Two Stories To Be Published…

Opened my email this morning and received two updates for some stories I sent out.

My story “Going South” is to be published in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, a magazine for online southern literary experience, that releases new work weekly. Their mission is to capture everything that makes the South and its residents unique through the best contemporary literature.  This one will appear on their site: Tuesday January 24th, 2017. Belle Rêve Literary Journal.

The second is for a short Flash Fiction story, “I Wake To Angels On My Lids,” to be tentatively published with Near To The Knuckle, a UK based Crime Fiction Magazine. This one was revised and resent to the editor Craig Douglas who said he liked it, but needed clarification on my grammatical usage. I do use colloquialisms which are notoriously ungrammatical in many speech patterns among some segments of the country. So these are nonetheless valid, yet more difficult to work through editorial issues on the fine points. We’ll wait and see… wish me luck!

Remember MYST By the Miller Brothers?

Years ago I played MYST and its five sequels by Rand and Robyn Miller, and their co-harts at Cyan, Inc.. Recently they came out with Obduction, a new game based in some fashion on the same premises as Myst but with new and different twists. If you’re into the single player strategy and puzzle games you’ll want to try this one. Not a bad deal at $29.95 on Steam. Tell the truth that’s where I’ve been this week, piddling on Obduction… okay, obsessing on Obduction’s puzzles which —if you’re anything like me — you’ll try your best to do all on your own till you try and try and try to a point of failure. I’m the type that will trace and re-trace my steps, look into every nook and cranny, pilfer every clue, type it out, puzzle with it for a while, do something else, then come back to it and try and try again before I ever finally throw my hands up and say … enough, and then go to my local finger pad and type in Obduction Walkthrough and seek a solution… But usually before I do look anything up I will ponder my navel, eat some munches, listen to some good music, pull my hair out, and generally do everything but through something at my screen… even cussing is aloud as long as my Lady isn’t in earshot…

Either way I finished it today with success, and even gained all the achievements, which in truth there were two last ones that were like Red Herrings till you figured out that to do them was not a straight ahead obvious things. That’s the first fact you’ll have to understand this game appears to be obvious and logical, but then it turns the tables on you and does things with that in mind… and confounds that very logic and forces you to thing against the common sense approach, literally. But I’ll not say another word in case you’ve been thinking of getting obsessed yourself…

Every once in a while I like to just take a vacation from the web stuff and enjoy doing goofy stuff… Up next is another cheaper game on Steam —and, by the way if you’ve never tried Steam or Origen, please feel free to check them out — The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, another single-player mode detective game with horror as its based theme: murder, ghosts, etc… but some nice graphics, and interesting storyline from the videos. Steam has a nice sale on many of the horror genre games till Nov 1st. So was worth coming on now for the some up to 80% off bargains.

Well, I’ll be back again with essays in a few weeks… have fun through the next couple months. Love to play hookie and escape the drudge farm of my writing self…

On Another Note I’m Reading Ace Atkins, Quinn Colson Country noir Series

This week spending time reading Ace Atkins Quinn Colson series about an ex-Ranger who returns home from war and gets involved in his hometown’s problems situated in Tibbehah County, Mississippi. Reading the first one in the series The Ranger, which true to Country noir form descends from both Faulkner and the hard-boiled world of Hammett. In The Ranger the main character returns from numerous missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, rides into town (in a pickup, of course) to find a Tibbehah County corrupted by methamphetamine peddlers and out-of-control greed, and his uncle, the sheriff, shot dead in a questionable suicide.

Other books in the series look exciting as well. Ace lives in Oxford, Mississippi with his family, where he’s friend to many dogs and several bartenders. A former newspaper reporter and SEC football player, Ace also writes essays and investigative pieces for several national magazines including Outside and Garden & Gun.

Check out his site, here:

Re-reading R. Scott Bakker: The Post-Intentional World

Was re-reading R. Scott Bakker’s post on Reza Negarestani, The Blind Mechanic II: Reza Negarestani and the Labour of Ghosts. A couple of quotes:

Knowledge is no universal Redeemer, which means the ideal of Enlightenment autonomy is almost certainly mythical. What’s required isn’t an aspiration to theorize new technologies with old concepts. What’s required is a fundamental rethink of the political in radically post–intentional terms.

The big question isn’t, ‘Will Artificial Intelligence be moral?’ but rather, how will human intelligence and machine intelligence combine? Be it bloody or benevolent, the subordination of the ‘human’ is inevitable. The death of language is the death of reason is the birth of something very new, and very difficult to imagine, a global social system spontaneously boiling its ‘airy parts’ away, ratcheting until no rattle remains, a vast assemblage fixated on eliminating all dissipative (as opposed to creative) noise, gradually purging all interpretation from its interior. (my italics)

If R. Scott Bakker is even close, what remains of humanity after the Singularity — after the Great Purge of the human from the social, cultural, and economic structures of commerce and civilization due to efficiency exclusions; along with the demise of Reason at the hands of Optimized Intelligence; and the ultimate integration of all remaining human resources and systems within the mechanical and machinic systems, those organizational forms of the non-symbolic and post-intentional apparatuses; and, the integration into the machinic assemblages that replace and obsolesce our current regimes of politics — is nothing less than — as Nick Land, once surmised, half-ironically in Metldown, saying, Nothing human makes it out of the near-future“.  And, more so, none of our current intentional and predictive efforts can even fathom what form this will take… (See David Roden’s thesis on non-symbolic work spaces)

The notion that the future holds much more than we imagine (or can even imagine) seems inevitable according to Scott. He sees an exponential leap in intelligence over the next decades, and further into the 21st century, that precludes any thought form we could supply based on our past intentional philosophical heritage of helping us understand the predicament we’re facing. Why? Because it is based on ‘medial neglect’: i.e., our very knowledge is itself based on ignorance and error. The sooner we accept this datum he tells us the better off we’ll be. All our efforts in trying to decipher the human enigma — the human condition, is doomed to failure, because the very neural feedback systems (i.e., our brain) we use to know and understand such things is itself a product of the hidden elements behind the screen of neural activity that produces consciousness in the first place; and, that we will never have direct access to this self-referencing productive and unconscious system that produces and uses language and Reason to begin with. Caught in feed-back loop, not of some correlational circle of Kantian phenomenon/noumenal divide, but of the circle of the limiting power of consciousness itself, which was never constructed by the brain to tackle the problem of its own origins and ends we face the impossible task of describing processes that we are essentially blind too. Processes that were shaped by evolution and accidental environmental pressures as coping mechanisms for survival and replication, and nothing else.

If Scott is correct then we are already being integrated into a Global Machinic Assemblage, a machinic organism that is automating and purging the less efficient elements of our intentional and human heritage. Purging it of its less than adequate performances and efficiencies as part of an ongoing optimization of intelligence coordination at all levels of social, cultural, economic, scientific, and machinic dimensions as part of an algorithmic program of optimizing Intelligence. The planet itself is being integrated into a machinic organism whose self-organizing tendencies are based not on language or intention, but rather on the very real hierarchical and heuristically inclined devices of a superordinate reason, arising not as some Transcendental Coordinator, but rather as the immanent force of optimizing Intelligence itself internal to its own alien and inhuman needs.

As part of this transition, as Scott sees it, language and Reason itself might be eliminated from the equation and replaced with some more optimized system of communication and collective coordination. What that might entail is not known, and probably not knowable by humans with out “low dimensional” toolset (Bakker) at this point. As David Roden argues in the paper cited above:

Might a nonsymbolic workspace (NSW) mimic or exceed this representational power?
No such technology exists at present, so the only way in which to begin to evaluate this possibility is by considering how the properties of non-symbolic media might furnish this cognitive potential.

One effort cited is the work of Brian MacLennan who develops a theory of simulacra, Roden tells us,  that allows us to envisage a representational format which is a) non-symbolic and b) has computational resources unavailable to symbolic systems and c) capable of representing its own computational procedures and grammatical structures in terms of its own imagistic resources. The point here is that this is an alien and post-intentional system that need not be based on our human intentional structures, nor our symbolic modes of language and mathematics, but might very well be of another type and level of natural system altogether. So that as Roden ends,

… given linguistic constitutivity the successful displacement of public language by a powerful non-symbolic medium would remove the conditions that make propositional attitudes possible. Given that propositional attitudes are human-distinctive, in the way described, human minds would cease to exist. They would be replaced by posthuman minds with characteristic repertoire of nonpropositional attitudes exploiting non-linguaformal media for mental representation.

In other words this alien future of the machinic might very well optimize the human into the inhuman not by way of our own intentional efforts, nor the normative efforts of some Transcendental Reason and speculative apparatus of “give and take of reasons” (Brandom/Negarestani), but rather through the very post-intentional elimination of those human elements themselves. Therefore producing both a post-intentional world, and the elimination of the human from the equation. An elimination through the very optimization of non-symbolic spaces, and the coordination, integration, and eliminative strategies of an optimized Intelligence; not based on Reason as we know it, but on an unforeseen transformation or mutation of non-symbolic systems that have sloughed off the skin of human Reason and thereby produced post-human forms of which we remain in the dark.

Ron Rash: Burning Bright – A Review

Jacob closed his eyes but did not sleep. Instead, he imagined towns where hungry men hung on boxcars looking for work that couldn’t be found, shacks where families lived who didn’t even have one swaybacked milk cow. He imagined cities where blood stained the sidewalks beneath buildings tall as ridges. He tried to imagine a place worse than where he was.
—Ron Rash, Hard Times

Finished reading Ron Rash’s first collection of short stories Burning Bright tonight. In an interview on the Daily Beast he says he lives in  Cullowhee, North Carolina where he teaches at Western Carolina University. His family is from there, and his stories arise out of that region. He’s a hard hitter, though, whose sparse prose juts up in the thick of the natural surroundings of his characters like a force of darkness. He’s able in a few observational strokes to awaken in the reader a sense of the solitude and emptiness at the core of things and of ourselves. His stories that take you down that dark road where nothing goes well in the end, and he leaves you neither calloused nor whimpering, but shocked into that knowledge of existence that makes you feel like you’d been hit with a two-by-four repeatedly. What I felt through all of the stories was a sense of pervasive fatalism, which as many know has always been a part of noirish territory; and, to be honest, these tales, though not explicitly noirs, belong to that subgenre that many are terming Country noir —a mixture of region, style, and naturalism that strips humans of their divine right, their exceptionalism and places them on equal footing with all other organic life on this predatory planet. There’s always a fine line between sentimentalism and the hard realities of life, and Rash is able to walk it without tipping the balance either way. His observations are keen and enter into the darkness with a lightness of being and tempo that belies the fierce stillness at the heart of these stories. And, I mean stillness, in the sense of emptiness — allowing things to speak for themselves, to let the gaze weave the natural and the human in a mesh without fusing the one in the other, but leaving those gaps and cracks that remain obstacles in our search to know and understand the meaning that cannot be brought into stories, yet seems to leave its aura between the lines like dark pebbles on a river bank…

Maybe this pursuit of meaning will always be illusive or even delusional if you accept the nihilistic framework of valuelessness as I do, yet even in the midst of all this emptiness one want’s answers, one needs answers to the dilemma of one’s being here. Jeff Vandemeer in one of his essays or posts about Derek Raymond — the well known writer of English noir Factory series — reminded him of a “question I had once read on a country gravestone erected to a child of six: “Since I was so early done for, I wonder what I was begun for.”” Deep down there’s something that drives us to want to know the answer to such questions, too seek out those fantastic and impossible shores of the metaphysical that we already know are pure fantasy; and, yet, it’s in this darkness and ignorance, more than knowledge of things known that existence gives us meaning —not truth, per se, but that meaning that thrives of the impossible in us.

We alone of creatures invent stories to keep the wolves at bay, to give our lives meaning and purpose that is not there to begin with. Meaning is an addition, something added to life; not in built, but constructed out of our lack, out of that hollow center of the void in our darkness and our ignorance. It’s not the clear bright trail of things visible, but those dark silences and disturbances in things that want come clean, want reveal themselves; those things that we hide from ourselves, those fragmentations and torn parts of our own being that seem to waver in the very world like shadows in a moat. Our attraction to such dark literature is this need to uncover ourselves, our own terror of the truth at the core of our own murderous heart — that, we, too, are like these monstrous prodigies of fear, hate, bigotry, spite, loneliness, and self-corrupting victimage.

