Christopher Slatsky, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales

Christopher Slatsky, Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales

Been hearing about Slatsky for a while now, and downloaded his debut collection today! Glad I did, he’s got the dark touch on him, the one that tells you this is the real McCoy. 518wrnjce4lDark, gritty, atmospheric – suspenseful: his little jeweled nightmares remind me of those old collectors of curiosities one finds rarely except by accident, and usually in some off-beat district of an out of the way town or village; down some dank wet alley cobbled with slime and gunk, moldy, black, dense with years of detritus; hidden behind some dilapidated trash bin or piled mass of rusting and decaying poultry, fish, or fruit – pus laden lushness, corroding in the some forgotten corner of a lost world; where – the door  – and, not just any door, but the door: the one meant only for you, marked with your name, the one only you can open if you dare, with its small ill-lit lamp above wired faulty, blinking, glimmering in some eternal twilight or dusk; a sign just above the door, with most of the letters missing, hinting at treasures and rarities beyond your wildest imaginings if only you’ll step this way, step inside, visit the last place on earth you’d like to be right now; and, yet, there it is – in the windows: these unique little nightmare curiosities, the intricate and detailed realms of some deformed nightmare world, the morbidity of forgotten galaxies, toxic wastelands of hellish desire and craftsmanship, universes of constructed horror filled with infinite passageways into endless labyrinths of perversity. A horror collectors best nightmare come true…

Slatsky’s tales inhabit that dark space, deliver the goods you relish, a ghoulish festival of aberrant delights that should let your night be broken and twisted till you crave reprieve from such demented realms and secret mindless miseries. Over the top? Hyperbolical? Am I shitting? No, its actually that good. If you crave atmosphere, if you like the visceral slime-pit of the grotesque and the macabre, a waltz into the scatological worlds of decay and organic demise this is your guy. He doesn’t pull any punches, and he weaves tales that are neither pastiche nor a silent send off to the great masters of the past, but rather let’s those influences – and, remember influence was once a term of astrological import of letting in the star power of dark light mingle with your own – then this is the book of weird tales for you. I say run, do not walk – let your big fat fingers outpace themselves – to your nearest online retailer and get a copy today. Now! Don’t wait!

I’ll probably have more to say after I allow myself time to absorb these nightmares into my own curiosity cabinet. Another time, another day…

Visit Christopher Slatsky at his site: here. Find his book here: Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales

The Tales:

Loveliness Like a Shadow
An Infestation of Stars
Corporautolysis
No One is Sleeping in this World
Making Snakes
The Ocean is Eating Our Graves
This Fragmented Body
Tellurian Façade
Film Maudit
A Plague of Naked Movie Stars
Scarcely Have They Been Planted
Intaglios
Alectryomancer

Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance

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Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance lives in that grotesque realm between the real and the fantastic, its humor is only offset by its profound despair and deeply unsettling disturbance of our place not only in society but in the universe itself. In the first section of the novel we meet Mrs Plauf, an older woman who has been visiting friends and loved ones but is now on a return train trip to her own home town. Most of the action is from her pov, and we listen to her as she lives through a particularly trying voyage. Her sense of reality takes a sharp turn into the sinister when she discovers a man who is staring at here perversely. A young man, but also one who is filthy and seems ludicrously interested in her as a sexual object. As the trip goes on we find out about her life back home, about her fears, her prejudices, the little seemingly bland make up of her boring bourgeois life in the small town she comes from. She is traveling among peasants, earthy people who pay her no mind, who almost seem oblivious of her. They all seem at home in the universe, unpacking meats, fruit, games of cards, laughing, talking, and generally having an enjoyable time of it as they journey on to their own destinations. Only Mrs Plauf seems off-put, distant, unsociable, and afraid of everything around her, especially of the man who want leave her alone. The unbroken, stream-of-consciousness method brings with it a sense of chaos and formlessness, a sense of tittering on the edge of the impossible. This is a mind in ruins, riddled with the clichés of her culture, a mere puppet figure on the strings of her own fears and appetites. There comes a point as she is sitting there that she leans down to fix her shoes and her brassier snaps loose. Already self-conscious of her appearance she is now filled with dread that the man has seen her and even more excited at her ill-luck. As with anything she has a deep need to relieve herself, as well as fix this issue with her bra, and decides to make the journey through the cars to the bathroom at the other end of the train. Once inside she feels safe for a moment enclosed in the little room, private and away from the others; and, especially away from the perverse man who has been eyeing her the entire trip. The situation is both comical and grotesque, she’s broken her bra strap, she’s feeling unkempt; traveling among people who carry chickens, dogs, children, produce, livestock, etc. She’s crawled through a carnival of humans to get to this spot of safety, or so she thinks. That is until she hears a knock on the door, an incessant knock… (here I quote the full passage, classic and worth quoting):

Her hands trembling with nervous haste, she brought her bra round and, seeing (‘Thank heaven!’) that the clip was not broken, sighed in relief; she had just begun clumsily to dress when she heard behind her the tentative but clearly audible sound of someone outside knocking at the door. There was about this knocking some peculiar quality of intimacy which, naturally enough in the light of all that had happened so far, succeeded in scaring her, but then, on reflecting that the fear was probably no more than a monstrous product of her own imagination, she grew indignant at being hurried like this; and so she continued her half-finished movement, taking a perfunctory glance in the mirror, and was just about to reach for the handle when there came another burst of impatient knocking, quickly succeeded by a voice announcing: ‘It’s me.’ She drew her hand back aghast, and by the time she had formed an idea of who it was, she was overtaken less by a sense of entrapment than by desperate incomprehension as to why this croaky strangled male voice should bear no trace of aggression or low threat but sound vaguely bored and anxious that she, Mrs Plauf, should at last open the door. For a few moments neither stirred a muscle, each waiting for some word of explanation from the other, and Mrs Plauf only grasped the monstrous misunderstanding of which she had become the victim when her pursuer lost patience and tugged furiously at the handle, bellowing at her, ‘Well! What is it to be?! All tease, no nookie?!’ She stared at the door, terrified. Not wanting to believe it, she bitterly shook her head and felt a constriction at her throat, startled, like all those attacked from an unexpected quarter, to find that she had ‘fallen into some infernal snare’. Reeling at the thought of the sheer unfairness, the naked obscenity of her situation, it took her some time to comprehend that—however incredible, since as a matter of fact she had always resisted the idea—the unshaven man had from the very start believed that it was she who was propositioning him, and it became clear to her how, step by step, the ‘degenerate monster’ had interpreted her every action—her taking off her fur … the unfortunate accident … and her enquiring after the washroom—as an invitation, as solid proof of her compliance, in a word as the cheap blush-worthy stages of a low transaction, to the extent that she now had to cope with not only a disgraceful attack on her virtue and respectability but the fact that this filthy repulsive man, stinking of brandy, should address her as if she were some ‘woman of the streets’. The wounded fury which seized her proved even more painful to her than her sense of defencelessness, and—since, apart from anything else, she could no longer bear the entrapment—driven by desperation, in a voice choking with tension, she shouted to him: ‘Go away! Or I shall cry for help!’ On hearing this, after a short silence, the man struck the door with his fist and, in a voice so cold with contempt that shivers ran down Mrs Plauf’s back, he hissed at her: ‘Go screw yourself, you old whore. You’re not worth breaking down the door for. I wouldn’t even bother to drown you in the slop-pail.’ The lights of the county town pulsed through the window of the cabin, the train was clattering over points, and she had to stop herself falling over by grasping at the handrail. She heard the departing footsteps, the sharp slamming of the door from corridor to compartment, and, because she understood by this that the man had finally released her with the same colossal impudence as he had accosted her, her whole body trembled with emotion and she collapsed in tears. And while it was really only a matter of moments, it seemed to last an eternity, that in her hysterical sobbing and sense of desolation she saw, in a brief blinding instant, from a height, in the enormous dense darkness of night, through the lit window of the stalled train, as if in a matchbox, a little face, her face, lost, distorted, out of luck, looking out. For though she was sure that she had nothing more to fear from those dirty, ugly, bitter words, that she would be subject to no new insults, the thought of her escape filled her with as much anxiety as the thought of assault, since she had absolutely no idea—the effect of each of her actions so far being precisely the reverse of that calculated—what it was she owed her unexpected freedom to. She couldn’t bring herself to believe it was her choking desperate cry that frightened him off, since having felt a miserable victim of the man’s merciless desires throughout, she, by the same token, considered herself an innocent and unsuspecting victim of the entire hostile universe, against whose absolute chill—the thought flashed across her mind—there is no valid defence. It was as if the unshaven man had actually raped her. She swayed in the airless, urine-smelling booth, broken, tortured by the suspicion that she knew all there was to know, and under the spell of the formless, inconceivable, ever-shifting terror of having to seek some protection against this universal threat, she was aware only of an emerging sense of agonizing bitterness: for while she felt it was deeply unfair that she should be cast as an innocent victim rather than an untroubled survivor, she who ‘all her life had longed for peace, and never harmed a soul’, she was forced to concede that this was of little consequence: there was no authority to which she could appeal, no one to whom she might protest, and she could hardly hope that the forces of anarchy having once been loosed could afterwards be restrained. After so much gossip, so much terrifying rumour-mongering, she could now see for herself that ‘it was all going down the drain’, for she understood that while her own particular immediate danger was over, in ‘a world where such things happen’ the collapse into anarchy would inevitably follow.1

It’s in the two main passages in this entry I am concerned with: the first comes just after the man has left her to her own devices,

And while it was really only a matter of moments, it seemed to last an eternity, that in her hysterical sobbing and sense of desolation she saw, in a brief blinding instant, from a height, in the enormous dense darkness of night, through the lit window of the stalled train, as if in a matchbox, a little face, her face, lost, distorted, out of luck, looking out.

That one word “distorted” – the sense of deformation, isolation, loss, estrangement at her own insignificance in a universe hostile and indifferent to her prayers and appeals as to her defiance and chagrin. This sudden “blinding instant” – a revelation or revealing, an apocalypse awakens her to the exact situation of the human condition. The second passage which puts her in the place of uncertainty, wavering between reality and the fantastic is the one in which her beliefs in the decency of life and its values comes unhinged and “she had absolutely no idea—the effect of each of her actions so far being precisely the reverse of that calculated—what it was she owed her unexpected freedom to”. She questions the rational and irrational elements that led to this moment and concludes that she herself is “an innocent and unsuspecting victim of the entire hostile universe, against whose absolute chill—the thought flashed across her mind—there is no valid defence”. This stripping of the delusions and illusions that bind us to others, our beliefs, our little lies we tell ourselves, our gods or God, our families, our work, our friends, all the things that tie us to life; all of these provide us nothing, no succor against the truth that there is ultimately no “defense” against the “absolute chill” of the “hostile universe”. A universe without reason or foundation, contingent and mindless, a churning appetitive cannibalistic system whose only truth is its slow entropic burn down and decline into absolute zero. Till then it will cannibalize every resource within its power till the last sun goes dark, and the dust of a trillion-trillion dead stars disperses into the cosmic wastelands and graveyard of eternal night.

On fully realizing this truth she thinks,

She swayed in the airless, urine-smelling booth, broken, tortured by the suspicion that she knew all there was to know, and under the spell of the formless, inconceivable, ever-shifting terror of having to seek some protection against this universal threat, she was aware only of an emerging sense of agonizing bitterness…

It’s this namelessness, the “formless,” and “inconceivable,” and “shifting terror” of this “universal threat” that brings with it a bitter and agonizing sense of the futility of life and existence, and of her powerlessness in the face of this unknown and absolute power of the universe. And, she is afraid… We’ve all heard it at one time or another, but still bares repeating, – a classic passage from H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”2 Julia Kristeva argues, that the macabre and grotesque brings horror into view in carnivalesque fashion, and reveals the repressed faces of humanity. Horror and fascination are entwined, and the rugged violent beauty of horrified, destructive laughter is fascinating and mysterious in that it is ‘liberating by means of laughter without complacency yet complicitous’ (Kristeva, 1982: 133). This is unpacked in her reading of the text, which in true grotesque fashion brings together horror, mockery, satire and laughter:

[The Grotesque author] believes that death and horror are what being is. But suddenly, and without warning, the open sore of a protagonist’s very suffering, through the contrivance of a word, becomes haloed, as she puts it, with ‘a ridiculous little infinite’ as tender and packed full of love and cheerful laughter as it is with bitterness, relentless mockery, and a sense of the morrow’s impossibility.3

We get that sense of black humor and the dark horror intermixed in this passage of Krasznahorkai’s masterpiece:

After so much gossip, so much terrifying rumour-mongering, she could now see for herself that ‘it was all going down the drain’, for she understood that while her own particular immediate danger was over, in ‘a world where such things happen’ the collapse into anarchy would inevitably follow.

