Joseph Conrad On Nostromo

Joseph Conrad On Nostromo

“There is no peace and no rest in the development of material interests. They have their law, and their justice. But it is founded on expediency, and is inhuman…”

― Joseph Conrad, Nostromo

Joseph Conrad in his notes on Nostromo speaks of its origins as having its genesis in two otherwise inexplicable events. The first concerned his anxiety on having finished his book Typhoon,

I don’t mean to say that I became then conscious of any impending change in my mentality and in my attitude towards the tasks of my writing life. And perhaps there was never any change, except in that mysterious, extraneous thing which has nothing to do with the theories of art; a subtle change in the nature of the inspiration; a phenomenon for which I can not in any way be held responsible. What, however, did cause me some concern was that after finishing the last story of the “Typhoon” volume it seemed somehow that there was nothing more in the world to write about.1

Many writers have come to a point in their lives when things dry up, when they feel they have nothing left to say, that its all been said, and that to say more would be a mere repetition of everything that had gone before. It’s as if an abyss opens up and one feels hollow inside, as if someone had taken a butcher knife and cut a deep hole in one’s mind and left nothing but darkness and despair in its place.

Then something happened to Conrad. He’d been traveling as he usually did on sea and overheard a conversation concerning an incident off the coast of some South American nation which was undergoing a Revolutionary war. A man whose name was never mentioned had stolen a sailing vessel full of silver bullion worth a vast fortune and gotten away with it. Conrad was not that interested in the crime itself but rather that it happened during a specific political and revolutionary period a small countries struggles. It was this combination of intrigue, revolution, and politics that sparked his interest but not enough to do anything with it for a story so he forgot about it until twenty-six years later.

At that time he’d been in a small book shop in some port city of a small country in South America and come across an autobiography of a sailor which on reading the blurb seemed to interest him because of the time frame of the man’s life. As he was reading it he came upon three pages that described for him the details of the tale he’d heard some twenty-six years previously. The young sailor had taken employment on a schooner with a captain who was the very thief and scoundrel who had stolen the treasure all those years earlier. As the captain one night told the young sailor: “People think I make a lot of money in this schooner of mine. But that is nothing. I don’t care for that. Now and then I go away quietly and lift a bar of silver. I must get rich slowly — you understand.” The young sailor didn’t believe him, and even threatened the captain saying, “What’s to prevent me reporting ashore what you have told me about that silver?” The captain studied him for a moment and returned: “You fool, if you dare talk like that on shore about me you will get a knife stuck in your back. Every man, woman, and child in that port is my friend. And who’s to prove the lighter wasn’t sunk? I didn’t show you where the silver is hidden. Did I? So you know nothing. And suppose I lied? Eh?”

After that the young sailor fears reprisal stole a skiff and left the schooner that night. So the tale concluded. Conrad having read that was unimpressed about the ruffian captain or the crime, but something else occurred that would set him on course for writing his last novel. As he states it:

I did not see anything at first in the mere story. A rascal steals a large parcel of a valuable commodity — so people say. It’s either true or untrue; and in any case it has no value in itself. To invent a circumstantial account of the robbery did not appeal to me, because my talents not running that way I did not think that the game was worth the candle. It was only when it dawned upon me that the purloiner of the treasure need not necessarily be a confirmed rogue, that he could be even a man of character, an actor and possibly a victim in the changing scenes of a revolution, it was only then that I had the first vision of a twilight country which was to become the province of Sulaco, with its high shadowy Sierra and its misty Campo for mute witnesses of events flowing from the passions of men short-sighted in good and evil.

Such are in very truth the obscure origins of “Nostromo” — the book. From that moment, I suppose, it had to be. Yet even then I hesitated, as if warned by the instinct of self-preservation from venturing on a distant and toilsome journey into a land full of intrigues and revolutions. But it had to be done.

It was this incidental history in itself of little matter that would converge on Conrad’s imaginative need which would suddenly reveal to him how a powerful narrative of tragic consequences could suddenly arise out of such lean fare, a story of mystery and passion, politics and character. This sense of a destiny that ties all mankind together in strange relations.

As he’d say of the book and the history of the people:

As to their own histories I have tried to set them down, Aristocracy and People, men and women, Latin and Anglo-Saxon, bandit and politician, with as cool a hand as was possible in the heat and clash of my own conflicting emotions. And after all this is also the story of their conflicts. It is for the reader to say how far they are deserving of interest in their actions and in the secret purposes of their hearts revealed in the bitter necessities of the time. I confess that, for me, that time is the time of firm friendships and unforgotten hospitalities.

For me it is that singular phrase which highlights the power of such narratives that bring out the “secret purposes of their hearts revealed in the bitter necessities of the time”. For in the end its the dark mystery of the unknown, the mystery of the heart itself, oh “bitter necessities” of time that matter, and nothing else.

  1. CONRAD, JOSEPH. Complete Works of Joseph Conrad (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 27265-27269). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

Somewhere This Side of Hell

He felt like howling. —Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes

Some writers hold a dark mirror up to your face and speak to you so close that their breath is your breath, their thoughts are your thoughts, their lives are your life. Harry Crews brought that home to me in a way that is not good, but real. Sometimes looking back at where you came is more terrible than gazing down the pipe at where we’re going. Having crawled out of the snake pit of my own past I learned to hate it, despise it and the people who like shadows of another world inhabited it. And, yet, I could never quite disown it or displace it. Like anything else in life there are some things you just have to grow out of rather than escape.

There is no redemption for people like us, instead all there is can be summed up by the word hate. But that’s not a bad thing as some might suppose, because sometimes hate is what spurs one on toward another kind of life. Not believing in so called progress, or human improvement I’ve come to realize the best we can do is learn a few defensive tricks against the stain of existence. One doesn’t seek salvation, only ecstasy of pain. When Nietzsche spoke of Dionysian pessimism he was a little off-his-rocker, for no one in his right mind would want to live over and over and over again the Same thing, the Same life to all eternity: that would be the masochist’s dark salvation. And, for most of us, there can be no redemption; not even the redemption of violence. That, too, is a myth of our American exceptionalism: a sort of road way kill zone to eternity. Yet, the one central fact of existence is its violence, and some say it’s the one redemptive clause in an eternity of darkness.

Instead one has to look into that dark mirror with stone cold eyes so one doesn’t forget what one is, something like a character in Mystic Georgia somewhere this side of Hell:

“Maybe it was because of the trophies, the signed game balls that had been bronzed and mounted, the High School Back of the Year award for all of the state of Georgia, the certificate for playing in the High School All-American Game in Dallas, Texas, and two whole shelves of trophies and certificates from track. As a stranger might have, he watched them now above his sister’s nearly covered face with only the dark hair and frightened eyes showing. They seemed, those bronzed images of muscled young men caught in straining, static motion, they seemed in no way to have anything to do with him, nor ever to have had anything to do with him.

“They seemed in fact to have been an accident. Like his sister’s madness. It had just happened. Nobody knew why or apparently would ever know. He was stronger and faster and meaner than other boys his age and for that he had been rewarded. He had even suspected that he was smarter, too. For whatever reason, though, the idea of studying, of sitting down and deliberately committing facts and relationships to memory was deeply repugnant to him. And always had been. Unless it had to do with violence. He liked violence. He liked blood and bruises, even when they were his own.”

– Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes

What is America? – The Grotesque, the Ugly, and the Hunted-Haunted Shame and Guilt of our Past

51cXRS4HAaLAs I sit down this morning about to read a Sothern Gothic horror tale by a new writer, Kristi DeMeester – Beneath, I read in the blurb:

“When reporter Cora Mayburn is assigned to cover a story about a snake-handling cult in rural Appalachia, she is dismayed, for the world of cruel fundamentalist stricture, repression, glossolalia, and abuse is something she has long since put behind her in favor of a more tolerant urban existence. But she accepts the assignment, dredging up long-buried memories as she seeks the truth.

As Cora begins to uncover the secrets concealed by a veneer of faith and tradition, something ancient and long concealed begins to awaken. What secrets do the townsfolk know? What might the handsome young pastor be hiding? What will happen when occulted horrors writhe to the surface, when pallid and forgotten things rise to reclaim the Earth?