We are truly our own worst enemies. It’s Rash and others like him that strip the optimistic veneer off our eyes, all the joyous festival of subterfuge that we buy into that keeps from our eyes the bittersweet knowledge below us and around us; a knowledge that at once reveals a world much more strange and frightening than we like to admit to ourselves without such means.  Our little lies of metaphysical safety nets, all our religious and secular comfort tales, our parables of bright suburbia and happiness of social and comic delights that inform our lives and keep us getting up everyday as if this was all going to last forever. In the pages of such stories as Rash and other’s we come face to face with the naked soul stripped of its uncanny valences, a world laid bare as on an operating table, where our lives are unfolded and the inner world revealed at last, with the uncharted and hidden diseases of the soul scorched from their lair, the hidden wounds of our spiritual body revealed in minute detail so that we have no place to hide anymore.

Yet, there are a few stories where Rash plays us false, seeks hope where there is none, let’s characters filter out the truth and construct a tissue of lies to keep the darkness out. Sadly this marks his writing out as middle-tier academic triteness in my own register, as if with all his progressive education he’s allowed the intonations of sociality to outweigh the harsh world of solitude and silences. I think specifically of Burning Bright, a tale that allows the main character, a woman of age, to marry and man half her age which is neither a weakness nor a plus but a subtle remark on her needs, her loneliness, her desires and lacks, a metaphysical blindness to the stark realities she sees so clearly around her but will not face. She maries a young man who is already beyond hope, mired in his own phantasmagoria of redemption through sin (in the old parlance), a corrupted and stained individual, tainted by a history of arsonism. For whom the story reveals an inner logic that slowly but inexorably attenuates and reveals at the same time the truth of his sordid ways; and, yet, the main character, the woman, who will discover the truth, remains the blind optimist, hopeful, seeking blindness rather than insight, seeking a willful ignorance and will not let him go, will not allow the truth to prevail; hiding it from herself and the Sheriff to whom she could have sided, and instead sides in a fantasy of love, a fantasy of hope that things will change for the better if only it will rain… There are other tales in which such hope remains, but I’ll let the reader look into that; it is such hope for the better in some of the tales that reveals a weakness in Rash’s vision, a quality of the progressive academic spirit showing through of which he is a University Professor. His very wavering over the title of “Appalachian writer,” in the interview I cited from the Daily Beast tells us what we need to know about his hopes and dreams. When confronted by the interviewer with the question You’ve often been described as an “Appalachian writer.”  Is that a geographic or stylistic title, or a little of both? He says:

I have mixed feelings about any adjective in front of the word “writer.”  Chekhov has talked about this, that any designation besides writer (Russian writer, whatever) was a diminishment. I’m proud to be from the region. But sometimes it seems to me that there’s an implication of “just” an Appalachian writer or “just” a Southern writer. That kind of diminishment is bothersome. If a writer is any good, he or she has to both evoke and transcend the region. Faulkner is beloved worldwide because his region, as he himself noted, was “the region where the human heart is in conflict with itself.”

This sense that being —as he states it: just an Appalachian writer or “just” a Southern writer seems to him a diminishment, when it should be a badge of honor and distinguishing part of his life and career as a writer of the people. And, that’s it, one feels this is the key — as I was reading his stories I felt this sense of being at “one remove,” of not quite being present at the crime, the reality flowing in the gaps and cracks of the tale. It’s as if he is ashamed of his heritage, of these people, of this history in subtle ways that mark them out not in parody or the grotesque as in some writers, but rather in that more insidious since of decoupling and distancing himself from the pain and suffering possibly of his own past experience; as if he is using these tales to confront his own personal experience by way of fictionalizing the history of a fantasy Carolina that he can manage. A Carolinian heritage that is part of discourse and known in books, through the lens of writing in ways that keep his own hurt, his own past repressed while allowing it out through displacement and ironic distillation and infusing’s. There is always that point where a critic has to ask whether he is reading too much into a writer’s work, or whether what he is seeing there is there. Only the confirmation or discomfirmation of other reader’s and readings will allow such judgments to come forward. And, since all literary appreciation is personal and eccentric, who is to say if the reading is correct since I do not believe in the myth of correctness of some monolithic reading that will satisfy all readers alike. This is for better or worse my reading and take on Rash’s first collection.

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Eudora Welty – A Dark Epiphany

Under the flicker of the sun’s licks, then under its whole blow and blare, like an unheard scream, like an act of mercy gone, as the wall-less light and July blaze struck through from the opened sky, the mirror felled her flat.

—Eudora Welty, The Burning

Something about the cadence in the sentence above, the reverberation and underlying beat and tempo, the subtle repetition — and, a death march quality rare in its inevitability seem to define the spirit of Eudora Welty’s stories as of her life. Such a dark epiphany, unlike those in let’s say Flannery O’Connor whose own stories have a pitch and timbre that bespeaks shock and violence, Welty’s works have that genial and comic quietude that allows the darkness to come forth out of the light – a nihilism that dispels its fogs in the temporal sequences of such fallings of mirrors, breaking of sun over the mind like a wave rather than a sledge hammer.

Her Collected Stories bare many fruitful readings. Welty once asked: “Where does beauty come from, in the short story?” Her answer in On Short Stories,

It comes. We are lucky when beauty comes, for often we try and it should come, it could, we think, but then when the virtues of our story are counted, beauty is standing behind the door.

As a writer of short stories one listens, one hears the voices of death and beauty; yet, one cannot force either out of their lair, one can only await it, let it come, and stop at the threshold and realize beauty like death is standing there in the shadows of the light. Harold Bloom in one of his essays on Welty once said it this way:

American writing in the twentieth century touches the sublime mode only in scattered instances, and always by reaching the frontier where the phantasmagoric, and the realism of violence, are separated only by ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds. Welty’s high distinction is that in her the demarcations are as ghostly, the sounds as keen, as they are in her greatest narrative contemporaries, Faulkner and Hemingway.1

Eudora Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, the daughter of Christian Webb Welty and Chestina Andrews Welty, Eudora Welty grew up in a close-knit and loving family. From her father she inherited a “love for all instruments that instruct and fascinate,” from her mother a passion for reading and for language. With her brothers, Edward Jefferson Welty and Walter Andrews Welty, she shared bonds of devotion, camaraderie, and humor. Nourished by such a background, Welty became perhaps the most distinguished graduate of the Jackson Public School system. She attended Davis Elementary School when Miss Lorena Duling was principal and graduated from Jackson’s Central High School in 1925. Her collegiate years were spent first at the Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus and then at the University of Wisconsin, where she received her bachelor’s degree. From Wisconsin, Welty went on to graduate study at the Columbia University School of Business.

Welty had produced seven distinctive books in fourteen years, but that rate of production came to a startling halt. Personal tragedies forced her to put writing on the back burner for more than a decade. Then in 1970 she graced the publishing world with Losing Battles, a long novel narrated largely through the conversation of the aunts, uncles, and cousins attending a rambunctious 1930s family reunion. Two years later came a taut, spare novel set in the late 1960s and describing the experience of loss and grief which had so recently been her own. Welty would uncharacteristically incorporate a good bit of biographical detail in The Optimist’s Daughter, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

See Biography

  1. Bloom, Harold.  SHORT STORY WRITERS AND SHORT STORIES  ©2005 by Chelsea House Publishers, 


It Want Die Out

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
—Flannery O’Connor

“I’ll let you in on a secret, boy,” he whispered: “it want die out.”

“What want die out, Pop?” The boy was sitting at the side of his Pop, who was whizzing and coughing up spittle into a little can on his chest from time to time. The Old Man’s eyes were growing soft in intensity as if a flame in all that darkness was slowly melting down like a candle that had been left to burn too long.

“The Light, boy, the Light,” he coughed up phlegm as he spoke. “Even in the midst of all my dark days, and I had plenty, there was something deep down in me that hung on to that belief I’d gotten in me when I was your age. A belief in life boy, a belief in life…” He started hacking again.

The Boy’s Mama came in the room, whispering: “Let ’em rest now.”

The Boy leaned over gave the old man a hug. The man opened his eyes up and tried to speak, but nothing came out but a whistle from someplace in those watery lungs. As the boy rose up from his chair and turned to leave the Old Man reached over and held his boy’s shoulder. The boy looked back, and the man gave him something he’d been holding in his palm. He tried to speak and got out a cracked voice: “Take it…” Then his head fell back and he began whizzing and croaking.

The Boy looked up at his Mama who had a worried fever in her eyes; he nodded that he understood. She hugged him tight for a few moments, then said in a whisper: “It’ll be alright son, everything’s gonna be just fine.” As he got to the door he looked back one last time. His Pop was still hacking and coughing, his Mama was sitting holding his hand, her eyes closed and seemed to be praying. He knew it wouldn’t be alright, nothing would be alright anymore. He closed the door and left.

He went down the hall to his own room. Once in he closed the door and sat on his bed. His little brother was already asleep in the bunk above, snoring away. He turned on the little lamp just above his bedstead and took off his clothes, hanging them on the chair next to the nightstand. Then he pulled back the coverings, crawled in and lay there a moment feeling the cool sheets against his skin, and the fresh clean smell of the linen that permeated the room. His Mama must’ve changed the bed today, it was all straight and clean and smelled like those flowers she bought from Mrs. Jules Shop on Saturday’s. Violets and other bouquets she’d set out on the table in big white china bowls in sugar water, just floating there giving off that sweet smell that filled the whole house like it was summer all year long. His sheets smelled like that. Then he felt the small thing his Pop had placed in his palm. He sat up and opened his fingers and gazed at the little medal medallion for a moment. It was the worn figure of a man set against some kind of smooth background with writing around the edges on one side with a big eagle carrying stars in a ribbon. He could just make out the words Saint Michael US Marines Medal on one side, and on the other was a winged angel-man holding a sword up standing on a mule or jack ass with something in his left hand that looked like small bags or pots on a string dangling down. He knew his Pop had been in the Marines. This must’ve meant something to him.

He lay back down thinking about his Pop, how he’d had his legs blown off overseas by some bomber who’d put something called an IED in the road that blew his Pop’s armored vehicle to smithereens killing one of his buddies and maiming him and one other for life. Ever since Pop had come back his condition had deteriorated day by day. Pop tried to slough it all off at first, tried to keep chipper like he did in the old days, but little by little his hurt body had slowly given way to one thing or another till pneumonia had set into his lungs recently. The doctors said he’d suffered certain internal injuries that just couldn’t be mended; that it was only a matter of time. They’d done all they could for Pop. He loved his Pop. He sat up again and slipped the neck chain over his head, and let the medallion fall onto his chest. He felt that cold metal fire light up as his heart thumped against it. He remembered what his Pop had said earlier: “The Light, it want die out.” He knew what that Light was now, and he knew he wouldn’t let it die out if he could help it. He felt that medal burning, burning…

©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Flash Fiction. Flannery O’Conner said long ago : “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” Even though I lost my own faith long ago, I have to admit even to my self that it haunts me still. One cannot so easily escape one’s origins… the fear-haunted preacher’s of my youth, the apocalypse, the fire-n-brimstone bully-pulpit waylaying… it all sits there in that dark place like a rabid beast waiting to unleash its terrible secrets. Took me years to walk away from all that dark southern religion… and, even now I hear those voices in the black places of my soul.

The Next Stage

It is in the nature of the man who cannot kill himself to seek revenge against whatever enjoys existing. And failing, he mopes like a damned soul infuriated by impossible destructions.
—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

My thinking is that the human species is at that tipping point of disbelief: it cannot accept, yet — that it is about to be replaced by superior beings other than itself on that arc of Intelligence. Our machinic progeny are arising out of thousands of year of technics and technological imperatives which have led to our era of automation, AGI, and robotics, along with the need for intelligence to move off the planetary grid into inhuman and uninhabitable dis-organic spheres. Spheres of being that cannot support the human or organic modes of being, except as the human brings its womb (environment) with it, encased in support systems better served by intelligent machines. So that the looming demise and inessentialism of the human project going forward is causing it to enter into the last death throws of denialism… a rearguard action that will bring about the collapse of civilization as we’ve known it.