The sense that in a world where reason no longer holds sway, where anything can happen because everything is contingent and without sufficient reason to ground it, then we are truly in a universe where Reason has become the last folly of mankind – a last bastion against the madness and insanity of the universe that has been stripped from our dysphoric deliriums. The sense that the whole progressive mythos – the notion of Science, Reason, and Knowledge progressing, mastering the universe and our place in it, giving us a foundation and a bastion against the monstrousness of an indifferent universe; that this, too is an illusion, and a delusion that is no longer valid. Mrs Plauf is left without inner or outer support, with nothing and no one to hold onto; no ethical stance, no religious appeal, no philosophical principle, no friends or group to turn too; in the end she is alone – as we all are, facing the implacable truth of a hostile universe totally indifferent to her prayers or her curses. She has become a Zero. Null. Invalid. This grotesque little lady on a train to nowhere has become a distorted mirror of our fears, our angers, our hatreds, our insanity – Mrs Plauf is “out of luck,” and so are we all.


  1. Laszlo Krasznahorkai, László. The Melancholy of Resistance (Kindle Locations 139-179). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  2. Lovecraft, H. P.. The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Location 327). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Edwards, Justin; Graulund, Rune. Grotesque (The New Critical Idiom) (p. 35). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

The Folds of Horror: Notes on Ligotti, Lovecraft, and Philosophy

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I began this set of notes to bring in a specific philosophical concept (“Fold”) that struck me as pertinent in my recent reading of Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Thomas Ligotti in a side note speaking of Lovecraft’s model of the supernatural horror tale, which he portrayed in its archetypal form in the short story, “The Music of Erich Zann”, commented:

In composing the … work, Lovecraft came up with a model supernatural horror tale, one in which a subjective mind and an objective monstrosity shade into each other, the one projecting itself outward and the other reflecting back so that together they form the perfect couple dancing to the uncanny music of being.1 [italics mine]

When I read this passage I was struck by it’s uncanny resemblance to two notions of import I’ve read in the past few years. One referencing Deleuze’s notions surrounding the concept of the “Fold” in his work on Leibniz and the Baroque; and, the other concerning the notions of how objects relate to one another in Graham Harman’s Weird Realism. If in the passage above by Ligotti we replace “shade into each other” with “fold into each other” we begin to connect both Deleuze’s notion of fold with Harman’s notion of the objects relating through a third object of which they form and fold into one another. I’ll address a couple quotes from Harman, then move on to Deleuze’s work. Admittedly for Harman it’s about ontology in the real as it folds things into itself or is folded into the other; and, for Deleuze the fold is about the sensual epistemic and pervasive folds as the eye follows the surfaces through their becomings.

Graham Harman in Guerrilla Metaphysics tells us that the theory of objects “exists not just at some ultimate pampered layer, but all the way up and down the ladder of the cosmos, so that all realities gain the dignity of objects”. He continues, saying,

Objects have surprises in store as well: lemon meringue, popsicles, Ajax Amsterdam, reggae bands, grains of sand. Each of these things remains a unitary substance beyond its impact on others—and obviously, none of them is an ultimate tiny particle of matter from which all else is built. They are not ultimate materials, but autonomous forms, forms somehow coiled up or folded in the crevices of the world and exerting their power on all that approaches them. This is my definition of substance, a term well worth salvaging: an object or substance is a real thing considered apart from any of its relations with other such things.2 Commenting on Merleau Ponty he’ll also mention that to “have a body is already to be folded into the things rather than to stand at a distance from them: “the thickness of the body . . . [is] the sole means I have to go unto the heart of the things, by making myself a world and by making them flesh.” (GM, 53) [my italics]

I’ll leave this here and move on to Deleuze’s work.

From the Translator’s forward to Gilles Deleuze’s Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque we learn:

Focillon notes that the Romanesque and Gothic, two dominant and contrastive styles, often inflect each other. They crisscross and sometimes fold vastly different sensibilities into each other. The historian is obliged to investigate how the two worlds work through each other at different speeds and. in tum. how they chart various trajectories on the surface of the European continent. … The experience of the Baroque entails that of the fold. Leibniz is the first great philosopher and mathematician of the pleat, of curves and twisting surfaces. He rethinks the phenomenon of “point of view,” of perspective, of conic sections. and of things. folded are draperies. tresses. tesselated fabrics, ornate costumes: dermal surfaces of the body that unfold in the embryo and crease themselves at death; domestic architecture that bends upper and lower levels together while floating in the cosmos; novels narratives or develop infinite possibilities of serial form; harmonics that orchestrate vastly different rhythms and tempos; philosophies that resolve Cartesian distinctions of mind and body through physical means – without recourse to occasionalism or parallelismgrasped as foldings; styles and iconographies of painting that hide shapely figures in ruffles and billows of fabric. or that lead the eye to confuse different orders of space and surface.

 The key here strangely is not just the concept of the fold but rather the notion of causality as referenced in “without recourse to occasionalism and parallelism”. I’ll deal with this later. I still need to reread this work by Deleuze again and take notes…

Before I go any further I want to reference a post by Levi R. Bryant of Larval Subjects whose work of recent has taken him away from Object-Oriented philosophy and towards the notion of the “fold” as well. In a post in which he describes to his Barber the notion of the fold he has a discussion about bricks, saying,

Me:  A brick is a form of origami, like a crumpled piece of paper.

B:  Say what?

Me:  It folds the forces of the cosmos into it, invaginates them.  It folds the pressure of the other bricks about it into it, if it has lots of iron it folds the oxygen into it giving it that red color, it folds gravity and temperature in it, becoming brittle when it’s cold and molten when very hot.  Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things are folded into it and it unfolds these things in the unique event that it is according to the structure that it has.  This conversation that we’re having, see those bricks over there on the wall?  The timber of the sound of our voices, the acoustics of this room, is an origami of our voices and those bricks.  Our voices have folded the bricks into themselves and unfolded it in a new vibration of sound.  Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.

It might be better– I haven’t decided yet –to say that everything is a wave.  A wave is continuous with the water in which it occurs, yet distinct.  It both folds the currents of wind and water into itself and unfolds them in a rolling pattern across a plane.  It both arises from that plane but is distinct from it and changes it.  The dreams you told me about earlier are now a wave in me, folded into me, becoming something other yet remaining those dreams.

B:  [The scissors pause, stunned silence]  That’s so cool, man!  [He looks at his scissors and about the room]  It’s like everything is digesting everything else.  These walls have the past, music history [they’re covered with music posters], all these conversations and happenings folded into them.  That’s so cool, man.  Wow.

When the Barber said, it’s “like everything is digesting everything else” I almost croaked: this very notion that the universe is itself nothing but appetite, a great machinic feeding and ingesting machine, churning, grinding, folding, eating, regurgitating, etc. seemed more like one of Jonathan Swift’s satires; and, yet, much of the cosmic horror is of just that sense of a Darwinian blood and claw, predatorial universe of pure appetitive energy – and endless festival of death, the grotesque, and the macabre. Along with the notion or concept of fold one should bring in the sense of absorption, too.

In his work on Kabbalah, Absorbing Perfections, Moshe Idel in relating how texts and objects absorb each other we discover the absorbing quality of Shakespeare or of Joyce. Strong authors, like sacred texts, can be defined as those with the capacity to absorb us. To “absorb,” in American English, means several related processes: to take something in as through the pores, or to engross one’s full interest or attention, or to assimilate fully. Idel defines his use of “absorbing” as follows:

I use this term in order to convey the expanding comprehensiveness of the concept of the text of kabbalah or torah which, moving to the center of the Jewish society, also integrated attributes reminiscent of wider entities like the world or God. This expansion facilitated the attribution of more dynamic qualities to the text conceived of as capable of allowing various types of influences on processes taking place in the world, in God, and in the human psyche.3

In this he is conceiving his text as influencing what takes place in the world and in the human psyche (i.e., extrinsic and intrinsic relations), and even in God, if there is God. Shakespeare, like the Bible or Dante or the Zohar, absorbs us even as we absorb him, or them. Historicizing Hamlet or Lear breaks down very quickly: they themselves are the perfections that absorb us all.

This notion of being absorbed even as we absorb is a different twist on the old Gnostic notion or insight of knowing even as we are known which entails not a mental but appetitive act of intellect that both projects and introjects without dissolving the other, but rather as in digesting, mulching, thinking through and absorbing the sparks or vagrant fugitive thoughts – as substantive rather than immaterial – of the other, and making them part of one’s physical as well as mental being. One can imagine how this might play out in a supernatural horror scenario. One can as well think of the origins of life, cellular life of the membrane: the early introjection/projection of substance interactions that shaped the autonomy of a form necessary to both absorb and be absorbed; absorbing sustenance and nutrients, as well as expulsing them as byproducts to be absorbed by another substance. An endless mulching and scatological defecation is life at its raw minimal. One thinks of books like Nick Lane. The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?; or, Johnjoe McFadden. Life on the Edge; or, David Toomey,  Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own… and many others.

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Such notions of absorption and folding make me think of a film from my childhood, The Blob, with Steve McQueen. The plot of this film depicts a growing corrosive alien amoeba that crashes from outer space in a meteorite and engulfs, absorbs, and folds in, and dissolves citizens in the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. But before I get away with myself let’s hone back in on Levi’s post: the key here is when Levi says: “Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.” That brings me by circuitous route back to Ligotti’s statement on Lovecraft’s model of supernatural horror as the shading or folding into each other producing this coupling of both in a dance of being; yet, not dissolving or fusing them together where their unique and unitary forms or substance is compromised beyond repair, but rather as a dark gnosis in which they both form a relation to each other that is itself a new (non?)knowledge of things and each other; or, a folding or absorbing or non-knowing even as folded, absorbed, non-known (i.e., think of Bataille’s System of Non-Knowledge rather than Laurelle’s concept), etc.. This sense of horror as the overcoming of fear through ecstatic enmeshing and folding between the known (subject) and the unknown (object); or, even object to object relations, is the central motif of Lovecraftian model of horror: or, as I want to term it after Eugene Thacker, model of abstract horror – a horror of ideas/concepts beyond the emotive drag of terror and fear; or, rather the end point or telos of which fear is the active defense measure of the body’s protective systems, and the abstract as thought’s resistance to the force or drag of the body’s own counter-measures – a way of overcoming the basic reactions of flight or death.

I’ll stop for now… I need to begin a new research project to trace this down, dig deeper into the notion of the fold, and develop this connection or disconnection between the various philosophies and notions of how it applies to the model of horror – or, even to philosophy as horror (Thacker/Land).

Things to research:

  1. The theme of fold itself across various philosophers, histories, usage, domains, etc.
  2. Absorption and its history and uses in various critical and scientific forms, etc.
  3. The notions of causality: fold vs. occasionalism/parallelism
  4. Further research on the model of horror (reread Lovecraft’s works and his book length Supernatural Horror), and Ligotti’s texts, Deleuze’s The Fold, and works of other philosophers…

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 210). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 19). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  3. Professor Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (pp. xiii-xiv). Yale University Press (June 10, 2002)

 

 

 

 

The Dark Gnosis of our Malignant Uselessness

I’ve often wondered if there is a dark gnosis (and, there might be!), a gnosis that disavowed the a-cosmic generalities of the ancient Gnostics, or the apophatic disquietism of the desert monks; that was closer to the erotic and sadeian art of immersion in the sacral and scabrous art of murder and mayhem; a forbidden knowledge – or should we say, non-knowledge (Bataillean rather than Laruelleian) of the seeping malignancy at the core of things and the Universe: the blind and insipid processes that creeps into every aspect of time and space – there being no extreme elsewhere, no beyond, no transcendent realm outside these gyrating processes; and, to know and be known by this insanity of things: the violent and ecstatic terror of its catastrophic unknowing systems of endless churning and scatological inebriation; this thermospasmic mindlessness of nothing and emptiness: this, and this alone would be the intimate corruption my being has sought against all that is sunny and optimistic, and kept me tied to the world of life and all those secret sharers of this “malignant uselessness” (Ligotti).

In the The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror Thomas Ligotti remarks:

Phenomenally speaking, the supernatural may be regarded as the metaphysical counterpart of insanity, a transcendental correlative of a mind that has been driven mad. This mind does not keep a chronicle of “man’s inhumanity to man” but instead tracks a dysphoria symptomatic of our life as transients in a creation that is natural for all else that lives, but for us is anything but. The most uncanny of creaturely traits, the sense of the supernatural, the impression of a fatal estrangement from the visible, is dependent on our consciousness, which merges the outward and the inward into a universal comedy without laughter. We are only chance visitants to this jungle of blind mutations. The natural world existed when we did not, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The supernatural crept into life only when the door of consciousness was opened in our heads. The moment we stepped through that door, we walked out on nature. Say what we will about it and deny it till we die— we are blighted by our knowing what is too much to know and too secret to tell one another if we are to stride along our streets, work at our jobs, and sleep in our beds. It is the knowledge of a race of beings that is only passing through this shoddy cosmos.1


  1.  Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 211-212). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

 

THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by Jon Padgett

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For those of you that don’t know Jon Padgett, he’s the progenitor of Thomas Ligotti Online a public forum for all those fans of that dark light of the grotesque and macabre, horror and weirdness. Jon a one time ventriloquist who now lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and two cats,  has been the first publisher for a number of Ligotti’s prose works, including My Work is Not Yet Done and Crampton. His first short story collection,  The Secret of Ventriloquism  with Introduction by Thomas Ligotti, is also forthcoming – very shortly, and you can pre-order it: here at Dynatox Ministries – or from Dunhams Manor Press, May 2016. Jon was once asked how he’d become involved with Dunhams and Dynatox Ministries:

I had heard about the excellent and unusual weird fiction published by Dunhams Manor Press for the past couple of years from such superb writers as Nicole Cushing, Clint Smith, Michael Griffin, Christopher Slatsky, Willum Pugmire, Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy, Joe Pulver and John Claude Smith among others.

