignorance about the crisis, based upon the time-tested model of the “tobacco strategy.” The excuses generated by economists for defending their profession were a major component of this activity. This in turn deems that the burgeoning resistance to doing anything substantive about global warming should be paired as symmetric with the burgeoning resistance to doing anything about the global economic crisis, with orthodox economists playing a comparable role in each, for purposes of strategic analysis. Agnotology* has proven an effective and cheap short-term strategy to paralyze political action. (ibid.)

The neoliberals have developed a relatively novel way to co-opt protest movements, through a combination of top-down hierarchical takeover plus a bottom-up commercialization and privatization of protest activities and recruitment. This is the extension of the practice of “murketing” to political action itself. Pop fascination with the role of social media in protest movements only strengthens this development. (ibid.)

Finally, the Neoliberal Thought Collective has displayed an identifiable repeating pattern of full-spectrum policy responses to really pervasive crisis, which consists of short-run denialism (see 4, above), medium-term imposition of state-sponsored markets, and long-term recruitment of entrepreneurs to explore scientific blue-sky projects to transform human relationships to nature. Different components might seemingly appear to emanate from different sectors of the thought collective, and often appear on their face to contradict one another, which helps to inflate characteristically neoliberal responses to fill up the space of public discussion during the crisis, pushing other options to the margins. Furthermore, the different components often operate in tandem (in time, in co-opting opponents) to produce the ultimate result, which is to allow the market to come to its own inscrutable accommodation to the crisis. (ibid.)

We live in a society in which the appearance of politics, or parties, of a Progressive Left or a Conservative Right is mere papier mâché – a stage craft in which both parties or the duopoly they’ve become is part of an inverted totalitarianism. 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.8 An 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.

As Alinksy once admitted we can’t do this alone, we need the vast drift of the workers, both the assemblers and the knowledge workers, we have to begin from where we are. Activists and radicals, on and off our college campuses— people who are committed to change— must make a complete turnabout. With rare exceptions, our activists and radicals are products of and rebels against our middleclass society. All rebels must attack the power states in their society. Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized, and corrupt. They are right; but we must begin from where we are if we are to build power for change, and the power and the people are in the big middle-class majority. (Alinsky, 185)

Remember that even if you cannot win over the lower middle-class, at least parts of them must be persuaded to where there is at least communication, then to a series of partial agreements and a willingness to abstain from hard opposition as changes take place. They have their role to play in the essential prelude of reformation, in their acceptance that the ways of the past with its promises for the future no longer work and we must move ahead— where we move to may not be definite or certain, but move we must. People must be “reformed”— so they cannot be deformed into dependency and driven through desperation to dictatorship and the death of freedom. The “silent majority,” now, are hurt, bitter, suspicious, feeling rejected and at bay. This sick condition in many ways is as explosive as the current race crisis. Their fears and frustrations at their helplessness are mounting to a point of a political paranoia which can demonize people to turn to the law of survival in the narrowest sense. (Alinsky, pp. 189-190)

Reform is a tricky word… what is being reformed? Obviously it is far too late to reform this civilization and its decadent acceleration into collapse. So what is to be done? Maybe the better path is not reform in Alinsky’s sense, that being old school radicalism, but rather its time for a combination of Revolution and Renaissance. If the old Renaissance was cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history, then the new one must be a bridge from modernity to the yet to be decided future – the that which has no name but hope.

We know what the neoliberal order is up too. They seek to eliminated humanity from the equation, to instigate a machinic civilization fully automated and run by Artificial General Intelligence systems. A civilization where the luxurious .01% can exist in their protected conclaves, playing their decadent games of sexual and cultic perversity while what remains of humanity is left to live outside the protected dominions and at the mercy of technics and technology. This is the dystopian version of the future… only one among many.

From the perspective of the worker another world could arise, a world where people would still need to collaborate and form relations, institutions, for education, law, order, etc. but defined based on actual needs and lives rather than on profits and abstract economic probabilities. We’ve allowed a world based on mathematical equations and computing logics of algorithms and impersonalism to rule over us and conform us to its codes and re-coding’s. We are mere programs in an impersonal system of negotiations of give and take, bound to normative algorithms that have ensnared us in a realm of political correctness that excludes the eccentric, the outlaw, the individual. Rather it breeds a world of conformity and collective types, a typology that from birth to death integrates you based on a system of bio-power: biogenetics, optimized intelligence, and symbolic dominion within a realm of Law and Order both artificial and virtual. Subsumed in a technicity of machinic systems from iPhones, iPads, computers, networks, communications, mediatainment, etc. we are all woven into a set of relations that manipulates our neurosystems to conform to the dictates of economic desire.

Some say we are in the midst of climatological collapse already, the Anthropocene: we cannot continue or last in the nihilistic absurdities of our time where nothing we do makes sense. The scene around us compels us to look away quickly, if we are to cling to any sanity. We are the age of pollution, progressively burying ourselves in our own waste. (Alinsky, 191) Many fear the simple truth that our leaders are helpless, they are in disarray unable to fix things – and, they know it. Hence the anxiety – spurred by the painful experience of being lost and hapless: we are not the only ones, no one is in control, no one is in the know. There is no telling when and from where the next blow will strike, how far its ripples will reach and how lethal the cataclysm will be. Uncertainty and anguish born of uncertainty are globalization’s staple products. State powers can do next to nothing to placate, let alone quash uncertainty. The most they can do is to refocus it on objects within reach; shift it from the objects they can do nothing about to those they can at least make a show of being able to handle and control. Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants – the waste products of globalization – fit the bill perfectly.9

Throughout the last century, our ancestors fought back against the awesome powers of Big Brother, struggling to tear down the walls, barbed wire fences and watch-towers and dreaming of walking the paths of their own choice at the time of their own choice. They seem to have made much of their dream come true and so many of their descendants can manage to keep that Big Brother who watched them at a safe distance from the roads they walk – but only to fall under the watchful eye of Big Brother mark two. At the threshold of a new century the big question to which we, their descendants, will have to find an answer is whether the only choice open to humans is that between Big Brothers mark one and two: whether the inclusion/ exclusion game is the only way in which human life in common may be conducted and the only conceivable form our shared world may take – be given – as a result. (Bauman, 133)

As I watch both the Continent and America, Russia and China, India and other nations from the South China Sea to African mainland to the tip of South America, etc., I wonder if we are entering a new Dark Ages of Man, or if this is just the completion of Nietzsche diagnosis, that we are completing nihilism – erasing the cultural matrix of values that guided Western Civilization for two thousand years. Whether we are to follow the curve into collapse and atrocity, or into a new Renaissance where humans and the planet collaborate in creative ways yet to be foreseen – building, constructing, inventing the possibility of the impossible: a life worth living.

  1. Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals (Vintage) . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. ed. Walter Kaufmann (Vintage; Reissue edition, December 17, 1989) GMEH
  3. C. Schotten. Nietzsche’s Revolution: Décadence, Politics, and Sexuality. Palgrave Macmillan; 2009 edition (July 15, 2009)
  4. Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 5505-5511). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  5. Jonathan Crary. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso; 1 edition (June 4, 2013)
  6. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work – Introduction. trans. Daniel Ross. LA DELEUZIANA – ONLINE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY – ISSN 2421-3098
  7. Mirowski, Philip. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Kindle Locations 6944-6948). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  8. Wolin, Sheldon S.. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Kindle Locations 241-245). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. Bauman, Zygmunt. Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts (pp. 65-66). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


The Neoliberal Thought Collective or as Nick Land my term it, The Cathedral, was structured very differently from the other “invisible colleges” that sought to change people’s minds in the latter half of the twentieth century. Unlike most intellectuals in the 1950s, the early protagonists of the MPS did not look to the universities or the academic “professions” or to interest-group mobilizations as the appropriate primary instruments to achieve their goals. Those entities were held too in thrall to the state, from the neoliberal perspective. The early neoliberals felt, at that juncture with some justification, that they were excluded from most high-profile intellectual venues in the West. Hence the MPS was constituted as a closed, private members-only debating society whose participants were hand-picked (originally primarily by Hayek, but later through a closed nomination procedure) and which consciously sought to remain out of the public eye. The purpose was to create a special space where people of like-minded political ideals could gather together to debate the outlines of a future movement diverging from classical liberalism, without having to suffer the indignities of ridicule for their often blue-sky proposals, but also to evade the fifth-column reputation of a society closely aligned with powerful but dubious postwar interests. Even the name of the society was itself chosen to be relatively anodyne, signaling little in the way of substantive content to outsiders.  Many members would indeed hold academic posts in a range of academic disciplines, but this was not a precondition of MPS membership. The MPS could thus also be expanded to encompass various powerful capitalists, and not just intellectuals.

As Hayek said in his address to the first meeting of the MPS:

“But what to the politicians are fixed limits of practicability imposed by public opinion must not be similar limits to us. Public opinion on these matters is the work of men like ourselves . . . who have created the political climate in which the politicians of our time must move . . . I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”

The Russian doll structure of the Neoliberal Thought Collective would tend to amplify and distribute the voice of any one member throughout a series of seemingly different organizations, personas, and broadcast settings, lending it resonance and gravitas, not to mention fronting an echo chamber for ideas right at the time when hearing them was most propitious. Not without admiration, we have to concede that neoliberal intellectuals struggled through to a deeper understanding of the political and organizational character of modern knowledge and science than did their opponents, and therefore present a worthy contemporary challenge to everyone interested in the archaeology of knowledge. (Mirowski, ibid.)

Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology. Its name derives from the Neoclassical Greek word ἄγνωσις, agnōsis, “not knowing” , and -λογία, -logia.

The Exquistie Corpse: Engineering Humanity


The Exquisite Corpse is an adaptation to human-engineered technologies, testing formal and ecological theorems for high-density lifestyles, sustainable resource shared among urban organisms, and the play of public/private division in cross-species interaction. Got it?

The most familiar forms use so-called collaborative filtering: software that makes recommendations based on the buying patterns of like-minded consumers. Think of the “customers who bought items like this also bought” function on Your tastes, and the way they travel through the system, leave trails for the algorithms running the software to model — and this data is then passed on to someone else, and so on. Think of it as the cultural update of “daspada” transcribed to the realm of the digital — the Surrealist Exquisite Corpse anticipated this, and made it enjoyable.

Think of the advanced algorithms that now remix data, pattern matching, predicting our needs, inventing our desires before we know them. The common denominator is selection. The whole schemata runs on density, and the tools we use to navigate information become barometers of the deep cultural structure translated into pure information. As the twenty first century advances, this pattern will become more and more linked to the way we live . . . and the way we play.

At a 1935 meeting of their Surrealist group, Victor Brauner, André Breton, Jacques Hérold, and Yves Tanguy engaged in one of their many parlor games. hey folded a sheet of paper in fours, across a horizontal axis, and, taking turns, made their marks in the respective quadrants. In the resulting construction, Brauner’s many-eyed “head” gives way to Breton’s distorted upper torso, hands fondling two swollen breasts, which in turn gives way to Hérold’s egg-shaped mid-section nestled in the upper cone of Tanguy’s snarling, reptilian dog feet. he composite figure, as one of some two hundred similar drawings and collages produced between 1924–1949, is both a marker of the historical avant-garde and an epistemological apparatus that lives beyond its initial historical moment.

The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game

Daspada is a game that originated in India, now known as Snakes and Ladders:  –

Any version of Snakes and Ladders can be represented exactly as an absorbing Markov chain, since from any square the odds of moving to any other square are fixed and independent of any previous game history. The Milton Bradley version of Chutes and Ladders has 100 squares, with 19 chutes and ladders. A player will need an average of 39.6 spins to move from the starting point, which is off the board, to square 100. A two-player game is expected to end in 47.76 moves with a 50.9% chance of winning for the first player.

In the book Winning Ways the authors show how to treat Snakes and Ladders as an impartial game in combinatorial game theory even though it is very far from a natural fit to this category. To this end they make a few rule changes such as allowing players to move any counter any number of spaces, and declaring the winner as the player who gets the last counter home. Unlike the original game, this version, which they call Adders-and-Ladders, involves skill.

