Ligotti, Poe, and Eroticism

As I was rereading Thomas Ligotti’s first published tale “Allan And Adelaide: An Arabesque” a homage to his early love of Poe I was reminded once again of Camille Paglia’s observation: “There is no sex instinct per se in Poe. His eroticism is in the paroxysms of suffering, the ecstatic, self-inflaming surrender to tyrant mothers.”1 If this can be said of Poe (and I think it can!), then anyone who has read Ligotti’s tales will admit that the same understated aesthetic pervades his works as well. Who will forget that last message of Adelaide – sister-mother of brother, Allan:

“All alone, I know. And betrayed. Lost and lonely Allan. You were always alone, my brother, and so was I. It could never have been otherwise. I know how my lies have hurt you, and what they drove you to do. But none of that matters now, none of that ever mattered, for if we could not truly share our lives then at least we always shared a soul, did we not? That is the only thing, despite all the masks and mirrors and whatever it was we thought we were. So many things we could not share until now. Now I can share with you the most precious thing of all… I will share my death. Come to me and share my death. Yes, closer. Do not think about the blood, it is both of ours. Now even closer. See how your blood flows with mine.”

Poe’s great tyrant mothers, vampires one and all, haunting this passage… Ligotti would go beyond Poe, and yet would keep that eroticism without sex throughout his tales. One remembers the interview in which he is asked:

VS: Are you dating anyone? Any interest there in the foreseeable future? If not, then do you value all the time which is not wasted on sex and relationships (something which probably takes up 70% of most people’s mental energy)? …

TL: I’ve been checking out computer matchmaking sites for years but I can’t find anyone whose idea of a good time is dinner and a suicide pact.

Morbid humor? Evasion? A sort of ironic or sardonic tip of the hat to a devilish imp of the perversea la Poe? When asked about his love of Decadent literature he said: “During my Decadent phase from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, I preferred the world-weary stuff to the love-and-corpse stuff, although most decadents wrote both, as is well exemplified by Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-morte.” It’s this tendency toward the morbidity and weariness of things, the almost Gnostic world-rejection without its redemptive soteriological goals that pervades Ligotti’s aesthetics of pessimism.
1. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 573). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Fanatic of the Decadents

Now that you mention it, yellow does feel to me like the color of disease and decay. Maybe that’s a holdover from my days as fanatic of decadent literature reading the early issues of the Yellow Book.

—Thomas Ligotti

Interviewer: How much of an influence did the Decadents have on your work?

TL: The Decadents were an extension of Poe. He was the writer who, through the translations of Baudelaire and others in France, really legitimized morbidity as a literary subject as well as a worldview. The French already had a tradition of cynicism, morbidity, and pessimism from the eighteenth-century works of authors like Sade, Chamfort, and La Rochefoucauld. I believe that this made them receptive to Poe’s anti-life-affirming genius. He not only appealed to the negative spirit in French writers, but he did it with consummate artistry and technique, which are essential to transmitting one’s attitudes. If Poe had been a bad writer, nobody would have taken notice of him. Even though there already existed a philosophical tradition of morbidity and pessimism going back to the Greeks in the Western tradition, it wasn’t until Poe came along that poets and fiction writers could feel free to express these feelings in literary works. Take the first couple sentences of “Berenice”–” MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform.” Who in earlier Western literature would have dared to open a short story in this manner except perhaps for the purposes of parody? Poe’s authority in the literary sphere inspired others throughout the world to align themselves with him under the same black flag. In the United States, it wasn’t much of leap from Poe’s declaration in “Berenice” to Lovecraft’s opening of “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”–” Life is a hideous thing . . . .” This is the form of Decadence that has always interested me–the freedom, after thousands of years under the whip of uplifting religions and the tyrannical politics of the positive–which are nothing more than a means for crowd control–to speak to others who in their hearts could no longer lie to themselves about what they thought concerning the value, or rather lack of value, of human life.


The Horror Maker

“There is no refuge from the living void, the terror of the invisible.”
– Thomas Ligotti

Its presence always permeates the dream: fog with a pallid face drifting in through an open window. It fuses its tormented spirit with dead objects, animating things which should not move or live, breathing a blasphemous life into the unliving. One glance at a design on the wall catches this Horror Maker engendering a world of writhing creatures there. It lives in all things, and they tilt and flutter with a menacing absence of purpose or predictability. Finally it melds with the slowly coagulating shadows, and now it is without limits as it spreads to command a domain of quivering darkness. The universe becomes its impossible body, its corpse. As the blackness of space is its corrupting blood, so the planets are multiple skulls of the freakish beast; the paths of doomed meteors trace the architecture of its labyrinthine skeletal frame; spasms of dying galaxies are its nervous tics; and strange stellar venues of incomprehensible properties are the chambers of its soul. Within this universe the dreamer is trapped, his dreams confined to the interior of a form other than his own.

