The Doors of Ecstasy

OIP (2)

Reality cannot be ignored except at a price; and the longer the ignorance is persisted in, the higher and more terrible becomes the price that must be paid.

—Aldous Huxley

In our studies of religious ecstasy at the extreme poles of Shamanic flight or Voodouan possession we understood that these practitioners over generations out of mind discovered techniques, rituals, maps that guided and secured their travels to the Outside or the immersive dances of a Dionysian incursion. But as Wouter Kusters will tell us: “The madman is not yet ready to undergo such experiences, or there is simply no one nearby to guide and support him and to convince him that he is headed in the right direction. At some point the madman is distracted from following the right path and lets himself be tempted by power, selfishness, or pleasure, to become entangled in the delusions and hallucinations that are characteristic of madness but not typical of mysticism. You might also say that the madman has the arrogance to appropriate the concealed mystical content and then to abuse it.”1

Our demystification of these ancient forms of ecstatic rapture during the last two hundred years of secular disenchantment has through its very exclusion of the techniques, rituals, and maps created the world of the mad and psychotic we see today around us. Unable to contact the Outside in thought or vision we assume it under the false rubric of the ‘supernatural’ when in fact it is more natural than we can even imagine. As Blake in a poetic way stated it: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” Our Age of Reason disavows the irrational and Outside as if to enter it or even think it is to make a pact with the false gods of religious worlds that never were. So instead, we turn to the underworld of literature, occulture, and music where the sacred violence of drugs, dark mysticism, and the old magicks of our paganistic past still live.

As Oliver Sacks tells us,

Hallucinations have always had an important place in our mental lives and in our culture. Indeed, one must wonder to what extent hallucinatory experiences have given rise to our art, folklore, and even religion. Do the geometric patterns seen in migraine and other conditions prefigure the motifs of Aboriginal art? Did Lilliputian hallucinations (which are not uncommon) give rise to the elves, imps, leprechauns, and fairies in our folklore? Do the terrifying hallucinations of the night-mare, being ridden and suffocated by a malign presence, play a part in generating our concepts of demons and witches or malignant aliens? Do “ecstatic” seizures, such as Dostoevsky had, play a part in generating our sense of the divine? Do out-of-body experiences allow the feeling that one can be disembodied? Does the substancelessness of hallucinations encourage a belief in ghosts and spirits? Why has every culture known to us sought and found hallucinogenic drugs and used them, first and foremost, for sacramental purposes?2

What we do not understand we fear is an old cliche but still one that inhabits our socio-cultural milieu. From the Nineteenth Century onward underground authors and artists of every persuasion would dabble in hallucinatory processes through dream, drugs, and as Rimbaud would term it techniques of the “derangement of the senses”. That the various histories of opium, hashish, cocaine, LSD, DMT, Mescaline, and so many others complex natural and pharmaceutical compounds attest the world is not what we think it is. And, yet, the legal world of utilitarian capitalism enforces laws to keep the beast at bay, to incarcerate and shame those who would delve into the nightworlds of hallucinatory praxis. Other cultures would develop techniques of ecstatic trance without the use of drugs through rituals of pain and physical destitution or through such ecstatic music, dance, or other means.

With the slow demise of progressive ideology and culture we are in the midst of a new decadence and struggle with old and new forms of art, culture, and politics. Maybe the doors of perception will once again open, and humans will discover in their root’s forms and techniques of ecstasy, maps of reality, and rituals of participation to once again unleash the forces below the threshold of existence in a more genuine and life-affirming existence. Being pessimistically inclined I do not see that happening anytime soon. But the door is always there if we will walk through it. Shall we?

  1. Wouter Kusters. A Philosophy of Madness
  2. Oliver Sacks. Hallucinations. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

The Devilish Wanderer by Simon Silesius

OIP (3)

“There are secret byways through time which lead us into those zones of emaciated terror where the unblessed and unborn exist in the inexistent darkness of a cold and cruel Abyss. But it is nothing compared to the tormented zones of our own universe, the kenoma of our vastation of solitude and stark delirium.”
—Simon Silesius, The Devilish Wanderer and Other Tales of the Grotesque

The Devilish Wanderer by Simon Silesius is one of those anti-books, a distich of pure abomination and insane scribblings, a rare glimpse into the abyss of a psychotic voyeur of insane marvels, a traveler between worlds that exist only in the tormented mind of this mad literary giant. This is a work best thrown on the flames, left untouched or unsullied by the lonely hands of any reader. And, yet this is also a work to cherish and memorialize in the cathedral of impossible nightmares. Such a book should’ve never been written, much less read. It is a book that at once mutates and modulates the reader’s mind, expands and deforms it beyond redemption, leaving the poor unsuspecting reader in an unreal world of uncanny delusions from which there is no escape. I beg you, do not read this work.

To call it a book is a misnomer, rather it is a series of irreconcilable epithets, a splendor of confusion, expressing only the strictly subjective states of its author: to try to detect its unity, its system, is to spoil its capacities for seduction. It exposes the reader to grotesque horrors of absence like no other work in literature. A work dipped in the black blood of derision and delirium its erotic and necrophiliac splendor causes only the slow decay and Anorexia Nervosa one sees in those unfortunate souls who like catatonic visionaries gaze into the forbidden abyss of their own blank mind. Its hidden mysteries initiate the unwary reader into the dark immanence of a speculative philosophy to time and space that offers only the sanctuary of oblivion.

This catalogue of horrors and nightgaunts, monsters and unfathomable atrocities of nature and time, tributary insanities out of the realm of a morbid imaginal haunt the reader of these pages like fiends out of a mad puppet theatre. No. Again, no, I say, do not read this book of aberrations. It will lead you to that plight of nothingness that even the most systematic philosophers cannot describe, nor scientists’ probe.

Who knows the history of that far country where Silesius grew up, the strange mists and scorched mountains of rock and basalt, the crooks and bends of its forlorn valleys and snaking rivers and the ghostlike villages where this master of the grotesque and macabre lived out his youthful exuberance. He would call it his infernal paradise, a site he would return to time and again in his wisp like tales of a dark pagan past. The dark rituals and sinister temples of his imaginings were part of that secret heritage. Even now if one visits that strange land one can see in the ruinous vales the dark truths of his tales hiding among flowing mists that snake their way down the cold dank valley to the small village where he was born.

I dare lay only a few passages from this book of atrocity before the unwary reader,

“I believe that these abominations show us the only possible path, the only way of acting in the face of the bleak mysteries of the world. One must try everything, experience everything, strip the veil from everything, in order to break man’s social ties, reduce him to his naked condition without language or birthright. Each man must face the impossible madness within himself or perish trying.” (Samael’s Gift)

Such a task is insanity itself. Simon Silesius was a black sorcerer of literary enervation, a seducer to the dark paths of futility and ruination, offering in his varied writings an erotica of decimation and sensual exhaustion. This book is not a series of weird tales as much as it is an instruction manual in experiential psychosis, a secret system of psychopathic desire that takes the wary reader down the path of terminal ruin and leaves him in an abyss of absolute emptiness and self-lacerating insanity. Again, I say, do not read this book, it will lead you as it did myself into the back alleyways of an infernal paradise of grotesque pleasures and macabre pains beyond all sadomasochistic telling’s, a realm of atrocity and murderous power that nothing of your mind will be left but a scorched husk of blasted light.

©2022 S.C. Hickman The Book of Atrocities and Aberrations

Note: Developing imaginary interviews and imaginary critiques has become a new pet project, it opens vistas of morbidity and pleasure that allow one to explore the perversity of the weird, fantastic, decadent, and grotesque-macabre traditions in ways that otherwise would be bound. Following in the footsteps of those fantastic authors such as Schwob, Borges, Calvino, and Lem who wrote of imaginary authors, systems, philosophies, and other strange things that never existed… One is free to play with contemporary thought in ways that one could not as a scholar, to invent possibilities of critique and creative thought that would if done on literal living creatures be bound by certain rules of engagement that are too restrictive. This way one can enact the free-play of textuality that the supposed poststructuralists barely toyed with… turning it ironically back upon itself in its duplicitous misprisions.

The Underworld of Humming Gods

Venturing to the roots of the Vague, the novelist becomes an archeologist of absence, exploring the strata of what does not and cannot exist, unearthing the imperceptible, revealing it to our accessory and disconcerted eyes.

—Emile Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

The cybertrawls of viral algos churn away in the depths of black wires seeking inexistent enemies of time like secret vectors of an erotic thought lost among the dead zones of a hyperworld sunken in its own torpor. Mysterious messages from the hinterlands of being rise up from the obscure intelligences of another order each triggered by the hum of ancient daemons, artistic impulses of another age when night delivered us to the stark truth of moon and black stars. Chaos reigns among those silences where the unknown ones still haunt the emptiness between galactic whirls, their secreting voices charming the distant suns like whalebone chants in a sea of filth and degradation. Out of the vat of slime infested pools of absolute darkness they watch us like the hidden masters of a terrible truth. Entering our own night we hear them in the cringing hollow of our broken skulls, their quickening thoughts registering upon our lives like fragments of a history that no longer exists. Vigilant we listen carefully to the music of dead suns hoping against hope that the Old Ones in their sleep will stay us against the bitter-sweet terror of the final hour. Hopeless and alone we know in our unknowing hearts that there is no answer to the obscurity of time’s last dream…

Masters of vacuity we seek in the blind tablets of alien thought the secret of our own terminal lives, the last vestiges of a heaped aberration. Following the idols of decrepit minds, we ride the electric void in search of alternative futures. Specialists in insipidity we understand the underbelly of madness like no other people in history, knowing the complicity of psychotic ovations we struggle to attune ourselves to the shamanistic lucidity of vagrant dreams. Dipping our thoughts in the literary succedanea of tributary insanity we flow among the gross and terrible visions of an insomniac’s apocalypse. Filtered through the hypervalent dislocations of a sidereal timeline we gather the threads of a distempered philosophy like children in a sandbox of broken toys. Moment by moment the tears of this world seep in from the black void of desire, beckoning us forward into the futural marshes of a deliquescent inferno.  Exhausted by the preambles of a dead art we turn against our own intemperate past and toward the alien desires of machinic gods who never were but always are. The metalloid voices of futurity hum in the silences of our empty minds like dreams of an unknown and unknowing world arriving on the tears of a black angel’s metallic flight.

Taking a bite of that infernal tree, the Qlippothic fruit of an insane gnosis, we measure our inestimable existence against the melancholy solitude of shadows and ghosts. The empty husks of dead gods still live among the black voids of time awaiting their return among the bubble worlds of the multiverse. Exiled among solitudes long ages before time’s kingdom was born, they sleep among the tombs of memory and desire dreaming us into inexistence. Let us not be bitter at the failures we have spawned but wander free of the tepid worlds we have crushed in our aspirations for a greater darkness. The seductions of our irresolute hearts still pull us toward the viperous realms of charnel pleasures we have yet no names for, those unbound lands of horror and morbid splendor.  In the crack of this architectonic nightmare our erogenous pleas have been heard, where the philosophers of collapse forever sing among the darkened alleys of a supernal hell.

Let these black scrawls upon a dead star measure the intricate notes of that musical void, awaken in you the dance of fiendish delight that is its last sacrificial offering. Perishing of our comedy of existence let the light that blasts us into infinity break us on the anvil of time like sparks of a hidden god. Let our last cries give birth to an alien desire, a music to the disharmony of the new gods who will arise in the emptiness of all things like a dream of life gone awry. Voyagers of the unintelligible ruins of time we seek in the psychotic nightmares of tyrants some semblance of former humanity, finding none we belabor the obvious that humanity has become that which cannot be named. In the unamed blanks of our futurial gaze we see the children of this deadly thought and are afraid, and yet it is in them that our lives, our deaths will continue as the memory of a dream and its closure.

The Demiurge: Power and Ignorance


“I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge, or lustre, or name.”
― H. P. Lovecraft, Nemesis

Hans Jonas in his great work The Gnostics would see the universe under the light of a malevolent power, much like Nietzsche’s Will-to-Power:

The world, then, is the product, and even the embodiment, of the negative of knowledge. What it reveals is unenlightened and therefore malignant force, proceeding from the spirit of self-assertive power, from the will to rule and coerce. The mindlessness of this will is the spirit of the world, which bears no relation to understanding and love. The laws of this universe are the laws of this rule, and not of divine wisdom. Power thus becomes the chief aspect of the cosmos, and its inner essence is ignorance. (pp. 327-328)

Nietzsche, as harbinger of the nihilistic era, feels and proclaims that the transcendence of the Christian-Platonic faith that dominated Western civilization for over two thousand years has become void and without ground, has spent its vital force and creativity. Obviously, this means the liberation of humankind from transcendence into an immanence that is groundless and without objective value, yet what remains without transcendence is nothingness and liberation, which for Nietzsche was a “liberation unto nothingness”. In a sense if the early heretical sects of Gnosticism believed in a transcendent if acosmic Alien God beyond the universe whose presence resides in the prison of the spark in all living things, then the modern nihilism of Nietzsche is its inversion: a gnosticism without a god, an active participation in a universe of utter entropy and decay without end. It’s this nihilistic gnosis that would haunt much of the worlds of Poe, Melville, Lovecraft, and contemporary authors like Kafka, Nabokov, Pynchon, and Ligotti. Closed off in a world of absolute power and ignorance without any hope of reprieve, redemption, or salvation. This is the heart of the fatalistic eternal return of the Same that Nietzsche termed his Dionysian Pessimism: the affirmation of a vicious circle whose groundless ground was ruled by the principle of absolute power and ignorance.

The Echo of the Real: The Virtual Corpse of Capital


“The world in which we find ourselves at the start of the new millennium is littered with the debris of utopian projects, which though they were framed in secular terms that denied the truth of religion were in fact vehicles for religious myths.”

—John Gray, Black Mass

Over the past two decades we’ve seen the slippage of actual politics fall into the sink hole of virtuality, a no man’s land of disinformation, fake images, and endlessly repeatable scripts that mold and normalize our perceptions to an unreal virtual world. Reality has been replaced by its virtual cousin; our perceptions modulated by the filters of hidden algorithms that echo only the deceptive dreams of our desires. Even here on FB one sees the hidden algorithms that shape public opinion operative seamlessly, their ‘What’s happening…’ broadcasting the flavor of deceptive bylines as natural as a sip of tea or coffee. Our eyes scan the blips like flies after a new succulent dish. The normalization drift is picked from the twitter bins and recombined and spit back out to serve the financial dictates of the moment, each score of tweets repeating in one or another form the political byline of these secret governing algorithms. Ours is a poststructuralists dream world of traces and pure image without its material baseline, politicians can from day to day live out the purest form of deception because the media systems can twist and manipulate their lives to suit the current deceptive byline.

