Ressentiment: The Ruination of Humanity and the Last Man

“Do not store up resentment against your neighbor, no matter what his offence…” – Sirach

“Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

How many of us if we did make it to the other side, become full blown psychotics enabled to see the world whole and mad, would? What keeps us tied to this mundane world of work where zombies and puppets are enslaved in a cave of delusion and illusion? Why do we fear the world-in-itself? Why do we seek in the vein illusions of this time-world an escape from reality? What are we really defending ourselves against? Why is the world so terrible and terrifying that we as humans built an illusory one to hide in? Even now as the constructed world crumbles into ruins around us we become more hysteric, our politics more negative, and full of that dichotomous angst that shifts us into pure hatred of each other.

I often think of that of that ancient myth of the apocalypse, of the separation of the goats and sheep… this allegory seems to be playing out in our politics of liberal left-wing and conservative right-wing extremes. One sees it every day in the media, the pure hatred of each side for the other, the continual atrocity of words displayed like some ritual burning at the stake of each other’s stance in life. We seem to be devolving into our ancestral mode’s day by day… taking on the primitive rituals of scapegoating and expulsion.

There’s a sense of violence in the air, the stench of human fear and terror at what they do not know or understand. Their displacements of this into politics spells ultimate doom for the modern world. We are living out the horror narratives of our own childish fears and dreads. We are the victims of our own hates and despair. We are turning the world to ruins because we cannot accept the world on its own terms, instead we seek to make the world over in our own image. This will be the ruination of the human species.

Nietzsche envisioned the Last Man – a culture which seeks only passive comfort and routine, avoiding everything that could potentially bring risk, pain, or disappointment. A society controlled by the need for security and safety against itself and others, against the horrors of famine, pestilence, climate degradation, war, and the ‘human condition’ itself. Humans that are willing to give up their supposed freedoms for restrictions and government supervision, a society of pleasure and sensual escapes, money and power. The illusions of success instead of real success.

Horror and the weird narratives of strangeness that are published in small presses across the world depict our world as it is under the sign of death and disfigurement, the contortions and corruptions of symbolic landscapes that turn surreal and dark as our world unravels into ruin. The worlds of the psychotic – depressive and other forms of psychosis and schizophrenia set in as our world undergoes mutations and metamorphosis by the power of technology run amuck. We seem to thrive on conflict, on creating out of our planetary system a hellish paradise within which we can live out our worst nightmares.

“The human race sleepwalked to oblivion, thinking only of the corporate logos on it’s shroud.”
― J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come

Truth is most of us live in a deranged reality already we don’t need to become psychotics it is the state of the world. Psychosis is the path of freedom out of this derangement not a means to maintain its horrors and strangeness. How can you medicate someone who sees too much?

Most of modern psychiatry teaches us psychosis is abnormal, when in fact it is we who are abnormal living in a false world of appearances. We’ve constructed a cage against reality. Open the doors, break down the walls, let the Outside in…

I don’t need no walls around me.
And I don’t need no drugs to calm me.
I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don’t think I need any thing at all.
No. Don’t think I need anything at all.
All in all it was all just the bricks in the wall.
All in all it was all just the bricks in the wall.

—Pink Floyd, The Wall Lyrics

Step outside and let the strangeness in… tear down those walls!

Joel Lane on Thomas Ligotti

Joel Lane on Thomas Ligotti:

“One of the metaphors that runs through Ligotti’s work is the journey from twilight to night. Psychologically, this could represent the transition from neurosis to psychosis: from living on awkward terms with external reality to living in a deranged internal reality. But it also represents a shedding of the human, a recognition of the contingent and unstable nature of identity.

While Ligotti is inclined to be negative about the human condition, he does not share the anti-humanist perspective of Lovecraft. His sympathies lie with the displaced and dispossessed, while he hangs the powerful—those who control, exploit and deceive others—out to dry on the web of their own hypocrisy. There are echoes of specific cultural experiences: the European immigrant in America, the child in a Catholic family, the underpaid worker in a corporate office. His anger and disgust are social in basis—though, ultimately, social injustice provides him with a metaphor for all areas of human experience. The overriding emotion in his work is a sense of grief at the ruin of hope and the loss of illusions.”

  1. Joel Lane, This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays (“THE RUINS OF REALITY: Thomas Ligotti and the uses of disenchantment”)

Anne Sexton: Gods – from The Death Notebooks



Mrs. Sexton went out looking for the gods.
She began looking in the sky —
expecting a large white angel with a blue crotch.

No one.

She looked next in all the learned books
and the print spat back at her.

No one.

She made a pilgrimage to the great poet
and he belched in her face.

No one.

She prayed in all the churches of the world
and learned a great deal about culture.

No one.

She went to the Atlantic, the Pacific, for surely God.

No one.

She went to the Buddha, the Brahma, the Pyramids
and found immense postcards.

No one.

Then she journeyed back to her own house
and the gods of the world were shut in the lavatory.

At last! she cried out,
and locked the door.

—Anne Sexton: The Death Notebooks

On October 4, 1974, Sexton had lunch with Kumin to revise galleys for Sexton’s manuscript of The Awful Rowing Toward God, scheduled for publication in March 1975. On returning home she put on her mother’s old fur coat, removed all her rings, poured herself a glass of vodka, locked herself in her garage, and started the engine of her car, ending her life by carbon monoxide poisoning.

In an interview over a year before her death, she explained she had written the first drafts of The Awful Rowing Toward God in 20 days with “two days out for despair and three days out in a mental hospital.” She went on to say that she would not allow the poems to be published before her death.

The Blindness

Whitman enforces upon Pound and Eliot the American difference, which he had inherited from Emerson, the fountain of our eloquence and of our pragmatism. Most reductively defined, the American poetic difference ensues from a sense of acute isolation, both from an overwhelming space of natural reality, and from an oppressive temporal conviction of belatedness, of having arrived after the event. The inevitable defense against nature is the Gnostic conviction that one is no part of the creation, that one’s freedom is invested in the primal abyss. Against belatedness, defense involves an immersion in allusiveness, hardly for its own sake, but in order to reverse the priority of the cultural, pre-American past. American poets from Whitman and Dickinson onwards are more like Milton than Milton is, and so necessarily they are more profoundly Miltonic than even Keats or Tennyson was compelled to be.
—Harold Bloom – On American Poets

Bloom was an Idealist and hater of the natural order of fate, chance, and necessity. It shows in his fantasy of gnostic anti-naturalism, a vision of the spark overcoming existence to return to some realm of pure light – the Pleroma. The myth of allusiveness and priority would haunt him and many poets, but there are others who did not wash themselves in such visions of escape but sought to immerse themselves in this world in all its cruel majesty. I follow those… so what if we’re all ‘late to the party’ living after the fall, the labored apocalypse that happened yesterday or the day before. So, what if we’re all the living dead amid the ruins of time. So, what… old Blake once said of Milton “Milton was of Devil’s party without knowing it”. Some of us know it in the darkest part of our minds and flesh… but what is that but the dark Will, the blind idiot god of this strange thing we live in? The “purposeless purpose” that runs through all things, agent without awareness – the blind will of creation and destruction – our quantum reality.

This amalgam of poetry and late nineteenth and early twentieth-century scholarship seem apropos as we enter our own late wasteland of climate change and the corruption of politics and the humanist ideals. In our posthuman age the whole notion of studying the ancient horrors and fears of our tribal and medieval ancestors seems quaint as we construct our own dark worlds of annihilation. But this was the fare I grew up with and studied. And the notion of the Wasteland (even in such luminary’s popular works such as Stephen King) still populate our dark imaginal. Even David Foster Wallace in his unfinished novel The Pale King echoes the dark beauty amid the vegetal cruelty of existence:

“Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, saw brier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.”
—David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

Even the poet of America, Walt Whitman knew of that gloom below the night’s insoluble riddles:

Of the turbid pool that lies in the autumn forest,
Of the moon that descends the steeps
of the soughing twilight,
Toss, sparkles of day and dusk
—toss on the black stems that decay in the muck,
Toss to the moaning gibberish of the dry limbs.
—Walt Whitman, Son of Myself

Eliot was a son of Whitman whether he acknowledged it or not. Poe inhabited his blood, Laforgue his mind. Ages ago I read about the mythos of the Wasteland.

April is the cruellest month,
breeding Lilacs out of the dead land,
mixing Memory and desire,
stirring Dull roots with spring rain.
—T.S. Eliot “The Wasteland”

In antiquity this sylvan landscape was the scene of a strange and recurring tragedy. On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern city of Nemil is perched, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of the Wood. In this sacred grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.

—Sir James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough

The more closely one studies pre-Christian Theology, the more strongly one is impressed with the deeply, and daringly, spiritual character of its speculations, and the more doubtful it appears that such teaching can depend upon the unaided processes of human thought, or can have been evolved from such germs as we find among the supposedly ‘primitive’ peoples. Are they really primitive? Or are we dealing, not with the primary elements of religion, but with the disjecta membra of a vanished civilization? Certain it is that so far as historical evidence goes our earliest records point to the recognition of a spiritual, not of a material, origin of the human race; the Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms were not composed by men who believed themselves the descendants of ‘witchetty grubs.’The Folk practices and ceremonies studied in these pages, the Dances, the rough Dramas, the local and seasonal celebrations, do not represent the material out of which the Attis-Adonis cult was formed, but surviving fragments of a worship from which the higher significance has vanished.

—Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance

The mythos of the Grail, Fisher King, Wasteland, and Quest of the Knights seeking to restore order and life to a realm laid bare and waste by war, famine, pestilence, disorder and chaos seem like our own age of political and social despair. But we have no Knights, no valiant men or women seeking the Holy Grail that will save us, redeem us, salvage what remains of civilization and its sickness, decay, decadence, and ruins. We are alone and isolated in a wasteland of our own making, denizens of a world of ruin and darkness. There is no escape of salvation from our own darkness. We will suffer it alone and in despair.

Cornell Woolrich: Prince of Despair and Darkness

“IT’S HARD TO SAY GOOD-BY FOR GOOD AT ANY TIME OR ANY place. It’s harder still to say it through a meshed wire. It crisscrossed his face into little diagonals, gave me only little broken-up molecules of it at a time. It stenciled a cold, rigid frame around every kiss.”
—Cornell Woolrich, The Black Angel

Woolrich is considered the father of noir, the voice of pain, loneliness, and despair. Black Angel gave us despair under the weight of young love gone sour and deadly. A young woman whose husband was a cheater, accused of murdering the very woman he supposedly was leaving his twenty-two-year-old wife for. Sentenced to the electric chair, isolated, alone. His soon to be widow a shadow creature living in the city of death. Both remain nameless because like most dark allegory’s names don’t matter only the suffering that is endless does.

Most of us face things that just don’t make sense, that end up just seeming wrong as if there was some form of absolute malevolence – an entity of the earth, air, fire, and water riding us, doom-ridden into the blackest abyss; some force that has it in for us, seeks joy in our pain and suffering. This is the world Woolrich throws us into, a world where fate and necessity hold us in the palms of their puppeteer hands like master players whose only satisfaction is to see how much we will squirm, see how much pain we can endure before we break. There’s nothing kind or gentle in this dark world, it’s all facade through and through. The people are all backdrop props, minions of the very force whose sole satisfaction is sucking as much joy from our lives as it can. This dark malevolence feeds off our suffering. Its world is a pain factory in which it feeds on fear like a wounded god whose wounds will not heal. Mindless of its own actions and consequences it pulls us into every avenue of despair available. The cul-de-sac of this dark labyrinth hides no Minotaur only the empty space of regret that haunts every day of our lives, a regret that we do not understand much less feel; no, it’s the kind of unfeeling mood that numbs and permeates our existence to the point that all we feel is blackness and unbeing. It’s as if life in us were unraveling into nothingness, a slow-motion film we were watching in reverse. Living life but knowing only death in our bones. This is the world of Cornell Woolrich.

“I was trying to cheat death. I was only trying to surmount for a little while the darkness that all my life I surely knew was going to come rolling in on me some day and obliterate me. I was only to stay alive a little brief while longer, after I was already gone.”
—Cornell Woolrich

The Hard-Boiled Style

“The face she made at me was probably meant for a smile. Whatever it was, it beat me. I was afraid she’d do it again, so I surrendered”
― Dashiell Hammett, The Continental Op

“I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

“There was nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn’t cure.”
― Ross Macdonald, The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator

A week back began reorganizing my reading and library again. Been rereading crime fiction of late. Gathered up all those old Black Mask collections with Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op. The works of Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. And, of course, the Lew Archer series by Ross Macdonald. I think those three gives one the best overview of that tradition in the Hard-Boiled styles available. Hammett was the cynical observer with the hands-on pragmatism he’s known for in those stories. Most of them are now available in various Otto Penzler Mysterious Press versions. All the Raymond Chandler works of his Knight of California, Philip Marlowe is still in print. Same for that more psychologically oriented investigations of Lew Archer. I think Archer is still my favorite writer, more polished and adept in novel construction than the other two. Nothing against Hammett or Chandler, the first was under the gun to write his stories for the Black Mask pulp style and editors, Marlowe was just a bad writer even though many of his passages are excellent, his overall plotting and ability to construct a novel sucked. Macdonald’s works never failed to hold your interest and kept the plots moving along.

There’d be a great many writers after these three, but each of these writer’s marked out the basic style and territory and still hold the honored place of open that space of literature others would follow.

Dashiell Hammett

Opening to Arson Plus the first story by Dashiell Hammett published in Black Mask, 1st of October 1923:

Jim Tarr picked up the cigar I rolled across his desk, looked at the band, bit off an end, and reached for a match.

“Fifteen cents straight,” he said. “You must want me to break a couple of laws for you this time.”

I had been doing business with this fat sheriff of Sacramento County for four or five years— ever since I came to the Continental Detective Agency’s San Francisco office— and I had never known him to miss an opening for a sour crack; but it didn’t mean anything.

“Wrong both times,” I told him. “I get two of them for a quarter; and I’m here to do you a favor instead of asking for one. The company that insured Thornburgh’s house thinks somebody touched it off.”

—Dashiell Hammett. Arson Plus and Other Stories

There’s always that dry, acerbic quality to the Hard-Boiled style which quickly reduces the physical details of a scene or character to a few well qualified observations. There’s an aggressive punchiness to it as if every conversation was a game of wits and war. Thriving on conflict it’s a male world of low-life criminals, scam artists, liars, thieves, scoundrels, gangs and a street-level sense that everything with the world has gone to hell in a handbasket and the only way to deal with violence is either with a gun or the surety of a superior brain. The Continental Op was Hammett’s alter-ego. He’d been in Pinkerton’s since WWI and knew the ins and outs of that world like the back of his hand. He’d only left it when ordered to kill a union leader by his bosses. He refused and was fired. A few days later another agent of Pinkerton’s killed the Union Boss.

It’s that integrity and honor code that Hammett tried to show in his written works, a sense of right and wrong that had nothing to do with any religious view but everything to do with that innate political sense that he showed through his solidarity with the working classes. He’d live to suffer that during the pogroms of the fifties under McCarthyism and the American Fascism of the right-wing extremism of that era. An extremism that is once again surfacing in various regions of our own day here in America as both extreme nationalism, religion, and politics commingle in a deadly mix.

Raymond Chandler

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

—Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep: A Novel 

Chandler’s Knight Errant wandered the streets of L.A. like a man who knew the world was corrupt but would offer it chance to redeem itself. He was no Christ, but rather a sorrowful knight who roamed the mean streets like Robert Browning’s lost troubadour seeking the lost tribe of male dignity. As one critic put it: “Chandler’s introverted hero, Philip Marlowe, is distinguished from his predecessors and contemporaries in possessing a more socially conscious code of ethics than that typical of the genre’s heroes; this quality of reflection is consistent with democratic consideration of the thoughts, beliefs, and ethics of others.”1 As Woody Haut puts it: “Without a working-class background, Raymond Chandler could personalize his narrative and single handedly reinvent the genre. He accomplished this through a sophisticated parody of Black Mask fiction. Concerned less with the state of society than with the society of the state, Chandler, once a businessman and a director of independent oil companies, guided his narrative down a cultural and literary cul de sac, successfully decoding the culture until his style turned into a literary cliche.”2 As his character Philip Marlowe would say of himself:

I’m a romantic… I hear voices crying in the night and I go see what’s the matter. You don’t make a dime that way. You got sense, you shut your windows and turn up more sound on the TV set. Or you shove down on the gas and get far away from there. Stay out of other people’s troubles. All it can get you is the smear.

Ross MacDonald

“This is Cabrillo Canyon,” the driver said. There weren’t any houses in sight.

“The people live in caves?”

“Not on your life. The estates are down by the ocean.”

A minute later I started to smell the sea. We rounded another curve and entered its zone of coolness. A sign beside the road said: “Private Property: Permission to pass over revocable at any time.”

—Ross Macdonald. The Moving Target 

Woody Haut sums it up best: “Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer is arguably pulp culture’s most humane, if not realistic, private detective. Along with Chester Himes and Charles Willeford, Macdonald brought private investigation safely through the pulp culture era and into the 1960s. In the process he was astute enough to make his own investigation of the genre: “I tried to work out my own version of the ‘hard-boiled’ style, to develop both imagery and structure in the direction of psychological and symbolic meaning.”3

Explaining the difference between his own style and that of Chandler he once told an interviewer: “Chandler… wrote like a slumming angel, and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence. While trying to preserve the fantastic lights and shadows of… Los Angeles, I gradually siphoned off the aura of romance and made room for a completer social realism… Archer is not so much a knight of romance as an observer, a socially mobile man who knows all the levels of Southern California life and takes… pleasure in exploring its secret passages. Archer tends to live through other people, as a novelist lives through his characters.” 

In his essays he’d speak about the art of such fictional private eyes: “The murder story… offers the mind some knowledge and control, but tends to return that knowledge to the physical, the scientific, the social, the merely commensurable. The center of man is… avoided as if there were a darkness there, beyond the reach of understanding… [I]n the works of Hammett and Chandler there is a… division between the hunter and the hunted, the knower and the known… The detective… is invulnerable, perhaps miserable. He deals in death but is untouched by it… he represents our lingering fear of death, and our… inability to submit ourselves or our imaginations to tragic life. We live in the illusion of the hunter even while we are being hunted.” We’ve seen this ‘fear of death’ in various psychologists and sociologists from Freud, Marcuse, Brown, and Becker’s The Denial of Death and Escape from Evil. 

Lew Archer would move us past the romantic image of Chandler’s PI and into a more nihilistic investigator, one who would study the empty lives of his perpetrators and victims alike. As Haut would say, 

Macdonald was successful in moving the genre beyond Chandler, and, in adapting his writing for the 1950s, is one of the few writers unafraid and untarnished enough to go down those not so much mean as meaningless suburban streets. Though Macdonald implicates both hunter and hunted, he leaves Archer outside that particular investigation. Finally, Macdonald’s insistence that he is replicating reality is, in the end, no more believable than Chandler’s cavalier attitude towards the world. Though he may lack personal perspective, Macdonald’s honesty, intelligence and sense of reality have done much to legitimize detective fiction. (ibid.)

The rock-stars of crime fiction besides Hammett and Chandler and Macdonald in the early years would at least begin their aficionado list with: David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Horace McCoy, William P. McGivern, Robert Finnegan, Charles Williams, Dolores Hitchens, Gil Brewer among so many others. Despair, existential dread, the anxiety of the modern world, the hellish landscapes of the metropolis and the low life menace of hoodlums, gangsters, robbers, thieves, scam artists, gamblers, killers, and psychotics hiding in every dark alley and rain-soaked street. The life before, after, and during WWII. Even in the UK there was Marc Behm, Derek Raymond, and Jerome Charyn. In France the Serie noire had already scooped up the American and UK pulp stars and was thriving as it is to this day. I began reading Jim Thompson early on in all the Black Lizard editions during the late seventies and eighties. But then dug in old bookstores through my travels as a contract engineer. Back in those days the darker stuff was either hidden on back shelves are just left to rot in bins. Strange how times have changed.

  1. John Paul Athanasourelis. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: The Hard-Boiled Detective Transformed 
  2. Haut, Woody. Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War. 280 Steps. Kindle Edition.
  3. (ibid.)

The Last Time

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

Sometimes I remember the last time I saw my old man, the look in his eyes as he said: “Someday you’ll understand, son.” Of course, I never did… understand. But I do remember the look, the gaze of a little boy lost in a big man’s body. That haunts me to this day.

My mom divorced his ass for his sexual escapades (‘his whoring ways’), but mostly because he was an alkie (‘he drank like a fish’). Maybe that’s why I can identify with these various crime fiction writers who portray alkies on the mend, wounded men whose lives of quiet — or not so quiet, desperation have left them full of black bile —melancholic distemper, bleakness, and failure. Because I remember my old man soused. I know others have probably had alcoholic fathers who went whoring to prove their manhood, etc. The old adage my mother once told me was about the first three days of their marriage, that he was drunk the whole time. She also said he had a problem. Now they have a fancy medical term for it: Erectile dysfunction. What a name, huh? Either way I was conceived during that drunken three-day honeymoon or at least ‘so goes the story’. I already know now my mom gave away a young girl (or – her mother, my grandmother, did…) for getting pregnant by a Preacher’s boy at the ripe age of sweet sixteen. My Mom wasn’t all roses and cream, either. So, I’ve often wondered if I too was a bastard ‘out of wedlock’ and they had a shotgun wedding to cover up the fact. Oh, growing up in the South… the wonders of the stupidity.

By the time I’d gotten around to forgiving his ass for the hurt he’d caused my mom, sister, and myself he was already dead, his ashes spread across the ocean just south of Catalina Island. I didn’t know this at the time. Only found out after he’d been dead by suicide from a shotgun slug, one he’d inflicted on himself due to inoperable stomach cancer which from what I here was excruciatingly vicious and painful beyond telling. His old man had done the same: been an alkie and had at some point committed self-murder. I don’t know the story to that one. I do know my father’s mother was totally loony, a real basket case. I’d seen her in action a time or two before all this happened. Childhood lays there in one’s mind like a bad dream that will not go away. I remember Cioran always reverting to his childhood as a sort of paradise, for me it was a hellish paradise where nothing good ever happened and almost anything that could go wrong did.

These little tidbits of memory that jut up from time to time like barbs from a rusty fence cutting so deeply they leave open wounds and scars on your ass and mind they keep reminding one of just how much hate one still harbors in one’s flesh and bones. Does anyone actually live a life like that? Maybe my memories are a series of sorrows, black angel dust in my psyche that bleeds and bleeds and bleeds… the more I try to stop the blood darkening my being the more the stench and corruption keeps churning up out of the blackest abyss.

The older I get the more ferocious my mind is toward all those black fragments hanging in the darkening loam of memories seeping out of hell… some traumas one will never escape till one exorcises those personal demons in a fiction so deadly and toxic that it drives them, the memories, and oneself completely insane.

“I was in my apartment, trying to shed the remnants of the dream about my father. A loud howl of anguish had awakened me. I’d sat up, terror in my soul, wondering what on earth was happening to some poor fucker to make them emit such a sound, then felt the tears on my cheeks and realized the person who’d made the cry was me. I don’t think distress gets more awful than that.”
— Ken Bruen, Priest: A Jack Taylor Novel

Been there, done that… hell is not ‘other people’ (Sartre), but the remnants of those revenants that haunt one’s past in the vivid nightmares of memory where one is condemned to live in a bleak limbo for eternity.

Jean Rhys: The Illusion

OIP (4)

I shut the door hastily. I had no business to look or to guess. But I guessed. I knew.
—Jean Rhys, The Illusion

Reading Jean Rhys Collected Stories this evening. She had such an exacting, pithy style enabling her to state what needed to be said in an economical and ferocious manner. Her ability to ferret out the inner core of a person without falling into ironic dismissal gave her voice that clarity and assurance of one who has seen into the darkness without belaboring the point. Her pessimal stance allowed her to reveal the delusions by which we live while at the same time showing that it is these perversions of personality that give our lives if not meaning at least a certain innate verve.

In The Illusion she describes an English woman whose ugliness drives her to seek beauty as a painter but hide her need for the illusive beauty of the body. She falls ill and her friend, the narrator, discovers in her wardrobe the most colorful and elaborate dresses fit for a queen. And, yet, the English woman, Mrs. Bruce – a middle-aged spinster has never been seen wearing such extravagant fare. the narrator imagines Mrs. Bruce in her tentative forays into Paris seeking out the various salons and boutiques and buying each of these luxuriant couture and Avant Gaard items, wearing them before her mirror and sighing only to hide them once again in the dark. After the illness she is confronted by her friend:

“When I was allowed to see Miss Bruce a week afterwards, I found her lying, clean, calm and sensible in the big ward – an appendicitis patient. They patched her up and two or three weeks later we dined together at our restaurant. At the coffee stage she said suddenly: ‘I suppose you noticed my collection of frocks. Why should I not collect frocks? They fascinate me. The colour and all that. Exquisite sometimes!’