How did I become associated with the press? I simply wandered onto the DMP website and queried editor Jordan Krall by email (or web form — I forget). Krall quickly replied that he’d be interested in reading my work, I sent several tales to him, and soon he accepted and offered to publish my long story, THE INFUSORIUM, as a chapbook.

As Matt Cardin tells us on Teeming Brain, another excellent site to wander through for those of the weirdness (a term I use to invoke the uncertainty between the marvelous and the uncanny, yet with a slightly more pessimistic blend of speculative insouciance), Jon’s new book of short stores and essays The Secret of Ventriloquism will keep you up at nights wanting more:

With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Shulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. Padgett’s work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child who seeks vengeance within a bed’s hollow box spring; a lucid dreamer haunted by an impossible house; a dummy that reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps; a stuttering librarian who holds the key to a mill town’s unspeakable secrets; a commuter whose worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign; an aspiring ventriloquist who spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And the presence that speaks through them all.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Matt Cardin
  • The Mindfulness of Horror Practice
  • Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown
  • The Indoor Swamp
  • Origami Dreams
  • 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism
  • Infusorium
  • Organ Void
  • The Secret of Ventriloquism

 

Pre-Order Jon’s work The Secret of Ventriloquism

 

Midnight Carnival

The sun cannot repair the damage of the night,
the silences between your smile and mine;
the focus of our desperate thoughts and dreams,
the shattered wisdom of our ancient sapience;
for now we dance upon a field of tears
in the twilight of this world of dust;

two deadly members of that hated race,
remembering the frozen and forgotten days of rage.

We’ve danced and danced these fatal strategies,
under the southern clime of this intrepid fallacy;
no longer can we turn away, nor isolate this slice of banishment;
instead we wander here among the lonely tribes, mere semblances
dispatched to air and wind, circling the blackened circuits of the falling stars;
where in the underbelly of their fractured lights
we
squander truth and live on our inhuman flights –
the interludes of pain and joy,
the captured intervals of lost years;
when once we lived among the lauded tears of paradise,
before the fears of time fell from our deathly songs, slaying happiness.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. 

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm – Gary J. Shipley: The Madness of Abstract Horror

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm: The Madness of Abstract Horror; or, A Pessimist’s Labyrinth of Laughter

I am reading the book I am always reading: Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet.

-Gary J. Shipley, Interview with David F. Hoenigman

As I’m reading through Gary J. Shipley’s Crypt(0)spasm which recently was rereleased I began seeking some trace of its madness, a penchant of its epileptic thrust into a cataleptic disgruntlement, a mere morsel of sense from the dark diver’s corporeal agon – something, anything, that might bring me a dribble, here or there, out of the millions and millions of bits of data crunched by the googlemeister machines and threaded display tags of monstrous inveiglements, that could assuredly spawn and generate some semblance or preparation, some tribute or defamation of this grand and impossible nightmare of a work. To my dismay the work of Mr. Shipley – one of those that Thomas Ligotti – that corrupter of the young and old alike, would deem a Connoisseur of the Pessimist’s Dark Art is barely visible in the cultural limelight, much less entrenched in the daft anarchy of trivia and inane knots of intellectual fare one typically discovers on the net; rather he seems to have gone down into the declivities where fellow agonists of the corruption follow the trail into madness and despair,  the lair and shadowed circle of compeers who seek not the famed exigencies of the tribe of light, but rather of the impossible excess of that abyss from which nothing will ever – and, I say, ever return. But does this dismay Mr. Shipley? Doubtlessly, not. Like many of us he is knowing of his (non)place in the social lights – a mere surface tension of disreputable intelligence, rather than a site of gaming wit and intellect as one will find in his extravagant divagations and crepuscular nocturnes. It’s as if the liberal press in some great consort of suspicion has gone to great lengths to filter and silence such works as Shipley and other pessimistically inclined purveyors of our dark estate, who generate with such equanimity and calculated risk the artifacts of disillusionment and the grotesquerie of twisted enlightenment, publish for the select few. And, yet, it is in such texts as these that those who seek a worthy guide into the intricacies of the unbinding from illusions, those very wary readers who slip nightly into the interminable zones of abject horror: – abstract layers where the analytical and continental mind thrive in the interstices of a forlorn universe of multiplicity, would find in the thermospasms of conjectured confabulation the unbinding circuits of madness and death that generates the energetic creativity that is our catastrophic universe and the glory of our literature of terrors and awakenings to the insane truth.

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Waiting For The End: A Tale of the Weird

©Chris Mars – Paintings

I had not thought death had undone so many.

-T. S. Eliot

I understood that from now on I belong to those who have ‘troubled the sleep of the world,’ and that I could not count upon objectivity and tolerance.

-Sigmund Freud, Letter to Ernest Jones

Tilly came to visit me again this morning. I was having a hard time adjusting. She told me it was like that for everyone at first. I wanted to say: “Not for me. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. I had a life, a good life. My work. My family, It was a good life; well, at least it was my life, and things were on the uptake, things were getting better.” But no, then this thing happened. Blam… alive one moment, and… well, you know the biz… sink or swim as they say. Well I wanted to keep on swimming. I’d grown used to it. Comfortable. Then this…

Maybe I should back up to the beginning…

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Gary J. Shipley: Quote of the Day!

 ©Chris Mars: Paintings

I come to Proust on bended knee: “It seems that the taste for books grows with intelligence […] So, the great writers, during those hours when they are not in direct communication with their thought, delight in the society of books.” And as, with a shaky bowel, I anticipate looking out from this scoffing nowhere of broken spines and laden shelves, feel free to browse the clutter of words I have collected, words from which I formed the tools of death.

Death Unbound: The Intelligence of Machines

The question which I wish to pursue where even speculation cannot reach has to do with the permanence of this world-view. Will it be the last?

-Stanislaw Lem, One Human Minute

Rereading Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy against the Human Race has reminded me of all the reasons why we humans are not only a horror to ourselves, but a horror to everything else on this planet. Ligotti will ask: “So why not lend a hand in nature’s suicide?”1 This sense that we are on a voyage into an unknown future, a future that may lead us as a species into a blind alley with no way out, that in the end the only course of action will be to end it: mass suicide of our species just to save what remains of the natural earth and it’s unique Life.

When we look at the hard truth, we as humans need at minimum: air, water, and soil to survive. Air that is breathable. Water that is drinkable. Soil that is rich in nutrients and harvestable. After that is the subset of energy needs, and all that entails. Elizabeth Kolbert in her book The Sixth Extinction has been documenting for ten years the violent collision between civilization and our planet’s ecosystem: the Andes, the Amazon rain forest, the Great Barrier Reef — and her backyard. In lucid prose, she examines the role of man-made climate change in causing what biologists call the sixth mass extinction — the current spasm of plant and animal loss that threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century.2

Edward O. Wilson in his recent book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life will ask: How fast are we driving species to extinction? For years paleontologists and biodiversity experts have believed that before the coming of humanity about two hundred thousand years ago, the rate of origin of new species per extinction of existing species was roughly one species per million species per year. As a consequence of human activity, it is believed that the current rate of extinction overall is between one hundred and one thousand times higher than it was originally, and all due to human activity.3

For Kolbert the result of our impact on the earth is a clear and comprehensive history of earth’s previous mass extinctions — and the species we’ve lost, telling us that: “Right now, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.” (ibid.)

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The Tick-Tock Man: A Weird Tale

“Only a cynic can create horror — for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.”

-Letter from H.P. Lovecraft to Edwin Baird

Maybe I should’ve realized then that my life was going nowhere fast, but as in everything I did I tried to hide that fact from myself. I’d get up, shower, shave, put on a decent gray suit and black tie – the usual invisibility shell I’d been using for years. I’d enter work and smile my masked smile, joke with the guy in the cubicle next to me – Frank was him name, I believe? – for a few minutes; and, then I’d go into my own cube as if it were a monastic cell and shut the rest of the world out of my mind for the rest of the day.

I’m not sure when I noticed things were beginning to change. It wasn’t like I could see a physical difference in the objects around me. I didn’t. It was more a feeling – a vague one, at that. It’s like those strange moments when you catch a glimmer of something out of the corner of your eye, but it is moving so fast that by the time you turn to see what it is – it’s gone, poof. Then you have to ask whether it was just your overactive imagination; believe me, you don’t want to go there, but we’ve all been there – haven’t we?

Then there was the clock on my desk. After all these years – I noticed it. Not that I hadn’t noticed it before. No. I looked at it all time, looked at the one on my computer, looked at the one up on the office wall above Judy’s cube. Time was a preoccupation with me. No. This was different – it wasn’t so much about looking as hearing. Suddenly I kept hearing the tick-tock of the clock over and over and over again to the point I had to stop it or else. I picked it up and slammed it down as hard as I could on the desk. It seemed to stop, or at least it wasn’t as noisy. Then I thought to myself: “What am I doing, this is sheer lunacy?” So I picked the clock up examined it carefully to see if the crystal was cracked or the facing scratched, wound it back up and locked it away in my drawer and left it there.

I remember going to the lavatory for a few minutes. I wasn’t gone that long at all. When I returned there it was – the clock. Sitting there on the desk as if I’d never put it away. A friend had given it to me years ago as a gift. She said it was a rare item. A one of a kind. She’d found it in one of her travels to some country of the Far East. She didn’t remember where. Said it came with a curse; or, at least that is what the shop owner had told her. They’d both laughed at such antics. He told her the clock once belonged to a Princess of ancient China. That a famous toy and clock maker had made it especially for her, and that it was built to keep her alive as long as she took care of it – and, didn’t anger it. It was said that the Princess kept the clock safe for years and years, that she’d put it in an alcove just above her bed where it kept time to the Dragon never yielding to its flames. That is until she fell in love with a young Prince.

The Prince had moved her to his palace and she’d brought her dowry and her clock with her. Everything had gone on fine for many cycles of the turning wheel of time, but then a day came when the Princess had accidentally discovered her lover, the Prince, in the arms of another woman. She’d been so enraged she’d come back to her quarters and begun shredding everything, her clothing, her art, her furniture, her bed, until she came to the object she valued most in her life: the clock. She knew of the curse, and she knew she wanted to get back at the Prince. She picked up the device and without thinking she threw it from the balcony of her room onto the rocks and sea far below.

From that day forward the Princess became ill and a few days and weeks later, even after the Prince had called in the best and brightest doctors, sorcerers, witches, and ancient necromantic seers: she died of unknown causes in an excruciating form – she turned to jade, to stone. The Prince so distraught over the death of his beautiful lover felt there was some ancient curse upon his House. He summoned all his soothsayers and wise men to discover the problem; and they told him of the old toymaker’s clock, and of this man who had loved the young Princess from afar, but due to his age and station in life could only offer the one thing he had to give – the promise of immortality. The clock held the ancient powers of chaos and creation within its mechanical works, a magickal device of cunning and sorcery that bestowed the semblance of life for a price; that price being the dark and terrible secret of death itself which would extol a malignancy upon those who betrayed its confidence. For those who betrayed the device it meant becoming a living death in stone; an immortal statue of jade within which one would be aware for all eternity.

The Prince had the old toymaker and all of his clocks summoned before him. The old man was forced to share the story of his corruption and of the device. The Prince entreated him to break the spell upon the Princess, to release her from her living abomination. But, sadly, the toymaker said this was beyond his power; that the daemon of the clock held the power, and that only it could release her. The Prince angered beyond his young years had without warning slid his katana out and swiftly sliced the head off of the toymaker. He’d wrapped the clock up – which had reappeared after his lover’s mutation in her jade hands – and wrapped it in the old man’s shawl and floated both down the Yellow Yangtze River. That was the last anyone had heard of the clock and its tale till the shop keeper’s great uncle who’d been a traveling merchant had found it and the slain toymaker in the river. The clock seemed such a wonderful object that the old merchant had scooped it from the dead man and hidden it among his things. The merchant had a dream that night and the old toymaker had come to him and told him the tale of the clock and of its curse, that anyone who angered it would surely die as it would die at the appointed hour of the tiger: absolute zero. There and only there did time stop, and freeze into nothing; to remain there throughout all eternity along with its victim alone with the daemon of the clock.

The shop owner Pooh-poohed such old wives tales, said it was just one of those tales to tell your children on a late night when the moon was dark, and the owls and mice in the rafters were hooting and pattering. And, yet, she’d felt a little uneasy about it later, even made sure she wrapped the clock up safely and stowed it away in her traveling chest nice and tight. By the time she’d arrived back home after her journey she’d forgotten all about it. Until she’d given it to me, along with the unnerving tale of Princesses and demons and owls and mice and dark moons and curses.

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The Suicide Machine

The Universe is nothing else than a suicide machine created by a blind and fugitive monstrosity, whose veritable death throes generated the body of this universal catastrophe we now live in as fragments or shards of its dying embers, ash of its black light.

