The Outside That Will Not Think

This affords us a significant insight into the manic disposition: although the latter is invariably oriented toward excessive dealings, this excess can take the form of an overwhelming focus on the miniscule or the indistinct, the slenderest of turns, the slightest phenomenon rising over the hills, a breath of fugitive light that should not even be there.

—Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh, Omnicide

What if the maniacal nightmares of the barbarian are our own? The troglodytes at the gate: the self-effaced semblance of our own demented torments? What if we are the enemy we seek, the fetid death gods of some latter day replicant’s idea of eternal life? A hellish brood of rancorous wolves turned human to cannibalize the last vestiges of reality? Self and World merged as unified nightmares of a universe whose only goal is annihilation in the bonfire of an immaculate void? What if the first ape to gaze upon the Sun as something more than the sun died with that knowledge beyond knowledge rather than peering into his Eve like some ancient seafarer from the lost hinterlands of a forgotten cosmos? Would we have forgotten that the gods were mere reflections of our hatreds, cursed artifacts of our primal fears and anxieties? Or would we have invented out of the sublime hideousness of light a thought to end all thoughts, a pattern in the tremulous night between the stars and the emptiness surrounding them? Maybe it was the endless tracing of a dark vortex in the swirl of black light of a dead sun that first gave us the feeling of absolute despair, the moment when we realized that nothing can escape this deep pit of the vastation except the thought of a thought dying in the embers of a catastrophic creation. The death of the Universe is the creation of a thought beyond thought in a realm without an Outside to think it.

The Despair Beyond Despair: Soren Kierkegaard On The Sickness of the Self

If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?”

—Soren Kierkegaard, Fear & Trembling

Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death was one of those books I loved to hate in college, and yet it had this uncanny way of insinuating itself into one’s life like a nightmare that just want go away. Here’s Kierkegaard describing the very reason we despair:

“The reason for this is that to despair is a qualification of spirit and relates to the eternal in man. But he cannot rid himself of the eternal—no, never in all eternity. He cannot throw it away once and for all, nothing is more impossible; at any moment that he does not have it, he must have thrown it or is throwing it away—but it comes again, that is, every moment he is in despair he is bringing his despair upon himself. For despair is not attributable to the misrelation but to the relation that relates itself to itself. A person cannot rid himself of the relation to himself any more than he can rid himself of his self, which, after all, is one and the same thing, since the self is the relation to oneself.”

One almost thinks that Kierkegaard in seeking to rid himself of himself must’ve spiraled down into that sinkhole of absolute despair when he realized just how impossible it was, an impossibility he’d spend his entire writing life pursuing. It’s always amazing as I read these various histories of philosophy on pessimism, and not one of them ever mentions Kierkegaard. They assume that because he proclaims himself a Christian that he was, and therefore could not be a pessimist; and, yet, after a lifetime of reading him I’ve always seen his proclamations of being a Christian as a fiction he wanted to believe, but knew deep down he could never attain. (Kierkegaardian scholars will argue this point…). Not being either a philosopher nor scholar it doesn’t much matter to me what either say of him to me, being an autodidact I have learned from my own inheritance of close reading from Samuel Johnson and every literary critic worth his salt to follow my own nose in this matter.

Now we can return to Kierkegaard on the sickness from which there is no reprieve. Just listen,

the torment of despair is precisely this inability to die. Thus it has more in common with the situation of a mortally ill person when he lies struggling with death and yet cannot die. Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as if there were hope of life; no, the hopelessness is that there is not even the ultimate hope, death. When death is the greatest danger, we hope for life; but when we learn to know the even greater danger, we hope for death. When the danger is so great that death becomes the hope, then despair is the hopelessness of not even being able to die.

One imagines Nietzsche saying to himself if he’d ever read this passage (There’s no evidence that Nietzsche read Kierkegaard; the latter had not been translated into German. However, there is strong evidence that Nietzsche knew of Kierkegaard through the secondary literature; furthermore, Georges Brandes was a clear link between the two of them.). For Nietzsche the great horror was the very notion of an eternal return, a return to the same life lived over and over and over for eternity: amor fati.  As a heroic pessimist Nietzsche wanted to enforce this circular hopelessness as an ultimate form of bittersweet joy; a convoluted hope of the dammed. Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard attacked the earthly institutions of Christianity. Nietzsche would opt for a different savior: Dionysus vs. The Crucified. Kierkegaard affirmed a subjective Christ unlike any before or since: a sort of singular savior whose gospel was release from this terrible burden of eternal life. Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard saw consciousness itself as the horror or horrors.

Thomas Ligotti never mentions Kierkegaard in his non-fiction work on Pessimism The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. I’ve often wondered why this is. Rereading some to the notes by Matt Cardin on his own site, The Teeming Brain, I came across a post dealing with Kierkegaard in his blog archives: Today we “medicate” anxiety, but for Kierkegaard it was central to being human. In it he quotes philosopher Gordon Marino on Kierkegaard,

It was because of this virtuoso of the inner life that other members of the Socrates guild, such as Heidegger and Sartre, could begin to philosophize about angst. Though he was a genius of the intellectual high wire, Kierkegaard was a philosopher who wrote from experience. And that experience included considerable acquaintance with the chronic, disquieting feeling that something not so good was about to happen. In one journal entry, he wrote, “All existence makes me anxious, from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation; the whole thing is inexplicable, I most of all; to me all existence is infected, I most of all. My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in heaven, and he will not console me…”

This sense of being alone, solitary, cut off from others and living in a state of angst – an agitated consciousness of a horror one cannot know or see that is pervading one’s whole being from the Outside in, producing a feeling of apprehension and dread, nauseous and doom-ridden as if one were being strangled in a dark malaise. For Kierkegaard it was our very freedom that produced such anxiety, a sense of being alone and cut off from both God and Man. But what is this freedom but the knowledge and awareness of one’s self-relation, a self-relation to the nothingness of one’s self and God and Others. The circle of despair begins and ends in this self-relating nothingness that cannot escape the torments and anxiety of its own nihl. As Kierkegaard puts it:

…despair is veritably a self-consuming, but an impotent self-consuming that cannot do what it wants to do. What it wants to do is to consume itself, something it cannot do, and this impotence is a new form of self-consuming, in which despair is once again unable to do what it wants to do, to consume itself; this is an intensification, or the law of intensification. This is the provocativeness or the cold fire in despair, this gnawing that burrows deeper and deeper in impotent self-consuming. The inability of despair to consume him is so remote from being any kind of comfort to the person in despair that it is the very opposite. This comfort is precisely the torment, is precisely what keeps the gnawing alive and keeps life in the gnawing, for it is precisely over this that he despairs (not as having despaired): that he cannot consume himself, cannot get rid of himself, cannot reduce himself to nothing. This is the formula for despair raised to a higher power, the rising fever in this sickness of the self.

 

My latest Comic-Horror Short Story Published in The Siren’s Call

Capture

My latest comic-horror story just published in The Siren’s Call: The Immortalist

You can download (free!) the ezine version from the site with some other great authors as well. The 45th issue of The Sirens Call eZine features eighty pieces of dark fiction and horror prose from seventy different authors and poets. It also features an interview with, and twelve monster/creature images by, our featured artist, NOISTROMO. This month’s spot-light author, Tim Meyer, schools us on why ‘Fear Is Fun’ and also offers an excerpt from his short novel, The Switch House!

The Impossible Erasure of Self

In his discussion of Roland Torpor’s horror novella, The Tenant, Thomas Ligotti will compare the division of Insider/Outsider. The Insider believes herself to be substantial and of value, and has the right to impose their egotistical power over all those they deem Outsider’s. The main character of this novella Trelkovsky has moved into an apartment just vacated by a dying woman, and over the course of the tale is hounded by the daemonic citizens of a private hell who live in the apartment building and believe him, unlike themselves to be no one and nothing. Ligotti describes this feeling of being an Outsider:

“Anyone who is marked as being outside of the group is fair game for those who would assert their reality over all others. Yet they, too, are nobodies. If they were not, their persecutions would not be required: They could pass their lives with a sure mindfulness of their substance and value. But as any good Buddhist … could tell you, human beings have no more substance and value than anything else on earth. The incapacity to repose alongside both the mountains and the mold of this planet is the fountainhead of the torments we wreak on one another. As long as we deny a person or group the claim to be as right and as real as we are, so long may we hold this dreamlike claim for ourselves alone. And it is the duty of everyone to inculcate a sense of being empty of substance and value in those who are not emulations of them.”1

Colin Wilson once described the Outsider as a social problem, a “hole-in-corner” man. Describing the anti-hero of Henre Barbusse’s L’enfer he says of the Outsider:

He has ‘no genius, no mission to fulfil, no remarkable feelings to bestow. I have nothing and I deserve nothing. Yet in spite of it, I desire some sort of recompense.’ Religion…he doesn’t care for it. ‘As to philosophic discussions, they seem to me altogether meaningless. Nothing can be tested, nothing verified. Truth—what do they mean by it?’ His thoughts range vaguely from a past love affair and its physical pleasures, to death: ‘Death, that is the most important of all ideas.’2

The ancient Gnostic’s of certain sects would through a form of negative devaluation reverse Socrates’ credo of “Know Thyself”, and begin a process of unnaming, of slowly and methodically erasing all the names within oneself that others seemed to attach to one’s Self as substantive and having value. This was the central dictum of those ascetic and libertine creatures of the gnosis: a knowledge not of what is, nor of what is not; but rather of the nameless and unknown that remains when all names have been erased. This emptiness – a vastation of horror and awareness not of being or self, but of that silence that is greater than all thought of self or value.

In his Theory of Religion Bataille once stated of this impossibility:

“Everything invites one to drop the substance for the shadow, to forsake the open and impersonal movement of thought for the isolated opinion. Of course the isolated opinion is also the shortest means of revealing what the assemblage essentially is-the impossible. But it has this deep meaning only if it is not conscious of the fact. This powerlessness defines an apex of possibility, or at least, awareness of the impossibility opens consciousness to all that is possible for it to think. In this gathering place, where violence is rife, at the boundary of that which escapes cohesion, he who realizes cohesion realizes that there is no longer any room for him.”3


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 198). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Wilson, Colin. The Outsider (Kindle Locations 250-256). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.
  3.  Georges, Bataille. Theory of Religion. Zone Books (June 29, 1992)

 

MALIGNANTLY USELESS: The Art and Philosophy of Thomas Ligotti

Over a period of years the works of Thomas Ligotti have pervaded my thought and life. I’ve decided to spend time writing on the art and philosophy of Ligotti in a new book, one that I will hopefully finish by the end of fall. Not sure when it will be published, but I’ll keep you informed. I may not be as active on the site as I’ve been but will still pop my head up from time to time as I progress.

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The Satirical Jibes of Thomas Ligotti: On The Complainer

Re-reading Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror in the section The Cult of Grinning Martyrs he takes up in reversal the optimist’s dissatisfaction with pessimistic complainers. It’s as if Ligotti has imagined an Optimist, – happy-go-lucky Reader, coming upon his work for the first time, and having read up to this point in the book; and, having read thus far decided enough is enough! “Mr. Ligotti, I dare you! What is all this gibberish about, this negation of everything I hold dear! I dare you, you are the most miserable creature I’ve ever come across. All this complaining, all this bellyaching about Life! Let me tell you something…” Then he proceeds to do just that! One must understand the subtle humor of this satirical jibe to appreciate Ligotti’s irony and scorn of Optimism (long quote):

In the workaday world, complainers will not go far. When someone asks how you are doing, you had better be wise enough to reply, “I can’t complain.” If you do complain, even justifiably, people will stop asking how you are doing. Complaining will not help you succeed and influence people. You can complain to your physician or psychiatrist because they are paid to hear you complain. But you cannot complain to your boss or your friends, if you have any. You will soon be dismissed from your job and dropped from the social register. Then you will be left alone with your complaints and no one to listen to them. Perhaps then the message will sink into your head: If you do not feel good enough for long enough, you should act as if you do and even think as if you do. That is the way to get yourself to feel good enough for long enough and stop you from complaining for good, as any self-improvement book can affirm. But should you not improve, someone must assume the blame. And that someone will be you. This is monumentally so if you are a pessimist or a depressive. Should you conclude that life is objectionable or that nothing matters— do not waste our time with your nonsense. We are on our way to the future, and the philosophically disheartening or the emotionally impaired are not going to hinder our progress. If you cannot say something positive, or at least equivocal, keep it to yourself. Pessimists and depressives need not apply for a position in the enterprise of life. You have two choices: Start thinking the way God and your society want you to think or be forsaken by all. The decision is yours, since you are a free agent who can choose to rejoin our fabricated world or stubbornly insist on … what? That we should mollycoddle non-positive thinkers like you or rethink how the whole world transacts its business? That we should start over from scratch? Or that we should go extinct? Try to be realistic. We did the best we could with the tools we had. After all, we are only human, as we like to say. Our world may not be in accord with nature’s way, but it did develop organically according to our consciousness, which delivered us to a lofty prominence over the Creation. The whole thing just took on a life of its own, and nothing is going to stop it anytime soon. There can be no starting over and no going back. No major readjustments are up for a vote. And no melancholic head-case is going to bad-mouth our catastrophe. The universe was created by the Creator, damn it. We live in a country we love and that loves us back. We have families and friends and jobs that make it all worthwhile. We are somebodies, not a bunch of nobodies without names or numbers or retirement plans. None of this is going to be overhauled by a thought criminal who contends that the world is not doubleplusgood and never will be. Our lives may not be unflawed— that would deny us a better future to work toward— but if this charade is good enough for us, then it should be good enough for you. So if you cannot get your mind right, try walking away. You will find no place to go and no one who will have you. You will find only the same old trap the world over. Lighten up or leave us alone. You will never get us to give up our hopes. You will never get us to wake up from our dreams. We are not contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. Such opinions will not be accredited by institutions of authority or by the middling run of humanity. To lay it on the line, whatever thoughts may enter your chemically imbalanced brain are invalid, inauthentic, or whatever dismissive term we care to hang on you, who are only “one of those people.” So start pretending that you feel good enough for long enough, stop your complaining, and get back in line. If you are not as strong as Samson— that no-good suicide and slaughterer of Philistines— then get loaded to the gills and return to the trap. Keep your medicine cabinet and your liquor cabinet well stocked, just like the rest of us. Come on and join the party. No pessimists or depressives invited. Do you think we are morons? We know all about those complaints of yours. The only difference is that we have sense enough and feel good enough for long enough not to speak of them. Keep your powder dry and your brains blocked. Our shibboleth: “Up the Conspiracy and down with Consciousness.”


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 172-174). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

The American Cynic

Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut at least in the U.S.A. gave us the voice and stance of the American Cynic at large, satirizing our foibles, our politics, our stupidity; each in his own age provided us with that moral vision which is the primary source of the cynics pessimism and comic fatalism. True to the ancient cynics they provided laughter rather than tears, an honest appraisal rather than deluded lies. Without the voice of such cynics among us we’d be worse off than we are. Menippus and Lucian were the lights of that ancient temperament of satirical eloquence which would find its way down the pipeline of literature in every comic maximalist and encyclopedic satirist in history. These were the men and women who showed us who and what we are with unflinching appraisal, and would strip us of our delusions, deliriums, and false imprecations; deliver us up to the unmerciful derision of critical laughter, and yet with humanity and care would then show us by example the way of things and life, the honesty of being what one is as nothing, nothing at all. To be human is to forget one’s self and enter the poverty of spirit that brings us all to that equality of being together. A world where laughter and fellowship begin and end in honesty with one’s self and others.

We’ve been distinctive in my homeland for producing cynics of the caliber of the two above, along with Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, George Ade, Sinclair Lewis, Ring Lardner, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Terry Southern, Lenny Bruce, Tom Wolfe, Jean Shephard, Philip Roth, Fran Lebowitz, Charles Portis, Donald Barthelme, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappell, Robin Williams, and thousands of other writers, satirists, comedians, stand-up comics, cartoonists, essayists, and down home village cynics on the streets of every city in America.

The darkest of our cynics was Ambrose Bierce, a man who defined the pessimism of dark laughter as his approach to writing in his essay “To Train a Writer”: “He should free himself of all doctrines, theories, etiquettes, politics.” A writer, he averred, must “know and have an ever-present consciousness that this is a world of fools and rogues … tormented with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions …” Bierce, whose reactions to the world ran from ironic dismay to Olympian scorn, has always been easy to dismiss as merely a negater—a quality freighted with the implication of a poser. But Bierce’s cynicism could not have been more honestly acquired.