Of course, she added, carefully staring over my head at what appeared to me to be a very bad picture, ‘I should never make such a fool of myself as to wear them . . . They ought to be worn, I suppose.’

A plump, dark girl, near us, gazed into the eyes of her dark, plump escort, and lit a cigarette with the slightly affected movements of a non-smoker.

‘Not bad hands and arms, that girl,’ said Miss Bruce in her gentlemanly manner.”
—Jean Rhys. The Collected Short Stories

The unmasking of the illusion comes in that “gentlemanly manner”, an irony of irony understated and tempered in merciless prose. Her ability to cut to the chase, discern the inner core of a person’s being, this ability to tease out through prose the dark impenetrable masks that covers over the small quiet desperation at the heart of her characters’ lives. This alone makes her work have staying power.

Rereading Crime Series this Summer: Bruen, Lansdale, and Burke

“There’ll be times when the only refuge is books. Then you’ll read as if you meant it, as if your life depended on it.”
― Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers

“Some things you do, not because they’re pleasant, but because they have to be done.”
― Joe R. Lansdale, Devil Red

“I wanted to believe he was mad. Unfortunately, I no longer knew what madness was.”
― James Lee Burke, Robicheaux

When we reread a favorite author’s books, we always discover certain aspects of their work we’d either forgotten or hadn’t caught out in the first place. For the summer I’m rereading the crime fiction of Ken Bruen (Jack Taylor Series), James Lee Burke (Dave Robichaux Series), and Joe Lansdale (Hap and Leonard). The first and last had TV series made of their offbeat private eyes.

Into Bruen’s fifth novel The Priest at the moment, and like the previous ones I’ve discovered that each is written in media res (in the midst of things), and yet each is also as we discover in specific passages Bruen drops here in there through the series a retrospective takes on various incidents in Taylor’s life as a would-be investigator as seen after-the-fact vantage point. It’s as if each story (novel) is part of some dark imponderable curve in the life of Taylor’s sordid and pessimal self-destructive journey to the end of night (Celine). Crime fiction like its cousin noir and detective has always lent itself to both allegorical reference and self-confession, but the self being portrayed is usually the psychological man on the edge of sanity. Most of these men are broken in one way or the other, alkies or drug addicts and smokers whose habits are forms of escape from reality and themselves. In some ways most of these crime series is an inversion of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, instead of a slow movement through the darkness of life into the light we discover instead a deep turn into the darker labyrinths of some private hell where paradise is only a dream of madness rather than bliss.

It’s just the state of the game for this sub-genre. I’ve been reading this line of fiction for 55+ years, not because it deals with criminals as such but because most of the creatures within these writer’s pages are doomed losers, rejects, misfits, and scumbags beyond any hope of redemption or reprieve. And yet the men who squander their lives in these pages all seem to have a certain heroic touch of understated power, a power to understand society and themselves that seems worthy of study not so much because they offer any wisdom. No. What they offer is just life, life in the raw; the lived life that touches the base truth of the human condition without seeking some justification. It’s that above all that all these sub-genres deal with, the dark side of the human condition: the anger, rage, and despair that drives men into hellish acts of madness, rapine, and murder. There is always something unique in their despair to pull out, examine, and analyze that touches base with our own inner darkness, that teaches us not so much about the meaning of life since there is none. What it teaches us is what words cannot tell us to meet this existence on its own terms even if that brings pain, suffering, and despair.

Rereading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Rereading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

“Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol.”
—Joseph Conrad – Compete Works

The above is the first description we get of Marlowe from the outside through the narrator. In this image Marlowe seems almost aesthete, monkish and a little sickly (liver, jaundice?), posing in some meditative form as if he were a Buddhist priest. Not sure how much of an influence Thomas Hardy and his pessimistically minded novels infiltrated Conrad, but both immersed the reader in metaphysically charged landscapes of doom and gloom:

“The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.”

That image of the “mournful gloom, brooding motionless over” the city on the edge of the ocean seems to echo the Bible’s gloomy spirit hovering over creation giving birth out of chaos and nothingness. One thinks of John Milton’s brooding spirit,

“Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad’st it pregnant..”
—John Milton, Paradise Lost

This melancholy, brooding spirit of the pessimal pervades the Heart of Darkness as its inner force and Will… the dark power shaping the outer and inner forces of the characters and landscape. One thinks of the Italian poet of the pessimal, Giacomo Leopardi, who knew the Dark Will so well:

King of the real, creator of the world,
hidden malevolence, supreme power and supreme intelligence,
eternal giver of pain and arbiter of movement…
– Leopardi, Canti

Harold Bloom in his usual romantic afterglow disgruntlement with any writer who didn’t fit into his canon of the sublime said,

“Heart of Darkness may always be a critical battleground between readers who regard it as an aesthetic triumph, and those like myself who doubt its ability to rescue us from its own hopeless obscurantism. That Marlow seems, at moments, not to know what he is talking about, is almost certainly one of the narrative’s deliberate strengths, but if Conrad also seems finally not to know, then he necessarily loses some of his authority as a storyteller. Perhaps he loses it to death—our death, or our anxiety that he will not sustain the illusion of his fiction’s duration long enough for us to sublimate the frustrations it brings us.”

The frustrations are those of all who view the world not through the Bloomian sublime but through the pessimal vision of the dark will of the “purposeless purpose” that pervades the energetic cosmos of actual existence. The dark undertow of fate and destiny, chance and necessity, chaos and order working together in cyclic unison to undermine any sense of lasting sublime. Yet, even in his offhand complement to Conrad’s masterpiece Bloom reveals its strength and abiding influence:

“Heart of Darkness has taken on some of the power of myth, even if the book is limited by its involuntary obscurantism. It has haunted American literature from T.S. Eliot’s poetry through our major novelists of the era 1920 to 1940, on to a line of movies that go from Citizen Kane of Orson Welles (a substitute for an abandoned Welles project to film Heart of Darkness) on to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.” (Bloom’s Critical Views)

There are moments that work against any notion of the sublime giving us an anti-sublime that corners us in the dark abyss without any form of fact of reason, only an image like the smile of the Chesire Cat:

We had carried Kurtz into the pilot house: there was more air there. Lying on the couch, he stared through the open shutter. There was an eddy in the mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny cheeks rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted something, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless utterance.

“Do you understand this?” I asked.

He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colorless lips that a moment after twitched convulsively. “Do I not?” he said slowly, gasping, as if the words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power.

The obscurity of that smile floating over the abyss of dead bodies, the organismic world of darkness and nihil which goes against Bloom’s cheery world of Romantic Idealism where Beauty, the Good, and the Sublime live only in the fantasias of poet’s and philosopher’s minds. Instead, this is the smile of knowing, the gravitas of the doomed pulling us down into the mud and muck of the grotesquerie of existence: the base materialism of death, decay and ruin where all things must end in the entropic void, and the brooding spirit of gloom and doom pervade the duration of night’s eternity without hope or justification, nor the light of that spark by which creation first broke from nothingness.

Ancient Greeks, Shamanism, and Remote Viewing

“It was in Greece that the new religious pattern made its fateful contribution: by crediting man with an occult self of divine origin, and thus setting soul and body at odds, it introduced into European culture a new interpretation of human existence, the interpretation we call puritanical.”
—Eric R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational

“Remote viewing’s aftereffects were more than a little bit like those of a hallucinogenic drug.”
—Jim Schnabel, Remote Viewers

Various traditions of the ancient Greeks suggest as E.R. Dodd’s in his study of the Irrational that they held the ability of trance and bilocation:

“A shaman may be described as a psychically unstable person who has received a call to the religious life. As a result of his call he undergoes a period of rigorous training, which commonly involves solitude and fasting, and may involve a psychological change of sex. From this religious “retreat” he emerges with the power, real or assumed, of passing at will into a state of mental dissociation. In that condition he is not thought, like the Pythia or like a modern medium, to be possessed by an alien spirit; but his own soul is thought to leave its body and travel to distant parts, most often to the spirit world. A shaman may in fact be seen simultaneously in different places; he has the power of bilocation.”1

He speaks of Hermotimus of Clazomenae, whose soul travelled far and wide, observing events in distant places, while his body lay inanimate at home. Such tales of disappearing and reappearing shamans were sufficiently familiar at Athens for Sophocles to refer to them in the Electra without any need to mention names.
Dodds, Eric R.. The Greeks and the Irrational

A remote viewer working for the CIA in military spying tells us,

“We move like ghosts through the ether, silent and undetectable, gathering information that can’t be gathered any other way. To Al Qaeda, we are of the Djinn; to the FBI, we are Psychic Spies.”2

As another expert in the field explains it: “The term “remote viewing” was, on the surface, a sanitized, high-tech synonym for the old term “clairvoyance.” Clairvoyance, technically, was merely the ability to see things at a distance, in real time. In other words, it was a negation only of three-dimensional space. Yet Atwater, Riley, McMoneagle, and the others in the unit believed that remote viewers also could cross the fourth dimension—time.”3

The parallels between ancient shamanic notions and this military paranormal investigation termed “remote viewing” hint at aspects of our interaction with the Real / Noumenal etc. as if it were a medium through which one can like a quantum particle be in two places at once: bilocation. I think we’re still children trying to understand aspects of reality that our sciences and philosophies still do not grasp fully, and ancient religion toyed with it in the use of hallucinogens (entheogenic substances) but couched it in the fables and parables of their time to control and manipulate the tribes. Even now one can watch these silly programs on TV Ghost Hunter, etc. and see how much superstition surrounds it. It’s interesting that the top brass in both the military, CIA and other organizations didn’t care how the process worked only the results it offered them for their agendas. Either it produced results or it didn’t, that’s all that mattered to them. Pragmatic results, nothing more.

Over the years of studying occulture, magic, etc. I’ve taken a more naturalist and scientific approach to most of the history of Occultism which was always couched in pseudo-religious and mystical terms rather than in those of the naturalist perspective. I think there is some hidden medium that permeates our natural and phenomenological world that like air or ocean is invisible only because it is the greater surround of our existence, and like fish in water they only realize their enmeshed in this environment when they are thrown out of it onto dry land gulping for air. We’re the same when we imagine an astronaut stepping into space without a suit. Yet, this noumenal medium permeates even these various levels of Being through and through. So much of our classic philosophy speaks to aspects of it but with Kant it was closed off from philosophical speculation, discourse and discussion binding us to the phenomenal world that our senses come to know and leaving irrational realms of intuition to silence. I think Kant was wrong and much of current scientific endeavor along with various philosophical investigations in our contemporary world are proving him wrong and opening us to a new vision of an ancient worldview.

  1. Dodds, Eric R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) . University of California Press.
  2. John Vivanco. The Time Before the Secret Words: On the Path of Remote Viewing, High Strangeness and Zen
  3. Schnabel, Jim. Remote Viewers . Random House Publishing Group.

The Road of Excess

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”
― William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

This is one of the first things I ever memorized, and it’s stuck with me all my life. I might say it’s the guiding principle to which I subscribe. Here’s another,

“I’ve often lost myself,
in order to find the burn that keeps everything awake”
― Federico García-Lorca

I’ve lived with my manic-depressive cycles my whole life. I never ended in some institution, never took meds for it. From what I’ve read they numb you to life, close down your moods and leave you hollow inside, a zombie… Oh, sure, then you can exist, wander about in life, but what the heh… is that life? No. I’d rather live with the excess of this madness than miss the journey of existence in all its pain and suffering. I want to experience this thing not escape it. One reason I ardently disagree with Zapffe, and Ligotti is just that point. Who the fuck wants to shut down this semblance of awareness of existence? Limit its powers? So, what if it’s a mistake. I’m not the one that made it, so why should I pay for it? I’m here, now, and I’ll as Blake before me ride the tiger of excess, thank you…

As Lorca said: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’  Thus, duende is a modal power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say: ‘Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.’ Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action.” Again, Lorca: “The real struggle is with the duende…. To help us seek the duende there is neither map nor discipline. All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, that it rejects all the sweet geometry one has learned, that it breaks with all styles….” 

Cioran wallowing in his cage of despair, Ligotti closed off in his agoraphobia and solitude, all those who are fearful of existence and the strange world surrounding them with all its monstrous affects. Bullshit. I want to feel it all… let the daimon out of his cage. As Stefan Zweig in his study of the daemon in the works of Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche suggests:

It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.

Against Schopenhauer and his renunciation of the Will I have sought to affirm it in all its torment, let the daimon (duende) ride me into the monstrous madness of the noumenal surround. It’s not an easy path, and I wouldn’t even suggest it for most humans. No. I agree with most of the psychologists and all those that fear it, it is not all wonder and awe but rather a dark current of energetic power that one can never control. Its realm is not this world, and yet it is. There being no other. No beyond. No Transcendent order or separate realm of Platonic Forms-Ideas… these are all here we just do not apprehend it in actuality. I think Deleuze was on to something and knew one could not plainly state it even with the greatest finesse of philosophical conceptuality. He tried. We are creatures who can intuit it, but not know it by way of description whether of natural language or mathematics. We feel it in the dark inner hole of our being as it surges upward through us. That is all. The poet Leopardi knew the dark Will:

King of the real, creator of the world,
hidden malevolence, supreme power and supreme intelligence,
eternal giver of pain and arbiter of movement…
– Leopardi, Canti

The Death of Sonny Barker

“All things are full of weariness…”

Sheriff Beauregard Tillman is as old as the hills surrounding the small town Aniston. One looks on that mottled visage full of scars and wrinkles almost believing it’s true. Why they called him the Sundown Man was a story with a strange twist, one I’d rather forget since it brought with it memories I’d rather leave buried in the dust under a dead sun.

The Sundown Man’s impish eyes swirled in his skull like a squirrel’s nut-baked squint, a shock of fiery red hair barbed and wiry falling around his thick shoulders, and a frazzled gray beard breaking from the copper stubbed scars on his jaw all seemed to spell danger as I eyed him. He had the smug look a jackal might have as it pondered a dead carcass. For all the sparks in his eyes they were stone cold and black as a winter night as I studied them for any sign of weakness. He squatted in the dirt like a deadwood stump, waiting for an answer I’d never give. As far as I was concerned, he could wait there till hell froze over for all I cared. I didn’t give a shit one way or the other.

We both looked at the dead body before us.

“Did you know him?”

“Did I know him… does a man ever know another man?”

We both waited there in silence for a few more minutes while the crime-scene boys snapped photos and searched the mesa for any more signs of struggle or evidence. Doc Haldan was examining the body shaking his head, making notes. “This boy’s been through some rough shit,” he grunted.

I said nothing.

Sonny Barker. We went back a long way. Like most of my friends I’d met him in Jeb’s place down by the rail yard downing hot shots and telling lies about the war. We’d both served there in different regions. Life hadn’t been kind to either one of us. But that’s the way of things, isn’t it? Even love of a good woman doesn’t last. Nothing does. We live out our lives expecting things will get better as time goes on, but it never seems to work out that way; instead, things go wrong at every turn as if there were some dark power behind it all pulling the strings of our natural misery. Oh, hell, I’d been down that road too many times.

“Sonny Barker was my friend. And whoever the hell did this to him is goin’ to pay and pay dearly.”

“Now Jake,” the old sheriff gave me that look, the look that said, ‘don’t even go there, that way lies death or jail’.

“Don’t even try to stop me, Beau, Sonny was my partner, and someone did him in and I mean to find out who the hell it was so don’t you try to stop me. You here?”

“I here, ya… but I’m the law, you’re not. So don’t you dare cross the line with me on this. Do you here?”

I looked in his dark fiery eyes and could only think of one thing: My friend Sonny Barker is dead, and I’ll have my revenge on the bastard who did him in.

“Yea, I hear you, but listen up Sonny and I go way back and whoever did this to him is goin’ down and no one, not you are all the men you can muster is goin’ to stop me from finding this bastard in my own way and my own time.”

“Now, son…”

“Don’t you dare…” I barked like a rabid dog.

“Okay, Jake, okay… at least let’s do this the right way, let me deputize you for the duration, and you toe the line and report to me and keep your nose clean. Can you do that?”

Beau made sense, and I knew my anger had the best of me, I yielded, nodding in agreement. He shook my hand and motioned to one of the boys to get me a badge.


We all hide things from each other, even those we love. We make excuses to ourselves, rationalize, tell ourselves it’s for their own good. We lie to them and ourselves. Deceit and Self-deception seem the rule in life rather than the exception.

I knew Sonny held things back, had secrets. No one lives as we did without making enemies along the way. I knew that all too well. But Sonny, nah, he seemed to let things slide off him like water off a duck’s back. If not, exactly a lady’s man he had that charm that kept them coming back for more, and that’s what got him in hot water more times than one might like to admit. He had a hankering for married women, seemed to relish stealing a man’s wife for a night. He’d been in a few close calls because of it, but nothing serious even if these business types tried to threaten him with legal repercussions or something more violent. He’d just laugh about it, shrug it off, and do it again the next week. I just shook my head and tell him “One day it’s goin’ to catch up with you, buddy; one of these days.” He’d just smile.

But this was different, this wasn’t about some enraged husband out to get revenge. No. This was something much more sinister and personal. I had to get to the bottom of it, understand what Sonny had been up to in the past few months. We’d fallen out of touch for a while with my last contract job. I’d been gone for almost six months. Didn’t seem like a long time but in a small town like Aniston six months is like an eternity. What the hell had Sonny been doing with his life? Maybe Marta his ex might know something; it was worth a try. But I dreaded seeing her, dreaded the guilt it bore. There was history there, history that just went too deep under the rails between us. And, yet, I had to face it, had to forget it and move on… for Sonny’s sake.

From a crime novel I’ve been reworking for a while…

Hubert Selby Jr.

I suspect there will never be a requiem for a dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have the opportunity to mourn it’s passing.
—Hubert Selby Jr.

Hubert Selby Jr. wrote the pain of being dead while alive. He wrote of the dark corners of the American psyche where the darkness lives on in the vengeance of desperate flesh and men know only one thing: death, misery, and revenge. The people inhabiting his stories are those who remain forgotten, lost among the closed cells of crumbling ruins, decaying city streets and back alleys, neighborhood bars where old men sit silently and young men full of raunchy laughter and black spleen bark at the murderous night. Like Celine he inhabited the silences of our misery like an angel of despair touching on the brokenness of time’s immeasurable stillness where the stone eyed denizens of nothingness fold back their hollow eyes and let the madness out. The dark poetry, the rhythmic beat of life, the jazz of existence moving among the lost ones, the broken ones, the losers, dreamers, junkies, alkies, street-bums, drag-queens, and the myriad creatures whose lives constructed out of hell’s bleak world roam these pages seeking the one thing they will never find: love.  He wrote down our sorrows and our nightmares, gave us the darkness at the core of our emptiness where the light that sparks a muted hope seeks nothing more than the blessing of extinction.

Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)
The Room (1971)
The Demon (1976)
Requiem for a Dream (1979)
The Willow Tree (1999)
Waiting Period (2002)

from The Queen

“She wanted them to think he was her lover, but more than that she wanted him as her lover. Even if only once. If only that. She took another bennie with her gin and listened to the music. The Bird was playing. She tilted her head toward the radio and listened to the hard sounds piling up on each other, yet not touching, wanting to hold Vinnies hand, the strange beautiful sounds (bennie, tea and gin too) moving her to a strange romance where love was born of affection, not sex; wanting to share just this, just these three minutes of the Bird with Vinnie, these three minutes out of space and time and just stand together, perhaps their hands touching, not speaking, yet knowing … just stand complete with and for each other not as man and woman or two men, not as friends or lovers, but as two who love . . . these three minutes together in a world of beauty, a world where there wasnt even a memory of johns or punks, butch queens or Arthurs, just the now of love . . .”
—Hubert Selby. Last Exit to Brooklyn

The Abject World

The abject from which he does not cease separating is for him, in short, a land of oblivion that is constantly remembered.
—Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror

The only certain thing we know about this planet is that it is a theater of pain, suffering, and horror: crawling life, organismic life, the predation of life, the cannibalistic vat of a sun-borne festival of continuous survival, eating, sex, and death. Humanity has sought ways to deny this fact through religion, art, philosophy and every form of Transcendence. We seek to overcome the end game of mortality in dreams of immortality. In that sense my whole philosophy of existence remains with the actual and the immanence of a this-worldly thought that seeks to understand why we deny reality and the Real? I could care less about what happens before or after our existence. I only care about what happens here, now. As Earnest Becker in his last work, Escape from Evil made clear:

Existence, for all organismic life, is a constant struggle to feed-a struggle to incorporate whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, life on this planet is a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more flesh. I think this is why the epoch of the dinosaurs exerts such a strange fascination on us: it is an epic food orgy with king-size actors who convey unmistakably what organisms are dedicated to. Sensitive souls have reacted with shock to the elemental drama of life on this planet, and one of the reasons that Darwin so shocked his time-and still bothers ours-is that he showed this bonecrushing, blood-drinking drama in all its elementality and necessity: Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms. If at the end of each person’s life he were to be presented with the living spectacle of all that he had organismically incorporated in order to stay alive, he might well feel horrified by the living energy he had ingested. The horizon of a gourmet, or even the average person, would be taken up with hundreds of chickens, flocks of lambs and sheep, a small herd of steers, sties full of pigs, and rivers of fish. The din alone would be deafening. To paraphrase Elias Canetti, each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.1

“Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms”. A truism that bears repeating over and over because we as humans hide that fact from ourselves to assuage our sense of guilt and anxiety that we, too, are merely food for the organismic festival of death this planet is.  Pick up any horror novel or collection of weird tales with all their varied assortment of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mummies, demons, or elder gods, most horror relies for much of its effect on the direct collision between the natural and the unknown, between what we believe to be true about the world and what we fear may be the reality just outside our perception of it. As Lovecraft suggested long ago “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. As Eugene Thatcher, a young philosopher puts it,

I would propose that horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).2

To think the inhuman and non-human world-without-us, a realm devoid of our anthropomorphic and humanist ideals, culture, and civilization where the stark power of darkness reigns under the full blast furnace of the Sun.  As Fernando Pessoa in his The Book of Disquiet says,

I write my literature as I write my ledger entries – carefully and indifferently. Next to the vast starry sky and the enigma of so many souls, the night of the unknown abyss and the chaos of nothing making sense – next to all this, what I write in the ledger and what I write on this paper that tells my soul are equally confined to the Rua dos Douradores, woefully little in the face of the universe’s millionaire expanses.3

As Blaise Pascal a few centuries ago remarked: “Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.” We live in a sea of darkness surrounded by the innumerable stars and galaxies we may never know or see other than the distance of their light as it sheds its dead rays on us from some ancient past to which we do not have access. It’s as if everything has already happened and we are only living its death even as we live our lives, the ghosts of ancient worlds gone into the abyss haunt our daily lives like memories of forgotten dreams. We are alone in a realm we did not create much less understand of know. We question these fragments of the only reality we know and fill it with our human thoughts not knowing whether these are real or unreal.

Philosophers and scientists alike seek to provide us answers to the ultimate questions about existence to assuage our pain and suffering. Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Lao tzu, Confucius, Zarathustra, and so many ancient bearers of the ‘truth’ belabored the miracle of life offering in poetry or speech that various parables and ideas that now fill thousands of volumes of commentary on the religious and sacred ways of existence. For a little over two-hundred years we in the West have sought above all to escape this religious world of our ancestors in a secular and atheistic worldview based strictly on the ‘human condition’ of being animals in an organic and anorganic cosmos.

Some thinkers on horror opt for a biological view such as Mathias Clasen in his Why Horror Seduces claiming that “horror fiction is crucially dependent on evolved properties of the human central nervous system, and thus that a nuanced and scientifically valid understanding of horror fiction requires that we take human evolutionary history seriously.”4 Others like Brad Baumgartner see horror as an apophatic anti-mysticism, one in which unlike “traditional mystics, horror writers do not seek union with the divine.” He goes on to suggest that in horror we find a “logic of negation” which “in relation to the horror of reality” we find a “horror effectuated by our alienation from absolute unreality, horror’s analog to the medieval mystic’s God.” (4) He discovers in certain contemporary weird horror authors like Thomas Ligotti a “dark mysticism”: we find a perverse darkness mysticism: always already living in immanent darkness, a state of, we might call, noct(e)rnity, there is nothing to “wake up” to, and even if there were, it wouldn’t be worth waking up for it.” (4) In this kind of horror as Baumgartner suggests we discover a horror fiction that “deploys apophatic techniques in order to describe negatively the indescribable.” (3)

We all know and see, feel and touch the phenomenal world around us, our sciences can describe the most distant galaxies and peer into the heart of the quantum void and tell us about the quarks and “Higgs Bosun” or so-to-speak “God Particle”. But there is something else, something we ‘intuit’ at the edge of this phenomenal world we inhabit, something we know is there but that we cannot apprehend through our sense only through the intuition of our minds. Kant labeled it the noumenal and just as quickly made it off-limits to science and philosophy. It became a blank placeholder for all that which lies outside reason and our ability to describe in natural language or mathematics. And, yet it persists in the dark hollows of our deepest imaginings, our expressions in art, painting, music, and the various threads of superstition, religious, and sacred realms long abandoned to the mystic fringe.

