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.

This notion that history has no end, that it is just a slow plodding, methodical and incremental ladder into the future; an endless improvement on what went on before, building on the ruins of the Fathers; a steady increase and movement ever forward into the illuminated light of technology and happiness. Bliss! Yet, some would question this blissful state, this self-improvement of society and man into some infinite future. Some would wonder what happens whenever experience slips out of conventional understanding, whenever the power of an object or event is such that words fail and points of comparison disappear, and would stand before the edge of that abyss and tremble, feeling both terror and fear, even shock and awe before the Sublime.3 As such, the sublime marked the limit of reason and expression together with a sense of what might lie beyond these limits. Kant would close us off from the old world of endless festivals and renewals, carnivals and renaissances and give us a realm of closure and finitude, history and progress. Yet, Kant would add a new twist, instead of gazing into the infinite reaches of space, turning our gaze outward toward the natural universe, he’d reverse course and turn our gaze inward into the abyss of consciousness.

The Inner Gaze: Kant’s Dark Philosophy

I am saturnine-bereft-disconsolate,
The Prince of Aquitaine whose tower has crumbled:
My lone star is dead-and my bespangled lute
Bears the Black sun of Melancholia”

– Nerval, Sol Niger

For Kant the sensuous or empirical aspects of human existence were of little concern, instead for him knowledge, in the strict sense, is derived not from the world of experience but rather from the a priori conditions of experience. The difference here was that for Kant it is not the object itself that is beautiful but the manner in which the mind apprehends that object, manifesting its accordance with an indeterminate concept of understanding. So after Kant the world became an active invention of the Mind through the categories of the understanding rather than the passive mirror upon which things revealed themselves through the senses. In his terms “the feeling of the sublime is a feeling of displeasure that arises from the imagination’s inadequacy,” one that is alleviated only in “so far as the formless phenomenon can be grasped as a totality in terms of a rational idea”. (S, 83) The point of all this for Kant was that the failure of ‘the greatest faculty of sense’ serves to ‘negatively’ exhibit the ‘higher’ faculty of reason. Which in turn gives us the feeling, that we have a capacity within our minds that is ‘essentially transcendent to (that is, free from) all determinations of nature, inner and outer’ (S, 83).

It was over this undecidable “feeling,” this uncertainty as to what was going on just here in this dark zone of capacities, a feeling that could not be locked down, exposed to the light of reason, brought to bare and measured, mathematized, made into a scientific object that would puzzle thinkers for two hundred years. Concepts such as the Unconscious would arise to put a name to this darkness within where feelings, affective relations, the uncontrollable forces of in the abyss of self and subjectivity seemed forever out of reach of understanding that would produce a great division in the arts, sciences, philosophy, politics, and love. Caught in the sublime matrix of the ambiguous feelings from within a world of the fantastique, grotesque, macabre, and uncanny would emerge in the literature of the Gothic, Decadent, Symbolist, Dadaist, Surrealist underbelly of the Enlightenment project. A world of thought and image that could not be brought to bare under the banner of Reason, but was slowly ousted to the periphery of culture in a zone of liminal boundaries where monstrous and grotesque things seemed to cohabit both our minds and the real world, wavering in-between the marvelous and the uncanny like imps of the perverse driving us to strange madness and unreason.

Kant would determine that this had to be so, that the gap between Reason and feeling must be maintained, that our understanding of the world itself depended on it. For were the faculty of reason to be subject to direct empirical presentation it would cease to function as an a priori ground for the cognisance of nature in its totality; it would cease, in Kant’s words, to be ‘pure and independent’. (S, 83) The point for Kant is that the very fact that we are able to conceive of infinity as a whole, that we are able, in other words, to comprehend ideas which exceed direct empirical presentation, shows that ‘we are beings with capacities that transcend the limitations of our finite phenomenal existence’. (S, 83). Over the next two hundred years many philosophers and scientists would dispute this, and even now the verdict is out.

One could consider the Enlightenment project of instrumentalizing Reason as sorcery, a form of black magick, as a form of sub-creation and heterotopic thought that sought to enslave both men and nature within a separated totality, a enclosure of mind and thought that would create a Symbolic Order such that all who presided within its circuit would no longer know they were slaves, that the world they thought was built of freedom and creativity was in fact a realm enclosed in fear and terror, a gothic horror show full of grotesque and macabre humor; a site whose masters are full of sardonic laughter parodying and satirizing the ancient Saturnus and his band of Paganini, all the while patrolling the borderlands of this zone of hate with their technological equipment and surveillance systems disallowing any escape or exit. A world of techno-commercial systems sucking our desires like dead thoughts from automatons who long ago fled the future for this betrayal at the hands of the machinic gods of Techne. Our world being under the dominion of strange and powerful forces of which we know nothing, and for the most part scoff at in our myths of reason and nihilism.

Puppet Universes: The Automated Void

So just what is a refrain? Glass harmonica: the refrain is a prism, a crystal of space-time.

– Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Reza Negarestani once suggested that “Puppetry is the realization of the ethics of the weird: in conformity to my intention, I enforce the radically exterior intention of nothing. … This is another way to say that by abiding to their intention for remaining in themselves, the objects are puppetized by the intention of nothing. Nothing vermicularly looms out of the intended and makes it problematic. The universe is infinitely weirder when we know, that even the gimmick of ex nihilo is the perforation of something with nothing, not the other way around.In a universe where nothing is everything is impossible, which is the gap necessary to enter into relation with the unknown…

The madness of the puppet. It lies along a line or spectrum of things. It might be a very ordinary form of madness. The madness lies in the hidden movements of the hand, the curious impulse and skill by which a person’s hand can make itself into the animating impulse, the intelligence or soul, of an inanimate object—it is an extension of that more basic wonder by which we can let this one part of our body become a separate, articulate whole, capable of surprising its owner with its movements, the stories it tells. Kenneth Gross in his fascinating study of the uncanny Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny calls it madness, but it is perhaps better called an ecstasy. It lies in the hand’s power and pleasure in giving itself over to the demands of the object, our curious will to make the object into an actor, something capable of gesture and voice. What strikes me here is the need for a made thing to tell a story, to become a vehicle for a voice, an impulse of character—something very old, and very early. The thing acquires a life.4