Secular Mysticsm: Pharmakon, Ritual, and Pain

Reading Alphonso Lingis’s essay on Bataille in Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion. What strikes me in the passage below is the use of the term “lacerated,” which triggered for me one of the keys to certain negative mysticisms of Catholic and other religious forms of negative (unknowing) ecstasies. I kept thinking of various indigenous or tribal cultures that still practice certain ritualistic forms of pain in initiations, Shamanistic practices, or other forms of what Ariel Glucklich, in Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul will define, saying: “task of sacred pain is to transform destructive or disintegrative suffering into a positive religious-psychological mechanism for reintegration within a more deeply valued level of reality than individual existence.” Below is the passage from Lingis’s essay, Bataille’s Contestation of Interpretative Anthropology and of the Sociology of Religion:

Bataille focused on the experience of this identification. The participant in sacrifice exposes himself or herself to the unmanageable and incalculable powers that limit the sphere of work and reason and experiences extreme emotions of being lacerated. But this anguish is also exhilaration; ethnographers report that sacrifices are times of frenzied release of energies and elation The  communication continues in feasts where immense resources are consumed, and in saturnalia where participants abandon their sense of themselves and their controlling will, finding themselves possessed with the forces of pounding music and dance, with violent, erotic, excessive compulsions, and with the forces unleashed in the forests and rivers by night. (140).

It would take to long to go into Bataille’s notions of sacrifice, the impact of his Father’s long death and disease, his mother’s madness, his strange and bewildering childhood, his Catholicism and its rejection (he had at one time studied to become a priest), and all the other aspects of his darker perversities, his mixture of sexual depravity and secular ecstasy; his almost inverted and self-lacerating Gilles de Rais style fascination with sex and horror. Reading his works over the past year has been a strange experience to say the least. Even Michel Surya’s biography of Georges Bataille misses the mark and stumbles before the darker aspects of his life. Yet, his impact in a subtle way upon almost all of the post-modern thinkers from Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Land etc. is a quandary to be pondered. It’s not so much his conceptual rigor, which is mediocre at best, more sociological imagination rather than philosophical investigation – as it is his extreme investigations into “inner experience” that tapped into those regions of the unknown and unknowing – the realms of non-knowledge rather than knowledge. It is this that sparked a generation of anti-realists, tapped a secular vein in a form of neural mysticism that is still with us today.


Secular or Sacred Mysticism?

Can there be such a thing? What would a non-utilitarian, a-theological and base materialist form of mysticism entail? Could one have a non-transcendent, immanent form of ecstatic trance? When I think of the two extremes of religious ecstasy, that of Shamanistic ecstasy (trance, stasis), and Voudoun possession (dance, movement) one traces the two variants of religious transcendence and immanence: the one leads to forms of transcension – an ecstatic movement out of or beside one’s physical being, fully aware and conscious of what is happening (i.e., entering the dreamtime, flying to the World Tree, rising or falling into higher or lower realms, etc.); while the other involves unconscious relinquishment of one’s will and consciousness – an immanent calling down of divine forces (loa) from the Outside in allowing them to inhabit the body and ride it like a storm in ecstasy and dance, movement and song. It is between these two forms extreme forms of ecstatic trance one discovers the gamut of religious and secular forms of ecstasy and mysticism.

I’ve always been wary of my early involvement in New Age thought, having discovered more mystification than actual systematic rigor. And, yet, it is in this strange amalgam of thought that the underbelly of culture resides. All the strands of unacceptable thought, the realms that have been expulsed by Continental, Analytical, and almost all forms of scientific and philosophical speculation. The New Age is our taboo world. Why? Well for most philosophers this is the world of shadow thought that was slowly expunged from the European imaginal over the long centuries of the rise of Science. I need not go into this long sordid history that Adorno and Horkheimer would term in their studies on the Enlightenment:  “the program of the Enlightenment was the disenchantment of the world; the dissolution of myths and the substitution of knowledge for fancy. From now on, matter would at last be mastered without any illusion of ruling or inherent powers, of hidden qualities.” (1979:3-6)

It’s this banishment of the noumenal that was accomplished and given its greatest stamp of approval within Kant’s work. From his time forward we were cut off from the unknown and unknowable realms of the invisible, the hidden world of powers and capacities outside the phenomenal world of what our mind and its 12 categories of understanding could know and perceive. There would be refinements, antagonists of Kant, but they would all seem to agree on this removal and disenchantment of the World.

So what has happened? Has this disenchantment provided humanity with the promised Enlightenment? Have we attained peace and illumination in the world? No. The project of the enlightenment failed us. Of course there are many who dispute that, many who say we failed it not the other way round. Either way the universal reach of enlightened principles and thought are nil, a dead issue; or, at least a hotly contested issue in every area of thought – politics, sociology, history, philosophy, art, etc..

The literature alone is beyond any one human to encompass on this realm of the ecstatic. Over the years I’ve collected, researched, and travelled to various areas of the globe to understand – and, at times, even to participate in different forms of ritual and pharmaceutically induced forms of ecstatic trance. Moving between positive and negative forms of ecstasy is in itself a life long challenge, a project if you will. I know for me it became personal after discovering the early history of plant use in ancient cultures. This, too, has become a scholarly pursuit of a tribe of scholars termed by Richard Evans Schultes as ethnobotany, etc.. His book Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers was a long time coming, and back then no one in the common drift of street cultural logics knew much about such things. Even books like Lee and Shlain’s Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond were a long way off. No. I lived it, breathed it, tripped it…


On a personal aside I remember the first time dropping acid up in the hills outside Austin, Texas with some friends. I think one’s first trip will always be remembered even if it was but a strange introduction to that area of “inner experience” of which Bataille speaks. Friends of Facebook have asked me what my experiences were like. Like anyone else one admits defeat before such an unique event in one’s life. Describe one’s experience? No one could actually do that with even the slight hopes of it being conveyed, for what one would want to convey is the actual “inner experience,” to touch someone inside and show them what one did in fact experience. This cannot be done, instead one is left with the poetry of language that have grown out of all those tropes (figures of intellect, experience, speech) of poetic, sacred, and mystical traditions. Believe me I’ve spent a lifetime analyzing my years of experimenting in both pharmakon, ritual, and sacred / secular forms of mystical practice in both the negative and positive forms of ecstasy. So that there is no way to really get at it accept to be honest and simple, to throw out all one’s vast learning and let the truth of it – ha ha… is there a truth? – walk out of one’s mouth and mind onto the page (or into the void of electrons – as here!).

The acid I partook of that night was from the Bay area of San Francisco. A friend of mine had just come back from a trip there and bought a big back of what was termed “purple owsley,” after LSD chemist Owsley Stanley. (Dang, already the bullshit flies… the scholar in me wants to add all these little tidbits. Worthless fluff… get on with it, the madness begins!) Anyway, to cut to the chase, I’d never taken anything in the way of drugs up to that time. Oh, sure, I’d dabbled with “mary jay” – pot, weed, hash, or marijuana… enjoyed sex high on the flight – or at least flowed with it immersing my fleshly being in the subtle intricacies of physical exploration of my girlfriends – as they used to say, erogenous zones.

But this was different, this was another realm of being, a transformation from within of one’s whole perception of the world. One felt it in stages, the slow waves rising from some dark place in one’s solar plexus, deep down little nodules awakening, the warmth of a vitalistic energy flowing from one’s spine, moving up and up in waves of laughter and giggles. Yep, it was joyous, a slow and methodical warming of my body, the fire from below I liked to call it later. This would go on and one till one realized it had happened, one was suddenly no longer waiting for something to happen – one was the happening while the happening lasted. (See… one talks like an idiot! There’s no way to transport inner experience and transformation into words; it just isn’t happening…)

It suddenly shifted from light waves of warmth and vibrations, little serpent like movements from my belly round my spinal cord, tapping centers of my body like vipers on a caduceus, streaming rays of power as each flower awakened bursting into my mind like a dance of a thousand rainbows. At first we were sitting around a fire watching the flames dance, when suddenly things started to rise up out of those flames, take flight and form strange beasts and creatures. My mind was seeing a world of mythical dragons, phoenix’s, rainbow hued lizards and small horned beings flitting before me on the lips of the blue and red flames… I remember wanting to laugh, and realizing I already was… time slowed down, things happened in slow time, as if the world had stopped and one was seeing the pulse of the planet is sidereal time.


I remember a large being suddenly appeared on the other side of the flames, a strange figure – horned and elegant, beckoning to me to come with her; her eyes like two bright moons, full of mischievous laughter. I followed her out into the night woods. I heard my friends behind me calling after me, asking what I was doing, that I should wander off… I remember shouting to them, I have a guide…

What transpired that night will stay with me forever, or at least till my molecules flame out and dissolve into the abyss. This being was neither real nor irreal, neither a part of me (projection) nor external (introjection). She was anomalous, forbidden, indifferent and impersonal being; a creature outside our contingences. I remember talking to her, playing with her, enjoying sex with her, wandering the cosmos with her, traveling among worlds and times… I remember nothing and everything. She showed me things I would have never dreamt in a thousand years. Our universe is both wondrous and full of terrible powers. We are but insignificant creatures on the edge of an insignificant galaxy amid the splendours of elder stars. Beings billions of years older than us live multidimensionally among layers of this cosmos. We are young creatures, experimental beings that have only begun our journey if we can survive ourselves. We will need to learn much love and cruelty to succeed. What I learned from her was not so much in word as it was imprinted on my being. One doesn’t explain such things, and I know that people would say this is all fantasy, madness, crazed reflections of a demented and drugged episode. Yet, it happened.


Funny thing is that she told me to keep it to myself, that is was meant for me and me alone; that the others would not understand, and yet a time would come when I would be able to open up and tell my story. I struggled for years against this advice, which I should’ve taken to heart, and instead tried to tell others what I learned that night. Of course it didn’t work, people, my closest friends thought I was “touched” in the head, that it wasn’t real, that it was just an hallucination… And, of course, I asked, if that wasn’t real then what is? Of course, they threw their hands up seeing I was mad and beyond hope. So I began asking the so to speak professionals: priests, psychologists, etc., and got the usual mappings of the imaginal from the sacred or secular cultural conclaves we’ve all come to expect. It took me years to finally realize I was “alone with the alone” as Henry Corbin once spoke of such things. Was it in my mind, or out there? Was it real or just a hallucination like all those friends of mine wanted me to think? Was it as the priest suggested, daemonic; a visitation with demons? Or, as the psychologist would suggest, a mere projection of what I lacked in my life and invented to absolve and resolve my problems, etc.? So I went silent, gave up trying to share such things with others, realized it always led to the same issue: how does anyone relate “inner experience”? Is it truly impossible? Is Bataille and so many others right? Is the undecidable text of my life bound to the aporia of a blank space of “inner experience” that can never be shared intimately?

I gave up trying to explain it or even trying to find someone who would believe me long ago. Hell, at my age (64) who cares… it happened. Now I’m free to say it. What will they do, lock me away, throw the key away, strap me to a table, inflict electrical impulses on my brain, wipe these memories (or they memories?) out of my life? No. People will do as they usually do, have mixed feelings, say its all bosh, madness, drug induced hallucination… a mere fantasia of the mind, nothing more. Yet, for me it began a lifelong process of seeking answers to the riddles posed that night. No matter how many other trips I took with various hallucinogenic plants, or other equally strange experiences I had it was this one that transformed my life. For the better? Who knows? It definitely caused me to lose friends, family, and almost my mind… trying with all my powers to discover a way to translate this experience into art and words. I don’t think it can be done except indirectly, by way of allurements, tropes, hints, subtle metaphors and hyperboles – a rhetoric of the mind and heart that is founded on a cross-cultural inflection of ancient indigenous ritual and practices… my paintings are cartoons, my words are mystical gibberish… yet, like some H.P. Lovecraft of the ecstatic set I sought materialist explanations, sought through Freud, Adler, Jung… Lacan … through philosophers East and West… almost the whole gamut of poetic and literary worlds of the earth till I realized the library of the mind is its own labyrinth, and the only way out is to move inward and downward into the center where one must meet the Minotaur of one’s own dark inhuman being.


As Alphonso Lingis describes it reflecting on Bataille’s intimate “inner experiences”:

As things lose their apprehendable and graspable forms, they obtrude in all the alien force of their own being. The force of their being excites the energies of exhilaration. The dissolution of the subject of thought and action is the intimate experience of all beings in their alien existence. (140)

Maybe that’s it, such experiences are so alien to our workaday utilitarian world of commerce and communication that when confronted by both one’s own alienness or that of the alien other in one’s midst we can neither describe nor comprehend it in the transactional language of our world of work and mundane survivalist modes of being and apprehension. In Bataille’s account, the powers outside of the world of work and reason and the nothing—beneficent and malevolent—are conceived in a distinctive way. The outer zone is not the sacred or God unified as mysterium tremendum et fascinans but the indefinite multiplicity of reversals:

What is sacred, not being based on a logical accord with itself, is not only contradictory with respect to things but, in an undefined way, is in contradiction with itself. . . . Inside the sacred domain there is, as in dreams, an endless contradiction that multiplies without destroying anything. What is not a thing . . . is real but at the same time is not real, is impossible and yet is there. (142).