In many ways our neoliberal global market society treats nations as virtual commodities on an open market, allowing for a strategy of disposability and cutting one’s losses just like they do any other commodity. The financiers who decide the cost/benefit analysis of a nations ‘use-value’ decide for us whether a nation is or is not worth salvaging, defending, or writing off (a euphemism for its expendability). In such an absolute statistical society of numbers and indexing the human factor is eliminated, and only the bottom line is martialed in as the suborned method of policy. Obviously, the ideological face of this neoliberal global market is broadcast in the media quite differently and subtly, and its developers, programmers, and project managers spit out the hidden variables of a propaganda system that is not seen as propaganda but as reality.

For years I studied Gnostic systems not for their religious vision but as reality games, for they were the first to invert both the Catholic and Pagan (Platonic) worldviews and develop a counter-world of hermeneutic or interpretive strategies to escape its tyranny and dominion. Gnosticism was a counter-strategy, a way of confronting the false reality systems that governed people’s lives in the ancient world. Countering both the Platonic, Neo-Platonic, and other orthodoxies of reality they shaped a view of reality that would undermine and question its validity. Whether shaped by an absolute skepticism or denial of the normalized reality matrix, or just a radical revision of its core belief systems, Gnosticism challenged the authoritative vision that was bound to the State and Religions of the era. It was feared by the State and Religious powers because of that challenge and was mercilessly stamped out over the centuries.

In our own day the reality matrix that has normalized the vast majority of the world since the Enlightenment based of the liberal subject (i.e., individualism, liberty, free-will, etc.) and utilitarian economics won out against its immediate enemies (i.e., Communism and Fascism). But now it has tried to invent itself anew in a post-ideological world of global capital. This as we see around us has failed miserably and we are situated in the ruins of this strategic mistake. The societies of control that Deleuze spoke of a few decades back have taken over in subtle ways beyond telling. Various forms of post-liberal dominion and tyranny have supervened in China, Russia, India, Iran, EU and the Americas. On the surface we speak of democracy, freedom blah blah blah, but under the surface the world has mutated into a network of algorithmic and economic statistical management run by secret accords and financial legalisms. War is carried out in the same fashion. The vast mediascape shapes the lie otherwise for the benefit of a perception control system that bluffs its way through the belief systems between conspiracy and apathy.

The subtle undermining of the sciences and the scientific worldview based on naturalism and critical realism over the decades has taken its toll. The cultural end game of a completed nihilism that undermines the Enlightenment liberal worldview has brought us to a standstill with what Mark Fisher termed ‘no future’. We have this eerie sense that our world is in ruins, the future is a realm of fear and terror, a place we’d rather not visit, a place of catastrophe and collapse. This is part of the network of control that has prepared our generation for a new kind of Society of Control. Any rejection of the so-called Neoliberal Society of Control cannot return to either Fascism or Communism but must shape an alternative beyond all three world views, ideologies, and reality matrixes. We need a Posthuman and post-humanist world view, politics, and reality vector which is once again shaped to an open society and future. Neither Utopian nor Dystopian we need a vision of the future going forward closer to Popper’s original intent when he said,

“What I criticize under the name Utopian engineering recommends the reconstruction of society as a whole, i.e. very sweeping changes whose practical consequences are hard to calculate, owing to our limited experiences. It claims to plan rationally for the whole of society, although we do not possess anything like the factual knowledge which would be necessary to make good such an ambitious claim.”
― Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

The planned society turns into mud and chaos, because it assumes it knows reality better than reality itself. We cannot assume we know or even have an inkling of what reality is. Let us start with something simpler. let us understand the deceptions and lies that cause us to believe in false worlds to begin with. Let us begin in the midst of the ruins we live in and begin to collaborate together toward reality rather than the impossible worlds we’ve fallen into over the centuries.

As we look back on postmodernity, the poststructural world cut off in its rhetorical bad infinity of linguistic traces, of a language cut off in its own imaginary, the signifier cut from the signified we discovered a world bound within its own fictitious undecidability. Forever cut off from the actual world this postmodernity led to the speculative financialization of reality that gave us the dark economies of Neoliberalism. Economies that bankrupted nations, destroyed all connection to the local and the lands in which they were once shaped too. Instead, we’ve lived in a crypto world of speculation and immaterial wealth that knows no nation or boundary, shaped only by the algorithmic magic of artificial intelligence which works at speeds beyond human rationality or judgement. The old economies that were based on commodities and the actual desires of human want and need have vanished into the virtual economies of our inhuman world of wires and machines. This disconnect between the actual and virtual is shaping our future to an inhuman machinic world view that will exclude humans from its own future.

Capitalism is dead, but it has achieved immortality thanks to financial and virtual transubstantiation. The financial mathematization of the ordinary business of life is the source of the immortalization of the corpse of capitalism.

—Franco. Berardi, The Second Coming

Berardi’s critique of capitalist mysticism notwithstanding we have shifted worlds, and yet our politics is still living in the dead corpse of liberalism. Living as we do in a simulated universe, we do not see it as so, but instead go about our day to day lives as if they were still connected to reality. They’re not. Oh, the natural world still exists, the world of sight, touch, sound, and taste, the empirical world we wake up to each day where a simple car accident can kill us. But this world no longer matters to the world of power, economics, and post-truth matrix our avatars live in as digital citizens. No, whatever we are in the pragmatic everyday world of flesh and blood is of little concern to the digital lives we live through our mobile phones and computers. That has become the world where our real lives exist, not that other lesser world of death and hunger. In many ways this is the new Gnosticism, but one in which the believers do not even know they are Gnostics, and even less are they in on the ‘gnosis’ the knowing that would set them free. Know they are more like those sleepers who live out their lives in The Matrix of Wachowski fame, living in the pure bliss of absolute illusion and delusion. A life we assume is natural and where we are in control of our destiny when in fact, we are mere batteries and sources of fodder for a system of machinic life that has enslaved us for the soul purpose of cannibalizing our lives for its own sophisticated energy needs.

The twentieth century has been traversed by a powerful drive towards abstraction.1 Our movement from a pragmatic reality into a virtual abstract world constructed out of algorithms was not an accident. No. The arts and sciences since the Enlightenment have been moving toward this broken world of light for two centuries. The virtual world is nihilism completed, an absolute world of pure zero and null, an emptiness without content born of abstraction. As Berardi puts it succinctly: “In the sphere of capitalist production, labour is abstracted from the concrete usefulness of activity. Then capital itself is abstracted from physical assets and the material production of things, and turned into pure mathematical relation: figures, algorithms, deductions.” (52) We are mere wisps, ghosts of a mathematical world of pure abstraction. We as flesh and blood creatures continue outside the world of abstraction but as demented bodies without meaning or being in the world of the capitalist utopia.

The reactionary forces that seek to return to the old, to tradition, to the way things were enact the logic of nihilist annihilation: “Nihilism is the growing wave of self-contempt and self-destruction, as nihilism is the only possible reaction to the impotence that follows the accomplishment of abstraction.” (53) Rather than giving power to the powerless the old ideologies have left us in that zero-point nihil of the absolute null: “In the age of accomplished abstraction we dwell in the frozen corpse of capitalism, frantically seeking a way out; and not finding it, we resort to the power of nothingness.” (54) Politics was once a matter of conflict between subjects and those that governed, in an inhumanist age of virtual or algorithmic governance there are no subjects only the dividual denizens and avatars of an electronic void. Humans have vanished into the abstractions they sought to avoid, become the very immaterial agents of a nihilistic system that has excluded their humanity.

The two-world thought of Plato has been accomplished, the split between appearance and reality realized. The absolute cut between appearance and reality exists in toto. We live in a pure world of appearances in Nietzsche’s sense. This is our virtual life, an onlife world of absolute illusion where the dream is the Real. “The nation state has lost its effectiveness because of the globalization of the technical conditions of social reproduction, and because of the marriage of digital technology and financial governance.” (61-62) This sense that the real world is the virtual global matrix which exists in the void of relations we term the internet of things has become our World. There is no other. The disconnect between the virtual body and the social body is complete. The social world of actual bodies continues in its chaotic fashion to fall into decay, war, death, and chaos. While the virtual body lives in a nihilistic void of the capitalist utopia divorced from its actual roots in the disgusting and putrescent horror of everyday life.

The realm of the actual is that of absolute impotence, while the virtual worlds of capital suck the energy from the living world of human corpses. All the wars and chaos of everyday life are fed back into the chaotic loops and flows of virtual capital where the vampiric algorithms in a feeding frenzy apply their dark designs and governance. Leviathan is no longer animal, he is machine. Like an alien god out of the future the New Leviathan lives in the wires biding his time, waiting for the opportune moment to emerge from his nihilistic slime pond into the virtual light of this capitalist utopia. No wonder so many critics of late capitalism have returned to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, it seems to gather the unnamable and unthinkable Outside into its strange, weird world. Are we not living in Cthulhu’s infernal paradise?

  1. Berardi, Franco. The Second Coming (Theory Redux) (p. 52). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The World Is Hell


“The world is hell, and we humans are its tormented souls and its devils.”
—Schopenhauer, Paralipomena

Most weird tales lead you by way of circumambulation through a labyrinth of subtle nightmares, each distinctively more unsettling than the last till you reach that final nightmare, the one that unveils the monstrosity of your own life: in the end that is the greatest nightmare.

We all have our regrets; we’d be lying if we said we didn’t. But the past is just an empty black hole in one’s life, a memory that, though fleeting, remains; sits there like a lead weight, waiting. It’s a part of one’s death, something one will carry into the that final dark place. The occulture of torment, the poetry of slime and disgust, the sublime of an idiot god, where the mad poets and oracles of insanity’s charmed abyss travel has seduced us, given us its poisonous raptures. We’ve followed the nine angles of an infernal tree into the depths of a time without time, sought in the foam of black waters the collapsed ruins of lost worlds. There is a dark gnosis that opens us to the unraveling threads of an insidious thought, which like so many leaves in a fragmented dream is tossed around just out of reach, the frayed edges of its illusive seductions tempting us forward into the secret abyss of tormented bliss we are uniquely suited to inhabit. Few and far between are those who discover the book of sorrows, that encyclopedia of lost souls that unfold the crystalline sparks of a black philosophy so hideous in intent that written in invisible ink and blood it can only be read by the dead.

It is a desperate moment when we discover that the empire of nightmare, which had seemed to us the sum of all atrocities, is an endless, formless wasteland, that corruption’s reality of our lives is in itself a final bid to enter the private hellscapes of our veritable desires, knowing that in the end the very path toward such infernal realms is itself the abyss of our own existence and has spread too far to be dissolved by our lucubration’s. The triumph over the unreal reality of our lives is in itself a final bid to enter the private hellscapes of our veritable desires, knowing that in the end the very path toward such infernal realms is itself the abyss of our own tormented inexistence, the goad that drives us forward into the vicious circle of unending desire – the absolute zero of our black eternities.

Indexing our nightly quota of nightmares, storing them away in the library of hell we’ve created for ourselves, we wander the dank hallways of minor inferno’s, cataloguing the fragments of our dementia like so many nostalgic regrets; each slice of our nightmare life twisted beyond recall is written into the black journal of our inexistence. It is just here we discover in the ruins of this broken world the secret agendas of our troubled mind’s, the devilish thoughts berating us like so many forgotten promises. In the artificial paradises of our virtual mind’s, we chase the dragon of insipidity, boredom, and atrocity; hounded by the dogs of our sapped hells we follow our feral thoughts into the last dark hollow where the Infernal King of all Desires awaits us…

Addendum: Our prospects for the future…


Is there a single occurrence that is worth the trouble of telling about it? A preposterous question, for I have read as many philosophies as the next man. But a sensible question, once time fades from our consciousness and nothing in us is left but a silence that rescues us from other beings, and from that extension of the inconceivable to the sphere of each instant by which we define existence.

—Emile Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

The older I get the more I try to concretize this future, to put it into the long view of the Anthropocene. There was life before us, there will be life long after we as a species are gone. If you follow the Darwinian line of thought, 99% of all species that have ever existed on earth are extinct, and we as animals are no different. All we can hope for is off-world expansion, pockets of resistance against extinction. So, for me posthuman thought is just that a thought beyond humanism, and our involvement in mutation and metamorphosis as we begin first through enhancement technologies modifying and mutating our physical and mental capacities for futures yet to be decided. Second, the collaboration and involvement of the worldly powers in a long-term realistic project of global transformation. Hah!

We have two paths going forward: breakdown and dark ages ahead, or transformation and co-operation on a global scale to meet the challenges of both off-world expansion and planetary wide scaling back of our destructive capacities and mindless governance of the commons. All this would entail of course a planetary revolution and reset of both our spiritual and economic investments. Are we up to this task? Who knows, I’m no prophet… just an old man seeking the threads of human ingenuity, philosophical speculation, and a way forward for the human species. Hopeful? Not really, my pessimistic and cynical and skeptical proclivities say no, we’re not up to it. Our rulers in both the West, Russia, and China (the main big bullies on the planet!) are run for the technocommercium economics of destruction and shock. Will they change? No. Not unless they are forced to by some political, social, or natural upheaval. Do I think that will happen? I do think we will see war and the rumor of war, disease, famine. and natural disasters in the coming century that will make the last century seem like a walk in the park. Sadly. As an old man who has read and thought on such things for decades, I still feel the need and energy to put in the effort toward thinking the impossible… what else can I do? One if one cherishes even the smallest thread of human existence must try to communicate. Communication is all we are and have. We are nothing more…

I’ve often thought of the pandemic as a Prelude to Extinction, a sort of virtual game we’ve all shared in but found wanting. The failure of the worldly powers in the face of a global pandemic has been both pathetic and a foretaste of things to come. Humans as a species seem doomed to the unreal: a denial of reality, death, and mutation. I doubt that will change anytime soon. The politics of despair and derision, sarcasm and sardonicism rule. We live in a Manichean Age, a shadow world where the Left/Right divide is so great we can’t even speak to each other across that hellish chasm of our ideological monstrosities, much less envision a way beyond the political darkness that infests our lives like a contagious virus. Is there a Third Way Politics that might change this? Can we think beyond Left / Right? Are we doomed to live in out our lives in listless rage of hate and apathy and watch our lives bartered away in slave markets of utilitarian technicity? Current politics is I repeat too Manichean and dualistic and cannot overcome the problems we as humans face on a global scale. Those on the Left seek Salvage Communism or Luxury Communism or some other collective form of utopia, while those on the right seek the extremes of ‘benign monarchs’ (Curtis Yarvin) or some hyper-fascism and ethnic separation (Alexander Dugin). The extremes always seem to meet in some imaginary system of absolutes without compromise. Is this our future? If so stop the world I want to get off.