Dylan Trigg in The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror takes the standard model of phenomenology and turns it into one capable of “speaking on behalf of nonhuman realms, but is especially suited to this study of foreign entities: the term phenomenology’s specific mode of accounting for the nonhuman realm, the unhuman.5 He describes a phenomenology that aligns itself with the uncanny, telling us that with the unhuman, something comes back to haunt the human without it being fully integrated into humanity. In this respect, the unhuman is closely tied up with notions of alienation, anonymity, and the unconscious (and to this extent, is also registered by the equivalent but more cumbersome term, xenophenomenology). Second, the distinction of the unhuman is that it does not negate humanity, even though in experiential terms it may be felt as a force of opposition. As we will see, it is precisely through the inclusion of the human that the nonhuman element becomes visible. This does not mean falling back into anthropomorphism. Rather, it means letting the unhumanity of the human speak for itself. (Trigg, 6) Finally, for Trigg an unhuman phenomenology, then, is a phenomenology that runs against the notion that description is a guarantor of truth, and thus strikes a discord with traditional phenomenology. In this way, unhuman phenomenology is a genuine alien phenomenology in that it is concerned with the limits of alterity rather than simply replacing subjects with objects. (Trigg, 7).

The Grotesque in art and life was always centered on the gap between culture and nature, the reality of the body as the mediator between mind and environment. For Bakhtin in his studies of the grotesque and carnivaliesque it is the laughing human body that becomes the emblem for this longed-for harmony between culture and nature. The notion of laughter as communication between mind and environment, as the drift of things in the gap would preoccupy comedic, satiric, and grotesque dramatists, essayists, poets, and novelists from Aristophanes to Pynchon and beyond. For Bergson, laughter is the embodiment of suppleness in a society and a punishment to those who ossify in their habits, reactions, and attitudes and therefore cease to perform sufficiently well. But Bakhtin also modifies Bergson in that he frees his conception of laughter from its punitive elements by stressing the liberating and joyful experience of laughing.

Rabelais in his great grotesques 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 society and our cultural frames of reference. Laughter as negation and communication.

The critic Harold Bloom once named this condition the kenoma, the vastation of our catastrophic universe, the “cosmological emptiness,” a realm of “repetitive time, meaningless reproduction, futurelessness…” ( Omens of the Millennium: 1980: 239). Yet, unlike the gnostics who quested for god, who sought the pleroma, the place of rest: “a paradoxical world of tensely vital peace, and a calm yet active ecstasy”, we are bound to the great outdoors of thought and being, the Kenoma, the void that surrounds us in solitude and misery (ibid. Bloom: 240). The grotesque is neither anti-cosmic nor a follower of that Hegelian path toward “being at home in the world”; instead, it is bound to the chains of the void, a willing accomplice and progenitor of a darker sublime, the ‘beauty of horror’ that would slaughter any thought of escape, any path toward transcendence of this black and abyssmal realm, and offers us only the destruction of all egoistic sublimes, all transcendental idealisms that would see in the correlation of self and world some magical key to thought and being.

The Grotesque brings us to the edge of the mind’s resistance, to the floor of the Real where there is no substrate, no substance, no seething realm of endless torment and delight, only the cold vitalism of a darker truth: that consciousness is the terror from which we are trying to escape, and the only path of redemption leads not out of this void towards some paradise of light and the absolute alterity of a transcendent beyonding, but deeper into its intricate and deadly labyrinth where devoid of all conscious thought we may once again live out our lives in creaturely solitude at one with the carnivorous universe. Yet, this is not a reduction to a puppet existence or a return to our animalian past; no, this is a conscious decision to open our eyes and live without the symbolic crutches of the Big Other – by whatever name it names itself. Alone with the alone, but not in the gnostic way; there is no presence or knowing between knowers: instead this is the acknowledgement of the stark cold truth of Time in a universe of impersonal and indifferent forces that for the most part do not even know or care that we exist. Name it Absolute Absence…

“How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as if through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?”

  Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Grotesque Realism: Saturnalia and the Renewal of Time

Very little communication passed between the denizens of these outer quarters and those who lived within the walls…

-Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast Trilogy

Somewhere along the way the carnival disappeared into its descriptions, people no longer experienced it as much as they saw it: the carnival had become a show, theatre rather than an event to be suffered and participated in, an object that one gazed upon rather than a world within which one got lost in the anonymity of masked delirium. Goethe commenting on the 1788 Roman festival, the Carnival which was symbolic of the Revolution would say in his published essay: “If we are to be allowed to continue to speak more seriously than the subject warrants, we would observe that (…) liberty and equality can only be sampled in the vertigo of madness, and that the greatest of pleasures can only seduce at the highest point when it courts danger and when it delights in its proximity to voluptuous sensations that are both disturbing and sweet.” (Stoichita, 13)

There is a distancing from experience and the voluptuous sensations, of being dragged into their proximity and danger where one might suddenly fall into that “vertigo of madness” of the festive carnival and its topsy-turvy world beyond Reason. Already we are seeing the closure of one world and the birth of another, the slow and methodical expulsion of sense and experience at the hands of the abstract and mental. A world in which men and women would no longer participate in events, in the festivals of renewal and time but would gaze upon them as in a book, from a safe distance and security. A world that would no longer be felt but would be seen and described  rather than lived. Before the fall there was a time when the festival celebrated the periodic rebirth of time and sense, when it unleashed energies, reversal of hierarchies and mixed individuals together in a dynamic living mass of anonymity; a time that turned into a intermediary time, a time-between-times in which the high became low, and the masters, slaves. A world in which the truth of the world outside the Law, outside society, outside the fictional or symbolic order suddenly revealed itself for what it is: a realm where there is no hierarchy other than the law of the jungle in which no one and everyone was alone with the alone in a universe at once impersonal and indifferent to the human.