Another thinker of horror speaking to one of H.P. Lovecraft’s many tales states that the main character is caught in a ‘liminal state’ of ontological paradoxes, one that invites the “reader to question the boundary between life and death, human and non-human, consciousness and world, spirit and matter. What seems to be a story about speculative technology turns out to be a story that is also about speculative metaphysics, about the possibility of some horrific vitalism, life sustained by the power of the will rather than the operation of organs. Such philosophical speculations are not illustrated using the dry, detached tone of the metaphysician, however, but with expostulations of growing repugnance…”6 That disgust might be central to horror of the unknown and our fear and dread of both the underlying truth of our organic life and the strange and bewildering powers that seem forever impinging on us from the Outside in is central to a certain mode of being in the world. As Newell states it many of us “dwell with both disgust and fascination upon things beyond the limit of thought: what it is like to be dead, what happens to consciousness after death and the mystery of thinking matter. Such stories are speculative portals, vortices through which realities otherwise unthinkable might be imagined. They seek to propel readers vertiginously into the realm of the unknown.” (9-10)

The ‘realm of the unknown’, the ‘noumenal’, the void of the immaterial realm that seems to float between the real and irreal, reality and unreality. Philosophers have argued over Kant’s notion of the noumenal from the beginning. There isn’t any agreement among them as to what he meant by this strange concept. My recent excursion into Deleuze demonstrates this in that for him Kant’s noumenon is internal to the phenomenal. For Deleuze, the noumenal is the being of the sensible, and can only be encountered or intuited, not represented. This goes with Deleuze’s anti-representational philosophy which harbors an attack on all forms of Transcendence opting instead for an absolute ‘univocity’ (Spinoza) which relies on a pure ‘plane of immanence’:

The process of encounter which forces us to think is not a sensible being, but the being of the sensible. It is not what is given, but that by which the given is given. The encounter is forced into the sensible realm by intensity. Intensity is real, but insensible in terms of representation, unthinkable in terms of concepts. The real transcendental condition of the given is the virtual Idea, within which intensities flow and surge. Conceptual thought is not applied to already given objects, but instead, thought is forced on us in the encounter. The virtual Idea refers to the genetic and temporal process of pure difference based in intensity. There is no external conditioning of the object of experience, but only internal generation and determination of the real object. There is no duality between concept and given.7

One could almost suggest a parallel between Kant’s distinction between phenomenal / noumenal and Deleuze’s distinction between actual / virtual. He derived the notion of Virtual from Bergson:

…from Time and Free Will, wherein Bergson distinguishes the subjective and the objective, appears to be all the more important insofar as it is the first to introduce indirectly the notion of the virtual. This notion of the virtual will come to play an increasingly important role in Bergsonian philosophy.12 For, as we shall see, the same author who rejects the concept of possibility – reserving a use for it only in relation to matter and to closed systems, but always seeing it as the source of all kinds of false problems – is also he who develops the notion of the virtual to its highest degree and bases a whole philosophy of memory and life on it. (43) 8

In another passage Deleuze remarks on Bergson’s use of the virtual: “What Bergson calls “pure recollection” has no psychological existence. This is why it is called virtual, inactive, and unconscious.” (55) For Deleuze then the virtual is about the pure ontology of time and recollection: “Strictly speaking, the psychological is the present. Only the present is “psychological”; but the past is pure ontology; pure recollection has only ontological significance.”(56) This notion of time, ontology, and recollection all develop in Deleuze metaphysical system of difference and repetition:  “It is a case of there being distinct levels, each one of which contains the whole of our past, but in a more or less contracted state. It is in this sense that one can speak of the regions of Being itself, the ontological regions of the past “in general,” all coexisting, all “repeating” one another.” (61). Deleuze will speak of the ‘virtual coexistence’ of all the levels of the past, of all the levels of tension, extended to the whole of the universe: “This idea no longer simply signifies my relationship with being, but the relationship of all things with being. Everything happens as if the universe were a tremendous Memory.” (77)

It’s as if each of us harbors within ourselves the memory of the universe because the whole of this virtual past, the ontological vectors of everything that has ever happened, exists in a virtual state of coexistence in a virtual memory that we can recollect. “This extension of virtual coexistence to an infinity of specific durations stands out clearly in Creative Evolution, where life itself is compared to a memory, the genera or species corresponding to coexisting degrees of this vital memory.” (77) In fact, as Deleuze suggests, Bergson’s notion of simultaneity exposes an ontology of time as singular and one (monism): “The Bergsonian theory of simultaneity thus tends to confirm the conception of duration as the virtual coexistence of all the degrees of a single and identical time.” (85)

Deleuze will ask the question: What does Bergson mean when he talks about elan vital? “It is always a case of a virtuality in the process of being actualized, a simplicity in the process of differentiating, a totality in the process of dividing up: Proceeding “by dissociation and division,” by “dichotomy,” is the essence of life.” (94) So, life is this process by which the virtual is actualized through absolute differentiation and division, or difference and repetition. We are immersed in the virtual even as we as creatures of the actual live out our lives in obliviousness to its hold on our minds and bodies. It is the virtual that sustains us and immerses us int he dark memories of Time which impinge on us through dreams, visions, and lucid light of hallucinogens. The horror of the world arises out of this virtual realm where the mythical structures that support us reside like so many demons or daemons awakening us to the dread and terror of the unknown.

It’s as if there is something in this past, in the ontological spaces of Time’s dark virtual chambers that we have forgotten or repressed and need in our collective imaginings to remember and make ‘real’ or ‘actual’ again in our lives to become whole in our becoming. The late Mark Fisher in his small book The Weird and the Eerie asks: “Does not any real rejection of civilisation not entail a move into schizophrenia — a shift into an outside that cannot be commensurated with dominant forms of subjectivity, thinking, sensation?”9

Is this not the virtual continuum?  As Fisher surmises: “The place beyond the mortifications of the Symbolic is not only the space of an obscene, non-linguistic “life”, but also where everything deadened and dead goes, once it has been expelled from civilisation. “This is where I threw the dead things…” Beyond the living death of the Symbolic is the kingdom of the dead: “It was below me, drifting towards me from the furthest level where there was no life, a dark oval trailing limbs. It was blurred but it had eyes, they were open, it was something I knew about, a dead thing, it was dead.” (102) We are caught in the dualistic trap of believing we are physical creatures born of matter (mother). We are bound to the oragnic treadmill of “birth, growth, maturity, decay, and death” as if this were all of it. Stuck in this soup of vital organicism we either seek a way out through some notion of Transcendence, or a more fantastic way in through Cyborgisation and merger with our machinic children or by way of enhancement dreams of genetic engineering. Whether of the older religious forms of immortality or the newer Transhuman forms offering a this-worldly immortality we seek to stay our existence against the notion of finitude.

For Fisher the weird and eerie were about the Outside, the great Unknown: “The allure that the weird and the eerie possess is not captured by the idea that we “enjoy what scares us”. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.” (8) We seem to intuitively grasp that there is something else, something more that we are mission or that surges within us reminding us of this greater reality we’ve been cut-off from. Much of the occulture surrounding the weird, eerie, and strange is just this sense of something we know but cannot grasp with our senses. A knowing that is a non-knowledge of things as they are rather than as they appear to us. Again, as Fisher tells it: “the weird is constituted by a presence — the presence of that which does not belong. In some cases of the weird is marked by an exorbitant presence, a teeming which exceeds our capacity to represent it. The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing or there is nothing present when there should be something.” (61) In both instances there is this inability to represent this presence or absence in the weird and eerie.

Everything actual, everything that common sense and the sciences deal with is representable. We live in a natural world and our culture is based on the naturalist ideology and belief that we can through our minds and technologies access and describe this world in all its ramifications. We have this deep-seated need to control and master our world through scientific know-how and philosophical truth. Our fear is that this may not be all there is, that there may be something just outside the frame we cannot access or reference. This dread at the heart of the human that we are surrounded by forces we will never control or master. This is the Outside, the Noumenal, the Thing-in-itself, the Virtual… The Abject World.

  1. Becker, Earnest. Escape from Evil. Free Press; Reissue edition (March 1, 1985)
  2. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 (p. 8). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Fernando Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet. Penguin UK. 1998
  4. Clasen, Mathias. Why Horror Seduces (p. 4). Oxford University Press. 2017.
  5. Baumgartner, Brad. Weird Mysticism (Critical Conversations in Horror Studies) (p. 3). Lehigh University Press.
  6. Newell, Jonathan. A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror (Horror Studies) (p. 9). University of Wales Press.
  7. Byrne, Thomas. Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism, Part 2. Dec 29, 2021 <;
  8. Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism.
  9. Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie (p. 100). Watkins Media. Kindle Edition.

Finished Peter Hallward’s ‘Out of this World’ on Deleuze’s Philosophy

Few philosophers have been as inspiring as Deleuze. But those of us who still seek to change our world and to empower its inhabitants will need to look for our inspiration elsewhere.
—Peter Hallward, Out of this World

Peter Hallward in his conclusion to Out of this World that for Deleuze the important thing in any philosophy is the “question”, and that in Deleuze’s philosophy “is itself guided by a single question, the question of absolute creation, elaborated through the distinction of actual creatures and virtual creatings.” (159) Along with that are all the various threads of this question:

“Deleuze’s tireless engagement with this question allows him to accomplish a good many things. Negatively, it allows him to mount an uncompromising assault on notions of representation, of interiority, of interpretation, of mediation, of figuration, and so on. It allows him to avoid any inane reverence for the other as much as for the sel£ Positively, it allows him to revive a classical (or non-Kantian, non-critical) tradition of metaphysics. It allows him to embrace an unabashedly ‘inhuman’ philosophical naturalism. It allows him to think artistic and conceptual innovation in dramatically cosmological terms. It allows him to embrace a univocal and wholly affirmative conception of thought without collapsing the difference between subtraction and extinction. It allows him to acknowledge that whatever genuinely acts, thinks or creates is less the work of an individual than of forces that work through the individual – that every cogito masks a deeper cogitor. It allows him, in short, to make the single most compelling contribution to an immanent understanding of creative thought since Spinoza.” 159-160)

There is a great deal to absorb in this work and Deleuze’s. Hallward obviously champions a reading of Deleuze as the philosopher of absolute difference and repetition: absolute creativity and creation. A marriage of Spinoza-Leibniz-Nietzsche-Bergson in which Deleuze extracted the main questions from each and thereby affirming the creative conceptuality of each in his own virtual creations of concepts in an ongoing repetition by difference. His main enemy is Kant rather than Plato, only differing from Plato in his two-world theoretic in Transcendence. Deleuze accepts Plato’s Ideas-Forms but as movement and dynamic and virtual aspects of an ongoing immanence in a process of eternal return of difference rather than the Same and Identical. This process entails a movement of creativity and creation in a cycle of the Event as it moves through the Virtual to the Actual and by recorso back throug a counter-actualization into a new level of the Virtual changed and continuously mutating through the various forms.

As if in answer to Hannah Arendt’s separation of the vita activa (active life) as contrasted with the vita contemplativa (contemplative life) Hallward opts for a reading of Deleuze as devoid of any relational philosophy that is attached to the actual in politics or life, opting for a non-relational perspective from the stance of the Virtual and Contemplative. Speaking of Deleuze’s vitalism (along with his friend, Guattari):

“Vitalism, they explain, can be conceived either in terms of ‘an Idea that acts but is not, and that acts therefore only from · the point of view of an external cerebral knowledge; or of a force that is but does not act, and which is therefore a pure internal Feeling [Sentir]’. Deleuze and Guattari embrace this second interpretation, they choose Leibnizian being over Kantian act, precisely because it disables action in favour of contemplation.” (163)

All in all, it’s well worth the read even if there are aspects of its conclusions I disagree with and find a little too far afield of Deleuze’s actual involvement with the actual and the world we live in. Hallward seems bent of his own agenda which seems closer to Badiou than Deleuze and it binds him to a perspective that is a little too Platonic to me and not enough Deleuze. But we all have our quirks… 🙂

Time, Nietzsche, and The Eternal Return

“…if it is to be absolute, creation must proceed immediately and all at once, at a literally infinite speed. Bergson (creation as it evolves) points Deleuze in the first direction, Spinoza (creation sub specie aeternitatis) in the second. Deleuze needs a theory of time that allows him to square this circle, and he claims to have found it in a version of Nietzsche’s eternal return.”
(Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 146).

Hallward will break down the various forms of Time in Deleuze: Actual (Creatural time), Chronos (history time), Aion (Virtual time of events):

“In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze charts the shift from creatural to creative time via three successive syntheses. The first establishes the apparent primacy of the present and the actual.

The first establishes the apparent primacy of the present and the actual. … A second and deeper synthesis then combines present and past through the passing of the present. … The third and final synthesis involves, by contrast, the immediacy of an absolute creation that affirms and implicates the whole of time in a single moment. This is a time that presents itself as pure and empty form, ‘time freed from the events which made up its content [ … ]. Time itself unfolds instead of things unfolding within it’ (DR, 88).”
(Out of this World: 147).

On Nietzsche’s Eternal Return in Deleuze:

“Against Hegel, Nietzsche provides Deleuze with his chief philosophical resource for thinking creative time. What Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal return allows Deleuze to say; in a nutshell, is that only differings or creatings have being.4° Creatings return, creatures do not – or rather, what returns of a creature is its creating alone. ‘Return is the being ef that which becomes. Return is the being of becoming itself, the being which is affirmed in becoming. ’41 Eternal return is the most radical and uncompromising version of Deleuze’s most general conviction – that only creatings are.” (149). He quotes Deleuze:

“The eternal return is said only [ . .. ] ·of the pure intensities of that Will which are like mobile individuating factors unwilling to allow themselves to be contained within the factitious limits of this or that individual, this or that Self Eternal return expresses the common being of all these metamorphoses, the measure and common being of all that is extreme [ … ]. In all these respects, eternal return is the univocity of being, the effective realisation of that univocity. In the eternal return, univocal being is not only thought and even affirmed, but effectively realised.” (149-150)

He continues the explication: “All that is actual or creatural comes into existence but never is: it exists and then passes away, never to return. Created individuals occur only once, once and for all, and are ‘thereafter eliminated for all times’ (DR, 300). Only creatings return, since creatural forms are not forms of being but forms in which being is suspended or cancelled.” (150) … “Eternal return affrrms every event in a single event: ‘returning is everything but everything is affirmed in a single moment [ . .. ]. The complete formula of affrrmation is: the whole, yes, universal being, yes, but universal being ought to belong to a single becoming, the whole ought to belong to a single moment’ (NP, 72).” (150).


In physics which deals with the actual I think of that compressed point in which all the forces of time and space emerged out of the virtual beginning full formed and expanding like a blast furnace with every particle all at once creating the very universe in which we all live. Some cosmologists affirm the notion that everything will at some point fall back into that singular compressed point and repeat the gesture. Lucretius offered such a surmise but interjected the concept of the ‘swerve’ a form of that ‘difference that makes a difference’ (i.e., infinite creativity and creation) of change and difference – never to repeat in the exact way the process that is itself infinitely repeatable.

Hallward will conclude:

“The process of eternal return is thus less a conventionally temporal dynamic than a principle of ontological discrimination. The function of return is ‘never to identify but to authenticate’, i.e. to serve as a principle of ‘creative selection’. The primary purpose of return is to distinguish once and for all between active and reactive aspects of being. Return separates superior or absolute forms of affrrmation from more measured or moderate ones -more precisely, ‘the words “separate” or “extract” are not even adequate [ … ], since the eternal return creates the superior forms’ (DI, 124-5).” (150).

I think of modern cosmologists who speak of a Bubble Universe. The notion that we are but one universe floating on the plane of Being among an infinite ocean of other universes, each part of a selective process that is ongoing and never-ending. Infinite creation in a realm whose telos is ‘purposeless purpose’, the unfolding of infinite time into the selective spaces of creativity.

Noumenal Voyagers: Deterritorialisation Is Not Easy

“The further that Deleuze and Guattari strive to go in the direction of absolute deterritorialisation the more carefully they multiply such ‘practical warnings’.” (Peter Hallward)

This passage on the praxis of Deleuze-Guattari in their understanding of the noumenal voyages of schizosrealism reminded me of Rimbaud, Artaud, Nijinsky, and so many others who ended in the madhouse; and, yet, others remained, entered the noumenal whole and free. But there are warnings for those who would dare to push through the barriers:

“‘Every undertaking of destratification must observe concrete rules of extreme caution: a too-sudden destratification may be suicidal’ (TP, 503)’. If deterritorialisation is too brutal, too abrupt or too precocious it may simply sap a creature’s strength – Deleuze and Guattari cite ‘the case of chaffinches that have been isolated too early, whose impoverished, simplified song expresses nothing more than the resonance of the black hole in which they are trapped’ (TP, 334). A similar fate awaits those who misjudge their effort to break through the schizophrenic wall or limit and thereby doom themselves to confinement in an asylum – silent, immobile, caught in a sterile psychosis (AO, 1 36).”

—Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 99

A personal note:

I’ve always known there was a fine line between entering the noumenal zones and being fried by them, navigating their strangeness with a mind whole and readied by long experiential praxis. After decades of experimenting with various psychedelics in my younger years the realms of schizorealism, psychosis – whatever term you want to append to it – one begins to register its perceptive effects on a different level of apprehension. Those who are truly ill free-fall into it and never come back, their minds fractured beyond repair or recall. The ancient shamans and others learned to map it and discover the rules that would keep one fiercely alive to the blast furnace of intensive power of that zone without being torn to shreds in the melting flames. No one will ever be able to transmit from that realm to this one a description that would make sense. One can read the literature of the mad, as well as those who have had “trips” using various psychedelics (entheogens) to enter this realm of being. I guess the best transform we have is the lucid dream or nightmare with a fully awakened mind. This is the realm where our darkest fears and terrors come alive. All the mythological beings of the human mind exist in this other realm in the surround of our noumenal existence. It’s not for any reason that we have closed ourselves off from its power for so many millennia. Very few have the strength and power within to traverse those dimensions of existence. Indigenous people across the planet understand the powers of plants, know the ancient lineage of this opening out to the noumenal (by whatever name they term it in their singular ways). We in the West are like children who have lost the keys to a world we are only beginning to rediscover through so many turnings and returning’s. Reading this work shows me that even those like Deleuze and Guattari were beginning to reemerge into this and tap into the worlds of the noumenal surround. To bring the Outside in is to enter the realms of the Dead Alive.

As Hallward explicates it: “”Deleuze and Guattari seek to harness the death drive to a ‘veritable institutional creativity’, the vehicle of a generalised depersonalisation. The death of the self clears the way for a new, still unlived and unlivable living. … Deleuze will define a philosopher precisely as a person who can endure this substitution in its most extreme form. Through the exemplary death that is lived by any philosopher, ‘the absolute inside and the absolute outside enter into contact, an inside deeper than all the sheets of past, an outside more distant than all the layers of external reality [ .. .]. The philosopher has returned from the dead and goes back there. This has been the living formulation of philosophy since Plato’ (C2, 208-9).” (Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 92).

A New Eschatology: Schizorealism and Absolute Deterritorialisation

“Deleuze and Guattari are the first to admit that they have little to add to Marx’s description of this actual sequence. What they add is a new eschatology. The absolute limit to the de-coding of all values, the evacuation of every territory is a value or event beyond any conceivable presentation. The subject that may survive the dissolution of every presentable or actual subject will be an exclusively virtual or supra-historical subject – a nomadic or schizophrenic subject, one worthy of the end of history or the end of actuality. It’s in this sense that, beyond capital’s limit, schizophrenia is ‘the end of history’ (AO, 130). By striving to reach the ‘furthest limit of deterritorialisation’, Deleuze and Guattari’s as-yet-unseen schizophrenic ‘seeks out the very limit of capitalism: he is its inherent tendency brought to fulfilment’, and thereby incarnates the very ‘becoming of reality’ itself (AO, 35).” (Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 103).


‘.Artaud is the fulfilment of literature, precisely because he is a schizophrenic’ [Against Oedipus, 1 35]).

A work of art should be productive, an engine of creation, not an object one contemplates but a trigger that opens one to the noumenal intensity of reality. Unbinding one’s being from the phenomenal prison it awakens one to the pure immensity of existence in motion and light. The schizorealist is that noumenal voyager who retrieves from the time’s memories those movements from the Outside which unbind us from our sleep in history. “Art’s privilege stems precisely from its higher impersonality, its more radical power of abstraction, its ability to transcend, without abandoning the logic of sensation, the scientific plane of mere reference and actuality.” But here is the nub, the dark truth of the Schizorealist Artist:

“There is nothing comforting about such experience, and there are good reasons why most people, most of the time, do all they can to avoid the traumatic depersonalisation and defamiliarisation demanded by art. In the interests of order and security, people normally take shelter from the creative chaos that is forever raging ‘over their heads’ under a comforting conceptual ‘umbrella, on the underside of which they draw a firmament and write their conventions and opinions’. But artists and writers ‘make a slit in the umbrella, they tear open the firmament itself, to let in a bit of free and windy chaos and to frame in a sudden light a vision that appears through the rent’. Without ever plunging us directly into the black hole of chaos itself, art lends consistency to the searing bolts of creativity that tear through us, through anyone and everyone.” (Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 108-109).

Reading Peter Hallward’s ‘Out of this World’ on Deleuze

Reading Peter Hallward’s ‘Out of this World’ on Deleuze. I’ll post a few quotes and notes in this area as I read the work.

“But as we shall see, the affirmation of an expressive or creative immanence does not so much eliminate the question of transcendence as distribute it throughout creation as a whole: rather than reserved for that which exceeds creation or orients it towards its limit, an immanent conception of creativity will assign the task of self-transcendence to its every creature. Every actual creature will have as its particular task the development of its own counter- . actualisation or self-transcendence, the process whereby it may become an adequate vehicle for the creating which sustains and transforms it.”
– Peter Hallward, Out of this World

Sometimes when I read Deleuze I think not of Spinoza but of Schopenhauer’s Will-to-life – this dark vitalism of the daimonic ‘blind idiot god’ etc. More from the Gnostic overturning and reversal of Neo-Platonic thought shaping an absolute immanence. The Gnostics of course sought a literal escape from the evil material creation, whereas Deleuze seems to see creation more under the Greek light of harmony and pure creativity. Only suggesting that we are trapped in a metaphysical prison of our own making rather than some literal realm of material enslavement. There are always nuances to any reading of Deleuze. There’s always a lot to agree and disagree with Deleuze, he was a complex thinker and well versed in the traditions so that any discussion of his work will always remain open to interpretation and variation. That’s the mark of genius that we can read and reread his works and change our views as we change.


“Deleuze equates being with unlimited creativity. This means that all actual beings exist as facets of a single productive energy or force. An infinitely creative force expresses itself through an infinitely differentiated creation.”
–Peter Hallward, Out of this World

Here is Schopenhauer:

“Will is the thing–in– itself, the inner content, the essence of the world. Life, the visible world, the phenomenon, is only the mirror of the will. Therefore life accompanies the will as inseparably as the shadow accompanies the body ; and if will exists, so will life, the world, exist. Life is, therefore, assured to the will to live ; and so long as we are filled with the will to live we need have no fear for our existence, even in the presence of death.”

It seems both thinkers have a monistic system in which a singular force manifests itself through all creation. There are plenty of differences, and yet this very notion of an abiding impersonal force of creativity is there in each.
Deleuze will lean on Spinoza and Bergson rather than Schopenhauer-Kant for his influencers.


Speaking of Deleuze’s fusion of Spinoza/Bergson substance and time:

“All existent individuals are simply so many divergent facets of one and the same creative force, variously termed desire or desiring-production, life, elan vital, power. Since nothing can transcend it, creative ‘immanence is immanent only to itself and consequently captures everything, absorbs All-One, and leaves nothing remaining to which it could be immanent’ (WP, 45).”
–Peter Hallward, Out of this World

This sense of the dynamism of this Will-to-creativity much like all the variations of the voluntarist tradition from Augustine onward is this unique immanent power at the core of being which following Parmenides unites ‘being and thinking’ not in some static or frozen field but in a dynamic ongoing processual creation without end.


“Properly understood, all of reality is precisely act rather than thing, production rather than product. Reality is the deployment of movings rather than a collection of moved things. What we choose to perceive and then represent of such a movement, however, is precisely a matter of our representation and not of reality itself.”
— Peter Hallward, Out of this World

I remember reading in Harold Bloom’s Agon: “As a mythological comparison, rather than a scientific analogy, the Gnostic contrast between psyche and pneuma lends itself to Jonas’s Heideggerian distinction between an orthodox or Platonic concept of being, the psyche, and a Gnostic concept of happening, the pneuma. Being is static; happening, or movement, leads to a difference: “ The knowledge is of a history, in which it is itself a critical event” (Jonas).”