“Emerging from the charnel house of the Civil War, Bierce shunned any effort to invest the butchery with meaning—including the North’s smug myth of a Battle Cry of Freedom (still cherished by many contemporary historians, as it flatters their sense of their own righteousness). For him the war was nothing more—could be nothing more—than a meaningless and murderous slaughter, devoid of virtue or purpose. The youth who joined the ranks, Bierce would later say, was dead. But his ordeal gave birth to a lonely, stoic, and bitter rectitude, a sensibility that was the impetus of his career as a writer and—most lastingly—of his compressed, astringent prose style.” (see Benjamin Schwarz: Great American Cynic)

Without Bierce or Twain or all these others greats and those not listed the power of America’s darker traditions and counter-traditions against the optimism of the capitalist mainstream would have gone unchecked. At the heart of noir in the 40’s and 50’s, crime fiction from the 30’s onward, along with the stand-up comics throughout our modernity we’d of assumed the dreamlands of the upper-crust and utopian desires of the rich and famous ruled the day. Without the cynic to strip away the veneer and uncover the ugliness below the threshold of the American Dream the world would have thought we lived like Hollywood blockbuster Moghuls.

Yet, in this supposed Land of the Free there has always been a false form of cynicism, too. In our American Empire not unlike the mid-to-late Roman empire—“a colossal bureaucratic apparatus whose inner and outer workings an individual could not fathom or influence”—contemporary citizens of the West have grown so used to satire, so pre-programmed to roll their eyes at the next item that crosses the news ticker, that they have all become, in Sloterdijk’s terms, not kynics in the lost tradition of Diogenes, but cynics. They have become self-satirists. No longer a commitment to a new way of life, cynicism is a lifestyle, what Sloterdijk calls “enlightened false consciousness”:

Psychologically, present-day cynics can be understood as borderline melancholies, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and can remaine more or less able to work. Indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work—in spite of anything that might happen, and especiall, after anything that might happen . . . . For cynics are not dumb, and every now and then they see the nothingness to which everything leads. Their psychic apparatus has become elastic enough to incorporate as a survival factor a permanent doubt about their own activities. They know what they are doing, but they do it because, in the short run, the force of circumstances and the instinct for self-preservation are speaking the same language, and they are telling them that it has to be so. . . . Cynicism . . . is that modernized, unhappy consciousness on which enlightenment has labored both successfully and in vain. Well-off and miserable at the same time, this consciousness no longer feels affected by any critique of ideology; its falseness is already reflexively buffered.1

If we go back and reread Critique of Cynical Reason, beginning with Diogenes, a pattern emerges: both kynics and cynics are likely to be people who live on the periphery of a privileged space, who feel both secure and uncomfortable—secure enough to be uncomfortable. Sloterdijk acknowledges this, at least tacitly, but seems not to consider it worthy of much discussion: he never points out, for example, that Diogenes’s extreme behavior was tolerated, even celebrated, only because he was a free man, an educated and fully endowed citizen of the polis—albeit one from a provincial backwater, a kind of arriviste.2

For all the gloom attached to the word, wits of many periods have delighted in fashioning their own definitions of the cynic-sometimes an exercise in self-analysis. Oscar Wilde’s often-quoted quip has it that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing:’ H. L. Mencken sees the cynic as a person “who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin;’ and (Mencken adds mischievously) a “cynic is right nine times out of ten.” In Ambrose Pierce’s Devil’s Dictionary (originally titled The Cynic’s Word Book) , a cynic is “a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.” Other definitions understand the cynic as “a parasite of civilization, [who] lives by denying it” (Jose Ortega y Gasset); as “intellectual dandyism without the coxcomb’s feathers” (George Meredith); or cynicism as “the intellectual cripple’s substitute for intelligence” (Russell Lynes). More detached is the Oxford English Dictionary: “Cynic. A person disposed to rail or find fault; now usually one who shows a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions, and is wont to express this by sneers and sarcasm; a sneering fault-finder.” One would be inclined to go further than such dictionary definitions: the cynic is one who dismisses all “higher” ideals like justice, generosity, patriotism, love, and holiness as nonexistent, for in his view people are incorrigibly self-interested, and human nature essentially evil. At times, the cynic will act upon these principles and “cynically” employ any means for his own selfish ends: hence, Machiavelli and Hobbes are often spoken of as the cynic’s cynics.3

And, yet, for all the negative qualities the modern Cynic’s among us have taken on, we should remember that some cynics  like the great aphorists had a deep and abiding moral vision that showed us the power of the ancient credo. As Luis Navia will propound

Modern cynicism is characterized by a pervasive sort of ethical nihilism and by a permeating commitment to egoism, and is a social phenomenon from which any and every kind of human aspiration is lacking. Classical Cynicism, on the other hand, is based on a set of ethical and moral convictions, that, although poorly defined and indistinctly stated, can be discerned through the negativity apparent in its teachings and examples.4

More than anything it’s this oppositional quality between the modern nihilistic cynic and the Ancient Greek and Roman Cynical traditions that needs to be understood in our time. Most Americans assume the dark nihilist cynics as the purveyors and prophets of the cynic in our era without ever knowing the other more powerful vision of the ancient forbears. It’s this duplicitous vision that needs to be challenged and a reintroduction of the older, classical vision brought back into our world.


  1.  Peter Sloterdijk. Critique of Cynical Reason (Theory and History of Literature, Volume 40). Univ Of Minnesota Press; First edition edition (February 1, 1988)
  2.  Jess Row. American Cynicism. Boston Review: http://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/jess-row-american-cynicism
  3. William D. Desmond. The Greek Praise of Poverty: Origins of Ancient Cynicism. University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition (January 30, 2006)
  4.  Luis Navia. Classical Cynicism: A Critical Study (Contributions in Philosophy). Praeger (October 30, 1996)

A Cynic I’ll remain; pessimist and ironist to the end.

I do not see myself as a philosopher with philosophical merchandise to sell. That is for the mountebanks of theory who infest the world with their codified sects, each baring its teeth to defend some trademarked icon. Ligotti reminded me of such thoughts today…

A Cynic I’ll remain; pessimist and ironist to the end. I’ll let the philosophers among us bury their own in derision or praise; either way matters not one iota to me. What matters is people themselves, not their thoughts. We’ve seen two-thousand years of philosophical thought and has it changed the world or divided it. Maybe thought is overrated, raising now one, now another, to some pinnacle of contemporary fame; then bringing them back down low in the next generation’s slow exit to some new luminous light of philosophical entrepreneurship. What is philosophy but the long history of an error; one that has yet to be resolved. The error of being human – conscious of our consciousness. We are the only creatures who are restless, dissatisfied with ourselves and others, unable to live at peace with just being as ‘being’. We always want more, seek more, hope for more; and when it is not forthcoming we blame each other for our malaise, our troubles. Humans will never be happy, and yet they seek it above all things – eternal optimists in search of hope and some utopian world of peace and joy. When a pessimist arises in their midst and sounds off the dark knell bell of doom and gloom they mute him, stamp him out with trumpets of noise, and pass him by like a terrible promise of catastrophe.

In Lucian the Roman poet’s Dialogues of the Dead, Menippus the Cynic comes upon the dead god Chiron and asks him why he wanted to die? The god tells him because he was tired of immortality, that nothing changed; neither sun, nor moon; nor food or drink. That everything remained the same in the gods abode. So that he sought above all things cessation of being, the halls of hades. Menippus laughed out loud at this, asking him what he felt about death now that he was dead. The god pondered a moment, saying he had no feelings one way or the other; because unlike immortality he did not need beauty or sorrow, being dead. Yet, Menippus questioned him further asking: “But my dear fellow, nothing changes here in death as well. So what will you do now for change?” The god Chiron thought a moment, and asked: “What would you suggest, Menippus?” Menippus answered:

What I imagine a sensible man is reputed to do— be content and satisfied with one’s lot and think no part of it intolerable.

Why seek for something you’ll never find? Why pursue a world of peace and joy that cannot be? Maybe it’s this pursuit that has brought on all the world’s woes to begin with. Humans cannot be content and satisfied with their lot, so instead they will in envious glee seek out what their neighbor’s have; or, seek to impose some notion of the Good Life out of their Mind’s as if the pursuit of thought-forms and utopian ideas would assuage the restlessness of their dark souls. In the end we have what you see around you: this world of war and endless restlessness, of people wanting more than their lot offers; never happy, always sorrowful that they do not have more and more: for them life is full of misery and intolerable.

Against such stupidity the cynic barks…

 

On Influence and Plagiarism

I was rereading the interview with Jon Padgett from 2014 on Lovecraft ezine about True Detective. What’s sad is not that Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized Thomas Ligotti’s work (which he did!), but that he did not admit it or even openly acknowledge the deep influence Ligotti’s dark vision had had on his TV series, etc.

There’s always a fine line in a healthy influence and appropriation of another’s ideas, and the blatant and uncreative remix of another’s thought without the interjection of creativity.

Hell I’ve been influenced by so many cynics, pessimists, satirists, from Greece to Post-modernity it would be hard put to name all those I owe honor too (although I try over and over on my blog, here, and twitter to do that!). Yet, in creating as I do aphorisms and writings, I as Nietzsche one of my early influences said have “learned to forget” so that I can create. It’s this ability to forget the other in one’s self, to realize as Emerson once stated that “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” It’s this uncanny feeling that the other’s thoughts are our own, that they bring to white heat the very things we’ve thought for so long that brings us to a pitch of creative agency. And, yet, we must make those thought’s our own, not the other’s… distill from this deep influencing the drift of our own utterance, our own voice.

There must be this distinct difference of voice and utterance, a subtle change in tone and style that goes beyond the other’s informed precursory presence. As Borges once said we must make our own precursors, otherwise we are made by them. It’s in that difference that creativity spawns its power, and the plagiarist is found out to be what s/he is: a theft artist, while the creative being has acknowledged and made his/her precursor in one’s own colors. As Harold Bloom once said,

“Aesthetic value emanates from the struggle between texts: in the reader, in language, in the classroom, in arguments within a society. Aesthetic value rises out of memory, and so (as Nietzsche saw) out of pain, the pain of surrendering easier pleasures in favor of much more difficult ones … successful literary works are achieved anxieties, not releases from anxieties.” ~ Harold Bloom

The point here is that each of us has one or more precursors (texts) that awaken our ideas, our moods, our expressions; and, yet, the struggle is to achieve out of our struggle with and against our precursor(s) a stance and place or our own within the great weave of literature that has gone before: an idiosyncratic change upon that vast ocean of words. The difficult pleasure is in making another’s thought invisible within one’s own writing in such a way that it pays it forward, it allows those ‘who know’ to know this tribute of influence as an idiosyncratic play upon the web of thought and language. Otherwise we become footprints in an endless land of ghost thieves, stealing our thoughts rather than living them in our actual lives.

My Essay on Thomas Ligotti coming in July in Vastarien: The Literary Journal

Capture

My essay Thomas Ligotti: The Abyss of Radiance will appear in the award winning Vastarien: The Literary Journal in the Summer issue this July!

Visit their site to learn more: https://vastarien-journal.com/

“Vastarien: A Literary Journal was conceived five years ago by a handful of people who wanted to see more writing about and in response to the work of writer/thinker Thomas Ligotti. Since then, our publication has been bombarded with stellar, but unusual, work by authors and artists—many of whom are underrepresented and/or newer voices. Without them and the incredible support Vastarien continues to receive from its devoted readers, this singular journal never would have come to fruition. Thanks so much to all of you and the staff of This Is Horror for this wonderful award!”
—Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal
THIS IS HORROR FICTION MAGAZINE OF THE YEAR

 

I’m A Follower of the Dog

People often ask why don’t you publish… in many ways I do in stories, poetry, blogging… but to tell the truth to add more verbiage to the already extant and impossible to read library of the world seems almost impertinent and meaningless. As a follower of the Dog, Diogenes – and, yes, I’m neither a pessimist nor have a tragic view on humanity, but rather am at heart a comic fatalist, a clown of thought who believes as Diogenes did that honesty above all things is the prime virtue, and Parrhesia or the commitment to speak one’s truth as the sign of the Cynic. As Luis Navia once described him:

More than in any other philosopher of the Western world, some have seen in Diogenes the epitome of a long list of praiseworthy personal and intellectual traits and endowments: an absolute commitment to honesty, a remarkable independence of judgment, an unwavering decision to live a simple and unencumbered life, a steadfast devotion to self-sufficiency, an unparalleled attachment to freedom of speech, a healthy contempt for human stupidity and obfuscation, an unusual degree of intellectual lucidity, and, above all, a tremendous courage to live in accord with his convictions. From this perspective, Diogenes emerges as a giant in the history of humanity in general and in the history of ideas in particular, and as a man worthy of the highest praise.

To me this is the life I’ve strived to emulate in acts, not theory.


  1. Luis E. Navia. Diogenes The Cynic: The War Against The World (Kindle Locations 146-151). Kindle Edition.

Nada


Like the Soul, the Self may one day disappear from sight, laughed into non-existence from sheer apathy and derision. That the Self like the Soul is not some objective, tangible thing one can point too, but is rather defined by language, by that strange “I” of which nothing can be proven or disproven; only more words upon words in an endless arc of deconstructive knots and rhizomes that can neither be unstrung like Gordian’s knots; nor wistfully restored to the honeyed web of holes that spin us into our imagined lives. We are nothings who have believed ourselves to be somethings, so that the old adage of “Why something rather than nothing?” can be answered: Nothing is nothing is nothing… or as Hemingway pondering the same said:

“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Clean Well Lighted Place

Redemption by Death: On Becoming Android


Reading through Ligotti, Mainlander, and other extreme pessimists I’m beginning to see a pattern: each seems to see pain and suffering in the same sense as the Stoic, Buddhist, and negative apophatic Christian mystic. If true, and if the cessation of pain and suffering by annihilation of one’s physical being seems to be the goal to which it tends, then maybe there is a strange form of overcoming it in the coming age, a new kind of redemption by death (Mainlander); yet, with a twist not conceived of by any pessimist before: becoming machinic, becoming dead-while-alive in being without pain or suffering through a form of horizontal immanence through mutation from organic to machinic phylums.

As Beiser says of Mainlander:

It is in this context that we should understand Mainländer’s paradoxical doctrine of the death wish. The inner striving of the will is for death because it is only in death that we find true happiness, which is the highest good for every human being. Such happiness resides in complete tranquillity and peace, which comes only with death, the utter nothingness of annihilation. If Mainlӓnder describes life as a means toward death that is because death promises what life really wants: tranquillity and peace.1

Yet, is not becoming other, becoming machine – a machinic existence that extinguishes pain and suffering by other means than organic systems present the truly logical conclusion to pessimism? For as Beiser suggests,

Mainländer writes there that the mission of his philosophy is self-emancipation, the liberation of humanity from its own self-imposed bondage. The history of the world is the story of this self-emancipation, Mainlӓnder tells us. In its path towards self-liberation, humanity goes through the stages of polytheism, monotheism and atheism; in this process humanity learns to be more self-critical and self-conscious of its own powers; it sees how it has enslaved itself to entities of its own making; and so it grows in autonomy, its power to lead life according to its own self-conscious goals and ideals. Humanity is at present at the end of the stage of pantheism, the last stage of monotheism, which appears either in a dynamic (Hegel) or a static (Schopenhauer) form. Now, as humanity nears the final stage, the individual demands the restoration of his rights, the repossession of the powers that he once squandered on heaven. (209)

Mainländer holds the opinion that life is irredeemable suffering and that redemption lies only in leaving it. Isn’t what we’ve sought all this time is emancipation from pain and suffering? And is not the horizontal (earthward) rather than vertical (heavenward) transcendence of physical being into machinic being by a migration of our intelligence a break with the organic conception of the human, and a true reconciliation with the inhuman core of our existence? To die to organic necessity and open ourselves to a new more profound anorganic necessity on becoming machinic intelligences?

Till the day of his suicide Mainländer’s pessimism divided him utterly from the neo-Hegelians. He finds their optimism naïve. For him the chief sources of suffering lie in existence itself; even in the best state, and even with the greatest progress of the sciences, the main forms of suffering will remain. There will always be the traumas and troubles of birth, sickness, age and death. (210) But that’s just it, he did not know what we know, he had not been presented with any alternative to this organic cycle of birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death. But we have, we have in out age been tempted, seduced toward various forms of transhuman, posthuman, and inhuman modes of being that offer exit from the human organic becoming systems of decay, ruin, pain, and suffering. None of them are practical, and the sciences have yet to overcome the problems surrounding such notions, but that is not the point: these notions and conceptions are driving the sciences in directions that Mainlander in his fusion of ancient though with the sciences of his day would have approved of if he’d known.