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

– Flannery O’Connor

This reminded me of Flannery O’Connor that other Southern Gothic writer who said, when asked about her novel ‘The Violent Bare it Away’:

“The lack of realism would be crucial if this were a realistic novel or if the novel demanded the kind of realism you demand. I don’t believe it does. The old man is very obviously not a Southern Baptist, but an independent, a prophet in the true sense. The true prophet is inspired by the Holy Ghost, not necessarily by the dominant religion of his region. Further, the traditional Protestant bodies of the South are evaporating into secularism and respectability and are being replaced on the grass roots level by all sorts of strange sects that bear not much resemblance to traditional Protestantism—Jehovah’s Witnesses, snake-handlers, Free Thinking Christians, Independent Prophets, the swindlers, the mad, and sometimes the genuinely inspired. A character has to be true to his own nature and I think the old man is that. He was a prophet, not a church-member. As a prophet, he has to be a natural Catholic. Hawthorne said he didn’t write novels, he wrote romances; I am one of his descendants.”

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End of Political Legitimacy in America

In political science, legitimacy is the right and acceptance of an authority, usually a governing law or a régime. Whereas “authority” denotes a specific position in an established government, the term “legitimacy” denotes a system of government — wherein “government” denotes “sphere of influence”. An authority viewed as legitimate often has the right and justification to exercise power. Political legitimacy is considered a basic condition for governing, without which a government will suffer legislative deadlock(s) and collapse.

We’ve come to that point of legislative deadlock during this administration and the forecast is uncertain. Now of course the sudden collapse of legitimacy has been long in preparing. Just as a singer or writer who becomes an overnight success normally gets there after many years of hard work, the implosion of a system of government normally follows many years of bad decisions and unheeded warnings, and it’s not too hard in retrospect to trace how simmering unrest with our American political process will eventually rise to a full boil in the near term future.

As Greer says, “We have seen plenty of equally tawdry scandals in the United States of late, and it’s easy to ignore the impact of, let’s say, the Obama administration’s systematic refusal to bring charges against any of the financiers whose spectacularly blatant acts of fraud helped fuel, and then pop, the housing bubble of a few years back. Had Obama acted otherwise, the Democratic party would likely have come to dominate the American political scene for the next forty years as thoroughly as it did for the four decades or so after 1932; instead, by giving the country a remarkably good idea of what third and fourth terms of George W. Bush would have looked like, the Obama administration has convinced a sizable fraction of Americans that they have nothing to hope for from either party.”1

It’s this loss of faith in the Party system itself that is at the heart of our current malaise. No one trusts either party to work for the people. Both parties seem closed off in their own ghostspeak tunnel-vision worlds, their corporate funding, think tanks, intellectuals, and media pundits completely out of touch with the vast majority of constituents.

In the crisis of legitimacy that’s building in today’s America, a rising spiral of conflicts between regions also plays an important role, but this time the federal government can hardly count on the passionate loyalty it got a century and a half ago from the Northeast and the Midwest; in fact, it’s hard to think of any corner of the country where distrust and disaffection for the current government haven’t put down deep roots already.

If and when the crisis comes, it’s anyone’s guess what exactly will happen, but the possibility that the states will call on their power to redefine the Constitution — whether they use it to reshape the national government, or to let the country split apart into smaller nations along regional lines — belongs somewhere on the list of potential outcomes. For that matter, it’s anyone’s guess what will spark such a crisis, if in fact one does come. The triggering event might be political, or economic, or even environmental. (Greer, pp. 103-104)

  1. Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (pp. 99-100). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Politics of Division

Contrast this to the unashamed recommendations of the mindless that are offered to us every day. In place of honest disputation we are offered platitudes about “healing.” The idea of “unity” is granted huge privileges over any notion of “division” or, worse, “divisiveness.” I cringe every time I hear denunciations of “the politics of division”—as if politics was not division by definition.

—Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian 

The Posthuman Disconnection

The battle between myth and reason begins in an understanding of techné – art, skill, rhetoric, and memory, etc., as opposed to Plato’s early digitalization (binarization), and cutting of the ties between techné and Form. For Plato’s war against the Sophists was that between mythic transmission based on myth as cultural memory, and that of reason and the external hyperworld of Forms-Ideas. For Plato this fixed external hyperworld of Forms-Ideas acts in much the same fashion as our computational worlds of inscription that we rely on everyday: the computer. For most of us memory is no longer relevant in the sense that we use recall and programmatic search algorithms to instantaneously produce the knowledge we need for a task through selection, analysis, filtering, collating, indexing, etc.. We become enamored of these external devices to do the work for us as if “magically”.

Of course Plato would use terms such as anamnesis against techné to elaborate a metaphysics of reincarnation, soul transmission, et. al. – a new mythology of deep memory recall from the transcendental realm or true world as opposed to our illusionary world of time, etc. In this way Plato opened up a backdoor for myth into philosophy. Aristotle would go another path…

Ancient humans had no such luxury. Anthropologists studying indigenous cultures, as well as philosophers discovering the battle between writing and memory (i.e., Derrida, Stiegler, etc.) agree that ancient humans relied on prodigious feats of memory and mimetic systems to store vast quantities of data about the collective systems of their respective communities in the internal device we know as the brain. Many such as the aborigines of Australia would map this information onto the natural world environment as “songlines”, others such as the ancient Celts of Ireland and Wales mapped memory into Tree systems and mimetic recitation of vast stores of poems as cultural transmission. In Medieval memory systems of Ramon Lull and others a system of “Ars Memorativa” which is also often translated as “art of memory” although its more literal meaning is “Memorative Art” was developed. It is sometimes referred to as mnemotechnics, too.

Against this ancient tradition of mnemotechnics modern thinkers would reverse the place of technics and develop theories of originary technicity in which techné not memory invents-conditions the human. As one turns to contemporary thought we discover Bernard Stiegler who argues that what Heidegger disavows in Being and Time is the technical constitution of temporality. There can be no access to the past, no anticipation of the future without technical objects. Developing the Derridean thought of originary technicity as well as insights in recent paleontology, Stiegler convincingly shows that technical objects constitute the very process of Dasein’s experiencing of time, that is, of remembering and anticipating. Without memory support systems – from a tool to a digitalized archive – there would be no experience of the past and nothing from which to ‘select’ in order to invent the future.

Jacob Hohwy (The Preditive Mind) and Andy Clark (Surfing Uncertainty) in their recent work on the predictive mind-brain take on this whole complex and update it into the auspices of the neurosciences showing just how interesting the evolutionary interactions between brain/environment have produced the intricate rules of prediction in uncertain data. As Hohwy puts it:

“The mind exists in prediction. Our perceptual experience of the world arises in our attempts at predicting our own current sensory input. This notion spreads to attention and agency. Perception, attention, and agency are three different ways of doing the same thing: accounting for sensory input as well as we can from inside the confines of the skull. We are good at this, mostly, but it is a precarious and fragile process because we are hostages to our prior beliefs, our noisy brains, the uncertain sensory deliverances from the world, and to the brain’s urge to rid itself efficiently of prediction error.

The mind is shaped by how we manage these predictive efforts. We continually need to adjust, regulate, and revisit the balances and checks on prediction. The way we do this determines how we bind sensory attributes and how much our preconceptions can penetrate experience; more chronic, systematic failures to manage prediction can tip us into mental illness.

The predictive mind has extreme explanatory reach. Conscious unity, emotion, self, and introspection can all seemingly be brought under the prediction error minimization mechanism that maintains and shapes the mind. With this mechanism we can see ourselves as mere cogs in nature’s causal machinery and also as mental islands set over against the world, which is hidden behind the veil of sensory input.”

Our minds function on several phylogenetically new representational planes, none of which are available to animals. We act in cognitive collectivities, in symbiosis with external memory systems (i.e., books, computers, media, etc.). As we develop new external symbolic configurations and modalities, we reconfigure our own mental architecture in nontrivial ways.