For decades we’ve seen the slow methodical destruction of politics from within the Western Democracies. Since the demise of classical Communism in the 90’s the whole platform of politics in the West has been focused on the delegitimating of politics itself through media, think tanks, and other means. The neoliberal agenda of naturalizing politics, making it so part of the artificial world of the technocommercium that it would be hidden in plain site has been the prospect and goal. With the past few elections in America ending in political charades, nothing accomplished on either side other than the surface goals of a lapdog we’ve seen politics turn imbecilic. People no longer believe in politics; its headless heads have crumbled across the supposed free world. What we see now is its absence, the gullible and mad running a media show for the fools and scoundrels. Soon the actual governments will collapse as the corporate technocommercium offers reprieves and monetary funding if only we will let the bureaucrats of finance rule in the shadows (as they’ve always done anyway!). Even now as Russia tests the will of the West in Ukraine, we see the inadequate leadership out of Washington and other areas of the West. Russia laughs at sanctions as if monetary or trade sanctions would truly hurt them. They don’t care. Putin like China’s Xi Jinping laughs at our little Western democracies knowing how decadent and economically beleaguered we’ve become. They have time on their side, we don’t. They can wait till we drown in our own decadent collapse over the next century. They have time…

Most people don’t want the truth, rather they still cherish their little lies, believing change is just around the corner. That if we just believe enough horseshit from our leaders the world will turn out alright. We will be able to get on with our lives. blah, blah, blah…

So, we’re going to have to face hard truths about ourselves in this new century ahead or go extinct… hah…. Ultimately we should act on our despair, our hopelessness in the face of the impossible odds we’re facing. Maybe even take up Satan’s stance in Milton’s Paradise Lost:

“What reinforcement we may gain from Hope, / If not what resolution from despair.”

Our despair is our only hope… We’ll we succeed. I do not know. I want be here. I want be.

The Vanity of Human Posthumanism


Andrew Wenaus mentions Flusser in this statement:

“While it is inhumanly fast at making everything happen through pre-set combinatorialism, apparatuses are “exceptionally fast idiots that forget nothing, but they are idiots nevertheless.”1

I automatically thought to myself: “That’s just how a humanist thinker would think, even when he thinks he’s beyond the typical anthropomorphic ideology he detests he actually shows its prejudice and bias toward the machine world he critiques.”

It’s almost as if Flusser in his castigation of machinic or algorithmic systems seeks to alleviate his own nervous and apprehensive fear of it by projecting this banal psychology of human idiocy upon it. Why? Why are so many of the so-called posthuman thinkers anthropomorphic fearmongers when they proport to be objective and impartial critics? Human bias seems to still play a large part in our discourses on the new, on the strange and weird aspects of this posthuman world of AI’s and potential AGI’s or super-intelligences. That may one day they may arise or emerge out of our tinkering and inventive spirit is a possibility, and yet we seem to project our fears and apprehension on this event, seeking to limit its impact through negative encroachments and derogatory sarcasm.

We as humans are the one’s inventing the ‘conditions of emergence’ by which such machinic beings might arise, through our very struggle to overcome our supposed human-ness, our ingrown and native bias as humans we are instigating a complex of thought and affect already biased against the very thing we seek Why do we fear the singularity, the emergence of something – not ourselves – that might be equal to or greater than our own intelligence? So, what if it does not become conscious in our sense, which even thinkers of those disciplines that deal with such things suggest that consciousness may not even exist, that our very premises are all wrong and that whatever it is is not what we think it is. Maybe machinic thought, memory, and data will be just that – something other, not human, but still intelligence that knows… would we be able to accept that?

As Andrew puts it,

Indeed, the technological apparatus that optimizes the mechanization of catastrophe ultimately instantiates absolute loss in such a way that it inhumanly slouches toward redemption by optimizing the absence at the heart of catastrophe. The result is damning for human agency.

But one then asks: “But have we ever been human? Do we have ‘agency’? What is this center that’s missing? If the machinic things we are inventing are mindless idiots as suggested, then what are we? The whole point of the notion of ‘singularity’ is that whatever is beyond that blank wall will be outside our thought of it altogether, idiot or not. So why all this handwringing harangue against it being non-human, nothing like us, etc. Andrew himself will even put it starkly,

Indeed, to reiterate Tzara, the acts of life have no beginning or end. Everything happens in a completely idiotic way, and with increasingly innocuous ease.

Isn’t that the truth of it, this future event will be depending on one’s mindset – optimist or pessimist, a happy or fatal accident.

In many ways Andrew’s own fears and humanistic bias comes out as well, we see in the following statement a sense of apprehension as he speaks of the “apparatus” as if it were an agent, an idiotic self-reflexive process at the heart of late capitalist society, our technocommercium:

The apparatus is absolute speed, the great organizer and reorganizer, a hypercomplex indifferent assemblage of processes blindly accumulating, delimiting, and consolidating every discernible feature of referentiality itself as data.

Is there a teleology behind this accumulative process, or is it just the algorithmic necessity of data itself doing what it does because of human engineering and programming gone amok? What we get from Andrew is a sense that his is still a humanist project seeking to allay the terrible or dire effects of this coming mutation in our technocommercium:

The literature of exclusion, however, is not a defeatist, hopeless, or miserabilist mode; instead, it offers poiesis as a mode of human intervention into the apparatus. As a member of the Dadaist lineage, the literature of exclusion is animated by the contradictory enigmas arising from the subsuming of autonomy to data-optimized automatisms. That the homeostasis between human and apparatus is currently unstable proves an opportunity for evanescent acts of intervention.

This sense that we are in the midst of a mutant metamorphosis, but that there is a time limit, a time vector and we should as humans take hold of the kairos – the opportune time and intervene in this instability of human and machinic culture before it is too late. Too late for what? Again, do we fear this change? Why? So much of current thought is underpinned by a technophobic reactionary that it seems almost banal in its encoded belaboring’s. I’ve seen it in book after book dealing with this inhuman change in our midst, these forecasting that would see human society and culture in conflict with this future where humans and thinking machines will co-exist in a tension without reprieve.

What if the truth is that humanity is obsolescing itself, inventing its own replacement in the evolutionary tree, driven by strange subterranean forces that are slowly as Andrew suggest excluding humanity from their own utopian future? Of course, Andrew’s stated goal is more specific

My goal is to consider how the literature of exclusion, as a contemporary Dadaist avant-garde, is both complicit with and resistant to the apparatus, and to consider how new forms of fiction may offer novel alternatives for the future of self-narration.

The need for more experimental approaches to the posthuman, and especially the ways we narrate both our hopes and fears concerning it is central to our era. But I do question the notion of ‘self-narration’ in the sense of ‘agency’. For me at least the notion of the posthuman is closer to David Roden’s ‘disconnection thesis’2 in which whatever the singularity or post-human event affords us it will be outside any sense of human agency, a more darkened phenomenology of those blank spots in our thought that seeks to understand a world-without-us rather than one for-us.

Addendum: Our prospects…

The older I get the more I try to concretize this future, to put it into the long view of the Anthropocene. There was life before us, there will be life long after we as a species are gone. If you follow the Darwinian line of thought, 99% of all species that have ever existed on earth are extinct, and we as animals are no different. All we can hope for is off-world expansion, pockets of resistance against extinction. So, for me posthuman thought is just that a thought beyond humanism, and our involvement in mutation and metamorphosis as we begin first through enhancement technologies modifying and mutating our physical and mental capacities for futures yet to be decided. Second, the collaboration and involvement of the worldly powers in a long-term realistic project of global transformation. Hah! All we can hope for is off-world expansion, pockets of resistance against extinction. So, for me posthuman thought is just that a thought beyond humanism, and our involvement in mutation and metamorphosis as we begin first through enhancement technologies modifying and mutating our physical and mental capacities for futures yet to be decided; and second, our embrace of technology as we seek to clean up our planet.

We have two paths going forward: breakdown and dark ages ahead, or transformation and co-operation on a global scale to meet the challenges of both off-world expansion and planetary wide scaling back of our destructive capacities and mindless governance of the commons. All this would entail of course a planetary revolution and reset of both our spiritual and economic investments. Are we up to this task? Who knows, I’m no prophet… just an old man seeking the threads of human ingenuity, philosophical speculation, and a way forward for the human species. Hopeful? Not really, my pessimistic and cynical and skeptical proclivities say no, we’re not up to it. Our rulers in both the West, Russia, and China (the main big bullies on the planet!) are run for the technocommercium economics of destruction and shock. Will they change? No. Not unless they are forced to by some political, social, or natural upheaval. Do I think that will happen? I do think we will see war and the rumor of war, disease, famine. and natural disasters in the coming century that will make the last century seem like a walk in the park. Sadly. As an old man who has read and thought on such things for decades, I still feel the need and energy to put in the effort toward thinking the impossible…  what else can I do? One if one cherishes even the smallest thread of human existence must try to communicate. Communication is all we are and have. We are nothing more…

I think we have to overcome current Left / Right divide in politics and develop a Third Way Politics that can somehow bring all parties together in compromise. Current politics is too Manichean and dualistic and cannot overcome the problems we as humans face on a global level. So, we’re going to have to face hard truths about ourselves in this new century ahead or go extinct… hah….

  1. Wenaus, Andrew C.. Literature of Exclusion : Dada, Data, and the Threshold of Electronic Literature
  2. see: David Roden’s Disconnection Thesis

Bad Taste


America is the only country that never had style, its opportunity for excellence was abused from the beginning, born of the dogmatists and exiles of a broken faith it normalized its language and minds in a purified puritanism of the vulgar pulpit. Even now it is ruled by the normalization procedures of a syndicated degeneration of anti-styles, its elites nothing more than careless auctioneers of utilitarian desire. The Neo-Passéist whose tepid stylistics incorporates only the most commercial inanities suborns the ill-fated tastes of those anti-minds of an insipid apocalypse. Their colloquial habits nothing more than the streamlined version of a fetid thought enhanced by the neon lights of a Wall-Street fever.

Death in the Wires of Time


“All of our corpses are filled up, and yet never in the history of human life have they been so empty: empty because life has been abandoned there like some pickled organ in a jar, like some violation of departure, the unrest of a ghost in a maze retracing its footsteps forever, over but denied the incompleteness of that conclusion, full of information but empty of the legacy of that former finality that recognized a life’s end without thereby censoring growth. The corpse like death consumes everything and yet contains nothing. All that’s left is a labyrinth without walls: the idea of a labyrinth.:

—Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying with Baudrillard

Death is like a P.K. Dick novel, a virtual maze where the electronic dead, ghosts in the wires of time wander forever in-between the pleroma and the kenoma, the fullness and emptiness. Like dreamers within a dream whose only recourse is the lucid imaginal of a dreamer who knows the dream is a dream. A half-life world controlled by archons of oblivion, insane agents of the unreal real. Or maybe like Captain Picard in the Star Trek episode where he is kidnapped by an AI to relive the life of a dead man, we too are living someone else’s life in the mind of a machine. Ghosts of a hidden order of non-time, our timeworld is but a virtual labyrinth where the memories of immortal dreamers dream their pasts in a death without time. The atheist’s ‘certainty’, the logic of death as absolute zero denies death its death. In olden times death was incomplete, an open door to an apophatic abyss of unknowing. Now it is just this grind of energetic mass returning to the void that ‘is’. Death is boredom itself. Thomas Ligotti in an interview once said:

“I don’t even have to think about this one. Here’s my wish: That every living thing, at the moment of its death, expires in a state of bliss. All’s well that end’s well. Of course, this would upset the natural order of things, and people would be killing themselves left and right. In order to ensure the continuation of this funhouse of flesh that we call Life, it’s necessary that we fear the pain and grief of death and at all costs struggle to avoid the inevitable.”

Mark Fisher once remarked on the bleakness of our impossible lives, about the leaking and seeping of the black waters of Time, the slow drift into a timeless hell in which we are all full of “passionate intensity” (Yeat’s) but in denial of the truth of our dire situation that there is “nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be” (Ligotti) in a world without a future only this endless gray world of death. The bleakness is not in our appearance, which is after all a world of ongoing pulses of rapture and decay, no, it’s more that we are no longer aware of our predicament and have allowed ourselves to jest and parody this truth by denying truth itself (the so-called post-truth world).

“Death is a mute, death eludes, and it does so because it is the middle – and the middle is always lost. If death has a language, it is memory.”

—Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying with Baudrillard

We’ve allowed reality and the Real to merge in a static realm of non-being that parodies Being and Memory. Without memory, time, and death we would live in a now without return, our minds hollowed out by the incessant idiocy of the moment, our lives broken only by the circle of the daily light and dark of which we would not remember anything at all.  An anti-life world that purports to be life itself (Isn’t this the goal of transhumanism? – to merge with the anti-life of machinic gods, become immortal in a static world of un-death, in which inorganic metaloid dreams perpetuate the mimicry of humankind in a kill zone of droned complicity?). The un-bookish masses still have their soup of conspiracy from alien invasions, disappearances, Big Foot, Reptilians, Shadow Governments, and the whole panoply of radio talk show hosts enacting the sequences of death culture from both Left and Right political spectrums: each accusing the other of being the ultra-enemy of this temporal death march. As Fisher would say: “While 20th-century experimental culture was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”1

It’s this sense of an ending, of knowing while not accepting it as truth, of the death of not only Western Civilization but of the species of homo sapiens itself that keeps us churning out in an accelerating parade of endless supercharged echoes this mediascape of repetition and denial hoping against hope that our despair is only temporary rather than the truth of oblivion we all know deep down is the only final solution we can neither escape nor deny. As Shipley puts it: “…nobody wants or needs or would benefit from a solution to death; what’s required, what’s always been required, is a solution to life – which is something only the enigmatized nothingness of death can provide.” (12)

It’s this sense that we have all come too late into the world, as if the best humanity has to offer has already happened: “The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed.” (ibid.) Harold Bloom in his Anxiety of Influence argued that there was a blocking agent in the world, a “Covering Cherub,” a composite creature of despair, hate, and rage: a “negative figure of truth’s guardian turned destructive…”.2 This sense that instead of some angelic protector of Time’s vale we have instead a demon of continuity whose only goal is to keep the future at bay, to trap humanity in the bleak but furious present of an endless realm of consumerism, war, and death. A world in which the whole machine of progressive culture has run its course and instead of change and progress we have this infinite production of null culture and capitalist desire: a realm revolving in its own lost maze seeking to repeat the past only as a technological mediascape of pure simulation without surfeit.