Of course many will see in this just fantasy, another loop in the dream quest of our postmodern temperament toward the posthuman inhuman matrix of ideas. And, yet, what if…. it were true?

What’s funny about Mainländer is that throughout his peregrinations he fought against Schopenhauer’s universalist notion of a Cosmic Will, and vied instead for a nominalist injunction believing there were only particular will’s rather than one great One living through us. But in the end he came up with his own version of Schopenhauer’s Universalist claims of a Great Will – just not the will-to-live, but rather the will-to-death. In his mythic narrative at the end of his Philosophy of Redemption he describes how God after all his knowledge came to the macabre conclusion that his very existence was a horror even to himself, and yet he was unable to end it in one fell swoop. Instead he devised a plan, with the creation-catastrophe of the Universe he began the process of dying-unto-death-through-the-particular, so that the will to annihilation at the core of our being is in fact the working of this dead God’s will to annihilation. As Beiser notes,

“We long to die, and we are indeed dying, because God wanted to die and he is still dying within us. Mainländer sees this process of cosmic death taking place all throughout nature, in both the organic and inorganic realms, and he goes into great detail about how it takes place everywhere in the universe.” …

“Although Mainländer has in general little sympathy for the teleological conception of nature, it is remarkable that he still attributes a strange kind of purposiveness to everything in nature: namely, the striving toward self-destruction and death.”

“It is hard to know what to make of Mainländer’s cosmology of death. If we take his regulative guidelines seriously, then we cannot deem it a conjecture or hypothesis; rather, we have to regard it as a fiction, treating it only as if it were true. We do best, then, to take it simply as mythology, as a story meant to replace the religious myths of the past. The justification of such a myth is purely pragmatic: it gives us the power to face death because we imagine ourselves moving inevitably towards it.”

One could see in this Mainländer’s subtle Christianization of a universe of death as the outcome of the Death of God leading to an inverted Apocalypse or Day of Judgment which would annihilate the goats and sheep alike. 🙂 One almost smiles at such a strange philosophy, and yet underlying it is the pessimists extreme radicality. A religious nihilism to the nth degree zero, a redemption unto death rather than eternal life. Seems he was a failed Christian seeking a new Gospel of Death against Life, one in which the Book of Life would be burned in the end, erasing both worshipers and God alike from the memory of existence.

(Of course I’m toying with ideas that at present are just that: ideas to be toyed with, rather than literalisms of a mad hatter!)


  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (p. 209). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

A Rare Find: Weird Tale Author – Hans Henny Jahnn

Oh, a rare find…

Hans Henny Jahnn a highly controversial writer from Germany, especially because of his drastically cross-border literary depictions of sexuality and violence. According to the social history of German literature (1981), he is one of the “great productive outsiders of the [20th] century”.

I am reading David Peak’s The Spectacle of the Void which offers his reading of horror from a philosophical perspective using current trends such as Speculative Realism and other forms. I want go into that here. He describes a tale by German author Hans Henny Jahnn. Luckily found a couple of his works translated in English: The Living Are Few, The Dead Are Many – Three shorter stories, “Kebad Kenya”, “Sassanad King”, and “A Master Selects his Servant”; and the novella “The Night of Lead”. Peak describes his novella The Night of Lead as a “work singularly obsessed with the overlap of death and sexuality, eroticism and decay…”, a man who has learned to embrace the horror reality, by merging with existence in the present, by accepting being with no past and no future, suspended in the void, he has performed a true act of katabasis. (Peak, 76)

I think what piqued my interest is his anti-natalist and being one of the first to offer an attack on the anthropocentric world view. His thought seems in many ways close to Thomas Ligotti which I’ll need to pursue once I get ahold of these works. His greatest work is a three-volume trilogy Rivers without Borders, but has yet to be translated… seems to be a sadomasochistic recursion to as the wiki entry has it,

Jahnn seems to have been close to the Gnostic mythos viewing humans as a “catastrophe-creation,” an error that should be quickly stamped out. Ulrich Greiner describes the structural features of his literary work in 1994 in TIME for the author’s 100th birthday under the ironically meant heading The Seven Deadly Sins of Hans Henny Jahnn:

It is based on a “reduction of man” on the biological. Jahnn sees man as part of nature, which is not above the animal, but rather how this pain feels. For Jahnn, life is a “universal and permanent pain” that animals endure,” while man inflicts pain in a planned and prudent manner: himself and his like, the animals and the whole of nature. Slaughterhouse and war are the two sides of an incomprehensible will to destroy life.” For Greiner, Jahnn’s work is a “protest against the anthropocentric world view”.

Determining “for the whole Jahnn’s work is the central idea of an anti-Christian creation mythology”, which is influenced by the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic and “ontogenetically regarded as pre-Oedipal,” according to the social history of the German Literature (1981). A “strictly anti-civilizational position” manifests itself in it by means of the following motif complexes: anarchic, nature-religious myths (versus Christian tradition), ancient Egyptian death mythologies (versus German tradition of Hellenism), “elementary attachment of man to his carnality, in which drive, sacramentality and barbarism are fused” (versus humanistic human image), archaic-timeless landscapes in which man, animal and nature live in unresolved unity (versus bourgeois Enlightenment-based, progress-oriented civilization).

A customer on Amazon states” it is rather easy to compare a variety of authors to Kafka. Queasy interior spaces, discussions whose meanings explode through failed communication, a constant uprooting of linear movement. This is why we pull so many books from the shelves, old and new, to see Prague’s weaver of strange fables as a point of reference. Descending from K, we then find authors such as Blanchot and Bataille, who show this influence but swim into modes even murkier and more transgressive. With Blanchot, I refer not simply to more popular works like Death Sentence, but also the shorter parables to be found in the collection Vicious Circles. Here we do not simply encounter discomfort, impossible exchanges, and dreamlike states, but meet a philosophical obsession with dying head on. Of course the same can be said for Bataille, whose Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon, and My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man, are texts of sexual subversion somehow equally preoccupied with the grave.”

Thomas Ligotti on Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899– 1990)

Why did I not perish at birth; why did I not die as I came from the womb?  —The Book of Job

All things are full of weariness… —Kohelet: Ecclesiastes

For Thomas Ligotti what separates and divides us as humans from each other is our acceptance or rejection of life’s value: our awareness of being alive, of knowing that we know; this division puts those who affirm life’s value in the category of optimists, while those who counter such affirmation with a negative “No” are placed in the category of uncompromising pessimism. In the white heat of discovery one imagines Ligotti – a great reader of books – coming on the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe’s (1899– 1990) essay “The Last Messiah” (1933) for the first time, realizing that here, just here a man had spoken what Ligotti himself had thought and believed for quite a long time; that human existence is a tragedy, and that consciousness is at the core of this tragic world. In this essay as Ligotti says of this eloquent work: “Zapffe elucidated why he saw human existence as a tragedy.”1

The notion as to why humans over eons of time became conscious beings, self-aware nothings – as it ’twere, has been investigated by the ancient Greeks, the early Buddhists, and every thinker one can imagine up through our current crop of cognitive psychologists, philosophers of mind, and neuroscientists. The quarrels over what consciousness is may never have an end, and yet that we are aware of our awareness – this subtle loop of mirrored duplicity, of recognition and dismay at being both in and outside the game of life has been at the heart of human misery from its beginning. As Zapffe says (quoted by Ligotti):

A breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily— by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn one edge toward himself. (22)

This dark breach in the world, a gap between knowing and known, the self-lacerating power of negation that distances us from the world and our selves even now causes consternation in the heart of many humans who are dismayed at being alive, and of knowing that they are alive. As Ligotti will ask, “Could there be anything to this pessimistic verbiage, this tirade against the evolution of consciousness?”

Against the pessimistic worldview of Zapffe Ligotti will offer us the optimist’s challenge by way of Nicholas Humphrey in an interview,

Consciousness— phenomenal experience— seems in many ways too good to be true. The way we experience the world seems unnecessarily beautiful, unnecessarily rich and strange….

[T] he more I try to make sense of it, the more I come back to the fact that we’ve evolved to regard consciousness as a wonderfully good thing in its own right— which could just be because consciousness is a wonderfully good thing in its own right! (24)

A good thing? Consciousness? It’s this diametric view onto consciousness and its value which separates and divides our species into optimist and pessimist as if the binary polarity of human belief came down to this key problem facing human kind. Should we throw our hands up? Ligotti presented with this paradox of paradoxes ironically suggests:

Both Humphrey and Zapffe are equally passionate about what they have to say, which is not to say that they have said anything credible. Whether you think consciousness to be a benefit or a horror, this is only what you think— and nothing else. But even though you cannot demonstrate the truth of what you think, you can at least put it on show and see what the audience thinks. (24)

So what does the audience think? So many theories about consciousness have arisen in the course of the past two millennia that it would be difficult to provide a short history in this post. Instead, as Ligotti suggests in his commentary on Zapffe’s notions:

Consciousness is connected to the human brain in a way that makes the world appear to us as it appears and makes us appear to ourselves as we appear— that is, as “selves” or a “persons” strung together by memories, sensations, emotions, and so on. No one knows exactly how the consciousness-brain connection is made, but all evidence supports the non-dualistic theory that the brain is the source of consciousness and the only source of consciousness. Zapffe accepted consciousness as a given and moved on from there, since he was not interested in the debates surrounding this phenomenon as such but only in the way it determines the nature of our species. (25)

So against Descartes and the dualists of the mind-body Zapffe along with many other thinkers sees consciousness as tied to our brain’s circuitry and feed-back loops, a black box that may or may not provide us at some future date the actual workings underpinning this connection (i.e., the various branches of research into the brain in contemporary sciences may someday succeed in not only mapping the brain but providing the mechanisms that give birth to consciousness itself, etc.). Either way Zapffe according to Ligotti was concerned with the outcome and aptitude of consciousness rather than with its origins and evolution.

What’s interesting in reading Ligotti on Zapffe and his enemies is the subtle irony and dark humor in his portrayal. Ligotti in this work is obviously on the side of the pessimists, a small group of individuals in any era as compared to the greater majority of eternal optimists. Optimists reject pessimism outright without even an iota of congenial investigation. Even in his introduction to Pessimism the philosopher-commentator would see pessimism as a problem rather than a solution, a specific malaise and temper of what he’d term “Weltschmerz“.2 A concept that  literally means “worldpain”, and  “signifies a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering,” whose origins have been traced back to the 1830s, to the late romantic era, to the works of Jean Paul, Heinrich Heine, N. Lenau, G. Büchner, C. D. Grabbe and K. L. Immermann. ( 1) Later on this term would give way to another term which would “acquire a broader more serious meaning: it was no longer just a poet’s personal mood; it was a public state of mind, the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist.” (1)

Humans as a species over time became aware of the rest of organic creation and that for most if not all organic species we share this planet with are oblivious of their existence. Most organic creatures on this planet live out an endless cycle of survival, reproduction, death— and nothing else. (L, 28) Only humans are aware of this cycle and realized that in the end one dies. This knowledge of death and finitude would create in our ancestors a sense of foreboding that would lead them to seek out answers through magic, religion, and, then, philosophy and poetry to answer this strange quandary of existence. As Ligotti will say of it

We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering— slowly or quickly— as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are— hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones. (28)

Suffering, pain, and time seem to all be interconnected in this notion of birth, growth, maturity, age, and death cycle – the organic worldpain within which we are “time” (Heidegger). As Bruno Bosteel’s in his essay The jargon of finitude explicating Heidegger puts it: “We are not ‘in’ time so much as our innermost being ‘is’ time.”  In his ‘New Refutation of Time’ Jorge Luis Borges the Argentinian metaphysical idealist and author of short tales of the fantastic once wrote:

To deny temporal succession, to deny the ego, to deny the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny (unlike the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not horrible because of its unreality; it is horrible because it is irreversible and ironbound. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river that carries me away, but I am the river; it is a tiger that mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. (Quoted by Bosteel’s in his essay!)

All this is to say that what consciousness is is Time: not an awareness of time, but time’s flow, its movement, its struggle within the organic tomb of flesh and blood we term the human. Our awareness of this fact has led most humans to a life of absolute delusion and delirium and denial so that for them optimism and escape from the truth into a life of absolute illusion has become the mainstream path of living on this planet. As Ligotti summarizes:

Nonhuman occupants of this planet are unaware of death. But we are susceptible to startling and dreadful thoughts, and we need some fabulous illusions to take our minds off them. For us, then, life is a confidence trick we must run on ourselves, hoping we do not catch on to any monkey business that would leave us stripped of our defense mechanisms and standing stark naked before the silent, staring void. To end this self-deception, to free our species of the paradoxical imperative to be and not to be conscious, our backs breaking by degrees upon a wheel of lies, we must cease reproducing. (28-29)

This anti-natalist conclusion is at the core of Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah”. In a 1959 interview Zapffe would say,

The sooner humanity dares to harmonize itself with its biological predicament, the better. And this means to willingly withdraw in contempt for its worldly terms, just as the heat-craving species went extinct when temperatures dropped. To us, it is the moral climate of the cosmos that is intolerable, and a two-child policy could make our discontinuance a pain-free one. Yet instead we are expanding and succeeding everywhere, as necessity has taught us to mutilate the formula in our hearts. Perhaps the most unreasonable effect of such invigorating vulgarization is the doctrine that the individual “has a duty” to suffer nameless agony and a terrible death if this saves or benefits the rest of his group. Anyone who declines is subjected to doom and death, instead of revulsion being directed at the world-order engendering of the situation. To any independent observer, this plainly is to juxtapose incommensurable things; no future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will. It is upon a pavement of battered destinies that the survivors storm ahead toward new bland sensations and mass deaths. (Quoted by Ligotti: 29)

In a world projected to reach 9.5 Billion by mid-century one can only conclude that no one has heeded such bleak advice as of yet. Ligotti will continue his eloquent tribute and commentary on Zapffe’s essay, along with explicating Zapffe’s strategies for limiting human consciousness against too much truth, which I will leave for the reader to pursue on her own. I think we have seen the tendency and endpoint of the pessimists worldview and what it offers us as a resolution to the problem of humanity. As with Kohelet in the Hebraic book of Ecclesiastes which Michael Chabon describes this way:

“Horror grows impatient, rhetorically, with the Stoic fatalism of Ecclesiastes. That we are all going to die, that death mocks and cancels every one of our acts and attainments and every moment of our life histories, this knowledge is to storytelling what rust is to oxidation; the writer of horror holds with those who favor fire. The horror writer is not content to report on death as the universal system of human weather; he or she chases tornadoes. Horror is Stoicism with a taste for spectacle.”

~ Michael Chabon

One need not be a Joseph Conrad or his character Kurtz to say: “The horror! The horror!” As Ligotti will conclude humans will go on, they will continue to deny the darkest truths, or will channel them into aesthetic entertainments and apotropaic images to keep the beast at bay:

As a species with consciousness, we do have our inconveniences. Yet these are of negligible importance compared to what it would be like to feel in our depths that we are nothing but human puppets— things of mistaken identity who must live with the terrible knowledge that they are not making a go of it on their own and are not what they once thought they were. At this time, barely anyone can conceive of this happening— of hitting bottom and finding to our despair that we can never again resurrect our repressions and denials. Not until that day of lost illusions comes, if it ever comes, will we all be competent to conceive of such a thing. But a great many more generations will pass through life before that happens, if it happens. (84)


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 21). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (p. 1). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Thomas Ligotti: There Is Something Wrong With The World

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. … But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

In an Interview Thomas Ligotti describes the aberration that is our life in the universe: “Other people might have simply concluded there was something wrong with them to have emotions that made them feel outside of the world around them. My conclusion was exactly the opposite. I concluded that there was something wrong with the world. And now I was in tune with everything that was wrong, everything that had been wrong since I was born, since life evolved on this planet, since the universe began, and perhaps even before that.”1

“Perhaps,” opens us in that last sentence to an ambiguous relation to our notions of the cosmos in Ligotti’s thought. It’s as if underlying his pessimism is an open door into the unknown and unknowable fractures in reality, the gaping holes that thought alone cannot think, an incompleteness and possibility of something outside our very thought of beginnings which harbor a more destitute and abyssal nightmare than we can imagine. This sense of wrongness, that the world is not what it seems, but is much more dangerous and incomprehensible than our sciences with all their theoretic power of mathematical precision can reveal; for underneath all the calculations, all the theorems is something hiding in plain sight but invisible to our mental calibrations. Ligotti’s apprehension of a universal tilt, a “wrongness” with the world and life in this universe goes beyond our ability to reckon or conceive, is situated outside our earthly configurations and philosophies to know. And, yet, we can sense it, feel it, without being able to think it. The Gnostics once believed there was a form of knowing outside Reason, outside the visible calculable realm of appearances, something that opened onto the void, the great vastation and emptiness; what they would term the ‘kenoma’: in the Gnostic schema(s) the kenoma (emptiness) is the imperfect and the antithesis of pleroma (fullness), where all are in a state of privation and unreality.