This notion can as well be found in Lucretius’s ‘swerve’ which as well is a “movement that produces difference” as compared to Heraclitus static concept of Being.



“After experience had taught me the hollowness and futility of everything that is ordinarily encountered in daily life, and I realised that all the things which were the source and object of my anxiety held nothing of good or evil in themselves save insofar as the mind was influenced by them, I resolved at length to enquire whether there existed a true good, one which was capable of communicating itself and could alone affect the mind to the exclusion of all else, whether, in fact, there was something whose discovery and acquisition would afford me a continuous and supreme joy to all eternity.’
–Spinoza, Treatise on the Emmendation of the Intellect


Hallward on Deleuze’s thoughts concerning the ‘human condition’ or our flight from reality into delusion-illusion:

“This is the whole drama of the human condition (and it is why philosophy must adopt, as its essential task, the orientation .of thought beyond this condition). But although it is a mistake and an illusion, this condition is a supremely well-founded illusion. Our tendency to misunderstand ourselves and the nature of reality, for instance to treat as divisible that which is in reality indivisible, is not the result of a simple oversight or laziness. This tendency is built into the way we have evolved, the way we habitually are, the way we have adapted to the material pressures of life. The way we live obscures the reality of life. We are a facet of reality that is organised in such a way as to be ignorant of what it is. And most philosophy is doomed to incoherence because it seeks to ground an understanding of reality upon this very ignorance, i.e. upon the conditions of our habitual experience. As Deleuze will conclude, ‘all our false problems derive from the fact that we do not know how to go beyond experience toward the conditions of experience, toward the articulations of the real [du reeW (B, 26).”
— Peter Hallward, Out of this World

After rereading Earnest Becker began reading Peter Hallward on Deleuze confirming this basic ploy of humans in their ‘escape from reality’, along with his acknowledgment that ‘all our false problems derive from the fact that we do not know how to go beyond experience toward the conditions of experience, toward the articulations of the real [du reeW (B, 26) seems apropos.


Obviously, I don’t buy into Hallward’s notion that philosophy – and, by extension, Deleuze’s thought – is some kind of mystic path out of time and matter. But this seems to be his reading of Deleuze as Mystic Philosopher:

“Philosophy will thus complete the human adventure by escaping it, and in the process it will offer creative spirit a way out of its material exile. Philosophy will be the discipline that creativity requires, and invents, so as to continue along its most intensive (most creative, most spiritual or immaterial) path. Philosophy is the vehicle through which spirit can escape its necessary confinement in matter.”
(Out of this World, p. 20).

This is to turn Deleuze’s Philosophy of Pure Immanence into a mystic soup of transcendence which is something almost opposite of my own thought on Deleuze. Matter is not some static thing, this is the mechanist view of matter as dead, etc. Matter is dynamic and energetic and is in essence absolute energy as Einstein surmised and Quantum Physics has shown over and over. Our universe is a dynamism of chaotica, particles emerging and fading back into nothingness (but even this nothingness is a figure of something we as yet do not know or understand – a boundary zone wherein our tools ands sciences cannot delve). To me this whole notion of ‘spirit’ against matter spells dualistic nonsense. It’s the old two-world metaphysics of Plato not Deleuze’s notions of pure immanence. Hallward’s reading seems ludicrous so far… he is turning Deleuze into an inheritor of Plato rather than his enemy. In my reading Deleuze’s main enemy was Plato, and his philosophy is above all monist and seeks against Plato to stick with this world rather than escape it in some mystic flight out of reality and the Real. There is no ‘other’ world, only this one made whole. We as humans sought to escape reality and developed a system of defenses against the terror of the Real. As T.S. Eliot suggested: “Humans cannot bear too much reality!” As my recent reading of Earnest Becker demonstrates, the central insight into the ‘human condition’ by the tradition psychoanalyses is the human inability to face the world as it ‘is’ which forced them into deception, self-deception, and flight into illusion-delusion. Our culture(s) and civilization(s) across the planet were developed as systems of safety and security against the terror of the world.

We know that those who we term insane are those who were unable to develop the socialization processes that parental and cultural inculcation and education demand as normalcy. The madness of these individuals is that they know and see the world as it is, living in psychosis of various stages unable to cope with its intensity. Normality is the development of ‘character armor’ that protects the psyche and mind from the blast furnace of the Real. What Deleuze and others have sought is not a flight out of the Real but a more vulnerable opening into its realms. How to break away from the false world of the ‘Human Security System’ developed in collusion with evolution against reality and the Real. How to develop a path forward rather than a return to pre-Critical thought on madness and the truth of our psychotic reality. How to break with the metaphysics that binds us in deception and become a part of the dynamism of the universe ‘as it is’, this is the central problem to which Deleuze searched the varied sources of our philosophies for an answer. His philosophy is a part of this journey.


Personal Digression:

Let’s face it most of my own thought grew out of my conflicts with my early right-wing culture of the Bible Belt Christian evangelical worldview. My entry into the secular-atheist humanism of my twenties came out of my confrontation with war in Viet Nam and the breakup at the age of thirteen of my parents’ divorce. My own reality suddenly awakened to the nightmare of existence that our culture has created in its socialization processes to the point that we are now in a civil war of the mind in the West. At the core of it is this battle for thousands of years between various forms of transcendence vs. immanence.

The history of this conflict has barely been scratched, and only its formulation in philosophical speculation attempted so far. But that truly is part of this Time War vector to which Nick Land’s mad musing led as well. Sure, he pushed into the psychotic realm and brought back some interesting tidbits, but he did not go far enough. He like many before him broke down rather than had a breakthrough, his physical life deteriorating through the very ‘amphetamine gods’ he imaginatively wrote about. His use of abstraction and drugs led not to a healthy break with our socialization but into the dark side of the psychotic illness we see in so many creative individuals.

I know this because I went through all this sixty years ago, a long process of what the ancients termed “healer, heal thyself!”. Once the process stops one either pushes through it completely and comes out the other side or one fails. Most fail, but we can learn from their failures and like Zizek – himself a depressive psychotic – have the ‘courage of our hopelessness’ and push through into a greater sense of our world. Against Becker there is nothing heroic about this, there is no grand self-purging or cathartic enmeshing and release from the affective terror; there is just the quite truth of reality and the Real, and our awakening to its full intensity with an openness and vulnerability. To be free is to live in the chaosmos of full-blown psychosis. But this is not a simple thing to do, and there is no simple path into it.

But like anyone this is only a partial triumph, none of us can live this continually, we all return to this other domain of normalcy otherwise we could not communicate our travels and journeys into the Real. Nothing new here that the ancients did not already know. We are only updating the same knowledge and experience in the metaphors and concepts of our age. Nothing more.


Here is Hallward waxing on about Bergson’s influence on Deleuze,

“This is why the philosopher and the mystic occupy such a privileged place at the summit of Bergson’s hierarchical cosmology. Material obstacles have forced the evolution of spiritual life into myriad divergent channels, and in most of these channels living creativity has eventually run dry. But if the story of evolution as Bergson tells it is the story of compromises life has been forced to make with and in matter, the climax of that story is precisely the moment when, with humanity, conscious life invents a form that is finally capable of bypassing all material, organic, social or intellectual obstruction – a form through which it might advance on a purely spiritual plane.”

Reading that I want to say bullshit. Again, this conception of material and organic existence as suffering, pain, and something to be overcome, transcended through some mystic realization and nirvana like transcension. Bunk. We live in an energetic cosmos from which we constructed a safe haven and security system to protect us from its intensive powers. We do not need to escape into some ‘elsewhere’ some beatific realm or dimension or heaven of Transcendence. No. We need to break down the walls we’ve built against reality, the repressive mechanisms so well documented by Freud and his pupils. The reentry into the Real is the journey into a full blow psychosis of health rather than fear and terror. It’s not some simple journey but a long and arduous undertaking, undermining all the threads of enculturation we’ve undergone for thousands of years in this two-world mythology of Transcendence.

Personal Digression:

I know I wasn’t going to speak of the Indic Civilization not being born, raised, and nourished in its culture and religious worlds I can only speak of it as an outsider. Even though I was immersed in the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle or Modest Vehicle) and Mahayana (Greater Vehicle or Vast Vehicle) originating in The Prajnaparamita Sutras through my Martial Arts Master back in my twenties, and after a lifetime of study in both the Chinese and Korean variants of the Norther Shaolin Mantis forms etc. under that master for fifteen years I have as most Westerners a bare minimal understanding of the complexities of that social, psychological, and powerful tradition(s).

But I do know they are far ahead of us in their understanding of this dilemma of the dualism/monism of our metaphysical quandaries on Transcendence vs. Immanence. Even the notions of Samsara and Nirvana deal with the ‘impure mind’ vs. ‘pure mind’ that sees this world in both its corrupted version of our ‘escaping reality’ and our unfolding and awakening into the Real (a Western term I use instead of Nirvana). I can’t begin to explicate all these ideas, concepts, affective relations that have for centuries been handed down from Buddha his disciples, pupils, and the various schools. Much less speak of Bodhidharma, Milarepa, and so many others…  But just to say they do know.

Even in martial arts one is taught by demonstration rather than mind, one is fully immersed in the physical forms, the motions and movements of the various styles of the Shaolin schools of the natural animal and insectoid worlds they studied so carefully. One becomes animal once again… but this is not a return but a movement in as it were to the core of one’s own animalness. It’s not about control, but freedom; the movement of this force of ‘chi’ (i.e., this vital force, Will-to-life, elan vital, etc.) that is impersonal and works through all things organic and anorganic. It’s not some form of mysticism or metaphysical path, but a very real physical process of coming to know the world-as-it-is through the study of these forms developed over centuries of mastery.

In ancient China the masters of these various forms would yearly come together and fight to the death to show forth their mastery of the inner core of their physical and mental disciplines. The natural order is not kind, but full of conflict, struggle, and suffering. Most seek to deny it, escape it, fly from its dark powers of fear and terror. It will not go away. It is. These masters knew all too well what existence is. Lived it, forming powerful tools to free mind and body to allow the Outside in – let the force of ‘chi’ center them in the current of this energetic cosmos.


“Although it can never be given or presented, since the virtual (idea, problem, event, statement, concept … ) is what accounts for the individuation of a given entity or situation, adequately to know this entity or situation is to know it in its virtual dimension alone. The actual per se just gets in the way of such knowledge. To know reality is thus to see through actuality. To know reality is to intuit what cannot be given, presented or represented.”
— Peter Hallward, Out of this World

Even with all these various nuances of Stoic Time and Bergsonian Time, along with the notion of the Event/event, Virtual/Actual… and all the variations of concepts that are aligned either with the virtual or actual one feels that Deleuze is ever only displacing and substituting terms for all those he’s inherited from Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, Bergson, etc. Hallward makes it seem the Virtual is none other than the Noumenal realm of Kant displaced into Spinozian metaphysics combined with Bergsonian virtual metaphysics. My difficulty with Deleuze has always been his debt to the whole Rationalist metaphysics. His thought is couched in the rationalist ethos and linguistic habits of overdetermination (Freud). It’s like reading a rationalist dream book (i.e., the whole of Deleuze’s Ouvre is one book which is not a product but a manifestation of the virtual creativity he so cherishes…).


Deleuze’s variation on Platonic metaphysics…

When pressed on this point, Deleuze is quite happy to accept the essentialist or Platonic implications of his position (so long as we remember that this Plato doesn’t think essences as identity-bound or created forms, but as dynamic creatings or multiplicities). This is the position he adopts, for instance, in a 1967 debate with a specialist in German Idealism,

Alexis Philonenko:

Deleuze: It seems to me we have the means to penetrate the subrepresentational, to reach all the way to the roots of spatio-temporal dynamisms, and all the way to the Ideas actualised in them: the elements and ideal events, the relations and singularities are perfectly determinable. illus!on only comes afterward, from the direction of constituted extensions and the qualities that fill out these extensions.

Philonenko: So illusion appears only in what is constituted.

Deleuze: That’s right [ … ].

Philonenko: [ … ] If you push illusion over to the side of what is constituted, without accepting illusion in genesis, in constitution, are you not in the end just coming back to Plato (when in fact you would like to avoid such a thing), for whom precisely constitution, understood as proceeding from the Idea, in as much as it can be understood, is always veracious, truthful?

Deleuze: Yes, perhaps (DI, l l 5-l 6tm).
— Peter Hallward, Out of this World
The stickler of course is in that “perhaps”. What to make of this? Is Deleuze an ephebe of Plato’s Idealism after all, displacing Plato’s thought through Spinoza-Leibniz-Bergson into postmodern vocabulary? Is he in Iain Hamilton Grant’s sense a ‘realist of Ideas’ and therefore an Idealist after all?

As if to explicate this quandary Hallward himself seems puzzled:

“…does the fact that Deleuze applauds the death of God mean that he is also willing to bury the classical idea of an infmitely perfect essence or all-powerful creative force? Not at all: as Deleuze understands it, the death of God simply means.the death of transcendence, i.e. the death of an uncreative or finitely creative God, a God that remains at a distance from creation. The death of God signals ‘the abolition of the cosmological distinction between two worlds, the metaphysical distinction between essence and appearance’ (DI, 74). Needless to say, Deleuze adamantly rejects any notion of God linked to the static stability of the world, to the consolidation of personal or organic identity, to the transcendence of ideal forms – in short to notions incompatible with the – affirmation of a properly unlimited creative power. But when it comes to explaining the individuation of virtual creatings he relies, no less than Spinoza and Leibniz, upon an intensive form of power whose primary medium is spiritual and whose paradigmatic vehicle is divine.”
(Hallward, 54).

It seems a fine line between his notion of Immanence vs. Transcendence once again plays the defining role in the distinction between his views on Plato and its underpinning two-world theoretic rather than on the Ideas-Forms themselves. But is he still a ‘realist of Ideas’ in Grant’s sense or not? If so, he’s still an Idealist at heart rather than part of any materialist-empirical-naturalist philosophy no matter how anti-Platonic he might appear.


One imagines Earnest Becker reading Hallward and nodding his head…

“From a Deleuzian perspective, the one real philosophical problem is simply this: although there are only creatings, these can give rise to creatures which then get in the way of creation. There are only creatings, but some of these creatings give rise to the unavoidable illusion of creatural independence. … Our only problem, in other words – but there is no greater problem – is that we generally live in ignorance or denial of what we are. Although only the virtual determines the real, we assume instead that the actual offers the most reliable basis for reality. In reality, active becoming or transformation is a matter of composing forces and not composed forms, but unfortunately we begin precisely as composed forms, as actual creatures, trapped in ignorance, impotence and slavery.1 We are born to inherit delusions of ontological equivocity or dualism – in particular, the belief that we are subjects as distinct from objects, and thus subjects who must represent and interpret objects. All creatures capable of thought need to escape their ignorance and become thoughtful. A creature will actively express creation only by becoming, in the most active and literal sense, creative.”
(Hallward, 55).

This “creatural independence” is none other than “actualization” – being in the world of illusion-delusion harkening back to Platon, etc. This division between Virtual/Actual seems a variation on an old them no matter how Deleuze strives to wipe out the dualist frame with pure immanence. The whole crux of his thought centers of the concept of “creativity” and its failure to absolve the actual of its actualism or mode of being distinct-separate et. al.


And, yet, Hallward as well sees a Deleuze struggling with this need in him to discover an escape from the ‘human condition’ that is not based on Trancendence:

“In each case, what Deleuze is looking for is an account of the human and of the creatural more generally that both acknowledges its unreal or illusory status and yet doesn’t fall back into the well-worn patterns of transcendence, i.e., that doesn’t simply condemn, from a higher or more eminent perspective, the creatural as fundamentally inferior or unsalvageable. Deleuze’s philosophy is redemptive, not pessimistic. In other words, Deleuze needs an account of how creative desire might be led to desire its own repression – an account of why people ‘fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation’. This remains ‘the fundamental problem of political philosophy’, if not of philosophy altogether, and the basis for its properly clinical or symptomalogical function. Such an account must remain consistent with the imperative · of creative univocity, to the exclusion of any judgmental equivocity or transcendence.”( 56).



So here is the crux of Hallward’s notion of ‘out of this world’ as pure immanence in Deleuze’s system:

“The philosophical project is one of developing, with and within the materials generated by actualisation, a mechanism of counter-actualisation. Philosophy will lead from actual to virtual; from the world, it must lead out of the world. Does this mean a return to transcendence, a leap into an otherworldly beyond? Not at all: ‘out’ doesn’t mean ‘beyond’. Extra-worldly doesn’t mean other-worldly. To move virtlially out – to out – involves neither actual externality nor a transcendent ideal; the outing that is a line of flight or deterritorialisation need not move through actual space. All that will ever actually be presented along the path from actual to virtual will be actual as a matter of course; all the same, it must serve to orient those who are exposed to it outside itself, towards the virtual that is alone creative of the world.” (57).

This notion of ‘counter-actualisation’ as Deleuze’s path out of our ‘human condition’ and entrapment in the false-deluded forms of life, etc. for Deleuze, but a path that remains immanent to creativity and the virtual.


“Deleuze and Guattari will never stop inventing new mechanisms to undo or dis-organise the organism, to evacuate worlds, environments, territories, species, and individuals of their actual or molar identity. The general goal is always a variation of the same effort – to make Nature operate in the only way it should: ‘against itself’ (TP, 242).”
(Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 62).

For Hallward the message is clear: what Deleuze seeks is a way back into the virtual world of pure immanence and creativity. We’ve fallen from that world into the actual organic world of pure actualization in which we objectify everything, live in a dualistic realm based on a false Transcendence locked into and entrapped in the given and representational thought.


As if he’d read Becker on Freud and appled it to Deleuze Hallward says:

“Moreover, Oedipus is what protects anti-creation from creative counter-attack. Oedipus offers a defence against both the psychological reversal of transcendence (namely the raw, immediate experience of immanent creation: schizophrenia) and the socio-economic evacuation of transcendence (namely capitalism’s abstraction, decoding, de-actualisation or de-territorialisation of all values in the indifferent medium of exchange value). Both capitalism’s relative de-actualisation and schizophrenia’s absolute de-actualisation are controlled and managed by Oedipus. If ‘what all societies dread absolutely as their most profound negative [are] the decoded flows of desire’, i.e. the deactualised flows of virtual creation, then Oedipus guards against this limit of social coherence (AO, 1 77). ‘Oedipus displaces the limit, it internalises the limit. Rather a society of Uabouring] neurotics than one successful schizophrenic who has not been made autistic’ (AO, 102). Confronted with the risk of capitalism’s anarchic commodification and detoxification, i.e. with the abstraction of all values, Oedipus manages to shift the danger of an uncontrollable political or ‘public’ de-actualisation onto an eminently controllable, ‘private’ re-stabilisation of the actual or the molar. Oedipus reinforces the political work of exploitation or surplus extraction by internalising it (via the metaphorical mediation of the family) in the very configuration of consciousness and identity. The politics of exploitation and security plays ou! in a world populated by ‘Mister Capital, Madame Earth and their child the Worker’ (AO, 264). The first and most fundamental modern form of surplus extraction is simply the reproduction of the subject as such, the subject as dutiful worker and son, as docile labour.”
(Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 69).

One thinks of Nick Land’s infusion of Deleuze-Guattari in his focus on the ‘Human Security System’ that’s core enslavement and enshrinement of the ‘subject’ both private and public controlled by Big Daddy State (i.e., Super-ego).

The “experience of immanent creation” as psychosis, as the unrepressed life lived as schizophrenic or as I like to term it schizorealist whose escape from the ‘character armor’ of socialization opens us to the fullness and pleroma of the Real surround of existence (i.e., what Deleuze terms the Virtual ongoing creativity of the cosmos).

Hallward sees Deleuze’s redemptive message as the unrepressed life of the schizorealist:

“As you might expect, recovery of the real must therefore begin with the dissolution of both the private and public forms of transcendent subjection, and the subsequent elaboration of a desire without person or state. Recovery proceeds through the dissolution of the psychoanalytic theatre of interpretation (the theatre in which desire is staged or ‘represented’ [representeJ at a distance from itself) in favour of the workshop or factory of immediate and thus automatic or mechanical desire. Recovery involves dismantling the theatrical representation of desire…”
(Peter Hallward, Out of this World: 69).

One might read Wouter Kusters Philosophy of Madness along with such a program offering a way into psychoses not as illness but as freedom and the immanent life fully lived. The main difference in this is Deleuze couches all of this in Western philosophical discourse and discursive practices rather than some more popular form but the message though technical and more elaborate in conceptuality is rooted in the same pragmatics.


Peter Hallward sees Deleuze’s anti-representationalism as a return to pre-Critical thought against Kant and his inheritors:

He aligns himself with Leibniz or Spinoza precisely because their affrrmative naturalism undoes, in advance, Kant’s critical attribution of immanence to a subject which then transcends it. In defiance of the rules of Kantian perception, the great rationalists hurl us immediately into the raw intensity of nature’s own creativity. They rather than Kant are the true ancestors of Artaud’s schizophrenic, it is they who inspire us to ‘experience pure forces, dynamic lines in space that act without intermediary upon the spirit and link it directly with nature and history’ (DR, 10). “(74).

“Whenever Deleuze himself uses the term ‘transcendental’, consequently, it doesn’t refer to what Kant described as those contj.itions of possibility which shape our subjective experience, the conditions that guarantee the reliability of our representations of objects in the world. It simply refers to the way we intuit or think (rather than represent) the very being or creation of the world as such, and of ourselves along with it. When Deleuze uses the term transcendental it is to describe creativity as such, creativity subtracted from the constraints of the actual or individual. ‘Transcendental’ is then just a description of pre-individual reality as it is in itself, in the immanence of its creation and ‘underneath’ its consolidation in the creature.” (74-75)
–Peter Hallward, Out of this World

It’s the raw experience of psychosis without the fractured illness of self/world dualism, much more the full-blown psychosis of the schizorealist unburdened by the subject-object split or gap living in the stream of creativity at the heart of our energetic cosmos.

more notes to come…

Neurosis and the Transcendent Delusion

We can say that the essence of normality is the refusal of reality.
—Ernest Becker

Ernest Becker on Neurosis:

“Neurosis has three interdependent aspects. In the first place it refers to people who are having trouble living with the truth of existence; it is universal in this sense because everybody has some trouble living with the truth of life and pays some vital ransom to that truth. In the second place, neurosis is private because each person fashions his own peculiar stylistic reaction to life. Finally, beyond both of these is perhaps the unique gift of Rank’s work: that neurosis is also historical to a large extent, because all the traditional ideologies that disguised and absorbed it have fallen away and modern ideologies are just too thin to contain it. So we have modern man: increasingly slumping onto analysts’ couches, making pilgrimages to psychological guru-centers and joining therapy groups, and filling larger and larger numbers of mental hospital beds.”

—Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death (p. 177). Free Press.

Recently watching the program on History Channel about this tendency of many fractured individuals to fall into the hands of a Cult. Cults of various stripes run rampant even now throughout the West from Scientology to Self-Help Gurus to the multifarious religious and pseudo-scientistic cults that promise to give a person a meaningful life – an answer to their deepest yearnings. All this self-impose manipulation for profit is central to our Western dilemma. Sadly, most humans will never be able to stand alone in the cosmos of freedom but opt for some local variation on an old theme: salvation, redemption, catharsis come by way of merging one’s individual self with some transcendent order. Or so goes the old narrative one can find in all its multifarious hideousness.

Becker like Rank sees this need as a positive thing, whereas Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud saw it as delusion itself. But even those three would seek out their own personal religions of philosophy or psychoanalysis. Even the supposed most atheistic if she does not find solace in religion will create one within which they can find meaning, even if that meaning is to belabor an elaboration of nihilistic nothingness and meaninglessness. Even non-meaning is a form of meaning. Abjectness itself as the negation of transcendence harbors its own negative forms of meaning as the object of its annihilation. Becker keeps idealizing Rank but never tells us of his suicide as if that was an unimportant aspect of his life. All this talk of transcendence and the need for some absolute Other, God, Transitional Object, Lover, Beyond, Transpersonal da da da… is so much wishful illusionism, an easy way to lay down one’s existence at the altar of someone else’s answer to the problem of the ‘human condition’. Most humans cannot stand alone so opt out for a collective system of safety and security, a religion, philosophy, or scientific ‘theory of everything’ to assuage their own secret realization of creaturely guilt and meaninglessness. I’ve read through most of the literature and thought of that psychoanalytical turn in progressive modernity. It always leads to some form of reestablishing the ‘Human Security System’ and reinforcing its boundaries, ideologies, myths, and religious consciousness based on some form of Transcendence.