It is in this transitional time that men, women, and children would break down the false barriers between culture and nature and reenter the Great Festival of Being where the spirit of carnival presided in the figure of the Lord of Misrule. Ethnologists have drawn attention to parallels with other similar festivals which, in the pagan world or in ‘primitive’ societies, also celebrated this pivotal time, at other times they have preferred to stress the event’s Christian (Catholic) characteristics, inasmuch as carnivalesque debauchery can only be properly understood in relation to the asceticism of Lent.  (Stoichita, 15) In ancient Rome the great New Year feast of Saturnalia which marked the sun’s entry into Capricornus, the Saturnian Sign of the Goat, was held around December 17th along with celebrations such as the Paganalia. It was characterized by universal revelry, sexual excess, heavy drinking and the suspension and overthrow of all ordinary standards with masters laughingly attending upon their slaves and unrestrained erotic license prevailing for days on end. This was as we can see already an old tradition that had been incorporated even by the Romans into their Imperial power structure, their symbolic order as a pageant and show rather than a real entry into the veritable revolution of time. They were playing in a theatre of Saturnalia: reverting to forms of indeterminate chaos and unity that were meant as display and show rather than reality. During such festival events the usual social norms and constraints were cast away, and crowds of commoners mingled with the elite in the streets where braziers smouldered in the wintry air. Houses and chambers were decked with evergreen holly and ivy and ass was offered in sacrifice to the god Saturnus.6

Saturnus, whose name derives from the Latin ‘Sator’ – for sower of seed, presided over the dawn of time, the first festival of the Golden Age of the Latium, a paradaisal epoch when all humans were free, there was no hierarchy and life was blissful, unknowing of toil or suffering. In this great myth of the golden age under the rule of King Saturn humanity was innocent of pain and suffering, sing or guilt and lived on the natural produce of the earth without tilling the soil or sowing seed. The festivals at Rome were an enactment and remembrance of this ‘sacred time’ and its world, a reenactment of its paradise on earth in which the goat-headed, ass-eared god of merry Misrule, the Holy Fool led the people in dance and merriment. This was a time before form and formlessness, Reason and Madness had formed a great gap between the sacred and the profane worlds.

Long after Rome had fallen in the 15th century the dark memory of the Saturnalia would still be remembered under the guise of the Festum Fatuorum, the ‘Festival of Fools‘. A motley group of fools, cross-dressed in transvestite livery, led by the Bishop of Fools invaded the churches of Europe, disrupting the mass with braying and heckling songs and lewd gestures to the dismay and disapproval of the ecclesiastical authorities. We know that the Festival of Fools was involved in inversions and mockeries of liturgical rites – the so called black masses; and, in 1249 such antics would turn to riotous acts as crowds in ass-eared costume raged through the streets of many cities and villages, violently smashing down doors of convents, attacking servants and the faithful alike. Only when the Pope himself intervened did the folk-anarchy of this duplicitous act of defiance come under control. (Jackson, 65).

Calendric Dominion: Enlightenment Traps and End Games

Perhaps, then, an ‘orientalization’ of calendric perception and organization is something that significantly exceeds a simple (or even exceedingly difficult) renegotiation of beginnings. Re-beginning might be considered largely irrelevant to the problem, at least when compared to the re-orientation from an original to a terminal Year Zero.

-Nick Land,  Calendric Dominion

Agricultural civilization developed a notion of “fate” or the rule of stars over the religious life of crops and men: being influenced or locked into a world ruled by the power of stars, of external forces that impinge on our daily lives moment by moment. Temporal determinism: the Sun, Moon, and Stars guiding our crops: planting, sewing, reaping rhythms; as well as our hunting and gathering regimes. Watching over our every decision, and in fact forcing us into molds and modulating our very existence on Earth is as old as agricultural civilization if not before that. As she explains: “But even though this retrograde motion is an illusion, Mercury is still the god of information, governing speed, communication, transportation, and ideas. And in astrology, when Mercury goes into retrograde, the powers of the planet reverse their influence.” Since the beginning of modernity or Enlightenment we’ve been trying to dodge the bullet on this predicament. The transcendentalists from Kant through Hegel would develop notions of teleological capture or Zeitgeist, while Schopenhauer through Nietzsche would develop antithetical and anti-teleological notions of “Amor Fati” of the love of fate… of eternal returns, wheels within wheels, the procession of gods and men within the cosmic malfeasance of Time.

Ancient cultures would devise architectural wonders based on star maps, alignments, and the revolutions of the sun and moon in elaborate motifs of religious ceremony for birth and death. From Stone Hinge, to Egyptian Pyramids, Ziggurats in Mesopoatamia, to Serpent Mounds in the new world. Each playing out the patterns of the heavens in hopes of controlling the knowledge of destiny, fate, and the future of their lives. Even in our own time we see the remnants of such practices in the daily horoscopes and farmer’s almanacs that play havoc with out pretense to control the flow of time across our lives. Mathematics itself probably came out of such knowledge of calculation and strategizing on the stars and their relations to our lives here on earth. A time will come when some bright neuroscientist will discover a connection between the brain and this cosmic framework, but till then we play out our fantastic games of horoscopy and philosophical gaming in the journals of contemporary culture.

After the French Revolution, once the Republic had been proclaimed (on 22 September 1792), there was very little doubt that the eighteenth ‘century’ had come to an end. To some, this end had perhaps come somewhat early; to others, it had arrived not a moment too soon, and in accordance with a law that had nothing to do with geometric centenaries (which, as we have seen, had already been challenged) but with reversals of a cosmic-historic order. The solution to this discrepancy was, as we know, radical: to change the calendar. The new Republican Calendar, established by order of the Convention in October 1793, decided, after a good deal of experimentation, that the New Year would begin on 22 September 1792. This date marked not only the day the Republic was proclaimed but also that of the autumn equinox. Two processes were involved in this attempt to restructure time: the de-christianization of the calendar (Year 1 being no longer the year of Christ’s birth but the year the Republic was proclaimed) and the harmonization with ‘natural’ rhythms (nothing of importance happened on the cosmic plane on 1 January, whereas on 22 September a ‘revolution’ took place). (Stoichita, 28)