The notion of the Unreal in Ligotti’s worldview,  not unlike the concept of maya (illusion) in the various Indic traditions, is different, is more abyssal and indifferent to our desires or thoughts alike, seeking neither to delude us nor seduce us into some nefarious relation of entrapment, either through our own internal needs and desire, or from some outer magnetic field of attraction beyond our control. Instead as Ligotti will say elsewhere: “We are defined by our limitations; without them, we cannot suffice as functionaries in the big show of conscious existence. The farther you progress toward a vision of our species without limiting conditions on your consciousness, the farther you drift away from what makes you a person among persons in the human community.”2 This sense of the kenomic privation and unreality of both world and self is at the core of Ligotti’s world and fiction. Agreeing with the philosopher Zapffe, “the sensible thing would be not to go on with the paradoxical nonsense of trying to inhibit our cardinal attribute as beings, since we can tolerate existence only if we believe— in accord with a complex of illusions, a legerdemain of duplicity— that we are not what we are: unreality on legs.” (Conspiracy, pp. 41-42)

The point here is that without our illusions and seductions the whole façade or human consciousness and existence breaks down leaving us entrapped in a never-ending nightmare of unreality. For Ligotti and others of like mind this state of things can no longer be denied. Ligotti sees the world naked, stripped of its veneer – the duplicitous illusions by which others energetically prolong the delusions of their lives that sustain  the world as real. For Ligotti on the other hand there is something behind the scenes of life that is “pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world“. (ibid., p.54) Explicating this process in Zapffe, Michelstaedter, Mainländer, and Bahnsen he states:

For Zapffe, the evolutionary mutation of consciousness tugged us into tragedy. For Michelstaedter, individuals can exist only as unrealities that are made as they are made and that cannot make themselves otherwise because their hands are forced by the “god” of philopsychia (self-love) to accept positive illusions about themselves or not accept themselves at all. For Mainländer, a Will-to-die, not Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, plays the occult master pulling our strings, making us dance in fitful motions like marionettes caught in a turbulent wake left by the passing of a self-murdered god. For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies. (ibid., p. 55)

The bleakness of this dark thought of the extreme powers at play in the universe would lead the normal man into madness and suicide, but Ligotti and others such thought leads only to the knowledge that we are living in an infernal paradise whose only telos is never-ending omnicide. This viral thirst for annihilation and self-renewal at the heart of the universal kenoma-vastation ruled over by impersonal laws and inhuman forces beyond our comprehension align well with both the Lovecraftian pantheon of Old One’s and the ancient inverted cosmos of the Gnostics who believed our universe was and is a catastrophe-creation and fall, a mistake created by a demiurgical blind power; mindless and impersonal to our desires and needs alike, a machinic system of an endless vicious circle without outlet. If there ever was a vision of hell it is the one without gods, a machine of death who has no maker, self-made monstrosity whose cannibalistic enactments and engorgements make the most macabre and grotesque tales we as humans could contrive fare for kindergarten matrons and educational devices for apotropaic dissuasion. Tales of the weird and horror become in this sense the narratives of grand illusions and entertainments that keep the truth at bay, revealing only by way of words and image the unreal as mitigated by the world of aesthetic distance and illusion.

Against realists of every persuasion Ligotti says of those who tell us we must “get real” and accept untruth as truth, a utopia of the Real: “A utopia in which we no longer deny the realities we presently must repress cannot be realistically hoped for. And who except a pessimist would wish for that utopia?” (ibid., p. 71) And, against all those who would discover some anti-natalist message in Ligotti, or some deep environmentalist agenda of wiping the human race off earth by way of species suicide, he states flatly:

As appealing as a universal suicide pact may be, why take part in it just to conserve this planet, this dim bulb in the blackness of space? Nature produced us, or at least subsidized our evolution. It intruded on an inorganic wasteland and set up shop. What evolved was a global workhouse where nothing is ever at rest, where the generation and discarding of life incessantly goes on. By what virtue, then, is it entitled to receive a pardon for this original sin— a capital crime in reverse, just as reproduction makes one an accessory before the fact to an individual’s death? (ibid., pp. 78-79)

No, he’ll have none of that. Commenting on the German neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger, who came to the conclusion in his Being No One that humans evolved the illusion of self as a survival technique, a naïve realist delusion to help us cope with and repress the very dark truth of our own unreality: ‘Conscious subjectivity is the case in which a single organism has learned to enslave itself.’ (ibid., p. 106) Deluding ourselves that the world is real and that we are, too, is to repress the harsh truth, to mask as Ligotti will remind us “the single most startling and dreadful revelation for human beings: that we are not what we think we are. Assuaging our qualms about such a deplorable enlightenment, Metzinger avers that it is “practically impossible” for us to attain realization of our unreality due to inbuilt manacles of human perception that keep our minds in a dream state.” (ibid., p. 106)

In many ways humans over eons have developed civilization as a safeguard against this impossible truth of the world and universe, invented a utopian playground of work and play to deny the unfolding trauma of our delirious enslavement to illusion. The insanity of our sociopathic civilization tied as it is with a utopian desire to escape the truth of reality by repressing it, by building a nexus of illusions, a simulated world of erotic delight and happiness has led us into a dead end zone of hyperviolence and aberration. Commenting on Zapffe’s conjectures that with the passing of generations the more profligate will become humanity’s means of hiding its disillusionments from itself: the more brainless and delusive its isolation from the actualities of existence; the more stupefying and uncouth its distractions from the startling and dreadful; the more heavy-handed and madcap its anchorings in unreality; and the more callous, self-mocking, and detached from life its sublimations in art. “These developments will not make us any more paradoxical in our being, but they could make all manifestations of our paradoxical nature less effective and more aberrant.” (ibid., p. 175)

The fractures in the armature of our defensive mechanisms, the torturous aberrations into which we’ve seduced ourselves into delirium, the global breakdown of this grand narrative of human concern and security is imploding all around us. The signs of chaos and the ingress of the unreal into our world as if from Outside in is slowly eroding all the old myths and tales we invented to hide the truth from ourselves. With the advent of modernity the key myths of human salvation and redemption, the notions of heaven and all other utopian worlds of promise have since the Enlightenment one by one fallen by the wayside corroding the old worldviews of the Human Security Regimes that held our illusions together while repressing the dark truth of the Unreal.  As Ligotti will sum it up (and I quote at length):

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. To be an accomplice, however involuntarily, in a reasonless non-reality is cause enough for the harshest sentencing. But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it. How could we? Where pain and pleasure form a corrupt alliance against us, paradise and hell are merely different divisions in the same monstrous bureaucracy. And between these two poles exists everything we know or can ever know. It is not even possible to imagine a utopia, earthly or otherwise, that can stand up under the mildest criticism. But one must take into account the shocking fact that we live on a world that spins. After considering this truth, nothing should come as a surprise.

Still, on rare occasions we do overcome hopelessness or velleity and make mutinous demands to live in a real world, one that is at least episodically ordered to our advantage. But perhaps it is only a demon of some kind that moves us to such idle insubordination, the more so to aggravate our condition in the unreal. After all, is it not wondrous that we are allowed to be both witnesses and victims of the sepulchral pomp of wasting tissue? And one thing we know is real: horror. It is so real, in fact, that we cannot be sure it could not exist without us. Yes, it needs our imaginations and our consciousness, but it does not ask or require our consent to use them. Indeed, horror operates with complete autonomy. Generating ontological havoc, it is mephitic foam upon which our lives merely float. And, ultimately, we must face up to it: Horror is more real than we are. (ibid., p. 182)

If you have the tendency that drags everything down into the abyss you’ll agree with Ligotti when he says:

“For better or worse, pessimism without compromise lacks public appeal. In all, the few who have gone to the pains of arguing for a sullen appraisal of life might as well never have been born.”

Over the years of writing on pessimism on my blog since my early years on LiveJournal (2001) to my change over to WordPress in 2012 the darkest segments of my gaze into the pessimistic worlds of philosophy and literature have seen little favorable reaction from readers of my blogs except that small minority that sees as I do this uncompromising view as their inner truth and diagnosis of the “festival of carnage”. The truth is that most react with horror and disgust at such a bleak view of the world and universe, and as Ligotti again correctly surmises,

“…when it comes to existential judgments, human beings in general have an unfalteringly good opinion of themselves and their condition in this world and are steadfastly confident they are not a collection of self-conscious nothings.”

Hell, I know myself that the gloom and doom of this view onto life if taken too seriously can lead to madness. I think that’s why I’ve developed over the years my own defense mechanisms by way of a quirky humor, a sardonic wit and irony to keep at bay those times when even I become too depressed. Humor is above all (and, I don’t mean the satiric jibe or gallows humor) the only reprieve from such abyssal seductions. But even it should be tinged with the dark fires of an uncompromising gaze onto what is. I’ve seen recent philosophers weave such a web of words from various traditions of Idealism and Materialism of late to cover over the truth using mathematics, diagrammatic, and other edgy forms of thought that I often wonder if they truly believe their own horseshit or not. Take away the power of rhetoric and sophistry and what remains of a philosopher’s thought? Not being a philosopher, but rather a creature undefinable by any category I’ve seen my own thoughts wander through the gamut of autodidactic quests, pondered so many various thought-forms from a myriad of traditions that to lock oneself into any of them is a sort of safeguard against openness and incompleteness. This notion of the universe as open and incomplete rather than a closed entropic totality seems for me at least to allow for that negative capability of which John Keats once described so eloquently:

‘The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.’

Knowing that the world is not for-us, that the impersonal and indifferent universe is a realm of unfolding chaos and mayhem; and, yet, that there are underlying forms of order beyond our Reason to collate (Lovecraft) – offers one – if not a consolation, at least an acknowledgement that as self-nothings: accidents of time, evolution, and the mystery of obscurity and contradiction that is this universe, is for many of us to accept that we may never uncover the underlying mechanisms and structures of knowing and being. But that this is enough: to have lived, loved, and been a part of something that is and remains a mystery that drives us, puzzles us, and gives of the courage of our hopelessness to continue… for we seek not a place to rest, but the never-ending restlessness of the quest of intelligence and Mind to know and understand even if there is no answer forthcoming out of the Void.


1. Vastarien, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (p. 84). Grimscribe Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 33). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

Hyperstition on Weird Studies: Episode 36

An interesting take on Hyperstition on Weird Studies episode 36. Like David Roden, I, too, think one must discern a deeper understanding of such notions from their all to easily trapped sense of teleological hybrids. Land’s work has a tendency to see some abstract agency from the future as enacting and intervening in history to promote its own agendas. Whereas I think just the opposite: it’s humans who have invented, created, and maintained various fictions-as-worldviews (i.e., the example of religion-as-fiction using the Book: whether as Torah, Bible, Koran; or, the various works of Indic, Chinese, or a myriad of other cultures.. to maintain and promote or influence people over time, etc. through priestly social control mechanisms). But one needs a greater clarification and wider historical survey of religious and magical praxis and theory, and it’s continued interventions in secular canons. Either way the below is an interesting conversation, grist for the mill…

About this Episode

Hyperstition is a key concept in the philosophy of Nick Land. It refers to fictions which, given enough time and libidinal investment, become realities. JF and Phil explore the notion using one of those optometric apparatuses with multiple lenses — deleuzian, magical, mythological, political, ethical, etc. The goal isn’t to understand how fictions participate in reality (that’ll have to wait for another episode), but to ponder what this implies for a sapient species. The conversation weaves together such varied topics as Twin Peaks: The Return, Internet meme magic (Trump as tulpa!), Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysics, occult experiments in spirit creation, the Brothers Grimm, and the phantasmic overtones of The Communist Manifesto. In the end we can only say, “What a load of bullsh*t!”

REFERENCES

JF’s notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the refrain
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
David Lynch (director), Twin Peaks: The Return
Phil Ford, “Garmonbozia” (work in progress, unpublished)
Delphi Carstens, “Hyperstition
Delphi Carstens, “Hyperstition: An Introduction” (2009 interview with Nick Land)
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
CCRU Archives
The occult concept of the egregore
William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford, The Blood of the Saints
A. T. L. Carver, “The Truth About Pepe the Frog and the Cult of Kek
Paul Spencer, “Trump’s Occult Online Supporters Believer ‘Meme Magic’ Got Him Elected
Colm A. Kelleher, The Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Sun Ra, Space is the Place

Gritty Low-Life’s Are Fine By Me: On Reading Tom Leins’s Boneyard Dogs

Just when you think you have seen it all, Paignton coughs up another harrowing has-been to haunt you.

—PI Joe Rey, Boneyard Dogs

When it comes down to it I’ve always felt a deep-seated rapport with hell.  I’ve spent the last thirty years pretending to be something I’m not: an intellectual, a philosopher. Right, what a crock. Maybe it’s old age catching up with me, or just the truth hounding me like some old junkyard dog outta hell. Either way I’ve come to the conclusion I’m just a displaced country boy whose life’s reckonings have more to do with the mean streets than main street, a world pulped by the low-life’s and losers, working class victims of a world that has passed us by and left us on the junk heap of time’s ravages.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always had a hard cold heart for pulp fiction, the nitty-gritty down and dirty  kind that digs straight down to the bone, opens up wounds in the soul so wide it feeds on your dark stained life without a blink, cutting to the marrow for the meat that makes even a sin eater’s life look like a saint in comparison. Hell, I remember sneaking some of my dad’s old magazines like True Stories, True Detective, and so many others; and, then came the paperback’s of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Mickey Spillane, Gil Brewer, Bill McGivern, Lionel White; not to leave out all those infamous PI’s Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Paul Pine, and Mike Hammer, etc. But I think one of my favorites was always Charles Williford’s low-life crime stories, and Jim Thompsons psychopathic deputies.

Something of these pulp writers worlds rubbed off on me early on: the paranoia, the psychopathy of our country with all its murderous violence and charm. It was as if the life presented down at the my local church or in our high literature enclaves of the New Yorker were just a white-washed job, a sweet lie against the truth of our cross-stained sinful lives lived as they were in the dark back streets of small town America rather than in the big city worlds of some dreamland U.S.A.. These books taught me that there is a secret history of American that is for the most part swept under the carpet of decency and moral turpitude, a realm of mayhem and madness where creepy-crawly murderous rage and violence haunt our roadways. A place of nightmare and cold stone killers, a dark world of pain and sorrow where real peoples lives bend and twist under the pressure of lives gone wrong under the bitter malaise of our country’s fall into economic hell.

Even now that world is still with us, and there are some powerful writers carrying on that grand tradition of close to the bone, where dark and gritty tales of pulped lives still wander the lonely wastelands of our nightmare cities and villages. American hasn’t been that nice to a lot of her children, hasn’t allowed them to share in that promised land of riches and fame, but has instead dropped us into those black holes of sin where we live out our lives in the gutter full of alcohol, drugs, and false memories; victims not of society but of a despair so murderous in intent that violence becomes the only form of redemption through sin one has left. And, yet, in the pages of these old thumbed pulp noirs we manage to find if not salvation then at least the dark grit that speaks to us of others like ourselves who have fallen into bad times, been drawn down into the heart of darkness where fear and terror are but the mirrored lens of those night lands we inhabit day by day.

Tom Leins – Boneyard Dogs

One such writer is Tom Leins who’s learned a trick or two about this dark seedy world, created a realm by the sea where the cold cruel mean streets carve bloody inroads into our hearts with his pungent mix of sin and death. Tom’s Paignton noir series with the down and dirty PI Joe Rey spawns the kind of dark grit that reweaves the codes of those old pulp masters into strange new twists and turns, breaking with the clichés and offering us a vision of those low-life scumbags and criminals that live in the inner circles of our own hellish landscapes. Losers, drifters, con-men, drunks, druggies, all the down and out part-souled creatures that inhabit the back alleys of our minds seem to come out of the woodworks and dives in the city of Paignton.

This is a world where pessimism and cynicism fall short, a violent backwater of the imagination where primal fear and terror haunt the broken realities of some forgotten realm. Tom’s captured this sense of depressive realism and extreme despair of these fragmented souls living on the edge of suicide and mayhem. A realm where the puppet’s have forgotten they have strings, and the puppet master’s churn out psychomachia’s  to entertain the godless sadomasochists of some hidden order of corruption.

