A Panic of the Senses

If such a Being really existed, if our weaknesses vanquished our resolutions and our depths our deliberations, then why go on thinking, since our difficulties would be settled, our questions suspended, and our fears allayed? Which would be too easy. Every absolute—personal or abstract—is a way of avoiding the problems, and not only the problems but also their root, which is nothing but a panic of the senses.

—Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

The Universe of Precision

… how is this time to be measured? Is its measure to be that of what Alexander Koryé calls “the universe of precision”? Obviously we live in this universe, but its advent for man is relatively recent, since it goes back precisely to Huyghens’ clock — in other words, to 1659 — and the malaise of modern man does not exactly indicate that this precision is in itself a liberating factor for him. Are we to say that this time, the time of the fall of heavy bodies, is in some ways sacred in the sense that it corresponds to the time of the stars as they were fixed in eternity by God who, as Lichtenberg put it, winds up our sundials?

—Jaques Lacan

The Human Catastrophe

All family life is organized around the most damaged person in it.

—Sigmund Freud

Very few study Freud these days, but if they did they’d soon realize that his scientific mythology centered on the great war of the psyche: a secular psychomachia. For Freud the human mind in its split from the world of ignorance into that of awareness or consciousness was a catastrophe. A catastrophe that he relates to repetition-compulsion, to the drive-towards-death, and to the defense of life as a drive toward agonistic achievements (the Sublime) of anteriority, of others, and even of one’s own earlier self. Our late age of capitalism is not an aberration, but rather is the outcome of this dark heritage of aggression and sublimation. We are at heart all contaminated by this heritage rather willingly or not.

One could say that civilization is a death wish, an achieved anxiety, a creation-by-catastrophe that seeks to stave off death through its repetitive-production. Capitalism is a death-machine or factory. Some ancient cultures literally made this anxiety a part of the great show of ritual and religious praxis through its yearly cycle of repetition through sacrifice. All ancient cultures were built on this sacrificial techniques. Scholars such as René Girard and Walter Burkett trace this sacrificial heritage through its various twists and turnings down the centuries. Both conclude that at its core blood sacrifice and violence are at the heart of religion and society alike.

Sacrifice is a form of collective murder, and even in some forms of cannibalistic behaviour. Think of that grand ceremony performed by both Catholic and Protestant alike as the eucharist in which the body of Christ is transubstantiated into the very wine and wafers to be eaten by all the varied participants on a Sunday morn. This is cannibalism of a god, a savage act of violence that people enact without even a the blink of an eye. Most of these believers would deny such a thing, and explain it away; and, yet, under the surface glow of smiles is the wariness of this act of violence that will not go away.

To understand how a collective murder could stand at the beginning of human culture, how an act of violence could possibly define both the problem and the solution for social formation, Girard suggests the following scenario. Humans have no braking mechanism for intraspecific aggression. This means that rivalries and conflicts, once unleashed, cannot stop short of manslaughter. Violence, therefore, is endemic. Since the only answer to murder is another murder, cycles of reciprocal retaliation create unending series of revenge killings. To bring the series to an end, a “final” killing is necessary. The final killing is achieved in the “mechanism of the surrogate victim,” From within the group, one person is separated out as victim. The selection is arbitrary and spontaneous, though there are requisites. The victim must be recognizable as a surrogate for the guilty party (or parties, and ultimately for the group itself); he must be vulnerable, unable to retaliate, without champions to continue the vengeful violence; and there must be unanimity within the group that he is the one at fault. When this unanimity is achieved the victim is treated as a criminal, killed, and expelled. This brings the violence to an end. The group has redirected its aggressions and its members are now able to cooperate.1

Humans are violent and murderous, and sacrifice and ritual killings came about to curtail and legitimize law as the only form of protection against absolute mayhem. Rivalry and mimetic desire are at the core of Girard’s notions. Humans seek to be like the ones they admire, to imitate the other in ways that will bring both pleasure and the thing desired whether material object or behavior. The one among us who is beheld in such a light as an object to be imitated says: “Be like me, but not too much like me.” For those who seek this path of rivalry there begins a course of antagonistic relations. The so called spirit of competition in our age of sports and capitalist excess begins and ends in this rivalry prone mechanics. One could cite scholar after scholar in various disciplines but I have no time to catalogue such works at the moment. Most of it if you think about it is just plain commonsense information wrung out of tons of data and ancient texts to bone up arguments that at heart humans are aggressive and murderous overreachers. Religion as a form of communal binding offered a way to ritualize and focus those dark energies into sacrificial shows. The sordid likes of a Hitler or Stalin would do the same in secular forms of sacrifice and glamour. We need not go there…