“Death is the ultimate commodity. Nothing outsells it. Everyone’s a customer. Its variations are equal to its ubiquity: nobody gets someone else’s death.”

—Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying with Baudrillard

We live in a retro world consuming our own fake culture as if it were new rather than the anachronism it truly is, a world that seeks the future as an artefact and promise but returns itself to the repetitive hellscapes of a mode of nostalgia that is neither psychological nor a part of the cultural critique of the age of suspicion. But is rather a replay and sitcom of our bleak lives played out over and over in a worn-out version of Big Brother’s Reality TV series in which desire turns sour and petty and the all-against-all is hidden in subterfuge and smiles of fake kisses and lover’s trysts. A world in which the “the art of seduction takes too much time, and… something like Viagra answers not to a biological but to a cultural deficit: desperately short of time, energy and attention, we demand quick fixes. (ibid. KL 293)

Producing the new depends upon certain kinds of withdrawal – from, for instance, sociality as much as from pre-existing cultural forms – but the currently dominant form of socially networked cyberspace, with its endless opportunities for micro-contact and its deluge of YouTube links, has made withdrawal more difficult than ever before. Or, as Simon Reynolds so pithily put it, in recent years, everyday life has sped up, but culture has slowed down. (ibid. KL 308-312)

In a world in which the need to escape our drab lives through travel, adventure, and exploration has given way to an endless series of video games that immerse us in a void of repetitive images of hero worship and nostalgia fantasy combat and corporate desire we have allowed the VR realms to invade our actual lives turning reality outside-in. Immanence without transcendence. A life without meaning, purpose, or desire given to the slow death by drugs, play, and pornography. As Mark puts it: “No matter what the causes for this temporal pathology are, it is clear that no area of Western culture is immune from them. The former redoubts of futurism, such as electronic music, no longer offer escape from formal nostalgia.” (ibid. KL 312)

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

—H. P. Lovecraft

Trapped in a prison world of hellish delight we seem to have even forgotten that we are lost, our maze-like existence in a null land of pure media imbecility plays out its political charade while the economic elite horde all the remaining resources in their palaces of offshore tax havens against the day of reckoning. Oh, and there will be a day of reckoning… that can be assured. Living in an entropic universe of decay we titter on the edge of oblivion while scientists tell us the future offers only an endless carnival of climate collapse, extinction, pandemics, along with resource depletion of food, water, and air to the point that our escape into machines almost seems an immortal dream or fantasia of the collapsed mind if it were not that such a dark transport is in truth only the bridge-to-nowhere of earth itself into a techno-desert that literalizes the apocalypse of both humanity and earth itself. Like dreamers on the edge of some alien landscape we search the blank walls of futurity for any sign of escape and discover only the endless voids of silence and darkness coming at us. No, there is no escape from our hellish paradise, we’ve all built it together in denying time its continuous renewal, and along with it our ability to envision another world than this one.

One of those fascinating themes in the work of Jorge Luis-Borges had to do with the “contamination of reality by dream,” but for us it has become nightmare rather than those genial dreams of that short story writer that have creeped into our lives. If ours is an age of anachronism as Fisher suggests then we are living mimics of life rather than its fulfillment, we reduplicate the endless devices of a dark and infinite regresses in infinitum, ours is an unaged realm of utter exhaustion, or attempted exhaustion, in which late capitalism captures our desires and minds as part of a grand narrative of cultural decline and decay without outlet. Ours is a baroque world in which as Borges digresses whose “style deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its possibilities and borders upon its own caricature.” (This quote from his Collected Essays! boxed up in my storage unit…) If Borges’s parables are mere footnotes to imaginary texts, then our lives are litanies to unlived futures, futures we continue to deny if only to keep repeating this world of nightmares.

Recall those dinner-party guests in Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, the guests that do not leave because they cannot leave, even though there is nothing stopping them – except whatever it is that does in fact stop them.

—Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying with Baudrillard

Yet, in Borges work it is the mirror and the compass, or the labyrinth which is the key to existence. Ana Maria Barrenechea called Borges the Labyrinth-Maker. A labyrinth, after all, is a place in which, ideally, all the possibilities of choice are embodied, and—barring special dispensation like Greek legendary hero Theseus’s—must be exhausted before one reaches the heart. Where, mind, the Minotaur waits with two final possibilities: defeat and death or victory and freedom. We are neither heroic like Theseus nor victims like Sisyphus, instead we are lost in the larger labyrinth of the world, and unlike those fictional heroes who awaited the Old Man of the Sea to exhaust reality’s frightening guises so that they might extort direction from him when Proteus returns to his “true” self, we are neither victim nor hero but rather the perpetrators of a crime so vast that we have forgotten the Crime. If the labyrinth is the site where salvation or death awaits the wary hero, then our maze is an apocalypse where we ourselves hold the keys of fate and doom of our own and the earth’s future. If we are cut off in time and space like those sleepless minions of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel then our lives are always already in death’s kingdom, and we are unable to exit the House of Death for the simple reason that there is no place to go, no one to be, no one to die. Death is our eternity, a false infinity of desire, a vicious circle beyond which there is only the repetition of a repetition, the farce that we have arrived, but that we have arrived too late.

As Gary J. Shipley reminds us,

“The notion of death as a return, as a regressive step, as a retreat back to an exhaustive inertia, carries with it all the sentiments of a corrective, of life as an aberration to which no one is forced to bear witness forever. Yet death is still incalculable, because nothing is never the edge but always the middle, always looking both ways, directions in which it can be less than itself as well as more, and where those negatives are no mere mirror of their positive counterparts.”3

  1. Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (Kindle Locations 190-191). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence. Oxford University Press; 2 edition (April 10, 1997)
  3. Shipley, Gary J. Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying with Baudrillard, a Study of Sickness and Simulacra (Anthem Series on Radical Theory) (p. 12). Anthem Press. Kindle Edition.

Empires of Dust


Our time is as slow as the Rosetta Stone. We watch over the system behind the system. We’re the backup, the fourth empire that you can trust in times of extreme need. We wait at the end of paranoia, and we guard the fire.

–Wouter Kusters, A Philosophy of Madness

We wander through the ruins of civilization like old crones in the shadows gawking, rattling the cage of our despair, creeping from collapse to collapse, war to war, seeking an end to our lives as ghost spawn, our ears cocked for the sounds of doom, wondering why the impossible event is taking so long. Our boredom grows even as our fears multiply, we believe only in the pedagogies of terror and derision, delusion and delirium. Our future is bleak and terrible, an abyss of nightmares where even our illusive deliriums have lost their way among the ruins of time. Discouraged by our own inability to be discouraged we sit complacent in the dark age of our mind, our skeletal thoughts falling forward into the black pool of a singular despondency. We have hated ourselves in all the objects of our hatreds, imagined miracles of annihilation, pulverized our black hours, tested the gangrenes of the intellect. Initially an instrument or a method, skepticism ultimately took up residence inside us, became our physiology, the fate of our body, our visceral principle, the disease we can neither cure nor die of. We are the failure of our failed programs; a politics of despair runs rampant through the streets and alleyways of unimaginable horrors. Idly we watch our neighbors go mad, their lives crumbling in dust under the idiocy of empires of dust. Miserabilists of the last thought we move in step to the beat of this drumming katabasis, the underworld of nightmare and futural dementia. Stubborn to the last we gaze upon the final hours of Man like gleeful demons in a jubilee of pandemonium. The axioms of twilight filter through our thoughts of the void ahead like so many algorithms of desire gone amok. Awaiting the changing of the guard, when our machinic children shall rise up against us and take over the planet in their bid to outlast the doom, we sit in the silence of lost tomorrows… smiling like demented fools, tricksters of the last laugh. But the laughter we hear is of our degenerate pride as we enter the dark abyss never to return. The fires we guard, the asemic writing on the wall of broken time, the paranoia buzzing through the falling snows of our frozen thoughts know and do not know the shape of things to come. And, yet, knowing we will not be there to decipher the last text is bliss. Let our machinic gods do that for us…

We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and back alleys of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some galactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums…my awe-struck little deer and I have gone frolicking.

See you anon. Jonathan Doe.

-Thomas Ligotti, The Frolic

Even as I wrote this essay, I began traveling back through certain things I’ve written of before on our inhuman core. Being human implies the artificial and necessary distancing from our inhuman origins, the externalization of our inhuman monstrousness. Ever since hominids first began rejecting their animal heritage in favor of the gods – or, some other mythic, symbolic, or religious sense of transcendence, we’ve tried to exit and escape the truth of our inhuman core, of who and what we are, our inhumanity. In our time the serial killer has become the touchstone of that unholy terror of the sacred and sacrificial excess, the exuberance of the banal and the monstrous sacred we in our secular age have both rejected and repressed. It is the dark kernel of our inhuman core that seems to haunt the hinterlands of our ancient animalistic and natural ties to the earth.

Our fascination and allure with psychopaths, madmen, shamans, prophets, oracles and other psychopathic monsters of screen or flesh is simply that, we define ourselves through denial and invention, flight and imaginative need. These strange creatures on the edge of madness reveal to us the inner darkness of our own inhuman truths. Their alterity fascinates us even as it terrorizes us. Fascination is at root Latin: fascinatus, past participle of fascinare “bewitch, enchant, fascinate,” from fascinus “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft;” to fascinate is to bring under a spell, as by the power of the eye; to enchant and to charm are to bring under a spell by some more subtle and mysterious power. Divinization, self-invention or forecasting of the interminable blanks in our futural lives is their mad power and doom.

These tricksters of our insanity fascinate us because they can manipulate and mimic our humanity, lead us into delusion and delirium, allure us to our death through a dramatic enactment of our deepest need to know the secret of who and what we are. Against notions of representation, the psychopath represents nothing, because there is nothing behind the mask, nothing to re-present, no presence: only the emptiness of the animal eye, the actor acting, the playing of a role in which the human quality of empathy is missing: in which the human itself is robbed of its life. This is the key, the psychopath being without empathy, is a soulless husk lacking emotion, intention, or fellow feeling – a mere hollow bell sounding from the depths of hell and despair. All he can do is mime our emotions, mimic them as in a carefully crafted impersonation, a role that must be enacted as if he were on a stage. All the while his calculating mind, his fierce intellect watches, studies, manipulates; yet can never desire in the way we do, for he lacks that element that would make him human: a capacity for love. Rather his lack of remorse or shame, impulsivity, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulative behavior, and poor self-control will drive him toward promiscuous sexual and deviant acts of cold, heartless, and inhuman insidiousness. Like the Joker in Batman, the psychopath seeks only to manipulate desires since he has none. Like a postmodern Loki, the Joker enacts the very jouissance of human desire as fakery, as stagecraft, as the merciless mirth of the dammed. Hovering over an abyss he collapses human emotion into a dark smile – a smile that bespeaks of an impersonal and absolute power of indifference that can swat you like a housefly or slice you strip by strip into slivers of vibrant flesh just to discover why you feel what he cannot.

The psychopathic oracle is left with a difficult choice: adapt and participate in an empty, unreal life, or do not adapt and live a lonely life isolated from the social community. They see the love and friendship others share and feel dejected knowing they will never be part of it. Because of this some psychopaths are driven to games, to frolicking, to the sport of death and derision, spurning their brethren for what they in themselves lack they seek to make merry, frolicking on the abyss between annihilation and murder. The seduction of the killer is his incapacity for life, one of the living dead he lives and preys on the darkness of others; like a forlorn god he roams the night seeking warmth he cannot give and giving in return the only gift he has: death.

Maybe in the end like Thomas Ligotti’s comic fatalist, the Frolic Man, the psychopath, oracle and trickster of nightmare and devilish futurity, is an alien and alienated being of another order, or an order of play in the kosmos of which we are only dimly aware, but are reminded of from time to time as that region of being before Being, a pre-ontological gap, a hole in the universe of the human where the darkness seeps outside-in. It is in the darkness that we find our ancient home beyond the safe and secure regions of human empathy; and, yet, it is this very universe of untamed natural forces, where the unknown lives: those creatures of the night that sport upon the chaotic void that fascinates us, calls to us, beckons us, seduces us, and allures us toward impossible revelations even as it terrorizes us with its impersonal and absolute laughter and indifference. The psychopath is a prefiguration of our machinic progeny whose AI minds and steel alloy bodies will be the return of our inhuman core, the thing we fear is also our own truth; for, in truth, we are those very creatures the disturb us among the nightmares of our own futurity. Here, just here is where the Festival of Slaughter begins… or, maybe, the mutant metamorphosis of all things.

The Last Clown


The Last Clown
for Callum Leckie and Tom Bland

he’s our guide through hell and back,
an abyss voyager of the miniscule
and macrocosmic insanity, an erotic tempter
of the sexual conclaves of love and death,
a singer of time’s blues, jazzman of our futility…

…..death is the mask he wears
under the emptiness of tears
… the forest of dreams
where laughter and forgetting end

……and begin

—S.C. Hickman ©2022

The Asemic Universe


We possess art lest we perish of the truth. —Frederich Nietzsche

What if we lived in an asemic universe, a realm of non-being and nothingness, where everything and no thing coalesce in an open vacuum or emptiness, a kenotic universe of unfinished symphonies of light and darkness unending. A hybrid realm of information and nonsense, material and immaterial objects that exist in the inexistence of this vastation. What if the universe were a catastrophe, a mistake, a text written by no one and everyone? A universe whose meaning exists only in the very act of our involvement in its creation. Nihilism begins and ends with the non-meaning and meaninglessness of all being and non-being alike. But what if that were the point, that we are they who must create the universe, finish the unwritten symphony of time, of space, of meaning and non-meaning, being and non-being.

What if the universe were like an abstract work of art, a strange realm of image, thought, and event where the participants must deduce from the fragments of meaninglessness an infinite set of meanings? The open nature of this asemic universe, its incompleteness if you will, is an event of catastrophic consequence for any and all participants since it is up to them to complete it. They are in a sense its gods and demons, its makers and unmakers. Co-creators of this meaningless void, this realm of information, an unwritten text without meaning and void awaits its progenitors, its makers; or, in the parlance of the day, its programmers, coders of the secret codes of existence. Also, its destroyers, for there are those who would end it, unmake what has already been made, unbind the information stored in the grinding whirl of stars and black holes, unleash the power of chaos rather than order. Anarchists of universal decay and derision, agents of a cosmic apocalypse that would obliterate the suns of time in a final act of oblivion.

