America the Violent, Home of the Mad

America The Violent, Home of the Mad

I’ve slowly come to the realization that maybe Richard Slotkin in his trilogy on the violent and atavistic mythologies of American empire and aggression in his notion of “regeneration through violence” have not only resurfaced with a vengeance but seem about to topple the very notion of democracy itself. As I go back through the haunted dreams of violence of my southern gothic forbears: James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Poe, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Carson McCullers, Harry Crews, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, James Dickey, William Gay, Wiley Cash, Larry Brown, Joe R. Lansdale, Cormac Mccarthy… and so many others who have dipped into the dark places of the American psyche and landscape mythologies of violence and horror, secular and religious ecstasy and murderous nostalgia, lust, murder, mayhem, racial tensions, homophobia, cannibalism, war, ghosts…. madness… one wonders how we lasted this long. It’s as if this election is bringing it all to the surface, putting it on display for all the world to see: the good, the bad, and the ugly (no pun intended). And, this is not even a spaghetti western, no Clint Eastwood to violently walk off into the sunset, no John Wayne to ride off with the heroine, no Steve McQueen to hop the motorcycle to freedom, no vigilante Charles Bronson to tame the streets of thuggish cops or back alley slimecrawlers… nothing but nothing is our game: a zero sum game into that dark abyss of Chaos and Old Night… who knows what comes next? One wants to say in parody of Yeats: “What beast comes slithering toward Babylon like some nightmare from the Night of the Living Dead?”

The Southern gothics were the inheritors of Melville and Hawthorne rather than Emerson’s Transcendental Sublime:  these are those who would see in the world of appearances as neither a hollow world of ‘Good’ beyond, or some darkened version of this one transubstantiated; rather they followed the very force of evil itself, that energetic power of the indifferent and impersonal universe full of great openness and surprise, and unexpected violence and catastrophic happenings: – a counter-sublime at once nihil and full of those black sounds (Lorca) that light up the fires of the Great Abyss. A natural order at once inscrutable and hostile to human motives and purposes, an alien realm of fierce intent, almost alive with ‘diabolical’ charm and fascination; a realm full of deceit in which humanity is neither master nor controller of its own blind destiny; bound by rules, limitations, and ignorance, denizens of a zone of pure error and delusion, a delirious world of human degradation and ruinous waste built on the tokens of subterfuge and imbecilic mindlessness: out of the very stuff of a mucky swamp world where they could hide from themselves the terrible truth of their own ignominy. No longer bound to the mythologies of God and the ancient religions, the New World mythologies were an amalgam of puritanical screeds shaped by the hands of madmen and fearful squanderers of European imagination. Killers, plunderers, terrorists, anarchists, and solitaires; more akin to sorcerers and vagrant hawkers of lies and cons these creatures obliterated the wilderness of its native inhabitants, opened up a world of hate built on the enslavement of people of color, fought each other tooth and nail, and delivered to their descendants a dissident message of unresolved and conflicting memories, desires, and inescapable sins.

Somewhere between Peter Pan and Huckleberry Finn America lost its nostalgia for innocence – for it never was innocent, except maybe for those Aboriginal children who haunt the American landscapes (who now live in the ruins of the present on reservation lands, and seek reparation against our violent ancestors dark deeds). We once had a dream of America, a hoped for City on the Hill, etc…. cloudy fabrications out of homespun dreams and wishful thinking, but now we know these to have been a desperate bargain, a lie against a past that never was, a nostalgic prayer to a world of marginal possibility now gone forever; no, we lost our soul long ago – our hylic bodies, the corporeal flesh of pain and decaying desire lashing this way and that against the coming night of oblivion: it’s a dead history now, one that keeps repeating an endless parody of itself, a farce of one tune: a song of death and violence, endless expansion, exceptionalism, and the lyrical blindness of “redemption through violence;” a painful reminder that we have long been sundered from the charm of our mythic fabrications and the only thing left is the dark abyss of violence, decay, and ruin ahead of us, a world from which we’ve all inherited a self-lacerating loathing for ourselves and the earth upon which we live, breath, and have our sustenance: an earth that in the end we cannot escape nor heal with our broken lives, only suffer from its exacting revenge upon our terrible hubris, our pride in thinking we were the end-all be-all of some cosmic progenitor, some mythical Man-God or Demiurge. No, we’re nothing but the sperm-flecked flagellum floating on the blankness of the ocean of Being; mere flotsam and jetsam in the backwash of galactic time-vectors spiraling out of control and into the black abyss of endless night… stubborn and restless thoughts in a collapsing universe of dead artifacts and infinite dreams of dust…