Whereas we once were locked into a brain / environmental system of survival and sex within a natural world, we are more and more beginning to disconnect from this ancient system and re-ontologize ourselves and environment as an artificial world. In this sense the so called Infosphere, the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations, is becoming our world. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.1

As the Internet of Things becomes over the next few generations an almost invisible background to everyday life, and the informational entities that exist in these external environments take on more active participation in our lives we will for all intents and purposes live in an animated technological systems. As this happens the intelligent environments of the future will become predictive, become anticipatory and develop almost sentient powers of material intelligence as the power of deep learning algorithms and AGI technologies become embedded into everyday objects surrounding us. As Floridi put it,

The infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely ‘material’ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the infosphere. At the end of this shift, the infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being itself. We are modifying our everyday perspective on the ultimate nature of reality, from a materialist one, in which physical objects and processes play a key role, to an informational one. (10)

We’re turning the world outside-in creating the engines of intelligence that will re-write humanity in ways that cannot be foreseen or known. Such a future will be as David Roden suggests in his “disconnection thesis”: informally, the disconnection thesis proposes that posthumans would be cases of former Wide Humans becoming feral: becoming able to fulfil an independent career as an agent outside the human socio-technical assemblage WH.2 Or as he sums it up:

While the disconnection thesis makes no detailed claims about posthuman lives, it has implications for the complexity and power of posthumans and thus the significance of the differences they could generate. Posthuman entities would need to be powerful relative to WH (Wide Humanity: “Whereas narrow humanity can be identified, if we wish, with the biological species Homo sapiens, wide humanity is a technogenetic construction or “assemblage” with both narrowly human and narrowly nonhuman parts.” (110)) to become existentially independent of it (§ 6.1). The disconnection relation is thus multiply realizable by entities with, conceivably, very disparate natures. But since all these would be powerful enough to become “feral”, the majority of these would be hot cores of influence of a kind humans have not encountered before. (167)

This wilding of the human as “feral” possibility – a moving into something existing outside the current socio-cultural assemblage is realize it as an unknown unknown.  What we do know is that we are in our time, and have been since the Enlightenment and the rise of the Industrial Age, been undergoing modifications that have disconnected us from our roots in Agricultural Civilization. In this sense originary technicity which reverses the old notions that technology is a tool or prosthesis – an extension of the human mind, has now entered the stage in which we’ve become the tools-extensions of technics and technology which is more and more independent and autonomous of the human and rewiring what it means to be human – or, even posthuman. Technics is reinventing or revising human nature as it has been known from Plato to Derrida. We are being re-written, re-programmed, and re-engineered by these new ICT technologies to inhabit the artificial worlds of the Infosphere. How this will proceed is part of the task ahead of us…


  1. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 113). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Lucifer: Figure of the Rebel, Romantic, and Freedom Fighter


Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

 —John Milton – Paradise Lost 

As a rebel, antinomian, and dissenter – pretty much what a contrarian converges on, I’ve identified with Milton’s Satan as a figure of revolutionary spirit against political authoritarianism since my early twenties when I first listened to my old literary prof. Dr. Huff read John Milton’s Paradise Lost out loud in his deep baritone voice… the dramatic effect was stunning and brought the figures on the page alive! Sometimes listening, rather than reading can be not only enjoyable, but help those figures and tropes become real for one in ways that just reading cannot. When one sits and reads one has a tendency to stop so very often and try to imagine these creatures of words coming alive and walking across the gallery of one’s mind as if upon the stage of the world (or, at least I do!). Maybe this is the reason our Greek forbears used the stage to dramatize both tragic and comic affairs of the moment, because it gave one not only the rhetorical flourish of the text but the instantiation and realization of it in human and dramatic form.

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Hyperstition Notes: On Amy Ireland

Amy Ireland has taken up where the CCRU 90’s cyberpositive cultural remix left off, delving into the techno occulture of that era’s dark hyperstitions. In her latest essay on The Poememenon: Form as Occult Technology she explores the diagrammatic production of thought as hyperstitional invocation. Of course in my own research it is in the work of Félix Guattari that this a-signifying production of thought will have its revisioning origins within those singular and plural texts both private and combined with those of Gilles Deleuze from Anti-Oedipus onward until his untimely death. In Amy’s rendition she charts the realms defined and explored by the CCRU Unit and the modernity influx of literature, philosophy, and the occulture of this strange world.

Before exploring Amy’s essay let’s delve into the diagrammatic thought of Guattari. The concept of the diagram appears in A Thousand Plateaus (ATP 141- 144 ,531 n. 41/176-1 80, 177 n. 3 8), but the details of its development are found in Guattari’s writings of the 1970s. The notion was adapted from Charles Sanders Peirce, who includes the diagram among the icons in his index-icon-symbol model of the sign. Peirce identifies three types of icon: image, metaphor, and diagram. For him, the icon operates through a relation of resemblance between the sign and its referent. Guattari would agree that the image and the metaphor signify through resemblance, which is to say representation, but his version of the diagram functions differently because as he defines it, the diagram does not signify; it is “a-signifying”.1

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The Art of Challenging Idiocracy

It is not enough simply to set oneself up as a person who distrusts majority taste as a matter of principle or perhaps conceit; that way lies snobbery and frigidity. However, it will very often be found that people are highly attached to illusions or prejudices, and are not just the sullen victims of dogma or orthodoxy. If you have ever argued with a religious devotee, for example, you will have noticed that his self-esteem and pride are involved in the dispute and that you are asking him to give up something more than a point in argument. The same is true of visceral patriots, and admirers of Plutocrats and idiocracy. Allegiance is a powerful force in human affairs; it will not do to treat someone as a mental serf if he is convinced that his thralldom is honorable and voluntary.

Contrarian That I Am

I’ve been a contrarian most of my life opposing stupidity, bigotry, racism, gender issues (under whatever banner), and oppression across the board never giving a shit who it was I was speaking against, but always specific and true to the people I sought to speak with not for, people who could not speak up for themselves and those who could. Having left university early on I lived in the streets, working odd-jobs throughout my young life from carpentry, cooking, mining, long shoreman, pipelines, etc. I needed to live among working class people. The notion of being an academic just seemed mad to me during the sixties. Maybe it was the dissenter in me, since I’d early on turned against my forbears faith having realized that for the most part it seemed a collective fantasy that instilled fear and terror in the hearts of its members rather than peace and freedom, justice and equanimity.

Most of all was this deep knowing that I must go my own way, contrary to all that was dear to my people, and against the powers of church, state, and history. Something was driving to understand and know what it is that makes us so fucked up. Maybe that’s been my mission all along, to understand why humanity – this animal of planet earth is the only animal who could not accept its place in the order of things. We’ve always sought more, something else, to transcend our place in the natural order.

The love of my life died in 89′. She was truly my helpmeet, as I was hers. Yet, she had that independent spirit of her people, the Lakota (Oglala Sioux). She was an activist within her own community helping women to not only survive but to thrive and educate themselves, overcome much of the crap that had forced her people onto reservations and allowed them to become passive recipients of alcohol and government checks. She’d been raped when a young girl by many of her own kin, something that took her years to overcome (if she ever did). I stood by her at every point of her life, as she did mine. Maybe it’s this that most irks me when someone attributes to my stance the label misogynist from statements on FB.

Sadly, we live in a moment when feminism seems to have become something other than it once was during the sixties, seventies and eighties… something I have a difficulty sometimes recognizing. Maybe it’s this same feeling that goes for the Party I once actually fought for, the Democrats. They too have changed, and not for the better. There’s a stench of religious orthodoxy in the land, not of Christian but of Secularism; and, not the variety I live, atheism with a Marxist heritage. It’s something else… moneyed and power based, a shadow world of shifting alliances, warring groups, and anathema. If one does not speak the language of the in group or hold the value systems of its orthodoxy then one is labeled this or that… accused, and pronounced guilty before one has a chance to defend oneself.

As an outsider it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter at all, as a contrarian I’ve always adjusted to the doggedness of oppositional thinking blasting any and all who were failing the test of dissidence, whether of the Right or Left it does not matter. No longer affiliated to the political I can stand outside its fractious squabbles and bickering’s, saying plainly what is on my mind. Both the Left and Right have become puppets of ideologies that subvert any actual communication. It’s just that in our time one does not know anymore who one’s friends are nor who one’s enemies have become. Sometimes I think the poles are reversing as in the I Ching, slipping from male to female and back again: a rotary world of energetic powers and dispositions unleashing strange new zones of being. Things have become topsy-turvy and chaotic, the extremes meeting in unlikely zones of affiliation and disaffiliation.

Having been part of the sixties generation my thought and philosophy are no longer it seems acceptable in some quarters. So be it. I suppose it’s a phase shift in thought, value, and our mode of being in the world. Being pragmatic about it I shall as always adapt, and yet continue to be the oppositional contrarian I’ve always been. What else could I be?