-©2016 S.C. Hickman, The Infernal Journals of Thaddeus Long

Thomas Ligotti will offer a surmise onto the strange necrotheology of the German philosopher Philipp Mainländer (born Phillip Batz), echoing a strain of Gnostic or Buddhist thought underpinning much of 19th Century Philosophy, saying: “Perhaps the Blind God was an unreliable narrator of weird tales. He did not want to leave a bad impression by telling us He had absented Himself from the ceremonies of death before they had begun. Alone and immortal, nothing needed Him. Yet, He needed to bust out into a universe to complete His project of self-extinction, passing on His horror piecemeal, so to say, to His creation.”1 He’ll comment on this amalgam of Catholic, Gnostic, and Pessimist speculation of Mainländer’s – remarking,

No one has yet conceived an authoritative reason for why the human race should continue or discontinue its being, although some believe they have. Mainländer was sure he had an answer to what he judged to be the worthlessness and pain of existence, and none may peremptorily belie it. (CHR,

The inability to posit an optimistic or a pessimistic reason for the continuation of the human species has left humanity in a quandary, oscillating between two poles like dark divers from some infernal picture show; members of a cult of death that keep on keeping on, only because of the ennui and the lack of vital thought or action necessary to decide one way or the other. So instead we have ritualized our world around certain age-old fetishes that our desires can grasp onto to maintain the status quo – if nothing else. As Ligotti delightfully relates: “Ontologically, Mainländer’s thought is delirious; metaphorically, it explains a good deal about human experience; practically, it may in time prove to be consistent with the idea of creation as a structure of creaking bones being eaten from within by a pestilent marrow.” (CHR, 38)


1. Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition. (CHR)

 

The Labyrinth of Night

I imagined a labyrinth of labyrinths, a maze of mazes, a twisting, turning, ever-widening labyrinth that contained both past and future and somehow implied the stars.

-Jorge Luis Borges

No one knows when they built the Labyrinth of Night. Some say it has always been here, but that no one knew of its existence because the time was not right; people were not ready to receive its mysteries, its secrets. Others say that the labyrinth is always and everywhere and only for the few – a small elite, those tormented souls who seek eternal solace in the dark and lonely nights of oblivion; that seek the secretive ways of the abyss that are neither a part of time nor a part of space, but rather of that unique and specific territory of powers of an integral obscurity and rotten sentience. These wanderers of a forlorn thought, miscreants of perversity, would rather follow the patterns of this dark desire than meet the physical needs of its tenants; knowers of the labyrinth, caterers of those delicate strains of the hidden art of pain: tempters,  alluring a design, a mystery out of the insane mysteries: a lost art of despair, debauches of cruelty and insanity; transgressors, excessive militants and renegades of the abyss: all, each and every one, – locked away, solitary, in some far creation bounded only by an infinite void, the void; a last and merciless confrontation, an agon with the blacknesses, willing accomplices to the unraveling of all things: the unweaving of  stars and worlds and darkness itself; creatures of absolute nihil unbound. I do not know the truth of it, all I know is that I’ve been here for a very long time.

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Thomas Ligotti: Dark Phenomenology and Abstract Horror

Of course, mystery actually requires a measure of the concrete if it is to be perceived at all; otherwise it is only a void, the void. The thinnest mixture of this mortar, I suppose, is contained in that most basic source of mystery—darkness.

-Thomas Ligotti

Dark Phenonmenology and the Daemonic

Thomas Ligotti in his essay The Dark Beauty Of Unheard-of Horrors (DB) will tell us that “beneath the surface utterances of setting, incident, and character, there is another voice that may speak of something more than the bare elements of narrative”.1  He’ll emphasize as well the notion that “emotion, not mind, is the faculty for hearing the secret voice of the story and apprehending its meaning. Without emotion, neither story nor anything else can convey meaning as such, only data”.  Stephen Zweig in his study of daemonism in the arts once told us that great art cannot exist without inspiration, and inspiration derives from an unknown, from a region outside the domain of the waking consciousness. For me, the true counterpart of the spasmodically exalted writer, divinely presumptuous, carried out of himself by the exuberance of uncontrolled forces, is the writer who can master these forces, the writer whose mundane will is powerful enough to tame and to guide the daemonic element that has been instilled into his being. To guide as well as to tame, for daemonic power, magnificent though it be and the source of creative artistry, is fundamentally aimless, striving only to re-enter the chaos out of which it sprang.2

Isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation are among the wiles we use to keep ourselves from dispelling every illusion that keeps us up and running. Without this cognitive double-dealing, we would be exposed for what we are. It would be like looking into a mirror and for a moment seeing the skull inside our skin looking back at us with its sardonic smile. And beneath the skull— only blackness, nothing.

-Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

Ligotti makes a point that horror must stay ill-defined, that the monstrous must menace us from a distance, from the unknown; a non-knowledge, rather than a knowledge of the natural; it is the unnatural and invisible that affects us not something we can reduce to some sociological, psychological, or political formation or representation, which only kills the mystery – taming it and pigeonholing it into some cultural gatekeeper’s caged obituary. As Ligotti says “This is how it is when a mysterious force is embodied in a human body, or in any form that is too well fixed. And a mystery explained is one robbed of its power of emotion, dwindling into a parcel of information, a tissue of rules and statistics without meaning in themselves.” (DB) The domesticated beast is no horror at all.

In the attic of the mind a lunatic family resides, a carnival world of aberrant thoughts and feelings – that, if we did not lock away in a conspiracy of silence would freeze us in such terror and fright that we would become immobilized unable to think, feel, or live accept as zombies, mindlessly. So we isolate these demented creatures, keep them at bay. Then we anchor ourselves in artifice, accept substitutes, religious mythologies, secular philosophies, and anything else that will help us keep the monsters at bay. As Ligotti will say, we need our illusions – our metaphysical anchors and dreamscapes “that inebriate us with a sense of being official, authentic, and safe in our beds” (CHR, 31). Yet, when even these metaphysical ploys want stem the tide of those heinous monsters from within we seek out distraction, entertainment: TV, sports, bars, dancing, friends, fishing, scuba diving, boating, car racing, horse riding… almost anything that will keep our mind empty of its dark secret, that will allow it to escape the burden of emotion – of fear, if even for a night or an afternoon of sheer mindless bliss. And, last, but not least, we seek out culture, sublimation – art, theatre, festivals, carnivals, painting, writing, books… we seek to let it all out, let it enter into that sphere of the tragic or comic, that realm where we can exorcize it, display it, pin it to the wall for all to see our fears and terrors on display not as they are but as we lift them up into art, shape them to our nightmare visions or dreamscapes of desire. As Ligotti tells it, we read literature or watch a painting, go to a theatre, etc.:

In so many words, these thinkers and artistic types confect products that provide an escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it— a tragic drama or philosophical woolgathering… to showcase how a literary or philosophical composition cannot perturb its creator or anyone else with the severity of true-to-life horrors but only provide a pale representation of these horrors, just as a King Lear’s weeping for his dead daughter Cordelia cannot rend its audience with the throes of the real thing. (CHR, 32)

So we seek to cover it over, isolate it, anchor ourselves in some fantastic illusion of belief, and distract ourselves with Big Brother episodes or Kardashian hijinks, else read or watch tragic portrayals of the horror as a way to purge the effects of these dark emotions that we just cannot cope with. All to no avail. For in the end they will not stay locked up in the attic, but begin to haunt us, begin to find ways to make their presence known, to escape their dark dungeons and enter our lives in surprising and unexpected ways till in the end we discover we are overwhelmed by their dark necessity. Even Ligotti admits that after all his own short narratives, his art, his horrors are little more than escapes from the ennui – merely providing an “escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it”. (CHR, 32)

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Cosmic Horror: Spinoza, Poe, and Lovecraft

Nothing exists of which it cannot be asked, what is the cause (or reason), why it exists.

-Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza: Sufficient Reason

The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) stipulates that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground. Spinoza would add to the epigraph above that since “existing is something positive, we cannot say that it has nothing as its cause. Therefore, we must assign some positive cause, or reason, why [a thing] exists—either an external one, i.e., one outside the thing itself, or an internal one, one comprehended in the nature and definition of the existing thing itself.”1

Spinoza in Axiom 7 appeals in his  explanation – previously stated, that it is a variant of the “ex nihilo, nihil fit” (“from nothing, nothing comes”) principle, and stipulates that an existing thing and its perfections (or qualities) cannot have nothing or a non-existing thing as their cause. So would this for Spinoza preclude any form of relation with an inexistent? We know that in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, Spinoza allows for one unique item to be without a cause. In §70 of this treatise, Spinoza argues:

[T]hat Thought is also called true which involves objectively the essence of some principle that does not have a cause, and is known through itself and in itself. (II/26/33–4.)

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Rethinking Conceptual Universes

Rethinking Culture and Metaphysical Schemes, etc.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro in his Cannibal Metaphysics argues the case that Amazonian and other Amerindian groups inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours—in which nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own—he presents the case for anthropology as the study of such “other” metaphysical schemes, and as the corresponding critique of the concepts imposed on them by the human sciences.

For me the writing of dark fantastic fiction is just such an exploration. It allows one to investigate the delusions within one’s own culture, to trace down the deliriums and phobias, the nightmares and aberrations that have guided our collective madness for centuries. The notion of insects seems to be a prime example of a nightmare scenario that one finds hidden in the lair of the monstrous within Western Civilization and Culture. One can harken back to ancient myths, dreams, fears, terrors of rats, insects, serpents, etc.; deep seated worlds of disgust that have shaped our religious and secular views of life, medicine, politics, and moral views.

As Peter Skafish asks: “Can anthropology be philosophy, and if so, how?” For philosophers, the matter has been and often remains quite simple: anthropology’s concern with socio-cultural and historical differences might yield analyses that philosophy can put to use (provided that it condescends to examine them), but only rarely does anthropology conceive its material at a level of generality or in relation to metaphysical issues in their positivity that would allow it to really do philosophy, especially of an ontological kind. Anthropologists, on the other hand, tend not to disagree, whether out of a preference for local problems or from the more canny recognition that even the best philosophers prove quite adept at mistaking modern ideological values for transcendental concepts. Such perspectives, however, are proving outmoded in the face of a now sizable group of thinkers, ranging from Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers to Marilyn Strathern to François Jullien, whose questions, concepts, objects and methods belong in different ways to both anthropology and philosophy, and who moreover propose that certain aspects of anthropology – analyses of scientific practices, knowledge of cultural variation, and an old thing called structuralism – are key to a new metaphysics as empirical, pluralistic and comparative as transcendental, unifying and general.

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Clark Ashton Smith: Visionary of the Dark Fantastic

To throw light upon the mysterious essence of the writer who has been overpowered by his daemon, to elucidate the true nature of the daemonic, I have inconspicuously delineated the dark inheritance of his escapades into the unknown.  The writer who soars upon the pinions of an uncontrolled daemonism is not one who is himself undaemonic, there is no art worthy of the name without daemonism, no great art that does not voice the music of the infernal spheres.

-Stefan Zweig,  The Struggle with the Daemon

Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-coloured sun
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment, when I soar,
Throned on the mounting zenith, and illume
The spaceward-flown horizons infinite.

-Clark Ashton Smith, The Hashish-Eater 

It’s hard to imagine just how prolific Clark Ashton Smith was in the various areas of art, poetry, and prose within which he established himself as an exemplar of the dark fantastic. In poetry alone his work is without doubt the last of the last great Symbolist from an era that stretched from Baudelaire to W.B. Yeats, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Austin Osman Spare. I see that S.T. Joshi and other editors have brought out a three volume edition of his poetry and translations (before his mentor George Sterling died he’d already become well known for his translations of Baudelaire), along with five volumes of his collected weird tales and one of his miscellaneous writings in other genres and sub-genres. But it is his five volumes recently published of his fantastic tales, his essays, letters, etc. of which I’ve been interested in of late. Many in his own time failed to understand him or his work properly, but much did. Many of the avant garde regarded his work, and especially The Hashish Eater, as being a mere extension of Sterling’s; Witter Bynner’s half-joking references to “the Star Dust Twins” are typical. This did not prevent the publication of Smith’s work in venues such as the Yale Review, Poetry, Smart Set, and Laughing Horse, and it was no stranger to popular anthologies and even school and college textbooks.1

Le Sprague de Camp considered him one of the “Three Musketeers” of the Weird Tale, along with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Yet, unlike the other two he never seemed to register on the psyche of readers. Some say it’s because he never created a mythos like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu or Howard’s Conan series, and yet he was by many aficionado’s (me included) the better stylist and prose writer, as well as more imaginative in displaying a command of world building and sheer control over the details of his explorations into the noumenal or unknown. For him the fantastic was not escapism – not in the sense of the Inklings or their sub-worlds; no, his was an exploration by indirect means of that vast invisible area we would term the speculative regions of the cosmos around us. Because of a false view of reality that after Kant reduced the cosmos and environment to the phenomenal and visible its taken a couple hundred years to come to the end of that circle of symbolic closure. Now in our time we’ve once again opened the doors to the unknown and impossible realms that our brains usually filter out because of our disposition toward hunger and reproduction. Yet, do to this caveat that our brains filter out most of the signals that surround us we are essentially blind to all but a small fragment of the Real. It’s in the work of this that those voyagers of the fantastic excelled; rather than in escape from reality, they chose to open up the aspects of reality that our cultural dominators chose to close off as taboo.

