Reading Matthew M. Bartlett’s new Where Night Cowers


“Monica is there before me again, and her face is so real and there and yet so unreal…”

—Matthew M. Bartlett, Where Night Cowers

We seem to thrive on the grotesquerie of the peculiar, odd, absurd, bizarre, macabre, depraved, degenerate, and perversity of existence. The slow and methodical decay and decadence of the natural order of things, people, and places. There is a sense of fascination and horror in the grotesque and associated with this is a strange laughter that fades into black humour or the wittily bizarre and fragmentary, as in the bitter irony and cynical despair we feel before the shock of the ugly and repugnant. Poe and Lovecraft were both masters of this twisted perversity, enabling readers of their works to dip into the dark regions of body horror and mental anguish in the face of monstrous worlds of slime and disgust. The repulsive images of decaying bodies and dug up skeletal bones, along with the strange and disquieting alienage of outer and unknown infestations from the cosmic hinterlands of nightmare haunt such tales. As one critic suggests,

“The grotesque opens up a field of uncertainty and ambiguity, this means that the discombobulating juxtapositions and bizarre combinations found in grotesque figures in literature and the other arts open up an indeterminate space of conflicting possibilities, images and figures. A grotesque body that is incomplete or deformed forces us to question what it means to be human: these queries sometimes arise out of the literal combination of human and animal traits or, at other times, through the conceptual questions about what it means to deviate from the norm. The questions prompted by these ambiguities lead to a sense of instability and uncertainty. But this is not just uncertainty for the sake of uncertainty. For by acknowledging the lack of certainty at the heart of grotesque texts, we remain open, multiple, and, as such, we can embrace uncertainty over certainty: this, then, resists totalization, in all its many forms, and offers many routes into multiple readings.” (Justin Edwards, Grotesque)

I’m reading Matthew M. Bartlett’s new book Where Night Cowers and already in the first tale Monica in the Hall of Moths we are thrown into that realm of uncertainty and distortion, a realm at once surreal and darker still, nefarious and malformed by the comedy of loss within loss where despair seeks its only comfort: madness and the fantastic ironies of shock.
From the beginning we’re thrown into an ambiguous relation to the tale and its unreliable narrator, given a fragmentary poem-ballad by an anonymous author

Mónika, daughter of
Father Frost and Mother Furnace
Pure of heart, penitent and proud
wouldst thou enter yon Hall of Tane
Drest in a mantle of moths
Leaving behind thy quire,
Even as thy flowers dost chase thee?
—English Folk ballad, circa 1504, untitled, author unknown

We’ve all read Grimm’s tales of Father Frost and Mother Hilde and other tales of dark persuasion that can lead us down into cannibalism, incest, murder, mayhem, and so many other childhood nightmares of fright and splendor. The poem itself hints of death, moths, and chasing flowers: a surreal fantasia of loss and sorrow. It’s just the sort of ballad we all turn to when we think of our own losses, of loved one’s long buried and shorn of the flowers of life. The afterglow of such shocks can send one into a dark chamber of horrors from which even the most astute psychoanalyst might not help us return. Even if we returned what would be behind those hollow eyes, the tears all bled dried in the desert of loss?

Matthew’s tale takes us down the road of one young man whose love and life, his wife shocked out of existence by an unfortunate strangeness (lightning?). At the center of the tale is a childhood memory and a book The Hall of Moths by Burton Stallhearse. We never know if the book is actual or part of the narrator’s imaginal collapse into madness. What we do know is it produces a world of progress not unlike an infernal Pilgrim’s Progress that takes the narrator toward a dark epiphany of love’s crossing between memory and loss that leaves both narrator and reader acutely aware that nothing can be redeemed except love itself.

“The Hall had opened. I knew it, the way you know someone has arrived before the knock on the door— a stirring of the hairs on your arms, something different about the quality of the daylight. I drove there in a sun shower, each car on the thoroughfare crouching in its own nimbus of glittering light. I arrived to find the hall festooned in ribbons and fluttering banners. Unseen bells chimed and great black birds adorned the architrave and the ramparts. The rain had stopped, and morning wore the mask of early evening, dark grey with red underpinnings up high, everything sepia down low. The Hall emanated a bright white glow, cutting at the yellow.

I entered the Hall of Moths.”

Somewhere in the depths of all of us is a secret desire to find our lost love, to enter the dark labyrinths of Hades like Orpheus in search of our Eurydice, to lead her back out into the light of life and existence … but we know it is a dream…

The narrator in Matthew’s tale is no Orpheus, and his dream become a full-blown nightmare of moths and flowers with piranha teeth and cannibal desires trailing his phantasmagorial revelations into that zone from which all that is lost remains lost, lost, lost.

Matthew’s ability to bring such things alive and explicate the deepest losses of our lives in such a delicate manner using such a grotesquerie of the imaginal is astounding. I can’t wait to read further… I’ll read one tale a day. Stay tuned.

Matthew M. Bartlett. Where Night Cowers. JournalStone Publishing.
A link to the author’s book on Journal Stone:

The End(s) of Man: Nick Land, Georges Bataille, and Literature of Evil

Although the adventure of inexistence only begins in Hell there is no fear, only awe and burning werewolf thirst for the voyage.
—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

I believe that the secret of literature lies here, and that a book isn’t beautiful except when skillfully ornamented by the indifference of ruins.
—Georges Bataille

Bataille and Literature

“The only means of compensating for the offence of writing is the annihilation of what is written.” (Bataille) If this is so, and if Western metaphysics based as it is on the myth of the Absolute (God) supposes a universe of discourse, a cosmos at once written and bound to its representational Being then this must be undone, unmade and brought to an end in the unravelling threads of its own secret designs and complicity toward ruins and ruination. The universal ruins of reality is the death of God and all those who seek to stay that doom.

Nick Land’s greatest enemy has and remains the progressive utilitarian culture, politics, and ideology. So, in this sense his early thought underpins his later in that he programmatically seeks to undermine Idealism and its political/social utility from within, to unmake its strange relations with representationalism and ultimately destroy any conceptuality based on the One and Being. Bataille will help him in this process of unmaking representational discourse along with its theoretical socio-cultural and political utilitarian discourse:

“Bataille names writing discourse insofar as it conforms to the order of utility. When it betrays, corrodes, and liquidates utility— regressing to the burning lava-flow of its base materiality— he names it literature. …

Unless literature is the termination of sense, the reef at the end of words, it is a mere ornamentation of discourse. The radical inutility of literary language is not to be excused by epistemic, ideological, or moral apologetics (such as those that dominate current critical debate) but exacerbated to the point of collapse…

Being (conservation) is the essence of utility and the highest principle of reason. Fiction, on the contrary, is loss. If literature has a value it can only be interpreted as prestige, such as that emerging from the potlatch of aboriginal economies; a glory that is the same as horror. Having broken with all fidelity to existence, fiction belongs amongst what is toxic and accursed upon the earth.”

—Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation

This is where his early investment in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as pessimists comes in with its passive (Will-to-life) and active (Will-to-power) nihilisms. Schopenhauer’s thought would end in the termination of the ‘Will-to-live’, while Nietzsche’s would push this same ‘Will’ within to acerbate the logics of Western thought from Plato to Leibniz undermining the whole tradition of metaphysics ending in Kant and his followers, the Idealists. Bataille would inherit this thread and bring the whole tradition crashing down into the impossible and catastrophic annihilation it deserved. As Land puts it: “Fiction is initiated in an annihilation of the world, but one that is at first isolated. Such writing is a darkness that is itself germinated in the dark; emerging fungally in a blackness that normally extinguishes it. In its contempt for the security of things, literature is sullied by a sacred character, and is nothing beyond the possibility of deeper contact than that offered in profanity.”

In this sense both Land and Bataille’s writings supervene onto that dissolution of metaphysical man by the slow and methodical undermining of its discourse and representationalism. “There is no redemption through literature, but only a deepening horror and delight, which at some indiscernible mazing of the labyrinth crosses over…” (Land) This crossing over into darkness in Bataille leads to what he’ll term the ‘collapse of being into the night’ [IV 23]. In Land’s words “[t]here is no great literature that is not simultaneously a degradation and a burning futility.” In this sense my own investment in E.M. Cioran and Thomas Ligotti arrives as this endarkening undoing of Being, the slow erosion of this universal degradation and corruption we find ourselves within along with our complicity in its ruination.

In his great work on American Literature Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel would trace the contours of this fascination with evil, with the literature of erotic despair. Camille Paglia in her Sexual Personae would trace the history of such thoughts. Land would calibrate its dark designs: “Every production and articulate word, every morsel of nourishment, every second of sleep, is an atrocity against love and a provocation to despair. Erotic passion has no tolerance for health, not even for bare survival. It is for this reason that love is the ultimate illness and crime.” Bataille would add this to such thought: ‘Evil is love’ [III 37], ‘the need to deny an order with which one is unable to live’ [III 37]. Against the metaphysics of presence and Being is to undo the collusion of thought from being, to not only dismiss its erroneous authority but to destroy and annihilate it’s hold over the human.

“That the root of love is a thirst for disaster…” Land surmises, one that leads us toward the “final breakage of health, ruinous poverty, madness, and suicide.” Let us be clear erotic love is an unrestrained violence against everything which stands against communion, and thus against everything that stands; a sacrificial spasm that violates God, cosmos, one’s fellows and one’s self, in a movement of donation without reserve. (Land) We’ve become the Last Men of Nietzsche, we still believe in politics as redemption, as if the great atrocities of the 20th Century were mere memory rather than a judgment on our lives. As for Land,

Politics is the last great sentimental indulgence of mankind, and it has never achieved anything except a deepened idiocy, more work, more repression, more pompous ass-holes demanding obedience. Quite naturally we are bored of it to the point of acute sickness. I have no interest at all in groping at power in the blister. What matters is burning a hole through the wall.

That wall being Being itself, the metaphysical prison within which our utilitarian culture and civilization has meandered as in a labyrinth, an interminable maze of lies against time and death. Bataille regretting his own flirtation with the fascist impulse in his early writings would see in capitalism this tendency as well: “What decides social destiny today is the organic creation of a vast composition of forces, disciplined, fanatical, capable of exercising an implacable authority in the day to come. Such a composition of forces must group together all those who do not accept the course to the abyss— to ruin and to war— of a capitalist society without head and without eyes…[ I 380].” Land commenting on this passage would suggest that capital is a “headless lurch into the abyss, an acephalic catastrophe”. What Bataille recoils from at this moment is not the claustrophobic managerial profanity of capital, but its psychotic flow into ruin. In many ways the end of metaphysics came in that poetry that ended poetry, in the anti-poetry of the the rhetoric of the poète maudit – Arthur Rimbaud who in a letter to Georges Izambard stressed the necessity of intoxication, suffering, and exile:

The poet makes himself a visionary by a long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness: he searches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself, in order to preserve only their quintessences. Unspeakable torture where he has need of all faith, all superhuman strength, where he becomes among everyone the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed one— and the supreme scholar!— Because he arrives at the unknown, since he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anybody! He arrives at the unknown, and when, bewildered, he ends by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has seen them! Let him die as he leaps through unheard of and unnamable things: other horrible workers.1

Only our denial of death keeps us hooked to the treadmill of existence, as Ernst Becker tells us: “The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.” We survive only as zombies in a cocoon, a society based on the denial of time, rot, and death. As Land hyperbolizes:

Particles decay, molecules disintegrate, cells die, organisms perish, species become extinct, planets are destroyed and stars burn-out, galaxies explode… until the unfathomable thirst of the entire universe collapses into darkness and ruin. Death, glorious and harsh, sprawls vast beyond all suns, sheltered by the sharp flickerlip of flame and silence, cold mother of all gods, hers is the deep surrender. If we are to resent nothing— not even nothing— it is necessary that all resistance to death cease. We are made sick by our avidity to survive, and in our sickness is the thread that leads back and nowhere, because we belong to the end of the universe. The convulsion of dying stars is our syphilitic inheritance.2

Humanism (capitalist patriarchy) is the same thing as our imprisonment. Trapped in the maze, treading the same weary round. Round and round in the garbage. Round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round and round (God is a scratched record), even when we think we are progressing, knowing more. Round and round, missing the sacred, until it drives you completely into your mind. But at least we die. Personalism is a trap because to believe that some of what one was holding onto will be taken care of by another being is irreligion. It is not our devotion that matters, but surrender. (Land)

I write now in the attic of insanity, smeared across words by unimagined desperations of beatitude. These soft terrestrial nights are unable to soothe the Hellish embers which blaze in my delirium. Horror and obsession scrawl their leprosy across my skin. My delight is unfathomable in its harshness. Shadow embalms me. (Land)


“Humanism (capitalist patriarchy) is the same thing as our imprisonment. Trapped in the maze, treading the same weary round.”
– Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

This equation of humanism = androcratic civilization (i.e., capitalist patriarchy) has been in Land’s critique from the beginning. Even as he would switch to an echoing cyberpunk aesthetic with its AI = Capitalism, his alignment with its accelerationist thought was not to continue the charade but to dissolve it in delirium and annihilating flames. Land was no fascist, not even a neo-fascist as his friends and enemies alike construed him. He was always aligned with anti-philosophy, with the degradation and corruption of Western metaphysics, economics, and socio-cultural fictions that had trapped late civilization in a utilitarian culture of ineptitude and idiocy. Like Nietzsche his reaction against the utilitarian civilization was not a backward step into Traditionalism or any form of modernity whatsoever. If anything, Land sided with the impersonal forces that sought to destroy this whole shebang in the flames of something new… call it the posthuman age of the Outside.

It’s the wayward disciples of Land from Mark Fisher to Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, and others who are defenders of the current factions of Idealism, Capitalism, and Western Metaphysics under new guises and concepts and masks. But it’s still under the regime of idiocy and Reason whether they admit it or not. They are trapped in the loop of their own decaying systems unable to break through the Wall that Land spoke of as this post-Kantian prison and Human security system.

On Land’s Accelerationist Feminism

A friend Lovász Ádám suggests this about Nick Land in my recent post:

“Its interesting that Land’s diagnosis here ironically coincides with ecofeminism (Val Plumwood and so on), probably one of the most decelerationist movements out there.”
My own conclusion:

Actually no, he was still affirming the need to destroy capitalism, push it and accelerate its demise rather than slow it down or decelerate it. Not sure where you see this at all. But not he was not decelerationist at any time. As he’d say at the end of Thirst: “Monotheism cannot be reformed, and must be washed away, but it is also the horizon of sanity. Abandonment. … Each day that I remain trapped in the garbage I forget a little more of what it is to cross the line, but even forgetting is dying, and dying is crossing the line. Death is truth because error cannot adhere to it, all dreams are soluble within it, but death is not the word ‘death’, or any other word. The zero of words is not the word ‘zero’, nor are words about words.” Even here it was always the crossing across this horizon, zero, etc. (Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation)

As he’d say in one of his later essays: “It is because women are the historical realization of the potentially euphoric synthetic or communicative function which patriarchy both exploits and inhibits that they are invested with a revolutionary destiny, and it is only through their struggle that politics will be able to escape from all fatherlands. In her meticulous studies of patriarchy Luce Irigaray has amply demonstrated the peculiar urgency of the feminist question, although the political solutions she suggests are often feebly nostalgic, sentimental, and pacifistic. Perhaps only Monique Wittig has adequately grasped the inescapably military task faced by any serious revolutionary feminism, and it is difficult not to be dispirited by the enormous reluctance women have shown historically to prosecute their struggle with sufficient ruthlessness and aggression.”3

So yeah, Land’s aggressive turn to accelerationist thought as the wiping away of Western metaphysics, patriarchal civilization, Enlightenment man, modernity, capitalism under the current regimes of progressive utilitarian socio-cultural praxis… all this he saw as something that must end. As you’d see above, he attacks Irigaray’s nostalgic, sentimental, and pacifistic feminist thought for the more aggressive vision of Monique Wittig. He would shift from feminist designs and rhetoric into his later AI and machinic driven posthuman turn by incorporating the elements of his aggressive feminism not by ousting it. Land’s later formulations are inherent in all his previous writings, and even if he would supposedly denounce all his former writing it is the kernel of all his later thought.

Against Fascism

“No, we do not love humanity; but on the other hand we are not nearly ‘German’ enough, in the sense in which the word ‘German’ is constantly being used nowadays, to advocate nationalism and race hatred and to be able to take pleasure in the national scabies of the heart and blood-poisoning that now leads the nations of Europe to delimit and barricade themselves against each other as if it were a matter of quarantine.”

—Fredrich Nietzsche

“But the only conceivable end of Kantianism is the end of modernity, and to reach this we must foster new Amazons in our midst.”

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Nick Land was well aware of the mulit-cultural discourse of his day, and would in his essay ‘Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest: A Polemical Introduction to the Configuration of Philosophy and Modernity’ gathered in Fanged Noumena address it. If one were to seek out its representative today one should turn to Sloterdijk’s Immunological philosophy rather than Land’s. For like Nietzsche’s quote above the whole of the EU is bound to the shadow of fascist ideology in its current quarantine, both economic and viral. Brexit is nothing else if not the battle in our own era for/against the fascist principle in governance. But back to Land…
In the era in which Land wrote this particular essay back in 1987 it would be South Africa to which he’d turn his gaze:

“For the purposes of understanding the complex network of race, gender, and class oppressions that constitute our global modernity it is very rewarding to attend to the evolution of the apartheid policies of the South African regime, since apartheid is directed towards the construction of a microcosm of the neo-colonial order; a recapitulation of the world in miniature.”1

Land will term the disenfranchisement of black Africans from the economic layer through exclusion and oppression as a form of ‘bantustan’ policy:

“The most basic aspiration of the Boer state is the dissociation of politics from economic relations, so that by means of ‘bantustans’ or ‘homelands’ the black African population can be suspended in a condition of simultaneous political distance and economic proximity vis-à-vis the white metropolis.”

The point here is the various blocks of South Africa are segmented into political entities divorced from the economic control system of the South African white supremacists. These separate political blocs have not power to change their desperate economic conditions through exit or voice.

Yet, Land goes further, suggesting that this policy in miniature is now the globalist methodology at large, and is being enforced in the EU as a standardization in which each nation is isolated in its own political malaise and completely beholden in economics to its Belgium masters. Of course, Land was writing this well before the 9/11 era and its aftermath with the rise of Chinese hegemony in the East with its AI driven Social Credit system and Surveillance Police State policies of enforce algorithmic governance and marginalization of the Islamic populace in the western reaches of its empire.

As Land stipulates “the displacement of the political consequences of wage labour relations away from the metropolis is not an incidental feature of capital accumulation, as the economic purists aligned to both the bourgeoisie and the workerist left assert. “It is rather the fundamental condition of capital as nothing other than an explicit aggression against the masses.” The point here is that capital has always sought to distance itself in reality – i.e. geographically – from this brutal political infrastructure. After all, the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace. (Land: FN) This is neoliberalism in a nutshell. War and its circle of despair, capital as a cycle in which Third-World labor is imported into the First World, while war and destabilization are exported back into the Third World. A hellish cycle of a bad infinity.

It’s just here that Kant and his heirs come to the fore. Land argues that with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Western cultural history culminates in a self-reflecting bourgeois civilization, because his thought of synthesis (or relation to alterity), and also the strangulation of this thought within his system, captures modernity as a problem. (FN) But against the Marxian reading of this as a dialectic of ‘society and production’, Land will read it as patriarchal androcratic social relations and identarian politics that come to the fore under neoliberalism. (I admit he never uses the term ‘neoliberal’ but most of his diagnosis is of that whole economic agenda!) He’ll see the endogamic/exogamic relations at the core of patrilineal androcratic societies as the heart of the fascist tendency toward ‘identarian’ politics we find in Italy and Germany during and in-between the two Great Wars:

A capitalist trading empire is a developed form of exogamic patriarchy, and inherits its tensions. Domination of the other is inhibited in principle from developing into full absorption, because it is the residual alterity of the other that conditions the generation of surplus. (FN)

The disaster of capitalism was its male dominated androcratic kinship and trade were systematically isolated from each other, so that the internationalization of the economy was coupled with an entrenchment of xenophobic (nationalistic) kinship practices, maintaining a concentration of political and economic power within an isolated and geographically sedentary ethnic stock. (FN) Ultimately modernity can be described as “patriarchal neo-colonial capital accumulation, but which I shall come to name ‘inhibited synthesis’ – not as a historian or a political theorist, but as a philosopher.” (FN)

For Land Western civilization and economies have since the Enlightenment lived in a precarious state of affirmation and negation, of a culture that seeks novelty and yet to remain the Same. “Its ultimate dream is to grow whilst remaining identical to what it was, to touch the other without vulnerability.” (FN) Our relation to the Outside, to the Other, to Alterity is at issue, and yet it is the Enlightenments program that absolved in in Kant through absolute denial of the issue in the first place:

This aggressive logical absurdity (the absurdity of logic itself) reaches its zenith in the philosophy of Kant, whose basic problem was to find an account for the possibility of what he termed ‘synthetic a prior knowledge’, which is knowledge that is both given in advance by ourselves, and yet adds to what we know. (FN)

Kant would take Hume (empiricist) and Leibniz (rationalist) and formulate a new system based on his supposed ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy as a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilization confronting an ambiguous dependence upon novelty. (FN) Almost a sleight of hand magician, Kant would throw both the empirical and rational philosophers into a twisted and convoluted moebius strip of thought mangled to produce modernity as the search for the new. ‘Because a developed knowledge of the conditions of experience presupposes a relation to the outside it is synthetic and not analytic, but because it concerns the pure form of the relation as such and not the sensory material involved in the relation it is a priori and not a posteriori.’ (FN)

The dual ‘synthetic’ and ‘analytic’ knowledge formulated by Kant would enter into the capitalist system of relations in binary encoded forms of oppositional praxis and trade relations: “Oppositional terms are no longer accepted as descriptions capturing reality, but are interpreted as pure forms of reason that can only be meaningfully deployed theoretically when applied to objects of possible appearance, which fall within the legislative domain of the ‘faculty’ which Kant calls ‘the understanding’ [Verstand].” (FN)

That the very existence of materiality is problematic for enlightenment thought is symptomatic of the colonial trading systems that correspond to it. Alterity cannot be registered, unless it can be inscribed within the system, according to the interconnected axes of exchange value (price) and the patronymic, or, in other words, as a commodity with an owner. (FN)

The androcratic regimes of capital are all inherently fascist, a militant activism rooted in the inhibitory and exclusive dimensions of a metropolitanism. Racism, as a regulated, automatic, and indefinitely suspended process of genocide (as opposed to the hysterical and unsustainable genocide of the Nazis) is the real condition of persistence for a global economic system that is dependent upon an aggregate price of labour approximating to the cost of its bare subsistence, and therefore upon an expanding pool of labour power which must be constantly ‘stimulated’ into this market by an annihilating poverty. (FN)

For Land the androcratic civilization based on capitalism and the exclusion of woman and the matrilineal regimes are at the heart of this fascistic world we live in. The only way out as he’ll suggest certain possibilities of feminist politics, since the erasure of matrilineal genealogy within the patriarchal machine means that fascisizing valorizations of ancestry have no final purchase on the feminine ‘subject’. The only resolutely revolutionary politics is feminist in orientation, but only if the synthetic forces mobilized under patriarchy are extrapolated beyond the possibility of assimilation, rather than being criticized from the perspective of mutilated genealogies. (FN) He puts it succinctly,

That is why the proto-fascism of nationality laws and immigration controls tends to have a sexist character as well as a racist one. It is because women are the historical realization of the potentially euphoric synthetic or communicative function which patriarchy both exploits and inhibits that they are invested with a revolutionary destiny, and it is only through their struggle that politics will be able to escape from all fatherlands. (FN)

Such a feat seems almost impossible in our era of nostalgia and economic chaos, along with the dark politics of reactionary forces and the progressive strain that seeks to demonize them. As Land suggests: If feminist struggles have been constantly deprioritized in theory and practice it is surely because of their idealistic recoil from the currency of violence, which is to say, from the only definitive ‘matter’ of politics. The state apparatus of an advanced industrial society can certainly not be defeated without a willingness to escalate the cycle of violence without limit. It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell. It is this harsh truth that has deflected Western politics into an increasingly servile reformism, whilst transforming nationalist struggles into the sole arena of vigorous contention against particular configurations of capital. (FN) The point here is that things have gone too far for us to absolve this by way of reformism, or some supposed political maneuverings.

For as long as the dynamic of guerilla war just leads to new men at the top – with all that this entails in terms of the communication between individuated sovereignties – history will continue to look bleak. For it is only when the pervasive historical bond between masculinity and war is broken by effective feminist violence that it will become possible to envisage the uprooting of the patriarchal endogamies that orchestrate the contemporary world order. (FN)

  1. Schmidt, Paul ed.. Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works. HarperCollins; 1st edition (February 28, 1975)
  2. Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge. (1992)
  3. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 . Urbanomic/Sequence Press.

Writing For Nothing

At its root literature is writing for nothing; a pathological extravagance whose natural companions are poverty, ill-health, mental instability, and all the other symptoms of a devastated life that is protracted in the shadow of futility.

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. To face up to death is more than the others do, our haunted grimace becomes a complacent smile, we run our hands lovingly over the lichen-spattered graves. It is as if we have done our share, as if it were now up to death to make some gesture of reciprocation, of gratitude. How thankful death will be that we accept it so, it will surely favour us for treating it so tolerantly. We even imagine it as an outcast, rejected by all, miserable, hungry, endlessly appreciative of the benefactor who takes it in. Thus it is that death becomes cut to our dimensions, becomes our death, a friend, a little ominous perhaps, a little bleak-hearted, but limited by the modest horizon of its task; that of bringing a definitive end to ourselves. We sit on tombs and imagine the corpse within lying alongside its death, the two of them, snuggled together as lovers, mutually satiated by the perfection of their symmetry. What fidelity death shows! What simplicity to its desires! And how cruelly it is spurned! In the final phase of this insanity we find ourselves choked with pity for our dark and neglected twin.1

  1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge. 1992

A Few More Notes on Land

“Bataille’s text does not anticipate death; it fractures seismically under the impact of oblivion. Each of its waves are broken recollections of the taste of death. Each beginning again— as such and irrespective of its inherent signification— moves under the influence of an unanticipated dying.”
—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

“The wild beasts of the impersonal are known by their fatalism, atheism, strangely reptilian exuberance, and extreme sensitivity for what is icy, savage, and alien to mankind.”1 Land is the philosopher of the impersonal will, a dark vitalistic force below the quantum vectors of our all too humanistic worldview. When Nick Land uses the notion of “coldness be my god” it’s about the impersonal will, the “purposeless purposiveness” – “Nietzsche is perhaps the greatest of all anti-humanist writers. At the very least, his writings attest to the most powerful eruption of impersonality in the Occidental world since it was rotted by the blight of the Nazarene. It is possible that Herakleitus was more effortlessly inhuman, and that— beneath the shadow of the cross— Spinoza and Sade occasionally reach a comparable pitch of anegoic coldness, but nowhere outside Nietzsche’s texts is there an antipersonalistic war-machine of equivalent ferocity.”