Thus would begin the progressive model of time, of linear time and history that would see the end of the ancient cyclic times of renewal and festivity. Ever since the Enlightenment project and the revolution we’ve lived in a separate world of time where humans became disconnected with the ancient festivals demarcating their place in the universe of their ancestors, their myths, their sacred view of existence. Now we lived in a world unbounded by the gods, set free in a godless universe where time had no need of renewal and was slowly running down. A time of entropy and history. Which makes one ask: What do those who keep harping on the End of History seek? A return to sacred time, to the ancient world view of cycles within cycles of stars turning and weavers weaving our fates? Or something else? Is the progressive world view collapsing in our time? Is the short history of the Enlightenment project about to topple? Is there …

The BBC a few years ago decided to enter the age of political correctness. In line with modern practice, BCE/ CE (Before Common Era/ Common Era) are used as a religiously neutral alternative to BC/ AD.’ So the BBC’s religious and ethics department decided the changes to current usage were necessary to avoid offending non-Christians. It stated: ‘As the BBC is committed to impartiality it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.’ But, of course, it then proceeded to offend Christians.  Cue Ann Widdecombe, the Catholic former Tory Minister, who said: ‘I think what the BBC is doing is offensive to Christians. They are discarding terms that have been around for centuries and are well understood by everyone. ‘What are they going to do next? Get rid of the entire calendar on the basis that it has its roots in Christianity?’7

Nick Land in his understated irony would remark:

It is an intriguing and ineluctable paradox of globalized modernity that its approximation to universality remains fundamentally structured by ethno-geographical peculiarities of a distinctly pre-modern type. The world was not integrated by togetherness, but by a succession of particular powers, with their characteristic traits, legacies, and parochialisms. For better or for worse, these peculiar features have been deeply installed in the governing order of the world. Their signs should be meticulously conserved and studied rather than clumsily effaced, because they are critical clues to the real nature of fate. (Land, KL 62-65)

Within the calendric grotesque one discovers according to Land an intricately sedimented ethno-historical information treasure trove. They attempt to solve an ultimately insoluble problem, by arithmetically rationalizing irrational astronomical quantities, most obviously the incommensurable cycles of the terrestrial orbit (solar year), lunar orbit (month), and terrestrial rotation (day). No coherent arithmetical construct can ever reconcile these periods, and even a repulsively inelegant calendar can only do so to a tolerable margin of error. The consequent ramshackle compromise, typically deformed by a torturous series of adjustments, reshufflings, and intercalations, tells an elaborate story of fixed and variable cultural priorities, regime changes, legacy constraints, alien influences, conceptual capabilities, and observational refinements, further complicated by processes of drift, adoption, and innovation that ripple through numerical and linguistic signs. (Land, KL 73)

Looking back over the history of calendars one discovers – even within the hegemonic (Gregorian) calendar in the West – a “jagged time-crash of incommensurable periods, in which multiple varieties of disunity jostle together. Weeks don’t fit into solar and lunar months, or years, but cut through them quasi-randomly, so that days and dates slide drunkenly across each other. The length of the week is biblical, but the names of the days combine ancient astrology (Saturday-Monday) with the gods of Norse mythology (Tuesday-Friday).” (Land, 75-81) [The post is too short to take in the whole of world history, so I’ll admit to dealing with Western history and traditions (i.e., the calendars of Hebrew, Islamic, and Christian civilizations). The Christian calendar, first systematized in AD 525 by Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Runt), counts the first Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi as the birth year of Jesus Ben Joseph, a false messiah to the Jews, the Christ and Redeemer for the Christians, a prophet to the Moslems, the Nazarene oppressor to Satanists, and something else, or nothing much, to everybody else. Regardless of the accuracy of its chronology or tacit theology, however, this is the year count that has been globally inherited from the real process of modernity, and recognized as a world standard by the United Nations, among other international organizations. (Land, 91) China, India, Bengali, Malayalam, and Tamil calendars are all widely used in their respective regions, among other nations across the globe.] (Land, KL 95)

Dictators, Kings, and Rulers throughout history, both religious and secular have instituted calendar changes to impose their hegemonic rule of region or globe. The Year Zero entails a radical re-beginning, a decisive change that amounts to a martialing of time under the new Symbolic Order. In our ultra-modernist times the notion of calendric dominion has once again become a part of inter-hegemonic debates across the globalist regimes. From dreams of a new history to the extremes of apocalyptic nightmares the notion of a new beginning haunts our planetary civilization like a corpse-strewn wasteland of social upheaval and darkening prospects.

Most of Western History has given sway to apocalyptic expectations as various calendric systems have been debated giving rise to millenarian visions, social and revolutionary forms, that have led to both anti-religious and secular, and – even eschatological, varieties of modernistic total politics. Our modern calendar – steeped in the Christian mythos, supports anticipations of absolute historical rupture. Its count, simply by beginning, prefigures an end. Reaching back into the origins of ancient notions of time we discover magic and ritual associated with Calendars.

If we turn to ritual, we see there an imitation of nature which has a strong element of what we call magic in it. Magic seems to begin as something of a voluntary effort to recapture a lost rapport with the natural cycle. This sense of a deliberate recapturing of something no longer possessed is a distinctive mark of human ritual. Ritual constructs a calendar and endeavors to imitate the precise and sensitive accuracy of the movements of the heavenly bodies and the response of vegetation to them. A farmer must harvest his crop at a certain time of the year, but because he must do this anyway, harvesting itself is not precisely a ritual. It is the expression of a will to synchronize human and natural energies at that time which produces the harvest songs, harvest sacrifices, and harvest folk customs that we associate with ritual. But the impetus of the magical element in ritual is clearly toward a universe in which a stupid and indifferent nature is no longer the container of human society, but is contained by that society, and must rain or shine at the pleasure of man. We notice too the tendency of ritual to become not only cyclical but encyclopaedic. In its anagogic phase, then, poetry imitates human action as total ritual, and so imitates the action of an omnipotent human society that contains all the powers of nature within itself.8