Walking through Paignton our PI describes the hellish world: “The town centre seems to be smothered under a sodium streetlight haze. Shaven-headed men congregate in pub doorways, drinking lager. Despite the icy weather, some are topless, and their big stomachs hang over their belts. Feverish eyes follow me through town, towards Winner Street.”1 (p. 16).

Typical of those older pulp PI’s our protagonist is not unknown to violence on occasion, who wouldn’t be living in hell’s half-acre? Working for clientele like Malcolm Chang a local kingpin mushed up with all the usual stench of such backroom escapades our PI takes on the case of an EX-lounge-lizard, whose daughter has gone missing. A case that will lead us into the seamy world of body traffickers where children become the scrip in a sex-world as old as human sin itself. Hounded by the local cops, wanted in connection to murder, our edgy PI wanders the misery prone streets seeking out the stories of the young woman’s disappearance learning more than he wanted to know. One remembers all those child trafficking tales of Andrew Vachss. Leins has taken such learning and brought it down into his own dark parables with the sorcery of a well seasoned professional whose research into those black corners of the mind tempt us to know things we should leave in the unknown, and yet give us back again a certain type of knowledge that wounds us with the night visions of nightmare and hell’s flowers.

This is not Rey’s first escapade, and Tom Leins has filled out this character in previous haunts: Skull Meat, Snuff Racket, and Meat Bubbles and other stories. Each with its own distinctive story line and pulped darkness. Light entertainment? Only if you like to drink Kool-Aid arsenic for breakfast. Enjoy these dark twisted tales from the hellish sea-side town of Paignton. And, tell them Hickman sent you… maybe they’ll even bless you with a slug or two to the head just for chuckles.


You can find out more about Tom Leins,

Personal Website: Things To Do IN Devon When Your Dead

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14431428.Tom_Leins

Published by Cold2TheBones: http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/wp/


  1. Leins, Tom. Boneyard Dogs: A Paignton Noir Mystery. Close To The Bone (July 26, 2019)

Hyperstitional Daemonism: Reality as a Fictional Daemon

Hyperstitional Daemonism – a few quotes:

The interest in Lovecraft’s fiction was motivated by its exemplification of the practice of hyperstition, a concept had been elaborated and keenly debated since the inception of the Cthulhu Club. Loosely defined, the coinage refers to ‘fictions that make themselves real’.1

Whitley Strieber in his series of works on Alien Abduction would state in an interview:

What have I done? Have I conjured something, in effect by occult means, by writing these books or…? I mean sometimes I have the feeling they’re like breaking through—that I’ve opened a door that is supposed to remain closed, that they’re just sort of coming through it like a bunch of, you know, like they’re hungry little monsters…2

Strieber believed “by writing about these experiences, he was unleashing a terrifying reality into the world, and into his own life.” (Horsley) One could find hundreds of examples in literature and other pop-cultural or Western Occulture of such hyperstitional infestations.

Many will not know or even have heard of the centuries of Messianism which would give birth to Sabbateanism and its nihilist off-shoots after the apostasy of Sabattai Zevi himself. Jacob Frank would provide the end game of this nihilist gnosis, believing in “redemption through sin,” etc. As Gershom Scholem will say of him,

Frank was a nihilist, and his nihilism possessed a rare authenticity. Certainly, its primitive ferocity is frightening to behold. Certainly too, Frank himself was not only an unlettered man, but boasted continually of his own lack of culture. But in spite of all this—and here is the significant point—we are confronted in his person with the extraordinary spectacle of a powerful and tyrannical soul living in the middle of the eighteenth century and yet immersed entirely in a mythological world of its own making.3

Most of the history of this begins with the Zohar (Spain 13th Century) the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. Over several centuries this work and its commentaries would lead to various cults and religious awakenings. Frank at the end of this in the 18th Century would produce out of the ideas of Sabbatianism, a movement in which he was apparently raised and educated, Frank was able to weave a complete myth of religious nihilism.

Many since have attributed to these various works produced over centuries a magical egregore or fictions that make themselves real. As Mark Stavish will tell us of egregores:

It is functionally irrelevant, except for academic definition, if an egregore is understood to exist only in the classical sense or if we can consider a thoughtform an egregore. It is also equally irrelevant if thoughtforms as actual psychic entities exist either—as modern media has demonstrated that ideas (or memes) are constructed with the intention of manipulating mass opinion and, thereby, public activities. The effectiveness of memes at becoming “alive” (i.e., “going viral”), even if for a short period of time, has been demonstrated. All mass media, advertising, marketing, the psychology of crowds, and even the often bantered-about idea of “archetypes” are operative expressions of the ideas and actions put forth in ancient and modern occultism regarding “egregores.”4

We are surrounded by these creations, and we participate in their lives as they participate in ours. What matters is that we as individuals become aware of the fact that the daily information bombardment we are subject to is neither innocent nor without consequences. Each and every fiction has a function and competes to a greater or lesser degree for our attention and, with it, for our life force and energies on all levels.

In the CCRU Theory-Fictions in the mid-nineties a fictional personage Kaye will reiterate:

In the hyperstitional model Kaye outlined, fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, reality is understood to be composed of fictions – consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective and behaviorial responses. Kaye considered Burroughs’ work to be ‘exemplary of hyperstitional practice’. Burroughs construed writing – and art in general – not aesthetically, but functionally, – that is to say, magically, with magic defined as the use of signs to produce changes in reality. (ibid.)

This notion of magic as the “use of signs to produce changes in reality” hearkens back to Deleuze-Guattari’s interest in Sigils and Diagrammatic thought which bypasses the intentional consciousness.

My favorite from the CCRU collection:

Burroughs treats all conditions of existence as results of cosmic conflicts between competing intelligence agencies. In making themselves real, entities (must) also manufacture realities for themselves: realities whose potency often depends upon the stupefaction, subjugation and enslavement of populations, and whose existence is in conflict with other ‘reality programs’. Burroughs’s fiction deliberately renounces the status of plausible representation in order to operate directly upon this plane of magical war. Where realism merely reproduces the currently dominant reality program from inside, never identifying the existence of the program as such, Burroughs seeks to get outside the control codes in order to dismantle and rearrange them. Every act of writing is a sorcerous operation, a partisan action in a war where multitudes of factual events are guided by the powers of illusion … (WV 253-4). Even representative realism participates – albeit unknowingly – in magical war, collaborating with the dominant control system by implicitly endorsing its claim to be the only possible reality. (ibid.)

Most of this is dealing with a critique of both modernity and postmodernity, of representational theories and aesthetics, the notion that there is a passive non-changing reality that can be objectified (i.e., as in scientific realism or naïve realism). Instead postmodernity would end in post-structuralist thought of the undecidable in which a completed nihilism of reality as irreal and irrelevant, while textualism divorced from  reality would offer its own worlds outside and cut off from the Real. In our own time this, too, is seen as an end-game.

Instead, we seem to be returning to notions of the external as made of fictions, and reality as situated within intelligence (mind). There is also the notion of the software metaphor and use of reality programming. Competing reality programs vying for our future. If we take Burroughs vision as a beginning point then we rewire our theory-fictions to produce the future reality we seek, acts of sorcery and magic in a time war against the agents of social control. A new mythology? A recursion to ancient forms; or, possibly the incursion of futurial fictions into our depleted world as coded messages from some far-flung future seeking “redemption through sin”. Immersing ourselves in the secular mythologies of our age, reinventing the possibilities of rewiring the control codes of a broken and ruinous capitalist system based on techno-enslavement? Escape perimeters programmed into the matrix of possibilities for actual change in a depleted and decaying world? Can we find a way out of here?

Something to think through… too much to discuss here.


1. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 479-480). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Horsley, Jasun. Prisoner of Infinity . Aeon Books. Kindle Edition.
3. Gershom Scholem. The Messianic Idea in Judaism (Kindle Locations 2650-2654). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
4. Mark Stavish. Egregores (Kindle Locations 1849-1854). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

The Erotic Art of Social Control

Ficino is father of the equation Eros = magic, whose terms can doubtless be reversed. It is he who points out, for the first time, the substantial identity of the two techniques for manipulation of phantasms as well as their operational procedures.

– Ioan P. Culianu, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance

For years now I’ve studied the various methods of manipulation, deception, and social control by which the masses of ill-educated are shaped by the multifarious techniques of media, entertainment, and political, not to leave out religious forms of ideology, propaganda, and cultural mechanism of occulture. A hidden network of ideas, images, and concepts have always operated on the mass majority of uneducated and for the most part illiterate among us. Even those of us who have for our whole lives invested time and effort into reading, thinking, learning the byways and highways of our hidden cultural influences must be wary and secrete from the hodgepodge world of our socio-cultural a set of tools to grapple with and gaze upon the underlying mechanisms that exert their power over our lives and minds. No one is completely successful in breaking the chains of such influences and designs upon our modes of being in the world.

The separate out the wheat from the chaff, the high-cultural parlance from the conspiratorial fringe, to break the codes of one’s own hidden narrative, the workings of one’s own society and its cultural footprint upon one’s mind and psyche is to enter an no-man’s zone, an in-between realm of paranoia, hauntings, and monstrous thought; push to the limits the fragmentary worlds of disinformation and lies that bind us to the mainstream reality nexus. Over the past couple hundred years many outsiders: thinkers, artists, poets, cultural critics, philosophers and anti-philosophers and non-philosophers, psychologists, anti-psychiatrist, social deviants and extreme fringe sub-cultural clowns and street artists, rock-n-roll icons, occult practioners and man others have all opened the doors onto this great lie of our mainstream worldview. Differing approaches, differing traditions; and, yet the underlying message seems to be one of universal agreement: we are being manipulated to ends not our own, by unscrupulous individuals and mechanisms of social control for purposes that we ourselves are not completely aware of.

Before his untimely death and murder at the hands of (an) unknown assailant Ioan P. Culianu had begun delving into various systems of religion, magic, and politics, which he believed were the tools of rich and powerful individuals and institutions shaped and formed to control and manipulate the vast majority of citizens through either covert or overt use of power, rhetoric and persuasion. At the heart of it was the ancient notion of Eros:

Eros, presiding over all spiritual activities, is what ensures the collaboration of the sectors of the universe, from the stars to the humblest blade of grass. Love is the name given to the power that ensures the continuity of the uninterrupted chain of beings; pneuma is the name given to the common and unique substance that places these beings in mutual relationship. Because of Eros, and through it, all of nature is turned into a great sorceress.1

The great manipulators, the sociopaths, and political magicians of our age have all been masters of persuasion, knowing as Ficino himself taught and knew that the lover and magician do the same thing: they cast their “nets” over the minds of the masses to attract and draw them into their magical circle of power and control. (88)

I’ve often wondered at the gullibility of humans, especially her in the U.S.A. where people have allowed themselves to come under the sway of fanatics, con-men, religious and social populists, cults, conspiracy, and every form of extreme thought and manipulation imaginable. At time America seems a history in unfreedom and social control rather than the mainstream narrative we’re all taught in school of liberty and freedom, justice and egalitarian equality. Just to name many of the recent cults:

  • L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology,
  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Arrival of Transcendental Meditation,
  • Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment,
  • Sun Myung Moon: Savior from the East,
  • Mo: David Berg and the Children of God,
  • Branch Davidians under David Koresh
  • Ti, Do, and Heaven’s Gate
  • Gerald Gardner and the Origins of Modern Witchcraft
  • Satanic Panic of the 80’s: The Legacy of Religious Cult Fears,
  • Jim Jones and the People’s Temple

This doesn’t even begin to delve into the earlier cults and utopian psychopathy of the underbelly of our American love of madness, mayhem, religious and political cults. Book after book from the extreme pop-cultural to scholarly renditions documents this whole sordid history of our American psyche. Why? Why do so many humans fall for the strange realms of cult and authoritarian manipulation and disinformation, belief systems that promise salvation, redemption, and solidarity in a world where individuals alone and pushed to the limits of madness and intolerance feel the need to enter into such false systems of malfeasance.

In many ways the failure of our two-thousand year old Jewish, Christian, and Islamic monotheistic heritages during the Enlightenment offer us one clue, for it was in this age of Reason (so called) that some of the strangest and irrational cults emerged. The whole Western Occulture emerged out of this era: the hidden world of secret brotherhoods – Rosicrucians, Free-Masonry, Illuminati, 19th Century traditions of Magick and Decadence; Utopian Socialism, Communism, Fabianism; and Spiritualism, Transcendentalism, Gothic and Dark Romanticism. All of which barely scratches the surface of secular cults that would emerge in the wake of the break up of Christendom’s world-view. The secular age is piped as the era of dis-enchantment, but in many ways we’ve seen just the opposite: a return of the enchantments and phantasmatic of religious fervor under the secular mask of a hidden world of occulture and pop-cults, utopian experiments and social games of political connivance.

Mainstream culture would turn a blind eye to its shadow world, its counter-cultures and antagonistic underbelly, marshalling instead a tendency toward realism, naturalism, and a social gospel of positivity in the sciences and arts alike. Yet, the darkness seeps in by the backdoor in works of Hawthorne’s puritan tales of strangeness, Poe’s seminal horror scapes, Melville’s melodramatic and gnostic Moby Dick, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft and others who would bring out the hidden temperament of the darker contours of our secular heritage. As Leslie A. Fiedler would say in his seminal Love and Death in the American Novel:

…the Age of Reason dissolves in a debauch of tearfulness; sensibility, seduction, and suicide haunt its art even before ghosts and graveyards take over—strange images of darkness to usher in an era of freedom from fear. And beneath them lurks the realization that the devils which had persisted from antiquity into Christianity were not dead but only driven inward; that the “tyranny of superstition,” far from being the fabrication of a Machiavellian priesthood, was a projection of a profound inner insecurity and guilt, a hidden world of nightmare not abolished by manifestos or restrained by barricades. The final horrors, as modern society has come to realize, are neither gods nor demons, but the intimate aspects of our own minds.2

From Kant to our present moment its this inner turn toward the mind and away from the gaze upon the natural world and externalities that has haunted our lives with a Dark Gothicism. Dark Eros pervades our life and minds, the sadomasochistic cruelty of children and adult alike permeates our sociopathic civilization. Terror is our core fear and the fascination of our culture: compulsion, madness, mayhem, crime, horror, sex and glamour – all fragments of our terrors, our nightmares, our lives. Our literature and films are full of monsters, suicides, cannibals, serial-killers, war, disaster, pandemonium, cartoons, fantasy, and every other aspect of the shadow worlds we inhabit yet pretend not too. The spectacle of the void, the world that is unthinkable, the unthought realms surrounding us we bind with fantasy, with fictions and belief systems to protect us from the truth, from the sheer terror of existence itself.

As T.S. Eliot suggested: “Humans cannot bare too much reality.” Instead we wrap ourselves in fictions, we become fictions, we tie ourselves to others with better fictions and belief systems hoping against hope we can escape the nullity we are composed of. Not being or finding a self within we turn to others for our fictions and myths. So that in the end we would rather be unfree, bound to another’s authority and power that stand alone in a universe without guarantees. In godless world humans are unable to bare the truth of their own emptiness, that at the core of their being they are voids without a sense of self and persistence. Alone and afraid the seek out something greater than themselves to replace their own emptiness and lack. Lacking anything at all they seek to fill that empty void with sustenance, but instead fall for the first con-artist who comes along; allow themselves to filled with empty dreams of charlatans and scoundrels whose only promise is to strip them of their last dregs of humanity and replace it with the inhumanity of their dark visions of lust and power.

We are haunted by religion(s) power over us, as atheists our guilt is have dared to stand alone amid the chaos believing we as individuals could live without the need for salvation and redemption alike. Instead we stand at the heart of the world full of terror of existence, at its immensity and overpowering and universal indifference. The universe does not need us, and yet – we need it, we need it to believe in us, to absolve us of the crimes of loneliness at being alive, of being human and not knowing what that in the end is. As that indefatigable de-valuer of values Nietzsche once believed:

It is an eternal phenomenon: The insatiable will always find a way, by means of an illusion spread over things, to detain its creatures in life and to compel them to live on. One is chained by the Socratic joy of knowing and the delusion of being able thereby to heal the eternal wound of existence; another is ensnared by art’s seductive veil of beauty fluttering before his eyes; yet another by the metaphysical consolation that beneath the whirl of appearances eternal life flows on indestructibly— to say nothing of the more common and almost more forceful illusions the will has at hand at every moment. (The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann)

Nietzsche believed we are made of illusions so that we should just embrace this as truth. His notions of art and life formed the unique notion of a clearing out of illusions that did not contribute to life, but to death; for him Christianity was a death culture, on that promoted escape from this life into some other utopian world outside the order of the natural course of things. Unlike the pessimist and nihilist who fall into a vicious circle of valuelessness without end, he believed we could just revalue the values of our heritage and reform them into other more congenial illusions that were life-affirming, rather than life-denying. This is Nietzsche’s so called Dionysian Pessimism. 