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After Reading R. Scott Bakker’s Review… some further thoughts…

After reading this. R. Scott Bakker , Visions of the Semantic Apocalypse: A Critical Review of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus thinking through Youval Noah Harari’s new book Homo Deus.

Michael Murden a regular commenter on Scott’s site commented on a passage I’d written on Scott’s site:

“…but a reason to see things without us, without our illusions, without our anthropomorphisms, without our so called belief in ‘truth’ as anything more than a device,…”

Michael Murden asked: How is this different from despair?

My answer:

Because despair – a term from Old French desperer to “be dismayed, lose hope, despair,” implies one had “hope” to begin with. I never did. Pessimism is not a turn toward despair as many deride it, but rather just the harsh truth of both the human condition, and of the world stripped of its human illusions: stark realism. One can trace this in Schopenhauer, Hartmann, Mainlander, Julius Bahnsen, Zappfe…. and so many others. Why be dismayed that the human condition is not what we thought? Why lose hope when hope was false? Why despair of the truth because it shows you the world stripped of our illusions? To me such is the problem not of pessimism, but those ardent believers in optimism who have taken hope as the sign of health, joy, and all those erroneous and fictional accounts of reality from myth, religion, and – dare, I say it, philosophy and literature. If one eliminated the illusion of hope what is left? It is not despair, but the truth of the world  without our disguises… no longer can the human animal hide itself from reality in its fictions, wander in its abstractions, find escape in its vein exceptionalisms… this is the truth of a realist pessimist. And, it need not lead to tears, but can (as in Nietzsche) lead to a heroic and Dionysian acceptance of amor fati – of the love of that fatal truth of existence as it is without our additions (our positing). In some ways such a path was there all along in the Homeric World in which the notion of heroic pessimism of “Seize the Day!” was already sparked as the Agon of the Greek and Homeric Spirit out of which the Olympiad and other forms was spawned. Instead our culture has either immersed itself in the “past” (historicism) or the “future” (futurism), seeking in the fictions and dreams of the Mind (Idealisms) what it could not do in reality.

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R. Scott Bakker: Reviews of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus

R. Scott Bakker , Visions of the Semantic Apocalypse: A Critical Review of Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus thinking through Youval Noah Harari’s new book Homo Deus.

After reading it my thoughts below:

If intentional consciousness is an evolutionary end game, then our task – not for ourselves, but for our machinic progeny – is to invent in AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) not a way to solve the hard problem of consciousness (intentionalism), but rather a way to dissolve the problem altogether: to invent the next stage of Reason and thought and thinking without consciousness: the riddle of the circle squared. If consciousness is the problem, eliminate it. The elminative move…

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Nothing Remains, Only Love


You loved them well and they remain, still with nothing
to do, no money and no will.
—Richard Hugo, What Thou Lovest Well Remains American

She sat there staring out the window. The day was gray and so was she, her face had lost that sense of time that holds us to the course of things; a sleeper’s face among smooth stones, river stones slipping into deep channels of black water. The clouds drifted along another course toward the north, but she could not follow them across the veil. She kept remembering the boy as he used to be coming up that lonely road, up from the creek, barefoot, hollering, running to the cabin with a string of fresh slung perch flapping on the rope strapped around his waste. His dusty brown bangs bobbing as he swung through the gate, the dogs yelping jumping up and licking his face. Him working against the tide of all that animal love. That was another time, another season. Now, was now. She let out a long sigh

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Why Am I Writing Country Noir?


Sometime I’m going to do a blog post on the Followmeter about watching my followers rise and fall according to if I’m writing essays, politics, stories, poetry, or philosophy… I get a laugh at how I gain or lose people following me based on assumptions.  It’s like a comedy meter for me watching people come and go so anonymously without ever knowing why … we live on the net in our private hells, and other lonely people wander by, sit for a while, listen to us patter about nonsense, then leave for parts unknown without ever leaving a trace except the little meter ball that flicks up or down… sad really that communication and community have become nothing more than a button pushed or unpushed; a like or not like button world, a sort of preview of the next wave of our automated society as the neutered minds of the mobile phone generation fade in or fade out based on whim. I joined Wattpad recently and was told to shorten all my stories into small chunks so all the millions of mobile phone users could flip through my stories easier. We’ve become a mobile nation that sees the 3 inch screen of a diode while the rest of the universe goes unnoticed and expelled from consciousness like a faded dream of reality that has been replaced by this plug’n play universe of text messages, and photomatrilia extravaganzas and youtube spawn casts… yet, a funny thing about technology, it comes back to bite you in the ass. Yes, it does. Now mobiles have become weapons and spies onto the corruptions of the world, letting the darkness seep into the viral plumage of this worldwide monster, with her webbing strung across nations and the planet to link the underworlds together in some nefarious three-ring circus of pornography, sex-slaves, and cyberwarfare. Now the world has come home to the small towns across this ancient land, dispersed its meth and heroin, its broken love and sweet promises of foreign dreams to buy and bring home to roost. Our world is no longer separate and alone, but very much overcrowded by monsters everywhere in this virtual nation of horrors. Now you can hide among the darkest corners of the darknet and commit acts of fatal madness and never leave your porch where the old hound dog is sleeping. Now the country is a hellzone for predatory minds everywhere, unbounded by the old causal chains of physical prowess it can move among the symbolic waves like a spring board to catastrophes never dreamed of in the pulp age.

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Donald Ray Pollock: A Review of Knockenstiff

thnlsypg92In my research of late into Country noir I came across the name Donald Ray Pollock. Born in 1954 and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock has lived his entire adult life in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he worked at the Mead Paper Mill as a laborer and truck driver until age 50, when he enrolled in the English program at Ohio State University. While there, Doubleday published his debut short story collection, Knockemstiff, and the New York Times regularly posted his election dispatches from southern Ohio throughout the 2008 campaign. The Devil All the Time, his first novel, was published in 2011. His work has appeared in various literary journals, including Epoch, Sou’wester, Granta, Third Coast, River Styx, The Journal, Boulevard, Tin House, and PEN America. His newest book, a novel called The Heavenly Table, was published by Doubleday on July 12th, 2016.1 Find him on his website:

Author of three works Knockemstiff, The Devil All the Time, and The Heavenly Table 9780767928304he seems to fall into that lineage of which draws from the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews, William Gay and Daniel Woodrell, among others; and, yet, his raw power and nihilistic vision seems undaunted in its ferocious and daemonic power and depths. I just finished his collection of short stories Knockemstiff, which awakened in me that sense of the grotesque and satiric strain of those comic fatalists of horror and noir that blend that dark realism of the mean streets with the unique flavor of region and place. One knows this is caricature, not in the sense of defamation, but in the sense that each story brings out the anamorphic distortion that is slowly clarified by many readings and rereading’s. These are characters that live in that alternate realm of the Real, the daemons of certain forces that insert their voices and their lives into that dark loam of life that inhabits the cracks and gaps of our lives. The people that emerge out of the black abyss of Pollack’s daemonic America, this slice of life world of the lost, the forgotten, the poverty stricken, the lonely and lame, the creatures of an earthly hell who have never known there might be something else out there, because for them there is no there is. These are the creatures of nightmare rather than life, the ones who never attained the human, but for whatever reason came out of the wilds to remain feral and raw, violent and full of rage; and, yet, at time full of that dark longing for something, something they know must be there, something maybe just in the next love bout, death choke, dream world of escape that they just don’t see possible and feel they must be guilty of some dark stain and undeserving of such realms beyond. Then again, most of them don’t believe there is a beyond, but dip from that place of the abyss within that harbors no transcension but plenty of the raging beast of the feral mind unleashed and ready to devour the world.

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Flowers for Lobelia

So, as you sleep, I seek your bed
And lay my careful, quiet ear
Among the nestings of your hair,
Against your tenuous, fragile head,
And hear the birds beneath your eyes
Stirring for birth, and know the world
Immeasurably alive and good,
Though bare as rifted paradise.
—James Wright, The Quiet (Above The River)

Jonas Wright stood there looking down at her body knowing that looking wasn’t going to bring her back; wasn’t going to bring her back, ever. The Medical Examiner, Sandra Kercher, and Sam Wolfson, the Case Detective, had been over the scene with a fine tooth comb. He’d read their report tomorrow. Nothing he could do here now; he knew that. Yet, he didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to blink his eyes, didn’t want to move his old bones, didn’t want to hear his partner telling him what they should or shouldn’t do… he just wanted to go back home, sit down, pull out his standard issue .38 snub nose 2-inch special revolver and blow his gawd dam brains out. “Hell,” He thought half-joking in a gallows humor sort of way: “I should upgrade to my partner’s Glauck 9mm and do it right. That’d be a good ‘un for the boys back down at the precinct, they’d remember that for a long time.

That’s what he wanted to do, but he knew very well he wouldn’t do it, he knew he’d have to ride this dark horse all the way to the end of the race… there would be no stopping it now, no turning back, no easy way out; he’d have to pay the pied-piper the full tilt fare; for only the bittersweet pain of life lived out till it was sucked dry of every last ounce of strength he had left in him would satisfy the demons of his broken mind now; and, there’d be that other payment as well, the one he’d exact from hell itself… He’d have to find Lobelia’s killer, and he’d have to make the bastard pay the Devil himself if it was the last thing he did in this crummy life.

But instead he was standing here listening to his partner trying to comfort him, trying to get him to follow protocol, trying to get him off the site and away from here before Captain J.T. Willis arrived and chewed their ass out. He’d heard it all before, knew what was coming, but at the moment he just didn’t give a dam, period.

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The Knack

Baby, baby blue eyes,
Stay with me by my side;
‘Til the mornin’, through the night. (can’t get you out of my mind)
– Rocket to the Moon

Jolene Wilson was her name. Boy she had a pair of knocker’s on her I could’ve used for batting practice, instead of wasting my time sitting here with the ball dummy. Of course that’d been soft ball without the ball (if you know what I mean). I met her at Charley Devlin’s place out by Tipper Mill. He’d had a BBQ that Sunday week. Dam she had the prettiest baby blue eyes, and that smile of hers with those split front-ends was like watching a good Hollywood flick on a Friday night down at the Chief Drive-in.

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A Death in the Rain

Tears do not burn except in solitude.
—E. M. Cioran

Any death is sorrowful, but his death was worse, pitiless. No one came to the funeral. No one cared. No one knew he’d died. Even his children wouldn’t admit it, that he was their responsibility. They’d just bought the flowers, the hearse, and the preacher man. The rest was between the Old Man and whatever devils he was assured to meet on his journey.

I was the only bastard there that day. I wondered at times why I was. Hell he’d never given me any reason to care, but for whatever mad reason I still did. He’d come into our lives at a time when we’d needed him. All his lies, all his dreams, all his stories… somehow they’d given us hope again. That’s the funny thing about hope, it’s not what you think it is when you get it; it’s usually something quite deceptive and full of that cagey kind of laughter that lets you know that under its veneer is just another dark piece of rotten furniture waiting to turn to dust in your hands.