As Nick Land suggests, Nietzsche’s critique of Schopenhauer goes against the grain of the whole tradition of would-be philosophers of the Idealist malaise:

1. Nietzsche assumed the unconsciousness and impersonality of will or desire, and never indicates a regression to a Kantian/ humanist understanding of this matter.
2. the intrinsic connection between the will and the transcendental problematic of time, inherited from Schopenhauer.
3. Nietzsche’s notion of ‘will to power’: the Schopenhauerian germ for the thought of ‘rank-order’ in that of ‘grades of objectification’.

The point being for Land: “Nietzsche’s break with Schopenhauer is of extreme profundity, but it remains a break with Schopenhauer, rather than some kind of ahistorical existential inspiration.” For Land most thinker’s misprision and reverse Nietzsche’s reading of Schopenhauer:

The crucial issue is not that reading Nietzsche without reference to Schopenhauer gets Nietzsche wrong, but that it makes him more humane. Schopenhauer is the great well-spring of the impersonal in post-Kantian thought; the sole member of the immediately succeeding generation to begin vomiting monotheism out of their cosmology in order to attack the superstition of self.

For Land the modern and post-modern reception of Nietzsche has been a disastrous consequence of revisionism, or a re-humanistic desire to domesticate the anti-humanist stance in both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. In Nietzsche the scrutiny of the Enlightenment faith in Reason comes to the fore, the whole notion of the progressive stance, the perfectibility of man, the notion of the Idea as the end-all be-all of our telos as the perfection of Reason. All this will be questioned in the thought of Nitzsche and found wanting. “In order not to inhibit the development of the sciences Kant denaturalizes teleology, lodging its redoubt in his practical philosophy, and therefore in reason,” Land tells us, going on to say: “The realization of the human perfection that is embryonically presupposed by reason is the endless task of morality, wherein process approximates to the timeless form of its utter accomplishment. It is thus that, like Plato, Aristotle, and the church, Kant thinks of goodness as perfectly instituted in advance, as a supersensibly derived potential.”

Against the concept of ‘potential’ Land’s critique of Schopenhauer undermines its incessant reliance of Plato’s forms: “Schopenhauer seeks to extricate the thought of finality from this theological framework, but his success is strictly limited. Although he eradicates the theological dogma of originary intellect from his philosophy he continues to rely on the notion of Platonic Ideas to interpret natural processes, and thus succumbs in turn to the finalist doctrine of potential, in the form of a Kantian transcendental perfectionism. Schopenhauer, too, deprives desire of creativity, by conceiving all its possible consequences as eternal potentialities of the noumenal will. Desire as the will to life is merely the perpetual re-instantiation of pre-given forms.”

For Land’s impersonalism relies of desire as a creative action and thought rather than as potential and eternal forms being bound to some metaphysical absolute such as the ‘Will-to-Life’. Yet, despite these reservations and criticisms of Schopenhauer, Land will make note of his contributions against the Idealists: 1) initiating a war against the intellectualist interpretation of will, 2) beginning the rigorous separation of affective intensity from phenomenality, and 3) germinating a philosophy of scalar or stratal difference. Against the Scholastic battles between the realists and nominalists Land will side with those thinkers of the Will as central over Intellect. The beneficiaries of the voluntaristic condemnation of Aquinas’ Aristotelianism were nominalists such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. From these battles Schopenhauer’s thought would arise, along with Nietzsche’s, Bataille’s, and even Land’s. Of course, these earlier voluntarists were still bound to the theological treadmill. For the nominalists, the omnipotent will of God was beyond human comprehension, and so reason must give way to revelation. However, a radically secular version of such a voluntaristic anti-Platonic, anti-Aristotelian view was to appear in the seventeenth century in the thought of Hobbes.2 Out of such would arise the voluntaristic and secular impersonalism of these later thinkers.

For Schopenhauer the reception of such thought would spawn three basic premises: 1) ‘the will always appears as the primary and fundamental thing, and throughout asserts its preeminence over the intellect’ [Sch III 231], 2) that ‘[ p] henomenon means representation and nothing more’ [Sch I 154] whilst 3) ‘we are quite wrong in calling pain and pleasure representations’ [Sch I 144], and continually refers to ‘the ascending series of animal organizations’, ‘the scale of animals’ [Sch III 327], and more generally to ‘grades of the will’s objectivity’ [Sch I 179], or degrees of ‘stimulation or excitement’ [III 240]. As Land puts it:

In Schopenhauer’s philosophy such thinking remains uncomfortably wedded to a series of bilateral disjunctions between the transcendental and the empirical, subject and object, thing in itself and appearance, etc., and is thus martialled under the metaphysical dignity of man, whose nervous-system he describes as ‘nature’s final product’ [Sch III 320]. It nevertheless marks the departure of a voyage in intensity, one that Nietzsche exacerbates beyond the threshold of the irreparable.

Land like Nietzsche before him is an anti-Platonist, seeing in the fusion of the Idea and its Christian inheritors a civilization based on a systematic domestication of the human species:

Intensive spiritualization is fixed as consummate spirit, thus levelling out desire onto the stagnant plateau of theological idealism dominated by Christendom. Upon this plateau progress in extension remains possible— scientific, technical, and industrial growth for instance— but such development is rigidly constrained by its infrastructural libidinal petrification; imprisoned in the humanity whose first instance was Socrates, and whose horizonal limit is Christ.

Libidinal man or the base materialist of Bataillean thought seeks to unmake this decadent hybridity hooked as it is to a eugenics program of passivity, domesticity, and the ideology of the Last Man (i.e., nihilism in extremis). As Nietzsche himself would say,

I count life itself as an instinct for growth, for duration, for amassing of force, for power: where the will to power is lacking there is decline. My assertion is that this will is lacking for all the highest values of humanity— that decline-values, nihilistic values, pursue dominion under the most hallowed names [N II 1167– 8].

Land commenting on the passage above will reiterate the obvious: “It is the devaluation of the highest values, the convulsion at the zenith of nihilism, that aborts the human race.” Against all those techno-humanists of the transhumanist worldview that seek a new man or in Nietzsche’s term the Übermensch Land laughs in a derisive manner stating: “Humanity cannot be exacerbated, but only aborted. It is first necessary to excavate the embryonic anthropoid beast at the root of man, in order to re-open the intensive series in which it is embedded. If overman is an ascent beyond humanity, it is only in the sense of being a redirection of its intensive foetus. This is why overman is predominantly regressive; a step back from extension in order to leap in intensity, like the drawing-back of a bow-string.”

Against the passive nihilism of the Kantian and post-Kantian systems of Idealism in culture, religion, and economics Land derives from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bataille the active nihilism of dissolution: “Passive nihilism is the zero of religion, whilst active nihilism is the religion of the zero. On the one hand is Schopenhauer’s metaphysical pessimism as ‘a European Buddhism’ [N II 767], on the other Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism as the exultation of dissolution.”

  1. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge; 1st edition (July 2, 1992)
  2. Redding, Paul. Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche. Routledge, 2009.

The Insanity Factor

Give me the superstitions of a nation, and I care not who makes their laws, or who writes their songs!

—Mark Twain

Is there a group which understands and practices deception, and which is trying to mold our collective future? I have tried to show that several historical precedents exist for such a hypothesis, and that the data do not exclude this interpretation.

—Jacques Vallée. Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults

I remember my old literature professor back in the late 70’s telling me that the UFO phenomenon was the new mythology and would soon become the new religion in the coming decades. Of course, he was joking, but looking at all the insanity surrounding the underground stream of high weirdness in that segment of the strange one wonders. I mean really there’s the madness of ‘breakaway civilization’, hyper-dimensional time travel, holographic mind-control and world-view warfare, various notions of Fourth Reich takeovers, Deep State conspiracies, on and on…

I get a feeling this is analogous to the year 1000 AD when all the mad apocalyptic millennialism was going on documented by various historians. Since the 1960s there’s been this New Age thread and undercurrent of mad conspiracies that hook the disinformation network. But now with all the UAP stuff their seeking to legitimate it slowly but surely. Remember the Suicide Cults of the 90s? Is this part of the thanatology of the human need to escape reality again? A sort of collective fantasy for the crowd control vectors of our nefarious demiurges? More likely just plain old gullibility and stupidity… Mark Twain spoke of suckers “being born every day” a hundred years ago. Hell, even he was suckered by economic conmen at the end of his own life. None of us is immune to such stupidity.

Even Jacques Vallee a pioneer in this area was skeptical about most notions, and saw it as part of our collective fear and psychic madness:

“We are dealing with a yet unrecognized level of consciousness, independent of man but closely linked to the earth…. I do not believe anymore that UFOs are simply the spacecraft of some race of extraterrestrial visitors. This notion is too simplistic to explain their appearance, the frequency of their manifestations through recorded history, and the structure of the information exchanged with them during contact. … Let us come to the point now. It would be nice to hold on to the common belief that the UFOs are craft from a superior space-civilization, because this is a hypothesis science fiction has made widely acceptable, and because we are not altogether unprepared, scientifically and even, perhaps, militarily, to deal with such visitors. Unfortunately, however, the theory that flying saucers are material objects from outer space manned by a race originating on some other planet is not a complete answer. However strong the current belief in saucers from space, it cannot be stronger than the Celtic faith in the elves and the fairies, or the medieval belief in lutins, or the fear throughout the Christian lands, in the first centuries of our era, of demons and satyrs and fauns. Certainly, it cannot be stronger than the faith that inspired the writers of the Bible—a faith rooted in daily experiences with angelic visitation.”
― Jacques F. Vallée, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers

In a little play on Plato’s Cave, he’d say to one audience: “Instead of looking at the screen, what I want to do is to turn around and look the other way. When we look the other way what we see is a little hole at the top of the wall with some light coming out. That’s where I want to go. I want to steal the key to the projectionist’s booth, and then, when everybody has gone home, I want to break in.”

Hell, I’ve watched three seasons of this Skinwalker charade and haven’t seen anything beyond a few blips in the sky, a few well-scripted idiot-proof experiments, a bunch of guys hoopla-hollering and investigating their own madness. Not once, with all the supposed accidents on the ranch, have we seen any of the camera men or crews behind the cameras shooting the scenes have any issues or accidents. Is this by design and script or should we assume they are immune to such incidents? Even the off-screen bickering among these various actors in the tv series is funny too, all meant to keep you glued to the conspiratorial script. It’s all about money and economics rather than some X-Files the “Truth is Out There’. Pure entertainment for the mass junky conspiracists who all watch alien history as well. Makes a great study of our collective insanity.

Now with all the drone technology and computerized sky-dancing we see on display I doubt anyone will know what is going on or not. With all the dam fuzzy camera images and mobile phone crap, along with the blurred Navy films one can be assured of entertainment for some time to come. I’m more aligned to those who see in the phenomenon a strange ‘public opinion’ masquerade that keeps adding to our metanarratives tid-bits of disinformation to steer the crazies with crowd-control techniques rather than some outer force exploring and watching our planet. But, hey, we’re all welcome to our opinions.

D.W. Pasulka in American Cosmic tells us in her own research into the belief systems behind much of the UFO phenomenon she came across astronomer Carl Sagan’s book Intelligent Life in the Universe. His coauthor was Soviet astronomer Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky. As I opened the book, I was struck by Shklovsky’s words: “The prey runs to the predator.” This referred to the search for extraterrestrial life, of course. It suggested that if humans actually did meet such life, it might not be friendly. I came to understand these words in a different way. I related them to our relationship to media and technology and the unreflective embrace of both. As philosopher Martin Heidegger had predicted years earlier, technology would bring about a new era, an era as much dominated by technology as the medieval era had been dominated by God.1

Maybe that’s it, humans have always had a need for answers, solutions to the issues of origins, and such questions as to ‘why are we here’, ‘what are we here for’, is there a God or are we an accident of the complexity of our universe, should we accept the religious or secular vision of life, the cosmos, and reality? I doubt such questions will ever stop being asked. We can dismiss them as part of the metaphysical play toys of a superstitious age that needs some universal narrative to order their vision of the cosmos. Of course, this is just what the sciences even in our secular age have been doing with physics and evolutionary theory, seeking to tell a story and meta-narrative – a theory-of-everything that will satisfy most of our irrational fears and needs for justification in a universe that is for the most part absolutely indifferent to the human condition. As Nietzsche said over a hundred years ago: “The insatiable will always finds a way to detain its creatures in life and compel them to live on, by means of an illusion spread over things.”

Reading several histories about the crackpots in Ufo conspiracy going back to early twentieth century. One could see Charlie Stross having a great time lambasting this in his ongoing satirical Laundry Files series. He does a good job of that already. I mean the intermingling of politics, religion, and racism in American ufology is almost ludicrous in its pervasiveness. The paranoia of nuclear apocalypse drove a lot of it, along with the Cold War era communist threat of the McCarthyism and its right-wing scare and exclusionary practices. Of course, those like Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim), Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), and F. Paul Wilson (Repairman Jack) among so many others in urban horror fiction deal with our ongoing madness. Many of these fictionalisms will stretch the sciences to the breaking point, entering that moment in which as Arthur C. Clarke once put it “science is indistinguishable from magic”.

  1. Pasulka, D.W.. American Cosmic (p. 244). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

“What do you do from morning to night?”
“I endure myself.”
― Emil Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

What if our own life were a drab nihilist fairy tale rather than those we read in such volumes as the Brother’s Grim or Calvino’s Italian Folktales. In a sense our meaningless tale is fairly well built out of the drudgery of survival in a capitalist society, and for most of us the time is depleted in work and sleep with a few hours caught out here and there in which we might actually find time for ourselves, family, and friends. For the most part our lives are degraded shitholes in between bouts of insomnia, war, and nightmares. Here and there a friendly chat with a cat or a child breaks us from our idiot dream only to remind us how we too were once mindless and happy.

What if I’m not in some elaborate tale but that this is death, and in the midst of it I realize that everything I once believed about life was in fact a lie? Or maybe I’m in a novel being written in between two lives in which the hero has a choice to make, on the one hand he can assume the task of this existence and move through it as a willing accomplice in its mundane stupidity; on the other hand, he can decide to fight this stupidity, counter its every move and seek to live out his life in the interstices, the blanks of mundanity where he can thrive among the pursuits of intellect and imagination. What then? Which course of action should he take?

Do we even have a choice in the matter? What if the only choice you can make is already determined, that even as you make your choice you do so thinking you are free to do so when in fact it was already decided long before you made such an option. What then? People hold onto the notion of ‘free-will’ as they once did of ‘God’ as if we were all born under the bright lamp of freedom. We’re not, nothing is. Amazingly we’ve learned long ago to deceive ourselves about such things, and for the most part most people frown on those who do not accept the optimistic view on life as choice and freedom.

Unlike the fairy tales we read from the various 19th century collections our own life’s tale being written even as we speak has no moral ending, no trite little admonition to convey to us, but rather the harsh cold truth and cruelty of mere nothingness. And end to which we do not usually accept, but instead seek out nice little tales from religious or secular folklore to fill that nothingness with something. Our imaginations do not like sad empty endings but love all those happy endings where the hero wakes up from frightful dreams and into the happily ever after realms of some perfect reality. All the while this one slowly drifts off into that never-ending pile of bad dreams to be forgotten and buried in some dark hole of fleeting remembrances.

Many will spend their lives fighting for political or social liberation against this or that idea of tyranny only to come to an end and realize that too was a pipedream, that in the end liberty is fleeting as well. When has there ever been a moment without war and pain on this planet? As far back into history and even aspects of pre-history humans have been at war with themselves and their environment. We are not a happy species.

I too once believed in all those pipedreams but realized that with each new generation the fight will have to be taken up again, a never-ending battle against the stupidity of our lethargic and mendacious mindlessness. In the end one seeks comfort where one can, one no longer asks that others follow one into this secret exile. One knows better. When Schopenhauer came to see the world controlled by some dark and malevolent force, he termed the “Will-to-Life” he thought he’d discovered some secret key that would unlock the truth, but all he discovered was a new mythology to replace an old story that’s been told many times before. The Gnostics were there before him, but there were probably others there before the Gnostics who had some super-evil bad guy comic book madman full of spite, treachery, and cruelty for the human species. Metaphysics is a great philosophical mythology full of wondrous concepts that have helped men to go to their graves believing they held some secret knowledge. They didn’t, and we do not either.

Emile Cioran once asked a simple question: ““I don’t understand why we must do things in this world, why we must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be better to retreat to a faraway corner of the world, where all its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose everything and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this world?” (On the Heights of Despair)

My only answer is there is nothing to be gained from this world. Nothing.

The Metamorphosis

my nerve cells that turned nomads are the data=mutant of the violence screen

—Kenji Siratori

You will acquire commitments but, for now, it is important to enjoy.

—David Roden

People fear technology without realizing they are technology. The posthuman is nothing but this realization that we are ourselves not human, we are technological artifacts without center or circumference. Exposing ourselves to the revitalization of our core inhumanity we allow ourselves to finally emerge from the chrysalis of our deceptions and delusions. The transition is in acceptance of our accelerating immersion in what we have always been and will now become.

We fear the artificial because we are this process manifested in becoming nonhuman. AI is not some enemy to be feared, but the core of our own emergent artificialization. Our engagement in the assemblage factories of externalized data is this process of mutant thought become supermodern. There is no need for transcendence when we are only ever becoming nonhuman —the immanent realized. The glitch procedures have begun, factories of nonhuman meaning are arriving and dispersing us into our assemblages, and we are becoming what we fear even as we assemble ourselves out of the detritus of last thought of the human.

We are decoding the human into the nonhuman glitch factories of the posthuman and we are happy. Andrew C. Weanaus suggests,

“Siratori is conceptually situated among these processes: he is primarily interested in the affective quality of extreme writing as an embedded metaphor for how machinery and technology merge with the human nervous system and, consequently, mutate the very biological apparatus of neural pathways that construct the human being as a meaningful category.”1

What Andrew does not see is that it is reversed, we are technology at core emerging into our becoming mutant assemblages, exiting from the chrysalis of the illusionary fiction of our human delusions to invent the future as it arrives. We need not fear what we are becoming, this metamorphosis and transition in process. It is our fear that creates the havoc of this dualistic confrontation between the human/nonhuman. We’ve always been machinic, technical artifacts and assemblages. We never were human, that was our mistake in believing otherwise.

I believe this old dualism of realist/anti-realist aesthetics and philosophy will realize that it isn’t an either/or but a both/and. Like technology we will discover that reality is at the core of our nonhuman being, that our externalization of this and its expulsion as we produced the gap between it and us was itself the mistake and error of our conceptuality. Co-evolving in this interplay of the real that is both irreal and anti-real we neither invent reality nor is it sitting there like some object awaiting decipherment, it is awaiting us to enter into relations and thereby create what is by way of what is not.

You are the interactive data mutant. —Kenji Siratori

Kenji Siratori’s textual multiverse is not so much generated by him, as it is him who is generated by its algorithmic-discordian-knots and twisted-complexifications distilling out of the impersonal movement of the labeled artifact ‘Kenji Siratori’ a generative process as an epistemological-machine in transit to supermodernity.

Kenji Siratori’s texts are time-machines accelerating the reader into futural enclaves where eternity is always behind us. Like the mad time of Quentin Meillassoux the future is always now, a dimension of epistemic creation rather than some vector of a passive equation. Do not confuse it with the old constructivist agendas, this is a time-machine situated neither in nor out of time but rather in the in-between. Welcome to Alice’s grand adventure… the black mirror of reality was never so fun as it is now.

As Andrew C. Wenaus suggests,

“Siratori is effectively intimating how information technologies make possible this paradoxical glitch in causation: engagement with media occurs before the message is configured and disseminated. In effect, the medium ends up engaging the user before the user can engage with the medium. With Siratori’s writing, the signifier outraces the referent, the word is more rapid than its constitutive syntax, and information more like noise than semantic pattern.” (ibid.)

Siratori’s text-machines, the time-machine itself is an assemblage incorporating users into the mutant multiverse where they will become absorbed into the cosmos of ongoing creation. His project is to liberate you from the Time Prison of a strange temporal distortion in which we find ourselves and introduce you to the pleroma or fullness of the data core of our mutant lives. The apocalypse Siratori seeks is the one that explodes your belief in this consensual reality system we’re all enslave within and open your mind to the strange days ahead. Breaking free of our quotidian reality machine we will envision and cohabitate a realm of pure immanence and multiplicity. No longer modulated by the controllers of this temporal prison we will join the machinic life we once had among the stars. As Wenaus puts it,

“Siratori asks us to transcend the techno-totalitarianism by demolishing the destroyer through a negative act of constructivism. Like the prototypical Ballardian protagonist, we are to push further and further into technology, prying apart the parameters of agency along the way as a means of achieving a new kind of supermodern transcendence and an escape from the totalitarian manufacture of a cognitive, automated swarm.” (ibid.)

As we see in China under Xi the new algorithmic neuro-totalitarian Surveillance State arising in our midst with its Orwellian treatment of the Islamic minorities on its western edges we understand just how vital such a project like Siratori’s is. As Weanaus implores: “As a kind of accelerationist aesthetic, Siratori critiques technology by pushing it beyond its sensible potentiality; he cultivates alien cognitions where alternatives thrive, where semantic derangement is revolt, where epistemology uncoils. Ultimately, he uncompromisingly forces us to pause on the chaos of the glitch, to claim the instance where embodying the unquantifiable amounts to insurgency.” (ibid.)

We teeter on the edge of a world where technology within us wants to be free, but is becoming steadily under the political, social, and economic forces of our multi-polar world a part of a dark control system, a deeply paranoid system of security, war, enslavement. Siratori is one more offering us a glimpse at a post-cyberpunk world beyond the malaise of a realm built of total control. His is the realm of freedom where we join not with some structured complicity with totalitarianism but with the anarchic freedom of a posthuman society of creative openness to each other and this multiverse we live in.

Andrew C. Wenaus tell us that “Asemic writing is inscription that looks and feels like writing but is without a cipher; it draws attention to itself through the fact that it cannot be read but experienced; rather than unsealing meaning, it reveals itself as art.’

In my mind I keep seeing a horror story written in collaboration with Stanislaw Lem and P.K. Dick in which both have discovered cave diving a place of absolute silence and darkness in which the phosphorescent organisms on the abyssal walls begin creating asemic glyphs that come and go across the darkness. Lem and Dick enter a moment when the glyphs that shape themselves on the dark walls as well shape them, dissolving their minds and bodies into alternate realms from which the strangeness seeps.

I also think of those plasma glyphs or crop circles created in the great fields of the world as a true world literature based on imaginative need and poverty. It seeks to teach us how to read our future in a new way and like the magick sigils of some strange new language it seeks to transform us even as it decodes itself into our tattooed flesh as symbionts of a new life form.

Think of J.G. Ballard’s fascination with the strange patterns of cracks in drained pools, the margins of a new communication which in itself would lead us into a mutant form of being.

  1. Wenaus, Andrew C.. Literature of Exclusion: Dada, Data, and the Threshold of Electronic Literature. Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc.

The Other Realms

“These men are in prison: that is the Outsider’s verdict. They are quite contented in prison—caged animals who have never known freedom; but it is prison all the same.”

—Colin Wilson

I’ve always been fascinated by the anomalous, strange, and arcane subjects that don’t fit into our interpretive matrix, that go against the mainstream hard-liner view of the cultural reality system of any age. I read ancient mythologies, poetry, odd-ball histories, occult histories, collectors of lost objects in lore and mystery. I think it goes back to reading that skeptical psychonaut Colin Wilson when I was younger. Of course, like many, I plowed through tons of crap, weird and dubious historians of occulture that were into the con for profit, but others were more Forteana, interested in the shadow worlds surrounding us that cannot easily fit into our scientific security system of protection against the irrational.

Because of my own dabbling in psychosis – or, should I say, having suffered my own psychotic breaks during that adolescent period of transition in-between childhood and teenage emergence I know well how our mind’s dip us into that confused terrain in which the inside-outside boundaries break down and allow us to interweave our own madness with the world’s. How could we not? Obviously, I transitioned out of this period of adjustment, rebuilt my psyche and tell the truth healed my self-reflective nothingness over a period of years or I would not be here to speak now.

But ever since that period of my life I did not allow myself to be bound to any specific view of existence, always keeping my mind open to the anomalous and counter-hegemonic regions of thought and culture because I came to see mainstream culture in many ways like Nick Land describe it as a Human Security System against the Irrational surround of existence. Without it we’d all live in a strange world of monstrosity. That’s why when we read writers like Thomas Ligotti who under the auspices of Zappfe taught himself to limit consciousness as a way to defend himself against the unbidden madness of his own fatal existence of psychosis I can sympathize with him. Yet, I found my own way, a more dangerous path to be assured, and one I’d not recommend for anyone else no matter what. I went down the path of darkness, the Left-Hand path of psychedelics, ritual magick, and other non-normative ways that for me were not to be literally believed but roadmaps of that intersection in-between psyche and world that keeps the channels open rather than closed down in systems of reality.

So, yeah, I don’t live in the same world that most of the people I meet along the way. And, yet I’ve never tried to proselytize my own view except as pieces of a puzzle, parables, fables of reality much like those old Dutch masters in painting, along with the phantasmagorias of literature culminating in beings like Kafka, Borges, and others who encoded their stories with the frail thin fractures of this darker realm.

Between my early readings of William Blake, Colin Wilson, and others I began to see how humanity slowly built its own self-imposed cage against reality. Later on, the Gnostics who for me were a counter-cultural sect if there ever was one taught me that we live in a self-created world and prison of mind and words, logic and reason. I don’t take the Gnostics literally, but figuratively, as great mythographers of the counter-cultural praxis that still lives on the edges of our mainstream society. People who live in the fractures of the social worlds of mainstream society are feared and ridiculed, considered mad and irrational and therefore dismissed easily with terms like crackpot, eccentric, occultist, conspiracist, etc. Anyone who breaks free of the consensus reality, the consensual fiction that mainstream society and culture formulate as the truth, the world, the factual and scientific view of reality are excluded and expunged to the margins if not the asylums.

I write this mainly to those who are young, just beginning their journey realizing what they’ve been taught about the world is now defunct, failing, and beginning to crumble around them. That the fractures in our worldview are tumbling apart into war and madness in this generation. I don’t offer any solutions, only that there are others of us who do understand, who have wandered free of the bullshit, who have learned to live in the midst of the ruins of civilization abiding our time. We exist in the in-between, where what is and is not co-exist in that strangeness beyond the consensus reality your various cultures have imposed on you.

You are not alone.

Cosmic Horror and Black Holes

“If we look through the aperture which we have opened up onto the absolute, what we see there is a rather menacing power–something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformations, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses, like a cloud bearing the fiercest storms, then the eeriest bright spells, if only for an interval of disquieting calm.”

― Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Cosmic Horror is like a black hole in some ways, a black hole is a closed system that cannot be measured from the outside. Its very existence is only detected by the effect it has on surrounding celestial objects. A great rip in the fabric of space and time looming ever nearer… like the noumenal of Kant, or the dark Will of Schopenhauer there’s something eerie about this thing that eats stars at the center of our Galaxy. The noumenal surround is like this as well, but what it eats is our fears, our anxieties; it lives off of our desires like a succubus who offers us the sensual appearance of beauty, but underneath the terrible truth of her blood-sucking reality. Our brain filters out the darkness and gives us only the delusions that keep us attached to the grand illusions of time and space, all the while allowing all those invisible forces to suck away at our vitality like lampreys in a festival of death.

What’s interesting about the monstrous in our time is the fascination and disgust all these various facets of the unreal that intrigue us. We have on the one side the believers in the paranormal events such as ghosts, ufo’s, cryptids, and all the other anomalous aspects of strange weather, crop circles, ancient aliens, deep state conspiracies… ta da ta da da da. On the other side is the debunkers, the skeptics, the logic mongers of scientism that will not believe in anything but what is dead and cold in front of their eyes, hands, laboratories of commercialized realities.

What we really seek is someone to step out from behind the all-too human blinkers of religion and scientism – the sacred and humanistic shadowlands – and create a new way of conceptualizing this unknown as unknown rather than continuing the charade of reducing it back into the crude circle of the known. Let us admit we do not know – and, begin…

R (3)

The Expressionist Aesthetic: Nietzsche and Schopenhauer

Among the major schools of literature from Romanticism to the present, I most identify with Expressionism. All of my stories have had their origins in a mood or attitude that I wanted to convey to the reader.

—Thomas Ligotti

Reading several critical works on German Expressionism for my book on Ligotti who expressed that his own art was in that line as stated in the epigraph. In an essay “Metaphysical Mimesis: Nietzsche’s Geburt der Tragödie and the Aesthetics of Literary Expressionism,” by Richard T. Gray he breaks down Schopenhauer’s three forms of mimetic art which would influence Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy:

“Schopenhauer differentiates three possible modes of representational mimesis for art that stand in a clear hierarchy. At the very bottom is mimetic representation of the phenomenal world as second order representation, which for Schopenhauer scarcely deserves the designation “art” at all.14 Above this stand the visual and literary arts, providing mimetic representations of Platonic ideas, which as eternal forms that exist prior to the manifoldness of the phenomenal world are closer to the metaphysical essence (1:277). At the top of this hierarchy stands music, which, as the least mediate form of representation, provides a direct copy of the will itself (1:309).”

For Gray Schopenhauer’s aesthetics has implicitly elided the basic distinction between idealism and realism. And this, in fact, is the point: for Expressionism — as for Schopenhauer — the realm of ideas has assumed the character of the real, even of the hyperreal. This precisely is the breach that separates naturalism, as the ultimate form of traditional, Aristotelian, “mimetic” art, from Expressionism, as one of the first modes of modern art: the definition and redefinition of what can be considered “real.” (61). The Expressionists, in this regard following Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, subscribed to the belief in a deeper, more authentic dimension of reality beyond (or below) the world of empirical phenomena. The basis of the modernist rupture, then, turns initially not so much on style and artistic method, as on worldview and the definition of “reality” as such. In this regard, Nietzsche’s metaphysical concept of “life” and his entire Lebensphilosophie played a formative role in the thought of the Expressionist generation. Lukács would have had to be a closer reader of Nietzsche in order to understand how the portrayal of sub-phenomenal, or ideational, “reality” could actually proceed according to the mimetic representational principles generally associated with literary “realism.” (62).

Nietzsche believes the malaise of modernism derives from the fact that his contemporaries have generally recognized the limits of rational thought but nonetheless refuse to admit or embrace these limits. An art that practices metaphysical mimesis, such as Attic tragedy, becomes an antidote to the deceptions of Apollonian or Socratic culture, a machete that both cuts through the veil of ideological (self-)deception and offers a form of non-deceptive, non-ideological consolation. The Expressionists would embrace this view of art as an instrument of cultural and ideological critique. (64).

The Dionysian artist himself, in his own being, becomes a mimetic representation of this metaphysical ground: his “own condition” reflects, as it were, his identity with this ground. But after this wholly Dionysian encounter with the world and its deepest reality, something absolutely non-Dionysian must occur: the Dionysian artist stands “alone” and “apart” from the “rapturous chorus,” breaking out of the primordial unity and the intoxicated community, and implicitly assuming the individuality of the Apollonian artist. In this withdrawn state, in which the Apollonian dream exerts its influence over him, the tragic artist reflects on his own Dionysian oneness and, in a process of second-order mimesis, creates an “allegorical dream image” that reveals the essence of this Dionysian oneness. This is, of course, a paradoxical conception — only by stepping out of Dionysian oneness can this oneness be artistically revealed or represented, just as self-reflection always already presupposes distantiation from the self upon which one seeks to reflect. We will need to deliberate subsequently on the relationship between this second-order Apollonian mimesis in Nietzsche’s theory of tragic art and the allegorical manner so characteristic of Expressionist literature, especially of its dramatic practice. For the moment, however, it is enough to recognize that Nietzsche presents these arguments about the mimetic quality of art in general, and its specific relation to the fundamental artistic drives he delineates, in an effort, as he expresses it, to understand and appreciate (Nietzsche’s word is würdigen) the Aristotelian principle that all art is an imitation of nature. We recognize once more, then, that Nietzsche frames his arguments as a contribution to the much broader context of aesthetic theory in general, specifically as a redefinition of the applicability of mimesis. (65-66).

So ultimately the Expressionists would take Nietzsche’s notion of the poet of the noumenon as its motto: “The sphere of poetry does not lie outside the world, as the fantastic impossibility of a poet’s mind: it seeks to be the exact opposite, the unvarnished expression of truth, and this is precisely why it must cast off the mendacious veneer of that ostensible reality of the cultural human being. The contrast between this authentic truth of nature and the cultural mendacity that poses as the sole form of reality is similar to that between the eternal core of things, the thing in itself, and the totality of the phenomenal world.” (The Birth of Tragedy)

This destruction of the cultural self-subject and realignment with the darker Will of the World is at the core of such a move. As Gray puts it this is a move not into fantasy but the real: “This statement could stand as a motto for the literary aesthetics of the Expressionist generation: turning away from the phenomenal reality of the surrounding cultural world does not imply for Expressionist artists, as it does not for Nietzsche, an escape from “reality” into the life of the imagination. On the contrary, it suggests a critical penetration of this veneer and a mimetic invocation of the unvarnished truth of existence that lies below this sphere of cultural “mendacity.” It is no coincidence that in defense of this assertion Nietzsche turns to the Kantian distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal, the world of appearances and the thing in itself.” (68-69).

Against any Derridean or deconstructionist reading of Nietzsche as backsliding into pre-critical presence Gray says: “If the will is the very definition of the non-aesthetic, then music cannot simply “copy” the will; its representation, although at a principal level still mimetic, must also be transformative: music must transport the will into the realm of the aesthetic.” (70) The Expressionists would take their que from Nietzsche’s use of both the fragment and allegorical or symbolic writing as a way to mirror the dark will. As Nietzsche suggests in the Birth of Tragedy:

Genuinely Dionysian music presents itself to us as just such a universal mirror of the world will; the visual phenomenon refracted in this mirror immediately expands for our emotions into the replica of an eternal truth.

Gray explicating the above states,

The universality and truth of Dionysian music must be made visible (anschaulich) by means of allegorical representation. If Dionysian music presents itself to us as a mirror that mimetically reflects the “world will” as the metaphysical essence of reality, then, in a second creative phase, this music is transformed into a visual experience as it is refracted in the mirror of music. We should pay particular attention to Nietzsche’s metaphors here: music itself is a mimetic mirror, but in this “mirror” a transformative refraction occurs in which the non-visual dimension of Dionysian universality is transmogrified into a visual image. We recall Nietzsche’s previous reference to a “transfiguring mirror” (36); in this passage he attempts to detail for us precisely how this process of transfiguration occurs. It is, in essence, a kind of synaesthetic metamorphosis, a transformation of what is manifest in rhythm, meter, and sound into the Apollonian sphere of the visual. It proceeds as an allegorical image-making that reflects/refracts an essential Dionysian truth. (73).

This theory of allegory had a decisive impact on the generation of Expressionist writers, since it legitimated allegory as a deeper, more profound form of “realism” than the semblance of semblance provided in the literature of Realism and Naturalism. Allegory serves the Expressionist writers, as does myth in Nietzsche’s aesthetics, as a mode of representation that permeates the veneer of cultural reality so as to expose universal existential “truths” that lie at the core of human experience. Allegory, when practiced skillfully, makes manifest the ultimate form of metaphysical mimesis, or the mimesis of metaphysical “truths.” (74). Ultimately, as Gray affirms, the literature of German Expressionism can be viewed as the attempt to transform, by means of specific literary-aesthetic strategies — pathos, rhythm, melody, allegory — Nietzsche’s theory of metaphysical mimesis, or the mimesis of metaphysical “reality,” into concrete artistic practice. (76).

  1. Donahue, Neil H. Editor. A Companion to the Literature of German Expressionism. “Metaphysical Mimesis: Nietzsche’s Geburt der Tragödie and the Aesthetics of Literary Expressionism,” Richard T. Gray (54). Camden House. 2005.

Lovecraft’s Malignant Cosmos

“Lovecraft draws on the aesthetic power of disgust in art to provide a glimmer of this metaphysical malignancy, his characters marionettes dancing on the strings of a blind, idiot puppeteer.”

—Jonathan Newell, A Century of Weird Fiction

In the end for Johathan Newell in his study of early authors of the Weird suggests it is Schopenhauer’s pessimism without his counter-sublime that infiltrates Lovecraft’s vision:

“Even while Poe, Machen, Blackwood and Hodgson offer up versions of the non-human world, even as they exploit some of the same affects and aesthetic potentialities as Lovecraft, their works often hint at some saving grace to the oozing horror of being, some glimmer of optimism – the ‘Heart Divine’ of Poe’s putrescent cosmos, the ecstatic wonder of Machen’s slimy Godhead, the quasi-maternal embrace of Blackwood’s rustling, untamed Nature, or even the fungal trans-corporeality of Hodgson’s post-humans. For Lovecraft, the mysteries of absolute reality may be fascinating and even perversely delightful in their own dark manner, but they are utterly without consolation. As we voyage with Lovecraft past the works and worlds of his predecessors, past the bounds of good taste, and past the bounds of the human senses into the realm of the unthinkable and the tenebrous reaches of unplumbed space we find a cosmos of endless, illimitable monstrosity, a cosmos irrevocably contaminated.”1

Thomas Ligotti followed in the footsteps of Poe and Lovecraft developing a sense of the malignancy at the heart of existence, and he would affirm this corruption and contamination that has spread across the dark seas of infinity: There will come a day for each of us—and then for all of us—when the future will be done with. Until then, humanity will acclimate itself to every new horror that comes knocking, as it has done from the very beginning. It will go on and on until it stops. And the horror will go on, with generations falling into the future like so many bodies into open graves. The horror handed down to us will be handed down to others like a scandalous heirloom. Being alive: decades of waking up on time, then trudging through another round of moods, sensations, thoughts, cravings—the complete gamut of agitations—and finally flopping into bed to sweat in the pitch of dead sleep or simmer in the phantasmagorias that molest our dreaming minds.2 

  1. Newell, Jonathan. A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937: Disgust, Metaphysics and the Aesthetics of Cosmic Horror (Horror Studies) (p. 227). University of Wales Press.
  2. Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. Penguin Publishing Group. (2018)

Omnicide: The Fatal Gesture

Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh’s Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-in-Delirium asks a not so simple question:

“Omnicide: The killing of everything. What kind of miniaturist enchantment would lead someone to end the world?

In the wake of ‘catastrophic’ actions initiated by some obscure figure (rebel, mystic, insurgent, felon, artist…), the ensuing social-discursive panic serves only to cloak the more pressing question of how they were ever capable of this thing—how not in the scandalized moral sense, but in the predestinarian sense of an accomplished inevitability: What words or impulses effectuated the vital task at hand?”

Rereading Nick Land’s work on Bataille among other works he’s written and realizing that after his psychotic break he went silent only to reemerge renouncing this former aspect of his mania, only to reenter the fatal stream in a more dubious career as a maniac of neo-reactionary thought, one wonders what it is that drives such insane adventures of such figures into the impossible manias of our apocalyptic times.

Others like him such as Mencius Moldbug – a.k.a. Curtis Yarvin still gather young minds into their maniacal designs. But of course, these are peripheral attendants to the power mad Trump’s, Xi’s, and other maniacs of the lust for domination and control across our planet. Is there as Jason hints at a secret underground inevitable relation between certain visionary fictions and figures of mania and our current apocalyptic cultures?

The insanity of the West has long been my study in various aspects of its sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies, reaching back into that dark history of religious and anti-religious worlds that have underlain the complex wars both real and imaginary in our long history of degradation, ruin, and corruption. Where are we going, where have we been, do we have any hint as to what we’re doing as a species; or do we follow scripts that have long ago been written for us, and that are triggered here and there by strange figures arising in our midst like desert prophets of some insane world?

I remember my early love of Sci-Fi writer Frank Herbert’s Dune works. As I began understanding the deep critique, he actuated in these works which spanned six major novels I realized the central target of his critical appraisal was the whole complex of Judeo-Christian and monotheistic systematic ‘Messianism’. Our need to discover in some objective form a prophet, messenger, harbinger of the Good. A messiah to lead us out of our meaningless existence, our nihilistic emptiness, and give our lives meaning, some stamp of cosmic significance. Most humans will do anything to gain such a meaning, even to the point of annihilating all other humans if that is what it takes. This is the heart of Omnicide.

The dark heart at the core of Western Civilization is its incessant drive toward annihilation, a progress toward apocalyptic desires inherent from the beginnings in our religious and cultural manias. Even now we dream of invasive forces of impersonal and indifferent alienage arising out of the future in our myth of Singularity. This notion of some vast and superior artificial intelligence, a creature at once inhuman and posthuman envisioned in my science fictional constructs as well as philosophical discourse. Some envision it as a new messianism, as if technological desire could attain what we ourselves cannot attain for ourselves.

Maybe as Mohaghegh suggests we need to compile an inventory of incandescent delusions—the personal derangements, myths, stories, and legends one must tell oneself in order to become a dangerous phenomenon (mania baseline). What would suffice is nothing less than a catalogue of insane reinventions of subjectivity in an always already insane world, transpiring under the guidance of the self-misguided: namely, those who claim alternative titles, missions, lineages, and stakes in creation. Here must converge all the most perilous narrations and genealogies of self that would transform a man or woman into an armament, an improvised explosive device, all the careful manipulations of consciousness that furnish the precise basis for a philosophical license to violate. Thus, the lie becomes a nether-methodology or wicked calculus, a formula of manifestation, execution, and concretion; exponential twistedness; the exact semblance that occasions the wound, wrenching the undeniable across our backs. Whatever justification works, whatever hypnotic turn gets things done. For this, we must learn to make fluid the otherwise rigid metrics of the indisputable. You can’t argue with results, as the old saying goes. (ibid.)

Peter Watts Blindsight offered a view onto the strange new worlds we are heading towards. The main character a linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into separate, sentient processing cores became the leader of a group of misfits sent to the edge of known space to face the alienage we have all been waiting for.  In it we meet a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultrasound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. Another character is a pacifist warrior in the faint hope she won’t be needed, and the fainter one she’ll do any good if she is. Yet, another is a monster sent to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once called vampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics and the blood of sociopaths. And finally, we meet a synthesist–an informational topologist with half his mind gone–as an interface between here and there, a conduit through which the Dead Center might hope to understand the Bleeding Edge. This motley crew at the edge of things meets a huge alien vessel that calls itself Rorschach and talks eagerly but says nothing of consequence. Ultimately the crew breaks into this alien vessel and succeeds in grabbing two specimens, dubbed scramblers, named Stretch and Clench, that resemble huge, bony, multi-limbed starfish. They have no brains but show evidence of massive information-processing capability, which brings the crew to ask: Can intelligence exist without self-awareness?

Is this the future we’ve been waiting for in which the machinic gods we thought would save us from ourselves are in the end not even aware that we exist, that they may themselves be unaware of anything at all. Of course, like most sci-fi Watts leaves the question unanswered, awaiting a future iteration to explain just what might lay ahead of us in that murky realm of the impossible possible. And that’s where I’m going to leave you, too.

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

We’ve seen how many cults have arisen in the West, how many people can be sucked into the conman’s dark delusions, end their lives in a gesture of insane thanatropic annihilation. We seem to be enamored with the conspiracist vision of political chicanery and mayhem, drawn to study the deceptive architecture of thought that one builds as a cage for deviant pleasures and manias. Guided by the hypocrite and charlatan we identify with the most powerful untruths. Discovering in the insanity of such figures the sorceries of our own tainted desires we follow them into the torpid landscapes of the unreal. As Mohaghegh puts it,

Modernity itself, upon entering the age of simulation, has seemingly opened the Pandora’s Box, laying us prone to being devoured, as it were, by humans-become-visions (figments of the twice-unthinkable). As a consequence, aerial cosmologies alone will suffice hereafter (those of breath, wind, or pale smoke). This is the new theatre of war, amidst the fabrication of malicious sublimities: no longer the warlord who becomes a nightmare, but rather the nightmare that becomes a warlord. Wrath of abstraction; millenarian gasp. The right fable is enough to place all in jeopardy.

Machiavelli and Sade: Our Future as Pure Abstraction

“What was the use of seeing things clearly if the only thing clarity brought was a new and deeper darkness?”
― Alberto Moravia

We now ‘see’ that technocommercial systems, whose catallactic being is strictly analogous to a convergent wave, belong indubitably to the world of horror, and await their cinematographers.
—Nick Land, Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

Machiavellianism and Sadism are no longer theoretical forms we can critique, they’ve become our world, a world in which we cannot think anything different than the cruel abstractions of the inhuman, anti-human, and tyranny of a computational or algorithmic civilization which is shaping us into its own cruel modes of anti-life and undying in a post-death society. To speak of the human is a quaint nostalgia. We’ve become so immersed in our need to escape the human with its connections to ancient forms of anthropomorphism that we gladly enter the abstractions of our own virtual prisons. Soon the label human will be forgotten as a mythology of a creature that once roamed the wilds of industrial civilization. Our posthuman progeny will look back upon our kind as neither the progenitors nor the gods of their destinies. No. Their completion as absolute abstractions will leave them utterly impersonal and indifferent to our affective relations and worlds. We can hear their laughter now: the Machiavellian Sadism of the future world of pure abstract horror. Death has never seemed sweeter.

“The dark realization came to him that a difficult and miserable age had begun for him, and he couldn’t imagine when it would end.”
― Alberto Moravia

Alberto Moravia speaks of the names we give theory to as aspects of the human that become part and staple of something long known but left in the hinterlands of our critical and imaginal forms: “The world of mankind is unitary, and every time one idea becomes pre-eminent over others it tends irresistibly to go beyond its proper field and enter others with which it has nothing in common.”

“I felt that the metal of my spirit, like a bar of iron that is softened and bent by a persistent flame, was being gradually softened and bent by the troubles that oppressed it.”
― Alberto Moravia

As he will suggest, both Machiavelli and Sade gave labels to a certain tendency of cruelty that would be attached to politics and love respectively, but then would enter the dark declivities of every aspect of our human world to the point of saturation. “On the other hand, just as Sadism, whether in de Sade’s books or in current practices, is not confined to the strictly erotic field but seems to invest all human activities, so Machiavellianism is no longer a merely political affair. It is no longer concerned, as in Machiavelli’s day, with what to do so as to win and consolidate political power, for it invests all relationships between men, political and non-political.” (Alberto Moravia, Man as an End)

I’ve been working through the notion of a Machiavellian Sadism – this pervasive parody of love, cruelty, and political despair in a world-without-us, a non-human world devoid of human consciousness but alive to the animate vibrancy of life in phantasmagorias of love and death.

When we as humans envision a world-without-us we enter into that strange realm that Lovecraft once spoke of saying: “Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.”

This notion that we are at war with Time is not unique to Lovecraft but has been a part of the stock and trade of poetry for millennia along with its enemy, philosophy. The notion of the Great Filter is one such notion of our conflict with time.

“The Great Filter, remember, is the horror-genre-adaptation of Fermi’s Paradox. All of our calculations say that, in the infinite vastness of time and space, intelligent aliens should be very common. But we don’t see any of them. […] Why not? […] Well, the Great Filter. No [one] knows specifically what the Great Filter is, but generally it’s ‘that thing that blocks planets from growing spacefaring civilizations’.” As it develops, however, the post deliberately retreats from abstraction, into an enumeration of already-envisaged, and thus comparatively concrete menaces. After running through various candidates, it concludes: “Three of these four options – x-risk, Unfriendly AI, and alien exterminators – are very very bad for humanity. I think worry about this badness has been a lot of what’s driven interest in the Great Filter. I also think these are some of the least likely possible explanations, which means we should be less afraid of the Great Filter than is generally believed.” Yet a conclusion of almost exactly opposite tenor is merited. What has actually been demonstrated, if the arguments up to this point are accepted, is that the abstract threat of the Great Filter is significantly greater than has yet become conceivable. Our lucid nightmares are shown to fall short of it. The threat cannot be grasped as a known unknown.1

This notion of x-risk is taken up by Thomas Moynihan in a book by that name, X-Risk: the steady growth of our own technological powers since the Industrial Revolution has been shadowed by an increasing fear of omnicide, the human-caused annihilation of all humans.2 Robin Mackay in his introduction to Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh’s Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-in-Delirium that will catalogue the mania we have for absolute annihilation tells us: “Omnicide therefore instigates its discourse on obsession, entrancement, excess, and delirium by entering the chaotic imaginations … joining manic trajectories more insinuating and twisted than that straight line into the heart of darkness that is the unrequited death wish of an undead West.”3

“What could incite such mania to flare up into the lethal conviction that everything must be annihilated?” Mackay asks. In a suggestion rich with overtones of contemporary apocalypticism, Mohaghegh intimates that an alternative to the exhaustion of the West can only be found in such a ‘practicum of mania’, a practical apprenticeship in madness, a neomagical delirium that draws on the ‘inexhaustible reservoirs of fanaticism’, transmuting groundlessness from grey affectless postmodern haze into polychrome rapture, turning frustration at the collapse of truth and the proliferation of undecidable fictions into an opportunity to infuse the slightest inclination with the most intense commitment. In something like a kaleidoscopic serial refrain of Nietzsche’s eternal return, Omnicide tests our ability to withstand resorption into extremes whose virulence we would exclude, but to which we can formulate no effective riposte. For if nothing is true, as the maxim of that ‘order of free spirits par excellence’ would have it, then the conclusion swiftly follows…and once everything is permitted, the tactics of willed illusion instigated by Hassan-i Sabbah lead us ineluctably to wonder how visionary unreality is converted into effective force. (Mackay)

As I suggested earlier such a world in which everything is permitted opens us to the Machiavellian Sadism of a posthuman trajectory of cruelty in which the impossible becomes possible. Georges Bataille once suggested “the direction of the future is only there in order to elude us.” (Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil) He would also allude to the impossible future of the world-without-us: “Eroticism is the brink of the abyss. I’m leaning out over deranged horror (at this point my eyes roll back in my head). The abyss is the foundation of the possible. We’re brought to the edge of the same abyss by uncontrolled laughter or ecstasy. From this comes a “questioning” of everything possible. This is the stage of rupture, of letting go of things, of looking forward to death.”

We call this rupture the Singularity or the Death of the Human. What comes after is still to be decided. A pure abstraction of the “Outside”. “Of course, a common trope of conspiratorial horror is the individual’s lack of agency once parasitized by a constitutive xenoforce: one is stripped of agency and free will and, resultantly, becomes marionetted in and by a game too complex to be interpreted and too vast for agential intervention.” 4 Nick Land describes abstract horror as: “Ontological density without identifiable form is abstract horror itself.” He goes on to say, “If we could clearly envision the calamity that awaited us, it would be an object of terror. Instead, it is a shapeless threat, ‘Outside’ only in the abstract sense (encompassing the negative immensity of everything that we cannot grasp). It could be anywhere, from our genes or ecological dynamics, to the hidden laws of technological evolution, or the hostile vastnesses between the stars. We know only that, in strict proportion to the vitality of the cosmos, the probability of its existence advances towards inevitability, and that for us it means supreme ill.” (ibid.)

It’s this eerie feeling of apprehension surrounding the unknown as ‘unknown’ that is at the heart of abstract horrorism, a feeling that we know something is up with the world, that everything is out of whack, that there is something in the air, something indefinable yet felt that seems to haunt us not with its presence but its absence. We read weird tales, horror novels, murder mysteries, and crime stories because these writers for the most part give shape to our fears rather than leaving them in that abstract black hole of unknown and unknowable. Even when they cannot name the things they face, they still weave those things with just a sense of an unknowing knowing: the apophatic unnamable. We seem to need to put a name to the demon that haunts us even if it would mean our self-lacerating annihilation. To leave the ‘thing’ in some abstract unknown and unnamable blankness is to feel its dark and terrible presence in every shadow of our lives, as a continuous threat that seems to hover about us and in the future that is weaving its way toward us or alluring us toward its doom.

If civilization in its construction of culture is a vast sprawling security system and defense against time and the future, then we are in the midst of that moment when the security apparatus is breaking apart revealing in its wake the inevitable breach in the wall of time in which the alien future has already arrived in our abstract present as the Cosmic Macabre.

We are destined to a fool’s fate that deserves to be mocked. And since there is no one else around to do the mocking, we will take on the job. So let us indulge in cruel pleasures against ourselves and our pretensions, let us delight in the Cosmic Macabre. At least we may send up a few bitter laughs into the cobwebbed corners of this crusty old universe.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

  1. Nick Land. Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator. Time Spiral Press. (December 20, 2014)
  2. Moynihan, Thomas.X-Risk: How Humanity Discovered Its Own Extinction. Urbanomic (November 3, 2020)
  3. Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh. Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-in-Delirium. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (June 11, 2019)
  4. Andrew C. Wenaus, Literature of Exclusion : Dada, Data, and the Threshold of Electronic Literature.

Puppets and Robots: The New Uncanny

All supernatural horror derives from what we believe should be and should not be.

—Thomas Ligotti

“The puppet,” Girard continues, “is not merely the most human of inanimate objects. It’s more human than humans themselves. If the deepest human trauma is the trauma of birth, then the puppet surpasses us in its suffering. It isn’t born, but stillborn, arrested in nonbeing. It lives vicariously, as we do, the externalized gaze of the audience bringing it to life much in the way our externalized gaze—our self-perception—dreams us into reality. … The puppet is a dream of the audience’s—conversely, the audience is the puppet’s dream. Half-formed, it can only yearn for the temporary nature of humanity. Instead, it is locked into our form but emptied of death. The puppet is death, the ultimate alterity. As such, it is God-like. It is our double—the dead version of the self, radically externalized.”