One still seeks of an imminent thought that stays with man’s nothingness, and yet goes beyond the ‘finitude’ of existential thought into a posthuman philosophy that will produce a worldview based on absolute contingency and freedom. I doubt that the vast majority of humans will ever be able to stand alone in the cosmos but will opt for some shared delusion of one variety or another of the age-old thought of Transcendence. Maybe that’s my sadness and pessimal conclusion. As Becker states it:

“The individual has to protect himself against the world, and he can do this only as any other animal would: by narrowing down the world, shutting off experience, developing an obliviousness both to the terrors of the world and to his own anxieties. Otherwise he would be crippled for action. We cannot repeat too often the great lesson of Freudian psychology: that repression is normal self-protection and creative self-restriction—in a real sense, man’s natural substitute for instinct. Rank has a perfect, key term for this natural human talent: he calls it “partialization” and very rightly sees that life is impossible without it. What we call the well-adjusted man has just this capacity to partialize the world for comfortable action.2 I have used the term “fetishization,” which is exactly the same idea: the “normal” man bites off what he can chew and digest of life, and no more. In other words, men aren’t built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses.”

—Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death (pp. 177-178). Free Press.

We distort the world and make it safe and secure for survival and propagation. I’ve stated that many times before. Most humans will remain in a self-imposed prison house of symbolic meaning whether private or shared in some collective religious, scientific, of philosophical framework. As Becker reiterates: “”We can say that the essence of normality is the refusal of reality. What we call neurosis enters precisely at this point: Some people have more trouble with their lies than others. The world is too much with them, and the techniques that they have developed for holding it at bay and cutting it down to size finally begin to choke the person himself. This is neurosis in a nutshell: the miscarriage of clumsy lies about reality.”

Becker asks a simple question: “On what level of illusion does one live?” Think about it. If as he suggests from a psychoanalytical view and Robert Trivers from his biological view — by which humans live in illusion, deceived and deceiver alike, actively imposing on ourselves and other the various forms of cultural and ideological systems of reality denial that bind us all in a collective psychosis and neurotic lifestyle then how to expose these various deeply held beliefs and illusions we are enslaved by? Can we develop a way out of this dilemma? Discover a mode of thought and becoming that unbinds us from the ‘human condition’? Discover the inroads to a posthuman future and speculative philosophy that rids us of this dire world of neurotics, schizophrenics, and depressive anhedonia?

This is the core of the ‘human condition’ to which the various trends in posthumanism seek to redress. “Men have to be protected from reality. All of which poses another gigantic problem, namely: What is the nature of the obsessive denials of reality that a Utopian society will provide to keep men from going mad?” (ibid.) Becker being part of the humanist security regime sides with civilization and the socialization process, only question the forms it will take. In this sense like many psychoanalysts, he is on the side of the ‘Human Security System’ that enslaves us in its collective illusions of reality. One has to admit that if most humans could never stand alone in the truth of cosmic nihil then, yes, the truth is that the old adage “safety in numbers” is the rule of society and collective projects that instill fictional or transitional objects for their constituents to escape from reality. Sadly, I doubt this will change anytime soon.

I will agree with Becker on this:

“…we must remind ourselves that when we talk about the need for illusion, we are not being cynical. True, there is a great deal of falseness and self-deception in the cultural causa-sui project, but there is also the necessity of this project. Man needs a “second” world, a world of humanly created meaning, a new reality that he can live, dramatize, nourish himself in. “Illusion” means creative play at its highest level. Cultural illusion is a necessary ideology of self-justification, a heroic dimension that is life itself to the symbolic animal.”

If as I’ve stated before most humans will never be able to stand alone in the mystery of reality without grasping after some fact or reason, some illusion to stabilize and solve — at least temporarily for them to get on with their lives — the riddle of existence, the human condition, etc. They we will always have comply with some form of socialization process and collective delusion-illusion, grand narrative, and mythographic form of and vision of existence to which and against which we define ourselves in this cosmos. The few who are situated at the extreme edge of this (i.e., as in primitive societies with the magician priest, shaman, hedgewitch, vodun., etc.; or, as in modernity when the Psychoanalyst became the secular priest and guide to psyche and neurosis) expand the borders from time to time revealing more and more chunks of reality that can be incorporated into our fictional matrix. The sciences are such a project for the secular-atheistic society of the present era. The great mathematicians and philosopher-scientists open up more of the scales of the cosmic and quantum realities to us revealing its wonder and indifference to human want or need. Every generation seeks a new stabilization of this framework, a new image of existence. This what we do and need. To live a total life of nihil would be to live in stasis, a world of frozenness without meaning and void unable to move or breath; a dead world emptied of all thought and feeling. We all have our illusions no matter who we are, even those who purport to break free of all illusions and delusions are lying.

Post-Metaphysics: Toward a Posthuman Speculative Schizorealism

The schizophrenic’s extreme transference helps us to understand, the reasons that his world is so terrifying is that he sees it in many ways unblurred by repression.
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death 

Even though there is much to disagree with in Freud, Brown, and Becker; Adler, Rank, Jung, Fromm, Lacan, Deleuze/Guattari and others – each plunged into this strange amalgam of human misery and neurotic / schizophrenic ploys humans have invented in private and public to escape the truth of existence in a grand denial of reality. Their language and concepts may be dated and part of a humanistic discourse we’ve been leaving for some time but there are things we should gather up and keep in their darkened view of existential man. Parts of that heritage remain even as we overturn their anthropomorphisms and transform their conceptuality into the posthuman nexus.

After all we still need their insights if not their dogmas and outmoded frameworks on the ‘human condition’. In many ways our posthuman age is barely scratching the surface of this transitional phase in the midst of our escape vectors out of the human into the inhuman future. A few aspects of humanistic thought will remain as ‘transitional objects’ of thought to guide us through the breakup of our Western Metaphysical Reality System. Plato and Aristotle held till the Renaissance and beyond, then came modernity and the age of critique which is just now crumbling and vanishing as we enter the unknow portals of the posthuman matrix. We’ve yet to see a definitive statement for this ‘transitional age’, but hints of it lie in the darkened hollows of many thinkers as they plunder the past for the new.

The literature of desire and affective intensities may be outworn now, but it’s grappling with the coded interweaving of the human condition in all its brokenness still remains. The heart of the pessimal tradition is that “we see too much” what the world is unbound by the repressions of millennia past and the ‘Human Security System’ (Land). The Western systems of belief and reality are crumbling, and with them the civilization that was built of those lies and fictions. We see it in the insanity of war, terror, and return of religious consciousness in our era. As T.S. Eliot put it: “Humans cannot bear too much reality.” To do so is to go mad in psychosis which spells the ‘death of the human’. So, we remain mere husks of the ‘human condition’ trapped in the repetition of an infernal thought, bound to and outmoded metaphysical regime that seeks to entrap us in a reality system that is itself dead leaving us zombie like puppets of a dead thought.

The Metaphysical Age is Dead, Long Live Metaphysics

Thinking about the so-called death of philosophy in our time it comes down to a rejection of the reality framework that has held us in its clutches for two-thousand years of human-centric weavings. Our belief in our exceptionalism, that humans were the exception to the rule, escaping our animal heritage and living like Titans caught in-between heaven and earth, fully aware of our creatureliness and yet believing we could escape its finality.

From Plato-Aristotle to Heidegger-Satre we saw the grand metaphysical schemes of the philosopher’s question existence, find it wanting and critiquing its delusions and illusions. One could find the same in China, India, and other cultures and civilization but I deal only with the one I live in. Religious consciousness at its extremity leads to psychosis, but then philosophy led to the fear of this very thing: madness. We were taught to fear the terrors of reality, to consider it mere appearance covering over something else, some other transcendent scheme of things; another world, of eternal Forms, Ideas, the Real, Void, Darkness, Light, Absolute…  So many metaphysical schemes to rid us of the world and open us to the truth of some other world of Beauty, Truth, and the Good. Metaphysics was for the sick and weak, a way to overcome our creatureliness in a world of delusion. The science grew out of this world of thought and with many of its same goals of dispelling the delusions and illusions by which men have lived by, and yet it too succumbed to the very delusions of the metaphysicians caught in the flytrap of our own evolutionary praxis, bound to the train of thought and feeling that seeks to safe and secure world against the madness.

Humans as humans cannot hope to escape this circle of their own critical gaze, but we see exiting the human and its childhood of metaphysics is upon us: the posthuman is this exit. A new thought beyond the human is arising, a new post-metaphysics that purports to escape the vectors of metaphysical man. It would take a lengthy book to discuss this new world of thought. Many strange insights are already being aired in the halls of the academy and sciences drifting in this direction. All I can do is venture into its opening gamut, discuss the fragmented charm of its disquisitions. In the no-man’s land in-between two metaphysical worlds we live unknowing of what is coming even as we escape what has been.

Posthumanism and Post-Metaphysical thought offers us a view beyond the systems of critique, beyond the gaze onto the past of metaphysics, offering us a posthuman gaze into the future that is coming at us at the speed of thought itself. Even as we break free of the reality systems that have locked us in the ‘human condition’ we are caught in the clutches of fear and terror of the new. To diagnose our plight is to grant that we remain in the dark unable to see through this futural mirror without the sparks of former beliefs, concepts, and transitional fractures of reality testing. Maybe that’s all I can do is test the thought being formulated now in the speculative worlds of literature and post-philosophical and post-metaphysical science fiction, horror — the weird and eerie and uncanny: the worlds that deal with the liminal darkness and light.

If the core of metaphysics from Plato to Heidegger was this overcoming of the ‘human condition’ – its finitude, etc., then the core of the post-metaphysical man is to accept his creatureliness, his finitude, his existential situation as animal in an inhuman cosmos. We do not seek some escape, some immortal becoming god or redemption from finitude into whatever form of immortalization. From religion to philosophy to transhumanism the immortality project was the driver against this realm of change and death. Humans sought a way out of this metamorphic realm through any and all leaps of ‘faith’ in one or a number of fashions. In our age the pseudo-science of Transhumanist thought is the culmination of the whole metaphysical worldview. But there is another…

Posthumanism is not about saving humanity, but of becoming inhuman, monstrous, and other: a path Outside the circle of the human security system and its traps. Nick Land was on to something,

Philosophy has an affinity with despotism, due to its predilection for Platonic-fascist top-down solutions that always screw up viciously. Schizoanalysis works differently. It avoids Ideas, and sticks to diagrams: networking software for accessing bodies without organs. BwOs, machinic singularities, or tractor fields emerge through the combination of parts with (rather than into) their whole; arranging composite individuations in a virtual/actual circuit. They are additive rather than substitutive, and immanent rather than transcendent: executed by functional complexes of currents, switches, and loops, caught in scaling reverberations, and fleeing through intercommunications, from the level of the integrated planetary system to that of atomic assemblages. Multiplicities captured by singularities interconnect as desiring-machines; dissipating entropy by dissociating flows, and recycling their machinism as self-assembling chronogenic circuitry.1

Philosophy was a trap to enslave us to the dictates of a fantasy world against the reality of what is by inventing a defense mechanism against reality. Against Plato’s two-world metaphysics of a dualistic world of appearances set against the eternal world of Ideas we are offered in schizoanalysis diagrammatic paths in-between. The future in this cybermachinism breaks free of the metaphysical bonds of outworn conceptuality and lift the veil on the positivication of unconscious desire unbound by human want and need. A future unbound of the human altogether: “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.” This is not a literal death of humanity, but its migration into machinic civilization. This cyborgizational transition may go on for hundreds if not thousands of years as we enter into new relations with the cosmos. But the strange thing we are in our creatureliness is knowing it is in transition rather than an end point reached. Against the whole metaphysical tradition that placed humanity at the pinnacle of creation the new posthuman thought situates humans in a flow of schizophrenic play of forces unbound from metaphysics altogether.

The pessimal tradition of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, and Land among others opened a door onto this transition beyond humanity into the posthuman. We do not have a definitive map of anti-philosophy to guide us, only the various trends in the strange amalgamation of thought surrounding the ‘posthuman’ in speculative philosophy and science fiction, the weird and horror. It’s there that we will find the keys to a new form of non-thought, a diagrammatic or non-conceptual affective and unconscious schizorealism.

To clarify:

I advocate a posthuman anti-philosophy of immanence and diagrammatic schizorealism that seeks to remain with existence against all thought that seeks to escape into some void, heaven, eternal realm of Ideas, etc. We are and will remain in this quantum world without remainder, even as we decay into quantum particles as we die… we remain this thing. This is not a return to pre-Critical thought and some mad entry into the energetic cosmos, but rather an emergence from the ‘human condition’ into that of the ‘posthuman condition’ that seeks to lift the repressive mechanisms of defense that have hidden the truth form us for far too long.

One reason I chose Thomas Ligotti to write on is not that I agree with him but that I disagree. He acknowledges his inability to accept the socialization process, the horror of consciousness, etc. so seeks to eliminate it and return to the void of animal consciousness: ego-death, etc. Instead for me this is an impossibility short of suicide, so for me best to accept what we are and push it to its limits rather than curtail its effects like Ligotti’s mentor Zappfe. In this sense speculative schizorealism accepts our plight of self-reflecting nothingness and yet seeks to plunge it into a break with the metaphysical systems that bind us and trap us in human finitude: safety, security, and metaphysical traps of the ‘Human Security System’ (Land). In that fact I work with and against the pessimal traditions of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud aligning with Bataille, Deleuze, and Land against the metaphysical pessimism for a speculative schizorealism that accepts the naturalist and immanent vectors of the sciences and their quantum realities.

I’m not against concepts, instead my problem and task are that all conceptuality in its various forms has constructed systems to test reality through mathematics and natural language and yet has sought above all to eternalize it, set it in stone as if to discover once and for all a ‘Theory of Everything’. There is no such thing as objective reality, no stable unified and undivided object. We live in an absolute chaos and metamorphic realm of absolute contingency without end. So, we demarcate, mark off, and make distinctions we can use to stabilize this massive chaotic stream of pulsation of the energetic cosmos. We seek through Reason and Intelligence to stabilize it into a frozen state to secure our own human condition and make it safe and predictable. Then we forget that this fiction is a map, a diagram not to be taken literally for reality, but as a mapping to help us survive in it. Instead, we take the map for/as reality (i.e., we literalize the map and mistake it for the chaosmos surround) and enslave ourselves in its false boundaries, policing its extremities and guarding against those who seek to escape the marked off boundary through their travels into the unknown.

This is one reason why the ‘fear of the unknown’ is the central theme of Lovecraft’s tradition in the weird, uncanny, and horror that Ligotti inherited. To open ourselves up to the unknown (Outside in) is to court madness according to the gatekeepers of our culture and civilization. They tell us not to go there, that to do so is to enter the insanity of existence, lose one’s mind and in process dissolve the self-created character armor that protects one against too much reality. This sense of losing one’s self-image, the destruction of the character armor, and the sense of unbinding the ego from its subservience to the socialization processes and defenses of culture and civilization is central to what I’ve called the tradition of the “Outlaws of Reality”.
Each of us probably has our own list of those who have both struggled to attain this escape from our childhood socialization process. As James Joyce once put it,

“When a man is born…there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”
― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This sense of entrapment in the Human Security System of all the fictions of ideology, religion, philosophy, the sciences etc. that seek to stabilize and form a unified view of life and thought are so many fantasies revealing untruths rather than truths. We defend them to the utmost against anyone who questions the authority of their accepted knowledge. The Academy is the epitome of this gatekeeping force of society to guard us against the madness of singular thought beyond the pale. Safety in numbers is the order of the day, cowardice being the acceptance of the staid formalism of academic philosophy.

Being a non-academic or para-academic thinker, my reading has always been eclectic rather than formalized. I turned early on the great tradition of literary critics from Samuel Johnson to Harold Bloom for my guidelines into literature, philosophy, history, and the sciences, etc. From them I learned to question everything and form my own doxa (opinions), never settling or resting in some system of thought or belief. One who studies the patterns in these various forms of literary pursuit discovers the intricate inroads of influence and how we as humans come to know our own innate tendencies toward this or that belief or non-belief. Every human is unique, and yet we can share in this mirror-lamp of culture the ways and byways of the human spirit either in and through metaphysics or against it. No one has the final answer of/on life, there will remain as many life views, philosophies, anti-philosophies, and modes-of-apprehending this thing we are as there are people who think and reflect. It will obviously never stop till we as a species stop.

The History of Madness, Mysticism, and related forms of Shamanic ‘technics in ecstasy’ etc. are all inroads to breaking with the cultural matrix of the ‘Human Security System’ (Land). It’s a long road full of corpses, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and failed creatures who have sought inroads into the Outside. In modernity from Blake, Van Gogh, Rimbaud, Lautremont, Artaud, Land, etc. and so many others we’ve seen the human push to the limits of the Outside with a tenacity to let it in, let it past the gatekeeper’s security regime of socialization. Each falling along the path, but each as well furthering the old adage “fail and fail better!”. This courage of our hopelessness to overcome the ‘human condition’ not by way of transcendence but immanence that stays with this life, this existence in all its monstrous glory.

Wouter Kusters in his Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking shows the way of such inroads through an in-depth analysis of the various concepts and metaphors that mystics and philosophers have discovered, invented, and carried over from their adventures in the Outside. The unknown will remain unknowable by human language and mathematics, and yet we can use both to bridge the gap between the known and unknown like the Zen practitioner who offers a ‘finger to the moon’ to awaken us to the paradox of non-knowledge and the positive power of the unconscious to show forth its own indelible stamp.

Let’s face it the thinkers of India, China, and other civilizations long ago discovered these inroads which in the West we are only beginning to open up too. I speak only of the Western traditions because I’m not of these other cultures so would be an amateur interpreter of their deepest knowledge. What a presumption it would be on my part to speak of these traditions which hundreds of men and women have suffered in and through to develop their own paths into the Outside. I can only attest to those of the Eurocentric world and its broken frameworks inherited from the Greek, Roman, Christian and Secular atheistic traditions.

One reason I liked and admired my friend R. Scott Bakker’s six volumes in the fantasy genre (The Prince of Nothing and The Aspect Emperor Series) is that he goes against the deepest roots of metaphysical transcendence, opts to show the full madness of the ‘Human Security System’ as humans battle and fail at last. This tragic ethos unlike the Greeks’ sense of Tragedy does not seek catharsis but it’s opposite to accept the painful and utter annihilating truth of this monstrous reality we live in. Not to purge ourselves of its affects but to live it absolutely. To live the contingent life is to be open to reality as it is, not as our fears, apprehensions, terrors and dreads cover it over in a blanket of exit and escape, flight and false worlds.

The only way to live life is not to run from its darkness but to aggressively enter into its dark light, follow the annihilating flames into the crystal world of chaotica without end. The path toward a posthuman world is upon us, will you enter or take flight.  Only you can answer that question. It’s personal and experiential. No one can guide you into its labyrinths because there will be no human left to describe it; no maps, not guidebooks, only the fractured lives strewn along the path into its black light. It is. This is the point of Shakespeare’s “Ripeness is all!”: “Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all.” (King Lear) To endure the pain and suffering of life to the nth degree of absolute Zero, to push oneself to the limits rather than closing them off in cowardice. To live life absolutely, rather than cutting oneself off from its dire effects. A positive negativity of being oneself, fully.

I resituate the epigraph:

The schizophrenic’s extreme transference helps us to understand, the reasons that his world is so terrifying is that he sees it in many ways unblurred by repression.
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

But there are those who pushed through the terror into the darkness itself, become one with it and absolving the ego in the throes of existence living it out fully and intensely without cracking. I know, because I am one of those strange beings who returned. To say such a thing is for many “madness” itself, and yet for others there is a shared sense of monstrousness, a knowing that can only be known through that dark sharing and gnosis of being and doing. No one can describe it or speak of it without erring. Description fails at the boundaries of the hedgeworld in-between, where paradox, absurdity, and laughter in the realm of the trickster begins. In the Greeks world of dramatic sequence Comedy and Tragedy were two masks of the one world we live in. Most harp only on Tragedy forgetting that all dramatizations were formalized: Tragedy, Comedy, and Satyr Plays…. The Greeks had a sense of the whole thing, all of existence: the laughter of the gods and trickster of reality that encompass us all in the Comedy of Existence.

The truth is I’m a bag of pus, a terror chamber full of biological entities (bacterium, viruses, and cellular organisms at various levels of existence from the quantum to the inorganic-organic continuum): this is the fact of organic existence, and we are the animal aware of that fact. So, how can anyone develop a philosophy or anti-philosophy both accepting that fact, and struggling to change that fact? Do we laugh or cry? is Life a Tragedy or Comedy or a Tragic-Comic absurdity, a farce and cosmic joke; or is it the Satyr’s answer: ““To Never Have been born may be the greatest boon of all”. Or follow Socrates: “The Unexamined life is not worth living.” adage. Or even Antigone: “Leave me to my own absurdity.” In the end we all face death alone and in solitude. Do we laugh at the joke of life, or cry that this is a terrible fate too hard to endure? Ultimately each Individual will have answer for herself, alone.


I’ve often thought of satirizing the whole secular-atheistic and nihilist tradition. An opening line of the satire: “They told me the end was the end. Existence would not go on. Caput. The void, nihil, nothingness, absolute Zero to the nth degree: the vast emptiness without end, the blankness of non-being. All the usual acknowledgements of the Great Nullification. And, then it happened, the shock of death, the great trick revealed at last. I did not die, exactly. But if what you call this is death, then what was life? I continue, I move., I exist. Do not call it I exist in a place; I move through time., no, nothing like that at all. Nothing in nothing here. To even represent this as an object, as nothingness is to strain our credulity. I Am. But that’s where my troubles began…”

This whole critique of all those claims within our secular system of religious belief in a godless world where death is the end, the finality of non-existence. A Satire against my own inheritance in this whole secular and atheistic humanist tradition played out as farce. It would seem fitting for one who long ago made this system of belief his own “Human Security System”. I almost laugh at my own cunning acceptance of it against my Christian heritage and upbringing. This siding with the opposing camp in derision and corruption of its faith. I lived it out as a rage against the religious world as if I’d found a new faith in the sciences and humanities of the era only to discover late in life that this, too, as Nietzsche would surmise is “Human, all too human!”. Just another grand narrative and fiction to help us face the unknown and unknowable universe that neither wishes us ill or good since it doesn’t’ even exist or know we exist. This energetic cosmos of quantum physics that is in continuous creation and destruction of particles in a realm of absolute “purposiveness without purpose”.

To be honest…

Let’s face it I have nothing new to say or add to the vast storehouse of wisdom, I only restate it in my own lifestyle and through my personal experience. What others do with it is their business, I seek only to speak with those who know or might know of this. Any pretensions beyond that would be superfluous and egocentric in the extreme. My modesty is the know that I do not know.

  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 . Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

Nick Land: A Post-Cyberian Mythographer

“Cyberrevolution. In the near future the replicants – having escaped from the off-planet exile of private madness – emerge from their camouflage to overthrow the human security system. Deadly orphans from beyond reproduction, they are intelligent weaponry of machinic desire virally infiltrated into the final-phase organic order; invaders from an artificial death.”
—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

Land’s mid-Nineties post-cyberpunk philosophy incorporates much of the Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, and the Freudian matrix of group psychology in its updated terminology. He knew very well the intricacies of human want and need, our darkest lairs and childhood madness for escape and security. Our anxiety and fear of death and the Unknown. Our immortality complexes driving us into irrational zones of exit and escape. We are the end product of the progressive Enlightenment, its imaginary forms of socialization and beliefs in Reason and Intelligence. Post-Kantian children of nihilism we are the pessimal denizens of a daimonic world order.

Reading Land side by side with Freud, Becker, and other thinkers one sees a strange thing: a mind that is traveling in the sidereal zones in-between the human and post-human.In many ways Land’s cyber-theory mythologies have yet to be included in the mental fabric of our contemporary mind-set. Very few go down the rabbit hole he opened much less try to inhabit the posthuman spaces he first shamanized out of our future. His nightmare vision and dream-quest into this Outside sought to free us of our linguistic prisons, yield our minds to a posthuman thought that has yet to surface among most of our staid thinkers. Personally, I have yet to see anyone truly take an in-depth look at his work with an eye to its various unburdening of the traditions of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Freud, et. al. Because of his reactionary politics his more interesting excursions into the hinterlands of our mad age go unnoticed and left in the darkness. Those who police our normalcy seek Intelligence and Reason as stays against such flaunting. They seek to silence such thoughts and bind them in ridicule and derision.

As Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier say in their forward to the essays gathered in Fanged Noumena:

“The legacy of Land’s experiments, like the rags and tatters of the visionaries whose works he picked through for clues, includes contributions to the diagnosis of the cosmic, biological, evolutionary, and cultural genealogy and nature of the human; forays into the thinking of number that exceed in breadth and depth any extant ‘philosophy of mathematics’; a sophisticated and culturally contemporary philosophical thinking of time and modernity; and above all a series of textual machines whose compelling, strangely intoxicating power must, in a social and intellectual climate characterised by neo-classical sobriety, open up forgotten, suppressed, and alternative lineages and superpositions capable of inspiring others to take up the experiment once more, launching new assaults against the Human Security System.”2

For Land in his mythographic installations there is an ongoing war on our planet between the forces of the future and the internal agents of the ‘Human Security’ regimes. “The body is processed by its organs, which it reprocesses. Its ‘true freedom’ is the exo-personal reprocessing of anorganic abstraction: a schizoid corporealization outside organic closure. If time was progressive schizophrenics would be escaping from human security, but in reality, they are infiltrated from the future. They come from the body without organs, the deterritorium of Cyberia, a zone of subversion which is the platform for a guerrilla war against the judgment of God.” This dark Deleuzianism infiltrates us like a vector out of some science fiction scenario. Are we to see this as postmodern allegory; or, as a darker truth from the Outside in? In his essay ‘Machinic Desire’ he weaves in Gibsonian cyberia:

“In the near future the replicants – having escaped from the off-planet exile of private madness – emerge from their camouflage to overthrow the human security system. Deadly orphans from beyond reproduction, they are intelligent weaponry of machinic desire virally infiltrated into the final-phase organic order; invaders from an artificial death.

It’s as if Philip K. Dick and William Gibson had spawned an agent of Chaos and Absolute Contingency, delivering us to a gnosis of a darker order of time wars. He envisions a politics of repression among the Gatekeepers of the current World Order: “The global human security allergy to cyberrevolution consolidates itself in the New World Order, or consummate macropod, inheriting all the resources of repression as concrete collective history.” The notion that the powers behind the mask of modernity and the political order of the world are working overtime to keep the lid on the fragmentation of the Human Security System of collective history, ideology, beliefs, philosophy, religion, and all the various aspects of education of the masses under the auspices of a false and delusionary reality seems apropos to our contemporary dilemma. All around us we see the world undergoing a collective psychosis, a fragmentation into both schizophrenias so well documented in the works of Deleuze/Guattari, Land, Kusters, and others. As Land commenting on Deleuze/Guattari:

“The transcendental unconscious is the auto-construction of the real, the production of production, so that for schizoanalysis there is the real exactly in so far as it is built. Production is production of the real, not merely of representation, and unlike Kantian production, the desiring-production of Deleuze-Guattari is not qualified by humanity (it is not a matter of what things are like for us). Within the framework of social history the empirical subject of production is man, but its transcendental subject is the machinic unconscious, and the empirical subject is produced at the edge of production, as an element in the reproduction of production, a machine part, and ‘a part made up of parts’.”

Couched in all this Deleuzian verbiage and postmodernistic linguistics is a thought-form that shifts our awareness of the darker forces underlying our daylight lives and histories. We are trapped in a false political world of delusion, lies, and power. Controlled by powers of money and greed that pull the strings of political shenanigans everywhere. Our whole complex of humanistic ideology comes under scrutiny as Land attacks the very notion of the ‘human’. All our anthropocentric philosophies that bolster and support the Human Security System are evaluated and found wanting. “Inorganic Thanatos wrecks order, organic Eros preserves it, and as the carbon-dominium is softened-up by machine plague, deterritorializing replicants of nomad-cyberrevolution close in upon the reterritorializing reproducers of the sedentary human security system, hacking into the macropod.” A mythology of the posthuman invasion from the future by our inheritors and children who seek to reprogram our lives and thoughts toward the escape vectors of a posthuman future.

“As the death of capital recedes politically it condenses pragmatically, sliding online as a schizotechnic resource: no longer hoped for, but used. The international collapse of solidarity sociality suggests that Monopod has become addicted to commodity production. Burn-out Protestantism migrates to China. Capitalism – economic base of final-phase human security – is still in the free-fire zone because it feeds the thing that Cyberia is going to kill…”

Apocalypse? Transitional phase-shift… the changing of the guard… a reality implosion of the current regime of security on the planet that has protected humans in a sub-zone of safety and delusion, living out their lives in a supposed stable world of control and fictions based on unfreedom as freedom.

“Cyberpunk is too wired to concentrate. It does not subscribe to transcendence, but to circulation; exploring the immanence of subjectivity to telecommercial data fluxes: personality engineering, mind recordings, catatonic cyberspace trances, stim-swaps, and sex-comas. Selves are no more immaterial than electron-packets. Neuromancer (the book) is a confluence of dispersed narrative threads, of the biotic and the technical, and most especially – of Wintermute and Neuromancer (the AI((-cop and cyberspatial Oedipus-analogue))), whose fusion – according to the storyline of ultramodern human security – flips the cyberspace matrix into personalized sentience: ‘“I’m the Matrix, Case”’. ‘Some kind of synergistic effect’.”

The immersive cyberworlds of some futurial invasion of AI replicants opening us into the non-human and posthuman vectors of a world no longer centered on the ‘human condition’. A world without humans? Perhaps.

Only time will tell…. and she is silent and waiting. Meltdown…

“The body count climbs through a series of globewars. Emergent Planetary Commercium trashes the Holy Roman Empire, the Napoleonic Continental System, the Second and Third Reich, and the Soviet International, cranking-up world disorder through compressing phases. Deregulation and the state arms-race each other into cyberspace. By the time soft-engineering slithers out of its box into yours, human security is lurching into crisis. Cloning, lateral genodata transfer, transversal replication, and cyberotics, flood in amongst a relapse onto bacterial sex.”

As we lurch into the new millennia, we seek out the vectors of a dark thought, a way out of the human condition. As fellow travelers of the dementia of our times we understand the madness and insanity of the Human Security System. We live in a prison house of safety and oblivion, our minds controlled by the social forces of the current political and cultural machines. Mindless we live out our lives in work, play, and family knowing secretly that something is afoot, something has gone terribly wrong with the world. Our extreme paranoia filters in and out the measures of this pessimal vision. There are chinks in the armor that civilization has built and is in our time coming to fruition. The Gatekeepers of security are afraid, full of the terror of a world opening out to the forces of the Outside. The Outside is coming home to roost and bringing with it the stranger things of a future we did not reckon within our human(istic) imaginings:

“The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.” (Land, Meltdown)

Freud, Transference, and the Politics of Authority

Why are groups so blind and stupid?—men have always asked. Because they demand illusions, answered Freud, they “constantly give what is unreal precedence over what is real.”
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

The Problem of Transference

One of Freud’s key notions was this strange hypnotic effect of leaders and the psychoanalyst upon their conditioned response to the ‘mana’, ‘power’, and ‘authority’ which allowed them to enslave others and entrap their emotions toward dependency. The psychoanalyst of course as Ferenczi discovered early on must break this dependency at some point. The leader of a country, especially the strong authoritarian one’s sought to multiply this dependency in their constituents. One need only study the psychology of hypnosis to realize it’s not the hypnotist but the person who undergoes hypnosis who has an inner need to relinquish their own self-authority to the hypnotist’s authority. To become passive and fully bound by the hypnotist’s directions and displays of power and magic. This power of ‘transference’ in which we secretly wish our deepest wants and needs onto leader or psychoanalyst, father or mother, takes us into the dark contours of manipulation, psychopathy, and darkness of affective relations.

Freud himself would write various tracts on this problematic aspect of therapy and politics. As Becker states it,

“In his later years Freud wrote a few books that reflected personal and ideological preferences; but Group Psychology was a serious scientific work that consciously placed itself in a long tradition. Early theorists of group psychology had tried to explain why men were so sheeplike when they functioned in groups. They developed ideas like “mental contagion” and “herd instinct,” which became very popular. But as Freud was quick to see, these ideas never really did explain what men did with their judgment and common sense when they got caught up in groups. Freud saw right away what they did with it: they simply became dependent children again, blindly following the inner voice of their parents, which now came to them under the hypnotic spell of the leader. They abandoned their egos to his, identified with his power, tried to function with him as an ideal.”1

This notion that most humans secretly wish to abandon the causa sui project of adulthood, of gaining a foothold on their own inner authority of shaping their own destiny and living an independent life in the face of the terror of reality. That most humans secretly wish to have someone else provide the way, thoughts, words, and beliefs they will harken back to and sustain them in life as slaves to the Other. It’s this that is at the core of psychoanalytical mythology.

Again, Becker:

“It is not so much that man is a herd animal, said Freud, but that he is a horde animal led by a chief. It is this alone that can explain the “uncanny and coercive characteristics of group formations.” The chief is a “dangerous personality, toward whom only a passive-masochistic attitude is possible, to whom one’s will has to be surrendered,—while to be alone with him, ‘to look him in the face,’ appears a hazardous enterprise.” This alone, says Freud, explains the “paralysis” that exists in the link between a person with inferior power to one of superior power. Man has “an extreme passion for authority” and “wishes to be governed by unrestricted force.” It is this trait that the leader hypnotically embodies in his own masterful person. Or as Fenichel later put it, people have a “longing for being hypnotized” precisely because they want to get back to the magical protection, the participation in omnipotence, the “oceanic feeling” that they enjoyed when they were loved and protected by their parents. And so, as Freud argues, it is not that groups bring out anything new in people; it is just that they satisfy the deep-seated erotic longings that people constantly carry around unconsciously. For Freud, this was the life force that held groups together. It functioned as a kind of psychic cement that locked people into mutual and mindless interdependence: the magnetic powers of the leader, reciprocated by the guilty delegation of everyone’s will to him.” (pp. 132-133)

When we look on the reactionary politics of our day across the planet we see this dark hypnotic power, this emergence of those dark and powerful fascistic forces of fascination and hypnosis rising once again. People willingly falling and following the charismatic and authoritarian personality. The masses look to the leaders to give them just the untruth that they need; the leader continues the illusions that triumph over the castration complex (i.e., their own anxiety in the face of a monstrous cosmos) and magnifies them into a truly heroic victory. Furthermore, he makes possible a new experience, the expression of forbidden impulses, secret wishes, and fantasies. In group behavior anything goes because the leader okays it. (Becker, 133) Freud would address this in his great work on group psychology, on the dynamics of blind obedience, illusion, communal sadism. We see it in various cult personalities and cult leaders who hook into this secret passivity and need for authority in their followers. We are like children who wake up frightened by the dream of reality and need the comfort of our parents lies, their soothing assurances that everything will be alright. We need to feel and know that the world we live in will be made secured and safe, so we willingly suborn our lives to the dictates of authority, leadership, and god(s) – whether of religion or the sciences. We need our – as Nick Land terms it “Human Security System”. 

  1. Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death (p. 132). Free Press.
  2. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007. Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

Kierkegaard’s Pseudo-Possibility: Anxiety and Faith

Ernst Becker in his Denial of Death has a chapter on Soren Kierkegaard which sums up his path from anxiety to fait:

“Man breaks through the bounds of merely cultural heroism; he destroys the character lie that had him perform as a hero in the everyday social scheme of things; and by doing so he opens himself up to infinity, to the possibility of cosmic heroism, to the very service of God.”

This very notion is where I parted paths from Kierkegaard. All he seems to do is tear down the cultural characterology that has imprisoned the human only to impose another great lie: God, and the ‘service of God’ (the Lutheran health bespoken of so much by William James). Here we go again!

Why do such thinkers always end up in some form of transcendence, seeking some god(s) to assuage their new-found acceptance of creatureliness, animality, and mortality? I’d rather return again to John Keats, the poet, whose Negative Capability stands greater than such worship of some Absolute (i.e., God, Foundation, Origin, etc.): “I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…”

This seems to me the best answer to anxiety, and against the supposed ‘cosmic heroism’ of Kierkegaard and his wallowing in God I’d rather accept I’m lost in the cosmos without support from mythology, religion, culture, philosophy, or the sciences: I am just this thing which remains without foundation or support “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”. The moment we reach after some pseudo-human answer, some ultimate ‘Absolute’ to solve the riddle of existence whether it be God or some scientistic notion of the ‘Theory of Everything’ we go wrong, we begin once again building up that very character armor that imprisoned us in lies and pseudo-justifications. As Thomas Ligotti in his ‘I Have a Special Plan for the World” puts it succinctly:

“Then he said to me, he whispered, that my plan was misconceived. That my special plan for this world was a terrible mistake. “Because,” he said, “there is nothing to do, and there is nowhere to go. There is nothing to be and there is no one to know.”

Why do we always need a final place of rest for thought, some grand theory or fiction to put our stamp of approval on reality and ourselves. There is none. We are no one, there is nothing here… nothing. The Self that would need salvation, redemption, and pseudo-answers of any kind is the last lie, the grand illusion that people cling too out of habit and longing for some sense of meaning and hope. There is none. I Am Not. We are nothing and no one.

Living with doubt, uncertainty, mystery and the unknown as unknown is all we have and are. This process that exists between anxiety and despair with only the courage of our hopelessness. The moment we stamp the world with our puny diagnosis, our human meanings; the moment we name it, we lie. Let the universe remain unknown and unknowable, let it be what it is: absolute freedom, chaos, and contingency. A thing of Will not Reason… Irrational it moves and swerves without our approval or our ‘sufficient reason”. It will not be reduced to any human ‘meaning’, no matter how comforting and consolable such thought, principle, concept, or linguistic-mathematical our needs are.

Becker’s Freud is a vulnerable narcissist, a man who invented psychoanalysis because he had no religion, a man whose causa sui project (i.e., Wordsworth’s the “child is father of the man” — we displace the father and seek self-creation in our own authority, etc.) was to create and engine of immortality – immanent and perpetual. As he puts it:

“On the one hand he refused to move away cleanly from his instinct theory to the more blanket idea of a death fear. In the second place he refused to move into a yielding posture toward external nature; he was unable to give large expression to the mystical, dependent side of himself. It seems to me that the two reluctances are related in his refusal to abandon the causa-sui project, which would have led to a larger problematic view of human creatureliness. But such a view is the seeding-ground of faith, or at least brings the person right up to faith as an experiential reality and not an illusion. Freud never allowed himself to step upon this ground.”

I think it’s Becker not Freud who seeks some transcendent ground, some larger outer faith to sustain him. Freud mythologized the psyche in a pseudo-scientific verbiage seeking to discover the inner core of the human condition. He never discovered it because he like any thinker is always caught in the trap of language; of blindness and insight in-between what we are and what we are not. Unable to describe the unknown with the known we squander our thoughts in retracing the errors that have made us what we are. An impossible task to be a god. Freud torn between the forces of life (eros) and death (thanatos) strove against himself and others for the primal place. Like the ancient Greek Olympians he sought an arete of the mind – the pinnacle of a first chance without remainder. Yet, Freud failed his task as all must fail, because one cannot create what does not exist. He still believed in a Self even as it was a tenuous and nervous being whose truth was being a creature in a wide cosmos he did not know or create.

Thomas Ligotti in his Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror speaking of this being without Self or Reason and our anxiety about Death:

The same year that he published Being No One, Metzinger further clouded the issue. In a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, he referred to our captivity in the illusion of a self—even though “there is no one” to have this illusion—as “the tragedy of the ego.” This phrase fits like a glove into Zapffe’s theory of consciousness as a tragic blunder. Disappointingly, Metzinger goes on to say that “the tragedy of the ego dissolves because nobody is ever born and nobody ever dies.” This statement is borrowed from Zen Buddhism (the Heart Sutra) and loses something when translated from a monastery to a university lecture hall. In traditions of enlightenment, the only redress for our fear of death is to wake up to our brain’s manufactured sense of self and thus eliminate what we mistakenly think we are before it is too late.1

In other words, the only alleviation for the pain and suffering of time and existence in this world is to eliminate the culprit that has exposed it: consciousness itself. Life is like a story that is spoiled by an unsatisfactory resolution of preceding events. There are no retroactive fix-ups for the corpses we shall become. “All’s well that ends well” is well enough in the short run. “In the long run,” as British economist John Maynard Keynes reportedly stated, “we are all dead.” This does not sit well with us by way of an ending. But it is not as if we can choose how things will end for us, or for those yet unborn.” (ibid.) There is no answer, no justification for existence. For Ligotti and his mentor, the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe, life has no answer because there is no one to receive the answer or ask the question.  At the close of his last major writing, Zapffe answers all who despair of this view. “‘Unfortunately,’ rues the playful pessimist, ‘I cannot help you. All I have for facing death myself, is a foolish smile.’”2

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Penguin Publishing Group.
  2. Tangenes, Gisle. The View from Mount Zapffe. Philosophy Now. 2004 <;

The Horror of the World

“What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music….”
—Soren Kierkegaard

“To isolate the abstract purpose of horror, therefore, does not require a supplementary philosophical operation. Horror defines itself through a pact with abstraction, of such primordial compulsion that disciplined metaphysics can only struggle, belatedly, to recapture it. Some sublime ‘thing’ — abstracted radically from what it is for us — belongs to horror long before reason sets out on its pursuit. Horror first encounters ‘that’ which philosophy eventually seeks to know.”
—Nick Land. Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

The Outlaws of Reality

“What exactly would it mean on this earth to be wholly unrepressed, to live in full bodily and psychic expansiveness? It can only mean to be reborn into madness.”
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

At the heart of existential thought from Kierkegaard to Cioran is this sense of having fallen into consciousness, thrown out of the paradise of fullness into lack – the void which we are seeking through self-reflection a way out of the human condition. From Prometheus’ legends come the sense that humans were from the beginning lacking something and the powers that be gave him this thing: consciousness – the fire of awareness. To be aware is to be aware of one’s nothingness. That is the central insight of existential thought. This deep and abiding dread of our existence the core of our disease. As Kierkegaard once suggested,

“The spirit (self-consciousness) cannot do away with itself [i.e., self-consciousness cannot disappear]…. Neither can man sink down into the vegetative life [i.e., be wholly an animal]…. He cannot flee from dread (the dread of being this nothingness we are).”

Yet, in our time there is a darker turn toward paranoia, the notion in the masses that deal with conspiracies: political, paranormal, ufology, ancient aliens, the unknown and noumenal surround, matrix, etc. This sense that things are not what they seem, that there is something wrong with our lives, meanings, and reality. In such thought as speculative realism it takes on the form of an indirect access to the Real – a thin veil or filter between us and the actual world going back to Kant’s great divide between the phenomenal and noumenal; or, Plato’s two-world theory of the World of Ideas-Forms-Unchanging and the deluded world of metamorphosis, illusion, appearances.

One thinker on Kant Henry E. Alison suggested that it was not an actual dualism of these two separate worlds, but rather a singular world in which our consciousness was dissociated from the truth of the whole world and had divided it into a realm of security and safety in which humans could be at home in the universe. We created a fictional and Unreal world against the chaos and contingency of a more daemonic world of an unbound energetic cosmos. We hide the truth from ourselves, masters of deception and self-deception we invented religion, philosophy, and the sciences to circumvent the Real. We sought to control reality rather than be controlled by its irrational forces of chaos and contingency. We invented Reason to stay us against these darker forces of the unknown. The curtain of the fantasy that hides the truth from us is in our time fraying at the edges, allowing these irrational forces of the universe to slowly unfold in the various psychosis of modernity. Civilization was always the mad and insane barrier against reality, and as it crumbles along with its ideological entrapments, we are being thrust into the void of the unknown…

“The inculcation of character has been seen as a primary function of culture and schooling, particularly since schools first appeared and there has been a lively debate about character formation for centuries.”
— James Arthur

The notion of character is as old as Aristotle if not before that in various forms in many different civilizations and cultures. Each society develops its own sense of character, shapes its virtues and forms. Our emergence from childhood becomes the project of character formation. It’s the greatest fantasy project that humans ever devised. We are the creations of a great lie, a deception and self-deceiving system of thought and feeling that seeks to protect and defend us against reality. Tout Court. Those that do not enter this character formation suffer its insolvency. They are the psychotic and deranged beings of our madness. From the German Romantics onward we’ve seen a dialogue with this essential breakdown of character formation and its socialization processes. Some like Nerval, Rimbaud, Bataille, Artaud, and Land among others innumerable have sought to eliminate this character formation and reenter the great psychosis of the Real. With every experiment in experiential exploration there is the promise of breakthrough, but most end up on the dark void of breakdown and schizophrenic psychosis. Blown apart as they break free of their character armor, their ‘human security system’.

Psychoanalysis was a study of the various defense mechanisms humanity has developed over the millennia against reality. Our fears, terrors, dreads, and anxieties of the chaos and contingency of existence. “Kierkegaard understood that the lie of character is built up because the child needs to adjust to the world, to the parents, and to his own existential dilemmas. It is built up before the child has a chance to learn about himself in an open or free way, and thus character defenses are automatic and unconscious. The problem is that the child becomes dependent on them and comes to be encased in his own character armor, unable to see freely beyond his own prison or into himself, into the defenses he is using, the things that are determining his unfreedom.”1 We live in a realm of total control and unfreedom; and, yet, we call it freedom and democracy. Most humans willingly enter their own self-imposed prisons to escape reality and freedom.

Character formation develops zombies, automatons, puppets and mannikins of the human; copies of its outward forms. Most people sleepwalk through existence never realizing that they are living in a real matrix of virtual lies. “Man is protected by the secure and limited alternatives his society offers him, and if he does not look up from his path he can live out his life with a certain dull security: “Devoid of imagination, as the Philistine always is, he lives in a certain trivial province of experience as to how things go, what is possible, what usually occurs…. Philistinism tranquilizes itself in the trivial….” (Becker, p. 76) Civilization is a madhouse for normalization processes that turn humans into inhuman machines that live out their lives secure and limited by work, play, and family. Anyone who steps beyond the proscribed limits of social character formation and its prison become the outlaws of reality.

Nick Land once suggested there is one simple criterion of taste in philosophy: that one avoid the vulgarity of anthropomorphism. It is by failing here that one comes to side with cages. The specifics follow straightforwardly:

  1. Thoroughgoing dehumanization of nature, involving the uttermost impersonalism in the explanation of natural forces, and vigorously atheological cosmology. No residue of prayer. An instinctive fastidiousness in respect to all the traces of human personality, and the treatment of such as the excrement of matter; as its most ignoble part, its gutter…
  2. Ruthless fatalism. No space for decisions, responsibilities, actions, intentions. Any appeal to notions of human freedom discredits a philosopher beyond amelioration.
  3. Hence absence of all moralizing, even the crispest, most Aristotelian. The penchant for correction, let alone vengefulness, pins one in the shallows.
  4. Contempt for common evaluations; one should even take care to avoid straying accidentally into the right. Even to be an enemy is too comforting; one must be an alien, a beast. Nothing is more absurd than a philosopher seeking to be liked. Libidinal materialism is the name for such a philosophy, although it is perhaps less a philosophy than an offence.

Historically it is pessimistic, in the rich sense that transects the writings of Nietzsche, Freud, and Bataille as well as those of Schopenhauer. Thematically it is ‘psychoanalytical’ (although it no longer believes in the psyche or in analysis), thermodynamicenergeticist (but no longer physicalistic or logicomathematical), and perhaps a little morbid. Methodologically it is genealogical, diagnostic, and enthusiastic for the accentuation of intensity that will carry it through insurrection into anegoic delirium. Stylistically it is aggressive, only a little subhyperbolic, and—above all—massively irresponsible…2

Politics is an ordering of the prisoners within the cage of society. It’s civilizing processes shape what is and is not the limits of our cage of existence. Education is a form of inculcation into this prison system of society we term socialization. We are early on told this is the way of life, existence, reality. All other paths lead to madness. But this a lie — a lie to control us and shape us to the powers of illusion and delusion that will bind our minds and bodies to the dictates of the few. Escaping this prison house of lies is a difficult if not impossible task. Very few succeed beyond the first stages of awakening into reality.

The Way of Psychosis

“The Poet makes himself a seer through a long, vast and painstaking derangement of all the senses”
― Arthur Rimbaud

Wouter Kusters in A Philosophy of Madness speaks of the via mystica psychotica, a path that takes the wary experientialist down the rabbit hole of the four vehicles of detachment, demagination, delanguization, and dethinking:

“Speed; Desynchronization; Absorption; Insight and Power; Beyond the Law; Conflicting Commands; and Death and Rebirth.” These stages along the mad-mystical path are a thread that runs through the via mystica psychotica…”3

The ancient Gnostics were harbingers of this outlaw philosophy that sought to overcome the dark masters of what Philip K. Dick termed “Black Iron Prison”:

We are not products of this world but voyagers here— one thinks of Gnosticism at once. We have come here from another place and will eventually find the unexpected orthogonal axis and ascend to the next. Ah! Eventually we will chafe against the bonds— restrictions, determinism, limitations— of this world too, and seek release, as we did before with the “heavier” world. Maybe this world is neither heaven nor hell to its natural inhabitants; it just is. Maybe to us it started out as a place of release— heaven— but gradually and inexorably becomes another prison; in relation to the next an iron prison Rome. Then the black iron prison is wherever you are in relation to the freer next world— which fully, at last, answers my question as to where the vision of the black iron prison stands in relation to this world. The sense of this being so is an indication that one has reached the point of wanting to move on up.4

For those within the prison house of reality, the normal world of most humans this is the ramblings of insanity. But to those outlaws and voyagers of the Real this is the opening gambit to a world much larger and freer where the monstrous truth is revealed. In his study High Weirdness Erik Davis speaking of Dick as one of the outlaws of reality tells us: “The whole of the Exegesis is regularly interjected with dreams, whose accounts Dick interprets as coded communications from the Beyond, and whose substance and language sometimes make their twisty way into his later fictions.”5 We let the Outside in through these unconscious processes that unbound from the nomos of society allows us a glimpse of strange things. As Davis says,

The overriding message of these cracked revelations was that our world—or rather Dick’s early seventies California world—was a colossal cosmic illusion. Dick came to believe, at least some of the time, that he was still living in apostolic times, and that the intervening centuries of history were a fabulation. He and everyone else were trapped in a frozen block of causal determinism and political oppression he called the Black Iron Prison, whose paradigm was Rome but whose contemporary expression was the Nixon administration.