The union of ritual and dream in a form of verbal communication is myth. This is a sense of the term myth slightly different from that used in the previous essay. But, first, the sense is equally familiar, and the ambiguity not mine but the dictionary’s; and, second, there is a real connection between the two senses which will become more apparent as we go on. The myth accounts for, and makes communicable, the ritual and the dream. Ritual, by itself, cannot account for itself: it is pre-logical, pre-verbal, and in a sense pre-human. Its attachment to the calendar seems to link human life to the biological dependence on the natural cycle which plants, and to some extent animals, still have. Everything in nature that we think of as having some analogy with works of art, like the flower or the bird’s song, grows out of a synchronization between an organism and the rhythms of its natural environment, especially that of the solar year. With animals some expressions of synchronization, like the mating dances of birds, could almost be called rituals. Myth is more distinctively human, as the most intelligent partridge cannot tell even the most absurd story explaining why it drums in the mating season. Similarly, the dream, by itself, is a system of cryptic allusions to the dreamer’s own life, not fully understood by him, or so far as we know of any real use to him. But in all dreams there is a mythical element which has a power of independent communication, as is obvious, not only in the stock example of Oedipus, but in any collection of folk tales. Myth, therefore, not only gives meaning to ritual and narrative to dream: it is the identification of ritual and dream, in which the former is seen to be the latter in movement. (Frye, KL 1888)

So in this sense calendars organize and order a societies dreamtime, the measure and symbolic festivals of its political, religious, and secular landscapes. Gives meaning to the envelope and spherical dimensions – a scope to its work and play. Calendars throughout history were originally encompassed within the natural cycles of the great agricultural myths of all nations, guided their planting, reaping, and sowing of crops; the hunting seasons; the gathering seasons; the tasks within which humans carried on their everyday affairs. The same goes with modernity since the French Revolution. Capitalist civilization embarked on progressive time, on a time that was no longer cyclic and based on the great round of moving heavens, or the cycles of seasons, and the rituals of agricultural civilizations, but was instead attuned to the dominion and artifice of machinic civilization. Modernity for better or worse is based on linear time, on history: the movement of improvement, efficiency, and work (utility). Since the time of Kant we’ve lived in a mathematized realm of Time and Space categories, a sub-created world of invention and artifice in which the natural gives way to the machinic, to Industry.

Some say this progressive age is dwindling into nothingness, that the time of the Enlightenment project is reaching a limit point beyond which nothing of its legacy will survive. Others that we are about to enter a moment of accelerating transgression that will overleap time all together and enter a singularity from which even the human species may not survive. The Grotesque navigates this no-man’s land between times where nothing is stable, and everything is in flux; a time in-between, a gap time in which anything and everything is possible or impossible. The Grotesque helps us resist the temptation to reduce life to some discursive world of Truth. There is no Truth, only the lived monstrosity of this strange and alien absence we are. Destination? There is no destination, because there is no there is.

The Sethian Gnostics once argued that we are all prisoners in Time’s Dark ante-chamber, victims of a deadly charade, caught in the fly-trap of a fatal justice that we ourselves implemented. Our universe according to them is ruled by ancient and diseased Archons, twelve rulers of the Dead who martial us in and out through infinite loops and counter-loops of forgetfulness. Their leader is Saklas the Demiurge who is also Judas Iscariot who would deliver Jesus up to the dark god Yaldaboath. Judas meets out the Justice of his Kingdom, the Earth. Locked in a demonic paradise we live amid the splendors of a hellish world of fleshy delights based on Freud’s principle of pleasure/pain or Lacan’s “jouissance”.

Ignorant of our computerized life in a simulator sub-creation we return time and again to our electronic voids circumnavigating the same painful betrayals over and over again. Lost in the Cosmic dust bin of Time and History we wallow like fragmented shards whose light has begun to fade into oblivion and silence. The game of reality is this task to escape the labyrinth of man made Time. Maybe in the end it is the Progressive Time of Linear History: this sub-basement within the grotto of a grotesque and tributary world of improvement, utilitarian values, and voluntarist ideology – invented by an Enlightenment project that sought to enslave humanity in a global dreamtime as serfs – that we are seeking an exit from. Maybe, like Alice we need to plunge ahead into the darkness…


Topsy-Turvy Land: Eliminating the Borderlands to the Real

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

We sometimes speak of things as being ‘all over the place’ or ‘topsy-turvy’, meaning they are in a state of confusion, disorder or in disarray. But what is a ‘double inversion’? Is such a thing possible? If one inversion turns something upside down, making it ‘topsy-turvy’, then another inversion of the same thing would allow it to revert to its original position. This is significant because it suggests that the grotesque has the power to eliminate borders: it can reveal how the boundaries between the ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ are fluid, not fixed, and how grotesquerie can lead to an erasure of common distinctions. The word ‘grotesque’ can also be harnessed as a powerful force to resist the tools of normalization. For a grotesque figure can disrupt notions of normality in favour of conceptualizing and recognizing broader varieties of being and expression as dignified and respected. In this, the grotesque can criticize the idea that there is some ethically compelling aspect to ‘normality’ by suggesting that the normal range is simply a statistical category to which there is no ethical obligation to correspond. If normal just means within a common statistical range, there is no reason to be normal or not.9

One of the most influential studies of the grotesque is The Grotesque in Art and Literature by the German critic Wolfgang Kayser (1957). Kayser traces the historical development of the grotesque from the Italian Renaissance through the epochs of Romanticism and nineteenth-century realism, to its modern forms in poetry, dream narration and surrealist painting. Throughout European literature and painting, Kayser finds the grotesque in the combination of the horrific with the comic: he writes, the grotesque ‘appears to us in paradoxical guise … and it elicits from us paradoxical responses’ (Kayser, 56). It would be wrong to say that Kayser argues for an evolution of the concept. Instead, he relocates the integral element of significance from inherently grotesque form/ function to grotesque as an effective description of the act of mediation itself. In this, he assesses the grotesque as the appearance of a reality that is simultaneously of and opposed to the worlds in which the audience exists. The direction from which he approaches this definition is unique, for he does not abandon the basic concepts of unity, or disunity, in form and function but integrates them into a consideration of a new concern for effect that propels the grotesque toward a psychological trajectory. (Graulind, 10)

The notion sense Kant of internalizing the gaze of thought, of an internalized quest-romance or in Freud’s later terminology – the family romance we discover the whole grotesque underbelly of modern civilization. From the Romantics onward art, music, and literature have dealt with the liberal individual Subject: the Self.  What allied Blake and Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats, is their strong mutual conviction that they were reviving the true English tradition of poetry, which they thought had vanished after the death of Milton, and had reappeared in diminished form, mostly after the death of Pope, in admirable but doomed poets like Chatterton, Cowper, and Collins, victims of circumstance and of the false dawn of Sensibility. It is in this highly individual sense that English Romanticism legitimately can be called, as traditionally it has been, a revival of romance. More than a revival, it is an internalization of romance, particularly of the quest variety, an internalization made for more than therapeutic purposes, because made in the name of a humanizing hope that approaches apocalyptic intensity. The poet takes the patterns of quest-romance and transposes them into his own imaginative life, so that the entire rhythm of the quest is heard again in the movement of the poet himself from poem to poem.