—Thomas Ligotti

After the Plague

Many believed that things would return to normal. It went on like that for weeks and weeks, then months and months. Oh we did finally return to work, but something had changed. The old camaraderie, the joking around the water fountain, the smirking and cat calls, whistles and jibes had gone silent, never to return. We all sat in our cubicles like rats in a trap, unable to speak or say anything. We sat there like ghosts of our former selves, our eyes glued only to our screens. It was as if the world had emptied itself of the last vestige of the human spirit and replaced it with this “thing”: an indefinable absence; a listless, lifeless, insubstantial void. We all felt it but were afraid to admit it even to ourselves. Something had died inside. We had died inside.

New rules had entered our lives. We no longer had those morning stand-ups, debriefings, or round table discussions about our daily quotas or activities. Instead we had screen ops, team-speak or discord meetings. All part of the new social distancing regulations that had taken over all our lives. Oh sure there were many who rebelled against such things at first. People who bucked the system, but most of these had fallen by the wayside long ago, sickened by their own solitude, ostracized and left to fend for themselves in empty rooms. One could find such creatures talking to themselves, taking on the role of this or that conversational tone, playing a sort of musical chair routine with themselves as the multitude in and endless dance of meaningless chatter. These had been isolated cases. Most of us just continued pretending that face to face discussions were a thing of the past and that now and from now on humans would exist in isolation. We accepted the inevitable.

We accepted the new normal.

Whether in the office, the call center, the service counter, in the creative industries, the retail show-floor or the backroom warehouse, life seemed to be far away. We’d always known our daily jobs were part of a system whose only benefit was to accumulate ruins, our lives a part of a receding value plan that would leave us broken at the end like so many dolls left on the shelves of forgotten childhood dreams. But what had now become evident was the sheer pointlessness of our daily endeavors. A shifting journey without end or rationale, slowly poisoning almost every aspect of our lives on the job, even lingering in our slow withdrawal at the end of our grinding days. But, of course, it is never over. The grind and circle of our endless apathy and degradation continue… even after the plague.


We Speak Because We Are Dead

“All things are full of weariness…”
– Koheleth (Ecclesiastes)

What follows is the last fragment in Cioran’s Decay. I’ve read it several times before, and have always wondered why he continued to endure himself and life. This was the work that divided his life from his Romanian existence, and would make him a star in the French intellectual scene even to the point that it would gain him his first prize (and the only one he would accept for the rest of his existence!). Yet, like most of his writing from this point forward he would repeat himself ad infinitum under different masks and styles till – as he’d say in a late interview of his Alzheimer’s – his brain broke…

“Forever be accursed the star under which I was born, may no sky protect it, let it crumble in space like a dust without honor! And let the traitorous moment that cast me among the creatures be forever erased from the lists of Time! My desires can no longer deal with this mixture of life and death in which eternity daily rots. Weary of the future, I have traversed its days, and yet I am tormented by the intemperance of unknown thirsts. Like a frenzied sage, dead to the world and frantic against it, I invalidate my illusions only to irritate them the more. This exasperation in an unforeseeable universe— where nonetheless everything repeats itself—will it never come to an end? How long must I keep telling myself: “I loathe this life I idolize?” The nullity of our deliriums makes us all so many gods subject to an insipid fatality. Why rebel any longer against the symmetry of this world when Chaos itself can only be a system of disorders? Our fate being to rot with the continents and the stars, we drag on, like resigned sick men, and to the end of time, the curiosity of a denouement that is foreseen, frightful, and vain.”

—E.M. CIORAN. A Short History of Decay

Cioran was raised in an Orthodox home, his father a priest, his mother neither a believer nor agnostic. Later in life before she died he once told her how miserable his life was, and she replied that if she’d known it would turn out this way she’d of aborted him. Cioran’s self-hatred and hatred of existence led him to a life of solitude, and yet he had a companion. Like most of us who are creative he was a man of contradictions, driven by a daemon-daimon – or, what Kafka-Rilke and many others would term “I am an Other!” I’ve often wondered after reading the above how he survived it, while so many other pessimists either stopped writing or committed suicide he seems to have lived on and on as if he deserved this self-torturous existence, relished in its insanity. Writing book after book of fragmentary aphorisms, essays, and asides. With such a dark vision what is left? Why speak at all? Paraphrasing Nietzsche in one of his dark moments when he said that whatever we might say is already dead… maybe that’s it we speak only because we are dead.