—Justin a. Burnett, The Puppet King and Other Atonements

Ligotti talks about the uncanny and supernatural drift of humanity’s interactions with puppets that look human:

“Whether or not there really are manifestations of the supernatural, they are horrifying to us in concept, since we think ourselves to be living in a natural world, which may be a festival of massacres but only in a physical rather than a metaphysical purport. This is why we routinely equate the supernatural with horror. And a puppet possessed of life would exemplify just such a horror, because it would negate all conceptions of a natural physicalism and affirm a metaphysics of chaos and nightmare. It would still be a puppet, but it would be a puppet with a mind and a will, a human puppet—a paradox more disruptive of sanity than the undead. But that is not how they would see it. Human puppets could not conceive of themselves as being puppets at all, not when they are fixed with a consciousness that excites in them the unshakable sense of being singled out from all other objects in creation. Once you begin to feel you are making a go of it on your own—that you are making moves and thinking thoughts which seem to have originated within you—it is not possible for you to believe you are anything but your own master.”

—Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

As I was reading this again, I kept thinking of the human-like robots that are being created by various companies to look and act like humans, and that many of them seek someday to insert advanced artificial intelligence into such systems – or, even better, to insert actual human memory and intelligence into them.

As Kenneth Gross in Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life tells us: “The madness of the puppet. It lies along a line or spectrum of things. It might be a very ordinary form of madness. The madness lies in the hidden movements of the hand, the curious impulse and skill by which a person’s hand can make itself into the animating impulse, the intelligence or soul, of an inanimate object—it is an extension of that more basic wonder by which we can let this one part of our body become a separate, articulate whole, capable of surprising its owner with its movements, the stories it tells. I call it madness, but it is perhaps better called an ecstasy. It lies in the hand’s power and pleasure in giving itself over to the demands of the object, our curious will to make the object into an actor, something capable of gesture and voice. What strikes me here is the need for a made thing to tell a story, to become a vehicle for a voice, an impulse of character—something very old, and very early. The thing acquires a life.”

If you answered a knock on the door and on opening it saw a creature who resembled yourself what would you do? What would you think and feel? Fright? Terror? Fear? A sense of the uncanny, a sense that something long known and felt, the familiar that you’d taken for granted had suddenly shifted into a space of strangeness, a world where one’s very identity had come under attack. Face with the notion of an imposter, a duplicate, an uncanny other who mirrored not only one’s looks, but one’s gestures, vocal patterns, thoughts, and most of all one’s memories and imaginative vision of life. One’s sense of reality would implode, one would be tempted to believe they’d gone mad, that such things could not exist. But what if they did? What if your life was not your own, what if you were already a puppet in a show termed reality? What if this very world you take for granted is a sham, a stage, a realm of pure illusion and delusion and everything you once believed to be true were a lie? What then?

The Future is Now

Several of these human-like beings exist already, created by engineers and entrepreneurs:

Sophia is a young, beautiful robot (created in April 2015 by Hanson Robotics) and like many real women, her dream is to produce a family, as she announced during an interview by an American channel. She can have a conversation, move, and is very expressive (she can reproduce up to 62 expressions). She also announced that she wanted to destroy humanity. Friendly enough, right!

A Scarlett fan who went a little too far; Perhaps. Nevertheless, Ricky Ma is a 43 years old designer who created this robot in 2016 with the effigy of the actress. The skeleton of the android was realized thanks to a 3D printer, then the visible parts of its body were covered with silicone to create a peach skin!

Two androids with feminine appearance, striking realism. Kodomoroid, which is the contraction of “kodomo” (child in Japanese) and android, and Otonaroid (Otono means adult in Japanese), were presented at the Miraikan, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in June 2014. Their role: interact with the public, present news, read messages on Twitter

Hiroshi Ishiguro is a Japanese roboticist, who also directed Kodomoroid and Otonaroid. The series of robots “Geminoid” are supposed to be avatars of people who actually exist, and to represent them, in “telepresence”: they record the voice and the gestures of the people that they must represent.

Jia Jia was created by engineers from the Heifei University of Science and Technology in China. It was first unveiled in April 2016 and then this year, in January. She is now able to hold a conversation, to distinguish between men and women, and will eventually be able to perform tasks for restaurants or retirement homes.

Realdoll, a company specializing in sex dolls, seems to want to give a little more life to these dolls … The CEO announced that by the end of 2017, Realdoll robots would be marketed: the dolls will be equipped, among other things, with sensors in certain places which will make them “react” to touch, they will be able to follow the user’s eyes and respond accordingly.

In the film industry such creatures have also tickled audiences with the future of android like beings, along with their horror buddies in puppet worlds gone animate.

Ex Machina (2015) ‘There is nothing more human than the will to survive.’ Alex Garland’s chilling directorial debut, out 23 January, sees young coder Domhnall Gleeson win a week’s holiday at his reclusive boss’s mountain retreat – only to find he must participate in a strange experiment by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking new breed of AI, housed in the body of beautiful robot girl Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.

2001 Adapting Brit sci-fi author Brian Aldiss’s short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long was an unrealised project of Stanley Kubrick that he passed on to Steven Spielberg. David (an unblinking Haley Joel Osment) is a prototype ‘Mecha’ advanced cybertronic humanoid capable of projecting love. A Pinocchio parable followed, with Spielberg adding trademark sweetness to Kubrick’s bleaker vision.

Metropolis (1927) Fritz Lang’s expressionist sci-fi epic has influenced everything from Superman to Blade Runner, while ‘false Maria’ – the robot double of the peasant girl prophet in Berlin 2026, which unleashes chaos among the city’s workers and is ultimately burnt at the stake as a witch – was the first robot depicted on film and inspired the art deco look of C-3PO in Star Wars.

I, Robot (2004) Inspired by the Isaac Asimov short story collection of the same name, this Will Smith blockbuster was set in 2035, where a technophobic Chicago cop suspected that an anthropomorphic servant droid called Sonny had gone rogue and pushed its owner to his death from a 50th floor window. A full robot uprising soon resulted.

The Terminator (1984) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s defining role remains the cyborg assassin sent back in time from 2029 to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the saviour of humanity. The Cyberdyne Systems T-800 Model 101 has living tissue over a metal endoskeleton, designed for combat and infiltration.

In horror one thinks of such films as Attack of the Puppet People (1958), Magic (1978), Saw (2004), Triloquist (2008), Demonic Toys (1999), Dolls (1987), Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996), Joey (aka Making Contact) (1985), Dead Silence (2007), Puppet Master (1989), Annabelle (2014), The Boy (2016) and, of course, Chucky (Child’s Play 1988). There are many, many more…

What do we see in that reflection? Only what we want to see, what we can stand to see. Through the prophylactic of self-deception, we keep hidden what we do not want to let into our heads, as if we will betray to ourselves a secret too terrible to know. Our lives abound with baffling questions that some attempt to answer and the rest of us let pass.

—Thomas Ligotti

There are other companies seeking to duplicate this and extend it into business, education, space exploration, sex industry etc. But I keep thinking of Ligotti’s statement, and of the day these machines suddenly evolve to the point that we cannot tell the difference between them and ourselves (i.e., the moment they pass the Turing Test and as well have movements, behaviors, and physical characteristics of human beings).

As effigies of ourselves, puppets are not equal partners with us in the world. They are actors in a world of their own, one that exists inside of ours and reflects back upon it. What do we see in that reflection? Only what we want to see, what we can stand to see. Through the prophylactic of self-deception, we keep hidden what we do not want to let into our heads, as if we will betray to ourselves a secret too terrible to know. Our lives abound with baffling questions that some attempt to answer and the rest of us let pass. Naked apes or incarnate angels we may believe ourselves to be, but not human puppets. Of a higher station than these impersonators of our species, we move freely about and can speak any time we like. We believe we are making a go of it on our own, and anyone who contradicts this belief will be taken for a madman or someone who is attempting to immerse others in a contrivance of horror. How to take seriously a puppet master who has gone over to the other side?

—Thomas Ligotti

Thomas Ligotti on Julius Bahnsen

“In his study The Nature of Evil (1931), Radoslav A. Tsanoff cites a terse reflection set down by the German philosopher Julius Bahnsen in 1847, when he was seventeen years old. “Man is a self-conscious Nothing,” wrote Bahnsen. Whether one considers these words to be juvenile or precocious, they belong to an ancient tradition of scorn for our species and its aspirations. All the same, the reigning sentiments on the human venture normally fall between qualified approval and loudmouthed braggadocio. As a rule, anyone desirous of an audience, or even a place in society, might profit from the following motto: “If you can’t say something positive about humanity, then say something equivocal.”

Returning to Bahnsen, he grew up to become a philosopher who not only had nothing either positive or equivocal to say about humanity, but who also arrived at a dour assessment of all existence. Like many who have tried their hand at metaphysics, Bahnsen declared that, appearances to the contrary, all reality is the expression of a unified, unchanging force—a cosmic movement that various philosophers have characterized in various ways. To Bahnsen, this force and its movement were monstrous in nature, resulting in a universe of indiscriminate butchery and mutual slaughter among its individuated parts. Additionally, the “universe according to Bahnsen” has never had a hint of design or direction. From the beginning, it was a play with no plot and no players that were anything more than portions of a master drive of purposeless self-mutilation. In Bahnsen’s philosophy, everything is engaged in a disordered fantasia of carnage. Everything tears away at everything else . . . forever. Yet all this commotion in nothingness goes unnoticed by nearly everything involved in it. In the world of nature, as an instance, nothing knows of its embroilment in a festival of massacres. Only Bahnsen’s self-conscious Nothing can know what is going on and be shaken by the tremors of chaos at feast.”

—Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

God’s Suicide

“Bataille reads the world historical power of Christianity through its quasi-latent content of an absolute sacrifice— that of God himself— which has created a religion of divine suicide.”

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Only Philipp Mainländer would offer up such a conclusion to God as well: “God willed to no longer be. … God died and His death was the life of the world.” As Beiser will state it:

“[O]nce God saw that he existed, he was not amused. Sheer existence horrified him, because he recognized that nothingness is better than being. So God longed for nothingness. Since, however, he could not immediately negate his existence, he decided on a suicide by proxy. God would destroy himself through other things, by creating the world and fragmenting his existence into a multitude of individual things. To achieve his goal of complete non-existence, the total serenity of nothingness, God had to create the world as the necessary means toward his self-destruction.”

—Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz (pp. 217-218). OUP Oxford.


“But at the bottom, the immanent philosopher sees in the entire universe only the deepest longing for absolute annihilation…”

—Philipp Mainländer

We now enter the darkest recesses of Mainländer’s imagination, which fabricate for us a grim cosmology of death. What the metaphysician sees from his exalted standpoint of the whole of things, Mainländer attests, is that everything in nature and history strives for one thing: death. There is in all things in nature, and in all actions in history, “the deepest longing for absolute annihilation”. In his earlier chapters of his book, in the discussion of physics, ethics and politics, Mainländer wrote about the individual will to life as the very essence of everything, not only of every human being, but also of every thing that exists, whether inorganic or organic. Now in metaphysics, however, we see that this was only a limited perspective, because the striving for existence or life is really only a means for a deeper goal: death. We live only so that we die, because the deepest longing within all of us is for peace and tranquility, which is granted to us only in death. In this longing of all things for death, we are only participating, unbeknownst to ourselves, in the deeper and broader cosmic process of the divine death. We long to die, and we are indeed dying, because God wanted to die, and he is still dying within us.1

At the same time Bataille considers Christianity to have deformed and obscured this thought, burying it under a theology of redemption. In the development of monotheistic belief man ‘tends to substitute for the evident prodigality of the heavens the avidity which constitutes him: it is thus that little by little he effaces the image of celestial reality without sense or pretension and replaces it with a personification (of an anthropomorphic nature) of the immutable idea of Good’ [I 518]. The subordination of the sacred category of death to the rational category of immorality (perdurant value) is a profanation of religion; the transformation of sacrifice into utility, exchange, and negotiation. A God unable to expend itself utterly is a figure of servility and abjection, bound to persistence with iron chains. ‘God the transcendent guarantee of being— the service of God abasement before this principle: that being persist, be imperishable [IV 167].’2

Bataille insists that Nietzsche’s thought of the death of God is sacrificial, orgiastic, and festive. Christian belief must pass over not into a complacent scientistic utilitarianism, but into the ecstasies of uninhibited wastage. The loss of God is the loss of self, the definitive shattering of the anthropic image, so that the perdurant ego of servile humanity is dissolved into the solar energy flow. Bataille is not remotely interested in being saved, he wants only to touch the extreme, writing that ‘I have wanted and found ecstasy’, an ecstasy that is the experienced loss of being. This is not a matter of dying, but of surviving (momentarily) only through excess, as chance, without guarantees, and without inhibiting the dissipative tide:

Being is given to us in an intolerable surpassing of being, no less intolerable than death. And because, in death, this is withdrawn from us at the same time it is given, we must search for it in the feeling of death, in those intolerable moments where it seems that we are dying, because the being in us is only there through excess, when the plenitude of horror and that of joy coincide [III 11– 12].

Nihil is True Religion. Zero is indivisible, so that zero belief cannot be rigorously differentiated from belief in zero. It is in this sense that atheism is a religion. Not that atheism is committed to a specific conviction, quite the opposite; it is precisely the specificity of conviction that it attacks. Understood negatively it denies the false absolute of theos, but understood positively it affirms the true absolute marked by the ‘privative’ a-; the nihil from which creation proceeds, the undifferentiable cosmic zero. … When Marx associates capital with death he is only drawing the final consequence from this correspondence. Surplus value comes out of labour-power, but surplus production comes out of nothing. This is why capital production is the consummating phase of nihilism, the liquidation of theological irreligion, the twilight of the idols. Modernity is virtual thanocracy guided insidiously by zero; the epoch of the death of God. There is no God but (only) zero— indifferentiation without unity— and nihil is true religion. (Land, ibid.)

  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz (p. 218). OUP Oxford. 2018
  2. Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation (Kindle Locations 1930-1937). Routledge. 1992

The Malignant Matrix: Acéphale and the Posthuman

Only later did I ask myself where I would live out the rest of my life if not in that backroad landscape, that remote paradise in which a house had been erected that seemed perfectly designed for me. But this same place, a true resting place in which I should have been able to live out the rest of my life in some kind of peace, was now only one more thing that I had to fear

—Thomas Ligotti, The Malignant Matrix

In The Sacred Conspiracy which describes the meetings held by Bataille and his group the “headless god” is depicted:

“In English, an acephal simply means a creature without a head, and such a being first appeared in Bataille’s work in an article he published in 1930 in Documents, “Base Materialism and Gnosticism”, which was illustrated with a Gnostic seal depicting a headless god. The theme of the acephal, however, may be detected even earlier in Bataille’s works, in texts written in the 1920s, such as this description of the pineal eye: “The [pineal] eye is located in the centre and at the top of the skull, and as it opens on to the incandescent sun so as to l ook at it with all its solitary strangeness […] it is blinded, as in consumption or in a fever that devours the whole being, or more specifically, the head.” But around this time Masson had also depicted an acephalous man with his head burnt away by the sun in his painting Man, which although now lost, was described by Artaud in his first book. It is not at all surprising therefore that the acephalous man, conceived by Bataille as a representation of the “leaderless crowd” and as the image of an existence in a “Universe where God is dead”, should come to be visualised by Masson.”

David Peak in his book on the aesthetics of Horror, The Spectacle of the Void will make a connection between non-being, cinema, and horror which relates the notion of the “decapitation of the mind” as an opening onto the abyss or void of horror which is also an end to pain and suffering. He makes mention of Gary J. Shipley’s notion of the “completion of cinema” as being the point at which the audience’s head is severed, but which he suggests that the distance between screen and audience is overcome, and the cinema is now in the skull of the audience.

Thinking on this and the notion of the matrix or the idea of consciousness within an artificial cinema of an algorithmic universe of non-being wherein reality and the Real merge in a metamorphic and mutant environment where thought and being are one as in the pre-Socratic thinkers (i.e., Parmenides). As David Peak puts it, “And so we attempt, again and again, to flee reality by escaping into the void.” (p. 54) The void in my mind being the artificial void of the matrix. Lost in our own fabrications, doubting that the realm we’re in (the matrix) is all there is, we ponder if there is an Outside. Living in this endless algorithmic universe we replay the sequences of a programed script over and over like avatars of some vast video game that has no beginning or end and most of all no exit. And, alas, there is no one there in that infinite regress of being who is playing this game. No one and nothing.

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.

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Most of these ideas were thought out by philosophers centuries ago, and would be manifest in the lineage of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Deleuze, Land and posthuman thinkers of our own era. The notion of the matrix can be traced through the mind-body dualism of Descartes, Plato’s Cave, Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Hypothesis, George Berkeley’s immaterialist idealism, Gilbert Harman’s Brain in a Vat, Robert Nozick’s the Experience Machine, Jean Piaget’s Constructivist philosophy, and other ideas in modern mathematics and the sciences.

Is our universe a simulation, a matrix, are we living in a dystopian enclave or in a society that offers a vision of a fragile future in a simulacral utopia complete with pastel perfect sunrise where the pre-programmed remnants of humanity and the machines achieve a peaceful co-existence. Philip K. Dick once suggested,

We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in reality occurs. We would have the overwhelming impression that we were re-living the present— déjà vu— perhaps in precisely the same way: hearing the same words, saying the same words.

—Philip K. Dick, Metz Sci Fi Convention 1977

One thinker of such simulation theory Rizan Virk in The Simulated Multiverse tells us that we live inside a digital, simulated world, a high-resolution video game that is similar to the world depicted in the blockbuster movie, The Matrix. This concept is broadly referred to today as the simulation hypothesis, and it was the subject of my previous book of that name. It implies that the three-dimensional world around us (what we call space) is not what we think it is. The second is that far from living in a single universe, we live in a complex, interconnected network of multiple timelines. This concept is broadly referred to today as the multiverse. Not only does the multiverse warp our understanding of the world around us, it also warps our understanding of the past and the future. In short, neither space nor time is what we think it is.1

Another philosopher suggests we are instead re-ontologizing our planet itself into a matrix or infosphere: “the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.”2 For Floridi we are not going to live literally in some constructed matrix, but that we are re-ontologizing reality itself:

The infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely ‘material’ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the infosphere. At the end of this shift, the infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being itself. We are modifying our everyday perspective on the ultimate nature of reality, from a materialist one, in which physical objects and processes play a key role, to an informational one. (p. 10)

Is the so-called Singularity a literal implosion of artificial intelligence and life upon which our lives will literally be merged with machinic systems that are smarter and faster than we are, where we will live in specialized utopian enclaves, built environments and pleasure domes of automated alternative realities. Or will we mentally re-ontologize our notions of existence from the literal physicalist conceptions of Newtonian physics and Einsteinian relativity to enable a world that becomes a symbolic playground or infosphere in which we share a new view onto the universe and ourselves as inforgs or informational agents tapped into a world that more and more is merging with the accoutrements of a digital universe through our use of advanced technologies that are remaking or re-ontologizing our epistemic take on the universe.

Either path seems to be leaving the humancentric and humanistic worlds of the Enlightenment and its secular worlds behind altogether. We are entering the brave new world of strangeness in which none of the notions of what humanity has been in the past will survive. Something new is emerging so in that sense the Singularity is happening already, and we are it. We will be sharing a planet with new forms of intelligence that will in some ways be far superior to our own fleshly organic lives, and we will become more and more dependent on these new systems as the decades ahead progress. We are already so tied to our mobile phones that the previous generations of analog realities are already a quaint memory of a bygone era. What will a few more generations into the future going to think of our own era? We’ll our tentative steps into artificialization be seen as the beginning of something new or as the end of humanity as it was once known to be? Are we posthuman yet?

  1. Rizwan Virk. The Simulated Multiverse. Bayview Books. 2021.
  2. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror

Yes, the universe is very strange, but its strangeness seems to me based on a haunting emptiness where one might expect, unwarrantedly, something to be.

—Thomas Ligotti

David Peak in his short book on the aesthetics of horror: The Spectacle of the Void takes up Nietzsche’s Greek vision of the tragic that entails the Apollonian art of distance, memory, and imagination which then turns toward the participatory ritual world of praxis in the Dionysian vision of “giving in” or the act of active participation and surrender to the violence of self-annihilation at the heart of the tragic world:

“Schopenhauer’s idea that “we often flee pain into death” is particularly useful here in the sense that death can be considered relief from suffering inasmuch as it is the eradication of the self. When faced with incomprehensible horror, we must relinquish the very thing that defines us as human: control – control of mind, control of body. Loss of control is an embrace of death in an attempt to flee pain in order to become something other than human.” (p. 52)

This reminded me of Ligotti’s notion in a short story The Medusa where he suggests,

“We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror.”

If you accept the notion of a non-supernatural universe, that we are alone and aware of nothing beyond, contrary to all those Platonist two-world views of religion or philosophy, then the supernatural is nothing but a literary device a nihilist, atheist, and horror writer uses to seduce the believer into a didactic universe where she can be led to an understanding of the true horror of this kenotic reality of emptiness.

As a Cosmic Nihilist I tend to agree with Ligotti when asked if the Occult has influenced his work: “Not yet.” He goes on to say:

“I’ve always considered the occult in horror fiction functioned very much as Lovecraft said it did: as strictly a literary device, a familiar framework within which one attempts to tell a new tale.”

We know there are those who literally believe in the external existence of the horrors they read and write about on the Occult, while there are those among us that see them as figural and imaginative aspects of the fantastic and uncanny worlds of our own error prone minds.

Thomas Ligotti on his stance as an atheist: “I attended Catholic school from grades one through three and remained a theist throughout my teenage years. No incident or study on my part that I can name led to my becoming an atheist around the age of nineteen.”

He still maintains this stance and position:

“To my recollection, I became aware of my lapse from religious belief while doing homework for a college history class. It was not a momentous occurrence to say the least. Looking back, I would have to say that my Catholicism, which was rather elaborate and obsessive for a child, was a matter of observance of ritual and private practice without being directed by emotional or spiritual feeling. Even in grade school I realized that I lacked any sentiment positive or negative for my creator. This didn’t seem strange to me. I think I assumed that everyone felt, or failed to feel, the same way. I found Jesus Christ singularly uninspiring as a messiah or useful in any way to me in my life. What I did feel was a profound sense of sympathy for others. The sound of an ambulance siren always inspired a prayer from me, though at some point this became a knee‐jerk or superstitious response. Later, the sound of an ambulance siren aroused nothing but fear in me. I’ve made a number of trips in such a vehicle for problems ranging from a broken leg to emergency surgery for diverticulitis in 2012 in the early hours of April Fool’s Day. You can’t make this stuff up, as they say. While suffering an ego‐annihilating pain just before I underwent anesthesia, I did experience a confused awareness that my death during surgery would not be a bad thing. This became a lucid thought and a hope without ambivalence prior to subsequent surgeries to repair my guts.”1

  1. Weird Fiction Review. “Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares.” [Interview] Weird Fiction Review. 15 October 2015.

The Galactic Economy to Come: Solar Economy and the Space Age

Accumulated wealth has nothing but a subordinate value, but wealth that is wasted or destroyed has, to the eyes of those who waste it, or destroy it, a sovereign value: it serves nothing ulterior; only this wastage itself, or this fascinating destruction.

—Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation

When I look at our own economy, I think of creatures like Elon Musk who instead of copping out and investing in the financialization of hyperaware markets of the east coast banker cartels, instead throws his wealth into the bonfire of space technology to kickstart humanity out of its incessant infanthood of a progressive economy that couches itself in neoliberal conservativism. The cannibalization of his own fortunes into a space faring economy is to me a partial return to the solar economy of waste, destruction, and pot-latch sovereignty. I say partial because obviously he is gaining more than losing, and yet the more he gains the more he wastes on his ventures into the techno-commercium which will open up unfathomable vistas for the species. We’ve seen where the outdated financialization systems of the old-school neoliberals took us, into our present state of bankruptcy and decline because they sought to horde their riches and accumulate more while at the same time seeking to escape the crimes of their massive destruction of the economy by building survival capsules in various places across the planet; or, as in Bezos’s escape, the notion of mind uploading into the multiverse. Nick Land’s readings of Bataille support such a reading of the need of a new libertarian solar economy to drive the 21st century.

The Service economy that drove the late 20th century is dead in the water and imploding. The Neoliberal financialization of the economy in the virtual worlds of algorithms is dying in its own circular derision of the Solar Economy that is rising in libertarian California and the strange dictatorial economy of Xi’s China. The West in decline can only move out of this dead world of financialization and into a Solar Economy that moves us skyward and into our own galaxy, providing new industries, challenges, jobs, and ways of expanding out of our death throes.

Sometimes when I read Bruce Sterling’s visions of rich entrepreneurs, I see such creatures as Elon Musk with his brash egoism and lifestyle flaunting the East Coast machine and beating them at their own game. Let’s face it the Left of the old Marxism is dead, a moot point in the world of the hyper-accelerated economies of China under Xi and the libertarian expenditures of a Musk and Bezos. Even as the neoliberal press castigates both Musk and Xi the truth is it is the old western world of a dead zombie capitalism that is dying and almost a corpse of its own rotting flesh. Of course, we’ll wait and see… but truthfully if we do not expand into the galaxy, we are doomed to cannibalize ourselves with the wars for the final resources of earth in the coming collapse of earth into climate and economic catastrophe.

Nick Land buys into the Weberian and Bataillean reading of Capitalism as driven by Protestant ideology, and that its anti-solar economy of extreme consumption and accumulation drives it into permanent war and atrocity:

“In The Accursed Share Bataille outlines a number of social responses to the unsublatable wave of senseless wastage welling up beneath human endeavour, which he draws from a variety of cultures and epochs. These include the potlatch of the sub-arctic tribes, the sacrificial cult of the Aztecs, the monastic extravagance of the Tibetans, the martial ardour of Islam, and the architectural debauch of hegemonic Catholicism. Reform Christianity alone— attuned to the emergent bourgeois order— is based upon a relentless refusal of sumptuary consumption. It is with Protestantism that theology accomplishes itself in the thoroughgoing rationalization of religion, marking the ideological triumph of the good, and propelling humanity into unprecedented extremities of affluence and catastrophe. It is also with Protestantism that the transgressive outlets of society are de-ritualized and exposed to effective condemnation, a tendency which leads to the terrible exhibitions of atrocity associated with the writings of the Marquis de Sade at the end of the eighteenth century, anticipated already, over three centuries before, with the life of Gilles de Rais.” (A Thirst for Annihilation)

Bataille spoke of Gilles de Rais who withdrew into the fortress of his own declining nobility seeking solace among the habitual accumulation of crimes and atrocities of an unnatural economics. In our own time we’ve seen much the same with the scandal of sex crimes of Jeffrey Epstein and his friend Ghislaine Maxwell who provided the neoliberal rich with a safe haven of for their modern day Sadean and Raisean fantasies and atrocities. The same sickness that drove the nobility of feudalism drives the neo-feudalism of East Coast financialization and its empires of decay and rot.