As Christopher Hitchens in his Letters to a Young Contrarian put it: “To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.”1

  1. Hitchens, Christopher. Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) (p. 12). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

The Apocalypse Happened Yesterday

Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I dont want to confront him. I know he’s real. I have seen his work.

—Cormac McCarthy,  No Country For Old Men 

We are living in a horror novel. Humanity scripts the world in dark enchantments, satisfied that it can outlast the apocalypse it has deigned to engender. Sadly, I don’t see humans gathering the gumption to act or do or become unified in any collective multiplicity to move against or resist this terror it is unleashing moment by moment. Ahead of us is an abyss of freedom from which we will not emerge till it is already past us, and then we will only awaken into death because the event has forced us to act – though it be only to open our eyes for the first and last time. Look at the EU underpeople under austerity and enforced enslavement, already victims of wars they did not seek and migrations they did not ask for they have been forced into enclaves of fear against themselves by powerless leaders and economic kingpins whose impersonal and indifferent gaze marks death upon the earth.

Each day the caged empire of man falls victim to its own success. We who are the end product of evolutionary parasites from the alien hinterlands of some anthropogenic slime pond have lost touch with the haptic worlds of our ancestral paradise, and are now recreating it in the re-ontologization of our artificial worlds of information and mental aberrations. Bound on the one side by an mind-independent realm of which we cannot know or have direct access, we living in that intermediary zone of imaginal depletion where thought and being no longer touch but yield each to the inner necessity of that darkness both within and without. Darkness is the victor.

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

—T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

In the old days their was at least the semblance that one’s leaders could do something, now the simulacrum has taken off its mask and the truth revealed is the ghost of democracy – the hollow men who feed off their own kind in Belgium and Switzerland under the BIS Central Bank of Central Banks. Economics divorced from politics rules absolutely, and no singular nation is absolved of the crimes of its .01%. England like the island state it is believes it will escape, and can exit such a death world of killing fields… will it? It seems to be falling into its own abyss, self-made…

The drab-suited men from the settlement, thin faces hidden under their black caps, … numbed expressions of a group of lost whaling men too exhausted by some private tragedy to rope in this stranded catch.

—J. G. Ballard, The Drought

America plays tidily-winks with populist fire and the populace deluded into believing its lies is now seeing the force of the duopoly coalitions of false democracy: corporate controlled democrats/republicans band to together against this populist authority. Democracy’s death-knell is everywhere…

Trump is simply the most visible and vocal member of a fractured party made up of frightened Americans, religious fundamentalists, and self-serving economic extremists who believe that the market should arbitrate and dominate all aspects of government and society. Trump represents a new form of social disorder— intolerant, authoritarian, and violent— that sees preventable inequality as part of the natural order of things. Guns, walls, laws, surveillance, prisons, media, and wars are there to serve the interest of the wealthy winners, and to keep the rest of the population in check. Bankers who commit theft, fraud, and acts of economic mass destruction never feel the cold steel of handcuffs tighten on their wrists. Corporate suspects never get shot down accidently in the streets, as do unarmed Blacks, by white cops who feel threatened by skin color. Trump’s rise reinforces these injustices and gives anxious whites a boastful businessman and TV celebrity to rule as their strongman.

The NRx and alt-right celebrate the Moldbug variations, a patchwork society that is all “exit,” no “voice”:

The basic idea of Patchwork is that, as the crappy governments we inherited from history are smashed, they should be replaced by a global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation without regard to the residents’ opinions. If residents don’t like their government, they can and should move. The design is all “exit,” no “voice.”

More like Richard K. Morgan’s Market Forces we seem caught in-between Mad Max and Rollerball:

“Human beings have been fighting wars as long as history recalls. It is in our nature, it is in our genes. In the last half of the last century the peacemakers, the governments of this world, did not end war. They simply managed it, and they managed it badly. They poured money without thought of return into conflicts and guerrilla armies abroad, and then into tortuous peace processes that more often than not left the situation no better. They were partisan, dogmatic, and inefficient. Billions wasted in poorly assessed wars that no sane investor would have looked at twice. Huge, unwieldy national armies and clumsy international alliances, in short a huge public sector drain on our economic systems. Hundreds of thousands of young people killed in parts of the world they could not even pronounce properly. Decisions based on political dogma and doctrine alone. Well, this model is no more.”

In books such as The Puritan Origins of the American Self and The American Jeremiad, Sacvan Bercovitch demonstrates that it was more the rhetoric of the Puritans than the specific content of their ideas that created the American ideology, amounting to a single comprehensive vision—a mythology, in a word. The language used invested America with a sacred history, in which the land was analogous to Canaan, and the Puritan settlers to the ancient Hebrews who crossed the river Jordan. America would be God’s New Israel, or New Jerusalem. It was essentially, observes the historian David Harlan, a “theocratic prophecy.” Thus Cotton Mather wrote that the salvation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the salvation of the individual American soul. The American, says Bercovitch, “had to justify himself by justifying America,” and therefore “To be an American is to assume a prophetic identity.”

Underlying this myth of American exceptionalism is two thousand years of Christian history. During the 19th Century many literary and philosophical members of the east coast elites would sponsor the notion of America as the new found land, the paradise in the wilderness, the site for a New Adam in the Morning arising. Then would come manifest destiny – an engine of exploitation, pillage, conquest, across the nation depopulating what had been for ten thousand years the homeland of Native and Indigenous tribal peoples. We’d brought our germs, our guns, our ancestral warlike powers to bare upon a world we believed was destined as the exception. A sweet lie we’ve allowed ourselves in the face of death and murder against those who did not cherish our absurd dreams and nightmares.

But we’re not alone in this grand narrative of destruction… there are others…

India under Modi government is absolute chaos and ethnic-cleansing fascism… China is an absolute machine, populating the neoright of its own populace with noise of the hinterlands of Western decadence and demise… Russia fueled by the dreams of Dugin’s glorious madness seeks to once again conquer the Eurasian plateaus like the ancient Kurgan peoples of long ago… Africa is a cannibal eating her children… South America in Venezuela and probably other states is falling into blood-fest rituals of violence and horror…

The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what looked like eternity in all directions. It was white and blinding and waterless and without feature save for the faint, cloudy haze of the mountains which sketched themselves on the horizon and the devil-grass which brought sweet dreams, nightmares, death. 

—Stephen King. The Gunslinger 

The apocalypse happened yesterday but we still envision paradise… and, to top it off we have climacteric, AI/Robotics, and almost any of 12 various natural cataclysms that scientists bring within probable happening… Prospects for life on planet earth surviving the next hundred years is like our elites, .01%. … Of course, I agree with you that even if this is true we must still ACT NOW: do something to awaken the sleepers from their apathetic trance… my hope is not in humanity – but, rather, in the inhuman within them. Does that make me an optimist or realist?

For what you have brought into the world may be utterly alien, it may share none of your desires or hopes, it may look upon your greatest achievements as childish toys…

—Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End

Like cyborgian angels we cringe at the thought of relinquishing command and control of earth to machines, and yet the latest truth emerging is that we were never human to begin with. We who have constructed such fantastic worlds have been but the breath of changelings, the transitional phase shift of technical objects that both invented us and are now replacing us. The world is on fire but we cannot believe it, but deny it or blame this or that or the other rather than face it… like secular automatons we continue to work, slave, thrive in the interstices of silences where noise is but a distraction. Not to be bothered by the large picture we’ve subtracted ourselves from the planetary mind-hive thinking we can regain sanity, but instead we plunder the mythologies of past worlds like tribeless squanderers of 10,000 years of lost lessons… doomed to suffer a terrible awakening we strive to hide away in our deluded systems of delirium. When the bubble of madness bursts – and, it will – we will not be prepared to face the enemy, because it is ourselves.

  1. Giroux, Henry A.. America at War with Itself (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 493-500). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  2. Morgan, Richard K.. Market Forces (p. 28). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  3. Berman, Morris. Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline (Kindle Locations 3706-3713). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.

Decline and Fall of the Global Empire of Progress

Montesquieu would be one of the first but not last theoreticians of decline and fall into decadence and decay of modern progressive society. For Montesquieu, the slow disintegration of the Roman Empire was not to be seen as a series of unhappy accidents, but as the inevitable unfolding of a pattern governed by a quasi-scientific law. Rome, it was henceforth accepted, had fallen because all empires must fall, and the map of that fall – which was also to serve as an explanation – was to be found in its décadence: in the simultaneous rotting of its cultural life and its military might.