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Julia Kristeva and the Abject Grotesque

Julia Kristeva and the Abject Grotesque

Far in the distance the tugboat whistled; its call passed the bridge, one more arch, then another, the lock, another bridge, farther and farther … It was summoning all the barges on the river, every last one, and the whole city and the sky and the countryside, and ourselves, to carry us all away, the Seine too —and that would be the end of us.

-Celine, Journey to the End of Night

In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), Julia Kristeva describes the process of abjection as a form of expulsion and rejection of the Other, which she ties to the historical exclusion of women. Neither subject nor object, the abject, or the state of abjection, is articulated in, and through, grotesque language and imagery. The process of abjection is, then, associated with deformed bodies and oozing bodily fluids: blood, pus, bile, faeces, sweat and vomit break down the borders separating the inside from outside, the contained from the released. Abjection is a state of flux, where ‘meaning collapses’, and the body is open and irregular, sprouting or protruding internal and external forms to link abjection to grotesquerie.

“On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that seems to me rooted, no matter what its sociohistorical conditions might be, on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject” (Powers 207 ). “Not a language of the desiring exchange of messages or objects that are transmitted in a social contract of communication and desire beyond want, but a language of want, of the fear that edges up to it and runs along its edges” (Powers 38 ).

How do we align such a vision of exclusion, abjectness, borderline breakdowns, fear and terror of the Other to the current world of refugees and the wars of nations: economic slavery, austerity, and the darkening hatred and recurrence of fascist tendencies in our time? How speak to that hunger at the center of the void, the lack, the want of which Kristeva’s notions of the comedy of the Abject speak? Have the refugees, as well as women, the LGBTQ community, and many other aspects of our planetary society and civilization become the excluded Other of which we are now faced with the impossible dilemma of either inclusions or expulsion? Maybe these excluded others view us morbid parasites feeding off the global excess, as creatures of grotesque proportion whose shadow worlds of thought and culture are but the fetid apertures of a dying body, a civilization on the edge of destruction, chaos, and apocalypse? It’s as if the open wounds of the world body we are seeing is connected to an ancient curse of civilization, one that stretches back into the hinterlands ten thousand years ago when the first cities began accumulating, hoarding, and guarding their agricultural harvests against the nomadic wanderers and raiders of the outer reaches. This notion still seems still to pervade the modern psyche, as if civilization from the beginning was shaped by a dark and terrible deed, a grotesque system of dominion, slavery, and exclusion that has ever since haunted the mindscapes of every nation on earth.

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Updatage…

Bakker’s essay “Outing the It that Thinks: The Coming Collapse of an Intellectual Ecosystem,” in a new Nietzsche book of essays: Dan Mellamphy and Nandita Biswas-Mellamphy have just released Digital Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Network-Centric Condition.

Three Pound Brain

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One of my big goals with Three Pound Brain has always been to establish a ‘crossroads between incompatible empires,’ to occupy the uncomfortable in-between of pulp, science, and philosophy–a kind of ‘unholy consult,’ you might even say. This is where the gears grind. I’ve entertained some grave doubts over the years, and I still do, but posts like these are nothing if not heartening. The hope is that I can slowly gain the commercial and academic clout needed to awaken mainstream culture to this grinding, and to the trouble it portends.

I keep planning to write a review of Steven Shaviro’s wonderful Discognition, wherein he devotes an entire chapter to Neuropath and absolutely nails what I was trying to accomplish. It’s downright spooky, but really just goes to show, at least for those of us who periodically draw water from his Pinocchio Theory blog. For anyone wishing to place the relation of SF to consciousness research, I…

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Allan Moore: Jerusalem

51whd70y4clAllan Moore’s new novel is out at last. Jerusalem. Of course if you’re at all familiar with comics, Allan is a mortal god among gods. With such series as Watchman, V for Vendetta, Saga of the Swamp Thing, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Promethea, Voice of the Fire, Lost Girls and so many others his collaborations have produced some of the most innovative works in the industry. Now he comes out with what possibly might be his last work, and what a work. I’ve only downloaded it and begun to read it. So I’ll only jot from the blurb if you haven’t seen the work:

In the epic novel Jerusalem, Alan Moore channels both the ecstatic visions of William Blake and the theoretical physics of Albert Einstein through the hardscrabble streets and alleys of his hometown of Northampton, UK. In the half a square mile of decay and demolition that was England’s Saxon capital, eternity is loitering between the firetrap housing projects. Embedded in the grubby amber of the district’s narrative among its saints, kings, prostitutes, and derelicts, a different kind of human time is happening, a soiled simultaneity that does not differentiate between the petrol-colored puddles and the fractured dreams of those who navigate them.

Employing, a kaleidoscope of literary forms and styles that ranges from brutal social realism to extravagant children’s fantasy, from the modern stage drama to the extremes of science fiction, Jerusalem’s dizzyingly rich cast of characters includes the living, the dead, the celestial, and the infernal in an intricately woven tapestry that presents a vision of an absolute and timeless human reality in all of its exquisite, comical, and heartbreaking splendor.

In these pages lurk demons from the second-century Book of Tobit and angels with golden blood who reduce fate to a snooker tournament. Vagrants, prostitutes, and ghosts rub shoulders with Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce’s tragic daughter Lucia, and Buffalo Bill, among many others. There is a conversation in the thunderstruck dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, childbirth on the cobblestones of Lambeth Walk, an estranged couple sitting all night on the cold steps of a Gothic church front, and an infant choking on a cough drop for eleven chapters. An art exhibition is in preparation, and above the world a naked old man and a beautiful dead baby race along the Attics of the Breath toward the heat death of the universe.

An opulent mythology for those without a pot to piss in, through the labyrinthine streets and pages of Jerusalem tread ghosts that sing of wealth, poverty, and our threadbare millennium. They discuss English as a visionary language from John Bunyan to James Joyce, hold forth on the illusion of mortality post-Einstein, and insist upon the meanest slum as Blake’s eternal holy city.

It should be a wild romp full of surprises… looking forward to it.

Flannery O’Connor: The Southern Comic Grotesque

I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.

-Flannery O’Connor, Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction

When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. … Thomas Mann has said that the grotesque is the true anti-bourgeois style, but I believe that in this country, the general reader has managed to connect the grotesque with the sentimental, for whenever he speaks of it favorably, he seems to associate it with the writer’s compassion.

In these grotesque works, we find that the writer has made alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life. We find that connections which we would expect in the customary kind of realism have been ignored, that there are strange skips and gaps which anyone trying to describe manners and customs would certainly not have left. Yet the characters have an inner coherence, if not always a coherence to their social framework. Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected.

In the novelist’s case, prophecy is a matter of seeing near things with their extensions of meaning and thus of seeing far things close up. The prophet is a realist of distances, and it is this kind of realism that you find in the best modern instances of the grotesque.

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. … Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.

Certainly when the grotesque is used in a legitimate way, the intellectual and moral judgments implicit in it will have the ascendency over feeling. I think this tradition of the dark and divisive romance-novel has combined with the comicgrotesque tradition, and with the lessons all writers have learned from the naturalists, to preserve our Southern literature for at least a little while…

For the kind of writer I have been describing, a literature which mirrors society would be no fit guide for it, and one which did manage, by sheer art, to do both these things would have to have recourse to more violent means than middlebrow subject matter and mere technical expertness. …

The novelist must be characterized not by his function but by his vision, and we must remember that his vision has to be transmitted and that the limitations and blind spots of his audience will very definitely affect the way he is able to show what he sees. This is another thing which in these times increases the tendency toward the grotesque in fiction.

We live now in an age which doubts both fact and value, which is swept this way and that by momentary convictions. Instead of reflecting a balance from the world around him, the novelist now has to achieve one from a felt balance inside himself.

The great novels we get in the future are not going to be those that the public thinks it wants, or those that critics demand. They are going to be the kind of novels that interest the novelist. And the novels that interest the novelist are those that have not already been written. They are those that put the greatest demands on him, that require him to operate at the maximum of his intelligence and his talents, and to be true to the particularities of his own vocation. The direction of many of us will be more toward poetry than toward the traditional novel.

The problem for such a novelist will be to know how far he can distort without destroying, and in order not to destroy, he will have to descend far enough into himself to reach those underground springs that give life to his work. This descent into himself will, at the same time, be a descent into his 1·egion. It .will be a descent through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man cured in the gospels, he sees men as if they were trees, but walking. This is the beginning of vision, and I feel it is a vision which we in the South must at least try to understand if we want to participate in the continuance of a vital Southern literature. I hate to think that in twenty years Southern writers too may be writing about men in gray-flannel suits and may have lost their ability to see that these gentlemen are even greater freaks than what we are writing about now. I hate to think of the day when the Southern writer will satisfy the tired reader.

-Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose Pieces

The Night of the World

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The Duel

The Old House creaked, the shadows in the corner moved as the sun moved, and the boy huddled in the den behind the big plush green chair listening to the war going on outside. It had been like that all morning. Nothing happening but the dark premonitions of a catastrophe or apocalypse hovering around the edges of things; two brothers pummeling and raging at each other just beyond the open window sill. He could hear them hollering, yelling, cussing like the dammed;  thumping and wailing on each other like two old pit bulls set loose on a Friday night under a dark moon; prodding, elbowing, and jabbing at each other like two colossus fiercely contesting over some ancient dispute or blood rite. He heard his old man say: “I’m goin’ kill you, Jubal!” Then he heard something sounded like bone against bone crushing, a snapping sound like a tree falling under an axe; like the sound when his dog Jasper had been laying out in the sun on the gravel drive on a warm morning, lazing and comfortable, and his daddy had backed up over him in his pick up and everything seemed to stop: the sound, the pick up, and the world.


©S.C. Hickman, 2016

Grotesque Modernity: Saturnalia in the Ruins of Time

From the second half of the seventeenth century, we witness a process of progressive decline, degeneration, and impoverishment of the ritualistic forms and carnivalesque attractions in popular culture… The distinct carnivalesque view of the world together with its universality, its brazenness, its utopian character and predilection for the future begins to transform itself into a mere festive mood. The festival has virtually ceased to be the second life of the people, its temporary renaissance and rebirth.

-Mikhail Bakhtin, L’oeuvre de Francois Rabelais

No one knows when it ended, when the world began to forget itself, and people lost their sense of the festive, the carnivalesque. Some say Time just stopped moving one day. I know, I know… time is a fabricated thing, an invention of farmers and agriculturalists, of star gazers and priests, magicians and shamans; time the great round, the swirling plover of the Great Bear chasing the tail of the Dragon; the sweet movement of the Milky Way pouring its light into the Big Dipper; Time, the Redeemer that Shelley once sang: “Their errors have been weighed and found to have been dust in the balance; if their sins were as scarlet, they are now white as snow: they have been washed in the blood of the mediator and the redeemer, Time.”

No more. The river ran dry long ago, the cities of the plain sit idly in the shadows of a silent order, a realm of eternal NOW. Dust and emptiness stretching disconsolately to the edge of oblivion.  The crumbling ruins of Time, the Redeemer decayed and broken, slipping away into ruin and chaos; falling away into that cold blank abyss where nothing returns, where rebirth and the hope of some hint of renaissance and festive carnivals no longer exist much less remember their calendric cycles. One critic voices pity that Bakhtin did not go into the subject of this ‘virtual’ end of the historical Carnival in greater depth.1 How can this be? Since the Enlightenment philosophers and politicians both have told us repeatedly that we are living in the progressive era, and that the older view of history as prophetic or millenarian end game or religious apocalypse gave way to a new future oriented history: one that not only promised us a secular Utopia that would bring history to a happy ending, but also the promise of steady improvement, an end to disease and pain, and a world based on egalitarian values and justice and economic emancipation; an endless future of technology and technics with no foreseeable end in sight.2 Promised a world of industry, health, and plenty we’ve come instead to a time of want, depletion, and degradation at the hands of the very machinic civilization that Instrumental Reason built. Instead of carnival and festivity we labor under austerity and want, death, fear, and the hothouse wars of terror and revolution everywhere. An age more grotesque and macabre, than sublime.

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The Nightly Adventures of a Lost Reader

I love all these Delphi works – not that they have the best translations (they don’t!), but for the convenience of having all the tidbits and trivia of an author’s Oeuvre. As a child we had those standard issue classics that probably lined every middle-class home in America; along with encyclopedias, children’s books, etc.. To think that one can have the complete works of all those classic authors, and all the minor and less known one’s stored on a small memory chips the size of your finger is mind blowing. Yet, in our age know one even thinks about it; it’s become that trivial and ubiquitous. A library in the pocket, on your favorite e-reader or tablet. As if the Great Library of Alexandria were the size of a popsicle. The whole notion of entering an actual building where they store books in the old fashioned leather backed covers seems passé. Alberto Manguel in the The Library at Night describes the old sensation:

The love of libraries, like most loves, must be learned. No one stepping for the first time into a room made of books can know instinctively how to behave, what is expected, what is promised, what is allowed. One may be overcome by horror-at the clutter or the vastness, the stillness, the mocking reminder of everything one doesn’t know, the surveillance-and some of that overwhelming whelming feeling may cling on, even after the rituals and conventions are learned, the geography mapped, the natives found friendly.