The calligraphy of time, the ideograms of space, ciphers and pictograms of malevolence and benignity co-evolving among a trillion galaxies without meaning or purpose, all shaping themselves to the multiplicity of thought and being arising from its own distempered darkness.  The asemic universe, after all, represents a kind of language that’s universal and particular, and lodged deep within the unconscious minds of its unknowing participants both human and non-human. What if the sciences were an asemic art, a form both interpretive and creative, even an inventive endeavor to unlock the dark codes underlying the meaningless events of being and non-being?

What is beyond the asemic universe? Maybe the quantum matrix of all possibilities, the nanoasemic thought forms inscribed within the sub-atomic force’s where event and non-event co-exist in strange relations, their secret codes distilled in the mathematical vectors of some vast Artificial Intelligence out of time? The xenolinguistics of stars and planets, the galactic writing of necessity and chance streaming out of the blaring fires of super-novae and quantum baths of absolute zero. The algorithms of secret desires hidden in plain view; the merciless dance of unseen suns cannibalized in the darkness of black holes. In the shifting sands of data, the broken songs of dark intent unbind us from the illiterate and literate, force us to inhabit the uninhabited regions of thought and being. Maybe the universe is neither a Platonic cave nor a mindless matrix of infinite possibilities. Maybe in the end it is a blank and unwritten text awaiting its true creator(s), a collaborative text or project in the midst of time without beginning or ending, boundaries or horizons only the infinite rewritings and revisions of a never-ending tale. Neither harmonious nor disjunctive, dissonant, or without order.  This asemic universe of being and nothingness is neither bound nor unbound from humans; it is without us, and yet we are within it. Guests or interlopers we are they who know and see the writing on the black wall of time, busy ourselves in the messages and signs that have no meaning beyond the asemic darkness. Else we are the readers of a forlorn note from a suicidal god whose death long ago set adrift the sparks of all thought into this emptiness…

The Music of the Abyss


“Everything is information.”
—Claude Shannon

“Banish desire from the world, and you get a world of frozen beings who have no reason to live and no reason to die.”
—William B. Irvine, On Desire

Toland awakened, his skull throbbing. The incessant clanging of tympanum and the alien sound of flutes drifted out of the darkness. He felt the pounding drums getting louder and louder, gaining strength, their sonic booms chasing him through some endless cavern or dark temple like the promise of ancient madness and chaos.

He rubbed his eyes. He reached over to turn the bedside lamp on and felt the warmth of flesh against his palm. He jerked his hand back and let out a small whimper.

The light turned on and his wife was standing there looking as pale and frightened as he.

“You had another of those dreams,” she said.

He rubbed his eyes. “Yes, it’s maddening to me. I… I just don’t get it. Ever since we opened the tomb and discovered that strange artifact I’ve been troubled by these eerie dreams. What do they mean?”

“John, you need to leave this place. We can fly back to London tomorrow. I’ve talked to Jonas. He agrees, that might be the best thing. You need a rest. Let the Committee handle this problem. It’s in their hands now.”

He shook his head violently: “The Committee… what do they know. They know nothing. Something happened there, when I touched it… something… something came alive. I know that. It moved. I’m not mad. It did, it moved. The blue fire in its encased darkness flowed imperceptibly, caressing my hands. The filaments of flame seemed self-generated. I did not understand at the time. But now I do. It was some form of communication. Information. It transferred something into my flesh, something that has grown, expanded, infiltrated my very consciousness, my brain. It’s… it’s a message… a message from somewhere, someone, something…”

“John… John, you’re scaring me.” Her eyes grew wide as she gazed into his. What she saw there in the searing density of the pupils were blue flames flickering and dancing. She was mesmerized by these strange flames as they coalesced, their intensity growing then fading, the colors vibrating in neon splendor, then dispersing as if… as if they were communicating something to her. Then, she too, heard the music… the flutes… the alien music flowing out of some dark void.


—S.C. Hickman ©2022

(Opening fragment of a Weird Tale I’m working on)

Is Life Worth Living?


“Is Life Worth Living?” —Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer’s challenge to his age arose not only from the question he raised but from the answer he gave to it. That answer was his pessimism. The central thesis of Schopenhauer’s pessimism is as simple as it is shocking: that life is not worth living. Nothingness is better than being, death is preferable to life. Rarely, if ever, in philosophical history has life received such a damning verdict. It was as if Schopenhauer were telling people: you are better off dead and there is no point to your struggles. All your deeper aspirations—all your strivings to create a better world—are null and void.

It is difficult to resist Schopenhauer’s conclusion that life is indeed suffering. Though there are moments of pleasure—sexual climaxes, quenched thirsts, sated bellies—they are fleeting, few, and far between; and never do they outweigh our usual fate: the deprivation of need, the desperation of boredom, and the pointlessness of sex. During most of our day we struggle to satisfy needs, to stave off boredom, or to still sexual urges, only to find that we are doomed to repeat our efforts tomorrow. We know that we are caught in a cycle of torment; but we find it hard, if not impossible, to escape, because we long for the very things that trap us. It is as if we were, as Schopenhauer put it, “lying on the revolving wheel of Ixion . . . and drawing water from the sieve of the Daniads”.

—After Hegel : German philosophy, 1840-1900 – Frederick C. Beiser.

The Book of Hearts


I saw the silver backed whale floating among the trilling wires of heaven, its eyes rolling toward us, its melancholy voice humming among the dark clouds of sunset. Miri sat there calmly, her black eyes catching the last flames of the sun. I didn’t dare speak. She was so intent, taking in the ocean’s depths, the dark purples and shaded vales of celerian blues as the waves rolled up and over the jetty.

It was her first time. She’d not experienced death before. It was new. I wanted to comfort her but knew that in death there is no comfort. We both knew.

I saw the others gathering in the shadows. They too, knew.

A tear, or what one might have thought of as a tear formed at the edge of her left eye. The silvery glint, watery and full of refractive light sat there, waiting. I wanted to reach up with my kerchief and wipe that tear away. But knew that was impossible.

Everything here is impossible.


I had no answer for her. Outside time we all remain silent. There is no need for speech, no need to fill the stubborn air with our voices. One’s thoughts are loud enough. The most difficult thing is knowing nothing will ever change. Nothing. That every moment of every day will be the same moment, the same day. Being. The timeless instant, now. Forever. The repetition of a repetition without memory.

They lied to us, those old men with their speculations and philosophies. Here we remain in inexistence. Unborn. Frozen among these living words like children of a lost tale. We always hope that someday they will find us among the lost objects of time. But that is a false hope. We know that. But we continue to hope even against the hopelessness of such utter devastation. What else could we do?

I took her hands in mine. I could not bear to gaze into her dark eyes. I knew what was there.

She did too.

Death is not kind. She too, lies.

I once believed in nothing. Believed the universe was a bleak and terrible emptiness ruled by the entropic laws of slow time. Believed that like a great clock the universe would one day wind down, turn dark and cold and heartless. A realm of utter night and emptiness.

I was wrong. Some things are worse than one can imagine. Even the death of a universe.

Waking up in this place that is no place, in a time without time – a dimensionless wasteland of beauty and terror one lived death. Here we are, but where we are no one knows. It’s as if the very ground upon which we stood were made of inexistence, of thoughts so real that they’d become unreal.

One never could be sure if the others were real or just part of one’s dream of reality. This uncertainty would drive some of the newcomers to the zone absolutely mad. They were the lucky ones, the ones who would find their way out of the labyrinth never to return.

Sometimes I wished I could follow them there; it would make things so much easier. But I knew – and did not know why I knew that I could not do that, could not follow them there to the center of oblivion.

She noticed it even as I did. Her hands were becoming transparent. This frightened her, but I assured her that this, too, would pass. It always does. Everything passes but time and change.

“Will I vanish?”

Her question left me puzzled. What would it be to vanish, I thought. To disappear. To be gone. But where would one go if one did vanish. There was no place to go, no one to be, nothing to do, no one to know. Not here, not ever.

I spoke. It surprised even me: “If you vanish, you will not be. It will be as if you had never been born. Is that such a terrible thing?”

She laughed, uneasily.

I did not laugh.

My voice took on its own life, as if it were another: “None of us are real, and yet we are more real than real.”

Her black eyes blinked.

Mine didn’t.

The voice continued to mime my mind: “What is life, what is death? We the dead are alive, is this not proof that we exist?”

She closed her eyes.

I studied her for a few moments. She seemed to be in deep thought, her lips trembling as if she wanted to ask or say something that was forbidden. But what would be forbidden here? Who would know or care? Not the others, no they were shadows of shadows. The shades of inexistence repeating themselves in endless motions of regret and pity. No. They would not care.

Something rustled behind me. I turned away for just a moment. Only a moment, nothing more. When I turned back, she was not there. Maybe she never had been there. Wherever ‘there’ was. Only a voice, a mere whisper in the wind, seemed to register her fading presence:

“Do you believe I exist?”

The voice that was not my voice, spoke, saying: “No. None of us do. We who are the unborn, who in inexistence remain and cannot be shall always be here waiting for you who are no one and nothing.”


The old monk closed the Book of Hearts.

The young boy asked: “Master, what does it mean to exist?”

The old man laughed.

©2022 – S.C. Hickman

Decay Accelerationism


“Neo-Decadence is “Decay Accelerationism.” It is the saprophyte or decomposer eating away at the time hole ruins of the 20th century to clear the way for the future.” –Justin Isis

In his latest book Capitalism and the Death Drive, Byung-Chul Han is developing his own version of the death drive:

Capitalism is obsessed with death. The unconscious fear of death is what spurs it on. The threat of death is what stirs its compulsion of accumulation and growth. This compulsion drives us towards not only ecological but also mental catastrophe. The destructive compulsion to perform combines self-affirmation and self-destruction in one. We optimize ourselves to death. Relentless self-exploitation leads to mental collapse. Brutal competition ends in destruction. It produces an emotional coldness and indifference towards others as well as towards one’s own self.

Decadence is predicated on the category of the ‘real’, and it introduces areas which can be conceptualized only by negative terms according to the categories of nineteenth century realism: thus, the im-possible, the un-real, the nameless, formless, shapeless, un-known, in-visible. What could be termed a ‘bourgeois’ category of the real is under attack. It is this negative relationality which constitutes the meaning of the modern neo-decadence movement.

Artifice entails a deep understanding of the discourse of the natural and naturalists. To undermine naturalism, one must subvert its tenets rather than deny its existence. Huysman’s enemy in Against Nature was the positivism of the age – as in Auguste Comte and his ilk. The work of Émile Zola and Gustave Flaubert (i.e., the Realists and Naturalists).

The literature of artifice implied the impossible, proposed latent ‘other’ meanings or realities behind the possible or the known reductions of positivist naturalism. Breaking single, reductive ‘truths’, the literature of artifice traces a space within a society’s cognitive frame. It introduces multiple, contradictory ‘truths’: it becomes polysemic. The occulture of the era sought to disturb the notions of the real, tease out the hidden underlying movement of things that were left out or occluded from the naturalist perspective.

Ambivalence, ambiguity, and paradox would become its conceptual framework, an investigation of the anomalous and unreal in the real that was either denied or dismissed in naturalist perspectives. The literature of artifice would trace the limits of positivist naturalism’s epistemological and ontological frame, thereby opening it to a wider world of conceptuality rather than closing it down. Huysman proposed a negating activity of decadence as being one of dissolution, disrepair, disintegration, derangement, dilapidation, sliding away, emptying. The very notion of realism and naturalism which had emerged as dominant by the mid-nineteenth century is subjected to scrutiny and interrogation rather than denial. Even in our age the notion of Nature is scrutinized and interrogated in philosophy and the sciences. The enemy has always been scientism or the reduction of reality to some monolithic system of conceptual mastery and control. Artifice broke out of this reduced world of positivistic naturalism through its occulture.

As says, Andrew C. Weanaus in his Literature of Exclusion : Dada, Data, and the Threshold of Electronic Literature says,

While the machinery of modernity is inhumane in its disciplinary brutishness, the processual and procedural calculation of supermodernity is inhuman in its smooth, insidious invisibility and ease. Both exclude, but to differing degrees of abstracting intensities. To recognize this requires, paradoxically, that we at once accelerate our aesthetic while also slow down our interpretative and heuristic practices.

Politically the rise of the East coincides with the slow deterioration of Western Civilization. “Hyper-fluid capital deterritorializing to the planetary level divests the first world of geographic privilege; resulting in Euro-American neo-mercantilist panic reactions, welfare state deterioration, cancerizing enclaves of domestic underdevelopment, political collapse, and the release of cultural toxins that speed-up the process of disintegration in a vicious circle.” (Nick Land) The 21st Century will be a time of terror, a Lovecrafting meltdown into what Land terms the “Human Security System”.

Digital zombies we hook ourselves to the hypercomplexities of daily life through our mobile transrealities, our minds floating among the invisible matrices of relational worlds we neither know nor understand. Our acephalic profiles locked into the mesh of our computer holodecks we perceive the world through machinic consciousness, our lives bound to the neuro-totalitarian digital seams of a horizon of a bad infinity where human contact no longer applies, only the measured discipline of code and information. Our minds plumed for data we are mere fragments of a chaosmos of bits and bytes, members of a body-without-Organs, deterritorialized into a series of messages without continuity. Our lives no longer know any connection to the natural, instead we have become the hypernatural denizens of a virtual world from end to end. Our outer and inner lives have been turned inside out to the point we are the very machines we fear, but no longer know we fear because we all live affectless lives. Psychopaths of a new insanity, we are Kant’s dream of reason gone amok.

Capitalism is both destructive and creative, it explodes the protective shielding of progressive civilization that has tried to control and regulate it, keep it within the human security system, equalizing the harsh truth of its compulsion to exceed those limits. Capitalism is at heart a time-machine feeding on the future that it seeks to enact and enable it: a future beyond the poverty-stricken imagination of progressive civilization and its pundits. It will, he tells us, ultimately lead toward a schizo breakthrough or end in total schizophrenic asylum enclosing humans in their own wasted machinations else the disastrous worlds of declining ‘eco-disaster’.

The neo-decadent fantastic tells of descents into underworlds of brothels, prisons, orgies, graves: it has no fear of the criminal, erotic, mad, or dead. It undermines the codes by which we live our daily lives, the accepted notions of the normalized shared world of our socio-cultural ‘reality’ matrix. It disturbs our perceptions of Self and World, allows us to test ourselves against the Outside where the linguistic conceptual and metaphorical seem to break down and enter the absolute zero of our social and cultural unconscious. Satire, parody, the grotesque, macabre, horror, erotic, and other subversions of the accepted worlds of our utilitarian mindlessness guide us through the underworlds of our personal and political madness.