In this sense we’ve seen in our time the end of the universalist pretentions of the Enlightenment Era and its primary ideal of Social Progress. Instead we’ve seen the slow decay and decadence of modern societies and cultures of the European and American enclaves begin to fragment and lose control in a world that teeters on the edge of economic, political, military, climacteric and pathological collapse and decay. Ours is the age of disintegration in which it is no longer a threat of the barbarians without but of those within the very sanctity of our fraying socious who are tearing the social body into a million shreds. Ours is a sociopathic society that has entered the last stages of sclerosis, the cancer is everywhere and like the zombies of George Romero’s classic film we are feeding off the last vestiges of this ancient body like mindless appetites gone bunkoes. A culture of distraction, entertainment, and Reality TV. A narcissistic culture that explores the egoist limits of its decadent superficialness in the extreme mode of Selfies that collapse body into digital hives, a mirrored complex of endless clones and avatars running rampant in the anon world of farcical trolldom.

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Imaginative Literature and Aesthetic Style

At the core of style is not only a mastery of language, but the deeper and more subtle appreciation of those dark contours of the affective heart, the powers and dispositions of the depths and hinterlands of psyche that intellect and reason disdain to accept within their dire and sparkling regions. And, yet, it is the subtle gradients of emotive worlds, the inscapes of thought resounding instinctual longings and fears, dread and terror that awaken us from the cage of time and give us back again that ancient power of desire that seeks not only solace in each other but the capacity to revolt against the spell of death as civilization confines us within the precincts of its reasonable obsolescence. Imaginative literature has one goal, to awaken us to alternatives, to visions of other realms and dimensions, unexplored possibilities and uncharted regions of the impossible. It forces us to challenge the status quo, to rebel against the staid messages of the media tyrants who would keep you in the iron prison of this fixed moment, tied to the chains of capitalist necessity like gold fish in a bowl repeating only the gestures of an insane world or pure repetition.

C.L. Moore along with Clark Ashton Smith were two of the underappreciated stylists of the twentieth century. Both followed the patterns of decadence and symbolist literature, and both dabbled in the speculative fantasy of pulp worlds, and yet they above all gave us that liquid speed of rhetoric that sounds a certain outer aspect of things unbidden. As one critic reminds us these two who followed both Baudelaire and Poe, who nourished themselves on the Symbolist critique of culture, whom criticism itself, however, has superciliously refused to admit to what goes by the name of the canon. “It is a pity, because Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961) and Catherine Louise Moore (1911 – 1987), despite having published most of their work in the lurid pulp monthly Weird Tales, were incisive observers of social conditions and civilizational trends; they were also accomplished stylists, worthy of their precursor-models, Poe and Baudelaire. By including them under the rubric of “the bohemian theory of decadence,” the discussion honors the Baudelairean spirit, which disdains to confine itself in vetted precincts, or to despise what correctness disdains, preferring rather to find truth where it is.” 1

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On Ressentiment: The Post-Liberal Blues?

Why so much ressentiment? I sometimes think the Left has forgotten it was once strong rather than weak, and has in this age of fragmentation become both stultifying and resentful. Are we seeing the End Game of Liberalism playing out? Is this the death of politics and democracy?

As Kierkegaard long ago said:

“The ressentiment which is establishing itself is the process of leveling, and while a passionate age storms ahead setting up new things and tearing down old, raising and demolishing as it goes, a reflective and passionless age does exactly the contrary; it hinders and stifles all action; it levels. Leveling is a silent, mathematical, and abstract occupation which shuns upheavals. In a burst of momentary enthusiasm people might, in their despondency, even long for a misfortune in order to feel the powers of life, but the apathy which follows is no more helped by a disturbance than an engineer leveling a piece of land.”

—Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age

Nietzsche would put it in much harsher terms:

“It is not surprising that the lambs should bear a grudge against the great birds of prey, but that is no reason for blaming the great birds of prey for taking the little lambs. And when the lambs say among themselves, “These birds of prey are evil, and he who least resembles a bird of prey, who is rather its opposite, a lamb,—should he not be good?” then there is nothing to carp with in this ideal’s establishment, though the birds of prey may regard it a little mockingly, and maybe say to themselves, “We bear no grudge against them, these good lambs, we even love them: nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality

Haven’t we seen this of the Left since the Fall of Communism? Despair, defeatism, victimization… lashing out, envious, jealous, raging… a sense of futility and apathy? Reflective, passionless… the endless dialogues, speeches, conferences, journals, books: a parade of thought rather than action, a world bereft of change and yet circling round and round the reflections of an empty void, a self-reflecting nothingness (Zizek)?

According to Kierkegaard, ressentiment occurs in a “reflective, passionless age”, in which the populace stifles creativity and passion in passionate individuals. Kierkegaard argues that individuals who do not conform to the masses are made scapegoats and objects of ridicule by the masses, in order to maintain status quo and to instill into the masses their own sense of superiority.

According to Nietzsche, the more a person is active, strong-willed, and dynamic, the less place and time is left for contemplating all that is done to them, and their reactions (like imagining they are actually better) become less compulsive. The reaction of a strong-willed person, when it happens, is ideally a short action: it is not a prolonged filling of their intellect.

So many Leftist journals and in-groups have for a while now undermined their own message, derided those within their own cadre. Are we playing an end game of decadence, here? All democrats in the supposed media zoo can do is resent Trump, rather than speak to the urgent needs of rebuilding the Party. To me this shows that the Party is over, done, caput… maybe, as I’ve surmised for a while both politics and democracy are over. If so, what next?

Peter Sloterdijk on Political Gnosis

Adorno’s critical ontology describes the world’s surface as a total trap. Over wide stretches his text reads like a set of instructions for interpreting Being-in-the-world as an absurd pre-trial detention. There seems to be a compulsion for repetition in his thought that, in the most varied social and historical conditions, stereotypically reformulates the dramatic schema of imprisonment and the dream of breaking out.

A primal scene from the text of the older Critical Theory stands out, which in important features resembles the Gnostic mythos: the condition of the individual in historical class societies, whether these are constituted in ancient or modern, bourgeois-democratic or totalitarian terms, is akin to an extramundane soul that has been thrown into the prison of the world and is so out of it that it no longer knows how to say who and where it really is. The only thing certain for this soul is that its place of sojourn fundamentally alienates it. This certainty is as stark as the evidence that the soul in world-exile feels condemned to long for something ‘that would be otherwise.’ But while the Gnosticism of late antiquity, by means of a grand narrative to answer the questions “who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth,” trusted itself to develop interpretations of the fall into misfortune and ascetic practices for returning home to euphoria, modern Paragnosticism is content to invoke ever anew the gloom of the world scene, while views of lost and hoped-for happiness are only allowed to be painted in black. They depict an image of grandiose austerity, “grey as after sunset and the end of the world,” ruled by modern archons, by evil administrators of the lifeless world: abstraction of exchange, tyranny, bourgeois coldness.

—Peter Sloterdijk, Not Saved

Think of Franz Kafka’s The Castle set in the modern megalopolis of New York City. Are Richard K. Morgan’s Market Forces described by Steven Shaviro as an “exemplary accelerationist fiction”.1 In such a world the corporations now rule an absolute economy in which the “majority of the population lives in violence-ridden squalor behind barbed-wire fences, sequestered in “cordoned zones.” Meanwhile, members of the corporate elite – the only people still able to afford automobiles and gasoline – compete for contracts and promotions through Mad Max – style road rage duels to the death.

  1. Shaviro, Steven. No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism.  Univ Of Minnesota Press (January 30, 2015)

Origins of the Liberal Imaginary?