When was the last time you actually visited a real library? In our time its a download and pop it in one’s favorite reader. Who has time to visit libraries? Speed. The age of accelerating knowledge, the temporal nosedive into the lost labyrinths of bits and data, the search and seizure of those fragments of culture that remain on the lost horizon of our verbal systems. Some rebel against the digital tribes, seek to slow down the process making the cost of a bit the same as a tree. Of course we all know what happened to vinyls, and then CD’s… the list could go on and on… technology will out these old dinosaurs and in a few years books will give way to the digital world for good. Then the collectors will have a field day selling and buying all those rare editions of one’s favorite author in actual hard bound books. In a couple generations (if we survive) the notion of a library and books will seem like museums, places that are nice of visit to understand the dark ages of one’s parents and grandparents.

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Pierrot & the Dandy: Figures of Decadence

No one was more reproachful than he of a pose, a “cassure,” to use a vulgar word which exactly expresses our thought, whether in a dandy or in a voyour, in a great lady or in a daughter of the people. He possessed in a rare degree the sense of modern corruptions, in high as in low society, and he also culled, under the form of sketches, his flowers of evil.

-Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, His Life

Here is a description by Théophile Gautier in his biography or monogram of his young protégé, Charles Baudelaire:

His appearance was striking: he had closely shaved hair of a rich black, which fell over a forehead of extraordinary whiteness, giving his head the appearance of a Saracen helmet. His eyes, colored like tobacco of Spain, had great depth and spirituality about them, and a certain penetration which was, perhaps, a little too insistent. As to the mouth, in which the teeth were white and perfect, it was seen under a slight and silky moustache which screened its contours. The mobile curves, voluptuous and ironical as the lips in a face painted by Leonardo da Vinci, the nose, fine and delicate, somewhat curved, with quivering nostrils, seemed ever to be scenting vague perfumes. A large dimple accentuated the chin, like the finishing touch of a sculptor’s chisel on a statue; the cheeks, carefully shaved, with vermilion tints on the cheek-bones; the neck, of almost feminine elegance and whiteness, showed plainly, as the collar of his shirt was turned down with a Madras cravat.

His clothing consisted of a paletot of shining black cloth, nut-colored trousers, white stockings, and patent leather shoes; the whole fastidiously correct, with a stamp of almost English simplicity, intentionally adopted to distinguish himself from the artistic folk with the soft felt hats, the velvet waistcoats, red jackets, and strong, disheveled beards. Nothing was too new or elaborate about him. Charles Baudelaire indulged in a certain dandyism, but he would do anything to take from his things the “Sunday clothes” appearance so dear and important to the Philistine, but so disagreeable to the true gentleman.1

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The Fatal Idiom: Artificial Paradises of Decadence

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Arnold Bocklin, Isle of the Dead

Now you’re ready for a long and strange trip. The steam is whistling, the sails are billowing in the right direction, and, unlike most travelers, you have the odd advantage of ignorance as to your destination. This is how you wanted it: vive la fatalité!

-Charles Baudelaire, Artificial Paradises

Waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. Reason demands, on the contrary, that we do justice to it.

-Fredrich Nietzsche, On the concept of decadence

Decay, fragmentation, dissolution, and destruction; the dark erotic and violent formlessness of the grotesque and macabre married to the beauty of Gothic Night. This is decadence… sensual ecstasy and base materialism: the counter-sublime of the Abyss. Late Romantic nightmare that seeks the music not of some heavenly bliss, but rather the cold cruelty of erotic death, unquenchable desire. As Nietzsche would chronicle it, the consequences of decadence are vice— the addiction to vice; sickness— sickliness; crime— criminality; celibacy— sterility; hystericism— weakness of the will; alcoholism; pessimism; anarchism; libertinism (also of the spirit). The slanderers, underminers, doubters, destroyers. Decadence was the first battle cry against the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment – it said:

“Mankind” does not advance, it does not even exist. – Nietzsche

From Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises to W.B. Yeats’s late Byzantium poems the decadent aesthetic would seek in the figure of Beauty the deathly hue of an immortal excess, an  incarnation in those artificial worlds of imaginative need only what would suffice. “The first time that we met Baudelaire was towards the middle of the year 1849, at the Hôtel Pimodan, where we occupied, near Fernand Boissard, a strange apartment which communicated with his by a private staircase hidden in the thickness of the wall, and which was haunted by the spirits of beautiful women loved long since by Lauzun.” The emphasis here by Théophile Gautier – himself an author of fantastic romances, is on those sorrowful decadents “haunted by the spirits of beautiful women”. The Duke of Lauzun who once owned the Townhouse, that would later be renamed after the Duke as the Hôtel de Lauzun, held a grand salon for all the beautiful people of French Society.  The baron also rented out part of the premises to this decadent tribe of “bohemian princes”, in other words – the writers, painters, and poets of decadence: Charles Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier and Roger de Beauvoir among others who organised suppers where they ate a kind of green jam made from hashish, molasses, honey and pistachios, forming the “Club of the Hashish-Eaters”.1

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Italo Calvino: Collection of Sand

The fascination of a collection lies just as much in what it reveals as in what it conceals of the secret urge that led to its creation. – Italo Calvino

In a curious travel sketch Italo Calvino relates the story of a woman who collected sand from the various landscapes and geographies of the world. He’s come to a Paris exhibition where she’s arrayed these various hued marvels or curiosities in glass jars with placards relating them to their points of origins:

There is a person who collects sand. This person travels the world and—on arrival at a sea-shore, the banks of a river or lake, or a desert, or wasteland—gathers a handful of sand and takes it away. On returning home, thousands of little jars are waiting, lined up on long shelves: inside them the fine grey sand of Lake Balaton, the brilliant white particles from the Gulf of Siam, the red shingle that the Gambia river deposits on its course down through Senegal, all display their not particularly vast array of nuanced colours, revealing a uniformity like the moon’s surface, despite the differences in granulosity and consistency, from the black and white sand of the Caspian Sea, which seems to be still bathed in salt water, to the tiniest pebbles from Maratea, which are also black and white, to the fine white powder speckled with purple shells from Turtle Bay, near Malindi in Kenya. …

One has the feeling that this set of samples from the universal Waste Land is on the point of revealing something important to us: a description of the world? The collector’s secret diary? An oracular response to myself as I scrutinize these motionless sand-clocks and reflect on the moment I have reached in my life? Maybe all of these things together. The collection of sands that have been selected chronicles what remains of the world from the long erosions that have taken place, and that sandy residue is both the ultimate substance of the world and the negation of its luxuriant and multiform appearance. All the scenarios of the collector’s life appear more alive here than if they were in a series of colour slides. In fact, one would think that this sounds like a life of eternal tourism (and that is just the way that life appears in any case in colour slides, and it is how posterity would reconstruct it if it were only slides that remained to document our times): basking on exotic beaches is alternated with more arduous explorations, in a geographic restlessness that betrays a sense of uncertainty, of anxiety. …

At this point there is nothing left to do except to give up, walk away from the case, from this cemetery of landscapes reduced to a desert, this cemetery of deserts on which the wind no longer blows. And yet, the person who has had the persistence to continue this collection for years knew what she was doing, knew where she was trying to get to: perhaps this was her precise aim, to remove from herself the distorting, aggressive sensations, the confused wind of being, and to have at last for herself the sandy substance of all things, to touch the flinty structure of existence. That is why she does not take her eyes off those sands, her gaze penetrates one of the phials, she burrows into it, identifies with it, extracts the myriads of pieces of information that are packed into a little pile of sand. Each bit of grey, once it has been deconstructed into its light and dark, shiny and opaque, spherical, polyhedral and flat granules, is no longer seen as a grey or only at that point begins to let you understand the meaning of grey.

So, deciphering the diary of the melancholic (or happy?) collector, I have finally come round to asking myself what is expressed in that sand of written words which I have strung together throughout my life, that sand that now seems to me to be so far away from the beaches and deserts of living. Perhaps by staring at the sand as sand, words as words, we can come close to understanding how and to what extent the world that has been ground down and eroded can still find in sand a foundation and model.1


  1. Italo Calvino. Collection of Sand (Kindle Locations 237-311). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

 

Decadent Europe’s Islamist Dystopia

A great write up by Rick Searle on the decadent Eurocentric perspective on Islam…

Utopia or Dystopia

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Sometimes I get the feeling that the West really is intellectually and spiritually bankrupt. I take my cue here not from watching Eurovision or anything like its American equivalent, but from the fact that, despite how radically different our circumstance is from our predecessors, we can’t seem to get beyond political ideas that have been banging around since the 19th century. Instead of coming up with genuine alternatives we rebrand antique ideas. After all, isn’t  “fully automated luxury communism” really just a technophilic version of communism which hopes to shed all association with breadlines or statues of strapping workers with hammers in their hands? Let’s just call the thing Marxism and get it the hell over with.

Yet perhaps nothing that’s in fact sclerotic and is trying to pass itself off as new is as bad as the so-called “alt-right” (personally I liked the term neo-reactionaries so much better)…

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Duns Scotus and William of Ockham: Realism, Nominalism, and Current Debates on Voluntarism

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Dons Scotus is probably one of the more important philosophers you’ve never heard of (unless you’re an academic or specialist in the field of philosophy). Known as the  “the Subtle Doctor,” he left a mark on discussions of such disparate topics as the semantics of religious language, the problem of universals, divine illumination, and the nature of human freedom.

Scotus believed there are actual universals existing outside the mind and thereby can be called realist, and he opposed those who deny extra-mental universals and are called nominalists, and whose descendents in our time became the anti-realists of the postmodern turn. Of course there are gradations and battlelines to be drawn along the way in this sordid history. He also affirmed that natural law in the strict sense does not depend on God’s will. So from him we get all those thinkers who have reputiated the whole Augustinian tradition of Free Will. Of course he wasn’t alone in this, but he did bring much of this thought to a head and formulated the beginnings of a set of propositions, concepts, and thought that would shape the historical drift of philosophical speculation on Free Will and Universals up to our time.

Scotus quite self-consciously puts forward his understanding of freedom as an alternative to Aquinas’s. According to Aquinas, freedom comes in simply because the will is intellectual appetite rather than mere sense appetite. Intellectual appetite is aimed at objects as presented by the intellect and sense appetite at objects as presented by the senses. Sense appetite is not free because the senses provide only particulars as objects of appetite. But intellectual appetite is free because the intellect deals with universals, not particulars.

Aquinas held a eudaimonistic theory of ethics: the point of the moral life is happiness. That’s why Aquinas can understand the will as an intellectual appetite for happiness. Scotus rejects the idea that will is merely intellectual appetite, he is saying that there is something fundamentally wrong with eudaimonistic ethics. Morality is not tied to human flourishing at all. And just as Aquinas’s conception of the will was tailor-made to suit his eudaimonistic conception of morality, Scotus’s conception of the will is tailor-made to suit his anti-eudaimonistic conception of morality. It’s not merely that he thinks there can be no genuine freedom in mere intellectual appetite. It’s also that he rejects the idea that moral norms are intimately bound up with human nature and human happiness. So Scotus relegates concerns about happiness to the affectio commodi (affection advantage-profit) and assigns whatever is properly moral to the other affection, the affectio iustitiae (affection for justice).

There are many things we could reject in Scotus’s views on immortality, God, Christianity and other issues that are now dated and of little use for our current debates; yet, he is worthy of study for being one of those who decisively set the boundaries and earmarked many of the debates that would follow. I think he’ll be remembered because his thought affords us a view onto the division of philosophers into realists – who think there are real laws and universals – and nominalists – who think laws and universals are merely products of the mind – cuts across more familiar contrasts between rationalists and empiricists, naturalists and transcendentalists, and so affords a novel perspective on the philosophical tradition. In our time it is the battle between anti-realists of the social construction school of postmodernism, and those newer speculative realist positions that have cropped up recently across the Continental and Analytical spectrum.

William of Ockham: The Progenitor of the Anti-Realist Tradition

The enemy of Duns Scotus, is of course the other great philosopher of that era William of Ockham – nominalist and advocate of Free Will. In Ockham’s world of absolute singulars there could be nothing like the composition resulting from the formal intelligibilities of Scotistic realism. Scotus had proposed such Formalitates to insure an objective ground for the universal concepts produced by the intellect. Ockham saw only a latent Platonism here and restricted all such formal distinctions to the mind as it viewed the existing singular from various aspects. Whatever exists is singular, totally so, and any composition would result in a singular being composed of many singulars. Neither could there be any relations between such singulars seen as really distinct from the singular objects involved. Such relations would themselves be singulars, and there could be no end to such a process. It was another way for Ockham to dispense with any necessity in a created order and to insure that creation was totally dependent on both the absolute and ordinary power of God.

One need only read a few of his general propositions to understand why his enemies saw in him a dark course for the future of philosophy:

Article 2. That intuitive knowledge of a creature considered as such does not necessarily concern the creature’s existence or non-existence, nor does it look toward existence rather than non-existence.
Article 5. When predicating wisdom or existence of God, the predication is not about God Himself but only a certain concept (of God).
Article 10. That intelligence and will which are predicated of God are not God; just as no attribute is the same as the Divine Essence.
Article 30. That nothing is known or understood of any substance; science is only of concepts.
Article 38. That there is no relation of reason of God to creatures.
Article 41. That genus is not intrinsic to the thing of which it is the genus.
Article 54. That a proposition such as “God is wisdom, goodness, life” is not intelligible.1

Above we see those tendencies toward obscurantism, relativism, and the anti-realist gap between language/reality etc. hinted at in brief that would work themselves out across the next few hundred years as those who follow Scotus and Ockham would play out the battles into our time.