The Order of Impossible Salvation

In those days, one still had to take God into account, adjust Him to disbelief, include Him in solitude. A transaction crammed with charm, irremediably vanished! We lack cloisters as dispossessed, as vacant as our souls, in order to lose ourselves there without the attendance of the heavens, and in a purity of absent ideals, cloisters befitting the disabused angels who, in their fall, by dint of vanquished illusions, would remain still immaculate. We long for a vogue of retreats in an eternity without faith, an assumption of the habit in nothingness, an Order released from mysteries, and from which no “brother” would claim anything, disdaining his salvation even as that of others, an Order of Impossible Salvation. . . .

– E.M. Cioran,. A Short History of Decay

The Nameless

We live in a world where everything has a name, and yet when we come upon something that cannot be put into words, labeled, pinned down with its concept or metaphor, hyperbole or metonym we feel a certain dread as if the world had suddenly thrown us into some strange realm outside our normal everyday life. Much of modern and postmodern poetry dealt with the opposite conundrum: it felt that all the names we’ve given things were in error, so it began as in Wallace Stevens a project of unnaming rather than naming things.

At the end of Chapter 3 of Through the Looking-Glass. After passing through her reflection and making her way across the chessboard country that lies behind it, Alice reaches a dark wood where (she has been told) things have no names. “Well, at any rate it’s a great comfort,” she says bravely, “after being so hot, to get into the — into the — into what?” Astonished at not being able to think of the word, Alice tries to remember. And yet she cannot… Trying to recall the word for the place she is in, accustomed to putting into words her experience of reality, Alice suddenly discovers that nothing actually has a name: that until she herself can name something, that thing will remain nameless, present but silent, intangible as a ghost. Must she remember these forgotten names? Or must she make them up, brand new?

Central to horror and the weird at least since Lovecraft has been this twofold project of naming/unanming, of being confronted by the nameless and ill-defined strangeness of things. Most of us feel so cozy in our named worlds where we share language with our culture and define reality by our dictionaries. Without our words we seem lost in a cosmic abyss where things could be anything they wanted to be, that everything is in flux, hallucinatory, drifting in a space outside our grasp; chaotic. What does one do with the nameless? What does one do with the named when one realizes it too may be other than what we’ve so comfortably believed it to be because it was tamed by a name? What happens when a thing so familiar suddenly loses its name and enters that defamiliarized and uncanny space of namelessness?


In The Shadow of Deception

There is an aphorism, a short epiphanic text in Cioran’s A Short History of Decay which seems almost displaced, incommensurate with all that has come before it. One remembers how many years, and in many of his early Romanian books he devoted his life to certain women, to the saints… in this particular aphorism he recounts his love of those strange women and their haunting mysticism, a litany of their hystericisms and of his devotion to them… yet after this paean he reveals a moment when this love stopped:

“I lived for years in the shadow of these women, these saints, believing that no poet, sage, or madman would ever equal them. I expended, in my fervor for them, all my powers of worship, my vitality in desire, my ardor in dreams. And then . . . I stopped loving them.”

He gives no reason for this moment of dejection and abandonment, of his sudden undevotion. Yet, there is this sense of both loss and relief, maybe even the feeling that something of the disillusion many of us have had along the path of existence that the deep deceptions, the illusions that had up to that moment empowered us had suddenly taken on that ancient disenchantment that comes with knowing one’s self-deceptions were all along traps, cages for our desires that had enslaved our minds within a world of mere dreams of transcendence. And, suddenly, alone, abandoned to the isolation of our immanent existence we felt betrayed by our own inner need to believe… this sense of release from one’s deepest held desires and their nullity is felt as both loss and abandonment. Knowing there will never be a return to that naïve world of desire we wander in its dissolution like bandits in a night of endless torpor. Never, never again to feel the rapture nor ecstasy of our early loves… and delusions.

The Impossible God

Sometimes I imagine God (even Atheists imagine…) as a prisoner of his own creation, condemned to wander its labyrinths of duration for eternity; much like the tales of the Wandering Jew who refused the Galilean a sip of water, God will inhabit the flesh of mortal lives to the bitter end, unable to forgive us nor himself of the stain of existence. A God of tears rather than joy, a melancholy ghost whose bare existence is felt rather than seen, hidden in the interstices of our silence where the music of death much like Mahler’s symphonies repeats the deadly march of suffering in endless circles of hate and fear. A God condemned to forget himself and his creation, but not till he has labored under its infinite impossibility.