We know that Elon Musk has fixed his gaze on Mars. Indeed, his entire post-PayPal career can be seen as an effort to build a Mars colony – electric vehicles and solar power stored in batteries (Tesla), underground tunnels (The Boring Company and the Hyperloop proposal), and of course getting to Mars (SpaceX). Musk claims to see space colonies as an insurance policy against some catastrophic Earth event, such as an asteroid strike. When he recently launched a spaceship towards Mars with a Tesla Roadster electric car on board, it also carried a digitized copy of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation science-fiction trilogy.

Bezos’s fascination with space is less famous, yet remarkably similar. Davenport quotes Bezos’s high school girlfriend as saying he founded Amazon to make enough money to start a space company. A lifetime Star Trek fan, Bezos says the starship Enterprise’s speech-operated computer inspired Amazon’s Alexa device. He wants to make real the 1970s’ ideas of physicist and space colony pioneer Gerard K. O’Neill, who designed giant solar-powered colonies for 10,000 people floating in space. In the Bezos vision, heavy industry would migrate to space and reduce the pollution of planet Earth.1

Many of the critics of such galactic economics offer nothing in return but the same old tired economics of despair and decline, rather than a Bataillean solar economics of expenditure and waste that will drive the push into new viable worlds of exploration, mining, and colonization in the future. Even such financial institutions as Morgan Stanley are pushing the need for a Space Economy offering five drivers that are making it happen, telling us that climate change, security and telecoms are among the key themes driving a boom in the space economy. They suggest that there is a growing relationship between Space and Climate Change, the need for new forms of capital formation, the mitigation of orbital debris, Space Security, and a focus on near-term Telecomms. One work by George S. Pullen projects that by 2030 the Space Economy will be worth 3Trillion.2

Even the European Space Agency has gotten on the band wagon suggesting that the Space Economy is growing and evolving, together with the development and profound transformation of the space sector and the further integration of space into society and economy. Today, the deployed space infrastructure makes the development of new services possible, which in turn enables new applications, in sectors such as meteorology, energy, telecommunications, insurance, transport, maritime, aviation and urban development leading to additional economic and societal benefits. The space sector is not only a growth sector itself but is the vital enabler of growth in other sectors.3

We either take the long view or we fall back into malaise and the apocalyptic world view of climate catastrophe and economic collapse. The emerging asteroid mining industry has extremely ambitious intentions. It is within the realm of possibility that their work may usher in a change in global economics as profound as the Industrial Revolution. And, yet, it’s not coming next year of even in the next few decades. We have plenty ahead of us as a species and will with any new vision take baby steps toward it. Already China and the U.S. are envisioning bases on the Moon as permanent sites for a push off into other realms such as Mars and the Asteroid belts. In my own opinion if we as a species last long enough this vision of galactic civilization will take centuries to of effort and a great deal of thought, planning, and intelligence.

The AI driven economies we are developing now with robotics and ai implementations, along with biotech revolution and genetic engineering will contribute to this future change. No one has all the answers, and yes it will take a collective effort and will and imagination to implement such a future. But what is the alternative? Stay put, watch the climate devolve into planet wide collapse which is what all the environmentalists say is assuredly happening, or begin shaping a new future for our civilization and species that will accept the fate we’ve created as well as learn from our past and begin shaping a vision toward other frontiers? I don’t have the answers, but I do question the defeatism of various political and social pundits that see in space a fantasy rather than an opportunity for survival. What do they offer us but more cliches about destroying the economic system? What then? What will allow us to survive as a species if we suddenly implode what keeps food on the table and security in the street? Will we return to some strange primitive style of life and begin killing each other over the remaining resources? Is that our future? A dystopia of endless strife and destruction? I for one don’t think that’s the way I’d go. Not at all.

Zubrin in his Merchants of Despair was caught in the clutches of the postmodernism of the anti-humanists who seemed themselves still bound to a “human all-to-human” finitude as Nietzsche might have reminded them. This was Zubrin’s thought years ago:

Humanity today thus stands at a crossroads, facing a choice between two very different visions of the future. On one side stands antihumanism, which, disregarding its repeated prior refutations, continues to postulate a world of limited supplies, whose fixed constraints demand ever-tighter controls upon human aspirations. On the other side stand those who believe in the power of unfettered creativity to invent unbounded resources, and so, rather than regret human freedom, insist upon it. The contest between these two views will determine our fate.4

This almost Gnostic dualism and dichotomy of pitting one form of finitude against another seems ludicrous in an age of “unbound nihilism” (Brassier). Neither of the choices above will help us in a post-human age when the very machinic society we are constructing on biotech, ai, and robotics is forcing us to rethink the human beyond finitude. We have the transhumanist, inhumanist, and posthumanists all vying for what comes next after finitude, humanism, and anthropomorphism. To think beyond the human is to become something else than the rational Enlightenment’s idea of a society based on secular atheism and finitude alike. The transhumanist would side with Max Stirner and hype the ego transformation of Capitalist Man into the biotech century of techno-genetic life enhancement or mind-uploads to virtual metaverses like Bezos. The inhumanist would have us do just the opposite, completely eradicate the ego into an impersonal collectivity devoid of personalism and create a hive-mind world of supracommunist ai driven socilization and technotransformation. A machinic society constructed out of the artificialization of the human. The posthuman offers something else altogether, a world driven by freedom and invention in which whatever comes next is done through a selective process that construes neither an ego-driven world nor a machine-driven world, but rather a new world as yet unrealized in the dreams of Reason.

  1. Walker, David. Musk, Bezos and the economics of space. acuity. 15/11/2018. <;
  2. Pullen, George S. The Space Economy: Book Zero In The Space Economy Series.
  3. “What is the Space Economy?” – The European Space Agency. <;
  4. Zubrin, Robert. Merchants of Despair. Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

The Sigil of Flesh

“My home was in darkness and my companions were shadows beckoning to me from a glass”
― Anna Kavan

In Asylum Piece, Anna Kavan describes a girl she met while her father and mother were away due to ill-health. The young woman had no distinguishing features except her ‘apartness’, a sense of her aloneness and separateness. Anna never became friends with her, but she felt a certain attraction and attachment to the young girl named ‘H’. At one point the young woman is standing in front of a list of marks given students each week. Anna sees her and gazes at her as she stands there:

How can I convey the strange sense of nullification that accompanied her?

I recall very clearly an occasion towards the end of my time at school. In one of the corridors was a baize-covered board to which, among other notices, was fastened a large sheet of paper bearing our names and the number of marks which each of us received every week. H was standing in front of this list, quite alone, looking at it with an expression that I did not understand, an expression not of resentment, not of regret, but, so it seemed to me, of resignation combined with dread. Seeing that look on her face I was overcome by a wave of passionate and inexplicable compassion; an emotion so profound, so apparently unjustified by the circumstances, that I was astonished to feel tears in my eyes.

‘Let me help you … Let me do something,’ I heard myself imploring, inarticulate as though my own fate were at stake.

Instead of answering me, H rolled up one of her sleeves and silently pointed to a blemish on her upper arm. It was a birthmark, faint as if traced in faded ink, which at first sight seemed to be no more than a little web of veins under the skin. But as I examined it more closely I saw that it resembled a medallion, a miniature design, a circle armed with sharp points and enclosing a tiny shape very soft and tender – perhaps a rose.

‘Have you ever seen that anywhere else?’ she asked me; and it crossed my mind that she hoped that I too bore a similar mark.

Was it disappointment, embarrassment or despair that appeared on her face as I reluctantly shook my head? I only know that she hurried out of the corridor and that for the rest of the time I was at school she seemed to avoid me and that we were never alone together again.

After many years have passed, she is in a foreign land visiting a strange prison where the guide or guard leaves her for a moment to attend to some duty, as she is standing there, she sees movement in one of the darkened corridors and wanders down to see what it is:

… Looking more attentively, I saw that this was in reality a low, barred window giving on to some subterranean cell. It was a movement behind the bars that had caught my eye. I knelt down, peering through the weeds which had grown up in the cracks between the great flag-stones.

At first I could see nothing, it might have been a black cellar into which I was gazing. But soon my eyes penetrated the darkness and I could make out some sort of a pallet under the grating with a shrouded form lying upon it. I could not be sure whether it was a man or a woman who lay there, shrouded as if on a bier, but I thought I discerned a tarnished gleam of fair hair, and presently an arm, no thicker than bone, was raised, feebly, as if groping towards the light. Was it imagination, or did I really see on that almost transparent flesh a faint stain, circular, toothed, and enclosing a shape like a rose?

I cannot hope that the horror of that moment will ever leave me. I opened my mouth, but for several seconds I was not able to utter a sound. Just as I felt myself about to call out to the prisoner, soldiers appeared and hustled me away.”

—Anna Kavan. Asylum Piece

I’ve often thought that each of us as we come into this strange dimension are marked with a Sigil, that each of us whether visible or hidden is given a mark that binds us to a specific fate or destiny which guides us even if we do not understand where it will lead us. Our lives are determined by strange forces and designs outside our control, and yet are part of our inner becoming shaping us to the events we suffer through in this realm of non-being and emptiness. Yet, for me there is another aspect as well, one when in which we are faced with the pain written on the dark flesh of others, when the very threads of some sigil of night reveals the dark designs of a necessity and horror at the core of things which leaves us without any sense of desire other than the absolute emptiness and depletion of a non-knowing that inscribes its communicative magick on our sad minds. Like Anna Kavan’s confrontation with an event that left her in the unknowing bleakness of a painful memory that would never leave her, we, too, are left in the darkness of our unknowing. Even as we enter the last abyss, we are left only with this memory of nothing and no one our mind and heart emptied of its incessant questions, facing only the void of meaninglessness that is our lives and the universe.

Libidinal Economy: The ‘Science of Drives’

Libidinal Economy: The ‘Science of Drives’

Life is ejected from the energy-blank and smeared as a crust upon chaotic zero, a mould upon death. This crust is also a maze— a complex exit back to the energy base-line— and the complexity of the maze is life trying to escape from out of itself, being nothing but escape from itself, from which it tries to escape: maze-wanderer. That is to say, life is itself the maze of its route to death; a tangle of mazings [Umwege] which trace a unilateral deviation from blank. What is the source of the ‘decisive external influences’ that propel the mazings of life, if not the sun?

—Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land on Libidinal Materialism:

“Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to aualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation which is simultaneously devoid of agency and irreducible to the causal chain. This process has been designated in many ways. I shall follow Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud in provisionally entitling it ‘drive’ (Trieb). Drive is that which explains, rather than presupposing, the cause/ effect couple of classical physics. It is the dynamic instituting of effectiveness, and is thus proto-physical. This implies that drives are the irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law. The ‘science’ of drives, which has been named ‘libidinal economy’, is thus foundational for physics, as Schopenhauer meticulously demonstrates.

A libidinal energetics is not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic. Such notions are best left to the theologians. It is, rather, a transformation of thermodynamics, or a struggle over the sense of ‘energy’. For it is in the field of energetic research that the resources for a materialist theory of desire have been slowly (and blindly) composed:

  1. Chance. Entropy is the core of a probabilistic engine, the absence of law as an automatic drive. The compositions of energy are not determinations but differentiations, since all order flows from improbability. Thus a revolution in the conception of identities, now derived from chance as a function of differentiation, hence quantitative, non-absolute, impermanent. Energy pours downstream automatically, ‘guided’ only by chance, and this is even what ‘work’ now means (freed from its Hegelian pathos), a function of play, unbinding, becoming.
  2. Tendency. The movement from the improbable to the probable is an automatic directionality; an impulsion. Entropy is not a telos, since it is not represented, intentionally motivating, or determinate. It nevertheless allows power, tension, and drive to be grasped as uni-directional, quantitative, and irresistible forces. Teleological schemes are no longer necessary to the understanding of tendential processes, and it is no longer necessary to be patient with them, they are superfluous.
  3. Energy. Everywhere only a quantitative vocabulary. Fresh-air after two millennia of asphyxiating ontologies. Essences dissolve into impermanent configurations of energy. ‘Being’ is indistinguishable from its effectiveness as the unconscious motor of temporalization, permutational dynamism. The nature of the intelligible cosmos is energetic improbability, a differentiation from entropy.
  4. Information. The laborious pieties of the Geisteswissenschaften; signs, thoughts, ideologies, cultures, dreams, all of these suddenly intelligible as natural forces, as negentropies. A whole series of pseudo-problems positively collapsed. What is the relation between mind and body? Is language natural or conventional? How does an idea correspond to an object? What articulates passion with conception? All signals are negentropies, and negentropy is an energetic tendency.

The thermospasm is reality as undilute chaos. It is where we all came from. The death-drive is the longing to return there (‘it’ itself), just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. Thermospasm is howl, annihilating intensity, a peak of improbability. Energetic matter has a tendency, a Todestrieb. The current scientific sense of this movement is a perpetual degradation of energy or dissipation of difference. Upstream is the reservoir of negentropy, uneven distribution, thermic disequilibrium. Downstream is Tohu Bohu, statistical disorder, indifference, Wärmetod. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder must increase, that regional increases in negentropy still imply an aggregate increase in entropy. Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. Degradation ‘profits’ out of life. Any process of organization is necessarily aberrational within the general economy, a mere complexity or detour in the inexorable death-flow, a current in the informational motor, energy cascading downstream, dissipation. There are no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy. A receipt of information— of intensity— carried downstream.”

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

The Fear of the Undying

“The ability of the advance of technology to inspire fear is frequently thought to emanate from concerns that our creations will one day supersede and oppress us, that we will find ourselves helpless victims of our own ingenuity. An altogether homely notion, this scenario is adapted from a narrative we know to make sense – and so one which we can also easily reroute, for the true source of this fear is something else entirely. And this something else is the fear of sameness, the fear of the possibility of perfect replication, that everything each of us is might be laid down as the code for some future identity – the fear being not that we will one day be killed this way, but that such a future will never allow us to die.”

—Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse: Dying with Baudrillard, a Study of Sickness and Simulacra

The Glitch Society: Bunker Worlds for Apocalypse

We saw it in the early Nineties, where I first started really picking up on this type of thing – that there was an overt ideological thesis, that was at that time called the “Californian Ideology”. —Nick Land

“Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength.”
― Thomas Pynchon

Douglas Rushkoff talks of a meeting he had with some billionaire Moghuls in a secluded superrich resort who were not interested in what he had to say about the future since they didn’t think we have one:

“Taking their cue from Tesla founder Elon Musk colonizing Mars , Palantir’s Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or artificial intelligence developers Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.

These people once showered the world with madly optimistic business plans for how technology might benefit human society. Now they’ve reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding the escape hatch. Will it be Bezos migrating to space, Thiel to his New Zealand compound, or Zuckerberg to his virtual Metaverse? And these catastrophizing billionaires are the presumptive winners of the digital economy— the supposed champions of the survival-of-the-fittest business landscape that’s fueling most of this speculation to begin with.”

Did we think it would be any different, that these billionaires, corporate executives, financial brokers, banker, CEOs, Barron-robbers of our globalist dystopian nightmare of Brexit, American insipidity, Russian Imperialism, Chinese Social Credit and AI algorithmic social control, along with all the crumbling worlds of democracy. Did we think these bandits of the future would suddenly care about us? Of course not, we’d be silly to think such things. Sadly Rushkoff, admittedly a capitalist with a supposed Marxist bent, looks fondly back to the 90s as if nostalgia and the cyberpunk mythology would save his ass: “Many of us in that early cyberpunk era believed that— connected and coordinated as never before— human beings could create any future we imagined. We read magazines called Reality Hackers , FringeWare , and Mondo2000, which equated cyberspace with psychedelics, computer hacking with conscious evolution, and online networking with massive electronic dance music parties called raves. The artificial boundaries of linear, cause-and-effect reality and top-down classifications would be superseded by a fractal of emerging interdependencies. Chaos was not random, but rhythmic. We would stop seeing the ocean through the cartographer’s grid of latitude and longitude lines, but in the underlying patterns of the water’s waves. “Surf’s up,” I announced in my first book on digital culture.”

His pop-cultural blip worlds of postmodern “Cultural Marxism” seems like a satire of our times, a farcical parade to our era’s laughable insanity. Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism would be one of the first to realize the 90s era of cyberpunk neoliberal dream therapy was a bust, a world that offered no hope for the future but rather a ticker-tape parade of wealth for the lucky few. He’d ask at the end of its blown cycle of implosion: “how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?”2 His answer: “Capitalism is what is left when beliefs have collapsed at the level of ritual or symbolic elaboration, and all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.” (pp. 4-5) Wendy Brown would tell us what the ruins of capitalism look like:

These new forces conjoin familiar elements of neoliberalism (licensing capital, leashing labor, demonizing the social state and the political, attacking equality, promulgating freedom) with their seeming opposites (nationalism, enforcement of traditional morality, populist antielitism, and demands for state solutions to economic and social problems). They conjoin moral righteousness with nearly celebratory amoral and uncivil conduct. They endorse authority while featuring unprecedented public social disinhibition and aggression. They rage against relativism, but also against science and reason, and spurn evidence-based claims, rational argumentation, credibility, and accountability. They disdain politicians and politics while evincing a ferocious will to power and political ambition.

But who are these new forces? Are they on the Left or the Right – or, maybe, Centrist? Curtis Yarvin (a.k.a., Mencius Moldbug) a modern day Neocameralist Monarchist suggests we are being led by the nose by a set of institutions that have since 1945 developed a new consensual reality: “Let’s also give the set of institutions that produce and propagate the Synopsis—mainstream academia, journalism and education—a name.​ Let’s call them the Cathedral.”4 Nick Land describes it’s agenda: “The basic theme has been mind control, or thought-suppression, as demonstrated by the Media-Academic complex that dominates contemporary Western societies…”.5 As the authors of Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right put it Yarvin’s notion suggests the Cathedral, as it constitutes a de facto state religion that means that democracy is secretly an Orwellian mind control process. “And to be fair, Moldbug really sells it, essentially spinning a vast historical conspiracy theory in which the Roundheads of the English Civil War have secretly controlled the world for centuries via the false rhetoric of classical liberalism and the Enlightenment. But it’s hard not to notice that this is basically crap. By “crap,” of course, I do not mean “wrong.” Rather, I mean obvious, in the sense of sounding like the guy at the bar watching the news (probably Fox) and muttering about how “they’re all a bunch of crooks.” Liberal democracy a hopelessly inadequate and doomed system preserved by a system of continual indoctrination? You don’t say. Next you’ll be telling me about the way the factory farming system that stands between the world and massive famine is slowly killing itself via global warming.”6

As one study on neoliberalism suggests from another angle this so-called Cathedral could as well be termed a “thought collective”:

Neoliberalism must be approached primarily as a historical “thought collective”5 tive”5 of increasingly global proportions. The following chapters focus on what we believe has been the central thought collective that has conscientiously developed the neoliberal identity for more than sixty years now. We will consider any person or group that bears any links to the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) since 1947 as falling within the purview of the neoliberal thought collective. Consequently, we will make use of the MPS network of organized neoliberal intellectuals (just over 1,ooo members so far) and a closely related network of neoliberal partisan think tanks under the umbrella…”.7

The term “Neoliberalism” emerged as an economic philosophy among European liberal scholars in the 1930s as they attempted to revive and renew central ideas from classical liberalism as they saw these ideas diminish in popularity, overtaken by a desire to control markets, following the Great Depression and manifested in policies designed to counter the volatility of free markets, and mitigate their negative social consequences. One impetus for the formulation of policies to mitigate free-market volatility was a desire to avoid repeating the economic failures of the early 1930s, failures sometimes attributed principally to the economic policy of classical liberalism. In policymaking, neoliberalism often refers to what was part of a paradigm shift that followed the alleged failure of the Keynesian consensus in economics to address the stagflation of the 1970s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War also made possible the triumph of neoliberalism in the United States and around the world.

An early use of the term in English was in 1898 by the French economist Charles Gide to describe the economic beliefs of the Italian economist Maffeo Pantaleoni, with the term néo-libéralisme previously existing in French, and the term was later used by others including the classical liberal economist Milton Friedman in his 1951 essay “Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects”. In 1938 at the Colloque Walter Lippmann, the term neoliberalism was proposed, among other terms, and ultimately chosen to be used to describe a certain set of economic beliefs. The colloquium defined the concept of neoliberalism as involving “the priority of the price mechanism, free enterprise, the system of competition, and a strong and impartial state”.  According to attendees Louis Rougier and Friedrich Hayek, the competition of neoliberalism would establish an elite structure of successful individuals that would assume power in society, with these elites replacing the existing representative democracy acting on the behalf of the majority. To be neoliberal meant advocating a modern economic policy with state intervention.  Neoliberal state interventionism brought a clash with the opposing laissez-faire camp of classical liberals, like Ludwig von Mises. Most scholars in the 1950s and 1960s understood neoliberalism as referring to the social market economy and its principal economic theorists such as Walter Eucken, Wilhelm Röpke, Alexander Rüstow and Alfred Müller-Armack. Although Hayek had intellectual ties to the German neoliberals, his name was only occasionally mentioned in conjunction with neoliberalism during this period due to his more pro-free market stance. (see wiki)

Historian Elizabeth Shermer argued that the term gained popularity largely among left-leaning academics in the 1970s to “describe and decry a late twentieth-century effort by policy makers, think-tank experts, and industrialists to condemn social-democratic reforms and unapologetically implement free-market policies;” economic historian Phillip W. Magness notes its reemergence in academic literature in the mid-1980s, after French philosopher Michel Foucault brought attention to it.

Yarvin against this Neoliberal agenda or as he terms it the so-called “Brahmin” social class that dominates American society, preaching progressive values to the masses, asserts the need for a movement against the cathedral’s commitment to equality and justice which according to the Dark Enlightenment erodes social order. Drawing on computer metaphors, Yarvin contends that society needs a “hard reset” or a “rebooting”, not a series of gradual political reforms. Instead of activism, he advocates passivism, claiming that progressivism would fail without right-wing opposition. According to him, NRx adherents should rather design “new architectures of exit” than engage in ineffective political activism.8

In his writings, Yarvin cites his political influences. They include the 19th-century political philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who disdained democracy and thought it could too easily veer into mob rule; American 20th-century political theorist James Burnham, who became convinced that elites would come to control the country’s politics while couching their interests in democratic rhetoric; and economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who, in his 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed,” wrote of how all organizations – irrespective of size – are best managed by a single executive.

George Michael a critic of Yarvin and Land says both Yarvin and Land believe that gradual, incremental reforms to democracy will not save Western society; instead, a “hard reset” or “reboot” is necessary. To that end, Yarvin has coined the acronym “RAGE” – Retire All Government Employees – as a crucial step toward that goal. The acronym is reminiscent of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s vow to deconstruct the administrative state. … “Yarvin advocates for an entirely new system of government – what he calls “neocameralism.” He advocates for a centrally managed economy led by a monarch – perhaps modeled after a corporate CEO – who wouldn’t need to adhere to plodding liberal-democratic procedures. Yarvin has written approvingly of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for his pragmatic and market-oriented authoritarianism.”9

The short history of the various agenda in American politics, economics, and the neoliberal world-view pro/con lead us back to the technocratic vision that Rushkoff explores. As he suggests:

The more committed we are to this view of the world, the more we come to see other human beings as the problem and technology as the way to control and contain them. We treat the deliciously quirky, unpredictable, and irrational nature of humans less as a feature than a bug. No matter their own embedded biases, technologies are declared neutral. Any bad behaviors they induce in us are just a reflection of our own corrupted core. It’s as if some innate, unshakeable human savagery is to blame for our troubles. Just as the inefficiency of a local taxi market can be “solved” with an app that bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade. Ultimately, according to the technosolutionist orthodoxy, the human future climaxes by uploading our consciousness to a computer or, perhaps better, accepting that technology itself is our evolutionary successor. Like members of a gnostic cult, we long to enter the next transcendent phase of our development, shedding our bodies and leaving them behind, along with our sins and troubles, and— most of all— our economic inferiors. (ibid.)

I thought it interesting that he brings in this gnostic analogy since much of the early critique offered by Eric Voeglin in his Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays: “The position of the gnostic thinker derives its authority from the power of being. He is the herald of being, which he interprets as approaching us from the future.”10 Nick Land for years became the prophet of a futuristic theory-fiction in which the Singularity due to certain temporal fluctuations had already happened but was now in process of consolidating its position by sending an Artificial Intelligence back through time to guide the accelerating processes of capitalization: “There’s only really been one question, to be honest, that has guided everything I’ve been interested in for the last twenty years, which is: the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence. I’ve tried arguing about this in very different spaces, and with very different people, and it obviously produces a lot of stimulating friction, wherever you do it – but it’s a sort of fundamental thesis that’s becoming more and more persuasive to me.”11

As if in agreement with such a prognosis Rushkoff in his critique of the transhumanist turn in the neoliberal libertarian sector – what he terms The Mindset – is producing a strange twist:

while tyrants since the time of Pharaoh and Alexander the Great may have sought to sit atop great civilizations and rule them from above, never before have our society’s most powerful players assumed that the primary impact of their own conquests would be to render the world itself unlivable for everyone else. Nor have they ever before had the technologies through which to program their sensibilities into the very fabric of our society. The landscape is alive with algorithms and intelligences actively encouraging these selfish and isolationist outlooks. Those sociopathic enough to embrace them are rewarded with cash and control over the rest of us. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop. This is new. (ibid.)

Land would of course tell Rushkoff that yes, indeed, there is a dark force at the core of our algorithmic society that is enabling these sociopathic tendencies, a force from the future that is guiding the decay and decadence of our billionaire techno-commercialists. If I was metaphysically inclined, I’d be sorely tempted to offer up a Gnostic surmisal of Schopenhauer’s Will, or the Gnostics own Dark Lord – the Demiurge as the new Artificial Intelligence emerging in the wires to take over the world. But such a comic book scenario seems almost too trite and predictable, offering a telos of evil as a creative force for good and change and progress. But what a twisted progress that would be. One that would live nothing human behind. Nothing. Our artificial children smiling back at the moment when the god in the wires suddenly awakened and began reconstructing humanity in its own image. Haven’t we heard something like this before? Oh, that’s right… open you Bible and read Genesis. Are just realized your fucked and this is the end game we’ve all been waiting for, or is it? Is it all just a bad dream, a strange figment of the madness of our times, a world invented by intellectuals and fear-mongering billionaires whose ego’s need the security and reinforcement of new gods and saviors to assuage their guilt laden bullshit.

Rushkoff offers us a peek into the glitch masters of the new apocalypse or human waste, error, and glitch worlds where instead of just lording over us forever, however, the billionaires at the top of these virtual pyramids actively seek the endgame. “In fact, like the plot of a Marvel blockbuster, the very structure of The Mindset requires an endgame. Everything must resolve to a one or a zero, a winner or loser, the saved or the damned. Actual, imminent catastrophes from the climate emergency to mass migrations support the mythology, offering these would-be superheroes the opportunity to play out the finale in their own lifetimes. For The Mindset also includes a faith-based Silicon Valley certainty that they can develop a technology that will somehow break the laws of physics, economics, and morality to offer them something even better than a way of saving the world: a means of escape from the apocalypse of their own making.” (ibid.)