This is what happened for me, this sense of real and unreal, of moving in sidereal time, a temporal movement outside normal work-a-day utilitarian time where nothing seemed as it is and is what it is and has always been, more real that the reality we normally take to be the one we exist in. I could pull out studies from the neurosciences and back all this madness up with factual evidence to support what? Would the intricacies of neural diagrams, charts, studies of the brain under ecstatic events convince anyone? And, of what, exactly? For seeing is believing as the old cliché has it, and if one has not experienced it one will not be convinced by all the scientific studies in the world. So, no, that will not convince anyone but those that have already been convinced.


As Lingis says of Bataille and quotes him the experience of the outer zone involves a collapse of thought, of rational and reflective thought. Such an object can be given only in the imagination, Bataille affirms—but it can be given. “These great tides of miraculous
possibility, where moreover the transparency, the richness and the soothing splendor of death and the universe are to be regained, presuppose the imagination joining together that which is never given except in parts.” The transition of the visual experience of an ecstatic object to the realm of indeterminacy and night is the very medium of the imagination. Dreams and nightmares represent this realm. (142).

Was it a waking dream? A nightmare? A phantasmagoria of my mind and anxieties? My own invention? Or something else altogether, an elaboration by something alien inhabiting and drawing out of my mind those deep seeded images that would allure me into its dark passage? Lingis tells us Bataille finds the mystical experience to correspond to the experience of participants in sacrifice; there is intense absorption in the ecstatic
object that opens upon the impersonal powers of what lies beyond the realm of work and reason, experienced in anguish and exhilaration, as the ecstatic object that held the viewer vanishes. (142)

In that night of nights I experienced a thousand deaths, a thousand births, saw planets and galaxies rise and explode, the suns and stars of an infinite cosmos turn within the patterns of a metamorphic dance that neither science nor art could describe. I met with beings of another order than our own, creatures of other dimensional existence that even now makes no sense to me. I lived in a moment between moments, traveled without traveling, saw what cannot be seen with the naked eye. I was alone and with a vast community of beings. As Bataille says:

Communication . . . with our beyond (essentially in sacrifice)—not with nothingness, still less with a supernatural being, but with an indefinite reality (which I sometimes call the impossible, that is, what cannot be grasped (begreift) in any way, what we can’t reach without dissolving ourselves. . . . It can remain in an undefined state (in ordinary laughter, infinite laughter, or ecstasy).(143).

Yes, the impossible, the unnamable, the unknowable and unknowing, a non-knowledge that gives us neither answer nor solution but rather the ecstasy of our own being, our darkening… into sovereignty.


As Bataille would remind us sovereign moments are not achieved through work and reason; they occur by chance and are without expectation or hope. They are not states of fulfillment, totality, and serenity. “This sovereignty cannot even be defined as a good. I am attached to it, but would I be if I were not certain that I could just as well laugh at it?” (143).

I resolved long ago not to seek knowledge, as others do, but to seek its contrary, which is unknowing. I no longer anticipated the moment when I would be rewarded for my effort, when I would know at last, but rather the moment when I would no longer know, when my initial anticipation would dissolve into nothing. . . . (146).

Maybe in the end that’s it, we cannot retrieve from these experiences anything resembling knowledge, and to try is a fool’s errand – a vein struggle to reduce the unknown to the known, an impossibility; rather, these experiences, these “inner experiences,” are unique, sovereign… impossible.

Lingis meditating on such ecstatic sovereignty reminds us that the ecstasy that finds itself sovereign in the void is not an experience of integration, wholeness, and serenity, of fulfillment of its desires, but instead an experience of shattering and anguish. Extreme emotions surge in transgression, in breaking through the boundaries and taboos of the social and natural world, and also in the shattering of inner boundaries between zones of the self. (147).


If one survives such lacerating sovereignty, self-immolations, dark flames of an interminable night in oblivion, – one arises before the midnight sun of Time, neither a god nor a priest of despair but rather a creature who has entered into one’s real and actual life; neither blessed nor damned; neither anxious nor fearful, but rather actively participating in the impossible, an unknowing at once of the pleroma and kenoma, fullness and emptiness; for there is no other: it is the great Silence.

– Jeremy Biles /  Kent Brintnall ed. Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion. Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)

The Neon Demon: Decadence and the Art of Darkness

Since the most eloquent decadences edify us no further as to unhappiness than the stammerings of a shepherd, and ultimately there is more wisdom in the mockery of an idiot than in the investigations of the laboratories, is it not madness to pursue truth on the paths of time—or in books?

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

An interview is up for Nicolas Winding Refn’s – film director of Drive and Only God Forgives on Quietus by Phillipa Snow –  new movie The Neon Demon.

Is the neo-aesthete’s revival of an arch decadence? The artificial enclosure of violence and despair within the neon terror of a refined oblivion devoid of even nullity, a slow infestation of the sublime underbelly of death so vital it inhabits a posthuman futurism without the “post” or “human”?

“Neon is no longer anxious” Eleanor Courtemanche writes… as if anxiety and the uncanny no longer worked for us, as if Freud-Lacan and the Oedipalization were finally a myth of a past refined out of existence. Now the comedy of the nil can appropriate the cliché’s of kitsch within kitsch, expose the throbbing pulse of automated death at the heart of a devitalized voyeurism.

Pain as a commodity, the sacred as a moment between pain and ecstasy becomes in this new economy just one more sad conformity. Pain as the marketable ecstasy of those who have no emotion, the psychopath of devitalized robots and artificial denizens of an apocalyptic comedy at the end of human civilization. No longer the moral hijinks of an outdated derision or scornful hatred of the body, rather the undaunted acceptance of flesh as itself the excess of a last ditch effort to squeeze ecstasy from a devitalized world of cold and impersonal death.

Bear with me as I digress through both decadent literature and critique, gathering a thousand flowers along the way that may dip into that dark abyss of sacred pain and jouissance.


A Short History of Decay

Percy Bysshe Shelley in his infamous poem On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery brought us the dark romanticism of terror as the breakaway sublime of a new form of Beauty when in his last refrain he stated:

‘Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror; 
  For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare 
Kindled by that inextricable error,  
  Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air 
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror 
  Of all the beauty and the terror there—
A woman’s countenance, with serpent locks,
Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks.

In his early The Romantic Agony Mario Praz would tells us of this new darker romanticism, saying of “Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror…” that these lines of pleasure and pain are combined in one single impression. “The very objects which should induce a shudder – the livid face of the severed head, the squirming mass of vipers, the rigidity of death, the sinister light, the repulsive animals, the lizard, the bat – all these give rise to a new sense of beauty, a beauty imperiled and contaminated, a new thrill.”1

That moralist Max Nordau in his castigation of those followers of Charles Baudelaire, the Decadents brought forward his harsh condemnation of this night school saying it “reflects the character of its master, strangely distorted; it has become in some sort like a prism, which diffracts his light into elementary rays. His delusion of anxiety and his predilection for disease, death, and putrefaction (necrophilia), have fallen…”2 As for Baudelaire himself, he once stated of modernity:

. . . it is much easier to decide outright that everything about the garb
of an age is absolutely ugly than to devote oneself to the task of distilling
from it the mysterious element of beauty that it may contain, however
slight or minimal that element may be. By ‘modernity’ I mean the
ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half
is the eternal and the immutable.3

In his study of this heritage, Daniel Pick, in Faces of Degeneration would analyze the various threads of this notion of cultural decline into the ugly.3 Degeneration was seen as a general decline in humanity from a previous age as seen in poverty, disease, destitution, degradation, and misery in general. Degeneration was seen as the opposite of progress (which occupied an alternative though rejected view of history) and was expressed as a theory to explain crime, poverty, and the lack of moral character by various European writers and thinkers. In particular, the thinkers Morel, Lombroso, Maudsley, and Nordau wrote extensively on the issue of degeneration as it applied to crime and art. Other European figures focused on the horror of the crowd (as seen in various revolutions in particular the French Revolution) or the rise of Social Darwinism and eugenics. Authors also focused on the themes of degeneration in their novels including those which mentioned the issues of mental deterioration, psychoanalysis, and the decline brought about by entropy. These ideas occupied a prominent place on both the political left among various proposals for socialism and the right which often advocated eugenics (and which came to emerge in the Nazi terror). Pick’s book considers these ideas as they developed in European thought during this period and their role in the continuing history of the twentieth century as it would impact both Communism and Fascism, as well as the medical community by way of Psychoanalysis and Freud’s scientism among other traces.

The social, scientific, and industrial revolutions of the later nineteenth century brought with them a ferment of new artistic visions. An emphasis on scientific determinism and the depiction of reality led to the aesthetic movement known as Naturalism, which allowed the human condition to be presented in detached, objective terms, often with a minimum of moral judgment. This in turn was counterbalanced by more metaphorical modes of expression such as Symbolism, Decadence, and Aestheticism, which flourished in both literature and the visual arts, and tended to exalt subjective individual experience at the expense of straightforward depictions of nature and reality. Dismay at the fast pace of social and technological innovation led many adherents of these less realistic movements to reject faith in the new beginnings proclaimed by the voices of progress, and instead focus in an almost perverse way on the imagery of degeneration, artificiality, and ruin.4


The Mundane World of Sex

The man who proposes a new faith is persecuted, until it is his turn to become a persecutor: truths begin by a conflict with the police and end by calling them in; for each absurdity we have suffered for degenerates into a legality, as every martyrdom ends in the paragraphs of the Law, in the insipidities of the calendar, or the nomenclature of the streets.

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

In his interview Nicolas Winding Refn remarking on sex tells us  there’s something mundane about it, that “it’s something we all do – hopefully,” and “everyone has his own take on it”. Our obsession with porn, violence, necrophilia, rape, perversion, etc. is a way of moving the audience, the voyeuristic eye, the perverse need to observe the outer forms of sex, its visual cues and bodily imprint as if to quantify and measure its dark secrets. As Refn hones in on the key is not the direct visual participation that allows us to sensualize the filmic, but rather by “not showing sex, you’re actually much more sexy, because in not showing sex, you’re forcing the audience to have a very subliminal reaction to it, and everything becomes very specific [to them]”.

thM6HAWKstrawThe Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus  Bosch among the many bizarre and outlandish images, will find both a giant strawberry (a symbol of earthly pleasure in Medieval iconography; the fruit looks very tempting, but tastes of nothing), and a naked couple copulating within a glass vessel. What interests us about Bosch is not only his strange and beautiful painting, but also his supposed involvement with a heretical sect called the Adamites. This sect, according to de Perrodil’s Dictionnaire des hérésies, des erreurs et des schismes, saw it as their sacred duty to violate the laws which the Creator had given to man. This neatly encapsulates the Decadent impulse. They also wished to rehabilitate Adam and Eve by seeking inspiration from their conduct in the garden of Eden. Nudity and sexual games formed part of their ritual. The Adamites were of course condemned and brutally persecuted by vindictive ecclesiastical authorities.5

An 1893 poem by Albert Samain proclaims “the era of the Androgyne,” who mushrooms over culture like an antichrist. The sex-repelling Decadent androgyne is Apollonian because of its opposition to nature and its high mentalization, a western specialty. It is louring and enervated rather than radiant:

Musique – encens – parfums,… poisons,… littérature ! …
Les fleurs vibrent dans les jardins effervescents ;
Et l’Androgyne aux grands yeux verts phosphorescents
Fleurit au charnier d’or d’un monde en pourriture.

Aux apostats du Sexe, elle apporte en pâture,
Sous sa robe d’or vert aux joyaux bruissants,
Sa chair de vierge acide et ses spasmes grinçants
Et sa volupté maigre aiguisée en torture.

L’archet mord jusqu’au sang l’âme des violons,
L’art qui râle agité d’hystériques frissons
En la sentant venir a redressé l’échine…

Le stigmate ardent brûle aux fronts hallucinés.
Gloire aux sens ! Hosanna sur les nerfs forcenés.
L’Antechrist de la chair visite les damnés…

Voici, voici venir les temps de l’Androgyne.      

            And, my translation…

Music – incense – perfumes,… poisons,… literature! …
Flowers vibrate in the sparkling gardens;
And your large and androgynous
Phosphorescent green eyes flower
At the grave of gold of a world in decay.

To the apostates of sex, she brings in food,
Under her dress of green gold jewels rustling,
Acidic virgin of fleshy spasms squeaking
And his lean pleasure sharpened into torture.

The bow bites until the violins in the soul’s blood vibrate, an art –
General shaking of hysterical chills struggles
Coming in feelings of geometric defiance…

The frontal assault of ardent hallucinations burn in stigmatic splendor, 
Glory to the senses! Hosanna to the federalists nerves.
The Antichrist of the flesh visits the damned…

Behold, here comes the time of the Androgyny.

lsSidonie-Gabrielle Colette or just – Colette calls this type of androgyne “anxious and veiled,” eternally sad, trailing “its seraphic suffering, its glimmering tears.”

Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo (written in 1888 and published in 1908), in which the philosopher called himself “a decadent,” opens with a biographical section that resembles a psycho-medical case study of his delicate, morbid nature and physical ailments. The Case of Wagner (1888) treats degeneration and decadence as instantiations of a single discourse: “[T]he change of art into histrionics,” wrote Nietzsche, “is no less an expression of physiological degeneration (more precisely, a form of hystericism) than every single corruption and infirmity of the art inaugurated by Wagner.” He preceded this comment with the claim that Wagner is a decadent, “the modern artist par excellence,” embodying modernity’s sickness. Calling Wagner a “neurosis,” he wrote, “[P]erhaps nothing is better known today, at least nothing has been better studied, than the Protean character of degeneration that here conceals itself in the chrysalis of art and artist.”6 As Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, degeneration “explained how a heredity that was burdened with various maladies ([. . .] organic, functional, or psychical) ended by producing a sexual pervert.”7


Late Romanticism: The Gothic Art of Darkness

David Punter in his excellent study The Literature of Pity reminds us that there is a great deal that could be said about the relations between pity and the dark worlds of Gothicism; indeed, “a radical view would suggest that the longstanding association between terror and Gothic has been in part a cover story which places us as readers in positions of power – identifying, for example, with the hero/villain – rather than allowing us to share in the no doubt pitiable plight of the victim/heroine”(107).8

This sense of the voyeuristic element of sex and power comes out in the interview of Refn when he speaks of the stereotyping of porn and violence coupled with the femme fatale, telling us “there is still a very heavily-stereotyped view about women and violence. It’s generally either very pornographic, where it’s sexualizing an act of a violent nature: either by degrading it, or by worshipping it, but in either case purely from a male perspective. And then there is the other version, which is a lot more complicated — that women can be vicious to women, and what’s so wrong with showing that? Because there’s nothing sexual in that viciousness.”

Janey Place writes that ‘[t]he dark lady, the spider woman, the evil seductress who tempts man and brings about his destruction is among the oldest themes of art, literature, mythology and religion in Western culture’ (1980, p. 35). The conspicuousness of the femme fatale in Western culture has waxed and waned; she features heavily in the tragic drama of the early seventeenth century and was something of an obsession for a number of poets and novelists in the nineteenth century and in popular art in fin de siècle France. She became ubiquitous in Hollywood film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, the genre with which the term femme fatale is most closely associated, as well as the neo-noir of the late 1980s and early 1990s.9

femme_fataleWoman as fatal to man has been the primary image in men’s discourse for two-thousand years or more. The more nature is beaten back in the west, the more the femme fatale reappears, as a return of the repressed. As Camille Paglia will remark, “She is the spectre of the west’s bad conscience about nature. She is the moral ambiguity of nature, a malevolent moon that keeps breaking through our fog of hopeful sentiment.”10 The femme fatale became the secret fear men had of women and the natural both within themselves and in nature, she would incarnate that dark power of both the unconscious and the externality of deterministic natural process that men in their religious and sacred mythologies had tried, vainly to surmount through at first philosophy by way of Platonic beauty or the Idea, a notion of the perfect world, a world beyond our delusional one; and, secondly, through the endless world of the grotesque, macabre, and bitter satires from Juvenal to Swift and beyond. With the Romantics things would bifurcate into the aesthetic of Beauty and of Terror, the sublime would seek transcendence or immanent revelation and excess (transgression). One might say that this tradition as a whole in which the path of light and that of darkness lead to a ‘literature of narcissism’. As Refn who directed this film with his daughter in mind, says:

We live in a society where we’re constantly being bombarded by the negativity of the future, the negativity of the digital revolution, the negativity of youth being self-absorbed — like my parents weren’t? I mean, they were hippies! So I think, well, my daughter will grow up into this world of amazing opportunities. And maybe the final frontier is no longer treating narcissism as a taboo, but — on the contrary — celebrating it as a natural evolution of the human psyche.

As Paglia would say, “The femme fatale is one of the refinements of female narcissism, of the ambivalent self-directedness that is completed by the birth of a child or by the conversion of spouse or lover into child. (ibid., 14)” Returning to the image of the Medusa Paglia suggests that “Medusa’s snaky hair is also the writhing vegetable growth of nature. Her hideous grimace is men’s fear of the laughter of women. She that gives life also blocks the way to freedom.” (ibid., 14)  The Divine Marquee de Sade once suggested that we have the right to thwart nature’s procreative compulsions, through sodomy or abortion. Paglia would go so far as to affirm that “male homosexuality may be the most valorous of attempts to evade the femme fatale and to defeat nature” (14-15). Suggesting that male homosexuals by turning away from the Medusan mother, whether in honor or detestation of her, had become one of the “great forgers of absolutist western identity” (15).


Novalis and the Kiss of Death: A Poetics of the Baneful

The poet Novalis would develop a complete aestheticism of the voluptuosity, a secret and forbidden world of the sensuous and the mundane held within a an enclosure of the excess of the natural by way of a construction of the artificial. For Novalis himself initiates his account of the human body with the lips and the entire system of the mouth a complex system in which nourishment, elimination, sexuality, and speech are interrelated indeed, by an “anastomosis of discursive individuals” (2: 350). The system of the mouth subtends a “theory of voluptuosity”; yet it is also subject to the dire forces of nature. Nature, characterized by the expansive force of eros, is nevertheless often described in the notebooks in the way a voice in The Apprentices at Saïs describes it, namely, as “a terrifying death-mill,” ”a frightful, rapacious power,” “a realm of voracity and the wildest excess, an immensity pregnant with misery.” Novalis’s theory of voluptuosity culminates in a “poetics of the baneful.” The first kiss is always a kiss of death and the first thing to die is the concept of “firstness,” inasmuch as thaumaturgic idealism does not conjure up a theory of origins.11

Strangely, this poetics of the baneful and malignant would according to Novalis possibly bring about a metamorphosis within the human species and their culture is only we learned love our “illness or pain”:

Perhaps a similar metamorphosis would occur if human beings could come to love what is baneful in the world the moment a human being began to love its illness or pain, the most stimulating voluptuosity would lie in its arms the summit of positive pleasure would permeate it. Could not illness be a means to a higher synthesis the more horrific the pain, the higher the pleasure concealed within it. (Harmony.) Every illness is perhaps the necessary commencement of the more intense conjunction of two creatures the necessary beginning of love. Enthusiasm for illnesses and pains. Death a closer conjunction of lovers. (Krell, 61).

As the neurologist V. S. Ramachandran, “Pain is an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflexive response to an injury.”12 The notion of pain, self-inflicted or other inflicted, masochism or sadism is encrusted in human memory, violence, and the sacred:

Pain is not a simple matter: There is an enormous difference between the unwanted pain of a cancer patient or victim of a car crash, and the voluntary and modulated self-hurting of a religious practitioner. Religious pain, secular or institutional, produces states of consciousness, and cognitive-emotional changes, that affect the identity of the individual subject and her sense of belonging to a larger community or to a more fundamental state of being. More succinctly, pain strengthens the religious person’s bond with the divine and with other persons. Of course, since not all pain is voluntary or self-inflicted, one mystery of the religious life is how unwanted suffering can become transformed into sacred pain. (Glucklich, 6)

As Ariel Glucklich will suggest the task of sacred pain is to transform destructive or disintegrative suffering into a positive religious or secular, psychological mechanism for reintegration within a more deeply valued level of reality than individual existence. (Glucklich, 6) Georges Bataille who sought the intimacy of ecstasy within a secular or immanent mysticism was once gifted with some photographs of a Chinese man undergoing the lingchi method of torture and execution, in which flesh, organs, and limbs are slowly sliced from the still-living victim until he succumbs—“death by a thousand cuts.” Bataille meditated upon this “insane” and “shocking” image of “pain, at once ecstatic(?) and intolerable,” with the fervency of a monk contemplating the crucifi ed body of Christ. The meditation elicited an ambivalent spiritual convulsion whose reverberations carried into Bataille’s final days.13

In Inner Experience, Bataille sketches a set of practices that foster aimlessness by developing a particular kind of relationship to an unknown—but desirable—object. Bataille wants a project that will undo project, a program with the intention of dissolving intentionality, for the purpose of destroying purposiveness. In the process of discovering a secular form of jouissance Bataille will involve intimacy and  a “jouissance of otherness” distinct from masochistic jouissance, a jouissance that “owes nothing to the death drive.” (NE, 65) As Biles and Brintnall maintain this jouissance “has as its precondition the stripping away of the self” and can be described as an “ascetic . . . practice,” insisting that it is not masochistic and, in fact, requires, as an additional precondition, “a loss of all that gives us pleasure and pain in our negotiable exchanges with the world.” (ibid., 65)


The Beauty of Decadence

I think “beauty is everything” is a heightened version of our potential future. I’m not critiquing, nor validating. I think you have to accept it in order to examine it. But surely our obsession with beauty is only going to increase. And longevity will only continue to shrink in our perception of beauty, and the ideal will continue to get younger. Those are facts. The question is, how do we deal with it?

-Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon an Interview

Umberto Eco will align the concept of the Beautiful with the Good tracing it back to that Platonic world of perfection and the real, saying,

‘Beautiful’—together with ‘graceful’ and ‘pretty’, or ‘sublime’, ‘marvellous’, Lucera, Museo Civico ‘ superb’ and similar expressions—is an adjective that we often employ to indicate something that we like. In this sense, it seems that what is beautiful is the same as what is good, and in fact in various historical periods there was a close link between the Beautiful and the Good.14 Notions of the Sublime have been with us at least since Longinus if not before. Harold Bloom, quoting Thomas Weiskel’s The Romantic Sublime relates:

The essential claim of the sublime is that man can, in feeling and in speech, transcend the human. What, if anything, lies beyond the human— God or the gods, the daemon or Nature— is matter for great disagreement. What, if anything, defines the range of the human is scarcely less sure.15

But is there an inverse to this? What of the grotesque, the ugly, the macabre? Is there a non-teleological and immanent (non-transcendent) form of the Sublime? Or, is this as some suggest rather the realm of the Ridiculous and Comic? For Baudelaire the arch-decadent would harbor the notion that nature is a living temple where confused words would sometimes slip forth from the mute stones releasing the symbolic confusion of human worlds, thereby breaking the Law of custom and habit and freeing the revelations that had been lying imprisoned within the depths of abysses and evil. For Arthur Rimbaud the visionary decadent must undergo a “lengthy, immense, and rational dissolution of the senses,” and would say in his A Season in Hell:

One evening, I seated Beauty on my knees.
– And I found her bitter.
– And I railed against her. …

I succeeded in erasing from my mind all human hope. Upon every joy, in order to strangle it, I made the muffled leap of the wild beast.16

Bataille in Erotism: Death and Sensuality (City Lights, 1986) would report

In  sacrifice, the victim is chosen so that its perfection shall give  point  to the full  brutality of  death. Human  beauty, in the union  of  bodies, shows the contrast  between the purest aspect  of  mankind and the hideous animal quality of the sexual organs. The  paradox  of  ugliness  and  beauty  in eroticism  is  strikingly expressed  by  Leonardo  da  Vinci  in his Notebooks:

“The  act  of  coition  and the  members employed are so ugly that  but for the beauty of the faces, the adornments  of  their partners and the  frantic urge,  Nature would lose the  human race.”

Leonardo does not see that the charm of a fair face or  fine clothes is effective  in that  that fair  face  promises  what  clothes  conceal.  The face and its beauty must  be  profaned, first  by  uncovering the woman’s secret  parts, and then  by  putting the male organ into them. (73).

Ultimately for Bataille Beauty’s cardinal importance in contrast to ugliness is that ugliness ‘cannot be spoiled‘, and to despoil is the essence of  eroticism. “Humanity implies  the  taboos, and  in  eroticism it and they are transgressed. Humanity is transgressed, profaned and besmirched. The  greater the  beauty, the more it is  befouled.” (73). So that when the director of The Neon Demon as quoted above states that “beauty is everything” is a heightened version of our potential future, we understand that as in Bataille that without Beauty there would be an end to desire and jouissance, that pleasureable pain of sacrifice and an eroticism that gives us the degradation of immanent corruption and evil bliss. The allurements of seduction, the energia of the abyssal darkness, the fleshy excess that invades us from within and without all fold us in a world of delusionary delirium, eroticism and death without end… an artificial paradise and a resplendent inferno of desire.

Laughter may not show respect but it does show horror.

-Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality

But you know all this, my sweet Beauty. Our only hope is that our present purgatory will come to an end one day: we rub along with it as best we can. What else is left to us? … And as Gozzi said, “We cannot be always laughing…”

-Garielle Wittkop, Murder Most Serene

  1. Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony. Meridian; Reprint Edition edition (1956)
  2. Nordau, Max. Degeneration. University of Nebraska Press; Reprinted edition (November 1, 1993)
  3. Pick, Daniel. Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848-1918 (Ideas in Context). Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (July 30, 1993)
  4. Marja Harmanmaa and Christopher Nissen. Decadence, Degeneration, and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siecle. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (November 19, 2014)
  5. Medlar Lucan. The Decadent Gardner (Kindle Locations 219-227). Dedalus. Kindle Edition.
  6. Friedrich Nietzsche. transl. Walter Kaufmann. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Vintage; Reissue edition (December 17, 1989)
  7. Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1:118.
  8. Punter, David. The Literature of Pity. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2014)
  9. Simkin, S. Cultural Constructions of the Femme Fatale: From Pandora’s Box to Amanda Knox. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (October 28, 2014)
  10. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 13). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  11. David Farrell Krell . Contagion: Sexuality, Disease, and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism (Studies in Continental Thought).  Indiana University Press (March 22, 1998)
  12. Glucklich, Ariel. Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul (p. 87). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  13. Jeremy Biles,Kent Brintnall (Editors). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP)  Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  14. Eco, Umberto. History of Beauty. Rizzoli; Reprint edition (September 21, 2010) (p. 7)
  15. Bloom, Harold. The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime (Kindle Locations 161-163). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  16. Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell and The Illuminations (Kindle Locations 373-374). Kindle Edition.

George Carlin: Dark Laughter of the Trickster


Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies lest they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise.

—Professor Byrd Gibbens, Professor of English, University of Arkansas at Little Rock. From a letter to George Carlin

—From George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty

2013-03-11 13_23_04

Comic Fatalism without Fate

I kept thinking of the indefatigable Buster Keaton, the man who no matter how many times he failed, always picked himself up, dusted himself off, and proceeded on his way to the next failure or success, unperturbed yet full of that melancholy dreaminess that kept us laughing … and, ultimately it is this comic fatalism without Fate of which Frank Ruda speaks in his recent book, Abolishing Freedom. Which has nothing to do with abolishing freedom and everything to do with abolishing Fate.

Hegel once said that “Comedy, will generally come down on the side of fatelessness.”  …it is important to point out that the fatalism at stake here is not simply ridiculous but comic— and only by being comic can it provide a precondition of freedom. This is a fatalism without fate, since everything has always already taken place.

Tragedy is structured around and presents a struggle with fate— a fate that is brought about precisely by the ethical agent who seeks to get rid of it. Yet this ethical agent is ultimately reunited with substance (the divine being) since it ultimately has to recognize that from which it started to free itself. Comedy, in contrast, presents the absence of fate. In doing so it falls either “under the heading of absolute vitality, and consequently presents only shadows of antagonism or mock battles with an invented fate and fictitious enemy [or] under the heading of non-vitality and consequently presents only shadows of independence and absoluteness. The former is the old (or Divine) comedy, the latter is the modern comedy.” (Hegel)

Comedy demonstrates that if nothing is achieved, it is precisely Nothing that is achieved— and although this may sound comical, it is quite hard to achieve (maybe just because it is somehow always already there). This conclusion is not at all simply grotesque or satiric because comedy functions by bringing “the absolutely rational into appearance.”

– Frank Ruda, Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism


The Trauma Factory

Over the years wandering the sub-cultural delirium of dark alchemical mutant datamesh like ccru, conspiracy theory, bizzaro, weird tales, horror, gothic, noir, pulp etc. one gets the feeling that what is being related, although not empirically true nor part of some vast collective reading of the unconscious psyche of the planetary psychosis, is rather the notion of a world-wide Trauma Factory. As if there is a productive system of necrotic knowledge systems producing cosmic nihilism and despair, nightmares and consensual hallucinations; populist narratives gathering threads from every form of deranged mediatized corruption and fetid unknown shadow world; absorbing, collating, revising, narrativizing and republishing for mass consumption the fears and geotraumatic events of our age. Theory-fictions: all the subtle horrors and aberrations, sociopathic and/or psychopathic invasive natural and transnatural installations from the great Outside. Broadcasting not the actual but rather the virtual inlays of a traumatized civilization and species as it faces absolute extinction at the hands of its own secret death-drive toward apocalypse and annihilation.

Maybe this dark gnosis from the collective delirium is a message from the hinterlands of Non-Being, a fragment of that forbidden knowledge we’ve needed for so long but were unable to accept nor fathom, but now that it has arisen from the dark portals of our own being like a murderous passion we can begin to register the truth of our inhuman nature, accept the challenge of knowing for the first and last time who and what we are, wherefrom we’ve been tossed, into what we’ve been thrown, and whereto we are speeding like so many daemons on a runaway train to oblivion

The Stones of Venice


The rationalist mind has always had its doubts about Venice. The watery city receives a dry inspection, as though it were a myth for the credulous – poets and honeymooners. … Among Venice’s spells is one of peculiar potency: the power to awaken the philistine dozing in the sceptic’s breast. People of this kind – dry, prose people of superior intelligence – object to feeling what they are supposed to feel, in the presence of marvels. They wish to feel something else. The extreme of this position is to feel nothing.

– Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Venice

The Return of Dostoyevsky?


The Return of Dostoyevsky?

“I have my own view of reality in art and what in the view of most people verges on the fantastic and the exceptional is sometimes the very essence of the real for me. Everyday trivia and the conventional view of them do not, in my opinion, amount to realism, but the very opposite. In every newspaper you find reports of facts which are at the same time totally real and yet quite extraordinary.  To our writers they seem fantastic and they do not take them into account; and yet they are reality, because they art facts  . .. But is my fantastic Idiot not reality; reality, moreover, of the most everyday kind? Such characters must exist at this very moment in those strata of society which have become divorced from the soil – social strata which are in reality becoming fantastic.”

– Fydor Dostoyevsky, Notebooks and Journals

As I ponder the politics of the fantastic happening in the spectacle of our media-carnivalesque in both the U.S.A. and UK I keep wandering back to the Russian… does he not already prophesy the strange fantastic realism of our present era? Did he not already wander the labyrinths of nihilism and show a way out of its labyrinth? Does he not give us figures who exist among us, unmoored from the dark realities of our day, creatures of the mundane who walk among us free of our brokenness? In fact Dostoyevsky would say of truth, that “truth almost always assumes an entirely fantastic character”.

Of the Fantastic he would affirm its consistency with the real:

“Granted that this is a fantastic tale, but when all is said and done the fantastic in art has its own limits and rules.  T he fantastic must be contiguous with the real to the point that you must almost believe in it. Pushkin, who gave us almost all kinds of art, wrote The Queen of Spades – the summit of fantastic art. And you really believe that Hermann had a vision in keeping with his world-view, and yet when you have read the story through and reached the end, you do not know what to think.”

Even more to the point: “They call me a psychologist: this is not true. I am just a realist in a higher sense, i.e., I depict all the depths of the human soul.” Maybe that’s the issue of our day, we’ve become so used to the surface, the mirror, the postmodern cynicism of beauty without depth, of the soulless and self-reflexive inanity of the vacuous and trivial that as we watch these figures strut across the stage of politics we are seeing the nothing we are and are becoming… emptied of our depths, our soul we’ve become voids within voids unable to think, only react to the ‘bunraku‘ of our day, the puppet-masters of our carnevaleque era of masquerades and false pretentiousness. The veritable age of the ink-dark ‘tabarro’ (cloak) and the chalk-white ‘bauta’ (mask) of Venetian nights returns, the festivals of murder and laughter, decadence and corruptions wander our famed metropolises. But this time there will be no aesthetic appreciation, rather the dark humor of actual lives ground under the broken heels of a system that no longer knows that it knows nothing, yet offers the dreams of everything. A false dream that only the mundane truth will know as hollow, a truth that leads only to farce and ultimate ruin. This is the time of T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men:

 We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Leaning together
    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
    Our dried voices, when
    We whisper together
    Are quiet and meaningless
    As wind in dry grass
    Or rats’ feet over broken glass
    In our dry cellar
    Shape without form, shade without colour,
    Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
    Those who have crossed
    With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
    Remember us-if at all-not as lost
    Violent souls, but only
    As the hollow men
    The stuffed men.


The Transnatural

Wandering through some of Coleridge’s early letters, discussing aspects of his poetry – especially the poems dealing with the daemonic, he uses a term other than the usual apellation we’ve come to expect (“supernatural”); instead, he discusses with Wordsworth, his friend of many years, the term “transnatural”. Gregory Leadbetter in a work devoted to the daemonic in Coleridge’s poetry will tell us:

“The transnatural and the daemonic involve each other here; the transnatural carries the promise and the risk of hidden orders of insight, being, and knowledge—proscribed by contingent social and religious mores—and the daemon is  the  image  of  a  mind fascinated  with  the  transnatural.” (275).

His notebook entry on the transnatural was a secret within a secret, because it refers to experiences withheld even from those closest to him. Below I quote it here in full:

<A  compact with of  the Noumena  to place  themselves  in  a  [?monas/moral] state—each to forbid himself to be conscious of another’s acts except thro’ the senses.>

One of the strangest and most painful Peculiarities of my Nature
(unless others have the same, & like me, hide it from the same inexplicable feeling of causeless shame & sense of a sort of guilt, joined with the apprehension of being feared and shrunk from as a something transnatural) I will here record—and my Motive or rather Impulse to do this, seems to myself an effort to † eloign and abalienate it from the dark Adyt of my own Being by a visual Outness—& not the wish for others to see it—

It consists in a sudden second sight of some hidden Vice, past, present, or to come, of the person or persons with whom I am about to form a close intimacy—which never deters me but rather (as all these transnaturals) urge me on, just like the feeling of an Eddy-Torrent to a swimmer/. I see it as a Vision, feel it as a Prophecy—not as one givenme  by  any  other  Being,  but  as  an  act  of  my  own  Spirit,  of  the  absolute  Noumenon/  which  in  so  doing  seems  to have  offended  against some  Law  of  its  Being,  &  to  have  acted the  Traitor  by  a  commune with full Consciousness independent of the tenure or inflicted state of Association, Cause & Effect &c &c—Thus, it was thiw Gift tuum/ & so thiw Yram + ettolrach—/These occasional acts of the  Εγο νουμενος  =  repetitions  or  semblances of the original Fall of Man—hence shame & power—to leave the appointed Station and become ∆αιμων‡ † to  eloign  a  eloigner,  elongare,  abire,  fugere  in  longum,—in the imperative eloign thee! = make thyself distant/off with thee to moldar y!  Go  to  Hell  &  to the  farthest  end  of  it!  &c  &c—In  French e sounds as an English a, and the interchange between l and r is of notorious frequency in etymology—Hence, Aroynt thee, witch! . . I suppose to be—Eloign thee, witch.

<‡ and perhaps invading the free will & rightful secrecy of a fellowspirit—>  (CN III 4166)

As Leadbetter will explicate the vision urges him on, “as all these transnaturals” do (my emphasis). Coleridge feels such impulses to be somehow transgressive: they prompt feelings of “causeless shame” and “a sort of guilt,” and he suspects that if disclosed, his own fascination with “transnaturals” would make him “feared and shrunk from as a something transnatural.” Coleridge therefore makes himself the focus of a double vision: the transnatural, so compellingly attractive to him, is an object of fear and moral disgust for others. (283). I almost think of Bataille and Baudrillard and their use of the notion of seduction at this point. To be fascinated is to be bewitched or under a spell of seduction. Etymologically we discover

1590s, “bewitch, enchant,” from Middle French fasciner (14c.), from Latin fascinatus, past participle of fascinare “bewitch, enchant, fascinate,” from fascinus “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft,” which is of uncertain origin. Earliest used of witches and of serpents, who were said to be able to cast a spell by a look that rendered one unable to move or resist. Sense of “delight, attract and hold the attention of” is first recorded 1815.

To fascinate is to bring under a spell, as by the power of the eye; to enchant and to charm are to bring under a spell by some more subtle and mysterious power. [Century Dictionary]

Possibly from Greek baskanos “slander, envy, malice,” later “witchcraft, sorcerery,” with form influenced by Latin fari “speak” (see fame (n.)), but others say the resemblance of the Latin and Greek words is accidental. The Greek word might be from a Thracian equivalent of Greek phaskein “to say;” compare enchant, and German besprechen “to charm,” from sprechen “to speak.” Watkins suggests the Latin word is perhaps from PIE *bhasko- “band, bundle” via a connecting sense of “amulet in the form of a phallus” (compare Latin fascinum “human penis; artificial phallus; dildo”). Related: Fascinated; fascinating.