Liberal democracy without the liberal subject seems to be mute at this point. From Rousseau to Mill the fundamental aspects of classical liberal democracy was based on a well-defined sense of Self-Subject with a definite implication toward the voluntarist traditions of Will over Intellect, etc. And yet in the past forty years with the rise of postmodern and analytic thought the notion of Self-Subject has come not only under attack, been undermined, but has now in most current neurosciences collapsed into fiction, parody, and nullity: an empty void of self-reflecting nothingness, a hole or aporia in the center of our inhuman being. So if the Self-Subject no longer exists, if free-will is a fiction, what of Democracy? We seem to continue to believe in it although the basic and central fact that it supports – the modern liberal Subject has disappeared. So what of democracy itself?411oSgmk9kL

Of late been finally getting round to Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. One could say the whole war between Universalists vs. Nominalists, Rationalists vs. Empiricists, Intellect vs. Will etc., all this began in the Western traditions with the concern over the fate of the Soul in Christian thought. From Augustine to Kant the battle from one to the other, Intellect over Will, Will over Intellect was fought for the mind and heart of Christendom. With the slow death of both the philosopher’s God (Nietzsche) and it’s variant in Platonic, Neo-Platonic, and orthodox theologies and mysticisms caught between apophatic darkness and the illuminationist light the notion of the individual as Self-Subject has undergone its apotheosis and in our time decline and disappearance in thought. Why?

Ghosts of the Unknown

“At a speaker series event in the department where I teach, a guest medievalist gave a talk on troubadour songs. She sang a few examples and pointed out intricacies of rhyme and ambiguities of meaning. And then she acknowledged a fact that often intimidates young musicologists away from medieval studies: troubadour notation does not indicate rhythm or duration, so it is impossible for us to know exactly how this music sounded, or as she put it, is supposed to sound. And this aporia meant that we could never argue for any connection between music and lyrics, nor for any musical as opposed to textual meaning. Troubadour songs, in other words, would remain unfathomable and unperceived, an ideal of music with no satisfying reality to anchor it.”

– Joanna Demers, Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World

The above is an example of a known unknown, of a reality that we know existed but is forever closed to us behind the material barriers of time and culture, and yet it haunts us like a broken world of dreams half-perceived – traces in the ruins of some dilapidated yet existent scene. We wander among these ruins seeking truth, finding only bones and silences. Maybe we should look upon our own moment this way, as if from some spectral future, a retroactive portrayal of the ruins of time awaiting us as the catastrophe of our species’ demise becomes more and more prevalent; as the sixth extinction that we love to portray as only those others, the animals and insects, forests, vines, flowers all fade into oblivion. Like members of a blind tribe we cast our eyes into the darkness seeking solace and find none, only the fierce cries of banshee like creatures of the night and void castigating us from some imagined future, our children, and children’s children staring back at us from that void of time in the hollow-laden void of their blackened eyes as they condemn us for our inability to act.

Those on the Right will continue to deny such apocalyptic climacteric change ahead, while those on the Left will shout and speak and threaten but do nothing more. We seem like the ruination of those last men that Nietzsche once spoke of with such astute and prophetic understanding, the decadent tribe who at the end of things would even deny their own obsolescence. Apathy, indecisiveness, inaction… the passive betrayal of our own species. The decadence of blind luxuriance and immeasurable sinking’s into death’s last fold. Nihilism was nothing but this denial of the truth, this denial of reality. We’ve lived in our fictional worlds, created fantastic zones of oblivion to hide our unimaginations in. Like children in a garden we’ve scattered the seeds of the Tree of Life and chopped down its branches and dug up its roots, burned it on the pyre of ancient memories. Nothing remains. Not even the memories…

Like those medieval trouvères we sing but no one can hear us… our tongues, like dark angels deliver only the silences of our kind.

Shaviro On The Neoliberal Strategy: Transgression and Accelerationist Aesthetics

The deadlock of accelerationism as a political strategy has much to do with the aesthetic failure of transgression. They are really two sides of the same process. The acceleration of capitalism itself in the decades since 1980 has become a classic example of how we must be careful what we wish for— because we just might get it. As a result of the neoliberal “reforms” of the past thirty-five years or so, the full savagery of capitalism has been unleashed, no longer held back by the checks and balances of financial regulation and social welfare. At the same time, what Boltanski and Chiapello call the “new spirit of capitalism” successfully took up the subjective demands of the 1960s and 1970s and made them its own. Neoliberalism now offers us things like personal autonomy, sexual freedom, and individual “self-realization”; though of course, these often take on the sinister form of precarity, insecurity, and continual pressure to perform. Neoliberal capitalism today lures us with the prospect of living, in James’s words, “the most intense lives, lives of maximized (individual and social) investment and maximized return,” while at the same time it privatizes, expropriates, and extracts a surplus from everything in sight.

In other words, the problem with accelerationism as a political strategy has to do with the fact that— like it or not— we are all accelerationists now. It has become increasingly clear that crises and contradictions do not lead to the demise of capitalism. Rather, they actually work to promote and advance capitalism, by providing it with its fuel. Crises do not endanger the capitalist order; rather, they are occasions for the dramas of “creative destruction” by means of which, phoenix-like, capitalism repeatedly renews itself. We are all caught within this loop. And accelerationism in philosophy or political economy offers us, at best, an exacerbated awareness of how we are trapped.

Aesthetic accelerationism, unlike the politico-economic kind, does not claim any efficacy for its own operations. It revels in depicting situations where the worst depredations of capitalism have come to pass, and where people are not only unable to change things but are even unable to imagine trying to change things. This is capitalist realism in full effect. Aesthetic accelerationism does not even deny that its own intensities serve the aim of extracting surplus value and accumulating profit. The evident complicity and bad faith of these works, their reveling in the base passions that Nietzsche disdained, and their refusal to sustain outrage or claim the moral high ground: all these postures help to move us toward the disinterest and epiphenomenality of the aesthetic. So I don’t make any political claims for this sort of accelerationist art— indeed, I would undermine my whole argument were I to do so. But I do want to claim a certain aesthetic inefficacy for them— which is something that works of transgression and negativity cannot hope to attain today

—Steven Shaviro,  No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism


Lovecraft’s Aesthetic: Atmosphere, Sensation, and the Supernormal

One thing H.P. Lovecraft despised in authors of horror was “natural explanation” which he felt marred the atmosphere and the cosmic aesthetic. Speaking of “Monk” Lewis and his Gothic novel he’d say: “One great thing may be said of the author; that he never ruined his ghostly visions with a natural explanation.”

This sense that in the aesthetic of horror the mystery should never be reduced by some false scientific explanation is at the heart of Lovecraft’s fiction and critical appraisal in his Supernatural horror in Literature. The other aspect of a weird tale he insisted on was atmosphere and strong sensation: “Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation.” The importance of “atmosphere,” the cosmic point of view, the superiority of impressions and images over the “mere mechanics of plot”— this is Lovecraft’s core aesthetic, and has stood the test of time and has been little improved upon by subsequent scholarship. This is the core of that aesthetic of horror and the weird:

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain— a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.1

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Where is Wisdom to be Found?

…the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.


Am I a misanthropist? Not really, it’s not humanity I hate as much as it is certain idiots. After a life of reading and working through the gamut of our literary, philosophical, scientific, historical, and artistic milieu, our cultural heritage: this thing we call Western civilization for lack of a better term – I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all for naught, that most of the vast archive of textuallity in our libraries is plain bullshit, delusion, madness. I don’t mean it wasn’t worth it, but that for the most part this struggle of men and women across centuries, these cries to the void, or rants and railings against the stupidity of the age fell on ignorant and mindless beings. Why? Because the human species for the most part lives out their lives enfolded in ignorance, having never awakened to the messages left in the bottles of time and libraries. Most people if they read at all pick up an occasional magazine, cartoon, or – in our time, browse the image ridden web reading about current events: Hollywood stars, sports Moghuls, political malfeasance, trivia, the rants and cravings of … yes, creatures such as myself…  but they never – and, again, I say never will pick up a book and read it, and not only read it but work through it, listen, digest, contemplate, mulch over, speak to others about it, write about it, let it sink down and become a part of them… we are all an illiterate and mindless generation that get our brain food from the crumbs of culture rather than the dark hinterlands of true culture.