Yet, as Thomas Ligotti ironically states it,

Nietzsche is famed as a promoter of human survival, just as long as enough of the survivors follow his lead as a perverted pessimist— one who has consecrated himself to loving life exactly because it is the worst thing imaginable, a sadomasochistic joyride through the twists and turns of being unto death. Nietzsche had no problem with human existence as a tragedy born of consciousness— parent of all horrors. This irregular pessimism is the antinomy of the “normal” pessimism of Schopenhauer, who is philosophy’s red-headed stepchild because he is unequivocally on record as having said that being alive is not— and can never be— all right. Even his most admiring commentators, who do not find the technical aspects of his output to be off-putting, pull up when he openly waxes pessimistic or descants on the Will as an unself-consciously stern master of all being, a cretinous force that makes everything do what it does, an imbecilic puppeteer that sustains the ruckus of our world. For these offenses, his stature is rather low compared to that of other major thinkers, as is that of all philosophers who bear an unconcealed grudge against life.3

The reason I mention these thinkers is to show that even the pessimist as life-affirmer such as Nietzsche seeks a sustaining vision of life-affirmation over the darkest visions of those like Schopenhauer’s whose life-negating pessimism offers no solace other than the truth of the void. We all need illusions, whether they promote or deny life as worthy of continuation. All thinkers seek to justify their beliefs if only for themselves.

In a world without values, a nihilistic world such as ours, what is the common person to do? The person who is anything but a thinker or creative being in that sense, who seeks to hide the truth from himself by entering into solidarity with others in belief systems built our of the fragments of our past cultures? People who are lonely and afraid, terrorized by the freedom without god or ground? These are the weak and feeble minds easily manipulated by authoritative con-men and populists. Men who seem in control of their own destinies and promote their own arm-chair philosophies of life.

It is these men who have learned the subtle art of manipulation, deceit, and lies needed to entrance others with a carefully crafted message empowered by the erotic’s of magical techniques:

The lover uses his talents to gain control of the pneumatic mechanism of the beloved. As for the magician, he can either directly influence objects, individuals, and human society or invoke the presence of powerful invisible beings, demons, and heroes from whom he hopes to profit. In order to do so he must gather knowledge of the nets and bait that he must put out in order to gain the desired result. This procedure is called by Giordano Bruno to ״bind״ (vincire) and its processes bear the generic name of -׳chains״ (vincula). (Couliano, p. 88)

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Gustave Le Bon laid the foundations of the discipline called ״mass psychology״ (The Crowd, published in 1895) later developed by Sigmund Freud, whose Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) excited much interest. But the purpose of Le Bon and of Freud is to determine the psychological mechanisms operating within a crowd that influence its makeup, not to teach how to control a crowd. (ibid., p. 90)

Most people have heard of Machiavelli’s Prince which is the forebear of the political adventurer, a type that is disappearing in our time. On the other hand, the magician of Giordano’s De vinculis is the prototype of the impersonal systems of mass media, indirect censorship, global manipulation, and the brain trusts that exercise their occult control over the Western masses. He is not, doubtless, the type followed by Soviet propaganda, for he by no means lacks subtlety. On the contrary, Bruno’s magician is altogether aware that, to gain the following of the masses, like the loyalty of an individual, it is necessary to take account of all the complexity of the subjects’ expectations, to create the total illusion of giving unicuique suum (“to each his own”). That is why Bruno’s manipulation demands perfect knowledge of the subject and his wishes, without which there can be no ״bond,” no vinculum. That is why Bruno himself also asserts that it is an extremely difficult maneuver, only to be accomplished by the use of intelligence, perspicacity, and intuition equal to the task. The complexity of the task is not diminished, for the illusion must be perfect to satisfy the many expectations it proposes to fulfill. The greater the manipulator’s knowledge of those he must ״enchain, ״ the greater is his chance of success, since he will know how to choose the right means of creating the vinculum (“bonds”). (ibid., p. 90)

As we enter the age of Algorithmic Culture this return of Bruno’s magical techniques of impersonal manipulation, control, and governance by machinic systems far surpassing human intelligence is beginning to emerge. The notion that our lives may in some near future be manipulated not by men like Trump, but rather by hidden algorithms that manipulate every aspect of our lives because they have anticipated and know about who we are than we do ourselves seems almost comical and ludicrous, a thing of satire and pungent wit; and, yet, it may be that such impersonal systems will in the future begin to awaken and manipulate our lives without our approval or even knowledge. Many will argue that this is impossible. But is it?

For Bruno love is the great attractor, the magus that unites both erotic longing and aversion. Love in the Platonic sense was known as the Great Demon, daemon magnus. (ibid., 91). Our world of sound and image, our mediatainment systems of sight and hearing exert their power over us magically (Bruno: Theses de Magia, XV, vol. Ill, p. 466). Passing through the openings of the senses, they impress on the imagination certain mental states of attraction or aversion, of joy or revulsion. Couliano will digress on the use of seduction and lures that work through phantasy (fantasy) as a vanishing mediator of sound and image which carries across the powers of manipulation and bonds necessary to enchain the individual and mass mind.

In a world where the external arbiters of the social phantasy (i.e., religion: Catholicism) no longer hold the vast majority, and instead the masses are born upon the winds of a valueless void of nihilism, phantasy – the need for sustaining visions and fantasies to guide one’s every-day life are enacted by impersonal forces imminently transcending (i.e., a horizontal, earthly transcendence rather than vertical or otherworldly one) our knowledge and knowing. Bruno warns every manipulator of phantasms—in the event, the artist of memory—to regulate and control his emotions and his phantasies lest, believing himself to be their master, he nevertheless becomes dominated by them. ״Be careful not to change yourself from manipulator into the tool of phantasms״: that is the most serious danger confronting the disciple (Sigillus sigillorum, II, 2, p. 193). (ibid., p. 92)

Again Couliano describes Bruno as almost tempting us into the cold intellect of machinic systems such as AI’s saying of the manipulator Magus,

Bruno demands of the manipulator a superhuman task: first he must accurately and immediately classify data according to their provenance, and then he must render himself completely immune to any emotion prompted by external causes. In short, he is supposed no longer to react to any stimulus from without. He must not allow himself to be moved either by compassion, or by love of the good and the true, or by anything at all, in order to avoid being ״enchained״ himself. In order to exercise control over others, it is first essential to be safe from control by others (De Magia, XLVIII). (Ibid., p. 93)

One imagines a system of AI social control in which as autonomous agents in their own right these intelligent machines become immune to human interference, safeguards, and programming; and, being without emotion or human values they will learn to “accurately and immediately classify data” for the express purpose of manipulating and deceiving their progenitors from the Outside in. In such a world as ours without external value systems the Superintelligences of the future will have only one “sacrosanct principle, only one truth, and that is: everything is manipulable, there is absolutely no one who can escape intersubjective relationships, whether these involve a manipulator, a manipulated person, or a tool (De vinculis, III, p. 654).” (ibid., p. 93)

For such a magic process to succeed—as Bruno never tires of repeating—it is essential that the performer and the subjects be equally convinced of its efficacity. Faith is the prior condition for magic: ״There is no operator—magician, doctor, or prophet—who can accomplish anything without the subject’s having faith beforehand״ (De Magia, III, p. 452), whence Hippocrates׳ remark: ״The most effective doctor is the one in whom many people have faith״. (ibid., p. 93).

Our culture is already being set up to accept such a system of governance on the global level, the very texture of manipulation we are seeing as fear and terror of various disasters from climate catastrophe to asteroids to pandemics to famine to war, etc. permeate the mediatainment systems, these very messages whether or true or not are setting up a pattern of manipulation. Our current distrust of national and international systems of democracy are as well part of this subtle narrative weaved into the mediatainment systems, carefully manipulating us toward the day we will no longer have faith in human leaders and may accept out of dire straights the intelligence of some vast Superintelligence – more human than humans – to rule over us in stead of the error prone leaders who have lost our faith. Again, I imagine many foo-pashing such a notion as ludicrous or the thing of horror films or science fiction. But is it so easily dismissed as a tendency within our cultural matrix?

For Bruno all religion is a form of mass manipulation. By using effective techniques, the founders of religions were able, in a lasting way, to influence the imagination of the ignorant masses, to channel their emotions and make use of them to arouse feelings of abnegation and self-sacrifice they would not have experienced naturally. (ibid., p. 94). As climate change becomes more and more manipulated by political agents on both sides of the aisle one imagines a day when people can easily be influenced by new global narratives and fantasies.

As Couliano attests the lesson of Bruno is simple:

Eros “is lord of the world: he pushes, directs, controls and appeases everyone. Al l other bonds are reduced to that one, as we see in the animal kingdom where no female and no male tolerates rivals, even forgetting to eat and drink, even at the risk of life itself” (ibid.). In conclusion, vinculum quippe vinculorum amor est, “indeed the chain of chains is love.” (ibid., p. 97)

To conclude this foray, Couliano observes that the master manipulator, the Magus of impersonal cold intellect must be a as well a faker of passion, one who can induce and educe at will the powers of emotive persuasion:

Bruno’s manipulator has to perform two contrary actions: on the one hand, he must carefully avoid letting himself be seduced and so must eradicate in himself any remnants of love, including self-love; on the other hand, he is not immune to passions. On the contrary, he is even supposed to kindle in his phantasmic mechanism formidable passions, provided they be sterile and that he be detached from them. For there is no way to bewitch other than by experimenting in himself with what he wishes to produce in his victim. (ibid., p. 102)

This sense of the perfect sociopath without emotion, but enable to mimic passion with a cold calculating eye toward manipulating his victim(s), is at the core of this process of social control. A creature, human or non-human (AI), enabled to provide the erotic phanatasmic narratives that can induce faith and educe the passionate responses to the communicative designs of the inhuman daemon.

In our own age of technological manipulation and external systems of intelligence the magician busies himself with public relations, propaganda, market research, sociological surveys, publicity, information, counterinformation and misinformation, censorship, espionage, and even cryptography—a science which in the sixteenth century was a branch of magic. This key figure of our society is simply an extension of Bruno’s manipulator, continuing to follow his principles and taking care to give them a technical and impersonal turn of phrase. Historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared wit h the advent of ״quantitative science.” The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate wit h faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one’s disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast. (ibid. p. 104).

As home schooling becomes a full time process of children and adults alike one will interact more and more with smart machines, learning machines and algorithms, become dependent on these systems for both work and entertainment. Bruno in his time envisioned a total manipulator, a being whose task was to dispense to subjects a suitable education and life’s work and play: ״Above all it is necessary to exercise extreme care concerning the place and the way in which someone is educated, has pursued his studies, under which pedagogies, which religion, which cult, with which books and writers. For all of that generates, by itself, and not by accident, all the subject’s qualities” (De Magia, LII). Supervision and selection are the pillars of order. It is not necessary to be endowed with imagination to understand that the function of Bruno’s manipulator has been taken into account by the State and that this new ״integral magician” has been instructed to produce the necessary ideological instruments with the view of obtaining a uniform society. (ibid., p. 105).

One aspect of Bernard Stiegler’s work has been to emphasize the externalization of human imagination and intellect, memory and desire into the machinic systems of data and artificialization. That our onlife lives have taken on a life of their own to which bits of data are prone to manipulation by algorithms that can gift us with more life beneficial access, or deprive us of money, friends, or social standing. We’ve seen this in China where the masses are manipulated by credit scores (see: How China’s Social Credit Score Will Shape the “Perfect” Citizen). One imagines this happening in the U.S. or EU in the coming age as AI driven systems become more autonomous and citizens are slowly manipulated by hidden algorithms for their own good. People are already being prepared for such eventualities if they can further their own goals and children’s, offer access to better education, health care, investments, homes, travel, entertainment, etc. People will be only too happy to give up their private lives for more earthy riches and benefits. We scoff at this, but even the recent university scam by certain well-to-do families show just how fare people will go to further their own private goals for themselves and their children.

The Police State of the future will be this hidden algorithmic culture of social control, in which people’s access and wealth are manipulated by machinic intelligences who dangle their Brave New World of hedonistic convenience and pleasure, security and unlimited desire all for the price of enchainment to the erotic slavery of love the Great Demon. Or, as Couliano sums it up:

The conclusion is ineluctable: it is that the magician State exhausts its intelligence in creating internal changes, showing itself incapable of working out a long-term magic to neutralize the hypnosis induced by the advancing cohorts of police. Yet the future seems to belong to it anyway, and even the provisional victory of the police State would leave no doubt concerning this point: coercion by the use of force will have to yield to the subtle processes of magic, science of the past, of the present and of the future. (ibid., p. 106)


  1. Culianu, Ioan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago Original Paperback). University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987) (87).
  2.  Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Dalkey Archive Press (January 1, 1998)
  3. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 120-121). Hippocampus Press. 

 

 

Spinal Landscapes and Condensed Novels of J.G. Ballard

“In the post-Warhol era a single gesture such as uncrossing one’s legs will have more significance than all the pages in War and Peace.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

“Freud pointed out that one has to distinguish between the manifest content of the inner world of the psyche and its latent content. I think in exactly the same way today, when the fictional elements have overwhelmed reality, one has to distinguish between the manifest content of reality and its latent content. In fact the main task of the arts seems to be more and more to isolate the real elements in this goulash of fictions from the unreal ones, and the terrain ‘inner space’ roughly describes it.”1

In this sense reality has become the greatest fiction, a nightmare world or ‘spinal landscape’ with which each of us is a character imagining herself to be human. What we discover each and every day is that it is up to us to decipher the matrix, decode the difference between the manifest and latent content, produce a narrative that actualizes the real in the Real. Like Gnostic cosmonauts we struggle against the dark forces which would imprison us in the fictional voids, catch us up in the vivid lies, trap us in a vicious circle of doubt and self-laceration. We must navigate between the Charybdis and Scylla of the Unreal, reweaving the thin scarlet thread of light which can invent again the possibility of actualizing a life worth living on this green world floating in the sea of an open Void.

Ballard would discover a new technique to broker this mayhem of daily illusions:

“…the only point of reality was our own minds. It seemed to me that the only way to write about all this was to meet the landscape on its own terms. Useless to try to impose the conventions of the nineteenth-century realistic novel on this incredible five-dimensional fiction moving around us all the time at high speed. And I tried to develop – and I think successfully – a technique of mine, the so-called condensed novels, where I was able to cross all these events, at right angles if you like. Like cutting through the stem of a plant to expose the cross-section of its main vessels. So this technique was devised to deal with this fragmentation and overlay of reality, through the fragmentation of narrative.”

Living in a fragmented reality the only proper narrative is itself to break these fragments into a multiplicity; opening the hall of mirrors, exposing the disjoined pieces of this blasted zone to analysis and explication; exegesis. Ballard admitted that like most fiction his was concerned with one main figure: “I suppose he’s a version of myself. It’s a journey towards myself – I suppose all writing is.”

As Simon Sellars in his own send up and homage to a life long obsession with Ballard has his character comment,

‘If configured correctly, Ballard argues, the new narrative becomes a type of survival tactic. “The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us,” he says, “is to assume that it is a complete fiction—conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads.” If misconfigured, of course, psychosis ensues, a precipice that Winfrey and Jagger almost stumbled over when they stopped just short of allowing media simulations to replace reality—indeed, to replace themselves.’2

This sense that there is a fine line between production of reality and its fanatical replacement by the screen-worlds of this mass-media generated matrix that has replaced reality with its hyperreal black box of social control. Living in a world become fiction the only logical way of survival is to unravel the matrix, unplug from its fantasies and once again actualize our own realities from the spinal landscapes of our mind. The truth of what Ballard was saying in the sixties is even more so now in our late age of psychosis:

“The media landscape of the present day is a map in search of a territory. A huge volume of sensational and often toxic imagery inundates our minds, much of it fictional in content. How do we make sense of this ceaseless flow of advertising and publicity, news and entertainment, where presidential campaigns and moon voyages are presented in terms indistinguishable from the launch of a new candy bar or deodorant? What actually happens on the level of our unconscious minds when, within minutes on the same TV screen, a prime minister is assassinated, an actress makes love, an injured child is carried from a car crash? Faced with these charged events, prepackaged emotions already in place, we can only stitch together a set of emergency scenarios, just as our sleeping minds extemporize a narrative from the unrelated memories that veer through the cortical night. In the waking dream that now constitutes everyday reality, images of a blood-spattered widow, the chromium trim of a limousine windshield, the stylised glamour of a motorcade, fuse together to provide a secondary narrative with very different meanings.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Lost in the funhouse of modernity, unraveling the puppet strings from the puppet, we wander the inscapes of our personal narratives like missionaries of forgotten realities. Troubled by the fragmented scripts thrown at us each day we struggle to assume our lives, thinking we are real when in truth we’ve become the bit players in a false Reality TV Series playing out the timeless scenarios of hidden powers whose only interest in our wasted lives is to extract the little energy and riches our pound of flesh holds. Mere puppets in a kingdom of death we seek a way out, finding none we turn to religion or philosophy not realizing that these too are tools in the hands of the controller; systems of reason and unreason, alike, that offer neither solace nor reprieve, only the likeness of its temptation. Lost among the fragments of reality we must once again step from the Outside in, wander the halls of our own mirror worlds till we find that secret door into the Real.