If [baskanos] and fascinum are indeed related, they would point to a meaning ‘curse, spell’ in a loanword from an unknown third language. [de Vaan]2

Whereas seduction has both a sense of sexual license and of a sense of treachery and betrayal:

1520s, from Middle French séduction, from Latin seductionem (nominative seductio), noun of action from past participle stem of seducere (see seduce). Originally with reference to actions or beliefs; sexual sense is from 1769, originally always with women as the objects. Earlier appearance of the word in Middle English with a sense “treason, treachery” probably is a confusion with sedition, which confusion also is found in Old French seducion “treason, betrayal.”3

One will remember the vampire in Christabel that cannot cross the threshold but must first seduce the young girl, tempt her through allurements and seductions of friendship and sexual innuendo, etc., and through the power of fascination succeeds and then once past the threshold her treachery and betrayal are manifest as she feeds on the blood of the young woman, etc. By the end of the poem, Christabel’s unspoken fascination with the  transnatural  has  led  her  to  become  “a  something  transnatural” (CN III 4166), a daemonic being rejected by a father driven mad by her offence against a blind honor-system, which expected only her meekness and obedience (PW I.1 502-3). Again, Coleridge anticipates and figures the social consequences of what he has described. This time, however, the poem’s irresolution sets one of its daemonic agents free. Ultimately the vampire, Geraldine has successfully “escaped” and is at large in the world, surviving through her capacity to manipulate those around her, and making  a  fool  of  religious  certainty  and  patriarchal  authority  as  she does so. (494).

Speculative Philosophy – Confronting the Unknown – Fascination and Seduction

It seems so many of current speculative philosophy is based on this need to make visible what is invisible, to either – as in SR to see indirectly what cannot be seen, or as in those like Zizek to see in the gaps and cracks and blanks of those blind spots of missing information the Real, etc., either or both investigating something in excess of the natural, yet not supernatural – or religious or Platonic (i.e., not some world behind the veil of things, some other realm of pure Ideas, Objects, etc.). So this notion of “transnatural” seems an interesting term for use among those like myself who see in the neurosciences this sense that most of what we take to be reality is based on our brain’s predictive and anticipatory nature, its subtle display of images and representations that probably have little to do with the actual world in-itself and much more to do with what we need to survive and navigate our local spaces. Reason being the ordering of this delusional information the brain arranges for us, while the truth remain in excess of our conscious mind, elided and transnatural to our modes of apprehension.

I’ve often thought that our secular fear of the return of religious forms of thinking have actually been detrimental to the truth surrounding us, and that what secularists need is a form of thought that need not be religious but does need to question its the role of Reason and the missing information that exists in excess of our representations. So many of the philosophers under various terms have been beating around this bush lately without actually saying it outright. What is this unnamed region of being, this invisible realm that we so indirectly accept as there but seem incapable of speaking honestly about?

In past posts I’ve seen in several forms this notion of the “vanishing mediator” – this sense that we need a bridge or mediation between our conscious awareness and our indirect acknowledgement of this invisible we seek to make visible. And what we mean by making visible is simple to find ways to bring it into discourse. Some do it by way of mathemes, others by way of trope and linguistic usage; or, both. There seems to be a common object of these investigations, call it the Real, if you will. The Real is neither reality nor its opposite, fantasy; but, rather that thing that cannot be named but only suffered.

Baudrillard in his book Seduction will speak of the possessive spell cast by a collection of dead objects – the dead sex object being as beautiful as a butterfly with florescent wings – to the seduction of a living being who would demand his love in return . She prefers the monotonous fascination of the collection, the fascination with dead differences, this obsession with the same, over the seduction of the other. This is why one senses from the beginning that she will die, not because the other is a dangerous and mad, but because she is logical, motivated by an irreversible logic. To seduce without being seduced – without reversibility.(128).4

In this case, one of the two terms must die, and it is always the same since the other is already dead . The other is immortal and indestructible, as in every perversion. This is illustrated by the fact that the poem ends where it began (and not without humour – possessive people, like perverse people, have a good sense of humour outside the sphere of their obsession, including in the minutiae of their proceedings) . In any case, the vampiress has enclosed herself within an insoluble logic: all the signs of love she can give the young woman will be interpreted in a contrary manner. And the most tender will be the most suspect. She might perhaps be satisfied with the appropriate signs, but she cannot bear the genuine enticements of love. Within this logic, she has signed her own death warrant.(P128).

Bataille once said of fascination, “It is obviously the combination of abhorrence and
desire,” he wrote, “that gives the sacred world a paradoxical character, holding the one who considers it without cheating in a state of anxious fascination”…5 One imagines Coleridge as he portrayed Christabel as she teasingly confronts Geraldine with both abhorrence and desire, moving between conflicting emotions in a space in-between the natural and transnatural.

Bataille found that the mystical experience is unleashed by the apparition of an object that fascinates and absorbs the viewer. It could be anything—a cascade, trees seen in the fog from a car window, a flash of lightning, the ecstatic object has no necessary or meaningful connection with a complex of other objects or with one’s own nature and goals. Ecstatic experience fixes on objects out of reach, things with which one can do nothing. An ecstatic object is also not some condensed image or symbol of perfection, peace, utopia, or the divine. (ibid., p. 140). The object of desire is both impossible and possible at the same time, an encounter that activates aspects of one’s being that otherwise seem in stasis: – and, now put one in a state of ecstasis (i.e., The state of being beside oneself or rapt out of oneself.). As Alphonso Lingis on Bataille will say,

The ecstatic vision finds kinship with the ecstatic object. This object is like oneself in that it is disconnected from significance and function in the network of pragmatic or significant relationships. It exists in and for itself. But it is undergoing a dramatic loss of its identity, multiplied in caricatures of itself, rent, in flames. The ecstatic fixation on such an object conveys an overwhelming desire to join that object, merge with it, lose oneself in it, and senses too in anguish that the object is lethal. (ibid., p. 141).

Who will forget the lethal gaze of Geraldine? The seduction, treachery, and betrayal…

A snake’s small eye blinks dull and shy,
And the lady’s eyes they shrunk in her head,
Each shrunk up to a serpent’s eye,
And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread,
At Christabel she looked askance!-
One moment- and the sight was fled!
But Christabel in dizzy trance
Stumbling on the unsteady ground
Shuddered aloud, with a hissing sound;
And Geraldine again turned round,
And like a thing that sought relief,
Full of wonder and full of grief…


The maid, alas! her thoughts are gone,
She nothing sees- no sight but one!
The maid, devoid of guile and sin,
I know not how, in fearful wise,
So deeply had she drunken in
That look, those shrunken serpent eyes,
That all her features were resigned
To this sole image in her mind:
And passively did imitate
That look of dull and treacherous hate!

Caught between one’s natural impulses and the transnatural power of the daemonic she is too late to break the spell, to turn away, to flee the treacherous hate of the beloved one, but is seduced and absorbs the full extent of her dizzying engulfment in ecstasy even as she swoons and falls at the feet of her lover, dead. As Lingis tells us (ibid., p. 141):

The ecstatic object is catastrophic. The ecstatic object opens onto a realm not tied together with instrumental interconnections or relations of intelligible interdependency. One finds oneself exposed to powers outside the realm of work and reason, uncontained by and destructive of work and uncomprehended by reason the outer realm is encountered as the realm of the impracticable, the unutilizable, the unmanipulatable, a realm of darkness and emptiness.”

Note: luckily found a copy of this in my local library a few days back… way too expensive to buy…

  1.  Gregory Leadbetter. Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination. Palgrave Macmillan; 2011 edition (March 15, 2011)
  2. see:
  3. see:
  4. Jean Baudrillard. Seduction. Palgrave Macmillan; English ed edition (January 15, 1991)
  5. Jeremy Biles (Editor), Kent Brintnall (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion. Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)

On Land, Zizek, and Speculative Realism: The Mediation of the Real

What’s always been interesting in the current battles between materialist, vitalist, and speculative realist philosophies is that they all seem to dispute where to begin: the dialectical materialists and vitalists begin with the pre-ontological and formless void, then turn toward an emergent ontology arising out of it; while SR starts at that point when substance or form has already emerged, battling over just what it is that form and substance are without ever appraising the pre-ontological (or as Harman likes to put it: it’s objects all the way down).

I seem to float between Zizek and Land. Land begins in the formless ocean of energy – the vitalist stream of process and becoming he sees in Nietzsche and Bataille a non-dialectical process that never enters into any form of static substance, ever. Zizek seems to oscillate between form (Substance/Subject) and formlessness (Void) never resting in either world, always moving like a desperate thought between the two. Where Land is non-dialectical, Zizek is dialectical. For me there is a parallax view between the two that has yet to be assayed.

Or as Zizek says of parallax view:

“The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply “subjective,” due to the fact that the same object which exists “out there” is seen from two different stations, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently “mediated,” so that an “epistemological” shift in the subject’s point of view always reflects an “ontological” shift in the object itself. Or, to put it in Lacanese, the subject’s gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its “blind spot,” that which is “in the object more than object itself,” the point from which the object itself returns the gaze.” (

In this sense it coincides with Nietzsche’s sense of Zarathustra’s statement that one must be wary of staring into the abyss lest “it stare back” (paraphrase). This sense of the object gazing back becomes in Graham Harman’s system the notion of when two objects gaze into each other a third object is formed in excess of the original objects, thereby forming something new that is neither one nor the other. In this sense they form a parallax view onto each other; or, as Harman would say “Every relation needs a mediator.” So that for Harman:

“My view is that this problem arises directly from Latour’s “flat ontology.” If all actors are equal, then you cannot avoid an infinite number of mediators between any two entities. Yet the solution provided by object-oriented philosophy is that there are two kinds of objects, not just one: there are real and sensual objects that mediate each other one at a time, much like the north and south poles of a magnet which alone can make contact, leading to a potentially endless chain of magnets. … As for “weird realism,” it denotes a kind of realism that is not simply a question of matching the contents of the mind with a real world outside the mind. My sort of realism is “weird” because it claims that the real is too real to be known, or too real to be accessed. I choose the word “weird” because of its desirable association with things that never fully appear insofar as they are not quite of this earth: Shakespeare’s “weird sisters,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “weird tales.”” (

So in this sense Harman when he says that “the real is too real to be known” he would take us back to Socrates; or, as Land says:

“By interpreting contact with the unknown as the deferral of judgment by the subject, translating the positivity of sacred confusion into the negativity of epistemic uncertainty, Socrates initiates the proper history of the West.”1

So in this sense it’s a battle whether one argues from and for an epistemic stance (Zizek) over the ‘ontic’ or reduction to some static known or physical substance, and rather opts for either a non-dialectical or dialectical parallax view onto the object that one relates to within the mediation. The problem that one must resolve is not that there is relation and mediation, but rather is this mediator conceptual or energetic? This seems to be the battle among current philosophies. We’ve discussed Zizek’s and Harman’s views, below are Brassier and Land.

Brassier opts for the concept as mediator. “…many philosophers follow Hegel in defining the ‘concrete’ as that which is relationally embedded, in contradistinction to the ‘abstract’, which is isolated or one-sided. In what follows, the terms ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ do not designate types of entity, such as the perceptible and the imperceptible or the material and immaterial. They are used to characterise the ways in which thinking relates to entities. As Hegel showed, what seems most concrete, particularity or sensible immediacy, is precisely what is most abstract, and what seems most abstract, universality or conceptual mediation, turns out to be most concrete.”  (

Land says: “Everything is mediated by elucidations, re-elucidations, elucidations of previous elucidations, conducted with meticulous courtesy…” or “mediation assumes a kind of quarantine, whereby the interaction of organism-specific id and exo-organismic reality can be monitored and negotiated, collapsing libidinal circuitry into a polarity of the psychic and the extrapsychic, inside and outside.”2

Both Brassier and Land speak in almost Zizekian terms of oscillating between inside/outside, Brassier more formally reverting to the ‘concrete universal’ of Hegelian abstraction; while Land, energetic as always, moving among Freud’s libidinal dialectic; yet, both are in the end agreeing on a dialectical vision of mediation so that even Land succumbs to Hegel whether he will or no. Strangely, so did Bataille, who also struggled with and against Hegelian dialectics. Only Zizek would emerge from this battle with a notion of the Void within the Void – a return to Democritus’s notions that matter is void (“empty, immaterial”).