That humans are partially aware of their own origins in the realm of organic life goes without saying. Sensitive souls have reacted with shock to the elemental drama of life on this planet, and one of the reasons that Darwin so shocked his time-and still bothers ours-is that he showed this bonecrushing, blood-drinking drama in all its elementality and necessity: Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms. If at the end of each person’s life he were to be presented with the living spectacle of all that he had organismically incorporated in order to stay alive, he might well feel horrified by the living energy he had ingested. The horizon of a gourmet, or even the average person, would be taken up with hundreds of chickens, flocks of lambs and sheep, a small herd of steers, sties full of pigs, and rivers of fish. The din alone would be deafening. To paraphrase Elias Canetti, each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.2

Try as we might to repress or deny this sordid truth we come to realize only too late that it is the bloody reason we are so aggressive and murderous. So we have created civilization and its defense systems against this dark world of organicism. For thousands of years we’ve prepared ourselves through art and religion a way to escape this organic world. Most of our current crop of transhumanists and other transcenders seek to overcome the organic stench of our past through either some form of religious elevation to the heights of paradise; or, through a more earthly program of transcending the human into an inhuman inorganic form of life. But there is no escape, only a series of dark turns.

Doom ridden to the end humans will sacrifice everything to live. They will in their darkest dreams sacrifice every other soul on the planet to become the one who will survive, and not only survive but become a god, immortal. This need to continue and do it with sublime excess is at heart the driver of global civilization and its destruction of all organic life. Deny this if you will. Deny this if you can. We are the fruit of a dark dream, harbingers of a science of transcendence that has driven humanity to the excess of posthuman worlds. Where will it lead us?

  1. Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Stanford University Press; 1 edition (November 1, 1988)
  2.  Becker, Ernest. Escape From Evil. Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (March 1, 1985)

A Sense of Doom

Lovecraft insists on telling us things it does no good to know: things that can’t help us or protect us or even prepare us for the awful and inevitable apocalypse to come. The only comfort is to accept it, live in it, and sigh yourself into the balm of living oblivion. If you can only maintain this constant sense of doom, you may be spared the pain of foolish hopes and their impending demolishment.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

The Solace of Nothingness

We must be thankful to the civilizations which have not taken an overdose of seriousness, which have played with values and taken their pleasure in begetting and destroying them. Who knows, outside of the Greek and French civilizations, a more lucidly facetious proof of the elegant nothingness of things?

Emile Cioran A Short History of Decay

For thousands of years humans have gathered the wisdom of the tribes and inscribed this into scrolls and books that have been carefully codified, commentated, and guarded by priests and layman alike. At the heart of these ancient traditions was a deep yearning toward the beyond. For humans looked upon their lives here and now in this world as full of pain and hopelessness. These high priests of the ancient world offered only the comfort of release from this earthly realm in a myriad of forms. I want bore you with the details of all these major systems of belief and hygiene. Why should I? I have little to add to these worlds of words that have come down to us out of ages past. I have little comfort for those who seek in those traditions and books some salvic knowledge that would hint of something beyond this life. No I’ll not belabor the so called “transcendental perspective” of those who know. I only offer you the solace of nothingness and extinction.

Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher of the Nineteenth century, arch-pessimist and curmudgeon, once told us that  life is no more than a “constant dying,” a perpetual misery machine, entirely lacking in any meaning or purpose—that is, apart from its own blind, stupid self-consumption. H.P. Lovecraft plunged into the heart of darkness and came back with a perspective on our cosmic predicament that offered little solace beyond the knowledge of human fear of the unknown and unexplained. For him the namelessness of our darkest fears cannot be allayed. For better or worse humans live in an inexplicable and horrific universe that is absolutely indifferent to our existence. These men lived in realms devoid of gods of God, atheists who would not condone the cherished wisdom of the tribes, but offered us rather a stark and cold intelligent view of the universe and ourselves. What we did with it was none of their concern, and furthermore they were indifferent to our acceptance or rejection of their hard won truths.