Against Universals

In the case of universal entities, Ockham’s nominalism is not based on his Razor, his principle of parsimony. That is, Ockham does not hold merely that there is no good reason for affirming universals, so that we should refrain from doing so in the absence of further evidence. No, he holds that theories of universals, or at least the theories he considers, are outright incoherent; they either are self-contradictory or at least violate certain other things we know are true in virtue of the three sources just cited. For Ockham, the only universal entities it makes sense to talk about are universal concepts, and derivative on them, universal terms in spoken and written language. Metaphysically, these “universal” concepts are singular entities like all others; they are “universal” only in the sense of being “predicable of many.”

With respect to the exact ontological status of such conceptual entities, however, Ockham changed his view over the course of his career. To begin with, he adopted what is known as the fictum-theory, a theory according to which universals have no “real” existence at all in the Aristotelian categories, but instead are purely “intentional objects” with a special mode of existence; they have only a kind of “thought”-reality. Eventually, however, Ockham came to think this intentional realm of “fictive” entities was not needed, and by the time of his Summa of Logic and the Quodlibets adopts instead a so called intellectio-theory, according to which a universal concept is just the act of thinking about several objects at once; metaphysically such an “act” is a singular quality of an individual mind, and is “universal” only in the sense of being a mental sign of several things at once and being predicable of them in mental propositions.2

For Ockham, as for Aristotle and Aquinas, I can choose the means to achieve my ultimate good. But in addition, for Ockham unlike Aristotle and Aquinas, I can choose whether to will that ultimate good. The natural orientation and tendency toward that good is built in; I cannot do anything about that. But I can choose whether or not to to act to achieve that good. I might choose, for example, to do nothing at all, and I might choose this knowing full well what I am doing. But more: I can choose to act knowingly directly against my ultimate good, to thwart it. I can choose evil as evil. (ibid.)

For Ockham, this is required if I am going to be morally responsible for my actions. If I could not help but will to act to achieve my ultimate good, then it would not be morally praiseworthy of me to do so; moral “sins of omission” would be impossible (although of course I could be mistaken in the means I adopt). By the same token, moral “sins of commission” would be impossible if I could not knowingly act against my ultimate good. But for Ockham these conclusions are not just required by theory; they are confirmed by experience. (ibid.)

Voluntarism in Duns Scotus and William of Ockham

Voluntarism is the theory that God or the ultimate nature of reality is to be conceived as some form of will (or conation). This theory is contrasted to intellectualism, which gives primacy to God’s reason. The voluntarism/intellectualism distinction was intimately tied to medieval and modern theories of natural law; if we grant that moral or physical laws issue from God, it next needs to be answered whether they issue from God’s will or God’s reason. 3

In medieval philosophy, voluntarism was championed by Avicebron, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. Intellectualism, on the other hand, is found in Averroes, Aquinas, and Eckhart. The opposing theories were applied to the human psychology, the nature of God, ethics, and the heaven. According to intellectualism, choices of the will result from that which the intellect recognizes as good; the will itself is determined. For voluntarism, by contrast, it is the will which determines which objects are good, and the will itself is indetermined.

Concerning the nature of heaven, intellectualists followed Aristotle’s lead by seeing the final state of happiness as a state of contemplation. Voluntarism, by contrast, maintains that final happiness is an activity, specifically that of love. The conceptions of theology itself were polarized between these two views. According to intellectualism, theology should be an essential speculative science; according to voluntarism, it is a practical science aimed at controlling life, but not necessarily aimed at comprehending philosophic truth. In the modern period Spinoza advocates intellectualism insofar as desire is an indication of imperfection, and the passions are a source of human bondage.

When all things are seen purely in rational relations, desire is stilled, the mind is freed from the passions and we experience the intellectual love of God, which is the ideal happiness. According to Leibniz, Spinoza’s interpretation of the world as rational and logical left no place for the individual, or for the conception of ends or purposes as a determining factor in reality. Voluntarism is seen in Leibniz’s view of the laws which govern monads (individual units of which all reality is composed) in so far as they are the laws of the conscious realization of ends.

In some passages Duns Scotus seems to endorse a thoroughgoing voluntarism, holding not merely that the moral law is established entirely by God’s will, but even that there is no reason why God wills in one way rather than another.  In other passages, however, Scotus insists that reason plays an important role in morality—that right reason is an essential element in the moral goodness of an action, and that moral truth is accessible to natural reason.

Sadly, surveying Scotus’s works one comes to the conclusion the conclusion dreaded by some interpreters— namely, that for Scotus the moral law is not accessible to natural reason (leading to obscurantist notions of God’s Will).  Scotus recognizes the existence of contingent truths that are immediate, that is, not derived from any logically prior truths.  Indeed, he insists that there must be such truths: “otherwise there would be an infinite regress in contingent truths, or else something contingent would follow from a necessary cause—either of which is impossible.”  Now we need to distinguish here between two sorts of immediate contingent truths.  I shall call them metaphysically immediate and epistemically immediate.  Metaphysically immediate contingent truths are those for which there is no further explanation at all; they are the sorts of truths we might be inclined to call “brute facts”—not merely brute relative to other facts, but absolutely brute, as we might say.  Scotus’s favorite examples of such truths are, not surprisingly, facts about the divine will.

Thus Scotus’s understanding of the role of reason in morality is explicitly tailored so as to go hand in hand with his voluntarism; there is no conflict at all between the two views.  Since God created us with the ability to regulate our actions in accordance with our own knowledge of the moral law, our actions are not fully morally good unless they involve an exercise of our own reason.  But since we cannot come to know discursively what God has freely and contingently willed concerning the moral law, God has granted us an immediate knowledge of the moral law.

Natural reason thus knows the moral law immediately and not by argument.  Right reason is the correct application of such knowledge to specific circumstances.  And action on the basis of a complete dictate of right reason is fully morally good.  In this way, any agent who makes proper use of reason can easily elicit morally good acts without ever having the slightest thought about God’s will, even though in fact it is God’s sovereign will that freely established the moral facts that the agent is correctly discerning and following.

Ultimately from William of Ockham’s thought would come all those traditions of voluntarism and utilitarian ethics.  Voluntary agents, free-will, along with notions of teleology (final causation) would encompass his thought. Although he is very suspicious of the notion of final causality (teleology) in general, he thinks it is quite appropriate for intelligent, voluntary agents such as human beings. Thus the frequent charge that Ockham severs ethics from metaphysics by denying teleology seems wrong. Nevertheless, while Ockham grants that human beings have a natural orientation, a tendency toward their own ultimate good, he does not think this restricts their choices. This erroneous notion of an innate telos toward the good, and free-will would be hotly debated for hundreds of years, and seems to be almost a violent aspect of current scientific and philosophical debates in our day.

Ockham’s greatest task he’d set himself as a defense, both philosophically and theologically, of the divine freedom and omnipotence of God. Those who oppose his philosophy would see in  Ockham someone who critically attacked the great theological systems of the earlier days and substituted for them a logical nominalism and philosophical fideism.*

Kant and Schopenhauer in later times: Rational and Irrational Will and Voluntarism

19th century voluntarism has its origin in Kant, particularly his doctrine of the “primacy of the practical over the pure reason.” Intellectually, humans are incapable of knowing ultimate reality, but this need not and must not interfere with the duty of acting as though the spiritual character of this reality were certain. Freedom cannot be demonstrated speculatively, but whenever a person acts under a motive supplied by reason, he is thereby exhibiting the practical efficiency of reason, and thus showing its reality in a practical sense. Following Kant, two distinct lines of voluntarism have proceeded which may be called rational and irrational voluntarism respectively. (ibid.)

For Fichte, the originator of rational voluntarism, the ethical is primary both in the sphere of conduct and in the sphere of knowledge. The whole nature of consciousness can be understood only from the point of view of ends which are set up by the self. The actual world, with all the activity that it has, is only to be understood as material for the activity of the practical reason, as the means through which the will achieves complete freedom and complete moral realization.

“The genius of love and the genius of hunger, those twin brothers, are the two moving forces behind all living things. All living things set themselves in motion to feed and to reproduce. Love and hunger share the same purpose. Life must never cease; life must be sustained and must create.”

– Turgenev, Little poems in prose, XXIII 

Schopenhauer’s irrational voluntarism asserts a more radical opposition between the will and intellect. For him, the will is by its very nature irrational. It manifests itself in various stages in the world of nature as physical, chemical, magnetic, and vital force, pre-eminently, however, in the animal kingdom in the form of “the will to live,” which means the tendency to assert itself in the struggle for means of existence and for reproduction of the species. This activity is all of it blind, so far as the individual agent is concerned, although the power and existence of the will are thereby asserted continually.


Note*:

Nominalism is a metaphysical view in philosophy according to which general or abstract terms and predicates exist, while universals or abstract objects, which are sometimes thought to correspond to these terms, do not exist. There are at least two main versions of nominalism.

Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means “faith-ism.”


  1. Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale, vol. 7, pp. 353-380, J. Koch
  2. Spade, Paul Vincent and Panaccio, Claude, “William of Ockham”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/ockham/&gt;.
  3. see: Voluntarism – http://www.iep.utm.edu/voluntar/

 

For a general introduction see: John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) and William of Ockham ( 1287–1347)

 

Gastronomique Comedia: Rabelais and Bataille – Anti-Philosophy of Laughter

“Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I’d rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.”

― François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel 

“The genius of love and the genius of hunger, those twin brothers, are the two moving forces behind all living things. All living things set themselves in motion to feed and to reproduce. Love and hunger share the same purpose. Life must never cease; life must be sustained and must create.”

– Turgenev, Little poems in prose, XXIII 

Gastronomique Comedia

François Rabelais was born at the end of the fifteenth century. A Franciscan monk turned Benedictine, he abandoned the cloister in 1530 and began to study medicine at Montpellier. Two years later he wrote his first work, Pantagruel, which revealed his genius as a storyteller, satirist, propagandist and creator of comic situations and characters. In 1534 he published Gargantua, a companion to Pantagruel, which contains some of his best work. It mocks old-fashioned theological education, and opposes the monastic ideal, contrasting it with a free society of noble Evangelicals. Following an outburst of repression in late 1534, Rabelais abandoned his post of doctor at the Hotel-Dieu at Lyons and despite Royal support his book Tiers Livre was condemned. His last work, and his boldest, Quart Livre was published in 1551 and he died two years later. For the last years of his life Rabelais was persecuted by both religious and civil authorities for his publications. His genius however was recognized in his own day and his influence was great.

In his comic masterpiece Rabelais tells the story of Pantagruel. It is the story of the birth and early life of this Giant, which was probably the most hilarious of the books. Gargantua is the story of the birth and life of Panagruel’s father Gargantua; this was also quite funny covering several topics. The 3rd book of Pantagruel contains two main themes; the first is a discussion between Pantagruel and Panurge on debtors and borrowers. Panurge gives the funniest discourse on the need for debtors I have ever seen. The rest of the book tells of Panurge consulting every imaginable method of seeing the future to see if he should marry. Rabelais gives us a description of how the Thelemites of the Abbey Thelema lived and the rules they lived by:

All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed, Do What Thou Wilt; because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us. 1

François Rabelais couldn’t get enough of arseholes. When the giant Gargantua is born, the midwives can’t tell at first if his mother’s in labour, or merely evacuating her bowels of the 16 tuns, two gallons and two pints of tripe she’s been eating. Another curious meal includes “fine turds, tweak-nose style”, “Athenian rump”, “shitlets”, “collared bullfarts”, “stitched bum-stirrings”, “dirty-filths”, “puffs-up-my-bum” and, for dessert, “shit drench with blossoming turds”. Here are some books in a Rabelais library: On the Art of Discreetly Farting in Company, On How to Defecate, Fundamental Floggings, The Gut-cavities of the Mendicants, Spanish Pongs, Super-refined, The Backgammon of Belly-bumping Friars and Martingale Breeches with Back-flaps for Turd-droppers.

But the arse isn’t all that Rabelais is interested in. Why the sea is salty, how to cook pears in red wine, ironmongery, weaponry, war (he’s a little too interested in war), decapitation (ditto), the names of games (including “judge alive, judge dead” and “shitty yew-twigs”) and dances, glassware and grapes, history, mythology, archaeology, “foolosophy”, scholarship, medicine of course (as a doctor he risked his life to save victims of the plague), anatomy, botany, lechery, law, magic, superstition, religion, servants, aphrodisiacs, wines, astronomy, astrology, tourist sites, even sci-fi. He wants, like any real writer, to explain the whole world to us – comically, satirically, ethically and unethically. (see: Lucy Ellmann: 12/2006 Guardian Review of Books)

Shall we say it? Rabelais was moving toward that inhuman laughter of the monstrous alterity that risks the boundary zones between reason and unreason, knowledge and nonknowledge (Bataille). In laughter we find the key to unlock what Bataille would call the philosophy of non-savoir, where laughter – not the comedy of existence subordinated to reason and human identity – ruptures the abject and enters the regions of Nietzsche’s grand baroque, where the abyss of laughter reverberates in nonknowledge and excess.