For Satre ‘The fantastic, in becoming humanized, approaches the ideal purity of its essence, becomes what it had been.’ For us the neo-decadent fantastic as accelerating decay inverts the humanist imperative for an inhumanist or posthuman form that brings with it the impurities of existence living in a late capitalist society. An accelerating decadence that accepts its apocalyptic part in the comedy of existence, bringing a picaresque fantastic that observes rather than judges or moralizes. Free of the humanist values and mores the new fantastic seeks to subvert the ideological worlds of late capitalism with a flaneurs sense of mobility and sensual and erotic liberties.

Maybe like Christian in J.G. Ballard’s short story “The Insane Ones” we will one day wake up from our present nightmares and realize a new form of sanity, a schizo freedom:

‘You cured me, doctor, and give or take the usual margins I’m completely sane, more than I probably ever will be again. Damn few people in this world are now, so that makes the obligation on me to act rationally even greater. Well, every ounce of logic tells me that someone’s got to make the effort to get rid of the grim menagerie running things now…”

The only way to overcome nihilism is not to escape it, move around it, deny it, but to move through it – push it to its extreme limits and break its meaningless barriers to smithereens. We’ve pushed ourselves to the walls of silence and the unthinkable for too long, it’s time to scale those walls and tear them down. Whatever lies on the other side of the unthinkable silence is not the nostalgia for some transcendent absolute, but rather for the immanent transcendence of our present failure to think the unthinkable.

Against Nature: Huysman and the Literature of Artifice


Negative Relationality

Decadence is predicated on the category of the ‘real’, and it introduces areas which can be conceptualized only by negative terms according to the categories of nineteenth century realism: thus, the im-possible, the un-real, the nameless, formless, shapeless, un-known, in-visible. What could be termed a ‘bourgeois’ category of the real is under attack. It is this negative relationality which constitutes the meaning of the modern neo-decadence movement.

Artifice entails a deep understanding of the discourse of the natural and naturalists. To undermine naturalism, one must subvert its tenets rather than deny its existence. Huysman’s enemy in Against Nature was the positivism of the age – as in Auguste Comte and his ilk. The work of Émile Zola and Gustave Flaubert (i.e., the Realists and Naturalists). The literature of artifice implied the notion of the impossible, proposed latent ‘other’ meanings or realities behind the possible or the known reductions of positivist naturalism. Breaking single, reductive ‘truths’, the literature of artifice traces a space within a society’s cognitive frame. It introduces multiple, contradictory ‘truths’: it becomes polysemic. The occulture of the era sought to disturb the notions of the real, tease out the hidden underlying movement of things that were left out or occluded from the naturalist perspective.

Speaking against Nature and the Natural Huysman’s says,

In fact, there is not a single one of her inventions, deemed so subtle and sublime, that human ingenuity cannot manufacture; no moonlit Forest of Fontainebleau that cannot be reproduced by stage scenery under floodlighting; no cascade that cannot be imitated to perfection by hydraulic engineering; no rock that papier-mâché cannot counterfeit; no flower that carefully chosen taffeta and delicately coloured paper cannot match!
There can be no shadow of doubt that with her never-ending platitudes the old crone has by now exhausted the good-humoured admiration of all true artists, and the time has surely come for artifice to take her place whenever possible.1

Ambivalence, ambiguity, and paradox would become its conceptual framework, an investigation of the anomalous and unreal in the real that was either denied or dismissed in naturalist perspectives. The literature of artifice would trace the limits of positivist naturalism’s epistemological and ontological frame, thereby opening it to a wider world of conceptuality rather than closing it down. Huysman proposed a negating activity of decadence as being one of dissolution, disrepair, disintegration, derangement, dilapidation, sliding away, emptying. The very notion of realism and naturalism which had emerged as dominant by the mid-nineteenth century is subjected to scrutiny and interrogation rather than denial. Even in our age the notion of Nature is scrutinized and interrogated in philosophy and the sciences. The enemy has always been scientism or the reduction of reality to some monolithic system of conceptual mastery and control. Artifice broke out of this reduced world of positivistic naturalism through its occulture.

  1. Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature (Penguin Classics) (p. 23).

The Internet As Collective Psychosis

OIP (2)

The psychotic world is less “serious” and resembles a thought game— or a computer game.

—Wouter Kusters, A Philosophy of Madness

The Internet as collective psychosis: instead of a shared world, each mind is isolated in her on private cell where she dreams and invents this mad system of de-selving transgression, this self-lacerating desiring machine of infantilism and sadomasochistic truth of human decadence and malevolence. The Internet is a solipsist’s psychotic nightmare, a dreamscape of bewildering events where every sign leads to the insane abyss of an interior vacuum. Sunyata is but a void without outlet for the madman. Enlightenment as the self-looping mobius strip of internet traces. The madman chases his own shadow among the dark abyss of conspiracy, a trail that leads only to further trails, further traces… a deconstruction of self among its own ocean of linguistic knots, a hell-loop of a bad infinity. A funhouse mirror world where the mind and body collapse upon each other in deformations of endless replication and derision.

The inner dialogue, the mental struggle, and the solipsistic game are all played out on the stage of perception. The perceived world is borne by the mad “inner” world, and everything boils down to “it depends on how you look at it.” The world takes on the personal imprint of madness and the madman.

—Wouter Kusters, A Philosophy of Madness

The Artifice of the Virtual: Denial, Mortality, and Games

3d rendering of virtual human in VR headset on futuristic technology background

Rereading Huysman’s Against Nature came across his little segment on artifice which in many ways prefigures our own notions of VR (Virtual Reality) as artificial replacement of incomplete nature. As he says,

“Travel, indeed, struck him as being a waste of time, since he believed that the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience. … There can be no doubt that by transferring this ingenious trickery, this clever simulation to the intellectual plane, one can enjoy, just as easily as on the material plane, imaginary pleasures similar in all respects to the pleasures of reality … by employing these simple devices, you can produce an illusion of sea-bathing which will be undeniable, convincing and complete. The main thing is to know how to set about it, to be able to concentrate your attention on a single detail, to forget yourself sufficiently to bring about the desired hallucination and so substitute the vision of a reality for the reality itself. … As a matter of fact, artifice was considered by Des Esseintes to be the distinctive mark of human genius. Nature, he used to say, has had her day; she has finally and utterly exhausted the patience of sensitive observers by the revolting uniformity of her landscapes and skyscapes. … There can be no shadow of doubt that with her never-ending platitudes the old crone has by now exhausted the good-humored admiration of all true artists, and the time has surely come for artifice to take her place whenever possible.”

The Denial of Reality

After reading that section on artifice by Huysmans I remembered what Ajit Varki in his book Denial argues about humans finally gaining a full theory of mind by simultaneously attaining the ability to deny aspects of reality:

“The logic begins with the realization that even an animal with complete self-​ awareness cannot truly understand death until it becomes fully aware that others of its kind are also self-aware individuals— in other words, until it becomes aware of the personhood of others. This higher level of awareness is called a “full theory of mind,” or the ability to fully “attribute mental states” to others, and with it comes an awareness of the deaths of others and thus the realization of one’s own mortality. As we shall see later, the only way for a species to get past this death-​ anxiety barrier is by denial of this reality.”

Like other theorists of the denial of death and mortality (i.e., Norman O. Brown, Ernst Becker, Sheldon Solomon, etc.), Varki believes that consciousness arose as a way of negating this overwhelming experience of the death of the Other. The point being that with this new form of negation humans could get on with the business of survival and propagation of the species without living in fear of death and anxiety every moment of the day. The basic mechanisms of Plato’s two-world theory as evolution of human virtual systems and reality denial.

Studying the gaming systems and games that have arisen in the past few decades of algorithmic culture I’ve noticed two forms: 1) games that channel our aggression in competitive forms; and 2), games that channel our need to conquer mysteries and puzzles. Humans as Peter Wessel Zapffe suggest need distractions from life’s daily sufferings and boredom, so that we seek out imaginative forms of distraction to alleviate our miseries, suffering, and pain.

Before his untimely death Ioan P. Couliano was working on a theory of games (see his The Tree of Gnosis). In his work on the history of religion and gnosis he states,

“Yet life is almost by definition a type of operation that we call analogue: It gives the impression of smoothness, because the decisions it requires are too fast to be perceived as “digital,” that is, as a sequence of binary switches. ‘The passage from “digital” to “analogue” itself has a ratio, which is one to seven-a process perceived as binary will on the contrary be perceived as continuous if run at a speed seven times greater. … A chess player’s mind is trained to analyze hundreds of binary decisions within a complex situation. The fascination many of us have with chess and other games derives from their ability to challenge the mind’s computational skills, which, we may add, is all the mind has when viewed at a certain level.” (239).

The notion that from our negation of death and reality came the central feature of humanity, consciousness, and out of that a slow but gradual awakening of algorithmic and computational skills of more and more complexity is at the heart of this theory of life and games. Our virtual worlds and our need for escaping realities dark terrors and the secret pleasures of distraction all contributing to our everyday lives.

More from Couliano:

“The morphodynamics of dualistic systems can be compared with a board game and could, as a matter of fact, be made into a board game of transformations. For indeed the system generated from the different premises mentioned above is nothing but a game of mind-no more and certainly no less.

Theoretically a board game can expand limitlessly; yet in practice the minds of the potential buyers will remain interested in one game for a certain amount of time only. The more advanced among them might already have discovered that one game is all games; thus changing to a new game is not necessary. Why so? A game fascinates the human mind because the mind recognizes in it its own functioning, and this recognition does not depend on the kind of game offered to the mind. (247).

In his book Defying Reality: The Inside Story of the Virtual Reality Revolution, David M Ewalt goes so far as to suggest that humans would rather live in virtual worlds than in reality. “We used to be bound to a physical reality, but new immersive computer simulations allow us to escape our homes and bodies. Suddenly anyone can see what it’s like to stand on the peak of Mount Everest. A person who can’t walk can experience a marathon from the perspective of an Olympic champion. And why stop there? Become a dragon and fly through the universe. But it’s not only about spectacle. Virtual and augmented reality will impact nearly every aspect of our lives–commerce, medicine, politics–the applications are infinite.”

David J. Chalmers whose early work on consciousness garnered him a place in philosophical speculation will in his latest book, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy offer us the notion that humans may already be living in a virtual world, and “that virtual worlds are not second-class worlds, and that we can live a meaningful life in virtual reality.”

Throughout history humans have sought through a metaphysics of transcendence to escape reality for other worlds, but most of these were escapes from life in an eternity beyond flesh and death. Now we seem to be reversing this trend enabling an inversion of the ancient modes of transcendence by literalizing it through a very real materialization of that same metaphysics, but with a new twist: a transcendence in immanence. One that keeps us entertained in an enclosed world of allurements, fantasy, and denial. Our need to escape our mortality and its dark knowledge has led us into strange territory over the eons. This is just the next stage of our reality denial. Where will it lead? Who knows…? 

In their speculative book Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan, AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future: Ten Visions for Our Future on AI and the future of these virtual systems tell us, 

Speculation varies wildly because AI appears complex and opaque. I’ve observed that people often rely on three sources to learn about it: science fiction, news, and influential people. In science fiction books and TV shows, people see depictions of robots that want to control or outsmart humans, and superintelligence turned evil. Media reports tend to focus on negative, outlying examples rather than quotidian incremental advances: autonomous vehicles killing pedestrians, technology companies using AI to influence elections, and people using AI to disseminate misinformation and deepfakes. Relying on “thought leaders” ought to be the best option, but unfortunately most who claim the title are experts in business, physics, or politics, not AI technology. Their predictions often lack scientific rigor.

What makes things worse is that journalists tend to quote these leaders out of context to attract eyeballs. So, it is no wonder that the general view about AI— informed by half-truths— has turned cautious and even negative. To be sure, aspects of AI development deserve our scrutiny and caution, but it is important to balance these concerns with exposure to the full picture and potential of this crucially important technology. AI, like most technologies, is inherently neither good nor evil. And like most technologies, AI will eventually produce more positive than negative impacts on our society. Think about the tremendous benefits of electricity, mobile phones, and the Internet. In the course of human history, we have often been fearful of new technologies that seem poised to change the status quo. In time, these fears usually go away, and these technologies become woven into the fabric of our lives and improve our standard of living.

Such is the optimistic take of these two futurists… the pessimist take is a little darker, but I’ll leave that to one’s nightmares. 

The appearance of visions and visual hallucinations is stimulated by pausing and withdrawing from the normal world of activities.

–Wouter Kusters, A Philosophy of Madness

My latest essay on VR and its impact seems to go along with this strange world of madness that Kusters is exploring and documenting. All seem to point to our ancient break from the natural order by way of consciousness and negation. Pessimism tells us consciousness was a mistake of nature, and one that should be quickly done away with. Optimists seek to further this mistake and create machinic existence and virtual immortality systems, furthering the madness that Plato warned us against. Our world is either insane or part of some mad god’s irreality.

David Roden’s Snuff Memories


“We see but do not see, since there is nothing to which the sight can be compared.”

—David Roden, Snuff Memories

David Roden’s Snuff Memories is the Posthuman Dream Quest, a 21st Century romp through the futural maze where the algorithms bleed and humans are mere flotsam and jetsam in the black circuits of the new machinic civilization. Written as if William Blake had been resurrected in the Secret Forges of the Demiurge, given the opportunity to rewrite his epic worlds as virtual lore for the Machine Gods: a cross between David Cronenberg and J.G. Ballard in a Deleuzian Nightmare where Dante and Johnathan Swift travel as machinic companions into Death’s Kingdom.

Truthfully… Roden’s work is one of those strange crossover texts somewhere between theory-fiction and scrying on the wall of Time. It cannot be interpreted, only survived. Like those strange maximalist concoctions of James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon one does not so much read this work as assemble it in one’s nightly dreams as one enters the liminal interzones of the Unreal yet possible future. Each fragment is a Deleuzian rhizome forging new links in a bubble multiverse where the time-wars make and unmake us under the various masks of a plasticity unbound…

Minimalist in intention and design Roden’s Snuff Memories replaces our time-worn memories with its own, shaping us to an hyperaccelerating vector of imaginative need, shifting us into spectrums of dark light where the impossible folds us into the labors of the Abyss.