Walt Whitman sang America into industrial age of empire and manifest destiny, now we must bury this world under the excess of its own illusory lust for gold and power, write the counter-sublimes of the future out of the merciless and eccentric dissent against such capitalist hijinks; and sound the darkest tones of ancient nightmares and vessels of a destruction, and maximalist Menippean derision of the last eclipse of globalist dreams of tyranny and austere enslavement. Ours is the age of emancipation from the reality matrix of the deceivers: media-Moghuls,  politicians, and the .01% Club of Oligarchs and Plutocrats that live like vampires off 99% of the world’s peoples. This is the age of the levelers, the equalizers, the uplifters of the excluded, oppressed, and poor of the earth, the bringers of fire and life. This is the age not of escape and exit, but of collaboration and emancipation of all with and for all in building a civilization worth living in in cooperation with the planet and its children. This is the age of purifying the earth of the lies of a corrupt and degrading system of economic slavery that has divided, conquered, and enslaved the earth and her inhabitants for far too long in a realm of delusion and delirium of profit without humanity. This is no longer about a world for-us, no longer a humano-centric world of greed and power, master and slave – it is now the world of coexistence and relations between all non-human beings of the earth and reparations for the harm we’ve done in our Faustian bargain of mastery against the natural order of the indifferent cosmos. The universe owes us nothing, we owe the universe everything. Once again it’s time for a potlatch dream of excess and sacrifice… of those who have enslaved this earth in a false dream of profit.

The Post-Nihilist Sublime

The Post-Nihilist Sublime:

Crossing those barren gravel reefs in the night they seemed remote and without substance. Like a patrol condemned to ride out some ancient curse. A thing surmised from the blackness by the creak of leather and the chink of metal.

Under a gibbous moon horse and rider spanceled to their shadows on the snowblue ground and in each flare of lightning as the storm advanced those selfsame forms rearing with a terrible redundancy behind them like some third aspect of their presence hammered out black and wild upon the naked grounds.

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


One feels neither the echo of the older natural or Romantic Sublime with its terror or fear of some unknown ‘presence’ pervading the emptiness of things, nor even the nihilist sublime of absence with its shock of the baleful disjunctions of the missing trace of either the natural or the religious markers. There is no trace here, in fact the riders themselves in this scene have tasked themselves with total erasure, of empting themselves out of their own and their animals presence as they evade the Apache’s on their trail. This is truly the non-human turn where the human vanishes into the vastation of the kenoma – the great emptiness. Where the only repetition is the ‘redundancy of some third aspect of their presence hammered out black and wild upon the naked ground”. As if they, too were either icons of a bygone age being destroyed in the very act of passing into the immanent darkness of this bleak landscape, or were creatures of another order altogether, no longer human but something else, inhuman or nonhuman.


They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds.

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

That “they” were “like” men with its distancing of third-person plural and the conjunction attributing to them patterns, behavior, actions that pre-date their own existence, a hint of cosmic fatalism, a purpose other than their own, a puppet clause within the scheme of things with them directed from elsewhere, imprinted or clothed, covered over, surrounded with some ancient teleonomic design, algorithms in a process as old as Time itself. As if these were inhuman archontes (“blood legatees”) of an unreal or hyperreal order outside the natural or even religious – or even beyond cosmic horrorism (H.P. Lovecraft). Creatures of an order beyond human reckoning (“remote”)  with an ultimate command or reason (“imperative”) stamped upon their inner being, some normative algorithm or programmed and encoded task of which even they were unknowing and yet were duty bound to follow and enact. Each a separate and almost monadic being (Leibniz), and yet brought together in a mediated object of monstrous calculation, conjoined in some dark and unbidden “communal soul,” drifters in the blanks of an uncharted region of Time and Space outside the knowledge of men, a noumenal realm of pure conjecture and surmise that cannot be reduced to the presumptive disciplines of science or philosophy. Here in this darkness, the unmapped territories of existence, this monstrous organism, this angelic order of violence moves to the automatic and automated programs of some machinic system of which neither they nor any human could have known or foreseen.

Mccarthy’s works lend themselves to allegorical and symbolic embellishment. One can read him straight, as a violent western drama of men beyond the pale or one can enter into the various zones of unregulated meaning, disturbances of signification that cannot be reduced to either secular nor religious allegorical image, thought, or deed. His is an art that is moving beyond the known, beyond the knowledge of limited reasoning, outside the aesthetic taste of the last two hundred years of artistic boundaries of what is acceptable. His is a post-nihilist art of attribution and conveyance, a luring of the unknown and unknowable systems of complexity that seem to ride us like an “ancient curse,” shape us to designs we did not seek out, push us toward that realm of freedom and fate beyond which the human begins to change into an other… an alterity without redress or recourse to any known paradigm, a mapping of the unknown by way of nonknowledge.