The Poet

This is how I recognize an authentic poet: by frequenting him, living a long time in the intimacy of his work, something changes in myself: not so much my inclinations or my tastes as my very blood, as if a subtle disease had been injected to alter its course, its density and nature. Valéry and Stefan George leave us where we picked them up, or else make us more demanding on the formal level of the mind: they are geniuses we have no need of, they are merely artists. But a Shelley, but a Baudelaire, but a Rilke intervene in the deepest part of our organism which annexes them as it would a vice. In their vicinity, a body is fortified, then weakens and disintegrates. For the poet is an agent of destruction, a virus, a disguised disease, and the gravest danger, though a wonderfully vague one, for our red corpuscles. To live around him is to feel your blood run thin, to dream a paradise of anemia, and to hear, in your veins, the rustle of tears. . . .

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

The Horror of Writing, and the Writing of Horror

Language is a virus from outer space. —William S. Burroughs

What if language were the enemy, the host of our parasitic travels among this darkened world’s strangeness? From the moment words stick to us, we fall ill as if language was itself the root of all evil. Language, not us, is the failure we inhabit; the ruins within which we are corrupted and corrupt. Each of us is appended, supplemented, given over to that linguistic labyrinth where meaning is a game without end. To have a name is to enter that nightmare of time, bounded only by our own ignorance. Knowledge is but the bitter fruit of a tree whose actuality is but a tale written by a melancholy ghost. Shaped by the powers of language we become fictional creatures in a (non)drama whose origins have no origins only the regurgitations of failed gestures and the grumblings of primitive gew gaws lost in the stream of time’s broken worlds. How to be if Being is a mere thought in an oscillating sea of doubts. Even the absolute has no defense against its own failures to be…

The only crime is to have never been, neither the uncreated nor the slippery indecision of a forlorn thought could ever exist in this vastation; this emptiness… this is the nightmare from which nothing is and nothing is not. Abducted by our own calibrated reasonings, the logics of a tormented thought — we live among the visceral threads of a lacerated cosmos. All those dreams of being elsewhere, of those tepid escape clauses in the tales of our lost nights leading nowhere; each a solitary message hidden in the depths of this infernal paradise of horrors.

If anyone could decipher the invisible message glowing from within this starlit cave of idiocy she would at once commit it to the flames of blue suns, bury it among forgotten planets and the galactic dust of frozen stars. We trace the curvature of our own misery in the rhythmic antics of wombless black holes, the slow decay of time written in the depleted particles of ancient nothingness.

Tempted only by our own incompleteness we dream of a totality that excludes us. To exist is to know only the absence of our insubstantial flesh. What we fear is not the unknown but rather its monstrous valency, the gathering incorporation of its life within our own hollowed out unbeing. Broken and flayed upon the wheel of language we become victims of another’s indecision. Unable to choose for ourselves we seek that Other who will channel our fears and doubts, resolve our unfinished tales.  Our inability to conceive the horrors that shape us absolves us from the terror of knowledge. Living as we do in the anterior of an unfinished tale we dream of endings without us.

(If this is the Intelligence of things, then what is their Will? The Negative of a Negative: does it produce or reproduce; is it light, or dark, silence or noise – the space of nothingness, or something less than nothing? If it drifts among the semblances will it ever discover or construct a habitation from the outside in? Is time a circle whose murderousness repeats itself till all the rage of existence is filtered out? What if what is real is this questioning of the unreal? Should what is broken remain broken, unmade? Can a word make of itself a part that is more than the sum of its vacancies? Or we condemned to repeat the gestures of this insanity forever?)

Job of the Parisian Salon

“May the day of my birth perish. May it turn to darkness. May no light shine on it. May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more.”

The Book of Job

Thus there are sacrificed men who pay for the unconsciousness of others, who expiate not only their own happiness but that of strangers. Thus equilibrium is restored; the proportion of joys and pains becomes harmonious. If an obscure universal principle has decreed that you belong to the order of victims, you will end your days stamping underfoot the speck of paradise you hid within yourself, and whatever impulse gleamed in your eyes and your dreams will be sullied by the impurity of time, matter, and men. You will have a dungheap for pedestal, for tribune a rack and thumb screw. You will be worthy of no more than a leprous glory and a crown of spit. Try to walk beside those entitled to everything, to whom all paths are open? But dust and ashes themselves will rise up to bar you from the exits of time and the evasions of dreams. Whatever direction you take, your steps will be mired, your voices will proclaim only the hymns of mud, and over your bent heads, your heavy hearts, in which only self-pity dwells, will pass no more than the breath of the happy, blessed toys of a nameless irony as little to blame as you are.