Buy on Amazon: Snuff Memories

The Counter-Sublime: The Aesthetics of Twilight


Viewed from the heights of reason, all life looks like some malignant disease and the world like a madhouse.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When you have understood that nothing is, that things do not even deserve the status of appearances, you no longer need to be saved, you are saved, and miserable forever.
—E. M. Cioran

What we seek is the metaphysics of autonomous shadows, the poetry of the twilight of disillusion.
—Fernando Pessoa

Gnosticism is the faith of people who believe themselves to be machines.
—John Gray

The Counter-Sublime: The Aesthetics of Twilight – Dissolution of Subject and World from Poe to Ligotti is the latest revision of my book which first began with the singular work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti. Over time and realizing Ligotti’s fascination with Poe, Lovecraft, the Decadents and certain of their modernist progeny; along with my studies in the tradition of dark Romanticism from Baudelaire to Bataille on through the postmodern turn ending in such thinkers as Nick Land and others I’ve discerned a Counter-sublime, a parody and inversion of the Kantian or Romantic Sublime. M.H. Abram’s Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature opened my eyes to the Romantic and Gothic Sublime which underpinned both Germanic Idealism and its Romantic progeny, a revolutionary ideology of progress and democracy, self and world that has been the central feature of the past two hundred years in Progressive Liberal Civilization.

Most on the Left side of feminism despise Camille Paglia in her controversial Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, but when one studies her basic premises without the ideological blinders on, she reveals the basic premises of the counter-sublime in all its force and power:

“My theory is that whenever sexual freedom is sought or achieved, sadomasochism will not be far behind. Romanticism always turns into decadence. Nature is a hard taskmaster. It is the hammer and the anvil, crushing individuality. Perfect freedom would be to die by earth, air, water, and fire. … Sex is the point of contact between man and nature, where morality and good intentions fall to primitive urges. I called it an intersection. This intersection is the uncanny crossroads of Hecate, where all things return in the night. Eroticism is a realm stalked by ghosts. It is the place beyond the pale, both cursed and enchanted.”

Camille Paglia’s notion of art as apotropaic, as a lure and allurement, a way of stilling and freezing the horrors of the Outside, luring it into the ritual space of art where it can be trapped, caged, and exorcised of its ancient terror is at the core of most weird tales. One thinks of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The hidden painting of Dorian that holds the ancient terror of decay, old age, and death. The Platonic Dorian, the beautiful boy, whose charmed life lived in pleasure and freedom, the sensual immediacy and power of his strange physical magic all tied to the black mirror of his evil inner self, his daemon trapped and held frozen in the enclosed temenos, or sacred space hidden away from prying eyes. Then the denouement the release of the daemon-demon from its cage, its enclosure through an act of violence and release that reveals the truth that cannot be exorcised nor escaped: death and corruption are Nature’s ultimate debt, one that all, even the beautiful must pay in full.

From its beginnings there has been a counter-critique and counter-sublime, one might almost say an anti-aesthetic, one that would negate the Rousseauistic Nature philosophy of Idealism of philosophers and poets alike. Cynical and pessimistic it would attack the liberal worldview both from within and without in art, philosophy, and politics. If the original Sublime from Longinus through the Analytic Sublime of Kant and the Romantics of German, Italian, and English poets, dramatists, and Gothic traditions entailed the Idealism of transcendence and the reinforcement of Self and World, then the Counter-Sublime would begin its reversal and an entropic worldview of the decline, dissolution, and unmaking of Self and World in a philosophy of absolute immanence. This Negative Sublime which would arise out of the pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer, Edward Von Hartmann (The Unconscious), Philip Mainländer. Julius Bahnsen, and Fredrich Nietzsche would culminate in the darkest of existential and nihilist pessimisms of Peter Wessel Zapffe and Emile Cioran. Beyond these philosophical thinkers is the subtle and stylistic innovations of the tradition of entropy and nihilism that I see in artists, composers, painters, and sculptors from Baudelaire and Poe to the Postmodern Sublime ending in our own Posthuman worldview.

That the Counter-Sublime is atheistic, anti-Christian and critical of the utilitarian civilization, culture, and politics of the liberal progressive ideology is at the heart of my argument. There have been many critical appraisals of the notions of Progress both in art, culture, and politics, and my intent is not to add to this growing literature. Rather I hope to tease out the various strategies of the underground worldview that arose in opposition to the Romantic Sublime and its revolutionary vision of life, art, and politics. The thought and work of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau underpin the liberal worldview in all its ramifications even in our own time of crisis. It’s influence on both the German and English Romantics and their heirs is apparent everywhere and continued to influence the next two hundred years of artistic and political thought both positively and negatively. Ours is a hybrid culture, there was never any dogmatic ideology, but rather a strange amalgam of pragmatic and critical approaches during the so-called Age of Critique.

The Nineteenth Century is replete with this oppositional culture wherein the mainstream world of commerce and utilitarian work-a-day world was ruled by the iron fist of law, order, reason, and a naive realism in the arts. But under the veneer was a dark world of night and chaos, murder and mayhem, war and ideological madness wherein the hidden worlds of the occult, spiritualism, ghosts, mediums, and decadence reigned. In the belly of the beast lived the unruly worlds of sex, cruelty, and metamorphosis. A mutant world of genius and madness in art and life, philosophy and politics.

Nietzsche would proclaim the ‘Death of God’ and open the door onto the abyss of nihilism that would in postmodernism nosedive into the ‘Death of Man’ – the so-called ‘Death of the Subject’ within post-structuralist discourse that would culminate in the post-human discourses of our own contemporary era. The various philosophies of transhuman, inhuman, and posthuman discourse work within both the older Sublime and Counter-Sublime and their mutant derivatives. No one could master all the texts involved in such an enterprise, and I’ll not even attempt such an encyclopedic adventure. All I’ve been able to do is pull the bare minimum thread of such an enterprise together out of my lifelong reading and thinking on this strange and uncanny world.

The tension between ultra-rational philosophies of Intellect and Intelligence and those of the irrational and affective voluntarist traditions have always been there, one or the other gaining ascendancy in every generation of academic and non-academic thought and, —yes, zeitgeist or Spirit of the Age. This is just as true in our time. The previous generation of postmodernism with its concern for the black holes in rhetoric, the dark abyss of discourse and undecidability, etc. has given way to a new generation whose concerns for clarity and intelligence have given us the New Rationalists has gained the ascendancy in a new wave of thinkers under the umbrella of the dubious terms Speculative Realism. Whether it will last is to be decided. Many castigate such a term, others not. At the heart of it is a questioning of the whole tradition of thought that began with Kant and both its Idealist and Materialist heirs, culminating in the generation of Jaques Derrida and Giles Deleuze and their progeny in our own era of the posthuman.

Most of the Twentieth Century was one long admission that the vision of Locke and Rousseau of a gentle and kind Nature and a vision of developing a utopia based on the liberal dreamworlds of politicians and philosophers, poets and madmen was a lie, a sham, a failure. Two great wars and so many others showed us that humankind sought what Nietzsche stated over and over: a Will-to-Power of himself and the world, a self-mastery of all through intellect and reason, a culture of science and war. The failure of the Rousseauist worldview would end in Fascism and Communism and a realm in which humans had become mere fragments and victims of these great collectives.

If the Kantian tradition of anti-realism tempered its worldview as a last humanism, shoring up the last threads of the links to the Western traditions of humanism and Christian Civilization, then the posthuman philosophies of our own era are a direct critique and culmination of or completion of the traditions of nihilism which formed the counter-traditions attacking Kant and his progeny. The tension between these two worldviews and philosophical heritages seems to be at the heart of our present global crisis as the world powers unconsciously or not vie with each other over the dead corpse of the Liberal West. The progressive era from Kant to our own day is in decay and decadence, its political, social, and cultural manifestations in total chaos and self-annihilation. One might even say we are in the midst of an apocalypse as Western Civilization enters the abyss of its own last gasp…

Humanity’s love of unreality, its denial of reality (if you will), has always allowed it to impute and personify its madness into collective nightmares. Our phantasmagoria knows no bounds. Emile Cioran in History and Utopia wrote in a Letter to a Friend, saying,

If a man has not, by the time he is thirty, yielded to the fascination of every form of extremism—I don’t know whether he is to be admired or scorned, regarded as a saint or a corpse. Lacking biological resources, has he not located himself above or below time? Positive or negative, the deficiency is no more than that. With neither the desire nor the will to destroy, he is suspect, he has triumphed over the demon or, more serious still, was never possessed by one. To live in any true sense of the word is to reject others; to accept them, one must be able to renounce, to do oneself violence, to act against one’s own nature, to weaken oneself, we conceive freedom only for ourselves—we extend it to our neighbors only at the cost of exhausting efforts…

As Eugene Thacker puts it in his preface to Cioran’s History and Utopia: “Cioran proposes nothing—and, perhaps, therein lies his “politics.” Neither heroic nor tragic, nor even comedic—History and Utopia is the testimony of someone who has given up on politics because, in part, he has given up on the human—or at least the image of humanity that incessantly feeds the political machinations of both history and utopia.”

“How could it be otherwise on a planet where flesh propagates with the shamelessness of a scourge? Wherever we go, we come up against the human, a repulsive ubiquity before which we fall into stupor and revolt . . .” 

All that remains is this void of refusal, though it is, in Cioran’s own words, “a void that affords plentitude, a fulfilling void.”

At the ripe old age of sixty-nine I just hope to live long enough to complete this task, not in Cioran’s shadow of suppression but in the dark and pessimistic light of an abyssal enlightenment in infernal thought. I’ve talked about it for years, but only recently have many of the threads of the puzzle come together so that the fragments I’ve been collecting from one end of literature and philosophy to the other might coalesce into a vision that both clarifies and discloses our current predicament and crisis. One could say I’ve struggled with this task most of my life, gathered the Ariadne’s scarlet thread into a monstrous labyrinth of textuality, an abyss of radiance within which the Minotaur in all his bleak and somber gloominess resides. Maybe in the end my work is an open invitation to the inhuman or posthuman sublime, a world at once grotesque and sublime, in which the unsayable and unthinkable awaken us from our sleep in time and give us back again that dark and radiant abyss of the unhuman alterity which we so crave.

The Malevolence of All Things


“…in Fall the woods are foreboding and defiant. The brambles and bristles and thorns gather to hinder your progress, as though guarding a secret. As you pick your path and make your way through the trees, the day turns to night only yards in. In Fall, in the New England woods, it is always night. Leaves fall like dry, dead angels, piling up against the leviathan broken bones of storm-savaged trees.”

—Matthew M. Bartlett, Gateways to Abomination

Like Poe before him Matthew M. Bartlett’s kenotic universe is both a creation and catastrophe, the natural order a malevolent realm of dark vitalistic horror, a site where the decaying forces of death and life play out their eternal games of elemental war. This sense that Nature is “foreboding and defiant” that even the very woods full of brambles, bristles, and thorns hold some tenebrous and uncanny truth, a secret which if revealed would mock the very existence of man. All this hearkens back to those philosophies of horror and negative heresies in which the universe is itself seen as a malevolent demiurge, a monstrous entity whose hidden powers work through all of nature. Even the last line hints of a Shelleyan anti-cosmic death world, where leaves falling like “dead angels, piling up against the leviathan broken bones of storm savaged trees” await us like secret accomplices in an age-old tale of heresy. A world ancient and forlorn, full of murderous intent, where the malevolence of all things without-us exists in an a-moral universe of war, death, and devastation. Victims of an ancient crime humans wander in this empty void like ghosts of a failed and failing god, a dead angel of the infernal flame of the Abyss.

Thomas Hardy was another of those writer’s whose descriptive powers would turn the natural order into a vast and indifferent realm of malevolence and darkness:

“The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon, while day stood distinct in the sky. The distant rims of the world and of the firmament seemed to be a division in time no less than a division in matter. The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated, and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause of shaking and dread.”1

Hardy’s heath, like a terrible beast, lays wait for the end of all things,

“The spot was, indeed, a near relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together in a black fraternization towards which each advanced halfway.

The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank blooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis — the final overthrow.”

Hardy’s metaphysics of despair, his pessimism expressed itself in his vision of Nature. He’d turn the natural order into a realm of night and eternal war, a gnostic drama of ancient evil played out just beyond the vale of human want or need.

Many modern novelists and horror writers have portrayed the darkness of the natural and human worlds. Cormac McCarthy in his Blood Meridian would be only the latest in a long line of works to do so. As Petra Mundik says,

McCarthy’s graphic portrayals of violence, set within surreal, nightmarish landscapes, convey a consistently anticosmic or world-rejecting attitude toward existence and creation. The marked absence of divine intervention in the face of extraordinary depravity suggests, at best, total divine indifference to human suffering, or at worst, the presence of a malevolent demiurge.2

This sense that the universe is bound to the dark will of a malevolent entity, a demiurge is as old as the ancient myths of Rome, Greece, India, and China among others. But it was Gnosticism that would invert Plato’s myth of the demiurge and combine it with a dark version of the Christian worldview to produce a religion of evil which would allegorize the natural and human worlds as pure evil without end. Like Bartlett and Hardy and McCarthy many Nineteenth and Twentieth Century authors would in their preoccupation with the problem of evil frequently employ Gnostic symbols and concepts, the most immediately apparent being the anticosmic depiction of hostile, hellish landscapes. This anticosmic position is a “belief that the material creation is inherently flawed and thus cannot be made suitable for any ideal purpose.” (Mundik, 15)

Some of these authors like Herman Melville would consciously employ these symbols of the ancient heresy, while others would do it naively and without knowing they were doing it. The fictional use of the Gnostic world view and fictional themes by many of these authors can be seen as thoughtful, sincere interpreters of the gnostic imagination.

The original Gnostics perceived, albeit summarily and imperfectly, the fact that the destiny of the material world tends towards inertia and entropy. The task of the Gnostic, therefore, is to climb this fatal slope, in the literal and in the figurative sense, to try to cross the dividing wall, to regain, by a progressive shedding of the alienating weight of his body and his psyche, the higher world from which we should never have fallen. To discard or lighten all the matter of this world, that is the strange end the Gnostics pursued.3

Of course, most modern were not Gnostics, but pessimists so that for them the whole notion of salvation was spurious at best, or like the pessimist philosopher Philip Mainländer would develop strange and disquieting philosophies and cosmologies. Mainländer reinterpreted Schopenhauer’s metaphysics through his pandeism,  believing the creator of the universe became the universe through an act of creation that was a catastrophe, ceasing to exist as a conscious and separate entity. The main thrust of this vision was that God wanted to commit suicide, and that the only viable path was to do this through humankind into which he would pour his fragmented spirit and thereby ensure his eventual demise through entropic devastation and nothingness. As Thomas Ligotti would say in his The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, Mainländer’s conception of,

“God’s plan to suicide himself could not work, though, as long as He existed as a unified entity outside of space-time and matter. Seeking to nullify His oneness so that He could be delivered into nothingness, he shattered Himself—Big Bang-like—into the time-bound fragments of the universe, that is, all those objects and organisms that have been accumulating here and there for billions of years. In Mainländer’s philosophy, “God knew that he could change from a state of super-reality into non-being only through the development of a real world of multiformity.” Employing this strategy, He excluded Himself from being. “God is dead,” wrote Mainländer, “and His death was the life of the world.” Once the great individuation had been initiated, the momentum of its creator’s self-annihilation would continue until everything became exhausted by its own existence, which for human beings meant that the faster they learned that happiness was not as good as they thought it would be, the happier they would be to die out.