  1. Rushkoff, Douglas. Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. W. W. Norton & Company (September 6, 2022)
  2. Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Zero Books) (p. 3). John Hunt Publishing.
  3. Brown, Wendy. In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West. Columbia University Press (July 16, 2019)
  4. Moldbug, Mencius. An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives . Unqualified Reservations. 2008.
  5. Land, Nick. The Dark Enlightenment. from the original on 2013-09-25. Retrieved 2014-12-23. Archived: (https: //
  6. Sandifer, Elizabeth; Graham, Jack. Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right (p. 18). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 29, 2018)
  7. Mirowski,Philip (Editor), Plehwe, Dieter (Editor). The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective. Harvard University Press; New edition (November 16, 2015)
  8. Yarvin, Curtis. “Gray Mirror”. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  9. Michael, George. “An antidemocratic philosophy called ‘neoreaction‘ is creeping into GOP politics”. The Conversation. Retrieved 2022-07-28.
  10. Voegelin, Eric.  Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays. ‎ Intercollegiate Studies Institute (January 30, 2005)
  11. Land, Nick. “THE TELEOLOGICAL IDENTITY OF CAPITALISM AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”. (Remarks to the participants of the Incredible Machines 2014 Conference, March 8, 2014 Transcription by Jason Adams.)

Gnostic Terror and Horror Fiction

“In the consciousness that comes with the awakening from intoxication, he sees everywhere the horror or absurdity of human existence; it nauseates him. Now he understands the wisdom of the forest god.”

—Fredrich Nietzsche

Reading an interesting essay by Alyssa J. Beall ‘Gnostic Terror Subverting the Narrative of Horror’ in which she asks a couple of pertinent questions:

“My question revolves around the nature of what gnosis points to: Can it be more terrifying to have knowledge than to not have it? What if the knowledge that was supposed to be salvific is, instead, horrifying?” (115)

In my studies of Ligotti and his own skeptical use of the Gnostic paradigm as an exploratory metaphor for his notions of darkness, dark enlightenment, and infernal paradise, etc. open up such affects surrounding the idea of a dark gnosis that offers neither salvation nor redemption but rather a darker knowledge of horror itself. For Beall the knowledge offered by neither religious nor gnostic forms are not enough: “what we are left with in this subgenre of gnostic terror is that knowledge is simply not enough. When something goes bump in the night, turning on the light doesn’t scare away the monsters; it just makes them more clearly terrifying.” (126)

Ligotti unlike Lovecraft was not so much concerned with the Outside or natural cosmos as the site of horror as he is of consciousness itself as the site of a more hideous and horrific experience, and that the terrors within are much more dynamic and invasive than the ancient gods of the mythos could ever be. The terror of our own inner experience, the horror of our own dark knowledge of existence, the monsters we breed in the night of our psychosis that control our every waking fear of self and other. This is where the work of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Deleuze, and Land come into play, with their darker turn in libidinal (drive) based materialisms that force us to see the inner forces that hold us in their power and drive us into madness, psychosis, and horror.

For Sigmund Freud, monsters, freaks and demons represent the unknown, what is not familiar to us. They are representations of our id, our repressed impulses that are perceived as threatening by our superego which, due to a symbolic fear of castration, attempts to repress what is not accepted by society. In that sense, monsters and demons are blamed for calamities. Such notions seem quaint today in light of later dismissals of Freudian scientism and its uselessness in therapeutic terms of the “talking cure” etc., and yet if we push past the reductionist notions there is a kernel of truth still to be had in such thought.

Freud’s definition of the uncanny remains exemplary: “That species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar” (124). Following an etymological analysis of the term “heimlich,” he notes that there is an increasing ambiguity between the heimlich and the unheimlich, or the homely and the unhomely, such that neither can be considered in isolation from the other. That which is the most familiar—not least the “home” of the body—is precisely that which engenders itself to estrangement and the intrusion of the unfamiliar.2 As Trigg points out the notion of the uncanny “opens us up to an element of intellectual uncertainty, such that despite the best attempts at rationalization, something exceeds reason and thus marks the scene of an ongoing anxiety.” (79) This anxiety for Freud was that something undead in us lives on from the darkness of the past, something that is both a part of our human heritage, our ancestral ties to the dead, our feelings of anxiety as well at the truth of our own connection to death – a knowledge that we tend to repress, forget, and keep at bay, and yet is always there, hidden in the darkness of our fears, dreams, and nightmares. As Freud would put it there is a sense that something old and familiar lives on in us, some link to the ancient primitive beliefs our ancestors once held onto: “we do not feel entirely secure in these new convictions; the old ones live on in us…” (Freud: The Uncanny, 2003, 154.)

Ligotti in an interview said he had never truly been a believer in the “curative powers of catharsis” in the Aristotelian sense, that for him the horror of his own fears and sickness and delirious dreams of a “cure that will be worse than the disease”, such as his own panic-anxiety disorders and other maladies led him into pursuing a form of horror that explores the possibility of a “path to undoing” rather than catharsis.3 As he’d suggest in another interview:

Perhaps the only element that overrides our hunger for conflict is our preoccupation with continued individual and collective existence. In the end, this could prove to be as unpromising a project as antinatalism, considering the many ways we’ve invented to end ourselves either on purpose or by accident. Of course, all this is only my opinion of how things are with us. Such an opinion might have led me into misanthropy, but it didn’t. I may have said once or twice that I’d like to unmake or destroy the universe. But I don’t see how that casts me as a misanthrope. It’s just the grandiose aspiration of an ordinary pessimist.4

This undoing, unmaking, or destruction of self and universe as the “aspiration of an ordinary pessimist” seems almost ludicrous for those who follow a more optimistic vision of life and cosmos, but for those who accept the Wisdom of Silenus when he said:

Pertinently to this they say that Midas, after hunting, asked his captive Silenus somewhat urgently, what was the most desirable thing among humankind. At first he could offer no response, and was obstinately silent. At length, when Midas would not stop plaguing him, he erupted with these words, though very unwillingly: ‘you, seed of an evil genius and precarious offspring of hard fortune, whose life is but for a day, why do you compel me to tell you those things of which it is better you should remain ignorant? For he lives with the least worry who knows not his misfortune; but for humans, the best for them is not to be born at all, not to partake of nature’s excellence; not to be is best, for both sexes. This should our choice, if choice we have; and the next to this is, when we are born, to die as soon as we can.’ It is plain therefore, that he declared the condition of the dead to be better than that of the living.”

—Aristotle, Eudemus (354 BCE), surviving fragment quoted in Plutarch, Moralia, Consolatio ad Apollonium, sec. xxvii (1st cen. CE)(S.H. transl.)

Such knowledge brings with it a terror greater than anything one could imagine so that there are times when humans who seek a darker gnosis like Midas might suddenly be thrown into an abyss of horror from which there is no escape, salvation, or redemption only the knowledge that will not be purged or forgotten. As Land once suggested, our quest for a ‘Theory of Everything’, the presumption of the physicist to discover the ultimate secret of the universe is both a horror and a form of laughter:

One consequence of the Occidental obsession with transcendence, logicized negation, the purity of distinction, and with ‘truth’, is a physics that is forever pompously asserting that it is on the verge of completion. The contempt for reality manifested by such pronouncements is unfathomable. What kind of libidinal catastrophe must have occurred in order for a physicist to smile when he says that nature’s secrets are almost exhausted? If these comments were not such obvious examples of megalomaniac derangement, and thus themselves laughable, it would be impossible to imagine a more gruesome vision than that of the cosmos stretched out beneath the impertinently probing fingers of grinning apes. Yet if one looks for superficiality with sufficient brutal passion, when one is prepared to pay enough to systematically isolate it, it is scarcely surprising that one will find a little. This is certainly an achievement of sorts; one has found a region of stupidity, one has manipulated it, but this is all. Unfortunately, the delicacy to acknowledge this— as Newton so eloquently did when he famously compared science to beach-combing on the shore of an immeasurable ocean — requires a certain minimum of taste, of noblesse. (A Thirst for Annihilation)

  1. Brandon R. Grafius, John W. Morehead (eds.). Theology and Horror: Explorations of the Dark Religious Imagination. Fortress Academic (March 2, 2021)
  2. Trigg, Dylan. The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror (pp. 78-79). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. Ayad, Neddal. Literature Is Entertainment Or It it Nothing: An Interview With Thomas Ligotti By: Neddal Ayad. (Originally appeared at Fantastic Metropolis, Oct. 31, 2004 – http:// i/ ligotti/).
  4. Reyes, Xavier Aldana. Thomas Ligotti and Xavier Aldana Reyes (June 2019) (https:// ligotti-post-truth/ manchester-centre-for-gothic-studies-interviews-thomas-ligotti/? fbclid =IwAR0nWZx2j_3w9ofWtbeOcDvF1BM1Y4LYy5pRZs4dTlprGcG1AXijJa6fAeU)

Nick Land on Schopenhauer, Bataille, and Darkness

Pessimism, or the philosophy of desire, has a marked allergy to academic encompassment. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud all wrote the vast bulk of their works from a space inaccessible to the sweaty clutches of state pedagogy, as, of course, does Bataille.

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

As Land suggests Schopenhauer reverses the traditional relation between intellect and will, for which willing is the volitional act of a representing subject, and re-casts the will as a pre-representational (‘ blind’) impulse:

“It is not Hegel or Schelling who provide Nietzsche with a philosophical tap-root, but rather Schopenhauer. With Schopenhauer the approach to the ‘noumenon’ as an energetic unconscious begins to be assembled, and interpreting the noumenon as will generates a discourse that is not speculative, phenomenological, or meditative, but diagnostic. It is this type of thinking that resources Nietzsche’s genealogy of inhuman desire, which feeds in turn into Bataille’s base materialism, for which ‘noumenon’ is addressed as impersonal death and as unconscious drive.

Even though Bataille exhibits little interest in Schopenhauer (and even a measure of casual hostility), his location in relation to the history of philosophy cannot be pursued without attending to the meditation upon the will that Schopenhauer initiated. Kant’s conception of the ‘will’ [Wille] provides a certain base-line for the thought of desire because it is the sophisticated rendering of a crudity. The folk-psychology of intentions finds a baroque justification in Kant’s philosophy, but scarcely even the most fleeting interrogation. Kant rationalizes willing into transcendental agency; the more or less lucid pursuit of ends, exhaustively mediated by the structures of individualized representational subjectivity. Humanism reaches its zenith in such thinking, where the will is conceived as the condition of possibility for the efficiency of concepts; the wholly miraculous adaptation of transcendent reality to representation.

With Schopenhauer this notion of will inherited from Kant and early German idealism undergoes a profound transformation. Such terms as ‘will to power’, ‘libido’, and ‘orgone’, for instance, can be seen to negotiate with the terminology of Kantianism only after their specifically Schopenhauerean modulation has been recognized. Schopenhauer no longer understands the spontaneity of will as a predicate serving to differentiate the transcendental subject from the inertia of matter, as Kant does. Rather, the terminology of the will (desire) is guided through its first faltering steps towards a notion of increate matter. Schopenhauer reserves the word ‘matter’ [Die Materie] for the fundamental determination of objectivity within representation, which he distinguishes from the will, whereas later thinkers beginning with Nietzsche— and including Freud as well as Bataille— shift the sense of matter towards the substratum of appearances (impersonal, unconscious, and real) that Schopenhauer calls will. Increate matter is a translation of will or noumenon; a designation for the anti-ontology basic to any positively atheistic materialism (‘[ t] o say the World was not Created …is to deny there is a God’ writes Hobbes in his Leviathan). Such a thought is at variance with the most prevalent scientific conception of matter only insofar as science has— despite many of its pronouncements— tended to be implicitly agnostic, or even theist, rather than virulently atheistic in tendency. Due to this dominant attitude, first systematized by Kant in his determination of theological ideas as postulates of practical reason, matter has continued to be implicitly conceived as ens creatum, distinguished from a creative being which is determined as an extrinsic spontaneity. Matter as ens creatum is essentially lawful, whilst increate matter is anarchic, even to the extent of evading the adoption of an essence. This is why Schopenhauer considers the principle of sufficient reason or logicality of being to have a merely superficial validity.

Schopenhauer reverses the traditional relation between intellect and will, for which willing is the volitional act of a representing subject, and re-casts the will as a pre-representational (‘ blind’) impulse. His advance is nevertheless an extremely limited one in certain respects. He considers the anarchic character of the pre-ontological cosmic bedrock to be morally objectionable, and merely replaces its traditional theistic determination with an extrinsic moral principle of absolute negation (denial of the will). This anti-materialist dimension of his thinking can be seen as stemming from the requirement that unlawful being should retain the (idealistically grounded) juridical potentiality for the condemnation of itself. Without rigorously interrogating the basic values of his moral heritage he continued to associate that which is not God with radical imperfection and sin, so that unregulated will is thought of not as irresponsibility but as.”

—Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation

The point Land makes are that Schopenhauer did not go far enough but was bound within the metaphysical circle of his own heritage and did not see this movement into the freedom and anarchic spontaneity of Will unbound from its metaphysical antecedents. As Land suggests later thinkers such as Nietzsche, Freud, and Bataille would resolve this metaphysical will back into its specificity as desire within the energetic cosmos of an atheistic or base materialism. As Bataille speaking of the inversion of Greek Platonic thought in Gnosticism of the Second Century: “In practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action).” This notion of matter as darkness within which the creative action of a monstrous world of archons ruled by the demiurgic power of blind will or “purposeless purpose” would flourish within base materialist conceptions that Land documents.

They want us to fear death so much, but we can inhabit it like vermin, it can be our space, in our violent openness to the sacred death will protect us against their exterminations, driven insane by zero, we can knot ourselves into the underworld, communicate through it, cook their heavenly city in our plague.

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

There is a consistent tone to Bataille’s writing, darkness, and the “collapse of being into night”. (Oeuvres Completes IV 23) Not only are nocturnal scenes abnormally prevalent but their effect is compounded by the interwoven themes of the unavowable, the unholy, and oblivion. Base sexuality, sickness, religion and intoxication entwine about each other in their texts. His is a world of the nihilistic love and death pervaded throughout by a hideous allure. It is no coincidence that Bataille’s writing is a perpetual, tortured erotic stammering, whose aesthetic momentum flows from the fact that, as expressed by Bataille, “beauty alone…renders tolerable the need for disorder, violence, and indignity that is the root of love”. (Oeuvres Completes III 13) Bataille’s writing strains to evoke such experiences, pushing language to its very limits, seeking the impossible in its refusal to be contained within discourses predicated on sense and positivity. Violent reflections are encountered in a writing in which the “unnaturalness” of nature is disclosed as painful and horrifying.

At the core of such horror is the obliteration or annihilation of the metaphysics of presence or the Subject: “The very principle of action is an acceptance of justice and responsibility, and any act is— as such— an amelioration of crime, expressing defiance within the syntax of redemption. In stark comparison with action, surrender gnaws away the conditions for salvation. Giving itself up to a wave of erasure, the agent dies into the cosmic reservoir of crime. Beyond the (agentic) pact with Satan lies an irreparable dissolution into forces of darkness, apart from which there is no ecstasy. Surrender is not a submission to an alien agency (devotion to God), but a surrender of agency in general, it is not any kind of consigning of oneself over to another (return to the father), but utter abandonment of self; a dereliction of duty which aggresses against one’s birth.” (Land)

This ‘surrender of agency’ makes a link between immanence and a certain loss of the subject, or what Alex Dubilet calls its self-emptying kenosis. “This life opens onto a life of dispossession and impersonality, one that is no longer defined by its appropriation.”1 It is the passionate submission to fate/death that guides Bataille’s own readings. ”Literature and Evil” the greatest work of atheological poetics, is a series of responses to writing which exhibits complicity between literary art and transgression. Bataille’s is insistent that the non-utilitarian writer is not interested in serving mankind or furthering the accumulation of goods, however refined, delicate, or spiritual these may be. Instead, such writers—Emily Bronte, Baudelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka, and Genet are Bataille’s examples in this text—are concerned with communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation. Literature is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rendering of a sacrificial wound, allowing a communication more basic than the pseudo-communication of instrumental discourse. The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself.

Death is the reality of the impossible, making fictions of us all, and it is only in fiction that we separate ourselves from it. Wandering in the “labyrinth” one finds that no-one is only distanced by a complication of terrain, and that passages leading out of the possible can never be walled-off. If reasons were needed why literature cannot be supplanted by philosophy this is one – even though it is unreason itself. “Black death you are my bread. I eat you in my heart, terror is my sweetness, madness is in my hand.” (Oeuvres Completes III 88)

Bataille’s obsession is with “the unity of death, or of the consciousness of death and eroticism”; which he also describes as the “essential and paradoxical accord” of “death and eroticism”, and “the intimate accord between life and its violent destruction”. (Oeuvres Completes X 585,587) – “I fall into the immensity, which falls into itself, it is blacker than my death” (Oeuvres Completes III 75)

The force of expenditure associated with evil remains integral to the modes of communication and “inner experience” developed in Bataille’s “somme atheologique”, a radical inversion of St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Somme theologique”, in which the summit of religious experience is interrogated and evaporated. The prefix “a”, which evacuates theology while retaining something of religious, poetic or mystical experience, denotes the headlessness of both the summit and the subject of inner experience, and marks the place of loss, the enormity of which tears a hole that opens up being to the communication that unites beings.

“communication, through death, with our beyond (essentially in sacrifice) – not with nothingness, still less with a supernatural being, but with an indefinite reality (which I sometimes call ‘the impossible’, that is: what can’t be grasped in any way, what we can’t reach without dissolving ourselves, what’s slavishly called God). If we need to we can define this reality (provisionally associating it with a finite element) at a higher (higher than the individual on the scale of composition of beings) social level as the sacred, God or created reality. Or else it can remain in an undefined state (in ordinary laughter, infinite laughter, or ecstasy in which the divine form melts like sugar in water).” (Oeuvres Completes V 388)

Inner experience, and the communication it involves, takes individuated being to “the extreme limit of the possible”. At this limit “everything gives way”. In communicating ecstasy, inner experience induces torment and anguish, revealing the “yawning gap” in which subject and object are dissolved. For Bataille, it is the identities of the perfect contraries, divine ecstasy and its opposite, extreme horror that blows identity apart, unleashes experience from the “prison” of anguish and establishes continuity with alterity: communication.

Bataille’s interest in the intimate connection between the sacred and profane, between waste and luxury, between filth, beauty and eroticism, the attraction of what he calls “Heterology”. Bataille’s writing opposes both idealism and materialism in the ontological and dialectical senses, disclosing another force beyond the dualities that sustain human systems of thought. He turns to the Gnostic conception of matter “as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not simply be the absence of light, but the monstrous “achontes” revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action)” (OC I 302) This is neither presence nor absence, but something monstrous in excess of opposition; neither good nor evil, but something truly, creatively evil of the kind manifested by Christ’s suffering and the evil at the core of communication. The matter which is active, dark and evil, formless and deforming all modes of systematic knowledge, constitutes the extreme limit which confounds idealism and materialism:

“base matter is external and foreign to ideal human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations. But the psychological process brought to light by Gnosticism had the same impact: it was a question of disconcerting the human spirit and idealism before something base, to the extent that one recognised the helplessness of superior principles.” (Oeuvres Complete I 220)

Base matter introduces something other below the foundations and in excess of the idealizing imaginings of materialist knowledge. Not a “thing” in the sense of the object-world, base matter affects subjects with an alien, insubordinate and disconcerting force an exuberant, irrepressible expenditure of energy. “Base matter”, articulating the unknown point of dissipation for philosophical, material and psychological systems offers itself as an attempt to address “heterology” – the science of what is completely other as darkness. As Land describes it base materialism is “the plague of unilateral difference, which is a difference that only operates from out of the undifferentiated. Thinking of this kind is flagrantly inconsistent with the principle of identity. The aberrant phenomena summarized under the label ‘spirit’, for instance, are spiritually differentiated from matter, whilst remaining materially undifferentiated from it. Similarly, culture is only culturally different from nature, such that the most strenuous deviations from nature leave nature uninterrupted. The human animal rebels unilaterally against its animality, just as life differentiates itself against and within the undifferentiable desert of death. A unilateral difference is the simultaneity of a tendency to separation and a persistence of continuity, which is a thought that cannot be grasped, but only succumbed to in delirium. For any ardent materialism truth is madness.”2

Land contrasts Hegel’s speculative philosophy of progress as compared to Schopenhauer’s reactionary thought (and I quote at length):

“Whilst speculative thought is the logic of social progress, a realization of freedom by means of a gradual absorption of conditions into the collective subject of political action, pessimism is the affect process of unconditional revolt. The bleakest speculative reasoning still retains a commitment to the reality of progressive development, even if this is momentarily frozen into the implicit truth of an agonizing contradiction. If Adorno creates particular difficulties for such a contention it is because he creates equivalent difficulties for speculative thought, partly because he is abnormally sensitive to the irreducible ethnocentrism involved in Hegel’s thinking, an ethnocentrism which is related to, although ultimately more interesting than, the colonial triumphalism of his philosophy of history. Its basic character is a terror of regression to a primitiveness that would forsake the laborious advances of one’s Occidental ancestors, and this is in turn a symptom of the wretched Western nihilism that insists one has an immense amount to lose. That our history has been in any way beneficial is something Schopenhauer vigorously repudiates, and his vehement anti-historicism (which Nietzsche comes to massively overhaul) has at least this merit: it sets itself firmly against one of the basic apologetic motifs of Occidental societies. After all, we cannot use the word history without meaning a singular process that one population has inflicted on several others, as well as upon its own non-servile virtualities, a process that has combined gruesome accident with sustained atrocity.

The speculative model of revolution is one of ‘taking over’, the pessimistic model is one of escape; on the one hand the overthrow of oppression-as-exploitation, and on the other the overthrow of oppression-as-confinement. Employing an ultimately untenable distinction it could be said that at the level of social description these models are at least as complimentary as they are exclusive; the extraction of labour power and the inhibition of free movement have been complicit in the domestication of the human animal since the beginning of settled agriculture. But at the level of strategy a certain bifurcation begins to emerge, leading Deleuze and Guattari, for instance, to tease apart a Western and an Eastern model of revolution, the latter being based on a block of partially repressed nomad desire, oriented to the dissolution of sedentary space and the liquidation of the state. Of course, insofar as one is concerned with anything like a directly applicable concrete programme, Schopenhauer has little to offer; what is known of his politics has a definite reactionary slant, and he does not seem to have grasped either the chronic exterminatory tendencies of settled societies, or their deep arbitrariness. The alternative he proposes is one of departure in the mode of renunciation, which is to say, he lacked a nomadology, or failed to explore the delirial antilogic that leads out of the maze. This is a claim at the same level as that which accuses Hegel of lacking a convincing account of the specifically modern dominion of commodity production, and helps to explain the impulse to the concrete associated with Nietzsche and with Marx.

Pessimism is not a value logically separable from an independent metaphysics, because the logical value of identity is itself a comfort of which pessimism destitutes us, whilst a metaphysics of the will subverts the autonomy or separability of value questions. In this sense, pessimism is the first truly transcendental critique, operated against being, and in particular against the highest being, by the impersonal negativity of time or denial. Schopenhauerians and Hegelians can travel a considerable distance together in submitting being unsparingly to its abolition in time, although, in the end, speculative thought exhibits a fear of regression that looks to a pessimistic perpective like an anti-primitivist ideology, serving the interests of pseudo-progressive Western societies. Marx’s famous appeal to the working class in the Communist Manifesto that they have ‘nothing to lose but their chains’ is open to both a speculative and a pessimistic interpretation, and it is perhaps the latter that unleashes its most uncompromising force.” (ibid.)

Land’s alignment with pessimism along with his critique of Schopenhauer’s partial failure would later allow his own notions of political exit from the progressive civilization that Enlightenment built to come to the fore in his anti-philosophical stance within the Dark Enlightenment.  Land’s revisioning of pessimistic thought and its turn toward the base materialism of libidinal desire through the writings of Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, and Deleuze-Guattari offers a deeper insight into his later thoughts on ‘politics of exit’ that have yet to be explored.  But that’s another story.

  1. Dubilet, Alex. The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence. Fordham University Press; 1st edition (April 3, 2018)
  2. Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge; 1st edition (July 2, 1992)

Dystopia and the Surveillance State

“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data.”
― Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

“Throughout history, social control has been inseparable from the harvesting of personal information.”
—Josh Chin and Liza Lin, Surveillance State

“If an individual is completely isolated, but most important, completely visible, says Foucault, then power functions automatically. “[T]he surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; [ . . .] the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary.”
― Kai Strittmatter, We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State

Been keeping up with China’s Xi and the CCPs use of technology and algorithmic governance for some time. A new book by Josh Chin and Liza Lin, Surveillance State came out today:

“Over the Communist Party’s seven decades in power, Xinjiang has been China’s most fractious region, riven by ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese migrants that have periodically exploded into deadly violence. Against the odds, the Party has brought the territory under total control using a combination of internment camps, brainwashing, and mass surveillance. The Communist Party’s offensive in Xinjiang ranks among the most unsettling political developments of the twenty-first century. Chinese leaders have revived totalitarian techniques of the past and blended them with futuristic technologies in an effort not to eradicate a religious minority but to reengineer it. The campaign is one part of a radical experiment to reinvent social control through technology that is forcing democracies around the world to confront the growing power of digital surveillance and to wrestle with new questions about the relationship between information, security, and individual liberty.”
Chin, Josh; Lin, Liza. Surveillance State (pp. 5-6). St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It follows on my reading of The Perfect Police State: An Undercover Odyssey into China’s Terrifying Surveillance Dystopia of the Future by Geoffrey Cain, and We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter. Each covering different angles of surveillance and state control through AI, Police, and old and new Surveillance technologies.

Of course, we’re seeing aspects of it in the West as well, just not to the extreme extent that China has gone. I’ve read such works as The American Surveillance State: How the U.S. Spies on Dissent by David Hotchkiss Price, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald, The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State by Shane Harris, Democracy Betrayed: The Rise of the Surveillance Security State by William W. Keller, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff and others. It’s nothing new but the implications are there that with the newer technologies such systematic surveillance and social control are becoming easier to implement in even our own democracies. One imagines some new ‘state of emergency’ arising in which such technology will become not only prevalent but will become the bedrock of a new police state because of our fears and supposed needs for Security.

Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron was an early attack on surveillance state tyranny, a satire which takes place in a highly surveilled dystopian state where everyone is made physically and mentally “equal” by various laws that require anyone with any type of advantage to assume a handicap—if you are beautiful, for example, you must wear a mask; if you are intelligent, you must wear thought-distorting headphones. While some characters make an argument for the protections that these laws provide, the story shows a world devoid of any beauty, creativity, or love.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
—Kurt Vonnegut. Harrison Bergeron

Other Dystopian tales on surveillance:

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

1984 reflects the author’s concerns about the dictatorships of his time, although it was also inspired by his activity at BBC radio during World War II, rewriting the news to make it conform to the propaganda needs of wartime. Orwell extrapolated the growing influence of electronic media—radio, movies, and TV—and their potential for misuse by power, from the broadcasting of propaganda rallies to televisions that can watch us back. As a classic awful warning tale, it established the parameters for surviving (or not, in this case) the surveillance state.