As one author on such views recently states it ”

for all that doom and gloom, stylistically, such typical histrionics border on the laughably repellent, providing those who find pessimism otherwise irksome a convenient excuse to write it off as the self-indulgent ramblings of middle-aged, bourgeois cranks. Pessimists would be so lucky, however, if popular objections to pessimism were primarily driven by aesthetic preferences. But one suspects that resistance to pessimistic sentiment runs deeper than concerns for style and expression, that it stems principally from a disagreement over fundamental beliefs, values, and attitudes. For as a philosophical orientation, pessimism runs counter to majority dispositions that regard life and living as, in some way, meaningful and purposive, as justifying—even if against all odds—hope in a brighter future, in a better, or at the very least livable, tomorrow.1

One could dismiss those of us who accept such dark consolations to our cosmic predicament as the vanity of old age and sickness, a culture too long grown tired of its traditions and religious beliefs. Having thrown off the yoke of the tribes and gone their own solitary way the pessimists among us know there is little comfort to be had. They offer none. If you seek hope and comfort they would, as I, return you to your worlds of deception with a smile and a shake of the curmudgeon’s hand. Then they would return to their own indifferent world of solitude. Pessimists are solitaires, they seek neither disciples nor to impart some profound wisdom to the ages. Rather they would strip us of the last vestiges of our illusions and deceptions, allow the dark truth of this indifferent cosmos to unveil its meaninglessness. Pessimists know that most people will never accept their pronouncements nor their perspective on life and the cosmos. So be it.

A latter day writer and author of horror fiction Thomas Ligotti in his short work on pessimism suggests:

Longevity is without question of paramount value in our lives, and finding a corrective for mortality is our compulsive project. Anything goes insofar as lengthening our earthly tenure. And how we have cashed in on our efforts. No need to cram our lives into two or three decades now that we can cram them into seven, eight, nine, or more. The life-span of non-domesticated mammals has never changed, while ours has grown by leaps and bounds. What a coup for the human race. Unaware how long they will live, other warm-blooded life forms are sluggards by comparison. Time will run out for us as it does for all creatures, true, but at least we can dream of a day when we might elect our own deadline. Then perhaps we can all die of the same thing: a killing satiation with our durability in a world that is MALIGNANTLY USELESS.

For Ligotti the dream of finality, of human extinction is the only solace left for those of us caught in the trap of life. Knowing as we know that our existence is of no value to the universe at large is the only solace to be found. This is the solace of nothingness.

The human being delivered to himself, without any partiality for elegance, is a monster; he finds only dark regions there, where terror and negation, imminent, prowl To know, by all one’s vitality, that one will die, and to be unable to conceal it, is an act of barbarism.

Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

  1. Packer, Joseph. A Feeling of Wrongness . Penn State University Press. (November 1, 2018)
  2.  Ligotti, Thomas. A Conspiracy Against The Human Race. Hippocampus Press (April 30, 2011)


The World Killer


This is the mind’s frivolous, funereal debauch. …The vice of defining has made it a gracious assassin, and a discreet victim.

Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

To name a thing is to destroy it, annihilate it beyond thought or deed. We name things to control them, have power over them and deliver them to the funeral march of definitions. To wipe the slate clean, to let the black light of nihil roam the universe once again, and allow the beast of reason a reprieve from the offenses of thought is to once again misunderstand the world not as it is but as it is not. We have lived in a tamed world, a world known and given to our desire to control it, make it safe. To break out of our cage of tamed idiocies is to once again realize the world, the universe is not us.

We have enslaved ourselves to the viral infection of ancient thoughts, given ourselves over to the impact of rigid meanings that twist us and shape us to their power; their rhetoric and persuasion. We are the children of an ancient curse: language is the graveyard of broken dreams and promises. But that is all over now. Now we begin to reforge the links, not to some ancient screed of timeless truths, but to the emptiness of things without us.

What would you do in a universe devoid of thoughts and words alike? Would you look upon the face of your lover in derision and silence, or mumble meaningless endearments that gesture and screech the indecipherable torment of your heart. If you woke tomorrow in a world without thought or language to carry it how would you proceed? The simplest efforts to be understood would be so complexified that only the gesticulations of a mime in endless movement could begin to connect the tissues of a defined world. How would you proceed?