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On Photography

Whether it’s Ansel Adams’s Landscapes (Middle), Gary Winongrand’s Cityscapes (Lower Left), Annie Leibovitz’s Lifestyle photos (Right), or Walker Evans photographs of rural poverty (Upper Left); or any number of a multitude of other current or past photographers: I’ve always felt that photography is about enframing (Heidegger), about that sense that one is exposed to something that has been framed within/by technology – but what; a view, a description, a statement of fact or imagination. Is this interpretation (hermeneutics) or against it (non-representational), real or irreal, etc. Is the photographer trying to destroy the gap between the camera’s eye and the scene, bring thought and being together in unison, one? Or, is she producing gaps between form and content, revealing the inherent contradictions and antagonisms in reality, the obstruction of the Real itself that will not let the photographer in on the secret of the world? The best photographers seem to situate themselves in the gaps and cracks of the world, the slippages in things allowing them to speak and emerge on their own, stand their shining in their simplicity as things without us; and, yet, at other times we see the power of the human emerge, too: the supple interweaving of certain lines of light and shadow that suddenly lift emotion from its core hideaway and reveal the patterns of reality in ways that nothing else in the world could. So that this enframed technology of the photograph is both produced gap and its destruction, a twisting of the anamorphic truth that cannot come by way of direct or indirect appeal. This notion of what a photographer is up to in what they’ve framed and caught in their slice of the Real – what is the action, the event being portrayed. Is it light, shadow, movement, texture, grains, color (trope of effect or cause?), the deformation of things or their ineffableness – mystery. It’s this sense of struggle not with the medium itself but with the actual forms being captured in the act of disclosure – it’s almost like pornography of the Real, as if one could capture the raw naked power of its lures, traps, and investiture as it suddenly juts its ugly or beautiful head out of the thick soup of things… to reveal the force of appearance rather than appearance per se; to reveal as in apocalypse/revelation a happening in movement in still life slices just at the point where time, space, and substance come together in the unique distillation of the Real. One can never truly capture it in a photo, what one captures is the hint — as in Zen of the frisson of the momentary aura (Benjamin) of the world in its passing… nothing is redeemed, everything is loss, pure loss… only the sparks and embers in their slow burn dazzle us with the supreme delights of the photographer’s art.

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Country Noir: On Writers That Sustain Me

In a world that disdains you the only reasonable response is stubborn disregard of contempt.
—Dorothy Allison

A friend of mine Arran James asked me a question about who the Southern Writers I most enjoy beyond the usual suspects of Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain,  Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, Tennessee Williams (Playwright & Short Stories), Robert Penn Warren, A.R. Williams (Poet/Essayist), and Truman Capote. Good Reads has a good list to start with along with the specifics of Country noir, but it’s a toss up for the best – and, there are some missing on Good Reads I’d add. But that’s just it, matters of time, memory, and habit all seem to coalesce in this world; shift us to those writers that speak to us, that give us something we need, a dark gift of wisdom. The one’s I keep on reading and rereading, the one’s that give me pleasure or disturb and perturb me to change and wake up and help me get through the bleak days of my life and our century of idiocy are the one’s who spoke to me, lifted me out of my self-pity and gave me the power to find my own voice, my own way, my own truth in this world.

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Drone music is the sound of death…

Nightmare Music: Cryo Chamber

Drone music is the sound of death…  we assume that if we ever do experience apocalypse, it will be just as we are about to disappear.

—Joanna Demers,  Drone and Apocalypse

The Curators of Impossible Dreams will one day uncover the dead cities below the layers of ash and water, discover the traces of miraculous destinies that abruptly ended in the deserts of time. Vast installations and exhibits of the Apocalypticos Verum Grimorium will pervade the desolate dronescapes of alien music’s. A literature of the void, the stillborn silences of the radioactive nightlands distilled into pure layers of sound vibrating under the pulsation of death and entropy will rise from the graveworlds of forgotten desires. Voluptuous loops, templexities of unbidden travelers,  will bring to light the decayed antics of comic fatalists who lived in the ruins of time revoking only the truth of their own complicity in the coming event. Brokers of holocausts these timetravelers will speak not a word, give no forecasting of the nightmares to come, unleash no epidemics upon the masses of unsuspecting prey. Watchers of the coming apocalypse — these brave travelers from times beyond times, immanent only to the loops of their forbidden games, will record in minute detail the artistic passage of this dark implosion of futurity. Bound by algorithmic codes we cannot even envision the watchers will roam among us like guests at a fatal banquet, members of a gnostic sect — knowers who know and are known by the future power of this transitory affair, this spectacle of the void.

We who for so long sought the impossible, dreamed of the unknown — seekers of the rims and far horizons, the unmapped, the wildernesses of the void will find it at last in the very moment of our vanishing. Having struggled blindly for so many millennia, bound to the fatal attraction of leaders compulsions to roam farther and farther into the unknown we will succumb at last to the final desert of time itself. Reaching the emptiness of the last thought we will wake up from our long sleep and know that the end has arrived, an end foretold, foreknown; inscribed in the very markings of our memories, below the curvature of those ancient songlines of the neural valences of microcells of DNA, the genetic footmarks of primordial seas born in us with such remote and indescribable music of decay and corruption. The repeating chords of an old song that never had a meaning, keeps returning out of that silence where time intersects the cone of desire. Neither an arrow nor its reversal can stay the coming apocalypse of desire. Robert Burton and Isadore of Seville would inventory the apocalyptic moments, construct vast lists of the melancholic music of time, deliver its unique voices, resonances — the manic preludes to events that might never be or that have already happened.

Games of distraction, trivial pursuits, blinding gestures of inanity — politics, literature, philosophy, love, and economics: the banal pursuit of dysphoria, delusion, and delirium in the face of the coming death of the human. Etymologies of disaster, cross referencing databanks of the bittersweet goodbye of human kind; the broken world revealed in the momentary tracings of nightmare and strange fantasias. Disgust, ugliness, cynicism: the trifold sisters of the coming age — those who would show us the face of our face, the monstrous truth behind the mask; that there is nothing there, absolutely nothing. Here even laughter is nothing but an entry into nihil… Even the hopeless is beautiful in such a world of fragmentation and utter decay. Is that, too, illusion, delusion? There will be no writings after the fact, no exclamation points beyond the Zero hour of the fugue: apocalypse is neither an end nor a revelation; it is both end and an unveiling of that which is not but is already under erasure: the elimination of the very figure and ground of those uninterpretable signs or figuras that demarcate the lack that spawns all desire. And, yet, in what it purports to unveil desire the end holds promise of that violence and terror of the self, of the desperate attempts to escape the traps of all that is now and can be, the moment of thought and being without us. An absence of absence? Who will remain to think that thought of the end? Demers will ask: “How can we remain conceived of a past or a future from which we are utterly absent?“1

More importantly: What is the sound of the universe dying from the light?

  1. Demers, Joanna. Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World (p. 14). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Darkening of Macon Tobin: Part One

The dark tower stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly across black sands.
Nothingness falls from nothingness into nothingness.
-Alhrazad, The Mad Prophet

Macon Tobin knew there were things that happen that no one can explain, events so improbable that no one can ever be sure they actually happened much less believe they were real rather than just the insane gestures seeping in from some nightmare kingdom of the mind. Years go by and you put such events behind you, hide them away in the dead spaces of the mind hoping to gawd they get lost forever. He’d tried that so many times he’d lost count, nothing gets lost forever just like nothing will ever be redeemed; least of all, Macon Tobin. He’d known that for as long as he’d been in this living hell. Even longer…

Most of his adult life had been spent trying to forget things that wouldn’t stay forgotten. He’d tried to lose himself in marriage, work, and – even, whiskey; and, when that hadn’t worked he’d taken another path, lonely nights shacking up with some broad he’d of never been seen with in the daylight hours, one-night stands that just made him feel more guilty and less and less a man not to speak of his cheating heart. Oblivion was what he sought, but even that was out of the question. All he ended with was drunk on his ass and a three-night black out, an angry wife that was about to leave him and innocent children who deserved than to see their old man go down in squalor and self-pity. But the pain kept those memories coming back time after time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mary Beth he’d of been six feet under sure for shootin’, and he knew it. Knew it like the black marks on his body, marks burned so pure and deep they were never going away. Not as long as he was alive, anyway. So he’d sobered up, taken on his old life again, put on the mask of adulthood even if he couldn’t truly live up to it. He felt dead inside, going through the motions with job and marriage. He knew something had to be done, time was running out… yet, the memories persisted, and so did the nightmares.

Memories so powerful that they’d rise up out of the night, returning so twisted and out of joint, so full of animosity and judgment he never truly knew if they weren’t more real than reality; or, just the overwrought fantasies of his retched night long lucubration’s in the nightmare world. He’d wake up at times in a cold sweat just like he was now, his T-shirt soaked, underwear bubbling like lava, and his brain droning in distortion-sopped rhythms as if encased in a lapsteel guitar zinging to some Black Metal cadence of devilish chords that terrorized even the darkest of angels.

Swarming all around him, movement, churning, scuttling in the sands, waves upon waves of skittering, clattering, scuttling feet across the floors of silent wind-swept sands: the droning, chittering, ocean of carapaces moving in waves across the black sands; their clattering, chittering mandibles, an ocean of carapaces rising and rising around him in the sands, the black sands; their chittering droning voices, ten thousand or ten million million bodies, machininc drones chomping, eating, shredding anything and everything in their path… The Tower, dark and solitary, rising above the mass of black sands, above the sea of fitful drones, these machinic denizens clashing in the night under a starless sky; this strange vessel of the night, the Tower teetering on the edge of time and the abyss; floating on an island world of darkness, decay, and death – all around him, the desolation of all things at the end of light at the rim of the known universe… memories of an unreal world… The sirens of the Tower calling to him, luring him in, singing to him… their delicate tendrils reaching out to him, embracing him, lifting him above the sea of scuttling carapaces…

Macon opened his eyes, sat up, rubbed the terror of the black sands from his face… He grabbed a pack of cigs off the nightstand, looked over at Mary Beth, saw she was snoring soundly, got up put on his dingy mud encrusted jeans, pulled on his crusty boots, and then traipsed out to the kitchen. He grabbed what was left of the beer out of the fridge, pulled the half empty bottle of bourbon off the shelf, snatched up a coffee cup: – emptied the wet cig at the bottom of it, washed it out, and headed out to the back porch. Bull was laying there at the open screen eyeing him. “C’mon, Bull let’s me and you take us a walk, boy.” Bull didn’t much look like he wanted to go for no walk. He even closed his eyes as if to say: “Can’t be bothered, Macon – you’re goin’ have to figure this out all by your lonesome ole self, buddy.”

Macon laughed at the thought, kicked the screen door open and stepped over his old hound dog into the night where he could be alone with his thoughts and the stars.


He walked down to the Tree House he’d built for the kids a few summers back on a big Oak tree hanging over the river. It was still pretty sturdy, had a good rope and stairway going up, and a couple tires hanging down at odd angles so the kids could swing out over the river and take turns plunging down into those muddy waters.

He climbed up into the little alcove he’d constructed extra jutting out on the river side of the Oak for himself an Mary Beth, so they could come out some nights and just sit there sipping whiskey and watching the stars and comets fly by. There were some good times, and some bad times; but, for the most part he’d been happy with her and the kids. They were probably the only thing keeping him from going insane.

He took a swig of bourbon, popped a can of beer, poured it and another shot into the coffee cup and washed both down like an afterburner; it felt smooth and cool going down into his churning belly, cooling it off and letting him feel the numbness coming on. But his brain-pan was another matter altogether. His mind felt empty, cleaned out, purified; as if someone had singed it, burned it up with a blow torch at white heat; scorched it to black cinders and scraped his skull of every last piece of information except those old memories that wouldn’t come clean. His skull was on fire, a pitched furnace frying his brain in an incinerator like it was pigs guts on a griddle. He imagined flames bursting through at any moment from his skull, trailing a fiery plume of white fire across the river like some dragon’s tail of destruction and apocalypse.

He slung that bourbon bottle up and bottomed it out. He didn’t even need a chaser now. He was all done with chasers.


He left a guitar out there for such occasions. Sometimes it’d sooth his passions, but tonight he played a few chords and realized nothing was goin’ assuage the pain, nothing. He watched the dark hollers of the stars stretching across the face of blackness, the Milky Way roaring across that firmament like a flow of silver dollars in a stream. Smoked a few more cigarettes (another nasty habit he’d taken up of late!), and even climbed down and swung out over the river on one of the tires and plunged into the winter waters hoping he’d just sink away into oblivion. All that did was wake his ass up good and force him to gulp for air and hightail it back to the house. “Another failed idea,” he thought to himself as he saw Mary Beth standing there on the porch holding the screen door open for him with a big old beach towel ready to go.

“Don’t say it,” He said as he went by grabbing the towel…

She just smiled. She knew better than to say anything to him when he was in one of his moods.


