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.

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