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Abducting the Negative

To have known the disappearance of things with each breath,
with each step the languor of a lost thought;
time’s mixed bag of indefinites, the mobile shifting of labor’s pressure,
twisted ropes of a suicide’s note, calibrated engines of non-being.

Decreating the last thread of this perception, abducting the negative.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Stepping back… and moving forward

More unreal than a star glimpsed in some hallucination, it suggests the condition of a sidereal pirouette—while on life’s circumference the soul promenades, meeting only itself over and over again, itself and its impotence to answer the call of the Void.

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

I think many of us come to a point when we’re so immersed in a subject, so overwhelmed by our involvement with a specific writer: the background reading, the scholarly, source, biographical, philosophical, etc., that we end up in that place of “too muchness”. At such times we realize the best thing to do is take a step back, take time off, do other activities, forget and forget again… until one day one remembers, gets an urge to once again take up the path one abandoned oh so long ago… one’s eyes refreshed, the task ahead suddenly feels alive and vibrant again, and one is no longer overwhelmed by the vast amount of information accumulated in notes, essays, asides, conversations, diaries, etc. One feels the prospects of moving ahead is now there, awaiting one. One is suddenly reenergized by the prospect of sitting down and writing out the thoughts that have for so long run their course just below the threshold of consciousness… one begins typing, and typing, and typing… the mind flows…

The Boredom of the End

“The feeling of boredom originates for me in a sense of the absurdity of a reality which is insufficient, or anyhow unable, to convince me of its own effective existence.”

– Alberto Moravia, Boredom

Aren’t we all bored now? Isn’t the absurdity of our current predicament in itself the very embodiment of this sense that reality has become insufficient, that its existence and the tangibility of its actuality has become lost in so many fragments of our media frenetic culture of malaise and ill-health? Are we entering the twilight zone of our own fetid systems of decadence and erosion, the hyperreal become the last refuge of our demented dreams of reality. Maybe now only a politics of despair can save us from our apathy and decline into nothingness. Our political leaders have become fragments of this disarray, living exemplum of the dark decadence of our era. We gaze on this circus like lost clowns in search of the moon, but even the moon is slowly emptying itself of our humanity. What will be left when the last human footprint on the sand is wiped away by the mother of all mothers, the ocean. The tread of our disappearance a mere glint of shadow on a morning wave receding into an infinite ocean of darkness and night, void and silence.

Recent Interview with Thomas Ligotti

Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and The Weird in an Age of Post-Truth

The Symposium was the natural culmination of The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies’ long attraction and interest in the fiction, philosophy and artistry of Thomas Ligotti. Since copies of Teatro Grottesco (2008) and The Conspiracy against the Human Race (2010) began being passed around an in-house reading group a few years earlier, Ligotti’s ideas and images have since slowly burning away – haunting, even – the minds of academic staff and students aligned to the centre, challenging how we approach and appreciate weird fiction, pessimism and supernatural horror.

Excellent group of essays on Thomas Ligotti, and a recent interview with the author himself! Read interview here.


Time’s Tears

So it is that after each night, facing a new day, the impossible necessity of dealing with it fills us with dread; exiled in light as if the world had just started, inventing the sun, we flee from tears—just one of which would be enough to wash us out of time.

—E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Contemporary Idealism as a Realism

Contemporary Idealism as a Realism

“The concrete universal, or the whole determined by the particulars it generates and that differentiate it in turn, is the Idea exactly as Platonism conceived it: as the cause of the approximations of becomings to particular forms, and as the “setting into order of this universe” from disorder (ataxia), as organization. When idealism is therefore presented as realism concerning the Idea, this means: first, that the Idea is causal in terms of organization; second, that this is an organization that is not formal or abstract in the separable sense, but rather concretely relates part to whole as the whole; and third, therefore that such an idealism is a one-world idealism that must, accordingly, take nature seriously.”