As Harold Bloom in his study of the poetry and literature in the modern era tells us is the movement of quest-romance, before its internalization by the High Romantics, was from nature to redeemed nature, the sanction of redemption being the gift of some external spiritual authority, sometimes magical. Of all literary forms, quest-romance has undergone the most astonishing transfigurations from the Odyssey through Spenser’s The Faerie Queene on to Joyce’s Ulysses, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Such metamorphic propensities now render quest-romance into an all but indefinable genre: it has expanded by progressive internalization until further inwardness scarcely seems possible. What, from Don Quixote and Hamlet onwards, is not to some degree an internalized search to re-beget the individual self? Freud, who increasingly takes his proper place as a great literary artist, and not a scientist, is the theoretician of modern quest-romance.10

The Romantic movement is from nature to the imagination’s freedom (sometimes a reluctant freedom), and the imagination’s freedom is frequently purgatorial, redemptive in direction but destructive of the social self. The high cost of Romantic internalization, that is, of finding paradises within a renovated man, shows itself in the arena of self- consciousness (think, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake). The quest is to widen consciousness as well as to intensify it, but the quest is shadowed by a spirit that tends to narrow consciousness to an acute preoccupation with self (i.e., Freud’s Narcissus). This shadow of imagination is solipsism, what Shelley calls the Spirit of Solitude or Alastor, the avenging daimon who is a baffled residue of the self, determined to be compensated for its loss of natural assurance, for having been awakened from the merely given condition that to Shelley, as to Blake, was but the sleep of death-in-life. Blake calls this spirit of solitude a Spectre, or the genuine Satan, the Thanatos or death instinct in every natural man.

The Ridiculous Sublime: Monstrous Transgressions and the Southern Turn

In the morning there was a spiderweb between himself and the sky.

-Cormac McCarthy, Child of God

If there is any one thing that defines ‘the’ grotesque it is precisely that it is hybrid, transgressive and always in motion. Terry Southern’s American wonderland of innocents and monsters, grotesques and con men, is an existential looking-glass reflection of mid-to-late twentieth century America, and its own peculiar rules of conduct. Like Lenny Bruce and William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern was a Jazz humorist, a pure product of his era (the late 1950s and early 1960s), bringing the Hipster sensibility of the Jazz underground culture, of artists like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, to the attention of mainstream America— a sensibility rooted in alienation, spawning a sense of humor fueled by sarcasm, irony, and the art of the put-on. The American Grotesque tales of Southern show us that the Invisible Republic isn’t dead, nor is it some archaic, long-lost realm only visited by cultural archeologists. It is a well, a source of renewal and replenishment, as Bob Dylan seems to have discovered in his later career. “The Old Weird America” is alive and can always serve to affect, even transform, America.11

Here in the U.S.A. the grotesque has tended to show up as part of the Southern Gothic tradition. It tended to focus on estrangement and loss: the grotesquerie of an isolated rural life, depressed landscapes populated by deformed characters, the inhuman and inhumane racial grotesque, the outcasts in a community of rugged individualism, grotesque versions of evangelical Christianity, and the excessive consumption associated with material success. In nineteenth-century writings of Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. While the interest in this genre has varied over the years, it has been a consistent stream in American literature up to the present day, a form that is evident in the work of authors as diverse as Frederick Douglass, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison. Taking a wide variety of forms, including the religious grotesque, the frontier grotesque, and the southern grotesque, it has proved an enduring genre for examining social and cultural concerns, as well as issues of race, gender, and class, as seen in, for example, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), McCarthy’s Child of God (1973), or Morrison’s Beloved (1987).

So in this sense the old Saturnalia festivals have gone south, deep divers of the American nightmare lands of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and all those heirs of the decadents to surrealists who allow the goat-god his due, who let the Lord of Misrule wander the secret lairs of underground literature and pop-art, burning man festivals, and the strange and delirious realms of erotica, pornography, and the hinterlands of the bizarre and weird. The chief distinction between irony and satire is that satire is militant irony: its moral norms are relatively clear, and it assumes standards against which the grotesque and absurd are measured. Sheer invective or name-calling (“flyting”) is satire in which there is relatively little irony: on the other hand, whenever a reader is not sure what the author’s attitude is or what his own is supposed to be, we have irony with relatively little satire. Fielding’s Jonathan Wild is satiric irony: certain flat moral judgements made by the narrator (as in the description of Bagshot in chapter twelve) are in accord with the decorum of the work, but would be out of key in, say, Madame Bovary. Irony is consistent both with complete realism of content and with the suppression of attitude on the part of the author. Satire demands at least a token fantasy, a content which the reader recognizes as grotesque, and at least an implicit moral standard, the latter being essential in a militant attitude to experience. Some phenomena, such as the ravages of disease, may be called grotesque, but to make fun of them would not be very effective satire.12

Two things, then, are essential to satire; one is wit or humor founded on fantasy or a sense of the grotesque or absurd, the other is an object of attack. Attack without humor, or pure denunciation, forms one of the boundaries of satire. It is a very hazy boundary, because invective is one of the most readable forms of literary art, just as panegyric is one of the dullest. It is an established datum of literature that we like hearing people cursed and are bored with hearing them praised, and almost any denunciation, if vigorous enough, is followed by a reader with the kind of pleasure that soon breaks into a smile. To attack anything, writer and audience must agree on its undesirability, which means that the content of a great deal of satire founded on national hatreds, snobbery, prejudice, and personal pique goes out of date very quickly. (Frye, KL 3971)