Bataille believed that laughter is sovereign, and that comic literature had been suborned to its lowly position because it stepped outside reason and philosophy, that it dared to cause havoc in the House of Reason.  Rather than just attempting to philosophize comedy, Bataille treats philosophy as comedy. Like Rabelais he gave attentive lesion to an affinity with surrealism and celebration of cultural forms expressing the irrational, the unthinkable, and the impossible (such as death, ecstasy, ritual, sacrifice, the erotic, the comic, and the sacred) has been extended to theorizations that interrogate both the philosophical underpinning of his work and, indeed, its consequences for philosophical thinking.

Rabelais’s saying from Latin to ‘put its nose to her arse’ gives us that ribald and earthy humor that puts us back in touch with the base materialist world of the body: a well-known cause of laughter. To explain the elegant Latin word olfecit, used when a horse caused difficulties by ‘flairing’ (smelling) a mule, a medieval glossator of the Law Agaso (Ostler) notoriously explained it in basic Latin as ‘put its nose to her arse’.1 Rabelais would inform his future readers of laughter: “No other theme comes to my mind Seeing such gloom your joy doth ban. My pen’s to laughs not tears assigned. Laughter’s the property of Man.”

Even Bataille saw the benefit of laughter as communication. “When the need to communicate through loss of self is reduced to that of possessing more, then we realize that nothing sublime can exist in man without its necessarily evoking laughter. Now, of all the sorts of intense communication, none is more common than the laughter which stirs us in (each other’s) company. In our laughter, our lives are quite constantly released in a facile form of communication- and this despite the possibly isolating effect of our concern with sublime forms of communication.” (Bataille, Laughter: Writings of Laughter and Sacrifice)  As if commenting on the earthy humor of Rabelais – Bataille continues:

We laughed as one- a full, remorseless laughter- in which, together, we penetrated into the secret places of things. The joy of laughter became one with the joy of living. The spellbinding spark of roaring laughter came to mean, in a way that was crucial, a kind of dawn, a strange promise of glory. We must take care always to articulate the radiance discovered in laughter; that intoxication opens a window of light which gives onto a world of flagrant joy. Actually, the brilliance of this world is such that men swiftly avert their eyes. He who wishes to keep his attention focused upon this sliding, dizzying point needs great strength. In learned treatises, laughter is considered a mechanism. Tired scholars endlessly dismantle its minute gear system, as if laughter were really foreign to them; they avoid the immediate revelation of the nature of things and of their own lives in their own laughter. (ibid.)

Bataille’s philosophy of laughter awakens us from the gray men who shut down the world in a cage of reason and suborned meaning, who analyze the world into abstract categories, or synthesize it into realms of non-meaning and abstract ideas seeking some transcendence – all the while those like Rabelais and Bataille bring us back down to the base line, to the earthy shit and arse hole philosophies of reality – of laughter and the grotto, the grotesque antiques of the fool and merry pranksters who romp the vast comic literature of the eternal festival of cruelty and life going on within the cosmic landscape of history’s horror show, and that of our universe of transgressive and catastrophic play where amor fati and the Lord of Misrule dance in the eternity of night. Against the new crop of Neorationalists and their normative returns to regulation and enslavement of men in some new “give and take” of reasons and moral turpitude Rabelais and Bataille offer laughter and transgression, excess and a base materialism that keeps us in touch with matter, mater, goddess, earth, night, death and the ocean of endless being and becoming. As Bataille would remind us “Not only does each man participate in the limitless streaming of the universe but his laughter mixes with that of others, so that a room will contain not several laughs, but a single wave of hilarity. The icy solitude of each laughing individual is, as it were, refined; all lives are waters flowing into a torrent.” (ibid.)

In Rabelais and Bataille we discover a desubjectivized humanism that takes on the form of a seemingly more solidified cult of the generic Subject of the people, but even there it rests on an ever changing, protean, metamorphic and mutant existence of the human masses – a monstrous excess that transgresses the boundaries between bodies and style registers and refuses their members stable identifications – no identitarian politics here! – other than with the utopian body of the people and of humanity at large. This Renaissance brand of the decentred, indeed dislocated, humanism without subjectivity is his greatest discovery as a thinker and the source of his longevity on the intellectual scene where he ushers out vogue after vogue, staging for each new generation of readers the magic of witnessing the birth of proximity without empathy, of laughter without promise or closure. Rabelais is to laughter what Heraclitus is to tears, a mortal god among gargantuans; a panurge whose life abounds to all and sundry, and springs eternal in the reader’s mind like a promise of unbounded joy.

Bataille would provoke us to turn away from doom and gloom, from the Subject and Identity, from the isolated subjectivism of Idealist pretension and Hegelian dialectic of sublation and endless progress, objectivity of spirit, and transcendence. Instead he would provoke laughter and madness:

Laughter has the quality of provoking laughter. Hilarity discloses the fall-which has just occurred or some equivalent cause of joy, the certain presence of prospects of the spirit’s release. This invitation is difficult to resist. Isolation is always the effect of gloom, of fatigue, or heaviness; when invited to join in the “mad dance of release,” the spirit rushes in heedlessly. (Laughter: ibid.)

Only the cosmic comedy without end in a universe where nothing is assured, and everything is left to do; an incompleteness, a journey into ever more refined forms of formlessness and chaos, a spasmatic realm of catastrophe and impersonal numinous desire quickened only by the unknown laughter resounding in the abyss of impersonal night.

Or, instead let us come together for a drink, a little merriment and vibrant comradeship; and a night of ribald humor, letting our worries and the world – too long with us and hateful, fall away as the fires of conversation and bright laughter burst the halls with clanking ale and honored friendship:

‘I,’ said the steward, ‘would rather have a drink.’

And so saying they went into the lower hall; all their companions were there and when they told them this novella, they had them buzzing with laughter like a bevy of flies.

– Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel 


The notes below are not pertinent to the fragment above… Just needed to gather them together for future reference… 🙂

Notes Toward A Short History of Gastronomy

Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière is known as the first public critic of cooking, the first reviewer of the ambitious restaurants that cropped up in Paris in the later eighteenth century and flowered under the Napoleonic regime, his name is a by-word on a par with Brillat-Savarin and an equally rich source of quotations in French gastronomic literature through the eight volumes of his annual L’Almanach des gourmands, which he edited and published from 1803 to 1812. Gourmand still retained its sense of “gluttony”, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and Grimod’s choice of the word, when “friand” more usually connoted a connoisseur of fine food and wine, was a conscious one and wholly in character; gourmand and gourmet first achieved their pleasant modern connotations in Grimod’s Almanachs, which, among other innovations, were the first restaurant guides. The success of the Almanachs encouraged Grimod and his publishers to bring out the monthly Journal des Gourmandes et des Belles, which appeared for the first time in January 1806. Its editorial board consisted of the friends who met weekly for dinner at the Hôtel Grimod de La Reynière, those “Dîners du Vaudeville”, composed of dishes sent round by the premier restaurants of Paris for judgment, and Grimod as host and presiding genius. His Manuel des amphitryons (“hosts”) appeared in 1808. Sainte-Beuve called him the “Father of the table”.2

Wandering through my gastronomique collection it dawned on me how delightful it would be to read a great comic novel of a Chef. But not just any Chef, I was thinking back to Gunter Grass’s fabulous comic novel The Flounder, which had all the lovely asides of various gastronomique treats and binges as the women through the Flounder’s long rambling history cooked their way into his heart. One thinks of the Francois Villon (1431 – 1474) the great French poet whose earthy love of women, wine, and song. One of my favorites was his The Debate Between Villon And His Heart (only a snippet):

Who’s that I hear?—It’s me—Who?—Your heart
Hanging on by the thinnest thread
I lose all my strength, substance, and fluid
When I see you withdrawn this way all alone
Like a whipped cur sulking in the corner
Is it due to your mad hedonism?—
What’s it to you?—I have to suffer for it—
Leave me alone—Why?—I’ll think about it—
When will you do that?—When I’ve grown up—
I’ve nothing more to tell you—I’ll survive without it—

I can imagine a encyclopedic history in the comic vein of a Chef who has lived through time cooking at the great and small tables of historical and imaginary figures, interspersed with ribald poems, epithets, rancorous satire, jibes, and jubilant and festive culinary affairs of both the heart and mind… a cross between Don Juan and Julia Childe; or, Antoine Careme:

Known as the “King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings,” Antoine Careme went from being an abandoned child left at the door of a restaurateur in 18th century Paris, to become the father of “haute cuisine” – the high art of French cooking – in the early 19th century. Chef to then-world movers and shakers such as diplomat Talleyrand-Perigord, the future King George IV, Czar Alexander I, and the powerful banker James Rothschild, Careme is noted for his voluminous writings on cooking, including the famed L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise (The Art of French Cooking), a five-volume masterpiece on menu planning, table settings, hundreds of recipes, and a history of French cooking.

Another Frenchman, George Auguste Escoffier, bridged the 19th and 20th centuries with a modernization of Careme’s elaborate cuisine by ingenious simplification of it. Escoffier lent his talents as a chef to open the Ritz and Carlton hotels with partner Cesar Ritz, and then went on to wow such illustrious passengers as Kaiser William II of Germany on the German liner Imperator. Besides being known for such famous treats at Peach Melba, created for Australian singer Nellie Melba in 1893, Escoffier penned numerous volumes on cooking and was largely instrumental in the betterment of conditions within commercial kitchens. A stickler for cleanliness, he demanded the same from his workers and forbade swearing or any type of violence, which at the time, was common as apprentices and other help were routinely beaten by older staff.

Charles Ranhofer, the son of a restrauteur and the grandson of a chef, goes down in the annals of great chefs as the first French chef to bring the grandeur of his country’s cuisine to America. Noted primarily as the head chef of New York City’s famed Delmonico’s restaurant, Ranhofer ran its kitchens for nearly 34 years. Serving such luminaries as President Andrew Johnson, President U.S. Grant, Charles Dickens, and a host of foreign dignitaries, Ranhofer created such culinary distinctions as Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska, among many others. He also wrote “one of the most complete treatises of its kind,” according to the New York Times in praise of his book, The Epicurean, published in 1894.3


  1. Gargantua and Pantagruel. François Rabelais, translated by MA Screech (Penguin)
  2. See: Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture, and Food Among the Early Moderns by Robert Appelbaum. Excellent history!
  3.  Author Keith Londrie II. Famous Chefs in History.

 

Medusamorphosis: The Seduction of Love and Death

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Such is the seducer’s strategy : he gives himself the humility of the mirror, but a skillful mirror, like Perseus’ shield, in which Medusa found herself petrified. The girl too is going to fall captive to the mirror that reflects and analyzes her’, without her knowledge.

-Jean Baudrillard, Seduction

Medusamorphosis relates to the mythical figure of the Gorgon Medusa, a key figure of fascination, whose looks were thought to turn living beings into stone. The Medusa incorporates the ambivalent forces of attraction and repulsion that are at the heart of the dangerously seductive and petrifying lure referred to as ‘fascination’. Furthermore, the threat and thrill evoked by this figure support the conceptualisation of fascination and its development insofar as different representations of the Gorgon across historical eras, cultural contexts and across different media point to dominating trends underlying the dread of, or desire for ‘fascination’.1

Fascination is the “act of bewitching,” from Latin fascinationem (nominative fascinatio), noun of action from past participle stem of fascinare “bewitch, enchant”: the “state of being fascinated” is from 1650s; that of “fascinating quality, attractive influence upon the attention” is from 1690s. We know it is associated with “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft,” which is of from European lore and folktales. Earliest used to describe 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. Our legends of the Medusa with a head of serpents typifies this ancient motif, and became an apotropaic charm against the unknown and monstrous in ancient Greece. The Evil eye that binds, that wards off the dark and broken, the lonely and hungry ghosts; the dead among the darkening alleys, the mazes in the stone, circling, wandering, mazing among the endless gaps and cracks in-between times, in-between life and death; wandering across the hidden barriers, the hedgerows between the living and the dead, shifting, not knowing whether they are alive or dead. T.S. Eliot: “I had not thought death had undone so many.”

300px-MedusaIn the Medusa there is an association of beauty and terror, and even Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance would show this quality of absolute horror and beauty enfolded in the decay of stone ensorcelled by serpentine hair and frogs her lips and eyes open to the fateful stars above. The cool beauty of the femme fatale is another transformation of chthonian ugliness. Female animals are usually less beautiful than males. The mother bird’s dull feathers are camouflage, protecting the nest from predators. Male birds are creatures of spectacular display, of both plumage and parade, partly to impress females and conquer rivals and partly to divert enemies from the nest. Among humans, male ritual display is just as extreme, but for the first time the female becomes a lavishly beautiful object. Why? The female is adorned not simply to increase her property value, as Marxism would demystifyingly have it, but to assure her desirability. Consciousness has made cowards of us all. Animals do not feel sexual fear, because they are not rational beings. They operate under a pure biologic imperative. Mind, which has enabled humanity to adapt and flourish as a species, has also infinitely complicated our functioning as physical beings. We see too much, and so have to stringently limit our seeing. Desire is besieged on all sides by anxiety and doubt. Beauty, an ecstasy of the eye, drugs us and allows us to act. Beauty is our Apollonian revision of the chthonian.2

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