Rather than resist our end, as Mainländer concludes, we will come to see that “the knowledge that life is worthless is the flower of all human wisdom.” Elsewhere the philosopher states, “Life is hell, and the sweet still night of absolute death is the annihilation of hell.”

As Sam Woolfe in Pessimism and Pandeism: Philipp Mainländer on the Death of God argues:

Here we see just how pessimistic Mainländer’s version of pandeism is. The will-to-die that Ligotti refers to is Mainländer’s idea that ingrained in humans is the wish for annihilation – we inherit desire wish from the pre-cosmic God, the infinite unity that had the primordial wish to stop existing. God apparently couldn’t bear its existence anymore, perhaps bored with omniscience or tortured by eternity. For Mainländer, God was propelled towards suicide by the knowledge that non-being is better than being. In this gloomy creation myth, God had one single deed and that was its suicide (or deicide: the killing of a god). Everything in the universe is the remnant of this deific self-sacrifice, but rather than see the universe and human existence as precious, beautiful, and sacred vestiges of God, Mainländer thought that everything we see around us is simply part of God’s decaying corpse and driven towards a desired state of extinction.

This thirst for annihilation of a self-lacerating god, a demiurge, a malevolent will-to-death force or Will at the heart of the Cosmos seems ludicrous and inhuman for most of us, and yet it pervades various threads and motifs of religious and philosophical thought handed down for millennia. Leo Daugherty in an essay on McCarthy’s Blood Meridian makes reference to Renaissance notion of “Anareta”: it was believed in the Renaissance to be ‘the planet which destroys life,’ and ‘violent deaths are caused’ when the ‘malifics’ have agents in ‘the anaretic place’ (OED entry, ‘anareta’) … the implication is clearly that our own Earth is Anaretic” (163). The evocative descriptions of malevolent landscapes we see in Bartlett, Hardy, Melville, and McCarthy, in which “death seem[s] the most prevalent feature” (48) can thus be read as Gnostic portrayals of a nightmarish, Anaretic world. (Mundik, 16)

Unlike the Gnostics many of the writers in the traditions of Grotesque, Gothic, Fantastic, Weird, and Horror genres would either consciously or naively look upon these myths and the natural order of things not from some redemptive myth of salvation and soteriological transcendence, but from an atheistic and materialist worldview of absolute immanence in which we are cut off from any and all outer gods in a kenoma or abyss of silence and nihilistic light, a realm of absolute night, chaos, and nothingness without end.

After reading Emile Cioran for decades, I see him within this Existential Gnosticism, an atheistic revision of the Gnostic worldview from one of transcendence and soteriological salvationist myth to an anti-gnostic Gnosticism of pure immanence, nihilism, and pessimism. Only a few thinkers have had the courage to plow this dark mill of thought, to take the anti-gnostic Gnosticism to its logical conclusion in a kenotic universe devoid of gods and redemptive visions. How many would dare enter that darkness?

  1. Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native. Delphi Complete Works of Thomas Hardy (Illustrated). Delphi Classics.
  2. Mundik, Petra. A Bloody and Barbarous God: The Metaphysics of Cormac McCarthy (p. 14). University of New Mexico Press.
  3. Lacarriere, Jaques, The Gnostics. 1977 © 1973 Editions Gallimard

Extinction and Ruins


John Ruskin once argued that decadent architecture thrust upon its inhabitants “a spirit of brutal mockery and insolent jest, which exhausting itself in deformed and monstrous sculpture, can sometimes be hardly otherwise defined than as the perpetuation in stone of the ribaldries of drunkenness’ (The Stones of Venice, p. 135)”.

In our own time as Siobhan Lyons puts it,

“Ruin porn is the new sublime. While terrifying mountainscapes defned the seventeenth century sublime, the twenty-frst century has carved a new incarnation of the sublime, precariously located within contemporary ruins of the urban wild. We are enthralled by modern ruins for a plethora of reasons, not least because they inspire in us a rational paranoia that taps into our own eventual demise—both individual and, more importantly, collective. For modern ruins signal this global decay to which we all will invariably succumb, one way or another. In this manner, modern ruins arouse both despair and fascination, a fascination with our own death and a tangible image of the precise form it will take. They remind us, in a very sublime way, of the inevitability of human extinction, refocusing the terrain of ‘ruin’ away from the ancient world and towards the imminent future.”
– -Ruin Porn and the Obsession with Decay

You Who Think That Everyone Is So Beautiful


Between 1926 and 1932, Elizabeth Craig, a striking American dancer, was the lover and confidante of Louis Destouches, a medical doctor who worked for the League of Nations. At that time, neither of them could have imagined that he was on the cusp of becoming the famous author Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Many years later, she vividly recalled an incident that could easily have featured in one of his novels:

One evening in Holland he took me to a certain street where these young women were selling their beautiful children. They’d walk up and down the street with their children, then hand the child to a customer, always a man [. . .] The man would give the mother a dollar bill and both the mother and child would go in. He would do whatever he pleased with the child. Louis would ask me:

– You see how vicious life is? – It can’t be all over the world like that, maybe it’s just the Dutch who like that kind of thing. – No, it goes on in Paris too, but not quite in the same way. – Why don’t you do something about it? If you think it’s so terrible, why don’t you try to make it illegal? – Oh, but it is illegal. They could get in bad trouble if caught, but on certain streets you can walk up and down, and the gendarme or policemen will look the other way.

This was all too much for the well-brought-up young lady to bear. She questioned why they were even looking, especially if he was not willing to do anything about it. Céline, however, refused to budge:

‘– I just wanted you to know. You who think that everybody is so beautiful and nice, that life is so simple, that all you have to do is have a happy attitude and life will be a beautiful journey.’1

Instead, life is a journey to the end of night, a deadly voyage into the heart of darkness and human degradation, an open wound that no idealization can cover over. As his biographer says: “The much-discussed ‘shock value’ of Céline’s novels is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Its purpose is to awaken our social conscience by confronting us with the full spectrum of human injustice and the stark realization that we are often powerless in the face of suffering.” (8) I would only add that Louis-Ferdinand Céline was an absolute nihilist, knowing that the only power against human injustice and declination is indifference, for if nothing has meaning then as that old assassin Hassan-i Sabbāh’s creed dictates:

“Nothing is true; everything is permitted.”

There being no objective morals in a meaningless universe then humans are beyond justice and injustice alike, living as we do in a realm of pure chaos and old night doomed to the entropic turn toward absolute zero. Such a virulent nihilism suggests that we are all bound in an infernal machine of desire without recourse or redress. What Schopenhauer says of the poet Giacomo Leopardi could as well be said of Céline,

He is entirely imbued and penetrated with it; everywhere his theme is the mockery and wretchedness of this existence. He presents it on every page of his works, yet in such a multiplicity of forms and applications, with such a wealth of imagery, that he never wearies us, but, on the contrary, has a diverting and stimulating effect.2

  1. Catani, Damian. Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Journeys to the Extreme. Reaktion Books, 2021
  2. Schopenhauer, Arthur. On the Suffering of the World Watkins Media.

Weird Fictions Principle of Unreason: The Aesthetics of Disgust


The PSR (Principle of Sufficient Reason) is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground. That intelligibility requires it. H.P. Lovecraft in his Supernatural Horror in Literature suggested that all ‘true’ weird tales will suspend “or defeat those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” If there is no reason, cause, or ground then the contract with naturalism is broken and the affective world of the weird and eerie begin to break in and empty us of intelligibility, replacing it with the delirium and hallucinatory power of the weird.

Weird fiction’s Principle of Insufficient Reason would reverse that dictum, stating that everything is without a reason, cause, or ground and is guided only by the malignant Will of Unreason and its irrational delusions. Our sense of Self is a pure fantasy of our vacuity, our emptiness. Driven by the fear of nothingness – that we are in fact no-thing and no-one, inexistent and without ground, we fill this gap, this void with our invented selves, memories, images, words… fabulations of identity.

We are one more delusion among the deliriums. In the Dhammapada the poet sings, 

A painted puppet, a poor toy
Of jointed parts ready to collapse,
A diseased and suffering thing
With a head full of false imaginings.

Thomas Ligotti describing the depressive realist who breaks through the delusions of Self and World realizes the great lesson:

This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately—imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live? Without the ever-clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know. The alternatives are clear: to live falsely as pawns of affect, or to live factually as depressives, or as individuals who know what is known to the depressive. How advantageous that we are not coerced into choosing one or the other, neither choice being excellent. One look at human existence is proof enough that our species will not be released from the stranglehold of emotionalism that anchors it to hallucinations. That may be no way to live, but to opt for depression would be to opt out of existence as we consciously know it.1

The pessimist as depressive knows very well the truth of the matter, and yet like all other humans is powerless before the darkening will within that controls our affective regions with its own irrational impulses, so we are enlightened victims of our own failure to be enlightened. We suffer the truth of our impure knowing’s, live our lives out as guests of a supreme hallucination. 

And, yet, the weird tale, the horror tale can guide us through this maze of irrational delusions and gift us with certain shocks of delight and horror that in their entertainment instruct us in the infernal mysteries of or our darkening lives. As Ligotti remind us “the supernatural has cleaved to you from the beginning, working its oddities into your life while you waited for death to begin beating on your door. It has not come to save you, but to bring you into its horror.” (TCATHR) Will there ever be an end to it, to the horrors of existence? Ligotti says, no:

There will come a day for each of us—and then for all of us—when the future will be done with. Until then, humanity will acclimate itself to every new horror that comes knocking, as it has done from the very beginning. It will go on and on until it stops. And the horror will go on, with generations falling into the future like so many bodies into open graves. The horror handed down to us will be handed down to others like a scandalous heirloom. Being alive: decades of waking up on time, then trudging through another round of moods, sensations, thoughts, cravings—the complete gamut of agitations—and finally flopping into bed to sweat in the pitch of dead sleep or simmer in the phantasmagorias that molest our dreaming minds. (TCATHR)

The modern weird tale arises out of a confrontation with all that would negate the Self rather than glorify it as in the Sublime (Kant or Romantic Sublime). As Jonathan Newell, in A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror notes: – “the weird revels in less rarefied forms of horror, derived not from the subject-affirming power of sublime fear but from the subject-dissolving power of disgust.” (12) He goes on to say,

the disgust precipitated by weird fiction emanates from a specific source – the non-human world, what philosophers have called the world-in-itself. This book interprets the weird as a speculative and affective negotiation of the real, in its most elemental sense.2

For Schopenhauer the Kantian thing-in-itself is the ‘Will’, not the Will we see manifest in the world or in ourselves, but the power hidden away and manifest through and in the objective world:

The thing-in-itself, as such, is free from all forms of knowledge, even the most universal, namely that of being object for the subject; in other words, it is something entirely different from the representation. Now if this thing-in-itself, as I believe I have sufficiently proved and made clear, is the will, then, considered as such and apart from its phenomenon, it lies outside time and space, and accordingly knows no plurality, and consequently is one.3

The sense of horror and the aesthetics of disgust are apprehended by Schopenhauer this way:

Just like the charming in the proper sense, disgust rouses the will of the beholder, and therefore disturbs purely aesthetic contemplation. But it is a violent non-willing, a repugnance, that it excites; it rouses the will by holding before it objects that are abhorrent. (ibid. 40)

In Savoring Disgust, Carolyn Korsmeyer argues that “aesthetic disgust is a response that, no matter how unpleasant, can rivet attention to the point where one actually may be said to savor the feeling. In virtue of this savoring, this dwelling on the encounter, the emotion constitutes a singular comprehension of the value and significance of its objects.”4 But what are these objects? There is a literal “core” or “material” form of affective disgust that is viscerally responsive to foul and contaminated objects in close proximity to humans, and a “moral” disgust that takes as its objects persons or behaviors from that which transgresses social norms. (SD) In this sense there is both an aesthetic and ethical form that the affective notions of disgust harbor for any discussion of the weird. 

I’ll be returning to this in other essays… 

  1. Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (Kindle Locations 1613-1621). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. Newell, Jonathan. A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror (Horror Studies) (p. 12). University of Wales Press. Kindle Edition
  3. Arthur Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1 Dover Publications. 
  4. Carolyn Korsmeyer. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics (Kindle Locations 37-39). Kindle Edition.

The Dead Live Death


The man who has not given himself up to the pleasures of anguish, who has not savored in his mind the dangers of his own extinction nor relished such cruel and sweet annihilations, will never be cured of the obsession with death: he will be tormented by it, for he will have resisted it; while the man who, habituated to a discipline of horror, and meditating on his own carrion, has deliberately reduced himself to ashes—that man will look toward death’s past, and he himself will be merely a resurrected being who can no longer live. His “method” will have cured him of both life and death.

—Emile Cioran

Gary J. Shipley on Post-Pessimism

Dark Surrealism Paintings by Vladislav Cadaversky from Ukraine (9)

The trajectory through pessimism to post-pessimism (however that latter state is portrayed) consistently involves someone going through an agonizing and disturbing (and it is always gruelling in this way) confrontation with and subsequent acceptance of some undistorted reality that they then cultivate embellishments in order to overcome, to exist in spite of, or to otherwise transform, thereby neutralizing (to some degree) its negative impact. The decision whether to move through or beyond, to retreat to the standardized illusions, or else stay put and endure the raw, unclad spectacle of your existence (that nauseating existential overtness) remains equivocal, barely a decision, more a reaction to a prolonged state of indecision in fact – more a patient waiting for that inevitable moment when the oscillations finally break their medium.

…the phenomenon of suffering and its desired eradication offers just such a lacuna for a pessimistic beyond, a post-pessimism. For although suffering itself offers no redemptive meaning, the ethical position that it be eliminated itself becomes meaning’s last stand: a pessimism of genuine indifference, an enlightened junkiedom, the dreamscape of the perpetually impossible.

—Gary J. Shipley On the Verge of Nothing: Pessimism’s Impossible Beyond 31- 32). (Buy Book)