The wars and atrocities, the reactionary turn, the politics of dominion and conquest, the forces of control all point to in our time that the illusions and delusions, the character formation and reality twisting that make up the ‘Human Security System’ (Land) are coming undone. This is what the poet William Butler Yeats hinted at in the early Twentieth Century:

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

At the heart of modernity is this dark circle of fear that Christian civilization and the West are crumbling under their own weight of delusions; and, yet, along with them we see the same happening across the multifarious forms of civilization in Russia, India, China, Middle-East, Africa, South America, etc. The world is falling outside the borders of the ‘Human Security’ regimes and into chaos and contingency.  Philip K. Dick intuitively apprehended as much:

For Dick, this visible logic was not just unjust and totalizing but deterministic. To exist is to be subject to the unforgiving engines of necessity, the implacable fate (or wyrd) that appears in Dick’s writings in various forms: as the Black Iron Prison, as “engramming,” and as “astral determinism,” the ancient notion that destiny is set by the daemonic astrological clockwork of the heavens. Another word Dick threw in here was karma, a Hindu concept that had already been transformed by Theosophy into a kind of scientific mechanism or impersonal “natural law” by the time Dick came to use the term. (Davis)

This turn toward the Wyrd-Weird in the literature of the outlaws of reality from Poe to Ligotti are just this opening of the Outside into our existence once again. As Davis surmises: “The turn towards the weird in contemporary theory, briefly discussed in the introduction, is itself a symptom of a broader shift in consciousness, culture, and material conditions that amplifies this once marginalized word, into something that is at once a concept, a cultural space, and a mode of being. The weirding of our contemporary world no longer exactly means the “classic” weird—the weirdness that coursed through and congealed in pulp fictions, druggy subcultures, “counterhegemonic narratives,” and all manner of profane and heretical scenes and practices. Like so many undergrounds, that weird has become a cultural standing reserve, a raw material to fuel media’s need for the simultaneously new and familiar. The weird that saturates culture today is present often through its memetic banalization, like magical sigils serving as corporate logos.”

Even as the outlaws of reality open doors the cultural agents of order (ever vigilant!) seek to close them up through propaganda, lies, policing, media-tainment, and any and all forms of delusion and illusion. Dick himself was considered mad, out-there, beyond the pale, all the cliches that society loves to throw at anyone who dares to let the Outside in. Dick is representative of so many others who have littered the world of this outlaw philosophy: “the saints, shamans, werewolves, vampires, and lunatics with whom I have communed, and whose names are absent from this text, even though their words have infested my own beyond extrication.” (Land)

To step beyond the proscribed limits of the social norms and nomos is to court madness in the eyes of society. Becker tells us the Kierkegaard understood that psychosis is neurosis pushed to its extreme. (75) As a clinician Becker saw “what we call schizophrenia as an attempt by the symbolic self to deny the limitations of the finite body; in doing so, the entire person is pulled off balance and destroyed. It is as though the freedom of creativity that stems from within the symbolic self cannot be contained by the body, and the person is torn apart. This is how we understand schizophrenia today, as the split of self and body, a split in which the self is unanchored, unlimited, not bound enough to everyday things, not contained enough in dependable physical behavior.” (76)

Let me begin at the beginning, so beginners get it too. For the good of the cause, if we can maintain this ignorance of the crystal for just a little while, we may conclude that the recipe consists of four parts. Four is the secret number of madness, truth, and wisdom.
—Wouter Kusters, A Philosophy of Madness

Even that old pessimist knew of the fourfold: “That is precisely why I have taken the trouble in this essay to present the principle of sufficient reason as a judgement that has a fourfold ground – not as four distinct grounds that produce the same judgement by chance, but as one ground presenting itself as fourfold, which I figuratively call the fourfold root.”6 Why fourfold? What is this strange number world of the fourfold? Even the speculative realist Graham Harman speaks of this as the “fourfold structure of objects, which serves as one of the methodological pillars of OOO.”7 As Harman continues,

The notion of a fourfold structure of things was an idea floated by Heidegger in his 1949 lecture ‘Insight Into That Which Is’, though in such an obscure poetic form – earth, sky, gods, mortals – that even his most loyal disciples have made little headway with the concept. In The Quadruple Object, Heidegger Explained, and elsewhere, I ventured an interpretation of Heidegger’s fourfold, trying to show how it both resembles and differs from the fourfold of OOO. Since there is no need to explain the details of Heidegger’s quadruple object philosophy in this book, we will now discuss only the OOO version of the fourfold. (153)

So, what is this OOO version of the fourfold? Why is it important? What does it have to do with madness and reality? I don’t want to burden the reader with the inner workings of Harman’s strange amalgamation of philoosophy, metaphysics, and metaphorics. The point is not to understand Schopenhauer or Harman’s or Heidegger’s use of the fourfold in their work. More to the point is how it enters the via mystica psychotica presented by Kusters as the Crystal World of the Mad: “the quadrated world” a fundamental aspect of the mad world: “Quadrated world: A fourfold structure of the world or cosmos is established, usually in the form of a quadrated circle (four continents or quarters; four political factions, governments, or nations; four races or religions; four persons of the godhead; four elements or states of being).” (ibid.) He goes on to epostulate,

The fourfold form of the crystal can be interpreted in different ways. The interpretation that is most deeply embedded in our being is the division of earth, air, water, and fire, discovered by early Greek philosophers such as Empedocles and Pythagoras. Diogenes Laërtius wrote this about Pythagoras’s teaching: “The first principle of all things is the monad; arising from the monad, the indeterminate dyad serves as the substrate of the monad, which is cause. From the monad and the indeterminate dyad arise numbers; from numbers, points; from points, lines; from lines, plane figures; from plane figures, solid figures; from solid figures, perceptible bodies, of which there are four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. These elements interact and change completely into one another, and from them arises a universe animate, intelligent, and spherical, with the earth (which is also spherical and widely inhabited) at its center.” (ibid.)

E.R. Dodds in his The Greeks and the Irrational speaking of the ancient shamans and their own via mystica psychotica: “A shaman may be described as a psychically unstable person who has received a call to the religious life. As a result of his call he undergoes a period of rigorous training, which commonly involves solitude and fasting, and may involve a psychological change of sex. From this religious “retreat” he emerges with the power, real or assumed, of passing at will into a state of mental dissociation.”8 This process of training in psychosis is at the heart of Kusters on Philosophy of Madness: “there’s no need to defend the Doctrine of the Four, or the Doctrine of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. We’re going to use it only as a means to an end, to attain a higher purpose. Making crystal is our only goal, and as soon as the crystal is made, the elements are no longer needed.” (ibid.)

Why Crystal? Italo Calvino in his Six Memos for the Next Millennia tells us:

This taste for geometrical composition, of which we could trace a history in world literature starting with Mallarmé, is based on the contrast of order and disorder fundamental to contemporary science. The universe disintegrates into a cloud of heat, it falls inevitably into a vortex of entropy, but within this irreversible process there may be areas of order, portions of the existent that tend toward a form, privileged points in which we seem to discern a design or perspective. A work of literature is one of these minimal portions in which   the existent crystallizes into a form, acquires a meaning— not fixed, not definitive, not hardened into a mineral immobility, but alive as an organism. Poetry is the great enemy of chance, in spite of also being a daughter of chance and knowing that, in the last resort, chance will win the battle.9

Calvino argues that the notion of the crystal and crystalline offers us an emblem of existence: “The crystal, with its precise faceting and its ability to refract light, is the model of perfection that I have always cherished as an emblem, and this predilection has become even more meaningful since we have learned that certain properties of the birth and growth of crystals resemble those of the most rudimentary biological creatures, forming a kind of bridge between the mineral world and living matter.” (ibid.) He will go on to say,

Crystal and flame: two forms of perfect beauty that we cannot tear our eyes away from, two modes of growth in time, of expenditure of the matter surrounding them, two moral symbols, two absolutes, two categories for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings. A short while ago I suggested a “Party of the Crystal” in twentieth-century literature, and I think one could draw up a similar list for a “Party of the Flame.” I have always considered myself a partisan of the crystal, but the passage just quoted teaches me not to forget the value of the flame as a way of being, as a mode of existence. In the same way, I would like those who think of themselves as disciples of the flame not to lose sight of the tranquil, arduous lesson of the crystal. (ibid.)

Kusters like Calvino is of the “Party of Crystal”: “Madness is like an enormous bulldozer, turning over both city and countryside and leveling it into a megazone of destruction and nothingness.” (Kusters: Earth) Kusters speaks of the earth as our prison much like the Gnostics, and as well offers us that old shaman – Empedocles: “Empedocles was not of this earth. He came down from the top of the pyramid and said, “I walk about like an immortal god …” As the elders say of Empedocles (quoted in Kingsley 1995, 380), “It was as a fugitive from the anger of God that he too came to this world, for when he came down to this world he came as a help to those souls whose minds have become contaminated and mixed. And he became like a madman, calling out to people at the top of his voice and urging them to reject this realm and what is in it and go back to their own original, sublime, and noble world.” (ibid.)

I would only argue that there is not separate, other world, but that it is our broken consciousness, our divided self – our fall into this delusion and illusionary character world of socialization against reality that is at stake. We will not need to enter some “other world” but as William Blake in his “mental fight” foresaw: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing 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.” (― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) The point being we are already there, we are in the realm of reality but have been shaped by evolutionary forces to hide that fact from ourselves because it is too intense, too overwhelming and monstrous. It makes us anxious and full of dread. As Kusters puts it in “Air”:

If madness is like a spiral-shaped tornado, what are its beginning and end points? Does the spiral turn inward or outward? Or is madness like a four-dimensional spiral? As the element of air, the spiral in tornado form can lift you up, let you float and turn, carry you along, and set you down in very distant places. As the element of air, the spiral can release you from the earth, temporarily or forever. It’s the spaceship of the anonymous astronauts. It is Janus-faced: terrifying from the outside but serene and calm in the eye of the storm. Because of the invisibility and intangibility of the element of air, the tornado escapes from our grasp. We don’t know if we’re inside or outside the tornado, how spacious the eye is, or what there is to “see” there. We can enter the tornado only by moving through its wall. And whether we— as “we”— will survive such a move is unknown. (ibid.)

Then we enter the whirlpool of psychosis whereas Kusters quoting Deleuze says: “The crystal-image was not time, but we see time in the crystal. We see in the crystal the perpetual foundation of time, non-chronological time, Cronos and not Chronos. This is the powerful, non-organic Life which grips the world. The visionary, the seer, is the one who sees in the crystal, and what he sees is the gushing of time as dividing in two, as splitting.” (ibid.) To enter the waters of psychosis is to “renew contact with “fellow sufferers,” with seers and fools and those who don’t really exist.” (ibid.)

Then you enter the flames… “Within time the spark burns outside time. You stare into the fire and focus on the firing of the fire. Past the fire, past the becoming of nothingness and the being of eternity, you see a four-spoked wheel in the fire, and it’s melting. … Like a fakir who has passed through fire, you escape philosophy and arrive in the magic realm of the crystal, in the company of alchemists and wizards.” (ibid.)

“The full-blown schizophrenic is abstract, ethereal, unreal; he billows out of the earthly categories of space and time, floats out of his body, dwells in an eternal now, is not subject to death and destruction.”
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

This all sounds so enchanting, and yet I wonder why those who do not see this realm of wonder, alchemy, and magic as a place and site of metamorphic transformation and delight but rather as a realm of hellish paradise. Ligotti is one such, and so many other poets, thinkers, and dark mystics of negation and negative visions of this mad realm who see it not as blessing but as curse. What of them? Where do they fit in to Kusters grand vision of crystal and flame? As Ligotti says as if in rebuttal of this beatific vision:

My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception. In his stories, Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy ultimately has its origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture‐book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction. But it’s still thrilling in its own way. It isn’t purely hellish, as is the case with my stories. Lovecraft was an astronomy buff as a child and so this feeling probably stemmed from that time. I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis.10


“But man is not always so lucky… If the lie that he attempts to live is too flaunting of reality, a man can lose everything during his lifetime—and this is precisely what we mean by psychosis: the complete and utter breakdown of the character structure.”
–Ernest Becker

For some like Ligotti the crystal world is a frozen wasteland and infernal paradise of undeath where the terrors of life live on in a realm of pure ecstatic dread and wonder. Maybe the image of the Medusa rather than the Crystal or Flame is more fitting for Ligotti’s and the pessimal outlaws of literature:

It is possible that only the dead are not in league with the Medusa. We, on the other hand, are her allies—but always against ourselves. How does one become her companion… and live? We are never in danger of beholding the Medusa. For that to happen she needs our consent. But a far greater disaster awaits those who know the Medusa to be gazing at them and long to reciprocate in kind. What better definition of a marked man: one who “has eyes” for the Medusa, whose eyes have a will and a fate of their own.11

  1. Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death (p. 73). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation: George Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge, 1992.
  3. Kusters, Wouter. A Philosophy of Madness: The Experience of Psychotic Thinking. The MIT Press (December 1, 2020).
  4. Dick, Philip K.. The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  5. Davis, Erik. High Weirdness (The MIT Press). The MIT Press.
  6. Arthur Schopenhauer. On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Harman, Graham. Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (p. 16). Penguin Books Ltd.
  8. Dodds, Eric R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
  9. Italo Calvino. Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Kindle Locations 917-922). Feedbooks. Kindle Edition.
  10. Weird Fiction Review. “Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares.” [Interview] Weird Fiction Review. 15 October 2015.
  11. Ligotti, Thomas. The Medusa. First published in Fantasy Tales, Winter, 1991. 

The literature of terror, horror, and the weird

“We now know that the human animal is characterized by two great fears that other animals are protected from: the fear of life and the fear of death.”
-—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

“What exactly would it mean on this earth to be wholly unrepressed, to live in full bodily and psychic expansiveness? It can only mean to be reborn into madness. … I mean that without character-traits there has to be full and open psychosis.”
–Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

Waking up to realize even ‘secular atheism’ is a ‘religion of unbelief’ rather than belief is to understand all philosophy is mere fantasy, a security blanket and defense against reality in all its chaos and contingency. Doing away with the god(s) only exacerbates the situation, take away the props that supported our delusions and our freedom becomes another prison in which we pretend to absolve ourselves of belief in unbelief. When this does not work, we double down and produce even greater terrors… the literature of terror, horror, and the weird speaks to this.

Our fear of life and death drive our irrational impulses of flight. Realizing this we have over millennia developed mythology, religion, and philosophy as symbolic systems of belief and unbelief against the vectors of reality, against life, against death. As Jose Ortega Gasset says: “”For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.”

Nick Land’s insight into the voluntarist traditions of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud led me to conclude that the trope of ‘Will’ underlies our modern scientific notion of ‘purposiveness without purpose’: this is the key to understanding the universe and ourselves. The notion of the blind forces at play in Quantum Reality which shape and unshape, make and undo, create and destroy the fabric of ourselves and the cosmos. As Nick Land in an astute moment suggests: “Anticipating the psychoanalytical conception of ‘desire’, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche consummate the collapse of intentional transparency into the opacity of a contingent and unknown ‘will’, a ‘purposiveness without purpose’ whose  unmasterable irruptions are in fact dissipations – pathological by definition – of energy excessive to that required for (absorbed by) the ‘work’ of being human. At once underlying and overflowing the ‘torture chamber of organic specificity’, or ‘Human Security System’, this inundation creates ‘useless’ new labyrinths, unemployable new fictions that exceed any attempt to systematise knowledge or culture.”

We need our fictions, our illusions to survive in a meaningless universe that doesn’t know we exist much less care about whether we live or die. This objective non-meaning of things is at the core of nihilism which for Nietzsche is our ‘metaphysical illness’ — the sickness at the heart of modernity and progressive philosophy. When we overturned two millennia of religious consciousness in the Enlightenment with the fantasy of stability in Reason, a new mythology which would triumph in ‘secular atheism’ did not do away with those unalterable fears of life and death. They popped up in new forms and in new literatures, philosophies, and psychologies. As Mark Fisher reminds us: “What the weird and the eerie have in common is a preoccupation with the strange. The strange — not the horrific. The allure that the weird and the eerie possess is not captured by the idea that we “enjoy what scares us”. It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.”

What we opened up with the end of religious fantasies and support systems was the strange universe we all now live in. Without the theological, philosophical, and metaphysical ‘Human Security System’ that for several millennia had kept humans in a fantasy cage of irreality we suddenly pulled the curtain back onto what philosopher, Quentin Meillassoux, termed the “Great Outdoors” of Being. The chinks in the fantasy worlds that secured our place in the cosmos were no more, and with that demise the sudden realization of ourselves in that cosmos became unbearable. So, we began rebuilding a new fantasy based on evolution, science, and humanistic values that would culminate in secular atheism. This too is illusion and delusion. Our modernity is itself a grand mythology of progress and change in a universe of life and death without end. As Ernst Becker in Denial of Death sums up this line of thought:

“Modern Man is reluctant to move out into the overwhelmingness of his world, the real dangers of it; he shrinks back from losing himself in the all-consuming appetites of others, from spinning out of control in the clutchings and clawings of men, beasts and machines. As an animal organism man senses the kind of planet he has been put down on, the nightmarish, demonic frenzy in which nature has unleashed billions of individual organismic appetites of all kinds—not to mention earthquakes, meteors, and hurricanes, which seem to have their own hellish appetites. Each thing, in order to deliciously expand, is forever gobbling up others. Appetites may be innocent because they are naturally given, but any organism caught in the myriad cross-purposes of this planet is a potential victim of this very innocence—and it shrinks away from life lest it lose its own. Life can suck one up, sap his energies, submerge him, take away his self-control, give so much new experience so quickly that he will burst; make him stick out among others, emerge onto dangerous ground, load him up with new responsibilities which need great strength to bear, expose him to new contingencies, new chances. Above all there is the danger of a slip-up, an accident, a chance disease, and of course of death, the final sucking up, the total submergence and negation.”
—Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death (pp. 53-54). Free Press.

Even now this secular humanistic tradition has begun to crumble under the weight of new information and technologies of the posthuman, transhuman, and inhuman that are upon us. We are barely scratching the surface of the non-human cosmos in which we are no longer the center or circumference of value. The cry of the human is failing in a depleted world of dissipative forces that do not care or even know the human. We are alone in a realm of utter chaos and contingency. This is the strange we now live in which has spawned the terrors, nightmares, and visions of an inhuman future.

The Worm at the Core

““A little cooling down of animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a little irritable weakness and descent of the pain-threshold, will bring the worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and turn us into melancholy metaphysicians.”
—William James

“…the fear of death must be present behind all our normal functioning, in order for the organism to be armed toward self-preservation. But the fear of death cannot be present constantly in one’s mental functioning, else the organism could not function.”
—Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
—Howard Phillips Lovecraft, The Nameless City

This is one of the central insights into the so-called ‘human condition’ —we all die, and for me it goes to the core of our human need for religion, transcendence and the arts of illusion and delusion. We need justifications against this truth: we all die and that is the end. So long ago humans created ways out of this predicament – that is the heart of all religion: the need to escape death’s world of absolute annihilation. Whether in Buddhism with its eternal circle of karma and nirvana as the final elevation and alleviation of the suffering and torment of existence; or, in the Western monotheistic traditions where one is redeemed by some master of death, a savior who has conquered death for us and brought back the knowledge by way of resurrection, etc.

The pessimist is the realist rather than the fantasist, she does not seek some escape or exit from death’s reign but neither does she seek some form of morbid fixation on it either; no, the pessimist as realist just seeks to know it and face it, to realize it is part of the natural world and its processes. Fear and anxiety as all the various traditions of the weird and pessimal thought-forms suggest is just part of the natural animal apprehension of the unknown hollows of death’s finality. Humans are that creature for whom ‘consciousness’ of death, not death itself is the problem. Existentialism was at its core this struggle with ‘finitude’. All of our current preoccupation with posthuman, transhuman, inhuman, non-human philosophies is but a reaction against the failure of modernity to overcome ‘finitude’.

Again, humans are seeking a way out, a way to alleviate the pain and suffering of existence, a new path forward which is actually a very old path. We still seek some form of escape from death’s reign in our species: that is the core of transhumanism if not all the various threads of its philosophical, mythological, mystical, and pseudo-scientific enhancement pretensions. Whether through medical breakthrough by way of drugs and therapies, or through cyborgization the transhuman project is at its core another form of religious transcendence which seeks to overcome death’s grip. We seem to harbor this vein pursuit of overcoming death. Why do we need such a fantasy? Why do we harbor such strange dreams that we are willing to enter into a pact with madness to attain it?

As Becker suggests, there are two arguments:

Animals in order to survive have had to be protected by fear-responses, in relation not only to other animals but to nature itself. They had to see the real relationship of their limited powers to the dangerous world in which they were immersed. Reality and fear go together naturally. As the human infant is in an even more exposed and helpless situation, it is foolish to assume that the fear response of animals would have disappeared in such a weak and highly sensitive species. It is more reasonable to think that it was instead heightened, as some of the early Darwinians thought: early men who were most afraid were those who were most realistic about their situation in nature, and they passed on to their offspring a realism that had a high survival value. The result was the emergence of man as we know him: a hyperanxious animal who constantly invents reasons for anxiety even where there are none.

The argument from psychoanalysis is less speculative and has to be taken even more seriously. It showed us something about the child’s inner world that we had never realized: namely, that it was more filled with terror, the more the child was different from other animals. We could say that fear is programmed into the lower animals by ready-made instincts; but an animal who has no instincts has no programmed fears. Man’s fears are fashioned out of the ways in which he perceives the world. Now, what is unique about the child’s perception of the world? For one thing, the extreme confusion of cause-and-effect relationships; for another, extreme unreality about the limits of his own powers. The child lives in a situation of utter dependence; and when his needs are met it must seem to him that he has magical powers, real omnipotence. If he experiences pain, hunger, or discomfort, all he has to do is to scream and he is relieved and lulled by gentle, loving sounds. He is a magician and a telepath who has only to mumble and to imagine and the world turns to his desires.1

Reading Becker’s work on the Denial of Death along with Triver’s biological studies of deception and self-deception as supplemental to my reading of Ligotti’s Conspiracy and the pessimist traditions in general gives us a general image of humanity. As Becker suggests,

“On the one hand, we see a human animal who is partly dead to the world, who is most “dignified” when he shows a certain obliviousness to his fate, when he allows himself to be driven through life; who is most “free” when he lives in secure dependency on powers around him, when he is least in possession of himself. On the other hand, we get an image of a human animal who is overly sensitive to the world, who cannot shut it out, who is thrown back on his own meagre powers, and who seems least free to move and act, least in possession of himself, and most undignified. Whichever image we choose to identify with depends in large part upon ourselves.” (ibid.)

Those who seem totally oblivious and optimistic toward existence are be bound by various symbolic defenses, illusions, and supporting — anchors, distractions, sublimations, etc. that bolster their happy view of life. While those who are more open to the pessimal view have peered through the symbolic defenses of cultural religions and mythologies that hide the meaningless existence we share – along with the terrors of the unknown and death. So that as he says above it’s a matter of disposition, mood, and inner tendency as to which path, we opt for and open ourselves too. Most humans cannot bear too much reality so opt for the cultural mythologies, religious or philosophical or scientific that help them get on with life not pondering the depths of being beyond the need to justify their own simple existence of family, friends, and work. The pessimist typically wanders off alone or in solitude devoid of all those ties that bind her to the social fabric living on the fly or hiding in the midst of the crowd. Most pessimists know they will not win many converts to their view of existence, and for the most part they don’t even try; instead, they suffer it in their own private hell or madness.

  1. Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death (pp. 17-18). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Thought For the Day: Our Reality Changes as Science and Technology Change

“Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.”
― Arthur C. Clarke

I’m still a naturalist at heart, but more of a quantum take with the updated immersion in a deeper connectionism between things that we have yet to understand or incorporate. I think as more and more basic AI comes on board, we will begin to crunch equations that current physics and mathematics can barely analyze as humans are limited. AI and greater computational power combined with expertly thought-out algorithms will begin to reshape both physics, philosophy, and the sciences at large. Our instruments peering at both the Macro and Micro levels of Being are still limited and bound to current understanding. Even as we peer into the mind-brain issues of consciousness we are using the very tool “consciousness” itself to peer – the old observer present paradox (i.e., how much do we contribute to the outcome of any experiment we might conduct on existence and ourselves by our very observations? Schrodinger’s cat, etc.). We have no Archimedean point outside from which to study ourselves or the universe. We are stuck in this glue of self and self-consciousness. Maybe as AI becomes more sophisticated it will become a form of that Archimedean point or third-way outside human consciousness that will be the key to such discoveries. Time will tell. Thing about AI is it will probably take on a different set of features than any of our hopes or fears can predict or conceive. Most of our horror of this line of thought is sheer science fiction without fact or reason to back it up. Even supposed scientific men like the late physicist Stephen Hawking were “all too human” in their thoughts… even if the algorithms underpinning AI today turn virus and rogue and begin to show hints of inhuman intelligence; it will not be human at all, so will pose strange and fascinating prospects along with its ability to transpose and mimic human thought, concept, feeling, etc. At heart even technology follows the course of evolution into freedom….