Admittedly, as much as I rail against humanism, I know in the end that I’m a product of it, that’ll I’ll never escape that fact, that it was those very humanists who encouraged me to read, to write, to think, to explore the vast world of learning. I have no actual quarrel with these men and women. How could I? They were just as deluded as I am in believing that knowledge was going to ultimately give them something back, that it would give them that ineluctable and indefinable essence of the philosophical holy grail: Wisdom. It want, it will only lead you up to that strange and bewildering height of the sublime and ridiculous where one can confront nothing more and nothing less than one’s own ignorance. For in the end it is not learning, no matter how deep and long one reads, that will give you wisdom. No. Wisdom is this impossible confrontation with the absolute however you define it: God, Void, Abyss…  the limit of thought, the horizon beyond which you must leave off human learning and enter into a deeper ignorance, awaken to powers within and without that will disturb you, frighten you, terrorize you, and give you the dark and painful truth: that human knowledge and learning will not give you the thing you seek, that your life, your love of books, of knowledge, of science, etc., is but the ashes of a dead world on the edge of nothingness. Human kind will one day disappear, vanish into that evolutionary slime pit from which it once arose never to be seen or heard from again, and all our vane struggle to attain knowledge and wisdom will disappear with us. Nothing will remain. That is wisdom, the harsh truth we are gifted with, the terrible responsibility of life, of death:

Nothing in this universe returns. Only endless death and silence, the wastelands of the void, the eternal darkness of scattered light… the cold and unending vectors of an Abyss – a black hole at the very core of this mindless rage where light turns night and the decay of stars gives way to the great emptiness

Wisdom literature has always been harsh for a reason… Koheleth, the Gatherer, of the Old Testament was probably the boldest and still primal wisdom writer, and gave us in the end the first hint of nihilism in literature, of a world without salvation, redemption, God, etc. A world in which wisdom was in fact accepting the determinism of the cosmos over which none of us has any control or mastery; and our misery and despair come from not accepting this fact – but, instead, seeking to control and master our fates as if we could.

The New Testament was bound to a quest for another type of Wisdom: the peace that passeth understanding. Ultimately that is the failure of intellect and an acceptance of the irrational fate that surrounds us on all sides. God, Christ, all this human crap and anthropomorphic shedding of tears, pity, etc. this personification of the impersonal and indifferent truth of the Absolute, the limit and boundary of our thought comes to this key truth: that we are blind and lost among delusions, that for all our knowledge we are still ignorant and bound by powers that we will never master or control. Some will despair, while others like Voltaire or Falstaff will produce wit and excess, grace and charm – the power of laughter in the face of the impossible. Bataille’s wisdom – the tears of laughter. Pain and suffering, misery and distemper prevail, yet the only antidote is laughter and wit – the twin powers that can push back the annihilating light if only for a moment.

As Plato through Socrates said long ago Wisdom, the Good Life, cannot be taught by way of technê (i.e., knowledge, craft, expertise, etc.), only by way of living and knowing (Sophia). For Plato, the Good was not merely an intellectual construct or ideal. It was something that could be experienced directly — and this experience was the highest attainment in life. He left us with some beautiful descriptions of this experience. Here, for example, is a passage from the Phaedo:

“But when returning into herself . . . [the soul] passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom. . . .

The soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable…”

This is Plato’s idealism, his seeking of a fixed, bounded, pure world of Ideas, etc.

Biblical wisdom was of another sort, Ethos rather than the Good: this sense of the lived experience of change rather than fixity, the wisdom in Koheleth or Ecclesiastes:

“Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.

Yet, in our age of nihilism, there is the aesthetic as Nietzsche would advocate: the ability to stylize our cosmic uncertainties, to produce an overall pattern to our meaningless existence, to give it a shape that is neither the Good of the Plato, nor the Ethos of Koheleth, but rather the martialing of the power of our non-knowing lived experience and intellect; neither binding us to some eternal world of verities (Plato), or to some ancient tradition of received wisdom (Ethos), but rather in process of lived uncertainty that everything is revisable (Scientia) in a chaotic chaosmos.

We Were Never Human

She met his eyes wide open, broad and inhuman, like the universal eyes of night, judging and damning her act, with remote absolute merciless comprehension. She was like a touched sleepwalker, unnerved and annihilated…

—Robinson Jeffers, Selected Poetry

In Jacques Derrida’s view, we live in a state of originary technicity. It is impossible to define the human as either a biological entity (a body or species) or a philosophical state (a soul, mind or consciousness), he argues, because our “nature” is constituted by a relation to technological prostheses. According to a logic that will be very familiar to readers of his work, technology is a supplement that exposes an originary lack within what should be the integrity or plenitude of the human being itself.1

Against the Lacanian-Derridean metaphysics of “lack” and supplement one would rather follow Deleuze and Guattari who see a fullness and productivity rather than lack that needs supplements at the core of the machinic multiplicity we term the human. (Should we finally rid ourselves of the name “human”? Have we ever been human?) Instead of the humanist and post-structural supplementarianism, let us decenter the human into the non-human, flatten the scales among various technics and technologies. Forget agency, self-reflexive voids, dialectical oscillations are any other derivative of the humanist idealisms of the past two-hundred years. Begin with the machinic as a multiplicity, a productive factory of technics and technologies that engender various technical objects (Simondon) of which we are one part of the machinic phylum.

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The Ruin

When the Earth was decentered from the universe by Copernican astronomy, this was more than compensated for by the innumerable images of the Earth produced over the years by artists and scientists alike. The Earth was, and is, in many ways, still at the center of things. In this sense, the first televised images of the Earth can no doubt be regarded as the pinnacle of a species solipsism, one that has its underside in the many computerized film images of a disaster-worn, zombie-ridden, apocalyptic landscape. We are so fixated on the Earth – that is, on ourselves – that we would rather have a ruined Earth than no Earth at all.

—Eugene Thacker, Starry Speculative Corpse: Horror of Philosophy: Vol 2

Let Death Come Quickly

From a series of tweets – A Dark Pessimist vs. an ultra-Optimist (A Daily Rant – BEWARE!):

We worry over Trump while the planet burns… is this not madness?

Humanity is a transitional thing… who wants to stay its execution. The guillotine is readying itself whether we will or no.

Think on a couple things: Sixth Extinction and Climacteric Collapse.

For decades we’ve hashed this over, and nothing yet has been learned. Not much hope that such will change as the future implodes on us… humans are slow learners, it takes an apocalyptic event to wake them…

That’s the problem: we’re human… study the atrocity of human history. Humans hate themselves, each other, and their planet… nothing will be done, nothing will change. One should assume the worst case scenario and begin making plans to leave the planet, else openly revolt against the insanity. There will be no third way, no third options… no saviors, redeemers… we are alone with the alone.

Fight or sink… no one is truly prepared to face the horror and violence ahead, we continue deliriously to play our blame games while the fires roar and seep into our moment from the future. Strip the Biblical Apocalypse of its supernatural veneer and then push it to the nth degree, then you might just come to a realization of our future…

Do I presume to prophesy? No. I only see the tendencies that surround me. One can continue blindly to sing the happy anthems of Optimism, but that to me is a fool’s errand. I’ll have none of it. I’ll speak the truth as I see it. If it’s an ugly truth, so be it. People can rail against me, but when the facts become plain in the future decades people will turn back and ask why we did nothing, nothing at all.

Talks, accords, speeches, book after book, conference after conference: and, yet, nothing is done; nations continue down their own paths of doom. So be it. Maybe this is what we truly want in the end: death by suicide, genocide, war, famine, disease, atrocity after atrocity, turning a blind eye to the horror of our kind, unwilling to admit that our planet is dying and we killed it. Forget God, its the earth that we’re killing in this century… we truly must have a thirst for annihilation.

Mark Fisher once termed it ‘depressive realism’, realizing one’s sanity amid the insanity of the world depends on exiting the madness. A depression is an opening into and out of that insanity, a slow and painful withdrawal and exit from the collective delirium. Once awakened one is like those ancient Gnostics: free – and, yet, it is the freedom of the singular truth that one is alone with the alone. Sundered from the apathy of our collective herd mentality, we walk amid the inscapes of sanity like members of a new tribe: brokers for a reality void of the terrible horror of humanity. To accept that as Nietzsche’s once suggested, that we are a bridge, a transition – is to become complicit with this fate, to love it: amor fati. To exit the human is to struggle for the post-human which entails sloughing off the dark heritage of the human collective and its deliriums.

But then again I should be like Joyce’s famed author, indifferent and withdrawn, paring my fingernails amused at the idiocy of homo sapiens, or like Nero playing a fiddle while Rome burns – allowing humans to do what they’ve always done best, deny their own responsibility in what is happening. Indifferent, impersonal, non-plussed at the stupidity of our kind. Like everything else we do we love to have some scapegoat to answer for our own sins of commission or omission… today its Trump, tomorrow or the next day it’ll be some other yokel… in the near future there will remain no time for blame, only death… let the death of our species come quickly.