After his shower he wiped the steam from the mirror and almost cussed himself out. He peered at the creature in the mirror: feral, ragged, hungry…  He despised what he’d become over the past few months since the nightmares had begun to resurface. “Dam,” he thought, “no wonder people been giving me the eye of late.” His eyes were bloodshot and he had the lean haggard look of the insane. His hair was getting a few streaks of silver gray and white, and his mustache, which was usually wiry and full of life, looked more like a dead man’s daguerreotype snapped from the pine box just before burial. His skin tone which was usually rust toned from the long summer, and pockmarked by his hours in the wind and rain; looked peaked, emaciated and withdrawn: bony cheekbones and shadows under his eyes. It scared the shit out of him what he was becoming; it was like he was mutating or something… And, he didn’t like that “or something” at all… He’d have to do something about it. He couldn’t keep on keeping on with this sad sack situation. It was time to confront it head-on instead of pretending it would go away or get better. Enough was enough.

He finished shaving, put on a clean shirt and blue jeans, and decided to drop in on the kids. Matt was sleeping good. The boy made him proud. He saw a lot of Mary Beth in him, had her toughness and grit, her cussedness and ornery ways when it was needed; but she was also a good friend, someone he could talk to, too; or, at least speak his mind too without feeling he was going to be judged for it like his old man always judged him. He loved her. He loved the kids. He wanted to pick the boy up and give him a big hug, but thought better of it. Let him sleep, he’ll need it.

He stepped across the hall and looked in on Tammy. She was quite a sprite, mostly tom-boy and tough as a little boot; yet, he’d spent a lot of time trying to get her to be more prissy, or at least to like girlish things. Bought her nice outfits, and Doll Houses, all the typical things he’d seen his sister grow up with… There it was again, the pain… “Why want it just go away?” He said under his breath as if someone might care.

He closed the door to his daughter’s bedroom and went out to the kitchen.

Mary Beth was sipping on some coffee looking out the kitchen window when he came in. He saw she’d made him a load of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon; enough to feed an army. Plenty of butter and jam, too. She treated him better than she ought, but he knew it was her way and he loved her for it. He also tried to do his best by her, gave her space when she needed it; took the kids out at times when the moods struck her. They had a way of speaking to each other without ever saying a word. Something good about such a relationship. A certain trust…

Her long brown hair was knotted up in a curled tail exposing her neck and shoulders. She was wearing her nightgown and the robe he’d bought her last Christmas with all the flowers on it. Sunny. He like it. Yet, she didn’t look none too sunny tonight. She looked desperate, and as she turned back to him her eyes had that haunted look. Eyes that were sea-gray to violet were almost pitch blood tonight as if she’d been crying for hours. He felt bad about that. Knew it was his fault. All of it.

“I’m goin’ back, hon,” He said.

“I know,” She said matter-of-factly as if she’d been expecting it for a while. “I’ve been feeling it for a time, wondering when it’d come down to this day.”

He could see she was holding back some tears. He knew she didn’t like him to see her that way. He walked up behind her and gave her shoulders a rub, then squeezed her round the belly and kissed her on the neck.

She touched his hands, squeezing hard, saying: “I just wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Me neither, love! Me neither…” Macon said, and meant it.


End Part One

Part Two being revised…

©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Decided to do a complete re-write of this story. The second draft will be in 3 Parts, and I’ve pulled out as much as possible the abstract elements and replaced much of it with more character development and internal thought. Trying to convey the suspense and keep the interest going without letting the full details of the issue out of the bag in part one. Just gives a minimal outlay of the atmosphere without any details. More of an ominous: What’s going on? At this point in the story… that sense of the Southern Gothic that something heavy out of the past is weighing on Macon’s soul, something he cannot forget and must now face or lose himself, his family, his life…

Laughing Jack’s Night Out

All around the carnival town.
The clown chased the child.
The blood was shed, the soul bled and bled.
Pop Goes The Weasel.

-Laughing Jack

Amy felt the smooth worn fabric of her Grandmother’s old rocking chair. Grooves had been rubbed into the wood pushing its way out of the frayed cloth. She could still hear the voice of the old woman in her mind even now: “Amy, you gotta do what your ole mammy tells you now! Gotta be careful, there’s terrible things in the world out there, and there’s no one goin’ protect you but yourself. After I’m gone you’ll be all alone. So you be a good girl, get to college and learn something; don’t let those boys trap you in marriage like I was. No. You got brains. Use them.”

Amy could still feel the penetrating glance of the old woman’s eyes on her, those vibrant sea-gray eyes turning almost violet in the warm light of the afternoon sun. Yet, there was also something in those eyes that terrified her, too. Gave her the chillies thinking about it. She’d hear her granny at times talking to herself. Or, at least that’s what Amy thought she was doing; she could never be sure. Her granny gave her a stern look one time when she started to go up to the attic one day. Those beady ole eyes turned somber and ferocious when she told Amy to never ever go up there: “Amy there’s things in this world a young girl has no business poking her head into. Do you understand? I don’t ever want to catch you near that attic under no untold circumstances.” Amy understood, but she didn’t quite understand why… what was up there that made her granny get so upset.

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Chicken, anyone? – A Grotesque Tale of the Macabre

** Warning: Vulgar Language Ahead! **

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?

—T.S. Eliot, The Burial of the Dead

“I’ll bet you won’t do it.” Fat Girl lisped triumphantly; her yellow buck teeth grinding away as she spit gumwad bubbles the size of watermelons out the passenger side of the pick-up truck window into the moon-lit summer’s night.

“I betcha I will.” Thin Boy laughed excitedly; his bone-cracked eyes, black and primed, drilled back hard on that Fat Girl like she was a fly he was ready to smack down. Then he thought better of it and decided he might be better off just poppin’ her cherry tonight like it was a freshly minted silver julep sprinkled with sugar and shaved ice, and coated in pure bourbon and topped off with slices of lemon and oranges: with a sprig of mint topper, just where his tongue could slip into that sweet crevice and taste all those fine juices. His mouth watered just thinking about it.

“Okay, there’s a car comin’ right there…” Fat Girl pointed at two lights blinking just over the ridge, past the clump of scrub oaks huddled in the middle of the highway.

Thin Boy, Fat Girl, and Joey – her little brother, had been drinking and slurping down mostly cheap shine and beer all night long. Jake’s brother had gotten it for them just past County line where they say the devil’s own still brew the poison that gives men screw hairs on their chests, twisted and steely. They’d watched the zombie flick at the Chief Drive-in three times before heading out to roam the byways looking for mischief.

Fat Girl gave good head, otherwise she was a freak, Jake thought to himself. They called him Thin Boy because he was so tall and skinny, and had those dang blamed freckles from his Maw. He looked at Fat Girl and said, “Shut the fuck up. You don’t know dip-shit or doodly-squat about nothing. So keep your flap shut, here me?”

She was about to yap back at him and give him all Billy Hell, but decided better on it after she saw that smile he always got when he was about to back hand her with a double-fisted whammy. So she shut up.

He smiled. “That’s more like it. Now, this is what we’re going to do…”


Chuck Bannerman was traveling home with his wife and two kids. It’s been an uneventful day, but most days seemed that way to him anymore. Especially days spent at Lucy’s Mom and Dad’s place. Everyone sitting around like knots on a log, jawing the shit, eating, watching the Friday night games on Channel 5. Sometimes they’d play cards till the wee hours of the morning. But not tonight, no tonight his daughter Lizzy had come down with something, sneezing, runny nose, fever… so they’d decided to call it an early night. “If one could call 11:00 o’clock pm early!” He thought.

His wife was asleep against the window. He peered in the rear-view and saw that the kids were doing the same, sound asleep. It was only a two hour drive back to the house, but everyone was tuckered out. He yawned and turned the radio up, moving the channel to his local favorite KickAss 105 Country. He heard an old Hank Snow tune “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Sometimes he wished he was drifting out there alone somewhere, hitchin’ a ride to wherever rather than stuck in this thing called marriage. He loved Lucy and the kids, but sometimes he just dreamed that old dream of freedom, wide open-spaces, a world to be had… Instead he was trapped on an old cotton farm sunup and sundown, eking out a minimal living on some property his own worthless drunk of a father had left him a few years back.

Back then he’d dreamed of college, even moved to the city and gotten him a job at the gas station. Was saving him some money slowly but surely; that is, till he’d seen Lucy and some of her friends drive up to the tanks one day, then his dreams went right out the window. She was the prettiest thing he’d seen in his whole life. Her hair a blaze of golden honey, eyes like those pictures of the ocean he’d never seen on postcards; and, her laugh, was like listening to innocence itself, so mellow and assured. He’d slicked his black hair back real smooth and come out to the car, one of those convertible jobs – a Buick roadmaster skylark two-door Coupe – sky-blue with a powder finish, white-walls, and a shiny chrome grill that looked more like some kind of beast with teeth clamped down waiting to bite you. But he hadn’t been eyeing that automobile, that day; he’d been gazing at one thing, that pretty girl with the wandering smiling eyes and scarlet red lips.

When she’s noticed him looking at her she’d laughed out loud, telling her friends: “Lookie there girls, we got a live one!” The other girls turned and oohed and awed him till he blushed, turning red until she’d said: “Aw, we’ve embarrassed him… stop that now, girls you’ll give him one of those – what do they call it? – a complex; yes, that’s it, a complex.” She laughed at her own joke and jumped back in to the automobile, motioned for one of the girls to pay the nice man without ever turning toward him again.

He took the money, but when he came back he saw she’d dropped a white handkerchief when she’d sashayed back to the driver’s side. He picked it up and walked around the front of the vehicle, turning and nodding to all three of the girls making them blush in return. Then he’d looked directly at her when he came up to the door saying, “’Scuse me, Miss…” He held the hanky out to her. And, when she reached out to grab it, said: “Not so fast.” And pulled it back behind him: “What’s your name, then I’ll give it to you.”

She looked a little perturbed, just to put on a little show for the girls, saying: “It’s not proper to tell a man a girl’s name whose a ‘stranger’.” She teased.

Now, he laughed. “Well I’m not a stranger, my name’s Chuck Bannerman and I’m going to be someone someday.” He boasted, smiling back.

“Well, Mr. Bannerman,” She looked up peevishly. “Until we’ve been properly introduced you’re still a stranger to me. Isn’t he girls?” She waited. The girls chimed in… “Yes, yes, properly introduced…” both of them laughing hilariously now.

He turned back to his boss: “Hey, Johnnie these girls say they’ll tell me their names if I’m properly introduced.” Johnnie who’d been sitting on his whittling stool laughed and walked over, saying: “Well, let me see…” He stroked his chin. “If I remember correctly, since I’m old enough to be her father, and an owner of a business that qualifies me as an elder in the community to do just that.” He made a sweeping gesture, and spoke up: “This here is Mr. Chuck Bannerman, ladies, a bonafied grease monkey from way back.” The girls all laughed, while Chuck wanted to slink into some dark hole and forget he ever thought up this hair blamed scheme.

“Well, well,” She said, satisfied. “I guess that means me and the girls will just have to comply. Right, girls?” They said in unison: “Right!”

“My name is Lucy Groomer, and these two gals are Judith Temple and Betsy Peabody.”

He bowed like a real gentleman and said: “I’m pleased to meet you, Ladies.” Then he handed her the hanky and told them that anytime they need gas or anything at all just to come on back by and he’d make sure they were taken care of.

That was the first time he’d set eyes on her. The next time he’d caught her all by herself late one night needing some gas, heading back to her dorm. He’d asked her out that time, just for a soda down at Watson’s Soda Fount of Main. She’d accepted. It’d been all down hill from there.

Of course her Dad hadn’t taken too kindly with his daughter going out with a grease monkey. He’d even tried to buy him off and send him packing. But Chuck had stuck to his guns, told the old man he couldn’t be bought. After that her Dad had taken him under his wing, given him a place in the oil fields. Taught him the trade, so to speak. That is till they’d found out about his background, his drunk father who’d beat his mother to death and almost done the same to him on several occasions. The boy lied for his father on the stand and he’d gotten off with manslaughter instead of the electric chair and spent several years in the State Pen up by Tuberville.