With Harman we come upon the notion of “vanishing mediator,” which strangely – due to his readings of Zizek would take an inverse relation to that philosopher’s use of the term. Whereas Zizek in The Ticklish Subject would bring to the fore is a thematization of the Subject as some kind of disjunctive “and”:

The key point is thus that the passage from “nature” to “culture” is not direct, that one cannot account for it within a continuous evolutionary narrative: something has to intervene between the two, a kind of “vanishing mediator,” which is neither nature nor culture—this In-between is silently presupposed in all evolutionary narratives. We are not idealists: this In-between is not the spark of logos magically conferred on Homo sapiens, enabling them to form his supplementary virtual symbolic surroundings, but precisely something that, although it is also no longer nature, is not yet logos, and has to be “repressed” by logos—the Freudian name for this In-between, of course, is the death drive. Speaking of this In-between, it is interesting to note how philosophical narratives of the “birth of man” are always compelled to presuppose such a moment of human (pre)history when (what will become) man is no longer a mere animal and simultaneously not a “being of language,” bound by symbolic Law; a moment of thoroughly “perverted,” “denaturalized,” “derailed” nature which is not yet culture.3

Harman in his first work would discuss this notion, saying,

Zizek is perfectly right to point to the impossibility of correlating ontic choices to the ontological gap between presence and absence. It should also be clear that human existence never occupies the point of either pure immersion or pure awareness: “the ‘specifically human’ dimension is thus neither that of engaged agent caught in the finite life-world context, nor that of universal Reason exempted from the life-world, but the very discord, the ‘vanishing mediator’ between the two.” This ambivalent discord goes by many names in Heidegger, among them geworfener Entwurf, thrown projection. I have argued in this book that projection is no more primary than the thrownness, and hence, that the future has no real priority over the past.4

This brings into play another agreement between Land and Zizek over Harman. Zizek’s notion of retroactive causation, or against Harman – the notion that the future does have a priority over the past. Playfully Zizek in Absolute Recoil will tell it this way,

The book’s title refers to the expression absoluter Gegenstoss, which Hegel uses only once, but at a crucial point in his logic of reflection, to designate the speculative coincidence of opposites in the movement by which a thing emerges out of its own loss. The most concise poetic formula of absolute recoil was provided by Shakespeare (no surprise here), in his uncanny Troilus and Cressida (Act 5, Scene 2):

O madness of discourse,
That cause sets up with and against itself!
Bi-fold authority! where reason can revolt
Without perdition, and loss assume all reason
Without revolt.5

Hegel uses the term “absolute recoil” in his explanation of the category of “ground/ reason (Grund),” where he resorts to one of his famous wordplays, connecting Grund (ground/ reason) and zu Grunde gehen (to fall apart, literally “to go to one’s ground”):

The reflected determination, in falling to the ground, acquires its true meaning, namely, to be within itself the absolute recoil upon itself, that is to say, the positedness that belongs to essence is only a sublated positedness, and conversely, only self-sublating positedness is the positedness of essence. Essence, in determining itself as ground, is determined as the non-determined; its determining is only the sublating of its being determined. Essence, in being determined thus as self-sublating, has not proceeded from another, but is, in its negativity, self-identical essence.6

In a final explication we quote from Zizek one last refrain:

To put it in traditional terms, the present work endeavors to elevate the speculative notion of absolute recoil into a universal ontological principle. Its axiom is that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designates as the speculative attitude of the thought towards objectivity. All other forms of materialism, including the late Althusser’s “materialism of the encounter,” scientific naturalism, and neo-Deleuzian “New Materialism,” fail in this goal. The consequences of this axiom are systematically deployed in three steps:

1) the move from Kant’s transcendentalism to Hegel’s dialectics, that is, from transcendental “correlationism” (Quentin Meillassoux) to the thought of the Absolute;
2) dialectics proper: absolute reflection, coincidence of the opposites;
3) the Hegelian move beyond Hegel to the materialism of “less than nothing.”7

Nick Land always an opponent to a certain type of dialectical thinking will harken back to Socrates to begin his attack, saying,

With Socrates, things are different. Philosophy becomes dialectical; which is to say justificatory, political, logical, plebeian. Truth is identified with irrefutability, evidentiality and educated belief, beginning its long subsidence into the forms of human credence, as if its acceptability were in any way a criterion.8

For Land Socratism is the mobilization of unknowing on behalf of knowing; subordinating irony to dialectic, confusion to judgments and the sacred to a subdued profanity.9

Land, favoring Maoist over Leninist/Stalinist Marxism and dialectics will offer an appraisal:

The Superiority of Far Eastern Marxism. Whilst Chinese materialist dialectic denegativizes itself in the direction of schizophrenizing systems dynamics, progressively dissipating top-down historical destination in the Tao-drenched Special Economic Zones, a re-Hegelianized ‘western marxism’ degenerates from the critique of political economy into a state-sympathizing monotheology of economics, siding with fascism against deregulation. The left subsides into nationalistic conservatism, asphyxiating its vestigial capacity for ‘hot’ speculative mutation in a morass of ‘cold’ depressive guilt-culture. (FN, KL  6110-6114).

Yet, in the end Land’s non-dialectical of base materialism begins in a rejection of physicalism or reductionary substantive formalist and scientific factuality:

A cosmological theory of desire emerges from the ashes of physicalism. This is to presuppose, of course, that idealism, spiritualism, dialectical materialism (shoddy idealism), and similar alternatives have been discarded in a preliminary and rigorously atheological gesture. Libidinal materialism, or the theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, is nothing but a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice.10

Land’s reading of Hegel unlike Zizek’s would see dialectical materialism as part of a redemptive system of saving the appearances, etc. as substantive formalism writ out in absolutist terms. Zizek’s Hegel is read through Lacan and vice versa as a non-substantive or immaterialist system wherein the Void or Less than nothing replaces substantive matter of physicalism. So that in some ways and by circuitous route both Land and Zizek are in agreement as to the dephysicalization of matter, but disagree over desire. Zizkek following Lacan sees in desire lack seeking the Object a; Land following Deleuze will see the unconscious as productive rather than lacking or needful, and will build an energetic or constructive notion of desire as desiring machines, as producer of desires.

In the end there will remain no reconciliation among these various philosophers, only open war and disparity.

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3310-3311). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 4489-4491). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 39.
  4. Harman, Graham. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (pp. 206-207). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 1-2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  6. ibid. (pp. 3-4)
  7. ibid.
  8. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3255-3257). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. ibid.
  10. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation. (p. 26)

A Fondness for the Damned

I see nothing. It’s because there is nothing, or it’s because I have no eyes, or both, that makes three possibilities to choose from.
—Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down an open sewer and die.
—Mel Brooks

Our old gram papus Edgar Allan – the Poe offered this bit of wisdom:

“We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. … It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. … [Then] The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies—disappears—we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!” –The Imp of the Perverse

Yes, too late… we’ve always been too late. But isn’t that always been the case for the damned? Are we or are we not always late for the party, the guests having dispersed long ago, the marriage having taken place, the bride and bridegroom gone, the remnants of laughter, food, drink, friendship – all fallen away into oblivion, sunk into that past that can, not now or evermore be redeemed? Aren’t we the ones left like ghosts to haunt the fragments of memories, the dust-blown chiliastic fringes of some forgotten apocalypse, a world of shadows rotting on the edge of an empty galactic sump?

Oh, don’t get me wrong I once knew what it meant to live in the light. Yes, I, too, was a favored son… but, alas, that was long ago; now I’m favored alright, a favorite son of perdition, a being with a fondness for the damned, the lost, the broken. We belong together like nails in a coffin. Blood born members of a dark heritage, creatures of the long night, the night of an endless annihilation.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some dark confession. Some secret history of the damned, nor the revelation of the uncharted enclaves below the threshold. No. We actually exult in our distempered revels, our claustrophobic malaise, the imponderable and nefarious torments of our charnel house imaginings, our lugubrious mentations. These are the consolations of the damned, the twisted incscapes of the immortal mortals – the hollow-eyed drinkers of the midnight sun.

Years ago Leslie Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel would admit that most of our literature is dangerous and full of blood-lust and horror, as sort of homage to our Puritan ancestors who relished in sadism and murder, witch burnings and crazed lunatic manias of religious bigotry and infamy. From the beginning we had our heads in some  heaven of purity; our stomachs in the world of engorgements and capital gains – lust for gold, property, and the derangements of sex, drugs, religion, and economics; and, our feet in the bone graves of haunted landscapes. Murderers, killers, cannibals, rapists, death, incest, and a penchant for those secret pleasures of the unspeakable. Yes, our literature is strewn with the shadow worlds of our ancestral mad house, the slaughtered carcasses of everything that did not fit into the pure world of our ideal vision of moral goodness. Yet, the high-minded ones could not escape us, could not hide in their religious halls, defend themselves against their own children. Yes. We became the thing they feared most, their torment, their darkened justice – the furies of their secret desires that would not go away.

Sadly Leslie Fiedler for exposing the underbelly of American disgust, of the darkness in our puritanical past, the murderous cult of aggression, pain, excess that had always been there in our national psyche the old guard rose up to destroy him. After an involved police surveillance operation, Fiedler was arrested in 1967 on the charge of maintaining premises where banned substances were being used. Following six weeks of surveillance, the narcotics squad obtained a search warrant. With only one day left in the warrant, the police raided the house and “found” small quantities of marijuana and hashish. Marsha Van der Voort later testified under oath that she had planted the illegal substances just prior to the entrance of the police. Even though they had no direct evidence that Fiedler himself had used them, the evidence was sufficient for an arrest. The scandal was disastrous for Fiedler; his home insurance was canceled by two different providers, and the University of Amsterdam reversed their decision to have him as a Fulbright lecturer. While the legal case was ongoing, Fiedler managed to secure a position as visiting professor in the University of Sussex. (read)

Its in the derelict cities, the ruins of former factory towns, the suburbs of toxic waste, the hinterlands of former metropolises that one finds the lost and lonely, the fragmented and demented denizens of a world most would rather dismiss than recognize as their own. Here in these forgotten zones “by cracked nails pressed against yellowing maps of long-dead subway lines, words parsed from veins of blood welling from a blossoming wound, grunts behind locked bathroom doors that echo out numbers, names”.2 Dark places where one can find strange things “naked and fetal-curled like a withered spider, rain drops bursting all over its white skeletal body. Its face was turned up to the sky, lips folded back from a frozen gnash of black teeth. Its flesh was ossified, like stone, pitted all over and cracked black at the joints and around the neck and jaw. The black eyes were like holes where spikes had been.”3 Here the damned live out their lives without hope, without thought of salvation or redemption; without solace.


Yes, the damage has been done. America can no longer hide its dark inheritance, the truth of its scarred history. We’ve killed the indigenous tribes, or scattered them across the wastelands of unwanted lands. Murdered our workers, condemned them to lives of quiet desperation, lives caught in the worlds of crime or drugs, between crack, meth, or heroin they eek out lives in the blank spaces of darkness. America, home of the brave, is truly home of the ghosts, the wanderers, the lame and maimed. We darkened our lands bringing freemen to slavedom from the lands of Africa to work our southern crops. We built great cities of death for the capitalists, the rich oligarchs and plutocrats. We sucked the oil out of the earth, stripped the pits of coal, forged the desperate chains that are now haunting our lands as climate change darkens the planet. Ours is a fearful land, a haunted land, a land of violence and mayhem – a place where the ghosts of the past wander among us like the broken inhabitants of a nightmare land of secrets. Yet, in the midst of terror there is humor, the good clean fun of pain and chaos. We seem to relish in our absurdity, follow the delusional lives of the rich and famous, the Hollywood idols, the sports world’s icons, the NY celebrities as if their lives inhabited a hyperworld of glamor and decay we all wished we could. And, yet, below the decopunk vistas lies another world, a darker colder world of serial killers, baby snatchers, cannibals, torture, mass murder, slaughter, mayhem; paranormal ghost hunters, alien festivals, Burning Man or Sturgis rallies; skinheads, neo-Nazis, catalysts of hate and death… name it we have it, a land of excess chaos.