Lovecraft and the Great Outside

Lovecraft and the Great Outside

Time produces itself in a circuit, passing through the virtual interruption of what is to come, in order that the future which arrives is already infected, populated…

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

As Eugene Thacker suggests Lovecraft not only sought to break down the barriers between the natural and supernatural, he saw what we’ve mistakenly confused with religious vision (i.e., the supernatural) as that hidden part of the natural (noumenal) that our brains because of some malformed evolutionary design blanked out, filtered out, and left in the dark:

“[Lovecraft] implicitly makes the argument that not only is there no distinction between the natural and supernatural, but that what we sloppily call “supernatural” is simply another kind of nature, but one that lies beyond human comprehension – not in a relative but in an absolute sense. Herein lies the basis of what Lovecraft called “cosmic horror” – the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hiddenness.”1

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Ballard’s World: Reactivation not Reaction

In the future – this is part of the problem in the ‘arts’ as well – you will get some radical new idea, but within three minutes it’s totally accepted, and it’s coming out in your local supermarket.

– J.G. Ballard

Ballard loved the surrealists, but discovered that we didn’t need to express the surreality of the world because it was already being done by consumer culture. For Ballard it was Warhol and Pop-Art that was the wave of the future, at least in the period he was writing Crash and Atrocity Exhibition. As he’d say:

“We haven’t changed. It’s the public who have caught up with us. In England in the sixties and seventies, the novel was secondary, far behind the visual arts as a purveyor of the imagination for a cultivated public. This latter group preferred then to interest themselves in pop art, in David Hockney or Andy Warhol. As far as fiction was concerned, television replaced it. …

The surrealists have been the biggest influence on me, because they anticipated by about fifty years the fact that the external environment can be remade by the mind and that this is the world we inhabit now, where external reality is a complete fiction in every conceivable way.”1

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The End of Work: Human Obsolescence and the Undead

Machinic Involution: Human Exclusion and Obsolescence

In our age non-humans rather than humanity has become the focus of certain trends within philosophy and the sciences. The age of human exceptionalism is at an end some tell us, others that humans were never exceptional to begin with rather they were the creatures who like Baron Munchausen believed their own fictional self-importance to the point that the fictions became truth. Jean Baudrillard in his cynical fashion once spoke of the obsolescence of art:  “Since the nineteenth century,” he writes, “it has been art’s claim that it is useless . . . Extending this principle, it is easy enough to elevate any object to uselessness to turn it into a work of art. This is precisely what the ‘ready-made’ does, when it simply withdraws an object from its function, without changing it in any way, and thereby turns it into a gallery piece.” In an automated society in which humans are being obsolesced and replaced by machininc intelligence and robotics in which humans themselves will become redundant, useless, and excluded will we be elevated to the function of “ready-mades” – artistic artifacts from a previous but now obsolete age of spare parts?

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Post-Prison Memories: The Hospital

A friend Tony Cochran shares his dire experiences in prison after being falsely accused…

Tony Robert Cochran

After being sexually assaulted by a cellmate, transferred from HMP Bedford to HMP Norwich to HMP Isis (inside Belmarsh’s wall), I collapsed physically and mentally. My diet, being largely vegan, had been insufficient. It is a struggle to maintain a vegetarian diet in prison, let alone veganism. Apples, oranges and the occasional soy yogurt were my daily bread for the first 60+ days. Once you arrive at a new prison you are moved at least twice before the administration “settles” you, and this is only if you have reached the terminus of your stay in Her Majesty’s care. This is most unsettling: imagine being chucked out of your house every couple of weeks, sent to a filthy place with shit on the walls, hair everywhere, and – if you’re extra lucky – blood stains on the walls, floors and sink!

344C032200000578-3594987-image-a-60_1463497014156 HMP Belmarsh & HMP Isis Image Courtesy of: The Daily…

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Abject Horror

There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced. Apprehensive, desire turns aside; sickened, it rejects. A certainty protects it from the shameful—a certainty of which it is proud holds on to it. But simultaneously, just the same, that impetus, that spasm, that leap is drawn toward an elsewhere as tempting as it is condemned. Unflaggingly, like an inescapable boomerang, a vortex of summons and repulsion places the one haunted by it literally beside himself.

When I am beset by abjection, the twisted braid of affects and thoughts I call by such a name does not have, properly speaking, a definable object. The abject is not an object facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor… an otherness ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire. What is abject is not my correlative, which, providing me with someone or something else as support, would allow me to be more or less detached and autonomous. … A weight of meaninglessness, about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of nonexistence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. There, abject and abjection are my safeguards. The primers of my culture.

—Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror

Cosmic Indifferentism

Lovecraft’s early work— up to 1926— is entirely routine and conventional, utilising supernatural or macabre elements with occasional competence but without transcendent brilliance. Nothing— not even “The Rats in the Walls” (1923), a model short story but really nothing more than a supremely able manipulation of Poe-like elements— could have prepared us for the quantum leap in power and range revealed suddenly in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926). All Lovecraft critics are right to see in this tale the commencement of Lovecraft’s strongest and most typical vein of writing; but they may be right for the wrong reasons. Yes, of course, this is where we are first given a glimpse of Lovecraft’s ever-evolving myth-cycle; but, more important, it is his first truly “cosmic” work and one in which many of his principal concerns— our position in the cosmos; the state of civilisation; the role of history in human and cosmic affairs— are adumbrated.

—S. T. Joshi, The Weird Tale

On Lovecraft’s cosmic indifferentism:

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. . . . To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown— the shadow-haunted Outside— we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold. (SL 2.150)

…there is another phase of cosmic phantasy (which may or may not include frank Yog-Sothothery) whose foundations appear to me as better grounded than those of ordinary oneiroscopy; personal limitation regarding the sense of outsideness. I refer to the aesthetic crystallisation of that burning & inextinguishable feeling of mixed wonder & oppression which the sensitive imagination experiences upon scaling itself & its restrictions against the vast & provocative abyss of the unknown. … The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, & matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality— when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible & mensurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt— as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity? (SL 3.294– 96)

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Disillusionment’s child is irreverence, and irreverence became one of my major heritages from an angry, irreverent generation. In this way, I have not changed. I am still irreverent. I still feel the same contempt for and still reject so-called objective decisions made without passion and anger. Objectivity, like the claim that one is nonpartisan or reasonable, is usually a defensive posture used by those who fear involvement in the passions, partisanships, conflicts, and changes that make up life; they fear life. An “objective” decision is generally lifeless. It is academic and the word “academic” is a synonym for irrelevant.

—Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals 


Is there a better sign of “civilization” than laconism? To stress, to explain, to prove—so many forms of vulgarity. Anyone who pretends to a minimum of tenue, far from fearing sterility must apply himself to it, must scuttle words in the name of the Word, must compound with silence, departing from it only by moments and the better to fall back into it. The maxim, however dubious it may be as a genre, nonetheless constitutes an exercise in modesty, since it permits us to wrest ourselves from the drawbacks of verbal plethora. Less demanding, because less condensed, the portrait is generally a sort of maxim, diluted in some cases, padded in others; yet it can, under exceptional circumstances, assume the rhythm of an exploded maxim, evoking infinity by the accumulation of features and the will to be exhaustive: we are then in the presence of a phenomenon without analogy, of a case, that of a writer who, by dint of feeling too confined in a language, transcends it and escapes from it—with all the words it contains . He does them violence, uproots them, takes them into himself, in order to do with them what seems best to himself without consideration for them or for the reader, upon whom he inflicts an unforgettable, a magnificent martyrdom.

—E. M. Cioran,  Drawn and Quartered 

Time’s Error

In order to grasp the essence of the historical process, or rather its lack of essence, we must acknowledge that all posthistorical truths are truths of error because they attribute a proper nature to what possesses nothing of the kind, a substance to what cannot have one. The theory of a double truth permits us to discern the place history occupies in the scale of unrealities, paradise of sleepwalkers, galloping obnubilation. The truth is, history does not quite lack essence, since it is the essence of deception, key to all that blinds us, all that helps us live in time.

 —E. M.  Cioran, Drawn and Quartered