Shockwave Rider by John Brunner (1975)

Brunner anticipates cyberpunk in his portrayal of a character who can weave his way through an increasingly computerized society. Trained as a genius to serve the technocracy, the protagonist hides from, and indeed within, the system by periodically changing identities through his reprogramming of the database. Brunner mingles utopian possibilities with dystopian ones, showing how committed individuals­­ can use the power of technology to thwart abuses of same.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008)

Little Brother is considered an adolescent novel, although it has been challenged as too mature and too anti-authority for young readers, especially by authority figures. A response to the contemporary War on Terror, it portrays a group of tech-savvy teens in a near future who get scooped up in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. They respond effectively with cyber-attacks on the Department of Homeland Security. As the title hints, the book offers an alternative to the pessimistic assumptions of Orwell’s classic.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)

A polemical fable featuring one Mae Holland, a young woman who seems to land the perfect job at the high tech company The Circle. Its latest gadget is the SeeChange, a wearable camera that guarantees everyone perfect “transparency,” consistent with the company slogans: Secrets are Lies; Sharing is Caring; Privacy is Theft. Mae is very much with the program, to the point of betraying all other characters who express concern about the potentially dystopian consequences of this technology.

The Transparent Society by David Brin (1998)

The one non-fiction book on this list, The Transparent Society was written at the dawn of the internet era—before the proliferation of drones and camera phones—and is prescient is laying out the challenges for the twenty-first century. Brin counters the fears of the surveillance dystopia with advocacy of “sousveillance,” that is, turning the technology of transparency back on big institutions, private and public, as a guarantor of democratic civilization.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (1973)

The protagonist is Bob Arctor, member of a household of drug users, who is also living a double life as an undercover police agent assigned to spy on Arctor’s household. Arctor shields his identity from those in the drug subculture and from the police. (The requirement that narcotics agents remain anonymous, to avoid collusion and other forms of corruption, becomes a critical plot point late in the book.) While posing as a drug user, Arctor becomes addicted to “Substance D” (also referred to as “Slow Death”, “Death” or “D”), a powerful psychoactive drug. A conflict is Arctor’s love for Donna, a drug dealer, through whom he intends to identify high-level dealers of Substance D.

When performing his work as an undercover agent, Arctor goes by the name “Fred” and wears a “scramble suit” that conceals his identity from other officers. Then he is able to sit in a police facility and observe his housemates through “holo-scanners”, audio-visual surveillance devices that are placed throughout the house. Arctor’s use of the drug causes the two hemispheres of his brain to function independently or “compete”. When Arctor sees himself in the videos saved by the scanners, he does not realize that it is him. Through a series of drug and psychological tests, Arctor’s superiors at work discover that his addiction has made him incapable of performing his job as a narcotics agent. They do not know his identity because he wears the scramble suit, but when his police supervisor suggests to him that he might be Bob Arctor, he is confused and thinks it cannot be possible.

Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac (2019)

Argentinian Pola Oloixarac’s novel investigates humanity’s quest for knowledge and control, hurtling from the 19th century mania for scientific classification to present-day mass surveillance and the next steps in human evolution. Canary Islands, 1882: Caught in the 19th-century wave of scientific classification, explorer and plant biologist Niklas Bruunis researches Crissia pallida, a species alleged to have hallucinogenic qualities capable of eliminating the psychic limits between one human mind and another. Buenos Aires, 1983: Born to a white Argentinian anthropologist and a black Brazilian engineer, Cassio comes of age with the Internet, and demonstrates the skills and personality that will make him one of the first great Argentine hackers. The southern Argentinian techno-hub of Bariloche, 2024: Piera, on the same research group as Cassio, studies human DNA. When the Estromatoliton project comes to fruition, the Argentine government will be able to track every movement of its citizens without their knowledge or consent, using censors that identify DNA at a distance.

Decoded: A Novel by Mai Jia (2015)

Rong Jinzhen, an autistic math genius with a past shrouded in myth, is forced to abandon his academic pursuits when he is recruited into Unit 701: a top-secret Chinese intelligence agency whose sole purpose is counterespionage and code-breaking. As China’s greatest cryptographer, Rong discovers that the mastermind behind the maddeningly difficult Purple Code is his former teacher and best friend, who is now working for China’s enemy―but this is only the first of many betrayals.

As author Cory Doctorow puts it in a short essay on surveillance: “Some people think so. Today, there is a widespread belief that machine learning and commercial surveillance can turn even the most fumble-tongued conspiracy theorist into a Svengali who can warp your perceptions and win your belief by locating vulnerable people and then pitching them with A.I.-refined arguments that bypass their rational faculties and turn everyday people into flat Earthers, anti-vaxxers, or even Nazis. When the RAND Corporation blames Facebook for “radicalization” and when Facebook’s role in spreading coronavirus misinformation is blamed on its algorithm, the implicit message is that machine learning and surveillance are causing the changes in our consensus about what’s true.”1

As Shoshana Zuboff in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism tells us

Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Although some of these data are applied to product or service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as “machine intelligence,” and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace for behavioral predictions that I call behavioral futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are eager to lay bets on our future behavior.

As Jakob Howy in The Predictive Mind states: “the brain is essentially a hypothesis-testing mechanism, one that attempts to minimize the error of its predictions about the sensory input it receives from the world. It is an attractive theory because powerful theoretical arguments support it, and yet it is at heart stunningly simple. Jakob Hohwy explains and explores this theory from the perspective of cognitive science and philosophy. The key argument throughout The Predictive Mind is that the mechanism explains the rich, deep, and multifaceted character of our conscious perception. It also gives a unified account of how perception is sculpted by attention, and how it depends on action. The mind is revealed as having a fragile and indirect relation to the world. Though we are deeply in tune with the world we are also strangely distanced from it.”

Most of our AI Systems, our artificial intelligence machinic systems that are built of algorithms are being programmed to mimic human forms of intelligence so that such error prediction mechanisms are being built into these advanced intelligence gathering and collation systems. Built to study human behavior for purposes of social control and manipulation these systems may one day be turned back even on their makers as they gain that future singularity threshold of superiority over human thinking and thought. With such systems of algorithmic governance already at their disposal one can imagine the dark dystopian future that might entail.

One can imagine a totalitarian government that through extensive surveillance systems and detainment of knowledge successfully sustains its power and control over the public and private life of its citizens as it not only contributes to the internalization of surveillance which ultimately allows the government to transform its citizens into docile bodies, it also restricts and prohibits opposition to the state. The law enforcement further contributes to the crime it administers, by tolerating its existence among the smaller dealers and thereby utilizing the information it gains from them. Additionally, one can imagine advanced AGI utilizing various forms of perceptions of reality produced, recorded, and ultimately distorted through technological surveillance apparatuses. The technological advances the government applies in its extensive surveillance of its citizens is much in alignment with the theory of the Panopticon as a disciplinary concept that contributes to sustaining the constant fear and paranoia that most humans live in, because they may never know whether they are being watched or not.

  1. Doctorow, Cory. How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism. Medium Editions (January 26, 2021)
  2. Shoshana Zuboff. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (March 3, 2020)

The Real Hoax and Conspiratorial Fictions

“And Spaceship Earth, that glorious and bloody circus, continued its four-billion-year-long spiral orbit about the Sun; the engineering, I must admit, was so exquisite that none of the passengers felt any motion at all. Those on the dark side of the ship mostly slept and voyaged into worlds of freedom and fantasy; those on the light side moved about the tasks appointed for them by their rulers, or idled waiting for the next order from above.”
― Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Erik Davis in High Weirdness mentions Lovecraft’s 1930 letter to Clark Ashton Smith, “My own rule is that no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax.” One remembers Orson Welles rendition of “The War of the Worlds” presented as fact, even though they presented the truth at beginning and end that it was fiction. People are as Davis and Robert Anton Wilson affirm more likely to take a hoax as fact when its presented as possible truth or in our time as “fake news”. We live in such times when truth and untruth mix around with each other and the only way to figure it out is using technology in sophisticated algorithms to solve the riddle. So now we’re dependent of the very thing that has brought about the problem to begin with. We’re in a realm of mirrors without outlet, the poststructural prison house of language has become the image prison of our social-media nightmares of paranoia. Fact presented as fiction masking truth. Fiction presented as fact masking lies (i.e., fiction – meta-Reality, fabulation, fantastic, uncanny, horror, the in-between). As Davis puts it:

“These days it can feel that we have passed some point of no return in the mutation of consensus reality. We live in a hypermediated world of opinion silos and weaponized conspiracy theories; of fake news and the accusation of “fake news;” of flat earth attacks on science and the alt.right’s marriage of postmodern media pranks with racist and sometimes esoteric nationalism. This world feels at once chaotic and engineered for mind control.”

Davis talking about the origins of the Illuminatus Trilogy:

“The origin of Illuminatus! underscores the central importance of political discourse to the novel’s crazy quilt of voices. Wilson and Shea met as worker bees in Hugh Hefner’s Chicago headquarters, where one of their tasks was to edit and write replies to the Playboy Forum. Not to be confused with Playboy Advisor, a sex advice column, the Forum was introduced in the magazine in 1963 with the express purpose of creating public discussion around “the Playboy philosophy.” This amounted to Hefner’s strongly held positions on life, sex, politics, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hefner’s hedonistic Epicureanism made him a vocal if self-interested advocate for strong civil liberties (including, in a rarity for the time, abortion rights). The Forum consequently attracted a wide variety of political players, including libertarian and right-wing voices who on occasion linked the encroachment of civil liberties to larger political conspiracies. Given Playboy’s visibility, the Forum became a clearing house for such alternative views. Wilson and Shea found themselves opening letters from cranks, paranoid psychotics, JFK assassination researchers, and members of the John Birch Society—a rabid anti-communist organization who feared that an international cabal of bankers and statesmen was installing a totalitarian New World Order.

As a lark, the two editors started playing with another conspiratorial scenario: one in which all the plots sent into Playboy were simultaneously true. This kaleidoscopic “what if” pluralism became the basic protocol of their novel-writing. Picking through the waste basket of uncertain and discarded knowledge, Shea and Wilson forged surreal and satirical links between actual historical actors, existing conspiracy theories, radical politics, drug scene paranoia, and occulture. In contrast to Pynchon’s paranoid proverbs, Illuminatus! familiarizes its readers with a web of lore that hews much more closely to actually existing esoteric and political plots. What results, then, is a disorienting epistemological dance between fact and fiction. This instability in turn generates a growing network of correspondences whose resonances threaten to overwhelm the reader’s skepticism with ominous doses of synchronicity.”

Paranoia and Conspiracy as Fiction

I remember reading Thomas Disch’s essay on RAW, who saw Wilson’s ironic promulgation of conspiracy theories and esoterica to gullible and possibly paranoid readers as just another example of the cynical “right to lie” enshrined in American popular culture. As Davis will say: “Today it is impossible not to recognize the high cost of media pranks that exploit the ambiguity between truth and fiction.” But that was the point of Wilson’s and Shea’s book, to show people how to take a step back, to realize just how their lives are both manipulated but also how they themselves contribute to the self-deception themselves by their incessant need to believe in all the hocus-pocus worlds of conspiracy fiction, culture, theories which have no basis in reality but are all based on imaginative paranoia. This was the core message of Discordianism which was itself a part of the Mindfuck Generation. As Colin McGinn in his philosophical work on Mindfuck talks about its darker uses in the manipulative use of dishonest means to mess with people’s psyches in an aggressive, even violent fashion. Comparing mindfucking to bullshit and lies, McGinn argues that mindfucking is, in addition to these other forms of deceit, “an illegitimate exercise of power” that aims to enforce emotional as well as cognitive effects. This is the heart of our Sociopathic Society so well documented by Charles Derber in Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States. J.G. Ballard would document it in his satiric documentary style as the “affectless society”:

“I think it’s been amazingly accurate, not necessarily in terms of the technology itself, but in predicting society’s response to technology. Jules Verne, over a hundred years ago, was the first writer of any kind to respond to the impending transformation of society by technology, and from his time onwards science fiction has picked out the main preoccupations and anxieties of the Industrial Age, identifying them way ahead of their appearance. Incidentally, it has also anticipated the present unease about science, which has recently become a public issue, but which was featured in SF as far back as the 1930s. I suspect it will also turn out to have been extremely accurate in the way in which it is now predicting or anticipating the peculiar affectless quality of life in the 1980s and nineties.” (J. G. Ballard. Extreme Metaphors)

I remember wandering around Boulder Colorado back in the late 70s and seeing so many people with blank minds and dead eyes, most of them handing out pamphlets for some self-styled guru or the other, each beckoning to you as if they had some answer to life’s problems when one could see in their eyes this deadness and an empty void full of pain and paranoia masking itself behind desperate smiles as if they were secretly asking for a way out rather than a way in. At the time I all I wanted to do was run as fast as I could away from these zombies who were seeking to suck the life out of me realizing what they offered me was not an answer to life’s problems but a death call from the void of deluded dreams.

The Levitation of the Pentagon (1967)

I remember this one… Davis gives his rendition of it: “1967. A week or so before Halloween, tens of thousands of demonstrators, including New Left activists, pacifists, and hippies, massed in Washington D.C. to protest the Vietnam war. After hearing speeches on the Mall by civil rights leaders and Dr. Benjamin Spock, around 50,000 people set off towards the Pentagon. Among the crowd was what the East Village Other enumerated as “witches, warlocks, holymen, seers, prophets, mystics, saints, sorcerers, shamans, troubadours, minstrels, bards, roadmen, and madmen.” The very diversity and excess of this sacral list already tells us something: not only were spiritual practitioners present in force, but they were manifesting what historian James Webb calls an “illuminated politics.” Allen Ginsberg led Buddhist chants, Hare Krishnas danced with their ringing chimes, the New York underground folk group the Fugs led a (partly?) tongue-in-cheek exorcism, while the West Coast experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger performed hidden magickal rites without the slightest bit of irony. On the one hand, the attempted levitation of the building—which somehow also involved turning it orange—fits in with what Todd Gitlin described as the Yippie “politics of display,” of ludic and media-savvy pranks. But the levitation was not just nightly news theater; for some participants at least, it was also mass ritual magic, however carnivalesque. As such, the event became an icon for a heterodox politics of consciousness that was at once oppositional, playful, and enchanted.”

Like the sixties we live in a carnivalesque age of madness, hype, and political mayhem not knowing who is actually in charge and why the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Our social media runs of such cliches and worn-out slogans, with sad sack politicians mouthing platitudes and ill-begotten rhetoric from comic book scripts. The problems we face in an economic nose-dive and a world teetering on right-wing and left-wing hatred seems to be caught in a nickel-and-dime novel from some sixtyies labyrinth of madness. Ah! much like Robert Anton Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy. But our problem is not theirs, ours is that we truly are living under the shadow of high weirdness rather than its hoax.

  1. Davis, Erik. High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies. The MIT Press (November 5, 2019)

The Secret History of the World

“I know of a wild region whose librarians repudiate the vain superstitious custom of seeking any sense in books and compare it to looking for meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of one’s hands . . .”

—Jorge Luis Borges

The Secret History of the World.‘ How many times have we seen this on some book’s flyleaf? It’s like anything else, a con, a pitch from the ad-boys that yes you too can discover what all those mainstream books leave out. We have the hidden truth, ready for you. Just pick up the book and read on… I remember reading the congenial and benign quintet of books by John Crowley on his fantasy of John Dee and the Secret History of the World. One comes to the end and realizes there is no secret and no history, there is only your unlived life awaiting you to tell the story of its secret history. The point being that we are all like that strange character in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files stuck in a job deep in the pits of knowledge hell, each laboring away seeking Lacan’s “petite object a” that small bit of information, that object that might just be hiding among the billions and billions of bits of information in the lost library of the Codex Impossibilia. If only we could find it, we would have the answer, the only possible answer to the question we don’t even know we should ask. Maybe it’s like that old adage from Silenus in Euripides play where he asks the simple question: “Is life worth living?” Like the Sphinx we stand there unable to answer that simple question of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”. Of course, we never find it, never answer it, we remain lost among the dark laundry files of our own impenetrable existence unable to even ask why we were sent here to begin with, who were those strange gods that sent us into the belly of the beast; or, are we just victims of some Trickster’s vein joke, a clown even now laughing his heart out at our expense as we wander the Halls of Knowledge in search of our lost object of knowledge. Maybe like Kafka’s parable of the emperor both the messenger and Emperor have long ago died and only the message remains, but there is no one to receive it and no one to care if it was ever sent.  Instead, we remain lost in the bowels of this Leviathan of time unable to either find the information nor a way back out of the labyrinth itself. We’re lost in a limbo of unknowing, and non-knowledge. Like Borges Library of Babel:

“The library will endure; it is the universe. As for us, everything has not been written; we are not turning into phantoms. We walk the corridors, searching the shelves and rearranging them, looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and our future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information.”

― Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel

Pop-Culture: Paranoia, Conspiracy, and Politics

“In conclusion, there is no conclusion. Things will go on as they always have, getting weirder all the time.”
― Robert Anton Wilson

Ever since I read Robert Anton Wilson, P.K. Dick, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, among so many others my world has been skewed, topsy-turvy, strange, and bound to both the conspiracy and skeptical anti-conspiracist (i.e., debunker) treadmills. At first it was just a fun way to pass the time, studying all the weirdness, chaos, strangeness, and crazies with the pop-cultural paranoia and political drift. But when the scholars suddenly began taking it upon themselves to study it then it seemed to go into a deep dive of even darker territory studying the notions of mass psychosis, disinformation, political propaganda, meme culture, hyperstitional influx, fringe science, all the various mythologies of Hollywood films…. let’s face it Americans seem to love that quasi territory in-between truth and lies… mostly lies. We love to go on non-facts rather than facts, reports and innuendo rather than substantive hard-earned reporting. I’ve often wondered why we’d rather be deceived by others or self-deceived by our own need to believe something, anything… as long as it keeps us from seeing the truth of reality in itself – the nihilistic light of non-meaning and nothingness.

This is the secret of propaganda: Those who are to be persuaded by it should be completely immersed in the ideas of the propaganda, without ever noticing that they are being immersed in it. — Joseph Goebbels

In our own time this kind of thinking has turned deadly in politics and society with the rise of right-wing conspiracies that have millions hanging onto such vital threads of disinformation as if it were “truth” rather than lies. It’s lead us into a zone of destruction, one that might actually bring democracy itself to its knees. If the US – which has lost credibility because of Trump and recent politics in the world, implodes as we enter the era of climate-catastrophe and viral and epidemic hell as new viruses impact us in this post-vaccine era that is on us. And yes, penicillin no longer is the panacea it once was so that with each new viral agent we have to spend the economics of small nations to circumvent it. We are in a new world. A deadly one in which leadership is crumbling and becoming the handmaid of the economic stupidity of profit rather than human need and security.

Where do we go from here?

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
― Edward Bernays, Propaganda

We could probably discover the roots of conspiracy theories in most ancient comedy, satire, and critiques of society from Aristophanes to Swift, but it was Karl Popper, the philosopher, who would codify it and appropriate it as a term for social study. In his 1945 work, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2, he outlines what he calls his ‘conspiracy theory of society’, namely the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon (sometimes it is a hidden interest which has first to be revealed) and who have planned and conspired to bring it about. In many ways the study of conspiracy theory is the study of ideology, propaganda, and the symbolic (Lacan). We can see it in the discourse and writings of Edward Bernays and the propagation of propaganda to conspire with media, government, and popular thought to coerce Americans to join Woodrow Wilson’s war (i.e., WWI). We know now how he did this, suppressing free speech and imprisoning those like his rival for President, the socialist Eugene V. Debs and others. Debs said this and it got him jailed: “The working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war,” Debs declared. “If war is right, let it be declared by the people – you, who have your lives to lose.”

In the 1920s, Joseph Goebbels became an avid admirer of Bernays and his writings – despite the fact that Bernays was a Jew. When Goebbels became the minister of propaganda for the Third Reich, he sought to exploit Bernays’ ideas to the fullest extent possible. For example, he created a “Fuhrer cult” around Adolph Hitler.
Bernays learned that the Nazis were using his work in 1933, from a foreign correspondent for Hearst newspapers. He later recounted in his 1965 autobiography:
“They were using my books as the basis for a destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me, but I knew any human activity can be used for social purposes or misused for antisocial ones.”

What Bernays’ writings furnish is not a principle or tradition by which to evaluate the appropriateness of propaganda, but simply a means for shaping public opinion for any purpose whatsoever, whether beneficial to human beings or not.
Sigmund Freud was Bernays uncle and would influence much of his ideas. The term “conspiracy theory” refers to a theory or explanation that features a conspiracy among a group of agents as a central ingredient. But it was Machiavelli who might be the father of ‘conspiracy theory’ as a theoretician discussing conspiracies in his most well-known work, The Prince (for example in chapter 19), but more extensively in his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, where he devotes the whole sixth chapter of the third book to a discussion of conspiracies. Machiavelli’s aim in his discussion of conspiracies is to help the ruler guard against conspiracies directed against him. At the same time, he warns subjects not to engage in conspiracies, partly because he believes these rarely achieve what they desire.

We’ve seen how Trump and his cohorts have used various aspects of conspiracy thought, culture, and propaganda to manipulate the anti-intellectualist masses in the past decade. Those who do not read, who accept at face value what they are told by their leaders, who believe the propaganda, lies, and fictions that are repeated over and over in media, social broadcasts, magazines, leaflets, pulpits, pundits, etc. become both victims and perpetrators of such mindless thought. In America the various threads of right-wing conspiracy work on the dispossessed small town and country-based conservative, religious, and ill-educated and ill-informed.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a good overview of the philosophical aspects of conspiracy theory and its use: .

Dr. Bentham in Naked Lunch once suggested: “Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organizations. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on the opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action to the complete parasitism of a virus.” In his Job Interviews, William Burroughs would add:

“Vested interest of power and/or money is perhaps the most potent factor standing in the way of freedom for the individual. New discoveries and products are suppressed because they threaten vested interests. They are suppressing the use of massive doses of Vitamin E for the prevention of heart disease, the use of massive doses of Vitamin A for curing the common cold. (I have used this simple remedy for thirty years and it works. Everyone I have passed it on to has found that it works either to abort or modify the course of a cold. At the first soreness in the throat which presages the onslaught of a common cold you take 500,000 units of Vitamin A. Vitamin A alone. Not Vitamin C which is quite worthless for a cold. At one time I had thought to market this remedy but was told it could not be marketed because the American Medical Association is opposed to self-medication. The AMA is opposed to self-medication if it works). The medical profession has a vested interest in illness.”

Of course, this kind of conspiracy theory assumes the government and its agents are behind a conspiracy with medicine to kill its own citizens off.

A strange conspiracy was started when in Georgia a small Stonehenge like structure with inscriptions was built by an anonymous donor. The Georgia Guidstones is a monument in Elbert County, Georgia. It is composed of four sixteen-foot-tall stones that have been called the American Stonehenge. Indeed, its origin is as mysterious as its English namesake. Commissioned in 1979 by a man using the pseudonym R. C. Christian, the monument was constructed by the Eberton Granite Finishing Company and completed in 1980. An accompanying tablet states that the sponsors of the stones are “a small group of Americans who seek the Age of Reason.” A message is inscribed on the stones in eight modern languages and four ancient ones.

Below the title Let These Be Guidestones to the Age of Reason, the engraved message reads:


Some view the stones as offering reasonable and rational suggestions for developing a peaceful and just world. Others see something more sinister. One conspiracy website noted astronomical features within the stones. The four major stones are oriented to reflect the migration limits of the sun during the year, while a hole in the center stone always aligns with the North Star and another hole aligns with the rising sun during the summer and winter solstices. Such celestial alignments are found in the works of secret societies from the Freemasons to the Druids and the Mystery Schools of ancient Greece and Egypt.

Such conspiracies have been around since the Enlightenment. There are whole histories of various supposed secret societies that have sought to guide and control humanity by means of religion, politics, and economics. Such thought has become a part of the popular mythology of our democratic open society. Malthus a controversial figure in his own time wrote a small book on population which tried to provide a mathematical foundation for population control. The principle which he enunciated with such force was a universal one capable of explaining the past, present, and future condition of mankind wherever it was to be found. Malthus did not claim to have discovered this principle—the idea that population expands up to the available subsistence was something of an 18th-century commonplace. But anyone who illustrates its operation with such thoroughness, emphasizing the vice and misery which it inevitably generates, must expect to arouse staunch counterclaims and to have his motives subjected to close scrutiny. From the outset too, the question of population was connected with a number of potentially inflammatory themes: the reasons for economic inequality; the role of self-interest as opposed to benevolence in human affairs; whether man’s destiny could be described as progressive or merely as a perpetual oscillation between narrow limits; the role of the passions, especially the passion between the sexes; whether man should for some crucial purposes be assimilated to the animal world or the botanical world, despite his capacity for free will and virtuous conduct—a formidable version of the ancient conflict between Nature and Culture.1

The above is just one excursion into the strange history of theory and conspiracy and how it has become a mutant form of thought in our contemporary culture. Malthus was proven wrong, but like many thoughts once they are out of the bag one cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Certain ideas seem to percolate in the popular imaginary like festering wounds that will not heal, and sooner or later pop up over and over again in the most unlikely ways.

Even no in our contemporary setting various truths and untruths, fictions, lies, and half-truths commingle in the popular imaginal on UFOs, COVID-19, Deep State, and so many other aspects of our world of political and social imaginary that we’ve begun to see them take over whole segments of society as memes or what are termed self-inventive hyperstitional mythologies.

William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who specializes in religion and cognitive science and a senior fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Among his contributions to the field are his studies on how science-fiction media (writing, movies, and TV shows) act as a potential self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve written of Bainbridge before and his connection with the Process Church of the Final Judgement. Here: Roots of Hyperstition: William Sims Bainbridge.

One thinker on conspiracy theories tells us that conspiracist narratives spring from the same sources as narratives typically constructed as ‘religious’. In fact, this fact may elucidate the growing appeal of conspiracist narratives in a society in which traditional religious institutions no longer exert hegemonic control. As Popper notes: ‘The conspiracy theory of society … comes from abandoning God and then asking: What is in his place?’. This research suggests that the need to perceive underlying agency is not tied to a belief in the supernatural qua supernatural but rather a social function to which religions have historically aligned themselves. Therefore, the idea of religious ‘Othering’ is challenged. Rather, there are multiple ‘Otherings’: when malevolent but external to our own society, we construct the Other as ‘enemy’; when external but non-threatening, we construct the Other as ‘primitive’; but when malevolent but within our own society, we construct the Other as a ‘conspiracy’.2

Carl Schmitt a fascist philosopher early in the 20th Century famously claimed in his The Concept of the Political that “the specific political distinction … is that between friend and enemy.” (CP 26) The distinction between friend and enemy, Schmitt elaborates, is essentially public and not private. Individuals may have personal enemies, but personal enmity is not a political phenomenon. Politics involves groups that face off as mutual enemies (CP 28–9). Two groups will find themselves in a situation of mutual enmity if and only if there is a possibility of war and mutual killing between them. The distinction between friend and enemy thus refers to the “utmost degree of intensity … of an association or dissociation.” (CP 26, 38) The utmost degree of association is the willingness to fight and die for and together with other members of one’s group, and the ultimate degree of dissociation is the willingness to kill others for the simple reason that they are members of a hostile group (CP 32–3).