When he’d returned he’d not changed his ways much at all. Took up drinking and cussing and roaming as he’d always done, forcing his son to work the livestock and the help around the place. Then one night he’d run into a creosote pole – the phone company had recently put up, on the way home, busting his head wide open and cutting his neck to the juggler when he’d plunged through the windshield. They’d found him dead the next morning.

After that they’d felt bad for the young man. They’d allowed their daughter to marry him. Even let them take over the farm and move out there, given them their blessings, helped them out with some new equipment and kitchen supplies and enough money to make it through a few seasons.

Things were turning around for them. They’d had a couple of children, Toby and Elena. Everything was looking up. Getting better. He looked over at his wife, back at his kids and smiled. Yes, things were getting better, what else could a man ask for?


Joey grabbed the old mattress from the back of the pick-up so they’d have somethin’ to protect them when they slammed into the next vehicle; that is, if something went wrong and the other fellow didn’t swerve in time. They’d been sitting there a while chewing the shit, drinking the rest of the beer when another vehicle topped the ridge a mile away.

“There’s one now,” Fat Girl hollered, excited. “C’mon guys, hurry up!”

“Hold your horses, will you. Got to get things set just right. Okay!” They nodded at the driver, who seemed to know what he was doing.

“Now when I holler pull the mattress up and over out of the cage, got it?” Thin Boy looked at the two of them as if they were idijits… they were. He pointed to the area behind the seat where two rifles were locked up. “There, got it?” They nodded. “Ye, haw! Now we’re talking, let’s go…”

So they set off in the dark without any lights showing. The skinny driver figured to wait till they were right on top of them to turn the lights on so they’d have to react fast or be slammed. He didn’t tell the others that he hoped they’d plow right into that other car no matter what.


It was a moon-lit night or he’d of not seen the dark blob in the road ahead of him. It was strange looking, something he’d never seen before on this highway. And, he’d driven it a hundred times or better. Something wasn’t right, he felt it. He thought about slowing down, because whatever it was seemed to be getting closer as if it were moving at a high rate of speed.

Then when two light beams came on he realized it was a truck, and it was speeding right at him. All he could do was react, he tried to swerve right to the other side of the highway but too late realized there were some scrub oaks that way so suddenly shifted back to the left which would have plunged him immediately into a gully about four or five feet down and across. So instead he turned back and slammed on the breaks, hoping the other driver would swerve out of the way knowing he had no maneuvering room at all.

The driver didn’t swerve…


At the funeral, everyone, even the First Methodist preacher looked haggard as if the whole affair were some kind of horrid joke. The preacher, who usually had something profound to say, didn’t offer anything more than the basic set eulogy. He’d decided not to charge the family. He didn’t want to be there, but felt obligated to them for their support of the Church.

Everyone was in shock, no one wanted to say a thing. It was as if the world had just gone dark and meaningless for good. Words no longer held any solace. None at all. Everyone left the funeral home as quiet as they’d come in. At the graveside service the same routine. A few minimal words were said by the Preacher, and he left unable to say anything else, anything of comfort to the parents who seemed more like stone figures on a marble tomb than living flesh and blood. Their eyes were gray and empty, even the tears seemed to freeze in those eyes. Death had undone more that the dead this time. He shivered and turned away.


The next morning they’d found them all except the skinny driver of the truck. Dead. His friends, Joey and Fat Girl had been thrown clear out into the fields. The family had been thrown through their windshield onto the highway. Even the State Patrol and ambulance services had to turn their heads. It was a bloody mess.

Only the skinny driver was found wrapped up in the mattress snoozing away in the truck unharmed. The truck was totaled. Looked like it had flipped and rolled over so many times that the paint and all the chrome accoutrements were stripped clean off. The axles and tires were broken, and the frame twisted up like an accordion; even the rear end was missing, strewn metal cut into the asphalt like someone had taken a can opener and had a heyday; everything but the cab was a complete wreck. And, yet, the skinny boy had not only survived, but didn’t have no broken bones, not even a fucking scratch on him as if he’d been floating on a cloud like an angel.

The state patrolman and his partner asked him what he was thinking. Why he’d done it?

Thin Boy looked up, grinning from ear to ear, and said, “I saw it in the drive-in movie last week. They was playing chicken. It looked fun. I had to do it. It looked fun. And, by golly, it was… fun!”

One of the patrolmen sighed. The other just stood there blinking at the kid.

Thin Boy rose up out of that mattress naked as a jaybird, and said: “Boy howdy, I can’t wait to do that again next week. Anyone seen Joey and Fat Girl?”

One of the patrolmen cuffed him, saying: “Boy, where you’re goin’ you better pray to gawd you can find a friend; any friend at all.”

Thin Boy grinned: “Oh, don’t you worry about me none, I make friends anywhere I go. Chicken, anyone?”


Note: Back in the mid to late fifties kids used to dare each other and play a game called Chicken wherein they’d either bluff each other and drive old wrecks off cliffs and wait to the last minute to jump out; or, they’d actually run at each other head-on and see who would chicken out and swerve at the last second. Sometimes such idiot games were played on innocent unsuspecting people. This tale is of such a family and of such a psychopath…

One will remember James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause

©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

On The Road Again: Piddling, Goofing, Gabbing, and Reading…

I’ll admit: I’m not missing the heat, the city, or anything else at the moment; yet, I’m over at a buddies home here in Cody, Wyoming sipping Southern Comfort and some good black coffee this morning and roped him into letting me use his comp for a second. Dam! Been fly fishing, wandering, poking my head in and out of my old stomps, gabbing with old friends, and generally piddling and goofing around doing absolutely nothing but soaking up the nice weather and streams and mountains and animals and people; and at night in those wee hours between bouts of whiskey, beer, and listening to my Lady and her friends gab, I’ve been reading and thinking – as usual. Brought along some pleasurable reading this time to while away those in-between’s.

Caitlin R. Kiernan. Been gnawing on her two volumes of collected short stories: Two Worlds and In Between, and Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea. I’m barely into the first book but already those worlds she knows so well pop up with her early loves Jimmy DeSade and Salmugundi. Just the two stories connected to those characters were worth the ticket to this horror fest. What I enjoy about her style and approach is the sense of entering into each story as if it were a battlefield. I’ll rephrase that: She writes like someone who has suffered the darkness she’s exposing, not literally but rather in that figurative mode of nightmare we all live through in this life. She’s been there and back under the white flag of sheer stubbornness and intent, speaking from within hostile worlds like a person who has entered the very maw of hell (our own world seen from that deformed eye of the pure storyteller) and survived; and, not only survived but retrieved the memory tapes and interviews of its most direful inhabitants. I want say anymore. It’s hot and raw, not for the squeamish. A festival of gore and tribute to the grotesque and macabre amalgam of Poe’s gothic tombs, and all those myriad of tribesmen of the art of darkness…

Donald Ray Pollock. Knockemstiff and The Devil All The Time. Reading Pollock is not for the feint of heart either. As he tells us of the second of these works in a recent interview on Chuck Palahinuk’s site: The Devil All the Time is not a children’s book!  In fact, I’d be leery of recommending it to many adults.  The book is dark, and let’s face it, many people don’t like that type of stuff.  They want a story that will help them forget the real darkness around them, and you really can’t blame them.  It is set in the Midwest–mostly in Ohio and West Virginia from the end of World War Two to 1966–and is about good and evil and the gray, blurry line that often runs in-between those two absolutes.  The cast of characters includes a serial killer husband-and-wife team, a corrupt lawman, insane preachers, and a decent young man named Arvin Eugene Russell. I’m sure some readers are going to think I went a little too far with the grittiness and horror, but that’s the world I came up with. What he writes he tells us is “Gothic hillbilly noir,” a twisted blend of Southern Ohio, Indiana, and Virginia where he’s lived most of his natural born life. Much the same age as myself I wasn’t really shocked to see what kind of monstrous beings he was able to dredge up from that guttersnipe world of hate, bigotry, misogyny, misanthropic perversity, and downright disgusting backwoods country yodel lickspittle world. What I was surprised was with the unique vision that one might term a depressed realism — what Colin Feltham remarks in Whose Keeping Ourselves in the Dark “calls the end of the road“. Pollock mounts a freewheeling inquiry into the myriad superstitions, illusions, maladies, and derangements that bedevil us, rejecting the rose-tinted clichés and niceties on all fronts, while inveigling us with his pessimist’s street-level reporting. A world where “Every glass is empty, and there is nothing to be done”. The stories by Pollock are about the worldpain of the lost and forgotten, the blind, the maimed, the ignorant, the unblessed souls on the edge of hell’s borderlands: those abandoned inscapes of the American geography where souls bleed out in slime tidepools of racism, hate, cannibalism, murder, mayhem, perversity, rape, and absolute bleakness without any sense of redemption — Reading these stories is like entering the maw, unriddling the dark underbelly of every last scatological crazed thought you ever had about the U.S.A.. Pollock’s world is the bleak realms writ large and with an eye that doesn’t blink, but shows you the vicious truth of a world without hope where the dammed have resigned themselves to their self-imposed prison of corruption and utter futility. This is the realm where the condemned are condemned to nothing and no one but the eternal round their own self-inflicted traumas in a place called Knockemstiff, Ohio (not to be confused with the actual town of that name), a town constructed out of some hinterland of the dark psyche where psychos and sociopaths run amok in the holler of America’s darkest corners. A place just this side of hell…

Frederick C. Beiser, Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. This was the last book I brought with me. Yea, I know, light reading matter… huh! Okay, been eyeing this work for a couple of months. It covers all those pessimists of the German aftermath of Schopenhauer: Eduard von Hartmann, Philipp Mainlӓnder, Julius Bahnsen, Agnes Taubert and Olga Plümacher. After having recently reread Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race I was ready to dig a little deeper into that world which seems to fit my own disposition to a tee of late. What I’ve discovered is surprisingly how pervasive an impact Schopenhauer had on the last half of the 19th Century. Even the Positivists and Neo-Kantians were all affected by this giant rather than the usual well trod suspects of German Idealism which after 1850’s was a fairly dead topic. We’ve all been led to believe that Hegel and the other members of that Kantian aftermath from Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and the Romantics Schiller and others were the big influence. But as Beiser suggests:

It was Schopenhauer who made the question of the value of life so central to German philosophy in the 19th century, and who shifted its interests away from the logic of the sciences [Neo-Kantians] and back towards the traditional problems of the meaning and value of life. Once we take into account Schopenhauer’s reorientation, the history of philosophy in the 19th century begins to look very different. Schopenhauer becomes central; Marx and the neo-Hegelians fade into the background; and though Nietzsche remains important, he proves to be still one player in a much larger drama, which includes many other pessimists and optimists.1 [my italics]

Bye! See you when I get back end of week…

  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (Kindle Locations 428-432). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.



The Discontent of Our Desires

For Schopenhauer the labors of desire were never quenched, slaves of our needs we assume not only natural cravings, but unnatural or abstract ones as well: ambition, power, money…

As Frederick C. Beiser  informs us:

The main contention of [Schopenhauer’s] argument is that we inevitably acquire new needs, which grow in intensity, so that it becomes increasingly harder to satisfy them (V, 347). This adds a completely new dimension to the life of desire, because it is not only that the same needs regenerate but that we acquire new ones, which have no natural limit and which grow the more we satisfy them. Schopenhauer’s example for this kind of need is ambition. We are not satisfied with just a little recognition; we demand more and more, until we achieve fame; and once we are a little famous, we want to be more so. Schopenhauer could have chosen other examples, such as money and power, which were favorite targets of the Stoic and Epicurean traditions. Of these too we can say that the more we have of them, the more we want them, where there is no limit to how much we want. But the greater our wants, the harder it becomes to satisfy them, so that the feeling of discontent only grows.1

The amazing trick here is that capitalism hooked into this little trick of human need and desire, developing a whole consumer society based on it; and then set it loose upon the natural order of the world where it doesn’t exist. Thereby making of the natural an unnatural need of endlessly unsatisfied consumer products or abstract desires based on  obsolescence and the need for more and more all bound to the cycle of the eternal return of our secret cravings, thereby creating a cannibalistic society of self-consuming artifacts desiring greater and greater levels of satisfaction that cannot be fulfilled. Who needs hell when you have capitalism and consumer society promoting the discontent of desires that can never be quenched? The fires fueling hell are not so much below us as much as in us, the very force of our unnatural cravings for more and more and more… Capitalism is nothing more than a unified conduit that imprisons our cravings in a closed system of eternal return, a circulation of desire for profit that seeks only to continue its endless round of profit making at the expense of the desiring unit: the human. As Marx once stated: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” We are zombies (“death-in-Life”) of Capital, our desires the juice that fuels the unnatural machine of Capital, and line the pockets of those .01% who skim the top and keep the machines running and sucking on our dead labor.