Intellectual satire defends the creative detachment in art, but art too tends to seek out socially accepted ideas and become in its turn a social fixation. We have spoken of the idealized art of romance as in particular the form in which an ascendant class tends to express itself, and so the rising middle class in medieval Europe naturally turned to mock-romance. Other forms of satire have a similar function, whether so intended or not. The danse macabre and the kataplous are ironic reversals of the kind of romanticism that we have in the serious vision of the other world. In Dante, for instance, the judgements of the next world usually confirm the standards of this one, and in heaven itself nearly the whole available billeting is marked for officers only. The cultural effect of such satire is not to denigrate romance, but to prevent any group of conventions from dominating the whole of literary experience. Second-phase satire shows literature assuming a special function of analysis, of “breaking up the lumber of stereotypes, fossilized beliefs, superstitious terrors, crank theories, pedantic dogmatisms, oppressive fashions, and all other things that impede the free movement (not necessarily, of course, the progress) of society. Such satire is the completion of the logical process known as the reductio ad absurdum, which is not designed to hold one in perpetual captivity, but to bring one to the point at which one can escape from an incorrect procedure”. (Frye, KL 4131)

Given that the grotesque adopts various modes and forms of representation, the question arises as to whether or not we can ever go beyond the grotesque: can we speak of certain forms of cultural production as post-grotesque? Or, to ask this question slightly differently: has the rise of contemporary globalization, which has been accused of imposing homogeneity and erasing difference, lead to the death of the grotesque? One way to address these questions is to look to what has been called the ‘financial crisis’ (2008–) and how a globalized state of Empire has led to the Occupy Movement, a global form of resistance that has used images associated with the carnivalesque to challenge the de-territorialized power of capitalism.

In his work on David Lynch’s films The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime Slavoj Zizek will ask: What happens with the operation of the symbolic order when the symbolic Law loses its efficiency, when it no longer properly functions? What we get are strangely de-realized or, rather, de-psychologized subjects, as if we were dealing with robotic puppets that obey a strange, blind mechanism, somewhat like the way they shoot soap operas in Mexico: because of the extremely tight schedule (each day the studio has to produce a half-hour installment of the series), actors do not have time to learn their lines in advance; they simply have hidden in their ears a tiny voice receiver, and a man in a cabin behind the set reads to them the instructions on what they are to do (what words they are to say, what acts they are to accomplish); actors are trained to enact immediately, with no delay, these instructions. (Zizek, 35)

In our own age the grotesque has rejoined those authors like E.T. Hoffman and The Sandman where the notion of the automaton as uncanny double of the human finds its contemporary incarnations of the Western puppet-soul as robot, android, and cyborg in horror and science fiction films, representations that reflect a radical change in mood after 19go and the reemergence of the benign supernatural from the shadow of the demonic grotesque.13


Thomas Ligotti and the Conspiracy of Time

To find that you have had so many names is to lose claim to any one of them. To gain the memory of so many lives is to lose them all.

– Thomas Ligotti, Grimscribe

In his recent work The Conspiracy Against the Human Race a spectre haunts the very fabric of its fractured pages, a hidden ghost-like presence that is revealed by its pervading absence: the work of the German philosopher Julius Bahnsen. Radoslav A. Tsanoff tells us that at the heart of Bahnsen’s philosophical system is an irrational “atheistic individualism, a world-view of the meaningless eternally self-tormenting and self-rending chaos of will-forces: a dismal view of a woeful and futile world: miserabilism is a mild name for it. 9 Tsanoff suggest that for Bahnsen the only “pessimism worthy of the name is a pessimism tragically earnest and at the same time grimly humorous: I am a puppet in the hands of Infinite Perversity, and there is absolutely no way out of it, but I know it, and so take the puppet-play in which I take a part with a sense of humor; I laugh at the puller of the strings, and this is my revenge” (362). As another author, Edward Conze, describing the philosophical pessimism of Bahnsen, says, “He describes a world, as it appears and corresponds to a person who does not want to persevere, but who wants to annihilate himself. The person he has in view is so disgusted with life that he annihilates all he does. He simultaneously affirms and denies his self-preservation, he is interested at the same time in his own destruction and in his own preservation.” 14

As Ligotti tells us himself, “While Bahnsen does not figure in the following pages, I should say that his negative spirit is nonetheless present in this work, the brunt of which is concerned with how blind we are to the horrors of our existence as well as how adept we have become at sloughing them off” (p. 9). Ligotti offers us two rules of thumb to guide us in our confusion: the first is that “our positive estimate of ourselves and our lives is all in our heads”; and, second, “if you must open your mouth, steer away from argumentation” (p. 10).

It is this grizzly puppet philosophy with its pessimistic humor of the gallows that marks the spirit of negativity pervading Ligotti’s new work. Of humans and puppets he says, “We are somebodies who move freely about and think what we choose. Puppets are not like that. They have nothing in their heads. They are unreal. When they are in motion, we know they are moved by an outside force. When they speak, their voices come from elsewhere. Their orders come from somewhere behind and beyond them. And were they ever to become aware of that fact, they would collapse at the horror of it all, as would we” (p. 11). James Trafford says of puppets in Ligotti’s stories that “the puppet figures as the insensate and sub-personal reality hidden beneath the ‘mindless mirrors’ of our naïve reality. Puppets function as ‘conduits to the unreal’, through whose agency hallucinatory phenomenality bleeds into a simultaneous concretisation of the oneiric. Life is played out as an inescapable puppet show, an endless dream in which the puppets are generally unaware that they are trapped within a mesmeric dance of whose mechanisms they know nothing, and over which they have no control. … [the] puppet is not merely an mocking parody of man, it is the unmasking of the animate face of insensate reality, the unveiling of the inexorable mechanics of the personal”. 15

As we’ve discovered the grotesque is a mode that is first and foremost about crossing into a different and transformative order of reality, and second about the unexpected recombination’s of events, objects, species we encounter counter once we are inside. We crawl into the hole-the grotto, the Symmes Ilole, the black hole of the cosmos, the hole in our own heads-in the unspoken and often unconscious hope of undergoing deep change. The words used in the English language to describe this alteration-metamorphosis from the Greek, transformation from the Latin-describe describe this same experience.