Some live in private hells: “Every night I wake up in a panic, thinking I have forgotten something critical and now a man is coming into my room to punish me. Kill me. Every. Fucking. Night. Sometimes six or seven times a night. And when I’m awake, I feel as though I’m always holding my breath, waiting for the thump.”4 Paranoia, panic, the feeling the world is out to get you, take you down. In a world where conspiracy runs riot in the streets, a realm where Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Iraq-gate, lifts itself out of the pages of yellow sheets, where official exposure of these scandals proves that secrets in the United States cannot be kept and plots in high office will always be found out.5

We get the feeling we’re living in a temporal disorder, a realm closed off in time, short-circuited and feeding on endless reroutings or chaotic spasms. Terror is one symptom of imploding time; panic is, in part, a temporal disorder.7  One feels a disparity, a seeming panic of living strangely, in death’s aftershocks, gasping for air in the effort to grapple with the news. If making futures is a kind of technology, then making futures that arrive already over is another kind— panic and terror are futures technologies, practiced in the killing fields of manufactured time— (Orr, 280)

A conspiracy exists when two or more persons agree privately to commit a reprehensible, illegal, or criminal act, especially in relation to sedition, treason, or murder, hence especially against the state (Oxford English Dictionary, 1971; paraphrased, not quoted). It is traced by the OED back to Chaucer in 1386. By contrast, Alisdair Spark (1998) remarks that “in July 1997 the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary included the term `conspiracy theory’ for the first time. This was a recognition that in recent years conspiracy has become increasingly popular as an explanation for unfolding events, most overtly in the United States”.6 For many, conspiracy theories are understood as false, irrational, even pathologically dangerous. In these formulations, conspiracy theorizing is not the harmless pastime of a few obsessive loners; it is a social threat that reflects profound political malaise. (ibid., Bratich) Conspiracy theories are like doorways into the major social and political issues defining U.S. (and global) political culture since the end of the cold war. Among these issues are the rise of new technologies; the social function of journalism; U.S. race relations; the parameters of dissent; globalization, biowarfare, and biomedicine; and the shifting position within the Left and Right. (ibid. Bratich)

So there is a common thread that seems to run through our national psyche, a sort of warp and weave, a dialectic of inclusion and expulsions – an ongoing civil-war that was always there, and from time to time seems to surface out of its bubble of slime. A double-world of sociopathic murderousness, a vision of extremes. Our politics. And, yet, this venal subject is best known not in the halls of the fake, in Washington politics, but rather down below in the worlds of our extreme fictions: bizzaro, horror, weird, trash, pulp, crime novels, police procedurals, etc. – the genre and sub-genre worlds where our desires are no longer hidden in the dark, but suddenly come out of the shadows and sport upon the wastelands of our modern cities, our suburbs, our country towns and villages. The world of the damned, the lost, the excluded: the victims of this fetid world of Capital.

Here at street-level, there are those dark talents who’ve created  a myriad of genres whose predominant artifice is its apparent lack of artifice; consequently, the line separating fiction and reality has become increasingly blurred offering us the unreal worlds we pretend not to notice, the hell zones all around us. These are the secret realms of contemporary genre fiction, often vicarious and voyeuristic, that can be read as quasi-anthropological texts, or as narratives evoking prurient interests; descriptions of what America has become, or chapters in a survivalist’s handbook. Despite a handful of writers preoccupied with the poetry of violence or the grand gestures of everyday life, these genres continues its drift towards simulation, extremism and confession. We crave the lurid and impossible sub-worlds of genre fiction where the desires we would rather not admit to ourselves can come out and play, expose themselves like flashers on a street corner – the perversities of our darker modes of being can live vicariously in the haunted scapes of an alternate America, or even wider world of war, conflict, and horror. Allow our nightmares to run rampant across the globe where we can see what is hiding in the shadows of our blindness, expose the side of ourselves we will never admit openly.

As Woody Haut once said to “examine a culture, one need only investigate its crimes. Thus the fictionalisation of crime has become a favourite pastime and a means of analysing society”.1 I would extend that into all of our genre and sub-genre popular fictions. It is in the dark contours of these nightmare worlds of fictive enactments we learn more about our national psyche than in all the sociological of philosophical tracts one could muster. Although we need both, intellectual fare and the passional, one must stoop below and enter the fabric of our nation’s psychic ambiguities, the treasure trove of pop cult, conspiracy, madness, and apocalyptic literature; crime, noir, horror, bizzaro, weird tales, etc. to expose the verities that are never seen in the prim and proper worlds of cultured or academic thought. (Of course this is not always true!)

Haut in his book Neon Noir once described this for the crime genre: “the term implies a predominantly urban genre; and, two, because it suggests an electronic culture consisting of half-lit signs adorning cheap hotels, the sound of crackling synapses induced by hallucinogenics and the war in Vietnam, the power of the media, and the flash of self-promotion as crime writers hammer out stories on the frontage of the information superhighway.” (ibid.) In our own moment we could expand that into all the world-wide conflicts and political unrest, terror laden internal and external secular and religious monstrosities. America typifies the best and worst the world has to offer. If nothing else because of our civil and political strife our land is the embodiment of what’s wrong on the planet, a nation whose people move between sociopathy and psychopathy, a realm divided against itself with extremes of politics, race, gender, economic, and every other social and domestic issue there is on the planet. If the Antropocene has become both a reality and a metaphor, a heuristical device around which the truth of our planetary civilization is collapsing into chaos and disintegration then America is central to this dilemma. America as supposedly the imperial superpower, with India, Russia, China, and EU etc. in close association and rivalry then it is with her I’m concerned, and more qualified to delve into.

In an age of hyperconsumption and technodoom when the world seems to be folding up like an accordion, the climate devolving into broken thermal lifts, caged respites of superstorms, melting glaciers, oceanic stalls the cycles that have kept the agricultural breadbaskets of human consumption alive for 12 millennia may be about to dry up. For two centuries secular culture and civilization has lived by the law of transgression, a celebratory cultures of breaking of laws and taboos, of thumbing our noses at religious and traditional values. Like technogothic charmers of the secular dungheap we’ve accumulated zombies in the mind, viral strains break the antigens of our modern medical resilience, the frayed barbarism of anti-intellectualism in our cities, and the rise of ancient monolithic religions on the edge like marauders and terrorists of ancient faith come back to purify the world of atheistic civilization. The threats to paternal neoliberal globalist order discloses an underlying instability, an absence, at the heart of our social or symbolic structure.

Divested of economic and political power, the neoliberal oligarchy and aristocracy is imagined as the antithesis of bourgeois values of sobriety, merit, and industriousness. Its
luxuriously wasteful indulgences are considered decorative and idle ways of spending time and money in a commercial culture where rational production, moral regulation, and useful activity are now predominant. The association between Gothic styles and aristocratic excess, though giving aristocracy a darkened dangerous allure (it is no accident that Dracula is a count), nonetheless places both forms in a position subordinate to emerging neoliberal bourgeois values.

“We live in Gothic times,” commented Angela Carter, in an account of the way that genres once consigned to cultural margins have begun to prevail over their canonized counterparts.8 In her works we discover that against the elder gothics where the restoration of symbolic, normative boundaries was celebrated in the violent climaxes to older tales of terror, monstrous figures are now less often terrifying objects of animosity expelled in the return to social and symbolic equilibrium. Instead, in her neo-gothic world they retain a fascinating, attractive appeal: no longer objects of hate or fear, monstrous others become sites of identification, sympathy, desire, and self-recognition. Excluded figures once represented as malevolent, disturbed, or deviant monsters are rendered more humane while the systems that exclude them assume terrifying, persecutory, and inhuman shapes. We are reclaiming the victims, the outcasts, the monsters, the excluded and expulsed as our own, as our flesh, our lives, our lost modes of awareness and being.

In our time it is the figures of authority who are rendered suspect. With its ghostly power demystified, the space of a single credible, paternal figure is left vacant, to be filled with a host of fleeting specters of delegitimized (governmental, conspiratorial, military, corporate, criminal, or alien) power. (314)9 Changes in patterns of consumption are linked, through Gothic figures, to new methods of reproduction and genetic manipulation that literally threaten paternal formations. While Frankenstein and Dracula have always been associated with science and technology, “vampires, aliens, and feminist heroics, all represent anxieties about an unauthorized reproduction that challenges proper (i.e., paternal) reproductive order and human aegis”: the threat involves “a patriarchal order that has allied itself with the very technology whose system has already spelled its transmogrification.” (316)

A sense of cultural exhaustion haunts our present neoliberal world. An inhuman future is shrouded in old Gothic trappings emptied of any strong charge; past images and forms are worn too thin to veil the gaping hole of objectless anxiety. Genre fictions from gothic, crime, horror, weird tales, bizzaro, pulp, etc., all of which served as earlier modernity’s and our own abyss, as well as served up a range of objects and figures crystalizing anxiety into fear, has become too familiar after two centuries of repetitive mutation and seem incapable of shocking anew. Inured to social, political, and economic shocks and terrors, contemporary culture recycles its images in the hope of finding a charge intense enough to stave off the abysses within and without, the one opened up by postmodernist fragmentation and plurality that are now drifting into speculative realist, materialist, and vitalist Gothic figures, once giving form to the anxieties surrounding the transition from aristocratic to bourgeois to neoliberal culture, now disclose only the formlessness, the consuming void, underlying the flickering thrills of contemporary western simulations (Baudrillard). Since they seem unable to envisage a future that is not finally cloaked in darkness, the only projections to be made offer us a weary and ominously doom-laden view.

Yet, the comic fatalism that Freud taught us belies the fact of this doom, seeking to answer it with a deeper questioning. As he’d teach us, and those like Lacan would extend the ”

…unconscious is not some agency that intervenes from beyond. It is there all the time, revealing itself in gaps, holes of what is actually willed, decided, said, and done. And, strangely enough, freedom itself admits to this fact and informs us of it. It points us to its gaps and limitations and thus to its being determined. There is a right to feel free but, even if we do so, we cannot but admit to what one assumed could not be admitted to.10

From Freud and ancient Greek tragedy we learn that Oedipus’s destiny touches us because it depicts how it is attempting to avoid your own destiny that brings this destiny about. It shows us how our defense operation(s) against the drives determine the form in which our own fate is determined. We share with Oedipus that we are also “unwittingly bringing [our] fate on” ourselves. Drive is fate, fate is driven, and psychoanalysis as rationalist theory of psychical determinism (i.e., of the drive and of the resistances against it) is ultimately a witty version of fatalism.(ibid.) As I said in a recent post, quoting from Freud  “flight is precisely an instrument that delivers one over to what one is fleeing from“.11 One cannot escape one’s self-determined fate, which after all is merely to realize one is not in control of one’s destiny but rather controlled by forces within greater than one’s conscious mind.

One has to admit one’s strengths and weaknesses, expose one’s wounds to the weapons of destruction to become whole; and, if not whole at least not excluded from the process of healing. None of us can even begin to know but a fraction of the knowledge it takes to even open one’s mouth, much less speak of who we are, where we’ve been, where we’re going, what is to be done, and how we might get there even if we knew what we want – which at the late date may only mean how to survive the coming collapse of our planet and civilization. I rule nothing out. But one thing for sure it will be my fondness for the damned that will win out… for me it is and will always be the victim, the oppressed, the innocent – the excluded and expulsed that I champion. All those who cannot defend themselves, speak fluently for their rights, and voice their desperation and pain in the face of an indifferent and impersonal universe of injustice. To believe in justice, to harbor the ancient views of an egalitarian vision where people can somehow live together without harboring hate and malice then this is where I’ll be: in hell with my brothers and sisters till the heaven of the Masters, the Oligarchs, the Plutocrats lies in ruin and desolation. Then just maybe we can rebuild a world worth living in… that is if we survive the coming darkness and collapse – the thermospasm that is accelerating toward us like a speed train without any breaks…

Here the festival is not dead. For the delirium of this rare celebration does not radiate out from the center of things, but seeps inward from remote margins. Thus, the festival may have begun in an isolated hovel at the edge of town, if not in some lonely residence in the woods beyond. In any case, its agitations have now reached the heart of this dim region…12

  1. Haut, Woody. Neon Noir (Kindle Locations 142-143). 280 Steps. Kindle Edition.
  2. Llewellyn, Livia. Furnace (Kindle Locations 56-57). Word Horde. Kindle Edition.
  3. Thomas, Jeffrey. Punktown (Kindle Locations 36-39). DarkFuse. Kindle Edition.
  4. Snyder, Lucy A.; Braunbeck, Gary A.. While the Black Stars Burn (Kindle Locations 77-80). Raw Dog Screaming Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. deHaven-Smith, Lance. Conspiracy Theory in America (Discovering America) (Kindle Locations 561-562). University of Texas Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Jack Z. Bratich. Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and Popular Culture (Kindle Locations 72-77). Kindle Edition.
  7. Orr, Jackie. Panic Diaries: A Genealogy of Panic Disorder (p. 280). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition
  8. Carter, Angela. Shaking a Leg: Collected Journalism and Writings.  Penguin Books (December 1, 1998)
  9. Hogle, Jerrold E.. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge University Press (September 16, 2002)
  10. Ruda, Frank. Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (Provocations) (Kindle Locations 2302-2305). UNP – Nebraska. Kindle Edition.
  11. Freud, Sigmund. (The Standard Edition) (Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud) 1st Edition W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 17, 1990)
  12. Thomas Ligotti. The Nightmare Factory (Kindle Locations 3181-3184). Kindle Edition.