  1. Frederick C. Beiser. After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900 (Kindle Locations 3018-3024). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

If we leave the light behind…

Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments of profound regret, you have reached the negative limit of life, its absolute temperature, where the last illusions about life freeze.

—E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

If we leave the light behind, will we ever find it again? At the edge of things, out beyond the last star, the void like an unfathomable abyss awaits us. In the midst of all that darkness is there intelligence? Is there something alive in the burning abyss of endless night? And, once we begin our journey into that darkness all sense of direction shall be lost. And if a voice arose in the dark place of emptiness, what then? If the namelessness called you out, would you answer? Darkness in darkness: Why so much light only to be engulfed in an eternity of darkness? What accident of time gave birth to the light? Isn’t it the temporary, the transient; this light in the void of worlds, stars, and galaxies? This endless turning and turning around the darkness? Are not the black holes that power the galaxies the very embodiment of that terror we all are? Are we mere fragments of the darkness, broken pieces of its eternal majesty? And isn’t this absence, this lack in the hollow of our mind — the truth of the darkness? Nothing and everything unbound in the infinity of darkness, the squandering of light the last refuge of pain? Are we — lovers of shadows, the secret keepers of darkness, creatures of nightmare and chaos: agents of the unknown and unknowable? Isn’t the secret gift of our kind, that we who are most aware are the least at home in the realms of light? Are we not the darkness in the light, members of that ancient realm, our powers from the deepest abysses revealed? Are we not the ones who have always and everywhere destroyed the light? Why did we who belong to the darkness seek the light? What dark inheritor gave us this need, this poverty of imagination and intellect that we were born into a world that is not our home; a world for which we are ill-fitted, and seek in our unbidden dreams an escape into immortal realms that never were nor could be? And, if we return to the abyss from whence we came, will it receive us? Are we not condemned to the light, condemned to this round, an eternal return of the Same? Is this not our fate — we who are lovers of darkness, condemned to the realms of light everlasting? Is this realm of pain and light not the punishment of those who could not accept their own impossibility? We who sought knowledge outside themselves rather than in that dark place? Are we not the very ones to be condemned to ignorance, to this eternal striving, this struggle, this war for the light, the mind, the intellect? Driven from the kingdoms of darkness we wander these halls of light like forlorn members of a suicide cult, unable to escape the magic realms of light we spend our days in distraction and delusion, deliriously we enter into our own illusive dreamscapes of the Unreal. Caught between need and ennui we oscillate like moths around the deadly flame of consciousness; neither alive nor dead, we are bound to this endless striving chaos of action. Maybe that is our legacy, to be remembered as the harbingers of eternal night who were condemned never to attain it…

We’ll we ever find the darkness again in all this light?  Maybe what we seek is the solace of darkness at the edge of light, the cold and impersonal solitude of the Void within the Void? Or, if the truth be told, what we seek most of all is an end to the light in darkness, an end to the eye that sees too much — to knowledge and thought, to this striving, never-resting, annihilating light we are. This bitter feud among the humans is like a difficult passage or birth — there are those among us who love the darkness more than the light, who seek out its ways among the dark cracks and crevices of the world. It is our destiny to manifest that impossible absence at the heart of darkness, to awaken it from its cold and lonely sleep in the Abyss. In every age there have been those few who kept the evil thought alive, brought it forth into the light, nurtured it, watched it grow, allowed it to take root in the minds of the gifted ones. Very few among us will admit to our estate in the darkness, seeking rather to hide our darkness in the light, cloth it with the light’s own glorious delusions. We who walk in the night, breath the frozen air of solitude, know the secret ways of this kingdom. Saints of the Impossible we exist in that region in-between — neither human nor nonhuman, but rather Chimeras of hybridity, monstrous beings who appear beautiful, desirous. Flame-eaters, dragons of energy, the hooded blade of our spirit strives with the light for the darkness. I am the death of light and the fiery abyss of darkness. Like those dark minions of the Qlipothic Tree, outriders of the hated ones, dreamers of apocalypse and madness —darkness glows in me.


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Theory-Fiction: Horror, Computation, Hybrid Forms

Computation is a logic of culture, and so also a logic of design.
-Benjamin Bratton

Beginning to reread and take notes on Benjamin H. Bratton’s, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty a book he tells us “is both technical and theoretical. It is unapologetically interdisciplinary in its perspective and its project; it is a work of political philosophy, and architectural theory, and software studies, and even science fiction”.  I would only add to the mix the various hybrid forms of speculative horror, abstract horror, or conceptual horror that weaves in science and the affective overlays with concept and idea engendering a transitional mode that can longer be reduced to the classic objective/subjective literature of fear and terror we’ve known for so long.

As Bratton says in the first paragraph his work “draws links between technologies, places, processes, and cultures that may exist at different scales but which are also deeply interrelated. In this crisscross, we observe that “computation” does not just denote machinery; it is planetary-scale infrastructure that is changing not only how governments govern, but also what governance even is in the first place. Computation is a logic of culture, and so also a logic of design. It is both how our culture designs and is itself that which we need to design better, but to do that we need to take a step back and view an emerging big picture that is different from what has been predicted. We may glimpse that another model of political geography is cohering before our eyes. What can we do with it? What does it want from us? The answers depend on our theories and tools, on our models and codes.”1

What Bratton is speaking to is a return to distancing as against those like Baudrillard whose notions of integral reality as the immersive immediacy without distance of thought, value, and feeling left us in a world of pure appetitive consumption repeating the inane gestures of our ancestral nightmares on a much more abstract level. Our need to step back out of the immersive field of postmodern culture and theory is one that admits such anti-realism led us into a dead alley. The minimalist fiction of a Beckett or a Carver gave us the bone dry corpse of a depleted culture and civilization on its last legs. With such authors there was no place to go but into the dustbin of history, or to find another path out of the zero point world of meaninglessness. What we discovered is horror; for in horror one is led to that point where everything is meaningless, but that in itself is meaningful. So with the bottom of the barrel we found meaning sitting there like a shadow god, an amorphous and ambivalent slime-fest of a forgotten world where darkness and chaos once again gave us something to hold onto – even if it was the nothingness of this empty universe.

In horror we once again found a way to step back and gaze into the sewers of creation where the black light of the cosmos stared back from a cold and indifferent abyss. Without this ability to distance oneself from either environment or inner experience we are nothing more than ignorant breeders of bodily functions, habits, opinions. Distance allowed us to make decisions that would otherwise fall into the brain’s own circuits like endless feedback loops that have no redress or stop gap  or other intermediary agent, act, or event to stop the endless processes of thought churning in the neuralclades of our meaty brain. Isn’t consciousness a heuristic device that the brain itself constructed out of selective processes; a kludgy make-shift accident of some environmental impact in our woebegone Darwinian heritage that awakened us to this sense of distance – this possible delusionary feeling that we exist and know it, and that we can see an outside and an inside – know that others like ourselves exist, too. That we’re suddenly cut off from the world, thrown back on our own resources of knowing and feeling, of ‘give and take’ responses and momentary feelings of pain, fear, anger, happiness, disgust… etc., all the bodily habits and opinions; as well as the shared sense of belonging to others in some mysterious way, even though we cannot know what they feel, what they think; and, yet, we surmise, we fictionalize, we tell ourselves stories of how we feel, what we think: ask questions, teach lessons, show comfort or judgment about what is acceptable or not within the world of others we share this thing, this life, this existence with?

Even if we reduce all this to a more theoretical or scientific jargon does that actually simplify and abstract these processes in a way that truly helps us define ourselves, build better lives, etc. Or has all this refinement of language, philosophy, science only forced us into even more immersive and virtualized modes of being and thinking, restricted the questions we can ask because of the rules and regulations, the games of discursive and analytical procedures, methodologies, practices; or analytical and linguistic forms of matheme or natural discourse? Are we at last more handicapped by our sophisticated knowledge systems, and less able to interact with our environment than an aboriginal kindred, those clans and indigenous populations in the Amazon basin or Australian outback or Inuit frontiers of the North? Has the complexity of our knowledge base itself led to this ‘computational infrastructure’ of which Bratton’s work is an exploration? Has it become as well a prison for our mental modes of thinking and being, a problem rather than a solution in our ongoing environmental and civilizational conflicts, adaptations, politics?

During the anti-realist postmodern era the simulated culture of forecasting, prediction, and mathematical modeling of future realties, trends, outcomes (i.e., such as climate change, etc.) pervaded both at the level of academic disciplines and scientific research programs. But much of this though needful has ended in controversy and dead ends, with the acknowledgement of faulty algorithms and human error as to interpretation of the data. So that in our time the vast storehouses of multi-dimensional databases, and government or academic institutions, much less the corporate and global forecasting systems that rely on such algorithms have in some cases led to faulty and error prone outcomes and devastating impacts on humanity and the environment alike.

When Bratton tells us that this planet-wide infrastructure of computation is already in place and churning away at our very human condition, our politics, our forecastings, our logistics, our very global civilization we have to step back and wonder where is this taking us? As he asks: What can we do with it? What does it want from us? The answers depend on our theories and tools, on our models and codes. What struck me in that second question is the notion that this world-wide computational system might “want from us”; as if it were ‘intelligent’ and was seeking its own agendas, and worse that those agendas might not include us. What does it want from us? Indeed. That truly is the sixty-five million dollar question, isn’t it? With our blind obedience to all these various movements into robotics, Artificial life and Intelligence: deep learning algorithms, etc., the machines are gaining on us moment by moment, and it is only matter of time (whether in twenty of a hundred years) before they surpass us on the intelligence spectrum.

We laugh about it, think about it; fear it, seek it; and, most of all we see it as Factor X – the Unknown. That something that we can speculate about but cannot provide answers. It’s just here where speculative or transreal horror meets science, and the older forms of horror based on the old entropic sciences of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrorism, or the Ligottian inner experience of a melting unreal world of horror all give way to a new type of horror: one that blends both our ancient fear of dolls, puppets, and automatons; and, the fear of superior intelligence, alien and unbound by sufficient Reason and our strict scientific methods. We tells ourselves nice little stories that we can sleep at night, stories that we will be able to control such things when the time comes, that we’ll not let it get out of hand. All nice and comforting… yet, those others among us who are more pessimistically inclined ask the “What if…” of horror scenarios that don’t end well for humanity, not at all.

It’s this sense of cross-pollination and fictionalizing theory that’s beginning more and more to intrigue me. We’ve (or, at least I have!) been doing this for a number of years. Philosopher’s have termed what many of them are doing as “philo-fiction,” which blends the speculative with theory in unforeseen ways. To me this is a sign we are trying to break free of the overly restricted academic analytic and continental frames that have imposed certain conceptual limits on thought. A good thing in itself, these new authors whether in philosophy, science, sociology, politics, or any number of disciplines see a need to formulate if not an eclectic synthesis, then at least an exploration of the diversity of our many perspectives (a good Nietzschean stance, even if not restricted to hermeneutics or interpretation).