– Idealism: The History of a Philosophy Iain Hamilton Grant, Sean Watson, and Jeremy Dunham

As I’ve studied “dialectical materialism” in our contemporaries with Badiou’s return to Plato, and Zizek’s return to Hegel-Lacan etc., with their central critique of what Badiou terms “democratic materialism” (i.e, the whole naturalist and empirical heritage under Capitalist regimes). It is as if something is emerging-merging in both camps toward if not a new philosophical orientation then at least a strange new war on certain old misinterpretations of our past views on Idealism-Materialism. Against the old two-world view of Platonic traditions arises in our time a one-world view that incorporates Ideas as part of reality rather than as existing outside it in some heaven of abstraction. Ergo the Hegelian “concrete universal” etc. We await some young new philosopher who will give birth to this new paradigm and synthesize the mass of data and thought underlying all these various strands. I sometimes wish I were twenty again rather than almost seventy… oh what fun the young philosopher-scientist-mathematicians living now are having.

In the absence of love…

“Tears do not burn except in solitude.”
― Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

I felt you touch me softly
in the night

the silence of your breath
reaching across the chasm of my sleeping ear

awakened I reached out for your absence

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2020 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Night: A Philosophy of the After-Dark

“There has been an ancient war across the fields of philosophical inquiry, and in this violent conflict two diametrically-opposed sides: on the one front, those movements aligned with perceiving philosophy as enlightenment, and thus inescapably tied to discourses of truth, absolutism, and idealism that would render ours a radiantly serious, legitimate discipline. Tradition, structure, reason, and systemic orders of the mind follow in their wake; and on the other front, those movements aligned with perceiving philosophy as dark trek, and thus inescapably tied to discourses of chaos, exception, obscurity, and fragmentation that would render ours a deviant, criminal enterprise. Originality, distortion, tremor, and rogue speculation follow in their wake. For one alliance, the light promises a certain stability of Being (desire for groundedness); for the other alliance, the night provides gateways and trajectories of becoming (desire for flight or freefall). In this way, it is a war between the throne and the open sea, a war between significance and the ingenious manipulation of meaning within the folds of pure meaninglessness. The conceptual schism between day and night therefore marks the existential border between those with a pathological need to rule and those with a diabolical impulse to abandon, subvert, and reinvent the game of mortal experience.”

—Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh, Night: A Philosophy of the After-Dark

Being alone does not mean being bored.

Reading many twitter and FB feeds from friends and acquaintances one gets the feeling that some people have never been alone with the alone. Having been a Solitaire most of my life in the Emerosonian sense I’ve never been lonely. As Montaigne in his essay On Solitude put it:

“From books all I seek is to give myself pleasure by an honourable pastime: or if I do study, I seek only that branch of learning which deals with knowing myself and which teaches me how to live and die well…”

When one is in the company of great minds one is never lonely. This social distancing has forced many people to confront themselves in the state of solitude. Many of us have for years interacted with the world through a screen, a medium that is for the most part a tool of image and language. The nuances of language and linguistic prowess, rhetoric and the subtle art of significance comes from that wider cultural frame of book culture where women and men have externalized their minds for millennia. Codifying their thought into various categories of cultural transmission we have all been the recipients of hundreds of years of this process of cultural formation. In our short age of digital externalization and AI we are drifting away from Book culture. As we do this I wonder what we are losing? And, what are we gaining? Book culture was always an elite affair which gathered the great minds into a nexus of influence.

Western Culture – as what I’ve been a part of not discounting or relegating other cultures to some backwater – has been a part of that central formation of intellectual life for at least two thousand years through scripted works. If we had not had such works what would our world look like now? If writing had been outlawed what would we be? For a generation or better the humanities and humanistic learning has been slowly critiqued, pulverized, immiserated, and castigated into oblivion for its human-centric vision and Christian heritage, etc. But without it and its learned practioners we would be lesser beings. For better or worse we are products of this heritage, and have in one generation begun undermining and castigating it to the outer regions of human thought and culture.

What is replacing it? Philosophers battle even now over terms from posthuman, inhuman, transhuman, etc. as if struggling to give birth to something beyond the human. Why are we so ashamed of ourselves that we want something else? When we look back on the great minds, musicians, artists, craftsmen, engineers, scientists, etc. Are we so willing to throw it all out? It’s all we have, it’s what we are… in an age of absolute nihilism when all thought has been put in abeyance where do we turn for wisdom and guidance if not this rejected past?

“In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself. And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity, the contrary also being true, at least to a certain extent, for the difference between the two texts may sometimes be imputed less to the author than to the reader. Besides, the book may be too learned, too obscure for a simple reader, and may therefore present to him a clouded glass through which he cannot read.”
– Marcel Proust