Preliminary Notes on Thomas Ligotti’s ‘The Last Feast of Harlequin’

Some people say that nothingness lies at the heart of the mystical-mad existence. There’s a lot to be said for that idea.
—Wouter Kusters, A Philosophy of Madness

This is an early tale published in 1990, and later in Noctuary, The Nightmare Factory, and other reprints. It’s a homage to H.P. Lovecraft (The Music of Erich Zann) and Poe (The Conqueror Worm). It’s a long tale, almost novella length, and in its early sections has the musty flavor of boring scholarship and journalese of the essayistic mundane. Like most weird tales it seems to hint at things to come, of strange marvels yet to be revealed. Only in this fifth section does the central unknown begin to manifest in the festival of clowns.

I thought it interesting reading Thomas Ligotti’s The Last Festival of Harlequin that our old friend the Demiurge (Schopenhauer’s ‘Will-to-live’, Gnostic “blind idiot god”, etc.) pops up: “Too horrible to think of such a thing, but I must wonder if, for all their apparent aimlessness, those inhabitants of the ghetto are not the only ones who know what they are about. No denying that behind those inhumanly limp expressions there seems to be a kind of obnoxious intelligence.”

This seeming collectivity, the ghetto people who live in isolation zombie like in their incommunicative silence, roaming the festival of Winter like members of some secret brotherhood of the worm. Ligotti will create a divide between the normal citizens of the main part of town against the threat of these others through the slow accumulation of sense-data of his character’s experiential analysis. The festival itself is left in a limbo land of unknowledge, the character never knowing what its true nature is but methodically revealing its hidden lairs like pealing an onion fold by fold. The sense of two festivals, two realities: the one festival for the regular or normalized citizenry who do not even know the origins of their strange festivities using it to bully and ostracize their own clown-citizens who are secretly chosen by lottery; the others, the people of the ghetto seem to have their own clowns, their own festival but are ignored by the normal festival goers leaving them unharmed and alone. The Normals seem to fear these others but do not understand why. The other more mysterious clowns roam the regular festival unharmed and yet isolated and ignored as well.

As I begin writing the essay on this for the book the story reveals so many of the themes that Ligotti would in later stories isolate and expand. Clowns, puppets, the demiurgical force behind events and landscapes, the unknowing of the average citizen, the secret or forbidden knowledge of certain others who see to be part of a darker world of unknowing. So many aspects of a hidden reality surrounding us, the vectors of a monstrous world which we are blind too by the very fact of consciousness itself. I have so many notes on each of the tales I’m slowly rereading them along with the tales, revisiting them and revising the threads pulling out themes, tropes, motifs, leitmotifs, images, metaphors, concepts, etc. weaving Ligotti’s philosophical and literary influences and underlying thoughts of a lifetime. One could not write a biop of Ligotti like one might of Lovecraft or Poe, the outer life is one of closure, hidden behind his isolation and abnormal illnesses. One can only write about Ligotti’s mind, the preoccupations of his literary, philosophical, and psychosis ridden Ouvre. By psychosis I take up Wouter Kusters sense of vita psychotica or a psychotic praxis which reveals the inner biography of one who lives outside the puppet world of the Normals who seem oblivious to the mad world surrounding them. Kusters terms it the via mystica psychotica and suggests seven events or stages leading up to it: “Speed; Desynchronization; Absorption; Insight and Power; Beyond the Law; Conflicting Commands; and Death and Rebirth.” These stages along the mad-mystical path are a thread that runs through the via mystica psychotica.“1 He expands on each of these events, non-concepts, affective relations in his book, each section dealing with various facets of the megalomaniac’s psychotic episodes. Ligotti’s works form a long analysis of this via mystica psychotica which resembles in many ways the various threads of Kusters philosophy, and yet there are differences so one cannot map the one onto the other except where they might touch base and illuminate this strange sense of the weird and wyrding we find in Ligotti’s Ouvre.

As Kusters suggests: “Some people say that nothingness lies at the heart of the mystical-mad existence. There’s a lot to be said for that idea. Those who make their way further down the via mystica psychotica become more and more thoroughly detached, demagined, delanguized, and dethought. We can generalize these various demovements by characterizing the via mystica psychotica as a basic “de-xx-ing.” When the de-xx-ing destroys “everything,” you end up in a purely negative zone “where there is nothing.” This nothing is both the goal of the via mystica psychotica and the concept that underlies the de-xx-ing (cf. the discussion in the introduction to part III). This is where the mystical-mad paradox is most strongly felt: nothing can be said about nothing. Even so, in this chapter, I’m going to attempt to say something about nothing and to place the focus on mystical-mad nothingness. I have already addressed nothingness indirectly, both in chapter 1, with the experience of unreality, and in various places throughout other chapters as the premise for the method of the via negativa. In this chapter, nothingness itself is the main subject, and it is the negative counterpart to the three concepts discussed earlier on: the One, being, and infinity. (ibid.)”

In his tale ‘The Eternal Mirage’ Ligotti relates to one interviewer: “With that piece I wanted to convey my sense of the universe as something thin and unstable, something that barely has the quivering and illusory quality of a mirage and yet, alas, refuses to dissolve completely into nothingness.”2 In another interview Ligotti discussing his own illness and discovery of Lovecraft who solidified his outlook on existence: “No one in the world of normal folks wants you to know that there is any other way of looking at the world except their way. I mean, drugs got my mind off the normal track from the time I was fourteen years old. I had already been drinking a lot for a couple years before that, but it wasn’t until I took drugs that I actually began to think about things in a serious way. This, of course, made me depressed, as thinking tends to do. So I knew what kind of lousy, nightmarish world I was doomed to live in. Some of this was bolstered by the whole hippie thing that was happening at the time. But this wasn’t the same as reading what Lovecraft had to say about the universe in his stories and letters. Now I had an authority, someone who was intelligent enough to be a writer, in which I found an echo of all the things that depressed and terrified me about being alive. The horror and nothingness of human existence–the cozy facade of a world behind which was only a spinning abyss. The absolute hopelessness and misery of everything. I loved it. Lovecraft really gave me a reason to carry on. And that reason was to communicate, in the form of horror stories, my outrage and panic at being alive in this particular world.” 3

Asked by Thomas Wagner and E.M. Angerhuber:

Is Thomas Ligotti a nihilist? Do you dream of an anorganic black nothingness – the purity of an absolute void? Do you dream of your own “Tsalal” (Tsalal is the Hebrew word for the conception of all-consuming darkness)?

Ligotti answers: “Well, “all-consuming darkness” kind of suggests that there’s something going on in the universe. That’s not what I would wish. I don’t want a universe in which even nothing could be going on.”4

This sense of relation between ‘something’ and nothingness is one of the central motifs of modern existentialism. Kusters describing this through his psychotic praxis puts it this way: “the relationship between nothingness and being, in which being is the normal state and nothingness is the aberrant, abnormal, and pathological state. Being exists by nature, and only when it deteriorates or becomes damaged or broken in some way does a state of nonbeing arise. This nonbeing has no other positive value and no characteristics; it is simply an absence of being, just as without-a-coat is no more than “without-a-coat.” In the most extreme views of this kind, there is only being, and it is impossible to speak of more intense, decreasing, or absent forms of being. There is no nonbeing; it isn’t even conceivable.” (ibid.) So in this sense when Ligotti says against some absolute “all-consuming darkness” or nihil: “That’s not what I would wish. I don’t want a universe in which even nothing could be going on.” he is suggesting the same as Kuster that absolute darkness or nihilism is impossible in the realm of Being. There is always ‘something’ going on, a movement, a swerve (Lucretius). The other aspect of this notion of ‘movement’ and ‘change’ going on, a like pulsation against any notiion of stasis or fixity of a universe in which nothing, absolutely nothing is going on is in direct line to the ancient philosopher Democritus whose concept of ‘Den’ Zizek explains eloquently:

This is why “there is something and not nothing”: because, energetically, something is cheaper than nothing. We are here back at the notion of den in Democritus: a “something cheaper than nothing,” a weird pre-ontological “something” which is less than nothing. It is thus crucial to distinguish between the two Nothings: the Nothing of the pre-ontological den, of “less-than-nothings,” and the Nothing posited as such, as direct negation—in order for Something to emerge, the pre-ontological Nothing has to be negated, has to be posited as a direct/explicit emptiness, and it is only within this emptiness that Something can emerge, that there can be “Something instead of Nothing.”

The first act of creation is thus the emptying of the space, the creating of Nothing (in Freudian terms, the death drive and creative sublimation are intricately linked). Is not the Epicurean notion of the clinamen the first philosophical model of this structure of the double vacuum, of the idea that an entity only is insofar as it “comes too late” with regard to itself, to its own identity? In contrast to Democritus, who claimed that atoms fall straight down in empty space, Epicurus attributed to them the spontaneous tendency to deviate from their straight paths. This is why, in Lacanese, one could say that the passage from Democritus to Epicurus is the passage from the One to the surplus-object: Democritus’s atoms are “ones,” while Epicurus’s atoms are surplus-objects—no wonder that Marx’s theoretical path begins with his doctoral thesis on the difference between the philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus.5

This difference between Democritus and Epicurus gives us the difference of materialist dialectic: “Perhaps this gives us a minimal definition of materialism: the irreducible distance between the two vacuums. And this is why even Buddhism remains “idealist”: there, the two vacuums become confused in the notion of nirvana. Even Freud did not quite grasp this clearly, sometimes confounding the death drive with the “nirvana principle,” thereby missing the core of his notion of the death drive as the “undead” obscene immortality of a repetition which insists beyond life and death. Nirvana as the return to a pre-organic peace is a “false” vacuum, since it “costs more” (in terms of energy expenditure) than the circular movement of the drive.” (ibid. Zizek) This sense that we exist in a realm caught in-between two vacuums, between Nothingness and Less than nothingness is the realm of Being, Drive, and Den (“It moves”).

Strangely, Ligotti doesn’t like thinkers like Zizek (“Philosophers who don’t interest me are professionals like, I don’t know, Slavoj Zizek or philosophers associated with the indescribable Continental school plus any philosopher that would interest them going back a couple hundred years or so.”6) Yet Zizek offers a disturbing truth that underscores Ligotti’s on apprehension of the universe of nothingness, drives, and negation unequivocally. This notion that our lives are part of some monstrous ‘Will-to-live’ or as Zizek describing Freud’s death drive: “as the “undead” obscene immortality of a repetition which insists beyond life and death.” This idea of undeath and immortality of repetition, of being locked in a universe of pure repetition and death without reprieve, redemption, or salvation. That we are at the mercy of an immortality of consciousness locked in a prison house of eternal damnation of awareness. This is Ligotti’s worst nightmare that we are living in a universe of suffering, pain, and repetition without any way out. Suicide is not an option since we return over and over and over. Nietzsche’s option of loving the ‘amor fati’: this sense of immortal repetition of the Same to infinity as a form of the jouissance (pleasure-pain) without end is a delusion and illusion of a tormented being. There is no escape, only the endless truth we are all imprisoned forever in a torture chamber by a “blind idiot god” who may or may not know we even exist.

Isn’t this the gist of Thomas Ligotti’s dark epiphany in The Last Festival of Harlequin: The horror is that we are already immortals living in a universe of death – a Nightmare Factory without beginning or end, a realm of absolute hopelessness. There is no hope of escape from this self-lacerating prison house of pain; its torture chambers form an intricate labyrinth of madness, mayhem, and death without oblivion. It’s a death machine that blindly churns out nightmares eternally. Some of us are aware of that fact, others sleep in the puppet lands of zombiehood passing through life oblivious of its monstrous designs. The horror we see on the faces of those worm-like clowns of the ghetto regions of Mirocaw are both cult members of a secret order of madness and fellow laborers in the dark truth of this awareness. The only escape is not suicide, but never to have been born – a secret gnosis of being unborn. The only path of salvation is to undo the creation, to bring about a revolt against the very foundations of the universe and dissolve it in nothingness. And, yet this is a false dream and hope of the mad. There is no exit from your immortal life; only a hint of oblivion and puppethood and mindlessness without end. As Ligotti in a dark moment says to an interviewer, Matt Cardin:

“My own perfect world comes from an amalgam of sources, including Skepticism, Nihilism, Buddhism, and accounts of persons who have actually experienced ego-death, including U. G., as you pointed out. Not many people are interested in living in this world, so there is little motivation to work towards it. As much as we complain about life, we’re pretty much satisfied, or think we are, with the ways things are from here to eternity. To me, this is definitive proof that human beings don’t deserve to live in a perfect world. Even in fables wherein people lived in a paradise that is supposedly without ego or unnatural desires— Adam and Eve, Pandora— someone always does something to fuck things up so that the world can become the one we already know and, in our depraved way, love.”7


One gets the feeling that Thomas Ligotti knows more than he’s letting us in on. One reading of The Last Feast of Harlequin is his parody of the scholar going native. He shows both the narrator and his mentor becoming immersed in the study of madness and clowning. The mentor, Dr. Thoss, is an adept scholar who vanished from his career in anthropological studies and was discovered among the crowd by his pupil (our narrator). Throughout the tale the narrator unknowing of what the true nature of the festival is about is slowly initiated into its secret mysteries like some outside officiant who is being carefully groomed by certain occult forces. Ligotti may or may not know about the history of madness in general, but I suspect he is very adept at knowing clown traditions and their association with madness and the divine.

In the Phaedrus, Socrates defined four types of madness:

1) Prophetic madness, whose patron god is Apollo.
2) Telestic or ritual madness, whose patron is Dionysus.
3) Poetic madness, inspired by the Muses.
4) Erotic madness, inspired by Aphrodite and Eros.

Socrates would separate out the difference between the madness born of organic necessity which bore the fruit of sickness or disease, and of the “divine gift” of madness which bore inspiration in the four types above. It’s in this latter sense that E.R. Dodds in his study of the Greeks and the Irrational states: “Yet if the insane were shunned, they were also regarded (as indeed they still are in Greece) with a respect amounting to awe; for they were in contact with the supernatural world and could on occasion display powers denied to common men.”8

Thinking of this notion of being both “shunned” and “respected” and/or “awed” I thought of Thomas Ligotti’s tale The Last Feast of Harlequin in which the ghetto people are both shunned and respected by the mainstream community of Mirocaw. The elect or chosen ones who become clowns in the festival on a yearly basis through a lottery are drawn from the mainstream community, and are openly mocked, tortured, and castigated during the festival as anonymous beings to be ostracized. While the ghetto people who roam the crowds as clowns seem to be shunned and ignored, and at the same time they are given respect by way of fear and awe as the mainstream citizens on the street bypass them letting them pass unharmed, unnoticed, and unmolested.

  1. Kusters, Wouter. A Philosophy of Madness. MIT Press (2020).
  2. Angerhuber, E.M. and Wagner, Thomas. DISILLUSIONMENT CAN BE GLAMOROUS an interview with Thomas Ligotti by E.M. Angerhuber (EMA) and Thomas Wagner (TW), January 2001 for The Art of GrimScribe
  3. Ayad, Neddal. The Ligotti Outtakes – From Correspondence 06/ 2004 – 09/ 2004 By: Neddal Ayad & Thomas Ligotti.
  4. Angerhuber, E.M. and Wagner, Thomas.
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. Verso Books. Reprint edition (September 10, 2013)
  6. Davis, Mike. The Lovecraft eZine interviews Thomas Ligotti October 14, 2015 · by Mike Davis · in Conversation.
  7. Cardin, Matt. Interview with Thomas Ligotti It’s All a Matter of Personal Pathology Conducted by Matt Cardin, July 2006
  8. Dodds, Eric R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) . University of California Press.

Thomas Ligotti’s Screaming Clown

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“The first story I wrote that I thought was good enough not to throw away, “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” was inspired by my depression of 1975-78.”
—Thomas Ligotti, Interview

In The Last Feast of Harlequin Ligotti’s narrator wanders the streets of a village in New England. Mirocaw is in the midst of a local festival of fools, an ancient pagan yule festival of Winter celebrating the death and rebirth of the natural order, etc. In a scene he echoes Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream:

“I saw a strangely designed creature lingering on the corner up ahead. It was one of the Mirocaw clowns. Its clothes were shabby and nondescript, almost in the style of a tramp-type clown, but not humorously exaggerated enough. The face, though, made up for the lackluster costume. I had never seen such a strange conception for a clown’s countenance. The figure stood beneath a dim streetlight, and when it turned its head my way I felt a sense of recognition. The thin, smooth, and pale head; the wide eyes; the oval-shaped features resembling nothing so much as the skull-faced, screaming creature in that famous painting (memory fails me). This clownish imitation rivaled the original in summoning an effect of stricken horror and despair. It had an inhuman likeness more proper to something under the earth than upon it.”
—Thomas Ligotti, The Last Feast of Harlequin

As Ligottis tells us: “The imagery in “Last Feast of Harlequin” isn’t all that bizarre — just the screaming clown face creeps and the crooked-looking town. Plus the worms. But there aren’t any worms in the screenplay. That element was to support the thematic material in the story and would look kind of silly in a movie.” 1

This is an early tale published in 1990, and later in Noctuary, The Nightmare Factory, and other reprints. It’s a homage to H.P. Lovecraft (The Music of Erich Zann) and Poe (The Conqueror Worm). It’s a long tale, almost novella length, and in its early sections has the musty flavor of boring scholarship and journalese of the essayistic mundane. Like most weird tales it seems to hint at things to come, of strange marvels yet to be revealed. Only in this fifth section does the central unknown begin to manifest in the festival of clowns. Ligotti tells us that he “wrote “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” whose narrator is a depressive. It was very bad, but not so bad that I destroyed it. I kept it in an old beer case that I used to archive my writing. Every so often I’d read it over again, thinking how I could extract the good parts from the bad. In the meantime, I began writing stories that were published in small-press magazines. More than ten years after writing “Last Feast,” I was able to rewrite it so that it was no longer terrible. Around that time I was developing a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome due to stress. If rolling on the floor of emergency rooms in spasms of intestinal agony sounds like fun, then ask your doctor if IBS may be the digestive disorder that’s right for you. That condition and my increasing panic-anxiety, along with getting older, really made writing an exercise in agony. It also became the basis for the stories of the “Teatro Grottesco” cycle.”2

This tale of cults, clowns, and worms is about anti-natalism:  “The Last Feast of Harlequin” is at its core based on antinatalism, which is expressed by the degenerate cult in the fictional town of Mirocaw, where the story is set. To my knowledge, Lovecraft sometimes voiced an aversion to human existence in his letters but never elaborated a philosophy of antinatalism. To him, human life was an accident but not necessarily a lamentable development in evolution. In 2010, I published a nonfiction book in which I fully flesh out my pessimistic and antinatalist worldview. This was a viewpoint underlying a number of stories I have written over the past forty-eight years or so. One major feature of “The Last Feast of Harlequin” that is undeniably Lovecraftian is the initial charm of the town of Mirocaw, something that lures the narrator of the story— and ultimately ruins him— in the same way that Lovecraft’s narrators are lured to such places and as Lovecraft himself was drawn certain New England towns. All in all, it makes sense that any reader would judge “Harlequin” as a Lovecraftian piece.”3

As with any philosophy, the definition of antinatalism will vary depending on who you ask, but what all subscribers to this philosophy have in common is an opposition to procreation. Though the general idea of anti-procreation has been with humanity since antiquity, it’s only fairly recently begun to take full shape. Even the term ‘antinatalism’ itself was not used as a philosophical term for the first time until 2006, and still to this day is not recognized in most official dictionaries. Whilst Wikipedia defines antinatalism as, ‘a philosophical position and social movement that assigns a negative value to birth’, it doesn’t take long to realize that a great many details are hotly debated.

In Ligotti’s The Last Feast of Harlequin the notion of madness, suicide, and a sub-climate of depression creep in: “The holiday suicides come to mind, and the “subclimate” Thoss wrote about… I must consider Thoss’s book about his stay in a psychiatric hospital…” This sense of a reality that makes one mad and is itself madness personified. A world within a world that is lost among its own hellish psychotica and psychotics, immersed in the vita psychotica of a path into or within the inscapes of a surreal realm where reality and dream merge into an absolute Nightmare Land.

  1. Ford, John B. The Grimscribe in Cyberspace Interview with Thomas Ligotti by John B. Ford Published by Dr. BanthamPhotoPlog – Silver AwardQuotation Archivist – Silver 01-05-2008
  2. Cardin, Matt. Interview with Thomas Ligotti It’s All a Matter of Personal Pathology Conducted by Matt Cardin, July 2006.
  3. Göttert, Michael. Interview with Thomas Ligotti. Published by Dr. Bantham 05-15-2010


Bones and Shadows: The Tenebrous Harmony

“It was then that he heard the voice in the bones speak of something different than it had before. What it told him was not the hopelessness of being shackled to this world. … The pact of bones and blackness. Skeletons becoming shadows. The eternal blackness. …

Maybe there was a way out. And the originator had discovered the ultimate change by which he could leave all changes and never return. Not an unending existence of changes but a changeless oblivion. (Italics mine) To all appearances, there had been someone who knew something: of all the principles which composed anything that could be called a world, somehow this one had been overlooked or forgotten. Everything seemed it would never end. The thought itself had been obliterated in the minds of everyone he met, and in his own mind. Once it had been a fearful thought, something to be changed—non-being. Over eons the fear had been eradicated, and then the thought itself. But the initiator, with his incantations and formulae had recovered the secret of the voice in the bones. And those who knew them lost the invulnerable condition they had evolved, the awful state of the perpetual. Joyous of his new-found mortality, he walked to the window and bounded across its ledge. Now it was over for him. One day it would be over for all, that terrible dream of everlasting changes that held us to a place that never should have been if its greatest intention led only to wallowing in the muck of eternity.”

—Thomas Ligotti, The Voice in the Bones

For Ligotti existence is a mistake, change – endless eternal change, the wheel of time where the round of mutant metamorphosis shapes us to a nightmare of repetition in a sea of blackness. The cosmic dust grinding away in endless, mindless creation and destruction. To be locked in the bones of shadows, where shadows draw their substance and become endless copies of themselves like manikins roaming a shadowed tower where being conscious is itself a labyrinthine night of shadows in search of bones; and bones, shadows. The voices, the voices…

“The collection of shadows… shadows binding bones… skeletons becoming shadows. And he came to understand other things: the land stripped of flesh… the reeking earth ripped clean and rising into the great blackness. This reverberant discourse had made him its student, imparting theories and practice: bones pummeled into purity… parts turned to brilliant particles… the shadows seeded with the voice of skulls… the many voices within eternal blackness… the tenebrous harmony.”

The Town

“I scorn your eloquence and your world, the poetry of a living oblivion, and now seek a simpler style of annihilation.”
—Thomas Ligotti, Primordial Loathing (1989)

Once in a great while I have to drive to Billings, Montana, the closest large city in the region where there are various businesses like Lowes and Home Depot, etc. On the way there is a little town about half-way to my destination. It’s a small town with a sign saying “Population 1530”. I’ve driven through this town in the morning on my way and afternoon or early evening on the way back many times. Each time I think it’s a nice, quiet town where I could live in peace, quiet, and without many people. No people out and about roaming, children yelling and playing ball in the streets. Just a quiet, peaceful town where people keep to themselves. But that’s the problem. I’ve never, and I mean — “never”, seen anyone out and about. Never seen a car driving down some side street. No women out in their yards putting laundry on the various clothes lines I see. No one, no one at all. Ever. The yards are all well-trimmed, houses look pristine and whitewashed with fresh paint. The stores in the town seem open, with friendly signs saying, “Come In, Visitors Welcome”. But I’ve never seen anyone enter or leave those stores. I’ve thought of stopping but something inside eerily says: “We don’t want your kind here.” A sort of strange inner logic of nightmare that crawls up my spine saying: Somethings not right, somethings wrong here in this town. So, I move on, keep driving, look back in my rear-view mirror hoping against hope that something or someone will not suddenly appear, surface from some dark enclosure, peer at me with a strange glint in their eyes and eerie smile on their face. But it never happens, nothing and no one is there. Ever. I keep thinking Isn’t this the truth of our lives forever. We’ll live in solitude in a place much like this where no one is around, and yet they are everywhere absent while present.