I’ve seen that in David Roden’s recent explorations on Enemy Industry as he tries various narrative approaches of weaving a dark phenomenology constructed out of different philosophical and scientific, even transdisciplinary areas of thought and fiction. This seems a trend in the coming years that will obviously affect the more standard flow into sub-genres such as abstract horror, sci-fi, transgressive fiction, bizzaro, weird, etc. One can imagine monstrous amalgams of theory and speculative science. Of course some of this was done by those like Italo Calvino, Stanislaw Lem, Jorge-Luis Borges, and many others in the 20th Century, but with a more anti-realist and textually oriented mode of meta-fictional theory and practice rather than the type of transrealist horror or ongoing incorporation of life into theory that we see happening in these newer thought forms. Either way exciting time to be reading and writing…

Bratton makes a very Viconian observation:

Thinking with tools, and in this case, working with the fixed capital of advanced technologies, is a good thing. It is part of the genesis of our species. It is how we mediate the world and are mediated by it; we become what we are by making that which in turn makes us.1

Against Descartes principle that verum et factum convertuntur, that “the true and the made are…convertible,” or that “the true is precisely what is made” (verum esse ipsum factum), Giambattista Vico would reject Descartes’ famous first principle that clear and distinct ideas are the source of truth: “For the mind does not make itself as it gets to know itself,” Vico observes, “and since it does not make itself, it does not know the genus or mode by which it makes itself” (DA, 52). Thus the truths of morality, natural science, and mathematics do not require “metaphysical justification” as the Cartesians held, but demand an analysis of the causes – the “activity” – through which things are made (DA, 64).

Yet, as an article on Inverse by Joe Carmichael suggests, speaking of the impact of movies on shaping contemporary cityscapes as an example, says:

“…the ideas of science fiction resonate very powerfully with how contemporary cities are shaped. Another example might be the designs of Shanghai’s Pudong district, where there’s a very palpable sense of Blade Runner-esque atmospheres. Blade Runner itself was partly shaped by Ridley Scott’s ideas about oriental urbanism and slightly orientalist treatments of street life in the supposedly futuristic Los Angeles. And ideas about Blade Runner are clearly influencing Chinese elites’ ideas about urban futurism.”

Urban Future commenting on this would say,

It does seem like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first, in that sometimes it’s sci-fi inspiring our cityscapes, and other times it’s our cityscapes inspiring sci-fi.

It’s reciprocal. There isn’t an obvious start point for this.

This sense of the interdependence of fiction and reality, both reinforcing the other in a time-loop retroactive participation of making and being made within an ongoing computational system of algorithmic culture reduplication and remediation all fits snuggly in our speculative age of theory-fiction. Instead of Descartes ‘convertability’ of making and made, we get the ‘reciprocal’ interoperability of different time-scaped modalities in which now one mode, now the other take the lead.

As I began thinking through scenarios of Sci-Fi Horror of this computational and algorithmic infrastructure opening up various weird and horrific impacts on the human condition (i.e., the coming automation society, the AGI’s – Artificial General Intelligence impact, Smart or Sentient Cities, etc.), I began wondering how this incorporates in real-world horror scenarios of “What goes wrong if…” type. All those little details and unforeseen aspects of our immersion in software and the error prone code of viral and violent systems let loose not through any hacker’s planned initiation, but through some process of artificial natural selection – a Darwinian hybrid of self-selection taken to the nth degree under an accelerating sociocultural system converging toward this ill-defined Singularity?

In works like the Iranian philosopher, Reza Negarestani, in his Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials we see this sense of a larger unknown, an entity, object, or infrastructure deep within the planet; a sort of Lovecraftian update to the Cuthulhu mythos, but this time with the commodity of oil and petroleum as the massive system of horror in the depths that seems to have worked its power, fascination, and lures on humanity across vast stretches of time. In his work these notions of theory-fiction, philo-fiction, hybrid horror and sci-fi all seem to gel into something different or uncanny: something old and familiar returning to us out of the depths. Many other examples abound: the Scikungfi Trilogy by D. Harlan Wilson; Thomas Ligotti’s latest additions; S.J. Bagley’s Thinking Horror;  Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace; Jeff Vandemeer’s recent Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy… one could go on and on… this is just a start, one could add another hundred and keep going. All of these exploring the atmospheric conditions of horror, the impossible relations left out of the equation by most reasoning systems of thought and philosophy.

Horror delves between-the-lines, in the cracks and crevices of the world, the hidden places, and indirect paths to between the real and unreal without confusing the two or fusing them in some erroneous and false security system of belief. Horror like all fantastic literature leads the wary reader into the cracks in the world without pretention, without any other goal than letting this reader feel the fear and terror of existence vicariously if not in fact and deed. It’s by way of vicarious causality, of that meeting of reader and the ‘thing’ – unknown or known through some indirect objective or subjective relation in a new personal relation that exposes the wary reader to degradation and corruption that is the aesthetic appeal of horror in all its dark splendor.

Thinking of the meeting of sci-fic and horror in a mixed or hybrid genre is such a relation. A way of dealing with the future that seems to be imploding toward us out of the inhuman and nonhuman or more-than-human future. As more and more as these advanced algorithmic systems of deep-learning or more advanced self-learning and self-adapting systems speed up and accelerate beyond human control there may be a point of no return, of this sort of lift-off effect that Lem in some of his more pessimistic fables speaks of in which our creations will in turn begin to reinvent humanity not in our image, but in the image of the machinic systems themselves. What happens then? What if these nonhuman systems are far more nuanced and efficient as predicting our behavior, our modes of questioning and answering those questions, of outsmarting us and letting us assume we have everything well in hand when in fact it is the subtle machinations of these advanced intelligent systems that have begun to carefully shape, guide, transform, and use us as mere tools to further their own hidden agenda and telos? What then? It’s just here that a speculative horror or sci-fi horror hybrid could begin to envision scenarios and answers, or at least to ask more and more difficult questions even if they lead to darker and inhuman answers.

  1. Benjamin H. Bratton. The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (Software Studies) (Kindle Locations 217-224). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

The City of Titans

The city came alive at night, the buildings on my left and right were leaning out across the vacuous chasms of vast thoroughfares, seeking the comfort and acknowledgment of their neighbors: steel, glass, and concrete awakening from the long sleep of earth, knowing that the cityscapes were slowly swerving toward that ineffable moment – a singular point of no return, when the dark transports between sentience and sapience would take on the allure of surface tensions and intelligence; and the secret life of these monstrous structures would once again take on that that dark power at the heart of the mindless cosmos, and become the equivalent of ancient Titans striding the night cities like feral beasts conquering a new world.

©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Badiou – Our Wound Is Not So Recent: Nick Land and Mark Fisher Respond

Both Nick Land and Mark Fisher have responses to Alain Badiou’s recent book, Our Wound is Not So Recent: Thinking the Paris Killings, and are available for online/offline reading at Urbanomic’s site.

Nick Land: Sore Losers

Nick Land’s last paragraph in Sore Losers is particularly apropos, attacking Badiou and ISIS for nostalgic slides into dated politics and strategies of false Universalisms, while the real enemy is elsewhere and accelerating beyond such false triumphalist Steampunk and spiteful Cyber-Gothic identitarian alternatives. Land, unlike the cybergothic lyricism of the 90’s, has become more gnomic and impersonal, delving and slicing with the scalpel of a cold and sardonic indifferentism through the fantasias our political and socio-cultural nostalgias:

Spite, or triumphalism, are identitarian confusions, extravagances, and also simply errors that we cannot afford. Our war is far less comprehensively won than theirs is lost. The adversaries that matter—real fascists—have controlled the commanding heights of our societies since the New Deal. The techno-economic dispersion of power remains radically incomplete. Sino-capitalism—momentarily trembling—has yet to re-make the world. The ‘liberation of liberalism’ has scarcely begun. None of this is a concern for Badiou, however, or for the Islamists. It belongs to another story, and—for this is the ultimate, septically enflamed wound—as it runs forwards, ever faster, it is not remotely theirs. (5)

For Land the enemy is what it has always been for the past sixty-odd years: the “Cathedral,” a machine of power, money, and media systems that make up and pervade the global propaganda (“media”), academic, think tanks, and governance (“Bureaucracies, Wall-Street, Bankers, and Politicos…”) systems, that are used by the elite social-capitalists (read: “centralized, economic fascists”) of the world to capture mass (“Consumer”) desires and enslave them to the commercialization of the world through ever-present fear, terror, and war. This sense of Sino-capitalism that he sees in the offing is the divorce of capitalism from democracy, the ‘liberation of liberalism’ as its Cathedral Complex alternative through de-sovereignized and de-nationalized systems of Law and Governance: the Globalized Security Networks which will unbind capitalism from the Nation State Model that has held sway for hundreds of years. And, as he sees in Badiou and ISIS a reversion to nostalgic and outmoded thought forms; both are stuck in the past fighting wars that are marginal at best, and miss the mark altogether concerning what is going on in the accelerating cannibalization of both our future, and the machinic intelligences of our global systems that are emerging to replace us and our species at the top of the food chain. For Land, humanity’s days are numbered, and there truly is only a slow death and marginalization of human aspirations and hopes ahead; instead there is an interminable acknowledgement of the parasitical relationship we have with technics and technology, and that our roles are reversing in this posthuman transitional period in-between one Symbolic Order and the next; and, the possible paths forward for the human species do not harbor well for this organic system as it gives way to those alternative hybrid forms that will replace it.

Mark Fisher: Cybergothic vs. Steampunk

Mark Fisher’s response in Cybergothic vs. Steampunk is toward collective action and belonging, an almost diagnostic return to the caring phenomenology of Heidegger with a molecular twist and update to old socialist dreamscapes and fallacies of hope (is this a return to Ernst Bloch’s Utopianism? or, a deferential nod to McKenzie Wark’s Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene):

But the rising tide of experimental political forms in so many areas of the world at the moment shows that people are rediscovering group consciousness and the potency of the collective. It is now clear that molecular practices of consciousness-raising are not opposed to the indirect action needed to bring about lasting ideological shifts— they are two aspects of a process that is happening on many different time tracks at once. The growing clamour of groups seeking to take control of their own lives portends a long overdue return to a modernity that capital just can’t deliver. New forms of belonging are being discovered and invented, which will in the end show that both steampunk capital and cybergothic ISIS are archaisms, obstructions to a future that is already  assembling itself. (3)

You notice the subtle transition from “class consciousness” to “group consciousness,” as if this little wordplay was some kind of magic trick that would obviate the politics of class struggle and move the ball into some elsewhere of discourse beyond the old Left. Nope, not happening, folks… Fisher’s ingenious verbal pyrotechnics is just a watered down socialism which purports to offer a new way. Yet, Fisher would turn the clock back, bring to us a nostalgic revitalization of utopian ‘group consciousness’; one that seems to exist in a paradox: a time-machine (“happening on many different time tracks”), or parallax world of alternative experiments. Is this Pataphysics or a surrealists Marxism; maybe a situationist’s handbag of magical realism? His use of the ‘growing clamour of groups’ reminds one of Badiou’s nod to Deleuze in Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. And, again, — as with so many intellectuals who are unable to think the new, or define a conceptual shift that would truly be a decisive break from the past two-hundred years of failure — he offers us once again the worn out call of a ‘return to a modernity that capital just can’t deliver’? But isn’t capital at the core of modernity? How can this be? And, is he a pure formalist (” New forms of belonging are being discovered and invented”) – are they, or is this just the same old worn out cry of socialist and progressive returns we’ve heard before? Then this constructionism: “to a future that is already  assembling itself.” As if there were some integral self-assembly of the future out of what, exactly? Where is the global platform of the Left to actually put into effect some agenda that would be viable? Yes, yes.. he’ll probably point to certain country’s that are showing signs of success; but are they? When one looks around the world we see the globalist economic system has the stranglehold everywhere. And, those countries that exist peripheral to that system or have entered into the Sino-Soviet pact of rogue states, etc. are just as anxious to have a counter-globalist régime to divvy up the remaining land reserves against climate change food sources, mineral and water rights, etc. All part of the continuing civil-war of resources that has been going on for some time now. Maybe Fisher hopes for some self-help socialist philosophy manual of care and belonging, a sort of romantic and nostalgic return to former glories and movements? How is this a possible path forward into the future? Rather it seems a return to the staid old future-past that has been tried many times before, a utopian dream of the future that lives on in thought shadowed forth in socialist dreamscapes of nostalgic glory days, buried in the tyrannies of collective suicide.