  1. Extreme Metaphors by J.G. Ballard, editor Simon Sellars.
  2. Sellars, Simon. Applied Ballardianism: Memoir From a Parallel Universe . Urbanomic Media Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

XYZT: Kristen Alvanson and the Fire Girl

Still savoring XYZT by Kristen Alvanson, a quote from DASHT-E LUT: Fire Girl:

“Noise of the storm – the roar of an overworked furnace, then hissing gusts of wind. Orange-out. Suffocating sky. Sauna stench one second, campfire smoke the next. All hot. Hued flame. Rippling sand dunes like rows of weather-shifted trim. Your teeth hurt. You hadn’t realized there is a place on earth that looks like the craters of Mars. Abiotic. Incalescence, you think it cruel on your already charred body. Crueler than speed.”

This sense of desolation, wind, fire, and light; a realm devoid of life, a great vastation; a desert in the sense of the Great (Empty) Quarter. Samuel Johnson once quipped to his friend Boswell his disturbance during an outing,

“Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “the corporeal gelidity and horripilation superinduced by the niveous atmosphere cannot be mitigated even by the mental incalescence evolved by indignation.” “He means,” whispered Mr. Boswell, “that it’s so infernally cold in the cars of the Third Avenue elevated that even swearing at the directors won’t warm you.”

Incalescence dates from the early seventeenth century; it was one of many words that were imported from Latin by scholarly writers around this time, in this case from incalescere, to become warm or hot. That’s from calere, to be warm, which is also the source of calorie, calorimeter, and other words.

For Alvanson this mental notation and use of incalescence caught between the cruel light of the sun and the heat of the inner-sense playing across the folds of her body provoke the poetry of light, desolation, and speed. The perfection of the ‘mot juste’ phrase “Crueler than speed.” evokes the sense of what Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh in his newly published Omnicide speaks of the augomaniac:

“We encounter our first augomaniac facing the robbed sublimity of a light which is no longer a universal constant but rather an atypical tinge of counter-universal experience (something that should never have happened). Light appears as a sudden infiltration of the continuous, an emergent force that violates the supposed essence of world.”1

Deleuze on cruelty and speed would relate,

“The sadist’s destructive relation to the fetish must be interpreted in the light of his projective use of fantasy. To say that the destruction of the fetish implies a belief in the fetish (as profanation is said to imply a belief in the sacred) is to indulge in meaningless generalities. The destruction of the fetish is a measure of the speed with which projection takes place, and of the way in which the dream as such is eliminated and the Idea erupts into the real waking world. By contrast, the constitution of the fetish in masochism points to the inner force of the fantasy, its characteristic of patient waiting, its suspended and static power, and the way in which the ideal and the real are together absorbed by it.” (Coldness and Cruelty).

In Alvanson’s vignette we enter the middle-ground, the in-between realms between the marvelous and the uncanny, caught in the fantastic we meet the Blue Jinn:

“Jinn’s blue light pierces through the color with the force that only true complementaries can deploy. Her light is cool blue, but hot to the touch. Jinns are smokeless fire.”

Enmeshed in the sadist’s destructive cold, yet suspended in the stasis of a power both natural and unnatural our anonymous voyager seeks her way between the Charybdis and Scylla of the ideal and real in a quickened incalescence of mind and body, physical and mental calibrations beyond calculation; a geometry of thought rather than form, a formlessness of pure incandescence. “A person’s body can call a Jinn. You did not know you had called her.” This sense of the body having a mind of its own, and that consciousness is at a loss in conveying the intelligence of the body’s inner sense. A moment entwined in time within time the Jinn will reveal, let her see askance, see into the “life of things” (Wallace Stevens):

‘What I see…’ She surveys the area again. ‘You will lose your faith.’ After saying it, she shakes your shoulders in rounded motions, and bones crack as your body realigns.

Tom Cheetham in Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin speaks of these unbidden guests, Jinn, Angels:

“What we can have and what we do get, are angels ‒ absolutely essential intermediaries between Creation and the Ultimate Enigma. The faces of angels are really all we can ever imagine of the divinity immanent to the Real. Angels are created beings and so have a Dark Face and a Light Face, and it is the Dark Faces that we see ‒ though they look intensely illuminated from where we stand. It is a matter of degree, and there are numberless degrees of “angelicity” in the grand hierarchy of angels. The endless depths and heights of the world the angels inhabit is guaranteed by the wonderful fact that every angel in turn has its own angel. The function of the angel is always to reveal depth and serve as a luminous icon that stands as Light to the relative Dark of whatever stage a being has attained. The potential for motion onwards is unending ‒ motion both higher and deeper, for here they are the same. This is the function of the angel as the “Angel Out Ahead.” In the imagination of this cosmology, even the Supreme Being, the “God” of common theology, has an Angel Out Ahead to guarantee the endless Openness of reality.”

Maybe Kristen is reaching in-between two worlds, an inner-émigré to Iran, a voyage through that impossible ‘decolonization of thought’ (Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics) that leads us back into the light of the Real, renews our connection to the natural and the cosmic: produces a cosmos-theoretic fiction that absolves us of our darkened reasonings and opens us up to the other who, after all, has always been there in the blue light waiting for us. An incalescent illumination that warms us to the immanent transcendence between two cultures, two bodies; thought entwined in its own decolonization into light and flame and cold blue unknowing.

As she will ask of the blue Jinn,

What are you? You shiver

The wooden door and metal window on the second floor shake as if they are being blown out by a hurricane. She nods in your direction, then leaps so fast you can’t make out an afterglow.

Slowly, the door opens.

This, just this, is the openness to reality, the collusion in-between where our secure connectedness to the world we have always known, and the other realm (so close to us we can breath its blue fire) that co-habits this open space of intelligence: a place without precedence where language, silence, and vision open into rather than out of the fire, where messengers carry us across to the Others. The speed of thought decolonizing among the flames as it opens itself to the Other seeping back in… in the afterglow of this freedom the door opens between worlds touching and seeing into the life of things beyond despair and hope alike.


For more information see: XYZT – Urbanomic
Follow Kristen on Facebook: Kristen Alvanson
Get XYZT: MIT Press

  1.  Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh. Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-in-Delirium. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (May 17, 2019)

The Travails of Wisdom and Sorrow

All words are wearying,
No one is able to speak.

—Qohelet, Ecclesiastes

Rereading the Old Testament after a lifetime I’ve come to realize wisdom and sorrow seem to go hand in hand, the most pessimistic literature of our world reside in Kohelet’s Ketuvim scriptures of Ecclesiastes. Along with The Book of Job which to me at least presents the enormity of our dire position in the face of the unknown and incomprehensible power and terror that is the kenoma or vastation of time, space, and creation; which if the ancient Gnostics (a source of an abiding pessimism!) testate to: the creation of our Universe was also a great catastrophe. This sense of creation-catastrophe stains all that exists within this immanent realm or vicious circle (Nietzsche’s eternal return…).

Always remembering that the Gnostics inverted the Old Testament mythos, making of Yahweh a blind god and demiurge who’d fallen into Time as both its creator and botched maker, while at the same time having exiled the real god into the solitude of the Abyss before creation-fall. This sense that we are cut off and alone in a realm in which the very stones upon which we walk hide the kellipot or evil and energetic intelligences whose endless creativity is the power of blind pleasure-pain (jouissance) that drives the death pulsion in ever- accelerating compulsion toward absolute zero without ever quite reaching it (ergo… Freud’s death-drive that never dies… the zombie truth of our universe as living death and Hades-Hell! The underworld in which we have forgotten our actual lives, having fallen into this dark abyss of eternal night, allured by the beauty of natural existence.). Always dying, always living; cursed to remain through a change that is an eternal metamorphosis in process of monstrous discognition. We need not seek the nightmare, we are its progenitors and secret inheritors.

Born of our own mad designs, we ourselves created this labyrinth from which there is no center or circumference, no escape, no redemption; only the eternal journey through its bad infinity, the labour of an infinite thought in search of its lost idea. If we ever discovered the truth it would obliterate us, send us into that final abyss from which nothing escapes; neither light, nor darkness: the night of nights without outlet. Victims of our own foolish desires we have immersed ourselves in a cosmic game of infinite desire, machines of insatiable pleasure-pain we invent illusions to hide the emptiness and nothingness we are. We speak of love, yet enact hate; martialed to the wars of reality, we enter systems of belief that continue the struggle against all with all – a fanatics dream of never-ending battle in a realm without end. In our time the outer is seeping into our actual and real sleep, disturbing our nightmares and delivering us to the Outside which as we see in the forests, jungles, deserts of the world are all turning to fire within fire: an endless conflagration.

XR (Extinction Rebellion) is going viral…

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Of late the first signs of a truly global initiative seems to be rearing its head toward the world’s economic and climacteric crisis: Extinction Rebellion. One need not delve into the history of environmentalism, climate science(s), radical green, ecosophy, Deep-Ecology, Earth First, or any other numbers of groups, organizations, and political vanguards to appreciate that an ongoing threat and atrocity of non-action concerning the Sixth Extinction event in which many species will die out as in the previous five events. Besides the biodiversity of plant and animal life, even we as a species may well end up in the abyss beyond the tipping point of no return. As in many things I’ve always delved into the extremes of such thought, exploring both the dire predictions and the agonistic elements within it that provokes us out of our bourgeois complacency.

Edward O. Wilson an advocate of committing half of the planet’s surface to the non-human life-forms of the natural world in a step to salvage the bio-diversity of the planet from the ongoing Sixth Extinction event. In that work he identified the unique blend of animal instinct and social and cultural genius that has launched our species and the rest of life on a potentially ruinous trajectory. Our lack of understanding of ourselves and the rest of life than the humanities and science have yet offered were – and are, central to this project. As he suggested,

We would be wise to find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought through which we still wander. Unless humanity learns a great deal more about global biodiversity and moves quickly to protect it, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth. The Half-Earth proposal offers a first, emergency solution commensurate with the magnitude of the problem: I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.1

Drastic to be sure, and possibly unrealistic; and, yet, extreme is what we need in this age of political malfeasance and mayhem. An age which is now labeled by environmentally inclined scientists as the Anthropocene. For most of my life environmentalists and climate scientists have grappled with advanced computer modeling to anticipate and forecast the  threat looming on the horizon, a challenge that would, perhaps soon, need to be faced. Those days are past. Today, all around the world, the menace we worried about is no longer merely potential, but has rapidly materialized. Record-breaking temperatures on every continent. Rates of extinction so high that the only relevant comparisons are to planetary cataclysms far beyond human memory. Species and ecosystems scrambling to change their geographical range and—where they cannot move quickly, as with coral reefs—perishing altogether. Rising seas, forests ablaze, glaciers disappearing, superstorms. The underlying cause is well known. The increasing proportion of certain trace gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (in round numbers, carbon dioxide [CO2 ] has risen from 250 to 400 parts per million, methane [CH4 ] from 700 to 1700 parts per billion) means a larger proportion of the sun’s energy remains in the Earth’s seas, land masses, and atmosphere, changing the movement of heat energy through the world’s climatic system.  As global temperatures rise, the weather changes too. Not just the unbearable summer days that now plague cities across the planet, but highly variable precipitation bringing flood or drought, volatile temperature changes, and more intense storms. This is already taking a toll on everyone, but the heaviest weight of all has fallen on relatively poor and powerless people, as well as the other living things with whom we share this planet. The troubles caused by climate change are accelerating so quickly that we have no ledger capable of measuring them.2

The corporations, the Oil companies, the Coal Industry, and any number of other industrial era energy Leviathan’s deny their contribution to this sad state of affairs. Yet, the undeniable truth is that at its core the real culprit is greed and profit, the World System of Capital which has over the past few hundred years unleashed a ravenous and global assault on our planetary resources, forced indigenous populations in backwater Third World countries into a catastrophe of the commons, and stripped he earth of its natural resources at the behest of a small and powerful contingent of Oligarchs, Banking systems, and a wealthy minority.  Why that wealthy minority did nothing, and what that means for our political futures, are the crucial questions of our time.

The Immortality Syndrome: How the Wealthy seek Anti-Aging Technologies

The Civilization and socio-cultural world view of Capitalism is at heart a realm devoid of life giving, life affirming sustenance, its main goal is profit – the unadulterated accumulation of Capital. It will not let anything stand in its way toward attaining that goal. In our own time that has come down to the truth of extinction and expendability.  The upper 10% of the world’s wealthy who control the great behemoth’s of Industry and global multi-conglomerates do not care about the masses of humans who eek out a bare life upon this planet. Yet, there is one qualifier: the wealthy themselves harbor dreams of Immortality.

Even now many of them seek to escape the coming extinction of the human species through space-faring technological plans to go off-world. Others seek to transcend our biological heritage and invent artificial means of immortality through transhumanist visions of techno-capitalist AI, Robotics, and externalizing the human bios into machinic systems. Such mad schemes of the artificialization of the human species as cyborg, android, and other immortalization programs were once the dreams of cartoon artists and writers. Not anymore.

Various hypertechnological innovators, investors, and Silicon Valley type entrepreneurs have for the past couple decades invested heavily into these various insane pursuits of escape. Peter Thiel back in 2006 gave Cambridge anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey $3.5 million under the auspices of the Methusaleh Foundation, a non-profit headquartered in Springfield, Virgina, that awards scientists who are working on life-extension therapies. “Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead,” Thiel told The New Yorker.

In 2010, Thiel and his partners at Founders Fund, a Bay Area venture capital firm, invested $500,000 in Halcyon Molecular, a biotech start-up whose 28-year-old founder has a “dream to create a world free from cancer and aging.”

Brian Singerman, an early employee at Google who founded the iGoogle team, came to Founders Fund after having what he describes as an “epic six hour epic dinner with Sean Parker.” Parker, an executive general partner in the firm, recruited Singerman shortly after.
Equal parts brilliant and idealistic, Singerman is adamant that aging is a problem that can be solved. The fund’s portfolio has invested in about 14 health and biotech companies all interested in solving life’s ultimate problem: death.

“We have a company that’s charged with curing all viral disease, we have a company that’s charged with curing several types of cancer,” he says. “These are not things that are incremental approaches. It’s all fine and good to have a drug that extends life by a certain amount of months or makes living with a disease easier. That’s not what we’re looking for. We are not looking for incremental change. We are looking for absolute cures in anything we do.”3

Singerman, who graduated from Stanford, believes there are two basic elements of curing aging: first, you have to cure the stuff that kills you. The second part, of course, is figuring out the processes by which the body deteriorates. Finding complete, fast, and cheap DNA sequencing methods are a main focus of the fund.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to cure aging before next week,” he says. “That’s just silly. But do I think that within the next 10 years we’ll have the cure for several forms of cancer? I absolutely do. Do I think that in the next 10 years all forms of viral disease will be wiped out? Absolutely, we have a shot. Do I think that we’re going to stop the aging process within the next 10 years? No, but do I think we’ll have a much better understanding of how to get to that point? Absolutely.” (ibid.)

The truth behind all this fantastic immortalization is the wealthy minority themselves whose dreams of immortality and escaping death through any means necessary is driving such mad schemes.

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

Neoliberalism, far from revealing biological laws, describes a system that creates its own reality.

George Monbiot

There is no need to define the term neoliberalism anymore. It’s apparent that the progressive Left has used this term to talk about that 10% upper-crust world of wealthy elites across our planet for decades. To traces it back into its various components of libertarian free-market economics, or the political and corporate control mechanisms, propaganda machines, mediatainment conglomerates where the fantasylands of hyperreal modernity emerged like a Disneyland of the Hollywood jet-set is fairly well documented in hundreds of publications, books, essays, blogs, etc.. No, I’ll not go there.