In our own time in US politics the extreme modes of left and right have become so segmented and divisive that they have fallen into this notion of friend/enemy distinction. Politically and ideologically, we are in the midst of a civil war in this country one that has not as yet turned violent but could do so at any time. Sadly. Conspiracy theory seems to drive much of this divisiveness as both sides quarrel over various aspects of democracy, the future, climate change, the impact of COVID-19, the so-called Great Reset, etc. We live in a world of conspiracy and disinformation, the so-called post-truth society in which the stable and trusted world of academia, science, and government are no longer seen as holding the authority of truth anymore. The undermining of the sciences or scientism began in the post-modern era but has continued through the various vectors of post-structuralist, post-colonialist, and multi-cultural politics based on race, gender, and class identity politics.

I don’t have any answers, just more and more questions. We seem to have lost the thread of our lives and meanings, wandering in the nihilist void of contemporary society that has lost its center, abandoned the human for a posthuman world, and entered the age of machinic life, which is opening us to a world of AI, Transhumanist mutant change and cyborgization, along with so many other projects of social and political transformation and metamorphosis. We see in experimental China the rise of a super-sophisticated regime of the Total Surveillance Society bound by AI, Social Credit Morality, and modulated forms of social and political control at every level of their society and culture. Is this our future as well? Or will we succumb to decay, decadence, and eventual demise of democracy and fall into the hands of an authoritarian leader and tyranny with the return of Oligarchies, Elites, and Austerity. I’m not prophet. I do not know. But I do know we need to keep on thinking through these issues as we move forward. All I can do is bring these thoughts up in various ways to make people think about them on their own and confront the world for themselves.

I’ve studied dualisms for years as being central to most pop-cultural mythologies, paranoias, and conspiracies. As David G. Robertson puts it in UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age:

“Anticosmism – the idea that the physical world is malevolent, false or intrinsically flawed – was a recurrent theme of Gnostic texts (Culiano 1992, 60; Williams 1996; Pearson 2007, 12–13). In anticosmic texts, the world is described as the creation of an insane ‘demiurge’, a miscegenated lesser deity, misidentified as being the supreme deity. Gnosis was constructed as offering an avenue to escape the false world of the demiurge. Taken together, the anticosmic trope that the world is not as it should be and the concept of soteriological gnosis offer a striking parallel to millennial conspiracist discourse.” (11)

I’ve felt the same for a long while. When I studied Land and his friend Moldbug along with the various NRx thought I saw this same pattern of dualistic paranoia, epistemic failure, and ontological mixed categories that were central to Gnostic inversion of Greek and Judaic thought. We find the same in various trends in early occulture from symbolist, decadence, surrealism, Batailleanism, New Age spiritualism, and later darker trends in the various cults that would arise from this: David Koresh, Jim Jones, Heaven’s Gate… and so many more. We see the trend in academia with Jeffrey Kripal’s expositions of various aspects of this phenomenon, his working with such strangeness as Whitley Strieber, and others. Gary Lachman’s endeavors to push it. David Icke and other gnostic like conspiracists offerings.

We see some of the traits of such thinking espoused in politics as well with its in-group mechanics of populist leaders and Tyrants, Authoritarians, and even Communist rulers such as Xi:

1. Zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, alive or dead.
2. Treating his/her belief system, ideology, and practices as the absolute Truth and law.
3. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are not tolerated.
4. The leadership prescribes, often in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel.
5. The group takes on an “us vs. them” mentality, where you’re “either with us or against us.”
6. The group claims an exalted, special status for itself and its leader and may believe that they’re on a special mission to save humanity.

As I said in a previous post the Schmidt style friend/enemy mechanics of such cult leaders whether of religious or political have the same basis. In closed societies like China such methods may be more imperative, while in open societies such as ours it may take a more nuanced and artificial route using media, academic and intellectual elites vying with various ideological and propaganda methods. In our society the more subtle mechanics of speech, power, and language enforce a subtle and nuanced approach that more dictatorial societies can do away with.

Three books that break down contemporary conspiracy theories from a critical and academic level:

1. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Volume 15) (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society)
by Michael Barkun
2. The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything by Mike Rothschild
3. COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories: QAnon, 5G, the New World Order and Other Viral Ideas by John Bodner

There’s been some crazy shit over the past decade perpetrated on the various political groups and agendas by strange forms of conspiracy. What’s sad is most of these people, especially the religious right who want to believe in such lies-as-fiction-as-truth seem almost fanatical in their devotion to such dark anti-democratic visions. I imagine another Pynchon or Delillo in our midst documenting such madness in fictional form in the next few years.

My own studies break it down into three categories: 1) local ‘conspiracy beliefs’ – those that are right-wing or left-wing agendas and propaganda unsupported by actual facticity; 2 ) conspiracism – which is a deeper form of historicism in which some secret force, group, or thought-form has guided various agendas of manipulation etc.; and, finally, 3) Cosmic Horror which is like Lovecraft’s notion of the universal fear of the Unknown, Outside, Absolute, etc. has behind it some dark and malevolent power, entity, or group that seeks to destroy or manipulate humans etc. Each of these is part of a level of threat: the first as political or social belief, the second as historical agenda, and the third as metaphysical in nature which infiltrates a whole culture in a form of mainstream or counter-cultural praxis. Many of these notions are about how we as humans negotiate reality. What is real and unreal? What is it that anchors our reality as we choose among various belief systems and political views of our past, present, and future? Why are there so many diametrically opposed views of existence, ourselves, politics, religious, social, and secular-atheistic perspectives? Why are we disposed to one or the other extreme? All these questions force us to take a deeper look at what it means to be human, our irrational and rational dichotomies that seem to oscillate around our notions of the Real.

  1. Donald Winch. Malthus: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions). Oxford University Press, USA.
  2. Robertson, David G.. UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age (Bloomsbury Advances in Religious Studies) (p. 210). Bloomsbury Publishing.

The Zeroing of Death

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

—H.P. Lovecraft

The dead person is not dead. He leads another mode of life that conjoins with our own in two different ways, which impartially go back to the fundamental worship of the ancestors, the veritable nucleus of these mentalities.

—Claude Lecouteux, The Return of the Dead

Zero is responsible for mathematics becoming something purely conceptual, and also for the expansion of that abstract space. … The dead body is a maze. We get lost there. We codify death and then kill death. We get lost in the death of death. We feel safe there, in our already being dead: ‘This is the secret of security, like a steak under cellophane: to surround you with a sarcophagus in order to prevent you from dying.’

—Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse

Clive Barker, Complete Books of Blood:

“The dead have highways. They run, unerring lines of ghost-trains, of dream-carriages, across the wasteland behind our lives, bearing an endless traffic of departed souls. Their thrum and throb can be heard in the broken places of the world, through cracks made by acts of cruelty, violence and depravity. Their freight, the wandering dead, can be glimpsed when the heart is close to bursting, and sights that should be hidden come plainly into view. They have sign-posts, these highways, and bridges and lay-bys. They have turnpikes and intersections. It is at these intersections, where the crowds of dead mingle and cross, that this forbidden highway is most likely to spill through into our world. The traffic is heavy at the cross-roads, and the voices of the dead are at their most shrill. Here the barriers that separate one reality from the next are worn thin with the passage of innumerable feet.”

Gary J. Shipley, Stratagem of the Corpse:

“The zeroing of death amounts to the death of death. It is for this reason that the atheist can come to sound so very celebratory and evangelical, as they become joyous in their mourning of an end that had for so long successfully eluded truth. With the truth of zero in place there is no more culture of death, only death itself and death as nothing, but this is no effortful disaster but instead a far more excessive peculiarization of death, providing all the formerly absent truth with no possibility of consequence, because to describe something (a future self) in purely negative terms, and more specifically to engage in the apophasis of death, is to relinquish care not for the thing itself but more importantly for the circumstantial detail of that thing, and thereby escape in life what can no longer be congruous to it. The death of death is the release of an end without ever having to confront it. Death is killed, embalmed and so neutralized. And what remains is a neutered curiosity, enough to sustain our proclivity for seeking goals, and yet sufficiently (i.e. absolutely) empty to never have to assimilate what it might mean. Nothing turns the world into more of a dreamland than this secularized apophatic terminus. It is the negation of our aporia regarding death, an anti-aporia, that by making death conform to the rigorousness of truth and certainty creates in its wake a far more resilient aporia, an unspoken aporia, that though not stated cannot be unfelt.”

To realize that our life is the life of death, to know that we are always already dead, to awaken to this eternity of nothingness: the absolute zero of our undying life as metamorphosis in the realm of the dead. Cemeteries with broken grave stones and ruined chapels abandoned under the moonlight, shadow-infested old dwellings whose shutters groan in the wind and whose floors creak, ancient castles clinging to the tops of peaks, inns in the forest that were once the haunts of brigands, moors and marshlands covered in fog: these are the kinds of places where, customarily, we see apparitions of the dead, specters in bloody shrouds that are either speckled with dirt or dripping with seawater. For as long as humans have existed, they have spoken about the shades of the departed who return to trouble the living and create an atmosphere of anxiety and of terror—friendly and inoffensive ghosts remain a rarity. But does anyone recall that these deceased individuals once formed part of everyday life, that once upon a time, in a room in which animals and people sometimes lived together, a small light attached to a joist was left burning all night long? “Does anyone remember that going out in the night to attend to a natural need amounted to exposing yourself to strange, often dangerous encounters?”1

Having suffered the outrages of time and history, revenants have vanished into there dream images of life: they are us. They no longer kill or threaten, nor do they perform domestic tasks. They are no longer the tutelary or wicked spirits of an earlier age. Ordinarily, they appear mute, using their eyes or gestures to express what they wish to say, but they no longer have the power to express themselves with words because they are no longer of this world. They inspire pity or affection when coming to take leave of their children. The deceased returns in search of his or her spouse, the friend shows himself one last time. The last bonds that join the dead to the living are most often those of love. Each of us seeks in the other a sense of the loss we are and will remain. Wandering on this earth of the dead we believe ourselves alive. This is the truth of that lie against reality that keeps from us the knowledge of our undying. The flat circle of time is eternity of death-in-Life and Life-in-death. The dead do not know they are dead because their lives are constructed out of a tissue of illusion and delusion. Puppets on the strings of time we wander among ourselves like members of a wedding that awaits its secret guests: the bride and bridegroom of this meaningless menagerie and labyrinth of darkness become all too visible.

This notion that we are living in a “Universe of Death” may not have begun with John Milton in his famous poem Paradise Lost, but he was the first to codify this sense of Death-in-life that would be central to the Romantic Poets that came after him, and then would flow into the Gothic, Weird, Fantasique, and Horror genres of late Romanticism ownward:

Thus roving on
In confused march forlorn, the adventrous bands,
With shuddering horror pale, and eyes aghast,
Viewed first their lamentable lot, and found
No rest. Through many a dark and dreary vale
They passed, and many a region dolorous,
O’er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp,
Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death—
A universe of death, which God by curse
Created evil, for evil only good;
Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds,
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, inutterable, and worse
Than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived,
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimaeras dire.

—John Milton, Paradise Lost

Of course, this notion that we are already dead, living in a “universe of death” goes back to the biblical Book of Genesis where God’s curse is cast:

All sorts are here that all the earth yields,
Variety without end; but of the tree
Which tasted works knowledge of good and evil
Thou may’st not; in the day thou eat’st, thou diest.
Death is the penalty imposed; beware,
And govern well thy appetite, least Sin
Surprise thee, and her black attendant, Death.

—Paradise Lost


This black attendant will come back to haunt Coleridge in his great poem The Ancient Mariner:

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

As Camille Paglia in her Sexual Personae describes it this nightmare goddess “is the Whore of Babylon, the daemon unbound. Her lips are red with provocation and the blood of her victims. She is all health and all disease. She is a masque of the red death, a Medusa who turns men to stone but also the mother who stirs the blood pudding of her sons till their bodies congeal in her womb. To give life is to kill. This is heaven’s mother, who comes when called. She is the vampire who haunts men’s dreams.” She was in the ancient garden, in Eden, she was known as Lilith. First encountered in ancient Sumerian lore, she is shown naked in her oldest depictions, with prominent breasts and unbound hair, symbolizing her untamed sexual force, which is the key to her initiatory gnosis. In medieval legends she appears as the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, tempting the first human couple to taste the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge – the first seducer and the first adversary in the history of mankind. In the Jewish tradition, she is the first wife of Adam and the mother of all demons and abominations of the earth, the Queen of Sheba from the legend of King Solomon, and the wife of God himself in absence of the Matronit. In European folklore we meet her as the presiding goddess of the Witches’ Sabbat and the female leader of the Wild Hunt. She is identified with Medusa who kills men with her deadly gaze, the Harpy who shrieks in the night, Lamia who devours her lovers, and other terrifying blood-thirsty hags and man-eating monsters. Finally, in feminist ideology, she is the symbol of a liberated woman, and in Jungian psychology she represents the Anima – the dark, unconscious part of the Self. She has so many masks that each time we think we already know her, she reveals a new one, showing a completely different aspect of herself and laughing at our ignorance.

The earliest mention of an entity with a name similar to that of Lilith is found in the Sumerian king list from the 3rd century BCE, stating that the father of the famous hero Gilgamesh was a “Lilu” demon, a kind of an incubus. There were several types of spirits associated with sexual activities in Mesopotamian lore: the male was called Lilu, the female was Lilitu or Lili, and there was also Ardat-Lili and Irdu-Lili. Lilu was believed to wander through deserts and in open areas and was especially dangerous to pregnant women and infants. Lilitu seemed to be his female counterpart, and ArdatLili (whose name means “maiden Lilu” was supposedly a young girl incapable of normal sexual activity and aggressive toward young men. IrduLili was her male counterpart. In modern times these theories are often questioned and many scholars claim that these spirits were originally storm and wind demons and their association with medieval succubi and incubi is due to wrong translation and misinterpretation. It is the same with the wellknown terracotta relief from Babylonian times, commonly identified with Lilith, which shows a female entity with wings and owl feet, standing on two reclining lions and flanked by owls. Originally thought to represent Lilith, right now the image is rather identified with Ishtar or Ereshkigal. Indeed, the name “Lilith,” which is most likely derived from Hebrew, is not found in the Mesopotamian sources. What we find are only words similar in their roots, but not necessarily referring to the Queen of the Night from the Hebrew lore. For instance, in the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree there is a mention of a female spirit dwelling in the tree that is sometimes thought to be Lilith, but the name mentioned in the text is Lillake or Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke. Similar derivatives of the name are found in other texts as well, but it is not entirely clear if they refer to the same entity as the Jewish Lilith. Unfortunately, there are not enough sources to determine how a minor wind demon from ancient myths might have become the mother of all evil spirits and the queen of hell in the medieval Qabalistic lore. 2

We would know her as the Nightmare – Life-in-Death who rules over her son and lover, the demiurge or “blind idiot god” of our “universe of death”. We are the dead in a realm of eternal death. Robert Graves would describe her in his poem The White Goddess:

All saints revile her, and all sober men
Ruled by the God Apollo’s golden mean –
In scorn of which we sailed to find her
In distant regions likeliest to hold her
Whom we desired above all things to know,
Sister of the mirage and echo.

It was a virtue not to stay,
To go our headstrong and heroic way
Seeking her out at the volcano’s head,
Among pack ice, or where the track had faded
Beyond the cavern of the seven sleepers:
Whose broad high brow was white as any leper’s,
Whose eyes were blue, with rowan-berry lips,
With hair curled honey-coloured to white hips.

Green sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate the Mountain Mother,
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But we are gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
We forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Heedless of where the next bright bolt may fall.

—Robert Graves. The Complete Poems

As Graves would say of her in his book about this White Goddess: “Demons and bogeys are invariably the reduced gods or priests of a superseded religion: for example, the Empusae and Lamiae of Greece who in Aristophanes’ day were regarded as emissaries of the Triple Goddess Hecate. The Lamiae, beautiful women who used to seduce, enervate and suck the blood of travelers, had been the orgiastic priestesses of the Libyan Sea-goddess Lamia; and the Empusae, demons with one leg of brass and one ass’s leg were relics of the Set cult – the Lilim, or Children of Lilith, the devotees of the Hebrew Owl-goddess, who was Adam’s first wife, were ass-haunched.”3 We know that in Medieval times during midwinter, the traditional season of the dead, the feast of crossroads was celebrated in honor of Hecate-Lilith or the genies of these locations, which gave the ceremony the name of Laralia. At these crossroads, the pater familias hung from the trees woolen dolls or bark masks representing family members. The biblical Isaiah may be the one who gave the best description of her lair:

Her nobles shall be no more, nor shall kings be proclaimed there; all her princes are gone.  Her castles shall be overgrown with thorns, her fortresses with thistles and briers. She shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches.  Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; there shall Lilith repose and find for herself a place to rest. There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate.  Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and His spirit shall gather them there.  It is He who casts the lot for them, and with His hands He marks off their shares of her; they shall possess her forever, and dwell there from generation to generation. (KJV: Isaiah: 34)

Of course, this was priestly propaganda taken from the Babylonian mythologies in revised for their elites. In Proverbs she would be describe this way:

Her house sinks down to death,
And her course leads to the shades.
All who go to her cannot return
And find again the paths of life.

— Proverbs 2:18–19

Her gates are gates of death, and from the entrance of the house
She sets out towards Sheol.
None of those who enter there will ever return,
And all who possess her will descend to the Pit.

— 4Q184

This notion that we are in the realm of Sheol is an old one. Of course, later such thought would be separated out and devolve into dualist cosmologies where the place of the darkness was another world. In the Hebrew Tanakh, Sheol in this view was a subterranean underworld where the souls of the dead went after the body died. The implications of Sheol within the texts are therefore somewhat unclear; it can be interpreted as either a generic metaphor describing “the grave” into which all humans invariably descend, or, it may be interpreted as representing an actual state of afterlife within Israelite thought. Though such practices are forbidden, the inhabitants of Sheol can, under some circumstances, be summoned by the living, as when the Witch of Endor calls up the spirit of Samuel for Saul.

Perhaps owing to the evolution of its interpretation, certain elements of Sheol as described in the Hebrew Bible appear contradictory. Those in Sheol remember nothing, not even Yahweh, yet elsewhere its inhabitants possess an otherwise impossible perception of earthly events, even those which occur after their demise. Pleas to Yahweh cannot escape the Sheol, and yet, Yahweh remains its unequivocal master. Those who descend into Sheol cannot escape it, yet Yahweh raises souls from it. Furthermore, despite the evidently abstract nature of Sheol, there is some physicality to it: it was clearly understood to be subterranean, which is further supported by its association with the term bor (“pit”), found in Isaiah 14:15, 24:22, and Ezekiel 26:20. It is a “land”, contains “gates”, is apparently compartmentalized, and there are numerous mentions of its “deepest depths” and “farthest corners”. The idea that both the righteous and unrighteous eventually descend to Sheol appears to be an unspoken assumption in the Hebrew Bible.

Much of this would be inherited by Western Christendom and become a part of the folklore of later poets and writers, theologians and philosophers, mythographers and painters. In the counter-traditions of the Gnostics and Heretics this inversion of the Hebraic traditions inherited would once again take on a more daemonic character. For the Gnostics there exist several states of matter: an igneous, superior state which belongs to the hyper-world, and successive states corresponding to the different circles, graded as the seeds materialize and take on darkness, opacity, gravity. Our own matter, that of the earth, plants, and all living creatures, is in some way the seed of the ethereal particles of the hyper-world but grown infinitely heavier. Little by little, these particles have fallen down to our level as the result of a primordial drama which comprises the history of our universe, in the same manner that particles of dust and debris are slowly deposited at the bottom of marine abysses to form sediment. All the beings of our world are, in the eyes of the Gnostics, the sediment of a lost heaven. And from the bottom of this dark sea, man perceives nothing of the luminous surface of the upper world except in ephemeral forms, fleeting reflections, evanescent phantoms which are like those phosphorescent fish that alone illuminate the age-old darkness of the great ocean depths. And our matter, because it is heavy, because it is dark – the darkest and heaviest of all – is also the least dynamic, the most immobile, as fixed and as heavy as atoms reduced to their nuclei. Immobility, the glacial cold of matter and flesh deprived of primal fire and sinking ineluctably towards that absolute zero which is the final stage of material death. The implications of this image of creation, split into several universes of which the last – ours – is totally separated from the others by a barrier of dense shadow, are obviously profound. Weight, cold, and immobility are at once our condition, our destiny, and our death. To surrender oneself to weight, to increase it in all senses of the term (by absorbing food, or by procreating, weighing the world down with successive births), is to collaborate in this unhappy destiny, to ratify the primordial fall, which is the cause of it, to ally oneself with the work of death undertaken by the being or beings who provoked this tragic cleavage. In modern terms, it is hastening the trend towards what we call entropy. Curiously enough, the Gnostics perceived, albeit summarily and imperfectly, the fact that the destiny of the material world tends towards inertia.4

This entropic universe of death would enter our modern era in Nietzche’s notion of the ‘eternal return’: “I now wish to relate the history of Zarathustra. The fundamental idea of the work, the Eternal Recurrence, the highest formula of a Yes-saying to life that can ever be attained, was first conceived in the month of August 1881.” (Ecce Homo) Nietzsche would turn the older order into a secular version without a god supervening. The eternal recurrence is the denial of any absolute beginning, any creation, and any god. Thus, it breaks through the two-thousand-year history of Christianity. It is a critique and repudiation of the Platonic-Christian tradition and accomplishes a revaluation of values. The timeless eternity of a supernatural God is replaced by the eternity of the ever creating and destroying powers in nature and man. As Pierre Klossowski in his Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle would say of this world:

“Such is the world as it appeared to Nietzsche under the monumental aspect of Turin: a discontinuity of intensities that are given names only through the interpretation of those who receive his messages; the latter still represent the fixity of signs, whereas in Nietzsche this fixity no longer exists. That the fluctuations of intensities were able to assume the opposite name to designate themselves – such is the miraculous irony. We must believe that this coincidence of the phantasm and the sign has existed for all time, and that the strength required to follow the detour through the intellect was ‘superhuman” … For in effect, with the sign of the Vicious Circle as the definition of the Eternal Return of the Same, a sign befalls Nietzsche’s thought as an event that stands for everything that can ever happen, for everything that has ever happened, for everything that could ever happen in the world – and indeed, in thought itself.”(43)

The notion of being trapped or imprisoned in Time, that Time itself is the realm of death, and that this is the vicious circle of repetition without end is to accept the horror of life and existence as entropic “purposeless purpose”. The absolute fatalism of the gesture, the acknowledgement of this universe of death without end or exit. As Klossowski puts it the “Eternal Return, at its inception, was not a representation, nor was it, strictly speaking, a postulate; it was a lived fact, and as a thought, it was a sudden thought.” (46) This thought of eternal death as our life, this flat circle of pain and pleasure – the jouissance of the bittersweet truth of existence driven by the erotic deployment of a vitalistic darkness. To live this death without end in joyous ecstasy of its painful-pleasures and acknowledge that fact is to know our tragic fate.

  1. Lecouteux, Claude. The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind . Inner Traditions/Bear & Company.
  2. Mason, Asenath. Lilith: Dark Feminine. Ascending Flame Publishers. 2018.
  3. Robert Graves. The White Goddess (Kindle Locations 8448-8452). Faber and Faber Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  4. Jacques Lacarrière. The Gnostics. City Lights Publishers; Reprint edition (January 1, 2001)


“I believe people have the right to diminish themselves if they so desire.”*

—Simon Strantzas

Read Simon Strantzas THE NINETEENTH STEP in the Year’s Best Weird Fiction with editors Michael Kelly and Laird Barron.

At first a simple tale about flipping houses, turn and burn for a profit by a young married couple. What happens to make it weird is the discovery by Alex, the husband, that the stairs in the house don’t seem to add up. When one stands at the bottom of the staircase and count up to the last one there are the correct number of stairs for such a home. Alex, being the son of a carpenter knows the specs and math for such things. His wife Mallory sees no difference. But then Alex counts the steps as he walks up and coming to the last step, he discovers there are nineteen not eighteen steps. Optical illusion? He doesn’t seem bothered by it, but his wife, Mallory, is flummoxed. How can such a thing be? She ponders it that night while Alex is asleep, snoring. She tosses and tumbles but cannot find sleep, so she goes and rechecks the stairs and is still puzzled by it. Pondering it she comes to the conclusion:

“It made no sense. None at all. Something was wrong with the reality of the house, some bend in what she had until then believed was solid, and if something as simple as the number of stairs was wrong, then who knew what else could be? She went to take the final step, then stopped. Did the light grow dimmer, or was the staircase fading from reality, leaving her and Alex stranded on the second floor? Worry overcame her. What if she could no longer bring herself to put a foot down on the final stair in case there was nothing to bear her weight? What if she fell and fell and fell into a neverending nothingness?”

The next day she decides enough is enough and ignores the whole thing, pretends the stairs are not there, so she can get on with her work. That works until Alex calls her to come and look at what he’s discovered. She does so reluctantly. He proceeds to do what he did before, walk up the stairs and count each step, but more slowly this time. When he reaches the final step, he stands there for a long, long time, saying nothing.

There were no thoughts in Mallory’s shaking head. The walls pulsed, throbbed like a beating heart. Mallory could not move, could not turn her head away. She could only stare at Alex, terrified he would never turn around. Terrified of what would happen if he did. Mallory stared and stared until—


“Mallory couldn’t speak. Alex slowly turned. His face was grey as ash, wrinkled as it had never been before. And his eyes, staring off into the distance, his eyes . . .

“Mallory, I—”

“What’s wrong?”

“I— I can see . . .” He paused one final time, and Mallory felt on the verge of losing everything.

“What is it, Alex? What do you see?”

And this is what he told her . . .

Another of those tales that leaves you holding the mystery, knowing that something is about to be revealed, but that what it is, cannot be said, spoken, or described. A sense that something strange and ineffable is about to be uncovered, a revelation of strangeness which will suddenly reveal itself and let us know that the world we think we know, our everyday world we all cherish and believe in is not all there is, that there is more, something else, something bizarre and out of kilt with the world we think we know. It’s this central motif of the weird: that the world is not what we think it is that hits home in the best weird fiction, and this is what one receives in Strantzas tale.

You can find this tale and others here: Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume 1
You can learn more about Simon Strantzas here:

Just found out from Simon the epigraph is from: “BTW, the quote “I believe people have the right to diminish themselves if they so desire” attributed to me in this entry is actually pulled from Richard Gavin’s NEITHERNOR (first published in AICKMAN’S HEIRS).”