In the twentieth century the narrow field of the literature of the fantastic, with its strong undercurrents of pathology, reproduces ambiguous fragments of that experience. Georges Bataille said, “Those arts which sustain anguish and the recovery from anguish within us, are the heirs of religion.” In the vacuum left by the exile of the soul, a French commentator on Lovecraft, Maurice Lev,  has noted, like many others, this strange-one wants to say “unholy” as well as unheinilich-link between literature of the grotesque, personal pathology, and the mystic religious experience: “Driven by a myth-a necessarily oriented structure, based on the quest for and the revelation of the sacred-horror can only be expressed pressed by and in sacrilege; the impious cults, hideous ceremonies, blasphemous which tell a reverse history of To formulate sacrilege is somehow to recover the meaning of the sacred.” If the Godhead head in orthodox religion must always find some representation as Monster,  as Slavoj Zizek asserts, the post-Christian monster is an equally necessary  appendage of the Enlightenment: as soon as Kant’s pure Subject appears, says Zizek, there is also the Ding an Sich, the void that cannot he grasped, an empty space of thinking where the monster-that is, the inherently  unstable element-appears. In this way the grotesque tradition, with its now-tattered link to a sense of the divine, continues to fulfill its ancient function. (Nelson, KL 1686)

In his story the Red Tower Ligotti invokes this deadly universe of corruption and regress telling us that everywhere he goes people are talking about the red tower, about its “nighmarish novelty items or about the mysterious and revolting hyper-organisms, as well as babbling endlessly about the subterranean system of tunnels and the secluded graveyard whose headstones display no names and no dates designating either birth or death. … I hear them talk of it everyday of my life. Unless of course they begin to speak about the gray and desolate landscape, the hazy void in which the Red Tower – the great and industrious Red Tower – is so precariously nestled. The the voices grow quiet until I can barely hear them as they attempt to communicate with me in choking scraps of post-nightmarish trauma” (ibid. 6: 550-551). Isn’t this just it: caught in the meshes of endless productivity, hivelike in our communal thrashing and vying for survival on a planet floating amid the gray silences of the Void we all sit in the deep tunnels of thought and being waiting for the great Red Tower to start up “its operations once more” (551). A nihilistic machinic universe of “putrid creations, ultimately consummating its tradition of degeneracy, reaching toward a perfection of defect and disorder, according to every polluted and foggy rumor concerned with this issue” (550).

This is the grotesque festival of being, a carnival of eternity in that the circle of desire meshes with life and death; for death is nothing more than life seen from the distorted mirror of time’s uncanny lens… travelers to nowhere we band together like pilgrims of Chaucer’s humorous tales, each voicing our indefatigable fantasies, laughing at the off-color jokes, disturbing each other with strange truths of nightmare lands and deathless paradises full of hybrid monstrosities like ourselves. Others like our modern scientific mythographers will mathematize the landscapes of this emptiness, populating it with ghosts; saying, that each and everyone of us is a mere play of light on the screen of Time – simulacrums or holographic display units from elsewhere, simulated code on the blipscreen of this transdimensional layer of interoperating relations. Sound vaguely familiar? Just an update to Plato’s strange world of Ideas? Perhaps in the end we are just – as Whitman liked to say, “grass arising from the beautiful hair of young women”. I like to think this piece of grotesque dandyism is perfect, an image I can see and imagine rather than lock away in my little algorithm like a bandit in some B rated scramble for the next apocalypse…

It seems that existence was a horror to God. Unfortunately, God was impervious to the depredations of time. This being so, His only means to get free of Himself was by a divine form of suicide.

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

Below is the great Saturnalia festival by Marten van Heemskerck in all its pagan glory in which the vitality and monstrosity of life even in the midst of death and decay goes on and on and on in erotic and grotesque splendor.12 As Bakhtin argued carnival does not, generally speaking, belong to the sphere of art… “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside of it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of freedom.” (Edwards, 25)


  1. Stoichita, Victor I.. Goya: The Last Carnival (Essays in Art and Culture)  Reaktion Books (March 28, 2013) (p. 9).
  2. Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (p. 47). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
  3. Shaw, Philip. The Sublime (The New Critical Idiom).  Routledge; 2 edition (February 12, 2017)
  4. Gross, Kenneth. Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life (Kindle Locations 92-99). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Trigg, Dylan. The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror (p. 5). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  6. Jackson, Nigel. Masks of Misrule: The Horned God & His Cult in Europe. Capall Bann Publishing (1 April 1996)
  7. Land, Nick. Calendric Dominion (Urban Future Pamphlets – Series 1) (Kindle Locations 49-53). Urbanatomy Electronic. Kindle Edition.
  8. Frye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism (Kindle Locations 3956-3964). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. Edwards, Justin; Graulund, Rune. Grotesque (The New Critical Idiom) (p. 10). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  10. Bloom, Harold. The Grotesque. Bloom’s Literary Themes. (2009 by Infobase Publishing)
  11. Tully, David. Terry Southern and the American Grotesque. McFarland (April 15, 2010)
  12. Frye, (Kindle Locations 3956-3964).
  13. Victoria Nelson. The Secret Life of Puppets (Kindle Locations 65-66). Kindle Edition.
  14.  The Objective Validity of the Principle of Contradiction (Philosophy, Vol. 10, No. 38. (Apr., 1935), pp. 205-218.)
  15. The Shadow of a Puppet Dance: Metzinger, Ligotti and the Illusion of Selfhood by James Trafford (Collapse IV 2008)
  16. Pincell (Miquel Utrillo i Morlius), ‘Pablo R. Picasso’, in Pèl & Ploma, no. 77,June 1901, p. 15.
  17. Dr. Stanton Marlan. The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness (Kindle Locations 509-511). Kindle Edition.


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