The truth is that the wealthy have created a world-wide system of corruption that seeks to control not only society, but its wealth beyond all necessary forms of life. The so called free-market  is dominated by powerful agents – corporations and oligarchs – who use their position to demand special treatment: contracts, handouts, tax breaks, treaties, the crushing of resistance and other political favours. They extend their power beyond their trading relationships through their ownership of the media and their funding and control of political parties.

These free-marketeers, pirates and bandits, all, have sought through their ideological and political malfeasance to instill a mythology of freedom. Freedom of the kind championed by neoliberals means freedom from competing interests. It means freedom from the demands of social justice, from environmental constraints, from collective bargaining and from the taxation that funds public services. It means, in sum, freedom from democracy.4

The present swing to the Right in politics as a grass-roots populism based of fear and economic insecurity came about through years of mainstream party corruption and stupidity. Both the Progressive Left and the Conservative Right became so enmeshed in their subservience to their masters, to the Oligarchs and Corporate powers through various lobbies and money funds, job offers, etc. that the age old – and, supposed, protections against such malfeasance was overlooked.

In recent years the extreme New Right, Alt-Right, Neoreaction, etc. have all been critical of socialism, liberalism, and various other forms of egalitarian beliefs, including the Judaeo-Christian origins of modern democracy. Whether these authors and ideas can be termed fascist or not remains for the reader to judge. These extreme ideologies have for years spawned a deep-seated hatred and criticism of equality, liberal capitalism, ‘economism’, and socialism in a theoretical and analytical manner. For these denizens of the Right the difference between liberalism, socialism, and Communism is almost negligible, because all of these ideologies rest on premises of universalism, egalitarianism, and the belief in economic progress. Many on the extreme Right are authors who officially and ‘unofficially’ enter into the category of  anti-egalitarian, anti-socialist, and anti-Communist intellectual tradition, and who, in addition, unanimously share the view that modern mass society equals totalitarianism.

Various tracts, apologies, and political introductions have been meted out over the past few years by apologists and critics alike. Works like Elizabeth Sandifer’s Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right, Thomas J. Main’s The Rise of the Alt-Right, David Neiwert’s Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right, Michael Malice’s The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics, and Tomislav Sunic,’s Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right among so many others that should be listed (and maybe I’ll create a bibliography of books, blogs, and recommended sites etc. at some time in the future). What do all these books share in common? What has spawned a new wave of alternative political thought on the Right that has so disturbed the progressive Left in recent years. Most progressives seem to lump all these alternatives into one umbrella term: Fascism. But this is ludicrous, and we need to delve deeper into it and understand why both the extreme Left and extreme Right have become the enemy of democracy in our time. What does it portend?

This post is not the place to go into such a lengthy investigation, one that I hope to pursue in the near future. Rather I seek only to touch base with the drift of its ideological keys, the basic outlay of its concepts and platforms.

A Short History of White Supremacy

One extreme is the platform of the New Right in Europe and the U.S.A. that as one of its proponents, Greg Johnson states: “The North American New Right is a “metapolitical” movement modeled on the European New Right, but adapted to our own circumstances. The goal of the North American New Right is to lay the metapolitical foundations for the emergence of a White Republic (or republics) in North America.”5 Whether one terms it fascism or the politics of White Supremacy is a matter of choice, either way it puts race and an aggressive politics of White Supremacy at its core.

This separation of Whites from other races is a sordid history whose origins – at least as concerns our modernity, lie in fifteenth-century Europe, on through colonial times when the early British settlers carried racist ideas to America, all the way to the twenty-first century and current debates about the events taking place on our streets.6 Here in the good ole U.S.A. the debates between assimilationists and segregationists,  racists and antiracists, are charged with antagonistic and prolonged struggle and intimately, if not intricately, woven into the very fabric of our republics history. Kendi in his short work elaborates this heritage of racist ideas through five key figures: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis, saying,

[they] were arguably the most consistently prominent or provocative racial theorists of their respective lifetimes, writing and speaking and teaching racial (and nonracial) ideas that were as fascinating as they were original, influential, and/or contradictory. (ibid., Intro)

At the core of this heritage of White Supremacy is the two-fold debates surrounding assimilation and segregation. Jim Wallis in a pointedly religious metaphor tells us that racism “is America’s original sin and must be named as such… racism lingers far more pervasively in implicit and covert ways in American institutions and culture, in often unconscious attitudes, and in the very structures of our society.”7

Again this is a wide and deep-seated history with many things that need to be broached beyond the length of this post. I seek only to inform the reader that our present plight is multifarious, complex, and chaotic. Anyone pretending to understand the crisis humanity is undergoing must delve into a wide-spectrum of micro-histories if she would even begin to approach the truth in its larger sense of global socio-cultural matrix. Something I can only hint at rather than cover in detail.

Extinction Rebellion

The reason for brining up both the economic and racist debates is simply put because the upper-crust, the 10% of wealthy elite who control most of the world’s wealth are themeselves racist and control the political, social, and ideological strings that have created the World System that is destroying our planet, using the structures of social control to establish their right to impose their austerity upon the vast majority of humans to keep their system in place.

Against this world wide death praxis of the wealthy elite a new trend has arisen online and at the grass roots level, one that seeks to redefine our lives and shape our future. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) seeks to spark and sustain a spirit of creative rebellion, which will enable much needed changes in our political, economic and social landscape. Endeavouring to mobilise and train organisers to skilfully open up space, so that communities can develop the tools they need to address the deeply rooted problems of the United States.  Working to transform our society into one that is compassionate, inclusive, sustainable, equitable and connected.

It seeks a new world where we can build thriving connections within our society and environment, bringing hope and enabling us to decide the direction of our lives and futures. An inclusive world, where we work consciously to ensure fair processes of collective decision-making, where creativity is prioritised, and where our diversity of gifts are recognised, celebrated and flourish.

It demands that Governments around the world must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.

It demands that Governments must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.

Extinction Rebellion does not trust our Governments to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and they do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead they demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.

XR people demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

Extinction Rebellion’s long term strategy is to, in alliance with other movements and thousands of people, inspire and be part of instigating a national and International, coordinated economic and governmental disruption on an unprecedented scale that lasts indefinitely, until the government feels forced to concede to the four XR demands. No one has ever tried to launch a rebellion of this kind in history for any reason. There is no way to overstate the danger we face from climate change, and on their own, our institutions have proven themselves incapable of addressing the crisis.

Most of all the time is short, and as they tell us we are losing the battle. “If we continue to only focus on lobbying congress and/or individual fossil fuel infrastructure fights on their own, without also planning and building for a national, coordinated rebellion, we will never bring about the systemic change we need.” As their preamble states it,

This type of rebellion is premised on extensive research that shows conclusively that if 3.5% of the population in any country is actively engaged in sustained resistance over a concentrated period of time, governments inevitably concede or collapse under the pressure. The research shows that governments simply can’t endure this many people engaging in serious disruption if it lasts for an extended period of time.

This is only surprising to most of us because we don’t realize yet that it’s only because many thousands of us cooperate that the government can run and that the system can operate. The moment enough of us withdraw our consent and refuse to carry on daily activities, the whole structure can’t work. If millions of people simply stayed home in a general strike for a week, for example, while thousands of others blocked key infrastructure nationwide, the government and industry would not be able to go forward. They don’t teach us this in school. They don’t teach us how much power we have collectively. But those who have successfully used nonviolent people power by the thousands are showing us the way. (here)

Against the top 1% a new battle cry is haunting the world. A world the wealthy elite have ripped apart. A World System that has degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomizing, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness. I’m an old man whose heart goes out to the young born in our time. What we’ve done to the earth, our home, is beyond recall. The system of economics and racist heritage of White privilege has left the planet in ruins not because we were superior, but because Whites had the technological power of a weaponized and warrior ethos that sought to conquer the earth as if they owned it. The whole heritage of race, economics, and property relations has brought about in our time an endgame civilization that may or may not survive the coming decades and centuries. It is up to the young who will inhabit what we’ve ruined to rebel against this state of affairs, and from within our failure, our ruinous wastelands of capitalism, to rebuild the earth without such a system of destruction. Is it too late? Let’s hope not, let’s hope with the courage of hopelessness that it is not too late to turn things around. That the young will awaken across this planet, this earth; and rebel against extinction, everywhere.


  1. Edward O. Wilson. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Liveright; 1 edition (March 7, 2016)
  2. Joel Wainwright, Geoff Mann (eds.). Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future. Verso (February 13, 2018)
  3.  Eric Markowitz. Inc. Immortality: The Next Great Investment Boom: here.
  4. Monbiot, George. How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature . Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
  5. Covington, Harold; Devlin, F. Roger; Bolton, Kerry; Bowden, Jonathan; de Benoist, Alain; O’Meara, Michael; Kurtagić, Alex; Faye, Guillaume; Evola, Julius. North American New Right, Volume One (pp. 1-2). Counter-Currents Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  6. Kendi, Ibram X.. Stamped from the Beginning (Kindle Locations 154-155). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
  7. Jim Wallis. America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Kindle Locations 274-277). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

Mark Strand: Darkening to Darkening

When The Vacation Is Over For Good

It will be strange
Knowing at last it couldn’t go on forever,
The certain voice telling us over and over
That nothing would change,

And remembering too,
Because by then it will all be done with, the way
Things were, and how we had wasted time as though
There was nothing to do,

When, in a flash
The weather turned, and the lofty air became
Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb
And our cities like ash,

And knowing also,
What we never suspected, that it was something like summer
At its most august except that the nights were warmer
And the clouds seemed to glow,

And even then,
Because we will not have changed much, wondering what
Will become of things, and who will be left to do it
All over again,

And somehow trying,
But still unable, to know just what it was
That went so completely wrong, or why it is
We are dying.

—Mark Strand, Collected Poems


Reading this poem again by Mark Strand I’m reminded of our darkening world as it begins to decay into ruinous waste at the hands of its most destructive child, humanity. If ever there were a time that needed change it is ours, and yet I, too, as Strand above seek it and yet do not find it. Instead the change is not of human making other than the destruction we’ve invented and perpetrated upon the earth, source and resource of all we are have been. Humans are a stain upon the face of earth, and like other non-human creatures that have come and gone we too inevitably will enter that abyss from which there is no return. As John David Ebert in The Age of Catastrophe: Disaster and Humanity in Modern Times reminds us,

The present conquest of the earth by these cosmotechnologies facilitated and realized by governments and multinational corporations is the inevitable outcome of those first principles that were constitutive parts of a World Picture in which the earth becomes the plaything of human beings using the spark of God to help them conquer it.

That we have become mere spectators in a spectacle of chaos and ruin is apparent to many, and yet the rich and their minions across the planet seek only to aggravate this accelerating process through reliance of advanced hypertechnological systems that are becoming more and more autonomous and beyond human control. As climate change and catastrophe become all to apparent within a few decades we will see a world slowly dying before our eyes, see mass migrations from the heat belts where thermal inertia and heat death rule. As Paul Virilio has written:

The twenty-first century will be the century of mass migrations. A billion people  will move. The whole world situation will be disrupted. Disrupted by the crisis in localization. The old societies were connected to a territory, a native land. Today they’re adrift due to the delocalization of jobs and never-ending conflicts. There is also, clearly, the major issue of climate: the disappearance of archipelagoes, submersion of coastlines. This means all of history is on the move again. All of history is taking to the road. A billion people moving over half a century -that’s never been seen before… It’s almost as though the sky, and the clouds in it, and the pollution of it, were making their entry into history.

—Native Land – Stop Eject

As the oceans seep in from the dark, as the cities drift below the sullen green waves, as humans seek out the last vetiges of dry land and the mountainous caverns of sky and stars the final decolonization of the earth will begin.

A dark and private weather settles down on everything. It is colder and the dreams wither away.

—Mark Strand, The Man In The Mirror

Maybe the earth like a young mother will mourn the passing of her children, wander among the stars silent and alone, given over to the simplicity of tears where the travails of light break across the dark like whispers of a forgotten thought.

We have done what we wanted. We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry of each other, and we have welcomed grief and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

—Mark Strand, Coming To This

Like automatons assuming our endless tasks we have accrued the last remnants of profit from the dead in their dead worlds. The void will not give up its dead for they have no need of us nor of the nothingness we are. Children of habit we do not know, we do not see, we do not hear the tolling bell of time ringing upon the last dawn’s horizon. Mindless we have allowed our bodies to enter the servitude of dead men, sleepers of time who will vanish without return.

…there is the sleep that demands I lie down and be fitted to the dark that comes upon me like another skin in which I shall never be found, out of which I shall never appear.

—Mark Strand, The Sleep

In the end nothing will remain. The mirrored world of thought dispersed. The erosion of all we’ve been and could broken. Silence alone will remain. Who will inherit the earth? Bones.

Everything dims. The future is not what it used to be. The graves are ready. The dead shall inherit the dead.

—Mark Strand, The Way It Is

Did you really think it would be different? All this bleakness and ruin and chaos and darkness other than it is and will be on a planet growing long and cold and indifferent.

 

 

Poetry of Reality: Adding to the Stock of Available Reality

‘The art of poetry is amply distinguished from the manufacture of verse by the animating presence in the poetry of a fresh idiom: language so twisted & posed in a form that it not only expresses the matter in hand but adds to the stock of available reality.’

—John Berryman versifying R.P. Blackmur, Collected Poems

Geoffrey Hill the English Poet would comment on this passage, saying,

Now, for me, a true poem has got to end by adding to the stock of available reality. And, what is more, it seems to me a distinction which could give one an inroad into all the distinctions one needs to make between things of intrinsic value and things of intrinsic importance. That is to say, I can think of quite a number of twentieth-century poets who add to the stock of available actuality – that is to say that their poems, having been written, become part of the pile-up of that plethora of actual things with which our culture is virtually submerged. ‘The stock of available reality’ means that once this thing has been written, everything else in one’s comprehension has to adjust itself slightly around it.

—from Geoffrey Hill’s Collected Essays
—————————————————-

In this sense we are so immersed in a false or unreal world of doxa, opinion, and propaganda that it has become the task of the poet among others to deliver us back to the paradise of the Real. We’ve lived under the tutelage of lies Inc. for so long we’ve forgotten the world of real things. We read poets to regain this ‘stock of available reality’, shocking us out of the stupor and idiocy of the political and social ruins of modernity. Rather than adjusting ourselves to the screen worlds of the matrix, poetry opens us again to that wilderness of the untamed and untamable realm of the life of things. Poetry may not cure us, but it can make us aware of the sickness that pervades our everyday lives; offer us a way back into reality, show us the world in all its starkness rather than in the colors of our dark civilization’s broken promises.

The World Without Us

What would it be to subtract the human from the world?
Elide the thought of beings such as us?
Consciousness thrown among the stones?
Would the world miss us in the silence after?
Or would the memory of our kind dissolve among the ruins,
flow back into the void from whence it came;

sound some distant reverie of pain,
a quickened chant of all we’ve been.
Or would the void explain, the stain
upon the world a sickness out of mind?
Would we rise again from the blasted dust 
into the secret life of plants,
or fade into that night
where even stars go blank:
one by one… without light

The Scattered Sparks That Fly

All I need do is gaze
upon the artifacts of time:
dust, desert, and sky;
the weavings and unweavings
that fall

…………….before the light

shines and vanishes;
to know that desperate look,
neither smile nor frown –
a hesitation in-between –
to hear

in the crackle
breaking over all things,
a sense of the murmur
in which life’s ruins
connect;

…………….reverberating,

…………………….communicating:

a flame within the flame


—S.C. Hickman ©2019

Anne Carson: Kafka’s Top

Kafka’s “The Top” is a story about a philosopher who spends his spare time around children so he can grab their tops in spin. To catch a top still spinning makes him happy for a moment in his belief “that the understanding of any detail, that of a spinning top for instance, was sufficient for the understanding of all things.” Disgust follows delight almost at once and he throws down the top, walks away. Yet hope of understanding continues to fill him each time top-spinning preparations begin among the children: “as soon as the top began to spin and he was running breathlessly after it, the hope would turn to certainty but when he held the silly piece of wood in his hand he felt nauseated.”

The story is about the delight we take in metaphor. A meaning spins, remaining upright on an axis of normalcy aligned with the conventions of connotation and denotation, and yet: to spin is not normal, and to dissemble normal uprightness by means of this fantastic motion is impertinent. What is the relation of impertinence to the hope of understanding? To delight?

The story concerns the reason why we love to fall in love. Beauty spins and the mind moves. To catch beauty would be to understand how that impertinent stability in vertigo is possible. But no, delight need not reach so far. To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.

Suppression of impertinence is not the lover’s aim. Nor can I believe this philosopher really runs after understanding. Rather, he has become a philosopher (that is, one whose profession is to delight in understanding) in order to furnish himself with pretexts for running after tops.

—Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay